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Posts Tagged ‘writing advice’

As the school year begins, and most of us are finished taking vacations (or holidays for my British friends) — it’s time to set a few writing goals. I read a recent post from author Raymond Daley in which he challenged writers to submit a story everyday in September. (Poet and non-fiction writers can take this on as well). Here’s the link to his original challenge.

I’ve decide to accept the challenge!

“Why?” you might ask. Well, for me, I need a challenge or a goal to write toward. It’s not enough to have editorial responsibilities or long-term writing projects — I must have an immediate challenge which has an end in sight.

Will I use already written stories? Yes. Will I write new stories? Yes. Will every sent submission result in a published story? Of course not! But I’ve discovered that persistence is the key to being published. If I believe in a story, I’m willing to find markets and send it out as many times as is necessary for it to find a “home.” So the September Challenge will push me to persist.

On October 1st, I’ll report on my September submissions. Will I know the fate of every story? No, but I’ll know that I have at least 30 chances to be published.

I encourage all of my writing friends to design their own September Challenge or accept Raymond Daley’s (at least)* One Submission a Day for 30 Days Challenge. *Yes, I added that “at least” in there, because in the case of 100-word stories known as “drabbles,” one hardly seems a submission at all!

As for readers, why not set a goal to read a specific number of pages per day — or to read three new authors in the month of September. For those who knit, crochet, embroider — set a certain number of hats, scarves, or other item to be completed in September. For my artist friends, set a specific number of paintings to be completed.

This list could go on, but the important thing is to set goals, and to work toward achieving them. Now, I must leave you and get working on today’s story…

 

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Rhoads Headshots 9-18 FINAL-1782 Whimsical Words welcomes guest author, Loren Rhoads. Loren Rhoads is the co-author (with Brian Thomas) of Lost Angels and its upcoming sequel Angelus Rose. On her own, she’s written a space opera trilogy called In the Wake of the Templars and a nonfiction guidebook to 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die.

Loren Rhoads’s latest book, Lost Angels, is a novel fantasy fans are sure to enjoy. A quick summary for my readers—In the days before the Flood, Azaziel had been a Watcher, sent down to help God’s creatures on Earth. He fell in love with one of Cain’s granddaughters and they passed her mortal life in bliss. Now, he’s imprisoned in the Los Angeles basin. His angelic brethren, Heaven’s misfits, don’t understand the longing Aza feels: once he had been loved entirely for himself.

The succubus Lorelei doesn’t know any of this when she sets her sights on Azaziel. All she knows is that the angel’s fall will bring glory to Hell and acclaim to any succubus who accomplishes it. Of course, it never occurs to Lorelei that Azaziel might try to tame her by possessing her with a mortal girl’s soul. Can the succubus find an exorcist before the fury of Hell is unleashed?

Rhoads LostAngels cover Where did the idea come from for your latest book, Lost Angels?

I wrote a short story for a friend. There was an apartment building in his neighborhood called The Lorelei, so that became the name of the succubus in the story. This was the first time I wrote a story as a serial. I’d write a scene or two each day, then send it to him. Usually, I write things all out of order, then rearrange the scenes in revision, but this time I wrote things linearly.

As it turned out, he couldn’t wait for me to finish the original short story so he could write chapter 2. And then suddenly we were writing a book.

Who is your favorite character in the book—and why?

I genuinely like Lorelei, even though she is a morally gray character. She is based on a woman I went to university with who lit up every room she walked in to. Everyone had a crush on Kim, because she was so much fun. Lorelei actually likes her prey and works hard to see that they enjoy themselves before she takes their souls. And then she meets Azaziel – and she definitely bites off more than she can chew.

Is your book traditionally published, indie published, or self published?

The book was originally published by a small press, but I got the rights back a couple of years ago and republished it under my own company. The advantage of doing it myself is that I really like the new cover. The text is exactly the way I wanted it. I’m sort of a control junky.

What is your writing process like—are you an architect (planner) or gardener (pantser)?

Oh, I really like gardener better than pantser. What a great term! I don’t like to know too much about my stories when I start them. I almost never work to an outline. Instead, I write scenes as they come to me, then piece them together like a puzzle. I really love the process of fitting everything together. It’s actually my favorite part of writing. Sometimes I can’t see the whole picture until I get all the scenes assembled and read it through. It’s a revelation to see what the story is really about. I have a friend who says that the author is always the last to know.

What was your favorite book as a child?

I was 10 when I read Dracula for the first time. I’d grown up watching the black and white Universal horror movies on Saturday afternoons. My mom pointed out that a lot of my favorite characters—Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, The Invisible Man – were based on or inspired by books. (She was a junior high school librarian.) So I started with my favorite monster and read his book while we were on a family vacation.

All these years later, I still have a soft spot for monsters and outcasts.

What writing project are you currently working on?

When Brian and I wrote the original book, which we called As Above, So Below, it was huge. It look more than a ream of paper to print out the whole thing. The story had a natural climax about halfway through, so I cut the book in half and got it published as Lost Angels.

I spent Nanowrimo 2018 putting together the sequel. Most of the story was there, but it didn’t stand alone, so I went back in to write character introductions for everyone, along with lots of description for readers who might be encountering these characters for the first time. Or for the first time in a while, since the first book came out in 2016.

I wanted to make the second book more romantic, too. Brian describes the As Above, So Below books as Romeo and Juliette with angels and devils. I wanted those crazy kids to go on some actual dates and have some fun together, in amongst the damning people to hell.

What’s the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?

I met Ray Bradbury once, when he came up to San Francisco for a book signing. I told him I was working on a book, but it was a real struggle. He told me, “Don’t think so much. Just write. You’ll figure it out as you’re writing.” I realized he was completely right. I can research everything, make sure I know everything in advance, or I can just write and leave placeholders for the things I need to research later. If you write before researching, then you know what you need to know. That’s been game-changing for me.

The key has been getting out of my own way. And it helps a lot to write with someone like Brian, who was a researcher in the library at 20th Century Fox. His research made for really rich backstories for our characters.

Want to learn more about Loren Rhoads and Lost Angels? Check out her: BlogFacebook pageTwitterInstagramPinterest, and  Amazon Authors Page.

Or better yet, purchase a copy of Lost Angels.

Thanks to author Loren Rhoads for stopping by. Watch for an interview with author Jill Shultz on March 14, 2019. Happy reading! – Vonnie

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MLC_meriah Whimsical Words welcomes guest author, Meriah L. Crawford. Meriah Lysistrata Crawford is an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, as well as a writer, editor, and private investigator. Among her publications are short stories in several genres, essays, poems, a variety of scholarly work, and the co-written novel The Persistence of Dreams, which was released in 2018. Meriah has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program, and a PhD in literature and criticism from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Her work as a PI, over fifteen years, has included investigations of shootings, murders, burglaries, insurance fraud, auto accidents, backgrounds, counterfeit merchandise, patent infringement, and missing persons.

Meriah L. Crawford’s latest book, The Persistence of Dreams, is a novel fantasy and alternate history fans are sure to enjoy. A quick summary for my readers—It is 1636: five years after a West Virginia town from the year 2000 arrived in Germany in a flash of light and altered the course of history. Now, down-time master artist Daniel Block is troubled. No mention or proof of his name or life work, of which he has long been proud, made it through the Ring of Fire; it’s as if he never existed. What can a talented and proud artist like him do, to make sure this new world remembers him long after he’s gone?

Daniel develops a plan to make himself one of the greatest artists the world has ever known, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to see his dreams fulfilled. Even if it means risking himself, his wife, and his children.

Intent on changing his own history, Daniel journeys to Grantville to learn about these Americans and their wild and outrageous art forms. But while there, he runs afoul of the up-timers’ strange attitudes—and the law. What follows upends seventeenth century art, threatens the emperor, and changes Daniel and his family forever.

persistence cover_meriah Where did the idea come from for your latest book, The Persistence of Dreams?

My co-author, Robert E. Waters, and I have been writing in the 1632 universe for a while. This is a series of novels and stories begun by Eric Flint, about a town in West Virginia transported from the year 2000 to Germany in 1631, into the middle of war and other upheaval. Most of my collaboration with Robert has focused on an artist named Daniel Block, who is a real person born in 1580. Robert and I thought it would be interesting to delve a bit into the art world of the early seventeenth century with the assistance of a man who was a well-known and highly regarded court painter, as well as a bit of a drunk and a troublemaker. We also complicated his family life quite a bit, and involved him in some major political drama.

Who is your favorite character in the book—and why?

That’s a tough question. I really like so many of the characters. For the novel, though, I wrote an appendix from the perspective of an art history teacher named Elaine O’Meara, who also appears in the beginning of the novel. She’s shown herself to be smart, independent, committed, thoughtful, and funny. She also really knows a ton about art. She was inspired by a really wonderful history teacher I had in high school named Alice Fearen, who instilled a love and a solid grounding of knowledge about art that I have valued deeply ever since. For all of these reasons, I think I’d rather have a cup of tea with Elaine more than anyone else in the book.

Is your book traditionally published, indie published, or self published?

It’s published by a small publisher: the Ring of Fire Press. The only real disadvantage is a small marketing budget, but that’s something most authors deal with, even with larger presses. The people have been great to work with, and have moved faster and been more responsive than many larger companies are able to be, so that’s been great, too.

What is your writing process like—are you an architect (planner) or gardener (pantser)?

I’m actually very into lists and planning, and if I’m working on a nonfiction project, it will absolutely have a structure early on. But my fiction is often a lot more organic. That’s why, for example, I have a story that started out as a piece of flash fiction, but is now over 63,000 words. (Oops!) It’s also why I stopped working on it: I realized that the novel really needs to be in the third person, but I wrote it in the first. This is exactly the benefit of planning, though of course planners also find that they make mistakes along the way. Going forward, I’m planning to try to plan more. We’ll see how that goes. 

What was your favorite book as a child?

I have so many answers to this question, but I particularly remember a book named Pidgy’s Surprise, by Jeanne Mellin. It was the first “real” book I read all of by myself. Like many people, the main character spends a lot of time wishing her life were different. In her case, she wishes she had a horse instead of a pony. As the novel progresses, she comes to appreciate what she has when she nearly loses her pony Pidgy. It’s a great lesson, and one that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about as the years have passed: it’s so easy to focus on wanting what we don’t have, but most of us have SO MUCH already. And feeling and expressing gratitude for that makes us a lot happier.

What writing project are you currently working on?

I always have a lot of projects in the works. Over winter break, I aim to finish and submit some articles (about teaching assistants, James Joyce, and dialogue tags), put the finishing touches on a short video of a huge dust devil I filmed in Jordan this past summer, and spend some hours on a book I’m writing about the second person.

What’s the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?

Writer’s write. I’ve learned over the years that a huge amount of writing advice should really start with “Here’s what works for me.” Much of it—maybe most—is not one-size-fits-all. Find your own path!

Want to learn more about Meriah L. Crawford and The Persistence of Dreams? Check out her:  WebsiteBlogFacebook pageTwitter,  and Amazon Authors Page.

Or better yet, purchase a copy of The Persistence of Dreams.

Thanks to author Meriah L. Crawford for stopping by. Watch for an interview with author Juliana Spink Mills on February 19, 2019. Happy reading! – Vonnie

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CLundoff Publicity photo Whimsical Words welcomes guest author-editor-publisher, Catherine Lundoff. Catherine Lundoff is a Minneapolis-based award-winning writer, editor, and publisher. Her recent stories have appeared in Tales of the Unanticipated, Curious Fictions, The Cainite Conspiracies: A Vampire the Masquerade V20 Anthology, The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper Tales and The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Professor Moriarty. Her books include Silver Moon, Out of This World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories and as editor, Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space). She is the publisher at Queen of Swords Press.

Catherine Lundoff’s latest book, Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space), is a new anthology fans of pirates and adventure are sure to enjoy. A quick summary for my readers—Think pirates are all about the rum and the pieces of eight? Let these fifteen tales draw you into the adventures of a new kind of pirate. Sail with them as they seek treasure, redemption, love, revenge and more. Raise the Jolly Roger and sharpen your cutlass (or recharge your raygun) and climb aboard for some unforgettable voyages. Featuring stories by Ginn Hale, A.J. Fitzwater, Geonn Cannon, Joyce Chng, Elliott Dunstan, Ashley Deng, Su Haddrell, Ed Grabianowski, Mharie West, Matisse Mozer, Soumya Sundar Mukherjee, Megan Arkenberg, Peter Golubock, Michael Merriam, and Caroline Sciriha.

ebook QoSP Scourge 432 x 648 72 dpilundoff Where did the idea come from for your latest book, Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space)?

I started my own small press last year and I wanted to publish an anthology. Originally, it was on a different theme and was going to have a different editor, but that fell through, so I decided to go ahead with another theme that I liked. I’ve always had a fondness for pirates, fictional as well as historical, starting with reading Treasure Island when I was a kid. Since pirates historically turn up all over the world, as well as in fantasy and science fiction, I thought it would be a great opportunity to solicit stories from writers from different countries as well as subgenres. I also opened it up to stories featuring protagonists of any gender or orientation to try and get to a reflection of the diversity of the topic.

Who is your favorite character in the book—and why?

Ooh, that would be a challenge! I really like all the stories in different ways. I think you really have to get to a point where you appreciate all the strengths of every story you accept when you’re editing an anthology. Between story selection and rounds of editing, you’re going to be reading and rereading those same stories a LOT. Multiple rereads in, I still love all the protagonists in a book with stories that range from the aftermath of the Trojan War to outer space, (most of) the 7 seas and the lands beyond!

Is your book traditionally published, indie published, or self published?

It’s traditionally published in the sense that it’s being released by a publishing house; however, Queen of Swords Press is my small press so things get a bit complicated there. I have edited or co-edited two previous anthologies for a different small press though, so I have something to compare it to. The contrast between editing for someone else and doing it on my own is the scale of work involved. I’m doing all my own publicity for Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) as well as for other Queen of Swords Press titles and I’m taking all the financial risks. On the other hand, I get to make my own decisions without needing to answer to anyone else and pick stories based on what I like. I’m pretty pleased with the mix of stories that I selected and I know that it would look somewhat different if I had to answer to a different publisher.

What is your writing/editing process like?

I’ll talk about my editing here, instead of writing, because that’s been my latest focus. In terms of story selection, I tried to put a lot of thought into the kind of anthology that I wanted to publish. I wanted a mix of pirate stories set in different parts of the world as well as in fantastical settings and in outer space. I wanted a range of protagonists to somewhat reflect the historical diversity of pirate ships and crews. Add to that, I wanted authors from different parts of the world as well as protagonists of different genders and sexual orientations. So I did an open call where I specifically asked for international authors and for protagonists of any gender or orientation. I ended up getting submissions from authors in fourteen countries, which was pretty amazing.

From those submissions, I had to go through and pick the strongest of the stories that I got, then decide which ones I wanted in the anthology. I tried to pick based on my goals: having a diverse range of pirate stories and an anthology Table of Contents that wasn’t all white guys or all cis people or all from the U.S. Fortunately, I had a lot of really good stories to choose from so it was a more a matter of picking “best in class” rather than “I must take it because it’s the only thing like it that I have.” Editing themed anthologies can be challenging that way. I say this despite this being my third one, so you would think it would get easier with practice. At any rate, everything after the story selection part was reading and rereading and providing feedback to the authors and incorporating changes and getting copy edits back and so forth.

What was your favorite book as a child?

I had a LOT of favorite books as a child and they changed every couple of years. The first book I ever read on my own was Alice in Wonderland, then I went through a lot of Robert Louis Stevenson, fairy tales and other related work. Alexandre Dumas and Jane Austen got me through my early teens. On bad weeks, The Count of Monte Cristo is still a map of my mental landscape. When in doubt, I can always count on getting a mental image of tunneling out of the Chateau d’If with a spoon. Puts everything in perspective. I have a list of every book that I’ve read since I was ten years old so I can backtrack through the Narnia years, the Lloyd Alexander years, and so forth. I owe my fragile sanity entirely to reading, but I have to say that it was a collective effort. I can name ten to twenty favorite books, but not just one.

What writing project are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on Blood Moon, the sequel to my menopausal werewolf novel, Silver Moon. Blood Moon focuses on the same protagonists as in the previous novel and has more mystery and romance elements than the first book. Apart from that, I’m working on a couple of new short stories and some gaming-related projects. And the next books for Queen of Swords. I like to keep things lively.

What’s the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?

It’s a toss-up between “Learn to love rewriting” and “Pick a day job you don’t hate, because you’ll spend more time there than anywhere else.” They are both useful, if somewhat depressing, in their own way. I think both pieces of advice are also very realistic and sometimes, we need to hear that. I know there’s a strain of thought, particularly in genre fiction, that “real writers don’t need day jobs,” but I think that gets less and less realistic for most of us as the field changes. And rewriting for me is like painting: you do a sketch, and then, start adding layers. Those layers add depth and beauty, if you do them well, in the same way that rewrites help you to create a better story and become a better writer.

Want to learn more about Catherine Lundoff and Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space)? Check out her:  WebsiteFacebook pageQueen of Swords Press Website, and Amazon Authors Page.

Or better yet, purchase a copy of Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) from Books2Read or IndieBound.

Thanks to author-editor-publisher Catherine Lundoff for stopping by. Watch for an interview with author Meriah Crawford on February 14, 2019. Happy reading! – Vonnie

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laurel anne hill for ewl promotional Whimsical Words welcomes guest author, Laurel Anne Hill. Laurel Anne Hill—author and former underground storage tank operator—grew up in San Francisco, with more dreams of adventure than good sense or money. Her close brushes with death, love of family, respect for honor and belief in a higher power continue to influence her writing and her life. At age eleven, she won her first writing contest. By age eighteen, she won enough essay-writing contest money to fund four years of college tuition and books.

As an adult, Laurel has authored two award-winning novels. Her published short stories and nonfiction pieces total over forty. She has served as a program participant at many science fiction/fantasy conventions. She’s the Literary Stage Manager for the annual San Mateo County Fair, a speaker, writing contest judge, and anthology editor. And Laurel has even engineered a steam locomotive.

Laurel Anne Hill’s latest book, The Engine Woman’s Light is an award-winning steampunk novel. A quick summary for my readers—Laurel says: “I’ve made Chapter One of The Engine Woman’s Light a prologue of sorts, the story of how Juanita’s maternal great-grandmother rescues her from an asylum train and potential death. Chapter Two opens when Juanita is nearly sixteen years of age. She has gone to wash clothes. The spirit of the creek whispers the Chapter One story to her, but the words come out jumbled.

At this point, Juanita experiences her first “big” mystical vision: An airship with a ghostly captain. No surprise that he commands her to prevent California’s thrown-away people—including young children—from boarding trains to an asylum. That institution’s director plots murder to reduce the inmate population. Yet to save innocent lives, Juanita must take lives of the corrupt. How can she reconcile her assignment with her belief in the sacredness of all human life? And will she survive to marry her betrothed?

The spirits expect a mystic’s compliance. That’s the way I built her world. Juanita sets out despite inner trepidation to sabotage the railroad. Her ancestor, Billy, the ghost of a steam locomotive engineer, guides her. Then bit by bit, Juanita discovers the gut-wrenching truths all of her ancestors neglected to reveal.

To complicate matters, I made sure Juanita encounters members of California’s ruthless Mendoza family. Mendozas are connected with the asylums and the trains running there. The resulting dark and disturbing confrontations, including rape, scar her very soul. Yet Juanita’s inner strength and insight continue to grow. Her determination to love, forgive, and do what needs to be done becomes her salvation.”

Where did the idea come from for your latest book, The Engine Woman’s Light?

laurel book A dream I had in the early 1990s provided my initial inspiration for The Engine Woman’s Light. In that dream, an elderly woman condemned to euthanasia escaped from a death train, an abandoned infant girl in her arms. She walked at night toward a distant light and safety.

The resulting short story I wrote never worked, even though the voice of the old woman spoke to me inside of my head. Subplots burdened the story’s structure, failing to address the destiny of the rescued child. I had a novel on my hands, a book that would take me twenty years to complete. The fictional world I created in the process reflects a number of my personal experiences.

For example, The Engine Woman’s Light contains two scenes where spirits hide inside of clocks. I own an old wind-up alarm clock that used to belong to my maternal grandmother. I bought Gran a new Baby Ben—which was easier to wind—around 1988, and kept the old one for myself. The old Baby Ben stopped working about the time Gran died in 1989. Regardless, I continued to keep the timepiece on the shelf of my bed’s headboard. A terrible and unknown illness hit me a couple of years later. My back muscles went into non-stop spasm for six weeks. The pain was excruciating. I didn’t know how I was going to cope. Would I spend the rest of my life as an invalid? At my rock-bottom, mental low point, the broken Baby Ben started ticking. The minute hand advanced. Encouragement from Gran’s spirit? Several minutes later, the clock stopped, never to run again.

Who is your favorite character in the book—and why?

No doubt about it, I choose my protagonist: Juanita Elise Jame-Navarro. Her determination to complete the life-saving mission the spirits of her ancestors have assigned her—and do so even in the face of heart-wrenching adversity—is heroic and amazing. And so many of her thoughts and critical decisions, as the story progresses, result from her increasing understanding of the world and her place in it. Yet Juanita makes significant mistakes, as any believable character must do. She is both a gifted mystic traveler and a vulnerable young woman.

Is your book traditionally published, indie published, or self published?

The Engine Woman’s Light was indie published by Sand Hill Review Press. The advantages of working with Sand Hill Review Press included my close involvement in the publishing and book promotion process, even during the cover design. I was, and remain, a member of the Sand Hill Review Press “team.” As to the disadvantages of working with a small indie publisher? The “big publishing house machine” for sales and marketing isn’t there. The scale is far smaller. Also, I received no advance.

Luckily, Editor-in-Chief Tory Hartmann from Sand Hill Review Press is both savvy and eager to provide advice. She entered The Engine Woman’s Light in the Independent Press Award contest and the novel won the gold award in Steampunk. This encouraged me to send my book to “Kirkus Reviews” and they gave me a “starred review.” Now my novel has won a total of twelve honors and awards.

What is your writing process like—are you an architect (planner) or gardener (pantser)?

On the first draft of my fiction manuscripts, I listen to my characters and follow their story-gardening advice. What grows, grows. I evict the plot weeds on subsequent drafts and trim back the bushels of unruly wording, ensuring that my story and character arcs work, that my showing far exceeds my telling. I start a project as a pantser and finish it as an architect.

What was your favorite book as a child?

As a child, I adored Gigi, The Story of a Merry Go Round Horse by Elizabeth Foster, a chapter book set in pre WWII Vienna. Gigi’s mother was a pine tree, and his father was the wind that sweeps through the Vienna woods. In this story, children could hear the wooden horses speak—until those children grew so tall that their feet reached the stirrups. Reflecting upon this book as an adult helped me learn how to bring the fantastical to life using ordinary prose.

What writing project are you currently working on?

I’m working on a YA/historical fantasy/magical realism novel with a tentative title of “Plague of Flies.” I’m sure that won’t be the final title. I’ve set the story in California, 1846, during the Bear Flag Rebellion (which was one of the preludes to the Mexican-American War). Catalina, my teen heroine, loves Angelo, the son of a wealthy rancher in Mexican Alta California. However, Angelo’s father looks to Spain to find his son a suitable match. Angelo enlists in the Mexican Army to prove he is man enough to choose his own bride—Catalina. Meanwhile, a local vaquero’s prophesy is fulfilled when a mysterious spirit man arrives on the scene. And then the spirit man enlists Catalina to help stop a potential invasion of Alta California by new Yanqui settlers. Settlers with little respect for Mexicans or Native Americans.

What’s the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?

Write close to the point-of-view characters. Show the story through the eyes of those characters, rather than through the author’s eyes or an omniscient narrator. This advice has served me well.

For example, point of view became a big challenge when I wrote The Engine Woman’s Light, part of the reason the novel took me so many years to write. Most of the time, Juanita is Juanita. Yet sometimes, the spirit of an ancestor possesses her. How could I minimize potential reader confusion? The published novel uses first person to tell Juanita’s story and third person when she is possessed. Both point-of-view approaches remain quite close to their corresponding

Want to learn more about Laurel Anne Hill and The Engine Woman’s Light? Check out her: Website, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon page.

Or better yet, purchase a copy of The Engine Woman’s Light.

Thanks to author Laurel Anne Hill for stopping by. Watch for an interview with author Jayne Barnard on January 24, 2019. Happy reading! – Vonnie

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mjgardner5_sm2 Whimsical Words welcomes guest author, MJ Gardner. MJ Gardner is a web developer by day, who lays in bed at night and wonders, what if….? Her stories have been published in “Mad Scientist Journal,” “Luna Station Quarterly,” “Plan B” and “Saturday Night Reader.” She published her first novel, Evelyn’s Journal in 2015 and the sequel, Joe Vampire, in 2017.

MJ has an undergrad degree in English and Classics (Greek & Roman studies) and wrote her Master’s thesis on The Vampire in English Literature. She currently lives in Windsor, Ontario, Canada with her partner of 19 years, and her cat Zoom. She is also the virtual curator of The Suicide Museum.

MJ Gardner’s latest book, Joe Vampire, is the second book in the Darkness & Light Series. A quick summary for my readers: Joe has really turned his life around. With help and support from his girlfriend Evelyn, he has conquered his addictions, left foster care, finished high school and is ready for college. As much as Joe longs for normality, his life is never going to be that way. After all, his girlfriend is a vampire, and she wants him to become one too. That’s a bit too much commitment for Joe. And other members of the vampire community, some of whom refer to him as a snack, won’t leave him alone. Things begin to unravel for Joe when he tries to help a friend cure himself of his many ailments with a vampire’s blood. When things go badly Joe blames himself and turns back to his old addictions for succor. But can Joe cope with the strongest addiction of all?

mj evelyn cover And since Evelyn’s Journal and its characters lead into Joe Vampire, here’s a quick summary of that book for my readers: It’s cold and dark and Evelyn is in the morgue. In a drawer. She doesn’t know how she got there, and Tammi, the morgue attendant who hustles her out into the night, doesn’t have time to answer questions. Evelyn has been robbed of the gift of immortality her absent lover promised her, and plunged instead, alone, into the night-time world of the vampire, where she must learn to survive alone.

Freed from mortality, Evelyn also feels freed from convention, morality, and law. Her first act as a vampire is to secure the house and fortune of the family who rejected her. Then she sets out to look for love. Evelyn finds that love is a difficult thing when you are a vampire and physical closeness leads to hunger as often as desire. When her vampire lover returns and shows his true nature, Evelyn realizes she is not, and doesn’t want to be, a monster. Note: contains sex, violence, a feisty heroine, all the good stuff.

Where did the idea come from for your latest book, Joe Vampire (Book 2, Darkness & Light Series)?

I really can’t talk about Joe without talking about Evelyn. Back in the day I was on a listserv called Vampyres, and a lot of people would role play and post fiction to the list. Someone commented that all the vampires were titled, centuries old, and rich. Basically, they were spinoffs from Dracula or Anne Rice’s novels. I wanted to create a vampire who was none of those things. Enter Evelyn, a young woman who is only eighteen when the book opens. Evelyn becomes a vampire, but with no mentor and little guidance, she doesn’t really know how to vampire, and she has to figure it out for herself.

Joe is Evelyn’s boyfriend at the end of Evelyn’s Journal. With Joe, I wanted a character who was not only an unlikely vampire (against trope) but also an unlikely match for Evelyn (opposites attract). Joe is young, he’s very poor, he comes from an abusive home, and he is multiply-addicted to various painkillers. He’s sixteen and doesn’t really care if he lives through the day.

mj joe cover At the end of Evelyn’s Journal, Joe is starting to get it together. His relationship with Evelyn is something to live for. At the beginning of Joe Vampire, Joe (who is not a vampire) is doing well: he’s going to college and he has career plans. The only thing dogging him is pressure from Evelyn to join her in the nightlife. Joe doesn’t know if he is ready to commit—to Evelyn or to blood-drinking immortality. Joe’s college roommate is getting married, and he shames Joe into proposing to Evelyn. And from there, things start to unravel.

Basically, I wanted to write about vampires who were/are not suave, wise, or upper class.

Who is your favorite character in the book—and why?

Joe. Hands down. He’s so sincere. He keeps trying to make things better, but he’s fighting against a lot of (virtual) demons, most of which stem from his childhood.

Is your book traditionally published, indie published, or self published?

I published both books myself—cover art, typesetting, everything. The manuscripts had been sitting around for over a decade, and I just wanted to get the stories out there. Along came Amazon and Smashwords and made that possible.

The advantage to self-publishing is that you have total control over all aspects of your work. I am lucky in that I have the skills to do cover art, layout, and build my own website. The downside is that I do not have anyone marketing my books. As a self-published author, you have to be able to market your own work. My experience is that this works best face to face. Meet people, talk at conferences, and network. Unfortunately, I am not built for that.

What is your writing process like—are you an architect (planner) or gardener (pantser)?

I used to be pantser, but I have found that a book works much better if you know how it ends so that you know what to put in before the end to make that ending significant. You want to make the reader feel the ending, whether it is happy, sad, etc. To do that you need to make sure the reader knows why the ending is so sad, happy, etc. for your character(s). That said, that is about all the planning I do. A lot of the in-between is pantsed.

What was your favorite book as a child?

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I bought a copy from Scholastic Books when I was ten. I needed to look up some of the words as I read it the first time, like “misanthropist”. I have re-read it several times since. I like it because it is full of big emotions and ordinary people. Emily Bronte knew it long before Sartre said it: enfer c’est les autres (Hell is other people). The whole scope of the novel is two houses, two families, two generations, and the empty fields in between, and yet whether these places are heaven or hell is determined by the character of the people and their relationships.

I always wanted to be one of the Brontës. It seemed like heaven to me, growing up in a remote location, in a family with sisters who spent their time writing and reading each other’s stories.

What writing project are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a book called Dry Leaves. It is a very different vampire novel, and I don’t use the word vampire in it. It is set in Detroit (I live across the river in Windsor). It started as a long short story, and I kept trying to trim it because most places that publish short stories want them short–often only 3000 words. I got this story down to 8000, shopped it around, got no takers, and decided to just unpack everything I had condensed. It will be a novella. So far it is 12,000 words.

I also have a (longish) short story coming out in Metaphorosis in the coming months (no date yet), called “The Book of Regrets.” It’s a gay time travel romance. Like Wuthering Heights, it is about ordinary people propelled by big emotions. I also have plans for another book in the Darkness & Light Series, a story about a witch who is desperate to escape dying of cancer, and a novel about a family which has no supernatural elements in it at all.

What’s the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?

Write what you want, not what you (think) the public wants. The public is fickle: vampires are out; zombies are in. Tomorrow zombies are out and lycanthropy or space operas or ghost lovers are in. If you write what you want it will always feed your soul.

Want to learn more about MJ Gardner and her vampire novels? Check out her: Website, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon page.

Or better yet, purchase a copy of Evelyn’s Journal and/or Joe Vampire .

Thanks to author MJ Gardner for stopping by. Watch for an interview with author Laurel Anne Hill on January 22, 2019. Happy reading! – Vonnie

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Whimsical Words welcomes guest author, LJ Cohen. LJ is a Boston area novelist, poet, blogger, ceramics artist, geek, and relentless optimist. After almost twenty-five years as a physical therapist specializing in chronic pain management, she now uses her anatomical knowledge and myriad clinical skills to injure characters in her science fiction and fantasy novels. When not bringing home strays (canine and human), LJ can be found writing, which looks a lot like daydreaming.

LJ is active in SFWA (The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) and Broad Universe, and blogs about publishing, general geekery, and other ephemera. A Star in the Void (book 5 of the SF/Space Opera series Halcyone Space) is her most recent novel. Derelict, the first novel in the series, was chosen as a Library Journal Self-e Select title and book of the year in 2016.

A Star In The Void ebook Cover revised LJ’s latest book, A Star in the Void, is an out-of-this-world read for those who love science fiction. A quick summary for my readers:

Control the wormholes, control the galaxy! For over fifty years, the Commonwealth’s lock on wormhole transit has enabled the military government to keep its grip on commerce, travel, and the community in diaspora off Earth. But everything changed once Ro Maldonado resurrected the damaged AI on a derelict spaceship. When she and her accidental passengers aboard Halcyone stumbled upon a hidden planet and Ada May, its brilliant but reclusive leader, they became entangled with her covert resistance.

But behind the scenes of the Commonwealth lurks an even bigger enemy: the Reaction Chamber, a powerful shadow organization of politicians, business moguls, and crime cartels that has co-opted and infiltrated all levels of the government. The Chamber knows Halcyone is the key to finding and eliminating the resistance. And as people close to Ro and her companions disappear or die, it’s clear their enemies are closing in fast.

When May vanishes through an impossible wormhole, taking the leader of the Reaction Chamber with her, she abruptly shatters a decades-old stalemate. Now, Halcyone and her crew must decode May’s revolutionary wormhole technology and locate the missing scientist before the Reaction Chamber obliterates the resistance and exploits its resources to seize complete control of the cosmos.

This is the culmination of the series that began with Derelict, a kindle best seller and award winning science fiction novel.

A Star in the Void - Cover Art Where did the idea come from for your latest book, A Star in the Void?
It’s pretty much impossible to separate out this 5th and final book of the Halcyone Space Series from the prior books. The initial idea for the series actually started out as a very different book than what ended up being written. My first idea was for a YA book where the main conflict was between the children of privileged diplomats and the children of the space station personnel. What I developed and wrote ended up being far richer and far more nuanced, as well as being more of a genre science fiction space opera and not specifically YA.

Typically, my stories are a weird blend of a lot of disparate ideas. These books had many influences, including:
— a colonial world scattered across space where the colonists lost their war for independence
— a group of young people who stumble upon a political conspiracy that changes the trajectory of all their lives
— an AI controlled space ship where the AI is damaged and has PTSD
— a post-sea level rise world where we’ve abandoned the coastal cities and where the gap between the wealthy and the poor has widened dramatically, creating permanent shanty towns of emergency settlements
— a story where one generation of revolutionaries passes the fight to the next

Who is your favorite character in the book—and why?
Wow. That is a very hard question in a story with a large ensemble cast!

I will highlight Barre Durbin. He is the eldest son of the station’s physicians. A musician in a family of hard scientists, he has always felt less-than both in his family and in the wider world. What I love about Barre is how much he grows and changes across all five books and the relationship he has with Halcyone’s damaged AI: he is the one who figures out how to make contact with the computer, creating a musical language to bypass its broken code and eventually help it heal. He also has a deep connection to his young brother Jem.

I wanted to highlight the importance of relationships in these books and how it is our emotional bonds that sustain us, especially in times of crisis. Nearly all of the characters travel this arc at one point or another through the five books.

Is your book traditionally published, indie published, or self published?
My novels are self-published. After traveling the traditional route and being represented by an agent for 5 years, but not successfully selling a novel, I created my own publishing imprint.

I’m very much someone who likes to have creative control of each step in the process and have found a team of freelance folks—editors and cover artists—who help make my books shine. I also like being able to set my own publication schedule and to be able to price my books.

The disadvantages are: It’s far harder to get your books in bookstores. Discovery is entirely up to you. Promotion is entirely up to you. Plus, I have to outlay the production expenses

What is your writing process like—are you an architect (planner) or gardener (pantser)?
I’m a little bit of both! I typically start out with a big picture view of the story, the main characters and their problems/desires/goals. Then, I start writing. After a few scenes or chapters, I go back to my big picture view and see if anything has changed. Then I outline what I’ve written and a few scenes beyond.
Then, it’s write, reflect, and repeat.

What was your favorite book as a child?
Hands down, A Wrinkle in Time. It was the first time I’d read a speculative fiction story where a girl I could identify with so closely was the hero. Even when a boy (Calvin) was in the story, the book belonged to Meg. Even after they rescued her father, she was still the hero and main driver of the story. It was a revelation. It was the book that spurred me to write my own stories.

What writing project are you currently working on?
I’ve just created that big picture view of my next book. It’s a totally different universe from the Halcyone Space Series. I’m in the process of putting together the big picture view of a whole new story. New characters, new universe. It doesn’t have a title yet, but it’s broad themes are inspired from this verse by Rabbi Tarfon: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.”

Multiple worlds are connected in the quantum realm. Most are safely sealed off. Most have no knowledge that they are but one in an infinite multitude. A few people on a few scattered worlds can see though the multiverse. Most of those go mad. Fewer still are able to bear the burden of so many possibilities. Those are seers and are either considered cursed or blessed. Though the reality is some of both.

Perhaps one in a billion has the ability to slip from world to world and becomes a Traveler. But always, there is balance. A Traveler comes, a Traveler goes, never more than any world can bear, treading lightly to encourage balance. Until now.
Three individuals from three different worlds are drawn to one another through the thinning walls between the worlds. None of these three are Travelers in truth. But they are all that is left. For they discover something is hunting Travelers and obliterating them and the balance they bring from the multiverse. Together, they must rescue each other and fight a foe they cannot name to heal the worlds before the walls dissolve for good.

I have the characters, their goals, their problems and I’ve written a few trial scenes. Nothing left to do but the writing!

What’s the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?
Find your own process and don’t be afraid to change it.

Want to learn more about L.J. Cohen and A Star in the Void? Check out her :
Website & Blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon page.

Or better yet, purchase a copy of A Star in the Void.

Thanks to author L.J. Cohen for stopping by. Watch for an interview with author A.L. Kaplan on December 20. Happy reading! – Vonnie

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