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:

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!!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Interview with Josh Grant Author of Pandora

Today I'd like to welcome Josh Grant. Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a self proclaimed Bond villain and a thousandaire philanthropist (like a billionaire philanthropist, just with a lot less money).  I survived a flash flood, encountered numerous bears, and sailed the ocean blue.  I love to read, write, play video games, and occasionally read up on the crazy science that’s happening in the world, but most of all I just enjoy getting people together to love, laugh, and grow alongside each other.  Currently, I make a living teaching and working with kids in various environments, with the occasional novel always in the works.  I’m also the creator of Diabolic Shrimp, a website designed to help authors and readers connect that also gives thousands of dollars to causes that help uplift humanity at large.  I’ve published two horror novels and a young adult fantasy and have about three more coming shortly.

I've been to Josh's site Diabolic Shrimp. It's a great resource for authors as well as for readers looking for great books to read. I highly recommend everyone checking it out. Josh, what brought about the idea for this book?

I wrote each of my books largely because I ran out of similar stuff to read.  My two horror books Pandora and Jericho spawned from a nightmare I had once.  I coupled this with a cruise I took (I love the ocean) and my love of the Resident Evil video game franchise.  The Fifth Ascendant (my YA series) is very near and dear to my heart.  It was the result of me wanting to write something fun and witty after finishing months of writing horror.  It’s my ode to things like Final Fantasy and Avatar The Last Airbender that I grew up with, and it’s essentially a love story since I’m a bit of a romantic at my core.

Currently, what are you working on?

I’m putting the final touches on my Silly Tales from Albanon, a goofy collection of unrelated characters in the same fantasy world that end up making quirky decisions that lead to a big world shattering twist.  It’s quirky and filled with tongue-in-cheek humor and I’m really enjoying it after I just finished my second horror book.  I’m also pushing forward with a Terminator-esque robot apocalypse novel called Nexus and the fantasy follow up The Sixth Ascendant.

Sounds like you have your hands full. What has been the most difficult thing you have struggled with since you began a career in writing?

Probably like most writers it’s finding the time to write.  I’ve got like twenty books crammed inside my head right now and I’m just trying to find a moment to get them on paper.

I agree, finding time is always the struggle. You just have to snag them moments whenever you can. What was your favorite scene to write?

My favorite scene in any of my books is the twist.  Every book I write has a big twist and it’s really fun to spring it after all the build up.  The Fifth Ascendant has some of my favorite scenes ever since I packed it with a lot of action and heartfelt moments.  For that book I made it a rule for myself that every situation had to spiral out of control.  As such, it was fun to plan how every heist could go sideways.  That one is also a love story, so my scene where one main character leaps into oblivion to save another from death despite the fact that there’s no hope of either ever returning will always stick with me.

How do you promote your books? Any tips you can share?

I have three pillars of promotion: public, personal, and quirky.  Public promotions are just general announcements on things like Goodreads, and taking out ads.  These make a difference, but don’t expect an immediate response.  Personal promotion is the most useful.  This is where you speak to individuals, and taking an interest in the individual makes the biggest impact.  Participating in discussions, helping others before trying to get them to help you, and just generally being a friend to others is what really makes the difference.  The fun one is quirky promotion.  I try to think outside the box now and then just to keep it fresh.  I did a book raffle at a haunted house for my horror books and am doing a giveaway on the cruise ship I began writing my first horror book on.  Just oddball stuff like that.  Not sure how well it works, but I’m having fun and that’s really what it’s all about.  My website Diabolic Shrimp is all about free promotion as well.  I buy authors’ books, review them, and give them away to readers for free.  Again, it’s about that personal kindness to others that makes the difference when it comes to promotion.  Good things do happen to good people.

I think most authors are so great about helping and promoting other authors books. It is something I didn't expect getting into this business. It's been a wonderful surprise. Do you have people read your drafts before you publish?  How do you select beta readers?

I actually don’t let anyone read my work before I publish.  Maybe it’s a terrible idea, but I believe that if I get one of my pieces to the point that I love it, at least a hundred other people will love it as well.  That being said, I’m a strict critic of my own work and only publish it when I’ve put it through the wringer and feel like it’s professional.

Josh, who designed the artwork for your cover?  Or did you design it yourself?

I’ve had the joy of working with a couple of very talented artists.  My horror series is illustrated by Ari Bach who has a trilogy of his own and is currently working in the film industry in California.  The Fifth Ascendant’s cover was done by Tyler Edlin, an incredible artist who worked on projects like Zelda Breath of the Wild.  I sought out both specifically because their styles were perfect for what I was trying to accomplish with my stories.  I was very specific with what I wanted for each cover, and they were both great at taking the choppy drawings I provided and producing something worthy of looking at. :)

I think all the covers are great, but I really love the cover to The Fifth Ascendant! How do you handle criticism when it comes to your writing?

I’m a big softy, so not so well (haha!).  I’m super critical of my own writing, but it’s hard to hear criticism from others when it comes to something so near and dear to my heart.  At the end of the day though, it doesn’t affect me too much.  My philosophy is write something you personally love to read and only release it when it’s the best it can be.  People will either like it or they won’t.

No one is ever going to please everyone. I agree, the first person you need to please is yourself. If that happens others will follow. Is there something you learned from writing your first book?

That I can actually write something people enjoy, that it feels really good to publish a book (I seriously just kept staring at it when I passed by), and that I definitely need to use less commas! :)

Commas still confuse me. Thankfully my editor takes care of those. Which do you find more challenging inventing the hero or the villain?  Why?

Neither really.  I absolutely love writing both and they come pretty easy, largely because I build a lot of depth and background into them.  It’s the side characters I struggle with.  I often have to go back and make them less one dimensional or boring.  That’s one of the many things I loved about The Fifth Ascendant.  I made it a rule that there were no side characters in that book.  Everyone mattered and had some deep connection to the plot.  It made it fun and actually way easier to write.

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

I typically read my books through six or seven times before polishing them up.  My final read through usually happens after I’ve shelved a book for a year or so just to give me a fresh read of it.

Josh, any last words?

This has been so much fun so thank you for the opportunity!  If anyone would like to connect with me or is interested in any of my work, both writing or promotions, come visit me at!

Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by and share with us today Josh! Check out more about Josh at the links below. Happy Reading!!

Friday, October 19, 2018

Interview with Wendy May Andrews Author of The Orphan Train Series

Let's welcome Wendy May Andrews to the blog today. Tell us a little about yourself.

I’ve been writing pretty much since I learned to read when I was five years old. Of course, those early efforts were basically only something a mother could love J I put writing aside after I left school and stuck with reading. I am an avid reader. I love words. I will read anything, even the cereal box, signs, posters, etc. But my true love is novels.

I believe firmly that everyone deserves a happily ever after. I want my readers to be able to escape from the everyday for a little while and feel upbeat and refreshed when they get to the end of my books.

Those sound like my kind of books. I can handle some sadness in the book but I want someone to get their happy ending when it is all over.  Will you share a short excerpt from your novel?

She was just pinning what she hoped was a gracious smile back onto her face while scanning the gathering crowd, looking for the rest of her group, when her gaze collided with that of the most handsome man she had ever seen. His blue eyes were so clear and bright, they reminded her of the Atlantic on a sunny day. His dark hair was almost black and was clipped short. It looked as though it would have a tendency to curl if he had not controlled its length. His square jaw and high cheekbones should have looked fierce, but his lips quirked up in the corners as though he had a propensity for smiling or laughing. Sophie’s breath caught as she tried to take it all in and once again found herself hoping her mouth wasn’t hanging open.

He strode toward her, as she was frozen in place. There wasn’t much space separating them, so he was beside her in a few paces.

“Good evening, miss. I haven’t had the pleasure of making your acquaintance. I just saw you talking with my mother.”

Sophie blinked and almost turned to look behind her before she remembered that she had just been speaking with Mrs. Rexford. Feeling a blush stain her cheeks, Sophie tried to achieve coherent speech, but nothing intelligent came to mind so she merely offered him a slight curtsy like she had done with his mother.

Wendy, what brought about the idea for this book?

I started planning this series after friends of mine adopted a little boy. I was fascinated with the history of adoption. While there are plenty of horror stories, my research brought me to Mr. Charles Brace, one of the founders of the Children’s Aid Society and his efforts to send orphans from New York City out to farms in the Midwest on the train. He had a noble goal and accomplished much good.

It sounds like an intriguing story. Adoptions stories always pull at my heartstrings. Where do you see yourself in five years?

With my bookcase groaning under the weight of the books I’ve written J

Currently, what are you working on?

I’m writing a series with nine other authors centered around one theme – Proxy Brides. Proxy brides are much like Mail Order brides except that they’ve already married their new husbands by proxy before they even meet. What could go wrong?? ;-)

Wow nine other authors, that sounds like quite the undertaking.  Good Luck! What has been the best compliment you have received?

“I lost sleep because of your book – I stayed up all night reading.”

Wendy, what kind of research do you do before you start a new story?

I’m lucky in that there is tons of information online for both my time periods – Regency era England and American Westerns – 1855-1875. So I can start online with my research. I also like to visit the places I write about even though I write in the past. And I study old maps to figure out which roads or routes would have been used by my characters.

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

Yes, I have four beta readers that read all my books before they go to the editor. They are familiar with the genres I’m writing so they know when something is “off”. They look for plot holes for me. My beta readers are avid readers that I trust.

I don't think I could live without beta readers. I have a couple of really good ones, but I hope to find one or two more. Four seems like a great number. Who designed the artwork for your cover?  Or did you design it yourself?

My covers are done by a lovely person I met on Fiverr.

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

I try to avoid criticism :-D I make sure I have supplies of chocolate before I go onto any sites containing reviews of my books. But I appreciate constructive feedback, especially BEFORE the book is published. Afterward it’s a bit of a pain since it’s already out there in the world.

I totally get it. Is there something you learned from writing your first book?

I learned so much from writing my first book! For one thing, I learned that I CAN stick to it and actually finish writing a book if I put my mind to it. I also learned that I needed to learn a whole lot more than that. Character arcs, show don’t tell, goal/motivation/conflict… There are so many things to learn in order to be able to craft a good story. But there are also tons of good resources to learn and other authors are usually kind and generous with their knowledge, willing to share some of what they know with those still learning.

I have been amazed at how helpful other authors have been. Its nice to be in a business with so many generous and giving people. How many times do you think you read your book before going to print?

It feels like a million but it’s probably about ten times.

Wendy, thank you so much for stopping by and sharing with us today. Be sure to check out more from Wendy at the links below. Happy Reading!!

Link to my series on Amazon: