Friday, September 28, 2012

Vampires vs. Zombies, When One Monster Protects You From Another: An Interview With Jean Marie Bauhaus

1) Please tell us about your book.

Dominion of the Damned is about a young woman, Hannah Jordan, who rides out a zombie apocalypse in a bomb shelter, and emerges several months later to find that a race of vampires has subdued the zombies, herded what's left of humanity into internment camps, and generally taken over the world.

2) Which are more frightening: zombies or vampires?

Definitely zombies. Pop culture has pretty much de-fanged vampires and turned them into cuddly superheroes. I'm not sure it's possible at this point to really make them scary again, although I do give it a shot. At the very least, the vampires in my book don't sparkle.

3) Stories of the hungry dead have always been around in many forms in many cultures, but in recent years their popularity seems to have exploded: movies, television shows, and novels. Even government organizations like the Center for Disease Control and FEMA have attempted to take advantage of the popularity of all things zombie by encouraging disaster preparedness and infection control protocols with tongue-in-cheek zombie warnings. What do you think is behind the popularity of all these stories?

I think it's a sign of the times we're in. There's a real sense of foreboding in our culture, and a sense that the First World is just one major disaster away from collapsing into chaos and ruin. It's the same phenomenon behind the recent spate of survivalist reality shows. I think apocalyptic stories in general, and zombie stories in particular, are popular because they provide us with a safe way to play out our worst-case scenarios. People joke about having a "zombie plan," but I think deep down, people find reassurance in thinking about how they could survive such a scenario. If they could survive a zombie outbreak, then there's a good chance they could survive something like a major earthquake or a post-nuclear wasteland.

4) You've done something a bit unusual in that you have a book that features both vampires and a zombie apocalypse. Please tell us a bit about your thought process in combining those elements?

I used to sort of joke to my husband about how I couldn't believe nobody's written a "zombies vs. vampires" story, and how I ought to write one. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me that if vampires existed, they would have a major stake in preventing a zombie outbreak from wiping out their food supply. I thought about what a race of vampires' "protection" of humanity would look like, and the story just took off from there.

5) If a zombie outbreak occurred, where would be the best place to ride it out?

Are you asking me about my zombie plan? ;) In my book, the vampires have rounded up humans into "safe" camps located in fortified places such as prisons and military bases. Underground shelters also seem like a good bet. Barring that, I think if something like that happened, my family and I would head for the country and try to lie low in an unpopulated area.

6) Please share with about your other projects.

I'm also working on a short story, tentatively titled "Blackwood Park" (although that will probably change), about the apparently haunted remains of an old amusement park. It's sort of a mash-up of various Internet legends referred to as "creepy pasta" with a little dash of the Slenderman mythos. I'll be releasing it for free once it's done, hopefully in the next month or so. I'm also the author of Restless Spirits, a novel about a paranormal investigator who becomes the subject of her own investigation after she gets caught in the cross hairs of a malevolent spirit. It's currently available as an e-book and a trade paperback.

7) Do you have any links to any excerpts you'd like to share?

You can read the first two chapters of Dominion of the Damned and stay up to date on its upcoming release at


Thanks, Jean Marie.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Woman Running From An Abusive Past: An interview with romantic suspense author Chantel Rhondeau

1) Tell us about your book:

Always & Forever is a romantic suspense about a former socialite who is under suspicion for killing her fiancé. She moves to a small town on the other side of the country, hoping to remain anonymous and restart her life after the case against her is dropped due to lack of evidence. Having lived through horrible abuse at the hands of her dead fiancé, Lilly finds it hard to trust people. She has to open herself up to the possibility of love when widower Zach Woodbridge asks to date her, because she can't resist her attraction to him. Just as she starts to regain control of her life and feel confident again, Lilly notices someone following her and she receives threatening messages.

2) What inspired you to write it?

In my life, I have known several abused women. I wanted to write a story about overcoming abuse and no longer being a victim. I think women able to survive that type of situation who are then strong enough to rise above it are absolutely amazing. Some of these women are my personal heroes. I don't know if everyone will like Lilly or some of the choices she makes, but I hope they can at least respect her unique strength. Hers was a story I couldn't not tell. 

3) Tell us a bit about your lead and what she's like.

Lilly suffered an injury during a brutal attack and has a permanent limp that sometimes complicates her life. Despite this and her history of abuse, she struggles to reinvent herself and create a new life where she can be happy. She loves to read and cook. Her biggest downfall is her low self-esteem and her belief that no one could ever really love her.

4) Suspense and romance are ultimately working at the affecting different emotions. Did you ever find any difficulty balancing those elements?

It can be hard. Throughout this process, I found that both myself and my critique partners were ready for a more tender chapter with some affection between the MCs following the most intense suspense chapters. Having critique partners greatly helped in determining when a switch was needed between these two elements.

5) Who would be the perfect reader for your book?

Someone who can empathize with a victim of domestic violence--my flawed characters tend to make wrong decisions based on their unique histories. Someone equally enthralled with the romance scenes and not looking for a straight edge-of-your-seat, never-let-up thriller will enjoy Always & Forever, as it truly is a mix of romance and suspense. Another point, my book has quite steamy love scenes, so the ideal reader should enjoy those moments as well.

6) Please tell us about your other works or works in progress.

The book I’m currently working on scheduled for release spring 2013 is a romantic suspense that is more of a ‘who done it’ mystery. Donovan is a womanizing police officer who finally met a woman he can’t fool in Madeline Scott--a sassy, sarcastic woman who’s new to town. Problems abound when Madeline finds a body on the beach, and Donovan becomes the prime suspect in the murder.

7) Do you have any links to any excerpts, you'd like to share?

Readers can find the first two chapters of Always & Forever and Six Sentence Sunday snippets on my website at

I appreciate you taking the time to interview me and be part of my blog tour!


If you'd like to see more from Chantel, she is appearing tomorrow at Dariel Raye's blog for a character interview.

Always & Forever is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mr. Beard's Regency Tour Day 21: Gambling, The Profitable (and Costly) Vice

Although I covered some of this material when I discussed whist, I've written an article for the EFHA blog with a slightly more expansive discussion of gambling in Regency England.

Please check it out at the EFHA blog.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Next Big Thing: A Woman of Proper Accomplishments

EFHA associate Mary Thornell tagged me in a recent meme. Usually, I'm not all that into these sorts of things, but even I can cut loose now and again. So, here I go then:


1. “What is the title of your work in progress?”

A Woman of Proper Accomplishments

2. “Where did the idea come from for the book?”

I've always had a long fascination with the English Regency period. At the same time, I'm a bit of a fantasy nerd. A few years back I entertained the idea of injecting a bit of magic into the Regency, but I was under the impression there wouldn't be much interest in such a book outside my own fevered imagination. I stumbled upon several, though, and that convinced me it wasn't such a bad idea after all.

I was heavily influenced by some of the more adventure-driven Georgette Heyer narratives. I want a bit of period romance, with a touch of adventure and magic.

3. “What genre does your book fall under?”

Depends on who you ask. I've been calling it Regency paranormal romance. Some might call it historical fantasy. There's a bit of an alternative history element because of the introduction of magic into the setting (by Benjamin Franklin, no less!), but it's not really about exploring historical divergences is as much as playing around with a romantic narrative that seems plausible in a Regency England that has a bit of magic (even if the people in the story insist, insist, and insist some more that they aren't doing magic).

The only reason I'm not totally set on calling it a paranormal romance is although the center-point is the growing romance between characters, and there is a happy romantic ending with smooching and all that (yes, this is a old-fashioned "sweet" romance; no bodices are ripped), certain elements aren't totally wrapped up by the end. So, arguably, it's not a true "Happily-Ever-After" as much as a "Happy Right Then." Mostly, that's because it's the first part of trilogy with a plot. I'll talk more about that in a bit.

4. “Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?”

Oh, I honestly don't know.

5. “What is the one sentence synopsis for your book?”

Helena Preston, rthe daughter of a rural gentleman of modest means, finds her romantic interest in a gentleman scholar of spiritus, the rare ability to imbue life into objects, complicated by his possible involvement with a criminal.

6. “Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?”

 I'm still exploring my options at this time.

7. “How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?”

It took about three months to write the first draft. That was...a while ago. I've gone through many drafts since then.
8. “What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?”

I think if people like books like The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, or Shades and Milk and Honey, they would probably enjoy my book, though there's a bit more of an adventure element in my book than something like Shades. 

I was trying to be more "Heyer adventure with magic" and not so much "Austen with magic."

9. “Who or what inspired you to write this book?”

Oh, just my twin interests in Regency England and fantasy, and the various fine examples of the historical Georgian fantasy that I encountered several years back.

10. “What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?”

Despite the inclusion of magic and the alternative history elements (among other things, the Americans lost the Revolution), I've actually strived very hard to make this book accurate to the Regency period. That might seem absurd given the present of magic, but I thought it'd help with versimilitude. I've studied the period extensively, including primary source letters and materials, and try to capture period-appropriate social details, references, et cetera.

I even went so far as to check that almost every word I used in the book, both in the narrative and in the dialog existed at the time of the story (1811) and also did my best to use it appropriate to the context of the time. It's surprising what was around then that meant exactly the same as today and what common words and even greetings weren't around back then.

Initially, I even went so far as to try and closely model my dialog patterns after period dialog, but several beta readers found it more distracting than immersive, so I've admittedly modernized the syntax a bit. I sprinkle in Regency slang here and there, but not so much that it's distracting (I hope).

This is actually the first of a trilogy. Each book will involve a different main lead and be a romantic adventure continuing in the backdrop of an increasingly heating up Napoleonic Wars that are unfolding slightly different than they did in our history due to increasingly sophisticated use of weaponized spiritus.

The second book will focus on the Helena Preston's flightly francophile friend, Cassandra, and the third book will focus on Helena's more uptight younger sister, Sophia.

The Choice of Nuclear Retaliation: An interview with military thriller author Noah Beck

1) Please tell us about your book, The Last Israelis.

The novel is a military and psychological thriller ripped from today's headlines. Iran gets a nuclear weapon, and a variety of circumstances leave history up to 35 ethnically and ideologically diverse men aboard Israel's nuclear-armed submarine. They must unite to survive the threats at sea before confronting an unthinkable and deeply divisive dilemma.

2) Your novel has been described by some as a character study. Please share a bit with us about your main characters.

The complex mix of characters sharing the cramped hull of a submarine is very much a microcosm of the diverse Israeli society sharing a tiny country. There are two grandsons of Holocaust survivors but with diametrically opposed lessons and worldviews produced by their similar family histories; their clashing ideologies make for some of the most intense conflicts in the story. Among the other characters are: two native Arabic speakers (a Christian and a Druze), the son of Persian Jews who escaped from the 1979 Iranian revolution, an Ethiopian who crossed Sudan by foot as a child to reach Israel, religious Jews who serve on a mostly secular crew, and an officer who is secretly gay and struggles with whether to come out to his crewmates.

3) Techno-thrillers thrive on versimiitude and that often necessitates detailed populated by research. What sort of research was involved in writing this book?

In late March, I began watching submarine movies and realized that I would need to interview people who had actually served on an Israeli submarine. I got on a flight from the U.S. to Israel and was quickly amazed by how flat hierarchies there are – even with something as rigid as the military. With just a few friendly introductions, I was soon interviewing the former commander of the entire Israeli submarine force (who had himself captained countless missions). I also found and befriended one of just a handful of Ethiopians to have served on a submarine. Of course, most of my questions were artfully dodged (for security reasons) but these veterans were immensely helpful in keeping various story details realistic. There was also a ton of Internet research involved but by far the most interesting and rewarding aspect of my research was my interviews with the ex-submariners.

4) There are some very influential authors and books that have focused on lone submarines bucking the odds. Indeed, the continuing popularity of this particular sub-genre can even be seen in the American fall television line-up with the show Last Resort. In writing your book,are their any authors who influenced your style?

There are only so many plot permutations that any submarine thriller can realistically take, so there are bound to be other novels in that genre that contain basic similarities. To the extent that "The Last Israelis" may seem similar to anything else, it is a function of the limited plot possibilities for the genre rather than any specific influences that inspired me. Everything I wrote was dictated by the elements comprising the novel: the original characters that I had imagined specifically for this story (with their different worldviews, family histories, habits, etc.) and the dramatic possibilities that present themselves when Iran gets a nuclear weapon and these very diverse men must together confront the unthinkable.
5) Normally, I ask authors what inspired their books, but given the subject matter, I think anyone who pays a bit of attention to the news, in so far as it relates to Iran and Israel, can figure out what inspired the book. So, let's take a step back. Some techno-thriller authors produce works based on concerns of the day just to mine the dramatic possibilities of such events. Others explore their own political and personal concerns. Is this book more of the former or the latter?

The answer is both. I originally conceived of the story in 2009 as a concept for a screenplay about a doomsday, military showdown between Israel's Dolphin submarine and a nuclear-armed Iran. The premise was boiling with dramatic potential and the issue deeply troubled me. But writing a screenplay that within months becomes a widely released film is like Ayatollah Khameini taking a phone call from me and agreeing to dismantle Iran's nuclear program: impossible. So the project of authoring a screenplay that might influence the public debate on an issue that (in my overly optimistic assessment) would become moot in a few years seemed futile. But by the end of March of 2012, after I was still hearing the same type of weak talk and indecision about the Iranian nuclear issue, I resolved to drop everything and work on the story as an e-book, which can be released instantly. By 2012, e-books had also gained a far greater acceptance in the market, so self-publishing my novel seemed like a viable strategy for disseminating my doomsday warning about the perils of a nuclear Iran.

6) If you were somewhat politically motivated, why approach this topic in novel form versus non-fiction form? Did you have any concerns about some readers perceiving it as propaganda?

The format of a novel that is heavily based on history, current events, and researched facts has several advantages: a) it can be as informative as a policy paper but far more engaging and entertaining, b) it can explore certain issues in far greater depth, and c) it can conduct certain thought experiments in substantial and profound detail. As for the charge of propaganda, that is inescapable when the topic is at all political or controversial, but I did my best to present a diversity of political views and well-balanced debates about the core questions that the novel plumbs.

7) Please tell us about any of your other upcoming books.

I am toying with the idea of a thriller that is much less controversial (in the sense that it won't be about any hot issue dominating the headlines) and will be more in the genre of science fiction with a focus on questions of memory and perception. I realize that this sounds rather vague and abstract but that's partly because I haven't begun brainstorming about the idea in earnest and partly because I'd rather wait until I've written something before announcing that I've written it!

8) Do you have any links to any excerpts you'd like to share?

The first two chapters are available at this link:


Thanks, Noah.

You can see more from Noah at

The Last Israelis purchase links for various vendors are listed at

Friday, September 21, 2012

Dystopian Cyberpunk and Asian High Fantasy: An interview with Camille Picott

1) Tell us about your book. 

Sulan is a near-future YA book that’s a blend of dystopia and cyberpunk (which I call dystopunk). It stars a Chinese heroine. There aren’t a lot of Asian heroes and heroines in YA lit right now. I wanted to create an Asian heroine kids and teens could admire. 

2) Dystopia is popular right now, but very few dystopia stories have a sovereign default as their precipitating event. Were you at all influenced by recent economic turmoil is setting that background for the book? 

I was definitely influenced by current trends when creating the backdrop for Sulan. I took current events—climate change, global economic turmoil, simmering conflict with North Korea, and the growing power of China—and extrapolated them ten-fold.

3) Tell us about your lead, Sulan

Sulan is a math prodigy who feels pigeon-holed by her gift. The adults in her world all expect Sualn’s life to take a certain path. Sulan resents this and struggles against it. I think a lot of teens struggle against adult expectations. I know I did.

What Sulan really loves is sparring and learning to defend herself. Though she’s not gifted in this area like she is with math, she finds happiness when she’s sparring. Hard work and dedication go a long way to enhance her skill set. She enjoys working hard for something she’s passionate about, as opposed to excelling at something that comes easy to her.

4) How did you approach world-building? Was it more about extrapolating from existing tech or more about highlighting certain techs to enhance your story?

I definitely extrapolated on existing tech. I wanted to create a near-future dystopian setting—one that readers could imagine being our reality in the next 10 – 20 years. (As opposed to a dystopian setting that exists several hundred years in the future.) I expect to see virtual reality as mainstream technology within my lifetime, so it seemed natural to include that.

5) What are the primary themes your book explores?

I covered a lot of themes in the questions above, but one I haven’t talked about yet is the corporate theme in my book. Corporate lobbyists hold a lot of power in our current political system. I was interested in exploring what might happen if corporations and the individuals who lead/own them gained an even larger share of power and control in our country. Again, I took a current trend and extrapolated ten-fold.

6) How do you feel writing young adult books is different than adult books? Is just about age or do you feel there should be a thematic focus difference?

This is a great question! I actually wrote a blog post addressing this very issue. You can read the entire piece here. In summary, here’s what I see as the main differences between YA and adult.

1. Themes and situations. The themes found in Adult vs YA are a vastly different. Examples of themes I've found in adult books: Dating with kids. Work-life-balance. The joys and struggles of maintaining a long term relationship. Parent-child relationships from the parent's POV. Examples of YA themes I've seen: Conflicts with friends. Love angst. Friendship angst. School conflicts. Parent conflicts (from the teen's POV). Coming of age.

2. Pacing. I think adult novels often have a slower pace. Not always, but I definitely think authors can get away with a methodical pace in an adult novel. YA, on the other hand, tends to be very fast-paced—one of the things I personally love about it.

3. Length. It's not very often I see a 700 page YA novel. I see them quite a bit in the adult section. I think long YA books are, in general, shorter.

4. Age of the Protagonists. This is sometimes a good indicator of where a book should be shelved, but not always. One example I can think of is Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. One of the main characters is sixteen at the start of the series, but the series is definitely written for adults. The characters, even the young ones, are all very adult with adult problem. So I don't think protagonist age should be the only thing taken into consideration when calculating the target audience for a novel.

7) Please tell us about some of your other projects.

My current project is an adult book entitled The Warrior & The Flower. It’s a high fantasy in an Asian-inspired setting. I’m aiming to have it out in December. Here’s the synopsis:

Yi, a retired soldier, has lost everything he loves—his wife, his daughter, and his home. With nothing left to live for, he focuses on serving the aging World Emperor. His duty is to transport precious liquid steel arrowheads to the imperial army. Unfortunately for Yi, the cloud shamans—lightning-wielding warriors of the Sky Kingdom—seek the precious commodity as well.
Tulip, the young child of a prostitute, constantly draws the ire of the house madam with her irrepressible curiosity. An impulsive stunt results in a wrathful beating from the madam.
Yi, fleeing from pursuing cloud shamans, witnesses Tulip’s beating. Drawn by the child’s striking resemblance to his own lost daughter, he impulsively negotiates for her purchase—after all, how hard can it be to care for one little girl?
But with Tulip’s inquisitive and precocious nature, he gets more than he bargained for. With the cloud shamans on his heels, Yi must confront his own grief and learn to be a father all over again.

8) Do you have an excerpt you'd like to share?

Sure! Here’s a scene from Chapter 1 of The Warrior & The Flower. (It’s still a working draft, so please excuse anything that seems rough at this point.)

Jen Yi resisted the urge to whistle as he rode. Just because he was less than an hour’s ride from home did not give him an excuse to be a fool. Whistling could attract attention of a menghai, the spiky bovine-like creatures that stalked this area of the mountains.
Sweet little Jian would be terrified if her papa arrived home covered in quills and bleeding from a tumble with a menghai. Sei, on the other hand, would be overjoyed to have menghai quills for her embroidery work, even if she did have to pull them from her husband’s backside. Of course, she would not be pleased if the beast managed to kill him. Damnable menghai could be harder to kill than cloud shamans. The last time he’d come up against a menghai—
Beneath him, Fire Foot hissed and shied sideways.
Yi snapped out of his reverie. He drew his sword, scanning the evergreen forest on either side of the road. He was a fool to let himself daydream in menghai territory. 
“What is it?” he asked his kylin, pressing one hand to the beast’s scaled flank.
Fire Foot snorted and hissed again, his forked tongue flicking out to taste the air. His ears pricked forward beneath a bushy red-and-gold mane. He flared his nostrils, pausing to paw at the ground with a cloven hoof.
Yi inhaled deeply. Fire Foot carried him forward another hundred yards before he caught the scent. Smoke. The smell of burning was faint yet discernible. 
The forest was tall and thick on this section of the road. Yi had little visibility beyond the trees on either side of him and the ribbon of blue sky overhead. He leaned forward, urging Fire Foot toward a rise in the road. From there, he would be able to see more of the land.
Fire Foot broke into a canter, red-and-gold scales rippling beneath the afternoon sun. As they crested the rise, Yi saw a thick column of smoke churning up from the northwest—from a small village comprised of tidy pine cottages.
It was Fen-li. His village. And it was burning. Smoke obscured most of the houses and shops from sight, but great gouts of orange flame licked at the clear sky.
“Sei,” he whispered. “Jian.” He jammed his boot heels hard into Fire Foot.
The kylin shrieked and bolted forward, galloping down the road and toward the village. Yi leaned low over him, wrapping his free hand in the mane.
How could there be a fire in Fen-li? The earth was still wet from the spring snow melts. Even when the elders did burn fields, they were careful and never burned this early in the season.
A shadow flickered above him. It blotted out the light for a fraction of a second. Had Yi not spent fifteen years of his life as a soldier, he likely wouldn’t have noticed it. But in that split second, Yi knew exactly how the fire had started. More specifically, he knew who had started it: the cloud shamans.
They can’t be this far east. They can’t be.
But they were.
Looking up, Yi saw a lone cloud shaman bank sharply on his cloud. Dressed in the tight-fitting brown leathers of the Sky Kingdom, the shaman rode the cloud with his knees slightly bent. As he spun the cloud around to charge at Yi, there were several heartbeats when his body was parallel with the ground.
Yi jammed his sword into his sheath and pulled out his bow. The cloud shaman raised his hands, honey jade bracelets winking pale yellow beneath the sun. Silver chains connected the bracelet to honey jade rings on his fingers. The stone jewelry glowed, the honeycomb interior charged with lightning harvested in the Sky Kingdom.
Fire Foot screamed at the sight of the bracelets, his mane fluffing with anticipation. The kylin craved lightning the way Jian craved sweets. Even from this distance, Fire Foot smelled it. He reared and pranced, straining in its direction.
In that instant, the cloud shaman hesitated. If he fired at Yi, he risked hitting Fire Foot instead—and a lightning-charged kylin was dangerous, even more dangerous than Yi. A kylin in a lightning frenzy was deadly.
That hesitation was all Yi needed. He snatched an arrow from his quiver. It was tipped with a liquid steel arrowhead, the only metal in the Three Kingdoms that could obliterate a shaman’s cloud.
In one smooth notion, he drew and fired. The first arrow barely left his bow before he fired a second one. Both shot forward in whistling arcs.
In his youth, he’d been the best archer in Emperor Chun’s army. Even in retirement, his shots flew true. There was the solid thunk of one arrow hitting flesh, and the telltale hiss as the other pierced the cloud and turned it to insubstantial mist.
The shaman cried out as he plummeted earthward. As he fell, he raised one bracelet and fired. Yi was blinded as lightning blazed forth from the honey jade, flashing straight for him.
He threw himself against the kylin’s neck for protection. Fire Foot reared and hissed with excitement, his body guided by his instinct. Yi felt the kylin take the strike square in the chest. It reverberated through Fire Foot’s body like a gong, sending out shockwaves that made the beast quiver in response.
Fire Foot shrilled in ecstasy. Yi opened his eyes to see the lightning crackling across his scales. It quickly disappeared, absorbed by the kylin’s body. The beast glowed red-gold. His eyes emitted a white-hot light, and even his dark gold antlers glowed.


Sulan: Episode One: The League is now available in physical, ebook, and  audio book format at Amazon.

Please visit the author at

Thursday, September 20, 2012

National Bankruptcy, Climate Change, and Anti-American Terrorists in the Future: A Review of Sulan by Camille Picott

In Camille Picott's Sulan, Episode 1: The League the United States has been reduced to a weakened former shell of itself. A sovereign default, compounding the effects of advanced climate change that has reduced agricultural viability in North America, has left the country poor and scrambling to provide the most basic of services. Famine and refugees camps are common. If that wasn't enough, a terrorist group, the Anti-American League, is waging a bombing and assassination campaign against anyone they deem useful to the country, including innocent college kids. The most powerful entities in this new power structures are multi-national corporations jockeying for position as they work on producing everything from weapons to programs for virtual reality.

Teenage math prodigy Sulan Hom is somewhat shielded from these harsh realities. Her parents are important employees in one of the more powerful corporations. She attends virtual reality school. In such an unstable world, though, no one is truly safe.

There's a lot to like about Sulan. The near-future science fiction setting provides a lot of cool toys and ideas that still come off as rather plausible. I don't want to spoil the book, so I'll note I particularly liked a few things they did with genetic engineering.

The main character herself is likable and proactive, even if she's a bit understandably sheltered at the beginning. Interestingly enough, I'll even note she comes off naive early on, despite the fact her witnessing a terrorist broadcast of a college execution ostensibly is a chief motivating factor for her to start wanting to learn to protect herself. That said, when we're first introduced to her, it's obvious that her issues, despite the horror around her, are really more about more typical adolescent struggles to define themselves and assert some control in a time of responsibility and transition. That said, she doesn't really come off as self-centered, an interesting feat in a book centered around a 16-year-old genius girl living in conditions well superior to many people in the setting. One of my particular bugbears in YA fiction centered around female leads are non-proactive heroines, and Sulan Hom is a character that is doing everything she can to influence her situation.

The primary side characters, her friends, are likable enough. Similar to Sulan, they all a solid combination of teens with believable teen issues and desires who are a just a bit more impressive than your average teen. This is, though, to be expected. By the nature of the setting, these characters represent the children of the elites.

The primary antagonists of the book, the Anti-American League, don't get as perhaps as much depth as probably needed. They certainly come off sinister and present a credible threat, but as presented, generate more than a few questions about the actual plausible nature of the terrorist group represented. Additional geopolitical context perhaps would have benefited our understanding of their League, their goals, and their strategies, and, as such, made them come off as a slightly more realistic, and therefore menacing, terrorist group. It also may be that some of these questions are answered in sequels.

Though the plot overall is brisk, it initially lingers a bit slightly too long on Sulan training in virtual reality. Despite some setting elements introduced to make it clear she's not totally safe even there, it still dampens some of the tension. The second and third acts, though, move along at a solid clip that is exciting without seeming too rushed, despite the relatively short length of the book. There are several nice action scenes combined with more than a few times where the characters have to try and think their way out of a predicament. At the same time, the plot provides plenty of mystery for sequels but still tells a complete and satisfying story arc.

Please stop by tomorrow to read an interview with the author.

Sulan: Episode One: The League is now available in physical, ebook, and  audio book format at Amazon.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sailing Through Life: An interview with Mary Gottschalk

Today I'm talking with Mary Gottschalk about the thematic similarities between her sailing memoir and her upcoming novel and how they both examine emotional maturity.


1) Please tell us about your memoir and upcoming novel.

Both books describe a woman’s journey through “uncharted waters” as she travels towards emotional maturity.

My memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam, covers my own physical as well as emotional journey when my husband and I (both of us roughly 40 years of age and committed urbanites) spent nearly three years sailing from New York to New Zealand via the Panama Canal and the Pacific Ocean. Throughout the voyage, the need to adapt to unfamiliar customs caused me to rethink my own social and spiritual values. At the same time, the voyage enabled me to leave behind many of the emotional games I’d played since childhood.

My novel, A Fitting Place, describes a middle-aged woman whose journey to emotional maturity comes as she tries to balance the demands of a distraught teenage daughter and an unconventional rebound romance after her husband leaves her. As she begins to understand why this compelling and powerful new relationship threatens some of the values she holds most dear, she also begins to understand her own contribution to the failure of her marriage.

2) What inspired you to sit down and write these books?

My reasons for the two books were quite different.

In the case of the memoir, I wanted to tell the story almost from the day the sailing voyage ended, but it was many years before I understood the real impact that the experience had on me. It was one thing to stand on the deck of my yacht and say that I was no longer going to play “emotional games” and that I wanted to march to my own drum. But doing it in the real world, once I went back to work, was a different matter entirely. It took well over a decade for me to realize that approaching life in a new way was bringing a level of personal satisfaction and financial success I’d never imagined would be mine. I needed time and distance to get that perspective.

One of the most challenging parts of the memoir was drawing my husband and myself as three-dimensional characters that my readers would relate to. I found that process exhilarating, and I didn’t want to stop when the memoir was done. Voilá, a novel. I could not have done the novel without the foundation I got from writing the memoir.

3) Memoirs are tricky. To be of general interest, they have to explore themes that go beyond the author simply recounting life experiences. How does your sailing-based travel memoir speak to someone who may on the surface think they aren't interesting in sailing and travel memoirs?

In the sailing world, the path to your destination is not well marked, the route you take depends on the weather, and sometimes you end up someplace very different from where you set out to go.

In other words, sailing is a metaphor for life and life’s mysteries.

It certainly was a metaphor for my life. At age 40, I gave up a successful career for what was supposed to be a five-year circumnavigation of the world. In fact, I didn’t make it around the world and it was ten years before I returned home. But the longer I spent on the ocean where the wind, the weather and the currents were completely out of my control, the more I realized how much energy and emotion I’d wasted during my New York years, based on the illusion that I had control over my day-to-day life. Once I let go of this illusion, I found I had much more energy to devote to things I really cared about. The result was a far more satisfying and financially successful career than I would have had if I’d done the safe thing and stayed on the corporate track in New York.

I suppose the single most important theme in Moonbeam is that you learn the most about yourself when you step outside of your comfort zone, when you have the opportunity/ challenge of dealing with people and customs that are very different from your own. A related theme, which I emphasize in my blog, is that most of the time control over life is an illusion. These themes are, I believe, relevant to everyone, even if they never leave their hometown.

4) You have a memoir and an upcoming novel. Can you tell us a bit about the different processes involving in approaching writing from non-fiction and fiction standpoints?

I am tempted to say that memoir writing is easier, because you know the plot points when you start your story. With a novel, you’re making it up as you go along, with no idea if the story arc really holds together.

But both are hugely challenging. A good memoir has to read like fiction or the reader will lose interest. And it can be very difficult, when looking back over all the real-life events that led to where you are now, to decide which ones were relevant to the story you want to tell. There are dozens of interesting experiences and adventures that don’t appear in Moonbeam because they weren’t relevant to my own growth and development.

By contrast, when you tell a story in a fictional format, you can create the key events and scenes you need to drive the story forward. There’s certainly a to-ing and fro-ing process as you decide which scenes should be relegated to backstory and which are critical to the reader’s understanding of the characters. But I think sometimes it can be easier to jettison something that isn’t working in a novel than in a memoir.

5) What sort of themes do you explore in your novel? How were these informed by your memoir themes and experiences?

A key theme in A Fitting Place, as with Moonbeam, is that you often learn most about yourself when you are confronted by people and situations that challenge your beliefs and values.

In the memoir, much of the stimulus for growth came from trying to adapt to different cultures as we sailed from country to country. Those newly-discovered cultural values caused my husband and me to re-examine what we wanted out of our relationship and out of life itself.

By contrast, my protagonist in the novel remains closely bound to her home base in New York City but becomes emotionally involved in a rebound relationship with someone whose social, intellectual, and spiritual background is completely different from her own. At first, those differences offer an exhilarating sense of possibility, but soon force her to question long-held attitudes toward issues such as loyalty, responsibility, intimacy and gender identity.

6) There's a school of thought that is critical of the usefulness of fiction as a way to comment on the human condition due to its inherent nature. Fiction, it's been said, is just the art of telling entertaining lies. As someone who has written on the human condition in your memoir and now has a novel coming out, could you share your thoughts on these ideas?
In both memoir and fiction, the characters must be complex and three-dimensional or readers will not identify or resonate with their challenges, failures and successes.

But it’s also important to distinguish between factual accuracy and truth. It is very possible—and many memoirs do this—to provide accurate details of the events without ever getting anywhere near the emotional or spiritual truth of the underlying story. By the same token, a variety of different fictional settings, if done well, can convey the same emotional and spiritual truth.

7) Please tell us about your future writing plans.

I have set my novel aside temporarily, in order to prepare for my imminent trip to Nepal as a caregiver with Above & Beyond Cancer, a journey that I expect will challenge me both physically and emotionally. In November or December, I will return to the novel to incorporate the thoughtful and insightful comments of my beta readers. I would like to have it out next spring or summer.

I already have an idea for my next novel, the background of which will be the conflicts between the Catholic Church as a bureaucratic institution and the social and spiritual values held by many sincere Catholics. I do not intend to focus on the pedophile scandal, but rather on issues such as homosexuality, birth control and abortion. Again, a key theme will be the growth that comes from stepping outside your comfort zone.

I am a contract writer for The Iowan, a general interest magazine that covers a variety of topics in my adopted state. It gives me a great excuse to poke into all sorts of activities I’d never get to see otherwise. I also do occasional contract writing assignments for other organizations around Des Moines.

8) Do you have any excerpts you'd like to share?

My website has an excerpt from Moonbeam, covering one of the extraordinary growth experiences I had in Tonga.

Thanks, Mary.

Sailing Down the Moonbeam is available on Amazon and from Barnes & Noble

You can find more from Mary at

Her blog currently focuses on the challenges of the Nepali trip. Once she returns, the blog will go back to its focus on issues related to the illusory nature of trying to control everyday life, as well as the growth that comes from stepping outside your comfort zone.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Religious Transition in Tudor England Revisited: An interview with Nancy Bilyeau about The Crown

In January, I first interviewed Nancy about the release of The Crown, her Tudor-era mystery novel to positive critical reviews and even an award nomination.  As her publisher just re-released the book in paperback, Nancy and I talked briefly about her debut novel experience and her upcoming sequel.


1) For those who didn't see the first interview or haven't had a chance to read your book yet, tell us a bit about The Crown.

It’s a historical thriller set in 1537 England, written in the first person from the perspective of a 26-year-old Dominican novice at a priory in Dartford. Sister Joanna Stafford learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake for treason in a rebellion. Defying the rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin’s side. Arrested for interfering with the king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London. She is forced to return to her priory as a spy: to save her father’s life she must find an ancient relic—a crown so powerful, it may possess the ability to end the Reformation.

2) The Crown has been out for nine months and now is going into paperback. It's well-received including some awards nominations. Please tell us a bit about that.

I’m extraordinarily grateful for the response. I didn’t know what to expect, truly, and you know the first review I received was not so good. I was crushed: I slept three hours that night. Then more reviews came in, some mixed and some positive, and then some more positive ones. I think the good reviews from Oprah and Kirkus and Entertainment Weekly gave the biggest boosts. But I try not to get caught up in it, because you start to feel confident about the writing after a good review and then crushed all over again by a bad review. It’s not a great way to live your life. The award nomination—the Crime Writers’ Association’s Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award—was a surprise. I opened the email first thing in the morning—because of the time difference between London and New York, I sometimes have emails waiting for me when I wake up—and it was one from my editor at Orion Books, telling me about making it onto the short list for the award. I didn’t end up winning but I was ecstatic to get as far as I did.

3) Not every debut necessarily goes well. Timing, subject matter, and the ebb and flow of trends can work against authors. Are you surprised at how well your story of a curious nun drawn into religious and political turmoil has done?

Yes! While I was writing it, I was filled with doubts about it—should I have written in the first person? Will people be turned off by a nun protagonist? I had no idea if I could get an agent, much less sell it in America and nine foreign countries. I tried to write the sort of book that I would enjoy reading myself. I really love historical thrillers.

4) Some authors do nothing but look forward. Authors agonize over every perceived mistake. Your reviews, overall, are quite positive. That being said, is there anything you wished you could have done differently?

I wish I had written it five years earlier. This is a volatile time to be a debut novelist. I just have to hang in there, and hope that no matter what, people do like to read stories, and I need to work hard to deliver the best stories I can.

5) Your sequel isn't out until spring of next year, but can you give us a little sneak peak about The Chalice?

It’s a darker book than The Crown, it’s less of a murder mystery and more of an international thriller. But also there is more romance.


Thanks, Nancy.

If you'd like to see more from Nancy, please visit 

Here is a trailer for The Crown:

Here is also a three minute video interview with Nancy:

The Crown is now available in paperback at all major bookstores and online at all major vendors including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Deceitful and Bloodthirsty Gothic Vampires: An interview with J.A. Lynch

Today I'm talking with J.A. Lynch about her Gothic-inspired novel of a woman and brutal not-so-sparkly vampires, Within the Shadows.

1) Tell us about your book.

My book tells the story of Giselle Bergman, an eighteen year old who embarks on the darkest of journeys. Through betrayals, heartbreak, harsh realizations, Giselle learns quickly that she has to count on herself if she is to survive the multitude of creatures out to hunt, torture and kill her. She is on the run of her life, and her allies are few and far between, and the only one she can truly count on is Antoine, a vampire who has a taste for the grander things in life, but can she really trust him?

If you like your books full of Gothic elements: suppression, submission, highly sentimental, and where the characters are often overcome by anger, sorrow, surprise, and especially, terror; suffering from raw nerves and a feeling of impending doom,then Within the Shadows is the book for you.

2) What inspired you to write this particular story?

Vampires, the paranormal, horror and my love for all things Gothic inspired my first novel, Within the Shadows (something started nearly 3 years ago). It is no secret that I am a crazy, hardcore fan of vampire literature, and I suppose you could say that I wanted to put my own stamp on the genre. I wanted to create something completely different to anything out there, and I achieved that with my book. It is fast paced, edgy and something you won’t forget in a hurry.

3) Tell us about your lead, Giselle.

Giselle is a normal girl, with normal aspirations in life. In her head she has it all figured out, until things unravel before her eyes in a very bad way. She was brought up to trust in people and care for everyone around her. She of course lays to much trust and dependence on Alex, her 'best-friend', for him to tear it all apart. Giselle is too trusting, and this lets her down on many occasions, but each time she falls, something begins to grow inside her, and unbeknownst to her, this growth will be a valuable asset in her future. She can at times be frustrating in the decisions that she makes, but being a naive young woman, she doesn't have the experience or balls to say no. This is something that also grows, and we will see Giselle grow into a very powerful lead in the future.

4) Please give us a little insight into some of he men Giselle deals wih in this book.

Firstly, we have Alex. The best-friend all girls want to date. He is a chameleon. He runs hot and cold more often than not, and is poisonous. Of course, I can't give too much away, but all is not what it seems with Alex, and although you will learn to loathe him, there will be a glimmer of hope about his 'humanity'.

Then we have, Marc. The guy that throws it all away for a quick fumble with the school harlot, or is that the case? Marc has been Giselle's steady boyfriend for quite sometime, and they seem like the 'perfect' couple, but Alex and Marc walk in different circles and there is a genuine hate going on between these two. There is certainly no chance of a 'bromance' here.

Hmm, Leonid (Alex's dad) - well, Leonid is old school vampire hard, but there is something very different in him. Something that glows, and although he is responsible for a lot of the hurt in Giselle's life, he is also the reason she survives. He's really not the beast he comes across as.

Oooh, Antoine....Antoine. The 'one' who will be there for the long run. He's a savior where Giselle's concerned, he's the light at the end of the tunnel. He's the one to watch for.

Xavier, the dark one who has the creepiest agenda for Giselle. but there is more to his story than just wanting her as his Shadow Queen.

5) There are a lot of books featuring vampires in them out there. What sets your book apart from others?

My book is completely different. There is no whirlwind love affair, there isn't much of a happy ending (yet) and my vampires are blood thirsty, they thrive on lies, betrayal and deceit. I've created them in a different manner. There are two breeds, the classical and the inheritors, and then there is Giselle.
The whole world is new and unique and is edgy.

6) This is the first Shadow World novel. How many are planned for this series?

So far, there are three books planned, Within the Shadows, Escaping Shadows, and Fighting Shadows.

7) Please tell us about some of your other non-Shadow World projects.

I'm also working on a new series, WitchBlade: The Hunters Saga, which is planned for release late 2013, and also planned for 2013 is Ice Goddess and Heatstroke.


If you'd like to learn more about her and her books, please check at her webpage at or check out additional stops on her blog tour at   ttp://

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Great Library of Alexandria Revisited: An Interview with K. Hollan Van Zandt

Last week I reviewed Written in the Ashes, a look back at one scenario covering the final destruction of the Library of Alexandria. Today I'm talking with the author, K. Hollan Van Zandt.


1) Please tell us about your book.

Written in the Ashes is the untold story of the events that led up to the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria, Egypt. It features the powerful women of the ancient world, including Hypatia, the first known female philosopher/scientist, and a small pagan resistance who were trying to save themselves, and all knowledge from annihilation. And there is a significant love triangle, of course!

2) You could have easily focused a book about the destruction of the last remnants of the Library of Alexandria around the philosopher Hypatia, such as was done in the recent film Agora. You went a slightly different route with the character of Hannah. Tell us a bit about why you choose that character focus.

(Laughs) I think I was raised on too much Disney to kill my protagonist. Besides, I wanted someone from outside of Alexandria for who the city and it’s wonders would be fresh and astonishing. I wanted an experience of heightened sensory beauty for the reader seeing the city from the eyes of a shepherd girl, not someone who was already central to the Great Library. Also, I could find a more drastic character arch in Hannah, and transformation interests me as a writer. Who are we, and how do we become who we become? – This is one of my central driving questions as a novelist.

3) What got you interested in the Library of Alexandria?

I dated an Egyptologist, and we had a lot of interesting arguments about history.

4) The history of Alexandria and the Library from around that time is spotty. What sort of research underlies your work? There are various accounts separated by decent spans on time on the final fate of the Library and its holdings.

History may be the bones of my book, but myth is its blood. I did all my research from original source material in university libraries, but even sources diverge when it comes to Egypt. This left me plenty of room to play as a novelist, and I ultimately went with the most exciting story to tell. (I wanted a big fire. I interviewed a lot of firemen.) So there was that. But also, the librarians of the Great Library are well-documented up to Hypatia, and she is the last known librarian. So it seemed obvious to me that the library ended with her. It was a hypothesis I was never able to completely disprove in my research, so I ran with that thread. All information after the early fourth century was controlled by Christian scribes, and as we know, history is written by the victors. What really happened? Read the book and decide...

5) Is there anything you learn about this period you learned during your research that surprised you?

The latrines had no doors. In fact, the public latrine was an enormous room with benches all around the walls, and the benches had holes in the center. And everyone did their business while discussing the town gossip, all within full view of each other! I kept trying to find a way to write this into a scene, but realized that the reader would find it too unbelievable, so I never did write it, even though it was true!

6) Is there anything about this historical period and location you think people tend to misunderstand?

Rome and Athens have reputations as centers of the ancient world, but when it comes to knowledge, these cities are dwarfed by what was happening in Alexandria. Aristarchus developed a heliocentric solar system model circa 300BC, and Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth quite precisely just a short time later. Yet, people often refer to how we thought the Earth was flat even in the 1400s. ‘Taint so, folks. We knew we lived on a ball 2000 years before Columbus sailed the seas. If you wonder what happened, and where all that knowledge went, it can be summarized by the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria as a precursor to The Dark Ages.

7) Any theories on what might have been some of the most influential material lost in the destruction of the Library holdings?

We know for certain that Homer had written several other epics that were lost. We lost the complete writings of Plato, Archimedes, Eratosthenes, Aristarchus, and potentially even Socrates. We lost many of the great Greek plays from Euripedes and others. We certainly lost several plays by Aeschylus, even making the origin of the rest of his work all the more debatable. We probably lost how the Great Pyramids were built. We lost all the original medical discoveries- who made them, such as the pulse and the circulation of blood. We lost the works of Galen. These names won’t mean much unless you look them up. Suffice it to say that the Industrial Revolution would have come about 1500 years earlier had the Great Library remained standing. And we never would have known the Dark Ages at all. The loss today would be the equivalent of the entire internet winking out overnight, never to be rebooted.

8) You've made no claims that your particular narrative is a straight factual account. Instead, you've talked about it being a synthesis of legend and fact. How did you approach what to include and not include?

My mentor, Tom Robbins, often begins his lectures by stating that the first words any human ancestor said to another around that proverbial first fire, were probably not, “Pass me that haunch of mammoth meat,” but, “Tell me a story.” What does the story I am telling matter to you unless it is a great story? So I say, this story has some truth. But to make it a truly great story, it also needed to have some fiction. If you want truth, go read the history books. I have read them. You are in for a dry read and I hope you speak Latin, Greek, and Aramaic. Or you could go on a wonderful adventure that synthesizes some of the truth, and invites you to feel something that expands your humanity. We are human, in the end, so what matters to us is not fact, but the feelings of other people- our relationships, if you will. And by reading a book, you take on new relationships with those characters, and if you are lucky, and the novelist is trustworthy, you will experience epiphanies because you will be stretched to see life in new ways. That is the purpose of fiction.

9) Please tell us about some of your future projects.

There is a TV series in the works that is based on this novel. I have two more books in this series (The Mediterranean Trilogy) slated. There is a children’s novel I am now completing about Mark Twain and a mockingbird who wants to be a novelist. I’d also like to write a screenplay about an eco-terrorist. Lots of ideas! 


If you'd like to read more about her, please visit her website at

Written in the Ashes is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A SWAT Ninja Zealot in the Gritty Shadows of Dystopian New York: An interview with Christian Porter

Today I'm talking with Christian Porter about his thriller, Shadow Precinct.


1) Please tell us about Shadow Precinct.

A: Shadow Precinct is the story of Everett Santeaux, a man who has been trained since a child to become a master in hand to hand combat techniques and applied technology called a zealot. His goal as such is to help in the recollection of firearms, which have been heavily restricted in this alternate reality United States. A mob boss is found murdered and he is asked to help investigate. In doing so, a whole bunch of stuff unfolds that push the story forward and hopefully keep the reader guessing.

2) How did you come with the idea of the zealots? Even though by the time your story starts your protagonist is an adult, were you influenced at all by the use of child soldiers in certain parts of the world?

A: That is a really good question. The idea for zealots came from just thinking about life in this type of world and how the hierarchy would shift in terms of the police force, or any organization tasked with protecting citizens for that matter. I knew that I wanted to inject martial arts into the action and story, and I wanted to incorporate that into a system that could seemingly naturally blossom from the events in Shadow Precinct’s story. I started to think, when police need that extra level of force or expertise, they call in the SWAT team, but what if that wasn’t enough? That’s where I kind of started to formulate where zealots would fit into that equation. I wanted an awesome, high tech, ninja SWAT team.

As far as the influence of child soldiers from around the world, I am happy you touched on that because, yes, that definitely helped me formulate ideas about the zealot system. I’m not going to front and say I did exhaustive research about the topic, but I am aware of places like Sierra Leone and Liberia where child soldiers were exploited and the stories are awful. You read or hear some of the first-hand accounts and it’s unbelievable that a child came through that. Conversely, it’s despicable that any human would put a child through that. I wanted to take some of those aspects that are uncomfortable and inject them into the story. The training that zealots are put through in the story is pretty intense, pretty brutal. I want the reader to feel somewhat uncomfortable about what they’re witnessing in hopes that it reflects the desperation of the situation to implement such a program in the first place.

3) Why did you choose to set your story in a dystopian New York City?

A: I wanted to set it in this alternate version of New York City for a couple of reasons. One, New York is one of the most iconic cities in the world, and probably the most instantly recognized American city, I’d think. Visually, it was just very intriguing for me to imagine that city mutating under the context of this alternate reality that I was trying to create. The second reason, and really the main reason, is because of the hip hop influence. The genre was born in New York and the main story takes place in the year 1997, which is during one of the golden eras of hip hop to me. There is a consistent hip hop heartbeat throughout the story whether it be lines that reference different albums, or excerpts from songs from that particular time period. I wanted my love for the music to shine through in a subtle way and give other fans of the genre some cool Easter eggs. I think every song that I reference in the book, a true hip hop fan will give me a slow nod of approval, at least that’s my hope. I was careful in selecting the songs that I reference because I wanted them to play into the story in different ways. I hope that is something else that people will catch on to as they’re reading it.

4) Well, the premise of this book promises both a lot of tense mystery and action. What kind of actions scenes can readers look forward to?

A: I think people should expect some intriguing detective mysteries connected with entertaining fight scenes throughout. I want people to get the feel of watching a intricately choreographed fight scene from a classic movie with a high tech spin on it. I tried to break up the seriousness a bit with some humor interspersed throughout as well.

5) Most novels don't have concept art, but yours does. Can you tell us a bit about your creative process in developing this book?

A: Well, after I graduated from college I got a job in the video game industry as a programmer. Doing that, I just saw the use of concept art pretty much through every phase of our design process. I always had a respect for artists because I can’t draw to save my life. I’m also a very visual person, so I wanted to go beyond my words and add a little bit more to jumpstart the reader’s imagination. I’m fortunate that Luther Berry, the artist that did the cover and the interior art, is a very talented. We were able to get a good vibe going and he was able to see my vision. It was very cool to see my ideas realized in that way. My love for comics and manga played a part in that as well.

6) Do you plan any sequels?

A: Yeah, for sure. My original outline was for a trilogy. I know that’s the cool thing to do now, unnecessarily stretch your material to fit into that context, but I want to reassure people that this was the original plan! I’m working on the follow up now and it’s going really well.

7) Do you have any other unrelated stories in the works?
A: I do have some ideas for some other things, but the main focus is Shadow Precinct right now and making sure that’s in a solid place. I just want to make sure each part of the Shadow Precinct saga is better than the last.

8) Are there any authors who have inspired or influenced you?

A: Yeah, definitely. The first one I always say is Phillip K. Dick. Between Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Ubiq, those two stories just inspired me so much to write science fiction. The Blade Runner film that was based on Electric Sheep gave me a lot of visual inspiration as well. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 was another one that inspired me with his unorthodox storytelling and use of humor in dire situations. Junot Diaz’ The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao is another one of my favorites. I just really love the way that book is written and it helped me build confidence in letting myself show through my writing. The Watchmen graphic novel is essential for me. George R. R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire), Hiroshi Sakurazaka (All You Need Is Kill), and Masashi Kishimoto (Naruto manga), are all authors I highly respect and their works are definitely inspirational to me as well.


Thanks, Christian.

You can find more about Christian and Shadow Precinct at and at the publisher (

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Death of Knowledge: A review of Written in the Ashes by Kaia Van Zandt

Although such things go in cycles, many people are often seduced by a sort of Whig view of history, wherein the barbarous past steadily advanced to the morally, scientifically, and politically superior present. People have repeatedly pronounced many times that the "End of History" or some variation.

Some of this comes from the ignorance of what our ancestors truly knew. While some ignorance is just the result of arrogant presumption, there's the sad reality that the carefully gathered knowledge of the lessons of the past were also dispersed by the more brutal forces of history and humanity.

Such is the case with the legendary Great Library of Alexandria. This storehouse of knowledge and wisdom was attacked multiple times throughout its history. It's final fate is unclear, and different sources have conflicting information.Nonetheless, we know that we loss a great collection of knowledge. This final destruction of the Library is the focus of Written in the Ashes by Kaia Van Zandt.

The novel details the experience of Hannah, a Jewish shepardess, who is kidnapped by slave traders and brought to Alexandria. Her natural musical talents and intelligence quickly have her leaving the life of a manual servant and bring her into contact with the philosophers of the Library, including Hypatia, the headmistress. Of course, Hypatia had political and theological enemies, as thus Hannah is drawn into the dangerous conflict in an unstable Alexandria.

One of the difficulties in historical knowledge is presenting setting information in enough depth that readers appreciate the setting, but not in a way that is intrusive and distracting. As Hannah starts an outsider, her exposure to Alexandrian society, the Library, and certain mysticism elements (and local romantic interests) flows very naturally. She's a likable and believable protagonist with good emotional depth. In addition to Hannah, numerous other characters, including Hypatia, are well-drawn, though some of the antagonists could perhaps have benefited from being presented with slightly more nuance.

The presented historical detail is rich and engaging. Though the librarians and philosophers of the Great Library are romanticized more than a little bit, the often harsh nature of the city and the time are generally presented in a forthright manner.This is definitely not a sanitized version of the ancient past, and there is more than a little casual violence and frightening scenes.

It is important to note, however, that given the paucity of information on the time and general dramatic license, that several key elements of the book are as perhaps as much legend as history (including some of the aforementioned mystic elements). The author, however, makes no claims that this is a straight-forward historical narrative, but instead directly explains in her notes that she's presenting a synthesis of legend and what's known to present a plausible narrative.

The tension is built effectively from the slave catchers at the beginning to the burgeoning discord in the city. I found the dramatic flow gripped me just as effectively in this novel as in many of the military-related historical fiction works I've been consuming as of late. While this may or may not be the true historical account of the fate of the last vestiges of the Great Library of Alexandria, it certainly is a gripping tale.

Please visit for more information.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Route 66: The Mother Road to Self-Discovery: An interview with PC Zick

Today I'm talking with PC Zick about her road trip novel of self-discovery, Live from the Road.


1) Please tell us about your book.

Live from the Road takes the reader on an often humorous, yet harrowing, journey as Meg Newton and Sally Sutton seek a change in the mundane routine of their lives. Joined by their daughters, they set off on a journey of salvation enhanced by the glories of the Mother Road. Along the way, they are joined by a Chicago bluesman, a Pakistani liquor storeowner from Illinois, a Marine from Missouri, a gun-toting momma from Oklahoma, and a motel clerk from New Mexico. Meg, mourning for her dead son, learns to share her pain with her daughter CC. When Sally’s husband of almost thirty years leaves a voice mail telling her he’s leaving, both Sally and her daughter Ramona discover some truths about love and independence.

Death, divorce and deception help to reveal the inner journey taking place under the blazing desert sun as a Route 66 motel owner reads the Bhagavad-Gita and an eagle provides the sign they’ve all been seeking. Enlightenment comes tiptoeing in at dawn in a Tucumcari laundromat, while singing karaoke at a bar in Gallup, New Mexico, and during dinner at the Roadkill Café in Seligman, Arizona. The four women’s lives will never be the same after the road leads them to their hearts – the true destination for these road warriors.

2) Please tell us about your main characters. 

The narrator is Meg, a fifty-something divorced mother of two. She's a self-described curmudgeon who must face the death of her son. She didn't know it would happen on this trip. Her best friend is Sally, married mother of two - same age. Sally's husband leaves her in a voice mail while they're on the journey. CC is Meg's daughter. She's a musician who sings her way across the country in karaoke bars. Ramona is Sally's daughter and CC's best friend. She has her own secrets which are revealed on this journey. Each of the women change during the trip and make major decisions about their respective lives when it's all over.

3) What is it about the road trip, and Route 66 for that matter, that resonates so well with Americans?

Route 66 represents change and adventure for many people. It follows the path of the Trail of Tears, and the dust bowl victims in the 1930s also traveled this road. Its legend grew along with its roadside kitsch when authors such as Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck began writing about it. Travel is the opportunity for us to step outside of our worlds. We can be completely different people once we hit the road and leave our comfort zones. I think that's why it's so appealing.

4) You have a rich cast of characters and locations in your book. Were any these inspired by real places or people?

The locations are all real and most of them I visited on my own Route 66 journey in 2007. The characters were inspired by people I met along the way and each time I met one of them, I knew someone was trying to tell me to write a novel about a trip down the Mother Road.

5) What are the fundamental themes your book explores?

The book stresses the importance of communicating our deepest feelings. The plot explores the relationship between parents and children and the complications that arise when emotions are kept bottled up inside. We are fearful of hurting others or bothering them when in fact we hurt them the most when we aren't honest with them.

6) You left a career as a teacher to become a full-time writer. What went into that decision?

I'd lost my love of teaching after seventeen years. I kept wondering what else I knew how to do and the answer kept coming back to writing. While still teaching, I began picking up freelance work for local papers and publications. After one year of freelancing, I realized I'd made $5,000 just for writing in my spare time. I approached the editor of the local newspaper, and he said he'd hire me full time anytime I was ready. I went to my principal and told him I'd be leaving at the end of the school year. That was June 2001, and I've never looked back. I've made my living as a writer or editor ever since.

7) Please tell us about some of your other work.

I've published four other books. Three of them are novels and one is nonfiction. Currently, I'm finishing the second draft of another novel, Trails in the Sand. Again, I come back to the theme of families. In this one, the family must go back several generations to heal the wounds inflicted years ago. In the background, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the environment. It explores the process of being able to recover and heal after destruction to create a peaceful future. I hope to have it finished by the fall.


Thanks, P.C.