Monday, July 30, 2012

Dark Fantasy Author: Todd Maternowski #AuthorInterview

Todd, you describe yourself as a Dark Fantasy author. What does that entail?

Realism with a hint of hope. A lot of fantasy is very this-is-good, this-is-evil black and white, and real life just doesn't work that way. No one is out there dressed in all black, spending tens of billions of their hard-earned cash on doomsday devices (not since the Cold War, anyway). Bad guys are motivated by the same things as good guys, and the differences are often only cosmetic. That said, life isn't all bleakness and horror: there's quite a bit of upside to being alive. A relentlessly negative book would probably be relentlessly unreadable. You've got to have that speck of light for any of the darkness to have effect. That's what the best dark fantasy authors do extremely well.

I downloaded your book, Golem. You list it as Horror. Can you give us a bit of background on it?

My wife and I went to Prague for our honeymoon, and it was magical. One of the many intriguing places in the city was the Old New Synagogue in the Jewish quarter. Allegedly, four hundred years ago the Christians in the city were ready to storm into the Jewish quarter and start another pogrom, so a very wise and learned rabbi went down to the banks of the river and fashioned a "golem" out of clay. Using kabalistic magic, the rabbi breathed life into the golem, ordering it to protect the Jews in the city. It did its job, perhaps too well: depending on the legend, the golem may have gone out into the Christian part of the city and started killing people. Regardless, the Hapburg Emperor intervened, promising that no harm would come to the Jews if they would lock up the golem. So they did, keeping it in the attic of the synagogue... where, the guides and gift shop people will gladly tell you, is still there to this day. We walked around the synagogue, and wouldn't you know it: there's a freaking ladder leading right up to the (presumably locked) attic door! I HAD to get in there, but since committing crimes was not on our honeymoon agenda, I decided to write about it instead. It may not seem like a traditional "horror" story, but... keep reading.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I fought the urge for decades. I'd always pictured "writers" as self-absorbed narcissists with an overwrought sense of importance, so I slaved away at trying to be a productive member of society until Dec. 2010, when I finally gave in to my friend's repeated requests and read George R.R. Martin's "Game of Thrones." I had read Tolkien as a kid and Neil Gaiman in my early 30s, but absolutely zero fantasy other than that up to that point. Martin was different: there were no high-sounding elves with poles up their rears, no cardboard evil wizards or bland one-note heroes slaying entire armies without getting a scratch. To say I was entertained is an understatement: I was inspired: "I can write like this. I *should* write like this." Before I'd finished reading the first book in Martin's series, I was already hard at work starting my own.

That's great! What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I'm blessed to work from home for an online news site, so I can manage my own schedule. My daytimes are full of being a dad to a three year-old girl, so after she goes to sleep, after my full-time work is done and there are no more distractions, I can write in complete silence.

Ah, yes... silence often comes after all are asleep in the household. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
I'm a storyteller, and hate literary gimmicks. I just write in a straight-ahead third-person narrative with very little experimentation, no unreliable narrators, no clever wordplay, etc. Those things tend to distract rather than add, and I want the reader as fully immersed in the world of my novel as humanly possible. Anything that reminds the reader that they are reading a book is a big taboo for me. The characters and settings need to be as real as the ones outside for a novel to really work. 

Nothing getting in the way of the story, right? How do your books get published? Traditional or Indie?
I tried traditional on my first go-around, and was rejected by 43 of the 43 agents I queried. Going over a list of 100+ fantasy publishing houses, I was shocked to find that only three of them accepted submissions from unknown authors, and that the waiting period for a *possible* callback would be 12 to 18 months (not to mention that 40% of them were out of business... on a list that was just two years old. Imagine that.) Having worked in plenty of other industries that are not on the verge of catastrophic collapse, I couldn't fathom how any of these houses stayed in business. The model itself is sick --if Walmart or Best Buy operated like the publishing industry, they'd be out of business in a week-- and I couldn't justify wasting my time sitting by the phone waiting for some phantom phone call. And that's not even mentioning the horror stories from traditionally published authors regarding titles, cover art, lack of marketing, and editorial direction. So I went indie after two months of waiting, and while I'm not successful financially I have found the process extremely rewarding artistically. I didn't even consider going traditional for my second book. There's simply no good reason to do so.

Well, times sure do change fast. I'm glad you found an audience. Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Since I started writing fantasy, I started reading the competition: Abercrombie, Gene Wolfe, Eco, Herbert. I've always loved Russian literature from the 1800s, as well as Dungeons and Dragons, and have tried to meld both influences through my books. The setting of my novels was a D&D campaign I had been designing for years, but knew that I would never get the chance to use (all my friends, like myself, are lame working dads in their mid-30s). So I created different versions of myself through the years, shaped them into the four main characters and put them in a world I find extremely interesting. The side benefit to fantasy is that you don't need to do a lot of research into how things really operate in the real world: nevertheless, I tried to remain as grounded as possible, particularly with something as tricky and over-abused as magic.

Ha, ha, too much magic can take away suspense. Do you have any suggestions to help our readers become a better writers? If so, what are they?
Yes! Ignore the vast majority of advice for self-published authors, because most of it is obsessed with marketing, not writing. If you want to spend your entire life marketing, go join a marketing firm. If you want to be a writer, write what you need to say, not what you think will sell. This is not a "career," this is an artistic pursuit. The idea of authors becoming rich off their books is a relatively new concept, and incredibly short-sighted. Second: go as deep as possible. Don't hold back because you're worried your grandma will read this and think less of you. Go all-in on conflict, desire and pain, even if it embarasses or exposes you personally. If you're worried that imaginary readers might not like a certain scene or plot line, you'd better be doing this for money and nothing else.

I agree. Writing is a chance to explore those forbidden emotions and dark secrets. What do you think makes a good story?
Conflict, conflict, conflict. The protagonist needs to want something, and someone or something needs that same thing. That's the core of every great story, whether it's a twenty-second parable or a 8000-page multi-volume fantasy series.

Thanks for talking with us. I wish you best of luck with your career.

Todd Maternowski
Available on Amazon Kindle, Nook, Smashwords and everywhere else eBooks are sold
Find out more at

Sunday, July 29, 2012

#BookChat The Teacher's Billionaire by Christina Tetreault

Callie Taylor's life is turned upside down when she learns the truth about her birth following the death of her mother.  Not only is her father alive, but he's none other than presidential candidate Senator Warren Sherbrooke. 

Billionaire and confirmed bachelor, Dylan Talbot, is devoted to his family.  When his stepfather Warren Sherbrooke receives a letter from a past love telling him they have a daughter together, Dylan is instantly suspicious. In order to keep the media vultures away and protect Warren's political aspirations, Dylan convinces Warren to let him handle the situation. 

As Callie and Dylan spend time together, they can't resist the feelings that blossom between them.  However, when Callie learns the real reason he has been spending time with her their fledgling romance is put in jeopardy and only complete honesty can save it.


Slowly she dropped her arm back down and turned around expecting Dylan to step back. He didn't move. Rather he reached out to brush a stray piece of hair off her face.

As if on autopilot Callie closed her eyes as his fingers skimmed down her check and neck to her shoulder. With the weight of his hand resting on her shoulder, she waited not sure what to expect. And then she felt just the slightest bit of pressure as his lips settled over hers. Everything seemed to stop. The only things she was aware of were his callused hand on her shoulder and his lips on hers. The kiss was gentle. Tender.

This shouldn't be happening. Not with this man.

Even as her brain protested, Callie's body responded. She wanted to feel his hard-muscled body pressed up against hers. Even though she knew she should break contact, she took a step closer and rested her hands on his wide shoulders.

Reader's Reactions
Jade Varden sez:
I was drawn to The Teacher's Billionaire because it begins with the revelation of a dark family secret, and that's totally in my wheelhouse even if romances are not. Usually, I roll my eyes all the way through love stories (I am not a fan), but I didn't want to stop reading this one. The characters are completely believable and each setting so vivid, I wanted to hop a plane to Boston to see some of the places where Callie and Dylan actually walked. She's a pretty average schoolteacher that jumped right off the page, a very real female who isn't so secure in her looks and hates her own wardrobe. He's grade-A daydream material with a magazine-ready smile and a pathos so real it's easy to forgive him for being involved in American politics (a truly demonic machine). Sure he's a Fortune 500 favorite son, a wheeler-dealer with a corner office and a home gym, but he's also a pretty basic guy that's driven by the same fears and desires as any other -- and he's all too easy to fall in love with. I can't find anything to complain about in the writing -- the author has a gift for crafting characters and places that smack of sincerity ….. I don't think anyone should pass this one up. I look forward to the next installment in the series, and my biggest complaint is that I can't pre-order it right this very minute!

Lily Silver sez:
This is a charming contemporary romance with very likeable and believable characters. I rate this as 4.5 stars. I found the plot instantly drew me in and had a hard time putting the book down. Normally, I stretch a book out for several days to a week, but this one drew me in from the start and would not let me slowly savor it.  I finished it in two evenings.

The author has created very vivid characters and an intriguing backdrop of a pre-election campaign scandal.

This story is worthy of a 5 star rating.  My only reason for giving it 4.5 stars is due to my personal preference for sex scenes to be fully depicted. There were several intimate interactions between the couple, but the author discreetly turns our heads away after the couple begins undressing and closes the bedroom door. This is not a failing of the author but rather a personal choice that must be respected.

For those expecting to have their love scenes a little more fleshed out (sorry, pun intended), be warned going in to the story that this is not the case here, yet the story stands alone without it. On the other hand, those looking for a realistic, believable, compelling romance without the offense of graphic sex scenes will be pleasantly surprised by this author's obvious talent for spinning a complex contemporary fairytale.

Either way you like your romances, hot or sweet, this one is not to be missed. I recommend it as a delightful, fun, summer read!

Meet The Author
I wrote my first story with characters similar to those in the Sweet Valley Twins books at the age of 10 on my grandmother's manual typewriter. As I got older my stories and characters became more mature. During my freshman year at UMass Dartmouth, I read my first romance novel and fell in love with the genre. I have been writing contemporary romance ever since.

Today I live with my husband, three beautiful daughters and two dogs in Massachusetts. Whenever I have a free moment you'll find me either reading a romance novel or working on my most current story

twitter: @cgricci

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Do Sex and Biblical Fiction Mix? Reader Survey

Reblogged from Heather Hummel July 16, 2012

Too Sexual for a Biblical Tale? Rachelle Ayala Stops by to Chat about MICHAL'S WINDOW

This was an interview I didn't want to pass up! Rachelle Ayala is here to talk about her somewhat controversial book, MICHAL'S WINDOW - the big question is, are the love scenes to sexy for a biblical book? Let's find out...

Heather: MICHAL'S WINDOW is your first novel (and by the way, I love the cover!). What inspired you to write it?

Rachelle: Believe it or not, reading the Bible. Michal is a relatively unknown character, one that everyone loves to hate. Perhaps it's because she was a princess, but in any case, Michal's life is about loving to the fullest and losing everything for that love. The Bible depicts her as assertive, cunning, and opinionated. In a time when women's feelings were not important, she not only loved David, but acted quickly and decisively to save his life. Later on, she dared to speak her mind to her husband even though it displeased him.

Michal would have felt more at home in our century than her own times, and I felt this remarkable woman's voice had been suppressed for way too long.

Heather: Since this is a biblical story, did you expect it to have controversy around it?

When I set out to write Michal's story, I decided to make it well-rounded and gritty. I would immerse the reader into her innermost emotions and feelings and not "hide" anything that might be unsavory or deemed sinful.

I was not trying to write a sermon or a Sunday school lesson, but a novel that had historical elements woven with imaginative subplots in a way that would allow the reader to share Michal's experience.

Heather: MICHAL'S WINDOW has been criticized for being too sexual in nature, going against it's biblical category. Do you consider the scenes to be sexually explicit or are you shocked by the reactions from some readers?

On the whole, the vast majority of my readers (including several pastors' wives and Sunday school teachers) have enjoyed the story including the steamy bits. Of course there are those who have never been exposed to any semblance of sex in a story with Biblical characters, and I understand how they may feel. I stand by my rating of "mild", because most of the descriptions are metaphorical and deal with what Michal is thinking and feeling. Of course, David's descriptions tend to be a bit more physical. There is one scene in particular where it got a bit hot and heavy, but this was written from David's point of view. A man just sees sex differently than a woman.

Sex is an integral part of the relationship between Michal and David. I debated leaving it out, but I would not have been able to show the reader the intensity of their attraction, obsession and yes, love, because they did love each other deeply. At the end, the reader should hopefully understand viscerally how it felt to be Michal, a woman ruled by love but caught in the challenging situations of her life.

Heather: Do tell about your second novel that's in the works. Is this going to be a series?

Oh, I'm having fun with this one, Broken Build, a romantic suspense set in Silicon Valley with a software build engineer as the protagonist. This one has a simple premise. Could a man ever love a woman who had harmed him in the worst possible way? And I don't mean broken his heart, or stolen his money, or cheated on him with his best friend. But something much, much worse. I'm not going to tell you what it is because I structured this story in a way where things are revealed at the same time the character who is most affected by it finds out. It is a story for reader participation, whether throwing their e-readers into the wall, or laughing until their sides split, or howling and screaming at my characters while racing with them to solve the mystery.

On the surface, it's about broken software, broken cars, and broken lives. But it is a hopeful message that has a quirky ending. I'm not sure about a series yet, but there are quite a few characters that can be developed further (of the ones that aren't killed off or arrested).

Heather: Besides writing, what are your passions? Your muse?

I have a lot of passions, probably too many. I love music, playing the violin, mandolin and mountain dulcimer: classical and folk music. I've also made 23 mountain dulcimers, but I left off when the writing, revising and editing chores got too time consuming.

Nothing beats the first draft, and that's where my muse is. It's slinging words onto the screen without abandon, love-at-first-sight-daring, eating, sleeping, and dreaming my characters, and living through them. And most of all, it's the raw agony, the yawning void or the pressure-cooker fury, and blissful love with starry eyes, and having those emotions dictate the story. Too bad I only get about a month or two of first draft fever, then it's off to critique groups and the grind of revision and polishing.

I don't try to be controversial, but I also do not think about guidelines when I write. I go where the bare, naked emotions take me and I like to go deep. Just today I was commenting on someone's blog where she felt bullied by people telling her that she overstepped some line in her writing. Here's what I told her:

If you don't have some people hating what you're doing, you're not doing it passionately enough. - Rachelle Ayala

Author Bio:

Rachelle Ayala was a software engineer until she discovered storytelling works better in fiction than real code. She has always lived in a multi-cultural environment, and the tapestry in her books reflect that diversity.

When her hyperactive imagination is not in the mind of her characters, Rachelle enjoys social networking, reading and music.

Rachelle lives in California with her husband. She has three children and has taught violin and made mountain dulcimers.

What's your opinion? Should Bible characters have sex or keep it behind the scenes? How explicit compared to contemporary romance novels? Compared to historical romances? How necessary do you think sex is for the love connection? Do you want to be shown or told?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

#AuthorInterview: Melisa Hamling thrives on Drama and Romance

Today, I am both pleased and proud to have Melisa Hamling, author of Twenty Weeks, visit with us. Melisa is my Writing BFF. I cannot tell you how many times she has inspired me, encouraged me and MADE ME LAUGH!!!! Her emoticons are the bestest.

Why, thank you, Rachelle. You're pretty funny yourself and helped me too.

Rachelle: Yep, I guess we do egg each other on, don't we? So Melisa, tell us about your book, Twenty Weeks. What inspired you to write it?

Funny you ask. I had just finished writing my first novel. The state of Nebraska had just announced a new law they were trying to pass on abortions being illegal after the twentieth week. I remember vaguely listening to the information, and then, just like that, the idea popped into my head. The title of the novel was immediate. I started with what I'd say was more like a query letter. From that point on, the ideas kept coming and unfolding into an outline. And we see what became of it. Twenty Weeks.

Rachelle: Your book includes some controversial topics. How were you able to weave such a sweet and uplifting Young Adult romance into it?

You know you're forcing me to really think? Ha. I can tell you my original conflict and resolution wasn't such a happy one. As I wrote, more thoughts came to mind. I realized there are those who have no voice, who are in situations nearly impossible to get out of. Andrea's story formed from that knowledge and weaved in Maya and Andrea's friendship. The romance between Alex and Maya started out simple. Misunderstandings and lack of communication is a commonality in teens. Things go wrong and understandably so, but I'll leave it at that. Twenty Weeks has its own answers.

Rachelle: Twenty Weeks is an incredible book. You’ve given a voice to those who suffer in silence. It opens with a beautiful poem that sets the stage. I’m awed by both the message and the romance. You use the word Kaleidoscope in both the poem and the closing chapter. What is the deeper meaning?

Definition of Kaleidoscope: an optical toy consisting of a cylinder with mirrors and colored shapes inside that create shifting symmetrical patterns when the end is rotated
OR: A complex set of events or circumstances.

Life is like a kaleidoscope--bringing new shades of emotions, memorable moments, and a variety of shapes, each building new foundations at different stages of life. 

Rachelle: So, what's next?

Of Love and Deception. My next WIP is an adult romantic suspense. After that, I plan on going back to my very first novel "Finding Forever", and rewriting/revising it. As part of a Trilogy, the second book in the series is written and part of the third.

Rachelle: I’m excited about the romantic suspense. Love and Deception often times go hand in hand. Why did you decide to try this genre?

Simple. I love romance; break-ups and make ups. Mostly the making up!

Rachelle: Tell us more about your first novel, the trilogy. What is it like?

To be honest... gosh! The first book is a mess right now, but the idea behind the story is one I could only imagine. Who wouldn’t want to find a perfect man? And live in his unique world? Even if your doctor pursed his lips, arranged himself at your bedside and said, "… these people and this place you conjured up is nothing more than a psychological retreat of your subconscious mind."  
My main character has to determine if the good doctor is right or if the world she came to love, while in a coma, is real.

You sure do come up with some exciting plots. As a reader do you enjoy plot twists, drama and high intensity, or in-depth character examination?

I tend to favor anything with romance.  I do like in-depth character examination, but only if those characters are interesting or have something to offer to the story. I love twists that shock me and my assumptions backfire.

Rachelle: Okay, now for some fun questions. Describe your first kiss.

Seriously? My first kiss? Yuck. Sean and I sat outside at my friend’s house. I'm not sure how it started, but I do remember his lips being pressed against mine. I went with it, but it was wet and pretty lame. Not romatic like I had dreamed it would be. Ha. I didn't talk to him after that night. Boo-hoo. ;>

Rachelle: I honestly can’t even remember what mine was like. What was the most shocking thing you read and wished to erase from your memory?

I can't say I've ever wished to erase what I've read. I think Stephen King's "IT" was the most disturbing thing I had read. Scarred the crap out of me. A Child Called It really disturbed me. I guess it touched some familiar places in my own memory, but the extreme nature of what David Peltzer (the child) went through was so terrible. I had to put the book down several times because it made me cry.
The books I didn't like, I didn't finish. I won't say who the author is, but it's not an indie author.

Rachelle: Pick any author, someone you know or not. Name one thing you would tell to their face.

One author. Without mentioning a name (because I know her), I would have to say to this author that she created such a beautiful story, and it literally made my heart swell. Every possible emotion went through me and I wanted nothing more than to stay in her story because I couldn't get enough of it quick enough. And that is the truth! It's one of those stories you think about long after you've finished the novel. Not many books do that for me.

Another author, I will mention, Colleen Hoover. Her Slammed series took me by surprise. I love the freshness this author introduced in her Slammed and Point of Retreat novels. If you don't know what the title Slammed means, then I'd suggest you read it. Who knew such a thing would be so cool? And the love story is incredible in both books.

Rachelle: Ahh…. I see you are a real romantic at heart. Gee, it was great having you!

Well, it's been great to be had! Oh, wait, I mean thanks for inviting me, Rachelle. It's been a pleasure interviewing with you.

Twenty Weeks will be free July 25-29 on Amazon! Be sure to pick up your copy today! [Click HERE]

What have you got to lose? Nothing! It's free! Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Vanessa Morgan - Bonechilling, Creepy Horror!!! #AuthorInterview

What drew you to the horror genre?

I’ve always been fascinated with horror movies and the paranormal. As a child, I tortured my Barbie dolls and loved going to video stores to look at the covers of horror movies, hoping that I would be able to see them one day. Writing horror was a natural progression.

Tortured Barbie dolls? How could you? LOL. How did you come up with the title for A Good Man?
A Good Man is about an altruistic vampire - a vegetarian who feeds the homeless, takes care of animals and is concerned with the ecological future of the planet. He is a good man, but if he doesn't feed on the blood of humans, he'll be paralyzed for eternity.
Talk about conflict! Is there a message in A Good Man that you want readers to grasp?
A Good Man makes the reader wonder about his or her own behavior and interactions with people. We all have good motivations to behave the way we do, but they don't always justify negative results.
It must put your vampire in a bit of a dilemma because he needs to feed which obviously hurts another person. Did you write A Good Man entirely with paper and pen or is it all on the computer?

I almost never write with paper and pen. I only use it when I’m stuck for ideas as switching from computer to paper and pen helps to order my thoughts. A friend of mine, Daph Nobody, does exactly the opposite. He writes his entire novels in a notebook and only uses his computer to transfer his text once the book is finished.

What is the most productive time of the day for you to write?

The most productive time to write is the evening. Nighttime stimulates the right hemisphere, while daytime is for tasks that require the activation of the left hemisphere, such as editing and rewriting.

Hey, looks like we're similar. I get creative after everyone goes to bed. I'm really excited for you! It looks like A Good Man has been picked up to become a French film. How did that happen?

In 2010, my short story The Strangers Outside was brought to the screen. The main actor in that film, Pierre Lekeux, is also a producer. He loved what I had done with The Strangers Outside and he asked if I’d agree to write their next feature film. He wanted to jump onto the wagon of the current vampire-craze and he thought that I was the ideal person to bring this project to life. The movie will be shot later this year - starting in September - and will be released as Un homme bien.

Some people feel that when their screenplay/book is made into a film, they don’t do a good job bringing the work to life, Stephen King for example. Are you nervous or excited to see your work on the big screen?

The problem is that the filmmaker's view on what the movie should look like doesn’t usually correspond with the author’s view. That doesn't mean that the filmmaker is doing a bad job. The film adaptation of The Strangers Outside doesn't resemble my short story either. The director made a slasher movie out of it whereas my story was serious horror with a philosophical twist.

I do like psycho thrillers, but I suppose it is hard to get the philosophical twist into action. I have read some places that you are the female Stephen King. Do you feel that is a fair comparison? And are you a Stephen King fan?

That quote shows up in almost every article about my books and screenplays. It intrigues people and it helps to sell books, so I don't complain. Old-school Stephen King stories are still my favorites: Salem’s Lot... Christine... It...

Sound good to me! What were you in a former life?

A cat, naturally. I love cats, I have almost all the characteristics of a cat and most days I wish I could be a cat.

It's no wonder that your Good Man has a cat then. If you could have any supernatural power, what would it be?

I’d like to have all of them: being invisible, reading people’s minds, talking with the dead… But I can only choose one, right? Then it’ll be talking with animals. I have a very special relationship with the animals in my life and I know that there’s so much more to them then what I currently know. Oh, and I’d like to be able to cure people and animals miraculously. Who wouldn’t?

You're cheating and trying for two. But since we're fantasizing, why not have it all? Actually I don't think I'd want to read minds, then I'd know what people were really thinking about me! Which books are on your bedside table right now?

Kelly Creagh's Nevermore... I really loved the beginning of this book, but the ending is dragging a bit...

And lots of books my boyfriend got me as a present lately, such as Joe Hill's Horns and 20th Century Ghosts...

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children...

And the first two books in the Chi's Sweet Home series...

Vanessa, it's so wonderful to chat with you. Looks like some bone-chilling book recommendations you have for our readers. How can people get in contact with you?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Prolific Phenomenal Author: Russell Blake!!! #AuthorInterview

Rachelle: Silver Justice is what, your 14th novel?

Russell: Depends on how you count 'em. If you consider that Zero Sum was originally a trilogy before I grouped the three books into one, then it is number 16. If you count Zero Sum as one reeeeeaaaalllly long book, then it's number 14.

Rachelle: That's an incredible body of work. And you told me you only started publishing June, 2011? What's your secret?

Russell: Desperation and desire, in equal parts. Seriously, I told myself I would do this balls out, 15 hours a day, 7 days a week, for a year, to see what I could accomplish if I applied myself with no distractions. Frankly, it's even amazed me a little. Since January, I've released The Voynich Cypher, Revenge of the Assassin, Return of the Assassin, and now Silver Justice. Last year was a watershed year for me, and I am unlikely to ever match it - I committed to myself that I would release 7 novels in 2012 instead of, like, 10 in 2011, and I think that's a little saner. Next year I'll only be doing 3 or 4. Likely only 3. One every 4 months, to give me some time to have a life in between writing.

Rachelle: 7-10 novels a year? 15 hour days? For real? How do you sustain that?

Russell: Fueled by tequila and ideas. But it is really unhealthy, in that I'm sitting in one place from 7 or 8 in the morning till 11 or 12 at night, with only an hour break to hit the gym, and grabbing some food at my desk. So it isn't something sustainable. But if you think of 12 of those 15 hours as productive, and you figure I can write 800 or so words per hour, you can see where a daily word goal of 7500 words is achievable. Even with distractions, that makes for a first draft of a novel within a couple to three weeks, tops. Then it's back to polish and rewrite.

Rachelle: How many passes do you typically do on a novel?

Russell: I'm doing more now than I used to, because I find the end product is way easier on my editor with more passes, and I'm happier with the way the stories are coming out. I'll do a first draft, put it aside for a week or two, then do a second draft, then go back and do a third/polish. Then the editor gets it, and then the copy editor, then finally the proofreader. I still get an occasional typo even with all that, but I've found that reading the third draft on my kindle changes the experience for me and I catch a lot more. It's labor and time intensive, but I think the quality of the work has benefited and speaks for itself.

Rachelle: So Silver Justice. The synopsis describes it as a single mom FBI agent heading up a taskforce to catch a serial killer, framed against the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis.

Russell: That's right. It's a character driven police procedural/thriller that follows a strong female protagonist - Agent Silver Cassidy - who is running the task force that is hunting a serial who is killing financial industry bigwigs. It's set in New York, present day, and is very different than any of my other novels, in the sense that the lead character is a departure for me. I wanted to give readers a three dimensional set of characters that come alive the moment you start reading. And I wanted to plunge the characters into a pressure cooker scenario where the challenges keep coming until it's an unbearable load. Silver is an ass-kicker of a federal agent, but she's also a mom, and a sentient being, with doubts, insecurities, responsibilities, good as well as poor choices in her past, and a drive to succeed in a tough, male-dominated career environment. I think the end result is a racing read that also challenges the reader's sense of reality - it posits a chillingly plausible explanation for the 2008 financial crisis that I guarantee will polarize people. I won't say how much is real and how much is fiction, but I also won't hide that I did a mountain of research, and the underlying conspiracy is based largely in fact.

Rachelle: Only a man would refer to an emotional female as a sentient being, LOL. Sounds interesting. How technical is it? Will readers need an economics degree?

Russell: Not very technical. Part of the challenge was to impart a meaningful amount of information about how the economy works without sounding like a first year college course. I actually cut around 15K words, most of it technical, and fought to synthesize everything into a few meaningful paragraphs here and there. That was the hardest part writing this book. It's not hard to say something in 15K words. It's really hard to say it in 500. Brevity being the soul of wit and all. The book is intended for casual readers who want something more substantial than the typical mindless fare. Not that there's anything wrong with that - I just aspire to write something a bit more involved. Although I like mindless. It has its place. But if you can move the pace along in a blistering manner and address some big issues in the process, and get readers to think, that's a tougher nut to crack, but also a more satisfying read. I think Silver Justice, more than any book I've written to date, will divide readers. They will either love it or hate it because of the underlying conspiracy. As a thriller, though, it's in the same mold as any of the big names. It won't disappoint pure adrenaline junkies, either.

Rachelle: I'll be adding it to my TBR list. What's next for you? Sounds like you better get writing. Year's more than half over!

Russell: I feel that pressure every day, trust me. Next will be JET, about a Mossad operative who fakes her own death to get out of the game - but now her past is coming back to haunt her. I don't really have much more than the name and high concept - I envision a cross between La Femme Nikita and Salt, with some Dragon Tattoo thrown in. I want her to be the world's deadliest operative, up against insurmountable odds and a villain with global reach. Sounds like I need to start plotting, huh? I'll start on it within a week or so, and I'm really excited at the premise and concept. Probably an early fall release for that. If all goes well.

Rachelle: Are you planning to write a sequel to Silver Justice?

Russell: I try not to think in terms of writing sequels. I tend to just write what interests me. Having said that, I do have an idea I have penciled out with Silver as the protag, so one never knows. Let's see how reaction to the book is. The reader is boss, and if people want it, I'll write it. In the end, though, I think Silver is a fascinating character with a lot of depth who we could hear more from.

Rachelle: Going back to JET, I love the premise of a Mossad operative, seeing how interested I am in the nation of Israel. What is her name? Michal? (hint, hint) Physical description? I can see her now, a combination of a Jewish princess and Lara Croft?

Russell: Her operational name was Jet, real name Maya. She's late twenties, medium height, long black hair, exotic good looks. Father was Israeli, mother was from the Dominican Republic, so she's sort of a mix of different ethnicities. Think the world's most effective assassin/clandestine operative, master of covert ops, Krav Maga and several other martial arts, computer wiz, speaks six languages, adept at disguises and is an adrenaline junkie. Very definitely Lara Croft, but she could kick Lara's ass. Completely different than Silver, she's a kind of alpha female on the run who's been targeted for execution by enemies from her past, and she has to go back into the life she abandoned to bring the hunt to them. She thought she was dead inside emotionally due to childhood trauma and later her work, but that all changed when she found out she was pregnant, triggering her to want out of the Mossad - but this was a team you don't just quit. I'm going to write it as a balls out adrenaline rush of a book so that it keeps readers up at night, moving from Venezuela to the Middle East to Africa to Central America. I want it to make the Bourne stuff to seem like Bronte. I'm very excited by the story possibilities, and I can promise twist after twist - this very definitely won't be your parents' thriller. Now all I need is the part between where it starts, and when it ends, and I'll be set.

Rachelle: I definitely want to read this one. I'll still think of her as a Michal, but I can see how Maya fits in with her Central American side. Sounds like you've got it all planned out. Well, thanks for visiting with us and I am sure JET will be another blockbuster.

Russell: You're welcome. I definitely hope so!
- - -

Russell Blake is the bestselling author of the thrillers Fatal Exchange, The Geronimo Breach, the Zero Sum trilogy (Wall St. thriller), King of Swords, Night of the Assassin, Revenge of the Assassin, Return of the Assassin, The Delphi Chronicle trilogy, The Voynich Cypher and Silver Justice. 

Non-fiction includes the international bestseller An Angel With Fur (animal biography) and How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated), a parody of all things writing-related. 

Blake lives in Mexico and enjoys his dogs, fishing, boating, tequila and writing, while battling world domination by clowns. 

His blog can be found at where he publishes his periodic thoughts, such as they are.  

Saturday, July 21, 2012

PhotoNovelist Heather Hummel #AuthorInterview

Heather, you describe yourself as a photonovelist instead of a photojournallist. Why is that? and how do your photos come into your novels?
I’ve pursued both writing and photography since my teens. In fact, my two favorite classes in high school were English and photography. Now, in my forties, I remain both a writer and a photographer. The term “PhotoNovelist” was coined when I acknowledged that I don’t write in the journalism field¾I write novels. So it’s a simple term to accurately describe my two passions!

Are the descriptions in your novels visually richer because of your eye for a good picture? How so?
Because of my love for photography and being outdoors, I’ve always been a very visual person. As a writer, I consider all of our senses when scripting a scene. What would the air smell like? What colors are accentuated during this season and location? What sounds would be appropriate? I think the answers to questions like that are subconscious at times, but other times we strive to find just the right description. I’ve also lived in and photographed many locations, north, south, east and west, so I have a good sense of the weather and seasonal changes around the country. That diversity has helped with the types of novels I write. So yes, the two go very well together.

That said, which medium do you find more expressive? Visually with photographs, or stirring emotions with words?
I think they’re equally expressive; it’s more a matter of how the viewer or reader connects to the piece. One image can evoke powerful emotions as readily as a paragraph in a novel. It’s up to the interpretation of each individual, which is why I get so much satisfaction out of doing both. There are days when I connect more with my photography and other days when I take great pleasure in writing 2,000 words. I’m just so grateful I can do both on a daily basis and the reward has been that of responders to my work in both cases.

I just started reading "Write from the Heart: A Novel." Is it autobiographical? Or a flight of imagination? Any message for the reader to take from it?
WRITE FROM THE HEART was actually written as a test of the Law of Attraction with the purpose of having much of it come true in my own life. Ironically, my first novel, WHISPERS FROM THE HEART, was only slightly autobiographical, and yet many of the scenes came true in my life within five years! Because I believe that what we put our focus on with great emotion has the potential to come true, I’m careful about the types of books I write!
The unanimous response to WRITE FROM THE HEART is that it has inspired readers to either write their own first novel or to start a positive thought journal. That’s all I ever wanted from it.

You're working on a PhD in metaphysical studies. Can you describe what it is? How does it work its way into your writing? Your photos?
Metaphysical Sciences is the study of spirituality, such as the Law of Attraction based ideas. As I noted in my experience with WHISPERS FROM THE HEART, I learned that what I write with passion, I have the tendency to create in my own life. So, yes, it definitely carries over to my writing. Believing in the idea that what we focus on (pun intended) we can create, I am conscious of the topics and subjects I write about and capture through my lens. Much of my photography is landscape in beautiful places where I love living. That’s a conscious choice. My characters learn to love again after heartache, that, too, is a conscious choice.

You are absolutely lucky to live on the Central Coastline of California and your photos are fabulous. What are the emotions coursing through your body when you have a majestic scene in front of you?
I did live in Carmel for two years, but recently moved to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. After photographing the tumultuous waves of the Pacific, I found myself moving to Colorado where I now photograph statuesque mountains. It’s quite a different feel. I’m much more grounded in Colorado, which has surprised not only me, but those who know me well because I was always considered a “Cali Girl” even when I lived in Connecticut and Virginia!

I never tire of looking at beautiful landscape, and as I’m driving or riding my bike, I constantly analyze the lighting situations. It’s become much like when I read other people’s books in that I’m always analyzing (not critiquing, but more of a study) their works.

How about people? Photographing them or writing to capture their essence?
I do some portrait photography. I also photograph people with their pets, which is my favorite. Most of the characters in my novels come to me on their own accord with their own self-description. It’s interesting because I don’t have much say in the matter. It’s like they show up in my head and tell me all about themselves. I definitely have more control of the camera’s subjects than I do my novels’ characters!

What is your philosophy about life?
Read my book SIGNS FROM THE UNIVERSE, it’s all in there! But in a nutshell, I believe there are two wells in the universe that we can dip into: Love and Fear. Which one do you (plural) dip into?

It was great to get to know you. How can folks contact you?
Thanks so much for having me! My websites are:

Heather Hummel is a "photonovelist" who blends her love for photography with her award-winning career as an author. Her published works include:
Journals from the Heart Series:
Whispers from the Heart (2011)
Write from the Heart (2011)
Life in the Iris of the Beholder (2012)
Signs from the Universe (2011)
Gracefully: Looking and Being Your Best at Any Age (McGraw-Hill, 2008),

2009 Mature Media Awards, Merit Award
2009 New York Book Festival, Honorable Mention

Heather has ghostwritten for politicians, corporations, and public figures. Her books have appeared in newspapers such as: Publishers Weekly, USA Today and the Washington Post; and in magazines that include: Health, Body & Soul, First, and Spry Living, a combined circulation of nearly 15 million. A graduate with High Distinction from the University of Virginia, Heather holds a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies degree with concentrations in English and Secondary Education. She is currently earning a Ph.D. in Metaphysical Sciences.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Designing Covers, Learning Genres and Discovering Your Brand, Guest Post by J. C. Andrijeski

I met J. C. Andrijeski on Facebook and was fascinated by her cover designs. The color and the eye grabbed my attention. And since she designs her own cover, it is uniquely hers and does not resemble ones done by any other artist. J. C. shares with us her thinking process in branding and reflecting the cross-genre nature of her "Allie's War" series. 

J. C.: I'm pretty unusual among a lot of writers, I think, in that I often design my own book covers. I've hired artists as well, here and there, but for a number of reasons, I decided to do a lot of them myself, at least when I can.

For one thing, it's really fun. As a writer, my work is pretty danged non-visual, and I'm a very visual person who likes visual art a great deal, so it's a blast for me. It's also nice to do something different that's still creative. Strangely enough, it also feels more inclusive and 'social' to me. There's a reclusive quality to writing that stems partly from the fact that it's difficult to show anyone a work in progress and get immediate feedback. I've had a lot of visual artist friends over the years who could spend a few hours working on a project only to show me their current 'baby' and get my immediate reaction. Same with musician friends, who would write a new song and play it for me at once to see what I thought. This is tricky to do as a writer without having to ask for a time commitment from the person in question. In any case, it's definitely not immediate.

Well, unless you make the person read it while you're in the room and hover over them.(poor husbands/boyfriends and wives/girlfriends of writers everywhere...I sympathize with you!), which is pretty much uncomfortable for everyone concerned.

Another reason I ended up dabbling in cover design was the difficulty of branding one of the series' I write, the Allie's War series, due to it's funky, cross-genre nature that made it difficult to market. I ended up redoing those myself partly as a result of the process of discovering my own brand, meaning as a writer. Some of this has to do with branding, which was already difficult for me with these books, and the primary reason I was told they were 'unsellable' by editors I spoke to at traditional houses in New York who liked them. As an odd mix-mash of genres (urban fantasy, science fiction, alternate history, romance, adventure), the books were difficult to market solidly in any one genre, so I generally got advice to change them to make them fit easier.

One of the wonderful things about indie publishing is that I didn't have to do that. One of the difficulties of indie publishing is that I was now faced with the same challenge that the publisher complained about with the books...trying to brand them in such a way that they'd find their audience.

The artist I'd initially hired to work on the Allie's War series covers, Amelia Craigen ( is an amazing commercial designer and artist. She came up with a very cool brand for the books that really matched the science fiction elements of the stories in a lot of ways, as well as some of the more gritty, political elements. But unfortunately, her covers were also almost entirely missing probably the biggest market for the novels, which was the romance and urban fantasy crowd.

So after some hemming and hawing and testing with various readers, I decided I needed to go back to the drawing board. At the time this really frustrated me, but it ended up being a really excellent exercise for me, because it forced me to dig into learning about genre branding and the different kinds of art and marketing that people associate with different kinds of books. Now I believe it's really absolutely critical to do this, even if you're a huge fan of the genre in question...even if you don't plan to design your own covers. It doesn't mean you have to take a bunch of design classes, either (although these would be extremely helpful, of course!). Just pull a whole lot of covers of successful books from that particular genre, line them up, and check them out for common themes and elements.

While I had decided to primarily target the urban fantasy/ romance market, I didn't want to brand them exactly the same as the majority of other books in that genre...just with enough similar elements that readers would know it might be 'their kind of book.' It quickly became apparent that the lack of people on the cover simply wouldn't work for romance of any kind...and the color scheme I'd been using was all wrong for both paranormal romance AND urban fantasy. The first thing I noticed in my research was the use of a lot of rich, 'magical' colors in the covers of these books: dark vibrant purples, blues, pale greens, blacks, whites, dark reds. These were the colors of the curtains you might find hanging in the windows of an old castle, or the early night sky, or the sky at the middle of the night with a full moon. I also saw people...a lot of people. Some of these were abstract, but the themes were similar. In the more romance-type books, there was often a couple embracing. In urban fantasy, usually the hero or heroine took up most of the front cover, with some element of magic happening around them, or a symbol specific to the genre (e.g., moons for werewolves, lonely lanes and/or blood for vampires). Leather clothes were were sultry, tough expressions.

I decided to take the same basic concepts, but brand my own spin to them, since the Allie's War books didn't fit the exact vibe of a lot of these books, due to the crossover elements. When I made the first cover that prominent eye, and picked a more posturized and polarized green and white theme, I felt like I was finally onto something that might work. It was a 'look' that I felt matched the books, but still kept enough of the genre tropes for it to stand out to those readers. It also conveyed a kind of otherworldly 'vibe' that I thought would work for the series as a whole.

After soliciting feedback on this concept and a few others I'd been kicking around, I decided to test it out. At the time, I had the first three books in the series out, so I created two more covers that matched the brand of the first, at least in terms of the color scheme and the basic design. I added more plot elements, too, and emphasized the romance side of things a bit more in books two and three.

So now the real test.

What do you think? Do they work, in terms of both 'fitting in' and 'standing apart'? What kind of books would you think these were, just by looking at the covers?

FB author page:
Goodreads author page:
Twitter: (@jcandrijeski)
Amazon Author page:

Link for books:

Rook: Allie's War, Book One
Shield: Allie's War, Book Two
Sword: Allie's War, Book Three
Shadow: Allie's War, Book Four
Knight: Allie's War, Book Five (just released, I'm working on the
paperback cover for that one right now!)

JC Andrijeski has published novels, novellas, serials, graphic novels
and short stories, as well as nonfiction essays and articles,
including the Allie’s War series and The Slave Girl Chronicles. Her
short fiction runs from humorous to apocalyptic, and her nonfiction
articles cover subjects from graffiti art, meditation, psychology,
journalism, politics and history. JC currently lives and writes full
time at the foot of the Himalayas in India, a location she drew on a
fair bit in writing the Allie's War books. Please visit JC's blog at