Writers interested in having an interview should use the contact page. All genres are considered.
Talking with me is the author of The Road to Mental Wellness. Jonathan Arenburg hails from Nova Scotia and has had to struggle with the consequences of generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD. In his book, he shares an autobiographical description of adjusting to life with a mental illness from the perspective of a lifetime. Moreover, his background includes nearly twenty years providing psychological counseling to people in a residential setting. In addition to helping the chronically troubled, his career includes helping people in the most acute crises, i.e. as a professional firefighter.
Greetings Jonathan, and thank you for taking the time to share you story and perspective.
Let me start by saying that in America, if not Nova Scotia, mental illnesses rank high among stigmatized conditions. An ill mind is seen as a weakness to be overcome and compensated for (and my own take on the subject is that illnesses of any kind should no be seen as ‘differently abled’). However, it is all too easy to project one type of weakness into an entire body or personhood. Hence it strikes me that your book has a unique poignancy for your having had a particular career.
The firefighter is the Ajax of the civilian world. He/she ranks above the police for required bravado. You also outrank the military. Frequently, soldiers may serve primarily as pawns in gunboat diplomacy. Fires are not diplomatic and don’t voluntarily shy from red painted gunboats with water canons. So really, you outrank all of us. If that weren’t enough, your role is succinctly messianic – plucking souls out of Hell’s conflagrations. That said, you explicitly say that firefighting directly lead to your mental illness of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In light of this background, what role did your career play in motivating your writing? Did you ever say to yourself, “I am uniquely positioned to quash the notions that mental illness is a great weakness worthy of scorn, so I should write – perhaps I have a responsibility to do so.”? Or did earlier events drive your writing further such as breaking the mold of “you people” that a math teacher once fitted you into?
I would have to say that mostly indirectly. At the time of writing the book I was just going off work trying to figure out what was going on with me. Because of my counseling background and teaching critical incident stress in the fire service, I suspected PTSD. So, while I was waiting to get workers compensation, access to mental health was sparse. So, the book became an attempt at some therapeutic release. Essentially, I decided to delve through my long battle with mental illness and see why I had ended up off work. I explain in more depth in this article, Carbon Monoxide And PTSD.
In Chapter 9, you raise the stereotype of male machismo in complicating wellness. You rebel against ‘being silenced’. How would you rate this issue for importance among the people you’ve helped?
Indeed, perceived manliness impacts one’s ability to get the help they need, particularly in those days. Of course, as a counselor, I advocate that people take time to do one-on-one therapy or some other form of professional therapeutic intervention, however, what’s fundamentally missing in modern times, or perhaps more importantly, ignored, is men’s communication style. In terms of how you will approach men and women in terms of therapeutic help, it must be realized that it is different. However, it seems to me like we’re trying to paint both men and women with the same therapeutic brush. In other words, are we speaking in men’s language? In this article Healing with your bros, I argue that men do indeed seek out the male forms of therapeutic release. Interestingly enough, when I am in the waiting room to see my psychologist, I see men of all walks of life come out of a session. Therefore, sometimes I think that old school narratives get passed down from generation to generation and are seen as still very problematic when in fact, they have drastically improved.
You report that you were basically considered a problem student in primary school, and this was part of a ‘mudslide’ of childhood issues that would affect your life history. You also note that at the same time as you supported others in grief, that support did not get reciprocated, such as at your grandfather’s death. How much improvement in quality of life do you think can be gained from making clinical child psychology more routine for everyone? In Nova Scotia particularly or North America generally?
Certainly, child psychology is definitely underutilized in educational settings. Here for example, there is often one or two psychologists to do assessments for the entire district which is considerably large for one or two people. Similarly, guidance counselors do school rotations. In other words, they are not present in schools five days a week, rather they are scattered throughout the week. However, there are efforts being made here, for example students have access to addictions counselors. So, there’s definitely a recognition that help is required. Certainly, I would be in support of psychological assessments for students, however, on a socio-political level, I think many modern parents would have an issue with it. Therefore, I think resource should be funneled into helping children as the needs arise. For example, when parents request an assessment. In a world of limited resources, your best bet is to help children, let’s say, problematic children to determine what the underlying issue is. Also, for the kids with diagnosed mental illness, these resources could be directed at them instead of tying everyone up assessing everyone.
If we openly discuss mental health in schools and provide the resources to provide comprehensive mental health first aid, we can put in place a stopgap measure until one can get into the mental health care system. For example, in schools we always run a risk of over diagnosing. For example, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder could in actuality be an anxiety disorder as the symptoms are quite similar. Therefore, assumptions being made by non-mental health care professionals, can be irreversibly damaging. Choosing to put children on powerful medications should be done with extreme caution due to the exponential growth we see in the brain, particularly around adolescence. So in a sense, it’s possible that having a mental health care system in schools, could do more harm than good. That said, if they stick purely to counseling practices, active listening, reflecting, teaching coping skills etc, then that would be acceptable. We can only help acting out children if we know the causal factors behind it greatly, therefore getting away from punitive measures would be more helpful.
When it comes to the subject of mental health, most of us take a linear approach. That is to say that we tend to focus on the problem once it exists. However, there is good clinical evidence to show that education systems can do other things that are seemingly unrelated to mental health themselves. A good example of this is providing nutrient dense foods in cafeterias, providing children with more physical activities and getting them out to nature more. While some schools do recognize these things, I think we’re all underestimating their efficiency. So, should we spend more money on psychologists or physical education educators? More dieticians, perhaps?
Do emergency personnel get routine mental health assessment?
Well, I can’t speak for everywhere, however, where I am from, there is no mental health assessment required. With that said, in light of recent attacks by police for example, I do believe that perhaps they should be assessed for dark triad personality type. Dark triad personalities – these are people with sociopathic /psychopathic personalities. Individuals who are high in these traits should never be hired to work in person centered industries.
You mention almost as a side note that you have epilepsy. As one with it myself and having known great anxiety (though nothing one would attribute to generalized anxiety disorder), I have to ask how it may play into your life experience. How much did your physicians / counselors know about that part of your life? Did they ever discuss its possible role in your mental health issues? Was your department aware of it? Was it part of childhood or did it arise later?
Fortunately for myself, my epilepsy has played a minimal role in my life. At least from the perspective of seizures. My medication has 100% controlled them since I was 12. It’s hard to assess whether having epilepsy has impacted my mental health or not. However, the medication certainly has impeded my healing. The anticonvulsant that I am on, systematically flushes all the antidepressants and so on out of my liver, rendering them inert. My department was aware, based on solid medical advice, I was allowed to participate in full duties.
That’s an interesting point about drug interactions between antidepressants and anticonvulsants. It’s something I’d never heard of before. Yet, a long time ago, I was on both types of drugs myself. I asked my neurologist why I didn’t seem to have any mood boost. His reply – a logical one it seemed – was that the antidepressant’s role was not so much to lighten affect as to keep the depression I had from sinking me into suicidal ideation. Now I wonder if any mood boost, per se, was something never to be expected.
Do you have a specific target audience in mind for this book?
No, not really. Its intention is really just to help other people. So, whether you’re suffering from a mental health condition, or you’re a family member seeking to understand why someone is mentally ill, then this book will provide you with some insight. May even give professionals an intimate look. I had no one particular population in mind, however, I do find that it can be applicable to many people. From the fire service to the average struggler, I just simply put into words the actions that I take and if it helps others, great!
Do you anticipate continuing as a writer? If so, what genre?
I would love to write another book. I write a lot for my blog and sometimes I play around with different ideas. But at this juncture I’m not sure which genre it will be.
Well, health-related literature gets richer as more of it comes from the recipient’s end, but your counseling experience could make a really useful interface for more books.
Thank you for sharing your experiences.
The Road to Mental Wellness can be found at Amazon.
Chatting with me now is a career writer in the field of crime and science fiction. His numerous works include novels and comics. Based on his lengthy experience, he has some gems of wisdom and encouragement for Indie authors about marketing, self management, and staying sane generally.
Welcome Mr. Nash. So tell us a bit about yourself.
Hi. I’m Bobby Nash. I have been a writer for a few decades now. WOW. Saying that made me feel a little old. Ha! I published my first work in 1992. In 2000, I sold my first professional comic book script. In 2004, I sold my first novel and Evil Ways debuted in 2005. I’ve been pretty steady busy since then. I’m what they call a hybrid author. I work for various publishers on a project-by-project basis, but I also run my own independent press, BEN Books. As a writer, I’ve found this to be the best of both worlds.
How did you grow to be a writer?
These characters and stories kept popping into my head so I figured I should write them down. Once I cleared out the first batch, more stories took their place, so I wrote them down too. I found that I enjoyed it. I love creating and getting to know characters and then putting them through hell. Ha! Ha!
You sound like a purist in a sense, just wanting to tell stories. I envy that mind set because I got into writing with a social agenda. Having spontaneous creativity is something I have yet to experience a lot, though I am not sure sadism is the path for me (yet).
When did this joi d’ecrive really get its hooks into you?
My earliest attempts at writing started in middle school, but it wasn’t until I was in high school that I started putting more effort into it. I was in my early twenties when I really started taking it seriously and treating it like a career. I wanted to be a comic book artist and started writing to have stories to draw. Turns out, I was better at the writing than the art.
After many years of reading heavy science, I’ve taken a liking to manga (Japanese comics). It’s a pleasure to lighten the load on text with visuals. I’ve posted reviews on this site for some of them based on the writing, however. I’ve yet to look at American work, though.
Do you have a particular age and genre in mind when you start writing?
I have different audiences depending on the book. Some books skew more adult, especially the crime thrillers I write. They are definitely intended for an older audience. A lot of the pulp and action stuff I do, like Lance Star: Sky Ranger, works for adults and younger readers. I haven’t written a lot for young children though. My audience tends to skew 16+.
I love to hop genres. It’s one of my favorite pastimes. I also love mixing genres. That’s fun too. Almost everything I write has thriller and action elements to them. That’s what I enjoy and they pepper my stories. Thankfully, they both pair well with other genres. Crime action/thriller. Sci-Fi action/thriller. Western action/thriller. You get the idea.
I like trying my hand at other genres from time to time. Writing short stories for anthologies is a good way to do it. Want to write a western? Try a short story and see how it goes. It allows me to scratch the occasional creative itch.
I’ll have to keep that in mind. I haven’t established a firm direction in the fiction that I am starting to dabble in.
Is there an author or book that you find especially inspirational?
One of the earliest books I remember reading was The Snowbound Six by Richard Martin Sterns. The story takes place in the mountains and the characters have to survive a dangerous blizzard. It had an impact and I still love man vs. nature stories and stories that take place in the wild.
Encyclopedia Brown was also an inspiration. Between him and Scooby Doo, I learned to love mysteries at an early age.
Man vs. Nature is a dangerous combination for real work! You’re talking to a man who aspired to a career in conservation research. Tough to make a living. While I’ve added a sprinkling of M.v.N. into my writing, most of what I’ve read has been man verses whole ecosystems. But then I am mostly speaking of non-fiction rather than Jack London.
But back to human personalities. When you create a character, do you ever model them after a real person or characters from one of your earlier works?
Working with the pulp publishers, I’ve written several stories set during the 20’s to today. Sometimes, real historical figures make their way into stories. I’m currently working on a WWII era Lance Star: Sky Ranger novel that includes the USS Yorktown, which is a real aircraft carrier. I toured the carrier a couple of times so it seemed a no-brainer to use it in the story. The sailors on board in my story are characters I created, but I like using the real ship.
I have a few main characters who populate my books that I get to write again and again. Abraham Snow headlines the Snow series, Lance Star is the main character in the Lance Star: Sky Ranger series, FBI Agent Harold Palmer headlines Evil Ways and the upcoming Evil Intent, Detective John Bartlett and reporter Benjamin West headline Deadly Games! and the upcoming Deadly Deals!, Domino Lady headlines her own series, and Detective Catherine Jackson and Secret Service Agent Samantha Patterson headline Suicide Bomb.
For this interview, I’m focusing on Tom Myers. Tom Myers is the sheriff of Sommersville, Georgia, a fictional small county east of Atlanta. Sheriff Myers headlines the Tom Myers Mystery series. There are two novellas to date: In The Wind and Such A Night. More books are planned for 2022. He also appears in Evil Ways and Deadly Games!, though not as the main character. He’s a character that would not fade away. He was always in the back of my mind, reminding me that he was there and ready for his turn in the spotlight. It took a few years, but once the right story for him hit, I gave him his shot. I have been very pleasantly surprised and pleased by the reaction to the books. It is a series of novellas and there are currently five planned with more to come. I guess he’ll be sticking around a while.
I guess for these series you do an extensive amount of character development. Does the hero or the villain challenge you more?
They both have their challenges. I never want my hero to be too perfect or too heroic. Conversely, I don’t want my villains to be too evil. There has to be something about the bad guy to root for at time, or to at least feel some sympathy for them. I like my characters to have those human flaws that make them interesting. Inventing a well-rounded character is tough, whether they be good or bad. Bad guys are a lot of fun to play, though.
… but just so long as they are not modeled after real people I suppose.
And what kind of research do you do before starting a work?
It depends on the story, but I research a lot of details about people’s jobs, how things work, when was a certain item invented, things like that. Google can be your friend, but I also like to meet and talk with people about their jobs. That gives me not only the details of the job, but insight into the people who do the job, which can help make it feel more authentic to the readers.
And what about life experience? Do real – world people and events directly inspire you?
Oh, sure. I write a lot of crime fiction and real-world crimes spark fictional plot ideas. If you’ve ever read a story about a person and thought, “This guy’s awful. I hate that guy!” then he might make a good fictional villain. Same with crimes reported. Using a real story as a starting point gives you a base to build upon.
I’ll assume you don’t draw too much from your own life experience for criminal inspiration, but more generally do any of your characters have a large amount of Tom Myers in them?
Evil Ways is probably the most “me” of anything I’ve written because I really didn’t know what I was doing. But I learned a lot by doing it. There are things I might do differently now, but Evil Ways is pure unfiltered me. A friend read it when it first came out and told me that he could hear my voice as he read the novel.
I also had a revelation while working on Evil Ways. Two brothers are the main characters. They haven’t seen one another in a few years and reconnect. Feedback on early drafts told me that they didn’t “feel” like brothers. I worked the problem and realized that, hey, I have a brother. How do we respond and react to one another? I gave one of the brothers a part of my personality and the other part of my brother, Wes, to the other. Suddenly, the characters came to life in ways I didn’t expect. Better yet, feedback came back much more positive that they now felt like brothers. I usually give my characters a personality boost this way when creating them.
Please share a sample of your work with us.
Thanks. This is a short bit from In The Wind – A Tom Myers Mystery. The sheriff arrives at the crime scene.
Tom Myers parked the truck on the side of the road, but left it running, his sheriff’s department flashers adding to the already impressive light show going on all around him. He pulled his jacket from the front seat and slipped it on along with a baseball cap emblazoned with the department’s logo on it. The early a.m. air was crisp and cool this morning in spite of the house engulfed in flames that the fire department was working to extinguish. There were two firetrucks already on scene. One was the town truck and the other the county truck, which was manned by volunteer firefighters, all of whom had apparently been called in before he had been called, which made sense.
The blaze burned hot, but aside from a couple of trees, they had kept the fire contained to the house and yard. Myers had heard the call put out to a neighboring station for help from their fire department as well as he drove in.
A third truck would arrive soon.
Myers understood just how lucky they were that the fire was contained so quickly. If the fire had reached the field that ran along the back and side of the property, their problems would have multiplied exponentially. The dry scrub brush would have gone up like lint and spread quickly. Beyond the field was the perimeter of Fort Greene State Park and thousands of trees that would turn this house fire into a raging inferno. Fortunately, it looked as though they had sidestepped that particular disaster.
The sheriff took the small three-foot deep incline from the road down to the driveway in a trot, careful not to slip in the mud created by the firehoses.
“Talk to me, Ed,” Myers said as he sidled up next to Sommersville County Fire Chief Edward Morgan, who was spearheading the containment efforts from the driveway next to the big fire truck his team had rode in on. Chief Morgan and his team were good at their job and he hoped that meant they would be able to contain the blaze.
“Morning, Tom,” the chief shouted over the noise. “Sorry to get you out and about in this chill so early!”
The sheriff skipped the pleasantries, rubbed his gloved hands over his arms to generate heat. “Please tell me this was an accident,” he shouted, leaning in close to be heard over the chaos surrounding them. “Faulty wiring or something like that!”
“I wish I could, Sheriff, but I’ve got it on good authority, this was no accident!”
“What good authority?”
Chief Morgan pointed toward the ambulance at the far end of the driveway. The medical examiner was kneeling next to several bodies lying on the concrete. The ME’s van and an ambulance had been parked to obscure the bodies from the street in case any curious onlookers showed up, which they had. At least eight people huddled on the opposite side of the street, trying to get a good look at the fire. A few snapped photos with their camera phones while at least one recorded the scene. He assumed that one would make it on the morning news.
Myers appreciated the medical examiner’s careful consideration of protecting the crime scene and the victims. The less information that got out unofficially, the better. It would only be a matter of time before Franklin Palmer or one of his reporters showed up and started poking their noses into things.
“The fire get them?” he asked the chief.
“Not at first.”
“What does that mean?” Myers asked, confusion etched on his features.
“Talk to McNally,” Chief Morgan said. “He can fill you in.”
“Right. Your guys got this under control?”
“We’ve got it cornered now. It won’t spread and I got back up on the way.”
“Good to know. There’s a lot of houses on the other side of that field.”
“Including yours, right?”
“Exactly! My wife would be pissed if it burned down this close to being paid for,” Myers said with a smile. He clapped the fire chief on the shoulder. “Where’s McNally?”
Morgan pointed toward the bodies. “One of your guys is already down there too,” he added.
To be continued in the pages of In The Wind – A Tom Myers Mystery. Now on sale.
As an Indie writer have you ever tried to get an agent?
I haven’t attempted to get one in several years now. I’ve had numerous agents tell me that my work is not sellable, even while I was selling books to publishers. I would love to do some work for the larger publishers, but my previous experience has soured me on the process of finding an agent. Will I try again some day? Never say never, but not right now.
A moment ago, you mentioned taking self publishing to another level by doing your own. So how does self-reliance work for you?
I started BEN Books to put a couple of my out of print stories back into print. Over the years, I started releasing novels and novellas through BEN Books as opposed to shopping them around to other publishers. This became important once I started writing my interconnected crime series. It seemed prudent to have them all under one publishing umbrella. I enjoy having a modicum of control over how these stories are put together.
With BEN Books, I release hardcovers, paperbacks, ebooks, and audio books. I try to reach as much of the reading audience as possible. As a small press publisher, the hardcover and paperbacks tend to be print on demand to keep my costs as low as possible.
I started out only doing my own work through BEN Books, but in 2021, I invited some authors in to write stories featuring characters from my Snow series. The characters are mine, but it was interesting to see how other writers handled them. It’s been great fun working with other writers like this. I don’t have any plans to become a full publisher of others as it’s just not in my wheelhouse. Never say never though, right?
Promotion is tough. You never know what will work or not so I try different things. Obviously, social media is an outlet, but it only reaches a small audience. I don’t have a large budget so buying ads is something I do infrequently. I have websites, a newsletter (sign up here: https://www.subscribepage.com/NashNews and get a free ebook copy of Snow Falls), I write and send press releases to book blogs, book websites, and my local news outlets. I also do public appearances, conventions, signings, fairs, local events, podcasts, virtual panels, author interviews, guest blogs, and the like. Whatever I can do to get the information in front of potential readers. All of them work to varying degrees, but together, they help get the word out.
Getting readers to buy books is a constant uphill battle. As an indie author, it’s tough. Distribution is not on my side. Sure, there’s Amazon, but there’s a lot of other books there too. I’m not usually in brick and mortar stores where my books become impulse buys. Most people reading my books go looking for them, which is awesome. Part of my job is to let more readers know my books are there and point them toward them. It’s a tough job at times. Writing the stories isn’t hard. The business side of it is tough. If I only knew then what I know now, I would have studied more business courses in college. Being an author is like running a small business.
That is a heck of a litany of activities. I find keeping a website, alone, feels like a full time job often enough. So through all of the promotion / commotion, how do you handle criticism?
I won’t lie, criticism stings. It’s also part of the job. I thank everyone who takes the time to leave a review or comment on something I’ve written, whether they like it or not. I figure, if the story moved them enough to write, it’s worth it for me to say thank you. I don’t debate reviews, though. That way lies madness.
But have you ever let reviews shape your on-going works?
I have never been motivated to change plans or storylines based on reviews.
On the flip side, what are the best compliments that you’ve gotten?
After Evil Ways came out, I went into work at my day job one morning to a ringing phone. I answered it and it was a coworker in another department. After I said hello, she says, “You sonuvabitch! I stayed up all night reading your damn book and I’m really tired this morning! Thanks a lot!” I took it as a compliment.
Another was also Evil Ways related. A friend said to me, after finishing the novel, “You’re a bit creepy to me now.” I also took that as a compliment.
One Snow review (I forget which book) mentioned that I needed to learn to write the books faster. Ha! Ha!
They seem all the more meaningful for the people being creative!
What had you learned after completing your first book?
I learned that I could do it. That was the big takeaway. There were times while writing my first novel way back when that I wasn’t so sure I could finish it. By reaching and typing those two amazing words, The End, I felt a great sense of accomplishment that bolstered me enough to try it again. That second novel became my first published novel.
I’ve also picked up tips and tricks along the way. There are things I did creatively in Evil Ways that I would probably do differently today, but it was a learning curve.
I mentioned that this website of mine takes up quite a bit of time. How about yourself? Have you started a website or developed an earlier one? If so, does it serve its purpose well?
I use www.bobbynash.com as a hub for all of my links. I also post blogs, interviews, reviews, news, and other posts there so there is regularly updated content. There are also links to all of my work. www.ben-books.com does the same for my BEN Books titles. www.abrahamsnow.com focuses on the Snow series. http://lancestar.blogspot.com focuses on the Lance Star: Sky Ranger series. I like having the sites. They are a lot of work, but I find them helpful.
Does blogging take away time from your writing? Do you recommend doing it?
I don’t blog often. Usually, if I do, it’s because something has really spurred my interest. The lone exception is the almost daily short writing update I post to www.patreon.com/bobbynash that lets my Patrons know how my day went.I don’t blog often. Usually, if I do, it’s because something has really spurred my interest. The lone exception is the almost daily short writing update I post to Patreon that lets my Patrons know how my day went.
Do you review books for blogging and posting to popular sites?
I just finished Michael Connelly’s latest, The Dark Hours. I will be posting a review to Amazon, GoodReads, and my social media as well. I try to post reviews of everything I read. Sometimes, they stack up and I post a lot at one time, but I eventually get them posted.
I sure wish everybody had your attitude!
So please talk about your newest works.
This year has truly been #TheSummerOfSnow. The Snow series had a couple of novella releases and the next is scheduled for December. I also tried an experiment and invited other writers to pen short stories featuring members of the Snow cast. We released them as $.99 ebooks and then collected every three together so they could release in paperback at the same size as the standard Snow novellas. That has put out a good deal of Snow material this year. You can read synopsis and updates on each at my Snow site.
My latest release is Such A Night – A Tom Myers Mystery. A double homicide in the undeveloped section of Sommersville County, Georgia uncovers long-buried local secrets, danger, and betrayal. Sheriff Myers has to solve the case and set things right before buried animosities threaten to turn Sommersville into a warzone. Such A Night is the second book in the Tom Myers series. Sheriff Myers also appears in Evil Ways, Deadly Games!, and the upcoming Evil Intent.
You can find Such A Night at Amazon.
Of your earlier work, what has shown the best performance?
Evil Ways is probably sold the most over time. I still sell copies today. Jamie Chase and I did a graphic novel adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ At The Earth’s Core for Dark Horse Comics that was really well received.
Have you ever re-released a book?
I have re-released books after they go out of print. Evil Ways and Snow Falls were both re-released at BEN Books after going out of print at the old publishers. I have also collected older short stories in new collections. I love being able to keep these stories in print for new audiences to discover.
Did you do any editing or adding to the text when you have?
I haven’t really made any changes when re-releasing except changing some dates in Evil Ways.
As a seasoned writer, what advice would you give to a novice?
Have fun is always rule #1. If you want to write, determine what your idea of success is, and then set your goals accordingly. Not all writers have the same end goal. Some want to write as a career, others as a hobby. Some want to self-publish while others prefer traditional. Set attainable goals and then celebrate them when they are accomplished.
The celebration part cannot be overstated, I think – especially as a first timer! And what does the future hold for you!
Hopefully, I’ll still be writing and publishing. Also, hopefully, I will be making a halfway decent living at it. That would be nice.
Thank you for sharing your story and wisdom. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you.
Thanks for the opportunity to gab about my work. This was fun.
The country of Nigeria is considered to be a major cultural center, or perhaps the cultural hub of African literature and the arts in general. Its Igbo people include the first male and female authors of international acclaim, Chinua Achebe, and Flora Nwapa, respectively. Its Yoruba people include the first Nobel Prize winner in black African literature, Wole Soyinka. More historically, the first accounting of the slave trade to the Americans written by an African writer was penned by the Nigerian Muhammad ibn Masani who also wrote numerous works in the Hausa language in the 17th century (Wikipedia) and there are many other acclaimed writers in Nigerian society, both contemporary and historical. Thus, it’s a pleasure to get to know another person from this part of the world, Mr. Michael Chukwudi.
It’s a great honour to get to know you, so please tell us about yourself. What have you written?
My name is Michael Chukwudi, I’m a Nigerian writer. Despite graduating with a First Class Honours in Biology, I developed a keen interest in creative writing. The “UnDeserved” is my debut book.
What motivated you to take up writing?
The society! The society of man has always sparked my creativity. I have always wanted to use writing to correct the wrongs in the society of man…
When did you choose this particular path?
As early as I could fathom. I knew I loved telling stories when I was a child and my audience will always grin wide in enjoyment each time I did tell them a story.
Plotting a course at such a young age… did you have a specific kind of readership in mind from early on? Have you kept to one particular class of literature?
My writing is for all who want to create a positive change— that person who is passionate about creating a world we can proudly call a home. A world deviod of hate, chaos, killings and ethnic/racial bigotry.
I have written across categories but for the purpose of commercial publishing, I will stick to historical fiction. It helps me tell the story without compromise— especially the story of Africa and her people.
Living in Boston, as I do, I enjoy historical fiction, both on paper and in the tourist industry. Sadly, in a large part of American society, however, people have begun to gravitate towards fictional history rather than historical fiction. But I digress…
Do you use historical figures to model your characters?
Yes, I do. Like in the book ‘UnDeserved’ my characters represent Igbo people and her culture.
Your main character in Undeserved is Ikechukwu. What makes him stand out from others?
Ikechukwu implored patients, tenacity and perseverance to reach his life goals. Life for him was full of ups and downs but because he believed it was part of test of time, he kept moving. His tenacity made him win the ‘Spelling Bee Competition’ and by knowing that the sun will shine on those who stand before shining on those who kneel under them, he evolved victorious; despite the challenges he met on the road to success.
You use a famous Nigerian proverb. Would you please tell us what it is and what it means to your writing?
Smiles! The proverb means that the biggest thing will be done first than the smallest one. When finishing the biggest first, we will find it easy to finish the other problems. That’s to say that Ikechukwu emerged victorious by solving his problems one after the other…
Would you please share a short excerpt from your novel.
The early morning birds’ silence seemed like something strange had happened at night in the kingdom. Thick hazes covered leaves of plants. The cloud was misty and ready to weep. The New Yam festival had come and gone, but the atmosphere remained awake for the harvest to come. People worked on their farms from cock-crow till the chickens came to roost.
Perhaps, it was an abomination for rain to fall during that time of the year. The rain before harvest already fell a week ago, softening the earth. Obiajulu prepared to go to the farm with her children. She carried a cane basket containing a machete, hoe, jar of water and food. The children came out reluctantly to join her, shivering in the cold. Though they were hard-working and dutiful, the weather called for more bedtime.
‘Obioma,’ Obiajulu said, ‘you will not follow us to the farm. We will stop by Mama Emeka’s hut, so that you can join your friends to play. When we come back, we will fetch you.’
‘Mama, I will follow you to the farm,’ Obioma said frowning and posing to cry. Obiajulu bent, dropped the cane basket she carried, opened the food and removed a piece of meat. When she offered it to him, he rejected at first; but conceded after several pleas from his mother and a promise to catch a cricket for him.
Mama Emeka’s hut was about ten poles away and in no time, Obiajulu and her children arrived. There were bushes from the right to the left side of the hut’s entrance. Two huts were a little distant from the road. Papa Emeka’s hut stood fenced with thick red earth and the main entrance was usually closed with ogiris trees, thatched together as a gate. Mama Emeka and her children had painted pretty patterns on it, making the huts beautiful.
‘Obioma, you can now go in. If Mama Emeka is still at home, greet her for me,’ Obiajulu said.
Obioma nodded and waved his tiny hands to say goodbye. It was written across his oblong face that going to the farm was all he wanted. Nonetheless, the weather was too cold to allow him follow his mother and siblings.
So you foreshadow that Obioma is and may grow to be family oriented. What else made you choose this particular passage to share with us?
This passage didn’t only portray that natural aspects of Africa. It went on to bring that nostalgic feelings of children posing to follow their parents to the farm. It depicted the African culture, weather and behaviourism of the people of Africa in the dim time.
If you decide to have a hero and / or a villain, which do you find more challenging to invent?
Inventing the hero. This is because when I create my hero, I want to give him/her a special trait he/she will be remembered for…
Sounds wise to me! I guess we don’t need to remind the world that evil people exist, either.
Is there an author or book that you find especially inspirational?
Yes! He’s Chinua Achebe. I’d say my life as an author wouldn’t be complete without learning from people like him. I love the way he told his story with elements of being an Africa embedded in it.
Chinua Achebe’s influence is broad indeed! A long time ago, I had a year of African literature during college here in America. Achebe’s Things Fall Apart was the first book that we read.
Another writer whom I have interviewed for this blog a while ago is Ephraim Michael (also Nigerian), and he too cited Achebe as a major source of inspiration to his own work.
And so what kind of research do you do before starting a work?
The people in the place of my setting, their culture and what they needed to adjust to accommodate all.
That is good for non-Africans to learn as well. In the past few years, American students have been exposed too much to the notion that foreigners are people to be disdained. They need to be exposed to a deeper history of their own culture.
What has been the best compliment you have received?
You are a role model! I have received this compliment a lot from budding writers I do not even know in person.
That is especially good to hear! That is the best form of compliment. But, then how do you handle criticism?
I have not gotten a negative criticism though, but if it comes, I will see it as a way to improve more; if the criticism is well constructed.
Is there something special you learned from writing your first book?
I learned every writer improves by passing of the day. Working with ‘The Zuma Publishing’ editor, I learned the act of writing the more.
This is a word to budding writers out there. Read read and read before you write because no writer writes in a vacuum. Do not rush into publishing, take time to discover who your intended audience are…
Read, read, read is also the top advice of one of America’s most popular authors, Stephen King, in his book On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft. I hope that you develop the same breadth of readership that he has!
As a role model and a writer, where do you see yourself in the near future?
In the near future, I see myself as a big time author creating positive change with my writing.
And I hope that you realize your goal! Thank you for taking this time to tell us about yourself and your writing.
“Undeserved” can be found at the following Amazon link https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09167ZVST?ref_=pe_3052080_276849420 outside of Africa. In Africa, it is also available at Zuma Publishing as a paperback and as an e-book.
Talking with me now is someone who bleeds ink while transfusing a chill into other people’s veins. Scott Hughes works in various modalities including short stories and poetry along with a novel in the works. Andrew Davidson, himself a Bram Stoker Award nominee, describes one of his works quite succinctly:
Nimble and poetic and downright freaky, The Last Book You’ll Ever Read startles, unsettles, and deeply delights. Scott Hughes has crafted one trip of a read.
Speaking about Scott’s poetry, the editor of a cultural journal, Martin Lammon, remarks:
As the poems in this collection collide, something new appears, something both lyric and numeric, surreal and mundane, irreverent and serious. These poems will knock you for a loop
When he’s not writing unsettling voyages to knock you for a loop, he works as the head of the English & Humanities division at Central Georgia Technical College.
Scott, thanks for the opportunity to meet you! Please tell us more about yourself.
I am lifelong Georgian who received a bachelor’s degree in English from Mercer University and an MFA in creative writing from Georgia College & State University. I have a collection of horror stories, The Last Book You’ll Ever Read, that was released by Weasel Press this past September and a collection of poetry, The Universe You Swallowed Whole, forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in February. I have a collection of speculative fiction, Horrors & Wonders, that I’m currently shopping around to publishers, and I am almost finished with a young adult novel I’ve been working on for years called Red Twin.
And what motivates this diversity of writing?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved reading and writing. I used to write and illustrate my own stories, like a lot of kids do, as soon as I could hold crayons and pencils. My mom has a ton of those saved in boxes somewhere. I’ve always loved the idea of creating my own worlds—stories, characters, settings. And on a fundamental level, I write because I don’t know any other way. I don’t know how to not write. Whenever I go for a stretch of time without writing creatively, whether it’s because I’m grading student work or I’m sick or something, I start feeling the words building up and trying to claw their way out of my brain.
Wow! I wish I could harness that energy. When did you first experience words clawing around in your head?
Probably around nine or ten when I realized that a writer was something that somebody could be—although, like I said, I haven’t really had much say in the matter. I have to write, and I’ve always felt that urge to create. I guess as far as deciding to write as a career, I began to consider that more seriously in high school when I got involved with creative writing classes and my school’s literary magazine.
Does that entrenched passion have a target audience? Do you want to touch any particular demographics?
It really depends on the particular piece I’m working on. I’m not one of those writers who can “write to market” or who sees myself as a writer of one thing geared toward one target audience. I write for myself first—something that I’d want to read or that just keeps calling to me to be written—and then I think later about the target audience, whether it’s adult horror fans for The Last Book You’ll Ever Read or young adult readers for Red Twin.
Have you written in just one category or do you see yourself as a multiple genre writer?
As with my last answer and a target audience, I also don’t see myself firmly within one genre. I write a lot of poetry, and I have written some literary fiction (mainly back in the days of my MFA program). Red Twin is a YA steampunk novel. With the rest of my fiction, the narrowest category I’d say I fall under is speculative fiction. Horror, fantasy, and science fiction are the genres I stick to because those are the ones I grew up reading. That being said, I’d never rule out writing a mystery or a romance or anything else if I had an idea for one or if that’s the direction the story itself started to go.
Is there an author or book that you find especially inspirational (I think I might know an answer to this question)?
Stephen King. Stephen King. Stephen King. When I started reading his books (around the age of twelve), that really inspired me to write. I loved reading and writing before he came into my orbit, but he was the first person that my brain identified as a Writer with a capital W. There was also something taboo about reading his stuff when I was young. This was in the early to mid ‘90s in the Deep South, which was the height of Satanic panic. I heard adults everywhere, on TV and in my town, talk about how evil writers like King and Koontz were, and other kids my age were forbidden from reading their books or watching horror movies. My parents, however, saw how fascinated and inspired I was by King—and that his books weren’t hypnotizing me into sacrificing animals or whatever people thought—and they never tried to censor anything I read. I can’t thank them enough for that.
What has been the most difficult thing you have struggled with since becoming a writer?
Adulthood getting in the way is the hardest thing—having other responsibilities and a full-time job since I’m not at a place where I can just be a writer. After my MFA program, I went for quite a while without writing regularly. I had story ideas practically spewing from my ears, but after teaching all day, I was just too exhausted at the end of the work day to put any words to paper. I’ve also struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life, and those can be quite paralyzing, literally. In the past few years, I’ve been able to focus and dedicate time to my writing because it’s important to me professionally, but it’s also good for my mental health. I still have those days when the anxiety and depression win out, but those are much less frequent now since I’ve been able to write more.
Writing does seem to act as a catharsis for many people – even if it only involves keeping a journal.
Can you tell us about the main character in your current work in young adult fiction?
In Red Twin, my main character is Jac Ellery. She and her twin brother are teenagers who have gone through a rocky year after the sudden disappearance of their mother. When the book opens, they’ve just been kicked out of the third school in a row, and their father is running out of options. Then a man arrives at their door with a letter from the twins’ estranged cousin—he’s offering to take them in. The easiest way for me to describe the book to people who ask is that it’s like a steampunk X-Files. Jac is the Scully, the skeptic, in the world of the book, and her cousin Benedict, a college professor and paranormal investigator, is the Mulder.
The first chapter of Red Twin is on my website: https://www.writescott.com/red-twin-1
When you’re writing stories, which do you find more challenging – inventing the hero or the villain?
Both are difficult. I don’t know that I could say one is more challenging for me than the other. The problem is that, for the most part, you can’t make the hero too good or the villain too bad.
And why is that?
For me, heroes that are too good or villains that are too bad cause me to lose interest in them, as a writer and a reader. You have to add flaws to the hero and relatability to the villain to make them believable—mixing a little villainy into your hero and a little heroism into your villain. The challenge, or balancing act, is making both the hero and villain equally compelling because, for me, one is only as good as the other—their dynamic makes or breaks the book.
Well, I wish I had known that wisdom in advance of my first writing. I’ll be keeping that need for balance in mind from now on!
So what kind of research do you do before starting a work?
I try not to do too much research before I start writing or while I’m writing a rough draft unless it’s absolutely necessary. If there’s a detail that plays an integral role in how the plot proceeds, I’ll do research on that particular thing, but I’ve found that if I start doing too much research beforehand or while writing, I’ll easily get sucked into a rabbit hole for days or weeks. I typically save most research for after I’ve already written a draft. Then I try to limit myself to what I need to get the time period right, the location right, etc. Again, because I love reading and learning new things so much, I have to be careful because I’m afraid I’d wake up one day and be ninety years old and know all kinds of information—how horses were groomed in Greece 2500 years ago and how big each of Jupiter’s moons is—but not have written anything myself.
Gee, I thought ancient Greek horse grooming was common knowledge. But seriously, that prioritization is something to think about. Having written in the sciences, I’ve had to do large chunks of research beforehand, but I like the idea of diving straight in for fiction.
What has been the best compliment you have received?
I think one of the best things to hear as a writer is that something you wrote made someone else want to write. I’ve had a few people tell me that over the years, and it’s humbling every time because that’s how all writers get started: one day we read something that made us want to write.
That makes a lot of sense. On the flip side of reader responses, how do you handle criticism?
Wanting to become a writer involves, to some extent, a bit of ego—I have something to say that the world needs to hear. To actually continue on the path of being a writer, you have to develop a thick skin. You are going to get rejected. A lot. You’re going to feel that the world doesn’t care that you think you have something to say. Once your writing gets out into the world and people read it, you’re going to have some people who love it and some who don’t—and those that actively hate it and can’t wait to tell you or post a bad review. There can be value in reading some criticism and trying to make changes to your work, if it’s something like the reader didn’t feel that you created a believable character or they felt that the plot was too predictable or cliché. But you can get too consumed by the criticism, so much so that you don’t ever want to write anything again or you try to write something that you think everyone is going to love and no one is going to hate, which is an impossible task. This might sound weird, but to some extent, I prefer someone giving me criticism or a bad review than someone just shrugging and expressing no emotion whatsoever about my writing.
That’s a point with which I heartily concur! It doesn’t seem weird at all to me. Disinterest feels like the worst of all responses. Even a bad review shows that your work can hold a person’s attention.
Aside from reviews, how do you promote your books? Any tips you can share?
I’ve tried all kinds of ways, and that’s something new that I’ve learned: promoting a book is just as difficult, if not more so, than actually writing one. I constantly post about my books (and other writing) and offer promos and special deals on social media. I’ve done readings and signings as well as a couple of conventions. I’ve sent emails, postcards, letters, and text messages. I’ve purchased ads on podcasts. As far as tips I can share, since promoting a book is as difficult as writing one, the same is true about getting better and becoming successful at it: the only way is to do it more.
Is there something you learned from writing your first book?
I think the main thing is the difficulty of promoting a book, which I discussed earlier. I’ve had to learn how to incorporate promotion time into my schedule of work, writing, family, friends, pets, and everything else.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully, I’ll have a few more books published and be in a position where I’m a full-time writer.
Any last words?
Yikes! Am I about to be executed? Read my stuff!
Nobody wants the former, but we’re cool with the latter. People should get more poetry in their diet, and we can definitely use some literary horror in our heads to push aside some other horrors in the non-fiction world. So if you wish to learn more about Scott’s work and get some of it for yourself, check out the following:
Thanks for sharing your time and ideas. It has been a pleasure.
Talking with me now is Nick Crutchley who has made a significant contribution to patient narrative literature with Deadweight (2019, Night Owl). He presents a personal and powerful look at life with multiple mental disorders in a book which leaves strong impressions on the reader. Comments made by reviewers at Goodreads include:
The subject matter is serious, yet I found the delivery addictive… The aim of Deadweight is to promote a more compassionate society, and I think it certainly does this by showing what happens when there is no compassion. A reader only displays a smidgen of the author’s bravery: the author who recorded his close, personal, and painful experiences to the public to help others. It brings a tear to my eye.
And by a teacher:
I found this book very insightful, allowing me to empathize with my friends and colleagues that have such issues but with the students that I teach who often find it difficult to express how they are feeling. My embarrassment is how naïve I was before I read Deadweight.
And at Amazon:
Exposing demons of the mind was captured in it’s best by the author. I felt as if I was experiencing the turmoil myself.
In addition to writing Deadweight, Nick keeps an inspiring website, http://www.nickcrutchley.com, which provides a detailed look at therapy (the STEPPS approach), poetry, short stories, and a personal favorite of mine – environmental issues.
Nick, of the increasing number of books illustrating the personal world of mental illness, yours sounds to be one of the most intense! So what is it about mental illness that motivated your writing the most?
Seeing the suffering that others endure. Seeing the erosion of the spiritual self by a consumption-driven socio-economic-politic nightmare.
Why write a novelised autobiography about your early experiences?
In Deadweight, I hoped to put the reader in the heart and mind of someone with depression, anxiety, delusions, and other symptoms which, at the time, I had no name for, such as dissociation and emotional dysregulation. Deadweight was written seven years before my being formally diagnosed with seven personality disorders, and as such, is an unbiased, pure account built on experience rather than something that reflects diagnostic criteria.
Shortly after its first publication (2013) I had a breakdown, and took Deadweight off the market,believing it, like myself, had no value. Then, while homeless in the Scottish Highlands (2018), the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder was given, and with it, STEPPS therapy. During STEPPS, I met wonderful and strong people suffering diverse symptoms, including severe self-harm, dissociation and rapid mood swings. Exhumed and edited, Deadweight reemerged, but with it the same doubts about its value. Only after six other personality disorders were added to my diagnosis (2020), including Schizotypal and Paranoid personality disorders, did this novelised autobiography come into focus—ring true. Maybe the story of my early life, with all its bizarre happenings, could have value? Just maybe?
I think it’s extremely difficult to overstate the value of the contributions by writers such as yourself. You help to humanize the conditions that are poorly understood yet readily stigmatized. In America (2019), we were saddled with a head of state whom I refer to only as The Embarrassment. He has actively reinforced the stigmatization of persons with a mental illness.
What are the social and treatment challenges of mental health that you see in the UK?
There has been a drive to shift understanding about mental illness across the UK, with initiatives such as the Time to Change campaign. Depression and anxiety have entered the mainstream, but conditions such as Borderline Personality Disorder are sometimes portrayed in a negative light, such as in the character, Dex, Daredevil’s anti-hero on Netflix. There remains fear and ignorance about some disorders, especially those on the schizophrenia spectrum. Why does one think of multiple personalities with schizophrenia—a falsehood perpetuated throughout the decades? How to break the cycle? Compassion?
We live in a target-driven society, leading to stressful jobs. We are immersed in advertisements that manipulate our wants, and reinforce egos that consume to reinforce their illusionary nature. ‘I’ has become more important than community. Our societal model celebrates the rich, places the economy over environment, and commoditises each of us every time we click a link. A nurturing, loving environment is buried beneath a social-media landslide of blame, ridicule and anonymous hatred. How does a developing personality adapt, trapped inside such a high-pressure environment?
Children need a loving, nurturing environment for their brains to develop, and avoid conditions such a BPD forming. Teaching children to communicate feelings in non-destructive ways perhaps should be part of the curriculum, rather than waiting until the condition forms and skills learned post diagnosis. After all, having a more granular emotional vocabulary can lessen emotional intensity, and surely would prove a better means of communicating one’s internal experiences than the ubiquitous emoticon. In short, mental health services will always be underfunded and overwhelmed while cultural and familial environments increase the potential for mental health disorder formation. Prevention rather than cure.
The topic of children really resonates with me now, as I’ve been reading about child sexual abuse in a book by Christopher Pelloski. He encourages abuse to be seen as a cause of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and echoes your convictions about communication.
So what are your thoughts about the UK in particular and society more generally?
The biggest challenge the UK faces is the lack of wisdom and compassion in individuals, groups, systems and organisations. Books, plays and non-sensational media could help permeate society with themes and issues that touch a chord within those who feel lost, or those condemned to silence through fear of not being socially accepted. Through kind creativity, we can nurture compassionate human beings, not consuming automatons who seek meaning in the mall.
Now sharing thoughts about her work with me is duly recognized poet and artist, Mystqx Skye. With some seriously good recognition as a poet, what would you like to tell us about yourself?
As a book worm I find this question really interesting. I always wonder what made the author write in that way. What has been his inspiration, what is going on in his mind, what has his heart been through and what secrets does his soul hold?
And as an author…?
But as an author who has a lot to say in books, I find it really difficult to tell people about myself. Nevertheless, to answer the question, here is something about me: I feel like I’ve lived a thousand lives. I share half forgotten memories with someone I can’t mentally remember but whose imprints remain in me. Trapped in a world where my wings are clipped, my only breathing ground is to write and so in my writings are pieces of me – unveiled.
So describe to us what you’ve unveiled on the published page so far, please.
Bared – Beneath a Myriad of Skies is my first published poetry book. The cover image tells a lot about what it is about. It’s a woman consoling herself as she tries to bare her heart and soul. The mandala tattooed on her skin signifies her life stories and the subtitle – “beneath a myriad of skies” denotes the different times and places that has witnessed her confessions. This poetry book is unique because it features mandala colouring pages and blank stationery pages for journaling. Readers can actually use it like a self healing activity book or a diary where they can write their own thoughts.
My sister is enjoying mandala coloring books right now! So I need to buy a copy for her.
What has been the best compliment you have received?
I thought digging deep into the recesses of one’s heart and soul was the hardest thing because it’s most of the time emotionally draining. But going through a roller coaster ride with my emotions and pouring it all in my poetry is a rewarding experience. Somehow at the end of it – I was able to find a relief of heart. After having gotten this book nominated for the Golden Door Awards (truth and integrity award giving body for writers globally), I was inspired to write about the negative truths in life. This is by far the most challenging thing I have ever written. It takes a lot of creative juices to write the truth with a pinch of humour and to publish it, I would need more courage. At the end of the day, chances are I would be getting enemies than friends. Nobody likes the ugly truth but I feel it has to be heard, so I am daring to voice it out.
Too true! My own book’s subtitle is both a negative and an ugly truth. I don’t know if I’ve made enemies yet, but my writing could inspire resentment among some of my target audience. But, hey, if we’re not controversial, we may all restrict ourselves to writing children’s books (BTW, I don’t mean to slight children’s books authors).
What are you currently working on?
After pledging such a dramatic promise to the world about voicing out the truth, I decided to write and publish my next book which I mentioned above. It is about nothing that would stroke anyone’s ego but a witty eye opener activity book. It will also include blank pages where one can vent and write out their own contradictions and funny editorial cartoons to lighten up the mood.
I like the idea of interactive writing. My own work shifts between styles a lot in one volume, but it never really invites the reader to take part. Listening to you makes me wonder if your kind of writing style can draw people away from video games and heated exchanges on social media.
Please share one of your poems.
This is my personal favourite from Bared – Beneath a Myriad of Skies
That sounds much more passionate and enveloping than Frost’s Fire and Ice!
Thank you again for sharing.
To learn more about a myriad of skies, visit www.mystqx.com and for more reader opinons and insights, check out her social media links:
Jill Amy Rosenblatt
I am pleased to get to know Ms. Jill Amy Rosenblatt. Her work includes fiction about identity transformation, empowerment, and relationships in women. More recently, she has penned a three volume crime series enjoyable for any age of adult. Each volume has a 4.5 star rating at Amazon.
Tell us about yourself. What got you into writing, and where have you gone?
I have always had an overactive imagination. As a kid, I was always daydreaming and making up stories. I loved movies and television and started out writing screenplays. After a while, I decided to take a chance on writing a novel. It was very intimidating! Once I finished my first book, I knew I was hooked.
I am the author of five novels. The first two books, Project Jennifer and For Better or Worse, were published through Kensington Press. My current project is the crime suspense fiction series, The Fixer. The first three books in the series are The Naked Man, The Killing Kind, and The Last Romanov. I decided to self-publish The Fixer series.
So you’ve worked in multiple genres. What has that been like?
The Fixer is a huge change for me. I started off writing what is called chick-lit. Then, I moved on to women’s fiction. The switch to crime suspense feels comfortable for me. I always enjoyed reading suspense and spy novels so I think I didn’t choose this genre, it chose me!
Is there an author or book that you find especially inspirational?
I love reading Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon novels. I wait every year for him to release a new book in July. I’m also a big fan of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. I just recently discovered the John Dortmunder comic crime caper series by Donald E. Westlake. I love these books! He was wonderful with his narrative.
You like seeing a character play across multiple stories, obviously. How would you describe your own protagonist or ‘fixer’?
Katerina Mills is a New York City college student who finds herself in dire circumstances. She has two weeks to come up with $14,000 dollars or she will be out of school, out of her apartment, and out of luck. A fateful phone call brings the lucrative and dangerous opportunity to become a professional fixer.
She can solve her cash problem if she solves the problems of New York’s wealthy and powerful men, no matter what it takes. There are no rules and no refunds. Kat soon discovers there’s no escape.
She may be taking her Ethics course during the day, but her job has her struggling to answer the question, How much is she willing to do to survive?
Now you’ve given us a chance to see her ponder. This passage takes place in a less – than – upscale diner:
Use your present contact to find new contacts. Trust me, your connection knows a lot more than he or she is telling you.
Armed with the delivery address from Henri Letourneau, Kat found Doc in the back of a grim, gray diner. The old checkerboard linoleum floor was dull and scuffed, the vinyl booths faded and worn; the original color was anybody’s guess. A prime place for a kitchen-fire-for-an-insurance-check, Kat thought.
Doc was sitting at a small square table. He had a plate of steak and eggs before him, the blood from the rare steak seeping into the eggs. Kat noted that Doc’s beard remained impeccable even as his shirt became dotted with stains. His big belly made him dive forward each time he took a bite. He ate between asthmatic wheezes.
Kat sat down across from him. “Morning, Doc. I need to find a thief.”
“Have coffee first,” he said. He waved a sausage-like finger at the waitress making the rounds with a half empty pot.
A woman with skin like a worn leather bag wearing a name tag that said ‘Connie’, sauntered over. She upended the cup in front of Katerina, filled it, and walked away.
“What do you want a thief for?” Doc wheezed.
“I need someone who’s an expert in gaining residential access—preferably out on Long Island, close to the Hamptons.”
Doc swallowed and breathed. His breathing had a frightening cadence: in, out, and wait, every breath sounding final.
“Miss Kitty, if you need money, I can set you up with some very nice loan sharks. Times are tight. The vig rates have really plunged.”
“I don’t need a loan, Doc.”
“Then whatever you’re into, get out of it.”
Katerina drew in a deep breath. “I’m not ‘into’ anything. It’s not really a—” she leaned in and lowered her voice, “—theft. It’s a retrieval.”
Doc put his utensils down and wiped his hands on a napkin, giving himself time to chew, swallow, and complete another cycle of breathing.
“Doc, I’ve wracked my brain trying to find an alternative. I’m the cable girl…my car broke down…I’m a Jehovah’s Witness—”
“No one would believe you’re a Jehovah’s Witness, doll. With that hair, you look like jailbait getting ready for your centerfold spread.”
“Thank you, Doc. You’re a big help.”
“I call it as I see it, gorgeous.”
“I can’t figure out how to be invited into the house, so I need a thief to tell me how to break in.”
“My guy isn’t gonna do that.”
The diner grew louder. Kat glanced around at the booths and tables filling up. The men and women had faces with hard edges and deep lines. She saw defeat and resignation. A sigh escaped her.
She refocused. “Doc, I need the name.”
Doc took a moment to suck in a breath. He pushed his plate away.
“Goes by the name of Winter. He’s got a loft in the Meatpacking District.”
“Thanks, Doc. I owe you.”
“Don’t bother. I didn’t do you a favor.”
In this film noir ambiance, do you find villains or heros easier to portray?
I love them both. I’m so fortunate that this series has taken on a life of its own. These characters run around in my head, paying no attention to me, and doing whatever they want. I just write it all down!
What I find interesting is that none of my villains see themselves as villains. They think very well of themselves.
I’ve only completed one story, but when I was two thirds done with it, I had the realization that I was no longer in control of what the characters did. That time had a great feel to it. I cannot imagine what a whole series would feel like, but it must be wonderful. Until I wrote, it never occurred to me how much autonomy lay within a manuscript.
Are any of the characters especially reflective of yourself?
No, there isn’t one character that represents me specifically. I think all of the main characters I’ve written have personality characteristics either I wish I had or maybe they are able to workout issues I’m still working on.
And do you research much for a book?
I love research. I can’t seem to write anything without looking something up! I am so lucky to have met lovely and kind people who give their time so generously to speak with me, even check the technical aspects of scenes to make sure I have it right.
I love research too, but I also feel spoiled to have wikipedia open for those simple but annoying details about which some reader, somewhere is going to raise their brows at you. Having access to the right people is also very dear.
On the other hand, what has your biggest struggle been?
Between For Better or Worse and The Fixer series, I suffered from a severe case of writer’s block. It was a very depressing time and I wondered if I would ever write again. I could not get attached to any idea. I once wrote sixty pages of a new project and then it died on me. I was lucky to have friends and family who continued to encourage me not to give up creating. I feel so fortunate to have come out of it.
It shows how much writers depend upon the people around them – not just editors and customers – to help us hold it together sometimes.
How do you handle criticism?
I feel badly if someone didn’t have a good reading experience. I will definitely question myself and search to find out what I could have done better or where I missed the mark.
How do you promote your books?
Unfortunately, not as well as I should. I’m a bit hopeless at marketing. I do distribute the books to every available sales channel I can find. I enter the books in contests in the hopes of some increased visibility. I do post in some Facebook groups. I try to introduce the books to bloggers who are open to reading the genre.
What do you find to be the biggest challenge for selling crime novels?
I don’t know if it’s a challenge to this particular genre but I think it’s a common struggle for authors to find ways to meet new readers and introduce their characters to an audience.
Is there something you learned from writing your first book?
Since I published my first book with Kensington Press, it was a great experience for me to see the publishing process. I was able to go through the process of working with an editor and learning how each draft addressed a particular aspect of the manuscript (ex. editing, copyediting, etc). I try to follow the same type of process even though I’m self-publishing now. It was also a chance to learn that you have to be willing to be critical of the work and challenge yourself if the story is as strong as it should be. Are there better story choices? Would the character truly make that decision or would they do something else?
I had a reader emphatically tell me that one of my characters would ‘simply never talk like that.’ Having someone make you think like that is most valuable.
So what has been the best compliment for The Fixer?
I’m very happy that I’ve received positive feedback for the series. There was a lovely review in Indies Today calling The Fixer series “ridiculously addictive.”
‘Addictive’ sounds like the compliment ne plus ultra for a series!
And where do you see yourself five years from now (when we can finally take these masks off!)?
I hope I will still be working on this series, and it would be lovely if I were doing it full time.
Thank you so much for having me for the interview. I appreciate it!
Thank you for sharing!
To learn more about Jill’s work, visit her website at http://www.jillamyrosenblatt.com .
Her other social links are
Twitter: @JillARosenblatt and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorJillAmyRosenblatt/
Talking with me now is a man who has been writing from a young age. Nick Savage hails from the greater Chicago area and now resides in Florida. His writing appeals to a wide age range, and he has the daring to have written across a broad list of genres, even venturing into music lyrics. And if his cat is anything like my cats, when he writes, he probably enjoys the assistance of multiple species of editors (he can confirm that in a future interview).
Welcome, Nick, and thank you for sharing your story with my readers. So tell us a bit about yourself and your writing.
I always find this question a hard one. What little thing do I pluck out of my mind to tell the reader about? I write books, that’s obvious, but I have also been involved with music projects as well. Writing both lyrics and music for various bands. I am one of those writers that crosses genre lines as well. Having released books in both Adult Contemporary Romance and Young Adult Urban Fantasy. So, I guess I wear a few more hats than others, but still less than some. And if you couldn’t tell so soon, my mind runs in ten different directions at 100 miles an hour.
That’s quite a challenging bit of movement! What motivated this activity?
This has its roots in my musical start. I think a part of me always wanted to be a writer but getting started at such a young age, the idea of the limelight got a hold of me. Though, there was always this nagging notion that I was wrong about it. So it was a constant battle. But as time went on and the music played, I found other mediums of writing to feel more complete and more comfortable. So, I think ending up writing novels was always in the cards. I’m just glad I got here when I did.
And how do your story ideas arise?
As far as what motivates the actual stories in my writing, that comes from the world around me. I think the best thing we can do as people is try to get others to better understand the world around them and think critically about it. The hard part is writing it in both a unique way and a way that doesn’t come across like a cheesy after school television special. I touch on social issues, family issues, and general life issues in very subtle ways and in ways that while the reader knows what is going on, it is not preachy.
Yes, that’s the mode that I want to fall into for future writing, myself. However, TotS is hardly subtle, but then I never intended it to be. I target a narrow audience. How about yourself? Do you have a cherished demographic?
This is a loaded question for me because I have always struggled with narrowing it down. I love anyone who reads, really. So when I write my fantasy series, yes it is young adult in terms of main characters and setting but the cast is really ensemble and because of that, (in part) i have found that the books appeal to a much broader age range. I’ve had readers as young as 13 (like the 13 y/o who also read King) and up into their 60’s. I find having a broad age range of characters painted in realism helps catch the attention of a broader audience. I guess what I am trying to say is that, I want wide range of audience and hope my writing continues to pull such.
And I guess a wide cast drives universal themes as well, so that keeps everyone’s attention. I’m in my 50’s and am just spending some free time in manga – Japanese graphic novels and series. There is not an age range that manga artists don’t cater to, it seems, but I still have to find the broad themed works. They’re out there for people who know where to look, I’m sure.
And on the topic of age, at what age did you decide that you wanted to write?
Touching on my start in music, writing on some level has always been in my blood. I wrote my first song at the age of ten and first short story when I was only a few years older. They both were horrible looking back, but i think a lot of our (writers) first works are. They need to be in order to get to the good stuff underneath. I think the first good lyrical set I wrote was for a band called Mafia Kill Shop, the song was Voices of Chaos. I wrote some unsold screenplays after that but was not a huge fan of the format at the time. Once I got into novels I found my voice as an author. It was nice. I felt like I found my home.
So, you’ve got a 5-star start to the series The Nation. In your first volume, Us of Legendary Gods, who is your main character? What are they like?
The main protagonist is a girl named Scarlett McAllister. She is intelligent but not as intelligent as her cousin Connor (also a character in the book). While she is pretty she doubts herself a lot. She is the voice of reason within her group of friends but understands that they need to have fun. She is not a total goody-two-shoes but at the same time tries to be the angel on her friends’ shoulder.
In Us Of Legendary Gods (book 1 in the series) she is a junior in high school and is running for class president as the current one is no longer in that role. She is conflicted about why she is running but figures it is something more than what she is currently doing. Now of course, that’s a strange plot element for a fantasy series, but it ties in to the story in both book one and the overall series. I try to make my characters as human and relatable as possible. Ordinary in a lot of ways but strong when the need calls for it.
So please share a bit with us.
Strangely enough, the following doesn’t have the main character in it, but i thought it would be nice and hopefully pique some curiosity:
At first, the eyes and head of a humanoid move away from the tree. The skin of this entity covered in a bark that matches the tree. The body, arms, and legs all look too as if they are overlaid in tree bark. Small leafy vines circling the arms and winding down the torso. The definitively female shape of the humanoid limps away from Sylvia’s lawn toward the side of the house. As it does her left-footed limping gait slowly dissipates. The bark covering her also shrinks and retreats into smooth skin.
If Sylvia left the lights off and had seen the glowing eyes, perhaps she would have an answer to why a parchment was left with words only she can read – words that reflect ultraviolet light. Words that were written with the knowledge that she isn’t an ordinary, everyday human. That she is something special. Something more. And those words, written so eloquently, so simply, have struck fear that everything she loves and works for can be overturned in an instant; We Know.
Sounds ominous! A good reason to be careful walking in the woods at night?
With two novel series at Amazon, you’ve published more than enough to make an impression on people, some of whom can inevitably be opinionated. How do you handle criticism?
Depending on the criticism I either take it to heart and try to learn from what is being told, or I take it with a grain of salt. How I react isn’t based on hearing what I want from them, but rather how constructive their criticism is as well as how well thought out it is. When people criticize, it’s not a bad thing. Critical thinking needs to happen more, but being able to express what they didn’t like about it or find appealing or whatnot, makes all the difference between being able to learn from it, or someone just blowing off steam because they either lack the mental capacity to understand the writing, or they caught you on a bad day. Make sense?
Makes perfect sense! A well thought out critique, to me, is a compliment (so long as it doesn’t cut too deep into sales).
What has been the most difficult thing you have struggled with since becoming a writer?
Marketing. While I could leave it a one word response, I think you and the readers might want more than that. I love writing and creating stories but hate talking about myself, ironically enough. So, when people ask about the story I feel like a timid junior high boy wanting to ask out a girl. I get all shy, forget my words, and don’t know what to say. Partially because a 30 sec elevator pitch doesn’t do any story justice and to ask a writer to summarize their work they spent months pouring their soul into is too hard. I am not a man of brevity when speaking (or writing sometimes). So, marketing.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I would love to be doing a nationwide book tour, but all authors I think would. Either that or have Hollywood turn this series into a television show. But I am happy writing and doing what I do. I think on a very realistic level, I want to continually get better at my craft and at marketing myself so hopefully, I can be in a better spot in five years than I am now. Not that I am complaining. Right now I am in a good spot. But there is always room to grow.
That’s great to hear! What’s been your best compliment that fits into a good spot?
My favorite compliment is from a fan of my contemporary romance novels. She is admittedly not a romance fan which is what made her Amazon review so much better for me.
Yes, I see Ms. S. Street calls it fantastically written amid other words of praise.
Thanks again for sharing your experiences and work. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you.
In addition to his own website ( www.theauthornicksavage.com ), Nick Savage has pages on social media and Amazon:
Talking to me now is Thomas Burns, the author of the Natalie McMasters Mysteries series. Thomas lived in a world of biological sciences. He has been an editor and writer in the science and medical fields during a career in industry and government. He has since reformed and now writes mystery novels which sell by the thousands.
Welcome Thomas. Please share some of your background with us.
I’m the author of the Natalie McMasters Mysteries. I was born and raised in New Jersey, attended Xavier High School in Manhattan, earned B.S. degrees in Zoology and Microbiology at Michigan State University and a M.S. in Microbiology at North Carolina State University. I currently reside in Wendell, North Carolina.
As a kid, I started reading mysteries with the Hardy Boys, Ken Holt and Rick Brant, and graduated to the classic stories by authors such as A. Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, John Dickson Carr, Erle Stanley Gardner and Rex Stout, to name a few. Now that I’m truly on my own as a novelist, I’m excited to publish my own mystery series, as well as to contribute stories about my second most favorite detective to the MX Books of New Sherlock Holmes Stories. I finished my first Natalie McMasters novel, Stripper! when I was 65, and after a year of querying agents with no takers, I decided to publish it on Amazon myself, in April 2018. Since then, I’ve released two more novels, Revenge! and Trafficked!, and I’ve just finished writing the first draft of the fourth book, Venom! No way I could have had such a rapid production schedule if I had to deal with an agent and a publisher. The Natalie McMasters Mysteries have done fairly well, with about 11,000 copies in circulation world-wide.
What drew you into writing fiction?
I’ve had a lifelong dream to have my own mystery series. Because I like a challenge, I decided to create a protagonist as different from myself as I could imagine.
When did you start acting on this dream of yours?
I have written fiction as a hobby all of my life, starting with Man from U.N.C.L.E. stories in marble-backed copybooks in grade school. I built a career as technical, science and medical writer and editor for nearly thirty years in industry and government.
Now that you gone beyond your technical writing, do you favor a particular group of readers?
I’m writing for any readers who enjoy thrilling, sexy mysteries. But because the majority of mystery readers tend to be older women, I’m aiming my books at millennials and Gen X’ers, to inspire a whole new generation of readers.
Are you going to remain exclusively a mystery writer for the younger crowd, or do you see yourself branching into other areas to connect with readers?
I’ve always had a penchant for horror, so I can see myself moving in that direction sometime in the future, but not until the Natalie McMasters Mysteries are fully established.
Who inspired you to go down this path in life?
I’ve always enjoyed the great storytellers – Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Louis L’Amour and Robert A. Heinlein. Storytelling transcends genre, and it’s absolutely essential to success as a popular fiction author.
So you’ve been writing a detective series around one woman. Who is she?
Natalie McMasters is a detective for the new millennium. As the series opens, she’s twenty, short and blonde (OK, it’s bleached!), way cute, and a pre-law student at State. She’s also straight, or at least she thinks so. She’s moonlighting as a private detective trainee at her uncle Amos Murdoch’s 3M Detective Agency to help with living expenses while in school. The job’s not very exciting—she stakes out people who’ve claimed workers’ compensation to be sure they’re hurt as badly as they say. It’s the perfect gig for a college student, because she can study on the job. But one day she directly confronts a subject on a stakeout, and Amos fires her.
What’s a good sample of how she introduces herself to the reader?
Here are the first few paragraphs of Trafficked!:
When love has fled, a house is no longer a home.
The cold April rain splatters on my hair, soaks into my scalp and runs down the back of my neck, making me shiver. Shifting the brown grocery bag I’m carrying in my right hand to the left, which holds the handle of my suitcase, I fumble for my keys and unlock the door of the townhouse where I’ve not lived for six months. As I step inside, no cat comes running to greet me. The place is dark because the curtains are closed and the musty scent of a deserted house is palpable—it’s the smell of loneliness. I cross the great room and put the groceries on the pass thru between the dining area and the kitchen. Faint, stale, sour food odors still linger in the air.
My name is Natalie McMasters. I’m twenty-one, short and blonde (OK, it’s bleached), a former pre-law student at State and a private detective trainee. And my heart is broken.
The spiral staircase looms like a twisted skeletal sculpture in the center of the darkened great room. Dragging my rolling bag past it, I stop in front of the closed bedroom door. I put my hand on the knob, fearing what’s inside, not at all sure I’m ready for it. I heave a sigh, turn the doorknob, and go on in.
It’s dark—the bedroom curtains are heavier than the ones in the great room so they block out more of the outdoor light. I step to the side of the bed and click the switch on the nightstand lamp. Tears stream down my cheeks as the stark reality of my life is illuminated in the harsh yellow glow.
A cotton nightie hangs limply on the bedpost like a dead thing. The bed itself is empty, except for an envelope and her letter, folded in thirds, lying alongside. A multicolored glass candle holder on the far nightstand, decorated with an almost cartoonish image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, gleams in the sallow light. I drop the handle of my suitcase, then I pick up the nightie and inhale, seeking a breath of her scent—a spicy hint of her perfume still hangs in the cloth. I drop it on the floor and bolt from the room, slamming the door behind me. No way I’m gonna sleep in that bed tonight!
Well, I see you’re not shy about irritating homophobes. It’s good to see stereotypes sanded away. How do you handle criticism generally?
I generally ignore it unless it comes from someone I truly respect or the same point is raised by multiple sources. Writing and reading is very subjective – what one person loves, another loathes. A writer simply cannot satisfy everyone.
Since you have begun writing, what have you found to be the biggest challenge?
Frankly, it’s the prejudice and outright suppression of indie authors by mainstream publishing. We can’t get into most bookstores, do signings, sell books or get on panels at conferences, or participate in many literary festivals as authors. Other mystery authors, whether traditionally or indie published, have by-and-large been nothing but gracious and helpful to me, but any time I approach any venue linked with traditional publishing, the door gets slammed in my face.
It’s good to see the online publishing world undermining some of that power. It’s especially good to know that indie authors like yourself can establish a high volume of readers. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Personally, I’m glad to know that there’s life after writing on medicine!
Readers who want to learn more about Thomas Burns’ writing can follow him on Twitter, Tumbler and Facebook. His works also have numerous reviews on Goodreads. Also, be sure to follow his detective agency’s newsletter.
Medical literature can readily overlap with horror literature, but for the purposes of entertainment, most of us probably prefer the latter – at least when it’s fictional. So I am pleased to converse with a prolific horror story writer, Brian Smith.
Brian, tell us about yourself. What books have you written?
I’m 39 years old, no kids, and have never been married (thank God). I live in southeastern Ohio with four dogs and my brother the author J.R. Smith (whose horror stories have also been featured in many horror anthologies and magazines) . I enjoy reading, the outdoors, cooking and watching horror movies and college football (Go Buckeyes!). I love spicy foods that no human being should ever consume, drink more coffee than is necessary and have too many books but I’m always buying more. I’ve published over fifty stories in numerous anthologies (each one of them is featured on my Amazon author page) and a few e-books below one-hundred pages [The Tuckers and Three O’Clock] but my first published book, a short story collection called Dark Avenues, will be available on Kindle and paperback on December 5th.
So when did you decide that you wanted to write? What motivated you to focus on horror (aside from the spicy food)?
I was 13 years old when I decided to write. My sixth-grade teacher said I had a lot of potential to become a good writer because all of my stories gave him nightmares. I started writing horror ever since I had a nightmare when I was 5; I was running down a meadow to meet my family for a picnic under a tree when I felt something on the back of my right hand and it was a butterfly but when I raised my hand to get a better look at it when it cocked its head back and opened its mouth to show all of these jagged piranha-like teeth. It was then that I knew I had to write horror.
I had no friends when I was a kid because my parents were constantly moving us from one town to the other (sometimes the same town twice) and I didn’t have enough time to make friends. My characters eventually became my friends and they were my motivation to write.
Has horror been your only area, or do you work in other genres as well?
I’ve written a crime noir novel in the vain of Jim Thompson (Hell Of A Woman is a Hell Of A Book, btw) but I’ll always be a horror fiction fanatic. I love horror but I’m also a fan of crime noir as well; babes, bullets and the whole nine yards.
Do you target any particular age or group?
I don’t want to reach out only to people who read horror; I want to appeal to those who’ve either never read this type of horror or have read it and still love it. And if parents want their kids to read my stuff, don’t say I didn’t warn them.
Is there an author or book that you find especially inspirational?
I like many authors such as Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Jack Ketchum, Brian Keene, Jim Thompson, Ross MacDonald, Bentley Little and Max Allan Collins, but the most inspirational book to me would have to be Hemingway’s Old Man And The Sea. It’s got everything: determination, greed, compassion and death. The old man was determined to catch that fish no matter what he would end up giving up in the end. I like to think we all have something in common with him because we all have that one thing we’re determined to do no matter what we end up losing.
I can agree with that! In fact my own Tacking on the Styx follows that tack pretty well.
So do you focus on a main character across multiple stories in Dark Avenues (that is a fantastic book title, BTW)?
There are many characters in this book but there are plenty of them that I’m sure the readers will enjoy.
Who do you find more challenging to create – the hero or the villain?
I’d have to say both. I enjoy creating them as much as I enjoy killing them.
I see! Well, that being the case, maybe you can share a prelude to an enjoyable moment?
This is an excerpt from the story called “1342 Lindley Road” that is featured in the collection:
The ladies slid their hands away from his crotch and up across his flat muscular chest before moving back down. When their grins widened, their upper lip slid open exposing a jagged row of gnarled black teeth.
They arched their necks, craning their heads toward the sky and glared up with lifeless black eyes. Twin streams of small black cockroaches spewed out from their lips, scuttled across their face and down their chins. A booming laugh rose in the distance, softly at first before finally rising toward a loud hearty bellow that shook the trees and buzzed inside of my ears.
The nest broke formation and shrouded their supernatural forms from head to toe. Their slick black bodies glistening under the sour gray light, they buckled and collapsed onto the porch in a large shimmering black puddle and retreated into the pocket of darkness under the front porch awning. Cold fear tingling down my body from head to toe, I clamped my hand across my mouth to muffle the scream rising toward my lips and backed away from the open window. I struck the doorknob, sending small ripples of pain down my back and calves and made me wince through my teeth.
That’s pretty vivid! Writing such visceral scenes, do you ever feel a need to do preliminary research into a topic?
I do enough research to make a valid point. I recently had to research spiders for a short story I’m writing and I did some research about vasectomies for a story I’m writing next.
I hope you don’t include spiders performing vasectomies, unless you’re really trying to connect to a female audience (attn guys, sleeping under mosquito netting has its benefits).
How do you promote your books? Any tips you can share to a self – published author like myself?
Social media. It also helps to be friends with other authors because then it’s like a “You Scratch My Back And I’ll Scratch Yours” kind of thing.
Yes, I don’t know where I would start without social media to get exposure.
I have been meditating on where to go after Tacking. I’ve wondered about horror. What do you find to be the biggest challenge to sales in horror?
I hope I can deliver a good story/book that’ll have people coming back for more. I’m selling Dark Avenues for ten dollars because I want people to be able to afford it and then think “for ten dollars I was very entertained”.
How do you handle criticism?
I take it in stride. Rejections, I brush it off and try again. Acceptances make me feel like the middle child who got the biggest Christmas present. I tend to become hard on myself if I get rejected because I feel like I should’ve done better.
I think that such is the best we can do.
Is there something you learned from writing your first book?
I edited this book from front to back and then back to front and over and over again. I wasn’t happy with this story and I took out this one to make room for that one until I went with the version that is coming out in December. I felt so foolish about it
So your biggest struggle would be…
The anticipation of an editor’s decision.
And what compliment makes the struggle worthwhile?
Most recently I got one that said:
“Thank you. I am looking for to reading it. I just recently discovered your books and have been enjoying them very much.”
And where do you see yourself in five years?
Living in a cabin miles outside of a small town with my two dogs and writing until my fingers cramp up and then writing some more.
Thank you, Brian, for the conversation. Are there any parting words that you’d like to share?
Yes, I’d like to thank you for interviewing me. And I have a few more things to say. Love leads to obedience and obedience is a placebo therefore so is love and Epstein didn’t kill himself.
You can find me on Facebook under Brian J. Smith, Twitter under beardeduncle9, Instagram under singleandhappywriter9 and on LinkedIn under Brian J. Smith
I am joined now by another fiction author with a macabre and fantasy side. As I am a particular lover of short stories, I am pleased to interview the Word Whisperer, Ms. Stephanie Ayers, coffee lover, spiritual unicorn, and writer of horror, fantasy, historical fiction, and poetry.
Thank you for joining me, Ms. Ayers. Please tell us about yourself and the breadth of your work.
I am the word whisperer, a unicorn disguised as a human who writes (mostly) horror and fantasy. I have two series, The 13 horror series, and Destiny Defined fantasy series, a paranormal thriller standalone, and several stories in anthologies. I have several books releasing in the near future and many more on the horizon.
Most of my stuff is horror, even my shorts, but I have some fantasy, some speculative fiction, and I even wrote historical fiction/time travel romance over the summer. I have a romantic suspense releasing in February, but when I spend too long away from horror, it starts calling my name.
Could you tell us more about what readers can find now and in the future? You have multiple soon to be released titles.
My book releasing on October 12 is the third book in The 13 series, which is 13 short story collections, all based on a theme. One releases every year around Halloween. This year it’s Surreal Tales, with a focus on the paranormal.
November 15, I have a short Christmas horror releasing in Our Christmas Nook, a charity anthology. “Shake” is based on a prompt involving a magic snow globe. I twisted the prompt and made bad things happen to those who shake it.
December brings the release of book 3 in the fantasy series, Charades. This one falls on the dark fantasy side of this epic fantasy series as it focuses on Soren, the dragon queen, who is the villain in my story.
January brings another short story in my publisher, Crazy Ink’s newest anthology, Beyond Camelot. This is my current WIP. The premise of this one is to go beyond Camelot, and build new stories. I’m bringing in a whole new sword and turning a hero into a villain.
I have a romantic suspense releasing February 18. Cronuts in the City is a standalone novella but a part of the Donut Shop series. Blair is a spoiled little rich girl who wants to own an art gallery on her own terms, without her daddy’s money. The problem is, daddy has a big secret, and she’s doing everything in her power to stop Blair from succeeding.
The rest of 2020 is pretty packed too, with another 13 in October, books 4 and 5 in the fantasy in April and August, a standalone novella in a series similar to Donut Shop, and my standalone horror “A Sudden Flutter of Wings” in September.
Wow! I stand in awe!
Well, I have my own guesses, but who do you consider your target audience to be?
My target audience is horror and fantasy readers, those who prefer the weird and abnormal vs the standard tropes. I would like to see more youth reading my fantasy series, but I don’t want to target them specifically. It’s a very specific niche, and honestly I don’t want to niche my writing like that.
And do you take inspiration from any particular authors?
As a kid, I couldn’t get enough Stephen King. I think he heavily influences my writing. I’ve had my style compared to his several times. Terry Brooks’ Shannara [series] went a long way to inspiring my fantasy series as did Lord of the Rings.
Yes, I have not pursued any typical horror yet, but Stephen King’s On Writing stays in my mind as scripture (or maybe horror, in its own way, since I haven’t had the discipline to write “one page a day” as he teaches).
And some of your influencers now are…
As an adult, I find Piers Anthony, Kate Morton, and Lewis Carroll inspiring. Piers Anthony paints such a beautiful picture with his words. Kate Morton has a very tight way of writing descriptions that just set the scenes up perfectly, and Terry Brooks’ imagination just floors me. I also love the concept of Wonderland, and try to be as original in my worldbuilding as Carroll was.
For myself, Carroll is a bit intimidating, though I am more partial to his ballad poem, The Hunting of the Snark, than to his stories.
When did you know writing was your career path? What motivated you?
Well, I wrote my first story around 4th grade so maybe 8 or 9? But I wanted to do all the things, so I didn’t start writing seriously until 2010, when I was 39. I became a published author for the first time at 42.
Everything motivates me. I’m highly distractible so there are always 1,000 different things spinning through my head at once.
And what about your characters? Do you ever use historical figures as models?
The closest I ever came was when I wrote my historical fiction. It’s about a female Pinkerton detective who falls in love with an outlaw and goes back in time to try to change his future. She was inspired by Kate, the female detective from the show “The Pinkertons” and the outlaw is inspired by the likes of Jesse James and Billy the Kid.
Do you find heroes or villains to be the greater challenge?
I don’t really find either challenging. Villains are a lot more fun to write, though. They provide me an opportunity to unleash the pent up anger and such I keep hidden under smiles and a cheery personality.
So what has been your biggest challenge in writing?
Short stories are my jam. I really struggle to write the longer works and really flesh things out. I feel like I’m stalling and fluffing scenes when it comes down to writing the day to day actions that a longer work requires. That means I get frustrated and get inside my head. Then I need to find inspiration to get out of my self-induced funk.
Is there something you learned from writing your first book?
If we are talking about my first solo book, yes. I fell into that “Yay! I’m a published author, now what?” rut. Instead of writing more books and pushing my name out there, I settled in a contented haze. I can now see some of the growth that came of those early writing years, but it also makes me wonder how much further I would be now if I hadn’t settled.
I can sort of identify with the haze. I was motivated for one book in advance of writing but have since entered the space you talk about.
Now that the haze has dissipated, what do you find to be the biggest challenge to sales in your genre?
Horror and fantasy are very competitive genres as a whole. I haven’t been marketing with enough books yet to really be able to accurately answer this question.
In spite of that, what are you doing to promote your work? Any tips to share?
I have platforms everywhere. I have a monthly newsletter. I blog. And I do self-promotion for my books. I also joined with a publisher who has the means to support promotion and helps me do it. That goes a lot further for me than any one thing I can do on my own. My biggest tip would be to make a street team and focus your time and energy on interacting with your readers, have a blog (regardless of how active it is), and send out a newsletter. My best advice is to be active in your online community.
How do you handle criticism?
Give it to me. I want it. It might make me cry, but it will also makes me think and improve. Negative criticism gets in my head a lot faster and tends to stick around a little longer than I’d like, but I can usually shake it off in enough time or through shifting my focus to another creative outlet.
I think getting criticism is one of the surest signs of connecting, for better or worse, to readers. However much it sounds like a paradox, that feeling brings a sense of reassurance!
And what do you consider your best compliment to be?
My biggest compliment has been discovering that I am someone’s “famous author” and for another, I am their inspiration and mentor in many ways.
That definitely makes sense to me. And how about your self – perception? Are you the inspiration for any of your characters? If so, what book?
Elven Games, the first book in the Destiny Defined series. Tribba reminds me a lot of my grandmother (who was a lot like Rose from Golden Girls), and her relationship with her husband, Larss, is much like mine and my husband’s.
Would you please share an excerpt from one of your works?
Enjoy this peek into “The Haunting of McLean Manor” one of the longer stories within Surreal Tales:
[Lily] stomped out onto the ledge of her treehouse. “Hey, mom,” she called. “You think I could fly?” She dipped a toe off the edge of the platform as if testing the temperature of water before a swim.
“What? No, not without wings. Now step away from the edge, please, Lily dear.” Becca’s heart lurched into her throat.
Lily did as she was told. She laid down on the platform and stuck her head out. “What if I had wings? How high do you think I could fly?”
Becca shook her head. Lily had such an imagination. “With wings, you could fly all the way to the moon.”
Lily laughed. “To the moon and back!”
The sun burst through the canopy once more, leaving a halo on Lily’s head. Becca clapped her palm against her forehead and looked at Lily. “Higher than the moon, my love. You could fly straight to the sun and back.”
The sun disappeared again, and the shadows settled in. A chill ran up Becca’s spine. Lily had gotten too quiet. “Lily?”
One heart beat. Two heart beats. Three.
“Lily?” Panic edged her voice.
“Look, Mom! I have wings!” Becca looked up just in time to see a dark shape lurking behind her daughter, who had indeed made herself a set of wings. “Becca! Step away from the edge, now!” Panic rose like bile in her chest.
“Do you think I could fly now?” Lily remained where she was and spread her arms wide. She lifted her face to the sky and flapped her wings. Becca panted, her ever vigilant eyes watching the darkness behind her beloved child.
“Lily! Do as I say! Come down from there, now!”
Lily put her arms down and looked at her mother. “Fine,” she said, letting her body fall forward.
Yikes, that definitely fits the horror genre! Now we will have to find out how it resolves…
And looking past characters’ futures, where do you see yourself in five years?
I will have a lot of books finished, and hopefully I will be a USA Today Bestseller making enough income to at least sustain my book writing needs.
Thank you so much for talking about your experiences. Do you have any final words to share?
I’ll part with a little bit of advice. Write what scares you. Write with emotion. Don’t be intimidated by the blank page. It is the canvas you paint your stories on. One single letter cures the blank page. It’s as simple as that.
More about Ms. Ayers’ work can be found at her website: https://stephanieayersauthor.com.
As a special note, proceeds from her Our Christmas Nook anthology are being donated to the Independent Cat Society which assists rescued cats.
Trephining was thought to relieve seizures (among many other neurological issues) via pressure release. The trepine was used to bore holes into the skull (taken from The Principles and Practice of Surgery Being a Treatise on Surgical Diseases and Injuries, Vol 1. 1889. D.H. Agnew. J.B. Lippincott Co. Philadelphia).
Chiara Benedetta Condorelli
Conversing with me now is an author having written in both Italian and English, Chiara Benedetta Condorelli. It is a pleasure to get to know you, Ms. Condorelli. Please tell us about yourself and what you have written.
I’m the author of four Italian books – (1) I Mal Benedetti, (2) (Non) per tutti i giorni, (3) Stelle in Alta Definizione, and (4) Addio, ci vediamo dopo. I have also written three English books – (1) Fáil-te: A short story, (2) The Rebel Murphy: A short story, and (3) Slán To Sláinte – A short story. I’m currently writing my seventh and last book. Seventh, because (Non) per tutti i giorni is technically a fashion portfolio and not a book. They are available on Amazon.
And who do you consider to be your chief target audience for your work?
My target audience is anyone that loves Sci-Fi/fantasy stories and who is brave enough to embrace other perspectives. But anyone who speaks English or Italian is welcome, because I write one main genre, yes, but it’s like a sorbet. It’s melted ice, but you can taste different flavours of melted ice. While my main genre is Sci-Fi/fantasy, I always mix it with other genres.
Sci-Fi authors seem to thrive on perspective. I have not read a great deal of the genre, but if I may jump to Hollywood (God forgive :)), screenwriters like Rodenberry push youth towards an inclusive concept of society. They do provide a valuable social service, more so than some genres, I believe.
Is there an author or book that you find especially inspirational?
I will tell you the main authors – there are so many! Ray Bradbury, Michel Faber, Colleen McCullogh, Stephen King, Sophie Kinsella and B.A. Paris. I believe that it’s best to learn to write from the books that you actually enjoy reading.
Yes, and spiced with other genres, like you say.
Do you ever use historical figures to model your characters?
I often use fictional rather than historical characters to model those of mine. But I’m so careful to not plagiarise anything that I didn’t personally create myself that you can barely spot the characters I take inspiration from. The “clearest” examples can be found in “Stelle in Alta Definizione” and “Slán To Sláinte – A short story”.
What has been the most difficult thing you have struggled with since becoming a writer?
Writing about anything that is directly connected to one of my own personal life experiences. Especially the worst ones. I feel blocked, but once I decide that it must be written, I write it, because I decided to do it for a specific reason that goes beyond what I’ve experienced (no, it’s not anything motivational or similar).
The difficulty is understandable. In my own work inspired by life experience, I probably had an easier time with intimate details simply because, in epilepsy, the really embarrassing experiences can often be very public. When you’ve made a grotesque spectacle of yourself – shaking with blood dripping out of your mouth from a bitten tongue (there are much worse possibilities as well) – writing about it afterwords never comes close to the life experience. It’s anticlimactic and, therefore, easier.
So tell us about your main kind of character.
That’s me in the most literal sense possible so far! Besides the name, the appearance and the skills. Actually, there’ll be more than just one me [in my upcoming work], but I won’t disclose anymore for fear of spoiling the plot. Yes, I’m always intentionally vague, but you can always wait for the release planned in 2020, when you’ll have the book in your hands. 🙂
Looking forward to it! When you’re not the template, yourself, who do you find more challenging – inventing the hero or the villain?
I don’t find challenging inventing the characters. I find challenging giving them a plausible story for them to follow and to engage with.
I see. In fact, I have had similar experiences in writing Tacking on the Styx. I just write the logical dialogue between characters, and their personas mostly arise in a natural way. In my case, though, many of my characters were inspired by very specific, real people.
Among your books is there one especially representing yourself in characters or plot ?
There is more than one. The most recent is “Fáil-te: A short story”.
Would you please share short excerpt from your current project?
I’m still in process of writing it, so I don’t have anything that I think is worth sharing right now, conceptually and stylistically speaking. But this time I’ll talk about time traveling! It was about, well, time. But for those who don’t know me as a writer, it won’t be about time traveling and nothing else. There will be a lot of other things developed with my best writing skills available (and language, since Italian is my mother tongue).
And what kind of research do you do before starting a work?
I do research online, I ask questions. You can find me at Quora in either the Italian or the English site. I also read many news articles and books.
How do you promote your books? Any tips you can share?
I engage with potential readers via social media (Facebook and Instagram). I also put exclusive material on DeviantArt and I create and publish all the book commercials present in my own YouTube channel. The only tip that I can give is the following: attend any digital marketing courses that you can find. For the rest, just hire me. XD
What do you find to be the biggest challenge to sales in your genre? Sci – Fi is a big world!
The lack of connections, basically. I have entertaining stories and significant messages (that are communicated in the least boring way possible, not even via preaching), but no connections that could invite anyone else to at least check my books out and see for themselves.
There is something that I can identify with! The life – or – death subject at present seems to be search engine optimization – SEO. I never knew what SEO even stood for a year ago, There’s a real art to getting your blog or or other web appearances noticed by Google, Bing, or other engines. Writing about popular topics or sharing a name with a famous person can also be deadly! If I knew that “Jeffrey Hatcher” was the name of a famous play write, I might have chosen a pseudonym to write under. SEO definitely is helped by connections such as those that can be made by blogs or sites such as GoodReads.com.
More than ever, in an SEO world, all attention is supposedly good attention, but how do you handle criticism?
If it’s constructive, either I just acknowledge it without saying anything, or I thank the critic. If it’s not constructive, meaning that you criticise me as a writer without even reading a preview of any of my books, you better (metaphorically, of course) “run for your life” (ref. “Doctor Who”, episode “Rose”). As a writer, I behave like a very decent person because I care very much about making my potential readers happy, but I just can’t stand criticism made just for the lulz and in these specific situations I tend to behave like I never, EVER would if I was a customer support representative (in the latter case I smile, saying that I’m sorry and that I’m available to solve any problems). I must specify this in case anyone among my connections on LinkedIn is reading this interview right now: I assure you that I’m extremely professional while doing my job. I’m not writing for a living, although I would be obviously happy if I sold some copies to concede myself something every once in a while, so I don’t consider writing as an actual job, although I put so much effort and care in this field like in any other field.
Is there something special which you learned from writing your first book?
That I must change names even when I talk about a real story with me as the main protagonist. Patrizia Corradi taught me that, and that’s why I’ll never remove the dedication I made to her in “I Mal Benedetti” even though we’re no longer in touch.
OK, so if we haven’t time traveled out of 2019, where do you see yourself in, say, 2024?
Doing my best with the job that I planned (and I worked so hard) to get and living at the best of my possibilities in my spare time. I can literally show you where do I see myself in five years.
Any last words before logging out?
See you in 2020! And sorry if I didn’t publish the trailer for the last book like I promised, but some stuff happened and I chose to give my priority to other things.
While my own writing currently is scientific, I love a great escape, and fantasy literature is one of those escapes. Thus, I am pleased to talk with someone who has written in the genre and also writes for a young audience in addition to people who are merely young at heart. Sarah Sanchez is a published author in the genre, writing multiple story series. Her work can be seen at her new website, https://www.thepamperedcatpress.net/, as well as all of the usual places.
Ms. Sanchez, welcome, to start please tell us about yourself. What books have you written?
My name is Sarah Sanchez, but I write under the name S. T. Sanchez. I’m a Texan through and through. I love BBQ, Tex-mex and authentic Mexican food. I currently have two series out. The first is a Young Adult vampire trilogy called The Sunwalker Trilogy. It delves more into the origins of vampires. The third and final book Darkwalker is set to be released at the end of the summer. My second series is Middle Grade Fantasy. It is called The Keeper Chronicles. Currently only the first book is out, The Portal Keeper. The second book is currently in the hands of my editor. This series will more than likely be four books.
What motivated your writing? How did you start out? Whom do you consider to be your target audience?
At first I just wanted to see if I could write something. I never imagined myself as being a writer or being very creative. But after I finished my first book, a book that is hidden away and will never see the light of day, I gained some confidence and found a passion for writing. Sunwalker, my debut novel, is actually the third novel I have written, but the first that I truly liked the way it turned out. It takes time to grow in writing. I am sure I will continue to do so the more I write. Now after finishing five books, I’m hooked.
I know middle grade is typically ranged for readers around the ages of 8 to 12. However, I know as an adult, I love reading middle grade fiction. Artemis Fowl, Fablehaven, Percy Jackson, are just a few of the middle grade series I have enjoyed. I hope to reach anyone who enjoys fantasy. I have had older readers and younger readers reach out to me. The most important part to me is that the readers enjoy the story, no matter the age.
Have you written in just one category or do you / will you move across genres?
I would love to write across genres. I am finding that it is a talent to be able to do so. I have what I think is a great idea for a story. I fell in love with a title. But I am finding it is a lot harder, at least for me, to delve outside of the fantasy genre. So I am chipping away at it little by little. It’s a goal of mine though. Maybe in a few years down the line. I really want to finish up the two series I am currently working on.
Is there an author or book that you find especially inspirational?
One of my favorite author’s is Brandon Mull. He writes middle grade fiction and his books are just fun to read. I hope reader’s enjoy my books as much as I do his.
He’s good to know about. Thanks.
What has been the most difficult thing you have struggled with since becoming a writer?
I think this is true for a lot of authors, but I struggle with everything that is not associated with the actually writing of the story. Nowadays authors are encouraged to have a strong social media presence, and do marketing. I am not super tech savvy. Also balancing the time between writing and blogging and keeping up some sort of presence on social media has been a challenge. I think I finally understand Twitter, so now I have just started Instagram. As for marketing I am not sure where to begin. I do post in some Facebook groups but really I rely more on word of mouth.
Oh, it’s very true that promotion is a job unto itself, and it is something which I, too, am only just getting used to. I did not see myself maintaining a website like this one a few years ago.
Would you please share a short excerpt from one of your works with us?
This is an excerpt from my Middle Grade fantasy novel The Portal Keeper:
Something buzzed by Ajax’s ear and then a small but exceptionally bright light shined in his face.
He put up his hand, attempting to shield the beam from his eyes.
“It’s a man,” someone called out.
Someone prodded him with a stick.
“Hey!” Ajax exclaimed, swatting it away.
“What were you doing out in the middle of Death Lake at this hour?”
Death Lake, that sounds promising, Ajax thought to himself.
“I’m looking for my friend,” Ajax answered. “Have you seen anyone else? Did anyone else fall?”
“Shut him up,” another voice called. “Get him down below.”
Something covered Ajax’s face and then he was grabbed forcefully and carried to another location. He felt as if he were going down stairs. He was flung unceremoniously into a chair, and the hood was yanked off his head. He rubbed the back of his arm, where he had been gripped too tightly. It was dark in this new place too.
Slowly a lamp was lit, giving a little light to the area.
A rhinoceros stood at the head of a table, wearing a pair of striped trousers and suspenders without a shirt. He leaned forward. “How did you come here?”
Ajax scooted back in his chair, looking around the table. He must have really experienced a lot in the past week because the talking rhinoceros didn’t amaze him as much as he felt it should.
Prepping fantasy work is something that I am unexperienced with. What kind of research do you do before starting a work?
Honestly none. That is not to say that research is not done. However, most the time I find as I am writing, something will come up that I need to look into. It’s amazing how much time can be sent on looking up even the smallest detail. Luckily for me we live in a day and age where so much information can be accessed at the touch of a few keys. I can’t imagine how much more time author’s writing in different ages had to spend to find their information.
You have already completed a number of titles. So where do you see yourself in five years? Will you still be writing?
Honestly I have no idea. I have self-published and enjoyed the ride immensely. However, one of my books was recently picked up by a traditional publisher. I have no idea what to expect, but I am excited to embark on this new journey and learn the other side of the coin. Really as long as I keep writing I will be happy. Perhaps in five years time I will be able to write full time. That is my ultimate goal.
Getting traditionally published is a real achievement. Congratulations!
Thank you for taking the time to share your story and experience with us. Do you have any thoughts to leave us with?
Remember whether you pick up one of my books or a novel from another author, don’t forget to write a review. They mean so much to us. Jeffery, thank you so much for having me on. It’s been fun. Happy Reading!!
To learn more about S.T. Sanchez’s writing, check out her new website above or her author page at Amazon. She also has a new release, The Keeper of the Realms, in part of her Keeper Archives series.
In an American high school or college, most English language literature making up our curricula comes, not surprisingly, from America or Britain. However, a benefit of speaking a universal language is that one can enjoy and learn from reading literature from numerous parts of the world whether a book is written in English or rapidly translated into it. Nevertheless, I have yet to see many contemporary novels and anthologies from Africa turning up in American bookstores. Part of the reason for this omission is the innocent fact that people simply do not know what to look for. So it gives me pleasure to be talking with a current writer from west Africa and student of Poly Sci at Saylor Academy, Mr. Ephraim Michael.
Mr. Michael, welcome. Please tell us about yourself and your work.
I’m African, Nigerian to be specific. Born in the commercial city of Onitsha, Anambra State. Apart from being an author, I’m also a fashion designer and student …. Some of my books include a mystery / detective story – Awaken; a collection of erotica – Sexual Seduction; Hochebene Mayhem which is a horror story, and Three in One – a collection of short stories; among others.
I’ve never been to Nigeria, but friends I have from Kenya tell me that it is a major cultural center for the continent.
Your work includes a variety of genres, and I see that you have also penned children’s short stories as well as tackling issues pertinent to cultural ethnicity, homophobia, class, and crime. Given that breadth, where do you see yourself in five years?
I see myself stepping into the shoes of Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi. These are great late African authors I looked up to. With both been referred to as being the fathers of modern African literature,it’s gonna be hard to fill in those shoes, but nothing is impossible, I can.
Wow! Those are big steps and shoes to fill! Especially as both are from your home country. I, myself, had the good fortune of taking African literature studies back in college (1980’s). The very first novel that I read was Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Ekwenski, I confess, I am not familiar with, but he is another original influence.
And what motivated you? When did you know that you wanted to write?
The environment which I grew up, and also some of the authors I looked up to while growing up. I wanted to write since I was 15 years old.
Is there an author or book that you find especially inspirational?
Yes, two actually. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, and Mark Twain’s The Prince and The Pauper… The first depicts Africanism, i.e the precolonial era in Africa, especially among the Igbo tribe of Eastern Nigeria. Both it and The Prince and The Pauper depict the low/high class treatment and rot in our society.
So tell us about your main characters.
My main characters are always heroic, with few villains. I always see myself as the hero, so always describe the hero using myself. (Chuckles).
Do any of your works have more of your persona in them than others?
Yes, Upheavals and Hochebene Mayhem. Not autobiography though.
What kind of research do you do for writing?
Most of my research is on language, accent, and culture of my ideal characters. Like I frequently used Hausa language in Hochebene Mayhem and Upheavals, meanwhile I can’t speak a word of Hausa except Zo (Come), so I did my research before and while writing. Same with my usage of American English on Awaken. It all depends on the settings.
Yes, I’m drafting a work on time travel and note the same thing. Keeping plots in the right context means a lot.
What has been the most difficult thing you have struggled with since becoming a writer?
Editing, Marketing, and promotion has always been my nightmare.
I can empathize with that far too well!
How do you promote your books? Any tips you can share?
Through social media platform like Facebook by joining different writers and readers group, and I share my work via Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn (I always use author’s hash tag though).
And how do you handle criticism?
Some criticism can be hurtful, but I always learn from it, so it’s a lesson.
So on the other hand, what do you consider to be the best compliment for your work?
“…Michael’s Three in One came close to Chimamanda Adichie’s….” So excited! Hard to believe…comparing my book with that of Adichie, the author of Half of a Yellow Sun. I felt super excited…
She is still another Nigerian author whose influence extends far and a protege of Achebe, as well. I can see how special that compliment must have felt considering that her Americana was named by the New York Times to be one of the 10 best books of 2013. She is even in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. To be compared to her must truly be special indeed!
Mr. Michael, thank you for taking the time to share news of your work and a small glimpse into what works are out there from other cultures. Do you have any final words?
Yea…to my dear readers, please authors need more of your support… And to fellow authors, write for the passion. Love y’all.
For more of his work and bio plus reviews from other people, readers can check out the following links:
Personal pages: twitter@realzikkist; Instagram@realzikkist
Facebook name; Chibuike Ephraim Michael
Public reviews of his work.
Talking with me now is Ms. Christine Bernard, resident of Brisbane Australia and author of five books, Mute; Haze; Will; Unravel; and Cracker Jack. Ms. Bernard, please tell us about yourself.
I have recently moved to Brisbane, Australia, with my husband and soon to be baby. It’s a hugely exciting time for us, and I’m looking forward to a whole new world of inspiration for my books. I write in a variety of genres, however they all have an underlying theme of the psychological. I like all my books leaving people with the same question – ‘What would I have done?’
And so what motivated your writing?
I’ve loved books, and writing, for as long as I can remember, so becoming an author was a natural progression for me.
Your books cross genres, but do you still have a special audience?
I don’t have a particular target audience, but my books are generally fast-paced and psychological. They’re aimed at anyone who wants an easy read while still giving them food for thought.
Is there an author or book that you find especially inspirational?
When I was young, I devoured the entire Famous Five collection (my husband recently got me the set for Christmas. I’ll pretend I’m keeping them for our child, but we all know they’re really for me). I have always enjoyed a good mystery, and they were a great way to get me into this genre from such a young age.
As an adult I have read many books which have influenced my writing style – two that stand out in particular are Room by Emma Donoghue and The 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Both books were fast-paced, but they also got you thinking about life in a whole new way. This psychological element is what I strive for in all my books.
What do you think has been the most difficult thing you have struggled with as a writer?
Finding the time to write is by far the hardest part. I have many ideas, but making the time to write in between the many other things I have to do each day is never easy. I have no idea how I’m going to make the time when my baby is born, but I don’t think I could ever stop writing. I’ll find the time.
Caring for an infant always seems daunting to me! I hope that you do find the time to write.
Which of your books do you connect to the most? Are you personally close to a particular character?
Mute is by far the book which means the most to me. Even though it was my third published book, it was actually my first written book. I wrote it, then put it away until it was ready for publication. It needed some brewing time, and I’m glad I waited. The main character, Rebecca, is loosely based on me. In many ways she’s nothing like me, but a lot of her thoughts and actions are my own. I think that’s one of the reasons why this book is so special to me. There’s something to be said about putting a lot of yourself into a book and then putting it out into the world for everyone to see. It feels like you’re sharing a part of your soul.
Yes, having written medical literature of a personal sort, I can definitely empathize with exposing your inner self.
Which do you find more challenging – inventing the hero or the villain?
It’s far easier to write a villain because you can have more fun with the character. In order to write a good hero, you have to find a way to get the reader to connect to them, and that’s not nearly as easy.
That is an interesting point. I agree, and I think that perhaps the villain can be more two dimensional because the readers, themselves, are not as eager to connect to that character.
Amazon’s introduction to Mute goes as follows:
Can you get by for an hour without talking? A day even? What about a month? Or nine?
Rebecca Marley sets herself a nine-month challenge with only one rule: She isn’t allowed to communicate with anyone. She is to become mute. How hard could it be?
With that in mind, what section do you find the most meaningful or engaging?
This is from Chapter One:
The sun was shining into the office, right on my desk, a triangle of light running across my notebook. Some had leaked its way onto my computer screen. I couldn’t even shut the drapes because they did not exist in my part of the office. The boss—a tiny thing who was always in a good mood—believed in the importance of natural light. I called her Bubbles. I tried explaining to Bubbles that natural light made it impossible for me to see what I was doing. I added—in my usual over dramatic and miserable fashion—that the light would one day cause me early-onset blindness, but she just laughed it off and told me to shift my desk over a bit. She was all about things like this, making small changes to create big results. Her words, not mine. Shifting my desk was impossible because I was against a wall. So unless she wanted me to break down the wall, there was little else to do but put up with it. That day it frustrated me more than it ought to have. I don’t know why. I grabbed a few sheets of paper and stuck them on the window. This helped, but not enough. So I stuck on more. And more. Until the entire window was covered, and I was satisfied.
“Rebecca, what are you doing?” It was Bubbles, all five feet of her, her hands balanced staunchly on her slight hips. Despite her height, she managed to maintain a level of authority. I wondered though, on more than one occasion, if this authority was purely to do with her being in control of the pay stubs each month. Didn’t all bosses seem tall?
“I can’t work like this. Seriously, you don’t understand. The sun doesn’t shine on your desk. I can’t see what I’m doing. And surely being able to see is an imperative part of my job?”
“You’re blocking out the light for the rest of the office.”
“I’m sure they don’t mind.”
“Well, I mind. Please take it down, Rebecca, and if you need to sit somewhere else, you can always go sit in the spare office for a while.” The spare office was devoid of life. White walls, a black desk, and a chair stuck at a thirty-degree swivel. The room where good ideas went to die.
“No thanks. I need to finish this article. How about a compromise? I keep it up for an hour and finish my article, and then I take it down. It’s a win-win.” I smiled brightly up at Bubbles, my words drenched in fake charm.
Bubbles sighed. “Just take it down, Rebecca. Come and see me at the end of the day.”
I wish I could explain why things escalated the way they did, but I can’t. Some compared it to a nervous breakdown. Some said the pressures of life simply got to me. Some argued that it was society’s fault and that everyone was on the verge of coming apart at the seams. Others, those closest to the truth, said I was just a selfish little girl who couldn’t handle life. Whichever way you looked at it, the truth is, on that day—with that natural light spilling onto my desk—I finally imploded.
Support your local business community.Shop your local indie bookstore for “Mute”. and “Haze”.
So where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Still writing, still drinking coffee, still loving the process.
And what has been the best compliment you have enjoyed while drinking coffee?
This comment, made on my Amazon page for Mute, was by far the best compliment I have ever received for a book:
I read a lot of books, a lot of great books, but once in a while I read a truly amazing book and Mute was one of those. Mute changed me, it spoke to my soul and I will never be the same.
Now that is really a compliment! Actually, it seems hard to beat. So aside from getting great compliments on Amazon, how do you promote your books? Do you have any tips which you can share?
I have a big newsletter database, and I send out emails twice a month to let readers know when my next book will come out. My biggest tip for other authors is to never write in a vacuum. Join groups, help others out, and constantly give your readers a reason for wanting more.
I am fairly new to writing, and I definitely agree with you. Encouragement from other authors has really helped keep me going! I wish that I could take credit for starting to blog interviews like ours, but I learned to do this from Sarah Sanchez, the author of the Sunwalker series.
So on the rare chance that you get criticism, how do you handle it?
I shed a few tears, then I dust myself off, learn from my mistakes, and keep on keeping on.
Did you gain any special wisdom from writing your first book?
I have come a long way since my first book. A great editor, and good formatting software can go a long way. I have also learned how to not be so hard on myself, and to enjoy the process. I remind myself every day of how lucky I am to be doing what I want to do.
Do you have any final thoughts for writers and readers?
Authors, keep writing. Readers, keep reading. Books are life.
Thank you, Christine, for sharing with us. It has been a pleasure.
Trapped in your home by large carnivores and unable to reach your favorite bookshop? Then go on-line to Amazon:Box Set – Mute & Haze
Other books by Christine Bernard includeWill, Unravel and Crackerjack.
Readers can also check out her “Dear Human” series written for children to instill respect for our non – human companions.