Sunday, March 31, 2013

Voodoo, the KKK, time travel, and redemption: An interview with historical fiction/paranormal author Lane Heymont

1) Please tell us about your book.


The Freedman and the Pharaoh’s Staff set in Reconstruction-era Louisiana, and blends the boundaries between science fiction, fantasy, and as you can imagine, American history.

In 1871, the United States government has nearly eradicated the Ku Klux Klan, afraid their fanaticism will inspire other Southern whites to rise up against the Union. A very real threat.

The Klan’s remaining forces have retreated to Louisiana – as Deep South as you can get – in order to escape justice and regroup.

Jeb, a former slave, rescues his brother-in-law Crispus from the Ku Klux Klan, pulling him into a world of Creole Voodoo, hatred, time travel, and redemption. The two brothers-in-law set out to stop Verdiss and his Klan followers from using the Pharaoh’s Staff, a magical artifact from ancient Egypt. Soon, Jeb and Crispus learn Verdiss’ diabolical plan and discover that he serves an evil far more insidious than himself. In the end, Jeb and Crispus must stop an entire people from eradication and each find redemption for his own past sins.

2) What inspired this book?

It originally began as a short story I wrote for an African-American literature class I took in undergrad. During the class, I fell in love with the slave narratives, so I expanded the short story. Ironically, I ended up switching the two main protagonists’ roles.

About the same time I was reading about Nazi occultism, in particular, Hitler and the Occult by Ken Anderson. It detailed Hitler’s bizarre obsession with the supernatural. He was convinced he could conquer the world by possessing all these magical/religious items. The Spear of Longinus, the Holy Grail, and spent considerable resources on discovering time travel, super soldiers, Atlantis, and Norse runes.

The two ideas – slave narratives and Hitler’s twisted desires – blended together and The Freedman and the Pharaoh’s Staff was born.

3) Tell us about your main characters.

There are several main characters – I like stories where you experience the same events through a wide spectrum of perspectives.

Jebidiah Johnson, a former slave and now freedman, is a hardened soldier who fought during the Civil War. He’s haunted by the horrific violence he witnessed, and is determined to live a life with his family. He’s the perfect soldier, but doesn’t want to cause any trouble, or get dragged into any.

Crispus Moorfield, Jeb’s brother-in-law, is as opposite as they come. A naïve activist, he has never truly experienced any horrors that come with racism. This has led to a complete lack of fear of repercussions for his actions. He’s reckless, and more dangerous to his beliefs than he thinks.

There are two other main characters: Verdiss, and Fallon, but their journeys change who they are, so I’ll leave that for reader to discover.

4) What primary themes does your book explore?

The power of unity, the depth of damage racism can cause, and redemption.

5) Though your story touches on some very powerful and real
 historical injustices, you have a heavy fantasy/paranormal component.
How does the use of such elements enhance historical narratives? Did
it even make the process of writing the book and the thematic work
more difficult?

Great question. I think using fantasy elements in historical settings is such a great experience, both to write and read. If we stop to think – at most points in history various cultures already considered what we call fantasy facts of life. Humankind pursued witches, mythical sea beasts, and up until Europeans fully explored Africa, gorillas were considered mythical creatures – half man, half monkey.

Weaving fantasy and science fiction elements into The Freedman and the Pharaoh’s Staff, a story set in Reconstruction Louisiana, had its difficult moments. I really had to follow a set of laws governing what fantasy elements I would allow, what science fiction would be entertained, and how normal people of the time would react to those events.

Voodoo was, and is, still very much alive in Louisiana. Especially in the bayous. So, that flowed smoothly through the story. Also, I did not want fireballs and lightning bolts shooting through the skies like some Lord of the Rings movie. Voodoo magic is subdued, as magic goes, and having real practices to base mine on, proved that much easier.

What I found most difficult it was intertwining the science fiction aspects of the story in a way that felt believable. We don’t ever see a time machine or hear science jargon or even learn the logic behind it. The focus is on how our modern, aka 1870’s, characters would respond to any technology they witness.

6) Your academic background is partially in history. Were the eras of
your books eras you've previously spent a lot of time studying?

Yes and no. I was always more of a medieval, poetry/philosophy person. Being Jewish, I have a deep and painful connection to World War II. Also, my grandfather oversaw the largest Jewish DP camp in Europe after the war – horror stories…and photos frequented my youth.

I did have an interest in the Civil War, because it was, and still is, such a powerful moment in our history. Almost a domestic holocaust. Just as World War II was a conflict for the soul of us as a race, the Civil War was a battle for the soul of our country. It defined who we are as Americans – would we choose tyranny over freedom? Righteousness over sadism?

If either war had been lost to evil…humanity would have fallen.

7) Please tell us about your general research process and resources.

At the time I was writing The Freedman and the Pharaoh’s Staff I was in school full-time for my undergraduate degree. I spent every minute in between classes at the school library, doing research. There, I used a lot of online resources – the most difficult part was sifting through crummy information sites and finding the real, great ones.

Researching Voodoo was a lot of fun. Several of my friends are from Haiti, or their parents are, so I got to interview them. Besides having great conversations with great people, the subtle nuance in the information they gave was amazing.

At home, stacks of books surrounded my computer. There’s too many to count, but some included:

· Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Freedom
· Hitler’s Occult War by Michael Fitzgerald
· Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 by Eric Foner
· Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon
· Degrees of Freedom: Louisiana and Cuba after Slavery by Rebecca J. Scott

8) What other projects do you have planned for the future?

Right now I’m working on a screenplay with my writing partner Michael Klein of The MAK Company out in L.A., which is exciting! I also have a few books on the side burner. So, stay tuned!

9) Where can readers find out more about you?

You can find me on Twitter (@LaneHeymont), on Facebook, Goodreads, and on my website


Thanks, Lane.

The Freedman and the Pharaoh’s Staff is available in paperback and for the Nook and Kindle.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Your Horse Doesn't Love You: An interview with historical fiction author Sue Millard

1) Please tell us about Coachman. 

Good-looking and ambitious George Davenport travels to London with his bride Lucy, determined to make the most of his skill in driving a four-in-hand of horses. It’s 1838. Queen Victoria is crowned, and England is at peace, but it isn't a good year to be a coachman.

George finds employment with William Chaplin, the “Napoleon of coaching”, but railways are about to open across the country and kill off the coaching trade. George loves both his work and his wife, so he has a lot to come to terms with… even before the boss’s daughter starts to stalk him.

2) What was your inspiration for this book?

In 1994 a friend showed me a letter written by William Chaplin, which a bookseller had bought at auction and brought to show her. Neither of them could read his writing. I could… so I got the job of transcribing it. That sparked my curiosity about Chaplin. I knew, hazily, some of the background of my subject. I’d read of him before as “the Napoleon of coaching” in the 1820s and 30s. I was already knowledgeable about horses and had been driving my Fells for a good many years. I owned a lot of books about driving and I’d read accounts of stage coach rides by De Quincey, Dickens and Thomas Hood. However it was my own experience, plus the discovery that coach travel had been replaced very rapidly by rail travel, which gave me the interesting combination of facts and a story that hadn’t been told before.

3) Please tell us a bit about your main characters.

George Davenport is a young English coachman, born and bred to the trade, whose skills are at their height during the “Golden Age of Coaching” in the 1830s. He’s moved about the country to gain experience and better himself and at the beginning of Coachman, he is on his way from Carlisle to London hoping for a share of the lucrative trade in and out of the capital. For the first time in his life, though, he’s got someone else to consider – his landlady’s daughter Lucy Hennessy, to whom he has proposed marriage. Lucy has a rough background – how rough, George doesn’t find out until much later. The tensions in their relationship, and others’, are about the conflicts of work and money versus love and responsibility.

4) Due to the lead character's profession, you spend a lot of time on horse-related content. What sort of things do people often get wrong about horses in books?

One assumption is that your horse loves you. That may be quite wide of the mark. He likes you to be his herd leader, to lead him to food or to provide it, and to reassure him that you know what you are doing and will keep him safe. Given the choice, he wouldn’t put a saddle on his back or a bit between his jaws, pull a carriage for miles along a road or gallop at top speed across country: He does those things to please you because he accepts your leadership and because your society reassures him. Doglike devotion and cute behaviour are foreign to him.

In both books and movies, in battle or suspense situations we are shown horses screaming with fear. However, horses’ fear, unlike humans’ and primates’, doesn’t translate into vocalisation. The noise you would actually hear is that of hooves running rapidly away.

For that reason, your characters driving a carriage can NOT abandon it at the roadside like a car, unless you want to plot a horrendous accident. The “engine” is never out of gear until you unhitch the horses from the carriage. You always need someone to take charge of them.

Finally there’s the assumption that you can give your hero or heroine extra machismo if they ride a stallion. It may work for the reader by association of ideas, but in horse society the mare is the boss! Unless you can also write about how the hero manages his stallion in the company of strange mares… he’s better off riding a gelding.

5) Please tell us a bit about your research process and resources.

I only started to write historical books when I found material that hadn't been dealt with before – the letter from William Chaplin that attracted my attention to the road coaching trade. Coaching figures in many books about the history of driving  – so I started reading what was on my bookshelves – and re-reading. “Write what you know” however had to be supported by a lot of delving. I started with the Dictionary of National Biography, plus his family tree from his great-grand-daughter, my neighbour. I realised that there had been a big change – a national shift in habits – from travelling the roads by horsepower to travelling on rails, by steam.

I knew that the most interesting way to deal with national events was to write fictional characters into them. So I had to invent someone whose life would touch Chaplin’s; make my hero cross paths with him to find the heart of my story; and perhaps weave in a few anecdotes that are known about Chaplin.

No novel has ever taken me so long to write! What I couldn’t find, back in 1994, were the first-hand accounts on which to base this character’s life. They were all in expensive out of print books. So the story stalled until the advent of the World Wide Web and the digitization of books by Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive. It was only then that I began to find the personal accounts, the primary sources that showed the attitudes and habits of former coachmen, and the visual evidence of contemporary prints and paintings. I also used the Old Bailey records on-line to find contemporary rulings on crimes, and some were so closely tied to my time period and location that they were woven in and became pivotal events and characters in the narrative.

The British Postal Museum and Archive – again online – provided photocopied original material for other essential scenes in the book.

Historical directories by Pigot and Mannix have been invaluable for character names, place names, typical businesses, inns and coaching routes. I reconstructed coach timetables from such directory entries, though I also relied heavily on the collected data in the Directory of Stage Coach Services 1836 by Alan Bates.

I indulged myself by giving my hero the name of my great-grandfather who had been a “domestic coachman” in a slightly later era.

I really loved the research I did for Coachman, so trimming information out to focus on the story was very hard work.

6) Do you have a link to any excerpts you'd like to share?

The Kindle edition on Amazon has the opening passage in which George is on his way to London seeking work, and has to take over the reins of a stage because the designated coachman is too drunk!



7) Please tell us briefly about your other work.

My poetry pamphlet “Ash Tree” is coming out in late summer 2013, and so I expect to be working with the editor of Prole Books ( in April and May to make sure it’s exactly right for publication. I’ve currently stalled in the middle of a sequel to my horseracing novel Against the Odds, but once I’ve got “Ash Tree” perfected, that’s what I’ll be going back to.

8) Where can readers find out more about you?

The easiest way is to look at my web site, and my blog at I’m also on Facebook – Sue Millard – and Twitter – @jackdawebooks.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Secret Bigger Than A Girl Dreamed: An interview with YA fantasy author Haley Fisher

1) Please tell us about your book. 

Rising Calm is young adult fantasy about a sixteen-year-old girl. Her parents are distant around she and her younger sister, like they don’t quite know how to raise children now that they had them, so Cara Weaver, my protagonist, spends a lot of her time taking care of her sister. She just moved for the eighth time to a new state, and when she starts school she meets two boys who have just moved in as well. They’ve kept completely to themselves until she comes, and when they seem to have no problem with getting to know her, Cara becomes curious and just a little wary. But the secret she believes they’re keeping is bigger than she could have dreamed, and she’s about to find herself in the middle of it.

2) What inspired this book?

There are a lot of things that inspired my book and that continually inspire my writing. This particular book came out of my desire to write something that was set in another place, somewhere more medieval in setting, somewhere magical and mystical and new, but also my love of this world and all the things in it. I know our world, so I wanted characters from here for my first book, people I could write well and relate to and really understand. But I had all these fun new ideas that I had gotten everywhere, and I wanted to use those too. So the book became a combination of my love of all kinds of things, inspired by my favorite books and movies and quotes and songs and people.

3) Please tell us about your main characters.

There are a lot of characters in this book, but the three main characters are Cara Weaver, Crispin Calaway, and James Sable. Cara is the protagonist, the girl whose point of view the book is set in. She’s sixteen, takes care of her little sister because her parents don’t, and has been moved from state to state for as long as she can remember. Cara gets along well with new people, isn’t afraid to stand up for herself or what she believes in, and is stronger than she’s been given credit for. She has abilities she doesn’t even know about, and she’s confident in—though not arrogant about—who she is.

Crispin Calaway is one of the two boys Cara meets when she moves to this new school. Blond-haired and blue-eyed, he’s smart and confident and clever, and he’s rarely embarrassed by anything. Crispin gives off the feeling that he knows exactly who he is and who he’s going to be, even though he’s only eighteen. And he’s pretty special in ways that I can’t give away…

James Sable is the second boy. Much quieter than Crispin is, James continually gives off the feel that he knows more than he’ll even let on. He’s dark-haired and enigmatic and carefully observant. James isn’t as quick to speak his mind as Crispin or Cara, but he always has his own opinions. His past was rough, which gives reason for his hardened and slightly closed-off personality, but he isn’t unwilling to open up.

4) What primary themes does your book explore?

Well it is first and foremost a coming-of-age series, like many YA books are. But I also think it will come to be about finding strength when you don’t think you have any left and discovering which people will stand behind you until the end. It’ll be about courage and loss and sacrifice and learning what things are worth dying for.

5) This is your first novel. What challenges did you find in the process that you did not anticipate?

It takes longer than I thought. The writing of the actual book takes a lot of time, which I knew it would, but the entire editing and formatting and publishing process takes a great deal of time, too. I wasn’t quite prepared to be patient for all that time, too! But, honestly, I think the process I went through for this book was much smoother than anyone could have anticipated, and definitely easier than most first time writers get.

6) Do you plan any sequels to this book?

Yep! I sure have. I’m working on the sequel right now, as a matter of fact, and unless I change something there will be three more after that.

7) Please tell us about your other future projects.

Well, I can’t say much because the future projects are so general right now, and I don’t want to give anything away before I’ve had a chance to fully prepare them. I will say I have a couple different ideas for dystopian series and one stand-alone book, as well as the rest of the Rising Calm series. And it’s been hard to try to balance the time to write a little bit of all of them.


Thanks, Haley.

You can find more from Haley at her website.

 Rafflecopter giveaway of both ebook and physical copies of Rising Calm.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What Made The Bard of Avon Tick: An interview with historical fiction author Pauline Montagna

1) Please tell us about Not Wisely but Too Well.

Briefly, Not Wisely but Too Well is the first book in The Stuff of Dreams series about William Shakespeare and the experiences and relationships that make him the great writer he became. This volume takes Will's story to 1593.

2) Why did you decide to write the story of one of the most famous authors in the world? Did his reputation ever intimidate you? 

I am not sure I decided to write this book as much as it decided I should write it.

I had no particular interest in Shakespeare until I picked up a book called Who Wrote Shakespeare? which introduced me to the whole, fascinating, Authorship debate. A couple of years later I saw the documentary Much Ado about Something, which put the Marlovian case. It started me thinking what the relationship between Marlowe and Shakespeare might have been.

You ask whether I felt intimidated. Very much so. So much so that I put the whole project aside at one point and decided to work on something else. But it wouldn't let me go, especially after I visited England and saw Stratford, and Cambridge and Shakespeare's Globe. In the end I had to put aside my other project and get back to it.

3) What historical resources did you draw on in your research?

There is an endless number of books about Shakespeare, Marlowe and the Elizabethan theatre. I spent a blissful summer in our State Library just flitting between one book and another following threads right back to where they began, getting as close to original documents as one can from far away Melbourne, Australia.

My favourite books were the Arden Shakespeare collection, especially the old series that dates back to the 1960s and 70s. They delve deeply into how the plays were written and revised over time. Sometimes a footnote would open a whole new line of enquiry. It was a footnote in the Arden edition of King John that led me to James Burbage, Richard Burbage's father, and his building of The Theatre, London's first purpose built playhouse.

Another favourite was Andrew Gurr's The Shakespearean Playing Companies in which he has gathered every detail about all of the Elizabethan playing companies, their personnel and their plays. He even traces not only where the companies went on tour, but how much they were paid.

And then, of course, you have the most famous original document of all, Henslowe's Diary. Now that is a treasure trove especially for the fate of a couple of Shakespeare's earliest plays. As a transcript of it can be found online. I have it at my fingertips.

One of the historians who has had a large influence on my book is Marlovian biographer, A. D. (Dolly) Wraight. It was she who revealed to me that Robert Greene was not referring to Shakespeare at all in his deathbed tirade against 'the upstart crow'. Another Marlovian whose work has influenced me is Peter Farey whose website is another mine of information.

While I don't necessarily subscribe to their theory, the journal of the Shakespeare-Oxford Society, The Oxfordian,  does publish some well researched scholarly articles, which I have also found useful.

The most useful reference books and websites I came across can be found on my blog The Stuff of Dreams.  Go to the bottom of the page.

4) There will always be fiction included in the tale of a historical personage because we don't have a total transcript of their lives. Writing about an obscure historical figure runs less chance of having people complain about perceived liberties taken with the figure. How did you approach the fiction/history balance?

Well known historical personages do come with a great deal of baggage. Most readers who pick up Not Wisely but Too Well will already have read biographies and novels about William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe and feel that they know them and their life stories well.

However, both novelists and biographers of Shakespeare and Marlowe have the same problem. Not only do we lack a coherent and definitive narrative of their lives, but all we have to go on are a few loosely connected documents which illuminate moments, but which we still have to approach with some caution. Anyone attempting to construct their biographies has to examine those documents carefully, bringing to them their own imagination, knowledge and experience.

However, as many of us have found, we historical novelists seem much better qualified to construct a plausible biography than most literary biographers. I am afraid many of them are prone to making assertions about what their subject did, thought and felt that are based on little more than wishful thinking, and are sometimes not only psychologically implausible but downright laughable. If anyone should be accused of taking liberties with the known facts it is they.

As for myself, I am a stickler for historical accuracy. Although my basic premise about the relationship between William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe is fictional, I have made sure that there is nothing in my story that contradicts the known facts. Wherever I could I have consulted transcripts of original documents. Although I have consulted many secondary sources, I have always approached them critically and delved into how they have come to their conclusions. Nor have I restricted myself to orthodox biographers, but, coming to the subject as I did from the anti-Strafordian direction, I have also taken into consideration the research done by supporters of the alternative candidates.

So while, as I have said, I have kept to the known facts, my interpretation of them is entirely my own. However, I am ready to wager that my narrative may well be closer to the truth than many a supposedly non-fictional biography.

5) I am a firm Stratfordian, but the existence of such a recent and relatively high-profile movie (which cost $30 million dollars) such as Emmerich's Anonymous shows that the anti-Stratfordian position is still going strong. Why do you think some people are so obsessed with the idea that William Shakespeare was not the author of his famous works?

Oh, please, don't get me started on Anonymous. That film was a travesty that did the Oxfordian cause more harm than good and will soon sink into the oblivion it deserves (See my analysis of the film Demolishing Anonymous).

I would say that the Shakespearean Authorship debate is fed by a profound mystery. Because of his fame, every archive in England has been combed for records of Shakespeare and his family, yet for all that research nothing has been turned up which throws any light on how Will Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon became one of the greatest writers in the English language.

We have a great deal of evidence of Will Shakspere in Stratford and about his family and their business dealings. We have evidence of a William Shakespeare living in London who was a sharer in The Globe and the Chamberlain's Men. However, the only connections between these two men are tenuous at best and rather suspect. (The Stratford Monument, perhaps the most famous artefact that identifies Will Shakspere as William Shakespeare is far from proof positive See my article The Mystery of the Stratford Monument.)

Further, except for his name in the front of the book, there is no evidence that even the London-based Shakespeare was the author of the plays. There are no surviving manuscripts, nor documentary evidence of him as a writer. Even the surviving literary references to Shakespeare are mostly obscure and sometimes cast more doubt than certainty. Such a vacuum demands alternative theories to fill it.

But I think at the bottom of it all is that, for the English, Shakespeare is like a god to whom they feel a profound spiritual attachment. They need absolute certainty about who he is. There is no room for doubt. So where there is doubt about Will Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon it must be countered with certainty about an alternative candidate.

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

You can find an excerpt from Not Wisely but Too Well on my website at or sample it on Smashwords.

If you are interested in the research behind the novel go to my blog The Stuff of Dreams, or you might enjoy my short story "In Search of Shakespeare".

7) Please tell us about your other works.

Not Wisely but Too Well is the third book I have published. I have also published another historical romance, The Slave, set in Medieval Italy and Suburban Terrors, a collection of short stories, as well as several short stories and novelettes.

All are available on my website. The short stories can also be found on Goodreads, while the novelettes can be downloaded as free ebooks from Smashwords.

8) Where can people find out more about you?

You can find out all about me from my home page, Pauline Montagna, Writer and Publisher. All my books are available there to purchase as ebooks and PODs. There you will also find a collection of novelettes to download as free ebooks as well as my short stories.

From there you can also connect to my blogs, The Stuff of Dreams , a compendium of my research for Not Wisely but too Well, Ms Montagna's Miscellany, a collection of my reviews and articles, and The Writer/Publisher, an introduction to self-publishing based on my own experience and research.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Abyss May Stare Back At You: An interview with neo-noir/horror author Richard Thomas

1) Please tell us about Staring into the Abyss.

It's a collection of dark stories, somewhere between neo-noir (French for "new-black") and horror. The stories are tragic, but there are rays of hope. I like to see how people react to those moments in their lives where there is a tipping point, that inciting incident,beyond the point of no return. I like to see how these characters react to loss, to violence, to pain and suffering. Do they wilt or rise up? Do they seek revenge or collapse under the weight of their own actions.

Kraken Press is a new publisher, but George Cotronis is a globally recognized artist, and that's what originally drew me to him. So I'm lucky to have his cover art on this collection, as well as a free eSingle we're giving away soon of "Transmogrify." He's done an amazing job of putting this together, getting the word out, and so far the reviews are primarily positive. I know that not every story inStaring Into the Abyss will work for every reader—a choose your own adventure, a list of twenty reasons why a man stays, a dark tale of rape, abuse and vengeance—some of those narrative are challenging. But I hope that there is something in here for everyone, and if I can really find a way to connect with each reader, then I will feel like I succeeded. "Maker of Flight," the first story (which won a contest at ChiZine), is one I've read to my children, and they love it, so it's not all doom and gloom.

2) What motivated you to focus on this sort of subject matter?

I've read a lot of interviews with Stephen King, he's somebody I grew up reading, and I really admire him. I've read all of his books. He has talked about how his wife always asked him, and his family too, why he writes such dark stories? Why not something lighter or funny? My mom asks me the same questions, my wife, too. I try. I did just get my MFA and those stories tend to be more literary, very little sex or violence, nobody dies in those tales. Basically, what I'm saying, is that I have a hard time writing anything else. I'm drawn to the darkness, much like the moth is drawn to the flame. Whether it's cathartic to live out these moments, a way to live out my own anger and frustrations without actually acting, I don't know. But I feel we can all learn something from focusing on the negative—we can be glad it wasn't us, we can feel sympathy for someone and vow to reach out to a person in need, or we can promise to be better people ourselves. But I don't think these stories, or the subject matter, are simply entertainment, just blood porn.

3) Are the stories distinguished by style differences in addition to theme differences? If so, could you tell us a bit about that.

Definitely. I alluded to the choose your own adventure story, "Splintered," that ran at PANK. That's a story I've never written before. And the "Twenty Reasons to Stay and One to Leave" story is really just a list of 20 responses, a man answering the questions he hears after a great loss: why are you still here, why do you still love her, why don't you leave? So, as far as style and format, those two are definitely different. "Interview" is another story that breaks my usual format, sprinkling a grocery receipt (or list) throughout the story, so that over time those items add up to something sinister. And "Ten Steps" is basically the ten steps it takes a child to turn into a monster, so the way that is organized, the lack of an explanation, or happy ending, the open ending, that is something I think is compelling.

As for theme, I think most of the stories are tragic, so the theme is primarily about loss, and how to react and deal with that loss. Even the stories that end on an up note, that have that bit of hope and optimism, they are surrounded by the pain that came before it. The only one that probably could be called "funny" is "Stephen King Ate My Brain," and people seem to enjoy that break. I purposefully put it after "Steel Toed-Boots" one of the darkest in the collection.

4) We all love our children, sure, but is there a particular story in the collection that you like more than the others? 

I have my favorites, maybe four or five that I think are really special. But if I had to pick one, it's probably "Twenty Reasons to Stay and One to Leave." I was so thrilled when it was accepted at Metazen, and even more so when it was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. It really validated my work, the experiment of the form. I like the echo of the story, the way it doesn't really give you all of the details, you have to build on the skeleton of the story, and fill in some blanks. I dissected it over at LitReactor and I know a teacher in Tennessee, Heather Foster, even taught it in one of her classes, alongside Joyce Carol Oates's classic, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been," so that was really an honor.

That story, and maybe "Victimized," the longest story I've ever written. It just added up to what I think is a powerful story, with a twist that I really hope is a punch in the gut.

5) Were any of these stories more difficult for you to write than the others, for whatever reason?

Any of the stories that focus on the loss of a child. It's so hard for me to channel those kinds of thoughts. Maybe that's why "Twenty Reasons to Stay and One to Leave," is one of my favorites, it was so difficult for me to write. Much like my second novel, Disintegration, which my agent is shopping right now. All of that focus on your family dying in front of you, I can remember finishing that book and feeling like I was going to throw up, breaking down and crying, and then taking a deep breath and hopping in the minivan to go see my mother-in-law. It really got to me. Much like some of the stories in this book do. I try to be as honest as I can, and leave it all on the page.

6) What motivates you as a writer? What do you feel the fundamental goal of your fiction is?

I love telling stories. I really live for those moments when my work gets to somebody, when they laugh, or get aroused, or yell at me for scaring them, or tell me I made them cry. I want people to feel something, a powerful emotion, and to do that with just my words, from miles away, it really empowers me to keep writing and entertaining, and maybe even inspire people to be creative, to get out into the world and live their lives, no matter what their hopes and dreams are. I want to touch lives, and then have people react—maybe they go hug their son or daughter, or decide to take a chance on a project, or go back to school, or even just feel a little better about themselves. I use a quote from Nietzsche in describing this book, saying "Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster." I'm basically asking people to live a better life, to avoid the demons, to get away from toxic people, so that maybe they can find fulfillment. Kind of funny way to go about it, with this dark fiction—maybe it's reverse psychology or something—these cautionary tales.

7) Please tell us a bit about your other work.

My first novel, Transubstantiate, a neo-noir, speculative thriller came out in 2010, but it's out of print. I'm working on turning it into a YA title, and the experiment is going well, gave it to my agent a few weeks ago. I have another collection out, Herniated Roots, which leans towards crime. I've published over 75 stories, online and print, but really got started when my story "Stillness" (which is in this collection, Staring Into the Abyss) was accepted for Shivers VI alongside Stephen King and Peter Staub. I just got my MFA, so I'm looking for a teaching gig, and in the mean time I'm editing two anthologies, The Lineup (Black Lawrence Press, out in 2014) which is edgy literary fiction by 25 women authors, and Burnt Tongues, with Chuck Palahniuk and Dennis Widmyer, which evolved out of a workshop, and just found a home (out in 2014 as well). I just had two stories accepted that I'm excited about, that aren't out yet, "Garage Sales" in Midwestern Gothic, and "Chrysalis" in Aracadia, two really cool journals that are pretty hard to get into. I'm thrilled to see those in print later this year.

Also, we'll be giving away copies of Staring Into the Abyss at Goodreads, as well as a teaser story, "Transmogrify" as an eSingle, later this month on Amazon. So come find me on Twitter or Facebook to stay in the loop.

8) Where can readers find out more about you?

You can stay up to date, and find all of my published work (both print and online, for sale as well as FREE) at my blog, Here are a few other places as well:

Richard was the winner of the 2009 “Enter the World of Filaria” contest at ChiZine. He has published over sixty stories online and in print, including the Shivers VI anthology (Cemetery Dance) with Stephen King and Peter Straub, Murky Depths, PANK, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Pear Noir!, Word Riot, 3:AM Magazine, Dogmatika, Vain and Opium. His debut novel Transubstantiate was released in 2010. In his spare time he is a featured book critic at The Nervous Breakdown, as well as a columnist at Lit Reactor. He is represented by Paula Munier at the Talcott Notch agency.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A World Frighteningly Like Our Own and a Message Woven into Rare Cloth: An interview with historical fantasy author Prue Batten

1) Please tell us about The Shifu Cloth.

If I might begin with the blurb:

In a world where Others play with mortal lives, in a hidden province that survives on the backs of abducted slaves, Isabella, one of those stolen folk, sends a message woven into rare cloth made of paper and silk, in the vain hope that her cousin will find it, decipher it and rescue her.

For cousin Nicholas, with whose life the Fates have been playing, only time will tell if he shall find her and whether what makes a curse does indeed break a curse.

The story had its genesis in a piece I read in an art magazine about the historic art of shifu. It’s an ancient Japanese skill where sheets of mulberry paper are marked and cut into strips. Shaken to separate the strands, they are then dampened, then flipped and rolled, separating and softening the fibres. The ends of each strip are joined to make a long filament that is then spindle spun. The resulting ‘yarn’ is woven on the weft with silk yarn on the warp to make the fine, very strong and unique fabric that is shifu. History tells us that the samurai used shifu cloth to send secret messages across war-torn country, the messages inscribed on the paper before it was woven into shifu and then made into garments.

Thus The Shifu Cloth was born.

2) Tell us about your main characters.

Isabella: a beautiful, capable mortal woman. Arrogant, self-obsessed, and kidnapped into slavery in the mysterious Han province of Eirie.
Nicholas: a dark young man filled with self-doubt and guilt brought on by Cousin Isabella’s kidnapping and by the fact that he is half-Other.
Poli: Nicholas’s plain-speaking mortal friend. The kind of companion ones needs at one’s back when fighting unknown enemies in a strange and unknown country.
Ming Xao: Imperial heir to the Han and an enigma.
Chi Nü: Celestial weaving maid in the Han. A gentle, kind but afflicted spirit.
Kitsune: Celestial Fox Spirit. Vengeful at her treatment by the Han emperors.
The Moonlady: Celestial Eirish spirit filled with wisdom.

3) Please tell us about the Others. What sort of storytelling goals were involved in their creation?

They needed to be totally credible, no matter who/what they were. It’s very easy to research the spirits from myth and legend, wonderful reading that filled, and continues to fill my hours. The hard part is investing them with a character that readers might care about. I wanted readers to hate and/or love those characters with intensity. ‘Others’ are the balance in my world, the balance in my stories. The goal for me was not shifting the scales too much one way or the other.

4) Please tell us about the world you created. It's not quite Earth, yet there are strong parallels at the same time. What were the influences on your world-building process?

What you say is true. In fact I remember a reviewer once saying the Eirish world was frighteningly similar to our own which is exactly what I wanted. Especially with emphasis on the ‘frightening’ side because almost all Others are dangerous, perhaps even life-threatening – especially the Færan.

Because the creation of Eirie was heavily influenced by the myth and legend of our own world, there was never a doubt that it would closely approximate our own in topography etc as well. I also loved the idea that in fact the Other world is accessed as easily as walking through a veil or through the ymp-tree orchard. And that there is never a doubt in the characters’ minds that immortals exist alongside them in almost everything they do. I never intended to introduce wars, politics or theology because I wanted it to be about the grass roots of Everyman. It could be you or me there, with a life-changing event rocketing out of daily life and hitting us square in the eyes, propelled by the Fates. Unlike many fantasies, politics and wars have no place in my plots.

5) This is the fourth book in the Chronicles of Eirie. Can a person enter the series at this point, or must they start from the beginning?

In actual fact, Books Three and Four are stand-alones and can be read without having read Books One and Two. But Books One and Two are a matched pair. Readers might be interested in the fact that A Thousand Glass Flowers (Book Four) won the silver medal for fantasy in the 2012 Readers’ Favorites Book Awards.

6) What inspired this series?

Each book is inspired by an inanimate object. Seventeenth century embroidery in Books One and Two. A Venetian paperweight in Book Three. A piece of Japanese fabric woven from paper and silk in Book Four. I began The Stumpwork Robe (Book One) with an idea that I would just write it and The Last Stitch. But the world that developed became something more, and the generations that I wrote about became very loud in their demand to be heard. So if anything propelled the journey further, it has been each successive generation needing to resolve the terrible events emerging in their lives.

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

8) Where can readers find out more about you and where can they purchase your book?

You can find out more about me on:

If I could just add – I am also a historical fiction writer. Along with historical fantasy, it’s my favourite genre to read. I wrote Book One of The Gisborne Saga a year ago and it was quite readily received. I’m currently writing the second book in the saga as we speak and am neck-deep in the twelfth century as I have a total fascination for the Middle Ages and the later timeframe of the Renaissance. In fact my graduate degree was in history and I feel content when I am surrounded by history texts. Interestingly much of the basic research has as much relevance in hist.fantasy as it does in hist.fict., so it’s a comfortable crossover.


Thanks, Prue

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Slender Man, an Ancient and Modern Evil: An interview with Simon Cox

1) Please tell us about your novella, The Slender Man.

It’s a story about a horror character that was created and developed on an internet forum. It’s the kind of horror that I find scary – isolation, being trapped, and a slowly escalating sense of dread.

2) Please tell us a bit about your lead.

The lead in the story, Adam Bradford, is really just an everyman – I needed him to be almost a blank slate, the kind of person that any reader could identify with, or project themselves onto. Empathy with the protagonist is the thing that makes horror work, I think. That’s also the reason that I wrote it in the first person perspective.

3) Tell us a bit about The Slender Man and how you came across him originally.

I think I was reading a news article online that happened to mention him, and the name just jumped out at me immediately. So I went onto Google and typed it in, got to the page about him, from there I jumped onto the original Something Awful forum thread about him...and then I scared myself silly reading about him. Seriously – I gave myself nightmares when I was writing the book.

4) What do you find so compelling about The Slender Man?

I think really it’s the absence of facial features. That really freaks me out. We do so much with eye contact that I think that not having eyes implies something fundamentally monstrous.

I should say that the “canon” (if there can be one for a character developed by a crowd of people on the internet) has the Slender Man wearing a dark business suit, but personally I didn’t really like that element of the character. I generally try to describe characters as little as possible, in order to let the reader paint the picture in his or her mind, so in my story I mention the eyes as being like shallow scrapings in wax, and the limbs as being long and thin, but beyond that I don’t describe the Slender Man very much at all. That way if you like the “business suit” Slender Man then you can imagine that, and if you don’t then it isn’t mentioned.

5) In a hundred years, do you think authors will be writing about The Slender Man alongside your werewolves, vampires, ghosts, et cetera perhaps in ignorance of his/its origins? Who knows, perhaps we'll end up with Slender Man teen paranormal romance.

Good question. Talking about the future is a tripwire, really, so I won’t be making any firm predictions, but I will say that unless the internet disappears then there will always be a record of the origins of The Slender Man, so I’m not sure that it will ever exist in quite the same way as the creepies that have evolved over the preceding centuries. And if the alternative is a Slender Man teen paranormal romance then maybe it’s for the best.

6) Many concepts in horror have grown organically by building on underlying cultural myths, even if, over the decades they drift considerably from the source material (e.g., vampires). The Slender Man, though, is a very modern concept that is the result of an active attempt at generating a new bit of folklore, and, as such arguably lacks the connection to the history and cultural aspects that amplify the power of other horror creatures. How do you think this affects writing stories about The Slender Man, and did it affect your writing process at all?

I don’t think The Slender Man is necessarily a modern concept; to me he’s just another embodiment of the classic horror theme of a malevolent “unknown watcher”.

I think you’re right that the Slender Man himself lacks the historical and cultural aspects of other horror characters, however, and that does require some effort on the part of the writer. Today a writer can write “vampire” or “werewolf” and the vast majority of people will know what the writer means; a character such as the Slender Man requires greater explanation. But that in itself is a great opportunity for a writer, as there is plenty of white space that you can fill in with details of your own creation.

7) On first blush, one would think people would want to avoid feeling fear and terror, but the audience for horror media proves this isn't the case. What draws people into wanting to feel those dark emotions?

It’s odd, isn’t it? I think that for most of us these days our lives are very safe and, as a result, very boring, so I think that some people seek out horror as a way of accessing a form of “danger”. It’s my suspicion that evolution meant that the cavemen who were scared of things lived long enough to pass on their genes, meaning that a disposition towards fear is a genetic trait in many people...I know that for me the relief of a subsiding fear is almost pleasurable, so perhaps this response is evolutionary, and as a result some people’s genes “reward them” for being scared. Who knows? Certainly not me – I’m just making this up as I go along.

8) Do you intend to revisit The Slender Man in a future work?

I don’t think so. I usually write things that I feel that I have to write, and in this case I had a horror story about The Slender Man bubbling around in my head and trying to get out; now that I’ve written it I don’t feel that urge to write about him any more. Or to put it another way, I’ve written what I wanted to, and I’m not sure what I’d write that I haven’t already.

A few people have commented that they wish it were longer, and the idea of extending it into a full novel did cross my mind, but I don’t know that I’d do that justice – I’d be doing it for other people rather than for myself, so my heart wouldn’t be in it.

9) Please tell us a bit about your other work.

I’ve written a lot of short stories, and many of them have been published, either by me or by others. I tend to enjoy writing short stories because for most of the ideas I have the blaze of inspiration and motivation carries me far enough to get a short out of it but not much further.

I’ve finished one novel that I’m trying to interest agents in, and as of this interview I’m just putting the finishing touches to a second, although there is still the laborious and soul-destroying editing process to go on that one.

You can find out more about all of this kind of thing on my website:

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Murder Across Two Centuries: An interview with historical fiction author Barbara Gaskell Denvil

1) Please tell us about your book.

FAIR WEATHER is a historical thriller which covers several genres. It is also an adventure/romance, and a crime mystery. The plot is based around a time switch, so that action takes place both in 13th century England, and in modern day England. These switches are integral to the plot. The romance also interweaves through time – and in an unusual sense, time is an actual character within the story.

2) Why did you decide to combine historical fiction with modern paranormal suspense?

My inspiration for the whole plot came from dreams. I used these dreams and wove my characters through the ideas and visions which came to me. Fair Weather was therefore crafted very much as a labour of love, and not created in any logical or practical sense.

3) In modern times, in most countries, women have fairly easy freedom of movement. Given that you go so far back, the interaction of women with their society was considerably changed, even compared to other later English historical eras. Did this present any difficulties in plotting?

Surprisingly, no. My heroine is a beggar girl, and few restrictions have ever been put on the abjectly poor as long as they can escape the jurisdiction of the law. It is invariably the noblewomen who are watched and limited by society’s conventions. The poor go where they will. Also, in the 13th century, society was less conventional in many ways and women were not quite so tethered as is sometimes imagined. Female subjugation actually got far worse from the 16th century onwards.

4) Given the ignorance that afflicted the distant path, do you think it's easier or more difficult to maintain tension in murder plots. The lack of forensics, systematic investigation, et cetera, for instance, makes it easier for guilty folk to reasonably evade the authorities in the past, but, in modern times, access to technology by criminals and improved education provide their own opportunities for mischief.

Yes, I do agree. And nowadays the author herself must do some thorough research on national standards of justice, police procedures and the latest forensic science. But my murders come under the label of black magic, so it was different again. I did a great deal of research – but not at all the sort a modern crime-writer might have to do.

5) With all of English history (or history for that matter) to choose from what made you pick the particular period you chose?

Although the Church was very powerful during the 13th century, there were still pockets and aspects of religion that echoed back very strongly to the old pagan beliefs. Many priests got away with being married, country rituals and celebrations could be more pagan than Christian, and there was still considerable acceptance of fairies and spells. Witchcraft was not illegal – (no one was burned for it in spite of many modern film depictions) and the ‘wise women’ were respected and sought out. Since my book is wrapped around pagan magic, this was the ideal time in history to base it. It’s also a period I already knew a good deal about in the more general sense – the costumes, the way of life, the architecture and the details of Old London. I adore this era for its atmosphere and the fascinating colours of the period, so very, very different from our own.

6) Please tell us something interesting you found out about this period during your research?

I became very interested in the character of King John. We usually hear about him only as the wicked brother who tried to usurp good King Richard’s throne. That’s all from the Robin Hood sagas, and of course, we know Robin Hood was not entirely true at all. Apart from the fact that I dislike the sound of “good King Richard”, I was struck by how difficult it is to judge history and historical personalities through the extremely limited documentation that remains to us, and most especially because of the bias shown by those who wrote it. I did not grow to love King John, but I do admit we have very little right to think we know him at all.

7) What other projects are you currently working on?

My big early Tudor mystery adventure/romance (SUMERFORD’S AUTUMN) is due out in hard copy this coming June. The plot is once again somewhat multi-layered, but largely concerns the so called pretender “Perkin Warbeck”. Then I have another book in the works – BELSSOP’S WIFE – and yes – it’s a historical mystery/romance, but set a little earlier this time during the first tumultuous year of Richard III’s reign. I have a passion for this period in history – and after researching the times of King John, I moved on to the late medieval and Richard III. So I have two books waiting for publication, but neither of these has a black magic or time switch element to the plot.

Now, naturally, I am writing yet another. Well, if I didn’t write all the time, what on earth would I do?

8) Where can readers find more out about you?

I have a blog, which gives information on my books – and of course,

 I sell both FAIR WEATHER and my other historical crime adventure SATIN CINNABAR on Amazon U.K. and U.S.A., where I also have an author’s page. And once my next book is on the market mid year – there’ll be more I hope! 


Thanks, Barbara.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Every Dead Person was a Person: An Interview with Post-Apocalyptic Author Nick Cole

1) Please tell us about The Savage Boy. 

The Savage Boy is the second book in the Wasteland Saga, but it stands alone as an independent story about a Boy who must complete the mission of the last American soldier. Civilization disappeared almost forty years before the book begins amid a global nuclear bloodletting and we meet the Boy as he buries his mentor and continues his journey into the savage West amidst the New American Dark Ages. He will cross deserted cities and places haunted by madmen and survive in a wilderness where animals are the predators and humans the prey. But his journey is about much more the tomahawk he carries and the radiation poisoned lands he must cross. It’s a story about identity and the decisions we make to become what we will become. It’s a very dark story but I think the ending will be very surprising for those who enjoyed The Old Man and the Wasteland.

2) In what ways is this book different than The Old Man and the Wasteland? In what ways is it similar?

In many ways it is similar. There is an internal dialog that resonates throughout the book as the Boy hears the constant remonstrations and encouragements of his dead mentor. At the same time it is different. I would say it’s more action packed and definitely darker as I said, but it is about love and memory and one’s place within the world regardless whether that world is what it is today or sunk into a mire of savagery and chaos.

3) The balancing of brutality and humanity is often difficult in these types of stories depending on what sort of feeling and message one is trying to get across. How did you approach this balance?

Someone once said, “everyone dies.” There is so much in that. Every dead person was a person. History and modern media sometimes distance us from the fact that each casualty was once a life. They were loved. They had hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow. And yet, the world is cruel. In Shakespeare’s King Lear, after Lear’s beautiful daughter has been murdered, he cries out, “You are men of stone.” There is so much in that, and with those as compass points I kept a weather eye and steered on till morning as I wrote this book. 

4) What is the greatest thing you feel that modern "soft" civilized people take for granted?

The consciousness of God. Whether you believe in God or not, I think one of the greatest failures of our lives is for people not to embark on an honest journey into the heart of the matter of God. The answer is the most stunning revelation of one’s life. The answer brings focus and an understanding of the order of the universe. Sadly many, on both sides of this debate, are content with the talking points of others, rather than their own personal journey of exploration.

5) The complete and utter destruction of human civilization seems a bit "popular" these days and many people are seeking out books like yours. Arguably, we're farther away from the complete collapse of civilization than when we and the Soviets were ready to turn our respective countries into glass with nukes. What do you think is behind this interest in post-apocalyptic fiction?

Are we? Rod Serling showed us that by just by turning out the lights we devolve faster than we might expect. I think we are, and always have been, closer to the brink that anyone might care to lie awake in bed late at night and contemplate. But, to that end, I do not think Post-Apocalyptic fiction is really all that concerned with the end. No, the fascination I suspect lies in the new beginning. Generally people are not satisfied with modern life. It’s too easy. So easy in fact, it’s become a locomotive. There’s a beginning and an end once a lot of choices are made and some might say made for us, it’s merely a matter of progressing down the tracks. That is not in the nature of man a comfortable thing. I think many of us are looking for a new start. We’re not happy with the way things are and we want a chance to start over. Post-Apocalyptic fiction gives us that Lost, Survivor chance to play the game. I think that’s at the core of the appeal as opposed to a promised doomsday or final judgment.

6) Does the interest in the latter have any real intersection with things like the mainstreaming of the "prepper" culture?

Yes, most definitely. I think there is a zeitgeist permeating our culture that suggests we might not want to hold on too tightly to what we think we need. 9/11, Katrina and a growing global crisis both financial and philosophical are beginning to show that people lack confidence in their government to provide for and protect them. So you’d better learn how to field dress a deer and carry your stuff on your back. I think it’s more likely than not that these survival skills will be employed within America at some point in our lifetime.

7) Please tell us about your future projects.

I’m in the middle of a Zombocalypse Triptych that will set the stage for a series character. I’ve got a Wind in the Willows-esque fantasy cozy and a military SF novel, and I’ve sent a total of 11 project proposals off to my publisher for their consideration. I also have some non-SF novels that I wrote previously that are just patiently waiting to get out there, but for now it seems we’ll stick with the end of the world. 


Thanks, Nick.

Nick books can be purchased at the following links: The Savage Boy | The Oldman And The Wasteland.

More from Nick can be found at the following links Website | Goodreads | Twitter | Amazon.

Nick Cole is a working actor living in Southern California. When he is not auditioning for commercials, going out for sitcoms or being shot, kicked, stabbed or beaten by the students of various film schools for their projects, he can often be found as a guard for King Phillip the Second of Spain in the Opera Don Carlo at Los Angeles Opera or some similar role. Nick Cole has been writing for most of his life and acting in Hollywood after serving in the U.S. Army.