1. Your debut novel His Texas Forever Family is Harlequin’s September 2014 Special Edition® release. That’s incredible! What’s going through your head right now?
To be honest, I’m a little overwhelmed. As a new writer, I’ve worked hard to put together the absolute best book I can at this point in my career, but it’s scary knowing that not all readers will love my story. Falling in love with a book is such a subjective thing, and it’s almost impossible to please everyone—something that every author knows when that book hits the (physical and virtual) shelves. Being new, I haven’t yet gone through the experience of reading reviews from people who don’t like what I’ve written, and I imagine it’s not a great feeling. All that any writer can do is write her very best book at any given time, and hope that each subsequent book will get better and better as her writing and storytelling skills improve—I just keep reminding myself that this is enough.
Harlequin has treated me very well and yes, I do hope to continue writing for them. I love my editor, Carly Silver, which makes things run really smooth. She and I get each other and she understands my writing and my goals for each story, which makes the process of readying each book for publication a pleasant experience. I do plan to venture into indie (self) -publishing at some point, but I want to write for Harlequin as long as they’ll have me.
3. This is a romance novel, do you plan to stay in the genre or get your toes wet in another area of the book community?
For now, I’m very happy writing romance. I also love to read cozy mysteries, and at some point, I’d love to spend more time learning the craft of writing one and try my hand at that genre. Lots of cozies have a romance subplot, as well, so at least I would have that part down.
4. What authors influenced your writing of this book?
I’ve spent a lot of time reading Nora Roberts’ old category romances—the ones she wrote long before she was the romance writing icon that she is now. When Roberts started writing category romance, she broke a lot of the genre’s conventions with her strong, intelligent, independent heroines that often had very interesting or unique careers. I’d love to follow in her footsteps with my heroines. And, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want a career like hers? Roberts worked hard to build a readership and to make a name for herself—actions I very much admire and hope to emulate in my own romantic fiction career.
5. What authors do you generally read? What is your favorite genre?
I read widely—both genre and literary fiction—anything from scifi to biography, and I love it all. I’m not sure I could choose a favorite. I think it’s important for writers to read both in and outside of their genres, to stay open to new ideas and new worlds.
6. In addition to your budding writing career, what else do you have up your sleeve?
Right now I’m just concentrating on keeping up with my contracted book deadlines, and promoting my debut release. In the near future, I’m planning to write and self-publish a new series, in addition to continuing to write for Harlequin.
Although the book’s setting, Peach Leaf, Texas is a fictional small town, it’s loosely based on one of my all-time real favorite places—Fredericksburg, Texas. Fredericksburg is a town in West Texas with a population of a little over 10,000, and was founded in 1846 and named after Prince Frederick of Prussia. Both Fredericksburg and Peach Leaf are home to several amazing German restaurants boasting excellent beer and mouth-watering Reuben sandwiches, and Pioneer Museums that share artifacts and tons of information about the towns’ intriguing histories. As for the school setting—I was a teacher myself for a bit, though I taught high school rather than elementary.
8. What made you choose Texas as a setting?
I chose Texas mostly for the low risk of messing up. I’ve lived here my whole life, so I figured for my debut novel, I’d better stick to what I know best. I plan to travel, do some research, and branch out a little in the future, but Texas will always be in my bones.
9. What brought you into the writing world? What got you writing?
I’ve always loved to read and I think, like many, for me writing was a natural response to having enjoyed so many books. I’ve always written here and there, but, despite a degree in English, I never considered making a career out of it until I found myself in a job I loathed and needed a creative outlet. Once I started writing frequently, I fell in love with the process, and eventually decided to submit some work.
That I’m pretty easygoing and open. I love hearing from readers and I’m always happy to answer questions about the writing or publishing process, and to help out when I have something to offer.
Readers are always welcome to contact me via my website.
For additional information on His Texas Forever Family, please visit the Books page on my website, or find me on Facebook as Amy Woods Books, or on Twitter as @amywoodsbooks.
Thanks so much for having me as a guest today!
August 5, 2014 at 8:08 pm (Interviews) (A Quiet Voice, Author, Eugene Hairston, family, family relationships, Florida, grandmothers, Grey Gecko Press, Interview, Seashells Gator Bones and the Church of Everlasting Liability, Susan Adger)
Interview with Susan Adger
Actually, my daughter Emily came up with the title, based on three of the stories in the book. Seashells are reminders of a girl’s first love, one of the characters makes jewelry out of gator bones, and the Church of Everlasting Liability is one of the town’s churches; the name came from the fact that the members are supposed to be “libel” for each other – to take care of each other – which means they have to know everybody’s else’s business.
2. What made you choose Florida as a setting?
My family has been in the Tampa Bay area for five generations, and the characters in the book are based on some of the old stories my Grandma Keathley used to tell us. When she was born in Mango, FL in 1891, the population swelled to thirty-eight people. Her mother was one of seven children, and her grandmother was one of eight, so there were plenty of crazy, I mean interesting, relatives out there to get ideas from. While everything in the book is fiction, my relatives will be able to tell you who some of the characters are based on.
3. Can you tell us a bit about your earlier work A Quiet Voice?
The book was inspired by a man named Eugene Hairston, who grew up in grinding poverty, then to keep himself out of trouble – he thought – he enlisted in the army and ended up fighting in Vietnam. When he reported the rampant discrimination on the base, his sergeant pushed him out of a helicopter into Viet Cong territory. He survived almost by accident, when some American soldiers on patrol happened by a few days later and rescued him. After the incident was reported, Eugene was given the opportunity to return home, which he did. With untreated P.T.S.D., he became addicted to drugs and alcohol, spent almost two decades in jails and prisons, and lived on the streets of Tampa for eight long years.
In 1998 he changed his life. I met him a few years later and we started working on A Quiet Voice in 2005. It took us almost two years of meeting weekly to complete it. Today he is married, holds a responsible position at the Bay Pines Veterans Administration Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Florida, and is held in high esteem by hundreds of people who know him. The V.A. sends him to speak to veterans about his life at conferences nationwide, and he has received many incredibly heart-warming letters from readers. I’m very gratified to know that writing this book has helped him reach so many people.
4. Ray Bradbury once said, “You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices.” What do you think about this statement?
Well, actually, I never studied writing in college, but for me it has been really important to read a lot, to learn from what others do, and to get feedback on my work. I’ve done this mostly with other writers; I’m in two critique groups and value their input. When I’m critiquing others, however, I always remind them that what they’ve written is their work, and while it’s good to listen to input, in the end it’s their creation.
Initially, I was told that I should know my entire story inside and out before actually writing it; have my outline and character sketches completed and go from there. And heaven knows I tried to do that. But when writing fiction, the only way that seems to work for me is to have an idea about a character and then just watch to see what happens; when there’s a knock on the door in the story, I go along to answer it and we both see who’s there. Of course, I do a lot of editing that way, but it works for me.
I enjoy writing short stories, keeping it light. These days I can hardly bear to watch the news or read the paper; seems to me there’s plenty of negative out there and we could all use a laugh once in a while.
5. What were your educational experiences like? Do you think these experiences have influenced the kind of writer you have become?
I was never too wild about school and wasn’t a great student, partly because when I was growing up my family moved almost every year so I was always the new kid on the block. I remember in the second grade, looking out the classroom window and thinking I’d give anything to be outside with the guys trimming the hedge rather than sitting at my desk. But somehow I ended up with a B.A. in Sociology and a Master’s Degree in Education.
I’m sure everything I’ve experienced in my life has colored what I write. I don’t think any author can avoid putting themselves into their work, even if they want to. I spent a number of years working in child abuse and neglect, as well as with young children with behaviour/emotional problems or developmental delays, and their families. Being able to watch people work to make changes in their lives has been both rewarding and heart breaking. They all taught me a great deal.
6. What brought you to the writing world? What made you decide to write?
I am definitely a late starter. I first began writing when the last of my three children moved out. I remember coming home from work that day, sitting on the couch in an empty living room and listening to the quiet; nobody yelling that somebody stole her sweater (nothing was ever misplaced, it was stolen), no loud music competing with the television, no phone ringing off the hook. I felt let down, a little lonely. For about ten minutes. Then it occurred to me that after twenty-two years of raising kids, mostly as a single parent, I had a life of my own again and could do whatever I wanted. I started with family stories, and branched out from there.
7. Do you have future projects up your sleeve?
I’m in the middle of recording the Seashells book, in my grandma’s old Florida vernacular and hope to have it done this fall. (Why is everything harder than it looks?) And I have a number of stories completed for a companion book.
8. Who are your favorite authors? Do you have an author whose career you aspire to emulate?
Years ago I discovered Lee Smith, whose stories about poor families in Appalachia drew me in. While I haven’t intentionally used her as a model, she has unquestionably had an influence on my work.
9. I see on your facebook page that you do a number of public speaking events and lead group discussions on your books. What do these events involve? How do they work out for you?
I’ve been fortunate to be asked to give a number of book talks at local venues, and have been gratified to see how encouraging and supportive audiences have been. When I first started speaking, I found it quite challenging (read terrifying), but with practice, I no longer feel that I’ll have a nervous breakdown before it’s over.
I talk a little about how I got into writing and my Florida family’s background, read some excerpts from the book, and encourage listeners to record their family histories.
10. If there were one thing you would want your readers and fans to know about you, what would it be?
One of the reasons I thought to write this book was because of interviews I did with my Grandma Keathley. Years ago I sat down with her and recorded her reminiscences about growing up in Mango, and later raising her six children in Tampa. I had to kind of twist her arm to do it; she finally relented after I talked her into reciting poetry like she did to her kids when they were small, and singing a few hymns. Then I just kind of sneaked her into the interview by asking questions.
I love hearing her stories about growing up in Mango in her voice with the old Florida “southernisms” Sometimes when I’m feeling down, I’ll make myself the breakfast she’d always fix me, a fried egg on top of some buttered oatmeal, then listen to one of her interviews, and I feel better.
When I speak, I strongly encourage the audience to interview the older members of their families – these days it’s easy to videotape them – or write about their own histories. The little details are what I love most – knowing that the oxen my great-grandfather hooked up to the wagon to take his vegetables to market were named Red’en and George; and when my great-grandfather would pull my grandmother up on the horse with him so she could see the baby birds in their nest; and once, when my grandma was at a “Church Sing” with a new boyfriend, the horse took off with the buggy and when they found him he’d gotten stuck halfway over a fence. For me, details like that make my family history come to life.
And you can quote me on this: “There is NOTHING more interesting than families.”
Periodically, Anakalian Whims interviews authors and artists for the public. This blog having such a friendly relationship with Grey Gecko Press has allowed for more author interviews than I could have ever dreamed for, and here’s one more. Meet Leo King, author of the Sins of the Father trilogy.
1. You have a 3.95 average rating on Goodreads for The Bourbon Street Ripper, sounds like people generally like it! (The first few pages creeped me out and I’m holding off until I can muster a non-scaredy cat reading mood out of myself to finish the book.) Tell us a little about your series Sins of the Father.
Sins of the Father is a genre-bending trilogy. While it’s thriller throughout, it starts as a a murder mystery and changes into what could almost be called urban fantasy. The voodoo culture undertones in the beginning become more prevalent as the three books go on.
2. What brought you to the murder/mystery/thriller genre? Is it merely what fit this story or is it your chosen genre?
My chosen genres are actually sci-fi, urban fantasy and epic fantasy. However, I’ve always wanted to write a trilogy that mutates genres in a seamless fashion. Most of this is because I want to show that it can be done. Put enough information in the story to inform the reader, and you can go from mystery to supernatural or fantasy to science fiction, etc. While it’s not recommended all the time (fans of one tend to favor it over the other), there are occasions when it can be very entertaining.
This is my only attempt at genre-bending. I will not do it again. I also will likely never write pure modern-day mystery. It’s not something I think I’d enjoy. I might try a hand at science-fiction mystery some time.
I love thrillers though, and will likely continue in the supernatural thriller and serial killer thriller genre in the future.
I think I kind of got away from your question. Sorry about that. The genres of Sins of the Father fit the story.
3. Who are your favorite books and authors? Ultimately whose writing career inspires you most?
American Gods by Neil Gaiman is my #1 favorite for modern authors. Otherwise, anything by Asimov for science fiction, Weiss and Hickman for fantasy, and Stephen King for thriller/horror. My favorite old-school novel is Lord of the Rings.
I’ve enjoyed the freedom I get with GGP. They put the author’s desires first and foremost. I consider GGP a great starting place for any author.
5. Although you’re a Houston local, I see in your bio that you’re not a Houston native. How do you think your Louisiana roots and life experiences have affected your writing?
I grew up in New Orleans, the birth place of the modern romantic vampire (mostly thanks to Anne Rice). Because of that, I tend to blend romanticism with everything I write. I also try to give my locations and settings enough life for them to be considered a character themselves.
6. Your bio also says that you want your work to be controversial enough to make people think. What kind of thinking were you wanting to encourage with the Sins of the Father series? What kind of themes do you plan to pursue in future work?
If nothing else, I want to dispel stereotypes. Let me explain.
Every person, even the most deplorable, is still a person. Something made them that way. For example, some people in our society believe that anyone who is a terrorist is the epitome of evil and deserves no regard. But what drove that person to become that way? What hopelessness made them susceptible to their cause’s brain-washing? So many people do not ask those questions. They just brand and condemn. It disgusts me.
So I’ll create characters that the reader falls in love with, and then have them reveal something utterly horrible about themselves. Will my readers continue to love them? Will they condemn the actions instead of the person? Or will they suddenly hate the character and put the book down? What they do, and if they think before doing it, will say a lot about them.
I won’t apologize for anything I write, no matter how much it offends someone. Every human being has a story, and that story needs to be told.
7. You’re planning a Halloween release party for your next book. Ideally, what would that look like to you?
As this is my first launch party, I have no expectations. Something voodoo themed would be lovely.
8. Did you put any of your series to paper while listening to music? If so, what kind, which artists, what songs?
I write in silence.
9. Outside of your writing career what does your life look like? Do you have hobbies or interests that you’d like to share with your readership?
I am happily married to my wife of going on nine years. I work from home during the day and write at night. Sometimes I meet friends for coffee or beer, but never coffee and beer. That’s an important distinction!
My biggest out of office activity is my Writing Workshop. It’s a video workshop I started in 2012 and let stall out due to lack of equipment. I am thinking of setting up a Kickstarter campaign to get better equipment. It’s hard to teach writing techniques when you’re recording on an iPhone!
As for hobbies, I am an avid gamer. That’s both video games and role-playing games. I have a BS in Video Game Design that I’ve never used professionally, but I design game mods and develop indie games all the time. Yes, game development is a hobby for me. I love martial arts and am a sword collector.
10. If there were one thing you would want your fans/readers to know about you, what would it be?
Someone once expressed concern about my mental health because of some of the scenes in The Bourbon Street Ripper. I want to say that it’s just a book: I don’t endorse any of the horrible things my characters do!
July 10, 2014 at 8:45 pm (Interviews) (artist, Author, birding, birds, collage artist, education, illustrator, Interview, kids, kids books, Marit Menzin, picture books, Song for Papa Crow, story time)
Along with the story time kids, I had the opportunity to interview the author of Song for Papa Crow, Marit Menzin.
First, questions from the kids:
“What made you want to write a book like this one, about crows and singing?” – Justin, age 9
I love animals and nature, and I’m childlike in the sense that I always keep asking questions. I live in Lexington, Massachusetts where I see most of the birds featured in Song for Papa Crow in my backyard. The idea for my book came to me when I helped one of my children with a school project on birds. When I discovered that father crows take care of their offspring longer than most other birds, and that the whole flock would come to help a wounded crow, I asked myself: What would happen if a little crow was teased by songbirds for his unique song? And, what if in his quest to make friends he learned the other birds’ songs, but when he was in danger his father wouldn’t recognize his song? This idea is not farfetched, as I learned to my surprise that crows can mimic sounds made by animals and other birds, as well as sounds made by humans.
When I wrote my story I wasn’t thinking about morals, but there are many morals that I subconsciously conveyed: Every child is special, and every child has unique gifts. Be proud of your family, and with who you are. It’s a good idea to tell your parents where you’re going, and whom you’re hanging out with so they’ll know where to find you. Your family loves you no matter what. Your family is the most important thing.
“My question is about Papa Crow. Will he always save Little Crow? That’s my question.” – Ayla, age 3
Yes. Papa Crow will ALWAYS save Little Crow when he hears his voice. For Papa Crow, Little Crow’s voice is the sweetest thing in the world.
“Exactly why did you make the singing scenes? And who did you write the story for?” – Ian, age 7
I made the singing scenes because the birds I see and listen to in my backyard inspired me. I also thought that it would be fun to research bird songs and rituals.
Although Song for Papa Crow is a fiction picture book, the story line is based on true facts. The mockingbird is a great singer who can imitate the sounds of other birds, and is also one of the few birds that can be heard singing at night.
Questions from Anaklian Whims Blog:
What led you to Schiffer Books? (www.schifferbooks.com)
What inspired your collage art? It’s a very unique way to illustrate.
I doodled and painted since my early childhood, and I experimented with different art media including oils, and pastels. But I only started developing my collage technique when I took classes with the Caldecott award-winning illustrator Ilse Plume at the deCordova Museum.
I see that you are a freelance collage artist. You do book covers for hire? What sort of cost would an indie author be looking at?
I designed the cover for my book. In general, a cover price can range anywhere from $150 to $4000 but an Indie Author could pay $250-$1000 depending on what she’s looking for and how much work is involved.
Do you have more kids’ books of your own in your future?
I’m currently working on the illustrations for a new book.
I see you do school visits. What would it take to get you to Texas?
I would love to visit Texas. You’ll have to add travel & lodging expenses to visit cost. For more about this author/illustrator, visit: http://maritmenzin.com/
A little over a year ago, I had the pleasure of meeting her in person. We coordinated a book signing at Half Price Books together where I was introduced to her friends, her students, and customers. I had the pleasure of reviewing her book for this blog, read it here.
I am not close to Reeshemah, I only met her a few times. I enjoyed her company and her book. In the time that I spent with her I saw that she radiated excitement for life and encouraged a wholesome existence to all she came in contact with – from the inside out. She taught eating right as well as thinking right. She spoke of her Lord often and seemed to wish that everyone could come to live healthily and happily.
That being said, I have not been privy to the information regarding her death, so I do not want this to be construed as an obituary of any kind.
I do want to direct anyone searching my blog for information (her name came up a lot in my search history this week) to her website. There is a notice there regarding the family’s wishes and request for donations in lieu of flowers to help cover costs. That website is here.
For friends and family, as well as the public who missed the opportunity to meet her, I’d like to make these photos available.
I don’t believe I had the pleasure of ever taking a picture with her, I always thought I’d have another chance as I intended on booking her for another signing. She was a joy to have in the store and the customers talked fondly of her presence afterward. I had a signed copy of her book, but someone else I knew needed to read her worldview and mantra for themselves and I loaned my copy out.
She has left behind quite a legacy. My prayers are with her family and I hope yours are too.
Download her book to your kindle, or purchase a paperback, here: Don’t Die By Your Own Hands.
June 14, 2014 at 7:08 pm (Interviews) (Author, comicpalooza, fiction, Grey Gecko Press, horror, Houston, Houston authors, Interview, Jason Kristopher, science fiction, series, stephen king, TX author, Wayne Basta)
1. Your books (The Dying of the Light) are a series of zombie apocalypse novels. What do you think your stories have that set them apart from the rest of the zombie genre?
First, a realistic and scientifically-vetted reason for zombies, as in it’s not just supernatural or science fiction ‘hand-waving.’ Second, and this is the key difference, the books aren’t about the zombies. Yes, they have zombies in them, and action and blood and guts and gore, but at its core, The Dying of the Light is a story about people. I always tell potential readers that it could’ve been anything that ended the world: aliens, earthquakes, global warming… none of that matters. This series is about the end of these people’s own personal worlds, and how they deal with what happens during and after, and more importantly, with each other. That’s the real story – the rest is just window-dressing.
2. What inspired you to write zombie novels? Did the characters come to you as products of the apocalypse, or did you drop them into that setting after their inception?
The idea for the story was a mash-up of two different dreams, actually. One about a lone zombie survivor on an island, the other about the end of the world (though I didn’t know at the time what had done it). My writer’s brain smashed them together, and suddenly, there was a zombie apocalypse trilogy. It makes me a bit nervous about the other connections my mind makes, actually…
3. Stephen King says people who don’t read don’t have the tools to write. Who are your favorite authors? Who inspires you to write? Who do you read to gain more writing energy?
Would it be trite to say Stephen King? His book On Writing is the single best treatise on the craft of authorship that I’ve ever read. As for other fun favorites, I have a ton, but a few that come to mind: Isaac Asimov, Terry Brooks, Jim Butcher, Orson Scott Card, Arthur C. Clarke, Donaldson, Jordan, Koontz, Niven, Pratchett… see what I mean? For inspiration, I look at some of my friends, like George Wright Padgett (Spindown), who wrote one of my personal Top 5 sci-fi books. That is inspiring, to me. I like to re-read some books if I’m having trouble with a book I’m writing, too. For example, I’ll revisit The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series if I’m stumbling over dialogue – even though it’s English slang, Douglas Adams was a master of dialogue.
4. Do you have play lists of mood music you write to? If so, which artists/songs generally make the cut?
If I have music on, it’s generally instrumental – tuneful background noise, basically. The soundtrack to Lord of the Rings, or Last of the Mohicans, that sort of thing. If I’m struggling with a particular type of scene, I’ll find some music that fits that ambiance. For example, my “Car Chase” playlist has Guns N’ Roses, Project Pitchfork, Rihanna, and even Motley Crue. But usually, I like it quiet or very low music when I’m writing; it keeps me focused.
5. You are not just an author, but the owner of a publishing company: Grey Gecko Press. Tell me a little about that. What made you decide to open such a venture and what are your goals for the company?
I’ve always been business-minded, and when I published my first book, I knew there would be business expenses involved. Originally, I never planned to publish anyone else’s work, but then a friend (author Wayne Basta) asked if I could help him, and Aristeia: Revolutionary Right became the second book published under the Grey Gecko imprint. I found I really enjoyed working with other authors to share great stories, even if they weren’t mine, and I had the ability to do it… so why not? From the beginning, the company has been about treating authors fairly, publishing great books, and doing things the right way, even if that bucks centuries of tradition.
As far as goals… well, I’ve long said that I’d like for Grey Gecko to be ‘the Google of publishing.’ Most people interpret that to mean I want to be rich, when that’s not at all my goal. I want Grey Gecko Press to be huge because it would mean that every author would have a chance at the same kind of success that only a few get now with traditional publishing. Every struggling writer, pounding away at their keyboard (or typewriter, I’m not judging) would know that at least one company would look at their work when it was done, regardless of their past publishing experience – because, at the end of the day, Grey Gecko isn’t about making money: it’s about publishing great books and putting authors first. As you can tell, I’m quite passionate about this endeavor.
6. You’re quite an entrepreneur. What other projects do you have up your sleeve?
I think it’d be great to have a Grey Gecko bookstore, for one thing. For another, we haven’t been able to focus on as much as I’d like with Grey Gecko is giving back to our community. I’ve got some ideas for creating local resources and ‘maker-spaces’ for writers of all types and kinds. When we’re ready, I’d like to take our business model into other fields, as well, including movies, film, and even music. So yeah, a few projects on the horizon!
7. How would you feel about having your books made into a television show or series of movies? Would you want to write your own screenplays? Who would be your ideal director?
One of the comments I have most about my books are that they’re very visual, very cinematic, and I agree! I think they’d make great movies/TV shows, mainly because that’s what I see in my head when I write them. I’m not sure about writing the screenplays myself, although I’d give it a try. There’s a lot about the behind-the-camera part of the film industry that I don’t know, so I’d at least listen to some experts… though naturally I’d want final say. I’d rather not have it made at all than made badly. I’m not sure of all the director’s names on The Walking Dead, but they do such a masterful job with a show that’s so similar in tone, that I’d likely pick one of them, given the choice.
Despite what I may say on Sunday afternoon at a convention, I actually enjoy talking to people about our books. Helping people discover a new book they haven’t heard about, or seeing their excitement at the next volume in a series, or seeing the light of wonder shine in a child’s eyes as I hand them a copy of Greystone Valley is why I do what I do. As far as book signings go, I enjoy them for many of the same reasons; talking to people about my books and getting them excited about reading is a blast. What it really comes down to for me, though, is that I’m a storyteller at heart; however I can tell you a story, I’m going to do it. My least favorite part of all these things would be the setup, teardown, and logistics that go into planning them… mainly because I’m lazy! I’d love to show up with a cup of coffee and find everything set and ready to go, but that’s the price you pay for being your own boss, I guess!
9. What other published work have you been a part of? And what can we expect to see from you in the future?
Aside from The Dying of the Light, I’ve also published several short stories, some of which are based in my zombie series, some not. I also contributed one of my favorite short pieces, The Art of Steaming, to the horror anthology A Fancy Dinner Party, along with 9 other Grey Gecko Press authors, and it was also featured in the collection Penny Dreadfuls: Halloween Special. For future work… boy, have I got some ideas for you!
First, I’m finishing The Dying of the Light with the third book, Beginning, due out this winter. Then there’s Under a Cloud-covered Moon, the first in a series about an irascible, anti-hero detective who works for the Seattle Metahuman Crimes Unit, solving crimes by and against ‘metas’ – non-supernatural mutants who’ve been called ‘vampires’ and ‘werewolves’ for centuries by those who had no idea of their true nature. I’ve also got a middle-grade/YA story in mind about a Teddy Bear (because it’s a job, not a toy) named Freddy McPhane, as well as my epic fantasy series of 30 books (no joke), not to mention the 150+ other ideas I have written down. I’m going to be busy!
10. If there is one thing you would want your readers and fans to know about you, what would it be? If you had one request of your readers and fans, what would it be?
I want all my fans and readers to know that I love hearing from them! Whether it’s a quick note, or a detailed letter, I’m always excited to connect with my readers, which is best done through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a request, I’d request everyone who enjoys the books they read, especially indie books, to leave a review on Amazon, GoodReads, or elsewhere. Short of buying more books, a review is the best way to support indie authors and small press. That and telling all your friends, of course! To find out why reviews are so important, visit my blog: On the Importance of Reviews, or, It’s Just 21 Words!
I had the pleasure of meeting author Wayne Basta awhile back for a book signing at Half Price Books Humble. He has a three part series published under Grey Gecko Press here in the Houston area. This week, I finally had the pleasure of interviewing him.
1. I haven’t had the pleasure of reading your series. Can you tell us about it?
Aristeia is a science fiction space opera that follows the characters of Maarkean, Saracasi and Zeric as they accidently set off a rebellion against the powerful Alliance.
2. What moved you to start writing science fiction?
I’ve always been a fan of the genre. My father got me into Star Trek and Star Wars at a young age and then followed it up with classic science fiction books like Asimov and Clarke.
3. An interviewer (Sam Weller, of the Paris Review) asked Ray Bradbury if writing science fiction satisfied something that mainstream fiction did not. I’d like to ask you that same question. Do you find that science fiction satisfies something that mainstream fiction cannot – both in yourself as well as in society?
I don’t believe science fiction isn’t mainstream fiction. Look at the biggest blockbuster movies and books and you’ll find lots examples of science fiction. Science fiction certainly satisfies something other genre’s do not, but so does every different genre.
4. When did you start writing? Have you always wanted to write?
The first things I wrote were when I was 9 and we got our first home computer. I dabbled in writing ever sense then, though I didn’t make a serious effort to write a complete novel length story until just a few years ago.
5. When you write, do you have a specific place or environment you like to go? Do you play music (and if so, what music?) or do you prefer the quiet?
I usually write from my laptop at the kitchen table. The chairs are less comfortable than my desk chair so its easier to stay focused. The laptop also can’t run most of my games so that clearly defines this computer a work place and the desktop for play.
I write in silence a lot but depending on the scene I’m working on I might put on music. I’ll often try and match the music to what’s happening in the book. During a heavy battle scene I might play some epic sound tracks from movie battles or if its more subdued a lighter piece.
6. What is the easiest part of the writing process for you? What is the hardest?
The easiest part is the writing itself. Figuring out what I’m going to write, finding the time when there’s no toddler demanding attention, marketing the books, editing the grammar and everything else is hard. But when I know what is going to happen to my characters, the words just flow out with ease.
I worked with an artist named Oliver Wetter to design the cover. I told him what I had in mind and described the looks of my characters. He then brought them to life. He did an amazing job with each of them.
8. You were recently at a Comicpalooza. What were you doing there? What was that experience like?
I sat on a number of writing panels at Comicpalooza. It’s always great to get to sit down and talk about writing and books with fellow authors and fans of the genre.
9. Do you have any tips or advice on getting published for aspiring authors?
Never give up, never surrender. It’s a hard process to wade through and relies mostly on persistence and dedication to succeeding. Keep trying and keep improving your queries and your writing.
Like Wayne’s page on facebook.
I love doing author interviews, especially for authors whose work I have read and enjoyed. Please allow me to introduce to you John Oehler. Below is an interview in which he was kind enough to participate.
1. I read Papyrus and Aphrodesia and was riveted by both. You have a knack for mystery and detail, whether historical or well-researched professions like perfuming. What inspired you to write these stories?
The initial idea for Papyrus came to me in 1983 when I was in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and noticed a potential way for thieves to break in. Over time (by which I mean decades, because I was not yet a serious writer), the story concept expanded tremendously. The theft now occupies only a chapter and a half.
Interested readers can see my original sketch of the break-in route by going to http://johnoehler.com , pulling down Papyrus from the Novels tab, and clicking on Behind the Scenes.
Aphrodesia is another story that took years to mature. I first became interested in fragrances while living in London in the mid-80s. I started collecting perfume samples, perfume books, and articles on the psychology of scent. I wanted to write a story centered on fragrances but couldn’t think of an interesting plot — until I met a master perfumer in Versailles who told me that creating a true aphrodisiac is the Holy Grail of the perfumer’s art. I thought: Bingo! I can make a story out of an aphrodisiac.
As with Papyrus, you can read more about the origin of Aphrodesia on my website. Pull down Aphrodesia from the Novels menu, click on Behind the Scenes, and you’ll see two entries illustrated with photos of the master perfumer and of ISIPCA, the perfume school in Versailles where the story begins.
2. You got an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for Papyrus and First Place in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association for Tepui. How did you feel about being recognized so well on these novels? (Also, what’s your secret to success?)
Papyrus was a semifinalist in the 2009 ABNA competition, ranking in the top 1% out of 10,000 submissions. I was thrilled. At the same time I was disappointed, because the Publishers Weekly reviewer praised everything about the story except for the “downbeat” ending — a major character died. It made me wonder if a more upbeat ending might have advanced Papyrus into the finals. I knew, from critique partners and others who had read the story, that opinion was divided about 50:50 between those who loved the last chapter and those who didn’t. Ultimately I decided to change the ending.
As an aside, I have toyed with the idea of posting the original ending on my website. But beyond those who read this interview, very few people are even aware that the current last chapter was not my first choice.
Winning the PNWA competition was probably the biggest surprise of my writing career. It’s a major contest that attracts lots of agents and editors. I’d entered a thriller titled Tepui and received a hint that it might be a finalist. At the award ceremony, I was sitting at a big round table with my wife and about ten other people as the finalists were read off. When my name was announced as the winner, I blurted, “Are you shitting me?” The whole table laughed.
Perhaps the coolest thing was that this led to a role reversal. Like most unpublished writers, I’d endured years of frustration playing supplicant to the deaf gods of agentdom. Now, suddenly, agents were courting ME.
In the end, the agent I signed with turned out to be a poor choice. Several months into our relationship, she sold a YA fantasy for half a million bucks and a second YA fantasy for a quarter million. She lost interest in thrillers. On the flip side, I lost interest in agents and have been more than happy to self-publish ever since.
Secret to success? I’m certainly not as “successful” as I’d like to be. But I attribute my modicum of popularity to excellent teachers (like Chris Rogers) and critique partners I trust and respect. I strive to create unusual characters, take them to places most readers have never seen before, and keep readers guessing what’s going to happen next. I also try to engage all of the senses, to help readers feel like they are in the story, not just reading it.
3. I’ve posted reviews for Aphrodesia and Papyrus here on my blog, but I haven’t had the pleasure of discovering Tepui. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Tepui is the story of a burn-scarred botanist who treks into the remote Venezuelan highlands in search of a living fossil but stumbles onto something far more astonishing, and deadly.
This story stems from my work and travels in Venezuela and on the history of the region.
4. Tell us about your other writing ventures. What other brilliant ideas have you got up your sleeve? When can we expect to see your next book?
I’m not sure what will come after that. I’ve always loved old books and libraries. While visiting a monastery in Prague last Christmas, I spent an hour contemplating their library and especially their locked collection of forbidden tomes. I’d like to set a story in that environment. The idea might sound derivative of The Name of the Rose (one of my all-time favorite stories), but I would set it mainly in modern times.
In a similar vein, I’ve long wanted to write a story set in western Ireland during the Viking raids of the early 900s. It would center on a mixed male-female monastery with a round tower that serves as a repository for volumes rescued from the anti-intellectual book burnings of the Dark Ages. I’m torn between this and the Prague story. I don’t think I can do both, because there’d be too many similarities.
I’ve written parts of several other stories I’d like to expand if I live long enough. One centers on a powder created by an 8th-Century Arab alchemist (a real person) that extends life for centuries, provided you keep taking it. The story opens with the spectacular (true) robbery in 1976 of a bank in Nice, during which thieves spent an entire weekend looting safe deposit boxes in the underground vault. In my twist, the thieves were working for a woman who knew the powder and the alchemist’s formula were in one of the boxes, and that’s all she wanted.
Most of the others involve things like ancient mysteries and labyrinthine puzzles.
5. What got you started in the writing world? Have you always wanted to write or is it a passion you discovered later in life?
In high school I wrote poetry about society’s outcasts, some of which was published in a scholastic magazine. In college I occasionally ghostwrote sonnets for girls who were supposed to write them as a class assignment. Simple rhyming poetry always came easily to me.
What started me writing novels — or trying to — was hubris. In the late 70s and early 80s, I traveled internationally quite a bit and spent my time on planes reading Robert Ludlum novels. After a while, I thought: I can do better than that. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure my attitude came from the fact that (as he admitted later) his stories all had the same plot. So on that trip to Egypt when I got my initial idea for Papyrus, I decided to try my hand at writing a book. Little did I know.
Flash forward several years and I’ve finally finished my first version, a 240,000-word tome I called The Papyrus of Tiye. A friend of mine offers to take it home with him at Thanksgiving and show it to his mother, a vice president at Bantam. P.S. It came back with a note that read, “Tell him to take a creative writing class.”
Exit all traces of hubris, never to return. Enter the long, hard slog of learning to craft stories that OTHER people enjoy reading.
6. Your writing style is truly unique; I’ve never read another quite like you. Who are your favorite authors to read? Who inspires you?
Interesting that you should mention my “style.” I was once told that I don’t have a style. In truth, I don’t think about it when I write. But when I proof a story, I do notice a lot of “habits” that surface on every page.
Modern authors I enjoy reading include Ken Follett, Michael Crichton (before his stories became political), Umberto Eco, Nelson DeMille, Daniel Silva, Trevanian, Frank Herbert, Stieg Larsson, Wilbur Smith, Elizabeth George (her earlier books), and Laura Hillenbrand (a monument to writing beautifully under major adversity). Sadly, several of these authors have left us.
If I had to pick one author who inspires me, it would be Michael Crichton. As a scientist, I like the way he turns science into adventure and often combines that with history. My own stories do the same.
7. Your ‘on location’ scenes in your books are so detailed. Have you traveled to the places you write to describe them so vividly?
What a wonderful compliment. Thank you.
Yes, I’ve traveled to many of the places I describe: Egypt for Papyrus, France for Aphrodesia, Venezuela for Tepui. In fact, I’ve traveled to fifty or sixty countries and lived in six. But there are places in my stories I have not visited. Two examples are Yemen in Aphrodesia and Sudan in Papyrus. For these I used my experiences in Somalia, combined with books and articles I have plus a lot of Internet research.
If you’re going to take a reader to someplace exotic, I believe you have a duty to make that place as real as possible. And not just visually. What does it smell like? What sounds do you hear? How does the food taste? What textures do you feel? Those details help the reader feel “there.”
8. Other than writing, what are your other hobbies and interests?
I read a lot, of course. I love to cook. And my wife and I continue to travel as often as we can. She’s a member of the Mars Science team, which operates and analyzes data from NASA’s Curiosity rover, so our travel opportunities are limited by the rover’s activities. But we manage to get away frequently and always enjoy the foods, wines, art, music, and history of the places we visit.
Then there’s our Old English Sheepdog, Elfie, who has her own Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/elfie.oehler) and takes a chunk of my “spare” time.
As to interests, name something, and I’m probably interested. I have files on everything from art, poisons, labyrinths, and magic to ancient and medieval history, symbology, gold, gypsies, and food. Probably I’m most interested in things that influence the way we think and behave, especially early Catholicism, medieval Islam, taboos, superstitions, and the like.
9. If there is one thing you’d want your readers and fans to know about you, what would it be?
My whole reason for writing is to please my readers and make them hungry for more of my work. I want to share with them the excitement of exotic places, the richness (and sometimes terror) of foreign cultures. And (don’t kill me for saying this) I try to educate by painlessly integrating elements of history, art, and science. I love it when readers say, “I never knew that.” And I love it even more when they wonder, Could this really happen?
10. Previously you have participated in book signing events in the Houston area. When (and where) can we expect to see you out and about again?
Nothing scheduled at the moment. But when Tepui comes out, I hope to have several signings. I’ll definitely let you know. Signings offer a unique opportunity to speak personally with potential readers, and I look forward to the next round.
1. Describe your book and its inception. What made you decide to write this?
“The Stones of Andarus” is the first book in The Devenshire Chronicles series. It introduces us to the main characters and sets up the premise for the rest of the series. A demented Master Mage named Xavier annihilates a village in order to obtain the Stones of Andarus, which legends claim contain a fragment of the power of creation mixed with the twisted essence of a crazed sorcerer named Andarus. Daimion Devenshire realizes what is at stake and sets off on a desperate quest to stop Xavier from unleashing the unholy power of these three ancient artifacts. Joining him on this adventure are a group of unlikely heroes including The Lady Brianna Standish, governing lord of Prothtow Province, Shantira Dubris, sole survivor of Xavier’s attack on her village, Raven Darkseed, rouge adept of the Mystical Arts and Zandorth Krahl, Warrior of the Ancient Class.
What made me decide to write this was a desire to write in a genre I had never tried before. Prior to “The Stones of Andarus”, I had written manuscripts in multiple genres including westerns, science fiction, and detective/thrillers. I had always enjoyed a good Fantasy story and one day in 1998 I decided to try my hand at it. Little did I know that I was setting out on a story that would dominate and consume me for over a decade.
2. What were your influences? Is there anyone from your genre you especially admire?
My biggest influence when it comes to writing is Ms. Joynelle Pearson. When I was 13 I had a very explosive temper. One day that temper led me to punch a brick column in my schools court yard. Needless to say I wound up in the nurses station with an ice pack on my very swollen hand (thank goodness nothing was broken). Ms. Pearson happened to walk by and saw me sitting there. She lifted the towel over the ice pack and shook her head. She looked up at me and said, “You really should get a handle on that temper of yours. Have you ever tried writing a short story about whatever it was that angered you?” That piece of advice started me down the path of becoming a writer. At first they were just really bloody and violent short stories. As time went on I found that it really did help ease my temper and I really enjoyed the writing process. Those initial short stories started being expanded with actual plot lines, character development and so forth.
My other writing influences include Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Clive Cussler, Dean Koontz, Louis L’Amor and, of course, Tolkien. In the Fantasy genre I really enjoy C. S. Friedman, P. N. Elrod, and George R. R. Martin.
3. Many authors are heavily influenced by their environment when they write. Where is your safe space? Do you have mood music?
I don’t really have a designated place to write. Sometimes I write at my desk, sometimes I write in my backyard, and sometimes I write in my bedroom. I would have to say that my muse decides the environment I’m going to write in.
I absolutely have to have music blaring through my headphone when I’m writing. I have a very long playlist of all types of music on my computer. Everything from rock to rap to instrumental to big band to jazz, the list is practically endless. Sometimes I’ll pull up an Epic Music track on YouTube and write to that. Like my writing environment, it seems my muse picks the music as well.
4. What do you find to be the easiest of the writing and editing process? What is the hardest for you?
The easiest is the writing of the first draft. I don’t worry about the mechanics of writing, I just write, let the ideas flow and hope my fingers can get the ideas out as fast as my mind is producing them.
Editing gets tedious after the fifth or sixth time through the manuscript, but I enjoy the process of seeing where I’ve made mistakes and how to keep myself from repeating them. I also have a very talented editor (Rogena Mitchell-Jones) who has been a tremendous help in improving my editing skills.
The hardest part of the writing process has to be starting a new book. The excitement and urge to write are so strong and yet, getting that first sentence out has always been the hardest part for me. I’ve spent hour upon hour staring at that blank screen and blinking cursor and… nothing. I have lost count of how many millions of first sentences/paragraphs that I’ve deleted trying to get that new story started.
5. Many authors participate in book signings and conventions. Artistic authors like yourself who write and create for this genre do especially well at ComicCon and Comicpalooza. Are you interested in branching out into the event world? What would your ideal celebration of The Devenshire Chronicles look like?
I would love to branch out into the event world. I think book signings, conventions and other events where I can introduce readers to the world of The Devenshire Chronicles would be ideal. The perfect celebration of The Devenshire Chronicles would feature a booth with copies of all my books for sale, all sorts of book swag, portraits I’ve created of all the characters and a monitor set up playing the book trailers and other videos I’ve created for the series. I would be there signing copies of the books and talking with people about the books, writing and other creative processes. It would be great.
6. Did you learn anything about yourself or the world you live in by writing this book (that isn’t included in the book itself)?
Over the 16 years that I’ve been involved in The Devenshire Chronicles, namely The Stones of Andarus, I’ve watched myself grow as a writer and a person. I go back to the original first draft of Book 1 and I almost cringe at how bad the writing was. At the time I thought it was the best piece of literature ever produced, but looking back on it now, I can see how much I’ve grown. My wife has read both versions and she has made the observation that I’ve seasoned as a writer and a person since I began this story. As I have grown, I can see how the main characters of the story have grown as well. I have learned that while my skill as a writer has improved tremendously over the past decade, I still have much more to learn and that there is always room for improvement.
7. How have your friends and family reacted to your content?
My friends and family have been tremendously supportive of my writing. I have to temper their praise with the fact that they are my friends and family, but it’s good to have that kind of support.
One of my friends is hooked on the series and is always asking me when the next book is coming out and that I need to hurry up. She says she actually misses the main characters in between books and can’t wait for the next one.
My wife, Renee, is, without a doubt, my staunchest supporter and the primary reason Book 1 was ever published. When I met her three years ago I had given up on ever publishing The Devenshire Chronicles. She read part of “The Stones of Andarus” and encouraged me to keep writing. She has become my sounding board for story ideas and keeps me on track when I get discouraged or distracted.
8. What are your future writing plans? Do you have other books in the works?
I am currently working on Book 3 of The Devenshire Chronicles entitled, “The Amulet of Talmara”. I’m hoping to have it released later this year. I also have ideas for a pirate novel, a science fiction novel, a western, a post-apocalyptic novel and another Fantasy novel as well.
9. Tell me about your art ventures.
After I had released “The Stones of Andarus” I wanted a book trailer to go along with it. I had watched several book trailers and started playing around with a movie making program. I produced a crude trailer but I was never completely satisfied with it. I needed/wanted characterizations of the characters in the book and I didn’t want to use someone else’s artwork or photographs. I saw the trailer for “Sanctum of Souls”, a work in progress by Bex Pavia who is a friend of mine. She had 3D representations of her characters and I was blown away by that. I asked her how she made the characters and she introduced me to a 3D graphics program.
Over the next couple of months I played with the program, watched tutorials and experimented until I was finally able to produce the first 3D rendering of Daimion Devenshire. That was a very powerful moment for me. I had always pictured Daimion in my mind, but to actually “see” him was incredible. Once I had 3D portraits of all the main characters I started revamping my book trailer and found that I absolutely love doing that sort of creative work, almost as much as I love writing.
Since then I have gone on to produce a book trailer for Book 2 “Predator & Prey” and have gone back and replaced the text-on-screen in both trailers with my own voice over work.
I have also produced a video which is a remake of the original “Hawaii 5-0” intro. In the remake I call it “Prothtow 5-0” (Prothtow is a province in the books) and I use the characters from the book as its “stars”. I did it for pure entertainment value and the fact that I so enjoy making these videos.
I have found it’s a good outlet for me when I have a particularly bad case of writers’ block.
10. If there was one thing you’d want fans to know about you, what would it be?
I don’t write these books to become rich and famous (though I won’t deny the more pleasant aspects of that thought). I write these books because I want to touch people the way I’ve been touched through someone’s writing. I pour everything I have into these stories so that maybe, just maybe, someone will read them and feel like we have some sort of connection. I want people to read my work and feel like we had one hell of a good time together and it leaves them with some very warm and fond memories.
The Stones of Andarus (Kindle/ paperback)
The Stones of Andarus on Smashwords
The Stones of Andarus book trailer
Predator & Prey book trailer
Update from the road by S. Smith: