Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Author Insides: Richard J. O'Brien - Author of THE GARDEN OF FRAGILE THINGS

Interview with Richard J. O'Brien

Richard J. O'Brien was born in Camden, New Jersey. He served in the army, attended Rutgers University, and worked a variety of jobs before attending graduate school. In 2012, he received his MFA in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Currently, the author lives in Pennsylvania and teaches English composition at Mercer County Community College, Rowan College at Gloucester County, and others.

His horror novel, The Garden of Fragile Things, releases today from Dark Alley Press, an imprint of Vagabondage Press.

Richard, what was your inspiration for The Garden of Fragile Things

The inspiration for this novel came from a dream. I was a boy again hanging out with some friends I had, and one of them had a hole in his chest. In my dream, my friend lifted his shirt to show me. He told me he could never go home again. That's where this tale began.

What inspired the title? 

For many years, owing to my Irish heritage, I was enthralled with old fairy stories. In Irish folk legends, things sometimes turned out bad for humans who experienced a brush with the fairy realm. The title for this novel came from thinking about a garden in which eldritch creatures were not kind to children.

How much of yourself and your childhood is represented by the main character?

The main character in this story is more a portrait of many boys I knew. Throughout the novel there are many violent scenes. As a child, I did not like violence in any of its permutations—physical, verbal, mental, or otherwise. In many ways, I am a bit like Joe Godwin and a bit like Bobby McMahon. Both characters share a thirst for knowledge to some degree or another. And like them I learned at an early age that there was power in books.

These four friends tend to get themselves into trouble now and then on their adventures. Did you have similar experiences with your friends growing up? If so, can you share a story with us?

Growing up, I got into trouble now and again the way most boys did. There were a host of people in my old town that we developed stories for the way the Swansons brothers in my novel did Mr. Von Braun. Also, the scene in which Joe takes Jack to a Catholic mass one Saturday afternoon was based on a true event that happened to me. I took a friend to mass when I was a boy. There were no cell phones. And everyone's phone numbers were listed. So by the time I got home that Saturday afternoon my father had heard all about it. In those days, part of good parenting was maintaining a loyal ring of spies. My father didn't raise hell over what had happened. He just told me that I would never take that friend to church again.

What was your favorite scene in The Garden of Fragile Things to write and why?

It's a relatively short scene, but in the beginning Marcella and her friends follow the boys to the dock on Granny Swanson's property. Granny Swanson in no uncertain terms lets the girls know what she thinks of them. The response Marcella's friend Annie gives to Granny Swanson's accusation is one that I could hear some girls from my old neighborhood saying.

Which was the most difficult and why?

The most difficult scene for me to write was when Bobby realizes his fate, and afterward Adele leads the other boys to the garden behind the mansion. What happens to the Swanson brothers there in the garden still haunts me.

What sort of research, if any, did you do for The Garden of Fragile Things?

A good amount research for this book had to do with the forest. I was born in Camden, NJ. I don't think I spent any length of time in the woods until I joined the army. What I spent most of the time researching for this novel was the mansion the boys find and ancient belief systems concerning birds and the souls of the dead.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? 

My earliest memory of making things up was when I was sitting on the stairs in my old house. My mother came into the hallway and asked me if I was talking to someone. I was, of course; though I never had a name for my imaginary friend. I began making up stories based on comic books when I was a little boy. Then I got my first library card. By the eighth grade, I was heavy into science fiction and fantasy and horror as well. I started writing stories around that time. It seemed healthier than maintaining a relationship with an imaginary friend. That sort of thing was frowned up, I guess. As children grow up, they are not allowed to have imaginary friends past a certain age. Personally, I always liked their company. So I created characters in stories.

Why do you write? 

I write because I love language. I love how characters act and react. I love that in real life and in stories people have all kinds of faults, and, for the most part, they endure no matter the hardship. But most of all I love creating a reality based on a premise or a situation, or even one particular character.

Is being a writer anything like you imagined it would be? 

It's better than I imagined it. There's a certain amount of rejection that comes with writing if you put your work out there. A writer has to be thick-skinned if they are going to submit their work for possible publication. One thing I have little tolerance for is hanging around with other writers for too long. It can be depressing. People think actors are fickle. Try joining a writers' group.

What do you think makes a good story?

A good story stays with you. It is a dialogue between the writer and the reader. We hear about 'voice' all the time in fiction. An authentic voice lends itself well to a good story. We know it when we read it. It's like when someone tells you a fantastic story. The story is so good you don't worry or wonder if it is at all true. The way a story is told makes it sound true. That helps to make a good story.

What's your favorite genre to read? 

I don't have a particularly favorite genre. There's good writing and there's bad writing. The writer's job is to read both over time so he or she learns the difference. As a teen I lived on science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Then when I got to college I had professors who more or less told me that those genres are not worthwhile pursuits if I wanted to be a serious writer. Never mind that these same professors taught Frankenstein or Fahrenheit 451, The Turn of the Screw or The Picture of Dorian Gray. It took a long time for me to come back around. I write stories and novels that satisfy me. If they are scary, so be it. If they are not, then that's fine.

Who is your favorite author or poet? 

Like most writers, I have many favorites. But if I had to make a list I would include Salman Rushdie, William Faulkner, Shirley Jackson, Jonathan Carroll, Toni Morrison, J.D. Salinger, Angela Carter, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon...the list could go on and on.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer? 

The summer after I left the army I read Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. That was the first time I thought seriously about writing a novel. There's something about the way that Hemingway put that novel together that made it seem so effortless. And of course I fell into the trap of thinking novel-writing would be easy. Before that, in my early teens, some of the old fantasy novels I had read like Michael Moorcock's Elric Saga and others like it moved me as a writer. Likewise, much of the early Stephen King novels (Cujo, The Stand, and the like) kept me enthralled. One book I return to almost every year since I had first read it is Boy's Life by Robert McCammon. People either hate it, or they love it. I am among the latter of those two categories.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person? 

When I read Nabokov's Lolita the first time I knew that I had so much to learn about writing. Thomas Pynchon's novels are the same way. Some people can make heads or tails out of Pynchon. For me, especially in Against the Day, there are few who can construct a sentence like him. Salman Rushdie was another writer who influenced me as a person. His Satanic Verses was such a work of the imagination. And Octavia's Butler's Kindred kept me awake for weeks after I read that novel.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration? 

Inspiration can come from anywhere. This particular novel's initial spark came in a dream. Sometimes I eavesdrop on people and just listen. The way other people construct sentences in their everyday speech is enough to inspire me. Other times I will read something in a magazine and think 'what if...' And still more often than not I hear voices as I am falling sleep. I find it best to let stories stew a bit before I put them down on paper.

What does your family think of your writing? 

My wife is supportive. Growing up, my parents loved to read. But it was other people who wrote, who painted, who composed songs, and such. My father always said find something practical (read: pay-worthy) to do with your life. I was never much for following advice of that kind. My brother once asked me long ago if I was going to be one of those guys with a closetful of manuscripts when I die. If there's a God, maybe.

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

I try to write every day. And when I do it's mostly at night. All writers have different schedules. For me, as long as I am working every day on something then I know I am doing something write.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals? 

I don't like people reading over my shoulder when I write. Also, I write everything longhand first. Then I transcribe handwritten pages onto the computer. And I have favorite pens. I am superstitious about letting anyone else write with them.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? 

At times I find myself wanting to write big sprawling novels with a thousand characters in them. That can be a challenge. Also, research for a particular story can be challenging to me. At the same time it is rewarding...if that makes sense.

What are your current projects? 

Right now I am reworking a novel that concerns a man who pursues a young woman that might be purely a figment of his imagination after he's diagnosed with brain cancer.

What are you planning for future projects?

Some of my future projects a novel about a university professor and the author he admires most, and how their worlds intertwine with each other, even though nearly a century separates them, when a series of strange events tear rents in the space-time continuum.

I might also revisit Franklin Forest depicted in The Garden of Fragile Things. Since I have completed this novel, I have been thinking about the girl Adele the boys meet at the mansion in the woods. I would like to write her story. And I would like to set another novel completely within the mansion in Franklin Forest...perhaps reveal the person who made the mansion and populated it with so many books and other curios.

Also, my wife recently challenged me to write a novel about aliens who abduct a heroin-addicted vampire and what might happen to a vampire in throes of addiction on a planet where none of its inhabitants have blood flowing through their veins, or even possess veins for that matter. It could be fun...

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

Write for yourself. It sounds like bullshit you'd read in a writing magazine, but it's true. And I would echo people like John Gardner and Toni Morrison when I say write the stories and the novels you would want to read. Another important thing to remember is to write every day. Always be working. Lastly, accept the fact that some works may shine while others are going to not as good. Whatever the case, never throw anything away. A character in one failed story may end up saving the day in another.

Where else can we find your work? 

My stories have appeared over the years online and in print at various magazines. And I am eager to publish my next novel. In the meantime, the best way to keep up with my writing pursuits is to visit me at obrienwriter.com or look for me on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/richard.j.obrien.904) and Twitter (@obrienwriter).

In the late 1970s, Joe Godwin was just twelve years old, living in a working-class neighborhood. Plagued by bullies and a volatile home life, Joe spends his time with his three friends in search of adventure. The discovery of an abandon mansion during a simple camping trip in a state forest sets of a series of consequences in motion between the boys, inhabitants of the mansion, and the others who occupy the garden behind the colossal home. 

The Garden of Fragile Things is a literary dark tale that chronicles four boys’ coming of age against paranormal forces that operate between two worlds.

Read an except here. The Garden of Fragile Things is available at the VBP websiteAmazon, B&N, and other fine book retailers. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Present and Past - Guest Post from J.S. Watts

Present and Past

I am really pleased that this current stage of the blog tour celebrating the May launch of my paranormal novel, “Witchlight”, is being hosted by the Battered Suitcase Press blog of my publisher, Vagabondage Press.

Vagabondage are the people who, in the past, have had sufficient faith in me and my writing to publish two of my novels, first “A Darker Moon” and now, in the present, “Witchlight”. It gives me the opportunity, in the here and now, to thank them for their past trust and the mammoth and ongoing effort involved in designing, publishing and promoting a book and to say, “Thank you, guys. You rock!”

I love the way present and past so often come together, sometimes positively, sometimes not, but inevitably in an intriguing and fascinating way. Two sections of existence’s timeline, separated by months, decades or centuries, but influencing one another and combining to create and shape new events and occurrences.

Writing, whether a letter, a blog post or a novel, is a way of capturing the present and fixing it so that, however long ago something was written, it will always seem the present for someone reading it for the first time. My present thanks to Vagabondage for their past efforts will be available for you to read in your present for as long as this blog remains on line, even when this moment, as I am experiencing it, has long since faded into the past.

There is a coming together of past and present in “Witchlight”. The novel’s lead character, Holly, is content with her present at the start of the novel, but it turns out her past has been holding out on her. The birth mother she has never known, and was sanguine about not knowing, has gifted her magical witch powers. Moreover, these powers turn out to be stronger than anyone initially realised, so the secrets of the past suddenly become rather pressing in the present and the present is dramatically changed for Holly because of them.

Holly, supported by her fairy godfather, goes in search of her and her biological parents’ past. In the present, however, something is stirring: accidents start to happen, people die, Old Magic is on the hunt, but in the age-old game of cat and mouse, just who is the feline and who is the rodent?

After the initial fun and amusement of discovering her magical powers, Holly has to learn the hard way that, in a world fuelled by magic, appearances, and reality itself, can be magically deceptive and trust can be difficult, if not downright dangerous.

Before the novel ends Holly will discover the truth of her birth, find love (and struggle to keep it) and learn that a darkness begun centuries before has shaped her past and is now influencing her present.

“Witchlight” is a book set in contemporary Britain, but in a world grounded in the here and now, present and past come together in a conflagration of mystery, magic and (what else?) witchlight. 

About Witchlight: Holly has been mortal all her life. Now at thirty-eight, her fairy godfather arrives to tell her she’s a witch, and suddenly she's having to come to terms with the uncertainties of an alarmingly magic-fuelled world. Magic is not like it is in the books and films, and Holly starts to doubt whether her fairy godfather, Partridge Mayflower, is the fey, avuncular charmer he appears.

When appearances are magically deceptive, Holly cannot afford to trust those closest to her, including herself. Accidents start to happen, people die, Old Magic is on the hunt, but in the age-old game of cat and mouse, just who is the feline and who is the rodent?

About The Author: J.S.Watts is a British writer who lives and writes in the flatlands of East Anglia in the UK. Her poetry, short stories and reviews appear in a diversity of publications in Britain, Canada, Australia and the States. Her poetry collection, “Cats and Other Myths”, and subsequent multi-award nominated poetry pamphlet, “Songs of Steelyard Sue”, are published by Lapwing Publications. Her dark fiction novel, “A Darker Moon”, is published in the UK and the US by Vagabondage Press. Her second novel, “Witchlight”, is available at Amazon, B&N and other bookstores. You can find her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/J.S.Watts.page or on her website www.jswatts.co.uk

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Author Insides: Thomas Lopinski, author of THE ART OF RAISING HELL

Interview with Thomas Lopinski

Thomas Lopinski grew up in a quaint small town in Illinois called Georgetown with one stoplight, one high school, one square, one lake, one police car, and one hundred ways to get into trouble. It was a wonderful place to be a child. He studied at the University of Illinois and later moved to Southern California with his wife and children to work in the music business. He is also a member of the Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC). His first novel, Document 512, won several awards and recognition in 2012-2013 from Readers View Reviewers Choice Awards, Best Indie Book Awards, IndieFab Awards and the National Indie Excellence Book Awards.

His edgy young adult novel, The Art of Raising Hell, was released on April 28, 2015, by Dark Alley Press, an imprint of Vagabondage Press.

Thomas, what was your inspiration for The Art of Raising Hell?

I’ve always wanted to write a book about some of my best friends growing up but wasn’t quite sure how to approach it. I couldn’t write the truth because that would get everybody into trouble so I just put the idea to the side and forgot about it for several years. I also wanted to write about a few guys in my hometown who were real hell raisers that showed no fear and were feared by many. Then in the middle of the night last summer, I woke up with the opening line rolling off my tongue. I picked up the laptop and didn’t stop writing for about six weeks. That became the basis for the novel. As I was writing, other subjects like bullying, the environment, racism, and the absurd conditions we find ourselves in started creeping into the pages inspiring me to take the book to a whole other level.

What is the “art” of raising hell?

It’s more a frame of mind than anything. Anyone can howl at the moon, knock over a few trashcans and get into trouble. It takes skill to learn how to raise hell at just the right time, with just the right amount of moxie, and get away with it.

Is there any of yourself or your childhood friends in your characters? If so, how?

There were four of us in a backroom growing up. I remember sitting in the back of an old MG drinking beer at 4:00 in the morning saying, “We should write a book about all this.” Of course, when I finally got around to it, I couldn’t remember half the stories and the ones I did remember weren’t that fantastic. So, I took pieces of this story, traits of that person, made up the rest and molded it all into Bunsen Creek.

I also pulled inspiration from several residents in town that I didn’t know very well but knew about their reputations. You’d think growing up in a small town that there wouldn’t be a lot to draw from but that wasn’t the case. There were so many eccentric personalities running around my hometown that we’d classify as abnormal or psychotic today. When we were kids though, we just thought people were supposed to act like that. In the bigger cities, they’re the folks you see living on the streets or hiding behind a fenced in yard. In a small town, they’re somebody’s crazy uncle.

Did you raise hell as a teenager? If so, give us a good story of one instance.

I think the statutes of limitations haven’t run out yet so...no comment. All I will say is that many of the stories in the book are based on personal experiences.

Running on all four is a theme throughout your book. How does that theme play into your everyday life?

To me, the metaphor reminds me to take chances. We all walk around on two feet and lead fairly normal lives. When you’re running on all four, you’re taking a golden opportunity and acting upon it before it’s too late. Moving to California was a big one for me. It was scary and I still miss the family and friends I left behind. But in the end, it was the right move.

Your characters go through a lot of loss. Is that something you experienced at a young age? Why was it important to your characters to experience these losses?

I didn’t really lose anyone close growing up. That’s always one of the dangers of writing in first person. I’m sure readers will want to know what it was like growing up without a mother, but in reality, my parents both lived long fruitful lives. In college, there was a guy who always used to say “To your mother” before drinking a shot. I took that memory and built it into the storyline. People just started dying after that.

Later on in life, I did lose two of my closest friends though. They both died sudden deaths within a few years of each other. One had a brain aneurism and the other died in a freak scuba accident. Those experiences taught me that I should never take anything or anyone for granted. I think writing about loss in the book did help me heal those wounds.

What was the most challenging part of writing The Art of Raising Hell?

Keeping it short. I could have written twice as many pages easily but didn’t think it was warranted. I want people to read my book and walk away with a smile, not fall asleep.

What scene did you enjoy writing the most?

That would have to be the streaking incident. I can still remember the night it happened and how festive the whole town was throughout the evening. Of course, it didn’t quite happen the way I described it in the book but, just like any good story over time, it took on a life of its own.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? 

I used to play in rock bands and write very silly songs when I was younger. I was never that good at it, but boy, did I have fun. Then a group of my friends asked me to join their writers group. While most of them were struggling to finish their books and losing interest, I was already working on a second novel. That’s when I realized my calling.

Why do you write? 

That’s such a hard question to answer. Why do people sing or wear tattoos? It’s just who I am, I guess. Let me see if I can explain this a little better. If I didn’t write, my head would explode. How’s that?

Is being an author anything like you imagined it would be? 

…and then some. I’ve spent my whole life around musicians, singers, writers and artists. I’ve seen the good that comes from people getting together and spontaneously creating a wonderful song out of thin air. I’ve also seen the pitfalls too where the most talented person you’ve ever met ends up in the gutter and dies of alcohol poisoning. Writers have to be thick skinned in order to survive. That’s hard to do when you’re sharing something you’ve created from your heart and soul with the rest of the world. I knew all of that going in, so there were no visions of grandeur in my mind. That allowed me to just enjoy writing, which has made this experience so much more satisfying than I ever imagined.

What do you think makes a good story? 

Any plot that takes people to places they’ve never been and makes them feel sensations they didn’t know they had is a good story. But, if you can wrap it all up nicely in the end and leave them still thinking about it days later, you’ve written a great story.

What's your favorite genre to read? 

Like most things in life, I’m all over the place. I’ll read anything if it’s entertaining and interesting.

Who is your favorite author or poet? 

When I was young, it was Kurt Vonnegut Jr., then it was Stephen King, then J.K. Rowling and John Grisham…then Stephen King again.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer? 

I loved Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series. “Slaughterhouse Five”, “One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest” and “The Great Gatsby” have always been favorites too.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person? 

There are too many to list. I think the first one was “Siddhartha”. I remember walking around in school starving myself and giving away my baseball cards to people while reading it. It was the first book that I’d read where I actually became so engulfed into the main character that I physically started acting like him.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration? 

In the most unlikely place: my hot tub. I know it sounds so “L.A.” but I’ve solved the world’s problems many times over and all of my storyline problems by just sitting in hot water and looking at the stars.

What does your family think of your writing? 

Everybody’s been supportive. Most of my girls read my books and add constructive criticism. When I first started writing, my wife was a bit worried when she found out how much it would cost to self-publish a book the ‘right way’. She cautiously reminded me that we had three girls going to college soon and would need every dollar. Then after she read my first novel, she looked at me and said, “Keep writing.” Of course, maybe she just said that so I’d stay busy and not bother her as much too, who knows.

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

There isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not writing or at least thinking about what I’ve written. I don’t sit down with a timer or a schedule in mind. With a family, that’s nearly impossible to do. I write whenever I can find the time. If my wife sets a bag of trash down next to me, then I know it’s time to stop writing.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals? 

I like to write outdoors in my back yard. There’s something about the trees, birds, water, wind, spider webs, the warmth of the sunshine, the neighbor’s chainsaw noises, motorcycles racing down the block that gives me inspiration. That is the great thing about living in California. I also don’t read other books while writing because I’m afraid they might influence me is some way.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? 

Trying to find a niche or genre to stay in. I like writing different styles about different subjects. From what other writers tell me, that’s not the formula you need to be successful but, hey, it keeps me running on all four.

What are your current projects? 

I’m working on the follow up book to my first published novel, “Document 512”. My mind is back in the Amazon jungle racing through the ancient ruins of Peru.

What are you planning for future projects? 

I envisioned three books in the “Document 512” series so I need to finish that. There could even be a follow up to “The Art of Raising Hell”, maybe the college years. I have some other ideas about alternate universes, soul searchers, raising triplets, and adult diapers that could wind up becoming storylines too.

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

The best thing I’ve ever done was finding a person who reads everything I’ve written and doesn’t hesitate to tell me how good or bad it is. Without him, I’d never finish anything. Also, make sure the person you find is smarter than you are because you’ll want to bounce your crazy ideas off them with the hope that they’ll come back with something even wackier. Every bit of input or feedback makes you a better writer.

Where else can we find your work? 

I’ve never had the desire to become a journalist or work in the industry. Again, probably not the best career move, but I don’t know if I could write novels if I spent my whole day writing for someone else. You can find little stories and tidbits on my blog https://thomaslopinski.wordpress.com/ and website www.ThomasLopinski.com. You also might be able to catch a nasty letter to the editor in the local newspaper every once in a while.

In The Art of Raising Hell, Thomas Lopinski takes the readers along on a journey as four boys grow into young adults and all the trials and tribulations that entails when living in a small town, where minor disruptions linger on the rumor mill for years. Friendships, adolescent love, and loyalties are put to the test as these teenagers face challenges that force them to decide what will define them and what will break them. 

Both entertaining and at times heartbreaking, Raising Hell reminds us all how our teenage years can shape us and how important it is to have true friends to see you through it. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Author Insides: Tamela Ritter, author of FROM THESE ASHES

Interview with Tamela Ritter

Tamela’s truck driving father taught her the value of stories, travel and adventure. Her housewife mother taught her the value of daydreaming, family and escapism. Though she was raised in Spokane Washington, it wasn’t until she moved to Missoula Montana that she felt she was “home.” She currently lives in Virginia, but still dreams of the Big Sky.

Her debut novel, From These Ashes, was released in March 2013 to numerous 5-star reviews. We wanted to take a peak into her inspiration and her writing process.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? 

I remember the exact moment. I was 10 years old and my teacher, Mr. Knowles, gave us inanimate objects and we were told to write their life story. I received a beat up A&W Root Beer can. I remember how excited I was to create this story for the object, how I imagined a long and torturous life for this misused can. I did research on the recycling process and created transformation and rebirth, only to be separated by his pack family. It was pretty epic.  I remember taking my story to school and being horrified and terribly embarrassed when I saw that everyone else’s stories were a page or two long; mine was 10 pages. But, that fear of fourth grade public humiliation was short lived because what I remember most was the awe of my teacher and the praise bestowed on me by the school. I won my first award that year. In fact, in my entire school career from then to college, the only awards I ever won were for my writing. I was hooked.

Why do you write? 

Haha, if it’s true that there are only a handful of original ideas out there, I’d say there are even less so original reasons why anyone writes. Mine is just as clichéd as everyone else’s. I’ve never NOT written; I can’t imagine I’d be very good at it.

What was the inspiration for From These Ashes?

I wanted to tell stories about my brother. I remember talking to my sister who is three years younger than me and I was telling stories about him—he died when I was 10, she was 7—she told me that she feels horrible that she doesn’t remember much about him. That broke my heart. I feel like he’s been such a motivational force in my life and I wanted her to know a bit about what I remembered. Of course it turned into something completely different, but that was the inspiration.

How has your own heritage played into this story?

I didn’t set out to write about American Indians. Like so much of this story, I just arrived at it organically, and discovered I couldn’t tell it any other way. I honestly know very little of my own heritage, my being Cherokee. My mother came from a very troubled and dark background and I believe she blamed a lot of that on her heritage and so walked away from it. We never got to spend too much of our time with her family, but the time I did spend with my grandmother I remember two things distinctly: she was extremely proud of being Cherokee and she loved my brother Tim the best. I somehow had it in my head that these two things were linked. My brother looked way more Indian, was way more curious about his heritage then any of the rest of us.

Sadly, since I’m unfamiliar with most things having to do with Cherokee, but am really well educated in, and have been surrounded by Spokane, Kootenai, Coeur d'Alene and Flathead my whole life, I have committed a horrible sin. I have assimilated my characters into a tribe not their own. Since this whole book is about them trying to find a place to belong, and not feeling they ever really knew who they were in relation with the heritage, it seems rather appropriate. Besides, this story needed to be told in the West of my childhood, of my earliest memories and the home I turned to in Montana when I myself went looking for a family, a place to belong.
Do you see any of yourself in your characters and their hopes and dreams and struggles?

Yes. So very much. Though we didn’t live on a reservation, we did live in extreme poverty and the struggle to survive, the hope for a place to belong and the dream that somewhere out there is a family that will accept you for what you are and see all your strengths and all that you can offer and welcome you. Those are all themes I’m familiar with.

You put your character through a very traumatic incident – something that happened to you personally. Care to talk about what it was like to write that scene.

Yikes. Which one? I stole a lot of painful memories from my own life for this story. When I was 10 my brother was run over by an 18 wheeler on his way home from school. For years after I had nightmares where I was there that day, standing beside him, watching and not able to do anything. Later, I tried to see it from everyone involved’s POV, including the man who was driving the truck; a man I know nothing about but had to imagine experienced something just as life-altering. For me, the rest of the novel exists as a way to tell that story.

What do you think makes a good story? 


What's your favorite genre to read? 

Literary fiction is my go-to. I also really enjoy and am amazed by Young Adult.

Who is your favorite author or poet? 

Steinbeck and Whitman: two men who had distinct views on America—the good and the bad and articulated them masterfully.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a writer? 

Sherman Alexie’s “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.” I read it for the first time in college. One of the stories was given as an assignment—I can’t remember which one—and I remember this overwhelming sense of optimism that someone could exist and be heralded as a voice of a generation who came from where I did, and wrote about characters who were flawed in stereotypical and not so stereotypical ways like I did. That you could be funny and also heartbreakingly honest, like I desperately wanted to be.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person? 

S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders.” Without that book I don’t think I’d have dreamed of being an author from the age of 12. I mean, at 10 I knew I wanted to write, at 12 I wanted to write honest to goodness books! I’m certain that “From These Ashes” wouldn’t have been written if I hadn’t had “The Outsiders” in my life first.

From the very beginning, walking out of the movie theater (yes, I saw the movie first—best adaptation EVER!), I couldn’t get the comparison of my brother and a lot of those characters—mostly Johnny Cade—out of my head. I remember just weeping the entire ride home and it’s really the first time I remember mourning my brother’s death.

It’s almost embarrassing now how very obsessed with that book I was and for how long. At one time I had the first two pages memorized and to this day can recite the first paragraph. I walked around barefoot for six months because Sodapop Curtis did, I read Frost because Ponyboy did and I started smoking because…wait, nevermind.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration? 

Just everywhere. There are different sorts of inspiration that I seek out and they occur at very different places. For ideas and character-study inspiration, nothing beats book stores, bars, malls and amusement parks. To write, or to become inspired to write, I like to be outside—at the beach, lake, river, or in the mountains.

What does your family think of your writing? 

My family is extremely proud of any accomplishment I achieve and I truly think they like my stories.

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

Schedule? What’s that? These days I grab any free moment I can to write but I am constantly—no matter what I’m doing—creating, plotting, thinking of my characters and where they are in the story and where they need to go.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals? 

None that I’m proud of and absolutely none I’d condone others to emulate.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? 

Um… all of it? No, seriously, I usually have no problem coming up with stories, finding characters that have worthwhile things to say as they travel through tremendously painful traumas on their way to self-actualization. I know how blessed I am to have that come so easily, and yet, I am constantly feeling I let down that gift when it comes to actually sitting down to put the words on the page. So, for me, I guess the most challenging thing is mustering the concentration it takes to get the story from my mind to the page before I lose it.

What are your current projects? 

I just went through every computer I’ve ever owned and pulled out all the things I’ve started and never finished. In there were at least 10 short stories I still think might have value and 4 novels in varied levels of undone. My current project is going through all of these files and sorting what needs to be banished to hard-drive hell to burn for an eternity and what needs to be dusted off, spruced up and finished.

What are you planning for future projects?

Ahhhh, so many future projects, so very little planned. I get stifled when I think too far in the future.

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

Read everything. Don’t be afraid to suck. Don’t be afraid that you won’t find your own voice. You will. Until then? Fake it ‘til you make it.

Where else can we find your work? 

I have a few short stories online, there are a few obscure literary journals floating around with my work included. Or, if you’d like to help a worthy cause, there’s the anthology “Ripple Effect” that I’m still extremely proud of and whose proceeds still go to New Orleans Public Libraries.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I always feel the need to be witty when asked this question—or whip out pictures of my pets. Honestly though? I got nothing.

From These Ashes is available in paperback from Powells, Amazon, and B&N, and is also available for Kindle, Nook, and other eReaders.

From These Ashes chronicles the journey of two siblings looking for “home,” while searching for themselves, each other, their heritage and their destiny.

In a center for cult recovery in Phoenix, Arizona, 16-year-old Native American Naomi West refuses to talk; instead she writes — about her life, about her brother, about the prophecy, and about the fire that nearly destroyed it all. 

Meanwhile, her half-white brother, Tim West, awakes alone in a forest without memories of his past, only an unconscious urge to head west. It is on a Cascade mountaintop where he once again gets too close to a fire, and what starts as a horrifying nightmare wakens him to the truth of his past and a devastating choice that cost him everything.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Author Insides: Alex Miller, Author of OSAMA BIN LADEN IS DEAD

Interview with Alex Miller

Alex Miller grew up in Spring Hill, Tennessee, and lived in Nashville for a few years. He’s a newspaper editor who lives with his wife in Hilo, Hawaii. He misses the South, and especially all the hot weather, poverty, crime and rampant unemployment, but—if he must—he’s willing to go on living in Hawaii for a little while longer. Or maybe forever.

Alex's young adult novella, Osama bin Laden is Dead, is a story about adolescent frustration in a post-911 America.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? 

It happened when I was in the fourth grade. Every few weeks the teacher would make everybody in the class write a story. I think we had to include a bunch of spelling words in the stories. And we had to read them out loud in front of the whole class, which, by the way, is terrifying, especially for a 10-year-old. But there was this cute girl who liked my stories, and at the end of the year she walked over to my desk and asked me if I was going to be a writer someday. That’s when I made up my mind.

Why do you write? 

To meet cute girls. And because I just can’t seem to stop. Writing is as meaningful to me now as it was when I was a kid, or when I was in college, or afterward when I worked crappy jobs and wondered what was the point of anything. Other stuff came and went, but writing is the one thing I can’t let go of.

Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be? 

I always thought that becoming a writer would change me, like I’d be a different kind of person, a “writerly” person. But that’s not what happened. I’m still the same person. I just spend a lot of time writing.

What do you think makes a good story? 

A story needs to give the readers something that matters to their lives, something they can relate to, something that feels universally human. Any story can do this, even crazy stories about robots with serrated knives for hands. If the robot falls in love or gets chewed out by its boss, the robot will matter to the readers. And if you can write a story that makes the reader say, “Sometimes I feel exactly like a robot with serrated knives for hands,” that’s going to be a good story.

What's your favorite genre to read? 

Realistic fiction. Basically I’ll read anything in the “literature” aisle at Barnes & Noble. And sometimes I take a break from the heavy stuff and read a book about hobbits or elves or whatever.

Who is your favorite author? 

Tim O’Brien. He’s the best there is.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?

“The Sun Also Rises,” by Ernest Hemingway; “Winter Dreams,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald; and “The Nuclear Age,” by Tim O’Brien.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person? 

The same three as above, but here I’ll add “Ishmael,” by Daniel Quinn; “A People’s History of the United States,” by Howard Zinn; “The Once and Future King,” by T.H. White; and “The Insurgent,” by Noah Cicero.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration? 

Just from life. The experience of being alive in a world that makes no sense. Or if all else fails I read a newspaper. Newspapers are brutal. If you want to know everything bad that happened in the world today, read a newspaper.

What does your family think of your writing? 

My wife is extremely supportive. She’s also a writer, so we swap our stories and proofread and give each other advice. And over the years we’ve learned how to do this without a lot of yelling.

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

I have a day job, so I write at night. It works for me because I like staying up and sleeping late. If I wake up before noon on a weekend, I feel like I’ve failed myself.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? 

The hardest part is judging what I’ve written, trying to determine if it’s good or bad. Because I lie to myself. I’ll crap something out and tell myself it’s great. I’ll really convince myself. That’s why editors matter. A good editor will set you straight.

What are your current projects? 

I’m putting together a short story collection, and I’m writing a novel about Hawaii and people who have no interest in working 9-5 jobs or being productive members of society.

What are you planning for future projects? 

Global Socialist revolution. Or maybe something sort of inspired by Socialism, but without all of the oppression and mass killings. Some new kind of Socialism that’s all about rainbows and ecstatic dancing. It’s a work in progress.

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

Just sit down and do it. Write something. Finish it. Rewrite it. Hit it again and again until all the words are right. Then try to get it published, because the process of writing for publication will take your writing to another level.

Where else can we find your work? 

I’ve had stories published—occasionally in print but mostly online—in New Wave Vomit, DogzPlot, Bartleby Snopes, The Boiler Journal, Fifth Wednesday Journal, WhiskeyPaper, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Thunderclap, Barely South Review, Queen Vic Knives, One Title, The Bombay Literary Magazine, The OFI Press, 50 to One, Fiction365, Dr. Hurley’s Snake Oil Cure, Open Road Review and We Feel Pretty.

Osama bin Laden is Dead is available on Amazon, Kobo, and B&N. 

Osama bin Laden is Dead is about growing up in a sad little town in the middle of nowhere. It’s about going to high school with a bunch of rich kids who hate you because you buy your clothes at Walmart. It’s about your parents manipulating you into enrolling in a creepy Christian college where morons go to be brainwashed. It’s about dating a girl who won’t put out. 

Osama bin Laden is Dead is about Mark, a high school senior who can’t imagine how his life could ever stop being pathetic. Mark is neither happy nor well adjusted. He likes to pretend that Osama bin Laden is some kind of anti-Christ superhero who can save him from the bleak hellscape that his life has become. “Osama bin Laden is Dead” is about all of Western civilization crumbling and collapsing on top of you. It’s about war and terrorism and making out with your best friend’s girlfriend on a sticky couch in her basement. It’s about finding a new way to live.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Author Insides - Interview with Stacey Longo, Author of Ordinary Boy

Stacey Longo is the author of My Sister the Zombie and Secret Things: Twelve Tales to Terrify. Her stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, including Shroud, Shock Totem, and the Litchfield Literary Review.

A former humor columnist for the Block Island Times, she maintains a weekly humor blog at www.staceylongo.com. Longo lives in rural Connecticut.

Her young adult novel, ORDINARY BOY, has been released today by Dark Alley Press.

What was the inspiration for Ordinary Boy?

I knew a boy in high school who was murdered by his stepfather. It always bothered me. I learned a little more about the actual case as an adult, and realized what I’d imagined had happened was much more interesting, so I decided to write that story instead.

Do you see any of your life in your book? If so, how?

Of course—I grew up in the eighties, so Curtis is growing up in a world I’m familiar with. Some of his memories—watching MTV, playing Atari, the People magazine with Rock Hudson on the cover—are certainly mine. And while his relationship with his sister is much different than the one I have with mine, the true moments of camaraderie they share are lifted right from my sister and me.

What was the hardest part of this book for you to write and why?

Killing off Curtis was terrible, even though I knew it was going to happen as soon as I started writing the book. I enjoyed Curtis so much as I wrote him—his sense of humor, in particular—that I considered letting him live. But his character and the story demanded he die, so I had to do it. It hurt, though.

As a female writer, why did you choose to have a male protagonist?

I wanted to stretch my writing chops. I had a pretty non-eventful childhood, and a story about a girl growing up in the eighties and developing a crush on the members of Duran Duran would be pretty boring. Writing about Curtis opened up a whole new world for me.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? 

I’ve always been a writer. I grew up on a dairy farm. When I was bored as a kid, I’d make up stories about the cows and pigs and cats on the farm. Then my friends started asking me to tell them these tales when they came over. I thought “Hey, maybe these stories aren’t just entertaining for me!” and started writing them down. I haven’t stopped since.

Why do you write? 

I can’t not write. It’s stress release, revenge, and entertainment all in one.

Is being a writer anything like you imagined it would be? 

Yes and no. I always thought I’d be like Fitzgerald or Capote, traveling in literary circles and being invited to fabulous parties where we’d discuss books and writing into the wee hours. Ha! But I do get to hang out with other writers and talk about writing, even if it’s on someone’s back porch over coffee. That’s all I can ask for.

What do you think makes a good story? 

Intriguing characters. Plots that aren’t transparent from page one. Well-written prose that makes me think long after I’ve finished the book.

What's your favorite genre to read? 

I read everything except romance and fantasy. Non-fiction, fiction, horror, history, true crime, mysteries . . . everything.

Who is your favorite author or poet? 

I’m a huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe. And Erma Bombeck. Augusten Burroughs, Wally Lamb, Stephen King, Carl Hiaasen, Larry McMurtry, John Irving . . . it’s impossible to narrow it down to just one.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer? 

Probably King and Bombeck. It’s impossible to write in the horror genre these days and not be influenced by the King. But growing up I also studied the clever nuances of effective humor, and I’ve re-read everything by Erma Bombeck several times.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person? 

Probably Bloom County by Berkley Breathed. I quote him daily. Nothing makes me laugh quite like an old Opus or Bill the Cat cartoon.

What does your family think of your writing? 

They’re mostly supportive. I have to be careful when I’m killing off a character in some horrible way to make sure that character doesn’t too closely resemble anyone I know, so as not to cause offense. But my family is my biggest cheerleading section.

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

I try to write every day, though it doesn’t always happen. And if something’s coming up that I don’t want to put down on paper—like Curtis’s death—I’m a huge procrastinator. I left Curtis hiding in the closet for weeks while I did more important things, like laundry.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals? 

I require a lot of coffee while writing—several pots. And complete silence. My husband’s a talker, so it’s hard sometimes.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? 

Did I not mention my husband is a chatterbox?

I’m so fortunate, though, because I have an awesome support system in place. When I’m done with a story, I have several trusted writers I can send it to for critique, and they don’t pull any punches. They’re vital to my process, but when they’re all done, it’s rewrite time, which can be daunting.

What are your current projects? 

I just sold a YA novel, so I need to start the recommended edits on that from my publisher. And I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a novel about Penny Paradise, Curtis’s girlfriend. I thought I wanted to make it parallel to Ordinary Boy, but I’m about 10,000 words in and I think the story really wants to be about her as an adult.

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

Make sure you love writing, because otherwise, it’s not worth doing. And don’t quit your day job!

Where else can we find your work? 

On Amazon, of course, and wherever books are sold. Visit my website at www.staceylongo.com to order books, peruse anthologies I’ve been in, and get a weekly dose of all things Stacey on my blog.

His name is Curtis Price. Until his extraordinary death, he lives an ordinary life on the poor side of town in Osprey Falls, Maine with his mother and older sister. He is the boy that nobody sees, ignored in the shadows of the hallway. He is the kid that is picked last in gym. He is the student that is never called on in class to answer the question, and, after a while, he stops bothering to raise his hand.

It is not until his stepfather shoots him that he is finally—finally—noticed.

Before he meets his untimely end, let him start at the beginning of his tale.

ORDINARY BOY is available in digital and print from Amazon, B&N, iBooks, and other online retailers. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Author Insides: Lee Hitt, Author of BREAKING THE SEAL

Interview with Lee Hitt

Lee Hitt lives and writes in Southern New Hampshire. His first story, “The Power Man,” is featured in Best Gay Erotica 2014, published by Cleis Press. He is currently working on an erotic short story collection while his alter-ego writes a memoir.

Lee's erotic short, Breaking the Seal, was published by Vagabondage Romance in March 2014.

What was the inspiration for your story?

Well, I’ve been to Mexican restaurant and had a few too many margaritas before. Who hasn’t? Nothing like this has happened to me, but I love exploring what-if situations. What might have happened if different decisions were made? I took that setting, and the phrase “Breaking the Seal”, which is uncommon enough to have an Urban Dictionary entry, and went from there. This story goes off in a crazy direction, so by the time I finished, it was hard to imagine that any of this was inspired from real life.

Do you see any of yourself in your characters?

Yes, but only barely. Of course, since they sprung from my brain, there’s a part of me in all of my characters. But the characters in this story ended up taking on a life and personality of their own, turning out nothing like me at all. My board game night has never ended up like this.

What drew you to the erotica genre?

I think erotica is an under-appreciated literary genre. Some popular fiction that gets billed as “erotica” gives the genre a bad image, in my opinion. That “erotica” is more like pornography, which is sex for the sake of sex. Erotica uses sex to achieve a goal, a catharsis, an epiphany. Erotica can be very complex, deep, and literary, like any other genre, from historical fiction to mystery or sci-fi.

I started exploring it as a reader when I stumbled across a copy of Best American Erotica 1999 in a used bookstore. The first story in that collection, “Je t’aime, Batman. Je t’adore” by Kelly McQuain turned me on (so to speak) to exploring the genre myself. It can have all the best facets of other genre of fiction: symbolism, imagery, strong characters, a little humor. Instead of sex being incidental, erotica explores incredible themes through sex. Sexual positions can be very symbolic.

Anyway, I later read online that DC Comics sent a cease and desist to Simon & Schuster, scrubbing “Je t’aime, Batman…” from future printings of BAE1999. The fact that I found a copy with the story in it in a used book store felt like fate whispering to me.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? 

I wrote Maniac Mansion fanfiction in the second grade, before knowing that “fan fiction” was even a thing. I can’t say I wanted to be a writer then, though. When I was in my late teens early twenties, I kept an online journal, and had a friend tell me over and over that I should. When I published my first story, she pretty much said, “I told you so.”

Why do you write? 

I write to explore possibilities. I write to put my thoughts in order. I write to make sense of a chaotic world. I write because I overthink every little detail and mannerism.

Is being a writer anything like you imagined it would be? 

It is, actually. I get to make my own schedule, do whatever I want, and I get to talk about myself all the time. People think it’s a cool job. What more could I want?

What do you think makes a good story? 

Strong characters make a good story. The strongest characters don’t even need an intricate plot. I can watch good characters do anything, the same way I can watch Jennifer Lawrence do anything.

What's your favorite genre to read? 

I like contemporary fiction, especially short stories. And when I have the time, I like delving into a really complicated science-fiction novel.

Who is your favorite author or poet? 

My favorite author is Nicholson Baker. His book The Fermata taught me that it’s possible to want to create positive change in the world and be a kinky pervert.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer? 

In addition to Kelly McQuain’s short story inspiring me to write erotica, Nicholson Baker’s The Fermata, George Saunders’s “Sea Oak”, Dan Simmons’s Hyperion, and the short fiction of Karen Russell and Alissa Nutting are the types of magical masterpieces I one day aspire to write. Nicholson Baker does some great erotic/pornographic writing too, like the sci-fi porn opus House of Holes.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person? 

David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas kind of changed my life. (The movie… well, we can talk about that later…) Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried changed the way I think I about writing. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books kept me sane as a teenager (but only barely sane).

Where/how do you find the most inspiration? 

I find the most inspiration by shutting up and paying attention to my surroundings. It’s hard to do. I love traveling to new places (I consider that location scouting) and meeting new people. Aspects of other people’s personalities stitched together, like some sort of psychic Frankenstein’s monster, make up my best characters.

What does your family think of your writing? 

My mom supports everything I do. Whether or not she’ll read my kinky gay fantasies… that remains to be seen.

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

I like to read in the mornings. Something non-fiction, like a magazine article, something interesting online, or something I’m trying to research. I pair the reading with a hot cup of coffee and a warm breakfast with some spicy sausage. (Links preferred over patties. Does that say something Freudian about me?) That gets the inspiration flowing, and I’ll usually start writing around 11 a.m. and go until I get hungry. If I’m really picking up steam, I might forget to eat until late at night.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals? 

I like to handwrite a lot, which can be a problem because my handwriting often devolves into meaningless scribble. And when I revise, I like to print out a hardcopy and write on it in pen. Also, I can’t write at home, so I could probably find any café within a ten mile radius of my house while blindfolded.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? 

Um, everything? I find the whole process extremely difficult, at least until I have a workable first draft. Plotting, creating characters, just coming up with a concept can be very challenging for me. I enjoy the revision process, because I just pretend I’m revising someone else’s work and making it better.

What are your current projects? 

I’m working on an erotic short story collection and my alter ego is working on a memoir.

What are you planning for future projects? 

Whenever someone tells me that they’re writing a novel, my stock answer is, “That’s ambitious.” If I’m ever feeling ambitious, I have two hot messes of novels in process. One is a modern-day retelling of a super-classic epic story (one that actually hasn’t been done before), and the other is a supernatural romance that I would actually want to read.

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

Just the basics: write every day. Show don’t tell. And find someone you trust to read your work… and tear it apart. A good editor will rip you a new one out of love!

Where else can we find your work? 

My only other publication (at the moment) is my first short story, “The Power Man” in Best Gay Erotica 2014, published by Cleis Press in softcover and e-book. It’s the first of many great stories in that book.

Breaking the Seal is available for eReaders through Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and Google Play. 

Perhaps it’s the many, many drinks clouding your vision, but tonight, you notice something different about the way Jackson, your presumably hetero coworker is acting toward you. Maybe it’s just the change of atmosphere — coworkers having an office party at a bar — or maybe it’s something else entirely. When Jackson notes you are entirely too intoxicated to make it home on your own and offers you a ride, you decide to find out if there was any double meaning in that offer.