Author Interview: John R. Gordon

(Author photo courtesy Baharei Husseini)

As an author, I always have my eyes wide open to better learn from those that came before me. It’s been almost two and a half years since I started earnestly dabbling in comic writing, thinking it would be a good skill alongside my art, not knowing that hobby would save me when my art failed. But that is no time at all when it comes to writing, and I have so much to learn from those who have tread this path longer than I.

I cherish these experiences for the treasures they are. Reading Hark and interviewing John R Gordon has been one of those experiences where the best thing I can do is sit and listen, knowing that I’m being gifted knowledge and wisdom that will make me not only a better writer, but a better person.

I hope you all get as much out of this interview as I did, and if you haven’t yet, you can read my review of Gordon’s Hark here.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a writer, publisher and artist; I’m 56 and live in London, England. Hark is my eighth novel and set in the USA. Drapetomania, my seventh, an epic of same-gender love in the antebellum south, won me the Ferro-Grumley Award for Best LGBTQ Fiction in 2019. My earlier novels are all set in London, where I’ve lived for more than 30 years, but recently I’ve been excavating my early deep fascination with American – especially African-American – culture, and so am working on a third US-based novel, Mother of Serpents (about which I say a little more below.)

I’ve also written for film and TV. My best known thing is writing and script-editing on Patrik-Ian Polk’s landmark gay African-American series, Noah’s Arc (we did a one-off Covid special just a couple of months ago, reuniting the cast a decade on). For my work on the film screenplay I received a NAACP Image Award nomination. My oddest job was writing the autobiography of black gay pornstar Bobby Blake – for which – 12 years along – I just received a royalty check of $40.89.

In 2011 legendary film- and theatre-maker Rikki Beadle-Blair & I founded Team Angelica Publishing, a queer-of-colour-centric small press, and have edited and brought out award-winning books by black, queer and trans authors, including Diriye Osman, Roz Kaveney and Chike Edozien.

Tell us about your novel, Hark.

Hark begins the night the statue of a Confederate colonel is torn down in the centre of a dying, opioid-scarred and racially divided Southern town: it’s the night two wild teenagers meet and start to fall in love. White blue-collar/underclass Cleve is broke and drifting into criminality; black, bourgeois Roe is alienated and rebellious. They say opposites attract, and who could be more opposite than Cleve and Roe?

When Cleve finds himself, at age 17, home alone for the first time in his life, he summons the courage to invite Roe to stay over. The young men’s relationship looks set to move to another level when they are interrupted by Hark, a mysterious black vagrant who seems to possess supernatural powers, and who takes them on a strange and troubling journey into the past.

Hark is a touching, vividly contemporary coming of age story; a compelling, fast-paced and ultimately hopeful tale of teenage gay interracial love; and shows us how necessary it is to confront the evils of our shared history, however painful it may be to do so.

What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write? How?

It’s really impossible to choose just one! When I didn’t really know myself, or I suppose accept myself, I was inspired by fantasy: Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, H.P. Lovecraft, and had occasional stabs at extremely derivative tale-telling. This would have been when I was 15 or 16, and was very haphazard. At school we – how unlikely is this? – studied Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, and that certainly inspired me with its fever-dreamily intense use of language and the Southern Gothic idiom, as I think he did artists as different from each other as Nick Cave and Toni Morrison (both of whom I’m a fan of).

At 17 or 18 I came across James Baldwin, and he became my literary idol: in his novel of interracial Greenwich Village bohemia, Another Country, he showed me that you didn’t have to run away from writing about exactly what mattered to you: you could write what you wanted – what you needed to – head on. The issues and history he engaged with sent me reading rizomatically – following small hints and connections – names referenced unexplained; historical threads – and I gave myself an autodidact’s version of a course in African-American studies, finding inspiration in Richard Wright, Chester Himes, Amiri Baraka, radicals like Angela Davis, Malcolm X and George Jackson, and a myriad of others less well known. These writers enabled me to construct a notion, as a gay man, of radical art and representation. At that time – the late ’70s – there really wasn’t anything much that one could call Queer Theory, so I found a model of radicalism – or many radicalisms, as there was much clashing and disagreement between them (sometimes violently so) – through Civil Rights and Black Power era African-American thought and writing.

My own bohemian novel (my least known one), Colour Scheme, attempts to heal the narrative wound of Another Country – the death of the initial protagonist, Rufus, by suicide. In Colour Scheme my own depressed protagonist chooses to live. 

While my slavery days novel, Drapetomania, is carefully grounded in historical reality, certainly the power and clarity of Lord of the Rings as epic storytelling was an inspiration and a touchstone.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your book?

I hope they’ll be charmed by my teenage protagonists, Roe and Cleve, & their budding romance; be moved by Hark’s quest and journey to right some of the wrongs of history (around the crime of lynching); and see that understanding and love between people of different races (or perhaps one should say ‘people raced as different’) can grow through confronting the past and its consequences in the present: that it is clearsightedness, not colorblindess, that is needed now.

What is different about your novel?

I kind of wrote Hark in part against the (hugely successful) YA novel Simon vs The Homo Sapien Agenda (filmed as Love, Simon.) That book – a teen romance set in the Deep South, uses an interracial reveal as a twist, then entirely fails to explore the complexity of that situation. I pointedly reverse this. I explore the dynamics and history informing love in that context, and also explore it both from the (blue-collar) white character and the (middle-class) black character: we see each through the other’s eyes. I particularly didn’t want (black) Roe to be an externally-observed narrative object, there for (white) Cleve’s growth – which is, as you know, a common cliché in white-centered ‘liberal’ narratives, ironically or paradoxically validated by the ‘write [only] what you know’ discourse. In a way the ‘twist’ of Hark is that it’s as much Roe’s tale as Cleve’s, even though it opens with Cleve’s thoughts about things.

Hark himself is an extremely unusual ‘is he mad or supernatural’ character, who both embodies and resists America’s haunting history of racial violence, and draws Cleve and Roe into a quest in which they must confront the way history continues into the present. ‘The past isn’t even past,’ as Faulkner said. Even there he’s not a ‘magical negro’, as his quest is essentially selfish, and Cleve and Roe risk becoming casualties as they get dragged along with him: he doesn’t intend them to learn anything from being with him. Yet I think we also somehow like Hark, and care about his struggle. He is, fundamentally, good-hearted, as I think the book itself is.

All of these themes are explored in a fast-moving tale that has (I hope) a light touch to it.

What are your plans for future novels?

I’m working on two next novels at the same time, which isn’t very practical. One is more in the slipstream of Hark – a novel of the uncanny where a gay couple, one black, one white, & their young mixed-race son relocate from Brooklyn to an old house in upstate Maine. There creepy things start to happen. It’s got touches of King & Lovecraft to it, but is also inspired by black friends who’ve had psychotic episodes. It’s called Mother of Serpents. Then I’ve begun a satirical, semi-journalistic novel about chasing grants & funding in the arts in London, & how the Covid pandemic bursts into that world & turns everything upside down. It’s timely, but perhaps too painful to really dive into now – & of course can’t be finished until there’s some sense of an ‘after’ the pandemic. It’s called (after the Funkadelic track) Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On. Beyond those I want to write another historical novel set in slavery times, this time with a British-Caribbean setting: Hurricano. But that’ll require acres of research, as Drapetomania did, and much deep thought.

What inspires you to write?

On a broad note, to mark and celebrate the lives of – often underclass and otherwise marginal – Black gay men; & to treat those lives with the same degree of literary seriousness (insofar as I have the ability) as cisthet white middle-class lives are treated. Otherwise each novel has its own unique key – an image, a phrase, a concept. I wrote my antebellum epic Drapetomania because I was haunted by the image of an enslaved Black man at the boundary fence of a plantation by moonlight, about to (attempt to) run to freedom. Faggamuffin had two keys – the particular vitriolic homophobia in Jamaica then (& not a huge amount’s changed since, alas); & the idea of a man so closeted he would rather go to jail for rape (of a woman) than alibi himself by coming out as gay. Souljah was inspired by the images of teenage boy soldiers waving AK-47s at roadblocks in Liberia while wearing looted wigs and wedding dresses during the civil war there, & thoughts I had about the collapse of social norms and resultant fluidity of identity. In a sense Souljah became a tale about faith: Stanlake, the protagonist’s traditional African spirit beliefs (I find inspiration in Vodoun & related belief systems); his mother Poppy’s staunch Christianity (distorted by her encounters with a corrupt Nigerian preacher); and the militant nihilistic atheism of the youths who threaten him and his mother.

More recently I’ve thought more consciously about the power and pleasure of doing things with words. Each novel must have a voice, and must (in a readable way) experiment with doing something different with language and register. Drapetomania had to have an African-Americanness of prose rhythm and at points idiom, as well as portray a recognizably C19th idiolect (derived from slave narratives & also novels such as Huckleberry Finn) – while still being legible to the modern reader. So now I feel quite consciously that each book should be a kind of new landscape of words, and express a new form of consciousness.

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

Seeing the book become a physical artifact – hopefully with a wonderful cover – is an incredible feeling, & allows you to say both ‘my work is finished’ & ‘other people can see & hopefully be moved by this work now.’ Then of course promotion is a struggle. Like most writers, I would think, I’m quite personally diffident, so find it difficult to bang on about my work. Other people saying you’re a genius is wonderful; saying it about yourself means you likely have a personality disorder.

As an editor, the real achievement is to fall sufficiently in sync with an author and his/her style to be able to offer thoughts & adjustments that seem to them to have come out of their own head. To me that’s an aspect of the function of writer as spirit medium, channeling other voices.

What has been your greatest struggle writing, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?

I write about very uncommercial subjects, though I think I write accessibly, so getting my work published & noticed is difficult – tho the new technology means lots of smaller presses have sprung up (Team Angelica, turns out to have been an early adopter of those possibilities). There’s a liberation in being realistic – I mean, I don’t expect Hark to outsell Harry Potter, and if I don’t earn much from it that’s okay, however tempting it is to look at outliers like Fifty Shades of Grey as somehow replicable.

In terms of the actual writing, I think the tough thing is to start, keep on going, finish & then rewrite till you’re totally sick of it – then rewrite one more time. Then stop. You’ve done the best your talent & wisdom allow. There is no perfect. Then try and get it out there. In the meantime try to start something else, so if any given book does get taken up, what you do next doesn’t depend on its reception. Ralph Ellison was essentially paralyzed by Invisible Man’s becoming ‘the best (US) novel since WWII’ for sixty years.

I very much write alone, and consider my novels that free space where I can express what matters to me, without interruption or comment from, or judgement by, others. So I only have people – & then only a few trusted readers – read a book when it’s basically done. I’m able to self-edit, which most writers seem unable to do – I can ‘slay my darlings’ as I think Orwell put it, and take a detached view of my own prose – the more so with greater experience, of course. Probably my TV and film writing has made me more pragmatic and less sentimental about my own work than someone who only wrote literary prose would be. However, I know many people find writers’ groups and the like valuable in creating a sense of community for those whose work is solitary – though I would find the risk of self-censorship and need for – or at least temptation to seek – group approval off-putting.

For myself I try and keep in rapport with writers who inspire me, both through their prose and through reading interviews, letters and biographies. Ralph Ellison bitching to Chester Himes about Richard Wright reminds one that, though yes, they were geniuses, they were people too: they were not Olympian and so categorically beyond anything you or I could attempt to do. Keeping in rapport with one’s literary forebears – the ancestors in the temple – is also a reminder of the importance of fiction as myth-building, as sacred quest, and of writers as bearers of a particularly valuable flame of human truth and spirit. We all need ways to tell ourselves that what we do, all alone and perhaps not feeling in any way valued or validated, is nonetheless important to humanity, and that’s my way of doings so. In African cosmology the ancestors are seen as constantly present to the living, and I find that a heartening creative worldview.

If I were offering one line of practical advice, I would say: whenever you come to a narrative difficulty of any sort whatsoever, ask yourself always, ‘What would really happen in this situation/at this moment?’ and write that. If something feels true to life, the reader will keep on reading.

How can we purchase your book?

If you’re in London, there are (should still be) signed copies in legendary indie bookstore Gay’s the Word, in Marchmont Street, in Bloomsbury. It’s orderable through Barnes & Noble and Waterstones and other chains. And worldwide, of course, there’s Amazon.

Author Interview: K.J. Brookes

Harry Potter defined the genre of magical boarding schools for generations to come, instilling a love of reading into young minds and cementing a lasting love in the hearts of Millennials. Because of this, it’s hard for an author to dip their toes in the boarding school genre in fantasy without being compared to and measured against Rowling and the beast of a story she created.

But with Tom Woolberson and the School for Watchers, rather than attempt to recreate the success of a brand that’s still active, K.J. Brookes approaches a magical boarding school from a completely different direction.

For one, the main character is already dead. 

I also don’t remember Hogwarts being set in Heaven.

With such an unusual premise, and with the backing of SRL Publishing (who I’ve already had good reading experiences with, see my Cherrington Academy review) I had to read it for myself. I was also lucky enough to snag some time from the author to chat about the series, his writing inspirations, and get the low-down on future releases.

(You can also read my review of Tom Woolberson and the School for Watchers here.)

Tell us a bit about yourself:

I’m 34 and I live in Perth with my Wife and our dog, George. When I’m not working I like to read and watch television. Right now I’m reading A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway and watching The Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix.

Tell us about your novel/series:

The Tom Woolberson series is about a fifteen-year-old boy who’s killed when a passenger plane crashes into his house. Now good and dead, he finds himself at St Michael’s School for Watchers (a school run by angels for the descendants of Michael).

What is your favourite novel and has it inspired you to write? How?

My favourite novel is IT by Stephen King. It was in fact this novel which inspired me to write in the first place and you will find references to IT in my novel, Tom Woolberson. It was Stephen King’s profound sense of place that captured me and inspired me to create my own world and build my own characters in it.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers take from the book?

In Tom Woolberson there’s a lot of learning (biblical, historical or otherwise). I’m hoping that whoever reads my novel might learn a thing or two and remember where they first learned it.

With a book focused on learning, what sort of research was involved in your process, and was that something you enjoyed or dreaded?

A lot of it was stuff I’d picked up over the years, but the biblical stuff, I’m not ashamed to say, I researched diligently on the internet. I’ve never really been a super religious person but I found it interesting researching biblical passages and people/beings featured in the bible to form the basis for my characters. The book also teaches about history as there’s some notable people from the past, as professors at the school.

What is different about your novel?

While there’s been books about boarding schools before (the most obvious being Harry Potter), I don’t think there’s ever been one set in Heaven.

 What are your plans for future novels?

I want to write a 2nd and 3rd Tom Woolberson book. I also plan to write more in other genres as well. One of my favourite genres to write in is the thriller genre. My new book, Little Dark One, will be released next year.

Is there anything more you can tell us about your new book, Little Dark One?

I’d say it’s the polar opposite of Tom Woolberson and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to the same reader base. It’s dark, bleak and a little untoward, exploring topics some people might find offensive. It’s being published, again with SRL, summer 2021.

What is it about thrillers that makes you enjoy writing them so much?

Real life is a lot easier to write than fantasy because I’ve lived it. With fantasy you don’t just have to create the characters but also the world that they live in and the rules that govern that world, and that was the case with Tom Woolberson. Thrillers, on the other hand, are quick and exciting and that’s exactly how I like to write them.

What inspires you to write?

Good books and good movies.

What do you enjoy about publishing? And what do you struggle with?

The part I enjoy most about publishing is working with artists and the publisher to create the image for the front cover. The part I struggle with is proofreading (so many typos!)

What has been your greatest struggle writing and how would you inspire others to overcome it?

My greatest struggle is lack of inspiration. When I’m inspired I can write for hours, even days on end. When the inspiration runs out so does the writing. To overcome this, I put away the laptop and pick up a book. I would encourage others to do the same.

You mention reading as a cure for inspiration blocks. Are there certain books or genres that you find particularly helpful?

Lately I’ve found myself turning to the classics for inspiration: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Salinger and Shirley Jackson to name a few. When an author has defined their own style and it comes across in their writing I find that inspirational. It’s not always about the story for me but more about their choice of words and how they structure sentences. I know that sounds boring but I’m always on the lookout for the perfect sentence and I tend to come across it much more in the classics than I do in modern literature. Some of the books topping bestsellers lists these days I find too formulaic and contrived without any real skill or heart.

How can we purchase your book?

You can find Tom Woolberson on Amazon, Waterstones and Barnes and Noble.

Author Interview: Rory Michaelson

There’s something about average that scares us. We try everything and anything to be considered above it, when most of us will spend our lives at average, just above, or just below.

It’s for this reason that I found the premise of Lesser Known Monsters so intriguing—a world where being the chosen one isn’t a good thing to begin with, and on top of that, the chosen one is as un-exciting as… well, myself.

It takes guts to eschew time-old traditions of heroes, anti-heroes and all form of the ‘above’ or ‘below’ to choose the middle ground as the place to set your sights for a character, so I was excited to talk to Rory Michaelson about their debut novel and about their future writing goals.

(If you haven’t yet, you can also read my full review of Lesser Known Monsters here.)

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m pretty socially awkward and introverted, some people might think I’m quiet, but most of the time I’m just not sure what I’m supposed to say. I grew up in a small village with a profound lack of diversity. I love taking that first sip of coffee of the day. I usually prefer salty snacks over sweet but will murder any cookie. I prefer silence to sound but will settle for music if quiet can’t be found. Sometimes I make things rhyme by accident. I’m scared of spiders, moths, and the slow march toward my inevitable and disappointing death. This is getting weird, let’s do another question.


Tell us about your novel.

Lesser Known Monsters is about Oscar, who is spectacularly average at best. He is dragged into the scaly underbelly of London, which he discovers is full of strange and mysterious monsters. It seems that Oscars life is in danger, and his fate is somehow linked to that of the world. Lucky for him, Oscars friends are braver and smarter than him, and at least one particularly handsome monster seems keen to help. Lesser Known Monsters is a contemporary own voices Queer Dark Fantasy, paranormal m/m romance, and above all the story of a strong and diverse found family coming together to save each other, and the world.


What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write? How?

Has anyone ever just answered with one book? Can you imagine?!

Like many fantasy fans, I grew up all Jordan, Pullman, and Tolkien. It’s a funny thing, being captured by worlds but utterly failing to find any trace of your identity within them. It wasn’t until I read the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb that I began to find more relatable characters. That was when I became a voracious reader. Now I chew through tonnes of indie and mainstream books. They’re not all queer, but lots are (and why not, it’s about time!). VE Schwab (Shades of Magic), Fonda Lee (The Greenbone Saga), and Leigh Bardugo (The Six of Crows duology) are incredible authors with brilliant world building, diverse characters, and a sense of fun that has really shaped the kind of stories I want to both read and tell. From an indie perspective, Halo Scot’s debut (Edge of the Beach) really broke the mold and challenged so many conventions it was utterly inspiring. Dean Cole released a beautiful and haunting story this year that I loved (Chasing Ghosts), and Ash Knight managed to pull me into the romance world with her brilliant debut (Stay). Something all these authors have in common is that they focus on their characters first, reading them is really teaching me a lot about digging into my own characters.


What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your book?

Life is scary and overwhelming, and it’s okay to need help or let people know you are just doing your best to hold on when things are hard. Using your voice and saying what it is you want is sometimes the only power you have but can also be the most powerful thing to do. There’s a lot more things I want people to get out of it, mostly just having fun, but I won’t say anymore because if I retain a little mystery and anyone tells me they got some significant message I didn’t realize, I can nod sagely and pretend it was entirely intentional.


What is different about your novel?

Writing a main character who isn’t a hero feels refreshing. Oscar and his friends’ journey is messy and fantastical, but punctuated with familiar issues like doubt, and betrayal of trust. Although most of the characters are queer, that queerness isn’t an obstacle or conflict for them in the story. It may be an obstacle for others, but every character enters the story fully realized and embracing their identity. Writing a new adult story with queer characters sometimes really feels like young adult story, because there are generations of us a decade behind because the world isn’t geared toward us, and the literary world is no exception. So many of us grew up completely unrepresented in the stories that we loved, and I was starving for it. I really wanted to write for that very specific version of myself, and portray a time when we are really coming into our own and there’s that kind of flailing vulnerability, but with a supernatural edge.


You describe your main character, Oscar, as not a hero. What made you want to write a main character that was ‘average’?

I wanted to make Oscar profoundly human; that way, when I drop him into a world of terrible and powerful monsters it really gives me an opportunity to explore how it changes him. Having a main character who is vulnerable, anxious, cowardly, and indecisive really let me give him room to grow. It was also interesting to see how his presence impacted and changed ancient and powerful monsters, and maybe get them to show some vulnerability too. Lesser Known Monsters is about Oscar’s growth as a person as much as it is things that go bump in the night, and I’m hoping really that it’s that grounded journey that helps people invest and relate to the story.


What are your plans for future novels?

A first draft for a sequel to Lesser Known Monsters aggressively tore its way out of me at the beginning of summer. Literally just used my body to unravel itself in a few days. I’m still resting it now, considering where things would go from there. Other than that, I’m sitting on a story about steampunk sky pirates with superpowers that I’m dying to get out of my system.


What inspires you to write?

Writing is a superpower; it doesn’t matter how objectively good at it you are. It gives us the ability to time travel, and create worlds and people that feel real. We can unpick real events and fragment things that might have subconsciously confounded us for decades. For me, writing is a kind of therapy. Inside my head is a very loud place, and sometimes when I’m writing, all of the distractions and errant thoughts slide into place and point in the same direction, if only for a moment. Is that what euphoria is?


You describe your writing almost as a kind of therapy. This seems to be a common thread for many of the authors I’ve interviewed—and myself included. What kind of advice would you give to someone who’s struggling that may want to try writing as a way to process their emotions?

I find the creative process very nourishing and it’s not really something that I get access to anywhere else in my life. When you’re letting thoughts and ideas flow out of you I think it’s only natural to unearth darker things too. You can start to pull threads that unravel things that are difficult to handle, so it’s important to  have support systems in place. When we start writing we don’t want to share anything with anyone, but once those floodgates have been opened suddenly we feel strangely obliged to share everything. Writing with honesty can be visceral and cathartic, but you don’t need to share everything in its raw form — or even at all. You might want to break things up to use in your work, keep them private, or get rid of them altogether. Some words are written to be destroyed.


What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

Writing a draft is probably my favourite thing. It’s raw and primal, and you can get that really lust drunk feeling for the story that is coming out of you. I struggle with pretty much everything else. Editing, particularly, does not come naturally to me due to issues with my attention span and focus. Since finishing Lesser Known Monsters, navigating promotions and distribution has also been tricky. I’ve been very fortunate to have an excellent support network, and fantastic editor (Charlie Knight).


I won’t ask where you get your ideas from (unless you want to answer that!) but you mention that the drafting process is your favorite part of writing. Do you plan out your story in advance (plotter) or figure things out as you go (discovery writer)?

I wish I could tell you where I got my ideas from because that might help me chase them. Strangely, Lesser Known Monsters started with the title just popping into my head, and I reverse engineered the story backward from there. When I first started writing, I over-planned. I had spreadsheets mapping every part of the story. The problem with that was that by the time I had planned so thoroughly I had told myself the story already, making it difficult for myself to find the motivation to actually write the draft. Now I tend to outline major points and discovery write in-between. Usually scenes play out in my head like movies whilst I’m doing mundane things. The most important stage for me is resting that first draft, as it gives time for me to season it with cool scenes and fun dialogue that I didn’t think of on the first pass, and get all the foreshadowing in place.


What has been your greatest struggle writing, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?

Myself. The expectations, and limitations I set for myself. The impact that I let my perception of other people’s opinions have over my pursuit of storytelling. I remember writing a little when I was a teenager, and I was quickly overwhelmed by those “who would ever read what you have to say?” feelings. It took me until I was in my thirties to learn to ignore my own bullshit and just let the stories inside me come out. I had to embrace that writing those stories for myself was still valid and important, and soon after that I realized that telling those stories for myself was precisely what made them special. Don’t ever let self-doubt be the reason you aren’t doing something you want to do.


How can we purchase your book

Lesser Known Monsters will be released on Halloween and is available from Amazon. For people living in the UK, if you are interested in a signed addition feel free to contact me directly via Twitter. Special pre-order promotions will be available, check for details on my website!

Author Interview: Nick Askew

There are a lot of fantasy writers in the world, a lot of them untapped talent that are trying to make their mark in a publishing industry where being an outlier isn’t always to your advantage. There’s a lot of pressure to recreate a success story that came before you while simultaneously not having too risky of a premise. It would have been easy for Nick Askew to tread the same footsteps before him without placing his own mark along the way.

I for one am thankful he hasn’t succumbed to the pressure to abandon his niche. Askew’s fiction is as unfamiliar as it is iconic, a mix of fantasy, science fiction, and horror that is unique to his own stylistic choices. Reading Ensoulment left my mind reeling with the twists and turns, and left me counting down the days for the sequel. You can read my review of the book here, but suffice to say, it’s a wild ride.

I was fortunate that Askew took the time to speak with me about his history and future work. Spoiler alert, there’s more to come from his trilogy, and soon, but in the meantime, here’s a lowdown of what to expect in the future from this trailblazer.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Nick Askew and I grew up in Colorado. I attended the University of Colorado where I earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. I worked in related fields, as well as many other odd jobs before discovering my true passion for creative writing.

Tell us about your novel.

My novel is an epic fantasy that takes place in another world after my main character, Andrew, dies in ours. There he has to set out on a quest to find the other half of his soul, all while trying to reunite a princess with her lost prince. To Andrew, it all seems like a familiar fairy tale, but he soon learns that nothing is as it seems and there are dark forces that are working against him to destroy reality itself.

What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write? How?

My favorite novel is The Fires of Heaven, but the whole Wheel of Time series is my favorite as a whole. It inspired me in so many ways but I loved how he told the story through many different POV’s. It taught me that to have a well-rounded story you have to show it through many different eyes and that even the most insignificant appearing character has a role and a story to be told.

You mention you love the Wheel of Time series because it showcases multiple POVs. Can we expect the same from Ensoulment? If so, what were some of the challenges and advantages of working with multiple POVs?

Yes Ensoulment is being told from several different points of view. The biggest challenge that I encountered in telling my story this way is finding each characters unique voice. I wanted to make sure that each one was distinct and that they stood out from one another, so that just by hearing their voice the reader would easily be able to tell whose POV that chapter was from. 

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your book?

My novel is filled with many different characters, many who happen to belong to the LGBTQ community. I am hoping that readers will be able to see themselves in any of the characters and will come to realize that we are all just people. That we all love, and are sad, and have joy and happiness and that deep down, despite our differences, we are all the same. 

What is different about your novel?

My novel is different in that it is a genre-bending trip that contains many surprises.  On the surface it is a fantasy epic, but it also contains many elements of sci-fi, horror, and romance as well as many twist and turns that I think will catch many readers by surprise.

What are your plans for future novels?

Currently I am working on editing the second book in the Ensoulment Trilogy and about to start writing the third.  The first one comes out on September 28, and I plan on releasing the second at the end of October and the third at the end of November.

What inspires you to write?

I am inspired to write because I want to be a positive voice in the world. Right now there are so many negative things happening and it is such a trying time for everyone. I want to create something in the world that brings joy and happiness to people, and ultimately I want readers to realize that there is more that unites us as people than divides us.

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

I love being able to publish books at my own pace, which can pretty much streamline that process and make it go much faster. On the flip side, the part that I struggle with the most is marketing and advertising. I am naturally a pretty introverted person, so for me to advertise both myself and my book has really been a struggle, though I am making quite the effort on Twitter and other social media platforms.

You mention you enjoy how streamlined self-publishing is but struggle with the promotion. Do you see yourself trying traditional publishing in the future?

I think at some point in the future I would like to try the traditional publishing route. I think a lot of factors would have to line up, and I know that finding an agent can be a difficult task, but it’s definitely something I would be interested in some day. 

What has been your greatest struggle writing, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?

My greatest struggle has been focusing. Right now the world is in such a terrible place and with everything going on, it is often hard to keep my focus on the creative aspects of my life. I hope to inspire people and show them that despite how destructive things feel right now, that you can create something beautiful and put something joyful out into the world.

You mention that because of the current world situation you’ve had trouble focusing. Is there anything you’ve found helpful that you can share with fellow writers or readers that may be struggling too?

As far as keeping focus during the current environment my advice to other writers would be to just keep your head down as much as possible and just focus on writing, writing and more writing! 

How can we purchase your book?

My book is available for pre-order in ebook format right now on Amazon exclusively.  It will also be available in paperback format on Amazon on my release date of September 28, 2020.

Author Interview: Kathleen Sullivan

There are some parts of life that are unavoidable. To love is to someday lose, as Kathleen Sullivan had to learn the hard way early on. Grief and Self-Care is her offering to loss, a guidebook to self-compassion during one of the hardest experiences we will ever go through as human beings. While Sullivan herself recognizes that the book can’t make the pain go away (nor should it), it can make the time and process gentler on the griever. 

A short book that is strategic in its brevity for the scattered minds of grievers, this book is an important one that shouldn’t be overlooked from your library. But to fully understand why, it’s important to dig deeper into its history.

Thank you to Kathleen Sullivan for ‘sitting down’ with me to chat about her book, her future publications, and the history around this little gem that I’m certain will go on to change lives.

(If you haven’t yet, you can check out my book review of Grief and Self-Care.)

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am originally from Boston, MA. I moved to Pittsburgh, PA a year after my father died in hopes of getting back into the swing of a “normal” life again. As a 28-year-old, I have experienced more grief than the average person does in their lifetime. Instead of letting the depression run my life, I decided to take everything I know & continue to learn to help others through their grief and loss.

Tell us about your book, Grief & Self Care.

Grief & Self Care shares my personal story of loss as well as several proven self-care techniques that can make your journey through grief a little less difficult. I wrote this book because when I was going through the height of my grief after my dad died, I realized there wasn’t much information out there about how to care for yourself through grief. So I put some information out there in hopes that it will make someone else’s journey a little less difficult. It covers topics like journaling, pets, professional help, and even has a section about what not to say to someone who is grieving. 

What is your favorite book, and has it inspired how you write? How?

My favorite book is Suicidal by Jesse Bering. This book is about why we kill ourselves. It is a tough read but I highly recommend it. It is brutally honest, eye-opening, and informative. This book has inspired me to always continue to put information out there that answers questions and helps the people who need answers. It also inspires me to write about the taboo because although it may be taboo for one person, someone else may be desperately needing the information you possess. 

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your book?

The main take-away I want readers to get from my book is that it is okay to slow down and take care of yourself. Take all the time YOU need to grieve, not what your company policy says and not what someone else has told you. Grief is unique to everyone, put yourself first. 

I have unfortunately experienced my own grief journey in relation to my late wife, and one of the things that was always explained in grief counseling despite it’s debate are the five stages of grief as noted by Kubler-Ross. Do you have your own opinions formed on those stages, or other described stages (as there are many alternate theories)?

This is such a great question. Not known to too many people, there are actually six stages denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and meaning. I certainly believe that every grieving individual goes through these feelings and emotions but I am not a fan of the word stages. It insinuates that you have to go through them in sequential order and then people start to overthink why they aren’t at a different stage yet. I look at the “stages” as a guide, a person can expect to experience these six things but could possibly only experience a few of them.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was spot on that an individual goes through these feelings however, I think it could have been better described and shown that it varies per person, etc. I personally was struck with anger first, never really touched bargaining, then hit denial and meaning, and then once I found meaning is when I started to accept my father’s loss.

What is different about your book?

Grief and Self-Care is different based on the basis behind the book. It is based solely on self-care techniques to make it through the grieving process naturally. Never once does it suggest medication as a route, as I personally do not find the benefit of medications. The source of succeeding is empowerment and personal strength which is more powerful than any medication out there.

In her book Resilient Grieving by Lucy Hone, she describes the ‘grief reaction’ versus the ‘grief response.’ The reaction being how you react to the grief (sorrow, sadness, depression) and the response being at a later date where you decide what to do with your grief moving forward. How do you feel about this explanation, and how do you think self-care ties into how we can move forward with grief?

I think that Lucky Hone was spot on with her explanation. Self-care is crucial to the grief reaction as well as the grief response in its own way. When the reaction first smacks you in the face, it is imperative that you take a step back from your “normal” life and take the time to process the loss. An example of not doing this would be when someone decides to “throw themselves into work”. That is the opposite of self-care and you are just ignoring the loss. With the grief response, putting self-care at the top of your list of things to do can really make a difference in how the grief affects your life after the loss. Meaning, when you finally go back to work, you can actually focus on your work and get the job done without being heavily distracted.

What are your plans for future books?

I wrote a grief journal that includes writing prompts a couple of weeks after the release of Grief & Self Care. I plan to continue writing about grief in hopes to spread awareness and teach others that it is okay to let yourself feel whatever feelings surround their grief.

What inspires you to write?

My love for helping others is what inspires me to write. I am also an aunt to two beautiful kids back home in Boston and I want them to learn to grow up in a world that is a little bit kinder than the one we live in now. I grew up in a family that values philanthropy & that is a large part of who I am today. I live to help make other peoples lives a little bit easier.

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

The most enjoyable thing about publishing is seeing my work actually help people. Even if it is constructive criticism I value it immensely. The biggest struggle with publishing my book is marketing it, however I have touched into my creative side a little bit more and have some exciting things up my sleeve to try.

What has been your greatest struggle writing, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?

Grief is a large topic, there are thousands of different things you can talk about when it comes to grief. My greatest struggle writing is narrowing it down and making my books short enough that it isn’t a struggle to read. In today’s society people are always on the move and moving at faster speeds than ever before, the last thing I want is someone to not purchase my book because it is too long for them to read, they don’t have enough “time”. So I do my best to organize my thoughts and leave the “filler” out. I would rather have a bunch of shorter books highly concentrated on the specific topic than a large book that has a lot of “stuff” in it. In order to overcome this, I suggest a lot of organizing, brainstorming and outlining throughout the whole writing process.

How can we purchase your book?

You can purchase Grief and Self-Care on Amazon. It is available in paperback and kindle.


Author Interview: Shaun Holt

Keeping Creed caught me off guard. A novel as much about family connection as it is about an action hero and romance, it’s a wonderful combination of light and serious that you can’t help but get immersed in.

Having interviewed him, I can see how his down to earth attitude and authenticity make a writer that speaks to readers and makes for an entertaining story—and honestly, don’t we all need that in our lives?

(If you haven’t yet, you can check out my book review of Keeping Creed.)

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a writer, reader, gamer, YouTube browser, and spend most of my free time having one-sided conversations with my pet parakeet, Snowflake. I enjoy road trips, but lately that’s mostly been weekend trips to Vegas, where I catch some shows and gamble about $30 on the roulette tables.

Tell us about your novel, Keeping Creed.

Keeping Creed was my attempt to write a book about an action hero that female readers might enjoy reading. Rather than focusing on his job in counter-terrorism, the attention is on his family, and relationships. The book started due to my inability to make the plot of a Trevor Knight book work, so I began to think maybe this book isn’t meant to be a Trevor Knight novel. That got me started on creating this character, Samuel Creed. Many characters in the series have become my favorites since then, and there’s a lot planned for them.

What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write? How?

Well my personal favorite book is “The City of Dreaming Books” by Walter Moers, a brilliant German writer and illustrator. I think it’s the greatest thing ever written in the history of humanity, and that’s not an exaggeration. As for the book that had the most influence on me, that would probably be “Atlantis Found” by Clive Cussler. I didn’t get into reading until high school, when I was apparently no longer able to fake it in book reports, so I picked up “Atlantis Found” from the library, almost at random. I fell in love with the Dirk Pitt books, read all of them within a year, and that strongly influenced my writing. The Trevor Knight series in particular is a tribute to Cussler’s novels.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your books? 

The main thing for commercial fiction is that it should be entertaining, so that’s my main goal. It doesn’t matter whether readers are happy, sad, mad, whatever, so long as they have a reaction. I don’t really write anything to make readers laugh or cry, because I’m not sure what’s funny, in fact my humor seems to be really hit-or-miss to people. If I enjoy it, I keep it; I write novels that I would enjoy reading.

What is different about your novels?

I think the biggest thing is that I don’t take books too seriously. I like to have fun with them and have fun with readers, so hopefully that bleeds out onto the page. A lot of the humor in my books is very tongue-in-cheek, some of it may be obvious, other parts more subtle, but I definitely like to play around in my writing.

What are your plans for future novels?

“Keeping Strong”, the second book in the Samuel Creed series, is closest to publication, maybe a year away. I’m wrestling with “Ottoman Destiny”, which will be the fourth book in the Trevor Knight series. After that, I might go off to do an all-new romance novel set in Savannah, Georgia, then it’s likely back to the Trevor Knight and Samuel Creed series.

What inspires you to write?

My dream to be a published author began in fourth grade, but it took about twenty years to fulfill that dream. Really the biggest thing that keeps me going is enjoying the characters I’ve created, wanting to find out what happens next with them, and also enjoying going to new places, trying out different genres, and developing as a writer.

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

Brainstorming and plotting novels are pretty fun times, the first pen to paper (or fingers to keys) are thrilling as well, but then it can be a grind. I’ve found the first two drafts of novels tend to be the most difficult, because there’s really three books there – the book you meant to write, the book you actually wrote, and the book you should write. It can be aggravating trying to figure out which way to go with it, and it’s not always clear if you’re heading in the right direction or not. Once the writing part is more or less done, I love, love, love editing, which seems to make me an anomaly among writers, who often say they hate editing. To me, that’s where you really start to make a novel shine. But the absolute best moment is holding your published novel for the first time. It makes all the months of work feel worth it.

What has been your greatest struggle writing, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?

The biggest struggle for me is procrastination. I don’t think it’s motivation or writer’s block, so much, because I typically know what I want to write, but it’s difficult to actually start, to put in the hours, when I’d rather just take a nap, watch a movie, or play a video game (or oh yes, check twitter, the greatest siren of them all). We live in a golden age of distractions. I don’t have any words of wisdom on how to overcome it, because I haven’t found a way myself. Baby steps is all I’d say. If all you can do is write four hundred words a week, at least that’s something. Keep doing it, and one of these weeks you’ll write a few thousand words, and then maybe you’ll get on a roll. 

How can we purchase your books?

The easiest way is to go to

There is another Shaun Holt who has published books on Amazon, a doctor of some kind I think, I’d like to meet him one day, maybe he’s an evil clone of me (or maybe I’m the evil clone). Either way, so long as one of us sells books, we’re living the dream.

Author Interview: JJ Eden

At the end of the day, we all want to read fiction that speaks to us in some way. When we find authors and books that do, they become a part of our own story. In JJ Eden’s book, Thrive, I found a sense of camaraderie and wisdom in someone who had traversed the abyss and was building a bridge over the chasm for those behind her.

With Thrive standing strong as one of my all-time favorite poetry anthologies to date, I was hugely excited to ‘sit down’ with her to hear about her history and process. 

(If you haven’t yet, you can check out my book review of Thrive as well.)

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hi! I’m Jen and I live just south of Manchester, UK. By day, I work for a small public relations consultancy as a writer and project manager and by night I read, write, spend way too much time on Instagram and Animal Crossing and enjoy time with my husband and our crazy springer spaniel, Luna. I published my debut book in December 2019, under the pen name J J Eden. My choice of pen name was largely sentimental – JJ is what my family called both me and my cousin when we were little and Eden is my maiden name, which I have always loved.

Tell us about your poetry and short story anthology, Thrive.

Thrive was an almost accidental book! I had actually been working on a novel for some time but it just wasn’t working or coming together as I wanted it to. I have written poetry and short stories for as long as I can remember but always treated them as just for me, sharing occasional bits on my blog. When I was feeling bogged down in novel-land I turned to poetry and short fiction to keep my love of writing alive and I suddenly started wondering why I was treating the writing I loved the most, and that came most naturally to me, as a side project. I started to put more time and energy into it, revisiting and editing older pieces and writing new ones, and the idea for an anthology that combined them with simple illustrations started to grow in my mind.

The title of the anthology, Thrive, is taken from the name of my blog, Thrive in Chaos. I started blogging about 6 years ago at a point when I was struggling with my mental health and I wanted to create a space that would help me remember that I could survive and thrive even on the darkest days. That purpose – that truth – has really driven so much of my writing that it was a no brainer to have the name and theme carry through to my first book.

You talked a bit about your blog, Thrive in Chaos. Between the blog and your book, has it been difficult to be publicly open with your struggles with mental health?

It’s definitely been a long journey. I’ve struggled with mental illness since I was a teenager but for many years I didn’t recognise that that was what it was. I first received a diagnosis of anxiety and depression when I was 18 and it took a very long time for me to come to terms with it – a combination of there being so much stigma around it, me not really understanding what it meant, and a significant amount of guilt because I really felt that I had no good reason to be depressed or anxious – and it took an even longer time for me to speak openly about it. It’s really only in the last few years that I’ve had the confidence to talk honestly about it and some days it’s still a struggle, but one of the most helpful things to me in my own mental health journey was hearing other people’s stories. Knowing I wasn’t alone in my experiences was a comfort, as was seeing people not just surviving but living joyful, fulfilled lives, despite their mental health struggles. It gave me hope. So once I reached a point of better accepting and understanding my own mental health, I wanted to share my experiences in the hope that others would find the same comfort in my story. It’s not always easy but it is important.

As well as the writing, you illustrated Thrive too. What is your process for this like?

Like my writing, my process for illustration is usually fairly unstructured. I play with ideas in rough until something captures my imagination and then I flesh it out until it feels ‘right’. With the illustrations for Thrive, I wasn’t originally planning on creating an illustration for every piece, I was just going to have a few scattered throughout the book, but once I got started I didn’t want to stop!  

What is your favorite book, and has it inspired how you write? How?

This is such a difficult question for me because I have so many favourite books! I’m a mood reader so the books that inspire me and move me change from day to day and moment to moment. One favourite that I always come back to, though, is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I think it is probably the most evocative book I have ever read and each time I revisit it I am transported anew. It absolutely inspires me to write – the way she captures magic in the smallest of moments is incredible and I carry the way her writing makes me feel into my own work, in the hope that I might be able to convey some small semblance of it to my own readers. I love how imaginative her work is. She has a truly distinctive style that has come through in her other works as well –  her second novel, The Starless Sea, is another book I adore and her Flax Golden Tales, which she published as a series on her blog, were the main inspiration for the format of the short stories that appear in Thrive.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your book?

I really hope it gives readers space to breathe, reminds them of their own strength and magic and reassures them that even if things are dark or difficult or chaotic they can still thrive. I hope it helps them recognise that they don’t need permission in order to feel and be fully themselves. I hope it helps them feel less alone.

What is different about your book?

There are a few things, really. It’s formatted fairly unusually – none of the pieces have an explicit title, they’re listed in order at the beginning of the book by a single word or phrase from each piece, which creates a kind of contents page, except there aren’t any page numbers either so the contents reads a bit like a poem by itself. This was originally experimental, to see if I could capture the essence of the book as a whole in one place, but I liked it so it stuck! (I’ll admit it’s not the most helpful contents page but one of the nice things about self publishing is you don’t need permission to break conventions like that!)

It’s also slightly different in that it doesn’t really have one theme or style. There are some playful pieces that are pure escapism, some serious pieces that touch on real life experiences, some whimsical ones that don’t really seem to speak to much but somehow felt important for me to include. On the surface it might seem like a bit of a jumble but when I was putting it together I went over and over which pieces of writing to include and what order to put them in until I reached a point where the disparate parts felt like they hung together as one. Hopefully that comes across in the reading!

What are your plans for future releases?

My current work in progress isn’t anywhere near the point when I can decide whether it’s something I’ll release, and I have to admit that the current pandemic put a definite damper on my writing motivation so not much progress has been made. I am working on more poetry and short stories, though, and I hope to release another collection eventually! In the meantime, I’m sharing sporadic writings on my blog and wittering away on Instagram so there are snippets for anyone who cares to see them!

What inspires you to write?

All sorts of things! Nature has always been a big source of inspiration for me. A lot of my writing is also inspired by my feelings and experiences and how I process and reflect on those. Equally, books, music, films and art are all constant sources of inspiration, and at the moment I’m also finding myself drawn to folklore.

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

I enjoy having complete creative control over my work. What gets seen, how it’s presented, how it’s marketed – even down to how it’s priced! The biggest struggle is definitely time. Self publishing means you are responsible for absolutely everything and it is hugely time consuming to produce and promote a book – especially to do it well. After an initial push around the time of publication, I have to admit I’ve done hardly any promotion. Just the occasional post on social media, really. When I first published I wasn’t working, as I was recovering from surgery, so the book became my recovery project! It was great at the time because I could do it all from bed and I was really productive because I couldn’t do anything else! Once I got back to work it got a lot harder to give the time to promotion. It’s something I need to work on for my next release – whenever that might be!

What has been your greatest struggle writing, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?

The biggest struggle is the ever present imposter syndrome. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by doubt, wondering if your voice is really worth sharing. That also ties in with perceptions of success. You can get caught up in the figures – how many have I sold, how many reviews have I got, etc – but at the end of the day if you’re writing solely to make money or hit the bestseller lists it takes the joy out of it. I decided when I was finalising Thrive ready for publication that holding a copy in my hands would be success enough and anything else would be a bonus. When I started writing the pieces that appear in the collection I was writing just for myself, not for anyone else. I was writing because I felt compelled to and because it helped me, in a way, to navigate my life. I would encourage anyone struggling with doubt to focus on that. Write for the joy of it. Celebrate the success of putting pen to page, of finishing a line, a chapter, or a whole book if that’s where you’re at. Some people never get up the courage to start. So just starting is an achievement. Anything else is a bonus.

How can we purchase your book?

You can purchase Thrive through Amazon in ebook or paperback format (the paperback has more illustrations!) in all territories, or you can contact me directly through Instagram if you’d like to request a signed copy. 

Author Interview: Jana Jenkins

Sometimes as readers we forget that there’s a soul behind the page. From what I’ve seen and heard of Jenkins, I can tell she’s got a good one. She’s earnest and thoughtful, and does more for kids in her day job than most of us could hope to do in our whole lives. That she finds time to write in her busy schedule speaks to her passion for it.

I’ll let her tell you more in her own words, but I will say I was honored to interview her, and I truly am excited to see what things this kind-hearted (but sharp as a tack) author has in store for us.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hello! I’m Jana Jenkins, and I live in the middle of nowhere, Indiana, haha! My days are spent as a social worker, teaching child abuse prevention programs to kids age 5-12 across five Indiana counties. My spare time is spent writing, beekeeping, and raising my two boys.

Do you feel your experience as a social worker has influenced your writing in any way, either in subject or themes?

Yes, social work has definitely influenced my writing. I spent about ten years working as a case manager in the foster care system. I’ve written several flash fiction pieces about foster care and adoption; those causes are still very near and dear to my heart.

What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write?

I have kicked this question around for over a week, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t have a favorite novel! There are so many books that I love, across a variety of genres, that I simply can’t choose a favorite.

When I think about a book that has inspired me to write though, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn comes to mind. Anyone who has read my flash fiction knows that I love a good twist, and she pulled off some masterful twists in that book!

Tell us about your flash fiction anthology, Tiny Tales.

It’s still crazy to me that I even have a flash fiction anthology, honestly!

I’d never even heard of flash fiction until stumbling upon the Twitter writing community and #vss365 last February!

For anyone who might not be familiar with #vss365, it is a daily writing prompt on Twitter; it stands for very short story, 365 days a year. A daily prompt word is tweeted and then anyone who chooses can use that prompt to write a tweet-length story (280 characters).

I saw people writing these tiny stories and was intrigued. When I finally got brave enough to try one, I was hooked.

After a while, people started encouraging me to put my tweet stories into a collection, and Tiny Tales was born.

Tiny Tales contains about a year’s worth of tweet-length stories, and these stories cover pretty much every genre and contain a good amount of twists and surprises.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your books?

I’m currently working on my first novel, so Tiny Tales is the only book I’ve published so far, but my goal for both (and any future works) is the same. I want people to pick up my books and forget about anything else that may be going on in their lives; I want my books to be the kind that you start reading and can’t put down, the kind that helps you escape and entertain you. I just think, especially with everything going on in our world right now, it’s so important for people to be able to leave stress behind and do something they enjoy. I hope someday my books can be a part of that.

You say that you’d like readers to escape into your stories. With the stress of a job like social work, do you find yourself using reading as a similar escape, and has that influenced your writing in any way?

Yes, reading has always been an escape for me, and that definitely proves true when my job or life is really stressful. When writing, I think back to the books I’ve gotten lost in and study on how they did it and what it was I loved about them.

What is different about your books?

In most anything I write, I try to incorporate a twist or something unexpected. I love inviting people on a journey, teasing them with a destination, and then making a hard right turn at the very last second.

What are your plans for future books?

I am working on a novel, but it has been a pretty slow process thus far. My goal is to have the first draft finished this summer, so fingers crossed. After that, hopefully publishing it and then many more!

Your VSS anthology certainly does pack a punch with a lot of twists and turns in such short word counts. Do you find you enjoy writing short fiction over long? How is your experience been going from microfiction to writing a novel?

Short fiction definitely comes more naturally to me than writing longer pieces! I have a short attention span and get distracted easily, so staying focused on a novel has been a challenge. I’m just trying to take it a chapter at a time so it feels more like short fiction and doesn’t seem so overwhelming!

Do you think you’ll continue to self-publish or will you try querying for your full-length novel? Why or why not?

I think I’ll at least give querying a try, though just thinking about it stresses me out! Haha! I love the creative part of writing, but I don’t really like the business/marketing side of it, so it would be nice to have someone handle all of that for me. If querying leads nowhere though, I’d definitely self-publish again or check out some of the great small and independent publishers.

What inspires you to write?

Most of what I write is inspired by everyday life. I’ve worked in a variety of social work positions over the years, and they have given me a front-row view to the best and worst of humanity. Often, real-life really is stranger than fiction!

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

I’ve only published once so far, so the entire process was a huge learning experience for me. I chose to self-publish my tweet collection, and the biggest struggle for me was actually the formatting. I lost count of how many times I had to reformat the ebook and paperback versions before I finally got them right.

I actually really enjoyed doing the cover, though. I used free graphic design software and went through several versions before settling on the final cover. Finally seeing my name on a cover when it was finished was such an amazing feeling, and it made all the stress feel worth it!

What has been your greatest struggle in the writing process, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?

My greatest struggle is absolutely, without a doubt, making myself sit down and actually write. I have a million ideas and I love daydreaming about them and coming up with stories, but putting those stories onto paper is where I always lose steam. My time seems so limited and writing often gets pushed to the back of the line.
I wish I could give other writers help to overcome this, but I’m still trying to figure this one out myself!

How can we purchase your books?

My book, Tiny Tales, is available on Amazon as ebook and paperback.

Author Interview: David Rae

Today’s Author Interview is going to go a bit differently. Rather than regale you with witticisms and turns of phrase in a fanciful intro, I’m going to let my guest speak for himself.

There are some people when you meet them that have a quiet sense of worldliness that transcends language. Even though our ‘meeting’ was over a few paragraphs across miles, I got that same sense of composure when I ‘sat down’ with David Rae to talk about his dark fantasy novel, Crowman (which I reviewed last week), along with his upcoming works.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I started writing when I was a child and had a few stories and poems printed in my school magazine. After I left school I really didn’t know what to do with my writing, but still wrote anyway. Before I wrote Crowman, I wrote a Spy thriller, a Science Fiction novel, and a Children’s novel. I’m a bit scared to go back and read them. Then I started to write short stories and I had some success placing them in anthologies and magazines. That led to me writing Crowman and then I managed to find a small publisher that was willing to work with me and bring it out as a novel. I’m hoping we can collaborate further and bring out more of my novels. It’s been a long journey, but I think I still have a long way to go. 

What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write? How?

Just one! I’m going to cheat and use two. I love Gene Wolfe. He’s my favourite Science fiction writer and when I read Shadow of The Torturer for the first time it blew me away. I loved the archaic feel to the world he created and the sense of mystery that seeped out of every line. I love how he made the everyday magical and the magical every day. I loved the beauty of his writing and depth of his characters. I loved the deliberate inconsistencies that made you question every word he wrote. I love how he made reality like shifting sand, and showed that in the end, we make our own reality. 

Another book that challenges your perception of reality is Confessions of a Justified Sinner. This is a story in two parts; the journal of a murderer and the narrative of someone who finds his manuscript. It subverts ideas of right and wrong, good and bad. It challenges the notion of freewill and of the supernatural. God, the Devil, and demons all are dismissed as superstitious nonsense by the narrator, but you can’t help believing in ghosts in the chilling dark when you are all alone. And even if that ghastly apparition is only a figment of your imagination, it does not make it any less terrifying. This is a morality tale, and the moral is, always consider your actions because you are not always in the right even if you think you are.

Tell us about your novel, Crowman.

In North American and Western Pacific myths, the sun used to be kept in a box and was then set free by the crow. I tried to imagine a world of perpetual darkness, and what that would be like, and about how it could be changed and the sun set free.

The story is about darkness. It is set in a world ruled by a dark spirit that keeps the sun captive. It is about how such a world would work and what it would be like. Utas has a daughter that shines like the sun. The Dark spirit wants her destroyed. Utas tries to escape and save her. On his journey he is aided by many people, a dark swordsman, a kindly soldier, a bandit boy. But in the end his attempt to escape is futile and he must face both the dark spirit and the darkness within him. It’s been compared by one reviewer to THE SLEEPING GIANT and HERE LIES ARTHUR was also an inspiration for the writing style. I have tried to layer it with meaning and it could be read as an anti-capitalist fable, or a parable about faith, forgiveness, and redemption. But most of all, I hope it is an exciting and entertaining read. 

What inspired your book, Crowman?

I think I wanted to write a manga book, and certainly there are loads of manga and anime references in Crowman if you can recognise them. Crowman is both a reference to the Crow of North American and Western Pacific legend, a sort of trickster god, and to Tengu, Japanese crow spirits. But what really inspired the book was a story that I felt I had to tell and an adventure that I wanted to share. Ultimately the writer may wish to inspire or change readers, but in the end it is the writer’s job to entertain, and that is the measure of our success.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your books?

I hope first and foremost that readers come away feeling entertained and enthralled. While there are themes in Crowman about darkness and light and it tries to subvert some of the stereo-typical thinking about these things, I don’t want any message to be at the expense of the story. I hope readers are entertaining and find the book thought provoking.

Crowman has some big themes; light and dark, good and evil, redemption, love, hate, men and women. And I hope they make readers re-evaluate some of the certainties that we have about these themes. I’m not saying our preconceptions are wrong, just that we should examine them and make sure we are happy with them and where they lead us. But most of all I want the readers to come to know the characters. There are some great characters in the book, Utas, Eroi, Mukito.  If the readers come to enjoy them just as much as I enjoyed writing about them then I’m happy.

My other stories are not at all dark and believe it or not The Lepidopterist’s Beautiful Daughter has lots of humour in it, as does my collection of short stories Midnight in the Garden of Naughty and Nice. My short stories mostly fall into the category of quirky. You could think of them as magical realism. Most of my stories have an element of truth in them somewhere. 

Do you find that there were any events in your life that have contributed to how you approach your writing, and how you handle your themes?

Yes, of course. I’m not sure I want to dwell on any single event nor can I think of any pivotal moment in my life. But everything that I’ve done feeds into my writing and what I want to write about. Sometimes it is only when I reread the story that I think to myself; so, that’s what that’s about. There are always two sides to everything. Sometimes more than two sides. And I don’t think you can tell a story fully without showing different perspectives.

What is different about your novels?

I try to make myth and mystery central to my stories, but I try to ground them in reality. I try to make these myths relevant to today. I don’t mean retelling them in modern settings. I mean I try to find the myths that we have made for ourselves to help us deal with modern life and explore them. There is an element of me in all of my books, where I try to explore something that  

What are your plans for future novels?

I have a follow up to Crowman called Crowtower which I hope will be coming out next year, and a third book Crowbait is in the works.. But I’ve also recently finished a cyber-steam novel called The Lepidoperist’s Beautiful Daughter, and I really hope that I can share that soon. Wheels within wheels and all that. But I’m optimistic that they will be out as soon as possible. I’m also working on a series of three crime novels the first of which is called Brittle White Bones.

What inspires you to write?

Good question, I’m not entirely sure. Certainly not fame or fortune. There just comes a point when a story has to be told. For years, I wrote little bits and snippets 

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

I love writing. I really do. There is nothing better than when the words flow. It really is like being possessed by some divine goddess that takes your hand and writes for you. And then when someone reads it, and likes it or better still loves it, that’s great. But any comment or feedback is wonderful. It’s like somehow our minds have met. And I have made so many great friends on this trip into publishing and writing. I have had so much support and encouragement from the writing community.

I hate it when the words don’t flow, but usually I find this is because there is something I have to write and don’t want to. For example, I was writing this story and was going great until I had to write a scene where a disabled boy is attacked and beaten up. I really had to work that through in my head before I could put it down on paper. It was distressing to write, and it needed to sit and work in my head. Is that writers block, or is it just that sometimes the thought process is more complicated than at others.  

I’m also not great with the business side. I do all the social media stuff and shameless self-promotion, but it just takes so much time, and I’m not really good at it. And you can’t really measure if what you are doing is having an effect. Contracts, promotion, marketing, it seems like I have so much that I need to be an expert on. 

What has been your greatest struggle in the writing process, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?

Fear. I think it is what stops all of us. Fear that our work will be poor or fear that we’ll be rejected, or fear that it won’t sell, or fear of bad reviews. Fear is never a good motivation for anything. Be brave, be fearless. But also don’t take yourself too seriously. I’m not saying you will never write anything bad, or that you will never be rejected, or that bad reviews are always wrong, or that your book will sell. I’m saying; so what do it anyway. One of my non-literary heroes is David Bowie, and much as I love Diamond Dogs, Hunky Dory and Low, he also did “the laughing Gnome,”  “ the little match girl,” and Tin Machine. They say it’s a fine line between genius and madness, but it’s also a fine line between genius, and the banal, the ridiculous and the pompous. It does not matter. Keep going and keep doing what only you can do. 

That’s an interesting concept: “there’s a fine line between the genius and the banal, ridiculous and pompous.” Most people would define the dichotomy as ‘greatness’ vs ‘failure’, but do you see it differently?

I think I might. Greatness is overrated. I just mean that for example the self-restraint shown by the likes of Hemmingway, or Steinbeck or Fitzgerald in their writing borders on the banal. The florid lines of Melville, or Wolfe edge close to the pompous and ridiculous. And that we should not be afraid to skirt close to these. We need to be brave in our writing even if that means we run the risk of being pompous or banal. Believe in your own voice and in your own style.

How can we purchase your books?

All of my books are on Amazon and you can find them on my Amazon page. You can also follow my blog where I put loads of free stuff for you to read or follow me on facebook

Author Interview: Kevin Barrick

If you’re not into writing or reading as an active hobby or obsession (stop looking at me like that), flash fiction may be new to you.

It’s a novel concept, one that I expect should have more of a following in the culture of “I didn’t read the article but I read the headline and the first few paragraphs.”

Which is about how much a flash fiction is, little more than a few paragraphs. 500 words: approximately a page and a half of a book. Yet, authors of flash fiction have managed to create worlds and stories in these 500 words that will bring you to tears, or make you snort water (or lattes) out of your nose when you’re supposed to be paying attention in your budget meeting.

And as long as we’re on the subject of lattes, Creativity Brewing (which I reviewed last week) is a great example of what can be done with flash fiction in a variety of genres, subjects, and tones. Kevin Barrick put together an anthology that is as diverse as it is succinct, and I was honored to ‘sit’ down with him to talk more about his history and his future.

Barrick may have cut his teeth on flash fiction, but as I found out in my interview, there’s more to come from this indie author in the near future.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a first time indie author, but I’ve been writing for most of my life. I remember writing fanfiction at first when I was about 8, but that eventually turned into me wanting to write my own story with my own characters. I ventured into a YA novel that has inspired me in my current creative endeavors.

I live in Ethiopia where I am embracing the culture and loving the world. After my time here, I want to travel the world. I even have aspirations to write a collection of flash fiction set in each country I visit!

My favorite thing to do when I’m not writing is to go to the lake and swim for a few hours. At home, I love to cook and experiment with budget cooking and replacement cooking (e.g. don’t have butter? Use oil!). One of my favorite things to cook is pasta, and I enjoy making my own noodles on occasion.

You said that venturing into a YA novel inspired you. Are there specific YA books you think of fondly, or that heavily influenced your writing (either current or past)?

I read a lot growing up, so to say something in particular influences me is something hard to do. I do remember a trilogy that inspired the real world turned fantastical as well as another that dealt with post-apocalyptic survival that loosely relates to the novel I’ve been writing. But I remember more the way I felt reading them than their titles or authors. And I guess at the end of the day that’s the inspiration I draw from: a desire to inspire rather than to become famous. Though that certainly wouldn’t hurt.

What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write? How?

I don’t have a favorite novel, per se, but I do have a few favorite trilogies/series. One of my favorites that have spanned the ages is the unique collection of work by Ted Dekker. He has written a series that is divided into a couple of trilogies. This has inspired my upcoming novella series, where I will apply the same idea by having a trilogy of trilogies sort of series. I am excited to learn from him and see where I can go with it!

Tell us about your short story anthology, Creativity Brewing.

Creativity Brewing is a collection of flash fiction that explores human nature. I explore several situations where humanity is at the forefront as the character tries to figure out what it means to be human and what it means to truly live. Some stories are more like fables where they explore human nature in a more mythical way. Others are stories of adventure, romance, or fantasy that venture into heroism, fear, sorrow, joy, and other emotions.

I decided to write this anthology after a few months of working on my blog where I post other flash fiction. I have always wanted to embark upon the writing journey, but had never really had an opportunity to do so. After some deliberation, this anthology took form and I sent it off into the world.

You say you have a blog. What kind of things can readers expect to see on your blog in the future, and where can they find it?

My blog can be found at I have written several flash fiction that runs along a similar vein of my book, but I’m currently working on a new series of retelling popular mythologies. I’m still working on getting my mind to wrap around the myths themselves before putting my version of them down on paper, but that is something to expect in the coming months.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your books?

I want readers to be able to stop and appreciate their humanity and the humanity of other people. I particularly brought this idea into my story “A Fruit-Eating Hyena,” a tale of a strange and different hyena who struggles to fit in. I think this is a rather applicable fable that helps us to see the different people in our lives and compel us to view them as humans and never anything less.

Another thing I want my readers to get from my stories is the beauty of simple things. In each of these 500-word tales, I bring out the excitement, wonder, and beauty of the world we live in and the humanity we embrace. I want my readers to explore their own lives and find the simple, small things that make them excited or brings out their humanity. Whether that is a walk in the park, a cup of coffee, or a comedy movie.

What is different about your book?

The thing that is different about my book, and the books that are in the workshop, is that I express the darkness of humanity with a juxtaposition of the greatness we all have. I don’t write just dark and grim stories, but I take the dark colors we see in our lives and weave it into a tapestry that accentuates that darkness to present the masterpiece that is called life and humanity.

Are there experiences in your life, or that you’ve heard, that influenced how you see the world, and does that come through in your writing?

I believe everyone’s experiences, friendships, and upbringing influences the way they see the world. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to go abroad when I was younger that inspired a passion for travel. Through my experiences, some specific and some vague, I’ve been able to see many sides to the same story. Very rarely is an incident an isolated unfolding of events, but rather a network of a lifetime of experiences that lead to the particulars of the incident. Change one variable, and the entire understanding could change of the incident. Life is complex.

This comes out in my writing (particularly my longer works) where the complexity of life fashions the narrative of my story. One character who is deemed the hero could easily be defined as a villain if observed through a different set of lenses, and vice versa. In my longer work, I don’t have villains, I have people who are doing what they find to be right, even if they don’t fall in line with the “public opinion.” No one is evil for the sake of being evil, but because the events of their life have fashioned them and influenced their decisions.

What are your plans for future books?

I have a few plans. One is a sci-fi short story that should be released later this year. I can’t say too much about it, except ROBOTS.

My next project is the first novella in a series called “The Vial of Deziar.” It should be released this summer and is currently in the editing phase. It’s a story of dark secrets, gods and demons, and young passionate rebellion.

I’m excited about both of these and can’t wait for all of you to read it! Stay tuned.

What inspires you to write?

Life inspires me. When I experience fear, I put that into writing. When I see the effects of addiction, I weave that into a tale. When I hear the whispers of the heart, I shape it into a story of passion.

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

I enjoy the autonomy of it all. I like being in control and deciding what content I write and what marketing tools I use.

I struggle with the fact I can’t gauge the success of my story until after I start and go through the journey. Through traditional publishing, one would send in a query and then receive an immediate rank of success (acceptance or rejection).

But it’s a joy to write and that’s what inspires me to write also: the act of storytelling and seeing people read and enjoy it.

What has been your greatest struggle in the writing process, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?

So far the great struggle, or conundrum, is deciding how much I am willing to spend on a first book in light of proofreading and editing. Recently, I’ve been bombarded by hundreds of opinions on the matter. In the end, I think I will make my own path. However, my advice on the matter is this: YOU NEED A CONTENT EDITOR–even if you decide not to get one. By that, I mean, write and self-edit your book with the mentality that you will be sending it off to be edited for $500 or even $1,000. If you don’t have an endless supply of money, then you will automatically want your work to be as perfect as it can be so that when they edit it, there won’t be a plethora of edits that you could have done yourself.

In tandem with that, accept the fact that your first work isn’t going to be perfect. So if you cannot afford an editor, that’s fine. Find beta readers, use free or cheap resources, self-edit, read it a billion times. Eventually, when money allows, you should get one for your future work, but writing is a journey.. You discover your voice after you write for a while. So it might be better to invest in a future version of yourself as a writer as opposed to the beginner version of yourself.

Publish your best work, and do everything you can to ensure it is your best, but have an understanding that your best today isn’t going to be your best 5 years from now. And that’s how it should be! Write, edit, write, edit, write, edit, publish.

Do you ever plan on pursuing traditionally publishing, or would you rather stick with self-publishing?

I have a book series/trilogy that I am working on that I would like to at least query to be traditionally published. Primarily for the sake of it being handled with more experienced and professional hands as well as being introduced to an already established platform.

For the time being, I’ll stick with self-publishing. I have plans for a novella series as well as a few more flash fiction anthologies, all of which will be self-published.

How can we purchase your books?

You can find my book at Amazon.
Follow my Amazon Author Page for updates.