Author Interview….Erika Swyler, author of “The Book of Speculation”

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I’m a in love with learning. I’m happiest when I’m figuring out how to do something new. Sometimes that means I know just enough to get myself in serious trouble. Generally, it means I’m looking at something and thinking of how I could make it myself, better, and on the cheap. That’s probably how I wound up being a writer who draws, bakes, binds books, and does calligraphy.

Sierra:  When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

Erika:  I’ve always been writing. I recently unearthed a pot boiler thriller I wrote in the third grade. I didn’t start pursuing writing as a career until my twenties. Final edits on The Book of Speculation were completed in 2014, though you never really stop working on a book. Every time you pick it up to read, you change a word. I’m still writing it, though no one’s paying attention to my little edits.

Sierra:  Tell us a little bit about your first book or the first book in the series.

Erika:  The Book of Speculation is about a librarian who receives a mysterious book that reveals a curse that’s been killing women in his family for 250 years, including his mother. His sister is poised to be its next victim. It follows Simon as he tries to break the curse, and his ancestors—a mute tarot card reader and a carnival mermaid—who live and work in a traveling circus in the 1790s. It’s a book about the magic of books and families.

Click on the book to see my review!

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Sierra: How did you choose the genre you write in?

Erika:  I tend not to write in a single genre, instead pulling elements from many. I like the romanticism of fantasy, the pacing and thought that comes with mystery, historical fiction’s escapism, family saga’s emotional intensity, the allegory of fairy tales, pretty much everything magical realism does, and literary fiction’s devotion to language. I read all over the map, so it only made sense to try to use what I like best in what I write. I find the idea of trapping something in a single genre to be more limiting to readers than helpful. The word genre also comes with a stigma. To me, labeling something as a particular genre is the best way to ensure that lots of people who might otherwise enjoy a book won’t find it. That’s a shame.

Sierra: What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write?

Erika:  I got to write some truly terrible weather in this book. Writing bad weather is a joy. When you’re writing terrible weather you know you’re writing something everyone can connect with, because we’ve all suffered through it. Weather spares no one. Essentially, huge storms or weather events are scenery chewing, going-for-the-Oscar moments. Late in The Book of Speculation I decimate a historic building, which was deeply satisfying in a way I shouldn’t examine too deeply.

Sierra:  Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

Erika:  The fictional town of Napawset draws heavily from the area around where I grew up. If you drive along Long Island’s North Shore after reading the book, it will feel achingly familiar. The contemporary storyline has emotional roots in my own experience of growing up in a small shore town. The 1790s narrative is entirely imagined, save for the historical details. Much as I wish that I’d run away with a traveling circus, I haven’t. I’d still like to though. Desperately.

Sierra: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

Erika:  Geek Love is the most influential book in my life. I picked it up in college and was totally smitten. To this day I haven’t encountered another book like it. The voice is fierce, unapologetic, and bawdy. Olympia is the boldest narrator—male or female—I’ve ever read. It’s impossible to read it without having a very strong opinion about it. That’s what I want from every book. I’ve been known to judge whether or not I can be friends with someone based on their opinion of Geek Love. I like to gift it to people and watch them squirm as they read.

Sierra: Do you ever experience writers block?

Erika:  All the time. There are plenty of days when I sit down and it just won’t happen. I swear a lot. I try to do other things, draw, read, take walks, anything that will get my brain moving away from feeling stuck. The antidote to writers block is change. And forgiveness. You have to forgive yourself for not being brilliant. That said, working on those two things is as difficult as the writing process itself.

Sierra: Is there an author that you would really like to meet?

Erika:  I’d very much like to meet Kirsty Logan. The Gracekeepers was recently published and it’s perfect. I’d love to be able to tell her that in person. In my imagined meeting there is tea, and we get to talk about folklore, fairy tales, and trashy television. Sadly, there’s a large ocean preventing that meeting.

Sierra: Will you have a new book coming out soon? If so, can you tell us about it?

Erika:  I’m in the very early stages of my next book. I can tell you that I’m exploring concepts of time, that it’s set in Florida, and it revolves around a young girl and science. Everything else will shift as I go. Books have a way of turning themselves inside out as you write them.

Sierra: If you could go back and do it all over again, is there any aspect of your first novel or getting it published that you would change?

Erika:  I wish I could have worried less. It’s so easy to become neurotic during editing and prepublication. I wore myself out with worry. During revisions, editing, and the period before launch you get these intense fears that you’re letting people down. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that your book isn’t just yours anymore. It belongs to you, and everyone who works with you. The sooner it becomes less me and more we, the better.

Sierra: Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Erika:  Get off the computer and write longhand when you can. You’ll worry less and write more. You’ll edit when you type it up later. If you write longhand, you’re far less likely to lose a draft to a ham dinner colliding with a keyboard.

Sierra: Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?

Erika:  Thank you. May you all one day write books and have people be as kind to you as they’ve been to me. It’s humbling, and I’m profoundly grateful.

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*Featured Author of the Month…Ronald Malfi* Interview & GIVEAWAY!

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Praise for Ronald Malfi and his novels

“One cannot help but think of writers like Peter Straub and Stephen King.”
—FearNet

“Malfi is a skillful storyteller.”—New York Journal of Books

“A complex and chilling tale….terrifying.”—Robert McCammon

“Malfi’s lyrical prose creates an atmosphere of eerie claustrophobia…haunting.”—Publishers Weekly

“A thrilling, edge-of-your-seat ride that should not be missed.”—Suspense Magazine

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Ronald is a 38, a native New Yorker who transplanted to Maryland when he was just a kid, married to a psychologist (read into that what you will), and the father of two young girls.  His newly released book “Little Girls” is amazing and you should check it out!!

(Click on the book to read my review!)

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(Click on the book to read my review!)

Sierra:  When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

Ronald:  I started writing, at least with some sort of discipline, when I was around 10 years old or so. I had an old manual typewriter and would hammer out scores of short stories, for which I would draw covers and staple the “books” together so I could pass them out to friends and family to read. My first published book was released in 2000, a year after I graduated college—it was a desperate attempt to stave off having to get a real job after graduation—but I had written several novel manuscripts much earlier than that. I was probably in my early teens—maybe 13 or so—when I finished my first novel-length manuscript. I still have all of these stories packed away in steamer trunks in my basement.

Sierra:  Tell us a little bit about your newest book, “Little Girls.”

Ronald:   Little Girls is about Laurie Genarro’s return to her childhood home after the apparent suicide of her mentally unstable and distant father. Along for the ride are her husband Ted and daughter Susan. While staying in the house, Laurie begins to uncover secrets about her family’s past while Susan befriends a peculiar little girl living next door—a girl who is the spitting image and, as Laurie comes to believe, the possible reincarnation of a terrible little girls who had lived (and died) next door when Laurie was a child.

Sierra: How did you choose the genre you write in?

Ronald:   I’m not sure any writer actively “chooses” their genre. I’ve always been attracted to dark things, even when I was younger and afraid of those very same things that also piqued my curiosity. I’ve written some more “mainstream” fiction in the past, but even these stories tend to have a darkness about them.

Sierra: What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write?

Ronald:  Very interesting question!  There’s a section late in the novel where Laurie ruminates on the fears she had when she first learned she was pregnant with her daughter Susan.  There’s a passage where I relate those fears, and describe how she began to see young children in the wake of those fears—children as horrid, disgusting, tiny people, so strange and unappealing that they’re depicted almost like aliens or monsters.  For some reason, I love that passage.  I think I managed to touch on some of the things childless people might think about other people’s children—the rudeness of them, the brazen effrontery, the grubbiness of their little hands and dirty clothes. It was a lot of fun to write.

Sierra:  Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

Ronald:   There’s always a little bit of real life that seeps in—the occasional anecdote or character trait, something like that. But for the most part, the characters are wholly fictional creations, and the stories that they populate come from that place where all stories come from—which is to say that, perhaps subconsciously, there are parts of real life tucked away beneath the veneer of fiction. But I rarely use real life experiences in my fiction.

Sierra: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

Ronald:  Oh, there are so many. I’m still influenced by authors and books, almost every time I read a new author or a particularly wonderful book. Early on, Stephen King was a huge influence, of course. Later, I grew to love the works of Peter Straub. And while I still adore Ernest Hemingway’s fiction, there was a period of time, right after college and a few years thereafter, that I was obsessed with his work and reread his novels until the pages of the books fell out. “The Sun Also Rises” still stands as my favorite novel.

Sierra: Do you ever experience writers block?

Ronald:  You know, I used to joke that I was too unimportant to suffer writer’s block. I think maybe that was a glib answer at the time. I’ve gone through periods of stagnancy, questioning what I’m writing, if it’s good enough, if it fits what my current editor is looking for, that sort of thing. But at the end of the day, I somehow manage to get over that hump and get back to the stories.  And once I start writing, I’ll go off and knock out maybe 20 or so pages at a time.  When I’m really cooking, I can finish a whole novel in about two months.

Sierra: Is there an author that you would really like to meet?

Ronald:  I guess it would be something to meet Stephen King, more for bragging rights than anything else.  I’ve met Peter Straub, albeit very briefly, a few years back in New York, but I would certainly welcome the opportunity to sit down with him and pick his brain about his books.  His writing is very layered and seems to allude to hidden truths between the lines, and I’d love for him to wink conspiratorially at me and let me in on all the little secrets that make his books so brilliant.

Sierra: Will you have any new books coming out soon? If so, can you tell us about it?

Ronald:  Next year will see the release of a novel called The Night Parade. It’s about a father and daughter on the run from the government and police during the final stage of a disease epidemic that has wiped out much of the population.  While it’s arguably an end-of-the-world novel—something I thought I’d never write—it’s much more intimate in its scope and is really about the relationship between the father and his daughter. I’m very happy with how it turned out.

Sierra: If you could go back and do it all over again, is there any aspect of your first novel or getting it published that you would change?

Ronald:  I think my drive for having a book published superseded my ability at the time. My first novel was a thing uncooked, and should have remained in the steamer trunk with the other early attempts. However, it was published and was instrumental in starting my career, as it helped me gain a small audience and ultimately led to my second book deal with a better publisher. Thankfully, that first novel is long out of print, though I’ve been alerted to a few copies for sale out there on the secondary and tertiary markets for exorbitant and ridiculous prices. Save your money, folks.

Sierra: Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Ronald:  The advice is always the same—if you want to write, you must read.  Read everything, and read a lot. And when you’re not reading, you should be writing, of course.

Sierra: Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?

Ronald:   I’ve just been overwhelmed by the positive responses from my readers and with the wonderful emails I receive from fans.  The horror community is a wonderful brotherhood (and sisterhood) of supportive peers and dedicated fans. It’s great to be a part of it.  And thanks for your time, too, Sierra. Much appreciated!

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Links to Purchase

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Little-Girls-Ronald-Malfi/dp/1617736066

Barnes and Noble:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/little-girls-ronald-malfi/1120137979?ean=9781617736063

Or pick up or ask to order at your local independent bookstore or anywhere e-formats are sold!

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Sign up to win one of two paperback copies of Little Girls by Ronald Malfi by clicking the link to the Rafflecopter link below. Be sure to follow the specifics you can do each day to gain more entries.

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Or the code is

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Author Interview with Michael Pang, author of “In the Eyes of Madness” – *BOOK GIVEAWAY*

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Michael is 31 years old and is married with two kids. He was born in Hong Kong and moved to the US when he was about 3 years old.  Michael grew up in Central Florida and went off to Atlanta for college. He graduated from Georgia Tech back in 2005 and worked for an energy company as a project engineer up through 2013.  In 2014 he started working for an IT company as a project manager.

“I am a person that gets bored extremely quickly, so I like to dabble in a lot of different things.  I have many passions in life that keep me from being idle.  Writing and reading, of course, being two of my passions, have taken up much of my time.  Other passions that indulge upon are Cooking, Eating, Singing, and teaching.”

Sierra:  When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

Michael: I’ve always been very addicted to reading urban fantasy novels.  After a long day at work, it feels great to be able to dive into a book where I can be drawn into a world that parallels my own, but filled with magic and wonder.  If I had a good book in front of me, I used to be able to stay up all night reading (gone are those day though; I have kids now and I try to get as much sleep as I can get).

Although, I’ve always wanted to pursue writing, I didn’t really attempt writing a book until one night when I had a very strange dream about 4 years ago.  My wife and I had our first baby. Months of sleepless nights went by and we both looked like zombies. Then, one night a very strange dream (more like a nightmare) came to me about a teenager working in a mental asylum. The patients there were all gaunt and ghastly with very abrupt demeanor changes. Some of the things the patients were doing were fairly odd and supernatural (like levitating, retrieving objects via telekinesis, and speaking with multi-vocal projections). And I remember wandering to myself, are these people all just insane or demon possessed. Then the teenager went into a room and called the patient residing in the room, “mom.”  She turned around abruptly, and the expression on her face was terrifying as she pounced on him. I woke up immediately. As shaken from the dream as I was, I couldn’t help wanting to find out what happened to the teenager.  I tried to go back to sleep in hopes of getting the dream to continue.  But it didn’t work.  The next morning, I told my wife about the strange dream and how I had hoped that it had continued when I went back to sleep.  So my wife told me that it sounded like it would make an excellent novel and that I should write my own ending.  And I did.

It took me about two and a half years to finish the story.

Sierra:  Tell us a little bit about your first book or the first book in the series.

Michael: .It is a Young Adult Paranormal Urban Fantasy that is book 1 of a book series called Declan Peters Chronicles.  The story is about a 17 year old boy who had an traumatic experience when he was seven.  His mother went insane and tried to drown him.  Now that he’s graduated from high school, he starts working for the institution here is mother is being cared for.  Strange things start happening around him, and he afraid that he might have inherited his mother’s mental illness.  The story surrounds all the different discoveries that he makes about himself during this time.  Are there really supernatural things happening around him, or has he truly inherited his mother’s condition.  You’ll have to read the book to find out.

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Click the Photo to see A Simple Taste for Reading’s Review!

Sierra: How did you choose the genre you write in?

Michael:  Since the whole story came about from a nightmare I had, I’d have to say that I didn’t choose it; it chose me.  I hope I didn’t sound too much like a mystic there.

Sierra: What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write?

Michael: My favorite part in the book (without giving too much away as a spoiler) is the scene where Declan comes to a realization about his own state of mind and what he can really do.  That feeling of being free from all the baggage that he had been carrying for 10 years, made me leap a little bit as I was writing it.  I’m sure that there is always something about yourself that you are self conscious of or you don’t like (whether it is something that has happened in your past or something about yourself physically).  And sometimes, you can get obsessed about it so much that it consumes you. But learning to like yourself for who you are and how you got there is probably one of the most freeing experiences of your life.

Sierra:  Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

Michael: The story is mostly imaginary, being that it originated from a dream.  However, there are a lot of moments throughout the story that has very intense emotions, that are reflections of the emotions that I’ve had in different parts of my life.
Sierra: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

Michael: I’m a big paranormal fiction fan. A few of my favorite writers are Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green, Cassandra Clare, and Rick Riordan. Jim Butcher has definitely influenced some of the ways I write my fight scenes in the book as his books are always so packed with supernatural action.  And Simon R. Green always has such witty characters that are very unique.  And Cassandra Clare and Rick Riordan simply have a way of creating a world that draws you in.  These are all amazing writers and I really hope that one day I can attain their level of excellence.

Sierra: Do you ever experience writers block?

Michael:  I’m not sure if it really counts, but I honestly cannot sit and write for more than two hours at a time.  My brain feel like a bowl of pudding after that.

Sierra: Is there an author that you would really like to meet?

Michael: Jim Butcher!  The Dresden Files is my absolute favorite book series of all time.  I’ve probably re-read the entire series at least 4 times.  The world that he built in his book series is so intricate that every time I re-read it I realize that I had missed something important the previous times.

Sierra: Will you have a new book coming out soon? If so, can you tell us about it?

Michael:  Not quite in the near future.  I’m still in the beginning stages of writing book 2 of the Declan Peter’s Chronicles.  And concurrently, I’m working on a spin-off book series that goes back to the genesis times, starting with the first Nephilim.   And yes, there will be crossover characters.  You have to read it to find out how.

Sierra: If you could go back and do it all over again, is there any aspect of your first novel for getting it published that you would change?

Michael: No, I like the story as it is.  However, I’d like to believe that my writing has improved since then, and just rewrite the whole thing!  Haha!  But I feel like, I’m always going to feel that way as I continue down my writing journey.

Sierra: Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Michael: As my wife was reading some of my first drafts, I kept hearing sighs and grunts.  And I ask her what was her deal, and she told me “Don’t just flat out tell the readers what is going on all the time, you have flirt with them.”

You don’t’ want to be so cryptic where you readers are confused about what’s going on in the story, but also don’t just give it all away!  Tease them! Make them work for it! 😉

Sierra: Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?

Michael:  I’d just like to thank all the readers for their support.  I know that some of the topics touched upon in the novel can be quite taboo in certain arenas.  But, I feel that it’s what makes for an intriguing tale!  I hope you enjoyed the first book enough to continue with the series because it’s really about go deeper into the madness!

Click On the Book Cover to Enter to Win a  Digital Copy of “In the Eyes of Madness”!25466295

Author Interview with Allan Stratton, author of “The Dogs”

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I am in the process of getting a copy of Allan Stratton’s book, “The Dogs“.  I had read an excerpt of the first few chapters and now I need to find out what is going on!  I decided to contact the author for an interview.  I hope you all check out his writing.  If you have already read “The Dogs”, please let me know your thoughts!  I can’t wait to read it!

Allan:  I’m a happily married full time author who likes spending time with friends and my four cats. All the blah blah blah about my work is at my website: www.allanstratton.com

Sierra:  When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

Allan: I started wqriting before I could spell, sounding out the letters. My first professionally published work was a play written when I was eighteen and produced on our Canada’s national radio network. My first novel, Leslie’s Journal was written in 2000.

Sierra:  Tell us a little bit about your first book.

Allan: Leslie’s Journal is about an at risk girl who falls in with a very dangerous boyfriend. It was an American LKibrary Association Best Book and has come out in the states, Canada, Korea, France, Germany and Slovenia.

Sierra: How did you choose the genre you write in?

Allan: I write in a variety of genres. Each  depends on the subject matter, characters andpremise that attracts me to the project.

Sierra: What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write?

Allan: The car ride Cameron has with his father. It creeped me out.

Sierra:  Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

Allan: My dad was an abuser. My mom fled with me when I was a baby. But fiction always messes with what’s real and what’s not.

Sierra: Is there an author that you would really like to meet?

Allan: Shakespeare, Dickens, Emily Bronte, Dostoyevsky and Fielding. Sadly they’re all dead.

Sierra: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

Allan: No, although the authors I mentioned above have all written books that make me think about life.

Sierra: Do you ever experience writers block?

Allan: Sometimes. It’s usually a function of fear. Deal with the fear of it and it disappears.

Sierra: Will you have a new book coming out soon? If so, can you tell us about it?

Allan: The Dogs comes out in the US in September. It’s about a boy on the run with his mom from a psychotic father. At the rented farmhouse where they stay, our hero, Cameron, becomes convinced he’s talking to the ghost of a boy who was murdered years ago by his father. Is Cameron solving a cold case or is he un hinged and projecting the ghost because of his own father-fears.

I’ve been lucky to get a starred review in Kirkus. “A monstrous, stalking father, unhinging nightmares, a ghostly boy, wild dogs, and a moldy basement add creepy deliciousness to a murder mystery and tale of a boy who, in trying to solve a mystery, may just discover what a loving family might be. An engrossing blend of murder mystery and family story.”

Sierra: If you could go back and do it all over again, is there any aspect of your first novel or getting it published that you would change?

Allan: I never re-read my work after it’s published, except when doing public presentations. Too busy working on new stuff.

Sierra: Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Allan: Read, read, read. Write, write, write.

Sierra: Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?

Allan: I hope you have as much fun reading my books as I’ve had writing them.

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*Featured Author of the Month…Adina Rishe Gewirtz*

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I’m a person who’s always been fascinated both with people and with language. From the time I was very young, I loved listening to the sound of voices, and all the stories people told about themselves, their lives, and their relationships. I guess that’s as good a description of me as any. Otherwise, I’m not that distinctive, but I never do think people are as interesting on the outside as they are on the inside.

Sierra:  When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

Adina: I started writing when I was pretty young – I remember I wrote a little novella that had to do with a girl plagued by annoying brothers. At the time, that was my attempt at veiled autobiography. When I was 12 years old, I read To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, and was so taken with it that I decided right then I had to be a writer too. After that, I never really changed my mind.

 

Sierra:  Tell us a little bit about your first book or the first book in the series.

Adina: My first novel was Zebra Forest, which is the story of a brother and a sister, Annie and Rew, who grow up in a house full of secrets. They don’t even really know the story of their own family, which leaves them with a hole that they try to fill with stories. At a certain point, they find out what they were missing, and in a very explosive way.

 

Sierra: How did you choose the genre you write in?

Adina: I just write what’s on my mind. Sometimes it’s realistic fiction, sometimes its fantasy. My next book is a fantasy, Blue Window, which should be coming out next year.

 

Sierra: What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write?

Adina: Almost every chapter in that book held a lot of pleasure for me, but I most loved the times when Annie and Rew are talking together.

 

Sierra:  Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

Adina: I take a few things from life, but only minor details. For example, in Zebra Forest, the kids know their grandmother grew up in Chicago. Mine did, and so I developed that little bit of biography from real life. Everything that happens to the Snow family in the book, however, is fiction, which my family is happy about, since some of it is hard to live through.

 

Sierra: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

Adina: Well, Harper Lee made me into a writer, and when I was younger, I read To Kill A Mockingbird something like 15 times, just to figure out how she did what she did. I also learned a lot from reading the incredible fantasy writer Ursula LeGuin, and also J.D. Salinger, who I was absolutely devoted to while in college.

 

Sierra: Do you ever experience writers block?

Adina: All the time! I find that it has to do with the stage I’m at in the book. Beginnings are very hard. I take a lot of walks and long drives while trying to figure out how to start a book.

 

Sierra: Is there an author that you would really like to meet?

Adina: Harper Lee, of course. Also Ursula LeGuin. Love them both!

 

Sierra: Will you have a new book coming out soon? If so, can you tell us about it?

Adina: My next book, Blue Window, should be out next year. It’s a fantasy in which five kids find themselves in another world, where they’ve got a lot of challenges to face. It’s a complete departure from Zebra Forest, but as I said, I like to write across genres.

 

Sierra: If you could go back and do it all over again, is there any aspect of your first novel or getting it published that you would change?

Adina: Probably not, now that I’m looking back on it. It took a long time to get published (I began writing it while in college!) but I learned so much over the years that if I had been lucky enough to have it published then, I don’t think it would have been as good a book.

 

Sierra: Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Adina: Keep writing, and don’t lose hope, even if it takes a long time. And read a lot – other authors are the best teachers.

 

Sierra: Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?

Adina: I’d just like to thank all the people who’ve read Zebra Forest, especially the kids who’ve written to me. One of the things I like best about writing is getting to have a conversation with my readers, and every letter or email I get is part of that conversation.

 

CLICK ON THE BOOK TO READ MY REVIEW!~

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Featured Author of the Month…Joanne Lecuyer

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I’d like to introduce to you all my featured author of the month, Joanne Leucyer!  Joanne has been working for the Canadian federal government for over 25 years, with the last half in corporate communications and more recently as a change management advisor on corporate projects. She is also a professional and personal coach and a Reiki Master. Joanne’s favorite past-time is writing children’s books and doing writing workshops with kids. “I feel that my imagination has been in over-drive since 2009—I’m loving it! I consider myself as an eternal learner.”  Joanne lives in a small rural community outside of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada with her husband Rick, their dog Kato and cat Black Magic. Joanne and her husband  both love watching animated movies–especially the ones for kids (Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Rango, Epic, and so many more…). They also enjoy time with friends and family.

 

 

Sierra: When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

 

 

 

Joanne: I’ve been writing stories for children for about 5 years now. The seed was planted in 2004 after spending a weekend with my younger brother. He’s a graphic artist and has always been extremely creative.  On my way home, I felt that I just had to jot a story down on some scraps of paper. I called it Topsyturvia. When I got home, I filed the pages away.

 

In 2009, I got an urge to transcribe the story into my computer and just kept adding to it. At about 6,000 words, I decided to read it to my husband (who can sometimes be brutally honest). He told me that he thought it was a very good story. With a boost of confidence, I gave a copy to a few colleagues with children and they liked it too. My brother is currently working on the illustrations. Once I had that book written, more stories starting popping into my mind. In 2010, I published my first book The Witch, the Cat and the Egg.

 

 

 

Sierra: Tell us a little bit about your first book or the first book in the series.

 

 

 

Joanne: My first book, The Witch, the Cat and the Egg, was inspired by the Disney books I read as a child. I’ve always loved stories with princesses, fairies, magic, wizards and dragons. With magic anything is possible. I also love animals. The main characters, and the forest creatures, remind me of the magical stories that I read when I was young. The young witch, named Juliane, is a mixture of all the female characters that I loved in Disney books and movies like Cinderella and Snow White. Juliane is happy, kind, and loves to help others. She is friends with all the magical creatures of the forest. When I was a young girl, I loved walking through the woods.  I wished that I could talk to animals. I still do!  We have a small forest behind our house in the country. It’s my magical place that inspires me.

 

I had no idea that I would be writing a series. But, the idea for the sequel, The Witch, the Cat and the Water Dragon, came as I was working on the final chapter. There will be a book 3 in 2016.

 

Sierra: How did you choose the genre you write in?

 

 

 

Joanne: In my job, I write a lot of reports, email messages, presentations, and facilitate working groups, etc. Writing children’s fantasy stories sometimes seems like a stretch. But it feels like it has come naturally. Writing kids’ positive fantasy books is very liberating and therapeutic! I believe that you can have a great story without limbs flying or guns going off. There is a lot of beauty and wonder in the world and I want to have kids tap into that. I want them to read something that is fun that will give them something good to dream about.

 

 

 

Sierra: What is one of your favorite chapters (or part) to write?

 

 

 

Joanne: That’s a tough question to answer. The story evolves as I write it. I’m usually amazed at end, when I’m re-reading it, that I actually wrote the story.

 

 

 

Sierra: Is anything in your books that is based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

 

 

 

Joanne: The stories come mainly from my imagination. But, they are peppered by my thoughts, feeling and values. I do base some of my characters on people I know, sometimes I use their names.

 

 

 

 

 

Sierra: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

 

 

 

Joanne: Did I mention that I really enjoy fiction and fantasy! I don’t have one favorite author.  For me it’s all about the story. I have to like the premise and the characters, also the flow of the writing. For children’s books, I would have to say all the Disney classics. That’s what I grew up reading. Other books that stand out are The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and The Chrysalids. As for Y/A and adult books, Harry Potter of course. My husband and I are reading an oldie but goodie trilogy about Merlin, The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart (Merlin is my favourite character). I’m also reading a French series called Les chevaliers d’Émeraude (The Emerald Knights) by Anne Robillard – there are 12 books and I’m only on book 3. I’m half-way through the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth. I really enjoy the style and pace of her writing. Did I mention I’m a Gemini?  There are two of me to keep busy!

 

 

 

Sierra: Do you ever experience writers block?

 

 

 

Joanne: Not yet! In my case, I don’t stress about having to work on only one book at a time. I work on the one that pops into my head. During the spring and summer, I focus on completing the book that I will publish for the fall.

 

 

 

Sierra: Is there an author that you would really like to meet?

 

 

 

Joanne: J.K. Rowling – I’d love to talk about magic and wizardry with her over tea. J.R.R. Tolkien – If he were alive, I’d want to sit in a hobbit hole in New Zealand with him and ask what he thinks of Peter Jackson’s rendition of  the creature Gollum in the movies The Lord of the Rings. Does he feel that the essence and likeness of the character was captured the way he had imagined it.

 

Sierra: Will you have a new book coming out soon? If so, can you tell us about it?

 

 

 

Joanne: I have 2 books coming out in October.

 

In The Witch, the Cat and the Water Dragon, the story continues with Juliane who is a young witch and forest guide to the magical Forest of Ennyar. The egg she had transported has now hatched and Tarak the last magical water dragon has emerged. As Juliane and the dragon will learn, friendship and courage will be required to face the unknown, and help save magic and the forest. For the images, I had to find a new illustrator. I met Brooke Alexander at a book fair in Ottawa, Ontario. As I watched her drawing with color pencils, I realized that she would be perfect to illustrate the sequel. Brooke is a wonderfully talented illustrator.

 

In My Friend Merlin, I decided to create a story around one of my favorite characters the wizard Merlin. I added a few twists on the legend, to make him more accessible to kids. A young druid boy named Merlin shows a young Prince Arthur that magic can be used to do good despite what King Uther and his followers have come to believe. It’s the tale of the meeting of Arthur and Merlin and how they changed the fate of magic. The book contains over 20 amazing color images by a Canadian illustrator, Rich Lauzon. Rich and I met at a Geek Market in Ottawa, Ontario a few years ago. He was drawing an image of a young boy and a dragon, which gave me the inspiration to start writing the story. I used it as the first image in Chapter 1 of the book. I’m sure the kids, even adults, will love his illustrations as much as I do.

 

 

 

Sierra: If you could go back and do it all over again, is there any aspect of your first book or getting it published that you would change?

 

 

 

Joanne: I don’t think I would change anything. A small local publisher, my husband and friends gave me just the right amount of encouragement to get me to actually print the first book.

 

 

 

Sierra: Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

 

 

 

Joanne: I would say, write down your ideas when you get them. Don’t try to edit your own work. A good editor is your friend. Write the best story you can and ask friends, colleagues, people that don’t know you well to be your test readers. They can help find the holes in the story and give you ideas. Of course, you don’t have to take all the suggestions. But I do think that considering them makes for a better story in the end.

 

 

 

Read your story out loud (a few times). Doing this really helps pinpoint the spots that don’t flow, or are boring, etc. Don’t be afraid to re-write, scrap an idea, a whole paragraph, and even a few pages. Save them in another file in case you can use them for the sequel or another book.

 

 

 

Sierra: Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?

 

 

 

Joanne: My wish is that my readers will feel good after reading the story and looking at the images. I also hope that it may spark their creative juices and hopefully inspire them to create their own stories and images.

 

Thank you for making Topsy Books part of your reading collection. I always look forward to receiving reader questions and feedback on the books. Readers can also connect with me on Facebook: Topsy Books and Twitter: @JoTopsyBooks. Check out the website www.topsybooks.com to find out more about the books, learn new words, try some word games or download coloring images.

 

 

 

Thank you so much!!

Featured Author of the Month…Michael Golembesky

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I am honored to introduce to you my featured author of the month, Michael Golembesky,  author of  “Level Zero Heroes”.  Here is my review for “Level Zero Heroes”  if you missed it!

Born in 1976, Michael moved from his home town of Levittown, Pennsylvania to Colorado in 1997 to begin a new life. There he worked as a truck driver for a local dairy before enlisting into the Marine Corps shortly after the events of 9/11 to help support the United States in the global war on terrorism.

Upon graduating MCRD San Diego in 2002, he was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines as a field artillery cannoneer, deploying to Okinawa (2003) and Iraq (2005) with Regimental Combat Team 2, where he served as a provisional rifle company squad leader.

Upon returning from Iraq, Sgt. Golembesky made a lateral move in primary MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) to become a Fire Support Man (0861). He served his following two deployments attached to 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines as a forward observer and Fire Support Chief as part of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (2006) and Task Force 2/2 in Iraq (2008).

While on his second deployment in Iraq, SSgt. Golembesky was selected to become an aircraft controller with the newly formed Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC). He reported to 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion in January, 2009 and immediately attended the Joint Terminal Attack Controller course in Norfolk, Va. After graduating and obtaining 8002 MOS, he was assigned as a team JTAC with Marine Special Operations Company G, Team 2. His fifth and final deployment was served in Afghanistan (RC-W) with Marine Special Operations Team 8222 from 2009 through 2010 in the Bala Murghab River Valley.

Honorably discharged in Oct. 2010 after eight years of military service, Michael, along with his wife Sabrina and daughter Devlyn, returned home to Colorado where he works as a defense contractor and writer.

Michael’s personal military awards include the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (Valor), two Navy and Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbons and the Afghanistan and Iraq Campaign Medals.

Check out my interview with Michael and if you have not read this book, I highly recommend you do!!

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Sierra:  How did you begin writing “Level Zero Heroes”?  Did you intend to become an author?

Michael:  Becoming an author was probably the furthest thing from my mind. I started writing the book for myself, slowly building upon events from my memoir and emotions. After writing about 30k words I realized that this would make an amazing book.

Sierra:  Considering the contents, where there any occupational hazards to writing this story?

Michael:  No, not really. I wrote the book in my spare time as I juggled family life, being a father and working a fulltime day job.

Sierra:  Who is your intended audience? 

Michael:  Anyone willing to take the time to read it. John Bruning and I wrote the book in a manner that would make it easy for non-military people to understand and enjoy it, because we wanted the message of the story to reach a larger audience than just military veterans.

Sierra:  When working with different chains of command you describe in the book, how did you keep a strong hold on procedures? Especially when certain situations came to light that didn’t exactly sound logical to you.

Michael:  I wrote the book in a way so not to draw any conclusions for the reader. All I could do was tell the story as it happened and let the reader decide what is right and wrong, good or bad.

Sierra:  What was the hardest part in writing this book?  Was it the real life situations you endured and put onto paper or something more?

Michael:  I had most of the material collected before John and I even started writing the book. I guess the hardest part was making sure the book had a solid structure and flow to it. We wanted to keep the reader engaged and make the book hard to put down.

Sierra:  What cultural value do you see in telling this story?

Michael:  I wanted readers to finish ready the book feeling like they were a part of the story, not just looking in on it. Hopefully they walk away with a better understanding of modern warfare and the brutal reality that extreme Muslim ideology poses on the civilized world.

Sierra:  What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?  Did anyone discourage you from writing this story?

Michael:  There were some people within the MARSOC community that didn’t want me to write this book but I told them the same thing I told everyone else that had an issue with it; I am not writing this book for them, I am writing for my fellow team members and they are the only ones I answer too.

Sierra:  Tell us a little about your cover art.  Who designed it and why did you choose that particular image?  Was the image a photo that you collected from your service?

Michael:  Lisa Pompilio at St. Martin’s Press can up with the final design, but it had been a work in progress for a year or so. I intentionally placed the original photo used on the cover inside of the book because I wanted readers to know that it is ‘real’, the look on Mark’s face is what war is and feels like.

Sierra:  What inspires you as an author and a person?

Michael:  Freedom and choice to aspire to be who you want to be, regardless of the events in your past. The future is as bright as you make it.

Sierra:  If you could go back and do it all over again, is there any aspect of your first book or getting it published that you would change?

 Michael:  Nothing. It was a lot of hard work and long hours but in the end, holding the book in my hands made it all worthwhile.

Sierra:  What can we expect from you in the future that pertains to writing?

Michael:  The future is wide open, but like I said, I never intend on become a writer. Maybe if people are really interested, perhaps there could be a follow-up to Level Zero Heroes that covers the rest of the deployment. We will see.

Sierra:  Having seen your film, “Infil Exfil” which brings to light the mental struggle that goes on within all combat veterans, did this inspire you to write the book about your experiences in Bala Murghab?

 Michael:  I wouldn’t say directly but many of us veteran struggle with the same challenges after leaving a war zone. Hopefully this story and my success outside of the military helps to offer hope to someone who may be struggling with the change.

Sierra:  After watching “Infil Exfil”, I have followed along with you via Facebook awaiting the release of your book.  I am a dog lover and loved learning about your dog “Bear”.  You write about him in the story of how you came to find him, or how he came to find you.  In the book, you don’t exactly say how you brought “Bear” back to the states.  From following your page, I learned about Nowzad, the non-profit organization who help soldiers get pets they have rescued while serving, back to the United States.  Would you like to shed some light on the process you went through to get “Bear” to Colorado with you and your family?

Michael:  It was a long process and took the help of many people. The first hurdle was raising about 3k to cover the travel and sheltering expenses for Bear’s trip to the states. I hitched a ride on an Italian helicopter to get him to Herat City where he was handed off to a local national that Nowzad had coordinated with. From there he traveled to Kabul, Flew to a shelter in Pakistan, where he stayed for about a month before making the long flight to New York. It took a lot of coordination and faith with Nowzad and other forgiven agencies to get him home, but well worth it.

Sierra:  Michael, I cannot express how thankful I am for you to take the time to answer some of my questions.  Not only that, I am honored to have gotten to read your book.  Words cannot explain how a person feels after reading about such experiences and realizing exactly what it is that you men do for our freedom here in the United States.  Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?

Michael:  We are thankful for all of our veterans, but it is the combat veterans that have endured the weight of war. The next time you meet a combat vet from Iraq or Afghanistan, shake their hand and offer to buy them a beer. -Ski

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