MA: Before he became a mystery writer and reviewer, Carl Brookins was a counselor and faculty member at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Brookins and his wife are avid recreational sailors. He is a member of Mystery Writers … Read More
Tag Archives: Top Secret
MA: My special guest today is Nancy Ellen Dodd. She is a writer with many voices, a university instructor, and an editor. She received her master’s in Professional Writing (MPW, which is a multi-discipline approach to writing) from the University of Southern California with a concentration in dramatic writing/screenwriting and her MFA in playwriting at USC’s School of Theatre. Having studied writing for more than 25 years, Dodd currently teaches screenwriting at Pepperdine University to undergraduate and graduate students.
Her book, The Writer’s Compass: From Story Map to Finished Draft in 7 Stages, covers the full creative writing process from which she draws lessons for her classes. The Writer’s Compass teaches the writer how to develop and focus their ideas, the use of a story map, and building the story through 7 productive development stages. Published by Writer’s Digest Books, the book was released in June 2011.
Dodd has received numerous awards for her writing, which includes screenplays, plays, short stories, short films, and novel-length works, as well as inspirational writing. Some of her short stories have been read on public radio. She also studied writing with several successful, award-winning writers: Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Paul Zindel; playwrights Velina Hasu-Houston, Oliver Mayer, David Milton, and Lee Wochner; screen and television writer Sy Gomberg; and international poet James Ragan.
Currently on faculty at the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University, Dodd serves as academic editor of the Graziadio Business Review, an online peer-reviewed business practitioner’s journal with over 500,000 page visits per year, 35% of those international. She also produces and edits video and audio interviews for the journal. Dodd’s journalistic career includes publishing more than 130 articles in local and national publications including interviews with celebrities and business leaders.
Well, that’s a pretty impressive background! It’s obvious that writing has been a major part of your life.
NED: For more than 25 years I’ve studied writing in all forms. This led me to having several articles and some short stories published, then to two master’s degrees in writing. From there I’ve had some of my work produced and received several awards and acknowledgements for my writing. It also led me to two stints as editor of two magazines and now academic editor of a peer-reviewed journal as a faculty member at Pepperdine University. Plus I teach screenwriting to undergraduates and graduate students there. I write in all forms: fiction and nonfiction; novels, screenplays, plays, short stories, and some inspirational prose. Most recently I’ve written The Writer’s Compass: From Story Map to Finished Draft in 7 Stages, about the creative writing process for developing stories based on what I’ve learned from thousands of hours of lectures, books, seminars, and two graduate degrees. The book teaches how to use a story map as a tool for developing your story and how to write your story more efficiently in seven stages.
MA: You have such a variety of writing experiences. Tell us, from your perspective, what is the difference between writing a novel and other forms of writing?
NED: People often ask me what my favorite form of writing is. I think it is always whatever form I’m writing in. That being said, there is something special about the novel. You can really evolve and develop the characters and the setting and the emotions in a novel. You can write it however you want. It can be formulaic or completely different from anything else out there. You can write sequels to infinity, or confine the story to a couple hundred pages. A novel gives you an intimate look at the story and characters in a way no other form can quite match. Other forms of writing have more rigid requirements for how the story is written on the page and different challenges and are much more restricted.
MA: How do you see character development, and do you address it in your books about writing?
NED: I’ve heard it said that most of our writing is a reflection of the people we know, of our selves, and also from our own experiences. Characters are often compilations of characteristics that we find interesting from what we’ve seen in others, or read, or watched on television. Unfortunately, if you draw your characters too much from fictional sources, as opposed to real people, your characters are flatter and more two-dimensional. In The Writer’s Compass there is a large section on characterization to help you draw out a fully rounded character that feels real—like someone your readers could know.
MA: What is your advice to writers about how to approach developing their protagonists?
NED: The development of the protagonist is something that takes time. We start with a glimmer of who the character is, but to write the truth about how he or she would behave takes knowing your character better than you know anyone else, perhaps even yourself. To write a gripping character you have to know what motivates her or him, what would destroy the character, what would force the character to take action, and what the character would do when their back is to the wall. When you know your character that well, and you have developed that character in your writing, you can take the story to the next level and surprise your reader with what your character does next, instead of the expected, and make it believable.
MA: How important is it t have strengths and weaknesses when developing characters for a novel?
NED: The strengths and weaknesses you give your character are critical to making your story believable. I recently read a book, published by a major publishing house, in which the author kept telling me that the protagonist was this disciplined martial arts expert and showed me the character spending time every day practicing with a sword in the back yard and freaking out the neighbors. However, the character did not act or react with the discipline that someone this focused on martial arts would have. His daily routine was to get drunk and eat poorly. He couldn’t stay focused on the task of finding his kidnapped girlfriend and his decision-making process was very faulty. The character and the book were totally unbelievable because the author told me who this character was supposed to be, but the entire novel showed me that the character’s behavior did not match who the author wanted me to believe the character was.
A hero should have weaknesses or a vulnerability, even Superman was allergic to kryptonite, but those weaknesses should be organic and make sense in the context of who the character is supposed to be. And the hero’s strength or weakness can be the opposite to what the reader anticipates or even the unexpected, as long as the writer gives the character a strong reason for having that flaw or that strength. If the reader doesn’t buy what you are saying, then neither your hero nor your story will have credibility. Which, of course, takes us back to knowing your character well.
MA: Great insight! You must have something to say about developing an antagonist.
NED: Creating an antagonist or a nemesis for a story is an interesting process. Often my students will say they don’t have one, and it’s true, some stories don’t need a particular “bad guy.” However, having a specific nemesis usually brings more tension to the story and creates obstacles for the hero to overcome or fight against, creating the action in the story. It may not be a person. It could be natural forces such as a hurricane or being lost in the heat of a desert. It could be an animal like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park or a bear in the Alaskan wilderness. It could be the protagonist is her or his own enemy, fighting addictions or emotions or a change in their life. It can be an organization that is trying to destroy the protagonist or that the hero is trying to stop from doing something bad. The antagonist could also be a good person trying to keep the protagonist from making a “mistake” or wrong decision in their life, even if it turns out not to be one. When you turn a vague problem into an actual thinking (or appears to have the power to think) enemy, you will find more ideas for building your story.
MA: What about using real-life experiences in the plot?
NED: Writers often have interesting stories to tell or to interpret through fiction, but it can be very difficult to have the perspective needed to tell the story, without the passage of time and the benefit of knowing the outcome down the road. I think it is very difficult not to incorporate some facet of our real lives and experiences into everything we write, even if we fictionalize them. Which can be a way of working through the incident or changing the outcome.
My students sometimes want to write about real events that happened to them or their family. I try to discourage them from doing so. The problem is that in one semester they only have time to scratch the surface of what can be a very traumatic experience for them. I don’t want my class to end and one of my students to be in the middle of an emotional crisis. In some cases I tell them that I will only allow them to write that story if they agree to get some counseling while they are doing so.
MA: What are you planning for your next writing project?
NED: Currently, we are in pre-production for one of my screenplays. I’m also working on a final rewrite of one of my plays and of a novel I’ve been working on for some time. I’m also putting together a collection of short stories. There is no shortage of projects, it is time I find difficult to come by.
MA: Any final thoughts or advice for my readers?
NED: This is an amazing time for writers. There are so many ways to get your stories out there. Cut yourself some slack. If you read successful authors’ work consecutively from their first published piece to their most recent, you will see development and growth in their writing. Unless you are a genius at writing, you will have to go through that same process of development—writing, learning, writing, learning. Don’t be like I’ve been in the past and always have one more draft that keeps you from putting your work out for public consumption. On the other hand, don’t put your work out before it is the best you can make it; and had a good edit.
You can find more writing tips at http://thewriterscompass.com and visit my website: http://nancyellendodd.com
MA: Thanks, Nancy! I appreciate the time you took to be my guest today, and I know my readers will enjoy reading your advice and insights.
MA: Today’s guest is George Mavro, author of the thrillers Operation Medina: Jihad and Operation Medina: Crusade. George and I are kindred Air Force veterans, both of us having worked in the security field within the USAF. Welcome, George. Please tell us about your background.
GM: I served in the Air Force for 24 years, 22 of those in various Security Force assignments in Europe and the Balkans, which gave me a great background for writing my first novels. I also hold advance degrees in History and International Relations specializing in the Balkans where my novels take place. Knowing the history of a region is a plus when trying to write a war and political thriller. I have also held teaching positions at the university level. I currently teach part time for a junior college. I also work as an Information Security Officer for a major financial institution. I presently reside in Florida with my wife and two sons.
MA: With that background, I can understand why you would want to write political/military thrillers. I imagine you must also enjoy reading that genre.
GM: I always enjoyed reading historical and action adventure war novels so I finally decided to try my hand at it.
MA: Excellent. So tell us about your novels.
GM: My debut novel is a military action adventure war thriller called Operation Medina: Jihad. My second novel is Operation Medina: Crusade which is the grand finale to the Jihad. Both go hand in hand. Both are about an attack against a US ally and terrorist attacks against US forces.
MA: How did you develop your main characters, your protagonist?
GM: I had a basic idea of what I wanted the protagonist to be when I started the story. As the story developed he developed and matured around it. Because my book encompasses a war on several fronts involving several nations there are a couple of characters that could be called heroes. But my main hero, Colonel Jack Logan, is a professional and combat skilled pilot. His strengths are that he is very sure of himself and good at what he does. His weakness would be under estimating the enemy, which causes him to get shot down, and falling in love with one of his pilots/subordinates which will play a major part at the end of the story.
MA: Terrorists, huh? So is there one main bad guy?
GM: Yes there is. General Muhammid Kemal, the dictator of Turkey, who wants to replicate the old Ottoman empire at his neighbor’s expense.
MA: With your background in the USAF, and your education in International Relations, did your real-life career or experiences influence your fiction writing?
GM: Yes my military career did and through my experience I am trying to convey military life and operations as accurately as possible. The characters in my novels are original, but I have pulled from my life experiences with the many people I encountered and some characters may be a slight medley from the people I shared experiences and worked with.
My career as a Law Enforcement and Force protection professional did play a role as it provided me with the knowledge and insight to write my story and accurately portray the role that a security Force Shift Commander and an airbase ground defense team could take in time of war.
MA: Will there be a follow-on story to the Medina series, or will you write something new, different?
GM: I am presently working on an adventure novel that takes place during WW II starting with the Nazi invasion of the island of Crete in 1941. I am developing a whole new set of characters. It is possible that a couple of my current day character’s grand dads may be in it since they did fight and meet in Greece during WW II as allied agents.
MA: Thanks, George. My very best to you for a successful writing career. My readers can learn more about George Mavro by visiting: https://sites.google.com/site/operationmedina/home Read More
MA: Please help me welcome my guest today, Barry S. Willdorf. Barry grew up in Malden, Massachusetts. He attended Colby College, the University of Manchester (England) and Columbia Law School. Barry is a top-rated trial attorney with 42 years experience including 100 trials, everything from courts martial to murder to securities fraud. He began his professional career as a criminal investigator for the Legal Aid Society in New York City. A preview version of his novel, “Flight of the Sorceress” was featured on Scribd and awarded a rating of 4.7 out of 5. It has a Five Star rating on Amazon. His new novel, “Burning Questions” is set for publication at the end of July, 2011 and is the first of a trilogy (The 1970s Trilogy) that is under agreement with Whiskey Creek Press. Barry is a member of the San Francisco Writers Workshop, The Blackpoint Writers Group and is represented by The Krista Goering Literary Agency. He and his wife Bonnie live in San Francisco.
It sounds like writing is a major part of your life. Why novels?
BW: I have always written. I have written poetry and songs. Of course, I spent 42 years writing legal briefs, but that’s not supposed to be fiction — although sometimes, as you might imagine, the line gets blurred. Anyway, it’s a lot more honest to just admit you are writing fiction. The best part about novels though is you get to play God.
MA: Have you found inspiration for fiction from your personal life?
BW: Most of the novels I write draw on personal experiences. Even The Flight of the Sorceress, a historical novel set in the 5th Century, A.D. draws on personal experiences I had when I studied at the University of Manchester and visited Bath and other Roman historical sites. But my 1970s Trilogy actually includes vignettes and events that are close to things that happened to me. I am into verisimilitude.
MA: So tell us what you’ve written!
BW: My debut novel, “Bring the War Home!” (2001) is about anti-war Marines at Camp Pendleton, either going to or returning from the Vietnam War. I was a civilian defense attorney at Pendleton in 1970 and 1971 and represented a lot of Marines who were having moral and political conflicts over the war. I made it into a novel to protect the privacy of the men, but the stories are very real. It received great reviews and was endorsed by Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
“Flight of the Sorceress” (Wild Child Publishing, 2010) took 8 years of research and writing. It is the story of resistance by two women (one fictitious, the other Hypatia of Alexandria) against misogynistic clerics of the newly-empowered Catholic Church to restrict their rights to be healers, teachers, librarians and philosophers. Their heroic struggles culminate in the cataclysm events of Lenten Week, 415 A.D. that ushered in the Dark Ages. Can anything be saved?
“Burning Questions,” Part One of my 1970s Trilogy tells a story about the corruption that changed a fishing town into a tourist destination.
MA: So who are your protagonists?
BW: In “Bring the War Home!” the protagonists are sort of fictionalized versions of myself, my wife, Bonnie and composites of the Marines I represented and befriended.
In “Sorceress,” Glenys was constructed from accounts of classical Celtic healers. Hypatia, being a real person, was kept as true to history as possible, given the fact that the Church destroyed all or her writings and all accounts of her are second-hand by men with agendas.
In “Burning Questions,” I got a lot of material from some case files about a teenage suicide I investigated, plus I lived at that time and in that place and “borrowed” characteristics from people I knew, not to mention myself.
MA: What are your heroes’ strengths and weaknesses?
BW: Let’s just deal with “Sorceress.” There is only one person who even approximates a “hero” so I will go to heroine and use Glenys of the Silures, a fictional Celtic healer. Glenys is strong, stubborn and determined. She wants to be an independent woman in the ancient Celtic tradition and will not compromise on the issue of her independence. If she has a weakness, it is that she is willing to use other people to accomplish her objectives, even though they may not approve of her goals. She has her fears and is vulnerable. Sometimes she is naïve. But she sees the consequences of surrender to be very dangerous, not just to her but to women who will follow in the years to come.
MA: And the antagonists?
BW: There are some particularly odious bad guys in my books. In particular, there is the fictitious Ignatus, an ambitious and unscrupulous bishop in “Sorceress.” He hunts Glenys across the Roman Empire, much in the way Inspector Javert hunts Jean Valjean in Les Misérables. There is also Archbishop Cyril, a real person, who was sanctified, primarily because he successfully orchestrated the murder of Hypatia and the forced expulsion 70,000 Jews from Alexandria in 415 A.D.
MA: You mentioned being influenced during your time at Camp Pendleton to write one of your novels. Tell us more.
BW: I certainly couldn’t have written “Bring the War Home!” or the 1970s Trilogy otherwise. I could have probably done “Sorceress.” However, I have seen how poorly sheltered or inexperienced people fare when they attempt to create fiction in any form or genre. They just don’t know what facts or events will move people to do the things they do, so accounts of actions and behavior lack believability.
MA: What’s in store for your next writing project?
BW: I have two more novels to come in the 1970s Trilogy. Both are written and in a final draft form. I am in the process of submitting a contemporary novel that I don’t want to give away just yet. I also just finished an intermediate draft of a novel made up of five connected novellas that involves the influence upon the later lives of each of the five protagonists that derived from knowing a murder victim who was their neighbor. A lot of that one came from experiences I had growing up near Boston.
MA: So you will continue to feature the same protagonist in future stories? Will any other characters migrate over to future books?
BW: I don’t think I’m going to feature the same protagonists in future books. They may be peripheral characters, but none of them are going to be in the spotlight. I don’t want their egos inflated. Most of them already have narcissism problems and I am not going to be an enabler.
MA: (Laughing) Yes, those pesky protagonists think they own their own stories! What do you consider the most difficult aspect of being a writer?
BW: One of the things I think we all find hardest about this writing gig is the promo. (After all, that’s what we’re doing here, isn’t it?) There are so many books out there, and so many good ones, it is almost impossible to get your stuff noticed. I HATE promo. What I’d like to see is some Sci-Fi gizmo where you just feed your manuscript into a reader-thingy and it somehow comes out with a rating. Then Thingy spits the MS into a series of tubes like the internet, (Ha Ha) and shuffles them to a cyber-promotion specialist machine that electronically sends your stuff to all the people on the social network that say they might like to read or listen to the kind of stuff you write. It gets dropped on their computer doorstep like the milkman used to do, in the form and format they prefer. And if they like print, there is a low cost printer option on your computer that produces a bound, full-color cover copy in five minutes or fewer, depending on page count. And of course the author gets to keep a 90% royalty. My idea of heaven.
MA: (Smiling) Well then, on that note, I want to thank you for stopping by, Barry. For my readers, please visit Barry’s website for more information: www.agauchepress.com. Read More
MA: My guest today is Joseph M. Rinaldo. He’s not only an author, but he has a distinctive family background that makes him an expert of sorts on the subject matter of his writing. I’m going to let him tell us in his own words. Joseph, welcome.
JR: Raising my daughter with Down syndrome has made me uniquely qualified to write this book, and I have witnessed the effects of Alzheimer’s on a family member. As for the espionage-related topics in A Spy At Home, I prefer not to disclose the source of my knowledge.
My daughter, wife, and I live in Tennessee. I look forward to releasing another ebook in the near future, as I have written seven others that deal with a variety of characters.
Thank you again for taking the time to help me promote my book and myself on your blog. I have always felt the writing community is a very generous and altruistic one, and bloggers like you have proven me correct.
MA: It’s my pleasure to have you here today. Tell us how you came to write.
JR: The actual impetus for me to begin writing came while I was reading Three Weeks With My Brother by Nicholas Sparks. When I got to the part where he received a million-dollar advance, I thought, “Holy cow! He’s a good writer, but I know I can do this, too.” I’ve been writing since that day in 2004.
Eight years prior to reading about the million dollar advance I had only considered writing once in my life. Living alone, I hand wrote a page that I later read to my girlfriend, who is now my wife. She said the characters didn’t really tell the story, and that she heard me reciting rather than the voice of the main character. I wadded up the sheet of paper and threw it away. I never forgot what she said and believe I have corrected those mistakes in A Spy At Home.
Now, by day I work as Credit and Financial Manager for a heating, ventilating, and air conditioning distributor. When I first started writing, I thought being a numbers guy would make me an oddity as an author. That’s proved to be wrong. The more people I meet in this industry, the more I run across accountants and CFOs. Apparently, creativity infects a variety of people. Of course, I have the same dream as other writers. I hope my book sells a million copies and becomes a smash hit movie. Selling ebooks isn’t the get-rich-quick scheme I thought it was before being published. It’s been a lot of work.
MA: That’s something many people who begin writing don’t realize at first. Getting published is a business venture, and while craft is important, so is a healthy understanding of the work that goes into marketing and advertising, for example.
In your story, did you frame any characters on real life people whom you’ve known?
JR: A Spy At Home recounts the life of a CIA operative which means I cannot answer any questions about a career as a spy that I may or may not have had. Generally, I think of the characters in my books as being completely separate people. The characters don’t interact with me, let alone stem from me. At least that’s how it is in my mind. None of my characters are “based on” a person I know. They are combinations of traits from many people, and some imaginary traits are thrown in to keep my friends from recognizing themselves. Just kidding, the characters live in my head, and I write down what they say and do. Hopefully this doesn’t sound too bizarre.
MA: Tell us about the story. Is it a mystery or a thriller or something else?
JR: The genre of my books is very hard to pin down. My wife and I have searched numerous times for standardized publishing industry definitions with no success. As silly as that may sound, especially for a person who wants to deal in words as a career, genres are hard to define. A Spy At Home could be considered contemporary fiction, mainstream (this sounds like a synonym for dull), thriller, suspense (what’s the difference between thriller and suspense? Shouldn’t you be thrilled reading a suspense novel, and shouldn’t you wonder what will happen next in thriller?), drama (any book without intense turmoil probably won’t be worth reading), or adventure (my main character travels to another continent; that’s adventurous, right?). I honestly don’t know where my books fall in the narrow definitions of the publishing world; I do know I have tried to make the characters interesting and multi-faceted, moving through difficulties in their lives. A Spy At Home is my debut published novel.
MA: Fair enough. Tell us, then, about your main character. I assume you crafted him/her by design before you began writing?
JR: I didn’t. That probably sounds absurd, but I don’t intentionally mold a protagonist. The characters live their lives in my head, and I write it down. During the editing process, I might smooth a rough edge, but I try not to do that very much. I mean, for example, instead of having the protagonist cuss out his girlfriend, he simply yells at her. However, I keep his anger, frustration, or whatever in full view of the reader.
Some books I’ve read develop a character like a precise mathematical equation. The character may say, “I hate the Rolling Stones. They’re like nails on a chalkboard.” The reader now knows that he or she will be trapped into listening to Brown Sugar and Satisfaction at some point. To me this detracts from the story because the character becomes too formulaic.
MA: So who is he? What are his attributes?
JR: Garrison in A Spy At Home loves his wife and son with every fiber of his being. That’s his greatest strength. This keeps him going through several ordeals. His biggest downfall is failing to accept life as it comes. As a spy he manipulated people and events to better America’s position in African countries. As a civilian he struggles and often fails to accept life’s messy obstacles. Without revealing too much, Garrison steals a little under ten million dollars before retiring. A stronger person would have taken his pension and left the spy life behind.
MA: And the “bad guy?”
JR: That’s a tough question to answer. A Spy At Home doesn’t have a traditional villain. The reader decides for themselves who’s evil and heroic. Some might find the protagonist, Garrison, deceitful. Others might see the U.S. government as cruel. Garrison worries a great deal about his own death and what will happen to his mentally retarded son after it. This overwhelming worry could be considered the book’s villain. The “bad guy” is in the eye of the beholder.
MA: I know you have a personal connection to your hero’s life and his family circumstances. Talk about that.
JR: Like Garrison, I have a child with Down syndrome. People with Down are living much longer than ever before, which means my daughter might outlive my wife and me. Who would take care of her as well as we do? This question haunts every parent with a dependent child. My wife wrote a short story based on this concern. I blatantly stole her idea and added a spy, stolen millions, a beach house on a Caribbean island…
MA: That’s really interesting! So what comes after A Spy At Home?
JR: Another book, Hazardous Choices, has been professionally edited and will be released in the near future. We’re waiting to release it until we’ve promoted A Spy At Home as fully as we can. I have seven more books waiting to be professionally edited and released. As we save the money for more editing, we’ll get the others done, too. At present I have three books floating around in my head but can’t find the time to write them. Hopefully, A Spy At Home will be made into a movie, and I’ll have Garrison’s boat where I can write all day long!
MA: Do you have a sequel planned?
JR: I can’t think of anything more boring than writing a sequel. Mr. Potter has proven what a great success they can be, but following the same characters from one book to the next doesn’t interest me. Once the book is finished, the characters are done with me.
MA: What are your thoughts on historical research when writing novels?
JR: I was at a writer’s conference, and a woman was telling me about her historical novel. She found the menu for the heads of states dinner that actually happened, and she was using it in her novel. While she said this, I kept thinking, ‘That has got to be the most uninteresting book ever if you’re telling the reader what they had to eat.’ Research can be good and bad. Research can make the book come alive and seem real. It can also come across as if the writer is bragging about all he/she knows. If your reader wanted to read a textbook, she/he would’ve bought one. For writing novels the most important thing is being believable, not scientifically accurate.
MA: Thanks, Joseph. Folks – please visit Joseph Rinaldo’s website: www.josephmrinaldo.com, and his blog: http://wwwjosephmrinaldocom.blogspot.com. Read More
MA: Brian L. Thompson, Great Nation Publishing’s President/Sole Proprietor and author of The Lost Testament, is a licensed educator, and former professional journalist.
He showed an early interest in classical literature and the arts, particularly after his poem, “Black Sunday,” received an honorable mention in Gwynedd-Mercy College’s literary contest for high school students in 1993.
A 1994 North Penn High School graduate, he continued his education at Morehouse College in Atlanta. While there, Thompson wrote for the Maroon Tiger newspaper; moving up the ranks from staff writer, to Sports Editor, and finally to Editor-in Chief.
After earning his Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in English in 1998, he transitioned to a staff writer position at Montgomery Newspapers.
In 2000, his second as a professional journalist, he returned to the field of academics at Temple University, earning a Master’s Degree in secondary education in 2001.
Thompson then turned to education at West Charlotte High and Newton High schools respectively while simultaneously researching and writing his first Christian fiction novel, The Lost Testament – a project self-described as a “faith-based tale with everyday characters engaged in a thrilling plot.”
During this time, he also helped edit author Sabra Robinson’s anthology of inspirational stories entitled The Lost Sheep: How I Got (And AM Still Getting) Over the Hump – A Personal Account of God’s Restoration After Doubting His Purpose, the Church, and Human Existence.
He and his family reside in Georgia.
That is one impressive set of credentials, Brian. I am pleased to have you as my guest today. It sounds like you’ve spent a career between writing and teaching.
BLT: Well Mike, I’m a born writer and educator. I’ve been writing since I was 13. Professionally, I’ve taught in public schools. I was also an award-winning journalist for a time at a weekly newspaper. In May of last year, I resigned from teaching English and journalism to become a full-time writer and motivational speaker.
MA: What brought you to pursue writing novels?
BLT: I’ve always had a passion for writing and reading. As much as I believe I was called by God to do what I’m doing, I love to read an action-packed story with a redemptive message and I just don’t think the market has enough of that right now.
MA: I know what you mean. My own stories feature faith as a major character attribute of my protagonist. Did you find inspiration for your novels in your professional career in academia and writing?
BLT: I find that everything that I’ve done professionally, from teaching in the classroom, to clearing dishes at a restaurant, has added to the flavor of my particular brand of literature. But all of my characters are composite; there’s no one character I modeled after a particular person. In my first novel, Kelley James is a mixture of my deceased maternal grandmother and a few other older relatives.
MA: Tell us about your latest project.
BLT: The Revelation Gate is my most recent novel and is what would probably be called historical Christian fiction. It’s the story of one man’s journey toward becoming the deliverer of his people. There’s a love story, political intrigue, a racial war, and a message of redemption that my literary friend Michelle Sutton called “mind blowing.”
MA: Who’s the protagonist?
BLT: The protagonist, Chimelu, is really representative of what I imagine a flawed hero would be: fearful, unsure, lonely, and confused with these amazing abilities that transcend comprehension. I armed him with those characteristics, and as I put him in these terrible situations, the character sort of wrote himself.
MA: Would you describe him as courageous?
BLT: He’s a hero, so the courage to do what is right in the face of wrong is there. He puts the welfare of others above himself. At the same time, he’s confused because his destiny is kind of cloudy for most of the book. And he falls in love with a girl whose culture and religion put them at odds. He struggles with that.
MA: I assume your hero has a villain or two that he must struggle against?
BLT: There are a couple of “bad guys.” There’s Kgosi I, who is the king in power at the beginning of the book. He is cruel, but he’s nothing like Kgosi II, his son, who murders him for the throne. There’s Kaizari, who is a self-proclaimed emperor who has managed to live 800 years. Zarek is a kind of puppeteer behind it all.
MA: Is there much of your real life in The Revelation Gate?
BLT: There’s always a little bit of me in every book. My experiences in being an indie publisher and DIY publishing advocate factored into it. One of the books major themes is whether or not to sacrifice your wants for the greater good of others.
MA: I understand you have both a new book in the works and a speaking platform venture. Tell us about them.
BLT: I launched a motivational speaking platform in July called P.E.G.H. (Positioning, Empowerment, Guidance, Honor) that really has to do with my belief in DIY publishing. I’m compiling a non-fiction book to complement that. I’m also penning my third book, The Anarchists, for release in 2012. It’s the story of how an unemployed structural engineer, a currency trader, an aspiring marine, and a stay-at-home mom try to save two worlds from destruction.
MA: Do you thread your stories together in any way, like sequels or recurring characters?
BLT: I like to think that all of my characters play a part in the same universe. My first book, The Lost Testament, kind of ended on a cliffhanger, and The Revelation Gate will have a sequel or prequel. The Anarchists features ties to both of those books. Anything else, I guess we’ll have to see!
MA: Thanks, Brian! I am pleased you were able to stop by and guest with me today. For my readers, be sure to stop by Brian’s blog for more information about him and his writing: http://blthompson.wordpress.com/ Read More
MA: A New Englander by upbringing and inclination, Kenneth Weene is a teacher, psychologist, and pastoral counselor by education. Ken’s short stories and poetry have appeared in numerous publications including Sol Spirits, Palo Verde Pages, Vox Poetica Clutching at Straws, Legendary, Sex and Murder Magazine, The New Flesh Magazine, The Santa Fe Literary Review, Daily Flashes of Erotica Quarterly, Bewildering Stories and A Word With You Press.
Ken’s novels, Widow’s Walk and Memoirs From the Asylum are published by All Things That Matter Press.
Welcome, Ken. Tell us more about your background. I’m interested in how being a psychologist and a pastoral counselor have helped shape your writing.
KW: I’m a psychologist by training and worked in that field for years. I’m also an ordained minister. You will find echos of both psychology and ministry in my novels, but I guess that’s obvious when you see Memoirs From the Asylum as a title or the cover of Widow’s Walk.
MA: Have you always wanted to write novels?
KW: I always wanted to write. Retirement has given me the opportunity to pursue that goal. I started with and continue a combination of poetry, short fiction, novels, and even some non-fiction. However, novels are especially fulfilling because they allow me to create a world and explore its truth.
MA: With at least two of your titles finding their inspiration in your career, did you base any characters in them from people you’ve met or worked with professionally?
KW: Clearly Memoirs From the Asylum is rooted in my professional career and is set in the state hospital in which I did part of my training. However, the characters are more drawn from my life than my professional contacts. I know that may sound a bit strange, but there it is. I took the people from my life (including myself) and wrote them large.
Widow’s Walk is actually more connected to my professional experience. The idea came from a family with which I worked. People sometimes ask me which of the characters in Widow’s Walk is based on me; they always think they know the answer. Their guess Arnie Berger, the protagonists love interest, a college professor. Not so. The home health aide, Jem, is my alter ego in this book.
MA: Are your stories character driven or plot driven?
KW: I write literary fiction for adults. Both books focus on language and character more than plot. That is not to say they lack plot, only that I start with the love of words and of people in their creation. I do have another novel ready to come out; it’s a conspiracy novel and much more plot driven.
MA: Tell us about your protagonist(s).
KW: In Memoirs From the Asylum there are three protagonists, an unnamed narrator, a catatonic schizophrenic (Marilyn), and a psychiatric resident (Buford). The narrator and the resident are both drawn from my own character. Their stories draw in different ways on my own biography. I started the book with the narrator, who is tormented – among other things – by his cousin’s suicide. My cousin, his death. The family madness is my family’s. Buford’s connection to me is perhaps simpler to understand: me as therapist. One major difference: my wife and I are still very much in love, and she is extremely supportive.
Marilyn is drawn from some strange place that has no real world corollary. I imagined her full cloth from my sense of what catatonic schizophrenia must be like. A couple of people who have experienced psychotic breaks tell me I did it quite well.
MA: So what’s next? I assume with your extensive writing credentials that you have something planned.
KW: I have two other novels finished. One is the conspiracy novel I mentioned above. The other is a set of interconnected short stories based on the characters who make their home in a bar in Albuquerque. I should mention that this book, Tales From the Dew Drop Inne: Because there’s one in every town is set as far from my personal experience as I could get.
I have another novel under way. Set in New England and very meditative in form except for the science fiction inserts from the protagonist’s writing career. I hope to finish this one at The Writers’ Colony, where I will be spending a three week residence this fall.
MA: Thanks, Ken! I appreciate you stopping by. I want to point my readers to your website where they can learn more about you and your stories: http://www.authorkenweene.com Read More
Finally! It’s less than a month away now. Child Finder: Revelation will publish on December 1, 2011, but it is available now for pre-order via Amazon. It’s currently available in hardcover and paperback, but the eBook should be coming soon.
Get one in time for Christmas! Read More
Please stop by Shelley Workinger’s blog to read my guest post with her. She runs a unique website dedicated to food in books. I dish out (pun intended) some culinary morsels from my newest novel, Child Finder: Revelation. Read More
MA: Author Ashley Dawn was born and raised in rural Arkansas where she developed her love for writing while helping in her parent’s office. She graduated with an accounting degree from the University of Central Arkansas but is currently working as a legal assistant. Ashley has been writing professionally for the past seven years and has two published books. Her first book, Shadows From The Past, was originally published by Tate Publishing and is considered more of a traditionally published book while the second, Shadows of Suspicion, was published by self publication using AuthorHouse. She is currently working on multiple projects including the third in her ‘Shadows’ series entitled Shadows of Pain and also a standalone mystery about a serial killer that remains untitled.
Ashley also has a review blog to share her love of reading, Ashley’s Bookshelf, where she reads and reviews books of all genres. (http://ashleysbookshelf.blogspot.com) She and her family make their home in Texas.
Tell us about what you do when you’re not writing.
AD: Well, I wrote my first book at 19 so there isn’t a WHOLE lot of background. I was a college student studying Biology and enjoying life. Now, I’m a legal assistant at my husband’s law firm and wound up getting a degree in accounting instead of biology…neither of which I would use in this job! I bring my children to work with me every day (ages 3 & 1) and deal with mainly criminals throughout the work week. It’s a blast!
MA: Between that job and those degrees, how did you end up writing novels? There has to be something I’m missing…a passion, perhaps?
AD: Honestly, I think it was a way to control something in my life. The move to college from high school was a bit surprising because I went to a small school where everyone knew everyone and the teachers went out of their way to know you and help you. From that to college where you are just in a sea of students and more than likely your professor has no idea who you are; it was shocking! I found that I was in LOVE with writing. Telling someone else’s story and sharing my faith through it just seemed perfect for me!
MA: Does your professional career inspire your writing? Are any of your characters based upon real-life people with whom you’ve interacted?
AD: I know my professional career now inspires different stories for me to write. I get a lot of material through my work, things you just can’t make up, and using things I know happened (even if it is just a variation of it) makes my stories all the more real to me. I do base my characters off people I know. Mainly they are family and friends. Their attitudes and physical descriptions are combinations of different people and my family loves guessing who they ‘are’.
MA: Tell us about your books. What genre do you write?
AD: My latest book Shadows of Suspicion is the sequel to my first book Shadows From the Past and focuses on Kerry Reiley and Luke Reeding. Kerry is supposed to be the ‘safe’ one of her family as she is a second grade teacher but because of who her brothers are, she is kidnapped by a madman. Her brothers bring in Luke to rescue her and the two of them meet in a less than pleasant way but have an instant attraction. They have to elude the madman, figure out why he is chasing her and try to understand the pull that brings the two of them together. The genre for this book is Christian Romantic Suspense.
MA: How did you develop Luke’s character?
AD: Luke is a combination of several of my male family members. I see my brother, father, grandfather, nephews and even a couple cousins in him! I think he is the best of each of them and a bit more added to it He needed to be strong to keep up with Kerry (who incidentally is a big mix of my female relatives) and he needed to fit in with the rest of the characters, not remain an outsider.
MA: I assume then, that you pulled the strengths from each of your family members who make up Luke’s composite, and imbued them in him?
AD: I think Luke’s main strength is he knows what he is good at and excels in it. No matter if it is rescuing a friend’s sister or disarming a bomb, he is going to get the job done. His weakness is not understanding his past and how it affects his outlook on life and holds him back. He isn’t open or really even in touch with his feelings and that is detrimental to him as a person.
MA: And the madman (or men?)?
AD: Well, in my first book, Shadows From The Past, the bad guy was Charles Deveraux. Shadows of Suspicion kind of picks up that thread and uses Charles’ son Chris and his second in command Jim as the bad guys. They operate a drug ring that the police have been trying to shut down for years and they are very good at evading all the ‘traps’.
MA: What’s next in the Shadows series?
AD: I’m currently editing my third book in my Shadows series and it is titled Shadows of Pain. Hopefully I will have it out later this year. I’m also working on a book that is a different story line all together. It doesn’t have a title and is about an attorney and a doctor trying to save a young girl and find a serial killer.
MA: I wonder if your husband will make an appearance in that last book…what about characters from the first two, will any of them surface in the subsequent series books?
AD: All of my characters seem to make an appearance in my Shadows books in one form or another and I’m definitely going to continue to tell the characters’ stories. Each one seems so real to me that I think they deserve their own stories and in that way, a book. I’ll focus on a different set of main characters but I have no doubt there will be several more books come from my Shadows Series.
MA: Excellent, and thanks for stopping by! Read More