Friday, August 16, 2019

Author Spotlight: E.A. Aymar

I can't tell you how much I love today's Spotlight interview. (okay, I'm telling you- I love it). Not only does E.A. Aymar- author of the thriller The Unrepentant and the 'novel-in-stories' The Night of the Flood anthology, along with Sarah M. Chen and other assorted badasses- bring humor and heart to the sometimes grueling world of writing and publishing, he's got some wonderful advice for you as well. Aymar is yet another reminder why the crime fiction community is the one of the most incredible, supportive bunch of misfits out there.

Who: E. A. Aymar
Book: The Unrepentant 
Follow! @EAAymar

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Has the publishing industry ever made you cry? What did you learn from the experience?

I didn’t cry, but I was overwhelmed when Jennifer Hillier won the Thriller Award for Best Hardcover Novel this year. Jenny’s one of my closest friends, and I love her and I love her books. I know how much Jar of Hearts meant to her, and I know that she’s never really seen herself as an “award-winning writer.” She knows her gifts and strengths, but didn’t see that in her future.

So to hear that Jenny had won that award, and to watch the video of her stunned acceptance speech (I couldn’t go to ThrillerFest this year), meant the world to me. Jenny works hard, and to see her work pay off, particularly in a way she couldn’t imagine, is inspiring. It’s proof that the work, while certainly its own reward, can often lead to other wonderful moments. And many of those moments are beautifully unpredictable.

I know I should be talking about my own experiences here, but that award moved me, and I’ve wanted to write about it. I’m okay putting the spotlight on someone else.


What do you tell yourself when you begin to doubt yourself as a writer? How often do you doubt yourself?

I think doubt is common to writers (and all artists). We have to stay immersed in our field, which means reading a lot of other writers, and there are a lot of good writers out there. Especially right now. Nothing makes you doubt yourself like reading something moving, and wondering if readers have that same reaction to your work.

And, for me, I lost that type of confidence in my writing. My first two novels came out and were forgotten – barely anyone read them, and no one reviewed them. Because of that, I was hard on myself, and I assumed they just weren’t very good. And that’s a terrible thing to feel.

Although that was a damaging mindset, it was, in some ways, helpful. It made me work harder. When The Unrepentant was published earlier this year, I’d finally written a book that people were reading and enjoying, and it was being reviewed and receiving praise from venues I’d never expected to be in. And that was enormously gratifying.

Still, though, I hadn’t realized how damaging my doubt had been until Murder and Mayhem in Chicago. I try to go to a few writing conferences a year, and I’d always heard good things about MMC (and it is a great conference). I was sitting at the bar with Jess Lourey and Susanna Calkins and Lori Rader Day and Eric Beetner and other writers I hold in high regard. And I quietly realized how happy I was.

I was happy because I didn’t feel like a fraud.

I felt like I belonged, and through all the years of book store events and conferences and festivals and readings I’d been lucky to participate in, I’d never felt like that before.

I write all that to say that doubt is healthy. Every writer should be skeptical of his or her work. Confidence often verges on foolhardy.

But, at the same time, don’t let doubt blind you. Or take away from the joy at what you’ve done.

What is the worst reason to become an author? What is the best?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, and I’m not sure how to say the answer. I think the worst reason to become an author is something along the lines of wanting to get published. I mean, that’s why we all write on a professional level, but I’d caution specifically against “haste.”

I was talking to a writer a few years ago and she was asking me for advice – she’d completed a novel, and was considering self-publishing it. I don’t have anything against self-publishing; it’s not the route I chose, but it’s the right choice for others. I told her about my path of finding an agent, and then that agent finding a publisher, and how long it took (I started writing seriously in 1997 and my first novel was published in 2013). And she said, frankly, she wasn’t interested in going through years of rejections when she knows her novel’s already good.

That attitude drives me crazy. There’s a lot that can be said critically and fairly about the gatekeepers in publishing – I get that. But rejection is part of the process of writing. It’s part of art. If you’re not willing to face rejection, then you’re simply in the wrong field. It’s one of the ways you improve as a writer, and I can’t help but feel that someone who writes a book, and refuses to accept criticism, is faking the funk. Writing a book should not be your achievement. The achievement is writing a good book. And criticism is one of the ways to learn the difference between the two.

As for the best reason to become a writer, it’s the money and the groupies. PANTIES ON THE STAGE, BABY. Oh, and also the joy of craft and bringing excitement to others. But mainly the money and stage thing.

What advice do wish someone had given you when just started out as a writer/author?

I didn’t go through an MFA program, but I did do a number of workshops at the MFA level. And the college I went to (George Mason University, home of the 2006 Men’s Basketball Final Four Patriots), boasts one of the best writing programs in the country – Art Taylor, Tara Laskowski, John Copenhaver, and Laura Ellen Scott are among the talented writers associated with it. I was taught a lot about craft, and I read some fantastic work, but I was never taught the business of writing. Maybe students in MFA programs are taught that now, but I’ve talked to a lot of MFA grads who aren’t. And wish they had.

When I started to take my writing seriously, I had hopes of writing a literary novel, mainly because that was all I’d read. I had no real conception of genres, because an appreciation of genre had been beaten out of me. This wasn’t the fault of any of the schools I studied at in the D.C. area, incidentally; rather, the mentors I chose to study under had little patience for commercial fiction.

It took me a long time to realize that genre fiction wasn’t lacking in comparison to literary fiction, and to understand the importance of writing for an audience. Once I realized that you could do those things, and still aspire to string together some lovely sentences, I became a better writer.

In college, you’re taught to not write like John Grisham. But any agent or editor would kill for the next John Grisham. Which isn’t to say that’s how you should write, but it’s absolutely something any aspiring writer should realize. And I wish I had much earlier.

If you were being shipped to a deserted island and were only allowed to bring one book, what would it be? Why? How hard would it be to choose?

Oh man, it’d be impossible to choose! But that’s a fun question and I want to answer it.

The book that comes to mind is one of my favorites – William Faulkner’s The Wild Palms. That was a life-changing book for me. The ending just tore me up, like little knives chopping my insides to bits. I’ve re-read that book several times, and I absolutely want to re-read it again. And the desert island thing (because I assume it doesn’t offer WiFi) would be a pretty good opportunity.

The other thing is…I’ve read a lot of Faulkner, and I’m not sure I ever truly “got” any of his books. He’s a difficult read, but an engrossing one. Even when I’m not sure what’s happening, I can appreciate the beauty of his prose. So this would be a good chance to finally sit down, crack open a coconut, and do my best to completely absorb that novel, and let it absorb me.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Author Spotlight: Marlene Adelstein

I'm not going to lie- it's been a very busy week. I've been buried in the draft of one book, revealed the cover of another and, of course, there were the usual chicken/turkey/dog antics to round it all out. But it's Friday and that means it's time for another Author Spotlight!

Today, the light is shining on Marlene Adelstein- an author I just recently met, but whose debut, Sophie Last Seen- a psychological thriller that explores the spiral effects of grief, madness, loss and perception- is definitely making some waves.

Latest Book: Sophie Last Seen
Follow! @fixyourbook

What do you tell yourself when you begin to doubt yourself as a writer? How often do you doubt yourself?

I doubt myself often. It comes and goes in waves. Now that my novel is out and I’ve gotten some really good feedback with people loving the book, it’s given me a nice boost of confidence. But I’m also working on new material and the doubts and insecurities are always there, creeping, crawling under the surface. I try to step back, take a breath and tell myself that I’ve been doing this writing business for a very long time. I do know what I’m doing; it just may take a while to get to where I want to be with a project. Patience is key!

If you have pets, what do they think about the time you spend writing and not lavishing them with attention?

Who says I don’t lavish them with attention? During the course of writing my novel, I had two chocolate labs at different times and currently a cat who recently came into my life. I’m not so sure my pets spend much time thinking about me or my writing time but if they did, I believe they’d think thanks for the quiet time so I can take these long naps near you. My dogs were always huge but wonderful distractions for me. I procrastinated big-time lavishing tons of attention on them, cuddling, talking to, giving treats and taking walks with them. So I’m pretty sure my animal companions never minded when I finally did sit at my desk and get to writing. They seemed quite happy and content just to be near me and both dogs were professional snoozers as is the new cat. Both of those dogs are now gone and are missed terribly!

If you could choose, would you have your novel adapted as a film, television show, mini-series, graphic novel or video game? Why?

I used to write screenplays and I worked in the movie industry as a film development executive for a number of top Hollywood producers for many years. So the idea of my book possibly being a film was never far from my mind. My novel is definitely filmic; I envision everything I write as a movie unfolding before my eyes. So it’s been no surprise when most readers say to me they can picture my book as a movie. I can see it as a TV series with some changes or as a feature film. The setting of fictional, small town, Canaan, a hilltown in Western, Massachusetts is vivid. I have a few separate story threads going on at the same time which makes it a natural for a TV series. There are some supernatural elements, a strong woman protagonist who has a dark edge; she takes action, grows and changes. All elements, I think, good for film. I can envision each episode ending on a note of suspense and mystery like the chapters do, and eventually the story threads merge, a mystery solved. All things that I think could make viewers want to binge the episodes. Any film or TV producers out there, get in touch!

What do you prefer to read when you’re in the middle of writing a novel?

Usually I’m reading non-fiction books for research about various topics pertaining to my story. During the writing of Sophie Last Seen, I read books on grieving and in particular complicated grief,  gifted and ‘spirited’ children, and lots about birds and bird watching. Sometimes I’ll pick up a novel and occasionally a topic or sentence hits me, gives me an idea for my own story and I have to put down the book to go back to my writing. But mostly while I’m writing a novel I find my head is too filled with my own story and characters and non-fiction is easier for me to concentrate on.

Sum up the essence of your latest novel in One Single Word.


Wednesday, August 7, 2019


JANUARY 28, 2020

Judah Cannon. Sister Tulah. It all comes down to this.

Before the final showdown with Tulah Atwell, the Pentecostal preacher responsible for his father’s death and his own return to a life of crime, however, Judah still has a few more fires to walk through. The dust may have settled after the shootout that left a string of bodies—including that of ATF agent Clive Grant and drug runner Everett Weaver—in its wake, but that doesn’t mean a quiet life is on the horizon for Judah, his girlfriend Ramey, and his two brothers, Benji and Levi.

A power struggle within the Cannon family soon erupts, placing Judah in debt to Sukey Lewis, a crime matriarch from across the creek, just as an irresistible scheme to steal a thoroughbred stud stallion falls into the Cannons’ lap. Trying to solve all their problems with a single heist, Judah agrees to trust Dinah, an enigmatic drifter, even as Ramey’s faith in him begins to waver.

While Sister Tulah returns to her old tricks, running a swampland scheme and intimidating everyone in her path, and Brother Felton returns to Florida a changed man with a mystic mission, Judah finds the foundation of his family crumbling and only hard choices in sight. Will Judah and Ramey survive Sister Tulah—and the darkness within their own hearts—or are such dreams impossible in Bradford County, nothing more than holding smoke? 

Steph Post is the author of the novels Holding Smoke, Miraculum, Walk in the Fire, Lightwood, and A Tree Born Crooked. She graduated from Davidson College as a recipient of the Patricia Cornwell Scholarship and winner of the Vereen Bell award, and she holds a Master’s degree in Graduate Liberal Studies from UNCW. Her work has most recently appeared in Garden & Gun, NonBinary Review, CrimeReads, Literary Hub and the anthology Stephen King’s Contemporary Classics. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, a Rhysling Award and was a semi-finalist for The Big Moose Prize. She lives in Florida. 

Friday, July 26, 2019

Author Spotlight: Beth Gilstrap

One of my favorite things about running an author interview series is having the chance to introduce new readers to authors whose work truly stuns me and leaves me in awe. Beth Gilstrap is just such an author. I had the opportunity to read with her (for the first time- I will jump at any chance at all to read with her) a few years ago and was floored by how well she is able to capture the voice of the tough Southern woman- in all its complications and vulnerabilities and rawness and messiness that, unfortunately, so many authors seem to have trouble finding. Afterward, I devoured her two collections- I am Barbarella and No Man's Wild Laura and have read every short story she's published since. I guess you could say I'm an unabashed fangirl and I'm both thrilled and honored to have her as part of the Author Spotlight series. Please go check out her work- you can thank me later.... :)

Who: Beth Gilstrap
Latest Book: No Man's Wild Laura
Follow! @BettySueBlue
Twitter    Instagram   Facebook 

Has the publishing industry ever made you cry? What did you learn from the experience?

Unfortunately, yes. It’s not an industry that values short story collections unless you already have a name as a novelist. I’m speaking from the frustrating process of trying to place a second full-length collection. But the truth is I don’t know if I ever will write a novel and so, a lot of doors seem inevitably shut for me unless I win some sort of major award.

What do you tell yourself when you begin to doubt yourself as a writer? How often do you doubt yourself?

I doubt myself all the time. Every day. I feel like I’m so far behind most of my peers who have novels under their belt, agents, teaching jobs, etc. I get overwhelmed by the idea that no matter what I accomplish it won’t be enough, but then I remind myself that I am under no obligations to follow whatever rules or timelines I think there are to being an artist. I love this quote by Cheryl Strayed:

 “You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don’t have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts. You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you’ve got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that’s all.”

This is what I strive for though I am well aware that I likely wouldn’t be able to pay my own electric bill if it weren’t for my husband. I have to cling to the hope that giving it all I’ve got and going to work every day I can will be enough.

What is the first book you ever read that you threw across the room?

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk. I am not a fan of shock for shock’s sake. For me, you have to earn it. Or maybe it was much earlier with Where the Red Fern Grows. Do not give me a story with dogs dying under any circumstances.

What’s your favorite thing to do to procrastinate from writing?

My favorite way to procrastinate is to play with my dogs & cats, garden, or cook. But really, I tend to be thinking of stories the whole time I’m doing those things so maybe the real answer is obsessive cleaning. 

If you were being shipped to a deserted island and were only allowed to bring one book, what would it be? Why? How hard would it be to choose?

It would be Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Though I’ve read this book several times, it continues to bring me to my knees every time I think about it. The way the characters continue to find beauty in their hopeless world is a lesson to us all.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Author Spotlight: Robyn Ryle

It's always interesting to me- how authors find each other. I'm pretty sure Robyn Ryle popped up on my radar last year when I was doing an 'all-call' on twitter, searching for information on the contemporary Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book scene. Ryle's book certainly fits the bill and I was so excited to get my hands on it when it debuted this past spring. She/He/They/Me: For the Sisters, Misters, and Binary Resisters takes the choose-your-own format that we all know and love from the beloved 1980s fantasy novels and extends it to the exploration of gender. Along the way, and without being stuffy or pedantic, I might add, Ryle's illuminates the experiences of genres across a spectrum and also sheds light on how gender can be constructed by both the outside world and our personal choices. On top of that, it's fun. I wound up as a 'sworn virgin of the Balkans,' to give you an idea of possible outcomes at the end of your adventure.

Because this idea is so novel, and also extremely timely, I'm thrilled to shine the Author Spotlight on Robyn Ryle. Happy Reading!

Who: Robyn Ryle
Follow!: @RobynRyle

What do you tell yourself when you begin to doubt yourself as a writer? How often do you doubt yourself?

I doubt myself almost constantly, though a little less when I’m writing nonfiction. Maybe that’s why I’ve had more success in publishing nonfiction. Or maybe I feel more confident in my ability to clearly convey interesting information in nonfiction than I do in my ability to make art in fiction. Making art feels like a lot.

When the voices of doubt get worse than usual, I’ll make little affirmation post-it notes to put on my computer, right by the keyboard so I have to see them when I’m working. They say things like, “You’ve got this!” or “You’re always happy to have written!” or “You are the audience!” or “Keep going!” Obviously, some of them are just straight-up cheerleading. Some of them are reminding me of what is true—even when each and every word feels excruciatingly painful, I’m still glad to have written them. The next day, those words are almost never as bad as they felt when they were coming out. Even if they aren’t so great, it’s a place to start from. Something on the page is always better than nothing. So just keep plugging away.

 Do you have a secret for handling bad book reviews? And, yes, what is it?

My secret is not to read them. Or at least to do my best to avoid them. I can’t lie and say I haven’t read any. But I do think that once a book is done and out there in the world, there’s not much point in reading bad reviews. It’s not like there’s anything I can do about it at that point. The book is written and my part’s done. The bad reviews I have read are all mostly about what my book isn’t. They’re disappointed that my book isn’t the book they wanted it to be and I get that. I can have compassion for that. I wish my book could be all things to all people, but there aren’t enough pages!

If you have pets, what do they think about the time you spend writing and not lavishing them with attention? 

I have two cats so thankfully, they require only cat-sized levels of attention. My writing cat, Kevin (my daughter named her and, yes, Kevin is a girl), is almost always with me when I’m working. I write in our upstairs bedroom in the morning, so as I’m eating my breakfast downstairs, she sits at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for me to head upstairs. While I’m writing, she’s either sleeping on the bed or on the footstool of my chair. If she’s not waiting for me at the stairs, I’ll say, “You want to write?” and then she’ll follow me up. So the words she knows are ‘treat,’ ‘out,’ and ‘write.’ I find it very difficult to write without at least one cat in the room. I don’t know how cat-less writers get anything done.

What was the most difficult part of SHE/HE/THEY/ME for you to write? The easiest? 

The most difficult part was balancing what I hoped would be a fun book to read with the very real and serious issues involved. I worried about this a lot. It is interesting to learn about gender, but also people lose their jobs, their families, their friends, their health and their lives over gender. The discrimination and violence that so many people face because of their gender, sexual identity and race has to be treated with all the seriousness it deserves in a choose-your-own-adventure style format. That was hard, along with expressing as much as possible about the diversity of how people live their gender. I didn’t cover everything because that would have taken ten volumes. But deciding what got in and what didn’t was hard.

The easiest part was writing about gender in cross-cultural and historical perspective. As a professor, I get a lot of papers that begin with something like, “Throughout all time, women have been the caretakers,” or “Men have always….blah, blah, blah.” There is almost nothing you can say about gender that has been true for all time or across all places on the planet. Really. Nothing. And trying to get that across in the book was fun, which also made it feel easy.

If you could choose, would you have your novel adapted as a film, television show, mini-series, graphic novel or video game? Why?

Video game, of course! It’s in the style of a choose-your-own-adventure! I’d love for it to be available as an app people could download on their phone, with graphics and links to outside sources and videos. That would be awesome.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Author Spotlight: William Boyle

One of the things I love most about the crime fiction community is how close-knit and supportive we are of one another. Writers, readers, fans- oftentimes we're all one in the same. We cheer one another on, celebrate each other's successes and spread the word. Trying to think back, I believe I discovered the work of William Boyle through rock star superfan Erin Mitchell, who kept posting about A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself (and I think The Lonely Witness before that). Of course, Erin's taste is impeccable and I'm glad I picked up Boyle's work. I'm also glad that he was kind enough to stop by and answer a few quick questions for this week's Author Spotlight!

Who: William Boyle
Latest Book: A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself
Follow!: @wmboyle4
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How long did it take to complete your latest novel?

I started working on A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself in early 2016. I finished a draft by the end of that year but only about sixty or seventy pages from that draft made it into the final book. I made a few bad mistakes in that version and had to start over almost from scratch. I finished a second draft in early 2017—the thing that was wrong with that one was that I ended it too early. It was pretty much the book as it is now without the last ninety pages or so. I didn’t realize that’s what was missing at the time. I had the good luck to get some great advice from a couple of readers, but it took me a while to get things straight (in part because I put Friend on hold to write The Lonely Witness). When I went back to it in early 2018, I hit a stride and figured out the end of the book. So, it was about two years, all told. 

Who has been the most difficult character for you to write? The easiest? 

In A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself, I’d say Lucia was the most difficult. She was much younger in my first draft, so I had this kind of constant fuzz around her when I was rewriting her as 15. Wolfstein was definitely the easiest. Writing her was the most fun I’ve ever had writing a character. I looked forward to seeing where she’d take me, what she’d say, how she’d react to different situations.   

Is there any significance or symbolism behind the names of your characters? How do you choose them?

I definitely have some character names that people think I’ve chosen for symbolic resonance (D’Innocenzio in Gravesend, for instance), but I pretty much never choose a name for that reason. Despite my last name (my father was Scottish), I grew up with the Italian side of my family in what was—at the time—a predominantly Italian-American neighborhood and I fell in love with the music and poetry of those dramatic Italian surnames. When I started writing, I plucked a lot of names—both first and last—from kids I went to school with. After that, my greatest resource has probably been the obituary page of a funeral home in my neighborhood. Amy Falconetti in The Lonely Witness and Gravesend is named after the actress RenĂ©e Jeanne Falconetti, who played Joan of Arc in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc.   

If you could choose, would you have your novel adapted as a film, television show, mini-series, graphic novel or video game? Why?

I love films, and A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself was inspired by many (you can see some here), but I can’t help thinking it’d make a great TV show. The book could be the first season. Subsequent seasons could go in many directions: push the story further into the future; Wolfstein and Mo in L.A. in the early ’80s, or in Florida later; the story of Gentle Vic; Lucia in the present day; even old sad sack Bobby could get a thread. That seems really exciting to me. 

What was the most difficult scene in any of your novels for you to write? How did you manage it?

There’s a scene in A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself that starts out as a long screwball set piece and descends into chaos and violence. That was the hardest (and yet most fun) thing I’ve ever written. There were a lot of moving parts, a lot of characters to keep track of. This was especially a challenge given that I tend to like keeping things small (“Fewer moving parts mean fewer broken pieces,” as David Bazan sings.) The other challenge there was the tonal shift from screwball comedy to violent tragedy. I studied one of my favorite films, Something Wild, to see how Jonathan Demme accomplished it so effortlessly. 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Essential Florida Crime Fiction- Walk in the Fire at BookRiot!

Many thanks to Alex Segura, Matt Coleman and BookRiot for including Walk in the Fire (and the Lightwood/Cannon series) on their list of Essential Florida Crime Fiction!