Author Interview: Nancy Panko

Not too many people can boast about having had their work published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Nancy Panko can! On top of that, Nancy is the author of the soon-to-be-released Guiding Missal, a novel which centers on the relationship between three generations of military men and a spirited prayer book. Interested in learning more about Guiding Missal? Stick around. Nancy has lots of interesting information to share with us today!

fullsizeoutput_21c71. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in the dining room of a farm house in central New York State, but lived most of my life in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. My husband and I moved to Fuquay Varina, N.C. to be closer to our children almost 10 years ago and love it here.

I’ve always been a crafty person and love to make jewelry or sew unusual things.

I’m a retired pediatric nurse, now a writer.

I started my education at the State University of New York at Alfred, but dropped out after a year. Seventeen years later, I enrolled at Lock Haven University to challenge myself with the hardest things I could take to see if I could hack nursing school. I got all A’s and B’s and it was off to nursing school. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, but the most worthwhile and I graduated in 1982 having made Dean’s List repeatedly. As nurses, we do a lot of writing and it has to be understandable. Nurses must be good communicators, it gave me an excellent foundation in my straight forward style of writing.

In our leisure time, we love to spend time on our pontoon boat. Actually being on, in, or around the water is our favorite thing to do. I get a great sense of satisfaction in piloting the boat for the fisher people with a good book on my lap. When we reach “the spot,” the fresh air, water and quiet (until someone gets a fish on) makes for good reading.

2. When did you start writing?
I started writing professionally in 2012. We had gone on a cruise with good friends and I was telling them about a patient I’d taken care of in ICU. That patient changed my life. He wasn’t expected to live, but live he did, and he and I experienced a journey of healing. When I was done telling the story, everyone was dabbing their eyes and my friend said “That story needs to be shared. You must write that story!” She would know, as Ellen Edwards Kennedy is a writer of a lovely cozy mystery series. So, I wrote the story and “Journey of Healing” was first published in Christian Women’s Voice in California. I submitted it to Chicken Soup for the Soul and Guidepost Magazine and they both published it in different years with different titles.

That story was followed by six more stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul and two more in Guidepost.

option-13. Do you recall the moment you first conceived the idea for Guiding Missal
The idea for my novel, Guiding Missal hit me in 1994.

4. How different is the final product (the book) from your original vision?
The manuscript evolved from a short story to a full length novel over time and the characters became more three dimensional. The structure of the book changed from a three part book to stories and characters flowing along a time line. As I grew as an author, the book became better and better. It has taken about 8 years to write this story, with many stops and starts because life got in the way. About a year of that time was research because it needed to be historically correct. I did lots of personal interviews and I had men in their 80’s sharing stories in their letters about their experiences in WWII.

5. How did you arrive at your book’s title?
The title “Guiding Missal” came about during a brain storming session with friends. We knew that the prayer book was the omniscient narrator of the story and that it was carried by all three generations of military men. The Holy Spirit within the pages of the missal (another term for prayer book) guided and protected each man. At first it was Guided Missal until one of my readers pointed out that it was the missal that was doing the Guiding. Necessarily, it became Guiding Missal.

6. Does your story have a moral?
The overall theme or moral to this story is that with faith, gratitude and love, God can perform miracles even on the battlefield.

7. Of the characters you’ve created, which one is your favorite?
The most fun character to develop and write is that of the omniscient missal which tells and is a character in the story. I believe he’s male, God fearing, faithful but humble.

8. Using five words or less, describe the protagonist in Guiding Missal.
My protagonist in Guiding Missal is: Omniscient, reverent, feisty and funny.

9. What does a typical writing session look like for you?
A typical writing session for me is totally quiet at my computer in my home office. I like the mornings and early afternoons. At times when I feel overcome with ideas and a story line, I will write in the wee hours of the morning. I don’t set word count goals, but rather time goals and, with that, the word count comes.

10. How do you feel about outlines?
I don’t typically start an outline, but rather write in scenes and establish a direction. Later on I go back and fill in the details.

11. What is your favorite book genre?
My favorite genre is a mystery, second favorite is a historical novel and then a good love story. I write a lot of non-fiction for Chicken Soup and Guideposts, things that have happened to me or my family, but my novel, although based on actual events, is fiction because of the character of the missal.

I enjoy reading Ellen Edwards Kennedy’s cozy mysteries. She has a wonderful way with the English language and a great sense of humor and her books are “flinch free.” I just finished Situation Room by Jack Mars. I love anything by the late Vince Flynn, Michael Connelly and I enjoyed A Higher Call by Adam Makos and Larry Alexander. The Help by Kathryn Stockett is one of my favs. I can’t forget Wayne Stinnett’s series, enjoyed every one.

12. What is your favorite book?
Asking, “what’s your favorite book?” is liking asking who’s my favorite child. There are so many over the years. Different styles of writing, different genres, complex characters. I truly enjoyed everything James Michener wrote, he was a master of detail. I loved Stieg Larsson’s series about the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I loved Water for Elephants and Heaven is for Real.

13. Any project in the works?
The current project is getting Guiding Missal to the public and making everyone aware of how incredibly special this book is.

14. In your opinion, what makes a story ‘good’?
A story is ‘good’ if it makes me laugh, cry or feel some emotion. I’m always sad to have a good story end. If it leaves me wanting more, it’s a hit!

15. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Keep on honing your craft. Start by writing short stories, make them gripping, touching or exciting in some way. Get your feet on the ground and just keep moving forward.

And now for a game of “Which Do/Would You Prefer?”
1. Books or movies?
Books

2. Dogs or cats?
Dogs, especially black labs

3. Summer or winter?
Summer, more boat time

4. Cake or ice-cream?
Cake

5. Car or motorcycle?
Car

6. Ebook or physical book?
Both

7. Living in the city or living in the country?
Living in the country

8. Having telepathy or having telekinesis?
Telepathy

9. Being able to travel to the past or being able to travel to the future?
To the past

10. Staying in a hotel or going camping?
Hotel

11. To find true love or to win the lottery?
Find true love

12. Reading or writing?
Writing, for sure!

13. To never read another book or to never watch another film?
Never to watch another film

14. To never again eat a piece of chocolate or to never again drink a cup of coffee?
Coffee, don’t take away my chocolate!

Thank you for joining us, Nancy!
Readers: want to connect with Nancy? You can find her on Twitter and Facebook. Also, be sure to check out her author website.

Author Interview: Victoria Zigler

Prolific author Victoria Zigler joins us in the virtual studio. Among the various works to her name are the Magical Chapters trilogy, the Toby’s Tales series, the Kero’s World series, the Degu Days duology, and the Zeena Dragon Fae series.

Let’s sit down with this incredible architect of worlds afar and learn more about her!

tori-september-20151. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Victoria Zigler, but most people just call me Tori – you can do the same, if you like.  I was born and raised in the shadow of the Black Mountains in South-West Wales, UK, other than a couple of years in my early teens when I lived on the English coast, and six months in my late teens when I lived in Canada with the man who became my husband during that time.  These days I’m back to living on the South-East coast of England, in the same general area I lived for those couple of years during my early teens, along with my hubby and our rodent gang.

I’m both a poet and an author of children’s stories.  When I’m not writing, chances are I’m either reading, spending time with my hubby and pets, sorting eMails, putting in an appearance on social media, or dabbling in one of the other hobbies and interests that capture my attention from time to time, such as watching movies, listening to music, doing crafts, and playing roleplaying games (games like Dungeons And Dragons, and that kind of thing).  Either that, or it’s because I have yet to figure out where I can get a house elf or brownie, so I’m forced to worry about things like household chores and errands.  Although, hubby’s pretty good at helping with those, so I sometimes get to skip them and get some extra reading or writing time in.

Also, having battled with Glaucoma since birth, I’m now completely blind, since I lost the last of my sight in my early 20s.

2. When did you start writing?
I learned to read and write young, partially due to having older brothers and wanting to copy them.  I’ve been writing since I knew how, and was writing poetry and short stories “just because” even in my early school days.  I even won a medal in a writing contest when I was seven years old.  But I only started publishing my books in 2012.  To date I’ve published seven poetry collections, 42 children’s stories, and a story in a sci-fi and fantasy anthology, with plenty more poems and stories planned for the future.

Among the children’s stories are a series about a little boy’s struggles with adapting after sight loss, a series based on the life of my beloved West Highland White Terrier, another shorter series based on events in the lives of my degus, a series about a faerie dragon and a pixie saving the world from a jealous fairy’s evil magic, and a trilogy about a young witch and a pineapple loving dragon.  The rest are stand-alone stories mostly in the fairy tale or talking animal categories, although I do also have a science fiction story, as well as a historical fiction story based on the battle of Hastings.

All of my books are available as eBooks via Smashwords and the retailers they distribute to (such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple iBooks) and as paperbacks via CreateSpace and the places they distribute to (such as most of the Amazon sites, and Barnes & Noble).

3. Why did you start writing?
I don’t know why I started writing to begin with.  I know I learned to read and write quickly because I wanted to do “homework” like my big brothers.  But I couldn’t tell you what made me start writing poems and stories of my own.  I guess I just thought it was fun.  Regardless of the reason though, these days I write because I have to.  There are stories in my head, and I have to write them down.  It’s as simple as that.

4. What does a typical writing session look like for you?
I’m not sure I have a “typical” writing session.  I write every day, but exactly how long for, and at what time, depends on what else is going on that day.  I always write at my desk these days though.  We have the second bedroom set up as a sort of home office, and both hubby and I have our computers in there.  I didn’t used to always write at my desk.  Before I lost my sight, I wrote in cafes, at bus stops, or wherever I happened to be.  Then, after I lost my sight, I had a laptop that I used to write in different locations.  We scrapped the laptop idea when I kept putting it down and forgetting where though… I stepped on it one too many times, and it broke.  After that happened twice, we decided it would be better for me to stick to a desktop computer.  Anyway, other than my computer – and the software required to make it do what I need it to – the only thing I need to be able to write is to not be too hungry or thirsty.  I always have a drink beside me, and tend to write better if it’s not close to dinner time, or I have snacks to hand.

5. How do you feel about outlines?
Outlines may work well for some people, but they don’t work for me.  I never know exactly where my story is going until I get there.  I did try outlines once, but my characters wouldn’t listen to me, so I just ended up scrapping the outline anyhow.  I figure there’s no point wasting time on outlines if they’ll only end up scrapped.  So I just get on with writing the story.

6. What is your favorite book genre?
My absolute favourite genre is fantasy, both for reading and writing.  I do read almost all genres though, and have dabbled in writing for a couple of other genres too, with plans to do this a little more in the future.

7. Any project in the works?
Always! At the moment I’m working on writing the poems for my eighth poetry collection, while also writing a pirate themed adventure story.  While working on those things, I’m also playing about a little with some other potential ideas, but none of those have gone far enough to be discussed yet.

8. How long does it usually take you to write a book?
It varies, depending on how much time I end up spending on writing each day, how quickly I’m able to figure out where the story is going next, how long it is, and whether I find myself needing to look something up before I can move on with the story, or can wait to double-check facts until the first draft is done and it’s time to do the next draft.  The quickest was written, edited, and published, all within a month.  The slowest took almost two months just to write the first draft.  Of course, those times are based on estimates… Well, except for the quickest one, since I know the final book in my “Kero’s World” series was published within a month.  But I’m usually dabbling a bit with my next project while working on my current one, which makes it difficult to give a totally accurate estimate on how long it takes me to write something.

9. In your opinion, what makes a story ‘good’?
I don’t think there’s one single thing that universally makes a “good” story.  Several factors come in to play, and which is most important depends on the story in question, whether the story is more plot or character driven, what genre it’s in, etc.

10. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Just write.  For one thing, practice makes perfect.  For another thing, if you don’t sit down and write, you’ll always just be an aspiring writer.  If you want to become an author, rather than remaining an aspiring writer, you need to write.  It sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how many people insist they want to write something, spend who knows how long reading books and articles on writing, attend workshops, etc, and yet fail to actually sit down and write.

And now for a game of “Which Do/Would You Prefer?
1. Books or movies?
Books.  I do love movies, but if I had to pick, books would win hands down.

2. Summer or winter?
Winter.  I can deal with the cold better than heat.

3. Nights out or nights in?
Nights in.  My favourite place to spend my evenings is at home with a good book or movie, more often than not, it’s the book.

4. Having telepathy or having telekinesis?
Telekinesis.  I’m not sure I want to explore the minds of most people.  However, having the ability to move objects with my mind would be super cool!

5. Being able to travel to the past or being able to travel to the future?
Being able to travel to the past.  It would be great for research for historical elements in stories.

6. Being Spider-Man for a day or being Batman for a day?
Batman.  He’s cooler.

7. Being able to speak and understand every language known to humankind or being able to speak and understand every language known to animals?
Being able to speak and understand every language known to animals.  I’ve often wished I could understand my pets better.  Plus, recent events lead me to believe animals would have more interesting and sensible things to say.

8. Going without internet access for a week or going without watching any movies/television shows for a week?
Going without movies/TV shows.  Apart from anything else, my inbox would be scary if I couldn’t sort eMails for an entire week.  The thought of that alone makes me reluctant to give up the internet.

9. Staying awake for forty-eight hours (continuous) or walking for twenty-four hours (also continuous)?
Staying awake for 48 hours.  I’ve done it, and know I can.  OK, so most times I haven’t meant to do it, but that’s not the point.  Either way, there’s no way I could walk for 24 hours, where as I know I can stay awake for 48 hours, so it’s an easy choice.

10. Finding yourself caught in the middle of a hurricane or finding yourself caught in the middle of a snowstorm? (Note: in both scenarios, you’d be outdoors and have no access to shelter.)
Finding myself in the middle of a snowstorm.  For one thing, I love snow.  OK, I might not love it so much after being stuck in a snowstorm, but whatever.  Anyway, for another thing, I can build a snow cave and wait out a snowstorm, where as there’s no telling what will happen to me in a hurricane.

11. To never again eat a piece of chocolate or to never again drink a cup of coffee?
Since I can’t stand coffee, I’ll gladly agree to never have it again, especially if the alternative would be never having chocolate again.  Chocolate is an essential food group, you know!

12. Being two inches tall or being two stories tall?
If I was two inches tall, would I have wings like a fairy or pixie? Well, it doesn’t matter.  I mean, it would be cool if I did, but it’s OK if I wouldn’t.  I’d still rather be two inches tall than two stories tall, even if I don’t get wings.

13. Have every day be Saturday or have every day be [insert your favorite holiday here]?
Have every day be Saturday.  I love the holidays, but I think they’d lose their appeal if they happened every day.  Plus, most things aren’t open over here on the holidays, so if it’s the holidays every day, how am I supposed to get hold of chocolate? Better stick with it being Saturday every day, I think.

Thank you for joining us, Victoria!
Readers: want to connect with Victoria? You can find her on Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter. Also, be sure to check out her author website and blog.

Author Interview: Louise Cornelius

gotr-kdp-coverFor librarian, Emily Carson, life is great. She has a good job, thriving career, good friends and family. After the death of her parents, she has finally managed to piece her life back together. Everything seems to be going well. Until, one night, she mistakenly meets them. A group of mysterious men holding a secret meeting. Who are they? And what are they planning? To make matters worse these men don’t seem ordinary to her. There is something very strange about them. Curious, she acquires the help of the weird but quirky genius, Ethan Cunningham. But, to her surprise, he has secrets of his own. Meanwhile, little does she know, she is treading down a dangerous path and she now has a target on her back. Her whole world gets turned upside down as she is taken through a series of events that leads her to shocking new discoveries.

Please help me welcome the author of The Guardians of the Relic, Louise Cornelius!

dsc_02341. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am from the city of Durban in South Africa. Our city is known for it’s beautiful beaches. There is no place better to be on a Saturday morning than the beach enjoying the sun. I haved lived here all my life. I studied at a local private college and have a degree in Accounting and Finance. In my spare time I love reading, writing, watching movies and listening to podcasts. I also love socialising and spending time with family and friends.

2. When did you start writing?
When I was younger, I used to borrow books from the school library. Generally, when I finished reading a book, I would consider the various possibilities of how the book could have ended. I think that’s where my interest in writing really started. My favourites back then were The Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene. I have started my career by writing a short story called The Final Act last year which is now available on Amazon. My new novel The Guardians of the Relic falls under the fantasy and paranormal category. I got the initial idea for the book from an old movie I watched a long time ago. I adapted the story from just one scene in the movie. The ideas for the rest of the story just came to me while writing.

3. Why did you start writing?
I initially started writing because I needed an outlet for my creativity. I had all these stories in my head and no idea what to do with them. As I began writing, I realised that I had finally found my true passion.

4. Of the characters you’ve created, which one is your favorite?
My favourite character in the Guardians is Ethan Cunningham. I loved his character mainly because he was so unique and fit into the storyline so well. I had fun developing his character.

5. What does a typical writing session look like for you?
My typical day of writing usually starts in the morning. I prefer to be locked  in a room all day, as I find it helps me work better. I don’t really set a word count but the minimum amount of words I write a day is usually around 800.

And now for a game of “Which Do/Would You Prefer?”
1. Books or movies?
Books – I am an avid reader so that’s a no brainer.

2. Summer or winter?
Summer – I love the beach so summer is definitely better than the cold.

3. Ebook or physical book?
Physical book – This is a tough one since I read both. But I would have to say a physical book because there is nothing better than owning a hard copy of your favourite novel.

4. Having telepathy or having telekinesis?
Telepathy – After reading Stephen king’s novel Carrie, I don’t think I would like to have the power of telekinesis. Mind reading would be so much more fun.

5. Being able to travel to the past or being able to travel to the future?
Past – I think it would be so fascinating to travel back in time, especially to the nineteen hundreds. The days when people used to have “The Great Gatsby” style parties. Of course, I also love the music.

6. Being Spider-Man for a day or being Batman for a day?
Batman for a day – Well his life is pretty great, he enjoys being Bruce Wayne the billionaire by day and a superhero by night.

7. Reading or writing?
Writing – This is a hard choice. I really love doing both but I would have to say writing. Writing my own story and getting to create the characters is definitely more fun.

8. Going without internet access for a week or going without watching any movies/television shows for a week?
I would rather go without television shows or movies for a week than without internet access. I mean, I panic when it goes down for an hour!

9. To never read another book or to never watch another film?
To never watch another movie. I definitely could not handle never reading a book again.

10. To never again eat a piece of chocolate or to never again drink a cup of coffee?
I would choose never eat a piece of chocolate. I don’t think I would be able to never drink another cup of cappuccino or coffee again.

Thank you for joining us, Louise!
Readers: want to connect with Louise? You can find her on TwitterGoodreads, and Instagram. Also, be sure to check out her blog and author website.

Author Interview: Cindy Mezni

I am thrilled to announce that Cindy Mezni, author of the Red Era trilogy, is here! Her latest novel, Poisoned Iris, hit shelves just a few weeks ago; it’s the first installment in the aforementioned series.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at Cindy’s new book:

Athens was once the cradle of civilization. Now it’s slowly but surely becoming the tomb of humanity.
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The Red Plague, a violent virus which had run rampant decades ago, left its imprint on the planet and the flesh of men. All that remains of the modern world is an endless wasteland of ruins—Erebos—and two cities—Elysion, the obscure island of the Non-Infecteds about which no one knows a thing, and, Tartaros, the crumbling town of the Infecteds where despair, hatred, violence and poverty are the operative words.

And at the heart of this universe lives Irisya, a sixteen-year-old Non-Infected girl, staying recluse in her home to be safe and relying on her brother, Memphis, for everything.

But then, one day, he disappears without a trace.

Irisya has no choice. To save him, to survive, she will have to brave all the dangers of the outside world.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Cindy Mezni and I was born in Switzerland. I’m still living in the region I was born and I wouldn’t move for the world because I love my country and above all the place where I live. I’m a reading and writing addict—no kidding, it’s a real obsession, not a day goes by without me reading or writing some pages. I write in French and in English and publish my books in both languages.

2. When did you start writing?
I started writing during my high school years. It all started with fanfictions, then one day came the idea of my first book Shadow’s Dangers, a YA paranormal romance. After I found a publisher for my first book, I tried my hand at two other genres and wrote and published an adult dark fantasy titled Ex Tenebris and a YA dystopia titled Poisoned Iris.

3. Why did you start writing?
The storyline of a very popular book I was reading wasn’t going the way I wanted so, as soon as I finished it, I rewrote the story and posted it on a blog to share it with other fans of said book.

4. How did you arrive at your book’s title?
My latest release is titled “Poisoned Iris”. It’s some kind of wordplay because my heroine’s name is Irisya—after the iris flowers—but her nickname is Iris, her mother often comparing her to her favorite flowers. Due to terrible events that followed her birth, Irisya saw herself as a poisoned iris, hence the title.

5. Does your story have a moral?
The world in my latest release “Poisoned Iris” is a very bleak and violent one and I wanted the moral of my story to be that, even in the darkest of times, there’s still hope and good things can come out of terrible events.

6. Using five words or less, describe the protagonist in Poisoned Iris.
Caring, selfless, optimist, and determined.

7. What does a typical writing session look like for you?
I’m usually comfortably sitting on my sofa with a lot of cushions all around, and my laptop and my keyboard in front of me. There’s also probably one or both of my dogs sleeping close to me.

  • Do you listen to music as you write?

If I’m writing, you can be sure I have my earbuds on and I’m listening to movies or TV shows soundtracks.

  • What is your preferred writing time? Morning? Afternoon? Late at night?

Late at night because everyone is asleep, everything I have to do is done and I have less chances of being disturbed by something or someone.

  • Do you prefer writing outside or indoors?

Always indoors. I can’t write outside, there’s too much distraction. Also I need to be comfortable to write.

  • Do you like to write in public places, or do you seek out isolation?

I need public places to “live” the scenes I’ll write but I need to be alone or at least undisturbed by the outside world when I write.

8. What is your favorite book genre?
I love all genres. I read a lot of romance books but I also love dystopian or post-apocalyptic books.

9. What is currently on your to-be-read shelf?
A lot of romance and dystopian books.

10. In your opinion, what makes a story ‘good’?
It can be the characters or it can be the world building—even if I dislike every character in the book, if the world the author has built is one that makes me want to visit it, I’ll consider that story a good story.

11. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Write, write, write and write. Even if you feel like what you’re writing is really bad, keep writing. Practice makes better. Oh and don’t let a publisher/agent rejection or a bad review get to you. There will always be people who don’t like your story, just like there will always be people who like it. So keep doing what you love and write for yourself and the people who like what you do.

And now for a game of “Which Do/Would You Prefer?”
1. Books or movies?
Do I really have to choose? Ugh, it’s so hard… Okay, books because it was my first passion.

2. Dogs or cats?
Dogs—sorry my adorable cat.

3. Summer or winter?
Summer means sun and swimming but winter means snow so winter it is.

4. Having telepathy or having telekinesis?
Not sure I wanna know what’s inside other people heads, even if talking with someone without anyone knowing we’re talking sounds kinda fun. But, well, telekinesis means not having to get up to get something to drink or to eat, or my phone when it’s ringing in the room next door so it wins lol.

5. Being Spider-Man for a day or being Batman for a day?
I love Spider-Man and climbing walls and playing Tarzan in the streets sounds great (and seeing Captain America for real sounds even more great) but Batman got the TUMBLER and the possibility of seeing Catwoman. I mean THE TUMBLER and CATWOMAN. Of course I choose being Batman for a day!

6. Reading or writing?
I can’t choose. It’s like asking me if I prefer my first daughter or my second daughter. Okay, the comparison is a bit much… and I have no kids but I’m sure you get what I mean.

7. Being able to speak and understand every language known to humankind or being able to speak and understand every language known to animals?
Since we’ll probably have an app that does that for human languages in the near future, I’m choosing animal languages.

8. Staying awake for forty-eight hours (continuous) or walking for twenty-four hours (also continuous)?
Since I know what awaits me because I already did that—I know, that’s bad, don’t do that—I prefer staying awake for forty-eight hours.

9. Drinking a glass of expired, curdled milk or eating a bowl of cold, slimy worms?
No reflexion needed, I prefer the milk. I don’t care if I end up sick, there’s no way I’m eating worms—yeah, if there’s an apocalypse, I’m toast… which is very ironic for someone who loves writing or reading post-apocalyptic stories, I know.

10. Losing your ability to speak or losing your ability to hear?
Losing my ability to speak because I can’t imagine not hearing my loved ones, my dogs or my cat or music again.

11. To never read another book or to never watch another film?
To never watch another film. When I say I can’t live without reading/writing, I’m really not kidding.

12. Spending half a day locked in a coffin (there would be a hole for air, of course) or spending two days trapped at the bottom of a well?
The memory of “The Ring” movie is still very vivid in my mind so I prefer the coffin.

13. To never again eat a piece of chocolate or to never again drink a cup of coffee?
I don’t like coffee—shocking for a writer, I know—so the choice is easy. Farewell, my dear not-friend coffee.

14. Finding yourself trapped in the universe of The Walking Dead or finding yourself trapped in a slasher film?
Is that a real question? I’m asking because one of those propositions got Daryl, Rick and Michonne—and now Jesus—included so I assumed the answer would be evident 😉

15. Have every day be Saturday or have every day be Christmas?
Have every day be Saturday. I love Christmas and seeing all my loved ones and offering them gifts that make them happy but Saturdays mean no work, no chores and lazy mornings and afternoons so yeah, my choice is Saturday.

Thank you for joining us, Cindy!
Readers: want to connect with Cindy? You can find her on Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook. Also, be sure to check out her author website.

Author Interview: Matthew O. Duncan

Joining us this fine day is the author of the New Terra saga, Matthew O. Duncan. Read on and get to know both him and his books a bit better. (See below for his debut novel’s description.) 

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The year is 2319. Lt. Comm Roy O’Hara leads his squadron against the enemy’s latest Super Destroyer and is shot down over an unexplored planet. The planet holds secrets to a long lost alien weapon and the key to Roy’s own destiny. Near death Roy is found by Katreena, a beautiful and mysterious woman. When she finds Roy, he’s broken and battered, and saves his life with the Boto Stone. She is unaware that by doing so she will create a deep bond and awaken an affect not seen for hundreds of years; the ability to communicate to each other in dreams. An unguarded moment leads to a forbidden night of intimacy; an act of betrayal to the crown, an act that will put both their lives in jeopardy. Katreena flees to save them both. Danger increases as their secret may be discovered and war erupts on their planet.

pcc-2016-me1. Hello! Could you please tell us about yourself?
I’m Matthew O. Duncan, Novelist and Playwright.  I go by Matt, but when I started publishing I found that my name was very common and lost in the Google Search.  I considered going with my full name which is Matthew O’Brien Duncan, but it felt too long and I get tired of explaining that the reason that my middle name is a last name is simply because my father thought it sounded cool.  I considered Matthew O’B Duncan, but it just looked too odd.  So I settled on just using my middle initial. Visually it has some symmetry and it is unique enough to pop up on the front page of most search engines request; except for Amazon.  That I don’t understand.

2. When did you start writing?
I had always wanted to be an actor.  I was very involved in theater all through high school and when I went to college I declared it as my major.  It didn’t take me long to realize that as an actor I was okay, but I didn’t have the height, looks or ego that it would take to be successful at it.  Yet my audition pieces that I had written myself were getting a lot of praise from my peers.   So I decided to try my hand at playwriting and entered my first attempt in the school’s blind contest.  I won and the prize was to have the play produced the following semester.  Having my ideas and words performed on stage was one of the greatest thrills of my life.  Playwriting became my thing.  I continued to write and had four more productions before I graduated.

While in school I had the opportunity to intern at Walt Disney World (twice) in their college program.  It was a fantastic experience and I was hoping to continue on with the Disney Company after graduation, but all they had for me at the time was part time and I couldn’t live on that.  So I returned to Arizona, worked in local theaters as a writer and stage manager, but even that didn’t last.  Life moved on.  I got married, had two kids, took a management job that paid the bills and let my writing become less of a career goal and more of an occasional hobby.

In 2011 life had become difficult.  With the down turn in the economy I was laid off and was only able to find part time work.  We exhausted our savings and our house was going into foreclosure.  I was feeling depressed and frustrated, and the only thing that was keeping me going was the love and support of my wife and kids.  On my birthday that year my wife bought me a copy of The Writers Market.  A book that I used to buy myself every year when I was in my 20’s that had list of all the publishers, agents and writing contest that had open submissions that year.  She included a message with the gift. No matter how bad things get I never want you to give up on your dreams.  She knew how happy I was when I was writing and hoped I would find that joy again.  That was a turning point in my life.  I started writing again and never looked back.

3. Do you recall the moment you first conceived the idea for your debut novel?
Shortly after I started writing again I decided that I wanted to write a screen play that I had been thinking about for a long time.  When I first met my wife she was involved in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism), which is basically Renaissance Reenactments.  She would dress in beautiful period dresses and sometimes compete in singing contest or participate in other activities.  I agreed to let her make me some clothes to wear so I could participate as well, but my interest were more in Sci-fi, particularly future space dramas like Star Wars and Star Trek.  So I had the idea of wondering how the two very different universes would interact and clash.  So I came up with some interesting character and a few ideas for events in this world of Sci-fi and Fantasy character, but no full story.

When I decided that I wanted to take a crack at writing a script that fit these characters I needed to flush out the story.  So I decided to write out a short story.  That would help me outline the three acts and give me a beginning, middle and end.  Taking a small notebook computer that I bought cheap on-line, I started writing.  After about a week of writing at night and on lunch breaks I found that I had written over 40 pages and hadn’t gotten past what would be the first half of the first act.  What I was writing was a novel.  Something I had never done before.  Yet it was good, at least I thought so.  More often than not I couldn’t wait to get back to the keyboard to type so I could find out what happened next.  You see, I write the way most people read, not knowing what’s going to happen until I see it on the page.

For five months I wrote every chance I got and finished the first draft of my first novel.  I was excited and petrified at the same time.  With hundreds of hours of my life poured out onto those pages along with very personal ideas and fantasies, I feared showing it to anyone who might bring an ounce of criticism to it. Yet there was one person who I wanted to show it to from the day I started putting words to print.   My wife Carleesa.  If she didn’t like it I would be crushed and it would go straight to the trash.  Yet she had always been my biggest fan since our first date when I told her about my plays and recited some of my short stories to her.  If anyone would be a kind critic, it would be her.  So I showed her my book.  She loved it, but also gave me detailed notes on each and every page.

There is a big difference between playwriting and writing a novel.  As a playwright I had to learn how to minimize anything that was not dialogue.   That’s because a play doesn’t just have a writer, but it also has a director, set designer, costume designer, prop master, lighting designer, sound designer, choreographer, music director, actors and a producer; all creative people who want to leave their artistic mark on the production.  So anything that I write into the script that is not spoken is changed, ignored or mutated.  As a novelist there is no other voice to sing the story along with.  It is a solo act and it is up to me to create the entire universe.  So most of the notes that I got were “Show more, tell me what the character is thinking, more inner dialogue, what is the character feeling, show more action, and show expressions” and so on.  It didn’t matter how good the story was if the writing isn’t entertaining for the reader.

I took every note seriously and worked on every suggestion.  But I also decided I needed to go back to studying the art form of writing.  When I wasn’t working on edits I was reading best-selling novels of classic and contemporary writers.  When I wasn’t able to read, like when I was driving to and from work, I would listen to books on CD, with a focus on the writing style and choices.  There was one writer that I found who had written a series of books that were produced on audio.  As I listened to the newest and then jumped to the oldest I could identify the improvements that she had made.  For example in her early work she would use “He said” and “She said” after most dialogue, but in her later works she got creative in added action around spoken words to help the reader identify the speaker without using the identifier “He/She said” several time on each page.  By identifying such mistakes and improvements in another writers work I was able to recognize the same pitfalls in my own writing and make the improvements in each draft.

For two years I worked on draft after draft, each one read and edited by my wife. By the end of the tenth draft I felt it was ready to be published.  I named it The Warrior’s Stone, Book One of the New Terra Sagas.  I was so convinced of its quality that I already planned on writing at least two more before I had showed it to anyone else or even tried to get it published.

4. Tell us a little bit about your books’ titles.
In the first book we learn that some stones on New Terra have an energy that can be controlled by the thoughts of those with the gift.  Some can heal, some can see the future and others can fire a bolt of plasma at an enemy.  The stones that can be used as a weapon are called Warrior’s Stone because they can only be used by a Warrior with the gift that the people believe has been blessed with the power by God.  The stone can only be used and only belong to a Warrior.  Hence the phrase Warrior’s Stone.  It’s a key element of the story.

My second book is called The Last Flight of the Phoenix.  In the first book we meet some of the crew of the T.S.S. Phoenix as it is the ship that Roy is serving on at the beginning of the book.  Half way through the ship is crippled and it doesn’t look like they are going to be able to make it back to friendly space.  The reader is left to wonder what happened to the ship and the crew.  The second book picks up where we last left the Phoenix and tells the story of what happened to them in addition to a continuation of the story of Roy and Katreena on New Terra and other characters from the first book.  It took me two years to complete the second book, but as I grew as a writer through the experience I believe it is just as good as the first, if not better.

5. Does your saga have a moral?
That’s a good question.  But I don’t think it’s good to give what it is to the reader before they have a chance to read it.  I will say that there are a number of moments in each book that will make the reader think.

As for themes in the book, well, it deals with class, duty, love (romantic and family) perspective of age, war, sacrifice, death and the challenges of faith and the lack of faith.

6. Of the characters you’ve created, which one is your favorite?
That’s hard.  Roy is the character I most wish I could be.  Katreena is in many ways like my wife, but not exactly.  Captain Roche is someone I would admire and was enjoyable to write because I had to imagine how he would speak and not just what I would say.

7. Using five words or less, describe the protagonist in The Warrior’s Stone.
Selfless, Brave, Lost, In Pain

8. What does a typical writing session look like for you?
There is no typical writing session for me.  Sometimes I go to a coffee shop with a lap top, get a coffee and work with people all around.  Other times I get up early on a weekend, make breakfast and work at the dining room table.  Sometimes I lock myself in my room, sit on the bed and work there.  And on the rare occasion that the house is quiet I will sit at my writing desk and work, but that doesn’t happen very often.  Some of my more productive writing is when I’m in a waiting room or at work when I want the distraction.  My least productive times are when I have nothing to do but write.

  • Do you listen to music as you write?

Sometimes.  Mostly Irish or classical.  I try to stay away from music with words because they distract and anything with commercials can break my concentration.

  • What is your preferred writing time? Morning? Afternoon? Late at night?

Morning or afternoon.  I do write at night sometimes if I have the inspiration, but I don’t work well when I’m tired.

  • Do you set daily goals for yourself (in terms of word count)?

No I don’t set any goals and I don’t like outlines.  I have used outlines when working on a script, but I find that deadlines and outlines can limit the creative process.  However I just entered a writing contest were I had to write a one act play that could not be longer than 15 pages.  I had to find a creative way to tell the story I wanted to write within those limitations.  It came out pretty good, so there can be times when a challenge can help the process.

9. What is your favorite book genre?
I love Sci-fi and Fantasy, both to write in and to read.  There is a freedom and a challenge to writing in a universe where anything can happen and yet convince the reader that it could be possible.

10. What are you currently reading?
I just started Opening Volley (The Raven Prophecies Book 1) by Scott Goforth.  I’m only a couple chapters in, but so far I’m enjoying it very much.

11. What is your favorite book?
I Robot by Isaac Asimov.  This book is nothing like the movie with Will Smith.  That was a good movie, but they should not have used the same title.  The book is a collection of short stories that take place in the future and all involve different points in time when humans had to interact with Robots as they progress in their evolution and how that effects everything.  They are all Morality Tales that shine a light on us more than the machines we make.

12. Any project in the works?
Like I said earlier, I just finished a one act play call Democracy.  I’ve entered it into a local competition and if selected it will be produced in the spring of this year.

I’m also working on book #3 in the New Terra Sagas.  I’m doing my best to have it done and ready by May 2017 so I can debut it at the Phoenix Comicon where I have a booth again this year.

13. How long does it usually take you to write a book?
My first took nearly three years.  My second took two years and the one I’m working on will be a one year task if I get it done in time.  My goal is to have a new book out once a year.

14. In your opinion, what makes a story ‘good’?
There is not one thing.  In my opinion you have to treat a story as art.  That means that you start with No Rules.  Tell the story you want to tell and just get it on paper.  Then go back and ask yourself “Would anyone want to read this?”  That’s when you cut parts that are too long, add to parts that don’t say enough, rework the parts that are confusing and then decide what grammar mistakes need to be fixed and what work with the art of the story.

There have been a number of times when I’ve checked out a book from the library or bought an e-book on line because I liked the description on the book jacket and never got past the first chapter because the quality of the writing was so poor.  Spelling errors and typos don’t bother me enough to put a book down, but repetitive phrases, clumsy dialogue, confusing or unclear settings and unimaginative writing are all things that will make me walk away from a book.

15. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Some of the best writers that I have read aren’t overly wordy or complex.  Yet, there is a rhythm to their writing that changes pace and tone with the mood of the story that helps the reader become completely engrossed in the universe between the pages.  If you want to become known as a great writer, keep that in mind before you finish your last draft.

And now for a game of “Which Do/Would You Prefer?”
1. Books or movies?
Movies

2. Summer or winter?
Winter

3. Cake or ice-cream?
Ice-Cream

4. Car or motorcycle?
Car

5. Ebook or physical book?
Physical Book

6. Nights out or nights in?
Night In

7. Having telepathy or having telekinesis?
Telekinesis

8. Being able to travel to the past or being able to travel to the future?
Future

9. Making a phone call or sending a text?
Phone

10. Travelling by car or travelling by airplane?
Airplane

11. To find true love or to win the lottery?
True Love

12. Being Spider-Man for a day or being Batman for a day?
Batman

13. Reading or writing?
Writing

14. Going without internet access for a week or going without watching any movies/television shows for a week?
Without Internet

15. Having your car break down on an extremely busy expressway or along an abandoned road in the middle of nowhere?
Abandoned road

16. To never speak again or to never eat solid food again?
No solid food

Thank you for joining us, Matthew!
Readers: want to connect with Matthew? You can find him on Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, and YouTube. Also, be sure to check out his author website and blog.

Spotlight and Free Review Copies!

During the summer of last year, I had the opportunity to interview Robert Eggleton, author of Rarity from the Hollow. (To check out that post, click here.) I’m excited to announce that Robert recently released a new edition of the aforementioned novel. Said version contains both a new blurb and a new cover. Before discussing some interesting details regarding Rarity from the Hollow, let’s take a look at its description:

32993259Lacy Dawn’s father relives the Gulf War, her mother’s teeth are rotting out, and her best friend is murdered by the meanest daddy on Earth. Life in The Hollow isn’t great. But Lacy has one advantage — she’s been befriended by a semi-organic, semi-robot who works with her to cure her parents. He wants something in exchange, though. It’s up to her to save the Universe.

Will Lacy Dawn’s predisposition, education, and magic be enough for her to save the Universe, Earth, and, most importantly, protect her own family?

Rarity from the Hollow is adult literary science fiction filled with tragedy, comedy and satire. It is a children’s story for adults, not for the prudish, faint of heart, or easily offended.

Intrigued? If so, your sentiments are shared by quite a few others. Here’s a sampling of what readers have said about Robert Eggleton’s Rarity from the Hollow :

  • “The most enjoyable science fiction novel I have read in years.”
    — Temple Emmet Williams, Author, former editor for Reader’s Digest
  • “Quirky, profane, disturbing… In the space between a few lines we go from hardscrabble realism to pure sci-fi/fantasy. It’s quite a trip.”
    — Evelyn Somers, The Missouri Review
  • “…sneaks up you and, before you know it, you are either laughing like crazy or crying in despair, but the one thing you won’t be is unmoved…a brilliant writer.”
    Readers’ Favorite (Gold Medal)

In many ways, Rarity from the Hollow is a political allegory. Here’s what Robert had to say in this regard:

You would have to read the novel to find out how Lacy Dawn, the protagonist, convinced Mr. Rump (Bernie Sanders) to help talk Mr. Prump (Donald Trump) into saving the universe. The political allegory includes pressing issues that America is fighting about today, including illegal immigration and the refuge crisis, extreme capitalism / consumerism…. Mr. Prump was a projection of Donald Trump based on the TV show, The Apprentice. Part of the negotiations in the story occur in the only high rise on planet Shptiludrp (Shop Until You Drop), a giant shopping mall and the center of economic governance, now more easily identifiable as Trump Tower. There is no political advocacy in the story, other than sensitizing readers to the huge social problem of child maltreatment, but the allegory is much more obvious now that Donald Trump is a household name.

Requests for review copies of the new edition of Rarity from the Hollow are now being considered. If interested, simply email Robert at robert_t [at] suddenlink [dot] net.

To purchase a digital copy of Rarity from the Hollow, click here. To purchase a paperback copy, click here.

Author Interview: Amie O’Brien

31248752The opinionated, only daughter of a missionary, is enslaved and gifted to an Ottoman prince who has an inner vow to win her affection.

Sarai was led to believe that the whole world could exchange their beliefs for hers. But when her parents are murdered, she quickly learns that the world never stops for just one person. The world takes, forgets, and swiftly moves on.

By 1875, she isn’t even Sarai anymore. She had spent her teenage years repackaged as Leila, a palace concubine-in-waiting for the overly indulgent, Ottoman Sultan, Abdul’Aziz. Leila does her best to stay out of the eye of ‘Aziz as well as his son, Prince Emre. But when young and thoughtful Emre claims Leila for his own harem, she is forced out of her shell and thrown into a ring of competitive women. Here, she cannot hide from the attention her young master wishes to lavish upon her. Nor can she can avoid the ruthless retaliations of his prior favorite, Aster. But it’s the unexpected gift of sexual sanctuary and an inside look into his family’s struggles that really collides with Leila’s upbringing. Soon, despite her better judgment, she finds her heart becoming increasingly tied to him.

But can she submit her faith and independent spirit to such a future—a future where to be loved means settling for the fact that she can only ever be his favorite? Will she be able to take turns sharing him among the four beautiful girls he had received before her, one being a jealous rival and another a closest friend? And what will happen to their love if Emre’s father can’t hold together his fragile kingdom, an empire that has grave threats encroaching from every side…including within?

Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? Stick around! The author of The Merchant’s Pearl, Amie O’Brien, is in the virtual studio today.

amieobrienpic1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a Southern-raised, turned Northern girl who enjoys living in the midwest (“Pure Michigan”). I’m married and have two kids. Our son rides dirtbikes, always keeping my heart on edge, and our daughter, on the other hand, couldn’t be more like me. She and I enjoy theatre, books, horseback-riding, and concerts. I met my husband in college and he is truly my best friend in the entire world. Our favorite thing to do is travel and one day we hope to be one of those brilliant, yet not so brilliant couples on Househunter’s International. You know, the ones trading in everything for a little loft apartment in France, or maybe Italy? Yep…that’s us!

2. When did you start writing?
I started writing about 4 years ago. I’ve always wanted to write, but just couldn’t think up that perfect storyline scenario. Basically, I didn’t want to brave writing a story until I could really, really feel it. Every time before, I would start a composition book and then put it back down a few pages into it. Then the thought of The Merchant’s Pearl came along. I found myself incapable of stopping!

3. Does your story have a moral?
Yes, I like to believe it has a moral. In fact, I hope it offers two. To me, The Merchant’s Pearl is about self-worth. It’s about holding on to who you believe you are, and being brave enough to not cave into the image that the world tells us that have to be. But at the same time, it’s also about believing in the worth of other people. That we be able to see past our differences, reconcile our dual pasts, and that we look at others for who they are trying to be, not just where they fail us.

4. Of the characters you’ve created, which one is your favorite?
Oh man…picking a favorite character is like picking a favorite child. Who does that??? Okay, I am completely smitten by both Leila and Emre. Leila is incredibly strong, beautiful, and witty. She’s secure and yet completely insecure all in the same breath and I think that makes her very endearing to follow. But Emre is, by all surprises, far softer and approachable in nature. He’s kind and thoughtful, and amazingly slow to anger when Leila provokes him. He is vulnerable, yet crazy complex. Meaning, he can win you over, but you never have a sense of just how much of him you get to possess. He’s a mystery, really. I think he’s the real page-turner.

5. In your opinion, what makes a story ‘good’?
When I am reading books, the stories that I enjoy the most are the ones that not only entertain me, but stay with me. They teach me things. They become like an adjuster of my moral compass, causing me to question what I really believe and feel. Jane Eyre is my go-to story. It’s not just romantic. It’s a story about the choices that she must make to pursue love. They’re insanely hard choices, impacting her faith, her position in society, and how she feels about herself as a person. I love this kind of tension. I totally sought to emulate it.

6. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
To aspiring writers I would simply say to “stay the course”. Writing is hard, and getting people (friends, family, agents, publishers, etc) to believe in your book is even harder. It is a journey like no other and you have to start every single day knowing it’s probably going to be an emotional roller coaster. But, again, stick with it. Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy.

And now for a game of “Which Do/Would You Prefer?”
1. Books or movies?
So hard! Okay, books. But…my favorite is when it’s a beloved book made into a movie.

2. Dogs or cats? 
Dogs

3. Summer or winter? 
Summer

4. Cake or ice-cream? 
Cake. Every time!

5. Ebook or physical book? 
If it’s an amazing read, I MUST have it as a physical book.

6. Living in the city or living in the country? 
Well I do live in the country. (But I dream of a brownstone in Boston or Chicago!)

7. Being able to travel to the past or being able to travel to the future? 
To the past.

8. Staying in a hotel or going camping?
Hotel. (Priceline it, baby!)

9. Losing all of your money or losing every picture you’ve ever taken and every picture that has ever been taken of you?
Lose the money over losing memories. You can always get more money.

10. To find the love of your life (only to find out that you’re not the love of their life) or to have someone declare you the love of their life (note, however, that this someone is not a person whom you are romantically interested in)?
Oh man…I’ll take the one who actually loves me the most.

11. Drinking a glass of expired, curdled milk or eating a bowl of cold, slimy worms? (Note: the worms would be dead, though not cooked.) 
Expired milk. (But I hate cottage cheese.)

12. Spending half a day locked in a coffin (there would be a hole for air, of course) or spending two days trapped at the bottom of a well?
Bottom of a well. (No zombies, right?)

13. To never again eat a piece of chocolate or to never again drink a cup of coffee? 
Holy cow! These are desperate measures! Hmmm…no more chocolate. :(…

14. Being two inches tall or being two stories tall?
Two inches. Why not? I’m already petite anyway. God forbid I ever be able to open the top kitchen cabinets.

15. Finding yourself trapped in the universe of The Walking Dead or finding yourself trapped in a slasher film? 
The Walking Dead (Pre-Neegan though!)

Thank you for joining us, Amie!
Readers: want to connect with Amie? You can find her on Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook. Also, be sure to check out her author website.