Sunday, July 25, 2010

When Truth is Stranger Than Fiction: Author Jacqui Murray

I love techno-thrillers! Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October remains one of my firm movie favourites, and anything by Michael Crichton gets my vote. So, I was particularly interested when VBT author Jacqui Murray popped up on my guest list.

Tell us about yourself, Jacqui:
I was born in Berkley California to Irish-German parents. After receiving a BA in Economics, another in Russian and an MBA, I spent twenty years in a variety of industries while raising two children and teaching evening classes at community colleges. Now, I live with my husband, adult son and two beautiful Labradors and I write. I write how-books, five blogs on everything from the USNA to tech to science, and a column for the Examiner on tech tips.

What type of fiction do you write?
I call it scientific fiction. It continues my love of spreading knowledge to kids, but is geared for high school or college. I pick science topics and weave them into the plot so readers learn about them while they’re engrossed in the story. So far, I’ve covered DNA computers and Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak (oh yes, it exists and is a great plot twist).

After a background in technical and educational writing, what made you decide to try your hand at fiction?
I am a teacher by day. It is always a challenge to get kids interested enough in science to get through the technical stuff. I think complicated science-type stuff is much more palatable when couched in the traits of fiction--an exciting plot, appealing characters, a story arc filled with twists and turns. That’s what I do in my techno-thrillers. Lots of nail biting and it is all because of the sizzle of science.

You describe your fiction as 'scientific fiction' - it sounds fascinating! To Hunt a Sub is the title of your first novel. How hard was it to create a storyline out of what are essentially hard cold facts?
Not difficult. Fact is stranger than fiction. The problem with ‘fact’ is its perception as boring. That simply is not true. To counter it, I broke the science up into bits and pieces, presented it a little at a time, in different ways—i.e., different point of views, in scene as well as narrative, using all those wonderful fiction traits that make us unable to put down a good story.

Can you describe any amazing scientific things that sound made up but are actually scientifically proven? I mean things that we see in comics like rocket boots or little jet things one can wear on one's back to fly around. How about Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak? How you know that technology exists?
The Navy is researching the use of metamaterials as the foundation for an ‘invisibility cloak’ for submarines, tanks, military equipment. Holographic soldiers are not too far away. Look out drones! We will soon have another way to save lives. I also use a DNA computer virus in one of my plot lines—a virus that gets by firewalls and virus scanners on silicon-based computers because it is organic. I have lots more, but you will have to read the books!

Your next novel is To Hunt a Cruiser - did you already know this much about naval vessels or did this interest come about from writing your non-fiction book Building a Midshipman?
My daughter was the USNA Midshipman I wrote about in Building a Midshipman. Now she’s graduated from the USNA and serves on the USS Bunker Hill, which happens to be the most modern cruiser in the Navy thanks to its upgraded AEGIS systems. It’s an interesting fact that America has had no Naval battles since WWII so these wonderful offensive/defensive systems have never been tested under fire. That’s the kernel of my story: a foray into a 21st century Naval sea battle.

I discussed it with my daughter because it would require much collaboration on her part as well as the crew of her ship. Everyone on the USS Bunker Hill from the Captain to the XO to the enlisted engineers—and everyone in between--has gone out of their way to answer my questions, explain complicated systems (such as the degaussing coils and the AEGIS systems) to my layman’s level of understanding. I am very excited about how it’s all coming out.

I read how Tom Clancy began writing fiction based on his interest in various non-fiction topics. He has become such an expert that the US Military use him as a resource. Do you see yourself treading the same ladder?
I would never compare myself to Tom Clancy. He’s one of my heroes in the military fiction genre. What a cool thought, though.

You've been very successful with your non-fiction and educational books. Have you found your fiction road to fame a smooth ride or rocky in places?
Writing non-fiction is a much different animal than fiction. Where my background as a tech teacher can provide credibility to my tech workbooks and my legacy as the mom of a USNA Midshipman gives me authority in that realm, fiction is not the same. Publishers are primarily interested in how many books you have already published. I have two fiction books that I haven’t found publishers for. Since they are both along the lines of To Hunt a Cruiser with their focus on making science exciting for people, I’m hoping that once I find a publisher for one book, the rest will follow.

With my fiction choices, I love action/thrillers that show how people solve problems when under stress, and how they come up with unique solutions to never-before-solved problems. The human mind fascinates me. We’ve done so much no other species has managed to accomplish. Your words here prompt me to ask - are you a cerebral or an emotional writer? Do your characters’ feelings or actions come first?
My stories tend to be plot-driven rather than character-driven. I delve into my characters, but it is the plot that will keep people coming back. I have the usual amount of interior monologue and reaction scenes to allow my point of view characters to show their emotions and thoughts regarding an action scene, but I have to say, it is the action that drives things.

Anything you'd like to share with readers that I haven't asked you.

Anyone interested in my books, here is where you can find them:
  • My six technology workbooks are available on and the publisher's website. The ebooks are available on
  • My two computer lab toolkits are available on and the publisher's website. The ebooks are available on
  • Building a Midshipman is available on and the publisher's website. The ebooks are available on
  • If you’re interested in To Hunt a Cruiser, leave a comment on my WordDreams blog and I’ll let you know when it’s out.
  • My Building a Midshipman site is USNA or Bust.
  • My Computer Lab Toolkit and Technology Workbooks site is Ask a Tech Teacher
  • My writing tips blog is WordDreams
  • I also write a column for I invite everyone to read that, add comments, follow me!
  • Oh—my Twitter handle is @askatechteacher

Thanks for all this info, Jacqui. I'll be interested in reviewing To Hunt A Sub when it's out!


Friday, July 23, 2010

Enid Blyton lingo gets an update |

Enid Blyton lingo gets an update

This is a fascinating article and I am sure will elicit both 'for and 'against' responses. I grew up with Enid Blyton, and also taught my illiterate foster (later adopted) child to read starting with all my old childhood favorites (Secret Seven, First and many other terms at St Mallory's, Naughtiest Girl in the School, Famous Five etc). I loved Noddy and Big Ears, and Miss Kitty, and wanted a car like Noddy's to drive myself to school.

The question is: should one 'update' or 'modernize' books written in a different era to accommodate new, modern audiences? One could say yes, because it makes great stories of yesteryear fresh and accessible to new audiences. There are children's versions of sometimes difficult classics like Treasure Island, The Water Babies, and Wind in the Willows. One could on the other hand say no, because many classics remain untouched. Dickens is still sacred, and no one messes with Shakespeare, with even modern film versions still using the bard's sometimes laborious language. I am wading through Macbeth with my daughter and can attest to the number of Forsooths and other incomprehensible stuff! We watched Roman Polanski's Macbeth with a superb Jon Finch, Francesca Annis and Martin Shaw, but had the textbook on hand to work out the meaning of the actors' speech every now and again. It's a great story, a great tragedy of greed and hubris, and no one has said, "Hey, let's make Bill a bit more modern!"

I love anything from the BBC Classic drama series and we collect the DVDs. My now teenage daughter adores the cobblestones and corsets brigade. It seems strange that a modern young person would find that appealing, but she does. She says she loves the stories and seeing the past come to life. So, maybe kids don't need to be led by the nose to books and stories of yesteryear. Maybe we should let them make up their own minds. How come no one has 'freshened up' The Lord of the Rings, or said, "Hey, this Jane Austen stuff should be made really modern - how about rock chicks and boy bands in these stories?"

I am all for leaving a good story told as it is.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How Many Times Your Book Is Sold

Successfully articulating the publication of a big book is the test of good publishing, involving the ability to keep in one’s head not only the numbers and their daily fluctuation but the harmonious synchronizing of publicity, manufacturing, advertising, and sales departments often run as independent fiefdoms. —MICHAEL KORDA 

As publishers shepherd books from writers to readers, they face the challenge of sustaining the enthusiasm of the editors who convinced the house to buy the books. Your book will be sold many times as it makes its way to your readers.

You are the first person to sell your book. First you sell yourself on the idea for it.

• Then you pitch the idea to your professional networks for feedback.

• Then, assuming you want an agent, you send your proposal or manuscript to prospective agents.

• Your agent sells your book to a publisher.

• To buy your book, editors must first sell it to others in the house whose support they need.

• The editors use that support to sell your book at the house’s weekly editorial meetings. Depending on the makeup of the editorial board, your editor may need to convince the house’s publicity people, sales and marketing staff, and executive officers to take a chance on your book.

• Your editor meets with the sales and marketing departments to decide on the size of the first printing and the marketing plan that will be presented at sales conferences and in the catalog.

• Your editor presents your book to the publisher’s sales rep at a sales conference. This may be done via a Web conference to save the cost of bringing the reps and in-house staff together.

• The sales reps return to their territories and use the publisher’s catalog to sell your book to independent booksellers. Special reps sell to the chains, the two largest wholesalers—Ingram and Baker & Taylor—and other large customers.

• Pre-publication reviews in periodicals such as Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews sell your book to libraries.

• The art director decides how best to create your book’s hardcover jacket or paperback cover to sell your book to bookstore browsers.

• The production department creates or farms out the design of the interior of your book. The goal is to come up with the most effective design, paper stock, and typeface for selling your book.

• The subsidiary rights department tries to sell the publisher’s subsidiary rights, such as book clubs, first- and second-serial rights, and film and foreign rights. If your agent has retained any of these rights for you, your agent, usually helped by co-agents, will try to sell them.

• The publicity department decides how they will publicize your book to the media, which helps to sell your book to the public.

• When your book is published, booksellers sell it to their customers. Where your books are stocked in bookstores and whether they’re shelved face-out or spine-out makes a big difference. Independent booksellers use shelf-talkers—handwritten notes taped to the shelf below the book—to push the staff’s favorite books.

• For literary books, especially novels, the eagerness of independent booksellers to hand-sell books can make the difference between a failure and a best-seller. Competition from the chains and online booksellers is destroying this path to success by putting independents out of business, at the rate of three a week.

The first group of readers reads your book, and if they love it as passionately as you want them to, they sell everyone they know on reading it. Through the comments they write for online booksellers, your readers can also help sell your books online.

The ultimate challenge your book faces is arousing enough passion in your readers that their recommendations cause whoever hears them to buy your book, swelling the size of your unofficial but unstoppable word-of-mouth sales force.

Best-selling authors have an army of such readers. That’s why they’re best-selling authors. The most clever, heavily financed promotion campaign can’t make a book sell if it doesn’t provide the benefit—whether it’s information or entertainment—that book buyers expect.

If your books don’t require revisions, you only have to write them once. But because of the endless book chain between you and your readers, your books will continue to be sold.

Even after books go out of print, libraries continue to lend them, and used bookstores and online booksellers continue sell them. Print-on-demand publishing can continue to make books available around the world until a better technology comes along.

Reprinted from "Rick Frishman's Author101 Newsletter." Subscribe at  and receive Rick's "Million Dollar Rolodex."

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Story of a Heart: Author Susan May

When Susan contacted me about featuring a heart-warming story, I had no idea it was a book about a real heart: her son Nick’s new heart. What an amazing journey this family took in order to give new life to a little boy who was surely doomed.

Susan May’s love affair with books began when she was in the sixth grade and made a bad grade on her report card in math. (She still doesn’t like math.) Not allowed to watch TV for six weeks she filled her extra time with reading. Her first book, Nick’s New Heart about her son’s heart transplant experience is available now. She is currently working on a her fifth romance novel about a strong, rich man and the woman that loves him, a nonfiction about a WWII flight surgeon and another about her summer trip to Europe with her four teenage children. She often speaks to nursing groups, civic groups, and high school health classes about the importance of organ donation. She leads workshops on promotion, rejection, time management, finding the right writer’s conference, collaging and memoir writing. When her head isn’t in a book, hers or someone else’s, Susan is traveling, cross-stitching or watching chick flicks. Visit her at

Nick May was one of the first successful heart transplants in the United States, performed on a one-year-old baby, as told by his mother. Most people associate heart problems with old age. However, many children also suffer serious heart, kidney, eye or other medical problems that once were insurmountable. In the past, infants with the heart defects that Nick once had invariably died. However, with surgical and medical advances, this sad situation has changed, providing not only life for these children, but a good quality of life. The story of Nick is similar to a roller coaster ride without seat belts or safety bars. Here is a true story that is often more dramatic than fiction, as excellent doctors worked together with a caring, intelligent family not just to save a life, but to provide a good life. Great experiences, deeper understanding, hope, love, faith, and steadfast support from friends, relatives, nurses, staff, and doctors have been the result...along with a wonderful book. Author Susan May skillfully weaves a story of strength, ability, determination, faith, teamwork and inspiration in her book, as she recounts the story of her baby Nick and the overwhelming odds he faced. Although his birth at first seemed normal, Nick's worried mother asked, "Is my baby fine?" Her question either went unanswered or was met with a simple, "I do not know. More tests are needed." She did not realize then that the adventure had only begun, as tests revealed that this baby had a catastrophic problem potentially more deadly than cancer. The author describes the brilliant care and dedication of the highly-skilled doctors and staff who were able to turn the life of a dying baby from a tragedy into a triumph. Often touching, sometimes sad and scary, sometimes funny, this story demonstrates the extraordinary results of doctor/family teamwork, positive attitudes, and the needed support of others when a serious medical condition strikes any child.
Book Extract:
There was a pause in the conversation, and then Dr. Kanter asked, “Susan, are you sitting down?”

“No, but I can be.” I moved to the kitchen table and sat on a chair. Nick reached his hands up to be held from where he crawled on the floor. I situated him in my lap. “I’m sitting now.”

Dr. Kanter calmly asked, “How do you feel about a heart transplant?”

“I think they’re nice things if you need one,” I told him after a full minute. I said the first words that popped into my head. I was being flippant to cover my surprise. He was serious, I knew. We never thought that Nick might be considered for a heart transplant so young, maybe later in his life, but not then.

“I think we need to consider it. Can you and Andy come to the hospital to discuss it?”

“They say it is supposed to snow tomorrow. We’ll be there if it doesn’t,” I said. My mind spun. It required effort to think.

“What are you going to do if it does snow?” he asked.

“I’m going to play in it with my kids.”

I immediately called Andy and asked him to come home early. I only told him it was in regard to Nick, not what Dr. Kanter had asked. Andy was as surprised as I was at this turn of events. We decided that we would hear the doctors out and try not to close our minds to the idea. It did snow that night, so I phoned Dr. Kanter’s office the next afternoon and made plans to meet him two days later.

“Nick will need to have an antibodies test. So come early enough to go to the lab,” Dr. Kanter said. “If he has a high amount of antibodies it will be hard to find a match.”

Nick's New Heart is available on Amazon.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Travel in Time with Author Laura Vosika

I have an interesting guest here today, author Laura Vosika.

Laura grew up in the military, visiting castles in England, pig fests in Germany, and the historic sites of America's east coast. She earned a degree in music, and worked for many years as a freelance musician, music teacher, band director, and instructor in private music lessons on a winds, brass, piano, and harp. Laura is the mother of nine, living in Minnesota. Laura’s debut novel is a romance set in two different centuries. Blue Bells of Scotland is historic fiction with a time travel twist. The first in a trilogy, it is the story of two men, polar opposites but for their looks and love of music, who switch places in time and are caught in one another's lives. Laura has an interesting mix of inspirations for her writing, which we’ll find out about.

Blue Bells of Scotland

Shawn Kleiner has it all: money, fame, a skyrocketing career as an international musical phenomenon, his beautiful girlfriend Amy, and all the women he wants—until the night Amy has enough and leaves him stranded in a Scottish castle tower. He wakes up to find himself mistaken for Niall Campbell, medieval Highland warrior. Soon after, he is sent shimmying down a wind-torn castle wall into a dangerous cross country trek with Niall’s tempting, but knife-wielding fiancée. They are pursued by English soldiers and a Scottish traitor who want Niall dead. Thrown forward in time, Niall learns history’s horrifying account of his own death, and of the Scots’ slaughter at Bannockburn. Undaunted, he navigates the roiled waters of Shawn’s life—pregnant girlfriend, amorous fans, enemies, and gambling debts—seeking a way to leap back across time to save his people, especially his beloved Allene. His growing fondness for Shawn’s life brings him face to face with his own weakness and teaches him the true meaning of faith.

Blue Bells of Scotland is both a historical adventure and a tale of redemption that will be remembered long after the last page has been turned.

Laura your story sounds fascinating. Where does it come from?
Books are born of multiple inspirations. For Blue Bells of Scotland, a historic adventure with a time travel twist, a lifetime of experiences brought the story to life: my favorite childhood book about four children who go into a Scottish keep and come out in medieval Scotland; the lyrics of the trombone showpiece Blue Bells of Scotland; and a flash of an image of a musician gambling away his instrument and conning his girlfriend into getting it back for him.

You have a degree in music: how much has music played a part in inspiring you?
My life in music plays heavily (no pun intended) in my writing. I considered having Shawn play a more typical star soloist sort of instrument, like saxophone or trumpet. But Shawn is unique and able, as his conductor says, to turn even a tin whistle into stardom. It’s part of his charisma and confidence. Also, as the lyrics which loosely inspired the novel come from a trombone piece, it made sense for my hero to play that instrument, and it was a great chance to bring to life some of the pieces I have loved playing, myself, as a trombonist: not only Blue Bells, but Monti’s Czardas, a beautiful piece of music with a gypsy flavor, which Shawn plays at a medieval fair, while his pursuers watch. I reference music pieces quite often throughout the trilogy, and have made a page at my site that links to many of those pieces on YouTube.

Tell us about your research.
Music is the ‘write what you know’ part of my story. But a novelist cannot possibly write only what he or she knows. I knew almost nothing of Scottish history when I started. I’d never heard of Bannockburn until I looked into battles which might be a backdrop for the noble deeds and streaming banners of the Blue Bells lyrics. The deeper I got into writing, the more I loved researching. With my youngest three not yet in school when I started, I relied on anything I could do from home: a wide variety of internet sites, books, movies, and DVDs on Scotland, castles, medieval life, warfare, and more. Caltrops, murder pits, and Bruce’s guerrilla strategy have all been topics of conversation at our dinner table. My poor children!

My favorite part of the research was traveling to Scotland to visit the locations in my book—Inverness, Loch Ness, Rannoch Moor, Stirling, Bannockburn, and the Monadhliath Mountains. I took over 1300 pictures and dozens of pages of notes. I changed a few things in the final draft as a result, while many other experiences show up in book two, The Minstrel Boy.

Is historical accuracy important to you as a writer?
There is debate among both readers and writers regarding the level of historical accuracy in novels. As a reader, I enjoy a good story regardless, but as a writer, I lean toward being as accurate as possible, partly because I don’t want to destroy the suspension of disbelief for those who know their history, and partly because I love learning and want to know, myself, what it would really be like to go back.

Time travel … and the inevitable comparisons with The Time Traveler’s Wife. What are the pitfalls facing a writer when it comes to time travel?
Many time travel stories fail to explain how the time traveler gets along in a new world. It is passed off as simply part of the time travel mystique, for instance, that the traveler inexplicably speaks the language. I prefer explanations. Niall is of the educated, multi-lingual upper class of his time and a quick learner—the primary reason he is the laird’s future son-in-law, and hence in the tower that night with the laird’s daughter. As a musician, he has a sharp ear. When he arrives in the twenty-first century, he struggles with modern English. He relies on a head injury to explain his difficulties, while he listens, watches, and learns.

Your average modern American does not speak Gaelic. However, of all the things of which Shawn has been accused, average is not one. He pushes for the orchestra’s Scottish tour exactly because of his background—a grandmother from Skye and a father who embraced that heritage, including his mother’s native Gaelic. Like Niall, Shawn struggles at first. Like Niall, he is a musician with a good ear. In addition, he excels at lying and deception, and quickly learns of Niall’s head injury, all of which help him until he adapts to the unfamiliar accents.

This is a first in your planned trilogy—what can readers expect in the future?
Just as a book grows from multiple inspirations, sometimes an inspiration grows into multiple books. In addition to a non-fiction on the history behind the story, look for the story of Shawn and Niall to continue in The Minstrel Boy and The Castle of Dromore, in which Shawn and Niall’s own inspirations and self-revelations culminate in final choices which transform the futures of many.

It sounds fantastic, Laura. Thanks for sharing this amazing story with us. Readers can visit Laura’s interesting and informative site and purchase on Amazon. By the way, stop by to read some of the excellent reviews Blue Bells of Scotland has garnered.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Imaginarium of Ami Blackwelder

I have such a fascinating VBT guest today. Ami Blackwelder is an author whose wide ranging interests take her from one end of the imaginative scale to the other. While many authors would like to expand their skills with a couple of different forays into genres, Ami seems to glide effortlessly into a variety of genres. Author of Rain: Graphic Novella, Guardians of the Gate, The Day the Flowers Died, and The Hunted of 2060.

Tell us about yourself, Ami:

I was raised in California and then in the third grade moved to Florida. I attended the University of Central Florida where I received my BA in English creative writing and teaching. After college, I did a lot of traveling as a teacher to countries like China, Tibet, Nepal, Korea and Thailand! I’ve always loved storytelling. As early as Elementary school, I wrote long inventive tales which my teachers would read in front of class. I took it more seriously as I grew older. I wrote primarily poetry and short stories in my twenties, but in my thirties I have written spiritual books as well as novels. I write paranormal and historical romance which focuses on the forbidden love aspects of characters because of culture, religion, time, gender, death, and species differences.

Ami, reading over your list of publications, I am astounded at the range and variety. What a range—from Christian topics and the bible (Genesis) to a graphic novella, to Munich in 1930, to an elfin romance, to the year 2060! Quite a variety of topics and you obviously have an incredible imagination.

Please tell us how you were inspired for each of your books, what you brought to bear from either your travels, education or research in creating each of your works, and where you see yourself settling comfortably in a genre, or will you continue to be a gipsy wordsmith.

I graduated from UCF with an BA in English and teaching credentials. I traveled to Asia for eight years, teaching primarily kindergarten and writing. I began my writing career with short stories and poetry in my twenties, winning Best Fiction awards and publications in magazines and newspapers in Korea and Thailand.

In my early thirties, I delved into religious topics such as The Ancient Genesis (Creation and Evolution debate) and re-educated myself about Christian issues in Christianity and Sensibility. My overseas adventures helped to inspire my book The Other Five Senses which also incorporates Eastern religions.

But by my mid-thirties I discovered my passion for creative writing was not content to live as mere short stories and I began my journey. I now define myself as a paranormal and historical romance writer. I enjoy the science fiction and fantasy aspects of my imagination as well as entering a past time that I find intriguing. Romance is usually central to my writing, but not the sappy, cliché, or erotic kind of romance. My writing is tasteful with a twist.

Readers will be engaged, entertained, and sometimes enraged with my novels. Currently I am switching publishing companies from 'Creative Endeavors' to 'Eloquent Enraptures.' My books are being re-edited and re-designed with covers and being re-submitted to online and offline venues. The Hunted of 2060 and The Day the Flowers Died are both complete with the transition. My other works will soon follow.

I will be having my first book signing shortly for The Hunted of 2060, my latest work. I am currently working on the prequel, The shifter of 2040, which fans of that novel will love to hear! It is a new book, but has already caught a lot of buzz. Inspired by metamorphosis, wildlife conservation, and prejudice, this novel is a teaching tool within the framework of original, and intriguing shorelines.

Let's take a look at Ami's latest book: The Hunted of 2060
America 2060.
Three Lovers. Two Species. One Way to Survive.
Set in Alaska in 2060, when April enters her Sophomore year at University, she thought Robert might be the love of her life, but as she discovers, she is hiding something inside her, something the rest of the world believes to have died out. She struggles with who she was and who she is becoming as she learns of a family she never knew existed and of enemies she will have to outrun, outfight or outwit to survive. As April embraces her new identity, will she have to leave the life she loves behind? With underlining themes of how prejudice breaks human connections and animal/wildlife conservation, this novel which has received rave reviews will leave the reader flipping through the pages of April’s story.

Please visit this fascinating author's website for downloads and more purchase details.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

An Immortyl Revolution with Author Denise Verrico

Say hello to a fabulously interesting guest today on the VBT, Denise Verrico, auteur extraordinaire on the topic of ... yes, they’re here again ... vampires! But not just ordinary vampires. Denise has created the kind of spine-tingling mythology in her Immortyl Revolution series that makes a reader want to embrace her dark and enticing world of the undead.

Denise is an East Coast native. She has loved vampire stories since she was a little girl and a fan of the Dark Shadows television series. She is an avid reader and fan of sci fi and fantasy of all genres. Denise also enjoys anime, manga and graphic novels. She is a big movie buff. Her favorite TV series of all time are Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Her favorite rock group is Queen, but she also loves The Beatles, The Who, and David Bowie. Her background is in the theatre and she was a member of the Oberon Theatre ensemble in NYC for seven seasons, with whom she acted, directed, wrote plays and designed, She attended Point Park College in PGH PA. She currently resides in Ohio with her husband, teenaged son and flock of seven parrots.

Cara Mia, Book One of the Immortyl Revolution

Vampires Mia and Kurt become involved in a deadly mission to harness the power of immortality. Mia Disantini is a vampire whose greatest desire is to walk in the sun again. She is enslaved by her charismatic master, Ethan, and plunged into an ancient, unenlightened Immortyl culture. As Mia struggles for the freedom to live as she chooses, she is trained as Ethan's Bird of Prey. Soon she becomes the pawn of their powerful, enigmatic elder, Brovik, in his deadly games of deception and intrigue against his rival, Gaius, concerning their forbidden science experiments. When Mia is cast out by Ethan she joins forces with Kurt, and together the lovers steal fire from the gods and deliver it to Genpath Laboratories. The company CEO Lee Brooks deceives and imprisons the pair. While held captive, Mia calls upon the aid of Dr. Joe Ansari. The couple is hunted for their crime and time is running out. Will Mia and Kurt escape with their lives and succeed in their mission before their Immortyl enemies harness the power of immortality for evil purposes?

Let’s find out more about Denise and what makes her vampires ... er ... tick (maybe not the right word!).

Fiona, I’m happy to be your guest today! I want to remind your readers that on July 15th I will be drawing for a free autographed copy of my book. Please leave a comment to be entered in the drawing. I’ll post the winner on my blog, website and Facebook page. My question to the readers is this:
Who is your favorite literary, film or TV vampire and why?

Denise, the question you've been asked a thousand times, I guess: Why vampires? I know you've been crazy about them since a kid, but what was the initial attraction to something that should have scared you at a young age, and how has your love affair with these creatures of the night grown and deepened as you embraced more adult themes in life?
As a child, I was attracted to their power and invincibility. Vampires were like really cool superheroes to me. Also when I was a kid, most heroines were blonde and helpless, where female vampires were usually brunette and strong. I guess I identified with them. As an adult, one begins to understand the drawbacks and moral implications of having to drink blood to survive. To me they are the perfect metaphor for man’s inhumanity to man, especially for those people who hurt children.

What influential writers/movies cemented this passion?
The television show Dark Shadows was the first time that I ever saw a vampire represented in a sympathetic way. Actor, Jonathan Frid played the vampire, Barnabas Collins. He portrayed Barnabas as sophisticated and debonair. He could also be scary. Although I wouldn’t have put it this way as a child, his air of regret over his condition touched me. Of course I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula and saw a lot of vampire movies as a kid. These were the horror variety. I loved monster movies of all kinds. In my twenties, I discovered Anne Rice and loved her Interview with the Vampire. Some people find Louis whiny, but I find him a decent man who is thrust into a nightmare. He’s trying to make sense of his circumstances and retain his humanity. That’s admirable. Lestat, on the other hand, embraces his vampirism and doesn’t spend a lot of time looking back. He’s more fun. I like both of these takes on the condition. I also enjoyed the book I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, which is a sci fi look at vampires. In this story vampires outnumber humans and only one man is left to battle them. The twist is that the hero is actually seen as the monster. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is my favorite paranormal show of all time. I like how Joss Whedon strikes the perfect balance of humor, horror, romance and drama. My current favorite is Being Human on the BBC.

What appeals to you most about sci fi? Favorite writers or themes?
I love how science fiction and fantasy build new worlds. Science fiction and fantasy take on big questions, setting them outside of the mundane world and putting them into a place where people can look at them more objectively. An author can also take a remote scientific possibility and run with it, long before theory becomes reality. In sci fi, you can clone dinosaurs or engineer androids that want to be real live boys. Maybe one can capture the secrets of immortality from vampires.

Ursula K. Le Guin is my favorite author in science fiction. Her stories are strong on character, and I love the detailed societies and subcultures she creates. In The Left Hand of Darkness she explores an alien race that is neither male nor female. I always find discussions of gender interesting and deal with the idea in my books. In some of her work she deals with slavery, another subject that fascinates me. I love Dune by Frank Herbert because of all of the multi-layered worlds with all the various subcultures and religions. Time travel stories are fun. I watch a lot of Doctor Who these days. I’m into good space opera. Star Trek and Firefly are two of my all time favorite sci fi series. I haven’t read any Steampunk yet. It looks interesting.

Is Cara Mia your first book or have you written any short stories etc?
It’s my first novel, but I’ve also written plays that have been produced. I majored in theatre in college and worked with The Oberon Theatre Ensemble, a company in New York for seven years. My first produced play is entitled, Attempting Fate. I also directed the production. I’m still passionate about the theatre, but I’m too busy writing fiction these days to do any acting or directing. I’ve written a libretto inspired by the songs of Freddie Mercury that I’d love to produce someday.

On your blog you have an in-depth mythology (for want of a better world) that encompasses characters and ancient family lines. Did this kind of 'world creating' come easily to you? Do your characters 'create' themselves in a way?
Wow. Good question. It took a long time to develop and a lot of research into history. However, I love that kind of research. I’m kind of a history buff and love to create characters from time periods I’ve read about. I decided to make my vampire culture male-dominated, like many ancient societies. It’s tough to be a woman in a world like this and it gave my heroine a lot to fight against. The oldest example of the Immortyl culture is centered in India, but the world of Immortyl Revolution encompasses values from many other societies like ancient Greece. I also see vampires as similar to wolves, predators who cooperate to ensure survival. Immortyls are also highly territorial.

You could say my characters create themselves. They come to me, start to speak and demand attention. I do a lot of thinking about whom these people are and their beliefs. It’s not like I agonize over it. This part of it is fun for me. Since they are different aspects of my personality, many of them share characteristics of mine. The chief elder keeps parrots like me. Mia was an actress. Cedric, in book three, is a big fan of rock and roll.

I have often wondered this: can one do any research with this kind of paranormal fantasy, or is it all a product of your imagination; would you need to do outside or factual research?
Well, Immortyl Revolution features sci fi vampires in an urban fantasy world. I did a lot of reading to come up with a plausible biological reason for my vampires. There are no magical powers in this world. You won’t find any werewolves, angels or wizards in the Immortyl Revolution series. My vampires are mutated human beings who must drink blood to survive, but they also must eat food and drink water. They avoid the sun because of a cancer caused by ultra-violet light that can kill them. They are sterile and can’t have children. They are, however, virtually immortal. We age and die because our DNA makes less and less perfect copies as we get older. Our bodies are genetically programmed to do so. I won’t give away how my vampires become immortal, but it’s discovered in the books.

As I mentioned before, if one is dealing with people from other times, it makes sense to find out all you can about that time so you can find out what makes this character tick. Also, to create an alien world within our world, the writer should be aware of politics, world events, geography, architecture, art and so many subjects. I’ve researched many religions and mythologies to give me a jumping off point to create my vampire mythology. The imagination needs food to grow and research provides that food.

Tell us about Book Two, Twilight of the Gods.
In this book, Kurt becomes a charismatic revolutionary leader over the sewer rats, feral child and teen formed vampires. Although Kurt is beloved by his followers, Mia is disliked by many of them. Both of them deal with the challenges of leadership, love affairs and impending war with the house of Gaius. There is much more of Kurt’s struggle in this book. He’s a reluctant leader, but driven by his strong desire to right wrongs. Having observed his master, Brovik for fifty years, Kurt realizes the dangers of power and worries that he will become someone he doesn’t want to be. He wants to believe the best of those who follow him and often turns a blind eye to treachery. Mia, on the other hand, is more cynical than Kurt and sees potential threats to his position and the revolution. Their relationship is strained when Kurt forms an affectionate bond with Arturo, an oddly timid vampire.

Is there going to be a Book Three?
Fearful Symmetry is almost finished going through my critique group. It’s set in India and is told from the POV of Cedric MacKinnon. He’s an adept of the ancient arts or temple artist/courtesan in service to the Immortyl cult of the goddess, Kali. I wanted to tell this part of the saga from within the Chief Elder’s court, to get the perspective of the ruling class as observed by one of their servants.

There are so many writers in this genre—why will you stand out from the rest?
Gosh, I hope I’ve created something original. Lots of authors have done sci fi vamps and vamp cultures before. The heart of the series is the sewer rats, the lost boys and girls who are victimized by their masters. I’m moved by the plight of their real-world counterparts who are trafficked and enslaved by human monsters. Hopefully people will come away from reading my stories thinking about conditions in our world that allow women, kids and young adults to be treated this way. Like Mia, I have a big problem with the strong preying on the weak.

Gag question: what are you afraid of in the world of vampires - bats, the dark, coffins, dungeons, people with big teeth....?
I love bats. They’re essential creatures in many eco-systems. They eat pounds of harmful insects. I like the nighttime and do most of my writing then. Dungeons would be uncomfortable and slimy. Being shut up in a box would terrify me. I’m very claustrophobic. No coffins in my world, thank-you!

I've learned a lot today about this 'other world.' Thanks for being such an interesting guest, Denise.
Fiona, it’s been a pleasure talking with you and your readers! Don’t forget to comment to be entered in the drawing.

You can connect with Denise on Facebook or on her web site where you'll find fun stuff like excerpts, character profiles and an Immortyl Lexicon. Click here to purchase an author-signed copy.
Cara Mia is also available in trade paperback and multi-format e-book, including kindle at the following sites: Amazon and Borders.

Monday, July 5, 2010

It’s Murder... and Madness with Author Jen Hilborne

Another murder author takes the page today with an interesting writer Jen Hilborne. Jen straddles two continents—born in the United Kingdom and living in the USA. I’m sure that puts an interesting slant on her writing. Madness and Murder is her debut novel. Congrats Jen! Let’s hope you’re another Agatha Christie!

Frustrated by the rising body count and lack of evidence, veteran homicide detective, Mac Jackson, questions his own ethics when he risks the life of an innocent young woman to trap a cunning and sadistic serial killer. Known for his uncanny precision with a hunch, he is all too aware that, this time, the stakes are much higher if his gamble fails to pay off. Jessica Croft, withdrawn, vulnerable, and emotionally scarred, moves from Sacramento to begin a new life in San Francisco with her twin brother, Judd. Ninety miles from the sinister, shameful secrets of her past, and the madness that tore their family apart, she hopes to find tranquillity, maybe even love. However, her chance for happiness is short-lived when she suddenly finds herself the target of a relentless madman with a deadly agenda. Loath to continue living a life of fear, Jessica tells no one when she takes a bold risk to draw him out; dangerously unaware of the trap he has already set for her. Now nothing may be able to save her except the accuracy of a hunch.

Tell us about yourself, and your writing background. This is your first book so what did you do before then? Were you interested in writing or just enjoying being a reader?
I’m a native Brit currently living in the US with a background in the world of real estate and finance. I've always loved reading, and have dabbled with writing for years, however, I only thought about writing a novel a few years ago. My earlier scribblings are children’s stories and high-school essays. I started writing Madness and Murder in 2007, and finished the first draft eleven months later. Then came months of editing. The manuscript was accepted by Echelon Press in 2009, after I met my publisher at a writer's conference in San Diego.

Madness and Murder is quite an international mystery. Murder across continents, in fact. How did your storyline end up taking such intercontinental twists?
Madness and Murder takes us on a cross-continental journey because I like to travel, and I'm sure most other people do, too. Quite a few elements of real life are woven into the novel and quite a few of the characters are based loosely on people I know, myself included. I used real life journeys and situations to create many of the scenes (but not the murderous events, I hasten to point out).

I recently did a blog post on types of murders, genres, and Sheila Lowe, another murder mystery writer actually divided them for me. Maybe you can tell us where yours fits in.
I would say Madness and Murder fits somewhere between psychological suspense and thriller. We get into the mind of the killer from time to time and are privy to the murderous deeds he/she is planning, even though we don't initially know his/her identity. The pace is quick, and the murders piling up are violent and sadistic in nature. We know the killer enjoys killing. Madness and Murder is character driven, with plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. We get an in-depth look at the characters to help us understand what makes them tick, even the killer.

It sounds as if you're having loads of fun writing—what's the best part of it?
I love everything about writing. I love making things up, and writing a novel means I can do it without getting into trouble. I usually begin with a title and a loose idea in my head for a motive and how the novel will end. After that, I decide what method of murder will be used, and then I sit down to write. I don't plot it all out in advance. Many of my characters show up uninvited and tell me what they want to do, where they want to work, and what their grievances are. When I wrote Madness and Murder, the villain invited himself into my story half way through and completely changed its direction.

Aren't you a bit worried you have all these murderous tendencies?????
The question made me laugh. I joke that my boyfriend sleeps with one eye open. I believe most adults have the ability to murder, but of course, most of us don't. The TV and media are filled with news of crime, real and fictional, and it fascinates people, whether they admit it or not. I write about murder not for the thrill of the deed—and sometimes my characters shock me with the things they do—but because I like to solve the crime. I love all things mysterious and puzzling. The murder/mystery genre chose me.

Tell us about your second book, or is it a secret and if you tell us ... you'll have to kill us?
My second book, No Alibi, is another suspense set in San Francisco, and is more of a police procedural. The story follows veteran homicide cop, John Doucette, plagued by personal betrayal, which affects his judgment while he sifts through a complex web of lies and deceit to solve the murder of a beautiful young woman found dead in her home. No Alibi will be published in 2011 by Echelon Press. Currently, I am working on Hide and Seek, my third suspense set guessed it.....San Francisco. This story is based on an adult version of a child’s game with, of course, a murder thrown in.

It sounds as if you ARE becoming the next Agatha Christie! Readers can purchase Murder and Madness at Amazon, and please visit Jen's website to keep up with the body count!