Meet RJ Mirabal, Rio Grande’s Author, Retired Teacher, Rider, Musician.

 

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RJ Mirabal, Southwest Contemporary Fantasy author of The Tower of Il Serrohe, a retired award-winning teacher of  Los Lunas High School in New Mexico, is with us today. Former president and rally chairman of the Land of Enchantment BMW Riders, RJ remains active in the club. RJ is a board member of the New Mexico Dulcimer Association which puts on a yearly dulcimer music festival.

 

RJ Mirabal, Southwest Author of The Tower of Il Serrohe

“People tend to put themselves in little groups and the groups come into conflict with each other… I think people from different cultures are a bit suspicious of each other. The clans in the book have some elements of New Mexico, but they are also universal; they could be from any part of the world.”

Hello RJ, thank you so much for visiting. First, congratulations for the accolades from your readers so far. They’re all fascinated by your home the Middle Rio Grande Valley, where you have lived most of your life. Please share this this place with us.

The Middle Rio Grande Valley is located in New Mexico midway on its journey from the Rockies of Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico. The river itself is small in terms of volume, but rather exotic as it works its way through mountains, across deserts, and deep canyons all while nurturing its bosque: a narrow band of mostly cottonwood trees, willow bushes, and countless species of plant and animal life. I grew up along the Rio Grande in the small towns of Peralta and Los Lunas and couldn’t think of any better setting for my writing.

You are a retired teacher of the award-winning Los Lunas High School. Come tell us about this school and your time there.

My life’s work was teaching high school students English, Speech, and Drama in Los Lunas, New Mexico. I enjoyed the challenge of helping students communicate more effectively and explore their world. The difficulty was getting students to appreciate their role in their own education. I was able to succeed some of the time, but I occasionally wonder about those I couldn’t reach. I was active in the National Education Association (NEA) at the local level because teachers have to have an equal voice in the direction of education in America. I was humbled when I earned the NEA-New Mexico Excellence in Education award in 2006 two years before I retired.

That’s wonderful! Congratulations!

And past president and rally chairman of the Land of Enchantment BMW Riders, you’ve remains active in the club. How nice! Share with us your adventures with the club.

Being able to ride throughout this beautiful state, country, and world on a motorcycle is an experience for which I’ll always be grateful. And the people I’ve worked and ridden with are among the best!

After retiting, you have pursued writing and music. Playing the hammered dulcimer is a big interest for you and you’re a board member of the New Mexico Dulcimer Association which puts on a yearly dulcimer music festival. Tell us about playing hammered dulcimer, and the music festival.

Hammer DulcimerThe hammered dulcimer is a rather unique and little known instrument of ancient origins. It has a very charming and exciting sound because, coupled with the singing strings, there’s a strong percussive element that makes playing and listening great fun. Our New Mexico Dulcimer Festival is a wonderful opportunity for many people to learn more and appreciate the beauty of these unique instruments including the mountain dulcimer which is actually a different instrument.

You enjoy exploring New Mexico’s wilderness areas on his four-wheeler and travelling with your wife, Cheryl. When you’re not writing or promoting your book, you explore back roads and wilderness trails throughout the state on your Polaris RZR four-wheeler. Tell us more about the wilderness trails and the four-wheeler. Which one interest you the most? The wilderness or having fun with the car?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABoth the 4wheeler (which is something like a micro-Jeep with a motorcycle engine) and the wilderness are equally attractive. It’s great to get away from civilization and humanity to simply enjoy nature. It’s also fun to go fast, climb hills, and cross difficult terrain. It’s a wonderful blend of the man-made and God-made. Of course, I also believe in preserving the environment and sticking to official trails so wildlife can go about its business without some crazy guy on a Polaris RZR (the brand of 4wheeler I ride) disrupting their day!

What a way to enjoy life! Now tell us about your novel The Tower of Il Serrohe. What compelled you to write this book?

The Tower of Il Serrohe is the result of a lifelong interest in fantasy and fiction stories that have unexpected plot twists. I also wanted to place the story in the landscape of the Southwest where I grew up and now live. It’s fun to find mystery and wonder in the “ordinary” places of our everyday lives. Thus I call it a Southwest contemporary fantasy.

Fantastic! Would you be so kind to tell us about The Tower of Il Serrohe?

Wrenched from a deteriorating lifestyle when his promiscuous wife kicked him out, anti-hero Don Vargas rents a dilapidated casita which – unknown to him, of course – is actually a portal to another world. Vargas takes readers through a dusty portal on a Southwest contemporary fantasy quest into a larger-than-life alternate Rio Grande Valley, where local clanspeople expect him to save them from the wily Soreyes’ mysterious Tower.

Will Don find purpose to his pointless life? Will he find love and friendship in a place he wouldn’t have believed possible? Where will his next beer come from?

The Tower of Il Serrohe front cover final

The Tower of Il Serrohe follows the misadventures of Don Vegas—who reluctantly passes through a portal—on a quest to help the clans of the Valle Abajo, a valley in another dimension that resembles the Rio Grande Valley of present-day New Mexico.

 

Please share your favourite paragraph in this book.

This paragraph ends chapter “fifty two” summing up the nature of Don’s personality and still to be revealed abilities to take on the quest to save the clans of the Valle Abajo. It also makes me laugh visualizing it:

“His (Don’s) departure seemed to create an enormous vacuum in the room. The two clanspeople (Raquela and Nersite) felt this was the closing of a big circle. Don had to be the one to save the Valle. Just look at his heritage and his abilities. That is, in spite of the fact—though they had no word for it—he seemed to be a bit of a prick.”

How long did it take you to write this first volume, RJ?

In total from initial idea and a couple of short stories that gave birth to the much more complex novel it took 30 years to complete this story. Of course, I wasn’t working on it that whole time. I actually spent the last three years writing, editing, and then getting it published by 2012. But the story ideas and my writing style improved over those years. I, of course, read continually taking inspiration and tips from every author I read.

 “The places and the people are fully realized and totally involving, and become friends you want to continue to know.”

How real are your characters?

Some of my characters are obviously fantasy, but based on interesting human peculiarities of most every person I’ve ever met. Even Don, though a regular human, is not based on any one person, but a collection of individuals I’ve known and other characters I’ve encountered in literature. I’ve tried hard to “test” my characters—even the fantasy ones—against reality so that I hope readers will find them believable given the setting and plot I’ve created.

RJ, you have said,  “People tend to put themselves in little groups and the groups come into conflict with each other… I think people from different cultures are a bit suspicious of each other. The clans in the book have some elements of New Mexico, but they are also universal; they could be from any part of the world.” What message would you tell the world? Does this book have an agenda?

The message is: “All of what we perceive to be reality is a function of our perception which is informed by our normal senses and our emotional and philosophical states of being.” And, as always: evil is bad, kindness is good, and love is essential to life.

No big agenda other than entertaining my readers who will share in my imagination as they read the book.

On the sequel, do you accommodate fans’ requests on your sequel?

I’m trying, but I’m taking some risks, too. I can’t be specific because I like readers to be surprised when they read my work. The main thing is that the story continues. I had originally intended this to be a self-contained story, but I’m enjoying the challenge of developing the story and characters further.

Why is this sequel a must-read?

I want readers to learn more about the clanspeople and the evil Soreyes. Plus, I love sharing more about the landscape.

What is the proposed title, RJ? And how did you come up with this title?

The title is: “Extreme Dust Storms May Exist”. This title is a slight variation of a very strange sign near the setting of the novel along the highway past the real Los Lunas (Rio Luna in the book). Dust and dust storms are a constant reality in New Mexico plus the implications of dust and wind play a part in the story. Also there is a key event at the beginning of the story that involves a dust storm.

Right. In Australia it will be a sign of extreme fire danger 🙂 

When is the proposed release date of this sequel? Tell us your latest news.

No idea on a release date. I’m still working on the first draft and haven’t sent it to my publisher to gauge his interest in publishing it. I’m continuing to market and publicize The Tower of Il Serrohe by attending book fairs, signings, presentations to the Southwest Writers (my professional writing association) and doing media interviews like this!

Good luck with your marketing efforts! About writing. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of a good fantasy?

A good fantasy has to take the reader away from the “real world” into a place and events that fascinate, hence the term: fantasy. Yet at the same time, the world and characters of the fantasy story has to be believable and follow its own internal rules and the normal rules of what it means to be a human being. If a character is totally out of the realm of humanity, then we can’t relate and the story loses relevance.

When did you first know you just had to write?

When I was a kid, I used to entertain my friends making up stories as we rode the bus to school and back home. I didn’t know that meant I was to be an author, but that’s where the impulse started. Plus, I’m an only child, so I had to create stories when I played since I didn’t have siblings.

RJ, you said, “When you have a story, once you’ve developed it into a manuscript, get an editor.  No matter how good you think you are, you’re not. Somebody else should look at it who knows what they are doing. You need to have people read what you’ve written, especially people who will be honest.” Now, how did being an English teacher prepare you for criticism?

Being a teacher prepares one  for all kinds of criticism from students, parents, administrators, politicians, media pundits, etc. Since I graded writing for a living, it’s not hard putting myself at the receiving end of criticism. I actually welcome it as long as it’s honest and constructive.

How much do you have in common with your protag?

Few of Don’s major characteristics are shared with me such as alcoholism, constant cynicism, being so out-spoken, etc. It was a great challenge to create and maintain a persona very different from me. However, some of the small ways and things that annoy him annoy me, too. Nersite is most like me in my opinion.

Tell us a bit about who and what matters to you.

My wife, my late parents, and the great family of friends I have are most important. Also, enjoying life and spending most of my time doing what is fulfilling to me. I enjoy some attention, but not a lot. I would like more attention paid to my writing which is what I’m working on now.

Yes, I can see you are a very people person with real interest in those around you. Thank you so much for the wonderful chat, RJ. Best wishes on writing Extreme Dust Storms May Exist!

And readers, I hope you have enjoyed meeting RJ Mirabal. He can be found on  rjmirabal.com  or his current main site rjmirabal.blog.com. Check out the latest news from RJ on Facebook,  Google Plus, and  Goodreads. RJ’s book The Tower of Il Serrohe is available from Amazon.com and  Barnes and Noble . I will let you know when the sequel will be available.

What readers say on The Tower of Il Serrohe:

  • Mirabal does a fine job of capturing the spirit of the Rio Grande Valley and transporting you to a new dimension with likable characters… What a fresh style for fantasy.

  • Man, Mirabal sure has some imagination! … I was able to picture so much of it in my mind, even the house north of Rio Luna. The map was a great idea and helped me with my vision as I read.

  • A fascinating journey to the desserts of New Mexico and the alternate world that parallels it. The whimsical characters remind me of the Hobbit, only with a New Mexico twist. Mirabal’s descriptions of New Mexico sunrises and sunsets are beautiful…The mystery of the other world is carried through to the surprise end, and a satisfying conclusion that stays long after you put the book down.

  • This book creates a solid new world with the feel of the Southwest, and yet with a difference: The alternate world is strange but haunting—and mysterious. Like the protagonist, you sometimes wonder whether it is real or just hallucinatory. But then, when you get to an explanation of sorts—WOW. Totally unexpected and made me rethink—and want to reread it all.

 

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Carnival of Details and Colours

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“The Gallery of Vanished Husbands”

Reviewed by Ia Uaro

Author: Natasha Solomons

Publisher: Plume

ISBN-10: 0142180548: ISBN-13: 978-0142180549

Proposed release: September 2013

Welcome to the carnival of details and colours featuring a massive blend of vanishing husband mystery, post-Holocaust trauma of the Hungarian-Jews, London Jewish community and its woman emancipation, as well as 1960s bohemian painting scene of London. At the heart of the story is Juliet Montague, nee Juliet Greene, portraitists’ model extraordinaire, abandoned wife, worrisome daughter, rebellious Jewess, eccentric mother, remarkable businesswoman—and oh so woman.

Juliet’s life has been documented in canvases since she was a fidgety nine-year old, and we follow the stories behind each canvas from the unintentional sittings for her early portraits through the period when various artists clamour to paint her, until her final portrait at 79-year old by her son. We watch Juliet develops from a flirty teen who doesn’t think twice about playing truant from her father’s factory to become a successful gallery manager.

Daughter of practising Judaism migrants in London, all her life Juliet lives among close-knit strict Chislehurst’s Russian Jewish community which observes religious rituals to the most scrupulous degree; a community that can be caring yet refuses to tolerate or forgive Juliet’s misfortunes, rationales, liberal views and modern life choices.

Juliet disappoints her dad from birth with her audacity of being born a girl when his company is called Greene & Son, having good eyesight when his company produces the best spectacles in London, always being underfoot or getting in everyone’s hair, and marrying a Hungarian stranger instead of a nice Russian boy. Juliet shames the family by her inability to keep her husband, by her disreputable vocation and her non conformity to the Jewish laws. All these give her parents so much hurts because they truly love her.

Masterfully woven and brilliantly structured, this is a women fiction that any literary lover will appreciate. Not only will you forgive the lengthy descriptions, you will savour them. Each evocative sentence drips with witty analogies that made me chuckle, beauty that made my imagination running, and painful truths that ripped at my heart. (When Juliet fretted about what might have happened to her lost portrait, I cried remembering my best drawings that I’d never see again because I’m too scared to find out what’s happened to them.)

More than a clever play of words, this book showcases the author’s soul. The Gallery of Vanished Husbands is peopled with a diverse array of strong characters resulting from Natasha Solomons’ deep understanding of the human faculties, psychology, habits, and insecurities. Her thorough observations of adolescent rebellion, mean kids and bullying, demeaning neighbours, secretive husbands, and genuinely caring parents are all very touching. And with her admirable knowledge in fine arts, her 1960s’ London’s bohemian painting scene is stronger than Victoria Holt’s 1860s Parisian bohemian painting scene in “Daughter of Deceit”.

An enjoyable read.

Meet Wayne Zurl, former police commander, author of Sam Jenkins police mysteries.

 

Author Wayne Zurl is a retired police commander and a Vietnam veteran who writes witty and very realistic police stories, Sam Jenkins mysteries—like an episode of NYPD Blue in the Smoky Mountains. Wayne honors us with an interview today.

Wayne Zurl, US author of Sam Jenkins mysteries—like an episode of NYPD Blue in the Smoky Mountains. “All my novels and all but two novelettes are based on actual incidents—either cases I investigated, supervised, or just knew a lot about. My stories come from real experience, not something I learned after a two-hour lecture at a writer’s conference.”

 

You have led a very interesting life. But first, please tell us about your current home.

Wayne Zurl, author of Police mysteriesI live in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, East Tennessee,  only a few miles from the most visited national park in the United States. It’s also “jest a hoot an’ a holler” from the small fictional city of Prospect where my protagonist, Sam Jenkins, became police chief. The Smokies are full of history and the natives are part of a fiercely independent and hardy group. The landscape is beautiful, the communities unique, and the region deserves character status—just as Raymond Chandler gave to Los Angeles in his Philip Marlowe stories and books, James Lee Burke gives Dave Robicheaux’s Cajun country of southern Louisiana, and Loren D. Estleman gave to Amos Walker’s Detroit.

Your beautiful home sure deserves one! And Sam is quite a character. Now, for thirteen years you were a New York police commander who supervised investigators. Please share with us what you do there.

I spent more than half of my police career serving as the CO of a specialized unit. The nature of these sections makes a supervisor’s life easier than for those who lead the line organizations of any agency. Everyone I worked with was chosen from a pool of volunteers. Everyone wanted to be there, doing that specific job. They were all self-motivated, experienced cops who wanted to investigate complicated and specialized cases. I dealt with the cream from a good crop. All I had to do was coordinate our efforts, offer some advice, check over reports, and make sure morale stayed high. I liked the people I worked with . . . then there was management.

You sure downplay your role, but how lovely to work with such people! You deserved that after serving in Vietnam and in the Reserves. Would you like to talk about Vietnam?

Young people should never be subjected to war. During the Vietnam conflict, the average age of the soldiers I saw serving in that country was between eighteen and nineteen years old. I was an old man—almost twenty-three when I got there on April Fool’s Day of 1969.

I served in a special warfare unit manned by career soldiers and volunteers. Our motto was ‘De Oppresso Libre.’ In English:‘Liberate the Oppressed.’ Unfortunately, most of the Vietnamese people didn’t want us in their country. They didn’t ask to be liberated or see their land occupied by a bunch of foreign soldiers who believed in the domino theory of Communist oppression and domination.

Discussing the ramifications of the Vietnam War could take me more time than I have left on earth.

Yes, I read Trang Sen by Sarah Anne Smith, a book about the Vietnamese and the Americans during that war. What happened on your return from Vietnam?

I returned to the U.S. after my time in Vietnam and a second “hard tour” in South Korea. I landed at McCord Air Base in Washington. The rhododendrons were in bloom. The pines reached way up into the sky and the Seattle-Tacoma region was experiencing a rare period of clear blue skies and sunshine—a beautiful homecoming. I walked from the Air Force facility to the civilian SEA-TAC airport where I would hop on an Army bus and ride to nearby Fort Lewis and the mustering out station.  I wore a set of custom-made khakis, spit-shined jump boots, a jaunty beret, and all the appropriate ribbon bars and silver badges. I thought I looked like the cat’s ass. While marching over the highly buffed terminal floor, I encountered the first two hippie panhandlers I’d ever seen. The male was tall and fat and bearded. The female would have been attractive had she been scrubbed with a push broom. He put down his guitar, lifted his T-shirt, and flashed a hairy stomach at me. She shook her tambourine, gave me the finger, and called me a baby killer. Welcome home, kid.

Here’s an excerpt from A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT and what Sam Jenkins said about his homecoming from the Vietnam War:

I felt similar to how I did after returning from overseas many years before. I spent two hard-tours in East Asia for the Army, one in Vietnam and one in South Korea. Upon my return to the U. S., I possessed little tolerance for the street punk or college student who somehow escaped national service and behaved like they knew something of the world. I believed that only I, and those of my ilk, owned the right to feel worldly or world-weary. We had seen it all and done most everything, or so we thought. But as I grew older, I learned most everyone gets to see and do just a little more.

Before all that, you worked in the fledgling business of computers—when they were seven feet tall. What happened there?

When I started college in 1965, a counselor bamboozled me into taking several courses in computer programming and data processing. He claimed that Sperry-Rand’s UNIVAC machines had been eclipsed by IBM and recommended I get into the business as advancements emerged. Back then, you wrote programs on paper worksheets and key punch operators transcribed each line onto a punch card to become one element of a total program. The older and simpler plug-board accounting machines were programmed by a series of wires telling the machine what to do. Both depended much on logic to instruct the computer. The programming methods I learned linked that logic with orderly common sense. I did well and during school scored a couple of part-time jobs to help provide tuition and gas and pizza money. After I graduated and got married, I found a cushy job at a major university. I wrote programs, but when a system runs well and no one asks to improve what works, there were no programs to write. So, I helped the machine operators run the computers and generate reports, payroll checks, billing statements, and whatever paperwork makes a business go around. That’s where my problems broke water. Operating a data processing machine is boring. My mind wandered. Inevitably, I pushed the wrong button or crossed hands and fed the wrong sequence of cards into the hopper. I was a disaster.

In retrospect, I realize the local draft board breathing down my neck saved me from getting sacked. Uncle Sam sent me a “greetings” letter, but I opted to speed up the inevitable by going into the Army three months early. I left the university a local hero.

I can envision some of that! When I started work in 1986, I wrote numerical programs and typed them into black and green screen of a fat computer. Then the operators run the programs at night time on seven-feet-tall mainframe computers, storing the data in big reels and giving us boxes of velocity rolls or seismic sections in the morning. And now it’s almost paperless! So, you were disenchanted with the IBM/data processing business then. You scrapped reentry into that world after returning from your stint with the Army overseas. You collected unemployment insurance until you were offered the only job compatible with your military background. Would you like to tell us more?

Almost five years later (there were aspects of the Army I liked and stayed a bit longer than my obligatory two years),  I separated from active duty and became one of the unemployed masses. A woman at the New York State Division of Employment asked if I wanted to return to the world of computers. Remembering the seven-foot-tall processing units, eighteen inch “RAMAC” discs, and massive reel-to-reel data drives clicking and ticking away in frigid air-conditioned dust-free rooms and the frantic month-end closing days of reports, reports, and more reports, I mumbled some excuse for not pursuing that career path.

Well,” she said, “based on what you did in the Army, you have no marketable civilian skills, but your military salary allows us to pay you the maximum unemployment benefit of $104.00 a week. Keep a record of the job interviews you go to and report in every Monday.”

FBI advanced firearms school 1977

I faced choices in life. Go back into the Army? I kinda liked the idea, but my wife hated it. To make a few extra bucks to help offset the high cost of New York life, I opted to go into the active reserves. Go back to school on the G.I. Bill? I didn’t know in which direction to go with further education. I decided to follow many indecisive young men from New York when looking for a job: Go into civil service. I could be a cop, a fire fighter, or a garbage man. Smoke gave me a headache and I didn’t want to spend twenty years smelling other people’s refuse. That left being a policeman. I liked the idea of the paramilitary structure, the chances for advancement, and the benefits. So, I took the entrance exams for the three major departments in the Metro New York area.

The results of the test I took on February 24th were published first. I placed number 24 on the list and was hired in the first academy class on April 24th. I found a bookie and played that number in all combinations.

Hahahahaha! You are witty like your character Sam 🙂 Speaking of your many writings, you sure are a very busy and a very happy retiree. Would you be so kind to give readers a one-sentence synopsis of each book? Please share your favourite paragraph in each book.

HEROES & Lovers by Wayne ZurlHeroes & Lovers

Synopsis:

After helping her friend Chief Sam Jenkins with a fraud investigation, a beautiful TV reporter is abducted in Prospect by a deranged fan.

Quote:

I rose up on my knees and unzipped my field jacket. I took it off slowly and dropped it on the floor. In doing so, he saw the holstered Glock hanging on my right hip.

“You have a gun?” He rose up, too, and snapped his pistol directly at my head. “You wanted to kill me.”

He sounded disappointed in me.

A Leprechaun’s Lament

Synopsis:

Records show that a long-term employee at Prospect city hall doesn’t really exist, and then the man is found dead in a Smoky Mountain creek bed, killed assassination style.

Quote:

I think about the little guy often. Murray McGuire looked like a leprechaun. He played darts like a pub champion and drank stout like a soccer star. If you worked for the city of Prospect and found problems with a piece of office equipment, Murray would work tirelessly to remedy your troubles. But after I interviewed him for thirty minutes, I could have cheerfully strangled the little bastard.

A New Prospect by Wayne ZurlA New Prospect

Synopsis:

A retired New York detective finds a job as police chief in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, investigates a grisly homicide with less than a week on the job, and encounters more political corruption than he ever wanted to see.

Quote:

Few people believe me when I speak about my life altering experience at the checkout in Wal-Mart.

How long did it take you to write each of them?

I began writing my first novel, A NEW PROSPECT, in the summer of 2006 with no formal education in creative writing. It took a long time and served as a learning process not only on how to write fiction, but the publishing business in general. When I thought I’d finished, I hired a “book doctor” to evaluate the manuscript and received good news and bad news. The retired editor and author of nine novels told me he liked my main character, the story, and my writing voice, but . . . “It would have been a hit in 1985, but it doesn’t conform to the structure today’s publisher demands.”

So, I jumped through hoops to move chapters around, trim lots of fat, add some necessities, and got it ready to submit.

After a blessing from Dr. Book, I began sending query letters to literary agents. As the answers came trickling back and the rejections piled up, I began to wonder if my deodorant had failed. Then one of those pedantic power brokers who must have had a free afternoon sent a scribbled note saying, “I like the way you write, but a 60-year-old retired NY detective in Tennessee just isn’t trendy. Consider changing your character from a middle-aged police chief to a teen-aged private eye from Orange County.”

I gave up on the agent idea and began writing to any publisher willing to accept submissions directly from an author and accepted the first reasonable contract offered. A NEW PROSPECT was traditionally published in January 2011.

The next two novels came along quicker. I wrote them faster and a new publisher found me posting chapters at an on-line writer’s workshop and offered contracts. A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT was published in April 2012 and HEROES & LOVERS followed in August that year.

Interesting! How real are your characters?

I tell everyone I have more memory than imagination. Most of my characters are based on people I know/knew well. Sometimes they’re composites of multiple personalities. Some are caricatures of brief acquaintances. But they’re all real people. Being able to see these players makes writing dialogue easier. I can hear them—their voices and delivery, so duplicating their speech comes naturally.

I noticed that attention to speech 🙂 Now, how did you come up with the titles?

My first book began life as Murder in the Smokies. Reflecting on that, I didn’t want readers to think this was just another story of a murder investigation. I wanted the book to be more character driven and didn’t want a body by page 3. I woke up at 3 a.m. one morning and said, “A NEW PROSPECT.” A double meaning. A new prospect in life for former Detective Lieutenant Sam Jenkins and a new [city of] Prospect for the residents, gaining an honest and professional cop as their chief. Will Prospect ever be the same?

The second book’s main antagonist is a little redheaded guy named Murray McGuire. He claims parental ties to Ireland, but turns out to have no past and meets a horrible future. A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT seemed appropriate.

I first called HEROES & LOVERS Christmas in the Smokies, which sounded terribly bland. It took me until the end of the book to dream up something I liked better. The final title also has something of an ambiguous and double meaning.

What inspires you the most? 

Remember what I said about more memory than imagination? All my novels and all but two novelettes are based on actual incidents—either cases I investigated, supervised, or just knew a lot about. I’m never sure when or why I’ll get an idea or inspiration for something new, but these old memories surface and with luck I figure out how to twist things a little and transplant them from New York to Tennessee. In GRACELAND ON WHEELS (a soon to be published novelette) I took the New York murder of an old alcoholic who everyone thought to be wealthy and turned it into the killing of an Elvis Presley impersonator. Who knows where that transition came from?

And with your life experiences you have so much more memories to write about! When did you first know you just had to write?

I had been writing non-fiction magazine articles for ten years and woke up one morning feeling burnt out. Around the same time, I started reading Robert B. Parker’s NIGHT PASSAGE, the first Jesse Stone mystery. Parker’s premise was an ex-LAPD detective who became chief in a small Massachusetts town. A mental light bulb popped on. I had been a cop and Parker hadn’t. Why couldn’t I write about a retired New York detective who moved to Tennessee and found a chief’s job? How hard could it be? Refer back to Question #10 and that business about agents.

You’ve achieved so much since then. Who would you say have been the most influential authors in your life? What is it that really strikes you about their work?

I could make a long list of favorite authors, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll choose a few people who give me good reason to hold them in esteem.

Someone gave me a copy of James Lee Burke’s BLACK CHERRY BLUES and started me reading mysteries. I’ll always place Burke on my list of favorites and admit I’ll never be as technically as good as he, because my mind doesn’t work in the directions his does. Burke can describe people, places and events with pure poetry. He can also take you into a character’s head in psychological and philosophical ways that I admire.

I mentioned Robert B. Parker before. I like everything he wrote—Spenser, Jesse Stone, Sonny Randal, and the other non-series novels. His strong point is an easy-going, minimalist style. From him, I’ve gotten the urge to tell my stories in the fewest possible words. He did that quite well. I’m working on it.

I’ve read every piece of fiction and several of the non-fiction books from Joseph Wambaugh. He’s excellent with police procedurals because he’s an ex-cop. He gets the details right and doesn’t pander to expected formulas. His books aren’t for the action junkie who likes the unrealistic, over-the-top, fantasy police novels some best-selling authors peddle.  Joe writes interesting, compelling, and real police stories.

Who gives you the most encouragement?

No doubt about this—my wife. She offers plenty of encouragement, compliments, and a true touch of honesty and reality by saying, “I’d never want you to embarrass yourself. After I read something, I’ll tell you the truth.”

Tell us about your audio books and your experience producing them.

While I was trying to peddle A NEW PROSPECT to a publisher, I wrote shorter novelettes (the accepted definition of a novelette is between 7,500 and 17,500 words) for practice, but encountered problems trying to sell long stories to mainstream mystery magazines who typically want pieces between 3,000 and 5,000 words. Then I ran across a relatively new company called Mind Wings Audio who was looking for stories between 8 and 11 thousand words to produce as audio books (read by professional actors) and simultaneously publish as eBooks. They called them “commuter audio books” or something to listen to other than the same old am/fm station on trips to and from work. They duplicate the old-fashioned one-hour radio programs I remember from the 1940s and 50s. They sell very well and Mind Wings pays royalties faithfully. MP3 downloads far exceed compact discs and eBooks outsell them all. So far they’ve bought nineteen of these short Sam Jenkins mysteries.

 Any writing tips?

What you write should not only be grammatically correct and have all the elements of a well structured story but they should sound good. ALWAYS read your finished product aloud to yourself. It should flow smoothly, have rhythm. If you hit an awkward bump—reword it until it sings to you.

What are you working on right now? Tell us your latest news.

A new full-length novel is under contract and the publisher is doing the first round of edits. Here’s my proposed dust jacket summary for PIGEON RIVER BLUES:

Winter in the Smokies can be a tranquil time of year—unless Sam Jenkins sticks his thumb into the sweet potato pie.

The retired New York detective turned Tennessee police chief is minding his own business one quiet day in February when Mayor Ronnie Shields asks him to act as a bodyguard for a famous country and western star.

C.J. Profitt’s return to her hometown of Prospect receives lots of publicity . . . and threats from a rightwing group calling themselves The Coalition for American Family Values.

The beautiful, publicity seeking Ms. Proffit never fails to capitalize on her abrasive personality by flaunting her alternative lifestyle—a way of living the Coalition hates.

Reluctantly, Jenkins accepts the assignment of keeping C.J. safe while she performs at a charity benefit. But Sam’s job becomes more difficult when the object of his protection refuses to cooperate.

During this misadventure, Sam hires a down-on-his-luck ex-New York detective and finds himself thrown back in time, meeting old Army acquaintances who factor into a complicated plot of attempted murder, the destruction of a Dollywood music hall, and other general insurrection on the “peaceful side of the Smokies.”

Mind Wings has four novelettes on the coming soon list: NOTHING FITZ, THE SWAN TATTOO, ALVIS IS IN THE BUILDING, and GRACELAND ON WHEELS.

And I’m working on revisions of A TOUCH OF MORNING CALM, a novel about Korean organized crime in Tennessee.

How much do you have in common with your protag?

Reality and authenticity of detail mean a lot to me in mysteries or police procedurals. Allowing a reasonable amount of suspension of disbelief is good for any story, but too many bestselling authors insult our intelligence with what they write. I promise, I’ll never expect you to believe that in real life Sam Jenkins would shoot a steel cable from his wristwatch so he can “slide for life” across the gap between two tall buildings and chase a suspect over the rooftops of beautiful downtown Prospect, Tennessee. That’s pure hogwash. So, to bring this much needed authenticity to my stories (and make my writing life easier) I decided that my protagonist would act a lot like me. I can look back on twenty years of being a cop in a busy place and allow Sam to do what I would do and say what I might say. Initially, I thought it would be a chance to take that extra time often not available to a street cop, reason out a foolproof plan, and make everything come out perfect. But that’s not reality and perfect is boring. Sam occasionally acts impulsively and makes mistakes. We share the trait of sometimes lacking the patience necessary to do things safely. I hope readers grit their teeth, say, “Oh, Jenkins, you know better,” and feel the tension.

What are your hobbies apart from writing?

My wife and I travel a lot. With travel comes photography, and it’s a lot more enjoyable to take nature and landscape photos than to capture the nuances of a crime scene or dead body. A couple of years ago, we rekindled an old interest in fishing that had been on hiatus for more than thirty years. And like my protagonist, I have a keen interest in old British sports cars. Sam’s 1967 Austin-Healey 3000 is not a work of fiction.

Cool!

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Sam Jenkins 1967 Austin-Healey 3000.
This series of police stories is full of interest, authenticity, humor, and quirky characters. The protagonist is middle-aged, not an alcoholic, he regards police work as fun, and remains steadfast in the philosophy that politicians should not try to influence a cop.

Tell us a bit about who or what matters to you.

I’ve always had a small family and not many of us are left. So, living a healthy and tranquil life sits high on my priority list. From a writer’s standpoint, before I fall off the perch, I wanted to bring readers a series of police stories full of interest, authenticity, humor, and quirky characters. My protagonist is not your average police/detective hero—he’s middle-aged, not an alcoholic, he regards police work as fun, and remains steadfast in the philosophy that politicians should not try to influence a cop. If nothing else, I hope readers finish a Sam Jenkins mystery and say, “Score one for the old guy.”

What one thing is important for your readers to know about you? Why?

I care how the public looks at the police. I believe that society has the right to expect more from the cops they hire than they might expect from themselves. No civil servant likes to hear a complainant say, “Hey, I pay your salary.” But that statement is true and the paying public deserves 100% professionalism and talent from a good cop. I do my best to make Sam Jenkins adhere to those standards. My stories come from real experience not something I learned after a two hour lecture at a writer’s conference. A combination of two Twitter messages I often use tells people what they can expect: He’s not just another fictional cop. Mysteries told in minimalist style. No BS. Meet Sam Jenkins.

Thank you so much for your time and the very interesting chat, Wayne.  Happy writing and best wishes!

Readers. I trust you have enjoyed meeting Wayne Zurl. Come visit his website and author pages on  Amazon,  B&N, and Mind Wings Audio. Follow Wayne on TwitterFacebookGoodreadsGoogle+.

His most recent novel, HEROES & LOVERS, is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble , and Books-A-Million

Now, here comes my mini review of Wayne’s novellete, Heaven’s Gate

Heaven’s Gate, reviewed by Ia Uaro

Author: Wayne Zurl

ASIN: B00DF9LHEG

Sam Jenkins is the Police Chief of quaint little town Prospect, which is peopled by real and quirky characters of friendly police officers, obnoxious Mayor Ronnie Shields, news-hungry journalists, and obtuse crooks. In Heaven’s Gate, Chief Jenkins goes undercover to buy automatic illegal weapons from a gun show hustler, with the money supplied by  the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The story opens with illegal-firearm trading by Patriots at the Gate, a neo-fascist militia group of genuinely patriotic but sadly misinformed men. Members of this group arm themselves with automatic weapons and military munition in order to defend their American ideals. They must prevent the minorities, women, and Democrats from forcing their ways on society.

 Heaven’s Gate is a short men fiction, which even female readers will be interested in. Here we learn about real police procedural with the right details but Wayne’s minimalist style prevent these details from bogging down the plot. An interesting look into the minds of gun lovers and black-market firearms, in a country where the  number of the annual gun casualties is extremely high.

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Cypher Lx, US Law Enforcer Who Writes Suspenseful Psychological, Paranormal Thrillers

I’ve recently discovered that some book publicists and used-car dealers have one thing in common: their job description necessitates that they praise the merchandise, regardless of what their own personal opinion about this product might be. This makes me very wary when I’m offered books to review—“astounding” books by “incredible” authors.

Let me just make one thing clear: I don’t receive any payment in any forms for the reviews or videos I make. When I praise an author, that’s because I genuinely like what I read; not because I’m obliged to do so. And the reason you don’t find me criticizing an author/book is because I send any constructive review to the publicist/author instead of posting it for the public.

Some authors or readers here may make undisclosed donations to the charities I support, but any praise from me is unsolicited and unconditional.

Okay, recently two masterful authors, Cypher Lx (“Darkest Before Dawn“) and Stuart Land (“Epiphany“), have convinced me to praise books from a genre I rarely read: paranormal. Stuart is busy working a film project in Beijing, but we are honored that Cypher is here for an interview today.

 

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Cypher Lx works full-time in law enforcement, part-time as an alternative model, and has a B.A. degree in Forensic Psychology. When she is not busy with those things, she participates in cowboy action shooting, makes Victorian gowns by hand, reads and writes. She is an avid reader of horror, mystery, and more specifically, vampire and zombie novels.

 

Her novel Darkest Before Dawn is a suspenseful thriller of mystery, action, psychological and paranormal intrigues.

 

 
“I am an author who will write just about anything paranormal, whether it’s vampires, zombies, other supernatural creatures, and anything else that goes bump in the night, with a psychological twist.” ~ Cypher Lx

 

Hello Cypher, thanks so much for coming in. Would you be so kind to give readers a one-sentence synopsis of Darkest Before Dawn? 

Darkest Before Dawn is the strange and twisting journey Elissa Greyfield takes to solve the mysterious disappearance of her sister and how it may tie in with more recent serial killings where the victims are posed as angels in Laurel Hill Cemetery.

What compelled you to write this book?  

I have always been fascinated with large, old cemeteries and the statuary.  Combined with my studies in Forensic Psychology, I thought it would be interesting if a serial killer actually turned his victims into works of art that blended in with their surroundings.  I decided to add a supernatural element to it, which is probably influenced by all the paranormal books and movies that I read and watch.

I can see how your work in law enforcement influenced this story. Would you like to elaborate? 

In law enforcement, you undergo a lot of training, from firearms to handcuffing, and interviewing to investigating.  The thought process in using these elements is as natural for me as it would be for a doctor writing about a medical mystery or a teacher writing about the educational system.

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Tell us about cemeteries and the Goth club. 

 

Laurel Hill Cemetery is a real historic cemetery in Philadelphia, PA.  It covers over 70 acres of land and has many beautiful statues and mausoleums.  It is also an arboretum and is just wonderful to walk through.  The Goth club I used in the story is also a real place, though the Goth nights are no longer held at that venue on a weekly basis.  There are still many Goth events held in Philly and the culture is very “colorful” despite the mostly black attire many people wear.  It’s a very accepting group where age, gender, race, or pretty much anything else has no bearing on you as a person.  As long as you are nice to people there, they will treat you the same.

 

 

 

Your characters are very convincing. How real are they? 

That’s a difficult question.  There are elements in each of my characters that are very real.  Except for the family tragedy, Elissa kind of depicts the rebellious person I was when I was younger.  Like her, I was an art student who later on went into law enforcement.  But I wrote her having much more experience in the career than I ever had to this point.  Sage is probably more like I am now.  Still rebellious, but with a sense of authority and responsibility.  She’s probably one of my favorite characters and has a few surprises coming.  Sean and Michael are different blends of various men that I have encountered in my life.  I have to admit, Sean is probably the most realistic of all my characters.  He’s down to earth with a good mix of humor and protectiveness.

How long did you develop the book to its final state?  

I started writing it in 2009 and published it in early 2011, so a little over a year.

How did you come up with the title? 

Long before I started writing the novel, I worked night security at a chemical facility.  There is an actual phrase that says, “It’s always darkest just before dawn.”  Walking around at night, I realized that it was true and I thought it would make a good book title.  At the time, I was just considering writing a vampire novel, but I didn’t actually start writing in earnest until four years later.

What’s your favourite paragraph in Darkest Before Dawn?

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“Dance with me,” the familiar voice spoke softly in my ear.  His breath was like velvet against my skin and his hand travelled down my arm to my hand, which he raised slowly to drape around his neck.  He pressed his chest closer to my back and I took a shallow breath, my heart pounding as hard as the beat of the song.  Briefly, I wondered how he had crossed the room without me seeing him, but his fingertips sliding down my side to encircle my waist distracted me and I lost the thought completely.  To our left, I caught the sight of Wraith glaring at me, incensed.  I gave him a defiant glance as my dance partner turned me to face him, still holding me intimately close.  Looking into his eyes once again, I felt as though I was losing myself in his gaze.  The lyrics of “The Sinner in Me” seemed to echo in the distance as our sensual dance intensified.  The subtle scent of him only amplified the sensations I was experiencing, and I began to feel a bit lightheaded.  If I had been able to think at all, only one word would have been suitable to describe these feelings.  Euphoria.  My eyes closed as his lips tenderly brushed against my cheek and down my throat.  It was so soft and fleeting that I was unsure if it had happened at all.  The song was nearly over as I felt him release me.  I opened my eyes and he was gone, just as quickly as he had appeared only minutes before.

Thank you Cypher. Now let’s visit its sequel, “The Cold of Night”.

Would you like to give us a one-sentence synopsis of the book?

The Cold of Night is the continuing story from where I left off in Darkest Before Dawn, using Sean’s perspective of losing his partner and trying to cope with that while continuing the murder investigation.

Where do you get your inspiration for this sequel? Did you base the sequel on what readers like from the first book or your own inspiration? 

I purposely left loose ends in the previous novel to continue where I wanted the story to go.  I also couldn’t leave Sean the way I did in the end of the first novel.  There’s a lot more about him in the second one.  I used my own inspiration for the sequel.  If I wrote what people expected to happen instead of what I felt should happen, I think I would be doing a disservice to the reader.

Tell us about these fabulous characters. Which actors would you choose to play them in a movie rendition? 

I always have a problem trying to decide what actors would suit the characters in my books.  One that I can definitely pin down is Elissa.  I could see Molly C. Quinn pulling off the role if she was just a little bit older.  She has the look and if you’re not familiar with who she is, watch the television series Castle.  Sage is so much a part of me that I would have a very difficult time being satisfied with any actress.  Typically, I have mental pictures in my head of what the characters look like that is never based on celebrities.

What sets this one apart from the first book? Is this a repeat or are there new excitements?

I’ve introduced several new characters and revisited others who didn’t get as much face time in the first novel.  Things happen that are hopefully unexpected.  There is a lot more that was only hinted at before, so I hope it’s exciting.

Why is this a must read? 

The characters have evolved and there is much more action.  There are also some questions that are answered, as well as more questions that crop up.

Sample paragraph, please?

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My eyes snapped open and for several moments I stared at the blank ceiling, watching the shadows and waiting for my pulse to slow.  I knew that I had been dreaming, but couldn’t recall the content.  Whatever it had been sparked another anxiety attack.  Stumbling out of bed, I opened the window to let in fresh air.  A sudden chill went down my spine and I felt like I was being watched.  Great, Sean.  Now you’re just being paranoid, I thought.  Until I saw him perched on the fire escape across the way.  Michael Sheridan.  I scrambled for my gun, trying to keep my eye on him at the same time.  I had only glanced away for a split second as I checked to make sure there was a round in the chamber, but that fast he was gone.  And just as quickly, I felt as if a railroad spike had been driven into my skull, dropping me like a rock.  The entire dream in all of its detail slammed into me as if a rubber band had been snapped back into place.

When is the planned release?  Tell us your latest news.

I’ve had to delay the release, I will announce it on my author page.  I also have a new idea for a novel that may very well have some sci-fi overtones.

Good luck with that. Now on writing. When did you first know you just had to write? 

I’ve been writing on and off since middle school.  Mostly just short stories and poetry with a few failed attempts at longer stories that I gave up on.  In 2009, one of my professors asked us what goal we wanted to meet in our lives.  I wanted to write a novel.  Little did I know that we had to share with the entire class.  He encouraged me to pursue that goal and Darkest Before Dawn was dedicated to him.  I now have four complete novels and several more ideas for future works.

Who would you say have been the most influential authors in your life?

What is it that really strikes you about their work?  It sounds so cliché, but Stephen King and Anne Rice.  I started reading King’s books when other girls were reading YA romance about cheerleaders.  He really knows how to dig into the darkest part of the human psyche and bring it to life.  It’s sometimes scarier than the monsters he writes about.  Rice combines the horror and romance of vampirism so artfully that the reader can feel fear and sympathy at the same time.  The Vampire Chronicles was just the start of my Anne Rice reading, but The Mayfair Witches and The Violin are also very good.

What story would you like to share about the joy, challenge, or hardship of writing? 

Writing is a real roller coaster ride for me.  I hate staring at that first blank page wondering how to start.  When I finally jump off, everything starts to flow.  Then I hit those loops where I have to keep going back to make sure I connected everything properly.  Climbing that final big hill, I struggle to find a way to end it satisfactorily.  Then it’s full speed ahead.  There is the anxiety that builds toward that last big drop, because I wonder how people will accept the ending.  Will they be happy?  Will they hate it?  After the ride is over and I publish, there’s almost a sense of disappointment that it’s over.  Then I jump back on and ride again.

Who gives you the most encouragement? Why is that important to you?

My husband and my mother are probably my biggest supporters.  I have other friends and family that support me as well, but they are the most important.  My husband allows me to write for hours on end and will even help me out with parts of the plot that he is knowledgeable about, which is evident toward the end of The Cold of Night when I had to use his military expertise.  My mother reads over my novels before I publish and tells me what sounds right and what doesn’t.  She’s also excellent at catching spelling and grammatical errors that I may have missed.  Above all, she’s my biggest promoter.  She just loves telling everyone that her daughter writes books and will do just about anything for me, including going out in the rain to model for the new cover of Darkest Before Dawn.

You are so fortunate in your supporters!

You lead a very busy life. Would you like to elaborate on who you are when you’re not writing? Please tell us about some unique experiences in law enforcement.

As a female in any kind of law enforcement, it’s more difficult to prove that you’re just as capable as your male counterparts.  I tried to reflect this in the character of Elissa, because I have had situations where the sexist perspective still persists.  While I don’t go overboard with this particular theme, I want the reader to understand where Elissa is coming from in Darkest Before Dawn and how others in the department saw her in The Cold of Night.

I can relate to that! Geophysics was dominated by males:)

f11c7fd6a5030a7e9d9aff.L._V167923710_SY470_ How about being an alternative model?

Becoming an alternative model happened by chance.  I had gone to traditional modeling school and was essentially told that I would never get a job in the field because I wasn’t tall enough, thin enough, or conservative enough.  That was before I had all the tattoos.  Several years ago, I transitioned from the “normal” Goth style to cybergoth and, because it’s not as common in the US, it drew attention.  I was asked to model for the BizR Babes, and I still do from time to time when my schedule allows it.

What you do with your B.A. degree in Forensic Psychology? 

Currently, there isn’t a high demand for careers in Forensic Psychology unless you have a Ph.D.  I’m looking into furthering my education, but for now I mainly use my knowledge in my writing.

And cowboy action shooting?

My husband initially got into cowboy action shooting and after watching, I decided I wanted to participate as well.  It’s an international sport where people dress in period clothing and register under a specific shooting class like Traditional, Gunfighter, or Duelist.  The shooter is timed while shooting for accuracy at interactive metal targets.  Unfortunately, because my work schedule has changed, I haven’t gotten to do it in a while, but if I ever become a full-time writer I will be spending more time doing it again.

What fun! You also make Victorian gowns by hand. How is it?

The short answer is…I can’t work a sewing machine to save my life.  The longer answer?  Victorian ball gowns are beautiful, suit almost any formal event, and are very, very expensive if you buy one already made.  Cowboy action shooting full weekend events tend to have a formal dinner and that started my obsession.  But I have also made them to wear to the Gravediggers’ Ball, which is a fund raising formal dinner Laurel Hill Cemetery holds every year to keep the grounds beautiful through the donations of the patrons.

Would you tell us about your charity drive?

Due to the nature of the plot for my novel Christmas Evil, I have chosen to donate fifty percent of the proceeds of its sales to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

What one thing is important for your readers/audience to know about you? Why?  

The most important thing to me is that my readers enjoy reading my work.  If I have made you laugh, cry, or even hate me for what I’ve done to one of my characters, then I have done my job, because I want my readers to experience the same range of emotions that I have while writing.

Share with us some of your photography work and their story. When and why did you take them? 

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Each of my book covers has an example of my photography.  The original Darkest Before Dawn cover is a photograph of one of the angel statues in Laurel Hill Cemetery.  The newest cover, as well as the cover for The Cold of Night, are also of Laurel Hill.  The models I photographed were digitally added later.  All of the cemetery photographs were taken on rainy nights during an event called Dining Amongst the Dead, where patrons eat a delicious meal at the gatehouse prior to taking a guided stroll along the winding paths.  The cover of Salt Bowl Death is a composition photograph by myself and my husband using us as models and his best friend’s barn as the background.  Christmas Evil’s cover was a fun experiment in photography.  I mixed up fake blood and smashed Christmas ornaments and candy canes just to see what I came up with.  That cover is the result.  More of my photography can be found on my website.  Eventually, I would like to start putting prints up for sale, but I haven’t had the time or finances to make that available yet.

My best wishes on that, Cypher.

Now would you tell us about your home in Pennsylvania?

I live in a pretty typical middle-class neighborhood, I suppose.  My house is a half a twin, which means I can sometimes hear my neighbors.  Most of us have dogs or other pets and grill outside when the weather is warmer.  Generally, we know everyone in our little stretch of houses.  It rains a lot in Pennsylvania.  Sometimes too much for my liking.

Any tips on reading and writing? 

Read a lot and write a lot.  Reading keeps the imagination going and writing only improves over time.

Thank you so much for your time, Cypher. Best wishes for all the books!

Readers, I hope you have enjoyed meeting Cypher. Following is my review of Darkest Before Dawn.

31y1btRXQCLDarkest Before Dawn, reviewed by Ia Uaro

Title: Darkest Before Dawn
Author: Cypher Lx
ISBN: 978-1460963791
There are so many things I want to say about this book. So, I’ll make a list of WHAT I LIKE:

The masterful writing
These days it’s very rare that I can lose myself in whatever I read without analyzing the structure and noticing all kinds of errors. Reading DARKEST BEFORE DAWN however, I was allowed to fully focus on the story and enjoy myself.

The deftly drawn characters
Goth girl with attitude Detective Elissa Greyfield–who is obsessed with dark clothes, frequents Goth club Nocturne, and decorates her room with pictures of cemeteries–joins the Homicide department of Philadelphia Police Department, where nobody can stand or understand her bitterness and strangeness, except the ever loyal and patient Detective Sean Winters, formerly the investigator of her sister’s case. Sean knows what has shaped this girl, and their interaction is precious.
Enter mysterious newcomer Michael Sheridan, who brings suspicion in the protective Sean and rage in former Goth boyfriend Wraith. These characters, Michael and Wraith, are remarkable, but I really can’t be a spoiler here.

The deep mystery
The plot is meticulous. Elissa is the last surviving member of her family, after her sister disappears and is presumed to be brutally murdered. Four years on, as detectives she and Sean investigates a series of murders where the victims are exsanguinated and posed as angels in a cemetery by a psychopath who leaves notes of warning. But who is he warning? How much danger will Elissa’s fearless search for her sister’s bring? Why is someone shadowing her? And who is the mysterious Michael; is he the last gentleman on earth or is he too good to be true? And there are so much more to this book. Expect the unexpected.

The author’s knowledge
The details are amazing. No matter what topic or setting she’s describing, without overdoing anything the author pays scrupulous attention to providing fascinating facts, teaching you either from her thorough researches or from her wealth of experience in the law enforcement and Goth culture.

The uniqueness
This book is first of all a suspenseful mystery, something fans of Kay Hooper will enjoy, but there’s nothing quite like this one. “Darkest Before Dawn” is massive–a wholesome and intriguing blend of deep mystery, murder suspense, psychological thriller, police action, Goth community, family drama, and paranormal adventure. Do not expect your normal fares of these genres though, because Cypher Lx will take you on a journey to where you know not.

This is not good bye
I have mentioned the perfect balance of the book’s structure. Everything is just at the right proportion. But I fell in love with the story and its characters and dreaded the approaching end. I didn’t want it to end! And so I was glad when Cypher announced on the last page that a sequel should arrive soon. Yeay!

WHAT I DON’T LIKE: Nothing.

Perfectly balanced, cleverly written, and stylish, this one is a masterpiece by a talented author who excels in everything that she does.

 

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My Review of “DEAR CAPTAIN, ET AL”

"Dear Captain, et al" by Allan Wilford Howerton. An authentic day-to-day account of infantry combat during WWII

“Dear Captain, et al” by Allan Wilford Howerton. An authentic day-to-day account of infantry combat during WWII

 

A beautiful book about friendships and a study of human behaviour under fire.


Book Title: DEAR CAPTAIN, ET AL: The Agonies and the Ecstasies of War and Memory, a Memoir from World War II
Author: Allan Wilford Howerton

This book was written by one of my very best friends, but I’ll try to be objective here.

“Dear Captain, et al” is a witty, cracking good novel from a modest author who uses amazing factual details such as war records, friends’ notes, and his personal notes and memory that have been diligently and scrupulously researched for accuracy 50 years later. I’d bought “Dear Captain, et al” over a year ago, but only had the chance to read it in May 2013. I wish I’d read it much earlier.

Young Allan Howerton hoped to avoid the conscription for WW II. In 1943 he was studying at Drexel University under the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), which aimed to produce civil engineers and pencil pushers ostensibly to occupy and rebuild Europe after the war was won. On weekends Allan visited his first love sweet Mary in a nearby town, planning that when he would become a lieutenant upon his graduation, to marry her and to whisk her away to live in Europe where he would be commissioned to carry out civil work. Alas, his dreams were dashed when the Army aborted the ASTP in 1944. The compulsory military recruitment age had been lowered, and the deeply disappointed, mad-as-hell ASTP boys were sent to the Army’s training barracks in Claiborne, where none of them wanted to be. Here, brute and merciless officers shaped the unfortunate bunch to become combat soldiers. Several months later, as Company K, they were packed into a train to a destination they knew not, ended up being shipped to the war fronts at the border of Belgium and Germany, clawing in the mud, hiding in miserable foxholes, fighting in the extreme cold, shooting and being shot, most of the time not knowing what was happening or where they would be next, and always, they ended up in a war zone with worse miseries than the previous.

In Company K, circumstances bonded the men together as a troop, and friendships developed between individuals. In the beginning Allan was very interested in the officers’ antics, and later on his focus shifted to friends and their group effort to survive. A very keen observer, he scrutinized various personalities and noted their views and their habits. Allan, who was the loudest snorer, complained when one night his close friend Ceroni kept talking aloud preventing sleep; only to be heartbroken when it turned out to be this friend’s final night alive. Even after 50 years his agony is palpable in his narration. His friends and leaders were important to Allan, yet one by one they became war casualties. His was a gentle soul that hurt inside, even while jokingly referring to the soldiers’ injuries, followed by evacuation to hospitals which freed them from front-lines’ horrors, as their million-dollar wounds.

Since this is a war memoir ~ otherwise known as a series of unfortunate events ~ perhaps it was bad form of me to chuckle from time to time. Yet Allan has a fine sense of humor. Even during the war he rarely failed to notice the funny bits or the bright side of people, places or circumstances, even while grumbling, worrying, commiserating, sympathizing, or shaking in fear. I found myself glued to the pages in interest, engrossed in following detailed day-to-day conditions of the endless war, the actions, Company K’s hard-luck movement, and what actually befell Allan’s comrades. Many brilliant young lives met sickness or untimely end in horrendous ways. Many courageous souls developed amazing personalities, toughness, and various skills to support and to lead their own proficiently. Allan was later promoted to be Company K’s communication sergeant, working close to its commanders in exciting actions, and eventually assisted the last one with his considerable staff knowledge from people-watching.

This is a beautiful book about friendships, a behavioral study of how humans react and cope under fire, and firsthand’s account of how a group of cynical college boys journeyed to become a crack military team.

Allan Howerton is almost 90, one of my favorite people, and is the most remarkable and inspiring oldie I know. I’ve been telling whining young authors to pull their acts together, to stop complaining about having to learn new things, and to copy savvy Allan who is undeterred by changes, adapts accordingly, and never loses his infectious smile. I wish so much that no-one had had to experience or see what Company K had been through, but Dear Captain, et al shows me many elements that had helped to shape my beautiful friend’s ever-advancing mind, his dynamic strides in keeping up with changes, his smiles and his caring attitude towards others. The beginning is always the hardest, but tough times don’t last. You are what you have overcome. Be grateful and kind, everyone you meet may be fighting a psychological battle. Definitely, we, whining younger generations, can learn a thing or two.

 

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ABOUT ALLAN WILFORD HOWERTON

After the war Allan attended the University of Denver earning a B.A. degree in international relations and a M.A. in education plus graduate study in economics. He had a long career as a federal civil servant with the U.S. Civil Service Commission. Later, Allan became a general manager of a cable television channel. He lives with his wife Joan, a Registered Nurse, in Alexandria, Virginia.

Books by Allan:

– “DEAR CAPTAIN, ET AL.: the Agonies and the Ecstasies of War and Memory, a Memoir from World War II” — an authentic day-to-day account of infantry combat written from original source records over a period of several years. Many readers have called it one of the best books of its type to come out of World War II or any war.

– “WAR’S WAKE”—a novel, is a love story set on a university campus (much like the University of Denver) crowded with ex-GIs studying under the GI Bill of Rights in the aftermath of World War II. Against the background of the Communist scare and the ever-darkening shadows of the Cold War, WAR’S WAKE is an enticingly seductive romance about a time which is gone forever. Whimsical, brainy, and fun to read, WAR’S WAKE is also a serious novel about war and its repercussions, time and its mystery, love and its consequences, memory and its caprices, writing and its perils, and death and its regenerations. And there is also a bit about the Communist scare and the Cold War, the debut of the national security state, the manners and mores of the Truman era, as well as reflections about the formative years of the “Greatest Generation” myth.

– “BAPTISTS, BIBLES, AND BOURBON IN THE BARN: the Stories, the Characters, and the Haunting Places of a West (O’MG) Kentucky Childhood.” —a soon-to-be-published book together constitute a trilogy of my life experience through and beyond World War II.

Allan Howerton, one of my favorite people, the most remarkable and inspiring oldie I know.

Allan Howerton, one of my favorite people, the most remarkable and inspiring oldie I know.

 

Watch out for my interview with Allan around the publication of BAPTISTS, BIBLES, AND BOURBON IN THE BARN.

TRANG SEN: Why War Is Never The Right Path Towards Problem Solving

read-tell

 

 

 

My guest today is former U.S. diplomat Sarah-Ann Smith, author of Trang Sen—a love story that puts a human face to the Vietnam War and historical novel capturing the painful suffering of the Vietnamese. I will upload my review of this book at the end of this post, for now I will briefly quote the book blurb to introduce the subject matter.

 

 Overview 

 Trang Sen is the Vietnamese heroine and title character (her name means “White Lotus”) of Sarah-Ann Smith’s acclaimed new novel. War and loss dog the heels of her family, yet Trang Sen is defiant. Rebellious and headstrong even as a child, she struggles to make more of her life than seems possible. As she moves from her parents’ rice farm to the streets and alleys of Saigon, her world opens up. But as new paths become visible, others are shut off.

As much as she loves her brother, Trang Long, she also loves an American diplomat stationed in Saigon. Caught between her own dreams and the needs of her family, between her love for learning and the excitement of war-time Saigon, Trang Sen embarks on a memorable journey that requires heartbreaking choices.

 

 Author’s Bio

 South Carolina native Sarah-Ann Smith’s passion for Asia led to a degree in international relations and Asian studies and to a career in the U.S. diplomatic corps. Her tours of duty took her to Taiwan to study Mandarin Chinese and to the American Consulate in Hong Kong, as well as within the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the U.S. State Department. Smith’s interest in Southeast Asia was originally piqued by encounters with a number of Asian students and their critiques of U.S. policy at the height of the Vietnam War. Her professional and personal focus on Asian political and cultural life led her to write about it in fictional form in this, her first novel.

Smith’s life after the Foreign Service has focused on writing and teaching. In addition to Trang Sen, she has published numerous op-ed pieces and has taught China- and Southeast Asia-related courses at universities in Maryland and North and South Carolina. After leaving the State Department she moved to Asheville, N.C. for fourteen years, and now lives in Spartanburg, S.C.

 

And now, on to our interview.

 

Sarah-Ann Smith, former U.S. diplomat, author of historical novel Trang Sen. What matter to her: “Justice, reconciliation among peoples, living in harmony with others and with our physical world, equal sharing of resources across ethnic, economic, geographical lines. I think fiction and film often are the best ways to understand a culture different from one’s own.”

Sarah-Ann Smith, former U.S. diplomat, author of historical novel Trang Sen. What matter to her: “Justice, reconciliation among peoples, living in harmony with others and with our physical world, equal sharing of resources across ethnic, economic, geographical lines. I think fiction and film often are the best ways to understand a culture different from one’s own.”

 

Hello Sarah-Ann . I could relate so much to what you have written in this book. I feel humbled and it was a pleasure and an honour to review your beautiful work. Thank you for agreeing to this interview.

Would you be so kind to give readers a one-sentence synopsis of Trang Sen?

Trang Sen is the story of a young Vietnamese woman seeking her own identity and destiny amidst the terrible circumstances of the Vietnam War.

Several of your deftly drawn characters fit the people I knew. How real are these characters?

None of the characters are based on actual people, though the circumstances of their lives are drawn from reality.

“Years of professional and personal focus on Asian political and cultural life impelled you to write Trang Sen”. Who or what inspired you to write this book? When did you first know you just had to write Trang Sen?

My first assignment as a diplomat was in the State Department’s Indochina section during the final two years of the Vietnam War, 1973—1975. In that capacity, I watched almost firsthand the unwinding of that war and the lives — Vietnamese and American — which were uprooted in that conflict and its aftermath. It was several years later, in the early 1980s, that I often watched the comings and goings of Vietnamese immigrants in an area outside Washington, D.C., where many had settled, and knew I was going to write a story about them.

It is very detailed and meticulously written. How long did it take you to write the book?

I began the first draft in the mid-1980s, and worked on it periodically. Many things intervened, mostly personal issues such as the final illness and death of my parents. About six years ago, the book was complete, and Andrew Reed, editor-in-chief of Pisgah Press, helped me polish it into final form.

How did you come up with the title?

I’m not very good at titles, slogans, catch words. I struggled to find a good phrase that could be used as a title, among other things scanning The Tale of Kieu in hopes something would appeal. Nothing did, and finally I decided simply to go with the name of the main character.

What is your favorite line in the book? (or paragraph)

My goodness, this is difficult. I find myself torn between rather amusing lines, such as the one in chapter 12 when the manager of the Roy Rogers fast-food restaurant instructs Trang Sen to say “Howdy, partner” and “Happy trails” to the customers, the meaning of which she of course has no clue. On the other hand, I still find this sentence from chapter 6 quite beautiful – “Unaccountably, a bougainvillea still bloomed there, its dark branches etched in shadow on a broken wall.”

Yes! I like those parts too. There are many poignant moments as in chapter 6 is very moving. And that chapter 12 is really funny. Word choices can be funny too. I’ll tell you what happened once when I took my children back to Indonesia, and they could only speak English. After a week travelling, our 10-year-old son boasted, “I know the word for ‘toilet’: it’s ‘wanita’!” I had to laugh, “You’ve been using the wrong washroom!”— because ‘wanita’ actually means ‘ladies’ 🙂

Back to you. Who would you say have been the most influential authors in your life? What is it that really strikes you about their work?

Three, quite different from each other, come to mind. Ursula K. LeGuin, for the way a turn of phrase paints a vivid picture. For example, “On soft sand by the sea’s edge a little boy walked leaving no footprints.” That sentence, with its simple words and lack of commas, immediately conveys to the reader that we are in another dimension. Jane Austen, for her amazing insight into the psychological sources of her characters’ actions and choices. And, finally, Yasunari Kawabata, for the utter simplicity of his style.

I loved Yasunari Kawabata!  Will check out the others.

Now, after the Foreign Service you have focused on writing and teaching. What story would you like to share about the joy, challenge, or hardship of writing?

I love writing. It is a joy always to be composing something, whether fiction, political analysis, whatever. Really, the only hardship is the difficulty of finding time to do as much of it as I would like. As for the challenge, specifically in relation to Trang Sen, it was finding the good way to get it published and in front of readers, which I definitely did finally find in Pisgah Press. A lot of the difficulty for first-time, unknown authors in general has to do with the conglomerate, sharply business-oriented approach of American publishing.

Who gives you the most encouragement? Why is that important to you?

At the top of the list is Andrew Reed, my editor and publisher. Since Trang Sen has been published, the universally positive reaction of readers has been both gratifying and humbling. How could I have managed to come up with a book that is garnering so much praise?

What are you working on right now? Tell us your latest news.

Well, right now my time and energy has been taken up with publicizing Trang Sen. I do hope and plan to write a memoir in the form of reflective essays. I’ve met with a number of book clubs who have read Trang Sen, and the question of a sequel invariably comes up. I have no plans for such, but I find intriguing the comment of one reader, who found herself wondering about Laura, the wife of the attaché who becomes involved with Trang Sen. I didn’t deal with her in the book at all. I can’t imagine a sequel that fills in details of the characters I did write about, but it might be fun to write about Laura. 

Or heartbreaking! You must be very strong to stand the bleeding of the writing process.
How much do you have in common with your protag?

It seems to me that any writer has something in common with all her characters. In some ways I am like each on of them. I do not identify any more with Trang Sen than with any of the others, except that I know from my own experience how important it is for any young woman to try to figure out how to make her way in the world. When I was a young woman it was much rarer for a woman to enter the diplomatic service; the hurdles Trang Sen had to overcome included the traditional assumptions of what a village girl could and should do and the difficulty of access to an education.

“Friendships with a number of Asian students piqued your interest in Southeast Asia”. Care to elaborate? What makes you so deeply empathetic towards others’ plight?

I seem always to have had an affinity with Asians — Chinese, Japanese, Southeast Asians. Despite the cultural differences across that vast region, there is something about its many peoples that resonates with me. As a graduate student and as a teacher, as well as in my diplomatic career, that affinity has often seemed to work the other way as well, so that individuals from that part of the world have gravitated toward me. More generally, whatever empathy seems to have been part of who I am from as early as I can remember. I really don’t know where that came from. Perhaps part of it was from the example of my parents, who often befriended those that others in the tradition-bound southern American society shunned.

Do you have an unforgettable experience about adjusting to living in a foreign country, learning the local culture and using the local language for the first time?

The unforgettable experience is really how easy it was, in terms of lifestyle, cultural patterns and habits. I did have difficulty becoming fluent in Chinese. The first few months of living in Taiwan were frustrating because of that. I often found myself coming out with French when I meant to be speaking Chinese. Much later, it was the other way around. Traveling in francophone Quebec, I would find myself speaking Chinese when I meant to be stumbling along in French.

Would you like to share your favorite thing from lessons learnt in the East?

I suppose the best thing I learned from my years in Asia, among Asians, was to be silent, to wait to hear what people might say to me, not to fill the lulls in conversation with my own chatter.

You wrote, “Trang Sen is not intended as a historical account of the Vietnam War.” But you show readers a vivid portrait of Saigon during the maelstrom of the war that is sure to move many hearts. I think this book should become a recommended read in high school because it has the potential to encourage diplomatic solutions and prevent more wars. In your opinion, what is the best solution to international conflict?

First, I want to say that the feedback from readers has demonstrated that whatever I intended, Trang Sen is to many of them a book that illuminates for them that time and place that was wartime Saigon. The best solution to international conflict? Negotiation, negotiation, negotiation. Listening, listening, listening, trying to understand the other’s point of view. With very rare exceptions, war solves nothing. Certainly, the most recent wars, from Vietnam to Afghanistan, have caused much suffering, upheaval and death, with little, if anything, accomplished by them. 

Tell us a bit about who or/and what matters to you.

Justice, reconciliation among peoples, living in harmony with others and with our physical world, equal sharing of resources across ethnic, economic, geographical lines.

What one thing is important for your readers/audience to know about you? Why?

I taught several courses about China during and just after the cultural revolution, using Chinese films and fiction of the 1980s for insight into how those events impacted individuals in China. I also used fiction and films in courses I taught on Southeast Asia. I think fiction and film often are the best ways to understand a culture different from one’s own.

What are your hobbies?

Cooking, especially Chinese; films, especially foreign; figure skating as an observer.

Thank you so much for the chat Sarah-Ann. Best wishes for Trang Sen!

Readers, I hope you have enjoyed the interview with Sarah-Ann. Grab your copy of her book, highly recommended. Check out my review here:

 

Trang Sen by Sarah-Ann Smith: a human face on Vietnam war, a love story and historical novel capturing the painful suffering of the Vietnamese.

Trang Sen by Sarah-Ann Smith: a human face on Vietnam war, a love story and historical novel capturing the painful suffering of the Vietnamese.

 

Why War Is Never The Right Path Towards Problem Solving

TRANG SEN, Reviewed by Ia Uaro

of http://www.sydneyssong.net/ and  BookPleasures.com 

This is the story of Trang Sen, or “white lotus”, a brave and brilliant Vietnamese girl who had to grow up during the Vietnam War. Masterfully written by a diplomat who has extensive experience and knowledge of the cultures, the settings and human psychology, the book follows Trang Sen’s journey from her first encounter with an American when she was a child in a Vietnamese village in 1957, her teen years in the alleys of Saigon as the war raged, her coming-of-age and love life as the war worsened, to her life in the late 70s after the U.S. army pullout from Vietnam.

Trinh Trang Sen is different from all other children in her village. She dreams to be allowed to work the fields with the buffalo like the boys do instead of doing a girl’s chores. She dreams to read books and get proper education like amazing Eldest Brother who is away in a university in France. She dreams to ride an elephant and lead her people like her country’s proud queens of old.

Before she knows it, her first dream is granted. Not as she wished it though, but because Second Brother and Third Brother must go to the war, and help her parents she must. She toils in the fields in great hardship in the following years, miserable despite being a successful plough-woman.

When refined Eldest Brother comes home from France, Trang Sen’s dream to study is granted too and she moves to a convent school in Saigon. She still studies even when the war eventually necessitates that she look after her remaining family members. Trang Sen is so smart that she wins further scholarship—they are making plans for her to attend a university in France when love happens.

U.S. officer Arthur Billings cannot forget the very beautiful girl he once met deep in a humble Saigon market where local refugees dwell. When they meet again, he is determined not to let her go. Alas, unlike the tea-girls who live at the beck and call of the foreigners, Trang Sen is not your average peasant girl. She is respectable, principled, proud and has set her sight for higher education. What can he offer her in the war-torn Saigon, to change her mind about going to France? 

Trinh Van Long has returned home from his beloved Paris to do his duties to his family and his country. The war has torn the land, destroyed villages, displaced families and divided his people. While the American army in Vietnam is guaranteed supplies for their living, the hapless Vietnamese suffer abject poverty and being ruled by foreigners who don’t understand them. Long has secrets and blood in his hands, and if in the middle of all this chaos and heartaches one good thing could be salvaged, it is First Sister, the beautiful and intelligent Trang Sen who has worked so hard for her studies while looking after the family. Long contrives to get her to Paris, because only there can she be safe and indulge in her dream of intellectual pursuit. He owes her that.

Caught in the maelstrom of the war in fears and hopes, what choices will Trang Sen make? She alone will have to live with the consequences. 

Trang Sen is the kind of those very rare books that grab your attention from the first paragraphs, take you on a journey to where you knew not, entertain you, educate you, make you care about the people and the topics visited, and then leave you reeling, stunned, and you emerge at the other end thinking, looking back, and thinking again—because the author has changed your understanding forever. The characters are very human and the events flow naturally that reading this book I found myself looking at the cover again and again, staring at the words “A Novel”, because the author has the skills to connect readers to her characters and make the story feels very real.

Sarah-Ann Smith opens Trang Sen with the legend of the brave queens of Vietnam and proceeds to show us the portrait of a beautiful land teeming with lives, in vivid colours that we can see, sounds that we can hear, along with scents, tastes and texture. Not only does she introduce us to the exotic culture and habits of the attractive locals, she delves deep into their fascinating minds with intriguing insights —expertly with the skills that reminds me of the long ago Pulitzer award winner Pearl S. Buck, whose work once upon a time I read when, as a charity case, I learned the English language in a Catholic high school eerily similar to the one Trang Sen attended.

That is before Sarah-Ann empathically touches the issue of the war, which scenes remind me of Sartre. She opens our eyes to what it was really like out there. I had followed the Vietnam War as it was all over my mother’s newspaper when I was learning to read, and I followed their plight in the aftermath when thousands of refugees were stranded in the islands off Sumatra where they had to wait for so many years in limbo before finding new homes. I remember they were viewed as burdens and treated with hostility. I don’t remember anyone writing anything close to Trang Sen then, but I wish there had been because this book certainly opens eyes and powerfully evokes compassion.

That war is over but others are still raging. I would like people to read this book. Trang Sen is an excellent read for high school students, all other young people, and all adults who have the power to make a difference, because this book clearly shows why a war is never the right path towards problem solving, achieving peace, or preserving human dignity. Love for all, hatred for none.

 

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Meet Carlyle Labuschagne, author of Young Adult urban fantasy.

Read & Tell

 

 

 

 

My guest today is urban-fantasy author Carlyle Labuschagne, a firm believer in YA saves!  This South African PR and Marketing Manager holds a diploma in creative writing through the writing school at Collage SA.

 

Carlyle Labuschagne, South African author of urban-fantasy novel The Broken Destiny, voted #3 in Goodreads Debut list 2012

Carlyle Labuschagne, South African author of Young Adult urban-fantasy:
” My goal as an author is to touch people’s lives
and help others love their differences and one another.”

 

Carlyle is working her way into the hearts of international readers. Her debut novel “The Broken Destiny” was voted #3 on the Goodreads Debut list for 2012. Today, she has agreed to chat with me about its sequel, which is due to be released later this year .

Before we start, let’s visit the first novel for a bit to help readers who are yet unfamiliar with The Broken series.

 

Book One in The Broken series: The Broken Destiny 

Prologue

All my life, I had searched for something, something I thought I ought to be. I felt like I was living someone else’s life, waiting for the awakening of my own. I felt like an empty shell burning for life. That was, until the day I lay dying in the prince’s chambers. I could no longer feel the pain from the tear in my gut. The only sensation left was a hollowed-out feeling that I had made a huge mistake in assuming that taking my own life, would have stopped the ancestors’ spirit from raging out. I had given up. I didn’t want to see myself killing the ones I loved. I was the Chosen one, but I threw it all away for what I thought would save a life. Could you end a life to save a life? I did, and I have regretted it ever since. I realized then that things like me are not meant to exist. What had been missing my whole life? It was I. To find myself, I had to lose myself in the worst possible way. The consequences of my actions became the legend of The Broken.

 

The Broken Destiny , YA novel by Carlyle Labuschange, South African urban-fantasy author. This is the first book in The Broken series. "The Broken" is genetically enhanced human race. They live with other races in planet Poseidon after the destruction of the earth.

The Broken Destiny, urban-fantasy YA novel
by South African author Carlyle Labuschange. This first book in The Broken series was voted #3 in Goodreads Debut list 2012 .
“The Broken” is genetically enhanced human race. They live with other races in planet Poseidon after the destruction of the earth.

 

The Setting

Poseidon, a complex dystopian planet where humans migrate to after the earth was destroyed. Beautiful, mysterious, exotic. The Council rules Poseidon’s inhabitants the humans, Minoans, and Zulus races.

 

Blurb

“The Broken” is a race of genetically enhanced humans. 16-year-old Ava, third generation of The Broken, knows much more, and feels much more than she is allowed to. When she starts questioning her origins and the destruction of Earth, things go horribly wrong for her. She is saved by a Minoan boy from an attempted kidnapping on her life–the perpetrators are evil Zulus and their dark ancient magic. Humans and Minoans are forbidden to interact with each other, and as she is taken back to their village she finds out why–they know of her, her kind and her destiny to save a dying race. Ava must rid them from the Council’s ruling and free the galaxy of The Shadow. Her destiny is to rise above the fall, because within her soul is the key to an archaic weapon that has been missing in the mix of a genetic code since the time of the ancients. As the prophecy unfolds she learns of her bloodline–a bloodline that makes her less human than she could ever have imagined. She alone has the power to destroy or save, but the mind-shift is a horrible thing. Ava will become what she hates to save the ones she loves. Beaten, poisoned, possessed and betrayed by her own emotions, she has no choice but to rise above it all… for that is her Destiny. 

 

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16-year-old Ava discovers her destiny is to save a dying race.
Beaten, poisoned, possessed —and betrayed by her own emotions,
she has no choice but to rise above it all.

 

Now let’s meet the fabulous author and check out the sequel.

Hello Carlyle, thank you for stopping by. What is the book title of Book Two?

Evanescent A Broken Novel

Would you please give our readers a one-sentence synopsis of Evanescent?

Her fall has just begun and only HIS touch can save her from the mind-shift that could destroy it all.

Where do you get your inspiration for this sequel? Did you base the sequel on what readers like from the first book or your own inspiration? 

I knew with my first book it was going to be a series. Sequel is a bit of what my imagination had in mind for me and a dash of what my readers liked from book one.

Tell us about the characters. Which actors would you choose to play these characters in a movie rendition?

I have a vast cast, form Zulu’s to Ancient Minoans and then the genetically enhanced kind. Please visit my Pinterest board.

What sets Evanescent apart from your first book? Is this a repeat or are there new excitements?

This book is very very different from book one. Its an entire new world!

Why is this a must read?
I’ve incorporated so many hard hitting issues that teenagers and most people crave for closure, I just did it in a creative way:

-Love in all its forms. Of one’s self , the good and the bad.

-Differences between races and people.

-The journey, the struggle, anger, betrayal, disappointment, rape, suicide, murder.

-Of believing in one’s self.

-Fighting to make your own destiny.

Sample paragraph, please?

It had been written many times over, been portrayed in so many Earth movies. Those flashes that pass through you before you die. But to me, it was not my life I was leaving behind, it was the choices I had made which had brought me to this moment, the moment before the reckoning. The shift had caused a rift within me. When the first blood-shift came, it tore through flesh and blood, threatening to bend me, break bone, shatter my mind and entrap my heart with its honeyed seductive poison. It came with vicious intent, moving my thoughts, altering me forever. It had many ways out, and when it was released, there was nothing that could stop it. No one was safe when it entrapped me in its claws of foul lust. Crooked, damnable, depraved, destructive, hideous – your kind would call it many things. In my blood, runs the thing our kind call The Shadowing disease. It shadows over, and turns everything to its will. I, however, had the only antidote against the evil that becomes me – his touch alone has the power to release the spurs of a sweet darkness that clung on for dear life. I knew what I had to do; the desperation pulled my mind with the deep determination of a hungry predator. But, by the time the revelation lifted me from the dark dungeon of our bounds – it was too late.

When is the planned release?

Evanescent due for release late 2013 – between Oct and Nov.

And we’ll be looking forward to Evanescent. Now, would you like to share a bit about yourself? What are your hobbies?

I love to swim, fights for the trees, and I’m a food lover who is driven by passion. I also write for IU e-magazine—an inspirational non-profit magazine that aims at inspiring the world through words.

What matters the most to you?

The drive behind my author career is healing through words. My goal as an author is to touch people’s lives and help others love their differences and one another.

Very commendable, Carlyle, my best wishes on that.

Want to share your latest news?

Latest news: The Broken Destiny just hit the local bookstores!

Congratulations! Good luck for The Broken Destiny, and thank you so much for visiting Carlyle—keep in touch!

Readers, I hope you have enjoyed meeting Carlyle. Follow her on Twitter @CarlyleL , Goodreads, Facebook, and check out her website, blog and book trailer. Her book The Broken Destiny is available from Amazon and Barnes and Nobles.

And of course, here’s my review of the first book:

 

The Broken Destiny, reviewed by Ia Uaro

 

Author: Carlyle Labuschagne

ISBN: 978-1612048727 (paperback),  ASIN: B009I3TE9S (eBook)

 

“The Broken” is a race of genetically enhanced humans, survivors of the destroyed earth who have migrated to Poseidon, an exotic dystopian planet. Three races cohabit this new planet: the Broken (humans), the Minoans, the Zulus—but strict apartheid segregation rules forbid them to interact. Poseidon is ruled by The Council. It is here 16-year-old Ava, third generation of The Broken, questions her existence, challenges the boundaries and gets into trouble.

Meanwhile some evil Zulus want to take over the planet for sinister purposes and they want Ava because she alone has the key to save the planet—whether she is willing or not. Ava learns more about herself after being abducted by the Zulus and saved by the Minoans. Apparently, she is The Chosen One. She has been predestined to be the planet’s Savior.

And her path isn’t easy. It involves internal and external struggles—and boys and black magic and various dangers. Dealing with these complex issues, the headstrong girl reluctantly journeys from being a self-absorbed teen to become a responsible savior. Yeah, this part reminds me of a book from the 80s about a reluctant Jesus who’d rather stick with his day job as a mechanic instead of becoming the Savior as predestined, if only he had a choice. However, despite traces of influences from the South African local politics and a rigid salvation dogma, the talented and imaginative Carlyle Labuschagne has invented a highly original new world packed with actions and tangled with intrigues that is sure to delight fans of dystopian fantasy.

THE BROKEN DESTINY is a complex weave of dystopian science fiction and urban fantasy, paranormal, mystery, and YA romance with mild sexual references. An entertaining coming-of-age novel with message.

 

 

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Meet Alex Knight, a Canadian Accountant Who Plots Murder During The Day

Read & Tell

 

 

 

 


Meet Alex Knight, author of murder mystery novels born in Toronto who have lived in a number of cities in Canada and the United States.

 

"I admire those who stand up for others and who protect those who cannot protect themselves, whether they are protecting people or animals."

“I admire those who stand up for others and who protect those who cannot protect themselves, whether they are protecting people or animals.”

 

Hello Alex, so happy to have you joining us. Would you be so kind to give readers a one-sentence synopsis of BODYGUARD, The Adventures of Anya Orlova?

This is the story and back story of a young woman who had to grow up with an unusual gift that often threw her into the path of danger.

How real are your characters?

Almost all of my characters are composites of people I know or have known so some of them are all too real.

 

Bodyguard by Alex Knight

Bodyguard by Alex Knight

 

It started as a short story in September 2010, inspired by a random comment a colleague had made about a little tavern. That’s usually all it takes to get me started, a random word or comment that brings out the best (or worst) in me.

But always entertaining, Alex. When did you first know you just had to write?

Like many other writers, I’ve been an avid reader from an early age. I knew that I wanted to entertain others the way that I had been entertained over the years. It’s always hard to take that first step, especially if you’re plagued with self-doubt. After putting it off for decades, I made it a goal to be published before I reached my 50th birthday. I was and I haven’t looked back.

 


How long did it take you to write Bodyguard?

As mentioned earlier, it started as a short story in 2010. Over the course of the next two years the protag whispered to me constantly, telling me her back story. In 2012 I started working on it again and released it in January 2013. While it didn’t take three years of writing, it did take that long to realize it was going to be a novella and to get it written and published.

How did you come up with the title?

The working title changed a number of times from start to finish. When it was time to create the cover I had to provide a title; eventually it presented itself.

What is your favorite paragraph in Bodyguard?

“Heed our advice and our warnings. When you are no longer a child we can no longer guide you.”
“But Grandmother, I stopped being a child yesterday.” This terrible truth was confirmed by the gravity of my tone and my solemn expression.

And she was only six, poor Anya. Alex, who would you say have been the most influential authors in your life? What is it that really strikes you about their work?

Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, John D. MacDonald, and Mickey Spillane were the authors I read and admired the most when I was growing up. I think one of the things I like the most about their writing is that it stands the test of time. Their stories are still quality entertainment.

 

"The Haunting" by Alex Knight  is a collection of ghostly tales with unusual twists

“The Haunting” by Alex Knight is a collection of ghostly tales with unusual twists

 

What story would you like to share about the joy, challenge, or hardship of writing?

When I first started to write I enjoyed some immediate success and so I thought I was ready for bigger and better things. Apparently, according to the much copied, photo-copied rejection letters I received from a major magazine, I wasn’t. (I didn’t even merit an ‘original’ photo-copy, addressed to me, or signed.) That brought me back down to earth pretty damn fast. However, if you don’t try you’ll never succeed.

But many likes your story.Who gives you the most encouragement? Why is that important to you?

Alongside of my family, it would be a great group of writers that I have had the pleasure of knowing for well over a decade. Write Stuff is comprised of several very talented writers that I often refer to as my extended family. We have shared each other’s joys and sorrows and celebrated each other’s victories as if they were our own. Their belief in me has made it possible for me to believe in myself.

What are you working on right now?

I have six NaNoWriMo novels that I have done nothing with since having ‘won.’ My goal is to revisit them and do some serious editing this year. I hope to release them all before the end of the year.

Tell us your latest news.

I am working on a love story. It’s a bit out of the ordinary for me and it’s going to be extremely difficult not to throw in a murder, or two.

And why not? 🙂

Do you see writing as a career or distraction?

It definitely isn’t a distraction, but I don’t see it being a career until I retire.

Why?

There aren’t enough hours in the day to continue to work full time, work part time at home, run a household, and write and edit my writing. Until I can devote at least eight hours a day to my writing and editing of same, I can’t call it a career.

How much do you have in common with your protags?

Every protag is a bit of me, a bit of my daughter and a bit of my sister. Of course being the eldest, both of them tend to be rather like me so perhaps all of the protags are a lot like me. The humor, bits of sarcasm, the courage, the second-guessing, the self-doubt, the loyalty, the willingness to pack up and start over – all of that is me. The physical characteristics are mostly a combination of the three of us.

What are your hobbies?

Besides reading, I love watching old classic movies, listening to music, making jewelry (natural gemstones set in silver or copper) knitting, cooking, and fishing.

A woman of many talents! What is your other profession?

I am, what is affectionately known as, a bean counter (accountant.)

 

“What Luck” is about greed, violence, unconditional loyalty and a love that refused to die; not your typical vampire fare.

“What Luck” is about greed, violence, unconditional loyalty and a love that refused to die; not your typical vampire fare.

 

When do you find the time to write?

I often plot about murder during the day. Finding the time to actually write it all out is more difficult; like most other writers I grab spare minutes here and there.

Tell us a bit about who or what matters to you.

I admire those who stand up for others and who protect those who cannot protect themselves, whether they are protecting people or animals.

How has your published work influenced others and their attitude towards you?

I mostly write about murder so I truly hope I haven’t influenced too many people. As to their attitudes towards me, they either love me or tend to avoid me.

What one thing is important for your readers to know about you?

They should take everything I say with several grains of salt.

Why?

Seriously, the first thing that comes out of my mouth is usually not serious at all. Often the second thing that comes out of my mouth isn’t much better. I laugh at life and myself a lot and if we can’t laugh at ourselves then the joke is truly on us.

Any tips for us on reading and writing?

Read as much as you can, whenever you can. Open yourself up to new genres. (I used to say that I loved all music except Country & Western and Opera. Having explored both, I can no longer say that.) You can like one genre more than another, but if you don’t explore and open your mind you can miss so many wonderfully written books that could truly change your life for the better. As to writing, you need to read as much as you can in every genre, not just the one you want to write in. Do not let family and/or friends discourage you. Like everything else in life, if you want it badly enough you have to work for it. If you don’t give it a shot you’ll never know.

I hate research. I love reading about a wide variety of topics—for entertainment purposes. The minute I ‘have to’ read about something—it becomes work.

And we can only give readers something that we love, right?  Thank you so much for chatting with us Alex. Best wishes with the books!

And readers, here are here you can find Alex and her books:

Find Alex on The Web Links:
Alex_Knight_1 (Twitter)
https://www.facebook.com/alex.knight.940
http://www.amazon.com/Alex-Knight/e/B004O4K35A

 

Click here to buy Alex's books on Amazon.

Click here to buy Alex’s books on Amazon.

 

 

 

sydney's song s logo

 

 

Meet Sue-Ellen Holmes—Neuroscientist and Science Fiction Author

 

read & tell

 

 

 

 

 

Sue-Ellen Holmes, Australian author of several science-fiction and urban-fantasy novels for young adults is with us today. Sue is different from most authors. She is very shy, humble, but she writes about outspoken, passionate heroines who would fight for justice.

 

SueEllen Holmes, Australian author of best dystopian Young Adult novels

Sue-Ellen Holmes, Australian author of best dystopian and urban fantasy Young Adult novels

 

Hello Sue, lovely to have a neighbour stopping by J It was so entertaining your book BRINK. Would you be so kind to give readers its one-sentence synopsis?

In the near future where the intellect rules and science offers civilisation’s only salvation, a mad-man bio-terrorist is determined to purge the planet of its human stain and the only one standing in his way is defiant hyper-immune girl called Io, whose ridiculed physical gifts may just give her the upper fist.

The setting of Brink: Maverick Institute of Advance Thought, in the near future.

The setting of Brink: Maverick Institute of Advance Thought, in the near future.

 

How real are your characters?

Well it’s really important to create characters with the full range of human emotions, complexity and depth, but whether I succeed or not is for the reader to judge. Often what’s in your head is not always transcribed well on the page no matter how hard you try because real people are actually quite confusing and their motivations are often obscure. I have a Psych degree, but as in life, I find that’s no help at all. As you can tell, I’m good at nailing confusion!

You’re good at building the characters! Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’m a Neuroscientist, so many aspects of the physical world fascinate me. If I had my time over, I think I’d specialise in bacteria and viruses—they’re such perfectly nasty little suckers. So, it was only natural that I wrote about something I’m very interested in. Also, many people write about catastrophe in retrospect and I thought it would be fun to see an extinction event as it unfolds. BRINK was actually the first full length novel I attempted and it’s ten years old now. Unfortunately, if I’d had the skills back then to clean up the story and edit it to a higher standard, I might have beaten the current slew of dystopian/post-apocalyptics flooding the market. Still, despite the poor timing, it’s a far better story now that I’ve practiced and schooled myself in the art of writing and I’m grateful for the delay.

 

Brink by SueEllen Holmes: a mad-man bio-terrorist is determined to purge the planet of its human stain and the only one standing in his way is defiant hyper-immune girl called Io, whose ridiculed physical gifts may just give her the upper fist.

Brink by SueEllen Holmes: a mad-man bio-terrorist is determined to purge the planet of its human stain and the only one standing in his way is defiant hyper-immune girl called Io, whose ridiculed physical gifts may just give her the upper fist.

 

The catastrophe is well detailed. When did you first know you just had to write?

I’ve been writing creatively since primary school—poetry and short stories—but didn’t attempt a full length novel until I was an adult. Now writing’s like breathing and I can’t imagine a day without it. I resent anything that interferes, such as mortgage-paying jobs and maintaining personal hygiene. All of my jobs involve either academic writing or educational writing, so I guess it’s always been deep in my bones.

How long did it take you to write Brink?

The writing process is very quick for me, it’s the editing and fine tuning that takes a long time. I finished an entire re-write of the first version of BRINK for a contest (ABNA 2011) in four frenzied days. It’s taken months since to fine-tune.

How did you come up with the title?

I wanted a word that represented not only the visual image of teetering on a cliff, but also one that auditorily came to a screeching halt. I spent a long time messing around with crappy titles, until BRINK finally hit me.

What is your favourite phrase in Brink?

“They’ll come” because it encapsulates a particularly unexpected instance of treachery and provides a bit of a cliff-hanger in a book that is mostly stand-alone.

 

Coming soon... Click here to find out more about Sue's next novels

Coming soon… Click here to find out more about Sue’s next novels

 

Who would you say have been the most influential authors in your life? What is it that really strikes you about their work?

The list evolves, as there have been so many. I know it’s cliché for fantasy writers, but I love Tolkien or any author who can transport the reader to a place that, although utterly strange and unreal, seems likely (of course, J K Rowling). Dr Seuss is the earliest genius I remember encountering. Everything he’s done is just so gleeful, yet also imparts a subtle, valuable message. I read Dune when I was quite young and even though it necessitated a dictionary and periods of extensive confusion, I just loved the grand scope of that series, the tantalising possibility of it all. At the moment, I’m enjoying Laini Taylor and her exciting new spin on angel mythology. It sounds harsh, but I cherish any writer who can effortlessly keep me turning pages. Currently, I put so many potentially good YA stories down unread due to boredom and it’s such a shame.

What story would you like to share about the joy, challenge, or hardship of writing?

I’m a fairly solitary creature so the great stretches of time alone writing don’t bother me, as it does some people. Besides, I’m surrounded by the characters I conjure on the page. It’s when I’m forced to venture outside the comfortable sphere of my study, even in virtual realms that I find being an author testing. Discoverability is something I’ve struggled with and failed miserably to master—letting the target reader know you’re actually there. And reaching teens is not the easiest in reality, let alone across the world wide web. Plus, if you’re not determined to overcome the self-doubt, the lack of financial reward, the constant rejection and less than glowing opinions, forget about it. So in essence, real thick-skinned writers never give up!

But getting immersed in your writing is a wondrous adventure and a reward in itself, right? Who gives you the most encouragement? Why is that important to you?

Selling the odd book tends to give me an enduring high… My family, while not effusive in their encouragement, are stoically non-critical of my crazy dream to work full-time as an author. They weather the tears and gin-abuse with eye-rolling fortitude. My adorable  long-suffering husband no longer bothers to compete with the computer for attention and now sleeps with his surfboard. It doesn’t matter how much external validation you get, if you don’t ‘back’ yourself nothing anyone can say will make a difference—which is supremely ironic given this entire career choice is about the subjective opinion of others. Go figure…

Sounds rather like my long suffering, accepting family! What are you working on right now? Tell us your latest news.

I’m attempting to work on completing the trilogies for each of the novels I’ve published on my website http://www.unrealya.com . Unfortunately, I’ve a few rather annoying jobs that eat up far too much time, so the endeavour is patchy at best. And I’m toiling to complete a space opera that is my own personal favourite, Able Unwilling.

You’re very creative  and courageous! Do you see writing as a career or distraction? Why?

A career, without doubt, because it’s the thing I most love doing (except in my pesky day jobs, which are the true distractions!). You know that old adage ‘do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’? It’s true. Now, if I could just make enough/any money as an idle, gin-swilling, hammock-swinging writer…

 

Other books by SueEllen Holmes, now available. Click here to find out more about these books.

Other books by SueEllen Holmes, now available. Click here to find out more about these books.

 

And we can’t possibly give to readers something that we can’t love. How much do you have in common with your protag?

Io is head-strong, highly strung and anti-authoritarian, while I am as meek as a lamb. <I read this aloud and assorted family members were on the floor in tears of hilarity. I admit to being slightly miffed at the implication I am in any way oppositional. I am so not!> Okay, so maybe Io and I share some character traits. But she is also elegant and athletic, the opposite of clumsy old me (her abilities are wishful thinking on my part, perhaps).

I could see you when I was reading her 🙂      What are your hobbies?

Writing, painting, writing, running, writing, reading, writing, surfing (sort of, see comment above)… Oh, and that elusive past-time of doing absolutely nothing for a stretch longer than thirty seconds. Not to mention shamelessly embarrassing my adolescent children at every opportunity.

What is your other profession? When do you find the time to write?

I’m a Neuroscientist by trade, but am working as a monkey-slave running research for several sets of doctors at the moment. Squeezing time out of the day is the biggest challenge right now and writing is relegated to the weekend, much to my irritation. This means I’ve been working seven days a week now for two and a half years. My body is frozen in the seated position, which makes jogging particularly challenging (and fairly awkward).

Sue, come tell us a bit about who or what matters to you.

My husband and my children are the world. They provide me with that other essential ingredient in a life worth living: laughter (even if it’s often at my expense).

Wonderful family!  🙂  Now, how has your published work influenced others and their attitude towards you?

I’d have to say it’s barely made a ripple to the exchanges I have with others. In the beginning, I had too many friends apologising for ‘not getting around’ to reading my stuff, which just made everyone fidget and stare at the floor. Unless I morph into Stephanie Meyer overnight and people beg me for a profound sound-bite (and despite what people think of her technique, that woman is a brilliant example of connecting with her target audience. I’d take tips from her any day), I’ll be sticking to my ‘keep quiet and don’t startle the nervous/apathetic/guilty associate’ approach. Clearly, self-promotion is not my forte.

What one thing is important for your readers/audience to know about you? Why?

I work my bum off to avoid boring readers… I study television and movies to see how tension is maintained, strive to first and foremost write entertaining adventure stories where the protagonist struggles to prevail, much like everyday life, only bigger, harder and in much weirder places, usually with a generous helping of the supernatural or technology or my friend ‘the germ’. Boredom is the enemy of good story-telling.

Any tips for us on reading and/or writing?

If I were to offer tips on writing technique, the underlying inference seems to be that I am somehow an expert, which I do not feel is true. There is always something more to learn about writing. Reading good books is the best thing an aspiring writer can do—find examples that you love and try to discern why they push your buttons, what you admire. See if you can somehow emulate them with your very own twist. The best I can suggest is to keep writing and endure—never give-up on yourself. Oh, and remember when receiving criticism that planet earth would be a very boring place if we all liked the same things. Even Harry Potter got a one star now and then. So, have a laugh and go in search of a large gin to toast the honest effort.

What you’d like people to know about you apart from the questions above?

That I sing like a nightingale, am exceptional at ballet, have an IQ to rival Hawking and speak ancient Hebrew at parties just for the smart-arsed hell of it… I harbour a secret desire to be a dark avenger and right society’s wrongs ala Dexter Morgan, only a little less messy as I’m averse to doing housework. Well, Ia, you didn’t specify it had to be true (except for that last part)!

 Hahahahaha… you forget to mention your sense of humour!  

It’s been fun Sue, good luck with all these marvelous books, thanks again for coming!

 

Readers, I hope you have enjoyed meeting Sue. And now my review of BRINK, here it goes:

 

Book title: Brink

ASIN: B007DMWZXS, 306 pages

Author: Sue-Ellen Holmes

 

The year isn’t clear, but BRINK takes place in the future when science dominates our earth. This first book in the Maverick trilogy is the story of 17-year-old Io Calypso, originally of Maverick Institute of Advance Thought. Here intellectual brilliance and obedience are the most valued assets, but alas, rebellious Io is a freedom-craving girl with physical gifts and a penchant for rock climbing instead.

On the day Io gets into trouble for challenging Maverick’s constrictive rules, a mad bio-terrorist places humankind at the brink of extinction by permanently covering the land with hazardous pollution and deadly disease. To survive, Io and 14 other survivors must take refuge in a shielded subsurface pod, protected from harm. Io loses her entire family in the disaster, except her grandmother. Or so she believes as she grieves.

Concerns for her grandmother’s health cause Io to sneak back to Maverick, their former luxurious home, one year later. Unexpectedly, impossibly, she encounters a surprise survivor, and learns that the disaster which she had thought was an accident was actually a sabotage staged by a devious and dangerous enemy, and that more survivors exist. Is her beloved brother Iz among them?

Enter Io’s pod members, geniuses who have shielded the deviant girl from the truth for her own “good”. At the head is her bossy, crafty grandma; at her side is Wim—an over-protective friend; around her is an assortment of interesting characters who now must back Io as this tough girl embarks on her lethal mission to free Iz from the clutch of menacing evil.

BRINK is a gripping dystopian science fiction that will delight smarter readers. Io is of your typical teen-against-the-world variety, but she has an extra-ordinary immune system and splendid determination. Sue-Ellen Holmes plays the early events by flipping the present and the past back and forth. These frequent flips wouldn’t allow me to lose myself in the mood of the scenes at the beginning, but once the story flows Io’s adventures through dangers are carefully plotted and original, the catastrophe and treacherous grounds vividly detailed, the descriptions imaginative, and the narration at times chilling.

 

 

 

Click here to enter Sue's website

Click here to enter Sue’s website

 

 

 

Meet Diana Wilder: Author, Historian, Animal Rescuer, Cat Shows’ Judge

Read & Tell

 

 

 

 

A philanthropist,  animal rescuer, cat shows’ judge, historian, journalist, researcher, and an author who works in the insurance business, Diana Wilder is the creator of fabulous historical books “THE CITY OF REFUGE”, “PHARAOH’S SON”, “A KILLING AMONG THE DEAD”, and “THE SAFEGUARD”. This weekend, she has kindly agreed to grace my Read & Tell with her visit.

 

DMW with cat

Diana Wilder: “The most important character in my books is the character that is reading it. That person is the reason the book was written—to entertain him or her, to tell him or her a story, to take him or her on an adventure, and meet others. They are why the books are here. They are the most important.”

 

Hello Diana, thank you for stopping by. Would you be so kind to give readers a one-sentence synopsis of “The City of Refuge”?

A routine inspection of the ruined city becomes a quest for vengeance, understanding and healing.

How real are your characters? Who did you base Lord Nebamun and Khonsu on?

Lord Nebamun and Khonsu came fully into being during the course of the story—who they were, what they were trying to do.  Their types were people of different classes, each with its own particular characteristics.  Khonsu is what we would call a middle-class working man.  His family has served the governors of his province as messengers for years, and he has risen to command their armies.  Lord Nebamun, on the other hand, is a man without a past who seems to be a wealthy aristocrat, born to privilege and trained to warfare, as the sons of such families were.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I had read of the city of Akhet-Aten (sometimes called ‘Amarna’ now).  The pharaoh Akhenaten (Nefertiti’s husband) had commanded that it be built for him, clean, new, in a site never used before. It was beautiful.  But when he fell from power it was abandoned and ruined.  I had a picture in my mind of a group of people who had traveled to that ruined city for a reason and were camped by the river Nile waiting for supplies.  I wondered why they were there, what were they expecting, who were they?  My thoughts solidified into the story.

 

cityofrefugecoverfixedsmaller1

THE CITY OF REFUGE by Diana Wilder:
“But you must know that Horus does not challenge Set because he is assured of victory, but because it’s the right thing to do. He fights because it is wrong to hold back for fear of the cost. If he knew at this moment that he might fall through treachery, he would face set nevertheless for the sake of Honor and of justice.”

 

How long did it take you to write the book?

From start to finish, it took me about six years.  But is any story ever really finished?  The danger with being a writer is that the temptation is always there to tweak wording, to adjust descriptions.

True, that’s the danger. As an assessor I’d say the challenge is to assemble this danger into a compact final product, but I have seen the extensive work you put into The City of Refuge and the result is awesome!  How did you come up with this title, by the way?

The ancients understood justice and vengeance, and they understood degrees of wrongdoing.  If a person was murdered, it was the duty of a kinsman—usually the eldest son—to exact vengeance on the murderer.  It is a recognized theme throughout ancient literature.  But what if the death was an accident?  Was there a way to escape the avenger?  In biblical times Cities of Refuge were set up to allow guiltless (accidental) killers to take refuge and escape death.  Vengeance plays a large part in the plot of The City of Refuge.  WAS Akhet-Aten a city of refuge?  That question is answered during the course of the story.

From your writing I can read that you have a very kind heart, deep wisdom, and you have huge tolerance to those who are different. I have many favorite lines in The City of Refuge. What is your favorite paragraph?

Something Lord Nebamun says:  “But you must know that Horus does not challenge Set because he is assured of victory, but because it’s the right thing to do.  He fights because it is wrong to hold back for fear of the cost.  If he knew at this moment that he might fall through treachery, he would face set nevertheless for the sake of Honor and of justice.”

What’s your opinion about today’s historical fiction? What makes your books stand out from the others?

There are a great many truly fine historical novels available to read nowadays, and it’s a privilege to have my work among them.  History is about people, and people are enjoyable, interesting and amusing.  I remember once being told that the best way to learn a period of history was to read good novels set in that period—and to understand that different writers would interpret the facts differently.  How are mine different?  Well…  They are different because I wrote them, and it is I who am telling the story.  They have my own philosophy and understanding.  Otherwise, they are part of a good group.

Who is your favourite Egyptian personage? Why?

History is about people, and people are very amusing.  Aside from Ramesses the Great—who was the only Egyptian king with a nickname, and was known as ‘Good King Ramesses’—I like the little brat of a child in Alexandria who sent a letter to his parents scolding them for traveling without him and threatening to hold his breath until he died.  I laugh whenever I think of it, speaking as one who was a counselor at a children’s summer camp.  I think I knew that boy.

You did thorough research for your material. Why Egypt? Why not ancient Greek/Viking/Chinese/etc.?

The story was set in Egypt and arose out of Egypt.  I have other stories set in other places and times…  Paris in 1830, Imperial Rome, the Middle Ages, the American Civil War.

When did you first know you just had to write?

I was nine-years old, and my teacher had been talking about writing poetry.  I thought it was a good idea, so I wrote a poem.  Being a nine-year-old girl, I was horse-mad, so I wrote about a horse.  The praise I got from my very kind famille made me decide that I LIKED writing.  I was hooked.

Who would you say have been the most influential authors in your life? What is it that really strikes you about their work?

I’ve loved a lot of books—Tolkien‘s magnificent trilogy, Elizabeth Goudge‘s work—books that brought history alive for me.  I have to admit that one book really caught my imagination for a rather odd reason.  It is Richard Adams‘ book WATERSHIP DOWN, a splendid tale of hardship, treachery, revenge, heroism—it has characters that could have fought at Troy, leaders who match for the most admired leaders of history.  Love, suffering, mysticism—it is all there.  I was transfixed… And I kept forgetting that it was about rabbits.  Rabbits, by golly!  Amazing!

And you put all those elements in your own beautiful writing. What story would you like to share about the joy, challenge, or hardship of writing?

It is something you have to experience yourself.  It is hard work, and you have to be honest about it and do your best.  Often it is thankless.  But then—someone contacts you, writes you—however it happens – and tells you that what you wrote touched them to the heart, gave them an insight into something that troubled them, expressed something they had always loved.  And that makes all the hard work, all the sneers (people do sneer at writers from time to time), all of it well worth the effort.  You sit back and smile.

Who gives you the most encouragement? Why is that important to you?

I have friends who are honest with me (honesty is necessary everywhere) and they encourage me, even if they aren’t crazy about what I write about.  They can understand what I am saying. Encouragement is hard to find, especially in the early years.  I wish I had joined a writing group.

 You’ve produced commendable covers. Tell us about your graphic design.

Well…  I like art, I come from an artistic family, and I really wish I was an artist.  It’s enjoyable, engrossing (infuriating at times) and I haven’t yet struck anyone blind with my endeavors.  What more can I ask?

Do you see writing as a career or distraction? Why?

es.  No, don’t hit me!  It’s something I have to do.  It’s part of me, a way I express myself, a gift to others.  I can’t stop doing it.  By the same token, it intrudes at the most inopportune times.  Sitting at dinner and someone says something, and I crow with delight, whip out my notepad and start jotting, ignoring the friends and family sitting around me and rolling their eyes.

Hahaha! I’m sure they are used to it and love you nonetheless 🙂 What are you working on right now? Tell us your latest news.

I’m trying to finish a sequel to The City of Refuge.  MOURNINGTIDE takes place eighteen years later and has many of the characters from City.  It follows one man—Seti, one of three major characters in City—as he deals with the death of a son through a needless mistake.  He is a man of power and influence, and he needs to go away from his own world to a place where he can be private and deal with the loss of a child, however he may have grown up. 

mtideunderconstruction1

MOURNINGTIDE by Diana Wilder: a man of power and influence needs to go away from his own world to a place where he can be private to deal with the loss of a child.

That promises to be interesting—I remember the brave, young Seti. And we may have something in common in our WIPs.

If you could pick a time to exist in the past, would you pick Egypt and what period would that be? Why?

If I were to pick Egypt, I would want to live in what they called the ‘Middle Kingdom‘, several centuries before the time of The City of Refuge.  It was a time of peace and stability, with a strong government and people that were not encumbered by the notion of being a superpower.  That was a very stable society, ruled by the rhythms of a great river, prosperous, content (as much as people can be).  Food was plentiful, people smiled.

I see. The Middle Kingdom was the period which started with Prophet Joseph being the treasurer and adviser to the King of Egypt, and they helped the refugees from their famine-struck neighboring countries. Right?

 

Diana Wilder: "I would like to live in a more simple time, where everything is not done for us, where we can use our imaginations and spend the day handling our own concerns."

Diana Wilder: “I would like to live in a more simple time, where everything is not done for us,
where we can use our imaginations and spend the day handling our own concerns.”

 

I would like to live in a more simple time, where everything is not done for us, where we can use our imaginations and spend the day handling our own concerns.  If you think about it today everything is done for us, food is packaged for us, and unless we watch carefully, we miss a chance to do the small things that make life interesting and enjoyable.  So…  when did they have a chance to do that?  Let’s say prior to the Industrial Revolution. 

That’s the ease of living in a modern country. I suppose you are right. I had lived in a few simpler countries. One was my grandparents’ village in Sumatra, where I spent my 7th grade. There you first had to build a single-use stove using the grain’ husk before you could cook, but the flames made the food taste better. And the hard work didn’t make people unhappy; I watched my grandma’s workers working the fields and singing poems. That was how they “talked”—they bantered by singing instant, clever poems; clearly enjoying life. I don’t know whether they still do that, now that they have electricity and modern machinery.

How much do you have in common with your protag, Diana?

Khonsu is observant, affectionate, tends to stand his ground on important subjects, and has a good imagination.  He solves problems and he can ‘get inside the head’ of someone he is trying to understand.  I’m observant and affectionate, certainly.  And I try to be understanding.  I don’t think he’s ideal by any means, but he has in him qualities that I admire (though he’s a bit of a worrier…)

You are such a compassionate animal rescuer.  Tell us about this.  And tell us about cat shows.  What would you say to FB-ers who say cats should be banned from FB.

Who can resist anything that needs to be rescued and loved?  We have so much to share, let’s share it!  And cat shows—in the US—have classes for all sorts of cats, from the tiniest purebred to the three-legged family pet rescued from a pound.  They’re all beautiful, and I enjoy watching them all and letting people know that their pets are absolutely special! (I have dogs, too…)

I’ve seen cats and dogs on Facebook. Some of them speak far more sensibly than their owners.  I might say that Facebook would do better to ban idiots from their pages.  The problem is that under some applications, all of us being human, that would depopulate Facebook. Oh, my!

Hahaha! Oh my indeed J Tell us also about your love for horses, sailing, and your other hobbies.

Can I tell you about my love for cooking Chocolate Stout Cakes?  That is a real smile-spreader! …although if you love the feeling of speed, there is nothing that can compare with sailing close to the wind on a one-man sailboat.  Perhaps one day I can do that in Sydney harbor!

Oh yum, I can smell heavenly chocolate… mmm we really must meet someday! A fireball? Cool!

You moved around a lot while growing up and have travelled a lot. How has this shaped you and influenced your writing?

I was very fortunate to have parents that enjoyed people and encouraged my family to see different sights, experience different cultures—and respect them—and realize that we all are fabulous in different ways. We would pile in the car on a Sunday and just drive around looking at the scenery, stopping to talk to people… Getting acquainted with our surroundings and enjoying what was unusual and beautiful about them.  I thought everyone did that, but I learned that many people, camped on the doorstep of Heaven, prefer to look back where they came from and cry because they aren’t there.

Right, many of those who go out can’t wait to go back home to their Facebook or electronic gadgets; they are so chained to these they don’t know what else to do.

What is your other profession? When do you find the time to write?

I work in the insurance industry.  I think we all know how difficult it is to find time in our busy lives to do the things we enjoy, that are important to us.  The best of us find a way to find the joy in whatever we do.  Practically speaking, I carry a notebook down and jot things as they come to me.  

And loving it, I believe 🙂 Tell us a bit about who or/and what matters to you.

Being content in my own self is important.  Knowing that others know how much they mean to me, knowing that I am important to others.  It’s hard to express.

How has your published work influenced others and their attitude towards you?

I hope it has entertained people.  I do believe most people think writers are either completely nutty or fabulously exotic.  As a group we can be nutty, but then so can all humans. 

You’re definitely of the fabulous variety, Diana!

What one thing is important for your readers to know about you? Why?

My readers need to know that the most important character in my books is the character that is reading it.   That person is the reason the book was written—to entertain him or her, to tell him or her a story, to take him or her on an adventure, and meet others.  They are why the books are here.  They are the most important.

Any tips for us on reading and/or writing?

I’d say sit back, enjoy the story.  But if a story does not appeal to you, if you dislike it—there is absolutely no reason to suffer through a bad story, even if a million other people like it. I knew someone who made it a point of pride to finish any book she started no matter how wretched.  I honor her perseverance and courage.  If I did that, they would have to put me in a straight-jacket.

What a considerate writer! Lovely to chat with you, Diana. Thanks again for visiting 🙂

Diana writes "real" historical books with thorough research for each one. Click here to check them out on Amazon.

Diana writes “real” historical books with thorough research for each one.
Click here to visit Diana’s website which has links to her blog, her books, and sample chapters.

 

One Sentence Synopses of each of Diana published works:

Pharaoh’s Son(a fast-paced romp set in Egypt of Ramesses the Great): Something great and terrible is stirring, hidden deep within the temple, something they must bring into the  light before those who walk in darkness take it and turn it to  evil.

A Killing Among the Dead(set in the dying days of Egypt): It is up to Wenatef to discover who is robbing the royal tombs and disfiguring the dead, how deep does the conspiracy run, and who among his friends can he really trust?

The Safeguard (set during the 1860’s in the American Civil War): A passel of wounded Yankees quartered in her house, a troop of freed slaves and the local Confederate militia combine to provide  an unforgettable summer of courage, loss and love for Lavinia.

Diana’s books available from Amazon US and Amazon UK

 

My review of The City of Refuge by Diana Wilder:

 

A richly detailed intriguing mystery.

The former glory of Pharaoh Akhenaten’s reign, the imperial city of Amarna has been abandoned after his death, and now lies in wreck on the edge of the Nile. To study the viability of reopening of the city’s stone quarries, the ruling pharaoh sends a delegation from the Memphis temple of Ptah, headed by its second-ranking priest, an enigmatic man without a past who is not afraid of ghosts, curses or the dead.

Police Commander Khonsu from the nearby city is assigned to guard this expedition, only to find himself entangled in a web of betrayal, murder and revenge from the city’s dark past.

Presented in a skillful flair of the English language, Diana Wilder peoples her story with real humans and uses practical philosophy as she visits the paths of righteousness and peril of these scrupulously developed believable characters.

From an author with a degree in Ancient History who has done extensive research for her writing, you can expect The City of Refuge will enrich readers’ knowledge with fascinating details from the past. But The City of Refuge is so much more than a well-written historical novel because  Diana Wilder is, first of all, an observant human being with deep empathy for those around her.  She brings the ancient world to you and makes it look and feel so real, as if you were together with her characters and could see what they wear, observe what they do, as well as understand their perspective. Diana shows us the human side of seasoned war generals that is touching, and keeps us in suspense until the end.