I grew up among middle-class everyday folk. Language was one thing that separated groups of people as I had come to know them. When I was young, every once in a while I’d hear someone say, “Oh my! She talks so uppity!” Read More
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MA: I’m happy today to introduce my guest-blogger, Nelson O. Ottenhausen. Nelson is a retired Army officer and an accomplished writer published nationally in periodicals and anthologies. His latest poem, Out of Sane, appears in a Siruss Poe anthology collection, Mind Mutations. His book, Flowers, Love & Other Things, released in November of 2005, is a selected collection of his own published poetry and short stories.
Several of his short stories have been published and one, A Fish Story, is included in the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books, Chicken Soup for the Fisherman’s Soul, now available in book stores everywhere. His short story, Duty, appeared in the December/January 2006 issue of the Pensacola Today magazine. Feature articles of his have been published in various magazines about the USS Oriskany, an aircraft carrier sunk in the Gulf of Mexico in May of 2006 in the Navy’s artificial reef program, and Survivors a human-interest story about a Pensacola military family that survived Pearl Harbor, World War II, Hurricane Ivan and 70 years of marriage.
He has published five novels, Civil War II, (2004), The Blue Heron (2005) and The Killing Zone: Evil’s Playground (2007), Jugs & Bottles (2009) and The Sin Slayer (2010).
Nelson founded Pen WISE Poets (Writers in Service to Education), a literary arts outreach program in the schools of Northwest Florida, which he managed from 1994 thru 1998, and in 1995, he was cited by Governor Lawton Chiles of Florida for this work. In October of 1995, he received a fellowship for his writings, and in August of the same year was appointed by Florida’s Secretary of State to the Directory of Visiting Artists to lecture in Florida schools about poetry, only one of five poets throughout the state to be honored so.
He holds a Bachelor of Business Degree in Operations Management and a Masters of Business Administration Degree from Western Illinois University, Macomb, Illinois.
A former native of northwestern Illinois, he now resides in Gulf Breeze, Florida.
Okay, that was a mouthful! Tell us how you began writing novels, because it seems like you wrote a lot of poetry before this.
NO: I wrote poetry for over 7 years and had 40 poems published, 28 of them I actually received compensation, but the highest payment I ever received for a poem was $35.00. In the late-90s, I came to the conclusion I was wasting my time with poetry and began writing novels. However, the poetry writing experience taught me to express my thoughts in a more concise manner and greatly improved my sentence structuring.
MA: Tell us about your novels, and did any real-life experiences inspire them?
NO: My first 2 novels are action adventure novels with political overtones and loosely based on my military experience as an Army officer. Almost all of the main characters in my novels are based on people I know or have met in a professional working relationship in some way.
Here’s the list:
Civil War II – My first published novel, action/adventure (2004) – A story of coercion, bribery and a military coup, overthrowing a sitting President of the United States, the U.S. Congress and the Supreme Court.
The Blue Heron – An action/adventure (2005) – A story about a U.S. military covert operation and coup to overthrow the Cuban government.
The Killing Zone: Evil’s Playground – Police thriller/mystery (2007) – Police Detective Daniel Patrick O’Malley is called out to investigate the death of a young woman in what appears to be an apparent suicide, but he soon discovers she is a victim in a series of bizarre murders.
Jugs & Bottles – Police thriller/comedy (2009) – A woman deaf since birth, is targeted for murder after witnessing a Mafia style execution then identifying the two hit men to the police. She, along with her dog become involved in a series of chaotic events as two brothers attempt to silence her with their bumbling, comedic ways.
The Sin Slayer – Police mystery/suspense thriller (2010) – For thirty years, a self-ordained church leader has convinced his small congregation to secretly kill dozens of people after hearing an inner voice, whom he believes to be God, telling him to cleanse the world of chosen sinners.
Flowers, Love & Other Things (2005) – A collection of poems and short stories by Nelson O. Ottenhausen published in other media from 1994 through 2005.
MA: That’s quite an assortment! Are your heroes based upon real people you’ve known?
NO: Protagonists, as well as the main characters in all of my novels, are mirrored after someone I knew, both relatives and friends.
MA: I’m intrigued by Jugs & Bottles because your protagonist is not human. Tell us more.
NO: My hero in that story is a dog. His strong points are; he is loyal, obedient and lovable, and will face danger without hesitation to protect his charge. His biggest weakness; he tries to befriend everyone because of his lovable attitude.
MA: I take it you have many different antagonists in your stories?
NO: Each novel has a strong “bad guy” and all of them are a little whacky. In Jugs & Bottles, there are really 2 “bad guys” and 2 good “bad guys” (2 brothers wanting be major criminals, but just don’t have the smarts nor ability to become so).
MA: As prolific a writer as you are, I assume you are working on something new?
NO: I’m presently working on two novels, Black Mist of the Trinity, a story of terrorists, nuclear warfare and black OPS; and Auggie, a historical novel about a young Russian girl growing up in Japanese occupied China during World War II, based on the true life experiences of a long time acquaintance.
MA: Anything else you’d like to add?
NO: I am President and part owner of Patriot Media, Inc., a small independent publishing company in Niceville, Florida. We are a traditional publisher in the sense we do not charge authors to publish their work. We are specialized and publish only military theme books, both fiction and non-fiction. To review our titles, go to www.patriotmedia.inc.
MA: Nelson, thanks for your service in the Army, and thanks for being my guest today. Folks, please visit Nelson’s Patriot Media website, as well as his personal site: www.booksbynelson.com. Read More
MA: I am pleased to welcome today’s guest, Celia Andriello. Celia is definitely one of the more colorful authors to guest-blog with me. I will let her tell us more about her.
CA: All of my novels are based on my life experiences be it via my roots in parental abuse beyond anyone’s imagination, teaching publically and privately, building creative businesses, trafficking in various products for the benefit of mankind, providing my gift of motivational speeches to various environmental groups and “rights” movements, travel, building the first dream of microcomputers, or just sharing a war with my endearing Viet Nam survivors. Throughout my journey I have been overwhelmed with the inconsistencies of what is said and what is done. My novels are like any fiction; woven into the thread of truth.
MA: That’s quite a resume! Tell us how you began writing.
CA: It all began with “Betty Butterfly.” (Don’t laugh. It’s all true.) It was a second grade assignment that my teacher sliced and diced with her red pen. Fortunately the winds transported the prose into another teacher’s custody and I was immediately proclaimed “a singular creative writer.” I wasn’t sure what it meant, but her smile indicated that it was certainly better than the assassinating red pen.
One must grow-up, sort of, and come face-to-face with what it was that created this “gift for fiction.” There is nothing like two questionable parents to stimulate the best in their children. Therapy was my greatest teacher.
MA: Why novels?
CA: I stick to the novel format to keep from being sued. It’s as simple as that.
MA: Um, okay.
CA: All of my characters have a thread of real character in them. I have known a multitude and revere them through fiction.
MA: What genre do your write?
CA: This has been a devilish question for I really don’t know which to choose. For the sake of my sanity I have often fallen back on general fiction; but it’s more than that. Hear the Calliope: A sentimental Journey on the Earth Ride (circa 1950 – 1986) lays the foundation of betrayal; family and government, for the latter is a parental construct. Within wounds are exposed and delved into in order for the reader to comprehend the distortions in the adult character after the onslaught(s). At the same time humor is woven into the gore in order to repair the damages for the heroes to develop their own personal “more perfect union with the support of a very unique circle of friends. At the same time all previous dogma is discarded; there is no religion, there is no ethnicity, there is only human.
MA: Tell us about your heroine.
CA: Marinda is a young lady who is neither black nor white, nor does she know her ethnic background. Although she was raised Roman Catholic, she has come to understand that the teachings that she tried desperately to embrace as a child never made much sense to her even though she can recite the verse. Even her name is a misnomer. In order to restructure the world to fit her and her companions’ needs she had to be a compilation of the unknown.
Her weakness is her self-doubt created at home through an abusive life style of her parents and supported by her priest. Through her torturous childhood she has come to believe that she is incapable of being loved because she deserves only pain.
On the other hand her strength is her intelligence that takes her through med studies in conjunction with her psychiatric degree. Through her wisdom she is able to re-connect all that meets because she is able to admit that she’s struggling through her traumas as well and can share with them what she’s learned from being the innocent dupe. Likewise her soul mate, Dale, a survivor of friendly fire learns and enhances her methods with his spiritual knowledge.
Within me is housed the stories of the universe for my experiences have fanned out to touch all directions. It is impossible for me to stop writing. I have tried to not avail. I recently finished KILLER: Is Suicide Painless?
MA: Thanks, Celia for that interesting interview. Folks, visit Celia’s blog for more information about her and her writing: http://hubpages.com/hub/HAUDENOSAUNEE-my-faithful-Indian-companion
MA: Julie Achterhoff was born in Michigan, but brought up mostly in the big city of San Francisco and a small island in the Gulf of Mexico. Her imagination was sparked by experiencing these different ways of life. She grew up reading very adult horror, mystery, and thriller novels passed to her by her mother. When reading she would get as excited about the writing of the books as the reading. She ended up becoming a home birth midwife with five children of her own. Still, with every book she read there was that gnawing urge to write something of her own.
Julie – welcome BACK! This is your third visit to my blog, and while I’ve had a few authors guest with me twice, you are the first with a triple visit.
My readers can go back and read the original posts Julie did with me, first on January 1, 2010, and then again on September 10, 2010.
Please remind my readers what you did before beginning your writing journey.
JA: I was a midwife raising a family for about 17 years, but when the oldest got big and responsible enough to watch the younger ones I started taking a couple classes a week at the local college. Of course I picked writing and English classes. I didn’t even dare hope to actually write anything. It was this deep, dark secret I kept even from myself! I started getting addicted when teachers and other students told me what they liked about my writing. That gave me more confidence. I suddenly realized the authors of every book I’d ever read were just regular people like me who probably started out not knowing if they could write. So I allowed my deeply buried creativity out and gave it full rein.
MA: I know you didn’t start writing novels right away, but you actually began with plays, is that right?
JA: My first major effort after some short stories and essays was actually a three-act play called Angel in the House. I really got excited about seeing my work performed. I eventually hoped against hope that I could work in the movie industry. But the structure used in plays and screenplays was very stilting for me. I had to pay so much attention to form that I felt it took away from the writing. I enjoyed just writing away without a care like I could with the short stories I’d written. I just couldn’t imagine putting enough words down to make up a whole darned book. But I decided to give it a try. I figured if others could do it, so could I.
MA: So how many books are you up to at this point?
JA: I’ve now written four books. I still can’t believe it, but I swear it’s true. I just kept writing and writing, and somehow the word count kept climbing until finally it was the end and I had a whole book in my hands. The first was Quantum Earth. It’s about a team of metaphysical scientists racing to find out why we’re having more natural disasters of a higher degree leading up to the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012, and if our own human thoughts are actually creating this reality. Deadly Lucidity is a thriller about a woman trapped in her nightmares and dreams. Then she meets someone who tries to help her find a way out of her own mind. He seems to be another part of her imagination, but he is also so real. Native Vengeance is a novella about a woman who meets a friend on the internet and eventually goes to visit her during the town’s main event of the year. Of course, this annual “event” isn’t what it seems. The town has an old Indian curse on it because of something that happened a long time ago. The new friend needs her so she can escape the evil that occurs each year to punish the residents of the town.
Then there’s my latest book, Earthwalker- Earth can be Hell for a Vampire. I’ve always loved vampires the most of any of the beasts around. Maybe that’s why it took me this long to write my own kind of story about them. Plus, I hate doing anything that’s “in.” So I figured I’d have to write the book so different and far from the main crowd that it would hardly resemble any vampire story from the past. I think I achieved this. Earthwalker is a book about a vampire. And there is a passionate love story. But from there on out it is different in almost every way from any past works of its kind. I think I was successful in finding a fresh new way of presenting it. It’s all in the writing, though, anyway, isn’t it? I mean if you like my writing, you’ll definitely like this book. It barely gives the reader a moment to take a breath. I write tight and lean. There’s not a lot of flowery prose or descriptive overload in my stuff. I think you learn a lot about yourself and your style of writing with each new attempt. I would call Earthwalker my dissertation.
MA: Are you the kind of writer who starts with a hero and then builds the story, or do you start with a plot and develop the right man or woman to fill the need?
JA: Whenever I begin writing a book I already have a pretty good idea of who the protagonist is. I have the framework in my mind and then let them develop and grow on the page. I say “let” them because that’s how it seems to happen. They become alive to me. I think that’s how I’m able to write a whole book at all. The characters kind of take over and tell me what could possibly happen to them that would be thrilling and exciting, but also believable to the reader.
MA: Can you give us an idea of one of your heroes or heroines?
JA: In Earthwalker, for example, Willa is the so-called heroine. In the beginning of the story she is pretty weak. She’s recently gone through some tough life situations and is worn out emotionally. But she’s basically a strong young woman with emotional reserves that she calls on from the beginning. She’s good at dealing with emergency situations, it doesn’t take much for her to catch on when something outside her past experience happens, and she has the capacity to be courageous if need be. She is also willing to sacrifice herself for a greater good. As most of us do, though, she tends to think of herself first. She does sense this about herself and ends up putting herself last. With Willa, it’s like she moves ahead two steps then one step back and so on.
MA: Where do you draw from to create your “bad guys?” I’m always intrigued by antagonists in supernatural stories.
JA: I’ve had pretty intense nightmares since I was very young, so I’ve got plenty of nasty people in my head. I actually tone them down for my books so they’re not totally evil. That would be boring. You’re always going to enjoy a story more when you can somehow relate to the bad guy/gal. It’s like your dirty little secret. It brings the reader in so they feel closer to the characters.
MA: I take it you’ve not had any real-life encounters with vampires or other such creatures, or have you (grinning)?
JA: Not at all. I like making it all up from scratch. You will probably never see a non-fiction book come out of me. The further away from reality the better. My writing is my escape. It takes me far away from this world. And that’s the way I like it!
MA: Okay, so four works of fiction down…how many more to go? Where are you headed in the near future?
JA: Just recently I had a very long and real feeling dream that inspired me to write another book. It’s been months since I’ve written anything, so it’s great to know I haven’t dried up in the writing department. The next one’s about a reporter out to research the latest drug craze. And boy is it a doozy! What a crazy dream that one was.
MA: I can only imagine! I’ve had a few intense dream in my life, so I can relate. Will your allow any characters from past books to tag along in future stories?
JA: I have been asked by several readers if there will be a follow-up to Quantum Earth. Unfortunately, it’s kind of a time-bound novel in that it revolves around a particular time, the year 2012. But I guess it all depends on what actually does happen in 2012 to tell you the truth. Maybe these characters will have more to say and do at that point. Who knows?
MA: Let’s hope the Mayan “prophecy” turns out to be a whole lot of nothin’! After all, the Mayans simply stopped counting days, without actually saying what would happen beyond the calendar. So much about that calendar is super-hyped. Any parting thoughts?
JA: I would just like to encourage anyone who has a desire to write not to make excuses or let your inner critic stop you from doing something that could bring you a lot of joy. Don’t let anything stop you. And don’t do it for the money or fame. Chances are that won’t happen. You just have to love it. And then just do it. Get those words down on that page! You’ve got nothing to lose and so much to gain. If you do it this way it’s gonna show in your writing. Then you’ll have something to be proud of.
MA: Thanks again, Julie, for coming back. I want to encourage my readers to check out Julie’s blog (http://earthwalker.tk) and her books’ website (http://julieachterhoff.tk).
MA: My guest today is Susan Whitfield, a life-long resident of North Carolina and the author of the Logan Hunter Mystery series. She also authored a unique cookbook, Killer Recipes, after inviting many mystery writers across the country to submit recipes in exchange for publicity. She lives in eastern North Carolina with her husband and near her two sons. Susan, welcome! Please tell me a little bit about your professional or personal background.
SW: I taught English for 13 years and moved into high school administration once I completed my doctorate. I retired in 2005 after a 30-year career.
MA: I see, so I take it writing has been a part of your life for some time?
SW: I have been writing since I was a child and actually still have a 40-page outline I wrote in high school. I never wrote that book, but thought about it for years. When I finally got serious about writing a novel in 2004, I decided to start fresh.
MA: I dabbled in short stories and poetry in high school. My short stories seemed well-received back then, but my poetry…not so much! Tell us about your novels.
SW: I wrote Genesis Beach about a strong woman whose name is Logan. She’s over 6 feet tall, determined, and doesn’t take any crap. Her first murder case was on the Crystal Coast of North Carolina. I have to admit I liked her so much, I started Just North of Luck before I finished Genesis Beach. I set that novel in the Blue Ridge Mountains, because by that time I’d decided that this would be a series of books, all set somewhere in the state I love. Hell Swamp took Logan and me back to where I grew up along Black River. The most recent book, Sin Creek, is set along the Cape Fear River at Wilmington, where I cruised as a teenager. My publisher is L&L Dreamspell, based in Houston, Texas. They are in the process of printing a second edition of Genesis Beach, which was previously self-published. I look forward to seeing the new edition.
MA: You’ve received some excellent reviews, and I thank you for bringing them to the interview. I have them posted at the end of our interview, and I encourage my readers to look over them all. Now, I am burning with curiosity about Logan. Tell us more about how you crafted this woman.
SW: That’s a great question. I physically patterned her after a super tall, rail thin literary agent I’d met. I wanted her to be smart, quirky, determined and have a little baggage she carries around with her. Fans of the series say Logan shows her “human-ness” when she makes mistakes or blurts out occasional profanity. She does manage to solve her own problems though, and I admire that.
MA: You told me that you really imbued in her genuine human traits, strengths and weaknesses. Tell us about them.
SW: Logan is intelligent and determined to be the best investigator on the force. She does make mistakes in judgment occasionally, but as I’ve said, she works everything out and gets the bad guys to boot. She is a loyal friend, tries to be a good daughter to a demanding mother, and has no life outside the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. She basically works 24/7. She has no love life at all in Genesis Beach. Perhaps that’s because she was a victim of date rape in high school. In Genesis Beach, she has sleep terrors and eventually realizes she may have been molested as a toddler. I love the way she deals with this problem near the end of the book.
MA: While Logan is a constant in the series, what about her antagonists? Do you have a returning, pesky nemesis she must contend with?
SW: While Logan remains a tough and more experienced agent throughout the series and some of the Genesis Beach characters move along with her, the cast of villains changes with each book. For example in Just North of Luck, Logan chases a serial killer who is targeting teachers. In Hell Swamp, deer hunters are prime suspects, and Sin Creek takes Logan into the porn industry, quite uncomfortable for her and for me.
MA: Any of your real life in your stories?
SW: Yes, there’s a little real life in each book, but I’ve never been involved in porn. LOL. I’d rather let readers try to figure out what came from my personal experience.
MA: Fair enough. So what’s next?
SW: Currently I’m writing a non-series book entitled The Goose Parade of Old Dickeywood. It’s about two middle-aged women with weight, marital, and health problems. I do plan to write more Logan Hunter though. My fans have already chewed me out for trying something else. They love Logan as much as I do. Isn’t that a wonderful compliment?
MA: That’s a fantastic compliment and a great affirmation of your work. Besides Logan, will you carry other Logan Hunter characters over to new stories?
SW: Pepper Ellis, a chef, is in three of the four books. I’ve thought about building a book around her, but Logan won’t leave me alone. I also like Taryn Kosterman, an artist, very much and she’s a colorful character, but not sure I’ll build a book around her either. I’ll probably continue with Logan and have them tag along for support and adventures.
MA: Will you ever write anything other than the mystery genre?
SW: I have plans to write an historical novel about an ancestor of mine, a Knight of the Bath. I’ve already started research but I know it will be a while before I get to it. That will be my biggest challenge yet.
MA: Where can readers learn more about you?
SW: I have a web site at www.susanwhitfieldonline.com and there’s a PayPal account for those who want to purchase books there. I also blog and interview authors and industry experts at www.susanwhitfield.blogspot.com
MA: Susan, thank you for guesting with me today. I encourage my readers to visit Susan’s websites and stick around to read her wonderful book reviews that follow.
Susan Whitfield Book Reviews
~~Just North of Luck–Whitfield’s excellent writing skills transport you into a hellish movie from which you cannot close your eyes, even through the most gruesome and scary scenes. Whitfield’s skill at “expectation and reversal” will leave you saying “OMG!” at the unexpected ending. Excellent read. Bravo Susan. This second book is most definitely a must-read.
~~Hell Swamp– I could just about feel the humidity and almost taste the vinegar-based barbeque. And her usage of colloquialisms (expressions such as “dang nabbit” or “dadgum”, and “yonder”) are scattered perfectly. Logan, the protagonist, is tough and competent, yet feminine, romantic and vulnerable. And the supporting cast of colorful characters literally leaps off the page. One’s body is described as “a corpse of corn”, another has a “navel mouth”, and yet another has “piranha teeth and a nose like a bull’s hairy gonad”. Someone grins ”like a mule eating briars”. Whoa! Is that vivid imagery or what? We’ve got a well-written, suspenseful mystery with a likeable protagonist, vivid imagery, a taste of horror, a little tongue-in-cheek humor and even romance. What’s not to like?
~~Hell Swamp solidifies Whitfield’s status as a true master of mystery. Her prose is tight and engaging, and her suspenseful writing style leaves the reader no choice but to turn page after page in anticipation of the latest unexpected twist. Followers of Susan Whitfield will surely not be disappointed with her latest effort, and it will most certainly be successful in drawing even greater numbers to her ever-growing fan base. An enjoyable, recommended read.
~~Hell Swamp–Peculiarities abound as you meet the suspects. Whitfield has drawn a cast of characters from ‘down by the Black River’ that rings delightfully true, scary and injected with just enough humor to make HELL SWAMP stand out from the pack. Read this book. It’s a good ‘un.
~~Sin Creek-I’ve followed SBI Agent Logan Hunter as she tracked down killers in Genesis Beach, Just North of Luck, Hell Swamp and now in Sin Creek. Author Susan Whitfield has created an amazingly `normal’ character with Hunter. She has feelings and isn’t afraid to cry, she takes on danger and doesn’t mind showing her fears, but when she takes on the world of porn, she shows a caring side that has been glimpsed in all of her stories but with more strength than ever in Sin Creek. Read Sin Creek as a book of murder and suspense but also read it as a book that opens your eyes to the problems our young adults are faced with, where these problems can take them and what the end results can be. It opened my eyes and I believe it will yours too. It has helped to educate me to the underworld of the Internet.
~~Sin Creek follows Logan Hunter’s murder investigation of college student, Maeve Smoltz, through many twists and turns as she sifts through a college town chock full of colorful and morally shallow characters, all with something to hide. This includes the victim herself, not innocent at all.
~~Whitfield offers a strong commentary on some of the dangers of college life. Her character, Logan Hunter, gives a strong telling of the story from the initial meeting with the dead girl’s parents to ending up on “The Fearless Ferry,” a happening spot that would bring shivers to any parent with a kid in college. Lickety-split pace and effective descriptions give the reader the feeling that they are conducting the investigation right along with Logan. If you’re a fan of mysteries, this one is guaranteed not to disappoint. If Mystery’s not your genre, make an exception with Sin Creek. Like the Cyclone at Coney Island, Sin Creek is gripping and intense, yet an enjoyable ride.
~~Sin Creek, new in the Logan Hunter mystery series by Susan Whitfield, is an eye-opener and a heart-breaker, but with the sweetest redeeming ending. Having had a long-standing friendship with a detective, when reading Sin Creek, I felt a sense of déjà vu about events I know to be true. These foul crimes do exist and are proliferating all over the world, both promoted by and brought to law enforcement attention by the Internet. Whitfield portrays the underpinnings of one man’s vile world of pornography with researched accuracy. Though this story is fiction, the very same types of exploitation continue to happen and escalate. If you never understood how lewd and dangerous the world of porn is, read Sin Creek. It’s fiction but true to life. It’ll make you shudder.
MA: My guest today is Alan Simon, the author or co-author of 30 books dating back to the early 1980s. His writing career began with the 1st edition of How to be A Successful Computer Consultant (McGraw-Hill) that sold approximately 200,000 copies in 4 editions over the next 15 years. He is the author of three titles in the “For Dummies” franchise series and has written extensively about technology and business topics. In 2009 Alan began experimenting in self-publishing with Blocking and Tackling Your Way to Management Success in which he set 40 fundamental management lessons against a backdrop of 40 stories from the history of his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers. In 2010, Alan branched out into fiction with the publication of his first two novels including The First Christmas of the War, set at Christmastime, 1941 – only weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Alan currently lives in Phoenix and in the past has lived in Pittsburgh, Tucson, Colorado Springs, Denver, and northeastern Pennsylvania.
Please tell me a little bit about your professional or personal background…the prequel if you would to your writing career.
AS: The best way to describe my professional background is to quote The Beatles: “The long and winding road…” I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA until my family moved to Tucson, Arizona just before my 16th birthday. I attended college at Arizona State in Tempe and then went to graduate school at the University of Arizona back in Tucson before heading off to Colorado Springs where I spent four years as a U.S. Air Force officer stationed at Cheyenne Mountain. In the Air Force I wrote software for one of the real-life “War Games” systems, referring to the early 1980s movie in which Matthew Broderick breaks into Cheyenne Mountain’s computers to play “thermonuclear war.” After my Air Force days I worked for a series of technology and consulting companies in a variety of roles, including several as a national or global practice leader in business intelligence and data warehousing. I began my own firm – currently called Thinking Helmet, Inc. – in 2006.
In many ways my writing career began as an “accident.” When I was an Air Force officer in the early 1980s I started a small computer consulting business on the side mostly so I could stay up to date with the technology of the then-brand new “microcomputers” that were very different than the old-fashioned mainframes we used in the Air Force. One day I was thinking about all of the tasks I had to do to set up my company and learn about new technology and suddenly thought there might be a book in the making there. I wrote a proposal, sent it off to McGraw-Hill, and presto! Book deal! (Little did I know the publishing game wasn’t quite that easy…)
MA: Well, I definitely have a soft spot for fellow Air Force vets, and I am very familiar with Cheyenne Mountain during my work in Air Force Space Command nearby. With such a technical and non-fiction writing background, how did you end up writing fiction?
AS: I began “dabbling” in fiction approximately 25 years ago, sequestered in a near-deserted hotel in the mountains of Colorado in late May of 1985. I had gone there to spend a week finishing up the final manuscript for my first book, How to be a Successful Computer Consultant. (Thinking back, my long-ago writing getaway in the Rockies was sort of a combination of two works from one of my favorite authors, Stephen King: “The Shining” meets “Misery” !)
Whenever I’d take a break from polishing that manuscript during that trip, I’d shift to write two or three more draft pages for an idea I had for a “potboiler” novel; something that in retrospect was heavily influenced by the writing style and typical plot lines from popular writers of the day such as Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon. I shelved that book for all eternity shortly thereafter, but over the next two decades spent thousands of hours – and wrote the proverbial million words of fiction – on any number of long-dormant projects, as fiction writing grew into a deep passion of mine.
MA: Speaking of The Shining, my kids and I once spent a night in the “Stephen King” room at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, where King stayed and wrote the book. Sadly, nothing spooky happened during our stay there. So tell us about your novels.
AS: I wrote two novels in parallel with each other over a period of 6+ years; both were self-published this past year. The first is entitled The First Christmas of the War and is a family saga set at Christmastime, 1941…only weeks after Pearl Harbor. Beyond the overarching and terrifying news coming back from the war front, each family member has his or her own “mini-drama” going on, and the story interweaves the “macro” and “micro” plots in a day-by-day format beginning with the Saturday before Christmas and ending the day after Christmas.
The other novel is entitled Unfinished Business and just like The First Christmas of the War, it’s set in my hometown of Pittsburgh. I like to think of Unfinished Business as “a darker Bridges of Madison County story” that begins in flashback with a brief wartime affair that takes place in 1942. The plot of the story is based around the resumption of that affair nine years later, in 1951, when Roseanne DeMarco’s steelworker husband is called up from the Army Reserves and set off to the Korean War…just as her long-ago “friend” reappears in Pittsburgh as she’s struggling to make ends meet.
MA: I have a hard enough time writing one story, so I can’t imagine what two parallel ones must be like. Who are your protagonists?
AS: In The First Christmas of the War I’m fortunate enough to have a number of main characters who essentially are an “ensemble cast” as the book’s protagonist. The family’s patriarch – Gerald Coleman – is patterned after one of my grandfathers. He’s a shoemaker who is fortunate enough to have made a decent enough living during the Depression. His wife, Irene Coleman, is the classic homemaker of the day…she runs her household and her family and is always looking out for the best interests of every family member. The eldest son, Jonathan, is patterned after characters such as those played by Sean Penn and Nicholas Cage in the 1980s movie Racing with the Moon…he knows with certainty he’s headed off to war soon and is trying to come to grips with this sudden reality. The rest of the family members are all “demographically appropriate” for 1941 children and teenagers.
In Unfinished Business I tried my best to get inside the head of Roseanne DeMarco. Her husband is suddenly sent off to war, she has no safety net to fall back on, and in general she’s sleepwalking through life…and here comes this person from the past who was her “partner” in an illicit yet exciting brief period of her young life. Throughout the book she’s conflicted between the renewal of this excitement and her increasing guilt about what she’s doing while her husband is away at war.
MA: They both sound interesting. Who are the antagonists in the stories?
AS: The First Christmas of the War doesn’t have an antagonist…unless you want to think of Hitler and Tojo as off-the-pages antagonists who made the story (and the war) possible!
In Unfinished Business Frank Donaldson – the main with whom Roseanne DeMarco renews her affair – is very much an antagonist, but a carefully constructed one. I patterned his character after that of Noel Airman in Herman Wouk’s 1955 novel, Marjorie Morningstar. At first he seems suave, debonair, the man of Roseanne DeMarco’s dreams who has returned to her…but increasingly his fascination in the story with Jack Kerouac (then a brand new novelist) becomes symbolic of his own character flaws.
MA: How much of your real life’s story influenced your writing?
AS: When I moved from Pittsburgh to Tucson just before my 16th birthday, I was very homesick for my original city and spent many hours in the high school and public libraries reading books about Pittsburgh and its history. Since I planned to go into the military in one way or another, I was also very interested in the World War II era and the aftermath, including the boom years of the 1950s. So my fascination with mid-20th century Pittsburgh formed the foundation for both of these novels. I spent many hours researching the facts and tidbits for both stories, though when appropriate I took a bit of poetic license in the interest of moving the story along.
In both books – especially The First Christmas of the War – I did use my real-life great-grandfather’s produce business in Pittsburgh as a plot vehicle, and in First Christmas had eldest son Jonathan working side-by-side with my real-life great-uncles in a couple of scenes. I dedicated that book to those great-uncles, all of them gone now, as members of the “greatest generation” who (to use the words of the book’s dedication) “sacrificed much of their youth to the Second World War.”
MA: So what’s next for you? You are so versatile, I can imagine either a novel or some techno-geek book coming soon!
MA: The biggest challenge I have is getting my head and hands around a much-too-full list of to-be-written projects for 2011. In all seriousness, I have a list of about 15 business, technology and management topics; 25-30 ideas for novels and short stories; and another non-fiction, self-help oriented title based on my own personal close call on 9/11. (A schedule quirk put me in Pittsburgh for a speech that morning, scheduled to fly to San Francisco from there that afternoon; otherwise I almost certainly would have been on United Flight 93 since I was shuttling between projects and proposals in New Jersey and the San Francisco bay area for the consulting company I worked for then.)
MA: Wow! I’m glad you missed the original flight, and it’s nice to hear you plan to turn that experience into something good that may help others. With regard to fiction, would any of your future writing involve characters from your first two novels?
AS: The First Christmas of the War is actually the first of a series of four holiday-set, similarly-structured novels featuring the Coleman family. Next up is Thanksgiving, 1942, taking place – as one can tell from the title – eleven months after the initial book’s Christmas, 1941 setting. The next title is The First Christmas After the War, set at Christmastime, 1945. Finally, a concluding novel set in the 1970s takes a final holiday visit with the Coleman family.
MA: Sounds like a nice set of books. Anything else you’d like add before we wrap it up?
AS: Over the years, I’ve had many, many people ask me about the writing business and my own experiences in the context of book or story ideas they’ve had themselves. I always enjoy sharing my experiences with others and am always more than willing to help people navigate today’s publishing world, craft proposals…pretty much anything.
MA: Thanks Alan for appearing on my blog, and thanks for your military service. Please visit Alan’s websites for more information about this amazing author and his projects: www.alansimonbooks.com and www.thinkinghelmet.com.
Designing Book Covers
Do you visualize your book cover before you finish writing your opus? Maybe you wait till you finish and then decide what goes on the cover. Either way, several points to consider when designing a book cover can either promote your book or cause it to be overlook on the shelves, even online.
Your book cover must catch attention. It must also give a clue as to what the story may be about. The points listed are what convince a viewer to pick up the book and see what it’s about. But so much more goes into that cover.
1. Does your genre have the power to draw readers back to your next book? Many people read only one genre. They may read one book by you, but will your next cover entice them to pick up your next book? Too, many readers follow their favorite authors. If you are a new author breaking into a genre, does your cover have the power to entice a viewer to pick up your book?
2. The above point goes along with who your intended audience may be. Romance and mysteries are the best selling genres. If you write romance or mysteries, for example, then your covers are totally different. Where romance might show and man and woman in a love embrace, a mystery might have a pistol and spots of blood on the cover. That certainly wouldn’t work in reverse.
3. In addition to the art on the cover, you must plan the fonts you may use. The size and style of the lettering in the title and other verbiage also needs to be apropos to the genre. Also, the script on any cover needs proper placement. You certainly wouldn’t place any lettering over a crucial portion of the cover art, like a person’s face. Where you place the lettering can enhance the overall feel and promise of the story.
4. Color is vitally important when considering how to bring out the best of your story through the front of the book. All covers must offer their own eye-appeal.
While I use romance and mysteries in these comparisons, the same tips apply to books in any genre, including nonfiction.
Each one of these suggestions is vital if you are to create a cover that is eye-catching and can be the beginning or continuation of building your brand. The covers of your books should not only attract new readers but bring previous readers back to you time and again.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More
MA: I have an intriguing guest today, so please extend a warm American welcome and Merry Christmas to Tahlia Newland. Tahlia is the author of the Young Adult fantasy novel Lethal Inheritance, the first in the Diamond Peak series.
She lives in an Australian rainforest south of Sydney and is a refugee from the Performing and Visual Arts. For 20 years, she created and performed in Visual Theatre shows and she makes Venetian style masks, which you can discover here: http://tahliasmasks.wordpress.com.
Now that she growing grey, she’s given all that up to become a writer. That is, when she’s not being an extremely casual high school teacher.
She has written scripts for theatre in education, a book of short stories for children and a few other short stories (one a semi finalist in the Aussiecon 4 Make Ready fantasy/scfi competition 2010), but her love in writing is novels.
Welcome, Tahlia! So you live in an Australian rainforest? I’m fascinated (and jealous). Tell us what you did before writing.
TN: I trained as a teacher after leaving high school, taught briefly then gave that up to become a professional dancer actor, mime and mask performer. During the 20 years that I lived off these talents, I also made masks and studied how our mind works. Specifically how what we think and how we deal with what rises in our mind affects what we feel, what we perceive, how we behave and what we experience.
MA: You’ve always been around the arts, so I suppose it was a natural decision to write novels?
TN: It wasn’t so much a decision, more something that just happened. I had wanted to write novels when I was younger, but I got into other creative areas and never had an idea that screamed to be written like Lethal Inheritance did. When the idea first came, it percolated for a while, then scenes began appearing in my mind and I just had to write them down.
MA: Tell us all about the story.
TN: Lethal Inheritance is a Young Adult Fantasy novel, the first in a four part series called Diamond Peak.
It’s a combination quest, love story and surrealistic journey into the mind, with sexy characters, flashes of humour, terrifying battles and a mix of fantasy and reality. It’s set in our world in the present day.
If last night was real then Ariel should be dead, but her mother has disappeared, there are bruise marks on her neck and that hideous beast in the photo looks frighteningly familiar.
When demons kidnap her mother, Ariel is catapulted into a mysterious realm in a hidden layer of reality. Stuck on a rescue mission she doesn’t want, she must negotiate an intriguing and unpredictable world where demons who feed on fear are hunting her, and they’re aiming to kill.
She needs help fast, but can she trust the quirky old guide who says he can teach her how to fine tune her mind into a powerful weapon? And what should she do about Nick, whose power is more than he or she can handle?
Ariel’s journey challenges her perception, tests her awareness and takes her deep into her heart and mind to confront, and ultimately transcend, her fear and anger.
MA: Nice tease! I take it Ariel, your heroine, was a carefully-crafted character?
TN: She just developed as I wrote the first two drafts. It wasn’t a conscious thing, rather she emerged from my creative mind as if she already existed.
MA: Well, that’s interesting. What makes Ariel strong as a protagonist?
TN: Strengths –she’s intelligent, willing to learn, cautious, has a sense of responsibility for her family, self reliant, determined. Weaknesses – At the start of the book, she is emotional, untrained, doesn’t believe in her own abilities, doesn’t know anything about the hidden realm, is sometimes over cautiour and naive.
MA: You mentioned a beast in a photo, I assume that’s the antagonist?
TN: Yes. Bitah the demon. He feeds on human’s fear and anger and tries to kill Ariel to prevent her from finding his master and rescuing her mother. There are various other demons and entities working for him as well, but he’s the main one she has to defeat in this book.
MA: So, I take it you haven’t been a real-world demon hunter…but do you have any real-life experiences that somehow influenced the plot?
TN: Not specifically, but my understanding of the workings of the mind form the basis for the methods the Warriors use to kill demons.
MA: What’s next in the Diamond Peak series?
TN: There are three sequels to this novel. I’ve written them to second draft stage and will work on them again once I get a publishing contract. I’m also working on another novel, that has a greater degree of romance and leans a bit more towards adults , but still deals with the mind and a combination of modern and older style realities. It’s called Captive. The main characters will remain the same and some characters who are relatively minor in this book will feature more predominantly.
MA: I have to ask, can you describe the demon for my readers?
TN: A black, flowing form, human in size and shape, dropped onto the path without a sound. Its slimy skin, hanging in folds like the fabric of a long hooded cloak, rippled from the impact. White flames, flicking like snake tongues, blazed from two slits in its hideous face, casting an eerie glow as the head swung from side to side, as if searching for its prey. Another slash of flaming white formed a thin-lipped mouth curled into a sneer. Long loose arms dangled at the creature’s sides and its clawed hands repeatedly flexed and unflexed. A putrid smell, reminiscent of rotting potatoes, emanated from the beast. Ariel’s nose wrinkled and her stomach felt queasy.
MA: Well, there you have it! Thanks, Tahlia. Folks, please visit Tahlia Newland’s website for more beastly information: http://tahlianewland.com. Read More
MA: I’d like to welcome today’s guest blogger, K. Sawyer Paul. Mr. Sawyer is the author of the novel, No Chinook. Please tell us about you and your writing.
KSP: I think my first few stories were all plagiarisms and remixes. When I was in junior high and high school, I’m not sure I had a single original thought. I’d take characters, stories, and plots from various books and movies and video games that I’d enjoyed and play with them in different environments. It was basically the equivalent to playing with action figures from different cartoons. I didn’t know why I wrote, but I always had it in my head that I could write well if I just stuck at it for long enough. You know, the idea that perspiration would eventually lead to inspiration. So I wrote a lot. I wrote a short novella in high school, printed it out, and sold it for a couple of bucks. I sold it for a dollar if the person wanted it on a CD. I basically had my first ebook in 2000, in the form of a Word 98 file. I went to the University of Toronto and decided to take professional writing as a minor. It was a great experience, and it taught me many things about what not to do. I felt I was a little allergic to preconceived ideas of success in writing, especially Canadian writing, where the expectation is that you’ll never really make any money and you sort of make people suffer through your work. I’m very against that. If my story isn’t gripping, put it down, you know? There’s more books being published every year than anyone could ever read. Why waste time if you’re not enjoying it?
MA: Well, amen to that! Why did you choose to write short novels?
KSP: I write short novels, because I don’t like to waste people’s time, but I like novels because even if they’re short, they feel like an accomplishment to read and write. I generally hit the 50 or 60 thousand word mark in the first draft, then cut it down to 45 or so. That makes for a 200-220 page book, which I think is enough. I’m a big fan of not wasting time, wasting words. I’m a big fan of Cormac McCarthy’s style in that respect, where he purposefully leaves out areas of his stories that really could use a sweeping emotional explanation. Hemmingway, too. I like that I can go back and read A Farewell to Arms or Francis Macomber and I’m done in a weekend and better for it. There’s something really crisp and biting about a terse novel.
MA: How did you approach your two novels?
KSP: I made a really set decision when I started writing Everything We Haven’t Lost and then No Chinook to never get unbelievable, so I write about relationships because I think I know my way around them pretty well. So you can say I do romance, but if you read my books you know they’re not typical romances. The fight scenes are uglier. The sex scenes are rougher. The dialogue that connects the exposition seems pulled from real people. At least, I’d like to think so. That’s what people tell me. I want it to feel like you’re actually peering in on a real conversation between real people in a contemporary setting, and while these people are adults they still have emotional hiccups and can really hurt one another.
MA: Tell us about your hero in No Chinook.
KSP: With No Chinook, I developed Scott out of how I saw myself out of the kind of guy I saw a lot of at college: someone who’s grown in every way, but still has a few hang-ups regarding his scars. He’s not a finished adult yet, and No Chinook is in many ways him working his way out of that. So Scott is still hung up over a girl from high school, and he thinks he’s over it until she comes back into his life and they sleep together. What’s interesting about Scott is he sees how immature this girl is, and still can’t eject himself from the drama, because he’s fighting the urges of his younger self.
MA: What should we know about Scott? What makes him strong, and what makes him weak, if at all?
KSP: Scott’s big strength is that he’s a truly nice guy, who’s capable of going a long way for a friend, a lover, and even an ex-lover. His weakness is pretty well as I said above, his inability to really break free of a toxic situation. The relationship he has with Shawn is pretty toxic, and the only way he’s really capable of breaking free is by removing the love he has for this man and just using him. Basically, by figuring out how to cure himself of his biggest weakness, he has to rid himself of his greatest strength. That might seem like a convenient plot progression, but I don’t know that I’ve ever even thought of it that way until recently, now that the book has been out for two years.
MA: Interesting. And what about an antagonist?
KSP: Kate, Scott’s girl from the past, is definitely the antagonist. She’s in many ways Scott’s Tyler Durden or Ferris Bueller, a free character that helps him out of his shell. But she also crushes him over and over. Also, she never reveals where she works. Would you date someone who kept their job from you?
MA: Uh, oh…do I detect an old flame influencing the “bad girl” in No Chinook?
KSP: Yeah, there was definitely a girl I was into who didn’t like me back. But who doesn’t have that? I tapped into other people’s stories more than my own, and built conversation after conversation on the pain of my friends and colleagues. It’s a writer’s job, I think, to plaster those sorts of things together, to make sense of it.
MA: Since No Chinook has been out for two years now, what’s next on your plate?
KSP: I sent my next novel off to my editor just recently. The editorial process always takes longer than you want it to, but it’s in the pipeline. It’s called A Record Year For Rainfall. It’s about a paparazzi and a celebrity blogger who live in Las Vegas. I’m a big fan of Las Vegas, but I’m young so I’ve only ever seen the modernized Disney-like Vegas, so my characters exist in it, in 2006. It’s still sleazy, but there’s all these ironic angles where it’s family friendly now. But there’s still girls in sexy outfits everywhere, and celebrities still go there to go crazy. It’s a fun book that’s about trying to escape yourself and the things you love but not really being able to. There’s a lot of comedic violence and sex and there’s a gay governor and I think people will think the book is a lot of fun.
MA: Are your novels all standalone types, or will you write using some of the same characters in the future?
KSP: There aren’t any continuations of character, but A Record Year For Rainfall and No Chinook definitely exist in the same “universe.” You can think of it like the Kevin Smith movies or Final Fantasy video games, where there’s a new cast, but there’s a lot of familiar aspects. In Rainfall, you’ll find that Bret, the main character, used to work at a job that he’s not allowed to talk about. It’s the same place Kate from No Chinook works, but that’s not obvious from reading either book necessarily. To sum up, I guess: I don’t do sequels, but I do enjoy planting Easter eggs.
MA: I happen to love Easter eggs J. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
KSP: I think I want to talk about publishing here. There isn’t any stigma in being an independent graphic artist, an indie band, an independent charity, an independent chef, or almost any other art form or business. Lawyers go into business for themselves all the time. Doctors open up their own private practices. Soon, in less than ten years, people will absolutely not care who published your book. I don’t think readers care who published your book now. If you design a book properly, if you edit it professionally, if the package looks and smells and registers like a real book, then I don’t see the difference between an indie book and something by Harper. There’s a big difference between vanity publishing and independently publishing. Gredunza Press is a business. We publish books. I publish my books through it. Does Dave Eggers get slack for publishing his books through McSweeney’s, a press he built? The only people who care these days are authors who are more swept up in the “industry” than in writing their own books, publishers who want to stay on top, and pundits looking for a juicy story. Readers and writers don’t care, and soon enough nobody else will either. You can buy my book on your Kindle or Nook or whatever, and you can order the physical copy from me and soon from Amazon. You read it, and you’d never know I didn’t get published by one of the big guys. Not every author is capable of completely going into business for themselves. They need help editing, designing, and promoting their novels. That’s where publishers like ours come in. We offer services to authors trying to make it. We’re the future.
MA: Thanks, K. Sawyer. Folks, please visit his website and the site for his press: www.ksawyerpaul.com, and www.gredunzapress.com. Read More
MA: My guest today, Narrelle M. Harris, is a multi-talented person. She’s a Melbourne-based writer with four novels, one play and several short stories under her belt to date. Her latest book is The Opposite of Life, a vampire novel set in Melbourne. She is about to launch a new iPhone app, Melbourne Literary, a guide to books, writing and literature in Melbourne, which was designated a UNESCO City of Literature in 2008. Narrelle lives in the city centre of Melbourne, Australia, with her husband, Tim Richards, and their apartment-bound cat Petra.
Welcome, Narrelle. Please tell us how your involvement with writing began.
NH: I think I’ve been writing pretty much ever since I knew how to make the letters. I even recall one of my brothers and I getting a tape recorder and telling a story about the life of a little germ, which we made up as we went along. I don’t remember much about that one, except that at one stage the germ was having a great time tumbling out of a carton of milk and swimming around in a bowl of cereal. He was a fairly harmless germ, as I recall. Anyway, I always loved assignments where I had to make up stories, and I wrote them to entertain myself in exercise books as well. Eventually I discovered science fiction TV shows and fandom, where stories you wrote could be published in fanzines and people would write in with feedback. That was fantastic, a great training ground on developing technique. Eventually I got too restless writing with other people’s characters, so introduced a lot of new ones of my own, and that morphed into writing my original fiction.
MA: It sounds then, like writing novels was not a difficult transition for you.
NH: Novels came about as a natural extension from the short stories I’d been working on – I was enjoying world building and I liked my characters and wanted to do more with them, so over time the plot ideas and themes I had grew more complex and needed more time to explore.
MA: Tell us what you’ve written so far.
NH: I’ve been a bit all over the shop, really. My first book was a crime thriller called Fly By Night. It had two novellas in it with the same characters, Frank and Milo, musicians and a gay couple. That was published by Homosapien Press in 2004. (The two novellas are now available separately on Kindle). Then I wrote the two fantasies, Witch Honour and Witch Faith. Like Anne McCaffrey’s dragon books, they are fantasy with a touch of an SF back-story. They were published in the US by Five Star. Then I was inspired to write a book about how being a vampire isn’t as sexy as its reputation would suggest, and wrote The Opposite of Life, about a girl who has suffered a lot and a short, chubby, geeky vampire called Gary. That was with Pulp Fiction Press, and there’s a sequel in the works.
My latest project, though, is a non-fiction iPhone app, Melbourne Literary, which is a guide to literary Melbourne. I’ve done other non-fiction – I had an essay on what’s called The CSI Effect in a true crime collection called Outside the Law #3, about whether watching too much forensic TV affects juries. I’ve also been working on some short stories lately, mainly in the comic-horror genre. One, about a girl whose brother gets turned into a zombie and she’s trying to fix him before Mum finds out, will be published later this year in Best New Zombie Tales Volume 2.
Comic horror seems to have become a bit of a thing since The Opposite of Life, which has a lot of humour in it, as well as an exploration of what makes life worth living even though it can hurt beyond bearing sometimes.
MA: With so many projects, how do you go about developing your characters?
NH: Characters in my earlier books were often inspired by people I knew, or at least amalgamations of people I knew. The Opposite of Life was different, in that Gary the Vampire came up as a response to being tired of seeing all the thin, glamorous vampires in all the films. I just wanted to write about an ordinary guy who was really uncool and didn’t get any cooler just because he was undead. Lissa, the female protagonist, arose out of the kind of story I was telling. I wanted her to be young, a bit funky but also a someone outside groups because her experiences of loss and grief had left her not quite fitting in anywhere completely. She’s a librarian mainly because I thought someone who had lived her life would find great comfort in the escapism of literature, and that she would love the idea taht she could maintain order in some part of her life, at least. She’s one of the few librarians who really loves cataloguing and shelving. She loves imposing order in a tiny corner of her chaotic world.
MA: Are your characters as superhuman as they sound?
NH: I try to make all my characters very textured and human, so they have different kinds of flaws. Frank, for example, gets impatient and can be bad tempered while Milo has a tendency to just sail through life and be a bit thoughtless. He’s not intentionally mean, but he just doesn’t think sometimes.
Gary’s flaws – well, he’s a bit slow on the uptake sometimes. He’s a nice enough guy, really, but he just doesn’t always know what’s appropriate in conversation. He didn’t have those social skills when he was alive, so he can’t blame being a vampire for that. But as the story develops he learns to be more thoughtful. He’s a very straightforward guy too – I don’t think he knows how to lie. It’s one of the things that Lissa likes about him – she might not always like what he has to say, but she knows he’s honest with her. Lissa is courageous and loyal, but also stubborn and a bit impetuous. It gets her into terrible trouble. She has to confront one of her worst flaws by the end of the book – she’s a bit self obsessed and everything she goes through forces her to come up out of the grief and anger she’s been lost in. Both of them, really, have to learn how to engage more with life.
MA: Any recurring nemeses?
NH: The Opposite of Life is written in the style of a crime novel, so the ‘bad guy’ is the person or persons who have been killing people around Melbourne. It’s obviously the work of a vampire, and the vampire community isn’t pleased by that – they try to live under the radar these days. But while there’s an actual bad guy doing bad things, I guess the real bad guy is thematic, the idea that you can avoid life’s pain by withdrawing from it, refusing to engage, and the kind of person that decision makes you become.
MA: I assume you’ve not had any real experiences with vampires (wink), but did your life inspire your writing in any way?
NH: My books are full of real life things, from characters being inspired by friends, to things I’ve read in the news becoming part of the plot. I put a lot of landscapes in. The Opposite of Life is full of places I love (and sometimes loathe) in Melbourne. The Witch books contain landscapes that I travelled through or lived in when I spent three years abroad. I lived in Egypt for two years, and in Poland for one (my husband and I were teaching English as a foreign language) and so much of what I saw and did there has been incorporated into the stories.
MA: Given your prolific writing career so far, I take it you aren’t finished yet, right?
NH: I’m working on some short stories at the moment, as I’ve been invited to submit some to a potential anthology project. I want to write three books about Gary and Lissa as well, so after the current sequel I have to start work on the third. I have ideas for a third Witch novel and some more Frank and Milo stories too. I also have an idea for a rather more complex crime type novel. I’m also planning to create a few more iPhone apps once Melbourne Literary is out there. I have note books full of ideas too, so I don’t think I’ll run out of things to do for a while.
MA: Very interesting and varied. Anything else you’d like to add?
NH: One of the things I’ve been doing, to entertain myself as much as anything, is using Gary and Lissa outside of their books. They are huge fun to write, and their (most definitely not sexual) friendship comes out so well in their conversations. Gary actually collects vampire films and books, and Lissa as a librarian has a lot of comments to make on fiction generally. This meant that when I see vampire stuff now (or sometimes just interesting things, like art exhibitions) I get a triple viewpoint. There’s what I think of it, but also what I think Gary and Lissa would think of it. I started writing up their observations and now I have a semi regular part of my blog called the GaryView, where the two of them discuss pop culture from their rather unique point of view. Gary mainly complains about how most vampire fiction is nothing like the reality of being a vampire. Surprisingly, a certain amount of their back story gets revealed this way, and sometimes these funny little reviews get unexpectedly poignant. They’re a popular part of my blog, but really, I do it because it’s fun and because it’s a really useful writing exercise.
Gary and Lissa also have Twitter accounts, for the same reason that it’s an interesting writing exercise. They occasionally have tweet-chats with other people. That’s fun because I don’t know what people are going to ask, so again it’s a good exercise to consider how Gary and Lissa might respond to issues that I might not have previously considered. It was through doing the tweets that I realized that Lissa never goes to the cemetery to visit the graves of her loved ones. That’s the place where she had to say goodbye to them, and it gives her no comfort. Instead, I realized that she would go and do the things that she used to do with them while they were alive. She might go to a particular cafe to spend a moment thinking about her Nanna, or to a library where her eldest sister used to find books for them to read.
MA: Thanks, Narrelle! Please visit Narrelle’s website: http://www.narrellemharris.com
and Blog: http://narrellemharris.wordpress.com