Interview with Désirée Nordlund

An Interview with Désirée Nordlund, author of Avia the Warrior, The Recreators and others…

What is your favourite Dragon in literature?

I think that must be Yevaud in ”A Wizard of Earthsea” by Ursula Le Guin. It was something about the dragons in her world that fascinated me. That they could talk the wizards’ language but often still preferred to just burn and kill. As I recall, that was the first dragon I ”met” in a book.

Another favorite is a dragon in a story my mother wrote, that had been banished by the other dragons because it had stumpy wings so it couldn’t fly. The hero of the story built him a set of wings but until the dragon had proven it would start helping the people in the valley instead of burning it down, the hero needed to sit on the dragon’s back to keep the wings working.

I’m not going to be reviewing your newest novel, but from your other published novels, is there one that is your own personal favourite?

”The Recreators” because I started to write at that story when I was just a kid. It had been through many faces and shapes. And it all began with a map I draw on a large paper. Yes, it was inspired by the Earthsea-books, but my islands were bigger and totally different. And though the story had wizards it was another type of wizards and in time they were not wizards, but rather a form of demigods. I think that book will always have a special place in my heart because I started to write it so early in life.

Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?

My first ”novel” was just 36 pages and scared my dad because it was about two girls who died and fought to return to life. I was twelve and was not supposed to deal with the serious issues the story was about. Besides from sending it to a novel contest – which must have appeared odd for the judges since it, in reality, was a short story only – I never took that story further. My second project was about a queen and her lady-in-waiting year 812 somewhere in Europe. To be as young as I was I am surprised that there indeed was a great deal of conflict in the story, but it was far too romantic for my tastes today. I did a lot of research though and it was before the Internet. Yes, I am that old.

Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?

The simple answer is everything. There is little I recognize in my writing today from those early attempts for novels. On the other hand, ”The Recreators” became a novel at last and if I look at the first versions of that story, I can see that I am more focused on what I want to tell now than I was then. I am better at creating characters that are not clones of myself and still believable. I think years of life made their mark in my writing too.

Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?

I am full of stories. All the time. If I had the finances to write at full time I would probably be able to write more than one novel a year. I prefer to write, rewrite, rewrite and then let it fly. At least a month passes between rewrites where I work with other stories. What I write always get better with time, so of course what I write today will get better if I rewrite it a year later, but if I kept thinking like that I would never be able to release anything. I do the best I can at the stage I am right now. But I try not to dwell on them when I feel I am done. The idea as such can percolate for quite many years before I start writing, though. Since I have always a bunch of projects going, new ideas have to wait in line, so when I get there they have gained focus and shape somewhere back in my mind.

So what makes you write a story? What is important to you?

I would lie if I said I don’t have a message. I do. I think most good books have. But I also try to make people think and if they come up with another answer than I, then it is okay too since tolerance and understanding are two words that mean a lot to me. I always felt I was different and I never fully understood my fellow classmates in school. It took me far into adulthood to understand why. One thing was that I am an introvert, in a world where you were expected to be an extrovert. Understanding this and it was time to get down from the high horses I was on. I have still a hard time to accept that women in general like clothes and makeup and high heels by their own free will. I had sort of placed myself above all that and sneered at many typical female behaviors. It is nothing I am proud of. Many of my stories have their base in this journey and a strive to understand and accept everyone as they are.

I think there is too little understanding between people in general. It is so easy to just dismiss someone as rude or boring or nuts. I enjoy exploring those characters and face my own presumptions and ideas of what is right and wrong. It is quite amazing what you will find if you dare to flip a thought to the other side of the scale and see what happens.

I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?

I can write anywhere. It is the surroundings that don’t do well with me doing it, though. I used to sit at the kitchen table. You know, the center of the house, as a parent, small kids, it was a natural place to be. Until the kids got older and I got used to actually write a page without getting disturbed. Soon I became annoyed when I got disturbed. Then we agreed it was better if I wrote somewhere else, so I have a writing corner with a door I can close. As long as people don’t expect me to have a conversation, I can write in almost any environment, as long as there is no music. I cannot write to music. I can have music as inspiration, but not when I write.

I am all digital. My handwriting is way too slow. I used to have writing journals on paper with all my research and ideas and from time to time I miss them, but so much of the research is on the Internet or digital photos and then I end up with things in two places, so I have decided to keep it all digital. It has its advantages, but I still want a digital corkboard where I can put things the way I want them. I have tried a few but they are all so much into sorting, and color coding and orderly straight columns. I want my own unsorted mess.

Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?

Here is a problematic area for me. I just have only one reliable beta-reader and though he gives me valuable feedback he is no good at details in language. My mom used to read everything I wrote (and she is not the kind of mom that praise everything I write) but she is not able to do so any longer. I have tried to find new beta-readers, but it has been troublesome. I have not found anyone that been able to give me honest, valuable feedback. I don’t want to wait a month and then get an ”it was good”. It is also a problem if it is another writer that beta-reads who want me to beta-read in return. If I don’t like that writer’s book at all, it may not be a good start of a beautiful friendship.

An editor is easier because you pay for a service. I think I have found a good one now, but it is a bit of trial and error that could be costly. It is no fun to publish hard work and get bad reviews because the language is bad. It is my mistake, absolutely. I take full responsibility for my texts. But I have learned that it is worth the money to pay an experienced editor and don’t be afraid to give directions.

I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?

I used to thrive in second-hand comic book stores, but they hardly exist any longer. I remember going to those even as a kid with my dad. I have never experienced the same in a book store. Libraries though. They are the best places in the world, except for my home. It is the huge variety of books that attracts me. There are old books and books about any possible subject. You rarely find that in a book store. But the best thing of all is that if I find a book I love I don’t need to buy it but I can still read it.

These days I am an avid friend of ebooks, but it came as a surprise. I bought a kindle because the books were cheaper and to save the environment. A book I love, I keep forever, but there are plenty of books that were not so good to start with and it felt like a waste of paper and me not daring to buy new books. I honestly did not think I would l-o-v-e the kindle. But now I can have a whole bookshelf in my purse to no weight, the book does not get worn and torn, and I can read even if it is pretty dark around me, like when the bus goes into a tunnel or at night in bed.

I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?

I don’t have a favourite genre. I didn’t even know about the concept until I was in my upper teens. I think I favor a way to write rather than the genre. When I was younger, fantasy was what I read the most, but there was also Tom Clancy, Alister Maclane and Sherlock Holmes. In my late teens, I found Stephen King. And even later I found romance writers that I loved. I want to learn to know the people in the story and I want to know both sides of the coin like if it is a crime I want to understand the cop and the thief. I don’t think my taste has changed that much, but I come across more books I don’t like these days. When I was a kid mom bought my books through book clubs and on a recommendation. When that ended and I was on my own I explored more and these days there are so much to explore. I like the gamble of trying out authors I have not heard about if I get a good feeling for the story.

Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?

This is troublesome because there is not enough time to do it all. But I have to show myself and my books, try to sell them. Nothing is sold by itself. In that way, social media and the Internet is a good thing, because it made it possible for people like me to become independent writers. On the other hand, it is hard to be seen. A famous actor I follow on social media told about a book he loved and I am sure that the author sold a couple of hundred copies within 48 hours. Still, I can’t send copies to famous people and hope for the best. It would cost way too much.

I am on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. Instagram is where I am most comfortable. Twitter is more of an organized mess. I have less control over what I appear like there. Tumblr and Facebook are good examples of control, but I feel have less response there. Though my Facebook page has gained surprisingly much interest lately. Maybe I’ve done something right?

I spend more time trying to reach out and sell books than I do writing. That is sad. But I cannot tell for sure if I would have spent that time writing if my books were sold without my effort. Quite a few years I had a writing blog that did quite well, but though it gave me my first paid writing job it costed too much writing effort to maintain. It was not something I could pause when I was busy with something else. I need to keep my stress level down and my priorities right.

Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?

No…

Interview with Anne Montgomery

An Interview with Anne Montgomery, author of A Light in the Desert

Anne Butler Montgomery has worked as a television sportscaster, newspaper and magazine writer, teacher, amateur baseball umpire, and high school football referee. Her first TV job came at WRBL-TV in Columbus, Georgia, and led to positions at WROC-TV in Rochester, New York, KTSP-TV in Phoenix, Arizona, and ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut, where she anchored the Emmy and ACE award-winning SportsCenter. She finished her on-camera broadcasting career with a two-year stint as the studio host for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. Montgomery was a freelance and/or staff reporter for six publications, writing sports, features, movie reviews, and archaeological pieces. Her novels include The Scent of Rain and A Light in the Desert. Nothing But Echoes will be released in 2020. Montgomery teaches communications at South Mountain High School in Phoenix, is a foster mom to three sons, and is an Arizona Interscholastic Association football referee and crew chief. When she can, she indulges in her passions: rock collecting, football officiating, scuba diving, and playing her guitar.

Is there one book that is your own personal favorite?

Asking an author to pick a favorite book is like asking a mother to choose her favorite child. While they might secretly prefer one, I don’t think they’d say so. That said, I don’t think I have a favorite, or even a favorite character, for that matter.

Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external hard drive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?

My first book is called The Integrity of the Game. It’s a thriller based on Major League Baseball and gambling. I spent a good chunk of my life as a sports reporter in both television and print and I umpired amateur baseball for about 25 years. I have taken the manuscript out of that bottom drawer occasionally over the years. I don’t know if I’ll ever try to publish it again. When I look at the copy, I realize I am a much better writer now. So, perhaps that’s the purpose of those first, and maybe second and third books. We get better as we go.

Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?

I never had any training in creative writing. I learned to write by being a reporter. The editors I’ve worked with since I started publishing my books have been excellent teachers who helped me with dialogue and pacing. I couldn’t be more grateful.

Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?

I’m pretty adept at getting novels done once I pick a topic that inspires me. The idea might roll around in my head for a while, but I can do the research and get a first draft done in about four or five months. The caveat here is that I have a day job. I’m a high school teacher, at least for one more year, so I do little novel writing during the school year. Books tend to occupy my summer vacation mostly.

I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?

I have an office in my Phoenix home. As I am easily distracted, I need quiet and order. Also, I have horrible handwriting, so I am all in in regard to writing on a computer.

Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?

The problem with beta readers is that they are often people who love us and who are uncomfortable critiquing our work. By nature, they think whatever we write is great. However, I am fortunate that I have a few friends who understand they won’t hurt my feelings with their comments and suggestions. I cherish them. I am also lucky that I have an agent who pulls no punches. She goes through my manuscripts and I rarely refuse her suggestions. Once she and I are in agreement, she sends it to publishers and I am assigned an editor who dives in with me. Before we go to print, I hand the manuscript to anyone who offers to take a look, in order to catch errors. I figure the more the merrier. Authors need new eyeballs on their writing. And we need to have thick skins.

I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favorite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?

I swore I would not read e-books and then I got a Kindle as a gift. The idea that when I finish reading a book I can just push a button and another one magically appears is hard to resist. Also, e-books make it easier to get my work out into the marketplace. I am happy when people read my book in whatever delivery system they prefer.

I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favorite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?

I didn’t read much as a young person. I am a low-level dyslexic and struggled with reading. When I did sort things out, I started reading historical fiction, much of it based on the World War II era. I then expanded to other times and locales. I read a wide range of historical fiction today. I also like thrillers and mysteries.

Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?

Social Media! I could say it is the bane of every author’s existence, mostly because it takes up so much time. But there are no other options. This is how we sell books, until some new system appears. I am required, per my contract with my publisher, to have a website and blog. While it was difficult getting started, it is so much a part of my life now, that it has become easier. I did have to decide which platforms I could handle, and I suggest that authors who are new to Social Media start slowly. You don’t have to jump on every platform at once. Also, blogging needs to be done regularly, which means coming up with interesting articles that will pull people to your site. As a former reporter, I do pretty well with this part, but it does take planning ahead. It’s kind of like the care and feeding of a pet.

Tell us some quirky facts about yourself.

I have a lot of interests. One is that I’m a rock and mineral collector, a hobby I’ve had my whole life. There are pictures of me toddling around in diapers putting rocks in cups. I have about 400 specimens in my living room. Also, I’ve been an amateur sports official since 1978. I’ve called football, baseball, ice hockey, soccer, and basketball games over the years. Today, I remain a high school football referee and crew chief with the Arizona Interscholastic Association. I love scuba diving, especially with sharks, which are beautiful creatures in the wild, and I have recently rekindled my love of musical theater. I also play the guitar.

What are the stories behind your books?

I write realistic fiction, which means the stories relate to real-life situations. As a former journalist and news junkie, I take stories about issues and events that happen around us. My books cover a wide range of topics. I’ve written about mental illness, child abuse, polygamy, archeological looting and black-market sales of antiquities, a serial rapist, cults, and the deadly, cold-case sabotage of passenger train.

Interview with Max Davine

An Interview with Max Davine, author of Mighty Mary, Off the Map, and other novels.

Max Davine was born in Victoria, Australia in 1989, to an eclectic mix of backgrounds. His father’s family had immigrated from Ireland during the Potato Famine, and are a mix of Irish, Norwegian and Spanish ancestry. His mother’s family escaped from Hungary, Austria and Germany during the Soviet takeover, and subsequent revolutions, after the Second World War. Members of his grandfather’s extended family fought both for the Nazis and for the partisans who rebelled against them. This unique lineage, and the rather unusual stories passed onto him by way of living relatives, informs both his writing and philosophical perspectives of history and where the world is headed.

Who is your favourite Dragon in literature?

Puff, the Magic Dragon. Such a simple yet beautiful story. It reminds me of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem Block City; that same sort of message and just delivered in such a profound and simple way.

I’m not going to be reviewing your newest novel, but from your other published novels, is there one that is your own personal favourite?

Aside from Mighty Mary, I would have to say Off The Map. It is probably the least known of my books and yet it means so much to me. I had it for thirteen years. Thirteen years of writing and rewriting. I had to make it seem like it was written in the year it was set. I guess the sales figures are an indication as to why you shouldn’t do it but I’m glad I did because there’s a real big piece of my life out there and maybe people will rediscover it one day.

Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?

Oh, the first one I wrote? Eek. No. There is no saving that. That’s dead and buried. Having said that, it did go through a few hundred incarnations over the years and I may yet try again, but for all intents and purposes it is as dead as the dodo.

Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?

Everything. Every aspect of it. I look back on my old work and it’s like looking at myself learning to walk. There’s literally nothing that hasn’t been affected either by my continuing to study at University or by my acting lessons or just by the sheer amount of reading I do.

Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?

It’s always different. After Dino Hunt was released I went quiet. There wasn’t much that grabbed me until about 2016 or ’17, about two years later when I started working on one I haven’t finished yet. Then I stopped that to write Mighty Mary and that took about a year to get right. And then there’s another big one, a real epic, that I’ve been working on about fifteen years. But this year has been productive. I’ve put down two first drafts this year and I’ve got one more to go. Then I’ll go back and do rewrites and whichever one strikes me as the best will be the one I publish next. The rest, it takes what it takes. One might be ready in six month, the other might take another decade. You never know. There are manuscripts I’ve never finished after years and years.

I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?

It all starts with a pen and paper. But for proper drafting I go digital. I use a desktop computer with a big, thick keyboard because I break keyboards and that’s why I can’t use laptops. If you break the keyboard on a laptop, it’s goodnight, Charlie.

Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?

I’m fortunate enough to be traditionally published by Tamarind Hill Press and they’ve got an amazing team of editors and cover artists. Jesse McGun worked with me on Mighty Mary and he was just fantastic and I love a cover designer who just tells me if my ideas aren’t going to work because I’ve had ones before who just went on and tried to bend to my wishes and it hasn’t come out too well.

I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?

The Strand in New York City is not only the greatest bookshop in the world, it is one of my favorite places in the world. It’s like Roald Dahl’s chocolate factory to me. I’d live there just to be close to it. I’ve never read an ebook but I guess they’d be handy while travelling. It does get challenging to carry an accumulation of books around on long trips, especially if you’re a backpacker! … my material comes from old photographs, mostly. Obviously there is that famous one of Mary, for example, but I love old pictures and that’s an Actor’s Lab thing. We were always taught to go to pictures of real life first for characters, then find them in that place. I still do that. Although it might be a painting or a statue or just being in a certain place and thinking wow, what happened here that we don’t know about?

I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?

I don’t have a specific genre to read. I write a lot of historical fiction, but I deviate into unconventional Sci-Fi or fantasy, but it’s always with real-world settings. I think our world is too fascinating to replicate in a Westeros or a Middle Earth. I mean, what for? A Song of Fire and Ice is an astonishing achievement but it’ll never be what the real War of the Roses was, for me. I appreciate and admire what Martin did with that very much, it’s just I couldn’t do it myself. I’d want the real thing. Having said that, one of my favorite authors is Robert E. Howard and I know Stephen King – among others – doesn’t like him but I wish he’d give the guy another chance! Yes, there are retrospective social issues to be found in his works and the works of Lovecraft but Howard’s prose was just dreamlike. Otherworldly in its visceral beauty.

Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?

I have help. I manage it myself because who’s going to take pictures for me? But I do need to be kicked into doing it. It’s just not something that occurs to me during my day. I’ll be working or something, probably working, and get an email like your blog is due, you haven’t posted anything today, or whatever. I know it’s important. I’m very grateful I’m looked after in that sense.

Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?

No! Most of my interviews are in-person so I can’t do that anyway because I’d never remember what I’d said to the last interviewer.

Interview with Timothy Jay Smith

An Interview with Timothy Jay Smith, author of The Fourth Courier

Raised crisscrossing America pulling a small green trailer behind the family car, Timothy Jay Smith developed a ceaseless wanderlust that has taken him around the world many times. Polish cops and Greek fishermen, mercenaries and arms dealers, child prostitutes and wannabe terrorists, Indian Chiefs and Indian tailors: he hung with them all in an unparalleled international career that saw him smuggle banned plays from behind the Iron Curtain, maneuver through Occupied Territories, represent the U.S. at the highest levels of foreign governments, and stowaway aboard a “devil’s barge” for a three-days crossing from Cape Verde that landed him in an African jail.

You have a new novel coming out, The Fourth Courier, set in Poland. What’s it about?

The Fourth Courier opens in the spring of 1992, only four months after the collapse of the Soviet Union. A series of grisly murders in Warsaw suddenly becomes an international concern when radiation is detected on the third victim’s hands, raising fears that all the victims might have smuggled nuclear material out of Russia.

Poland’s new Solidarity government asks for help and the FBI sends Special Agent Jay Porter to assist in the investigation. He teams up with a gay CIA agent. When they learn that a Russian physicist who designed a portable atomic bomb is missing, the race is on to find him and the bomb before it ends up in the wrong hands.

My novels have been called literary thrillers because I use an event or threat—a thriller plot—to examine what the situation means to ordinary people. In The Fourth Courier, Jay becomes intimately involved with a Polish family, giving the reader a chance to see how the Poles coped with their collective hangover from the communist era.

How did you come up with the story for The Fourth Courier?

The Fourth Courier book goes back a long way for me. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and Solidarity won the first free election in Poland in over sixty years. In the same year, Mikhail Gorbachev introduced new cooperative laws in the Soviet Union, which was an area of my expertise. I was invited to the Soviet Union as a consultant, which led to my consulting throughout the former Soviet bloc, eventually living for over two years in Poland.

At the time, there was a lot of smuggling across the border between Russia and Poland, giving rise to fears that nuclear material, too, might be slipping across. While on assignment in Latvia, I met with a very unhappy decommissioned Soviet general, who completely misunderstood my purpose for being there. When an official meeting concluded, he suggested we go for a walk where we could talk without being overheard.

I followed him deep into a forest. I couldn’t imagine what he wanted. Finally we stopped, and he said, “I can get you anything you want.” I must have looked puzzled because he added, “Atomic.”

Then I understood. In an earlier conversation, there had been some passing remarks about the Soviets’ nuclear arsenal in Latvia, for which he had had some responsibility, and apparently still some access. While my real purpose for being there was to design a volunteer program for business specialists, he assumed that was a front and I was really a spy. Or perhaps he thought, I really did want to buy an atomic bomb!

Have you always been a writer?

In the sense of enjoying to write, yes. I actually wrote my first stage play in fourth grade and started a novel in sixth grade, but I didn’t become a full-time fiction writer until twenty years ago. The first half of my adult life I spent working on projects to help low income people all over the world. I always enjoyed the writing aspects of my work—reports, proposals, even two credit manuals—but I reached a point where I’d accomplished my career goals, I was only forty-six years old, and I had a story I wanted to tell.

What was the story?

For over two years, I managed the U.S. Government’s first significant project to assist Palestinians following the 1993 Oslo Accords. One thing I learned was that everyone needed to be at the negotiating table to achieve an enduring peace. So I wrote a story of reconciliation—A Vision of Angels—that weaves together the lives of four characters and their families.

If anybody had ever hoped that a book might change the world, I did. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to bring about peace in the Middle East, but I’ve continued writing nevertheless.

The Fourth Courier has a strong sense of place. It’s obvious that you know Warsaw well. Other than living there, what special research did you do?

Warsaw is a city with a very distinctive character. It’s always atmospheric, verging on gloomy in winter, and the perfect location for a noir-ish thriller.

I had left Warsaw several years before I decided to write a novel set there, so I went back to refresh my memory. I looked at it entirely differently. What worked dramatically? Where would I set scenes in my story?

It was on that research trip when all the events along the Vistula River came together for me. There was a houseboat. There was Billy’s shack, and Billy himself whose “jaundiced features appeared pinched from a rotting apple.” There were sandbars reached by narrow concrete jetties and a derelict white building with a sign simply saying Nightclub. Fortunately, Billy’s dogs were tethered or I wouldn’t be here to answer your questions.

My main character is an FBI agent, and I didn’t know much about it. A friend, who was an assistant to Attorney General Janet Reno, arranged a private tour of the FBI’s training facility in Quantico. That was before 9/11. I don’t think that could be done now. Maybe for James Bond himself but not for a wannabe writer.

If I was going to write a novel about smuggling a portable atomic bomb, I needed to know what a bomb entailed. Weight, seize, basic design, fuel? How would a miniature bomb be detonated? So I blindly contacted the Department of Energy. I explained what I wanted and was soon connected to an atomic expert who agreed to meet with me.

We met on the weekend at a Starbucks-like coffee shop in Rockville, MD. We met in line and were already talking about atomic bombs before we ordered our coffees. He had brought basic drawings of them. He was an expert and eager to share his knowledge.

Can you imagine having that conversation in a café today, openly looking at how-to schematics for building an atomic bomb while sipping skinny lattés?

You’ve mentioned ‘scenes’ a couple of times. I know you also write screenplays. Do you find it difficult to go between the different formats or styles?

The sense of scene is crucial to my writing. It’s how I think about a story. Before I start new work, I always have the opening and closing scenes in my head, and then I ask myself what scenes do I need to get from start to finish.

I think it comes from growing up in a house where the television was never turned off. My sisters and I were even allowed to watch TV while doing homework if we kept our grades up. Sometimes I joke that canned laughter was the soundtrack of my childhood. I haven’t owned a television for many years, but growing up with it exposed me to telling stories in scenes, and it’s why my readers often say they can see my stories as they read them.

For me, it’s not difficult to go between prose and screenplays. In fact, I use the process of adapting a novel to a screenplay as an editing tool for the novel. It helps me sharpen the dialogue and tighten the story.

In your bio, you mention traveling the world to find your characters and stories, and doing things like smuggling out plays from behind the Iron Curtain. Was it all as exciting as it sounds?

It was only one play, and yes, I confess to having an exciting life. I’ve done some crazy things, too, and occasionally managed to put myself in dangerous situations. Frankly, when I recall some of the things I’ve done, I scare myself! By comparison, smuggling a play out of Czechoslovakia in 1974 seems tame. But I’ve always had a travel bug and wanted to go almost everywhere, so I took some chances, often traveled alone, and went to places where I could have been made to disappear without a trace.

It sounds like you have a whole library full of books you could write. How do you decide what story to tell and who will be your characters?

I came of age in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement and the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, so I developed a strong sense of social justice. That guided my career choice more than anything, and when I quit working to write full-time, it was natural that I wanted my books to reflect my concerns. Not in a “big message” way, but more in terms of raising awareness about things that concern me.

For example, take Cooper’s Promise, my novel about a gay deserter from the war in Iraq who ends up adrift in a fictional African country. It was 2003, and in a few days, I was headed to Antwerp to research blood diamonds for a new novel. I was running errands when NPR’s Neal Conan (Talk of the Nation) came on the radio with an interview of National Geographic photographer Jodi Cobb about a project on modern-day slavery. It was the first time I heard details about human trafficking, and was so shocked by its enormity that I pulled my car off the road to listen.

I decided on the spot that I needed to find a story that touched on both blood diamonds and trafficking. When I went to Antwerp a few days later, I visited the Diamond District as planned, but also visited a safe house for women who had been rescued from traffickers.

In The Fourth Courier, you team up a white straight FBI agent with a black gay CIA agent. Even Publishers Weekly commented that it seemed like an ideal set-up for a sequel. Do you plan to write one?

Probably not. My to-be-written list is already too long.

I’m close to finishing the final edits on a book set in Greek island village, which is more of a mystery about an arsonist than a thriller. I’ve already started a new novel set in Istanbul about a young refugee who’s recruited by the CIA to go deep undercover with ISIS. I’ve never written a novel set in the States but I have the idea for one.

To date, my books have been stand-alones with totally different settings, characters, and plots. I try to write what I like to read: smart mysteries/thrillers with strong plots and colorful characters set in interesting places. I suppose like me, I want my stories to travel around and meet new people.

You’ve had gay protagonists or important characters since your first novel over twenty years ago when gay literature had not yet become mainstream. How would you say that affected your choices as a writer, or did it?

Friends warned me that I shouldn’t become known as a gay writer because it would pigeonhole me and sideline me from consideration as a serious writer. At the time, I think the general public thought gay books were all about sex and more sex. Of course, already there were many emerging gay literary writers; it was more stigma than reality.

The world of thrillers and mysteries is still largely uninhabited by gays. Hopefully I am helping to change that. I also hope that my novels expand my readers’ understanding of homosexuality in the places where I set them. In The Fourth Courier, the gay angle is key to solving the case. In my other novels, too, the plot turns on something gay, and the way it does is always something that couldn’t have happened in the same way anywhere else because of the cultural context.

What do you want your readers to take away from The Fourth Courier?

What motivated me to write The Fourth Courier was a desire to portray what happened to ordinary Polish people at an exciting albeit unsettling moment in their country’s history. I hope my readers like my characters as much as I do—at least the good guys. The people are what made Poland such a great experience.

The Fourth Courier is my thank-you note to them.

You can find out more about Tim and his novels using these links:
Web page
Instagram
Facebook
Twitter
Goodreads
Amazon

Photo by Michael Honegger @ www.michaelhoneggerphotos.com

Interview with Alan Semrow

An Interview with Alan Semrow, author of Ripe and Briefs

Alan Semrow’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry has been featured in over 30 publications. Apart from writing fiction and nonfiction, he is a professional copywriter, a monthly contributor at Chosen Magazine, and a singer-songwriter. Previously, he was the Fiction Editor for Black Heart Magazine and a Guest Fiction Editor for the Summer Issue of Five Quarterly. Semrow’s debut short story collection, Briefs, was published in 2016. Ripe is his second book. Semrow lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

I’m not going to be reviewing your newest novel, but from your other published novels, is there one that is your own personal favourite?

I’m definitely proudest of Ripe. It extrapolates on all the topics and themes I wanted my second book to.

Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?

When I was in college and after I came out, I got so invested in writing—to the point where it was sort of like an addiction. But I was doing it for the sake of understanding my life as a gay man, what I wanted my life to look like now that I was living a more honest existence. I sorted out some of what I was going through in my writing—this obsessive writing. Ultimately, I probably ended up writing five or six novels in college. But I tossed all of them. There are a few characters I’ve written in the past that I do still think about and wonder if I could continue their story a bit, but right now, that’s probably not going to happen. I’ve moved on from a lot of creative projects—I’ve recycled a lot of paper.

Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?

I’m definitely more honest. Ripe is non-fiction, where my first book, Briefs, was short stories. With Briefs, I veiled a lot of my emotions and feelings in these characters who had nothing to do with me. With Ripe, I really wanted to just be open and honest. It was the best way for me to convey the points that I wanted to make—by conveying them from my perspective.

I also think my writing is more concise than it’s ever been.

Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?

I used to be like that—ideas would just pour out. But that’s not really the case anymore. Now, I sort of just write when I feel obligated to—when I have something I want to say.

I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?

Writing is an inherently lonely process, so I try to write in public—usually, the coffee shop. I also write a lot at home, but I find I’m most productive when writing in public. And I’m always writing on a computer, unless I’m working on a poem or song—those usually work themselves out on paper.

I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?

I’m a big fan of the traditional book—I think I’ve only read one e-book. There’s this great feminist bookstore in Madison that I like to frequent called A Room of One’s Own. It’s really cozy and they always have really cutting-edge works available.

I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?

They’ve definitely changed over time. In college, I dove really deeply into the LGBT literature canon. Lately, I’ve been reading more memoir. I read a lot of memoir while writing Ripe. In general, my tastes are all over the place. I’m sort of a hipster when it comes to books, movies, and music.

If you manage your own profile, please tell me as much as you are comfortable with in regards to your preferred platform and an estimate of time you spend doing it [and whether you like doing it!].

I’ve used Facebook and Instagram a bit to promote Ripe. I post things that pertain to the book, mostly. It’s not really all that time-consuming for me, but I’m sure the total time I spend on social media really adds up.

Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?

I would never! I want to share these with you. 😊

About Ripe

Funny, sexy, evocative, and brutally honest, Ripe is Alan Semrow’s ode to relationships with men. In this epistolary book, Semrow writes to the men who have impacted his outlook, reminded him of basic life lessons, surprised him in more ways than one, and left him reeling for days. Writing to one-night-flings, men he has never met, and men he’ll never stop running into, Semrow touches on some of the most constant human themes—love, lust, desire, and the yearning for connection. All the while, the book details a man’s journey navigating and blooming by way of the modern gay scene. Readers will find familiarity and hard truths in Semrow’s statements about the intricacy and explosiveness of the intimate moments we share.

Find it on Amazon and GoodReads.

Interview with Iván Brave

Dragons, travel, and a whole lotta Yerba Mate with a Texan-Argentine: an interview with Iván Brave, author of the language-bending The Summer Abroad.

Who is your favorite dragon in literature?

Please help me remember the title of this children’s story, but I remember a chapter book that began with a young boy frustrated with school, walking home, and turning left on a street he had never seen before, where he comes across a curious antique store unlike any other. Inside, he finds a dragon egg! He asks the owner if it’s a real dragon egg. “Of course,” says the owner. “And it’ll cost you 25 cents.”

I swear, from then on in real life, for years actually, I carried around a quarter in my pocket. Because the egg in the story really was a dragon egg. And the boy and the dragon became best friends. (I have yet to come across a similarly curious antique store, but fingers crossed.)

Rose: Sadly I don’t know either! Can anyone help us out on this one?

Have you ever been to Melbourne?

Not yet. But c’mon, the Great Ocean Road? The skiing? I hear, also, that the music scene is really cool there. Some of my favorite bands are from Melbourne, in fact. Cut Copy, Miami Horror… let us not forget Men at Work.

What is the story behind your name?

I actually write about this on my Facebook author page. My last name is French, my first name is Russian. My family grew up in Argentina, and all over the world.

Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?

Everything: dialogues, precision of speech, general vocabulary, a sense of freedom when I write (this above all else, if I had to pick, this has improved in my writing). But overall, there is no area I am not interested in improving, in not getting just right. I think this is something most writers share: the desire to improve — not only our writing, but ourselves as writers, ourselves as people.

Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?

When I decided to make writing my career, I had this notion that I would complete an entire writing project every six months. I was on a roll for a while. I wrote a novella in the fall of 2013, a novel (available next week on Amazon paperback) in the spring of 2014, another in the fall of that year. But as the months went by, and the temptation to return to old projects crept up from under my desk, I slowed down. Now I’m sitting on four full projects, and I would like to see them each realized before drafting more.

This has been my mantra lately: “Better finished than perfect.” This has helped me, not just to go back and finish those early projects, but also to let them go. Hence the publication next week.

I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?

My writing desk, at home. Right now it’s in my bedroom (thank you, New York sq footage). But I wouldn’t be opposed to separating my dream space from my work space.

I can write outside, I can write in public. I have even enjoyed writing in a car, in a train, on a plane. But my most comfortable, long-term, steady (it’s sounding like a relationship now) space is at my writing desk. It works for me, feels safe, plus I have all my knick-knacks and candles there.

I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?

I am on the verge of buying an e-reader. They seem useful for reading fast and keeping a large volume of text with you at once. But, like you, I am of the hard-copy kind. Smell, touch, bend, tear, underline, toss. There is something (many things) about the book that made me want to write books in the first place. I can’t forget it.

I shop at three places in New York City: The Strand on 14th St; McNally Jackson, also in Manhattan; and Word, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Of course I stop at every pile of books on any sidewalk I come across. Amazon is useful for sourcing books too, can’t deny that. If I need an obscure text on literary theory, and fast, chances are a local book store has already put it for sale online.

I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?

I. Will. Read. Anything. Right now I am finishing the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novels. That’s about friendship, family drama, a series of novels. Next I want to read a memoir-response to a memoir I read recently. After that I want to read the Gospels (yes, the Gospels!) over the holidays, because I’ve never read them all the way through with a literary eye. After that I have three books of literary theory (one that a student of mine gifted me just today; boy, does the queue grow long, or what?) Before Ferrante I was reading a Spanish humorist, before that Argentine Sci-fi…

Basically, all over the place. And I think my writing reflects that. Never mind, I know my writing reflects that. I have an eclectic taste, I like it all, and, let’s just say, I like to mix paints when I color.

Tea, Coffee, or…

Tea weekday mornings, espresso when I travel, and coffee for special occasions. On weekends and on days when I feel especially myself, I like to drink Yerba Mate, an herbal tea from South America, where my family is from. To be honest, we drink a lot of mate. A whole lot. It’s almost a vice.

Where can we find a copy of your debut novel?

Right now for Kindle on Amazon. The print edition comes out in a week, for those of us who enjoy the smell and touch of books.

A Summer Abroad

Late May, 2013. Three rough and rowdy Texan boys embark on a summer long journey to Europe. Like most wanderlust youth fresh out of college, these best friends encounter twisted new characters, living proof of old stereotypes, and a string of hostels so bad that they are actually good. Unfortunately, such naivety leads to heartbreak and resentment among them. In the end, their friendship is strained, egos bruised, when the story’s narrator finds himself not where he started, but alone.

The Summer Abroad (or, in Spanish, El viaje de egresados), is a sonic adventure — at times fast and delirious — that explores the frontiers of language and a new American identity, one which is multilingual, multicultural, and, as the story puts it, “multiconfundido.”

Interview with Don Lubov

An Interview with Don Lubov, author of The Plague

Don has been happily married since 1976. He was an artist for 34 years and exhibited his artwork at 3 New York City Art Galleries and the Heckscher Art Museum. He also spent 8 years teaching Art & Design and in 1985 he received a grant from The Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation for his work combining art & mathematics, with his “Quantum Pictures”. As an accomplished writer, he is the author of 9 books spanning the scope of spirituality and stress relief to science fiction!

You’ve written such a lovely range of books on a variety of topics. Do you have a favourite? Can you tell me a bit about the process of writing it?

I have 6 books currently in print and Kindle…5 of them published in June of 2018, so I suppose I can pick any for this interview. I believe you have an interest in science fiction, so let’s go with my sci-fi story: “The Plague”.

So far, I am writing about a book a year. I can write, with a pencil, almost anywhere quiet. My favorite place is in my den, late at night, with no distractions.

Years ago I wrote a 2-page, 500-word, flash fiction, sci-fi story. It sat in my drawer a long time. I decided to make it into a book. It became my first novel. Until this, I had only written non-fiction. I soon realized I was in over my head.

I bought 9 books on novel writing and 2 workbooks and spent 18 months studying these. I  belong to a writing group, and they helped by making suggestions to my sfds (shitty first drafts). Between my writing group, the writers Bloc Club, and my wife and friends, I have some very helpful beta readers.

I didn’t want to write the somewhat standard cowboys and Indians in the far-flung future shooting ray guns at each other. I wanted something more cerebral, like “Fahrenheit 451” or “1984”. I wrote about a plague of anger that swept our entire planet.

I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? What are you always on the lookout to read?

As to the smell of books, you’ve got that one absolutely right. I like all bookstores, but my preferred one is our local Barnes & Noble.

My tastes have definitely changed over time. Although I read hundreds of sci-fi books (Bradbury, Heinlein, Assimov, etc.) and books on architecture as a teenager, since 1971 I have read over 100 books on spirituality.

Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?

Other than emails, the only social media I do is Quora. I do have a website: http://donlubov.com, and I have been teaching classes in spirituality for the past 11 years. My current book on spirituality (and creativity) is: “An End to Stress” – A Guru’s Guide to Inner Peace.

If you are interested in reading more about Don’s work, either visit his website, or download this Brochure about his current books.

Interview with Catherine Evans

An Interview with Catherine Evans, author of The Wrong’un

Catherine Evans’s novel, The Wrong’un, was released by Unbound in May 2018. She’s the founder of www.pennyshorts.com, a website which offers short stories of all genres to readers around the world. She’s a trustee of the Chipping Norton Literary Festival and sponsor of the ChipLitFest Short Story Competition. She lives with her husband in Oxfordshire and has a daughter and three stepdaughters.

Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?

I abandoned my first novel for good. It was a thinly disguised memoir of a very turbulent time in my life. It’s intensely intimate, like reading my own secret diary.

Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?

Observation. The older you get the happier you are to just sit and watch.

Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?

If I was a hermit I’m sure I could pump out a novel a year. My head is always way ahead of my hands; I have the next few books juggling around in my head.

I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?

I can write anywhere, usually directly onto my laptop, often with pencil and paper. The kitchen table is my favourite place because it’s warm and close to the kettle and I really don’t mind interruptions. I love working late into the night when everyone else is asleep; often I realise with a start that it’s 3am, my hands and feet are iceblocks and I have to get up in a couple of short hours for the school run, but I go to bed happy as I’ve done 3,000 words. Those are good nights.

Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?

I have an old schoolfriend who is a natural bookworm, and several other friends from the writer’s groups that I’ve been part of for the past 15 years who are always happy to read whatever I give them, so I’ve never used a beta-reader. My publisher, Unbound, assigned me my editor after I specifically requested her, as she had done such a wonderful job editing ‘A Thing Of The Moment’, by Bruno Noble, a friend with the same publisher. I was lucky she was available; she was forensic in her thoroughness and she really cared about the manuscript, the story, the voice and the characters. I accepted 99% of her suggestions, and I feel that the resulting book is ours, not just mine.

I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?

I love the look, feel and smell of a real book, the covers, the blurbs and I like to know exactly how far along I am and to be able to flip back and forth between the pages. E-books are very useful for travelling, and I often download the sample chapters, but there’s very little I love more than browsing for books, whether it’s in bookshops, in charity shops or at car boot sales, and whenever I go to someone’s house, I can’t stop myself from looking at the books on show. E-books will never replace real books.

I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?

I’m happy to read any genre as long as I care about the characters. I love books that confound genre, for example David Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas’. I don’t much care for romance (reading about it, that is), but I loved David Nicholl’s very unconventional love story ‘One Day’. My tastes have definitely changed over time. I’ve become a much more critical reader, and I seldom finish a book without thinking about what the writer could have done to make it stronger.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I perform all the usual tasks that fall under the role of mother; feeding, instructing, lecturing, nagging, hectoring, threatening, bribing and chauffeuring. I’m a trustee of the Chipping Norton Literary Festival, now in its seventh year. We’re always scheming and dreaming up new ways to raise cash, including running writer’s workshops and Open Mic events. Every year in the run-up I wonder why I do it, then I always enjoy the Festival weekend so much and the feedback we receive always fills me with renewed passion for the following year. I’m the Editor of www.pennyshorts.com, a website which publishes short stories of all genres from writers around the world online, making them available for free download. It now features around 200 stories from new and established writers and is steadily growing.

Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?

Much to my disgust too. Social media provides an anonymous forum for the most appalling rudeness and sheer vitriol, which then spills over into all other spheres of life. I seldom read a thread that doesn’t disintegrate into childish name-calling, and the inane virtue-signalling, loud calls for apologies and screams that this or that is ‘offensive’ can get incredibly boring.

Saying all that, when I add new stories to pennyshorts I tweet about them with a suitable picture and also post about them on Facebook with some info about the author. I’ve been told to open an Instagram account and to start an Author’s page on Facebook, but there never seems to be enough minutes in the day. That doesn’t mean I won’t do it, it just means it’s not high up on my list. It all seems to be a giant echo chamber. I’ve had a twitter account for three years, and have never read a book promoted by a tweet. Sometimes I get unsolicited direct messages from Indie authors, one of which was ‘I’d drink battery acid to get you to download a sample chapter of my book.’ Really? Please don’t, and no thanks.

As you don’t maximise social media, what do you do instead?

I think old-fashioned word of mouth is the most powerful way to promote books. Books demand something of their readers, and if you inhabit the world of a novel for a few hours of your life and love it, you will want others to share that experience. When a friend whose judgement I trust tells me that they loved a particular book, I pay attention, and will read it. I love reading book reviews in newspapers and magazines and online too. I get a lot of ideas from the Sunday Times ‘Culture’ mag.

Now that your first book is out, what’s next?

I’m actively working on two books simultaneously: a novel which examines the pernicious effects of early sexualisation on young girls and a non-fiction book about the philosophical teachings of Martial Arts, and how it can be of benefit in all spheres of life. Once I’m done with those, I’d like to write my mother’s life story. She grew up on a farm in rural Transvaal in the 40s and 50s and studied at the University of Cape Town in the 60s, where she met my father. She’s not a writer, but she’s a born storyteller, and has a unique perspective of South African history and apartheid and many tales to tell about farm life, relationships, neighbours, family and community dynamics. Lastly, I’d like to turn a three act play I wrote several years ago into a novel. So that’s four books in total that have yet to see the light of day – should keep me busy for the next few years.

Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next? 

Not at all. It’s like free therapy, innit?

An Interview with Jimmy Brandmeier

An Interview with Jimmy Brandmeier, author of Be Who You Are, A Song For My Children

Jimmy Brandmeier is “the Dad” in a beautiful, wacky family of three daughters—Jamie (age 24), Jessie (age 23), and Josie (age 19)—Paula his wife of twenty-five years (ageless), two doves, a couple of goldfish, and a cat named Squeakers. Though their loving yellow lab, Satchmo, went to doggy heaven, his doggy hair will always be with them.

The couple moved their family from California to Wisconsin to raise their kids closer to family. They managed to be hands-on parents through the demands of two busy careers—Jimmy, a music industry veteran flying back and forth to California, and Paula, an airline pilot flying back and forth to Europe. Flexibility and priorities kept them from missing a beat in their children’s lives.

Apart from family, Brandmeier is a Telly Award winning composer/producer and a Summit award marketer. He’s worked directly with celebrity artists raging from Eric Clapton, Carole King, Avril Lavigne and Joss Stone, to Wynona Judd, Jason Mraz and Dave Mathews among others; written jingles for brands from Mazda to Mattel.

Brandmeier is a seasoned jazz flutist who has played everywhere from town halls to Carnegie Hall and a teacher, passionate about inspiring students to create a life of abundance and fulfillment. He has a deep-seated dedication to help people transcend inner and outer obstacles and understand the point of life, so they may live fulfilled and happy lives—which at its core, is the essence of his book Be Who You Are, A Song for My Children.

Why did you write Be Who You Are, A Song For My Children?

I didn’t intend to write a book. The book started out as a song, which took on a life of its own. Each line grew into a separate topic. The lyric spun like a thread that wove into the prose that unfolded into Be Who You Are: A Song for My Children. I was grabbed by the gut, by what turned out to be the tip of a message, which expanded as I wrote.

I wanted my three daughters to hold on to their authenticity—to the unrepeatable sparkle in their eyes—no matter what. I thought the right words could protect them; shelter them from the inner and outer storms of life. I didn’t want life suck the life out of them. And I wanted to leave them something they could lean on, long after I’m gone.

But it wasn’t until reaching the end the book that I fully understood what the book was about—what it really means to, Be Who You Are. That unexpected message has unfolded into an unexpected life mission, one that I believe will help people be happy no matter what happens and live their best lives.

So, you never expected your song to grow into a 368-page book?

Writing the book was a surprise. But the process of writing the book took me on an “unexpected” spiritual journey. Turns out the message I was grabbed by the gut to instill in my three daughters was the one I most needed to hear. Be Who You Are. And again, there are layers to being who you are, most people don’t think or care about.

So, what’s the overall message of Be Who You Are, A Song For My Children

The big picture message has three parts.

1-The Framework of Life: There are two roads, which layer and lead towards or away from who you are.

The inner road and sole purpose of life: Transcend the ego. Rise above fear (ego) into the essence of who you are. (Love!)

The outer road and secondary purpose of life: Make the most of yourself, your talents, your livelihood, and your life in this world. (Live!)

All you can imagine, do, be, achieve or experience is found on these two roads. The quality of your life depends on the relationship between them.

2-The Big Mistake:
Believing the outer road is the only road that matters.
Believing the outer road leads to happiness.
Everybody is scrounging for happiness in all the wrong places. Happiness is not an external event. Your inside life “is” life.

3-The Point:
The real journey in life is the voyage from fear to love.
Casting off from the ego and returning to who you are—born again into the love of your infinite essence—is the point and purpose of life.

Does being who you are mean, doing what you love?

Doing what you love is a beautiful part of life’s big picture, and part of the overarching message of this book. Doing what you love can also be part of the curriculum in the course of authenticity. It can fade the façade of appearance, into an opening for your essence to shine through like the sun.

Lose your self (ego) in what you love, and you’ll find your Self (Essence) through what you love.

But doing what you love is only a portal to the point, which is perfect happiness—being who you are, inside and out. And finding happiness on the outer road only, no matter how much you love it, is an impossibility. As comedian Jim Carrey says . . . “I wish people could realize all their dreams of wealth and fame, so they could see it’s not where you’ll find your sense of completion.”

What is the meaning of your cover illustration—two separate puzzle pieces, that when aligned, transform into birds soaring free?

The two puzzle pieces represent the inner and outer roads moving into alignment. When the amazing outer road of our talents, dreams, passions, career, finances, relationships, achievements, accolades, adventures, and motivations merge with the spiritual purpose of the inner road—the ultimate and only point of life. When heart and heaven beat as one, as the song lyric says—you’ll be happy, no matter what happens. You’ll be fearless. You’ll be free. You’ll have reached, The Point.

What would you say is the best way to improve your writing—to master your craft?

I probably come from a different writing background than most of the authors reading this. I’m a musician. My first non-fiction book started out as a song.

As a composer, I’ve been immersed in writing songs, jingles, scores, music beds and anything else the client of the moment asked for. What comes first—words or music? Answer—the phone call. But certain truths for mastering the mechanics of writing—in order to free the soul of writing—are universal. The most powerful and least glamourous tool of all . . . butt in chair.

Habit is a hammer that builds virtuosity. Consistency activates a creative force in the
universe sending us insights impossible to come up with sporadically, on our own. As Julia Cameron, author of The Artist Way, says, “were not thinking something up, were taking something down.” As I point out in my book, “world class dreams, require world class routines. Your goals and dreams must match your habits and routines.” What’s the difference between an artist and an amateur? According to Malcom Gladwell author of Outliers, about 8000 hours. Amateurs put in 2000 hours, by age 20, artists who’ve mastered their craft, put in 10,000. Talent is not enough.

I’ve noticed that many aspiring music students do not listen to music. I’ve met aspiring authors who do not read. If you want to be a better writer, be a better reader . . .

Read! Read! Read!

Creativity—at least the non-contrived, unexpected, happy accidents kind of creativity—originates almost entirely in the sub-conscious. You can program the sub-conscious with cable news and video games, or inspiring books, that shake the soul and expand your consciousness. Either way it’s going to come out in your writing.

I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?

I write most often in a quiet place, in my home. The challenge is . . . it’s not always quiet. In a crazy household filled with three wonderful daughters, (for whom I wrote the book), a fantastic wife, dogs, cats and pet rats, its necessary to escape to a coffee shop to get in the zone.

But for me it’s more about “time” than “place.” I’m most creative and tapped in to the muse, early in the morning. I set up my “writing chair” the night before—wake up at 3AM, meditate, pray, visualize and sip that first magical cup of coffee. After saying hello to my writing partner—a great big Evergreen tree outside my window—I get to work. (I know. Weird! Kind of like Tom Hanks talking to his soccer ball in the movie The Cast Away), But hey, me and the tree have been through a lot of writing together. 

It is easier to slip behind the veil of ego, and the white noise of world early in the morning. The wee small hours of the morning opens the channel, for insights to flow through me, (not from me) with ease. I call it a dialog with divinity. Call it the force, the source, the muse, the universe; It doesn’t matter—it’s all the same reservoir of creation to me.

On average, I write for 90 minutes and take a break, then write another 60 to 90 minutes. I walk away after that, and deliberately quit thinking about writing. It’s part of the creative process, as described by Graham Wallace in the book, The Art of Thought. Know it or not, whether you’re writing a book or baking cupcakes, the same 4 stages are happening.

1- Preparation. Questions, what does the story want, what do I want to say etc.
2- Incubation: Quit writing let the mind/universe process questions and problems.
3- Illumination: Aha! The answer/idea/insight comes when you least expect it.
4- Verification: Plug the answer and verify how it works. Adjust accordingly.

When I’m done with my morning, preparation stage, I work out, wake the kids, do errands in order to let the writing, incubate. Because the initial creative heavy lifting is over in the morning, total quiet isn’t necessary. I can write at a coffee shop for the next session. When I come back for round two, everything flows much easier.

And one more writing, so called, place: I love to walk my writing. Walking frees the mind. I’ll go on long 2-3-hour walks and record insights, ideas and paragraphs on my iPhone. I’ve written full songs without touching an instrument. When I get back to my desk and enter the verification stage, the ideas I’ve walked out of me generally stand up. Per the last part of this question. I write on a Mac Book Pro and always keep my iPhone handy.

Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor?

My wife belongs to a local book club that meets once a month. They were nice enough to beta-read my book. We had a party at our house for the book club. It not only helped the writing process, it was a lot of fun.

Interview with Patrick Canning

An interview with Patrick Canning, author of The Colonel and the Bee

Patrick Canning was born in Wisconsin, grew up in Illinois, and now lives in California with his dog, Hank. He is primarily focused on turning coffee into words, words into money, money back into coffee.

I’m not going to be reviewing your newest novel, but from your other published novels, is there one that is your own personal favourite?

The only other novel I have is called Cryptofauna so I’d that takes the prize. It’s a dark comedy set in the 1980’s, so drastically different than the whimsical Victorian Age world of The Colonel and the Bee. The genres are so different, I can’t imagine there will be too many reads of both (other than my Mom of course).

Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?

Cryptofauna (mentioned above) was my first foray into novel writing. It was pretty ugly at first but the revision/publication process was so long that it was able to morph into something I’m proud of today. But even if a writer has to relegate that first book to the drawer/hard drive, the good news is you can always take another crack at it later, or, more likely, just harvest the best stuff out of it for your other works. Some projects do die and go nowhere, but, manuscripts keep on giving, even in the afterlife (in addition to all you learned by writing it).

Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?

I’m trying to close the gap between the best ideation of a story and how it eventually ends up on paper. It’s very frustrating when something is amazing in your head, but you can’t communicate it well enough to match the initial vision. I think craft helps minimize that particular disparity, and while certain pockets of creativity are maddeningly impervious to time invested, craft is something that can be learned and improved with effort.

Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?

I definitely let ideas percolate for a few years but there are always a few percolating at once, so hopefully my output ends up being closer to one of those novel a year people. I think the time required for each project is dropping as I become more comfortable with writing, but I think you can only push the delivery schedule so much before quality suffers. Time away from a project, after a first draft for instance, is massively valuable to retain some objectivity, so streamlining is only useful to a point.

I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?

I rotate through a cycle of maybe 10 coffee shops. I always work in Word. I’ve messed with Scrivener for more complex stories with lots of characters and world building, but I think simplicity is best, so usually it’s just Word. I’ve heard great things about pen and paper, especially for first drafts, but haven’t tried it yet. I’ve been typing so long now my handwriting is basically doctor-prescription-pad bad but some people swear by the analog method. In any case, it seems like most of the pros can write whenever, wherever, however, so I try to keep the qualifications at a minimum. Semantic procrastination costumes pretty easily as “essential” routine.

Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?

Right now my beta-readers are family and friends. The trick is to be polite and grateful (they’re eating undercooked dough after all). I make sure the document is readable (a simple spell check should be the minimum decorum) and I always try to keep in mind this is a great deal of time for someone to spend on a project that isn’t at its best. I sought out my first editor freelance and had one assigned by my indie-press for the second book. There are many fantastic editors out there, it’s mostly just finding someone that understands your style of writing/the style of that particular book. Then trust that they’re usually right and be professional.

I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?

I’m with you on the great smell of books (especially books from like the 70’s and 80’s, they all have a decade-specific musk). Aside from that, I don’t care too much about format. I love paper books, but I have a e-reader that always surprises me with its readability whenever I come back to it. They’re great for vacations when lugging an omnibus in your carry-on is spinally inadvisable. I’m fully on board with audiobooks too. I live in LA, meaning lots of time in traffic. Audiobooks make it bearable.

I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?

I actually wouldn’t say I have a favorite genre. If something sounds interesting or comes highly recommended, I’ll pretty much check it out no matter what. I love going into books (and movies) knowing as little as possible. So as soon as the minimum level of interest is reached, I jump in, because additional information might serve only to spoil plot or unfairly raise expectations.

Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?

The only social media I have for my books is Instagram. It’s still mostly a personal account (meaning an abundance of pictures of my dog) but hopefully I’ll have more and more book-related content. I like the idea of theoretically connecting directly with (theoretical) fans someday, but it’s not a huge factor in my career these days. Promotion of my work so far has come through book review bloggers! Those mysteriously benevolent people willing to read unknown authors. Twitter is probably the most popular for authors, but it seems like one of the more toxic social media ecosystems to me (and that’s saying something), so I’ve avoided it thus far.

Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?

I’m always mortified when I tell someone a story and they say “You already told me this.” If you do 20 interviews about 1 book, you’re inevitably going to cover a lot of the same ground, but I always try to at the very least phrase it differently. I may eventually be forced into pig Latin, but I say death before repetition. Death before repetition.