The Write Stuff – Monday, October 9 – Interview With Michael Okon

If you haven’t already heard about this week’s guest, you are likely to do so over the next few months, or at least, one or two years at most. I say this, because his career is starting to take off like a runaway freight train.

Michael Okon is an award-winning and best-selling author of multiple genres including paranormal, thriller, horror, action/adventure and self-help. He graduated from Long Island University with a degree in English, and then later received his MBA in business and finance. Coming from a family of writers, he has storytelling is his DNA. Michael has been writing from as far back as he can remember, his inspiration being his love for films and their impact on his life. From the time he saw The Goonies, he was hooked on the idea of entertaining people through unforgettable characters.

Michael is a lifelong movie buff, a music playlist aficionado, and a sucker for self-help books. He lives on the North Shore of Long Island with his wife and children.

Today I am featuring Monsterland, a teen & young adult monsters & horror novel, expected to be released on Friday, October 13. (What an appropriate date for a horror novel!) He describes his book as follows:

Welcome to Monsterland—the scariest place on Earth.

Wyatt Baldwin’s senior year is not going well. His parents divorce, then his dad mysteriously dies. He’s not exactly comfortable with his new stepfather, Carter White, either. An ongoing debate with his best friends Melvin and Howard Drucker over which monster is superior has gotten stale. He’d much rather spend his days with beautiful and popular Jade. However, she’s dating the brash high-school quarterback Nolan, and Wyatt thinks he doesn’t stand a chance.

But everything changes when Wyatt and his friends are invited to attend the grand opening of Monsterland, a groundbreaking theme park where guests can interact with vampires in Vampire Village, be chased by werewolves on the River Run, and walk among the dead in Zombieville.

With real werewolves, vampires and zombies as the main attractions, what could possibly go wrong?

Will you tell us about your most recent release?

Well, my release isn’t so recent, but it’s certainly updated. In 2015, I wrote and self-published a book called Monsterland. Two years later, I have a literary agent, an entertainment attorney, a film agent, a publicist, and heavy film interest from a very well-known producer, plus a two-book publishing deal for the same book. It’s been quite a ride! Monsterland follows the story of teenager Wyatt Baldwin, who gets the opportunity of a lifetime to attend the grand opening of the scariest place on earth – Monsterland. It’s a theme park with real werewolves, vampires and zombies.

That’s quite impressive. What was the inspiration behind it?

I always wanted to write a monster book but couldn’t settle on which type of monster to focus my story on. In the summer of 2015, I was watching an 80s and 90s movie marathon with my son who was 7 at the time. I showed him all the classics – The Goonies, Back to the Future, Gremlins, Jurassic Park…etc…It occurred to me while watching, why isn’t there a theme park with zombies. I called my brother immediately to tell him about the idea for a book I’d like to write and he told me, “No.” I was certainly confused. He said, “It has to be a theme park with werewolves, vampires AND zombies.” I started beating out the character arcs that night.

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

I honestly didn’t come across anything insanely challenging. I make sure my stories are fully written in an outline before I write Chapter 1. I need a roadmap to write, otherwise, I’d be lost. Every character’s arcs are beat out before, then when I know where each character is going, I dive into the novel.

That’s becoming an increasingly logical approach for me, an erstwhile pantser. What other novels have you written?

I have written and self-published 3 self-help novels under the pen name Michael Samuels. I then began writing novels, and wrote 15. Monsterland was the one that stood out and has been gathering a ton of momentum.

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

I have an entire team behind me whose sole focus is to get my brand out there in the marketplace. I have won dozens of awards, and my brother has created some online videos. There is some heavy interest from Hollywood about my book Monsterland, so we’ll see where that goes.

What else are you working on?

Monsterland 2 is in the books, and will be coming out May 26, 2018. I’m in the middle of Monsterland 3 now, and currently beating out Monsterland 4 and 5. It seems that I’m going to be writing about monsters for the next several years, which I’m perfectly fine with.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

I’m an early riser. I’m up at 5am. Eat breakfast, generally, bacon and eggs. I see my kids off to school. Then I research and develop my subject ad nauseum from 9 to 5. I consider that my day job. I have to know the ins and outs of my subjects. Google and Amazon are my best friends. I always cook my family dinner and it gives me a break from development. I tuck in the kids and wife around 8pm, then I go to my den and write until my eyes go. I do this every single day.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I self-published 18 books and had a nice little career going. I was reading a book a couple years ago called How to Sell a Screenplay in Hollywood (or something like that) by Syd Field. In it, he interviews an entertainment attorney named Susan Grode. I told myself, when I get my first agent contract I’m going to have this lady read it. Fast forward a few months later, I received an email from an agent in London who was interested in repping my works. I asked him to send me a contract and he did. I emailed Susan and introduced myself. She called me 2 minutes later and said before you sign with this agent in London, let me introduce you to my friend in Brooklyn named Nick Mullendore. I’m a Long Island guy so it made sense to stay local. We met for lunch and he signed me that day. That evening Susan said she would also represent me. Nick took my book Monsterland around and it was rejected by everyone. 6 months later he had a conference call with a Film Agent in Los Angeles. He was pitching her a romance novel and she said she wasn’t really into it, she’s into monsters. He said he had the perfect author for her and sent her my book. She read it in one weekend and we had a conference call the following Monday. She said she will get this on every producer’s desk in Hollywood, but it needs to get published. Nick got the book into the hands of Kevin J. Anderson who runs WordFire Press. WordFire read the book, loved it, and signed me to a two-book publishing deal for Monsterland 1 & 2. The film agent kept her promise and got the book into a few producer’s hands, who plan on shopping it around. This all happened in two-years. I have to pinch myself how many times I’ve caught lightning in a bottle so far. The universe is definitely responding to my requests.

Why do you write?

I am a universe builder. There is nothing more thrilling than creating something and pulling your reader into this world you’ve built. Keeping your reader there and entertained is something I get a kick out of.

What motivates or inspires you?

Watching movies is, by far, my biggest inspiration for writing books. There are certain films that have stood out in my life that I know where I was, who I was with, what I was feeling at the time, when I saw the film. I want to create that same type of feeling for my readers when I’m writing. I want people to never forget the first time they read a book of mine. I want that to stay with them forever, the same way seeing Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was for me.

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

I wrote the book on overcoming obstacles. Adversity is what you make of it. I have been rejected by every publishing house, every film agent, every literary agent, and every business contact, I’ve practically ever come across. Life is about rejection. But…when you are rejected, that only strengthens your position to get to a YES, if you continue to push through. Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit. Napoleon Hill said that. For every NO I’ve ever received in my life, I’ve had a YES that was beyond my wildest dreams, I was so grateful for receiving that NO the first time around. I sometimes hope for a NO, because I know there is going to be a massive YES just around the corner.

I am a BIG fan of Napoleon Hill. Do you have any pet projects?

I am a sucker for self-help and law of attraction books. I have over 200 in my library and have implemented all of their teachings into my life. I continue to write down my goals on a monthly basis and see how these things manifest in my life. So far, I’m at a 90% success rate in a three year timeframe. Not bad, I must say. Other than that, I’m a huge Disney guy, I love to gamble (especially craps and poker), and I haven’t eaten bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, fruit or veggies in 5 years. I’m in the best health of my life.

Thank you, Michael, for taking the time to join us. Before I give my site’s visitors a taste of your work—followed as usual by your social and book-buy links—I’d like to conclude this interview with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m an… Insanely funny person who makes light out of all situations.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Steak (and butter).

The one thing I would change about my life: Eat more steak and butter.

My biggest peeve is: People who are addicted to their smartphones.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: My diet. I’ve reclaimed my health eating all foods I was told not to eat – steak and butter.

 

And now, for your reading enjoyment, an excerpt from Monsterland:

“They’ve found us,” he growled in the unique language they used after transformation. “Run!” he barked as he turned to his pack, watching his friends’ naked skin transform until it was covered with the same silvered fur.

They cried out in unison at the pain, howling with the injustice, and then ran in fear from the interlopers threatening their habitat.

They separated into two groups and took off in different directions to confuse the strangers.

Billy tore through the brush, thorns ripping his fur, and, in his adrenaline rush, he didn’t feel anything. He glanced backward; the humans were chasing them, one running with a huge camera. Nine other hunters followed, the long barrels of their rifles bearing down on them.

Behind him, he heard multiple shots and triumphant shouts, knowing that his friends were succumbing one by one.

With a frantic growl, he urged Little John, Petey, and Todd to run faster.

Little John’s massive body was blocking him. Billy bayed at him to keep his head closer to the ground. He worried about Little John, knowing that his big frame might as well have had a target painted on it.

“Stay close together,” he urged. His heart sank when he heard Todd yelp. The shot hit his friend from behind, sending him careening into a trench. Billy wanted to stop but knew he couldn’t help Todd. The humans were on his friend’s fallen body seconds later. He had to find Petey and Little John a place to hide.

There was a loud scream as one of their pursuers stumbled on a root to their left. Billy paused, panting wildly, to get his bearings next to the broad trunk of a cypress tree.

“Which way?” Petey asked.

Billy’s eyes searched the tangle of the mangroves for an opening.

A shot rang out, splintering a tree, sending shards of bark around them. Billy reared in surprised shock. It wasn’t a bullet. A red feathered dart was vibrating next to him, sticking out of the wood.

“What is that?” Petey whimpered.

“It’s a dart,” Billy said. “They’re trying to capture us. This way!”

He and his pack mates took off, disappearing into the twisted vines.

They clawed through the swamp, hiding behind clusters of Spanish moss, dipping under the water when the hunters approached.

One man in the group stood taller and leaner than the rest, his dark wolfish eyes scanning the dense undergrowth looking for them. The man paused, training his gun in Billy’s direction as if he could see straight through the foliage.

Billy held his breath, terrified of discovery, but the harried sounds of a chase distracted the leader of the hunters.

Billy and his pack skirted solid ground, their bodies quivering. He glanced at the sky, wishing for the sun to rise so that he would transform back to being human.

The splashes of their pursuers seemed to recede. The pack waited in claustrophobic silence for the time to pass.

Billy spied a dinghy heading towards the flat-bottom boat as dawn approached. They heard the sputter of an engine being turned over.

“They’re leaving,” Little John said hopefully.

The rays of the sun lit the eastern sky. It was quiet once more. They paddled softly toward the shore. Coming out of the water, they shook themselves of the muck. Early morning birdcalls broke out in the thick stillness.

Billy barked a cry of dismay as shots rang out. Little John went down in a tumble of leaves and mud, a dart silencing him.

Billy veered right, squirming under a broken log, Petey barreling over it. The report of another shot and a loud thump told him that he had lost Petey too.

What do they want from us?

Billy dug his paws into the marshy land, his heart pumping like a piston. He leaped high over an alligator dozing in the shade of a leafy tree. Billy felt the impact of a dart; a sharp pain ripping into his flank.

His eyes dimmed as he tumbled headlong onto the boggy ground. He rolled over and over, coming to rest on a bed of rotting leaves. He couldn’t move; his limbs were leaden. His ears registered the sound of running feet.

Billy looked up into the triumphant, black eyes of the man who led the attack. The hunter placed his boot on his neck, holding him down.

“Got ya,” he heard the man say with a thick accent before everything went dark.

 

Those of you who would like to lean more about Michael Okon can do so here:

Web: www.michaelokon.com

Twitter: @IAmMichaelOkon

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

Snapchat: https://www.snapchat.com/add/iammichaelokon

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/iammichaelokon/

 

You can purchase his book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Monsterland-Michael-Okon-ebook/dp/B0751F3B3S/

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

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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: http://www.amazon.com/Astrologers-Portrait-Joshua-Grasso-ebook/dp/B00LKQ0DXC/

Count of the Living Death: http://www.amazon.com/Count-Living-Death-Joshua-Grasso-ebook/dp/B00FQ6711Y/

 Website: The Virtual Astrolabe: http://hblackbeard.blogspot.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joshua.grasso

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JoshuaGrasso

 

 

 

 

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:

Website:          http://www.ernestbrawley.net/

Amazon:         www.amazon.com/ErnestBrawley/e/B001HPR4E2

The Write Stuff – Monday, January 19 – Interview With Lisa Lenard-Cook

I have chosen to begin this year’s series of interviews by introducing my visitors to Lisa Lenard-Cook. As is the case with other authors I intend to feature this year, Lisa writes fiction and non-fiction alike. She is a faculty member at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and has taught at many other conferences, including the Taos Summer Writing Conferences and NULC in Ogden. She also teaches private classes and takes, in her words, “particular joy in mentoring both beginning & more experienced writers… I love to hear from readers and writers, and cheerfully (mostly) respond to queries.”

30colorI first encountered her work in 2010 when I read her book, The Mind of Your Story, published by Writers’ Digest Books, in which she explores how she synthesizes her experiences into something cohesive. In her book, she suggests that at least three, disparate, compelling ideas must come together before a story can congeal. In the example she gives, the first seed for one such tale involved her learning about two similar women who had developed Alzheimer’s disease and noticing the parallels in their lives. The second came while watching planes dropping slurry onto the fires near her home during a drought. When she read about wild horses starving on government land, that was the necessary final element. The three converged in “Wild Horses,” her account of a rancher whose wife develops Alzheimer’s. You will see how this theme repeats when we discuss her new novel.

The effort I refer to is a book entitled Dissonance. It has been attracting a great deal of attention as well as winning awards since its 2014 re-release. It won the Jim Sagel Prize for the novel while still in manuscript. And after its original publication by the University of New Mexico press in 2003, it was selected as a book of the year by the Tucson-Pima County Public Library, the Midland Library and the Cincinnati Public Library. In 2004, the book was both a NPR Performance Today Summer Reading Choice and the countywide reading selection for Durango-La Plata Reads and in 2005 it was short-listed for the PEN Southwest Book Award.

9781939650115Times-standard.com has this to say about her book: “‘Dissonance,’ by Lisa Lenard-Cook, is a touching novel that takes the reader from present-day New Mexico back to the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp and then forward to the present again. It is beautifully written and emotionally charged. I especially enjoyed the way Lenard-Cook uses music as a means to explore sensitive themes. A haunting and lovely read, this one.”

Congratulations on the re-release of your novel, Dissonance. Can you tell us something about it?

Using the language of music theory as a leitmotif, Dissonance is the story of a Los Alamos piano teacher who receives a legacy from a woman she doesn’t think she knows, which leads her on a journey of self-discovery.

What caused you to write it and is there a story behind the story?

I’ve found that any fiction I write, be it short story or novel, requires three seeds, which quietly mix together until a certain moment when I am quite literally compelled to write. The first seed for Dissonance was likely planted when I was young, when I read an autobiography by my friend Leslie Klein’s mother, Gerda Weissman Klein, All But My Life, which introduced me to a world far less benign than I had previously imagined. I began to notice how many people—how many of my friends’ parents, in fact—had numbers stamped on their arms.

I never intended to write a book about the Holocaust; so many good books have already been written. Nor was I (or am I) someone who immersed herself in Holocaust literature. But then, in the mid 90s, when I was a graduate assistant at Vermont College(where I earned my MFA), Juan Felipe Herrera gave a talk about the writer’s political and social responsibility. It really struck me, that talk, and, while I didn’t know it at the time, it connected to that first seed, when my daughter Kaitlin Kushner brought home a library book, I Never Saw Another Butterfly, about children’s art at the concentration camp Terezín.

Then, at Christmas (1994), we were in Los Alamos at my in-laws. I started thinking about Los Alamos, then and now—the Manhattan Project, SDI, the extraordinarily smart people who live there, and how many of them are musicians. This was the second seed.

Now I happened to be reading a great deal of music theory at the time, although I no longer remember why. One morning, I was reading about the mechanism of the piano when a line came into my head: “The piano is unique among instruments for its double stroke.” While I did not know who was speaking, I did know I had better take notes. From that first line, the first draft of Dissonance was written over a two-month period in the summer of 1995. It was finished coincidentally (or, perhaps, not coincidentally) on the 50th anniversary of the bomb at Hiroshima.

The holocaust is a difficult theme for many readers. So much has been written about it and this subject evokes so many strong emotions. Why do you think Dissonance is being so well-received?

Dissonance is a book about love and forgiveness. Perhaps it is this… hopefulness… that has kept the book alive all these years.

Why was it discontinued and what brought it back to life?

There are still a few hardcover copies out there—UNM Press never remainders books, but sells them until there are no copies left in the warehouse. At the same time, because the second hardcover edition hadn’t sold out, they didn’t bring out paperback or electronic editions.

I got the rights back to the book in 2008, right around the time the publishing industry (and so much else) imploded. It wasn’t until I learned about Santa Fe Writers Project publisher Andrew Gifford’s efforts to reissue books in 2013 that I knew I’d found the book a new home.

Is Dissonance changing the direction of your career?

It’s certainly wonderful to have received so many kudos for the book, but in the end, it’s the act of writing itself that matters. I recently came across this, from Jane Smiley’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel. I keep it on my desk: “The more intently [the novelist] focuses on the page being written rather than the career that is developing or disintegrating out there somewhere, the better the work and the happier the… person.”

What are you working on now?

In addition to teaching, editing, and coaching other writers (my “day job”), and putting together bosque (the magazine) #4, I’m working on a new novel, Dear Lucia.

I know how busy you are and I want to thank you for dropping by to introduce us to your work.

Thank you, Raymond.

If you would like to learn more about Lisa or purchase her books, you may do so at the following:

Twitter:                                   @LisaLenardCook

Lisa’s website:                        lisalenardcook.com

Writers co-op website:         abqwriterscoop.com

Amazon:                                 http://www.amazon.com/Dissonance-Lisa-Lenard-Cook/dp/1939650119

http://www.amazon.com/Mind-Your-Story-Discover-Fiction/dp/1582974888/

The Write Stuff – Monday, November 3 – Interview With Carol Bodensteiner

In this, the second to last interview of the year, I feature yet another Readers Favorite award winning author, Carol Bodensteiner. Like many of the authors appearing here, I met Carol online in Melissa Foster’s Facebook group, Fostering Success. It is a group of earnest Indie authors who, like Carol, Melissa and my previous interview’s guest, Michelle Weidenbenner, have distinguished themselves by going on to win numerous awards.

Bodensteiner 4C HRCarol Bodensteiner is a writer who finds inspiration in the places, people, culture and history of the Midwest. After a successful career in public relations consulting, she turned to creative writing. She blogs about writing, her prairie, gardening, and whatever in life interests her at the moment. She published a memoir Growing Up Country: Memories Of An Iowa Farm Girl in 2008. Her debut novel Go Away Home was published in 2014. She’s currently working on contemporary fiction.

Carol, will you please provide us with Go Away Home’s premise and give us a sample?

A family scandal closely followed by tragedy ties Liddie Treadway ever more tightly to the family farm she yearns to escape. When she is finally free of her old life, she seems for a moment to have it all — the opportunity for global travel, unlimited adventures, and new passions. But the reappearance of an old friend leads her to question her choices and her future. Set in pre-World War I Iowa, Liddie’s is the timeless story of the fragility of what seems secure and stable and the discovery of what a woman’s heart truly wants.

Go Away Home Award eBook Cover Extra LargeIowa – 1913

Here she was alone for less than an hour, and she felt the rest of her life stretching out before her like an endless, empty road. If she wrote to her mother, what would she say? That she was sitting here feeling sorry for herself after they’d given her exactly what she wanted?

Doing something is better than doing nothing. The words popped into her head. Papa had told her that many times. I will do something, she thought.

She stood and looked around the room, her hands firmly on her hips, her head tilted to one side. The room was similar in size to the one she and Amelia shared, yet it felt so different. So sterile. Functional. Nothing more. The washstand held a plain white pitcher and basin. A white hand towel hung precisely in the middle of the dowel rod. Beside the bed, a straight-back chair offered the only place in the room to sit. A kerosene lamp on the dressing table would light the room at night. A three-drawer pine chest of drawers completed the furnishings.

The faded bedcover unsettled Liddie the most. Such a contrast to the crazy quilt on her bed at home. A riot of shapes and colors and fabrics, the quilt had been pieced together by her mother and aunt before Liddie was born. When she was supposed to be asleep, Liddie often told herself stories about the clothes each piece must have once been. She could smell her father in the wool, see her mother in the silk, hear the rustle of taffeta at a dance. In the dark, she had traced her fingertips along the feather stitches decorating each seam. Each bit of cloth from her family.

Memories of the quilt sent a dizzying wave of homesickness washing over her. She pushed her knees into the edge of the bed, steadying herself until the queasiness passed.

This was her room. She could do what she wanted, so she forced herself to action. She pushed the dressing table into a corner where the mirror caught the light from the window. She put the washbasin on the bed and the pitcher of water on the floor and maneuvered the washstand over to the wall by the door. Immediately, her mood improved.

You do a nice job of beginning to establish a character and her history while setting a scene. What brought you to your story?

Go Away Home was inspired by my maternal grandparents. My grandfather died of the Spanish Flu in 1918. Throughout my life, I’ve been intrigued by my connection to this major world event. Of course I never knew my grandfather and even though my grandmother lived until I was well into my 20s, I never asked her a single question about him or their lives together. And she was not the type to share. So, this story is fiction based on a few facts. It creates a life for the man I never knew and for the grandmother I only knew as a stern old woman.

Do you have another novel in the works?

My work in progress is contemporary fiction. My main character is forced to answer the question of whether she’s willing to risk everything she values to help someone else.

A good story centers around a dilemma. Do you find that the story ever stalls?

Peter DeVries once said, “I only write when I’m inspired, and I make sure I’m inspired every morning at 9 a.m.” Books get written because the author put herself in the chair every day and wrote. I don’t know that I’ve ever had writer’s block, and maybe that’s why. When it’s time to write, I write.

I agree with you. In today’s publishing world, after the work is completed it’s the author’s job to market it. What is your strategy?

I’m fortunate to have spent thirty years in the public relations and marketing business, so marketing comes more easily to me than to many authors. My marketing strategy is to do one thing every day to get the word about my books out to readers. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but it has to be something. To some extent, successful marketing is a matter of persistence. Communication research tells us a customer has to hear about something three times to remember they heard the message at all. They have to hear about it seven times before they’re ready to act. So, don’t give up.

I’ve learned that no successful author writes in a vacuum. What is your writhing community like?

For the past ten years, I’ve been part of a writing group that meets every two weeks. Sometimes there are only two of us in the group, but we are committed to supporting each other on the writing journey. And there’s nothing like a deadline for keeping me at the keyboard. I credit my writing partners – their honesty, insight, and support – for much of my writing success.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?

I’m living exactly where I choose to live. I love Iowa, with its change of seasons, wide-open farm fields, and broad range of easily accessible recreational and artistic opportunities. I’m also a resident of the world. I love to travel, meet new people and see new things, so I get on the road often and the road always leads me back home to Iowa.

What inspires you, not just as a writer, but the broader you?

I’m inspired by the outdoors. I’ve live on a small acreage that affords room for lots of trees, a vegetable garden, flower beds, and a prairie. The prairie has taught me many lessons about life and is a great place to take visitors – both adults and children – to give them a taste of what Iowa looked like before it was settled by Europeans.

What a treat! Jumping all over the place, I’ll ask if you have a favorite quote.

I have many favorite quotes, and here’s one:

“It’s not our abilities that show what we really are. It’s our choices.” – Albus Dumbledore

Hah! To accompany that, what is your greatest life lesson?

As a public relations professional, the best advice I gave clients was: “Don’t write it down if you are comfortable seeing it as a headline in the New York Times.” In today’s uber-sharing social media world, we could also add: “Don’t share a picture with anyone that you’re not comfortable having everyone in the world see.”

Moving away from the serious, what makes you laugh?

Silly greeting cards.

And that brings us to our Lightning Round. As briefly as possible, please answer these:

The one thing I cannot do without is…

Ice cream.

What is your defining trait?

Optimistic persistence.

Hard copy or ebook?

Both.

Vice? Virtue?

Ice cream. Iowa Nice.

Favorite book.

1000 White Women, Cold Mountain, The Poisonwood Bible, The Other Boleyn Girl, Grapes of Wrath.

Favorite movie.

Mamma Mia

Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

Write on!

Well said.

Go Away Home is available on Amazon in paperback http://amzn.to/1kUiKxx and ebook http://amzn.to/1qr3YhB formats.

And you can connect with Carol at the following social links:

Website          http://www.carolbodensteiner.com

Twitter           @CABodensteiner

LinkedIn        http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=14449814&trk=tab_pro

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

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, July 28 – Interview With Author C. L. Hoang

I am always looking for the unique writer, someone who intrigues the imagination, who either wins or is in the running for significant awards, and whose subject matter either inspires, or tugs at the heart. I’m sure you’ll agree this sort is not very common, so when a writer such as C. L. Hoang appears on my radar, I sit up and take notice. I hope you will too.

IFMale authors rarely write love stories. Engineers even less frequently. But when I learned this man’s debut novel was selected as the Fiction Grand Prize Winner of the 2014 annual book contest sponsored by LuckyCinda Publishing in Palm Desert, California, I decided to delve deeper. Here’s what he tells us about himself:

I was born and raised in South Vietnam during the war and came to America in the 1970s. Although an engineer by trade, I am a writer at heart and have dabbled in short stories and poetry. Once upon a Mulberry Field, a love story during the Vietnam War, is my first novel, a project from the heart that took six years to complete. So one could say that my “specialty” is a mix between historical fiction (20th Century) and multicultural fiction.

His book, published on Valentine’s Day—February 14 of this year, is classed as both Historical Fiction (20th Century) and Multicultural Fiction and its premise is as follows:

As Roger Connors, a widower with no children, ponders whether to pursue aggressive treatment for his cancer, a cryptic note arrives from a long-lost USAF buddy announcing the visit of an acquaintance from Vietnam. The startling news resurrects ghosts of fallen comrades and haunting memories of the great love he once knew.

Shocking revelations from his visitor uncover a missing part of Roger’s life he never dreamed possible. Peeling back one layer at a time, he delves into a decades-old secret in search of answers and traces of a passion unfulfilled.

From the jungles of Vietnam through the minefields of the heart, Once upon a Mulberry Field follows one man’s journey to self-discovery, fraught with disillusionment and despair but ultimately redeemed by the power of love.

Mr. Hoang, apart from its plot, is there another story behind the book?

It started out as a nostalgia project for my father, who was up in years and ailing, when I began to scour the Internet for old photographs and articles about our former hometown—Saigon in the 1950s, ’60s, and early ’70s. Before I knew it, a bygone world had reopened its door and pulled me in.

As my dad and I reminisced about that forgotten place and time we had once shared and the people, events, and stories that had defined it for us, it occurred to me that I should write down those recollections. First, as a legacy of family history for upcoming generations. And second, as my way of bearing witness to the period of upheaval that had seen our family transplanted to a new continent.

Subsequently, those initial writings went through more mutations to include some oral history and perspectives from American veterans who had served in Vietnam, material that I came across while doing my research to insure historical accuracy.

It is the marriage of those two distinct yet complementary accounts of the war—one from the native people, and the other from the participants from a distant land—that gave birth to the book we are talking about today.

That was a compelling and emotionally wrenching period for both our nations. As if that is not enough reason for someone to pick up your work, in your own words, tell us why you believe someone should buy it.

Because of that unique blend of insider’s view and American perspective, readers get a more complete picture of this most controversial war in U.S. history, as well as gain exposure to the historical and cultural background of Vietnam as a country.

But rather than being just another war or history book, Once upon a Mulberry Field is first and foremost a love story—an ode to the old and the new homelands, and a celebration of the human spirit and the redemptive power of love across the chasm of warring cultures.

Those are the things that set this book apart from all other Vietnam War novels.

Will you share with us your path to publication?

Early on, I opted for self-publishing because of the artistic freedom it would give me in every aspect concerning the book, from material contents to cover art to interior layout. I enlisted the professional help of editors, graphic designer, and page layout designer, taking all their inputs into consideration while striving to stay close to my own vision. For on-demand printing service, I chose CretateSpace because of the simplicity to set up, and also to benefit from the extensive experience of a vast and very helpful community of users there.

Aside from the Grand Prize I mentioned at the beginning of our talk, are there any other awards or honors you’d like to share?

In 2102, the first-draft manuscript of Once upon a Mulberry Field was selected as a finalist in the San Diego Book Awards in the Unpublished Novel category. It came as a wonderful surprise, and it gave me tremendous encouragement. Then in May this year, I received word that my published book had been designated a finalist in the 2014 National Indie Excellence Book Awards in the Historical Fiction category. It was a great honor for me.

All these honors indicate you may have a promising career unfolding. As you well know, these do not come about by accident, but rather by a serious marketing effort. Will you share your strategy with us?

It’s true that most writers would much rather write than do marketing. But for me, one big reason why I write is to share with other people, so I’m making every effort to introduce my book to readers out there via my own personal network (email and telephone campaigns), social media including a website and a blog, other writer friends’ platforms, and my book publicist’s professional network. Immediate results are really hard to estimate, but I believe it’s the cumulative effect over time that will make a difference.

Few, if any,  successful writers work in a vacuum. Please tell us about your writing community.

I belong to a couple of local writers/publishers organizations that hold monthly meetings to exchange ideas and/or listen to invited guest speakers discuss the latest trends in the publishing industry. Through social media, I also made connections with other readers/writers, either individually or within various groups.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I used to write while trying to hold on to my day job as an engineer. But I ended up doing poorly at both, so I finally decided to take a sabbatical from work to devote myself to writing full time.

Since you have managed to avoid workforce tedium, I then have to ask where would you live, if you could live anywhere?

Somewhere close to the ocean where I could fall asleep to the sound of the waves.

I already suspect I know the answer to this, but I still have to ask what is your dream job?

Writing full time without the pressure of a schedule or the burden of self-promotion.

As it is for all writers I know. What is your greatest life lesson?

Don’t keep putting off what you really want to do because you may never get another chance to do it.

That is the only way to begin a career writing. Setting the serious aside for a moment, what makes you laugh?

Little children .

Not what I expected, but you’re right. They make all of us laugh. A few quick questions now:

What are your favorite authors?

W. Somerset Maugham, John Cheever, James Michener

The one thing I cannot do without is:

A word processor

What is your defining trait?

Detail-oriented

Hard copy or ebook?

Hardcopy at home, and ebook on the road.

Vice? Virtue?

Writing/writing

Hah! Now that made me laugh. Favorite book:

Of Mice and Men

Favorite movie:

Gone with the Wind

As always, I asked C. L. Hoang for an excerpt from his book. Here it is, for your enjoyment:

Mulberry 4x6“We are close to the flower market,” Liên said, pointing ahead in the direction of the river. “It is on this same street—Nguyễn-Huệ, or Rue Charner in the old days—just on the other side of Lê-Lợi Street. It has been a Tết tradition for as long as I remember, and it only opens for a short time. From two weeks before Tết until New Year’s Eve. Come. Let us walk.”

We had barely crossed Lê-Lợi Street behind the giant Marines Statues when I beheld, out in the center of Nguyễn-Huệ Boulevard, on the sunny median island, a mirage of explosive colors—a tropical garden floating serenely amid swirling traffic. The visual effect was startling.

“Wait until we get inside the market,” Liên giggled, reading my reaction. “You will forget everything else except New Year’s celebration. When I was a kid, every year we children would get so excited when the flower market opened. It was the sign that Tết was near, which meant no school for two whole weeks, and lots of candies and lì-xì money from the grownups.” She smiled at the memory. “We knew nothing about our parents’ financial worries. It was all innocent fun to us.”

We gingerly picked our path through oncoming traffic, half running, half dodging, and laughing all the way to the oasis in the middle of the boulevard. Greeting us was a kaleidoscope of colors and motion, sounds and smells, all enhanced by the intense afternoon heat. I recognized but a few of the flowers that proliferated along the narrow walkway, some in decorative pots, the rest in fresh bouquets: mums, daisies, marigolds, sunflowers, lilies, orchids, and many exotic unknowns, in countless varieties and shades. Competing with the flowers were miniature kumquat and tangerine trees loaded with luscious fruits the size of golf balls, ornamental plants sculpted in the shapes of mythical birds or rare animals, skeletal branches of spring buds stuck in antique vases, not to mention a vast selection of bonsai in porcelain planters.

I whistled. “I’d buy them all. I wouldn’t know what to choose. Are you finding something you like?”

Liên was admiring a green shoot of daffodil in a small ceramic bowl, with half-opened white-and-yellow buds on it. “This is hoa thủy-tiên―water fairy―which grows from a bulb,” she explained. “There is an art, almost lost to us young kids, in how to prepare the bulb for planting so that it blooms exactly on the First Day of Tết, or New Year’s Day. My father practiced it for years and had amazing success. But he cannot this year, after the stroke. I will get this for him before we go.”

I followed her to the next stall, which displayed long stems of fresh-cut gladiolas. “Tết is a sacred time for us,” she continued. “The whole family gathers to remember our ancestors and pay respect to their memory. Every home sets up an altar for the ancestors during the holidays. My mother loves to use these glaїeul, the red ones especially, to decorate ours. The French brought these new plants to Việt-Nam a century ago. It’s funny that they have become very popular but we still call them by their French name only.”

She bent down to pick up a bouquet of elongated spikes of white flowers that reminded me of Mexican tuberoses. “These, Roger, are called hoa huệ. In Buddhist families like mine, we place offerings of these on Buddha’s altar. Look how pure, how lovely they are. And very nice fragrance, even sweeter at nighttime. Like lotus flowers, they symbolize spirituality.”

Dodging around long strips of red firecrackers that dangled across the stall entrance, she spoke as if making a mental note to herself. “I also need to buy a couple of these strings for my father. He always went out and got them himself in years past.” Then turning to me, “Have you ever heard firecrackers this size explode? They scare me half to death, like real gunfire.” She laughed. “They must be loud enough to chase away evil spirits. The past few years, for security reasons, we are allowed to set them off only on New Year’s Eve and on the First Day of Tết, during the cease-fire. That’s plenty for me.”

She was excited and happy, flitting like a butterfly from one stall to the next, touching and admiring everything in sight. Watching her, I imagined the wide-eyed little girl who had held her mother’s hand during annual trips to the flower market in preparation for Tết and for a lifetime of familial duties. Just like that, her turn had now come. To play grownup herself.

 

The following are links to his book:

Amazon:                    http://www.amazon.com/Once-upon-Mulberry-Field-Hoang/dp/0989975673/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1401291897&sr=8-1

Barnes & Noble:       http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/once-upon-a-mulberry-field-c-l-hoang/1118713576?ean=9780989975674

iTunes/iBooks:         https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/once-upon-a-mulberry-field/id840069201?mt=11

Smashwords:             http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/410849

Kobo:                          http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/once-upon-a-mulberry-field

 

If you would like to get to know Mr. Hoang a little better, you can connect with him through the following links:

Website/Blog:            www.mulberryfieldsforever.com

Facebook:                  www.facebook.com/CLHoangAuthor

Twitter:                      www.twitter.com/CLHoang

Goodreads:                www.goodreads.com/CLHoang

Google+:                    https://plus.google.com/109835251328316290376/posts

LinkedIn:                   www.linkedin.com/in/CLHoang

The Write Stuff – Monday, May 5 – Interview With Author Giacomo Giammatteo

This edition of The Write Stuff moves into different territory. When I began this series, I promised to present authors of interest. I doubt you will find anyone more interesting than mystery and non-fiction author, Giacomo Giammatteo. With so many titles to his credit and such glowing reviews about his work, I hardly knew where to begin this interview. I thought I would play it safe by asking Jim, as I have grown to know him, to tell us a little about himself. He chose to describe himself this way:

Giacomo & Slick 3andAhalf Inch

I live in Texas now, but I grew up in Cleland Heights, a mixed ethnic neighborhood in Wilmington, Delaware, that sat on the fringes of the Italian, Irish and Polish neighborhoods. The main characters of Murder Takes Time grew up in Cleland Heights and many of the scenes in the book were taken from real-life experiences.

Somehow I survived the transition to adulthood, but when my kids were young I left the Northeast and settled in Texas, where my wife suggested we get a few animals. I should have known better; we now have a full-blown animal sanctuary with rescues from all over. At last count we had 41 animals—12 dogs, a horse, a three-legged cat and 26 pigs. Oh, and one crazy—and very large—wild boar, who takes walks with me every day and happens to also be my best buddy.

Since this is a bio, some of you might wonder what I do. By day I am a headhunter, scouring the country for top talent to fill jobs in the biotech and medical device industry. In the evening I help my wife tend the animals, and at night—late at night—I turn into a writer. I write mysteries and non-fiction career books. I also have a series of epic fantasies planned; the first three are written.

Jim, in brief, what is Murder Takes Time about?

Nicky Fusco thought he knew right from wrong, living by an oath of friendship & honor with his three best friends. But life took them down separate paths, and the oath was broken. Secrets were kept. Years later they are reunited and the bonds of their friendship are brutally tested, putting them on a collision course set in motion long ago.

Murder Takes Time is not a typical murder mystery or mob story. It is a thriller, a romance, and a coming-of-age story that rips your heart out. By the time you’re done reading it, you just might find yourself rethinking the definition of friendship & honor—even right and wrong.

Three boys, one girl. Friendship, honor, love—betrayal. It ends with murder.

Wow! That’s quite a concept. Since I know from personal experience that every story has a seed, what prompted you to write this one and why should someone buy it?

Many of the stories in this book are true, mostly of the kids in the early days. The neighborhood described is where I grew up.

I guarantee a good read. Literally. If you don’t like my books, or don’t feel you got your money’s worth, I’ll give you a refund or a new book. I have it posted on both of my sites. No one has taken me up on it yet.

What are you working on now?

Always a tricky question. I tend to work on a lot of things at once, and at different stages of development. So, I have just put up my second career book  on pre-order (No Mistakes Interviews), and I am doing the final edit on A Bullet From Dominic, the second book in the Blood Flows South series. I am also close to finishing the draft on Murder Takes Patience, the third in the Friendship & Honor series, and I am plotting a novella, and also the fourth and final book in my fantasy series.

Right from the start, I said you have numerous titles to your credit. That brings up the question, how do you overcome writer’s block?

Fortunately, I have never had to deal with that.

Some say marketing a book is more difficult than writing it, yet you’ve bee very successful at this. What is your marketing strategy?

When you find a strategy that works, please let me know. I have been experimenting with a lot. I can tell you what I don’t do, and that’s give books away for free in mass quantities.

Hah! Can you tell us what life experiences inspire or enrich your writing?

I guess growing up in the city in a big family and among various ethnic groups. That was a wonderful experience.

Between all of the animals and your day job, how do you find time to write? What’s a typical day?

  • Wake up about 7, feed a few of the animals. (we have a sanctuary with 45 animals).
  • Drink coffee.
  • Work in my day job, headhunting in the biotech/medical device industries.
  • More coffee.
  • Feed animals at noon.
  • Back to headhunting.
  • More coffee.
  • Feed more animals at around 5-6 PM.
  • More coffee.
  • Eat dinner around 8:00 and then start writing.
  • Write until about midnight or so. Start all over the next day.

 A few quick questions. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Italy. No question about it.

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

Knowing that picking yourself up is required. That’s what must be done.

Do you have a favorite quote?

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Do you have any pet projects?

Continuing our work with animals that need help.

What makes you laugh?

Almost anything. But especially little kids and animals.

What are a few of your favorite authors?

Alexandre Dumas, Luciano DeCrescenzo, Frank Herbert, John Sandford.

I enjoy multiple genres, as well. Alright, Jim, before I share an excerpt from Murder Takes Time with our visitors, as well as links to more of your work, let’s try a lightning round.

 The one thing I cannot do without is:

Coffee/espresso, garlic, pasta. (I can’t limit it to one)

 In one or two words, what is your defining trait?

Persistence.

Hard copy or ebook?

Doesn’t matter.

Vice? Virtue?

Coffee, garlic, pasta.

Hah! I think I see a pattern here. Favorite book:

The Count of Monte Cristo

Favorite movie:

The Phantom of the Opera (2004 version)

Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

If you like a book, tell someone about it.

I asked Jim to provide a brief excerpt from Murder Takes Time. Here it is, for your enjoyment:

 Murder takes time Final-a

GG: Murder Takes Time

Published 4/15/2012

 

Chapter 1

Rule Number One―Murder Takes Time

 

Brooklyn, New York—Current Day

He sipped the last of a shitty cup of coffee and stared across the street at Nino Tortella, the guy he was going to kill. Killing was an art, requiring finesse, planning, skill—and above all—patience. Patience had been the most difficult to learn. The killing came naturally. He cursed himself for that. Prayed to God every night for the strength to stop. But so far God hadn’t answered him, and there were still a few more people that needed killing.

The waitress leaned forward to refill his cup, her cleavage a hint that more than coffee was being offered. “You want more?”

He waved a hand—Nino was heading towards his car. “Just the check, please.”

From behind her ear she pulled a yellow pencil, tucked into a tight bun of red hair, then opened the receipt book clipped to the pocket of her apron. Cigarette smoke lingered on her breath, almost hidden by the gum she chewed.

Spearmint, he thought, and smiled. It was his favorite, too.

He waited for her to leave, scanned the table and booth, plucked a few strands of hair from the torn cushion and a fingernail clipping from the windowsill. After putting them into a small plastic bag, he wiped everything with a napkin. The check was $4.28. He pulled a five and a one from his money clip and left them on the table. As he moved to the door he glanced out the window. Nino already left the lot, but it was Thursday, and on Thursdays Nino stopped for pizza.

He parked three blocks from Nino’s house, finding a spot where the snow wasn’t piled high at the curb. After pulling a black wool cap over his forehead, he put leather gloves on, raised the collar on his coat then grabbed his black sports bag. Favoring his left leg, he walked down the street, dropping his eyes if he passed someone. The last thing he wanted was a witness remembering his face.

He counted the joints in the concrete as he walked. Numbers forced him to think logically, kept his mind off what he had to do. He didn’t want to kill Nino. He had to. It seemed as if all of his life he was doing things he didn’t want to do. He shook his head, focused on the numbers again.

When he drew near the house, he cast a quick glance to ensure the neighbors’ cars weren’t there. The door took less than thirty seconds to open. He kept his hat and gloves on, walked into the kitchen, and set his bag on the counter. He removed a pair of tongs and a shot glass, and set them on the coffee table. A glance around the room had him straightening pictures and moving dirty dishes to the sink. A picture of an older woman stared at him from a shelf above an end table. Might be his mother, he thought, and gently set it face down. Back to the kitchen. He opened the top of the black bag and removed two smaller bags. He set one in the fridge and took the other with him.

The contents of the second bag—hair and other items—he spread throughout the living room. The crime scene unit would get a kick out of that. He did one final check, removed a baseball bat from the bag, then sat on the couch behind the door. The bat lay on the cushion beside him. While he stretched his legs and leaned back, he thought about Nino. It would be easy to just shoot him, but that wouldn’t be fair. Renzo suffered for what he did; Nino should too. He remembered Mamma Rosa’s warnings, that the things people did would come back to haunt them. Nino would pay the price now.

A car pulled into the driveway. He sat up straight and gripped the bat.

For more of  Giacomo Giammatteo’s work:

Online sales links:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007UNJJYI

Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/NK6oqO

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/murder-takes-time/id593283220?mt=11

Google: http://bit.ly/1jmALEe

Kobo: http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/MURDER-TAKES-TIME/book-EYyE6dSy0GSQM4cu9IIzg/page1.html?s=gm40hRi4bEiPA241VefjbA&r=2

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/search?query=giacomo+giammatteo

Scribd: http://www.scribd.com/giacomo4giammatteo

 

Website, blog and online social accounts:

http://giacomogiammatteo.com

http://nomistakes.org

https://twitter.com/JimGiammatteo

http://www.facebook.com/GiacomoGiammatteo

www.pinterest.com/jgiammatteo

http://gplus.to/GiacomoGiammatteo

http://www.linkedin.com/in/jimgiammatteo