Monday, December 30, 2013

Q & A with Rayne Hall | Author of Horror Fiction and Fantasy

Rayne Hall is author of horror fiction and fantasy
Artist's impression by Fawnheart
Rayne Hall has published more than fifty books in several languages under several pen names with several publishers in several genres, mostly fantasy and horror. She is a trained publishing manager and holds a master's degree in creative writing & personal development. She is the editor of the TEN TALES fantasy and horror anthologies and the author of the WRITER'S CRAFT guides.

Literary Juice:  As the author of horror and fantasy fiction—which, according to your website, the stories are described as quirky, disturbing, and mostly dark—what is it that draws you to the “dark” and “disturbing”?  When did you first take an interest in horror and fantasy fiction? 

Rayne Hall: I didn’t set out to write dark and disturbing fiction...but whenever I wrote something dark or disturbing, the stories sold, earned critical acclaim, and won awards. After a while, I accepted that this was my vocation.

Dark fiction, like perhaps no other genre, allows me to challenge readers' perceptions of good and evil, and to make them think.

Sometimes I write other genres, but the stories often acquire a dark slant. Whatever genre I intend to write, it often turns into horror. Some years ago, I started a light-hearted Regency Romance novel. At first, all went well, with lots of funny situations and witty banter, but then I discovered that there was a centuries-old curse on the family, the hero had a guilty secret, and the vengeful housekeeper was on a serial killing spree.

My attempt at writing a contemporary romance set in China went well until I got to Chapter 4. A mine shaft collapsed, trapping the heroine in total darkness with an armed murderer and little oxygen. Another time, I had this idea for a cute story for children, but by the time the story was finished, all the cute children were dead, sacrificed to an ancient god. This happens all the time. Even my lightest, funniest stories have an element of macabre humor.

My interest in horror fiction dates back to my teens when I discovered the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. The psychological intensity of Poe’s horror tales gripped me and never let me go.

With fantasy fiction, my interest grew more gradually. An early influence was the novel Krabat by Otfried Preußler. Although little known in the English-speaking world, it’s a celebrated children’s book in Germany, with a magic story that subtly shows how a whole generation of young people – including the book’s author - came to fall under Hitler’s spell and realized the truth too late.

LJ: Are there any authors, past or present, who have greatly influenced your writing?  In what ways?

RH: In my early teens, I loved the historical novels by Rosemary Sutcliff and Hans Baumann. I also read a lot of Karl May. Although Karl May (1842 - 1912) is almost unknown in the English-speaking world, he is popular in Germany. I loved his atmospheric descriptions of exotic places where he had never been. His approach has definitely influenced my novels, especially Storm Dancer.

I was about fifteen when I discovered a book with stories of Edgar Allan Poe. They were so exciting! At once, I started writing horror stories. They didn't have much plot and blatantly copied Poe's style, but at the time I thought they were really good. Poe has remained an influence on my short fiction, especially my psychological horror stories.

Later, I was influenced by the Gothic stories by the Victorian writer Amelia Edwards. Although her stories ooze suspense from the start, the horror builds slowly. One of Edwards' suspense techniques is to place the protagonists into an unfamiliar environment and isolate them from their companions. For example, the narrator of The Phantom Coach has gone grouse hunting, alone, in a bleak wide moor in the North of England, got caught in a snowstorm, and must seek shelter where he can.  Above all, I love Edwards' vivid descriptions of location, climate and weather (in this story, the approaching storm and the moor landscape covered in deep snow). Her skillful use of descriptions (e.g. coach with its mould-crusted leather fittings)  to drive the plot and create a spooky atmosphere is the work of a horror genre master. Surprisingly, Edwards’ stories don’t feel dated to the modern reader, the way many other Victorian stories do.

When I read Amelia Edwards' stories, I immediately recognized a kindred spirit. This was how I wanted to write, and here was a master I could learn from, someone I could strive to emulate.

The late David Gemmell influenced me in a more practical manner. He was a kind of mentor, although that word suggests a more formal relationship than we had. Sometimes we chatted about our writing – his fabulously successful epic fantasy novels, and my largely unpublished efforts – and he shared what he was working on, what creative decisions he had made for his work in progress and why. He also pointed out where he felt I was going wrong with my stories, and suggested techniques for me to try. At the time, I liked to create twists by letting the reader expect something, and then twisting the plot in other ways. David warned me against this. Whenever readers think they know what will happen, they lose interest in the story; and even if what happens is not what they expect, that moment of lost interest is fatal to the book’s tension. I've taken his advice, for my novels anyway. You may see David Gemmell’s influence in my epic fantasy novel Storm Dancer.

LJ: Are any of your stories drawn from your own life experiences? 

RH: I like to blend real life experiences with a big dose of imagination. Many contain a grain of something that happened to me, but in much-changed form. I've often visited the ancient stone circles in Cornwall, but I never witnessed a human sacrifice like in Druid Stones. The train journey across the Swiss Alps happened, but unlike the story Night Train, there were no vampires on board. My experiences as a bellydancer and museum guide inspired parts of Turkish Night and The Painted Staircase. The events in Black Karma, with the shaggy dog pursuing me night after night, occurred almost exactly as I've written them. As a young woman in London, I was really molested by a would-be rapist and had the wits to pretend I was a dominatrix – but the rest of Only A Fool happened only in my imagination.

Storm Dancer is set in a fantasy world loosely based on the cultures of the Bronze Age period and the climate and geography of the Middle East, so my travels in the Near and Middle East and in North Africa inspired many colorful details.  A few elements from Asia - including Mongolia - have also found their way into Storm Dancer.

I also used personal experiences of what it's like to work in a distant Third World country, cut off from all support, at the mercy of an employer who doesn't honor the terms of the contract. My experience of performing and teaching bellydance has found its way into this novel, too, so when Merida learns to bellydance in the harem, and when she entertains in a tavern, those scenes have authenticity.

LJ: Apart from describing that spine-tingling thrill they experience from your stories, many readers have also defined your stories as “thought-provoking”.   What is the message you are hoping to convey through your writing?  What do you believe your audiences find most appealing about your books?    

RH: Through the medium of an exciting story, I can get messages across without sounding preachy. I’m inviting my readers to think, to probe their own consciences, to ask themselves what they would have done in this situation, to explore what is right and what’s wrong – but I’m not forcing them to. Each reader decides for themselves if they want to simply enjoy the surface thrill or if they want to go deeper.

There’s no single message I want readers to carry away after reading my stories. Each story has a different message, and each reader’s psyche is different. However, I like to challenge people’s perceptions, and to shine a light into the dark grey areas between good and evil.

I don’t provide ready-made answers – I guide the readers on their own explorations.

LJ: Have you learned anything surprising about yourself when writing horror fiction?

RH: I've learnt that by fictionalizing something, putting it on paper and shaping it, I gain control over it – especially the things that frighten or disturb me. Cowards make good horror writers, because we know what fear feels like, and because we never run out of ideas what to write about. But it’s the process of writing that gives us control – it’s a form of empowering therapy.

Let me give you an example. I used to have a terrible fear of fire. It was so bad, I could never bring myself to even light a match. Once when I was about seven, my father forced me to watch a house burn, and I had nightmares about it for three decades, and the experience increased my fear. As a teenager, I heard about  disturbing fire-related events that had happened in my neighborhood, some recent, some of them long before I was born.

Another house burned down, and I heard afterwards that the Turkish family who lived there had not been able to get out. Their charred skeletons told how they had cowered in the corner as the flames devoured them, and the father had shielded his daughters with his own body for as long as he could. This moved me deeply, and then I heard someone say, “They were only Turks. Good riddance to the vermin.”

Then I found out about the atrocities committed against Jews during the Nazi period. This was in the 1980s, and the prevailing attitude was still that these were things best not talked about. But some things filtered through. In the town of my birth, locals burnt the synagogue and then built a church on that spot. In a nearby town, the eager citizens went even further: they locked the Jewish population into the synagogue before they set it on fire. The fire brigade, instead of putting out the flames, fanned and fed them, and made sure none of the Jews could escape. 

One day I took a sheet of paper and wrote down everything that scared or disturbed me in connection with fire. Burning houses, churches, racial hatred, hypocrisy, a scared child witnessing events she cannot understand...these elements clicked together. Into a disturbing tale of human evil.

That story – titled Burning - was the most difficult piece I've ever written. Several times, I had to set it aside because I was too upset to continue. But I persevered, and during the process of putting my thoughts on paper and shaping them into fiction, I gained control over my fear. When it was finished, two amazing things happened: My phobia vanished, and the story won awards. 

LJ: What are some marketing strategies that you use to successfully promote your books?  What advice would you give writers who are interested in publishing their own horror fiction or fantasy? 

RH: My main advice to writers of any genre, whatever publishing path they choose, is to make your book as good as you possibly can.  Promotion, perseverance and luck all play a role in success, but the most important factor is quality, and that is in the writer’s control.

Learn the writing craft to the highest possible standard. Use instruction books, study the works of the masters, take online classes, join critique groups, or whatever suits you.

Write the kind of fiction you enjoy reading. What’s your favorite kind of fantasy? Sweeping epics set in imagined lands, or gritty urban fantasies set in modern cities? What kind of horror pleases you? Gory splatterpunk, creepy ghost stories or psychological horror? That’s the kind of story you’ll be good at, and that you’ll enjoy writing.

For successful promotion, be aware who your target readers are. Then consider how and where to reach them.

With social media, it’s best not to bombard your fans and followers with automated “buy my book” messages. Instead, use social media to interact with people who share your interests – and who are interested in the kind of topics your book is about – and [be] helpful and genuine.

Fiction by RAYNE HALL
ISBN-10: 1482567229
Paperback; 458pp; $9.41
About this Book: Dahoud is a troubled hero with a dark past. As a siege commander, he once razed, raped and killed...and he enjoyed it. Now he needs to atone. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Q & A with Michelle Isenhoff | Author of the Divided Decade Trilogy

Author of Divided Decade Trilogy
When Michelle Isenhoff isn't writing imaginary adventures, she’s probably off on one. She loves roller coasters and swimming in big waves. She’s an avid runner. She likes big dogs, high school football games, old graveyards, and wearing flip-flops all winter. Her dream vacation would include a lot of castle ruins. Once an elementary teacher, Michelle now homeschools two of her three kids and looks forward to summer break as much as they do.

Literary Juice: You have mentioned that your historical fiction series, the Divided Decade trilogy, is set in your home state of Michigan. In what ways has the state’s history, as well as your experience living in Michigan, influenced this series and its characters? Additionally, how has your role as both a former elementary teacher and homeschool teacher influenced the series?

I went into teaching because I love children’s literature. I started writing novels after I became a teacher, so education has played a very important role in the process. I write the book I’d want to read in my classroom, be it public school or homeschool. I put in all the literary elements I love—vivid imagery, dynamic characters, and layers of meaning—which often draw adults to my books. Kids probably read them more for the adventure. My aim, for my historical fiction as well as my other novels, has always been the classroom.

My Divided Decade series began because I spent a winter reading up on the Civil War in preparation for a family vacation to Gettysburg. In my reading, I discovered an account of a Detroit inn-keeper who often housed slave-catchers while harboring the runaways in his barn. That prompted me to dig further into Michigan’s role in the war, and the Divided Decade trilogy was born.

LJ: Not only have you written historical fiction, but fantasy, adventure/comedy, and an early chapter as well. Is there a set formula that you follow when writing different genres? If not, what is the writing process like when working with multiple genres?

While I still love historical fiction, it has some rigid parameters. After writing three HF novels, I wanted to explore some plots not dictated by historical fact. The Quill Pen and Song of the Mountain still contain a strong historical flavor, but their fantastical elements let me spread my wings. The only formula I followed is a very general one: conflict, bumps and bruises that mold and change a character, and resolution. The getting from one end to the other was simply freer.

Writing my Taylor Davis series, however, was a vastly different experience. This was a chance to stretch my writing, to experiment with a new style and method. I sacrificed some (not all) of the literary depth for humor, fast-moving action, and wild imagination. They are much more commercial in nature. They are also more structured. The first book was originally intended as a serial, so it was written in six “episodes”. Readers won’t recognize where they begin and end, but the divisions helped me pace each story during its creation. They've been very fun to write. The second book releases on January first.

LJ: Have you ever looked back on one of your published books and regretted anything about the story, whether it was the ending, something about a character, or a specific outcome in a chapter? If so, what would you change if you could?

Some of my books were written several times before I published. But Song of the Mountain was actually published and pulled within a week because it still didn't feel right. It underwent one more major revision and was republished several months later, to my complete satisfaction.

My biggest regret, however, is jumping in before I understood how to present a digital novel. While my books had all been critiqued by several quality beta readers and the stories were sound, I quickly realized I needed to hire an editor and learn how to create a more readable interior. Fortunately, digital publishing is very fluid. I simply re-uploaded the retouched files and the worst damage was fixed. Since then, I've also been replacing my cover images with professional ones as funds allow. The experience has prompted my commitment to publish only high quality products and to help other newbies arrive at that same conclusion a little sooner than I did.

LJ: What is the worst criticism you have ever received regarding any of your books? How did you overcome that criticism? Also, what is the best compliment you have received?

First, I evaluate the source of the criticism. If it comes from someone who routinely gives poor reviews or isn't’t interested in my genre but “read it anyway,” I take it with a grain of salt. When it comes from more knowledgeable sources, I learn all I can from the experience. Probably my most difficult criticism came from a peer who gave me a two-star rating. This was someone I admired as a writer, and her comments stung. But she had some valid points. My writing has grown stronger from her insights. I actually asked her to publish that review.

My greatest compliment comes every time a child emails me, whether to discuss part of a book, ask a question, find out when a sequel will be released, tell me he or she wants to become an author, or whatever. That contact means my book impacted a reader and that I did my job well.
I was also tickled when a 79-year-old man wrote to encourage me to “keep writing for us kids.” 

LJ: What is the most surprising thing you have learned about yourself when writing?

That I can do it and do it well! I love to watch my skills improve. I've learned I can work under pressure, meet deadlines, and persevere when it gets tough. Writing a full-length novel and selling any copies at all is a huge accomplishment, and I’m thrilled to say I've done it eight times.

LJ: Your books have received fantastic praise on Amazon. What advice would you give aspiring authors looking to receive positive feedback for their own works as well? What can they do to captivate audiences and start building a fan base?

First, READ! You cannot be a good storyteller if you never come to understand the elements that make a story great. Second, don’t expect too much. There are hundreds of millions of digital books out there now, and it’s tough to make even a ripple. Keep in mind that if your Amazon sales rankings are in six figures, you’re still in the top 10% of books being sold on the site. But unless you write in the popular adult genres, you’re in for a tough slog. Do not expect to quit your day job. Third, don’t give up! Your books can gain a following.

Building a fan base is plain old hard work, but first you have to make sure your story is good (see above comment about READING). Get involved with an author group and take advantage of critiques. Learn the fundamentals and keep improving. Then invest in making your publication the best it can be. Hire help if you need it. At the very least, hire an editor. If you publish junk, any attempt at marketing is moot. Once you’re producing quality, network with others authors and with bloggers. Engage with your target audience. Ask for reviews. Use social media to your best advantage (which doesn't necessarily mean doing it all). Gaining a following is a long, slow crawl—one I’m still working at. I've met too many success stories to believe it can’t be done. But the first step, the very first step, is to give the readers something worth purchasing.

Historical Fiction by MICHELLE ISENHOFF
434pp; Kindle Price-$7.99
About this Trilogy: This set contains The Candle Star, Blood of Pioneers, and Beneath the Slashings.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Q & A with Nicole Conway | Author of The Dragonrider Chronicles

Author of The Dragonrider Chronicles
Nicole Conway is an author and freelance illustrator from North Alabama. Currently she lives in Valdosta, Georgia, with her husband. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from Auburn University, and is a member of the SCBWI. Her most recent work, FLEDGLING, was released in October 2013 as the first installment of her new children’s fantasy series: THE DRAGONRIDER CHRONICLES

Literary Juice: Your book, Fledgling, a fantasy about a boy who embarks on a dangerous adventure to rescue his instructor, has received outstanding approval on Amazon.  What do you feel readers find most appealing about this book?

Nicole Conway: Based on the reviews and feedback the book has received so far, I feel that people are very drawn to the characters. The main character, Jaevid Broadfeather, isn't what you’d imagine a hero to be. He’s not big or strong. At the beginning of the book, he isn't even very brave. But it’s his journey and his experiences with his new friends that begin to shape him into someone worthy of being called a hero. I feel that his journey is one all of us can relate to.

LJ: You are also the author of Dervyshire Park, a paranormal romance, which is a completely different genre from Fledgling.  In what ways was the process for developing the plot and characters different for each book?  Did you adhere to any strategies or formulas for these books respectively? 

NC: Dervyshire Park was my first novel, and definitely a shot in the dark for me. I didn’t know anything at all about the publishing industry when it was released. It was a learning experience, but a very valuable one. Since then, I've definitely become more focused, but I don’t adhere to any strategies when writing. I do keep a journal where all my books, characters, and details are tracked, but I try not to limit myself to a strict formula. My philosophy has always been that if something isn’t fun to write, then it isn’t going to be fun to read. Each book is like an adventure for me, as well. 

LJ: Which genre are you most comfortable writing?  Why?  

NC: Children’s fiction is, without a doubt, my favorite genre. I absolutely love writing children’s books. They are just a blast to work on. I guess my inner child has never really grown up!

LJ: What is the biggest challenge you face when writing?  How are you able to overcome these challenges? 

NC: Life has always been my biggest challenge when it comes to writing. I’m one to have a million irons in the fire at the same time, and life always gets in the way. My husband’s career is very time consuming for both of us, and it requires us to pick up and move every year. It’s insanely stressful. But for me, writing has always been a coping tool to help me deal with stress. So I always make time to write, even if it’s only an hour or two.

LJ: Have you ever received outside criticism concerning your writingIf so, how did you handle this criticism in a way that has benefited you positively?              

NC: Of course I’ve received criticism! That’s just part of being an author, though. We put a piece of our hearts out there for the world to criticize, and so naturally there are some people who just aren’t going to agree with everything we present. When dealing with criticism, I try not to take it to be destructive even if it’s meant to be taken that way. I try to take it as an opportunity to improve and do better the next time.

LJ: The sequel to Fledgling, Avian, is set to debut this summer.  Can you give us a little sneak peek into this book?

NC: I’m so thrilled that people have enjoyed Fledgling so much, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot left in store for Jaevid and his friends.

In the sequel, we’re going to start delving deeper into Jaevid’s past, and uncovering all the buried secrets that have shaped his destiny. We’re also going to get our first glimpse into the horrors of the gray elf kingdom of Luntharda, which is something I've been eager to write about from the beginning. This year of training will present a whole new spectrum of challenges for Jaevid and Felix. It will test them in ways no one will be expecting.

When reading this book, my hope is that readers are going to start to see how much Jaevid has started to change from a frightened little boy into a man—both physically and emotionally. I’ll be posting a special, unedited preview chapter on my author page in January. Avian will be a whole new adventure, and I can’t wait for people to read it!

LJ: If there is one lesson you hope readers can learn from your stories, what would it be?

NC: I would hope that my readers, especially the children who read my work, would learn not to judge people based on face value. You can’t tell what someone has been through, what their destiny will be, or who they really are just by how they look. This is a mistake that even I am guilty of making. It’s so easy to judge others, but doing that doesn't just hurt that other person. It closes a door for you, as well, because that person might have something amazing to offer you in a friendship or relationship that you’ll never get to experience if you are quick to judge them.

ISBN-10: 1492993786
Paperback: 296pp; Kindle-$.99; Paperback-$8.95
About this Book: Jaevid Broadfeather has grown up as a wartime refugee, hiding from the world because of his mixed racial heritage. He feels his future is hopeless, until a chance encounter with a wild dragon lands him in Blybrig Academy—a place usually forbidden to anyone but the rich and royal. But Jaevid’s case is special; no dragon has voluntarily chosen a rider in decades, so the proud riders of Blybrig must begrudgingly let him join their brotherhood despite his bloodline. Lieutenant Sile Derrick, a sternly tempered man with a mysterious past, becomes his instructor and immediately takes a peculiar interest in Jaevid’s future. While struggling through the rigorous physical demands of training, things begin to go awry. Jaevid witnesses the king’s private guards kidnapping Sile in the dead of night. When none of the elder riders are willing to help him, Jaevid begins a dangerous adventure to save his instructor.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Q & A with David Tish | Author of Madame Charmaine

Author of Madame Charmaine
David Tish is a retired newspaper reporter, editor and columnist who has won numerous writing awards. He is a Nebraska native and a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism. He has four sons and nine grandchildren, and he lives on an acreage near Tieton, Washington, with his wife, Mary, and their four dogs.

Literary Juice: Your children’s book, Madame Charmaine, tells the gripping story of four youths who discover a mysterious chest half buried in the Missouri River shore following a flood.  After reading the brief description of the story, Madame Charmaine seems like a tale which would not only captivate young readers, but adult readers as well.  Where did you find inspiration for writing this book?  What aspect of this particular book do you believe appeals most to child and adult readers alike? 

David Tish: Well, I’ve been told by several adults that they enjoyed the book, so I’ll take them at their word. I can tell you that I certainly enjoyed writing it. I hope that shined through. When I first was pondering the possibility of writing fiction, after almost five decades of writing for newspapers, children’s books were at the top of my list. I had a wonderful time growing up in a small town in Nebraska. I made lifelong friends. When I returned to Nebraska for a high school reunion several years ago, I saw people I had not seen or heard from in nearly 50 years. My wife, who hails from Washington state, told me after the reunion that she was amazed at how my friends and I “picked up right where you left off all those years ago, as if you had been seeing each other every day.” It was that connection, that bond, that inspired me to write Madame Charmaine. I KNEW those kids I wrote about in the book. They are like brothers and sisters to me.

That bond is responsible for something else, something in the book that I think can appeal to kids as well as adults, and it is this: I did not talk down to those kids, the characters in Madame Charmaine. I treated them as real, intelligent people, just the way I treated them in real life when I was growing up with them.

As a result, I think Madame Charmaine comes across as a “real” story, something that I think can appeal to adults as well as kids. There are no zombies, wizards, or space aliens in Madame Charmaine. I’m not knocking fantasy books; my point is that stories about real people can be kind of refreshing.

My last point also has to do with being real and respecting the people you write about. I spent almost 50 years interviewing people, listening carefully to what they had to say because I had to tell the public what they said, and I had to be as accurate as possible. After all that experience, I know how people talk. That might sound silly. But writing dialogue that is real, literate, convincing, and lively is an art. If the dialogue in Madame Charmaine is all of those things, and I have been told that it is, it is because of that experience. I think kids and adults alike will appreciate that about Madame Charmaine.

LJ: Are there any authors (or specific works), past or present, who have taught you to think differently about storytelling?  In what ways, if any, have they influenced your way of writing? 

DT: I think the best way to answer that is to quote a character in a play I wrote called Shakespeare Is Dead! (Which, by the way, can be found on Amazon under the pen name David Carmichael.) The character, who is called The Master, is talking at the end of the play to the great Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov. She says:

“Before you speak, let me say something to you. (Pause) Everything Ibsen said about you is true. You died too young. Your early death robbed the world of so … much. Beyond that, well … I wanted to tell you, I dropped in for a performance of Uncle Vanya not long ago, more than a hundred years after you died – a hundred years! – and all it took was a couple of minutes into the play and I was enthralled, mesmerized. And I remained so for the rest of the play. And I thought, what is it that after a hundred years this play – this man Chekhov – can still punch me in the gut, can still shake me to my very core, can still touch my heart, can still make me laugh, can still make me weep? When I watched and listened, I could somehow see you. I could hear you in a very personal way. I could have been sitting a thousand miles away and I would have known that you were talking to me. You are the simplest of writers, and you are the most complex of writers. You are conservative, and you are radical. You are pessimistic and you are sad, and you are optimistic and you are joyful. Your depth is revealed in your simplicity, and you are to be assimilated slowly, like a fine wine. Even after a century you are new to me every time I read or watch your work. And every time it is as if you are speaking directly to me, and only to me. I see and I feel your presence. You are in the room, and you are holding my hand. We are the only two people in the room. You are precious to me, and I cannot imagine being without you. And now I want to share you with the world, which so desperately needs to hear your song.”

Sometimes as I am writing I like to wonder what it would be like to channel Anton Chekhov. What a wondrous day it would be if that should ever come true.

LJ: What is your writing process like?  Are there any special routines you practice before, during, or after the writing process?  Do you have any superstitions?  What do you do to overcome writer’s block?

DT: My writing process probably is like none other. Now, whether that’s good or bad is for others to decide. But it works for me, and here is more or less how it goes: I take an idea – it could be almost anything coming from almost anywhere – and I internalize it. That is, I think about it, and sometimes the thinking goes so deep as to resemble meditation. Mostly I am looking for characters that I think can realistically and effectively carry out the idea. This process can last a week, two weeks, a month or more. I don’t write a word during this time. I don’t do any research whatsoever. I simply tap into whatever internal resources I have after – at this writing – 74 years of living on this planet. Sometimes the idea will work out and become something that would make a good story. Sometimes it doesn't. But when it does, I first write a short synopsis. I’m not an outliner, but I don’t totally fly by the seat of my pants either. By the time I write the synopsis, I already know my characters so well that I don’t need, much less want, a detailed guide map. My characters will tell the story, so I don’t have to. Any research I might do generally comes as I am writing, that is, when the story requires it. It seldom comes before I begin writing.

Special routines? No. Superstitions? No. Writer’s block? I refuse to accept writer’s block. Therefore, I have never had to overcome it. However, there have been times, rare, but they do occur, when a second cousin twice removed of writer’s block drops by, and the characters are momentarily unsure of their next step. When that happens, I simply leave them alone for a day and go on with other business. When I return, they have made up their minds, and we go on from there. This process has never failed me.

LJ: Have you ever looked back on one of your published books and wished you could have made changes, such as to the ending or to certain characters?  Have you ever rewritten a book or created a new book based on these desired changes?   

DT: I have never looked back at a published book, but I have looked back at an unpublished one. About 12 years ago, before the age of indie publishing, I wrote a book I called Bury My Heart Along the River: A Nebraska Journey. After it was written, I promptly put it in a box, stored it somewhere and forgot about it until early this year. That’s when I decided I would like to try my hand at writing children’s books. And I remembered that in that old, dusty novel was a story that eventually became Madame Charmaine. I didn’t have to do too much to make Madame Charmaine the story it is today. Incidentally, there are other story ideas in that old book, and I plan to get to them as soon as I can. In fact, I already am at work on a full-length romance novel based on some of the material in Bury My Heart. It has the working title of The Mention of Her Name.

LJ: Have you learned anything surprising about yourself when writing a book?  

DT: No.

LJ: What is the harshest criticism you have ever received as a writer?  How did you receive that criticism?  Additionally, what is the best compliment you have received as a writer?

DT: I haven’t really received any harsh criticism, but I am awfully new to this business, and I fully expect some one of these days. I think it’s inevitable. I am not well known at this point, and as my name becomes familiar to more people, the negative comments are bound to follow. One of the best compliments I’ve gotten since I became a fiction writer came just a week or so ago from a woman when I asked her if she would like to read Madame Charmaine. “Yes,” she wrote, “I want to read ANYTHING you write – grocery lists, a 2,000-page novel, a letter to Santa Claus – just let me know how to get my eyes on it.”

LJ: For aspiring writers who may still be struggling to find their voice, what is the best advice you would give them?

DT: That’s easy. Know thyself. In my opinion, all good writing comes from within. And if you don’t know who you are, it’s going to show up in your writing. Furthermore, know thy characters. If an unexamined life is not worth living, then surely it is not worth writing about. Finally, never, never, never ever give up. Not ever.       

Fiction by DAVID TISH
ISBN: 1492968420
Paperback: 76pp; $8.87
About this Book: Madame Charmaine chronicles the adventures of three boys and a girl, all 12 years old, who discover a “treasure chest” half buried in the sandy shore of the Missouri River following a spring flood. As they play detective and try to find out who buried the chest and what its mysterious content means, they soon find out they are playing a dangerous game and are nearly buried alive in a grave of their own digging.           

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Q & A with Ryan and Rich Brousseau | Authors of Battle For Honor: Gates

Battle for Honor Gates
Rich Brousseau is a huge fan of fantasy and science fiction and is able to totally immerse himself into whatever world the subject matter is focused upon. Computer gaming unleashed his imagination like nothing else he has experienced before.  He is always asking the question "why", and searching for an answer.

Ryan Brousseau is married and the father of two.  He can be found immersing himself in many different books and enjoying some of his favorite TV series: Dexter, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead.  When lucky, he occasionally gets out for a round of golf, which is a remarkable skill set his grandfather taught him many years ago, and has carried with him to this day.

Literary Juice: You have written the book, Battle for Honor: Gates, as a father-son team.  What was your driving inspiration for teaming up on this book?  

Rich: I have had this book idea bouncing around in my head for years.  Once I started it I realized I was going to need some help.  I asked Ryan for his thoughts one day, and I was so impressed with what he did I knew it would be a great match.  Besides, what father wouldn't want to have his son working by his side?

Ryan: At first I was apprehensive about writing a book and it seemed like a very daunting task, so I started out slow with just giving suggestions here and there. But once I got into it, I found that I had numerous ideas floating around and was eager to advance the story. Overall, it was a great experience and I learned a lot from the process.

LJ: What was the writing process like for this book?  How did you contribute to the book respectively?  

Rich: I think of myself as the idea man, the one with the off-the-wall thoughts.  I get the chance to write what I’m thinking about and Ryan applies the color and polish.  After that, we pass the updates back and forth between each other until we have something we like. 

Ryan: It was a pretty straightforward formula for Gates, since my father had most of the core of the book written; it just needed that extra added dimension to it, which is where I came in. Basically he would get the ideas on paper then forward it over to me; I would touch them up, reword and rework the chapters while adding that extra depth to them. This process may change a little for book two, but so far it has been a successful formula for us.

LJ: Did you face any challenges when writing this book?  For example, were there any disagreements regarding the direction of the story, the disposition of certain characters, or possibly even differences in writing style, etc.?  How did you overcome these challenges?

Rich: I can’t say we agreed on everything.  We will often discuss the direction we want to go with a character, and at some point we agree.  I think it is very helpful that both of us are open-minded, willing to listen to the other, and adjust to make a better story.  I like to think we respect each other and value a different opinion.  I've never had to pull the “because I’m your father” line.

Ryan: Of course there were disagreements throughout the writing and editing process, but it was always with the sole purpose of giving more life to our novel. Our writing styles are definitely different but I feel that they've evolved for the better throughout the creation of Gates.  Also, every discussion we had regarding the book was productive, and bottom line is, our end goal was the same: put the best novel out there we can. The key for us is to maintain an open mind and just ask ourselves, “How does it advance our story?”

LJ: Battle for Honor has received outstanding praise on Amazon.  What aspect of this book do you believe is most appealing for readers?   
Rich: I like to think that the readers see there is more to this story than a simple fantasy adventure.  We tried to make the characters have a bit more depth, and not just a cookie cutter of what people expect.  The story takes a few turns that are not expected, and there is room for each character to evolve, some for the better, some not so much.

Ryan: I feel that Battle for Honor is not your run-of-the-mill fantasy novel and there are many aspects of the book that many people will find appealing. We have a lot of the same characters that many other novels have but we don’t necessarily use them in the traditional sense, which is very unconventional for this genre. Also, the novel gives the reader the ability to make their own judgments in regards to the characters' life choices, good or bad. But in my opinion, the best comment I've read in one of the reviews was that it was unpredictable. To me that is very important in the entertainment field, whether it’s reading or watching a movie/TV show. 

LJ: Are you currently working on a sequel?  If so, when can readers expect it to be available?

Rich: The sequel is being written now.  It continues some time after the end of Gates and many of the same characters will be returning.  We are hoping to have the sequel available spring/summer of 2014, with the final of the trilogy late that year or early next.

Ryan: Yes, we are working hard on the sequel and we are shooting for a late spring, early summer of 2014 release. Look for the return of some of the characters with the addition [of] new ones. Be sure to check out our website, for updates and possibly a new section titled The Lost Chapters, which will be an evolving section of short side stories that further expand on the storyline. 

LJ: Are there any authors—past or present—who have greatly inspired you as a writer?  Who?

Rich: I really like Dan Brown’s stories and his writing style.  Beyond that, Tolkien, Heinlein, Herbert, Clarke, Asimov.  Do you see a pattern?

Ryan: I am a huge fan of Dan Brown’s writing style and Michael Crichton’s technical detail. Other than that, I enjoy Stephen King, Brian Rathbone, Harlan Coben, and of course Tolkien. Lately, though, I've been reading a lot of indie authors via Wattpad and Goodreads. 

LJ: What advice would you give writers who are considering teaming up on a book?

Rich: Be open to ideas that are not your own.  Respect the opinion of your co-author.  You are both trying to create something to be proud to call your own.

Ryan: Determination and open-mindedness will [be] the key to your success; your opinion is not always the right one. Above all else though, make sure you are proud of your work and make it a true representation of yourself.

Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1492160083
Paperback: 331pp; Kindle-$2.99; Paperback-$13.34
About this Book: Three thousand years ago, Agora was brought to the brink of annihilation by the Third Great War. Since then, all has remained peaceful, until now. Challenges present themselves daily and their response is paramount to survival. Marcus awakens in a world he does not know. Possessing the skills of a seasoned warrior with the ability to unleash devastating magic, he ventures into the unknown to discover himself, the world and answers to the mysteries surrounding him. Who are these Guardians guiding him on this life’s mission? What do the Gods want?... 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Young Talent | Poet | Alex Greenberg

A Young Poet Alex Greenberg

Alex Greenberg is a 14-year-old aspiring poet.  His work can be found or is forthcoming in journals such as The Louisville Review, Burningword Literary Journal, Spinning Jenny, My Favorite Bullet, and Able Muse.  Greenberg has won a gold key in The Scholastic Art & Writings Awards and was named a Foyle Young Poet of 2012 and 2013.

Literary Juice: Because you display such an incredible talent at the young age of 14, we would like to know: who/what inspired you to start writing poetry?  What is the earliest memory you have of writing?  Also, can you tell us a little bit about your first-ever published piece?

I remember a few years ago, when I was around ten or eleven, having my first graded poetry unit in English. Frankly, it bored me—I found no excitement in, nor was I good at, identifying the “right” message of a piece of Shakespearean writing. Our class studied older works of poetry, texts that were shrouded in arcane vocabulary with metaphors that, although original at the time, seemed clichéd in the 21st century. I found it difficult to relate to people who had passed away centuries ago and to connect with their experiences and beliefs. Then, one day, we had an assignment where we were allowed to bring in poems that we liked and talk about them. I think when I got home, fed up with all the abstruse poetry from class, I searched simple poetry in my computer. Over time, that search stretched its way to modern poetry and fresh poetry—that was when I came across Tracy K. Smith. I found her poem Duende on and it enthralled me. I saw this 40-year-old, very modern-looking African American woman, achieving more insight with plain language than the men with beards from my English class were with their thy’s and o’ers. I ordered her books, Duende and The Body’s Question (and more recently, the Pulitzer Prize winning Life on Mars). I found an unparalleled exhilaration in the simplicity of her work—it was the same exhilaration one feels when in the presence of a simple, natural phenomenon such as a rainbow or a sunset. And so I began writing, trying to emulate her style. I submitted to small press journals. Overreaching somewhat, I even tried submitting to The New Yorker and The Paris Review. And then, around my 13th birthday in January of 2013, I received a letter from the editor of a journal called The Literary Bohemian. They had accepted my poem, A Clip From Tomorrow, for their 17th issue. Now, my zeal for writing was no longer living solely in the intellectual and spiritual discoveries I made, but was part of this new game of getting published.

LJ: Where do you find your inspiration for your poetry?  Is there a specific message you hope to convey through your poems?

I find inspiration in my surroundings. It’s really what it’s all about. As a poet, I feel I need to squeeze out all the meaning behind the ordinary before attempting to understand the metaphysical. I can write my most vivid pieces when in the presence of what I’m writing about—imagining a situation to write about creates work that is disingenuous, often the kind of work that lacks conviction and truth. I try and write about my family, my house, the pens and the coins that lie scattered on the floor. For me, poetry is a learning experience. All of the adornments of poetry—language, format, white space—are all beautifications and only necessary if they are used for teaching. Teaching a new way of looking at the world or teaching how two things are interconnected. A lesson is what comes from poetry.

LJ: Do you have a favorite author/poet?  Who?

I won’t rave more about Tracy K. Smith, but she is definitely on the list of my favorite and most electrifying writers. I actually had the privilege of exchanging a few emails with her, sending her a few of my poems. The other writer who I owe my love for poetry to is Billy Collins. He is the doyen of American poetry, and embodies what “simple poetry” is—or at least what it should be. His book, Horoscopes For The Dead, holds some particularly thoughtful poems and demonstrates Collins's incisive way of thinking. He once said that the key to writing good poetry is the same key that achieves a good performance of a song: start low and end with a bang. This process of starting with the obvious and relatable, and than moving into the more powerful and obscure is what I model my own writing after.

LJ: Your poem, Spring Conjuring, published in our October/November 2013 edition, is very vivid and exposes a deep awareness of nature.  Tell us more about the story/inspiration behind that poem.  Are many of your poems nature-oriented?    

Much of my poetry is geared to nature for the very reason I talked about above—the strongest poetry is about what you can see. The most glaring and extensive thing I see day in and day out is nature. The trees, the sky, even my pet cats. Spring Conjuring was a particularly personal poem. It considers nature’s process of life, death, and rebirth in relation to the human experience of simply, life and death. The speaker is a little envious of what the flower is capable of, how it will grow back next summer, but how he will not grow back. The poem is dedicated to my grandmother, who died a year before I was born. I like to think that I see some of her in my mother, that maybe she didn’t completely leave us, but managed to pass down a little bit of herself to my mom. There is a line in the poem that reads, “One day I will have to snip it
from my stomach/like an umbilical cord/and toss it to the soil/where it will sink/and be reborn.” In other words, as much as death is a time of separation and detachment, it is the time when we bring the memories and feelings of those who died that much closer to our hearts.

LJ: You are a Foyle Young Poet (2012-2013).  What do you think drew the editors to your poetry?  What was their reaction like?

Just to clarify, I was one of the 85 commended poets of the year—I didn’t quite make the top 15. But, the poem I submitted was called The Grass Grows Greener on My Side of The Fence in 2012, and it was a light-hearted poem with an internal rhyme scheme. It was about how two individuals can’t create something as great as a unified whole can. It encouraged teamwork and finding common ground to work harmoniously. Being commended as a Foyle Young Poet was my first achievement in the poetry world. It felt great. In the end, I think my poem was chosen frankly because it was fun to say out loud—it had a nice lilt to it. Never did I consider it one of my more profound pieces, but it just goes to show how truly subjective the writing world is. Sometimes the philosophical and scholarly approach is best and sometimes the cute and funny ones are just the right fit.

*You can read Alex Greenberg's poem, Spring Conjuring, in the October/November 2013 edition of Literary Juice.