Friday, August 30, 2019

Author Spotlight: Meagan Lucas

I'm always excited to showcase a new author, but I'm especially excited to shine a light on Meagan Lucas today because I was lucky enough to score an advanced copy of her debut novel Songbirds & Stray Dogs and let me just tell you- it is brilliant. (and just came out this week, so start buying!) Here's what I had to say when I first read Songbirds & Stray Dogs over the summer:

"Songbirds and Stray Dogs may be Meagan Lucas' debut novel, but the voice echoing from its pages is so striking you'll be haunted long after you turn the last page. In this gutsy story of a young woman fighting tooth and nail for survival, you'll find both grit and grace and a ringing honesty that refuses to back down. Not often do I read a novel and form an instant kinship with both the author and protagonist, but Songbirds and Stray Dogs captured from me the first, stirring scene and held me all the way until new life began to grow from the ashes. A stunning, startling novel."

And here's what Lucas had to say when she (graciously) took time out from a busy book release schedule to answer a few of my questions....

Follow! @mgnlcs

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

Whenever I doubt myself, which is often, I just remind myself to do the work. “Don’t worry about if it’s good, just get it out.” The majority of my doubt happens when I’m reading someone else’s words, and I come across something brilliant and think that there is no way in hell I’m ever going to create something even half as wonderful, and I get sucked into a hole of doubt I can’t even see out of. When I’m actually writing, I can’t write with the idea or hope that anyone will ever read it – or I self censor – so, if I can forget about other people’s brilliant books and their judging thoughts, (and what my Mom will think!!) and just do the fun part, the actual writing, everything else seems to work out.

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

Read! Reading is excellent procrastinating, because I can easily convince myself that I’m not actually procrastinating, that I’m working - doing research, or filling my writing toolbox, when really, I’m just doing my favorite thing.

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

The importance of literary citizenship tops my list. I think when you’re just starting it’s hard to imagine how small the lit world is because you don’t know anyone and everything feels overwhelming, but, it’s small. Once you get your foot in the door you realize that every connection you make will know someone else, and if you’re kind, honest, and easy to work with – this plays in your favor – generous established writers will come out of the woodwork to help you because one of their friends said something nice about you. However, if you’re a jerk, it will work against you. If you’re the kind of writer who likes to tear people down, only ever talks about yourself, gets butt-hurt easily, or is just mean – people know, you’ll develop a reputation quickly. Be kind and sincere, don’t make promises you can’t keep, don’t talk shit, read and promote other writers, and life will be a lot easier for you. 

Also – start small. Like a lot of writers I started working on a novel right away, and there isn’t anything wrong with that, but it takes a long time to write, and a long time to sell a novel, and I think that causes people to give up. It is easy to lose focus when you don’t have any feedback along the way. I attended a Great Smokies Writing Program workshop taught by Wiley Cash a few years ago where he spoke about how the path to novel publication was starting with short stories/articles and it really hit home for me. With a short story you get feedback from editors quicker, you build a portfolio, your confidence, and a reputation, and for me it helped develop my author voice (I’m far more likely to experiment in a short story than a novel.) A side effect too, is that when you do write that novel, you have a list of publications and editors behind you to help prove to an agent or publisher that you’re worth their time, which I think goes a long way to getting your foot in the door.

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

In Songbirds and Stray Dogs, Chuck was the hardest character for me to write. I find writing men really difficult, and particularly their conversations with other men. Men relate to each other so differently than women, or men and women together. I spent a lot of time quizzing my husband and eavesdropping on stranger’s conversations to try to get it right. Jolene, on the other hand, kind of just fell out of me. While she and I don’t share much life experience, our motivations and reactions are very similar, so while I did a lot of thinking when writing Chuck, Jolene came straight from my gut.

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

Yes! Partially because it felt like I was putting on airs (am I really a writer? Hello Imposter Syndrome!) and partially because I know the next question will be something about if I have a book that they’ve heard of. And for the longest time I’d just look down and rub my toe on the floor and mumble something about a dozen short stories in various mags, and regret opening my mouth while we both try to change the subject. And now, while I just very recently have a book and they probably still haven’t heard of it, but at least it’s an opportunity to point them at my local indie bookstore (Malaprop’s), so I’m a smidgen less embarrassed. That is, until they ask me what my WIP is about and the connection between my brain and mouth is severed.

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.