About My Book

Learn more about my first book, Six Pack: Emergence.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Book Review: Firetok

I got back into reading horror novels after reading Stephen King's On Writing, tracking down The Stand and re-reading my copy of It. Along the way, through people I followed on Twitter and who had good insights from the blogs I followed, I checked out Firetok by Gordon A. Wilson.

I wasn't disappointed. Firetok follows the tale of Douglass, a man who had struggled throughout his life with inner demons and has dreams and visions about future events. It leads him to an encounter with an old man and a dog -- the dog is named Firetok and Douglass develops a kindred spirit with him. Through the visions Douglass experiences and his bond formed with Firetok, Douglass learns about a child smuggling operation involving others close to him. Along the way, Douglass must make decisions about the relationships in his life and what he really wants

Douglass is a complex character who is easy to sympathize with. I liked how Gordon painted his troubled past and how Douglass is trying to redeem himself and become a better person. You find yourself rooting for Douglass and hoping he comes through.

The backstory does tend to get lengthy in parts, particularly in the way Gordon writes the narrative. We enter the story about midway through Douglass' search for answers, then get into events that unfolded prior to where we jump into the story. Some readers might get impatient going through the backstory and want to focus more on what Douglass is going through in the present time.

However, once the narrative catches up to ongoing events, the tension builds and the book transforms from one that progresses slowly to one that is difficult to put down. I found myself drawn in by the final few chapters, wanting to know more about how events would unfold. Kudos to Gordon for keeping me drawn in as the story reached its conclusion.

Perhaps a good way to describe the writing in Firetok is "patience pays." If you give the book a chance and relax while you go through Douglass' backstory, you'll get the payoff with a strongly-built climax and tension that keeps you on your toes.

Firetok is a recommended read for any horror fan. You can order it through Amazon.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Twenty Questions With Tamar Sloan

My guest this week for Twenty Questions is fellow Clean Reads author Tamar Sloan, whose book Prophecy Awakened was recently released. Here is the blurb for her new book.

Eden - shy, wounded...all she wants is to finish her senior year and escape to college.
Noah - the guy who’s spent two years drifting aimlessly, not knowing why he failed to come of age as every one of his ancestors has. 
When the two meet the connection is instantaneous and undeniable. A connection that has Eden running and Noah burning to know more.
A connection destined to be the catalyst for a prophecy that neither knew existed.
A prophecy others are willing to kill for.
As families rupture and struggle to realign, as their hearts connect and ignite, Eden learns to trust. But with their love and life on the line, Eden must find the power to believe.
Prophecy Awakened (ISBN: 978-1-62135-652-3, Clean Reads Publishing) is now available at www.tamarsloan.com and on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iBooks.

Let's here more from Tamar about her book and her interest in writing.

1.       How did you get interested in writing?

Interestingly, I never considered I'd be a writer. As a child I loved to read (I devoured romance novels from the moment I discovered them), but it NEVER occurred to me that I could write one myself. My first book came to me in a dream (so cliché, right?). But it was an idea that wouldn't go away so I thought, maybe I could…

2.       What inspired you to come up with the story?

That very dream! It was a beautiful dream — there were moving scenes of a boy who never came of age like every one of his kind has. It was a dream about a girl who has wounds of her own (and totally underestimates her potential) and their instantaneous connection. A connection powerful enough to spark Noah's change, and to challenge Eden's beliefs. It had to be written, which meant I had to go learn how to write…

3.       Tell me about the main character, Eden, and what inspired you to create her.

It always felt like Eden was alive and breathing before she moved into my head. She’s shy and wounded and self-protective like so many of the girls I see come through my office as a school psychologist. Fortunately for her (although she probably wouldn’t agree in some parts of the novel), the Prophecy that she’s pivotal in is about to test the very edge of her comfort zone, and she’ll discover what can be found on the other side.

4.       Tell me about Noah and what inspired you to create him.

Noah is the other half of the Prophecy; Eden’s compliment and challenge in so many ways. Carrying wounds of his own because he failed to become a werewolf like every one of his family, like every other Were out there, means he’s lost and confused. Eden turning up in his town of Jacksonville is the first spark of life and purpose he’s felt in almost two years…

5.       What characters, other than Eden or Noah, did you find enjoyable to write as you progressed through the book?

Noah has a twin called Mitch, but it’s Mitch’s partner – Tara – that really stole my heart. She’s a fire-cracker with some pretty funny sayings. She’s quirky and heart-warming and is the voice of hope throughout the challenges that are thrown at them. So much so that a friend of mine suggested Tara should have a novella of her own – and that’ how the prequel novella A Moment for Tara that I just finished was inspired.

6.       What are some of the themes you explored in the novel?

The dominant theme of Prophecy Awakened is the power of faith. Faith involves believing in something even though there’s no evidence to serve as a foundation, or worse, the evidence suggests the exact opposite. Eden and Noah both have to discover how hard it is to believe in ourselves (in very different ways), but also how powerful faith can be.

7.       What were some of the things you learned along the way as you wrote and edited the book?

Well, writing is much harder than it looks! It takes long hours and writing whether you have the energy for it or not. It takes faith, because you have no idea whether others will love what you’re creating as much as you do. It takes learning multiple sets of skills – powerful prose, captivating plot, how to let people know the book is out there…But it’s also one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done - I get to create something that touches other people.

8.       How did this writing experience compare to any other works you have completed?

As my first book, Prophecy Awakened was probably the easiest…and the hardest. It was the easiest because the concept was so powerfully bright in my mind. But it was also the book I learned how to do this ‘writing’ thing, and with any new set of skills, there’s always a steep learning curve.

9.       Have you noticed any difference between writing young adult fiction and writing romance? Or similarities?

I’ve only ever written young adult romance, but I specifically chose the young adult genre as I love that period of life. Obviously I was an adolescent myself (longer ago than I’d want to admit) but I’ve also worked with teenagers throughout my entire career as a youth worker, then a secondary teacher, and finally as a school psychologist. It’s a fascinating, intense stage of life with so many firsts, and first love is one of them. I love to explore the passion, identity formation and pivotal turning points that occur during that stage of our life.

10.   What do you find is the right environment for you to write?

Quiet. To get a solid chunk of writing done I disappear into my writing room and type. No music, no distracting noise.

11.   Are there specific programs or tools you find useful to help you with the writing process?

I think most writers know of Scrivener, I was certainly very happy to find it. As someone who needs to plan out where each book is going, its’ been invaluable. Oh, and Google ;)

12.   What have you found to be the useful methods for promoting your writing?

Connecting with others – readers and writers. It’s fun, rewarding and not pushy – I love to create something of value for others, and people appreciate you for it. Those are the ones that will buy your book…and help promote it.

13.   What are some of the famous books or authors you have enjoyed or inspired you?

I’d imagine lots of young adult paranormal romance readers will see some parallels between Prophecy Awakened and Twilight. That’s because without seeing Twilight I doubt Eden and Noah’s story would have been inspired (when I see the images of Noah and his family shifting to a wolf, it’s the images of the Twilight movie that move through my head). Overall though, I’m drawn to epic love stories, and Twilight was certainly one of them, and that’s what I wanted to create in the Prime Prophecy series.

14.   Any aspiring or independent authors whose books you’ve read that you liked and want to mention to others to check out?

One of the awesome things about being a writer is connecting with other writers. Kat Colmer, whose own young adult romance is being released later this year, is one of the talented people that I’ve been lucky enough to connect with — and read her amazing book before it hits bookshelves. I certainly recommend keeping her on your radar. Of course Clean Reads has some pretty amazing authors… ;)

15.   What advice would you give to those who want to write a novel before they actually get started?

Be prepared for a fabulous roller coaster ride. There will be lows, there will be twists you thought you knew were coming but you really didn’t, and there will be exhilarating highs. How do you prepare for something like that? In some ways you can’t, in other ways you pack your fortitude and resilience, and open yourself up to the joy of the ride.

16.   Tell me about your work as a school psychologist and the things you have learned working with students.

As a psychologist, I think the two things I’ve learnt is the influence of our emotions, and the power of connection. Humans are defined and driven by our emotions; they colour our thoughts and underlie our behaviour. Sometimes they can be helpful, sometimes not so much - I see that in the young people sitting across from me in my office, and I try to capture that in my books. The second point, the power of connection, I also live that every day – if I don’t build a rapport with a young person then therapy isn’t going to happen – but it’s also well documented in research (50% of a patient’s outcome is predicted by the therapeutic relationship). Funnily enough, the power of connection is what romance embodies, and it’s also what the Prime Prophecy is all about.

17.   How familiar are you with how schools in Australia compare to those in the United States? Can you tell me anything about similarities and differences?

I’m not terribly familiar with the US school system (which was a challenge with a book set in the US), but from what I can see they’re pretty different. We have a national curriculum, which means irrespective of what state you’re in, they teach the same content. We have four school terms a year, each ten weeks long, with two weeks holidays in between except the Christmas holidays, which are six weeks long. But I imagine the students share some commonalities – they all face the challenges today’s times throw at them, and they all have the opportunity to demonstrate the power of human resilience.

18.   Tell me about the PsychWriter blog and the topics you discuss.

I started PsychWriter so my writing could benefit others. Sharing the nexus of my two passions, writing and psychology, was the way I could that. I write about what psychology knows of personality and human behaviour to help with character development, and about the science of story so writers can engage their readers. I’ve been amazed at the positive reception it’s had and touched by the feedback I’ve received. 

19.   What are some of the activities you and your family do on your acreage in Australia?

I love to be sustainable and wish I had more time to do it. We currently have pigs to produce our own meat, bees for our own honey, and a small vegie garden. We also have two dogs and two horses. In the past we’ve had a milking cow, milking goats, trout in an aquaponics system and sheep.

20.   Who would win a battle of superhero skills: Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman?

Now this question had me thinking the hardest! Through a process of elimination I think Batman would go first, he doesn’t have super powers (technically, he’s a gazillionaire with a super fast car and lots of gadgets). So that leaves Superman and Wonder Woman - even though Superman can fly and is ‘faster than a speeding bullet’ etc, Wonder Woman is the daughter of a god, which I predict would trump alien super-skills. Go girl power!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Twenty Questions With Krysten Lindsay Hager

Krysten Lindsay Hager is my guest for Twenty Questions this week. Her latest release is Dating the It Guy, which came out just a few weeks ago. Here is the cover blurb:

Emme is a sophomore in high school who starts dating, Brendon Agretti, the popular senior who happens to be a senator's son and well-known for his good looks. Emme feels out of her comfort zone in Brendon's world and it doesn't help that his picture perfect ex, Lauren seems determined to get back into his life along with every other girl who wants to be the future Mrs. Agretti. Emme is already conflicted due to the fact her last boyfriend cheated on her and her whole world is off kilter with her family issues. Life suddenly seems easier keeping Brendon away and relying on her crystals and horoscopes to guide her. Emme soon starts to realize she needs to focus less on the stars and more on her senses. Can Emme get over her insecurities and make her relationship work? Life sure is complicated when you're dating the it guy.

Krysten has written four other books and you can learn more about her at her website. Now let's hear from Krysten about her writing.

1. How did you get interested in writing?
 I’ve been making up stories since I was a kid and I knew I wanted to be a writer in the fourth grade. I think all of my friends were obsessed with books at the time and we all wanted to be writers, but for me….well, I just never outgrew that love of it.

2. What inspired you to come up with this story?
 I was watching a biography on TV about John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and I thought, what would it have been like if they met in high school? So I created a character named Emme who starts dating the son of a well-known senator and all the drama and insecurity it creates for her.

3. Tell me about the main character, Emme, and what inspired you to create her.
 Emme is a complex character in that she truly cares for Brendon, but her insecurity about being cheated on in the past colors her ability to completely trust him—or anyone. I created someone who is different than the girls Brendon is used to—he comes from a wealthy, preppy world, and Emme is a bit of a boho chick. She’s a vegetarian and into crystals and horoscopes and has a small group of friends who all have their own personalities while he’s friends with everyone and honestly, his crew all seems so similar. I loved writing about her family relationships as well as her emotions as she watched her grandparents dealing with illness and loss. She’s a sweet character, but with a bit of a sarcastic wit.

4. What characters, other than Emme, did you find enjoyable to write as you progressed with the book?
 I liked writing the Brendon character and seeing what made him tick and how living as the son of a politician would impact his life. Another JFK Jr. bio came out right as I was finishing the book and as I watched it, I could see more of the pressures on him, so I decided to have Brendon want to go to school for journalism, but his family expected him to follow their path (his grandfather had also been a senator and several other family members were in politics, too). I liked seeing the progression of the character as he felt more comfortable in sharing this with Emme.

5. What are some of the themes you explored in writing the novel?
 There’s family relationships, love, trust, loss, and friendship. The subplot deals with Emme’s grandparents and I’ve been hearing from readers how it moved them.

6. What were some of the things you learned along the way as you wrote and edited the book?
 I learned to trust the process and let the story lead me and not what I thought people would want to read. I had been told by two editors to take the subplot with the grandmother to where the reader experienced what Emme did firsthand. I resisted thinking readers wouldn’t want to read that, but so far all the feedback has been positive, so I’m glad I listened and that I wrote from the heart and not just what I thought people would want to read. By letting myself go and writing from the heart it meant the scene came organically and was not contrived.

7. Tell me more about the Landry’s True Colors Series you have written – what were your experiences like with that series?
The Landry’s True Colors Series is about an 8th grader named Landry Albright who is dealing with friendships and frenemies. She’s torn between wanting to stand out, but she also wants to fit in with the crowd. You see Landry trying to figure out which group of friends she’s most comfortable with and learning to appreciate the things about herself that make her unique. Middle school is a difficult time for most of us and Landry is just figuring it out as well. It’s a funny series and I love hearing from readers who identify with the characters.

8. And what can you tell me about the Star series and your experiences writing those books?
 The Star Series is a YA series about a girl named Hadley Daniels who moves to a beautiful beach town and winds up living next door to a former TV star, Simone, who is in Hadley’s class. In the series we see Hadley feel insecure next to Simone, but in reality the reader sees Simone has more issues with self-esteem than Hadley and the other girls. There’s romance, humor, and family relationships, too. I wanted to write the kind of beach novel that I always loved reading.

9. What do you find is the right environment for you to write?
 I need complete silence. I hate being interrupted, so I tend to write at night or very early in the morning. I write either in my office or in my living room. I can scribble a bit in a notebook here and there when I’m out, but for serious work, I need to be in a quiet area.

10. Are there specific programs or tools you find useful to help you with the writing process?
 I have one on my laptop, but I’ve never used it. I think I write better when I write in a notebook first, but usually because of time restraints, I go to my laptop first.

11. What have you found to be useful methods for promoting your writing?
 I think it’s important to let people know what to expect from your writing, so it helps to have a platform well before your book ever comes out. When my first book came out, the people around me were already familiar with my humor essays and articles and other short stories I had written. And you have to let people get to know you.

12. What are some of the famous books or authors you have enjoyed or inspired you?
 I like to read May Sarton, Cathy Hopkins, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and I am reading Agnes Nixon’s autobiography right now which is very inspiring.

13. Any aspiring or independent authors whose books you’ve read that you liked and want to mention to others to check out?
 Christina Lorenzen is great for romance and Heather Gray writes inspirational romance. Both work checking out. For middle grade, S.J. Henderson’s Daniel the Draw-er books.

14. What advice would you give to those who want to write a novel before they actually get started?
 Publish articles and short stories to get your work out there and to get used to having your work being read. The most important advice is to read, read, read and take classes and workshops.

15. What was it like taking ballet lessons? Did you learn anything useful from them?
 I find ballet very calming and I think it helps with poise and discipline.

16. What was it about Breakfast at Tiffany’s that compelled you to watch it all the time when you were in high school?
 Watching it as an adult I can see how lost Holly was and how she was shying away from what could be a real love relationship. I think as a teen I picked up on some of that, but not to the extent I see it now. And the clothes—you gotta love the clothes.

17. You’re a Detroit Lions fan… do you have any favorite players in particular (past or present)?
 My dad and I used to go to the Lions’ training camps and draft parties. I was a fan of Barry Sanders, Johnnie Morton, Luther Ellis, and more recently, Calvin Johnson. I had high hopes for Reggie, but that didn’t go the way I had hoped.

18. Tell me more about the Pacifica soy candles you like so much.
 I love the lotus flower candle and I like to light candles for a calming sense to the room before I begin to work on a novel.

19. Can you give me a couple of your favorite quotes from American Dad?
 One thing I always say when something crazy happens on the news is, “This country….” In my best Stan Smith voice. I also use random Roger the alien quotes like saying I’m “friendsly” with someone, which means you don’t know them at all.

20. Who would win a battle of superhero skills: Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman?
 Wonder Woman of course. Anyone who can run in high heeled boots has an added set of skills the other two couldn’t dream of.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Twenty Questions With Brett Armstrong

This week's Twenty Questions sessions is with fellow Clean Reads author Brett Armstrong, whose latest release, Day Moon, is now available. Here is the blurb about Brett's latest release.

In A.D. 2039, a prodigious seventeen year old, Elliott, is assigned to work on a global software initiative his deceased grandfather helped found.  Project Alexandria is intended to provide the entire world secure and equal access to all accumulated human knowledge.  All forms of print are destroyed in good faith, to ensure everyone has equal footing, and Elliott knows he must soon part with his final treasure:  a book of Shakespeare’s complete works gifted him by his grandfather.  Before it is destroyed, Elliott notices something is amiss with the book, or rather Project Alexandria.  The two do not match, including an extra sonnet titled “Day Moon”.  When Elliott investigates, he uncovers far more than he bargained for.  There are sinister forces backing Project Alexandria who have no intention of using it for its public purpose.  Elliott soon finds himself on the run from federal authorities and facing betrayals and deceit from those closest to him.  Following clues left by his grandfather, with agents close at hand, Elliott desperately hopes to find a way to stop Project Alexandria.  All of history past and yet to be depend on it.

You may visit Brett's website here. Now let's hear more from Brett about his book and his interest in writing.

1. How did you get interested in writing?
When I first started I suppose it was a natural outgrowth of reading books at my hometown’s library.  My mom would take me there and spend hours looking over books for the pre-school classes she taught and I would go into the back and read.  I particularly liked the history section and some of it was framed like a newspaper from the time, so I just kind of started writing my own stories about different places and times.  Gradually I started doing serialized stories for journal time at school and read them to my class.  In most situations I really dislike public speaking, but talking about writing and reading stories felt and feels very natural to me. 
I didn’t start seriously writing until I was a junior in college.  When it came time to select a major and a career path, I wanted to go into biomechanical engineering but WVU didn’t offer that so a friend talked me into computer engineering.  The courses were a pain at times and while I could do the work it felt a little like drudgery.  I had to fill some credit hours one semester and couldn’t take a class I needed, because it was full, so I took a creative writing class.  Then another, and another, until I had a minor in it.  I remember very clearly walking back from class one evening and getting about halfway down the hill I was parked on and just feeling like I’d been struck by the most obvious thing I had never considered.  Writing made me feel something very different from other things that I like doing.  Different from drawing, doing math, etc.  I suddenly understood what Eric Liddell, the 1924 Olympic gold medalist, meant when he said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.

2. What inspired you to come up with this story?
A few different sources really inspired me.  At the time I was graduating from WVU, there were a few controversies in the sports world where people’s achievements were being overturned because of things they had done more recently and it was like they were erasing history to an extent.  I didn’t think the wrongs that had committed should be ignored, but it struck me as very wrong to try to go re-write history so to speak.  Around that time I also had an assignment in my capstone writing class.  Go out and do a writing “scavenger hunt”.  I had to observe certain things and write little story notes based on them.  Except it was raining that day, so I ended up on the portico of the English hall looking out on the campus at the library and I just began writing about a student doing the same thing.  The question of why the library was significant came to mind and that’s when Day Moon started coalescing into its basic outline.  I had the basic premise within a couple days and then proceeded to sit on the story for another two+ years.

3. Tell me about Day Moon’s main character, Elliott, and what inspired you to create him.
I kind of imagined what my son might be like one day.  What he would face, what background he would have, and then let the events shape Elliott’s character from there.  I’ve always had issue with people who say characters are more important than plot.  I think the two are equally important.  I like to let the story pick the characters up and carry them to places they would never expect and in so doing, the characters are shaped by the events.  But at a certain point, the characters’ decisions begin to shape the outcome of the plot and I think the balance there is very important to maintain.  So that’s how it usually works for me.  I start with the seed of a person or persons I’m familiar with and then let the story and characters mutually shape each other so that each takes on a life-like quality.

4. What characters, other than Elliott, did you find enjoyable to write as you progressed with the book?
I really enjoyed writing Lara’s portions, because she’s so snarky.  She’s also a nice foil for Kendra, who is also kind of sharp-tongued but in a very different way.  Then there’s her lovely interactions with Elliott’s cousin, John.  I feel like Lara brought out a lot of fun qualities about all the characters she interacted with, including the Siberian husky they encounter.

5. What are some of the themes you explored in writing the novel?
There are quite a few.  There’s the clash between the old and new, along with the sense of loss that goes along with that.  The familiar theme of deception and wanting something so badly you ignore the obvious warning signs of something worse. Having resiliency and courage to stand up against evil, even when it is a lone stand that may fail.
One of the major themes led me to think up a new application of the word surreality.  Conventionally it means the same thing as surreal, but I think it could hold more nuancing than that.  So I use it meaning, a surreal reality or a surrogate reality.  Which is what a lot of the people, including the protagonists, live in at the novel’s start.  It’s this false reality we conjure for ourselves because it makes getting through actual reality feel easier.  In that respect, the setting of this novel isn’t so different from my first novel, Destitutio Quod Remissio, which was set in ancient Rome.  Ancient Rome suffered the same kind of ills of pretending the world was something it wasn’t for them.  Really that was one thing I think that sets Day Moon apart from some other dystopian works I’ve read.  The horrible situation society is in wasn’t something resulting from a catastrophe per se or something people were drug kicking and screaming into.  It’s based on choices.  The thousands of seemingly inconsequential tradeoffs that get made and we never weigh the consequences.  After a while, even if you want to weigh them, it’s easier to just accept things as they are and move on, pretend some things don’t matter or worth losing.  Self-driving cars in the novel are a good example of this.  There are so many benefits of having them that the manner they were implemented and the sacrifices of some measure of freedom of choice and action and attention to the world around them were overlooked.
There’s also first love, finding your place in the world, and an emphasis on family relationships.  Really there are quite a few spiritual themes as well.  Elliott struggles the entire book with doubt.  Did his grandfather really intend for him to find anything?  Is he up to the challenge of stopping Project Alexandria?  Should Project Alexandria be stopped?  He’s forced to follow the directions left by someone he knows but doesn’t get to have an audible conversation with.  Yet he’s convinced there is something he was being led to do.  In that respect, it is somewhat like following Christ for a Christian.  We know enough about Him to trust Him, but there’s this constant struggle to take that next step forward when things get dark and difficult.  Elliott faces a lot of setbacks and betrayals and each time  has to keep choosing that forward progress. 

6. How familiar were you with Shakespeare’s works when you wrote this novel?
More familiar than many, but less than many as well.  I really enjoyed reading Shakespeare while in school, particularly Macbeth for some reason (probably because my family has a hefty dose of Scottish ancestry).  I knew enough to be dangerous in Jeopardy Shakespeare categories, but really, Shakespeare’s works are so diverse and nuanced it would be a lie to say I’ve got a firm hold on them.  I learned that in particular when I went to actually write the poem “Day Moon” for the novel and had to try to piece together a sonnet in iambic pentameter.   

7. What were some of the things you learned along the way as you wrote and edited the book?
On the editing side, I learned it can actually feel very rewarding to do edits.  Past experiences editing for publication had their highpoints, but this was much more enjoyable.  I have to attribute much of that to the fantastic editors I got to work with. 
A lot of what I learned wasn’t necessarily fresh insight, but more reinforcing of things I was already beginning to latch onto.  There are a whole slew of balances a writer must maintain: character and plot, exposition and pacing, showing and telling, the author’s wants and the reader’s needs, etc.  To an extent, I do agree with the idea that a story writes itself.  I think a novel is likes trekking through the mountains.  You can see peaks in the distance, but much of the journey is going into valleys, through forests, and past rivers; most of which you can’t see at the outset or even for much of the journey.  So it becomes a process of anticipation and surprise for me.  I know some things are going to happen, but there are so many things between point A and point B that I never anticipated, and that was very much true for Day Moon.

8. How did this compare to other novels you have written?
It is a fairly steep divergence on the surface. All of the novels I had written to this point, published or not, had heavy infusions of history in them.  This was a chance to be more direct with how I wrote.  It isn’t really fair to say I was looking to the future more than with historical fiction, because I firmly believe historical fiction can say as much about today and tomorrow as it does about yesterday, but this was subtly different.  It was also the first time I found a setting so close to home for a book.  Everything else was always far flung, beyond Appalachia by at least hundreds, and often thousands, of miles.  It was a chance to explore some of what growing up in Appalachia felt like to me, some of my sharpest memories of it.

9. Tell me about this story you wrote when you were nine that took place in the Aztec Empire.
So, it was actually a three part series that makes me wonder about myself at that age.  The series, called “Aztec” (creative, I know), was about a slave who was taken prisoner after a rival people group was subdued.  In the Aztec culture, such captives were often sacrificed, but this slave was clever and managed to escape.  He blended into the backdrop of Aztec culture, rose through the ranks, and eventually gets revenge by murdering the Aztec Emperor.  He began installing himself in the felled emperor’s place, but the emperor’s son, Moctezuma II, escaped the palace purge and eventually launched his own campaign to retake the empire. In the final third of it, Moctezuma II is just beginning to cement his rule when Cortez arrives and some of the story was just feeling out how that encounter could have played out and the viewpoints of each side as things degenerated.  Somehow I managed to get that into like fifteen or twenty hand written pages and I’ve never been so succinct since.

10. What do you find is the right environment for you to write?
Everywhere.  I drift off into introspection fairly easily, so things for stories can literally come just about any time.  At the moment, the time I most often find myself doing concerted writing, like answering this question, is sometime between 10 PM and 1 AM while my wife and son are sleeping.  I have a full time job, so I feel guilty whenever I’m not with them for those brief hours I can see them, which leaves the late night to write.

11. Are there specific programs or tools you find useful to help you with the writing process?
Lately, I’ve found that handwriting in a notebook with a fine lead pencil (because my print is pretty small) my initial drafts and then typing them up later works well.  I usually write in long bursts, getting entire scenes or chapters done at a time and outlining subsequent passages all at once.  That means there are usually lots of grammar and punctuation errors to clean up later.  Opportunities to polish the prose for the official (that is digital) first draft.  Excel is also really useful for charting out things like characters and their attributes, settings and details about them, and later on anything related to marketing the book.

12. What have you found to be useful methods for promoting your writing?
So much of the successes I’ve had really happened without much action from me.  I feel like a lot of my efforts end in vain and when I let God guide me to something new it works much better.  But if I had to name something discrete, though I didn’t really purpose it myself, when my first book won the CrossBooks contest, I was interviewed by the major newspaper in my state.  It didn’t cause sales to go wild, but it has been a seed that has led to a steady stream of other opportunities that would have been unlikely to come about without it.  Of course social media. Just as a quirky suggestion though, I had a booth at a book festival and my first book was set in ancient Rome, so rather than have bookmarks or something else with the synopsis on them, my family and I made tiny scrolls with the back cover copy on them.  They were a pain, but one woman picked one up and months later posted a five star review on GoodReads after purchasing the book, and attributed her circling back to the book to that little scroll she was handed. Unique, memorable touches like that can really go a long way.

13. What are some of the famous books or authors you have enjoyed or inspired you?
I didn’t read Lord of the Rings till college or The Chronicles of Narnia till just last year, but I would consider both massively inspiring.  Then, of course, there’s Shakespeare, HG Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and the Arthur legends.  Some inspiration when it came to dystopian writing were of course 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 411, and The Hunger Games.  Even though Picasso said, “Good artists borrow, but great artists steal,” I try not to just retell someone else’s story.  So I think what I take most often are ideas for themes and tones.  How to nuance the story I’m led to rather than outright form it. If any of that makes sense.

14. Any aspiring or independent authors whose books you’ve read that you liked and want to mention to others to check out?
Bob Morris’s new book: Six Pack Emergence. J  I would also have to say for those interested in Christian fiction, I’ve talked with a few authors personally and Curt Iles, Joel Thimell, and Robert Craven all have the right heart behind the writing. They’re each in very different genres but all have some good stuff.  Though, honestly, for a long time I kind of eschewed anything that wasn’t a classic or handed to me because it was wildly popular.  The more I read independent works and less vaunted traditional publications, the less fame and big name publishers seem to mean when it comes to having an enjoyable book to read.

15. What advice would you give to those who want to write a novel before they actually get started?
Take some time to pray about it.  Then if he or she still feels compelled, then go for it.  Don’t wait for perfect timing or the novel to be fully formed and in mind.  To me writing a novel is like travelling through the mountains.  You have a destination in mind and you can see some key points along the route there, but all the depth and substance really takes place as you move from point to point.  It’s one of the most rewarding parts of writing a novel, because you feel as though you’re discovering the story as you write it.

16. I see you like to draw. Have you ever tried creating your own covers for anything you’ve written?
I actually made a cover for everything I wrote from age nine till high school.  I sketched out what I wished the cover for my novel Destitutio Quod Remissio could have been like and even made some concept art for the logo of Project Alexandria in Day Moon.  It’s been a kind of back burner ambition of mine to create a still image book trailer for a fantasy series I’ve been working on for some time.  I just don’t give nearly enough time to making it happen.  Though, the best cover art I’ve ever done for a novel, by far, is the graphic design I did for my first adult novel, which remains unpublished though I went almost to the end of self-publishing before backing off with it.  There’s still a picture of it on my website and if I ever get a publisher to pick it up I will beg them to consider using it at least in part.

17. You enjoy gardening – what are some of the plants you like to grow?
Pumpkins, zucchini, and hot peppers tend to be our favorites.  We usually get enough pumpkin to last all year and for several years my wife and I have had a hot, but edible, pepper growing contest with my dad (who is a much more serious gardener).  We have a blind taste test of peppers we choose to enter and then each score the peppers we taste on a scale of 1 to 10.  The last time my wife and I won with Dragon Cayenne peppers.  They’re only about 80,000 Scoville units, but that’s really pushing the limits of what I consider conventionally edible anyway.

18. How has your Christian faith influenced you and your writing?
Forgive me, because I’m going to be a bit redundant and rehash a little of #1. 
It’s why I’m writing.  When I graduated high school I wanted to get a “practical” degree for a good career.  But after a few years at WVU I took a creative writing class for fun.  Suddenly, writing which had always been a hobby felt so serious, so essential.  I started to understand Olympian Eric Liddell, who said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”  It just suddenly clicked for me that I should write.  As I’m sure you’ve experienced, writing can be a roller coaster ride. Especially when you start trying to publish things and involve agents, publishing houses, marketing… basically everything that frightens and discourages me about writing.  A number of times I’ve asked God, whether me pursuing writing is really what He wants me to do.  I still work a full time job, I have a family, and writing can be costly in terms of money and certainly time.  Every time, without fail, when I’ve been on the precipice of giving up, something has happened to turn me around.  Once it was a man who works in the same organization I do, whom I’ve never met, who read the article in the newspaper about me and more than a year later e-mailed me to say, essentially God had been leading him to say some encouraging words to me.  He didn’t know why but he knew he needed to and he had bought five copies of my first book to give away. 
More to the point, it gives me focus and purpose.  It’s not about getting famous or becoming wealthy or even gaining a career as a novelist.  I’m very much convinced fictional writing can shape how we feel and respond to the real world, so I want to write things that are meaningful. If it can impact one person’s life for the better, then it is all worth it.

19. Is there a favorite type of activity you enjoy doing with your wife and son?
Being able to go for walks together is pretty special.  We live a couple hundred yards from the road our mailbox is on, so we walk out and get the mail together as a family. Those walks often end in chasing our little guy all over the place, which only makes it so much better.

20. Who would win a battle of superhero skills: Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman?
This is a tough question because I’m uber-biased in favor of Batman.  But I think I can justify it.  If the metric is purely superhero skills, then Batman has to crush the competition.  Superman and Wonder Woman each have incredible strength, speed, and a host of other super human (or metahuman as DC terms it) abilities.  Often when fighting a foe, they fly in fast, punch a lot and use a special super power until they defeat their adversary.  Batman, on the other hand, spends time and effort to develop counter-measures for adversaries.  He has mastered a variety of martial arts and in spite of being just an above average human is able to keep up when the pressure is on with Superman and Wonder Woman.  His effort and nuancing to his work require more skill.  So until Superman and Wonder Woman display that kind of resourcefulness I will have to go with Batman every time.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Best Compliment You Can Get

One of the biggest compliments I got about my new novel came from my publisher, Clean Reads, in a recent Facebook post which said that the story stayed with the editors who looked it over.

I'm flattered that the editors said that and that my publisher thinks highly of the book. To know that I've written a story that stays with people who read it means I must have done a good job, because I've found that the best books are the ones with stories that stay with you after you're finished with them -- the types that make you think about what you've read and the themes behind them.

I thought about this when I sat down and put together a list of my five favorite books for a blog tour stop with Wendy May Andrews. The Outsiders was the first one that came to mind because its themes are still relevant today. 1984 was a book that influenced my own writing, in terms of the themes I wanted to explore. I'll direct you to Wendy's site so you can learn more about the five favorite books I mentioned.

I know I have a challenge ahead of me as I put together the next two books -- the second one just finished beta reads and I'm hoping to polish it up this summer, while the first draft of the third book is underway. Will I be able to keep impressing the people who edit the books, give them another book in the series that sticks with them and leaves them curious as to where things go next?


Meanwhile, I've made several blog tour stops and will direct you to those. Thanks to Kadee Carder, Iris Blobel and Wendy May Andrews for hosting me. I have a couple more stops lined up in the coming weeks.

Thanks again to everyone for their support.