Posts Tagged ‘Stitched Smile Publications’

Recently, Stitched Smile Publications put out a novel by the talented Pembroke Sinclair. The novel, Humanity’s Hope, is about seventeen year old Caleb, who survived the zombie apocalypse and his struggles there after. I had an opportunity to sit down with Pembroke and talk to her about writing, Humanity’s Hope and where her totally cool pen name came from. Please, sit back, grab a beverage and join me in my conversation with Pembroke Sinclair.

A.J.: Let’s just jump in here. Tell me, who is Pembroke Sinclair?

PS: Well, there are several answers I could give you. The funny “I’m an editor by day, zombie killer by night” response. Or the incredibly long response that explains why I started writing and how I came up with my pen name. Or I could tell you there is no Pembroke, only Zoul.

A.J.: I think I would like to hear the longer version. Why did you start writing?

PS: I’ve always been a writer. I remember as early as 3rd grade I wrote a story about a horse named Charlie that my teacher laminated. When we went back to Iowa every summer, my grandma had an electric typewriter that I would create stories on. None of those were laminated, and they should probably be completely forgotten. When I was in high school, I had a spiral notebook I wrote stories in, but I made sure it looked like I was taking notes. When I got to college, things got a little weird, and I had some professors who tore down my self-confidence and made it so I didn’t write for a very long time. I picked it up again after grad school while working at an environmental consulting firm. One of my friends convinced me it was worth trying again, so I started with a few short stories. I got addicted to getting published, but decided I didn’t like short stories, so I worked on novels.

A.J.: It never fails. Someone will tear down another person, and usually because they can, but I am glad you started writing again.

Since you bring up that tearing down and losing confidence, what was that like?

Pembroke SinclairPS: It was tough, especially considering I was taking a writing class and they were supposed to be helping me get better at writing.  Instead, they found every opportunity to inform me (and probably other students) that they would never amount to anything. One professor was a literary writer, and since I was a genre writer, she said she wouldn’t be able to fairly critique my writing. Isn’t good writing good writing no matter what genre? Either way, it cut deep.

Years later, I found out these professors (one in particular) had a habit of tearing down writers’ self-confidence—perhaps because they viewed us as competition. I don’t know. But it did give me a good view into what the publishing world would be like, and after getting over my initial hurt feelings, it helped me grow some thick skin.

I’m no longer angry at the professors for what they did. Was it mean spirited and ridiculous? Of course. But me still being angry won’t change anything. The only thing I can do is move forward and write.

A.J.: Pembroke, how did you move forward?

PS: Having encouragement from a friend really helped, and then getting some stories published really pushed that along. To be honest, getting a lot of rejections throughout my career helped, too, because I’m one of those people who loves to show others that I CAN do what you say I can’t, and I’ll prove it.

A.J.: You sound like me—I say the same thing. One thing I have learned is those who have been told can’t—or shouldn’t—do this business, are the ones who want it more and try the hardest.

PS: I think it’s because we think we have something to prove.  I absolutely question my ability to write every single day, but at the same time, I’m not going to let anyone tell me I shouldn’t be doing it.  That’s my choice, not theirs.

A.J.: You said you got addicted to publishing. Can you explain what you mean by that?

PS: If you’re an author, and you’ve ever received a slew of “NO’s” for your submissions, you know that it only takes one “YES!” to completely turn everything around. I love getting yeses—I think it goes back to my desire to prove I can and should be writing. And it’s just an amazing feeling to know my work is going to be available for people to read.

A.J.: I get that, completely. I, literally, received 100 rejections before my first acceptance, including one where the editor said I should never write another story again.

PS: I received a rejection for a YA story I wrote because a reviewer gave me a mediocre review on one of my middle grade books. I wasn’t even pitching anything to do with that particular story.

A.J.: You absolutely have to hate it when that happens.

PS: I was pissed. I did the thing you’re not supposed to do: I replied to the agent (I’m pretty sure it was an agent) and asked him what the hell he was talking about. He never responded.

A.J.: Oh my—I understand your anger, but you are right, never respond in that manner. In this day of social media, that is akin to literary suicide.

PS: I phrased it nicely, but that was the gist of it.

A.J.: Earlier, you mentioned possibly telling me where you got your pen name. Do you mind telling me now?

PS: When I was first setting out to get published, I knew I couldn’t use my real name because it’s pretty common and when you Google it, a country singer shows up. I needed a pen name so I could be found.

I was pregnant with my first child at the time, and we were looking for names for him. I thought, “Pembroke Sinclair Robinson. That kid would be destined to be a writer.” When I suggested it to my husband, his response was, “You want our kid to get beat up on the playground, don’t you?” My friend suggested I take it for myself, so I did.

Side note, Pembroke’s middle name is Alloicious.

A.J.: That is a great story—and your first child probably thanks you for not naming him that.

PS: He’s never really said …

A.J.: Let’s go back a little here. I want to touch on two things. First, why genre fiction.

PS: I’ve always been a huge fan of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I’m an English major, so I’ve read my fair share of literary—and I don’t think anything is wrong with literary—but I don’t enjoy writing it. I’ve tried, and it feels weird to me. I have a much easier time imagining myself in another world or surrounded by monsters, and I prefer to be in those worlds. Writing is an escape from reality for me, and I want to get as far away as I can.

A.J.: Before I go to the second part of this, what do you consider literary fiction?

PS: I would say literary fiction are the classics you read that are based in reality. The ones that focus on craft and language, such as Toni Morrison, Faulkner (although I would argue some of his stuff is fantasy), Hemingway, etc. Does that help?

No, wait, Faulkner is literary. I was thinking Vonnegut Jr.!

A.J.: It does help, but literary fiction is still considered, by many, to be real writing, where as genre fiction is considered for hacks. What do you feel is the difference? Or is there a difference?

PS: Oh, I’m fully aware of the distinctions between literary and genre and how literary is soooooo much better. I think the distinction comes from how people want to be labeled. If they want to seem “smarter” and more high brow, they will be “literary.” If they want to appeal to the masses, they’ll be genre. Personally, both can be incredibly intelligent and complicated (have you read Dune or the Foundation series?) and, conversely, both genres can have their crap. It’s all in what a person wants to read/write.

A.J.: Great thoughts in there, Pembroke. I agree. You seem to have some strong feelings on literary fiction—just as I do. I can totally appreciate that. Is that, maybe because of the way those who write literary fiction frown on those who write genre?

PS: Absolutely. And of course, it’s not all of them. There are always those authors who support and encourage other authors and those who are just poops–in all mediums of writing. Again, I’m an English major so I enjoy literary works. I just don’t like writing them.

A.J.: I don’t like writing them either.

Let’s switch gears. You recently had a book released. Humanity’s Hope. Can you tell me about this?

PS: I’m a huge zombie fan. I love zombies in all their mediums, and I really enjoy writing about how people survive the apocalypse—especially teens.

In most zombie stories, the heroes have no quarrels about filling the role of savior and fighting for what’s left of the world.  But when writing Humanity’s Hope, I wanted to look at a character who was reluctant about that role; who didn’t want to be in that position and who has a lot of issues with surviving when others have died.

While I truly believe there will be those people who fight hard to defeat an undead threat, I also believe there will be those who only survive.  But I don’t believe any of us will come out of the zombie apocalypse unscathed.

On top of that, I also wanted to give my main character something to set him even further apart from his fellow humans, so he’s immune from becoming a zombie.

A.J.: I’m not going to ask how he is immune—that is for you to reveal in your work. I will say I love the zombie sub-genre as well. But I also find that so many people have written the same things over and over and there is little variation. What sets Humanity’s Hope apart from other books?

PS: Of course the same things have been written over and over. The same can be said about films. That’s what works and makes money!

You know, I was typing how Hope is different from other stories, and it’s not really. There are certain elements that exist in stories, and they are portrayed through different characters and settings, but they are always there.

I guess I can say it’ s not the same because I have zombies that are different. Other than that, it’s a story about someone trying to come to terms with losing his friends and family and struggling through his day to day exist with PTSD while the living dead roam the earth.

A.J.: Fair enough. Do you mind sharing an excerpt with the readers at the end of this interview?

PS: Not at all.

A.J.: Awesome. Okay, if you have a few more minutes, I would like to ask a couple more questions. What do you enjoy most about writing and publishing?

PS: I enjoy being able to escape. I enjoy exploring the question of what it means to be human (I haven’t found an answer yet). I enjoy sharing my stories with others and seeing readers enjoy them.

A.J.: Okay, on the flip side, what do you dislike about writing and publishing?

PS: The length of time it takes me to get a story on the page. It would be so much easier if I could plug the computer into my head and THINK my story onto the page. When it comes to publishing, I wish there could be more camaraderie and support among authors. We’re all in this together. Let’s build each other up instead of tearing each other down. Not that everyone does this, but those that do need to stop.

A.J.: I absolutely agree, we are in this together. I’ve always viewed this as a family, even though there are some family members we want to just stay away.

Now, other than Humanity’s Hope, you have some other works out, correct?

PS: I do. Several fiction stories and nonfiction works.

I write the nonfiction under my real name. Just to make it nice and confusing.

A.J.: Okay, treat me like a writer just starting out. What would you tell me?

PS: Have fun. Publishing is full of rejection and others who want to see you fail, but if you write because you enjoy writing and have fun creating your stories, you’ve already shown the world you can be successful.

A.J.: I like that. I like that a lot. Sound advice.

Okay, before I let you go, is there anything else you would like to say to the readers?

PS: Thank you for reading my work.  Without you, there’d be no reason to do what I do.

A.J.: One more thing: where can readers find you?

PS: You can find me on Facebook, Goodreads, and Amazon.

A.J.: Pembroke Sinclair, thank you for taking time out of your schedule to chat with me. It was nice to get to know you.

PS: Thank you!  I appreciate you taking the time also!

I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Pembroke Sinclair. Now, here is a sneak peak at Humanity’s Hope:

1906894769Caleb sprinted across the dirt road. His leg muscles burned. He was barely able to get his feet off the ground. The backpack slammed into his lower back with every step—the straps dug into his shoulders. As he approached the low wall, he slid into a crouch, turning so his back would contact the stones first. The pressure of the backpack pressed into his ribcage—squeezing the air out of his lungs. He pressed his lips together and let the stream flow out of his nose. He tried his best to keep it silent—a task that proved difficult with every pant. His lungs screamed for air. He wanted to draw in large, gasping breaths, but they would be too loud and attract unwanted attention. The undead were just on the other side of the wall, unaware of his presence, and he intended to keep it that way.

Caleb’s gaze drifted back to the road and fell on his sister, Nina, and Len, his chemistry partner from school. They ran toward him as fast as they could with their heavy backpacks that hunched them over. Or perhaps it was an attempt to make themselves smaller so they were less noticeable—Caleb couldn’t tell. They slid up to the wall on either side of Caleb and attempted to control their breathing.

This was a terrible place to hide—they all knew it. It was too open, too exposed, but there weren’t any other choices. The squat wall was right at the edge of a fallow field, across the dirt road they had been traversing in the hopes of finding civilization. They found the wall in a vast, rural landscape. The three of them were lucky there was something. They had come around a bend in the road and up a small hill, and there they were—zombies—shuffling aimlessly through the countryside. Caleb had to suppress his shocked gasp. They came out here because the urban areas had become too dangerous. There were too many zombies. The supplies had either been pillaged or were too difficult to get to. The country was supposed to be their hope, their salvation. So far, it wasn’t. The farmhouse was still ways away, about 50 yards. At least that was what Caleb assumed. He was horrible at judging distances. It didn’t matter anyway. With the zombies in front of them, the house was as accessible as another planet. But they couldn’t stay out in the open, either.

The look on Len’s face reflected the turmoil Caleb felt inside. His eyes were wide, his face red from exertion. His head was cocked to the side, his jaw muscles tight. The look asked: “What do we do now?” Caleb had no answer.

When they set out that morning to look for food, they had told themselves the zombies had been confined to the cities. Why? Because they had to believe something. They had to think there was still a chance.

Caleb lowered his gaze to the ground. There was no way to respond to Len’s silent question. They just had to wait it out—make their move when they got the opportunity. Caleb glanced over his shoulder at his sister. She slumped against the wall, her legs sprawled out in front of her, her chin resting on her chest. His stomach tightened as he took in her pose. She wasn’t going to be able to move quickly from that position. She needed to be ready. Yet, he felt for her. What was the point of being ready if it meant they had to keep running? His legs shook underneath him as he held his crouch. It would have been such a relief to plop onto his butt and take the weight off his legs. He could’ve placed his arms around Nina’s shoulders and pulled her close. They could have relaxed in their misery. Instead, he gently backhanded her arm. When she looked at him, he thrust his thumb into the air. With an eye roll and deliberate movements, Nina moved into a crouch, removing the gun from the back of her waistband.

Caleb focused on the weapon in his hands. It was there so often, it was like an appendage. He rarely noticed it anymore. But neither of the guns would do them much good; there weren’t enough bullets to take out the threat. Even if they fired their remaining rounds, all it would do was draw more zombies to their location.

Caleb turned his attention away from his gun and stretched up to look over the wall. As soon as his eyes broke the surface, he scanned the area before sinking back down. His heart pounded against his ribs, his throat tightened. An undead lumbered close to the wall—too close. One wrong move or sound and they were spotted. He licked his lips and felt the sweat slide down his spine. If they stayed quiet, the zombies would keep moving. They just had to wait it out.

A low, soft grumbling filled the air. At first, Caleb wasn’t convinced he’d heard it. It was so low, he could have imagined it. He had hoped he’d imagined it. But then Len wrapped his arms around his midsection and squeezed. The rumbling grew louder. It was hard to hide the sounds of hunger. Caleb’s eyes grew wide. He shifted his stance so he could explode onto his feet.

The rotted hand reached over the wall and swiped the air between Caleb and Len. There were no other options. All of them sprang to their feet. The crowd of rotting flesh was converging on their position. Caleb extended his arms and lined up his sights. The crack of the gun echoed loudly in the country air; the corpse slumped onto the wall. All three of them jumped over the wall and ran toward the house. The path took them directly toward the zombies; they had to be fast enough to get by them.

Caleb’s extremities tingled with adrenaline, his footsteps thumped rhythmically on the hard, dry ground. He sucked in long gasps of air, but his lungs still burned for oxygen. He caught glimpses of the other two out of the corner of his eyes. The undead drew nearer. Their arms outstretched, waiting to snag their prey. Caleb zig-zagged across the field. He ducked under a pair of arms, then shouldered a zombie out of the way. Its bones crunched against his shoulder, teeth gnashed close to his ear, driving him forward with more urgency. The house grew larger with every step he took. Almost there.

A short yip followed by a grunt sounded behind him. He risked a glance over his shoulder. Len stumbled then fell. Caleb’s heart leapt into his throat. He skidded to a stop, turning to help his friend. Caleb was about to step toward Len, but he was stopped in his tracks. The action caused him to lose his balance. His arms flailed through the air to keep Caleb from falling over. An incessant, strong tugging kept him from moving forward. He turned to see Nina jerking on his backpack. Her eyes were wide and glistening with tears. She bit her bottom lip and shook her head violently. Caleb glanced again at Len, who reached for Caleb, his mouth open in a silent plea, tears running down his cheeks. Caleb reached toward him. Len’s plea turned into a scream as a zombie bit into his calf. A dark ring of blood stained his jeans and grew larger. Another zombie latched onto the fingers of his extended hand. The crunch as it bit through his bones rattled in Caleb’s skull. He pulled his hand into his chest.

Caleb turned at that point. There was nothing more he could do. His sister grabbed his wrist, and they ran into the house. They took the stairs two at a time and headed into a bedroom on the right. After closing the door, they scanned the area, checking under the bed and in the closet. Clear. His sister collapsed face first onto the bed. From the way her body shook, Caleb could tell she was crying. He leaned back until his pack connected with the door. His legs gave out, and he slid to the floor. Pulling his knees to his chest, he wrapped his arms around his head and tried to disappear into himself.

And then there were two.

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On July 8, 2017, The Monster was found.

Let me give you some context. The Anatomy of Monsters anthology was released on this date. We here at Stitched Smile Publications hosted an online release party, complete with author takeovers and live readings. It was a blast.

At the end of the party, four of us Stitchers got together and did a ‘live write.’ This is where we took a predetermined topic and wrote a story. We gave ourselves 300 words each and only 15 minutes to write each part. Here’s the kicker: Each writer had to wait for the one before them to write their part so they could start. Oh, and the 15 minutes included reading the previous parts.

In honor of The Anatomy of Monsters release, we wanted to do a piece involving a monster of some sort. After a bit of brainstorming, the topic was decided on. A descendant of Frankenstein had discovered the location of the Frankenstein Monster. It just happens to be in the possession of one, Ichabod Crane (he of the Headless Horseman fame). The descendant wanted the Monster back. This is how he goes about acquiring the family’s monster.

Those participating in the live write, in order of who wrote what parts: Lisa Vasquez, Nick Paschall, Donelle Pardee Whiting and myself, A.J. Brown.

Please make not of two things. 1) I have separated each person’s section with ***. 2) This is completely unedited. When you only have 15 minutes to write, you have no time to edit. So, in keeping with the live write concept, we have not edited this 1200 + word story.

I hope you enjoy this piece. Please leave comments and let us know how we did.

As always, until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

The Monster

By: Lisa Vasquez, Nick Paschall, Donelle Pardee Whiting, A.J. Brown

Victor sat in the library where the smell of books took over the room mingling with the smell of the burning logs in the fireplace. Since he was a child, this room held a mixture of emotions for him whenever he entered. Now, at the age of 81, the shadows crept over his features and deepened the lines of time as he stared at his reflection in the glass he was holding. ~A lifetime~ he thought to himself, ~A lifetime of searching, only to come up with baubles of the strange and macabre.~

Releasing a sigh, Victor stood up and downed the rest of his drink, letting the fiery liquid warm his throat and chest. He walked over to a display in the center of the room, the protective, glass casing illuminated by the overhead spotlight.

UnknownHe studied the diary of his great-great-great grandfather, handed down through the generations, until he knew every single word. ~At least, the ones not written in code.~

The breakthrough came when he stumbled across a man who used to work as a cryptographer in the military as a young man, and happened to have an old 16th Century French encryption book from the court of Henry II. He’d been trying to wheel and deal with Victor for pieces of his other collections for years to no avail. Seeing this as an opportunity, the other man could not contain his excitement.

“If I break this code for you,” Jacquis said looking over his bifocals at Victor, “you sell me the Coronation Charter of Henry I.”

Victor let out a single laugh, keeping his gaze fixed on Jacquis,

“You’re paying with money you do not have yet. Crack the code, and we’ll deal.”

Three months later, Victor had the identity of the man who possessed what he desired … the body of the “Family’s Monster.”

***

Entering the ancient woods of New England in Northern New York, Victor pulled his coat tighter to his frame as his carriage bumped along the road. Pulling a pocket watch, he stared at the hands and tapped the glass once or twice, just to make sure the damnable thing was working correctly!

“Hurry up you fool!” Victor shouted, leaning out the window to breathe in the clean air of the New World, the woods of Sleepy Hollow filling his lungs as a small herd of sheep moved down from a close by hill.

“We’re almost their sire,” Gris said, the low-born child stammered, his imperfect form of speech landing him as a hand servant to the Frankenstein family instead of an orator,

“We’re pulling in now.”

“Good,” Victor said, leaning back to pat the satchel of gold he’d brought along with him.

The man who owned the body of his great-grandfather’s experiment was none other than the detective Ichabod Crane, an elusive sort that’d gone missing after reporting to Sleepy Hollow. It had taken three lawyers to find him, and two more after that to arrange this meeting, but they were finally meeting in the Crowsreach Tavern in Sleepy Hollow, at Dusk on the 8th of July.

It would go flawlessly.

When the carriage pulled to a stop, Victor waited a minute before his door was opened, Gris standing beside it with his mop of blonde hair glistening with sweat.

“Clean yourself up boy and be sure to bring in the payment when I call for you,” Victor said.

Gris nodded, walking behind Victor to go and set up the horses for feeding and bedding down for the night.

Opening the door, Victor scanned the crowd and was instantly attracted to a pair of dark eyes.

Ichabod Crane.

***

Ichabod Crane locked eyes with Victor, daring the older man to look away. He knew why he was there. He wanted Ichabod’s prize. He needed the monster. Victor doesn’t need it, Crane thought.

Maintaining a casual appearance, Crane walked over to greet his guest. He only invited the foreigner to his home because his letter said he had something of great interest to offer.

“You must be the detective, Ichabod Crane I heard so much about,” Victor said, presenting his hand in greeting.

i_640x503_361846397Crane glanced at Victor’s hand before offering his own. “I am. And you must be Victor Frankenstein. I heard a lot about your work.” Crane looked over Victor’s shoulder to see Gris standing there bouncing from one foot to other. “Your … man … can wait with the horses. I don’t expect this to take long.”

With a backward flick of his eyes, Victor tilted his head to tell Gris to move out of Crane’s line of sight.

“Of course. But I do think this will interest you.” The aged collector bent down to pick up the bundle at his feet. “Where should we go to discuss this rare find?”

Crane led Victor the library to the right of the entry hall. As they entered, Victor looked around at the deep mahogany floor with a quality Oriental rug in front of the fireplace between two deep cushioned pub chairs. The table between the chairs was empty.

“I moved the decanter to the side board. You can put … whatever it is there.”

Crane walked casually to the sideboard. Would you care for a sherry? Or a brandy? I am afraid I do not have anything stronger.”

“A brandy would be welcome on a cold night like this.” Victor moved to the empty table and set the bundle down. He turned his heavy ruby ring as he watched Crane pour the dark amber liquid into snifters.

***

It wasn’t long before they discussed the deal.

“You have the Monster,” Victor said.

“I do.”

“It belongs to my family.”

“It belongs to me.”

“I’m offering you a thousand gold coins, Mr. Crane, for the Monster.”

Ichabod let out a humorless laugh. “Not even a million gold coins will get you the monster.”

“Let’s be fair, Crane.”

“Let’s be leaving, Victor.”

With that Victor flashed him an angry glance, nodded and turned to leave.

“Nice doing business with you, Frankenstein.”

Victor said nothing, as he left, leaving the gold coins behind.

At the carriage, he motioned for Gris. “I thought this would happen. You know what you must do?”

“Yes, Master,” Gris said. A crooked smile crossed his face.

Victor climbed atop the carriage to the driver’s seat and snapped the reigns. The horses started forward.

Gris walked away, with papers in hand. As he passed strangers on the street, he handed the papers to them.

“The Horseman’s Head?” One man asked. “You’ve found then Horseman’s Head?”

Ichabod heard the clamor and went outside.

“Excuse me, Boy? Come here.”

Gris did as he was told.

“What is this about the Horseman’s Head?”

Gris extended one of the papers to Ichabod, who snatched it and stared wearily at the odd boy. He read the few words on it.

“Where is this?” he asked.

“At the manor across the way.” He pointed down the road.

Ichabod turned and went back inside.

Barely ten minutes passed and Crane was on his horse and heading to the manor a few miles away. As he did so, he passed a darkened carriage hiding in the woods.

Victor smiled, lashed the horses into motion and made his way back to Ichabod’s home. There, in the basement, he found the monster.

“It’s time to come home, my child,” he said as he opened the cage the monster was in.

Recently, I got to sit down with Stitched Smile Publication’s resident bard, James Matthew Byers. I met him in 2016 and the one thing that stood out about him is his enthusiasm. I have never met a more enthusiastic person … ever. I thoroughly enjoyed our little conversation. I think you will, too.

AJ: So, tell me a little about James Matthew Byers.

JMB: Sure thing! Perhaps we’ll do this the old fashioned way and start at the beginning. My passion for fantasy, horror, and science fiction began around age three. I saw Star Wars, the Rankin/Bass animated Hobbit, and received a book by Usborne called The World of the Unknown: Monsters. This book is instrumental to who I am today. It introduced a young boy to Frankenstein’s monster, vampires, werewolves, Greek mythology, and most importantly, Beowulf and Grendel.

Through my youth, I drew pictures and crafted stories. I wrote poetry from 6th grade on after being introduced to Robert Frost. I grew to love Shakespeare and Chaucer. Edgar Allan Poe became my greatest influence. I started writing stories in rhyme.

As a husband and father, I have deeper waters, understanding the most important human emotions. I do believe poetry lives in the heart of everyone. Some just are more in tune with it.

I taught middle school English and reading for ten years, gaining insight into the minds of young adults. I’ve got a Master’s in English and reading Education.

I have numerous years of experience in composing poems. My latest work, Beowulf: The Midgard Epic, had just released from Stitched Smile Publications. It’s a rhyming version of Beowulf in iambic tetrameter. I’ve also got a story in the newly released Unleashed: Monsters Vs. Zombies. I’ve won three Prose challenge of the week contests. And I just learned my poem, The Dinner Fly, will be published in Weirdbook Magazine #35.

I try and offer support where I can, for both established and up and coming authors. Who is James Matthew Byers? I’m just a guy trying to connect with people, sharing in this human condition.

AJ: Tell me, how did Poe become one of your greatest influences?

JMB: When I first read The Raven and Annabel Lee, I fell in love with Poe. Middle school was tough for me. I was bullied daily. I escaped in his short stories, The Black Cat, The Pit and the Pendulum, and The Tell-Tale Heart. They helped cement him as an all time favorite. I also love Dr. Seuss, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Margaret Weis, Ed Greenwood, Rob King, James Lowder, Christie Golden, and Jean Rabe.

982152897AJ: I’m sorry to hear you were bullied as a child. So many kids are and it is sad to see. I’m glad you had something to turn to.

You said you taught middle school English for ten years. What was that like?

JMB: Teaching was one of the greatest adventures of my life. Growing up, whether in public school or college, the teachers were always so influential on me. I wanted to give that same sort of instruction. I wanted to inspire young minds. I got to teach reading. Speaking daily about Tolkien’s works, poets, and other favorites made for a job much enjoyed. The kids could be rowdy at times, but my passion to read passed on to them. My love for writing and art did as well.

AJ: Is there any student that stands out to you now?

JMB: Candice Crutchfield. She’s become a really great poet. Also, Cody Lunsford.

AJ: As a teacher, did you connect with them differently than some of your other students?

JMB: Yes. But I never had favorites. I tried to always make every kid feel equally loved.

AJ: Do any of your former students still keep in touch with you?

JMB: Many do. I have tons as friends on Facebook.

AJ: That is awesome. I taught at a Montessori school for two years back in my early 20s. I have been fortunate to be able to reconnect with a couple of the students from back then.

So, let’s talk about Tolkien for a minute. Clearly, you have a fondness for him. What is it about Tolkien that inspires you?

JMB: Tolkien was my gateway drug. From The Hobbit, I delved into The Lord of the Rings. Then The Silmarillion. Afterward, C. S. Lewis and Narnia. I then got into DragobLance and Forgotten Realms. But Tolkien was first. He introduced me to it all. After seeing Star Wars, I watched the Rankin/Bass Hobbit. It’s one of my earliest influences. And Tolkien was a Beowulf junkie. Definitely one of the many reasons he inspires me!

AJ: So, then you would consider yourself a Beowulf junkie, as well?

JMB: That’s an excellent way of describing me. I’ve read numerous translations. I’ve watched any film or television version of the epic I could find. I’ve searched and viewed as many pieces of Beowulf art that I could find. There are several comic book adaptations. Even DC comics had their take on the hero.

AJ: Wow, so you are somewhat of an aficionado in Beowulf. I’d like to ask you about how you view poetry. You recently gave a speech at Jacksonville State University and you made a statement in that speech that keeps coming to mind:  “Poetry is essentially life itself. When you read a poem, you’re connecting to that person’s life experiences.” I am fascinated by this statement. Can you expand on this viewpoint for me?

JMB: Sure thing! I believe poetry reflects the most basic elements of the human condition. I believe poetry is as basic as the air we breath. There are levels and layers to every poem read. The same applies to every poem as it’s written.

I think of poetry like playing a video game. You level up as you go. There are degrees of skills. Anyone can play a video game. Anyone can write a poem. It’s not an exclusive club. That being said, not everyone who plays a game is a gamer, and not everyone who writes a poem is a poet. You have those who play video games professionally. In the same respect, you have people who make a living writing and composing poetry. We all start out playing games. But whether we’re  good at it or not determines the longevity of the broader picture.

When you play a game you essentially take on the role of a character. The same goes for reading a poem or story. You take on the emotions, the content, and the experience of where the words take you.

Console, game cartridge is to keyboard, blank page. The experience of game playing takes you out of this world and places you in another, only to plant you back in the original with new knowledge. This is the experience. This is where life comes in. You learn the life of who you become in the game. Once you eject yourself from it, you take the new condition out. It combines with you, bringing a life lesson. Whether it’s robbery, murder, suggestive suppression, heroics, or any other means of style promoted in game play, the same thing happens when you write and read poetry.

The experience is life.

It has its own existence; its own meaning. However, the two worlds unite, creating one condition. I know I’m speaking in circles, but this analogy defines why I believe poetry is essentially life itself. When you play a game, or read a poem, you connect to that person’s life experiences.

AJ: That makes sense. Is it safe to say, the more you write poems, the better you get? Just like with gaming (or really anything you want to do that takes work)?

JMB: Absolutely. Practice makes perfect, especially when you’re a rhyming poet. You have to know the mechanics. You can’t build an automobile if you don’t know how the parts work in relationship together. The same can be said with poetry. You have to know the rules. How to count poetic feet. Iambs, forms of meter. Syllables and down beats. The formats I use tend to rely on old school poetry methods.

Back to the gaming scenario. Anyone can play a game. If you look at free verse, just about anyone can make a poem. And that’s awesome. But just because someone plays a game doesn’t make he or she a gamer. And like I mentioned earlier, just because someone writes a poem, it doesn’t make he or she a poet. I believe you must live the words—Poetry is life. I write poems almost daily. Sometimes numerous poems. I tell 99% of my tales in rhyme. It has been a long and winding process. But as I studied, my skills grew and developed. It has taken half my life to get where I am now. Poetically speaking. Level up!

AJ: When did you start telling your tales in rhyme?

JMB: I began in high school school with an assignment to write my own Canterbury Tale. I love Chaucer. I wanted it to be modern but authentic. I recounted an event in rhyme. The teacher loved it. She already knew I could write poetry. She really began to push me to keep it going. I had shown her my art before, too. She always told me I was special because I could write and illustrate my stories. I’d done so since I was three. That was fall of 1992.

In 1994, I got to my EH 101 class early at UAB. (University of Alabama at Birmingham) I went there before JSU. I was bored and decided to write a rhyming fairy tale. I came up with The Nameless Squire’s Tale. That led to more stories in rhyme, and in 1997, I crafted an entire novel in rhyme.

AJ: And that novel would be?

JMB: It was then called The Legacy of Mythril. I rewrote it in standard prose—a non-rhyming novel with the same story. I’m actually editing it to submit to SSP. I’ve had the characters since I was 15. I’m 42 now.

AJ: With all of this said, I want you to tell me about Beowulf, The Midgard Epic.

But … I want you to do it in prose.

JMB: No problem!

The story takes a different form,

Converging from the simple norm.

Reworked in such a metered beat

As measured out poetic feet-

Iambs of syllables of eight

In structure carrying the weight

Of speed and action in its hold.

I’d like to call that poet’s gold.

As Beowulf is known abroad,

I went a route that some deemed odd-

The Midgard Epic has two tales-

The Wanderer to tip the scales

And end the story in a bang-

I wanted such a place to hang

The unknown tale, connecting them-

As sure as Beowulf can swim,

So, too, now Wiglaf has his place-

A hero to a dying race.

Accessible, my prudent goal-

To make this epic rich and whole-

I chose iambs and deeper still-

Tetrameter completes the bill.

I used translations—many books-

I gave the Anglo-Saxon looks-

And researched much until the day

I conquered Grendel; words would slay

Even dragons as I found

To this story, I was bound.

Like a scop or skald of old,

The story here had to be told.

Across the whale-road to the hall,

As Beowulf adhered the call,

Arriving to beat beast and more-

He conquered Grendel on the shore

And took his mother’s head as well.

It took a dragon’s flaming hell

To send the Geat to his death,

But as he breathed his final breath,

Perhaps there’s more of him, you see …

I leave a clue for you from me …

AJ: Bravo! That was awesome.

JMB: Awwwww … Thanks, kind sir!

AJ: Beowulf, The Midgard Epic was recently published. Can you tell me how that came about?

JMB: I hadn’t submitted any of my writing since April of 2012. I went through a long dry spell. However, something magical happened in May. I began sensing an increasing excitement for the Warcraft movie. I read it’s prequel, Durotan, by Christie Golden. It was like being 17 again. I felt a renewed interest in my creativity. Through social media, I began interacting with other creatives. I stumbled upon TEGG- (The Ed Greenwood Group) I read their books and engaged with their authors. That’s when I met Briana Robertson. From a tweet she did about SSP, I learned about the open call for Unleashed: Monsters Vs. Zombies. I wrote a story for it, and submitted it within two weeks. They gave me courage to submit my rhyming Beowulf. Lisa Vasquez contacted me and offered me a deal for the book. Of course I said yes! It has been the best decision I’ve ever made. My writing and art careers are at an all time high. I am grateful to be a VIP at Stitched Smile Publications.

AJ: That is awesome to hear. So, tell me, now that Beowulf, the Midgard Epic is out, what plans do you have for the future?

JMB: With the release of Beowulf: The Midgard Epic, I have had many opportunities open up. I’m getting to do illustrations and cover art for SSP. I’ve been expanding my poetry audience. I even have a prequel and two sequels planned for my version of Beowulf. That’s not counting other stories I have yet to tell …

AJ: Sounds like things are looking up for James Matthew Byers. Can you do me a favor and tell the readers where they can find you?

JMB: Absolutely! Here are my contacts:

Find James Matthew Byers at:

James Matthew Byers on Twitter

James Matthew Byers on Facebook

James Matthew Byers on Wattpad

James Matthew Byers on WordPress

James Matthew Byers on Prose

AJ: Thank you, James, for coming and hanging out with me and the readers.

JMB: It’s been a pleasure! Thank you for interviewing me. I’ve had a blast, good sir!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recently, Stitched Smile Publications put a multiple author anthology titled Unleashed: Monsters Vs Zombies. During the release party for this book, I met a lady who brimmed over with excitement. Having talked with her briefly during that party, I thought it might be time that you, Faithful Readers, get to meet her. Welcome G. Marie Merante to my world (and yours).

AJB: Tell me a little bit about you.

51oc1pr0byl-_ux250_GMM: I’ve lived in the same town all my life. Its very rural and if you blink, you miss the center of town. For the past 20 years, I’ve lived six minutes down the road from the house I grew up in, moving after I got married. I’ve been with my husband for 25 years, have three kids…well, men now-ages 31,19 and 18. And I might as well throw in my two dogs, three cats and my bird—an African Grey.

I work part time in an amazing bookstore, as well as have the day job, and of course the writing, which I’m always thinking about, or working on in between.

To add more about the me … besides writing, I study martial arts.

AJB: You’ve lived in the same town your entire life? I ask that like it is shocking, but I have mostly lived in the same town my entire life as well, only moving out of it for about a year.

GMM: Well … I moved here when I was seven, but since I have zero memory of anything before I was five, its basically all my life..lol

AJB: I shift gears a lot, so let’s talk about working in a bookstore. Do you enjoy it?

GMM: Its pretty amazing. The bookstore is iconic. Its well known in the world of Indie bookstores and it draws incredible authors. In the past I have met Neil Gaiman there, and this past year, Buzz Aldrin, Kate Hudson ( who I almost knocked over) and Lindsey Vonn. The list of authors is immense, so the store has amazing history and a great vibe, almost a Hogwarts feeling when you walk in. And to be around piles and piles of books, there is a weird coziness to it, a very peaceful feeling.

AJB: Oh wow. I would love to work in a small bookstore like that, one where I could get lost in the pages every chance I got.

GMM: Unfortunately, there is not much time to read while working, between helping customers, or shelving. I wish I could just absorb each book just by touching them.

AJB: That would be awesome, but then you would lose the experience of reading and feeling the characters and seeing their lives through their eyes.

GMM: Very true. I do most of my ‘reading’ on audio. Fortunately, my day job allows me to listen all day, so I’m constantly going from one book to another. I have about 260 books in my Audio library.

AJB: 260 audio books? Holy cow. I have to be honest here: I have only listened to two audio books in my entire life and they are both for my books.

51jmndlm9dl-_uy250_GMM: That’s a great way to do final edits on your own work. Reading out loud has never worked for me, so downloading your own pages to an audio file is always my last phase of edits before putting a book to bed and querying.

AJB: Well, I didn’t do the audio for them–I listened to the audio versions that were put out by my publisher and voiced by John Malone. He captured my writing wonderfully.

GMM: Ahh. That’s awesome!! Well … editing tip for you..lol

AJB: I’ll keep that in mind.

GMM: Oh … and THANK GOD for audio books … I would go crazy with my day job.

I go through 3-4 books a week, depending on their length. Harry Potter, thats taking a bit more than a week each.

AJB:
I’m curious, who is the nicest celebrity you have met there?

GMM:  They’ve all been very nice, but Neil Gaiman was just amazing. Stardust is one of my favorite movies, and I told him that. He shook my hand and said most American’s have never even seen the movie. He signed my book and told me to DREAM. Which I do.

AJB: I have heard Gaiman is a truly nice person, which is something you always hope to hear about celebrities.

GMM: Its completely true. If you ever listen to any of the audio books that he narrates, what he sounds like on the audio is exactly his personality. The nicest guy ever.

AJB: That is awesome to hear.

Let’s shift gears again. You also mentioned you study martial arts.

GMM: Yes.

AJB: How did you come to that?

GMM: My husband was studying when we met, but then we got away from it. About five years ago, we decided to take classes with our two youngest boys who were still in middle school then (both are graduated from High School now.)

We believe in self defense, and I especially believe women should learn to defend themselves.

AJB: I’ve never taken martial arts. It is as much about discipline as it is self defense, right?

GMM: It is. In the school I go to that is instilled in the younger kids more. Respect. Listen to you parents, Do your homework. No testing for your next belt if your teachers don’t sign off agreeing the kids are well behaved and doing their work.

As adults, you should really have that down already … lol.

AJB: Maybe I should get my children into it.

GMM: Absolutely!! Its great for self esteem and its not at all about fighting. If you are at the right school, you are told to avoid confrontation, respect the art.

You learn to defend yourself, but with that comes responsibility. Ok … I sound like Spiderman now.

AJB: Hahahaha … Spiderman is okay in my book. But I hate his outfit from the earlier comics.

GMM: Spiderman has a very special place in my heart.

AJB: He does know how to weave a tangled web.

Let’s switch gears again and talk about writing.

GMM: Ok.

AJB: When did you get an inkling you may want to be a writer?

51xswnz8vl-_uy250_GMM: High school. English class. The teacher recommended I submit my creative writing projects to a high school literary magazine (Its been so long, I’ve forgotten the name of it). I wrote many short stories and poems. When I was about 23, I wrote my first book, a children’s book, and even typed it up on my typewriter. But it wasn’t until I was taking a college course in my thirties—a creative writing course—that the teacher told me I should be doing nothing else but writing children’s stories.

That was when I decided to write seriously

I wrote my first novel length book after that, then rewrote it about 10 times over 8 years.

I can’t even call it revising, they were total rewrites.

After I finally put that book to bed, did a bit of querying—maybe five queries and all rejections, I started another book. By this time, I had discovered Twitter, which was still pretty new at that point. There were agents and authors on there and I found out about Nanowrimo, so I decided it was the perfect time to start a new book. I wrote 30k of a vampire book before deciding I needed to do too much research to continue (Virgo … perfectionist). So I put that book aside, and started a new one—a dystopian and won Nano, writing 50k words in two weeks (don’t ask..I have zero idea how I pulled it off).

I finished the book in April, revisions and all. By September, I was querying the agents I had met on Twitter. A year later, I signed with the first agent I queried. But we didn’t go out to publishers for another seven months. By that time, dystopians were out. The book did not sell because the market was flooded.

I parted ways with her about a year and half later.

Since then, I’ve written two more books, one which I’ve been working on for four years and I’m querying for now. I also have  two fulls out at this time. The other I’m working on revisions again.

I also have about four new books on the burner … no idea which I’m going to write next.

AJB: The life and trials of a writer.

GMM: Yup. And two shorts, one with Stitched Smile Publications, and another that was picked up last April.

AJB: Let’s backtrack a little bit here. Tell me a little about that teacher who encouraged you to write in high school. Was he a cool teacher? Influential? Did you like him?

GMM: He was my favorite teacher, the kind that brings out the creativity in you. The class was small, maybe 20-25 people, so he read and graded the stories right in front of the students. That was when he told me I should be doing nothing else but writing for a living. He told me he has not seen a student writing like mine in many years.

I was stunned. At that  point, it had been several years since I wrote anything.

He started me on my journey. Planted the seed. And today, the short I wrote that day is still in the works. I’m revamping it, possibly turning it in a full length novel. (When I was young, 7-10yrs old,  when we visited my Nana, I used to go on witch hunts in the woods with my cousins and a boy who was my Nana’s neighbor. The story is based on those hunts.)

AJB: I love teachers like that. I wish there were more of them. Isn’t it interesting how one person can set the course for someone else by having a belief in that person?

GMM: Absolutely. His words still wring in my ears anytime I doubt my self, which is often. He was amazing. He obviously had passion that ebbed over into his students.

AJB: Writers have a habit of losing belief in themselves. Sometimes we need a push and a memory can often serve as that push. I’m glad to hear you had a teacher who can push you now, all these years after his encouragement.

Now, let’s talk about the two short stories you currently have out.

GMM: Sure!

45b45f94c1fe8fa41859dbf0ecfa9a4eAJB: First let’s discuss the one with SSP. Crystal Blue Waters, am I correct?

GMM: You are correct.

AJB: Tell me about Crystal Blue Waters.

GMM: Violene is a vampire forced out of Miami by the zombie out break, and back to her birthplace, a remote island in the Caribbean, in order to survive, only the tropical waters are not as safe as she thought, and its up to her to save her island.

AJB: Having read this, I thought it was a neat concept I think readers will enjoy. I might be wrong here, but is this your first publication?

GMM: It is.

AJB: Well, let me congratulate you on your first publication and make a toast to many, many more in the future.

GMM: Thank you!! Its very exciting. I have my contract with SSP framed. Its in my bookcase.

AJB:
You do? That is awesome. I am happy for you.

Marie, do you have a favorite genre to write in?

GMM: Not particularly, though I tend to write dark. The book I am querying now is a YA historical/magical realism. I am revising a dark YA contemporary romance. I have two zombie books slated. Another one that I think would be classified as Literary fiction. Its what ever comes to me.

AJB: Diversity is a good thing.

Earlier you said you have ideas for other books. Do you find it difficult to focus on one idea or to choose which idea to write on when you have multiple ones in your head?

GMM: Its horrific. When ideas come to me, I get like little snippets of movies that just appear. Then they are stuck in my head. I carry a pile of notebooks with me because I’m constantly jumping from one to the other, constantly writing notes. I’ve had a particularly hard time trying to figure out which new book to work on. I have a few chapters for two of them, plot notes for the others. I’ve decided to wait on those while I revise the YA contemporary romance. That story is most prominent in my mind right now.

AJB: Then I would go with the one that is at the forefront of your thoughts.

GMM: Exactly. I’m adding a secondary story line that is going to parallel the existing story, so its is new writing, not all revising. Which makes it a bit more satisfying.

AJB: Just a couple of more questions and I’ll let you go. You said you have another short story out. Can you tell me about it?

GMM: Sure. Its with Dead Silent Publishing out of the UK, that is also a production company, focused solely on zombies. My short is called All Dressed in White, which takes place about a year after the zombie outbreak. A bride who was scratched and wakes up the morning of her wedding realizes she only has hours to live before she turns. So its a countdown of her preparing for the wedding, because its the last thing she wants to do, and a countdown to her becoming a zombie.

AJB:
Oh cool. That is something I think I would like to read.

GMM: Awesome! It has a twist at the end..

AJB: Okay, Marie, I just have one more question for you: where can readers find you?

GMM: G. Marie Merante on Facebook

G. Marie Merante on Twitter

G. Marie Merante’s Amazon Author Page

For story boards: Pinterest

I used to have a website, but took it down to make changes and well … I need to work on it.

AJB: Thank you for your time Marie, it has been nice talking with you.

GMM: Thank you so much!

AJB: You are welcome.

Check out G. Marie Merante in both Monsters Vs Zombies and Zombie Chunks and look for more from her in the future.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

 

Dear Faithful Readers,

This is going to be a short post.

2016 was crazy. I think we all know there were a lot of meh things to come out of the year. There were a lot of negatives, as well.

Though there were quite a bit of negative things going on in the world, there were a few things that were positive for me. I put out two books this year (a far cry from the five I wanted to put out, but still they were published). The two books were a three story collection titled, A Stitch of Madness. The other was my novel, Dredging Up Memories. Both of these books were put out by Stitched Smile Publications. I also became part of the SSP staff during the year and made some friends, a couple probably for life. So, there are some positives.

In 2016 I bit off a little more than I could chew. Part of this was due to being overzealous and wanting to try and get my name out there more than it was at the time. I added a lot to my plate that wasn’t there the previous two years and also added quite a bit to a marketing campaign I started in 2014. Early on a lot of the things I did looked as if they would pay off. Then June and July came and life happened. My focus shifted for a few months. When that happened, my blog, newsletter and writing suffered in silence.

Year two of The Brown Bag Stories also came to an end. For those who know what The Brown Bag Stories are, I will have an announcement about that soon. For those who don’t, feel free to ask about it and I will gladly let you in on the hubbub.

In October I started gearing up for 2017 in hopes of rekindling the push I started two years ago at the end of 2014. One of the things I would like to do is make this blog more interactive. I would love to hear your voices, Faithful Readers. I would love to hear what you have to say. I’d love to hear what you want to know about me or maybe even about my characters and stories.

So, let’s talk, what would you like to see in 2017 (and beyond)?

See, I told you it would be short. Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A couple of weeks ago I got to sit down with one of the editors for Stitched Smile Publications. Her name is Donelle Pardee Whiting. She’s smart and witty and funny. She’s also a really good editor and has just recently gotten back into writing fiction. We sat down, as always, at a computer screen and chatted. I had my coffee and a comfortable seat on the couch. I’m not sure where she was sitting. What I am sure about is she surprised me with some of her answers.

AJ: Donelle, tell me a little bit about you.

DPW: Oh you would start with the question I hate the most. Well, let’s see. I am married with one son and three (soon to be four) grandkids.

I love to read, but I go in cycles. I don’t stick to one genre. I read horror, sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, suspense, mystery. I guess it would have been easier to say everything except straight up romance.

I like to spend time outside. Skiing, camping, hiking, sitting at the beach. Wherever my mood takes me. I absolutely love being out on the Harley with my husband.

And I enjoy traveling. I have been blessed with a mom who likes to take me with her on trips.

AJ: Hold the phone: Harley? I would have never guessed that. Tell me more about how you got into that.

DPW:  I didn’t always love Harleys. But I did like motorcycles. In college I had a few friends who rode. When we were dating, my husband had a Kawasaki, but he always wanted a Harley. So, through his eyes (I let him keep those) I started to see the appeal. They’re growly and tough. And if treated right, they last a long time. There is a long history behind them. Although my husband is more knowledgeable about that than I am.

Strigoi COverAJ: If you had to choose between a Kawasaki or a Harley, I’m guessing you would go with the Harley?

DPW: While the only truly important thing to me is my husband is the one in the “driver’s seat,” I would definitely choose to have the Harley. A few years back I took a class to get my motorcycle license. Now I have to save my pennies so I can get one of my own.

I love to ride on the back, but unfortunately, I only get to ride when my husband is able. I won’t take his out. That’s his baby. I didn’t even want my name on the registration when he bought it six years ago.

Still don’t.

I almost forgot. We had a Suzuki Katana before the Harley. I still prefer the Harley.

AJ:  Most folks I know love their Harleys. Let’s step back a minute and talk about your reading preferences. Anything except romance?

DWP: Right. I have nothing against people who like a good romance. I have, in the past, read a few. When I was younger…by several years . And occasionally, in the past I have read works by Nora Roberts, but I prefer her books under the name J.D. Robb. I have nothing against romance, I just don’t need to be romanced. It’s nice when there is a spontaneous gesture, but I don’t expect it, so to me getting lost in a straight up romance novel is akin to getting lost in what a person feels is missing from their life. I could be wrong, but that is what it feels like to me. Plus, a lot of those books are formulaic and predictable. I don’t even really enjoy romance movies. I will watch some rom-com films, but I have to really like the actors. I prefer movies that are in line with my reading tastes.

I think I just figured out something else. I don’t like meek, subservient, female characters. I am not saying the character has to be Xena, the Warrior Princess. She can have weaknesses, or a softness to her, but I don’t like when a female character is portrayed as needing a man to rescue her or to make her feel like her life has meaning. I like that I can count on my husband to be there for me, and to help me. I don’t need for him to, but I like that he is there. Especially, those rare times when there is something I can’t do like fix my car.

AJ: You hit on something very deep here. Getting lost in a straight up romance novel is akin to getting lost in what a person feels is missing from their life. I’ve said something similar to this when referencing erotica and romance and have been blasted for it. Since reading is essentially losing yourself in a book or story, do you find that sometimes people really do read certain types of books to fulfill something missing in their lives?

DWP: Oh boy. I opened the door, so time to step through. I get lost in a good story. And I am perfectly okay with getting lost in a story. But, is it always a matter of it being a case of something missing in real life? It can be, and it can’t be.

Let me explain where I am going.

I love reading fantasy stories. A high school friend introduced me to The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and I loved them. It opened a whole new world of reading material for me. Until then I read the typical girl young adult fare. But, those books, and starting to read my mom’s Stephen King books, really grabbed me. I learned I didn’t have to lock myself in to one writing style, one genre, or even one author. It wasn’t just the books either. My dad was a huge sci-fi fan. He and I would stay up late and watch The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Tales From the Darkside together. He introduced me to Doctor Who and Star Trek and Star Wars. Getting lost in a good Doctor Who episode doesn’t mean I feel like traveling through time and space is missing from my life. Would it be fun if the Doctor was real and came to sweep me into an adventure? You bet.

But, romance to me is different. It is similar to the soap operas that began airing in the…what, 60s? In my opinion, they target lonely, dissatisfied women. There is nothing wrong with reading them. They are not my style. The problem becomes when they become a substitute for what is really out there waiting. Very much like video games. It becomes all encompassing. There is a difference between losing oneself in a good book for a bit, and getting completely lost and missing what life has to offer.

AJ: Wow. That is deep, Donelle. I get what you mean completely. I have heard a lot of women mention before that they love their romance novels because of the fantasy feel to it. It’s not always bad to fantasize, but to get caught up in that fantasy and not live is another thing all together.

Where do we go after that answer? What is your favorite style to read?

DWP: Now that is tough.

I mentioned I loved The Hobbit and LOTR, and I have read the Game of Thrones books. And while I love Tolkein’s work and like Game of Thrones, they are a bit ploddy – I know, not a word – in spots. I do enjoy a descriptive, easy going style, I guess. Honestly, I never really thought about it much. But thinking about it now, I really do enjoy a more conversational style. As if I were sitting with the author in a coffee shop and he/she is telling me a story. Just me. It draws you in. I do not really enjoy lengthy, preachy styles. I have a hard time with non-fiction because there usually is no lightness to it. Working on Strigoi: The First Family with Michael Freeman was interesting because there was the historical element to it. I love history, and I did not want to lose that. I feel like I am rambling, but you asked. I guess I don’t really have a favorite. The style has to fit the story. Some stories are meant to be told in a light-hearted way, or a conversational way, or a more straight forward manner. What is important to me is it is done well.

AJ: Personally, I love the conversational style. Speaking of Strigoi, tell me about that.

Strychnine COverDPW: Strigoi is a re-imagining of the Dracula origin mythos. It is written in a historical fiction style. There is a historical background with fictional elements weaved in, similar to the way Hollywood presents their “based on a true story” films. Some examples would be Titanic, Pearl Harbor, and 47 Ronin (my favorite). We know from history those three events happened. But did they happen exactly that way? Were all those characters really there? Same with Strigoi. We know Vlad Dracula’s lineage, and we know what happened to his family. We also know the Bram Stoker version. So, Michael and I *tweaked* the myth, although he did all the, as I say, heavy lifting.

AJ: You came to be co-author of this book, correct?

DPW:  Correct.

AJ: How did that happen?

DPW: There were actually two books I eventually co-authored with Michael. The other is Strychine, a werewolf story. Anyway, after joining Stitched Smile Publications as an editor – shout out to David Youngquist, a freelance editing client, who put me in touch with Jackie Chin of Zombiepalooza Radio fame who put me in touch with SSP’s CEO Lisa Vasquez – Michael’s two books were given to me for editing. Unfortunately, both books required a lot of reworking through no fault of his. I mean, you’ve seen his writing.

It is my understanding Strychnine was slated for a film, but whoever was going to do the film wanted to make too many changes, so Michael pulled it and submitted it to Lisa. Strigoi was submitted for re-release under Stitched. The previous editor, in my opinion, dropped the ball. Michael said he trusted me to be thorough. After some discussion, he decided we should team up and I should go ahead and do the corrections and whatever rewrites I thought were needed. He put a lot of trust in me. I have to admit, it felt good. I mean, he is extremely talented in both writing and with his film work, and I was the new kid to the party. We agreed to continue a writing partnership. There are three more screenplays he wrote that I will be converting to book form. I enjoy working with him. However, I am not giving up on the editing. That is what got me where I am now. And, I have some other projects, as well.

AJ: So, then you guys pretty much hit it off so well the collaboration works. It is hard to find a good writing partner these days.

How has the editing phase of your job with SSP gone?

DPW: Busy. But also very rewarding. I am enjoying myself immensely. I love what I do, and the people I am getting to know are fantastic. It’s like everything I have done before has led to this. This is what I am meant to do.

AJ: Why do you say that? Why do you say this is what you are meant to do? I always find it intriguing when someone says that.

DPW: Because even in school as a kid, I would help classmates with their papers. Plus, when I was a kid I would write stories using characters from movies or shows I saw. And I have never given up on my dream to be a published author. Put it aside for a bit but never lost it.

AJ: So, then you have always been the helpful type?

DPW: When I can, yes. There are times I have to say no. But, if it is in my capabilities and when I can I will.

AJ: So, let’s turn back to Strigoi and Strychnine. Both books were released at the same time. Why did you and Michael go with a dual release?

DPW: As far as I know it was a publisher decision. To be honest, I never asked.

AJ: Okay, how about a break from the seriousness? Give me one word answers for the following questions:

Vampire or Werewolf?

DPW: Werewolf

AJ: Beer or wine?

DPW: Wine.

AJ: Are you a fan of Darth Vader?

DPW: No.

AJ: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?

DPW:
That’s tough. Near a beach, but not too far from the mountains. I know, more than one word.

AJ: That is okay–I knew that one would be.

Favorite food?

DPW: Chocolate

AJ: Okay, now let’s get serious again. Are you working on any solo writing endeavors right now?

DPW: Always. I have a book with dragons that has been back burnered since 1995. I like to say the dragons were too young, so they were maturing in their caves in my head. They are awake now. Plus, I have some short stories in need of being written. Thought of one today while out and about. And I have another co-author project with someone else, but her identity is currently a secret until she chooses to come out of the veil and into the light.

In a way it is still sinking in that I am published as an author and not just as my previous “identity” as a journalist.

AJ: I understand that. I think it should always continue to sink in. That way you keep working hard at it.

DPW: Yep. Finding my rhythm.

AJ: Rythm. That leads us right into my next question. I’m a music guy, so with that said, recently Prince passed away. His manager said this about him: “His music did the talking.” He did some amazing things in the music business. As a writer, what do you wish to accomplish with your writing?

DPW: A very good question. I don’t write for others, so to speak. I write what is in my own head, my own imagination. However, when I share that part of me I hope people join me for the ride and are able to put aside their own worries and such and just live in that moment, to be a part of my world.

AJ: Have you been reading my notes?

DPW: Ahahaha. Nope. We just think alike.

AJ: Okay, let me throw this at you: I am a reader. I have never read anything by you. Sell me on you, not just you the writer, but Donelle, the person as well.

DPW: I am not afraid to admit I am human, I am not perfect. However, I am willing to step out of my comfort zone and take some chances. I love to have fun and I like to share the fun. And I am more than willing to fly my Geek Flag. And, if I can get one person to join every so often I am a success. Especially if we can share a laugh.

AJ: And you know I like to laugh.

DPW: Very much so. I am even willing to laugh at myself. I prefer not taking life too seriously. More fun that way.

AJ: What, if anything, would you do different with your writing or editing?

DPW: When I edit, I go through more than once. I approach it like a treasure hunt. There are corrections to be made and I want to find where they are. With my writing, I am a firm believer in self-editing. I will go over it with a critical eye before saying it is done. And even then, I know it needs another set of eyes because I miss things because I know what it is supposed to say and I auto-correct in my head.

AJ: Are you sure you are not looking at my notes?

DPW: LOL.

AJ: Okay, one or two more questions and I will let you go. If you could sit down with any living writer and have a conversation with him or her, who would it be and what would you talk about?

DWP: Stephen King. He has overcome challenges in his life. He never gave up. And he doesn’t let his critics beat him down. He marches to his own music. So, I guess that, in addition to finding his rhythm, his routine. Keeping balance in his life and, well, his dogs. One is Molly the Thing of Evil. The other is the angelic one. Can’t recall its name, though.

AJ: I would have said King as well.

DPW: Great minds.

AJ: I’m sorry–you have slipped a notch if we are thinking alike.

DPW: Nope. Means you have been elevated.

AJ: Hahahaha—nicely done.

DPW: Thankee, sai.

AJ:
Donelle, Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers out there?

DWP: Never stop reading. Never stop dreaming. And, thanks for joining me on the ride. I’ll see you on the next page.

AJ: The next page is a good place to meet.

You can find Donelle on Amazon and her website, Pardee Time.  You can also fine Donelle on Facebook. Show some love for Donelle and leave her some comments.

As always, until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

 

In the short time Stitched Smile Publications has been around, they have put out three separate works of fiction. One of those was released on February 17th. It is by David Owain Hughes and Alice J. Black. The novella is titled, Granville. Here is the synopsis for the book:

Stanley is a typical high school student trying to find his way through the hierarchy of study and popularity. Nobody wants to spend time with him and even his crush turned him down nine times. He spends most of his time alone in the house, cursing his mother and blaming her for driving his father away. He has a preoccupation with all things horror and his love goes beyond just watching the movies; he wants to be the star of the show.

Making masks started as a hobby that soon becomes a practiced ritual and finally, when he has the right mask and slips it on over his head, he realizes that he is transformed. He is no longer Stanley but Granville, a masked warrior who intends to get payback for all the wrongs done to him and he will hold no punches.

The town is on lock down, the people terrified of this hideous killer, all the while he waits and plans his final masterpiece before taking off.

On the day of the release, SSP threw an online Release Party. I was only able to attend the last half of the event, but in that time, I got to know Alice and David and we talked a little about Granville.

(Side Note: Being an online party, there were a few interjections into our conversation.)

AJ: Alice, David, tell me about Granville. I read the description for it, and it sounds right up my alley.

Alice: Stanley is a loner, a young boy who is pushed too far one day and snaps. He takes things into his own hands and as his degradations get worse, so do his masks…

AJ: Let’s talk concepts: David, Alice, where did the concept for this story come from?

David: I think it first started with myself – I had this idea about a hapless teen who wanted to be a serial killer. I was looking to co-write a second project with Alice.

AJ: So, then you two have worked together before?

David: Yes, this is actually our second novella.

Alice: Yeah we wrote a novella length creature feature…#

David: The first is currently in the hands of a publisher, but we can’t release details.

AJ: Nice. Tell me about Stanley?

David: He’s your typical horror geek, who has a crush on a girl at school he can’t get.

AJ: Is he somewhat of an outcast?

David: Oh, very much so. He’s pretty much tortured by his peers. He’s a ghost to the tutors. Faceless, nameless.

AJ: Bullied?

David: Yes, mentally and physically.

AJ: So, he is essentially there, but no one likes him or takes the time to get to know him? They just kind of push him around.

David: Yes, spot on. Nobody cares about Stanley – he’s a punch bag.

AJ: That’s sad.

AJ: So, Granville. That is WHO he becomes, correct?

David: Yes, that’s right.

Jennifer H: I read it and it was an excellent book. Very twisted and dark. Twists and turns you wouldn’t expect

AJ: If David had anything to do with it, I know it is dark and probably somewhat disturbing.

Jennifer H: Have you read any of his others and which ones?

AJ: I’ve read some of David’s work. Not a ton, but enough to know that his mind is a bit dark.

Jennifer H: Great I will have to look up his stuff.

AJ: Alice, when you two sat to write this, did you write one part and David write another one and you mashed it together in the end? How did the collaboration of this story go?

Alice: When we wrote, we wrote a section each, maybe 1-2k words and then emailed it across and the next person started from there until we hashed it all out. We did the same with editing.

AJ: Very nice. A true collaboration. Did either of you, at any point, not like something the other one had written and discuss it with each other to make sure it came out right?

Alice: I have to be honest and say no. It all flowed so well. We obviously changed a few bits during editing but that’s natural.

AJ: At any point during the writing of Granville, did either of you say, eh, maybe we should scale back on this scene? And did you scale back if that were the case?

Alice: I don’t think that ever came up! If anything it was pouring more on.

David: I always go out guns blazing! I don’t like holding anything back.

AJ: David, I expect nothing less from you.

David: Have you picked up something of mine prior to this?

AJ: David, I’ve read a few of your pieces online. Something for Horror Geeks I think was the last thing I read.

David: Cool. I’ve written a lot of dark, twisted stuff. I can’t get enough of it!

AJ: You also have a book with BWP, right?

David: Two, one novel and one collection of short stories.

AJ: Very nice

AJ: Of the two of you, which do you think has the darker side?

Alice: Um I think it’s hard to say. We both have dark sides. I think David is a little more explicit with his while I tend to stay a little more somber but in our own ways, we’re both very dark.

David: I think our difference in dark styles very much suit our co-writing team.

AJ: David, in what way? That intrigues me.

David: One will do something different to the other – subtly and brute force mix well.

Alice: I found I learned a lot from David. I often shy away from the more explicit side of horror, and working with him made me consider why and branch out in my own writing.

David: Alice, that’s nice of you to say.

AJ: So playing off of each other’s strengths also strengthened your own styles?

David: Oh, definitely.

AJ: Then your styles fit well together. That is good to hear. I have only done a couple of collaborations, and it has been a LONG time since I did my last one, but I loved trying to fit our styles together.

David: Alice and I get on so well – she’s like my little sister.

AJ: I’m jealous. I don’t have a writing partner like that.

David: I’m lucky in that respect. I think she only keeps me around for the laughs.

AJ: Most women keep men around for the laughs. They don’t need us.

Alice: That’s not true!

David: Which part?

Alice: We don’t just keep men around for the laughs.

AJ: You mean there are other reasons? I need to talk to my wife about this.

Alice: Haha. Maybe you should.

AJ: Alice, I think you and I are going to get along quite well.

Alice: Me too!

AJ: I know when I finish a particularly good story, I want to celebrate. When you finished Granville, did you smoke a cigarette or drink a beer?

Alice: I’m not sure I did! I was very excited about it but it wasn’t until we were accepted for publication that I really celebrated.

AJ: Tell me about the process of getting Granville published.

Alice: David could probably tell you more because he did a lot of leg work on this one

David: It was luck, I guess. I’d done some work for Lisa Vasquez and saw she was taking submissions.

AJ: So you subbed and she accepted, eh?

David: Yeah, she knew of me and my work.

AJ: Alice, tell me a little about YOU?

Alice: Um…I write mostly horror but I like to write other stuff to. I have a novel out which is a YA supernatural. That one is my baby! But I’ve got a lot of shorts out in anthologies and a novel series in the works

AJ: Tell me about the novel, if you don’t mind.

Alice: The novel is called The Doors. It’s about a young girl called Amanda who is made to move down the country when her dad gets a new job. They move into Godfrey Hall but from the get go, she doesn’t like it. There are a set of mosaic doors in the dining room that she can’t stop staring at and whenever her parents are out, the little man in the mosaic seems to move. Amanda has to figure out the mystery of the mosaic doors before it drives her insane.

AJ: Alice, you said YA? What is the age range?

Alice: I suppose for anyone who likes reading YA. I like YA but I know that some adults don’t so probably around 16-20

AJ: My daughter is almost 15. Would it be appropriate for her?

Alice: I would think so. There’s a little romance but it’s nothing heavy, more of an attraction really. Other than that it’s more than suitable. It’s available on kindle. Would you like the link?

AJ: Well, yes, I would.

Alice: The Doors on Amazon

Donelle: I think you will like this book.

AJ: I plan on getting it, Donelle. I like David’s work and Alice seems like my type of person.

Donelle: I am about halfway through.

AJ: Nice.

AJ: Is there anything else, Alice and David would like to say before I let you all go. I know it is late (or very early) where they are at.

Alice: Not that I can think of, except thank you for your support!

AJ: No problem.

If you would like to find out more about David and Alice, follow these links:

Alice J Black (Blog)

The Doors Facebook Page

Alice J Black Amazon Author Page

Granville

@DOHUGHES32

David Owain Hughes, Horror Writer (Website)

David Owain Hughes Amazon Author Page

David Owain Hughes Facebook Author Page

 

Dear Faithful Readers,

Happy New Year. Really. Happy New Year. I hope you are well and let’s all look forward to a better year in 2016 than we had in 2015 (even if you had a good 2015). There are a few things I set out to do each year. No, they are not resolutions, they are goals. Last year I wanted to create an author page on Facebook and get at least 100 likes. I wanted to put out at least two books. I wanted to create a better fan base. I wanted to be further along at the end of 2015 than I was at the beginning of it. These were goals I had. For the most part, I achieved them.

I did create an author page on Facebook. At the end of 2015 it had 190 likes. I only put one book out, but if I include Cory’s Way, which was put out at the end of 2014, I kind of achieved that goal. I created a bigger fan base (and even got some Roadies in the mix). I am further along now than I was at the beginning of last year.

Here is where I have to be honest with you all: as much as I’m happy about those things, I’m not happy with where I am at in the publishing world. I was hoping for a more publishers would look at my work (and a couple have) and want to put some of it out. Two publishers for certain are putting out books in 2016 and there is a third interested in a particular storyline, but that one is not concrete yet. And now, I need to be even more honest: I am to blame for not getting the attention I want. Yes, I worked at it a lot over the last few years, (the last two in particular), but not as hard as I could have. This falls on me to do better.

This year I have a couple of loftier goals. They will take a lot of work, but I’m up for the challenge. Are you ready to see the list? Here we go:

  • Promote my work better than I do (very important goal).
  • Write a blog at least once a week.
  • To go with the writing blogs, to get more viewership than 2015. Last year I had 3042 views (or 8.33 views per day) to Type AJ Negative.
  • Double the amount of likes on my FB author page (from 190 to 380).
  • Put out five books this year. Yes, I said five.
  • Write another novel.
  • Finish the Hank Walker Novella, Interrogations (yeah, this is going to be cool).
  • Attend five book promotion functions (festivals, conventions, etc…).

All of those are attainable goals. With a bit of work, they are all doable.

Since one of those is to promote my work better, I think I will go ahead and start that right here, right now with this:

Coming to a device near you (preferably in your hand where you can read it), A Stitch of Madness, a three story collection being released by Stitched Smile Publications on January 6th 2016.

Stitch Cover 3Madness: extremely foolish behavior.

Imprisoned for the murder of his best friend, Johnny Cleary sets out to tell what happened on the day Bobby “Buster” Lennon died, but are the words he writes true or does the deception run deeper.

Madness: the state of being mentally ill, especially severely.

There is something wrong with Irene. Momma’s dead and a ragdoll speaks to her in a voice that is hauntingly familiar. And what about the stitches, the very things that just might hold Irene together?

Madness: a state of frenzied or chaotic activity.

After an odd stranger pays Robert Wallenger a visit, his world begins to unravel and the past comes rushing back, along with a sickly sweet scent.

There is madness in everyone. For most, the madness never surfaces. For others, all it takes is one thing, big or small, for them to spiral out of control.

This is the first of several books I hope to put out this year. If you like my other work, you’ll enjoy A Stitch of Madness.

There is also a Facebook release party, taking place on the 6th. Please come by, enjoy the festivities and contests and interaction with others at A Stitch of Madness Release Party.

Hmmm…that wasn’t so painful. Okay, maybe it was a little painful, simply because it feels weird trying to promote my work. This year is going to be a good year. I hope you come along for the ride and let’s make this the best year ever. Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.