Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Author Interview: G G Collins

Here we are again. It's interview day! This week I've got G G Collins, author of Reluctant Medium, stepping up to the plate… er, sitting in the interview chair. Let's see what she has to say.


1. Please tell us about yourself.

When I'm not writing, I love to travel. I travel low to the ground, using public transit and staying in neighborhoods off the beaten track, especially when they have great indie hotels and restaurants. Some of my favorite places: Queen Anne in Seattle, Rue Cler in Paris, northwest Portland (the one in Oregon). Every week finds me at the movies. I see the good, the bad and the ugly (gosh, that sounds like a movie title). Usually I proclaim one or two movies truly good every year.

I hate to drive, love margaritas (especially at The Shed in Santa Fe), and despise shopping. Except at Jackalope (also in Santa Fe) where I can wander for hours. Don't forget the say hello to the prairie dogs. The "dogs" graciously played a role in helping my character find her brother.

And someday I hope to have my own apartment and save the world. Now I'll do my death-defying fire-breathing twirler dance.

2. What's the name of your newest or latest book and what's it about?

"Reluctant Medium" is a paranormal mystery.

Reporter Rachel Blackstone has a nose for news, but she never expected to be a newsmaker. While summoning her dead father with a Native American ceremony, an evil spirit slips through. Her efforts to return the spirit uncover a scam involving both the quick and the dead. Rachel discovers the wisdom of a Hopi shaman may help her, but she must discover her own power first or die trying.

3. Is this book part of a series or standalone?

"Reluctant Medium" is the first in the Rachel Blackstone series. It can stand alone.

"Lemurian Medium" is the next installment, scheduled for publication in June 2013.

In "Lemurian Medium" Rachel watches in horror and disbelief as a close friend disappears into a painting at a posh gallery in Santa Fe. Was the mysterious artist involved? Or was it just the run-of-the-mill haunting? Rachel must travel the astral plane to rescue her friend. Why she was lured to this strange land becomes more apparent as she learns about the ancient culture. Can she accomplish the rescue and return from the astral plane before cataclysmic events cut off escape? If not, she will be forever lost in the cosmos.

Returning from "Reluctant Medium" are best friend Chloe, the gang at "High Desert Country" magazine, her psychic cat and her spirit animal, the wolf.  

4. How long have you been writing?

Full time: about 20 years. I began writing press materials at a book publisher. Then I was offered my dream job of reporter. I began as a general reporter where I learned a little something about a lot of things--just enough to be dangerous! Later on, I was named Arts Editor. This was a great job because I could combine my love of the arts with writing. While doing this, I was invited to attend a Duke University dance critic fellowship sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. When I moved on, I picked up "Reluctant Medium" and completed it.

I've added two blogs to the mix. One is "Reluctant Medium at Large in Santa Fe" which is a companion to the book. We explore the metaphysical, walk around Santa Fe, learn about the city's ghosts and just have fun.

The other is a general reporting blog called "Parallel Universe: Perspectives at Large" that includes interviews, reviews, reporting and commentary. I just couldn't give up the serious side of writing. A sampling: comment on Newtown, movie review, interviews with creative people, water shortage in the US, a new series on staying local while traveling and health related articles.

I can't imagine doing anything else.

5. >From where or whom do you draw inspiration?

From odd places. I tend to be an eclectic reader. I ran across the Native American ceremony to return the dead while reading. Couldn't stop asking: What if the wrong spirit returned? My library is filled with metaphysical books and I enjoy watching TV shows such as "Ancient Aliens," "Ancient Discoveries," and anything on the Bermuda Triangle, the Dragon's Triangle, ley lines and power centers. I never miss "Supernatural!" I'm a Jensen Ackles fan. Currently, I'm researching astral projection, Mesoamerican deities and the lost continent of Lemuria. During my reporting days, I participated in a ghost hunt with serious investigators. It's all fodder for stories.

6. What advice would you give new or aspiring writers?

Write, write, write. You can't become a writer without putting your butt in the chair and hammering out words. Over and over. Read a variety of books and use them as lessons in style. You will develop your own style as you study what other writers do with their words. Early on, it doesn't hurt to go to writing conferences or belong to a critique group--as long as it's a kind group. But mostly beginning writers go to these to get the fundamentals and move on. You don't want to become stuck with the wannabes.

I highly recommend reporting for a weekly or daily publication as a great way to learn your craft. Deadlines have a way of pushing a writer to learn fast. If you work for a weekly you'll be writing 3 to 5 stories a week, depending on length. You'll learn to manage your time. Schedule your interviews during the first half of the week if you expect to meet that Friday morning deadline. Reporting tweaks your research and interviewing skills which you'll likely need for fiction books--and definitely need for nonfiction.

If you aren't the reporting type, set your own deadlines--then keep them. If you have trouble beginning your book, write scenes you already have outlined on paper or in your mind. Just write. No excuses.

7. Who do you see as your ideal reader?

Probably female, but I have received good reviews from three men (thanks guys!). "Reluctant Medium" readers will enjoy exploring the paranormal. My story does include some mild horror effects--but if you read Stephen King, you've got nothing to fear from my horror elements. It's also funny (one reviewer said "laugh out loud funny") and it has a great friendship at its core between the two lead characters that readers like. Reviewers have also said after reading "Reluctant Medium" they want to visit Santa Fe. I'll try to keep that local color coming. Still others have expressed an interest in the reporting aspects as Rachel does her job, and the spirit animal who becomes an ally.

8. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a planner or outliner?

In reporting you don't have time to outline. I keep most of it in my head, but do write the highlights down. But it's nothing detailed. I know some writers create lengthy outlines, character descriptions, background information. To me, by the time I did all that, I could have a finished book. I enjoy the surprises my characters spring on me. But really, there are as many methods to writing a book as there are writers. Do what works for you.

For research, I'll read a couple books on the subject, use a lot of sticky notes to mark what I want to use. I also check out Web sites for additional information. I'll be doing more research for my third book "Atomic Medium" in which Rachel will time travel to the 1940s US during WWII. I want to get the details correct. No cell phones! No computers! Get out the slide rule--what?!

9. Some people feel indie authored books are of lesser quality than those that go through the traditional publishers. Do you agree with them? If so, how can independent authors raise the bar and remove this stigmatism?

Of course I don't agree. Having worked for a publisher, I have some insight. Even when we expressly asked an author to submit his/her manuscript, it might lie around for months. Then one day, with the editors and publishers in a tizzy, we'd receive word that everything was to be returned with the standard rejection letter. Not fair! But that's what can happen. 

Publishers often have a connection to a group of writers (probably they were in writing groups with them), or their connections can be political or business. Where do you think stories you see on your local TV news or newspaper comes from? People the reporters, editors, camera operators know or know about. You meet a lot of people in the news business and if you keep a good contact list, it's not difficult to come up with an expert or someone who has the disease of the week.

The submissions process is so antiquated many good manuscripts slip through the cracks. There are biases for and against young writers, middle-age writers, "older" writers, women's books, men's books; not another book on unicorns! People run publishing companies and they each have their own ideas of what makes a good book--if they even get around to reading the manuscripts on their desk, the floor, the closets, the hallways....

The best way to increase respect is to write well. Prove them wrong. If we each write to the best of our ability--wherever we happen to be in our creative evolvement--then we have contributed to raising that bar. Have your manuscript edited professionally. It's difficult to catch all of our own errors, as many of you already know. And just to go on record: Not every book a bricks and mortar publisher releases is a well-edited, well-constructed, interesting book worthy of several hours of a person's life. We've all read books and scratched our heads over a deplorable editing job.

10. Any pets? If so, tell us what role they play in your writing, if any.

Yes, my character has a cat. She is inspired by a cat I had until a few years ago. Now she's waiting at the Rainbow Bridge, but I can enjoy her every day as I write about her in "Reluctant Medium." She's psychic of course, but not reluctant about it.

11. Which retailers or others sites can readers find your work at?

Amazon

Blogs:

http://reluctantmediumatlarge.wordpress.com/

http://paralleluniverseatlarge.wordpress.com/

12. Where can readers find out more about you?

G G Collins can be found lurking on Shelfari, Goodreads, Library Thing and Book Blogs. You can see for yourself my, sometimes weird, reading material. I write a book review from time to time and check in with my favorite threads. See you there!


Working as a general reporter is one of the most educational jobs. Where most people specialize in a specific area, it’s the job of a reporter to ask questions, learn quickly and write even faster about many subjects. In one day, you can cover a fundraiser for MS research, meet an entertainer in town for a weekend performance and attend a press conference for a local brewery. The next day, it’s the new heart center at a hospital, getting a first grader’s take on saving a  historical building and welcoming the new sharks at the aquarium.

The result of thousands of interviews, press conferences and performances is that journalists learn a little bit about many things. It was Alexander Pope who wrote, “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” He also authored in the same poem: “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” That could be applied to reporters as well, many of whom rush to breaking news sites that could be the results of a terrorist attack, a landing hurricane or a bank robbery.

So is this woman dangerous? Only to the characters in her book, or is she…?


Author Interview: Tanya J. Peterson

This time around I've got Tanya J. Peterson, author of Leave of Absence, in the interview chair. Let's take a look at what she has to say.


1. Please tell us about yourself.

Hmmm… Where to start? This is perhaps the most difficult question of this interview! I don’t feel overly comfortable talking about myself, and in verbal conversations, while I don’t blatantly ignore people when they ask personal questions (that would be quite rude!) I usually catch myself steering the conversation away from myself. Given that you and your readers are actually interested in knowing something about the authors you’re interviewing, though, I probably shouldn’t avoid this question! (For the record, I am very happy to answer these questions. I’m excited to connect with readers, so thank you so much for doing this, Scott!)

It’s probably obvious by now that I’m a bit of an introvert. I’m an active one, though. I love the outdoors, especially hiking, camping (tent, of course), kayaking, biking (mountain and street), and snowshoeing. I love these for the peaceful feeling they bring. I enjoy them in solitude and with my family – my husband and two kids, age 16 and 11. I also love quiet family evenings at home, playing board games, reading, and watching movies.

Beyond that, I’ve been a high school teacher and a counselor. Most recently, I worked at a school for homeless and runaway adolescents. What a fantastic bunch of students! I was amazed by them every day: the challenges they faced and the steps they had to take to get an education to make a better life for themselves was very inspirational. I’ve also volunteered in various settings as a counselor to help people help themselves.

I have a passion for helping people find emotional well-being and for helping people thrive while struggling with mental illness. Perhaps I feel so strongly about it because I have a somewhat unique (but I seriously doubt that I’m the only person on the planet with this particular combination of experiences) background that I bring to my writing. I’ve experienced mental illness from both sides of the proverbial couch. After sustaining a traumatic brain injury in a car accident in 2004 plus two subsequent concussions, I was in and out of a behavioral health hospital across a period of five years. I dealt with multiple mental health diagnoses. While I’m better today (proof that things, no matter how bad they are at the time, do improve), I do still have lingering effects. No one is “cured” of mental illness, but people can get better.

So therein lies the focus of my writing. One of the most difficult things that I faced was the stigma associated with mental illness. I feel strongly that if people understand what various mental illnesses really are (and they’re all different), then people can empathize. Stereotypes need to be eradicated. Understanding and empathy breed compassion and connection. For me, the best way to do this is through novels. There are many wonderful non-fiction books on mental illness and mental health that do a fabulous job of explaining such things. I want to show the human side (as opposed to the clinical aspect) of mental health issues, though, so I write novels.

2. What's the name of your newest or latest book and what's it about?

My newest book is entitled Leave of Absence. It’s about an utterly bereft man, Oliver Graham, who absolutely cannot cope with the traumatic loss of his wife and young son. He is lonely for them, and he blames himself for their deaths. (He kind of has a reason to blame himself, but not entirely so. I wonder if readers will blame him!) After a failed suicide attempt, he ends up at Airhaven Behavioral Health Center where he meets Penelope Baker, a fellow patient wrestling with schizophrenia and the devastating impact it’s had on her life. Penelope is engaged, but she doesn’t think it’s fair to her fiancé William to continue the engagement because certainly she’s no longer loveable. Both Oliver and Penelope struggle to discover a reason to live while William strives to convince her that they can make a life together despite her illness. As Oliver and Penelope try to achieve emotional stability, face others who have been part of their lives, and function in the “real world,” they discover that human connection may be reason enough to go on.

3. Is this book part of a series or standalone?

This book stands alone. I do intend to write may more novels that address mental health issues, but they’ll all be independent of each other.

4. How long have you been writing?

Officially, I’m just beginning my career as a novelist. Last year, I published a young adult novel (entitled Losing Elizabeth). I actually wrote it years ago, however. I published it because I wanted to bring awareness to the impacts of abusive relationships and because I needed a tool to figure out this wild world of professional writing and publishing. I’ve learned much, including the fact that I absolutely love writing novels and that I want to continue to do so for a long time.

Unofficially, I’ve been writing for most of my life. My parents have a picture of me at age three putting magnetic letters on a metal writing board. I remember writing a story in second grade about animals in nature. I worked on it every spare minute I had. No one ever knew about it, though, because I was too afraid of ridicule to share it with anyone. I tried writing a play for a contest in eighth grade, and my language arts teacher actually selected it for submission. However, I’m not a playwright at all and don’t ever intend to be (kudos to those who can do it!). I doubt it even made it past the first round of whatever contest it was. For a long time, I was content to write papers for school, both creative works and formal research-type papers. In high school, college, and, later, graduate school, I was one of those weird people who loved papers and essay tests. Now, I’d much rather write novels!

5. From where or whom do you draw inspiration?

I draw inspiration from life and my various experiences. Leave of Absence is completely fiction, as is Losing Elizabeth. However, in both my professional and personal life, I’ve seen pain and triumph. I feel connected to people and the experiences they have, and I want to write in a way that (hopefully) causes others to feel that, too.

6. What advice would you give new or aspiring writers?

Definitely, write what you’re passionate about. Find what inspires you, and use your spark to ignite a fire. Don’t try to be the “next” anybody. Be the first you. No matter your genre of choice, your enthusiasm for your area will add depth to your stories.

Also, believe in yourself. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but from age seven (or whatever age I was in second grade) through adulthood, I was too afraid of failure to really follow my dreams. Who knows where I’d be today if I’d taken the risk long ago? That said, I have no regrets, for my life experience has brought a richness to my writing that otherwise wouldn’t be there. I’m only in my forties. It’s never too late to begin anything!

7. Who do you see as your ideal reader?

I’m hoping that people struggling with mental illness will find out about my book and read it. I’d like them to feel that they’re not alone. I also hope that caregivers, friends, and family members of those suffering from mental illness will enjoy Leave of Absence. I think they’ll be able to relate to William.

This may be a lofty goal, but I can see this being read and discussed in psychology classes and counselor-education programs. In such classes, my teachers/professors often had us read things other than textbooks to increase our understanding. I wrote Leave of Absence to help eradicate stereotypes and to really show what schizophrenia, complicated mourning, depression, and loss are like – not the clinical definitions, but what they feel like. This could help psychology students understand mental illness on a personal level and allow counseling students to discuss treatment approaches.

Of course, Leave of Absence is general contemporary fiction. I’m hoping that anyone looking for an emotional, character-driven story will give it a try!

8. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a planner or outliner?

For me, novel writing is most definitely a process! I need to have a general feel for the story: first and foremost, who is it about and what are his/her struggles? Next, I think, “Okay. So what?” I need to be able to answer that question so my story has a purpose rather than just stumbling on from one scene to the next. Before I begin writing, I need to know, generally, where the story is going to end up. That’s not to say that I have the exact ending and every single scene planned before I begin. No way! Writing is too complex for that. The story evolves continually as I write it, so I don’t know exactly how it will end up, but I do know the general direction in which it is going.

I have a confession: I absolutely love binders. I use them for everything, including writing novels. Those colorful divider tabs are really fun, and I have sections for all sorts of notes and thoughts: the general outline, specific chapter outlines, characterization, research notes, general ideas – things like that. I’m constantly adding to it and referring to it as I write. And throughout the writing process, I’m always assessing where I’ve been and where I want to go. Good novels are “tight,” intentional. There should be a logical connection between events, and every conversation, every detail should have a greater purpose. For me, there’s no way to achieve that other than through planning with lots of room for creative flow and adjustment. (Maybe that’s partially my love of writing papers and essays in school coming out!)

9. Are you a "write every day of the week" sort of writer or do you take days off?

I love to write, and ideally while writing a novel write every single day. Sometimes that’s not realistic given all the other demands of life, but I write almost every day. I do my best work in the morning. When I was writing Leave of Absence, I’d get up at least by 5:00 and get a few uninterrupted hours of writing in before the hectic activities of the day began. I get into a flow when I write; it’s good for my well-being, so I try to do it daily.

10. What are your thoughts on writers paying for reviews as John Locke is reported to have done?

It depends. There are some professional review services that do charge a fee. The fee is for a guaranteed honest review, though, not for a guaranteed glowing review. Money spent on these does not mean that a writer is buying a good review. Sometimes writers end up paying for a review that ends up being horrible.

Paying for a professional service without guaranteed results is okay. However, paying readers to give good reviews is, in my opinion, a really bad thing to do. It’s dishonest, for one thing. When someone reads reviews to decide if he/she wants to purchase a book, it’s unethical if those reviews are skewed. And, equally poor is the fact that I think it discredits the writer. When people read my reviews, I want them to know that all of the reviews are authentic. If someone happens to give Leave of Absence a good review, it’s because they genuinely liked the book, not because I paid them to give praise. Additionally, bad reviews, while I don’t love them of course, are helpful. They provide feedback that I can use to improve my next novels.

Bottom line: I would no more buy a good review than I would have bought an “A” on a paper in school.

11. Any pets? If so, tell us what role they play in your writing, if any.

My daughter has a chinchilla, and my son has a Russian tortoise. I love these little creatures, but they don’t have a role in my writing.

There is a stray cat that hangs out occasionally under our porch. My son named him Johixilan (I don’t know why). He has a cameo appearance in Leave of Absence!

12. Assuming you have an active blog, point readers to a post of which you're especially proud or think will be of particular interest to them.

I do have an active blog; however, it is just getting off the ground and only has a few posts. I’d love visitors and comments. It’s on my website: www.tanyajpeterson.com/blog. It’s a mental-health-related blog that incorporates discussions of Leave of Absence as well as other thoughts and musings. It’s a work in progress, and I only hope that it evolves into a place that people enjoy.

13. I made some predictions for the ePublishing industry for 2013 (http://www.scottmarlowe.com/post/ePub...). Do you think any of them will come true?

I think you have good insight into publishing trends. I can see amazon continuing to attempt to crush all competition and to hurt many authors in the process. I also believe that the Big 6 of the traditional publishing industry is scrambling to keep up with the changing times. They are rather reactionary, and I can see them lowering their prices to stay relevant. Interesting that here they’re watching the indie “industry” and following its trends. Regarding the end to the indie boom that you predict, I agree that this will begin to occur for the very reasons you articulate: after trying it, many writers may realize that it’s not for them because ROI (return on investment) is minimal if it even exists at all. While the “boom” may come to an end, though, I don’t think that indie publishing in general is at an end. On the contrary, I think it’s going to increase and that the quality is only going to increase with it. For people who truly want to continue to write professionally, the independent path can be a great way to go. I agonized for quite some time about whether I wanted to pursue the traditional publishing route or the independent route. There are pros and cons to each, but after talking to many different people (traditionally published authors, indie authors, and even agents) and doing a lot of reading about both paths, I purposely chose to go the indie route. I think others have done the same and will continue to do so. So perhaps while the days of anyone throwing any type of book, no matter the quality, will come to an end, the rise of the serious, established indie author is beginning to take place.

14. Which retailers or others sites can readers find your work at?

Thanks for asking! Right now Leave of Absence is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com., and powells.com. It’s also available in small bookstores in Oregon. Of course it’s available in electronic form, too, and is available for the Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iReader. Readers with these devices can buy it the way they buy other books for their e-readers.

15. Where can readers find out more about you?

I have a website and a blog: www.tanyajpeterson.com. I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tanyajpeterson and Twitter at www.twitter.com/tanyajpeterson1 (or @tanyajpeterson1). Technically, I do have a Pinterest account (www.pinterest.com/tanyajpeterson), but shamefully, that one’s pretty empty right now because I’m still figuring out what to do on it. I have little talent when it comes to anything visual, so a site that is entirely visual scares me a bit.

I love it when people visit any of my sites, and I especially love it when people leave comments or questions. I like it when conversations happen, so I’m really hoping that my sites will grow into communities where people visit and talk about things.


TanyaPetersonTanya J. Peterson holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education, Master of Science in counseling, and is a Nationally Certified Counselor.  She has been a teacher and a counselor in various settings, including a traditional high school and an alternative school for homeless and runaway adolescents, and she has volunteered her services in both schools and communities.  She draws on her life experience as well as her education to write stories about the emotional aspect of the human condition.  She has published Losing Elizabeth, a young adult novel about an abusive relationship, Challenge!, a short story about a person who finds the confidence to overcome criticism and achieve a goal, and a book review of Linley and Joseph’s Positive Therapy: A Meta-Theory for Positive Psychological Practice that appeared in Counseling Today, the national publication of the American Counseling Association.

Author Interview: Steven J. Carroll

This week I sit down with Steven J. Carroll, author of In the Window Room.


1. Please tell us about yourself.

My name is Steven J Carroll. I'm predominantly a Middle-Grade author as far as content goes, but my writing style tends to be a little "wordy", so I like to think of myself as both a Middle-Grade and YA author. I live in Southern California, and I've authored three novels, thus far: Two science-fiction fantasy novels written for the series which I'm calling The Histories of Earth, and one southern crime fiction set in 1940's Arkansas, called The Road to Jericho.

2. What's the name of your newest or latest book and what's it about?

My latest book is called, A Prince of Earth. It is set about fifty years after the first book in the series, and is twice as long and, I think, twice as intense as the first book. The basic plot revolves around a boy, Timothy Hayfield, who is in the beginning of the story forced to stay with his grandmother in Mayfield, England for the summer. And while there, he discovers that his grandmother had been keeping amazing secrets hidden from the family, which in turn sends him on a daring adventure. This is decidedly my most exciting novel to date, and a very good read, if you happen to like Middle-Grade fantasy books. 

3. Is this book part of a series or standalone?

A Prince of Earth is book 2 in The Histories of Earth series.

4. How long have you been writing?

I've been a recording songwriter since 2003 (search Steve Carroll on iTunes), and an author since 2011.  

5. From where or whom do you draw inspiration?

I think that depends on which book I'm writing: For The Histories of Earth series my inspiration is drawn in a large part from writers like - Jewels Verne, H.G. Wells, and C.S. Lewis. And for The Road to Jericho, my inspiration mostly came from Mark Twain. 

6. What advice would you give new or aspiring writers?

Writing is hard, but it's fun if you make it so.

You have to write everyday, or try to.

You have to take a lot of criticism, even if you're a decent author, because someone will always dislike you.

Half written books are not worth anything. Unedited books are not finished books.

Write what you love, or what you feel like you must write about.

And... don't always be "the writer" to your friends, just because people know you personally and may like you, that doesn't mean they will like your writing. And very often you'll find that most of your friends won't read period, it may have nothing to do with you or your book, maybe they just aren't readers, and you won't magically make them all readers, just because you've finished a book. Try not to let that bother you. Everyone is different, not everyone will love what you love. 

7. Who do you see as your ideal reader?

I recently received a review from an eleven year old girl. She said that she enjoyed my book, and would recommend it to other eleven year olds. But then again I've had great reviews from women and men over fifty. So I would say that my ideal reader would be anyone who appreciates imaginative children's stories, and who also is not driven away by long sentences. 

8. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a planner or outliner?

No, I usually I don't plan my novels out. And I find that to be very freeing and helpful for spontaneous storytelling.  However, sometimes after penning the first few chapter I can see the general arc of the story, and I will have a basic idea of how it might end... but I try not to keep that "in stone", in case something better comes up.

Also, I think I have to add that I first literally write out all of my novel in a writing journal, before I type them into the computer. Very often, I find that this helps me to run at least two drafts in my head first, before I put it into any concrete form, and this seems to make for better writing, at least for me.   

9. Are you a "write every day of the week" sort of writer or do you take days off?

I'll very often take Sundays, or the weekend off. This helps to preserve my marriage, and also I think that the principle of a Sabbath has been lost on our modern culture, and people would be much better off if they learned to rest every now and then.

10. What are your thoughts on writers paying for reviews as John Locke is reported to have done?

I'm sure writers and publishing houses have been paying for reviews for decades, and this is probably not a new thing, or something we can ever really stop.

11. Some book reviewers won't accept independently authored books for review. What are your thoughts on that? Are they missing out?

I would say that most reviews should only accept independent books for review. Traditionally published books will all get reviews for their books, and they will likely be well reviewed and recommended, but independent books don't have the same push behind them. So, yes, I believe they are missing out.

12. Some people feel indie authored books are of lesser quality than those that go through the traditional publishers. Do you agree with them? If so, how can independent authors raise the bar and remove this stigmatism?

Independently authored books suffer from a "lack of eyes". Most indie authors go at it alone, but I feel they should at least hire a basic proof reader to be safe, and this will automatically raise their quality. Also, indie authors need to hire professional designers, and this is a must. Just doing those two things should make an indie book and a traditional book basically indistinguishable from one another.

And Amazon is the great equalizer. If an indie book is well written and has good design, then no one will ever question its validity. All shelf space on Amazon is exactly the same, if it sells, it gets pushed higher, so whether it's indie or traditional it doesn't matter.

13. Assuming you have an active blog, point readers to a post of which you're especially proud or think will be of particular interest to them.

5 Disney Rules for Children's Literature 

14. Which retailers or others sites can readers find your work at?

Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com 

15. Where can readers find out more about you?

stevenjcarroll.com


Steven J Carroll is the author of The Histories of Earth series and The Road to Jericho. For ten years, he has been an indie songwriter.

In 2011, after being inspired by fellow SoCal author Toby Hoff, Steven J Carroll began to write a book of his own. Which became In the Window Room (Book 1 of The Histories of Earth), a novel about the adventures of young troublemaker, and the fantastic journey she finds in a mysterious old house.

His second novel, The Road to Jericho, is a southern Americana crime story, about a boy and his dog in 1940's Arkansas.

The sequel to In the Window Room, called A Prince of Earth, is on sale now.

Steven currently lives in Southern California with his wife, Breanna.


Author Interview: SL Vail

This week I sit down with SL Vail, author of Act Locally, "a twisted little jaunt through a small southern town that plays kick-the-can with all things sacred". Hmm, sounds interesting. Let's get to the interview.


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1. Please tell us about yourself.

I’m not really comfortable talking about myself. I don’t think that’s an unusual trait among writers, and it may well be one of the drivers behind the creative impulse. Truth feels safer when it’s filtered through your characters.

2. What's the name of your newest or latest book and what's it about?

My most recent (and first) book is Act Locally, a dark comedy about good intentions gone bad. It’s an ensemble story told in alternating scenes featuring

  • Sera, who wants to change the world so she starts a chapter of Save the Earth’s Natural Resources (SENR) in her small hometown of Limax Trace;
  • Pet, who wants to change her life so she joins SENR against her evangelist father’s wishes;
  • Johnny and Darcy, who want to change the fact that there's nothing to do in this backwater town, so they start playing eco-ninja;
  • Walker, a one-armed blues guitarist;
  • Cesar, his autocratic Manx cat; and
  • Walker’s brother Jackson, a right-wing judge.

Act Locally examines how species interrelate and react to change in their environment. Humans often respond to uncertainty with fear (and its malignant offspring, aggression). Whether it’s good luck or bad, we want to find the reason it happened. Act Locally is about the randomness that surrounds and terrifies us.

3. Is this book part of a series or standalone?

Standalone … although I am planning another book set in the town of Limax Trace.

4. How long have you been writing?

About 25 years, but not steadily. I’ve taken several lengthy breaks, including one break of almost a decade when my children were younger.

5. From where or whom do you draw inspiration?

That’s a hard question! I have catholic interests, so who can say where the germ of an idea forms? Certainly I read a variety of fiction and nonfiction, and I listen to podcasts on a wide range of subjects (science, philosophy, economics, politics, comedy…). I think cross-pollination is key to creativity. The more open you are, the more broad your experience, the more likely you are to make an unexpected connection.

On the other hand, it may just be that my shower has mystical powers -- I do a lot of my best thinking in there. The person who invents the waterproof laptop will make a fortune.

6. What advice would you give new or aspiring writers?

Recognize that writing is yeoman’s work, more trade than art. No muse can overcome shoddy workmanship, so invest energy in mastering the fundamentals.

7. Who do you see as your ideal reader?

Readers who enjoy dark comedy: people who are smart and funny, who consider everything and nothing sacred. It also helps if they have a large amount of disposable income, poor impulse control and my website’s “Buy Now!” page set as the homepage on their browser.

8. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a planner or outliner?

I’m more of a ruminant, actually. I get an idea and chew on it for a while … sometimes a long, long while. I make notes, go off on tangents, and essentially generate the entire story in my head. Once I feel it has a bit of shape about it, I create a basic outline, plugging in key notes about the scenes. I don’t document every last detail … I just want to get the skeleton in place.

I understand the value of this advance work, and more careful scheduling would probably make me more productive on a daily basis. But I’m wary of overly meticulous planning … it can be a way to avoid writing. I also think rigid adherence to an outline that maps out the most minute details can result in stilted, predictable work.

9. Any pets? If so, tell us what role they play in your writing, if any.

Many pets. Far too many pets, some would say.

Animals play a huge role in my life so they do have a role in my fiction. In Act Locally, a Manx cat is a key character. A significant portion of the book is told from his point of view. The book I’m currently writing, Death Blows, involves a person caught in a dimension that is neither life nor death. Cats, with their nine lives, are frequent visitors.

I’m not entirely sure why cats feature so prominently in my work. They’re vexing, unpredictable creatures, but I suppose that’s what makes them interesting.

(And with that, we come full circle :)

10. Where can readers find your work?

  • My website, Slvail.com
  • Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all major e-book vendors
  • Smashwords
  • Goodreads

11. Where can readers find out more about you?


SL Vail writes dark comedy and absurdist fiction for teens and adults. Born in North Carolina, she now lives in northern New Mexico with her family and far more animals than strictly necessary.

Although cats insinuate themselves into her writing, she's actually more of a dog person.

 


Author Interview: Cora Buhlert

I welcome Cora Buhlert to the blog today. Cora is a very prolific writer and, judging by the fact that she answered all of my questions (including the optional ones), an obvious over-achiever. :-) She stops by to tell us about her new novelette, Insomnia, as well as her viewpoints on her ideal readers, her writing habits, and her thoughts on the perception some may have towards indie published authors.


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1. Please tell us about yourself.

My name is Cora Buhlert. I live in Bremen in North Germany, but I write primarily in English. When I'm not writing, I work as a translator and English teacher.

2. What's the name of your newest or latest book and what's it about?

The title of my latest book is Insomnia. It's a novelette and it's about a banker named Marc Taylor who suddenly finds himself unable to sleep shortly after moving into a new apartment. At first, he quite enjoys the additional time his chronic insomnia gives him. But as the weeks wear on, Marc craves nothing more than sleep. However, neither his doctor nor his therapist are able to help him. Even worse, his bizarre nocturnal habits are alarming the neighbours. And in those long sleepless nights, Marc gradually begins to suspect that his new neighbours are hatching a nefarious plan to get rid of him.

Paranoia is a well known consequence of chronic insomnia. But that Marc is paranoid doesn't necessarily mean that his neighbours aren't really out to get him. Or does it?

3. Is this book part of a series or standalone?

It's a standalone. No potential for a sequel either, because… well, you'll have to read it to find out.

4. How long have you been writing?

I've been making up stories for almost as long as I've been alive. Eventually, I started to write them down. I made my first attempts at writing sometime in elementary school (thankfully lost to the tides of time), but I didn't start writing in earnest until I was in my teens and didn't get serious about writing until university.

5. From where or whom do you draw inspiration?

I draw inspiration from everywhere. Events that happened to me or to other people, things I saw on the street, lines overheard on the tram or at school, dreams, books I read, films and TV programs I watched, songs I heard on the radio, pictures I saw somewhere. Anything at all can be potential spark of inspiration.

For example, Insomnia was sparked by an online generator that created faux covers for French literary novels. I played around with this generator a bit and eventually got a cover and title combination I really liked, so I started writing a story to go with it. I added in a few experiences with gossipy or just plain weird neighbours, a bit of rampant paranoia and suddenly had a psychological suspense novelette. Very little of the original spark of inspiration remains, for I couldn't use the generated cover, though the current cover is similar. The title changed, too, because the title I generated ("The insomnia of the oranges") was lovely, but did not fit what the story eventually turned into.

6. What advice would you give new or aspiring writers?

Read a lot, write a lot, look at every bit of writing or craft advice you can find and figure out what works for you.

7. Who do you see as your ideal reader?

Myself. Because I am the only reader I know I can please. Of course, I always hope that someone else, preferably many someone elses, will enjoy my books, too. But I don't think of any ideal reader when I write. I mainly write to entertain myself.

I'm not a big fan of demographic targeting anyway. First of all, sorry marketers, it rarely works all that well. How many times have we heard of books, films or TV shows, that were designed to appeal to young men, but turned out to be hugely popular among older women instead or vice versa? In the case of films and TV shows, this realisation is followed by frantic attempts to adjust the product to the desired target audience, while completely ignoring the audience it already has. The end result is usually a TV show or film that nobody wants to watch, because it tried to pander to everybody.

For example, my historical short story Under the Knout is – at least going by the also-boughts – popular among readers of fetish erotica. Did I expect this? No, and in fact I sometimes worry that the erotica readers will be disappointed, because there is no sex in Under the Knout and while there is a whipping scene, it's not erotic. Nonetheless, I'm glad that the story is finding readers, even if they are a bit different from what I expected.

8. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a planner or outliner?

I've never been an outliner or much of a planner, to be honest. When I dive into the story I mostly have some idea of what is going to happen and sometimes even how the story is going to end, but I can't plot out everything in detail beforehand, because that would mean that I promptly lose interest, because I already told the story. Instead I just dive in and start writing the scene that is most vivid in my mind (usually but not always the opening scene) and see where it takes me. For longer works, i.e. novellas and novels, there eventually comes a point approx. two thirds to three quarters through the manuscript where I have to organise everything I've written to date. Then I get out a pack of index cards, jot down notes on scenes written and scenes I've yet to write, figure out the order they go in and write whatever it still missing. For short stories and novelettes I can usually keep it all in my head.

In general, I believe that everybody must find their own best method of writing. All writers are different and just because I don't outline doesn't mean that outlining won't be beneficial for some other writer.

9. Are you a "write every day of the week" sort of writer or do you take days off?

I write every day, including weekends, holidays, vacations and so on. I think it's important to make writing a part of your daily routine. Besides, writing every day keeps the story fresh in my mind and makes it easier to dive right back in.

10. What are your thoughts on writers paying for reviews as John Locke is reported to have done?

I think it's dishonest and ruins whatever credibility reviews might have had. In Locke's case, it's even worse, because John Locke peddled his "How to sell one million e-books" book in which he supposedly revealed the secrets of his success to other authors. Only that he "forgot" to mention that paying for reviews and a whole lot of them at that was a crucial part of his strategy for success.

I may not have a whole lot of reviews, but at least I came by mine honestly.

11. Do you think retailer rating/review systems are broken? If so, any suggestions on how to fix them?

Ratings and reviews are a good idea in principle, because they help customers to decide what to buy. But the system clearly is broken in many ways, as evidenced by the recent scandals about paid reviews, sockpuppets, malicious negative reviews, hundreds of reviews on books released a few days ago, reviews that are basically senseless spam and the like.

The rating system is broken as well, because anything that does not have an average of four stars or higher is automatically viewed as low quality and excluded from many of the big promo sites. I never reviewed a whole lot, but in my pre-indie days I gave three-star reviews to books I had enjoyed, but that simply weren't all that memorable. Four stars were reserved for books that were pretty damn good and five stars for exceptionally good books. But since going indie, I learned that a three star review actually harms more than it helps, because it might hurt an author's chance of getting his book featured on one of the big promo sites. And a system where a three star review can hurt a book definitely is broken.

How can we fix these issues? Well, if I knew the solution, I'd be working at Amazon or B&N. That said, restricting reviews on retail sites to registered users who have actually bought the book in question might be a good idea. And if a reader got the book as a gift or bought it in a brick and mortar store, they can still review at Goodreads or their own blog, just not at a retail site.

Putting on my reader hat for a moment, maybe we should make reviews just one component in our buying decision instead of the deciding factor. For example, here are books that even the best reviews in the world will never induce me to read, because the genre, subject matter, etc… don't appeal to me. There have been books that got horrible reviews that I enjoyed a whole lot and well reviewed books that I didn't. There even are certain review sites whose tastes are so diametrically opposed to mine that I take a glowing review there as a warning to stay away from this book/film/TV show and a negative review as a recommendation to check it out.

12. Some book reviewers won't accept independently authored books for review. What are your thoughts on that? Are they missing out?

I think they are missing out, but that's their problem, not mine. Generally, I take a sanguine view towards reviewers who won't accept any indie books at all or any books of this or that genre or any books without a certain number of reviews or a certain number of recommendations on Goodreads or whatever. It's their site and their choice of what they will or will not review. Nothing I can say or do will make those people change their policies. If a site or reviewer does not want me, I'll simply find someone who does.

However, I suspect that the high number of reviews and high average rating required by some of the bigger sites, before they even allow you to buy an ad, has contributed to the paying for reviews problem.

13. Some people feel indie authored books are of lesser quality than those that go through the traditional publishers. Do you agree with them? If so, how do we collectively raise the bar and remove this stigmatism?

The problem with indie authored books is that the spectrum is huge. And the indie books at the very bottom of the spectrum really are much worse than books by traditional publishers. Because books by traditional publishers still adhere to a minimum standard of quality. Even the worst traditionally published books will have been edited, copyedited and proofread and should at least be legible with regards to spelling and grammar, though quality standards have been dropping at trad publishing and you sometimes get trad books with mistakes such as characters changing names halfway through the book that should have been caught. Meanwhile, the indie books at the very bottom of the pile are often neither edited nor proofread, riddled with typos and grammar errors and deserve to be stigmatised. However, on the other end of the spectrum there are indie books that are as good as and often better than anything to come out of traditional publishing. Plus, the very best of indie books are often better formatted than many trad pub books. So in short, there is a huge spectrum of quality with indie books, much broader than the quality spectrum of trad pub books. And if someone's first indie experience was an error riddled and badly formatted book, that reader is likely to be prejudiced against indie books in the future.

What can we do to remove the anti-indie stigma? Simple: Make sure that our own books are at the very top of the indie spectrum, that they are well formatted, edited and as free of errors as we can make them. Because the more high quality indie books there are, the less the anti-indie stigma will become.

14. Any pets? If so, tell us what role they play in your writing, if any.

I don't have any pets, which makes me a true rarity among writers. However, I have a bunch of largely neglected houseplants, a woodpecker nesting in the garden (I named him Hacki) and a stuffed moose named Molly.

15. Assuming you have an active blog, point readers to a post of which you're especially proud or think will be of particular interest to them.

Just one? Well, I am quite fond of this post on gender roles in fiction prompted by the to me inexplicable popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey. Another favourite is this post comparing Stanley Kubrick's film adaption of Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange to the British TV drama Misfits, since both of them were filmed in the same location, albeit forty years apart. And finally, since we have been discussing paid for reviews, I made a series of posts about that issue on my publisher blog last year, including Posting sockpuppet reviews is not free speech and This ain't no witch hunt.

16. Where can readers find your work?

At Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple iTunes, AllRomance e-books, XinXii, DriveThruFiction and a couple of non-US retailers. There is a full list of retailers with links on my site.

17. Where can readers find out more about you?

At my personal website and blog at http://corabuhlert.com and at my publishing blog http://pegasus-pulp.com.


Cora Buhlert was born and bred in Bremen, North Germany, where she still lives today - after time spent in London, Singapore, Rotterdam and Mississippi. Cora holds an MA degree in English from the University of Bremen and is currently working towards her PhD. Cora has been writing since she was a teenager, and has published stories, articles and poetry in various international magazines. When she is not writing, she works as a translator and teacher.

 


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