CHAT WITH BJØRN LARSSEN

Bjørn Larssen is a Norse heathen made in Poland, but mostly located in a Dutch suburb, except for his heart which he lost in Iceland. Born in 1977, he self-published his first graphic novel at the age of seven in a limited edition of one, following this achievement several decades later with his first book containing multiple sentences and winning awards he didn’t design himself. His writing is described as ‘dark’ and ‘literary’, but he remains incapable of taking anything seriously for more than 60 seconds.

Bjørn has a degree in mathematics and has worked as a graphic designer, a model, a bartender, and a blacksmith (not all at the same time). His hobbies include sitting by open fires, dressing like an extra from Vikings, installing operating systems, and dreaming about living in a log cabin in the north of Iceland. He owns one (1) husband and is owned by one (1) neighbourhood cat.

Time to chat with Bjørn!

What is your latest book?

Children, Norse adult literary fantasy, is a retelling of selected Norse myths through the eyes of Magni, the son of Thor, and Maya, the foster daughter of Freya and Freyr. I didn’t like how Neil Gaiman did it in his Norse Mythology, so I decided to do it myself, then it kind of escalated and became this dark, violent, funny thing… exactly like the lore itself. Only with more words. And mint tea.

Is Children part of a series?

Yes. There are nine worlds in the Norse lore. In the series the Gods and their subjects will discover that it’s possible to travel between the Nine and good ol’ Earth, which gave the series its title – The Ten Worlds. Where Children is mythic fantasy, the second book in the series, Land, will be a re-telling of the discovery of Iceland based on historical sources, only with some Gods added.

Once those two are out, I intend to move on to a series of novellas called How to Be a God, which will take us back to the beginning of the Universe, when the Gods didn’t know their own job descriptions yet. They might all fall under the umbrella title The Ten Worlds or not, depending on how confusing it all becomes.

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

Each book, especially the first one, locks certain things in place. To go with a random example, if in book one I make it clear that the protagonist can’t use magic, in book three this limitation must either stay in place or I must come up with a convincing explanation why things have changed. Once I get to, say, book five I may find out that I am stuck because of something I have written years ago without giving it enough thought. I have already made peace with the fact that in a few years I will probably have to rewrite both Children and Land to get rid of omissions and/or inconsistencies. The literary equivalent of Starbucks cups and plastic bottles in the last season of Game of Thrones.

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

The first book, Storytellers, came to me in a dream – a cliché, but also truth. The story wouldn’t go away for years until I finally decided to write it down. It turned out to be historical suspense, making me an accidental historical fiction writer. Now I am working on novels, novellas, and stories based on my faith – I am a Norse heathen writing fanfic about my Gods! So it’s all going to be “Norse mythic-ish something something”.

By the way, before I actually got to writing anything I imagined myself as a rom-com writer. I tried and found out I couldn’t do it. I have a lot of respect for those who can. It’s too difficult for me, I overthink everything and I am yet to write a relationship between two characters that isn’t toxic in at least one way.

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

I use Scrivener, which is special software for writers, allowing to split the text into chapters, scenes, and sections. This is less useful for me than I expected, because it turns out that I can’t write out of order. I have spoken to a neurologist who suspects that I was born with neurological memory damage, which might explain both my inability to jump between the scenes and the fact that I don’t revise, but rewrite everything. The published version of Storytellers was its 21st draft, Children went through 29. Every time I ended up going from the beginning to the end. This is neither a healthy nor a recommended way to write, but apparently that’s how I roll.

How many unwritten books are in your head? How do you decide which ones come to life now and which ones stay on the back burner?

Now that I finished Children I should be starting on Land, but it requires lots of research and I am lazy. I started a few of the How to Be a God novellas, but haven’t completed any of them, except in my head. I have a non-fiction project in mind as well, a primer to Norse faith. How to Be a Heathen 😉 (Oh wait, this is a good title. Going to write it down.)

Last year I spent a few months working on another book that would form a part of the same series – The Age of Fire. After a few drafts and one round of beta reads I put it on the back burner, because I realised that I couldn’t do it justice quite yet. The Age of Fire is also going to be the grand finale of the series and starting a series with the last book seems too random even for someone as scatterbrained as me.

I also want to make the lesser known Icelandic Sagas more popular, write fiction based on Icelandic history in the Viking times, plus there’s a cosy mystery I am supposed to be writing with a Well-Known Writer Who Wishes To Remain Anonymous… If anything, I’d like to have a few less ideas. And more self-discipline.

Do you ever act out your scenes while writing to help you gauge how authentic it feels?

One-on-one fights. I’ll go to my husband and say, “my love, I need you to lie down and when I sit on your chest you will roll to the side, throwing me off. You have to land on top of me, choke me with one hand and grab my wrist with the other, so I can’t stab you… crap, I have one leg too many. Head butt me in the nose? Can you do that for me?” That sort of thing. I assure you nobody gets hurt, except for my characters later. I call this “choreography”.

(I think I just understood why I can’t write romance.)

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

Maya in Children surprised me by being in it at all. She was originally a character in The Age of Fire, the book I shelved. Children was supposed to be all about Magni, but Maya just decided to move in. I tried to write her out and she wouldn’t leave! Quite often I feel like I’m not writing her dialogue, I’m writing it down. And the worst thing she has done to me… She was claustrophobic since the very first draft. She revealed to me why that was on draft 28, causing me to add a very strong scene… and rewrite everything again.

The characters dictate the plot most of the time. I work really hard on fleshing them out, but the side effect is that sometimes when I need them to do something, the character just gives me a look and says “it’s so cute when you have ideas”. Half of the Children rewrites were caused by Maya deciding that she wouldn’t do what I wanted her to do, no negotiating, just nope.

What is the worst writing advice you’ve ever received? The best? Any advice you’d like to offer to readers?

The worst – you must write every day to be a Real Writer, even if you know you’re writing rubbish. It’s not exactly motivating when writing becomes a chore. Like blocking an hour every day to feel horrible about myself. Especially as I know when it’s not going well.

The best – once your editor is done with the book, sent it to a proofreader who hasn’t seen the text before. You’re still going to end up with a typo or two, but there is hope there won’t be eight on the first page. At some point our eyes begin to slide over the text rather than read it, we know it too well. And the last thing you want are twenty reviews opening with “I could not continue reading past page five, even though the book showed promise, because it was filled with typos…”.

My advice – don’t read your reviews on Goodreads/Amazon, but if you really want to, don’t engage with them. When I get a blog review I always make sure to thank the blogger for their time and work, whether they liked the book or not. But Goodreads is for readers, who have the right to their opinions, no matter what they are. Look up “Yvonthia Goodreads” to find out why I’m saying this.

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

Absolutely not. If you’re using Twitter, please, please, PLEASE don’t send automated DMs. I made a mistake once of responding to the person, saying that I didn’t appreciate the link, and he berated me for not appreciating his help. Since then I report auto DMs as spam and block, no matter who sends them.

Would you like to write a short poem for us?

I don’t think I can

Because I’m not a poet

I love haikus, though.

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

Driving. I know. I spent most of my adult life living in Amsterdam, where owning a car is a liability rather than an advantage. The real reason, though, is that I honestly can’t imagine how people manage to look in all directions at once and change gears and use the steering wheel and do the other, uh, drive-y things.

What makes you angry?

The simultaneous existence of billionaires and people who can’t afford food or life-saving medicine.

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

The Hours and The Hours (by Michael Cunningham). I re-read and re-watch both at least once per year.

 

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CHAT WITH DEBORAH SWIFT

 

Deborah Swift is a historical novelist who writes about ordinary people caught up in the extraordinary events of the past. Deborah has published twelve novels to date, and mentors other writers via The History Quill. She lives in the North of England on the Cumbrian border, close to the mountains and the sea.

Time to chat with Deborah!

What is your latest book?

My latest book is called The Lifeline and it’s due for release very soon. It’s the story of Astrid, a teacher who is escaping Nazi-occupied Norway, and her former lover who tries to rescue her via The Shetland Bus. The Shetland Bus was a clandestine operation that helped the Resistance in war-torn Norway by using small fishing boats to get agents in and out of Norway from Shetland. The operation took place in pitch black seas at the height of the winter storms and demanded immense bravery and resilience.

I also have another book I’ve just finished, The Poison Keeper set in 17th Century Naples and scheduled for next year. I’ve been writing in two historical periods – WW2 and the 17th Century. Of course it’s not sensible from a marketing perspective, as they are separate genres, but they are periods that interest me because they are both periods of immense change.

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

 It depends on the book. Generally I start with Chapter 1, but if I get massively excited about a scene and can’t wait to write it, I’ll sometimes write it out of order. And later, after the first draft is done, I will need to write scenes out of order because they’re filling gaps, or I need an extra scene to explain something. After all this time, I’ve realized that one of the most important things for a reader is clarity, and so I might need extra scenes to make sure the reader understands the character’s motivation, or what happened to them after the scene is finished.

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 am a compulsive editor, so I edit as a go along and also edit at the end. I think this comes from originally being a poet, where every single word was really carefully chosen. My usual routine is to write a draft one day and edit it the next. As the story progresses I often need to wind back and re-edit sections, so I am in a continuous loop of editing. As a visual metaphor I think of it like backstitch in embroidery – I am moving forward but also going back a little each step of the journey. As I tend to use multiple points of view, near the end of the process I’ll edit from each character’s point of view to make sure their voice and opinions are consistent and that their part of the story makes logistical sense.

How much of your own personality goes into your characters?

Every single one of my characters is me to a certain extent. And yet not quite. They are me imagining myself into a different life, and a different time. I think life experience is really important for a novelist, as the more you have experienced, the more there is to draw on. When I was a lot younger I had a really disastrous painful love affair. But now, years later, that experience is something I can use. The raw truth of it; not an imagining of it, but a real description of what that felt like. So in a way, I’m using autobiography alongside my imagination. The closer the internal experience is to my authentic feeling, the more successful it seems to be on the page.

Have you ever imagined what your characters are doing after you’ve finished a book or series?

 I think it is essential, not only for me, but for the reader. For a book to ‘live’ in the reader in the particular way I’m aiming at, is for the reader to want to imagine a continuation of the story. I want to make the reader wonder what happened to my characters next, but I still want to provide a satisfying ending. Some sense of their lives continuing (albeit in another dimension) is what will make the book resonate with the reader after the last page is turned.

Are you ever able to turn your writer’s brain off? Is this a blessing or a curse?

 Someone on Twitter said that being a writer is like having homework for the rest of your life. And it’s true! My writer’s brain is always on the go. If I’m reading, I’m working out how this or that effect was achieved by the writer. In one way it has ruined reading for me, but in another way it’s enriched it. I’m a person that loves my craft, and likes the feeling of improvement it can bring to my work. Of course readers often don’t notice, and to be honest excellent writing has no effect whatsoever on sales – a familiar genre and familiar storyline will always sell better than something unfamiliar, however brilliantly written.

 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 in progress except me. Often the publisher is the first person to see it. I did try beta readers once, but it didn’t work for me. All three wanted me to write a different book than the one I’d already written. So I’ve gone back to my old method of it just being me and the keyboard, followed by either the publisher or KDP self-publishing. However, I do always have an editor who copy-edits my work, checks for inconsistencies (especially in research or timeline) and irons out any obvious bloopers. I think the problem of sending work out to ‘a committee’ is that you end up trying to please everyone. In the end they will be only three readers from maybe thousands, and it is more important to have confidence in the story I want to tell, and the way I want to tell it. Also, I think I’m a bit of a control freak over my work, and have very specific ideas about what it’s trying to achieve.

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

 I think I’m often surprised to find the US market is not the same as the UK market and they have different reactions to my books. It is very tempting to think that all markets are the same, when in fact they are quite different. The US market is very sensitive to certain content which the UK market doesn’t even notice. On one or two occasions the US reviews tell me there’s too much swearing or blasphemy or violence or adultery, but readers from the UK market, Canada or Australia have never once mentioned these things. The content of my books is so mild in these areas as not to be even noticeable to me. After debating whether or not to change these things, I decided in the end not to, although I really don’t want to offend anyone with the content of my books.

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 used to work as a designer, in a different field, so I’m completely obsessed by cover design. This doesn’t mean I always get it right, but it’s important to me that my books are ‘well-dressed’ and attractive. I certainly judge books by their covers and I’m type-obsessed too, so a nice font will often sway me to buy a book more than a good blurb!

Every day brings forth new changes and shifts in the world of publishing. Any predictions about the future?

 I’m lucky in that I’ve been published by a big publisher, a small publisher, and also self-published, so I’ve seen most permutations. My prediction right now is that traditional publishers are getting more savvy about digital publishing and upping their game. This will make it harder to stand out as a small indie because they have more marketing money to spend on their big names. Indie authors have been growing their mailing lists so will certainly give them a run for their money. Both will be fighting to get visibility on Amazon, the world’s biggest book platform. Like always, a good book will go nowhere without some sort of paid for marketing, as there’s now just too much competition. So as an indie you’ll probably need to invest more cash up front than you used to have to, or choose a niche which is less crowded.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

 Definitely trains. I rather fancy a seat on The Orient Express, or the Venice-Simplon Express. When I was in China we went on a sleeper train and I loved that – the gentle rocking through the night, and then the bringing of hot green tea in the morning. I hate boats as I get really seasick and on a school trip across to Holland I threw up over the teacher’s shoes. I was never very popular in his class after that! Planes seem to be environmentally disastrous, though I do have to use them as my daughter lives in Dublin, and as I said, boats and me don’t get on and the Irish Sea is a monster.

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.

 Wouldn’t we all like to have Leonardo’s brain?! Actually, mine would be to have the knowledge of a really efficient geeky web-developer or computer programmer who was taught touch-typing at school. Then I’d be able to touch type, sort out my own website and computer glitches, understand my iPhone, put Facebook back to how it was – you get the general idea. Though on second thoughts, living with that person inside my head could be rather irritating, as I’m sure their priorities might not be quite the same as mine.

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

 When I had to take Latin at school I hated it. It was just so complicated, and the teacher was a dusty old man in a gown that looked as though he’d come from a horror movie. But just that sprinkling of Latin (only three years’ worth) has given me so much. Not only can I now make some sort of intelligent guess at foreign languages, but the Latin roots are in many of our own words. I also belatedly enjoy trying to translate mottoes on old buildings, heraldry or gravestones. Now I wish I’d done Latin for longer and stuck at it with a bit more determination.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

 Dancing. I’ve always loved any sort of dancing. During Covid lockdown I’ve done Zoom classes on all sorts of dance styles and really enjoyed them. At the moment most live classes are on pause, so I’ve had to get my fix via Zoom. This has actually been great as I’ve now been taught by dance teachers all over the world and been able to try out things where there’s no class local to me. Last week I did the Cha Cha with someone from Belfast, and tap dancing with someone from Devon. In the past I’ve danced Contemporary, Tango, Rock n’Roll, Salsa, Ballroom, and folk dancing. I’ll try any sort of dance from Zumba to ballet. At home I dance in my kitchen or any time I hear music. But hey, it’s a great antidote to the writing life.

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CHAT WITH PAT McDERMOTT


Born and educated in Boston, Massachusetts, Pat McDermott grew up a city kid in a family full of Irish music and myths that have found their way into her stories. The storytellers in the family inspired her with a lifelong love of writing. She’s been creating stories since she was a child, though her own two children were grown before she pursued publication seriously. When she’s not writing, her favorite activities include cooking, reading, gardening, hiking, and traveling, especially to Ireland. She lives on the New Hampshire seacoast with her husband and three talkative Tonkinese cats.

Time to chat with Pat!

What is your latest book?

The Bogwood Horse is the most recent. It’s the second in an adult contemporary romance series packed with music, myth, laughter, and love. The stories are set in Westport, County Mayo, a town in western Ireland I’ve visited often. The main characters appear in each book to add to the fun and drama. In The Bogwood Horse, Andy, a young Irishman who’s a computer whiz and a gifted singer of traditional Irish songs, is on his way home to Westport to attend his father’s wedding. Andy meets an alluring American wedding planner named Suzanne, who’s visiting Ireland for the first time. Suzanne wants a special souvenir to remember her visit, and Andy, who’s struggling with a family secret he’s not supposed to know, is more than happy to help her find one.

The first book, The Rosewood Whistle, tells the story of how Andy’s widowed father, a tour guide who’s also a brilliant flute and whistle player, meets and falls in love with a widowed American writer. I’m currently working on Book Three, The Cherrywood Banjo, a Christmas story featuring Andy’s banjo-playing cousin, a young man just out of the army, where he served with the UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon. Mysterious PTSD issues leave him bewildered, as does a talented photographer visiting Westport for the holidays.

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

Though The Bogwood Horse and The Rosewood Whistle are romances, my stories cross several genres and include fantasy, alternate history, science fiction, action/adventure, young adult, and romance, often in the same story. I find ideas in all sorts of places, from current events, to the family lore of cousins and friends, and to antique books, to name a few. Once my imagination runs with ideas and forms a story, I think it’s safe to say the genre chooses me.

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

To me, creating the first draft is the hardest part of writing. Keeping the story on track is enough of a challenge; no need to complicate the process by editing too much at that stage. I will revise and edit so the pages are sufficiently coherent for my writing group pals, but so many details and plot twists change as I write, especially in a longer story, that excessive editing makes little sense until I complete the story. Then I thoroughly enjoy dealing with my “Things to Fix” list and sprucing up the narrative and dialogue.

How much of your own personality goes into your characters?

Very little, if any. I write to escape real life and personal matters. My characters and their reactions are entirely imaginary. I might describe a character or a setting from a female perspective (the gentlemen in my writing group are always telling me “A guy wouldn’t do that, Pat), but I don’t typically draw my descriptions from my own personality. I’m too boring.

Do you ever act out your scenes while writing to help you gauge how authentic it feels?

Not exactly. Not the way an actor would act out a scene, anyway. I do spend lots of time imagining scenes while lying in bed in the middle of the night, unable to sleep because neither the scenes nor the characters have the decency to leave me alone.

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

I usually have a general idea of the plot, and at least a vague idea of how the story will end. Getting there is the challenge. I count on my research (and the characters) to contribute to the story’s momentum and subplots. In all the tales I’ve created, I only knew once what the last line would be before I started writing (Last line in Glancing Through the Glimmer: And Janet danced.) As for titles, I’ve sometimes started a story knowing the exact title before I began writing. At other times, I’ve struggled to come up with one, even after I finished the first draft.

What else have you written?

In addition to The Bogwood Horse and The Rosewood Whistle, I’ve written seven other books. The Band of Roses Trilogy (A Band of Roses, Fiery Roses, and Salty Roses) presents action/adventure and romance set in a modern Ireland that might have been if High King Brian Boru had survived the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 and established a royal dynasty still in existence today.

 

Another trilogy, The Glimmer Books (Glancing Through the Glimmer, Autumn Glimmer, and A Pot of Glimmer), which I like to call Adventure for Young Adults of All Ages, adds magic to this same “what if” scenario, courtesy of Ireland’s mischievous Fairies. A visit to County Sligo, my maternal grandparents’ ancestral home, inspired a ghost story/novella entitled Unholy Crossing. My writing group and I also have an anthology of short stories in the works.

Have you ever imagined what your characters are doing after you’ve finished a book or series?

Yes, often. Such imaginings are undoubtedly how sequels and series are born. In fact, I started a new “Band of Roses Trilogy” book (what do you call a trilogy when it has four books?) but The Cherrywood Banjo trumped it. Those pesky characters…

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

You’re the only one with the ultimate vision of the story you’re trying to tell. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Join a writers’ group, take classes or workshops, and never stop reading. Go out on a limb and read books you wouldn’t ordinarily read. To paraphrase an Oliver Wendell Holmes quote, a mind stretched by a new idea never returns to its original dimensions. Don’t be afraid other authors will influence your personal style. And exercise those writing muscles! The more you write, the easier it is to get your vision onto a printed page. Set goals and deadlines for yourself, and meet them. Persevere in your quest to become a published author, and enjoy the ride!

Fantasy landscape with small snail

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 will only let certain people read a work in progress. Foremost among these helpful readers is my writing group, a small assembly of talented and supportive authors I met in a writing class at the University of New Hampshire more than fifteen years ago. Over time, we’ve broken up and reformed in various configurations, but the core group is still intact, and we thoroughly enjoy our mutual critiquing sessions. We bounce ideas around, make suggestions, and offer invaluable insight. I’d be lost without 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?

Though I often wake up in the middle of the night and scribble barely legible ideas on a notepad in the dark, early morning has always been my most productive time for writing. I enjoy the sense of potential that comes with a new day, before grocery lists and appointments commandeer my attention. Good strong tea is a must, and when I do write late in the afternoon, a glass of white occasionally finds its way onto my desk. Music is always playing, but I can’t listen to singing while I’m writing, as I find the lyrics intrusive. Chocolate? Is it dark chocolate? Twist my arm.

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

A little of both. Usually they behave and do as they’re told, but they’ve surprised me more than once by breaking into fist fights or spontaneous kissing sessions in scenes for which I’d intended entirely different endings. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. If I’m surprised, readers will be too.

 

 

 

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

I’m originally from Mission Hill, an inner-city neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts. I now live on the New Hampshire seacoast, close to Maine and an easy drive inland, or north to the lakes and mountains. Though I doubt I’d ever stray far from New England, I wouldn’t mind living on the west coast of Ireland for part of the year. My husband and I have spent time in different parts of Ireland and enjoyed every minute. With everything that’s going on now, I worry that we’ll never return. I sincerely hope I’m wrong.

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

Any kind of risotto would work for me. I find a good Italian risotto dish as comforting to cook as it is to eat, and I make all sorts: saffron, sausage, shrimp, wild mushroom, spinach, chicken, and I could go on. Least favorite food? Green beans. My mother only served canned vegetables during the week. It’s taken me years to like vegetables at all, and I now enjoy several, but I still don’t care for green beans.

What music soothes your soul?

The music I choose depends on whether I’m writing, reading, cooking, exercising, gardening, driving, or home alone turning the sound up loud. The softer, new-age, classical music is good for writing and reading, though I’m currently writing a story about a banjo player, so I’m listening to lots of different banjo music ranging from Irish traditional and bluegrass to jazz and classical. I love Irish trad, opera, soft jazz, oldies, and classic rock. It’s nice to have options.

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CHAT WITH NINA ROMANO

Nina Romano earned a B.S. from Ithaca College, an M.A. from Adelphi University and a B.A. and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from FIU. She has authored a short story collection, The Other Side of the Gates, and has published five poetry collections and two poetry chapbooks with independent publishers. She co-authored a nonfiction book: Writing in a Changing World. Romano has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize in Poetry.

Nina Romano’s historical Wayfarer Trilogy (Turner Publishing) consists of The Secret Language of Women, Book #1, a Foreword Reviews Book Award Finalist and Gold Medal winner of the Independent Publisher’s 2016 IPPY Book Award; Lemon Blossoms, Book # 2, a Foreword Reviews Book Award Finalist; In America, Book #3, a finalist in Chanticleer Media’s Chatelaine Book Awards.

Her latest novel, The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley, a Western Historical Romance and a bestseller in Australia and the UK, (Prairie Rose Publications) is a semifinalist for the Laramie Book Awards.

Time to chat with Nina!

What is your latest book?

The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley, published by Prairie rose Publications. It’s a Western/Romance set in New Mexico in the late 1870s. I’m super delighted to say it just received BESTSELLER status on Amazon Australia and hit # 1 in the UK in the category of Native American.

What are the greatest challenges in writing short stories?

Many people believe that poetry is the most difficult genre to write in, but for me, short stories are the most challenging. I write them, have written them, and probably will write some more, but it’s the compression that’s difficult. I realize there’s a great deal of compression in writing poems, however, poetry has always come easily to me. I have five traditionally published collections with small, independent publishers, and two poetry chapbooks that I keep wanting to put together with new poems to form a New & Selected Collection—but I’m way too involved in writing prose and fiction.

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

Historical fiction chose me. I think about the past and have done so since childhood. I always wondered how it was to live in those bygone times, that former particular era, the long-ago. I also love reading all types of historical fiction—whether it be mystery, mayhem, murder, biography, or romance!

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 believe it’s a little of both, but when I do a major edit or rewrite, I print out the manuscript and read it out loud with a pencil in my hand to correct, add, delete, and transform.

How many unwritten books are in your head? How do you decide which ones come to life now and which ones stay on the back burner?

Actually, only two. I don’t know which one I’ll draft next, but I have a beginning for one of them already written, of course that might change—beginnings usually do. This would be my first attempt at a biographical novel, based on my Aunt Lina, who passed away last year at 104 in Palermo , Sicily. She lived through WWII, and I find her life story fascinating.

The other novel I think I’d like to write is about my characters Darby and Cayo from my novel, The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley.

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

I usually have a working title—sometimes I will change the title at the end of a work to something more fitting. However, I never know the ending to a novel or a short story. I follow the characters around and the story grows organically from the plot, the character’s actions, desires, motivations, and from the causes and effects of their deeds.

What else have you written?

I’ve written the three novels of the historical Wayfarer Trilogy:

The Secret Language of Women, set in China during the Boxer Rebellion.

Lemon Blossoms, set in Sicily during the late 1800s

In America, set in New York during the Great Depression.

Five collections of poetry:

Cooking Lessons

Coffeehouse Meditations

She Wouldn’t Sing at My Wedding

Faraway Confections

Westward: Guided by Starfalls and Moonbows

A collection of short stories:

The Other Side of the Gate

A nonfiction collaborative book on Writing:

Writing in a Changing World

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

That’s a three-part question. I like these compound questions—they make you think! No, I don’t dread writing a synopsis. I don’t think it’s inherently evil thing to do, but it certainly isn’t always easy. Why? Because it makes you focus on the narrative and be concise. You have to think about the plot and, at this point, you have to know the ending to the story. You have to consider plot points and reversals and make sure to follow through with these if these techniques are used in the novel.

In writing a novel synopsis there’s no place for subplot or minor characters. The synopsis compels you to concentrate on the main characters and what they’re involved in doing: what they risk, their actions, motivations, causes and effects.

This information also must be single-spaced to fit onto one page. Therefore, it has to be compact. An agent or editor doesn’t want to see extraneous material at first glance. Perhaps later they may ask for something more elaborate.

I’m writing one now for my new WIP set in Soviet Russia.

How would you define your style of writing?

I write lyrical prose because I’m a poet and I love language. For me, cutting and tightening are the things I have to consider when I’m editing and auto-critiquing my own prose. It’s sometimes difficult but necessary to “kill your darlings” but I think that’s where this expression comes in handy. I also use many foreign words and expressions in my prose—and while this makes it all the mover convincing, you have to make sure these are understood in the dialogue or exposition. For my new WIP, I’ve decided that since Russian is not a language I speak to write a Glossary!

What’s your all time favorite film?

I don’t have ONE favorite movie. That’s not how my brain works. I’m a movie buff and have several I love and would watch again in a heartbeat. These are the films:

The Young Philadelphians, The Great Escape, The Magnificent SevenStalag 17, Love with a Proper Stranger, Marjorie Morningstar, Picnic, Dances with Wolves, Shawshank Redemption, All the Pretty Horses, Gone with the Wind (I’ve seen it at least thirteen times!), The Godfather — all three!

Favorite book?

The same with books–how can you pick just one? It’s impossible. Here are some of my favorites: Anna Karenina, Gone with the Wind, Little Women, East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, Lonesome Dove, The Idiot, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Dracula, Wuthering Heights,  Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Lolita, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, To Kill a Mockingbird,  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and All the Pretty Horses.

Thank you, Lisette. I’m grateful for every opportunity to talk about a subject that I love—writing—and to showcase my work.

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CHAT WITH S.S. BAZINET

S. S. Bazinet lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After raising a family, she’s gone on to write more than a dozen books. Her favorite theme revolves around the ways that a person can embrace change and learn to appreciate themselves. Whether in a romance, fantasy or thriller, the theme of self-worth is usually woven into her stories.

Time to chat with Sandy!

What is your latest book?

The title of my latest book is Forgotten Blood. It’s about a demonic ghost named Col whose only aim is to destroy those who once called him a brother. When it came to fighting Col, nothing worked. Col was a master when it came to using anything combative or aggressive. And even worse, he knew how to manipulate a person’s mind, taking advantage of their guilt and fears. Being a ghost who had all the time in the world, he also had the advantage. No matter how long he had to wait, he promised he’d have his fun tormenting his victims.

While I was writing the story, Col was so unrelenting in his desire to wreak havoc that I began to worry about the fate of my main characters. I wondered if they would ever find a way to stop his destructive need to mete out misery. I was amazed and relieved with the way the problem was resolved in the end.

Is your recent book part of a series?

Forgotten Blood is part of a series, but it’s also a stand-alone book. It’s the kind of scary story that can capture a new reader’s attention very quickly. Plus there’s an ample amount of back story included. Without too much detail, new readers will quickly be brought up to speed with previous characters in the series.

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

I’m very fortunate, my first series, The Vampire Reclamation Project, chose me. It’s a metaphysical fantasy about reclaiming vampires. I’d had writer’s block for many years and grappled with a harsh inner critic. Finally, I surrendered. I decided to just have fun and appreciate whatever story came forth. It was the best thing I could have done.

Shortly after my decision, I sat down in the back yard with pen in hand. I didn’t know what type of story I was going to write, but a story began to write itself. I soon went from pen and paper to writing on the computer because the story was flowing out so fast. Within a little more than a year, I had the first drafts of six books. It’s taken me all this time to edit them and let them come to publication on their own timeline. The sixth book in the series, Forgotten Blood, has just been released.

I find it interesting that the series and I share in the idea of surrendering. In the first book in the series, Michael’s Blood, my main character, Arel, is desperate to get his life back. Believing he’s cursed, he’s willing to do anything to accomplish his goal. Before I wrote the series, I was desperate too. I’d been suffering from writer’s block for so long I didn’t know if I’d ever write successfully. We both got the help we prayed for. I couldn’t write fast enough after I let go, and Arel had an angel show up on his doorstep. The angel becomes his friend and mentor.

We were both “reclaimed” in a sense. I began to channel a beautiful story of love and devotion, and I also had an inner renewal. I began to take long, meditative walks, listen to music, and dance. I became a much happier person. While Arel, with the help of his angelic friend, Michael, was able to come to grips with his inner demons and his curse.

All these years later, I’m so grateful that this series and genre chose me and that all my books continue to write themselves. Could a writer ask for anything more?

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

After having writer’s block for so long, I love it all, whether it’s starting a new book, editing it numerous times, or finally declaring it finished. For me, every aspect of the writing process is an adventure and a gift.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

Yes, indeed. As I explained in an earlier answer, I had to deal with a demonic ghost in my latest book, Forgotten Blood. This ghost was a totally despicable entity with no redeeming qualities.

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

I’ve found social media to be a perfect vehicle for meeting other writers and authors. Many of these wonderful people are happy to share their thoughts and offer support. However, social media can be very time consuming. Therefore, I’ve had to decide how long I’m going to be on it each day and stick to that decision.

Do you ever have animal characters in your books? If so, do you find it a difficult thing to do? If yes, why?

Some of my stories have included dogs, cats and even pet mice. I find it very easy to describe their behavior and how they relate to humans. Maybe it’s because I’ve always loved animals and have noted the way they express their friendship and moods. In my story, Vampire In Heaven, a dog named Nippy becomes a very close friend and helper for my main guy, Alan.

What else have you written?

One of my favorite novels is Traces Of Home (Book 1 of Open Wide My Heart). I loved writing about all the characters and the story. In fact, I loved everything about the novel so much that it took me a while to release it. What if someone hated it? Finally, I had to let go and surrender it just like I had to surrender my writing in the first place. Happily, many people have also loved the novel. I’m so grateful for that blessing.

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 always wait until a story is not only finished but thoroughly edited. When I give the story to someone to read, I want it to be a wonderful adventure. If it’s not at its best, it could be disruptive to that experience.

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

At first, writing a synopsis was really tough. Now, after so many attempts at trying to convey what needs to be said in a few words, it’s getting much easier. The important thing is not to give up. Try writing one synopsis a day just for practice. Give yourself five minutes and then stop. If you do that for a couple of weeks, hopefully it will help.

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 you decide to be an indie writer, you have to be prepared to do all the jobs that a publisher does. All in all, it’s a big undertaking. Happily, with so much information available on the internet, you can research every part of the process and learn what generally works. After that, you can customize the information you’ve found and use it to fit your needs.

An important lesson I’ve learned is not to have impossible expectations. Building a readership and establishing a sound knowledge base takes time and patience. Enjoy the journey as much as possible. For me, writing and sharing my stories is a reward in itself.

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 a professional, eye-catching cover design is crucial. It gives the reader a heads up idea of what your book might bring to the table. It can pull them in or leave them flat.

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

I never know exactly what kind of story I’m going to end up with. For example, I didn’t know that my story, In The Care Of Wolves: My Brother’s Keeper, was going to be a werewolf thriller. I didn’t know I could write one. I simply started writing about two teenagers. Before I knew it, the story morphed, and they were fleeing from people who were out to kill them and their families. However, the story has other elements that I found very comfortable to write about. Besides being a thriller, it’s a story about family, love and loyalty. It’s also about going beyond the narrow labels that people give themselves and believing in who they are. I call it a thriller with heart.

I also got a big surprise when I began writing Dying Takes It Out of You. I was writing the story in the third person when all of a sudden I noticed that the story was being told in the first person. I guess my main guy, Dory, needed to have a stronger voice. After that I noticed that I enjoyed writing in a first person POV. It’s like I can get a little closer to my character and understand what he sees and feels.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were younger? Five years ago?

When I was younger, I wish I could have questioned and rebutted my negative self-talk. Five years ago, I wish I knew enough to check out a negative review without getting upset about it.

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

Really spicy food doesn’t work for me, but Italian food, that’s another story. It’s the coziest.

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

My children! I call them Earth angels because they are the best ever!

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

A cup of morning coffee. ☕️

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CHAT WITH G.P. GADBOIS

G.P. Gadbois is married, has three grown-up children, a grandchild, a couple of dogs, a cat and perhaps mice as the cat is too lazy to catch anything. She started writing her first novel when her children left home, and they all came back, but it didn’t stop her from writing a second and a third. When she is not writing, she loves spending time with her grandson, Arrow. She is also an avid reader, loves gardening, and in the winter, she enjoys curling.

Time to chat with Ginette!

Is your recent book part of a series?

Yes, my latest book is part of a series. It’s called Destiny, it is the third novel in the series A Moment in Time.

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

For me, the biggest challenge in writing a series is wanting each individual book to be a standalone as well and I don’t think the second one is.

My second challenge is remaining true to my main characters. To do so, I have an up-to-date document with all the names of main and secondary characters with a description for each. I started the series over five years ago and since I have a hard time remembering what I did three weekends ago, this document is my lifeline.

Do you write under a pen name? If so, can you tell us why?

I am not using my full name because it’s too long. Also, since writing is a hobby and at the moment, I prefer to keep my author career separate from my present full-time employment, shortening my name seemed sensible.

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

The genre chose me. It all started with a dream. I rarely remember my dreams and wondered why I remembered this odd reoccurring one – of ghosts and murders. I jotted the main idea and thought I’d look up it’s meaning in a ‘dream’ book. Weeks went by, I never found the book that explained my odd dream and the more I shared my story with others, the clearer it became – I had to write about it. I added several characters, created additional conflict, researched details, and thought love scenes would add flavor to the mix.

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

I write scenes in order. I might move them later, if I’ve come up with a new idea, and need to insert something in between; but I prefer to write scenes from point A to point B and so on until I reach the end.

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

When I wrote Caught Between Worlds, my first novel, I wrote it all without editing. For many reasons, it needed major editing. For example, I had never heard of head hopping before I sent my manuscript to a small publishing company. They were not interested in the novel; however, I am thankful for the feedback they gave me. I joined a writing group on-line, participated in a writing boot camp and edited the novel – gave it a facelift and sent it off to other publishing companies.

For my second and third novel, I wrote, proofread and edited as I moved along.

How many unwritten books are in your head? How do you decide which ones come to life now and which ones stay on the back burner?

I will follow my dreams. I have at least three stories in my head. I know which one I will write first because it is the last book of the series A Moment in Time. The series’ features four women and each one has her own novel, her own story.

How much of your own personality goes into your characters?

Gabrielle’s personality, the female main character in my first novel, is in many ways like I am. I thought it would be easier for my first novel and sadly I discovered that by doing so I didn’t develop her character on paper as much as I should have – if that makes any sense. I did in the editing, but that took considerable time. BIG mistake.

I do include events, trips, and other incidents that my girlfriends and I have experienced.

Do you ever act out your scenes while writing to help you gauge how authentic it feels?

Yes, I act out scenes and for a while, family members thought I had serious problems.

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

I always know the ending and the message I want to convey. The title is tentative; it’s a work in progress just like the story.

What else have you written?

Caught Between Worlds, A Moment in Time Novel One

Trust Me, A Moment in Time Novel Two

Melissa’s Sweetheart, short story

Many of us get stuck in our stories at one point or the other? What helps you to break through in these frustrating times?

I put it aside for a week or two and when I return, I’m rested and ready for more.

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?

In my opinion, names are important. My novels take place in the mid-eighties; therefore, I try to select names that were popular during that era.

Yes, I have changed a name because it didn’t feel right for the character.

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

Since I have a full-time job and writing is a hobby, I never really thought about this. Your book can be the best, but if it’s not well promoted, it may never reach #1 on the charts. Like everything else, it’s a business. Some people seem to be lucky, they might not have the best novel, but they were at the right place at the right time. I’m not convinced their work would become classics, though…

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

I sent my first manuscript to sixteen publishing companies total. I received eight rejections, five didn’t reply, two maybes, and one yes.

My first two novels were published by Roane Publishing, and then they closed their doors.

I updated a few things in each book, gave them new covers and published myself.

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

Social media is my favorite past-time/procrastinating tool. I love interacting with readers and other authors.

Do you have any secrets for effective time management?

Stay off social media for at least one or two hours a day.

Do you ever have animal characters in your books? If so, do you find it a difficult thing to do? If yes, why?

I have dogs and horses in my books. I love them.

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?

Yes, I allow a few chosen BETA readers who are truly amazing.

What would your dream writing space look like?

A room with a door upon which I could hang a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the handle. For the past year, the only available place to write was the kitchen. I should have put a ‘no vacancy’ sign at the end of my driveway when all my kids came back home, and they had multiplied. Instead, I took them in, and the kitchen table became my desk. I’m not complaining though, I’m simply answering your question.

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

I was born to do many things and discovered a passion for writing.

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

Yes, I dread writing a synopsis and I dislike the blurb even more.

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

I’ve done public speaking at my local library, book signings, I am on Facebook and Twitter. I haven’t found one super-efficient way. I ran a FB ad for a special deal, and it did not generate any sales. Amazon ads might generate better results, but I will concentrate on promotion once my fourth book in the series is done, and I’m retired from my full-time job. Hopefully in a couple of years.

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?

One must grow thick skin and keep in mind that everyone is different and not all will enjoy our work. If the person criticizing the work is an expert, I take notes and learn from their critique. Good or bad, I value each review.

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

I tried and I don’t know if I chose the wrong time of year to do it or did not promote it enough; but mine didn’t help.

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

Yes, I miss my characters until I start something new, and because I am writing a series and the main characters appear in each one of the books, I get to hang around with them a bit more.

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

Yes, I am happy to share this exciting news. I will be publishing Destiny, A Moment in Time Novel Three as soon as my editor and I finish working on the famous edits.

I’ll be doing a cover reveal soon. It will be posted on my Twitter and my Facebook pages.

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

Trust Me, it’s Destiny, you’re Caught Between Worlds!

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

I’d like to write a historical based on true story or maybe a thriller.

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

I was a city girl when I was single. I’ve been married for almost thirty years and my husband said he’d move to Montreal when hell would freeze over, so I moved to the country and I’ve been here, in Morrisburg, Ontario, Canada ever since. When I can no longer maintain my house or hell freezes over, I’ll move back to the city.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

Automobile, bicycle, snowmobile, plane, train and then boats.

Okay, I’m going to grant you three superpowers? Think carefully. Which ones would you like and why?

The power to heal. Healing hands. For one, I’d have cured my childhood girlfriend from cancer. I’d heal children and anyone in pain.

The power to go back in time. To give me the opportunity to take back some of the hurtful things I’ve said or done to people I care about.

The power to slow down time. To extend happy moments spent with loved ones.

Care to brag about your family?

My husband of thirty years still makes me laugh. Our oldest son, Jean-Sebastien and his partner Lisa have two dogs, two cats, and several rabbits. Our daughter Tanya and her husband Zak have a wonderful son Arrow, two dogs, and one cat. Except for my husband, all the above have moved away from home this past December 2019. The only one left at home is our youngest son, Elijah who has been dating Josee for a year now.

When I first finished writing my first manuscript, I asked Elijah if he’d read it. I needed someone good in English to proofread. He said, “Mom, I’ll wait until it’s out in theaters.” I was disappointed and thrilled at once. He couldn’t be bothered, but he had high expectations.

To read more about my family, visit my FB page and look for the Memory Lane posts.

What makes you angry?

People who are toxic.

What music soothes your soul?

Pop, classical, country, and rock. Metal, not so much.

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

A whirlpool.

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

I have several favorite films, but the one that had an impact on me was Love Story.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

A child’s laughter. A good shot when I’m curling. A person smiling. Book reviews.

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CHAT WITH BRENDA GUITON

Brenda is well travelled and has led a colourful life, providing her with a rich source of material for her novels. They are in the suspense genre and Brenda feels she has mastered the ability to surprise. Now happily retired, she lives with her husband, Derek, in a South Yorkshire town in England.

What is your latest book?

Suspicion: A cold-case mystery & suspense, is set in the magnificent Yorkshire Dales.

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

I always write the scenes in order. They appear in my mind’s eye like a reel of film.

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 each chapter as I go along (some might say excessively), but I have to feel reasonably satisfied with what I’ve written before moving on to the next chapter. Despite this, I still edit ruthlessly once the draft is finished. It’s the way I’ve always worked and, unlike many authors, I don’t find the editing process a bind. I enjoy restructuring sentences and refining my work to make it the best that it can be.

How much of your own personality goes into your characters?

It’s hard to be the judge of that; not too much, I hope, since some of my characters possess very unenviable traits! I have a strong personality; I’m tenacious, outspoken, and can be a tad too opinionated at times. As all of my books contain strong female characters, it’s fair to say that this will be reflected in my writing.

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

Yes and no. I have to know the fate of my main characters, even though the details haven’t been fully thought out. In other words, if one of them were to kill someone, the method isn’t always clear, but invariably comes to me as the story progresses. As for the title; I never worry about that until the book is finished.

What else have you written?

I have written a good few poems, but never had any of them published. This is mainly because I was inspired to write them after I lost my father. He was very special to me, so the poems are heartfelt and never intended for publication. A fellow author has read some of them and urged me to consider publication as she feels a lot of people would be able to relate to the sentiments.

I have also written several short plays, three of which were performed at the former Bradford Playhouse. These were page-to-stage productions with the minimum of props, but, nonetheless, for a paying public and all were well attended. As a newcomer to script writing, I was quite proud of this achievement.

Before retiring, I spent seven years as Administrator for an independent library where I produced a quarterly magazine. As editor, I had the freedom to write book reviews and articles which was a rich experience and helped to hone my writing skills.

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

I like writing dialogue, which I feel is my strong point. I particularly enjoy this when it involves a humorous character where I’m able to bring some wit or sarcasm into the conversation. I also enjoy writing the dramatic scenes after I’ve racked up the tension.

The thing I dislike the most is writing the synopsis and blurb. Perhaps because I have a tendency to overwrite, I struggle to condense a complex storyline into a few short sentences and never feel entirely satisfied with the results.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

I love writing characters I truly despise. It’s one of the joys of being a writer – the freedom to say and do as we please. How powerful is that?! In the same way that actors love playing the part of villains, I find bad characters great fun to write.

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

I love the interaction with members of the writing community, some of whom have become good friends. I enjoy seeing the success stories, reading the many interesting articles and hearing about the books that fellow authors are currently working on. It’s wonderful to receive such great support by way of retweets, but I it does concern me a little that people might tire of seeing the cover. Maybe I’m not alone in that?

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

I do a fair bit of research for my books, mostly on the Internet. As far as the setting goes, where possible, I try to visit the places I’m writing about. My debut novel Taking Chances alternates between the Yorkshire Dales and Cyprus, both being familiar to me. Suspicion is also set in the Dales, but I still revisited Bolton Abbey and its surrounding area as part of my research.

Do you have any secrets for effective time management?

I wish!! All I will say is that I try not to put myself under too much pressure by setting strict deadlines. I write as often as I possibly can, so there’s no point in beating myself up if the word count hasn’t gone according to plan on a particular day.

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

I am proud of all my books, but if I had to choose a favourite it would be my second novel At the End of the Sentence.’ I labored long and hard over that one, which is fast-paced and has a complex plot with lots of unexpected turns. Despite being suspenseful, I was able to bring some humour to it; the character who made this possible an ex-con (nickname RT). I loved writing RT and he still remains one of my favourite characters.

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

I live in a South Yorkshire town in England. If I had to move, it would be to somewhere warm. I hate the miserable British weather!

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were younger? Five years ago?

That everything can change in the blink of an eye, particularly as we get older; the reason we should embrace every day.

Care to brag about your family?

I consider myself extremely lucky. I have a lovely son, a husband who supports and encourages me in everything I do, and two wonderful brothers – the youngest being only four days older than my son. We call him the golden child as he was a late arrival and helped to keep my parents young at heart. They shared 62 happy years together, which is an amazing feat, considering they met and married within two weeks of meeting (a book waiting to be written). With our support, despite her disabilities, Mum manages to live independently at the ripe old age of 94! She is still as bright as a button, so if her genes are anything to go by, I hope to have a good few years writing left in me.

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

I would love to be able to play a musical instrument. My dad played the piano and accordion, which gave us so much pleasure as children, especially at Christmas time.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I’m an armchair mountaineer and devour books on the subject. I have a shelf full of fascinating stories, written by some of the world’s most famous climbers. I’ve read so much about Everest that, in my dreams, I could find my way to the summit – amazing if you realised how much I hate the cold. Although the stories hold me in thrall, my fascination is more to do with the mindset of the climbers – what drives them to attempt such formidable challenges.

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

Be kinder to one another.

Educate our children to be less materialistic.

Do everything within our power to help those in need, especially the homeless.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

The sound of birdsong.

 

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CHAT WITH MILLIE THOM

Millie Thom is a former geography and history teacher with a particular passion for the Anglo-Saxon and Viking period. She is the mother of six grown up children and lives near Lincoln in the U.K. Since retiring, Millie has written four books: the first three in her Sons of Kings historical fiction series, and a book of 85 flash fiction pieces and very short stories. Millie hopes to publish the fourth and last book in her series early in 2020.

Time to chat with Millie!

What is your latest book?

The last book I published was Wyvern of Wessex, the third book in my historical fiction series, Sons of Kings. It was published over a year ago and I’m feeling quite guilty at not having the fourth and final book in the series finished by now. Unfortunately, health issues in the family (including my own) have slowed me down, but I hope to have Book 4, King of the Anglo Saxons, published early in 2020.

The four books tell the story of King Alfred of Wessex – known as Alfred the Great in later centuries. Shadow of the Raven, Book 1 in the series, starts soon after Alfred’s birth and most of the events take place while he is still a child. This allowed me to focus more on my second protagonist, the fictional eleven-year-old son of real-life King Beorhtwulf of Mercia. Eadwulf’s story unfolds very differently to Alfred’s following his capture by raiding Danes and his future years as a thrall (slave) in the Danish lands.

In Book 2, Pit of Vipers, the focus is more on Alfred, although Eadwulf’s story also progresses significantly.

Wyvern of Wessex highlights difficult times for both characters and takes them through the storm to a period of relative peace. Initially, I intended to end the series at this point, but half way through Book 3, I decided to take the story to the end of Alfred’s life in order to show the full extent of his achievements. So, what I had intended to be a trilogy, simply became a series (or perhaps a quadrilogy!).

What challenges have you found in writing a series?

The biggest problem I’ve found with this particular series stems from the fact that I have two protagonists – one real-life, the other fictional. In telling Alfred’s story I need to make sure I keep to the historical timeline. Changing the dates of historical events is a definite no-no. Consequently, I also need to ensure that events in Eadwulf’s life ‘fit in’ with that timeline, especially as the two characters are linked by relationships within their families.

Other than that, there are the usual problems of keeping details consistent throughout the four books, even simple things like the ages and appearances of characters, and even their names. It wouldn’t do to have brown-eyed woman from one book suddenly becoming blue-eyed in the next. The changing appearance of characters and places over the years is something else I need to consider, especially as the series covers a period of fifty years.

Do you write under a pen name? If so, can you tell us why?

Millie Thom is a pen name, chosen because they are the names of my parents, Millie and Thomas who, sadly, passed away some years before I had the chance to start writing. My own name is actually Patricia, which I chose not to use as my author name simply because my married surname is just too boring! Naturally, my husband disagrees.

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

The answer to that is probably a bit of both. I’ve always loved history – any time period, any location – so, in a way, choosing to write historical fiction was a natural progression. Even many of my flash fiction pieces in A Dash of Flash have historical settings. The genre chose me because it was one of the subjects I taught throughout my teaching career, so I simply became more and more immersed in it over the years.

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

Yes, I’m definitely a scene-by-scene author. I need to keep the chronology of the book intact so writing scenes from various parts of the book wouldn’t work for me. I tend to plan out events to be covered with their dates and so forth, and set out to work through them. However, it’s never as simple as that. Sometimes, characters lead me in unexpected directions as I write. If I’d written scenes from later in the book, I’m pretty sure I’d spend a lot of time modifying them due to ‘things’ that just seemed to have happened as I’d sunk into each scene.

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

Despite all the advice about getting the story out in the first draft, I have to say that I do edit as I go along and tend to re-read the last section I wrote every time I start writing. I wouldn’t be happy thinking I might have left obvious errors in the text or glaring grammatical errors. As well as helping me to spot any typos – which I make a lot of –re-reading helps to get the story refocused in my head so I’m ready to move on.

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?

When writing historical fiction, authors are often confined to names in general usage at that time period. It would be ridiculous to call a young woman in Tudor England, Kylie, or Mercedes, for instance. As my series is set in the Anglo-Saxon period, many of my characters’ names are very different to those we recognise today. Many people of noble birth have names that begin with the prefix, ‘Aethel’, which simply means noble. Alfred’s father, for example, is called Aethelwulf, meaning Noble Wolf. Alfred’s four brothers and sister also have names beginning with Aethel – Aethelbald, for instance.

Names like these are certainly not easy on the eye or the tongue, and I’ve had a few reviewers say they found the names confusing. Unfortunately, as they are real, historical names, I can’t change them, but I do intend to add a pronunciation guide to all four books once the final one is ready for publication.

So many things influence the choice of character names, another being geographical location. In a novel set in India, we would expect at least some traditional Indian names. In contemporary novels, I’m sure many names are chosen to suit the personalities of the characters although, perhaps, giving a character a name totally at odds with his/her character could have an interesting effect.

How much time do you spend doing research for your books?

I’ve spent many months – probably years! – doing research for my series. When I first started to write about King Alfred, I knew little about him, other than the general idea that he stopped the Vikings from taking his kingdom and that he burnt a peasant woman’s cakes! Anglo Saxon and Viking history was rarely taught in schools years ago. We tended to leap from the Roman Empire to the Norman Conquest and leave the parts labelled the ‘Dark Ages’ between them alone. I happily delved into research, and had some fabulous ‘research holidays’ in the process. Apart from museums and sites in the U.K., we also went to Denmark doing the same, and had a wonderful trip to Andalusia in southern Spain as part of my research for Wyvern of Wessex.

I record and photograph anything I think might be of use, including details of buildings, landscapes and associated wildlife and vegetation. When I write, I’m careful to describe how these would have looked in the 9th century. To talk about horse chestnut trees or rabbits at that time, for instance, would be dreadful. It’s also important not to flood the book with irrelevant description that does not move the story along.

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 see the need for anyone else to read my books until they’re finished and have been edited, both by me and the professional editor I use. I often discuss scenes I’ve just written with friends and family and that helps me to think them through again myself. I’d hate anyone to read a really rubbishy piece of writing! Perhaps I’m just over-sensitive in this respect. But, hey, we’re all different, aren’t we?

Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?

Yes, I also write flash fiction. I started writing it on my blog in 2015 and soon became addicted to it. I accumulated quite a lot of stories and in 2016, I published A Dash of Flash, an eclectic mix of eighty-five flash fiction pieces ranging from one hundred to a thousand words, although most are around two hundred words. Many are on my blog, but I wrote over twenty just for the book and roughly two-thirds are accompanied by colourful images from Shutterstock or Pixabay. I haven’t written any this past year, but I intend to return to it when my current WIP is published.

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 the cover of a book needs to be eye-catching and give an idea of the genre, time period and an overall ‘feel’ of what the book is about. From what I’ve seen of people browsing around bookstores, most of them do (initially at least) judge a book by its cover! I wouldn’t know where to start with designing a cover image and have used a professional designer for the four books I’ve written so far. In general, I’m pleased with what he’s produced, although I was initially a little unsure about Eadwulf’s face on the cover of Shadow of the Raven (Book 1). The hair is the right colour but I can’t quite take to that nose… Lol

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?

Reviews mean so much to most authors, including me, primarily as a means of letting us know what people think of our work. Nice, positive reviews can really spur us on with future projects, but it’s also important to treat negative ones as being helpful rather than damning. If a few reviewers find fault with a particular character or aspect of the story, perhaps we should look more closely at the issue in question and consider whether they could be right. Having said that, it’s important not to take individual criticisms to heart and just accept that not everyone is going to love our book!

Reviews are also a way of helping prospective readers to decide whether the book would appeal to them. After all, most of us are influenced by other people’s opinions. Unfortunately, many readers don’t bother to review at all, which is a shame. It doesn’t take long to write a short review, and just a sentence or two can be enough if time is an issue. However, I’ve seen some quite offensive reviews on Amazon, such as, Don’t bother with this one, it’s rubbish, and A five-year old could have written a better story. Comments like that aren’t helpful to either authors of possible readers and I can only wonder why some people feel the need to be so unpleasant.

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

I’d love to write a murder mystery but it would still have to have an historical setting – and that isn’t just because I’m a history lover. I read a lot of contemporary crime novels and love them, but writing one would be a different matter. I have to confess I know zilch about police procedure, forensics or pathology, or even legal issues and court cases. So, a murder (or four, as in Midsomer Murders!) set in the past, would suit me much better. It would still involve a lot of research but it wouldn’t be as hard as delving into 21st century scientific methods of solving crimes.

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

We’ve been living midway between Newark and Lincoln in Nottinghamshire, UK, since our six children were young, and as all but one are still living in this area, I can’t see us moving away in the near future. I have to say, it’s ideally situated for travelling to most areas of the UK by either road or rail, and we have plenty of airports relatively close by. Lincoln’s a lovely old city, and holds a fabulous Christmas Market every year.

I often have yearnings to live in the Highlands of Scotland. The mountains and lochs are simply magnificent and instil a sense of calm in me. I suppose we’ll just have to be content with taking regular holidays up there.

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

I have lots of comfort foods and most of them are very calorific. Ice cream is a summer favourite, but I also love (and bake) cakes of all types. I adore Cadbury’s chocolate, but try not to eat it too often, but I give in rather a lot to salted snacks like crisps (US chips) and nuts, especially cashews. My least favourite food is shellfish of any type! Yuk.

What makes you angry?

Any form of cruelty, whether to other people or animals, makes me livid – cruelty to children particularly so.

What music soothes your soul?

Celtic music is my favourite at the end of a long and tiring day. Its hauntingly beautiful melodies and vocals conjure up visions of ancient mountains and forests, with tinkling streams winding between them. Perfect harmony and calm.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

 I’m very short – little over five foot nowadays. I console myself in knowing that Queen Victoria was even shorter than me, and she proved to be a real Mighty Mouse! Unfortunately, Victoria and I differ in the fact that she had lots of money and I haven’t.

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CHAT WITH SEB KIRBY

Seb Kirby is the author of the James Blake Thriller series (Take No More, Regret No More and Forgive No More), the psychological thrillers Each Day I Wake, Sugar For Sugar and Here The Truth Lies, and the sci-fi thriller Double Bind.

An avid reader from an early age – his grandfather ran a mobile lending library in Birmingham – he was hooked from the first moment he discovered the treasure trove of books left to his parents. Now, as a full-time writer, his goal is to add to the magic of the wonderful words and stories he discovered back then. He lives in the Wirral, UK.

What is your latest book?

My breakthrough book, TAKE NO MORE, has just been reissued by Canelo, a London- based digital publisher. So this is my latest book and also the first of seven, so far! It’s a privilege to have a dedicated team behind the book and it will be interesting to see how far they will take it.

I’m just putting the finishing touches to my eighth story, a legal-centered thriller, yet to be titled. It should be available in late autumn.

Is your recent book part of a series?

Yes, TAKE NO MORE is the first in a series of three books. The next two are REGRET NO MORE and FORGIVE NO MORE. Both have also just been reissued by Canelo. The series tells the story of James Blake and his struggles to protect his wife and family when they are unwittingly drawn into an international crime conspiracy involving drugs and stolen art. The story unfolds on a worldwide background including London, Venice, Florence, San Diego, Tijuana and Austin Texas.

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

I write thrillers. That’s always seemed the natural thing to do since those are the kind of stories I enjoy myself. Having said that, my thrillers take on guises of their own. The three books in the James Blake series could be best described as international thrillers in the mold of Dan Brown or Clive Cussler with a strong touch of Harlan Coben. Since then, I’ve completed and published three psychological thrillers where the emphasis is very different and center on the inner struggle of an individual facing and overcoming life threatening personal dangers. These books are EACH DAY I WAKE, SUGAR FOR SUGAR and HERE THE TRUTH LIES. Though each is a unique story, they share the same locations, London – the South Bank of the Thames and the London East End. And I’ve also published a sci fi / fantasy thriller, DOUBLE BIND, that offers a novel way of talking about the environmental crisis. My latest is a legal thriller. It just goes to show how open and flexible the thriller form is.

Do your books begin with ideas for characters or plots? Something else?

I think plot is most important since so much of authorship is about storytelling, which is something people in all cultures have been involved with as long as anyone can recall. First off, my characters are there to advance the story. Only then do I seek to round them out into the believable, real people I hope they turn out to be. I think this approach is very much defined if you write thrillers. In other genres, like literary fiction and romance, things may be different.

Many times, I’ve actually dreamed plot twists, character names, and other tidbits that I’ve needed for my WIP. Has this ever happened to you?

When I’m working on a story, I don’t get plot developments from dreams – I recall so little of what I must have been dreaming. But I do get the feeling that the ideas I need come along almost by chance, when I’m least concentrating on them. This often takes place early in the morning after I come out of the shower and start to get dry. I make sure I have my iPad ready at hand and jot down the ideas before they’re lost forever. I then work these jottings into fully developed storylines in the days that follow.

Are you easily distracted while writing? If so, what do you do to help yourself focus?

I know writers who like to write in public spaces such as their local coffee bar. I think they like the idea of being away from the distractions of running a home. I’m just the opposite. I do most of my work in my writer’s room. If it’s not quiet enough in the house I close the door. For me it’s all about having enough seclusion to be able concentrate one hundred per cent. I’m with Stephen King on this: write with the door closed, edit with the door open.

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

I think it’s important for a story to have a sense of place. That’s why I’ve visited and spent time in all the places featured in my books. It’s not that I favor extensive descriptions of places (or people for that matter). It’s more that the feel of a place comes through in the writing once you’ve spent time there and absorbed the sights and sounds. Sometimes whole plot lines emerge from a single observation. Like the time I was in a restaurant in Florence when they charged for a dish I hadn’t received. When I went to complain to the manager, a heavy emerged to make sure I knew not to be too insistent and that I should accept that overcharging was more normal here than I’d expected. This formed the germ of the ideas that led to the organized crime elements of TAKE NO MORE and the rest of the James Blake story.

Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?

I haven’t published any non-fiction yet but I have projects in place that are at an early stage. One is a memoir of my upbringing in a working class family in Birmingham, UK. It’s much less about the hardships of those times than about the struggle to understand the meaning of the world and a person’s place in it. I’m also at an early stage on a book on advice to authors on how to write a novel. What gets in the way of both projects is the next story. When it comes along, all else gets pushed to the sidelines.

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

I live on the Wirral, a peninsular in northwest England. Its history reaches back to Saxon and Viking times, preserved in many of the place names. It’s like living on an island in some ways. The area around the Dee Estuary has rugged coastlines, sandy beaches, high winds and is a haven for water sports like sailing and windsurfing. The main cities within easy reach are Chester and Liverpool. The latter is the real draw if you want to step off the ‘island’ and into a unique culture that produces great drama, poetry, music (the Beatles) and sport (Liverpool Football Club). Before I took up writing full time I travelled into Liverpool each day in my role as a professor at Liverpool University. These days I spend most of my time on the ‘island’.

I’m not tempted to move but if I was it would be to Florence in Italy. I visit there at least once each year to soak up its rich cultural heritage.

What music soothes your soul?

Music is a big part of my life. It started when I was still in school and a classmate who was in a band would lend me albums by the likes of Chuck Berry, Little Richard Gene Vincent, and the Everly Brothers as well as blues albums by the likes of John Lee Hooker, Big Bill Broonzy and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. Then came the Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the Kinks who fed off that wonderful music. Bob Dylan became my absorbing interest for many years until a wonderful thing happened. A friend suggested I listen to a recording of a live performance of ‘My Funny Valentine’ by Miles Davis. I was blown away. So jazz is now a major a part of my listening, especially all those who’ve emerged from Miles’ shadow. Somewhere along the way I also picked up an interest in classical music, especially Vivaldi and Bach. One of my ambitions is to see one or more of my books made into a movie or a Netflix drama. Then I’d love to have a say in the musical score.

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

I really rate long form TV drama. I think it’s the closest thing to drama of the same depth as reading a novel. Here are some favorites: Better Call Saul, The Affair, The Handmaid’s Tale, Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Man In The High Castle, Big Little Lies, The Night Of, Borgen, The Bridge, Gomorrah.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Chocolate. 90% dark chocolate.

 

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