Online Issue 17: “Living My Best Life”

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This issue begins and ends with mourning. We mark the passing of long-time reviewer and crime fiction enthusiast, Theodore Feit, with his final review.

We’re also reeling with the fresh pain from the news that Evie Swierczynski has passed away after her fight with leukemia. Many years ago, I was hired to travel to Philadelphia and interview Duane Swierczynski for a magazine feature. I got to meet his children and Meredith. I’m lucky enough to say I’ve known Duane for many years, and yet I do not know him and his family well … and yet Duane’s posts over the past several months have made many of us feel as though Evie was a part of our family, because he captured her spirit and shared her with us all.

All I really know today is that their grief is unfathomable. In the days and weeks ahead I’ll be thinking of Duane, Meredith and Parker as they begin the unfathomable journey forward without Evie.

One thing Duane mentioned months ago was that Evie always said, “Living my best life.” For her, it was a statement of sarcasm in response to misfortunes. (DS FB June 7)

May we all cherish the moments we have and truly live our best lives.

Scroll down a bit and you’ll see a list of ways to pay tribute to a loved one’s memory.

Sticking with the Music Theme

Paul D. Brazill’s Supernatural Noir is out in stores now, and he’s sharing his new work’s playlist with us.

Author Interviews

Kelli Owen talks being a Nerdy Klutz, how that impacts her zombie apocalypse plan, and what a vampire story has to do with prejudice.

Brian Lindenmuth chats with Terrence McCauley about writing westerns.

Robert White talks about Thomas Harris, David Lindsey and Martin Cruz Smith, his protagonist’s biggest fear, and how real life events inspired Northtown Eclipse.

When The Hunger Games and The Handmaid’s Tale Collide: Barbara Winkes talks about her Dystopian tale, Cypher.

Reviews:

Sandra Ruttan takes a look at In The Galway Silence, the latest Jack Taylor novel by Ken Bruen.

Brian also has a horror review column up, just in time for Halloween.

And, in sad news, the review of The Line by Martin Limon marks Theodore Feit’s final review. Our condolences to Gloria on Ted’s unexpected passing last month. He was a long-standing reviewer who was committed to sharing his love of books, and will be missed.

Actors Wanted

Tom Leins picks the Actors who Could play Joe Rey, the Gunrunner, Slattery and Wila.

To Be Read Features

Wondering what some of your favorite author are reading these days and hoping to crack open soon?

What Do John Verdon, Annette Dashofy, Gwen Floria, Eric Beetner and Kyle Mills Have in Common? JJ Hensley talks recent reads and more.

J.L. Abramo talks about global events that impact his current reading, works by Erik Larson and Bryan Burroughs and his hopes for new Tim O’Brien novels.

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When The Hunger Games and The Handmaid’s Tale Collide: Barbara Winkes talks about her Dystopian tale, Cypher

Cyphercover1 (2)SR: What’s your new book about?

BW: Cypher is a dystopian novel in which some citizens have signed many of their rights to the “City” government. They give up their names, and become numbers instead, which puts them at the mercy of the Identity Agency. Ami went into the program after being pressured by people close to her, and her fate worsens from there. Katlena, who is an inspector with the Identity Agency, still believes in the system, and she thinks that if she rises through the ranks, she can help change it to the better. Both of them have secrets they guard closely. Mutual attraction might put them at risk, and it’s unclear whether they can trust each other—or who the enemy really is.

SR: Was there a specific issue or incident that really motivated you to write this particular story? What was the prompt?

BW: Part of it was that The Hunger Games, many years after I’d read The Handmaid’s Tale, got me back into reading dystopian fiction. I always add suspense and romance to my books, not matter the main genre. Finally, I looked back on my own experience of being unemployed for a while, and the toll it took at times. It’s not hard to feel like a number—even though my life, of course, was far from Ami’s.

SR: How do you think your protagonist would respond if aliens landed in the center of town on page 57?

BW: Both Ami and Katlena have seen strange things in their lives, but I’m sure that would freak them out on a deeper level. Page 57, it’s the morning after, and Katlena wakes from a nightmare. That would be an interesting time to add aliens…

SR:  Your protagonist has to flee the country. Where are they headed to and why that location?

BW: Mexico perhaps. If I believe HGTV, they could get affordable housing close to the beach, and I think they’d be able to go there with the funds they have.

SR:  What conspiracy theory is your protagonist most likely to believe in? Roswell? JFK? Princess Diana? What about you? Any conspiracy theories that you think might have some truth to them?

BW: These days, I’m extra careful, because there’s so much of it out there and online, sometimes you have to remind yourself that there is still an objective reality. I try to check myself and not fall for something that’s too easy or too good to be true.

SR:  Is your protagonist more likely to go insane or end up in prison?

BW: Since they are working to change the system, and their opponents aren’t happy about it, prison is a likely prospect if they don’t succeed.

SR: What’s your protagonist’s greatest fear? Why?

BW: In the beginning, the greatest fear for both of them would be related to their individual stories—how events could affect their life plans. Later on, it’s the fear of losing each other.

SR: Is there something you hope the reader carries away with them after they’re done reading? An insight or philosophy that you wanted to come through in your work?

BW: All of my works have women coming together to work toward a common goal, if it’s cops hunting a serial killer or characters of a different background hoping to change society to the better (in the case of Cypher, undo some of the cruel reality that is part of their world). I even did it with vampires and witches in RISE. It’s important to me to convey that vision, even if it doesn’t always happen in the real world. I’d like to think that most women and men would prefer equality, but I focus on women(-loving women) protagonists in my books.

SR:  Cage match between you and your protagonist. It’s a fight to the death. Which one of you will be left standing, and why.

BW: I’d like to think we’d both turn on the villain that organized the match—though I’d have to admit that the majority of my characters would be better equipped to fight said villain.

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

BW: I think every book I loved, or left me with a strong emotional reaction, has shaped that desire. It’s a rush to experience those reactions while writing and creating a world out of nothing, and it’s even more of a rush when readers “buy it”—pun intended. When a reader tells me they couldn’t put the book down, it makes me completely giddy—because I know how that feels.

SR:  What’s the best thing about writing?

BW: Writing.

SR:  What’s the worst thing about writing?

BW: Not writing (for whatever reason).

SR: Are you drawn to things that are really popular or wary of them? Do you find it helps you to market your work if you’re familiar with what’s currently selling or do you ignore all of that and focus on what you’re interested in?

BW: Sometimes I take a look, sometimes I don’t—it’s often a spur of the moment decision. Sometimes I’m far behind the trend and quickly have to finish the books, because the movie is coming out in a couple of weeks…As for marketing, not all mainstream trends apply to lesbian fiction (where all genres co-exist under that one roof). For example, romance is always the biggest seller here and there. However, when a friend mentioned domestic suspense on social media—often a female protagonist finding out her husband might or might not have some dark secrets—I realized I hadn’t come across any stories of the kind in F/F fiction. Of course, equal marriage written into law isn’t that old, so we have a lot of catching up to do on HEAs first.

SR: What movie or TV world do you wish you could live in? Why?

BW: Ocean’s Eight. How much fun would that be?

SR: You strike it rich. What charity are you going to create or support?

BW: I would love to give a ton of money to organizations that care for women who have experienced violence, be it random, in the home or in a war zone. I think you need to build a good, free society from the ground up, and that includes the eradication of child “marriage,” expanding choice and so many other things. LGBT organizations. Invest in science and also conveying to the public why it matters…how much money are we talking again? I’d also love to go beyond and be able to produce media, increase the representation of lesbian characters in all genres. I have many ideas.

SR: What factors influence you when you’re choosing a book to read?

BW: The blurb, most of all. If the characters sound compelling and I want to know more about them, I’ll want to check out the book.

SR: Where can people catch up with you?

BW: Come talk to me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/barbarawinkes) or Facebook  (www.facebook.com/AuthorBarbaraWinkes), or follow me on BookBub (www.bookbub.com/profile/barbara-winkes) to stay up to date with new releases and sales.

 

Barbara Winkes has visited us to talk about Secrets, done Secrets casting call, chatted about The Amnesia Project and talked about The Amnesia Project’s soundtrack.

Barbara Winkes writes suspense and romance with lesbian characters at the center. She has always loved stories in which women persevere and lift each other up. Expect high drama and happy endings.

Discover a variety of genres, serial and standalone. Women loving women always take the lead.

Casting Call: Tom Leins on the Actors who Could play Joe Rey, the Gunrunner, Slattery and Wila

Who should play your protagonist on TV or in a movie? What is it about them that makes them suit the character – attitude, similar characters they’ve played or appearance or something else?

James Norton as Joe Rey

The protagonist of my new book Repetition Kills You (and my previous book Meat Bubbles & Other Stories) is Joe Rey, a cut-price private investigator, who regularly works as muscle-for-hire to make ends meet. Regular readers may recall that Rey has already had the Casting Call treatment, so I won’t go over old ground here, suffice to say, I picked James Norton – based on his performance as Tommy Lee Royce in the tremendous UK crime drama Happy Valley. The intensity that Norton brought to the role was hugely impressive, and while he was involved in some breathtakingly callous scenes, he was also a master manipulator who displayed a real toxic charm.

Repetition Kills You is a literary jigsaw puzzle. The book comprises 26 short stories, presented in alphabetical order, from ‘Actress on a Mattress’ to ‘Zero Sum’. Combined in different ways, they tell a larger, more complex story. Given the sheer number of characters that weave in and out of the various story strands I was spoiled for choice when selecting characters for this feature. They may not be the obvious choices, but these were the ones that elbowed their way into the Casting Call!

Charles Dance as The Gunrunner

The Gunrunner appears in the story ‘Machine Gun Etiquette’, when he hires Rey to retrieve his estranged daughter, Shivonne. If you can imagine Charles Dance with a firearm fetish and a floral-patterned rayon shirt, and you are in the right ballpark!

I always enjoy Dance’s imperious tone, and it would work especially well here, as he talks down to Rey – not a man who enjoys being talked down to! Dance was great in Game of Thrones, but it is his stint as Conrad Knox in Season 3 of Strike Back that resonated more strongly with me when casting this particular role.

Casting Call #2 - Tom Leins - Repetition Kills YouMark Bonnar as Slattery

In the Paignton Noir series, Rey encounters a number of increasingly unhinged father figures, ranging from Wet-Look in Meat Bubbles to Cantonese mobster Malcolm Chung in the forthcoming Boneyard Dogs. In Repetition Kills You, Slattery comes closest to filling this role, albeit in a far more innocuous manner. He runs a sleazy, unsuccessful bar on a near-derelict industrial estate, and Rey and he enjoy an uneasy, unspoken friendship.

Mark Bonnar has worked on some of my favourite British TV shows in recent years (Line of Duty, Unforgotten, Catastrophe) – performing vastly different roles each time – and I think he could effortlessly tap into the shifty, defeated quality that Slattery brings to all of his scenes. The crime dramas may have displayed his sinister side, but the excruciating dark comedy in Catastrophe is a good reference point too – not least the scene where he hires a transsexual prostitute.

PJ Harvey as Wila

Wila appears in the story ‘Howl’, which is the longest piece in Repetition Kills You, and one of my favourites. I don’t want to give too much away, but Wila is a Polish lounge singer with a murky – possibly dangerous – past, who Rey is hired to hunt down.

I’m always surprised that PJ Harvey hasn’t done more film work (her sole acting credit seems to be Hal Hartley’s 1998 movie The Book of Life, which I have never seen), as there is no one quite like her out there. In truth, I’m not sure how well a Dorset-does-Polish accent would work, but I think it is important to have a singer in the role, to make it convincing!  

(Trivia: the song Wila sings mid-way through the story was inspired by ‘Dirge’ by Death In Vegas (which had Dot Allison on vocals), rather than a PJ Harvey track, but I’d love some PJ material on the soundtrack, as I’m a big fan.)

Tom Leins also did a casting call for Meat Bubbles & Other Stories.

Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. He is the author of a trio of novelettes, SKULL MEAT, SNUFF RACKET and SLUG BAIT, and two short story collections, MEAT BUBBLES & OTHER STORIES (Near To The Knuckle) and REPETITION KILLS YOU (All Due Respect, an imprint of Down & Out Books). His short stories have been published by the likes of Akashic Books, Shotgun Honey, Near to the Knuckle, Flash Fiction Offensive, Horror Sleaze Trash and Spelk Fiction.

https://thingstodoindevonwhenyouredead.wordpress.com/

Robert White talks about Thomas Harris, David Lindsey and Martin Cruz Smith, his protagonist’s biggest fear and how real life events inspired Northtown Eclipse

Fun Fact: Robb tells us, “I sent the manuscript of a crime novel entitled Siblings to a New York City agent who had expressed interest in a separate manuscript. She never responded back, so I assumed she wasn’t interested. Three years later, I retitled it and sent it to an indie press in the U.K. soliciting novels. That publisher sent me three royalty checks in the following year that totaled more money than my other 9 books squared. Since then, it’s been reprinted under another British press and is still chugging along with over 100 ratings on Goodreads compared to 15, my next biggest number.”

Amazon Northtown CoverSR: Was there a specific issue or incident that really motivated you to write this particular story? What was the prompt?

RW: It’ll sound ghoulish, but I was watching the Cleveland news one winter night when a report of a plane being lost over Lake Erie came on; 5 people from two families died in the crash. I used a similar incident of a plane crash into the lake and involved my protagonist, a fledgling private eye, not very sure of himself, acquiring facts about the crash that lead him to conclude the engine was sabotaged.

SR: What conspiracy theory is your protagonist most likely to believe in? Roswell? JFK? Princess Diana? What about you? Any conspiracy theories that you think might have some truth to them?

RW: My protagonist didn’t snap to his own terrible childhood accident being no accident, so he’d be unlikely to believe in those conspiracies.  I, on the other, hand grew up feasting on those godawful alien invasion film and thus am very inclined toward the belief that aliens exist and our government, as well as others, have been too slow to reveal what they know.

SR:  Is your protagonist more likely to go insane or end up in prison?

RW: Definitely prison. And it’ll involve protecting a woman somehow.

SR: What’s your protagonist’s greatest fear? Why?

RW: Fire. He was badly scarred in childhood when a plastic tent burned with him unable to get out.

SR: Is there something you hope the reader carries away with them after they’re done reading? An insight or philosophy that you wanted to come through in your work?

RW: Philosophy is too big a word for my writing but hobby seems too insignificant for an “obsession.”  I’ll always settle for a Damn, I enjoyed that story from a reader. Even better if the reader enjoyed the style.

SR:  If hell was watching one movie over and over and over again, or listening to one song over and over again, what would the movie or song be for you?

RW: Personally speaking, I’m a fiend for watching movies over and over. If I told you how many times I’ve watched Body Heat, you’d pray for my commitment into the nearest mental facility. I’m currently addicted to lousy Korean horror movies full of ghosts and doppelgangers, so watching a bad film ad nauseam in hell won’t be as bad as flames that burn but never consume—as the old, crazy nuns used to tell us in my catechism class. I might make an exception for any Will Smith movie.

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

RW: I, Jan Cremer, a self-described memoir by an author who went from one half-assed adventure to another much like the French film Going Places with Gerard Depardieu, which I’d seen when my hair was black and he was about 150 pounds lighter. That Cremer book never made me want to be a writer, but I had such pleasure from it that it must have planted a seed. But it wasn’t until I read William Styron’s Confessions of Nat Turner in college that I knew someday I wanted to write.  It just took a longer time than I expected (30 years).

SR:  What’s the best thing about writing?

RW: Disappearing into the writing. Losing yourself so completely that whole hours pass where you are not conscious of anything but the work taking shape in front of you. Narcotic.

SR: Are you drawn to things that are really popular or wary of them? Do you find it helps you to market your work if you’re familiar with what’s currently selling or do you ignore all of that and focus on what you’re interested in?

RW: I’ll admit I’ve been tempted by some of the more popular aspects of horror/thriller writing, but I can’t adjust gears as well as I thought. I gave up on Carrie after 50 pages because the characters were so unlikeable and the prose style so pedestrian, although The Shining was a fine read even if the conclusion made little sense. The stomach-churning horror of the Saw franchise films seems mindlessly juvenile, not to mention insanely improbable.  I have moments but nothing ever pans out. It has to come down to psychological horror for me even in mysteries.

SR: Everyone needs an outlet to help them recharge. What hobbies do you have outside of writing?

RW: Does lawn mowing count?  Lying in a hammock? I might well be the dullest man in Northeastern Ohio.

SR: You strike it rich. What charity are you going to create or support?

RW: Easy. The ASPCA and my local APL.  Animals don’t deserve the shitty treatment human beings inflict on them.

SR: What factors influence you when you’re choosing a book to read?

RW: Three items:  Is the work by Thomas Harris, David Lindsey, or Martin Cruz Smith? If not, I don’t waste my time.

 

RTW Photo ThumbnailRobb T. White was born, raised, and still lives in Northeastern Ohio. He has published three novels in the Thomas Haftmann series, a pair of noir novels, a serial-killer novel, and 3 collections of short stories. Special Collections, a digital novel, won the New Rivers eBook competition in 2014. Many of his crime stories have appeared in magazines like Yellow Mama, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Switchblade, and Near to the Knuckle.

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Kelli Owen talks being a Nerdy Klutz, how that impacts her zombie apocalypse plan, and what a vampire story has to do with prejudice

Fun fact: Kelli says, “I was an editor and reviewer for over a decade, until they found out I was writing on the side—then they all fired me and told me to work on my own fiction. They were right.”

Teeth - Kelli OwenSR: Practice pitching: tell us what your new book is about in 50 words or less.

KO: In TEETH, I completely reinvented vampires—making them real and explaining all previous beliefs or behavior with science, fact and history.  As part of modern society, they endure all the prejudices and problems any minority faces. Add a serial killer, who may or may not be a vampire, and stir well.

SR: Was there a specific issue or incident that really motivated you to write this particular story? What was the prompt?

KO: Originally it was a conversation that led to a dare between me and another writer—one of us writing vampires, the other werewolves. We shelved the ideas and forgot about the dare. But vampires had crawled into my muse’s peripheral vision and I found myself debating the fang gang on a number of occasions. For over a hundred years they had remained basically the same, so what could I possibly do to make my vampires different?

And again, I moved it aside and went on to other novels. During that time, I dabbled in podcasting, where I vented weekly about the injustices and insanity that I saw in our society and smeared all over social media. And two years after that initial dare, the muse said, “Oh hey, I have an idea…”

SR:  Is your protagonist more likely to go insane or end up in prison?

KO: TEETH has an ensemble cast of characters. There are several teens dealing with the prospect of becoming a vampire—one is afraid of losing friends, one has a parent who hates vampires, and one is well-adjusted and fine, mostly. Then we have the cat and mouse of our serial killer and the detective, weaving in and out of the various storylines. For the purpose of this question, I’ll answer for the detective.

Detective Connor Murphy would absolutely end up in prison first. He’s very open-minded and perfectly fine with the idea of vampires, even standing up for their rights. But if something were to rattle his psyche, I’m fairly certain he’d react with action rather than snapping mentally.

SR: What’s one thing that you and your protagonist have in common?

KO: Much like me, he would never judge an entire group of people, but rather the individual. A minority committing a crime doesn’t make a guilty race or gender, but rather an issue, a criminal, on a personal level. I was raised that way, Connor was written that way.

SR: If you were the right gender could you have a romantic relationship with your protagonist? Why or why not? Would it be a good relationship?

KO: Connor is a stand-up guy, a loving husband, a good cop, and an all around great human. We could totally date based on that. Would I do well as a cop’s wife? (Note: I literally drew a breath through my teeth debating that question.) I’m going to have to be honest and say it would depend on what department he was in and where we lived. Small town detective where things usually don’t happen? We’d be fine. Larger city with more crime? I think I’d worry too much.

SR: What’s your protagonist’s greatest fear? Why?

KO: Something happening to his family. As a detective, he’s used to crime and criminals, and he is generally the one to deal with them and get them off the street. But he also knows how very real that danger can be before caught. The idea of it touching his family, affecting them in any way, would likely give him sleepless nights and a need to do his job even better. Off the record if need be.

SR: Is there something you hope the reader carries away with them after they’re done reading? An insight or philosophy that you wanted to come through in your work?

KO: Actually, yes. While I don’t generally have any type of lesson or moral, TEETH absolutely has a social statement written into it. In my opinion, the reasons for the prejudices and problems that minorities face in this country every single day can be reduced to fear or ignorance, or both. So much hate is based on not knowing the facts, so much is because the minority in question is outside the wheelhouse or knowledge or personal experience of the haters. If we could just open up a little. If both sides simply took two steps toward the center, they may be close enough to listen. Not necessarily agree, but at least they could listen. No one said you had to agree with everyone, but being able to listen to an opposing view and accept it as its owner’s, is part of being an adult, and it’s vital to a sustainable community.

Social media was supposed to unite us. Ignoring the advertisements and celebrities, it was meant to make the world a smaller place for people, to bring us closer together, to make distance unimportant. But sometimes, it seems all it’s done is curl hatred into a cone, which can be used as a megaphone of hate or fear or lies to the masses. We should get along better. Or at least try.

SR:  If hell was watching one movie over and over and over again, or listening to one song over and over again, what would the movie or song be for you? For your protagonist?

KO: Probably an unpopular opinion, but my hell would be the movie A Christmas Story. My ex father-in-law was a big fan, and actually watched the weekend marathon once. I don’t mean it was on the television while he went about doing other things, I mean he actually watched it. Over and over and over. Fourteen times one year was enough to ruin it for me forever.

My protagonist would probably be drenched in torture if forced to watch Mall Cop or some other comedy, which makes fun of the uniform he proudly wears.

SR: Roadtrip. What’s on your protagonist’s playlist? Yours?  (changed slightly from karaoke because I couldn’t pinpoint it)

KO: Connor was in high school in the 90s and while he may be a police officer now, he once thought he’d be something else. Anything else. He’s got an entire backstory that never hits the pages, but I can tell you he still listens to industrial and grunge, with a strange blend of Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails and everything in between.

I on the other hand, am very eclectic, though most believe I’m a metal head. Yes, I loved rock before it was segregated into the double fistful of subgenres, but it’s more than that and can includes anything from Mötley Crüe to Linkin Park, Chris Cornell to Breaking Benjamin. And just when you think you’ve figured out my tastes I’ll pull out The Avett Brothers, Pink, or maybe Fleetwood Mac. I do have links to playlists on the sidebar of my website—8tracks.com let’s you listen to the playlist I listened to while writing a particular piece of fiction (playlists are titled by book).     

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

KO: Frankenstein. Always and forever. I was in kindergarten and brought home the little kid’s watered-down version. It immediately struck me as sad because the monster wasn’t the monster. My teacher explained that’s how Mary Shelley wrote it and a lightbulb went off in my head. I’d heard you could be a doctor or lawyer or fireman, but writer? That was a thing you could actually choose to be? Done.

How I ended up the darkened path that separates horror from thriller likely started there as well. Beyond that, my mother enjoyed horror movies, and my father’s bookshelf was rife with fodder for a darker imagination—introducing me to both Koontz and Lovecraft, which sent me searching for everything in between. My parents never told me to read something lighter or nicer. They never frowned on me asking the scarier questions or my “what if” scenarios. And I’ve been chasing the idea of the monster not being the monster since that day in kindergarten.

SR: What detail in your writing do you obsess over the most? Character names? Locations? Description? Dialogue? Research?

KO: My first thought was research, because I would never want someone in the character’s profession to tell me I did something wrong. But that’s not an obsession, that’s just required. Locations, on the other hand, oh my.

I’m freakishly methodical about the locations I use. It’s born of the idea that everything must be logical, and ring true, and never pull the reader from the world I’ve created. So I’m always extremely careful with the physical layout of the story—the locations of action. I’ve drawn maps for imaginary towns. I’ve printed Google maps for actual towns. I’ve clocked how long it takes to get from A to B. And I’ve made several of those locations important to the story itself, such as in FLOATERS, with the location of both the graveyard and the burial grounds on Wisconsin Point. In TEETH, I simply had a drawn map for my town, so I knew where every single thing I described was, but also everything I didn’t mention but may have needed—just in case.

SR: What do you think the hardest emotion to elicit from a reader is? Why?

KO: Happiness. Happiness is so personal and so internal, it’s almost impossible to elicit that full, deep, warmth in fiction. You can scare someone by triggering their fears. You can make someone uncomfortable and nervous with atmosphere or anticipation. You can make someone laugh with a good joke or big personality. But to make someone actually feel happiness? Sure, if you propose marriage to them in writing maybe. But as a story? As an outsider reading a story? Even a happy ending isn’t happiness, it’s just relief—being content or glad for the characters.

SR: Did you set yourself a specific writing challenge with this book? What was it, and what was the reason?

KO: As I mentioned above, the driving questions for me was, “how do I make my vampires different?” Once I had that figured out, the story needed to portray that within the confines of its own challenge, which was to present the current social climate from a neutral ground—showing the extremes of both sides of various topics. I believe I succeeded on all counts, and I’m thrilled and humbled that my novel is receiving wonderful reviews due to the characters, world building, and yes, the vampires who are very different than everything that’s come before them. 

SR: Are you drawn to things that are really popular or wary of them? Do you find it helps you to market your work if you’re familiar with what’s currently selling or do you ignore all of that and focus on what you’re interested in?

KO: It’s not that I ignore what is popular, because I do pay attention to what’s going on out there. Back when I was starting out and everything was print, no ebook, and publishing houses, no self or vanity publishing, there was an 18-month rule. In general, if something became popular (say vampires), you were warned off of trying to get in on the wave, because by the time it was written, submitted, accepted, edited and published, it would be 18-24 months later and the popular craze had likely moved on to something else by then.

The advent of ebooks and self-publishing makes it much easier to jump on the current fads and bandwagons of genre, trope, or metaphor, but years of ignoring those have been burned into my soul. So I tend to write the stories my muse needs to tell. Those stories are not always delivered by the monster of the week, or even carried by the metaphor of the month. And when they do seem to fit what’s going on around them, it’s purely accidental. My stories tend to be about the people rather than the issues they face—the situations only test them, teach them, or otherwise help them grow.

SR:  Is there something you’ve experienced that’s affected your view of life? Tell us about it and how it changed you.

KO: Absolutely. The death of my father.

I was unable to do anything creative for quite a while after we lost him, finally forcing myself out of my cave by acknowledging he wouldn’t want me to wallow. My view on a lot of every day things has changed in the shadow of his memory, and my ability to deal with certain dark aspects of life have been tainted by the touch of real death.

Do I still write thrillers and horror? Yes. There’s just a slight turn on my dial, which I don’t even know if my readers can see or if it’s only noticeable to me.

SR:  If you have to live in a potential natural disaster zone, would you pick blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions? Why? If you had to describe your protagonist as a weather system, what would they be?

KO: HA! I grew up in northern Wisconsin. On that big old temperamental body of water we call Lake Superior. I’ve suffered the extremes of blizzards and forty below (before windchill), and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But that doesn’t mean I would choose any of those others over it. I at least know how to deal with the blizzards, so I’ll stick to those.

My protagonist? As a detective, he’s methodical but flexible. If he were a weather system it would be the lava flow after the volcanic eruption, the flooding after the hurricane. Something calm and predictable, after something more violent and unforgiving.

SR: It’s the zombie apocalypse. You have to pick a weapon from what’s currently within 10 feet of your present location. What will you defend yourself with?

KO: I’m all good! I actually have swords and a blow-dart gun within reach. My office, affectionately referred to as The Morgue, is decorated with bookshelves, horror movie memorabilia, Universal monster trucks and horror Hot Wheels, Living Dead Dolls, scary and/or creepy knickknacks, and yes, a sword rack with a katana, two wooden practice swords, and a blow-dart gun on it. I’m going with the sword.

SR: How long will you survive in the zombie apocalypse? How long will your protagonist survive? Why?

KO: While there are weapons near me, I will be handing those off to someone else. We’ve had the zombie apocalypse conversation in our house. My job is to think outside the box, plan, prep, deal with food and wounds, and stay inside—out of danger. I’m a klutz, and the idea of me getting hurt because I tripped on grass is just too funny to allow it to become truth. Though even inside I’ll be armed, albeit with a more manageable weapon for indoors. Hint: it’s a lovely little clawed weedkiller that’ll take care of those undead brains no problem!

My protagonist? As a detective he’ll be armed and well prepared for such an event. But as a good guy with a big heart, if anything takes him down it will be trying to help someone who is beyond his aid. Until that point, he’ll do great.

SR: Everyone needs an outlet to help them recharge. What hobbies do you have outside of writing?

KO: I’m going to ignore the obvious answers of “reading” and “conventions” because all writers should do and list those. They are powerfully magical for the muse. Instead, I’ll move right on into the fun and bizarre.

For downtime, to recharge, I’m a super nerd. I play both “Magic the Gathering” and “Dungeons and Dragons” (long enough that in my mind it’s D&D, not AD&D—the other nerds will get that), as well as any number of board and card games. Interaction is good fodder for the characters in my head.

When I’m working on something and need to reboot, I’ll work out the logistics of a scene or issue I’m having while loudly playing Guitar Hero. Note, loudly. I complain if they turn the movies up too high, but you can bet my Guitar Hero is growling out on at least 75 on the televisions 100 max volume setting—and on expert no less, because there have been many scenes to work out over the years and I’ve actually gotten good at it.

SR: You strike it rich. What charity are you going to create or support?

KO: I already give to a couple specific charities and if anyone wants in feel free—scaresthatcare.org and stjude.org. I would absolutely up those amounts, but to create something new?

A health insurance fund for writers.

I’m not sure whether or not it would just take care of medical bills or would perhaps pay a portion of their insurance (because the cost of insurance in this country is ridiculous). I would have to bring in, create, and discuss with my panel of experts (who could become the board of directors). The sheer number of times I’ve seen a writer struggling with medical bills or medical surprises is boggling. If given a bottomless wallet, I’d like to do something to alleviate that situation.

SR: Now for fun, if you were stuck on a deserted island and found that magic lamp with a genie and the genie had the power to bring any character in any of your books to life to be your companion, who would you pick and why?

KO: Mark from WHITE PICKET PRISONS. He’s a truly good guy with a solid heart and loving soul, and we’d get along great. Just as important, he’s capable. I’m on a desert island? I don’t just want a companion, I want some I can talk to, play with, but who can also build shelter, hunt, and help us look way better than any of those couples on Naked and Afraid. I’d like to succeed, survive until that freighter goes by and sees our S.O.S. signal, so Mark is definitely my choice.

SR: And if the genie would only bring characters from works by another author to life who would you pick to spend eternity on that deserted island with?

KO: Stu from Stephen King’s THE STAND, and for almost the exact same reasons. The only additional thought would be that I didn’t write him, so I don’t know him. It would give us lots of things to talk about as we get to know a stranger’s memories.

SR: Do you have any special events coming up? Where can people catch up with you in person or on a podcast?

KO: I actually just shut down my podcast, The Buttercup of Doom, but the episodes are still available to my patreons. In general, I can be found on kelliowen.com — and from there you can find my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Patreon. With the death of the podcast, I’m going back to blogging more often on the website, and have recently created a Facebook group for my readers and fans to get insight, goodies, and enjoy random conversation. I’m out there, all over social media, and easy to find. Come find me!

 

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Born and raised in Wisconsin, Kelli Owen now lives in Destination, Pennsylvania. The author of over a dozen books, she’s attended countless writing conventions, participated on dozens of panels, and has spoken at the CIA Headquarters in Langley, VA regarding both her writing and the field in general. Her works include the novels TEETH, FLOATERS, and SIX DAYS, novellas WAITING OUT WINTER, WILTED LILIES, and FORGOTTEN, more of both, as well as her collection BLACK BUBBLES. Visit her website at kelliowen.com for more information.

What Do John Verdon, Annette Dashofy, Gwen Floria, Eric Beetner and Kyle Mills Have in Common? JJ Hensley talks recent reads and more

51kdu-urmclWhat are some of the titles in your current TRB pile?

White River Burning – John Verdon

Uneasy Prey – Annette Dashofy

Silent Hearts – Gwen Florio

The Devil At Your Door – Eric Beetner

Red War – Kyle Mills

What book are you currently reading?

Jar of Hears – Jennifer Hillier

BOLT ACTION REMEDY coverWhat do you hope to add to your TBR pile soon and why?

I need to make myself branch out and read more works outside the crime fiction genre. However, I love mysteries and thrillers and there are so many talented authors writing really groundbreaking novels right now—especially through small presses. Although I veer off and occasionally read something from classic literature or even pick up something bordering on horror or supernatural, I tend to end up back in the crime fiction realm. But, to be a well-rounded author you need to be a well-rounded reader.

Record Scratch coverBonus: Which author do you want to see have a new book out soon?

For me, John Verdon and Shannon Kirk can’t crank out books fast enough. Their styles couldn’t be more different, but both of them have a way of drawing the reader into the story and making the act of reading the book an emotional investment. Verdon’s protagonist is so analytical and the puzzles are so interesting, you have to know how it all turns out. And Kirk’s characters are one-million emotions poured into 220 pages of action. You kind of what to find one of her main characters and give her a hug, but think better of it because you realize it’s possible you could end up with a knife in your back.

JJ Hensley author photo Record Scratch

J.J. HENSLEY is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.  He is the author of the novels Resolve, Measure Twice, Chalk’s Outline, Bolt Action Remedy, and Record Scratch.  He graduated from Penn State University with a B.S. in Administration of Justice and has a M.S. degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Columbia Southern University.  

Mr. Hensley’s first novel RESOLVE was named one of the BEST BOOKS OF 2013 by Suspense Magazine and was named a Thriller Award finalist for Best First Novel. He is a member of the International Thriller Writers.

J.L. Abramo talks about global events that impact his current reading, works by Erik Larson and Bryan Burroughs and his hopes for new Tim O’Brien novels

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What are some of the titles in your to be read pile?

I was born in 1947.  In that year two critical events effectively ended the centuries-long dominance of the British Empire and changed the map of the world—the British withdrawal from the Indian sub-continent and its partitioning into India and Pakistan, and the British withdrawal from Palestine leading to the creation of Israel. On my TBR list are two books by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, Freedom at Midnight and O Jerusalem, dealing with each of those historic milestones.  

 

What book are you currently reading?American History Cover

Having just finished reading In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson, set in Berlin in 1933-34 when Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party was beginning to gain total control of Germany, I am now reading Public Enemies by Bryan Burroughs which is set in America in those same two years when the infant FBI was hunting down the likes of John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, Clyde Barrow, and others.

What do you hope to add to your to be read pile soon and why?

Erik Larson refers often to Hans Bernd Gisevius, who served in the Gestapo and the German Intelligence Service during World War II while a covert opponent of the Nazi regime, and who later testified at the Nuremberg trials.  I plan to add his book To the Bitter End: An Insider’s Account of the Plot to Kill Hitler, 1933-1944 to my TBR pile.  It accounts a number of such plots to end Hitler’s life, and the subject intrigues me.

What author do you want to see have a new book out soon?

Having read The Things They Carried, Going After Cacciato, and In the Lake of the Woods, I have been continually moved and awed by the writing of Tim O’Brien and hope he will write more soon.

 

JL Abramo photoJ.L. ABRAMO was born and raised in the seaside paradise of Brooklyn, New York on Raymond Chandler’s fifty-ninth birthday.

Abramo is the author of Catching Water in a Net, winner of the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America prize for Best First Private Eye Novel; the subsequent Jake Diamond Novels Clutching at Straws, Counting to Infinity and Circling the Runway (Shamus Award Winner); Chasing Charlie Chan, a prequel to the Jake Diamond series; and the stand-alone thrillers Gravesend, Brooklyn Justice and Coney Island Avenue, a follow-up to Gravesend.  His latest novel is American History.

Abramo is the current president of Private Eye Writers of America.For more please visit: www.jlabramo.com 

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