Author Interview – Natalie Sypolt

After a little hiatus we’re back with West Virginia short story writer Natalie Sypolt.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

I’m Natalie Sypolt. I live in Preston County, West Virginia and I teach at Pierpont Community & Technical College. I also run the high school portion of the West Virginia Writers Workshop, held each summer at WVU. I write primarily short fiction set in Appalachia.

What is it about West Virginia (or Appalachia more generally) that makes it such good fodder for stories? Is it because it’s home or something else?

I think for me I write about West Virginia and Appalachia because it is what I know, what is in my heart. Any place can be fodder for story. I also think it is important to write about this region–to show the stories and lives of people who may not get the spotlight much (or who get it only for certain, usually unfortunate and sometimes completely wrong, reasons). No one ever asks why a story is set in NYC or LA. Those just seem like natural choices. WV is a natural choice for me, and when I talk to young writers, I try to get them to see that they can tell an important story and set it here, where they know. They don’t  have to set their work in a metropolitan city for it to be taken seriously.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

My first book, The Sound of Holding Your Breath, is out in November from WVU Press. It is a collection of short stories. All are set in West Virginia. I am currently completing my second book, which is a collection of linked stories, also mostly set in West Virginia.

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Which story in The Sound of Holding Your Breath is your favorite or means the most to you? Why?

I don’t know that I can really name a “favorite”. I do really feel close to “My Brothers and Me”. I wrote that story all in one setting after a summer of local news stories involving domestic violence and partner murder/suicides. It felt important and necessary. I also really love the last story in the collection, “Stalking the White Deer”, because I wrote it at Hindman and then had the story published in Appalachian Heritage, which had always been a goal publication.

In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

I primarily write fiction. I’ve always been a great reader, since I was a child, and I think I first started writing as a way to enter into the stories I loved.

Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

Honestly, process is not something I think a lot about in my own work. Most writers I know do, and I respect that a lot, but for me I don’t have a set “process” that I follow every time I write a story. Usually, I will have thought about the story—or at least the start of a story—for a long time before I ever put words to paper. If I’m writing a short story, I most love to write it all in one setting so that the voice and energy stay the same. I often will start by writing by hand—a couple paragraphs or a page or so—and then switch over to a computer once I’ve gotten started.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

 I don’t know that I can name a favorite character.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

 I love research, so I guess nothing would ever seem too weird to me. Most of my stories, though, are pretty realistic and set here, in the world that I best know. One of my more recent stories, though (not in this current book) does take place partially in Ireland. I knew I wanted to have the main character visit the Cliffs of Mohr and that she’d had a situation that involved a loved one attempting suicide. When I’d been at the Cliffs a year before, I had wondered if people came there to kill themselves—a morbid thought, yes, but it is ridiculously easy to reach the edge. So, when writing this story, I did a little research on this and discovered that the Cliffs of Mohr is close to the top of this list of suicide locations in Ireland. I then fell down a depressing rabbit hole of research that did end up in the story.

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What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

Oh, boy. Well, a lot of things. I think the most important thing I learned after making myself miserable in grad school is that my voice is just as important as anyone else’s. Just because someone talks louder doesn’t mean that they’re right, especially when it comes to my writing. I learned to trust myself more, and to worry about what other people thought a little less.

Do you have your work read by beta readers or others before it becomes final? How do you handle that feedback while trying to “worry what other people thought a little less”?

It depends. Sometimes I will send a story to my friend Melissa, who I went to graduate school with. We’re very good readers for one another and I trust her explicitly. (She, by the way, is embarking on a year long road trip in which she will visit all 50 states in a camper van–follow her at EdgyontheRoad.com.). More often, though, I don’t show anyone. That’s a bad answer, and I should do more workshopping, but I just don’t. I’ve learned to trust myself, and that has to be enough for now. I would not mind having a writer’s group someday, though.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

Well, I would maybe not have to work quite as much, which would be nice. Having some structured time is good, though, and nothing really structures time as much as having a job.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

This is a great question for me because I love talking about books. Within the last couple of years I have discovered the novels of William Gay. I had read some of his short fiction in school but had no idea how great his novels are. They are dark and creepy, but also have this beating heart of humanity. I also read We Have Always Lived at the Castle by Shirley Jackson (who is best known for “The Lottery”) and was totally blown away. So, so good. As for contemporary writers that I am in love with right now: I really enjoy the work of Michele Young-Stone who writes these magical realism stories that I could never write but love to read and think about. I also liked Silas House’s latest novel, Southernmost.

What do you think your next project will be?

As I said, I’m finishing the first draft of my linked collection. I have also started writing a novel set in West Virginia and loosely based on a family story that my grandfather told me.

Why did you decide to make your second book a collection of linked stories? How has the need to link them together made writing them different from the stories in your current book? 

 In my head, everything is already connected. That’s how my brain works. Even though my current book isn’t called a linked collection, I imagine all those people inhabiting the same world, living as neighbors or family members. I think that the idea for the linked stories started several years ago when Melissa and I decided we were going to write linked collection together–she’d write one story, and then I’d write one to respond to it. That idea didn’t really work out, but I just kept going with the same characters. I also found that it was easier to write when I sat down to work or when I went to a writer’s retreat if I already had a project underway. I could just enter back into the project with a new story.

Learn more about Natalie at her website.

Author Interview – Amy Deal

For this interview we talk to romance writer Amy Deal, who decided to fill a market gap her own darned self.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

I’m Amy Deal.  I was raised in Barboursville, and currently live in Huntington and I write romance fiction.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

I’m working on my first book.  It’s called A Stronger Bond and it’s a vampire romance.  It’s the story of a vampire, Alexi who loves a mortal, Ava.  Their relationship is put to the test when she is kidnapped by a vampire hunter bent on revenge.  There’s also an ancient vampire, Demetri, who believes himself in love with Ava.  So, there are a lot of obstacles for them to overcome to get their happy ever after.

 In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

Romance.  I’ve always loved a great romance story either in books, movies or TV.  But they have to have happy endings.  I am anti Nicholas Sparks.  LoL

TV and movies are where my first writings came from.  I would take the stories and rewrite them.  Little did I know that I was writing FanFic before it had a name.  LoL

What made you want to start writing romance stories instead of just reading them?

I like a certain kind of romance story and no one was writing them.  I knew I couldn’t be the only one, so after some conversations with others, I decided to write the kind of romance I wanted to read.

Follow up follow up – what kind is that?

A lot of the vampire romance stories have the heroine either as a vampire herself or a vampire hunter.  I like stories where the heroine is the typical girl next door.  Living her life and then suddenly she’s confronted with something that shakes up her world and makes her look at things differently.

Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

I get my best ideas when I’m talking to someone or listening to a conversation.  As for the rest of it I wish I had an organized thought out process, but I really just write when I can grab some time.  I just took a trip on Amtrak and I had several hours to work on nothing but marketing, plotting and research.  It was nice.

How much plotting do you do ahead of time? How much world building? Do you ever just sit down and see where the words take you?

I just bought a writing software program that will hopefully help me do some plotting, world and character building, but I really just sit down with an idea and start writing.  Eliot Parker says that I like to drop people right into the action and I do, but I’m trying to learn to plot my way and drive them there slowly.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

Alexi.  He’s the main character of the book.  I’ve always had a soft spot for anyone who feels that they aren’t redeemable or worthy of being loved.  Alexi is all of that and I’ve made it my mission to make sure he finally accepts that he can be.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

With vampires I’ve researched a lot of blood related topics.  Because it’s their main source of everything, especially loving someone, I had to find a way to make a disease where someone’s blood would be poison to a vampire.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

Never listen to the people who say you aren’t a writer if you haven’t had something published.  If you write, you’re a writer.  Also, if you write a genre that isn’t popular, or one that people don’t understand, just remember that somewhere out there, someone is waiting to read it.

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Have you found people not supportive of writing romances? Based on what I’ve seen romances and vampire stories are both really popular!

I haven’t found anyone that hasn’t been supportive of me personally.  Yes! they are really popular.  It goes in waves.  Vampires will be popular, then a real life event will happen where suddenly military romances become popular.  It’s like soup du jour, but hero du jour.

 If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

I’d be able to focus on my writing and do a lot of traveling to find locations to use.  I’d also have all the latest and greatest tech gadgets to help with my writing.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

Andrea Bills.  She’s also a WV romance writer and her books are so good.  Her writing draws the reader in and once you’re in, you never want it to let you go.

What do you think your next project will be?

It’s another book in the A Stronger Bond universe.  It’s the story of one of the other vampires you meet in the book.

For more about Amy check her out on Facebook or the web.

Author Interview – Timothy G. Huguenin

This time we talk things that go bump in the night, Bigfoot, and . . . greeting cards?

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

My name is Timothy G. Huguenin, I’m a horror writer living in Bartow, West Virginia.

 Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

My most recent published book is a ghost story called Little One. Kelsea Stone lives in Los Angeles and gets a call one day from a lawyer telling her that her birth parents have passed away (she was sent to a foster home at a young age and never knew them) and have left her their house in Canaan Valley, West Virginia. She flies over there to check it out, clean it up, and probably sell it or rent it out—and subconsciously, she deeply desires to know her parents and figure out why they sent her away. While she is there, she finds out that hers isn’t the only soul dwelling in the house.

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In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

I write horror, usually set in the Appalachians (primarily West Virginia, because I grew up there). I don’t know why I like horror more than the other genres, but I do, so that’s usually what I write. I tend to shy away from slasher-type horror, and gravitate more toward gothic and/or weird styles, depending on my mood. I take a cue from Stephen King and try to focus heavily on characterization, especially in my novels, but I’m not nearly as good at that as he is. Early on in my life as a reader, before I really was serious about writing, Poe heavily influenced my tastes, and I’ve been drawn toward Lovecraft and Ligotti these days.

Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

I usually get an idea for a villain, or a monster, or some kind of creepy or disturbing situation, without even a skeleton of story. It’s just kind of a seed in my head. I’ll leave it in there for a while and see if it sticks around. If I keep thinking about it, usually that means it’s a pretty good idea, and it will start to germinate. I’ll try to come up with some characters, if I haven’t already, and figure out a conflict that the story could center around.

So there’s some time between when I get the first idea to when I actually get something on paper—though this process can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few months. When I think I have a seed that has sprouted enough (I can think of at least one or two characters and the conflict, with a general idea of where the story might go), I can start writing. Once that happens, I start typing and see what happens. Usually the beginning is hard, since the characters aren’t quite established yet.

But once I get through that, the story kind of lives its own life. Sometimes it goes where I was expecting; most other times I’m surprised by it. After I have a first draft, I’ll take a break from the book. Then I’ll print it out. I always print out hard copies for editing. Always, always, always print out your story at least once before you decide you’re done. You miss so much on a computer screen. (I splurged a little last year and bought a Brother HL-L2340D, a black and white laser printer that prints on both sides of the paper, and I would highly recommend that little workhorse to any writers who can afford it. And really, I make it sound like some big extravagance, but really, it is relatively inexpensive as far as laser printers go. I’m just an old cheapo by nature.) Anyways, I’ll run through the paper copy for initial edits, put my changes back into the computer, then I’ll email what follows from that to my wife, Emily. After I consider her comments and apply changes based on that, it will go to my other beta readers, if I have any.

My last two novels were improved immensely because of pre-publication beta reader feedback. If it’s a short story, usually Emily is the only person other than myself to read it before I submit it somewhere. After her comments, I might even go over it one more time on my own. For short fiction, that’s about it. I might revisit a short story every few months, but generally speaking that’s all I do. For my first two novels, I’ve hired a professional copy editor to help clean up my prose and mistakes after the beta reader stage. With something of that length, even the best self-editing writers cannot get by without a good, unbiased line editor. Also, I go through the novel again once or twice after editing. Even then, mistakes and typos can slip through the cracks. I am very particular about that kind of thing, and errors in a finished product really get me upset.

Why do you think it’s so important to edit on paper copies? Did you have an experience where you missed something editing on screen?

No specific editing disasters come to mind immediately, but I’ve always felt more comfortable reading from paper, so that naturally led to me editing from paper copies. Some studies have shown that reading from a screen decreases reading comprehension compared with reading from paper. How accurate those studies are in general I haven’t looked into, but I know in my own experience, I do not read as well from a computer, so it is easier for me to miss mistakes that way.

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Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

I am currently trying to find an agent for a novel I wrote about a boy and his friends trying to stop an evil hypnotist from taking over their town. It is my favorite thing I’ve written so far, and I reckon that my favorite character probably comes from that book. However, there are quite a few really good characters in there, and it would be hard for me to choose just one. I think I’ll go with the villain, Dr. Wolfgang M. Schafer (as he is called right now, and I don’t see myself changing his name before publication, but you never know for sure until it’s settled in print). He’s tall and lanky, with silver eyes and greasy black hair. He wears a top hat and a ratty black suit with a tie the color of dark blood. A barn owl named Trilby rides around on his shoulder and is known to attack meddling kids every now and again.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

I know I’ve Googled some weird stuff while I’m writing, but for some reason I’m drawing a blank (maybe my subconscious doesn’t want to share! lol). Hmm. I’ve been reading a lot about Bigfoot recently, but that’s not really that weird. One of my questions I had a hard time figuring out (and still never found a good, detailed answer to) was how long it takes for a body to decompose without being embalmed. After death, bodies these days are pumped full of chemicals. I had trouble finding info about what happens if you don’t do that, specifically a timeline of decay stages. I even tried emailing some police and professors at a school that runs a lab on that kind of stuff for people studying to be forensic investigators, or whatever they call those CSI guys. But nobody would email me back.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

There are some great short fiction magazines out there—some print and more online—and there even more bad ones. Now, I’m not talking about paying vs. nonpaying vs. token markets here. People have their own opinions on what their stuff is worth, and I’m not saying that all nonpaying markets are bad. I’m saying, there are some places that you might be tempted to submit to in desperation, then later regret it if you get accepted because it is presented in an embarrassingly unprofessional manner, and you will have doubly harder time selling it to a magazine with a greater readership. It is hard to get short fiction published by the good ones, so you might be tempted to just send your story anywhere at all, even if it’s a website with only tiny handful of viewers (most of which are the contributing authors), without a competent editor, and looks like some teenager’s Geocities project from the dial-up era. But it is better to hold on to a short story that isn’t getting accepted, keep tinkering with it every now and then as you improve as a writer. Eventually you will start writing better stuff, and new good markets do open up, giving you more options.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

I’m not sure. I reckon I would buy a house with better insulation, and I wouldn’t ration my heat as much. That would make it a lot easier to sit down and write in the winter. My electricity bills get pretty high in the winter, and I try not to turn my thermostat up past 60 in most rooms—and when I’m not in the room, I keep it turned down to 50. So when I sit down to write, I sometimes get really shivery. Also—and I don’t know if other people are like this, or if it’s just me—being cold makes me have to pee a lot. So in the winter I get up to pee quite often. I keep telling my wife if I ever make it big, I’m going to have someone build me a tiny house in our back yard that could be my lonely little writing shack. If I ever do that, I’ll make sure it stays warm when I’m in there.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

Well, I’m usually late to the game with any kind of trend, including literary stuff, even in my own genre. Only last year I discovered Thomas Ligotti’s Grimscribe, which is from the early 1990s.Like almost everyone else who has read it, I was super impressed. I ended up buying Songs of a Dead Dreamer after that, and then Teatro Grottesco, which I haven’t read much of yet. I later found out he holds a very pessimistic, frankly depressing and disturbing philosophy that I don’t personally subscribe to, but he sure knows how to write some very unique stuff, with a prose style that hearkens back to Poe and Lovecraft in some ways, though not as verbose. More lately, I’ve also been enjoying Michael Wehunt’s work. He also writes in the weird vein of horror, though from what I have read so far, his stories tend to read more like Robert Aickman than Ligotti. I enjoyed his novella The Tired Sounds, A Wake, which was published by Dim Shores Publishing in a limited print run, so that one, unfortunately, isn’t easily available now. However, a few of his short stories can be read for free online (there are links on his website), and Apex published a book of his short fiction called Greener Pastures, which you can find on Amazon. Actually, Shock Totem originally published it, but they went out of business, or got bought or something, and Apex is the publisher who has it now. I know he’s currently working on a novel, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that turns out.

What do you think your next project will be?

I’ve started a Bigfoot novel set here in West Virginia. I’ve been kind of stuck on it recently, though. I have a few paragraphs down and a few character sketches, but it’s not really wanting to take off for some reason. One of my other goals for this year is to write more short fiction, so I’ve been trying not to worry about the novel as much this month and get some words down on shorter stuff. Also, you might find this kind of funny—I do—just yesterday I decided to try and break into the world of writing for greeting cards. I’m sending a few little verses to some companies. We’ll see where that goes. I had forgotten until recently that I used to write little poems for my friends all the time in high school, so it makes sense to try this out. I don’t really think I’ll get very serious about it, but if someone ends up wanting to pay me for something that took me fifteen minutes to write, I won’t feel bad about that.

What is it about Bigfoot that made you want to write a story about it?

For all the television attention Bigfoot has gotten due to recently made Bigfoot hunting reality type shows, I haven’t come across very many Bigfoot novels—and not any that I considered very good, either, based on reading some excerpts or reading reviews (if you have any suggestions, point me to them, I’d love to find some good ones). Though generally speaking Bigfoot has been associated with the Pacific Northwest, there have been multiple reported sightings here in West Virginia. Russell L. Jones, a Bigfoot believer, has written a book specifically on Bigfoot in WV called Tracking the Stone Man, which I found very interesting. In fact, Pocahontas County (where I live) and two neighboring counties, Pendleton and Randolph, have the highest reported numbers of sightings according to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO). The Monongahela National Forest is huge, over nine hundred thousand acres. Plenty of room for Ol’ Squatch to hide, if he exists. I was looking for a good monster in WV, and heard people have claimed to see Bigfoot activity in the area. Sounded like a good story to me!

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Did you sit down and decide to write greeting card verse, or did you come up with a verse and think “this might work . . ..”?

I saw somewhere on the internet that you could submit stuff to a few greeting card companies who would pay for work. Figured it was worth a shot. So far I haven’t gotten any interest in mine.

For more check out Timothy on the web, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Author Interview – Paul Keenan

This time we dive into the worlds of poetry, fiction, and . . . technical writing?

 Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

 My name is Paul Keenan, and I write a lot of things. I’ve written somewhere north of 300 poems, a dozen or so short stories, a novel, a stage play…. Lately, I’ve been doing some technical writing for a couple of financial technology web journals, Lending Times and Blockchain Times.

 Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

I wrote a novel last year. I’d made four previous attempts, but this was the first that I actually finished. Coincidentally, it’s also the first I wrote since getting sober in July of 2013. It’s called The Situation with Phillip, and it’s a work of fiction loosely inspired by the thought that the soul weighs 21 grams. Jeffrey is a serial killer who has come to the conclusion that it isn’t the soul that weighs 21 grams, but that the stress and hardship of life, which account for the loss of weight the body experiences upon death. To prove this, he is kidnapping people from five offsetting sets of character types (faithful/doubtful…), stressing them for a calendar month, and then killing them to see how much weight has been lost. There are indications that he isn’t completely at ease with the loss of life, but he feels he’s doing God’s work and accepts the loss for the good he thinks it will do in the future.

Phillip is also a man who thinks he is doing God’s work in his life, and it is his faith in God that he tries to maintain focus on during his month as Jeffrey’s prisoner. Having found that he really has little chance of escape—Jeffrey’s elaborate containment set-up includes remote control handcuffs and shock collar—Phillip is in constant communication with God, in prayer that, when the time comes, God will provide him with the words he needs to lead Jeffrey to see the error of his ways.(There’s a synopsis of the novel, plus a good number of posts about the progress of the drafting process on my blog at paulelmo.com).

In light of all the poetry you’ve written over the years, what is it that kept bringing you back to trying to write novels?

I chose novels because that’s what I grew up reading, and I read authors who had made a lot of money doing it. Sadly, most of my writing life has been financially driven. Now that I’m beginning to make a little money writing, I see how incorrectly I’ve gone about the process. Live and learn, I guess.

I come back to novels because I want to sell a novel. I queried The Situation with Phillip to an agent last year. I got a great rejection, 112 words. In it, the agent suggested some things that would make me more marketable as a novelist. I began following his advice; the social media and publications are part of that. I plan to get in touch with him again in September, which will mark a year from the first Q.

 In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

 Across the breadth of my writing life, I’ve written more poetry and verse than anything else. I’ve done so for a number of reasons. I think the iambic foot merges well with the human rhythm. Plus, I’ve always seemed so busy, a the shortness of poetry has always appealed to me. I edit as I go, but when I’m done, I’m pretty much done. It’s a very Bukowski way of writing. What’s more, I think my life is good subject matter, and poetry always fits that well.

Given the broad sweep of your writing, how much does one area of it impact others? Does your poetry influence your technical writing (or vice versa!)?

I don’t know how much my technical work has affected my creative work, but poetic lines influence everything I write. There’s a focus in poetry that is helpful in framing any type of writing. You focus on the line, the cadence, the rhythm. Poetry also helps a writer practice omitting needless words.

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 Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

No matter what the genre, I learned in school to just get it on the page and then go back and fix it. I know that contradicts what I just said about writing verse, but with verse it’s still pretty much the same; I just don’t do much of the going back and fixing it. Still, while I put more thought into the actual crafting of work while I’m writing poetry—you really have to—I still pretty much adhere to the school of thought that says to just get it on the page. Then you can see what you’ve got and what needs to be done with it.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

I’ve had a few, but right now my favorite is Phillip from The Situation with Phillip. Like all of my other favorite characters before him, I like Phillip because he’s a philosopher, and most of his philosophy comes from lessons learned the hard way. Being an problem drinker in recovery, and being a problem drinker in need of recovery before that, I’ve created a strong personal philosophy that helps others at times. That’s the part of me that gets channeled into these characters like Phillip, and it’s what endears them to me.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

As a matter of fact, it’s the stuff I’m working on right now with my technical writing job, fintech, financial technology. A large part of my present focus is on cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. Bitcoin. Ethereum. It’s so far out of what was previously my wheelhouse, but I’ve taken to it and become really interested in it. It’s something that I would have gotten to soon enough, just because I think its massive scale is going to make us all interested in it down the line, but I never would have ever thought I’d be writing about it.

 What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

Don’t swing for the fences. I grew up reading novels by best-selling novelists, so I thought the only way to make it was as a best-selling novelist. The hard truth of that was the drinking life doesn’t much lend itself to the strength of thought and discipline required to write novels. I have four good, lengthy novel starts, and, while I imagine they’ll all be finished in time, I spent of years chasing the pipe dreams within them when I should have been focusing on more practical projects. Also, you have to write every day, even if it’s only for a half an hour or so. There’s a quote by Lawrence Kasdan, the filmmaker, that I like. He said, “Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.” It took me a while to get it, but I focus on that, and I haven’t missed a day in about a year, nor barring tragedy or illness or something like that, I can’t imagine any way that I will.

 If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

I don’t know how much it would change my actual writing, other than I’d be able to write for myself and not for someone else, like the group of magazines I write for. It would change my writing that I wouldn’t have to work at a non-writing job to make money, and it would give me more time to devote to my blog and going back and finishing the novels and other long-form projects that I’ve started but never finished. Still, I’m interested in what I write about in my blog (music, the hilarity and oddness of life at times, music, and my Christian faith are all regular topics), and I’m interested in the fintech and blockchain stuff, so I wouldn’t much change what I write, I’d just have more time to devote to it.

 What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

Lately all of my time reading time has been spent on financial theory analysis, and I don’t tend to read a lot of new novelists. I re-read books I’ve liked in the past. I like structuralism and authors who have fun with their craft. Within the past year, I’ve re-read Tom Robbins’s Still Life with Woodpecker and Italo Calvino’s …if on a Winter’s night a traveler…, which are two of my favorites. The last book by a new author I read was The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman, and, while I didn’t agree with it, as a man of faith I found it interesting enough. Still, I wouldn’t recommend it for a doubtful person; too much food for thought, I think.

Since you mentioned recovery a few times, do you find it difficult to write about characters who are going through similar issues, or is it cathartic to work it through with them?

It’s totally cathartic to write about recovery and characters at all stages of addiction and recovery. The basis of sobriety is a good program, and, for me at least, a good program is based on a good philosophy. Most times, writing about abuse and recovery just gives me good reminders of what I already know and think; occasionally, however, I realize something new or I realize I believe something I didn’t know I believed. It all helps to strengthen the philosophy and the program. Beyond that, it’s great advice for us to write what we know. Being not only a former problem drinker, I’m also a bartender, which means that booze and bars are great fodder for me.

 What do you think you’re next project will be?

Well, now that I’m working a full-time job and my writing is a rather large part-time job, I’m not sure. If I had that million dollars (which happens to be a nice round number that I like, by the way), and prior to securing the tech writing job, my plan was to go back and finish the four novels and the screenplay that I’ve started but not completed. I’d also like to see if there are any agents out there who’d like to see what progress I could make on a couple of music related books I’d like to see written. One is the search for faith in a higher power in the lyrics of Chris Cornell, the late singer who fronted both Soundgarden and Audioslave. Also, I’d like to do a comprehensive study of the impression that the five members of The Traveling Wilburys made on the music world—that one might have to be a series.

I don’t worry too much about it though. Ideas have never been a problem for me, and now that I’ve gotten sober and have the discipline, I figure God will put me where He wants me to be when He wants me to be there. It’s like this fintech deal; I had no idea that was in store for me. Still, it has only been four months, I’m the lead feature analysis writer for a new online magazine, Blockchain Times, and the field has become something that will shape me and my writing, as well as the lives of my sons—ten and six—going forward. You try to think about what you’re going to do next, and then something like that happens, and you realize once again that we’re not as much in charge as we think we are. No matter what comes next, I’m going to be where God puts me, and I’m going to do what He wills me to do. Knowing that, I don’t have to worry too much about it.

Learn more about Paul at his blog.

Author Interview – Gerald Swick

We’re back with Gerald Swick, who wants to take you on a trip through West Virginia history.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

I’m the love child of Joseph Heller and Carol Burnett. No, wait—I’m a native of Clarksburg, West Virginia, now living in Nashville. I’m an incorrigible punster, a master of one-liners, and a serious researcher who was half of the research team that solved the 70-year mystery of why the eldest child of Abraham Lincoln was not buried with the rest of the family. Most of all, I’m a writer drawing inspiration and techniques from such disparate sources as academic journals, novels of all types, comic books, songwriting, screenwriting and poetry, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have had experienced, successful writers in most of those fields share their knowledge with me.

I fell in love with the printed word at a very early age when my mother and my older siblings would read to me, so I started teaching myself to identify words as they read when I was three or four years old. I don’t remember Dad reading to me, but there was an auctioneer named Paul Bastin who could always unload a box of books by saying, “Swick, you’ll bid a quarter, won’t you?” Dad would grin and nod, and we’d be bringing another box of books home. The writing grew out of all that, plus the stories of family history Mom and Dad told.

How did you get involved with research into Abraham Lincoln’s family?

Actually, my research has primarily been into Lincoln’s in-laws, the Todds. A friend and I were thinking of writing an article about why the position known as The Hornet’s Nest at the Battle of Shiloh collapsed suddenly after holding out for hours.

A different friend went with me to walk the ground at Shiloh National Battlefield Park. She happened to be reading a biography of Mary Lincoln and asked if I was aware Mary had a half-brother who was killed fighting for the Confederacy at Shiloh. I got to looking into that and realized the Todds weren’t a family, they were a soap opera, and I started researching them seriously. I’ve never written the book about them, but it is a project I want to finish. Finding the letter about why the Lincolns’ eldest son isn’t buried with the rest of the family was a coincidence of Todd research.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

The first two books in my West Virginia Histories series were published by Grave Distractions Publications in late 2017. This series collects most of the 800-plus articles I wrote over 16 years that appeared as a weekly column of West Virginia history in the Clarksburg Exponent Telegram. The columns were very popular and received an Associated Press excellence in journalism award for Lifestyles writing. They were also a factor in the state Humanities Council awarding me a literary fellowship in nonfiction writing.

Over the years a number of readers recommended I put them into a book. When I finally sat down to do that I realized, with over 800 articles to draw from, I needed to do a series of books.

I spent part of 2016 and most of 2017 organizing the columns into themes such as West Virginia women, the Civil War, sports, ethnic history, politics, crime and so on, then divvying them up into eight books based on those themes. Each book in the series will contain 100 articles, including some never-before-published ones written specifically for this series.

Volume 1, Unique People, Unusual Events and the Occasional Ghost, is an introduction to and sampler of the series. Volume 2, Days of Slavery * Civil War and Aftermath * Statehood and Beyond provides readers with background on Western Virginia’s separation from Virginia, incidents of the Civil War within its borders, and the political struggle to be admitted to the Union as a state of its own. There’s also information on the state’s 50th and 100th anniversary celebrations.

Putting the former columns into book format allowed me to include addendums in cases where I found additional information after the columns were published, and this format also gave me a way to index names and places to help genealogists and other researchers find what they are looking for.

Vol. 1 cover

How many books will be in the West Virginia Histories series? Will you be adding new articles to it as you go along?

The publisher and I are planning for eight books, each covering multiple themes, but the series may expand if we feel a given book tries to cover too many themes. That doesn’t apply to Volume 1, of course, because it is an introduction to and sampler of the series, so it contains four or more samples from each of the themes.

I am researching and writing some new material for each theme, e.g., Social Change, Labor, Education, etc., so that each book will contain several never-before-published stories among its 100 articles.

How I originally came to write these columns?

I had been doing other freelance work for the Exponent Telegram and its weekly publications, the Marion Xtra and Taylor Xtra. I conceived the idea for the column and asked the managing editor if he would be interested in publishing it; his eyes lit up like a man who’d just drawn his fourth ace.

I knew people who are interested in history would read the columns, but I wanted to appeal to people who wouldn’t normally read history because they regard it as boring. I wanted to share with those readers how much fun history can be. I regard historical research as a never-ending Easter egg hunt; you never know what you’re going to find when you look behind the next bush. So I wrote in the storytelling style a fiction writer might use, while still sticking to the known facts, and I frequently incorporated editorializing, humor, puns and other wordplay, and occasionally a dose of snark.

For example, I wrote a column on West Virginia’s concerns over pollution throughout the 20th century. Not exactly the stuff for a ripping good yarn, so I enlivened it with comments like, “Mess with the fish, Bubba, and we send in the Marines,” after explaining that in 1913 the U.S. War Department had control over what was dumped in the Ohio River. Later in that same article I cited the 1970 “Kanawha Valley Air Pollution Study” and added parenthetically, “Soon to be a major motion picture starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones.”

In my research I primarily look for stories my readers likely wouldn’t know about, mostly drawn from old newspapers and supplemented by additional research to put the story in context: the feud between William Jennings Bryant and a WVU professor over evolution, for example, or the tornado that destroyed a church during Easter services in Wellsburg; the attempt Kanawha County’s Jews made to have the county chosen as the site of America’s first rabbinical college; the heroic tale of Jim Brown, a black man in Welch who risked his life trying to save two little white girls from an oncoming train, and the story of Minnie Martin, a young woman who saved a passenger train from derailing in Wetzel County. There’s the personal account of the infamous serial killer known as H.H. Holmes concerning what he claimed was his first murder, a man in Morgantown, and the story of a fraud ring comprised of Lincoln County housewives who scammed a soap company—and no, they didn’t get away clean.

The stories are drawn from all parts of the state and cover people and events from the 18th century through the 1960s, the decade in which West Virginia marked its statehood centennial.

In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

As noted, mostly I write nonfiction, history in particular. My first book was a coffee-table book, Historic Photos of West Virginia, from Turner Publishing in Nashville. I’d been one of Turner’s editors but had moved on to being web editor for the magazines of the Weider History Group when Turner called and asked me to author the West Virginia project. I’ve written for America’s Civil War, American History, Blue Ridge Country, Lincoln Lore, Wonderful West Virginia and other magazines, as well as the new West Virginia Encyclopedia published by the state Humanities Council in 2006and ABC-CLIO’s Encyclopedia of World War II: A Political, Social and Military History. With a life-long love of both history and writing, it’s not surprising this is how things turned out, even though I started out wanting to write fiction.

I have had some short fiction published in literary journals and a fantasy anthology. I worked in the game field for years and authored or co-authored short fiction for roleplaying games, like “A Day in the Life of Dennis-O-VCH” and “The New, Improved Fear and Ignorance” for the Paranoia game. If you go to my website, GeraldDSwick.com, you’ll see how checkered my writing past is. Presently, in addition to future volumes in the West Virginia Histories series, I am working on a novel of alternative history, but I generally don’t like to talk about works in progress. Somehow, talking about what I’m working on takes away some of the impetus to get it down on paper.

Vol 2 cover

Do you have any training or background in historical research or are you self-taught? What made you dive in to that field in the first place?

Primarily self-taught. I’ve buried myself in researching the Todds at archives and libraries from South Carolina to San Francisco, and that experience taught me a very great deal about doing historical research. It also made me skeptical of anything I can’t effectively cross-reference. I’m amazed at how much has been written about the Todds in secondary sources that turns out to be untrue when compared to original source material and cross-referenced.

As for the origins of my interest in things past, it developed at the same time I was falling in love with the written word. My parents, who had me late enough in their lives that they almost named me R. U. Joking, often talked in the evenings about their childhoods and early lives, providing a window into a world that had already vanished. Also, growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s there were television programs, comic books, games, and movies about historical events. They weren’t necessarily accurate, but they made history fun and inspired me to read more of it. I have a T-shirt I was given that says, “History Buff. I’d find you more interesting if you were dead.”

I wanted to major in history, but a high school guidance counselor talked me out of it. Like one of my favorite nonfiction authors, John C. Waugh, my training is in journalism, not historical research. Both require fact-checking and multiple sources, but the nature of those sources usually aren’t the same. As things turned out, I’m a man with two mistresses: writing and historical research.

Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

Coming up with viable ideas is one of the most difficult things for me. My magazine and encyclopedia articles were assigned to me by editors. Even most of my published fiction came from assignments in which I was given a worldview to set a story in, but it was up to me to come up with a story and characters that fit within that worldview.

I mull over the assignment, think about the audience it is aimed at and what they might want to read, do preliminary research—even my fiction usually has historical elements to it—and then do some “clustering,” in which I write the basic premise in the center of a page, circle it, and then outside that circle I write any ideas that come to me, no matter how outrageous. A hit songwriter and music publisher, Ralph Murphy, once told me to never quit writing the cluster until I have over a dozen ideas jotted down, because the first ones will be obvious, but by the time I get to the thirteenth or fourteenth idea I’m probably breaking into fresh approaches.

As an example, the editor of America’s Civil War magazine asked me to write about the “First Land Battle of the Civil War” at Philippi. The question I faced was, “Okay, I can relate the events, but what does it all mean?” I concluded that the Confederacy’s epitaph was already written at Philippi: “Too few trying to defend too much with too little, against a people in whom the bonds of Union had become too strong to be severed.” Based on that conclusion, the article was published as “Omen at Philippi.” Anyone interested in reading it can find a link under Nonfiction on my website.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

Elizabeth O’Cleary, a teenage Irish girl with Down Syndrome who develops a magical power when magic returns to modern Ireland. I created her for the story “Warriors of Destiny” in the Dragons Over England anthology. This was one of the situations in which I was given a worldview and a deadline, then left to my own devices. The stories in the anthology were based on the Torg roleplaying game from West End Games, in which Earth is invaded from several parallel dimensions simultaneously, each invader setting up a reality based on his or her own dimension. In the British Isles, it was a reality like that of traditional Northern European fantasy stories, while in France the Cyberpapacy had won the Great Schism of the Catholic Church and the Inquisition never ended. I envisioned an initial attempt by the Cyberpapacy to convert all those good Roman Catholics in Ireland to this new papacy. Elizabeth and her recently awakened new friend, a leprechaun named Letitia Blossomwalker, thwart the bad guys but at terrible cost.

The characters formed in my mind after I contracted to write a story for the anthology. I kept resisting the idea of Elizabeth having cognitive disability due to Down Syndrome, but she refused to be written any other way. I never said this in the story, but in my mind she was descended from the Tuatha De Danann, the legendary race with magical powers who some people have said came to Ireland from Atlantis. I imagined that when magic went away, their descendants still had the ability within them but no way to use it; in Elizabeth’s case, that produced the extra chromosome that resulted in Down Syndrome and a blockage in her mind that ultimately she breaks through.

Coming up with character names is another toughie for me. Ironically, shortly after I sent the “Warriors of Destiny” story off to West End, I visited the Presidio cemetery in San Francisco to pay my respects at the grave of a woman I was researching, the Great Western, Sarah Borginnis Bowman, a heroine of the Mexican-American war and later proprietor of some of the finest bordellos in the Southwest. As I was walking away from her grave I noticed a headstone a couple of graves away. The name on it was Elizabeth O’Cleary, the same as my fictional Irish girl, and a chill went up my spine. Odd coincidences like that seem to occur when I write fictional stories about Ireland.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

Well, for “Warriors of Destiny” I had to research Irish history, folklore and fauna, plus the Great Schism of the Catholic Church and Belgian machine pistols. In nonfiction, I’d have to say the five articles I was asked to write about Romania in World War II and one about South Africa’s role in the conflict for ABC-CLIO’s WWII encyclopedia. I knew virtually nothing about either country, so I had to do some serious research and do it quickly, since I also had three other articles assigned for the same publication. A decade later I reused some of the information while writing “Romanian Nightmare at Stalingrad” for Armchair General magazine. That’s why I’m loathe to throw away old research materials.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

Oh, man, that’s like asking what the most import lesson is that I’ve learned in life. I’m going to name two: First, rewriting doesn’t mean just tweaking; it may mean finding the kernel of the story that is worth keeping, discarding everything else and starting over. Second, despite all we are taught about finding our writer’s voice, staying true to our vision, etc., ultimately writing isn’t about the writer: it’s about the reader. In genre fiction that means staying true to the conventions of your genre, because readers expect them, but finding fresh ways to present those conventions. In nonfiction it means not cramming everything you’ve learned about a topic into a single article or book; that’s oh, so tempting, but data dumps stink as badly as garbage dumps.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

I wouldn’t have to work at anything else to meet bills. I could just research and write six to ten hours a day. So if any patrons of the arts out there are looking for someone to sponsor, you can contact me through my website!

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

I read Susan Orleans’s Rin Tin Tin The Life and the Legend in 2012, and I still find myself thinking about it occasionally. She did incredible research and a great job of telling a story both uplifting and tragic. More recently the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series impressed me because the author created a compelling narrative inspired by old, strange photographs of children.

What do you think you’re next project will be?

Bringing out volume 3 in the West Virginia History series, which will be titled Crime, Politics, and Other Disasters. It will probably be released in late summer or early autumn 2018. And continuing to work on the alternate history novel.

Learn more about Gerald at his website, or check out excerpts from Volume 1 and Volume 2 of his West Virginia History series.

Author Interview – Eliot Parker

A few words with mystery writer Eliot Parker, current president of West Virginia Writers, Inc.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

I’m Eliot Parker. I am a West Virginia native. I live in Huntington, West Virginia. I write mystery/thriller novels and short stories.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project

My latest novel is titled Code for Murder. It features Cleveland Homicide Detective Stacy Tavitt who is looking for the killer of Cleveland Browns football player Devon Baker. With little forensic evidence connecting anyone to the case, Stacy sets out to find the killer. When potential suspects in the case are murdered, Stacy realizes Devon Baker’s killer may be more familiar to her than she realizes.

CodeforMurderCover

In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

 I write in the mystery/thriller genre. I got interested in that genre when I was a kid. The first series of books I really enjoyed were the Encyclopedia Brown young adult books. I also loved the Scholastic “Choose Your Mystery” book series where you (as the reader) could choose the decisions and actions that characters made throughout the book. The fun part was going back and reading the book and making different choices to see what happened to the characters. From then, I was hooked as a mystery/thriller reader and those same passions for that genre carry over into my writing.

I’ve asked this question of another writer who works in your genres, so I’ll ask it again to see if you agree – what’s the difference between “mystery” and “thriller”? Aren’t all thrillers about figuring out the mystery of what’s happening?

To me, a thriller can be defined as a story in which the audience is waiting for something significant to happen.  A mystery is a story of revelation, with the action more mental than physical.

Eliot

Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

I write a little bit each day, five days a week. I use post-it-notes to help me organize characters, plot, setting, etc. I usually get up early in the mornings and write for 30-45 minutes. On weekends, I write more and holiday and summer breaks from school (I teach at Mountwest Community and Technical College) allow me to write more. It takes me about a year-and-a-half to get the first draft of a novel completed.

How complete is a “first draft” (since it’s a year and a half in the making)? What goes on after you reach that point?

A first draft for me is one that is complete. It has the exposition, the climax, and the resolution written. This doesn’t mean that all of the writing is great. In fact, a good bit of it will end up taken out of the book or revised significantly. However, when those three parts are complete, I know I have a first draft. After that point, I step away from the manuscript for several weeks (sometimes months). This allows my mind to remove itself from the characters, plot, etc. of the book. Then, when I go back and read it again with fresh eyes, I feel like I am approaching the story completely new, much like a new reader might do.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

I love all of my characters. Choosing a favorite character is like asking a parent to choose their favorite child. However, my favorite character is Ronan McCullough. He appeared in my novel Fragile Brilliance. I love him because is tough, reckless, but principled. He is my favorite character because it’s so easy for me to get inside his head and his voice when I start writing. I don’t always have that same strong connection with other characters I have created.

FragileCover

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a  that you never would have otherwise?

 In the sequel to Fragile Brilliance, titled A Knife’s Edge, I researched innovative technology being developed that allows law enforcement and hospitals to diagnose a host of illness and physical conditions with just one drop of blood, instead of the vials of blood that are required now. I learned more about blood, blood testing, and the process of analyzing blood through my research. I would never have sought out that information on my own if it wasn’t for the book. Blood freaks me out!

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

 The real part of writing is revision. Writers should know that the first draft is just that, the beginning of the process. Don’t be afraid or surprised to find yourself having to toss out at least 1/3 of what is written and then heavily revise the other 2/3. It’s that process of intense, detailed revision where the novel really finds is core truth and the characters really become what you envision them to be as a writer.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

 Absolutely! I would quit my job and be a writer full-time. I am working on that now, anyway, minus the lottery winnings.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

 The last great book I read was Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman. It’s a powerful, moving story about love, saying goodbye, and the pain that comes when we cannot be with the one person that we love more than anything else in the world.

What do you think you’re next project will be?

 I finished the third revision of the next Ronan McCullough novel, titled A Knife’s Edge. It will be out in early 2019. I also have an outline finished for the next Stacy Tavitt novel. I am also working on compiling some short stories that have been published in literary magazines (and some that have not) for a short story collection.

Do you approach your short stories different from your novels (in terms of planning, revising, etc.)? If so, how?

I approach my short stories in the same manner that I do my novels. The only difference is that with short stories, the time spent with those characters and that setting is much shorter.

Author Interview – Cat Pleska

For our first interview of 2018 it’s back to West Virginia to talk with memoirist and editor Cat Pleska.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

I’m a native West Virginian, 7th generation. I have a BA in English, MA in Humanities, and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. I am an educator, author, and storyteller. I teach full time in an online Master of Liberal Studies program at Arizona State University (go Sun Devils!). I’ve taught at the higher Ed level for 18 years and have taught writing workshops in memoir and personal essay for many years. I have been a History Alive! character (photographer Frances B. Johnston), an essayist for West Virginia Public Radio (7 years), a book reviewer for The Charleston Gazette, and am a reviewer for West Virginia University Press. I am the president of a small nonprofit, 40-year-old WV traditional press, Mountain State Press. I am a cat lady (bordering on crazy cat lady with 6 cats currently), married to Dan, mother to Katie, and pup mom to one dog.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

My memoir, Riding on Comets, was published by West Virginia University Press in 2015. About 15 years in the writing, it is a tremendous life accomplishment for me. I’ve edited 10 books, several through the Press and for another book company, Woodland Press. Most recently, Mountain State Press published Voices on Unity: Coming Together, Falling Apart, with 35 writers across the country (22 from WV) speaking to the difficulties of unity in these troubling times. I wanted for writers to have a format, a forum in which to practice what they do best when dramatic times present themselves, and they each stepped up to the plate creating poetry, prose, and song to exercise their right to speak out and speak up. I am super excited about my new book project, working title: The I’s Have It, a travel/personal essay collection about my travels in Iceland and Ireland. I hope to have it completed by summer and ready for revision throughout the fall.

Comets Cover

In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

I write primarily in nonfiction—specifically creative nonfiction, as I like personal writing the best. I call myself a memoirist and personal essayist and that is what I’m published in. The occasional fiction piece or poem floats out, but rarely. Because I come from a family of storytellers, and these were tellers of personal stories, not local or regional tales many might know, I was born into the sense of hearing and imagining in my mind the stories of my people first of all. They did not make up stories; rather, they were true stories told on themselves, so to speak, many times to make you laugh or to make you cry. Each time they told a story, which was every time they gathered, the story was the same—the details did not change. So, truth, to me, was always important. When I heard about creative nonfiction back in . . . the early 90s (when I was in college), I was intrigued. I found out creative nonfiction is the truth told with creative techniques (not making it up), but rather the same way one would tell any story: scene, dialog, description. I was blessed with a partial hyperthymesia, which is recall for one’s childhood. Plus, I was lucky enough to simply ask my family for confirmation of details all through my life.

Have you ever had a situation where you were “stuck” in your writing and could see an easy solution if you were writing fictions and could make things up but had trouble sticking to the truth? If so, how did you work around that?

The truth is I was never “stuck” in my writing due to the fact that I was writing nonfiction. The training I had in fictional techniques (this is about using craft, not lying) helped me present what many think are unessential details as essential, because in truth, they are essential. I let the details tell the story of what really happened. So, if I’m writing about going trick or treating, when I was a child, for example, what’s so significant about that event? Well, what’s significant were the costumes I chose: powerful women characters. What else? That I  wandered neighborhoods as a 9 year old alone. What else? That when I returned, I stood by the front door, looking through the storm door glass and saw a massive orange streak of lightning pattern across an absolutely clear sky. Then it streaked again. I end the story with me wondering what that phenomenon was and what it meant. I really did wonder this. After that piece is one in which my dad disappears at Christmas, drunk again. My mom worrying herself into a state of ill health over his drinking jags. What happened to him? Was he all right? What was going to happen when he returned—if he returned? Although it is exactly what happened, you can see how that the event with the foreboding lightning occurred in Oct. and then comes the Christmas story, and the reader might see the strange phenomenon as foreshadowing. That is what we do with our lives: we look for cause and effect. If someone is stuck in a nonfiction story, that’s my go to: this happened (why? which may cause me to back up with a story that explains) or this happened next: are they connected? Once you explore using those questions, it becomes clear you don’t need to alter anything to become unstuck. I just relax and let the real details flow, letting them do the work of revelation, metaphor, symbolism.

Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

My ideas usually come from reading, especially other memoirs/essays, but also from the two professional magazines I subscribe to: Writers Chronicle and Poets and Writers. I also get ideas from any number of other places I read, from newspapers, to literary magazines, to National Geographic, to Smithsonian, to fiction. I often just hear a word, such as the one I used above, hyperthymesia, and that’ll send me off into thinking about its definition and what it really means to be along that spectrum. I’ll do further research and then think of personal instances that might fit to include as scene and exposition. Sometimes my ideas come from conversations with people who’ll say to me: you should write about that. Sometimes I’ll review prompts from workshops I’ve been in. My ideas come from words, and it just goes from there.

How do you find people you trust to provide the kind of feedback you need during the editing/polishing process?

That’s actually been a long process and it was by trial and error. First of all, I was in college taking creative writing courses and then in workshops across the country, so I learned what effective criticism is and who knows how to do it and who does not. It is as hard to learn to criticize as it is to write in the first place. The skills are different, and not all writers hone how to criticize effectively. Sometimes, they don’t even know they should learn, but learning how to effectively criticize means you learn more about your own writing in ways you hadn’t thought about. I was in writing critique groups early on, too. But I learned over the years that not all groups work well. I have been in a few in the last few years that were very effective, but eventually, I needed to just write and find a handful of people who are skilled readers—for me (and as a general rule, close in development as a writer as you are). In turn, I am often a reader for them, but not always. And there are people I read for who don’t read for me, and that’s fine. I select who I’ll read, based on what they write, how they write, and the skills I’ve learned that would be helpful to them. Not every reader is a good reader for you and you must learn that. Having my work critiqued is never easy for me—to hear. But I’ve learned to shut out the protesting ego and just listen. I wait a couple days before I approach the piece for possible changes, re-read what they’ve written and then decide in a cold, clear light of a new day if the suggestions are valuable for my piece or not.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

Since I’m a creative nonfictionist, I don’t make up characters, but I certainly do develop them. You cannot just write about a person and say, well, she’s this or that. You have to show who that person is. For example, when I wrote about my father in my memoir, it would be easy to make him a bad guy since he was an alcoholic. But my dad was also very intelligent, a hard worker, and when sober a really funny, kind man. You have to create the rounded character even though they are not made up. You have to do your homework. I and my family had to come alive on the pages of my memoir and the same goes for any essays I write about anyone. Real people, researched, and fully, roundly viewed. I have no favorites, although I am fond of myself when I was small, say 5. I say that because that was when I became more aware and absorbed the world around me. Things came alive and so did I. My curiosity was profound and my skill as an observer, as an only child in a world of giants, set me off on my life as a writer more than anything else.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

The current essay I’m writing about is the Penis Museum in Iceland sort of tops that list. I visited there, but I’d read about it before I went to Iceland. After being there and being . . . rather amazed (I mean, a sperm whale penis? Wow!) I’m still doing some research. In fact, I stumbled across a video interview with a guy who’s gifting his penis in his will to the museum. Apparently 9 inches, un-inflated, as it were, is pretty amazing.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

 This is crucial to do: edit, edit, edit, revise, revise, revise then let people read it to edit/revise again and again. Do not ever put a book out there that you haven’t gotten professional editing for. Avoid that urge that this is all you can do and it’s good enough. Take out a loan if you have to, but get it professionally polished. Realize that not everyone is going to love your book. Or read it. Do not worry about that. Why should everyone? Not everyone likes Shakespeare, the bible, Fifty Shades of Grey. Don’t expect 7 billion people will like your writing, no matter how excellent it is. Avoid that expectation and realize there are even some good friends who aren’t going to read it. That’s fine. Don’t sweat it. Concentrate on and be grateful for those who do read it. Be kind. Be confident you’ve got a good book/writing, and you will if you’ve done your homework. Mostly, enjoy the writing. The sales will come.

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If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

I would travel half the year and write the other half. When I was 16, I wrote a letter to a person in which I said, “What I want to do when I grow up is to travel and to write.” And that dream has not changed. I’ve been to 8 countries, 4 continents (including no continent—that’s in Iceland and it literally is not any continent, but is a small stretch of land between the American continent and European/Asian continent), and it’s not enough. I’ve written all my life, have been published since 1990, and it’s not enough. So, 1 million in my pocket would set me free to do and be even more. It would be a tremendous blessing.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

I’m sort of into the Icelandic authors right now, but I have so many books to be read . . . I’m not ashamed nor will I stop as long as a I have a dime in my pocket buying books—lots of them. I do not care one fig they’re all over the place around here. I’ll get to them as long as the eyeballs last.

Why Iceland? Both as a travel destination and as a focus of your reading?

Because I always wanted to travel since I was very young, my heart leaps up when I come upon a chance to do so. In the case of Iceland, it actually hadn’t been on my radar but a conference called NonfictionNow came up and it was taking place in Reykjavik, Iceland, and I both wanted to go to that conference, one that I had never attended, and to Iceland because a little reading about it told me I’d probably love it (I do!). So, I wrote a paper to submit for a round table event and it was accepted. So, off to Iceland I go. The diversity of attendees was quite fascinating and the conversations were enlightening. But it was the land and its people that fascinated me most. What I found there was a land still forming, but which had a history rich and engaging and that Icelandic is a language spoken that the Vikings would still understand from a thousand years ago. It’s a land where the very pragmatic people believe in elves and trolls (about 50%), where the ministry of highways employs “Troll whispers” to help in highway design. Where there are waterfalls that appear to fall to the center of the Earth, geysers flume, and the land is an incredible glowing green (Greenland is ice; Iceland is green—go figure!). These are just some of the elements that attracted me to Iceland, but the possibility of this still forming land and fascinating citizens (they just voted into law that a company cannot pay a women less than a man for an equal job) fire my imagination of what it would be like to live there. So, I write about it, dream about it, consider what it would mean if I lived there. And by the way: Icelanders love literature, have 100% literacy rate, and almost everyone publishes.

What do you think your next project will be?

As I mentioned, it’ll be The I’s Have It, but beyond that is a novel. I once thought I had two novel ideas and for years I’ve danced around with writing them both from time to time, never really getting very far. A few pages on each at best. But in 2016, I was in Shepherdstown at a local diner for breakfast. It was crowded, so my husband and I were sitting at the counter, drinking coffee, waiting for our order. I was watching the wait staff weave around one another behind the counter, as if they were braiding invisible strands of hair. They moved steadily, efficiently and smoothly and suddenly I realized—this came out of nowhere—that I was not writing two novels; they were the same novel and needed to be joined; that is, braided together. Once I realize that, I started writing the book anew. I was happily into my third chapter when a character came forward that I thought was going to be a minor one, and BOOM! She took over. I haven’t been back to it for while, as I’ve got to reconfigure the whole dang thing—in a way. All I’ve written will work but now it has to be meshed in a new way and I have to think about the structure/theme. Hey! It’s what writers do!

What’s different about the mechanics of writing fiction versus nonfiction?

As for the mechanics, there is not much difference. A good story is a good story, and the elements that make for a good story don’t differ, regardless of what genre you’re writing in (exceptions are hard news writing, scholarly writing, some biographies, although the latter two benefit from using the common mechanics of writing story). Having a facility for detail and good memory, in addition to the fact finding and checking, is a good thing for a memoirist and personal essayist, and a fiction writer as well. My early passive training in a family of storytellers caused me to have a facility with language, sensory detail, dialog, description. Just as someone writing fiction, I know I must have an opening sentence in my nonfiction that captures the audience. I know I have to provide details so the reader can “see” in their mind’s eye what’s going on; There has to be a narrative arc, something connecting the main story themes throughout; I have to build in tension; and writers of any genre who wish to tell a story, true or not, need to think about the universality of what they are writing about: why would anyone read it and care? In the end, the only major difference between writing creative nonfiction and fiction is whether or not you’re careful about fact—what really happened. But you have to break down that fact and think: but what does it mean? What do I think about it and know from it? How did it happen and what was the result? Life is story, and if we’re lucky, we get to tell it.

Author Interview – William D. Richards

For the final interview of this year we’re off to New England to talk with sci-fi and fantasy writer William D. Richards.

 Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

I am William D. Richards, a powerful being who has command over multiple universes!  At least that’s what my characters think. Otherwise, I’m just an average guy with a strange vocation who mows the lawn every once in a while and enjoys a dram of fine scotch.

I’ve lived in New England all my life, living in various parts of it at one time or another.

I write whatever strikes me as interesting. Mostly fiction, on occasion I dust off my old journalistic credentials and write something non-fiction and informative.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

I just released my newest book, Aggadeh Chronicles Book 2: Dragon, two months ago.

The first book, Nobody, introduced us to the protagonist, Nem Aster. Nem is a person who finds himself way over his head in the events going on in the Aggadeh Empire and the world around it.

The reader doesn’t get a really good feel for who Nem is. I did this on purpose. The reader gets to know Nem at the same time the other characters in the story get to know Nem. Like getting to know a new friend, you only get a little bit here and there. Over time, you start to collect enough of these pieces to put together a more complete picture of who this person really is.

Since that’s the plan with Nem, how much does the narrative of the series revolve around unlocking his character?

The narrative of the series is focused on the story that is happening, of which Nem is at the center. Unlocking just who this nobody is, is just a part of that story. But it does help drive the plot. As other characters begin to discover the truth about Nem, the story begins to drive to the conclusion.

In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

Mainly science fiction and fantasy. It was science fiction that got me interested in reading and that’s what I grew up with. I preferred it because it really pushed my imagination beyond the envelope.

From the moment I discovered writing, my stories focused on life with the elements of the fantastic. Exploring other worlds, meeting beings that were different than we are, having adventures that went beyond the mundane.

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Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

Briefly’? You realize you are asking this of a writer?

When I get an idea, it is usually a scene of some sort connected to a bigger story. I write out this scene. Often this scene is dialogue between a couple of characters. It might be just one quote from a character. Or it could be something far more complex like an entire chapter. One thing in particular is that there is a specific emotion that the character is feeling.

The idea is a small thing, like a singularity. The story simply explodes out of it. When I’m ready to write it out as a story. I try to figure out what happened to get to that scene and then what happens after the scene. That becomes the story.

If I’m feeling really strong about the story, then I’ll just start writing it. The narrative, dialogue, and plot just come out as I start writing. This is the seat-of-the-pants style of writing. However, as I write, I will add notes about the various characters I create on the fly so I have those references.

If I don’t have a strong feeling for the story, I’ll describe it to myself. I’ll just tell myself what this scene is, what happens here, what is driving the characters. It’s so passive it’s pathetic. But this is more like writing notes and outline than actually writing the story. The manuscript for Music on the Wind is written like this. It’s all descriptive and filled with tangents and dead ends. When I’m ready to write it, I’ll read through these notes and then choose the best parts and start writing them as active narrative.

For Aggadeh Chronicles, I actually wrote articles about the various locations of the world of Aggadeh and the various people. It reads more like a social studies book than anything. I even wrote out one of two books that appear within the series. One, Tales of the South Seas, is one of the books that Ophelia steals during the course of the story. Tales of the South Seas as a book about the sexual practices of the Islanders of the Southern Archipelago in Aggadeh. It turns out that Ophelia has a habit for stealing x-rated books from the various libraries when she goes on state visits. Each character has a story. The notes are over 100,000 words long. All that before I even began to write the story in earnest.

Where do those initial idea scenes tend to wind up in the final story? Beginning? Ending? Some major turning point?

Those scenes appear where they need to be in the story. Oddly, the very scene that I imagined when I first came up with the idea of the story might not ever appear in the story because I can’t see where it would fit. It doesn’t mean that I’ve completely thrown it away, but that the story has evolved from the initial concept enough that the original scene lost its place in the narrative.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

Nem is the second oldest character I have in my repertoire. I first created him when I was in junior high as part of a much darker story that eventually evolved into Aggadeh Chronicles. There are a number of images from that original idea that are still in Aggadeh Chronicles. I may write that story as a bonus when I’m finished with Aggadeh Chronicles, just so fans of the series can see what its origin looked like.

Nem is an outsider. His name literally means “nobody.” Nem is short for nemo, which is the Latin word for nobody. He doesn’t really fit in or belong, a feeling a lot of creative people deal with in their lives. And it is a feeling that a lot of teenagers struggle with as they try to figure out who they are and how to fit in with the society around them. The fact he’s lasted this long in my imagination should be a pretty good indicator.

Ophelia is another favorite of mine. She is a lady just waiting for the opportunity to break out and be herself.

I initially created her just to be a romantic interest for Nem in Aggadeh Chronicles, but as I wrote out my notes about her—writing her backstory—she became a much more interesting character.

For one thing, she has a cache of dirty books that she has stolen from various private libraries she has visited. Someone of her social standing steals dirty books! The moment that came out, she went from being a side story to a main part of the story.

We get glimpses of Ophelia here and there in Nobody and Dragon. But we finally get to meet her for real in the third book of the Aggadeh Chronicles series, Oracle.

How long had Nem hung around in your head before you began writing a book about him? In that time how had your conception of his character change?

Nem has been bouncing around in my mind as a character since I was in my early teens. I only really started writing him into a story six years ago, so that’s a lot of time.

Nem as a person hasn’t changed too much. But his circumstances have. Originally Gahvel Nem, he was a street rat turning to thievery to survive. The street children in Balon are a homage to Nem’s original character. The Nem Aster that appears in Aggadeh Chronicles had an easier early life with a loving family and a home. But both are outcasts from society for various reasons. Gahvel because he was a thief, Nem because of his interactions with dragons. Both are the key to the survival of their worlds.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

There are so many, I don’t know where to begin! I’ve had to research so many oddball, weird, unsettling, creepy, and illegal things, I am sure the FBI has an extensive file on me. One that sticks out in my mind: codpieces.

Yes, the humble codpiece. The willy wallet, peter pouch, schamkapsul, etc. No, I do not have one nor do I ever intend to try one on, thank you. But it does make for a humorous scene…

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

I already knew how the industry worked when I decided to step up and write full time. My first career out of school was as a journalist. Because I always daydreamed about writing a book, I kept researching different publishers and the industry in general. So I was all over the publishing industry from one end to the other. I knew how things worked and what to expect.

My big mistake? I didn’t actually write that story.

I saw how the industry worked and how difficult it was to get something published. I also knew how long it would take me to write something. The investment in time was just something I couldn’t do. I had to write articles, find work, and try and earn money so I could just survive. There was no time for creative writing.

I struggled, getting nowhere, until I finally left the writing industry. Only then, unhappy in the last job I landed, did I actually start writing again.

It felt SOOOOOO good to finally open my mind and let all this stuff come flowing out! Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. Story after story began to dump out as I wrote everything down. At lunch on my Palm Pilot, on the train using my laptop, I just wrote and wrote. What amazed me was how little spare time I dedicated to writing and just how much I actually wrote! The notes for roughly five different stories totaling over 400,000 words.

At this point, I knew I was going to write a book.

The issue again became, “When?”

I left my last job and then spent all my time looking for a new job—there were none to be had. A friend popped up with a business opportunity and I jumped at it. There was no time for writing. We got off to a good start, but the economy pulled the rug out from under our feet.

As it came crashing down around me, I had no prospects for the future. It was only then that I came to the realization that the only thing I had left was to actually sit down and do what I had always dreamed about doing: actually write a book.

My advice to others:

Just WRITE!

Set aside some time for yourself for each day so you can just sit down and write a story without feeling guilty about not doing other things. Write because you enjoy writing the story, not because you have to. Don’t set a deadline by which you have to finish writing. That kind of pressure can kill off your creative urge. Instead, treat the writing sessions as a reward for getting other things done during the day. Enjoy the sensation of your fingers dancing on the keyboard as you watch the words appear on the screen.

Don’t worry if your writing is good or not. Just enjoy the story that is coming out of you and follow it to the end. You can fix the rough parts and the passive parts after you have finished the story. (It’s called editing!)

Just write!

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

It would affect my writing life immensely: I would build a house that is optimized for writing. I have a number of ideas for that, including outdoor writing places. Little nooks and crannies where you can have quiet conversations, share some tea or fine scotch with friends. Space enough to entertain friends and family for the holidays.

Whatever is left over I would invest in a dividend producing portfolio to generate income to pay the bills between books. (This is a whole other subject for new writers, delving into the business of being a writer, especially if you are self-published.)

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

This question would have been a lot easier had you asked what was my favorite book or what books influenced my own writing.

At the moment, I am reading Hunt’s Elements of the Mind and I am quite enjoying it. I really liked Hunt’s Dark Wing series and I am looking forward to the next installment in that series that he is working on right now. Hunt is a historian and his attention to the connections and details really weaves his stories together.

I am also reading Donna L. Armillei’s Shock of Fate. It’s her first book and that is always the toughest for a writer, especially when that first book is the first book in a series. Readers just don’t want to touch it until the whole story is complete. Donna has a great story idea aimed at the Young Adult audience, but I think readers of any age will enjoy it. You want to discover a new author? Buy Donna’s book and discover her for yourself!

What do you think you’re next project will be?

Oh, I don’t have to guess at the next project. I know what my next projects are.

At the moment, my primary focus is on the Aggadeh Chronicles series. I am now working on Oracle, the third book in the series and I’m pretty far along with the manuscript now. With the arrival of a new computer, I am aiming to have the manuscript finished by spring so we can finish the editing for a summer release. Much, much faster than the four-year wait readers had between books 1 and 2. (The delay the result of my earlier computer being destroyed in an accident. I had to borrow time on someone else’s computer to finish the manuscript. Four years! UGH!)

Another project I have is a science fiction under the working title of Privateer. The protagonist, shipwrecked in space by pirates, comes across a derelict ship in an uncharted star system in the far reaches of space. While the derelict has enough supplies that he could live out his lifespan, that is not what he intends to do. Can he repair the ship enough to get it moving again?

Another project I have is a fantasy titled The Science of Magic. It looks at magic in the modern age as a young man unexpectedly finds himself in the profession of magic.

Learn more about William on his web site.

Author Interview – Jeffrey Bardwell

For the penultimate interview of this year we’re back in the USA with epic fantasy & steampunkist Jeffrey Bardwell.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

My name is Jeffrey Bardwell and I write under that name. I was born in Virginia, but have bounced around the USA in the last decade or so. I write speculative fiction.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

My most recent project is developing my own secondary fantasy world: geography, cultures, history, the works. I call it the ‘Metal vs. Magic Universe’ and primarily focus on the conflicts between those who cast steel and those who cast spells. The latest book in one of the current ongoing series set in this universe is Hidden Revolt.

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In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

I mostly write epic fantasy steampunk. I love the wide breath of options, from the brimstone dragon reek to the shrill whistle of science.

I was in a discussion recently about what “steampunk” really means as a genre – what does it mean to you? What’s the difference between steampunk and fantasy (or even alternate history) set in a late 19th-century type environment?

Steampunk probably means something different to me than most authors. The genre classically hearkens to the Victorian Era, but my fictional evil steampunk empire is more Late Medieval Era. It’s second world fantasy, but a good analogue from our own history would be to ask what if the Dark Ages never happened and Rome just kept going and innovating machines and technology? There’s also a strong whiff of magic in the world in other countries, so gas lamp fantasy might be more accurate to denote a story that combines magic and metal. However, each element is championed by separate societies: the one character who combines an affinity for both in one person is condemned and outcast.

Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

First, I file the idea away for later. I typically have a backlog portfolio overflowing with ideas and after I select one, I try and get a feel for the main characters’ interweaving arcs. This builds into an outline ranging from minor notes to entire scenes. Then I write the first draft, intently micro revising the previous day’s work as I go.

Soon, latent themes begin to emerge. Often inspiration strikes at random and new, minor developments push off the beaten path as I’m writing. Despite all the exploration and improvisation, the overall map and the destination remain the same.

Once the initial draft is done, I send it to an editor and/or several beta readers. Editing is a two pass system: first, the story is examined for large-scale flaws such as narrative flow, character motivation, internal consistency, and tone. Once every scene is polished and every characterization nailed down, the second pass examines small-scale issues like spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

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Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

My favorite character is Styx, a tall automaton made from wood with brass fittings. His life truly begins when a young wizard finds his puppet body abandoned in the woods and accidentally-on-purpose gives him a soul. Styx has the innocent wonder of a child, but the down-to-earth nature of a wise, old man. He’s seen it all . . . he just wasn’t cognizant at the time.

First, is Styx named after the band or the river? Second, was he one of those ideas around which other things were built or was he a “minor note” that grew into something larger?

Styx is certainly undergoing a rite of passage throughout the series, so the allusion to the river from Greek mythology is appropriate. However, the true root of his name is just a childish misspelling of “Sticks,” the epithet after which the large wooden automaton names himself when he learns to think and speak. He is definitely a minor note whose gentle leitmotif is slowly rising with a strong crescendo.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

The weirdest subject was looking up the original programmable clockwork automata build by Heron of Alexandria, Jacques de Vaucanson, and Henri Maillardet. This research helped me to ground Styx’s designs and the hypothesize the functionality of mechanized armor. Though, to be fair, I would have looked in them eventually regardless. Clockwork robots are cool.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

Don’t neglect the actual time for writing among all the other trappings of a modern indie career. Outsource what you can when you can however often you can.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

I would use some of that money to buy ads for my series loss leaders and boxed sets, run those ads, and then take a vacation overseas, which would use up more of the money. Then, when I got home, I’d use a little more to hire a personal assistant. The rest I would invest in mutual funds, bonds, and real estate.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

Anything by Terry Pratchett.

What do you think you’re next project will be?

My next project will be taking my epic fantasy steampunk universe into space after fast forwarding the clock a millennium or two.

Check out Jeffrey on Amazon, Facebook, or at his website

Author Interview – Holly Evans

This time we head to the Emerald Isle for some words with fantasist Holly Evans.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

 I’m Holly Evans, an English expat with a love of blades, fae, and predators that hide in the shadows. I’m currently living in the Republic of Ireland. I write Urban Fantasy, mostly with LGBT+ casts, and mostly set in a huge fantasy kitchen sink world that I refer to as my Ink World.

Do your Ink World books tell an ongoing story or is it a shared universe with lots of separate stories going on?

I’m careful to keep the Ink World series separate so none of them spoil any of the others. If you look closely and read all of the books you’ll see there’s a larger arc there, but it’s kept far in the background. So really it’s more the latter, a shared universe with some overlapping locales and characters.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

Seers Stone is book one in a new series. It follows treasure-hunting alchemist Kaitlyn Felis. It’s something I’ve wanted to write for years. It’s a quick-paced, adventure-focused Urban Fantasy set in my Ink World. Kaitlyn’s a vibrant character who has such a lust for life, she’s amazing fun to play with.

In Seers Stone she takes a new job in Prague and is sent to retrieve the mythical Seers Stone for her new boss. That takes her across Europe and sees her in a lot of fun situations along the way.

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In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

 Urban Fantasy. It’s what I naturally write, I can’t imagine writing anything else. I love the mix of myth, magic, and mayhem, all set in the modern world. The idea that magic and adventure could be hiding just around the corner is too good to ignore. If you know which shadow to slip into, or which door to knock on, you can be transported into this amazing new world. How can I not love that?

 Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

 I don’t really have a set process. The idea gets written in my planning book. I’ll jot down broad strokes, scenes that pop into my head, and everything I can about the protagonist. That will involve lots of colour, my brain loves colour. That will sit and percolate in the back of my mind for a while, while I work on other things. When it’s time to write it I’ll return to my planning book and make more notes. They’re not usually too organized at that point, it’s lots of colour and notes on scenes that call to me. From there I’ll start pulling together an outline and then writing.

I tend to write roughly the first 10k pretty quickly, then I’ll pause, update my outline, and carry on. Once I hit the 20k mark I start wailing about how much I hate writing middles. I’ve started writing the endings before the middles as my ADD means I get bored and frustrated which leads to rushing the ending. So I’ll write the opening as much as I can, then the ending, then go back and gnash my teeth through writing the middle!

From there it goes over to my editor. I have a language-based learning disability, so my books require *a lot* of copy editing. My editor gives the draft a copy editing pass then a developmental pass. It’s rare that the developmental will call for anything more than tweaking a few sentences and expanding on a couple of scenes. Once I’ve done that (usually that takes me about 48 hours) it’ll go back to my editor for two more copy editing passes. I’ll then format it, and it goes on Amazon.

Have you ever had a situation where you wrote the beginning, wrote the ending, then in filling in the middle part decide that the ending you wrote doesn’t work anymore?

I came really close to needing to rewrite the end of one of my Infernal Hunt books. I wrote the book completely out of order from four different points. Fortunately the end only needed tweaking not a complete rewrite but it was a close call for a moment.

What’s your strategy for publishing a series (i.e., do you release each book as it comes, hold them all until the series is done, etc.)?

I release each book as they come in a series. I held onto the first three books of my first series so I could release them quickly, but after that I just release them when they’re done. I’d rather have regular releases than hold books back.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

 I’m so hopeless about picking favourites! I think that’s a tossup between Tyn and Kaitlyn. Tyn’s a secondary character in both my Ink Born and Hidden Alchemy series. He’s my broken little kitten. He’s a Cait Sidhe (a fae cat) with a really tragic backstory, he’s so snarky, and broken, but also sweet, fierce, and incredibly loyal.

Kaitlyn’s amazing fun. She has such a lust for life. She lives to have adventures, and she’s just so vibrant, so incredibly alive.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

 I don’t do much research for my writing. I have a pretty good knowledge-base of myths and such from spending my childhood and teenage years devouring everything I could find on that. I can’t think of anything to be honest.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

 If you want to make readers happy, you have to keep them in mind. I wrote some books that were for me under another name, and they didn’t make readers happy. Looking back, I can absolutely see why. It’s so easy to go, ‘well I’m an avid reader, of course I know what readers want!’ and then it turns out that well, actually…

I suppose that really comes down to why you write. I’m a storyteller, I write for my readers, so I want to make sure that I write books readers love. If you’re writing more for the pure love of writing, then do what makes you happy.

What’s the best way to find out what makes readers happy?

Ask them 😛 I survey my newsletter subscribers on a semi-regular basis and ask what they enjoy, what they want, etc. I try to offer as many methods for engagement and reader feedback as I can. Reading reviews, your own and those of bestsellers also helps a lot. You can look down the top 100 in your genre and read the reviews, positive and negative. You’ll see some trends.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

 My husband and I want to become digital nomads, if I won that money we’d pack our bags and start travelling the next day. I’d visit all these wonderful places I want to visit, and I’d put them all in my books.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

 I’m not normally an eRom reader, but a friend had a new book out that people were raving about so I picked up a copy. It was fantastic. Finn by Liz Meldon is exquisitely put together. I’m really impressed with how much character development she managed to pack into a little space.

What do you think your next project will be?

 I’m bouncing back and forth between the Ink Born series and the Hidden Alchemy series, so it’ll be whatever sequel is due along those lines. Right this very second that’s Ritual Ink (Ink Born 4). That being said I’m really tempted to start a third series in my Ink world, I’m weighing up the pros and cons right now.

Check out Holly’s blog here.