J.B. Reynolds


Category: Writing (page 1 of 2)

Tracking My Writing Progress

This summer vacation has been an especially relaxing one, and it’s been great to spend some quality time with friends and family. Northland is well known for its beautiful beaches, (as you can see from the image above) and I’ve managed to get out of the house and along to some of them in the last few weeks. I even went for a dawn surf a few days ago, (my first in several years). I didn’t catch many waves, but I did get to watch the sunrise over the water.

The big difference between this summer vacation and previous ones is that I have been able to relax in the knowledge that I don’t have to return to full-time work at the end of January. Thanks to my wonderful wife, I’m taking a year off from my high-school teaching job, and we’re experimenting with some role reversal. She’s upping her hours at work, and I’m going to be looking after the twins a couple of days a week, as well as focusing on my writing and doing as much casual relief (or supply) teaching as I can fit in to help pay the bills.

It’s an exciting (but also daunting) prospect and I’m looking forward to the challenge. My goal is to finish three books this year; two novels and a novella. I’m not the world’s fastest writer, and for me, this is a fairly ambitious goal, but I feel more confident since having my most productive writing month of 2017 in December. I wrote just over 18,000 words, and I’m now 62,000 words into my novel. According to my plot outline, this puts me about 60% of the way through, far enough to see the light at the end of the tunnel. If I can continue to consistently hit my goal of 20,000 words per month through 2018, then two novels and a novella are well within reach.

I’ve been following Chris Fox’s advice and have recorded my daily word count in a simple spreadsheet since I started writing my novel in May of last year. The purpose of doing this was to help in tracking my writing progress, and to have a record of how many words-per-hour I was writing at so that I could work on improving my writing speed. You can see a copy of the spreadsheet here, and if you’re an author, feel free to make your own copy and use it as you see fit.


Rest your eyes from all those pesky words

I’ve found it extremely valuable, but to be honest, it hasn’t helped me to improve my writing speed (at least not yet). I seem to be sitting at about 830 words-per-hour, and have done for most of the year. Sometimes, when I’m “in the zone”, this increases to well over a thousand words-per-hour. One of my goals for 2018 is to get “in the zone” on a far more regular and consistent basis.

The revelation came for me when I analysed my spreadsheet data in early December. When looking more closely at the numbers, I realised, much to my surprise and dismay, that I hadn’t been working on my novel anywhere near as regularly and consistently as I thought I had been. On the day I did my analysis, I had spent only 70 out of 222, or 31.5% of my mornings writing my novel. Oh, sure, I had been getting up early every morning on the vast majority of those days to work on “things” related to my writing, (and there is a long list of those) but I hadn’t actually been writing my novel. If I had guessed, I would have said it was much closer to 70%, and it was galling to realise just how far from reality my perception was, but there was the data in black and white. The data doesn’t lie. I had to turn this around.

So, as December progressed, I prioritised writing my novel. By the end of the month, I had worked on my novel for 23 out of the 31 days of the month or 74.2% of my mornings. I had my most productive writing month of the year, writing a little over 18,000 words. And I felt much more optimistic about the progress I was making on my novel, which had been turning into a real grind. I also had five days where I broke 1,000 words per hour, when through October and November there’d been none. I think that a big part of this was because I really had formed a “writing habit” and “the zone” was more readily accessible because of this.

I also added another column to my spreadsheet (I’ve labeled it “Task”) to record specifically what I do on the days I don’t write. I have a very limited time in which to write—an hour or so per day, early in the morning—and some days I just have to use that time to work on other writing-related activities. But I want to keep these days to an absolute minimum through 2018. My author platform is mostly set-up now, so just requires a bit of regular updating and maintenance.  I want to improve slightly on December’s result—writing at least 75% of the time and hitting at least 20,000 words per month, consistently, month on month, throughout 2018.

My main point here is that if I hadn’t been consistently tracking my progress in a measurable way, I never would have known how badly off-track I had gotten. It was a valuable reminder for me that it’s not just enough to set goals, you have to track your progress on those goals as well. It’s also a reminder of the importance of being disciplined and forming a writing habit.

Snails, Moustaches and Carrotweed

Here in Northland, it’s been an excellent season for growing things. A wetter-than-usual winter has been followed by a wetter-than-usual spring, and by the time Movember came and went, the plants in the garden had well and truly sprung.

My lawn, or perhaps more accurately, the weeds in my lawn, have grown exceptionally well, aided by the fact that my ride-on lawn mower had broken down (I took it into the shop for a service and it hasn’t worked properly since). In particular, it’s been a great season for carrotweed. Carrotweed, as the name suggests, is a weed that resembles wild carrot. It grows abundantly during the hot and humid Northland summers. I went for an early-morning walk a few days ago and noted my neighbours have grown entire fields of it, as you can see from the pictures below. I’m not quite sure why, as it’s a noxious, invasive species and once it reaches the flowering stage almost nothing eats it, except for maybe goats, and I’m pretty sure my neighbours don’t have any goats (we live in dairy country, surrounded by cows, with goats being few and far between).

Field of Carrotweed

Field of Carrotweed

Fields of carrotweed

The other thing that has grown well of late is my moustache. Yes, I know you thought that my spelling of Movember in the first paragraph was a typo, but it wasn’t. I grew a moustache in support of men’s health, along with many of my work colleagues. I always enjoy Movember – it’s a chance to get creative with the facial hair. In the past, I’ve grown goatees and ‘muttonchops’ but this year I went for a simple ‘slug’. As usual, my wife hated it, but I was pleased with the result, despite the constant upper-lip itching.

J.B Reynolds and his unmowed lawn

Lost in the jungle

Now, it’s mid-December and Christmas is approaching fast. I’ve managed to fix the ride-on lawnmower (with the help of my brother, who is good with that sort of thing). The garden is still growing well but I’ve cut the carrotweed and mowed the mo. Yesterday was my last day of work for the year and I’m looking forward to a well-deserved break and a chance to spend time with my kids, go swimming, camping, and catch up on all the chores around the house that have been neglected over the year (such as weeding the garden).

Aside from carrotweed, the other thing I noticed on my early-morning walk of last week was an abundance of snails.  I’m not sure if the dawn parade of snails is a typical occurrence on our road at this time of year or whether it was just the particular moist and misty conditions that had them gathering in abundance, but they were all over the sides of the road where I was walking.

An escargatoire of snails

An escargatoire of snails

There were so many, in fact, that I accidentally stepped on a few of them. I was particularly taken with this little guy (or gal – I’m no expert on determining the sex of snails) below, and when I lay down at the side of the road to take the photo, I felt like his journey could be a  metaphor for my writing progress.

a snail crossing the finish-line.

Crossing the finish-line

I’ve just hit forty-three-thousand words on my novel. I’ve been tracking my progress and it’s taken me fifty-three hours of writing at an average of eight-hundred-and-twenty-four words-per-hour to reach that goal. I’ve been reading a book on increasing my writing speed and will work on that over time, but it’s not so much my writing speed that slows me down so much as my thinking speed. When you know exactly what you want to write, writing fast is easy. When you have to think about what you want to write before you write it, the process is slowed considerably. This is where the use of a comprehensive outline is helpful.

I have an outline for my novel. It contains a basic description of what happens in each scene, and which characters feature in these scenes. All of these descriptions have, at the very least, a beginning and an end, and many are more detailed than that—broken down into five stages, as follows: inciting incident, complication, crisis, climax, and resolution. This is extremely useful, but there is still an awful lot of empty space in between these points. I know my start points and I know my destinations, and for some scenes, I know the big landmarks I want to hit on the way, but the journey I will take to reach them is unknown prior to my departure.

This is an exciting, fascinating, and as far as I can see, necessary element of the writing process, but it does slow things down. However, I take heart from the little guy above. I figure if a snail can make it all the way across a road to pass the finish-line, then so can I. It’s all a matter of persistence.

Author Interview: M.D. Neu

Marvin NeuThis month’s author interview is with paranormal and science fiction writer, M.D. Neu.

Living in the heart of Silicon Valley (San Jose, California), and growing up around technology, M.D. has always been fascinated with what could be.  He is inspired by the great Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, Stephen King, and Kim Stanley Robinson—an odd combination, but one that has influenced his writing.

Growing up in an accepting family as a gay man, he always wondered why there were never stories reflecting who he was. Constantly surrounded by characters that only reflected heterosexual society, M.D. decided he wanted to change that. So, he took to writing, with a desire to tell good stories that reflected the diversity of our modern world.

When M.D. isn’t writing, he works for a non-profit and travels with his husband of eighteen years.

In October, as part of a special Halloween themed set of releases, NineStar Press published M.D.’s short story, The Reunion.

The Reunion by M.D. Neu

I had the pleasure of being given an advance review copy of the story prior to its publication. It’s a suitably spooky little tale; a ghost story with a twist and a cast of intimately drawn characters. I highly recommend it. Now, on with the interview.

Hi, M.D. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for me and my readers today. You must be thrilled with the publication of The Reunion. Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about and what it means to you?

Thank you for having me.  I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you today.  The Reunion, man there simply are no words with how lucky and blessed I’ve been these last few months.  How it got started is a bit of a long story, but I’ll try and be brief.  Back in May I sent my manuscript for The Calling (my full length novel) to NineStar Press. I figured, I would get the standard “thank you but no thank you” response.  Anyway, about a week later I heard from a buddy of mine who is signed with NineStar telling me to send them my work and to let him know when I did.  He said he would let his editor know so his editor could pull my manuscript and take a look.  I was floored.  So, I let him know I just sent something to NineStar, so he told his editor and wished me luck. That was that.

A few weeks went by and I still figured I would get the “thank you but no thank you” letter.  Instead I got an email telling me they wanted to publish my book.  I couldn’t believe it.

When it came to The Reunion I was going to use it as a giveaway piece, but I knew it needed some editing.  So I chatted with my editor, the same one who read The Calling.  I told him about the story.  He told me he wanted to evaluate it, so I sent it to him and the next day he sent me a note saying he loved the story and it needed to be published. He wanted to include it in their Halloween Series.  I was stunned and thrilled.  In the matter of a few weeks I needed to do a massive addition to the story (take it from 3,600 words to 22,000 words), have it edited, proof edited, and copy edited.  It was the quickest turn around I had ever seen but we did it. The folks at NineStar Press held my hand the whole way through and I couldn’t be happier with the final product.

Every time I think about how quickly this has all happened I have to pinch myself.  I really am very lucky and so honoured to have this opportunity.

Wow, that’s awesome. Congratulations. The main character in The Reunion, Teddy, is an interesting one. He’s a gay man who returns to his small home-town after having escaped it many years ago. In your bio, you give yourself the challenge of writing stories that reflect the diversity of our world. Can you tell us a bit more about Teddy and how he meets that challenge for you?

Teddy.  Oh man, I love him.  What people have to understand about Teddy is that he’s more than a random stereotype,  which is what they will first see and probably call me out on. Teddy is an occasional drag performer and a full-time hair stylist. He is over-the-top and overweight, and he’s not a handsome man. However, Teddy is warm, caring and a wonderful person. He can be your best friend and give you all he has to give. His heart is as big as his drag wigs. Teddy’s not your typical main character, but he’s real. You see, Teddy is based on two people from my life.  A wonderful friend of mine who did drag and was a hairstylist and my mother—she was a hairstylist as well. Both are no longer with us, but I love them and I think about them all the time.

When I say I want to write stories that reflect the diversity of our world,  I really mean it.  I want to show people who may not be the typical protagonist.  I want to show people who we may joke about and tease. These people have stories and these people deserve to be shown and not just as comic relief but as real people.  Just like Teddy; he’s a character in a book but his heart and soul are based on two wonderful people who deserve to be in the spotlight of a story.  I hope that answers your question.

Yeah, for sure. That’s a great answer. So, what else are you working on at the moment?

Oh, wow.  There is a lot happening.  On December 18th, NineStar Press are releasing my second short story, A Dragon for Christmas. It’s about a cursed little Latina girl called Carmen, who also happens to be a lesbian. She needs to get a dragon to help her fight off this curse she was born with. The fact that she is a lesbian isn’t the focus of the story. It’s her struggle to battle with this awful curse that can kill her.  This story is personal to me for many reasons and I hope people fall in love with Carmen and the story.

On January 1st, NineStar Press are releasing my debut full length novel, The Calling.  The story is about an average gay man named Duncan, who on a fateful trip to San Jose, California, is introduced to the world of Immortals. There is much more to Duncan than anyone realizes. Even himself.

I’ve always loved vampire stories (thank you Anne Rice), so I wanted to offer my take on the genre and NineStar Press is giving me that opportunity.  I hope people enjoy it.

I’m also working on a fantasy story about angels and I’m still working on my science fiction series, so there is a lot going on and I have a lot of stories in the works. I also have a weekly blog and on occasion I write poetry, all of which can be found on my website.

Sounds like you’re a busy man. What is the hardest thing about writing?

The hardest thing about writing is the editing and cutting the story down.  I love detail.  I love descriptions.  I love creating full rich worlds, where everything is there ready for the reader to explore and see.  However, not everyone likes that.  So, editing and trimming.  Keeping it all focused so that people don’t skim to get to the good stuff.

I hate that, because for me it’s all the good stuff.  Why else would I include it?  Plus, I put things in one book that may or may not show up till the next book or even the book after that.  It’s all part of the world building, so don’t skim… cause you never know what you’re going to miss.

Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

I try and write two to three chapters a week.  Clearly that doesn’t always happen but it’s my goal and I’m happy if I can get one chapter a week written.  Sometimes, instead of writing chapters I’m editing or outlining both of which I count.

I’ll also spend time blogging and writing poetry, which also counts in my book.

Where is your favourite place to write?

I typically write in my study or in my dining room.  However, I’ve been known to write on the plane heading off on vacation.  I’ve also written while on vacation.  My laptop normally travels with me so I can write when the moment strikes me.

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

I belong to a Writer’s Group that provides critiques to whatever you post.  I’ve used that and I love it.  Not only do I get their feedback, but I get to read and provide feedback to their work, which helps me learn and improve.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned by being part of this Writer’s Community.

Writing is obviously a major part of your life. Outside of your writing, how do you relax?

I love to cook, travel, go to the movies, spend time with family and friends, play board/card games, read (I bet you thought I would forget about that), and have quiet evenings at home with my husband.  Really anything that takes me away from reality for a little while.  Even though we are living in one of the safest times in human history, with social media, there is so much noise that getting away from it is the most relaxing thing I can think of.

Well, that’s us for today. Thanks again for your time, M.D. It’s been great to chat with you. All the best with your future writing.

Thank you.  It really was a lot of fun.

To find out more about M.D., check out mdneu.com, or connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.

Author Interview: D. de Carvalho

D de CarvalhoThis month’s author interview is with erotic romance writer, D. de Carvalho.

A native of far-flung locations, and a grade A student of life, Carvalho developed his passion for fine foods and erotic encounters at a young age. He is proud to be a practicing member of the BDSM community, as well as a self-confessed and widely acknowledged grumpy old man.

In the Hot Pink series, D. de Carvalho serves up a smorgasbord of hot ‘n spicy erotic tales. Whether you savor sweet romance or crave the delicious tang of dark desire, Carvalho caters with tales to tempt every taste. Each sexy story arrives with a side order of humor, sprinkled with a touch of suspense.

What are you currently working on and what is it about?

Hot Pink Links is an erotic romance. The day Christie’s divorce is final, bestie Megan convinces her to take some golf lessons instead of sitting at home and feeling sorry for herself. However, unbeknownst to the ladies, the Complete Hot Pink Package at the local golf club aims to teach that addressing the balls correctly is all in how you swing.

Humour is obviously an important element in your writing. What’s more important – the humour or the sex?

That’s a really tough question. In the Hot Pink stories humour and sex go hand in hand. That’s the entire concept behind Hot Pink. But, if I were really on the spot, I think sex would just squeak into the top spot. You can’t really have humourous sex if you don’t have the sex in the first place, and sex  isn’t always funny.

When myself and the other authors featured in this Blog World Tour were first organising the interviews, there was a little bit of resistance to including an erotica writer in the mix. How do you find people react when you tell them you’re an erotica author?

They’re almost always fascinated, but they react in different ways. Some people’s eyes pop wide before they grin and say, “Cool! Tell me more!”. The majority purse their lips and look shocked. Some of them will sidle up later and whisper questions as if they’re doing something daring and naughty. Others, will just look away but keep their ears pricked while other people are going, “Cool! Tell me more!” And a few look horribly disapproving and tar all erotica with the same brush, assuming it’s all BDSM and Fifty Shades knockoffs. Well, my stories are a far cry from Fifty Shades. I like to think of them as an exploration and celebration of all the wonderful sexual ways humans have of expressing themselves and sharing intimacy.

How are you publishing your books and why? (e.g. Indie, traditional or both)

Hot Pink is Indie all the way. Indie works for me because I’m a control freak. I don’t share well, especially not the things that are important to me. With the way the publishing world is today, authors have to do most of their own marketing even if a traditional publisher picks them up. I reckon if I have to do most of the work, I’m darn well going to get most of the money from that work.

Do you prefer to write series or stand-alone novels?

Both. At least, that seems to be what I’m doing. Hot Pink is a series in that all the books are related by the concept of something in them being Hot Pink, or Hot and Pink, and all of them celebrate the beauty and play of sex. But other than that, each story is a stand-alone. With Hot Pink, you can read the books in any order. Knowledge of one is not necessary for enjoyment of the rest.

Do you prefer to write alone or in the company of other people?

Always alone. When I’m writing I want to be able to tap into my innermost thoughts. I can’t do that with other people around.

Any amusing story about marketing books that happened to you?

I’m doing it. I never in my life thought I’d be marketing anything. I don’t do marketing. Only it seems I do do marketing now. That’s funny as hell.

I know what you mean. I feel much the same way, and now I find the marketing side of Indie Publishing really fascinating. That’s something I thought I’d never say. Anyway, thanks for your time today, D, and all the best with your future writing.

You can find out more about D. de Carvalho and his writing at thehotpinkpress.com or follow his Facebook or Twitter accounts.



Author Interview: Jocelynn Babcock

This month’s author interview is with paranormal mystery and supernatural magical realism writer, Jocelynn Babcock. Jocelynn will tell you she created books with her grandma’s yarn as a child and grew up to marry an engineer. She lives in the Channeled Scablands,  where the fine line between sanity and not is an outlet for idle hands.

Jocelynn is the author of the paranormal mystery series, Mantic, and the paranormal novella series, Semantic, which feature an assortment of psychics, ghosts, and witches among the characters.

Books by Jocelynn Babcock

Hi, Jocelynn. Thanks for joining me and my readers today. First up, can you tell us a little bit about the writing project you are currently working on?

I’m currently writing the second installment of my paranormal mystery series. Mantic Vol II: To Dance with Serpents has our main character, now with partial memory restoration (about two years back). She resolves to regain her entire memory after a shocking twist.

What has drawn you to write in the paranormal and supernatural genres?

I never considered what I wrote to be paranormal. I beta tested my debut novel as a murder mystery and found that mystery readers considered a psychic to be paranormal. I knew full well that psychic was not enough to publish to a paranormal audience, so I went back and threaded through magical realism in order to hit the target market of paranormal readers. This gave me more freedom in content and I think added a new element to my writing. I enjoy the finished product better than if it had remained just a psychic mystery.

That’s really interesting, and great that it’s worked out well for both you and your readers. So, when did you decide to become a writer?

I’ve always written, but lacked the confidence to be a writer. I went to college to be a grant writer, because that is writing that pays the bills. It was during that time I decided to give fiction a try. As I neared completing the novel, then I decided to become a writer. I finally realized I could finish a project, and the process would get easier.

Where do your ideas come from?

Conversations with people. My current trilogy was the idea of my husband. I have another idea from a conversation I had with my mom when I was a teen. Yet another was a thread I pulled out of my book because there was a lot going on already and the beta readers were confused by the connection. My niece, my forensic expert, has inspired a few stories also.

Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?

Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony, as engraved by G.E. Perine & Co., NY, c.1855

I would like to bring Susan B. Anthony to the future and show her: women voting, women on juries, women raising their children alone, women owning property, women going to college, women in the workplace, women wearing whatever they choose, etc. I’d like to point and say: “You did that.”

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?

A little voice from the next room that says “I’m all done ny-night Mommy!”

Thanks for your time today, Jocelynn, and all the best with your writing.

You can find out more about Jocelynn and her writing at jocelynnbabcock.wordpress.com or follow her Facebook or Twitter accounts.


What Friends Are For

The opening excerpt from my surprising new short story, What Friends Are For. Happy reading!

So I’m at home folding laundry, cos that’s what you do when you got a young kid. Between the shit and the piss and the vomit, seems like all I’m ever doing is laundry. I’d just given Hayley a box of raisins cos she was cranky—she loves her raisins, guaranteed to shut her up for five minutes anyway—when the phone rings. It’s Kate Hensley. Her son, Corbin, goes to daycare with Hayley, which is how Kate and I know each other.

I’m not sure why her Corbin goes to daycare, since as far as I know she doesn’t have a job; I guess she just needs the time to paint her nails and prune her roses in peace. Anyway, she wants to know if I’ll go along with her and Corbin to Alexandra for the morning to have a look round the shops. This is unexpected. I said we knew each other, but we’re not exactly friends. We see each other when we’re picking up or dropping off the kids at daycare, but we’ve never hung out before. I’m up for it. It’s not easy to make friends in Cromwell, especially when you’re a young mum and you’re new to town. I get sideways looks when I walk down the street, pushing a pram, like people are thinking, There goes another one. Should’ve kept her legs closed. They’re right of course, but hey, what’s done is done.

Kate might be posh, but she’s always been friendly enough. I ask her how long we’d be in Alexandra cos my shift at the pub starts at one-thirty and I got to get Hayley to daycare before that. I was late on Monday and the boss gave me a bollocking. I don’t want another one.

She says, “Oh, don’t worry about that. I promise we’ll be back before one.”

I say, “Okay then,” cos the housework can wait, and I think it’ll be nice to go shopping—you know, do some girly things. To tell the truth, I’ve been feeling a bit lonely lately. I stopped going to mothers’ group cos I was the youngest one there, and I didn’t exactly fit in. I mean, they were nice enough to my face, but all they ever did was bitch about other mothers behind their backs, so God only knows what they said about me.

So I’m excited Kate’s called. “It’ll be nice to get out of the house,” I tell her.

“Right, I’ll pick you up in half an hour,” she says.

“See you then.”

Which leaves me just enough time to finish folding the laundry, change Hayley’s bum and put a bit of lippy on. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not usually one for the make-up—you can’t polish a turd, as Davy likes to say—but it’s a little different when you’re going out about town with a woman as beautiful as Kate Hensley. I mean, I’m not vain or nothing, but you gotta make an effort.

I hear the toot of a horn and look out the window to see Kate coming up the driveway in her gleaming white Hyundai Santa Fe. It’s a good measure of the difference in our family incomes. I drive an eighty-four Corolla.

“Nice car,” I tell Kate as I place Hayley’s car seat in the back.

“Isn’t it lovely?” she says. “It’s just perfect for going skiing.”

This is my second winter in Cromwell and I still haven’t been skiing. It’s not on the priority list. I strap Hayley into her seat next to Corbin and put her stroller in the boot and then off we head off down the road. Straight away, Kate starts singing Coming Round the Mountain at the top of her lungs. She can’t sing to save herself.

“Jesus Christ, Kate,” I say.

“Pardon me,” she says, all hoity-toity like, and then I remember that she’s religious and I’ve just blasphemed.

She goes to one of the churches in town—not the cult one, thank God, but she’s bad enough. She’s one of those people who’s always slipping God or church or the Bible into the conversation. Like, How was your weekend, Kate? Oh, really good, thanks, went to a great service on Sunday—we learnt about prayer strategies. Or: Beaut day eh, Kate? Oh, yes, it’s lovely. God certainly has blessed us with the weather this week. She’s good in that she doesn’t pester you to come along to church all the time, but you know she’d be thrilled if you said you would. I’ve even considered it, just for the singing and the company, but the most judgemental people I’ve ever met were Christians and I’ve had my share of being judged.

“Do you mind if I put the radio on?” I say. “Only Coming Round the Mountain’s not my favourite tune.”

She shrugs. “I suppose.”

I switch the radio on and we cross over Deadman’s Point Bridge and turn towards Alexandra. The kids are quiet and it’s nice, you know, listening to the radio and looking out the window at the Clutha River, which on this stretch, up to the Clyde Dam, is less river and more lake. The sky is overcast and the water looks cold and grim and grey in the washed-out winter light. As we get nearer the dam, the steep slopes on the far side of the lake become criss-crossed with a network of dirt roads, made when the dam was constructed. They look like pale scars slashed against the hill rock.

“How’s Davy?” asks Kate, breaking my reverie.

“Who cares? He’s a jerk,” I say.

“Oh no, what’s he done?”

I grunt. “Okay, get this—right? It was my twenty-first birthday last week—”

“Really? Did you have a party?”

“Nah, it was just me and Davy and Hayley. My mate Julz back home said she’d organise one for me if I came up, but it’s just not that easy, is it? She hasn’t got a clue what it’s like to have a kid. None of my old mates do. Mum an’ Dad were gonna come down, but then Dad got called away for work an’ they couldn’t make it.”

“Oh, Tracy, you should have told me. I could have organised something.”

“Nah, it’s all good. I’d accepted the fact that I wasn’t goin’ to have the world’s most excitin’ twenty-first celebration. But I’m still pissed off at Davy cos the present he bought me was shit. Here I was, preparin’ my own birthday dinner since Davy was at work, an’ he comes home with a big box. No flowers or chocolates, just a box. It was gift wrapped, an’ there was a card attached, but I was already suspicious cos I was thinkin’, What on earth do I want that comes in a big box? ‘Open it, open it,’ he says, all excited, so I open it, an’ can you guess what it was?”

“No,” says Kate, shaking her head.

“A fuckin’ cake mixer! I wasn’t expectin’ diamond earrin’s or anythin’ like that, though that would’ve been nice, but for fuck’s sake, a cake mixer! I mean, it’s a nice cake mixer an’ all, but it was my twenty-first, not my fuckin’ fortieth! Most girls my age would be out ragin’ with their mates, but me, I’m stuck at home with my boyfriend an’ our kid—no friends, no family, changin’ shitty nappies an’ goin’ to bed at nine o’clock cos I’m so exhausted! I told him to go mix his own fuckin’ cakes.”

Kate laughs. “Oh, I’m sorry, Tracy. That is a pretty awful twenty-first present. I guess he thought he was doing something nice for you.”

“I know, but what a dickhead.”

“Don’t be too hard on him. At least he cares.”

“Oh, I know he does. It’s just that sometimes he can be such a moron.”

“That’s men for you. I…” She stops, frowning, and then turns her head away. She’s a beautiful woman—sleek and blonde and elegant, with high cheekbones, a sharp nose, and luminous green eyes. Plus she’s got boobs and hips. She kinda reminds of a Barbie doll, only more Presbyterian. She looks straight ahead now, concentrating on driving, and I think to myself, Why am I here? Does she want to be friends? It’s a nice thought, I suppose, but we’re so different. I must look like her ugly, freckle-faced, flat-chested younger cousin.

NEW RELEASE – What Friends Are For

What Friends Are ForAvailable now at all major ebook stores. Just click the the Amazon or Books2Read buttons below.

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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.

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