Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sakina Murdock speaks with an English accent
so is probably a villain.
Sakina Murdock, author of Autotherapy, and I share many interests; writing, reading, a publisher once. I assume we both like breathing, but to be honest I’ve had days lately, where I could take it or leave it. She cooks and I have been known to over-eat. We’re practically twins, except she lives in England and I live in America. She lives surrounded by sheep and I, well…. I guess I do too.

Johnny: What scares you?

Sakina: You want a list? I'm Worst-Case-Scenario Woman! Snow on the roads (everything's on a hill with a bend at the bottom here); funny noises outside my backdoor at 2 a.m. in my locked garden which has a 10 ft wall round it; driving behind an aggregates wagon or a car transporter - every bump has me gripped in the throes of swerve.  Oh. Did you mean like scary stuff?

J: What’s the scariest movie you’ve ever seen?

S: You do. I'm boring you now. Scariest movie ... let me see. Wolf Creek was horrific, and the most frightening thing about it was that it was touted to be true. It's the truth that scares me the most. 'Cause it isn't pretty. The horror movie that impressed upon me the most was a glimpse of a now unknown werewolf film, where a woman pulled up at a garage (gas station) and after she sat back in her car, a werewolf leapt onto the roof and she took it home. And I think I must have seen some of the killing because that doesn't seem scary enough to have insisted on the landing light being left on outside my bedroom every night for the next 7 years. I was 9 when I saw the movie clip.

J: I thought Alien was terrifying when I first saw it. As if the monster wasn’t scary enough, there’s an android helping it.

S: I love Alien. I always liked it the best, even though everyone always said that Aliens was a better film. Ian Holm played Ash, so of course it was good ... any film with a British actor in it is bound to be good.

J: Sir Ian Holm. He got a knighthood. What kind of country gives knighthoods to the kind of people who help Aliens?

S: The kind of country that gives knighthoods.
Sir Ian Holm English Alien helper.

J: That’s no kind of answer.

S: Maybe they were low on candidates one year.

J: Every time I see a villain in a movie, they invariably have an English accent. Why is that? Do you have villain colleges or something over there?

S: It's possibly something more to do with the particular accent of English. The posh 'RP' accent is associated with evil because obviously whoever speaks like that has more money, education and opportunity than anyone else. Which makes them automatically evil. We English don't like anyone doing better than us. Northerners are often represented as more angry than evil. That's because the RP lot took our freedoms and made us pay stuff like Income Tax, Council Tax and Road Tax. Also, the RP speaking bunch of hooligans did conquer most of the world at some point, making the English highly despised and hated.

J: What the hell are you talking about? What’s RP? You made that up.

S: RP is Received Pronounciation, where you sound very upper class and lah-di-dah. So "Gud ahf-tu-noon, aym th' qween" or "Aym sori, you seem to hev left your sossij in may bahth".

J: Okay. Horror. You wrote a horror. Autotherapy. What’s it about?

S: It's not a horror.

J:  It’s not a horror? What’s the body count?

S: There is a body count of approximately 14. It's approximate, because it's not counting the deaths in the backstory, and it's not counting those characters who are doomed to spend a lifetime of scientific research. And I may have forgotten someone.

J: 14 stiffs and it’s not a horror? Come on….

S:  It's not a horror. You don't get to see most of the deaths take place. I wrote those scenes into the original draft, and some of them were the best written pieces of the book to date, but my first readers didn't like them, and didn't think they were necessary to the story. The idea was to suck you in and make you love the characters, and then sock it to them, horrifically. It may have worked too well (as in, that may have been why the readers hated it), but it wasn't necessary to the story.

J: Isn’t there a vampire in it?

S: It's still not a horror. It's a thriller with shades of vampire. Quite heavily shaded in parts. You see nearly none of the horrific events actually taking place, so I don't think you can call it horror. It's the investigation into the investigation into a series of murders in a sleepy, creepy town in rural Cumbria. Not unlike Kirkby Stephen. In fact, just take Kirkby Stephen as an example.

J: Do the villains have English accents?

S: Everyone in it is English. But the really evil guy has an RP accent (in my head).

J: See! There! Right there. That’s what I’m talking about. Your island breeds villains. And apparently vampires too.

S:  The UK gets a lot of high winds, which often start out in another country. Wind carries spores.

J: Sparkly ones aside, or maybe in particular, Vampires have been a metaphor for sexual repression and other nasty subconscious traits. How do your vampires fit into the psychological traditions of the genre?

S: My vampires are manifestations of a good idea gone wrong.  I don't expect them to fit in because they haven't been created through the usual love-fear charged relationship designated to vampires. That type of relationship suggests some kind of equality or partnership between them. In Autotherapy, every one is a victim in his or her own right, without hope, justice or equality. Fun stuff.

J: How much sex and violence is there in Autotherapy?

S: There's nearly no violence in it, except at the end, and the described effects of violence on various dead characters. There's absolutely no sex in it whatsoever, although there is a budding romantic relationship and a fair bit of tension between Jake and Ruby.

J: No sex and no violence? You want people to read this, right? Oh, Druids. You must use Druids.

S: No druids. No magic, in fact.

J: Seriously?

S: Yes.

J: You have a detective in your book, a Detective Inspector Jake Campbell. Is he more like Inspector Morse, Lewis or Lynley?

S: *groan* Oh please, knock about 12 years off Lewis, make him a bit harder looking, sans paunch. For attitude, take Frost, make him younger by about 25 years and that's Jake. I can't comment on their styles of investigation, as I've never watched the Inspector Lynley programmes and I couldn't get into Lewis. I liked him when he was Morse's sergeant.

J: Cumbria is a rural county in England, not to be confused with Great Britain, on the border of Scotland, on an island that turns out villains like Puerto Rico does shortstops. Not only do you live there, but it’s also the setting for Autotherapy. How is it to live there and how does the location affect your story?

S: I live in the Eden Valley region of Cumbria, possibly the most beautiful place in the country. It's characterised by rugged fells on either side of a flattish, wide, green valley. Sheep everywhere. Terrible weather. It's got a lot of old and ancient manmade structures, like caves, quarries, tunnels, castles and stone cairns. These locations are in the story and they all exist as is, unless I've messed about with them with artistic license.

J: In America we have a certain image of what England is like. Tell me, is Cumbria littered with CCTV cameras? Are they on the sheep or just affixed to the odd druidic henge?

S: Cumbrian towns are littered with CCTV as much as any other part of the UK, however the countryside is not so much, except in shops. And henges aren't quite our thing. We did more stone circles. In fact there are dozens (possibly even hundreds) of stone circles in a 20 mile radius around where I live. The Nine Standards, (the 12 Sisters in Autotherapy are based on these) are not a circle. They are a line of gigantic stone cairns which have been recently restored by some archaeological group on the highest point of Hartley Fell, near Kirkby Stephen. No one knows what they were for. They don't have CCTV either.

J: I’m always curious how people got their books into print. Coming from the land of Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Benny Hill, how’d you end up with a California Publisher?

S: I was lucky. From the start, I couldn't decide whether to write the book in 1st person or 3rd person. I've lived with this indecisiveness for most of my adult life, so I did what I normally do and tried to have it both ways. The leap from 3rd to 1st and back again from chapter to chapter pissed off the agents I sent it to, so I pandered to convention (oh yeah, and commonsense), made it all third person and Rainstorm Press was the second publisher I sent it to and the first past the post for signing it. I only sent it to those who would accept email submissions.

J: So you cook. You’re English and you cook. You even blog about it. If there’s one thing that England is known for more than populating the world with villains, it’s its culinary excellence. Wait. No, it’s not. Actually, it has a crap reputation for food. What are your feelings about this?

S: My feeling is that it's a largely justified poor reputation. Many English people are not interested in food, and you can blame the weather for that. The best food to eat when it hasn't stopped raining for 288 years - except to sometimes snow for a few months - is stodge. Heavy on the carbs - potatoes, potatoes, potatoes; heavy on the protein - meat, meat, meat. It's warming to eat at the time and it's warming in the long term because that nice roll of fat round your middle keeps you insulated. Try to get interested in meat and potatoes 52 weeks per year, with a few pease puddings thrown in and you can see how we ended up in the 1980s with a terrible reputation. Happily, since then, we've introduced vegetables - and the all important concept of not boiling them for longer than a couple of minutes. There's hope yet.
Steak and Kidney Pie.
The official food of the United Kingdom
and Rumpole.

I'm actually a one woman mission to improve our lot on the dining table. If I can inspire even one person to make a first time effort to cook something from scratch, to eat fibre that isn't mushy peas out of a can and to encourage less wasteful consumerism, my blog will have been worth it. Many people run out of ideas on a daily basis - I do too - but it's far better to look for a recipe based on the ingredients that you have instead of having to go out and buy even more stuff to make something you 'feel' like. I love budget food and anything which I can make for nothing, (especially if it's delicious, and good for me) gets the thumbs up, so there's a lot of this budget hedonist style food on my site.

J: Besides me, who are your favorite writers?

S: My all time favourite is Terry Pratchett - he knows such a lot, and his ability to transplant that knowledge into the Discworld staggers me every time.

J: Give me your pitch, the blurb that’ll make my Anglophilic readers rush out to buy Autotherapy:

S: Vampires, victims and adverse conditions are plaguing one detective's attempts to save his town and loved ones from an horrific end.  Expect no justice.

J: Where on the internet can people find you?
BLOG - Soulsubsistence
TWITTER @soulsubistence
J: No offense but why would anyone live in Cumbria?

S: Well, look at these...

J: Point made.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lehua Parker did not buy me lunch
I met Michelle Lehua Parker at a writer’s conference in Provo Utah that damaged my short term memory and left me both traumatized and traumatized. That weekend we went to lunch together where I gave her every chance to pay for my meal. That has nothing to do with anything. I’m just saying, you know. Just saying.

Lehua came over the blog mansion the other day to give me a long overdue promised copy of One Boy, No Water, Book One in the Niuhi Shark Saga.

Not liking to be caught off guard, I’d had a catered snack bar set up for the holiday.

Johnny: Happy Tick Bite Prevention Week!

Lehua: Damn it! Not again!

J: What?

L: You’re confusing me with that other MG/YA Jolly Fish Press author, Amie Borst!

J: Whaa?

L: Good grief, Johnny! Don’t you read Facebook? She’s the one with the tick-bite Lyme disease and meat allergy! I’m the one with the gluten allergy from Hawaii. What’s that smell?

Pupu Platter, pronounced "poo-poo" is not what you think it is.
It is however, very expensive.
J: Hungry?

L: Like a shark.

J: I got a special treat just for you. A pupu platter.

L: Then why are we standing out here? You know us Hawaiians; it’s all about the food.

J: Help your—well, looks like you know what to do. Careful, those have bones—oh. I don’t think I’ve seen another human eat like that. You’re from Hawaii and your series is set there. How did you get to Utah where the only way to get poi is from loud shirted poi mules named Moki?

L: Like most foolish teens, I thought I wanted to get away from paradise and my parents and go to college. While at school I married a Montana cowboy who teased me by living in LA near the beach for a few years before dragging me kicking and screaming inland. Utah was the compromise. Thank goodness for the internet and overnight shipping.

J: So what’s your story about?

L: It’s a fish out of water tale. In many ways Zader is a typical island kid. He’s trying to fit in with his peers, keep up with his more popular brother, and get into a good prep school which is a big deal for 6th graders in Hawaii. But no matter how hard he tries, Zader’s anything but typical. He was found abandoned on a reef as an infant by Uncle Kahana and ‘Ilima and adopted by the Westin family. He’s allergic to water—one drop is like acid on his skin—absolutely ridiculous on a tropical island—and he can’t eat rare meat.

J: Tick bite?

L: That’s one theory. The wrong theory, but hey, whatever floats your boat. When Zader’s surf-crazed brother is scared out of the ocean by a shark sighting, it’s up to Zader to help him get back in the water. The whole series about finding yourself, defining family, and living in modern Hawaii, things I think will interest readers.

J: You obviously didn’t get the memo about romantic vampires. Still, you have a strong paranormal streak in you One Boy, No Water. Is there an original legend that sparked the idea?

L: There’s an original image. Imagine: seven years old, sitting on the cool concrete floor of the school cafeteria in the dark, watching a 16mm film projected on a white bed sheet. The movie’s about ancient Hawaiian legends, and it’s the first time I’m seeing people on the screen who look like my friends and neighbors who aren’t tending bar or shaking grass skirts on Hawaii Five-O. Act one: villagers are disappearing and it’s feared a man-eating shark is on the prowl. Act two: villagers rip the cape off a young boy to reveal a huge gaping shark’s mouth where his back should be! Ai-yah! The boy was actually a shark! And his family knew! And he was eating people he knew! Talk about a nightmare inspiring moment, right up there with the night swim scene in Jaws. Act three: I think about it for too many years and finally write my thoughts into a novel or five. The Niuhi Shark Saga is not a retelling of this Hawaiian legend, but that certainly was the genesis.

J: Zader, your main character is nothing like me. He lives in Hawaii, for one thing, and he’s probably good at portion control. Did you try the cream puffs? Who did you use as a model for him?

PSA: The wholesale price of cream puffs doubles
if you have chocolate lines on them like these.
L: Cream puffs are delicious, but contain gluten which is evil beyond poison apple; for me it’s in the kryptonite range. Pass the sashimi. Thanks. Here’s a shameful secret—all the characters are me. The too busy Mom, the picked on kid, the popular surfer dude, the wise Uncle, the rascal dog, the athletic girl who wants to be one of the boys—they all live inside me and aren’t based on anyone else. Like the three faces of Eve, I’ve discovered when I let the characters out to tell the story, it works. Does that sound unbalanced?

J: Only if you have a drinking problem. If you do, you’re sure to be a big hit. Do you have a secret addiction?

L: Haagen Daz Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream. It used to be Mayan Chocolate, but they stopped making it.

J: Better stick to middle grade, then. Tell me about the Hawaiian dialects and language you use in your book and pass the cookie tray.

L: Take them all! I wanted to write a story for kids who know the real Hawaii, not the Hollywood version, and that meant writing the way people talk when the tourists aren’t around. It’s called Hawaiian Pidgin English. In the series I’ve Anglicized Pidgin to make it more friendly to non-native speakers, but some of the feedback I’ve gotten is that it’s still too much for middle grade readers. While it will continue to be part of the series, there will be less of it in future books.

J: One Boy, No Water is book one in a series. How many do you foresee?

L: My publishing contract says five, so Zader’s story will be five middle grade/young adult novels. I know how the series ends, but not what happens between where I am in book 3 and the final chapter of book 5. However, I have many more stories set in fictional Lauele Town kicking around in my head. Most of them are not middle grade. While I may branch out and write other things, I think I will be living in Lauele long enough to look for a house, not a rental.

J: I’m always interested to hear how authors made the journey from writing a book to having a publisher. Your story, if I remember it right, makes me want to disembowel myself with a shrimp fork. No two journeys are alike. Please share it with my readers.

L: I read books like you’re eating those cookies. I studied the writing craft, but after winning a few awards and publishing as a teen, I didn’t do anything with fiction for decades until one day I got a wild hair and decided to go to a writer’s conference. I had an idea, but was sure no publisher would want anything with Pidgin in it. At the conference I learned about self-publishing eBooks; they looked like an elegant solution for my weird ideas with their low start-up costs and a long shelf-life, which would give me time to build an audience. I went home and decided to pull Zader’s story out of a too complicated adult novel I’d started eight years ago. A middle grade series seemed like a quick, low-risk way to figure out the publishing biz. Originally I planned to publish two versions in each eBook, one in standard American English and the other in hard-core Pidgin. A month later I kinda, sorta had a couple of novels in very rough form, a brand-new website and Facebook fan page, and a short-term business plan. That’s when I unexpectedly ending up pitching the series to Christopher Loke, Executive Editor at Jolly Fish Press who told me to send him a submission package because he thought he could sell it. A month later I had a five book deal. Three weeks after that I finished book one, One Boy, No Water, which published nine months later in September 2012.
    Johnny! Stop it! If you jam that fork any deeper, you’re going to need stitches and I’m gonna be pissed if you bleed all over my car on the way to the hospital! It was timing, dude, and karma that I was already decently dressed and wearing mascara the night of the JFP presentation, so I went instead of lying on the couch with a good book and pint of ice cream. Johnny! Grinding the fork isn’t helping!

J: How do you like working with Jolly Fish Press?

L: Wait! Use this tea towel as a compress! That’s better. I think it’s clotting.
    JFP is a young press, which is why they looked at my work in the first place. A few months later they switched to reviewing mostly agented submissions, so I think I hit the sweet spot of preparation and opportunity. JFP has done fantastic things for my series, like getting it in front of reviewers, on the shelves in Barnes & Noble, and nominating it for an American Book Award. They want long-term relationships with their authors and have created a collaborative, supportive environment at both the JFP corporate level and among their authors at the personal level. They allow me to put my two cents in everything from the artwork to off-wall marketing ideas. They don’t always go along with my ideas, of course, but they do listen. That’s important to me.

J: Who, besides me, are your favorite authors and influenced your writing?

L: Books are like gluten-free Oreos with ice cold milk, remember? Diana Gabaldon, Stephen King, Kiana Davenport, Chris McKinny, Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Michael Crichton, Chaim Potok—I could make a list far longer than anyone would care to read.

J: I love your cover. Who did it? How did you get it?

L: The cover and illustrations were done by the very talented Corey Egbert. JFP brought Corey in and we met a couple of times with JFP and brainstormed the art concepts  I thought Zader on the cover with a wave shark about to eat him while he’s oblivious was a good metaphor for what happens in the book. Cory has never been to Hawaii, so I set up a Pinterest board and posted all kinds of images for him to use as reference. You can see them and what we’re working on for book 2 here:

J: What’s your writing process, do you surround yourself with hibiscus plants, pineapple juice and HoMedics Sound Machines set to “soothing surf?”

L: All that and more to make me feel like I’m being productive when I’m not. I listen to Hawaiian radio. I watch Shark Week videos. I read tons of books about esoteric Hawaiian cultural studies. In a pinch, I even do laundry and housework. I procrastinate until the deadline looms and then I sit down and write the book.

J: When might we expect to see the next in the series?

L: Book 2, One Shark, No Swim is scheduled for August 10, 2013. It’s in editorial review and Corey’s started the illustrations, but I haven’t heard or seen anything yet, although Chris did say the first editorial reviewers told him that it was “very clean” which I think means my spelling and punctuation were mostly correct.

J: Try the caviar. If you like fish flavored salt, you can do no better than caviar.

L: Then you haven’t tried dried cuttle-fish.

VORLONS - reason enough not to eat Cuttle-Fish
J: Cuddle what?

L: Cuttle-fish. It’s basically squid jerky. Salty-fishy-sweet. Or opae, tiny dried freshwater shrimp. When I was a kid we used to eat them like candy. Caviar’s too squishy; it reminds me of trout-flavored saltwater tapioca pudding. Or fish eyeball stew. Don’t ask. Although this isn’t bad. You must have splurged for the good stuff.

J: I hear your book is big in Hawaii. How can you market there from Utah?

L: You got it backwards. I think the book would be big in Hawaii. It’s selling in the Utah region, mainly due to published reviews and book signings. I have officially leveraged all my friends and relatives and am now selling to strangers, which is a good thing. Between lowering the eBook price to $2.99 and some recent publicity in Hawaii, One Boy, No Water is starting to go home with island readers. Hawaiian bookstores are beginning to contact JFP to ask when I’ll be in the islands for book signings, so things are looking up. The whole process is a lot slower than anyone imagines. I’m not expecting to do a book tour in Hawaii until mid-2014 at the earliest, probably after Book 3, One Fight, No Fist, is published. I might try to do some author appearances at Hawaiian schools via Skype next school year, which I think will help, but my main focus right now is writing book 3. I have a hard time mentally switching hats from author to marketer, so I try to work on one or the other in punctuated bursts.

J: Where can my five regular readers find you on the internet?
Twitter: @LehuaParker
J: Grab a “to-go” box. Look at all this food. Those buffalo wings will be tasty tonight. Just zap them for 45 seconds.

L: I’m taking the spam musubi and coconut mochi, too. Don’t forget the malasadas.

J: Is that what they're called? You can’t eat malasadas.

L: No, but the kids can. That will distract them from the cone sushi.

J: Thanks for coming to the blog mansion. Here you go.

L: What’s this?

J: It’s an itemized bill for the buffet. Dutch treat.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Brothers Washburn - Recovering lawyers
Berk is in white, Andy in green - PITCH GREEN!

Ever since the blog mansion appeared in Better Blogs and Mansions, I’ve had plenty of authors dropping by for free food and ice-sculpting lessons. Yesterday, the Brothers Washburn, Andy and Berk, showed up about an hour after the sheriff served me a legal love note from my neighbor.

Johnny: Hey guys. Thanks for coming. Good to see you Andy. Happy St. Patricks’ Day.

Brothers Washburn: He’s Andy. I’m Berk.

J: Oh. Sorry, I’m distracted with this summons and to be honest a little hungover. I had a pre-St. Patrick’s Day kegger / jello-shot thing last night. Well yesterday and last light. And the day before that. But not today. Nope. I knew you guys were coming over today for your Blog Tour of PitchGreen and I made sure that everyone was driven off the property like naked staggering cattle before you got here. Your book came out just yesterday and today’s St. Patty’s Day. It’s all about Green.

BW: We’ve been on blog tour all month. The internet’s a big place. Lots of travelling.

J: I bet. Hey, you should know, there’s a real ugly rumor floating around that you two are lawyers. I socked the guy in the mouth who said it, but you should know it’s out there. You guys are just getting started in the writing business. No need to smear your names with such malicious gossip. But I did hear you guys are brothers? How’s that working out?

BW:  We are two of nine sons (sixteen children) who grew up in the Mojave desert near Death Valley. For about 35 years, Berk has been a business lawyer working for international commercial finance companies in the mid-west.  For about 25 years, Andy has been a trial practice lawyer in Southern California.  The rest of our family all have honest jobs.

J: You really are lawyers? Wow... I can’t believe you’d admit to that. You got guts, I gotta say that about you. I wish you luck. So how’d you get into writing fiction?

BW: We have always been story tellers, first to our siblings, then to our own children (Berk has eight kids / Andy has six kids), and now to our grandkids.  Scary stories have always been a family specialty.  While we have kept our law licenses current, we are now writing fiction full time.  As lawyers, we were always solving other people’s problems.  After we each moved to Colorado, we talked for some time about starting a business together where we only had to solve our own problems.  We both have many years of formal writing experience. A few years ago, Berk started writing a young adult science fiction series, so when Andy also tried his hand at writing fiction, it didn’t take long to come together as The Brothers Washburn on a young adult horror series.

J: Is there really a law that says my friends and I can’t be naked on my own property?

BW: That’s not an area of the law that either of us has been practicing in, but there is a gaggle of lawyers out there who would be glad to handle that type of question for you.  We’re phasing out of the practice of the law to be fiction writers.  When pressed, we tell people we’re recovering lawyers.  Otherwise, we just say we are starving artists, trying to make a living selling fiction.  Some say that’s what we did as lawyers, but this is different—it doesn’t pay as well.  Besides, this way we tend to get a lot more sympathy, and it has been a while now since either of us has gotten any death threats.

J: Who was the favorite growing up?

BW: For ease in managing her household, Mom divided up her kids into two groups: the big kids and the little kids.  Berk was the oldest of the big kids and Andy was the oldest of the little kids, so we each had a lot of discretionary latitude in our separate domains.  Mom delighted in scaring the wits out of all her children, so we all got equal treatment in that area.  As we got older, we realized that Dad was the soft touch, and it was better to wait for him to come home at night before asking for anything.  We all felt like the favorite when dealing with Dad.

J: Why haven’t one of you killed the other?

BW: As kids, the big kids played a lot of practical jokes on the little kids, and Andy took the brunt of a lot of it, but fortunately, he survived.  As he grew up, he got to be pretty tough.  Nobody messes with him now.

J: Do either of you have any plans to kill the other? Maybe before the next book is released?

BW:  As adults, we each married a strong minded woman, and our wives have played significant roles as managing partners in the building of our book business.  They are in regular communication with each other, and it’s not possible for either brother to have a secret agenda for long without the intervention of the managing partners.

J: So both being lawyers obsessed with killing each other, it makes sense that you’d write horror. What’s Pitch Green about?

BW: Pitch Green is the first novel of The Dimensions in Death YA horror series.  Based on a scary story we used to tell our siblings and friends as kids, this first book combines horror, suspense and mystery at a breathtaking pace, as our protagonists battle to stay alive against an unseen evil presence lurking in an old, deserted mansion in a small, isolated, desolate mining town, deep in the Mojave Desert.  The mining town, Trona, really exists and is appropriately located near Death Valley, where life is the exception rather than the rule.

J: Am I in your book, or did you use a less interesting protagonist?

BW: In Pitch Green, we meet two teenagers, Camm and Cal, who are destined by their wit, pluck and luck (not always good) to become the balancing force in this world against monstrous predators that keep showing up around the strange, deserted mansion.  They must make a stand against the mansion’s bloodthirsty guardian, and any alien visitors who might want to come through the mansion in search of easy prey, and the U.S. Federal Government (the biggest predator of all), who is using the mansion to access unlimited natural resources.  Camm is the brains, Cal is the muscle and together they make a formidable team when they decide to work together.  They are joined by FBI Agent Linda Allen, who is smart, resourceful and not easily intimidated by those protecting the government’s secrets.
In this first book, our heroes are introduced to the mansion and its guardian while being hurled from one scene of horror to the next.  They barely have time to catch their breath or scratch the surface of what is happening, and they do not understand the nature of what they are really facing.  Though their intentions are good, by the end of the first book, they have left a doorway to horror wide open and unguarded.  Pitch Green is the opening act of a long and complex tale in which Camm, Cal and Agent Allen will be explorers in the dimensions in death.

J: What do you have against mansions?

BW: Mansions, like lawyers, just naturally have a bad reputation, and we couldn’t resist taking advantage of an easy target.

J: I assume the series will continue even if one of you has a sudden and mysterious accident, leaving the other with full legal rights to all royalties and considerations that are outlined in a notarized document secreted in a safety deposit box. Where will the survivor take the story?

BW: In the second book, Mojave Green, Camm and Cal must deal with the consequences of unwanted visitors from other dimensions finding their way into this world.  Because secrecy suits the government’s purposes, the world as a whole is blissfully ignorant of the battle being fought and of the horrors our heroes are facing.  In the third book, Toxic Green, and subsequent books, the battle with death continues to expand into new dimensions as Camm, Cal and Agent Allen learn the purpose of the mansion.  This story is ultimately as large as the multiverse and as deadly as the fiercest predators that hunt its infinite landscape.  In their fight to save the world, Camm and Cal must come to terms with the predator within themselves and must recognize their own capacity for doing harm and causing death.  The scariest monsters don’t always come from other dimensions.

This is scary.
(and lawyers)
J: Being lawyers, it’s natural that you are familiar with evil – cold, dark, destructive, hellish evil, but when you have to go outside your profession, what kind of research do you rely on as writers?

BW: Research is important to us in two areas:  theoretical science and local geography.  This series is an ongoing horror story based on principals of science rather than on demons, devils or magical creatures, so some understanding of the extremes of scientific theory is necessary and fun.  But, Dimensions in Death is not a science fiction series with a few scary scenes.  It is horror, suspense and fright in a fast pace narrative with a little science sprinkled on for spice, as the truth is gradually discovered by our heroes.  Separately, the local geography plays a critical role in setting the mood of the tale.  Trona, California is a real place in this world located in a desolate region of the Mojave Desert by Death Valley, and we try to keep the series settings in this world as real as possible.

J: How can anyone affix a $10,000 monetary punitive damage demand to a 200 decibel banjo rendition of “My Sharona?” How do people even measure that?

BW: In the 12 Step AA (Attorneys Anonymous) Program, we have been warned that even the smell of this kind of question could plunge us both back deep into addiction, so we must politely refuse to indulge you.  Even a single exception could be too much.

J: Sorry, never mind… uhm, so when you’re not lawyering, you know, doing stuff like helping ignorant neighbors sue perfectly nice writers on trumped up noise and indecency complaints, what’s your writing process?

BW: Andy doesn’t like having other people around him when he is writing, especially when he is creating new material.  There is no real reason for this, just sometimes people bug him.  Berk has to organize his surrounding work environment.  Once everything around him is in order, then he can detach from the world and write.  If Andy hits a tough spot in the story development, it is almost always because of outside distractions.  If he can get rid of the distractions around him, he can keep writing.  If Berk hits a tough spot, he doesn’t try to force it.  He stops, leaves the house, picks up some fast food, and then he can come back refreshed and ready to move the story forward.  He finds that fresh ideas just come naturally when he is eating

J: What advice do you have?

BW: 1.  Start writing by experimenting with story ideas and word usage, 2.  Keep writing all the time,  3.  Experience all the good you can find (or want to find) in life,  and  4.  Get to know lots of different kinds of people.

J: Not about writing, though that’s good advice for authors. I mean about my neighbor?  Should I settle or counter-sue his ass back to the stone age?  He has this one yappy dog that never shuts up. Can I use that?

BW: Though your question is enticing, we must say ‘no thank you’ to this kind of temptation.

J: What are you contractually obligated to say about your publisher, Jolly Fish Press?

BW: Jolly Fish Press is a great publisher and is an incredible resource for more traditional industry marketing practices as well as rapidly developing social media opportunities.  We are using Jolly Fish Press, because they know the publication and media industries, and they are up to speed on the best practices in a rapidly changing international book market.

J: I don’t have that clause in my contract. Looks like you slipped up.

BW: You don't? Maybe that's why your book isn't coming out until next year.

J: Now I'm going to cry into my beer.

BW: At least it's green beer.

J: 'Tis the season. So, where can we find you on the net?

Publicist: D. Kirk Cunningham- (

J: You hear that? That's my neighbor's dog. Let's sue!

BW: Can't help you. We've given that up.

J: Useless.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Erin Britt's book saved my life
I met author, blogger and student Erin Britt at the Indiana Extreme Origami Fold-Off & Jalapeño Juggling Competition (god help the people who entered both). I nearly lost a finger to a third degree paper cut folding a foil paleozoic trilobite – so many legs. Erin was a volunteer handing out bandaids at the Red Cross tent.

By the time I got to the front of the line, the blood was ankle deep and they were out of bandages. To save lives, they made due with pages from Erin’s new novella Celia – it was that or certain death. Such nobility and sacrifice deserves more attention so I invited her to the Blog Mansion for a visit.

Johnny: Good to see you again Erin.

Erin: I see you got the stitches out.

J: Yeah, they saved both fingers. Shame about Justin. He was a good man.

E: Those Kusudama Flowers claimed three lives that day.

J: Hard core. Fresca or Diet Coke?

This sucker will take your arm off.
E: Eeew.  Neither. <sings> Fanta, Fanta, don't you wanna?

J: So tell me about Celia. From what I’ve seen of it, it is the bloodiest book ever written.

E: Most of that was your blood.

J: Right. Tell me about it anyway.

E: It's about a woman who pays for the actions of her husband. He keeps making these decisions, but she's the one with all the consequences.  Beyond that, you'll have to read it. It's that kind of story.

J: What gave you the inspiration to write it?

E: It's based on my second marriage.  I've fictionalized it, but I think part of what makes it so powerful (according to other people) and "real" is the fact I've lived that life.

J: How long did it take to write it? Not planning, but pen to paper and all that?

E: This was a semester project for my Advanced Fiction Writing class.  I wrote a chapter a week for ten weeks, so ten weeks,  A year and a half later, I rewrote the last chapter.

J: Is Celia first novel? What else have you written?

E: This is actually my very first attempt at fiction writing.  I've been writing poetry since I was 12, and I think that really shows in the book.  I have a second book I'm working on titled Enraptured, a short story coming out in Through the Eyes of a Storm titled "Blood and Rain" being published through Rainstorm Press, and I'm working on a chapbook of poetry.

J: You’re an English Major like me. What ever possessed you to throw away your life like that?

E: I started out as an Informatics major because I love computers.  My desktop system is an extension of my soul.  But I realized that doing network/server maintenance wasn't how I wanted to spend my life.  Books have been my drug of choice since I first learned to read, so I decided why not?

J: I opened a fast food restaurant with my degree. That’s what I did. What day jobs have you had?

E: Student, mostly.  I've been fortunate enough that I could go to school, for the most part, without having to work at the same time.  If I hadn't had that one unfortunate programming class, I'd be graduating this semester with a 3.8 or higher GPA.  As it is, I'm still graduating with honors.  I do work as a consultant in the campus computer labs and I'm the web mistress for our Creative Writing Club.

J: Celia is listed as General Fiction. What does that mean?

E: It means you can't put my baby in a corner.  Nobody puts Baby in a corner.

J: How does your book fit into the genre? Does it bend it, conform to it, deny it or fold it diagonally, corner to corner?

E: More origami?  Didn't you learn from last time?  I'd like to think Celia expands it.  It looks at a situation no one really talks about, and it shows someone being the "bad guy" based on actions, not on anything else.

J: Is Celia appropriate for younger readers? How’s the subject matter treated? Is there sex and violence in it? Can you describe in minute detail the sex in your book?

E: There is no sex, per se.  There is one seduction scene and sex is contemplated, but it's treated as something real.  You know, like it's a valid part of a marital relationship and went hat goes awry, how does that affect people?  I would not recommend this for ages below 17.  My own children have not read this and I won't be giving it to them anytime soon.  There's nothing gratuitous about it.  It's just an adult topic that I feel is inappropriate for young children to be reading about.

J: do you know any good plastic surgeons? Maybe ones specializing in hand reconstructions?

E: Well, I know a guy who knows a guy who met this other guy once...that's the best I've got, though.

J: All authors draw from what they know. How autobiographical is Celia?

E: Like I said earlier, I've fictionalized some of it, but the book is based on my experiences.

J: What other books, by other, lesser authors than me, are comparable to yours?

E: I don't know, really.  Style-wise, I've always admired Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver. They've influence my writing style.

J: Who, besides me, are your favorite authors?

E: Hold on. You'll need a snack for this.

Erin proceeded to make me a sandwich. It looked like this -->

E: You need to clean your kitchen. I think a dust bunny was giving me the eye. 

J: They almost never bite. Hard.
E:  I grew up reading Nancy Drew.  I loved her.  Then, I just started reading everyone.  Now, I have Sue Grafton, Robert Jordan, George RR Martin, Clive Cussler, J D Robb, Patricia Cornwell, Mercedes Llewellyn, Sidney Sheldon, Anne Bishop, V C Andrews, and Terry Goodkind on my list of favorite authors.  But I still read whatever I can get my hands on.
J: So you live in Indiana huh? What’s that like?

E: It's like playing FarmVille on Facebook.  You're sitting there growing corn and you realize that you could just go outside and do that.

There it is. Indiana in red.
J: I’m always interested to hear how people go from writer to author, having a book to getting it in print. Describe your journey.

E: If I had to describe it in one word, it would be "atypical." I wrote the book for a class, so it was well edited.  I sent the manuscript to one publisher who accepted it.  I'm now expecting an insane amount of rejection for my next book because it was relatively easy to get this book published.

J: How has been your association with your publisher, Rainstorm Press?

E: I'm a first time author, so I wasn't sure what to expect.  This whole thing has been a learning experience for me.

J: Give me your grabber - the blurb that will make fingers bleed and papers melt, er, I mean make people want to read your book:

E: She's gathering up the laundry, and the negligee and thong panties she picks up from the floor aren't hers.

J: What are you working on now?

E: The chapbook of poetry is taking up the bulk of my time currently.  I'm working on it for my publishing class.

J: Where can we find more about you on the web?


J: Does this look infected to you?

E: It's green and smells like death.  You should get that looked at.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

    I read Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony by Lee G. Miller and loved it. It’s the story of, (surprise surprise), the lost first colony of America at Roanoke Virginia. Because Lee Miller is an historian and a clever person she postulates very convincingly a political motivation for the colony’s demise, turning America’s first European adventure and tragedy into an historical whodunnit. It’s a wonderful book and led me to write three outlines for possible novels based on the ideas, characters and situations she introduced me to. Yeah, I like it.
    Miller’s book is not perfect, people who approach it after reading a romance might be disappointed. Readers who just put down a history textbook might also wonder what’s going on. It’s non-fiction written to entertain and I think it succeeds. Miller sifts through thousands of historical sources I doubt the average reader would ever get around to. She adds a bit of logical conjecture, makes her arguments and leaves you knowing more about the time and place than you did before reading her book. It is an enriching book that stays with you.
    If you’re interested in history, early American colonization in particular, this book should already be on your list. If you’re one of those people who think that things just don’t happen in a vacuum, if you’ve ever fashioned a hat out of tin-foil or questioned the official story or lack thereof of anything, you’ll like Miller’s book. If you didn’t know that the Indians cut the underbrush of the forest, leaving only the oldest trees in a shady canopy so high and so nurtured that the first Europeans said they could gallop a horse through it, you’ll like Miller’s book.

I finished Lee Miller’s book a while ago. This is my review I finally posted to Goodreads this morning. Because you are my gentle readers, my cohabitants in the Blog Mansion, let me say a couple more things about this my experience here.

First, there’s this:

Second, after reading Miller’s book I had a question about it. You see, the first military garrison posted at Roanoke nearly starved to death like the first colonists years later at Jamestown. The Roanoke colony, not the garrison, is supposed to have a similar fate. Forgetting that for a second, I had to ask myself, why didn’t the stupid fools go catch a fish? Yep, they didn’t. They sat in their fort and starved. I can understand they didn’t sow crops, they weren’t farmers, but if you were starving, about to eat Sergeant Bruce’s buttocks in a thin stew, you might want to check out the oyster bed just off shore. My son knew the answer, but didn’t tell me because I didn’t ask him. Instead, I asked Lee. G. Miller.

She was not easy to find. I could find no Facebook, Twitter or website address for her. The book is over a decade old and has gone through several publishers. My copy wasn’t the most recent. I had to do it the old fashion way: I wrote a letter and put a stamp on it. I mailed it to her care of her publisher.

It took four months, but I got a reply. My letter had to bounce around publishers and agents I guess before it found her. But it was worth the wait.

Her answer was simple and I should have known. Marcus knew and he’s in 9th grade. They were English soldiers which back then equated to thugs and bullies. They pushed the Indians around and took their food like they had the Irish back home. When the Indians starved because of this, so did they. They were promised food, and that’s that.

There might have been more to the explanation, but I can’t remember it right now and even after reading the letter a couple of times, what I keep taking away from it is how damn cool it was for Lee Miller to write me back. You know when you’re young and you write a fan letter to someone, a fawning thank you for making your life better? That’s pretty much what I sent to Ms. Miller. The question was an excuse to have contact with someone I admired. And it worked. I had butterflies opening the letter, giddiness reading it, and perpetual love after finishing it. I hope she got something out of it too. I’m that kind of guy. It’s one thing to sell a book, read a quick review of it on Goodreads or Amazon (if you dare), but I’d like to think that after the spotlight has moved aside, after the book’s been on the shelves for a dozen years, it is good to hear from a fan. I hope it was. It was good for me.

Writers are sensitive souls, vulnerable to criticism. If we had thick skins we wouldn’t need to bleed on paper, now would we? The loudest, meanest voices, cruelest criticisms and “haters gonna-hate” will always drown out the calm appreciation of a work well done. No book is for everyone. On man’s poison is another man’s meat, but the cook still has feelings.

Take a moment and thank the authors you like. Reach out to them, add an appreciate voice to the mix. Write a review for them. Write them a fan letter. It’s an amazing thing.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Nate Burleigh will kill you... with suspense.

I’m a busy man so when horror writer Nate D. Burleigh showed up at the Blog Mansion for an interview about his chilling book Sustenance. We’d arranged the interview weeks before but I was a little put out because I was in the middle of John Hughes movie marathon. I can’t get enough of the The Breakfast Club, who can?

Johnny: Hey Nate, I thought we said next week.

Nate: We did. Last week.

J: Oh. But hey, uhm. Yeah. Uhm… but Molly Ringwald…!

N: Had a pin up of her in my room when I was growing up. Child of the 80's, what can you do?

J: Okay okay… Tell me about Sustenance, what’s it about? I’ll turn down the TV.

N: If I told you what it was about, that would give away the entire story and it's one of those books that you have to keep reading to try and figure out what's what and who's who.

J: So which on of the Breakfast Clubbers were you most like growing up?

N: That's a trick question if I ever heard one. I'd say I was a conglomeration of all of them. I wrestled, hung out with stoners, played in the Jazz band, and chased girls that were way out of my league.

J: Is that why you set Sustenance in High School in the 80’s? A little payback?

This is Molly Ringwald.*
If you didn't have a crush on her in the 80's
you weren't there.
*She does not appear in SUSTENANCE.**
**Wait... yes she does.
N: Now if that isn't the pot calling the kettle black. I have no clue what that means, but it's a cool burn. So … BURN!! Basically Sustenance is set in the 80's because it's my first novel and most first novels are written about things the writer knows and loves. I grew up in the 80's, I loved 80's slasher flicks and supernatural tales. Ooops. Giving away too much. You must read the book to find out if it's an 80's slasher or supernatural tale. Though, I deem it a Supernatural Thriller.

J: I have to think that High School is the perfect setting for a horror as anyone who lived through it would attest. What special challenges did the setting present to your story?

N: I loved High School, so the setting only had one problem, the characters. Each of my characters is loosely based off of someone I knew in High School. In fact some are even named after the people they are loosely based on. I did however, get these persons permissions to use their names. In fact, I do that in a lot of my short stories. My coworkers get a kick out of reading through my stories to see which one of them gets the Axe, as it were.

J: How much is your protagonist Coert like you? Which member of the Breakfast Club is he?

N: We digress to the previous question. Coert in named after my son, but if you knew me in High School, you would be able to tell right off the bat that the character is loosely based on this guy. So, he is a hodgepodge of each type of click that is represented in The Breakfast Club.

J: The Breakfast Club takes place in southern California. Sustenance takes place in southern Oregon. Do you ever think that California would have been a better setting for your story?

N: Nope. No Southern Oregon, no Sustenance.

J: Some people have thought to put Sustenance in a young adult genre. Others think that it’s too scary for delicate snowflakes. Where do you think it belongs?

N: After further consideration, Sustenance should really be for 14 yrs old and up. I would say it falls into the TV-14 rating. But due to violence and a few sexual situations, it might be R if made into a movie.

J: How much sex and violence is there in your book?

N: There is no sex. There are sexual situations. There is a lot of violence. Blood, guts, and the occasional head roll.

J: What’s the final body count?

N: Ah … ah … ahhhhhh. That's for me to know, and others to read about.

J: What’s your writing process? Do you start with a nightmare or near drug overdose and go from there, or do your stories grow slowly like a fertilized Alien egg in John Hurt’s chest?

N: I sit down and start writing the first thing that comes to mind. With Sustenance, it started as a two page beginning of my autobiography, but holy crap it bored me to tears. After adding a few supernatural beings, it started to take shape.

J: Many people know you from your work as a short story author, how is writing a novel compared to short stories.?

N: I actually wrote my novel right after I got my first short story published. In my mind there really is no difference. Each chapter of my novel has a beginning, middle, and end. Just like my short stories. Therefore, the novel ends up being a string of short stories that are nicely woven together, each with a cliff hanger ending to keep the reader turning the pages.

J: How’d you get started writing?

N: I loved telling my kids stories. Hated reading them, but loved to sit on their beds and weave little intricate stories. Usually starring the child or children to whom I was telling the story. However, these tales somehow turned dark and scary. Not bad enough to warrant editing, but frightening. The kids were great about it. They grew up watching scary movies with Dad. One day I decided to write one of the stories down. Once written, I spoke to my Dad. He belonged to writing community called I submitted this short story for review by the community. The first thing everyone said, was that the story telling hooked them all the way through. However, the writing SPAG (spelling, punctuation, and grammar) were awful. After receiving reviews, I began fixing the story and resubmitting it, learning how to write in the process. After about 20 rewrites, my story “Quilty as Charged” garnered multiple 5 star reviews and people began to urge me to get it published. I submitted it to a free horror e-zine and it was published. So far, everything I have written since that story has been published in one form or another. I guess the success of the first published story told me that I had an untapped gift and I've been writing every day since.

J: Do you own any John Hughes movies, DVD or VHS?

N: Of course we have DVD's of his movies. There are too many to be named, but probably my favorites are The Breakfast Club, and Weird Science, Curly Sue and Ferris Beuller's Day Off are a close second.

J: I’m always curious how writers go from having a book to getting it picked up for publication. Tell me your journey.

N: Ughhh. Do I have to? Hehe. Here's the readers digest condensed version. Boy writes novel. European Independent publisher picks up novel. Publisher goes bankrupt after novel out only six months and has barely any sales as publisher did not know the meaning of the word promotion. In comes Rainstorm Press. Lyle swoops in and lets Authors know he will look at their books. Subbed novel to Rainstorm Press. Novel is republished. There you have it.

J: Besides me, who are your favorite authors?

N: Hmmm … the usual suspects. Double K's (King, Koontz), Ann Rice, Ann McCafrey, JRR Tolkien, Piers Anthony, etc … And some that many don't know. Laurel K. Hamilton and Stephen Gould.

J: Where on the internet can people find you?
TWITTER @natedburleigh
YouTube Book Trailer: <-- this is cool
J: Give me your hook, your grabber, your blurb, make my readers go buy your cool book:

N: In a time when friends, wrestling and graduation should be his top priorities, Coert unlocks a terrible secret about himself, unleashing an ancient evil that threatens to destroy his very existence, but to overcome this evil and save those he loves, he must learn to gain sustenance and harness the power trapped within.

J: You want to stay for Sixteen Candles? I’ll try not to cry at the end.