Eduardo Gomez, a character in “The Ambivalent Corpse” by Jerold Last

What is your story?

I’m a Paraguayan police lieutenant named Eduardo Gomez. You will first meet me in the novel The Ambivalent Corpse by Jerold Last.

What is your problem in the story?

One of my other bosses wants me to help investigate a murder in Uruguay that might have neo-Nazi connections that could affect my home country, Paraguay.

Do you embrace conflict?

No, I try to use my brains rather than my considerable brawn.

How do you see yourself?

As a man trying to do the best I can in three difficult jobs, and sometimes being tugged in different directions by conflicting loyalties.

How do your friends see you?

They only see the parts of me I want them to see.

How do your enemies see you?

My goal is always that eventually they see me through the bars of a prison cell.

How does the author see you?

He hasn’t really let me have my own story yet so we have unresolved issues. I think that may change eventually, but not immediately in this series.

Do you think the author portrayed you accurately?

Only on a pretty superficial level. There’s a lot more to me that he has revealed thus far.

Do you talk about your achievements?

Often, I can’t. I do a lot of work that is best kept from the public.

Do you have money troubles?

Fortunately not. I am being paid a good salary for all of the things I do.

What do you want to be?

A good person and a good father.

What do you believe?

I believe in right and wrong, and that we are all responsible for doing as much right as we can while we’re in this world.

What makes you happy?

I enjoy my collaborations with Roger and Suzanne. They know a lot more about me than anyone else so I can relax with them and just be the real me. And I enjoy spending time around Suzanne.

What makes you angry?

Evil. Evil people. Extreme poverty and what it does to otherwise good people.

Do you keep your promises?

To the best of my ability I do. That’s very important to me, especially because of my life style.

Do you have any distinguishing marks?

You don’t need to know that.

Did anything newsworthy happen on the day you were born?

Yes. Paraguay played Brazil in an international soccer match and tied 0-0. This was when Pele was still playing for the Brazil National team.

What in your past had the most profound effect on you?

My religious upbringing.

Who was your first love?

The lovely girl I met in college who became my wife.

Who is your true love?

My wife, even if I also have some unresolved feelings for Suzanne.

What is your most closely guarded secret?

Who my international employers are and what exactly it is that I do for them.

What is your favorite food?

I like good wines and fresh seafood. Paraguay is landlocked so fresh seafood doesn’t exist and the Paraguayan wine industry has a long way to go to catch up to Argentina in making fine wines.

If you were stranded on a desert island, who would you rather be stranded with, a man or a woman?

A woman of course. I’m a South American man.

Click here for an interview with: Jerold Last, Author of “The Ambivalent Corpse”

Click here for an: Excerpt From “The Ambivalent Corpse” by Jerold Last

Anton, Hero of the story “Color Me Baby Blue” by Kaye George

What is your story?

I found my true calling as a retailer. My niche is color. Ask anyone, I can pick the hot new color for next season’s clothing, almost better that a colorist.

Who are you?

My name is Anton, but I’d rather be called Tony. Anton sounds too stuffy.

Are you the hero of your own story?

Not hardly. Nothing ever goes right for me.

What is your problem in the story?

My problem is that Miss Manning, Mandy, doesn’t know how much I love her.

How do you see yourself?

I’d be the ideal person to run Uncle Leo’s business, Hardi Couture. Leo Hardiman, Hardi, get it? He’s just like all my other bosses, though. They’re all out to get me. I can’t understand it. I could do their jobs so much better than they can.

Do you think the author portrayed you accurately?

I’m not sure even she appreciates my finer qualities. She seems to have glossed over my virtues.

What do you think of yourself?

I think a lot of myself. I have to–no one else does. Even my own parents kicked me out and changed the locks. Who does that to their own flesh and blood, I ask you?

Do you have a goal?

My goal right now is to live through my latest ordeal. Since I’m in a short story and not a novel, I can’t give away too much here or that author would kill me. Really. She’s tough.

Do you have any skills?

Skills! I sure do. I can pick the next hot trend like nobody else in the clothing biz. I’m a natural.

Do you have money troubles?

Do I ever! I’ve lost every job I’ve ever had so far.

Has anyone ever betrayed you?

Story of my life. If you read “Color Me Baby Blue” in the anthology ALL THINGS DARK AND DASTARDLY, you’ll see how people treat me.

Who is your true love?

Miss Manning. I still love her in spite of everything. Those Passion Periwinkle eyes, those luscious lips.

What is your most closely guarded secret?

The one I shared with Miss Manning. Big mistake.

What are the last five entries in your check registry?

Ha! You think someone like me, who sometimes lives under a bridge, has a checking account?

How do you envision your future?

I have to admit, at this point it looks bleak.

Where can we learn more about “Color Me Baby Blue” and the anthology ALL THINGS DARK AND DASTARDLY?

More info and some links are at

Harry Charters, Hero of “Harry Charters Chronicles” by Graham Smith

Welcome, Harry. What is your story?

My name is Harry Charters and I’m a private investigator working in the city of Mariscoper. I’ve fought in the second world war, been married and had a booming business. I hit hard times when a case went very wrong, so now I take just enough cases to keep me in bourbon.

Do you embrace conflict?

I sure don’t hide from it. I have my demons and now and then I have to release them. When I’m crossed or I see an injustice then I tend to deal with things my own way. Once upon a time I woulda called the cops, now I just dispense my own justice.

How do your enemies see you?

Through swollen eyes and on occasion behind a the big eye of my good friend Samuel Colt. Me and my enemies don’t negotiate truces, we declare war.

How does the author see you?

He sees me for what I am. He’s drank with me and I even took him on a cinch of a case once when I knew he wouldn’t be in any danger.

Do you think the author portrayed you accurately?

We’ve talked long and hard and he had to convince me that he was the right man to tell my stories. I also left him in no doubt about what would happen to him if he let me down. I do after all know where he lives. For those who don’t know my author is called Graham Smith and his book is called Harry Charters Chronicles. Basically it’s seven of my adventures polished up and told better than the way I told him.

Do you have any special weaknesses?

Bourbon and memories. After I’ve supped a couple I hear the voices of Nasty Drunk or Melancholy Drunk depending on my mood. Nasty Drunk has gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years but I always feel that Melancholy Drunk is more dangerous to me personally. The memories haunt me and the only way I can lose my ghosts is to surround Jack Daniels until he numbs me from within.

Do you have money troubles?

I get by. Since my life went south I have always had enough to survive. I will never be rich but as long as I can buy me some bourbon I won’t do any complainin’.

What makes you angry?

Injustice, bullies and little men trying to be big men. I have a very low tolerance for bullshitters and bullies. Leave me in their company for more than a few minutes and there will be blood spilt.

What makes you happy?

Bourbon makes me less miserable as does allowing my demons to exercise themselves when I beat up some wiseass who’s crossed me.

What are you afraid of?

Letting another kid down. The only human who scares me is the guy I see every morning in my shaving mirror.

Are you honorable?

I believe that I am an honourable person although my actions may not always be interpreted that way. Where’s the honour in killing?

Who was your first love?

Madeleine Pederson, a girl from the town where I grew up. Seen her a few weeks back for the first time in fifteen years.

Do you have any skills?

I’m a pretty handy boxer but I usually end up disqualified because I punch my opponents all the way to the canvas. When I put ‘em down, they stay down.

Are you healthy?

For a man of my years I’m in pretty good shape. Mornings can be rough until I’ve had my first drink.

If you were at a store now, what ten items would be in your shopping cart?

Two bottles of bourbon, six bottles of beer, a loaf of bread and a hunk of ham.

Where can we find out more about you?

On Amazon:

Officer Lincoln Carter, hero of Ghost Prints by Jason Gehlert

Who are you?

My name is Officer Lincoln Carter. My experiences recently have been quite overwhelming. My partner and best friend, Joe Buchanan, recently solved a pair of cases involving ghosts and spirits. I’ve been exposed if you will, and can hear voices from beyond, especially my dead friend, Zach, who talks to me and helps Joe and I catch spiritual criminals.

Do you think the author portrayed you accurately?

I can honestly say Mr.Gehlert has fleshed out my character, giving me a full range of skills, including a unique three dimensional line of thinking. And, he’s made me the hero of the stories, which I’ve learned has been picked up by Damnation Books. Joe and I have a new adventure in New Orleans, set for a March 2012 release.

What do you regret?

My biggest regret is not being there for my friend Zach, allowing years of feuding over my brother’s death to alienate our friendship. His suicide hit me hard, but now we connect on a whole new level.

Where do you live?

I currently live in New York’s gorgeous Hudson Valley with my wife and kids.

Have you ever had an adventure?

My adventure would be hunting down spiritual criminals and not the real warm blooded ones! Either way, I still deliver justice.

Who is your enemy?

Our main enemy, is the Crowley bloodline. We’ve encountered both a spiritual version and a warm blood ancestor, each with their own unique skill set.

How do you see yourself?

I’m healthy and a very determined cop. I also believe in loyalty and teamwork. I also have a lot of honor in my work.

What is your favorite food?

My favorite food is tacos and a good beer with friends, and I’m a devoted family man.

What are the last three books you read?

The last three books I’ve read? Contagion, Ghost Prints, and Demon Revolver all by Jason Gehlert. He writes with passion and heart.

If you were shopping what three things would be in your cart?

Three things in my shopping cart? Taco mix, batteries, and a newspaper.

What is your favorite music?

My favorite music? Led Zeppelin, Ozzy Osborune, and Scorpions.

Do you embrace conflict?

I embrace conflict, it drives my ego, fuels my passion to catch the bad guy. Without conflict, my mind would collapse and become stale. I need a good challenge to keep my mind fresh and firing on all cylinders.

How do you envision your future?

I envision my future as continuing to play this heroic yet compassionate role Mr.Gehlert has created for me in Ghost Prints and our new adventure, Ferrymen, coming out next spring. He’s also writing another adventure for us as we speak.

Chris Redding, Author of “Blonde Demolition”

Welcome, Chris, What is your book about?

The official blurb: You just can’t hide from the past…

Mallory Sage lives in a small, idyllic town where nothing ever happens. Just the kind of life she has always wanted. No one, not even her fellow volunteer firefighters, knows about her past life as an agent for Homeland Security.

Former partner and lover, Trey McCrane, comes back into Mallory’s life. He believes they made a great team once, and that they can do so again. Besides, they don’t have much choice. Paul Stanley, a twisted killer and their old nemesis, is back.

Framed for a bombing and drawn together by necessity, Mallory and Trey go on the run and must learn to trust each other again―if they hope to survive. But Mallory has been hiding another secret, one that could destroy their relationship. And time is running out.

How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?

I’m not sure any of me is hidden in the characters. I think it’s more than Mallory has traits I wish I had. She has such a sense of right and wrong and for me life is a littler grayer.

What was the most difficult part about writing the book?

I think the most difficult part of writing the book was actually after it was sold. I did more revisions on this book that all others combined. Not that that is a complaint. I believe the publisher has almost as much passion for this book as I do. She wants it to succeed so Blonde Demolition wasn’t going to be published until it was perfect.

What has changed for you personally since you wrote your first book?

When I wrote my first book for publication, I was pregnant and had a toddler. I hadn’t written in years. I was living and it was as if this pregnancy woke up my creativity. Now, that child is 13 and the older sibling 16. They are more self-sufficient so it isn’t wiping butts and noses anymore. It’s driving them places and picking them up. It’s more time in some ways, but less time in others.

How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?

Oh, my upbringing could be a post in and of itself. But. I think you will in find that very few of my characters have parents. They are either orphans or the parents have already passed. I was not close to my parents so I couldn’t begin to construct what a healthy relationship with a parent is.

What’s your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain amount of words each day?

My writing schedule tends to be haphazard. I have a finite amount of time and energy between kids, husband and part time job. I may not write for weeks on end. Why? Most likely because I am working on soemthing else like a workshop or a series of blog posts. When I am knee deep in writing, I do 5 pages a day.

Do you prefer to write at a particular time of day?

I prefer writing in the morning.It’s when I have the most energy. Creativity takes a lot of energy.

What was the first story you remember writing?

The first story I every wrote was in fifth grade about an old lady with many cats. The teacher gave me an A and let me read it in front of the class. When I finished, the class was silent. Suddenly I wasn’t that four-eyed awkward kid. That’s when I knew I wanted to write.

Does writing come easy for you?

Writing comes easily to me. The only reason is because I trust that the words will be there. Even if I’m ready to sit down and I have nothing, the words will be there. A mechanic doesn’t approach a car repair thinking, “I wonder if I’ll figure it out.” Nope, they just dive in and fix it. A writer who wants to do this for a living has to look at it as a profession. A plumber never says they just aren’t feelling the plumbing today. Nope, they just do it.

Have you written any other books?

My other books are:
The Drinking Game, in print and Kindle/Nook.
Corpse Whisperer, Kindle/Nook
Confessions: Volume One, Kindle/Nook
Incendiary, print and Kindle/Nook
A View to a Kilt, pring and Kindle/Nook


P.I. Barrington, Author of Isadora DayStar

What is your book about?

I think the overall theme is about guilt and redemption but in a nutshell, the blurb below gives it all:

When drug-addled assassin Isadora DayStar finally snags a major interplanetary kill job she thinks it will both support her habit and revise her status as the laughingstock of her profession. Instead she embarks on a journey that brings her face to face with her tortured past.

How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?

It took about a year and a half of rolling the idea around, coming up with various, sometimes unrelated scenes which is not how I write at all. But I had a trilogy coming out that I was working on, a book every four or five months for my publisher so Isadora was on the back burner so to speak. I’d sneak in little hand written scenes at night before I went to bed after working on the novels during the day. Finally, Isadora really began to demand attention so every time I was stuck on the trilogy books, I’d pull up her document and work on it. I did begin to get a little obsessed with it after all my other deadlines were met.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

This is a true story! First I’d read an interview article with an author who, when asked why she gave a particular main character such huge obstacles to overcome, said she disliked that character so much she wanted to torture her, lol! The interviewer told her that those obstacles were the reason she loved that character! That started me thinking if it was possible to intentionally create a main character that you hate intensely as the author. I began an opening for the story and tried to make Isadora (no name at the time) as repulsive as possible. I got about twenty pages done and realized that I’d started to be interested in, if not liked, Isadora. As I mentioned earlier I wrote her in fits and starts. I also used to watch a program called “CreationScapes” on the DayStar Christian Channel late at night and I was hooked on it. One night the DayStar logo came up and I thought “what a great last name for a sci-fi character, especially a female. About five minutes later, Isadora popped into my head and that was it: Isadora DayStar. By that time she had entire story.

How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?

I really don’t know. I think I see her as someone who I have the potential to be if I’m not careful.

Tell us a little about your main characters. Who was your favorite? Why?

Isadora is always my favorite, probably because I like losers, I like people who have false bravado and just keep going, keep trying no matter how insane the obstacles. Isadora has a great ability to deal with negativity and trauma and I think that’s due to the giant amount of guilt she carries around inside. When you have that much inner torture, outside torture can seem minor in comparison. Iphedea I like because she sees something in Isadora that’s good, she recognizes Isadora’s potential and herself in her as well though that isn’t obvious to her. Rafe Tucker is just an all around bastard.

Who is your most unusual/most likeable character?

Wow. Again, it’s got to be Isadora. She’s just so determined to survive and prove to not only everyone else but herself as well that she still has some type of worth and she can be ridiculously soft-hearted in spite of herself. She has this fragile shell around herself that cracks with all the abuse but never quite breaks and she tries to be tougher than she really is; she pretends to herself that she’s tough though deep down somewhere she knows she’s vulnerable. It shows in her relationship with Iphedea and in the guilt she bears.

How long did it take you to write your book?

Total about a year and a half to write it but then writing speeded up once I’d made all my writing commitments. By the time I could sit down and concentrate on Isadora, it was all pretty much written. I just had to type it all out.

How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?

Well, I usually have two arcs like a double rainbow: the top arc is the overall story plot, theme, etc., that is the Beginning A to the End B; the arc below that is the plot action that gets me from point A to point B. So I may not know all of the details until I begin that lower arc of action. I know the first line and I know the last line.

Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?

Actually I do. I write sequentially, that is from the first line and go straight through to the end. I have one WIP that has taken me ages and is awful to write because I wrote the scenes out of sequence. I’ll never do that again!

How (or when) do you decide that you are finished writing a story?

As I said, I know the first line and the last line. When I get to that last line I am done. I write “The End” and it’s over but for editing.

What is your goal for the book, i.e.: what do you want people to take with them after they finish reading the story?

I want them to remember it and to feel that they’ve been on the journey with Isadora. I want them to sympathize if not empathize with her—root for her—feel her pain (to quote President Clinton). I want them to relate in terms of guilt and redemption. I want them to like her even if she doesn’t.

Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?

There’s almost always a moral to the stories I can’t help but put it in. People say the messages are subtle but there and I never think they’re that obvious.

What was the most difficult part about writing the book?

Writing the prostitution scenes was definitely the hardest. Isadora had to reduce herself to doing pretty much anything to survive—it was hard to watch her humiliate herself, hard to write it.

Do you think writing this book changed your life? How so?

You know I think every writer has that special book inside them—sometimes they call it “The Great American Novel.” Isadora is that one for me. I had this need to write an underdog story, a real need to do it, and I realized when writing it that I’d had various versions of this story inside my head for years and when it emerged it was all those versions congealed as one—Isadora DayStar.

What has changed for you personally since you wrote your first book?

My level of professionalism has shot itself into the upper stratosphere! When you’re young or not yet published, you don’t realize what kind of attitude you suddenly need once you are published. There’s no more fooling around, no wasting time, you have to devote complete attention to things like edits and revisions your editor(s) need.

How has your background influenced your writing?

I’ve always written from the time I learned the alphabet but I never wanted to give in to it. I was a journalist and then worked in radio and entertainment so all of that definitely influences how I write—concise and tight. I also know pretty much what it takes to entertain people on a professional level and make my work as accessible as I can.

Do you have any rituals that you follow before sitting down to write?

No, and I’m desperately trying to find some, lol! I’m only half facetious about that—I’d love to have some cool preparation before I dig into the keyboard!

Do you prefer to write at a particular time of day?

I’m a night person and don’t really get into functioning gear until late afternoon so mornings are pretty much devoted to email, FB, etc. If I’m working on a book deadline, I start as early as possible, every day and write as much as I possibly can or until I finish one or more chapters and need to stop and regroup to continue the story. Most of the time I begin serious writing about 4 p.m. and go as far as I can into the night or until my dog drags me to bed. The only time I count words is if I need a certain amount for my publisher’s deadline & word count requirements. Or if the story needs more count to be an actual novel—that’s where the concise and tight becomes a problem, lol!

Do you have a favorite snack food or favorite beverage that you enjoy while you write?

Coffee and Diet Coke are my working poisons. If I could get them both via an IV drip I would, lol! I’ve drunk coffee since my grandmother gave it to me as soon as I could hold a cup! Popcorn—I love popcorn—without butter.

What are you working on right now?

Several things: I’m finishing up a paranormal crime thriller, I’ve begun an epic fantasy, and have several short stories to finish slated for anthologies, two sci-fi romances, and a couple of things I’m thinking of serializing.

Are you writing to reach a particular kind of reader?

I think I’m writing for those who read big commercial authors and I hope that doesn’t sound insanely egotistical. But my stuff isn’t strictly held to a genre. I don’t write super technical sci fi but I also don’t go overboard with romance either. My hope is that both men and women will like my books.

What was the first story you remember writing?

There was only one and it won the school district contest. It was a first person account of the life and care of the American Flag! I came in first and should have known back then but I did not want to be a writer at all! That small story triggered a love/hate relationship with writing that has only really ended in the last two years.

What is the most difficult part of the whole writing process?

Coming up with a great premise.

Does writing come easy for you?

Ridiculously so.

Have you ever had difficulty “killing off” a character in your story because she or he was so intriguing and full of possibility for you, his or her creator?

No. I create characters that are marked for death from the beginning.

How many stories do you currently have swirling around in your head?

No less than five. But as I’ve said, if I’m on deadline, I concentrate on the novel at hand.

What do you like to read?

Totally incongruent, but I LOVE ancient historical—both Christian and non-Christian. I’m a closet history buff and wannabee archaeologist!

What writer influenced you the most?

Two: Stephen King and Taylor Caldwell.

What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you’d written yourself?
Again, two: Taylor Caldwell’s Great Lion of God and Dear and Glorious Physician. Oh, how could I forget? Pat Wallace’s House of Scorpio! That’s one romance fantasy that I wish I’d written! By today’s standards it’s perhaps a little mawkish and maudlin but such a clever and unique premise and setting/world building. I love it!

What advice you would give to an aspiring author?

Don’t be self-indulgent. Don’t look at everything you write as perfect. Be your own harshest critic and that way no one else will have to be.

What are your current writing goals and how do you juggle the promotional aspects with the actual writing?

To get all of my stories written and published and perhaps get an agent would be my current goals. Promoting and writing? That’s the REAL trick of publishing today. Writing takes time, but for me at least, promotion is constant and at times overwhelming!

What advice would you give other novelists about book promotion?

Be proactive—don’t expect everyone else to do it for you, especially your publisher.

Have you written any other books?

Yes, my sister and I have several:

Future Imperfect trilogy (Crucifying Angel, Miraculous Deception & Final Deceit) futuristic crime thriller
Inamorata Crossing, Borealis 1 anthology sci fi romance
Button Hollow Chronicles #1: The Leaf Peeper Murders
Lights! Camera! Murder!
Isadora DayStar, a dark sci fi adventure available now via Smashwords:

Information on all books and the authors can be found at P.I. Barrington/Loni Emmert’s website:

Thanks so much for having me Pat!

Smoky Trudeau Zeidel, Author of “On the Choptank Shores”

Welcome, Smoky! What is your book, On the Choptank Shores, about?

The tragic deaths of her mother and two younger siblings have left Grace Harmon responsible for raising her sister Miriam and protecting her from their abusive father, Luther, a zealot preacher with a penchant for speaking in Biblical verse who is on a downward spiral toward insanity. Otto Singer charms Grace with his gentle courtship and devotion to his brother, Henry. But after their marriage, Otto is unable to share with Grace the terrible secret he has kept more than twenty years. Otto believes he is responsible for a tragic accident that claimed the life of a young woman and left Henry severely brain damaged.

Luther’s insane ravings and increasingly violent behavior force Grace to question and reassess the patriarchal religious beliefs of her childhood. Then tragedy strikes just when Otto’s secret is uncovered, unleashing demons that threaten to destroy the entire family. Can Grace find the strength to save her sister … her marriage … them all?

On the Choptank Shores is a love story. The love between a young wife (Grace) and her decidedly middle-aged husband (Otto), and the love of a big sister for her abused baby sister (Miriam). It’s the story of the love for an aging, grief-stricken father (Luther) who is spiraling into a dark world of insanity, and the love of a kind and benevolent God whom Grace knows must exist, despite the crazed ravings of her father, who paints a picture of a vengeful, angry God as he spouts biblical verse to defend his abuse of both Grace and little Miriam. It is a story of the land on which they live, and the power of Mother Nature. Most of all, it is a story of love conquering all.

Who is your most unusual character?

That would be Henry. Henry is Otto’s younger brother who, although a grown man, has the mind of a child ever since a childhood accident left him brain damaged. He can be violent, mostly out of frustration. But he can be very kind, too, and he becomes a great friend to little Miriam, who mentally isn’t much younger than Henry at all, despite the wide difference in their chronological years. Henry gets in deep trouble in the book, but in the end, he turns out to be … whoops! Almost put a spoiler in there! I better leave it at that!

Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it?

On the Choptank Shores is set on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, at a peach orchard named Windy Hill. Windy Hill Orchard was my aunt and uncle’s home, where I spent many happy vacations as a child raiding my aunt’s garden, devouring her blue crab cakes, swimming in the river, and jumping in the sand pit—although we weren’t supposed to do the latter, because my uncle feared the sand would cave in on us. My aunt and uncle were long gone by the time I wrote the book, so most of my research entailed talking to my mother to have her remind me of details about Windy Hill that I needed but had forgotten. I also dug through old photos taken at Windy Hill to help transport my mind back to that simpler time and place.

But I also did a bit of research at the library. I do have one sex scene in the book—it isn’t gratuitous; it actually makes a point about one of the main themes of the book—and I had to research what sort of underclothing a woman in the late 1920s would be wearing. It was fun! For example, Grace did not wear a bra; she wore a bust confiner. That was a fun fact to uncover.

I also had to research what giving birth would have been like back then. They certainly didn’t allow fathers into the delivery room, of course; nor did they have epidurals. It’s a wonder to me any mother survived childbirth before the advent of epidurals.

How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?

That’s differed from book to book. My other published novel, The Cabin, I had most of the story plotted out in my head before I set a finger on the keyboard. That was easy to do, because the plot stemmed from a story in my family’s history that I found fascinating.

But for On the Choptank Shores, I had a totally different idea of what the story would be when I started out than when I finished writing it. The characters just took over and wouldn’t let me write what I thought I was going to write! And they were correct in doing so, and I was smart to let them. Their story was so much better than the one I thought I was going to tell!

Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?

While meditating, I often come up with rough ideas for scenes I need to write. The characters get in my head and tell me what to write when I’m in such a relaxed state. I also sometimes dream scenes, which is pretty wonderful when it happens.

As to staying on track: often, I don’t. But that’s because, as I said in the last question, if my characters aren’t happy with the way I’m telling the story, they tend to take over and tell the story their way instead of the way I’m telling it. Sometimes, jumping the track is better than staying on it!

How (or when) do you decide that you are finished writing a story?

I am so glad you asked that question! As a former writing instructor, I get concerned when writers announce they are writing a 90,000-word book, or they have 4,000 words to go before they finish writing their book. How, exactly, can you know how long your story is going to be? My opinion is, you write until the story is done. Then, you stop. That means sometimes I end up with a novel, sometimes a novella. Sometimes, it’s a short story—one of my more popular short stories (it’s been published five time!) is “Good-bye, Emily Dickinson.” I wanted badly for that story to be a novel, but it just wasn’t. It was a short story. I would have had to pad, and pad, and pad to stretch it further, and that would have diluted the story.

Of course, once you have some experience, you can judge whether your story will be a novel or not. But exact word count? I don’t think so.

So, to get off my teacher soapbox and answer your question, I write until the story is done. When it reaches the climax, when I’ve done my denouement, I call it quits. Period.

I do have a neat trick I’d like to share for knowing exactly which sentence should be your last. Remove the last sentence. Is the final paragraph still strong? Does it make sense? If it does, now remove that sentence and ask yourself the same questions. If it does, now remove that sentence. Keep doing this until you weaken your ending by removing a sentence. Add that necessary one back, and that should be the end.

What, in your opinion, are the essential qualities of a good story?

First, your characters must ring true. That means your hero or heroine can’t be perfect; they must have flaws. Similarly, your antagonist can’t be all bad. For your characters to ring true, you also have to get dialogue right. People speak in contractions, for example, yet it’s drummed into us in school not to use them!

Your plot must, of course, revolve around a central conflict. There are probably going to be other conflicts as well making up your sub-plots, but it amazes me how many manuscripts I’ve edited for people where there was no central conflict. They hadn’t written stories; they’d written “A Day in the Life of…” types of things. But that’s basic principle of fiction writing! No conflict, no story.

There are more, but those are the most important, in my opinion.

Do you prefer to write at a particular time of day?

I am definitely a morning person. I like to arise before the sun and write. By about lunchtime, my mind starts to tire. I’ll switch to any editing jobs I’ve contracted at that time.

Of course, if I’m really on a roll and still feeling fresh, I’ll continue to write. But, generally speaking, mornings are when I’m at my best.

Do you have a favorite snack food or beverage that you enjoy while you write?

Graham crackers and Coca-Cola. I have a very testy stomach, and grahams and Coke keep it soothed while I write.

Does writing come easy for you?

Yes and no. When I sit down to write, the words flow, and flow easily and well. I’ve been told I’m a natural-born writer, but I don’t know if that’s the case. I grew up in a house full of books, and was always a natural-born reader, and I think being well-read is crucial to becoming a great writer.

The problem for me is the same problem most writers have, and that’s finding the time to write. That is not always easy!

What’s been the most surprising part of being a writer?

The awe some people display when they find out I’ve not only written a book, but written several! Really, I don’t tell people I’m an author to stun them! It’s what I do, just like some people are gardeners or bank tellers or forest rangers. But there is something about being a writer that makes other people think you’re pretty cool—even if you aren’t!

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on my third novel, called The Storyteller’s Bracelet. A storyteller’s bracelet is a Navajo bracelet that has pictographs carved into it that tell the artist’s story, or another person’s story. My sister gave me one a few years back, and the inspiration for this novel came from that.

I’m also working on another project, called The Madam of Bodie. It’s loosely based on true stories from Bodie, California, which was known as “the baddest town in the West” during the California gold boom. It’s a state park now and one of my favorite places to visit when we go to the Sierras. It’s a writers dream, as far as inspiration goes.

Have you written any other books?

Yes, I have! There’s my novel, The Cabin, which I’ve already mentioned. My latest release is Short Story Collection, Vol. 1; the print edition of that was released just a few days ago. Then there’s Observations of an Earth Mage, my photo/essay book of reflections on nature.

I also have another new eBook release that will be available in print in October: Smoky’s Writers Workshop Combo Set. The book is comprised of both my books for writers: Front-Word, Back-Word, Insight Out: Lessons on Writing the Novel Lurking Inside You From Start to Finish; and Left Brained, Write Brained: 366 Writing Prompts and Exercises., The former title is the same fiction writer’s workshop I used to teach, so people can get an entire 10-week writing class in one book, plus a year’s worth of writing exercises in one book with the new, combined book. It’s a great way for someone who wants to write a book to learn the right way to do it, and it works! One of my former writing students, Robert Hays, learned to write fiction with my method, and he’s gone on to publish four novels!

Where can people learn more about your books?

Here’s the list of all my links. I hope people will look me up in these places, friend and/or follow me, and say hello!

Website and “Smoky Talks” Blog:
Facebook Fan Page:                  
Amazon Author Page:               
Goodreads Author Page:          
Smashwords Author Page:       
All Romance Author Page:       

Click here to read an excerpt from: On the Choptank Shores

Click here for an interview with: Grace Harmon Singer, Hero of On the Choptank Shores by Smoky Trudeau Zeidel

Dan Davis, Hero of “Operation Blinder” by Robert Holt

What is your story?
My story? The adventures, or misadventures, of a Union Navy Covert Operation Team sent to disrupt the communications between a, would be, Dictator, and his Space Fleet. The title of the story is ‘Operation Blinder’.

Who are you?
Chief Dan Davis, United Earth Space Navy.

Where do you live?
Anywhere the Navy sticks me.

Are you the hero of your own story?
A reluctant hero I guess, but my troops are the real heroes.

What is your problem in the story?
My problem is; I hate anything related to war and, unnecessary killing.

Do you run from conflict?
No. I do my job to the best of my ability.

How do you see yourself?
I seldom think about myself, but if you pin me down, I’d have to say, a coward. Not where my duties in the Navy are concerned, but for not standing up to my father.

How do your friends see you?
I don’t have anyone I could call a friend, but those close to me in the Navy think I’m some sort of super hero. Probably because I finish at the top of any class I take. If they knew I take all those classes to avoid being sent into any conflict area, they’d probably have a lower opinion of me.

How do your enemies see you?
By enemies, I assume you mean those passed over for promotions that were given to me? They probably think I’m an arrogant ass, or some nepotism is involved. Although I can assure you Admiral Davis never interferes where his wayward son is involved.

How does the author see you?
I think he must hate me. He keeps putting me in harm’s way.

Do you think the author portrayed you accurately?
Yes. But there are things about me that even he doesn’t know.

Do you have a goal?
Yes. To get my troops out of this mess alive.

Do you have any skills?
Well, the Navy has taught me a lot of ways to kill my fellow man… does that count?

What do you want?
To be an old man… a live old man. I doubt that will happen.

What do you need?
A beer, but I’ll settle for a cup of coffee.

What do you want to be?
A tea-pot? Just kidding.

What do you believe?
If you’re referring to religion, then ‘nothing’. Too many people have died, and continue to be killed, in the name of some fictional deity.

What are you afraid of?
Letting my troops down. They actually believe I’ll get them through this.

What do you regret?
Not standing up to my father. I never wanted to be in this stupid Navy. I did get back at him… I didn’t apply for Officers Training like he wanted. I signed on as an Able Spacer… the lowest of the low. Unfortunately, because of my ‘abilities’, I’ve risen through the ranks. Now, as Master Chief, lives are in my hands… Officer or not. Did I mention, I hate war?

What, if anything, haunts you?
Not saying ‘No’ to this mission, even if it would have broken my father’s heart to have his son booted out of his beloved Navy, I should have let them do it. I hate this shit.

Has anyone ever betrayed you?
Possibly my mother. She was too busy being a good Officer’s Wife to stand up for me. She knew how I felt, but chose to ignore it.

Have you ever failed anyone?
In my father’s eyes, Yes.

What was your childhood like?
Ever been to Military Boot Camp? That was my childhood. So the answer would be ‘crappy.’

Did you get along with your parents?
You’ve gotta be kidding.

What in your past had the most profound effect on you?
Attending the, Full Military Funeral, of my favorite uncle and asking ‘why?’ That was when I found I hated war.

Who was your first love?
Never had time for love… although I’ve met a great girl here on Gilligan…

Have you ever had an adventure?
Well… this mission has been more adventure than I’ll ever want again. Being saddled with the troops the Navy wouldn’t mind losing… all facing Dishonorable Discharge as I was, plus an AI with an attitude and a sense of humor that I find quite annoying, is bad enough. But the worst part? I am convinced the Navy wanted this mission to fail. I refuse to let that happen. That’s why I changed the orders. I hate to fail.

Was there a major turning point in your life?
I think this may be it.

What is your most prized possession?
Funny you should ask. When I made Master Chief, I was given an engraved coffee cup. I spilled the Champagne out of it when my father mumbled, ‘It could have been Captain Davis.”

What is your favorite music?
I’m partial to an ancient jazz artiest called Brubeck. Ever hear of him? Give his title ‘Take Five’ a listen some time.

What are the last three books you read?
Hummm. Besides The Art of War, I’d have to say Larry Nivin’s Ringworld books.

How do you envision your future?
What future? Unless I can stay here on Gilligan, and out of the Navy’s sight, I don’t see much of a future. Don’t get me wrong… I’m not a deserter. Our orders stated, ‘After destroying The Shah’s Grav-Space Radio, we are to join, or organize, the local resistance’. We ‘are’ the resistance. Letting the Navy assume we died soon after we killed the Shah, is technically not desertion… is it?

Joe January, Hero of the Novel One Hot January by J. Conrad Guest

Bertram: Who are you?

Joe: My name is Joe January. I was a private investigator from the South Bronx, circa 1940. Was once described as an indignant Humphrey Bogart. Who am I to argue? The difference between Bogie and me is that I was the real McCoy. Where he took the scripts that Hollywood wrote for him, I took on the tough cases nobody else would. Unlike Bogie’s, my bumps and bruises were the real deal, not makeup.

Bertram: What is your story?

Joe: One Hot January is anything but a story, although it could be construed as a Hollywood type script Bogie might’ve been interested in bringing to the screen were he alive today. Not being a scientist, I can’t tell you the how behind what happened, only that it did happen. I know, it reads like science fiction, spanning two centuries and dealing with time travel and alternate realities, while the denouement is less than satisfactory—boy loses girl, boy finds new girl, loses her, finds the first girl and this time she loses him. But such is life: a happily ever after, while often promised, is never a given.

In a nutshell my story could be termed what Nietzsche called “the bungled and the botched.”

Bertram: Are you the hero of your own story?

Joe: Funny, just not in a humorous sense, but I’ve been accused of arrogance in my self-depiction, creating a sort of comic book superhero of myself. Yet in youth, we often view ourselves as invincible. It isn’t until later that we realize how fragile life is; furthermore, that we see the repercussions of our actions.

Antihero was a term first coined in the early 18th century to describe certain protagonists, those whose armor was less than shiny, indeed, tarnished. They often fall short of literary ideals, just as happens in real life. Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Polish-born Jewish American author who won the 1978 Nobel Prize in literature and was noted for his short stories, wrote: “Children have no use for psychology. They detest sociology. They still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other such obsolete stuff. When a book is boring, they yawn openly. They don’t expect their writer to redeem humanity, but leave to adults such childish allusions.”

Yeah, I’m an antihero.

Bertram: What is your problem in the story?

Joe: Imagine an alternate history in which the United States fails to enter World War II in time to help the Allies defeat the Tripartite before Germany becomes too strong to defeat. Imagine a future in which Germany has perfected genetic engineering and is systematically eradicating whole nations in an effort to secure the empire Hitler vowed would last a thousand years; a future in which Hitler lies in a cryogenic chamber, awaiting treatment for a cancer for which a cure has been discovered. Imagine a future in which a faction of genetically engineered people, opposed to Hitler’s tyranny, travel back in time to amend future history by influencing Churchill to withhold from U.S. Intelligence the vital decrypt specifying the date and time of the raid on Pearl Harbor. Now perhaps you begin to see my problem in the story.

I managed to uncover this seemingly impossible plot by agreeing to help a pretty young woman from Gramercy Park locate her missing father—a Professor of Archeology from Columbia College who was tasked with preventing the secret of Hitler’s location from falling into the wrong hands.

But the real meat of my story is about regret: how, through my own foolishness, I lost the two women who meant the most to me.

Bertram:  Do you embrace conflict?

Joe: I always find myself at the center of conflict. It seems to find me the way it finds the protagonist of any good detective novel. Do I embrace it? Does anyone ever embrace conflict? I don’t run from it, which is not the same as embracing it. I guess, as Philip Marlowe could tell you, it came with the territory during those years I was a PI. Like Marlowe, it became a way of life for me—fighting, in my own way, for truth, justice and the American way.

Bertram:  Do you think the author portrayed you accurately?

Joe: I approached J. Conrad Guest in 1992 with my story. He was an unknown back then. He had talent, although it was unpolished; still, he was no hack. What I liked about him was that he refused to write the formula drivel that the major publishing houses seek today.

It was a chance meeting, and I suspect he didn’t believe he could complete the project. Our encounter resulted in January’s Paradigm, the first book in the January trilogy. He’s since written the second volume, One Hot January, and the final volume, January’s Thaw. Both are forthcoming from Second Wind Publishing. Combined, they paint a profile of a man out of place out of time.

Although it took him ten years to complete the project, I’m pleased with the result. I think he managed to remain true to my story as well as my voice.

Bertram:  What do you need?

Joe: There was a time, in my youth, when I would’ve said the only things I needed were a challenging case and a beautiful woman with whom to lay for an evening of divine debauchery. The first was true, until circumstances deemed it necessary I find a new career. The second was a lie. Unfortunately it took my losing Lindy to make that clear to me.

Bertram:  What makes you angry?

Joe: Having been thrust one hundred years into the future in the blink of an eye, perhaps it’s easy for me to see how the world, our society specifically, has devolved: pornography, pollution, global warming, corrupt politics, terrorism, the pursuit of materialism—the American Dream—as a basis for happiness, and for all our purported connectivity through the Internet and cell phones, we are more disconnected than ever.

Why does there have to be a battle between the sexes? “Battle,” by default, denotes a winner and a loser. Sometimes the only way to achieve victory is through negotiation—by seeing an issue from the other’s perspective. If more people, men and women alike, attempted to see through the eyes of their partner, I daresay there’d be far fewer unhappy couples and fewer divorces.

Bertram: What, if anything, haunts you?

Joe: That after I abandoned Lindy—it wasn’t my choice, merely circumstance over which I had no control—she’d had to marry another man out of necessity. We met once, Lindy and I, thirty-five years after the accident that took me from her. It took her a moment, but she recognized me and I knew her feelings for me had never diminished. Furthermore, that she forgave me the betrayals of my youth as well as my abandonment of her.

That anything but chance meeting resulted in my finding the closure I needed to give my past self a second chance to find the love he didn’t yet realize he had.

Bertram: Are you lucky?

Joe: Most people either find love or love finds them, and they hold onto it, stay with it their entire lives. They are the fortunate ones. The unfortunate manage to make it out of this life without experiencing love, perhaps taking solace in the juxtaposed adage that it is better never to have loved than to have loved and lost.

I was fortunate in that love found me not once but twice, in two different centuries. In the first case I never realized what I had until it was too late. In the second, I fully realized what I had, but knowing didn’t prevent my losing her. You could say I’m living proof that one can be both lucky and unlucky in love.

Love found me the second time a hundred years after the first time. Her name was Ecstasy, and she once told me that she loved my loneliness—a man out of place out of time. I surmised that her love for me was born of pity. I didn’t have the heart to tell her my loneliness was the result of my losing the one woman who, at one time, mattered most to me. To this day I regret that I never told her how much she mattered. After Ecstasy was killed, I often wondered if she might not have known that all along—that my loneliness was for a woman who could never threaten to usurp her place in my life.

Bertram:  Are you honorable?

Joe: At one time I thought I was. I never stole money from a client for services I failed to provide; but that’s only a part of my life. I never kept secret from Lindy that I had other lovers and patted myself on the back for my honesty, crediting her for her choice to accept that arrangement. But in retrospect, such an attitude was anything but honorable. Once I realized I would never again find my way back to my own time, to enjoy the warmth of Lindy’s familiar and loving embrace, I lived my life to honor her memory, because it was the right thing to do and the only way I could make up for my treatment of her.

Bertram: Did anything newsworthy happen on the day you were born?

Joe: I was born on October 21, 1911. Newsworthy events of October 21 include:

         The Battle of Trafalgar began in 1805
         Thomas Edison invented the working electric light in 1879
         The first transatlantic radio telephone was made, 1915
         Trumpeter and bebop pioneer Dizzy Gillespie was born in 1917
         A new typewriting speed record was established by Margaret B. Owen in New York City, when she typed 170 words a minute with no errors, 1918
         Carrie Fisher of Star Wars fame was born in 1956, as was my biographer, J. Conrad Guest
         The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum—the only building in New York City designed by Frank Lloyd Wright—opened in 1959

Bertram:  Who was your first love?

Joe: That would be Lindy, my gal Friday in 1947. Sadly, I never told her how I felt about her. Then one day I was gone—whisked into the future. I took little comfort in knowing she still lived in her own time. To me, in 2047, she was dead and buried. Obviously she got on with her life after I abandoned her. But I like to think I could’ve made a difference in her life, the way it turned out for her.

Bertram: Who is your true love?

Joe: Ecstasy Givens, who I met the very day I arrived in 2047. I needed her in order to survive in the 21st century. Initially I loved her for her body, but in time she came to mean much more to me. In losing Lindy I learned what love is. Ecstasy was the beneficiary of what Lindy taught me, which pains me even if I imagine Lindy might be proud of the Joe January she in part helped to mold.

Bertram: Have you ever had an adventure?

Joe: Duh. Read One Hot January and January’s Thaw.

Bertram:  Was there ever a defining moment of your life?

Joe: The day I was transported into the future. Not only did it save my life, it defined how I lived the remaining days of my life.

Bertram:  What is your most prized possession? Why?

Joe: My memory—specifically of Ecstasy and Lindy. Since they are both gone from me, they—their memories—are all I have.

Bertram:  What is your favorite scent? Why?

Joe: Smell and memory are intimately linked. Since Ecstasy was killed my favorite scent belongs to those items that still bear her essence—the clothing that remains in our closet, the afghan with which she covered herself while reading on cold winter nights.

Bertram:  What is your favorite beverage? Why?

Joe: A single malt scotch—Aberlour a’bunadh (pronounced ah-boo-nar) is my favorite. If I have to explain why, you’re obviously not a scotch drinker and wouldn’t understand anyway.

Bertram:  What is your favorite item of clothing? Why?

Joe: That would be my fedora, which I was forced to give up wearing in the 21st century. You’ll read why in January’s Thaw. In the 1940s it defined who I was, as it defined Bogart’s screen persona. But I wore mine first, and my persona wasn’t make believe.

Bertram: If  you had the power to change one thing in the world that didn’t affect you personally, what would it be?

Joe: We face many choices each and every day of our lives, which over a lifetime add up to myriad decisions. Whether we choose to act or to refrain from acting affects the world and ourselves. There is nothing we do, or choose not to do, that doesn’t leave a mark on us. All of which lends credibility to the theory that countless universes exist, the result of the choices we make (or fail to make) and their interactions with the billions of other choices made or not made by others.

Too New Age for you? Remember, I come from an era before New Age.

See also:
Excerpt from One Hot January by J. Conrad Guest
Interview with J. Conrad Guest, author of One Hot January
Chapter One — One Hot January by J. Conrad Guest

Click here to buy: One Hot January

Cliff Burns

BERTRAM: For me, writing is like the world’s longest crossword puzzle, one that takes a year to complete. I like playing with words, finding their rhythm, and getting them to behave the way I want. I like being able to take those words and create ideas, characters, and emotions. What is writing like for you?

BURNS: I think your analogy is very good. Each story or novel is a puzzle, as you say, an enigma, a conundrum, a locked door mystery that demands great intelligence and ingenuity to solve. Finding the exact right combination of words (out of half a million or so) in common English usage that will perfectly express the mood or feeling you’re trying to get across . . . and then doing it again and again for ten or twenty or four hundred pages. It’s a miracle when we manage to get it right. Which is why I ended up dedicating So Dark the Night  “to my Creator”. There were times when I thought that novel would never get written, I’d never finish it. But something kept me going, supplied the word or image I needed at a crucial moment. Often, the impetus or inspiration seemed to come from outside. I know that sounds weird and creepy but it’s the truth. Have you ever experienced anything similar?

BERTRAM: Many times. And it was usually more than just inspiration. For example, when I began researching my current work and needed to know about relatively unknown extinct animals, every day when I opened my email, there would be an article about one of them on the today’s news page. And when I needed a reason for some gold to be hidden for another story, I happened on a book about the killing of the gold standard in the USA. And when I needed a place for my aliens to come from (and a reason) I happened upon a mention of the Twelfth Planet by Zeccharia Sitchen. Someone, I don’t remember who, called such serendipitous offerings “gifts from the library gods.”

BERTRAM: Writing, editing, and promoting are all time- and mind- consuming occupations. How do you manage?

BURNS: Barely. And my heavy work schedule is one of the reasons I’m just getting over a severe lung infection — my body was over-worked, my immune system screwed and so I was really knocked on my ass. I’m going to make some adjustments, see if I can find a hobby or some mode of relaxation to take a portion of the strain off. I’ve reached middle age and I just can’t maintain my punishing routine without doing lasting harm to myself. How about you? What’s your routine like and how do you cope with the pressure of creating?

BERTRAM: I have no routine. I used to write every day until I got a computer and the internet (about a year ago) and then my words got used up writing articles and commenting. But I was never one who was consumed by inner demons. I wrote because the publishing companies stopped releasing the books I liked to read — ones that couldn’t easily be slotted into a genre, yet not written with a “literary” style, and I figured if I wanted to read that kind of book, I’d have to write them, so I did. I say I don’t write every day, but I’m either thinking about the story and characters, researching, or editing. And now promoting. But come winter, my creative juices start flowing, and that’s when my novels get written.

BERTRAM: Are there any particular themes that repeat themselves in your work?

BURNS: Hmm . . . I’m not sure. I suppose many of my characters have been rendered powerless by the circumstances of their lives and are struggling to hang on by their fingernails. Robert Runte (an academic and nice fella I met at a convention years ago) commented along the lines that my characters seem to come from lower class backgrounds and that’s a rarity in spec fic. I agree with Nicholas Christopher (excellent author) when he says that each new work presents fresh challenges and one must learn to write all over again. If you’re doing it right. I never want to fall into the formula trap . . . that’s the death of art and the beginning of commerce.

BERTRAM: How do you see the “indie world.” Is there hope for independent authors? By that I mean, is there a chance for independent authors ever to make a living at writing?

BURNS: The technologies are still evolving. Obviously, the two major concerns for indie writers is a) preserving and protecting copyright so someone doesn’t rip off your ideas without credit and/or compensation and b) getting paid for your efforts. 

BURNS: Right now, I have two full-length novels on my site and a good number of short stories — all available for free download and reading. There’s a “Donation” button for those who wish to voluntarily leave a small stipend but admittedly few people have taken me up on the offer. But money has never really been the object to me — it’s more presenting my work without editorial interference. Soon I’ll be moving into the world of podcasting and POD printing and hopefully that will spread the word . . . and earn a bit more money. We’ll see.

BERTRAM: Is the book publishing business as we know it coming to an end? How will that effect the “indie world”?

BURNS: The era of corporate book publishing is coming to an end. Media giants swallowed up various publishers in the 1990′s, hoping to milk them for as much profit as they could. Unfortunately, business models don’t work that well with publishing; book-lovers are notoriously eccentric and eclectic in their tastes and it’s hard to predict or graph or pie chart a bestseller. J.K. Rowling came out of nowhere. Profits are not nearly as high, stable or predictable enough in publishing, which is why I think many of the Big Boys will be dumping their publishing arms in the next 3-5 years. And, as I’ve written, this is the best thing that could happen for readers and writers. Smaller, more intimate and committed publishers will supplant the media giants and better books will be released as a result. Lower advances but maybe larger royalties (though writers will have to stay on their toes and make sure the people keeping the books are honest with actual sales figures) . . .

BERTRAM: Did you happen to see the New York Magazine article about the book business not living happily ever after?

BURNS: The New York Magazine article was brilliant, I printed it to have around. Confirms my view that the corporates are on the verge of dumping publishing from their portfolio . . . and also my opinion that most editors and agents are idiots. Some of the money they throw around for the worst sort of crap infuriates me. And meanwhile, their midlist authors (the most interesting of the lot) get no promo, no notice . . . and so they’re dumped from the roster for under-achieving (a classic case of a self-fulfilling prophecy).

BERTRAM: I wonder if the insistence the major publishers have in slotting all novels into niches was one of the things that’s leading to their downfall. It used to be that most books did not fall into the genre category except for, obviously, the different genres. There used to be the genres, which were just a step up from pulp fiction, and at the other end of the spectrum was literary fiction. I liked the books that fell in between — books with readable styles that could not easily be categorized. What I like to read or write cannot be considered literature, but I do prefer fiction that isn’t quite as trivial as that which is on the market today.

BURNS: I’m with you, I like fiction that crosses all sorts of boundaries and defies easy categorization. But, unfortunately, (back to the corporate model), editors and agents like fiction that can be easily slotted. Someone who writes “in the tradition of . . .”. In other words, derivative stuff. Yet another Dan Brown or Stephen King knock-off. Is it the chicken or the egg? Do we blame readers for being undemanding, reading the same old crap over and over again or do we point the finger at editors and agents for not challenging readers? Or both? The corporate model of publishing does trivialize and does not encourage innovation of any kind.

BERTRAM: I guess what I’m really wondering is if people are still reading. I wonder if there are far more writers than readers, thanks to the self-publishing industry. Two of my novels are being released by Second Wind Publishing, a new independent doesn’t yet distribute to bookstores, but I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. With independent bookstores disappearing all over the world, it only matters what is available on-line. People keep pointing out to me that less than fifteen percent of books are sold on-line, but if the vast majority of books that are sold off-line are the grocery-store books by best-selling authors, does it matter?

BURNS: My colleague Alexandra Kitty (she runs an site) insists that people are reading as much, if not more than ever, they’re just doing so on-line (and free!), rather than shelling out money for books. The free culture of the internet creates a mindset of “why should I pay for something when I can get it for nothing on-line?”. And that pertains to newspapers, music piracy and, increasingly, publishing. I used to be on the local library board and I recall figures that indicated people were checking out more books, our numbers went up year by year. Could the expense of buying books have something to do with that?  Hardcovers are getting close to that fifty buck threshold and even paperbacks are pricey items (especially up here in Canada).

BERTRAM: It seems to me that this is one of the best times to try to peddle a book because of all the online resources, such as blogging and discussion forums. It also seems as if this is one of the worst times because of the hundreds of thousands of writers looking for readers. I’m hoping that someone like me who is willing to do the work to promote can reap the rewards.

CLIFF: Yes, everyone can claim to be a writer these days and the new technologies allow people to publish their crap, regardless of the quality of their work. How do we separate the wheat from the chaff? I chose to publish on-line, I chose the “indie” life because I detest the notion of anyone having control or input re: my writing. Some folks who don’t like me would say I’m doing it my way because I’m not good enough for traditional publishing. I say the quality of the work wins out in the end and I’m willing to let readers decide if my work is worth reading. But the surfeit of bad writing on-line drags down the professional status and quality of craftsmanship of those of us who struggle mightily to compose good work. I implore potential readers to use their critical thinking skills and don’t lump us all together.

BERTRAM: National Novel Writing Month is coming up, and its adherents are a heated bunch — they don’t seem to like anyone questioning the process. You’re one of the few I’ve come across who speak out against it. 

BURNS: I know people have really taken me to task for lambasting NaNoWriMo and its adherents. To me, the concept is a stupid one — write a novel in a month, give me a break! It devalues the professionalism of the vocation, the enormous amount of time and energy authors put into learning and developing their craft. Anyone can claim to be an “author” or “artist” — the arts seem to condone this sort of thing. I suppose I’m an elitist and a snob. It took me ten years of daily writing and scores of credits before I was able to call myself a writer without feeling self-conscious and phony. As I wrote in a recent post: you’re not a plumber if you unclog a toilet and you’re not an electrician if you screw in a light bulb. Each of those trades requires training, a lengthy apprenticeship period. Why should the arts be any different? 

BERTRAM: I can’t even imagine what it would take to write a novel in a month. The writing of a novel takes me a year, and some of the research I’ve done has taken more than that. But then, I am not an intuitive writer. I have to drag each word out of hiding and find its place in the puzzle that is a novel. I suppose two types could write 50,000 words in a month — the intuitive writers who spew out words, and the logical writers who have the whole thing outlined before they begin. Me? I fall somewhere in the middle. I so hate tossing aside my hard work that I habitually rework my writing as I write. (Though I have rewritten one of my novels four times, and deleted 25,000 words from another..)

BURNS: My first drafts come out in a huge gout of words — I try to get it all down as quickly as I can.   I think I wrote the first draft of one of my novels in 45 days. But . . . then I spend the next eighteen months (or more) revising, editing, polishing, going over each syllable with painstaking care. I outline a little bit, scribble down character names, some ideas for certain scenes, but that first draft usually becomes the outline I work from. It’s incredibly labour-intensive but the only method that works for me.. I would say only a few words or phrases survive from my first draft by the time I’m finished. It’s only a roadmap, nothing more. And I never grow attached to a character or scene — “everything in service to the story”, that’s my motto. All else is expendable.

BERTRAM:  I was going to ask if you push for a daily word count, but you mostly answered that. So how about: do you write at the same time and in the same place and in the same manner (computer, pen/paper) everyday?

BURNS: My office is right across from our bedroom so it’s the first place I visit in the morning. Moving things around on my desk, gearing up for the day. I play lots of music to get warmed up, start the juices flowing. Commence work when my family leaves for school or work, break for lunch, maybe tea later in the day, popping downstairs when my family returns. We have supper together and then often it’s back to the office to square things away, tie off loose ends and set things up for the morrow.

BURNS: First drafts are almost always handwritten (even my 450+ page novel So Dark the Night) and then tapped into my ancient Mac computer with fingers swollen and aching from arthritis or nerve damage.  Twenty-five years or more of three or four-fingered typing has taken its toll. How does that compare to you? I hope you’re a lot saner in your work habits than I am. You strike me as a pretty levelheaded individual . . . or am I wrong?

BERTRAM: You’re not wrong, but when it comes to writing, I’m not so much level-headed as undriven. Each of the words has to be dragged out of me, an act of will. And sometimes the words are not there. But I don’t sweat it; I edit, I blog, I promote. And when the words come, I’m ready. I also write handwrite my first drafts — I think one reason for the crap published today is that authors lack the brain/finger/pencil/paper flow. I read once that the only place other than the brain where gray matter is found is on the fingertips. May or may not be true. But it feels true.

BERTRAM: When does a writer become an author? I used to think it was when a writer got published, but now that anyone can get published, it’s not much of a criterion. Nor does a writer become an author when they can make a living at it; good writers seldom can. The hacks usually do.

BURNS: A writer writes. That’s it. Every single day. Publication credits are meaningless (especially today) and critical acclaim doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Sales figures? Well, Dan Brown sold millions, as did Stephanie Meyer and, in my view, their work is sub-literate.  he way you can tell is read it out loud. Just one page, any page will do. If you’re not crying with laughter after a couple of paragraphs, it’s time to get a funny bone transplant.

BURNS: Aspiring authors: apply yourself to the task of writing with discipline and courage and perseverance. I love the quote from Nabokov about “writing in defiance of all the world’s muteness”. Not just scribbling the same thing, working to the same formula but trying to stretch your talent as far as it will go . . .. and beyond. Working outside your comfort zone, writing prose that scares and intimidates you. But it’s the daily practice that, to me, reveals those who are serious and distinguishes them from the wannabes I loathe.

BERTRAM: is possible to become an author people will read even without the “help” of corporate publishing?
BURNS: I self-published my first book back in 1990 — it sold out its print run in less than 5 months and earned praise from various reviewers, as well as Governor-General Award-winning writer Timothy Findley. I started my blog, “Beautiful Desolation” 18 months ago and since then I have ceased submitting work to other venues — my work (including 2 novels) now goes directly to my blog and I’ve never been happier. Corporate publishing is dying, the profit margins aren’t big enough and soon the Big Boys will be dumping their publishing arms. The new technologies allow writers to have access to readers around the world–I only wish this stuff had been around ten years ago, it would have saved me a lot of frustration and fury. Kindle? E-books? POD? Why not? Anything that allows the writer to get a bigger slice of the pie is all right with me…
BERTRAM: How did you promote your self-published book in 1990? What would you do differently today?

BURNS: That was my book Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination and a lot has changed since then. For one thing there are far fewer independent bookstore and those were the folks who sold the lion’s share of Sex. I took copies with me everywhere I went–Saskatoon, Regina, Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto–approached every indie bookstore I could and sold them (usually on consignment). The vast majority of those book stores are gone now, sad to say. Sex cost $3000 to publish, my second collection, The Reality Machine, cost $6000 in 1997. Nowadays print-on-demand might save me some money–that’s something I’m looking into, likely using Can’t quote you any price for that (as yet) but I’ll be using my blog and the vast reach of the internet to spread the word..

BERTRAM: Is there one website more than another that brings you readers? Any suggestions for authors just starting to promote?

BURNS: Hmmm . . . well, I try to reach out to sites that discuss writing and publishing and I have a RedRoom authors page. I comment on a lot of blogs, replying to posts that amuse or annoy me for one reason or another. My blog, Beautiful Desolation, is my primary promotional venue, to tell the truth. I’m also on LibraryThing, a place where bibliophiles can hang out and chat. They don’t encourage “blog-pimping” (a term I loathe, by the way), which is ridiculous because often I’ve written a lengthy post on “Beautiful Desolation” regarding a point under discussion. So I refer people to the post anyway and slap down anyone who dares accuse me of self-promotion.

BERTRAM: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me.

BURNS: Interesting the similarities and differences in our approaches and processes, our views toward the life and business of writing. Thanks for the discussion, it helped me better define and synthesize my thoughts.