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Celia at 39 by Jason Pomerance- OUT NOW from Writing Bloc!

Writing Bloc is happy to announce the release of its first full length novel, Celia at 39 by Jason Pomerance. The book is a fun, fast paced romp through a woman’s journey to 40 and the surprises she finds along the way. Just like his beloved first novel, Women Like Us, the book features delectable food descriptions and poignant family moments. Barbara Abercrombie, author of A Year Of Writing Dangerously, calls Celia at 39 “wild, funny, and tender.”

We spoke to Pomerance about his new release!

What inspired your new book, Celia at 39?
A few years ago we were visiting my stepmother, who lives out by the beach at the tip of Long Island. Every year the little town library holds a book sale, and while perusing the stacks I found an old copy of The Gourmet Cookbook, which I know my mother had but the book had disappeared somehow. Anyway, I bought the library copy, and later when I leafed through it I noticed all these notations about recipes the former owner had written in the margins.  But the bigger thing was the note in an envelope tucked into the pages, from a daughter to her mom. I sort of obsessed about this note for a while and wondered about these two women, and somewhere around that time I read about a package that was mailed, got lost and then arrived at its destination like 40 years later. So somehow the two elements came together and became Celia At 39!


What kind of audience will it appeal to?  
I think women will take to it. But also hopefully men. The book is very much a romantic comedy, along the lines of something like Sweet Home Alabama or even Moonstruck (two movies I love) so if you liked those movies, I think you’ll like this book.


How does this book compare to Women Like Us?
Women Like Us was a bit more of a serious book.  It dealt with life and and death issues in some ways and this one doesn’t.  On the other hand, both are very much about family relationships. While the romantic stuff in Celia At 39 is important, so too is Celia’s relationship with her mom and two sisters.  I think anybody can relate to family members driving them nuts at times, and that’s what happens here — Celia’s sisters and mom and make her crazy but she knows she’s stuck with them for life.

 
Why did you decide to publish this book with Writing Bloc?
I had such great experiences with both the Escape! and Deception Anthologies that it just seemed logical to continue the relationship. And, frankly, I was humbled and honored that they wanted to publish it!  Everything about the process has been so great. Becca, Cari and Kendra were remarkably astute editors, and while it took us a while to get to the final cover, when I got the galley and held it in my hands for the first time, I couldn’t have been happier with the results.  Highly recommend Writing Bloc!


How was the process of writing a second novel different from that of writing a first?  
For me the process was pretty much the same — think about the story and characters endlessly until I can’t take it anymore and I just sit down and start writing.  I’m not a big outliner but more of a seat-of-the-pants style writer. I like to be surprised, and there were a few of them in this book, plot twists that even I didn’t even see coming  And then I’m a huge re-writer. I like to tinker endlessly until the book is finally ripped out of my hands and I’m told, “Stop! Enough!”


What advice do you have for people writing a second book?
I guess same advice to somebody writing a first book: write the story you want to tell. Don’t worry about anything else. Don’t worry if anybody else is going to like it, because there will always be some readers who like your work and some who don’t.  And just persist.  Writing, as we all pretty much know, can be heartbreaking and thankless, but somehow you just find a way to keep pushing forward. So that would be my best advice. Push forward and never give up.

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Author Interview Writing Life

Interview with Vivien Chien: Murder Most Cozy

I’ve known Vivien Chien since before she got her first contract. It’s been amazing to watch her star rise, from her #ownvoices debut Death by Dumpling to her latest, Murder Lo Mein, which comes out today! I was lucky enough to host Vivien at the library where I work for her first book launch, and since then, our patrons have been clamoring for her new releases.

Vivien brings real Cleveland flavor to her stories. I’m a native myself, and I love that I can picture her protagonist’s journeys through the city as she solves her puzzles. And if you’re reading them, make sure you have your favorite noodle shop on speed dial, because you will get hungry. Vivien is a master at describing the tasty dishes served by the Ho-Lee Noodle House.

I chatted with Vivien to see what she’s up to these days!

Tell us about the Noodle Shop series. 

The Noodle Shop mysteries take place in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio and feature Lana Lee, a late twenty-something Asian-American who is trying to gracefully steer her way through life after hitting a severe rough patch. When we first meet Lana in Death by Dumpling, she is at the beginning of her new adventure, working in her parents’ Chinese restaurant, Ho-Lee Noodle House. Of course, while getting back on her feet, murders ensue. (And wouldn’t that just figure?) The series follows her journey along with a cast of wacky characters who may or may not be considered “dysfunctional.”

What do you like best about MURDER LO MEIN, the third book in the series? What part of it was the most fun to write?

Honestly, I can’t pick just one part of Murder Lo Mein to like best. I have to say this is my favorite one out of the three and I love the story as a whole. (As cheesy as that answer sounds, it’s completely true!) The most fun I had writing were the fortune cookie bits, and the scenes between detective Adam Trudeau and Lana. I really enjoy exploring the dynamic of their budding relationship. 

How do you balance a full-time job along with writing your cozies? Do you have any productivity tips?

The balancing act can be a challenge at times, but the end result is completely worth it. I write after work throughout the week and accomplish what I can in about an hour or so. Then a lot of times on the weekends, I’ll have writing marathons that last about 8-10 hours straight. These sessions usually involve mass amounts of coffee and the occasional doughnut.

My best advice on productivity would be to stop making excuses as to why you can’t sit in that chair and write. “Those darn dishes” or “that blasted laundry” will still be there an hour from now. Then once you’re sitting, the next step would be to forget about checking your email, logging into social media, or buying that really awesome bookshelf from Amazon. Those things will also still be there later.

And lastly, I would say, don’t get hung up on perfection. We lose many a minute by worrying how a particular sentence sounds or the problem we find with an entire paragraph. Get it down first, fuss later. 

WONTON TERROR is due out in August. What are your plans following that release?


After Wonton Terror, there will definitely be two more books in the Noodle Shop series, and they will follow the same publication schedule of two books released per year. I do also plan on proposing more books in the series to ensure that Lana has a long life in the cozy mystery world.

Aside from these books, I have a few other book proposals up my sleeve. One series involves a female P.I. who will also make a guest appearance in book five of the Noodle Shop mysteries, and the other involves a story-line in the paranormal realm. It will still be a mystery, but it’ll involve a predominantly supernatural cast of characters.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Never give up! I think that is the single most important thing for any writer to know. So many of us can be easily discouraged because writing AND getting published can be a very daunting task. But all you have to do is keep believing in yourself. That is key.

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Author Interview Guest Post Writing Help Writing Life

Interview with Annie Ward: On Writing Psychological Thrillers

Today on Writing Bloc we have author Annie Ward, whose recent release Beautiful Bad has been garnering attention all over the author-sphere!

Welcome, Annie! Your recent release Beautiful Bad was featured on the Indie Next List for March. Congratulations! Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your psychological thriller Beautiful Bad?

I was born and raised just outside Kansas City, Kansas. I relocated to Los Angeles for college with no intention of ever moving back home. I studied at UCLA and The American Film Institute where I received my MFA in Screenwriting. At that point I moved to Europe and stayed there for six years. Eventually when I came back to the States I ended living just down the road from the farm where I grew up and started my own family. That was an unexpected twist!

BEAUTIFUL BAD is a dark, twisty domestic thriller but it’s also a sweeping romance spanning decades and continents. At the heart of the book is a love triangle involving three badly damaged people who share a fatal attraction to disaster as well as a ferocious bond.

“Harrowing…. Evocative descriptions and strong senses of time and place complement the intricate, intelligent plot, which shocks and chills.” Publishers Weekly, starred review

In the tradition of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train comes the psychological thriller everyone is talking about, a twisted novel about a devoted wife, a loving husband, and a chilling crime that will stun even the cleverest readers.

How long have you been a writer, and have you always known that this is where you would end up? 

I would say that I’ve always been a writer but never had a clue where I would end up. I started writing short stories in elementary school and by high school I had moved on to what was probably very bad poetry. Then, while living in Los Angeles, I succumbed to movie fever and switched to screenwriting. I was never able to support myself as a writer until I moved to an inexpensive city in Eastern Europe, so I have a colorful career history including things such as cocktail waitress and PE teacher. If anyone had ever told me that I would one day be the author of a book that had sold to eighteen countries I would have burst out laughing. I never saw any of this coming.

Is there a primary message in Beautiful Bad?

Don’t rush to judgement based on stereotypes or appearances. Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Also, trauma untreated is a dangerous disease.

Can you tell us about your protagonist? Are they inspired by someone you know in real life?

In the very earliest draft of this book, Maddie was me. I wrote a memoir about living and working in Eastern Europe, having adventures with my best friend and meeting the man I would eventually marry. When I decided to fictionalize the book and throw in some murder, betrayal and a whole lot of lies I had to change all the characters to the point that they only have a small resemblance to the original characters. I did however, end up with a tragic love triangle that basically involved me, my best friend and my husband, so that was awkward.

When you develop characters do you already know who they are before you begin writing or do you let them develop as you go?

In this particular case, because BEAUTIFUL BAD started out as a true story, I knew all the characters at first. When I changed it to fiction, they started to do and say things that surprised me. Horrible things. They took on a life of their own, argued in my head and surprised me with their cruelty and cleverness. Sometimes I felt ashamed of what they had done at night when I pressed save and went to bed.

Do you have a favorite character out of all the ones you’ve created?

I love them all, which is funny given that one reason some people have said that they didn’t like the book because, “There are no likable characters.” To me, the characters are all real. They have tempers, they make mistakes, they use poor judgement, they sleep around and drink too much. But I love them, especially Ian, who came from nothing and spends his life protecting others. He is mercurial and broken by what he has experienced but he’s also brave, loyal, funny and caring.

What is something you think readers generally don’t know about writing psychological thrillers?

I can only speak for myself, but I was surprised by how difficult it was to write about police procedure. I did a lot of research and had lunch with a number of local cops but in the end, if you’ve never been a police officer, it’s probably going to be a bit forced. I belong to the school of “write what you know” and writing about the running of an investigation was unfamiliar territory.

Are there any writing craft books (either genre-specific or not) that have helped you with the process?

I’ve got the HOWDUNIT FORENSIC GUIDE FOR WRITERS sitting next to me at the moment and the HIOWDUNIT Crime Scene guide has got to be around here somewhere.

Do you find that you have to be in a certain headspace to write your deeply psychological scenes, or are you able to transition between writing and regular life easily?

It’s not that easy for me. I tend to write the most important scenes at night when I’m on my own and I can lose myself. If my kids are around bugging me for snacks I will just stick to moving the plot forward in basic ways. Then I go back and add the “magic” later when I can focus.

Do any of your characters have interesting mannerisms or pet peeves?

Maddie’s neighbor Wayne Randall is a quirky fellow. He traveled to England once many years ago and is a fan of Monty Python movies. Whenever he sees Maddie, whether her British husband is with her or not, he insists on speaking to her in a bad British accent. I would say this habit of his also counts as a pet peeve. Maddie finds it pretty annoying.

Have you ever turned a dream or a nightmare into a written piece?

My dreams are honestly so bizarre that anything inspired by them would be science fiction and I don’t think I would be very good at it. Maybe even worse than poetry. I do have an idea for a book that involves a woman and her son who share the ability to lucid dream, so there’s always a chance for the future.

What do you think is the hardest thing about writing?

First drafts. I’ve never written a great first draft. Usually things start falling together in the second draft but that moment when you are still at the beginning and you’re convinced that your material is terrible can be pretty depressing.

Here is my favorite question that I ask everyone: If you were given the opportunity to join a book club with your favorite authors, dead or alive, who would you want to become a part of the club?

JK Rowling, Otessa Moshfegh, Patricia Highsmith, Caroline Kepnes, Stephen King, Elizabeth Gilbert, Ann Lamott, Ali Land, Gail Honeyman, John Boyne, Donna Tartt and Brett Easton Ellis. Just off the top of my head. That would be a wild book club party.

What do you do to market your own books yourself? Any advice on that front?  

I just do everything I’m asked to do. I try to never turn down an appearance, a question and answer, a blog request, conference, dinner etc. I know what it’s like to have no marketing behind me on a book. This time around, if they want me to put on a funny hat and ride a pony I will be doing just that. As far as my own marketing, I try to stay caught up on social media and respond to people who are interested in me and the book.

What do you do to get book reviews?

For the American publication day of BEAUTIFUL BAD I reached out to a small group of influential people I’ve met over the years and asked them if they could support me by writing reviews and sharing posts. Luckily, I have a good relationship with the karma police and my friends were ready to spread the word.

Most of our readers are indie authors navigating the world of publishing. Do you have any other advice for them?

The best thing that ever happened to me was finding an agent who was also an experienced editor. She guided me through seven months of rewrites BEFORE we ever tried to sell the book to a publisher. It’s easy to jump the gun and go out with a book that’s not ready. My advice is to sit tight and make sure your work is your best work. Sometimes you only get one chance to impress.

When can readers expect another book from you? Any details that you can share?

I’m fifty thousand words into a new thriller, but I’m pretty sure about thirty thousand of those words are malarkey. I have a deadline looming so I’m forging ahead, but BEAUTIFUL BAD took me nearly a decade from conception to publication. As I mentioned in the last question, I don’t want to put out anything that I feel isn’t ready. Hopefully, with the help of my agent and editor, my new book will be ready in a year and a half.

It’s the story of a Natalie, a young woman who happily puts her mundane life on temporary hold to look after her older brother who has been in a serious mountain biking accident. She moves to a remote, affluent Colorado town. It’s the type of place she’d like to fit in. She joins a gym, hikes, explores, visits houses for sale and tries to make friends. When the daughter of a wealthy local goes missing and Natalie was the last to see her, the town turns against her. She realizes that she is a disposable outsider and she can trust no one, not even her own brother.

What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with or follow you (website, blog, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.) and links? 

I have a website that links to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It also has an option to email me. The website is Annie-Ward.com

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Interview with Author Jeyna Grace: On Wordbuilding and Retellings

Today we are joined by Jeyna Grace – author of The Slave Prince, The Battle for Oz, and Whispers of the Wind.

Welcome, Jeyna! The Slave Prince and The Battle for Oz, both deal with retelling well-known stories, with a fantasy twist. Can you tell us a little bit about what that process is like and why you are drawn to this style of writing?

The process often begins with a question of ‘what if’. What if these worlds coalesced? What if there was magic? What if I retold the entire adventure in another place and time? Then, when an idea hits, I give it a go.
Honestly, I’m not too sure why I enjoy retelling stories. Perhaps it has something to do with pushing my imagination to the next level—challenging myself to see beyond a well-trodden tale. Or maybe, it might have something to do with how I started honing my skill—Harry Potter fan fiction was my go-to when I first decided to write more frequently. It could also be because I grew up with the original adventure—as with the case of The Slave Prince—that I simply wanted to add my own twist to my favourite childhood story. 

Tell us a little bit about your writing routines. Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?

My routine changes with the season. During busier times, when my day job requires more brain power, I’ll endeavour to complete one chapter a week. In which case, I will write the first half of the chapter on one day, edit that half on another day, write the second half on that same day, then edit the second half before the week ends. Thus, being one chapter closer to finishing the book. On a less mentally taxing week, I’ll try to get in two chapters a week with the same write, edit, write, edit model. As for the word-count, I usually aim for a minimum of 2,500 words a chapter—occasionally pushing over 3,000 if I’m feeling adventurous.

As I have other forms of writing—additional articles and short stories on a weekly basis—there will be some weeks where I don’t write any chapters at all. But then again, on long breaks from work, I find myself on a roll—completing chapters one day after the next. So really, the routine changes with the season.

Have you ever destroyed any of your first drafts and started a story from scratch?

I haven’t destroyed first drafts but I have abandoned some. They have been relocated to a folder of ‘unpublished works’ for keepsake. And whether or not I dive into them again, only time will tell. At the moment, there are more exciting quests to embark on.

How do you think your writing style has changed over the years?

For the better! I’ve learned to build denser worlds, dive deep into character motivations, and steer clear from cliches as much as possible. Through the years of writing, I’ve learned that a story isn’t just a story. I cannot merely write it as it is—I have to truly live it out. And if I cannot see, hear, smell, or feel it, neither can my readers. So whenever I write, I don’t just endeavour to be flowery, I strive to create something tangible in the minds and hearts of every reader too. But honestly, I still have a lot to learn. At the very least, I now know what it means to show and not tell.

What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your books?

Wow, there are just so many! With The Slave Prince, specifically Alpenwhist, I drew inspiration from Croatia—their stone walls, ember rooftops, and cobbled streets. But with Meihua—a realm from my newest trilogy—I drew inspiration from my travels to South Korea, Japan, China, and Taiwan. Thus why I love traveling!

As much as it is about the food, travelling gives me the opportunity to gaze upon the natural landscapes and distinctive architecture. Sure, I can Google them—I frequently do since I can’t time travel—but being ‘there’ allows me to live it out. Furthermore, the out of norm experiences allow for a more in-depth world-building through a recollection of said events. So, if I were to summarize with one consistent real-life inspiration for all my works, I would say… it’s my real-life experiences.

What do you love most about the writing process?  

I love finishing it—the feeling of having accomplished something. The satisfaction of pulling through to complete a story. What I love the most about the writing process is the end of writing—when the story is released to the world. So I guess it’s safe to say that one of my favourite sentences—in all of my books—is ‘the end’. After all, the end is but the moment before a new beginning.

What do you do to market your own books yourself? Any advice on that front?

Despite earning a living as a Content Strategist in a digital agency, I’ve yet to find a lucrative way to market my books. So instead, I’m marketing myself. After discussing with a few people in the marketing industry, I’ve realised that authors should spend more time marketing themselves instead of their books. You see, you can only do so much to pitch a story in hopes that it resonates with a reader. But, if you are—as an individual—someone people want to support, you don’t need to exhaust your efforts into pitching your work. If people like you enough, I believe they will naturally buy your books.

My advice to fellow creators is to spend less time selling copies and more time building a brand that people can resonate with. And, do so in a genuine manner. After all, we have the innate ability to spot insincerity. So focus on creating an image that reflects who you truly are and your story, and let your works sell themselves to those who believe in you.

What book(s) are you reading at present?

I recently completed The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Cho. And boy, did I love it! Having only read books set in foreign countries, it was nice to finally dive into a book set in my own. So if you haven’t heard of this book, you might want to check it out. It has an interesting plot—one that had me flipping one page after the next during the Lunar New Year. As for what’s next, I’m eagerly waiting for the Escape anthology to arrive in the mail!

When can the readers expect another book from you? Any details that you can share?

Well… I recently completed Book 2 of my trilogy! But when to expect the launch of this trilogy, I can’t tell. And not because I don’t want to but because I recently uploaded the entire manuscript of Book 1, Whispers Of The Wind, on Swoon Reads. So if you’d like to read it, you can! And guess what? You don’t have to pay a cent—you can read it for free!

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Robb is the king of Zeruko. He, and his twin sister Myra, ascended the throne after their father’s passing. According to many, King Daemon—arch-nemesis and ruler of Tentazoa—murdered the late king. But despite the claims, Robb believes his father is still alive. With a desire to bring his father home, Robb leaves Zeruko with his trusted friend Spion. The pair travel to the realms of the universe through the magic of raindrops. From the hazardous trip behind enemy lines to the festive East Asian-esque Meihua; from the kingdom hovering above the clouds to the military-driven Bevattna; from the heterogeneous society of a tunneled realm to Robb’s duel with the heir of Tentazoa, every step in his journey uncovers a gem of his past, present, and future. And in one foresight, Robb learns of the daunting fate of Zeruko. (Read Now @ Swoon Reads: https://swoonreads.com/m/whispers-of-the-wind/)

What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with or follow you (website, blog, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.) and links?

I frequent all my social media platforms, so readers can get in touch with me on whichever platform they feel most comfortable with. My inbox is also open to anyone who wants to share their thoughts on any of my works or have questions they’d like to ask. But, if you only had to pick one, I would suggest Facebook—it’s where I share snippets of my writings and broadcast personal thoughts through weekly videos!

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Author Interview Uncategorized Writing Life

Interview with Rachael Sparks: Author of Resistant

Rachael Sparks is the author of the hard science fiction novel Resistant, which Publishers Weekly called “a scientifically accurate apocalypse.” Resistant takes place in a near future in which drug-resistant bacteria are winning the battle over humanity. Rachael was kind enough to chat with me about science, character development, and writing habits.

In the final battle with drug-resistant bacteria, one woman’s blood holds a secret weapon.

Rory and her father have survived the antibiotic crisis that has killed millions, including Rory’s mother—but ingenuity and perseverance aren’t their only advantages. When a stoic and scarred young military veteran enters their quiet life, Rory is drawn to him against her better judgment . . . until he exposes the secrets her mother and father kept from her, including the fact that her own blood may hold the cure the world needs, and she is the target of groups fighting to reach it first.

When the government comes after Rory, aiming to use her for a cure it can sell to the highest bidder, she’s forced to flee with her father and their new protector. But can she find the new path of human evolution before the government finds her?

Your novel draws from real-world science. Tell us a little bit about your background and what the research process was like for you.

I’m a microbiologist by training, a transplant expert, and now I work in hospital infection prevention with a medical device startup. So my education and career has centered around public health and that experience was half a lifetime of research for several books! For this novel, the research I needed to do was easy in that it was mostly mining my own brain and then confirming my filed-away facts were not yet discredited. Knowing that several friends who are legit scientists would be reading, I wanted badly for them to be convinced.

When did the idea for Resistant first strike you?

I’d wanted to write a sci-fi novel that explored this problem[antibiotic resistance], but a dream of a scene in the climax really inspired the characters. A handsome guy with swaths of discolored skin. . . readers will know his disfigurement plays into the plot but I honestly couldn’t say whether that was already in my mind or came after the dream!

 

Tell us about your protagonist? Are they inspired by someone you know in real life?

Rory is an amalgam of a lot of wonderful people I’ve known. She’s smart and a little unfiltered at times, with a bravery that can get her into trouble.  I wanted her to be flawed, to make mistakes and be mature enough to solve them on her own.

Do you have a favorite character out of all the ones you’ve created?

Yes, I like Navy. He’s not an open book, not easy to read, so he was a challenge to write. I wanted him to be reserved but not aloof, to have integrity despite having made massively bad judgement calls in his past. He’s fun to get to know as I write more about him.


How important is research to you when writing a book?

It’s critical, in my genre. In retrospect I would’ve loved for Resistant to be longer, with more science background explained — an excuse for even more research! So aside from enjoying the process, translating the useful bits into my writing in order to create an absorbing, believable premise is important to me. Science can be unwieldy for some, but the best sci-fi makes it palatable and fascinating to any reader.

Do your novels carry a primary message?

I hope so. My goal is to entertain while also imparting a bit of knowledge that arms the reader, even if only for an interesting fact to drop into cocktail hour.


If given the opportunity to start over, would you change anything in your books?

Ugh. Who wouldn’t? I’d just do more backstory for everything and everyone.


Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you keep a hold of the reigns?

When I’m writing, it feels like it! Even the end of Resistant surprised me, so I credit Rory for that. But more often I feel like I’m a director talking to an actor: “How do you think your character would react?”

Do you often project your own habits onto your characters?

Sure! Our habits are our expertise, too, right? Rory and her father brew beer, for example, and I sorely wanted an excuse to explain how they might have harvested and cultured their own yeast and scavenged ingredients. Alas, it had no plot value.



What other genres do you enjoy reading?

I love a good mystery fiction with a bit of adventure, action romance — couples in peril saving each other is catnip for vacation reading. Magical realism genre is delicious when the authors ground it in theoretical science. I’m still in awe of Deb Harkness’ use of genetics to plausibly structure a tree of life that could explain a vampire!

 

Tell us a little bit about your writing process. Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?

Oh hell no. When I sit down to write, I’ve usually been thinking about scenes for a while, and I first refresh myself on where I left off. But often I’ll also pick a random spot in my MS to re-read, as it helps me keep a consistent mood. And I turn on my playlist for each work in progress, and pretend it’s the soundtrack to the future movie. I don’t judge my progress on words — if it’s something I want to keep reading, I feel successful.

Some writers create a bubble around themselves until they finish a project – how true is that for you?
Gosh, that sounds lovely. I have a 4 year old, a husband I love to spend time with, dogs, career, and other relationships to nurture. Maybe one day I could do that! The closest I get to a bubble is a closed office door on an early morning.


If you were given the opportunity to join a book club with your favorite authors, dead or alive, who would you want to become a part of the club?

Michael Crichton. Emily Dickinson. David Walton. Nora Roberts. Katherine Howe. Jacqui Castle. Deborah Harkness. Celeste Ng. Emily and Anne Bronte. And I’d invite Andrew Mayne, if he promised to entertain us with magic tricks.

Anne and the Emilys would likely clique off, but maybe we could ply them with sherry and put them at ease.

Awww shucks. I would love to be in a book club with you!

What do you do to market your own books yourself? Any advice on that front?

I doubt I have some magical insight here, but I try to promote myself on all the normal channels: website, social media, Goodreads and other places an author profile can be added. Talking about yourself is the pits, so I just try not to take myself very seriously. I think being fun, informative, genuine and engaged is the best marketing.

For advice, specifically to new authors, I say: to make the most of social media as an author, I think you have to abandon rules about friends on platforms. When launching a new book, everyone is your friend. I also suggest they ask themselves before spending dollars in marketing (a website, for example) – how can I measure its return, so I’ll know whether to continue investing there. Analytics and data are your friend!

What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with or follow you (website, blog, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.) and links?

I’m most active on Twitter and Instagram, but Facebook and Goodreads get a daily visit. My website is a great place and goes straight to my inbox!

 

 

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Interview with Craig DiLouie, Author of Southern Gothic Novel, One of Us

Today we speak to Craig DiLouie, whose book One of Us debuted on July 17th and has been described by Peter Clines as “disturbing, beautiful.” Craig shares insight about his writing process and publishing, and his advice for new authors.

Can you tell us a little about One of Us? What inspired it? What influences did you draw on while writing it?

Thank you for having me as a guest at the Writing Bloc!

Published by Orbit, One of Us is a dark fantasy about monsters living in the real world. In the 1970s, a genetic disease produces a generation of monsters, who are now growing up rejected and abused in ramshackle government orphanages throughout the deep South. Some of them are beginning to exhibit frightening powers. When a “normal” kid is murdered, a plague boy stands accused, which might be the spark of revolt.

Misunderstood monsters and mutants with powers are familiar ideas in fantasy, but what makes this telling fresh and gritty is casting it as a Southern Gothic. This venerable American literary tradition—occupied by greats such as Cormac McCarthy—is dark, violent, and deals with topics like the taboo, grotesque, and society in decay. The result is a misunderstood monster novel about human monsters and monstrous humans. About prejudice and whether monsters are born or made. Author Claire North (84K) called it The Girl with All the Gifts meets To Kill a Mockingbird, which sums it up perfectly.

How long did it take to write the book?

It took me six weeks to write. It really poured out of me. That being said, there was quite a bit of preparation before I started writing, and the editing process took way longer. Bradley Englert, my editor, really proved his value with excellent suggestions for improving the novel, which resulted in a lot of back-end work. I couldn’t be happier with the result. It’s really the most powerful, gut-punching thing I’ve ever produced.

Did you have any moments while writing One of Us that you thought you might give up? How did you move past these?

One of Us was a rare book for me in that I wrote it with a fierce joy without the usual speed bumps. I knew exactly where I wanted to go and how to get there. I was barely typing fast enough to keep up with the words forming in my head.

Tell us a little bit about your writing process. Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?

I’m lucky in that I write as a day job, providing journalism and education services to the lighting industry. This trained me to treat writing as a job done with discipline. It’s also given me a lot of flexibility, though not a lot of time between a very full client roster and being a single dad.

Once I was ready to start, I’d commit to writing it in the morning and getting back to my client work in the afternoon, but the novel wouldn’t let go of me. Next thing I knew, I was writing it every free minute I had until it was finished.

Your bio says you are a Canadian American author and your book takes place in the Southern United States. What inspired you to pick this setting and what kind of research did you do to write about it? What role does place play in the story?

I set the novel in the rural South to fit the Southern Gothic mold. The world in One of Us is a very small place, where the characters come across as ordinary and yet larger than life. Everything is small town and tight knit, from the relationships to the history to the thinking to the witticisms passed down through generations. At the same time, there is a mythical feel to it, again hitting that “small yet larger than life” vibe. This setting is very important to the novel, from the farms to the swamps to old plantations in ruins, all of it feeding a rich, earthy, brooding atmosphere.

I’ve been to the South but didn’t grow up there, so yeah, this required research. This was twofold, split between factual research into things like local geography and common proverbs, and Southern Gothic literature, to get the mood just right. Overall, the research phase is one of my favorite parts of writing a novel. All sorts of ideas pop into my head during this time.

As a side note, I also set the novel in 1984, and I did that for several reasons. I wanted to convey that this is an alternate history, where one big thing changed everything in America’s timeline. I liked the low tech feel of nobody having cell phones and other devices. The AIDS epidemic and its stigmatization occurred in the 80s, which is appropriate thematically. And finally, I was going for nostalgia. Not the on-the-nose nostalgia of Stranger Things, but a general nostalgia for the past.

What do you most hope readers will get from reading your book? Is there a main takeaway you want them to have?

As with all my books, the one big thing I hope readers will get from my work is an engaging experience that will make them feel something and then reflect on its themes.

What are your thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing? Can you tell us about the process of finding a publisher? How did you feel when your book was accepted for publication?

As a “hybrid” author who both self-publishes and also gets into print with big publishing companies, I love both, though I write very different books for these outlets. For large traditional publishers, I tend to write standalone big idea novels, while when I self-publish, I tend to write series of highly targeted, pulpy dime novels.

The path to publication for One of Us was so surprisingly simple it felt like a hammer to the head. I’d written it, sent it to my agent, he loved it, he sent it out, and then there were just rejections, one after the other. Then at the last minute, three offers came in from great houses. Book publishing is a “no, no, no, no, no, yes” business, so you can imagine how cathartic that yes was. Working with Orbit was a dream come true, so I grabbed their offer in an instant. For me, it was the culmination of thirty years of struggle working my way up through the publishing world, both gratifying and humbling. So, yeah, it was an amazing moment receiving the offer, accepting it, and seeing my book on the shelf at the local bookstore.

That being said, I’ve gotten just as amazing a feeling from self-publishing. Putting out a series of short military fiction novels and having total control of everything, seeing the Amazon rankings and sales add up, and getting fan mail. It used to be self-publishing was considered cool but not as cool as working with a big publisher, but I don’t think that’s the case anymore and actually never really did. If you’re putting out a book and readers are enjoying it, you’re making it.

What advice would you like to give writers who are working on their first novels?

I can share a few things I’ve learned, noting your mileage may vary, as there are so many types of writers out there.

Many writers produce faster if they plan out their work. Learn story architecture—I’d suggest Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering. Then learn character arcs—I’d suggest Take Your Pants Off by Libbie Hawks, a book about plotting for pantsers. Start with a big idea that is wrapped around a strong question or nonfiction theme, then build out where you want it to go. By the time you plan out the major plot points and character arcs, writing the novel won’t seem daunting.

Write your logline as soon as possible, ideally the first thing you do, though you can of course refine it. The logline is an elevator pitch for your novel that sums it up in 1-3 sentences, ideally one sentence. That logline should identify the protagonist, the problem facing him or her, what he or she wants, what antagonistic person or force is in their way, and where/when this is all taking place. This becomes the bible for the story. Many writers try to come up with the perfect pitch after the novel’s done—if you do it before you start writing, you’ll write the story with that logline internalized, and your story may be more focused.

Write the novel then write the next. One of the best things that ever happened to me was writing as a day job—first in advertising then in magazine publishing and now as a freelance journalist and educator. Writing for publication tends to be a long game. Put in the hours, produce good work, and keep producing it.

Finally, don’t think of yourself as writing. Don’t write. Tell a story. That is what you’re doing.

What advice do you have for authors hoping to publish their work?

At some point, new novelists will bump into somebody who achieved some success, and that somebody will say, “Just do what I did.” I think one could learn from whatever that author had to say, but overall “just do what I did” doesn’t really work. I often describe my own career as looking like somebody falling up a long flight of stairs—how do you tell somebody how to do that?

That being said, I could offer some very simple advice that I think is universal. First, be hungry, but also be patient. It’s always wonderful to hear of somebody writing their first novel and getting a big publishing and TV show deal—I know a guy who did just that—but it’s rare. In this game, one small success tends to lead to another. Again, treat it as a long game. To keep those successes rolling in, always be writing and learning, and be professional at all times in dealing with others. 

Another thing I’d advise is don’t be shy about attending writing groups and especially conferences. You’ll be amazed at the friends you make and the things you’ll learn. Networking is very important for writers trying to maximize their odds. Be professional and you may make valuable contacts, not to mention some good friends.

Manage your expectations. Success is up to each writer, and it is not always one thing or another. Success is a very long ladder with many rungs, not a pass/fail thing.

Finally, and this is probably the hardest thing an aspiring author will ever hear, is whether you fast-track and self-publish or struggle your way into traditional publication, there is an elusive X factor, which is just plain luck—being at the right place at the right time with the right book. Nobody knows exactly what will catch an editor’s eye or set the market on fire. The main thing is to find your voice, produce quality work, and get it out there, hoping it will be the new spark.

Thanks again for having me as a guest!

 

Thank you, too, Craig, for your thoughtful and inspiring answers to our questions!

Published on July 17, 2018 by the Orbit brand of Hachette Book Group, One of Us is available in hardcover, eBook, and audiobook formats. The 400-page hardcover edition, launched at San Diego Comic Con, is available at any physical or online bookstore. The trade paperback will be published in February 2019.

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Author Interview Writing Life

Interview with Novelist and Screenwriter Mike Donald

Mike Donald is a UK-based novelist and screenwriter. His current novel, Louisiana Blood, started out as a multiple award-winning screenplay that earned him some great attention in the Hollywood scene. Mike adapted the screenplay into a novel, and Louisiana Blood was published late last year. The novel is an incredible and thrilling mystery involving alternate history (more specifically, an intense conspiracy involving Jack the Ripper never having existed), and it is a thoroughly enjoyable read. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike about how his novel came to be and his perspective on writing. Enjoy.

When did the idea for Louisiana Blood first strike you?

Louisiana Blood was really an amalgamation of ideas. I’d been filming in New Orleans and found the whole place really atmospheric, so subliminally this is where the location came from. I went to quite a famous restaurant there called The Court of Two Sisters, which became Crawdaddy’s in the Novel. I’d also loved the film “There will be Blood”, and “All the Kings Men.” Which gave me more atmosphere, and the governor Huey Long as an important figure who believed in doing whatever it took to get the job done…a big picture man, not bothered by the niceties of sticking to the law.

I was working with a couple of producers at the time and from them I knew that a lot of productions were being set up in Louisiana so that gave me a nudge to that location for more practical reasons. I had recently read a book about one of the main Ripper suspects called Tumblety who fled England to the US and wound up in St Louis…so he became the way of linking Victorian London to modern day Louisiana. With all of these components whirling around like some sort of creative tinder, it only took a creative spark to ignite the fire that would end up being my crazy idea. That being…What if Jack the Ripper never really existed? At which point I imagine it was around 2008.

Once I had the general idea in my head I read as many Jack the Ripper books as I could get my hands on. My idea was to absorb all of the theories and suspects and blend perceived reality with fiction to produce a dramatic story, rather than to try and add to the supposed canon of authors claiming to have discovered the Ripper’s true identity.

How long did the process take to get from idea to novel?

Between 2007/2008 I was working on the research and screenplay. My producers were involved with a large Canadian film fund with access to around $600m in funding. As well as setting up a project with Ferrari to do the life story of Enzo, they were also budgeting $10m and $30m for two of my projects. I had written a supernatural cop film called DEADEYE in conjunction with a Jake West a director friend of mine who produced cult hits like Razorblade Smile and Evil Aliens.

Along with Louisiana Blood I had been commissioned to write a screenplay re-imagining Pumpkinhead as a militarised character to relaunch the franchise for producer Brad Krevoy (Dumb and Dumber.) So things were busier than normal. As happens all too often in the screentrade, the Canadian film fund fell out with our co-producers and this coincided with the 2008 financial crash which hit the fund badly. This left the project in hiatus.

In 2010 I took Louisiana Blood the screenplay to Hollywood via many contests and film festivals. It won or placed in about 20 of them and I got invited to L.A to tout my wares. Despite numerous meetings I couldn’t get anybody to option the script and so it went on the backburner. A few years passed and I decided that Louisiana Blood was too good an idea to for it die on the vine, adapted it into a novel. I’d heard about a new publisher called INKSHARES which was a mix of traditional publishing and crowdfunding. You had to demonstrate public enough interest to convince them it was a worthwhile project and they would publish. It took six months to raise the money and I finished off the manuscript in 2016. I had the cover designed to my spec and submitted the whole package to Inkshares. The novel was published in Dec 2017.

I’m hoping the success of the book will help me back-engineer the book into a film and I’ll get a second chance to get it onto the big screen. The feedback so far is amazing, mainly from female readers which is very satisfying as in my experience women are looking for a more emotional experience from a book than men. I think they are surprised that it isn’t as graphic as the word BLOOD in the title might imply. The phrase Louisiana Blood cropped up in my research as a description of the oil business as it was back in the days of the first oil strikes where money was made and lives were lost. One of the most fascinating images I saw during my research was of Huntington Beach…all along the coast oil derricks soared into the sky giving it a sort of demonic feel and bringing to mind the phrase Satanic Mills.

What is it about your characters that inspired you to carry them into a series of stories?

Well, it was part my love of the characters belief their longevity, and part fiscal prudence in wanting them to live on maybe in the small screen arena. Nowadays there is more money spent on Netflix and Amazon than some feature films. The budgets for boxed sets such as Westworld, The Man in the high castle and Game of thrones is huge. Looking forward to the second in the series, Bruges Blood, with Detective Hoog and Katja, I think it’s high time to plunder the ashes of Van der Valk and kick start a Bruges based detective series.

When I started writing Bruges Blood I imagined a series of catacombs beneath the police station where Hoog decimates cardboard cutouts on the firing range to the sound track of Dua Lipa’s “Be the one.” No one was more surprised to discover that there really are catacombs beneath the station! The police were very generous in letting me nose around.

 

And on that note VENICE BLOOD is another series I’d like to spin off. I’ve never heard of a Venice based police series and the place is really atmospheric. Controlling the interaction of all the detectives and countries they live in will be a challenge, but that’s all part of the fun.

Are there bits of yourself in your characters?

Mmmm, difficult to say. I think there’s parts of me reflected in Chandler and maybe the technical side of Roxie. But I generally try to remain omnipotent. I suspect that most writers are under the skin, control freaks.

Give us an idea of what your writing process is like.

I generally try to be down at the gym by 04:00, do some cardio till 05:00. Then back for breakfast, before going to the cabin down by the lake where I’ll write until the sun comes up which is when I do a jog round the lake. Then I’ll usually write straight through until I’ve done my 5000 word total for the day…is what I’d like to say! In reality my day is totally unstructured. I usually have around 2 Hrs a day during the week and longer over the weekend, but that is unfocussed time. I’m marketing Louisiana Blood at the moment and itching to continue with Bruges Blood and research Venice Blood. Once I can dedicate a specific time to write I’m pretty fast. When I was writing Pumpkinhead I was on holiday in Scotland and I was told they needed the script done in 2 weeks…I remember sitting down by the loch which was the only place I could get Wi-Fi at the time and sending stuff back and forwards. Once I’d finished I was told that the project was for the Sci-Fi channel…as a result my epic was way over their budget and they ended up doing a story which was pretty much featured an actor in a rubber suit. Like most writers it’s a constant battle to get momentum on a finished project while getting the next one up and running.

You are a screenwriter as well. What is the greatest difference between writing a screenplay and writing a novel? Do you prefer one over the other?

The greatest difference between a script and a novel for me is the amount of description and backstory you can add into a novel. That and the time scales. By that I mean in a script a man pulls up outside a house and we cut to the gun battle or whatever inside. In a book we follow our character as they head to the house, maybe ruminating about what he thinks he’s heading into. Show what the weather’s like, what the traffic’s like, show him checking his weapon, maybe a bit of internal thought on his choice of gun etc…on the one hand this is great because you can really give an atmosphere to the piece…on the other hand you have to write three or four times as many words as a script. Louisiana Blood was way too long as a script, probably around 130 pages, and I had to cut that down to 100 once I started showing it around L.A. This meant I had to lose a whole sub-plot that I was able to reinstate in the novel. Also because I was writing a book I was able to plot in all sorts of clues and characters that were going to interweave through the next two books in the series. But if I’m blunt the most important difference is that if you write a novel and get it published, that process isn’t governed by budget or an actors availability. It’s also a piece of creativity that is more permanent than a screenplay. A screenplay is like a blueprint to build something. It gives birth to a film and it’s the film that lives on through history. The script that begat it is consigned to the vaults and held in awe by nascent writers who read the work of their peers so they can see the nuts and bolts of the master at work.

Who are some of your influences?

From a screen-writers point of view, I’d say Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.) and Christopher Nolan, (The Prestige, Inception.) From an author’s perspective, I’m going through a Jack Reacher phase, also Michael Connelly and his Bosch series on Amazon. Growing up I devoured everything Sci-Fi, and was a big fan of William Gibson, Asimov and Arthur C Clarke. I’m also dipping into some of the more recent novelists that I’ve been introduced to on Inkshares. Sync City published by Pete Ryan, and another one he has in the works Destiny Imperfect, are both great reads in the hard boiled sci-fi genre.

What are some of the projects you’re currently working on?

I always have a selection of screenplays going out to producers and on top of that there’s obviously the Trilogy of novels Louisiana, Bruges, and Venice Blood.

I’d like to thank Mike Donald for the interview. Please visit the links below to explore more of his work or to purchase the incredible “Louisiana Blood”.

Mike Donald standing by Hollywood sign

Related Links:

Mike Donald’s Websites: www.touchwoodpictures.com www.louisianablood.com

Mike Donald’s blog: www.louisianablog.louisianablood.com

To Purchase “Louisiana Blood”: Via Amazon Via Inkshares


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Author Interview illustrator interview Writing Life

Interview with Phil Rood, “That Illustrator Guy”

Phil Rood is someone you should know.

He is an illustrator out of Florida, and his work is marvelous. He is a master of body language, and each individual illustration of his tells a story. In my adventures as a writer, I’ve stumbled across uncountable talented people. Phil Rood’s talents left an impact on me almost immediately. He was recommended to me by fellow authors Rick Heinz and J.F. Dubeau, and so I started following Phil’s Facebook page. I recommend you do the same.

Not only are Phil’s illustrations carefully detailed and just downright fun, but the man is a study in dedication. He illustrates every single day and posts his work for all to enjoy. Often he will post videos of his illustration process using Facebook’s live feature, putting himself on the spot without hesitation.

He has a website (which I encourage you to access by clicking here) where you can peruse his portfolio, check out his latest creations, and purchase his books as well as individual hand-drawn works. Not only is he talented, but he is also an easy fellow to talk to. And he responds to any fan comments or questions with great efficiency. I had the pleasure of interviewing him. I hope you enjoy the result. A few of his works and a video of his process can be found below.

cowboy and lady standing by piano

When did you first discover your love of illustrating?

Probably around 12 years ago when I finally got around to going to college. I’ve always drawn, but when I went to school and studied graphic design, I started to really see the ability for me to practically apply drawing and illustrating.

Who are some of your greatest influences?

Bill Watterson and Gary Larson influenced me early, both in aesthetic ways and in the way their art carried so much humor. Stylistically, I’m influenced a lot by comic artists Jake Parker and Skottie Young and illustrator Ralph Steadman, who is able to cram so much energy into his drawings that they practically move on their own. That’s the kind of thing I keep looking for. From a career overview, I think comedian Marc Maron has been very influential to me as well. He’s spoken a lot about how he found success by not trying to please everyone, by staying true to his voice, and letting his audience find him. I think there’s a lot to be said about that and I’ve tried to walk that line.

Do you have a favorite illustration or story that you’ve completed?

Generally, my favorite illustrations tend to be whatever is most recent. I’m constantly trying to improve and if I’m doing it right, I’m happiest with the newest thing off my desk. There are some that have stuck with me over time as being favorites, like a drawing of three demons I drew for my “Monster Alphabet” series. They are modeled after my three sons. As for stories, I recently finished a really simple 14-page comic called “Sally” and I’m very proud of a lot of the work I did in that.

judgmental cat illustration

Give us an idea of your process from concept to complete.

I basically do a couple rough sketches of an idea to try to get an idea of composition and how it’s going to be executed. After I’m happy with that, I pencil the drawing on a sheet of Bristol, then I ink right over top of it. That’s it. The entire process is pretty laughably simple, but keeping things simple is pretty key for me. If I’m doing a longer form project, like a comic, it gets a bit more complicated, but that’s just because there’s more things than drawing going on.

Storytelling, pacing, layout, and visual storytelling with clarity all have to be taken into consideration. The entire comic/book gets planned out in sketch form, just like I would do for a single illustration. It’s pretty much the same process on a bigger scale. When the actual drawing is done, I scan it in, usually at a healthy 600dpi, and open the scan in Photoshop where I can clean it up and get a nice, clean high-resolution bitmap version of it.

Do you have a routine or do you wait for inspiration to strike?

I tend to be of the school of thought that thinks if you sit around and wait for inspiration to strike, you’ll be staring at a blank piece of paper for weeks on end. You have to draw something every day, even if it’s a 5-minute sketch. If that’s all the time I have, then I put all the effort I can into that 5-minute sketch, but I do it and it’s something I stress in the classes I teach.

Do your illustrations inspire your stories, or do your stories inspire your illustrations?

There’s no hard and fast rule for me either way, but I’d say the tendency is for a drawing to inspire a story, which in turn spawns more drawings, whether that be a written piece or a comic. The initial drawing may just be a character or vehicle I sketch or scribble, but it’s enough to get the ball rolling. Sometimes it takes and I get a full illustrated story. Sometimes it ends up in a pile of nothing… the ever growing pile of nothing…

cowboy gunslinger illustration

What tools do you use for illustrating?

I’ll start with paper since that’s an easier answer: My go-to is basically just industry-standard Strathmore 300 Series smooth Bristol. It’s heavy and stands up to the abuse I can sometimes put a sheet of paper through. My pens are sort of shifting constantly because I’m a giant pen nerd. At the moment, I’m using Copic Multiliner and Micron tech pens because I’m loving the simple line I get from them, but I also employ various brush pens, markers, and crow quills. I am constantly experimenting with new pens and seeing what kinds of lines and results I can get from them.

What software do you use?

Digitally I just use an old copy of Photoshop Elements for cleanup and color. I’m not much of a colorist, so when I do use it, it’s very simple and Elements meets my needs for it, as does the ProCreate app on my iPad. I have played around with that quite a bit in the last year and colored almost all of my “Ink & Sunshine” illustrations with that. As for straight-up digital line drawing, I don’t do much, but when I do, I use Sketchbook Pro. It’s an older program. Kari Simms and I are developing a video podcast right now that involves live sketching and that is likely going to be our go-to software for that.

Do you have a favorite character out of all the ones you’ve created?

Not really… I have some affinity for a lot of them that I’ve told stories with. Some have just been drawings I’ve made in passing, then put into a folder with the idea “I’ve got to tell a story with this guy”, but as you probably know, the idea file grows fast and we’re forced to pick and choose what we have time for. I like a lot of my characters very much, but it’s tough to pick a favorite. If I keep drawing them, there’s something I love about them, and it’s different in each one.

What kind of story are you working on right now?

I have a couple ideas kicking around in my head, but I’m not really working on a story at the moment. I got into the podcasting world about six months ago and have been working with the crew at Blazing Caribou Studios. I have a few shows coming up with them and have been doing an illustration per episode for their “Varmints!” podcast, which I am finding to be all kinds of fun. It’s nice to take a break and do some stand-alone illustrations for right now.

Do you ever get into slumps or have periods of creator’s block? If so, how do you get out?

Of course I do, the trick is to not let it stop me from getting to the desk. For me the key is to keep showing up, even if no quality is coming out of it. If you want to get over creator’s block, you’ve got to create. You’ve got to draw something. You’ve got to write something. I think for me, a lot of it lies in forgetting that I have creator’s block and being open to ideas, even simple ones. If I see a person who looks interesting to me, I remember them, I go home, and I draw an exaggerated version of them in my sketchbook…I make something out of something I see. I take it the next step away from reality. That’s creating and it helps get the flow moving again.

Any advice for other illustrators or storytellers?

Write or draw every day. Lack of time is not an excuse. If it’s truly important to you, you will find the time.

Related Links:

Phil Rood’s website: http://philrood.com/

Phil Rood’s Facebook page: Phil Rood, That Illustrator Guy

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Author Interview Uncategorized Writing Life

Interview with Susan K. Hamilton: On Her Upcoming Release Shadow King, and Writing Dark Fantasy

Today we have author Susan K. Hamilton with us to discuss her upcoming novel Shadow King, releasing on October 2nd. Susan’s manuscript for Shadow King finished in the top 10 for the 2016 LaunchPad Manuscript Competition, which received over 1,000 entries from over 24 countries.

Welcome, Susan! Your book Shadow King is currently in production and set to release on October 2nd. Congratulations! Can you tell us a little bit about Shadow King and what inspired the story?

Thank you!  In Shadow King, the world of Faerie has been destroyed by a corrupt, dark spell and all the Faerie races are forced to live in our world. Aohdan Collins is the Fae patriarch of Boston’s criminal underworld, and has worked relentlessly from the shadows to expand his empire. Everything changes, however, when he shares a shot of whiskey with Seireadan Moore. But Seireadan has her own secrets, and she’s looking for revenge against the person responsible for killing her family—and to get it, she may end up betraying the one she loves.

The inspiration for this story really came from one of the main characters: Aohdan Collins. I’d been trying to think of an idea for NaNoWriMo a few years back, and while raking leaves in my yard, the idea for his character popped into my head. From there I started to think about who he was, what he’d do, how he would move through our own world, and everything else came from there.

You describe Shadow King as Dark Fantasy. For those who many not know, can you explain some of the differences between Fantasy and Dark Fantasy?

That is actually a much harder question than it seems, and I have to confess, before Shadow King, I’d never written a dark/urban fantasy before. My work had mainly been more traditional fantasy.

But to answer your question, I would define dark fantasy as a story that takes elements of traditional fantasy and ties them to darker themes. In more traditional fantasy, you find mythically-inspired characters who occupy the moral high ground, and the story tends to have a very optimistic feel. Dark fantasy still has the fantasy themes but they’re often shown in a darker, grittier, more realistic light even if they happen in a fantasy world. If you change the setting of a dark fantasy to our real world, you also start adding the urban fantasy aspect to it.

Many people seem lump dark fantasy and horror together as well. I think the edges of both these genres bleed into one another but each also has very distinct and unique qualities, so I don’t think they’re the exact same thing.

Dark fantasy is also defined somewhat by the characters and their behaviors. In Shadow King, the heroes are dark heroes, and they do unsavory things. Aohdan is not a knight in shining armor—he’s a dark knight, but he has a very strong moral code that he lives by. He has a very strong sense of loyalty, responsibility, and of right and wrong—at least right and wrong as he views the concepts, which may be a little different than how readers perceive them.

Tell us a little bit about your writing process. Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?
In a perfect world, I try to do some writing every day, but things don’t always work out as planned. After finishing my manuscripts for Shadow King and The Devil Inside, I was “written out” and needed a break. I spent quite a bit of time catching up on my “to read” pile. However, recently I’ve been getting back to writing and working on some new projects.

What books by other writers have had the biggest influence on you?
The first would be Patricia Kennealy-Morrison. I read her Keltiad series years ago. I’m not sure they’re even in print anymore, but there was something about those books that I loved. They blended fantasy, science fiction, and Celtic mythology in a way I’d never seen. I loved her characters, the plot, the world she built… all three books just delighted me, and made me want to write something that (fingers crossed) would make people feel the same way.

Next would be JK Rowling. I’m sure lots of people would list her but what I admire about her work is her ability to take themes and make them not only understandable for children but engaging for adults as well. Plus her ability to craft a character like Snape. For so long in the book he is part of the darkness, the villain, the character you love to hate, but in the end, when his motivations become clear, it adds such depth of character.  I aspire to have my characters be that three-dimensional.

And lastly, I would say both Donna Grant and Karen Marie Moning. Both write in the romance genre, but they have very strong fantasy/dark fantasy elements in their stories. They’ve built magnificent worlds that, for me, transcend a single genre. I love how they’ve built their worlds and constructed their stories. And then there’s the sex. Personally, I struggle mightily with writing sex scenes… finding that balance where it is steamy without being overly graphic, but also not skirting around the subject either. I find both Moning and Grant have a keen eye for this balance and reading their work has helped me more clearly define what I want my voice to sound like in this area.

Okay, one more. I’d also include David Eddings in here. I devoured his Belgariad series, and while I appreciate the foundation that Tolkien laid for the entire fantasy genre, the characters in the Belgariad were, for me, so easy to relate to and care about. He also, in my opinion, does a wonderful job drawing his story out over several books without it feeling forced.

All books say that characters are fictional, but are they really all made up, or do you base them on people you have known in your own life?
To this point, I’ve never fully based a character on someone I know, although in The Devil Inside—which will come out after Shadow King—I had jokingly told an old high school acquaintance that I’d write him into the book. I used part of his name for a character, and the number of his football jersey is incorporated into an address that factors into the story. I did not, however, base the character on his actual personality.

A good villain is hard to write. How did you get in touch with your inner villain(s) to write this book. Was there a real-life inspiration for him/her/it?
Because Shadow King is a dark fantasy, my primary characters have some traits that you usually ascribe to a villain. Aohdan is an underworld mob boss, and he didn’t get where he was by keeping his hands clean and following the rules. As someone notes in the story, “Bad things happen to people who cross Aohdan Collins.”

So it was important to me to find that balance between embracing Aohdan’s dark side but also the role he plays as a hero in the story. He’s not always a good guy but he’s got a very clear moral compass.

To create him I tried to keep in mind how characters were portrayed in TV series like The Sopranos and Sons of Anarchy. When you look at those characters on the surface, they are criminals. They do bad things. They hurt people. They also live by clear codes of loyalty and honor. So while you might not like the things they do, you become invested in them as characters and dive into what motivates them to behave the way they do. Hopefully that will come across to people when they read Shadow King.


Did you ever have a rough patch in writing, where nothing in the story seemed to fit or make sense?
I have them. All. The. Time. I even had one time where I ripped up 250 pages worth of work and started over from scratch because I was so frustrated with the story.

In Shadow King in particular there was one point where I was trying to do more of the story from the perspective of Seireadan, my female lead, and it meant rewriting some scenes that had previously been in Aohdan’s POV. Sometimes getting things from her perspective, because she’s not part of his inner circle to start, was hard.

And during my development edit, I had a definite writer’s tantrum where I knew—based on the editor’s advice— that I had to push the story out further, but it didn’t come easy. I ended up sending my editor probably a two page email just ranting about my frustration and how this didn’t work and that wasn’t lining up and I hated the whole story – and so on and so forth. Definitely had my “drama queen” crown on that day!

But the act of just dumping all that emotion and frustration out there, solved the whole problem. Halfway through the rant I had that, “ohhhh, that’s what I need to do” moment. I gave myself the next day off from rewriting and when I went back to it, things worked out great.


Did you have any differences with your editors while you were still becoming used to getting your work edited? How did you work through those differences?
Fortunately, I didn’t have a lot of major differences but we did have a few disagreements. It can be hard to get feedback on your book, especially about changing things. The important thing to remember is the editor is trying to be your ally, not your adversary. They want to take your already great book and make it an amazing book.

The big key to working through those things is communication. You need to be able to express why you made some of the choices you did, but you also need to really listen to—and understand—why the editor is questioning certain things in your story.

There were a few places in Shadow King where I looked at feedback and (I confess) I got a little defensive. When that happened. I put the manuscript away for a little while and then went back and looked at the comment again. Most of the time, after I’d allowed myself to noodle through what had been said, it made more sense. If it didn’t, I asked for clarification.

In a few cases, there were some things I held firm on because they were important–and because I was able to explain my reasoning, the editor also had a better understanding of the point I was trying to make and we were able to reach a point where I felt I stayed true to the story while finding a way to improve it.

My favorite question – If you were given the opportunity to join a book club with your favorite authors, dead or alive, who would you want to become a part of the club? 

Some of these names will sound familiar, but I would say Lloyd Alexander, David Eddings, Kim Harrison, Donna Grant, JK Rowling, Karen Marie Moning, and Patricia Kennealy-Morrison because they’ve all written books or book series that have meant something special to me. I would love to hear their perspectives on other books and on writing.

Are you working on something new? And can you tell us a little bit about it?
I am working on something new. A couple somethings, actually. The first is a short story that I’m planning to submit for consideration in an anthology. I’m having a lot of fun with that, especially since I’m writing in first-person which is something I normally don’t do. It’s got some dystopian aspects and probably leans a bit towards supernatural fantasy.

I’ve also started tinkering with two new manuscripts. One is another urban/dark fantasy involving witches—the title right now is The Cardinal Witch. Along with that, I’ve also started some work on a follow up to Shadow King. Both are pretty new so I don’t have a lot to share yet, so I apologize for not having more details!


Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?

Most definitely!  From a writing perspective I would tell myself to start writing sooner than I did. I loved to write as a little kid and then got away from it. I didn’t really get reacquainted with writing until I was in college. The other advice would be to be braver. Easier said than done, I know, but I wish I’d been more comfortable being bold when I was younger.


What advice would you like to give writers who are working on their first novels?

First thing is be persistent. Things don’t happen overnight. There will be people who reject you and people who don’t like your work. Learn from those things and get better because there ARE people out there who do like your work and who will support you.

Second, make friends with other writers and authors. They understand what you’re going through as a writer. They’ll support you when you hit a rough patch but they’ll also call you out on BS as well, and that’s important.

Third, learn to love imperfection. No story is 100% perfect in every respect. Make your work the very best it can be, but when you get there, let it go and let it be what it is. It won’t be perfect, but it is yours so love it just the way it is. I learned this after self-publishing my very first novel many years ago. I couldn’t afford an editor or anything professional really other than the cover (and even that was a big favor from an artist friend). I know if I went back and read that story now, I’d be horrified because I’m a better writer now than I was back then – but that book was the absolute best I could do at that point in my life, and I love it for all the things it taught me.


What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with or follow you (website, blog, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.) and links?

Probably the best sites are Facebook or Twitter, and I’d love to hear from readers! You can find me all of these places:

Website: www.susankhamilton.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hamiltonsusank/

Twitter: @RealSKHamilton   /    https://twitter.com/realskhamilton

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/870122.Susan_K_Hamilton

 

Preorder Shadow King Today!

Ambition. Betrayal. Revenge.
Centuries ago, the Faerie Realm was decimated by a vile and corrupt spell. To survive, the different faerie races―led by the Fae―escaped to the Human Realm where they’ve lived ever since.As the Fae Patriarch of Boston’s criminal underworld, Aohdan Collins enjoys his playboy lifestyle while he works from the shadows to expand his growing empire, until one night when he shares a shot of whiskey with the lovely Seireadan Moore…A Fae Seer, Seireadan is haunted by a vision of the Fae responsible for destroying Faerie and murdering her family. Common sense tells her to stay away from Aohdan, but his magnetism and charm are irresistible.As their passionate affair intensifies, Seireadan is pulled into the center of the underworld. And while her heart is bound to Aohdan, she cannot let go of her lifelong quest to hunt down the Fae who haunts her visions… especially when she realizes Aohdan might be the key to helping her find him.But is revenge worth betraying the one she loves?
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Author Interview

Interview with Peter Ryan, Author of Sync City

It’s rare to be able to get excited for a new book to come out when it’s from a first-time author. Peter Ryan is an exception. His novel, Sync City, is a powerful, hard-hitting sci-fi romp through a dystopian future, and I have been patiently waiting for this book through its early production stages. Sync City grabs the reader from the opening lines and does not let up. If you enjoy hard-nosed science fiction, this is a book you do not want to miss. Here’s the book’s pitch:

“In a post-apocalyptic future, fractured timelines are wreaking havoc on the world. Only a tough, hard-drinking enforcer named Jack Trevayne can hold things together. This is gritty, hard-boiled sci-fi with attitude. The future is complicated. Jack is not.”

I had the opportunity to interview Peter Ryan about Sync City, being an author, and what it takes to be a writer.

How did you come up with the idea for Sync City?

I love sci-fi and hard-boiled detective fiction. I’m also a huge fan of dystopian/post-apocalyptic settings. I wanted to combine all three of these. The main character, Jack, came first. I was in Saskatoon, Canada at the time, and this provided the initial backdrop. Then I just started to write. The idea evolved as I went along.

What inspired you to pursue novel writing?

A party with a few mates of mine – we were lamenting the lack of originality in TV and movies. The next day, November 27th, 2013, I started writing a story titled Godspiracy. I’ve pretty much written every day ever since. Before this, I’d never even written a short story.

Who are some of your influences?

For Sync City, Richard Morgan in terms of concepts, William Gibson in terms of background/technology and James Crumley (a fantastic hardboiled crime writer) in terms of characters. My influences seem to change depending on what I write.

Did you have any moments while writing Sync City that you thought you might give up?

No, quite the opposite. I loved writing this story. So much so it’s ended up as a trilogy.

Give us an idea of your writing process.

Generally, in my writing day, I start writing strong and finish weak. So the first thing I do is tweak the stuff I’ve written the previous day. With my stories, I don’t work to a plan, so I don’t say no to any new ideas. I just write them until I write myself into a corner. The next day I find a way to write myself out of the corner and keep the story going. Some of my readers have commented that Sync City is almost serial in nature, which makes sense given the process.

Did anyone in particular inspire any of your characters, particularly Jack, Sync City’s protagonist?

Jack pretty much jumped fully formed into my head. In retrospect, he’s a combo of few people I know and a few characters from stories and movies. Clint Eastwood’s character William Munny in Unforgiven has to be a significant inspiration, as well as Mel Gibson’s Mad Max. The voice in my head when I write Jack is a mix between Harrison Ford in Blade Runner and Edward James Olmos in Battlestar Galactica. Hmm, lots of movies there and not many books.

Author photo final.jpg

What were you doing when the idea for Sync City first struck you?

Sitting at my mother-in-law’s kitchen table getting slightly stuck on another story I was writing. I wrote the opening passage to Sync City imagining the events to be happening in her basement. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t look at the basement the same way anymore.

What other stories have you written or are you working on?

I’ve just finished the first draft of Destiny Imperfect, a video game based story. I’m doing the second draft of the follow-up to Sync City (working title: Sync City Jack), and I’m going to take a look at my very first story attempt (Godspiracy which is an American Gods-meets-The X-Files type thing) and see if I can hammer that into shape. I like to work on two stories at once if I can.

What advice do you have for writers working on completing their first novel?

Have an understanding partner or be single. Seriously, you have to have a lot of time to write. There’s no way around this. Stick your butt in front of a computer on a very regular basis and just keep writing.

What quality do you have that makes writing such a great fit in your life?

A strong enough ego?? Is that a quality? Deliberately or not, you put a bunch of yourself into a story. You then need to be confident enough that people are going to read it. You also need to be confident enough to deal with criticism of your work.

In what ways has your experience living in a country where the native language is not your first language shaped your writing?

Interesting. Probably not so much the language – my Korean is terrible, but definitely the culture. A few sections of Sync City are based on the experiences I’ve had while living in Seoul and the interactions I’ve had with Koreans in general. I also do a lot of writing in Sri Lanka. If you read Sync City and the background is all gray and urban, then I wrote it in Seoul. If it’s all leafy and green, then I wrote it in Sri Lanka – I only realized this after I finished the story.

All of the books on the planet are being destroyed. You can only keep three hidden and safe for you to read. Which three do you choose?

Right now? Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan. Burning Chrome by William Gibson. The Mexican Tree Duck by James Crumley. I owe them all another good read.

Sync City is released upon the world. Follow the links below to learn more and pick up a copy.

Peter Ryan’s bio:

Peter Ryan is a sci-fi lover, motorbike rider, darts player, soju drinker, and T-shirt designer, as well as being an English professor at a university in South Korea. He grew up in Perth, Western Australia. He has traveled much of the world and done a variety of jobs along the way, including sales support at an insurance company, laborer on the building sites of London and Melbourne, chauffeur/minder for an English lord, and business English consultant in Shanghai. Peter lives with his Canadian wife in Seoul, and has done so since 1999. There is no synchrotron in Seoul, though there is plenty of soju.

Sync City Links:

Peter Ryan’s website: http://www.synccityjack.com/

Peter Ryan on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/peterryanauthor/

Inkshares page for Sync City: https://www.inkshares.com/books/sync-city

Sync City on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1942645457/ref=nav_timeline_asin?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1

Sync City at Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sync-city-peter-ryan/1125339887?ean=9781942645450

Sync City at the Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Sync-City-Peter-Ryan/9781942645450

Sync City on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33377334-sync-city?ac=1&from_search=true

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