CHAT WITH ROBIN LYONS

Robin Lyons, Author of the School Marshal Series, lives a quiet California life in the foothills of Sierra Nevada Mountains. After twenty-nine year career in public education, Robin’s fiction aims to bring awareness to crimes taking place on school campuses and crimes involving the people connected to schools in the School Marshal Series.

Is your recent book part of a series?

The most recently published book is Mac, a prequel novella in the School Marshal Series. Mac takes the reader back in time, providing a glimpse of the main character’s roots (Cole ‘Mac’ MacKenna) and helps readers better understand the leading man in the series.

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

It’s important to keep the characters’ information and stories straight as they move from book to book. Equally important is keeping the places and settings consistent. In case I need to refresh my memory about someone or something, I keep a few books open and readily accessible while I’m working on a new book.

One aspect I love about writing a series is it’s pretty easy to pick out something mentioned in an earlier book and then twist it into a plot or subplot down the road.

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

One time, as I wrote a plotted scene with a character I had planned to also use in a future book, I felt the character needed to go another direction. I remember telling my husband about how it felt like the character made the scene turn differently from what I had intended.

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

I outline the entire book using index cards before I begin to write scenes. Once the scenes are plotted, I lay the index cards out to arrange and rearrange until I have them in an order I believe flows. When it’s time to write scenes I have the entire story swirling in my mind. I start out writing in order, but I’m able to bounce around when one scene speaks louder in my head than another.

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

It’s so hard for me to ignore and continue writing when I see a squiggly colored line under a word or sentence, so I correct typos and incorrect words as I go. I don’t recommend editing as you write because it brings the creative flow to a screeching halt. But for me to ignore those darn squiggly lines would be the same as not picking up a tissue I’ve dropped.

Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?

Yes and I factor in other things besides whether the name feels right or not. I do an internet search of names, titles, fictional business names, fictional locations, fictional cities, etc. I change the name if something pops up that I wouldn’t want to be associated with me or my stories.

I write in Scrivener and love the name generator tool. If you aren’t familiar with Scrivener, you can select the gender and region the character is from to influence the name choices suggested. It’s pretty cool.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Don’t do what I did. I spent years learning as much as I could about writing, editing and publishing that the publishing world changed as I was learning. I thought I wanted to pursue traditional publishing, then vanity publishing. After six years of learning, researching, writing, and re-writing—in that order, I ended up independently publishing. All of what I did was necessary for me to proceed, but it didn’t need to take six years. The priority should have been writing.

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

Social media is a challenge for me. Through trial and error, I’ve learned where my comfort zone is.

I’m active on Twitter and enjoy getting know Twitter friends. Direct Messaging (DM) on Twitter can be frustrating. You get inundated with DMs asking you to buy this and like that. Often people send a DM suggesting they’ll like your Facebook page if you do the same for theirs. Assuming the person is genuine, I’ve liked someone’s Facebook page and then replied to their DM letting them know I’ve done so and include a link to my Facebook page so they can do the same. More often than not, I don’t receive the same in return as promised in the DM. Twitter Lesson #1 – Some people are dishonest.

I’m active on Facebook as well. I enjoy Facebook for providing tons of interesting and relevant content but I haven’t mastered Facebook friendships other than in groups. There are some fantastic writer groups on Facebook. I’ve found most people in the groups are super friendly and helpful.

I’m also on Goodreads and LinkedIn but seldom go there; I don’t fully understand how to interact with others on either platform.

My Instagram account is mainly personal for connecting with friends and family.

How much research was involved in writing your book?

I love research! And therefore I do too much research. To accurately write about something I sometimes get bogged down with the tiniest detail. For example, do crickets make noise year-round or only during certain seasons? If I’m going to write about a cricket making noise—the time of year must be accurate.

*Nerd Alert* For the School Marshal Series, after I researched the names of everyone and everything, I created a town map to give me a bird’s eye view of where everything is. When I write about going to a restaurant or the police department or sitting on the back porch enjoying the view, I know exactly where the character is on the map. And with each book written more is added to the map. At some point, I may have the map professionally drawn and include in one of the 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?

My covers are super important to me. I began saving book cover graphics that appealed to me long before I began to write. For me, the cover has to relate to the story. I like my covers to come alive in the first few chapters so the reader can connect the cover to the story and the story to the cover.

What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?

I’d say it’s the Power of ONE.

ONE dollar donated to a worthy cause.

ONE kind comment said to someone having a bad day.

ONE instance of helping an older or disabled person cross a street or open a door.

ONE time helping a bird with its wing caught on something.

ONE call to a friend or relative you haven’t talked to in a long time, etc.

ONE review has the power to help thousands of people decide what book to purchase.

ONE review also has the power to help boost a book’s ranking.

ONE review does matter.

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

Yes, I sure have. As soon as I retired, I went to the small town in South Dakota where my mother grew up because I wanted to write her life story as a fiction novel. After the trip, I did extensive research and then began writing. Not having a clue what I was doing or that there is a structure to novels I struggled to write chapter one. I tried first-person POV, then third-person POV. All of the research was shelved, and I began writing a story about a gigolo. Upon completing the gigolo story, I sent a sample to an editor and was kindly told it was crap.

Unsure what to write next, I began to study the craft. At that time, I was an elected school board member in my hometown. Our community was suddenly thrust into a tailspin when a beloved school principal was gunned down in his office by a co-worker. I’d known him for more than twenty years; he was my children’s middle school principal and my grandson’s elementary principal. The loss felt by the school district and community was tremendous. I knew then I needed to write the School Marshal Series with an imperfect protagonist keeping a watchful eye over the school and all who are connected to the school. The protagonist doesn’t always prevail because there is no such thing as a perfect world, but he sure gives it his all. It comforts me to think if there had been a security guard or a school resource officer or a school marshal on the campus the day of the shooting, maybe the outcome would have been better.

Mom’s story is still in the queue…

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I’ve skydived. Tandem with an instructor, but still an incredible experience.

What makes you angry?

Very little. I’m an easygoing person. I may get frustrated or turned off by someone’s behavior, but I try not to get riled.

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

Journalism.

Why?

Those valuable lessons taught so many years ago now help me understand how to format. A necessary skill for an indie-published author.

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

Stop judging others based on your opinions.

Say two positive comments or praise for every negative remark.

Praise children for what they do right instead of criticizing what they do wrong.

CONNECT WITH ROBIN

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CHAT WITH JULI D. REVEZZO

Juli D. Revezzo loves fantasy and Celtic mythology and writing stories with all kinds of fantastical elements. She is the author of the historical fantasy Frigga’s Lost Army, the romances, House of Dark Envy, Watchmaker’s Heart, and Lady of the Tarot, the Antique Magic paranormal series and Celtic Stewards Chronicles series and more. She is also a member of the Independent Author Network and the Magic Appreciation Tour.

What is your latest book?

Frigga’s Lost Army. It is an historical fantasy set about a World War II POW who survives his time in captivity with the help of the Norse goddess Frigga.

Is your recent book part of a series?

No, it’s a standalone this one.

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

I’ve always written fantasy into…just about everything I write. History always seems to be blended in there somewhere, just depending on what era strikes my fancy at the time. I’ve written worlds set in the Victorian era as well as some (Lady of the Tarot) based in the 18th century, and some, like my Celtic Stewards Chronicles, covering darned near every era.

What else have you written?

 I’ve written the Antique Magic paranormal fantasy (about a woman living in current day Florida, who finds her husband plagued by demons due to a family curse. She has to embrace her witchy powers to save him), also the Celtic Stewards Chronicles, which is a fantasy romance series about a family to whom the Celtic (Irish, specifically) gods come and request the use of their property for their sacred battle; I’ve also written a few historical romances, and odds and ends of novellas and some short stories that are published in a few anthologies.

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

That you can throw up a book in a minute and make a million bucks. Yeah, it happens, but only to a very, very few. And the other misconception, still, is that we’re all… writing a book in a minute, and not taking care with our stuff. That may be true for some, but certainly, not for me.

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

I enjoy writing the novel the most. I don’t enjoy writing the synopses! 🙂

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 story but I do seem to jump around more than just write straight through.

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

An ending, yes. Or at least, I like to have a vague idea. As for titles, I usually only need something workable to save it under, then worry about what to use as the marketable title after the fact. I usually have to bounce a list of ideas off friends. We usually end up with some keyword heavy thing I wouldn’t have thought of on day one of the manuscript. Because, you know, keywords don’t figure into some of the best titles:

Elric of Melniboné. (What the heck is that?) The Mabinogion? To the Lighthouse (what lighthouse?) , Mrs. Dalloway, Carmilla (who are they?). Or, take Pickman’s Model by Lovecraft. Who’s Pickman? What kind of model? Is he making toy cars? Or taking something as a model for his life? Is Pickman even a man? (If you haven’t read it, I’m not telling!) Ah…there’s no real keyword there, and (if you don’t know who Lovecraft is) you can’t tell the genre or what the story’s about just from the title, can you? That’s a clever title, in my opinion. 😉 Based on the long history of titles in literature, the current trend doesn’t stack up. Something as keyword heavy as The Detectives of the Elves in the Forest doesn’t work quite so well, in that light, does it? Especially if you realize, tomorrow, your “hot keywords” could very well be out of vogue. Anyway, long story short, based on my influences, that’s why I have to bounce title ideas off friends before I make the ultimate decision.

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

Sometimes. Ben (from Frigga’s Lost Army) is more or less settled right now. My novelette “Bicycle Requiem” tied itself to my Antique Magic series, in a way that, I didn’t anticipate when I started either one. I have tons of ideas for what comes next in Antique Magic, and some, yes, that have had me rearrange the end of what I thought would be the final book. I’m not sure I’ll write all of them, (don’t want to have a 25 book series, after all) but I do have them all written down.

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

I usually have two or three manuscripts in flux at once, so when I finish one draft, I’ll put it away, and work on something else for a while. That usually clears my head of draft one, so I can go back to it objectively. Then of course, I have betas and editors go over them, as well, who help me pick out what’s wrong.

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

No, I’m…*squirrel* 🙂 Seriously though, if I get distracted, it’s usually a sign I need a break, so I’ll stop and maybe go poke around in the garden a little, if it’s a nice day. Or read something else for a while, or poke around on the internet, maybe write a blog post, watch a movie. Things like that. Sometimes just a little rest helps.

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

Not really. I have things I’d like to tweak, but I don’t usually feel the need to tear everything down and start again. If a book ends up that messed up (and there have been times!) I’d rather move on and write something new.

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?

Constantly! I have one character right now who I wish I’d changed the name before I published the book. Too late now.

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

I really can’t say. Sure talent has something to do with it, but sometimes, it seems like it all comes down to luck.

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

Least favorite part about it…. Everything. Well, not everything, but a few things: DMs on both Twitter and Facebook have a tendency to get lost, so do Twitter comments. I also dislike those ridiculous “please verify yourself” DMs. No. Please stop it.

What do you like best about the books you read?

The storylines, if you’re a fantasy writer, the magic you include. For mysteries, a clever twist. For paranormal cozy mysteries….well, the magic. J

What do you like least?

Fantasy stories where the writer makes a mythological god a villain based on his/her looks and dress, without checking into what the mythology actually says about him/her (Cernunnos is not a devil in Celtic mythology, for instance, even though he has horns). Those kind of mistakes/ uses of “poetic license” drive me batty.

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

With Frigga’s Lost Army, I spent the most time reading accounts of how the POW’s lived life in the camps. Most of these accounts are online, so it was lot of web reading and link culling.

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 tell you what, my betas and editors prefer to read the entire first draft. They always have, so while I have a critique friend I bounce ideas off, I never let them read it until I’ve finished that draft.

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

Interestingly, men seem to enjoy my Antique Magic series. Since the main point of view is a woman and so I thought they’d be my target audience (women who love things like the Hollows and Anita Blake series). That surprised the heck out of me.

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

 Yes, I am, but I’ve never timed it. (I’ll be humble and say I have average typing speed) How does it affect my writing? I’ve given myself carpal tunnel—which, as you can guess—tends to stop the writing, sometimes.

Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?

I have a blog (link below) and my journals.

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

I’ve been telling stories since I was a child, so yeah. Born to write. I didn’t write my first novel, though, until I was 18.

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. Why? I find it hard to boil down the whole book to just a few lines. Bane of my existence! If it wasn’t for friends who graciously allow me to bounce various versions off them, I don’t know where I’d be.

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

 Herm….probably something about history…Most likely Medieval and Renaissance history. Or something about the Celts. J I adore them! (And as an aside, I actually wrote a little something about the modern paganism in my Antique Magic series, but it’s only available through my Patreon account)

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?

Get a team to help you decide what makes a good story, and help you flesh yours out and make it better. Even a beta reader or critique partner is helpful. Learn everything you can—yes, even cover design and (especially!) html and ebook coding. Learn to do everything you can yourself. That way if you lose, or can’t barter with, part of your team or your schedules can’t line up, for whatever reason, you’re not totally screwed. (Hey, life does get in the way! Hello, hurricane season!)

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

The least effective? Giveaways. See below. And paid promo. I’ve tried a few different paid ones and never found them worth the money, or let’s put it this way, never made my fee back.

The most effective? Well, I’ve been trying different things lately, so what’s effective might be a combination of a lot of them. I can’t say, really.

I’m sure you’ve read many interviews with your fellow authors. In what ways do you find your methods of creating most similar and dissimilar?

I think we’re pretty much the same across the board, when it comes down to it.

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

Of course I love Frigga, but my favorites? Lady of the Tarot, both for itself and for being my first Audible audiobook.

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?

Just ignore them. Really that’s the best you can do. Anything else might get you in trouble.

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

No. Unless it’s a group promo where one can get in front of a larger cross audience I don’t generally find them a useful way to promote.

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?

Funnily, I pay more attention to designing my book covers. But as a reader/buyer? Very little. There are only a handful of books I’ve ever bought because of the cover.

(But I tell you what men with naked chest covers and covers where the woman’s head is cut off drive me insane.[That would be, I’d said, one of my pet peeves]. I will buy a romance novel, but not for that! For judging romance books, I turn right to the back cover)

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

I see covers moving into the gif realm. I’m not sure if Kindle will ever support them in ebooks; I guess we’ll see! More audiobooks might be in the future, too. I had fun making the two I have so far (my two historical romance novels, Lady of the Tarot and Watchmaker’s Heart) so I’d like to see them become more popular. Maybe. I’d love to see holographic novels, but that might just still be a science fiction dream.

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

Most of the time, we have a mutual understanding to work together.

How would you define your style of writing?

 Quirky and unorthodox. 🙂 No. To be a little less succinct, my tagline is “The Enchanted Word” and what that means is I write books that are laced with a little bit of magic, a little mythology…even here and there in my purely historical romances you’ll find a nod to the fantasy realm, now and then.

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

Yes! Gabriel (from Frigga’s Lost Army), and Aaron (from Passion’s Sacred Dance/Celtic Stewards Chronicles—or Isaac from Druid Warrior’s Heart). Because *sigh* they’re my favorite heroes of my bunch. And Caitlin. Man, I’d love to have a best friend like her! J Oh. Wait. I do, actually.

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?

They do! So please, if you enjoyed the book, put a review up saying so! (Amazon’s temperamental algorithms aside) It’s important to know our work is being loved—and “word of mouth” helps spread the word to others you think might enjoy the book. And hearing you loved our books can really brighten a writer’s day.

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

 I’d like to try writing a proper cozy mystery. J

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

Actually, funnily enough, I had a science fantasy series I was writing, back in 2000 and when friends got hold of it they said it was romance. That was a total knock me over with a feather” moment, let me tell ya!

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

Depends on the link. If it’s a book link and it sounds interesting, I might look anyway. What I really hate? Those auto-verification tweets. Gah! Please, people, turn that stuff off. I also am perplexed by comments that don’t show up because the commenter marks his account private. I haven’t figured those out yet.

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

I love lasagna and …well, Italian food. Least favorite? Yucca.

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

 My little brother used to throw plastic spiders at me, now and then. Does that count?

Care to brag about your family?

 They’re the best. Always been very supportive of my work. J

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

 I’d love to be able to paint. Like, really represent life with a brush and oils. When I try to draw or paint, it all comes out like …well? What’s it called? Outsider art. Very amateur. So my main “plastic” art medium (outside writing) is photography. But yeah, I’d love to be able to paint.

What was your favorite year of school? Why?

Junior year in high school. J Because that’s when I met my husband.

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

 Books!! And maybe it’d be nice to have a greenhouse, an extra bathroom…

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

 Excalibur would be my favorite movie. Favorite book? Elric of Melniboné or The Warhound and The World’s Pain (both by the fantasy author Michael Moorcock). After that, I’d say the Welsh tome The Mabinogion.

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

Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. This was years ago, so I don’t remember why, right now. A shame because we’d loved Christopher Lambert in Highlander, but Legend of Tarzan was very dull to us, I do remember that.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

 I’ve been collecting way too many tarot decks lately, for a non-professional reader. It’s the art thing.:)

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

Agree to disagree, and practice “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” That would help, for a start.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

 Believe it or not, I love it when my garden does well. And ravens make me smile. I always get excited when I hear or see one outside.

CONNECT WITH JULI:

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CHAT WITH SUZY HENDERSON

Suzy Henderson was born in the North of England and initially pursued a career in healthcare, specialising as a midwife. Years later she embarked upon a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. That was the beginning of a new life journey, rekindling her love of writing and her passion for history. With an obsession for military and aviation history, she began to write.

Suzy is a member of The Alliance of Independent Authors and the Historical Novel Society and her debut novel, The Beauty Shop, was released in November 2016.

Time to chat with Suzy!

What is your latest book?

Having released my debut novel in November 2016, The Beauty Shop, I’m now writing the next book that I hope to release early 2018. Once again, it’s historical fiction, set mainly in France and covers the mid-1930s to 1944. I’m frantically in the middle of rewrites and edits, and as usual, my main character is shaping the story her way.

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

Great question. I think it’s fair to say that the historical fiction genre chose me. It all began with my passion for history, mainly military history. Of course, like so many people, there is also a family connection to both world wars, with grandparents, great grandparents and great uncles who served in both conflicts. It’s such a fascinating period, rich in undiscovered and little-known stories and with such remarkable people. I’d like to think that those of us who create within this genre are helping to keep history alive as well as providing exceptional stories for readers.

When I first encountered the story of the Guinea Pig Club – a club for severely burned airmen, and the plastic surgeon who cared for them, I knew I had to write it. I find that I’m drawn to such real people in history – what drives them to do what they do. I’m intrigued by their choices in life and going in search of the answers often uncovers many intriguing facts. For me, I wanted to know what led Archibald McIndoe to do what he did for the burned and injured airmen in his care. Why did he engage pretty girls for his ward, encourage relationships between nurse and patient, allow beer to be freely available and so many other things? His methods were unorthodox, raised many eyebrows and caused many problems within the hospital establishment.

He battled many people to get his own way, which in his mind was the only way. His objective was simple. The men in his care faced a lifetime of ridicule, discrimination and the loss of a previous way of life. He had to change people, society, and attitudes to disability and disfigurement and of course, this is an ongoing issue although times are improving gradually, thanks to people like Archie McIndoe. For a young, handsome pilot to have his whole life ahead of him one day and to feel almost finished the next when his entire face has been burned away, is simply unimaginable and so I found myself compelled to delve into the archives in search of a story. Hence The Beauty Shop was born. The title was the nickname for Archie’s ward at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead. As the men used to say, “it’s where they send you to make you up again.”

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

It happens all the time, irrespective of how well I’ve planned each chapter. Just when I think I know where I’m heading, a character takes me on a little detour and it’s always interesting and often useful, becoming an integral part of the story. Usually, it’s my main characters who quite literally take over and re- shape the story, as has happened with my current book, and I found myself having to do further research, covering an area I hadn’t envisaged at all, although I’m so glad of it.

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

I think I prefer the editing stage, which may seem odd. Planning and writing the first draft is enjoyable but equally frustrating, especially when the writing is not flowing. Things don’t always go to plan as characters have a way of evolving during the written stage, and sometimes more research is required, which hinders my writing. Once I have the complete draft, the real work begins, and that’s the greatest stage for me. I enjoy the shaping and fine polishing phase, but I must admit I’m not so keen on proofreading.

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

The title is not important right at the beginning just as long as I have one in time for the design of the book cover. As for endings, well I do like to have the beginning, the middle and some idea of the end at the planning stage, but like everything, it’s always open to change. Right now, I have three alternative endings for my current book.

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

The cover is vital – it’s the first thing people will notice in the book store or the Kindle store on Amazon. It must fit your story, look fantastic, and it should stand out. It’s all part of grabbing the reader’s attention. Often, it’s the cover you spot before you read the title, author’s name and certainly any blurb. I’m not a graphic designer or an artist and certainly not competent enough to design my own covers, so I have a professional to do that.

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

I know many writers who edit as they go, but I simply can’t do it. For me, having tried this, I found it broke my flow and hindered my writing. I prefer to draft and then rewrite and edit afterwards. The first draft is like a free write in a sense – like turning on a tap and going with the flow. I feel it’s where the true story emerges from, and I have no wish to interrupt that.

Do you have any secrets for effective time management?

I wish I did and I’ve concluded that I need to know how to freeze time – that would be incredibly useful but alas I have no superpowers. I think that social media can so easily become a huge drain on your time, especially while you’re at the initial writing stage. I’ve found that I must be strict and limit my time there. I write when I’m most productive which is early mornings and in the evenings. I generally find myself multi-tasking, and I try to keep up with social media during non-writing periods, perhaps when cooking dinner or watching TV. I’ve also begun taking regular breaks away from social media that not only frees up more time but allows you to ‘recharge your batteries’ so to speak. Living in social media can become quite stressful and we all need an occasional rest. You must do what’s right and what works for you at the end of the day.

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

Oh, for me it most definitely came later in life. I can recall being in English class and having to write stories about our summer holidays or suchlike and I hated it. The problem for me was that I loved reading, and enjoyed stories, but when it came to English studies, my imagination took a vacation! Maybe I’m one of life’s ‘late bloomers’. One benefit of this happens to be life experience. I have so much more now in my fourth decade than I did in my second for instance and it’s a useful tool that influences and shapes my 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?

I absolutely dread writing the synopsis, which is so ridiculous! The synopsis is essential if you’re pitching your book to agents and publishers. That said, even if you’re self-publishing it’s useful and assists with writing your book blurb for one thing. It sums up your entire book, so if you know what you’re writing about, it shouldn’t be a problem. One benefit of writing the synopsis, I’ve found, is that it identifies any ambiguity and helps you to iron out any niggles with your story and plot.

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

I’m currently enrolled in KDP, and I believe it is worthwhile even though it means I can’t sell my e-book anywhere else for the duration. However, the benefit of the higher royalty rate and the Kindle lending library perhaps makes up for this. Like many writers I’ve discovered that I get many Kindle reads via the library which is fantastic to see my book being widely read around the world.

Are your characters ever based on people you know?

Sometimes, maybe just a little. I’m probably like many writers in that I observe and listen to people. It’s impossible not to overhear conversations at times, and it’s fascinating to do so. So, the bottom line is that as a writer I’m always collecting information to use later. Sometimes a character may be based on an actor even – I do find movies to be a rich resource and a great writing tool and even the actors themselves, after all, they’re people. There is also a little of myself in my books, which happens to be unavoidable.

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

I would make it a writing room specifically for me so I would have it furnished like a library, with shelves from floor to ceiling filled with books. I’d have my desk, a comfy armchair and a treadmill in the corner – keep fit while I’m creating – I’m a multi-tasker! Perhaps I’d have a coffee-maker too and a lovely wood-burning stove for winter.

What music soothes your soul?

I love music, and I particularly enjoy jazz and classical which I find to be very soothing. Also, different songs or classical pieces fit different pieces of writing and often help set the mood and even aid creativity. It’s amazing how that works and I must say it’s not often that I write without music.

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

Well, here in the UK I’m a long-time fan of a show called Emmerdale. I also love Only Fools and Horses that finished ages ago, so I watch the re-runs. Just recently I discovered the hype over Outlander and became hooked. I watched all the available episodes and am now right up to date and about to begin watching Season 3 – can’t wait!

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

I always longed to play the piano but never had the opportunity to learn. Now my youngest son is taking lessons and is becoming quite accomplished. I keep asking him to teach me, and he does try, but I seem to be a slow learner! I used to play the flute, and I can read music, write music even, but learning to play the piano seems to be out of my grasp. It’s going to take time and perseverance.

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

I live in Cumbria, right near the top, so I’m within easy reach of the Scottish borders. We have lakes, mountains, literary connections such as Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter and many fabulous walks. Add to that the rich Roman heritage, Roman Forts and Hadrian’s Wall – it’s an inspiring landscape for many an artist.

If I had to move, I’d hope to relocate to either Lincolnshire or Cambridge in the UK simply because it’s ‘bomber county’ where many of the RAF and USAAF bomber bases were during WW2. There are also many old airfields and aviation museums to visit. Aside from there, I’d probably choose somewhere in the south of France. I love the French language, something I excelled in during my school years – I did far better in French than in English!

Thank you so much for inviting me here today, Lisette. I had fun answering the questions, and it has been an honour. I’d also like to say a massive thank you to all who have read my book. Lest we forget.

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CHAT WITH JULIE ELIZABETH POWELL

She cannot ignore her dreams, so many of them, with names and places and ideas that spark her imagination and compel her to write; to create stories, whether fantasy or horror, or mystery or psychological thriller or murder or even humour and adventure. So, her garden is sown, flourishing, with all manner of growth, and still the dreams come.

Julie Elizabeth Powell, her soul lingering within her imagination; maybe you’ll join her?

Time to chat with Julie!

What is your latest book?

My current work is called, Maisie, a fantasy about a blind girl – that’s it, no more clues. It’s a novel which keeps growing, so I’m now becoming desperate to have the first draft completed. As always, it’s the characters who dictate what happens.

What are the greatest challenges in writing short stories?

I have written stories in various lengths and genres. I like to write short stories because ideas come through dreams and I must write them. I don’t always know how long the story will be. The greatest challenge? I suppose it’s making the characters intriguing, believable and relatable, which is vital to any story. And to keep the reader guessing and wanting more.

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

I first started writing seriously about 20 years ago, so I used my married name. I have since remarried but continue to use the other as a pen name because it would be too difficult to change it all now. I also like to use my middle name; hence, Julie Elizabeth Powell. No, present hubby does not mind and encourages me to write.

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

I love writing fantasy because I can allow my imagination to soar. My first book, Gone is a fantasy and it had to be so because of the subject matter.

After my daughter, Samantha, died from her heart stopping at the age of two, she was resuscitated and left severely brain damaged. She survived for seventeen years; her body a suffering shell, waiting for death. During that waiting time I had a question: Where had my daughter gone? Because what had made her who she was – her essence – had been wiped clean, no longer able to know me or anything around her.

So I created a world and went in search of her. Gone is the result. It is not a depressing read but tackles many issues such as loss, guilt, fear and so on, but it is also about hope and has been called a fairytale for adults.

The world I created (Avalon and the Star Realm), was so good that I couldn’t let it go to waste so wrote The Star Realm (for a younger audience maybe and yet…). However, the story became so big that I had to divide into a trilogy. #1 The Star Realm, #2 Invasion, #3 Secrets Of The Ice. It’s an epic fantasy adventure, while tackling a variety of issues such as loss, the dangers to the planet Earth, friendship and more.

I do write in many genres, including paranormal, crime, psychological, humour, mystery, adventure, for adults and children(ish)and non-fiction because I like to challenge my writing and I’d become bored if I could only write one thing. However, fantasy will always be my favourite due to the fact that I don’t have to follow any rules and can make it up as I go – such pleasure.

Whatever I choose to write must be meaningful.

Are your characters ever based on people you know?

Some. I think my characters are the sum total of me and everyone I’ve known and those strangers I see in passing, including dreams. They pop into my head from dreams or even while shopping at the supermarket.

Henry Ian Darling, for example, came to me in a dream, but did not remind me of anyone specifically. He is an amazing character and can be found in the Weird series.

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

Hopefully, my new novel will surprise readers. It’s something I’ve not tried before and though it’s complex to write, it won’t be to read. There are many characters (as there are in the majority of my books) with all manner of threads to tie in.

I’ve also begun the next missive in the Weird: A Henry Ian Darling Oddity series. This will be missive four and again something way out of my comfort zone.

I’m also compiling stories that I’ve written for the Mind’s Eye series, so to produce collections of the same genre. Just in case folks haven’t read the series, I thought it may be good to bring them into several volumes.

There are many others stories in the pipeline but I have only so many hours a day in which to write.

I have video book trailers for most of my books, in addition most can be found as audiobooks, too.

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

Come, Join My Imagination.

What else have you written?

So far, I have written 25 books, some novels, one epic trilogy, short stories, collections and one non-fiction. Slings & Arrows is the factual account of what happened to my daughter, Samantha, and why I wrote Gone. FYI – I could not write Slings & Arrows until after my daughter’s second and final death at the age of nineteen after suffering for seventeen years.

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

That we are unprofessional and sloppy! I can’t speak for all independent authors, but in my case, although I can’t afford an editor or designer etc. my work is as professional as it can be. I work very hard to make sure it is. Yes, there may be typos (but then I’ve never read a book without one, even those from the traditional houses with expensive eyes), however, I am constantly re-reading and trying to catch those pesky gremlins.

I design all my own covers and think they are great! I write and edit and proofread (hate that most of all because it’s so difficult). I am useless at marketing!

I read many, many books, mainly from the independent pool (and self-published) and overall, I think there are good. Some are poorly edited and sloppy and occasionally a story is just awful – but that is in the minority. I also review everything I read; unless it’s so bad then I won’t because I will not destroy dreams with negativity.

There is a difference between independent and self-published and I think most of us understand that – think small presses – but in my opinion, and from what I write and have read, the source of good writing does not always come from the traditional route.

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

Ha, ha, ha! I am led by my characters. They are in charge and constantly surprise me – and annoy me. I may think a story is going one way but then they twist it and demand their own way.

This may sound crazy, however, it’s true.

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

I love it when I’m ‘in the zone’, where the writing is flowing freely and I’m there in the story and nothing can stop me. There are so many distractions in life that it’s not always practical for me to write – busy, busy, busy – but when I do and when it carries me completely, it’s brilliant.

Sometimes the middle of a story, especially if it’s growing due to the characters telling me ‘go this way, not that’, I can get impatient. Nevertheless, listening to their voices is the only way to make the story the way it should be.

I don’t like having to check up on things too much – remembering things about what characters have said or done, so I do make notes if things are particularly complex.

I hate proofreading!

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

 Absolutely! Most of my stories and characters come to me through dreams. Ideas are sparked and I must write them. Short stories are usually the way I tackle those sparks unless they grow into something more. I don’t know that until I’m writing and it’s the characters that show me the way.

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

I usually write the story in order, although it does sometimes go back and forth in time. There are instances, however, that I need to write a particular scene so I don’t forget what I want to say later or the character prompts an idea; this is typed at the bottom of the story so that I can insert it when appropriate.

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

Hmm, I don’t usually know the ending until I’m at certain phases of the book, because there are twists and turns where the characters lead. I do have a vague idea how I want things to end, but that doesn’t always work out. The title usually comes first, although not always.

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

I do like to get things down within the flow, and unless it’s some whopping error, I leave the editing until I’ve finished the first draft. But even then, different ideas come and whole scenes and chapters need to be changed.

What are some of the crazy things people have said to you upon learning you are an author? How have you responded?

I don’t know about crazy things, unless it is folks telling me I’m crazy (yep, true). However, I’ve been told that I’m wasting my time and that my writing is only a hobby unless I have a literary agent or publisher.

“Anyone can self-publish now, so it’s probably rubbish!”

Not many understand how important it is to me and it’s not a hobby.

What can I do but smile and shrug and continue to write?

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?

Characters usually choose their own names. Sometimes, I’ve found a suitable name, especially for a fantasy, but then it can change, as the character evolves. I do like to choose (if I’m allowed) names that are appropriate for the genre and story, but do try to find or create something original and stay away from clichés.

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

Luck! What else can it be? I consider my work to be great – well, if I don’t say it, who will? But I don’t sell many of my books. This could be down to poor marketing? I have read stories that are awful (not just independent) and yet they sell very well.

I am often puzzled as to why some of the most popular books are, um, popular. They are poorly written with awful storylines and wooden characters.

Yes, a conundrum.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Write if you want. Ignore naysayers. Don’t think you’ll make money. Only do it if it’s in your blood. Beware of clichés, although they can sometimes be used to your advantage. Be as professional as you can.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

Lulu was my first ‘publisher’. It was the first place that was available for self-publishers. It’s free and easy to use.

However, because fewer readers choose paperbacks (too expensive and bulky), I am glad that there are places for eBooks, such as Amazon’s Kindle. All my books are available as Kindle editions or print (and eBooks) on Lulu. Most of my books are now audiobooks through Audible. Draft2Digital also have my books listed.

I have tried all the relevant literary agents and publishers but always had similar replies – no new clients or not what we’re looking for….though what they are actually wanting is beyond me?

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

I use Facebook for three book pages and writing groups. I even have one of my own. I use Twitter to both advertise and post fun things and tweet for others and their books. I use Amazon to buy and review books. I am on Google+, Pinterest and a few other sites. I have two websites.

None really work for me as regards selling, though if I didn’t do anything, my sales would be zero instead of a few now and then.

I can be distracted with Facebook, but it is nice to ‘talk’ to others and have some fun. I like to help other authors.

I dislike hate speech regardless of the subject and think that Facebook should be curtailing such things.

Do you have any grammatical pet peeves to share?

The misuse of apostrophes! I wonder if anyone ever had an education when I see so many mistakes. Bad spelling is also on the rise. I know ‘text speak’ encourages bad spelling / grammar etc.   I often want to go around with a pen and put them right with a message: use apostrophes properly. It amazes me that advertisers spend so much on ‘posters’ and yet it’s either apostrophes in the wrong place or poor spelling or both. Yes, I think there should be the apostrophe police. 🙂

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

I love a story that pulls me into it so much that I don’t want to stop reading it. Characters are very important because if you can’t engage or relate then you don’t care what happens and that spoils the story. I also prefer stories that are ‘different’, with something that makes me think and wonder…and definitely meaningful.

Being a reviewer as well as an author, I am asked to read books I wouldn’t normally try, some are brilliant, while others are boring. I do not like formulaic stories or those that don’t have meaning. Strong language and sex scenes are okay if they are appropriate to the story.

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

I don’t research, especially for fantasy as I make it up, but if I need ‘facts’ or verification, then I will check on the Internet. It really depends on the genre. I think that’s why I wouldn’t write a historical novel, for example, due to the massive amount of research I’d have to do.

Do you have any secrets for effective time management?

Ha!!! Nope. No time management, just write when I can.

What would your dream writing space look like?

My dream writing space would be ultra tidy (everything having the perfect place) with plenty of room for note taking and boards on the walls for plots and character analysis. A wall of ‘real’ books. A top of the line PC – fast and efficient. Of course, the room would be silent except for the sound of typing. And a vast window that opened up to the sea for when I’d had enough for the day.

Dreams, eh?

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

Sometimes I do wonder if folks have actually read my book, as the points they make are nothing like the story. At others, I’m amazed at the compliments.

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

I think I type fast. Unlike a typewriter, however, it’s great that I can easily correct errors. Most of the time though, my mind is far too fast for my fingers so it can be frustrating – and it doesn’t help that I can forget what I wanted to write if I don’t get it down fast enough.

Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?

I have written a non-fictional account of what happened to my daughter, Samantha, called Slings & Arrows. I have also played with poetry, some of which is included in short story collections (Figments and Expressions) while others can be found at the end of some stand-alone short stories.

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

To me, my most important book will always be Gone. Yes, it was written because of a true event, but I also think it will help others, too. It will always be my personal favourite. Nevertheless, each book is central to my mind at the time of writing.

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?

There is nothing you can do but ignore the bad stuff, except maybe you could learn from it. Don’t let negativity stop you doing what you love. Negative reviews may shake your confidence but in the end it’s up to you to move forward and write in the way you think is best for you.

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

I have had many giveaways over the years without much feedback. I rarely get reviews but when I do they are positive (mostly). All my books are 99p /99c and two are free, so I can’t do much more than that. I offer promo codes for my audiobooks, too, but even then I don’t always get reviews from it.

I hope to get my work ‘out there’ and then maybe…? Luck?

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

If you mean are my books available as Kindle editions, then yes, they all are. Yes, it’s worthwhile because there’d be no sales otherwise. I don’t use Select anymore because of the restrictions. But they have allowed two of my books (The Star Realm #1 Avalon Trilogy and Weird: A Henry Ian Darling Oddity: Missive One) to be permafree.

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 suppose it is important, as it’s the first thing folks see when choosing a book. I try not to take any notice when I’m choosing and prefer to look at the sample of writing to decide. Having said that, I usually stay clear of the ‘bare chest’ stuff, as it’s usually some insipid romance with maybe sex scenes thrown in for titillation. I can’t see the point of those stories. Although, I have read some and they’ve been okay because the storyline and writing has been good.

I design all my own covers. I love to do it; it’s enjoyable and creative but still connected to my writing. I think they’re great! J

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

They control me!

How would you define your style of writing?

Into the minds of the characters. Action above too much description. What – Difference – Consequences. In that, what is happening, reaction to that event, what difference will it make and what are the consequences.

No formulas, no rules, thought-provoking.

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 are vital, especially in today’s world because others usually make choices on what others say. I like to make up my own mind, and nothing should be banned. Amazon is making it difficult for authors to secure reviews due to their new policies, which, from what I’ve learned, is rather hypocritical. I don’t believe in paying for reviews and would never do so, nor would I ever take money for one. I am honest – even if I sometimes struggle to find something positive to say (if it’s too bad, I won’t review). Traditional houses (I’ve read) do pay for reviews and yet Amazon is supposed to be frowning on such behaviour.

I would say to readers – please review honestly, but if you can be kind that would be a plus. All reviews matter and thank you for your time. To trolls, I would say – yukkity yuk!

Would you like to write a short poem for us?

In the years of our lives

We can choose one of two paths

To be honest and true

Or harness the selfish

Ways of greed

 

Whatever you decide

Will be your reward.

But beware of your choices

For you never know who

Is watching.


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

 I live in the south of England. If I had the choice (and money), I would live in Florida.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I have met Tinker Bell and have her autograph. Such fun!

What makes you angry?

Greed, selfishness and unkindness.

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

The Walking Dead, Major Crimes, Prison Break

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

Film – Legend (and anything magical)

Book – (not fair there are many) – um, The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

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

Be kind, give not take and read!

Thank you, Lisette, for allowing me on your site.

Thanks to everyone who reads my books – reviews always welcome 🙂

Oh, yes, if you’ve found those gremlins, kick them out!

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CHAT WITH REGINA PUCKETT

Regina Puckett writes sweet, contemporary and Regency romance, horror, inspirational, steampunk, picture books and poetry. There are always several projects in various stages of completion and characters and stories waiting in the wings for their chance to finally get out of her head and onto paper.

Time to chat with Regina!

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 good book cover is the first thing that attracts a reader to a book, so it’s extremely important to choose a good one. As a reader, it’s what I look at first. As a writer, I love looking through photos to find the perfect one for my books. I’ve even written a couple of my books because I found a photo I loved so much I knew it had to have its very own story.

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

All of my characters control me. I begin each book with a general idea of what the story is going to be about, and then I let my characters take me through each chapter until the end. I’ve tried having everything plotted out, but my characters always say or do something that changes the book’s direction. I’ve discovered that it is easier to let them have the control from the very beginning. It saves me from having a few headaches and loads of regret.

What is your latest book?

I Close My Eyes is my latest book and is my first attempt at writing a historical romance. Regency romance is the hardest genre I have ever tackled. It took so much research. I thought I could just jump in and begin writing, but before I could write the first line, I had to figure out the type of clothes my characters would wear and how they would address each other in conversation. I had never dealt with using titles before so I stayed baffled for nearly the entire book about when I should say The Duke or Lord Such and Such. Even after I figured that out, I still had to research a million other little things I had never had to think about before.

Fortunately, my editor was able to catch the gaffes I missed. Although I may have driven the poor man to drink by the end of the editing process, I’m pleased to say that even though my American ways didn’t mix well with English society, Clive agreed to edit the next book in the series, Closed Hearts. Book two should be ready for release by the 1st of June. At the moment I’m writing book three, Enclosed in this Heart. You never know, I may get good at this Regency thing yet.

What are the greatest challenges in writing short stories?

In a shorter story the biggest challenge is creating characters the readers can become invested in. If you can’t do that, then you’ve failed. The reader should want your characters to find their happy-every-after or for them to die that miserable death they so deserve. Making that happen is easier with a novel. A longer story offers plenty of opportunities for you to write the scenes that grab a reader’s heart. When writing a short story, it’s important to reveal your character’s good traits and flaws early on. Those are the things that people can relate to and make it feel as if your characters are real – breathing people.

Saying all of that, I’ve written several short stories and have discovered that they are easier to write than a full length novel. Over the years my attention span has shortened. I love wrapping it all up in a few days instead of the usual months it takes to write a novel.

There’s an ever-growing market for short stories. Time is so precious, so readers want something they can read in thirty minutes or less.

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

 I write in several genres, so I guess I choose the genres instead of them choosing me. I like jumping out of my comfort zone and trying new styles of writing. It always starts out with the thought – I wonder if I can do that? Once that thought takes hold, I have to try. My first love was writing romance but I have discovered by trying new things that horror can be just as rewarding to write. It gives me a chance to take a peep at my dark side.

Are your characters ever based on people you know?

I’m a people watcher, so my characters are bits and pieces of everyone I’ve ever seen or met. A lot of me winds up in my books, because I know what makes me tick better than I do anyone else. My bad characters are based on everything I dislike about other people, and I take the chance that’s what other people dislike too.

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

People assume indie authors aren’t good enough to be published by a traditional publisher. I’ve gone the traditional route but I like the freedom of making my own decisions. I can pick my own book covers and choose the best editor. It also gives me the freedom to switch back and forward between horror, romance, steampunk, poetry and children’s picture books at will.

Of course it, all comes at a price. Everything falls on my shoulders – paying for the book covers, editor and promotions. If I fail, I can’t blame anyone but myself. Some days it’s all a little overwhelming but it’s also very rewarding. I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished.

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

My characters surprise me all the time. In Songs that I Whisper, Suzette warned Bill to not to slip up and reveal to her mother that they had once been arrested. I’m like – what? It took me two weeks to figure out the reason for their arrest. It had to be something minor but bad enough to get the two of them hauled in by the police. It would have been so much easier to delete that entire conversation, but I thought it added an interesting morsel for the readers to savor.

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

I like the beginning and the end. It’s always so much fun introducing new characters and I love the excitement of wrapping their story up. Writing the words the end means that once again I have won the battle. Everything in between those two things can be just plain old, hard work.

A longer piece keeps me in my characters heads for months. I feel every emotion they feel. That means that I’m happy when they’re happy and sad when they’re sad. I have to constantly think about how each person reacts to each and every situation. The process can be exhausting. There are nights I can’t sleep because my characters won’t shut up. Those conversations can be a curse and a blessing. I know when my characters are finally talking to each other that the book is going to be good. Unfortunately, all of that talking only means that I’m going to lose some much-needed sleep.

The truth is that I wouldn’t trade my life with anyone else.

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

The first book to be written because of a dream was Concealed in My Heart. I didn’t get up the next morning and write the book, but daydreamed about it for the next two years until the story got too big to stay in my head. The latest book to benefit from my going to sleep was A Man Called Rat. I was three fourths into writing the book when I realized the plot wasn’t going to work. I had been writing for months and it looked as if I might have to trash the whole project. Too disgusted to do anything else, I took a nap. When I woke up, I knew how to fix the hole in my plot. A dream didn’t necessarily help in that case, but resting my overworked brain did.

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

Someone I can trust.

What makes you angry?

I used to never get worked up about anything, but the older I get, the more things get on my nerves. I’m a little crankier and a whole more snappier than I used to be. I can just imagine that I’m going to be that crazy old lady who smacks you with her cane if you get too close.

What music soothes your soul?

 I enjoy listening to all types of music and love listening to it whenever I’m writing. I can be annoying though, because I usually play the same song over and over again. There’s nothing better than a sweet love song.

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

I have enjoyed watching NCIS since the beginning of the series, but this year a new show took over that top spot, Lethal Weapon. I’m ashamed to say that I also love all of the Housewives’ shows on Bravo. There’s nothing like a little of backstabbing and a lot of bickering to put your own life into perspective.

 

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CHAT WITH LINNEA TANNER

Linnea Tanner passionately reads about ancient civilizations and mythology which hold women in higher esteem. Of particular interest are the enigmatic Celts who were reputed as fierce warriors and mystical Druids. Depending on the time of day and season of the year, you will find her exploring and researching ancient and medieval history, mythology and archaeology to support her writing. A native of Colorado, Linnea attended the University of Colorado and earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry.

Time to chat with Linnea!

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

My debut book is Apollo’s Raven, was released on April 10th. It is a tale that follows two star-crossed lovers and weaves Celtic mythology into a backdrop of ancient Rome and Britannia. In a story of forbidden love and loyalty, the Celtic Warrior Princess Catrin is caught in a political web of deception when the emperor Tiberius demands allegiance from her father, King Amren.

Catrin is drawn by the magnetic pull she feels for Marcellus, the great-grandson of Mark Antony, who stands in the shadow of his scandalous forefathers. When King Amren takes Marcellus as a hostage, he demands that Catrin spy on him. As she falls in love, she discovers a cure that foretells a future she desperately wants to break. Torn between her forbidden love for the enemy and loyalty to her people, Catrin urgently calls upon the magic of the Ancient Druids to alter the dark prophecy that looms over her.

The historical fiction/epic fantasy is the first book in the Apollo’s Raven series. The series was inspired by the legacy of Cleopatra and Mark Antony but with a Celtic twist. The epic series spans from 24 AD when Catrin and Marcellus first meet to 40 AD just prior to Emperor Claudius’ invasion.

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

I write scenes both in and out of order. I usually start with a broad outline, but as I write the story, other threads in the plot develop and I may need to write others scene to make everything connect in a logical manner. When I write in multiple points of views, there are times when I write scenes out of order, so I can stay in one character’s head to play the basic plot. Sometimes, I surprise myself and can go in a completely different direction from what I had first planned. This provides twists to the plot.

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

My characters sometimes surprise me as I discover more about them when I’m writing the story. At first, I was hesitant to explore the inner essence of the heroine, Catrin, in Apollo’s Raven. She has a darker side that broils to the surface whenever she must overcome life-threatening situations. Her biggest fear is that she could abuse her powers and transform into someone evil like her half-brother, Marrock. Conversely, I added more depth and back story to Marrock, so a reader could relate to him and understand his vile deeds.

Characters must ultimately act consistently according to their true natures and background. Nothing they do should come as a shock to the reader.

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

The title of my book was important to me, because it conveys an image taken from both Roman and Celtic mythology. In the writing process, I am open to changing any part of the story that I had originally planned. Twists in the plot come from moments when I ask myself, “What if I did this instead of that.” When a “wild idea” flashes in my mind, I usually go for it, as it comes from a deeper core of my creativity.

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

In preparation for the series, I did extensive research on the history, mythology, and archeological findings of 1st Century Britain before the Roman invasion in 43 AD. A major challenge researching the Celts is they passed down their history and mythology through oral traditions. Most of my research had to be gleaned from the biased accounts of Greek and Roman historians, medieval writers who spun Celtic mythology to fit their Christian beliefs, and archaeological interpretation. I also visited many areas in the United Kingdom and France that are described in my series. I’ve hiked over 12 miles over the white cliffs of Dover so I could catch first-hand what my characters are experiencing when Apollo’s Raven first opens.

In the story, I wanted to capture the essence of the Celtic noble warrior society. The Greek historian Poseidonius writes, “The Celts engage in single combat at dinner. Assembling in arms, they engage in mock battle drill and mutual thrust and parry, sometimes inflicting wounds.”

In my research, I discovered southeast Britannia evolved differently than Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. After Julius Caesar’s military expeditions to the region in 55 – 54 BC, Rome strongly influenced the internal politics and trading of southeast Britannia. Many of the rulers were educated in Rome as hostages and adopted the empire’s taste for luxuries. Several powerful Celtic kings expanded their territories by conquering other tribes.

There are written accounts that Celtic rulers pleaded for Rome’s help to intervene on their behalf. Recent archaeological findings support a Roman military presence that protected areas of Britannia vital to trading with the empire before Claudius’ invasion in 43 AD. Of note, Shakespeare’s play, Cymbeline, is based on the Celtic King Cunobelin whom the Romans referred as the King of Britannia. One of the plot points in the play is Roman forces invade to restore tribute that Britannia ceased to pay. The play was likely based on oral traditions or medieval accounts in which there were some historical accuracy.

My extensive research sets the stage for the Apollo’s Raven series which spans from 24 AD to 40 AD.

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 work with a developmental editor and coach. His feedback gives me guidance on how to make the plot or characters’ motivations clearer. I then have a couple of trusted who provide further feedback. If there are any holes in the story, I have a chance to readjust or change sections of the plot as I proceed.

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

It is my hope that I can write a book on how the Celtic tribal kingdoms evolved in southeast Britannia before the Claudius’ invasion in 43 AD. I’ve written several posts on my blog regarding the research I’ve done on the Celts. I would like to use this as a backbone for the book.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

My road to publication has had lots of twists and turns. After I retired from the pharmaceutical industry in 2010, I began writing the Apollo’s Raven series in earnest and drafted almost three books in two years. After receiving comments from agents and other writers on the first book, I realized that I needed to start the story earlier in Britannia and provide a more comprehensive background of the Celtic culture and mysticism. Thus, Apollo’s Raven is actually the fourth book that I wrote in the series.

With the dramatic changes in publishing, I decided to independently publish my series in 2016 instead of taking the traditional route. However, I wanted to make sure that the quality of my book would match that of traditional publishers. Thus, I worked with the AuthorU organization consisting of established authors and professionals in the publishing business dedicated to helping authors fulfill their dreams. On my journey, I’ve met wonderful writers, authors and other professionals who have generously provided advice and inspired me.

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

The book cover design is the first impression that a potential reader has of your book. It needs to stand out from the other books and immediately draw a reader’s interest. Thus, I placed high priority on the design of my book, so it looks professionally done. I was very fortunate to work with a fabulous graphic designer who captured my vision of the book cover and designed the interior so it was easy to read.

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

The qualities I most value are loyalty, honesty, sense of humor, compassion, and curiosity to learn more.

Care to brag about your family?

My greatest inspiration was my mother who raised five children after my father died. She held me to the highest standards, but allowed me to follow my dreams.

My husband, Tom, is my loyal and supportive soul-mate. He is the reason I believe in love at first sight and true love.

My daughter is the epitome of Catrin—tough-minded and athletic, but has a heart of gold.

My son demonstrated his loyalty and compassion by caring for his wife who died of cancer a few years back, but he gained new happiness by marrying again.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I finished my bachelor’s and master’s degrees after I married and had two children. I took lessons in flamenco dancing and crafted dried floral arrangements which I sold at an art market in Boulder, Colorado.

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

Be respectful of other’s beliefs and cultures.

Be open to new ideas or opinions

Learn from history and don’t repeat the same mistakes.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

I smile whenever I watch the wonderment on a baby’s face that a balloon can float while everything else falls on the ground.

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CHAT WITH KEN STARK

Ken Stark is a horror fiction writer from Vancouver, Canada, and is living proof that it’s never too late to chase your dreams. After decades of writing only for himself, he decided it was finally time to let the world see inside his head, and what better way to do that than by utterly destroying civilization in his debut novel. With the second chapter of his Stage 3 series due for release soon and more on the way, he can only hope that everyone is buckled up for a wild ride.

Time to chat with Ken!

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

Without a doubt, the greatest challenge in even contemplating a series is going through the effort to map out an entire future, not knowing whether a single word of it will ever see the light of day. Considering the odds, it might just be a tremendous waste of energy, but if it’s published, a reader will want to know that the series is following a game plan rather than just being made up along the way. This doesn’t mean that every single step of the journey has to be plotted in excruciating detail, but you have to at least know where you’re going. In that way, I guess it’s just a magnified version of what every writer faces; tons of work with no guarantees.

What are the greatest challenges in writing short stories?

I love short stories, but they definitely have their pros and cons. A complete story has to be told in the space of what would be a single chapter of a novel, so there isn’t a lot of room for subtlety. But that limitation can work in the writer’s favour, too. A backstory can be summed up in two lines. A character’s motives might boil down to a few words. And it has to be said, there’s a certain rush in being able to weave a tale together in a week rather than the better part of a year.

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

Actually, I intended to use a pseudonym with Stage 3 in order to keep my anonymity, but when my publisher sent me the cover art for approval and I saw my name splashed across that incredible piece of artwork in big, bold type, the egotist in me took over and I couldn’t let them change it.

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

I think horror and I chose each other, and at a very young age at that. I grew up under the shadow of Mutual Assured Destruction and nightly images from Vietnam, and most of my favourite TV shows and movies growing up reflected the zeitgeist of the day. Omega Man, The Day After, Soylent Green, Night Gallery, even scifi flicks like Planet of the Apes and Logan’s Run; they all seemed to paint a fairly bleak picture of the future. They weren’t horror per se, but the dark visions of an unknown future fascinated me. I’m not sure if we’re any better off now than we were then, and in many ways the threats have actually multiplied, so though I see immense potential for the future, there remains a nervous burbling in the pit of my stomach that keeps my writing rather dark.

Are your characters ever based on people you know?

Not yet, no. I won’t say that it will never happen, but so far, my characters are their own people. All of us meet so many people over so many years of our lives, I don’t see a need to capture someone wholesale and drop them into a book. It’s much more fun to pick and choose from that library of traits, and build someone entirely new.

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

Probably more often than they should, but that’s when I know that I’ve created a powerful character. More often than not, the story veers off in an entirely new direction and I have to corral everyone together to get things back on track, but I always find that it all worked out to my advantage. Invariably, that momentary insurrection gave the story a more organic flow, and the story is just that much better as a result.

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

I don’t draft a detailed outline, but I know the story I want to tell and the specific arcs of the characters, and I certainly know the way I want it to end. Things might arise along the way to alter the exact ending I had in mind, but it only varies by a few degrees, and it’s always better than what I had planned. As for titles, I prefer to let those come naturally. Usually, the words jump out at me as I’m writing a particular scene, and I know right then that I have my title.

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

Truth be told, I’ll edit a book into the ground if given the chance. I usually pound out a chapter or two, go back and edit, write a few more chapters, go back again, and continue that way until it’s done. And once it’s done, I’ll go through it again. And again. And again. Honestly, if I didn’t have several people reminding me that I eventually had to finish, I’m not sure I ever would.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

My advice to aspiring authors is always the same. Don’t listen to what anyone says, just tell the story that’s in your head. Write what and how and where and when you want, critics be damned. But for the sake of those looking for something a little more tangible, let me tell you what I wish I had known from the start. First, don’t worry about finding an agent. Lots of publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts, and you can find lists of them all over the web. So check them out, see the kind of things they’re interested in, and have a look at the books they’ve already published. Second, finish your book before you submit anything. And I mean finish it. Complete, edited and polished. If you send in 3 chapters and they want to read the whole thing, they aren’t going to wait six months while you write the rest. Third, and perhaps most important, write a kick-ass blurb for your book. The person who reads your email will be wading through dozens a day, and that blurb is the only thing that will make yours stand out. And if it intrigues the publisher, he/she knows that it will intrigue potential buyers as well, so that blurb is all-important. Do some research. Look at other blurbs. See what works and what doesn’t, and take your time to get it just right. If it doesn’t take a couple of weeks, it can be better. And yes, it’s that important.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

Actually, my story should be motivation for every aspiring writer. I wrote a book and spent a year shopping it around with a remarkable lack of success. It was immensely discouraging and I began to think that I was wasting my time, but as I was checking various publishers’ websites, I found several that were looking for a specific type of story. So I set aside the book I was trying to flog and started to hash out the premise for Stage 3. When it was done, I submitted a completed manuscript to one of those publishers, and they scooped it up. And so, I guess the lesson here is two-fold. Never give up on your dreams, but allow for the fact that those dreams might cut a rather circuitous path.

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

I had next to no social media presence before being published, so I had to catch up quickly. Without a doubt, Twitter has become my favourite because it lets me spread the word on hundreds of extremely talented people every day, and I’ve met some real friends along the way. My least favourite is anything that involves an author’s bio. I’m perfectly happy discussing my work or being interviewed, but seeing the words ‘tell us about yourself’ fills me with absolute dread.

Do you have any grammatical pet peeves to share?

A lot of what I read could benefit from an extra comma here or there, but I couldn’t care less about grammar. Historically, the English language became what it is through adoption, absorption and invention, so as far as I’m concerned, anything goes. I feel perfectly free to dangle participles, split infinitives and hyphenate the unhyphenatable. And no, unhyphenatable is not a word, but it is now…..Dibs!

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?

First draft, nothing! I never let anyone see a word of what I’m writing until the whole thing’s done! It’s hard enough putting my heart out there with a fresh coat of varnish, I can’t imagine letting anyone see it all full of holes and dripping with rust.

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

The cover is the first thing people see, and in this world where thoughts drift as quickly as the click of a mouse, that cover is more important than it’s ever been. I can’t tell you the number of times someone told me that they picked up Stage 3 because of the cover. Yes, I hear you all screaming that it’s what’s inside that counts, but believe me when I say, nobody’s going to bother looking inside unless the outside draws them in. If you’re an indie, spend the money. It might take a year’s royalties to pay it off, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

Would you like to write a short poem for us?

In no way am I a poet, but how about the best limerick I can come up with in under two minutes?

Ahem…..

There once was a fellow named Ken

who took up his paper and pen

The words that he wrought

weren’t quite what he ought

And the masses cried, “Damn, this again!?”

*bows ponderously, and exits stage right to the sound of crickets chirping in the distance.

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

I’ve lived in Vancouver for most of my life, but as I said in one of my earlier stories, ‘a man shouldn’t grow old in the same town he grew up in’. I’m thinking Hawaii, or maybe the Mexican Riviera, but definitely someplace warm. I’m open to suggestions…. Anyone?

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.

Albert Einstein’s, definitely. He was able to see the fabric of the universe in a way that no one had before, and I would love to have just a glimpse of that brilliance. For a thousand years, humanity envisioned a clockwork universe, and then along came Einstein with a unique vision of it all. Can you imagine the audacity to suggest a century ago that space and time were really one? This meant that the ‘now’ of a someone coming toward us might be centuries different from the ‘now’ of someone moving away from us. It’s mind-boggling to even contemplate, but that unknown patent clerk envisioned it all. Just imagine if that kind of out-of-the-box brilliance was directed at some of the problems we face today.

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

I’m supposed to say books, right? Well yes, of course there would be books, but really, I would love a games room. Wet bar, pool table, big screen TV, comfy chairs, jukebox, room for all my comic books and nerd toys……Actually, that sounds so good, maybe I’ll just add a bed and move in!

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

No, if something gives me pleasure, I don’t feel guilty about it. That probably sounds hedonistic, but in my boring little world, such excess usually takes the form of extra cheese on the pizza or imported beer rather than domestic.

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CHAT WITH JEN PONCE

Jen Ponce lives in the Panhandle of NE with her three boys, her cats, and her goldfish named Reggie. She loves to read, watch, and write fantasy and horror. Her passion for writing comes from her desire to see more stories with strong, complex female characters. There weren’t enough books with women she could root for, so she had to write her own.

Jen Ponce: Writer of kickass women and oogy monsters.

Time to chat with Jen!

What is your latest book?

My latest book is Burning the Devil, a psychological horror story about relationships, hope, and evil. The idea for the book came from a dream, one of those unusual dreams with a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end and a plot arc that intrigued me. I tried many times to write the story as I saw it in my head to no avail. I finally figured out the theme of the book and what I wanted to say with it. After that, pinning the story to paper came easier.

Is your recent book part of a series?

No. This is a stand-alone horror novel. I do have a dark fantasy series. I’m currently working on book five. The series starts with The Bazaar. I was lucky enough to win a free cover design for that book. I’m super stoked about it.

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

Keeping everything straight! You’d never think you’d forget your character’s height or eye color or what they were wearing when they come into their power … but you do. My best advice for anyone who wants to write a series is keep a story bible. Keep detailed notes. Re-read the stories before you starting writing the next one. Trust me.

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

I write fantasy and horror because those are the genres I love to read most. I was an avid romance fan in my high school years and I’ve written a few romances, but I really love a good fantasy or horror novel. There’s something about diving into a book with magic and monsters that just thrills me.

What else have you written?

I have two novels with deliciously bloody vampires, a horror novel about bugs and zombie fungus, two romances, a serialized novel about a bisexual demon hunter, and my Devany Miller series.

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

My favorite part is seeing what happens next. I’m a pantser, which means I don’t plot out my stories. I like to see where the idea takes me. Sure, sometimes I have an ending in mind, but it’s a nebulous thing. I tell stories to myself as I write, which keeps everything fresh and fun.

That being said, I always hate the middle part of my novel. For me, I start wishing I could write a new story when I get to the end of the first third of the book. Everything feels awful, all the words I’ve written seem pointless … it’s just a nightmare. I really have to stay focused and disciplined to push my way through that point. Once I get by it, I’m good to go again and writing, once more, is fun.

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

I have tried writing a book out of order and it’s still a mess. I love the story, but I dearly wish I’d never attempted to assemble it from the middle. Ugh.

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

I have to know the title—as best I can, anyway—before I can start writing. I don’t have to know the end; in fact, I’d rather not know so it can be a surprise to me, too. But I can’t get started without a title.

Burning the Devil didn’t have that title when it started. It’s one of the rare books I’ve written that ended up with a completely different title at the end.

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?

Character names are important, but I’ve never really had trouble with names. Titles, yes, names, no. I’ve changed very few names, and when I changed the name, the character changed too. So, I guess I changed the character’s name only after the character themselves changed.

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

I would write a book about dangerous relationships and what to look out for when dating, aka dating red flags. I work as an advocate for sexual and domestic violence victims and I am passionate about promoting healthy relationships, healthy boundaries, and healthy sexuality. I’m also passionate about educating people on relationship red flags. Did you know that ‘love at first sight’ can be a red flag? An abusive person likes to get you emotionally invested in themselves as quickly as possible. If more people knew what to look for and everyone was taught about healthy relationships, healthy boundaries, and healthy sexuality from the time they were tiny, it would transform the world.

How would you define your style of writing?

My writing is spare and colorful. I hate long, droning paragraphs full of description. I am an impatient reader. I want to see the story. I want to see the action and I don’t want to dwell overlong on things that don’t matter to the story. I know some people love leisurely books full of details. I rarely do. Sometimes I have to slow myself down and remind myself that not everyone is like me. I don’t want people to turn away from my work because it’s so sparse on details that they can’t see what’s happening. I just want to cut out the boring bits.

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

I live in the Panhandle of Nebraska. If I had to move, I’d consider Colorado. There’s a college with an ASL (American Sign Language) interpreter program. I’m currently taking ASL classes and I’d love to become an interpreter.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

Trains. There’s something lovely and romantic about trains.

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.

I’d take my friend Jim’s knowledge. He was the funniest guy I knew, smartest too. I’d love to have all those jokes at my fingertips and I’d never lose at Scrabble. (Because he never did.)

Care to brag about your family?

I have three awesome boys: Emilio, Luc, and Miguel. They are kind and funny and intelligent. I learn something new from them all the time and I’m so glad I’ve been lucky enough to have them in my life.

What music soothes your soul?

Hip hop. Weird but true.

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

Have healthy boundaries. Respect others. And be kinder.

 

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CHAT WITH ERIK THERME

erik-therme-author-photo

Erik Therme has thrashed in garage bands, inadvertently harbored runaways, and met Darth Vader. When he’s not at his computer, he can be found cheering for his youngest daughter’s volleyball team, or watching horror movies with his seventeen-year-old. He currently resides in Iowa City, Iowa—one of only twenty places in the world UNESCO has certified as a City of Literature.

What is your latest book?

My third novel, Roam, will be released in February 2017. The story follows a young man who believes he’s being haunted by his dead father, and the only way he can redeem himself is by “saving” someone else. It’s a character-driven story and very different from my first two books.

roam

What else have you written?

My debut mystery, Mortom, is about a guy who inherits his deceased cousin’s house and finds a key with a note that says: Follow Me. From there, he has to follow a series of clues to unravel the mystery. My second novel, Resthaven, is about a pack of kids who have a scavenger hunt inside an abandoned retirement home, only to discover they’re not the only ones roaming the hallways.

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

I always have a vague idea of how the book will end, but once I get there, my original vision rarely resembles the finished version. I’m not much of an outliner and prefer the “process of discovery” method when writing first drafts. I will confess that my lack of outlining causes lots of backtracking, dead ends, and staring into the screen for hours on end, but I like the freedom to see where the story takes me. Titles, on the other hand, usually come to me fairly easily, and they rarely change once I’ve picked one out.

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

I am the king of distraction. A typical writing session for me is as follows: open Word, type a few sentences, check e-mail, check Twitter, type a few more sentences, check Facebook . . . and rinse and repeat. It’s a miracle I ever get anything written. And it’s probably the reason it takes me two years to finish a book. I do have moments where I get into the zone and write big chunks without distraction, but those moments are usually far and few between.

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

It’s been said that talent is a cheap commodity, and I’ve come to believe that’s close to the truth. I’ve witnessed excellent authors languish in sales, while horrible writers excel. Talent is absolutely needed to get the ball rolling, but hard work, perseverance, and plain old dumb luck are just as important. And even then, there’s no guarantee. Sometimes books resonate with readers, sometimes they don’t. It’s as simple as that. All you can do is keep writing, hone your skills, and hope the next book will capture the attention of the masses.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Don’t be afraid to write badly. First drafts are supposed to be ugly. The important thing is to get the story onto the page. Everything can be fixed from there. Writing, as many authors will attest, is 90% rewriting. Also, be sure to tell a story you’re passionate about, because you’re probably going to spend months—if not years—reworking the same sentences and paragraphs.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

I chased literary agents for years in the hopes of bridging the gap to a traditional publisher. After a very close call with Gillian Flynn’s agency, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands and self-publish. Six months after Mortom was released, I received an e-mail from Thomas & Mercer, who had discovered the book and wanted to acquire and re-release it through their imprint. Needless to say, I was more than happy to accept. When I completed Resthaven, I knew it wasn’t a good fit for T&M (they don’t handle YA), so I submitted the book to Kindle Scout, where it was selected for publication.

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

I regularly run three types of giveaways, each of them serving a specific purpose. Goodreads giveaways are great exposure, as they usually generate hundreds of entries. Most entrants add the book to their bookshelf, which increases the chances of them grabbing a copy if they don’t win. The downside is that Goodreads currently only allows paperback giveaways, which can get pricey. LibraryThing, on the other hand, allows e-book giveaways, which is an inexpensive way to get reviews. The only catch is that the minimum number is 100 e-books, and some authors might not be comfortable giving away that many copies. Lastly (and my personal favorite) are Amazon giveaways. To win, the entrant has to follow you on Amazon (there are other options, but this is the one I use the most), which means every time you release a new book, they’ll get an e-email notification. This is a great way to build a fan base to complement your mailing list.

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?

My buddy, Craig A. Hart, summed this up perfectly in a recent interview: “There is no excuse these days for a bad cover.” I couldn’t agree more. It can get a little pricey to have a cover designed from scratch, but pre-made covers are prevalent and affordable. Resthaven and Roam were both existing covers from a pre-made site, and each cost under $100 to purchase. To be a fiscally successful writer, you have to treat your writing like a business, which means—at minimum—spending money on covers and editing.

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

I learned, early on, that trying to control my characters works as well as trying to catch sand in a net. It ain’t gonna happen. My job is to follow, observe, and write down the things my characters say and do. More often than not, I find they surprise me and take the story in unexpected directions.

How would you define your style of writing?

Many authors aspire to create sprawling, epic tales—which is great—but I love crafting brisk, short reads that can be devoured in one or two sittings. I often joke that my books should only be sold in airport gift shops, as they’re the perfect length for a short plane ride.

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

I imagine this is different for every writer, but for me, writer’s block most commonly takes the form of crappy, uninspired writing. This can last for hours, days, or weeks. Sometimes a long break from my story will fix the problem, but more often than not, the only solution is to keep plugging away, and eventually the muse will show her face again.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

I’ve never been on a train; planes make me claustrophobic; and my longest boat ride was a 30-minute ferry to Mackinaw Island (lovely place, if you ever get the chance to visit). Drop me behind the wheel of an automobile, and I’m pretty content to log some serious miles, as long as I have Mountain Dew, music, and/or good conversation.

Care to brag about your family?

My wife is an avid knitter and churns out cowls and sweaters with frightening regularity. Her incredible creations can be found at her Etsy shop: Knit By Design. Our 17-year-old has been on the honor roll since her freshman year, and our 13-year-old is gearing up to dominate her second year of club volleyball.

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

I’m a big fan of Walking Dead and Bates Motel, but my favorite show of all time is ABC’s Lost. I laughed, cried, and scratched my head at the finale . . . until it slowly sank in, and I realized the ending was perfect. It was an amazing viewing experience and one that will stay with me for years to come.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

I was a child of the 80’s, which means video games pretty much dominated my youth and then followed me into adulthood. I recently purchased the complete box set of Three’s Company, and I never tire of watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island.

CONNECT WITH ERIK

Amazon Author Page

ROAM (Pre-order)

Website

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CHAT WITH PADDY CUMMINS

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When Paddy Cummins began writing books in the year 2000 it was the start of another segment of an interesting life of various and diverse careers. Growing up in the Ireland of the fifties he, like many others, was forced to quit school at age thirteen, get a job and contribute to the family finances of his parents and five other children. He became a motor mechanic, at which he worked for ten years. In the swinging sixties with a group of seven friends, he formed a showband which became one of the most popular in Ireland, performing professionally for five years before being disbanded in 1965.

In the years that followed he set up a successful engineering works, had his own pub, became a political activist as press secretary for the government party, serving four prime ministers, before becoming a senior consultant for a big international company until his retirement after fifteen years.

So the writing was meant to be Paddy’s hobby in his leisure years but he soon discovered that it was becoming another career and now after sixteen years and twelve books he is busier than at any time in his life.

Time to chat with Paddy!

What is your latest book?

In Love With Malta (The Hidden Treasures)

Synopsis

The hidden treasures of Malta, Gozo and Comino, little gems that you won’t find in other guide books, but define the charm and mystique of The Maltese Islands. There is something for everyone to enjoy from living it up in modern urban resorts to wandering leisurely in little traditional hamlets and villages dotted throughout the islands where time seems to stand still and you can linger awhile and relax in the warm sunshine.

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Is your recent book part of a series?

Yes and no. Not a series in the strict sense of the term but it is my second travel book on Malta. A third is possible.

What are the greatest challenges in writing short stories?

That’s a really interesting question. I know that many writers say they are much more difficult than novels but I find writing them delightful and easy. I love the discipline of word economy, concise dialogue and description, with surprising and satisfying endings. I’ve written three collections but published only one: Time and Tide on Amazon. I would love to publish more but for some reason they are not great sellers. All my other books have outsold Time and Tide.

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

Actually I’m a bit of a ‘genre-hopper’ I have written three romantic adventure novels, a sea tragedy, one collection of short stories and poems, a memoir, an autobiography, two travel books and a mind, body, spirit book. I tend to like a bit of variety.

Are your characters ever based on people you know?

Yes. I think every writer whether they admit it or not does the same. The numerous characters in my books are people that I encountered through life and especially those who for one reason or another left a lasting impression on me. I certainly couldn’t see myself inventing a character and see no need to, as the world is full of every type of character I will ever need.

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

That they are mediocre, amateur and inferior to published authors in the traditional way. Another false impression is that they are only ‘Publishing House’ rejects that only become indie authors as a last desperate resort to get published. Nothing could be further from the truth and those blinkered with those misconceptions should read some of the brilliant books now being published online. Indie Authors are the future of the book industry and while the old publishing format will continue in existence, all the new super talented writers will be found on the Internet.

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

I always know the complete story line and the ending before I begin writing a novel. Perhaps it’s because of my early work with short stories, but I couldn’t see myself making up a story as I went along with no ending in mind or in sight. Of course, I develop all the sub-plots and fill in the padding, dialogue and descriptions as I proceed but I feel that it’s easier once I know the main story line. I also like to have the title before I start. I love experimenting with titles. I would write out as many as 100 titles and a similar number of sub-titles, carefully considering each one before deciding. Even then, I wouldn’t regard my choice as final and before the last chapter I could get a brainwave and change it again. For me, choosing the titles is the fun part.

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 write. Before I begin a new day’s writing I always edit the previous day’s work. I think it serves a few purposes. It allows me to recap with a fresh mind and very often see and correct errors of direction, shades of characters and superfluous dialogue and descriptions. I also correct the punctuation and spelling and reading it aloud I can get the flow and pace. Of course, when the book is completed I can spend weeks reading and re-editing again, but a lot of the tedious and boring work would have been done earlier.

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

Very important and yes I have changed character names many times. It all depends on the setting and location of the novel. I must always find the right name to fit a character and I usually use names that are not in everyday use but are still easy to pronounce and remember.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

Yes. In Green Lodge, one of the main characters, Janet, is a ‘tyrant.’ She is just obnoxious and a horrible person. But I have to tell you that she is based on someone I knew really well and although now deceased, it gave me great pleasure to portray her in all her scheming ruthlessness.

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

I wish I knew the answer to that vital question. If I did it would be a license to print money and I would never see a poor day again. I think it’s about getting to know the mind of the modern reader. What are they looking for? What turns them on? I believe that good marketing is important. Lots of good reviews certainly influence sales and of course if an author has one hit it will greatly help sales of follow-up books. But as you say it’s still a big conundrum and authors the world over would dearly love to know the answer.

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

Social Media is a vital partner of Indie Authors. Apart from the limited promotion and marketing that the online publishers like Amazon can do for us, it is ourselves that must bring our books to our readers around the world. We can only do that through social media and I have found that it’s a numbers game – the more exposure our books get online, the more sales, reviews and readers we will get. I use Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Goodreads and Pinterest. For me, Twitter is the important one. I have 25K followers and average 10K impressions per day. I don’t advertise my books directly in my tweets but I post images and content with links to my two Blog sites where all my books and links can be found. I do the same on the other social media sites but to a lesser extent. After a lot of experimenting over the years I feel this works best for me.

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?

The answer to that question, Lisette, is a definite no. My books are a one-person project from beginning to end and from the first seeds of a story idea to the published book. If that sounds arrogant it’s not meant to be. It’s just that I want to focus totally on developing my storyline without distractions and complete it exactly as I want it to be. It may be unusual, but I type the manuscript, edit and proof-read it, format it for Kindle and upload it. The only part of the process that I outsource is the cover design which I feel should always be done by an expert. I know that I could seek advice and the expertise of others which would probably improve my finished product but I have this tendency to go it alone – it’s just me – the way I am.

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?

This is a vital question for all authors especially indie authors. There is no doubt in my mind that reviews, good and not so good, are the fuel that drive sales and books that don’t have them suffer and fail even though they are often better books than the ones with lots of reviews. It is another very effective form of marketing and like all successful brands people will buy if they see that lots of others are buying, while also giving lavish praise and 5-Star reviews. It is in my opinion unbalanced and unfair. Established authors will get a host of glowing reviews for their latest book on the strength of their status and not on the quality of the book, while new and less well-known writers who have published a far superior book may not get any reviews and will struggle to succeed. I don’t have the answer except to say that some authors are better at asking for reviews than others. I have got a reasonable number of reviews for all my books but being reluctant to ask readers to review, I think if I had been more assertive I would have got many more. I really think that readers do not appreciate the value of even a one line review to an indie author and if they were told, perhaps they would respond positively.

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

I live in Ireland during the summer months (May to October) and in Malta for the winter. (November to April) I don’t like frost and snow and with that arrangement I can avoid them both.

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

It would definitely be a children’s charity. I am continually appalled at the suffering and death of children throughout the world from war, terrorism, starvation, violence and malnutrition. This is a censure on us all because there are ample resources on the planet for everyone if they were more equally distributed and all this unnecessary suffering and death could be avoided if more enlightened decisions were made by our world leaders. There are heroic efforts being made by NGOs but their devoted work is only scratching the surface and they are constantly struggling to fund their vital aid programmes. They would get my million dollars.

When did you start writing books? Early or late?

I had a busy career in business and although I was writing a little for pleasure, it was when I retired that I began writing seriously. I didn’t plan it but one day while looking around for something to fill my new leisure time I spotted a little advertisement in my local newspaper for a ‘Creative Writing Course’ starting in our Community Hall. I enrolled for the ten week course and as they say, the rest is history. Twelve published books later, I can honestly say that seeing the little ad in the paper was a stroke of luck for me as it proved to be my key to a whole new world of wonderful pleasure.

CONNECT WITH PADDY

Amazon U.S.

Amazon U.K.

Twitter

Facebook

Goodreads

Irish Blog Site

Malta Blog Site

 

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