CHAT WITH JAIDIS SHAW

Jaidis Shaw Author

Jaidis Shaw currently resides in South Carolina with her husband and two beautiful daughters. With a passion for reading, Jaidis can always be found surrounded by books and dreaming of new stories. She enjoys challenging herself by writing in different genres and currently has several projects in the works.

Jaidis also owns and operates Juniper Grove Book Solutions, voted Top Five for Best Promotional Firm, Site, or Resource in the 2014 Preditors & Editors Readers’ Poll. In her spare time, Jaidis maintains her blog, Juniper Grove, and can found frolicking on various social media platforms. One of her main goals in life is to encourage her daughters to let their imaginations run wild.

Time to chat with Jaidis!

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

I do! My first self-published book, a YA paranormal romance titled Destiny Awaits, was recently picked up by Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly Publishing and was just re-released on July 19th! I’m so excited and nervous at the same time. The book originally came out in 2012 so it has been around awhile, but it feels like I’m starting the whole process over again.

DestinyAwaits

Is your recent book part of a series?

Yes, Destiny Awaits is part of a series, but it’s standalone. The series is titled Juniper Grove Chronicles and will feature a few volumes. The main characters from Destiny Awaits, Alayna and Jayden, will only make a brief appearance in volume two, whereas a minor character named Violet will be the focus of that one. All volumes take place in the same town, Juniper Grove.

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

This is a great question as it deals with my response above. I chose to go the route of a standalone series because I find it extremely hard to write a series where each book is a continuation of the story. I am currently working on a paranormal thriller that is a continuing series and I’m terrified to see if I am able to finish it.

What else have you written?

I started my writing career when I had a short story picked up by a small indie publisher. It was a retelling of Rapunzel that I titled The Tower. It appeared in the Twisted Fairy Tales Volume II by Wicked East Press.

My next adventure was being selected to take part in an anthology by the same publisher that is mentioned above. All authors that were selected to take part were given certain elements of a story to build around. I was given a topic that included my character either being deaf or blind, the climax of the story had to occur during a thunderstorm, and it had to be a suspense story. That’s all I had to go on and at first I was terrified, but after I worked out how I wanted the story to go, I was excited. I enjoyed the main character, Molly, and now that I have the rights to that story back, I have plans to expand on her story. The original story is titled Blind Justice and can be found in Wicked Bag of Suspense Tales.

I also wrote a western-themed short story to appear on the Railroad! blog while the storyline was on an intermission. My story, Pure Harvest, was written back in 2012 and the first time I dabbled in the western genre. I enjoyed writing it! You can check it out here if you’re interested.

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

Do you know how authors are always talking about how their muses changed the story, how they’re surprised at where the characters decided to go, or how their characters are talking to them? I’m so jealous of those authors! My characters don’t talk to me. All of my books start with an idea, usually occurring in a dream, and I outline from there. I know every major scene in my story, when it will take place, approximately what chapter it should appear, and so forth. If I stray from that path, I become lost and panic until I’m back on course.

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

With Destiny Awaits, yes I wrote it in order. I always start with an outline of the entire story so I know exactly where I should be heading and what should go into each chapter to keep the story moving. However, that changed with the book I’m currently working on because there was a particular scene that I found difficult to finish. I had worked myself into a corner and strayed from my outline and so I was lost. I skipped ahead and wrote the upcoming scene so I knew how it would play out and then was able to go back and fill in the gaps. Only time will tell if I’m able to skip ahead again or if I prefer to stick to outlines.

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 have to do a little editing as I write because I’m always going back and reading over what I’ve done so far, especially if I’ve taken a break from the story for awhile. As I’m reading over it, I always find a few things to edit so I’ll fix them before I forget. After the whole story is complete, then I go back and do a deep edit.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

There has only been one character that I didn’t particularly enjoy writing, and that’s Steve from my short story Blind Justice. You know those people who just make your skin crawl, even if you don’t know why? Or those that if you were to see walking toward you on a sidewalk, you’d cross the street just to create more space between you? That’s Steve.

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

For Destiny Awaits I didn’t have to do any research for the actual storyline. The only research I did do, was that which was needed to actually publish the book. Even then it really wasn’t much as I contacted a friend of mine, who is also an author, and she talked me through the publishing process via the phone so that I did it right.

The paranormal thriller that I’m currently working on, The Stager, is different however. There are certain elements in it that I felt needed to be realistic and so I’ve had to seek out a couple of weapons experts so that the main character, Amelia, knows her stuff.

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 used to allow a select few to read my work as I was working on it because I was in need of opinions. As time has went on, and I saw the number of authors having their ideas ripped off grow, I decided that it may be better to wait until it is complete and published before allowing anyone to read it.

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?

Negative reviews are a part of every author’s life. If you publish a book, you will get a negative review. Period. You need to go into the process knowing that negative reviews are inevitable and also that there is nothing you can do about them. Don’t respond to the reviewer. Don’t post to your Facebook or Twitter about the terrible review you received and ask people to go dislike or down vote it. Definitely don’t call the reviewer out by name and trash talk them because you weren’t happy with their review. Everyone is allowed their opinion, good or bad. In almost all cases, responding negatively to a negative review will always be worse than the review itself. You want attention on your book for the story, not because of the temper tantrum you threw. If you get a review that gets under your skin, just be an adult and walk away. Let it go. If you’re proud of your work, that’s all that matters.

Do you have any special projects you’d like to share with us?

Yes! I’ve recently launched an exciting book review program. The JGBS Review Library strives to offer an ever-growing list of books that are seeking honest reviews. Readers simply browse the virtual library, request the book that interests them, and I send them an author-approved ebook — for FREE. After reviews (positive or negative) are posted to Amazon within six weeks, readers are eligible to download new books to review.

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

I’m currently living in South Carolina. I was originally born in Anaheim, CA but we moved around a lot so I’ve also lived in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan (twice). Having to move around a lot of a child really took its toll and so I’m here in SC and I plan to stay here. No more moving for me.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

Boats for sure! I love the water and being on the water.

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

I am currently pregnant so asking me this question is unfair. You should be ashamed, Lisette! However if you must know, and I’m totally blaming my unborn daughter for this, my favorite comfort food at the moment is chips and salsa. I’ve went through seven jars of salsa so far in this pregnancy.

As for my least favorite, that’s easy. I refuse to eat anything that swims so all things fishy are absolutely out of the question. Blecch!

If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do?

Abso-freaking-lutely! Who in their right mind would pass that offer up? I’d totally use it to be a fly on the wall so that I could get some juicy details. It would also be great to just tease people and move things around a bit, make them a little crazy.

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

I’d split it three ways. I’d give part to the Epilepsy Foundation to help further their research on finding a cure for epilepsy. I have epilepsy so it’s a cause near and dear to my heart.

I’d give part to the Save the Manatee Club. Humans are quickly making these adorable mammals, which happen to be my favorite animal, disappear and we need to do what we can to bring them back from the brink of extinction and help to preserve their natural habitat.

The other part would be put into a fund that would be used to help various reading programs and libraries. It breaks my heart every time I hear kids, and even some adults, say that they don’t read and have no desire to do so. We don’t do enough to encourage our youths to read the written word and it only results in those youths growing into adults who are illiterate. I know people personally that don’t know how to read, or can’t read above an 8th grade level. That is absolutely unacceptable.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Just seeing my daughters happy and smiling is enough for me. Even when I’m having the worst day, all they have to do is start singing or dancing, talking to their imaginary friends, or reading a book, and it brightens my day immediately.

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CHAT WITH CHRISTINE DAVIS

 

ChrisDavisChristine Davis is the best-selling author and illustrator of three of Amazon’s top 10 pet-loss books. Her latest release Breathing Fire charts a new course — that of offering adult survivors of childhood abuse a way of reclaiming the passionate lives they were born to live. A victim herself, Davis’ awe-inspiring story invites readers to become apprentices on an epic journey of slaying dragons, manifesting miracles and healing body, mind and spirit.

Chris, a native of New York City, lives in Portland, Oregon, with her cat, Molly.

Time to chat with Chris!

What is your latest book?

My newest book is Breathing Fire, a book it seems I was destined to write and yet never could have imagined doing so.

Breathing Fire

Do you write under a pen name?

No, Christine Davis is my real name.

Tell us about Lighthearted Press.

I started Lighthearted Press in 1997 after the loss of my forever dog, Martha. I’d been looking to leave the corporate workplace and was hoping to create a new career that would embrace both my passion for animals and my connection to that mystical, magical, just-beyond-the-veil world that had called to me since I was a child. I thought Martha would be with me during this change in my life, so her unexpected loss left me devastated and unsure how to continue on without her.

I began meditating and studying Shamanic journey work. It was while drumming that I heard I was supposed to write a book titled For Every Dog An Angel and was given a simple outline for the story. Without any knowledge of writing, illustrating or publishing I took out some money from my retirement account and Lighthearted Press was born. Soon after that For Every Dog An Angel was published. That was the beginning of my writing career.

You’ve told me that your latest book, Breathing Fire, has taken you in a direction you never imagined. Can you tell us more?

I’ve always been passionate about creating books and gifts for animal lovers. I thought I’d be writing in that genre forever until something extraordinary happened to me in the summer of 2012. I found a show on BBC America called Merlin. Like many people I was a fan of the Arthur legend and loved stories about Camelot so I thought this might be something I would enjoy. I recorded two seasons of Merlin and, to my delight, I discovered this was the perfect show for me.

I worked my way through twenty episodes and came to episode 21, which I was watching in my bedroom at about 9:00 at night. In the last few minutes of the show Prince Arthur (the future King) rides back to the castle and unleashes his uncontrollable rage upon his father, King Uther, who has deeply betrayed his son. Arthur disables his father and holds the King at sword point, intending to kill him. It is the wizard, Merlin, who rushes in and convinces Arthur to drop his sword.

At the moment Arthur burst through the doors of his father’s chambers my life changed forever. I found myself screaming on the other side of my bedroom, digging my fingernails into my palms and shaking the post of my bed so hard the top rails fell off. My rage mirrored Arthur’s rage. When I could scream no more I dropped to the floor and sat still, trying to breathe. In that instant I knew what had happened to me. Arthur’s fury had released decades of unexpressed rage I’d carried inside after years of sexual abuse I endured at the hands of my father when I was a child. In fact, my brain interpreted what I had seen as Arthur raging at MY father on my behalf. I’d never forgotten my father’s abuse—it was the rage I’d stuffed inside.

Breathing Fire is the story of all the unimaginably glorious things that happened to me after watching that episode. With my rage gone, I found myself flooded with joy and began passionately pursuing the life of my dreams. I took sword-fighting classes and commissioned a blacksmith to forge a sword that had been calling to me throughout my life. Twenty-five years of spinal pain disappeared, apparently due to the re-wiring of my brain in the instant my anger was released. I lost 30 lbs. in three months without trying to because I no longer craved dairy products and sweet foods and only ate when I was hungry.

I knew I was meant to write this book to inspire others who’ve survived trauma or have lived, as I did, under the spell of unworthiness.

DragonChrisDavis

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

I’m thrilled to be doing two events at one of my favorite bookstores in Portland. I’ve seen many authors I admire there, including Richard Bach, so being asked to speak and present a workshop in that store is an honor for me. The workshop is about learning to dance with our dragons so we can reclaim the passionate life we were meant to live. I’ll be bringing a pop-up wizard tent, a large stuffed dragon and my sword. I named the sword Clarity and had the words “Always Follow Your Heart” etched down the blade. For a woman whose company is named Lighthearted Press the heart is very important to me.

ForeverPaws

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

I was writing Breathing Fire as my wild odyssey was unfolding. I didn’t know how it would end or when it would end. About four months before I completed the book I was sitting at the computer one evening working on what I thought would be the last chapter. I’d skipped over a few sections because I was drawn to write the ending, even though it was out of sequence. I typed the final words, heaved a sigh of relief, sat back and read what I had written. Was this really the ending? It didn’t feel like it was.

Suddenly my fingers went back to the keyboard and, without any intention from me, resumed typing. They were on a mission that didn’t involve me. Another author had taken over, delicately tapping the keys as words flowed onto the page.

Then the fingers stopped. I brought my hands to my lap and stared at the monitor. On the screen was a two-page epilogue. It was perfect—a breathtaking, exquisite, mystical ending for my book—and I had no idea who had written it.

It wasn’t until many months later, when I did the illustration for the epilogue, that I fully understood what those magical words meant. To this day I feel there was some higher plan at work that led to all the astonishing changes in my life. I can’t help feeling that same benevolent force played a role in allowing the epilogue to flow through me and find its place in the pages of my book. It brought Breathing Fire to its proper conclusion.

As for the title, I always wanted it to be Breathing Fire followed by a sub-title. In the end I let the sub-title go and just used Breathing Fire.

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?

This was the first time I ever let anyone read my work in progress. In the past I would tell people I was writing another critter book and I’d be sure to send them a copy when it was done.

With Breathing Fire, one of the most important lessons of my journey was learning I was worthy of asking for help when I needed it…and I REALLY needed it! I’d never written anything like this, and because the book jumped around in time and space I wanted others to tell me if they could follow the story or if it was confusing. I had a core group of readers whose input was invaluable.

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

Actually, I was born to sing, which is how I made my living back in New York City where I was born and raised. I let that go when I came to Oregon in the late 1970s. It wasn’t until I lost my dog, Martha, and heard a book title while drumming that I began writing. I loved writing my critter books, but they were small gift books and there weren’t many words. Breathing Fire gave me the chance to write consecutive paragraphs! I also found my voice—and it was funny. I loved that.

Do you feel your latest book is your personal favorite or one of your previous novels?

I’m not the first author to think of my books as my babies and, like any good mother, I love them all. There is a magical component to each of them, because that’s where I like to live—in the magic. It would be impossible to name a favorite. That said, I’m in awe of how my writing career took a 180 degree change in direction without any intention on my part. The Universe truly works in mysterious ways.

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

I’ve lived in Portland, Oregon for the last 37 years. I haven’t travelled much, but I would love to spend some time in the United Kingdom. In addition to my Camelot/King Arthur connection the author of my favorite book of all time—Watership Down—is English author Richard Adams. I’ve always fantasized about travelling through the downs and seeing if I could find my Watership Down. Many of my other favorite authors, including J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, are from that part of the world.

I was raised on Broadway musicals and would love to experience the London theatre scene, too – I’ve heard it’s spectacular.

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

I know many people in animal rescue who give everything they have to caring for critters in need. I would spread a significant portion of the funds among those special earth angels.

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

An art studio, with the hope I might be able to leave my art supplies out and they’d be ready to use whenever I wanted to paint.

Epilogue

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

I live in a wooded area that is filled with an enchanting variety of wildlife. I find great joy in going out on my deck and feeding the birds, squirrels, chipmunks and any other creatures who wonder into my yard. There’s always food out for them, but when I sit outside in their presence and they come up to me and eat from my hand I am overwhelmed with a deep sense of peace. In those moments it feels as if all is right in the world.

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CHAT WITH JULIE MANGANO

Julie_Mangano

Julie Mangano has been involved in the publishing industry since 1989 as a publications manager, writer, editor and art director. Braha is her first mystery. Born and raised in Southern California, she now lives in Round Rock, Texas with her husband. Mangano is currently at work on the sequel.

What is your latest book?

My book is called Braha, a mystery that is a blend of contemporary and historical fiction. It is a carefully-crafted tale of two unforgettable women, born centuries apart, whose lives of secret parallel danger coincide in a suspenseful saga, reaching down through the ages following decades of intrigue, spying, and murder.

Linden St. Clair is working overseas when she learns her beloved grandfather has passed away under suspicious circumstances. Returning home, she discovers he has left her an old family journal, as well as clues to an explosive family secret. The journal, written by Leena Weiss, Linden’s great-great grandmother, recalls the woman’s early years as a German girl living in a small Russian village. Leena’s life is turned upside down when a Russian army officer turns her into his object of affection. Caught in a difficult situation, Leena soon finds herself living a life one the run, pursued by the Okhrana, a secret police organization and predecessor to the KGB. A century later, Linden peels back shadowy layers, exposing clues and secrets. Despite having professional security services, she and her family remain pawns in a deadly game that extends beyond borders and crisscrosses the globe.

Most people recognize the book by the distinctive cover, a close-up of a sheep’s head. The sheep represents the innocence of the main characters in Braha. In addition, the nickname Leena Weiss is “my little lamb.”

Braha-Front-Cover-for-Writers-Chateau-06-09-2014

Tell us a secret about the book that most people don’t know.

One of the key elements in the book are the carved flagstones that say: F ♥️ P. This is ripped straight from my family’s history. My grandfather had his and his wife’s initials carved out of stone, along with a heart. He installed them on one of the risers of the stone steps in front of his house, so everyone would know of his love for my grandmother. I’ve always thought that was such a wonderfully special way to proclaim one’s love through the ages, so I knew I had to somehow include it in this book.

Is your recent book part of a series?

Braha is the first in a series and lays the foundation for the books to come by introducing a host of characters in two distinct components: historical and contemporary. Linden St. Clair is the present-day main character who discovers some unsettling things about her family’s past. Leena Weiss is Linden’s great-great grandmother, born as a German in Russia in the late 1800s. Understanding the turbulent socioeconomic times in for both Germans in Russia and Imperial Russia in the early 1900s is important to the story line. Decisions made then have affected Leena Weiss’s family and kept them in danger for generations.

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

While each book needs to be a complete, stand-alone project, there are important details from earlier books that needs to be recapped for new readers. I am cognizant of the need to keep the review succinct yet complete, so that someone who has missed reading an earlier novel in the series is not confused by the events that occur in the follow-up novels. Many mystery writers already do this quite well: Harlan Coben, Nelson DeMille and Sue Grafton, for example. What separates Braha from the books these authors have written is the historical component. In this regard, Braha is more similar to The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy, with the exception that Braha is a mystery.

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

Usually I am a very linear writer, almost to a fault. Braha was different because of the historical and contemporary components. Generally, I wrote the historical section first, writing the scenes in order of occurrence, and then the contemporary section. Later on, I added sections to each, which is kind of messy because you then need to do a quick edit to be sure the flow and details are updated accordingly. Near the end of the project, I deleted some scenes, which required the same detailed reviews. By far, the hardest part was then integrating the historical chapters in with the contemporary chapters. I spent so much time looking at them as separate books that blending them together was completely chaotic. For the next book in the series, I’ve already started writing little snippets and sections as I do my research. When it comes to the nitty gritty writing, however, I think I will be back to fleshing out the scenes in order.

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 do tend to edit as I write, and I edit sections or chapters after I finish them. But that is nothing compared to the many, many edits the book goes through after I’ve finished with writing the story.

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

The historical component of my novel needed to be as accurate as possible when describing the little known group of Germans who lived in Russia, so it required a great deal of research not only about this group of people, but about Imperial Russia at the turn of the 20th century. I happen to know quite a bit about the Germans from Russia because I am descended from them, but I am the exception rather than the rule. It was because there was so little known about these people that I decided to focus on them in Braha.

My maternal grandparents and their families were born in Grimm, Russia, a small village on the Volga River. They emigrated from Russia to the United States in the early 1900s. They had family members who stayed behind, some of whom lost their lives when the Germans were driven out of their villages and forced to relocate in Siberia. My grandfather used to speak around the country about the Germans from Russia, and he left us a recording about his family’s history and where they originally came from in Germany.

Forty years later, I have an extensive collection of genealogical materials in my home library. Much of that information is from a group called the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia. It includes maps, photos, pedigree charts, books, and more. I used those materials for much of my research, as well as various sites on the Internet.

Part of the book takes place in Finland, a place I’d never been to but heard about from a childhood friend. Her stories captivated me, so I decided that Finland would be another location in my book. I meticulously researched Finland and started a private Pinterest board where I posted photos of the countryside there.

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?

As a rule, I never let others read my work in progress. Part of it is my own insecurity. I want to make sure I’ve reviewed my and edited my work well, making it as perfect as possible before I let others have a look at it.

The first people I allowed to see my manuscript were my husband and my mother. My husband seems like a biased reader, but he writes and edits for a living, so he was able to use his skills to help me polish my work. My mother was a teacher for many years, and after that, she edited Bibles, so she is also a professional who would look at my work with a critical eye. She was also an important reviewer because her parents lived the life that Leena Weiss did as a young child. She knew more about her parents’ lives in Russia than I did. It was important to me that she thought I described the German people and their way of life accurately and that the story was believable.

In addition, I included some details that I knew my mother would recognize: the village her parents came from was called Grimm, the greble and chocolate cake recipes were from her mother, and her grandfather was forced into the Russian Army and served on the Tsar’s security detail, much like one of the characters in Braha.

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

I chose to get a Kirkus indie review and a Clarion Foreword review for Braha. The biggest surprise was that the Clarion Foreword reviewer liked the historical section and the Leena Weiss story best. He felt she was the heart and soul of the story. The Kirkus reviewer preferred the Linden St. Clair part of the story best. It just goes to show you that people’s opinions vary. Just because one person likes or dislikes something doesn’t mean others will feel the same way about it.

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

I’d like to say it’s important for me to know the ending of a book before I write it, but I actually changed my ending as I was writing in order to add more twists. I hate it when a book is predictable. Every time I felt like what was coming up could be easily deduced by the reader, I changed it.

I thought I had my title from the start and was very firm about it: The House on Nordahl Road. When it came to designing a book cover, however, the title made it difficult, almost demanding a literal interpretation. No one had my vision. Once I decided to change the title, everything fell into place.

Interestingly, the name Braha, where Leena Weiss lived for three years, is a fictional town, with the name based on the real city of Raaha, Finland. I wanted to use find a one- or two-word title that was easy to pronounce and used a letter near the beginning of the alphabet. I came up with the name Braha for the town, and eventually used it for my book title.

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

Writing is in my blood. My great grandfather and grandfather loved to write, as did one of my father’s aunts. My father was a Journalism major and spent his early career as a newspaper reporter. I learned to write before I started Kindergarten and can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing stories or keeping a journal. It didn’t seem possible for me to have a career as a writer, without starving in the process of becoming successful,so I took the long road before finally giving in to my passion. Along the way, however, most of my jobs had some element of writing involved in each of them.

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 prefer to write at night, the later the better. Some of my best writing happens in the wee hours of the morning. During the daytime, there are too many distractions. I may force myself to write when it’s light out, but it’s not when I’m most prolific. Editing, however, is a good, daytime endeavor.

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

I currently live in the Austin, Texas area. I hope that one day I can live back by a seashore. I’m not picky, but I love the Atlantic coastal area. If I could move out of the country, I would love to live in England in a manor house in the country. I would also love to live in Scandinavia. My husband would battle me for Spain or Portugal, though, so we’d probably have to split out time between two places.

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

For my 30th birthday, my parents arranged for one of my favorite teachers, my second grade teacher, to come over for dinner. I hadn’t seen her since the middle of the second grade, when she left to take a job as a principal at another school. My dad knew her professionally and had kept up with her over the years. When I opened the door and saw her standing there, I was shocked, but I knew exactly who she was. We had a lovely dinner together.

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

I love anything starchy, especially sourdough bread, mashed potatoes, and dumplings. I hate avocados, mushrooms and bananas.

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

I haven’t played a practical joke on someone since I was in high school, and I can’t even remember what it was. When my kids were young, however, one night I told them they were eating broccoli balls instead of peas. I made up a very elaborate story about how NASA invented broccoli balls for astronauts because they were more compact that broccoli stems and florets, and the kids bought it. Broccoli balls became their new favorite food until I ‘fessed up. Now that they know the truth, they once again hate peas.

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

I would love to be a great chef. Nothing about cooking comes naturally to me. Even simple recipes can turn out disastrous. My sister inherited all the good cooking genes, and thankfully she hosts many special occasions at her home. At our house, my husband is the chef and he keeps us healthy with many wonderful concoctions.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I was bullied and assaulted in the 7th grade. It changed my life.

What makes you angry?

Unkind people. There is no reason to ever be unkind.

What kind of music soothes you?

Deep down, I’m really a James Taylor kind of girl. I can count the concerts I’ve been to on one hand, and two of those have been James Taylor concerts. Today I find myself drawn to Sting’s latest project, “The Last Ship.” It’s actually a musical that will be out later this year, but the album is already available. I fall asleep listening to it

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

I love mysteries and quirky shows. Some of my favorites are Lilyhammer, Wallender, Hunted, Orphan Black, Downton Abbey, The Americans, Wire in the Blood, and almost any British spy series I haven’t already mentioned.

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CHAT WITH JULIE SHACKMAN

Julie_Shackman

Julie trained as a journalist but writing romance has always been a dream of hers. When she hasn’t got her head in a book or drafting one, she writes verses and captions for greetings card companies. Julie says writing at home seems to be incredibly difficult for her — she usually requires coffee, music and noise!

Rock My World is her first contemporary romance novel. Julie has just finished writing her second novel (a rom-com) and is polishing that at the moment whilst beginning to do some research for her third. These are also contemporary romances with a good dose of humour (hopefully!). Julie is married, has two sons and lives in Scotland.

Rock My World New Cover - 27 March 2014

Time to chat with Julie!

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

All the time! They seem to take on a life of their own and lead me with the story, which I think can only be a good thing.

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

I love just the whole concept of writing, especially trying to create atmosphere and describing my characters and settings – basically using my imagination.

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 try to do a bit of editing as I go, but usually I concentrate on getting the first draft down and then the polishing and tweaking stakes place after that.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Don’t give up! I know it’s a cliché but it really is so true. Read as many books as you can and take note of what you think works and doesn’t. I think you can’t be a good writer if you’re not an avid reader. Just try to find your own voice and keep writing. You’ll get there.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

Like many writers, I received a lot of rejections before I was offered a publishing contract. I got lots of positive feedback but no offers. It was disheartening at times but I just kept going until I struck lucky with Not So Noble Books. Years ago, I had two childrens’ picture books published but it was always romance that I wanted to write. I think being a writer, means you have to expect to receive rejections. Just don’t let them get you down. Read lots, write lots and persevere!

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

I love engaging with readers, other authors and bloggers, especially on Twitter – in fact, I think I’ve become a bit addicted to it! There are so many supportive people in the writing community and it’s an honour to be part of such a special group of people. The downside is it can distract you from your writing sometimes if you let it, so I try to be as focused as I can.

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

I just love the rom-com/chick-lit genre. There are so many talented writers out there and the plots and characters are so sharp, varied and imaginative. What I like least is the criticism that’s sometimes aimed at the genre. I think it is unjustified. I want to laugh, cry and escape when I read a book and this genre does all that, in my opinion.

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

For Rock My World I researched 80s rock music (which I love) and did a bit of note-taking about the politics and social aspects of the era, just to get a feel for it. It brought back a lot of memories!

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 don’t tend to, no! I run ideas past my Husband, two sons and a couple of close friends but I don’t tend to let them read what I’ve written until it’s finished. I think sometimes that can kill the excitement of my work and I like to try and surprise people.

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

The feedback about Rock My World has been unbelievable! It is such a special feeling to know that readers love your writing. I’ve had comments from people saying they couldn’t stop thinking about the characters. Other ladies said they had developed a huge crush on Matt (my hero) and another said she got so involved in the story, she had to make herself put her Kindle away at work as she found herself taking sneaky reads!

Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?

I write verses and captions for greetings card companies. I’ve been doing that for a few years now and really enjoy it. The card designs are gorgeous and when I see cards in shops that have my verses in, it really gives me a buzz!

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

I’ve always wanted to be an author. Right from an early age, I loved creative writing and have always had an obsession with books. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else, nor would I want to!

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 seem to be more of an early bird, not only with my writing! I think I have more enthusiasm and energy in the early part of the day.

I make sure I get out for a brisk walk every day, even if it is just for half an hour and have to have music playing whilst I’m writing. I also enjoy a nice coffee whilst writing – I love a good Latte!

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I love listening to music; reading and watching movies, especially rom-coms. I also love getting out and about for lovely walks in the fresh air and spending time with my Husband and two sons. Family time with them is very precious.

Thank you for this fab interview Lisette! X

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CHAT WITH CIARA BALLINTYNE

Ciara-Ballintyne-author

Ciara Ballintyne is a fantasy author and lawyer. She enjoys reading, horse-riding, and speculation about taking over the world. If she could choose to be anything it would be a dragon, but instead she shares more in common with Dr. Gregory House of House. M.D. Confronting the Demon is her debut book.

Time to chat with Ciara!

What is your latest book?

Confronting the Demon is an adult high fantasy novella. Alloran’s rather pampered life has just had a severe shake up and spat him out in the worst of the city’s rubbish-strewn back alleys. Everyone’s looking for him, and he doesn’t know who to trust. It’s a short read, only an hour for a fast reader.

Confronting the Demon

Is your recent book part of a series?

Originally, no. Then readers started speculating about sequels, and so I did too. I have three more novellas planned in the series, and there’s always room for more.

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

Plotting. I love plotting. I would even go so far as to say it’s my drug of choice. Yep, I can totally get high on the rush of a new plot twist. Is that weird? I don’t really care. Playing around with new story ideas is exciting and fun.

Revising is the bit I least enjoy. Not editing, revising. And not all revisions. Some are as fun as writing the first draft. It’s just the hard revisions I don’t like – the ones where I took a short-cut the first time and now I (or my editor) have slapped me across the knuckles for it. Then I have to buckle down and get those hard words on the page

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

The ending, absolutely. How can you foreshadow something you don’t know? Sure, you can put that in revisions, but it’s so much easier if the journey already has a destination. The title is less important, but it helps. Usually I would know the title. Every work in progress I currently have (and there are lots) has a title. I just finished a short story called A Dilemma of Twins, and from the get-go I had a strong theme for that tale. My WIP novel, In the Company of the Dead, is the same. On the other hand, I really struggled with a title for Confronting the Demon and getting the theme and inner conflict of that story really nailed down was difficult. If I don’t have a title, I think it means I don’t have a clear enough direction for 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?

Write first, edit later. If I tried to revise as I go, I’d never finish, and editing the earlier sections really depends on what you’ve put in the back end of the book as well. The exception is that about 20% of the way into In the Company of the Dead I had to stop and re-read it. I didn’t edit a lot, just back-filled a few details that had changed, and the reason was I felt the book had lost its way and thinking about it was distracting me. It turned out I was completely wrong, and once I realized that I was able to get on with it.

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?

Absolutely. No one can read their own work objectively because they know what it should say, what it actually means, rather than seeing what it really says. You can’t read it with the ignorance of an unfamiliar reader. If you missed a word, your brain fills it in. If a sentence is ambiguous, you read it the way you intended because you know. You can never experience that first revelation of a new world, a new character, because you know everything there is to know. It’s like a reader picking up a book for the first time after they’ve already read the companion to that book. You can’t judge if everything is clear, because to you everything is, and always will be. This is why you need editors. Beta readers are also good. Not everyone uses them, but some of the most surprising directions for my stories have come from the musings of beta readers or my critique group.

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?

I’m anal about names. The name has to feel right, sound right, and look right. Because I write fantasy, I have an almost limitless choice, but sometimes that makes it harder. No perusing of baby name books for me.

Most of the time I get it right first time, but I have changed character names twice – Gwaine in my WIP The Blood Infernal became Aaric, and Ellemiaeran from In the Company of the Dead became Ellaeva. I was just never happy with Gwaine, and Ellemiaeran was too long, complicated, and didn’t carry any sense of foreboding. The villain from Deathhawk’s Betrayal also stayed nameless until I came up with something suitably sinister.

One of my biggest naming problems is my obsession with A. Here are some A names from across a range of books: Astarl, Aldenon, Aaric, Alyne, Alloran, and Avram. I really need to watch that tendency sometimes.

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 fall in the category of having a hard time of it, so incredibly frustrating springs to mind. Some books are easier to sell, I think that’s well-known. Romance, and of course paranormal romance. YA and now NA. I won’t touch those genres, for no other reason except I’ve never read them, so what would I know? I write for adults, and I write high/epic fantasy. Novels also sell better than novellas, I think, and a series better than a stand-alone. So at the moment I’ve pigeon-holed myself into a bad spot, and nothing but time and writing will change that.

The most frustrating thing is that story captures the reader’s mind, and that’s why otherwise mediocre books can do tremendously well. It’s like the story resonates with the reader to such a degree that it short-circuits the quality of the writing. The reader is so connected to the story that the writing almost ceases to matter. No one knows when they have a story like that. We hope every story is, and some may just languish undiscovered. My gripe is that there’s absolutely no reason why such a story can’t also be well written. Instead, some writers point to the success of these stories as evidence that there’s no need to improve their craft, when in fact the exception does not prove the rule, and that author was more lucky than anything else.

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

A few, yes. Some readers called Confronting the Demon paranormal romance. I wouldn’t call it that, but if the readers of that genre think it is, and enjoy it, I’m not going to argue. One reader compared me to a favourite author, Brent Weeks. That tickled me. My editor said I write in the style of Jacqueline Carey, another author I enjoy and respect. I don’t really think I’m that good, but I get giddy on the comparisons all the same. A test reader recently compared something I’d written to Joss Whedon, which was the high point of that day! Even some readers have shown an appreciation for the fact that Confronting the Demon is targeted at adults, or that it is short (even while hoping for more!) just as a change to other offerings.

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?

Some people say don’t read them. I’ve never had one that made me feel that way, and I suspect the ones that make people feel like that are personal attacks and bullying. If an author starts getting that kind, it might be best to just not know.

Otherwise, all you can do is remember that you can’t please everyone. Not every reader will like your work – and that’s OK. My approach is read the reviews, look for any constructive criticism or something that objectively indicates a problem with the book, and take it on board. If it’s subjective, and the reviewer is just not part of your target audience, don’t worry about it.

I have one 2-star review that criticized me for an unoriginal cliché. It took a long time to work out what the reviewer was talking about, but apparently I mimicked a rule in Dungeons & Dragons. I never played, except the computer game variety, in which the rules are less apparent because the computer does all that calculation. I probably did, once, know this rule, but it was such a long time ago I’d forgotten, and it certainly wasn’t in my conscious mind when I wrote the story. C’est la vie. That reader didn’t like the book for that reason. So be it. Plenty of other readers, as ignorant as I of D&D, have enjoyed it very much.

If you can’t take criticism, you are in the wrong industry.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I have owned precisely one pair of riding boots in my life. I bought them in 1994 when I was 13. They still fit, although they are probably in need of replacing by now. At the same time I have also owned precisely one bicycle, although I definitely outgrew that. You can probably draw some conclusions about my attitudes to horses and bikes from that.

Also fun, is that all my uncles by marriage are named Rob. So my mum’s two sisters married a Rob, and so did my dad’s only sister. For a fun bonus, my dad’s name is also Rob. So basically my grandparents had four daughters between them – and they all married a Rob. My husband is very confused!

What makes you angry?

Lately, as the mother of two girls, the continuing inequality of women. I’ve never struggled against this much myself, but now I have to wonder how it will affect them as they get older. Society’s general attitude to women, the way the same quality can be treated positively in a man and negatively in a woman, the unrealistic nature of women’s body image, the level of ignorance in the general population about what a healthy woman’s body looks like – both before and after pregnancy. These all make me angry.

And child abuse. Babies dying, neglected children rescued. Child marriage. Every time I see one of these headlines I question whether to read the whole article or not. I usually cry if I do. It astounds me that parents can so mistreat their own children. It shakes my faith in people, and I have to go home and hold my babies close. I currently donate to an organization called Menindanca for this reason – they help girls, pre-teens and early teens, in Brazil who are sent out to sell their bodies on a major Brazilian highway to provide income for the family.

What music soothes your soul?

Country music. No matter what anyone else every thinks of it, there’s something about the steel guitar, the banjo and the fiddle that just soothes my soul. No matter how angry I might be, I can turn on some country music, crank it up loud, and everything feels better. It’s about family, friends, love, loyalty, respect, and honesty. Things that so often society seems to be turning its back on but which remain important to me.

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

Jursisprudence at university, which is the study of legal philosophy. That might seem odd, but the lecturer asked if we thought slavery was wrong. We all agreed it was. But in Ancient Greece, it was actually unethical to release a slave in certain circumstances, and a slave owner had certain obligations to care and provide for his slaves.

We talked about a lot of things like that. It was important for understanding how context is important to people. Not only does this teach tolerance for others in the real world, but it’s invaluable when writing fantasy worlds for understanding how your invented world might shape the people.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Misuse of the apostrophe of possession and people who drive under the speed limit are on par – these cause me a certain amount of annoyance and frustration in my day-to-day life. The apostrophe of possession because when I read something like ‘FAQ’s’ I’m immediately wondering what belongs to the FAQ, and slow drivers because traffic congestion is bad enough without people unnecessarily slowing it down when there are no traffic problems! Time is precious, and while there may be times I am content to sit back and enjoy the journey, all too often driving is dead time.

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CHAT WITH ROSARY McQUESTION

RosaryMcQ

Rosary McQuestion was born in Brooklyn, New York, grew up in Wisconsin, and she currently lives in Michigan with her husband and their three cats. Following a long career in advertising and marketing, which included owning her own agency and later becoming director of marketing and creative services for a well-known party goods manufacturer, she now indulges in her love of writing—full time.

Time to chat with Rosary!

What is your latest book?

Once Upon Another Time

OnceUponAnotherTime

What do you think some of the greatest misconceptions about indie authors are?

A big misconception is that indie authors are not as talented as authors who have agents or large publishing houses backing them. I have read some wonderful books by indies whose writing talents are just as good as some of the well known authors of today. The general public, the readers who are not writers, don’t realize that indie authors actually work harder than well-established authors to market their books—they are more self-reliant. They have to take on huge challenges from start to finish. Although now agented, Wool by Hugh Howey is just one of thousands of examples of a great indie talent who rose to fame—on his own.

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

In my head, I have a snapshot of scenes that could work and write them down in a very rough sequenced outline, which by the way, always seems to change. I think it’s great if you can write in chronological order. Sometimes I can. However, depending on my mood on any given day, a particular scene (that may be chapters away from happening) will spark in my head, and I am compelled to write it immediately. For me, when creative juices are flowing, I must seize the moment and therefore, most of the time, I do not write scenes in order.

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

It’s funny because I never know the beginning but always know the ending. I’m currently working on a mystery series and know all three endings. For me, it makes sense because I have to know what I’m working toward. Otherwise I’d feel as if I were thrashing about in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight. As for the title, I usually come up with a few choices for a working title. I don’t really know how my characters will react, or what will pop up during writing, so I have to know the full story and have it completed before I settle on the exact title.

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 know I shouldn’t but I obsess over trying to perfect each word, sentence, paragraph I write, which ends up stalling my writing and sometimes makes me feel as if I’m spinning my wheels and going nowhere. I’d read somewhere that when Joseph Hill, Stephen King’s son, was struggling with constant rewrites to perfect every line, King told him something that went like this: That’s what editing is for. Just finish the damn book! I’m trying to follow that same advice.

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?

Names give me instant images like Bertha and Otis always conjures up images of larger stature people, while Gwendolyn seems like a demure personality, Maria a fiery temper and Eden smart, quiet but somewhat of a temptress. Therefore, the names I choose for my main characters are very important and secondary characters, not so much. I always have a physical image in my mind of what my characters look like, as well as their personalities. Once I match a name to a personality, I don’t ever change it.

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

Social media has allowed me meet so many wonderful, talented people. I love that I can communicate with cyber friends from around the world. Technology is wonderful. I’d go crazy if I had to use a manual typewriter and whiteout, and rely on word of mouth to spread the news around town or from city to city that I’d written a book. And without Amazon a lot of indie writers, like myself, wouldn’t stand a chance of making a name for themselves.

However, after spending hours and hours on social media (SM) sites as opposed to hours spent on writing, it was as if the electronic umbilical cord that connected me to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. was in fact, strangling me.

I had to find a smart way to integrate SM into my life without sacrificing my writing. The point is that we use these potentially distracting tools to get noticed, to market ourselves, our books, but they are time consuming enough to significantly pull us away from things that are more meaningful. For me, it’s trying to get that next novel written.

Also, if done creatively, SM can be a great marketing tool. The trick is to think outside the box. With so many people using SM, it’s beginning to feel as if everyone is blandly similar.

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

I put a fair amount of time into researching Providence, Rhode Island, where Once Upon Another Time takes place. As well as Block Island where Aubrey’s husband Matt died. I am a firm believer in getting the facts straight. Just because my book is fiction, it doesn’t mean it should be geographically incorrect.

Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?

I don’t anymore, but I had worked in advertising and marketing agencies for most of my career and did everything from design to account management. Included was a lot of copywriting for brochures, catalogues, television, etc. I also wrote PR.

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?

If you’re going to be a writer, you have to be tough-skinned and realistic that not everyone is going to like your story. With that said, the reviewer might leave comments of constructive criticism, which a writer should take and learn from. Whether good, bad or indifferent, I always thank the reviewer for the time they took to write a review.

My advice to writers who let negative comments get them down is to go to Amazon, look up those iconic authors whose names are synonymous with New York Times Bestsellers, and read the one, two and three-star reviews.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

As a child, I lived in a house that was haunted, so I do believe in the supernatural. My experience wasn’t as bad as The Amityville Horrors, but still quite frightening. There were cold spots in rooms and hallways, doors closing unexpectedly, lights turning off and on at will, and other strange happenings in the house.

It was an old 1930s house converted into a two-family dwelling. My parents owned the house and rented out the upstairs apartment. The tenants came and went quickly, and in between when the apartment was unoccupied we’d hear footsteps walking back and forth overhead. At first my father thought someone had broken into the apartment and with baseball bat in hand, he’d run outside and up the back steps to catch whoever it was. However, he’d always find the apartment door locked. After inspecting the apartment anyway, he’d never find anyone there. It got to be one of those strange things we grew accustom to hearing.

My parents had the house blessed by the Catholic priest from our parish, but things didn’t quiet down and my parents eventually sold the house. Our next house wasn’t haunted, thankfully. However, I have remained fascinated by what lives beyond our world. It’s what jumpstarted my thoughts about wanting to write a book.

Once Upon Another Time is a lighthearted paranormal romance, but I’d like to write a paranormal story that is darker, scarier, more bizarre—something more Stephen King-ish.

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CHAT WITH DEANNA SLETTEN

DeannaSlettenDeanna Lynn Sletten is a bestselling and award-winning author. She writes women’s fiction and romance novels and has also written one middle-grade novel that takes you on the adventure of a lifetime.

Deanna’s women’s fiction novel, Widow, Virgin, Whore,made the top 100 bestselling books on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble in March 2014. Her romance novels Memories and Sara’s Promise both won semi-finalist in The Kindle Book Review’s Best Indie Books of 2012 and 2013 respectively. Sara’s Promise was also a finalist in the 2013 National Indie Excellence Book Awards.

Deanna is married and has two grown children. When not writing, she enjoys walking the wooded trails around her northern Minnesota home with her beautiful Australian Shepherd or relaxing in the boat on the lake in the summer.

Time to chat with Deanna!

What is your latest book?

I have just published a romance novel titled Destination Wedding. It is a fun, heartwarming story that women of all ages will enjoy.

DestinationWedding

Do you write under a pen name?

No, I use my real name.

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

Imagine going to paradise—with your ex!

What else have you written?

I currently have seven novels published, some in the women’s fiction genre and others that are romances, plus one middle-grade novel. Some of my novels deal with difficult subjects. The main male character in Memories is a veteran of the Vietnam War and the story includes his struggle with his past memories of the war. Widow, Virgin, Whore is the story of three women who are friends/sisters and how they cope when one of them is infected with HIV/AIDS. Maggie’s Turn is a lighter story but deals with a disintegrating marriage. My women’s fiction/family drama novel, Summer of the Loon, is a heartwarming story of a young teen girl whose mother dies and she has to go live with the grandfather she has never met. While there is a lot of drama, there are also a lot of feel-good scenes. My other novels include Sara’s Promise (romance), Outlaw Heroes (Action/Adventure Middle-grade), and my latest romance, Destination Wedding.

What do you think some of the greatest misconceptions about indie authors are?

From what I’ve seen over the past three years is that indie authors are becoming more widely accepted by readers than from just a few years ago. Readers love to read, and if an indie author is professional and writes a good story, readers don’t care if they aren’t traditionally published. When I first started self-publishing, there was still some hesitation about buying an indie book due to poor editing and formatting. But now you see more indies hiring editors and proofreaders, as well as professional formatters and book cover designers. This has helped to improve the image of indie authors.

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

Very often! It sounds crazy to a non-writer when you say that your character decided to go in a different direction than you intended them to go, but it does happen. There have been many times I’ve written a scene where I thought the character was going to do one thing, and then he does another, and no matter how I try, he just does what he wants. Usually, it helps to make the story more interesting. Obviously, I’m the one controlling the character, but it just doesn’t feel that way sometimes. I no longer act like I have any control over my characters when I write. I start writing and see where they want to go.

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

I’m one of those oddball writers who love the entire process from the research to the final draft. I don’t understand writers who say how hard writing is or how much they hate writing, yet they choose to write. If you don’t love it, don’t do it. I love learning new things, so the research part of the process is interesting to me. Then, the writing phase is so much fun—I love getting lost in the story. I enjoy editing as well. It gives me a chance to re-read the novel and change where necessary to help make the story fuller and richer. Then, after the editor has had a turn at it, I enjoy going through the story and once again making changes to create a better story. I love it all—no complaints from me.

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

I almost always write my scenes in order, but once in a great while I get an idea for a scene and I want to write it down before I forget it. I’ve written the ending down before too, even though I might make a few changes. When I begin a project, I usually know exactly how I want to start it and how I want to end it and maybe have a few scenes in mind for the middle. The rest comes to me as I write, so that is why I generally write in order.

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

For me, it’s important to know how I’m going to end it before I even start it, otherwise I don’t know where I’m going. It helps. As for the title, I’ve used working titles before and then changed the title in the end. Titles are the hardest thing for me, so I like it better if I have a title before I start, but it doesn’t always work out that way. I had at least five different titles for Memories before I decided on which one to use. I also had a different title for Sara’s Promise. On the other hand, Maggie’s Turn, Summer of the Loon, and Destination Wedding all came to me before I even started the project.

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 edit as I go, not drastically, but I do re-read and edit. Each day when I sit down to write, I usually read what I wrote the day before and that’s when I’ll make some edits. It gets me back into the story and helps me stay on track. And I also hate seeing a misspelled word or a sloppy phrase as I write, so I usually stop to fix it before going on. It’s like sitting in a messy room and not picking anything up. It drives me crazy.

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?

I think the character names are very important. They help to set the tone of the character’s personality. Before I begin writing, I go through names for each character to choose the perfect name. That is, unless I have already thought of a name that fits perfectly. If you want the reader to believe the story, then you can’t just grab names out of the air. The character’s name should fit the time period of when they were born, not of when you write the story. It should also fit their personality. Is the character silly? Flirty? Serious? A nerd? Are you going to name your nerdy character who is a computer genius Tiffany? You can, but is it realistic? The right name helps the reader identify with the characters, and hopefully want to get to know them. If you do your job right, the reader will think about the characters even when they are finished with the book, as if they were real people that the reader knew.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

Not yet, but it sounds like fun.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Over the past three years, I’ve met first-time authors who are still trying to go the traditional route but can’t seem to find a publisher. They are still hesitant to self-publish. While I think it’s wonderful to continue to try to find an agent/publisher, I also believe that you shouldn’t spend years waiting for something to happen. If you are a first time author, take the plunge and get your book out there. You may have the next best seller just sitting, unread, in a computer file. Always use an editor, or at the very least, a proofreader, and have your book professionally formatted and add a professional cover. But get it out there for people to read and enjoy. And don’t stop there. Continue to publish. You have a much better chance of finding a traditional publisher if you have a steady track record of interest and sales for your novel.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

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?

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

My latest novel, Destination Wedding, took very little research since our family had actually visited a similar island in the Bahamas the year before. It was while we were there that the book idea came to me, and I loved the island location so much I knew it would be the perfect backdrop for a romance novel. As for many of my other novels, I have done extensive research, depending upon the background of the characters. Widow, Virgin, Whore, and Memories both involved a heavy amount of research. Some of my other novels included only research on where they were set. I try to use settings that I have actually been to and know about from personal experience. I don’t think you can get a feel for a place by just reading about it, you have to experience it.

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, no one reads my work until after it’s been to the editor and is ready for publication. I wouldn’t feel comfortable having someone telling me what I was doing right/wrong with my novel before I’m even finished with it. That is what my editor is for, and I trust her advice. I know many writers depend upon critique groups and I’m sure that works well for them. It just isn’t something I’d be comfortable doing. Each story I write is personally mine, and all I can do is hope that others can relate to it and will enjoy it.

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

Both Widow, Virgin, Whore and Memories have received strong, emotional feedback from readers, which is rewarding considering the emotional topics of each book. What surprised me most, though, was some of the feedback I’ve received for Maggie’s Turn. I originally thought of Maggie’s Turn as just a fun, heartfelt story, so I was surprised when many women told me how it hit home with them. I’ve even had a few women tell me how it gave them hope for their own marriage. I love entertaining people with my novels, but it is even more gratifying to hear that they were actually touched by a story.

Do you feel your latest book is your personal favorite or one of your previous novels?

It seems like each book is my favorite right after I’ve written it. Currently, Summer of the Loon and Destination Wedding are my favorites. Before that, Maggie’s Turn was my favorite. I guess I just love them all or else I’d have never written them. Each story is special to me in one way or another.

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?

I think it’s always difficult handling negative reviews of anything you do in life. After spending so much time creating something like a novel, it’s difficult to read criticism of it. Unfortunately, that is just part of the process. A writer has to remember that not all people are going to love what you do—that’s just a fact. When I read a negative review, I decide if it’s helpful or not. Did the reviewer just say it was the worst thing they’ve ever read or did they give reasons why they didn’t like it? Were the reasons valid? If the majority of your reviews are positive and you only get a few negative/hate reviews, then I wouldn’t think too much of them. If the majority of your reviews are not positive, then it’s time to review what people are complaining about and see if it can help to improve your writing.

I know there are many writers out there who say they never read their reviews, good or bad, because it won’t change the way they write. While that may work for someone selling millions of books a year, I think as an indie author, you should be aware of what your readers think. Don’t change your writing or story because of a few negative comments, but be aware of the good and the bad. It might just help you improve as a writer.

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’m more of a night owl writer. Some afternoons I will sit down and write for an hour or two, but the majority of my writing is done between 10 pm and 2 am. I love writing when it’s quiet and no one is going to disturb me. As for must haves, I really don’t have any of those when I write except for complete silence. Once I start writing, I’m so absorbed in the story that I rarely even think to eat, drink, or do anything else. It’s my time to give the story its full attention.

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 high value on book covers. Everyone judges a book by its cover, especially today when people are glancing through books on a site like Amazon and you only have one or two seconds to make them stop and look at yours. It’s your cover they stop to look at. Maybe even your title, but most likely the cover. After that, they might read the book description. Then they might read the sample. All of those aspects must be top-notch to get the sale, but the cover comes first.

I also believe that the book cover has to give the reader an essence of what the book is about and of its genre. I’ve seen people put erotica-style covers on basic romances to try to capture the fast-growing erotica market. That’s not a good idea. It makes people mad. If they want a sexy book, and yours isn’t, then you will get a bad review. Likewise, you don’t want to put a playful cover on your book and then have nothing but hot sex in it. People don’t like that either, but I’ve seen it done. That’s why it’s important to work with an experienced cover designer who can help you create the perfect cover for your particular book. Deborah Bradseth at Tugboat Design (www.tugboatdesign.net) creates all my book covers, and she does an amazing job. We work together on what concept I want and then she gives me different ideas that she thinks will work. She usually knows more about what I want than I do. Your cover is your first chance to snag a reader, so don’t lose that chance by settling for a subpar cover.

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

I do love paranormal/ghost stories, but I have yet to come up with a good one that I’d actually like to write. Hopefully, a good idea will come to me someday, but I’m not going to force it.

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

I currently live in a small, northern Minnesota town. If I had the chance to move, it would definitely be to an island in the Bahamas. I have a particular one I love, but I’m going to be greedy and not reveal its name because I don’t want anyone else to move there. I love it exactly as it is right now.

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

Chocolate – especially when it’s cold from the fridge. Least favorite? Most green foods – I’m just not a veggie person.

Care to brag about your family?

Who doesn’t enjoy bragging about their family? I have two amazing grown children, Michael and Deborah, who are both out in the world doing what they love best. My husband and I have been married for forever, and he not only works full-time but enjoys playing music professionally on the weekends. He and my son have a band together and they play often. My daughter works as a designer for our local newspaper and also runs her own home business. Michael’s girlfriend is beautiful and hardworking and we all adore her, and Deborah and her husband were just married last year in the Bahamas. And of course, I have to brag about my beautiful Aussie who is my walking companion every day of the summer. She’s amazing! We all have very full lives.

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

I’d love to be a painter. Sometimes, I see a sky or landscape and wish I could paint it. I have to settle for taking a nice picture instead.

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

One single favorite film is difficult, but I will say Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid is on the top of the list. One of my novels is a middle-grade adventure in which twelve-year-old Will Long is swept back in time to join in on the escapades of these two outlaws. It’s a fun story and probably the most fun I’ve ever had writing. Other films on top of that list include Beaches, The Way We Were, and Somewhere In Time.

Favorite book? Again, it’s hard to choose only one. The Great Gatsby and everything ever written by F. Scott Fitzgerald top my list. Jane Eyre is right up there too.

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

Listen to each other, have more compassion, and be more patient.

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THE APPEAL OF WRITING YOUNG ADULT

When people learn I’ve written several books, one of the first things they ask me is “What genre are they?” That sounds like a pretty easy question. After all, I should know the answer to that better than anyone, right? Not always.

I finished my first-written novel, Squalor, New Mexico, in 1996. All I knew was that I had written a novel about a girl growing up in East Coast suburbia, but my focus was not solely on telling her story. I had a passion to tell a universal tale of dysfunction that is sadly prevalent in many families. I wanted to write about the lies and secrets that are endlessly perpetuated because for many people, hiding, blaming, accusing, and ignoring are easier alternatives to facing the truth.

For years, via snail mail (and snail responses), I tried to find an agent for my book. I never thought about the book’s genre until an agent told me she was charmed by the main character, found her to be a delightful narrator, but didn’t handle Young Adult.

It may sound silly, but I was floored. “Say what? But I didn’t write a Young Adult novel,” I protested to those closest to me. After a while, I realized that I’d been submitting what is technically a YA novel to agents who didn’t represent the genre. Ouch!

Today, the book is labeled as YA because the main character narrates the story of her life from the age of 9 until she is 16. And, yeah, it contains a lot of real teen angst before it gets heavy. But I’m still not completely convinced of the label. When asked that same question about genre today, I say, “General Fiction-slash-Young Adult.”

Recently, I finished reading The Catcher in the Rye. I first read it in high school and had absolutely no fond memories of it. Forget the fondness, I had no memories of it at all. I only knew I didn’t really like it. But now, I love it. I really appreciated Salinger’s work, and I laughed at Holden’s crazy, judgmental comments and his antipathy toward those he perceived to be phony. I felt empathy because I knew that the death of his brother and the suicide of a friend had traumatized him so much that he couldn’t move on. He was swathed in apathy while simultaneously being a keen observer of the human condition.

All he wanted to do was be a catcher in a field of rye. He imagined himself in this field, which was full of children and high on a cliff. As they played, he would stand there, near the precipice, to catch them should they be on the verge of falling over.

***Catcher In The Rye

No doubt, there must be millions of teens who loved this classic book on the first read way more than I did. Would I label Catcher as YA? No, not really. Or not completely. The main character/narrator is a teenager and if that is the only criterion, then yes.

Last year, I read an article that said that 55% of YA readers are adults. That doesn’t surprise me at all. After all, if you’re reading YA, you’re going through similar situations now, have children going through similar situations, or are reminded of your own young adulthood. Or maybe you’re looking for a time machine back to your teen years, and a book is your best option.

When I began writing my most recent work, Mystical High, which is Book 1 in a YA paranormal trilogy, my mind was in a very different place than when I wrote Squalor, New Mexico all of those years ago. Yes, I was writing for a teen audience, but not exclusively for one.

In both of these novels, I write about the conflicts that the teen protagonists have with their parents. As an author, I like to tell a story. I try very hard, most of the time, to not stand in judgment or take sides. I’m not a big fan of black-and-white situations. It’s the gray area that gives the reader mental stimulus or content for discussion.

Interestingly, however, more times than not, I relate more to the pain of the teenager than that of the adults. Although as an adult, I cringe at some of the things I did when I was younger, there’s a part of me that is still screaming “Just because I’m young, doesn’t mean I’m wrong!”

This leads me into another question most authors, including me, are asked: Are you any of those characters?

No. I’ve never written any character that is wholly me. Where my teen characters are concerned, the “me” is probably the part of the characters that want their voices to be heard. But nothing is 100%, and even though I relate to the angst of the characters, it doesn’t mean I always agree with them.

When I published Squalor, New Mexico, I had many interesting comments from adult readers. Many told me they related to Darla, the main character, but a few people called her some not-so-nice names, even though they were complimenting the book. I found myself feeling very defensive, not as an author, but as a person. Those comments only reminded me that a reader’s perception of a character is really no different from a person’s perception of a flesh-and-blood human being.

Although I have always known that in large part, human beings are the product of their past experience, writing (and reading) Young Adult is a great reminder that the coming-of-age years are some of the most important of our lives. That transition from childhood to young adulthood is a road with many detours. While it may be prudent to stay on the straight-and-narrow road, diverging onto the side streets may give us life experience we wouldn’t get otherwise. But it can also give us life experience we may regret profoundly throughout our lives.

TwistedPencilDropShadow

The coming-of-age years can be as frightening as they are exhilarating, and this is why I find writing Young Adult books to be emotionally satisfying and rewarding.

CHAT WITH FIONA QUINN

FionaQuinn

Canadian born, Fiona Quinn is now rooted in the Old Dominion outside of D.C. with her husband and four children. She unschools, pops chocolates, devours books, and taps continuously on her laptop.

Time to chat with Fiona!

What is your latest book?

I was involved in a project with two local Sisters in Crime chapters. Sisters in Crime (SinC) is a national support organization for female crime writers, though males are welcome, as well.

Our book, Virginia Is for Mysteries is a compilation of 17 shorts stories set in and around the state of Virginia. Each story features a Virginia landmark, from the shores of Cape Henry Lighthouse to Richmond’s Old Hollywood Cemetery to Jefferson’s Monticello, transporting readers across Virginia’s rich, unique and very deadly landscape. I have two stories included, “Key to a Crime” and “Caged Bird.”

We do many public appearances — library talks, presentation, signings – getting together is always fun. We’ve hit the Amazon top 10 with our effort. And now, we are gearing up for our second book.

You have a website called ThrillWriting. Can you tell us about it, and how you help authors?

ThrillWriting celebrated its first birthday by sliding over the 100k page-view mark. (May 2014) That was hugely gratifying.

A year ago, I was looking through my notebook of research for my novels, and I thought that it might be useful to other authors. I hoped to create a resource that was a beginning point for finding the kinds of tricky details that might show up in writers’ works – sort of a one-stop-shop for mystery/suspense/thriller writers. Though, there are things on psychology and body language that could inform any genre.

In my articles, I include links to further information if an author needs to go deeper in depth, as well as videos – some I make, some I pull from YouTube – to support the ideas and make them clear.

My readers have asked me if I’m afraid of the consequences for researching some of the topics that I do, such as date-rape drugs and the NSA. I point out that I always cheer for the heroine and give her as many options for surviving as possible. I like to joke that the strip searches at the airports and the midnight interrogation visits are just another perk of my job.

While I believe the best way to write something correctly is to have experienced it, that’s not practical. So talking with someone who has expertise is a best secondary avenue. I have met fabulous experts willing to share their time and knowledge. Interviewing them and asking carte-blanche questions has really been a great deal of fun.

Writers looking for research information, or maybe just something to spark their muse, will find a bevy of information at ThrillWriting – and it’s supposed to be interactive. I have a group of experts who are willing to answer authors’ questions, and I have written many of my articles in response to writer queries.

What else have you written?

I am working on a series based on a young woman raised as an unschooler. Unschooling is like homeschool on steroids where everything is fair game for use as a learning experience. My heroine, Lexi Sobado, has the great good fortune of having an amazing brain, great physical abilities, and is pretty in a girl-next-door kind of way. But that’s the end of her good luck. The rest of her life is a non-stop nightmare, and Lexi has to put her skills to good use just to stay alive.

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

All of my most dramatic scenes showed up unexpectedly. They often went further than I thought I wanted to go with a set of circumstances. After I let the idea marinate for a while, I saw that these scenes were necessary and truthful. I like that very much – stretching into a new mind set.

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

I love when I have my teeth into a project. I could write from the moment that I open my eyes until my fingers simply cannot type another word at the end of the day. Sometimes the characters’ voices are so clear in my head and the plot is unravelling itself before me, and then ARGH kid interruptions. I adore my kids, but being pulled between my two worlds – my true life and my creative mind space – I find actually physically painful.

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

I start putting words on a page when I know my story in my head and all of the quirks and details about characters. I write, flipping back and forth along the time line – very seat of the pants-y.

Right now, I am experimenting with working with a writing partner. We have an idea that sets our characters in two separate parts of the world. I write in Virginia, USA and he writes in Thailand. For this kind of writing, we are being extremely methodical about our characters and our plot line. He has even made a spreadsheet, and I only got hives looking at it the first two or three times. It’s a fabulous learning experience and mental challenge. I’m very much enjoying the process.

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

I believe I was born to write. I write/think about writing all day every day whether I am, paid or not. When I was in college, my aspiration was to become a travel writer. I thought that it would be the ultimate job to travel the world at someone else’s expense and to get a paycheck for doing so. I thought doing spa critiques might be my specialty… Ah, but then came young love and marriage and life and four children. I homeschooled/unschooled all of my kids. When my first two left the nest, I thought, At last! Now I can write. I thought I might write about unschooling since I was one of the pioneering families. I started unschooling decades ago, before there were any resources available. But characters kept popping their heads out and getting killed, so I thought I’d better ditch the non-fiction and stick to romantic suspense.

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

My husband has a gift for knowing where he is and how to get from Point A to Point B. I do not. I can get lost in a building that I had just walked into. It’s very disconcerting. I would be travelling in a different city from him and call hubby all in a panic, “I’m lost. I can’t get back to the interstate.”

And he’d ask in his calm voice, “What do you see?”

“Well, there’s a funeral home and a doughnut shop.”

“Fine, turn right at the next light, and you’ll see some highway signs.”

And he’d be right, every time. It was uncanny.

Anyway, he was in a contest years ago and won a Garmin – one of the very first ones available. Being a human compass, he had no need for such an instrument and gave it to me as a gift. I LOVE it – it’s one of my all-time favorite things. It makes me feel very free. Thanks to the Garmin, I felt comfortable packing my youngest kids in the car and driving them around the United States for six weeks on an unschooling odyssey. We were never lost, and we had such a great learning opportunity.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

Yes! Camel, dogsled, almost anything to get me to the next adventure – though boats might rank up with my least favorite modes of transportation right before skis.

Once, I was in the Alps on a glacier during the summer, thinking for some reason that it was a great time to learn to ski. I went to the top of the black diamond, iced slopes where little kids, that I couldn’t imagine were much past the toddler stage, and the graceful figures of women, in their bright red bikinis and matching ski boots, shot down the mountain side. I wore everything I owned, knowing I might fall a time or two while I got the hang of things.

Turns out, I could not glide gracefully like the Swiss ski bunnies. Instead, I chose to flail wildly. I ended up slipping off the path and rested during my descent by gripping a sign that I translated to mean, “Return to the path. Dangerous crevasses.” Huh. If I only had the skills to comply… I did finally get to the bottom, one lost baton and one chipped elbow later. There, Rescue had the St. Bernard dogs, I kid you not, attached to a sled ready to pull me to the top. That and a cheering crowd of laughing Swiss citizens gleefully snapping my picture. Sigh.

While that was my first ski attempt, sadly, all of my ski stories go downhill from there.

For Mother’s Day this year, my husband is taking me to try zip lining over a zoo. I get to play orangutan. I’m very excited.

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

I could live on a simple picnic – wine, bread, cheese, and fruit with chocolate for desert. I’m not a big fan of meat and am a mostly-vegetarian. I can do without heat-spice. I like to eat regionally when I travel – that’s part of the adventure.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Oh so many. Simple joys are the best kinds. Holding hands with my husband. My kids’ laughter. The perfect temperature outside. My dog jumping to catch his ball. The scent of freshly mown grass especially if there were wild onions in the mix. A graceful orchid.

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CHAT WITH ZOE E. WHITTEN

ZoeWhitten

An experimental dark fiction writer, Zoe has written several novels and novellas that fuse fantasy, sci-fi, horror, crime fiction, black comedy and musicals.

Born in Denison Texas, Zoe is a high school dropout and a GED graduate. Despite these depressingly low qualifications, she has worked as a computer technician, a webmaster, an internet help desk operator, a video producer, a movie theater projectionist, an amusement park ride operator, a telemarketer, a dishwasher, and a wrestling federation commissioner. She briefly attempted to serve in the Army before injuring herself in basic training. (Instead of “Hu-ah!” it was more like “Hu-OW!”)

Retired due to poor health, she lives in Milan Italy with her husband Luciano and her dog and cat.

Time to chat with Zoe!

What is your latest book?

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, a spin-off story following several characters from the Peter the Wolf series. At the end of Peter’s fourth book, Thicker Than Blood, he chose to leave Dallas to give Alice room to heal without him. She’s come to terms with his abuse and with the torture she suffered after Peter’s mother kidnapped her and made her into a werewolf. But in the years after his absence, she’s also had to deal with problems of her own. The new book picks up three years after Peter turned himself over to the FBI, and it follows Alice through her problems with school bullies, exposure of her lycanthrope curse to a young child she’s babysitting, her budding exploits playing high school football on the boy’s team, and the arrival of a new werewolf who seems to be part of the same bloodline as Alice and Peter.

I wrote Alice’s story intending for it to stand alone. So if new readers wanted to get into Alice’s series without reading Peter’s, they wouldn’t feel lost. I looked for beta readers who had read Peter’s series, and those who hadn’t, and both agreed it had enough information to fill in the blanks without getting carried away with info-dumps.

AliceDLHA

Is your recent book part of a series?

Yes, the Alice the Wolf series has five books, and all five books were written long before I started editing the first for publication. Initially I planned the books around being one book for each of the four werewolf enemies Alice makes, but one of the four wolves turned out to be way more complex than I could contain in one book. The fourth book exploded out to a whopping 210K word count, forcing me to split it into two books. Even then, that last book is going to be a bit thicker than the first four.

peter_marketing

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

Finding a place to stop. The two words I dislike the most are The End, because I’m always curious and what to know what happens next to the characters.

What else have you written?

A little of everything. I’ve self-published over 40 ebooks since 2009 in a variety of genres. My eventual goal is to become one of the most prolific authors of my generation.

SoleSurvivorsClub_Mktg

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

Every single day. I used to try and dictate dialogue and action to my characters, only to have to spend way too much time making massive rewrites when they complained, “That’s not what I’d do!” Now I just let them decide their own stories, and as a result, they rarely do anything close to what I’d expect.

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?

Somewhere between 60 to 80% through a book, I get into a self-loathing phase. Suddenly, everything I write is crap, I’m a hack, I’m a fraud, and why am I still doing this when I could be doing something less stressful and lonely with my time?

But then I remind myself that even great writers have these feelings around the same point in writing new books. So I suck it up, ignore the mean-spirited voices in my head, and get back to writing.

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?

No, and this is something I notice during my random spot inspections. I like to go back and reread my older titles to look for typos or lines that need tweaking. Stories are never truly done, I think. But even going back to my oldest work, I never think “I wish that story had gone a different route.” I think it’s because I do a lot of revisions before release, usually four or five. So once I put out a story, it’s already set down the way I want it. There may have been other directions the story could have taken, but this is the path I chose, and if anyone disagrees with me, well that’s what fan-fiction is for.

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

This depends a lot on the story. Sometimes I just need to do research on the story location to make sure what I’m writing fits the city or town I’ve chosen. But for instance I wrote a book about Jinn, The Sole Survivor’s Club, and that required roughly six months of studying the jinn in Persian myths and Biblical and Islamic texts. I didn’t just want to make up a western interpretation of genies who grant wishes and live in lamps, so I had to spend a lot of time learning about the marid, ifrit, ghul, and sila races. Once I had a clearer idea of how their societies worked, I was able to worry about the characters possessed by the jinn, their reasons for tormenting certain humans, and how the humans found a way to free themselves.

How would you define your style of writing?

Hack pantster. When I first started writing, I tried doing outlines. But I never got more than a quarter of the way into any new story before I was veering so far off the outlines that they weren’t helpful. Rather than worry about rewriting the outlines, I gave up on plotting everything out. Now I just know the general areas where I want to start and end a book, and everything in between is a journey of surprising discoveries.

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

Yes, very much so, which is why I end up writing so many sequels. Even after I’m sure one book is the last, I get the urge to keep exploring. This is why Alice got her own series after Peter’s ended, because there were too many unanswered questions that I couldn’t leave alone.

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?

I’m torn about this topic. I do think reviews are important, and I sometimes ask readers to post reviews for my books. But despite having something like 95% positive reviews, it hasn’t done much to improve my sales. Sometimes I wonder if there’s a certain number of reviews one has to reach before they begin to have a cumulative effect on sales, but if that’s the case, I still have yet to reach that point.

But mostly, I want to say to readers that all writers would like to know how they felt after finishing a book, and that even their shortest reviews let other readers know what to expect. I know writing reviews is a pain in the butt. I often struggle to write reviews for all the books I read, too. But if you make the effort to write an honest review, your thoughts will be appreciated by both the authors and the other readers.

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

I do, but I don’t really obsess over it the way I used to. If the words aren’t flowing well in a story, I just pick up someone else’s book and read until a solution occurs to me.

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

I’m struggling to think of anything, but at this point, I’ve written in horror, fantasy, dark fantasy, sci-fi, and contemporary lit. There are genre fusions I might like to attempt in the future, but no one genre that I feel I need to write in. I think that’s the joy of having written so many books in so many genres. I worry less about what market I’m aiming for, and more about how the characters and story will appeal to me as a reader.

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

I live in Milan, and I love it here. But if I could move anywhere and afford to stay, I’d go to Amsterdam. There’s an amazing kind of calm that permeates the city, and they have a vast number of bookstores and art museums that I could never get tired of exploring. I’ve been to Amsterdam three times over the years, and I never left without wishing I could just move into an apartment and stay there forever.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

Walking! Heh, I guess I prefer trains, as they tend to be the least bumpy form of transportation I’ve ever been on. I may be biased against planes because I’ve rarely taken a plane ride that turbulence didn’t turn into a terrifying roller coaster. Boats are out of the question because I’m terrified of any body of water where I can’t see the shoreline, and I dislike cars because I was the passenger in no less than six automobile collisions. But if any destination is close enough to walk, I prefer to trust my own two feet.

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

Pizza. Doesn’t matter what toppings you put on it. I just love pizza. My least favorite food is liver. I never understand how anyone can enjoy that gamy flavor and nasty texture.

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

I think it was convincing a new reader to try my sci-fi story, The Life and Death of a Sex Doll, and having them write to me the next day to ask if they could buy all of my books directly from me. At the time I had 36 titles out, and after I quoted them a discounted price, they paid me something like $20 over what I’d quoted them. I’ve since had other fans buy all my books in one go after reading the first, but that first time, it was definitely a pleasant shock.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

I like watching people. Maybe it’s a side effect of being a writer, but whenever I go outside, I’m always looking at everyone around me and wondering what their life is like.

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