The Write Stuff – Monday, September 14 – Interview With Anne Hillerman

This week, I am pleased to feature a talented creator of both non-fiction and fiction works alike. In theory, I could have met Anne on several occasions while I lived in Santa Fe, but fate conspired against it. Whether I marked the date of a book signing incorrectly or weather made the roads impassable, we never connected and I’ve been the poorer for it. I have met a few of her friends, even interviewed one—Lisa Lenard-Cook—this past January. And while each one attests to Anne’s open personality, I’ve only had the pleasure of her acquaintance through social media. In addition to her non-fiction works, she has chosen to continue in her revered father’s footsteps.

anne_fogelbergAnne Hillerman is the author of the New York Times best-selling Spider Woman’s Daughter and Rock with Wings. Her stories continue the popular Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee mysteries series created by her father, Tony Hillerman. She is currently at work on the third book, again featuring officer Bernadette Maneulito as a crime solver. Anne’s novels have been honored with the Spur from Western Writers of America and the New Mexico-Arizona book award for best mystery and best book of the year. Before writing fiction, Anne wrote several non-fiction books including Tony Hillerman’s Landscape: On the Road with Chee and Leaphorn.

Anne is a founding director of the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference held annually in Santa Fe. She began her writing career as a newspaper reporter, and continues in journalism as restaurant critic for the Albuquerque Journal. A New Mexican since the age of three, she lives and works in Santa Fe with her husband, photographer Don Strel.

This is how she describes Rock With Wings:

Navajo Tribal cops Jim Chee and Bernadette Manuelito, and their mentor, the legendary Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, investigate two perplexing cases in this exciting Southwestern mystery from the New York Times bestselling author of Spider Woman’s Daughter.

Doing a good deed for a relative offers the perfect opportunity for Sergeant Jim Chee and his wife, Officer Bernie Manuelito, to get away from the daily grind of police work. But two cases will call them back from their short vacation and separate them—one near Shiprock, and the other at iconic Monument Valley.

Chee follows a series of seemingly random and cryptic clues that lead to a missing woman, a coldblooded thug, and a mysterious mound of dirt and rocks that could be a gravesite. Bernie has her hands full managing the fallout from a drug bust gone wrong, uncovering the origins of a fire in the middle of nowhere, and looking into an ambitious solar energy development with long-ranging consequences for Navajo land.

Under the guidance of their mentor, retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, Bernie and Chee will navigate unexpected obstacles and confront the greatest challenge yet to their skills, commitment, and courage.

Please tell us more about it.

This new mystery featuring Bernadette Manuelito, Jim Chee, and their mentor, Lt. Joe Leaphorn, is set in Monument Valley and the country near the little Navajo town of Ship Rock, N.M. The book is structured as two parallel stories with separate crimes taking Chee and Bernie in different directions. Among the elements included are movie making, a mysterious car fire, a tight-lipped suspect with a trunk full of dirt and a questionable grave that might or might not be just a movie prop.

This newest release, as well as Spider Woman’s Daughter, which preceded it, continue a thread begun by your father. What was the biggest challenge you faced following in his footsteps and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge was and still is living up to the expectations of the fans Tony Hillerman’s work garnered during his 30 years of writing the Navajo mystery series. He created and brought to life  Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. Many have enjoyed Dad’s books through several re-readings and I knew they had high standards for anyone who would presume to continue these stories.

I overcame my hesitation by writing the best books I possibly could. Because Dad had never used Bernadette Manuelito as a crime solver, and because he had gradually been developing her into a more major character, I decided that telling the stories from her point of view would give me a way to continue the mysteries while giving the series a new voice.

Please list your other works for our visitors.

Spider Woman’s Daughter (novel) and Tony Hillerman’s Landscape (non-fiction), both published by HarperCollins.  Ride the Wind  USA to Africa  (Rio Grande Publishing) about a ballooning adventure.  I also two wrote two non-fiction books Gardens of Santa Fe and Santa Fe Flavors, both published by GibbsSmith Publishers and unfortunately out of print. I also wrote several travel guides, now outdated, and a book of solar energy projects for children.

Have there been any awards, productions, videos or anything else of interest associated with either of your recent novels?

Yes, Spider Woman’s Daughter was honored with the Spur Award and the New Mexico Book Award.  Tony Hillerman’s Landscape was honored with the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association Award. The Library of Congress created a video of me speaking there last summer for the National Book Festival.  Here’s a video interview in connection with the release of Rock with Wings:

What are you working on now and do you have an ETA for its release?

I am at work on the third novel in the new series, not yet named. My deadline for manuscript submission is January, 2016. Wish me luck!

I do! I’m pushing back an identical deadline to March, so I understand the pressure you face. That aside, do you find there are occupational hazards to being a novelist as opposed being to a non-fiction writer?

No, but I have been surprised at the popularity of my new series, and am very thankful to my Dad’s fans. As a nonfiction writer, I was happy but basically unknown. With fiction,  I’m getting the opportunity to balance my need for quiet time to write with my need to be a promoter and respond to generous invitations to come and talk about my Dad and my books. It’s different!

Tell us about your new series’s path to publication.

My non-fiction book about Tony Hillerman and the places he loved came out almost a year to the day after my father died. During the book tour for that book, so many people told me they missed the characters and asked if Dad had another unpublished manuscript to continue the saga. He didn’t, but I realized that I missed the characters my father created as much or even more than his fans. So, I figured I would try writing one and see what happened. After I got my mother’s blessing, I contacted Dad’s long-time editor at Harpercollins to see if there might be any legal problems, copyright issues, etc. with my writing a novel using Dad’s characters. She said no, and added that she’d be glad to take a look at whatever I came up with. I wrote the book, she looked at it, liked it, gave me a bunch of good ideas on how to make it better, and offered me a contract for two books. Then, because of the wonderful fan response, Harpercollins offered me a three book contract following the publication of Spider Woman’s Daughter. I’m now at work on the first book of that package.

In the publishing world, it’s nice to have some security. Do you have another job outside of writing?

Yes, I am the co-founder of the Tony Hillerman Writers’ Conference, held each November in Santa Fe  I serve on the boards of Western Writers of America and New Mexico Press Women. I’m also a wife, mom, sister and niece.

What motivates or inspires you?

A road trip, especially to somewhere in our expansive southwest, always inspires me. I love live music from opera to bluegrass.  I enjoy working in the garden where you can see things change and grow.

How do you pick yourself up in the face of adversity?

Sleep usually helps along with prayer and a conversation with a friend. A brisk walk or a sweaty trip to the gym are good, too.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My Dad and my Mom inspired me with their passion for good books and good writing and their enormous kindness and generosity. I miss them every day, but I am grateful for the lessons they taught me.

Thank you for spending time with us. Before we read a sample from Rock With Wings, with your permission I’d like to try a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please complete the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a… complicated person.

The one thing I cannot do without is: space.

The one thing I would change about my life: A few more years with my parents.

My biggest peeve is: People who criticize a book without reading it.

Boy! Do I know that one, but I’ll save it for another time. Instead, let’s enjoy the following excerpt from Rock with Wings (P 274).

harpercollins-rockOfficer Bernadette Manuelito has been assigned to give a talk to the Farmington Rotary.

Bernie parked in the restaurant lot, noticing that it was nearly full. She picked up her backpack, double-checking to make sure her notes were there. She put on a bit of lipstick, squared her shoulders, and walked in to the room where the meeting would be. She felt as almost as unsettled as when she’d met Chee’s relatives for the first time.

The sixty-something woman at the door in the gray business suit introduced herself as the program director and the person Bernie had talked to on the phone. “We’re so glad you could join us. You’re younger than I expected. Have you met our president?”

“No, ma’am.” Younger than expected? That didn’t sound like a good thing….

(The excerpt picks up with Bernie’s talk.)

“Ladies and gentlemen,  yá’át’ééh. Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting me here today. And for the free lunch.” A few of the attendees chuckled. Good.

“This is the first time I’ve been asked to speak on behalf of our department.” She looked up from her notes. “I thought I would start by explaining that if you want to be on patrol with the Navajo Nation police, you have to enjoy driving. Each officer who works on our force is responsible for about seventy square miles of reservation land. That’s about twice the area of Grand Rapid, Michigan. Or think of it this way: the whole country of Liechtenstein is only sixty- two square miles.”

People in the audience smiled. She relaxed a little, looked at her notes for the next point she wanted to make, and kept talking. “In the rest of rural America, there are about three officers for a thousand civilians. Out here, when our department is fully staffed, there might be two of us for that same population. But I’m not complaining. I love my job, and I like to stay busy.”

For those who would like to read more of her work, you can find Anne’s books at:

To keep up with Anne online:



The Write Stuff – Monday, August 31 – Interview With Jake Needham

While many of my interviewees are known to me, I stumbled upon this week’s guest on the Internet—on Twitter, to be precise. I suppose it was his his tag line that grabbed me. “Author of eight best-selling crime fiction novels set in Asia. ‘He’s Michael Connelly with steamed rice,’ says The Bangkok Post.” Curiously, I found, he is virtually unknown on his home turf, so I decided to look him up. Wikipedia describes him as “an American novelist and screen writer. He is known as one of the best-selling English-language authors in Asia.” I hope what follows will pique your curiosity enough to investigate his work. He describes himself as follows:

Author in BangkokJake Needham is the author of eight popular international crime novels. He is a lawyer by education and has held a number of significant positions in both the public and private sectors where he took part in a lengthy list of international operations he has absolutely no intention of telling you about. He became a screenwriter following a series of accidents and coincidences too ridiculous to be believed and started writing crime novels when he realized how little he really liked movies and television.

Mr. Needham has lived and worked in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bangkok for the last twenty-five years. He, his wife, and their two sons now divide their time between homes in Thailand and the United States. You can read excerpts from all Jake Needham’s novels as well as his “Letters from Asia” at his web site:

His published works are as follows:

The Big Mango, Marshall Cavendish Ltd, 400 pages. ISBN 978-9814276603 (2011)

The Ambassador’s Wife (Inspector Tay novel #1), Marshall Cavendish Trade, 364 pages. ISBN 978-9814328173 (2011)

Laundry Man (Jack Shepherd novel # 1), Marshall Cavendish, 352 pages. ISBN 978-9814361279 (2012)

Killing Plato (Jack Shepherd novel # 2), Marshall Cavendish, 352 pages. ISBN 978-9814361262 (2012)

A World of Trouble (Jack Shepherd novel # 3), Marshall Cavendish International (Asia) Pte Ltd, 356 pages. ISBN 978-9814361514 (2012)

The Umbrella Man (Inspector Tay novel #2), Half Penny, 382 pages. ISBN 978-6167611198 (2013)

Needham, Jake. The King of Macau (Jack Shepherd novel # 4), Half Penny Ltd, 342 pages. ISBN 978-6163359087 (2014)

Needham, Jake. “The Dead American” (Inspector Tay novel #3), Half Penny Ltd, 305 pages, ISBN 978-6167611228 (2014)

Shepherd group 1











I asked him to provide a summary of his most recent release and he described it this way:

They steer a tight ship in squeaky-clean Singapore. No dissent, no opposition, no criticism. It’s like an entire country run by Walt Disney. Disneyland with the death penalty, somebody once called it.

A young American software engineer hangs himself in his Singapore apartment. At least that’s what the police say happened. Emma Lazar, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, thinks otherwise. She thinks Tyler Bartlett was murdered to keep him quiet, and the Singapore police are covering it up.

Emma Lazar asks Inspector Samuel Tay to help her investigate the young man’s death. Tay is a senior inspector in the elite Special Investigation Section of Singapore CID. He’s pretty much the best investigator the Singapore police have, but Tay’s father was an American and from him Tay inherited a strong streak of American individualism that has made him an outsider in relentlessly regulated and tightly wound little Singapore. That’s mostly why Tay has been placed on leave. Tay shot a man and everyone knows it was self-defense, but Tay’s enemies have seized on the incident and are trying to get rid of him once and for all.

Tay really doesn’t want to get involved in helping Emma Lazar with her story. It certainly won’t help him get his job back to challenge the government’s official narrative about the death of Tyler Bartlett. But the writer’s determination tickles his curiosity, and…well, the truth is he’s bored and she’s beautiful. So he does it anyway.

Learning that Tyler Bartlett’s death was no suicide is easy enough for Tay. What is far more difficult is finding out what the young man knew that made him worth killing. When Tay realizes both his superiors on the police force and the faceless men of the Internal Security Department are working behind the scenes to keep him from finding out, he becomes more determined than ever to discover what, and who, is behind Tyler Bartlett’s murder.

Of course, there’s a problem there. If Tay does find out, doesn’t that make him worth killing, too?

Will you please tell us about it?

The third book in my Inspector Samuel Tay series, The Dead American, was released at the beginning of this year. Sam is a cop in the elite Special Investigations Section of Singapore CID, but he’s also something of a reluctant policeman. He’s a little overweight, a little lonely, a little cranky, and he smokes far too much. The whole truth is he can’t even remember why he became a police detective in the first place, but he hasn’t quit. Because he’s very, very good at what he does.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book and how did you overcome it?

None, really. If you’re going to write a novel, you just sit down and write the damn thing. Why make it any harder than it already is by agonizing over it?

What other novels have you written?

The Inspector Tay series is up to three books now: The Dead American, The Umbrella Man, and The Ambassador’s Wife. My other series character is Jack Shepherd, an American lawyer who took a job in Bangkok on something of a whim and has lived in Asia ever since. So far there are four books in that series: The King Of Macau, A World Of Trouble, Killing Plato, and Laundry Man.

My stand-alone novel is called The Big Mango, and it’s the only one of my books for which the film rights have sold. Maybe there’s a message for me in that…

What else are you working on?

Right now I’m in the final stages of editing the fourth book in the Inspector Tay series. It will be out this fall and is called The Girl In The Window.

After that will come the fifth book in the Jack Shepherd series. It’s scheduled for the middle of 2016 and is called Don’t Get Caught.

Tell us about your path to publication.

Very, very weird.

I had practiced law for a couple of decades, doing mostly international corporate work, and I found myself involved in a complicated corporate merger. To get the deal closed, I had to buy a piece out of the transaction myself because no one else wanted it. That was a very modest little Hollywood production company that was making cable TV movies.

Since I was stuck with the company, I did my best to make it profitable, and I tried to focus it more tightly on what I thought it could do well. To accomplish that, I dashed off an outline of the kind of movies I wanted the company to try to make and a copy of that outline accidentally got sent to one of the cable TV networks the company worked with. Several weeks later, that network called up and asked me to make it for them.

Make what? I asked them. The movie you wrote that treatment for, they said. And that, girls and boys, is how I became a screenwriter.

I wrote screenplays for quite a few years for American television after that, but eventually I came to realize how little I actually liked American television. That was what goaded me into trying to figure out how to write novels instead. My first book was The Big Mango and, without thinking very much about it, I gave it to a regional publisher in Asia because they liked it and wanted to publish it. Although The Big Mango was only distributed in half a dozen countries where almost no one spoke English, and it was only available in English, it still sold well over 100,000 copies and eventually became something of a cult book among foreigners living in and visiting Asia. That was when I figured I’d better start taking this novel writing thing seriously, and I guess it’s worked out pretty well for me.

What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing a novel?

I really hate to hear writers moaning about how painful and wrenching it is to write a novel. Look, we all chose this profession. If somebody finds the demands of it are too much for them, I recommend they go out and sell real estate or something. But for God’s sake stop telling everybody how difficult it is to write.

You show up every day and you do the job. That’s all there is to it. You write 2000 words a day for sixty straight days and you end up with a respectable first draft. It’s hard work. John Gregory Dunne called writing a novel “manual labor of the mind, like laying pipe.” My experience is that a lot of people who talk a lot about writing and whine about its challenges simply don’t have the stomach for actually doing it.

I agree. The old saw is that most people who say they would like to write a novel really mean they would like to have written one. Is there anything you want to make sure potential readers know?

Both as a reader and a writer my test of a novel is its credibility. Does it feel real, at least real enough to pull me in and hold me for 300 pages or so? I work very, very hard to get the details in my books right, and nothing pleases me more than hearing a reader say that they used one of my novels as a guidebook to Bangkok, or Singapore, or Hong Kong.

If a character in one of my books leaves the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong to walk to the Star Ferry and I tell you that he turns left when he walks out the front door of the hotel, you can bet that’s exactly how you get from the Mandarin Hotel to the Star Ferry. Make book on it.

Describe a typical day.

Maybe it’s my background as a lawyer, but I live a discouragingly regular life. When I’m writing, I go into my study around nine, work for three or four hours, break for a half hour or so and eat a sandwich at my desk, then work another three or four hours and knock off about five so I can go for a long walk with my wife.

I show up every day and I put in my eight hours at the factory. That’s how I get the job done.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

Aey and I have been married for almost 25 years. She’s a graduate of Oxford University, a prematurely retired concert pianist, and a former magazine editor. We have two sons, one of whom is a fashion photographer and the other is in his last year of studying economics at university. We have a penthouse apartment in Bangkok and a 230-year-old house in Virginia built during the Revolutionary War and we’re back and forth between them two or three times a year.

Mr. Needham chose to take a pass on my customary “Lightning Round” of questions, and for that I forgive him after bringing such refreshing candor to this page. After diving into Chapter One of The Dead American, I will provide you with links to help you follow this intriguing author.



 SAMUEL TAY STOOD in his tiny garden and squinted at the sky. The sun was a flickering smudge and the caramel-colored air smelled of earth and rot. Singapore, the diminutive island state known for its blue skies, dazzling sunlight, and green environment, was drowning in crap.

According to Channel News Asia, the Singapore Pollutants Index stood at a record high. Schools were closed, the armed forces had stopped training, and McDonald’s was suspending delivery service. When Tay heard that last part, he knew this was really serious.

Before now, Tay had no idea Singapore even had a pollutants index, but for weeks now it had been the only thing anyone talked about. Every television channel was broadcasting warnings that breathing the air was hazardous to health. Were they telling him not to breathe at all, Tay wondered, or merely urging him not to breathe any more than absolutely necessary? Unless it was one or the other, he didn’t see what good the information did him.

Heavy smoke from slash and burn agriculture in Indonesia had plagued Singapore for decades, but this was the dirtiest air Tay had ever seen. Blinking stung his eyes and breathing burned his throat. Yesterday he walked up to a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Orchard Road for breakfast and at least half of the people he saw on the streets were wearing white surgical masks over their mouth and nose. The city looked like it had been taken over by an antisocial cult. Maybe the surgical masks helped you breathe, maybe they didn’t, but Tay thought he would rather choke than join the crowd he saw wearing them.

The bell outside his front gate rang and Tay stopped contemplating the foul air. He also stayed right where he was. A year ago, he wouldn’t have hesitated to go out and open the gate. He was an inspector in the Special Investigations Section of the Criminal Investigation Department of the Singapore police. When his doorbell rang, it was always important. A year ago, he would have answered without a second thought.

But a year ago the world was a very different place. Mad men had not yet blown up half of Singapore. Tay hadn’t yet caught a homicide case that appeared to have nothing to do with the bombings, until it did. And he hadn’t yet shot a man and been put on administrative leave. He had been quickly exonerated and returned to duty, of course, but then eight months later he had been suspended again. CID’s new commanding officer decided the first investigation of Tay’s actions had been incomplete. He ordered a new investigation and a new suspension for Tay until the second investigation was concluded.

Tay had not been all that surprised. There were senior officers in the Singapore police force that had been trying for years to get rid of him. Presented with the best opportunity to force him out they might ever get, they weren’t going to give up without making a fight of it. The incident should have been a simple case of a police officer defending himself and another officer. That’s probably what it would have been if he had fired once. Or even twice. Ten shots made for a somewhat more difficult conversation, even if the first review panel had done their best to ease past that problem.

The bell outside the gate rang again. Tay considered the possibility it was a personal visitor who had nothing to do with his job, but he thought that was unlikely. Off hand, Tay could think of only one person not involved with police work who had rung his doorbell in the last few years, and that was Cindy Shaw. Cindy was either a widow or divorced. Tay didn’t know which, and he didn’t want to know. She had made her interest in him so plain and pursued it so embarrassingly it had become a major preoccupation of his life to avoid her at all costs. Cindy lived two doors north of him on Emerald Hill Road and Tay had made a habit of taking a quick glance at the road outside his gate before going out just to make certain he didn’t run into her by accident. Some neighborhoods had angry, snarling dogs people had to avoid whenever they left their houses. His neighborhood had Cindy Shaw. He would have preferred angry, snarling dogs.

Tay pondered the two rings of his doorbell and asked himself again whether he was going to answer it. He cocked his head and studied the dirty brown sky. Somewhere up there he found the answer written on the smog.

I sincerely thank Mr. Needham for taking time from his busy writing and touring schedule to introduce us to his growing number of works. I hope the American public will soon come to recognize him as the Asian people have done. If you’d care to learn more about this no-nonsense writer, here are a few links to The Dead American:





 Other links are:




The Write Stuff – Monday, August 17 – Interview With T. M. Franklin

Today’s guest and I share a brief history dating back to early 2014. I met T.M. Franklin at Page 2 Books in Burien, Washington in February of that year at my very first book signing. Leland Artra of the Fantasy Sci-fi Fantasy News Network (#FSFNNet) had organized the event and several genre authors turned out. I liked her from the start. She is as open and engaging as the books she writes and I hope you grow to share my opinion.

TMFranklinT.M. Franklin writes stories of adventure, romance, and a little magic. A former TV news producer, she decided making stuff up was more fun than reporting the facts. Her first published novel, MORE, was born during National Novel Writing month, a challenge to write a novel in thirty days. MORE was well-received, being selected as a finalist in the 2013 Kindle Book Review Best Indie Book Awards, as well as winning the Suspense/Thriller division of the Blogger Book Fair Reader’s Choice Awards. She’s since written three additional novels and several best-selling short stories… and there’s always more on the way.

She describes MORE, the first volume of her eponymous series, as follows:

Ava Michaels used to think she was special. As a child, she fantasized about having magical powers… making things happen. But Ava grew up and eventually accepted the fact that her childish dreams were just that, and maybe a normal life wasn’t so bad after all.

Now a young college student, Ava meets Caleb Foster, a brilliant and mysterious man who’s supposed to help her pass Physics, but in reality has another mission in mind. What he shows Ava challenges her view of the world, shaking it to its very core. Because Caleb isn’t quite what he seems. In fact, he’s not entirely human, and he’s not the only one.

Together, the duo faces a threat from an ancient race bound to protect humans, but only after protecting their own secrets—secrets they fear Ava may expose. Fighting to survive, Ava soon learns she’s not actually normal… she’s not even just special.

She’s a little bit more.

Trilogy-transparentEven though we’ve led our readers into this visit with a summary of MORE, one that characterizes the series, I’d like you to tell us about your most recent release.

My most recent full-length release is TWELVE, the third book in the MORE Trilogy. It’s an adventure about a girl who discovers she’s more than a little bit specialand there’s a group of people who see her as a pretty big threat. In TWELVE, we finally get the answers about who exactly she is, and where she fits into this strange, new world she’s discovered.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge was tying up all of the plot points and keeping track of the HUGE cast of characters in TWELVE. We have good guys and bad guys, Race and Guardians and TWELVE and humans… and they all have an important part to play. It was important to me that the story satisfy readers who’d enjoyed the first two stories. I really didn’t want to disappoint them.

As far as overcoming it, it was just sitting down and getting the words out—telling the story I set out to tell, and plenty of discussion with my editors who’ve worked on the trilogy along the way. We all had the same goal in mind, so that really helped.

What other novels have you written?

In addition to the three books in the MORE Trilogy, and a few short stories, I’ve written a light, YA romance called How to Get Ainsley Bishop to Fall in Love with You. It’s about a quirky boy who makes lists for everything he does. He’s not part of the in crowd, and he’s okay with that because he believes he has a lot to offer. So he sets out to win the heart of Ainsley Bishop, and of course he makes a list to do it.

Have there been any awards, productions, videos or anything else of interest associated with your work?

MORE was a finalist in the Kindle Book Reviews Best Indie Book Awards and won the Blogger Book Fair Reader’s Choice Awards in the Suspense/Thriller category.

What else are you working on?

I’m currently working on several projects. The next one will be a serial branching out from my short story, Window—which told the story of a girl who got visions of the past, present, and possible future through the picture window in her house. I’ve had several readers ask for more of this story, and I’m working on it.

Are there any occupational hazards to being a novelist?

Caffeine addiction.

Hah! You can say that again. How many people have you done away with over the course of your career?

Fictional people? I think maybe half a dozen? Real people—none yet.

I hope you’re not working on it. That said, have you ever dispatched someone in a book and then regretted it?

Nope, although I have been known to agonize over it in some cases.

What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing a novel?

Balancing the story you want to tell with the story that readers want.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

I’m happily married and have two grown boys—the youngest of which is starting college in the fall, so I’ll soon be an empty-nester. Well, except for my crazy dog, that is.

What motivates or inspires you?

Everything! Music, nature, books, movies, talking with people—inspiration is all around us!

What has been your greatest success in life?

My kids.

What do you consider your biggest failure?

I don’t really consider failures as failures. They’ve all led to where I am today and I’m pretty happy now, so I wouldn’t change a thing.

What a nice outlook on life! Since MORE sets the stage for your trilogy and draws the reader in, I’d like to share an excerpt. However, before I do, I’d like to finish this interview with a Lightning Round. Please answer the following in as few words as possible:

My best friend would tell you I’m: a …goofball.

The one thing I cannot do without is: family.

The one thing I would change about my life: work more efficiently.

My biggest peeve is: arrogance.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: my life. I’m happy!

How wonderful you can say that!

 I’m reading MORE as you read and I’m eager to share it with my visitors. Ms. Franklin’s works are deceiving easy reads—something young readers will appreciate and adult readers will enjoy—and she knows how to intersperse action with moments of quietude, all the while insinuating tension to keep the pages turning.

 Chapter 4

A man—a huge man—stood before her, mouth twisted in rage. He towered over her, at least six and a half feet tall, his shoulders wide, and arms banded with muscle. Shaved close to his head, his dark hair shadowed his skull, and his intimidating appearance was only enhanced by the jagged scar running down the right side of his face, from forehead to chin. He didn’t wear a coat, only a tight, black shirt and fatigues, black boots on his feet, and a wide leather belt with a mean-looking gun holstered at his hip.

It couldn’t be. But it was.

It was him. The man from her nightmares.

Ava scrambled back, but he reached out in a flash, gripping her upper arms and lifting her up so her toes barely brushed the ground. One hand slid to her throat, and he held her easily, pulling her closer to his frightening face.

“Please,” she begged, the word catching as she fought to breathe.

The man’s glare tightened, and Ava stared in morbid fascination at his mismatched eyes—blue and green—odd and vividly terrifying. She struggled, reaching for her pepper spray, only to have it slip from her fingers as she kicked out at the man.

He responded by laughing humorlessly, flipping her around and banding one arm around her torso. His grip was like iron, and she could barely breathe.

“Please,” she said again, dizziness closing in. “I can’t,” she gasped.

A press of metal to her temple transformed her fearful trembles into horrified shudders. She had no doubt. She was going to die. Her eyelids fluttered shut in defeat as he cocked the gun, the loud click echoing off the trees.

Then, a flash of black, a gust of wind, and suddenly she could breathe again. The man’s grip loosened, but he didn’t release her.

“Damn you,” he growled. “Stay out of this!”

Ava pushed him, her efforts in vain, as he hitched her up in response, tucking her under his arm like a bag of groceries. She kicked her legs, flailing desperately as the man spun about, pointing his gun into the darkness.

“Show yourself, you coward!”

The same flash of black, another blast of wind, and Ava fell to the ground, her head cracking on the concrete. She curled onto her side, moaning, lifting a hand to the back of her head, and squinting in shock at the blood that came away, streaking across her trembling palm.

Low grunts and the crack of bone on flesh floated on the air toward her, muzzy with her disorientation. She tried to focus, but could only make out two dark figures exchanging blows. Ava tried to sit up, but collapsed back onto the icy ground, overcome by a shock of dizziness and nausea.

Suddenly, the two dark beings seemed to meld into one, and in the next moment, she felt herself floating. She blinked; a face took form above her briefly, the features cast in shadow.

“Do I… do I know you?” she mumbled, fighting for consciousness.

“I’ve got you,” a low voice replied, and Ava nodded as a cool palm stroked her forehead, and the darkness consumed her.

If you would like to follow T. M. Franklin, or purchase her books, these links will help you:


 Amazon U.S. –

Amazon UK –

Amazon Canada –

Amazon Australia –

Barnes & Noble –

iTunes –

Kobo –


The Write Stuff – Monday, August 3 – Interview With AR Silverberry

Before I was published, I felt as if I were the only author in the world. These days, I belong to a seemingly endless circle of authors of demonstrable talent such that each time I turn around, I find that yet another of my acquaintances has won several awards and writes with great originality. Having said this, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to A. R. Silverberry. If you have not yet sampled his work, you should.

Author Photo 2 198x300When I asked Mr. Silverberry to give us his writing biography, not one to go on about himself, he gave this succinct reply:

A. R. Silverberry writes fiction for adults and children. His novel, Wyndano’s Cloak, won multiple awards, including the Benjamin Franklin Award gold medal for Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction. He lives in California, where the majestic coastline, trees, and mountains inspire his writing. The Stream is his second novel.

I find his premise for The Stream vastly intriguing:

What if your world was six miles wide and endlessly long?

After a devastating storm kills his parents, five-year-old Wend awakens to the strange world of the Stream. He discovers he can only travel downstream, and dangers lurk at every turn: deadly rapids, ruthless pirates, a mysterious pavilion that lures him into intoxicating fantasies, and rumor of a giant waterfall at the edge of the world. Defenseless, alone, with only courage and his will to survive, Wend begins his quest to become a man. Will tragic loss trap him in a shadow world, or will he enter the Stream, with all its passion and peril?

Part coming-of-age tale, part adventure, part spiritual journey, The Stream is a fable about life, impermanence, and the gifts found in each moment.

Will you tell us how this unusual book came into being?

Funny how it came about. I was working on the sequel of my first book, Wyndano’s Cloak, when I was gripped by the idea for another story. I had been having a conversation where I used the metaphor of a stream. I kept thinking about that metaphor. In a few hours, the character of a small boy, alone, defenseless, trying to understand the ways of the world, sprang into my mind. I saw images of him confronting the challenges we all face in life: love, loss, pain, losing your way. The next morning, I put aside that sequel and started writing. It pretty much tumbled out of me and didn’t let go until it was done.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book and how did you overcome it?

I knew almost nothing about boats and sailing. My knowledge of surviving in nature was just as scant. Here’s a short list of some of the things I needed to learn and integrate into the novel: the flora and fauna of the riparian wilderness, the technology available to the primitive people occupying the Stream—knife making, basketry, boat building—and the mainstays of their diet and how it was prepared. In other words, I had a huge learning curve.

Have you written any other novels?

Wyndano’s Cloak (2010) and its prequel, unpublished and living in one of my dresser drawers.

Have there been any awards, productions, videos or anything else of interest associated with your work?

Yes! Both books have gotten awards. Wyndano’s Cloak was a Benjamin Franklin Award Gold Medal winner. To date, The Stream has snagged four honors: Shelf Unbound Notable Book in the category of Literary Fiction, Eric Hoffer Award Finalist in General Fiction, Finalist for the da Vinci Eye (for the book cover), and Finalist for Foreword Reviews Indie Fab Book of the Year Award.

What else are you working on?

I’m working on a dystopian sci-fi trilogy. I don’t like to say too much about unpublished projects. You never know how they’ll turn out, or if they’ll turn out! Case in point: the prequel mentioned above. I think about it from time to time, wondering if I can resolve cure the ills that plague it!

I certainly understand. Sometimes you can talk all of the energy out of a project. Are there any occupational hazards to being a novelist?

If you’re personality is not suited to it, the long, solitary hours might be an issue. Fortunately for me, I can get engrossed in my writing for much of the day, and wonder where the time went.

Tell us about your path to publication.

That prequel was written purely on intuition. Translation: I didn’t know beans about writing. I submitted it to agents. All five rejected it, but one was kind enough to critique the positives and negatives about the book. Her feedback was quite helpful, and spurred me to learn about the craft by reading books and taking courses. When Wyndano’s Cloak was completed, my editor (I kid you not, a Finalist for a Pulitzer!) encouraged me to submit it to agents. In fact, after I told him I wanted to self-publish it, he wrote to an agent, without my knowledge, and told her about it. Talk about a vote of confidence! It was wonderful that he was so passionate about the story, but I wanted total artistic control of publication, and went that route.

What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing a novel?

Making it all hang together. The early drafts of Wyndano’s Cloak had too many themes. I spent six months pondering which one to focus on, and drove everyone around me crazy as I agonized over it. Thematically, The Stream was easy, though. I knew what I wanted to say, and that guided the process.

Having the courage to cut and pair down to the most essential things is another challenge. Case in point is the excerpt at the end of this interview. I love the way the scene turned out, but I decided not to include it in the book for pacing reasons, and because I found other ways of conveying what I needed. Think of it as bonus material for people who want more about the Stream.

Is there anything you want to make sure potential readers know?

If you like adventure, suspense, and fantasy, along with unforgettable characters, you’ll enjoy my books.

Describe a typical day.

Roll out of bed between 6 and 7 AM. Pet and feed “freelance household beast” (credit goes to the poet, Pablo Neruda). Write until 9. Take a long walk. Jot down story ideas on notebook. Head to work. Listen to audio book (currently One False Move, by Harlan Coben). See clients afternoon into the evening. Listen to audio book on the way home. Read at night. Sleep. Dream.

I’m eager to share a sample from The Stream with our visitors, but before I do, let’s try a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

 My best friend would tell you I’m a …

Caring individual.

The one thing I cannot do without is:

My piano.

My biggest peeve is…


Thank you, A. R., for taking the time to share with us. Here is the sample I promised:

Stream Small Cover 2If Wend had stopped to think about it, he would have realized that his family, searching for fruit, nuts, and roots, never ventured far from either shore, that travelers never sailed upstream to tell tales of what lay ahead. Except for tacking and voyages of a few miles, his family never ventured upstream either. When he’d asked his father why, he was told, “It’s a law.” Wend must have looked blank because his father told him to jump as high as he could. Wend jumped, and after his feet landed on the ground his father said, “Now jump as high as the top of the mast.” Wend had laughed and declared that no one could do that.

“Why not?” his father asked.

“We come down first,” Wend replied.

“It’s a law,” said his father. “And it’s a law that we go that way.”

His father pointed downstream.

If Wend had thought of these things, he would have understood that everyone was tethered to the stream and could only go in one direction. People stopped from time to time, working at abandoned foundries to smelt metal for anchors, chains, and knives, cutting trees to build or repair boats, living in villages, taking over deserted houses like creatures that move into another animal’s shell. They never stayed long, always returning to their boats, always going with the current, always traveling downstream.

For those of you who would like to stay in touch with A. R. Silverberry, here are a few links:




Twitter                     @arsilverberry

The Write Stuff – Monday, July 20 – Interview With Lauren Lynne

I first met YA Contemporary Fantasy author, Lauren Lynne, through the Facebook group, Fantasy Sci-fi News Network, #FSFNNet, a hangout for authors and readers of these genres. Time passed and our friendship grew until one day I chanced to read her Facebook bio and learned we are neighbors, living within a few miles of each other. It didn’t take long before we found a chance to do a face-to-face over coffee at a Starbucks located midway between our homes. I found her to be such an enjoyable lady—certainly an enjoyable, intriguing author—and decided I needed to introduce her to you. Here is how she describes herself:

Author 9I’m author Lauren Lynne. The good side of growing up is that you can write whatever you want. The downside… now I can’t read it without my glasses! I have the soul of an adventurer but the heart of a coward when it comes to danger, yet I’m drawn to all things action-adventure, so this particular genre was a natural fit. You won’t find me bungee jumping, cliff diving or doing parkour because, well… I’m a klutz… so I write it. Think of me as an armchair adventure hound. I create characters who are much braver, tougher, more graceful and athletic than I will ever be. When you dream, dream big!

I love working with students who have a thirst for knowledge. I write for young adults because they are the age group I most love to teach. I grew up in a house where reading was expected, anticipated and enjoyed. I want to pass that joy on to my students. I do not write alone, but pull in my boys for real life teenaged insight. I also listen to my students.

I am a native of the Pacific Northwest, with its vivid and varied panoramas. When I’m not writing, I can be found spending time with my family, working with students, reading, gardening or hiking around Mt. Hood, the Columbia River Gorge or the Oregon Coast with my camera. I am also a graduate of both Oregon State and Portland State universities with degrees in education and science. Writing is my passion and I want to share my love of it and reading with you.

Lauren has written a Young Adult contemporary fantasy action adventure series called The Secret Watchers. Today, we’re showing off book four of the series, Perceptions, published May 26 of last year. Here is its description:

Marlo finds a missing watcher and now it’s up to Lucie and Owen to go undercover to pull her out, if she’s even still alive. They find themselves thrown into the world of human trafficking and are afraid they won’t make it out alive. Caged, drugged and confused, they lose sight of their mission. Then they must face the truth about darkness and light – or is it all just shades of gray? How will they save someone else if they can’t even save themselves?

Sometimes you have to do truly repugnant things for the greater good but then what does that make you? What do you become if you are just as malicious as the dark watcher you are supposed to be saving everyone from? White Eagle says that power is power, but Owen has absorbed dark watcher gifts. He can feel himself morphing and he’s pretty sure he’s nowhere near good anymore.

What will two damaged watchers do now? Are you still good if you’ve been consumed by darkness? Owen will have to figure that out before it’s too late. He meets a mysterious stranger who has an interesting offer. Owen can’t decide if it’s worth the risk but it becomes more and more appealing as he is used again and again by both sides and now that he’s actually killed someone, who will save him?

I asked Lauren to describe the rest of the series and to tell us what else is on the horizon.

I have now written five books in The Secret Watchers series; four are published. Book five will be the end of Owen’s story but readers will see him again. Thanks to demands of loyal fans, there will be a new, as yet untitled, book and possibly series in the world of The Secret Watchers. I have just begun work on a book with a female protagonist discovering who she really is. What is her secret power? Stay tuned to find out.

This December will be the final release in The Secret Watchers series. Protagonist Owen Ryer will be graduating from high school and he will face the greatest evil he has known while battling the darkness that has taken root inside him. I am also working on my first dystopian. This was not something that I planned to write. I was hijacked by a muse and decided to go for it. It has been both fun and challenging.

Do you find there any occupational hazards to being a novelist?

For me, time is the greatest challenge. I still need another job so that I can pay the bills and I am part of the famous sandwich generation where I both help out my parents and my kids.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I would guess that there are as many paths to publication as there are authors. In lieu of writing a ton of query letters I chose to self-publish. That does not mean that if the right offer comes along I will turn it down. I wanted my book in the hands of readers. I did quite a bit of research and finally selected BookBaby who happens to be a local company.

How many people have you done away with over the course of your career?

So far I have only done away with bad guys but hold onto your seat because in Destiny that will change.

Describe a typical day.

I love it when people ask me this question! I would love to build some routine into my life. I have not had that for the last ten or so years. I am working on it! At this very moment it is summer so I am neither teaching nor tutoring. I do some technical editing and I am helping my parents get their old house ready to go on the market. I try to look at Twitter and Facebook every day and respond to friends and fans. I do a little marketing (like answering this interview) and I try really hard to squeeze in some writing. I am looking forward to the day when I can dedicate more time to my craft.

How do you pick yourself up in the face of adversity?

I am a Tigger at heart. One of my greatest assets/curses is that I see the best in everyone until they prove me wrong. If someone is going to find a silver lining it’s me! It’s raining? Great, it’s watering my flowers! Most people love my books but the first few ugly, mean or unfair reviews hurt my feelings. Now, I know that everyone has a right to their opinion and I don’t have to agree. I still celebrate and cherish every four and five star rating and each awesome review.

What has been your greatest success in life?

My kids will always be my greatest blessing. They are turning into wonderful people that I am proud of, but when I am gone, my books will live on. I will have left something behind. I will never know how many student lives I touched or how deeply but I will always have the books I authored and the feeling that I have left a positive mark that will remain.

Before we share an excerpt from Perceptions, I’d like to finish with a Lightning Round. Please answer the following in as few words as possible:

My best friend would tell you I’m a…

person who is too nice. I need to stand up for myself more.

The one thing I cannot do without is:

GPS or a good map. I have a terrible sense of direction.

The one thing I would change about my life:

A little more money so that I could dedicate my time to writing.

Boy! Wouldn’t we all? My biggest peeve is:

Intentionally mean people.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is:

Where I am today. I am happy in my life and have some flexibility. I have people who care about me and people to care about. What more could you really want? Oh, yeah, GPS

It’s wonderful you can say that. I wish more of us could. Before we close, here is a sampling of Lauren’s writing:

eBook Cover PerceptionsI turned and growled to the newbie watcher, “Who are you? And why are you spying on us?”

He gave us a defiant look, twisted and tried to drain White Eagle, who caught his wrist before his hand connected and snapped it back. “Answer him.” His voice was filled with menace. White Eagle can be an imposing guy when he wants to be.

The young dark watcher raised one side of his upper lip in a snarl making the scar by his mouth pucker.

“Who sent you?” I queried, giving him my best scowl.

“You don’t scare me. I’m not telling you anything!” he sneered.

I squinted at him, deep in thought. Did I have the stomach for this? Did I have it in me to be cruel? Could I torture him for information and still live with myself? If I did, I would be no better than they were. Where was the line and should I cross it?

A slow smile spread over his unshaven face where a scraggly beard showed in uneven patches. “You won’t do it. You don’t have what it takes. You won’t do what has to be done to get what you need. You’re… moral,” he said with disgust like I’d personally offended him. “You’re weak. The good guys usually are. They follow the rules. They can’t do what needs to be done!”

“Shows what you know!” Lucie came out of nowhere to deliver a perfectly executed upper cut to his jaw. Skater dude sagged in White Eagle’s grip, semiconscious as we all turned to stare at Lucie.

“What?” Lucie asked defensively. “We didn’t have all day. Somebody go get the van and let’s take him somewhere we can really question him.”

Mom snapped out of it first, reached into White Eagle’s pocket for the keys and sprinted off.

“Lucie dear, if you’re feeling upset from the proceedings maybe we should talk and not… um, take out our aggressions on others,” Sarah said with quiet dignity.

Lucie smiled at her, a rather sick smile that came nowhere near her eyes. “And I don’t think we should assume he isn’t dangerous. Until we know who he is and what he wants… I consider him a threat.” She shook out her hand as she spoke.

“Did you hurt yourself?” I asked with a huge grin.

A real smile broke across Lucie’s face. “I failed to make ‘good fist’. Sorry, White Eagle.”

Sarah rolled her eyes but White Eagle grinned at her and shifted his limp load that was just beginning to moan softly. I brought Lucie’s hand to my lips. “You gonna need medical attention?” I asked her, still smiling.

Lucie didn’t even get to answer. Mom screeched around the corner, narrowly missed the dumpster, and stopped inches from White Eagle’s elbow. To his credit, he neither blanched nor dropped his load. He did slowly raise his eyes to give Mom a dirty look through the windshield and then looked significantly at his elbow and then back to her. She grinned, shrugged and hopped out of the van. “So where do we stow him?” she asked indicating the limp skater.

I popped open the back and rummaged in the compartment where we kept our supply of zip ties, clips and Velcro. We zipped up our guy and tossed him unceremoniously into the back. Sarah pulled a Taser out of a locked compartment and then chose a seat near our now thrashing captive. “You behave or so help me, I’ll zap you,” Sarah said in one of the meanest voices she employed.

He gave Sarah a long look, then stopped flinging himself around, sensing her seriousness. He subsided into a sullen silence. Mom and White Eagle had a brief, silent argument over the van keys. He finally sighed and relented, making Mom jump up and down in a brief happy dance as she giggled.

“Some things just aren’t worth it,” he huffed under his breath as he plopped into the seat next to mine.

For those of you who would like to learn more about Lauren and purchase her books, here are some helpful links:

 Author Website

Series Website








The Write Stuff – Monday, July 06 – Interview With MP McVey


FB_IMG_1433457449604Today, I have the pleasure of having MP McVey as my guest. Mr. McVey is a member of the Facebook group, Fantasy Sci-fi News Network, #FSFNNet. I find this fantasy author’s take on the genre refreshing because while so many modern works routinely make use of more recent mythological paradigms, his debut novel, Plod On, Sleepless Giant, incorporates some of the world’s more primitive societies’ core concepts. When I asked him to discuss it, he told me the following:

The world is not as it seems …

At the center of our world lives an elephant. Ancient and alone, he’s chained to a great wooden wheel—turning our rock as it glides through space. But what would happen if he were to stop? What would become of all we know and love on the surface?

All that stands between Earth and its downfall is a sole Watcher—beings tasked with guarding all in creation. Sent on a fool’s mission, he must gather humans from the surface that somehow play a role in our world’s destruction.

But from one mistake, a decision is made … an opportunity taken. When insurmountable forces align against humanity, it seems all will be lost. Can it be stopped in time? Can wrongs be righted? Can we be saved?

My most recent book—and also my first—is a contemporary fantasy called Plod On, Sleepless Giant. It’s a story of love and suspense, set in the shadow of the eternal struggle between good and evil. We get to meet the great elephant, Temelephas, whom lives at the center of our world. He was created as an insensitive automaton … never to remember or feel anything, only to walk in his circle and spin our planet.

Over time, Temelephas learns to remember and begins to feel strange emotions that he doesn’t know how to deal with. It is then that he realizes how lonely and empty his life truly is, and these thoughts slowly lead him to stop his important walk, and stopping the world from turning. And basically the story is about trying to fix the things that have been broken and righting the wrongs.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book and how did you overcome it?

My biggest challenge was not really knowing how to write a book to begin with. I had written many, many stories over time and had started writing previous books, but never finishing. A story is a story, it’s as simple as that. I thought writing a novel would be the same, only longer … I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The pacing was a big thing for me. A story has to be told fast; there isn’t a tremendous amount of time to develop characters or weave an intricate plotline. So the story is told pretty straight forward. But with books you have more room for a deeper story and more complex characters. There’s more wiggle room for pomp and flair.

What else are you working on?

Right now I’m finishing up my second novel, which is a more straight forward fantasy. Plod On, Sleepless Giant was a contemporary fantasy set in Columbus, Ohio … my current work takes place in a world that is completely made up. It’s more in the vein of sword and sorcery, quest, or heroic fantasy (I’m never good at classifying my writing). At the moment I am calling it Through the Wicked Wood, but that could change at any moment.

I don’t want to get too much into it, but I combine some humor and romance in there to round it out—it feels a bit like a fairytale for adults. The characters are all flawed, as is the world they live in … but most of them mean well. My favorite is a character named Eizel Mamzer, a tricky fellow with a snazzy suit and top hat.

Tell us about your path to publication.

It was certainly not your typical journey, though my road to publication started out like so many others. I had finished my book and had edited it so much that I hated the sight of it. I queried some agents and painfully waited to see any sign of hope, but only got rejections and condolences.

I started thinking more and more about self-publishing, having heard some success stories from many different sources. Not that self-publishing makes a writer rich or anything, but it certainly gets your book out there and gets the writer some exposure. So I began to read up on the process—the do’s and don’ts of the whole thing, and tips to help along the road.

So there I was at work(I work at a gas station), pouring over my manuscript as I once more tore it apart with a red pen, when a customer came in and asked what it was I was doing. I told her about the book and we chatted a bit, and she told me about how her husband had written a few books as well.

She left and I didn’t think much about it, just went about my night. A few days later her husband came down to talk to me about the book, and we chatted about writing and life. It was one of those conversations that you know you will remember forever.

He asked to read it, so I sent him a copy via email. Some time went by and he called me at work, excited about my book. He told me he wanted to publish it and that was how it happened.

Have you ever dispatched someone in a book and then regretted it?

I have never killed off a character and regretted it, but I have written myself into a corner with nowhere to go. I ended up abandoning the book all together when I realized the only way out was mass murder of main characters. It was the first book I attempted to write and it came on fast. It’s not much of a loss … it was pretty terrible.

Learning to write comes write a plethora of such lessons. Let’s explore that theme a bit further. If you were going to commit the perfect murder, how would you go about it?

This is such a great question, and I hadn’t given it much thought until I thought about what my answer might be. I think the most important part would be getting away with it, so the method of the actual killing wouldn’t be as important as the disposal of the body and any evidence. So I would probably poison my victim—leaving no actual “crime scene”. Then I would most likely dismember the remains and dispose of them in a creative way that I won’t divulge. I might actually use the method of disposal in a book someday.

I sincerely hope not! Returning, to the real world, what motivates or inspires you?

Inspiration comes from many different places, I think. Sometimes it’s a fragment of a conversation that sets my mind spinning on an idea or something I read. The idea for Plod On, Sleepless Giant actually came to me in a dream—it would be nice if that happened every night, but it doesn’t. I also find inspiration right here in Columbus, Ohio … the people here are amazingly resilient and funny.

As far as motivation, it’s always the story that drives me forward. Sometimes it’s hard to write because I can sense the story becoming a bit drab and dragging in places. A lot of writers push through this and churn out words daily—which is the key—but sometimes I need to see it as a yield sign or one that warns of an icy bridge ahead.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I do. I work in a gas station. It’s a family owned business(not my own) and my bosses Gary and Tracy are very supportive of my endeavors in writing.

Describe a typical day.

I work until late at night, so normally I don’t get to bed until about one in the morning. So I wake up around 9 am, and I plan to start writing at about ten. On good days I’ll write until about noon, then eat some lunch and get ready for work. On weekends I kind of just write when I can. It’s hard to schedule out due to running errands.

Before I let our visitors sample an excerpt from your book, let’s close with a Lightning Round. Please answer the following in as few words as possible.

My best friend would tell you I’m a …

They’d more than likely say “goofball”.

The one thing I cannot do without is …

Sadly, Netflix.

The one thing I would change about my life:

I guess I would make it so money wasn’t as important, or at least wasn’t an issue for me. Then I wouldn’t have to work so much or stress out about bills, which would give me a bigger, calmer path in writing.

Thank you for taking time to share with us. Here, then, is a sample from Plod On, Sleepless Giant:

 71iUgJf63gL._SL1500_The center of Earth shook and rumbled with the sounds of creaking wood and grinding metal, tumbling through the dark. The din swept through caverns, accompanied by the boom, boom, boom of steady, heavy steps. It would have driven any man crazy, this racket that crept through the darkness, but it was comforting to the one who had to listen. It was a noise he had always known, a sound that was born with him. He was the reason for the noise.

For all time he had walked his circle; his large, gray feet beating a pattern into the dirt. Round and round he went, his weight pushing the large, wooden wheel to which he was bound. He groaned from time to time … long, soulful bellows from his wrinkled trunk.

His ancient head swayed with the thudding beat of his steps, his long immortal ears hanging tiredly at his sides. He would walk until the end of time. He didn’t want to, but he was compelled to. It was his purpose … and without purpose, what would be left?

So he walked.

He could feel their eyes upon him, those that watched him, those that kept him in this existence … those who gave him purpose. Their stares penetrated the thick hide of his neck, burrowed into his spine and peeked in to his brain, listening in on his every thought. That’s how they watched him, how they knew when he was unhappy.

They were in his mind every second of forever, and he came to expect their presence there. After a while he lost track of his Watchers all together, as if they were just another part of him. Life would not have been the same without them.

The Watchers always knew that, sooner or later, the great elephant called Temelephas would work through whatever unhappiness it was that settled in his large heart. After all, he had been walking since the beginning of everything and knew of nothing to which he could compare his sorrow.

Walk, walk, walk, through the darkness he would stomp; his feet pounding his life into the earth. Around he went, his sweaty, tangled hair flowing down around his neck. “Round and round she goes, where she stops … nobody knows.”

If you’d like to learn more about MP McVey and his writing, here are some useful links:

 Twitter:         @mpmcvey



Book trailer:


The Write Stuff – Monday, June 22 – Interview With Ksenia Anske

Ksenia Anske is, without doubt, one of the most delightful authors I’ve had the pleasure to meet. Not the least bit shy—she’s been known to do handstands at book signings—her inviting smile and eyes gleaming with mischievous humor and canny intelligence are guaranteed to win you over in a heartbeat. Oh! And have I told you about her sparkling personality and marvelous way of looking at life? Then, there are her unique writing style and story concepts. No wonder she sells so many books.

Ksenia Anske 2015Ksenia was born in Moscow, Russia, and came to US in 1998 not knowing English, having studied architecture and not dreaming that one day she’d be writing. She lives in Seattle with her boyfriend and their combined three kids in a house that they like to call The Loony Bin.

Her newest release is titled The Badlings. It’s a paranormal urban fantasy adventure for young people and is slated for release by the end of this month. When I asked her to give us its premise, this is what she replied:

“Of all of the naughty, mischievous, disrespectful, and downright horrible things that children can be, a badling is perhaps one of the worst. Badlings abandon books without finishing them, leaving their characters sad and lonely—not to mention angry. Meet Bells, Peacock, Rusty, and Grand, four ragtag friends convicted of this monstrous crime. As punishment, they get sucked into a book of unfinished stories, whose patchwork pages they must traverse…and read to the end this time.”

The Badlings is a book that grew out of my nostalgia for the books I read when I was a child and memories of biking with boys in the parks of Moscow. I was the daredevil girl who liked to climb roofs and trees and throw tomatoes from the balcony and do other mischievous things that boys loved and therefore accepted me into their tribe. I started rereading them all in English and thought, “Wouldn’t it be a great idea to write a book about kids hopping from book to book?” Voila. I decided to write it.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book and how did you overcome it?

I have not done research and just plunged in, covering thirty different books that I loved as a child, and it’s only on the second draft that my editor asked me, “Did you think about copyright?” And I was like, “Oh shit.” I forgot to check them, and had to cut out twenty books from the thirty due to copyright issues. In the process I tried to make the book a comedy, therefore avoiding the copyright thing, but then it didn’t work, so I almost gave up, then came full circle to the original idea, diving deeper into the ten books left, like Dracula and Don Quixote and The Snow Queen and others. In the end it turned out fantastic. I’m very proud of it.

What other novels have you written?

My first trilogy is Siren Suicides, about a teen who commits suicide but instead of dying turns into a siren and then gets hunted by a siren hunter, her father. Rosehead is about a rose garden that eats people, and a girl and her talking pet whippet investigate it to stop the murders. Irkadura is about an abused teen escaping her home in Moscow and seeing people as beasts as the way of surviving her nightmares, all set against the disbandment of Soviet Union. TUBE is an upcoming novel for which I have completed the 1st draft: it’s about a train killing Bolshoi ballerinas that are riding it as part of their US tour. This book was born out of me winning the Amtrak Residency and writing on the train.

Have there been any awards, productions, videos or anything else of interest associated with your work?

I guess winning the Amtrak Residency was the biggest thing so far that happens, and also being on stage with Amanda Palmer. There is a video of that on YouTube. That’s about it so far, but more fabulous things will be coming, of course.

What else are you working on?

Just novels! I have about 12 of them outlined, and about 6 other non-fiction books planned, so just focusing on cranking them out one by one.

Are there any occupational hazards to being a novelist?

Yes. Flat ass (from sitting all day long). Tired eyes that tend to go cross (from all this writing and reading). A tendency to forget to get out of the house (after all, why do it when you can visit a gazillion universes in your head). A tendency to forget to wash your clothes (why dress when you can write in your pajamas). A tendency to shun everyone away while writing (stop distracting me!) and to nag everyone when done writing (I finished my book! Read it! Read it!!!) A glazed look 24/7 that some people might interpret as a stupor while it’s actually work.

Tell us about your path to publication.

It was a long and arduous one. No, I’m kidding. I started writing because I was suicidal and my therapist told me to journal. So I did. I also started blogging about it, and when my first trilogy was completed, a few agents were interested in representing me but all turned away upon learning that the topic of my books was suicide. It was a hard sell, they said. By then I have had people who have read the drafts of the trilogy and wanted it in the book shape. So I decided to take a plunge and self-publish. I did and don’t regret this decision for a second.

If you were going to commit the perfect murder, how would you go about it?

Whack someone on the head with the tome of Oxford Encyclopedia. Or War and Peace. Or I would bury them in books. Alive. That sounds like a tortuous way to go. As to it being perfect, I don’t know how perfect that is, so maybe I should make them suffer through paper cuts so they bleed to death? Yeah, that sounds about right.

How many people have you done away with over the course of your career?

Anyone who gets in my way is being thoroughly shredded to mincemeat by a chainsaw. Or sometimes I use pitchforks, to impale those who dare to block me. Stabbing with a fork is also good, makes them juicier when I broil them.

Ever dispatched someone in a book and then regretted it?

Nope. Killing off characters is the biggest fun you can have while writing (but you also cry buckets over every death).

What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing a novel?

Trusting your gut. The endless doubts just drive you insane. Is this the right story? Is it interesting enough? Smart enough? New enough? Unique enough? Bla-bla-bla. It’s recognizing that those thoughts are just that, thoughts, and not actual truths, and keeping writing despite them that is the hardest thing I face every day.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

Nope. I have been writing for 3 years full time now, and that’s all I did. I did do ghostwriting between drafts for one client, but it was also writing, and I was getting paid for it, which blew off my socks because when I started writing I didn’t think anyone would ever pay me for it. I started writing for therapy.

Describe a typical day.

My chatty brain wakes me up around 7ish am. I get up. I put on socks and go to the kitchen to get coffee. I come back to the bedroom where my writing corner is, sit down and start writing. While I write, I might have a significant thought and share it on Twitter or on Ello without checking the status of others or replying so as not to get distracted (I do it later). I might take a picture of my coffee cut of my hair and post in on Instagram. I write until it’s about 3pm or until I produce at least 2000 words. Then I tell everyone online I wrote 2000 words, and answer all the tweets and comments and emails and whatnot, which takes about 1-2 hours (hey, I’m proud of this, social media used to take me 6 hours a day), then I read at least 100 pages (although I’m currently reading Lovecraft and I can’t process more than 50 pages a day) which takes about 2 hours or more. I can also be interrupted by having dinner with kids (yes, sometimes they get to see me) and kiss my boyfriend when he comes home from work. When all of that is done, I might write a blog post or chat online for a bit again, then I exercise (I have a stationary bike) and if I’m really busy, I combine that with meditating (I bike with my eyes closed for 20-30 minutes). If I do have the time, I meditate after I bike. Then I take a vodka bath, and then we turn off the lights and climb on the roof naked and make love and fall asleep under the stars (though when it’s raining in Seattle, it gets pretty wet). The next day everything starts over again.

What motivates or inspires you?

There are so many untold stories in my head, they not so much inspire me as they drive me forward to get them out. Does it make sense? Also, art, all kinds of art. Any time I read a fantastic book or see a beautiful painting or a gorgeous photograph or an exquisite dress or a anything that someone made with love to express their emotions, all of this inspires me. Also, the orgy of mountains and trees and rivers and flowers and clouds. Nature is magnificent.

What has been your greatest success in life?

Getting hit by a truck on my way home from work while I was on a bicycle. I woke up in the hospital and have decided to quit my career for good and start writing before I end up in a box.

Ksenia, you have made my work today so easy! I usually have to try to be glib in order to make my guest shine a bit more. In your case, I’m puttin’ on my shades.

Before I share some of The Badlings with my visitors, let’s try a Lightning Round. Answer the following questions, if you will, in as few words as possible:

My best friend would tell you I’m a… terrible recluse.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Writing. Also, reading. Also, coffee. Also, socks.

The one thing I would change about my life: Start writing earlier.

My biggest peeve is: Work done sloppily. I’m a perfectionist and drive others to perfection as well (which annoys them to no end). When I see something done half-ass, I can’t stand it. I abhor it.

I couldn’t agree more. The person/thing I’m most satisfied with is: My children. They have turned out better than I ever hoped for. I love you, Anna and Peter. You are my everything. XOXO

For your reading pleasure, here is a sample from The Badlings:

The Badlings Final FrontChapter 1. The Duck Pond


What if you found a book stuck in dirt? Would you take a peek inside, or would you chuck it at innocent ducks that happened to waddle nearby? Poor ducks. You wouldn’t hurt them, would you? Because who throws books instead of reading them?

Meet Belladonna Monterey, or Bells, as she’d like you to call her—she has decided that Belladonna was too pompous a name for a scientist. See her dark flashing eyes? Her ponytail all askew? Don’t try talking to her, lest you want to be throttled.

On this sunny September morning Bells was mad. Mad at her mother, the famous opera singer Catarina Monterey, for calling her a “poor scientist.” The argument started at Bells refusing to go to her Saturday choir practice and escalated further into a shouting match when Bells declared that under no circumstances would she ever become a singer.

“So you want to be a poor scientist?” said Catarina, hands on her hips. It was her usual intimidating pose mimicked by Bells’ little sister Maria from behind her mother’s back.

“What does it matter if I’m poor?” asked Bells, stung to the core.

Maria stuck out her tongue.

Bells ignored it, refusing to descend to the level of an eight-year-old.

“Oh, it matters a great deal,” replied Catarina. “How do you propose to make a living? You have seven years left until you’re on your own, Belladonna, and every year is precious.”

“I told you I don’t like that name. Call me Bells.”

Her mother’s lips pressed together. “As I was saying, Belladonna, every year is precious. I’ve picked out an excellent stage name for you, and I expect you to thank me.” Her demeanor softened. “You are destined to become a star, with my talent running in your blood. If you stop practicing now, you might never develop your voice.”

“I don’t want to develop a voice,” blurted Bells.

“You’re a girl!” cried Catarina. “What future do you think you have in science?”

“Why does it matter that I’m a girl? I certainly have no inclination toward prancing around in stupid period dresses and hollering my lungs out like you do.” As soon as she said it, she regretted it.

Her mother looked hurt. “Is that what you think I do? Holler my lungs out?”

“I hate dresses,” said Bells stubbornly. “I hate singing. I hate it that I’m a girl. I want to do science. Stop sticking your tongue out!” That last bit was directed toward Maria.

“Mom, Belladonna is being mean,” she whined.

“Shut up,” said Bells.

“You shut up.”

“Don’t torture your sister,” snapped Catarina. “Look at her. She’s younger than you, but she has the presence of mind to follow my advice.”

Maria flashed a triumphant smile and twirled, showing off her gaudy pink dress, the type their mother liked to buy for both of them. Bells made a gagging noise. She hated pink or anything decidedly girly. She made sure to never wear dresses, and if she absolutely had to, she smeared them with mud so thoroughly, her mother pronounced them as ruined.


If you’d like to follow Ksenia and buy her books, these are the appropriate links:







The Write Stuff – Monday, June 8 – Interview With Joshua Grasso



Most readers assume that an author’s world is steeped in literature. When that’s not the case—an increasingly frequent phenomenon in today’s self-pub world—the book often ends up poorer and the reader suffers. That’s far from the case with today’s guest author. Joshua Grasso, is an English professor at a small university in Oklahoma specializing in British Literature. His books, not surprisingly, are heavily inspired by the works that grace his classrooms—Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Robinson Crusoe, Pride and Prejudice. He is also a life-long reader of fantasy, science fiction, and comics, and tries to work all these influences into his fiction, which are firmly in the classic fantasy literature tradition of Tolkein, Lord Dunsany, T.H. White, and many others. He has independently published two novels, The Count of the Living Death (2013) and The Astrologer’s Portrait (2014).

When I asked Joshua to give us a sense of his most recent work, he described it this way:

Prince Harold has fallen in love with a portrait, which he much prefers to his real bride-to-be. However, the portrait may be a hundred years old, and only the greatest sorcerer in the land can verify her existence. Unfortunately, Turold the Magnificent is currently on trial for maliciously impersonating a person of quality and despoiling her family history. Harold gets him off on the condition that they locate his lady love before his wedding to Sonya, who vows to kill him on their wedding night. Along with his faithless Russian servant, Dimitri, the three steal off to locate the true identity of the sitter—only to confront a curse much older than the portrait. To dispel the curse the prince must lead a revolution, fall in love with his wife, and release the centuries-old hands of Einhard the Black, who are eagerly awaiting their latest victim.

That’s an intriguing premise. Can you tell us a little more?

The Astrologer’s Portrait poses the age-old question: do we fall in love with people or our own ideals? The protagonist, Prince Harold, falls madly in love with a painting that may be three hundred years old, yet is determined to find the sitter, and if possible, confess his undying love to her. A disgraced sorcerer, Turold, is conned into helping him locate his Muse, only to uncover something much larger than a family heirloom: the painting hides a curse which involves a pair of undying hands, a folio of forgotten plays, and the haunted dreams of an Italian noblewoman who bears an uncanny resemblance to the painting in question.

Writing a novel is seldom a straightforward process. What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book and how did you overcome it?

I wrote the novel over four summers and winter breaks, since these are my “off time” from teaching at a university. As you can imagine, it’s hard to pick up the thread after several months and remember who these characters are, what my ideas were for them, and why it all made sense. In fact, many times I would re-read the work and find it hopelessly inept and uninspiring. I spent days and weeks re-writing it each time I re-encountered it before I could start writing again. Luckily, this helped me gain perspective and challenge my instincts as a writer, since I would approach it after a year or so as a reader, and the reader was often bored or annoyed with the story.

What other novels have you written?

I’ve written four other novels, only two of which are published; the fourth is being completed. My fourth novel, which is 80% finished, is called The Winged Turban. This is the third summer I’ve spent writing it, and it’s going along quite well—much easier than the previous one. Probably because I forced myself to keep reading it and editing it even during the semester so I didn’t lose the thread of the story.

Do you find there are occupational hazards to being a novelist?

I was never interested in merely trying to write for a living. I always thought being a teacher/professor would be wiser, since I could then read books for a living, teach them to others, and become inspired from the interchange of ideas with my students. After a year in advertising, I decided to get my Master’s in English and that led directly to my Ph.D. in British Literature and a position in a small university in Oklahoma. Once I got my bearings as a professor, I began to write in earnest again and have written three novels during my 8 years as a teacher. And as I suspected, teaching the books I love and listening to students talk about them, struggle with them, and more importantly, write about them, always inspires me to continue the conversation in my own writing. I honestly believe that reading, teaching, and writing is all part of the same process of thought, just viewed from different perspectives. I am the same “person” when I do each one.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I spent twenty-odd years from college to the present day trying to publish my novels. I pursued agents, publishers, entered contests, etc., all before deciding that my future lay in teaching, not in selling books. In a way this proved fortuitous, since I’m a better teacher than writer, and teaching fulfills me much more than any amount of fame as a writer would. Also, my early novels were pretty bad and I’ve destroyed them all. What I now consider my “first” novel was written only 9 years ago and has at least 5-6 “skeletons” behind it. However, even my most recent novels have met with indifference from agents and publishers, so I finally decided to self-publish the first two just to see how it went. And while I haven’t been too successful, a good number of people discovered my books and enjoyed them, which justifies the point of writing them. For now, that’s good enough.

That’s more than good enough. Since you mentioned skeletons, let me ask if you’ve ever dispatched someone in a book and then regretted it?

No, because fiction isn’t real life: you can resurrect anyone. Superman has died umpteen times and is still alive and kicking. Same with Sherlock Holmes. No one dies in fiction!

You’ve been on the path long enough to appreciate the difficulties it entails. What is the single most powerful challenge you’ve faced when it comes to writing a novel?

Having characters that are interesting enough to change your story. If your story stays the same from initial conception to final page, you’ve made a mistake. Good characters make the story go in new and unexpected directions. Indeed, you might say that good characters write the story for you. Until you have characters you can see in your mind and that seem to navigate the story without your direct input, the story isn’t really a story worth telling. I’ve begun many a story without the characters, and you know deep in your gut that something is wrong. It’s almost always the characters.

Tell us about your “other” job.

 As I mentioned above, I’m a professor of English literature and teach classes ranging from Freshman Composition, British Literature surveys (typically the earlier periods, from Beowulf to the 18th c.), World Literature, Humanities, Postcolonial Literature, and even comic books. Teaching inspires my writing and is also a release from the stresses of my career. I also write a lot of academic writing—articles, essays, biographical sketches—so that also influences my creative writing. Often, as in the case of The Astrologer’s Portrait, an article on 18th century theatre spills over into the plot of a novel; indeed, I even buried a few lines of an obscure 18th century play in the dialogue of one of my novels. Almost no one would outside of my field would recognize it!

What motivates or inspires you, not necessarily as regards your writing?

Art, music, and books. All of my novels are inspired initially from a work of art: I love paintings and have spent hours in great museums trying to see what the great artists saw. My first job was across the street from the Art Institute of Chicago, so I would go there during my lunch and explore a gallery at a time, seeing the originals of paintings I had once admired in books. One or two of these paintings ended up in one of my books in a round-about way. Classical music, too, fuels my writing and many scenes are written with a specific composer or work in mind. Perhaps even more importantly, though, are the writers and books I admire, which inspire me to try new things or simply to emulate old masters. Nothing I do is “new”: I merely compose variations on very old ideas, and in the process, try to make you forget the original tune.

What has been your greatest success in life?

 My greatest writing success has nothing to do with my novels, though it remains a great accomplishment: this year I won the CEA Critic’s (a literary journal) Robert A. Miller Memorial Prize for Best Article published that year. However, my greatest success beyond writing would simply be earning my Ph.D. and being able to land a job in my field (increasingly hard for PhD’s to do these days). I’m proud that my kids can see me teach and realize how important literature and culture is, and that their father spent his life trying to make “dead” words speak. I passionately believe in the power of art and literature, and am glad I can devote my professional career to defending and promoting it.

What a wonderful perspective. On the other side of the coin, what do you consider your biggest failure?

In a way, all of my novels are “failures.” What I mean is that writing is such a transcendent experience, full of emotion and visions and delusions of grandeur. When you are in that moment, you feel like your work matters, that it will change the world—or at least your world. However, when you read a finished work a year later, it no longer has that magic. Something is lost, and you only see its shortcomings, its failings. In that sense, the work has failed…it rarely has the power to move me as it once did. The connection is lost, and you can only go back and try to create a few sparks in revisions. I doubt I will ever write a work that years later I can read with delight and feel that yes, this is exactly what I meant to say. I can be proud of it, naturally, but I find reading my own works difficult once I’ve gained some distance.

At this point, before I share an excerpt from The Astrologer’s Portrait, I’d like to try a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a… grump.

The one thing I cannot do without is… music.

The one thing I would change about my life is… try to get more sleep.

My biggest peeve is… willful ignorance.

Amen to that! The thing I’m most satisfied with is… my library.

As promised, here is an excerpt from The Astrologer’s Portrait:

cover-joshua-grasso-astrologers-portrait-200x300The Royal Astrologer was dead. Shortly after eight o’clock he tumbled to his death from the highest tower in the palace. According to the testimony of a handful of onlookers, there was a violent crash (the window), a pained cry (the Astrologer), a tremendous clatter (a series of coins which dropped onto the courtyard) and a resounding thump (the body). There wasn’t much left to parade around the streets in the morning, so it was a very hushed-up, discreet affair, much like the man himself. No one quite knew what he did in the queen’s employ. After all, the title “astrologer” is a rather ambiguous term. To some, he read the stars and charted their invisible trajectories. To others, he was a dabbler in witchcraft and the magical arts, bringing some unspeakable doom upon the kingdom. But if you asked the queen she would probably call him a “sponge” and insist that his room was fumigated as thoroughly as possible.

The only question was what to do with the late Astrologer’s effects. In his room he had amassed a prodigious collection of artifacts, from paintings, sculptures, books, diagrams, maps, experiments, crystals, and other, less recognizable items that were promptly thrown in the trash. The queen had everything catalogued and put up for auction, which attracted a steady stream of collectors and connoisseurs. Apparently the Astrologer, who never contributed a single krouck to the court’s coffers, was sitting on a fortune worth several hundred thousand fobs. Priceless weapons and faded maps changed hands and brought a girlish smile to the queen’s lips. How nice to suddenly stumble into a neglected fortune and not have to dirty one’s hands with the transaction! She called her chief attendant aside and commanded him to find out how many other octogenarians were in her employ; she was particularly interested if any of them might be willing to depart for their final journey before rather than after the upcoming ball season, the cost of which went up every year and promised to bankrupt her.

Thank you, Joshua, for taking the time to share your writing with us. For those of you who would like to read more of either this book or his earlier work, Count of the Living Death, or else connect with the author, you may do so at the following:

The Astrologer’s Portrait:

Count of the Living Death:

 Website: The Virtual Astrolabe:







The Write Stuff – Monday, May 25 – Interview With Ernest Brawley

I write fantasy, but I’m every bit as taken by books set in the real world, well-written books with visceral appeal. So when I encountered online a work set inside prison walls, one of this world’s most difficult environments, a book called The Rap, I wanted to meet the author and share his novel with my visitors.

Ernest BrawleyUnlike the other works I’ve featured here, The Rap is not a recent work. It was written in 1974. It came to my attention, however, because it is only now being released as an ebook. Still, with so many other wonderful recent publications, why would I be interested in showcasing a book that is more than forty years old? Well, let’s see. After its debut in print, Fort Worth Press called it “A bawdy, rowdy and powerful novel—a blockbuster.” The Philadelphia Inquirer said it’s, “The best novel I’ve tasted in many seasons.” When I learned the Chicago Tribune said, “There isn’t a page of The Rap that will let you off… It is incredibly cynical, sarcastic profane and brutal… You can’t turn your back on it. You can’t forget it”, I asked myself how could I ignore it? It is with pleasure, then, that I introduce you to author and screenwriter Ernest Brawley.

When I asked Mr. Brawley to tell us about himself, he had this to say:

I grew up on the grounds of several California prisons. My father and two of my uncles were guards, and one of my other uncles was an inmate at the prison where my father worked.

As a high school student, I was intent on becoming an auto mechanic, but my English teacher liked the essays I wrote for his class, encouraged me to pursue a college track, and gave me my own gossip column, modeled on Herb Caen’s, in the school newspaper. I called it “Ernie’s Brawlesque,” and I had so much fun writing it, and found that it made me so popular with the girls, that I decided to become a professional author. When I met my teacher later in life, I jokingly told him that I would never forgive him for encouraging me to be a writer and not an auto mechanic. When he asked me why, I replied, “Because the average mechanic gets paid a helluva lot more regularly than your typical writer!”

I worked my way through grad school working nights as a correctional officer at San Quentin Prison, in Death Row, the Big Yard, and as a rifleman in the guard towers. THE RAP is based upon my horrifying experiences there, and I actually lived through many of the events in the lives of my characters. My protagonist, Arvin Weed, is very like me. Even his name has the same history as mine. Both “Arvin” and “Weed” are the names of funky little California farm towns. My father was born Ernesto Robles, but changed his name to Ernest Brawley when he passed through the border farm town of Brawley, California. A light-colored Mexican, he figured he’d do better in California with a gringo name. All the characters in THE RAP are based on my own family members, or guards and prisoners that I knew personally. Even Galliot, the black prison writer in my novel, is based upon the writer James Baldwin, whom I knew later in Paris.

I attended the University of California at Santa Barbara. After a stint in the US Army, I went on to San Francisco State University, where I was granted two writing scholarships and a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing. Since then, I’ve spent my life writing, teaching, and traveling the world. I once even hitchhiked from San Francisco to Patagonia, and from Paris to Singapore. I am married to a Thai nurse, Kanchana Namjaiyen, whom I first met after a horrific motorcycle accident on the island of Phuket. I woke and saw her beautiful smiling Asian face beaming down upon me and thought I’d died and gone to Nirvana. We were married a year later.

I’ve taught at the University of Hawaii, Hunter College, New York University, and the Sorbonne. I’ve lived and worked in Buenos Aires, Paris, Rome, London, Bombay, Bangkok, Tokyo, New York, and Hollywood. I am a recipient of the Joseph Henry Jackson Award in Literature, and served for several years on the Fiction Award Committee of the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington. Aside from numerous short stories, magazine articles, and book reviews, I’ve published three novels.

Will you tell us a little about your writing career?

Rap CoverMy first, The Rap, a gritty prison novel, was originally published by Atheneum. It was a Main Selection with Book of the Month Club, went into two editions as a mass market paperback, and was published in several foreign languages. It was optioned by Lorimar Productions and made into a feature film entitled Fastwalking, starring James Woods, for which I was credited as writer.

My second novel, Selena, set in the Central Valley of California during the Mexican farmworkers’ strikes, was also published by Atheneum. It was a Main Selection at Literary Guild, a mass market paperback with Signet here and Granada in England, and was purchased by Twentieth Century Fox. It was based on my own experiences working with Mexican farmworkers in the tomato fields near Tracy, California, and it was also well-received. Here are some of its reviews:

“There is not an area of novel writing where the author is not scarily gifted. His plotting is intricate but never rings false or obtrudes. His descriptions of places, scenes, machinery, processes, illuminate like flares. His ear for dialogue can handle English, Mexican-American, and ‘pocho’ Spanish. His narrative pace is swift. His style is joyous and free. His feeling for character is mind-boggling. His amazing eye makes every page fresh. NO AMERICAN WRITER IN YEARS HAS PRODUCED SUCH A READABLE, DEEP AND FULLY REALIZED NOVEL!” — San Diego Union.

“A story as vibrant and earthy as its heroine and her people…a big, powerful novel, packed with action and alive with unforgettable characters!” — Literary Guild Magazine.

“Need not to be compared to Steinbeck; it stands on its own feet, speaks with its own fresh, strong voice!” — Louiseville Courier Journal.

My third novel, The Alamo Tree, also based upon the experiences of my own family, was published by Simon & Schuster and was a featured selection at Literary Guild. Its publishers describe it this way:

“The Alamo Tree is an epic of two countries–Mexico and the United States–chronicling the tumultuous relationship of two families, the O’Hares and the Carrizos, through six decades of this century’s explosive social and political changes. Abounding in a rich variety of characters—Yankee imperialists and corrupt revolutionary generals, middle-class reformers and peasant activists, narcotics smugglers and wheeling and double-dealing entrepreneurs, victimized priests and disenfranchised mestizos—The Alamo Tree powerfully confirms Ernest Brawley as one of America’s most dynamic and original writers, and a master storyteller.”

In addition, I’ve written two film scripts, The Dressing Of The Dead for writer/producer George Gonneau, and The Northmen for producer Jeff Goldman.

It’s nice to see you are finally moving into digital publication. Please tell us about this latest endeavor.

The Rap was republished on April 30, 2015 by Little Machines Press/Roots Digital and is now available for purchase at Amazon/Kindle. Selena will soon be republished by Little Machines Press/Roots Digital Media as well. My new novel, Blood Moon, is set in 1880s Arizona, and is based upon The Pleasant Valley War, the West’s bloodiest land war, in which the Gringo and Chicano sides of my family were intimately involved. It will be published shortly after Selena by the same publisher.

Do you currently have any other projects in the works?

At present I am working on two projects, a novel set during the CIA’s secret war in Laos entitled The Golden Triangle, and Streetlight, a crime thriller film script set in New York in the year of its nadir, 1975.

What were the challenges you faced while writing The Rap?

The biggest challenge I faced while writing The Rap was—believe it or not—eating. My former wife and I were the proverbial starving artists in Paris at the time, and we really did not know where our next meal was coming from. I could barely afford the postage to send the six hundred pages to my agent, John Hawkins, in New York. He sent it to Herman Gollob, the legendary editor at Atheneum, and the next thing I knew I received a check for $179,000.00… which is probably about quadruple that now in constant dollars, and more than my father had made in his entire lifetime. We went quite literally from rags to riches, and took all our artistic Parisian friends, including James Baldwin, out to dinner at the Select Bar, our hang-out in Montparnasse, to celebrate. Then I took my wife to all the most famous couturiers in Paris to get her outfitted, had a fitting at Giorgio Armani’s myself, and we went on a five-star grand tour of Europe. The rest of the year went more or less like that, and by the next year we were broke again. However, as luck would have it, John sold The Rap to the movies, saving us from any more Parisian-style starvation.

Good for you! Since then, have you encountered any occupational hazards associated with being a novelist?

There are several. First, you sit on your ass all day staring at a computer screen and tapping away with your fingers, so you are in danger of rump enlargement, loss of sight, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Second, the writer’s income is uncertain and fluctuating. You’re either up, or you’re down. And you’d probably do better in the end with a regular eight-hour job in an automobile garage where you get a check every two weeks and go home to spend the weekend with the wife and kids. Third, when you’re up, you may suffer from attacks of narcissism and self-glorification, and when you’re down the opposite may occur.

What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing a novel?

My problem is not the story, or the characters, for mine are always based on people and places and stirring events that I know very well or have experienced myself. My problem is organizing them all into a palatable, readable form. I have a tendency to go off on tangents, to not properly focus on a single dramatic element, to fail in building one scene on another until they reach a satisfying climax. Having talked to other authors, I find that I am not alone in facing this problem.

Do you have another job besides writing?

 For years I taught at the university level, but I am now a full-time writer.

Describe a typical day.

I get up early, see my wife off to the hospital where she works, eat breakfast, and sit down to write. I force myself to sit at my computer till lunchtime, even if no sudden inspiration comes my way. I find that if I sit long enough, something will inevitably turn up. After lunch I nap for a half hour, have a cup of tea, and set back to work. I stay at my desk until my wife arrives home from work. Then we go down to the gym to work out for an hour. Home to supper. And off to bed. A very boring routine, but it works. I stick to it at least five days a week, sometimes six. Every month or so we take off for a long weekend in the mountains, desert or seaside, to friends or family.

What motivates or inspires you?

The real events that I, my family past and present, and certain of my acquaintances have experienced. We have all led eventful and exciting lives, and some of us have died violently.

How do you pick yourself up in the face of adversity?

Funny you ask that, Raymond. Many of my friends ask me the same. Actually, I’m a born optimist. Always looking for the bright side, no matter how bleak things may actually be. And I’m not alone. It’s common in my immediate family to laugh at the fates, to “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative,” as my mother used to sing after Johnny Mercer, to refuse to give into adversity under any circumstances. For example, my sister Lenor, a rodeo queen, mother of two little girls, lost her leg and part of her hip when her horse fell on her in a barrel race. She spent not a minute lamenting her fate. She was back up riding within the year, along with water skiing and bicycling, and wrote a book about her recovery entitled One Step At A Time, which was an international best seller.

What has been your greatest success in life?

My greatest successes are my novels. My greatest failure was in my role as husband to my former wife.

Before I provide my visitors ways to learn more about both you and works, I’d like to conclude our time together with a Lightning Round. Please complete these sentences:

My best friend would tell you that…

I’m a workaholic who likes to take a break from time to time, drink good wine, and giggle about old times surfing the big waves at Rincon del Mar or chasing girls on Malibu Beach.

The one thing I cannot do without is…

my wife, the beautiful young nurse from the River Kwai, Kanchana Namjaiyen Brawley.

The one thing I would change about my life is…

nothing. I have no regrets.

My biggest peeve is…

California drivers.

The person I’m most satisfied with is…

my lovely, wonderful daughter, Lucia Brawley, actress, writer, mother, political activist, an inspiration to all who know her.

Ernest, I cannot begin to tell you how delighted I am you agreed to share this time with us. It’s been a pleasure to begin getting to know you.

To my visitors, if you have enjoyed this brief encounter, you can get in touch with the author and find his books at the following links:



The Write Stuff – Monday, May 11 – Interview With Sally Ember

In the wake of featuring so many authors from genres other than mine, I’ve decided to focus on creators of science fiction and fantasy for a while. Although I read a wide variety of literature and most of you do as well, most of my followers look first to the genre I create. That said, I have the pleasure of introducing Sally Ember, Ed. D., author of the complex and controversial Spanner Series.

Profile pic 4inchAs in the case of some earlier guests, Sally and I met through Facebook’s Fantasy SciFi News Network, #FSFNet, a group open to readers, writers and bloggers alike. Sally, who fits into all three categories, has been passionate about writing since 3rd grade. Now, she blurs the lines between fact and fiction in the space opera, The Spanners Series, utopian sci-fi with romance/ paranormal (psi only)/ multiverse/ Buddhist/ Jewish components. She meditates, writes, swims, blogs, reads and hosts her Google+ Hangout On Air (HOA) *CHANGES* conversations between authors, broadcast from St. Louis, MO, USA. Sally has worked as an educator and upper-level, nonprofit manager and has a BA, Master’s & Doctorate in education.

When I asked her to describe her work, she had this to say:

The Spanners Series is a 10-volume (planned; Volume I released Nov., 2013; Volume II released June, 2014), original, science-fiction/ romance/ multiverse/ paranormal/utopian/speculative fiction ebooks series for adults/new adults/young adults.

I was halfway through Volume III in early April, 2014, when I had a terrible accident, resulting in a concussion and broken nose. With Post-Concussion Syndrome, all my fiction writing had to come to a halt and hasn’t resumed, yet, for my series. I hope to return to The Spanners Series soon (June or July, 2015) and release Volume III later this year. I had also already started Volume IV, which I hope to return to and complete for release in spring, 2016.

This-Changes-Everything----web-and-ebooksVolume I, This Changes Everything, “spans” the entire series’ time frame, moving freely and non-linearly between events that occur [the series is written entirely in the present tense, remember, to remind us all that all time is simultaneous] many millennia prior to Clara’s meeting with the first five alien holos from the MWC in late 2012 and extend throughout Clara’s entire term as Earth’s CC, about thirty years. As the introductory Volume for the series, it lays most of the groundwork for all ten books.

Volumes II and III cover the same time period as each other, the five years of Earth’s “Transition.” These five years are the time that starts with Clara’s revealing her visit with “The Band” of alien holos and the deadline given to Earth for deciding whether or not to join the Many Worlds Collective. Each of the Volume’s narrators come mostly from the two different age groups, so we get their perspectives. Volume II also includes “Snapshots” from ten Octobers in Clara’s life, about one every five years for a while then one every year after the aliens visit her, starting in her childhood and extending beyond the Transition, to allow readers to get to know her and her generation better.

final cover printVolume II also provides more details and scenes that show both her and her nephew, Moran’s, Excellent Skills Program trainings, Moran’s “Interludes.” The main Chapters for Volume II are the interviews Espe conducts with Clara’s son, Zephyr (32 when the series begins), and each of Clara’s nephews, nieces; her grandnieces and -nephews make a few appearances.

Both Volumes II and III refer to Earth’s internal Psi-Wars, the extreme consequences from the problems that occur when Fragmenters and Trenchers protest Earth’s accepting the MWC’s invitation. There is more about those conflicts in Volume III than II.

Volume III has more narration and scenes from the older group of narrators, including Clara’s siblings, friends and her mother, Epifanio, and a few new characters, some not human, while also including Espe and Moran as well, providing more stories from the five years of Earth’s “Transition.” Some allusions to later Volumes and their events appear in Volume I and each of the earlier Volumes, leading to Volume IV, which is entirely set at the Earth’s first Campus’ Excellent Skills Program (ESP) trainings.

The stories in Volume IV focus on the experiences of the youngest and youth/young adult students, human and not, but Clara, Moran, Espe and a few others appear again, including a new/returning love interest for Clara, Steve. Epifanio, as her husband (and not), depending on what timeline Clara happens to be experiencing on any given day, also keeps appearing.

Whew! Time related stories are certainly complex. What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this series and how did you overcome it?

Still working to “overcome it,” I guess. Meditation was also affected, and losing my ability to meditate for almost 8 months was worse than not being able to write fiction. I have coped by focusing more on nonfiction, writing short pieces for my own blog and creating guest blog posts. I also began an online talk show, *CHANGES* conversations between authors, in August, 2014, that I still do almost every Wednesday (10 AM Eastern USA time), and which is how I met YOU, Raymond! Thanks for being a guest!

 What else have you written?

The two Volumes I’ve released in The Spanners Series are my first two fiction novels. I am a produced playwright, a published short-story and feature articles writer and nonfiction co-author, an uncredited ghostwriter and editor of several other nonfiction books.

Have there been any awards, productions, videos or anything else of interest associated with your work?

On my YouTube channel (Sally Sue Ember is my Google+ ID and Youtube Channel name) are four self-made book trailers (via three for Volume I and one for Volume II (concussion, remember?); also, two author public readings from The Spanners Series, and one author Q & A (with almost no “A” because the feature didn’t work!) as well as all the *CHANGES* Episodes (as of this week, up to Episode 29).

What else are you working on?

I do some editing/proofreading and write reviews occasionally, but mostly I write for my blog and host my show, waiting for my brain to return to full enough function for me to resume writing my novels, again. My sci-fi series is immensely complicated; even with a spreadsheet I had created prior to my accident (THANK GOODNESS!) that only hints at all its components and overlapping, multiple timelines that span over 80 years for the main characters and grab historical events from “past” millennia up to the present as well.

The novels are also all written in the present tense, which is a meditation-while-writing that takes an enormous amount of concentration, since it’s not the way we usually write (or think or speak, either). Suffering still from memory problems, aphasia and other brain deficits makes that kind of writing impossible, still.

I also can’t yet quite access my full memory of what I planned to include in this and future Volumes, so I keep exercising, meditating (which I was recently made able to return to and it’s working almost completely, now), writing short pieces and trying to be patient.

I have some research topics for the series and my own interests which I regularly blog about: physics, astronomy/cosmology, the multiverse and parallel universes, medicine/health, meditation/brain mapping, feminist topics, book reviews, movie reviews, and much more: whatever I’m in the mood to learn and write about, I do. I also have created and will write some more guest blog posts (most are about writing or indie publishing), some more interviews like this that are really more writing projects than interviews, per se, and who knows what else?

What inspired you to write your series?

Unrequited love. Really. I needed an outlet and a place to write the life I wish I were having with the man I love who does not return that feeling. BUT, I also wanted to write him OUT of my life. So, I’m doing both!

Furthermore, I feel a deep despair about Earth’s future, including extreme disgust with many humans. I recognize the need for better interspecies communication here and with beings from off-planet.

Combine all that with a life-long keen interest in and belief in quantum physics, astronomy, multiverse existence and life elsewhere, and BOOM: sci-fi/romance.

I am writing the future I wish us all to have. Somewhere, somewhen, not just because I’m writing it, all of this IS happening because, as physicists are fond of reminding us, everything that can happen is happening in the multiverse.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I am “Crowdcreating” Volumes VIII and IX of The Spanners Series, so I seek YA-aged and -themed and NA-aged and -themed writers, readers to contribute to Vol VIII and I seek adult authors/readers for Vol IX.

I am also requesting readers’ suggestions, questions and ideas for what I’ve left out of or you’d like to see of alternate timelines’ versions of stories in any previous Volume to put into Vol X (the final Volume in the series).

Please contact me (sallyember AT yahoo DOT com) no later than Jan. 1, 2016, if you want to participate in Crowdcreating by offering suggestions and even writing portions or entire Chapters of Vol VIII or IX. The deadline for submitting questions and ideas for Vol X is January 1, 2017. Share!

Now that’s an uncommon approach. Tell us, Sally, what motivates or inspires you?

Dreams, visions, meditations, experiences.

One night in February, 2012, I was awakened by a very clear voice that said: WRITE. I went to the computer, hearing sentences and seeing scenes in my mind. Five hours later, most of the first Chapter, all of the summaries for all the Volumes, and the Chapter outline for Volume I were drafted. I kept going from there and finished the first draft of Volume one in 8 weeks.

TCE went through 19 other drafts via my own ideas, consults with friends and family,and letting it “sit” over an 18-month period to reach the final version. During that time, I started Volumes II, IV, and V and sketched out parts of the others as well. I feel very driven. Part of the reason is that I identify a lot with Clara.

The line between fiction and nonfiction is very blurred in these Volumes, intentionally, and my life seems that way sometimes as well. I’m curious as to what the readers will decide is “real.”

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I strongly believe that Earth is in serious trouble, politically, economically, environmentally, socially: in every way. I do wish we could be rescued by stronger, more intelligent, compassionate, capable beings! I wanted to show how things would change, and especially, how things would improve, if Earthers could be certain that we are not “alone.” Then, there would to be some dissenters of various types and intensities, so the psi Wars came about, with the Psi-Warriors and Psi-Defiers.

Fascinated by physics, multiple timelines/multiverse concepts, alien life and psi phenomena, family relationships, world affairs and the environment, and unrequited/requited love, I have incorporated all of these themes and topics into my sci-fi novels. I have and continue to do extensive research for each Volume. The parts that are scientific and authentic are the most fun to fictionalize.

I also subscribe to the optimistic view that their are inherent intelligence and value in all species, so interspecies communication among equals, both on Earth and off-planet, becomes central to the Series.

Because I am very interested in the Excellent Skills Program (ESP, or psi) aspects. I look forward to and have enjoyed writing the parts about each character’s ESP training and experiences, uses of the Excellent Skills and the ways having access to these Skills changes Earthers.

Finally, my erstwhile love is not with me, just as Clara’s is sometimes not with her, so I empathize with that situation and write scenes in which she and Fanio are together as a sort of wish-fulfillment. Then, I introduce other interests, romantic and personal, for Clara, to show how a strong, independent woman does NOT need a lover to be happy.

I always conclude with a Lightning Round. Please answer in as few words as possible:

 My best friend would tell you I’m…

intensely loyal and forgiving, but once I write you off, we’re done.

The one thing I cannot do without is:

Buddhist dharma principles and practice.

The one thing I would change about my life is…

I wouldn’t have had an affair with one of my college professors as an undergraduate.

My biggest peeve is…


The person I’m most satisfied with is…

my son, Merlyn Ember; he’s an amazing man (he’s 35).

For those who’d like to learn more about Sally and her writing, here are some links:

 Author Central Amazon link:

Purchase and other Links all on Look right; scroll down.


Vol II ($3.99):

Facebook personal page:

Spanners Series’ page on Facebook:

Twitter: @sallyemberedd

Spanners Series’ page on Google+

Sally Sue Ember on Google+