Tag Archives: author interview

#amwriting: #Interview with @Aaron_Volner, author

Today I am interviewing my good friend, indie author, Aaron Volner. A screenwriter, game designer, and playwright, Aaron is launching his first published novel, which I must say is an awesome debut. Chronicles of the Roc Rider has all the hallmarks of a great fantasy adventure, with the flavor of the wild west.

CJJ: Tell us a little of early life and how you began writing: What books influenced you most as young reader?

AV: Hi Connie! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, I really appreciate it.

I was influenced by a wide range of titles as a youngster. My parents made sure I read widely, everything from “Hank the Cowdog” to “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” I would have to say one of the books that has had the largest lasting impact was “Watership Down” by Richard Adams. For a novel about rabbits, you can learn so much of human relationships from it, and it’s one of the few books I’ve reread multiple times. The “Animorphs” series by K.A. Applegate rings in right up there with it. However the books that really inspired me to start writing my own fantasy were “The Wheel of Time” series by Robert Jordan. My lifelong passion for fantasy began there.

Early life was spent buried in books and playing make believe a lot longer than most kids do, with a healthy dose of video games on the side. There were a number of factors that first influenced me to start writing, but one of the strongest was the example of my sister, Heather. She wrote what I remember as truly wonderful poetry when she was in Junior High/High School, even having some of it published. Much of it was serious, inspired by our pet rabbits and grandparents, and some of it was funny for the sake of it. Through her I learned how much fun playing with words and the language could be.

CJJ: How did these books influence your early writing?

AV:  The first novel I ever started writing (in about 5th or 6th grade) was a blatant Star Wars ripoff with my friends and I under different names as the swashbuckling crew of a rebel starship, one of whom could change into different space animals because of how obsessed I was with the “Animorphs” books.

My first completed novel was inspired by “The Eye of the World,” but I wanted to take a different spin on things. I chose to deliberately explore fantasy without “The Dark Lord,” but a regular, albeit unusually powerful, person with terrible ambitions as the antagonist. At the time, I thought this was a really new and novel idea, hahaha. I also have a scene in that book inspired by “Watership Down,” where one of the main heroes discovers he can communicate with animals to a degree. He strikes a bargain with a local rabbit warren to have his compatriot with plant-based magic provide them a great feast in a safe spot in exchange for sending a rabbit sentry forward to scout out information they need.

CJJ: What inspired you to write Roc Rider?

AV:  I’ve always had something of a fascination with falconry and birds of prey. I suppose, given my penchant for fantasy, it naturally followed that I fell in love with the idea of rocs, the elephant hunting birds of middle eastern legend, as well. I realized a few years back that there weren’t as many rocs in fantasy as I would like, and decided to do something about that. I started thinking about how humans and rocs would interact, where a roc would realistically fit in the food chain, how a human who rode rocs would be perceived by others. The characters and the story naturally flowed from those musings.

CJJ:  Tell us about your main character, Tanin Stormrush. Who is he as a person, and what is he capable of?

AV:  When we first meet him Tanin has suffered a terrible loss. His wife and his original roc partner have both passed away, leaving him to raise his new roc partner, Zera, alone. His first roc partner died laying her final clutch of eggs. His wife died protecting one of them from the man who murdered her. Tanin is on a quest to find the man who killed his wife and discover what happened to the other egg from the clutch, at her final request. So in Tanin we see a man who is undergoing several stages of grief at once, while trying to raise an animal partner with care and compassion at the same time. In a way his quest is a form of bargaining, in that he hopes to make everything right in his world if he can just find the egg. But in some ways, it’s also a form of denial.

Tanin comes from a proud tradition of warriors on the wing, but one that has been declining for many, many years. Tanin’s early life after learning the ways of the roc rider was spent flying campaigns with various armies to protect against invasion by the Narn, a mysterious religion that rules the lands beyond the desert to the north. It was there he developed his own code of honor, based on Roc Rider values but combined with his own worldview. Tanin doesn’t speak of this directly in the book, but we do see hints at it throughout. There are moments when Tanin is more than capable of muscling his way through a situation to get what he wants, but chooses a different path even if it costs him. I intend to explore this a bit more in the second book, with Tanin’s code being challenged more openly in situations where he must decide if it’s worth the pay off to break with it.

CJJ: Do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

AV:  So far, my process changes quite a bit from book to book. I do wing it in a lot of respects, however I’ve always had a tendency to plan ahead at least somewhat. My first fantasy book began with me writing out the rules for the magic system and then diving in and discovering the character and story through a few chapters. Throughout that book I would periodically stop writing altogether to try and get my thoughts together in my head for where the story was going. I never wrote them down, just got a plan in my mind and then pressed forward a week or so later once I liked what I was thinking.

My second book, on advice from a writers conference, I wrote an outline before I started writing. That didn’t go so well. The book turned out good after major rewrites, but I discovered that written outlines and I have some issues and just don’t work well together.

With Roc Rider, I had a notebook and spent a few weeks riffing ideas in it. A lot of world building, character, and potential plot stuff. Whenever I faced a question I would write that question down and then riff possible answers. Obviously, the majority of what’s in that notebook never made it into the final product but it served as an invaluable resource when crafting the first draft of the story.

For the second Roc Rider novel, I’m going to do the same thing with one added step. Last year I took part in the 3-Day Novel Contest while Roc Rider was out with my beta readers. Since preparation is allowed for that contest, I tested out writing a story treatment for that book and loved what it added to the process.

A story treatment was something I had just recently learned about. A technique used mostly by screenwriters, it involves writing out the story in prose but in a succinct, descriptive fashion. I don’t have the space in this interview to explain it well, but I think of it as sort of a hybrid between writing an outline and simply diving into the first draft. You can dive into a story treatment like a ‘pantser’, but the treatment lets you see story problems and fix them before you start writing the first draft itself. Best of both worlds, in a way.

Anyway, after my notebook riffing I intend to do a story treatment for the second Roc Rider book as well. I believe it will help me get the book out more quickly and be better for the storytelling in the end.

CJJ: I love that. A story treatment is my way of getting a story off the launch pad too. But now, this is the question I hate to be asked, but here I am asking you: how does your work differ from others of its genre?

AV: This is a doozy of a question, isn’t it? But I’ll try.

I think my work is a little different in how it develops themes. A lot of fantasy is either aimed at a specific theme and the stories, characters, even sometimes the magic system is built around that theme. Other fantasy tries to be purely escapist and not speak to any specific theme at all.

I’ve always been dedicated to what I call organic theme development. This is a process that happens both in the writing and the reading of a work. I have certain ideas I want to explore. Not full themes, really, just human ideas. I attach them to elements I want to include in a story for escapist reasons and allow those ideas to develop as they will in the telling of the story. The result is generally a tale that can be interpreted any number of ways. The ideas get layered throughout the story in the writing, allowing themes to develop in the reader’s mind as they experience it.

Some read my first novel and see a story about the resilience of the human spirit. Others read the same book and see a cautionary tale about trusting your instincts and challenging authority.

Probably the best example, though, was my stage play “Behind Stone Masks”. That play follows a German soldier during WWII, who has a Jewish best friend and is later forced to take part in Kristallnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass”), when German soldiers were ordered to ransack Jewish neighborhoods in civilian clothing and the Holocaust began. Audiences had an almost staggering array of reactions to the play. Some saw it from a political perspective, others saw it through the lens of friendships and human relations. I had countless audience members express how they felt it was a poignant reflection of today’s world, but each in a different way.

I know organic theme development isn’t a unique idea and I’m sure there’s other fantasy authors who use it. But nevertheless, it’s what I feel sets my work apart.

CJJ: Why do you write what you do?

AV: I write fantasy because as a reader fantasy is what brings me the greatest joy. Creating it myself adds a whole new level of enjoyment, and allows me to hopefully bring some measure of that joy to other readers through my words.

CJJ: What are you working on now?

AV: I am already hard at work on the second Roc Rider book (notebook riffing stage), which I intend to release in 2018. I have also been working on a text-based choose your path adventure game for my website, but that project is in development limbo while I address some technical problems with it. I am toying with the notion of choosing one other prose project to write on the side. Maybe short stories or one of my other books. But I haven’t decided yet.

CJJ: When it comes to publishing, I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

AV: I have a bumpy mental history with independent publishing. As a teen writer, I always swore I’d self-publish if I couldn’t find a publisher. I later became an indie skeptic after learning the ins and outs of traditional publishing and the view on indies at that time. Then along came the kindle and I once again got excited by the notion of going indie… until I learned that publishers at that time wouldn’t consider you if you had an independently published book.

However, once things changed and agents/publishers became more than willing to consider indie authors for traditional deals I started seriously considering it again. I guess at the end of the day I just didn’t want to pursue indie if it meant cutting out traditional as an option. I was sold when I realized there really is almost no downside to indie publishing anymore, as long as you put in the work to produce a quality product. Further, based on my research, the majority of writers these days who are breaking into fiction and being successful enough at it to make their living are the ones pursuing hybrid career models. Meaning they have both indie and traditionally published works. Why cut yourself off from either world when both have so much to offer?

CJJ: What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

AV:  Ask yourself why you want to go indie and why you want to go traditional, and how either is likely to impact your writing. Be as honest with yourself as possible. I want to stress that there’s nothing wrong with wanting success, but at the end of the day you should choose the path that’s better for your writing. For me, choosing to go indie with Roc Rider helped focus me in a way that really helped me improve as a writer in a number of ways. My productivity and decisiveness in editing being two major ones. However, I know there are some writers whose writing would suffer from the decision to go indie. They’d feel compelled to rush the process to get something out, for example. Once you have a good, completed book in hand you can always change course if the one you’re on isn’t working out for you.

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Thank you, Aaron. You are a joy to know and to have as a friend, and are an integral part of my personal writing life. About Aaron Volner:

Aaron Volner spends a lot of time creating interesting places in his mind and getting irretrievably lost in them. Fortunately, he managed to find his way back long enough to write this book. He lives in the high desert of southwest Wyoming, where if you don’t like the weather, all you have to do is wait ten minutes.

Writer by night, librarian by day, Aaron also enjoys reading, acting, gaming, crocheting, golf, and doting on his dog.

He is also the author of Behind Stone Masks, a two-act stage play first performed in 2013 that follows a German soldier through the events of Kristallancht (the Night of Broken Glass) when the Holocaust began.

>>><<<

Aaron can be found at these places:

Website – http://www.aaronvolner.com/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/aaronvolnerauthor/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/aaron_volner

Google+ – https://plus.google.com/u/0/111301735131803935026

Amazon Book Page: Chronicles of the Roc Rider

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#amtalking: Interview with @LindsaySchopfer, Into the North #BeastHunter

One of my good friends, Lindsay Schopfer, whose work I have featured on this blog before, has a new book launching on this coming Saturday (April 15th, 2017). Into the North is the second Keltin Moore adventure, and is a fitting sequel to the first book in the series, The Beast Hunter.

I will be participating in the official online launch party on Facebook. Four other wonderful authors will also be participating, helping to boost the signal:

Into the North Online Launch Party

Log on and engage with some fantastic fantasy and steampunk authors as we celebrate the release of Lindsay Schopfer’s latest novel, “Into the North.” Our lineup of authors is as follows:

4:00 to 4:30 pm PDT – Pembroke Sinclair (7:00 EDT) (US)

4:30 to 5:00 pm PDT – Terry Persun (7:30 EDT) (US)

5:00 to 5:30 pm PDT – Katherine Perkins (8:00 EDT) (US)

5:30 to 6:00 pm PDT – Connie J. Jasperson (8:30 EDT) (US)

6:00 to 6:30 pm PDT – Nicole J. Persun (9:00 EDT) (US)

6:30 to 7:00 pm PDT – Lindsay Schopfer (9:30 EDT) (US)

All the participating authors will share tidbits about their work, and some will have games. Several are offering prizes to participating visitors. I will be talking about the genesis of the Tower of Bones series and giving away Kindle downloads of Tower of Bones to two lucky winners.

I will post the lineup and times again on Friday, along with my review of Into the North!

I had a few questions for Lindsay about his newest book:

CJJ: When did Keltin Moore first become a character you were compelled to write?

LS: I’ve told the story before in other interviews about playing a video game and getting the initial idea for the character of Keltin Moore, but it took a while for me to really get interested in writing more about the professional monster hunter. What’s now the prologue of The Beast Hunter was originally just a standalone flash fiction story. It was almost a year later before I  wrote what is now chapter one, originally the first episode of an online serial. It was while I was working on that serial that I really came to love the character of Keltin Moore along with his unique world and adventures. By the time I’d written the first three episodes, I was hooked.

CJJ: How much of you and your personal values is in Keltin? Where do you and he differ?

LS: There’s definitely a lot of me in Keltin. He has a strong sense of responsibility for those that he cares about, and he tries to take the moral high ground regardless of how much harder it will make things for him. We also both struggle with social situations, and sometimes have a tendency to bottle things up to our detriment. I guess the biggest difference between us is that I recognize my need for people and do my best to draw them to me. Keltin is still learning about the limitations that come from trying to do things alone.

CJJ: Once a new work is in progress, what are the main hurdles you have to overcome in laying down the first draft?

LS: The biggest issue I run into is the temptation to start over. I do the same thing with video games. I could be half-way through a game and realize “Oh shoot! I’m not going to be able to do that side-quest now!” And I’ll start the game over to have a ‘perfect’ run. With stories, it’s very tempting to go back and get it right from start to finish. I’ll confess that I did start over with Into the North four times (once when I was more than a hundred pages in) before I finally made it to the end of the first draft.

CJJ: Into the North, Keltin’s second adventure, has many of the fans’ favorite characters returning. What was your favorite plot twist for your returning side-characters?”

LS: Hmm… that’s a tough one. I think I’d have to say the resolution of a few subplots at the very end of the book. I won’t give any spoilers, but there were definitely some moments when I couldn’t stop smiling as I wrote about how Keltin’s friends and close associates really feel about him.

CJJ: What are you working on now?

LS: I’ve got several projects in the works, but the one that I’m the most excited for right now is a new collection of short stories. This will include a Keltin Moore short story, as well as stories that have previously appeared in anthologies printed by Writerpunk Press and Clockwork Dragon. I know that I’ve got fans that have been wanting to read them, so I’m excited that they’ll finally be able to get all of them in one place.

CJJ: What books can you recommend for new writers who are just beginning to learn the craft?

LS: Bird by Bird is a classic by Anne Lamott. Most of the other books that I’ve read on the craft are pretty obscure or out of print, so it’s hard to recommend them.

CJJ: Where can writers find your classes and seminars?

LS: I’m actually planning on making some changes in the way I offer my classes and workshops, but people that are interested can sign up for my newsletter to keep updated on that along with other news about my books and appearances.

CJJ: Finally, where will you be making live appearances this spring and summer?

LS: I’ve got a book tour this month for the release of Into the North that will include stops in Washington, Utah, and Wyoming. You can find all of the dates and locations below:

Dates and Locations for my Book Tour

I’m also planning on teaching at the PNWA summer conference this year, and will also be making an appearance at the Brass Screw Confederacy in Port Townsend.


If you would like to know more about author Lindsay Schopfer and his work, he can be found online at these places::

Lindsay Schopfer’s Author Central page at Amazon

Lindsay’s Website

Lindsay Schopfer on Facebook

Lindsay’s Blog

Follow Lindsay on Twitter: @LindsaySchopfer

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#amtalking: #interview with @authorLeeFrench, Ghost is the New Normal

Author Lee French is a prolific writer, with more than twenty books to her credit. Her work is featured in many anthologies, and she is a driving force in the Pacific Northwest Indie author community. She is a strong proponent of NaNoWrimo, and works with me as Co-Municipal Liaison for the Olympia region. Her insights and commentary regularly crack me up, but more than that I really enjoy her work. Two of her series, The Greatest Sin and Ilauris, have become favorites of mine. Her YA series, Spirit Knights, is an excellent adventure series, completely appropriate for teens and readers of all ages.

CJJ: Your new book, Ghost is the New Normal, is the fourth installment in the Spirit Knights series. This series is set in Portland, Oregon, and features an unusual cast of characters. Claire is sixteen and is in foster care. Her new family has connections to her deceased parents, and this unusual connection is the core of the story. Claire’s father was a Spirit Knight, a member of a group dedicated to hunting ghosts in Portland. Tell us about the Spirit Knights and the story so far.

LF: At its heart, the Spirit Knight series is about the same thing all my books center on—family. The people in your family, whether it’s the family you were born with or not, are the people who affect you the most throughout your life. All three of the primary characters, Claire, Drew, and Justin, have lost their parents, and all three are affected differently by that. It’s how they deal with those issues, feelings of betrayal, survivor’s guilt, abuse, and loneliness that makes their stories worth telling.

CJJ: Claire is a unique girl. She is fun and feisty, a girl who makes mistakes along with her successes. But even when she has stumbled big-time, she picks herself up and keeps going. When did you have the idea to write her story in the first place?

LF: Claire began life as a Werewolf: the Apocalypse character. That’s one of White Wolf’s role-playing games. Her humble beginnings as a relatively dumb, brute-force werewolf provided a foundation for someone who solves problems by punching them in the face. At her core, she’s an exaggeration of the “strong” female character, softened into realism by adding layers of humanity over that.

CJJ: You write in several different genres. As an Indie trying to carve a niche for your work, has that presented a challenge for you?

LF: With work in five different subgenres now, it’s challenging to find readers who like all of it, which means I have to approach each subgenre’s books as a separate entity. I can get crossover between epic and sword & sorcery fantasy, and between superheroes and urban fantasy, but never the twain shall meet, and nothing else intersects with cyberpunk. As a result, my fans are in three disparate groupings. Marketing to one grouping is time consuming and often expensive. Marketing to three is more than I can handle, so I try to take turns with each thing.

TL;DR: Yes, and I don’t recommend it. Stick with your genre until you achieve success in it.

CJJ: You have an eye for graphic design and have done covers for several books. You have also worked with several professional designers. What should the cash-strapped Indie consider when looking and budgeting for a cover designer?

LF: Pre-made covers are economical, and you can see the quality before you buy. If you don’t personally have design skills and software, it’s a good route to take for your first few books. If you do have the skills and materials, it’s important to understand the specific market of book covers in your subgenre. There are expectations about covers, and there are techniques specific to covers that should only be subverted once you understand them. Just like with writing. Research your subgenre and fit into it.

CJJ: If you could go back to your first books and do anything differently what would that be?

LF: At this point, I look back at that first year of publishing and wish I’d known someone who could’ve given me good advice on what to do with those first 5 books. I read lots of advice, but have come to appreciate that some of it wasn’t good. Most specifically, I think I would’ve dumped a lot more money into the first few books, for editing, covers, and initial roll-out. I’ve since gone back and had the editing and covers redone.

CJJ: What has been the greatest hurdle for you to overcome in your career?

LF: Meeting people. I’m horrible at remembering names, I have a hard time digesting information I only get aurally, and I have anxieties that kick in around large groups. Attending parties where the purpose is meeting people in the biz is a special form of torture. As my own sense of personal success builds, I’m getting better at it, but the socializing will always be my least favorite part of this job. After writing blurbs. Blurbs suck more.

CJJ: What has been the biggest happy-dance moment for you as an author?

LF: Joining SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, was always a sort of pie-in-the-sky thing for me, up until I did it as an indie last December. The moments that allowed it to happen—hitting #1 on Amazon in multiple high-level subcategories—were pretty good too. Those kinds of moments help create a sense of legitimacy in my own mind, which helps me convince others I deserve a seat at the table.

CJJ: You and Indie author, Jeffrey Cook, wrote Working the Table, the Bible for Indies who intend to have tables and sell their books at conventions. Tell us a little about that book and how it came about.

LF: Jeff and I worked 32 shows in 2016, plus another dozen or more in 2015. Between the two of us, we climbed the learning curve pretty fast. Watching others work and settling into what we found both comfortable and successful has given us a reputation in the Pacific Northwest among a fair-sized swath of indie authors. A few people suggested we should write a book with all our tips and tricks, which we brushed off because neither of us felt especially wise or learned in the subject. At one show, a friend issued the ultimatum that if we didn’t write it, she would. I did some research and discovered Amazon had no such books, so we wrote it. That book took about 3 months to produce and was probably the least stressful authorial experience I’ve ever had.

CJJ: Where will readers be able to find you this spring and summer?

LF: This is my current schedule through August, but more shows may be added:

  • Wen-Con—Wenatchee, WA
  • Norwescon—Seatac, WA
  • CapitalIndieBookCon—Olympia, WA
  • Miscon—Missoula, MT
  • GEARCon—Portland, OR
  • MALCon—Denver, CO
  • GenCon—Indianapolis, IN

>>><<<

Lee French can be found blogging on all aspects of her writing life at Scripturience, www.authorleefrench.com

Follow Lee on Twitter: @authorleefrench

Lee’s Facebook page can be found at:  https://www.facebook.com/AuthorLeeFrench

You can find Lee’s books on Amazon. Her books are also available at Barnes and Noble, Kobo,  and  in all other digital formats as well as in print, and as audio books.

Lee French lives in Olympia, WA with two kids, two bicycles, and too much stuff. She is an avid gamer and member of the Myth-Weavers online RPG community, where she is known for her fondness for Angry Ninja Squirrels of Doom. In addition to spending too much time there, she also trains year-round for the one-week of glorious madness that is RAGBRAI, has a nice flower garden with one dragon and absolutely no lawn gnomes, and tries in vain every year to grow vegetables that don’t get devoured by neighborhood wildlife.

She is an active member of the Northwest Independent Writers Association, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and the Olympia Area Writers Coop, as well as being one of two Municipal Liaisons for the NaNoWriMo Olympia region and a founding member of Clockwork Dragon Books.

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#amreading: Stephen Swartz, EPIC FANTASY * With Dragons

Today I am talking with a dear friend of mine, author Stephen Swartz. Along with myself and twenty other authors, Stephen is a founding member of Myrddin Publishing. We have been down a great many rough roads together since those early days of taking the plunge and leaving our former publisher. Not a day goes by that I don’t communicate with him in some way, and he always has a way of making me laugh.

His most recent novel is an ambitious project called EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons which was just launched. I had the opportunity to be a beta reader and liked the book in its proto version very much. I am enjoying the book in its final form immensely. The world it is set in is barbaric and exotic. Corlan is a solid character, a great protagonist who is unlike most squeaky clean, modern heroes. In a purely human way, Corlan has faults and blind spots. But he attracts an odd assortment of people, wonderful characters who force him to see the world more realistically. In his travels, Corlan becomes a worthy hero, but never loses his human nature.

CJJ: EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons is an awesome title for the book. Your dragons are most definitely not the friendly sort of dragon Anne McCaffrey wrote about. How long did you toy with the idea of this book before you began writing it, and what made you decide to embark on such an ambitious project?

SW: The fact is the title was the first thing I thought of. Because I was challenged to write an “epic fantasy” I started with that as the title, more of a spoof, I suppose, but also a focus. I imagined poking fun at the tropes of the epic fantasy genre. Of course, that’s not what I ended up with: it was not a spoof but a serious work of daring-do over a harsh landscape.

I had never been a fan of dragons as a story element. Too many dragons were cute, affectionate, like pets to humans, or the opposite: dragons hoarding gold, talking to humans. I couldn’t deal with those. So I went full biologist and reimagined dragons as perfectly wild beasts following the laws of physics and biology. Then I let them be nuisances, then terrors. I imagined a life where dragons constantly flew overhead, snatching children and livestock, setting thatch roofs on fire, depositing their waste everywhere. People would not put up with that for long. Hence, the need for “gamekeepers” to keep them in check.

As is often the case for me, I had an image in my head, the opening scene. It had to be a fantasy world. Some guy doing his thing in that fantasy world. So I thought of dragons flying by and there is our hero, sitting on the side of a cliff shooting them down. And then what happens? I thought for about a month, then continued: he goes home and faces all kinds of trouble, a bad weekend in the city which ends with him being banished by the prince.

Now that I’ve finished Epic Fantasy *With Dragons, I’m finally reading McCaffrey’s books. Long ago, when I was a child, I showed my mother a story I had written and when she said it reminded her of The Hobbit, I swore never to read The Hobbit so nobody could say I got my story idea from Tolkien. Now, however, we do research. Even so, I don’t think my take on a dragon tale is like any others that I’ve read or heard of.

CJJ: The works of yours I am most familiar with, Aiko, After Ilium, and A Girl Called Wolf are contemporary fiction, set in our real world, as is your vampire novel, A Dry Patch of Skin. You’ve also written an epic Sci-Fi series, The Dreamland Trilogy. This book is a real departure from those novels, as the prose is far more formal and literary. Corlan is a compelling character, and the story moves along at a rapid pace, but I would say it is not a quick read. What kind of reader were you writing this for?

SW: I began writing science fiction, which was what I read as a child and teenager. I transitioned into magical realism by the time I entered an MFA program in college. There we were supposed to write literary fiction, introspective stories of real people in a real world. So that became my focus. There are good things and not so good things about each genre, something that satisfies me when writing each but also challenges for each genre. It comes down to the story: Is it better as a real story in a contemporary setting or as a sci-fi story in an invented world? I usually do not have the choice; the story comes to me already set in the genre it wants to be.

The novels you mention had some basis in my own reality. For Aiko I lived in Hawaii and then in Japan. After Ilium began with me studying Classical rhetoric and the epics of Homer; I transported Homer’s ancient tales to a modern setting. A Girl Called Wolf is really the biography of a friend; I felt her story of hardship growing up in Greenland would make a great novel. I encouraged her to write it but she gave up and insisted I write it for her.

One thing I did learn in that MFA program was that all stories are about people – not the setting, or the technology or the aliens or the dragons. That made a big difference in the writing I’ve done since then. So in Epic Fantasy *With Dragons I focused on my protagonist, making him a real person with real problems but also, as per the epic fantasy rules, some dark secrets, some stubbornness, and some talents. The Dream Land Trilogy, although sci-fi, also focuses more on the characters and their relationships than on the interdimensional doorway and the world they discover and come to rule. Perhaps it is all a matter of growing older myself and experiencing relationships. Who knows?

With the epic fantasy genre comes the criteria: a strange landscape, a variety of odd characters, a quest, and a lot of words to get the reader to the destination. When I began, I decided to aim for 200,000-plus words. I was half joking at first, just like with the title. But it really did not take so long or was too much effort to put that many words on paper. As a quest tale, the right number of episodes would naturally add up to the designated word count. I wrote quickly and did not linger to write lavish descriptions of places or a character’s fashion; I kept my focus on action, dialog, and moving to the next scene.

Like everything I write, I try to do two things, with regard to readers: give them a story that is compelling and within the criteria of the genre, and do something different, enough different, to make it not the same old thing they have read before. I think I’ve achieved that with Epic Fantasy *With Dragons. There is a deeper story that gradually boils to the surface by the end. I hope readers will enjoy the familiar elements of an epic fantasy and then appreciate how I’ve toyed with those elements to make some new and different.

CJJ: Now we get to the question I really want to know the answer to. At what age did you start reading, and what books influenced you most as a young reader?

SW: Being the child of a pair of teachers, I began reading at an early age. It wasn’t too soon after I began writing my own stories. They were comic strips at first: drawings with dialog. Then I dropped the pictures and added more words. All my teachers liked the stories I wrote, often having me read them for the whole class. In 7th grade I invented a superhero: Micro Man who could shrink himself to get out of tight jams. Everyone awaited the next episode every Friday. As a teenager I read sci-fi and fantasy…as well as some of the unabridged Classics on the shelves of my house. Ben Bova, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Michael Moorcock, Damon Knight are the authors I remember always reading. Plus Homer, the Russian novelists, especially Dostoevsky, and some Italians like Dante. And I tried to write better stories than what I read. Or at least as good: “Write the stories you want to read.” That’s what I do.

CJJ: How did these books influence your early writing?

SW: Aside from some stylistic tricks and some phrasing quirks from the authors I named, I was shown many (more) ways of seeing the universe than I ever could in my simple world of Missouri. And that’s the reason we read, especially sci-fi and fantasy. Technically, I still use the “two-fer phrase” (He dipped the cup into the stream, drank it.) that I learned from reading Zelazny. I got a literary lesson on how, in a conflict, the side that seems morally right at first glance is not always morally right, courtesy of Moorcock (The Eternal Champion). As an only child who spent a lot of time entertaining myself, I loved reading and writing. Now I teach others to enjoy reading and appreciating literature and to write academically and creatively.

CJJ: I like that. In the opening chapters of EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons, Corlan is possessed of that raw self-centeredness that many of Roger Zelazny’s protagonists embodied. Do you ever take a vacation from writing? Do you have a current work in progress?

SW: The only vacation from writing I take are the agonizing weeks between projects. I might slip into a depression, fearing I’ll never write again. Maybe I’ll have no more ideas. Gradually an idea will emerge from the vagaries of daily life and once again I become excited at inventing something that did not exist before. I’m in that slump presently but I will soon be able to get back to work on something.

Work-in-progress? I hesitate to mention it because that in itself might prove to be a spoiler, but I have ideas and a plan for a sequel to Epic Fantasy *With Dragons. I have tentatively titled it Epic Fantasy 2 *Without Dragons. Now that the dragon situation has been resolved, our hero will turn to problems in the north. We will also learn more of the War of the Five Princes…mapped out in 1973, long before George R. R. Martin thought up his Game of Thrones.

CJJ: What would you like to say in closing about EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons?

SW: EF*WD started as a spoof, then became a serious tale of a quest. Then began the painting of patina of philosophy under many of the scenes, letting characters discuss the issues relevant to them and by extension to all of humanity. That is why I remarked at the close that I had said everything I wanted to say. And that, I believe, is something of the requirements of the epic fantasy: to make a statement about the human condition (without being preachy, of course) that gives the reader far more than a simple quest tale with action and romance. Perhaps that’s what I like most about writing fiction: juxtaposing the mundane reality of our present world with the vivid possibilities of the fantastical world and finding somewhere between them, in the cracks, a few universal truths. Then I can sit back and muse: “My work here is done.”

Stephen Swartz, thank you for stopping by and talking about your work and especially about this wonderful new novel.

Stephen can be found blogging regularly at Deconstruction of the Sekuatean Empire, where he discusses all aspects of his travels and writing life and also illuminates the darker corners of the craft of writing.

>>>|<<<

EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS

CORLAN, MASTER DRAGONSLAYER, the best in the Guild, the best in the Burg!

And yet, returning from his latest expedition, Corlan discovers jealous rivals have conspired

with the Prince to banish him from the city.

Sent into the Valley of Death, Corlan conjures a plan. He and his new sidekick, a runaway boy

from the palace kitchen, will trek the thousand miles to the far end of the valley, where a vast marsh provides nesting grounds for the dragon horde. Once there, Corlan vows to smash dragon eggs and lance younglings, ending dragon terror once and for all time.

And yet, as dangers, distractions, and detours harry him along the way, Corlan learns ancient secrets that threaten to destroy everything in his world. Even with the aid of wizards and warriors, he must use all his guile, his bravado, and the force of his stubborn will just to survive – and perhaps return home – no matter how the gods challenge him with their harshest tests.

Stephen Swartz grew up in Kansas City where he was an avid reader of science-fiction and quickly began emulating his favorite authors. Since then, Stephen studied music in college and, like many writers, worked at a wide range of jobs: from French fry guy to soldier, to IRS clerk to TV station writer, before heading to Japan for several years of teaching English. Now Stephen is a Professor of English at a university in Oklahoma, where he teaches many kinds of writing. He still can be found obsessively writing his latest manuscript, usually late at night. He has only robot cats.

CONTACT Stephen Swartz at:
BLOG

http://stephenswartz.blogspot.com/

TWITTER

@StephenSwartz1

FACEBOOK

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Author-Stephen-Swartz/149555308427639

STEPHEN SWARTZ BOOK LINKS 

Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/Stephen-Swartz/e/B007391TQK

Goodreads Author Page:

EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS (Mar. 2017)
paper https://www.amazon.com/dp/1680630253

kindle https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XF5FQ57

A GIRL CALLED WOLF (Dec. 2015)

A BEAUTIFUL CHILL (Feb. 2014)

paper http://www.amazon.com/dp/1939296307

kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00I6M4R9Y

A DRY PATCH OF SKIN (Oct. 2014)

AFTER ILIUM (2012)

paper http://www.amazon.com/dp/1939296218

kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009SDW1KC

AIKO (May 2015)

THE DREAM LAND TRILOGY

BOOK 1: Long Distance Voyager (Sept. 2013)

paper http://www.amazon.com/dp/1939296226

kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AH1V78Q

BOOK 2: Dreams of Future’s Past (Nov. 2013)

BOOK 3: Diaspora (Dec. 2013)

paper http://www.amazon.com/dp/1939296277

kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GVJGP9E

 

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Girls Can’t be Knights, Lee French cover reveal and interview

My good friend and fellow member of Myrddin Publishing Group, Lee French, has a new book coming out soon. The cover is gorgeous, in my opinion. I also love the title, Girls Can’t Be Knights.  This book is a young adult fantasy novel, championing Girl Power while exploring the world of a secret organization, the Spirit Knights. I can totally get behind that!

Set in Portland Oregon, Girls Can’t Be Knights is another in the long line of French’s impressive career, which includes nine books, one trilogy, one epic fantasy series and a short story. Her works are popular among fantasy and paranormal readers, with many re-reading books several times after purchase.

Lee has consented to answer a few questions for us:

CJJ: Tell us a little of early life and how you began writing:

Lee French's First Book

Lee French’s First Book

LF: I was a late reader, not really grasping the whole thing until 2nd grade. Once I did, I clung to books with both hands and a glare for anyone who dared to attempt prying one away. At that time, my school district ran an annual book fair, for which they encouraged students of all ages to submit “books” for “judging.” With my mom’s help, I self-published an epic six page volume about The Mean Old Man’s Backyard, which is to say that I cut all the paper, wrote all the words, drew all the pictures, and let her glue the fabric to the cardboard for the cover.

From that point on, I considered myself a “writer,” though I considered it a hobby for a long time.

CJJ: That is a cute book! Tell us about your most recent book. How did you come to write this novel?

LF:  Girls Can’t be Knights started as all my books do—with an idea that sounds brilliant but is ultimately kinda dumb. I wrote it for NaNoWriMo last year, which means it had curious ideas and plot points that had to be rewritten quite a bit. The primary idea comes from Les Miserables, specifically the idea of two men, eash the hero of his own story, striving against each other. The two main characters were Valjean and Javert, and elements of that remain. What happened is that Claire stepped in and demanded agency. The core ideas had to mutate to accommodate her.

CJJ: How does Girls Can’t be Knights differ from your other two series of books?

LF: This is my first foray into YA. The Maze Beset trilogy is similar to urban fantasy, though being about people with superpowers who got them through a genetic thingy, it’s technically science fiction. Like that trilogy, The Greatest Sin is generally suitable for teen readers, but wasn’t written with them in mind.

CJJ: Do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

LF:  When I first took the plunge into writing novel length work, I winged it. A lot. October 29, 2008, I decided to do NaNoWriMo for the first time and had just a basic idea of where I’d go. I finished, but it was awful. The next year, I took outlining a little too far. Since then, I’ve found a happy medium that works for me, where I go back and forth between winging it and outlining. The first chapter of a book is usually off the cuff, then I outline a few chapters, then I work up to the outline and wing a bit, then go back to the outlining. It works for me, which is the most important part of any Process.

CJJ: What genre would you consider this book, and how does it differ from others of its genre?

LF: Girls Can’t Be Knights is Young Adult Urban Paranormal/Fantasy Adventure. This book is all about family issues. Justin has a happy traditional family, but he’s the only one, and he came to it by way of domestic abuse between his own parents. This story shows a number of characters in various stages of dealing with broken homes and lost family members, and for various reasons. I’m really looking forward to pursuing the theme further in the second book, which is untitled as yet and will probably be out in 2016.

CJJ: What sort of books do you read for pleasure?

LF: As a book blogger, I don’t really read for pleasure in the strictest sense anymore. My reading material is almost exclusively indies, because that’s who needs book reviews. I’ve had the good fortune to meet a number of excellent indie authors, though, and their writing is mostly what I read, ensuring that steampunk, traditional fantasy, the occasional bit of space sci-fi, and some guilty pleasure smut fills my reading time slots.

CJJ: When you are not writing, what do you do for fun?

LF: Though writing is, admittedly, the most fun thing I do, I also enjoy baking, gardening, and cycling. Every year, I participate in Ragbrai, which is a lunatic pedal-powered festival across Iowa that attracts about 20,000 other cyclists for long days of torturous riding in abysmal heat punctuated by camping every night. It’s awesome.

CJJ: I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

LF: At first, I chose it because the process of querying an agent or publisher made me freeze in panic. It also made my hideously impatient side cringe at the expectation of waiting months to get rejected. After pursuing it for almost two years now, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d probably be unhappy with a traditional publisher. I’m too impatient, I have too much need for control over the aspects, and I actually *gasp* enjoy formatting my own books. If someone took one of my books and gave me a cover that I didn’t like without letting me at least make suggestions, I’d probably punch them in the face.

CJJ: What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

LF: Read everything you can about how it works and don’t discount one or the other because you’ve “heard” x or y thing. Independent publishing is now a major force in the market, but traditional publishing isn’t going to roll over and die. There are benefits and detriments to both paths, and every author has to decide what’s right for them. Investigate the market to discover who your audience is and where and how they shop. Get out and meet other authors in your area. Pay attention to the books you come across and how you came across them. All the information you need to make the best choice for you is out there.

CJJ: I always enjoy your POV, especially on the way the publishing industry works, and what indies need to take note of. And now, the blurb, and the the cover reveal for Lee’s new book:

>>><<<

GIRLS CAN’T BE KNIGHTS

by Lee French

release date June 12, 2015

Girls Can't Be Knights KINDLEPortland has a ghost problem.

Sixteen-year-old Claire wants her father back. His death left her only memories and an empty locket. After six difficult years in foster care, her vocabulary no longer includes “hope” and “trust”.

Everything changes when Justin rides his magical horse into her path and takes her under his wing. Like the rest of the elite men who serve as Spirit Knights, he hunts restless ghosts that devour the living.

When an evil spirit threatens Claire’s life, she’ll need Justin’s help to survive. And how could she bear the Knights’ mark on her soul? Everybody knows Girls Can’t Be Knights.

>>><<<

Lee French PhotoLee French lives in Olympia, WA, and is the author of several books, most notably the Maze Beset Trilogy, The Greatest Sin series (co-authored with Erik Kort), and assorted tales in her fantasy setting, Ilauris. She is an avid gamer and active member of the Myth-Weavers online RPG community, where she is known for her fondness for Angry Ninja Squirrels of Doom. In addition to spending much time there, she also trains year-round for the one-week of glorious madness that is RAGBRAI, has a nice flower garden with one dragon and absolutely no lawn gnomes, and tries in vain every year to grow vegetables that don’t get devoured by neighborhood wildlife.


She is an active member of the Northwest Independent Writer’s Association and the Olympia Writer’s Coop, as well as serving as the co-Municipal Liaison for the NaNoWriMo Olympia Region.

 

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Darker Places, Shaun Allan

My Writing LifeOne of my favorite people is Shaun Allan, author of the bestselling novel, Sin–he  can write circles around me. Actually, he can write circles around ANYone.  Shaun has a new book out today, Darker Places. I was fortunate to be asked to edit this book, and I’m just going to say, very little effort on my part is ever required with Shaun’s work.

Darker Places is a dark, literary fantasy, comprised of thirteen poems and 13 short-stories, in the same vein as Dark Places,  his book of short works that was published in 2012.

Shaun has consented to answer a few questions about his writing life for us:

CJJ: Tell us a little of early life and how you began writing:

SA: Early life…  Can I remember that far back?  I’m not sure I can…  I can’t think of a time when I haven’t been writing.  I’m told (by my mother who also tells me I was a little terror as a young child, which I can’t quite believe) I used to write stories and draw the pictures to go along with them.  Nowadays, my artistic skills are probably somewhat lacking.  I’m hoping my writing skills have improved, though.  At school, English was easily my favourite lesson and I loved writing the essays.  I was a big fan of science fiction, back then (I still am a fan, of course), so read lots of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov amongst others.  I moved on to fantasy, with David Eddings and Terry Brooks and then brought in horror.  All these found their way into my writing, with horror and the supernatural becoming the mainstay of my subject matter now.  I feel, without the darkness, you can’t appreciate the light.

CJJ: Those are books I loved too. Tell us about your most recent book.

SA: Darker Places, my new book, is the follow up to Dark Places.  It’s an anthology of 13 stories and 13 poems which walk the reader through the shadowy passages of my mind. There’s ome humour in there (with Gremlins and Little Dead Riding Hood), some touching stories (The Crow and Stolen Moments) and much darker ones (Home) where I kill off a number of my old school friends, with their permission!  And, we get to see what happened with Sin before the events of his novel.

CJJ: I have to say that is an awesome story–Sin is an amazing character. And Home is one of the best, short stories I have read in a long time. Now we come to the question people always want to know:  How did you come to write this novel?

sin - Shaun AllanSA: Sin took me ten years to write.  As it’s a very personal book, I occasionally had to step away and wrote short stories.  Many of these were collected together in Dark Places, which was prompted by a comment a writer friend of mine made.  As my mind tends to write what it wants rather than what I want, and another friend, who lives in Australia, was very forthcoming with writing prompts I couldn’t refuse, Darker Places became more and more a reality.  I mean, if you’re given a starter sentence of “The bird fell and the sky was silent,” how can you not work with it?

CJJ: Do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

SA: Oh, I wing it.  I know wonderful writers (Connie) who outline, but I can’t.  I’ve tried, but my mind doesn’t work like that.  It goes where it wishes, my Muse being a right royal pain in the posterior.  I sat down to write some of Mortal Sin and ended up writing a Christmas story about Rudolph, for example!  Sometimes, as with Mr. Composure, I can write the start and almost immediately know how it will end, with ‘only’ the path it takes to figure out, but often, I start and I have no idea at all.

CJJ: How does your work differ from others of its genre?

SA: I think because it’s personal.  There’s aspects of me, my life and my darkness in everything.  There’s also my sense of humour.  I set the stories where I live.  When I was starting, and everyone was saying “write what you know,” I struggled somewhat.  What did I know?  Where I lived seemed boring, for a start!  But then I read a Clive Barker book (Weaveworld, I think) and he described going down back alleys in a town.  I didn’t know, but felt it could have been the alleys where he grew up.  It wasn’t boring.  So I moved my stories to Grimsby and Lincolnshire – the places I knew.  Once they came home, they allowed me more freedom.

CJJ: Your work is dark, but you are such a cheerful, light-hearted person. Why do you write what you do?

SA: Good question.  Though I can write silly children’s poetry as well as paranormal and psychological thrillers, it’s the darker work which I find easiest.  I find it therapeautic.  I can get stresses and bad memories out and turn them into something I and others seem to enjoy.  As I say, without darkness, you can’t appreciate the light.

CJJ: I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

SA: I did try to be ‘properly’ published, but, with the indie route, I’ve made some amazing friends and reached people all over the world.  I have full control over my work and the only deadline (in most cases) is the one I set myself.

CJJ: What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

SA: Well, you have to go for what you feel is right, but I have to admit, though the indie route is hard work, its immensely rewarding.  I’d definitely recommend giving it a go.

~~~~~~

Thank you Shaun, for taking the time to answer these questions, and for being here today!

DarkerPlaces_96dpi_100%DARKER PLACES by Shaun Allan

What if you could steal the final moments from the dying? What if you had the darkest secret, but couldn’t think what it might be? What if you entered the forest in the deep of the night. Who is the melting man? And are your neighbours really whom they appear to be?

So many questions.

To find the answers, you must enter a darker place. Thirteen stories. Thirteen poems. Thirteen more doorways.

 ~~~~~

 

Shaun AllanA creator of many prize winning short stories and poems, Shaun Allan has written for more years than he would perhaps care to remember. Having once run an online poetry and prose magazine, he has appeared on Sky television to debate, against a major literary agent, the pros and cons of internet publishing as opposed to the more traditional method. Many of his personal experiences and memories are woven into the point of view and sense of humour of Sin, the main character in his best-selling novel of the same name, although he can’t, at this point, teleport.

A writer of multiple genres, including horror, humour and children’s fiction, Shaun goes where the Muse takes him – even if that is kicking and screaming. He has written for NBC Universal, and regularly holds writing workshops at local schools.

Shaun lives with his wife, two daughters and two cats. Oh and a manic dog. Though his life might, at times, seem crazy, he is not.

Honest.

~~~~~~

To see more of Shaun’s work, please visit Shaun’s author page at Amazon.com.

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Hunted Heart, by Alison Deluca

Most avid readers of the fantasy genre are fans of the old fairytales as told by the Brothers Grimm and I am no exception. In fact it was my love of fairytales that inspired me to write in the first place. I am always interested in reading other authors’ takes on these fairy tales. It is amazing how differently two authors will tell what began as the same story.

Today my good friend, Alison DeLuca, author of  the steampunk Crown Phoenix Series, has consented to answer a few questions for us, and allow me to share the wonderful cover of her new book, Hunted Heart. It is a standalone book, and is a true fairytale, the premise of which had really intrigued me.

CJJ: Alison, tell us a little of early life and how you began writing:

AD: I always loved reading. My early favorites were Alice in Wonderland, the Odyssey, Arabian Nights, and fairytales of all kinds.

CJJ: Tell us about your most recent book.

AD: Hunted Heart is an adult version of Snow White. Prince Kas is the one threatened by the wicked queen, and the huntress, Tali, is given the job of taking him to the forest to cut out his heart. They end up falling for each other, but not without a great deal of adventure along the way. Yes, there is a wicked queen and my version of a poisoned apple. And we mustn’t forget True Love’s Kiss…

CJJ: How did you come to write this novel?

AD: Someone I met online prompted me and begged me to write the story – she is the J.R. in my dedication. I loved her idea of making the hunter a strong female and ran with it.

CJJ: Do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

AD: This book was an exercise in winging! The Snow White structure supported my story, and I was able to take off from there. Writing a fairytale redux is completely addictive – I might have to do a few others.

CJJ: How does your work differ from others of its genre?

AD: It is genderbent, and I’ve set the story in a mythical Norse country. I couldn’t resist including Freja, Iduna, and a few others from Norse tales. It’s also quite adult, with violence and some sexy scenes, and a charity project: Tali, my main character, suffers from some terrible abuse as a child, and so 100% of the royalties go to HelptheChildren.org.

CJJ: Why do you write what you do?

AD: Honestly, because I can’t help it. When I get an idea it needles me until I pin it down on paper. It’s like giving birth, to be honest.

CJJ: I so know that feeling! I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

AD: I love the freedom indie publishing gives me. I’m able to write what I like and donate the proceedings when I do a charity project like this.

CJJ: What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

AD: Both have their merits and challenges. Being an indie does give you freedom but also relies on individual marketing. Traditional publishing gives more support but gives the author little choice on things like covers and presentation. Both are good in their way – each author must decide for herself how she would like to proceed!

 CJJ: Alison–I love the answers you gave my stock questions!  Thank you for giving me this opportunity to get the word out about your charity, HelptheChildren.org.

AD: Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Connie. This was a lot of fun!

And without further discussion, here is that amazing, most intriguing book cover:

HuntedHeart cover final

 

I confess I am blown away by this one, and I have become quite a fan of Alison’s graphic designer.

Alison DeLuca HeadshotAlison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.

Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.

You can find Alison here:

Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/alison.deluca.author

OR http://on.fb.me/TNWEfb

Twitter – http://twitter.com/ – !/AlisonDeLuca

Google + http://bit.ly/ADGoogle

Author Central: http://amzn.to/ADeLucaAuthorCentral

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/alisondeluca/

I have long been a fan of all of Alison’s work and have been fortunate enough to have some of my own work  included included along side of hers in a charitable anthology, Christmas O’Clock,  a book of wonderful short stories for children that is available in both paperback and for the kindle. (All proceeds for Christmas O’Clock go to Water Is Life to help children and families in an international effort.)

 

 

 

 

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Kacey Vanderkarr, Poison Tree (Reflection Pond, Book 2)

As you know, I love to talk shop, and love to hear what other authors have to say about their work and the craft. Recently I read a deep, well-crafted novel written by indie author, Kacey Vanderkarr. The book is called Reflection Pond and I liked it enough to feature it on my book review blog, Best in Fantasy. (You can read my review of her wonderful book here.) Kacey has consented to answer my inelegant questions (further down this post) and what she has to say is quite interesting!

She has written a sequel, Poison Tree (Reflection Pond, Book 2),  and I am happy to have been offered the opportunity to be one of the first to reveal the cover–and a lovely cover it is. And she has also agreed to answer a few questions regarding her work and her life as an indie author–and wow, what great insight into the industry she has.  But first–THE BLURB:

Poison Tree

By Kacey Vanderkarr

Release date: December 2, 2014

The road to the City of War is dangerous.

With their home in ruins, Callie and Rowan are Eirensae’s last hope of stealing the cauldron back from Fraeburdh. They must travel into the human world where the Fallen hide. The banished fae wait for Callie, desperate to sacrifice her before she comes of age.

If Callie and Rowan survive the journey, something worse looms in Fraeburdh. Rowan is destined for a dark family legacy too horrifying to accept, and his father is anxious to welcome him home. Once the truth is revealed, will Callie ever look at Rowan the same way?

Trapped between feuding cities lost in a centuries’ old war, Callie and Rowan will face their biggest rivals yet, and neither of them will make it out unscathed.

>>><<<

(Just so you all know, I am definitely going to buy that book!)

>>><<<

And now the Cover:

poison-tree-ebook

 

>>><<<

That’s an awesome cover to go with such an intriguing blurb.  And now, we meet the author, an amazing woman who is a driving force in the writing life of Flint, Michigan.

CJJ: Tell us a little of early life and how you began writing:

KV: I began writing back in high school, though I didn’t officially consider myself a writer until I was on summer break from my first semester of Ultrasound school. Inspiration struck in that four-week break and I spent it writing my first complete novel, a YA Fantasy that I’ve since rewritten. I fell in love with those characters, and to this day, I still have a soft spot for them. It took some time, but I realized that I could fall in love with other, different, characters, and I have again and again, through novels and short fiction. I think writing is part neurosis and part pure joy. There are times when I love and hate it equally!

CJJ: Tell us about your most recent book.

KV: Poison Tree is Book 2 in the Reflection Pond Series. It’s the continuation of Callie and Rowan’s story as they make their way from home into the dark faerie city, Fraeburdh, which is also known as the City of War.

I’ve always been fascinated with fantasy. In doing some research, I found information on a legend involving four treasures. My own story is loosely based on the original four treasures of Tuatha Dé Danann.

CJJ: Do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

KV: I am a certified winger. Swooper. Pantser. Whatever you want to call it. I usually have a general skeleton of a story when I start, a beginning, middle, end, though I never outline. There may be an idea for a scene or two as well. My joy doesn’t come from structure, but spontaneity. I’ve tried outlining before, and then I feel determined to stray as far from that plan as possible. I love the blank page, the possibility. I save the note taking for after I’ve written the rough draft.

CJJ: How does your work differ from others of its genre?

KV: I think that Reflection Pond and Poison Tree take risks. I had a reviewer suggest that Reflection Pond be marketed to ages 17+ because it has a “handful of profanity” and “alludes to child abuse.” It doesn’t allude. It happened, and I’m not going to apologize for it. I’m not scared to examine the dark parts of life, and I don’t condone blindfolding my readers to make them feel more comfortable. These books cover a lot of dark topics, and I’m proud of that, especially when reviewers say that it’s handled in a sensitive manner. The truth is, bad things happen to people who read YA, and everyone needs a character that they can relate to. Not everyone will be able to connect to my characters when they read and that’s okay. But for those who have suffered and survived, there is still hope, and I want them to find it when they read my books.

CJJ: Why do you write what you do?

KV: I write based on inspiration. A lot of that manifests as YA, though I have written a few adult short pieces, some new adult, and some straight up fantasy. I think young adult looks at a very transitional place in a character’s life. It gives a lot of options to the writer. That being said, I have absolutely no idea where my career will take me. Right now, I consider myself a YA writer, in the future? Who knows!

CJJ: I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

KV: I am all over the place when it comes to publishing. My first book, Antithesis, was published by Inkspell Publishing, which is a small press. That was a great experience for me. I learned how to market, how much work it is to publish a book, how to work with an editor and cover designer. Inkspell is very supportive and patient with their authors. However, for my second book, Reflection Pond, I opted to self-publish. I’d sent it to agents, had a few bites of interest, but nobody wanted to pick up the series. At that point, I had to make a choice. Who did I write this book for? In the end, it was myself, and if I wanted it to be out there in the world, then I had to publish it myself, too. It was a long process with a lot of ups and downs and uncertainty, but I’m SO HAPPY I did it. Self-publishing has opened even more doors for me and widened my net of contacts. I’m proud of these books because every page is mine.

However, I still want an agent, which is why I’m now querying a different project. So, I’ve done a bit of everything. I’d love to have an agent and publish traditionally. The important thing is patience, which is what I keep telling myself!

CJJ: What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

KV: I think both traditional and self-publishing have their pros and cons and neither one is better than the other. What matters is the work. Traditional publishing is a bit like having good luck. Your writing can be amazing, but you have to attract the right agent at the right time, and then again with an editor and publisher. Self-publishing gives you more freedom. You get to choose who you work with, have say in what your cover looks like, make editing decisions.

Both paths are hard.

If you indie publish, I suggest making friends with someone who knows the ropes and can help you get it done. That’s the great thing about writers, we’re friendly and helpful, colleagues not competition, because we’re also readers who love good books.

The last bit of advice is DON’T GIVE UP. If you want to indie publish, do it. If you indie publish and still want an agent. Go for it. There is no wrong way. Don’t let the industry, your family or friends, or yourself keep you from your dreams. Just remember, the publishing industry moves SLOW, SLOW, SLOW, so have patience and trust your gut.

>>><<<

I have to say, I really enjoyed reading her answers–Kacey Vanderkarr has some awesome advice for all authors, not just indies there!

 

Kacey VanderkarrKACEY VANDERKARR is a young adult author. She dabbles in fantasy, romance, and sci-fi, complete with faeries, alternate realities, and the occasional plasma gun. She’s known to be annoyingly optimistic and listen to music at the highest decibel. Kacey is president of the Flint Area Writers and the Social Media Director for Sucker Literary. When she’s not writing, she coaches winterguard and works as a sonographer. Kacey lives in Michigan, with her husband, son, and crazy cats. In addition to her novels, Antithesis and Reflection Pond, Kacey’s short fiction is featured in Sucker Literary Vol III, Out of the Green: Tales from Fairyland, and will appear in Spark Vol VII and the inaugural issue of Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things. Check out her website: www.kaceyvanderkarr.com.

You can purchase the wonderful book that begins this series at:

Reflection Pond on Amazon

If I were you I would Add Poison Tree on Goodreads--I just did!

And here is her Author Facebook Page–go out and ‘like’ her–she’s an awesome person!

Kacey Vanderkarr’s Blog-check it out!

And finally–you can follow her on Twitter!

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Stephen Swartz, A Dry Patch of Skin

A patch of Dry Skin, Stephen SwartzToday, my dear friend, Stephen Swartz, author of the new book,  A Dry Patch of Skin has consented to answer a few questions for us. Stephen is a true renaissance man–an accomplished musician, and the author of seven published novels, he is also a professor of English at a well-known university in Oklahoma.

I became friends with Stephen in 2011 through ABNA, and we have remained good friends since. I find him hilarious, and I really enjoy his work. He has kindly consented to sit down and allow me to “virtually interview ” him. I am especially curious about his wonderful new book, which is a vampire tale. It’s most certainly not your mama’s sparkly vampires! If you are curious, here is my review: Best in Fantasy: A Dry Patch of Skin

CJJ: Tell us a little of early life and how you began writing:

Stephen Swartz 2007SS: It seems like I’ve always been making up stories, much to my parents’ chagrin. I began by drawing panel comics, then added dialog, then began writing paragraphs. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy in my youth, plus the classics of literature. They influenced my writing mostly by pushing me to try to “out-do” those authors with my own stories. My early writing was limited by the limitations of typewriters and correction fluid. When I got my first computer in 1986, all of my vast library of stories finally could be written. And the world shuddered….

 

CJJ: Tell us about your most recent book.

SS: A DRY PATCH of SKIN is a contemporary vampire story, but not at all modeled after any of the current vampire TV shows, films, or the books they are based on. I deliberately tried to keep it real. Thus, I researched diseases which cause symptoms approximating the vampire’s condition. In that way, I wanted the reader to experience what it would be like to become a vampire. I decided to tell the story through the POV of a man who is transforming against his will into something he does not want to become. All the tropes and memes of vampire stories are there, but they are realized in a medically accurate fashion—as much as possible. It gets a bit religious at the end, so…call it magical realism.

 

CJJ: How did you come to write this novel?

SS: I had the idea in rough form ever since Twilight came out and I tried to explain to my daughter, who was hooked on the Bella/Edward story, what “real” vampirism was. For that explanation, I recalled a report years ago on one of those news magazine shows about a man suffering from porphyria, sometimes called the “vampire disease”; the medical explanations for his affliction made perfect sense in terms of why he might be called a vampire if he happened to live in a certain time and place rather than modern America. Watching that interview (he wore a hood to cover his face), I could truly feel the anguish of being in that situation, and given that my art is answering What-if questions, I sought a vehicle for illustrating that awful situation.

 

CJJ: Do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

SS: For A DRY PATCH of SKIN, I worked a bit differently than usual. I began with snatches of my real life, anecdotes that were humorous or telling in some way, then fictionalized them. My initial goal was to explore the character I was inventing, to get down his personality, way of expressing himself, his identity, and so on. As a story set in 2014 in the same city where I live, it was quite schizophrenic to write fiction about the places I regularly visit.

Unlike some authors, I generally do not make lists of traits or compose background profiles of my characters; sometimes I do not know all about them when they come on stage and I get to know them as readers do. (Of course, I go back in revision and make it all fit together.) I do collect information as I create them but it stays in my head. Sometimes browsing the internet will bring me an image that fits what I see in my head.

I knew from the start the direction A DRY PATCH of SKIN would go but I did not have the exact action of the climactic scene until I was mid-way into the writing. Once I “knew” how it would end, the direction of the plot shifted a bit to head toward that conclusion. I found by the end, fortunately, that I happened to have dropped some good seeds along the way which conveniently blossomed in the final chapters—much as Chekhov’s musket in Act 1 must be fired by Act 3. I suppose it’s a matter of how my twisted mind works; I’m not always conscious of the big picture under the cacophony of surface features, but my deeper self knows…because he sleeps with my muses.

CJJ: How does your work differ from others of its genre?

SS: A DRY PATCH of SKIN was a personal challenge, something in a genre I have not written previously. The saving aspect for me, however, was that it is, at the core, a tragic love story. (Is that a spoiler?) The trappings of vampire transformation become the vehicle for pulling off that tragedy. Or is it that the transformation, the struggle to avoid it or prevent it, is made more tragic with the love interest? At any rate, I’ve consciously tried to go counter to all the usual tropes of the vampire genre. In fact, the characters often mention, critique, and spoof some of the popular works of the genre during their conversations. I hope this novel will be both a fun “review” of the vampire literature as well as a realistic portrayal of a biological problem; in that sense, it’s a medical thriller.

CJJ: Why do you write what you do?

SS: A DRY PATCH of SKIN was a departure from my usual kind of novel (contemporary anti-romance or sci-fi on a grand scale). I was intrigued by the question and wanted to see if I could write it if only to see how such a situation might play out. I seldom write as a challenge or game, but this time I did. For writing in general, I simply want to follow my desire to see what happens next for the people I create and the situations I put them in. I know that sounds cruel, but that’s how I roll. It probably keeps me out of jail or the mental hospital.

Next, I’ve been challenged to write an epic fantasy with dragons. Epic fantasy is no problem; dragons are—because it’s in my nature to try to explain them in an authentic zoological way.

CJJ: I certainly can’t wait to see what sort of spin you give dragons! I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

SS: Strange you should ask because while I have always done things my way (Thanks, Frank!), the results have not always been glorious. After a health scare a few years back, I realized what I wanted most in whatever time I thought I had left was to publish one of the books I’d already written. Years before that, I had gone through the lengthy process of soliciting with actual reams of paper in mailing boxes and the 6-12 month wait for a response by paper form letter. But just a few years ago, the world apparently  changed and querying and soliciting were being done electronically, which opened up a whole new world of possibilities. I was impatient, for health reasons, so I caught the attention of a small publisher with a book I entered into a contest. That did not go so well but I did get a taste of the brave new world of publishing. The rest is what some call history—and others call serendipity.

CJJ: What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

SS: I suppose there are all kinds of reasons and they tend to be settled on an individual basis. I described my situation, but even without that push from Father Time I’d probably still discover the small and indie publishers and hook up with one of them eventually. If I were young and had a market-ready book with a ready-made audience, I’d query that thing to the farthest star. If you are short on time or believe your work is specialized and thus out of the mainstream, you probably have to go indie.

My goal the past four years has been to make the books I’ve previously written available, at least that, not so much for my ego as for being able to check them off my so-called bucket list. Then I wrote something new! And made it available, too. And I wrote something new again! I have to give credit to the publishing of my early books for the spark of creativity that caused me to write my new books.

Thank you Stephen, for answering my questions! For those readers who are interested in reading more of Stephen’s writing journey, you can find him blogging at:

Deconstruction of the Sekuatean Empire

 You can purchase all the books written by Stephen Swartz from this page at Amazon.com

stephen swartz's books

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SomeWhen Over the Rain Clouds, Lisa M. Peppan interview

KCover-SWOtRCThe Pacific Northwest has been the home of many famous authors, Frank Herbert, Ken Kesey, Ursula K. Le Guin, and J. A. Jance among them.  There is something about the dark and the damp that encourages creativity. We have a huge community of authors, with critique groups and strong support for each other.

Recently one of my friends from Bellingham, Washington, author of historical fiction J. L. Oakley, introduced me to another friend of her’s, fantasy author Lisa M. Peppan. Lisa’s book, SomeWhen Over The Rain Clouds is an intriguing book I am currently reading on my vacation–I can’t put it down!

Here is the BLURB:

SWotRB blurb

Lisa has consented to answer a few questions about her writing process and where her book fits into the genre of fantasy.

CJJ: Tell us a little of your early life and how you began writing:

LMP: Once I got the hang of it, I became a voracious reader.  My favorite still is L. Frank Baum’s Oz books.  It’s his fault, me writing.  I tried my hand at a few short stories but it wasn’t until after reading a poorly written fantasy that I was inspired to write a better story.

CJJ: What are you currently working on?

LMP: While my cover-artist works on a cover for the sequel to “SomeWhen Over the Rain Clouds”, I’m working on a third book.  Might be a fourth, possibly a fifth.  Maybe more.  Same alternate universes and most of the same characters, all bundled together as The Geaehn Chronicles.  The Geaehn Chronicles has a Facebook page.

CJJ: Do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

LMP: SomeWhen started life as 98 handwritten pages.  With a rough idea of the kind of people I wanted my characters to be, I ran astrological birth charts for them and compatibility charts for every possible combination of the four.  While mulling over potential plot complications, I wrote detailed biographies for my main characters, drafted maps, and re-read a selection of mythologies, and, well, once I knew my characters and the world I was sending them to, I wound them up and let them go.  So far, this has worked for two and half books.

CJJ: How does your work differ from others of its genre? Why do you write what you do?

LMP: In all the fantasy I’ve read, cab drivers were things that moved protagonists from Point A to Point B.  Three of my four main characters are Seattle cab drivers who recognize that they’ve become involved in a fantasy-novel-type situation; the fourth knows it’s so much more than that.   I drove a taxi cab for 11 years, did a little dispatching, and knew cab drivers were so much more than things (most of them), and wrote the kind of book I’d enjoy reading.

CJJ: I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

LMP: In the Spring of 1984, on a particularly slow day as a taxi cab driver, SomeWhen Over the Rain Clouds was born.  Over the years, I got many really nice rejection slips.  Then along came a first novel contest on Amazon.  Though I shot myself in the foot for the contest (ask me why and how bad), I was among the 100 best entrants that year.  It also made me aware of that most marvelous purveyor of POD novels, CreateSpace.  When a long-published author friend went Indie, because it appeared to be the direction publishing was going, I took the plunge.

CJJ: What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

LMP: Most traditional brick-and-mortar publishers want to see smartly written synopses.  I tried but my best effort (to date) is 23 pages, and Indie doesn’t require one*.  Indie or traditional…?  If you write fantasy that you’ve given a truly fresh spin and you keep getting really nice rejection slips with handwritten notes saying things like, “Great premise” and “Best wishes finding a home for it!!”, go Indie.

*You won’t need the synopsis but you will want a snappy blurb for the back of the book

CJJ: Your experiences with traditional publishing rather closely mirror mine, Lisa!  Thank you for agreeing to be virtually here today, and for the insight into how your creative process works.

Here is a short excerpt of this wonderful book:

excerpt SWotRB

Intrigued?  Lisa’s book is SomeWhen Over The Rain Clouds and can be found at these fine stores — just click on the links:

www.amazon.com

Barnes & Noble

‘Like’ Lisa on Facebook

LMPeppan

Born in Seattle as the eldest of three, Lisa was a curious and adventuresome child who delighted in taking things apart to see just exactly how they worked.  It is a Testament to the Bravery of her parents that they went on to have two more children.

In 1981, after having held a number of jobs in a variety of fields, it was no real surprise to her parents or brothers when Lisa went to work as a cab driver for North End Taxi, a small mom-and-pop cab company in north Seattle.  During the summer of 1984, as a cab driver, after reading what she felt was a poorly written fantasy novel, she said, to no one in particular, “I can do better than that.”

Unplanned early retirement in 1992 gave Lisa time to learn about computers and html coding.  Armed with these new tools, she resumed her family research.  This led to a new hobby–19th century Living History–and from there she caught a glimpse of the scope and diversity of her Aboriginal heritage that spanned North America, north and south of the border.  What her father and his parents worked so very hard to hide, she works diligently to recover so the next generation will know who they are and where they came from; the time for hiding has passed.

When she isn’t reading, writing, researching, or playing in the past, Lisa enjoys quiet moments in the mountains, ferryboat rides on Puget Sound in November, windy days on any beach, hairy chests on men, rare steaks, and purple roses.

Lisa can be contacted at lisapeppan at gmail dot com

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