Author Interview: Nikki Nelson Hicks

Tell us something about your book.

The Jake Istenhegyi: The Accidental Detective series is an arc of six stories that follow our bemused hero as he goes deeper and deeper down a terrifying labyrinth of mystery and magic. It is set in New Orleans in the 1930’s. The first story, A Chick, a Witch, and a Dick Walk into a Barn, has Jake looking for his missing partner and best friend, Barrington “Bear” Gunn. Jake stumbles upon the lair of a Voodoo priestess and her unholy flock of zombie chickens.

And that’s just the beginning.

In the next five stories, Jake confronts golems, swamp monsters, immortals, man-eating fishmen, ghosts, and the Irish mob. In hindsight, the mobsters were the least of his worries.

Who is the ideal reader for your book?

Anyone who wants to go on an adventure, have a bit of fun and just run away from reality.

Share the best critique/review of your book.

“In Jake Istenhegyi The Accidental Detective Vol.1 Nikki Nelson-Hicks has brought us a character the eclipses Kolchak The Night Stalker and Harry Dresden. Istenhegyi is anything but a detective. Yet he finds himself thrust into world of voodoo, zombie chickens and dark edges of sanity.
Nelson-Hicks has captured the essence of Noir and twisted every drop of excitement, suspense and weirdness she could into the first volume. I can’t wait for volume 2!”

What inspired you to write it?

I was at a convention and a publisher approached me with the opportunity to write a story for an anthology he was putting together called Poultry Pulp. The challenge was to write a short pulp story that somehow incorporated chickens into the plot. I ran with that idea. Chickens + Voodoo + New Orleans = A Chick, a Witch, and a Dick Walked into a Barn.

That anthology never came to pass but the publisher liked the story so much that he asked me to turn it into a series. And, like most things in my life, I just fell into it! I started writing the Jake stories.

What message would you like readers to take away from your book?

I was once on a panel and we were asked what social contribution we felt our stories owed the world.

One of the other panelists gave a very heartfelt, pithy speech on how he hoped his stories would create a bridge between the major religions and the outlier pagan ones. It’s a noble pursuit.

My response? “None. I write to divert, to entertain. My goal is to give you something to do to fill the void when you’re in a waiting room, riding the bus, or on the toilet. If I entertain you for those brief moments in time, I feel the story has done its job.”

TL; dr: My stories are pure pulp driven fun. If you learn something, that’s your fault.

Share an excerpt from your book.

From A Chick, a Witch, and a Dick Walked into a Barn-

I tossed the scraper aside and sat in the chair across from him. “So, where have you been all morning?”

“Getting clients, buddy-boy.” He tapped a shoebox sized package in his lap. “I got a call from Postmaster Klaus. This was waiting for me.”

“What is it?”

“I dunno. It’s a mystery.” He pulled off the brown wrapping and tossed it aside. “Luckily, I’m in the mystery business.”

I picked up the paper and read the return to address. “Idaho? Who do you know in Idaho?”

He shrugged and opened the box. Inside was a white envelope attached to a typewritten letter laying on top of several handwritten ones. He fanned them and a strong smell of roses filled the air. 

 “Love letters?” I asked.

He tossed the pile of letters on the desk and opened the envelope. A cascade of money flowed out. 

I picked up the bills and counted. “There’s over a hundred dollars here, Bear. What do they want you to do? Kill somebody?”

“Shh, I’m working.” He chewed on his thumbnail as he read the letter. “Huh. Says here a kid by the name of Isaac Stiegerson moved down here to New Orleans two months ago to hitch up with a lonely heart pen pal. His family hasn’t heard a word from him since. They want me to look in on it.”

“You mean us.”

“No, this is a solo job. Our lovebirds are shacking up in the bayou. I know how you prefer the feel of concrete beneath your feet.”

That was true. Bear relished the dirtier side of the business. Stake outs, guns, and fistfights were Bear’s world. Me? I preferred a Parisian café with beignets, linen napkins, and a newspaper. As far as I was concerned, anything beyond the city of New Orleans was marked ‘here be dragons.’

Bear picked up his hat, folded the letter and put it in his coat pocket. “Daylight is wasting. I’d better get going.”

“Shouldn’t you read these letters? Get a better sense of what you are going up against?”

“I know all I need to know. Some dumbass farm boy gets himself a taste of Creole ass and now Daddy Warbucks wants his boy back home before some color gets added to the bloodline. It’s a tale as old as time. If you want to play librarian and stink up your hands with that cheap toiletwater, be my guest.” He opened the door. “By the way, can I use your car, Jake?”

I felt a chill go down my spine. My Kicsem, my darling, was a ’32 Phaeton, hunter green exterior and deep red interior. I loved that car with my heart and soul.

“Didn’t you buy a secondhand Ford last week?”

“About that. No.” Bear knocked on the door frame. “Cash flow problems.”

“Why not? You had the money.” I felt my skin start to flush again. “I know because you borrowed it from me.”

“Yeah…sorry. I ran into some old buddies. They invited me to a friendly game of cards and, well, it didn’t end up so friendly.

“Goddammit, Bear.”

“Look, I can pay you back.” He held up the cash. “I bet I can squeeze more out of this old guy if I string him along enough. Come on, Jake. I can’t work without a car. And we’re partners, right?”

“Jesus, fine. Take her. Just promise me that you will take care of her.” 

Bear rolled his eyes, kissed his fingertips, and crossed his heart. “I promise. I will guard your precious Kicsem with my life.”

When I tossed him the keys, I felt a little part of me peel away.

 “I’ll bring her back in the morning with a full tank of gas, okay? Oh, and that reminds me. Don’t think I haven’t forgotten about tomorrow.”

 Bear rummaged in his coat pocket and tossed a silver Zippo lighter. “Consider it an early birthday present.”

“Thanks.” A buxom blonde graced the front. She was fighting the wind over her skirt and losing much to my delight. I flicked it open and closed, bisecting her. “Maybe I’ll take up smoking.”

“About time! Jesus, by your age, I’d been smoking for over a decade! I have a big day planned for us, kid. First, breakfast of biscuits and gravy and thick, greasy slabs of fatty bacon at the Sun Coffee Shop, then a double feature of Cagney in G Men and Tracy in The Murder Man and a big fried chicken dinner over at Russo’s. To top it all off, I am setting you up with the sweetest skirt in town, Edie.”

“Edie? The girl at the dry cleaners? I can’t get her to give me the time of day.”

“She owes me a favor.” He clicked his tongue and winked. “You and me, Jake.  Tomorrow, we’re gonna burn this damn town down!”

The frame rattled as he slammed the door behind him.  That was Bear. His exits were just as loud as his entrances.

I scooped up the letters and read them.

I didn’t glean much except that they were love letters, very explicit ones in fact, from a Henrietta Harleux to someone she called her ‘Blond Stallion Beau’. Reading her responses to his letters was like hearing only one side of a conversation. Frustrating.  If she came through with only half of the things she promised to do to young Mr. Stiegerson, he was one lucky son of a bitch.

New Orleans was drowning in luckier sons of bitches than me.

That night I dreamt of beautiful Creole women whispering wet promises and deep, dark kisses.

Did you dare to believe that your book will be published when you started writing?

I had a contract. This baby already had a home waiting for it.

How many times were you rejected?

For this story, none. For other stories of mine, SO MANY TIMES.

Was the process of looking for an agent/publisher discouraging?

After I left that publishing house, I’ve been independently publishing my work.

I still go through all the steps. Editing, cover art, layouts, marketing….the only thing is that now all of that comes out of my pocket. It can be very frustrating but also liberating. I have complete control over what comes out, how it looks, and when it comes out.

How long did you write the first draft? And how long did the editing and re-editing take?

2-3 months writing the story. Another 3 months or so with the editing.

Can you share your writing rituals/habits/process?

I don’t really have a set process. Every story seems to have its own recipe. The only through line is that every story has its own journal. It can be a fancy leather journal or a spiral notebook. It doesn’t really matter. In this journal, I start brainstorming ideas. Plots. Characters. Themes. All that jazz.

Once I have a general idea of what the story is going to be about, I make a very loosey-goosey outline. A – B- C – D, etc. The main goal of that outline is that I need a Beginning and an End Point to shoot for. That middle bit can be a soft and mushy as it needs because editing will harden that stuff up.

Then the research. It’s amazing how much research I do for these silly stories. While I like writing fantastical stories about weird stuff, I work very hard to ground them in some kind of reality.

And because of my ADHD monkey brain, object permanence is a real problem so I print out pictures of people to represent my characters and sometimes even totems to represent the story. For instance, in the story, Boodaddies, Bogs and a Dead Man’s Booty, I have Jake hunting for a pirate ship. So, of course, I had a model pirate ship on a table next to my desk to keep me on task.

Y’all don’t even want to know what I had hanging from my ceiling when I was writing my story about Mongolian Death Worms…

Who was your first literary crush?

Sherlock Holmes.

Or Dracula.

One or the other.

I guess that makes me either a sapiosexual or necrophiliac. Oh well.

Did you imagine yourself as an author in your teens?

Yes. It’s so embarrassing when I think about it now.

I honestly thought I’d write a book, get published and, suddenly, everything would be roses and daisies. I’d be famous! Rich! Adored and admired!

HAHAHHAHAHAHAHA!

Oh, sweetie.

What was the first book that made you fall in love with reading?

I was a very anxious, lonely kid. I spent most of my childhood reading encyclopedias and books about myths and legends. I don’t have the name of the first book that sparked that fire. Frankly, it was all books. Reading was a mode of self defense for me. I think that’s why I write fun, fantastical, adventurous stories to give other sad, lonely people a way out.

Did a book ever make you cry? (Which one?)

I do know the first story that terrified me and continues to keep me up at night: Flowers for Algernon.

I don’t have much except my mind and if I were to lose that, I don’t know how I could live.

“please god…don’t take away everything….”

That line makes me shudder.

Which literary character did you want to take to bed as an 18-year-old?

Damn, that’s personal.

Actually, I’m Ace so…..none?

Do you sing under the shower? Or to your plants?

I have been known to break into a few songs from Hamilton, from time to time.

Do you like to cook? What is your specialty?

I have only delved into my Kitchen Witch self in the past few years. I love cooking savory meaty dishes. I’m a very visceral eater. If I can’t tear it apart with my fingers and teeth, I’m not happy.

That makes my very detail oriented and neat freak Virgo husband absolutely nuts.

I made a Garlic Steak Bites dish the other night that my family loved! It was so good.

Do you have a pet?

Several. They all are rescues. I have two dogs, Sage, an elderly German shepherd, and Freya, a Pyrenees and Labrador mix.  I have five cats: Greebo, a gray tabby and the Patriarch. Fireball, the tortie Matriarch. The twins, Mushi and Yasuko, Himalayans. Miss Inara, another tortie and possible heir to the matriarchy. And Jack, an orange tabby and Greebo’s heir apparent.

What is the most romantic thing you ever did?

I’m not romantic but last Christmas I did get my husband a portrait of our cat, Jack, done as if he was a Victorian gentleman. Brian was thrilled with it because he calls Jack his “therapy cat”.

What is the most romantic thing someone did for you?

OH! I can answer that. A long time ago, a guy who was in love with me wrote a poem about me. It was really lovely.

Do you believe in love?

Yes. It’s the most powerful and terrible force in the Universe.

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/~/e/B00I34EF3S

Website: http://www.nnhbooks.com

Your Children are Boring by Tom James

My neighbor has an adorable three-year-old son, so adorable that you just have to smile whenever you see him. However, I had to unsubscribe from seeing the mother’s news updates because every single day she posts the boy’s photo while eating, standing, sitting, sleeping… with captions such as “The love of my soul, my heart, my soul, love you to the moon and back, look how handsome I am, say Hi, cutie…” And regardless of how fond I am of the little guy and his mom, I don’t want to roll my eyes whenever I waste my time on social media. That young mom isn’t an exception ‒ I had to hide posts of almost all my parent-friends from my news feed. Not only are they boring, but if I was a mother, maybe I would start wondering if my love for my child is big enough if I don’t post photos of the unsuspecting child, without its consent and knowledge, on the Internet. Hmm, did parents raise their kids good enough and love them enough before social media? That isn’t my only complaint about modern parents. A few months ago, a mother with a child sitting in the shopping cart was in the line in front of me. And the child was repeatedly kicking me. When I asked the mother to do something, she behaved like I was a monster instead of telling her child that it isn’t okay to kick people.

There are many more examples of modern parents behaving like bores, fools, and even jerks. There were even occasions when mothers behaved like they were better human beings than me just because they have offspring, unlike me. Don’t get me wrong, I adore children, but having a child isn’t exactly rocket science ‒ people and animals are doing it since the beginning of time, and it certainly doesn’t mean that parents are better than people without kids.

If you have ever shared my thoughts, then you must read Your Children are Boring by Tom James. Mr. Tom says: “If you are child-free and angry at how the wonder of parenting is rammed down your throat, there’s every chance you’ll find an ally in one of your friends who has kids. Many will agree with you, and at least be sympathetic. And some may even be mortified if they suspect they’ve contributed to it… Common ground should be found, and conversations might begin. Despite the title of this book, the aim isn’t to create a schism.” And if you are a parent, it is your duty to read it.

Your Children are Boring is, first of all, a hilarious book, “funniest book of the year!” It is crazy to claim that one nation is more humorous than another but there definitely is something about English humor. And that means that you will roar with laughter while reading James’ examples of how modern parents ruin everything. But when the laughter dies down, you will think about what he said because he didn’t just crack jokes in his book. Oh, no, if it was only a collection of jokes, the book would hardly be worth mentioning. However, James outlined some very serious issues about our modern society but, thankfully, did it humorously.

I will skip the funny parts since the humor dilutes with retelling, but I must mention a few things to highlight how useful this book actually is when you scrape away the sugar coating.

“We used to call this sort of mindless indulgence of children ’spoiling’. Now, we call it modern parenting… Where might it end? The unwavering acceptance of all their thoughts and desires will teach them nothing about life’s realities, about how to function and learn as a human… unable to accept criticism or instruction and yet desperately struggling to be understood.”

No matter how hard it is to refuse a child, parents should always know the little cutie will become a teenager and an adult one day. Indulgence doesn’t provide children with the necessary mindset to tackle school, studying, friendship, partnership… in short ‒ life. And if a child doesn’t learn the basic skills when it is young, it will have a hard time with everything afterward. So, modern parents should ask themselves: What is more important ‒ a smile from a spoiled brat now or a happy, fulfilled, independent adult later?

“Might raising children to expect a world full of mummies result in us having a whole generation of indoor cats? A population of humans so incapable of dealing with the reality that they can only live a life of misery?”

It would be great, for the children’s sake, if parents would learn to make a difference between their children not being ready for natural life lessons and themselves not being ready to make their little ones a bit uncomfortable or upset. Children are excellent actors and they like to test their power over other human beings from a young age. My ex-boyfriends’ sister would scream and bang her head on the floor until she got what she wanted. Needless to say that today she is a bitter woman who doesn’t understand why all her relationships with lovers, friends, colleagues, and relatives are horrible.

And there are many more examples of parents doing their children a bear’s favor, as we would say in Serbia, by indulging them instead of doing what every responsible parent who loves his/her child should do. Sure the child is ready to stop wearing nappies, to brush its teeth, and put that plate back on the table. It’s not like you are sending the child to the army, you are just teaching it normal, necessary life skills.

“And as you get older, you’ll wonder why your little prince/princess is now a fifty-year-old narcissist who lives in squalor in your basement waiting for you to die. But, boy, won’t they love you? Actually, that’s extremely unlikely. As they contemplate their life while Call of Duty loads, they’ll blame you for everything because (a) it probably is your fault, and (b) they’ve had a lifetime of lessons in it not being their fault.”

Yes, that may seem very far away, but what a child gets used to in its early childhood paves the way to its adult-self. Nobody is suggesting that you should force your child, say, to sit for hours at the table until it eats everything like Enid from Franzen’s The Corrections did to Chip, to chop wood as a seven-year-old, to accept mature responsibilities as a ten-year-old… but responsibilities and limits are very important, regardless of how much children dislike them.

The bottom line is that this book, no matter how funny, is a must-read for parents and future parents alike, as well as for child-free folks who are wondering why their friends who have become parents are behaving strangely. Not only will you laugh to tears but you will end armed with valuable insights for being a better parent and your child will be grateful one day even if it is pouting with dissatisfaction at the moment.

Guest Post: Daniel D. Hickey

Leaping Into Self-Publishing

By Daniel Hickey

Sunday March 7th turned out to be a good day to launch my first book.  The day has sentimental value and I think this may have been less crowded than other days.  Worried sick about my cover and description, I rewrote the latter the night before and I’m still waiting on Amazon to reflect the correct text.  My mailing list was barely 100 mostly family and friends who had complimented my writing in the past, and hadn’t unsubscribed since I began blogging last fall.  I started to build a Facebook presence last summer and I have several hundred LinkedIn contacts who hadn’t heard anything from me in recent years. All combined, I probably reached about 1,000 people with the announcement that I self-published my first book.

Writing the book is another story, I had now entered the marketing phase, educated through scores of hours of YouTube videos.  There’s Dale and Dave and the guys who say I can retire making adult coloring books. There’s Reedsy with lists of book bloggers, like Book Fairy, and there’s a handful of Facebook groups. Much of it is actually quite helpful. I decided to offer free e-books for the first 5 days in order to prime the Amazon algorithm for an ad campaign to follow.

Using Dave Chesson’s Publisher Rocket, I found keywords and categories that suited my strategy, as naïve as it may have been.  I originally intended to put an ad next to a particular bestseller in my category, only to find the suggested bid to be almost $5. I guess I knew it wasn’t going to be so easy.

Most of the industry knowledge I acquired comes from Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing Formula and his 23,000 person Facebook group. Following the conversations of those ahead of me has been a huge help. I’m on the waiting list for his paid course and have watched so many hours of his various video series that I’m beginning to pick up a British accent. So standing on the shoulders of those giants, I was ready to take the leap.

Diving In

While I have nieces and nephews among my targets, most of my friends have little interest in a self-help book for teens entering high school. Their kids are already looking at the path out of college. 50 years of friendships paid gratifying dividends nonetheless and I was inundated with responses congratulating me and wishing me luck. Most said they would download a copy.

At the same time, I launched my first ad campaign. Dipping a toe in the water, I set up the simplest type of Amazon sponsored products campaign, using auto targeting to run at the suggested bid rate for $5 per day.  I figured I would let the algorithm decide who to target based on my description and categories, and then see what interesting data might appear.

I knew it would take a few days to get a real picture, but sitting on the couch after dinner, I decided to see if there was any data after a day and a half.  Scrolling down to the details section of my book’s Amazon page, I was astounded to see it ranking #1 in the Being a Teen category.  Not quite believing my own eyes, I called my mother to ask what she saw. “Oh my, it says number 1!”  My illustrator in Boston also pointed out that it was #44 in the very competitive self-help category.  I congratulated him on the cover and stopped worrying about that. Meanwhile, the paperback got tagged as the #1 New Release in Being a Teen!

I raised my daily ad budget to $10 and watched the book bounce around the top 20 positions in my category, taking screenshots of everything. The next morning it was still number 1 and the paperback still had that tag. I had no idea how many books I was selling, it didn’t really matter though because the e-books were free.  Oddly, the #1 New Release tag was on the paperback which was not ranking as high. I raised the ad budget to $30 a day hoping to form as wide a foundation as possible. Still having no idea how many books were actually moving.

My first review came in at 5 stars with a couple of very nice sentences.  I have no clue from the user name who may have left it. Fortunately, they don’t share my last name or initial. Now that the sales data was coming in, I saw how easy my category really is.  I was surprised how few books I sold but sure glad to have that #1 tag, which I put on my website, social media, and anyplace else I can. My blog post to thank everyone for the great launch generated another little wave of sales.

Swimming in Data

Once you have that taste of number 1, nothing else is good enough. I should have been thrilled to remain in the top 10 for a few days but the ad campaign hadn’t shown any effect now that my friends had all gotten their copies. I noticed my auto targeting campaign had generated a total spend of $0.96 after the first week.  Now that the book costs money, sales have dropped to pretty much nothing and the ads aren’t working yet. 

The algorithm is probably showing my ads to a lot of people with profiles like my friends who downloaded the book.  My mother’s friends bought a bunch of paperbacks so I should be good with targeting grandmothers. That said, the great launch may be hurting the effectiveness of my campaign reaching its early teen targets, or I might be overthinking the whole thing and just need to be more patient. My auto campaign ended after two weeks and no real data. Now I’m running a couple of keyword campaigns with ad text and a sponsored products campaign targeting other books in my category.

Watching the data closely, I noticed a certain keyword getting thousands of impressions and only a few clicks.  The very low click through rate seemed anomalous so I decided to watch it a little while.  A few hours later, I had spent about $8 after more than 8,000 impressions and a couple dozen clicks. I entered the term into Amazon’s search box and found a hot, newly released, romantic thriller from a popular author. I turned off that keyword and am downloading daily spreadsheets of the rest, tweaking bids in an attempt to get more impressions and clicks.  I spent last weekend watching excel videos trying to make all the data more accessible. Fortunately, my business background suits me well to this phase.

I bid above the suggested price on the keywords I felt most confident about, but I’m finding most of my activity is around keywords where I bid below the suggested price. My favorites aren’t getting many impressions yet.  I’ve also been surprised by how responsive Amazon agents are, you can actually get them on the phone quickly, even if they aren’t very helpful.  The robots are too mysterious for anyone to fully figure out.

Having Fun

Another surprise came when my book was selected for a promotion by Hello Books, the new project from Mark Dawson’s company.  They have compiled lists in various genres of readers who want steeply discounted and free books, and they have gotten thousands of submissions from authors wanting to reach them. Amazon’s rules prevent me from making the book free again so soon, but I hope to make it available for $0.99 from this Friday throughout the weekend.  Any reader can sign up to receive Hello Books’ weekly deal announcements.

Even if nobody else reads my book, it’s all been worthwhile.  It was written for my three sons who have all gotten a great lesson in pursuing a dream and having a lot of fun when it begins to gain traction. They see their friends and family calling their dad a best-selling author, even if I’m not quitting my day job just yet. If there are any exceptional early teens in your life who might want to learn about Socrates, Galileo, Shakespeare and so much more, please check out my website and please download a discounted book this weekend. If you read it, I would really appreciate it if you could please leave a review. Reviews are the protein that sustains self-published authors, and what I’m worrying about now.

Many thanks to Eli for letting me share my story.  If you are on a self-publishing path and have any questions, please contact me through my website, and please subscribe to my blog while you’re there.

Daniel D. Hickey is the author of A Classic Path Through High School: For Exceptional Early Teens, the #1 New Release in Amazon’s Being a Teen category (March 8, 2021). If you have read the book, please leave a review at this link.

Author Interview: John B. Rosenman

Tell us something about your book.

Inspector of the Cross is the first novel of a six book series, and it features an unusual hero. Thanks to suspended animation, Turtan is over 3500 years old and travels on freeze ships to distant worlds.  His mission is to investigate weapons that might help humanity turn the tide against their ancient nemesis, vicious aliens called the Cenknife. After five thousand years of warfare, this seemingly invincible enemy has brought mankind to the brink of ruin. 

When Turtan discovers just such a weapon, a beautiful, seductive woman stands in his way.  He must use all his skills, abilities, and courage to meet the crisis and save untold billions of lives. 

Who is the ideal reader for your book?

Someone who loves adventurous science fiction or speculative fiction and has a sense of wonder. Someone who is still in touch with his or her inner child. What would it be like to be a man who travels in suspended animation and is therefore nearly four thousand years old  compared to others? What would it be like to meet your great-great-great grandson when he’s an old, old man? What would it be like to travel with your enemy down a black hole into infinity? Or to marry a heartless alien female? If you’re a person who likes such mind-stretching concepts, then this is the novel for you. And that goes double if you also like larger-than-life heroes who are saviors, fighting for the survival of the human race.

At the same time, if you’re someone who thinks that hard science fiction is the only way to go, then I’m not the guy for you and this novel won’t fit in your library. While I try to present a logical universe, much of it is fanciful and make-believe, the stuff that dreams are made on.

Share the best critique/review of your book.

This was a hard choice. I actually have many good reviews. Finally, I chose the one below because the reviewer compared me to Robert Heinlein. WOW!

Rochelle Weber, Roses & Thorns Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars Heinlein would approve. No higher praise…

Reviewed in the United States on May 16, 2017

Verified Purchase

The college I attended had a writing program, but when I went, there were no genre-specific classes. Everyone was out to win the National Book Award at the very least, and they all looked down on genre fiction. Eventually they added a sci-fi class, but the instructor told me the rest of the writing faculty were still snobbish toward her. Hugo and Nebula Awards meant nothing to them. Mr. Rosenman’s students were lucky, indeed, to have such a good writer teaching them at a college where I’m sure he received the respect he deserved.

In my opinion, the best sci-fi writer of the twentieth century was Robert A. Heinlein. The first of Mr. Rosenman’s books that I read was almost as good as the Old Man’s. Inspector of the Cross, I think, might have had Mr. Heinlein in the same conundrum as me. The book grabbed me on the first page, but somewhere along the way, I caught a red herring. I mean I really caught it. I had that thing scaled, gutted, and breaded. If I say any more, I might ruin the book. You must buy Inspector of the Cross and follow Turtan on his journeys.

What inspired you to write it?

Well, I’d read a lot of Golden Age and later science fiction and grew up in the fifties watching science fiction / horror movies like Them!, The Thing, The War of the Worlds and so on. Plus, I read Joe Haldeman’s award-winning sci-fi novel The Forever War. It’s about a soldier who is a thousand years old thanks to relativistic space travel. A mere thousand years? I decided I could do better than that. I upped the ante and made my hero four times as old because he traveled between the stars in suspended animation.

What message would you like readers to take away from your book?

I want to convey to readers that it’s important to celebrate the imagination. One of my favorite old science-fiction magazines had a one word title that I absolutely love: If. That one word is what Inspector of the Cross is all about: infinite possibilities. If you can imagine it, it can become true. I also love heroes, especially noble and tormented ones who face seemingly overwhelming odds. In that sense, Turtan certainly qualifies because he’s the only one who can save us from annihilation.

Share an excerpt from your book.

            He started to answer and stopped, finding his whole body trembling uncontrollably.  God help him, what was he going to do?  He was even more used up than his hosts, the Zontenians.  Over three thousand, five hundred years of preparation and experience would be leading up to this one supreme test, and now, when the Cross needed him as never before and the course of all history might hang in the balance, he was losing his grip. Had lost it already, if Turois could be believed, who despite his rudimentary emotions still possessed a Cen brain with its vast superiority in withstanding reality-distorting phenomena.  Assuming he, who was only a human, managed to tolerate the lift-off in the morning and living in close quarters with the enemy for eight standard weeks, what would he do when he finally reached the singularity and had to go through it? Even if he were in the best mental condition, it might still drive him insane and destroy him—if the comparatively little Cross specialists knew of black holes was true.

            “Here.” Yori placed a glass of rare Zontenian wine in his hand. “Drink this and maybe you can get some rest. So tomorrow…”

            “So tomorrow I’ll be in shape to resume my Flying Dutchman chase amid the stars?” he finished. “You think getting drunk is what I need?”

            “What do you need, Tan?” Her dark eyes implored him. “Tell me.”

            He raised the glass, his throat tight with terror. “Make me young again, Yori. As when I started.” He managed to find his mouth with the glass, only he was shaking so hard, half of the wine sloshed down his body. He dropped the glass.

            “Oh, Tan, I’ll make you young again. Take away all your pain.” She dropped wet-eyed to her knees and kissed the wine from his belly, licking him dry. Gradually she worked lower and despite the way he was shaking, he felt himself respond. Respond as he always did with her. He closed his eyes as she clasped him in a frenzy, hearing her words muffled by his flesh. “I’ll make you new again, Tan. Take away all your pain.” She rose and led him to bed, where he knew she would bring him love and warmth but no youth or Lethe of forgetfulness.  All he knew was for this moment, he must try to find them.

Did you dare to believe that your book will be published when you started writing?

Yes, I dared. Foolishly, I dared. Not only that, I imagined (or day-dreamed) that my novel would hook a great agent and that after a feverish bidding war, it would be snatched up by an elite publisher who would reward me with a huge advance. Then of course, my novel would become a runaway best seller and readers would clamor for a sequel, and then a series. In the meantime, my agent would sell the novel to Hollywood and . . .

Well, you get the idea. Yes, I dared to believe even though I knew the odds were tremendously against me. But hope was all I had and whatever luck I could find.

Actually, I wrote the novel about forty years ago and couldn’t sell it, no matter how hard I tried. So I put it away in a cardboard box in my closet. Then, because I seldom give up, thirty years later I took the moldering manuscript and typed it fresh into my computer, refining it as I went. Since I was then a member of a writers group, I submitted it to them chapter by chapter. Thanks to their critiques, I ultimately placed Inspector of the Cross with MuseItUp Publishing. In time, a series evolved from it. And then later, for reasons I won’t go into here, I picked up the whole series from MuseItUp Publishing and transferred it to Crossroad Press where one of the publishers is an old writing buddy of mine.

How many times were you rejected?

About fifteen, and I kept all the rejections. One of the readers at a top publisher actually took the time to comment at length on the novel and criticize its episodic nature. He also didn’t like the title and thought that the word or title “Inspector” didn’t fit. Usually, though, I just received impersonal form rejection slips that made me wonder if anyone had even bothered to read the first paragraph.

What really helped me to ultimately publish the novel was the emergence of the small or independent press. They might not offer a large advance but they made up for it with good, supportive editing.

Was the process of looking for an agent/publisher discouraging?

Yup, it sure was. Not only for Inspector of the Cross but for some of my later novels. I used to have a list on the wall of over fifty agents I had queried for one of my novels. Many of them never responded, not even to say NO. Amazon had hundreds of agents, and I researched them thoroughly and started at the top, selecting those who seemed to fit best what I wrote. The word ”discouraging” certainly applies. It got so I decided to eliminate the middle man and submit directly to publishsers even though I knew it would be better to have an agent to represent me.

You know, I’ve only managed to snag one agent in my life, and that was for my novel Down from Oz, which is about a white teacher in a small black college. He snatched it up and shopped it around to publishers but ultimately couldn’t sell it. Later the novel won the First Novel Award at a small, independent publisher and was released as The Best Laugh Last.

How long did you write the first draft? And how long did the editing and re-editing take?

Keep in mind that it took about forty years to reach publication, and that for thirty of those years, my heroic Inspector lay in suspended animation, largely forgotten in a closet. When I wrote the first draft around 1980, I did it on pads of yellow legal paper. This was before computers became common, so I did it the old-fashioned way and then used a typewriter. I would say the first draft took a year to write and type. When I returned to it thirty years later, I spent a year to a year and a half rewriting it with the help of my writers group, God bless ’em. After the first publisher accepted it, the edits and revisions took about two or three months more.

Can you share your writing rituals/habits/process?

I’m a pantser, so I make things up as I go along, often with little idea of my ultimate destination. Consequently, I seldom do any outlining, character sketches, or advance planning. However, here’s one ritual I might mention. There was a certain Barnes & Noble nearby that served as a creative spark plug that jumpstarted my imagination. I’d stroll through the store and now and then, Bingo!, something I saw would cause a story to leap right into my head. Sometimes it was partial and sometimes it was almost full-blown. Thanks to this bookstore, I wrote and published over a dozen stories, some of them in professional machines.

Since I retired ten years ago, I write when I want for as long as I want. In other words, I’ve been largely unstructured. However, for twenty years before that, I was a member of a writers group that forced me to be much more disciplined. Every two weeks I tried to have a new short story or chapter for them, which required that I apply the seat of my pants to a chair and type away. It helped that I also had to read and critique their work and be prepared to comment when my turn came. Since I was an English professor during this time, I had to be really disciplined and find the time not only to grade papers and prepare for class, but also to write. My situation was difficult but productive. Thanks to this writers group, I published dozens of stories and several novels.

Who was your first literary crush?

Now, if by literary crush you mean a literary character, then it would be Cyrano de Bergerac, the hero of Rostand’s play who was superbly played by Jose Ferrer in the movie. Cyrano was an acclaimed poet and France’s greatest swordfighter. It was the swordfighting more than anything else that attracted me as a kid. Plus Cyrano’s confident ability to spout poetry as he dueled. And when he executed the coup de grâce, he announced it dramatically. ”Then, as I end the refrain, thrust home!” Also, as a kid who was sometimes picked on, I could identify with the fact that Cyrano’s gigantic nose made men laugh at him behind his back and women turn the other way. Yet at the same time they admired him and if Cyrano had only found the courage to ask for a date, some women would have gladly accepted. I could go on and on about Cyrano’s integrity, honesty, courage and other virtues. Suffice it to say that as a kid, I dressed up as the guy and organized swordfights with my friends.

Did you imagine yourself as an author in your teens?

A little, especially in my late teens. When I was in the tenth grade, an English teacher compared my writing style to Thomas Wolfe’s. Huge praise! I recall that the story I showed her was called ”The Fine Line”. It was about a boxer who was almost, but not quite, good enough to be great. I never finished it, but when I was a freshman in college, I showed it to my English professor. I still recall his written comment. ”You might have some bent or talent for writing. At your age you should read all you can.” I took him at his word and started to read more widely. One night I marched out to his house to present him with my latest masterpiece. Later, as a junior, I took his creative writing course. As for boxers, see my novel The Merry-Go-Round Man, which is available in multiple formats, including audio. In it, Johnny Roth crosses the ”fine line” into greatness both as a boxer and as an artist.

What was the first book that made you fall in love with reading?

It wasn’t a book but a comic book. Do you remember Classics Illustrated comic books? Well, I collected and read them all. The only one I couldn’t get was Don Quixote. I just loved all of them, especially Cyrano de Bergerac. Sadly, today I don’t read comics at all. I seem to have lost interest even though there are many fine graphic novels available.

Shortly after that, I was hooked by Ellery Queen mysteries and then by westerns.

Did a book ever make you cry? (Which one?)

No, but a few made me weepy or got into my head. Cyrano de Bergerac is one. The scene at the end where Roxane learns that it was Cyrano, not Christian who spoke to her beneath her balcony in the dark and that he has loved her all his life . . . Cyrano is blind and dying and it’s a romantic tear jerker if there ever was one. For Pete’s sake, why didn’t Cyrano ever speak up and confess his love? What would have happened? Would Roxane have rejected him or seen past his gigantic nose into his noble soul? Then there’s Karen Joy Fowler’s short story “The Lake Was Full of Artificial Things”. Betraying someone you love has always gotten to me. I guess you could say that with this one, I cried inside. Both of these works continue to haunt me.

Which literary character did you want to take to bed as an 18-year-old?

Dominique Francon in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. She loves Howard Roark passionately but resents the architect’s stubborn integrity and dedication to his craft, his refusal to compromise in order to get ahead. One time she tells him that she will do everything to obstruct and destroy him but that she will still come to his bed like a ”whore”. I thought, Oh, man, I wish she’d come to my bed. A woman like that would burn up my sheets.

Do you sing under the shower? Or to your plants?

Uh, have you heard me sing? I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Actually, I do sing a little under the shower, perhaps because the close walls make me sound better. As for plants, I’ve never tried that. Some folks say that plants are impressionable and can thrive in an emotionally supportive environment. Come to think of it, I believe I wrote a horror story about that.

Do you like to cook? What is your specialty?

I don’t cook much and don’t excel at it. EXCEPT, I sometimes grill steaks, hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken on an open grill using charcoal. In particular, I’m very good with steaks and know how to burn them just right. Not too much, not too light. Otherwise, I leave the cooking to my wife.

Do you have a pet?

Not anymore, but we did have two dogs, one after the other. The first was YoYo, a terrier of sorts, a lovable mutt. The second was Tempest, a fluffy and furry black mutt. She used to lick my legs for the salt. Tempest lived to be eighteen years old. Finally, we had to put her down because of her pain. Jane and I held her as she died. It broke my heart.

Later, for nearly a year, we looked after a friend’s dog while she served overseas in the military. Shiloe was a forty-five pound pit bull. At first, this dog gave me a pain but we both grew to love her. Shiloe used to lie next to me in bed while I kissed a certain spot high on her nose. When Jennifer, her owner returned, Shiloe perked right up and shot out the door without even looking back. All our love was forgotten in a heartbeat.

What is the most romantic thing you ever did?

In college I picked some flowers and gave them to a girl. She couldn’t have cared less. Also  in college, I knelt and had a girl get on my shoulders. Then I rose and ran with her across campus while she laughed. I thought that was romantic in a way. Also, I wrote love poetry to her. “In those days, Jane…” No, I won’t go any further except to say we’ve been married now for fifty-three and a half years.

What is the most romantic thing someone did for you?

A few years ago, my wife Jane kidnapped me. It was on our anniversary and she wouldn’t tell me where we were going. I found out it was to a performance at an opera house in Norfolk. While waiting for the opera to begin, lo and behold, our son and his roommate appeared and sat right beside us. They were co-conspirators and in on the plot. All things considered, it was a wonderful, romantic evening. Everyone needs a happy surprise now and then.

The “J” stands for John and Jane.

Do you believe in love?

Oh, yes. Love comes in many forms and varieties, and it’s the most important thing in life. You’ve got to love someone and something, and you’ve got to be loved. You’ve got to feel. This is why the Invasion of the Body Snatchers movies are so terrifying. The thought of becoming completely unemotional and dead inside is chilling. I love my wife and children, my country, and sometimes, obsessively, my writing. I wouldn’t want to give any of it up.

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/John-B.-Rosenman/e/B001KMN69E
Website: http://www.johnrosenman.com

John B. Rosenman – After 3500 years, Turtan finally discovers a weapon that can save humanity from vicious aliens, only to be betrayed by a beautiful woman. INSPECTOR OF THE CROSS, #SciFi Action Adventure – Buy at https://amzn.to/2BlE1QS

Author Interview: Brand J. Alexander

Tell us something about your book.

Rise of Tears, book one of the Tears of Hatsunae series, is the beginning of more than just the series. It begins my entire literary universe. The prologue of the book is the literal genesis of my universe and every world that comes after. When I was going through chemo, vowing to fulfill my dream to be a published author, I envisioned the formation of the universe in which everything would take place, and to honor that, I offer it as a story within the story at the beginning of Rise of Tears.

Rise of Tears revolves around the concept of faith, which is partly why I decided to include the genesis of my universe in it. One of the biggest debates within the faiths is how everything began and who did it. I offer that truth right from the beginning. No faith needed.

This series explores numerous versions of faith throughout, faith in the divine even though all the gods are dead, faith in a parent and the vision a child develops of them, and faith in a people’s prowess and reputation. Each of these versions of faith help to move the story along and push the main character, Asahn, to evolve his own concept of faith.

As Asahn comes into manhood as the son of the tribe’s chieftain, he must contend with the history of his people and the expectations of his position. Their world is dying, their people are hunted, and the old tribe storyteller seems to think that Asahn is the only one who can do anything about it. Yet one figure stands in Asahn’s way of doing so, his father. In order to save his people, Asahn will have to challenge the man he thought his father to be, and along the way, he must discover the man he must become for the good of them all.  

Who is the ideal reader for your book?

I like to think my books are for people who pick up a fantasy novel for more than just the specific adventure, but someone who goes to explore a new world, experience new cultures, and discover new fantastical creatures.

I grew up on a steady literary diet of 90s epic fantasy novels. Jordan, Brooks, Eddings. It is the type of fantasy that I enjoy. Sprawling adventures spanning hundreds of pages with in-depth world-building and historical structures that solidify the story.

While I have and do publish a few sleeker, more compact short stories and novellas, my true passion is to write long grand epic fantasy adventures, and my Tears of Hatsunae series is a prime example. If that’s the kind of tale you enjoy, then I hope that I am the author for you.

 

Share the best critique/review of your book.

Epic. Simply epic. Join Asahn in his world of Elerea. Where Gods have been born and died leaving a once Eden-like world barren and hard to live off of. But the Khan Shogal do live off it. Led by Kah Hrah Hazahn and Kah Asahn, they are a nomadic tribe who has roots in ancient history. It’s time for their annual pilgrimage and there is danger afoot. Sycophants and traitors. Loyalists and surprising support. Asahn encounters all of it. Grows and learns. Becomes a man in his own right, not just due to age. The story is like a thief in the night. Comes and takes you away. To Elerea, where you meet the Dulhar and Ailewah and hear of ancient Gods and magic. Ride with the Khan Shogal. Engage in politics and lies. Experience friendship and loyalty that knows no bounds. Encounter things you never thought possible. I’ve only ever wanted to live in one fantasy world. Now I want to live here too. It’s harsh and beautiful and tragic. Some parts bring tears immediately. Some parts make me so mad I want to scream. It’s an emotional journey and so worth the ride.

What inspired you to write it?

A large portion of this story rose from my views on organized religion and how faith can be manipulated in so many ways. Many of us have faith in what we are told to have faith in, and I wanted to explore someone who learns the lessons of faith through trial and error and develops his own system.

What message would you like readers to take away from your book?

I am not really sure if I have an intended lesson. If I were forced to say something, I imagine it would be for people to decide themselves how they use faith in their lives and where they place it, whether it is faith in the people around us or faith in something bigger than us.

But mostly, I want people to enjoy an amazing adventure in a beautiful fantasy world.

Share an excerpt from your book.

This is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of Rise of Tears. The old tribe storyteller Durn is telling the story around the campfire of the tribe’s origins, their homeland, and the gods who once ruled it. This is an excerpt of the story he tells.

“The armies of the Assembly marched unhindered across the High Plains. The great cities of the sky burned. Hatsunae and Vulgoth watched in despair as their realm was laid to waste. But their grief was diminished by dread. Nothing remained to protect their son from destruction.”

“Vulgoth couldn’t bear the pain in his lover’s eyes; her people, her son, her land, were all dying, and she was helpless to prevent it. His devotion to Hatsunae couldn’t allow such tragedy to continue. He embraced his divine love tenderly one last time. As she looked with tearful understanding, he drew the stone heart from his chest and offered it in token to seal his oath of eternal love.”

“Unburdened from love and the fear of losing her that would weaken his resolve, Vulgoth descended from the heavens to meet the host of the Assembly. ‘It’s forbidden,’ the enemy gods decried. ‘The covenant binds you,’ they insisted. But without his heart, the god of stone cared not about repercussions. ‘What punishment does the covenant hold for my transgressions that you don’t offer me already?’ he asked the Assembly. ‘Whether it be death as your blades strike down my faithful or death as my wrath consumes yours, the end is the same. I choose vengeance over surrender. Feel the wrath of stone’s fury!’ He struck the ground with a mighty blow.”

Durn’s next addition sent the flames erupting skyward. The percussion shook the ground and brought outcries of fear. “So fierce was Vulgoth’s blow the very heavens trembled! Sun and stars across the sky flickered with the shockwave. The Highlands groaned in protest as the fury of its maker wrought destruction. The Assembly quickly realized their folly. The land beneath their army’s feet quaked with the force of Vulgoth’s power and split with a deafening crack.”

“The gods of the Assembly watched helplessly as a rift swallowed their forces almost to a man. As the last rumbles faded, Vulgoth looked one final time to his mistress with love and farewell before vanishing into the nether. Having broken the covenant, he was stripped of the very potential that fueled his being and banished from existence.”

“Hatsunae cried out with heartrending loss. Consumed with rage and despair, the goddess of sea and storms lost all substance, reverting to the primal forces of her nature. Winds spurred by her hatred tore across the High Plains in fitful fury. The darkness of her mourning enveloped the sky in a vortex of clouds as black as night. With every scream of tortured agony, the tempest howled in answer with wrenching gusts that pummeled the land in a fierce barrage.”

“The Assembly beheld the display of divine wrath with terror, for within that storm lay the potential for their followers’ demise and in turn their own. A god willing to sacrifice themselves to save mortals was beyond their ability to comprehend. So they fled the Highlands with the remnants of their army.” 

A mild cheer went up at the Assembly’s retreat, but tears in many eyes were a testament to the cost of victory. Durn waited for the fire’s rage to relent, withdrawing the red glare of battle from the faces around him. The flickering calmed to a more natural light. The mood was set.

“Hatsunae, though overcome with grief, controlled her tempest’s fury and avoided breaching the covenant as well. She allowed the enemy to flee unscathed, despite her need to avenge her loss. With Vulgoth gone, her duties to son and people were paramount to vengeance.”

“You see, the paradise of the Highlands was a blending of both their powers. Alone, neither deity could have managed. With the death of Vulgoth, Hatsunae knew the lands would quickly follow. The people would need time to adapt to the changes or be forced to flee the harsh new environment. And her son Gilden wasn’t prepared to face the world beyond the Highlands’ safety. If forced to lead his people into the ravages of the God Wars, the entire purpose of his existence would come to naught. So Hatsunae resolved to expend her divinity like her lost love for the salvation of her world, her people, and her son.”

“She didn’t breach the covenant; however, for that would only waste the essence of her potential. Instead, she directed it to one singular purpose, to slow the decline of the lands and give her people and her son a chance. Suspended within the eye of the tempest and clutching the stone heart of Vulgoth to her chest, the goddess Hatsunae expelled the force of her divinity, and with one final expression of all-consuming grief, she wept.”

“The tears of Hatsunae fell in glistening streams across the lands she and her lover forged. With every drop, her potential infused the Highlands, safeguarding it for a time from the withering that was beyond her power to fully prevent. Some claim a few of those tears were born from more than the watery magic of Hatsunae alone. For her truest tears were infused with the love of the stone lord’s heart and fell in the likeness of both stone and water as sapphires, hard as earth and blue as the deepest oceans.”   

“As the deluge subsided and the roiling clouds dissipated to the four winds, a great absence was felt across the Highlands in the hearts of all its people. Hatsunae and Vulgoth, the creators and defenders of the land, were gone forever, banished through selfless acts of sacrifice in defense of their people. But they left gifts with their passing. With Hatsunae’s final act, she slowed the inevitable death of their world. And in place of the divine couple, a son remained to lead.”

“This brings us to the most important part of the story. For here begins the origins of the Kahn Shogal.”

Did you dare to believe that your book will be published when you started writing?

Yes. I wasn’t sure how it would be published, but I was determined to make sure that it was. I have dreamed of being a writer my entire life. A battle with stage 4 cancer reminded me that my time to achieve that could be limited. I spent my months on chemo, plotting my goal and building myself up to fulfill my dream. Once the cancer was in remission and I had recovered from all the chemo, I sat down at my computer and got to work with the intention that I wasn’t going to stop until I was a published author.  

How many times were you rejected?

I didn’t have any rejections. I chose early on to self-publish. I dreamed for most of my life to be published under one of the big publishing houses of my favorite authors. But by the time I began working towards that goal, I realized that it likely wasn’t the right path for me.

I had specific artistic concepts that I didn’t feel would be accepted well within the traditional publishing community. I also suffer from a disability which makes meeting other people’s goals or expectations more difficult. If I was going to do it, I decided I needed to write what I wanted to write and do so within the limitations of my body in a manner that I could keep up with.

Was the process of looking for an agent/publisher discouraging?

While I didn’t set out to find an agent or publisher, when I first began researching, I confess that I was definitely a bit intimidated. Perhaps that helped make my choice not to go that route easier.

How long did you write the first draft? And how long did the editing and re-editing take?

It took me eight months to write the book that was initially planned to be a single book called Tears of Hatsunae, but it was 474k words. So I split it up into Rise of Tears and Fall of Tears.

Since I was just starting out with publishing, it took me a while to figure out my path and bring it to publishing. I initially paid for someone to edit Rise of Tears. Four hundred dollars and five months later, I was not happy with the results. That slowed me down quite a bit. I spent the next few months deciding my course of action. I began heavily editing and revising it myself.

Over the next year, I refined my novel, proofed it and edited it multiple times, and settled on the decision to self-publish. That following August, on my birthday, I finally did. After having figured out my own process, I did the same thing with Fall of Tears and released it the following April.

Can you share your writing rituals/habits/process?

Once I finish breakfast, I prep my coffee, and I head back into my office to get to work. After a quick scan of all of my social media and promotional mediums, I open up my word document and get to work. I will often write through the afternoon until lunch around 2 or 3. Then I head out for a walk to clear my mind. I may or may not return to writing when I get back.

I am not the kind of writer who writes the first draft straight through to the end. I edit as I write. So my mornings often begin with reading through what I wrote the previous day and revising and editing as I go before I actually begin writing new material.

My brainstorming and story plotting often happens at night. I take my notebooks out to the living room and turn on some fantasy-themed show to create fitting background noise and sketch ideas out and plot my stories. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter marathons are usually pretty good for that.

Who was your first literary crush?

I really tried to think of one, but I cannot think of a character that I had a crush on from a book. I usually find myself cheering for them to make something work with their love interest or crush. The only thing I can think is that because I sort of live through the characters when I read, that I wish to see them achieve the things they want, not draw them into my own desires.

It is not as if I don’t develop crushes on characters. Just not books, apparently. My number one fictional crush is Sam Winchester from Supernatural. I have a lifesized cardboard cutout of him in my office. I even had a slight video game crush on Tidus from Final Fantasy X. But for the life of me, I cannot think of a book crush.

Did you imagine yourself as an author in your teens?

Always. I won an award for a short story I wrote in 2nd grade, and after that, I knew I wanted to be an author someday. Of course, that was on top of all my other life aspirations. I have been writing my entire life, trying to complete my first novel and embark on this wonderful journey. Unfortunately, I had numerous setbacks.

I have bad luck with computers. I can’t count the number of times I lost work on a novel to a computer dying or file corruption. I even had an ex’s pig eat a word processor that I had three-quarters of a novel on. Each time it happened, it would set me back, and I would give up writing for a while. Add in health issues, and it has been a difficult journey to get here. However, I never stopped wanting it and trying for it.

Once I finished my first novel and proved I could do it, thankfully, it seemed to get a little easier. I have been writing and completing stories ever since.  

What was the first book that made you fall in love with reading?

I can’t think of any single one. I have always been in love with reading. I remember being four years old, sitting on the kitchen counter reading Green Eggs and Ham to my parents. I loved reading. My parents used to take me to the library on the weekends and just drop me off. It wasn’t long before I had read everything in the animal and wildlife section as well as the dinosaur section.

Where the Red Fern Grows may possibly be the first book I ever fell in love with. I read it numerous times when I was younger. But my love for reading was well established even before that.

Did a book ever make you cry? (Which one?)

The first book that I can remember making me cry was Where the Red Fern Grows. I have read it more than once, and every time I still cried. I loved those dogs.

The other book that I remember making me cry was Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks. That was the first fantasy novel to make me cry.  

Which literary character did you want to take to bed as an 18-year-old?

Again, I never really had those kinds of feelings about characters in books. I am not sure why. Because as I noted, I have developed crushes on fictional characters before.

The only character of a book I can think of who I might have these feelings for would be Aust from my own novella series, Guardians of the Tide. Aust is completely inspired by a friend of mine who I have a big crush on. And I definitely think those feelings were expressed in my writing of the character.  

Do you sing under the shower? Or to your plants?

I sing almost everywhere. I wake up most mornings with a song in my head and start singing. I refer to it as a radio station that is constantly playing in my mind. All I have to do is tune in and start singing along with whatever song is playing at the time. Unfortunately, sometimes that station gets stuck on repeat.

Do you like to cook? What is your specialty?

I love cooking. I am the primary cook in my household unless my condition keeps me on the couch, then my husband whips up something. My specialties would likely be Thanksgiving turkey, amazingly moist and flavorful, and my authentic pork tacos, which are to die for.

Do you have a pet?

I have numerous pets. I have a dog named Brody. I had two pooches up until December, when I lost my sweet Duggie. Once I recover from that, I hope to adopt another shelter dog and give him a loving home. I have a Bearded Dragon named Fiona. (Named after the pyro spy from Burn Notice, not the princess from Shrek) A Cockatoo named Jimmy. A Chicken. And I have nine fish tanks.

What is the most romantic thing you ever did?

I don’t make big grand gestures. I tend to do small things to show my love. On an early date with my now-husband, I snuck out of the bar and set up a vase with a dozen roses in his seat, so he would find them when we were leaving. I told him one night when I came home from work that something had followed me home and he should go look. I have a big stuffed zebra (He loves zebras.) sitting on the porch waiting for him. I bought him a porcelain rose for an anniversary and wrote a poem with it about how like this rose, my love for him would never fade or die. I cook him his favorite meals and make him a cake from scratch every birthday. I go out of my way every day to make sure to show him that I love him.

What is the most romantic thing someone did for you?

My husband stayed by my side after I became disabled. Even when I could barely get off the couch or do anything, he was there patiently helping me through it. Our lives dramatically changed, and he could have easily moved on to someone he could have had a fuller life with. But he stayed by me through it all. Then he did it again when I was diagnosed with cancer. Eight months of chemo and all the drugs made me a different person for that time, yet he helped me through it.

If that isn’t a romantic love story, I don’t know what is.

Do you believe in love?

Definitely, I am happily married and have been with my husband for eighteen years this May, married for sixteen in October. I fall in love with him more every day. That love makes both of us stronger and helps us to be our better selves.

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/BrandJAlexander

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Website: www.BrandJAlexander.com

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/~/e/B07KBDBRQC

Rise of Tears https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07WL7N4W6

Fall of Tears https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08633S235

Author Interview: Michael Ross

Tell us something about your book.

My Fairy Garden is a book that I had written to help and inspire children, particularly through lockdown. I invited young children to draw me fairies and name them and I put them in my book. I thought I may get 10 tops? In fact I ended up with 72!

Who is the ideal reader for your book?

Everyone. Particularly children but also the teens and parents and Grandparents who love to read fairy stories to their children

What inspired you to write it?

I started to write a series called The Big Fairy Adventures at the start of the Covid lockdown last year. So for the children and myself I built a fairy garden. It became very popular. Then towards the end of the year someone complained to the council that it was ‘Inappropriate?? I was ordered to take it up. They said I need a license to keep it where it was, but even if I did buy one, they still wouldn’t allow it because the rules state no water features (which it has) and no fairies!?? Anyway I am rebuilding it in my front garden. They can’t touch it there and it will be bigger and better than  before.

What message would you like readers to take away from your book?

That there are things in life that are magical. As children, we all loved fairies and fairy stories then, as adults, we grow away from them. The good news is that one day, an adult will be old enough to start reading and enjoying fairy stories again.

Share an excerpt from your book.

It is a known fact that there is evidence

of fairies all around us.

“Where?” you say.

Just watch a large black and yellow striped bumblebee

on a warm sunny day.

Have you ever noticed how it looks a little sluggish?

Have you ever noticed how the bumblebee keeps bumping into things?

Like flowerpots and flowers, but then off

it goes again, in a squiggly line, as if it has

had a little too much nectar?

Ah! That is because fairies are driving them!

They sit on top and nudge the bees with their little knees

in the direction they want to go.

This all helps the young fairies to learn how to control flight.

Did you dare to believe that your book will be published when you started writing?

Oh yes. I am an indie publisher anyway, and have already written 18 books. But this particular book has given more a thrill and satisfaction that any of my previous books

How long did you write the first draft? And how long did the editing and re-editing take?

I am a pantser. I write by the seat of my pants. I rarely write drafts…the stories come out of my head and onto the page. I have some bestsellers, so this works for me. I do have an editor who tells me off all the time, but with this book, because of its simplicity, myself and a program called Grammarly professional  sorted the editing

Can you share your writing rituals/habits/process?

I don’t like anything too structured. If there is a hint of a normal day, I will get up, catch up on emails, have a coffee, go for a power walk then write. I can write for 5 hours or more. I write until something tells me I need to eat, but similarly, there are days I don’t write, I go out for a long walk and breathe in lots of fresh air.

Who was your first literary crush?

It has to be Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. Love that book. The power of the English language to convey and whole plethora of emotions. How poor Lizzie struggled to deal with Mr. Darcy and how she couldn’t believe she was falling in love with him.

Did you imagine yourself as an author in your teens?

No. It was only 10 years ago I visited a clairvoyant who suggested I write. So I did, and I haven’t looked back

What was the first book that made you fall in love with reading?

As a school boy, it was all the books, sci fi books by Michael Moorcock. They were not big books but he was prolific.

Did a book ever make you cry? (Which one?)

Sad to say none made me cry, however, some were very emotionally troubling for me, like Mila 18 by Leon Uris. I hate to read about injustices performed by humans on other humans

Which literary character did you want to take to bed as an 18-year-old?

It wasn’t a literary chartacter, it was a film character. The voluptuos Racqel Welsh in ‘One Million Years BC’ OMG! When my teenage hormones were going AWOL, she would have been the one for me.

Do you sing under the shower? Or to your plants?

More like I talk to my plants. I can sing, but the weather has a nasty habit of raining when I do.

Do you like to cook? What is your specialty?

Oh yes, love cooking. I lived in the far north of Nigeria from the age of 1. And there was one dish loved by all ages, it is called Groundnut Stew. A little like an indrian Korma consistancy. It is made wth peanuts and chicken, and served on a bed of rice, with ‘side dishes’ ranging from fried onions, plantains, to orange, tomatoes. Oh heck, my mouth is watering now!

Do you have a pet?

I have two, a Cockapoo called Ruby and a French Bulldog called Bella. I have always had dogs

What is the most romantic thing you ever did?

I had a girlfriend who was staying with me. She had had a horrible stressy day at work. When she arrived home I cooked her a nice meal, then I sneaked upstairs in my house, poured a big hot bath, put essence of lavendar in and literally lit a 100 tlights and placed them everywhere in the bathroom, and told her there was a surprise. When she went in, she went, „Ohhhh! I didn’t see her for a couple of hours!

What is the most romantic thing someone did for you?

I am also a muscian and actor, patrticularly the piano. Played since I was 4. My partner at the time took me away for a weekend break to a lovely hotel. And that night at the evening meal in this ballroom. The curtains of the staGE Part4d and there , with a grand piano, was my hero of classical piano playing, John Lil ( winner of the Tchaikovsky competition)

Do you believe in love?

Yes, of course, and in it’s many forms

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Author Interview: Troy Young

Tell us something about your book.

The book I want to discuss (I published six last year) is The (Extra)ordinary Life of Jimmie Mayfield. (is it extraordinary or extra ordinary? That’s for the reader to decide). It’s a humorous coming of age tale about an unemployed man who is approaching his 30th birthday.  He feels his life is, as he says, “on pause”.  Living in a rundown trailer in a rundown trailer park in Englewood, Florida with his mother who can no longer work on account of her glaucoma, Jimmie feels he is destined for greatness.  He just lacks the means, the skills and the ambition to achieve it.

It’s laugh-out-loud funny but also makes you think. It is currently in the running for the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour.  Watching Jimmie and his friends as he navigates a path to achieve his destiny (it’s the first book in a five-book series (only one published) but boy, is his destiny grand) it will be an amusing journey for our young Jimmie.

I got it into a VP at one of the big five publishers (unfinished, unedited, and needing a lot of work).  She read it and declared, “This kid can write!” (I was 47 at the time).  She also compared it to A Catcher in the Rye (yet still declined to publish it). I know, like Jimmie, the book is destined for greatness.

Who is the ideal reader for your book?

Anyone who likes to laugh. I’ve had a variety of people read it (include a book club of elderly ladies in Florida where the book is set; they liked it).  It defies categorization.  The book A Confederacy of Dunces is my literary inspiration for this; if you like that book, you’ll like this one.  If witty dialogue is your thing, you’ll like this book.

Share the best critique/review of your book.

I really had a hard time putting this one down. From the first pages, I was drawn into Jimmie’s world, full of relatable friends, self doubt and familiar awkwardness. I became so engrossed in his character that at times I had a pit in my stomach waiting for the hammer drop, because guys like Jimmie don’t catch a break.

Troy Young has created a fantastic protagonist and surrounded him with well-developed characters, whose odd connections had me pondering many times how things were going to go sideways. I love this aspect of Troy’s writing style, because it kept me wanting to dive deeper down the rabbit hole.

I am normally a nighttime reader – getting through two or three pages before drifting off. Thank goodness I started reading on a Friday, because I was up half the night and polished it off the next day. I highly recommend it.

What inspired you to write it?

I was visiting Florida, where my parents have a winter home, and I went for a walk in the hot Florida sun.  An hour later, with no hat or sunscreen, dehydrated and delirious, a story had formed in my mind.  When I came back to Toronto and told my staff this story (I’m a CEO of a non-profit association), one of them said, “when are you going to stop telling us these stories and actually write something?”  So, I wrote it to spite her. 

What message would you like readers to take away from your book?

Dare to dream.  When the time is right, things will fall into place.  We can try to plan our lives all we want, but it rarely goes as we intended.  You never know what will be the difference, but as long as you are ready to jump on opportunities, you will go places.  It takes Jimmie a while to realize his success, but with hard work (and in his case, a lot of luck) you’ll get there.

Share an excerpt from your book.

The mall was more vibrant then than today. He arrived right after school to start his shift on a Wednesday. The mall wasn’t busy on Wednesdays, so he’d be working alone at Pretzel Joe’s.

“It’s been slow today,” said Mary, the daytime assistant manager, as he arrived. “I prepared a fresh batch of dough for you, so you should be good for the evening. Need anything else?” Mary was maternal; she reminded him of his late grandmother.

“No, I should be fine, thanks.”

 “Have fun tonight.” Mary pulled on her cardigan. She flipped up the counter and exited the store. “I have to go to JC Penny’s and get a dress for my granddaughter. I’ll swing by before I leave.” She meandered into the sparse crowd of the mall.

Jimmie walked into the back and pulled a hairnet over his mullet. He loved his job. The pay wasn’t bad, he got to eat all the pretzels he wanted, and he watched Caroline. Caroline Ward attended high school with him; she worked at the kiosk in front of the pretzel shop. He’d never have had the guts to speak to her at school, but working here put them on equal footing. The first time she ordered a pretzel, it took everything he had to keep his cool. He’d been working here for nine months, and he had asked for his shifts to coincide with hers at the kiosk. 

Interacting with her had given him newfound confidence. He could relax around her. He still didn’t talk to her at school, but here at the mall, they had something special for those few hours, three days a week.

She hadn’t arrived, so he pretended to be busy. Once the after-school crowd showed up, the current pretzel supply would not suffice. Jimmie wanted to wait for Caroline before he made more. He was a magician with the pretzels.

He liked to put on a show as he rolled out and cut the dough. The way he spun the long, thin pretzel dough into the various shapes delighted the customers. They often watched him work. He’d be the centre of attention, at least for five minutes as he made them.

 “Hi,” said Caroline as she arrived and gave him a wave. She wore a yellow baby doll top over a pair of jean shorts and gladiator sandals. It contrasted with her tanned skin, her bleached blond hair and her bright blue eyes. His heart leapt into his throat, and his knees grew weak. “Hey Caroline,” he returned, trying to sound cool, his voice cracking.

“Can I get a soda?”

“Sure!” Pulling off a waxed cup and filling it up from the fountain, he passed her the drink, not charging her as always.

“Thanks,” she said, looking at him right in the eyes, cocking her head and wrapped her lips around the straw. Jimmie was oblivious to the fact she knew what she was doing to him.

Jimmie cracked his knuckles and got to work. He finished his twirls and placed the pre-baked pretzels in the oven. In eight short minutes, he’d have some fresh pretzel goodness to serve.

He looked up and saw Joe, the owner, coming towards the store, followed by two guys pushing a large dolly. “Hey, Joe,” he said, confused. Joe rarely went to the store.

“Oh, hi, Johnny,” he said as he pulled up the counter and held it open for the two guys to enter.

“It’s Jimmie.”

“Huh? Whatever.” Joe turned his back on him and talked to the two guys. “I want everything that isn’t nailed down. Start in the back; I’ll start here.”

The guys moved into the back. Sounds of the refrigerator being opened and large tubs of dough being lifted and thrown onto the dolly could be heard.

“What’s going on, Joe?”

“We’re closed, kid,” said Joe as he opened up the register and started to remove the cash. He stuffed it into a cloth bag, slammed the drawer shut and unplugged it.

“Closed? What do you mean closed?”

“I mean, we’re done. I’m getting what we can before the bank gets their hands on it,” said Joe, not looking at him. Joe headed over towards the drinks fridge and began to load the contents onto a plastic flat.

“Just like that? Closed?”

“Yep. Shit happens sometimes,” said Joe, emptying the fridge.

“What does that mean for me?” 

“I don’t give a fuck.”

“What about my job?”

“You no longer have one.”

A guy in the back yelled: “Hey, those pretzels smell awesome. Can we have them?”

“When they’re ready. Knock yourself out,” Joe yelled back. He glanced at Jimmie and yelled back to his guys, “Leave one for the kid; he looks like he’ll cry.”

Guffaws erupted. “Sure thing.”

“Look, Johnny…”

“Jimmie…”

“Whatever. Fuck. Listen, we don’t have all day. We’re getting this shit out of here, and then we’re coming back for the oven. It’s on wheels, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Great. When those pretzels are baked, wrap ‘em up for the guys and unplug the oven. We need to load it on the truck.”

He nodded his head, dumbfounded. “Sure.”

“Lookit, kid. It’s too bad you’re caught up in this. But I’m not the bad guy here. The bank is the bad guy. You can take it up with them.” Joe looked at him, sighed, took two diet Snapple Lemonades off the flat and gave them to him. Joe then reached into his wallet, took out a twenty-dollar bill, pressing it into Jimmie’s hand. “Here’s your severance. You guys done back there?” he growled.

The two guys manoeuvred the cart from the back. “When you’re done unloading, come back and help me with the oven and remember to unhook the canisters from the fountain machine.”

The oven dinged. The pretzels were ready.

“Quick kid, wrap those up and give them to the boys. And unplug the oven.”

Jimmie moved like an automaton. He pulled the pretzels out and slid them into their sleeves. “Thanks, kid,” they said, stuffing them into their pockets.

Caroline snapped pictures of the scene playing out in front of her. Someone later posted the photos around the school.

Joe and his guys grabbed what they could and headed out. Jimmie unplugged the oven, turned off the Pretzel Joe’s sign and stood there, not knowing what else to do.

Joe and his guys came back and grabbed the fountain canisters, the cash register and wheeled the oven away. “See you around, kid.”

He stood there in disbelief as a smiling Mary returned, the JC Penny bag clutched in her hand. She stopped, and her eyes widened in disbelief.

“Jimmie… what… oh…”

Her hand went to her mouth, and she began to shake with tears. He awkwardly hugged the old woman while Caroline snapped another picture.

Did you dare to believe that your book will be published when you started writing?

Yes and no. You have to think it can happen, or you won’t try.  But do you really think so? I self-published this book, so I made it happen. I think if I actually had an agent willing to take it on, and a publisher who wanted to make it a reality, it would be surreal. But it is in print and people are reading and reviewing it, so that’s kind of cool.

Some days you think it’s complete garbage and other days you are fantasizing about discussing it on a late-night talk show. It’s a roller coaster of emotions and beliefs.

How many times were you rejected?

I lost count.  But then again, I don’t think I tried very hard.  It took me a long time to refine my query process; I changed the name, stopped focusing on selling them the series and just concentrating on the book.  At first it was three books and the first one was 150,000 words, and then I took what I had written and plotted it out as three books of 60,000 words each (with two books still left to write).  Then I wrote other things which I self-published and learned how easy that was so up it went.  I didn’t really focus enough on getting an agent/publisher for it.

Was the process of looking for an agent/publisher discouraging?

Very much so.  There are multiple stages to this.  The writing is the easiest and the most fun. Editing is a slog.  And then the time to approach the business side, to make connections, to send your stuff out there and wait for people to get back to you.  While you are doing that, you aren’t doing the thing you love, which is writing.  I’d love to get an agent to handle all the tedious stuff for me (and negotiate the standard rich and famous contract of course).

How long did you write the first draft? And how long did the editing and re-editing take?

I started in March 2018 and finished it in August.  Then the rewrites.  The editing.  I started writing other things and this sat on a shelf.  Then my neighbour who worked in the publishing business read my draft and tore it to shreds.  I learned a lot from him and reworked it, and then he passed away.  Finally, with the intent of getting it before the Leacock Awards committee, I finished it off and published it in November 2020.  If it doesn’t get long listed for the award, I will probably unpublish it and once again look for an agent.

Can you share your writing rituals/habits/process?

I write when I can.  Not every day.  Some people swear by it.  Some absolutely need to do it.  I find I like to ruminate for a day or two, particularly if I get stuck on something. I get great inspiration on walks.

COVID has thrown everything for a loop, but it has allowed me to write more.  Before, I would write mainly in the evening after running my daughter around to her daily activities.  Now, I can write whenever I want.

I tend to be more of a pantser.  I know where the start is, and know where I need to get to, but I often don’t know the route I’ll take.  Sometimes, my characters surprise me.

Stephen King likened writing to (and I’m probably getting this analogy wrong) being a paleontologist.  Your story is like a fossil, lying complete in the ground.  We don’t create it as much as we unveil the story that already existed.  I like that (even if I screwed up the analogy).

Who was your first literary crush?

Bêlit, from the Conan story The Queen of the Black Coast. Let’s face it, the pulp fiction of the 1930’s from whence Conan springs is not complimentary to women. Most are just set dressing for the larger than life men striding through the pages, a reward for the male character’s being awesome. Bêlit was not this. A pirate queen, she had a ship of men under her command and was as bold and as passionate as Conan. She was perhaps the only female character who was Conan’s equal, and the only one that wasn’t in a love-her-and-leave-her situation with the barbarian.  She was his one true love and leapt off the page.

Which literary character did you want to take to bed as an 18-year-old?

Not literary, but pop culture. I don’t recall any character from a book enticing me that way at 18, but Peg Bundy.  Tall, curvy, red haired and all she wanted was to sleep with Al.  I never understood why he resisted her so much, yet was just so…Al…in other ways.  

Did you imagine yourself as an author in your teens?

In my twenties, I briefly thought maybe?  I was really into Michael Stackpole’s BattleTech novels.  It made me want to write something. But it wasn’t a serious passion.

What was the first book that made you fall in love with reading?

The Monster at the End of the Book starring Grover.

Did a book ever make you cry? (Which one?)

I don’t think a book has ever made me cry.  Books can make you think, they can unnerve you, but I find the medium doesn’t elicit the same emotional response in me that a movie or television show can.  It’s not like I’m cold and unfeeling because many movies and TV shows have made me cry.  An episode of Valerie.  The Megan Follows episode of Law and Order.  The movie Armageddon (but not the parts most people cry at).  The video game Last of Us made me bawl out loud the first time I played it.  But I can’t think of a book that has done that.  I guess because the words are constructing the action in my head. I feel I am partially in control of it as opposed to being an observer. 

Although I had an emotional response to one story I wrote.  One character sacrificed themselves and forced the other character to kill her.  I didn’t cry, but my eyes got moist while crafting the scene, probably because I was emotionally invested in them both.

Do you sing under the shower? Or to your plants?

No one wants to be subjected to that (least of all me).

Do you like to cook? What is your specialty?

I’m an adequate cook.  The one thing I can do well (at least on par to a restaurant) is grill a steak.  It is relatively simple, but damn, they come out as tasty as the best steakhouses. I prefer to order in or eat out.

Do you have a pet?

We have a four-year-old rescue dog named Ivy.  She’s a Shih tzu/Lhasa Apso mix and is the sweetest thing.

What is the most romantic thing you ever did?

Oh boy.  I’m married to the woman I first got together with at my 21st birthday party (we were friends before that).  I messed up my marriage proposal because I was to excited to wait to do it as planned (on the Plains of Abraham in Old Quebec City).

I asked my wife what was the most romantic thing I had ever done.  Best we can come up with was her surprise 40th birthday party.  Surprise, because her birthday is Christmas Day and I waited until June to host it.  I invited all her friends to a luxury event at the CN Tower (I told her we were going for a work thing) and surprised her there (and picked up the tab for everyone). That’s the closest I guess.

What is the most romantic thing someone did for you?

Show up at my surprise 21st birthday party with a 1.5 l bottle of wine and tell me we were going to drink it together?

Do you believe in love?

Whenever I look at my daughter, yes. My wife’s pretty cool, too.

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Author Interview: Mark Beales

Tell us something about your book.

Did You Know? is a collection of trivia from around the world. It’s packed with the answers to life’s most nagging questions, such as ‘what’s the difference between a ship and a boat?’ and ‘who put the “s” in island?’

It also poses some killer questions linked to language and general knowledge. For example, can you name 6 countries that start and end with A?

There’s room for a chapter on the origin of idioms (such as the wonderful connection between stealing one’s thunder and an 18th century storm-making machine) and another on the often-dark histories behind our most famous nursery rhymes.

Who is the ideal reader for your book?

It’s for anyone who is fascinated by the world around us. I love discovering trivia and suspect most people do too. So it’s for those who want to celebrate all the pointless, but fascinating, pieces of knowledge that they store, and can’t ever let go of.

Share the best critique/review of your book.

“I really enjoyed this and found it a fun book to flip through while waiting in line and so on. It can be read start to finish or just opened to a random page and enjoyed. If you’re looking for a fun, quirky, educational diversion from the hum drum you won’t be disappointed.”

What inspired you to write it?

I’d been collecting trivia for years, I guess like everyone. There were little bits of information that refused to fade away and would occasionally pop up and remind me of their presence. For example, I know Pele’s real name is ‘Edson Arantes do Nascimento’. Now, I’ve no idea why that has stuck with me, but it has. It’s never once come in useful – you’d think it would pop up now and then in a pub quiz, but no.

I find it fascinating that we all have these little nuggets of knowledge locked away with us for no apparent reason, and wanted to collect as many of them as I could.

I’ve worked as a literature teacher at international schools in Thailand and Vietnam, and trivia came in very useful there. For some lessons, I would start with a question to get students thinking and engaged, such as ‘name 6 countries that only have 4 letters’. It went down well, so this got me thinking about compiling all these examples of trivia and language and sharing it.

What message would you like readers to take away from your book?

Life is wonderful and weird. I hope the readers enjoy diving in to this world of trivia and learn something new about the world around them.

Share an excerpt from your book.

What Rhymes With Orange?

It’s a cliché that nothing rhymes with orange. But there’s a reason for this. It’s because the word ‘orange’ is a mistake.

In most languages, the fruit is known as narang or narange. When the British started importing them in the 15th century, they followed along and called it a ‘narange’.

It seems that when people nipped down to the local market and asked for ‘a narange’, others thought they meant ‘an arange’, and confusion was born. Eventually the latter gained favour and the fruit became ‘an orange’. And as for the colour? The name for that didn’t come about until the early 16th century.

A Coffee Habit

‘Cappuccino’ gets its name from the 16th century Capucin monks. The connection? The colour of espresso and milk is similar to the monks’ brown robes. Not exactly. They wore a white cowl over the brown robe. Cappuccino, because the foamed milk is not mixed with the coffee, is brown below but white above. And while we’re here, espresso comes from the Italian for pressing, latte means ‘milk’ (so if you order a latte in Italy, you tend to just get milk) and, our favourite, affogato means ‘to drown’ (as the espresso is poured all over a gelato).

Where does ‘OK’ come from?

The word ‘OK’ itself is one of the most common in the world. Yet for years nobody knew where it came from.

As a word, it’s linguistically brilliant. Nearly every language has the sound ‘o’ and ‘k’ and the nice rolling rhythm of the two syllables make it sound attractive and balanced.

But despite its ubiquitous nature, there’s some debate about who came up with it. Whoever it was, it happened around 150 years ago, because there are no earlier records of it in print.

Among the more dubious theories are that US President Martin Van Buren used the term ‘Vote for OK’ in an 1840 campaign; a reference to his nickname ‘Old Kinderhook’. Others reckoned it came from an army biscuit, Orrin Kendall.

The debate rumbled on until the 1960s, when etymologist Allen Read stepped in.

The Boston Morning Post was the unlikely place to find the answer. In 1839, in a small column using even smaller font, there was a story about grammar. At the end, there was note saying everything was O.K., standing, phonetically, for ‘all correct. Apparently, there was a thing at the time for crazy abbreviations; Bostonians duly thought this hilarious. It was used again a few editions later, and then other newspapers picked up on the phrase. Before long, US presidential hopefuls were using it in their campaigns, and the word was born.

Did you dare to believe that your book will be published when you started writing?

Yes. I read some good advice once, it may have been from Stephen King, who said you have to think of yourself as a writer. Someone who says they write as a hobby or just for fun doesn’t have the right mindset. So I tell myself I’m a writer and, as simple as that sounds, it helps give you belief that your work will find an audience.

How many times were you rejected?

At least a dozen. But there were also some very helpful responses with practical advice, and I really appreciated that. It’s a tough time for everyone and this book’s in quite a niche market, so I knew it would be a tough sell.

Was the process of looking for an agent/publisher discouraging?

Not especially. I think if you believe in what you’ve written, that’s the most you can hope for. You want others to come along for the ride and share your enthusiasm, but I’m pragmatic enough to know that not everyone’s going to. There are myriad reasons why that may be, and only some of them could be to do with your actual book.

How long did you write the first draft? And how long did the editing and re-editing take?

The first draft took about 3 months to put together – I already had numerous notes and examples that I’d collected from over the years. I needed to put them into shape and add a structure and theme to the novel, that’s where most of the work took place. I did various edits to polish everything, which took me an extra couple of months.

Can you share your writing rituals/habits/process?

I write in the evenings, after my two children have gone to bed. That gives me 3-4 hours, if I’m lucky. I can’t have any distractions when I’m writing, so the phone and TV have to be off and it needs to be pretty quiet. Quite often the first few lines are a struggle and I can play with them for a long time but, when they click into place, usually the rest follows and I build up a rhythm. I try not to edit too much as I go along, but often can’t help myself.

Who was your first literary crush?

I remember reading Thomas Hardy when I was at school. His descriptive passages and dense

syntax really made me aware of how powerful literature could be. Tess of the d’Urbervilles really stood out for me for both the story and the beautiful way that Hardy would invite you in to these little parts of rural England. After reading that, I remember having the first inkling that writing was something I wanted to do as a career.

Did you imagine yourself as an author in your teens?

Originally I was going to be Liverpool’s next goalkeeper, but that never quite worked out. I always loved reading, not just for the pleasure of it, but because I often had a feeling that I could also produce something that others would want to read. When I was 18, I got a scholarship to study journalism and I went off to college. A year or so later I was getting news stories published and the buzz of having the daily papers arrive and seeing your byline on the front page was immense.

What was the first book that made you fall in love with reading?

The first book I remember reading was ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’ by C.S. Lewis. My parents took me on a caravan holiday on the Isle of Wight in the south of England when I was about seven. Being an English summer holiday, it rained almost every day, which gave me ample time to read the novel several times. I loved the wonderful illustrations by Pauline Baynes and the ethereal feel of Narnia. At the time, I didn’t get any of Lewis’ religous allusions, but I didn’t need to. It was just the surreal sense of being a part of the magical forest that was enough to get me hooked.

Did a book ever make you cry? (Which one?)

There have been several. The one I remember most was A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. It’s such a beautiful, poignant story with such a fragile character. I remember thinking as I got to the last few pages how I really didn’t want the story to end.

Which literary character did you want to take to bed as an 18-year-old?

Great question. I would imagine it was probably Shakespeare’s Juliet, especially after having watched the 1968 film version with Olivia Hussey.

Do you sing under the shower? Or to your plants?

I do sing in the shower – the acoustics are wonderful.

Do you like to cook? What is your specialty?

I do like cooking but rarely have the time. My wife does spectacular Thai food once in a while, but I’ll tend to go for Italian dishes. I wouldn’t say there’s too much special about my specialities – when it comes to cooking, I know what I like rather than like what I know.

Do you have a pet?

We currently live in a condo in Saigon so pets would be tricky. My son Daniel is very keen for us to get a puppy.

What is the most romantic thing you ever did?

When I was first dating my wife, I used to write her acrostic poems each time we met. I’m not sure if she thought they were cheesey or cute, but she pretended to like them.

What is the most romantic thing someone did for you?

For me, the most romantic things tend to be the little, thoughtful touches rather than the big anniversary dinners. So I’m not one for huge gestures, I find romance is much more sincere when it’s spontaneous.

Do you believe in love?

Every time I get a hug from either of my children, yes.

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Author Interview: Dushica Labovich

Tell us something about your book.

PRIDE AND INTENTIONS is THE NOTEBOOK meets PRIDE AND PREJUDICE! And only a few months after I self-published it, the book will finally be traditionally released in the spring of 2021 by wonderful NY „The Wild Rose Press“, acclaimed as one of the top romance publishers.

It is a book about great love, one that happens once in a lifetime and never lessens. A novel about a family, about the relationship of people of different social status, about praise, forgiveness, about the past that always comes back, and destiny from which we cannot escape. Pride and Intentions is an unusual magical story about Doris Rose, the young daughter of an English oligarch, who can’t forget the poor young man who stole her heart a long time ago when her parents forcefully separated them. But love has the power to turn the dark tragedy of their past into a miracle. Reborn as one of the richest men in England, the former poor boy from her childhood returns to the lives of her parents…

Who is the ideal reader for your book?

Pride and Intentions will find its audience among fans of family drama, British historical romance, character-driven love stories with strong descriptions of emotions, and growing up in love. Similar books are The Notebook, The North and South, The Wuthering Heights, Persuasion, and Pride and Prejudice.

Share the best critique/review of your book.

„…A very professionally written family drama. It was quite easy for me to follow from start to finish & never a dull moment. Lots of exciting scenarios, with several twists & a great set of unique characters & facts to keep track of. This could also make another great family drama movie or, better yet, a mini TV series. There is no doubt that this book deserves a 5-star rating.“

“Similar to The Notebook or Pride and Prejudice, maybe this isone of the greatest love stories ever told.

What inspired you to write it?

As a philosopher and lover of mysterious or psychological “smart” thrillers with magical and mystical elements, I never imagined myself as an author of romance. But like every woman, as a girl, I was in love with Jane Austen’s books as well as The Wuthering Heights and the film The Notebook inspired by Nicolas Sparks’s book. And what young girl doesn’t fantasize about Mr. Darcy or Ryan Gosling? So I said to myself: Just one romantic book! Just one! And I did it! I wrote a book in which the readers could find elements from my three favorite novels. I set the story in the middle of 20th century England, created a phenomenal female character with a strong but also sensitive nature. It is a character-driven story because that was the only way I could express my feelings from the hidden depths of a woman’s heart.

Share an excerpt from your book.

“I will tell you the story of my life. The story of nameless events that I intentionally never wished to name. We give games to the things that we don’t want to forget, but I have no fear of forgetting. Events that are so dramatic that they affect the lives of us all are never forgotten. They are always remembered with the same intensity, whether they destroy your heart or make it glorious…”

Did you dare to believe that your book will be published when you started writing?

Yes, I have always hoped for that while writing each of my books.

How many times were you rejected?

Like every new writer in the English-language territory, I have been rejected many times.

Was the process of looking for an agent/publisher discouraging?

Sometimes it was, but I believe in the saying: Hope dies last 🙂

How long did you write the first draft? And how long did the editing and re-editing take?

I wrote this book for two years. The re-editing seems to have taken longer than editing. However, since Pride and Intentions was translated into English, I had to wait for the translator to do her part of the job and that added many more months.

Can you share your writing rituals/habits/process?

I write almost every day, in all seasons. What I like most is sitting by the window and writing. Since I live in two cities, Budva, Montenegro, in the summer in an apartment with a sea view, and Moscow with a view of the eternally snowy sky during the winter, I prefer to write at home while watching nature’s changing games, rain showers, snowstorms or Mediterranean sea storms. I never write on trips, then my inspiration goes through other channels that I use later in writing when the passions calm down.

Who was your first literary crush?

Mr. Darcy and Alexey Vronsky. I don’t remember which one was the first…

Did you imagine yourself as an author in your teens?

Yes, I have always imagined myself as a writer, since the first grade of elementary school. Writing is not only my hobby, but my job and much more, writing is my obsession.

What was the first book that made you fall in love with reading?

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Montgomery

Did a book ever make you cry? (Which one?)

Many, but I remember very clearly Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, Emily Bronte’s The Wuthering Heights, and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.

Which literary character did you want to take to bed as an 18-year-old?

Mr. Darcy, of course 🙂

Do you sing under the shower? Or to your plants?

Yes! I sing in the shower, especially in the summer when the temperatures in southern Europe are over 40 degrees and if I am not by the sea I take a shower ten times a day. I also sing when I work around flowers, but also when I vacuum, although I only do that when I’m alone since my sons don’t appreciate their mother’s musical talent.

Do you like to cook? What is your specialty?

Yes! I love to cook. My whole family is vegetarian, so I have a very big challenge in terms of novelty. My specialty are raw cakes, and I love when my friends can’t believe that there isn’t a single cooked or baked ingredient in the abundance of pudding and chocolate cream.

Do you have a pet?

Yes, a rabbit. I am like Beatrix Potter 🙂

What is the most romantic thing you ever did?

Ten years ago, I traveled half the world and married a foreigner in a distant country although I didn’t know a word of their language.

Do you believe in love?

Yes. But I have to add. I am a lover of everything and everyone. I fall in love again every day.

Your writing overflows with descriptions of the natural world. How much did nature influence you?

I love poetry so much that I can’t avoid it even in prose writing. That is why my writing is full of descriptions of nature and feelings. On the other hand, Pride and Intentions is set in England and how to write about England without mentioning the beautiful nature which makes the British Isles famous? I believe that every man who is in love or suffering because of love has a keen sense of nature and the seasons, and that is why this book is gifted with such descriptions.

What do you think makes a great story?

I think a good story can only be written if it is written from the heart. It must have an intriguing beginning, a good plot, and an unexpected outcome that will leave a positive inspiring impression on the reader.

You have finished another book which will find its home soon too. What is the newest one about?

Oh, God! I finally wrote a creative nonfiction intellectual thriller written with the help of fictional characters! The genre I enjoy the most. It took me more than ten years of research, three years of writing, and more than six months for the translator to translate it into English. It is about Salvador Dali’s big mystery, but also about the great mystery of our origins and abilities to influence the future, ruled by human consciousness. 

Any tips you would like to share with other writers who are starting out?

Every successful writer used to be a beginner. Every other successful writer today started as a self-published one. Every writer should be ready to ignore a huge number of rejections from both publishers and agents. But that must not be a reason for writers to stop believing in their abilities and bury their desire to be read someday. A real writer is the one who writes every day. A real writer is the one who does at least one thing every day that will help him in his career as a writer, even if it is the most innocuous status on a social network. Never write posts solely to say something since it will only turn the audience away from you.

What message would you like readers to take away from your books?

As a lover of the philosophy of ancient cultures and a traveler who explores the world of archeology and spiritual messages of holy places, I believe that the chances of waking up in a better world tomorrow are equal for each of us and this is the main mission of my writing.