Today I have the pleasure to present my friend, USA TODAY Bestselling Author Brandt Legg. Brandt uses his unusual real life experiences to create page-turning novels. He's traveled with CIA agents, dined with senators and congressmen, mingled with astronauts, chatted with governors and presidential candidates, had a private conversation with a Secretary of Defense he still doesn't like to talk about, hung out with Oscar and Grammy winners, had drinks at the State Department, been pursued by tabloid reporters, and spent a birthday at the White House by invitation from the President of the United States.
What is Outview about?
Outview, a mystical fantasy thriller, is book one of the Inner Movement trilogy. Sixteen-year-old Nate and several friends are pursued by nefarious people for reasons not initially clear. His flight turns into a quest and, along the way, he encounters mystics who reveal an incredible destiny. Those circumstances, and the chase, force him to wrestle with many of life’s deepest philosophical questions. And, the ebook version of Outview is free Until mid April.
How important was choosing the setting?
Instead of the setting simply creating a feel for the scenes, I tried to make it as another character. The story is primarily set in southern Oregon and northern California. It’s a very mystical story, so I needed extraordinary places such as Crater Lake, the Oregon coast, Mt. Shasta, the Redwoods, etc. Things happen to the characters in these locations that could not easily happen anywhere else. As a writer, it was exciting for me to experience the plot change based on where the characters wound up. For instance, I very much wanted a scene in the marble caves in southern Oregon, but it just wasn’t working; it wound up being on the cliffs overlooking San Francisco Bay, which changed a large section of the book.
Why did you become a writer?
After the sudden death of my father when I was eight, my family sank instantly into poverty. At age ten, I started a business and, over the next seven years, made millions. The national media dubbed me the Teen Tycoon, but soon things went wrong. By age twenty-five, after a lengthy investigation, I served a year in federal prison for financial improprieties. During the twenty years since my release, I’ve tried to overcome the mistakes of my youth. Prior to prison, I began to write my side of the story and found I loved to write. Circumstances didn’t allow me to seriously pursue it again until years later. Then in 2012, Mike Sager, a NY Times bestselling author and award-winning journalist for Esquire, signed me to his new indie press.
What is your writing process like?
I try to 1000-2000 words a day, seven days a week. Unfortunately, writing isn’t all we writers do. Promoting, editing, interviews, maintaining a platform on goodreads, facebook, twitter, etc. all gets jammed into the evenings. I do revisions in the morning, instead of writing. That’s an often tedious but rewarding process. Recently, I’ve been hearing from more readers and that’s one of my favorite parts. Knowing my books have entertained people all over the world makes all that promoting and revisions worth it. It took more than twenty years for me to arrange my life so I could write and publish books - I’m thrilled to be here.
The Jessie Morgan Series, Book 2
Today I have the pleasure to present a multi-genre author whose latest novel, Webs in the Mist, is Book Two of her semi-autobiographical Jessie Morgan Series. Like Jessie, Maggie Plummer lived in San Francisco during the freewheeling 1970s, riding the cable cars in raggedy bell-bottom jeans. These days Maggie works from her Montana home near the shores of Flathead Lake, where she loves camping with her sweet black lab, Peaches. Webs in the Mist is Maggie’s fourth published novel.
Tell us about your new release.
It’s 1972, and San Francisco is a global mecca for hippies and radicals. In Book Two of The Jessie Morgan Series, 21-year-old Jess can’t wait to join her friend Donna there. Driving her VW down the Pacific Coast, she’s more than ready for the city’s open Bohemian vibe, bongo-mad street life, perpetual protests, and cutting-edge counterculture.
Among the characters she meets are Cat, a tall, fun-loving Sicilian, and Carl, a Harley-riding enigma with bushy red hair. As Jessie gleefully spreads her wings in the City by the Bay, she leaves her stormy past behind.
Or does she?
This novel is recommended for mature readers due to 1970s-era sex, drugs, and profanity.
How long have you been writing? What prompted you to start writing?
I began keeping a journal when I was about sixteen years old. I was always attracted to reading and English and languages, in school. My grandmother was a writer in the 1920s and ‘30s, in Missoula, Montana. Maybe she is where my interest originated. In the early 1980s, I went back to college and earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Oregon. After that, I was a journalist for about 25 years. But I have always wanted to write novels, because I love fiction.
What inspired you to write this book?
At this “ripe” old age of 68-plus, I am tired of hearing myself tell my stories. Over the years, I have told myself to shut up and write them down. So I finally did, beginning with Bell-Bottom Gypsy (Book 1 of this Jessie Morgan Series). In order for the novel to work, I had to add plenty of fictitious elements. For example, Twisty’s personality is fiction. My real boyfriend in Key West, Florida was not edgy or scary like Twisty, although he did play guitar and sing, and was into black and white photography. I was inspired to write Webs in the Mist (Book 2 of the series) by my years of living in San Francisco, 1972 to 1976. That was a unique time in the Bay Area, and I’m grateful to have lived there then. In fact, San Francisco back then was so amazing, I struggled as I wrote Webs in the Mist, trying to do my experiences there justice. The fiction takes over more in this novel, which has a tighter plot and more dramatic tension. Basically, my inspiration to write The Jessie Morgan Series was to get my wacky but real stories from the 1970s recorded in fiction form.
How much of the book is based on real life?
Some of this novel’s events and characters are based on real events and people – but not all. Jessie’s life in San Francisco is based on my own time there in the ‘70s. But Webs in the Mist is less autobiographical than Bell-Bottom Gypsy. I created an enigmatic character named Carl, who never existed in real life (although his character quirks are from real people I’ve known). And, like I said, the dark aspect of the Twisty character is pure fiction. It’s fascinating, the process of weaving my stories into these novels. I find myself assembling composite characters and re-arranging the timeline of real events from my life, for the sake of good storytelling.
How did you come up with the title?
Ah. This novel is about the webs we all weave as we go through life, innocently or not so innocently. Webs of deception, webs of denial, webs of self-loathing. I saw San Francisco’s fog and mists as symbolic layers of confusion swirling around the webs we weave. At first, I came up with “Webs in the Fog,” but decided that the word “fog” didn’t fit well. So I changed it to “mist.”
Please share an excerpt with us.
A tall woman named Cat ladled water from a bucket and dribbled it over the sauna’s sizzling rocks, sending blasts of steam curling up to the ceiling and down the walls. Ladies in nothing but white towels lounged on two levels of benches, their conversations fading as they were enveloped in steam.
Donna had brought Jess to her health club, where they now sat on the sauna’s sweltering upper level. Sweat beading up from her pores, she inhaled the hot-redwood scent. After the first round of sweating, they’d dived into the pool to cool down.
“I think the second and third rounds are the real sweats,” Cat was telling another woman.
That seemed true, Jess thought as perspiration trickled down the middle of her back. Not one of the women in here shaved her legs. Jess had stopped shaving a while back, but had sometimes felt self-conscious about it. Not in San Francisco, though.
“I’m gonna swim,” Donna said, and left.
“My Finnish relatives get naked, do saunas, and roll in the snow,” a woman on the lower bench said.
“Wow,” Jess said. “I’d rather dive in the pool.”
“I remember how my grandparents would slap themselves and each other with birch branches,” the woman said, “doing saunas for hours – heating up and cooling down again and again. They were homesteaders in Montana, in the Bitterroot Valley.”
“I know where that is,” Jess blurted. “Gorgeous.”
“Yep. Harsh country, though.” The woman wiped her eyes.
Jess didn’t think Montana was harsh, but she hadn’t spent winters there.
“I’m Sicilian,” Cat said. “We just eat.” She laughed, her Carol Channing smile gleaming. Lanky like Jess, with a black Afro and facial features that could be mulatto, Cat had told them earlier that she was into Carmen Miranda – that she believed she had a “karmic” connection with the flamboyant Brazilian singer and dancer. Jess dug Cat’s warmth and humor. She’d be fun to hang out with.
“What’s your last name, Cat?” Jess wiped sweat from her eyebrows.
“Catalano,” she replied. “My first name’s actually Sandra, but no one calls me that. Some of my friends call me Big Cat of the West!” She laughed.
“Whew,” Jess said, “time to cool down.” The women on the lower bench shifted so she could get down. She dived in the pool again and floated in the shallow end. Donna was doing laps. The pool was divided with a privacy wall, and this side was for women only. That way members could swim nude. It was a trip.
Cat jumped in and joined her.
“Have you ever heard of a church called Table of Faith?” Jess asked her as they relaxed by the edge.
“Yeah, I think they’re new,” Cat replied. “They do good work. Social workers like me love it when churches help poverty-stricken people.”
“You’re a social worker?”
“Yep, for the city.”
Cat ran her hand along her own forearm. “My skin feels incredible.”
Donna came over. “Gotta go. Adios.”
“Peace, love, and granola.” Cat grinned at her.
“See ya later, roomie.” Jess floated on her back again.
When she and Cat went back into the sauna, some of the women had taken off their towels and were sitting on them.
“The main thing is having choices,” one was saying.
“Exactly,” another chimed in.
There was room on the lower benches, so Jess and Cat settled there.
“I have this friend who apologizes for being a stay-at-home mom,” the first woman said. “I tell her, ‘Don’t apologize! As long as you know you’re making a choice.’”
“For sure,” said a thin woman who was scrubbing her skin with a loofah. “It’s about the freedom to be ourselves.”
“Yep,” Cat agreed. “Reproductive rights. Freedom from domestic violence.”
“Things are happening in the city,” the one with the loofah said, “battered women’s shelters, support groups for rape victims.”
“I like how some feminists are embracing their femaleness,” another woman said, “not imitating men or man-hating.”
“Right, exploring our own sexuality,” Cat added. “That book, Our Bodies, Our Selves, is my bible!”
Jess remembered when Donna had loaned her that book in Key West. It would be good to read it again. She made a mental note to get her own copy.
“Do you guys know about Glide Memorial?” Cat asked.
“I love that place!” said the one with the loofah.
“I dig it too. They have counseling for ‘pre-orgasmic’ women, to teach them about their sexual health.”
“That’s great,” several women said.
Jess kept her mouth shut, not wanting to show her ignorance. She had a lot to learn and she knew it.
“They call it sex education,” Cat was saying. “The women’s groups at Glide are into sexual freedom, including prostitution.” She got up and ladled more water over the rocks.
As sweat streamed down her skin again, Jess took deep breaths.
“You know what bugs me?” Cat said in her animated way as they cooled down again in the pool.
“What?” Jess looked at her.
“The feminist bookstores and restaurants here are all lesbian. Some of them don’t embrace women who have men in their lives. What a crock. I love men!”
Jess nodded. “I hear ya.” Cat was a trip.
They went back to the sauna for one more round.
Jess looked around at the women. “How do you guys know each other?”
“From here,” one replied. “We come after work, and gradually we’ve gotten to know each other.”
“Neat.” Jess smiled. “A really hot women’s group.”
“Whew!” Jess looked at Cat. “I’m done.”
When they were dressed, they exchanged phone numbers.
“Let’s go dancing sometime,” Cat said, tucking Jessie’s number in her jeans pocket. “I love music.”
“Same. Gimme some skin!”
“Cat gave me a list of women’s books to read.” Jess stood on the double bed she’d found at a flea market, screwing in a curtain rod bracket. “We’re going to a French movie. Wanna come?”
“I hate subtitles, but thanks.” Donna sat on the bed, since there was nowhere else to sit in the tiny alcove.
“OK.” Jess had hemmed two old lace tablecloths she’d found at a moving sale, thinking they’d make cool curtains. She slipped them onto the rod, fastened it into place, and tucked the curtains between the bed and the wall. “I like these!” The cream-colored lace mellowed the glare from the windows but let in plenty of light, even on a rainy day like today.
“Me too,” Donna said. “Elegant funk!”
Jess had also picked up two old-fashioned can-can petticoats she wanted to tack up in the high corners of the bathroom, to hide the cracked plaster. Plus she’d bought a 1950s-era dark blue square dance dress that had pink polka dots and lots of pink ruffles. She’d wanted to buy more vintage things, but had to be careful. Her job was temporary, and Christmas was on its way.
“I loved going to the health club the other day,” Jess said. “Especially the pool and sauna. Let’s go again soon. I’m gonna join.”
“Good! I like going right after work.”
“OK. Hey, did I tell you about my second date with Reggie the Cable Car Hunk?”
Donna shook her head.
“We went to a church called Table of Faith and helped out at their soup kitchen?”
“A big place, on Van Ness?”
“Jess, that’s a cult.”
“You sound paranoid.”
“Maybe, but I’ve heard things.”
“I don’t know,” Jess said, sitting cross-legged on the bed. “Reggie loves that place and so does Liv.”
“So do tons of suckers!”
“Reggie said the church leader helped him out of a rough place. Where’s Hunters Point?”
“The southeast corner of the city. It’s rough all right.”
“He said Table of Faith helps poor people there, getting them to doctors and grocery stores and stuff.”
“Don’t worry, I’m NOT into churches. Had enough of that when I was a kid. But Table of Faith is pretty impressive, trying to make the world a better place.”
Donna leaned forward. “Just be careful, OK? The city is full of weird leftwing cults these days. They’re dangerous.”
“OK.” But Jess figured she knew what she was doing.
Today I have the pleasure of presenting a good friend who is a USA Today and Amazon bestselling author with a number of other writing awards. Allen Kent was born in Washington DC, but has lived west of the Mississippi since childhood. Four years of his life were spent living in Iran and England, and he has traveled and worked extensively in Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia - experiences that are reflected in his writing. His career includes five years as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, employment with one of the nation's leading semi-conductor industries, presidency of a community college, and a university professorship.
You are generally thought of as the author of the Unit 1 thrillers series and The Whitlock Trilogy. Yet you recently introduced a new series featuring a sheriff in a small Ozark community. What inspired this new set?
I enjoyed reading the Longmire mysteries and the glimpse they gave into rural life in Wyoming and into reservation life. Since moving to the Ozarks 35 years ago, I’ve been fascinated by the colorful stories I hear from friends and neighbors about characters who live or have lived in this part of Missouri. I thought a series about an Ozark sheriff could be the basis for a great set of mysteries while passing along some of those amusing, bazaar, and sometimes tragic stories.
I know that with your Unit 1 series, one of your goals has been to introduce readers to interesting and exotic places they may not be able to visit otherwise. Doesn’t a series set in the rural Ozarks limit that opportunity?
Well, “exotic” may not be the best descriptor for this part of the country, but “interesting” certainly is. That’s why the area been the setting for a number of very successful books and films in recent years: “Three Billboards” and “Winter’s Bone,” to name a couple. I think readers will be delighted with some of the characters they meet in the Colby Tate Mysteries. And I haven’t given up on exotic locations. In “Murder One,” the first of the Tate mysteries, we take a little side trip to Mazatlán in Mexico. I’m planning in Book III, yet to be written, to spend some time in the Scottish Highlands.
The first two books in this series, “Murder One” and “Eye for an Eye,” are only about two-thirds the length of your other novels. Why the change?
I think of each of the Unit 1 novels as a self-contained adventure, something akin to taking that once-in-a-lifetime vacation. The Colby Tate Mysteries are intended to be more like episodes in a mini-series. They can be enjoyed independently, but there are elements of the stories and plot threads that continue through from book to book – Like “Downton Abby.”
Your Ozark Sheriff, Colby Tate, is a pretty complex character. He grew up in very poor rural family, but developed a love for language, learned Arabic, and became a Marine interpreter in the Gulf conflicts, then for the State Department. Why did you choose to make him so complex?
I find that there are three groups of people in the area in which I live: the very provincial Ozarkians who have no interest in going anywhere else or having broader experiences; the outsiders who come here for some reason but have a distain for that provincialism; and those who manage to bridge the two worlds. All three are interesting, and all show up in the books. But my main character needs to be one of the bridge people who can help us look objectively and sympathetically at the other two attitudes.
Does this mean you will be abandoning the other series in favor of the Colby Tate Mysteries?
Oh, no. In fact, I’m working on Book 6 of the Unit 1 Series right now, before doing a third Tate Mystery. Like our readers, every now and then I need to experience that longer, more complicated feature-length adventure before tuning back into the mini-series. Plus, I need to get to Scotland before I can write Colby Tate III.
Reign of Fire
The lure of supernatural, time slips, and mystery murmur untold whispers to Casi McLean and have since childhood. Join me as we reveal an intimate part of Casi’s soul through a series of questions and uncover the passion behind the magic of Casi McLean’s supernatural, mystery, and romantic suspense writing.
The lure of supernatural, time slips, and mystery murmur untold whispers to Casi McLean and have since childhood. Join me as we reveal an intimate part of Casi’s soul through a series of questions and uncover the passion behind the magic of Casi McLean’s supernatural, mystery, and romantic suspense writing.
When did you decide to become a writer, and how did you decide your genre?
For as long as I remember, I’ve loved the idea of supernatural. Not gruesome horror stories, vampires, or sci-fi aliens, but rather how the notion of questioning “what if?” entices the imagination into believing there’s more than what meets the eye. That’s why I sprinkle my stories with supernatural twists, angles, ghosts, time slips, and mysterious happenings.
Tell us about your new Deep State Mysteries Series.
Drop fast-paced action, romance, suspense, and NCIS into a political setting ... add a psychic and a hella supernatural ghost mystery ... And Voilà ... I want my stories to linger in the minds of my readers long after the books end. Deep State Mysteries are thrillers. One reviewer said, “Evil oozes from the pages as Casi McLean takes us on an incredible journey through the underbelly of society.” But I don’t write dark, gory, or super scary stories. I want the “WOW” factor.
How does Reign of Fire fit in?
I like to pull stories from headline news, then spin the premise on its head with a perfectly aimed curveball. REIGN OF FIRE, book one my Deep State Mysteries series, reveals a faction threatening America's democracy
Emily Rose joins forces with a team investigating her sister's murder, but she never expects to fall in love--or to encounter her twin's ghost.
Ashton Frasier accepts his detective career choice means a life of bachelorhood--until Emily Rose blows into his world. The spitting image of his latest victim holds a mysterious allure he can't deny.
Surrounded by danger with the country's democracy at stake, Emily and Ash must expose this dangerous faction threatening to take the White House before the Deep State discovers their sting...and tame a fiery passion burning between them, evoked and fanned by cunning spirit with good intentions.
What makes Casi McLean’s writing magical?
I’m glad you picked up on my brand, “discover the magic” of Casi McLean books. I write totally by the seat of my pants. I never know where my stories will lead until my character whisper their secrets and reveal their direction. That’s why it’s often difficult for me to join multi-author boxsets with stringent time restraints. When creators want to know what my book is about, I have to say I don’t know.
That said, I love the challenge, and I typically submerge myself in projects and don’t come up for air. I love a bit of romance, suspense, and a sprinkle of magic, and my writing crosses genres, something many said I simply couldn’t do. Perhaps that’s a reflection of my brand. From ethereal, captivating shorts with eerie twist endings to believable time slips, mystical plots, sensual romantic suspense, and political thrillers and always something unexpected.
For the record, I also write nonfiction books, too. Books that breathe life into my brand, while empowering others to live their dreams. I hope your readers will check out my Amazon Page.
Reign Of Fire
Today I have the pleasure of presenting an author who was born in a small West Texas town. Ann Swann has done everything from answering 911 Emergency calls to scheduling commercials in a rock-n-roll radio station. Ann still lives in Texas with her husband, Dude, two rescue cats, and a host of other critters who only show up at feeding time.
What inspired you to write this particular book?
This book was inspired by the true case of a little boy whose schizophrenic father threw him out of the car beside the Interstate and then drove away. The little four-year-old boy was found staggering along the next morning, covered with over 400 cactus spines. It happened near my hometown, and it horrified me so that I couldn’t stop thinking about it until I wrote this book.
Is Stutter Creek part of a series?
It is part of a group of novels that are all set in the town of Stutter Creek. Book Two, Lilac Lane, is also based on a true event about a battered woman and her son. Some of the same characters populate both books, but the focus is on the new protagonist. The next novel is ready for editing. Copper Lake will be out soon.
What type of books do you like to read?
I read lots of different genres. I love suspense, horror, science fiction, and all sorts of realistic fiction. Every now and then I read a thriller like those written by Lee Child or Jeffrey Deaver. Stephen King has long been one of my favorite authors. I also love a well written biography, and short fiction has a permanent place in my heart.
What do reviewers say about your work?
Reviews are a funny thing. I’ve had tons of excellent reviews. They usually agree that suspense is my strong suit. I remember one who said, Stutter Creek was “One hell of a thriller, it made me read between my fingers.” And I recall another who said Lilac Lane “scared the pants off me.” I love that!
Please share an excerpt with us:
5 Prince Publishing
She went in search of an old flame and found a serial killer instead.
Mandy was on her way to work the evening shift at the Waterhouse Bar & Grill when she spied a small boy standing beside the road, alone. She immediately pulled over to check on him.
This is what happened next:
The setting sun made the trees appear as black-paper cutouts in a landscape collage.
After checking her mirrors to make sure no one was behind her, Mandy pressed the button to lower the passenger-side window. It was almost all the way down when a man yanked open the door and exploded into her world like a tornado into a trailer park. Her hand flew to the gearshift, but she couldn’t engage it. Even as her flight instinct kicked in, part of her mind was telling her this was almost certainly the same strange guy who had requested her section at the restaurant the night before. His eyes had seemed to follow her all around the crowded dining room, and his oily stench had made him stand out like a spot of mold on white linen.
Mandy drew in breath to scream, her hand scrambling across the console for her phone or the gearshift, whichever came first, but he was too fast. With lightning speed, he dove across the seat and slapped a rectangle of duct tape across her mouth.
He buried his free hand knuckle deep in the thick blonde braid at the base of her skull even as his other hand slid down to her windpipe and began to squeeze.
Today I have the pleasure of introducing a USA TODAY Bestselling author and two-time READERS' FAVORITE GOLD MEDAL winner, S. R. Mallery.
She brings history to life.
“They say I'm as eclectic as my characters. I've been a singer, a composer, a calligrapher, a quilt artist, and an ESL/Reading teacher. But it is the world of writing historical fiction where I feel I've come "home." It's where I've received various awards and in addition, get to do my second love: Research. When people talk about the news of the day, or when I listen to music, my overactive imagination likens the story to a similar kind of news in the past, which helps me conjure up scenes between characters I've yet to meet.”
I am a late bloomer. I didn’t start writing until I was well into mature motherhood and wifedom. Any earlier than that was seemingly out of the question for me. Coming from a family of a couple of Pulitzer Prize winning authors, several journalists, and an award winning television writer father, I wouldn’t touch being an author with a ten-foot pole. But then, the following happened.
My very first short story was written just outside of a Macy’s Foundations department, where I waited for my then teenage daughter to select a few bras. She was taking her sweet time, so, as I sat on a leather couch nearby, I got out a little pad and pencil and started scribbling a short story. Forty-five minutes later, my daughter had appeared, apologizing heartily for taking so long. I looked up at her, dazed, my mind exploding with inspired thoughts and images.
“It’s okay, honey,” I told her. “Why don’t you go back and check out some panties?
Twenty years later, I feel the same way. Once I start writing, time stops for me.
What are 4 things you always put in your books?
- Because characters are so important to me, I always do research about their characteristics. For example, in my Tea, Anyone? I wanted to make one of the main characters, Brooke, a little different from the typical cozy mystery woman. So I took out my book, “The Writers Guide to Character Traits,” by Linda N. Edelstein, Ph.D. Then I looked up various traits for—good and bad, and made a short list. Finally, after attaching a screen shot of a young woman (now on my cover) onto one of my helpful character sheets, I came up with Brooke’s quirky combination of snarky, protective, kind, and determined.
- I also work hard––along with my editor’s gentle reminders––to “Show Not Tell” my characters’ emotions. I first learned about that through the wonderful Harper Lee, who demonstrated in her wonderful, To Kill A Mockingbird, how actions and little personal gestures speak volumes.
- Plots are important for me as well. Sure, I’d love to write the most glorious prose on the planet. Long, detailed, and gorgeous paragraphs that make you swoon with admiration. But you know what? After a page or two of that, I’m usually bored enough to start flipping those pages to get to the ‘good stuff,’ the stuff I care about––plots, characters, and motivations.
- Most of my books have been historical fiction, and even my new cozy mystery has some time travel in it. I work very hard to create the past as authentically as I can. That means researching about what went on at that particular time, both in film, TV series, books, and articles. AND I like to create vocabulary and phrase sheets of the era I’m portraying, so when you see my dialogues you’re never going to read someone say, “Sure thing, Babe,” when a man is talking to his mistress during the 1700s.
What is your writing process like?
At first, I come up with an idea of what I want to write about. It can come from anywhere. From an article I’ve read, a quote I saw at some point, a picture that grabbed me, a book with plot suggestions. Then, I start thinking of scenes. I write ideas down on little pieces of paper or 3 x 5 cards and shove them into a large manila envelope. Every time I watch a movie or television show, look at a picture book, or just observe something in my life, I jot down my thoughts and throw them into that envelope. Maybe it’s a throwback to when I was a quilt designer and put together all these little pieces together to create blocks. Who knows? It’s just how my mind works.
But before I do anything I ALWAYS make sure I know pretty how much how I’m going to start the book...and how I’m going to end it. Once I’ve at least settled on that, I can relax and proceed. After I have amassed quite a lot of little tidbits, I take them all out, paper-clipped them into categories/characters/plot, and start thinking of where they’ll go in chapters. Basically, I’m a Planner with a Pantser Rising. In other words, generally, I want to know where I’m going, but I’m not opposed to changing my mind at a moment’s notice.
What do you love about writing?
- I so enjoy thinking about scenes, motivations, and plots. My overactive OCD brain seems to thrive on being involved with anything creative.
- I absolutely love editing. I know, I know, most authors don’t, but for some reason, after I sling my words down, I enjoy going back to “attack” them until they make sense.
- I also love doing research, be it from the internet, TV, movies, or books.
What is one thing readers might be surprised to know about you?
Having graduated with a Bachelor of Music as a classical voice major, I soon faced a dilemma. Although I was told my voice was very pretty, when it came to performing, I froze. I had gotten several church soloist jobs, always with so much nervous angst, it wasn’t fun. But then it hit me. I simply needed to loosen up more. It was 1979 and disco was coming in big time. So I tried out in front of a small band as their female singer. I got the job and we played at various smallish places here and there. But one place was a college type bar, much like the one in “Cheers.” Little did I know that singing there was about to change my life.
In the audience was a handsome young man who, after talking to me during a couple of my breaks, finally asked for my phone number. I insisted on taking his, calling him two days later. And the rest, as they say, is history. I had met my hubby of forty years.
Please share an excerpt from TEA, ANYONE? when at first Brooke and Abby aren’t totally in sync…
Today was the day. After Brooke researched the list of psychics Abby had claimed helped the police, she and Henry persuaded Larry to set up an appointment with Chief Bruner, to talk about the new cloth sack murder case––with Abby. But as she and her neighbor drove to the small police department’s headquarters, someone help me popped up in Brooke’s mind at least three times.
From the start, the ride over didn’t look promising. First off, Abby didn’t pick up Brooke in her great-uncle’s fabulous looking Packard. That would have been cool. No, Abby’s car du jour was a red 1979 Toyota Corolla rust bucket, pinging and rattling everywhere as she maneuvered through Hillside’s side streets.
The more Brooke watched her neighbor at the wheel, the raspier her breaths became. Abby’s driving? Complete disaster. Turning constantly toward Brooke as she chatted away, at one point she even gestured toward some trees. OK. But then the car also started to steer toward them as well. “Ever notice how those trees look like they’re touching the roof?” Abby asked.
No way was Brooke going to look at the stupid trees. “Let’s just get there in one piece, okay?” she snapped. Able Abby? This is suicide.
“Yes, Brooke.” Abby clutched the wheel tighter. Then giggled.
It turned out that was just the beginning. Abby’s parallel parking reached a whole new level in the Driver’s Not To Do Manual. Humming, she seemed to enjoy sawing her way into a curbside parking space. Completely off track with her first back up, she then moved forward two inches, backed up again. When she obviously realized she was still off, she repeated the whole procedure––six more times.
“I think we’ve arrived,” Brooke said finally.
“You sure?” Abby asked, looking like she was happy to do another five rounds.
“Yes, we’re definitely here,” Brooke practically growled.
In the lobby Brooke, still breathing hard, pushed the elevator’s UP button once. Then again. And again. And again, faster and faster, Morse-Code style.
“I think the elevator has heard you,” Abby said softly.
Please share an excerpt about Abby going back in time...
“That’s a start.” She studied the cards before her. Stroking each picture lightly, her eyes slowly rolled closed. “Fit me into 1700s’ Boston,” she said in an alto-timbered voice. “Put me where I can find out something for Brooke. Send me back…send me…”
Now she was falling, falling into a dark place, where the air suddenly seemed warm and heavy, no longer cold and thin. Where gentle crackles and hisses swirled all around her, and her body floated up above the real Abby sitting in the car’s front seat––like an astral projection. She watched the normal Abby below her, not doing anything special, just rocking back and forth gently, as if praying. Then, without warning, her spiritual body drifted away to a place where she was suddenly jerked this way and that then catapulted toward pitch-blackness, with only a hint of flashing colored lights in the distance.
The forces propelling her grew stronger and stronger, until just as abruptly, she was let go, and with one explosive whoosh sound, she landed on her feet somewhere––hard.
Through the cigar-smoky haze, Abby found herself standing in an old, eighteenth century establishment. According to a placard over the fireplace, it was named the Green Dragon Tavern. That instantly sparked a fact tidbit she had learned from her college days. I’m in Boston, and this is the Headquarters of the American Revolution!
More facts cascaded through her mind now, about how the very room she was in had served as a meeting place for Masons and general customers. But below her was another room. The important basement one. Wow. Is Samuel Adams leading a meeting right now?
She continued to scope things out. Dark olive green surrounded her––on the walls behind paintings and on the moldings bordering each doorway. Also around her were plenty of square, wooden tables, dimly lit by tall, thin candles, secured in their clunky holders. And as the loud, boisterous men, dressed in buckskin breeches, vests, and flowing shirts, lifted up their pewter mugs to blast out raucous jokes and drunken statements, her ear drums felt as if they would surely burst in a matter of seconds.
No snuffboxes or powdered wigs for this unruly crowd of undoubtedly hard-working, musket-touting Bostonians. Several of the customers flitted here and there with an exhausted-looking tavern wench, who rushed about, trying to serve demanding men guzzling as many drinks as they could get down their gullets. With her cotton head cap slightly off kilter, her hair tendrils framing her face and wet from sweat, she made Abby think about how far women had come. Or had they? She flashed on a college friend waiting on tables, who, except for the colonialist outfit, had shown the exact same exhaustion.
“Robbie!” a pot-bellied man in a sleeveless leather jacket cried, his voice gruff, his appearance even gruffer. “Where in the world have you been? I have spent half the morning waiting on you, lad. You do understand that owing to the seriousness of the meeting about to happen here, I shall need you all the more. Go now, put on an apron and give a hand to poor Brendan over there.”
Robbie? He was speaking to me? She looked down at her breeches, her long shirt, cinched around her waist by a thin belt, and her own vest. Yes, in the 1700s, a man would definitely fit in more places than a woman would. But how old was she––he? She glanced over toward the so-named young man, Brendan, snatching plates off of tables. He did not look happy.
Abby scoured around for an apron, then noticed a couple of them on hooks next to a long wooden bar. She grabbed one, hastily tied it around her waist, and made her way over to this Brendan guy, the one with a pissed-off expression splattered all over his face.
She took no more than two steps before someone grabbed her arm. “Hey, young laddie! When is my squash pie coming? I’m starving!”
So, I'm young as well. She extracted herself from him. “I shall check on it straight away, sir.”
“You do that,” he muttered, and after slugging down several more gulps from his large pewter mug, fell backward onto the floor.
Continuing on to Brendan, she noticed nobody helped the man groaning on the ground. Instead, one man casually stepped over him on his way to the bar. Apparently, with such a high intake of whiskey and ale, no one was in the mood to care. Is this just a daily occurrence? She hurried over to a snarling Brendan.
“Finally, you are here,” he snapped. “Time to get off your high arse and help me like you should have done earlier.”
I think I made a new friend.
Please share some of the praise you’ve received from readers.
“Tea, Anyone? is one of those books that you just fall into and stay there until it's finished. The plot is clever, unique, and is told in a believable way. All the characters are wonderful, well-developed, and a really eclectic mix too. An intriguing story, this is guaranteed to hold your attention late into the night.” --Anne-Marie Reynolds for Readers' Favorite
“Along with great characters and a solid plot, I loved how time travel helps solve this modern mystery!” -- Anna Celeste Burke, USA Today and Wall Street Journal Best Selling Author
“Congratulations on a superb book. The author has made time travel totally believable. Very, very well done!" -- Dianne Harman, USA Today Best Selling Author and Amazon All Star
“Congratulations on a superb book. The author has made time travel totally believable. Very, very well done!" -- Dianne Harman, USA Today Best Selling Author and Amazon All Star
“Tea, Anyone?” is a perfect choice for all fans of the cozy mystery genre. From page one, I “bonded” with the central heroine, Brooke, who works as a researcher for the local police department. Smart, sarcastic, and refusing to back away when lives are at stake, she’s just my type of character.” Amazon Top Reviewer
“A unique mystery with outstanding characters!”
“Bravo, Ms. Mallery, it’s always a pleasure to indulge myself within the pages of your superior storytelling. Five golden stars awarded - for keeping me intrigued.”
“A touch of psychic powers and a dash of time travel, who knew a cozy could keep me reading and still intrigued through to the end. Not that I don’t enjoy reading a good cozy mystery from time to time, but I love a storyline I can sink my teeth into.”
“A great read, fast paced, it weaves seamlessly in and out between 18th century and present day America. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to the next books in this new-to-me series. You will too!”
“This is one of those stories that is so suspenseful I literally read it without stopping. I couldn’t figure out who the murderer was at all every time I thought I had it figured out I was wrong. Brooke, Henry, Abby, Larry and Tony were all trying to find the killer. This has time travel, mystery a little romance in the making and the cat everyone loves named Junebug. Great story beautifully written.”
Today I have the pleasure of presenting the talented author of the Jack McNamara Chronicles, Bill Cronin. After a 30 year career in the telecommunications industry, Bill sold a telecommunications and business management consultancy in 2000 to pursue a writing career.
When did you begin writing?
Even as a child, my father encouraged me to write fiction from the moment I showed an interest. I cannot recall a time when writing didn't play a significant role in my life and career. I particularly enjoyed writing fiction, but, early on, negative comments from a close friend whom I respected shook my confidence. I was in my late forties that I began to take writing long fiction seriously. Regrettably, I wish I had followed my heart sooner.
How did you start writing novels?
In the 1990s, I traveled every week with my business. Consequently, I had time to kill in airports, on airplanes and in hotel rooms at night. I filled the time writing. I wrote my first novel "Dial Tone," in 1996 and loved the experience so much I sold my business in 1998 to be able to devote more time to writing.
Of the four novels you've written do you have a favorite?
I remember a novelist describing their books as children. Like children, each book is special for different reasons. Forced to choose, "The Song of the Mockingbird" would edge out the others. There were three character-building events in my early teens that became the seeds for Mockingbird all of which had deep personal meaning. Although Mockingbird was fictional, it was intensely personal. And when writing originates from the very deepest part of you, it is usually your best work.
What is the most difficult part of writing novels?
Hands down it's marketing. As a self-published, independent author, gaining visibility for your work is most challenging. Most frustrating for me is that it requires a significant commitment of time away from writing. Add to that the administrative management of your small publishing business. If you love to write, these necessary activities distract you from doing what you love.
What projects are you working on?
I have two novels I want to publish this year. "Mockingbird" was the first in the Jack McNamara Chronicles. "Ruby's Story," was second, and I'm currently writing the third installment, "Letting Go." In this latest novel, three of the main characters all have something they need to let go so that they can move on with their lives. It is a story of forgiveness, redemption and freedom.
It is my ambition to write in three different genres: contemporary fiction ("Mockingbird"), action-adventure ("Tainted Lady" - my latest novel) and murder mysteries. My other current project is "Night Fire," a serial-murder mystery set in Coronado Beach, a fictional seaside town in FL.
Please share an excerpt with us.
Flying over Philadelphia
My love of writing came from my mother. She was a creative soul who longed to express herself in some meaningful way. She carried around a matchbook with a picture of a dog on the cover and the words, “Can you draw me?” the inside-cover language encouraged the reader to send in a sketch for a free talent evaluation.
“I can draw that,” she told me and then sat at the kitchen table with pencil and paper and dashed off four or five flawless reproductions.
“Mo, send them that one.” I pointed to a perfect replication from the pile.
She examined the small printed figure on the cover, critiqued her drawing and found some imperceptible flaw. “I can do better than that,” she said, and tore the sketches into small pieces and dumped them in the trash, save the one I pointed out to her.
My mother carried the matchbook cover and matching sketch around in her apron like an unannounced winning lottery ticket. But drawing was not her only creative talent. She could look at a dress in a magazine and make a pattern of it. She had a flair for decorating. I watched her arrange driftwood, shells, and dried seaweed into arrangements. She could take a collection of inconsequential objects collected at rummage sales and redecorate a room with them. I never saw my mother use a recipe. Her ability to create in the kitchen was legendary.
As talented as my mother was, her hunger to write was preeminent, and Ernest Hemingway was her idol.
“Did you know Hemingway used to live right here in Florida?” She talked about him like he was her closest friend, as though he lived just across the street, and she could’ve walked down, knocked on his door, and had coffee with him. “He moved to Cuba, in the middle of the Cuban revolution.”
Despite her vast knowledge of Hemingway’s works and life, she spoke almost singularly and religiously about his “juice.” She had read that Ernest Hemingway was a quirky writer, who could only write well when his creative juices flowed. Hemingway referred to this creative stream as “juice.” Mother explained this as a creative fountain inside a writer that was either on or off. She further complicated this scenario by adding that there was some mysterious force in the cosmos that determined whether there would be “juice” or not. She accepted this as fact. When she couldn’t write, she would throw up her hands and say the juice was gone.
My mother kept the products of her own juice enshrined in spiral notebooks hidden under her bed. I have many pictures of my mother in my memory, but none as cherished or vivid as her seated at the kitchen table, hunched over a spiral notebook, escaping into the land of Juice.
“Mom, this is really good. Why don’t you finish it?” She made me read every word she wrote. The long shallow box under Mother’s bed contained dozens of spiral notebooks filled with unfinished stories.
“Even Ernest Hemingway has juice problems.” She read in an interview that as he got older it was harder for him to get his juice flowing. Standing to write was one gimmick he used, she told me, to spur his juices. But like the matchbook figures she drew, and every other creative venture my mother pursued, it had been clear to every person in my mother’s life, save her, that she had immense talent. In all the years Mother labored for her Pulitzer, she never finished one story, never submitted one drawing in the matchbook contest, and never made the first effort to do anything conclusive with her talent.
These were my memories of Mother before she stopped writing and drawing and lost hope. These were the times before Billie came to stay with us and changed our lives. As fresh and clear as these memories were to me, they are about the times when I was a child and still loved my mother. Since then feelings of anger, resentment, and hatred towards her have haunted me. As the MD88 jetliner touched down at La Guardia Airport in New York, I pictured Mother sitting at the kitchen table exasperated that she couldn’t write, trying to force words on paper that just weren’t there. I acknowledge that the same unseen cosmic force that robbed my mother of her juice had robbed mine as well. This was no temporary spell of writer’s block. Even if I stood on my head, I couldn’t write a single word.
And other books
Today I have the pleasure to present an author who is currently at work on several projects including a solo novel and a new Thorne & Cross collaboration. Alistair Cross' influences include the works of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Saul, Ira Levin, and William Peter Blatty.
Tell us about yourself and your book.
I’ve been writing my entire life, but was first published in 2012. Later that year, I met horror author Tamara Thorne, whom I’ve been a fan of since the 90s and, without meaning to, she and I began brainstorming ideas. We decided it would be fun to write a short story together. That story turned into a novel. And then another novel. We have since penned the Amazon bestseller, The Cliffhouse Haunting, as well as the successful Gothic serial, The Ghosts of Ravencrest, which is currently being formatted into a full-length novel. Now, we are working on the next collaboration, a psychological thriller that proves that strangers aren’t the ones to be wary of - that the real monsters are the people we look at every day ...
In 2014, we began the horror-themed radio talkshow, Thorne & Cross: Haunted Nights LIVE! which has featured such guests as Laurell K. Hamilton, Christopher Rice, Charlaine Harris, Jonathan Maberry, and Christopher Moore.
My latest novel, The Crimson Corset, was released in August of this year and has received good reviews and strong readership - for which I am thrilled and grateful. The Crimson Corset takes place in the fictional tourist-centric town of Crimson Cove, where the night is no one’s friend - where, after sunset, the vampires of the village awaken to satisfy their appetites. On one edge of town is the notorious nightclub, The Crimson Corset, run by undead proprietor, Gretchen VanTreese, where patrons can slake their darkest thirsts. On the other side of town is Eudemonia, a peaceful health spa and retreat, owned and managed by Michael Ward - also undead - who, unlike Gretchen, believes in the peaceful coexistence of human and vampires.
At the center of Crimson Cove is newcomer, Cade Colter - a human with a rare genetic trait that will break the uneasy centuries-old truce between Gretchen’s side and Michael’s. As Gretchen’s attempts are stymied by Michael and his Loyals, she realizes she’s going to have take a subtler, more cunning course if she wants to get her hands on - and her fangs into - Cade. So, she begins laying a sophisticated trap … a trap that will put everyone around Cade in mortal danger.
The Crimson Corset is the first in the Vampires of Crimson Cove series. Currently, I am working on the next Thorne & Cross collaboration as well as a solo that’s unrelated to The Crimson Corset. Once these projects are completed, I will be returning to Crimson Cove to find out if the dust of unholy and immortal battles ever really settles …
As a kid, what did you dream of becoming?
I never had any interest in the American Dream - having children, buying a house, getting a good job, and retiring at the appropriate age. As far back as I can remember, I just knew that wasn’t me and that I’d never be happy that way. I dreamed of creating art. I wanted to meet brilliant people who did amazing things. I wanted to meet legends. And I wanted to do something that would outlive me.
What series of events made you want to write?
While I always wrote, I didn’t consider doing it as a career until I was in my late twenties - after I’d already tried the more conventional path … and become terribly unhappy. I got lost in the grind for a while, but when I came out of it, I made a promise that I’d be true to myself for the rest of my days - and writing is my truth. So I began devouring books with abandon, always reading with an active eye. I started thinking about my brand and how I was going to develop it. I started with an online presence and I’d begun building a potential reader base through social media almost ten years before I ever got anything published. I learned everything I could about the craft of writing, the business of writing, and then, most importantly, I began seriously writing.
Who or what is your muse?
If I have a muse, it’s a fall-down, black-out, pee-your-pants drunk who can’t be depended on. Inspiration comes and goes, and it’s wonderful when it strikes, but to rely on it is foolish. As it is with anything else, taking action - regardless of mood or motivation - is the only road to results. The irony is that once you begin, inspiration starts poking around and comes to urge you along.
What is a writer’s worst enemy and how do you deal with it?
Fear - and that applies to every walk of life. Fear is the ultimate destroyer and it comes in infinite varieties. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of hardship, and even fear of success. The fear itself isn’t the problem, though; being afraid is perfectly normal. It’s cowering to that fear, catering to it, that prevents accomplishment. I say be afraid, be very afraid - but execute your plans in spite of it.
Please share an excerpt with us.
Untidy, Ryan Closter had called it. The young deputy had a knack for understatement so when Ethan arrived at the scene just after seven a.m., he was prepared to be put off - but this was downright ghastly. This wasn’t the way Ethan liked to start his mornings.
Blood was everywhere, a dried riot of red rust all over the floor, across the bed, and even on the ceiling. It was as if someone had put a bomb in a can of paint. And the smell was unbearable. Flies swarmed like a black cloud above the body.
Closter spoke at Ethan’s side. “A neighbor heard some noises last night. She informed the landlord this morning, and after knocking and getting no response, this is what he walked into.”
At the center of the bed lay the woman, facedown, in a dried pool of her own fluids.
“Her name’s Rose Keller,” Closter said.
Ethan shook his head. “Day manager of the Black Garter.”
“You know her?”
“Our paths crossed recently.” Ethan wouldn’t have been surprised to hear the woman had overdosed on something, but wouldn’t have guessed she’d go like this.
“I’ve never seen anything like it.” Closter looked a little green, and his partner, Nick Grayson, gave Ethan an uncertain glance.
“Why don’t you go get some fresh air, Closter?” Ethan said. “We’ll be fine till the others show up.”
The deputy swallowed and nodded, his face clammy. The last thing they needed was for someone to throw up on the crime scene - not that it’d be the first time.
As Closter stepped out, Ethan heard the buzz of bystanders just outside the door.
“Jesus,” someone said. “I’ve never seen so much blood …”
“I heard they can’t find her head,” said another.
The voices faded as the door closed. How eagerly people swarm to violence and death. Like ants to a piece of rotten fruit. It unsettled Ethan.
The room was hot, intensifying the reek of blood, of innards - of death. Dozens of flies crawled lazily over the body and more were landing. Ethan’s own stomach roiled a little. He hadn’t been sick at a scene since his earliest days on the force and he didn’t intend to buckle now, but it wasn’t easy. He’d never seen anything this theatrical; it looked like the police photographs from the Jack the Ripper crimes. But in horrible living color.
He moved closer and stared down at the woman on the bed. Two stumps of spine glistened white, jutting out of the mess that was the rest of her. It was as if someone had unzipped her skin, reached inside, and yanked her backbone out. And they’d managed to snap it in half in the process.
“Whoever did this was sending a message.” Deputy Grayson was crouched beside the bed, his gaze roving over the late Ms. Keller. A former quarterback in his early-forties with broad shoulders and the earliest beginnings of a beer gut, Nick Grayson was one of Ethan’s best.
Ethan nodded. “I’ll agree with you on that.”
Grayson’s gaze never left the victim. “A killer doesn’t cause a scene like this unless he wants to make a statement.”
The question was, who was the killer, and what was he trying to say? “No sign of any weapons?”
Grayson shook his head and Ethan noticed new gray at the deputy’s temples. This was the kind of work that would do that. “Nope. Nothing.”
Ethan had figured as much. There was something about this scene that didn’t work.
The woman was tangled in white sheets, reminding him, morbidly, of an old barber’s pole. Red and white, red and white, blood and bandages, blood and bandages. He walked around the bed, seeing it from all angles. Every crime scene told a story, you just had to know how to read it. And this one, Ethan was certain, was one hell of a tale.
The more he saw, the more certain he became of two things. One, Rose’s killer was not human, and two, it was not an animal, either. Not in the usual sense, anyway. He bent and moved the victim’s hair back a little, careful not to disturb anything. He saw the bite marks on her neck that confirmed his suspicions. He’d have them checked against dental records and if he was lucky - which was highly unlikely - maybe they’d catch the perp fast.
There were also places along her shoulders and arms where the skin was torn. Someone went to town on her. The thick sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach went colder.
“I’ve been trying to figure that out, too,” said Grayson, watching him. “They’re bites.”
Ethan’s knees popped as he stood and moved to the window. He pinched back the blood-spattered white curtains and stared down.
Outside, the Ivory Heights apartment complex was already surrounded by a swarm of onlookers, and it was only going to get worse. Rose Keller’s one-bedroom, second-story apartment would soon be a frenzy of technicians, detectives, plainclothes, more uniforms, a photographer, and videographer. There was no dignity in death, he thought as he looked at the shredded body on the bed. Especially not when you die like that.
Ethan decided it was time to pay Michael Ward another visit.
Today I have the pleasure to present an author who pens her stories from Florida, where she lives with her husband and pets, a golden cocker spaniel named Sunflower, a golden retriever named Honi, a husky named Cherokee, and a shelter cat named Frankie. B. J. Robinson is blessed with three girls and two boys who have made her a grandmother thirteen times. Jesus is her best friend, and God’s creativity and handiwork inspires her when she is working outdoors, listening to birds sing, and reflecting upon the waters of life.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer, Barbara Robinson and use B. J. Robinson when writing. When writing historical romance, I research and make notes, but I don’t outline. In the third grade, my teacher sent a story I wrote about a pet dog to the local newspaper, and it was published. In college, I won first prize for a short story in fiction-writing competition, and it was published in the university’s literary magazine. I had four books traditionally published with a small publisher as ebooks and paperbacks, but since then, I have received my rights back on those novels, and I am an indie published author and love it.
I’m the author of over twenty books, novellas, and short stories, many of which have made Amazon bestsellers. If you check out my Amazon author page, you will find that I write contemporary, historical, and romantic suspense to provide reader choice. Inspiration comes from my family and pets as well as the great outdoors, travel, news, and other authors.
Provide us with an excerpt from your latest historical romance.
Excerpt from Chapter 10 of The Belle and the Officer:
A tall, slim officer with dark hair and brooding blue eyes barreled in the front door followed by his raging sea of men in blue. She stood to the side and looked on as the kindly old doctor tried to speak on the wounded soldier’s behalf. “Please don’t cause any problems here. We have sick, wounded, and dying men.”
“No, I don’t mean it’s good that you have sick and dying men. I mean I’m glad I’ve discovered a nearby hospital for my own injured men. As we speak Brookhaven is being captured. I’m Colonel Edbert Russell, and I’m confiscating this hospital for the Union.”
“You can’t do that. What about our soldiers?”
“I won’t turn them out. They can all heal together.” He turned and noticed her. “Nurse?”
“I assist the doctor.”
“Then please help me by preparing beds for about fifty more soldiers. I have men by the wagonload, but sadly some are beyond our help.”
Alice gasped. “I don’t know if we have fifty beds. The hospital is nearly filled with so many nearby battles surrounding us.”
“Make room. My men need and deserve help just as much as yours.”
“I’ll do what I can.” Alice strode off to see how many beds were available and wondered what he’d do if she had to report there weren’t enough. Russell. His last name is Russell. There are Russells in Mississippi, but he’s dressed in Union blue, and he’s on the wrong side. Must not be any relation to our Russells. She gave his name no more thought as she found bedding for the beds they had available and made them. She sighed. Now, she’d have to inform Colonel Russell that the hospital lacked at least twenty beds. Alice didn’t look forward to how he’d receive the information.
As blue-coated soldiers toted others into the hospital and asked where to place them, she sought out Mr. Russell. He stood in the hall speaking with the doctor and turned when he saw her approach. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry, but we don’t have fifty beds.”
“How many do you have?”
“What do you propose I do with the other twenty or so men? They all need help.” He sighed and rubbed a hand along his jawline as if in deep thought. “Is there another place that can serve as a makeshift hospital?”
“Not that I know of.” Alice twisted her hands in front of her and noticed the fire in his cobalt blue eyes and the way his blue uniform brought them out and made them an even deeper blue. She shook her head. What was she doing thinking about a pair of blue eyes? She loved a man with hazel ones. At a time like this with so many men desperately needing her help, she shouldn’t be thinking about anyone’s.
Colonel Russell stepped to the window and gazed across the street. “What’s that looming white building?”
Alice’s heart turned cold with fear. “That’s someone’s home.”
What is the latest book or novella you’ve published?
Free for Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscribers. Ashley doesn't have much to look forward to over winter break except not having to trudge to work in the freezing cold until she receives an invitation to spend the Christmas holidays with a peer and his family. She's been dreaming of a Christmas spent in a cabin in the woods. Now, she has an invitation. At least one Christmas wish is coming true.
Of all the characters you've created, who is your favorite and why? Yes, we know you aren't supposed to have favorite children, but it's okay to have a favorite character. Be sure to tell us what book they are in.
In Mysterious Ways, Myrtle is in essence the guiding spirit of my mother. Mom read the book before it was ever submitted for publication and loved it, but she never lived to see it published. Some readers see her as a cranky, nosy old lady, but she was really sweet though she was set in her ways. If you read between the lines, you can’t help but see the love that shines through.
Why do you write?
I write because it’s part of living for me. Just as a passionate reader, I read because it’s part of life for me. Writing is a passion, and I love it. As a child, I loved and devoured books because they took me to other words. As an adult, I love creating those other worlds with fiction and traveling through them. My family could never afford vacations when I was growing up, but that didn’t stop me from taking my own through a good book. I traveled to Grand Isle, Louisiana, in a book about a young girl who had an imaginary friend on the beach there many years before I visited the place as an adult. Books open your life to places, people, and adventures you may never have in real life and allow you to live so many lives in various places. For instance, I travel back in time to antebellum days and the Civil War era when I write historical romance. Writing is a part of me, and I love being able to escape to other worlds through the pages of a great novel.
Angela B. Mortimer
Today I have the pleasure to present an author who loves sci-fi, fantasy, genetics, planet sciences, philosophy, history - especially ancient, and of course space. Angela B. Mortimer was born in the UK, married a gorgeous Aussie and has been living happily here ever since. She attended West of England college of art and dreamt of being an astronaut. She loves the outdoors and gazing at the stars and wondering what might be out there.
Why did you write Flawed Gods?
I'd been starting writing a novel and getting no further than a few chapters for a very long time as life, school and work kept getting in the way. It was a lovely sunny Sunday in the garden and I decided to take an exercise book and try again.
This time inspiration came very quickly, a young woman working in an office in London had just lost her boyfriend in unusual circumstances, I wondered where it was going when in jumped an alien, Doella, not what I'd planned at all and from then on it was l had to write this book. I knew from the start I'd finish this attempt, this character was too strong to ignore or forget. She followed me everywhere, every spare moment the exercise book came out and without needing to read what I'd written previously it would carry on. I found it disturbing as all my other attempts at writing were quite different.
Worse we fought tooth and nail and she always won. Frankly I didn't like her; she was so different than I. She was overtly sexy and she hurt those who loved her by her amorous inclinations. I wanted a less selfish protagonist, kinder and caring. By the second book Hyclos I was warming a little to her, I could see her kind heart. But it wasn't until the third book Incandescence that I felt deeply sorry for my creation. She had an awful responsibility to all creation and all those character flaws I'd hated in the first book now became strengths. She grew up as we all must hope we can. I saw when she became The Mother of All why she behaved as she did.
What was the inspiration for the Book?
I knew it was buried in my head. As a child I'd loved Marvel and DC comics and I'm sure that had sparked a young brain into looking at the ancient Gods. For decades I've been interested in evolution of our species, not just physically but emotionally too, and I was fascinated by our belief systems and their evolution. We don’t have a continuous record before writing, so I looked in African myth as well as the Rim people and the Indian's of the Americas who had been telling stories a long time. As well as the beliefs of my ancient European ancestors, all very different from current systems. And yet somehow more familiar than any others, as if deep within they are carried as racial memories? So many questions and so few scientific answers.
Asian belief is different again. Egypt might be fascinating and yet it was so different than similar stories from Mesopotamia not that far away. Yet Mesopotamia is the basis of our bible and more modern religions.
Being familiar with Christianity I then researched its evolution and was less than impressed. It could have been far greater without man sticking his greedy, controlling finger in, and without interference might have done more good than evil. Christianity is fairly recent and yet its history has been covered up to keep the truth buried deep until it has little truth left. I also looked at alternative, modern belief systems, many based on old ideas as far as we know them. I don't dismiss any idea out of hand. In spite of all those ideas trying to teach man to be a better person, most ideas dissolved into what man does best; take from everyone to line his own pockets and war to control more land more people. And what interested me is we were not getting greater in spite of our improving technology but worse. We should now know we all need to work together to continue our race but we were not changing. Why? Are we deliberately wired to fail? And that led to other questions such as have we failed previously?
Interestingly the only common, constant myth in all areas of the world are Dragons. I could see where Flawed Gods had originated, deep in my mind, but who was Doella?
Eventually, and not that long ago, I found her. Knowing my past research, I had just probably forgotten her. Her name amongst many others was Mari, my heart thudded. She wore a necklace of blue stones and was married to her snake son. That was Doella. Perhaps even if I didn't remember her, she was still there deep in my memories. She'd had so many different names, and yet was a Goddess, in so many guises. Probably reviled by the male as she was female; but obviously not forgotten. If that made me feel better or worse I'm not sure, but at least I could stop looking.
Present feeling about the book?
I'm happy it's all done, I can't say finished because there will always be another story as her journey is as long as we can or can’t imagine. I found favourites in her children and lovers and in other's we find like her, all very different; all flawed. Perhaps in this writing exercise I found we are not perfect. If we were we would still be living as our ancestors did in the Old Stone Age. I am proud of what we have achieved and long for us to travel the stars. And yet somewhere deep in my psyche I still ask why we can’t evolve into the sensible, thinking race I crave before we cause our own destruction. And perhaps I wanted to answer that in Flawed Gods, mainly for myself, but also for the like-minded who wonder about everything as I do.
Please share an excerpt from Flawed Gods.
Doella knew what had happened as soon as the darkness engulfed her. She had half expected it; perhaps hoped it would happen. The only way they could resolve the excessive aggression factor was with Carnos’ help. She felt no fear; that was something that might happen later. Feeling unstable in the dark, she called on her long unused, natural powers to help her find a focal point. Slowly and carefully, she regained control over her body and then her surroundings. The darkness slowly diminished, and she could make out walls on either side; thick looking, stone walls that ran parallel, to what? No end could be seen. Her feet pressed against smooth stone. Looking down she saw that her feet were bare. Her constricting London clothes had been replaced by something more in keeping with her Varan heritage. Carnos had planned this down to the last detail. She hoped he could hear her thoughts. She looked her true Varan self, her beauty no longer hidden in a human shell. She gleamed and glistened with an almost golden hue. Her hair streamed down her back like a pale gold waterfall, and her startling eyes were now the colour of deep green emeralds. Her body was sensuously clothed in a transparent material that glittered blue on silver as it sometimes covered, sometimes exposed, the lovely shape beneath. She sighed and stretched, feeling stronger in her true form. Not having to disguise her appearance refuelled her energy. She walked slowly along the corridor. It seemed to stretch forever. Perhaps it did, she reasoned. She stopped and looked about her again. Gathering her thoughts, she shifted her perspective, deciding it was time she took a different route – and then she found herself in a large medieval-style room. It had the same stone walls as the endless corridor, and a few high arched windows through which she could see a dark, starlit sky that appeared to be real, but wasn’t. A large fire burned without heat in the middle of the room. To one side of the fire a table was set with food and drink, with two chairs beside it. A large canopied bed took up most of the other side of the room. Large tapestries covered the bare stones of the walls. Doella studied them, observing the typical medieval scenes of battles and peasants working in fields. ‘Strange subjects for Carnos,’ she mused aloud. She felt him enter the room and turned to see him standing behind her.
But not for you, Doella. He didn’t speak aloud. They stood looking at each other for a few moments. It felt like an eternity. He looked just as she remembered – his handsome face with that stubborn chin that summed up his personality so well. It was Doella who broke the silence. ‘Well Carnos?’ His name sounded strange on her lips. No matter how hard she tried to appear disinterested, her voice shook a little. It was strange, but not exactly unpleasant to see him again. ‘You haven’t changed a bit on the outside; and there was I thinking you might have grown horns and hooves like one of the human’s devil creatures.’
The laugh that answered her forced humour was brittle. ‘And you are as beautiful as ever; but perhaps your eyes are a little sadder.’ He stepped closer as if to embrace her, but she moved back. His hands dropped to his sides.
Silence again. Doella moved toward one of the windows and pretended to gaze at the fixed sky. Carnos walked across to the table and poured them both a glass of wine. She accepted hers without comment, and took a sip. ‘Why have you brought me here, Carnos?’ ‘You wanted to come.’
She turned to face him. His eyes were the only part of him that had changed. They were cold and empty, not the deep, sparkling blue she remembered ‘I wanted to come? You arrogant fool.’ She turned away again, too quickly, the wine spilling onto her dress. ‘Why would I ever want to see you again?’
‘Isn’t this your plan? – or was it someone else’s?’ His voice was tight. ‘Isn’t this what you had in mind when you excluded me from the project, and the light … and from you?’ He threw the nearly full glass against the wall. The wall rippled, and the glass disappeared. He walked back to the table to fill another one.
Doella turned to face his back. ‘I excluded you? You were the one who left us. You changed the programs, altered the evolution phases, not us.’
He stopped her shouting by walking over and holding her shoulders tightly. He looked into her face with eyes that had come alive. ‘Are you sure? You planned it all didn’t you? Science is more important to you than love. We are all just an experiment to you. Not just the humans, but Takos, Simune… Isn’t that why you were left in control? A fine example of a Varan female, learned, powerful and ruthless.’
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Diane Merrill Wigginton
Book 1 of the Award-Winning Jeweled Dagger Series.
Today I have the pleasure of presenting the author of the Jewel Dagger Series. Diane Merrill Wigginton was born in Riverside, California in 1963. Her family moved to San Diego when she was 7. She had a very rich life growing up with her brother, David, and best friend Gigi. She married her husband, David in 1998.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I always had an active imagination and wondered if I had the writing chops to actually write a full length novel. So, shortly after my 50th birthday, I simply sat down at the dining room table and began to write. I had this idea in my head to write a grand love story where an unbreakable bond between the two characters was the main theme and no matter what else happened, their love would win out. Then I filled it in with action, suspense, and romance. The entire story played out in my head like a movie. I just had to translate the entire thing into words.
How did you come up with the title?
The title, “Angelina’s Secret,” came from the fact that the main character named Angelina, had a secret that she was forced to keep throughout the entire plot of the story. Then each subsequent book in the series was named after the main character, Angelina's Secret, Isabella's Heart and Olivia's Promise.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I try to add some sort of message in all of my novels. A little tidbit from everyday life and show the character growing and progressing down life's path. It just makes the story mean more to me and hopefully my readers as well. In Angelina's Secret, Angelina is strong willed and stubborn and this causes her some difficulties that she later laments over being so pig- headed but in the end love wins out. Each character has their bridge to cross, so to speak and each one of them is different. Hopefully, the reader will “glean” a message about life from the story.
From the book blurb, the hero of Angelina’s Secret is a Historical Romance ‘bad boy’. What is the recipe you use for a good rebel with a cause?
Jude Deveraux is the Duke of Bayonne, AKA -A French Pirate Captain and a man who had his heart broken. He takes what he wants without impunity or remorse until he runs into the feisty, strong willed Lady Angelina Stewart. She is spit and vinegar all wrapped up in a pretty package. Intelligent, opinionated, independent and loyal. He decides that he is willing to take any risk to make her his own, even if that means putting himself in danger by trusting her with his secret. Basically, he puts himself in a vulnerable position. After all isn’t that what we all dream of? A man who loves us unconditionally and is willing to be vulnerable for us.
Author of Closure
“To open your heart to someone means exposing the scars of the past.”
Today I have the pleasure to present an author inspired by sunsets, the ocean, her family, and books! Angela Ford is never without a book, whether she's reading or writing. Angela is a bestselling and award-winning author who has been in the Amazon top fifty, Readers' Choice Awards and ScreenCraft. She has over 50 published works in paperback, eBook, audiobook, and foreign translation.
Tell us about your FBI series.
My cyber-crime series is about an FBI team of profilers that work endlessly to keep teens safe from online predators. I created a special FBI task force called the ISTF (Internet Security Task Force). My main character, Agent Jessica Resario, is compelled to protect teenagers from Internet Predators…sometimes by not following protocol which puts her in the hands of a serial killer…and usually a suspension.
Jess escapes the danger of a serial killer and retreats to her family beach home in Vineyard Haven; where her parents were murdered ten years before. Only to discover old ghosts, secrets from the past, and postcards marked “I Crave You”. As if she didn’t have enough to deal with, she opens the door to a man she believed to be dead. Now she is on the hunt for a serial killer while she unravels a secret of her past. Orphaned as a teenager, she has protected her heart to love again in fear of losing. Yet, an undeniable attraction to her team lead, Tom, and a close call with death leaves her open to the possibility to love again.
Forbidden, the sequel to Closure, continues with Supervisory Special Agent Jessica Resario delivering spine-chilling seminars to educate parents of lurking internet predators. A seminar one night introduces her to Mr. & Mrs. Bennett who are deeply concerned of their daughter Tiffany’s safety. Jess did not expect to feel Déjà vu when she unraveled the forbidding prospect that she has another Trevor Marshall on her hands.
Kyle Davidson’s personality fits a stalker through obsessive and addictive traits. A close call one night makes Tiffany realize he is a threat. Jess takes the law into her own hands to protect Tiffany and enters Kyle’s house illegally. He can’t be held with Jess’s illegal entry and without Tiffany pressing charges. Tiffany decides to accept her father’s offer to a private school in England. But the news of her parents’ murders brings her back. Jess races to save her, only to put her own life into the hands of a killer. Kyle now has both Jess and Tiffany. As the team searches for them, they find the past begins to creep up on them.
My FBI cyber-crime series will continue in 2015 with Obsessed. SSA Jessica Resario thought her life had settled but now there’s more at stake.
What inspires you when you write? Is there a specific setting you need to be in to write? Mood?
I’m always inspired to write…it’s just finding more time to write. I always think about my characters…Where are they? What are they saying or doing? What will they do next? Sometimes I find myself taking ten minutes here and there throughout the day and jotting down notes on my phone or a piece of paper. I usually sit down to write in the evenings or in the mornings on the weekend. I write every day. Sometimes I find myself awake at 1am writing until 3am…it’s so quiet and peaceful then. Within minutes I’m lost in the story and with the characters. Music also inspires my writing whether I’m listening to it in my car or while I’m cleaning. And of course, I’m an avid reader and the more I read…the more I want to write. Writing has always been on my mind and in my heart.
What message do you hope that your novels convey to the readers? How do you feel when readers approach you to tell you that your novel changed their life?
I hope my readers enjoy my novels and they escape into a great read…that’s what I want to feel when I read. My first novel ‘Closure’ is based on an FBI Internet Security Team tracking online Predators. The idea for this novel came from my many years volunteering in schools and my involvement in cyber safety seminars. I hope this story helps convey a message of the importance of communication and education on cyber safety. I also help it conveys that there are many professionals who work endlessly to help protect our children.
Besides the suspense and crime fiction aspects involved in my writing, there are the emotional ups and downs of relationships. Despite these and sometimes the fear to love again, I hope my novels bring hope and strength to never give up on love. It can happen at any moment.
There are many different organizations for causes. What specific ones do you feel the strongest about and why?
Of course with my first published book and many years of involvement within the schools, I would have to say cyber safety and those who continuously work so hard to protect our children. Another important organization that I feel strongly for is Mental Health, especially for our youth. Communication and education of the stigma associated with mental health issues in our children is vital to their well-being to be happy, healthy and successful. It’s time to ‘Let’s Talk’.
Do you feel that your work is targeted at a specific audience? If so, who and why?
My work is targeted to romance readers who enjoy a love story, a suspense and a happy ending. As with Closure being a sweet romance happily-ever-after and it’s message of internet safety, it can be targeted toward young adult as well.
Please share an excerpt with us.
Jessica Resario held her finger firmly on the trigger and waited in the dark, listening to the echo of footsteps on the stairs.
“Remain focused Agent Resario,” she reminded herself.
When the bedroom door flew open, she sucked in her breath.
A dark figure appeared. He wore a balaclava, so the only part of his face she could see was his eyes, but she could tell by the surprised look in them that he didn’t expect to see her. “Jessica!” he exclaimed.
She needed to remain professional, although she wanted to ask him how the hell he knew her.
He gave her a cocky smile and lunged forward. She went down hard. The gun flew across the room. She jumped up and ran to the top of the staircase. Only inches behind her, he grabbed her arm. His fingers twisted so powerfully she felt a fierce burn on her skin. With only seconds to act, fear-driven strength crafted the thrust of her raised knee. She stunned him long enough to shake free of his hold and sprint down the stairs. She reached for the front door and swung it hard enough to make it slam against the wall. She hoped the loud bang and the open door would lead him outside. She ran into the living room.
He reached the bottom of the stairs with only the open door in sight. She breathed in relief; the open door led him outside into the darkened night.
Today I have the pleasure to present an author whose childhood passion for storytelling deepened when she became a police officer in Birmingham, Alabama.. T.K. Thorne explores murder, mayhem, and magic when a police officer discovers she's a witch in her newest novel, House of Rose, the first of the Magic City stories.
You’ve written two award-winning historical novels set in the Middle East and a non-fiction book on the 1963 Birmingham church bombing case. How in the world did witches and police get combined for your new novel, House of Rose?
It started with a toothbrush. Actually, it started with the fact that I was, many years ago, a police officer, though I’ve never written fiction in the crime genre. Maybe because it felt more like “work” than entertainment.
But back to the toothbrush.
I was standing at the sink, brushing my teeth, wondering what my next writing project would be, when three little words appeared in my head, along with the keen sensation that my fingers needed to be on a keyboard because a story of some sort was lurking about.
So, I quickly spit [toothpaste] and raced to my laptop where I typed those three words—“You’re a hero.” Then I stared at them, bewildered, until the fingers started typing again. Turns out those words were directed to a young policewoman named Rose who had chased a suspect down a dark alley and found herself in the middle of every police officer's nightmare—a life-death situation where she was forced to fatally shoot a suspect . . . in the back.
I was intrigued. Why did she do it? How was she going to put her life back together and figure out what happened and who she really was? The mystery of the three words has turned into three Magic City books—House of Rose, House of Stone, and House of Iron. The witches and warlocks of those Houses need three elements for their magics—coal, iron-ore, and limestone. Those ores are, in reality, used to make steel and uniquely found in proximity in Birmingham, Alabama, the reason the city catapulted from a cornfield into an industrial mining town in the late 1800s so fast it was nicknamed “The Magic City.” As Rose’s Great Aunt Alice says, “Normal people have no idea of the irony.”
How did your experiences as a police officer in Birmingham reflect the story?
The first thing most people say to me when they learn I was a career cop is, “Oh? You don’t look like a policeman.”
This is a good thing because I’m a woman.
Perhaps at 5’3”, I don’t fit the stereotype in their minds. That’s not worrisome to my self-image because during my 20+ years in the Birmingham Police Department, it never occurred to me that I was too small.
Even though I don’t claim to be a witch—at least on my good days—I did pull on my law enforcement background to give authenticity to the story. Challenges lurked, even so. It’s been a while since I wore blue, so I had to update department polices and equipment to those of current day, such as putting a body camera on my patrol officers and computers in the cars, but these were minor items. The most critical element was attitude, knowing how people in law enforcement who risk their lives on a daily basis think and react. That said, I certainly don’t espouse writing only “what you know” in that sense. If I did, I’d have a problem dabbling magic with murder and mayhem!
What do you enjoy most about the writing process?
My character, Rose, is a rookie police officer, drawn to Birmingham after college—she thinks—because she was born there. I truly love having a strong character who takes the reins and speaks and acts on his/her own, which Rose certainly did. It’s a joyful experience to have figments of my imagination spring to life in a way that feels independent of me. Of course, I know that’s not what is really happening, that I’m in the grove of allowing things to flow from my subconscious, but it is still magic and what drives me to create.
I also enjoy what I call “brain #2,” where the craft of writing comes in, and I can take the raw stuff and shape it into something effective. It gives me satisfaction to use my skills to make the story experience something seamless and engaging for a reader.
So what’s next?
The drafts of the next two books in this series are written. But, as you know well, getting the words down is only the first part of a process that includes several rounds of story editing, then proofing, cover design, back cover material, and we won’t even go into marketing. House of Stone should be out by spring of 2020 and House of Iron in 2021. Meanwhile, I’m working on a nonfiction civil rights book and two other projects, one sci-fi and one suspense. It’s a good thing I’m “retired.”
Can you give us a taste of House of Rose?
Setting two to-go cups of coffee on the table, our waitress beams at me. “Just the way you like it, Rose.”
I pry off the lid to check anyway. In my world—the world of a patrol officer—a peaceful moment can flip into crazy without notice, so I always order the coffee to-go in case we get a call. I learned this from my partner, who is also my training officer, Paul Nix, only he doesn’t drink coffee. He drinks milk.
I can’t go there. And besides, by 10 p.m. I need the caffeine to make it through the remaining hour in the shift.
. . . The dispatcher gives out a residential burglary-in-progress call less than a block away with a description—short, white male wearing a dark ball cap. Adrenaline jazzes my pulse. There is nothing routine about an “in-progress” felony call, and it’s on our beat, close.
In the car, I glance at Paul’s grim profile, ghostly in the glow of the patrol car’s dashboard lights and computer screen. He doesn’t look at me, just guns the accelerator. I snatch the mike from its hook on the dashboard.
“Three-two-four, we’re close.”
At the alley’s end, Paul slams on the brakes and jerks his head. My gaze follows. A man barrels out of the night, pelting toward us on the narrow sidewalk. A short white man, he’s wearing a navy ball cap pulled low and running from the direction of the burglary. No time to tell more.
“Stay with him!” Paul says. “I’ll cut him off.”
Without questioning, I jump from the car. Tires squeal behind me.
I draw my gun and plunge forward.
Along the alley’s opposite side, thick bushes form a barrier. A heavy tree canopy patterns the pavement with intermittent patches of darkness. At the far end, the single working streetlight dimly exposes the suspect needling through broken shadows.
I hang back, hugging the house on the opposite side from the bushes, my shoulder brushing a wall that smells of old cedar. Neither side of the street offers cover, but the shadows pool deeper here. If Paul can get to the end of the alley fast enough, he will trap the suspect between us.
Using the shingle-wood siding to steady my body, I bring up my gun, cupping it with both hands and locking my right shoulder with pressure from my left hand and arm, as I’ve done in training. My heart pumps harder than the short run demanded.
Closing my right eye, I focus down the clean line along the top of the gun barrel, lining up the stubby front sight between the two back ones and leveling them all square in the guy’s back. The dispatcher didn’t say anything about him being armed, but I’ve only seen one hand. If he does turn with a gun, a split second will matter. The voice of the Academy firearms’ instructor echoes in my ear—“Forget all the TV cowboy fast-draw stuff; the person who decides first has the advantage.”
Wrapped around the cold metal grip, my fingers feel . . . odd. I try to focus, but a weird warmth gushes from my feet to my head. What the—?
What happens next has never happened to me before and challenges everything I thought I knew about reality.
Eric J. Gates
Today I have the pleasure to present an award-winning author who has had a curious life filled with the stuff of thriller novels. Writing Operating Systems for Supercomputers, cracking cryptographic codes under extreme pressure using only paper and pen, and teaching Cyberwarfare to spies, are just a few of the moments Eric J.Gates is willing to recall. He has taught his skills to Police and Military personnel, as well as to the public. He now writes thriller novels, drawing on his experiences with the confidential and secret worlds that surround us.
Your thrillers are known for being fast-paced, complex, and usually with strong female protagonists. Is it hard for you, as a male writer, to create believable action, reactions and thoughts of the women who populate your novels?
All writers, whether they admit to it or not, use their personal experiences in life to colour their characters, and I’m no exception to this. Over the course of many years, in my pre-author existence, I have worked for and with many females, and have always found them to be as capable, if not more so, than their male counterparts when involved with, shall we say, ‘tense’ situations. The rest is down to observation. When conjuring up Bridget Mason, the Defense Intelligence Agency officer who is one of the three protagonists of the ‘Outsourced’ series, for example, I drew up characteristics of women I had encountered who fit the profile of ambitious, strong-willed, independently minded fighters who were battling the prejudices of the males with whom they worked. Mason is in the Army, a Major with six overseas deployments under her belt, when we first meet her in ‘Outsourced’. She has her own way of doing thing, something that does exasperate her superiors, to varying degrees, but she usually gets results. She’s a very direct, goal-oriented person who often chooses the straight line between A and B, rather than any other route. For example, in ‘Outsourced’ she is faced with a situation where a professional assassin is hiding in the apartment of an innocent civilian she is charged with investigating. The only thing blocking her access to the building where the killer and his next potential victim are located, is the reinforced glass street door. Rather than checking if it might be unlocked, as she runs up, she draws her pistol and fires a number of armor piercing bullets to shatter the glass. That’s how she thinks.
Now many readers who loved her character in ‘Outsourced’ and its sequel, ‘Primed’, have written to me wondering how she grew into the person she is today. I did provide a small episode in ‘Primed’ where she was seen in action in Afghanistan, but I decided more was needed to add to her background. ‘Pride and Extreme Prejudice’, my latest thriller, is a prequel both to ‘Outsourced’ and another book of mine, ‘Full Disclosure’, where we see how her world view is changed by a case she investigates some eight years before the events in ‘Outsourced’. I also wanted to contrast her way of doing things against another strong female character. I took a short story I had written for an anthology a couple of years back, featuring a mysterious assassin for hire called ‘the Lion’, and expanded it into Bridget Mason’s universe by having the CIA contract ‘the Lion’ to kill Mason in order to halt her investigation. This also sets up the next book in the ‘Outsourced’ series, due at the end of the year, when three of the characters from ‘Pride and Extreme Prejudice’ are involved in the situation Bridget encounters. Mason has changed over the years, and so have they, so it is going to be an interesting encounter.
Your bio hints at a past that sounds like the plot of one of your thrillers. Does this help you develop the plots of your novels?
Most definitely. I used to be a consultant, working internationally, and have participated in very many confidential and secret endeavours for ‘clients’. This has provided me with, to quote a certain movie character, ‘a special set of skills’ and a knowledge base which I draw from when writing a novel. Moreover, before you ask, yes, some of the individuals I came across do appear, heavily disguised, in my books, as do some of the situations I have experienced. All this allows me to maintain a solid grounding in real life in stories which often have a touch of the ‘unusual’, and thus gives depth to them such that readers don’t question if devices such as the one featured in ‘Outsourced’ could really exist.
In reading reviews for ‘Pride and Extreme Prejudice’, I saw one reader comment “The terrifying thought that these characters may exist somewhere lends a powerful blow to my belief in good government and honorable exchange. I just hope they work for our side”. This brings up another characteristic of your writing style: your characters are not black and white, but move through tones of gray.
That’s true, and particularly notable for the villains in my books. My philosophy is that the Big Bad doesn’t wake up in the morning thinking how they can do evil in the world, just as the ‘heroes’ don’t plan on being excruciatingly noble. Realistically, everyone has their own agenda, their own objectives and ways of going about reaching them. Their actions are dictated by this, rather than a subconscious choice to be good or bad. This is also fun for me as a writer because I can keep the readers guessing how the characters will interact as the story moves on; almost nothing is predictable. In ‘Pride and Extreme Prejudice’, both the connected short stories have twists based on exactly this.
That brings up another question. Do you plan your stories thoroughly before you start writing, a Plotter, or are you more of a Pantser, allowing things to happen by themselves?
I would describe myself as a ‘Plantser’, a sort of hybrid. My way of approaching a new thriller has evolved over the years but basically, it’s this: a) research an idea just enough to see if it has different angles from which I can do something original; b) decide on the underlying themes I want to explore; c) research in depth; d) let the whole mess of information soak in the soup of personal experience in the ‘little gray cells’ until I could sit down and write the ending. The latter is key for me. If I know where I’m going with the tale (though this could change as the book develops), then I have a goal which helps me avoid the infamous ‘writer’s block’. Then I figure out how I’m going to start the tale, usually plunging the reader into events that were already happening before the first paragraph. The rest is easy, he said; start at the beginning, continue onto the end, then stop, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll’s King of Hearts.
Today I have the pleasure of presenting an author who by profession is a psychotherapist who long had a desire to write. Anne Allen talks about her first novel, Dangerous Waters It was awarded Silver (Adult Fiction) in TheWishingShelfAwards.
Tell us about your character, Jeanne Le Page, and the ways she is forced to face her demons and relive her past tragedy.
Jeanne was only 16 when she was involved in a fatal boating accident in Guernsey and promptly fled to England to live with her maternal aunt. She is forced to return to the island 15 years later after the death of paternal grandmother, who has left Jeanne her old cottage and where she had spent many happy hours as a child. Her grandmother’s death had occurred shortly before Jeanne’s boyfriend ended their long-term relationship, leaving her doubly devastated. Guernsey brings back old, painful memories as well as the joy of her childhood and Jeanne finds it difficult to face these alone. She now realises it was cowardly to leave Guernsey and her beloved grandmother and feels guilt and remorse.
The mystery in your book has to do with lost memory. Why is Jeanne Le Page afraid to recover it? How will she make an effort to overcome her fears and find out the truth?
Jeanne suffered post traumatic amnesia after the accident and was hospitalised with her injuries. Over the years she has had recurring dreams, almost nightmares, which could be flashbacks to the accident but she isn’t sure. There is a sense of something unexplained – after all, her father was an experienced sailor and knew the waters well, so why did the boat end up on the rocks? Back in Guernsey Jeanne is offered help by an old family friend, Molly, an experienced psychotherapist who offers to use hypnotherapy in order to recover the lost memories. Jeanne is unsure – would it make her feel worse to re-live that awful night?
The Island of Guernsey, situated in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy, is a special place in your novel. How did you describe it to evoke an atmosphere of mystery?
I think islands generally have an air of mystery, of isolation, of apartness and Guernsey is no exception. Having lived there for nearly fourteen years, I knew the island well. Sea mists creep up the coast and it’s hard to see anything, creating a feeling of greater isolation. And the German Occupation of WWII has left its mark, both physically and emotionally on the island and its people. Secrets abound from that time and some will never be revealed. In spite of this, it’s a beautiful, friendly island and I wanted this aspect to be juxtaposed with anything darker that may have happened.
Even though this is a contemporary romance novel, did you have to do a lot of research, especially to evoke memories dating back to WWII?
I only needed to research the Occupation and was fortunate to speak to people who had lived through that time as well as having access to numerous books on the subject.
By profession you are a psychotherapist. How did you use your expertise to enrich our understanding of your characters in this story?
Many of my clients had experienced tragic loss in their lives and working with them gave me invaluable insight into how people cope with such events. Relationship problems also figured highly, enabling me to feel confident in depicting these issues. Working one-to-one with hundreds of people over many years offers a fascinating study of the human psyche.
Please give us an excerpt from Dangerous Waters.
Jeanne stepped out on deck just as the sun broke through the clouds. A warm glow spread across green and gold jewel-like Herm and its big sister, Guernsey, patch-worked with fields and granite buildings.
The salt-laden air enveloped her like a trusty old coat. Breathing it in, she closed her eyes and was a child again, playing on the beach with her parents. The memory was so powerful that tears came and she stumbled towards the railings.
She found herself staring at Herm and was overwhelmed by such a strong feeling of fear that she had to hold onto the rail. Jeanne’s heart began to race, blood pounded in her ears and her breaths came in short, painful gasps. Oh my God, what’s happening to me? After all this time, please, not again! Struggling to breathe she was on the verge of passing out. Letting go of the rail she staggered, crashing into a man walking past.
‘Hey, steady on! Look where you’re going!’ he said, grabbing hold of her to stop them both falling. ‘Overdid the duty-frees, did you?’
Stung by his accusation, she took a deep breath before replying. ‘I’m sorry, I just lost my balance.’ His hands held her arms so hard she imagined the bruises and tried to shake free.
His grip loosened and he guided her back to the rail. She clung on, filling her lungs with sea air.
Jeanne nodded. As the man stepped back she took in, through a still blurred gaze, dark brown hair, deep blue eyes and the muscled arms of a man unlikely to be a pen-pusher. Responding to his warmer tone, she managed a tight smile before straightening up and walking, unsteadily, to the starboard side.
What on earth was that? Is this what I can expect now? Perhaps I shouldn’t have come back. Not that I had a choice…She shuddered as Guernsey came into full view. While the ferry headed towards St Peter Port harbour, it felt as though she was approaching a strange, unknown country rather than the land of her birth. The whole of the northern sea front, from Les Banques into St Peter Port, had been transformed. Towering edifices of granite and glass replaced the old, tired mishmash of warehouses, scruffy hotels and shops. With a gasp, she realised that even the elegant landmark of the Royal Hotel had gone.
It was as if a natural disaster had occurred, flattening the old front and replacing it by buildings more reminiscent of London than of the parochial island of old. She’d never have thought that Guernsey would move into the twenty-first century with such a bang.
The dramatic transformation which lay before her seemed to Jeanne to be an echo of the change in her own life and she felt a stranger here. For a moment the urge to remain on the ferry and return to England, without setting foot on the island, was overwhelming.
Today I have the pleasure to present the author who spent four years of his life in Iran and England, and has traveled and worked extensively in Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Allen Kent wrote the popular Unit 1 thriller series, the Whitlock Trilogy of historical fiction, and a number of other mysteries and thrillers.
You have described The Shield of Darius as the novel that launched your popular “Unit 1” series of international thrillers. Can you explain what you mean by that?
The Shield of Darius was initially written to be a stand-alone novel. But I immediately began to get questions from readers about what happened to the Unit 1 people, members of a deep cover group of maverick agents within the US intelligence community that essentially “cleans up” messes that are too sensitive for the more visible agencies to deal with. Readers enjoyed Fisher and Nita and wanted to know about their next adventure. So I felt compelled to write The Weavers of Meanchey, then the other three Unit 1 thrillers that now make up the series.
One of the reviewers of “Darius” wrote “this may be the ideal Allen Kent starter book. Be prepared for a powerful story with scenarios almost too realistic. You know the kind of things Mr Kent writes about could happen (and maybe already have?) but the situations can be shocking. Also be forewarned good guys do not always finish first or even survive!” Can you comment on the “good guys do not always finish first or even survive” observation?
There are really two parts to this answer. First, I see every character as having both admirable attributes and flaws. so sometimes it's hard to differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys. In this novel, it’s difficult not to have something of a “love-hate” relationship with a couple of the characters. Secondly, as the reviewer said, I try to write about security situations or threats that are potentially very real. And in reality, everyone involved in addressing these crises faces real danger. Some survive. Some are destroyed by them. Whether they make it is mainly a reflection of what they are doing and when.
Several earlier readers of “Darius” noted that it seems to have a more intimate, personal character to it than some of the later Unit 1 novels. Is there any basis for that observation?
That’s a pretty astute observation. Although I always write about places I know reasonably well, there are some semi-biographical segments of this novel that must show through. I lived in the Middle East during my high school years and served as a pilot in the Air Force during the Vietnam conflict. Some of the episodes in Darius were written looking through the eyes of those experiences. I also spent a few years living in the northeast part of England and can very easily get lost in writing description of the English countryside, one of the most picturesque places in the world.
You make a point of emphasizing that, as a former educator, you always want your novel—even the thrillers—to teach. How does that show up in “The Shield of Darius?”
There’s a great quote from Emily Dickenson that says, “There is no Frigate like a Book To take us Lands away." When people finish one of my books, I want them to know more about the world and its people, better understand some of the complex issues that face our time, and have a sense that they could visit one of the places I describe and think, “I believe I’ve been here before.” That doesn’t always work. I have a zinger of a review from a reader of Darius, a close friend in fact, who thought I was unfair to a group described in the novel. I think I simply described them as fairly as I could, and believe she wasn’t interested in an objective description.
I believe you have two other books featured this month via free, one-day promotions. What are they and when can readers expect to see free offers?
On the 19th of June, a favorite domestic mystery, “Backwater,” will have a one-day free promo. It involves a kidnapping in which a young girl’s father with mob connections tells the kidnappers he will put out a contract on them for the requested ransom amount if the girl isn’t back within 24 hours. It has remained one of my top-ranked sellers. The second, promoted for free on the 20th will appeal to Dan Brown fans. It’s a thriller based on discovery of an ancient letter that gives credibility to the Christian Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. While religious scholars try to obtain and publish the letter, the "Guardians of the Second Son" work to keep it secret. I think readers who enjoy page-turning action and unexpected twists of plot will find both exciting reads. They can find summaries and links to the books at my website.
Please share an excerpt from “Darius” with us.
Ben’s mind awoke before his body. He felt only pain. Sharp explosions bursting between his temples. He cracked open his eyes and squinted dizzily at the white, mildew-spotted ceiling above him. With each throb, the ceiling seemed to sag downward, then retreat. Sag. Retreat. His gut twisted into a cramped spasm and he swallowed hard to keep from retching, gagging on his thick, pasty tongue. The room was musty. Smothering. He closed his eyes again and struggled to capture a complete thought, but found only images. The castle ruin above him on the hill. PJ on the tumbled stone wall.
Feeling a swollen tenderness behind his left ear, Ben wondered fleetingly if he had fallen from the wall himself, and was in one of those colorless London hospitals he had seen in the city. The pain forced life into his other senses and he focused on sounds, finding the irregular drone of distant traffic. This must be London. He struggled again for images, piecing them together until they suddenly coalesced into a memory, capturing the frantic woman in the woods and the race to the van.
As the memory developed, a pressure in Ben’s chest grew with it, crushing him downward until he could barely suck in a breath. He wanted to groan but as the sound formed, he choked it back, realizing he may not be alone. Letting his lids droop shut, he concentrated again on sounds, straining to discriminate voices from the general din beyond the room. More honking than usual in the grumble of distant traffic. Rush hour. In another direction, the faint clatter of metal against metal. Pans or garbage cans.
Suddenly Ben’s nose intervened, sending a jolt of olfactory electricity to his brain that caromed wildly about, searching for meaning, then shot to his heart with a surge that charged it into furious pounding. It was not a solitary smell that sparked Ben’s memory, but a mixture of odors that were more vivid than sight or sound. Not the sour-sharp blend of sickness and antiseptic that meant hospital, but a faint acrid odor of fetid water mixed with raw sewage. Strong spices favoring garlic that lingered in the air after a meal was cleared. Earthen buildings that smelled of damp clay, even when dry, and the sour tang of sweat from men and animals. And diesel fumes. A sky full of diesel fumes spewed from the tail pipes of a thousand Mercedes taxis and red double-decked buses. The smell was as distinctive as a signature. Ben Sager was back in the Middle East.
Books links (in the same series):
Today I have the pleasure to present the award-winning and bestselling author of eleven novels. Danielle Girard writes gripping medical thrillers. Her books have won the Barry Award and the RT Reviewers' Choice Award, and two of her titles have been optioned for movies.
Why did you choose the crime thriller genre?
I’ve always loved the life and death stakes of the suspense genre; you can’t have more on the line than you do facing a killer. That makes the stories naturally engaging and fast-paced, my favorite kind. I have a VERY worst-case scenario imagination. If there's something terrible that could happen, I've already worked out how. I find that writing about those fears is cathartic. I'm also drawn to the darkness of the genre. People are sometimes surprised by the darkness in the books because I'm definitely not a dark person. Don't judge a book by its cover. J
The other piece of the genre that appeals to me is police and investigators. I have tremendous respect for law enforcement. They literally have the toughest job. Well, maybe the president. That would be impossible, too. But to go out every day and know you might get shot and to have to react in a split second and not make a mistake—because an error means a life… Wow. That's so intense.
There's so much controversy today over how the police manage things, and there’s no question that the mistakes and abuse in the system need to be addressed. At the same time, it's such a demanding, stressful job. I feel like when you get down to why someone would choose police work as a career—in the vast majority of cases—it's got to be to help people.
How would you describe your writing process?
The first hundred pages are the hardest. Everything is set up in those chapters—the protagonist, the supporting cast, the mystery, the dynamics. These first pages take the majority of my time. I do a lot of staring out the window. And I'm always writing down little nuggets. I keep notebooks everywhere!! And I encourage other writers to do the same. In particular, keep a pen and paper by your bed, since the best ideas always seem to come as you’re falling asleep. Your mind relaxes and that in-between stage can be magical for brainstorming.
In the beginning, I compile those ideas, create some spreadsheets because I'm weird that way, AND, most importantly, I stumble through a thousand words of writing each day. Many of those might get cut, but even if I'm writing backstory or character information, it's still worthwhile.
Sound painful? It can be. Like moving one inch forward then two feet backward. But, if you can get those first hundred pages right, it’s all there. After that, it comes to writing every day, since it can be hard to get back into the flow if I let the story sit, even for a day.
Do you ever base characters on real people?
I've never based a character on someone specific, but I think the characters are probably a collage of people I know or have met. It would be hard to create characters without stealing traits from real people as a guide—how else would I know where to start? Beyond that, many—if not all—of my characters also include a sliver of my own personality, or someone I would like to be.
Which of your books is your favorite, or the one that you’re most proud of?
The most recent book is always my favorite. Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at something. I’ve reached the 10,000 hour-mark in my writing career and I think that shows with each new book.
In this case, that is book 4 of the Dr. Schwartzman Series, EXPIRE. If readers are unfamiliar with the series, they might want to start with book 1, EXHUME. I’m extremely proud of the whole series and I loved the process of getting to research the life of a medical examiner. I was fortunate enough to have access to a real-life ME who answered all my strange and bizarre questions.
So, the latest book is my best work. Well, my best work so far, but I am working on a new one due out July of 2020…
Do you read reviews of your books? Do they affect you?
Yes, I read them and I hate them. The fact is that the most successful books in the marketplace, the ones that people are drawn to, receive the strongest reactions, and they’re not all positive. If you’re writing material that some people really love, the chances are that someone else is going to really hate it. The truth is you just can’t let those reviews affect how you write. Constructive reviews can be helpful on a purely mechanical level, but stylistic ones are so subjective that you can’t let them bother you.
That said, the bad ones still sting. They always will.
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
Despite what people think, there’s nothing sexy or romantic about being a writer. Writing a book is like exercising—everyone wants to do it once and see the result but it's really about consistency and making it a habit. If you do put in the work, eventually you’ll get the reward, but it’s a long slog. No one starts off knowing how to write well.
At the beginning of my career, when I was still working in finance, I wrote three suspense novels, which I sent to agents and editors. This was back when we mailed query letters at the post office. I got a lot of rejections.
One rejection on the first book, “Murders and Acquisitions,” said something along the lines of, "The title is great. The rest is not." I probably don't need to tell you that none of those books sold. They're permanently "buried in the backyard," as I like to put it. That's okay. Whether it was stubbornness or sheer stupidity, I kept writing. Sent a book out, collected rejection letters while I was starting the next one. Rinse and repeat.
The only way to get better is to write. Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers suggests that gaining expertise takes 10,000 hours. I think he's right. I've spent that much time writing now. So, you want to be a writer? Get your 10,000 hours.
The other thing about this business is that you’re going to have to deal with rejection. From the industry, from fans, and occasionally from a less-than-tactful friend. You can’t stop for any of that. Your job is to write. When you’re done with book one, write another book. Worst case scenario (or best-case scenario, depending on how you look at it) you’ll have 3 or 4 books ready to sell when you land that perfect agent. But you can’t give up. The only way to guarantee you’ll never make it is to quit.
It helps to have people in your life who help you keep going. I’ve had the good fortune of being with my husband for 25 years, and he’s been an incredible and encouraging foundation. Being a writer involves a lot of jumping and trusting you’ll land somewhere safe, so it is important to surround yourself with people who will support the process, even if they don’t understand it.
Bestselling Author of
And other books
Today I have the pleasure of presenting a new friend and the author of psychological thrillers. Jenifer Ruff is an avid fitness enthusiast and hiker. She lives in Charlotte, NC with her family and a pack of greyhounds.
Tell us a little about your books.
My primary genre is thriller—psychological and medical. My books deal with contemporary issues—ISIS, human trafficking, social media—and all are dark and twisty. My books contain no sex and no swearing, but a variety of disturbed characters stay quite busy plotting sinister activities as they go about otherwise normal routines.
What is your latest thriller about?
I have a new thriller series featuring FBI Agent Victoria Heslin. The Numbers Killer just came out this week and will appeal to fans of the Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn as well as serial killer favorites like The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris and The Bone Collector by Jeffrey Deaver. And you’ll never view odd numbers the same way again. Here’s a taste of what’s inside:
When a key witness in an organized crime trial turns up dead in his kitchen with liar and the number two scrawled on his forehead, the FBI assumes the murder was a hit to silence him. Then the calls start coming in—more victims with similar markings and no connection to the mob.
As agents Victoria Heslin and Dante Rivera struggle to catch a break in the case, they receive a series of cryptic, personal messages from the killer, complicating the investigation. Something disturbing and frightening is underway, and anyone might be next, including the agents, unless they uncover the common denominator.
Book two in the series, Pretty Little Girls, will be published in the fall of 2019.
Readers have commented that your books have strong but flawed female characters. Can you talk about that?
When my main character, Victoria Heslin, was younger, her mother was kidnapped for ransom and died in the hands of her captors. After a stretch of feeling afraid and powerless, Victoria became an FBI agent. She now has the training and confidence to take care of herself as well as others. Victoria has an easier time relating to and having compassion for her animals than she does with people, but she’s working on that.
The Brooke Walton series features a brilliant, confident, and disciplined medical student, but there’s so much more to her than what meets the eye. I don’t want to spoil the twists for future readers, but she has a very dark side.
My goal with every book is to create fascinating characters that readers don’t want to look away from. I strive to make the psychopathic, delusional, and brainwashed captivating, but also as real and as relatable as possible. I give them admirable traits and strong motivating factors. They might be psychologically disturbed, but most of them are also strong, independent, and have a slew of skills and accomplishments. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want any of them in my real world, but I hope readers enjoy having a glimpse into their lives as much as I’ve enjoyed creating them.
Tell us a little about yourself. What parts of your life make it into your books?
When I’m not writing, I like to be at the gym or hiking with my dogs. I’m an animal lover and dog adopter and rescuer, a mother of three sons, a volunteer in the community and school system, an expert at yard work and cleaning house, and a national debate and speech judge. Dogs and workouts have made it into my books, but not much else in them resembles my everyday life.
You do a lot of book signings, interviews, speaking and personal appearances. How can readers find out about your events and new releases?
I have done a lot of interviews and book club appearances in the past, but only when I’m invited. Book clubs are the best. Everyone has already read the book and they have interesting questions. I love hearing my characters discussed as if they were real people. But the vast majority of my sales are from ebooks and audio books and that’s where I focus most of my time and marketing efforts, which is nice because I can do it all without having to get dressed up. To find out about my events, new books, and exciting giveaways, readers can follow me using the links below or on my website: Jenruff.com