CHAT WITH JENNA NELSON

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Jenna Nelson grew up in Shoreview, MN, where hanging at the local supermarket was considered a big night out. After graduating from UW-Madison, she drove her 1979 Buick Electra, the largest car known to man, to California to flee the snow and find refuge in the land of film, her favorite pastime.

Soon Jenna noticed that the TV needed turning up, spoken words seemed muted, and everyone sounded like Charlie Brown’s parents. Diagnosed with a significant hearing loss, Jenna turned from movies to books, where every word was savored and none was missed.

A Midwest girl at heart, Jenna lives with her husband and their saved-from-the-pound-pup Clancy. By day she works as the VP of Marketing for a financial firm, by night she weaves tales of nefarious and fantastical worlds.

Time to chat with Jenna!

Is your recent book part of a series?

My Fantasy novel The Snow Globe is Book 1 of a Duology – The Winterhaven Chronicles. Here’s a tiny blurb:

By day, Sondrine Renfrew works at Cimmerian’s Curio Emporium, her aunt’s apothecary and antique shop in London, 1875. By night, she weaves fire, water, and air into both inanimate objects and living creatures. When a hooded stranger offers Sondrine a snow globe in trade for medicinal herbs, she accepts, enchanted by the castle, forest, and sea encapsulated under the glass.

Her enchantment fades, however, when her deceitful aunt betroths her to one of London’s wealthiest men—a complete stranger. Determined to escape the marriage, Sondrine trades her corset for trousers and decides to run away. With one foot out the door, she falls down a veritable rabbit hole into Winterhaven, the haunting world inside the snow globe.

To say chaos ensues from that point forward would be a gross understatement.

SNOW GLOBE FINAL

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

Originally, I didn’t want to spend too much time in Victorian London, so there wasn’t a whole lot of research needed. But after a massive rewrite, I changed quite a lot. There were so many details – the dress, the mannerisms, the verbiage. The tiniest things needed to be pondered – like the word “twit” could not be used, because it came about later than 1875. So disappointing! I spent so much time with etymologyonline.com we are now considered a couple. Countless hours were spent reading articles and watching movies to better understand the time period.

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

When people tell me they did three full edits and finished, I’m always blown away. I’m a serial editor. *cue the shrieking violins* I am constantly looking for new ways to write a sentence, to get rid of the riff-raff, and to generally add more fodder for the senses.

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

Having a great cover is key. I’ve heard people say they couldn’t afford a good cover. You don’t need a lot of money to self-publish, but you do need some, and the cover is one place the money should be spent. What’s the point of writing a great story if no one can find you? Platform is also helpful. It used to be that only NF writers needed a platform, because Big 5 publishers would get your books into the right hands. This is no longer true. Also, I hear a lot of complaints about having to market oneself – even in the traditional arena. Unless you write a blockbuster that gets picked up for big money, I think you need to go into this business knowing that part of the equation is marketing. I liken it to athletes. You need to play the sport well, yes. But you also need to choose healthy food and eat a balanced diet. You need to go to the gym. You don’t simply show up on the field, hit/kick the ball, and find success. There’s a process in getting there. There are multiple aspects to being a writer and in this day and age marketing is one of those things. Writing no longer exists inside of a vacuum. If you rely solely on your publisher, or solely on people somehow finding your book, your chances for success are much slimmer, I think. To put it in more blatant and perhaps depressing terms, nearly 1MM books are now released per year between Indie authors and trade publishing. You need to find a way to stand out.

What else have you written?

I’ve written two screenplays and three books. As far as my novels go: a MG Sci-Fi with a girl protagonist called Violet Strange, a YAUF called Virgin, and a YAUF with some contemporary issues called Tainted. I really love them all in very different ways. Virgin was my second book and my true love. It landed me my first agent along with a big producer who wanted to turn the trilogy into a TV series. Needless to say, it all fizzled. Easy come easy go. Virgin is a great tale, and I’d like to get it out into the world soon.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

Many. But oh are they fun to write, because unlike in real life where horrible people may continue to live and even prosper, I know my characters will get their just desserts. The king in this book is about as despicable as they come.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

How much time do you have? 🙂 To be completely candid, my road to publication has been forked, plagued with twists, and downright depressing at times. Over the past decade I’ve had three literary agents, none of whom could sell my work. I was also under contract with a small press that turned out to be highly disorganized. Luckily, before my book came out, I asked to break the contract and they complied.

Don’t get me wrong. I have many friends with great agents and fantastic publishing tales.

When I amicably parted ways from my last agent, it occurred to me that it might behoove me to go it alone. Regardless of what happens with The Snow Globe, I’m glad I did it on my own terms. I like being in control in any given situation, and often, the traditional path means giving up that control, and not in a positive way. I’m all for having someone tell me to make scenes better, richer. I’m against being ignored and told to do things because it’s the only way to garner a sale. Writers are often treated unfairly in trade publishing—like children. We are not. Many of us are adults with important jobs, whether as a SAHM or as a VP of a major financial firm. And yet, we are the lowest rung on the ladder; we’re fungible. I know writers who have never been paid for their work, even though the promise was there. I know writers who were given contracts so egregious it would have ruined their careers to sign. Trade publishing is looking out for itself. I get it. But the beauty of going Indie is that it’s me looking out for me. And I trust myself wholly in every regard. 😉

I know that you’ve suffered a significant hearing loss that has impacted your life in many ways. On a positive note, you say that this loss drew you closer to books and writing. Can you elaborate on your experience and how it has changed or restructured your world?

Losing one of your senses is pretty terrifying. For most of my life I’d had perfect hearing. But in my early 30s, I noticed I was having a real problem – not so much with sound, but with speech discrimination – understanding what people were saying. It’s as if the whole world was speaking underwater. And for the record, yelling doesn’t help—it’s just louder water! It’s genetic – both my mother and sister have chronic hearing problems. Going to the movies was one of my favorite pastimes, but that grew increasingly frustrating so I turned to books; I’d always been an avid reader anyway. I started coming up with my own stories and found a natural fit with writing because all that was needed were my eyes and my imagination.

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

For someone like me, social media is amazing. I don’t need to rely on my hearing to communicate, and that’s a beautiful thing. Before my hearing went kaput, I used to be pretty social in real life, so Twitter is really the perfect place for me. I love chatting and connecting with other writers. The downside is that you do get some very aggressive people demanding that you RT them or buy their book. You would never walk up to a stranger on the street and do that, so why is doing it online okay? It’s not.

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

I think as a writer you really need to take a step back and understand that you cannot possibly write something that everyone will love. That’s why Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors, right? My goal is to not read the negative reviews. I wrote the best book I knew how to write. If it doesn’t resonate with a reader, that’s totally fair. That’s the beauty of the world—diversity!

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

I get asked this a lot. The answer is: what are your goals? Way back when, getting traditionally published meant getting into brick and mortars. Now, it guarantees nothing. I have a few traditionally published friends whose books never saw a B&N bookshelf. Sad, but true. Regardless, if your goals are to have one of the Big 5 names stamped on your book, then that’s the route you need to take. If your goal is simply to get your work out there and find readers, Indie might be the way. For me, I wanted nothing more than the elusive “stamp of approval” from the Big 5. But editors were never interested. Ten years ago it was a big fat no-no to self-publish. Now, it’s very much accepted.

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

Indie is going to take over, I believe. Right now, publishers are not putting marketing muscle into the mid-list, so those books are dying on the vine. Moreover, it takes years to get published. I think the Big 5 will continue to support big authors, celebrities, and the like. But the midlist is fading quickly. Those authors need alternatives and Indie publishing is one of them. We have Indie movies, Indie music. Why are Indie authors judged so harshly? Sure, there are stinkers out there, but isn’t that the case with all mediums?

What might we be surprised to know about you?

Around fifteen years ago, a friend said that I needed to listen to this amazing children’s book on CD. My first remark was that I wasn’t much into children’s books. When he told me it was about a boy wizard, I was even more disinterested. Of course, I succumbed. I fell in love with Harry Potter and it remains one of my favorite series to this day. To think I write about such things now – magic, wizards, faraway lands—it’s kind of mind-boggling.

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

I’ve been working with a friend to find better alternatives for hearing aids. Hearing aids cost 5k-7k and only last 3-5 years. Moreover, insurance doesn’t cover them. It’s criminal. So we’re looking for a way to create a device that’s cheaper and works better. As a population, the hard-of-hearing are grossly overlooked, but hard-of-hearing no longer pertains to old people. It’s becoming epidemic, especially in people under the age of 25. Something needs to be done – we have the idea, and I think it could work. But funding is essential. Of course, that’s from a completely selfish standpoint. From an unselfish one, animal rights are one place my money would go. Underprivileged children is the other. Education and books for all. Always.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Rain. I miss those Midwest thunderstorms. It cleans the air, soothes my soul, and helps me to write about all the wonderful things.

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CHAT WITH JUDY PROBUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ImagiNatioN UnveileD COVER[digital][WEB]

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

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

What motivates you?

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

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

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

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

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

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

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

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

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

Maybe the following exaggerations will help demonstrate my point:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would you define your style of writing?

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

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

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

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

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CHAT WITH E.H. HACKNEY

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E. H. Hackney is a retired engineer, now writer and novelist. When not writing he’s riding a bike, hiking or playing jazz guitar on the east slope of the Sandia mountains in New Mexico, where he lives with his wife and two opinionated cats.

What is your latest book?

I self-published my first book, By The Blood, Book One, Revelation, a fantasy, in September of last year under the pen name Geoffrey Ganges. It’s the story of Quint, a dwarf wizard and healer, abandoned by his mother as an infant and tortured by his stunted, distorted body. On a quest for a long forgotten enemy of his people and his own history, he is threatened by his companions, outlaws, giant wolves and ancient foes. As the wizard confronts his origins, his world is shaken. Of all the dangers he faces, his own kinships may be the most deadly.

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Why did you choose a pen name?

There are two reasons I write under a pseudonym. First, my given name is Ewing Haywood Hackney. I couldn’t think of any name I could derive from that which would be a good name for a fiction writer, especially a fantasy author. I have gone by the nickname Hack for decades, which is no help. Second, I have started works in other genres. I believe readers associate an author with a certain kind of book. If I published a fantasy under one name, then wanted to publish in another genre, I would need a different name anyhow.

What else have you written?

I’ve had a number of humorous and non-fiction pieces published in local newspapers and magazines, but wanted to write fiction. I have written but not published a modern morality tale, and have good starts on a young adult book and two action adventures. But once drawn into By The Blood I knew it was the story I most wanted to tell.

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

This has been a revelation to me. I was an engineer in a previous life and trusted planning and organization. I had heard other authors say that their characters took over their stories, and didn’t believe them. I do now. Many of the events and elements in my book surprised me. I have discovered that writing fiction is not a process of invention but a venture of discovery.

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

Writing is fun! Editing is work. Promotion is torture. (Couldn’t agree more!)

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

I begin with a detailed outline developed down to the scene level. I tend to follow the outline and write scenes in order, but sometimes jump around, especially if I’m stuck and another scene looks like it will be easier to write or I have a clearer vision of it. Often writing the new scene will help me work around the problems with the difficult one.

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

I edit a little as I go, but for the most part I want to get the story down. Then I revise and edit several times. I do later edits in hard copy. When I believe the book is in relatively good shape I make copies and send it to my first readers. My first readers’ feedback reveals a number of problems and I go back to revising and editing. When I take commas out on one pass then put them back on the next, and can’t stand to look at the damn thing anymore I decide I’m finished. I confess to being a poor editor—especially of my own work. Even reading aloud I will miss the same mistake time and again. A trick that works for me in the later edits is to have the computer read the book to me. I will hear incorrect words, missing commas and even missing periods that I did not find on my edits.

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 never feel that I can be objective about my own work. So far I have written what pleases me—what I would like to read, and I don’t know how in tune I am with a modern reader. I rely on my first readers for that. In fact, in my instructions to first readers I ask them to tell me if they gave up on the book before the end and to let me know where and why. It was a relief when none of them did.

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

I like books to take me to places I could never go or through experiences I would never have, teach me new things and at the same time be believable and reveal a kind of truth. That’s a lot to ask, I know. The best fiction reads like the telling of something that actually happened, even if the characters are fictional, the world has never existed and all the events are made up. Many books today, movies and TV shows, too, feel fabricated to me. If you can see the wires allowing the hero to fly or part of the rabbits ear is sticking out of the hat, the magic is gone. I don’t like books that are too hyped. If your novel starts with the broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped hero, with three percent body fat, uncoiling his six foot six frame from a Bugatti Veyron, I probably won’t get to page two. I might add that I have read enough dystopian, post-apocalyptic thrillers to last me this life.

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

I did a moderate amount of research for this book, and most of it was somewhat practical and mundane. I wanted to write a believable story about genuine characters in a real place, with its own history and culture. I used leagues rather than miles, and chose another way of measuring time rather than hours and tried to use older words for some common things. My main character is a wizard and healer; I invented names for some of his remedies. So a lot of my research had to do with what was a league, how big do horses get, what’s a hand and a stone, how far can a horse and wagon , or a sailing ship, travel in a day. Book one takes place over several months, so I studied what plants were in what stages of growth in different parts of a year. I did a lot of this research after the first several drafts, sometimes when I had found lapses and disconnects. I do all my research on line. I even use an online dictionary. My battered paperback Webster’s is missing too many good words.

This leads me to what I think is an interesting topic. My story take place in a fictional land—not on earth as we know it. The people would have their own language, lengths of days, plants, seasons, moon cycle (or not), and units of measure. I needed to invent some things to give the flavor of this new and different place,  but if there are no similarities with things we know, the reader will be confused, and I didn’t want to spend pages of explanation about language and seasons and what kind of plants grow there. I don’t have a simple answer for this, but I hope in my book I found a compromise that is interesting but not confusing.

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

I am hesitant to give advice. Maybe I will be less so when I feel I am a successful author. I will say that, were I younger, I would have tried the traditional approach before self-publishing. But I’m in my seventies. Given the warnings that it can take a year of more to find an agent, if you find an agent, and a year or more for the agent to find a publisher, if they find one, and a year or so for the book to be published, I didn’t  want to take the time.

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

I write best early in the morning up until noon or so. I get up around six but need a mug or two of coffee to get my brain working. Everything else is optional. Music is an interesting idea. I love jazz. If I have music I like playing, I get into the music and it distracts me from writing. If it’s music I find annoying, it distracts me from writing. A lot of music wouldn’t distract me, but also wouldn’t help. I have an opinion, though. I am a writer after all. I think the best music for writing would not be that which makes you comfortable, but music that would support the writing you are doing. If you are writing a bar-fight scene, for example, I think driving blues or a quick country two-step would support your writing more than say classical string quartets. I have not tried this.

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

I suffer from getting stuck. I don’t like to call it writer’s block because once it is labeled it can become like an affliction and then an excuse. Sometimes giving my mind a few days to mull over the problem can work. Any more than that, I’m just loafing. I’m good at that. Often when I am stuck I think it’s because I’m trying to work the wrong problem—trying to force the plot or characters in the wrong direction.

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

The first scene of my book started as a short story I had intended to enter into a contest. I realized it was not appropriate for the contest, but there was much more to tell. I was well into By The Blood when I realized there was too much for one book unless I made it a thousand-page doorstop. That’s too big a book for a first writer, so I decided to make it a trilogy. I’m working on book two now. I did detailed planning for the first book, but by the end of the first draft, the book was totally different. I guess I could have simply said yes.

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

My wife and I live in ponderosa, pinon and juniper on the eastern slopes of the Sandia Mountains in New Mexico. I can step over three strands of sagging barbed wire at the boundary of our yard and be in a National Forest. We are regularly visited by raccoon, fox, coyote, bobcat, deer, wild turkey, bear and an assortment of  birds and hummingbirds in their seasons. We have talked about moving somewhere near water—Portland, Ft. Bragg in Northern California, Port Townsend in the rain shadow of the Olympics in Washington state, but it would be hard to leave this place.

What was your favorite year of school? Why?

I enjoyed the last three years of college more than any time before. I was not very social in high school; I was a nerd before it was cool. In fact my best memories of my high school years are the people I met on my first part-time jobs and playing jazz guitar gigs on the weekend. I don’t consider myself antisocial, but have always been more comfortable engaged in things and talking about ideas, than in socializing.

 What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Reading the Sunday paper in front of our woodstove in the winter is a treat. It’s hard to beat the first mug of coffee in the morning. My wife makes me laugh two or three times a day. I don’t think I have ever taken a bad hike. Walking a trail through rocks and trees always rejuvenates me, and it often helps me work around writing problems. I haven’t had a gig in years, but I still like playing jazz guitar.

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CHAT WITH MICHAEL RADCLIFFE

MichaelRadcliffe

An avid reader of science fiction and fantasy all his life, Michael Radcliffe published his first book The Guardian’s Apprentice in 2010. He lives in rural Kentucky with his family and their six feline companions. His writing is supervised by Idris, a temperamental dragon sculpture that sits in a place of honor next to his computer.

Time to chat with Michael!

What is your latest book?

My current work in process is tentatively titled Touch of Darkness, and takes place after the events in Rise of the Shadow. I had actually intended to end the Beyond the Veil series with the third book, but one of the main characters kept hanging about in my imagination. When I mentioned this to my friend and fellow writer, Maria Savva, she encouraged me to write the story. She also enlisted the aid of my dragon, Idris, which was decidedly not fair!

Without giving too much away, Touch of Darkness explores the story of a main character from Rise of the Shadow. At the end of Shadow, this character is on the run, having murdered two innocent people while possessed by an evil spirit. In Darkness, he struggles with the realization of what he did, and he will face a choice of redemption or temptation.

What else have you written?

Oddly enough, I thought I would only ever write one book, but the story kept evolving and the characters just won’t leave me alone!

To date I have written three books:

The Guardian’s Apprentice

Guardian1

Bloodstone – The Guardian’s Curse

Bloodstone2

Rise of the Shadow

RiseofShadow3

And seven short stories:

Tears for Hesh

Forsaken

Scale of a Dragon

Inner Daemon

Legend of the Pumpkin King

Frostbite – The Dragon that Saved Christmas

The Amaranthine Flask

All of them except for Legend of the Pumpkin King are set in the same world and contribute to the overall series. I like to use short stories as a way to further develop the background of characters from the novels. I must admit, I enjoy writing short stories as I like the challenge of developing and telling a complete story in just one or two thousand words.

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

I absolutely love the world-building aspect of fantasy, where you can create a completely new setting populated with everything your imagination can conjure up. I also enjoy developing the backgrounds of my characters. For example, after writing The Guardian’s Apprentice, I went back and wrote the short story, Forsaken, which tells the story of Nisha, one of the supporting characters. Forsaken gives the reader insight about how she became the person she was in TGA, and it let me explore her character.

There are actually two things I strongly dislike about writing. The first and most frightful is writing a synopsis or a query letter. I hate, hate, HATE writing either one of those dreadful things. I would much rather face down a dragon than be forced to write a synopsis or a query letter. The second thing I dislike is editing, simply because it NEVER ends! Even today, I can go back and read my first book, which I published in 2010, and I will invariably find a typo that I missed, or a section I would word differently.

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

I will confess to being an oddball on this question. In Bloodstone – The Guardian’s Curse, I actually wrote the last two chapters first, then went back and wrote the rest. In book three, Rise of the Shadow, I wrote about five chapters, skipped ahead and wrote two middle chapters, then filled in the gaps and wrote the end. In contrast, with The Guardian’s Apprentice I wrote the story straight through, from beginning to end. I think my process depends largely on how the story is flowing in my mind – sometimes I’ll have a sudden insight and think “Oh, this would be the perfect way to end…” so I will write that particular scene or chapter while it is fresh.

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

Both. I edit as I write, and will often stop and re-read several chapters to make sure the story flows properly. Once I am finished, I read, re-read, and re-re-read, editing each time. With my last two books, I also sought beta-readers, which I found to be incredibly helpful.

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

Names, in my opinion, are almost as important as the plot. Sometimes I struggle with names, sometimes they just come to me in a flash of inspiration (sadly, struggling is much more common than those rare flashes…). I will also admit to keeping a file of names and words I have come across that I consider to be odd or just plain cool – that file has come in very handy when trying to name a character. I think the toughest time was in my first book, The Guardian’s Apprentice, when I renamed one of the characters three times before I found the right one.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Write. Write a LOT. The more you write, the better you will become. I would also strongly urge a new writer to join a critique group such as critters.org. This allows you to interact with others, critiquing their work and having yours critiqued in return. You also need to keep an open mind about criticism. Use criticism, no matter how hard it may be to hear, to make your work better. Also, before you publish something, make certain it is polished and as error-free as possible! No matter how much you hated Freshman English in college, grammar counts, and nothing turns a reader off quicker than poor grammar.

Finally, join a writers group such as BestsellerBound.com where you can network and share experiences with other writers.

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

I have used Facebook and Twitter since 2010, and I am also on Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Klout. I am particularly fond of Twitter, as it keeps me connected to my Indie friends. Social media has been a wonderful tool for authors to connect with readers and other authors, and I shudder to think where we would be without it. Social media has allowed me to connect with so many wonderful people. Ironically some of my best friends are those I have never actually met in person!

That being said, I have frequently found myself sucked into a time warp thanks to social media. I will log into Facebook or Twitter, glance at the clock, and an hour has vanished – one that could have otherwise been spent writing! (for the record, I am NOT addicted to CandyCrush – I can stop any time I want…)

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 am very fortunate in that my sister is a writer as well. She writes paranormal romances under the pen name Maeve Greyson, and we have on occasion each sought the opinion of the other, even though we inhabit different genres.

I especially like to seek the opinions of other writers if I am exploring new territory. For example in my current work in process, Touch of Darkness, a critical part of the story is the romance that blossoms between the two main characters. While there has been a little bit of romance in previous stories, it has never been so central to the theme. I was very concerned about setting the right tone, so I asked my friend, Maria Savva, if she would mind reading a sample. She was kind enough to read the first few chapters and give me her opinion, which reassured me I was on the right track. That type of feedback is invaluable when writing, in my opinion.

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

Sadly, they have complete control. When I am writing, I can almost hear the characters and their dialogue in my head (yes, I know I just admitted to hearing voices…). So far in each book I have written, the story has taken a twist, when the characters did something I did not expect. I certainly never thought I would write a fourth book, but one of the characters kept rattling about in my imagination and simply would not leave me alone until I told his story!

What music soothes your soul?

The music of Enya always helps me relax. Especially when I am writing, her music helps transport me to another world. I also enjoy listening to classical music while I write, preferably Vivaldi, Mozart, or Beethoven.

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

As I spend the majority of my time at work reading banking regulations, conducting audits, and answering legal questions, I prefer to watch comedies – to drag me back from the depths of seriousness. My favorites include Mike & Molly and The Big Bang Theory. I will confess however, I do love a good mystery. I particularly enjoy Midsomer Murders and Agatha Christie’s Poirot performed by British actor David Suchet.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Sipping coffee on a Saturday morning, while sitting in the porch swing with my wife. A very close second is sitting in front of a warm fire in December, when everything is decorated for Christmas.

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

Live simply, love deeply, and laugh often.

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