From as far back as Kimberly can remember, she has either told stories or written stories. In the first grade, she stood and made the announcement that her family couldn't afford a stove and they were starving. Not until the community started to deliver food to the house did her parents find out that the motivation had come from their six-year-old daughter.
Combining her two passions of writing and composing, Shursen's first full-blown musical was produced in Minneapolis by a Broadway producer and went on to open in Sweden. Her second musical was produced in 2009. Plans are in the making to re-open "Eden" with a larger cast and orchestra.With three grown, successful sons, Shursen has a background in marketing and shares her home in the Midwest United States with George and Gracie Burns - a Yorkshire Terrier and Bichon Havanese. BRIAN:
Kimberly, it’s wonderful having you at the Underground. I’m going to jump right in about your book, Itsy Bitsy Spider
. Where did you get the idea for the novel? How long did it take from idea to publication? KIMBERLY:
Thanks, Brian. It’s fun to be home again as I remember when the four of is started Underground Book Reviews – the brain-child of Amy Biddle – it was so much fun to toss around ideas for this site that would review books and interview authors.
“Itsy Bitsy Spider” took a little over a year to complete—and then another six months for editing. For years, I’ve heard and read of abuse that mostly focused on lower socio-economic groups. I started to wonder how many adult children had gone to their graves not telling their stories because the abuser controlled them by using power or money. Thus the birth of “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” the story of the powerful Boston Mayor Jack McCallin and his step-daughter Claire. McCallin has threatened Claire that if she ever tells ‘the secret,’ bad things will happen.
BRIAN: Itsy Bitsy Spider
is a contemporary action-thriller sent in modern day Boston. As someone who loves that town, I’m curious why you picked that particular setting?KIMBERLY:
Boston has such a diverse community from multi-cultured citizens to the established wealthy. My characters represent the diverse communities from blue collar to elite. I educated myself on the city by studying pictures and reading about the suburbs I wanted to write about. I mentally visited the JFK Library, the Globe
headquarters in Dorchester, the St.Charles River, Harvard, and Larz Anderson Park just to name a few.BRIAN:
I’m shocked, because I just assumed you’d been there by how well you describe it. You obviously did your homework
Indie authors comprise a big slice of Underground Book Reviews audience, so I’d like to ask a few questions about your writing and publication experience. First, did you try to
through traditional means? If so, what was your experience? If not,
Yes, I did try the traditional method, but not for long. The wait for an answer to my query was harrowing, and even when I received a response it was a form letter. Unless I was a ‘name’, I didn’t stand a chance. Smaller publishing companies were interested, but wanted to know my marketing plan. I felt if I had to do all the work, why not publish the book myself? BRIAN:
You’re a marketing professional by trade. Marketing is a tough nut to crack for any indie author. Can you share your marketing strategy for Itsy Bitsy Spider
with our readers? KIMBERLY:
I started pre-marketing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” six months before it was published. There’s a fine line between “oh my God, be quiet already” to “that’s a book I want to read.” Once a week, I posted on linked-in, Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter with posts such as “soon to be released,” or “two more weeks before…” I invited people to become friends especially to Linked-In as I feel the site is the best way to find your readers. I also wrote dozens of book clubs finding e-mails on the net. A few months before the novel was published I gathered thirty authors together and formed a gorilla marketing group. I interview one of the authors every two weeks for my website. The rules are that each author has to market the interview twice a week for two weeks on all their social sites. Not only do the authors get exposure, but readers who read their interview will take a peek at my work. All the authors in this group are not only quality writers, but quality people, and it is a privilege to get to know them personally and professionally. The novel was released on May 1st. On Mother’s day weekend I offered the Ebook free to generate exposure and reviews. Imagine how elated I was to discover that almost 1300 books had been downloaded.BRIAN: Itsy
is tightly edited, but indie writers often get a bad rap for poor editing from the publishing establishment. Tell us about your editing process and, please feel free to promote any editing services you used. KIMBERLY:
Thank-you. Yes, I agree, if you don’t cough up money for editorial services, you will not have the reviews or readership you might deserve. There are always errors in every novel and I have found major, ongoing errors in some of the best-selling books. Ann Cooper-Westlake was my editor for Itsy Bitsy Spider
. I feel it is important to have a relationship with your editor and Ann and I established a friendship outside of the editing process. She is very dear to me and can be found at http://writerscrampeditingconsultants.com/Books.htmlBRIAN:
You cover is excellent. Did you come up with the concept yourself? Who did it for you? KIMBERLY:
Createspace did the cover. I offered ideas, but the team developed the cover. Many women have written to tell me they have a phobia about spiders, but have to read the book. The cover of a book is key to someone picking your book. I know this from my experience in developing brochures and ads in marketing.BRIAN:
What’s your number one piece of advice for aspiring authors?KIMBERLY:
You can’t do it all. If you are creative, you don’t have to have perfect skills in editing, but it takes a village to put your novel out there. You, Brian, Amy and Katie were a part of the creation of “Itsy Bitsy Spider” as all three of you were beta readers. When I left the underground, Katie became my beta reader. As a creative person, it’s difficult to take a step back from your writing however, whoever your trust to be your beta reader represents all readers and, if they don’t understand or feel the emotion you hope to impart, chances are neither will your readers. My advice to aspiring authors is to find a writing partner who’s writing you respect and open up to their suggestions.BRIAN:
Describe for our readers what kind of dog a “Bichon Havanese” is. I’ve never heard of the breed, but that’s a heck of a name. KIMBERLY:
Gracie Burns is nine pounds and looks like a miniature sheep dog. She is the sweetest dog ever unless George Burns gets in her way. Gracie is nine and George is ten. They are the first to hear what I have written as they sit at my feet when I write.BRIAN:
What’s next for Kimberly Shursen?KIMBERLY:
“Hush,” the present-day courtroom drama that revisits the Roe vs. Wade case that legalized abortion, will be out this fall. Penning out at around 100,000 words, the edgy drama that borders on a thriller took months of legal research. My editor for this novel is Joelle Walker who not only has years of experience as in editor in publishing companies, but worked as a paralegal. Staged in Minneapolis where I lived for over 25 years, the “Hush” will also travel to Geneva, Switzerland where one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world will do anything to stop this trial. Why? Well, you’ll have to read the book.
Kimberly, thank you so much for joining us today. For our readers, you can read my review of Kimberly Shursen’s debut novel Itsy Bitsy Spider here on Underground Book Reviews
Kimberly Shursen Links: Itsy Bitsy Spider on Amazon Kimberly Shursen’s Website
Kimberly Shursen on Facebook
, and LinkedIn
Matt Langford, author of The Watchman, is a 39 year old full-time ICU nurse in the UK. In his own words: “I rent two young children and a wife. I pay the basic rate so they tend to shout at me rather a lot. My wife is just about to re-enter full-time education. I manage to fit my mountain biking within, around and underneath my three full-time activities. My time is my passion. I have been writing since the age of 11 when my short story,
The Clay Hog, was read out in my school assembly. The reviews were startling. Since the advent of the internet I have had several short stories published and my work has appeared in the ABC Tales Magazine. Sadly,
The Clay Hog is now lost, presumed an archive. I also enjoy playing the guitar, although others may not agree.”BRIAN:
Matt, thanks for joining us today in The Underground. The Watchman
is a fascinating novel about the world, and a family, seen through the eyes of a mentally disabled teenage boy named Adam. Why did you select this particular, and if I may add ambitious
, subject matter for a first novel?MATT:
The advice I’ve always received when asking about inspiration for writing is ‘write about what you know’. There is little I don’t know about living within a family where a child has a learning difficulty. I started writing the novel over ten years ago and, to be honest, my reasons for writing then were very different to my reasons for writing now. The events that inspired The Watchman
were still fresh in my mind and all the principle players were alive and well and still played a large part in my life. Ten years on and things have changed. My relationships with my family have evolved and I’m a lot more mature. If I was to start The Watchman
from scratch now, I doubt the feelings and emotions I would convey would be anything like how are in the novel at present.
I unearthed The Watchman
about a year ago following an 8 years hiatus on my hard drive and found many problems with the initial draft. I’d included many short passages called ‘Gobbledeegooks’ which were, essentially, asides from Adam’s narration and information taken from the ‘real’ world. I read the draft through over and over again until it finally dawned on me that these passages detracted from the essence of the novel – namely Adam’s world, which is what the story is all about. So I cut them all (except for the opening paragraphs – a diary entry from Jane, who would go on to be Adam’s mother). I also cut about 90% of the dialogue. Soon I found that the more I took away from the outside world and the more concentrated Adam’s world became, the more the story developed. (If I was more brave I would have no dialogue at all. But I’m a bit of a woos). I lost about 30000 words! Which wasn’t easy. But without this cull I don’t think the finished piece would have worked at all.
In a sense I ended up going through a process with my 14 year old, my 26 year old, and my present self! An odd meeting of minds I’m sure you’ll agree. We all had different reasons for writing this book that complemented each other wonderfully. What I told my younger selves was that ultimately, the best stories come from within micro-worlds. Nothing is more micro than a family. Every family has a Hollywood blockbuster bursting to be written. I wouldn’t be so bold as to claim my family was particularly more interesting than any other, but it certainly contained elements that others should be made aware of, and I feel people will feel more affection to their own stories once reading The Watchman.BRIAN:
I take it, then, Adam was inspired by someone in your personal life. How difficult was it to write from the perspective of a mentally disabled person?MATT:
Adam is a character based on my brother, Deny. When I started writing The Watchman
my idea was to write nothing less than a memoir. As the writing progressed Adam took on his own personality, his own words, his fears and his own outlooks. Soon, The Watchman
evolved into a fictional novel with characters and events merely based on real life and real people. I’m unable for one moment to imagine how Deny thought or made sense of his world. Like Adam, his only communication came via made up words, gestures and physical contact. He was unable to convey any tangible feelings other than frustration –and this is what inspired me to portray Adam in the way I have. Deny was an incredible personality and genuinely moved everybody he ever met. I remember grown men crying in his presence simply because Deny treated them without prejudice and without judgment. He was extraordinary and inspirational. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago. He was truly unique.
Once the character of Adam was established and his motives, personality and language decided upon, he kind of wrote himself. A tip for writers – the stronger the character is in your mind, the easier it is to write for them. You should be able to drop your character into any situation and write about their responses. So, regardless of Adam’s predispositions, I didn’t find it difficult to write for him once the blueprint was established. BRIAN:
From idea to publication, how long did it take you to write The Watchman? MATT:
Every one of my 39 years! I first put pen to paper in 1999. That draft was complete about a year later. I added nothing until last summer. Over the last 12 months I’ve cut, edited and added about 50% of the entire novel.
Florida native Jonathan Clark is the marketing director for a leading U.S. software development company. Additionally, Jonathan has extensive management experience with several retail giants, and as the owner and operator of a successful website design firm.
An accomplished photographer and writer, Jonathan’s work has been commissioned at local and national levels. He considers himself an engaged observer of all things political and is a rabid music enthusiast.
Jonathan and his wife Kim live in Mary Esther, Florida. He counts two adult daughters
among his greater blessings. The Paul Society
, which chronicles the out of control spending and fiscal corruption in the U.S. federal government, is his first book.
BRIAN: Jonathan, what makes a successful corporate marketing director and entrepreneur suddenly feel the need to write a book? JONATHAN: Well, it wasn’t sudden. I write copy and articles as a marketing director. I’ve had the idea of writing a book for a number of years.
BRIAN: The Paul Society
details how our federal government and the American people got themselves into this fiscal mess. How did you come up with the title? JONATHAN: In early 2009, I was reading a study that suggested that public policy is creating less tax payers and more tax consumers, meaning people receiving some sort of government check. It reminded me of the George Shaw quote, “A government with the policy to rob Peter to pay Paul can be assured of the support of Paul.” I look around and it seems that through public policy, we are creating a “Paul Society.”
BRIAN: Your book is crammed with facts and statistics. Tell us a little about how you
researched The Paul Society
and how long it took to write the book?JONATHAN: I spent the better part of three years researching and writing, and re-writing. I really didn’t know what I was doing, so it probably took longer than it could have had I used a different approach. I read a lot of articles, research papers, studies, and editorials, sorting them into categories related to the thesis for the book. Once I had all the relevant material, I then tried to prove and disprove the information by researching opposing views and government data.
BRIAN: Chapter after chapter, page after page you chronicle why and how the federal
government overspends. Surprisingly, your facts are pretty damning for both political parties. From my perspective, you let both Republicans and Democrats have both barrels, so to say. Were you surprised by anything you found during your research? JONATHAN: I was continually surprised and honestly, it really made me re-think a lot of my own personal views on not just politics, but how I view information in general. Perhaps what surprised me the most was the overall lack of honesty and transparency that exists in the creation of public policies. You know, Democrats often are labeled as the “tax and spend”party, but Republicans are just as guilty. Based on my research, it appears that both parties love to spend our tax dollars; they just have different priorities. But what may be surprising to many readers is that my wife, a Democrat with pretty strong liberal views, was my editor. She’s a really smart and thoughtful person, an educational psychologist (Ph.D), and really helped temper a lot of my writing so that the information in the book would (hopefully) appeal to readers of all political stripes. We had some pretty interesting discussions and a few heated moments during the editing
BRIAN: Did you try to publish this book through traditional publication routes? If so,
what was your experience? If not, what drove your decision to self-publish?JONATHAN: I looked briefly at traditional publication, but my research indicated that was a low-percentage option. For me, this started off as sort of “bucket list” thing, so just getting the book published was the main goal. I looked at a number of self-publishing companies and decided on Lulu. The process was relatively painless and they have distribution channels through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, which made it really attractive.
BRIAN: You’re a marketing professional by trade. What has been your experience
marketing a book? Do you have any advice to give other self-published authors
trying to sell their first non-fiction book? JONATHAN: Marketing my book has been a little difficult. I mean, in this book, I’m pretty much poking people in the eye with some hard reality. It’s not like I’m selling a fantasy tale in which everyone lives happily ever after. Moreover, my marketing experience is mainly business to business (B2B), so I’m trying a lot of different methods including Facebook and Twitter, sending copies to members of the media, and posting excerpts from my book as articles on my Yahoo contributor blog.
BRIAN: The political and fiscal situation in Washington is always changing. Do you plan to periodically update and reissue The Paul Society
in the future?JONATHAN: At this point, I’m not really sure. In the current political climate, very little has changed to move the needle.
BRIAN: You set up one villain after another, both Republican and Democrat, and even indict the American people themselves to a certain degree. Are there any good guys, or even hope, in this story? Is a happy ending even possible, or are we doomed to fall over the fiscal cliff? JONATHAN: I try to remain optimistic; America is a great country and we have overcome many obstacles. But, I believe that the main problem is that our government is being run in a way in which it was not designed. I think that this is contributing to the many of the fiscal and social problems today. Are we doomed? I don’t believe so, but one of the biggest challenges we face is removing the incentive for politicians to stay in office past their expiration date. And the other part of the equation is a need for a leader who can get Americans to begin thinking again, I mean really thinking, not just re-tweeting what everyone in their circle of friends is saying. If you read my book and it makes you think about your own views and opinions, I feel like I’ve accomplished something good.
BRIAN: Is writing something you plan to further pursue? What’s next for Jonathan
JONATHAN: I still write, but currently, I am focused on learning
how to write more efficiently. (I tend to want to edit everything as I write,
which can stifle creativity.) I set up a new blog and am posting articles on
different topics that interest me like cars, design, photography, bourbon, and yes, politics. I would like to write a novella and have an idea that’s been
percolating for about three years now, but my wife has threatened me with bodily harm if I think about writing another book anytime soon.
BRIAN: Jonathan, thanks for joining us today. For our readers, you can read my review of Jonathan Clark’s book The Paul Society
here on Underground Book Reviews. Jonathan Clark Links:The Paul Society on AmazonJonathan Clark's Blog Yahoo Twitter Facebook If you enjoyed this interview follow Underground Book Reviews on Facebook and Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter.
You can also follow Brian Braden on his blog, Facebook and Twitter
and buy his books, Black Sea Gods or Carson's Love.
Tara Staley is the author of Need to Breathe. Staley’s writing background includes undergraduate and graduate degrees in English and Creative Writing, a Romance Writers of America (RWA) award, and involvement with the North Carolina Writers Network. She is also a founding member of the online writers’ community Backspace. She was born, raised, and will most likely die in Kernersville, North Carolina.
BRIAN: Tara, welcome to the Underground. We are delighted to have you here. If I could sum up Need to Breathe in one word, from a debut writer’s perspective, I would say “ambitious.” You bit off a big chunk with your first published book. Need to Breathe is no less than the sweep of a girl’s life from birth to young adulthood from the perspective of her guardian spirit. There were so many characters, so many issues, and so many moving parts to keep up with. Why did you choose something so ambitious for your debut novel?
TARA: For several reasons...Need to Breathe, although it’s my debut published novel, it isn’t the first book I’ve written. I had five other novels under my belt (most of which will never be pulled out of the drawer) and felt the need to try something a bit more challenging. Plus, I thought the magnitude of the situation in Need to Breathe--a baby surviving a botched abortion--commanded a different approach. When I start writing a novel, I have to be completely hooked and obsessed with the premise because I work on my novels for a long time. I draft, re-draft, edit, polish, repeat. It took me two years to get NEED TO BREATHE ready for publication. I lost count of how many drafts this novel has been through! It definitely wasn't easy.
BRIAN: I understand Need to Breathe has already generated some buzz from a few notable authors.
TARA: Yes--I had finished a draft of the manuscript when I was invited to join an online critique group that included Priscille Sibley and Catherine DiCairano. We read each others’ manuscripts and tore them to pieces. Diplomatically, I mean. That’s when I started re-drafting the book all over again. Coincidentally, Priscille was a NICU nurse, and she walked me through the information I needed to revise the first few chapters, when Claire is struggling for life as a preemie. She sent photos, explained medical procedures over the phone, and I really am indebted to her for making those opening chapters zing with authenticity. Priscille sold her debut novel Promise of Stardust to William Morrow, and her book is due out in just a couple of weeks. Because she loved Need to Breathe, she blurbed it. Same with Cathy, who went on to publish several short stories in e-zines such as The Shine Journal, Word Riot, Bewildering Stories and Underground Voices. Carolyn Burns Bass, founder and moderator of the popular Twitter forum @LitChat, has published several stories herself, and author/reviewer Terez Rose played a key role in shaping the novel as well... I can’t express enough appreciation to these outstanding authors for their superb critiques, support and willingness to put their names with the book.
BRIAN: In many books I review I must to go back and look up certain character’s names before I can write a review. Not so with Need to Breathe, the characters were
quickly and forever burned into my brain. Without ruining relationships or angering friends and relations, how much of these characters are inspired from real life and how much did you make out of whole cloth?
TARA: I used “modeling” like this a lot in past novels, and it helps tremendously in crafting three-dimensional characters. Need to Breathe doesn’t have as much modeling as my other works, but a few characters are based on real people. Mick is modeled somewhat after my dad--a quiet, reclusive engineer type. Likewise, I could draw some parallels between Manda and my mother--dramatic, combustible. (Don’t opposites always attract?) The twin sisters Gertha and Grace were modeled a bit after my grandmother. She does drink Rock n Rye for her bronchitis (or so she claims it’s for
bronchitis). Charlie Vance is a conglomerate of all the geeks I hung out with in high school calculus class. We were the kind of students who would rather graph functions than go to a party. As for Claire... she really is whole cloth.
BRIAN: How did you come up with the idea for Need To Breathe?
TARA: One Sunday afternoon in 2006 or 2007, I heard an interview on our local Christian rock station, WBFJ, with Gianna Jessen. Gianna had survived a saline abortion attempt in the 70s, and her voice grabbed me. I had never heard of a baby surviving an abortion. That interview prompted me to do some research, and I found out that failed abortions were common. In some situations, the baby is adopted. In others, the parent(s) choose to keep the child and make the best of the situation. I became fascinated with it--wondering about the process of revelation to these children, the emotional fallout, the repercussions. A story started forming in my head after that
interview, and the book was written from 2007-2009. It landed an agent but didn’t sell to a publisher, so it marinated on my hard drive for nearly 3 years. It was this past summer when my agent suggested indie publishing, so I revised it yet again and put it on Amazon.
A lifelong resident of Alabama, Rhett Barbaree originally hails from Andalusia and now lives in the peach city of Clanton with his wife and two children. He graduated from Chilton County High School in 1978 and then attended Troy University. Self-employed in marketing and advertising sales, he hopes the success of his debut novel, Thank God for Boll Weevils, will allow him to change vocations to full time author.
BRIAN: Rhett, welcome to The Underground. I’d like to give our readers a little background on how I found your book. I was scanning what seemed like hundreds of monthly review requests, when my lovely wife dropped your autographed novel in my lap. It’s not only a book about Alabama history, but about my very hometown, Enterprise. In fact, your fictional Melrose Plantation would only be about three miles from my actual house. I read the first few pages and, what do you know, it was pretty good. So, to quote your protagonist, Janie, “There was no doubt in my mind God had set me up for the whole thing.”
So, why did a father and advertising professional from Clanton, Alabama decide to
become a writer?
RHETT: Well, Brian I would have to say that was definitely a God thing as well. It happened when I was teaching the youth at church. Driving home from work one afternoon it dawned on me that I hadn't prepared anything for their lesson that evening, so I said a little prayer and what God impressed on me was the story about the boll weevil, something I can promise you was the farthermost thing from my mind at the time. Later, while I was putting everything together I knew He wanted me to share with a larger audience, so that's how it happened.
BRIAN: UBR has subscribers from all over the world, many of which may never have heard of a boll weevil. Please give us the quick and dirty about what happened to the
South’s cotton crop in the early 20th century, and why you picked this particular event on which to base your first novel?
RHETT: The boll weevil is an agricultural pest that lays its eggs in the cotton boll and when the eggs hatch, their young eat the cotton forming inside the boll. The insect came over from Mexico into Texas in 1893 and spread continuously across the cotton belt, destroying tens of millions of dollars worth of the South's cash crop. It wasn't brought under control until the 1930's when the agricultural scientist of that day came up with a spray solution that sterilized the males.
As far as why I picked this subject I would have to say it was rather God picking me to write about it and I've asked myself why several times. I think there are really several reasons. One is I love southern history. Another is I spent so much time growing up on our old family plantation in south Alabama. It gave me a sense of background for the book and then also I am one to see symbolism in things. To me the boll weevil monument in Enterprise represents something that is symbolic in all our lives. Everyone of us experience adversities and hardships in this world, but, if we can find the courage to lift up those kind of things to God, He is faithful to turn them into something good. He certainly did with the boll weevil situation.
BRIAN: You classify this as “southern fiction” in the search recommendations in your
book. However, the novel has strong inspirational overtones. Religious-themed books comprise a whopping 11% of all US book sales, with over 60% of those being Christian-based. Two questions: Would you also classify Thank God For Boll Weevils as Christian literature, and is the Christian book market something you will pursue for future writing projects?
RHETT: Yes, most definitely, to both of your questions, but I also am writing another historically-based novel. So much of my passion lies there as well.
BRIAN: You spend a great deal of time and detail on the well-known George Washington Carver and not-so-well-known H.M. Sessions historical characters. How did you conduct your research and where did you draw the line on what was fictional and not fictional regarding these characters?
RHETT: I read everything I could get my hands and eyes on. I also bought several DVD's from the History Channel about cotton and George W. Carver. Even so, there were gaps I had to fill in as far as their characters were concerned. Take for instance Mr. Sessions. I found nothing regarding what his original intentions were when he financed the venture for growing the peanuts. There was no large market for them, so I sensed he had intentions of becoming a distributor for the seeds. Of course, it was Carver and the uses he came up with for the peanut that really made it into a viable market and caused their popularity to spread.
As for the fictional accounts of each of the men I tried to keep the boundaries pretty tight but did use their characters to paint the larger picture of what happened. I guess you can say I may have embellished the spirit of their character a little but I really feel if they had a chance to read what I wrote they would approve.
JW Bull is the author of Pickin' Tomatoes and the fiction winner for the 2012 Shirley You Jest! Book Awards, the Shirley LOL. Born in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, she grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia. Raised by parents who encouraged their children to follow their dreams, JW received a bachelor of violin performance from Furman University and also worked as a sous chef in a French restaurant. Currently, JW lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons. When she's not teaching violin, playing in The Georgia Symphony, or cooking, she’s busy writing her next book.
BRIAN: JW, welcome to The Underground. If I were a UBR reader and just scanned you bio I know the first question I’d want me to ask...what does JW stand for? Or is it a trade secret?
JW: JW stands for Jennifer Wyer (Wyer is my maiden name). I like having my writing name different than my violin name. Kind of makes me feel special.
BRIAN: You’re an accomplished violin player, I can vouch for your writing talent, and you’re a “sous chef.”Okay, question two, what’s a sous chef?
JW: The definition of sous-chef is technically the second in command of a kitchen. A sous-chef trains under a chef. I have no culinary school training as a chef-although it is tempting to fabricate some, like my character Maggie did in Pickin’ Tomatoes. Just kidding, I would never do that…okay, maybe I would.
BRIAN: How much, if any, of Maggie, the plucky protagonist in Pickin
Tomatoes, is drawn from you and your experiences?
JW: All the wackiness of Maggie Malone is me unfortunately. I do try to portray a graceful, professional image to my violin students and parents but occasionally some of my nuttiness leeches out and I have to do damage control. Just a couple years ago, I was at home, my dogs barking for biscuits, and I was struggling to open the stupid box of treats. Why must pet food companies package their dog biscuits in impenetrable cardboard fortresses? Must they fuse every side so seamlessly that you have to resort to using a serrated knife to open it? So, when I understandably sawed off the top of the box with a long serrated knife, I also took off the majority of my finger tip-yes, my left index finger which of course is mandatory for a violinist to have. But when your dogs are barking hysterically for a treat, there’s no time for fumbling. Just give them the freakin’ treat! Needless to say, I had to do some creative explaining to my violin parents why I needed to teach with a two inch metal finger splint for six weeks. However, JW Bull, like her protagonist Maggie, is nothing if not creative.
BRIAN: You self-published this book. Did you try to market it through traditional channels? If so, what was your experience? If not, why?
JW: I began writing this book in 2006 under the title, The Chef of Hearts. I immediately snared a top agent, had the book turned down by six top houses, and the agent drop me like a hot potato. In his defense, the book needed an editor and I thought I could do it myself. During the next five years, I hacked away at the book and then resubmitted it to another agent in 2011. Once again, same scenario (I’m a slow learner). Finally, I reached rock bottom with my disease-hello, my name is JW Bull and I am a flawed writer-and I hired an editor. See, I do eventually learn, as long as there are no dog biscuit boxes around. That’s a hard habit to kick.
Jodi McClure is a Jersey Shore native living in North Carolina. She worked twelve years as a bench technician for the cable company until digital converters made her job obsolete, then she settled down to write. Jodi is the author of three novels and the 'emotobook' sci fi serial, Swing Zone. She writes the cooking blog, Killer Gourmet, creates a monthly newsletter, Novel Tease, for young authors, and is a big gaming enthusiast. She is married with two children.
BRIAN: Jodi, welcome to the Underground. We’re glad you joined us today. I’m going to dive right into your bio. What is an ‘emotobook’?
JODI: Thanks for having me, Brian. Emotobooks are short stories
and serials that are illustrated with abstract art in moments of strong tension or emotion. The visual stimulation is supposed to heighten your reading experience. They’re produced by Grit City, a small indie publishing company out of Philadelphia. The reaction to the concept has been mixed. Some people love the idea, others don’t really get it. I find the idea fascinating myself. I love being part of something that’s new and innovative. Anything that challenges tradition and pokes holes in the status quo. Whether or not it catches on remains to be seen, but they’ve definitely got the pioneering spirit.
BRIAN: Was it really obsolescence that inspired a former cable technician to become a writer or is there a deeper story you’d like to share with our readers?
JODI: Well, I’ve always been a writer, but I just wrote for myself. After integrated circuits sort of killed my profession, my mother bought me a computer with the hopes that I could transition into programming, but instead, I discovered the earliest vestiges of the internet, which was a fascinating world in its infancy. Following in the footsteps of some other writers, I threw one of my serials out there and found it surprisingly well received, so I just kept right on going. Having an appreciative audience is a great motivator.
BRIAN: I was impressed with both the simplicity and sophistication of Homebound.
As a writer you accomplish a lot with very few words. What authors most inspired
your writing style?
JODI: I grew up reading Hollywood trash novels. Harold Robbins, Jacqueline Susann, Jackie Collins. Stuff that was in my mother’s book collection. They were all authors that relied heavily on scenes and dialog, so that was how I wrote early on. Not being formally trained, the best I could do was note and copy little things I liked from other authors, but it wasn’t until about two years ago, after reading a few books by Hemingway, that I started to really refine my personal style. I loved the way he would use imagery throughout his stories to connect a theme, and how his tiny glimpses into a person’s mind could tell you so much about them. Both were concepts I employed pretty heavily in my later work, so I would say he was my biggest influencer style wise.
BRIAN: What was your inspiration for Homebound?
JODI: It was born out of a scene for another story I wrote, where a condescending character normally tightly in control reaches out for the
comfort of a servant who’s been nursing him. In the end, I didn’t include that scene, but that vision was such a strong one, it really stuck with me - to the point where I decided it needed a story of it’s own.
A year ago Underground Book Reviews debuted on the literary scene with our first review. The lucky author was self-published writer Michael Manning with his debut novel Mageborn: The Blacksmith’s Son. In the year since our review and interview with Michael, he’s published two more novels, sold over 200,000 books, and drawn an impressive fan following.
A pharmacist by trade, he’s been a fantasy and science-fiction reader for most of his life. He has dabbled in software design, fantasy art, and is an avid tree climber. He lives in Texas with his wife and two kids.
BRIAN: I’m pleased to welcome back Michael G. Manning, author of the Mageborn
fantasy series, to the Underground. Michael, its great having you back. Wow, it’s been an incredible year for you, hasn’t it? When we “met”last year, you had just begun your journey with Mageborn: The Blacksmith’s Son. Now, with three novels and almost a quarter of a million books, you’ve met with amazing success. Did you expect all of this so soon?
MICHAEL: Hell no! But I am extremely pleased that things worked out the way they did.
BRIAN: In the past year you’ve published two more books in the Mageborn series, The Line of Illeniel and The Archmage Unbound. Publishing three quality books in one year is an impressive feat for any author. How did you manage to do it?
MICHAEL: Virgin sacrifices, I thought everyone knew already. Alright, that’s an exaggeration. I’m not entirely sure how I did it. Each book was different. The second book I felt compelled to finish and release quickly for two different reasons. One, I worried that the fans would forget me if I took too long, and two, it served as an outlet to channel my grief over losing my father.
The third book was done more slowly and I could feel the fans waiting
impatiently for me the entire time.
BRIAN: Many authors, including myself, find editing a daunting task. A year ago you told me friends helped you edit The Blacksmith’s Son and hoped you could hire a professional editor for your next books. How do you approach editing now?
MICHAEL: I approach it silently and with a large stick in hand. I still use friends but I have also taken several of my most nit-picky critics and turned them into ‘advance readers’. Essentially, they get an early read and I get free proofreading.
I have yet to hire a professional but I intend to do so with the fourth book… after letting my usual crew of friends and advance readers look it over.
BRIAN: In our first interview you said you planned five books in the Magebornseries. Is that still the plan?
MICHAEL: That is still unchanged. I would fear riots and an angry mob at my door if I tried to alter that.
BRIAN: You created great characters in Blacksmith’s Son and set them in motion through three novels. Is it easier to initially create a character or grow and mature one through subsequent novels?
MICHAEL: Both have their particular difficulties. Creating a character from whole-cloth can be a lot of work but in my case most of the characters were modeled on people I knew so a lot of the work was already done for me.
Keeping the character true to their individual vision is a challenge though, especially since the readers may have a different concept in mind than what I have been attempting to portray. The truly hard part is that many of these characters are following changes that match up with the changes of the people they were modeled after. What that means in practical terms is that they may surprise the reader by changing in ways that don’t necessarily have a direct connection to advancing my plot line. In other words, much like real people, they will surprise the reader sometimes by doing things that are entirely unexpected.
Richard Hacker was born in West Chester, PA. He spent part of childhood in Birmingham, AL before moving to Austin, TX at the age of 12. He married his high school sweetheart and they made a life for themselves in Central Texas until moving to
Seattle a couple of years ago. He’s been writing most of his life in support of his work in management consulting, public speaking and training. Since 2009 he's devoted himself to the craft of writing. When not writing he’s either hiking/walking with the dog or on his scooter (he has a Vespa). He also an instrument rated pilot, enjoys cycling, history, cooking, hiking and has recently taken up Nordic skiing.
BRIAN: Richard, welcome to the Underground. First, let’s talk about Toxic Relationship, which we just reviewed here on UBR. As someone who has lived in Texas several times, I was impressed by how well you brought Central Texas alive. Was it your familiarity with the Lone Star State that made you chose it as your setting for Toxic Relationship, or was it something else?
RICHARD: Thanks for having me on the Underground. I read the reviews and interviews every week. Great stuff. And I’ve enjoyed getting to know you through our work together at Author Salon.
Thanks for noticing the setting of Toxic Relationship. I have to say, I considered the setting one of the characters. As you know, I live in Seattle these days, but I called Austin home for over thirty years. I love the vibe, the culture, the music, the people, the food, yes, even the heat of Central Texas. When I thought of my protagonist, Nick Sibelius, and then the characters populating the story, they defined the setting for me. I just couldn’t imagine them anywhere else. As a bonus, I got to use a unique setting for the series --Pflugerville, Texas. How many novels can you name with Pflugerville as the setting? I’m not aware of another novel set in the town, which is really a suburb of Austin, other than the television series Friday Night Lights. They shot in the Pflugerville area, but set the story in a fictional town. I actually lived there for many years. Of course, writing a novel that makes Pflugerville sound like a nest of criminals and psychopaths may keep me from getting a key to city.
BRIAN: I looked forward to any scene with the character Junior because I knew I was in for a chuckle, even when he was doing bad things. What was your inspiration for this
RICHARD: I was driving down a state highway in East Texas a few years ago with my wife at sunset. The speed limit, if I recall, was 70 miles an hour over a two lane, hilly road without shoulders. Topping a hill I see, just in time, two good old boys on four wheelers --no lights, no markers -- just two camouflaged four wheelers, which probably have a top speed of 35 mph driving down the road, cars swerving to miss them. We joked about Darrel and Darrel out to win a Darwin award for the most stupid way to die. Junior probably rose up from that experience. I wanted Junior to be the kind of guy, who at his core, means well, but who’s judgment continually sabotages his intentions. In his own mind everything, in the moment, makes perfect sense. But in hindsight and I imagine as a reader observes him, you know whatever he has planned is going to turn ugly. Often I think we make a false distinction between the good guys and the bad guys. Often, bad guys have some redeeming qualities and either carry some baggage or damage which leads to bad behavior or like Junior, simply lack good judgment.
BRIAN: Your website says we should expect Dirty Water,
the sequel to Toxic Relationship
, next year. Is there anything you want to tell your readers about it?
RICHARD: Dirty Water
continues the Nick Sibelius series and has a release date of June, 2013. Like Toxic Relationship
, I wanted to continue with quirky characters in an almost “theater of the absurd” environment. Something fun and a bit crazy for these serious times. I think Dirty Water
will continue the tradition. At the start of the novel business is slow for Nick’s private investigation firm, but just in time, wealthy businessman, Dan Hoyt, calls after someone vandalizes his beloved Ferrari. What should have been an open and shut case, soon devolves into web of back room political deals and eco-terrorism. Water is scarce in the State of Texas and Nick discovers that water is indeed, a dirty business.
BRIAN: As a fellow writer, I categorize writing into three phases: writing, editing, and selling. Which of these presents the greatest challenge to you and why?
RICHARD: Selling. I love writing, to the point that I lose all track of time.
I have often found myself closing a place down after five or six hours of writing, when I thought I had only been there a couple of hours. Editing, while not my favorite thing, has become an increasingly important part of the process. As you know with Author Salon process, we engage in some serious, detailed critique. The mindset required to do that kind of critique for each other is also the mindset I think we then bring to our editing after the first draft. Now selling, well, I’m comfortable putting my work out there, hoping folks will be interested. But in the writing world today where the author, unless you’re Stephen King, has to do most of the marketing for a book, I’ve had to step up my game. And much of what I do is not what I used to think about in regards to marketing a book. I’m not doing a physical book tour, book signings, etc. My publisher, Champagne Books, has an eBook strategy. They see the real profits in eBooks versus overhead heavy analog books (traditional paper books). So my selling is primarily online, through reviews and interviews from bloggers, Facebook, Twitter, my own blog and website. In fact, I’m doing my first blog tour beginning September 17th. I have no idea what a blog tour really looks like yet, but I’m hopeful it will give me a chance to raise the awareness of Toxic Relationship
among a large group of potential readers.
BRIAN: I thought about asking about our mutual love of flying, but then I read about your Vespa. How did you get involved in scooters? What is their appeal over
RICHARD: Well, for a variety of reasons, I stopped flying a year ago. In Seattle you really need an instrument rating and the rental on a good instrument aircraft gets pretty pricey. The rub is, as you know, once you fly it’s hard to find something close to the feeling of being in the air. I live in an urban neighborhood in Seattle, called Ballard and much of the city is very accessible by bicycle and by scooter. I had never ridden a motorcycle or scooter before in my life -- really. But watching folks ride around town, the ease of moving through traffic and parking, even downtown, gave me the idea that maybe a scooter would be a fun way to get around. And since I had no experience at all with motorcycles, I figured a scooter was a good place to start without damaging myself. Plus, it’s hard to argue with 70mpg. I took a safety course for the endorsement and frankly, to be sure I really wanted to do it. What fun! I had a blast and have been enjoying my ride ever since. I ride to my favorite writing haunts most days and often will take a spin past Sunset Park to take in Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains in the distance. In fact, I started a blog on scootering in the Pacific Northwest called Sküterblahg
. I think I have three readers to date: Two writing colleagues and some guy in Germany. I need to find out if sküterblahg means something in German! Scooting is not flying, but for a tiny fraction of what it would cost me to fly, I get a little of that feeling. And I love how the scooter culture doesn’t take itself too seriously. Now I’m jonesing for a motorcycle, probably a cruiser to enjoy the back roads.
BRIAN: You’re working on several other projects, including The
Inker War: The Five Pens of Johann
and Shaper Emergence
. Can you tell our readers a little bit about these books and where they are in the publishing process?
RICHARD: Shaper Emergence
is actually a novel I wrote four years ago, edited over the course of another year or so and then submitted to the Texas Writers League’s literary contest. The manuscript won its category, science fiction, but I had difficulty finding an agent. I thought about self-publishing, but I realized I couldn’t find an agent because the manuscript needs work. I imagine many of us who write novels have one or more “in the drawer” we hope to one day bring into the light of day. I know what I want to do with it, but as you mentioned, I’m working on The Five Pens of Johann
and the third installment to the Nick Sibelius
series, which is tentatively entitled Chain Reaction
.Inker War: The Five Pens of Johann
is a young adult fantasy about an eighteen year old who inherits his father's role as an Inker, a member of a secret society of alchemists fighting an ancient war across the centuries to protect the future from history. He discovers that to defeat his enemy and save present Reality, he must learn the most difficult of all Inker lessons--you must die to live, and as often as possible.
I’ve got this in a completed draft and have been working on the manuscript with a group of talented peers (you’re one of those, Brian, of course) at Author Salon. I really want to challenge myself to write the very best piece of work I can and the rigorous process we use to critique our work has been both challenging and very rewarding. I’m not sure what the timeline is on The Five Pens. It’s more like a fine wine (okay, or a good beer) -- it’s ready when it’s ready.
The other novel I’m working on is the third Nick Sibelius
novel, Chain Reaction
. Nick gets pulled into helping out a bass fisherman who thinks someone is trying to kill him, but as he peels back the layers of the onion, he runs across bad people with increasingly larger visions of destruction and mayhem for the state of Texas. I’ve got a competitive striped bass fisherman, a high school band director/amateur online porn director, a biker chick accountant, a model airplane enthusiast/military wanna-be, a corporate executive with delusions of grandeur and a governor who will do whatever is necessary for her political success -- what could go wrong? I’m working on the first draft now and hope to have something to the publisher by March, 2013.
BRIAN: What’s the most important piece of advice you could give a writer struggling to bring their first book to market?
RICHARD: Be open to critique and never, ever, give up. Criticism is tough. You spend so much of yourself putting a story on the page that it’s very difficult to hear someone tell you your protagonist isn’t fully developed or the middle sags or the climax doesn’t resonate. Being open to the truth, however, is a powerful thing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten feedback which made my insides churn, but I knew had merit.
Persistence is the other thing. If creativity, craftsmanship and all the other components of a writing career are equal, what sets apart those who are successful, which I define as having your work read, is persistence. Write, learn from critique, hone the craft every day. If I share a scene with a critique group and I can tell I’ve made a pig’s breakfast of it, I don’t go into a tailspin, but instead take in the critique and learn. Okay, sometimes I go into a tailspin, but I try to pull out of it quickly. And that persistence continues whether I go the traditional route through a publisher or self-publish. Persistence means write, write, write, write, write, edit, edit, edit, edit. It’s about demanding more from yourself than anyone else. It’s taking rejection in stride and believing in yourself. And it’s promoting your work in the marketplace, even if you’re uncomfortable with social networking and other tools of the trade.
Be open to critique and never, ever, give up.
BRIAN: Richard, thanks for joining us here in the Underground. You can read more about Richard on his blog
, follow him on Facebook
or purchase Toxic Relationship
. If you enjoyed this review follow Underground Book Reviews on Facebook, Twitter and subscribe to our newsletter.
You can also follow Brian Braden on his blog, Facebook and Twitter and buy his book, Carson's Love.
Christopher Savio resides in Northern New Jersey. By day he’s a teacher and family man. At night, the need to write drives him deep into the early hours of the morning. Growing up, his love of history and horror, including Stephen King, greatly shaped his reading and writing interests and style. His debut novel, The Beckoning, is a YA paranormal romance immersed in a historical setting. In additional to the sequel, Chris has two other YA novels in the
publication queue. BRIAN:
Chris Savio and I last year at New York’s Algonkian Pitch Conference. As we
nervously waited outside the rooms where we would pitch our novels to some of the biggest editors in the business we struck up several interesting conversations. I was struck by Chris’s strong belief in himself and his novel. We kept in touch since then and I’m pleased to welcome him into the Underground just as his debut novel hits the market. Chris, tell us a little about The Beckoning. CHRIS:
Brian, thank you for your kind words and for having me here. On the surface, The Beckoning
is a story of a young girl who is forced to move from New Jersey to a remote plantation house in Virginia. Isolated from her friends, and ultimately her parents, Marissa (my protagonist) and her dog Max are left to fend for themselves in a world dominated by a demon bent on killing her family. In addition to the demon, Marissa must deal with a paranormal town her family frequents that is populated by ghosts. Eventually, Marissa discovers these ghosts are trying to reach out to her for help, for reasons she doesn’t yet understand. On the brink of insanity, Marissa finds the journal of the young man that lived in her room over a century before. In his journal, the young man left vital information about the history of the house and how to survive it. Lonely and scared, Marissa begins to fall in love with the young man spiritually before he does the seemingly impossible. He materializes to save her from the demon and show her the special powers she possesses. The love Marissa feels for him immediately grows ten fold. While their relationship blossoms, Marissa comes to realize that Zachary has not come to save her. Rather he has come to show her how to save the ghosts who are imprisoned in Mills Run, her family, and possibly the world.
Along with the romance, The Beckoning
is packed with action, horror and the story of a young person finding out who she really is. Above all, The Beckoning
is a story of a young person gaining confidence in herself and standing strong in the face of overwhelming odds.