Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An Interview with Author Ardyth DeBruyn

Buy Your Copy Here!
Today on Unwritten, I've snagged a fantastic writer with two children's fantasy books under her belt--Chosen Sister, with Wild Child Publishing, and the newly released A School For Villains.

Let's all give a big welcome to Ardyth Debruyn! Welcome to Unwritten, Ardyth. Kick off your shoes and tell us a bit about yourself. What's life like when you're not writing?

I have a life other than writing? *tries to find it* Actually, at the moment, my non-writing life is fairly dull.  It mostly consists of things like driving my husband to work, paying bills, and cleaning the kitchen (why is the kitchen always filthy no matter how much you clean it?).  I'm a full time author at the moment, but other things I do and enjoy include teaching children catechism classes, hiking, Polish Paper-cutting, working with seniors, and reading books.

Probably the biggest thing I'm excited about that's not writing related is Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a Montessori-based non-denominational program for teaching young children about Christian spirituality.  The principles of learning involved, a hands on approach that tries to help children explore wonder and prayer, would work with any religion, but I don't know if the method has yet been adapted that way.  That would be rather fascinating.

I see from your website HERE (everyone go join it now), you have a degree in anthropology. The only thing I remember from my one anthropology class at UK was the Yanomamo people of the Amazon. Two questions: Did you study those people? And most importantly, does your education come in handy for your stories?

I did study the Yanomamo people and I've seen several videos about what their lives are like right now.  Unfortunately oil businesses have cut deep into the Amazon, destroying a lot of their native environment.  They're a fascinating society, even as they face modern changes.  They're actually only one of some once rather huge civilizations that lived in the heart of the Amazon, but because things decompose and most of the huge cities were built out of wood, archaeological evidence is scarce.  

For some excellent fiction about the Yanomamo try  "Oxana's Pit" by Ariion Kathleen Brindley.  Or, if you want to learn more about the more complex civilizations that once populated the Amazon, try "The Lost City of Z" a non-fiction account of explorations and studies, by David Grann.

But, back to the interview... A resounding YES to the usefulness of Anthropology in writing fiction, in particularly, fantasy and science fiction.  By having studied so many other cultures and how they work, I have endless material for creating my own societies and worlds, religions, customs, art, even magic (a popular concept in many cultures).  Several anthropologists have become authors and the daughter of one of the founders of modern Anthropology (Alfred Louis Kroeber) is Ursula LeGuin, so there's a large and healthy relationship between speculative fiction and Anthropology.

I didn't know that I was going to be a fantasy author when I first picked Anthropology, but I did discover that fact on my second field study.  I was living in El Paso, studying culture while working at a homeless shelter for immigrants.  I was supposed to spend the year learning Spanish and preparing for applying to grad school... instead, in between working, I wrote two fantasy novels.  It was this that prompted me to set aside grad school and go for being an author instead.   

Now, tell us about your most recent release, A School For Villains. I've started reading it to my girls, and it's fun so far. I love the idea of the "Dark Lord Academy". Where did this idea come from?

 It came out of a combination of reading Harry Potter (which I'm a total fan of) and my discussions about villains with my critique partner A. Merc Rustad.  We both enjoy exploring stereotypes against villains and poking a bit of fun at fantasy cliches.  It felt natural to me to put that together into wondering what a school that tried to create and enforce these cliches might be like.

Written around the same time and exploring some of the same issues about what it means to be a villain, but in a very different short story that I completely love is Merc's own "Hero's Choice," published in Silver Blade magazine.  One of the most exciting things for me about writing, is how two people who both are excited about the same subject can create two completely different but equally entertaining stories exploring it.

Buy it HERE!
 Since inquiring writers want to know--do you have any specific writing routines? For instance, do you have a set schedule? Or have to have music or pretzels or fuzzy bunny slippers on your feet?

I usually start my writing time off with exercise, actually.  The body and the mind are connected, and health matters a great deal towards keep your mind active and productive.  A 20 minute walk and then a healthy breakfast gets my body off to a good start.  Then I write or edit.  After lunch, I take a second walk, usually because by that point I've gotten distracted and the walk again gives me time to ponder what exactly the next step in my project is.  Many of my best ideas were ones I had during my walks.

Another writing related question: Have you had rejections and what would you tell a struggling writer who has yet to get a story accepted?

"A School for Villains" had about 30 rejections before I decided to go indie with it, including one agent rewrite request.  She ultimately passed on the book, but also said a ton of positive things about it.  My advice is be brave, send things out.  Get rejections and see what agents and publishers are saying to you.  I knew I had a good product when my rejections were coming back full of compliments but with comments like "the book is for a limited market," "I don't know the right editors," or "we just bought something too similar to this project."  While it was disappointing, it also is a huge learning experience, and the book would not be as well put together as it is now without that agent critique and suggestions.

My advice is, create a plan for yourself, one that you feel positive and strong about, and stick to it.  My plan was 30 agent rejections, then self-publish.  This plan reflected my goals for the book from the beginning.  Sure, I had moments of doubt when I was tempted to scrap the whole project after some of the rejections, but my plan kept me on track.  Discover what you want, plot how to get there, and go for it.

Prepare thine self for the random question! If you had to enter a competition for the "Most Uselessly Unique Talent," what would your talent be?

Hmm... I can do a pretty good imitation crow call... as loud and obnoxious as the real thing. 

Finally, Ms. Debruyn, would you be so kind as to share an excerpt of your work with us?
From A School For Villains:

Black smoke billowed in the front door. Danny scrambled after Amos, trying not to breathe in the fumes. Coughing, he blinked back tears and waved his hand in front of his face. A large, black carriage sat in the middle of the yard. Amos stood a few yards away from it, gaping. Harnessed to it were four of the strangest looking creatures he had ever seen—their heads and necks were shaped like a horse’s, but their front legs ended in claws and their backs were snakelike, curled beneath them. Large black wings, similar to bat wings, sprung from their shoulders. While impressively disturbing, they didn’t quite look logical. Did they fly the carriage around or slither forward, dragging it? Danny wasn’t sure how that worked.
Dicky pushed past him through the doorway for a better view. “Wow,” he whispered.
A twisted, green-faced man jumped from the driver’s seat—another goblin. He was only about Dicky’s height. His beady eyes fixed on Danny and he grinned, showing off the tips of his fangs. “The Dark Chariot is here at your call.”
Danny’s stomach tightened. “I didn’t call anything. There must be some mistake.”
The goblin’s sneer deepened. “You are Daniel Stronghammer?”
“Y-yes.” The cold morning breeze on his sweaty face made Danny shiver and his leg ached where Dicky had kicked him.
“And you have just performed the recent and preparatory dark act of attacking your brother for a thoughtless, but quite harmless comment?”
“But he deserved it!” Danny didn’t see how he’d done anything special. Brothers punched each other all the time, right? 

Thank you so much for coming to Unwritten, Ardyth! I wish you much success!

Monday, November 28, 2011

An Interview with the Authors of "Spellbound 2011"

Once again, for your bloggy reading pleasure, I offer you a totally random question interview with most of the authors of a recent anthology from Melange Books. Ok, not totally random. Since Christmas is just around the corner, all the questions will relate to the holiday season.

For inquiring readers, Spellbound 2001 is a collection of eight stories from nine authors. I haven't read it yet (but will very soon), so here's the run-down.

Buy it HERE!
Spellbound at Midnight by Isabelle Kane & Audrey Tremaine
In the sultry Big Easy, Viole Godin is hired to restore Magnolia Place, an antebellum mansion which is crumbling under a mysterious curse. Marie Verret and her dangerously attractive grandson, Lucien, believe Viole is the key to ending the curse one magical Halloween night.
Room 1309.5 by John M. Mecom
Inspired by the works of Poe and Stephen King, Room 1309.5 is a story of revenge and despair. It is the author's first story to be published and received honorable mention in the Fifth Annual Writer's Digest Popular Fiction Awards.
Mansion of Nightmares by Walt Trizna
A mysterious mansion, long abandoned, harbors a past that claims those who enter. Then one day, by a stroke of luck, an intruder survives and uncovers its secret.
Ghost Taxi by Joanna Foreman
A man drowns heading for freedom in America, but his ghost is trapped. Washed up on the beach, the ghost is an illegal alien, not allowed to cross the street into Miami. A homeless man and a vacationing tourist search for his wife so the ghost can possess her.
Uncle Vernon by Jenny Twist
There's something very peculiar about Uncle Vernon. Nobody knows what he does in the cellar. But he's quite harmless, really. Isn't he?
Half Seen, Half Hidden by John Steiner
Nine dead. One missing. No suspects and no leads. What happened in the cabin outside Wilson Wyoming? Where and who is Mason Oliver? Deep within ourselves rests a greater mystery. Half Seen, Half Hidden traces the last three days of Mason Oliver and nine hitchhikers. Offering them shelter, Mason takes them to a secluded cabin. There they all sense the others aren't quite the strangers they seemed, and that they hold something extraordinary in common.
Telltale Signs by Tori L Ridgewood
Don't stay in the Dark Lake Museum after sunset! But Kate Elliot has a deadline to meet. Working overtime, she realizes she's not alone in the creepy old mansion...
The Origin of Fear by Tara Fox Hall
Four college friends mount an expedition to Latham's Landing-an abandoned island estate infamous for mysterious deaths-to gather pictures and inspiration for a thesis on the origin of fear.

Let's get on with the show!!!

Isabelle Kane--What is your favorite Christmas movie of all time?

My favorite Christmas movie of all times is A Christmas Story. The movie is completely hysterical. I think that most of us can recall from our childhoods that one gift that we wanted above all others. Whether we actually got it or not doesn't really matter. What does stand out in our memories is the desperate longing for our own "Red Rider Bee Bee Gun." This movie is about how Christmas's very rarely turn out exactly as we want them to. And yet, the holiday is often richer for the mishaps and tribulations. This movie is about family and loving each other despite our idiosyncrasies and quirks, and how those are the very things that make the holiday special.

Mysti: That's my hubby's favorite too. We usually end up catching an "A Christmas Story" marathon on TV while we wrap presents or decorate.

John M. Mecum--Did you ever (or do you still) sneak around the house looking for the hidden Christmas gifts?

I was a slow child and  didn’t realize there were gifts hidden around the house until they were wrapped and under the tree. I did shake the packages in an effort to find out what they held but I never did guess correctly.

Walt Trizna--What's your favorite Christmas candy or dessert?

As far as candy goes, I don’t eat much.  My wife thinks that is abnormal, especially when it comes to chocolate.  For dessert, I am definitely a pie guy. I have never met a pie I didn’t like.

Mysti: While I must question whether someone who dislikes chocolate is normal, I must concur that I also have not met a pie I didn't like!

Joanna Foreman--Is there something you make for your loved ones during the holiday season that they can't wait for?
Joanna's Eclairs!! *drool*

My family and friends have grown to expect éclairs, not only during the holiday season, but anytime we celebrate anything! Birthdays, weddings, baby showers—you name it. My first éclair experience came when I was about eight. I’d spotted the delicacy in a bakery case and asked my mother if she’d buy one for me. I was hooked so we routinely stopped each week for my favorite treat.

The bakery closed and I searched diligently, but every éclair I tasted was lame by comparison, with sickeningly sweet whipped filling and imitation chocolate icing. I thought I’d never experience a “real” éclair again, until one day, when I was looking through my mother-in-law’s cookbook, the recipe jumped out at me! I pulled assorted pots, pans and ingredients from her cupboards and made magic!

I tweaked that original recipe and sold them through a restaurant one year. They always sold out by the end of lunch. I have never grown tired of making them, although the routine is somewhat complicated, but I’ve got it down to a science by now.

I wouldn’t dare show up at a friend’s gathering without éclairs. I chill them after they’re all put together, but they can be eaten at room temperature with the same delicious effect. The one special ingredient is Yanncy Mexican Vanilla. I bought it originally in Texas while on vacation, but that’s miles away so I usually order it online. Email me at joanna@joannaforeman.com for the recipe if you’d like to have it. My website address is:  www.joannaforeman.com

Mysti: Joanna, I think I love you. :) 

Jenny Twist--In your locale in Spain, is Christmas celebrated differently from your homeland in the UK, and if so, how?

I imagine Christmas in England is pretty much the same as in the States. Santa Claus arrives on a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer which lands on the roof, and he comes down the chimney to deliver the presents. Children leave a stocking hanging from the mantlepiece or at the end of their bed and we always used to leave a glass of whisky and a mince pie for Santa. Some people also leave a carrot for Rudolph. Sometimes we could quite clearly see Santa's footprints in the ashes near the fire.

Santa Claus is beginning to make an appearance in Spain. He climbs up a rope to the balcony of your apartment. But traditionally it is the three Kings who bring the children’s presents. In the olden days the children left their shoes outside the bedroom door and the Kings put presents in them. They still come every year to my village on 5th January, Epiphany, which is when the Kings were supposed to have brought gifts to the baby Jesus. In Spain they ride donkeys, not camels. They come riding in procession along the village streets, throwing sweets (candy) to the crowd. At the main square they dismount and sit on the steps. Each King has a helper who finds the right present for each child. If our grandsons are staying with us, we take them to see the Kings and one year as we came away from the village we looked out towards the sea and saw the mountains of Morocco so clearly it was as if they were just a few miles away, rather than on the other side of the Mediterranean.

Mysti: Jenny, your village sounds like such a magical place. I'd love to see it!

John Steiner--What's your favorite outdoor activity when the snow starts to fly?

Embrace! Yeah, it's vague, but the sensation of a really brisk snow storm and the wind preceding it is something that is to be accepted and used to empower oneself. I commute to work on foot regardless of the weather. I've gotten a good handle on knowing what the weather's about to do. A strong wind, slightly elevating temperature, change in humidity and cloud texture tell me I'm about to get a huge dumping on of the white stuff. Yet that sense is so invigorating! I feel the growl in my chest before it's vocalized. The storm is my power. Whether it's bracing against the wind or tromping through deep snows, that I'm prevailing against rough and tumble weather makes me feel intensely alive!
In a twist of the old Hopi Pollen Path saying: Natuture in front of me, and nature behind. Nature to the left of me, and to the right. Nature below me, and that above. I am one with nature. I AM nature.
Mysti: I like the snow and cold much better when I'm watching it from under a warm blanket. But it IS quite fun when I can share a good snowfall with my kids.

Tori L. Ridgewood--What's your favorite Christmas song?

As soon as I thought of that, "Winter Wonderland" popped into my mind.  It's one of the few pieces of holiday music that will not make me cry!  I enjoy most holiday music, though I must confess a preference for novelty songs like "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" and "There's Something Stuck up in the Chimney".  Being Wiccan, I connect to the emotional songs like "O Holy Night" and "Silent Night, Holy Night", but more because they make me remember the lovely holidays when I was little and all was right with the world.  Heck, I cry when I'm watching "A Christmas Story".  

I love singing, though my voice is not very good; I will walk along the road to work, singing along to my iPod or from memory, and usually the first one I belt out at this time of year is "Winter Wonderland".  I love the cover done by Anne Murray, it's usually the one playing in my head when I'm singing or thinking about the tune.  I also love her rendition of "I'll be Home for Christmas".  And then, because I think in connections, my head brings up "Driving Home for Christmas".  

I remember almost peeing myself with laughter when I heard "Jingle Laugh" -- I think that's what it's called, the one with the guy laughing along to Christmas music.  And listening to my dad sing along with "The Mysterious Toy".  Jeff Foxworthy's terrific "Twelve Redneck Days of Christmas" makes me recall going to get a Christmas tree at a farm when I was five or six, and my parents had just bought a copy of "Bob and Doug's Christmas Album".  That's a Canadian classic, I have to say, including their version of Twelve Days, involving beer and doughnuts.  "The Muppets Christmas with John Denver" -- it's not Christmas until I hear Piggy doing her "Christmas is Coming" and freaking out over piggy vs figgy pudding.  And the whole crew of Muppets contributing to the traditional Twelve Days.

And now I have go and dig out my CDs from the bin of decorations.  Talking about the music has made the songs play themselves in my brain.  Just one more, though -- "Greensleeves", covered by Loreena McKinnit.  

Happy Solstice, everyone, in whatever way you celebrate it!

Mysti: Ooo, some of those are new for me. Thanks for the great playlist!

Tara Fox Hall--Are you one of those early or last minute Christmas shoppers?

I am an early Christmas shopper. As of late November, the list is made of gifts to buy, and half are already purchased. The others will be purchased by the end of Black Friday. The only exception is I'm buying copies of an anthology I've contributed to, Wicked Christmas Wishes, and that doesn't publish until 12-4-11, which will make me later than usual in completing my shopping!  But before you hate me too much, hugely in my favor in this is having only a short list of people to buy for. We're talking single digits here, people.

But I am a last minute crafter/sewer, and easily inspired. I guarantee I'll be trying to finish some last minute gift for someone either the night before Christmas...or early the next morning. That's happened now every Christmas I can remember.

Mysti: This year, I'm later than usual, but it's good to know I'm not the only one scrambling at the last minute for those homemade gifts!

Great interview everyone!! Thanks for stopping in, and readers--buy your copy of Spellbound 2011 now, plus look for more holiday inspired posts all month long. And...the 10,000 hit giveaway will be right around the corner as well. Stay tuned!


Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Review of "Shattered Dreams" by Anna James

Buy it now at Sugar&Spice Press!
Natalie and Reed had it all--newlyweds, head over heels in love, and both successful in their careers. Then, an unexpected pregnancy threw a wrench in their lives. Though Reed had warmed up to the thought of the pitter patter of little feet, Natalie wasn't so sure about her feelings, especially when she spent 90% of her time in the bathroom. However, she had just begun to get excited and hopeful when the unexpected occurred. Now, after suffering a miscarriage, Natalie and Reed's relationship is at the breaking point. Add to that some competition for affection from the outside, and things are not looking good for this new marriage.

This is probably my favorite so far of Anna James's Bradford sisters trilogy. Natalie and Reed felt very real to me. Ms. James did an excellent job in bringing them to life on the page. The secondary characters, Natalie and Reed's siblings, added a nice depth and flavor to the story. Far from cardboard "extras", I could tell how supportive they were. The couple's plight to overcome loss and pressures from the outside world was a poignant journey. I flew through the pages, rooting for this couple.

 I recommend this short read for any contemporary romance fans out there!

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Great Christmas Anthology for a Great Cause

I'm thrilled to announce a wonderful new anthology for this holiday season. Christmas Lites began as an idea on a Goodreads group called Creative Reviews. One of those "What if..." things. Then, before we knew it, many people jumped on board to contribute stories, editing time, and cover art. 

Amy Eye, Cambria Hebert, and Jenn Pringle, compiled these short stories (hence the "Lites" in the title) from many different authors, including yours truly. But, the best part is that all proceeds from sales of this book will go to the NCADV - National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Plus, free copies will be made available to our troops overseas through Operation E-Book Drop.

So, please, please, please, pick up a copy or six of this fantastic anthology. Spread the word, share it on Facebook, Twitter, and all over. Your money will help women and children have a safer, brighter future.

BUY now in paperback ($12.99) or E-book ($3.99)
CreateSpace  (**Purchase here to maximize the donation amount**)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Guest Post and Giveaway from my not-so-evil twin...

Otherwise known as Misty Rayburn, who runs a fantastic book review site called The Top Shelf. Like most people worth knowing, I met her on Facebook. We're both a couple of goofballs, so I figured we must be twins separated at birth. To celebrate her website's 1st birthday, she's hopping all around and trading up blog posts. Today, she's taking over Unwritten and I'm sneaking in to rearrange her furniture at The Top Shelf. Be sure to click on her link above to see what mischievous deeds the evil one (me) might be up to.

Misty also has a book giveaway, so pay attention! When you read her post, check out the great book, leave a comment with your e-mail, and if you're lucky, the gods will smite you you will win!

Now, for my not-so-evil twin. Take it away, Misty...

So today is Tuesday and it’s been a really off day.  It’s gloomy and real life needs a pause button, maybe a mute button at least!  I’m sitting here thinking about what to write for this very blog and I realize.. I’m totally sitting on my phone! Ugh hope I didn’t butt dial anybody..  Nope I didn’t.  At least that’s good!

I’ve spent most of my day fighting with a blog post that shouldn’t have been that hard to post.  Sometimes wordpress just doesn’t do what I tell it to! So while I’m fighting with it, I decide to see how many people on my Facebook page I can make “honk”.

So I post “Honk if you ♥ The Top Shelf!”

Nothing will bring a smile to your face quicker.  Honestly! Try it and you’ll see! It’s actually quite comical. 

Most of the things I do are by the seat of the pants like that.  I talked about surprises in an earlier blog.  Where I check my mailbox and find something I remember agreeing to but didn’t write it down.  Well I tend not to plan out anything for too long. 

Misty and Mysti before they were adopted :)
Romance-a-Thon in 2010?  Spur of the moment.

Valentine’s Week E-Book EXPLOSION?  Spur of the moment.

The Spontaneous E-Book Giveaway That’s Going on for No Good Reason?  Well that speaks for itself doesn’t it?

Even this party I only said I was going to do it.  I spent most of the two weeks setting up giveaways and scheduling blog spots for me.  What I talk about at each spot is not even planned.  Just a few ideas popped into my head when I said yes to a few people.

I’m not the planning type.  When I want to do something, I run into it head first.  Not the smartest way to go in but I seem to adapt well enough.  Keeps me on my toes and that’s how I like it.  In general, it keeps things random and fun.  I don’t know what I’m gonna end up doing from one day to the next.  Just a general idea.

In January, I’m teaming up with Jon F. Merz to do what we’re calling “The Month of Lawson”.  All that’s set in stone is I’m going to read and review the whole Lawson series.  Jon says he wants to be on for an interview or a guest blog.  We might get the cast of The Fixer TV series.  It should be a lot of fun.  I’m looking forward to planning that out a bit more with him in December. 

After I finish one of these sporadic off the cuff events, I just think to myself “How in the heck am I going to top that?”  I always find a way.  It usually comes to me a few weeks before the event and the whole thing starts all over again.

 Two copies of Hope for the Holidays by Dana Taylor will go to two lucky commenters. Just leave a comment along with your email addy (like: mystiparker (at) yahoo (dot) com). Misty will notify you ASAP.

And here's the scoop on this heartwarming book:
Raise your spirits with these three stories of hope, family, and a touch of the angelic. During the Great Depression, "Shiny Green Shoes" bring hope to a town down on its luck. A woman caught in a natural disaster changes her priorities through "Refiner's Fire." Los Angeles, 1960--A failing actress is transformed by a little girl and her celestial companions in "Patty's Angels".

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Need Books for 10,000th Hit Giveaway!!

See? They just can't wait!

I'm about 500 hits away from 10,000. I celebrated my 5,000th hit back in June with a huge giveaway. I want to do something very similar with this one. Please see this link to see what my 5,000 hit event was like: 


The way it worked was that authors had a certain number of books available. People would comment and win on a first come, first serve basis. I kept up with all that were given out and crossed a line through when a title was gone. It went VERY smoothly! I sent each author the winner(s) email addy to send their prize. 

Now, for this one, if I get a lot, I'll probably just post them in groups of separate genres, along with title, book cover, and how many are available. Then I'll link it to the blog/website/store where they can go to read a description. 

So...authors, if you want to participate, please send your book titlecover, and blurb (I won't post that if there a lot of books for space reasons), and also a good link so readers can find out more about it. Also, I'll need to know how many copies you can give away and in what format (print, .pdf, .mobi, .prc, etc). 

NEW for this giveaway: If you have any merchandise you'd like to offer (posters, mugs, etc), I can list that too. Just include what and how many in your e-mail. 

***DO NOT send me your book files or merchandise. I'll send all winners to you.*** 

Please put 10,000 Hit Giveaway in the subject line and send me an e-mail to mystiparker@yahoo.com if you want to participate, and thank you in advance! 

As soon as I get that 10,000th hit, I'll launch the event, which means probably in the next couple of months. I'll keep you posted! Feel free to contact me with any questions. 
WARNING: The Care Bears will go feral and resort to  cannibalism if you don't participate!  Not really.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Review of "Guilty as Charged" by Anna James

Buy it HERE!
Nicole Bradford left her dreams behind in NYC when her parents died in a car crash. At only 21, she had to care for her two teenage sisters. Now, six years later, she's holding down two jobs, one at the engineering firm of Paradis and McNamara. Unbeknownst to everyone else, she also works nights as a waitress, but only because of a dark secret from her life in the city that wiped out all the money she'd saved for her sister's tuition.

Enter Max Paradis, partner and brother to Nicole's boss, Reed. He's been living in Saudi Arabia for a while, in part to get away from his own jaded past.

For Max and Nicole, sparks fly instantly, but not necessarily in a good way. Max's heart has been broken before, and he's instantly distrustful of Nicole. The two of them grow closer despite the distrust, but when someone from her past shows up unexpectedly, Max's fears appear to be confirmed. As they prepare for Reed's wedding to Nicole's sister, the two of them will either have to clear the air and forge a future together or part ways and live separate lives.

This contemporary romance from Anna James was a quick and enjoyable read. Pacing was good and kept me turning the pages. Max and Nicole are both strong characters, and the interwoven plot lines with Nicole's sisters and the upcoming wedding added to the complexity and poignancy of the tale. The love scenes are sensual, but not graphic, just enough to make you root for the characters to pull through their obstacles.

Better yet, Nicole's sister Natalie and her new husband Reed appear in the next book of this trilogy, which I plan to read next! I'd recommend Guilty as Charged to any contemporary romance readers out there. Pick up your copy today!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

An Interview with Author John Steiner

Click HERE to visit 
John's Melange Author Page
I'm very happy to have fellow Melange author John Steiner here today! John has two releases with Melange--Squad V (Book One) and "Half Seen, Half Hidden" in the anthology Spellbound 2011

Before we talk about your work, let's talk about the man behind the words. Where do you live and what do you do when you're not writing vampire-killing squadrons or murder mysteries? 

I live in Taylorsville, Utah and work as a tutor in Salt Lake Community College's Learning Center. I also am a huge science geek with avid interests in nature, spaceflight, animal behavior and a number of sciences that all find purpose in my writing.

Now, let's get into Squad V. Here's a bit about it: 
In the decades following the second world war the United States created new agencies and departments to address a wide range of issues including intelligence, emergency response to disaster and disease as well as covert warfare both abroad and domestically. These converge on discovery of a new threat not only to the U.S. but to the fundamental nature of human society and physiology.
Quincy Barns, a former U.S. Army Ranger and CIA paramilitary operative, learns that not only are vampires real but there is a professional combat force trained and equipped to face the threat they pose. Once recruited into Squad Five Quincy faces enemies and inner dilemmas like nothing the hardened veteran can imagine.

Buy it HERE!
Where did the inspiration for this book come from?

Seeing vampires in movies and reading a few novels I often wondered what would tbe scientific basis be. After that, like anything else in the real world, if it's truly transformative to the society there would be a government policy. When deemed a threat for a myriad of reasons there comes the question of how to take them down. "Pacify" them in that covert operations underworld euphemism. John Carpenter's movie, Vampires in 2003 is what really had my wheels turning.

What are the vampires in Squad V like? Do they tend to be hopeless romantics or mindless blood sippers? Or a little of both?

Vampires of old were seen as not only no longer human, but incapable of human qualities. The last of these was Thirty Days of Night a few years ago. Yet most of today's vampire stories portray their emotions and thoughts with motives all too familiar. So I decided that the most terrible aspect of vampires was their humanity. The saying is that sports doesn't build character, rather it reveals character. The same should hold true with a pathogen offering incredible positive qualities, not the least of which being eternal life, vigor and youth. Take away rule of law, consequences within the realm of society and mortal concerns from your average person. Pull back those layers of skin and what might emerge. Particularly if the carrier is someone from a past century with outdated morals and, due to extreme life history, has become survival fixated. These are also the reason for Squad V's policy of absolute pacification.

Did you have to do lots of military research for Squad V and did you enjoy it?

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Most newer stories have it that older vampires are stronger and quicker, and somehow that's why younger vampires and regular people can't beat them. Yet, in the military they teach you that the battlespace can always be changed to tilt your way. So I considered real equipment and tactics with a few alterations that I figured could be handled by the agency's own logistical crews. Sun Tzu would say that any enemy can be beaten regardless. If your opposition is stronger attack him in a way that nullifies their strength. In the case of Squad V the expression of how to kill with a two-man lance is "Stick'n'lift" so that now it's body weight instead. That's something many stories don't catch. Yeah, sure, he can lift a car straight-armed. The center of gravity has now shifted. If the aggressor is faster than you then limit the directions from which he can come at you. He can see in the dark, but you have Aviation Night Vision Systems that let you count the legs of a centipede across the room in near total darkness. They live and hide in the night, but you have UV transmitters and microwave arrays. Bring the sun with you, and take the fight to his home turf.
I find the science of warfare fascinating, and grew intreagued at the possibility of ancient and medieval tactics possibly gaining new life in modern times. Many of the close quarter combat scenes in Squad V I choreographed to be sure they weren't too complicated to work and didn't render operators off balance or unable to quickly counter the unexpected. Also, I enjoy well crafted violence in fiction for two reasons. It lets me get out my own stress harmlessly and offers a chance to teach readers why warfare is a thing to be avoided if possible. Walking the audience through the mind-scarring consequences of witnessing a man burned alive summons up Nietzsche's warning to be careful of slaying monsters lest you become one.

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Tell us a little about "Half Seen, Half Hidden" (from the anthology Spellbound 2011). The first few lines of the blurb read: 
Nine dead. One missing. No suspects and no leads. What happened in the cabin outside Wilson Wyoming? 
This sounds like a chilling murder mystery along the lines of Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians".  How did you come up with this one, and did you find it a challenge to keep it unpredictable? 

The blurb arose spontaneous as I went to the kitchen for coffee. Though slightly less amazing than Tolkien scrawling out his opening line for The Hobbit, it challenged me to draft a story that answered why, despite one person missing, there were no suspects and no leads. The story of greatest influence included PeterCushing and is referenced in Half Seen, Half Hidden. Yet, as much as a mystery, it also musters up a tragedy for the reader to learn who these people are, grow to like them and- oh yeah, nine of these wonderful and fun people die on you. Inevitability could conceivably creep in to illustrate that how they live is as important as how they die. As the tale unfolds I also hope to challenge people with what they think they know.

If you've ever read one of my interviews, you know that a random question is a must. This is yours: If you could erase one day in history, which one would it be, and why?

Given how things are going in the environments of the world I'm tempted to jump back into prehistory. I would seek out that first ape who considered giving up living in trees to eek out a living in the savannahs of Africa. Staving them back with a hand my message, if I could get that across to them, would be, "No, no. Stay in the jungle my friend. Sure, leopards and snakes are mean, and that alpha ape in charge of the troop is a bully, but out here is a path leading to irreversible damage the likes of which you can't imagine. Just turn around and suck it up."

Now, Mr. Steiner, would you please share an excerpt from a published work or even a work-in-progress?

Fire Alive! is a novel I just finished. First is the blurb and after is the scene is where the second of my two main characters is introduced.

Fire. The light by which we tell our stories and mythic tales. It kept the night at bay for hundreds of thousands of years. It guided humanity’s migrations across the globe, and became mankind’s first weapon of mass destruction. 
What if fire developed a mind of its own? 
Fire Alive!
    By initial appearance the twenty three year old wore more than his unfair share of youth, but something about the eyes hinted at emotional aging double the normal rate. Every firefighter needed to be in exceptional shape, yet Duane suspected Malcolm had always been strong and healthy. Even a semi-lax grip on his bag revealed a powerful hold.
    "Malcolm O’Connell, Probationary Firefighter, come with me." Duane said in much less than army sergeant tone, which, if he guessed right, Malcolm anticipated.
    "Sir." the young man cadence also half a notch below his usual.
    "Duane Longhurst," he eluded to a fire station’s less formal atmosphere, as he led the way. "The crew call me Longhand, but stick to Longhurst over the radio."
    Again in the hall Duane took Malcolm upstairs to show him his room and let him drop off his things. "Okay, this is yours for the next two days. Some of the older stations still have barracks rooms lined with bunks like at the Academy, but not this one."
    "One downtown still has a pole, I hear." Malcolm commented absently.
    "We got our share of tradition here." Duane offered feeling a flush of pride in his chest. "I’m going to show you one right now. Come with me."
    Longhand took him down another hall, stopping to reveal closets with cleaning supplies and other housekeeping, past the recreational room with two rows of recliners facing a single entertainment center. In a perpendicular shorter hall Duane and Malcolm went to a door opening up to a double high garage sheltering Station Eight’s ladder truck and engine; the left and right hands of every fire/rescue station.
    The garage’s architecture cut across the station’s 13th South and Main facing corner with tall roll up doors both ways. It allowed a truck to pull in forward and exit likewise to ease departure from and emergence into traffic. Unlike trucks and engines used when Duane joined the department these ran on natural gas instead of diesel using a new generation of high efficiency turbine engines. It created some fuel accessability issues, but stood as a lesser evil than extortionately high fuel prices which increasingly assailed every emergency service until cities around the country decided they had enough.
    Yet before Malcolm could step into the garage Duane stayed him with an index finger pointing to a plaque by the door. On well lacquered and polished oak appeared three photos of firefighters in uniform under which shown brass plates for their names, ranks and the station number. Stamped boldly read their dates of birth to death-in-the-line-of-duty. Longhand gave the kid time to soak in the moment.
    "What we know as firefighters doesn’t come cheaply, Probie. That price was paid by our brothers before us. So every time we go on a call we pay homage to these brethren on our way out. Each one of these men and woman," Duane added a singular for the firefighter he personally knew seven years prior. "Passed by this door to save lives, protect property and serve the community they loved. You understand, son?"
    "Hoo’ah Sir!" Malcolm’s U.S. Army habitual affirmation crept though.
    Duane wondered how long it’d take for him to shake that mind set out, but let it pass as he and Malcolm entered into the garage. Malcolm’s head craned around as he walked by Lana, then hustled a step to utterly quietly, "Hey is she like a stripper you guys hired to welcome me?"
    Glancing briefly to where Malcolm indicated Duane shook his head seriously. "No, she’s your engineer. Bravo seat on Engine Eight."
    "You’re kiddin’ me! She’s hardly a hundred five pounds!" he scoffed incredulously.
    Turning full around and pretending not to notice what went be behind Malcolm Duane countered. "Well then, it’s a good thing she can dead lift over two twenty."
    Malcolm pulled his head back a bit. "‘That a joke?"
    "No probie. It’s not a joke. This is." Duane said flatly taking one huge step back.
    The two male firefighters had been slowly angling up on Malcolm with a huge yellow plastic bucket, while Duane kept his mind on the conversation. Once clear of the splash area they hefted it up and poured it out over the red haired probationary firefighter’s head.
    His muscles locked in an arm spread stiffly arcing back and frozen gasp on his face Malcolm could only mouth silently his protest against the soaking icy cold assailing him.
    The taller of the perpetrators stepped around to beam a grin at his handy work, then pretended to make amends. "Oh sorry probie! We thought your head was on fire!"
    Even Duane let loose a chuckle, though restrained himself from more amid cackling among the gathered audience who all waited for the big introduction to Station Eight. Lana wore a particularly sadistic smirk that Malcolm eventually noticed on turning around.
    Duane approached him again to more firmly grip Malcolm’s wet and chilled hand. "Now you’re part of the crew! Welcome to Station Eight Malcolm!"

As it turns out real firefighters have a more warped and twisted sense of humor, which I strived to include later in the book.

Thanks so much for visiting, John! I wish you much success and hope you can come back again!