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

Twitter    Facebook  Instagram  



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.

BUT NOW BACK TO ME ME ME.


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.

Forgiveness



Wednesday, August 7, 2019

COVER REVEAL



JANUARY 28, 2020
FROM POLIS BOOKS




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
Twitter  Facebook  Instagram 


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 Renée 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!




Saturday, July 6, 2019

Author Spotlight: Melissa Duclos

Today's Author Spotlight is for Melissa Duclos, author of the recently released Besotted, a gorgeous, complicated love story (the best kind, right?) between two women living and teaching in Shanghai and fully embracing their expat identity. Duclos is also a highly visible supporter of small press and indie books and authors with her newsletter Magnify, so she scores major brownie points on top of her own work.... ;)




Who: Melissa Duclos
Latest Book: Besotted 
Follow!: @MelissaDuclos
Twitter  Facebook  Instagram 


How long did it take to complete your latest novel?

This depends on what you mean by the word “complete.” I finished Besotted the first time after two years of work. The book was called Ex-Pat then. I considered it done enough to submit to agents, but (thankfully) didn’t find anyone who wanted to represent it. I took a break from the book during my first year of grad school. After that I worked on it for another five years. The work was frequently interrupted during that time—I got married, moved across the country, and had two kids—but the book was an omnipresent part of my life. The second time I finished, the novel was called Recklessly, Sincerely, Besottedly, Shanghai. I sent it out to more agents, gave it to my book club to read and discuss, collected more rejections. As that agent feedback came in, I made one more attempt at revision and re-submission, finally settling on the current title, before I accepted it wouldn’t be published. That was in 2015. In 2017, I submitted it to two small presses: 7.13 Books and Red Hen Press. I didn’t have any more confidence in the book than when I’d put it down two years prior, but I had a very encouraging friend pushing me to give small presses a try. (I’ll never again underestimate the value of good cheerleaders to my writing life.) After Leland Cheuk, the publisher of 7.13 Books, accepted Besotted, I spent another eight months revising.

So, how long did it take? Besotted was published in 2019, 15 years after I left Shanghai and started the first draft. Subtracting out the periods of time when I’d either temporarily set the book aside or permanently (so I thought) left it for dead, it was about nine years of work.


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

Sasha, the narrator of Besotted, was hard for me to write because I was an inexperienced novelist who wasn’t asking the right questions of my characters or myself. And so it took me a long time to empathize with her. In its early iterations, Besotted was Liz’s story and Sasha was her villain—an emotionally manipulative girlfriend Liz must find the courage to escape. Sasha is still those things in the final version of the story, but the novel isn’t concerned with how or why Liz leaves. Instead the book looks through Sasha’s eyes at what it’s like to be left.

Is it cheating if I say the easiest character for me to write was Shanghai? I worked hard to incorporate enough detail to bring the city fully alive—fully enough that I feel comfortable referring to my setting as a character—but that work was easy because I always understood who the city was in the context of my novel, and what it wanted. I always knew what Shanghai was doing in my book; I didn’t always know what my characters were doing in Shanghai. 


What’s the most creative thing you’ve done to market or promote your books?

I’m most comfortable promoting my own book if I can somehow support other writers in the process. My most creative approach to this so far has been a multi-step process that I’m working on. First, I lugged all the books my ex-husband left when he moved out—about ten boxes of them—down to Powell’s. I sold them for $180 in store credit, which I used to buy copies of newly released small press books. I ended up with eleven titles, which I’ll be offering as free bonus books to people who want to order a signed copy of Besotted directly from me. I don’t know, ultimately, if this will be an effective way to promote Besotted, but I think it’s creative.


What animal do you most identify with?

The prairie dog! They’re extremely social and live in close-knit groups, with their own complex way of communicating with each other. Whenever I’m working on my monthly newsletter Magnify or helping spread the word about new books and readings, I picture myself as a prairie dog running around trying to get all the other prairie dogs to read more books.


Have you ever been embarrassed to tell someone that you’re a writer/author?

I have, not because I’ve ever felt that a writer is an embarrassing thing to be, but more because at times I’ve felt I didn’t have the right to call myself one. Impostor syndrome manifesting as embarrassment. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking there are certain benchmarks you have to achieve before you can call yourself a writer: a certain number of published pieces, or a book deal, or the ability to pay your bills by writing. I’ve realized, though, that those benchmarks just keep moving. I’m a writer regardless of which ones I’ve hit.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Author Spotlight: Hilary Davidson

Today's Author Spotlight is shining on Hilary Davidson! The Anthony Award winner just recently published One Small Sacrifice, though she's all over the place, too: a series, a story collection, a stand-alone thriller.... I was lucky enough to read with Hilary at last year's epic Bouchercon Noir at the Bar, and I'm honored to have her stop by. Cheers!






Who: Hilary Davidson 
Latest Book: One Small Sacrifice 
Follow!: @hilarydavidson
Twitter  Facebook  Instagram 


If you had to choose only one of your novels to best represent yourself as an author, which one would it be? Why? 

It would be my new novel, One Small Sacrifice, because it encapsulates everything I’ve learned about writing up to this point. I couldn’t have written this book with its shifting character perspectives and complex narrative when I started out. It’s only after writing four other novels and dozens of short stories that I was able to tackle it. It’s also a deeply personal book because it explores PTSD, which I’ve experienced myself. (To make a long story short, a man tried to kill everyone in my office in an arson at my first job out of college; I felt the aftershocks from that for a long time afterwards.)

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

Fame and fortune would be tied for worst reason. I’ve been approached by people who claimed they had an idea for a bestselling book, but no time to write it; they invariably offer to split their imaginary zillions if I write the book for them. I try to explain, as gently as I can, that most ideas that seem brilliant in one’s own head die a terrible death on paper, but no one ever wants to hear that. I think the best reason to write is that you feel compelled to do it, and that you know something important would be missing from your life if you didn’t pursue it. Given how tough it can be to get work published, writing often needs to be its own reward.

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

There’s this wonderful line of Dita Von Teese’s that I like to quote: “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there's still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” Those are words to live by, especially when contemplating bad book reviews.

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

I would love to have One Small Sacrifice adapted as a television show, because it is the start of a series, even though structurally it works as a standalone. (The truth is that I wrote it as a standalone and my editor suggested that it be a series.) It’s not a spoiler to say that the NYPD detectives at the center of the story — Sterling and Mendoza — will be recurring characters. I’ve already written the second book in the series — it’s called Don’t Look Down, and it will be out in February 2020 from Thomas & Mercer. In particular, the role of Detective Sheryn Sterling would be a star turn for an African-American actress in her late thirties or early forties. Just saying…

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


I used to avoid reading fiction while I was writing a book, because I was afraid the voice would interfere with my own. Instead, I’d concentrate on reading nonfiction, often biographies or histories. But while I was writing the third book in my Lily Moore series, Evil in All Its Disguises, I started feeling comfortable enough to read other fiction, though I tend to stick with novels set in other time periods or other parts of the world. My most recent reads in this vein were Adrian McKinty’s The Cold Cold Ground, and Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer.




Friday, June 21, 2019

Author Spotlight: Jeffery Hess

Back-to-back Jeffs! This week, I'm talking with author/friend/fellow Florida crime fiction badass Jeffery Hess whose latest novel, No Salvation, just hit shelves from Down & Out Books. For me, Jeff's words have always fallen somewhere on the scale between Elmore Leonard and James Lee Burke, so yeah, his work is pretty good. (read: smart, snappy, fast-paced, pulling no punches- I'm a fan, you could say...) ;)




Who: Jeffery Hess
Latest Book: No Salvation
Follow!: @realjefferyhess
Twitter       Facebook 



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

I can’t say it’s physically made me cry, but I do weep on the inside every time I see statistics about this country’s dwindling reading habits. Then again, I could get emotional every time I launch a book and do readings or signings and meet genuinely good people who love books as much as I do. Or when I receive a favorable review from a reader I’ve never met. Or when I receive an email or tweet about something I’ve written. One time, I actually received a Thank You card from a reader just for having written the book. That kind of stuff always chokes me up.

Along the way to wherever it is I am now, sure, there have been some heartbreaking moments of veiled and overt derision from teachers, editors, and agents. There have been a dozens of near-misses that turned on a dime for one reason or another. (All before I found the awesome team at Down & Out Books.) Those early heartbreaks and near-misses were important to go through. They were the types of instances that chase many writers from the work. For some reason, bad news and disappointment always made me work harder. It continues to. I begin every book I write with the intention of writing the book I want to read. I figure if I want to read it others might as well. I mean, I understand the dwindling number of readers. There are a lot of demands on our time and TV is so good and accessible right now. Not everyone is going to volunteer to sacrifice flashing images and sound for words on a page/screen for the time it takes to read a whole novel. The best way I know to get more people to read is to provide them with books that are undeniable. The ones readers read, love, and can’t stop talking about. That’s what I look for as a reader and what I strive for as I write—which has also brought tears to my eyes, in a manner of speaking, on occasion.

How long did it take to complete your latest novel?

I had no intention of writing about the incidences that take place in No Salvation, but one day while researching a story I was writing for my story collection Cold War Canoe Club, I stumbled upon a New York Times article about the aftermath of a race riot aboard an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea during the Vietnam War. That article led me down a rabbit hole of other articles, books, websites, and a U.S. Congressional Report that stated, “Recent instances of sabotage, riot, willful disobedience of orders, and contempt for authority, instances which have occurred with increased frequency, are clear-cut symptoms of a dangerous deterioration of discipline.” That got me hooked. I wrote a very short story about the height of the racial tensions, but I had a feeling I’d come back to that material. As time went on, I knew I had to tackle it. I spent the next year reading and making notes. But to answer your question more directly, No Salvation has been five years in the making, though I wrote another book and a couple stories in that time.

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

I actually received that advice from a chance meeting with Randy Wayne White back in my freshman year of college. I was fresh out of the Navy and prepared to study Physical Therapy when our paths crossed outside the campus bookstore where he was promoting his novel Sanibel Flats. We struck up a conversation where I told him that ever since high school I had wanted to be a writer. We talked at length and the most impactful thing he said to me was that since I was in college, I should study writing. I didn’t even know that was possible. But the very next semester, I enrolled in a creative writing class and later made that my major. I began my first novel a month after graduation and wrote diligently for years before drawing again on his advice and went back to school for an MFA.
I’ve since reconnected with him at an author’s reception for the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading and I told him that story. Of course he didn’t recall that original meeting, but he was happy to hear it and we spent the rest of the time talking about baseball.

But all those years ago, his advice and the education that came from it is something for which I’ll forever be grateful. Not only did it launch me on a path of studying and work-shopping and tons of practice, and books I’m proud of, it also introduced me to some of my dearest friends.

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?

That wouldn’t be hard to choose at all because I’d pick James Joyce’s Ulysses. Two of my favorite Mikes think so highly of that book that I’ve wanted to go back and read it in its entirety—I had to read a portion of it (hell, maybe I was assigned to read the whole thing) in a British Lit class back in college—and being stranded on a deserted island with only one book is probably the only circumstance I would get to it. That is not to suggest an unwillingness to read that book. It’s just that there are so many other books that I’d rather read and do read instead. I seem unable to force myself backward when there are so many current writers coming out with books and books by other favorite writers I haven’t gotten to yet. With so many available, I want to get to them all. But if I had to pick one…

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

This is too lofty of a notion to contemplate, but since you asked, I’ll gladly fantasize. In full disclosure, I’m thoroughly addicted to story. Short stories, novels, TV shows, movies. I’ve never been into comics, graphic novels or video games. Though I fully recognize their value in storytelling, they’ve just never been on my radar.

[[[[[See my previous answer about there being so many books out there that I definitely want to read and add to it the sheer number of excellent TV shows and movies and where would the time come from? Smarter people than me love and even write comics, graphic novels or video games, but I’ve never connected with those mediums. I’m sure I’m missing out, but then again, there is so much to get to in the media to which I naturally respond.]]]]]

With that said, TV or movie is a tough question. It depends largely on my book in question.
Many TV shows are amazing, obviously. If the creative geniuses behind Elmore Leonard’s short story, “Fire in the Hole” could launch six great seasons of Justified, I can’t imagine what they’d do with my Scotland Ross books (the third of which is in progress as we speak). I was also a big fan of Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard series, cut short on TV, unfortunately. Those are two examples, but I could spend hours talking about them and many others.

Then again, as an example, look at the movie Winter’s Bone based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell. Concise and perfect as a book and film, which came with Academy Awards and no worries of cancellation.

There are countless other examples, but if my feet were held to the fire in an interview, such as this, I’d say that I’d love to see my Scotland Ross novels portrayed as a multi-season show and my new novel, No Salvation portrayed on the big screen. I don’t know the future, but I’m flattered that more than a few readers have told me the same thing.




Friday, June 14, 2019

Author Spotlight: Jeff Zentner

There are awesome people. There are awesome authors. And then there are super-awesome people-authors who also have incredibly fluffy dogs, such as Jeff Zentner. Okay, okay, there's more to him than Greg, but come on- have you seen Greg?! 

All fluff balls of adorableness aside, Zentner is not only one of the kindest, most genuine, most supportive folks out there, he's also an extremely talented young adult author with three award-winning titles under his belt now, including The Serpent King and Goodbye Days. Read on...

 


Who: Jeff Zentner
Latest Book: Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee 
Follow!: @jeffzentner
Twitter   Instagram   Facebook 


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

I tell myself that while I may not be as good a writer as my favorite writers, I’m the only person who’s able to tell my stories, and I write the kind of stories I would want to read. So, while I’m in awe of the unattainable talents of the Cormac McCarthys, Jesmyn Wards, Mohsin Hamids, Michael Ondaatjes, and Donna Tartts of the world, none of them have written or will ever write The Serpent King, Goodbye Days, and Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee. How often do I doubt myself? Constantly. But the worst writers are the ones who never doubt themselves.

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

The worst reason to become an author is to become rich and famous. Even if you become book-famous, that doesn’t translate into much real-world fame. If you went to the Walgreens on my corner and asked the people there who any of the people currently on the New York Times Bestseller List are, they wouldn’t know. And only about ten percent of authors make a living solely writing books. There’s an even tinier subset of that number who get rich writing books. If you want to be famous, get on The Voice. If you want to be rich, invent an app. Write books for the best reason: that you want to tell stories and give a voice to the imaginary people who live in your head and won’t leave you alone until you do.

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

I’m personally a big fan of “story research.” This is where I study the story structures and character development on my favorite TV shows. In other words: watching Netflix.

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

I’m currently writing a character who’s a genius. Her mind works in ways unknowable to normal people. As it happens, I am not a genius, and therefore have to use my non-genius brain to figure out how a genius thinks. What I’ve settled on is having her thought processes appear unknowable to her non-genius best friend, my main character and the easiest type of character for me to write—a young man who is basically decent and reasonably smart and loves the beauty of the world. This is a character close to my own heart and therefore easy to write. The genius? Not so easy.

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


I do. I go to the Goodreads page for my favorite books—the works of unalloyed brilliance, of utter perfection—and I read one star reviews of them to remind myself that there is no such thing as the universally adored piece of art.  Also, I remind myself what a gift it is to have my art so widely distributed throughout the world that it can reach people who feel no obligation to spare my feelings. As someone who self-released music for years before becoming a writer, I can attest that art doesn’t always make it that far.



Friday, June 7, 2019

2019 'Fall' Book Preview!

There is no such thing as 'Fall' here in Florida. We have Pre-Summer, Hell-Summer, Post-Summer and a week of Winter. We're currently headed right straight for 'Open Your Door and Be Hit By a Wall of Suffocating Heat' Summer, so what better time than now to be thinking about all the books you should be pre-ordering for the second half of the year? If you're still playing catch-up, be sure to check out my Spring Book Preview, for releases January-June. Otherwise, read on for my most-anticipated novels, collections and non-fiction books, from small presses, big publishers and everyone in-between. Be sure to check out my Reader Suggestions as well, and so many thanks to everyone who chimed in to support their favorite authors with a shout. Cheers and Happy Reading!





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October




November



December 





Reader Suggestions:

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman (July)
The Other Mrs. Miller by Allison Dickson (July)

Dark Duet by Eric Beetner (July)
The Bitterroots by C.J. Box  (Aug)
Homer Underby by Elgon Williams (Aug) 
This Side of Night by J. Todd Scott  (Aug)
All the Lovely Pieces by J.M. Winchester  (Aug)
The Drive-Thru Crematorium by Jon Bassoff (Aug)
Sinai Unhinged by Joanna Evans (Aug)
A Better Man by Louise Penny  (Aug)
Cold Woods by Karen Katchur  (Aug)
The Hidden Things by Jamie Mason (Aug)
Below the Line by Howard Michael Gould  (Aug)
Be Recorder: Poems by Carmen Giménez Smith (Aug)
The Swallows by Lisa Lutz (Aug) 

Body Broker by Daniel M. Ford (Sept)
Tracing the Horse by Diana Marie Delgado (Sept)
After the Storm by Marietta Miles (Sept) 
Royal Street Reveillon by Greg Herren (Sept) 
Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke  (Sept)
Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree by Lillah Lawson (Sept)
A Means to An End by Lissa Marie Redmond  (Sept)
A Fortune for Your Disaster by Hanif Abdurraqib (Sept)
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood  (Sept)
At Their Own Game by Frank Zafiro (Sept)
Sticking It to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950 to 1980 by Andrew Nette (Oct) 
Mistress by Chet'la Sebree (Oct)
Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky  (Oct)
Jesus in the Trailer by Andrew K. Clark (Oct)

All This Could be Yours by Jami Attenberg (Oct)
Whispers in the Ear of a Dreaming Ape by Joshua Chaplinsky
Shine of the Other by Claire Rudy Foster (Nov)
The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North (Nov) 
Feed by Tommy Pico (Nov)
Dead Blow by Lisa Preston (Nov)
Echoes of the Fall by Hank Early (Nov) 
Big Familia by Tomas Moniz (Nov) 
Ghost Engine: Stories by Christian TeBordo (Nov) 
Love and Other Criminal Behavior by Nikki Dolson (Nov)
An Incantation of Cats by Clea Simon (Dec)
I'll Still Be Here Long After You're Gone by Daren Dean (Dec) 
The Kill Club by Wendy Heard (Dec)

Author Spotlight: Gabriel Valjan

And, we're back! Instead of Book Bites- which focused on a single book- I'm starting a new interview series that focuses more on the authors themselves. Same short and sweet format, but new questions, new insight, new authors, new ways to boost and support the literary community!
And what better way to kick off the Author Spotlight series than by highlighting Gabriel Valjan, who works his ass off supporting other authors. If you know Gabriel (and if not, here's your chance!), you know he constantly- and genuinely- goes out of his way to shout other authors' books, events and successes. He's a true member of the literary community (and an icon in the crime fiction community) and I'm thrilled to have his Spotlight up today. Cheers!



Who: Gabriel Valjan
Latest Book: The Naming Game
Follow!: @gabrielvaljan 
Twitter  Facebook  Instagram 



If you had to choose only one of your novels to best represent yourself as an author, which one would it be? Why? 

I have an unpublished novel entitled Harlot’s Curse. The story is set in the Gilded Age, about the rise, fall and recovery of a family within society in the context of a violent rivalry and turbulent times. I created a character named Virgil, who does what is expected of him, although he struggles to be his own person. He feels freighted by obligations and beholden to those who gave him opportunities, but unfortunately people take advantage of his good nature. I can relate to that.

Who or what is your spirit animal? 
The bear. I’m accustomed to solitude and do quite well with it. I was an only child, so I’m quite good at keeping myself busy. I confronted loneliness at a young age and I’m not comfortable around people for extended periods of time. I’m also a driven person. However, like the bear, I had to learn when to rest and when to return to the world, and when to stand up for myself for what I needed for myself.

Is there any significance or symbolism behind the names of your characters? How do you choose them? 
I chose the name Virgil in the aforementioned Harlot’s Curse because he becomes his own guide through the darkness (think of Dante’s Divine Comedy). In The Naming Game, I named a character Walker because he is always walking into the unknown (he’s a CIA agent and a writer). In both The Good Man and The Naming Game, I have a character called Leslie. The series starts in 1948 and proceeds from there, so I enjoyed having a character with an androgynous name. In The Naming Game again, readers meet an older movie star, a victim of ageism, and her name is Vera because she always speaks a truth. The name Vera is derived from the Latin word 'veraxus' for truthful.

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?

This is tough question. One volume of all of Shakespeare’s work. I do think he’s the greatest writer in the English language and, arguably, in world literature. Tough. Tough question.

If you have pets, what do they think about the time you spend writing and not lavishing them with attention? 
I have two cats, Squeak and Squawk, one Bengal and one tuxedo cat. Squawk is like that alarm bird at the end of the Flintstones. He sounds off quitting time. Squeak is quiet, a sweetheart, so named because he can’t meow; he emits this pitiful squeak, unless he’s really hungry and then it’s not so pitiful. Of the two cats, he is almost always at my side when I’m writing. He can imitate a sleeping Buddha but he’s hyper aware of what I’m thinking and feeling.