J.B. Reynolds


Author Interview: Alex Schuler

Alex SchulerThis month’s author interview is with Alex Schuler, a writer and artist who lives in Colorado in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. She loves learning new things and meeting new people. These days, she spends most of her time working on her writing and visual art and spends the rest dreaming about and planning her big around the world bicycling trip.

Thanks for joining us today, Alex. First up, your cycling trip sounds interesting. What are your plans there?

I’ll be leaving September 2018, heading south. I’m hoping to continue for nine or ten years and visit as many countries as I can safely and without going too far out of my way. I’m particularly looking forward to Chile, Iceland, Botswana, New Zealand, and Japan.

Wow! Nine or ten years. That’s an impressive plan. Good luck with making it happen. Look me up when you come to New Zealand. Now, on to your writing. Can you tell us a little about what you’re currently working on?

I’m currently working on a Choose Your Own Adventure style interactive fiction book trilogy. Each instalment should be able to be read on its own, but will pick up from one of the endings of the previous. I’m hoping to self-publish the first toward the end of this year or the beginning of next year.

That sounds interesting, and all the best with your plans to self-publish. I remember reading a few Choose Your Own Adventure type stories as a child. They were Dungeons & Dragons style fantasy stories. I really enjoyed them, especially the interactive elements. Sticking to the topic of childhood memories—do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?

The first story I remember reading, although I’m sure I read others before it, is The Boxcar Children. It was read to us by our teacher, really. I don’t remember whether we were meant to read along. It was first grade and at the time I was struggling with reading. I imagine it was frustrating and painful and I hated it, although I don’t remember that part.

The Boxcar Children

The Boxcar Children must have gotten me hooked, though, because I read any of the series I could get my hands on. I think I ended up reading the entirety of the series that was out at the time, and went on to be a voracious reader.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

For me, the rough draft is the hardest part. As much as I try to just write what comes and remember that I can work it out in edits, I always end up hating what I’ve written, which is really demotivating on long projects.

I think everyone hates their first draft. Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit,” and his stuff turned out okay. But it’s a torturous process. Do you find writing endings any easier? Is there a type of ending you strive for?

I find endings difficult unless I know where I’m going from the beginning. I strive for endings that follow naturally from the rest of the story. Anything else–happy, sad, ambiguous, whatever–I don’t really worry about.

You’ve mentioned you’re also a visual artist. Do you plan on illustrating any of your works?

I have plans for some of my projects to be illustrated. The interactive fiction series I’m working on, since it just feels right to me, someone who grew up with the Choose Your Own Adventure series, as well as a productivity app I’m working on that will reward milestones with storylines. The latter will at least need some graphic design put into user avatars and items and the like, but I might have the stories illustrated as well. I also have plans to make a few comic books from original fairy tales I write.

I want to illustrate my own stuff, but I tend to slack off even more with that than with my writing, so it will take a lot of dedication.

And finally, my last question for today, and it’s a slightly more trivial one—what is your guilty pleasure?

Binge watching series on Netflix. I keep saying I need to stop picking up new series and that I’ll use more of my free time to read, but I just can’t stop. I’ve just finished catching up on iZombie, which I had gotten tired of and dropped, but started again for “research” because the third book in my trilogy may feature zombies and I haven’t consumed much zombie stuff in the past. I did enjoy it, though. At the moment I’d say I particularly like Life and The Finder, but my tastes change day to day.

Yeah, I love Netflix too. iZombie‘s not one I’m familiar with though. My wife and I have been watching Jane the Virgin. Well, thanks again for your time, Alex. It’s been good to chat with you. All the best with your cycling trip, your art, and your writing.

You can find out more About Alex’s writing and visual art at alexschuler.com, travel (as Rebecca Jones) at snapshotsoftheworld.com, or follow her artist or travel twitter accounts.

Author Interview: C.D. Gallant-King

C.D. Gallant-KingI’m really excited about this month’s interview with proud Canadian and horror and comic fantasy author, C.D. Gallant-King

C.D. wrote his first story when he was five years old.  He had to make his baby-sitter look up how to spell “extra-terrestrial” in the dictionary. He now writes stories about un-heroic people doing generally hilarious things in horrifying worlds.

He’s a loving husband and proud father of two wonderful little kids.  He was born and raised in Newfoundland and currently resides in Ottawa, Ontario. There was also a ten-year period in between where he tried to make a go of a career in Theatre in Toronto, but that didn’t work out so well.

C.D. has written eight novels you haven’t read, because they’re still locked in The Closet. The Closet is both a figurative and literal location – it is the space in his head where the stories are kept, but it’s also an actual closet under the stairs in his basement where the stories are also kept. It’s very meta.

He has published two novels you can read, Ten Thousand Days in 2015 and Hell Comes to Hogtown in 2016. He has an ongoing series of dark comic fantasy stories called Werebear vs. Landopus, which is available on Kindle Unlimited. His work will also appear in Mystery and Horror’s upcoming humour/speculative fiction anthology, Strangely Funny IV.

Books by C.D. Gallant King

Welcome, C.D. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for me and my readers this month.

No problem.

Let’s leap right in, then. I read Hell Comes to Hogtown earlier this year, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve been meaning to write a proper review for it and post it to my blog, but haven’t got there yet. It’s a strange, genre-bending mixture of action and horror and fantasy and comedy, but it works, and it’s a lot of fun. What are you currently working on? Is it in a similar vein?

I just released a new (rather long) short story on Amazon called Revenge of the Lycanterrancephalopod, which is the next part in my “Werebear Landopus” series. While it shares a similar dark, crude humour to Hogtown, this one is set firmly in a medieval fantasy setting.

My current work in progress is another comic fantasy, but this one is pretty firmly “PG-rated.” It uses a lot of the tropes of the genre but it also touches on some modern contemporary issues. It’s sort of like His Dark Materials meets Discworld, with a touch of Garfield or Get Fuzzy (the comic strips) thrown in. Yes, there are talking pets in it. It’s very different to find comedy and jokes without resorting to profanity, bodily functions and other obscenities. Not impossible, just different. It’s as if you’re painting with a new palette of colours.

That sounds really interesting. I love the name for your short story.

You’ve chosen to self-publish the works you’ve written so far. What motivated you to become an indie author?

Impatience and self-respect. I don’t want to spend a year querying authors and agents for what will probably amount to nothing. I tried it in my youth when I had time to mess around with it and it’s frustrating and demoralizing. Now, with a full-time job and a wife and kids and a million other responsibilities, I don’t have time to grovel and beg trying to get someone’s approval as a writer. I’m not looking for their validation. If I feel that I’m improving at writing, and people enjoy my book, that’s all I’m looking for right now. Getting an agent or a publishing contract is no guarantee of fame or money anyway (today more than ever). I can publish a book myself and get the same non-guarantee.

Yeah, I totally agree, and I really enjoy the freedom and control that comes with indie-publishing. But it’s certainly not all milk and honey. What was the hardest thing about writing Hell Comes to Hogtown?

I just couldn’t get the ending right. I knew the main characters had to confront the bad guy and I knew roughly what position they were in when it was over, but that was it. I didn’t know who lived or died, what the ending beat should be and how it actually tied together. I wrote it several times and it just didn’t feel right.

Finally, my Alpha Reader (my wife) read it and said “You’re being stupid. X should happen.” Suddenly, bam! Everything fell into place. It wasn’t what I expected, but I had accidentally planted the seeds through the whole book. The hook was already there, the final beat finally made sense, and everything came together almost as if I had planned it.

Did I mention my wife is a lot smarter than me?

For such a genre-bending novel, coming up with a cover must have been hard. I like the cover you’ve got for Hogtown—I think it works well. Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?

Personally, I don’t particularly care what a cover looks like. I’ve spent more time studying copyright pages than I have studying covers. It’s not to be dismissive – I recognize that there is great art out there and that some people really do enjoy them, but I really am of the opinion that you can’t (and shouldn’t) judge a book by its cover.

When I look for a book it’s always because I’m looking for something specific—I’ve heard about it or I like the author or I’m looking for a particular topic. I have never, ever scanned a bookshelf (digital or real-world) just hoping something pops out at me. It’s just not the way my brain works. This creates some dissonance with me though, because apparently, some people do shop like this, so you have to be aware that your cover is aesthetically pleasing (or at least not downright ugly). This is especially difficult because, like any art, there are a wide variety of opinions on what makes a good cover. Sure, certain things like having clear, readable fonts and scalability to thumbnail-size are fairly universal, but beyond that, you will get lots of different opinions on what makes a good cover. The trick is just finding something that’s right for you and your book.

To make sure I had an original, eye-popping cover for Hell Comes to Hogtown, I got an original image from Jason Salvatori Photography. He does some great work you can check out at facebook.com/SalvatoriPhotography

That’s interesting. I don’t shop by covers either, although I may have borrowed the odd book from the library based on an eye-catching cover.  Having said that, I’ve seen a few books on Amazon that I WOULDN’T buy purely because of how UGLY the covers are.  It’s important to have a good one.

Next question—do you read much and if so, who are your favourite authors?

I don’t read as much as I would like simply because my free time has to be split between reading and writing, but I do as much as I can. I recognize that a writer needs to be as well versed in as many styles as possible to help develop their craft.

Kurt Vonnegut is probably overall my favourite writer. Mother Night is my favourite book: it was a perfect blend of comedy and blackness, hitting all the right notes for me at the age I read it. The lost love, the denouncement of war, the questions of morality, all undercut by Vonnegut’s infamous dark sense of humour. I read it again recently and it still blows me away with how effortlessly Vonnegut stirs up so much emotion. Not to mention how terrifying it is in light of what’s going on in the world today. It’s not hilarious, laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s got a certain satirical levity that is totally incongruous with the dark and painful subject matter, and it works perfectly. I wish I could write a book like this.

Terry Pratchett is a close second. I wish I could turn a phrase like he could. In some ways he’s a lot like Vonnegut, tackling important topics with humour, though his stories lean so hard on the fantastic and silly that sometimes it’s easy to miss the lesson. That doesn’t make it any less important, though. Plus, with his perfect British sense of humour, his books are always guaranteed to bring a smile and a chuckle.

Some other favourites include Cormac McCarthy—no one does dark and bleak better than McCarthy; Douglas Adams—if you don’t like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy we can’t be friends; Christopher Moore—Lamb is one of the single greatest books ever written. If I could go back in time and write one book, it would be this one. I hate Moore for getting to it first. How can you not love a book where Jesus Christ travels to China, invents martial arts and calls it “Ju-do: The Way of the Jew?”

That’s really interesting—we both have similar tastes as far as our reading preferences go. I love both Vonnegut and Pratchett. Vonnegut is the short story master, and I always try to follow his advice when writing short stories. Pratchett is the king of comic fantasy. I’ve read a number of the City Watch series this year and they’re brilliant. Fiercely intelligent but so funny that you almost don’t realise you’re getting such a sharp insight into the world and how it works. I’ve got an idea for a fantasy crime novel that I want to write in the next year or two, and it owes a debt to Terry Pratchett.

Now, back to the questions, and sticking to favourites—what’s your favourite movie and why?

Depends on the day of the week you ask, but I’ll take the safe route and say Star Wars. The original one, aka A New Hope. The Empire Strikes Back is probably a better movie overall, but nothing can match the sincere earnestness, joy and fun of the original. It’s a wonderful mix of fantasy and sci-fi, a classic hero’s journey that completely revolutionized filmmaking. Even if you take away all the sequels and world-building and games and toys (which are also all great), the movie itself is still such an entertaining journey that I can watch again and again. And now that I’m discovering it again with my kids, it makes it all the more special to see it again for the first time through their eyes.

A second, more intellectual choice would be Seven Samurai, but it’s for many of the same reasons as I love Star Wars (not to mention that George Lucas borrowed a lot of his themes and ideas from Kurosawa’s movies).

Ha! I love both those films too! Well, thanks again for your time, C.D. It’s been great to chat with you. All the best with your future writing.

To find out more about C.D. check out cdgallantking.ca, or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or Goodreads.

Author Interview: Francisco Cordoba

Francisco Cordoba

This month’s interview is with passionate romantic and obsessive equestrian, Francisco Cordoba. Francisco has been writing for as long as he can remember. However, it’s only in the last few years, since completing his Master’s Degree in Linguistics and suffering regular chastisement from his wife, that he has dared to fully unleash his muse. He loves writing about romance, relationships, adventures and sex.

Francisco lives a largely reclusive life tucked away in an old farmhouse, somewhere, with his wife, teenage son, four cats, two dogs, horse, ducks and chickens. He freely admits to loving them all, although he refuses to allow more than three bodies to occupy his bed at any one time. His six-book, slightly erotic, paranormally romantic, mysteriously suspenseful, thrillingly adventurous, and possibly fictional debut series, The Horsemen of Golegã, will be self-published soon.

Welcome, Francisco. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for me and my readers this month.

Hi JB, thanks for having me.

To start, can you tell us a little about what you’re currently working on?

My current project is The Horsemen of Golegã series that I’ll start publishing in September this year. It’s a complex set of stories focusing on the relationship between a 23-year-old woman and the 250-year-old man she falls in love with. Many threads weave through the books as we learn about the lives not only of the main characters but also their friends and families.

Love and Loss, Death, Jealousy, Revenge, Coming-of-age, Courage, Ambition, Betrayal, Loneliness: it’s all happening in The Horsemen of Golegã.

Each book is a complete story in itself, but each book also builds on the earlier ones to create an overarching look into a world just slightly to the left of our own.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I get inspiration for from the world around me, my past experiences, the people I meet, and the books I read. Sometimes ideas just jump into my head seemingly from nowhere.

When you get a writing idea, what is the first thing you do with it?

Write it down. Get it out of my head and onto paper as fast as possible. If I don’t it either takes over my brain and won’t let me rest, or I forget it and waste time beating myself up for losing the best idea the world has ever seen.

What tense do you prefer to write in? Is there a reason behind your choice?

Past tense. Although I’m happy with either first or third person. I write in past tense because I have a problem with writing in present tense. It seems illogical to me. I can get my head around a narrator or whoever writing a story after the fact, but writing while in the moment is largely impossible. It’s hard enough to write when that’s the only thing you’re doing. Trying to get words onto the page or into the computer while slaying dragons or making love to a sexy partner… Not happening.

Past tense makes sense.

I like the way that rhymes. What was your favourite book as a child?

As a young child, The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss. It’s a brilliant observation on some of the more ridiculous human behaviours, as well as a few of the better ones, told in a way that causes even small children to nod wisely.

The Sneetches

Yeah, I think there’s a lot of people out there who can count Dr. Seuss as a favourite, and not just children. I can think of two or three events I’ve been to in the last few years where a passage from Oh, The Places You’ll Go has been rolled out for its inspiring message (I’m talking about school prizegivings and the like—nothing as exciting as Burning Man).

Okay, Francisco, onto my last question for today. Do you have hobbies other than writing?

Riding and training horses is my number one passion after writing. It mostly translates into rehabilitating damaged horses. I’ve ridden all my life and studied the old masters of classical horsemanship in depth. So much knowledge and skill has been lost over the years as people strive to achieve greater heights in less time. The goal is reasonable, but in practice, with horses at least, it doesn’t work. The old masters knew this and were prepared to take the time each horse needed to develop without physical or mental damage. This is my joy, too, going on a journey with each horse.

Other hobbies include hanging out with my wife and son, reading—I read all the time. And on the rare occasions the planets align and give me the opportunity, I enjoy hiking, swimming, cycling, travel, running, and dabbling in martial arts. I used to pursue hobbies more actively, but frankly, right now, writing and working to promote my writing has pretty much taken over my life. Like many new business ventures, it’s 24/7.

Yeah, as an indie-published author, I’ve been blown away by just how much time you need to invest in the promotional side of things. For me, it takes at least as much time as the writing.

At least. Self-promotion is a daunting and sometimes discouraging task. Like many writers, I tend towards introversion, so putting myself out there and saying ‘look at me!’ is a time-consuming challenge.

It sure is. Well, Francisco, thanks again for your time today and all the best with the publication of The Horsemen of Golegã.

To find out more about Francisco, check out franciscocordoba.com or connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.

Author Interview: Amir Lane

Amir Lane

This month’s author interview is with supernatural and urban fantasy writer, Amir Lane (pronounced Ah-meer). Amir is from Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of the Morrighan House Witches series. The series opens with Shadow Maker and follows physics major Dieter Lindemann as he’s dragged down against his will into necromancy and blood magic.

An engineer by trade, Amir spends most of their writing time in a small home office, at a back table at their favourite Middle Eastern restaurant, or in front of the TV watching every cop procedural or cooking competition on Netflix. They live in a world where magic is an everyday occurrence, and they strive to bring that world to paper.

When not trying to figure out what kind of day job an incubus would have or what a Necromancer would go to school for, Amir enjoys visiting the nearest Dairy Queen, getting killed in video games, absorbing the contents of comic books, and freaking out over how fluffy the neighbour’s dog is.

Welcome, Amir. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for me and my readers this month.

It’s my pleasure.

To begin with, can you tell us a little about what you’re currently working on? Is it Book 2 of your Morrighan House Witches Series?

You bet it is. The cool thing about it is that it actually follows Dieter’s sister, Lindy, who is this world class Seer who doubles as a police dispatcher. When this serial killer starts taking out some of the local witches, she gets dragged into the investigation. I get to do a lot of really cool stuff with visions and different types of divination in it. There’s also a jaguar in it, and a door gets kicked in. I’m planning on having it done for a late August/ early September release. I’m also working on a prequel for a multi-author box set coming out in October that’ll answer a lot of the behind-the-scenes questions that didn’t really have a place in Shadow Maker.

Wow! Sounds like you have a lot going on. I’m intrigued by the idea of mixing crime and fantasy. Now, my next question isn’t directly related to your writing, so the segue is going to be a little clunky, but nevermind.  You can tell a lot about a person by their favourites, and I’m curious about the comic books and other pop culture influences you mention in your bio, so tell me, what is your favourite movie?

Easy. Under the Red Hood. It’s this animated movie about Jason Todd, Batman’s second Robin. He’s murdered by the Joker but comes back to life courtesy of Ra’s Al Ghul. (In the comics, I’m pretty sure Superboy Prime punches a hole in reality, but anyway…) Jason becomes the Red Hood, this anti-hero who is trying to run Gotham’s underground and control it from the inside. Batman is trying to stop him but he has no idea that the Red Hood is Jason. Everyone thinks Jason is still dead. And it’s just this beautiful, heartbreaking movie where Batman is forced to confront what happens when villains like Joker are allowed to go free.

Jason Todd is voiced by Jensen Ackles from Supernatural. He does this amazing angry, almost-crying voice that really just ties the whole thing together. It’s an amazing movie. I absolutely recommend it, especially if you like a more human Batman that some versions we could mention don’t really show that much.

Sounds interesting — I’ll have to check it out. Now, staying on the topic of favourites; what is your favourite quote?

This is awful but the first one that comes to mind is, “You put me in the microwave?” This is from an episode of Duck Dodgers, a cartoon about Daffy Duck as a space captain in the 24th and a half Century, where Mars is stealing Earth’s music so they need to cryogenically unfreeze Dave Mustaine of Megadeth and Metallica but they’re in a hurry so they put him in the microwave. I love it because Dave Mustaine voiced himself so it’s actually Dave Mustaine saying, “You put me in the microwave?”

“You put me in the microwave?” – Dave Mustaine, Megadeth

Trust me, it’s hilarious.


Megadeth and Daffy Duck — what a combo! Based on your answers to my last two questions, it seems as though your younger self continues to be an important influence on the world of your present self. What advice would you give to your younger self?

There are two things I would tell myself. The first is a little personal but, “This has nothing to do with you. You did nothing wrong. Don’t let it eat you.”

The second would be, “Stop eating so much junk food! I can’t wear my favourite jeans anymore. Eat a vegetable.”

And continuing with the theme of advice, do you have any for aspiring writers?

You’re always going to be aspiring until you actually sit down and do it. Even if all you have is five minutes a day, use those five minutes. Not everyone can be a writer but if it’s something you really want, then you have to find a way to make it work. And if you’re already writing, drop the ‘aspiring’. ‘Aspiring’ goes the impression it’s just something you want to do. If you write, you’re a writer. An amateur writer, maybe, if you haven’t been paid for it. But still a writer.

That’s good advice. I agree. Now, to my last question for today. Do you think being a writer is a gift or a curse?

It’s neither. Being a writer is a choice that I made. I wasn’t attacked by a writer on a full moon or anything. I sat down one day and I said, ‘This is a thing that I want to do.’ Granted, there is a curse that comes with it, and that curse is everyone you know going, ‘Can I be a character?’ But it evens out with the gift of killing off people you hate. Sure, you can be a character, but you’re going to be Murder Victim 3. How do you feel about being stabbed in the face?

Ha, ha! That’s the perfect response. Thanks again for your time today, Amir. All the best with your writing.

To find out more about Amir, check out amirlane.com or connect with them at their Facebook group or on their Facebook page.

If you enjoyed this interview or have any questions, please let me know in the comments.

Author Interview: Vince Rockston

Vince RockstonThis interview is the first in a series of author interviews I’ll be posting over the coming months. So without further ado, I’d like to introduce historical fiction author, Vince Rockston.

Vince grew up in the protected environment of the island of Jersey (Channel Islands, GB), and then studied physics at Imperial College in London. Later, he had the chance to participate in a research group at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, which allowed him to use leading-edge technology and the most powerful computers of the time.

His priorities changed when he met a sweet, Finnish au pair and they decided to get married and start a family. Now retired, Vince lives in a beautiful Swiss village with his wife. They share a house with their son, his Brazilian wife, and their Chihuahua.

In his spare time, Vince loves to go hiking in the mountains and exploring the woods and pastures surrounding the village on the e-bike he was given when he retired. He plays online Chess, Sudoku or Words with Friends and is heavily involved with supporting Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Welcome, Vince. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for me and my readers this month.

I’m glad to share a few personal insights.

Okay, then. Let’s dive right in. Firstly, can you tell us a little about the book you’re currently working on? What’s it about?

Aquila, set on the Isle of Elba in the 6th century, is the story of the life-changing encounter between the troubled Pagan lad Silvanus and the Christian hermit Cerbonius. Over several years, Silvanus has to deal with the temptations of wealth, a flirtatious girl, being robbed, falling in love, and facing the wrath of a bitter father, while all the time living in fear of Aquila the Avenger, the local manifestation of the god Jupiter. A dark secret plagues his conscience until near the end of the book.

Isle of Elba

Isle of Elba

That sounds fascinating. Where is the Isle of Elba, exactly? My history isn’t great, but isn’t that the island Napoleon got exiled to?

Elba is one of a group of small Italian islands between the mainland and the currently French island of Corsica. Yes, Napoleon was exiled there and, although he only spent 10 months on the island before escaping and again attempting to conquer the world, he left many marks of his stay on Elba.

What drew you to Elba?

Having grown up in Jersey, I’ve always loved the sea and small islands fascinate me. My wife and I were attracted by the possibility of travelling by bus from home for a week-long guided hiking tour. The group proved congenial, the guide excellent and we discovered a very beautiful island with a rich history.

How often do you write, and do you have a special time during the day to write?

Work, family, and other activities mean that I’ve never had a special routine for writing, though I write mainly in the evenings.

Do you proofread/edit your own books or do you get someone to do that for you?

I’m a perfectionist and have always been rather strong as regards grammar and spelling, so first I do the editing myself. Then I have critique partners and professional editors work on it. Scribophile is a valuable online community that can help with this process. At the moment my book is going through a beta-reader cycle, so there will probably be more changes coming. I must say I get very annoyed when I read poorly edited indie-published books. After much revision and editing, I have submitted my manuscript to several agents and publishers. One has shown interest so far, which is very exciting for me. In the meantime, I’ve been working on some ancillary short articles to be published on my blog.

Do you think that a book’s cover plays an important part in the buying process?

I’m sure it does, although I find it difficult to assess which covers are more effective than others. I have put together some suggestions for my book, Aquila, and am now processing several proposals for a cover design. I have no idea about typography, although my son assures me it is of paramount importance, so I trust the designer to do what’s right.

What do you think of “trailers” for books, and do you have any plans to create one for Aquila?

A video trailer, if it’s well done, certainly appeals, especially to the younger, visually-oriented generation. I have a specialist in the family and have experimented a bit with making videos myself, but it’s very difficult to make a quality trailer that is exciting, not too long, and teases the viewer enough that he/she wants to buy the book. At this stage, I have no plans to make one for Aquila.

Those are all my writing and book related questions done, but I’m curious to know more about what you are doing to support Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Can you tell us a little about that?

There’s been a massive influx of refugees from Afghanistan, the war-torn Middle East and many African countries into Europe in the last few years. Each one has a tragic tale to tell of what forced them to leave their home and of their horrendous experiences en route. Many find their way to Switzerland, where they are given temporary accommodation in disused military barracks or underground air-raid shelters – not very attractive! The lucky ones who aren’t sent back to the first European country they passed through – usually Greece or Italy – are distributed among the towns and villages. Not everyone is happy with this approach, but I have been given the task of caring for the two Syrian and one Iraqi family in my village, which means visiting them at least once a week to bring them their allowance and helping them with administrative matters, doctor’s visits, school issues, German courses, etc. Over the months I have become quite attached to them.

What does the future look like for these three families? Are they able to settle in Switzerland? If not, what will happen to them?

At the moment, their permits only grant them a temporary right to stay. But, unless the situation changes dramatically for the better in their home countries in the next few years, and bearing in mind that the children are becoming integrated into the Swiss education system and culture, there’s a good chance that they will receive resident status later. This was the case many years ago for a Macedonian and an Afghan family I looked after; they have settled well and the kids have grown up and found work.

Thanks for that, Vince. All the best with your work with the refugee families and for getting Aquila published. Now, where can people find you online?

I blog as Greyowl (bilingual) and Aquila is developing on my blog at www.aquilaelba.info. AquilaElba is also on Facebook.

Blog World Tour

InterviewOver the next nine months, I’m going to be hosting a writers’ world tour and posting a monthly interview with members of a group of authors I’ve connected with online. The featured authors hail from all over the globe and write in a wide variety of genres, so there should be something and someone to suit everyone’s tastes, whatever they might be. I’ll post the interviews on the third Monday of each month. The interview schedule is as follows:


March’s interview is with Vince Rockston, an author who grew up on the island of Jersey and now lives in the Swiss countryside. He writes historical fiction with strong Christian themes.


April’s interview is with Amir Lane a supernatural and urban fantasy writer from Sudbury, Ontario, in Canada.


May’s interview is with Francisco Cordoba, a reclusive author who lives in an old farmhouse and writes about romance, relationships, adventures and sex.


June’s interview is with Canadian author, CD Gallant-King. He writes comic fantasy and horror about horrible people trying to be heroic in hilarious ways.


July’s interview is with Alex Schuler, who lives in Colorado and writes in several genres, including fantasy, fairy tale, speculative fiction and literary fiction.


August’s interview is with Jocelynn Babcock, an author of supernatural thrillers.


September’s interview is with D. de Carvalho, a native of far-flung locations who writes hot ‘n’ spicy erotic tales.


October’s interview is with MD Neu, an author who lives in San Jose, California, and writes paranormal fiction and science fiction.


November’s interview is with Trin Carl, an author from Minnesota, USA, who writes young adult fiction and literary fiction.

I’m looking forward to getting to know these writers a little better and discovering more about their writing over the course of the year. Stay tuned for Vince Rockston’s interview on March 20th. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the featured authors or their interviews, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Celebrating small achievements

Since it’s that time of year and all, and I’m in a suitably reflective mood, I thought I’d write a post looking back on my writing progress for the year that was 2016.

In terms of my ultimate goal, which is to make some money off my writing, ummmm… yeah… that one’s not going so well. Overall, the results of the past year have been a little underwhelming, yet if I choose to see the glass as being half full, rather than half empty (and I do), then there are lots of small achievements to celebrate.

Firstly, I have a website and a blog, which is much more than I had at this time last year. I’ve learned a lot about using WordPress, and for someone who knows very little html coding, I’m pretty happy with how it looks. The amount of traffic it has got so far is small, but where it comes from is interesting.

Map of Website views

World map of website views 2016

As you would expect, most of the views are from NZ, but I’ve also had views from Iceland, Poland and China. I actually know some people in Iceland, so a big shout-out to them, but I’m pretty sure I don’t know anyone in Poland or China. I now have the evidence to prove that my writing has a global audience.

Secondly, I’ve published three short stories, which is three more short stories than I had published at this time last year. My writing is improving, as is my writing process, mostly due to my involvement in the online writing community at Scribophile.

I haven’t sold huge volumes of books yet, but since my first short story, The Golden Cockroach, went free on all of the major ebook services, about a month ago, the results have been interesting, as you can see in the chart below.

Sales Rank for "The Golden Cockroach"

Sales Rank for ‘The Golden Cockroach” Dec 2016

As of Christmas day, The Golden Cockroach was the 23,615th most popular free book on the Amazon Kindle Store (and there are a LOT of free books in the Amazon Kindle Store), and it peaked at 9317, on December 22nd. Sure, the number of downloads is small, but they’ve been regular, which is important. Other than a single Facebook post, I haven’t done any promotion, which means people are finding it through organic search on Amazon and elsewhere, which is just what I wanted.

Thirdly, I’ve got my mailing list set up, and a number of lovely people have subscribed to it.

And last, but certainly not least, I’m still getting up early in the morning to work on my writing, plus I’m getting some regular exercise again, thanks to YouTube and the ten-minute routines of this painfully fit young woman. Her pilates workout is a killer.

I’ve learned a lot about the business of indie publishing this year and the technology and processes involved, and I’ve spent a large chunk of my time setting up the infrastructure for promoting my books. I’ve spent much less time on writing than I would have liked, so that is going to be my focus for 2017. To write, write, write! I’ve got a fourth short story, about an angry young man and his quest to find a beer, in an advanced stage of development and I’m aiming to publish it in February or March of next year. I have a couple of other stories in earlier stages of development, and more story ideas rattling around inside my skull, so there is plenty to work on.

To that end, I’m going down to four days a week at work in 2017. I’m having Mondays off, with the aim of spending them writing, as well as doing some other things I don’t normally get a chance to do, like picking up my kids from their respective educational institutions. I’m hoping it makes a significant difference to my quality of life, my writing, and my sanity. Onwards and upwards for 2017!

Movie Review: Suicide Squad

Suicide SquadOn Monday, I took a group of 33 Year 10 Media Studies students to see the latest DCEU superhero movie, Suicide Squad. Over the past few weeks, we have been “studying” the superhero genre. I place the word studying in inverted commas because as yet, I am still unsure as to whether we have done anything other than watch a bunch of superhero movies. Year 10 students can be challenging, and in my experience, many of them seem to have an aversion to writing. In fact, many of them seem to have an aversion to school, which makes the concept of such things as “studying” problematic.  Anyway, we do what we can, and considering this is the first time I have done anything in class with the superhero genre, I feel it’s been reasonably successful. It’s impossible to please everyone, and certainly, there’s room for improvement, but most of the students seem to have enjoyed it.

Like anything we teachers do with our students that requires leaving the school grounds and venturing out into the real world, organising this trip took a lot of photocopying. I’m not at all sure what percentage of a tree goes into creating a standard, crisp, white sheet of A4 photocopy paper, so I can’t say how many trees had to die so that my students could go to the movies, but at least part of a tree had to.

The movie theatre is only a few blocks from school, and I had organised for us to walk there. When I awoke on Monday morning, I was somewhat concerned about this, as it was pouring with rain at my house. However, as I drove through the rolling country hills on my way to school, listening to David Sedaris’s audiobook of Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owlsthe grey clouds parted to reveal water washed sunlight and a sky that blued from baby to periwinkle as it approached the horizon. It was a beautiful thing. What was even more remarkable, considering the volatility of winter weather here in Northland, was that by the time I got to school to make the final arrangements for our movie trip, the sky and the sun were still there.

At 9:00am, my students gathered outside my classroom. I ticked their names off my roll and then handed a copy of my roll to the office so that the correct symbol could be placed next to their names on the student management system and their other teachers would know not to expect them in class for the first 3 lessons of the day, and then we walked. Oh, how we walked. We walked in an orderly line. We walked smiling and chatting happily. We got lucky with the weather; the sun shone brightly, the breeze blew gently, and the birds sang sweetly. No-one got hit by a car crossing the road, no-one got lost, and no-one tripped over an uneven lip in the concrete footpath and scraped their knee, requiring use of the first aid kit I had brought with me just in case. 

Once at the theatre, we bought popcorn and sugary treats and filed in to watch the movie. The movie itself was an unholy muddled mess, the worst I have seen since watching Jupiter Ascending last summer. The plot, such as it is, goes like this: Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is a cold-hearted, U.S. intelligence operative who assembles a team of meta-human supervillains whose purpose is to save the world should a superhero go rogue and turn terrorist. Thus, the bad guys become the good guys. The team also includes special forces officer, Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and his girlfriend, an archaeologist called June Moone, who is possessed by the spirit of an ancient witch known as The Enchantress. The team is an eclectic bunch, and includes a Mexican gangster with the meta-human ability to use fire as a weapon and an Australian gangster with the meta-human ability to talk in a funny accent. The only members we get to know in any meaningful way, however, are Deadshot (Will Smith), and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). As a character, Deadshot is essentially just Will Smith playing Will Smith. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we’ve seen it before, in every movie Will Smith has ever been in. Far more interesting is Robbie’s portrayal of Harley Quinn. She gets all the best lines, but even these soon start falling flat, as they are all a remix of the same joke, a version of, “I’m psychotically unhinged, but also cute and sassy.” The creepy, voyeuristic way she is treated by the camera is also problematic, and soon left me feeling as though I was watching an extended music video rather than a movie.

Prior to the film’s release, there was much hype about Jared Leto’s portrayal of The Joker. Certainly, the costume design is interesting, but as a character, the Joker is mere filler, Heath Ledger lite, only there to provide some back story for Harley Quinn and, based on the movie’s final moments, to set up a sequel. Almost all his scenes could be removed and the film would not suffer for it in any meaningful way.

As soon as our supervillains are gathered in the one prison facility, team member June Moone/The Enchantress goes rogue, turning full witch and terrorising a city by turning its citizens into faceless soldier slaves, creating an enormous, magical, swirling vortex of flying garbage, and dancing awkwardly. It’s up to the remaining members of our crack team of supervillains to stop her and save the world. Will they be successful, and at what cost? By this time, I no longer cared, and decided it was best to continue viewing it all as a spectacular, nonsensical, effects-laden music video. I wished I’d brought headphones and my own music though, as the soundtrack is hopelessly clichéd.

I made it through to the end of the film, and we assembled in the lobby of the cinema, before walking back to school. I quizzed a few of my students on their thoughts and they said they liked it. We headed back to school. As we neared the school gates, a couple of my students were walking behind me, chatting idly, as teenage girls are wont to do. I wasn’t paying much attention until I heard one of them say, “Is it true that every time you go for a poo you lose two kilograms?” This was a conversation I felt I needed to be part of. I turned my head and asked her where she had got this information. “My sister,” she replied, “she says it’s true.” The three of us discussed this as we walked and decided that it would depend on what one had eaten previously. I thought it sounded a little extreme—a two-kilo poo would be a fearsome beast indeed. We parted ways at the school gates and I laughed and thanked her for making my day. And she had. It’s little moments like these that make the challenge and frustration of being a teacher worthwhile. It was a great way to end a trip to see a movie that was, in the end, truly disappointing.

However, that’s just my opinion. And what would I know? I’m just a middle-aged, grey-haired, white male teacher. Most of my students loved it. I surveyed them the following day and 34.6% of them gave it 5 stars, with another 30.8% giving it 4 stars. Which is great, because it’s not about me and my opinions at all. It’s about theirs, and they all want to know when we can go to the movies again. I told them next term, once the seniors are on exam leave. That’ll leave me plenty of time to do some photocopying.

Book Review: A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly EverythingA Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I listened to the audiobook version of this while commuting to work. It’s a fascinating book, and I would often find myself sitting in my car in the carpark at work, reluctant to get out and start the day because I wanted to keep listening. I love the way Bryson has managed to take all these disparate ideas and historical scientific figures and bring them together and connect them in a meaningful way. He also manages to take complex scientific ideas and break them down and present them in a way that is easy to understand. And, of course, there is the gentle humour that runs through all of Bryson’s writing.

There are numerous anecdotes about scientists that provide a fascinating insight into the personalities behind their science. My favourite one was about Hennig Brand, a German alchemist who was trying to turn urine into gold but ended up inventing matches instead. One of the themes running through the book is just how much scientific knowledge has been acquired by accident.

There is much information contained in this book, and Bryson conveys an appealing sense of wonderment at what we know about the universe in which we live. But perhaps the most prominent theme running through the book is the idea that despite all our technological and scientific advances over the past few millennia, what we do know is still vastly, unimaginably outweighed by what we don’t know.

View all my reviews

Audiobooks Have Changed My Life

Audiobook on Iphone

Audiobook on iPhone – courtesy of athriftymrs.com

It is approximately, depending on traffic, road works, and the route I take, a fifty-minute commute from my home to the high school in the small, rural town where I teach. I normally carpool with a colleague three days a week, which is great—it saves me money on petrol and I enjoy the stimulating conversation. On the other two days, I drive by myself. Up until a few months ago, I listened to National Radio on the days I drove myself. This was okay. We don’t have television at home (we have a TV, but no TV reception—our TV is used to watch YouTube, Netflix and DVD’s), and listening to National Radio allowed me to keep abreast of what was happening in New Zealand and around the world. It was also better than the commercial radio stations I get reception for on my drive to work through the countryside, mainly because it doesn’t have ads and the presenters don’t babble a constant stream of inanities. However, there were a number of issues that detracted from my listening pleasure.

Firstly, it was often depressing. The way events are framed in the news media often focuses on the negative. Bad news sells more, apparently. According to the New Zealand Crime Statistics 2014 (the most recent year for which data was been collated and published), there were forty-one murders in New Zealand in 2014. This is a tragedy. One murder is too many, and New Zealand is, without question, a country afflicted with a disturbing underbelly of violence. But let me zoom out for a moment, and re-frame the numbers. These forty-one murders came from a total population of roughly 4.5 million people. What this means is that in 2014, roughly 4,499,958, or 0.99999067 percent of the population, were not murdered.  The non-murder rate was approximately 107,142 times greater than the murder rate! I’m not suggesting we should celebrate this, but we could at least acknowledge it. Listening to the news on National Radio (or anywhere, for that matter), you would never know that in New Zealand, you are 107,000 times more likely not to be murdered than you are to be murdered.

Secondly, there was a lot of repetition. Driving to work in the morning, I would frequently hear the same piece of news repeated three times. Granted, the depth of coverage might be different each time, but this would still get pretty boring pretty quickly.

Thirdly, the perspectives expressed were overwhelmingly those of white, middle-aged, middle-class men. Sometimes, these would be complemented by the perspectives of white, middle-aged, middle-class women. Whether or not I agreed with what they had to say, these people were almost always intelligent, well-educated, and articulate, and their views considered. It’s just that by using them as a filter—well, there’s an awful lot that gets filtered out.

In April of this year, I uploaded a selection of audiobooks onto my iPhone. I don’t know why I had never done this before. I’d just always equated reading with type on a page. I listened to music, I listened to the radio, but I read books. I was visiting my niece and her boyfriend in Wellington at the time and they were discussing how much they enjoyed listening to audiobooks. They suggested some titles they thought I might like, and we went from there. When I got back home, the first one I chose to listen to was On Writing by Stephen KingI listened to it in the car on the days I was driving myself to work. It’s a great book—part memoir,  part instruction manual—and I have written more about it here. Since then, I have listened to a number of other audiobooks. The first of these was Consider Phlebas, an early science-fiction novel by one of my favourite authors, Iain M. Banks, and the first to feature the advanced race of humans known collectively as the Culture. I had read this (the traditional way) many years before and had forgotten how action-packed it is. The next was  World War Zan abridged version of the novel by Max Brooks, containing the oral histories of an eclectic group of survivors of a global zombie apocalypse.  After that was  Children of the Sky, a curious science-fiction novel by Vernor Vingeabout the exploits of a group of humans who have crash-landed on an alien planet populated by creatures that most closely resemble intelligent dogs; and Hostage, a live recording of a drunken Charles Bukowski giving a poetry reading at a bar in Redondo Beach, California, in 1980. I am currently listening to A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson. Again, this is a book I have read before, many years ago. I have subsequently forgotten almost everything I learned from it the first time. It’s a fascinating book, and I love the way Bryson makes an array of scientific arcana so accessible, easy to understand, and entertaining.

Every single one of these audiobooks has been more interesting and entertaining to listen to than National Radio. They have taken my mind to some captivating places. I keep finding myself sitting in the carpark at work in the morning, or my driveway at home in the evening, wishing I didn’t have to get out of the car and enter the real world again. Perhaps the most entertaining of the audiobooks I have listened to so far has been World War Z, due in no small part to the sumptuous quality of the audio recording. It is the only one to feature a full cast of voice actors. No doubt this is an expensive thing to do, but it does minimise the likelihood of experiencing voice fatigue. I felt a little of that with Children of the Sky, where the narrator, Oliver Wyman, does, for the most part, a stellar job. There were perhaps only three or four main characters whose voices I didn’t like. This isn’t much, especially considering the extensive cast of characters featured in the novel. However, the recording is almost twenty-eight hours long, and these characters featured enough for it to prove a minor source of irritation within the overall experience.

The best thing about these audiobooks is that it has got me “reading” again. Lately, I have done very little reading, in the traditional sense. Since the beginning of the school year in February, I have read only two books. The first of these, Girl in a BandI read quite quickly. It’s the autobiography of Kim Gordon, the bass player from one of my favourite bands, Sonic Youth, and a woman I have a lot of admiration for. The second of these, The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmarestook me months and months to finish. It’s a collection of short stories by Joyce Carol Oates. The time it took me to read is no indication of the quality of the writing. Oates is an incredible writer, and it’s a great book, and truly frightening in parts. However, the only time I have available to read is the hour or so I have between putting the kids to bed and going to sleep myself. More often than not, I have chosen to spend this time watching episodes of television dramas. This is not a guilty pleasure. I am one of those people who believes we are currently experiencing a golden era of television drama (long may it continue), and the shows I have been watching—Game of Thrones, Fargo, Better Call Saul—are wonderfully written. But one thing books are great for, and much better at than television, is engaging the imagination. With television, you don’t have to visualise anything—it’s all pre-visualised for you by somebody else. With books, especially fiction, you have to visualise everything. This is the true joy of reading. I can’t read and drive at the same time, but listening to audiobooks has allowed me to take the chunks of downtime I have when commuting and put it to good use, engaging my imagination. And they have given me true joy. Audiobooks have made a genuine improvement to my quality of life.

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