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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…