Author Interview: Jeff Chapman

Biography

Jeff Chapman explores fantasy worlds through fiction and is the author of The Merliss Tales fantasy series, The Huckster Tales weird western series, and The Comic Cat Tales series. Trained in history and computer science, Jeff writes software by day and explores the fantastic when he should be sleeping. His fiction ranges from fairy tales to fantasy to ghost stories. He’s not ashamed to say he’s addicted to dark hot chocolate, and he loves cats. Jeff lives with his wife, children, and cats in a house with more books than bookshelf space.

Briefly describe what books you have published (there is quite a list on your Amazon author page).

I started out publishing short stories in online publications and anthologies. Many of these stories have been collected in Strange Paths to Wonder and Blood and Beauty and Other Weird Tales. These are all fantasy stories of one type or another.

For the past five years, I have been focusing on novels with a few novellas thrown into the mix. I find it hard to write short stories now as all my ideas seem to expand. The Black Blade—my first novel—is part of the Huckster Tales series. These are weird western tales mixing fantasy, horror, and comedy that follow the adventures of a pair of hucksters who are forever getting over their heads in supernatural trouble.

The Great Contagion and Cat Sidhe are novels in The Merliss Tales series. These dark fantasy stories follow the life of Merliss–the spirit of a young woman who has been cast into the body of a cat. The magic that cast her spirit into the cat has given her an unusually long life—thousands of years.

The Sniggard’s Revenge is a YA fantasy about a teenage boy’s confrontation with the guardian of a barrow. Some of my standalone novellas include Krampus Comes to Town—a dark story about bullying and treachery; A Cat Called Blackjack—a comic story about gambling and a card-playing cat; and Chasing the Great Corvid—a lighthearted fantasy about the theft of the crown jewel.

You’ve been publishing books on Amazon for a decade. When/why did you start writing and how did that morph into publishing?

I remember some story writing assignments from grade school but those were derivative. I was probably sixteen when I started creating my own stories. These were Edgar Allan Poe-inspired stories of the weird and macabre. Fortunately, none of those early attempts have survived, but my initial interest in the macabre lingers in the darker elements of my fantasy tales.

I suspect all the time I spent at the library during summer vacations drove my interest in creating my own stories. I took a couple creative writing classes while in college and received some encouragement. However, I wasn’t able to publish any of my stories. I wrote off and on while I pursued other interests. After surviving a serious health crisis, I became very aware of my mortality and decided that if I wanted to pursue my dream of writing and publishing, I had to get serious about it. From that point on, I wrote with an eye toward publishing.

Tell us about your current work(s) in process?

I’m at work on a novel in the Merliss Tales dark fantasy series. As I mentioned earlier, Merliss is the spirit of a young woman who has been trapped inside the body of a gray cat. She had been training to become a healer/shaman, so she retains some magical abilities, but she lives as a cat. Merliss aids her human companions in their battles with disease and supernatural threats. The Breath of the Sea is set several centuries in the future from the first two novels so there is a whole new set of human characters. The story revolves around an injured mermaid and a dying girl who befriends the mermaid. Merliss is drawn into events to protect the mermaid.

How is your writing career different today than it was when you started?

At first, I focused on short stories and went through the cycles of submission and rejection. It was all about finding a home for the stories. Now, I’m focused on writing novels, reviewing comments from my editor, and publishing the revised novel. Marketing now takes up some significant time, as well.

Where do you start when you write a story (character, plot, ending, etc.)?

I start with a situation and a vague idea of who the protagonists are and where the story is going. I find my best ideas come to me during the creative process of crafting the story. Outlining does not work for me because I come up with better ideas while I’m writing.

Each day when I write, I review what I’ve written the previous day. Some writers take things out when they revise. I tend to add, usually more physical details and improved dialogue. When I’m done with the first draft, I do a read-through to fix inconsistencies and weak sentences. I then send it to beta-readers or an editor. I avoid multiple rounds of revision. It doesn’t take long to revise a story to death.

What is your strangest writing quirk?

I write my first drafts on a tablet, hunting and pecking on the virtual keyboard with one finger. Originally, I wrote my initial drafts with pen and paper, but I made so many changes in the margins that I often couldn’t read what I had written. It also took forever to type the manuscripts.

Do you have a favorite book, series, or character that you’ve written?

One of my favorite characters from the Merliss Tales is Slynid. He’s a pooka who likes to take the form of a stoat. He’s one of those characters that came to mind as I was writing. I had figured he would be a minor character, but Slynid demanded more and more page-time until he became a major secondary character. The evolution of characters who seemingly come out of nowhere is one of those magical parts of the creative process.

Another of my favorites is Jimmy’s grandma from the Huckster Tales. Grandma never appears as a character—she’s long dead—but she lives on through her many, many aphorisms that Jimmy recalls whenever a situation calls for some homespun wisdom. One of my reviewers likened her to a Greek chorus.

How does your background in history and computer science influence your fiction?

My background in history has led me into fantasy. I enjoy creating fantasy worlds that incorporate elements from various eras of history. Computer science has taught me the importance of precision in language and meaning. My background in computing has also helped me with the technical aspects of publishing.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I enjoy reading and listening to audiobooks. I like to go on bike rides with my children. I spend time with my family and pets; grow vegetables; avoid yard work; and build useful stuff like bookcases.

What does success look like for you as an author?

I hope that many people will read and enjoy my stories.

Is there anything additional you want to share with readers?

Do you like fantasy? Do you like cats? Do you like dark stories salted with some humor? If you answered yes to any of those questions, I have stories you will enjoy.

Website: jeffchapmanbooks.com

Book Locations:
Goodreads
Bookbub
Amazon
Books2Read

Excerpt: From The Great Contagion

A twig snapped behind her. Merliss tensed, her muscles still and taut. She expected a predator, perhaps a leercat or a wolf. What she heard hinted at a very different type of presence.

Last season’s dead leaves, dried from heat and drought, crunched, but not from footfalls, more of a long, drawn-out compression.

She tasted a heavy and potent magic, like a thousand cherry blossoms compressed into one.

Her heart raced as she imagined another giant snake or some other gargantuan creature.

The birds had fallen silent. Only the gurgle of the river swirling over stones interrupted the hush smothering the woods. She drew a deep breath.

For a moment she doubted her senses. An avalanche of scents, impossible scents for these woods: pine, larch, cedar. And there were the old familiars: oak, walnut, yew, and alder. She smelled every type of tree she had ever encountered, every type of nut and berry at the peak of ripeness, and many others she could not place. Moldering leaves and dried needles mixed with flowers and the first leaves of seedlings, decay and hope brought together into a single, sentient force.

A wave of magical power swept over her. It pressed her ears flat and weighed on her neck. Her fur stood on end and crackled with static. The taste of all those scents was so intense it burned her tongue to numbness. She felt the energy ripple through her paws, rising from the roots of every tree. The leaves of the nightshade vibrated and sang with power.

There was no point in running. Whatever lurked behind her possessed the power of nature itself. She waited, thinking it would move on, but its presence remained strong. Had it come for her? Surely not. A magical being so powerful would have no use, good or ill, for a lowly cat, even one harboring a spirit.

Merliss rose slowly. Her heart thumped a rapid staccato despite willing it to slow. She stood level with the nightshade leaves. The pointed tip of one poked into her ear. She shook her head to dislodge it.

She tucked her tail between her hind legs. The sign of submission came to her without thought. So far, so good. No harsh magic had befallen her. Nothing had struck her down.

She turned around with the deliberation of a tortoise. Her breath caught in her throat.

The creature stood ten feet tall or more. A robe of birch bark panels laced together with ivy draped across its shoulders and hung to within a foot of the forest floor. Interlocking branches thick with leaves spread out in every direction beneath the robe. Its face bore the deep valleys of an ancient oak’s bark, its features lost in shadow, except for the eyes. The black rims of a pair of knotholes protruded from its forehead. A green flame burned within each circle. Brown and white stalks sprouted from the top of its head. Fleshy at the base, they tapered like roots to thin tips and arced toward the ground.

Wog, one of the old gods. She had heard tales describing the deity’s physical presentation as an upside-down tree. The tellers were nearer the mark than they could have imagined. Merliss swallowed. The Keeper of Forests, the guardian of all things wood, peered down at her.

“The one called Merliss.”

Wog’s voice rumbled. Neither male nor female, but both, it resonated with depth as if it had travelled the trunk of the thickest tree in the forest, accumulating age and wisdom with each ring.

“I…I am Merliss.”

“Your wishes will be granted.”

“Wishes?” Merliss hadn’t prayed to Wog. She had found the old gods indifferent and unresponsive at best, but her spirits lifted as she considered a potential boon. “You mean the thaugs root?”

“No.” Wog paused. “Persistence. It rewards many. Maybe yet, even you. No, I speak of your people’s wish to throw off the Anglii yoke.”

Merliss considered the failed uprisings of the recent past. “This generation? So many are sick and weak?”

“Consequences. The contagion. Your ally and your nemesis.”

https://books2read.com/ap/n0Qjkw/Jeff-Chapman
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Author Interview: Cassie Greutman

Biography

Cassie Greutman is a small town Ohio girl who has always loved stories in any form. You can usually find her typing away at her computer or playing out in the barn with her ponies.

Tell us about your most recent release, Dracos: Fantasy Dragon Tales.

Dracos was an exciting opportunity to get involved in an anthology with lots of other talented writers. It’s an entire set of dragon stories, my favorite! The story I have in the anthology is about a dragon hunter who makes some surprising decisions after finding something on the latest hunt.

You have a series called Perchant for Trouble with a fourth book scheduled to release in October. Tell us about the series and the upcoming book.

The main character Trish is fae. She has gone through a lot and learned so much in the last three books, and it really starts to come to a head in book four! So I’m not giving away too many spoilers, I’ll just say book one is about a fae girl being raised in human foster care and is blackmailed by the Faerie Council to help capture an escaped fae fugitive. Things only get more crazy from there!

What are some of your favorite books and authors you’ve read?

The Mercy Thomson Series by Patricia Briggs and the Green Rider series by Kristen Britain are my favorite current series. My all-time favorite is The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, by Patricia C. Wrede. 

How did get started writing stories? Why did you decide to publish?

As a kid, I read through every book at our library that I found interesting, and most of them twice! So I started writing my own stories.  I was finally told enough times that everyone who read them loved my stories, so I decided to give publishing a go. It’s been quite a journey!

What is your strength as a writer? What is your biggest challenge?

I’m told I do characters and structure well. I hope that’s true! But I struggle with scene description. I can see it in my head, and I don’t always get it down well enough on paper!

If money were no object, what would you do with the rest of your life?

I’d spend my time going back and forth between the best scuba places in the world and home, writing the whole time!

Do you have a favorite character that you’ve written? Why?

Trish from Penchant for Trouble is my favorite. She’s been through so much, even as a kid, but is learning how to trust and be part of a family again.

What is something you wish you would have known when you first started writing?

How long it takes! Here I thought I’d just do a thousand words a day and have a book in 70 days, right? Not so much.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I spend a lot of time with my family, and I’m really into horses. I also enjoy art and music.

What does success look like for you as an author?

Being able to pay the bills without having to work another job! That’s the dream, anyway!

Is there anything additional you want to share with readers?

You are really appreciated! Every author pours a bit of their soul into their work, and it’s so encouraging when a random stranger actually wants to read what you’ve worked so hard on.

Websitewww.cassiegreutman.com

Book Locations: Nearly anywhere e-books are sold! Amazon

Excerpt:  A short section from book one in the Penchant for Trouble series, Regen:

A mile on city streets should only take a person fifteen minutes. Out here where we had to dodge around rocks and massive trees, it was a good half hour before Cray stopped us, looking down into a dished valley.

“The energy is coming from that hill,” Cray said. It was the first time I’d heard him speak. His voice was surprisingly deep.

“Trisha,” Starren said.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Go be bait.”

“Be careful,” Wade said. Strange coming from the guy that had killed me last week. And I still wasn’t sure they weren’t trying to kill me now. Something seemed off about this whole situation. I ignored him, took a breath and started down the slight grade.

It leveled off after a couple minutes and soon after the trees thinned. Before they were gone I paused, staring at a strange hill in the middle of the forest floor. “I feel you, Atreyu. I hope this doesn’t turn out to be a giant turtle, I don’t want to get snotted on,” I muttered. I’d probably watched too many movies at the children’s home. Something about the two worlds in that one made me think about Faerie, thereby reminding me of my mom. I’d watched The Neverending Story a bejillion times. I glanced back at the trees, hoping to see Starren. For once, I wanted her to tell me what to do. They were gone.

“They’re probably just trying to get me killed,” I snarled quietly. If I didn’t know that the fae couldn’t lie, I’d be running the other way right now. It was get this job done or get dragged to some world I didn’t know anything about, with people I didn’t know. I’d had enough of that growing up, thank you very much.

A step. Another. Something sniffed. I froze.

I didn’t move for a few seconds, then almost laughed at myself. A sniff? Really? Was that Jaden’s new, unknown power, a super sniffer? I laughed at myself quietly until the sound came again, louder and longer.

Okay, no way that was Jaden. A bear? That would not be cool. I’d heal while it did the damage, but how long until it decided to let me be? Ouch. I backed a few steps away slowly.

The earth began to shudder, nearly knocking me to the ground. The little hill shook, dirt rained down as something stood up from underneath it, knocking the soil from its body. My fingernails bit into my hands. Maybe a bear wouldn’t have been so bad. This thing was massive, its stony looking head nearly as tall as the trees.

Without warning, whatever it was moved over to a small stand of trees and ripped one out by the roots. It paused to get its bearings, more dirt raining down off its greyish skin.

“Oh crap,” I whispered as its gaze finally found me. It hefted the tree up like a club and took a step in my direction, covering the distance between us in that one stride. The club came down hard, right at me. I jumped to the side and it missed. The impact of the club on the ground still knocked me off my feet, dirt and small stones raining down on me. A fist sized rock slammed into my arm.

I tried to catch my breath, flat out on my back, the wind knocked out of me and my arm screaming in pain. That’s going to leave a mark, the nearly hysterical thought ran through my mind. At least for a few minutes. I looked over to assess the damage. Shoot. My sleeve was shredded and my clothes, unfortunately, would not regenerate like the rest of me. Nina was going to have a fit when she saw this. I scooted back a little but had to bite my lip to keep from yelling as my hip and side shrieked. I’d landed on a rock and hadn’t noticed while I was trying to catch my breath.

A rumbling started. The thing was trying to talk. It had massive moss green eyes with big crooked teeth hanging out of its mouth. The rest of its body looked fairly human, other than the size. It rumbled something again, then coughed.

Troll or ogre? What was the difference?

I rolled over to stand and a crunch sounded from my pocket. Shoot again. My phone. I pulled it out. The screen was shattered. Great. No time to worry about it right now. I stuffed it back in and moved into a crouch.

The troll took a step toward me, ground shaking under its massive foot. So this was why California had so many earthquakes. So much for the fault theory.

“I’m gonna rip your head off your body,” the troll finally got out. I could barely hear the words, his voice was so deep.

I wished I hadn’t been able to understand because for the first time since I’d started regenerating, I felt a thread of panic. How did that work? Even I probably couldn’t recover from that.

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Author Interview: Wayne Turmel

Tell us about your latest novel, Johnny Lycan and the Anubis Disk.

Johnny Lycan is an urban fantasy detective novel. Think Jack Reacher or Spenser for Hire, if the detective was a werewolf.  Johnny is a young guy trying to turn his life around by becoming a PI. He thinks his being a Lycan is the strangest thing there is. As he finds out when chasing down an ancient Egyptian relic, he’s not even close.

Tell us about your other novels, including the one you are currently writing.

Johnny Lycan is a departure for me. My first three novels were historical fiction: One based on a real-lilfe archaeologist and showman, the other two were about a young boy trapped in the Crusades. Then I decided to take a flyer on Urban Fantasy, and now the second book in the series, Johnny Lycan and the Vegas Berserker, will be out December 8 (so it’s a great time to read the first book, just saying.)

You have published ten nonfiction books. Tell us about those.

My nonfiction work mostly centers around my work at the Remote Leadership Institute. For 25 years or more I’ve worked with people on their communication and leadership skills. Books like The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate focus on that. They’re all but one tied to work and help drive the day job, since fiction doesn’t pay the bills.

Are different skill sets used in writing fiction and nonfiction? Which did you start out with? Do you have a preference between writing fiction and nonfiction?

They are very different skills. I started with magazine articles in journals, then supplying chapters to books on training and business, then I put out my first solo book, A Philistine’s Journal, an Average Guy Tackles the Classics, in 2005. Since then everything I’ve written has been business related. I didn’t tackle a novel or short fiction until my mid-life crisis. I prefer writing fiction, but nonfiction pays the bills.

On your website you say that you spent nearly 20 years doing standup comedy. How did you go from that to writing? Does your comedy make it way into your books?

I think it’s a long, linear connection between doing standup (with relative success) then when I had to get a day job, I had skills as a speaker and writer I could leverage. Even the most serious books I’ve written contain humor- it’s part of who I am. My novels certainly contain humor and what I love about Johnny Lycan is that it’s modern-day Chicago. I have fewer restrictions on the jokes and language I can use. It’s very freeing.

You are also a speaker. Who do you speak to and what is your message?

Since 1996 I have worked as a trainer and consultant with hundreds of companies on the subjects of presentations, communication, and leadership. So many people are held back in their careers and lives because they aren’t aware of how they undermine themselves when communicating with others.

What do you enjoy most about writing? The Least?

The most enjoyable thing is when I put something on paper and it makes me smile. The crafting of a good line, whether because it’s funny or clever or well-constructed, (hopefully all of the above) is very satisfying.

The worst is that unlike standup or public speaking, the feedback is very slow if it ever comes. Someone once said that writing a book is like telling a joke and waiting a year for the laugh.

What does success look like for you as an author?

I am nearing the end of my professional work-life. While any author who has been published as much as I have has achieved a level of success, the real dream is for my fiction to fund my retirement. I could retire next week if I died Thursday.

Is there anything additional you want to share with readers?

I am very open to being reached on Twitter (@Wturmel) or through my website. I love interacting with readers.

Website: www.WayneTurmel.com

Book Locations: ON Amazon, of course. They are also in select bookstores but can be ordered at good book stores in the US and UK.

Excerpt: (From Johnny Lycan and the Anubis Disk)

The Russian tasted like borscht and cheap cigarettes. Well, his blood did. It’s not like I actually ate him—I wasn’t that far gone. But with that much blood flying around, some of it got into my mouth and as nasty as it tasted, I licked my lips and felt it fuel my anger.

It was righteous anger, too. The bastards had the twenty-year-old tethered by her wrist to a bed, and she was screaming her head off. She gawked at me, took a breath to shriek some more and yanked on the leather cuff around her wrist like it would magically let go this time.

Good girl, Meaghan. Scream your butt off. Bring the cops so I can bail out of here and let them get you home.

Of course, she may have been more than a little freaked out by her would-be rescuer. Six feet of shaggy, gore-besmirched, pissed-off Lycan will elicit an emotional reaction.

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July 2022 Storytime Blog Hop

Once again it’s time for a fun adventure. Enjoy my story below, then follow the links to other stories of participating authors in the blog hop.  Leave us comments.  We love hearing from you!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Grim-Training-189x300.jpg

This is the seventh installment of GRIT’s adventure. To start at the beginning for context, start with Grim Failure.

Who Can Blame Him?

Daniel washed his hands and sat to eat, alone, except for the three foot tall stuffed polar bear in the seat beside him. But the bear didn’t have a place setting.

I (my name is GRIT for Grim Reaper In Training) expected Daniel’s soul would be an easy catch. According to his file he didn’t have family, few friends, and was deeply depressed.

Daniel unfolded a cloth napkin and smoothed it in his lap. He bowed, mumbled a prayer, wiped a tear just before it dropped onto his baked potato, and ate.

He drank glass after glass of white wine with his meal. Halfway through he pointed an accusing fork at the bear. “This is all your fault, you know that don’t you?”

He continued to eat. “If I had gotten Beth the five-foot giraffe she wouldn’t have broken up. We’d never been to the zoo. How was I supposed to know giraffes were her favorite animal?”

He broke down crying. “How am I supposed to go on without her?”

I sat in one of the two empty seats at his table, wishing I could say something to help. I couldn’t swallow.

He recovered and finished his meal. With the food gone, he remained at the table while he polished off the bottle of wine.

“It was her parents, you know. Her dad never understood me. Thought I was a weirdo, just because I like things orderly. Her mom didn’t like me because I have food allergies and it made her job so hard when we came over to eat.”

He said the last part like he was imitating what her mom would sound like. My guess was it was a bad imitation, but what did I know?

“Beth will regret breaking up with me. I’ll make sure of it.”

Poor Daniel. I didn’t know how much was the wine talking, but he had really taken the breakup hard. Just like me.

And just like me, he was alone, with no one to turn to.

He finished the bottle by drinking directly from it. When he set it down he looked directly at me and screamed.

I screamed, jumped back and tumbled over the chair. He looked around, desperately, and finally wielded his fork my direction.

“Wh-who are you? How did you get in here?”

He stumbled as he backed away, a real tough guy with a fork.

“How can you see me?” I asked, as if he knew.

“I drank waaay too much,” he said, now eyeing the bottle as if it was the culprit.

Suddenly the realization of the danger of my situation hit me. I couldn’t interfere, yet I didn’t know how he could see me, which means I didn’t know how to make him not see me. I could leave, probably make up a decent enough excuse that Daniel would accept in his intoxicated state, but then I wouldn’t be here when he died. I was on a short leash and couldn’t afford to mess up. I had to collect his soul.

But I had to be careful not to change Daniel’s death. If I did, this might be my last job as a reaper.

That meant I had to stay with Daniel and make sure he went through with ending his life tonight.

My head spun so I picked up the chair and sat, burying my head in my hands.

I heard movement and wondered if Daniel was preparing to attack with his fork. I can’t say I would blame him.

When I looked up, he sat across from me, a second bottle of wine on the table and two full glasses. He picked one up and nodded toward the other.

My eyes flittered between the glass and his face. He either thought I had come to drink with him, or decided I needed it as much as he did. Maybe I did.

I slowly, reluctantly, picked up the glass and he tapped his against mine. He nodded, encouraging me to drink.

How could this get any weirder? I took a sip, coughed, and felt a slight burn down my throat. But the taste! It was sweet, wonderful, so I took another.

Daniel’s face lit up as my sips became drinks and soon was ready for a second glass.

“What’s your story?”

When I hesitated, not sure what to say, he repeated himself. “What’s your story? You lost someone too. I can see it all over your face.”

“I, her name is Sheila.”

He nodded knowingly, so I continued, and as he encouraged me, I laid out my whole, short, intoxicating relationship with Sheila. It felt good to unburden my soul…when I suddenly broke out into laughter at my Reaper School humor I had to lie and tell him it was a private joke between Sheila and me that I had remembered.

When I finished he told me more about Beth—how they met, what she meant to him, and how it came tumbling down without warning.

By the time he finished his story, the bottle was empty and we were both blubbering fools. I didn’t care that the room spun a little or that snot dripped into my mouth on occasion or that I had forgotten what time Daniel was supposed to kill himself, he understood how I felt and that was worth everything.

When Daniel opened a third bottle I couldn’t figure out if that was a good idea or not. I was still working through the risks when I realized I was halfway through another glass. It would have to wait until later. Daniel and I had more important things to do.

When Rick and Stan appeared, I kind of thought that meant something bad, but I couldn’t remember what. Daniel immediately poured two more glasses and offered them to the new guests.

I mirrored Rick’s broad smile—what a happy guy—and raised my glass to his. He clunked his glass but didn’t drink. How rude.

Stan plopped down in the only empty chair, threw his feet on the table, and downed his glass, and refilled.

I introduced Rick and Stan, then whispered to Daniel, because it finally dawned on me why they were here. “I forgot to tell you, I’m the Grim Reaper and I’m here to collect your soul. This is Rick and Stan”—I motioned to them during introductions—“and I’m to deliver your soul to them.”

Daniel nodded to Rick. “Well, the least they could do is have a drink first.”

“Yeah,” I told Rick, “have a drink first.”

“Come on,” Stan encouraged. “You’re so stiff.”

“We’re not supposed to interact with the humans!”

Rick made it sound like I had done a bad thing. I tried to explain how I had arrived to do my job, just like I was supposed to, and somehow Daniel could see me. I didn’t know how. “I couldn’t just leave, because then no one would be here when he, well, you know, when he…” I left it at that.

Rick paced, but did so with the glass of wine.

“No harm, no foul,” Stan said as he finished off another glass, looking more relaxed than when he had arrived, if that were possible.

Rick shoved the bear aside and I tensed when Daniel gasped and looked longingly at the stuffed animal. Rick ignored him and poured another glass.

I expected Daniel to lash out at Rick, but instead he laughed, pointing at the bear. I didn’t know what was funny, but found myself laughing with him. When Daniel grabbed the fork and violently attacked the innocent bear, Stan joined the laughter.

Daniel quickly tired, handing me the fork and encouraged me to continue while he laid on the floor in hysterics. I nearly had the bear’s left leg off when Stan asked for the fork. By the time we had finished, the bear was empty and so was the bottle we had left unattended on the table with Rick. His head lay on the table, eyes shut.

“He’s unconscious,” Stan announced.

I looked at Daniel, on the floor, eyes closed, breathing deeply.

I failed the ability to understand what had happened.

“Is he dying? Or does this mean I screwed up and am going to get fired?” I swallowed. “Or killed?”

“We’ll have to check records to see what the new projection for his death is, but my guess is that he’ll wake up thinking the evening was a strange drunken hallucination, but he’ll rebound and come out of his funk. He genuinely had a good time tonight.

My chest got tight and my body tensed. “What happens to me?”

This was the end.

“I’m going to make this go away for you.”

I ran and hugged Stan. He stiffened, grumbled, and did not return the affection. I held on until he forced me off.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

“Don’t get me wrong, G.R. We aren’t suddenly buddies. And you owe me one.”

I quickly agreed.

“This isn’t about you.” He smiled wryly at his partner. “We’re going to pin this whole mess on Rick.”

Check out the other stories in the blog hop and leave us comments.

New Stork by Katharina Gerlach
The Stuff of Nightmares by Sue Abrie
Regarding Dragons by Vanessa Wells
Midlife Ghostwalker: Katje Storm Episodes 1 thru 10 by Juneta Key
First Contact by Barbara Lund

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Author Interview: Amanda Muratoff and Kayla Hansen

Biography

Kayla is a Shakespeare fanatic. Give her a quote, she can tell you which play it’s from. She studied theatre in university with a focus on directing while harboring a deeper desire to write. Creative writing has always been there for her after a long night like a comforting mug of earl grey tea.

Kayla Hansen

Art has always been a staple in Amanda’s life – from creative writing to painting. She is an award-winning published artist, and she left her career in VFX to return to the passion of her childhood. The memories of late night writing binges brought her back to the fantasy worlds she created.

Amanda Muratoff

They’ve been writing together since they were preteens, and the decision to publish the Pantracia Chronicles came from the desire to share their love of the characters and their adventures.

Your situation is fascinating because you are co-authors. Briefly tell the readers how you started writing together and why you continue to do so. And please identify who is writing because we want to learn about each of you.

Amanda: We actually started writing together when we were preteens. We met online on the Neopets site, and we fell in love with writing stories together. Over our teenage years, we went through phases of writing -every- waking moment, and then sometimes we hardly wrote at all. I think writing was always there for us when we needed it, and we were (and still are) very lucky to have each other as an outlet for it. We wrote in a text-based roleplaying format for a long, long time. It wasn’t until 2018 that we decided to start writing these stories into a bookish format, and by then, we’d already written over 1.5 million words in Pantracia.

Kayla: Text based roleplaying was a huge part of my life in my teens, and it was an activity I shared not only with Amanda, but also with a group of real life friends as well. However, there was something about how Amanda and I worked together that kept bringing us back together no matter what other projects I was also involved with at the time. She said it though, we had our dry spells, but there was always something about how our characters would interact and the adventures we could create together that was almost addictive. Which is certainly one of the reasons why when we finally started writing in book format, we were able to get it done so quickly! We just love doing it.

All of your books are related to the Pantracia Chronicles. Tell us about them.

Amanda: So the Pantracia Chronicles currently has ten books published (will be thirteen within a year), and they’re broken into smaller series—a trilogy, quadrilogy, and another trilogy. Each set of books has its own main characters, but because it’s all one story, one timeline, the characters overlap and entwine. So you see characters from the first three books in book 6 and 7, and you see characters from book 4 in book 3, if that makes sense. There are lots of easter eggs and hidden cameos, and moments where you’ll be like “Wait… is that person… THAT person??” As you read further down the series, the characters come together more and more as their fates irrevocably intertwine. Kind of like building the fantasy avengers, fantasy romance style.

Kayla: And all of this was really born of the original text based RPs that we used to write. The truth of it is that the first series are characters we created in our first adventure into Pantracia, then the second came from when we decided to restart a new story after getting a little bored of the first pair, and then came the third. By the time we wanted to start story #4, we realized how much we missed the old characters and wanted to bring them back. We were about to start a new ‘retelling’ of Kin and Amarie in a text based format again when we realized we should just be writing books, so we changed it up knowing we wanted to revisit all the characters we had created over the previous 10 years. And here we are.

You mentioned in an e-mail how you write together (in the same document at the same time). Will both of you describe what that’s like from your perspectives?

Amanda: So we sit on Discord, which gives us the ability to actually speak to each other, and then we have a google doc open (usually several, actually. Book, outline, timeline, previous book, etc.) and we kind of… “control” different characters. Some characters are mine, some are hers, and some are sort of shared. But for the most part, we always take one side of dialogue or interactions, which makes what unfolds very authentic. For example, Amarie is mine. Kin is hers. So when they’re talking, interacting, or even just in each others’ presence, we try to only control what one person does. So for us, writing isn’t just writing, but reading, too.

Kayla: Amanda described it perfectly. I think this style for us is another reason we’re so prolific. We both get hooked to the book in the same way our readers do. I don’t know what Amanda’s going to do next, so it keeps me engaged and excited. The writing is fresh and isn’t something I’ve come up with myself, so it makes it more interesting in a way. There are definitely times where we both push the boundaries of controlling each other’s characters, but for the most part, we tend to defer to whoever originally created the character as the final decision maker. Because each chapter is from a different character perspective, it also is a nice trade off to who is ‘leading’ each chapter, so we each get a chance to sit back a little more, or really be the one steering the ship. It’s a nice balance.

I noticed on Amazon that neither of you has published anything on your own. Do either of you have plans to publish solo or are you both all in on writing together?

Kayla: We both have our own solo projects that we plan on working on, but right now the main focus is Pantracia. However, we’ve also realized how strong the two of us are together, so it’s hard to make that leap and work solo. Our accountability to each other is part of what makes us so prolific, and I wonder at my own ability to write anything in a reasonable amount of time without Amanda there to pester me and keep me on a schedule. Right now, it’s all in for working together, but it’s hard to say what the future will lead to.

Amanda: I have a few manuscripts that I’ve started, and one that I’ve even finished (though it’s waaaaay too short and needs a lot of love), but at the end of the day—like Kayla said—we’re focused on Pantracia. We put all our writing energy into it. As much as I’d like to publish solo, too, my projects with Kayla are my priority.

How often do you disagree (in writing and/or publishing/marketing) and how to you work through those issues?

Kayla: We disagree all the time! There’s a lot of things that come up while we’re working and really it comes down to compromise. We both get some wins and some losses, but it’s pretty even across the board which is what keeps us working together well. Mutual respect is super important, and occasional breaks so we both can come back to an issue with clearer heads.

Amanda: I agree with what Kayla said. We disagree a lot. But sometimes, as we’ve come to realize, that really works to our benefit. Because if she doesn’t like something I’m proposing, or vice-versa, then it has a chance to be better. We improve each other, and push each other to come up with ideas that make us both happy, which in turn makes for a better story.

You have quite an extensive map on your website. Share what it took to put it together.

Amanda: Wow, the map. The first version of the map was created by us when we were teens, and it was very basic compared to what we have now. It has gone through many stages of development. Kayla created the first one, laying everything out, and giving Pantracia actual substance and terrain—bringing it to life as a real place. The most recent version is one I hand drew in Photoshop, using our previous versions as a template.

Kayla: The truth behind the map was there was a point in our early roleplays where I was getting super confused about where our characters were and what cities they were visiting and returning to. This was during a phase where I was obsessed with creating maps, and Pantracia came out of that. It also created this foundation of a world that Amanda and I decided to keep coming back to, flushing out more details and building more cultures and history. In a lot of ways, for me at least, the map is what really cemented these stories for me into something more tangible. That’s probably the visual side of me.

Amanda, your bio said you are an award-winning artist. Tell us about your background in art. How does your artistic side affect your writing? Is art something you still pursue?

I’ve been an artist as long as I’ve been a writer. My work in 3D Modeling has been published, and my robotic mouse model (completely virtual 3D) won awards and landed me some pretty great jobs in the VFX industry for film and television. While I no longer work in that industry, I still pursue art in more tangible ways. I paint (following my own whims, or by commission), do resin work (you’ve seen those ocean charcuterie boards, I’m sure), etc. Art will always be a part of my life, even if it’s not as prominent as writing.

Kayla, your background is in theater. Tell us about your experience. Does your theater background influence your writing? Is it something you are still involved in?

My experience in theatre 100% influences my writing. I love being a visual storyteller, putting action and emotion to words on pages. Shakespeare is definitely my favorite to stage, just because he’s so timeless and his stories are always relevant. I also have a soft spot for the language and the importance of the visual story on the stage to help get the meaning and intention of the words across to an audience. And all of this plays out in the books for me too. I tend to apply a lot of my stage combat knowledge to fight scenes, helping me really lay out where characters are in the room. Pacing is another huge thing in theatre that translates into my writing. It’s all about storytelling in both mediums, and my experience in both influence each other. I admit I haven’t been super involved in theatre since Covid, but worked as a technical director at a high school before that (which overlaps with the first 2 series in Pantracia). I’m hoping I’ll be able to jump back into the world again soon.

Amanda, what is your favorite thing about working with Kayla?

I love how close it’s made us as friends. I mean, we’ve always been really, really good friends. Best friends. But there’s something about writing together on a regular basis, and working towards common goals together that’s brought us so much closer. Our careers are so entwined with each other, and she’s just such an awesome person that I can’t imagine doing this with anyone else. Our writing time is so important to me. It keeps me sane, amid the chaos of my life, and helps this oh-so-isolating career feel a lot less so.

Kayla, what is your favorite thing about working with Amanda?

The best part is having a partner for sure. And not only that, but my best friend as my partner. We really have grown closer throughout this entire process. Gone through the highs and lows of it together, which is really what makes up the strongest of relationships. We’re like sisters, and it’s crazy sometimes how we can finish each other’s sentences. Literally. We do it all the time when writing. And there’s always moments of ‘that’s exactly what I was going to say.’ She keeps me honest and on track, which I need sometimes, and we’re always there for each other.

What does success look like for each of you as authors?

Amanda: This is success, as far as I’m concerned. I get to travel to conventions, selling and talking about our books, and when people rush back to find me the next day just to tell me they are obsessed with the first book and NEED to buy the others before the con ends… it’s just perfect. One day, I’d love to see Pantracia on screen, along with other lofty goals, but those are the cake. The bonus. For now, we’re successful. Because we have ten books published, soon to be thirteen, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive from readers. I love it. It’s the dream. And whatever comes next is gravy.

Kayla: Ditto to what Amanda said. Success is getting these stories out there. Being able to finally share these characters we love so much with the world. Plus it’s a great excuse to get to go to cons and fairs, haha! But yes, lofty goals would be seeing it on the screen. Netflix series (or whatever streaming service really) would definitely be a HUGE cake. Maybe a video game? I am that kind of geek and I think aspects have potential for that for sure! But no matter what, I can still say I’m a published author. And not only one book, but thirteen (soon). That’s always been the dream and we did it!

Is there anything additional you want to share with readers?

We’d love you to join in and be part of the discussion! We have a reader group on Facebook – The Rebel’s Hearth, and also a newsletter if you’d like to join and get a free digital copy of the prequel novella. You can sign up on our website – www.pantracia.com.

Website: www.pantracia.com

BookLocations: Signed copies are available from us, directly, just contact us through our website or facebook page. Otherwise, all our books are available on Amazon, starting here with the first one.

Excerpt

Kin held the sword steady while he dared the sharpened blade closer to Amarie’s neck.

“Cole.” Amarie’s voice came again in a gasp, and she grabbed Kin’s forearm, pulling it with a feigned amount of strength.

Coltin’s mouth opened to answer, but Kin spoke instead.

“Hello, Coltin.” His tone shifted to be far more sinister than he once believed possible. He gripped Amarie tighter, forcing her to squirm within his arms. “Might I have a word?” A wet drop hit his wrist, encouraging a glance down at his victim.

Amarie’s eyes brimmed with tears as she looked at the young heir before her.

Another wave of panic coursed through Kin, but he swallowed it. He ignored any doubts and kept his hand steady and his gaze locked on the dumbstruck nobleman before him.

Coltin stood stone still. His face paled in the flickering blue light, eyes wild and pinned on the blade at Amarie’s throat. “Don’t hurt her, please.” His gaze shifted to her captor. “I’ll give you whatever you want, I swear.”

Kin eyed Coltin and twisted the hilt of his blade, rocking it under Amarie’s chin for extra effect. He leaned in, pressing his temple against hers, and listened to the rasp as the edge of steel grazed over her skin.

She pressed harder against him, freeing her other hand to clasp a fistful of his tunic at his side.

Coltin rocked forward, but caught himself before he lunged when Kin twitched in response. Carefully, the bachelor took a step back, seeming to realize his helplessness.

“That’s a good boy.” Kin drew his lips near Amarie’s ear.

A little squirm interrupted Coltin’s stance.

Kin reveled in his discomfort, but there was business to take care of. “The great purple creature out there…” He kept his chin low. “She has a fancy necklace I’d like you to fetch for me.”

“Please, Coltin.” Amarie’s voice shook.

Another tear hit Kin’s skin and rolled down his wrist.

Coltin nodded vigorously. “Of course, the necklace. Just, please, don’t hurt her.” He didn’t turn to leave, despite his understanding. He stared, encouraging Kin to further torment him.

He turned his head into Amarie’s hair, taking a long inhale for Coltin’s benefit.

Amarie’s eyes closed with an added whimper of fear.

“I tend to get impatient.” Kin pulled Amarie farther back into the room. “So, I’d be quick, boy.” He squeezed her waist, lifting her from the ground.

Amarie’s foot caught on the lavish fringe of the rug, jerking her in his arms. His grip tightened to stabilize her, and she hissed.

Blue and white light reflected off the flat of his sword, glinting across Coltin’s face, forcing the nobleman to blink and turn his eyes away. Without another word, he hurled himself back through the doorway.

As soon as the door closed to nothing but a crack in Coltin’s hasty exit, Kin’s arm relaxed. It fell to his side, sword pommel thunking on a display case.

What kind of monster have I become for this to feel natural?

He couldn’t drop the act for long. Coltin would be back soon.

Hopefully, with the necklace.

He didn’t release Amarie’s waist, drawing in a steadying inhale. “Sorry,” he whispered.

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Author Interview: Alma Alexander

Biography

Alma Alexander’s life so far has prepared her very well for her chosen career. She was born in a country which no longer exists on the maps, has lived and worked in seven countries on four continents (and in cyberspace!), has climbed mountains, dived in coral reefs, flown small planes, swum with dolphins, touched two-thousand-year-old tiles in a gate out of Babylon.

She is a novelist, anthologist and short story writer who currently shares her life between the Pacific Northwest of the USA (where she lives with the obligatory writer’s cat) and the wonderful fantasy worlds of her own imagination.

You are currently promoting a new book. Tell us about it.

The latest big novel is “The Second Star”, finalist for the Imadjinn Award and the Washington State Book Award in 2021, and something I would really love to bring to your attention.

The latest published book is the collection “Fractured Fairy Tales”, which has some luminous tales in it (fairy tales new, old, and retold, as well as ‘fairy tale like’ stories which fall under the same umbrella, with one of the best covers I’ve ever had with art by James Artimus Owen.

The book that is coming up just in time for Christmas 2022 is “Val Hall: Century”, an omnibus edition of “Val Hall: The Even Years” and “Val Hall: The Odd Years”, with several brand new Val Hall tales included as well. Val Hall, for those who haven’t met it yet, is a Retirement and Rest Home for Superheroes Third Class (with First Class being those who are just GODS and can’t help their superpowers and Second Class the mere humans with enough money to throw at the problem and maybe replace or aid ‘superpowers’ by gadgetry money can buy; Third Class are humans like thee and me who are triggered by something to respond with a superpower). Val Hall is their final sanctuary, and these stories are a fine blend of history, human relationships and values, and pure superhero ker-pow. I commend it to your attention.

The book being released this summer is something quite different, a memoir entitled “Forever is Shorter Than It Used To Be”, a story of a journey from love to widowhood, and if you have read “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion this is something along those lines… Lots of other stuff in the pipeline for 2023…

You have three pages of books listed on your Amazon page. Briefly tell us what people will find when they look through your listing.

Lots of fantasy of various subgenres (contemporary, paranormal, historical, epic, urban…) as well as science fiction (both serious and humorous), contemporary mainstream fiction, short story collections (including anthologies I’ve edited), and several nonfiction books. Please, come and browse. You’re sure to find something that piques your interest.

How have things changed in the nearly twelve years that you’ve been publishing?

Both massively, and not at all. The traditional publishing arena has shrunk and shrunk until there are now only three Big Publishers out there and that makes it harder for writers to crack the gatekeepers and get a berth there. At the same time those publishers have shrunk their advances (for their midlist and their non-househld-name writers, anyway) and left more and more of the publicity and promotion that they used to do to the writers. Most of us find that difficult to do – writers tend to be introverted people and shilling for our own books is almost impossible to do with any degree of grace.

Minolta DSC

And if you’re indie-published, or even self-published (there is a lot more of that these days) your road becomes even harder because you literally get no promo support at all and are also strictly enjoined from even mentioning your own work anywhere on social media on pain of banishment (even if someone on a listserv wants a recommendation for a book that sounds like a synopsis of your own novel, you aren’t allowed to mention its name… and it is unlikely that enough other people have read it to do so for you…)

I think that many of us just wanted to WRITE. But we have all been forced to become editors, designers, formatters, publicists, marketers, advertising executives, salespeople, and anything else that might be needed at the drop of a hat… and we don’t get paid extra for it…

What have you learned about yourself and your writing during your career?

Mostly that I write because I NEED TO WRITE. I have told people before, if you want to be a writer nobody can stop you and if you don’t then nobody can help you – and that is true. I write because there are stories that flutter around in my mind and drive me crazy until I tell them, write them down.

I’ve never and will never “write to market” which means that I simply have to hope that somewhere there is a market for what I write rather than vice versa. I am responsible to myself and to my story, and after that to the reader who picks it up. The market can take care of itself.

Which best describe where you are currently at in your career: Slowing down; Hitting your peak; Just getting started.

Somewhere in the middle, hip deep in the big muddy and forging ahead with varying degrees of resolution on any given day…

Do you have a favorite book that you’ve written? Favorite character or world?

That’s like asking a mama to choose a favourite child. Could I turn the tables? If you are reading this interview and you read anything I have written could you let me know what YOUR choice is? I always love hearing from readers,,,

Where/how do you come up with your story ideas?

There’s a tree in my back yard, and I just pick them when they’re ripe. (What? You don’t believe me? What did you expect me – or any writer – to say to this? Ideas are everywhere…)

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Read, knit, take photographs, spend time with my cat. Recently, make bread (I started in the whole pandemic lockdown thing and now I am addicted to the smell of fresh bread just being taken out of my oven…)

What does success look like for you as an author?

A satisfied reader, particularly one who contacts me to tell me so. Seriously. That is why we all write – to be read. Riches and fame don’t come to many in this field and you only know their names because there ARE so few of them. But ALL of us write to be read, no matter what else might come our way.

Website: http://www.AlmaAlexander.org
Amazon author page
Twitter
Facebook
Patreon

Book Locations: https://bookviewcafe.com (selected ebooks), https://www.amazon.com/Alma-Alexander, or look at the Book Table page at www.AlmaAlexander.org 

Excerpt: A short story entitled “Go Through” – it currently appears in the “Fractured Fairy Tales” collection.

It’s a street. There are houses. They are old, built of brick, mortared, painted; the windows are framed in carved wood. There may be gargoyles on the edges of the roof – I don’t know. I don’t look up. I never look up.

At my feet, the cobbles – uneven, gray, worn. Sometimes wet with a persistent annoying drizzle, or with rain that has already come and gone leaving just puddles in its wake. Sometimes dry, dusty, absorbing sunlight, radiating heat back. I have to keep looking down as I walk because the street looks as though it might once have been a wave of water – a wave rising and falling, a memory of motion now caught and frozen for eternity under the old cobbles. If I don’t look where I am going I will turn an ankle, twist a foot, stub a toe. There will be pain.

Pain. There is always pain. I think I carry it with me. I brought it here. I wear it. I leave it in the tracks I leave behind on the cobblestones.

Right until I fetch up once again at a door that should never have been in front of me.

That’s the way I live my life. I stumble and stagger in the direction that I am perfectly certain I am supposed to be moving in – and then I find myself yet again in front of the unexpected door, the door I should never have met, never have touched, the door I should never ever ever even consider walking through – because I know where it goes, because I have no idea where it goes, because it is not a door that was meant for me, but here I am and there it is and I open it and step through…

*  *  *

She doesn’t know, when she wakes, where she is. Not quite. The bed – the room – they look vaguely familiar but she can’t be sure whether it’s because she’s seen this particular room or slept in this particular bed before or because she’s seen a thousand rooms just like this one.

Beside her on the other pillow, he sleeps. He snores. There is the shadow of a beard on his face. She tries to hunt through her mind for his name, but fails. It’s a man. That’s all she knows.

She gets up, slowly, carefully, disturbing as little of the bed as she can. She lays one long-fingered hand on the dusty curtain, brings her face up close and inhales the musty scent of fabric which hasn’t been washed for years, puts her eye to the crack where the two wings of the curtains have been pulled together, peers outside. Nothing is quite familiar. Nothing is completely strange. She almost thinks she recognises the place. She is not sure enough to swear to it. If she walked down this street and turned a corner she is almost-but-not-quite-completely certain that she would see an open square, with a tree whose outlines she has known for years, with certain shops lining the square, with a worn path through the grass where people persist in taking shortcuts. But perhaps none of this is real. Perhaps she has just dreamed it all, there in that bed which is still warm with the memory of her presence – perhaps she has put together that square in her mind from dozens of mental snapshots of places she has known but it has never existed, in the shape or form that she now visualises it, outside the confines of her imagination.

She glances back to the bed. He is still asleep. She suddenly knows that she could not bear it if he woke, if he looked up and frowned as if he couldn’t remember her face at all, or worse, if he woke up and smiled and called her by name or called her his darling. She can’t face any of it. She’s alone, here, now, in a cold room with the grey light of early morning gathering outside and the first shadowy shapes of scurrying people hugging the houses, scuttling along the sidewalks with their heads down and their shoulders hunched, their hands gloved and their collars raised. That tree in that square which may or may not exist no longer has its leaves, she knows this for a certainty – it’s autumn, late autumn, sliding into winter, the light tells her so.

She dresses in silence. There is a run in her pantihose, draped across the back of the chair. No help for that. She slides her feet into the stockings, smoothes them over her legs. Pulls on a nondescript dark skirt, a sweater. There is a battered handbag lying by the door; she pads towards it in stocking feet, carrying a pair of sensible shoes in her left hand, picks up the handbag with the fingertips of her right hand – there is no other woman here, the bag must belong to her, after all. Somewhere, soon – not here, not now –  perhaps over a cup of coffee in a cheap diner nearby – she’s going to open the bag and rummage inside it, for identity, for something to tell her who she is, what she is doing here.

She hesitates at the door, shoes in one hand, bag in the other. It is not a door she remembers seeing before. But she remembers the fact that she has often hesitated before strange doors. That doors never quite lead where she expected them to. That she quite probably never meant to be in this unknown room in this unknown house on this unknown street with this unknown man in the bed – she was never meant to be here at all.

She doesn’t know if she can leave – if she is able to leave. If, when she walks through the door, it will mean leaving life behind. But she knows nothing about what’s on the other side of this door, just as she knows nothing at all about the things which she can see on this side of it, hesitating before it. She knows nothing at all. Nothing. So – stay or go – it matters very little.

She reaches out, with the edge of hand holding the shoes. She pushes down the handle. The door opens, just a crack, silently. She doesn’t look back as she slips through, into shadow. Behind her, the room sinks back into shadow, too.

*  *  *

It’s a road. A dirt road. I’ve been on it forever, or perhaps I’ve only stepped on it moments ago. I don’t know. I don’t remember. Time is elastic, after all, bulging and distending, sometimes worn very thin, thin enough to lift up to your eye and look through and be able to glimpse other things on the far side as though you were looking through a fine chiffon scarf. But this… this is a road. It’s dusty. There’s nothing on either side of it but fields, empty ones. No cows. No horses. Not even hay bales. Just windblown fields, in between stands of trees. There are wire fences between the fields and the road – I’m not sure if they’re to keep me off the fields or to keep the things that don’t exist in those fields from stepping onto the road and gobbling me up.

There’s a crossroads. It’s just a place where four roads meet, in the shape of a geometric cross, a gigantic plus sign drawn on the landscape. There’s a signpost, right there in the middle – it has signs, pointing in the four directions – but the signs have either worn down into illegibility or else they’re in a different language altogether. I don’t understand them.

Beside the signpost, there’s a door. Just a door. A doorframe, with a closed door within. There’s even a key in the lock – but it’s just a door, and I can walk right around it, and it’s a door from either side, leading absolutely nowhere at all. I am certain, utterly certain, that those travellers for whom the signpost is intelligible will never see this door at all – but for me, for those like me, there’s always a door. A strange door which leads nowhere. A door that is an alternative to directions that are unknowable, and unknown – a part of the signpost, just as mysterious as all the rest. Every door opens into something. There are just too many doors that I should never even have seen, let alone passed through. Too many doors that lead from darkness into shadow, or into light too blinding to see. Doors that make me stumble. Doors that never allow me to pass them by, once I’ve seen them. Once seen, never unseen. Always there. A door ignored will return – again and again and again – until I reach for that key, for that handle, and crack it open. A door that should never have been in my path; a door without which my path would not exist.

*  *  *

She gets out of the car, slowly, her movements hinting at fatigue. She isn’t sure how long she’s been driving. She isn’t sure where she started from, not any more. There is a large black and battered duffle bag in the back seat – as far as she knows, it’s her only luggage. She has, in the moment she thinks of the bag, no idea as to what it contains – what items she had thought essential enough to carry, to bring with her, instead of leaving them behind… wherever it was that she had come from. Her toothbrush? Her childhood teddy bear? Her Bible? Her shotgun…?

Around her, darkness is beginning to rise, to seep into the sky from the black shadows underneath the trees ringing the parking lot – empty, except for her. There’s a house looming just in front of her, a house with a sign illuminated by a single dim light, a sign that proclaims it to be an inn. It’s a haven.  A refuge. A place to rest for the night.

There’s a light behind the drawn curtains of windows facing out to the parking lot. Somebody’s home. But there’s a door. And the door is closed.

She hesitates, before she knocks. The house feels like a stage set – a two-dimensional thing, no more, behind which lies the chaos of backstage – fake potted plants, and a cracked coffee cup, and a ratty moth-eaten sofa with the doilies from last year’s production of Arsenic and Old Lace still draped on it, and a typewriter with no ribbon in it, and a bunch of dusty silk roses, and a stuffed dog, and half-painted wooden cutouts of trees and of people and of a fireplace with a painted fire which gives no warmth at all. If she passes through this door she might simply be stepping into all that fakery, living a life in which nothing is real at all. Or she might be stepping from that fake life into something warm and real and waiting – a world where that fireplace is real, and so is the fire, and she can curl up in the corner of the sofa with a real dog curled up at her feet and real coffee in the cup. All just waiting for her. Maybe the bag in the back of the car is empty – just a stage prop; maybe the car doesn’t run at all. Maybe all of it at her back – the gathering twilight, the vehicle whose keys even now dangle from her fingers (ah, but are they real keys or fake…?) the mysterious piece of luggage supposedly belonging to her – all of that – perhaps all of it would simply vanish if she stepped through this door, as though none if it had ever been.

What a strange dream she’s been having. Of lying, and running, and hiding, and looking for sanctuary.

She should never have come here. Never have been on this empty and isolated road so late in the day. Never have known this inn existed. Never hesitated in front of its door.

She should never have seen this door in her life.

If she passes through, she will be a different person. She knows this. It frightens her.

It makes her happy.

She reaches for the door handle – if it opens to her touch, she decides, arbitrarily, on the spot, then she will walk through. If not, if it’s locked and she has to ring or knock to ask for admittance, she will not stop here. She will drive on. Into the night.

Into the doorless night.

The door gives under her hand. Swings inwards. There’s a light, somewhere, within.

Just as well. She knows, without knowing, that she would have come up against this door again, if she didn’t choose it this time around. That’s the way things are.

She steps through. She has already forgotten about the bag on the back seat of the car. Nothing it contains has anything to do with her, not any more. The future is behind a curtain; the past is a long-lost foreign country, almost forgotten.

*  *  *

It’s a gate made of wrought iron.

It’s a coal hatch.

It’s an airlock.

It’s a gaping hole in the ground, only darkness within and beyond.

There are many doors.

They lead from memory into oblivion, from darkness to light, from warmth into icy cold, from dream into wakeful reality, from life into death and then back again.

I’ve seen many. Too many. So have you. We’ll see more. They’re portals, they’re gates; they are inevitable, and they are everywhere, and there are some which you should never have seen or passed through at all… but you go where the waters of life wash you up, flotsam and jetsam, lapping at the steps leading from the sea up to the threshold of a door you don’t recognise and yet always knew would be there. Doors are choices. They are wishes. They are sacrifices (oh yes, they are – look down at the old blood stains at your feet, traces of those who came here before you…)

They are passages.

I wear a key on a string around my neck. It fits any lock. You carry one too. We all do. We are latchkey kids, the grown-ups are away, we’re home alone and must do the best we can. A door can lead home, or into frightening alien places you cannot ever hope to understand.

They are doors. Even the ones you should never have seen, never touched, never listened with your ear against the grain of the wood for the faint sounds of what might be stirring beyond – even those, even the ones you don’t know, don’t recognise, don’t understand – especially those – they’re yours. They’re meant for you.

It’s a street. It’s a road. It’s a sidewalk. It’s an alley. It’s a path between the stars.

Stop, and look. There’s a door.

You’ll never recognise it. You might.

Go through.

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Author Interview: John Bennett

Biography

Living fifteen minutes from the beach in New Jersey, John spends most of his time relaxing on the beach, playing a round of golf, or even a game of pool. Every day John works tirelessly to come up with the next best idea to expand his stories and soon his day will come to where he is a household name. That is the dream he aspires to accomplish.

Tell us about your debut novel, The Path of a Titan: The Proving.

ENHANCE_RESOLUTION

Jump into the eyes of Carson Paul as he pledges to join the global military in hopes of learning the mystery behind his parent’s disappearance. To do so, Carson must venture into the forbidden land of Alannah and from there he can join the Proving. A fifty-mile race through treacherous terrains, carnivorous predators, and hundreds of other competitors with the same goal in mind. To finish the fastest and prove themselves worthy enough to be drafted into one of the four legions of the global military.

When did you start writing and why did you decide to publish your work?

I started my debut in September of 2019. Writing a book has always been a dream of mine. Once I finished it and saw the potential of what I can truly do with this world I just made, I wanted to show everyone. So, I went through the necessary steps to publish.

What was the biggest highlight for you in writing your first novel?

The biggest highlight when I was initially writing the novel was when I came up with the actual Proving. At first, the Proving was supposed to be a normal non sci fi event similar to a boot camp. But I came to the realization that with this sci fi world I created, I needed to broaden my imagination and use the world to my advantage.

What is something you will do differently when you write your second book?

The sequel to my debut novel has come with so much more experience behind it. With the first book, I was relearning how to do everything from simple grammar, to story building. With the sequel, the story was built with all that knowledge, but cleaner, and properly used without the doubt of doing something grammatically wrong.

What is the next project or next projects you are working on?

Right now, I am in the process of making the sequel to The Path of a Titan: The Proving. It is in its editing stages now, and I am really excited to get the cover done and show it off for everyone whose been following me.

What is your strangest writing quirk?

In dialogue, I tend to have characters studder. To physically studder when speaking is a common occurrence with anyone, especially when heightened emotions are visible. So, it is only logical for a character that I am trying to come to life to say, “uh,” or “um,” or “well,” or “I… uh,”

If money were no object, what would you do with the rest of your life?

Without a doubt. Writing a book has truly been the greatest thing I could have done with my life. It has given me purpose in a way that is hard to describe.

Where/how do you come up with your story ideas?

I’ve been inspired by video games, books, TV shows, anything that I found entertaining but could be better. Even as a kid, I would enhance ideas or what not, so now it was time I put those enhanced ideas on paper.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I play golf, work on my lawn, play video games, work out. I always tried to keep hold of my hobbies so that way my real career doesn’t consume my life.

What does success look like for you as an author?

To be a household name is the ceiling. However, I recently found out that I recently had an interview with someone who has secretly read my book before the interview by sheer chance. When I was told she was fan-girling over the interview, I became ecstatic with joy once she finally told me.

Is there anything additional you want to share with readers?

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok at AuthorJohnBennett. If you pick up my book on Amazon, I would appreciate any feedback. Don’t hesitate to contact me and chat, I’d love to get to know all of you and how you liked my work.

Thank you for your time.

Website: www.facebook.com/AuthorJohnBennett

Book Locations: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B091NBH6GX

Excerpt

This is a small excerpt between the two main protagonist. In a short reading, this tells the small story of how close a brother and sister can be and the secrets a family to hide between one another.

I look down at my hands and feel the violence radiate off them. A patch of blood has hardened on my bruised knuckle. It’s not the first time this has happened. It definitely won’t be the last. “Ky, he’s bullying you to do his homework. How about you rip up his paper and throw it in his face tomorrow on the bus? Do it in front of everyone. That will embarrass him.”

“What if he hits me?”

“Has he hit you before?”

“No, but what if he does?”

She’s not wrong to think that. Plenty of women have been reportedly assaulted for less. “Don’t get hit. Duck, bob, and weave.” I mimic some boxing moves. “Get out of the way. Kick him in the shin, the shin hurts! Or worse.” I point to my groin. It makes her laugh. “You’re fast, Kylie. Look at mom, she could kick dad’s butt. Don’t you want to be strong like her?” I reach over and wrap my hand around her bicep. “Give me a squeeze.” She flexes her arm muscles for me. I feel a small bump, but nothing impressive. “Wow, look at you,” I joke. “Some badass chick from the slums of Harmony is here to take on Tyke’s fiercest foes.”

“Stop it, Carson, I’m not strong like you.” She yanks her arm away from me.

“I’m not that strong, Kylie,” I lie. “But kids don’t mess with me because I fight back. I always tell them this. If you want to fight, fine. I don’t care if I lose, but know this,” I step to her and put a finger in her face to show her my intensity. “I will get you at least once, and trust me, you will remember it.” I step back seeing Kylie’s face turn feeling the intimidation of my words. “It really gets in their head.” I point to my temple. “Makes them second guess themselves. It creates doubt.”

“You’re not scared?” she asks.

“Sure. Just back there, seeing that goon squad he had behind him, I was intimidated,” I admit. “Just be smart about it. Remember what I did? I filled their hands with candy, got them off guard. They never saw it coming. They thought I was scared but they all fell into my trap.”

“Yeah, and about that. I know you stole that candy, Carson. Don’t think I don’t know.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes, you do! Why does one carry around four bars of chocolate in the spring months?”

I swing my bag around and pull out the last candy bar I have. It was Kylie’s favorite. I hand it to her. “Five, actually,” I say with a smile.

“Carson…” She looks at me stunned with disappointment but snatches the candy bar out of my hand. I laugh it off, but she doesn’t.

Although I believe my point is made, she must do something next time she sees him. The rain starts coming down harder and the thunder gets louder. I finish putting the bikes away and climb over the countless boxes and containers we have in here. The garage is dark and clammy, packed with boxes and cobwebs my parents have neglected over the years. Some would call them hoarders but in a strange kind of way. If anyone wants anything valuable in here, they will have to go through a lot of junk to get in here, I call it brilliant.

I hop and lunge over all the boxes, and other things in here. I end up tripping over a box and stumble around it. I curse and look back at it, my name is on it. Curiosity consumes me as I swipe a pile of dust off and I open it. What I find is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The curved-looking contraption feels wooden as I pick it up in my hands, but it’s brown and feels different compared to the blue trees we have here. I feel an otherworldly energy radiating from it, dormant inside. It’s wrapped in a cloth where it looks like handles, with some kind of insignia or language I don’t understand. I grip it in my hands and stare at it for a moment, examining this wild toy my parents have kept from me. What is this? I feel it crack and a glowing yellow light flashes me from the middle. It frightens me and I slam it shut and drop it back in the box cursing at myself for thinking I just broke it. I fold the box back up and slide it in a corner where it’s hidden.

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Author Interview: Lindsey Kinsella

Biography

Lindsey Kinsella is a Scottish writer and author of the science fiction novel “The Lazarus Taxa”.

While a qualified and experienced naval architect and an avid car enthusiast, he always reserved a space in his life for a deep fascination with paleontology. This drove his writing process as he strove to write tales of the rich and complex history of life on Earth.

Tell us about your book, The Lazarus Taxa.

68 million years in the past. Deep time—the true final frontier. But all is not as it seems. Which should be feared most—the dinosaurs… or the people?

The Lazarus Taxa follows the first scientific expedition through time to the Late Cretaceous.

Your Amazon Author bio says you have a deep fascination for paleontology. Tell us about that hobby and how it factored into your book.

It’s hard to remember when my paleontology obsession first arose, but watching the BBC series Walking with Dinosaurs as a child was probably a driving factor. Since then, it has grown and expanded beyond dinosaurs and into everything from Cenozoic mammals to giant Carboniferous insects.

This love of the science was my original inspiration to write The Lazarus Taxa. I wanted to show dinosaurs in a new light—in a way in which I felt popular media didn’t. They are real animals with their own personalities and motivations and I wanted to show them in their natural environment.

When and why did you start writing?

I started writing during the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. In truth, I originally began simply to pass the time. Being confined to the house certainly gave me plenty of time to work on the book.

How long did it take you to write The Lazarus Taxa and at what point did you decide to publish the novel?

It took me almost two years to finish the novel. I certainly didn’t have my process worked out which certainly reduced my efficiency, but I also lost faith once or twice and didn’t touch it for months at a time. The prospect of publishing was always quite distant, and I don’t think I ever truly believed I’d do it.

The moment I decided for certain to publish was when I received the manuscript back from my editor. I had been tentative about paying to have it edited, but eventually figured it was worth a go. However, I was blown away by how good it read after the marvelous Donna Marie West had worked her magic.

Are you working on another book or project you would like to share with us?

I am currently working on a fantasy novel title “The Heart of Pangaea”. This draws on similar source material as before and features all manner of prehistoric creatures, but in a very different way.

Subject material aside, it’s a completely different book from The Lazarus Taxa, it’s quirky, funny, and family friendly, but with strong emotional themes.

I do also have plans for a follow up to The Lazarus Taxa where I will explore new time periods and follow up on how the newfound technology of time travel begins to impact the world.

What is your strangest writing quirk?

I think my blend of fiction and non-fiction is the most unique aspect of my writing. The Lazarus Taxa is heavily influenced by the science of paleontology, and so I make a point of writing interim chapters which take a break from the story and delve into the science. These chapters not only allow the reader to learn some amazing paleo-knowledge, I think they enrich the story by imparting some important background information.

What was your favorite part of writing The Lazarus Taxa?

I loved writing the more horror-orientated chapters. There are two sequences in particular which are really tense—I loved building that tension before releasing it into some intense action. I’m pleased to hear that these seem to be the parts of the book readers enjoyed most too!

What will you do differently in writing your second book?

I have definitely plotted my work in progress more carefully which has improved my efficiency and reduced the number of rewrites required. In truth, though, I’m very much still finding my process, so I’m sure I’ll do it all differently again next time.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing or immersed in paleontology?

I’m a huge car nerd and I spend a lot of time maintaining my cars. I currently have a little yellow MG B which is my pride and joy, and an Alfa Romeo which I am in the process of coaxing back to life.

What does success look like for you as an author?

In a way I already feel it’s been successful. People have read my book and enjoyed it. I get messages all the time from readers asking when I’ll write another and I couldn’t ask for more than that.

Is there anything additional you want to share with readers?

Just a reminder that you can download a free sample of The Lazarus Taxa ebook from Amazon, Google, or Barnes & Noble, so you can find out if it’s right for you without spending a penny!

Website: https://www.facebook.com/LindseyKinsellaAuthor

Book Locations: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play

Excerpt

Sid’s train of thought was cut abruptly short by the sound of disturbed rocks tumbling not far away in the darkness. Both he and Dian paused and kept completely silent as they tensely listened for the slightest of further noises. Sure enough, another knock, slightly louder this time, echoed through the cave and both torches quickly turned towards the source—or at least where they deemed the source to be.

Such was the disorientating nature of the scattered and rebounding sound waves within the cavern that Sid and Dian found themselves shining their torches in opposite directions. Regardless, neither of the searching lights found anything out of the ordinary.

“Probably just the echo,” said Dian.

Sid was uneasy with this. It sounded different from the previous noises. Somehow, it seemed more… real. The smell of the animal scent markings was faint, but it was still something he had been mindful of since entering the cave. He knew, with little doubt, that they weren’t alone inside the mountain. The question was whether the existing tenant was open to squatters. Dian, who seemed content with her “echo” hypothesis, took another photograph and this time the flash illuminated something in a distant corner. Something dark. Something… moving.

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Author Interview: Abigail Manning

Biography

Abigail Manning is a wife, nanny, and author of YA romance. She resides with her husband, Marcus, in the beautiful state of Tennessee. In school, she studied both Early Childhood Development and Theatre Arts, both of which aided in the development of her Emerald Realm series, based off of retold fairy tales.

Abigail has always adored working with young children and drawing inspiration from their creativity. Her stories are geared towards young adults, but inspired off of children’s tales. She greatly enjoys the challenge of reinventing stories that most readers grew up with. She has only recently begun her career in writing, but already has growing ambitions revolving around her blossoming stories.

Tell us about your Emerald Realm Series.

The Emerald Realm is a series of fairy tale retellings that all interconnect within a single realm. Each book retells a classic fairy tale such as Snow White, Goldilocks, or Cinderella, but with a twist on the tale that you wouldn’t have expected. Each book features its own main character and possesses a happy ending, but a large story connects them all with a shared villain.

Is the series complete or can we expect more books? If it isn’t complete, what can you tell us about the future of the series?

The series is fully written but at this point in time only four out of the five books are released. The final book is coming soon, however! So, stay tuned!

Have you thought about what you want to write after the Emerald Realm Series is complete?

Absolutely! While the Emerald Realm may only have five books, I have currently written over seven full manuscripts… The extra two are each the first book of their own series, and I have big plans for them moving forward.

What drew you to write YA romance?

I always enjoyed reading YA romance, so it just felt natural for me to adapt it as my writing style. I also prefer to write clean romance, so my stories are also a good read for teens or anyone who doesn’t like things to get too spicy.

Tell us how your writing journey began.

I haven’t been writing for even a year yet, and only started in July of 2021. I just had a few days off work and a story on my mind that I wanted to put to paper, and I never really stopped!

What are your writing necessities (time, location, music, food, etc)?

I am a morning bird, so I get my best work done after I wake up, but unfortunately 90% of the time I can’t pick up my computer until the afternoon. I usually prefer quiet while I work, but will occasionally play some instrumental music, and no matter what I always need a cup of tea by my side.

What is the hardest aspect of writing for you?

Probably trying to avoid being repetitive. When writing fairy tale romances, it’s easy to fall into the tropes that they have created, but I like to strive to be original in both my stories and my writing. A thesaurus is often my best friend!

How have you improved as a writer since you began?

I would definitely say so. If anything, I’ve grown more confident in my writing and take criticism far better than I used too. There’s definitely a huge difference between the writing in my debut novel and my current WIP.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love binging Netflix with my husband or watching him game. We also have a puppy that tends to soak up more of my time then I realize.

What does success look like for you as an author?

For me, success is having my books read by someone that I’ve never met. I just think it’s incredible that maybe, somewhere around the world, I might be someone’s favorite author.

Anything additional you want to share with readers?

Thanks for reading! If you enjoy fairy tales or just sweet clean romance, check out the Emerald Realm series and stay tuned for more exciting stories to come!

Website: abigailmanningauthor.com

Book Locations: Amazon

Excerpt

Poisoned Heart: A Retelling of Snow White

           “I take great pride in hunting down my victims, but you were no challenge.” He eyed me with annoyance. He spoke as if he was disappointed that I was too easy to kill. “I desire more excitement in my hunt than a pompous brat can offer, so princess, I am offering you a chance at escape.”

           I gasped through my tears. It sounded like he was going to let me run just so he could catch me again, delaying my death long enough for me to potentially freeze in the cold on my own. My breathing grew unsteady as panic filled my every bone.

            “So, here’s my deal, princess. I’m going to let you run, and after twenty-four hours, I’m going to come looking for you, just like a game of hide and seek.” I couldn’t see his mouth, but I imagined a sick smile on his face. “If I can’t find you after fourteen days, then congratulations, you win. I’ll return to my kingdom and explain that you got away, but if I find you…” he raised the dagger to my throat and my breath hitched, “then I’ll finish the job I was assigned.” He dropped the dagger and took a step back. I allowed myself to breathe again, filling my lungs with the icy air.

  “Time starts now, princess. Better start running.”

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