From Vines to Wine—a research journey to Tuscany, Italy, Switzerland, and California: Guest blog by Christa Polkinhorn

I love a glass of good wine with my meals and I love Tuscany, which is one of the reasons I situated my novel, The Italian Sister, in one of my favorite areas of Italy. Since I knew almost nothing about grape growing and winemaking, I had to do quite a bit of research. I read books, navigated the internet, but the best parts of the research were my trips to Tuscany, to Switzerland, and also to one of the wine regions in California, Paso Robles. I walked through vineyards, took photos, and most of all, I talked to many people involved in growing grapes and making wine. It was an eye-opening adventure. I was amazed to find out just how much work, science, and art goes into the process of transforming vines into wine! All the people I met were extremely helpful and generous with their time and made this part of my research a truly memorable experience. My friends and family patiently followed me around vineyards, introduced me to vintners, and shared their knowledge with me. And, of course, I got to taste some excellent wine.

One of the first exposures to winemaking during a vacation in Tuscany together with friends and family was in Querceto, a Tuscan hill town about half an hour inland from the Mediterranean coast. Querceto is a small hidden pearl of a place. The only tourists here seem to be those who have heard about the excellent wine that’s being produced in the local wine press house.

Figure 1

We found a castle, a church, one restaurant with lodgings, the winery, and plenty of friendly, helpful people.

Here is where it all happens, the magical transformation of grapes into wine. In these huge fermentation steel tanks, the grapes simmer and sizzle until just the right time. After pressing and fermenting the grapes, the juice is transferred into barrels where it ages and is eventually put into bottles for us to enjoy.

Figure 2Figure 3Sounds magical? In reality, it is hard, backbreaking, and often dirty, sticky work. And the risk of a bad harvest when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate has ruined many small vineyards and winemaking outfits. You really have to love this process to continue. I haven’t met a vintner or winemaker who wasn’t passionate about his work.

And here are some of my loyal friends who patiently took me around to vineyards and wineries. Cheers! By the way, that young boy on the right is NOT drinking wine, just smelling it!

Figure 4If you want to know more about this charming hill town and its vineyards, here is a link:

Marchesi Ginori Lisci

The Tuscan villa near Cecina we stayed in as well as the many Tuscan houses made its appearance in my novel as well.

Figure 5Figure 6On one of the days, my nephew and I took a trip to Volterra, the hill town that served as inspiration to my imaginary town of Vignaverde in the novel. The drive through the gorgeous Tuscan landscape made me aware again, why I chose this to be the locale for my work. No matter what time of the year or day, Tuscany always shows its mysterious and charming face.

Figure 7Figure8Figure 9And here we are in Volterra. The walls surrounding the town are a mixture of Etruscan (about 700 BC) and medieval architecture. Situated on top of a hill and protected by thick walls, the towns were in a perfect position to fight off roving aggressors during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Inside the city, the narrow cobblestone streets are lined with a multitude of shops, coffee shops, small restaurants, and art and crafts galleries. Volterra has fewer tourists than the more famous hill towns such as Siena. The majority of the people are locals and the town has a vibrant life of its own.

Figure 10Figure 11Figure 12

In Switzerland, I visited a vineyard as well. My friend Silvia De Lorenzi did an apprenticeship as a young girl on a vineyard and introduced the family of vintners to me. Now in their third generation, members of the Obrist family were generous enough to take time out of their busy day during the grape harvest to show me around the vineyards and the wine press house. Another good friend accompanied me on this outing to a beautiful part of Switzerland, called Bündner Herrschaft.

Figure 13Figure 14

As you can see, winemaking is heavy-duty physical work as well as an art and science.

Back in California, I didn’t have to look very far to find excellent wine areas. One of my favorite places is Paso Robles in the Central Coast area of Southern Calfornia. Here I discovered the vineyards and winery of the Caporone family, one old Italian immigrant family of vintners and winemakers. It is a small outfit, run solely by a father-son team. Marc, the son, spent hours showing me around and answering my many questions. And he introduced me to my favorite Italian wines: Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Aglianico among others.

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If you want to know more about The Italian Sister, here is the blurb and links to the book and my website.

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Standing at her father’s grave in California, Sofia Laverne mourns his untimely death. Henry had not only been a loving parent but Sofia’s best friend and mentor. Imagine her shock and grief when she finds out her father had lived a double-life, that she has a ten-year younger sister and inherited a vineyard in Tuscany. Torn between anger about his betrayal, grief for her loss, and hopeful anticipation, Sofia packs her bags and takes off for Italy to meet fourteen-year old Julietta. Arriving in the small hill town of Vignaverde, she is greeted by olive groves, neat rows of grape vines, and picturesque houses. Some of the inhabitants of this beautiful estate are, unfortunately, less welcoming and resent her intrusion into the family business. Soon, strange occurrences begin to frighten Sofia. When a suspicious accident lands her in the hospital, Sofia fears for her life.

Cheers! You can find me on the following websites. I love to keep in touch with my readers!

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CHAT WITH MARIA HASKINS

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Maria Haskins was born and grew up in Sweden, but has been a resident of British Columbia, Canada since the early 1990s. Currently, she lives just outside Vancouver with her family – a husband, two kids, and a very large dog. She has had several books published in Sweden, and Odin’s Eye – a collection of science fiction short stories – is her English language debut.

In addition to being a writer and blogger, she is also a certified translator, translating between Swedish and English.

Time to chat with Maria!

What is your latest book?

My latest book is ‘Cuts & Collected Poems 1989 – 2015’. It’s a sort of poetry-anthology. It includes one book of poetry called Cuts, the first one I’ve ever written in English, and translations of my three previously published Swedish collections of poetry.

Cuts_Maria_HLast year I also self-published Odin’s Eye, a collection of science fiction short stories. The stories are set in an unspecified distant future when humanity has colonized parts of the solar system, and are also exploring outer space. My stories deal with things like artificial intelligence, cloning, human colonization of alien worlds, and how human life on Earth has been affected by conflict and environmental problems. And aliens: there are definitely some aliens, too! One of the themes running through the book is how human beings and society are affected by technological change. I’d say that the focus in my stories is on how technology affects human beings, the human experience, and the human condition, rather than on the specifics of the technology itself.

odins-eye-cover_20How did you choose the genre(s) you write in? Or did they choose you?

I feel like I’ve written poetry, fantasy and science fiction pretty much my whole life.

I’ve been a huge fan of science fiction ever since I was a child. Books like Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation-series set me on that path, just like Tolkien’s and Ursula K. Le Guin’s work made me fall in love with the fantasy genre. There’s just something about these kinds of stories set in other worlds (whether alternate fantasy worlds, or sci-fi future-worlds) that appeals to me very strongly. Part of it is that there’s a freedom in the storytelling, and in what you can do as a writer (and what you can expect as a reader) in those kinds of stories. I have written other kinds of fiction, and I do write poetry as well, but science fiction and fantasy are definitely my first loves when it comes to both reading and writing, and that’s my focus as a writer right now.

I’ve written poetry since I was a young teenager. It was a way to express myself and use my creativity, but it was also a way to process everything I was thinking and feeling. That’s the way it still is for me. It’s almost like a safety valve, and it was definitely a safety valve when I was a teen.

What really changed the way I thought about poetry, and how I wrote poetry, was when we read T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land in high school. I still have the printout of the poem we were given in class. Eliot’s language, and the way he mixes and blends the strange and the familiar, memories and literary references… that made a huge impression on me. It made me realize that you could do things with language that I hadn’t realized were even possible before that. You could sort of paint your feelings with words on paper. The Waste Land is still one my favourite poems. I come back to it all the time and still find it very inspiring. It is such a strange and beautiful poem, almost like a hallucination or fever-dream. Reading The Waste Land opened my eyes to the fact that things don’t have to “make sense” in poetry (or prose, really) for you to understand them. Interestingly, even when I had terrible writer’s block, I would still write poetry occasionally because it was so much more immediate and visceral, perhaps, than writing prose.

What are the greatest challenges in writing short stories?

Probably creating a sense of the place and the world your story is set in without a lot of exposition, and also giving the reader a feel for your characters without using pages and pages to do it. But that challenge is also what makes writing short stories a lot of fun! You have to really think about what NOT to say, just as much as you think about what you DO say: keeping some mystery rather than explaining things thoroughly. One of my favourite short stories is Ray Bradbury’s The One Who Waits, about a strange being that lives “like smoke in a well”. It’s brief, enigmatic, haunting, scary, and totally awesome. And Bradbury’s prose is just perfect in that story. That is sort of my gold standard for what a short story should be.

What’s the greatest challenge in writing poetry?

I’d say that it is getting at the emotional truth of what it is you want to say, and not lose sight of what, exactly, you’re trying to express. That’s what I aim for when I write, to focus on a feeling or mood and express it in words the way I feel it in my own mind. Often, that means NOT writing what comes to mind first, but digging deeper and not be afraid to be strange and weird. It usually also means paring it all down to the very core of what you’re feeling, even if that can be painful.

A poem in my latest collection ‘Cuts’ is called ‘Pain in Progress’ and it was written when I found out that a friend of mine had died from cancer. She was close to my own age and it hit me so hard: the finality of it, that death can come for someone you know and all of a sudden they’re just not part of the world anymore. I basically wrote that poem in a day, just in the pain of missing her, anger at death and cancer for taking her away. Everything was so raw and close. It was painful to write it, but there were so many feelings just screaming to get out of me. It was a way to talk to myself and others about that grief and pain.

Another challenge when I was getting my collection of poetry ready for self-publication was translating my old poetry, written in Swedish many years ago, into English. That was rather daunting, but also kind of exhilarating: to revisit those poems that I wrote many, many years ago and almost reinterpret them into English. Translating poetry is tough, that’s why there is that famous quote about “poetry is what gets lost in translation”, because it’s so hard to capture the exact meaning, rhythm, and nuances of one language when you translate a poem into another language. There is no way to do it without losing something of the original along the way, that’s just the nature of the beast, but at least in my own case I knew what I originally meant to say. It was gratifying to translate all that poetry, to read it again and experience it again, and actually capture it – to some extent at least! – on the page in English.

What else have you been working on?

After self-publishing Odin’s Eye, and my collection of poetry last year, I’ve been working a lot on short stories and flash fiction mainly fantasy and science fiction. I have two short stories coming out in the next Mind’s Eye anthology, and I also have a short story in an anthology from Inklings Press called ‘Alternate Earths’. It’s a science fiction / alternate history story, and different from the kind of writing I’ve done before: it’s my first time diving into alternate history. I am really excited to be part of those two anthologies!

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

It’s hard. It’s tough to deal with somebody saying that they don’t like something you poured your heart and soul into. I’m not great at handling it to be honest, but I try. I try to at least not take things personally. One thing to keep in my mind is that not every reader will like your work, regardless of how good a writer you are. And sometimes you can learn from it as well: that’s the good and scary part about criticism, when it points out actual flaws in our work!

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

I’ve written stories pretty much as long as I can remember. It’s always been a part of me, and it’s always been something I do.

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

My life is pretty busy with kids, a dog, and a part-time job as a translator, so I try to grab whatever moments are available. If I could pick, it would be to work before noon, and maybe late nights after everyone else has gone to bed. I find that my creativity is probably best earlier in the day, but late nights are pretty good for editing and poetry. As for must-haves, I must have my cup of extra strong tea, and sometimes I like listening to instrumental music as well.

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 think covers are important. They are not everything, but they can definitely help. When it came to Odin’s Eye, I was really lucky, or maybe it was serendipity or fate or whatever. Anyway, once I had decided on the title, I stumbled on an image of the Helix nebula online: it’s a nebula that looks like a giant eye in space. Sometimes it’s been called the “eye of god”. It was such a perfect image for the book, and I knew immediately that this had to be the cover. Luckily for me, the picture was in the public domain! I was so pleased with how that cover came out, and I still get a thrill every time I see it. I have thank Caligraphics for designing that cover!

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

I suffered from a very bad case of writer’s block for a few years. There were a lot of things behind that. One thing was that my two wonderful-crazy-nutty kids came along, shifting my priorities and changing my life: and I am so deeply grateful for them, but yes, having kids did affect my writing. I was used to just being able to write whenever I felt like it, and suddenly that wasn’t really possible anymore. I also wanted to switch from writing in Swedish (I was born and grew up in Sweden, and my first books were published in Swedish) but I was terrified of writing in English, and extremely worried that I’d just suck at it. There were several other factors at play too, things I can kind of see now, but wasn’t able to really see clearly at the time. Getting out of that hole was very hard. I actually started blogging as a way of getting back into writing: just to write something, anything, even if it wasn’t fiction. I also took a course in technical writing which was helpful: again, I was writing and learning about writing, but without doing the “dreaded” fiction-thing. It was a very slow process to get back to fiction writing – almost like overcoming a phobia! What I had enjoyed doing more than anything else suddenly became a source of anxiety, even fear, so I avoided it. I’m very happy to be back to fiction-writing and I know it might sound odd that you’d ever have trouble doing something that you love… but there it is. These days I try to live by Karen Blixen’s words: “Write a little every day, without hope, without despair.”

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

I live just outside Vancouver on Canada’s west coast. It’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth, I think. If I had to move somewhere, I’d either want to move back to Sweden, where I’m originally from, or to Maui. I’ve been to Maui a couple of times, and that place is just magical. I do know I always want to live fairly close to the ocean. Not necessarily beach front, but somewhere where you can get to a beach without too much trouble. I think there’s just a fundamental, deep connection between humans and the ocean and I don’t want to be too far away from that.

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

I love food. I love eating it, reading about it, and cooking it. Well, OK, maybe I don’t like cooking every day, but I do usually enjoy it. It’s hard to pick just one dish… I love spicy food, Chinese food, I love pizza, sushi, I love steak, and I love all kinds of seafood. But if I had to pick just one thing as a comfort food, it would probably be fresh bread with butter, and maybe cheese: simple but so good you just can’t stop eating it. Least favourite food would include oysters. I’ve tried them cooked every which way, but I just don’t get the attraction.

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

One of the best gifts I have ever received was my Kindle e-reader. My husband bought it for me even though I had told him I didn’t want one. These days, I can’t imagine my reading life without it. Another great gift was a ring my mom gave me after my grandmother passed away. It was my grandmother’s silver ring, adorned with this large crystal. It’s a piece of jewelry that I remember my grandma wearing many times, and whenever I wear it I feel like she’s a bit closer to me.

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

I don’t watch a lot of TV anymore, but Game of Thrones is definitely must-watch TV for me. I love George R.R. Martin’s books, and I’m not sure I’m all that crazy about the deviations from the books this most recent season, but it’s still a gripping and well-cast show. Past TV-shows I love include Firefly (I’m still not over that it was cancelled after just one season), Star Trek the Next Generation (Picard!), and Lost, a show I was absolutely obsessed with. Through my kids, I’ve been introduced to Adventure Time and I really love that show: it is completely and insanely warped and trippy, but brilliant.

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

A separate writing room for me. I don’t have a separate room for me to write in right now, though I do have a good writing space in the house. And I’d love to add a library: a library with my computer desk, and a ton of books on all the walls: that would be ideal.

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

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is definitely my all-time favourite movie, though I have other loves as well. The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca rank very high on my list as well! My favorite book would be The Lord of the Rings. I never get tired of it, and by now I’ve read it so many times that I’ve lost count! Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle is a very close second, though.

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CHAT WITH JONATHAN MILLER

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 7.37.31 PMJonathan William Miller was born in Owenton, Kentucky, on July 7, 1968, and has lived most of his life in Central Kentucky. He is the youngest of three sons of a Baptist minister father and a schoolteacher mother. He attended public schools in Nicholasville and graduated from the University of Kentucky, majoring in journalism. After college, he worked at various newspapers as a reporter, sportswriter and website developer and producer in Texas, Arkansas and Kentucky. In the mid-1990s he began writing serious fiction.

Time to chat with Jonathan!

What is your latest book?

On Your Own, short stories and vignettes about people who feel alone and disconnected from the world.

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What are the greatest challenges in writing short stories?

Making sure the reader knows where the story is going early on and making it interesting enough for them to want to go along for the ride.

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

Let me answer this by saying I love when characters pop up out of God knows where and start talking. There are no living models for these people. They just appear and I’m really just a vessel for their performance. This is very rare for me. I have a couple of those characters in On Your Own that I’m still wondering where they came from and feel very fortunate that they dropped in for a visit.

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

I would probably be classified as a late bloomer. I didn’t write much when I was young because I didn’t read much. Reading was a chore, especially when the outdoors beckoned. I had older brothers and we played whatever sport was in season. The act of reading meant sacrificing play time and that was not going to happen. At night I was too tired from play to read. My mom challenged me when I was, I think, 10 or 11, to read Where the Red Fern Grows. She wanted to see if I could read a book from start to finish. After a few pages I was hooked. I loved the boy’s friendship with his dogs and the hunting scenes. The ending touched me in a way that embarrassed me but it made me acknowledge that the writer had done something significant enough to produce an emotional response. That was the first time I thought of writing as a noble act. I wrote a few stories for school assignments as a kid but didn’t start writing serious fiction until after college. You are a writer when you write for yourself and for no pay.

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 feel as though I have tough skin and thin skin. I want everyone to enjoy my work but I also know that that is impossible. I would strongly urge all writers to edit their work vigorously until they can’t improve it anymore. If you re-read it and it produces the emotion you are seeking, then that’s all you can ask of yourself. There will be an audience for your work. Those who do not like your style or your subject are simply walking out of your theatre. Hopefully their seat will be occupied by another who enjoys the show.

Are you an early bird writer or night owl?

I like to wake in the morning thinking about the story I’m working on. I picture the character at the beginning of the story, and I walk around with him or her and go through the conflicts and I look for details that might be missing from the manuscript. Then I will prop myself up and take the story off the nightstand and get to work on it. I’ve tried working at different times of the day and it just doesn’t seem to produce the same magic that the morning does.

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

Rather than having a book signing at a book store, I decided to throw a book launch event and invited friends and work colleagues. We will have beer and wine, appetizers and live music. It’s not going to be expensive either. We got the hall for free, friends offered to help with the food. And I have lots of musician friends who offered to play the event at no charge. We’re asking each friend to bring a book-loving friend who I don’t know. I have heard about nightmare book signings where very few people show up and books go unsold. I wanted this to be a fun night, a night of celebration. There will be a sign-up sheet for my newsletter, T-shirts with the book’s cover on the front for sale, and, of course, my paperback with the option to have it signed.

How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?

This is an interesting question that I would like to address a little bit differently. There seems to be a lot of tension with traditionally published writers vs. indies, and genre writers vs. literary fiction writers. I would like all writers to take a step back and not be so quick to be judgmental or get their feelings hurt. Whatever genre your natural talent pulls you to, that’s where you belong. If you wish to write in multiple genres, then your talent is guiding you to do that. Writers should not feel they are in competition with other writers. Your only threat is not performing up to your ability. There’s enough audience for all of us. Even if you don’t have a large audience, you still accomplished what you set out to do. So keep at it.

What else have you written?

I’ve written a novel, a screenplay and poetry. I’m not entirely comfortable in any of those forms. I feel the short story is my natural habitat. I wrote the novel just to see if I could do it, but I think critics would say it’s really just a long short story. I like the quirky challenge of the short story, whereas, the novel seems too big and bulky for my arms to get around.

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

I’ve written stories both ways, where I knew the ending and when I didn’t. I prefer not knowing the ending. It seems to be more interesting to me if I let the characters and the situations sort themselves out during the process. Of course, during editing, the early version is almost wiped out completely. I’m more of a re-writer than a writer.

The title should come naturally out of the story. If it doesn’t, then you’re probably not thinking clearly.

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

I compose all of my fiction in longhand. I feel I can hear the characters’ voices better. Pencil on paper is a soothing sound. The tap, tap, tap of a computer keyboard I find to be a major distraction. And, plus, my fingers and hands get tired and my posture suffers. I can write longer (and better) with pencil and paper.

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

If it’s important for the writer to be published traditionally, by all means, pursue that route. But if the door is slammed in their face (as it was for me) I would urge that they self-publish. You have to do all of the leg work when you’re an indie, but the reward is so great. There are hurdles upon hurdles to jump to self-publish, but you gain confidence and wisdom after each hurdle is cleared.

How would you define your style of writing?

Simple and precise. At least that’s what I’m aiming for: simplicity and precision. I want the reader to feel as though they’re walking through the story and can see and feel everything that’s going on. I don’t want to attempt acrobatic feats with words or use flowery language or show off an education I don’t possess. I want the reader inside the story to feel like they’re seeing the action and not listening to a story being told to them. The perfect world would be for the reader to be so lost in the story that if they were to see my face on the back of the book they would say, “What is he doing here?”

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

I don’t think I’ve ever suffered from writer’s block. That may be because I don’t write every day. I write when I can avoid it no longer. This may sound sacrilegious to professional writers who force themselves to write every day. This does not work for me. I write when I feel I must.

I do suffer from story block from time to time. There will be a character or a situation or dialogue or an ending that I’m not happy with and it will bother me until I work it out.

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

Lexington, Ky. Hawaii would be nice for a while. I think I would like to live in Europe for a while and bum around there some, but my wife would probably get sick of it before I would.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I’m a frustratingly good golfer. My wife says I’m good enough to spend too much time and money on it, but not good enough to actually make money at it.

What music soothes your soul?

Whenever I’m upset, disappointed, hurt I turn to Pink Floyd’s best years: Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall. The Beatles and Led Zeppelin are also favorites. I feel as though John Lennon and I would have been very good friends.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Watching movies from the 1930s-1950s. The old black and white movies where they film what cities looked like and the way people dressed in the old days really touches the historian in me.

 

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CHAT WITH DOUG J. COOPER

 

DougCooper2As a child, Doug stood on a Florida beach and watched an Apollo spacecraft climb the sky on its mission to the moon. He thrilled at the sight of the pillar of flames pushing the rocket upward, and the excitement of that time inspired Doug to pursue a career in technology. He studied chemical engineering in college, and he works as a professor and entrepreneur when he is not writing. His passions include telling inventive tales, mentoring driven individuals, and everything sci-tech.


Your books are part of a series. What’s the story about?

The Crystal series currently includes the books Crystal Deception and Crystal Conquest, the short prequel Crystal Horizon, and I am now writing Crystal Rebellion, due out in 2016. These are stories about people, and I enjoy futuristic settings, so that’s where my characters live.

On the surface, the cast sounds a bit like a comic book—there’s Sid the spy, Juice the scientist, Cheryl the military officer, and Criss the amazing AI (artificial intelligence) crystal. But I’ve worked hard to make the story hold together with a reasonable suspension of disbelief, and readers seem to enjoy the books, so that’s a rewarding outcome.

A broad arc for the story is the threatening activities of the Kardish, a space-faring race with Earth in the crosshairs. The aliens possess overwhelming force, yet Criss and his human partners confront them. I’ve worked to make the stories exciting, suspenseful, action-packed, and fun escapism. I leave it to readers to decide if I’ve succeeded.

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You write futuristic thrillers. Often, elements of science fiction books of the past are a part of today’s reality. Do you see any elements of your novels becoming a part of tomorrow’s reality?

While my stories have fantastical elements, I believe most of the technological achievements they describe will come true in one form or another. In the not-too-distant future, we will have artificial intelligence, fast space ships, biomechanical androids, life-like projected image displays, energy weapons, cloaking devices, amazing communication systems, and colonies on the moon and Mars.

I think we move to an unknowable future when we contemplate elements like gravity on spacecraft, faster-than-light travel, or first contact by an alien spaceship. But these are fundamental components of today’s science fiction, and readers seem comfortable accepting these possibilities.

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

Aliens, spies, AI, romance, battles in space!

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

I write my scenes in the order they will appear when published. The fun thing about this is that my books are written in a rotating point of view style and don’t always follow a straight timeline from chapter to chapter. So, I write a story that does not follow a strict timeline sequence, and that rotates among the viewpoints of the central characters, in page order.

And to really make it fun, I don’t allow myself to go back and change a previous scene to help me solve a challenge with the current one. To me, plot development is like solving a puzzle. I enjoy being at a particular point in an adventure, with characters deployed here and there, all with histories and in certain situations, and now I must move forward in a plausible and entertaining fashion.

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 edit as I go. And as I write, I will look back and tweak pages here and there until I can read a whole scene without stopping. I can usually achieve this in five or so passes. And during this time, I edit for sentence structure, word selection, line breaks, showing not telling, replacing passive voice with active voice, continuity, and anything else that draws my attention at that time. Writing new lines for a story is equally slow. I can take a minute to write one sentence. And then five more messing with it.

But my key to success is persistence. I write every day for two or three hours. And slowly but surely, I write books. It took me a year each to write my two full length books—Deception and Conquest—in this manner. Both are 95K words. I expect a similar length and timeline for my work in progress, Crystal Rebellion.

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

My characters surprise me pretty much every time I write, which is why I can’t plot ahead. The conversations are the wild card. I can describe a setting or have action take place and stay on track. But once the characters start talking, all bets are off.

In a verbal exchange, a character will reveal information I had planned on holding back, note something that becomes a flaw in my plot, or make a quip that takes the scene in an unexpected direction. I don’t fight it. I embrace it. Discovering what’s going on in a character’s mind is one of the thrills that keeps me writing.

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

I write my books in order, and that begins with the title, which, to me, sets the tone for the project. With that said, picking a title isn’t a complicated process. I choose a word to combine with Crystal that evokes in me a sense of huge possibilities and unknown mysteries. With my mind ready for the adventure, the story begins.

I reached the 20K word mark on my current project, Crystal Rebellion (doesn’t the word Rebellion conjure all manner of mysterious possibilities?), before I began speculating about the ending. I have some ideas I am excited about, so I know I will like how it turns out. But I won’t really know what happens until I write it. I’m excited to find out, and that makes me look forward to writing.

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

I was surprised—pleasantly so–the first time I received a review that discussed how the plot might have unfolded differently from the way I wrote it. Since then, I’ve received a number of reviews where the person has ideas about a character, a relationship, or a plot line that differs from how I wrote it.

It’s gratifying to know that a reader is invested enough in the story to think through details of how it might have evolved differently, and then to reduce those ideas to writing for the world to read. I feel rewarded knowing my stories have impacted readers at this emotional level.

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?

A book cover drives impulse purchases, and so good ones are vital to the success of a commercial project. For web-based sales, how well a cover scales to a thumbnail size is equally important. For my three covers, I worked with talented designers at Damonza.com. I sought a retro look—shadowy figures in futuristic settings—that reminded me of old science fiction. I’m not sure how they are doing as far as impulse sales goes, but I like them.

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

I wish I’d known how much I enjoyed writing stories. I would have started earlier!

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

I live in Connecticut with my lovely wife, where we enjoy the four distinct seasons, the rolling hills, the lakes and forests, and the history of the region. So far in my journey through life I’ve lived for at least a year (in order) in New York, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, California, Colorado, and Connecticut. My wife and I have discussed moving to the West Coast at some point. In fact, we are spending a week touring Oregon this summer to see if it might be a good fit for the future.

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

That would be a toss-up between when my wife agreed to marry me, and the birth of my son a few years later.

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

I’m a dreamer, so my answer would depend on the day you ask. Over the years I’ve dreamt of being able to play the piano and guitar; of being a world-class athlete; of having the temperament of a diplomat, the brilliance of philosopher, the courage of an astronaut, and the focus of a surgeon. At this writing, I would choose the skill of furniture making. It’s a wonderful art form, and as a bonus, it’s a hobby that yields a useable product. I’ve made a few items over the years, but I think I lack that calm and deliberate patience required to be good at it.

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A Side Benefit of Being an Author – I Love the Research! by Kate James

 

 

I am frequently asked about how I come up with my story ideas and how much of what I write is based on my own knowledge and experiences rather than research. Writing about what I know or have experienced leads to a more genuine, believable story in my opinion. But to write convincing, diverse stories, there is always an element of research that is necessary. I am privileged to have a network of fascinating subject-matter experts I can draw on directly for research purposes, or to assist me in making connections to those who can.

For example, my first Heartwarming book, A Child’s Christmas, involves a character facing a serious health challenge. How fortunate for me to have a very good friend who is a medical doctor and hospital administrator. I consulted her when I was formulating the story. I also provided her with a copy of the first draft of the manuscript to review to ensure the medical references were accurate and credible.

What about settings? It always helps if I have visited a location or if I base a fictitious location on a place I have visited. My debut novel, Silver Linings, is set in St. Lucia. This beautiful island is one of the two Caribbean destinations my husband and I enjoy most. In fact, my husband and I were married in an elegant ocean-front wedding on the island. Clearly, setting a novel in this beautiful locale made perfect sense to me. The resort that is being constructed by the hero is loosely based on the spectacular Calabash Cove property. My current release, The Truth About Hope, is set predominantly in a small town in Texas. My husband and I have great friends who live in Texas in a town about an hour outside Austin. Canyon Creek is a fictionalized version of the town where our friends live. The promontory where a couple of the key events occur is an important setting in the story. During a stay with our friends, we visited a breathtaking promontory close to their home that I’ve fictionalized for the purpose of situating these fateful scenes.

Saving the best for last, the most fun I’ve had doing research is for my upcoming K-9 trilogy for Harlequin Heartwarming.

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 8.22.10 PM

The first book in the trilogy, When the Right One Comes Along, will be released in October of this year, with the second book, When Love Matters Most, following in January 2016. Needing to do research, my husband put me in touch with some of his law enforcement contacts. After securing the requisite security clearance and necessary approvals, I had the great pleasure of spending a considerable amount of time with PC Jim Hilton of Ontario’s York Regional Police. PC Hilton is a K-9 expert and trainer, and is partnered with explosives detection dog, Max. PC Hilton was extremely generous with his time, knowledge and expertise, and I loved meeting Max.

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 8.19.35 PM (My first introduction to explosives detection police service dog (PSD) Max.)

Did you know police service dogs have their own police badges?

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 8.17.48 PM (PSD Max’s badge.)

PC Hilton was willing to put Max through some training exercises for me and demonstrate Max’s remarkable agility skills—a prerequisite for Max’s job.

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 10.14.49 PM(PC Jim Hilton and his explosives detection K-9 partner, Max)

 

Would you think a police service dog could scale a six-foot barricade or climb a ladder…conditions the dogs can often face in the field while on duty? I captured the next picture while Max was demonstrating his agility skills.

 5 Max agility(PC Hilton putting Max through his agility exercises.)

For all animal lovers, you’d be thrilled to see how enthusiastic and joyous Max is about doing his exercises. I was surprised to learn that Max’s positive reinforcement for a job well done is praise and a Kong toy—no treats.

PC Hilton shared with me some of the intricacies of the work he and Max are called upon to do, and the training exercises they undergo to ensure Max remains in top form. Did you know that the K-9 unit officers and their dogs have one of the most dangerous jobs in law enforcement? Read When the Right One Comes Along to find out why! 🙂

Did you know that police service dogs often have their own “business cards?”

6 Max baseball card  (PSD Max’s “business card”)

Max’ bio is on his card. He was born on December 12, 2008 in the Czech Republic and was brought to Canada to become a police service dog in March 2011. Did you know that most police service dogs are not bred in North America but imported from countries such as Germany, Holland and Belgium? Read When Love Matters Most to find out why! 🙂

PC Hilton even gave me reference materials to take home and read at my leisure!

7 Mag covers(Nothing like a little light nighttime reading.)

It’s no hardship spending my time doing this type of research! I am grateful to PC Hilton and Max for educating me with respect to the roles and responsibilities of the K-9 unit, K-9 unit officers, and their police service dogs. If you get the chance to read my K-9 trilogy, I hope you enjoy it.

Lisette, thank you for hosting me at your Writers’ Chateau for the second time.

My absolute pleasure, Kate!

Happy reading and, as always, I would love to hear from you!

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8 Kate

Biography

Kate spent much of her childhood abroad before attending university in Canada. She built a successful business career, but her passion has always been literature. As a result Kate turned her energy to her love of the written word. Her writing has been recognized with a number of awards, including first place honors for Silver Linings in both the First Coast Romance Writers’ Published Beacon Contest and ACRA’s Heart of Excellence Readers’ Choice Award. Her November Harlequin Heartwarming release, A Child’s Christmas, received first-place honors from Southern Magic, the Birmingham Chapter of the Romance Writers of America, for the 2015 Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence and has just been named a finalist in RWA’s Desert Rose Chapter’s Golden Quill readers choice award!

When Kate and her husband aren’t traveling, they split their time between their properties in southern and central Ontario in Canada, with their beloved black Labs, Harley and Logan.

The Truth About Hope – Now Available

 9 TTAH cover

Who is Hope Wilson?

Is she the girl her former hometown thinks she is? Or the girl Luke Carter once loved—and maybe still does?

When Hope returns to Canyon Creek, Texas, to honor her father’s last wishes, there’s only one person on her mind. Her high school sweetheart, Luke. The boy she lied to when she had to leave Canyon Creek as a teen, finding it easier to hide what she really felt than deal with the grief of loss. Her father’s fortune could make a big

difference to Canyon Creek—but Hope finds that the townspeople have a long memory about his misdeeds. With a plan to make amends on his behalf, Hope learns the truth about herself. And the truth about love.

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When the Right One Comes Along, book 1 of the K-9 trilogy – available for preorder

Brought together by disaster. Kept together by love.

In the aftermath of a deadly earthquake, it’s chaos for trauma surgeon Jessica Hansen. Among the many victims, one patient stands out—San Diego Police K-9 search and rescue officer Cal Palmer.

Cal vows to help Kayla, a child orphaned by the disaster. But he needs Jessica’s help. Will their shared concern for Kayla and for Cal’s canine partner, Scout, allow them to put aside their personal torments and discover the difference love can make?

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CHAT WITH MARGARET MIZUSHIMA

 

MargaretMargaret Mizushima is the author of Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery to be released December 8, 2015 by Crooked Lane Books. Her fiction has won contest awards, and her short story “Hayhook” was selected to appear in the 2014 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers anthology Crossing Colfax. She lives in Colorado with her husband and a multitude of animals.

Time to chat with Margaret!

What is your latest book?

My debut novel is Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery. It’s about a K-9 Deputy, Mattie Cobb, whose dog Robo finds the body of a teenage girl buried in the mountains near her hometown of Timber Creek, Colorado. When she takes an injured dog that they found at the gravesite to local veterinarian Cole Walker, she learns that his daughter might know something to help solve the crime. Together they discover clues that set Mattie and Robo on the deadly trail of a killer.

KillingTrail

Is your recent book part of a series?

Yes, Killing Trail is first in the Timber Creek K-9 mystery series, and release of hardback and paperback versions is scheduled for Dec. 8, 2015 with a Kindle version to be released soon after. Crooked Lane Books will release the second book in the series approximately one year after the first. These mysteries feature a K-9 Deputy, her dog, and a veterinarian who work together to solve crimes against animals and their humans.

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

It’s important to write each book so that it stands alone. Each mystery must have a story arc while the characters in the story will have a character arc that spans the series. It’s a challenge to provide a tight mystery plot in each book while weaving in just the right amount of personal detail for the characters. A writer needs to offer bits of each character’s history but still focus on the character’s present goals and action. There seems to be a sweet spot where a character’s past influences his present, and that’s what the writer tries to hit.

How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?

I had written several novels prior to this mystery series, all mainstream or romance. Then I started reading wonderful mysteries by many different authors, and I became intrigued by crime fiction. I’m also fascinated with mysteries that contain two protagonists who work together to solve crimes, and I like the idea of developing a love interest between those two characters. I attended a workshop at a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers conference on how to structure and write a mystery, and then I went home and got started on the first Timber Creek story. And yes, my two protagonists will eventually fall in love.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

I finished the first draft of Killing Trail several years ago and found an agent for it shortly thereafter by pitching the story at the Pikes Peak Writers conference in Colorado Springs. We entered into a representation agreement, she provided some edits, and I revised the story. I had a few rejections right away and then didn’t hear from my agent for quite some time. Months later, my current agent, Terrie Wolf, contacted me with the news that she had purchased the literary agency from my first agent. Terrie was interested in the story, she offered representation, and we subsequently entered into an agreement as well. I continued to pitch my story to editors at various writers’ conferences while Terrie also shopped it around. We received some rejections, some near misses, and some “I’m thinking about its, but no one made an offer. I pitched the work to Matt Martz of Crooked Lane Books at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers conference in Sep. 2014, he asked to review the manuscript, and then passed it to another editor at his house, Nike Power. She loved the characters. She suggested some revisions in the plot, which I agreed to do, making sure I met her deadline for my revised draft. After reading it, she approved of the entire work, and made an offer for the first two books in the series. I enjoyed working with Nike on the book’s revisions, and I’m happy to say that she remains my editor. The process of finding a publisher took some time, but persistence finally paid off.

What else have you published?

Every few years, the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers organization publishes a themed anthology, opening up submissions to its membership for short stories that match that year’s theme. I was thrilled to have one of my short stories, “Hay Hook,” selected for the 2014 anthology, Crossing Colfax. All fifteen of the stories are set on Colfax Avenue in Denver, Colorado, a street once described as “the longest and wickedest street in America.” Crossing Colfax is an eclectic collection offering history, mystery, science fiction, paranormal, and more from the street’s past, present, and future. “Hay Hook” is a mini-thriller about a veterinarian who makes a stable call to treat a colicky horse and discovers the owner’s dead body. He tries to save the life of the sick horse, but ends up risking his own when the killers follow him back to his clinic. As you can see, I like to include veterinarians in my writing. I’ve been married to one for over thirty years, have assisted him countless times in his practice, and have a ready consultant for research.

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

I did quite a bit of research for Killing Trail. In many ways, I felt better prepared to develop Cole Walker’s character—having observed my husband’s work over the years—than I did for developing the female character, Deputy Mattie Cobb. I was fortunate that two K-9 trainers let me shadow them and ask them questions. One trainer led a sort of “picnic table” discussion, asking several officers who’d come for training that day to tell me about mistakes a rookie handler might make. In a short span of a few minutes, they came up with more helpful ideas for challenging Mattie than I could have imagined on my own. Another time, I shadowed a retired female trainer who’d once worked the streets of Bellingham, WA with her police service dog Robo. After her clients left, we sat for a time while she told me tales of Robo’s prowess, fueling my imagination and inspiring me to ask permission to use her late partner’s name. (And no, he didn’t die in the line of duty. He became her pet after his retirement and died of old age.) My best ideas have come from these times in the field. In addition, I’ve attended programs presented by police officers at writing conferences, purchased countless reference books on police and crime scene procedures, and found consultants who will answer question as I write, invariably coming up against scenarios that I never intended to create. But when you’re writing, that’s just the way things happen.

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

For me, I don’t need to know the title of the book before I start, although I think it’s very important to know the theme (and sometimes themes), and the title often evolves around theme. I wrote Killing Trail under a working title. I thought the title I came up with, Timber Creek K-9, was weak, but it felt like the best I could do at the time. I’ve never considered titles my forte. My agent provided input that publishers often change titles anyway, so not to worry too much about it.

Once Crooked Lane Books purchased the manuscript, my editor and her staff, my agent, and I held an email brainstorming session to come up with the title Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery. It truly was a team effort. I thought it was fun and a great team-building experience.

Enough on title, let’s talk about knowing the ending. This brings to mind the question, are you a pantser or a plotter? I wrote my first mystery by the seat of my pants, but by the time it sold, I had revised it numerous times and then went on to make even more content revisions with my new editor. This revising activity took place over a series of several years prior to contract, and for several months after. I won’t have that kind of time to write my second book, so I’ve considered the value of becoming a plotter. Now, plotting is my plan, and I intend to stick to it. But time will tell if I can follow my outline as the story unfolds.

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

This brings us to the reason why so many authors are pantsers. Fiction writing often strikes a mysterious course into the unknown. And we authors have no choice but to follow where our characters lead us. Well, there is the choice to rein them in and make them do things our way, but that’s not always so interesting. So off we go. Why does this happen? Fiction writing is like participating in a dream, or a movie with deep emotional nuances, that runs inside the author’s mind. And when we reach that dream state, our fingers often tap out unplanned things on the keyboard, a sort of Ouija board for storytelling. So as a mystery writer, it’s okay for me to follow that dream when it comes to subplots and character development, but I want to stick to my outline for the main plot of the story. Or at least I think I do—unless something more exciting takes over. And if it does, I guess I’ll burn the midnight oil and revise.

Where do you live now? If you had to move to another state, where would it be?

I live in Colorado on a small acreage that we call a “ranchette.” My husband and I moved here over thirty years ago to establish our veterinary clinic and an Angus cattle business, although I commuted into the city to practice as a speech therapist for most of those years. We also raised two daughters here, both of whom live on the west coast now. I love Colorado, and I doubt if I ever move. During the nine months between March and December, I head to the high country every chance I can get to hike. Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my favorite spots on earth. But another place that calls to me is Kauai so living there during the winter would be…well…paradise.

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CHAT WITH RICHARD SCHWINDT

RichardSchwindt

Richard Schwindt is a psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, and writer of fiction and non fiction books. He has a specialized practise supporting targets of workplace mobbing. He lives in Kingston, Ontario, and has two adult children and two grandchildren.

Time to chat with Richard!

What is your latest book?

I have just put my three mysteries together in one book – The Death in Sioux Lookout Trilogy. They have only recently been available in a digital format and I promise if you love a good mystery that is strongly driven by setting, you will enjoy them. There is no place like Sioux Lookout and the trip will be fun.

 

flattrilogy

What else have you written?

I have written a collection of short stories, Dreams and Sioux Nights, a fantasy duology, The Love Duology, a book of satire, Social Work for Fun and Profit, and my Emotional Recovery from… series of books for people in crisis due to workplace mobbing, adultery, anxiety, etc.

emotionalrecovery

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

Yes, quite a few. Jeffrey Merrian from The Vermilion River Murder and Father Donovan from Dreams and Sioux Nights come to mind as particularly despicable. That said, most of them end up dead. One of the great things about being a writer.

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

I have fun on Twitter. Twitter is made for writers and is, to me, much more fun that other social media.

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

My mysteries with a social worker sleuth and my social work humor tend to be loved by mystery readers and amuse the hell out of everybody else. But social workers not so much. The most moving responses come from my two books on workplace mobbing. Readers are so grateful that someone has written about their experience.

Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?

I write anything I can think of. Few people as yet have checked out a disturbing and twisted YouTube web series called Bob the Social Worker. Trust me, it is unique

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

Between my practice and family I don’t have much time. I write when I can. If I have an idea for my latest book and I am between sessions I sometimes write it on my Blackberry in the form of an email from one of my email addresses to the other.

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 owe an immeasurable debt to Mangojar on Fiverr. She has done every one of my covers. She is Canadian like me and I don’t know how she does it but every time she does a cover she appears to have read my mind. Covers matter.

How would you define your style of writing?

All my fiction has a strong sense of time and place. I like to create mood and the feeling you get from the environment around you. I also value readability in myself and other writers.

Have you ever wished that you could bring a character to life? If so, which one and why?

Probably Stacey Trout from The Love Duology. She is brilliant, funny and has some remarkable gifts. I like writing women characters more than men. I’m not sure why that is.

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 am a top 500 reviewer on Amazon Canada and I am careful what I write. Your considered opinion as a reader means everything to a writer. After all, we are writing for you. I can handle a challenging opinion from someone who has taken my book seriously but I am distressed by negative reviews from people who appear to have not even read the book.

Have you ever started out to write one book and ended up with something completely different?

The Love Duology is two products of the International Three Day Novel contest; so the whole package was written in six days. It is an extreme writing experience and believe me when I say that you have no idea what is going to emerge from you unconscious mind by the end of three days. The second part of the book, Love Susan, is preoccupied with Gorillas. Why? I have no idea; it just sort of happened.

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

The nineteenth century explorer, Richard Burton. All those experiences and languages. Wow.

What makes you angry?

I have a lifelong dislike of petty bureaucrats. I think that the current crop of human service managers lack moral courage and imagination. Mind you, I make them angry too. It is one of the reasons why I write for people who have been mobbed at work.

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

I am currently working my way through the Murdoch Mysteries, which I believe is known as The Artful Detective in the United States. They are beautifully done period pieces with great characters and stories.

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

When I am having a difficult time in life I will watch The Fugitive with Harrison Ford or re-read any of the original James Bond books.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Russian Standard Vodka Platinum. If it were a woman she would be so beautiful and so dangerous. I would try to keep away from her unsuccessfully and complain about the cost of keeping her. She would be blonde and say things like, “Reechard, I know you vant me…

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Anything my grandkids Banana and Sniffin do. Banana; she’s the closest we’ve come yet to perfection in human form. But that’s just me speaking. Sniffin somehow inherited my sense of humor and is already getting into trouble for it. He doesn’t know it yet but it will get him through some hard times.

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CHAT WITH JASON P. CRAWFORD

JasonAlexanderJason P. Crawford was born in Louisiana in 1981. His writing career began in 2012, when he sat down for some “writing time” with his wife and sister-in-law. He has always been fascinated by the magic in the real world, leading him to focus most of his efforts on urban fantasy and science fiction. 

So far, Jason has published four novels: Chains of Prophecy, The Drifter, Seeking the Sun, and Cycles of Destruction. His life as a husband, father, and teacher (as well as hardcore gamer) has opened up and nurtured a wealth of imagination and given Jason a tendency to flights of fancy, and those flights give rise to his work.

Time to chat with Jason!

What is your latest book?

I’m currently in editing on two: Bonds of Fate, which is the second in the Samuel Buckland Chronicles, and Dragon Princess, a Fantasy novel.

What else have you written?

In order of publication, I’ve written Chains of Prophecy, which is the first Sam Buckland novel, The Drifter: Essentials Vol. 1, which involves demigods who represent basic concepts of reality, Seeking the Sun, a paranormal romance/urban fantasy involving Apollo, and Cycles of Destruction, a sci-fi adventure with artificial intelligences. All of these are the starts to various series…whether I intended that or not.

Updated COPcover

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

That we aren’t talented enough to be “really” published. That we’re hacks who are just trying to make money off of less-than-mediocre work. That we don’t care about our finished product. I’ve read so many supremely talented independent authors since I started my own career.

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

I also write in order, at least for the first draft. I write organically and “follow” the characters around through whatever it is they’re doing…and that’s how I write it. When I edit, I might add scenes here and there, rather than chronologically, but the first draft is always straight through the story.

JasonSeekingSun

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Write. Write some more. Drink some water or tea or coffee and write more. Seriously, schedule some time virtually every day to write. Even if you only get a few hundred words in a day, you’ll get 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?

I’ll share tiny little pieces of my work as I go through it, especially if I’ve written something I’m very proud of, but otherwise I don’t let anyone see the whole thing until I’ve edited the first draft once. It’s important that I can create the work without undue input from others at first. So, the second draft is for my beta readers.

Cycles of Destruction kindle copy

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

I started writing about two and a half years ago, in September of 2012. I had done some creative writing in high school and such years before that, but had never really seriously considered writing as something I might want to do. It wasn’t until my sister-in-law suggested “writing night” that I found out how much I loved doing it. I finished the first draft of The Drifter and went right into working on another book.

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?

First, ignore any part of it that’s a personal attack. That has nothing to do with you. Next, mine it for information you can use. Does it talk about your formatting? Check that. Spelling and grammar? Look it over again. Last, do not, I repeat, do NOT respond to a negative review, no matter how unfair it might seem. There is no faster way to tank a burgeoning writing career than to get into an “author vs. reviewer” scuffle.

Have you been involved with the Kindle Direct Program? If yes, do you believe it’s worthwhile?

All of my books are available through KDP. I absolutely believe it’s worthwhile – it’s inexpensive, easy to use, and pays a good chunk of royalties.

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

I have almost no control over what the characters do…at least, not in the first draft. They run the show, and I follow around and write it down. I’ve been surprised, shocked, amazed; there was a time once in The Drifter that I had to walk away from the computer for about half an hour because of something the protagonist was about to do.

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?

Your reviews are a communication to other customers. You’re telling the world what this book meant to you, how you received it, what you thought of it. By speaking up, you can help steer the people who will like it towards it, while warning off those who might be wasting their time. It’s a worthwhile endeavor.

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

I just wish I had the writing experience that I do now. My earlier books would have come more easily, more confidently, needed fewer revisions and been more powerful.

Care to brag about your family?

I’ve been married for over ten years and have three sons, ages 8, 5, and 2. My wife is incredibly talented and multifaceted-she’s my primary beta reader, my first editor, my cover designer-and she’s writing her own books too!

What might we be surprised to know about you?

That I was in the Army for six years as a cryptologic linguist, intercepting communications. I’m not allowed to talk about the specifics for another forty-four years or so.

What music soothes your soul?

Any music with a story inside. I love songs from Lorenna McKennitt, Meat Loaf, anything that’s epic and has something going on with it.

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

Oh, that’s tough. My favorite film of all time might be Watchmen, because it’s such an interesting look at superheroes and I love superheroes in all forms. Yeah, especially with the duality represented by Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan. For my favorite book…I’m very partial to the Mallorean series by David Eddings. I remember distinctly how, in high school, I would go to the library, check one of them out, then return it the next day for the next book…and when I finished the series, I’d start over again.

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

Talk to each other more-and not just in texts and emails and Facebook messages, but actual conversations with other human beings. It reminds us that we’re all part of the same species, all the same but for a few superficial differences. Second, read more. With the hectic pace of our lives and the emphasis put on succeeding, whatever that means, reading is an escape, a way to experience something you don’t have the opportunity to experience normally. Third, create something. Be it writing, painting, poetry, carpentry, or whatever, it’s within each of us to create…but that talent, that urge, is often stifled and it expresses itself in pained, unhealthy ways at times.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Listening to Weird Al Yankovic while I write. I dance, bob, grin like a loon and draw weird looks from my writing partners.

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CHAT WITH NICOLE STOREY

NicoleStorey

Nicole Storey is an award-winning author of MG fantasy and YA paranormal books. She resides in Georgia with her husband and their two children.

How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?

I write in the genres of MG fantasy/paranormal and YA paranormal. The genres definitely chose me. I’ve always been intrigued by things that can’t be explained, Cryptozoology, magic, the “boogeyman”… LOL! I was the child who never wanted to take the Halloween decorations down.

Grimsley Hollow-The Chosen One-web

I know that autism awareness is very important to you. Can you talk a bit about this and how you have included autism in your books?

My son was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. His middle school years brought social problems, the realization that he was “different,” and bullies. I wanted to create a series where kids could learn about autism in a creative way. I hope, after reading the books, they understand that special needs kids want the same things they do: to have friends and be accepted. I also wanted to show autism in a realistic light and give special-needs kids his or her own hero to cheer for. After all, not all heroes wear capes.

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 was relieved when I received my first negative review. It authenticated my work and justified my place as a “real” author. If you put your work out for the public to read, bad reviews are inevitable. You simply can’t please everyone. My advice is to ignore them and move on. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.

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?

For me, cover design is just as important as the story. The cover is the first thing readers see. It should mesmerize them, grab them by the throat and insist they take a closer look. I’m actually obsessed with beautiful covers. I love to browse online and in book stores.

Blind Sight web page

How would you define your style of writing?

I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of writer. I don’t use outlines; I refuse to color between the lines, and I’m not afraid to poke sleeping bears.

Do you know anyone who has ever received any auto DM on Twitter (with a link) who was happy about it?

Ha ha! No, and I hate those myself. If I want to like your Facebook page, download your book, or meet your sweet adorable dog, I’ll do so. I don’t need a message with instructions.

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

That being signed with a traditional publisher does not equal bags of money and a house on Easy Street. That many small press “publishers” have no idea what publishing is. That blurbs were invented by Satan, right after he finished creating edits. J

What is your latest book?

I recently republished a MG fantasy series, Grimsley Hollow, but my latest book is the first in my YA paranormal series, the Celadon Circle. The book is titled, Blind Sight, and the series is loosely based on the popular television show, Supernatural.
It has done well, winning several awards and also hitting the Amazon paid bestseller list in two categories a while back. The second book is due for release this year.

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

Dive in, Shut up, and Hold on!

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

I think the greatest misconception is that we can’t write.
Self-publishing platforms are wonderful in that they allow writers to bypass traditional avenues and get their work into the public eye. The problem lies with those who refuse to have their books professionally edited. They give the rest of us a bad name. Just because your best friend, who is an avid reader when she isn’t passing out shoes at the local bowling alley, read your story and pronounced it “as good as Stephen King’s book, Koojoe” (yes, I saw this in an actual synopsis) doesn’t make it so.

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

I’m OCD when it comes to writing. I have to write scenes in order and can’t work on more than one book at a time.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

When I finished my first book, I made the mistake of signing with a small press publisher who didn’t know the definition of the word. After two years of heartache, poorly edited books, and zero support (I could go on and on), I decided not to re-sign and went out on my own. Four stolen book covers, a boatload of tears and money, and 14 months later, all of my books were republished by me. It was a hard lesson to learn, and I don’t know that I could ever trust a small press publisher again, but it made me a stronger person and writer.

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

One reader gave me a bad review because my book was not like the Twilight series. I’m still puzzling over that one. Another stated I clearly knew nothing about autism. LOL!
I try to focus on the positives and let the negatives roll off my back.

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’m still trying to find what works best for me. Usually, I get the first draft written before I begin edits.

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

I think every writer has to do what’s best for him or her. My only advice would be to research a company thoroughly before making a commitment. Talk to authors who are signed with the publisher and ask for their honest opinions. Use Google to see if anything negative pops up. Ask questions!

For every legitimate publishing company, there’s at least two that are not. Be cautious, do your homework, and remember that an honest publisher will never request money from your pocket.

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

I would love to be able to paint or draw and crochet. My husband is the artist in the family and my daughter takes after him. I can’t even manage a decent stick figure. LOL!

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

I don’t have a lot of time for T.V. but I make sure to record are Supernatural, Longmire, and The Walking Dead. At night, I usually have Forensic Files on in the background while I work.

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

I would love to have my own workspace/office. I would decorate it in fall colors and have an antique refectory table for my desk. There would be a sitting area with a television, bookshelves galore, a bathroom, small refrigerator, my coffee maker, and a locking door.

If you ever see my face on a milk carton, just know my family reported me missing and I got my office. 🙂

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

Don’t laugh, but my favorite movie is Jaws. “You’re gonna need a bigger boat!
I have two favorite books: C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Drinking coffee, planting flowers and vegetables on a sunny day, autumn and Halloween, football and chili, a harvest moon, and my children’s laughter.

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THE ACCIDENTAL SERIES – Guest post by Katie Oliver

The Accidental Series

Lisette has graciously invited me to visit her Writers’ Chateau once again, to talk about writing a series – in my case, writing a romantic comedy series.

Confession: I’m probably the worst person on earth to address this subject…because my first three books (Dating Mr Darcy) didn’t start out as a series. They were just three novels with a few overlapping characters, characters I found interesting and fun and wanted to write about. It all started like this:

What if, I mused, a British family owns a long-established department store, Dashwood and James. Due to unforeseen economic circumstances, the store falls on hard times. And what if an arrogant but astute businessman (think Simon Cowell or Gordon Ramsay) is brought in to help the store…and clashes immediately with the family’s spoilt daughter, Natalie?

And I was off and running.

When I wrote Prada and Prejudice and the next two books, I didn’t follow any ‘rules.’ I didn’t look at any publisher’s guidelines. I just wrote what I wanted to read, but couldn’t find on the shelves – romantic comedy with some menace and/or mystery thrown in. I wrote all three books while still working full time – don’t ask me how. I look back, and I really don’t know how I did it.

Folders(These were my working folders for the first three books in the Dating Mr Darcy series. I found the  Izak Zenou folders at Target. Score! Pretty, sassy, and perfect for storing all of my story notes, photos, and editorial letters.)

It was just something I felt I had to do. The kids were grown, and I had a strong ‘it’s now or never’ feeling (with apologies to Elvis). So I let my imagination take off, and I wrote every chance I could – in a tiny pocket notebook before mass (I know, bad), on legal pads at work (again, bad), and hunched over my laptop at home. I had the fever (with apologies to Peggy Lee and Christopher Walken).

I kept track of the characters and plot points in a spiral notebook, one for each book, and I saved any articles, interviews, or research notes related to the story in folders and a three-ring binder. I bought poster boards and made a collage of photographs of people who resembled my characters, and hung it near my desk for visual inspiration whenever my imagination flagged.

Folder 2Working folder for book two in the Dating Mr Darcy series, Love and Liability.

When I finished Prada and Prejudice, I began writing the second book. A few things that inspired me at the time included Mara Rooney’s portrayal of Lisbeth Salander in the film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; a segment on Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word program about “freegans” – people who skip-dive for a living because it’s (a) free and (b) helps reduce food waste; The September Issue, a documentary which offered a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at Anna Wintour and Vogue magazine; episodes of Law and Order UK; payday loans; and the British media’s mobile phone hacking scandal.

Folders_3

When I started the second series, Marrying Mr Darcy, I needed ( you guessed it) more folders. These three kept me semi-organized while writing And the Bride Wore Prada, Love, Lies and Louboutins, and Manolos in Manhattan. And they were pretty to look at. Win-win.

Somehow, all these disparate things became Love and Liability, my second book.

Once again, I saved articles. I clipped photographs. I watched films and programs related to my research. Then…I wrote. I stopped to consult the previous book whenever I needed to search for the name of Lady Whatsit or recall the birth date of a secondary character’s sister or confirm where someone went to school/got married/grew up. It was random and disorganized and it drove me batty.

And it struck me then that perhaps I had gone about this the wrong way.

I had a lot of information and plenty of research material…but no system to keep track of it all, no method for detailing my characters’ bios and backgrounds. I carried on in this haphazard manner and finished book two.

KO_Photos_WallThis is my “mood board” for Prada and Prejudice – it’s on the sloping wall next to my under-the-eaves writing desk.

Halfway through the third book, Mansfield Lark, an amazing thing happened. Well, two amazing things. I acquired a literary agent who sold all three books to Carina UK, who wanted to publish them as e-books. However, they wanted to tie the books together as a series. So we started in the obvious place – with the Jane Austen-y title, Prada and Prejudice.

Initially, I was a little leery about this marketing decision. The books are ‘Austen lite’ at best – they don’t so much pay homage to Jane as give the occasional (sometimes cheeky) nod in her direction – but they do deal with families, and relationships, and romantic foibles, all of which I hoped readers (and Miss Austen) would relate to, and embrace.

I caught some flack from a few die-hard Austenites early on, and probably deservedly so. But when you’re a new, unproven writer and you have little (i.e., no) say in a publisher’s marketing or book-titling decisions, you learn to smile, nod politely, and go with the editorial flow.

The second series, Marrying Mr Darcy, continued on with the next three books I’d written, but with a slightly different theme this time – the titles would each refer to a designer (Prada, Louboutin, and Manolo, to be exact). Again, I had my doubts. Would non-fashion people know who Christian Louboutin or Manolo Blahnik were? (They’re French and Italian shoe designers, respectively, for those of you who may not know.)

But when I saw the titles and the gorgeous cover art that accompanied the books, I was once again one-hundred percent convinced. And with the release of the first book in the new series, And the Bride Wore Prada, I had my first best seller. Love, Lies and Louboutins became my second…on preorder, before it was even published.

 

KatieOliverCovers

The marketing wonks were once again vindicated.

So you see, I really am a terrible person to ask about how to write a series. I came at it from the wrong way around altogether, which is not the usual way to go about these things. But then I seldom do things in the usual way

Normally, when writing a series, it’s customary for an author to plan out the story arc for each individual book, as well as the overarching story arc for the entire series. There should be a “Bible” to track the various characters and their particulars from one book (and one series) to the next. There should be storyboards and index cards, and complicated genealogies and diagrams of family trees, and a lot of colored markers.

Of course, I did none of that.

But going forward? I think – no, I’m sure – that I probably will.

KatieOliverKatie Oliver loves romantic comedies, characters who “meet cute,” Richard Curtis films, and Prosecco (not necessarily in that order). She currently resides in northern Virginia with her husband and three parakeets, in a rambling old house with uneven floors and a dining room that leaks when it rains.

Katie has been writing since she was eight, and has a box crammed with (mostly unfinished) novels to prove it. With her sons grown and gone, she decided to get serious and write more (and hopefully, better) stories. She even finishes most of them.

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Mandolos

Manolos in Manhattan Blurb:

In the city that never sleeps…

Strutting down Park Avenue in her new Manolos, Holly James looks like a woman who has it all. But beneath the Prada sunglasses, Holly has a mounting list of decidedly unfabulous problems. Right at the top? The fact that since her fiancé Jamie started spending all his time at his new restaurant (with his impossibly gorgeous sous-chef!), Holly has practically forgotten what he looks like…and started to feel a teensy bit paranoid.

…shopping is a twenty-four hour job!

So when her old flame Alex suggests they catch up, Holly jumps at the distraction. After all, what’s the harm in some window shopping? But when sinister thefts start taking place all over the city, the Big Apple begins to feel like a dangerous place…and Holly can’t help being relieved to have capable, commanding Alex so close by. Suddenly, Holly’s window shopping is veering worryingly close to an impulse buy! But would giving into temptation be an investment…or the biggest mistake of her life?

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Katie’s Writers’ Chateau Interview