Monday, May 28, 2018

Will GDPR help you find time to read?

I'm getting all these emails about resubscribing to blogs and GDPR regulations etc. I suspect I may end up with a much cleaner Inbox after this, and more time to read and write. Hurray! Though I do apologize to all those people I've failed to resubscribe to - those links that sent me nowhere or said I'd already been there or timed out on me... Who knows where I am or will be next week?

On which existential note, I think I might post some serious book reviews of serious books for a change. I've read a number of really enjoyable novels recently, literary, dramatic, confusing, intriguing, or simply so deeply evocative I couldn't put them down. So pick up a coffee and see what you think. Please remember, the stars of for the coffee strength and nothing to do with quality. (Is all coffee good?)

First is Annie’s Bones by Howard Owen, a literary mystery that alternates between past and present, evocatively recreating the world of a student who doesn't fit in and a loss that can't properly be mourned. Contrasting youthful eagerness with the jaded watchfulness of an aging adult, together with questions of crime and guilt, it's a really cool tale filled with really great characters. Enjoy with some seriously elegant four-star coffee.

Fistful of Rain by Baron R. Birtcher takes readers to rural America in 1975 where people are gradually coming to terms with the 60s, Vietnam and political scandal. The clear-sighted sheriff sees trouble looming and battles politics, false assumptions, miscommunication and mystery, while the reader is drawn into a convincing time and place, interacting with fascinating people. You'll want some more seriously elegant four-star coffee as you read this one.

The Children Act by Ian McEwan offers a similar sense of a changing world, inviting readers into the life of a British judge navigating the problems of children's lives and the right to live or die. It's a serious topic, and the author draws no simple conclusions, simply leading the reader to see through different eyes and ponder different lives. There's music in hope by the end of the tale, and mystery in trying to decide. A truly elegant tale, best read with more elegant four-star coffee.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is well-known to anyone watching the TV series (sadly, not me), and I've wanted to read it for quite some time. Again, it invites readers to see familiar questions in an unfamiliar light, this time by placing them in an imagined not-so-distant future. Again there are questions of religious interpretation balanced against human need and the possibility of laws being wrong. And again, there's a warning not to be too sure of ourselves. Perhaps a little darker than the other tales, maybe you'll want some five-star dark coffee with this.

The Autobiography of Corrine Bernard by Kathleen Novak is a novel, not an autobiography, and it's a coolly absorbing tale of a woman born in Paris during the Second World War. Balancing invisibility and independence, love and need, chance and choice, it's an absorbing and intriguing tale, told with a voice that combines lyrical French undertones with strident New York defiance. Enjoy with some seriously complex four-star coffee.

Finally there's The Revolving Door of Life by Alexander McCall Smith. Another in the long-running Scotland Street series, I'm always intrigued by how the author keeps all his characters unique and different, and how he interleaves their very different tales into one coherent whole. It's a charming, witty, intriguing and oddly thought-provoking novel, and an easy read to pick up and put down over several well-balanced three-star coffees.

And now I shall brew one of those coffees for myself and get back to some more reading and writing.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Movie, TV or Book for swords and sorcery?

Stephen Zimmer is always a very welcome guest on my blog, and I know today will be no exception, so pull up a chair, pour some coffee (or beverage of choice) and join him, right here, right now, with sunlight arising though his book the Depths of Night. Welcome Stephen!

And welcome to the Depths of Night blog tour,celebrating the debut of the Ragnar Stormbringer character. John Le Carre stopped writing about George Smiley after he saw him portrayed on TV, and I know there's a TV pilot starring him. So I had to ask Stephen, how do the TV Pilot and your writing influence each other. And what other influences come into the creation of these characters and their world.

The Influences of Character Creation When Writing in Different Mediums
By Stephen Zimmer

I write both screenplays and prose, so I find it important to state first that visual mediums, like tv shows and movies, and books are as different as apples and oranges.  They are two very different mediums within the greater sphere of storytelling.  Quite often, both are employed for the telling of the same story, or spotlighting a certain character, a dynamic that nowadays can include other distinct creative outlets such as game design and comics/graphic novels. 

A screenplay is very minimalist in nature.  It is a blueprint for what becomes a movie, and will involve input, development, and changes from a number of individuals along the way after it has been delivered by the screenwriter.  Directors, actors, producers, and others will affect it in significant ways, and put their own stamps upon it as the production progresses.  It reflects the team-nature of the filmmaking medium. 

A book is much more solitary and allows for the introspective, insofar that a writer can go into a character’s head, or provide an omniscient view of a narrative.  An editor becomes involved in the process, but this involvement is different in nature than the various parties that have effects upon screenplays.  The book is the end product, which is different than the movie/tv scenario where the screenplay is part of the beginning of a process that results in the movie or TV show, which is the end product in that scenario.

As a writer who has developed both screenplays and works of prose (in short stories, novellas, and novels), I have a solid appreciation for the differences of the two mediums and the mindsets needed for writing in each of them. 

The writing of the Rayden Valkyrie: Saga of a Lionheart TV Pilot represented the first instance where I developed a storyline involving a world and characters from my prose writing.  My grasp of the world of Rayden Valkyrie was very thorough when I wrote the screenplay, and certainly provided a great foundation for the new characters that emerged in the TV Pilot’s storyline.  Yet whether book or movie, I still have to have a comprehensive vision and understanding of a character, and their world, in order to bring it to life in a story. 

This resulted in having a back story for the Ragnar Stormbringer character that emerged for the screenplay.  The more I thought about that back story, the more interested I became in developing and telling it further, which lead to the desire to begin telling Ragnar’s story in dedicated works of prose. 

This, ultimately, is what led to Depths of Night, the forthcoming When the Cold Breathes, and other novellas and novels that I have envisioned that center around the Ragnar character. 

All of these projects give me more opportunities to explore the character of Ragnar Stormbringer, which brings further evolution.  Just like with any person, the more time that I spend with Ragnar, the better I get to know him.

Ultimately, though, whether screenplay or book, everything boils down to the core of the character and the type of story being told.  In this case, that entails heroic fantasy and sword and sorcery, of a kind where I have had many wonderful literary influences including the likes of Robert E. Howard, David Gemmell, and R.A. Salvatore   Powerful heroes, great fight scenes, action-driven plot lines, monsters, and sorcery thrive at the center of these kinds of tales, and it is no different with either my Ragnar Stormbringer or Rayden Valkyrie tales.  What I have to do as a writer is put my own stamp on these tales, and bring them out in my voice, in a way that connects readers strongly to these characters.

Being a filmmaker and writing screenplays has given me a cinematic perspective that definitely lends a hand in writing these kinds of tales.  I think the fact that I first explored Ragnar’s character in a screenplay, where you can only “show” and can not “tell” proved to be valuable in portraying him on the page later in my bookish realms.  It drove me to understand him at a depth that I could not put on the screenplay page, which served as a genesis for all kinds of story ideas involving Ragnar, including Depths of Night and the forthcoming novella, When the Cold Breathes.

In the creation of books or short stories, I can welcome the more interior aspects of Ragnar’s character and get them across on the page to readers.  The depth of understanding gained in the earlier stages is given an unbridled outlet in the writing of something like a novella.

I have really enjoyed my adventures with Ragnar and that is what is paramount in continuing these tales, though it will be interesting to see whether certain expectations develop in new readers who have first encountered Ragnar on the screen (where he is played by Brock O’Hurn in Rayden Valkyrie: Saga of Lionheart).   That will definitely be another new experience for me, but I am absolutely committed to telling the story of this fascinating, heroic character, through whatever mediums I am given the chance to!

I've not read this book yet, but I've enjoyed many of your other books, especially the Rayden Valkyrie novels. They take me back to college days when I too was hooked on Swords and Sorcery--Michael Moorcock and Fritz Leiber being my favorites then.

Thank you so much for answering my question so fully, and giving me an insight into what goes into those TV pilots too. And best of luck with the release. 

Author: Stephen Zimmer
Featured Book Release:
Depths of Night
May 21 to May 27, 2018

About the author: Stephen Zimmer is an award-winning author and filmmaker based out of Lexington Kentucky. His works include the Rayden Valkyrie novels (Sword and Sorcery), the Rising Dawn Saga (Cross Genre), the Fires in Eden Series (Epic Fantasy), the Hellscapes short story collections (Horror), the Chronicles of Ave short story collections (Fantasy), the Harvey and Solomon Tales (Steampunk), and the forthcoming Faraway Saga (YA Dystopian/Cross-Genre).

Stephen’s visual work includes the feature film Shadows Light, shorts films such as The Sirens and Swordbearer, and the forthcoming Rayden Valkyrie: Saga of a Lionheart TV Pilot.

Stephen is a proud Kentucky Colonel who also enjoys the realms of music, martial arts, good bourbons, and spending time with family.

Where to find him
Twitter: @sgzimmer
Instagram: @stephenzimmer7 

About the book: Depths of Night: After a harrowing end to a long sea journey, the famed northern warrior Ragnar Stormbringer and a force of warriors step ashore in the lands of the Petranni, a tribal people known for their workings in silver and gold. The search for plunder takes a sharp turn when homesteads, villages, and temple sites show signs of being recently abandoned.

When it is discovered that the Petranni have all taken refuge within a massive stronghold, Ragnar and the others soon fall under the shadow of an ancient, deadly adversary. Wielding his legendary war axe Raven Caller, Ragnar finds his strength tested like never before.

Where to find it:
Kindle Version
Barnes and Noble:

Find out more: Follow the Tour!
5/21 Beauty in Ruins Guest Post
5/21 Literary Underworld Guest Post
5/22 Sapphyria's Books Review
5/22 The Horror Club Review
5/23 Oak Hill RPG Club Review
5/23 Breakeven Books Interview
5/23 Bookwraiths Guest Post
5/24 MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape Author Interview
5/24 Ally Books and Reviews Guest Post
5/25 Sheila's Guests and Reviews Author Interview and guest post
5/25 The Book Lover's Boudoir Review
5/26 I Smell Sheep VLOG
5/27 MightyThorJRS Fantasy Book News and Reviews Guest Post
5/27 Jazzy Book Reviews Top 10 List

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Will you freeze?

Christine Amsden's Cassie Scot series starts with a cool premise and enjoyably mystery--think cozy crossed with paranormal--then morphs into a series, expands into a world, and quietly picks up the series storyline. The protagonist is married, a mother, the same person and she always was, but pleasingly, believably different. And the threat... well, the threats keep growing. Here's my review:

The characters in Christine Amsden’s Cassie Scott series wouldn’t let her go when the story was done. They wouldn’t let her readers go either, and Frozen takes up the tale with mothers and children, mothers and grandmothers, and the awesome responsibility of parenthood. Of course, this isn’t just regular parenthood. This is knowing your child will have magical powers, knowing you’ll temporarily inherit those powers, and knowing how to define yourself—never an easy task for Cassie who “set aside most of my old insecurities about not having magic in a magical world” but still feels “less.” How easily readers will relate.

The author's characters, for all their powers, feel aching real and suffer the same fears and insecurities as all the rest of us. They grow older, and grow in responsibility, very convincingly and appropriately. Their world remains scarily dangerous—a reminder, perhaps, that magic won’t fix things any more than anything else can. Power doesn’t always corrupt, but might. And prophetic sight doesn’t always tell the truth about the future.

Frozen is the sort of novel that invites readers to think as well as enjoying the tale. It’s powerfully human and magically powerful. It’s a great addition to the series, but it stands alone as a compelling story of relationships and mystery. There are no magic bullets, no deus ex machina solutions, and no one-size-fits-all methods of solving very human dilemmas. But there’s a great story, wonderful characters, and a coolly intriguing (possibly freezing) plot.

Disclosure: I was given a pre-release ecopy and I offer my honest review.

For readers who feel "less," not quite up to par. For mothers who feel trapped and changed. For those who wish they could see the future, and for those who know there are no magic bullet answers but kind of wish there were. For mystery solvers and lovers of the paranormal... Enjoy.

And find it here:

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Is there a future when characters are frozen into their past?

Today I get to invite one of my favorite authors of paranormal and science fiction, Christine Amsden. She's the author of lots of books that I've read and loved, but her latest is another in the Cassie Scot Paranormal Detective series - a continuation of a series that (almost) seemed finished. Since I'm working on one series and dreaming of another, it seemed like a good idea to ask her, over virtual coffee, how she ended up with Cassie Scot starring and co-starring so many times, and how do real series get written. So, pull up a chair, pour a coffee (tea, soda, juice, water... just as long as it doesn't spill on the computer) and see what she has to say. Over to you Christine:

Writing a Series

by Christine Amsden

Cassie Scot was supposed to be a four-book series. Each book centered on a self-contained mystery, while the series dealt with some character growth and struggles. I wrote those four books together, even though they were released a few months apart, so that I had at least a solid rough draft of Stolen Dreams (book four) done before the original Cassie Scot went public.

It was an ideal way to write a series. I had a plan, changed the plan a dozen times, and rewrote to accommodate my new plans.

Then Cassie’s two best friends, Kaitlin and Madison, decided they needed stories of their own. I accommodated them, but it wasn’t as easy. The first four books were now set in stone, the rules of the world fixed, meaning that I had a silent partner in my new books: Younger me!

These days, I’m working on other projects, but Cassie still won’t stay quiet. Before I sat down to write Frozen, she kept saying, “Hello? Are you there? I’m not dead. I just got married. Not the same thing.”

It’s great that my character is still talking to me. This makes writing new books in her series easy. The hard part, once again, is that silent writing partner of mine. I no longer have the freedom to go back to book one and make little changes to pave the way for new elements I’d like to introduce. For better or for worse, my world is my world. I now find myself taking something of a leap of faith with each new volume I write, armed with only a few vague ideas of what might happen next.

Frozen is once again self-contained, but it definitely sets up the promise of new adventures to come. Maybe even new, deeper explorations of the world around Cassie. I knew some of this all along, but I’m making up a lot as I go along. I trust my future self can handle it. I also trust she’s going to read this and have some choice words for me when she does. :)

Honestly, writing a series is fun. It gives me the chance to go deeper into characters and world than any single book can. It also gives me the chance to revisit favorite characters, and it keeps me from having to reinvent a world from the ground up with each new volume. I like reading series too, and for the same reason. I get invested. I can’t wait to read more about Harry Dresden, Charlie Davidson, Mackayla Lane, Katherine “Kitty” Kat Martini, and others. I hope readers feel the same way about Cassie Scot. 

Well, this reader certainly does. Ever waiting for the next Dresden and the next Cassie Scot. I love that "not dead, just married" line. And I love how Frozen really does let your characters move on from their younger selves. (Click on the link for my review!)


Christine Amsden has been writing fantasy and science fiction for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. Speculative fiction is fun, magical, and imaginative but great speculative fiction is about real people defining themselves through extraordinary situations. Christine writes primarily about people and relationships, and it is in this way that she strives to make science fiction and fantasy meaningful for everyone.

At the age of 16, Christine was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, which scars the retina and causes a loss of central vision. She is now legally blind, but has not let this slow her down or get in the way of her dreams.

Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. In addition to being a writer, she's a mom and freelance editor.


· Website
· Blog
· Twitter
· Google+

ABOUT THE BOOK: Frozen (Cassie Scot Book Seven)

Apparently, life doesn’t end when you get married.

When a couple freezes to death on a fifty degree day, Cassie is called in to investigate. The couple ran a daycare out of their home, making preschoolers the key witnesses and even the prime suspects.

Two of those preschoolers are Cassie’s youngest siblings, suggesting conditions at home are worse than she feared. As Cassie struggles to care for her family, she must face the truth about her mother’s slide into depression, which seems to be taking the entire town with it.

Then Cassie, too, is attacked by the supernatural cold. She has to think fast to survive, and her actions cause a rift between her and her husband.

No, life doesn’t end after marriage. All hell can break loose at any time.


Print Release: July 15, 2018
Audiobook Release: TBA


Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective (Cassie Scot Book One)
Secrets and Lies (Cassie Scot Book Two)
Mind Games (Cassie Scot Book 3)
Stolen Dreams (Cassie Scot Book 4)
Madison's Song (Cassie Scot Book 5)
Kaitlin’s Tale (Cassie Scot Book 6)


That’s when I saw it – the thing that had scared Evan. It was … a dog, maybe? But massive. As black as night. And with red, glowing eyes. If it weren’t for the eyes, I might have mistaken it for a werewolf. Well, that, and the fact that the moon hadn’t risen. Wolves didn’t turn when the sun went down, only when the moon rose. It wasn’t even the full moon; I would never have left Ana with Scott if it were.
            The monstrous thing lunged for Jim, a thirty-something man in very good shape who couldn’t seem to outrun it. It tore at the backs of his legs, drawing blood and sending Jim sprawling to the ground on hands and knees.
            I couldn’t move, and not because Evan’s power still held me. That thing was about two seconds from eating Jim, a man I happened to like and who I knew had a wife and two kids at home.
            A strangled yell emerged from Jim’s throat. Guns blazed – I hadn’t even noticed Frank and Sheriff Adams drawing their weapons. The beast growled, momentarily losing interest in Jim as it fixed those demon eyes on the two men trying to fill it with lead.
            Then, suddenly, it was in the air, flying backwards through the trees and out of sight.
            The guns went quiet but the sheriff and his deputy continued to run toward their fallen comrade. Evan stood stock still, staring into the woods, arms raised and waiting. Listening.
            Suddenly, the sound of a canine howling filled the air.
            “Move!” Evan shouted. “It’s coming back!” 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Can childrens' books raise you out the doldrums?

It's the end of the day; it's the end of the week; I remind myself it's not, and it won't be the end of my dreams. But those dreams are keeping me seriously busy, planning, checking, opening pdf files with publisher to see how covers are made, more planning, more checking. I'm close to deciding to self-publish those Bible stories as my present publisher returns all the files to me--for anyone who's wondering, he's going far more than the extra mile, giving me covers and interior files, plus copies of all the files he worked with on the way, and returning my rights. I couldn't ask for more--Cape Arago's the best!

But I wanted ... I dreamed ... an agent, a way into bookstores and churches and Christian schools and ... I wanted readers. So now I'm close to deciding to self-publish, after which I shall concentrate on writing more volumes and trying to find those readers on my own. Meanwhile, I loved a Christian children's book I read recently, so I'm posting my review of Gracie and several other children's chapter books. Not as short as the picture books I reviewed last, but still short, still fast-moving and encouraging, still perfect while I work through my slow-moving plans ... and great stress relievers too.

8 year old Gracie and the save a soul prayer team – a father’s broken heart by Paula Rose -- offers sweetly authentic dialog, a child of old-fashioned values in the present day world, and a smooth blend of Touched by an Angel with Little House on the Prairie perhaps. It's a nicely absorbing and uplifting read with a message of God's healing grace -- enjoy with some well-balanced full-flavored three-star coffee.

Gracie prays at bedrime. Other children ask family members to read a bedtime story, and Magical Bedtime Stories by Piaras O Cionnaoith offers child-based stories covering all the natural distractedness of childhood (including puppies) that read like an elderly relative telling the tales. It's satisfying and fun -- enjoy with some two-star bright easy-drinking coffee.

Dragons might be an appropriate bedtime theme, as long as they're not too scary. Fierce Winds and Fiery Dragons by Nan Sweet is a children's chapbook which combines the magic of fairytale with the stark reality of wounded families. Exciting adventures, learning the meaning of friendship, finding strength in themselves--it might just lead to the right sort of dream for a worried child. Enjoy this lively tale with some more lively two-star coffee.

My Twin Sister And Me by Emiliya Ahmadova is another adventure story centering on two girls. This time they're 12-year-olds living in Caracas, Venezuela. The language is slightly formal, though still easy to read, making it a story for somewhat older readers (or for reading aloud). It blends old-world values with modern-world problems and offers intriguing insights into Venezuelan life and Christianity. A fascinating read to be enjoyed with an easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Then there's Secret Sisters #1: Heart to Heart by Sandra Byrd, another Christian based story of girls, followed by Twenty-one Ponies. They tell of sixth grade girls in an Arizona elementary school, where Tess would love to be popular but doesn't want to hurt anyone. Prayer and answers to prayer are nicely handled in both these stories, with sin and forgiveness becoming natural parts of life. Enjoy them both with some well-balanced smooth three-star coffee.

It's interesting. I'm sure when I was in elementary school I used to get annoyed at the lack of girl's adventure books (and I used to "help" Mum by dusting my brothers' rooms so I could read their more exciting books). Now I'm really more girls' books than boys'. Has the world changed so much?

Finally, yes, it's girls again - two time-traveling children visiting the grandmother who died before they were born, and my only complaint is I wish this had more illustrations! Enjoy Jessica D. Adams' Meeting Grandmom with a mild, crisp one-star coffee. It's a quick, short, very enjoyable read.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


Today I'm pleased to welcome author Benjamin Mester, whose inviting us to travel from the wandering woods of Minnesota to the Banished Lands of fantasy. Welcome Benjamin, and please tell, with all those intricate maps and prophecies, what's the story behind those banished lands.

The Story Behind The Banished Lands Series

I've always loved that intoxicating feeling of adventure and mystery when embarking with a character into a brand new world.  My driving motivation with The Banished Lands series was to create a world with a rich lore and history, but not overburden the reader with backstory.  I've always loved the richness of poetry – the metaphorical language which speaks to a deeper meaning just beyond the edge of explanation.  In The Banished Lands series, we enter a fractured world with a forgotten history. But hints of it remain through a set of poems that speak of the old world and cryptic events which brought an end to that age. 

I love the idea of characters living normal, mundane lives, suddenly thrust into an ancient struggle they didn't even know was raging.  I love the fantasy genre because it isn't ashamed of the classic archetypes – the epic struggle of good and evil, heroics, and everything that often gets the label cliché.  Using these archetypes in ways that haven't been done before was my real motivation for writing The Banished Lands series.  The way this series combines poetry, lore and mystery is something unique in the fantasy genre.

When writing this first book, I often sat back and wondered to myself, What would it be like to live in a world with a shrouded past?  We often take modern life for granted – the whole wealth of human knowledge at our fingertips.  But what would it be like to live in a world where the only history was cryptic poetry telling of a time when the world was a completely different place?  And what if, somehow, those ancient poems that no one really understands seem to be the only thing that really explains the dark things creeping forward from the fringes of the world?  Welcome to The Banished Lands.

Ooh, that sounds cool.I guess I often feel as if it's even true - that we have forgotten vital lessons from our past, and that, for many of us, what's left is cryptic and unbelievably strange. I think I shall enjoy your Banished Lands novels. And I love that you include real poetry (see excerpt below).

THE BANISHED LANDS by Benjamin Mester, Fantasy, 384 pp., $9.99 (Paperback) $2.99 (Kindle)

Author: Benjamin Mester
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 384
Genre: Fantasy

A kingdom in danger. A prophecy that will change everything. But will they understand it in time? The old world is gone, and barely even histories remain. But something from that time is returning. The closing lines of a farewell poem, written centuries ago by the last great king of the age to his slain wife, might be more than just a poem:

The world and all its light shall fade,
I’ll stay with her beneath the shade
And wait until the world’s remade…

Join us in this epic fantasy adventure as three friends plunge into the great mystery of their age, twelve centuries in the making. A mysterious fog blankets the forest just outside the sleepy town of Suriya. A dark plot unfolds as Durian and his friends discover ties between a strange wanderer and the warlike barbarian kingdom far to the north. Are the mysterious things happening in the forest a prelude to invasion? What happens next will propel Durian and his curious friends into the middle of the oldest riddle in the history of their kingdom, a dozen centuries old.
Amazon Link:

Other Books in The Banished Lands Series

The Banished Lands series

Dismissing hours as they pass
Soft upon the windswept grass.
The hopes of men have come to naught.
Nothing fair for eyes or thought.

For Sheyla lies on golden plain,
Of Cavanah, the fairest slain;
Who met her last and final day
When all was brought to disarray.

Of gladful things now nevermore –
Now bitter wind, now salty shore.
The peaceful world bound to unrest
And darkness looming in the west.

The world and all its light shall fade.
I'll stay with her beneath the shade
And wait until the world's remade...

Benjamin Mester is native of San Diego but can often be found wandering the woods of northern Minnesota.  He fell in love with language at an early age – the eloquence of poetry or the grandeur of an epic story.  Fantasy is his favorite genre, crafting new and magical places of heroism and adventure.  When he isn’t writing, he’s often taking long walks through nature or wondering about his place in the wide world.

Benjamin is the author of The Banished Lands series.

You can visit him on Goodreads.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Saving... but who saved the book?

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Stacy Mitchell to my blog. We're going to drink some virtual coffee while she answers real questions, so find a mug, read on and enjoy. After coffee you might even get the chance to read an excerpt from her novel, Saving Each Other. Or you might like to...

Purchase Saving Each Other Here 

Where did you grow up, and where do you live now? I was born and raised in Los Angeles, moved to the South Bay when I met my husband, and then relocated to the Conejo Valley when my oldest son, Jason, started middle school.

Ah, hence the picture. So if Jason's your oldest, do you have other kids, or any pets? I have two sons. Jason graduated Rutgers, and stayed there, while my youngest, Brian, is about to start design school. I’ve never owned a cat but may get one. I lost my goldendoodle, Norman, last year, and my labradoodle, Maddie, is lonely. Look for my tribute to Norman in the back of my book.

What a shame. We had a standard poodle, then got a black lab after he died. Losing a pet is so hard, and I'm sure it's hard for the remaining pet too.

Do you have any favorite authors? My son Brian is gay and I wanted to be there for him, to guide him. So I turned to gay romance novels. I’m now completely addicted to them. People who live in the LGBTQ+ community have much higher hurdles they have to scale, so the love they share is much deeper than straight couples. Most of the time they’re better than mainstream books. NR Walker is my favorite M/M author. I also love Riley Hart, Lucy Lennox, Alexa Land, and Pandora Pine to name a few. When I read “straight” romance novels, I tend to lean toward Contemporary and romantic comedy. My favorite M/F author is Sandi Lynn. Other one-click authors are Adrianna Locke, Corinne Michaels, BN Toler, and Kristen Callahan.
You sound like a very supportive mom. Did you always want to be a writer? Until three years ago, I never read a book that I wasn’t required to read.

Intriguing... Eleven years ago, my son Brian went away to summer camp. My husband and I decided to take advantage of our time off, hopped in my car and took a road trip up the West coast, from California to Washington. We were in Oregon, nine hours away, when the call came in that Brian had had a seizure. It was the hardest drive of my life. Thankfully, we got in touch with my mother, so I knew he wasn’t alone. When I got there, I was a basket-case, and that’s where the double-edged sword of having my mother there came into play. She handed me a little blue pill, to calm me. She then gave me a few more. She also gave me the name of a “dirty” doctor and told me what to say. The little blue pill was Xanax.

Wow... By the time I ended my addiction, which was eight years later, I was, not only taking twelve to fourteen milligrams a day, I was also hooked on over a dozen prescription drugs. In 2014, I traveled to Ireland and ran out of most of them. The withdrawal was so bad, I spent the entire time there in the hotel room. When I got home, I was in the doctor’s office bright and early the very next day. Six months later, I was back in the same boat. The only difference was, this time I was still in California. That was when I said, “Enough is enough,” and flushed every other pill I had. In hindsight, it was completely the wrong way to quit. Three years later, I still feel the effects, especially when I’m stressed.

Then, what inspired you to write? Dani and Ean inspired me to write. Six months after I stopped the pills, I was in bed in that space between consciousness and sub-consciousness when Dani and Ean came to me. The best way I can it describe is…like watching a movie. I felt their pain with such intensity it took my breath away. I got up, opened notes on my iPhone, since I didn’t own a laptop, and my thumbs got to work.

What would you say is unique about your books?   Aside from adding details that make it seem like you’re watching a movie, I love quotes, or as my husband calls them, Squotes. It’s something you’ll see throughout my book.  You also don’t find many books on the market where the main characters share chapters. Originally, I had five, but, over time, I narrowed it down to two. In the scene where Ean quotes Dani, mimicking her slurring her words, I actually slurred into my phone and let autocorrect do its thing. Also, in my second book, Josh talks with his mouth full. I shoved a bunch of crackers in my mouth and repeated his words. It was both messy, and effective. 

What a neat idea. You keep surprising me. But what are some of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?  Keep your ears open and your mouth closed. Ideas can come from anywhere. And it really does take a village. I originally published my book August of last year. When the reviews came in, I not only read them, I got in touch with the people who wrote them. Best. Move. Ever! I got great advice and made a ton of new friends. It’s because of them that I re-opened Saving Each Other and spent the last four months revising it. Look for their names in the acknowledgment page.

And, don’t even get me started on the amazing women who helped me make my book what it is today, Stacey Blake, Judy Zweifel, Francine LaSala, and Sara Kocek.

I have some amazing friends who help me too, and a cool writers' group that keeps me inspired with things to write. Do you ever struggle with writer's block?  Writer’s block isn’t an issue for me. Saving Each Other is the first in a series of five books. I wrote my second book, Saving Them, a month after my first, and I also wrote it in a month. The last three in the series, Saving Ourselves, Saving Christmas, and Saving Maybe, are partially written and completely mapped out. Going back to “ideas can come from anywhere,” I was in San Francisco last year and met an amazing man, who sadly was homeless. While talking to him, a sequel series, The Finding Series, played out in my mind. It’s all their kids.

Even though I haven’t experienced “Writer’s Block,” I have times when I’m uninspired. My words come from my characters, their voices roll through me. So, for the times I can’t hear them, I found that stepping back usually does the trick. By the time I start writing again, the words are much easier to find. Brian helps too. He’s my official “name” man. Other than the main characters, he named everyone. Talking it out helps too. I bounce ideas off my best friend, Leslie, and after a half an hour, I’m good to go.

What do you think makes a good story? I’m a very visual person, I was an interior decorator in my last life, so I love books with a ton of imagery. I also love books with real places in them. It’s so much fun to stumble across one when I’m reading, and I always Google and bookmark them. It’s also why I only include real places in my books.

What was your greatest challenge in writing this book? You won’t see it, because I’m surrounded by such amazing women, but I suck at grammar! Like legitimately suck!

Where do you best like to write? I have a small deck off my bedroom. I bought an oversized chair from Costco, and spend my days writing with my laptop on a polka dot, pillowed LapDesk. I’m a night-owl, and find I write the best when the moon’s smiling in the night sky.

What do you like to do when you are not writing? When I’m not writing, I’m reading. I could spend the day writing, and still want to read. My goal with Goodreads is 200 books.  And, when I’m not reading, I can be found being creative in other ways. Brian designs fashion, and I love sewing with him. I also love designing jewelry, scrapbooking, and making gift baskets. Look for some of the fun give-aways, coming in the near future, many of them will be handmade.

And finally, what is the one book no writer should be without? One word…Thesaurus!

I agree, though in my case Microsoft Word and Google are my go-to thesauri (or thesauruses). Thank you for visiting, and I really enjoyed our interview. And thank you for the chance to read an excerpt from Saving Each Other, below.

Excerpt from Saving Each Other by Stacy Mitchell
The place D and I have been forced to go for counseling is called “OUR HOUSE Grief Support Center” and is about a half an hour away from my home. My mom insisted on driving me. And while she hasn’t read anything about the accident, she spent the entire ride, before my first session, alternating between trying to force me to read the articles flooding the Internet and trying to persuade me to attend the court proceedings. I’m not going to read what some scumbag has to say about my family and I’ve made everyone promise they won’t either. I’m also definitely not going to the trial. The minute I see the man who murdered my family, I’ll lose my shit and that wouldn’t be good for anyone, especially me.
“OUR HOUSE” usually holds group sessions, but because our sessions are court-mandated and high profile, D and I were able to meet separately with our counselor, Elizabeth Macintyre, on a one-to-one basis.
Since we’re both barely hanging on by a thread, Beth did something very extreme and very risky. She came up with the idea that connecting us with one another could help us get through the grieving process. Her thinking was that since we’re both going through the same thing, we could potentially help each other. She explained to us—that to her—this was worth the potential loss of her license.
She gave us each a new cell phone that contained only each other’s new phone numbers along with the first letter of our first names. She wanted us to have a dedicated line to one another and her only stipulations were that we only communicate through text message and never reveal our real names or other personal details. This I agreed to because I had absolutely no intention of ever contacting her.
Except today. Today I have to. So I turn on my phone and type:
D, this is E.
I can’t believe I’m actually doing this. I don’t see how it’s going to change anything but I can’t stand this anymore. I’m at my breaking point. I’m in constant pain. It feels like a huge band is crushing my chest and getting tighter every day. All I do is cry! Everybody’s been trying really hard to help get me through this, I know that. I just don’t have it in me to give a shit.
I lost it with my mom yesterday. Said things no son should ever say to his mother. All she did was ask me to move in with her, and I lost it. It got so bad that she ran out of the house crying with a very mad Riley on her heels. Sure she’s asked me before, but that’s no excuse. My dad laid into me, took Po, and left. I’m now truly alone; being sucked into an inescapable vortex of grief. I’m so lost.
They haven’t been by yet today and I hope they don’t come by at all; this way I can die in peace. I’m falling down the rabbit hole very quickly and that’s why I need to contact D, the only other person who could possibly understand what I’m going through.
So I continue.
I wasn’t planning on contacting you, but here I am. I’m sure you feel the same way since you haven’t reached out to me and I don’t blame you if you don’t respond. It’s been almost a month since my world ended, and let’s just say, unfortunately, suicide isn’t an option. Even though I really wish it were.
I push aside my tears but not my pain; it refuses to leave. I take a deep breath and keep typing.
I’m dying. With each second that passes, I keep dying more and more. I never leave my house, I just sit near the door waiting for their return. So yeah, I’m contacting you. Are you going through the same thing? Why did this have to happen? How am I ever supposed to move on or whatever the hell that even means.
Through my agony I type the plea that just might save my life.
I know I said I don’t blame you if you don’t respond, but at the same time, I really need you to text me back. I’m scared, sad, lonely, and extremely desperate.