Category Archives: author interview

Cover Share: An Ordshaw Facelift by Indie Author Phil Williams #Brainfluffbookcovers #TheSunkenCitytrilogy

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Phil Williams, successful Indie author of The Sunken City trilogy, talks through his design process as he revamps the covers for his urban fantasy trilogy. As you know, I’m fascinated by book covers and what makes them successful, so leapt at the chance to have a chat with Phil about his reasoning behind the design decisions he made.

Why did you decide to change the covers, Phil? I have always loved these…

The original cover for Under Ordshaw was my first major attempt at a book design, and it served me well. I aimed to mix elements of urban fantasy, horror and thriller, with a nod to the more technical designs of the Rivers of London or Alex Verus series.

The results never quite satisfied me, though I received lots of very positive feedback, and when I frequently suggested I might update them fans told me no, they liked the originals too much. Part of the problem was that I designed a new cityscape with each book and they never quite felt like Ordshaw. I felt the same about including characters or creatures: literal interpretations of the books are hard to pull off.

Combine that with years passing where I learnt more and more about cover design, leading to what I felt was a bit of a step change in my results for Kept From Cages, and it constantly niggled me that I could better.

How did you go about evolving the new design to include all the elements you wanted?

Over the past year or more, I’ve been toying with character covers, searching for a suitable Pax. No small feat when I work with composite stock, but I had a very particular image in mind.

Finally, I found a model that worked. I put together new designs at length until I had something almost approaching what I first envisioned. I also improved the background with higher-quality grunge texturing, and searched for a fantasy-esque graffiti motif to go behind the character and bring out the supernatural/horror element.

Then, when I had my Pax and a looming fairy, and found matching imagery for the other books, I realised the artwork far outshone my character image. When I removed the character, the simpler, more vivid design came to life.

From there, I experimented with extra colour, magic splashes, smashed glass, torn paper titles and more. Thanks to my wife being merciless with my bold choices, all those elements were finally worked into the design as subtle details, to form the covers we have now.

How did you then go about changing the look of an-already published series?

As I’ve already released the complete Sunken City Trilogy, one of the challenges was updating all the covers at once. Once the first design was complete, though, the designs for the others fell into place – thankfully all together, because seeing them side-by-side I ended up (with more feedback from my wife!) swapping the images from Under Ordshaw to Blue Angel, which now make more sense!

Now, I’ve got all three covers updated in eBook and paperback format, with audiobooks to follow, which comes at a good time to celebrate the upcoming release of The Violent Fae in audiobook form, along with the second Ikiri book. These new designs, I feel, blend better with the Kept From Cages design, and The City Screams’ cover, recently tweaked, though I’ll probably give that a redesign too.

To my mind they’re much more striking now, and above all embody the energy of the books. I only hope the public will agree!

Thank you, Phil, for taking the time to share the process with us all. What do you think – do you prefer the new editions? Have you read the series?

Phil Williams writes contemporary fantasy and dystopian fiction and non-fiction grammar guides. His novels include the interconnected Ordshaw urban fantasy thrillers, the post-apocalyptic Estalia saga and the action-packed Faergrowe series. He also runs the website English Lessons Brighton, and writes reference books to help foreign learners master the nuances of English.

Phil lives with his wife by the coast in Sussex, UK, and now spends a great deal of time walking his impossibly fluffy dog, Herbert.

Interview With Jean Lee Regarding Her Writing Process And Her Books #Brainfluffauthorinterview #JeanLeeInterview

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Jean Lee is a fellow author I encountered after reading her amazing blog, which talks mostly about family life, writing, music and films. What has kept me coming back is her quirky view on Life and her wonderful way of putting things. So it was a no-brainer that I’d get hold of her first book when it hit the shelves – Fallen Princeborn: Stolensee my review. And I was thrilled when she offered me an arc of this new release, the second book in the series, Fallen Princeborn: Chosensee my review. I asked her to be a guest on my blog to celebrate the release of this second book, which is a major triumph, after a major setback. I’m delighted that she agreed and I am able to share with you a slice of her writing and an insight into her writing process. Enjoy…

1. You are crazily busy – three young children, including twins; a job and running a family – when do you make time for your writing? Are there any activities you use to help you maximise your time – playing music or lighting scented candles, for instance?
Oh, I’m not going to lie—it can be Hades some days in finding the balance between family, work, and writing, and that was before life in lockdown with remote learning. The balance between teaching and writing is still in a BIG flux; I haven’t taught full-time since before Blondie was born ten years ago, so I’m no longer accustomed to working with over one hundred students. But with the right sounds, be it fall ambience or instrumental music, I can stir a few story things around in my mind while grading. Even if I don’t get to physically write that day, I’ve still been brainstorming a fight, working out the kinks of some dialogue, or revising a plot line.

Honestly, I look back to five years ago when my three B’s were tiny, and I have no clue how I got the writing in that I did. Now that Biff and Bash are, as they put it, “pre-tweens,” I can usually let them occupy themselves for at least a little while so I can work and write. Often this leads to Bash using up all the tape in the house to build robots or his own paper story books about robots while Biff is drawing collections of favourite characters or cars—whatever strikes his fancy. Once the battery runs out on the Nintendo (or is simply removed and hidden, mwa ha ha), Blondie grabs her pencils and paper and leaves us all behind with her comics about dragons and pet detectives. All three can be like this with books, too. I wonder how many parents around us have to say, “Would you stop reading and___”? Like, we actually have to make them stop reading to finish meals or clean their rooms. It’s a good problem, that.

2. Your main characters, particularly Charlotte, ping off the page with such vividness in Fallen Princeborn: Chosen. How did you stay so closely in touch with them, between writing Stolen and Chosen?
Hmmm. I suppose it helps that large portions of the storyline have been in my head for a long time—ever since I first drafted Stolen back in 2010. This is largely why I couldn’t turn my back on the series and turned instead to self-publishing: I wanted to see these characters complete the journeys I’d imagined for them all these years.

It also helps that each of the major characters, in their way, connect to something I am, or aspire to be. And to be clear, this includes the antagonists. If a reader cannot relate to a story’s villain somehow, then that villain no longer feels real and is therefore no longer a threat. A villain made of lies and air is too easily waved away. So whether it’s Charlotte’s passion for music or Bearnard Artair’s utter refusal to accept he’s wrong (yes, I can be a stubborn bastard), there is something real, something of my human nature, inside both hero and villain.
For better or worse, we’ll always be connected.

3. Your writing is so full of sensory input – touch, taste, and sounds, as well as the images – do you always put these descriptions down on the page during your first draft? Which is the sense that you most easily visualise when writing?
I am a BIG fan of sensory detail! Often my rough draft is overloaded with detail I have to scale back for the sake of pacing. Sounds—or lack thereof—are usually my initial input I get down, followed by the visual. The smells of emotions and desires comes from an older place, where the sense of smell aided far more in survival. There’s something very ancient and instinctive about smell that just feels a bit dismissed, if that makes sense, which is why I love using that sense, too.

4. Which scene in Chosen was the easiest to write and why? And which was the hardest?
Well I don’t know if it was “easy,” but I had gobs of fun writing the fight scenes. Being the action junkie I am, if there’s a chance to bring horrifying creatures of dark magic onto the scene to fight, I’m going to take it.

Hardest…there’s a lot of hard scenes in here. That tag line I put on Chosen’s cover of “The Bloody Days are soon returning” is not just about the return of Liam’s family; it is also a reference to what Arlen says to Charlotte in the first book about the difficulty of facing one’s own “bloody days.”
Arlen studies Charlotte’s face for a long, quiet moment before he says, “We have all of us had our bloody days, Charlotte. For many it is easier to remain in them than to change. To change requires facing a past stained by screams.” Pause. “It is not an easy trial.”

Redemption is not given only because one experiences dark trauma. No. Redemption comes to those who battle through that darkness and change for the better, and in Chosen, Liam and Charlotte both must come to terms with their own bloody days in order to change—not just for their own sakes, but for each other’s and those they care about.


5. I loved meeting Liam’s terrible family, as it gave a real insight into his personality. Which of his horrible relations was the most satisfying to write and why?
Ooooooh, that’s a toughie! Liam’s parents were both fun to write, especially when they interact together—I have a whole post about Ceasar Augustus and Ewoks and why Bearnard and Livia interact as they do. The most satisfying, however, would have to be the one remaining family member never mentioned in Stolen, but who comes with Liam’s parents to River Vine in Chosen. To avoid spoilers, I will only say this:
Livia Artair is not the only one with a plan.

6. You use a lot of nature-inspired imagery in your writing – what is your own favourite natural place, where you feel inspired?
This may sound a little strange, but there is something…something fascinating about standing at the border and not seeing what’s beyond. Ever since I was very small, trips in the car between small towns always meant driving through farmland and wilderness. It was a like a quilt, these squares of corn, pasture, and forest, stitched together by streams and tall grasses. I loved imagining what could live in those forests. I still do. Were I to physically walk into those wild places, the spell might break, so on the outside I remain. I walk along the road, or near river’s edge, the woods always in sight, but out of reach. That is where I feel storytelling’s potential at its strongest, imagining impossibility into reality.

7. As soon as I got to the end of Chosen, I was keen to know when the next one will be available! Have you started writing it, yet? And is there any spoiler-free teaser you can give us as to what is next in store for Charlotte, Liam and those relying on their success?
The third book, Fallen Princeborn: Hidden is in a very, very rough state, but it’s there! At this point, I see a 2022 release so I can get some other projects taken care of (see my answer to the next question, lol). Let’s see, a little scene…how about visiting someone we didn’t get to see in Chosen—Jenny, the farm girl who lives just beyond The Wall?

The freak snow starts just after Jennifer Blair passes the wishing well. Flakes fat with cold tease her, melting onto her glasses and at the nape of her neck to slide in under her hooded sweatshirt. But does she go back inside for a proper coat? Of course not. It’s Wisconsin. A typical fall day can jump twenty degrees up or down, easy peasy.
So Jenny runs on, leaves of red, gold, and brown sucking tight onto the souls of her sneakers as she makes her way across the farm yard, beyond the old white barn and the tractor shed to the woods that rim the eastern edge of the farm. A few blood droplets fall from the bag she carries, melting snow clusters as she goes.
She dodges the poison ivy bush, sticks to the worn path to the nice little grove of maples that her dad finally agreed to tap this year because Jenny promised the wolves wouldn’t bother him. More snow runs down Jenny’s spine and she shivers, eager for some furry hugs, maybe even a sandpapery wolf tongue to lick the cold from her cheek. D always gave her so many happy welcome kisses that she’d laugh, and scratch his ears, and—
Silence.
The glen’s roofed in fiery colors among the trees, all the brighter for the snow clinging every leaf’s edge. The wind carries Jenny’s panting white breaths out of the glen, away from the tap tap of sap dripping from the maple trees on either side of her.
A mound of fur huddles on the other side of the glen, but there’s no giant of black fur. No green eye paired with a blue eye. Just…normal looking wolves, speckled shades of winter woods. One lifts its head, flares its nostrils. Whimpers.
“D’s still not here, huh?” Jenny tips her bag. Half a dozen cuts of venison slop into the bed of snow and leaves of bygone autumns. “Serves him right if I eat all my coffee cake by myself.” She talks snotty, but the crack in her voice, the whimper of another wolf—they say otherwise.
Especially when they do not come for the morning treat.
Jenny wipes her glasses clean even though the snow continues to cover her work. That shivering of the pack, it’s not just her blurred vision. “What is it, a bear?” She spins as she moves towards them, a scouting dance to check for marks of some sort. But nope—just the half dozen trees tapped. One’s lost its bucket, but nothing else is different than yesterday. There’s a bit of a stink in the air, too, but duh, it’s a farm. The air’s going to smell like manure sometimes.
Only when she’s next to the pack does one separate to say hello: a half-breed runt, she wages, considering his size compared to the other wolves. His head’s a bit different, too—more pointed, like a collie, and fur much coarser than the others. One of his ear’s torn from a long-ago fight—the test to get into the pack, maybe? But D liked him, so the others accepted him.
He licks snowflakes that land on her nosebridge, smothering her glasses with spit. “Dangit, I just cleaned those!” And Jenny giggles, because it feels way nicer to giggle than to cry over a missing friend. “I gotta check the taps quick. You grab your breakfast before the snow buries it.”
The runt gives his family the once-over, then takes a few cautious steps toward the meat. The others follow, eyes darting from Jenny to the tapped maples. Even the biggest of them all, the one with holes in his fur marking an enemy’s bite, scratches at the ground like he’s searching for something before heading over. His whimpers trail him like winter’s pawprints.
Jenny wipes her hands clean in the leaves and snow. No extra blood. No impressions in the ground. But still, Jenny bites her lip and checks her back pocket for her dad’s old jack knife. Something’s spooked her friends.
Could it be…
Jenny stands up, turns to the north. To the Wall. No snow sticks to it. Never does. No moss grows on it. No cement or mortar stuff. Just stones, smooth and round like from a river, all fitting just so to make a wall too high for a person to jump or peek over.
Old as the farm, too, probably older. She’s tried to research it on national park sites. She’s gone through books and pamphlets on historical markers and tribe histories. She even tried that weird microfiche machine the library keeps of old newspapers. Nothin’ about a wall that just goes on and on in the middle of a forest in the middle of Wisconsin, or even the three-story stone fortress-type place her family converted to a farm house. How does no one ever mention stuff like this in the history of ever?
Well Jenny has her guess, sure, not that she likes to dwell on it much.
The fairy-animal things.
They took her brother. Tried to make her come with them, with their creepy purple swirly eyes and the dreams they’d stick into her head. But D never let them get her. Never let her go over on her own, either. Any time she got close to following him, he’d turn right around and bat her to the ground and growl until she promised to stay away. Then off he went, bounding over the Wall like some horse into god knows what over in god knows where.
Six months now, he’s been gone god knows where. Is he hurt back there? Dead?
One fairy-animal appears on the ground before her now, orange-feathered and tiny. It chirps super short, like singing’s an after-thought for this songbird. But it always lands real nice in Jenny’s hands, and listens when Jenny talks about school all the way up until Jenny says thanks, and takes care to chirp once before flying off. Its purple eyes never swirl or glow at her like the bad fairy-animal things.
“Any sign of D today?” Jenny always asks that first.
The bird shakes its head.
“Bad fairies?”
The bird pecks the ground once, twice, three times, only it doesn’t pick up anything.
“Sure wish you could talk.” Jenny kneels. The cold damp quickly seeps through her jeans and numbs her knee. She pulls out a handful of coffee cake crumbs from in her pocket. “Something’s spooked D’s pack. I was gonna look around after checking the taps. Wanna come?”
The little bird hops into Jenny’s hand, chirps, then starts pecking away.
“Thanks.”
A little yip from behind—the runt half-breed’s finished first. He trots up to Jenny, smacking his chops.
“Sorry, buddy, that’s it. Come on,” she pulls out her knife, breathes, deep, “let’s see what’s what around here.”
The sugar maples for fall are pretty close, about as far as a kickball pitcher from home plate. It’s the last one with its bucket off, a weird happening since the hook is beneath the spigot. Wind shouldn’t be able to do that. A squirrel—a normal squirrel, anyway—wouldn’t have the strength. Raccoon, maybe, or a curious animal sniffing around. “You knock that off?” Jenny asks the half-breed.
His tail’s between his legs, nose sniffing fast, steps slowing down.
Too many leaves crunch as Jenny walks, the bird still and watchful in her hand.
“How about you?” she asks the bird. It chirps twice, flies into the bucket to shake off the snow clawing at its wings. Pecks. Chirps. Hops onto the ground. Pecks. Shakes its head like it’s found a worm.
“You found somethin’.” Jenny goes on without the runt and…oh yeah. She can smell it now.
That ain’t a poop smell. It’s pee. Kinda faint, the sort when someone uses the bathroom but forgets to flush. “So…another wolf, maybe. Cuz if it were someone in the pack marking here, they wouldn’t be so spooked.”
The bird shakes its head, pecks the ground again. Jenny follows the beak and picks up the snow clumps.
Impressions.
Half circle. Curvey rectangles.
A boot.
Two boots.
Air freezes in Jenny’s chest. She has to look up from the ground, she’s gotta—
—and sees the spigot.
A few thin rust-ish lines rim the nozzle. She’s seen lines like that before when her dad drinks from a glass after a long day outside: cracked lips.
Someone drank from the spigot.
Someone is here.
The bird circles the spigot before landing for a closer look.
A branch snaps deep inside the wild brush.
Jenny bolts upright. The runt growls, once and quick. The pack echoes, closes ranks.
Could just be snow too heavy for a stick.
Or not.


8. Have you any other writing projects you’re currently working on?
Oh, it’s such a higgeldy-piggledy pile of WIPs! 😊 I suppose the one I’m most keen to complete and publish next year is my expanded edition of Middler’s Pride I started some years ago. It’s a fun little escape, this land of Idana, and writing a fantasy series that does NOT focus on romance but instead building identity and friendship while also kicking butt is something I think today’s girls—girls like my daughter—would like to read.
In the land of Idana, where enchanted blades and goddesses can be found in the unlikeliest of places, no one wants to be a middle child. All the best inheriting goes to the firstborn, and all the best blessings in life elsewise go to the youngest.
Meredydd was a middler, and therefore useless. Unlike her handsome heir of an elder brother, or her lovely little sister, Mer was…there. Well, not really there. She did her best to stay out of the manor as much as possible, preferring the company of others whether they preferred her company or not.


Because my brain has a hard time flowing creatively in one lane, my other big goal is to finish What Happened When Grandmother Failed to Die, that NaNoWriMo project I started in 2019. It features some characters from the Fallen Princeborn universe, but is set in an isolated forest home in the dead of winter back in the 1960s. Trust me when I say this is no story for my daughter or any other child. Oh no. This story comes from the corner of my heart that loves a good scare with a splash of horror.

The kitchen itself wasn’t overrun with crows, at least. There were more pictures pinned to the walls, sure, but there weren’t feathers pinned to the cupboards or beaks in a bowl. It was actually pretty plain in there–wooden cupboards too old for their varnish lined one wall, interrupted only by a window and a sink. A long, narrow butcher’s block sat in the middle of the room, and a simple ovular table with four chairs sat over by a row of windows along the far wall–the back of the house, Chloe figured, since there was a back door, a pile of wood for the fire, and an axe. A big axe stained with blood. Stained with the same blood, maybe, as the blood on one of the kitchen chairs. On the furthest cupboards. In the sink. Maybe the same blood as that which sizzled atop a coating of grease, of oil, of God knows what else on the old gas stove where a kettle steamed.

Thanks so much for having me, Sarah, and sharing my work! I hope you will all stop by sometime and say hello when you can. Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!
-Jean Lee
Website: https://jeanleesworld.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/jeanleesworld
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100012373211758
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jeanleesworld/
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Jean-Lee/e/B07DPP2RV6/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18139027.Jean_Lee

Interview with JEAN LEE – Author of Fallen Princeborn: STOLEN #Brainfluffauthorinterview #JeanLeeauthorinterview

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I’d like to welcome Jean Lee, author of the recently released Fallen Princeborn: STOLEN which blew me away – see my review here. I’ve been reading Jean’s amazing blog for a while now and it’s always a pleasure so I was delighted to have a chance to chat to her about her writing.

How does Wisconsin inspire you as a writer?

Wisconsin breeds the fantastic.

We are home to peculiar, toothsome beasts like the Hodag, devourer of all-white bulldogs.

We are home to unique, word-some writers like Neil Gaiman: “There’s that tiny off-kilter nature in the Midwest that’s in the details,” he says when asked about writing…

Neil Gaiman says ‘American Gods’ is

rooted in Minnesota-Wisconsin weirdness

The writer found a strange quality in the Midwest that fuels his “American Gods.”

We are home to hidden towns, small growths of community where railroads and highways meet, places that no one finds unless they mean to find it. Picturesque, perhaps? Plainfield was indeed picturesque once—until Ed Gein was arrested in November of 1957. You may know the rest. Basically, Gein inspired many of the fictional horror icons we know today: Norman Bates, Leatherface, and Buffalo Bill are all rooted in the reality of Ed Gein.
We drove through the wild patches between the hidden towns often when I was a child. I never tried to occupy myself with books or toys in the car. There was too much to see, out there in those scattered homesteads, too much to wonder about. What happened inside that dying barn? Why is that gravel drive roped off, and where does it lead? Where are all the people for those rusted cars littering the field?

This is the Wisconsin I live in now. The land dips and rises in unexpected places. The trees may crowd a rural highway so much you can lose yourself driving, only to have the tunnel burst open to sunshine and a white-crested river running beneath a bridge you’d swear had never seen a car before. In the small farming town of my youth, I could stand on the lone highway through town and hear snowflakes land beneath the orange street lights.

Wisconsin is filled with hidden towns, small growths of community where railroads and highways meet, places that no one finds unless they mean to find it. Rock Springs was a town of 600 when I was a child, a little grain-fill stop for the railroad. We didn’t even have a gas station until I turned 5, and our library, a small portion of the town’s community center, could fit in a utility closet (it probably was a utility closet at one point). Farms and wild wood filled the gaps between towns. Unless, of course, you went towards Wisconsin Dells, where the wilderness is trimmed and prepped and ready for its mandatory close-up before the tourist rushes to the proper civilization of water parks and casinos.

We drove through those wild patches often. I never tried to occupy myself with books or toys in the car. There was too much to see, out there in those scattered homesteads, too much to wonder about. What happened inside that dying barn? Why is that gravel drive roped off, and where does it lead? Where are all the people for those rusted cars littering the field?

This is the Wisconsin I live in now. The land dips and rises in unexpected places. The trees may crowd a rural highway so much you can lose yourself driving, only to have the tunnel burst open to sunshine and a white-crested river running beneath a bridge you’d swear had never seen a car before. In Rock Springs, one could stand on the lone highway through town and hear snowflakes land beneath the orange street lights.

Both Charlotte and Liam, the Fallen Prince, are strong, nuanced characters – when you first started writing this book whose story did you most want to tell?

At the outset, the story was all about Charlotte. It was strictly in her point of view, the story opened with more of Charlotte and her sister’s life before boarding the bus, and so on. I wanted Charlotte to escape her wretched life and fly. But once I got her into River Vine, I began to see an ensemble take shape, a family of characters bearing their own shames and despairs, all struggling to free themselves and find hope in the future.

Liam wasn’t much to me at the outset–just a pompous artist who had some growing up to do. It was Arlen, the teacher, that got me to slow down and see what he saw: a kind heart that had been brutalized so often it had forgotten what it meant to feel. The more I drafted, the more I came to see Liam’s inner struggle to grow beyond his cage.

When did you start writing Fallen Princeborn: Stolen?

2010. Yup, that’s a while ago, but life tends to fill the years, and in my case, I had just become a mom. Postpartum depression hit hard. Very, very hard. I felt very cut-off from life. I couldn’t feel the joy of motherhood. I found myself often staring out a window, trapped in walls yet somehow exiled outside of feeling. I’d look upon my sleeping baby and feel nothing but guilt because I couldn’t feel complete with motherhood. Then a friend introduced me to the awesome challenge that is National Novel Writing Month. From November 1st-30th, you are to write 50,000 words of a story not yet started (that’s cheating. Outlines are permissible, though.). The story may need more than 50K words, but what matters is that you reach that length in thirty days.

I swung it that year, and felt AMAZING. I was escaping the trap, driven to feel with characters outside of this world. I couldn’t just sit and dwell on individual lines or plot points—I had to keep going, and because I had to march on in the narrative, I found myself marching on in real life, too. I wasn’t staring out the window waiting for minutes to pass. I was…I was back, you know?

I felt a part of life again, enjoying the touch of my daughter’s tiny hands around my finger and her boundless grey-blue eyes. I reveled in these things. I felt…complete.

How did you figure out the names of your characters?

Charlotte’s name came from a baby book in the long, long, LONG process of choosing a name for our firstborn. After weeks of highlighting and crossing out names, we had narrowed ourselves down to Charlotte and ____. Well, we went with ____ for our kid, so I kept the name Charlotte for my heroine. I’d grown attached to the name over those weeks. It carries both feminine and masculine traits, both delicacy and strength. A perfect fit.

Nature was ripe for names, since this small society has been cut off from the rest of the world for centuries. From this I uprooted names like Poppy, Ember, and even Campion (it’s a kind of rose). Many of the other names I chose after studying The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook. I loved having this broad overview of names across various cultures. It’s through this book I discovered names that fit some aspect of my characters’ nature, such as Dorjan—“Dark Man” and Liam—“strong-willed warrior.” It’s important to have names that matter. Be it the history, the meaning, or because my child almost carried it—the name needs to matter.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Writing’s a must. When I write, I channel the depression away from my family and into a universe where my characters can fight it.

It’s never completely gone, you know, depression. We can slay it, burn it, bury it—but it never dies. Only by spinning stories can I transplant some of that darkness into villains, heroes, and worlds. From the darkness grows the adventure and the hope.

What has it been like – juggling writing, teaching and three kids?

Three years ago, you may as well have asked what it’s like to juggle three bowling pins with spikes on fire. Back when I was trying to write in bedlam, I stole whatever time I could before dawn. The television usually bought me at least an hour in the day to outline, draft dialogue, or keep up with my blog. The children’s naptime never felt long enough, but I made due.

Once the boys began preschool, I could at least promise myself one hour of writing time a day. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But that’s the thing about writing and keeping a job and running a household: every minute to write’s a blessing. Sometimes those days crash and burn. Other times—like when the boys didn’t have school—we found other ways to be creative.

Now that Blondie, Biff, and Bash are in school all day, I always have time for writing, be it for the blog, editing, drafting, etc. Granted, summer’s still a trial, but because I didn’t give up on writing when time was scarce, I have many stories to share here in the daylight hours.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Research can feel like a big time-suck, but when it comes to publishing, DO YOUR RESEARCH! There are so many scammers out there with their “author services” and “exclusive anthologies.” They’re going to talk you up, make you feel amazing, and before you know it you’ve paid four digits for lousy editing on a slap-dash affair no one’s going to see. Scope out the small presses. Join author groups online to gather recommendations for editors, book designers, and cover artists. Your story deserves to be seen, but when it’s ready.

Yes, an author platform really does help. Don’t think of it as yet another time suck; rather, treat it as the regimented prose exercise. Reading countless other voices, writing tight posts on a regular basis—all helps the craft, not hinders it. No, it’s not the novel you dream hitting the best-seller list, but making a website, commenting on social media—these simple actions give your name an author’s history. Other writers/publishers/agents/readers can trace your name back to studies, comments, and whatever else you write. You build that platform, you build a writer’s resume for the publishing business to see.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

When my sons’ principal calls. Nothing f***s over the creative mindset when you have to come and talk about one son, or the other, or both. Again.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I do write under a pseudonym, actually. When you’re a preacher’s kid, all your actions and talents are scrutinized—“you play piano just like your mom!” “You sing just like your dad!” “You write just like your father.” “You should be just like your mom and become a teacher.”

There comes a time when you get sick of all the comparisons, and just want to be known for something YOU do, not what your parents do. So when I started my site Jean Lee’s World, I wanted to see who’d like my writing for my writing, NOT because of who I am or whomever I’m related to. Writing under another name’s also allowed me to work through past traumas and current depressions without bringing any family members under fire, which is important to me. These are my demons, not theirs.

How did you begin writing the short stories that accompany your novel?
The short stories began as a writing experiment last year. My husband had been listening to John Carpenter’s Lost Themes, and a story began to shape in my head of a child dying at the hands of a cuddly creature before a dark skulking thing gets involved. When I showed the short story to my publishers, they encouraged me to write more short stories as little introductions to the universe of Charlotte and these imprisoned shapeshifters. Thus Tales of the River Vine was born, with stories following both antagonists and protagonists across the years.

The challenge with such “prequels,” as they are, was to find emotional centers without chipping away at the emotional arc of Fallen Princeborn: Stolen. Take the last story of the collection, “Tattered Rhapsody.” Originally I intended the story to be called “Dirty Charlie,” featuring Charlotte the Wise-Ass taking on some gang members at her high school for profit. Girl’s got to earn bus money somehow, right?

But the story felt wrong. I couldn’t pin it at first. Charlotte’s there, she’s showing her strength, her protective instincts for her kid sister. And yet, the story felt…heartless.
Then it hit me: Charlotte’s heart doesn’t speak with her fists. It speaks with her music.
And just like that, the story’s heart found a pulse, a rhythm both despairing yet defiant. Just like Charlotte.

I hope you enjoy reading “Tattered Rhapsody” and the other Tales of the River Vine and telling me what you think. They’re all FREE on Kindle, Nook, and other publishing platforms!

 

 

 

Interview with Paul Grzegorzek about his book Flare

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Hi Paul, thank you very much for agreeing to let me grill you on my blog. I really enjoyed Flare, which I reviewed here. As you generally write crime thrillers (a logical genre for an ex-policeman), what gave you the idea for this apocalyptic science fiction thriller?

Hi Sarah, I’ve always loved Sci-Fi and fantasy. I write crime because I know it so well, but I’ve always wanted to write Sci-Fi, although every novel I started fizzled out until Flare. The idea for it came while watching Blackout on TV last year, which made me wonder how much worse it would be if all the immediate resources (i.e. the supermarkets etc) were destroyed in the initial apocalypse, and how quickly society would fall apart.

Without giving any spoilers away – how much research did you have to do about the Nasty Event that engulfs your poor characters?

I actually did more than I needed to! I’ve always been fascinated by space, stars and anything else that might be out there, but researching solar flares and CME’s and the potential devastation to our way of life was terrifying but incredibly interesting at the same time, particularly when you realise how lucky we are that it hasn’t happened already.

Your backdrop is very well described throughout – those of us who live in on the south coast of England could instantly identify parts of Brighton and the places you mention. How closely did you follow actual places as your characters travel north?

Google maps was my best friend! I charted their path across the UK and each place they visited is exactly where it is in the book. The places I hadn’t actually been to were explored via Streetview, so that anyone reading it who knew any of the areas they travelled would identify with it immediately.

I really liked your protagonist – he seemed entirely believable with his reactions as an ordinary man in the street, yet also quick-thinking and reasonably courageous. Did you base him on anyone in particular?

Not really, but I wanted a real person, with real fears and uncertainties. Having made some huge decisions that affected people’s lives and safety in the past, I know how crippling it can be to make harsh choices, and I wanted that to be reflected in Malc. Anyone can write a protagonist that mows people down by the dozen and is immune to bullets, but how can a reader ever identify with someone like that? I also wanted to balance him out with Emily. Having an average Joe as the protagonist with a strong female as his second seemed much more interesting (and realistic – I know the score, I’m married!)

There is a very good mix of characters your protagonist encounters – I enjoyed the fact that you don’t have ‘evil’ and ‘good’, but a mixture of both.

One thing I learned in the police is that no one is all good or all bad except for a very few unfortunate souls. One person’s evil is another person’s necessity, and that would only be amplified by an event as horrific and unstoppable as the one in Flare.

Given how well balanced the action, characterisation and description are, how carefully do you plan your storyline before you start writing?

Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t! I’m a “seat of the pants” writer. I wrote Flare in four weeks after the seed sprouted in my mind (if that makes any sense at all), and all I knew was that Malc needed to find his daughter and she was in Manchester, and that the flare was going to utterly devastate society. The rest just came out of my dark imagination and a compulsion to get the story onto paper. I loved writing it, but I was even dreaming about the characters by the second week!

As I previously mentioned, you have also written a number of crime thrillers. Can you tell us a bit about those?

I wrote The Follow just after leaving the police and it’s full of vitriol. It revolves around an officer who lives in a moral grey area between the law and doing what’s right. I think it’s flawed, but I’m assured it’s still a good read. When Good Men Do Nothing was my fourth novel but only my second released on Kindle. The main character is Rob Steel, a firearms positioning forensics expert who gets caught up in a double murder, an MI6 investigation and a terrorist threat to Brighton. It was a lot of fun to write and until Flare it was my best seller.

I’m hoping there will be a sequel to Flare – can you tell us what you are now working on and when we can read about Malc’s next slice of adventures?

There is indeed a sequel to Flare being written as we speak. It’s called Winter, and it starts about two months after the end of Flare. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I’m hoping to have it finished by midsummer, and then out on Kindle not too long after!

 

Interview with Mark Anson, author of Acid Sky and Below Mercury

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Today I have asked Indie author Mark Anson to discuss his two science fiction techno-thrillers, his writing process and how he produces those fantastic diagrams that accompany his novels.

Thank you for agreeing to let me grill you, Mark. How long have you been writing and who are the writers you admire?
Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my work! I started writing short stories while I was still at school, and the stories grew in size until I could tackle a full-length novel. As for writers I admire, for sheer quality of writing and storytelling it has to be Winston Graham (author of the Poldark novels, Marnie and many other works). His ability to immerse the reader in a totally believable world, with beautifully drawn characters and intertwining storylines, is outstanding. For science fiction, I have always admired Michael Crichton and his ability to extrapolate science fact into gripping thrillers – Timeline is a particular favourite of mine as it blends science fiction with an intensively researched historical adventure.

Are you an organic writer, or a planner? If you do plan, how much of the story arc and character development do you work out in advance. How closely do you stick to any plan?
I fall squarely into the ‘planner’ category – not that there’s anything wrong with the organic approach! I use a spreadsheet to map out in detail what happens in each chapter, what the characters’ motivations are, and to keep track of detailed points like time of day, and issues that need resolving later. I try to plan one book ahead of where I am actually writing in the series, so that I have a pretty good idea where the characters have come from and where they’re going. I didn’t use to take such a structured approach, but I ended up wasting a lot of material due to lack of planning and I’ve had to teach myself to work this way. I stick pretty closely to the plan but I do make changes if I think things don’t work. And that’s where continuity errors can creep in.

I’m interested to know what impact your fabulous drawings have on your creative process regarding the story. At what stage in your stories do you work out your spacecraft? Did you have your Mercury mines all drawn before you wrote the story – or do you work out your drawings alongside your storytelling?
I do all the drawings in advance of writing, and the level of detail reflects how much time the characters spend in the situation. So for the huge mine in Below Mercury, I did this in some detail because half the story is set there and it’s difficult to describe the complexities of mine workings without it, while for Acid Sky, all the action is set on a giant flying carrier, so there are several drawings of that. I don’t think the drawings are necessary to read and enjoy the stories, but they certainly help me to maintain a detailed and consistent background. They do change a bit as I write the story, if I feel something isn’t working.

How long did it take you to write the books?
I’m very slow – Acid Sky took two years. Below Mercury took considerably longer as it was my first full-length novel. I am working to improve.

You self-published Below Mercury – had you initially attempted to get it traditionally published, or did you immediately decide to go the self-publishing route?
I tried the traditional route first without success before deciding to go it alone. Having published two books now in both e-book and print, it’s much easier to see things from the publisher’s point of view and understand why the chances of getting a traditional publishing deal are so incredibly slim. I suspect that in the future, unknown authors will increasingly be expected to prove their work first through self-publishing on e-book platforms, before being considered by a traditional publisher.

Clare Foster is a very believable, sympathetically drawn protagonist – is she a complete product of your imagination, or have you based her on anyone you know?
Clare isn’t based on anyone in particular, but I have certainly drawn on character traits of people whom I have met and worked with. I wanted to create a strong, career-driven female character that readers could identify with, and who has a story behind her. And things don’t always go her way – her star is rising in Acid Sky, but when we see her again several years later in Below Mercury, things have gone very wrong for her and she is seeking to redeem herself.

I understand that you are currently writing the sequel to Below Mercury. Can you tell us a bit about it and when it will be available?
Yes. I have a sequel planned in detail for Below Mercury, set on a future Mars, which addresses the questions left outstanding, especially what happens to the bad guys after Matt and Clare escape from the mine on Mercury. I am likely, however, to write another story first which fits in between Acid Sky and Below Mercury, and tells the story of Clare Foster’s time in the elite Asteroid Interceptor squadron. It’s going to be set in space beyond Mars, and I hope very much to have this out at the end of 2015. But of course, plans may change…