Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Countdown to Christmas

Only 6 days left until Christmas...

I am always getting asked for recommendations of books I love. Here are a list of just a few of my favorite MG Fiction novels.  ~Enjoy~

For centuries mystical creatures of all description were gathered into a hidden refuge called Fablehaven to prevent their extinction. The sanctuary survives today as one of the last strongholds of true magic. Enchanting? Absolutely. Exciting? You bet. Safe? Well, actually, quite the opposite.

Kendra and her brother, Seth, have no idea that their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven. Inside the gated woods, ancient laws keep relative order among greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies. However, when the rules get broken -- Seth is a bit too curious and reckless for his own good -- powerful forces of evil are unleashed, and Kendra and her brother face the greatest challenge of their lives. To save their family, Fablehaven, and perhaps even the world, Kendra and Seth must find the courage to do what they fear most.
The Fablehaven series is one of my favorites. Not only is it one of my kids favorites but I loved it as well.

Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school . . . again. And that's the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy's Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he's angered a few of them. Zeus's master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.
Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus's stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.

Skip the movies and go straight to the books.


Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry's eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin!

I couldn't have a list of favorites without Harry Potter. An epic fantasy. The books are great and add so much to the movies.

Give your child the gift of reading this Christmas. 

Happy Reading!!

Monday, December 10, 2018

A Time for Vengeance

If your looking for a good YA book to add to a teen's kindle this Christmas. Try out A Time for Vengeance by Nathaniel Wyckoff. A new release I just had the pleasure of reading.

Simon Mendez has an anger problem, and he’s about to unleash his fury on the Spanish Inquisition.
The Mendez family is on top of the world. An upper-class family in 17th century Spain, they live a secret life – outwardly Catholic by all accounts, but desperately worried that, someday, someone will discover the Jewish traditions that they practice behind closed doors.
Everything comes crashing down when the Inquisition arrests Simon's father. Incensed, Simon must retaliate with everything he’s got. With his father set to be burned at the stake and a sadistic hometown eager to see it happen, Simon has no time to lose. It will take his sharp wit, brutal weapons and raw courage to strike back hard at the Inquisition - before it’s too late.

The first in the series, I gave the book 4 out of 5 Stars.
A time for vengeance is the first book in Nathaniel's new series. It follow's the life of Simon Mendez and his family. Being Jewish in Spain is a death sentence. Simon and his family must hide their beliefs from those around them. When Simon's father is accused of being holding secret Jewish classes, Simon's world is turned upside down, leaving the rest of his family homeless and in hiding. Simon must figure out how to take care of his family, while trying desperately to save his father as he weighs the importance of being true to himself. Definitely one to add to the kindle.

I'm looking forward to the coming adventure's of Simon. Give A Time for Vengeance a try and let me know what you thought.  Happy Reading!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Who doesn't like a little something Free

Today Patrick McNulty's first book in his Monster series is Free.  A great addition to any kids reading list this year. And Adult too for those Middle Grade Adult lovers like myself.  Just click on the link to claim your free copy:)  Also don't forget to take the time to post a review. It will make any author's day!

The children of Cripple Creek have been kidnapped!
When school buses loaded with kids go missing, the Ministry of Monsters (MOM) send their top agents, thirteen-year-old monster hunter Milo Jenkins and his ghostly sidekick, Ruby, to investigate. 
Armed with magical tools of the trade and the latest in futuristic gadgets, Milo and Ruby find themselves up against an evil mastermind determined to transform the good people of Cripple Creek into an unstoppable army of monsters!
Monster Factory is the first book in the action-packed Milo Jenkins: Monster Hunter series. If you like heart-racing action, cool gadgets, witty heroes, evil villains and stories full of things that go bump in the night, then you’ll love Monster Factory!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Interview with Patrick McNulty

Today I'd like to welcome author Partick McNulty. Tell us a little about yourself.  

Well, I grew up in Southern Ontario, Canada and I've always been a fan of dark, twisted fiction. I went to Vancouver Film School and worked with the production company called the Zanuck Co. on a script of mine called Dark Season. When that deal dissolved I converted the script into a novel called Sleepers Awake that I eventually sold to Kunati Press. About a year later Kunati Press went out of business and since then I have been writing screenplays and I have self-published a novel called The Blood Singer. As for a day job I was a medic in the Canadian Army for five years and now I am a police officer.  

That's too bad about your publisher going out of business. It's hard to have to start over again. Self publishing is a great option. What got you into writing?

I grew up in an age without the internet so streaming and Youtube were out, so I read. I loved Stephen King and Dean Koontz and Clive Barker growing up.

Which do you prefer: print books or ebooks?

I prefer print books when I'm at home but having all the digital books on my phone is super convenient and I find I get more reading done on my phone waiting in line than I usually get done at home.

Patrick, have you been given any helpful advice?

The greatest advice I've been given as a writer is that if you love writing and want to succeed, keep writing. Success always seems impossible but if you stick to it and keep learning you can accomplish any goal. And with the online communities out there to offer help every step of the way there really is goal you can't achieve if you are persistent . 
If you could travel anywhere in the world where would you go and why?

Currently, what are you working on?

Currently, I'm working on the Milo Jenkins: Monster Hunter series. My plan is to release a new book every month once the first one is out in stores. The first three are nearly completed, so I should be publishing the first one, Monster Factory shortly.

Wow, a book a month is ambitious.  Best of Luck. Tell us a little bit about your main characters.

My main character is a thirteen year old orphan named Milo Jenkins. He has been raised by the Ministry of Monsters (MOM) to be a monster hunter. He attends a private school of sorts called the Wychwood Academy where he learns all the tricks of the trade. While there he is assigned a partner, Ruby Sinclair. She is a ghost that helps him by collecting intelligence and assisting him while he is in the field on a mission.

Patrick, what did you find to be the easiest part of the writing process?  What is the hardest?

The easiest part of the writing process is the rough draft.  I love it because I can write really fast and not have to worry too much about grammar and punctuation, and all that jazz. The editing and proofreading is the hardest part for me. That is the only part of the job that feels like work, but in the end the work gets polished and refined and it really is crucial to the writing process.

Do you have people read your drafts before you publish?  How do you select beta readers?

I do have a Alpha Beta Reader, which is my wife. I've written rooms full of scripts and short stories and novels and she has always been there to give me an honest, straight forward critique. I love her but she's brutal. If it works for her – happy day, if it doesn't she will let me know about with both barrels.  After I get her stamp of approval I pass it along to my beta readers who have graciously agreed to offer me some early comments and suggestions. I have a link at the top of my website: www.patrickmcnulty.cawhere you can sign up to be part of my ARC Team and so far they have been phenomenal.

Brutal is my favorite kind of beta reader.  Better to find out before you publish is my thought. Who designed the artwork for your cover?  Or did you design it yourself?

www.100covers.com  did the artwork for my covers but I knew what I was looking for. Like any good service, the more information and feedback you give them the better the end result. I would highly recommend 100covers and I am using them for all of my Milo Jenkins covers.

What brought about the idea for your book?

Well, I love monster stories and I loved the format/length of the middle grade books. Like all my books I try to write books that I would want to read, and sometimes I get discouraged with a book that's too long. Most times I want a book that I can finish in a day. So I tend to write without a lot of fluff and like Elmore Leonard says, 'leave out the stuff people skip over.' 

Try it out and download it for FREE on December 4th & 5th at Amazon.

Thanks so much for sharing with us today. Happy Reading!! Be sure to check out more from Patrick at the links below.

But the book is wide on every platform as of December 1st.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope everyone had a great thanksgiving and was able to spend it with family and friends. 

Be careful out there if you are venturing out to do Black Friday Shopping. I prefer to do mine online.

Don't forget to pickup a copy of Sunwalker only .99cents ebook today.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Happy Veterans Day

Thank you to everyone past and present who has served our country and sacrificed to keep this country's freedoms intact. I am especially grateful for the service of many of my relatives who have and continue to serve in various branches of our armed forces. May God bless you all and keep you safe.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Don't forget to vote!

Tomorrow is Voting Day! If you didn't make it out to early voting than tomorrow is your last chance. Every vote counts. Remember to get your voice heard. Thank you for all those who have fought so valiantly and brave to give us this right and protect this right.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Interview with Alice Gent Author of The Fox & the Train

Today I'd like to welcome Alice Gent! Tell us a little about yourself.
Hello! I live in Bristol, England, where I work as a small animal veterinary surgeon. Though I have previously treated tigers, penguins and snakes, I have to say that dogs are my favourite animal to work with! I have always been dog obsessed and own a cuddly, adventurous Labrador called Summer, who comes to work with me every day. She can always bring me back to my cheerful self, no matter how long and stressful the day is. I also live with my husband, Sam, who has to put up with the various sick animals I bring home (mainly pigeons…) as well as reading every story I write multiple times.  We are currently expecting our first child in December and we have told him firmly he’s not allowed to arrive too close to Christmas!

I have written stories for as long as I can remember. The first full length novel I wrote at 11 was about a magician’s apprentice who was bad at magic. Then throughout my teenage years I wrote epic fantasy after epic fantasy and my poor parents had to read through everyone, even when they went over 200,000 words! As a child I was badly dyslexic and struggled with sentence structure and spelling to the extent that many of my early stories were illegible until I typed them up. It took me much longer then all the other children in my class to both write and type, but I just loved to tell stories and ignored the criticisms and when people told me I was ‘stupid’ I decided to not believe them. Slowly I developed techniques to get around my dyslexia and now it never holds me back.

I still spend a lot of my free time writing and am so excited about my second book coming out at the end of October! It’s called ‘The Fox and the Train’ and is a fairytale like adventure for confident eleven year olds upwards. Don’t be put off adults, it’s for you as well!

I love middle grade fiction. I think it's the perfect genre. I can read it to my kids and still enjoy it myself. Will you share a short excerpt from your novel with us?

Anna stands, and it feels as if she is made of snow. She can’t distinguish between her body parts. She feels so light she might drift away in a spiralling dance. Yet her limbs creak and crackle like when you put weight on a fresh snowfall. They hold her up unsteadily. She looks like snow as well, white and unblemished. Just her hair shines with autumnal fire.

She drifts out into the wood. For some reason she’s not scared. She feels like she is meant to be there. She stretches out her arms and laughs, swirling in the moonlight, a dancer of snow and flame.

Suddenly she stops, realising she has an observer. It’s there, bright eyes, auburn fur, a smile, then it’s gone. Anna releases her breath, aware that this moment is special, important. She runs after it, not caring that her feet are just in socks, for she feels as if she is barely touching the ground. It disappears into the undergrowth and to Anna’s amazement, the brambles seem to part for her as she flies after it, giving her a trail. She runs like a deer across the frozen mud, her heart pounding with the chase.

Suddenly it’s there in front of her. Or rather he is. She stops sharply and falls to her knees. The Spirit King stares at her and her perception shatters. She gasps and all she can see is his eyes. They are green like the first spring buds bursting with life. There is so much energy there she can’t comprehend them. Her mind is frozen. His eyes are lowlighted with blackest soot and are surrounded by flames. His fur is alive with fire, shimmering and glowing. He is terrifying yet wonderful. All of Anna’s life falls away as ash. Nothing she has ever seen or felt compares to this. This majesty and wisdom. This balance of life and death.

“Why are you here?” he says. His words are both warm and cold. Commanding and gentle. Terrifying and yet alive with hope.

From somewhere within, Anna finds her courage and her voice. “I must rescue my brother, Michael. He’s in trouble in the mines.”

The Spirit King regards her as if listening to a hundred parts of her crying out. Anna bows her head, feeling like she is lacking under his scrutiny. It’s as if the fox’s fur is dimming in response as he sieves through her. She is not enough. She never is enough to stop everything happening around her. She is so weak, she just makes situations worse. But, no, this time she has to be good enough! She refuses to be weak, to be insufficient. She is all she is and that has to be enough to save her brother.

Alice, what brought about the idea for this book?

‘The Fox and the Train’ is meant to feel like a fairytale with a loose setting and time, so the reader can transfer it to many places, but it aims to give the feel of northern Europe in the early 1900s. It’s about a thirteen year old girl called Anna who has an overactive imagination. She lives with her grandma and together they care for her mother who has advanced dementia. Anna is very lonely and when her older brother is trapped in a mining accident, she is determined to save him, even though the adults say it is impossible.

Anna’s best friend is Benny, who is autistic and bullied by the rest of their village. He likes to break everything he experiences down to simple logic so struggles with Anna’s imagination. Together they have to learn to overcome their differences and gain enough courage to make it through the huge forest to the site of the mine to rescue Anna’s brother.

A magical fox appears to help them on their way… or does he?

I have always been intrigued by how people can see the world in completely different ways, yet learn to get along, especially cold logic vs imagination or spiritualism. I really wanted to explore this in Anna and Benny. I have also always loved stories were you’re never quite sure what is real and what is not. I look forward to hearing your own explanation for whether the Spirit King really exist.

I also wanted to explore what bravery looks like. We so often undervalue acts of extraordinary bravery due to  their unflashy nature, such as Anna caring for a mother with dementia, or due to the people who perform them, such as autistic Benny being forever overlooked, yet easily the bravest person in the whole book. Hence one of the catchphrases of the story being ‘Perhaps bravery looks different from what you think.’

I was also inspired by some of the beautiful prose of two middle grade books, the classic ‘Earthsea’ series, and the recent ‘Girl of Ink and Stars’ (sometimes called ‘The Cartographer's Daughter’ in US editions). So many books for younger teenagers have such simple language and I wanted to attempt to echo the beauty of the magical language that made me love reading in the first place. Language so beautiful that it sends shivers up your spine. Maybe one day I’ll get there.

Sounds like an intriguing story line. Where do you see yourself in five years?

I would love to have published at least four more books by then. Hopefully I can control myself and stick to two genres! (Though I am very tempted to write some veterinary inspired ones!) I look forward to seeing how my writing changes with a little baby around!

Over your writing career have you been given any helpful advice? If so, what?

Never stop writing. No matter how successful you are or how many people read what you have written, if you love it, don’t let anyone put you off. It’s amazing how much my writing style has changed over the years of practice and how much it has helped me order my thoughts for logical arguments and beat my dyslexia. I would never give it up.

That's great advice and I think it can be applied to any dream, even if it's not writing. Currently, what are you working on?

I have recently finished a young adult fantasy called ‘The Flawed Princess’ which is a magical slow burn romance. I am very excited about seeing where it goes. It is currently being assessed by publishers. I am hoping to follow it with a similar book this coming year.

Most of my time is being spent on my next Christian fiction. It is called ‘Leaving’ and is a sequel to ‘Sarah’s Footsteps’ but can be read separately. It is written for Christians graduating from University looking at how to deal or support others with doubt, depression, loneliness, and the shock of being an independent adult! I’m finding this book very hard to write, partly because it is so emotional, partly because the plot won’t behave, but hope to finish it in 2019.

What has been the best compliment you have received?

I was blown over by most of my reviews for ‘Sarah’s Footsteps’. One of them said it was their favorite book of the year. I already have some lovely feedback filtering in for ‘Fox and the Train’ from ARC copies.

Naomi Gibson (shortlisted author for the 2017 Yeovil Literary Prize) said on 'The Fox and the Train,' "I found the novel to be a beautiful cross between THE SNOW CHILD by Eowyn Ivey (a fairy tale retelling) and THE GIRL OF INK AND STARS by Kiran Millwood-Hargrave, where a young girl goes on an adventure but with a volcano as opposed to a forest. I thought the mix was wonderful."

I loved that compliment since ‘The Girl of Ink and Stars’ had been the style and feel I had been aiming for. The Snow Child was also such a beautiful book. It was an honour to be compared to them both.

It's nice when your vision translates into your work. Do you have people read your drafts before you publish?  How do you select beta readers?

A professional copy editor reads my novels and she is invaluable. However the first person who always gets to read my books is my mum, because I’m always too embarrassed to let anybody else see the initial mistakes! The amount of times a minor character has changed names halfway through and I’ve not noticed! Nobody spots plot holes and typos better than my mum, who is a linguist and ex-lawyer. I then give the novel to a team of five or so beta readers who are also good friends. I have two seperate teams, one Christians to read my Christian fiction, and one fantasy obsessed to read my young adult fantasy and speculative fiction. I really couldn’t do this without their blunt and honest criticism and encouragement. I’m always up for having more beta readers, however, if anyone else wants to join a team!

I agree a great team is invaluable. I am always shocked at how many authors don't use them. I couldn't survive without mine. Who designed the artwork for your cover?  Or did you design it yourself?

The cover was designed by my friend and fellow author, Annie Welton. She is a professional photographer and artist and also took my wedding photos. I think she did a wonderful job capturing the beauty and magic of the story.

You can see her facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/AnnieTheIllustrator/

How do you handle criticism when it comes to your writing?

If I feel like they have a point, I try to learn from it. If not, I’m happy to accept that everyone is allowed different tastes and preferences. Luckily I’ve not had any reviews that were just mean or rude! I’m slowly learning to grow a thick skin, even though my writing is deeply personal to me. 

Is there something you learned from writing your first book?

Sooo many things. Silly little things such as not using as many ‘!’ as I would in texts, emails, and conversational writing. (As soon as my publisher pointed them out I couldn’t believe how many I naturally put in!) (Yes I do feel one was justified at the end of that sentence.)

‘Sarah’s Footsteps’ was closely modeled on my own experiences at Bristol University and that of my friends. I’ve found it so interesting talking to my readers who are students there and how differently some of them have viewed their experiences to me. Half my readers have said it’s mirrored their experiences and world view scarily accurately, while others have said they were amazed people could see Uni that way. I’m always amazed to learn more and more how complex people are.

Alice, any last words?

Thank you so much to S.T Sanchez for hosting me.

I am always happy to be contacted by readers on goodreads or through my facebook page, so do drop me a line if you have any other questions.

It's been a pleasure Alice. Be sure to check out more about Alice and her works at the sites below. Happy Reading!!


Friday, October 26, 2018

Interview with Jeffery Lee Hatcher, Ph.D. author of Tacking on The Styx

Today I’d like to welcome author Jeffery Lee Hatcher Ph.D. to the blog. Tell us about yourself.

In my youth, I was captivated by nature and quickly developed a sense of horror at the way we take  Earth for granted.  As a consequence, I pursued an education in science to study wildlife ecology.  After completing a masters degree en route to a PhD, I was knocked over exceptionally hard by epilepsy.  Though it took a long time, I eventually completed the PhD degree, however the time required to do so served as a scarlet letter.  I had a track record of working in rural Africa and extensive laboratory experience in genetics, but nothing was ever enough to overcome the stigma from the inordinate time I took getting the degree.  I eventually quit the science scene and took up writing.

Writing sounds much more fun to me anyway. Science was not my best subject. What motivated your writing?

In living with epilepsy, I discovered that the disease has myriad cognitive effects that impact every facet of one's life.  Unfortunately the American medical community's approach to treatment consists almost entirely of controlling seizures.  I wanted some psychiatric counseling, especially concerning the mental consequences of brain surgery. I never was given any such counseling.  So I have tried to bridge a gap, using my research skills on one hand and my life experience on the other, in order to layout the textbook knowledge of epilepsy psychology against an engaging fictional story.  I particularly want to inspire college and medical students to take an interest in epilepsy's psychological challenges.

I love learning when I don’t realize that I am. I think that’s one reason I enjoy historical fiction. I think learning through stories are a great way acquire more knowledge in a fun way. Your book sounds right up my alley. What has been the most difficult thing you have struggled with since you began a career in writing?

In the social sense, being taken seriously by my intended audience.  One hallmark of my kind of epilepsy is hypergraphia – the tendency to write a  lot!  As a consequence, if you say that you've been writing about your disease, people in the medical field tune you out immediately.  Even having a doctoral degree in a biological field does not get them to take you seriously.

One of the ironies to this behavior is the fact that many books written by professionals for a lay audience go to great lengths to say how many talented authors have had the disease.  However, they keep citing the same authors which is self – contradictory.  It's hard to overstate how tiresome it is to be told that Dostoevsky had epilepsy. 

From a composition sense, because my epilepsy gives me memory difficulties, I find myself rereading my work to an almost obscene degree.  As a result, I work incredibly slowly.

Can you tell us about your main characters?

Tacking on the Styx has one main character.  He's modeled after myself to some degree.  He is introspective out of necessity (he has amnesia).  He's in graduate school, works in Africa, is highly frustrated, and develops exceptionally bad relations with his faculty adviser.  Their relationship deteriorates in no small part because neither one of them knows what can fairly be expected of his graduate work due to a lack of behavioral counseling. 

The second most important character lies mostly behind the scenes.  She would be his adviser.  She has little ability to empathize with his issues in part because she is mildly narcissistic and, like many people, her knowledge of epilepsy begins and ends with a patient having seizures.

Most of the other characters are quite supportive. They include his sister, his parents, and fellow students.

Which do you find more challenging inventing the hero or the villain?  Why?

Honestly, neither.  In Tacking, I had real life models for both.  I believe it was Stephen King who advised writers to avoid the use of adjectives.  Let actions, adverbs, and plot lines describe the work for you.  In light of this, merely writing a story that was based on life experience did the character development for me.  The heroes and villains fleshed themselves out along the way. 

Watching your characters develop on their own terms is a fun part of writing.  About 2/3 of the way through my book, I lost control of my characters.  They were at the helm.  I wasn't.  I am not a father, but I suppose the experience could be likened to raising teenagers, only without staying awake until 1:00 AM listening for the car to pull into the driveway.  It was actually quite enjoyable.  

It’s amazing the different directions a story can take you on even when it wasn’t your initial plan. What was your favorite scene to write?

The main character, Tom, is walking through an African forest with a friend when he has an epileptic episode.  His friend has gone ahead of him and, thus, is unaware of his immediate condition.  Tom doesn't lose consciousness or even self awareness.  However, he starts having difficulty completing whole sentences within his train of thought.  He becomes light-headed and confused about where he is.  Because he recognizes that he could lose consciousness in this forest and die for lack of treatment, he gets overwhelmed by terror.

Earlier in the scene they pass by some fresh and steaming elephant turd, so they know that somewhere off of the trail, they have company.  He retains a bit of imagery of being trampled to death by a startled pachyderm.  Finally, he pops a tranquilizer.  His friend also doubles back to find him sitting on the trail.  They finish their trip, but Tom continually develops a distaste for doing ecology research in part because of this sort of psychological experience.  Again, epilepsy has a lot of mental challenges which people fail to understand.  This scene laid some of them out in an exotic and white – knuckled manner.

It sounds intense. I feel like I am learning so much more about epilepsy just from doing this interview. I too was one of those people who just thought the disease was about getting seisures. Will you share a short excerpt from your novel?

In this scene (my favorite above), two characters are walking in a Kenyan rain forest several kilometers from the nearest road.  Nobody is nearby and the main character, Tom, has just stopped to relieve himself.  When walking through an isolated forest, no man steps more than a foot off trail simply to unzip.  However, Tom is starting to get loopy and unwittingly hacks three meters into the brush with a machete just to stand and relieve himself.  That finished, he starts getting confused about which direction is out! I then follow up the fiction with some philosophical commentary about how spatial memory failure compares to other forms of failure.  I've edited some of the text out for brevity.

A moment before he finished urinating, he felt a gentle warmth passing through his head.  His thoughts started to break up.  Upon finishing, he hastily zipped up and began to scan around for where he had come from.  He had to make himself findable, yet even in this scant distance, his sense of direction completely vanished.  He kept the presence of logic to step through his slash marks in the draco palms back onto the trail only eight feet away.

The trail had no features where he’d left it, running straight and flat in both directions.  When he re-entered it, which way he had come from, only ninety seconds ago, slipped beneath his consciousness.  By chance, he continued further in the right direction, but the river looped back close to the trail where its increasing noise confused him.  He forgot that he’d come a long ways from where they had earlier crossed it, hence its renewed noise must be coming from a second, altogether different location on it.  That simple calculation didn’t materialize for him.

Now he reversed course and backtracked a hundred feet in the wrong direction.  His thoughts continued failing to fully complete themselves.  He sat down on the trail, fished his tranquilizers out of his bag and placed one under his tongue.  He continued sitting and began to feel panicked.

Suddenly a small, sharp pinching sensation arose from his left calf muscle followed by another, and a third higher on his thigh.  Looking at the ground, he saw a thin reconnaissance stream of safari ants running alongside of his foot and only some seven ants wide.  Like their Amazonian cousins, the army ants, the safari ants spread out in thin columns, attempting to eat anything that moved while sending news back to the main mass of the nomadic colony.

He quickly shifted his leg to the side, stood up, and strode forward six paces, all the while struggling to think articulated thoughts as well as keep his balance.  Seeing no more ants beneath him, he stood still and tried to remove his pants without first removing his shoes.  He fell over onto his knees.  Then he sat back onto the ground and removed both shoes and pants in proper order.  He brushed six ants off of his calf.  He pulled off two which had clamped onto his upper thigh and one off of the right leg band of his briefs.  Pulling the waistband away from his body, he looked in and saw only his own belongings.  They could have belonged to somebody else for as connected as he felt to his entire body now.

While still struggling to complete a thought, he inspected his pants with shaking hands.  After killing five more marauders, he lay his pants over his knees and sat still for what felt like several minutes breathing alternately deeply and weakly.  What would the renowned wildlife spokesman, Marlin Perkins, think of a man sitting alone on the damp forest ground, trembling in his underwear, pants in his lap, shoes to the side, and feeling beyond incoherent in an African woodland?  His eyes watered, and he barely suppressed the sudden urge to cry.

Remembering Marlin Perkins was a benchmark of returning normality in his brain - a break in the mutism.  The tranquilizer had begun pushing his thoughts back together.

“Safari ants?” the man who was Geoff asked now standing over him.  He had finally backtracked, confused by Tom’s failure to catch up.

“Yeah,” Tom mumbled with a sniff, just now finding his speech.

“I did the strip search routine yesterday when you weren’t around.  I can’t stand those damn things,” Geoff replied.


As they hiked together again, Tom’s exhausted mind played with fragments of a letter.  Patched together, its coherent and proper form would go something like this:

Dear Mom,

Today I tried to commit suicide by seizure three times, but each time I failed.  I fail a lot, it seems.  I thought I’d start by trying to pass out in the middle of a small river and drowning.  It was shallow enough to kneel in but too deep to seize in.  When that didn’t work, I figured I’d pass out in front of an elephant, but getting trampled to death never happened either.  Finally, it occurred to me that keeling over on a swarm of flesh-eating ants and having my eyelids, lips and genitals chewed off of my unconscious body would make a really awesome story for any grandsons that Eileen gives you.  Geoff could post a picture of my blood-drained corpse saying ‘Hi’ without any eyelids or lips onto your Facebook wall.  Alas, none of that came to pass.  I just cannot time the seizures that precisely.  Life is just a string of missed opportunities.

Love, Tom

P.S.  I don’t care.


Memory can be categorized in multiple ways.  Two prominent categories of conscious memory (not to be confused with the memory of how to ride a bike or sing C-flat which is called procedural memory) are our episodic and semantic memories.  Our memory of events that can be affixed to a timeline is our episodic memory (I purchased bus tickets this morning and saw that the price has gone up this month).  The compendium of knowledge we have for which time is less important or irrelevant is called semantic memory (it’s a fact that bus ticket costs vary with the price of gasoline).

In some ways, the loss of semantic memory can be the scarier and more awkward of the two.  Rapid episodic memory loss is a normal and life-long process to which everybody can relate.  Few people would want to recall a detailed synopsis of Thursday, three weeks ago - what route you took to walk the dog, when you did the dishes, etc.  Most of this information is not going to affect our performance in the here and now.

Unlike loss of episodic memory, rapid loss of semantic memory, however, has nothing obvious to recommend it.  We all have semantic memory loss throughout our lives, but such loss is not liberating such as forgetting unhappy events can be.  Episodic memory loss can cleanse the mental palate, as in ‘forgive and forget’.  In contrast, you don’t leave your personal baggage behind in semantic memory loss.  Semantic loss is about forgetting the phone numbers previously burned into your mind.  Forgetting birthdays, anniversaries, verbal contracts, and that your daughter is allergic to chocolate.  It is about ruining a lab project because you left a single step out of an otherwise long - memorized procedure.  Difficulties with semantic memory impact job performance and can cost you your job more readily than can difficulties with episodic memory.  Semantic memory intrudes on your future as well as your past to a greater degree than episodic memory does.

However, the most disconcerting form of memory loss to experience in a very sudden manner is spatial memory loss.  In the most extreme sense - when you suddenly cannot picture an intimately familiar space in your mind - it takes over you and induces terror.  There is something about the fear best described as primordial.  Perhaps its centrality to warfare and conflict explains this emotional intensity.  Lack of familiarity with the landscape of hiding places and minefields will imperil a soldier much faster than a lack of detailed recall for a prior day’s activities.

How many times do you think you read your book before going to print?

Fewer than 100 times.  Seriously, I am a special case because of my memory difficulties.  In order to avoid circumstantial errors I do a ton of rereading.  By circumstantial errors, I mean naming a  minor character 'Liza' in chapter 1 and referring to her again as 'Lisa' when she next appears in chapter 7.  Maintaining internal consistency requires a lot of work and also a generous amount of proof reading by a friend.

You’re not the only one who does that, if that makes you feel any better. My beta readers have caught me doing that on occasion. Where do you see yourself in five years?

I am delving into fiction exclusively.  At the moment, I have a science fiction piece in the works.  Eventually, I would like to do some general literature.

What kind of research do you do before you start a new story? 

For Tacking, I did a huge amount of wading through medical journals.  The book is about 40% nonfiction written in a textbook style.  Researching the neurobiology of epilepsy used up perhaps 50% of my work time.

For my current science fiction writing, research mainly consists of keeping abreast of what other authors are writing.  I make an occasional visit to Wikipedia to put an historical reference into an accurate time frame.

What has been the best compliment you have received?

The European Association for Counseling reviewed Tacking on the Styx on their website, calling it “particularly well written.”  But the highest compliment is not their choice of words but rather, the fact that they reviewed it given the huge amount of literature in their field.

People who have reviewed it on social media like my composite of non-fiction and fiction quite a lot.  This two-for-one structure sets it apart from similar works.  I have a college friend who lost his father to the disease shortly before he read my manuscript.  He said he was glad to have learned many of the finer details of the psychological impact even after his father's passing.  That appreciation is what I value most.

I think that’s amazing, that you are helping others through your writing. How do you promote your books? Any tips you can share? 

Before thinking about promoting, I think people should consider pricing.  If you go self-pub, describe your book size and whether or not it is illustrated.  If the publisher refuses to give you a straight forward estimate, then head for the exits.  

My book is a difficult market for being a niche book with a widely dispersed audience.  It is not the sort of work that draws a crowd to a book reading such as a mystery novel could do.  Epilepsy is very common, but it's thinly spread across a nation.  I do a bit of word of mouth promotion with people such as yourself and readers on Goodreads, but generally speaking, my time is better spent looking for a conventional publisher or working on my next book. 

How do you handle criticism when it comes to your writing?

This sounds incredibly conceited, but I haven't really gotten any yet.  My critical reviews have been great.  The psychological challenge comes from getting noticed or read in the first place.  I feel down in so far as I haven't found a traditional publisher or agent.  However, there is no criticism in that; they simply do not reply to your inquiries at all.  Of course, the lack of reply is somehow quite a bit worse.

Is there something you learned from writing your first book?

Do not put a lot of trust in vanity press.  Ask a lot of hard questions.  Think of them as you would think about a used car salesman.

Also, if you do not have an agent, make sure you have someone to serve as a reader.  Offer to mow their lawn for five years if that's what it takes.  However, always encourage them to be ruthless.  People feel uncomfortable telling you that something requires a lot of work.  The reader who will say so is invaluable. 

That’s great advice. It is harder than one might think to find someone who will give you an honest opinion of your book. I ask my beta readers to tear it apart. Better before publishing than after. Who designed the artwork for your cover?  Or did you design it yourself?

I came up with the general design.  Given the title, it was easy – a solitary figure sailing (tacking) a river between a placid and green landscape on one side and a harsh, lifeless, rocky terrain on the other.  Hopefully the symbolic connection to epilepsy is an easy one to make.

My sister has a background in art and commercial media.  She did the actual picture.  We then handed it to the publisher. 

Incidentally, I use artwork extensively to discuss the nature of cognition and its epileptic experience.  I discuss Surrealism for understanding automatisms and Impressionism for understanding cognitive modeling.  Dali's Persistence of Memory lies front and center for his keen insights which most people likely under-appreciate.

Any last words you’d like to share with us today?

Regarding my own work, I would caution readers that I wrote Tacking on the Styx for adults and very mature young adults who do not have the disease.  Because the book makes a plea for better psychological care, I do not make it uplifting (though a Goodreads reviewer has called it such).  It could be depressing for a young adult with the disease to no good end.  On the other hand, it would greatly benefit a mature teen who has a friend or a sibling with the disease.  I promote empathy above all, but I do so at an adult level.

Sections of the fiction are sexually explicit because sexuality can be a major social, emotional and physiological issue. The book opens with Tom in a hospital discovering the pains of an epileptic priapism. It's part of the humiliation of the disease, but don't expect a doctor to mention such a matter.   I also review the clinical topic at length in the non-fiction.  The graphic nature makes it age – sensitive. 

Books on mental illness written by patients fill a gaping hole that even the most motivated doctor can never fill.  Planning a coping strategy for living with a loved one's illness requires help in developing empathy and gaining facts which cannot be found in a clinical environment.  I have done my best to contribute to filling that hole.  Hopefully, my readership will also include a few college - age adults who are looking for ways to make a future professional difference.

Thanks for sharing with us today. Happing Reading!!