J.B. Reynolds

Writer

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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.

 

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

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

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

May

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

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

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

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

September

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

October

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

November

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.

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.

2016 Auckland Writers Festival

2016 Auckland Writers FestivalLast month, I was lucky enough to join a group of students and teachers from my school for the schools programme of the 2016 Auckland Writers Festival, at the Aotea Centre in central Auckland. It’s always entertaining to spend a day out of class with a bunch of high-schoolers. There were thirty or so on this expedition, a mix of ages and personalities, all ostensibly interested in writing—though I suspect a number of them just wanted a day off school, and who could blame ’em. It’s a three hour bus ride, more or less, from our school, in the rural backwaters of Northland, to the big smoke.  Three hours of singing, dancing and gossiping.

We arrived at the Aotea Centre in good time, having taken the Northern Busway into the city, which allowed us to avoid much of the citybound traffic. We were booked for four sessions at the festival, firstly with Kate de Goldi, then Jane Higgins, Omar Musa and Tami Nielson.

Kate de Goldi’s session was, unfortunately, boring. I’ve read The 10pm Question and I think it’s a great book—smart, funny, and touching. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but it was more than what I got. She read excerpts from her latest novel, From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle, which is set in Christchurch, and talked about how the earthquakes in Christchurch had influenced her writing of it. Nothing she read, nor anything she said, made me want to go out and buy a copy. I’m not saying it sounds like a bad book (she’s an accomplished writer, and it’s probably a pretty good book), but her delivery—a little dry, a little stiff—made it difficult to get enthusiastic about anything she was saying. Maybe she’s a better writer than public speaker, and there’s nothing wrong with that—public speaking is daunting—but it felt like a missed opportunity, both for de Goldi, and her audience.

Our next session was with Jane Higgins. She was talking about hope in young adult fiction. She discussed how a lot of the fiction written for young adult audiences is bleak. But there’s hope too—and the sense of hope is essential to the success of the stories told. She said that young adult fiction may be bleak, but that is only a reflection of real life, where young men and woman live in a world that is often bleak, and have to face difficult challenges and make difficult decisions. She said that hope is also necessary, and that a story without hope would struggle to sustain an audience.

I have to agree with her there. Last year, I read Song of Stone by Iain Banks. It is almost unrelentingly bleak. Sure, it’s an interesting idea, well written, with prose that is often beautiful, in a cold, hard way, but once finished, I had no desire to read anything similar, and haven’t again since. This is hardly a recipe for building a sustainable audience.

Higgins said that there are five ways in which the characters in young adult fiction experience hope:

  • Discovering the people that are supporting them;
  • Discovering their gifts;
  • Being recognised for who they are;
  • Seeing clearly at last;
  • Happy endings (sometimes).

She said that young people are often asked what they are going to do. This is true—it’s a question I often hear myself asking of students at school, usually the ones where it is difficult to imagine anyone ever making the decision to employ them. According to Higgins, two better questions to ask, and two better question for young men and women to ask of themselves, are:

  • Who are you going to be?
  • How are you going to live your life?

I guess the caveat attached to these questions is that if hope is not part of the answer to them, then something needs to change.

After breaking for lunch, we returned to the ASB Theatre for our third session, with Omar Musa. Musa is a Malaysian-Australian poet/rapper/writer. He spoke about his life and his work, and punctuated these with spoken word performances of some of his poems. This is perhaps not so different from what de Goldi did, but the crucial difference here is in the word performance.  De Goldi spoke to the audience; Musa performed for the audience. He was charismatic, funny, and entertaining. His performance covered a range of topics, including the difficulties of growing up poor, angry, and Muslim in small-town Australia. The poem that sticks most in my mind was an ode to the spicy Malaysian noodle soup, laksa. Here, Musa called on the audience to participate, joining in with a shouted “Wooh!” on the poem’s introductory refrain of “Wooh! This shit is hot.”

Musa’s overall message was that storytelling is important, and that no matter where you come from—your stories are worth telling. He spoke of the importance of storytelling in Malay culture, where the word for storyteller, penglipur lara, translates as a “reliever of sorrows” or “dispeller of worries”. He sees poetry as a way of “giving a voice to the voiceless” and as being “a safe place to tell dangerous stories.”

For me, he was the standout presenter of the day, and most of the students I spoke to felt the same way. I think this is because of the entertainment value his presentation provided. When you’ve traveled three hours on a bus to see someone, and you’ve got a three hour return journey after you’ve seen them, it’s really not enough just to be talked at; it’s important to be entertained as well.

The last session of the day was with Tami Nielson. Nielson is a country/blues singer/songwriter. She was born in Canada to a musical family, and moved to New Zealand in 2007. She talked about her songwriting process, focusing on the evolution of her song Walk (Back to Your Arms), which won her the APRA silver scroll in 2014, and how it developed from a simple, almost wordless tune that popped into her head while driving one day, through to a fully-fledged, award winning song, with an accompanying music video.

Nielson was warm, funny and engaging. She talked about her life back in Canada, where her road to musical success was established as a child. She talked about her move to New Zealand, and the frightening prospect of having to start her career over again, in a new country, where no-one knew who she was or what she had done in the past. She told jokes and stories, sung songs, and played the guitar. She even showed some mean skills on the harmonica.

Like Musa, she didn’t just present to her audience, she performed for them as well. This is unsurprising—both artists are musicians as well as storytellers, after all. It’s perhaps unfair to compare their presentations with those of de Goldi and Higgins, but they made all the difference in terms of my enjoyment of the day. I think most of our students felt the same way. It’s always good to spend time with students outside the normal, everyday bounds of the classroom. You get to see a side of them that you don’t normally get to see, and visa versa. But it’s a long trip to Auckland and back, and I’d like to thank Omar Musa and Tami Nielson for making that trip especially enjoyable.

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