Tag Archives: Spooky

Jan 21

Fellow Air Force Veteran & Author, Alan Simon, Guest-blogs with Mike Angley

MA: My guest today is Alan Simon, the author or co-author of 30 books dating back to the early 1980s. His writing career began with the 1st edition of How to be A Successful Computer Consultant (McGraw-Hill) that sold approximately 200,000 copies in 4 editions over the next 15 years. He is the author of three titles in the “For Dummies” franchise series and has written extensively about technology and business topics. In 2009 Alan began experimenting in self-publishing with Blocking and Tackling Your Way to Management Success in which he set 40 fundamental management lessons against a backdrop of 40 stories from the history of his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers. In 2010, Alan branched out into fiction with the publication of his first two novels including The First Christmas of the War, set at Christmastime, 1941 – only weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Alan currently lives in Phoenix and in the past has lived in Pittsburgh, Tucson, Colorado Springs, Denver, and northeastern Pennsylvania.

Please tell me a little bit about your professional or personal background…the prequel if you would to your writing career.

AS: The best way to describe my professional background is to quote The Beatles: “The long and winding road…” I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA until my family moved to Tucson, Arizona just before my 16th birthday. I attended college at Arizona State in Tempe and then went to graduate school at the University of Arizona back in Tucson before heading off to Colorado Springs where I spent four years as a U.S. Air Force officer stationed at Cheyenne Mountain. In the Air Force I wrote software for one of the real-life “War Games” systems, referring to the early 1980s movie in which Matthew Broderick breaks into Cheyenne Mountain’s computers to play “thermonuclear war.” After my Air Force days I worked for a series of technology and consulting companies in a variety of roles, including several as a national or global practice leader in business intelligence and data warehousing. I began my own firm – currently called Thinking Helmet, Inc. – in 2006.

In many ways my writing career began as an “accident.” When I was an Air Force officer in the early 1980s I started a small computer consulting business on the side mostly so I could stay up to date with the technology of the then-brand new “microcomputers” that were very different than the old-fashioned mainframes we used in the Air Force. One day I was thinking about all of the tasks I had to do to set up my company and learn about new technology and suddenly thought there might be a book in the making there. I wrote a proposal, sent it off to McGraw-Hill, and presto! Book deal! (Little did I know the publishing game wasn’t quite that easy…)

MA: Well, I definitely have a soft spot for fellow Air Force vets, and I am very familiar with Cheyenne Mountain during my work in Air Force Space Command nearby. With such a technical and non-fiction writing background, how did you end up writing fiction?

AS: I began “dabbling” in fiction approximately 25 years ago, sequestered in a near-deserted hotel in the mountains of Colorado in late May of 1985. I had gone there to spend a week finishing up the final manuscript for my first book, How to be a Successful Computer Consultant. (Thinking back, my long-ago writing getaway in the Rockies was sort of a combination of two works from one of my favorite authors, Stephen King: “The Shining” meets “Misery” !)

Whenever I’d take a break from polishing that manuscript during that trip, I’d shift to write two or three more draft pages for an idea I had for a “potboiler” novel; something that in retrospect was heavily influenced by the writing style and typical plot lines from popular writers of the day such as Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon. I shelved that book for all eternity shortly thereafter, but over the next two decades spent thousands of hours – and wrote the proverbial million words of fiction – on any number of long-dormant projects, as fiction writing grew into a deep passion of mine.

MA: Speaking of The Shining, my kids and I once spent a night in the “Stephen King” room at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, where King stayed and wrote the book. Sadly, nothing spooky happened during our stay there. So tell us about your novels.

AS: I wrote two novels in parallel with each other over a period of 6+ years; both were self-published this past year. The first is entitled The First Christmas of the War and is a family saga set at Christmastime, 1941…only weeks after Pearl Harbor. Beyond the overarching and terrifying news coming back from the war front, each family member has his or her own “mini-drama” going on, and the story interweaves the “macro” and “micro” plots in a day-by-day format beginning with the Saturday before Christmas and ending the day after Christmas.

The other novel is entitled Unfinished Business and just like The First Christmas of the War, it’s set in my hometown of Pittsburgh. I like to think of Unfinished Business as “a darker Bridges of Madison County story” that begins in flashback with a brief wartime affair that takes place in 1942. The plot of the story is based around the resumption of that affair nine years later, in 1951, when Roseanne DeMarco’s steelworker husband is called up from the Army Reserves and set off to the Korean War…just as her long-ago “friend” reappears in Pittsburgh as she’s struggling to make ends meet.

MA: I have a hard enough time writing one story, so I can’t imagine what two parallel ones must be like. Who are your protagonists?

AS: In The First Christmas of the War I’m fortunate enough to have a number of main characters who essentially are an “ensemble cast” as the book’s protagonist. The family’s patriarch – Gerald Coleman – is patterned after one of my grandfathers. He’s a shoemaker who is fortunate enough to have made a decent enough living during the Depression. His wife, Irene Coleman, is the classic homemaker of the day…she runs her household and her family and is always looking out for the best interests of every family member. The eldest son, Jonathan, is patterned after characters such as those played by Sean Penn and Nicholas Cage in the 1980s movie Racing with the Moon…he knows with certainty he’s headed off to war soon and is trying to come to grips with this sudden reality. The rest of the family members are all “demographically appropriate” for 1941 children and teenagers.

In Unfinished Business I tried my best to get inside the head of Roseanne DeMarco. Her husband is suddenly sent off to war, she has no safety net to fall back on, and in general she’s sleepwalking through life…and here comes this person from the past who was her “partner” in an illicit yet exciting brief period of her young life. Throughout the book she’s conflicted between the renewal of this excitement and her increasing guilt about what she’s doing while her husband is away at war.

MA: They both sound interesting. Who are the antagonists in the stories?

AS: The First Christmas of the War doesn’t have an antagonist…unless you want to think of Hitler and Tojo as off-the-pages antagonists who made the story (and the war) possible!

In Unfinished Business Frank Donaldson – the main with whom Roseanne DeMarco renews her affair – is very much an antagonist, but a carefully constructed one. I patterned his character after that of Noel Airman in Herman Wouk’s 1955 novel, Marjorie Morningstar. At first he seems suave, debonair, the man of Roseanne DeMarco’s dreams who has returned to her…but increasingly his fascination in the story with Jack Kerouac (then a brand new novelist) becomes symbolic of his own character flaws.

MA: How much of your real life’s story influenced your writing?

AS: When I moved from Pittsburgh to Tucson just before my 16th birthday, I was very homesick for my original city and spent many hours in the high school and public libraries reading books about Pittsburgh and its history. Since I planned to go into the military in one way or another, I was also very interested in the World War II era and the aftermath, including the boom years of the 1950s. So my fascination with mid-20th century Pittsburgh formed the foundation for both of these novels. I spent many hours researching the facts and tidbits for both stories, though when appropriate I took a bit of poetic license in the interest of moving the story along.

In both books – especially The First Christmas of the War – I did use my real-life great-grandfather’s produce business in Pittsburgh as a plot vehicle, and in First Christmas had eldest son Jonathan working side-by-side with my real-life great-uncles in a couple of scenes. I dedicated that book to those great-uncles, all of them gone now, as members of the “greatest generation” who (to use the words of the book’s dedication) “sacrificed much of their youth to the Second World War.”

MA: So what’s next for you? You are so versatile, I can imagine either a novel or some techno-geek book coming soon!

MA: The biggest challenge I have is getting my head and hands around a much-too-full list of to-be-written projects for 2011. In all seriousness, I have a list of about 15 business, technology and management topics; 25-30 ideas for novels and short stories; and another non-fiction, self-help oriented title based on my own personal close call on 9/11. (A schedule quirk put me in Pittsburgh for a speech that morning, scheduled to fly to San Francisco from there that afternoon; otherwise I almost certainly would have been on United Flight 93 since I was shuttling between projects and proposals in New Jersey and the San Francisco bay area for the consulting company I worked for then.)

MA: Wow! I’m glad you missed the original flight, and it’s nice to hear you plan to turn that experience into something good that may help others. With regard to fiction, would any of your future writing involve characters from your first two novels?

AS: The First Christmas of the War is actually the first of a series of four holiday-set, similarly-structured novels featuring the Coleman family. Next up is Thanksgiving, 1942, taking place – as one can tell from the title – eleven months after the initial book’s Christmas, 1941 setting. The next title is The First Christmas After the War, set at Christmastime, 1945. Finally, a concluding novel set in the 1970s takes a final holiday visit with the Coleman family.

MA: Sounds like a nice set of books. Anything else you’d like add before we wrap it up?

AS: Over the years, I’ve had many, many people ask me about the writing business and my own experiences in the context of book or story ideas they’ve had themselves. I always enjoy sharing my experiences with others and am always more than willing to help people navigate today’s publishing world, craft proposals…pretty much anything.

MA: Thanks Alan for appearing on my blog, and thanks for your military service. Please visit Alan’s websites for more information about this amazing author and his projects: www.alansimonbooks.com and www.thinkinghelmet.com.
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Oct 01

Science Fiction Thriller Writer Graham Storrs Lands on Mike Angley’s Blog

MA: My guest today is Graham Storrs, a writer who lives in quiet seclusion on a bush property in Australia. He trained as a psychologist in the UK and, after a career in artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction research and software design, now shares his time between his family, writing, and the beautiful forested hills of his adopted home.
Graham, welcome aboard! Tell us how you became a storyteller.
GS: There never was a prequel really, just parallel lines. I’ve always told stories from as early as I can remember. When I got older, I started writing them down. Meanwhile, I went to school, then university, got jobs, did research, had a career. And all the time, I was writing. Strangely enough, I only took seriously the idea of publishing my fiction about two years ago. Before then, I hadn’t published anything (except non-fiction). Since then, I’ve published ten short stories and my first novel.
MA: Why did you choose to write novels?
GS: I didn’t really choose to at all. For most of my life I was happy writing short stories, but the stories kept getting longer and longer. In the end, I stopped trying to keep them short and started writing book-length stories. I still write shorts now and then (I bundled up a few related stories and put them out as an ebook on Smashwords recently) but I feel very cramped in anything smaller than a novel these days.
MA: Tell us about your début novel, TimeSplash.
GS: TimeSplash is a science fiction thriller – a fast-paced, near-future story about a couple of people – Jay and Sandra – who get caught up in a time travel party scene that wrecks their lives. After that, they each devote themselves to bringing down the guy responsible – a supercool villain named Sniper. Sniper quickly graduates from murderer to big-shot terrorist and is planning to use a temporal anomaly to destroy a capital city. When his two pursuers join forces to track him down, they find themselves and each other along the way.
MA: Who’s the main hero or heroine?
GS: My main protagonist is Sandra. I wanted to create a heroine with huge problems, so bad they sometimes incapacitate her, and a task so hard that anyone would regard it as impossible. And I gave her the curse of being breathtakingly beautiful – something which, perhaps more than anything else, blights her life, On the very first page of the book she is in desperate trouble – and then things get worse and worse. All that she has going for her is an unstoppable will to succeed and an ordinary goodness that is often hard to find.
MA: What about your antagonist, Sniper?
GS: Outwardly, he is handsome and suave, a confident, powerful man, but Sniper also has problems that have left serious psychological scars. Throughout the book he teeters on the brink of a self-destructive downward spiral. The world, to him, is on the verge of chaos and the only way he knows to avoid being consumed by it, is to become its master, smashing and destroying on a massive scale to lead chaos by the nose and make it do his bidding.
MA: Your background in AI and human computer interaction is intriguing, and I’m sure (tongue-in-cheek) that you’ve no real experience with time and space travel, but did any other real life experiences factor into the plot at all?
GS: Most of the places in the book are places I know – London, Brussels, Berlin, Paris. The characters are mostly composites of people I have known – even Sniper is not as uncommon a type as you might suppose – but I have exaggerated or magnified them somewhat, to amplify the drama.
MA: Will there be a sequel to TimeSplash?
GS: Since I finished TimeSplash, I have written another near-future sci-fi thriller – a space-based adventure based on how the religious right will deal with the first transhumans. I’m looking for an agent for that one at the moment. Right now I’m writing the first book of a three-book space opera set thousands of years in the future, finishing a sci-fi comedy based in the present day, and planning a spooky sci-fi noir story about a rather unconventional alien invasion.
TimeSplash was really a stand-alone story. However, I left at least one hook in there for another book, in case I ever feel the urge. I have written two short stories set in the same world. In one of them my two protagonists meet again after fifty years. I haven’t tried to publish it because it’s a sad encounter and I don’t know if I really want that to be their destiny.
MA: How can people find you online?
I use Twitter just about every day and I’m always pleased to meet new people. Anyone can reach me at http://twitter.com/graywave (@graywave)
I also have a blog in which I write about my life as a struggling new writer http://grahamstorrs.cantalibre.com
And TimeSplash itself has its own website and blog http://www.timesplash.co.uk
Thanks for having me over, Mike. It’s been great. I hope you’ll do me the favour of letting me have you as a guest on my blog one day soon.
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Jun 24

Mike Angley’s “Child Finder: Resurrection” Takes Fiction Award at PSWA Contest!

I’m pleased to announce that my second novel, Child Finder: Resurrection, took an award in the Fiction category during the annual Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA) writing contest. The PSWA held its 2010 conference in Las Vegas, NV from June 17 – 20, and the award winners were announced on Father’s Day. I’m real thrilled by the honor and for the association I have with the PSWA. During the convention, I had the opportunity to sit on two panels: “How Much Truth is too Much Truth in Fiction?” and “Supernatural and Spooky Stuff.”

The PSWA was founded in 1997 as the Police Writers Club. The Public Safety Writers Association is open to both new and experienced, published and not yet published writers. Members include police officers, civilian police personnel, firefighters, fire support personnel, emergency personnel, security personnel and others in the public safety field. Also represented are those who write about public safety including mystery writers, magazine writers, journalists and those who are simply interested in the genre. Read More

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