Set in the offices of a big Sydney business concern of the 1990s, Desk Job by former Masque Noir editor, Rod Marsden, reads like staring through a hothouse window at a weird menagerie of mismatched captive fauna.
Among the exotic and nightmarish metaphors for office “types” – such as praying mantises (women of “a certain age” out for blood at a sniff of male impropriety), dung beetles (sycophants to the mantises), hawks (upwardly mobile managers), caterpillars (semi-comatose top brass), mules (disregarded drudges), and butterflies (pretty young do-nothings) and their older, drabber moth counterparts – real human souls live-out daily drama in this infernal inversion of Alice’s Wonderland. Animal behavior is controlled by the government-imposed political correctness dictates of the period. No one dares infringe on the rights of a “protected species.” On the other hand, it’s open season on the native wildlife. Tensions mount. Fear, paranoia, and madness ensue until one employee is murdered by another while most are too busy watching their own backs to notice. It’s the kind of mess you’d need a psychic investigator to work out.
Enter Sarah Hollingsworth, who’s seen it all already in a dream. She can read people’s minds to present the reader with psychological profiles and biographical insights into the group of characters under the microscope. (She even interviews the victim!) This lets her give the kind of nonjudgmental overview that keeps things nicely in balance and stops the reader (and some of the characters) from totally losing the plot. She also provides a few surprises along the way with her own interaction among the forces of the mystical realm.
It’s a testament to Rod Marsden’s easy style that the whole unfolding kaleidoscope of animal imagery, social comment and dark fantasy reads with a page-turning immediacy gripped until a satisfactory conclusion is reached. (Not so much a Whodunnit, this, as a Whydunnit.)
But, the conclusion is not the end of the book. What Marsden does with the remaining third is to literalize the previously metaphorical types as living dream creatures, in a totally fantastical code section reflecting back the Lewis Carroll motifs from a new perspective. Sarah here ventures through an interdimensional portal, like Alice’s looking glass, to interact with real mantises and beetles and a Queen of Hearts who wants to psych out the office workers via computer consoles and hand-mirror getaways. A fast and furious fantasy adventure follows – ensuring the novel achieves a flying finish.
Sandwiched in between the episodic close-ups on specific cases in part one, collected quotes from contemporary Australian books on office psychology provide a Greek chorus to the developing drama. These interludes continue as a unifying factor through the second part. Here, the lika-lika bird (every sentence starts with “like a…”) rears her gorgeously plumaged head. She’s still young and uncorrupted, prior to landing that fatal office job. Her outside view is refreshingly alternative. There is also the graffiti-spraying mall rat, destined to become a mule, or even a hawk someday.
It is difficult to encapsulate in a brief review the complex interplay of fantastical dream situations, figuratively-represented actuality and actualized fantasy contained in Desk Job. Odd magical moments come to mind, such as the vision of several “brown-nose” dung beetles lining up to boil themselves in a cauldron because of the praying mantis they worship like soup. There’s also the annoying whistling delivery man who appears at the office every so often, and is perfunctorily assaulted by a member of staff. Then, there are the cats which periodically pop through mirrors or get their tails pulled by startled mortals. Particularly amusing is the scene near the end of lika-lika birds all crowding around one such hand-mirror, convinced that the cat which just appeared was cleverly programmed in by the manufacturers. I can just see them haunting all the shops in Sydney asking for the mirrors with the pop-out cats!
Does that make sense? Not maybe on the face of things, but, in the context of this curiously individual and delightfully engaging novel, it makes perfect sense. If you don’t believe me, I recommend you take a psychic trip through the portal of its covers and experience it for yourself. Desk Job is a book with “Read Me” written all over it.
Tonight, I’d like to chat with author Cynthia Vespia. Her project Demon Hunter has evolved into a trilogy, the kind of fiction that will compel you to sleep with your lights on. Demon Hunter: the Chosen One has attracted many readers, and Part II, Demon Hunter: Seek and Destroy will be out in print November 27, 2009. Cynthia has been a freelance journalist since high school, and has penned several other novels before joining Aspen Mountain Press. Stop by her website, www.CynthiaVespia.com; her trailers are awesome to see. She brings all her writing experience to the printed page. So let’s hear what Cynthia has to say about her Demon Hunter project.
BARBARA: Could you tell your readers a little about Demon Hunter? Would you summarize the theme by saying, “Be careful what you wish for?”
CYNTHIA: Absolutely. We can all find ourselves secretly wishing for a certain aspect of our lives to change but sometimes you get your wish and it winds up not being worth it, or not what you thought it would be. And sometimes it IS what you were looking for…but things don’t always come easily or run smoothly.
Demon Hunter really plays on changes. Life changes, changes of the soul, changes of who you thought you once were or where you were going. Costa Calabrese has just uncovered the truth about his past. Some truths should never be revealed. When you learn you’re the son of the world’s foremost and feared hunter of demons, life’s rules inevitably change. As his lineage is uncovered he must stay one step ahead of the demons who are intent on the destruction of his famed family. With the aide of companions he meets along the way, Costa will travel the great expanse of the land walking in his famed father’s footsteps and taking up the role his blood line now demands of him…whether he wants to or not.
Exploring the classic theme of good versus evil, Demon Hunter blends the highly popular elements of dark fantasy with the proven concept of high-adventure novels where believable, down-to-earth characters take the reader on a journey. It is the story about a nobody who becomes a somebody in the bloodiest of ways.
BARBARA: I was impressed with your book trailers especially DH on YouTube. How do they work for you? How did you set up YouTube?
CYNTHIA: Thank you, I make most of my own trailers. I believe that even readers are very visual by nature. Let’s face it, these days everyone has a touch of ADD! We want info now and we want it fast. Not everyone has the time to read a blurb; but if you can encapsulate your story in a compelling 2 minute trailer and hook them with the imagery, they are far more likely to seek out your novel for the big read. YouTube is a great place to host your trailers. It gets millions upon millions of hits per day. I essentially started my YouTube to showcase my fitness videos and the video editing projects I’ve done work on in the past. From there I segued into using it as another vehicle for my writing by displaying the trailers.
BARBARA: I see you’ve been a freelance journalist since high school. Could you describe a typical writing day for you?
CYNTHIA: Really no two days are alike…it’s chaos. I juggle a lot of different things (way too much right now) and I’m a terrible procrastinator. But if I have a deadline in front of me, watch me fly. Right now as I work on the third and final installment of the Demon Hunter trilogy I find I get drawn to it at odd hours. If my Muse is awake and wanting to play, I don’t dare deny her, I just go with it. It has honestly been a long while since something kept me up late or woke me up early to work on it so that tells me that DH3 is going to be something very special.
BARBARA:Demon Hunter and your other works have enjoyed great reviews, I notice. Do you have any forthcoming signings or writing events? Where?
CYNTHIA: As of this writing I’m making the rounds on the interview circuit to promote the release of Demon Hunter: Seek & Destroy. It’s the second installment in the DH trilogy. You can catch me on Reader’s Entertainment Radio on 9/13 at 8:30 est. and on Sin City Sessions on 9/25 at 9pm. And as always stay up to date on my official website www.CynthiaVespia.com where you can find the latest news and developments.
BARBARA: Do you think e-books will eventually outsell paperbacks? Why or why not?
CYNTHIA: I don’t necessarily think they will outsell paperbacks. Readers are always going to want to have the feel of a book in their hands. But I do think e-books have found their niche and they are here to stay. It is the era of technology and you have to be ready to embrace every possible angle. My trilogy of terror Demon Hunter is a proud component of the e-book agenda. You will see a lot more e-books and e-book readers in the future but there is no fear that bookstores will go out of business…people enjoy it as a social gathering, and most bookstores have great coffee too!
BARBARA: What is the once piece of advice you’d give a writer trying to promote their work?
CYNTHIA: Marketing and promoting your work is as important as writing the novel in the first place. You can write the Great American Novel but if nobody knows it exists then you’re going to have a hard time. You have to be a marketing machine. No one is going to be behind your work as much as you are. Even the biggest publishing houses can only delegate so much time and money to new authors. The rest is up to you. And my best advice would be to think outside the box. If you’re doing what everybody else is doing, someone is always doing it better…you need to do something different so you stand out from the pack and get noticed.
BARBARA: I notice that you’re a fan of Dean Koontz. How do you feel the up and coming dark fantasy writers compare with greats like Koontz and King?
CYNTHIA: Oh yes, Koontz got me started on my career as a writer! There will only ever be one Koontz and one King, but some of the new writers coming up have some really unique story ideas. Not everything is black and white in this world and I like when an author mixes shades of gray. There are so many really great authors out there getting lost in the shuffle of the mediocre writers due to the simple fact that they just don’t get enough exposure. I’d like to invite readers to step outside their comfort zone next time they’re picking out a book and try on a different author. You may find a new favorite. An easy way to do that is to get an e-book. They are convenient and not very costly. Demon Hunter: The Chosen One is running for $6.00 per download.
BARBARA: I hear you’re working on a new novel, a dark fantasy, but the rest is a military secret. Can you give us a few hints?
CYNTHIA: I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you! Heh, heh…no, I’ll let my stories slay you instead. The secret is out…Demon Hunter was always meant to be a trilogy. The second installment titled Demon Hunter: Seek & Destroy will be out on Nov 27, 2009. The main players are back from The Chosen One and this time they find their adventures take them out to sea, to the land of the dragons, and straight down into the pit of Hell. There is also a love triangle of sorts added to the mix with some very surprising outcomes. I am currently writing the third and final chapter to the series…I can’t give away too much here, but I will say the opening chapter alone will take you by surprise!
BARBARA: Can you tell us a little about the Fiction Writer’s Guild and how they help authors?
CYNTHIA: Anytime you’re part of a group of authors, you can always benefit from exchanging ideas, critiques, and the latest news events. Just be choosy in whose advice you seek.
BARBARA: Where may people order copies of Demon Hunter?
A lot of writers (I know I did) have groaned over the frustration of rejected submissions. What catches an editor’s eye? What are publishers and readers looking for? And so tonight, I will be chatting with SDP editor Cathy Buburuz. Cathy has been sending poetry, fiction, and art to Night to Dawn since I became editor in 2004. Her work has appeared in magazines across the USA, Canada, Australia, England, Romania, Japan, Yugoslavia, and other countries. Along with her horror writing and illustration, she edits Champagne Shivers and other magazines for Sam’s Dot Publishing. Cathy’s got some interesting insights on the industry, so let’s hear what she has to say.
BARBARA: You wear several hats – editor, illustrator, fiction writer, and poet. Do you have any one favourite?
CATHY: I don’t have a favourite task and I’ve always enjoyed that luxury of going from one creative project to another. Doing all four keeps things fresh and interesting. To me, all four are meaningful and fulfilling forms of creativity, but it’s the writing of fiction that helps me work off the anger and frustrations associated with the aches and pains of our society and everyday life.
Right here in my hometown there was a news story about a man who beat his toddler to death for touching the family’s television. The story stayed with me far too long and writing was a way to deal with it. I wanted to draw attention to the problem and promote the idea that as parents we need to pay more attention to our children, our own little world, and the world around us. We often forget how important love and kindness are to a child and how easily they can fall prey to sly monsters that single them out because they’re starved for affection, or even a little attention. This thought resulted in my story Jesus God in Heaven, about a little girl who falls victim to the least expected villain. The story has seen publication no less than six times in three different countries, so I have to believe it succeeds in its intent and purpose which is to make a solid connection and to awaken readers’ emotions.
I don’t always write with a serious goal or purpose in mind. Most times I write for the natural high that it brings. When you’re on a roll with a great idea, it’s an unequalled magic, a thing that has a way of blocking out all else, taking you to places you wouldn’t otherwise explore.
BARBARA: Some folks say Stephen’s King’s writing has changed since his accident. I beg to differ, although I couldn’t get into the Dark Tower Series like the others. In particular, I enjoyed Duma Key. What say you?
CATHY: Stephen King’s earlier novels were his most impressive, and his short story collections were outstanding. His sense of humour and his ability to connect with readers through convincing fiction are his charm. I loved Carrie, Salem’s Lot, Misery, and Dolores Claiborne, and I thought Nightshift, Skeleton Crew, Nightmares & Dreamscapes, and Everything’s Eventual were fantastic. King writes for the common man and in doing so he’s gained the world as his audience because, when you cut it to the bone, we’re all emotional beings faced with everyday decisions and dilemmas that could change the course of our lives in a flash.
My first experience with Stephen King was a well worn copy of Salem’s Lot, probably read by a dozen others before I discovered it. I own a lot of his books, and movies based on his books, and I still enjoy going back to these year after year. The movie Stand by Me (based on his short story, The Body) is among my favourites. In so many ways, that story reflected my own childhood and the things that were going on in my head at the time. I loved Dolores Claiborne for its high level of believability and the authenticity of its characters. King’s characters are always memorable.
Years ago, Inscriptions held a poetry contest. To enter, all you had to do was submit a poem by e-mail about Stephen King. My short tribute won the contest and netted me the prizes, $50 and a hardcover copy of King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Needless to say, I was thrilled to have won because I enjoyed that book immensely. The poem that won went something like this:
Ink is blood
the thought, an artery
as psychotic razors
slash his creativity
gushing a story
on a winter white page.
Do I admire the man and his work? Most definitely.
Am I awestruck by every word he has ever written? No, I am not.
For a writer to please every reader 100% of the time is an impossible, unattainable task, simply because we all have different tastes in fiction and in writing styles. Still, when you look at the man’s career, it’d be impossible to deny that he’s done an amazing job, is envied by many, and ultimately deserves respect.
BARBARA: The economy has hurt paperback sales in the USA. Have you noticed any of this in Canada?
CATHY: Chapters is my favourite Canadian bookstore because you can enjoy a Starbucks coffee while cruising its many bookshelves for the latest releases. There’s something special about the aroma of coffee in a bookstore. Whether it’s the sale of books or the sale of coffee, or a combination of the two, this phenomenal bookstore has survived despite the challenges. I can’t deny that the cover price of a book is downright depressing sometimes, but a book is a unique form of entertainment, a journey, an often intimate experience between writer and reader that opens minds, changes minds, and expands minds. To me, it’s worth the price of admission.
Despite harsh economic times, book lovers continue to read. The only difference now is that more and more used books are being traded or sold, and that’s having a negative impact on sales of new books. More and more avid readers are turning to garage sales, yard sales, flea markets, libraries and used bookstores to fill the need.
BARBARA: What advice would you give writers hoping to get into Sam’s Dot Publishing’s books and magazines?
CATHY: All it takes is a well written story that’s in harmony with each publication’s guidelines.
It’s important for writers to know that an editor can read just a few paragraphs of your story and know whether or not you’ve bothered to read the guidelines, whether or not you’re a professional or an amateur. The opening paragraphs of your story send signals about whether or not you’re serious about your craft, or whether you’re just another wannabe. The great thing about Sam’s Dot Publishing is that we take pride in publishing stories and art by new and upcoming writers as well as the seasoned pros, but you have to be willing to perfect your manuscript, to work with us on it if it needs work. If your manuscript needs a major rewrite, chances are we’ll decline it, not because we don’t want to help, but because we believe it’s your responsibility to learn the rules of good writing and submission beforehand, and our time is just as valuable as yours.
BARBARA: I notice a lot of writers/illustrators promote their work through www.cafeshops.com. How does that work for you?
CATHY: I believe that self-promotion that could fill an ocean is the key to success.
If you type your name into a search engine and only about a hundred web pages come up, you’ve failed miserably in online promotion. Getting your name and your product all over cyberspace is time-consuming but it can be done. Work toward a presence on as many websites as possible, preferably reputable websites that have their origins in several different countries. If your work is leaving an impression on those who experience it, typing your name into a search engine will help you locate those comments. Although reviewers are fast becoming a rarity, they can be found, but searches do take time. Not so long ago, there were many more science fiction, fantasy and horror magazines with review columns – even entire magazines dedicated to reviews – but the world is ever-changing and good reviewers are few.
If you’re an illustrator, focus on what counts. Paint, market, and sell. If you sell your art on products, strive for representation by many different companies and galleries, preferably those who take advertising and promotion of their artists seriously.
If you’re a writer, the same applies. Write, market, and sell. Seek out reputable publishers who go the extra mile to promote the work of their contributors.
If you’re an editor, you have to take the time to comment on manuscripts and work with potential contributors to perfect their craft so that you can produce a noteworthy and memorable publication.
There are hundreds of writers out there who relentlessly market the same old manuscript to dozens of editors, sometimes simultaneously, instead of admitting to themselves that their manuscript needs work before it will sell. The only way they’re going to know that is if the editor they submit to makes the decision to offer an honest assessment of the manuscript, even if that honesty comes in the form of a single sentence. Don’t look at it as rejection; look at it as constructive criticism. When an editor takes the time to point out the problems with your manuscript, learn from that. Do not continue to make the same mistakes over and over ’til death do us part.
BARBARA: Could you talk a little about Sam’s Dot Publishing (SDP) and its current projects?
CATHY: Sam’s Dot Publishing (SDP) is owned and operated by Tyree Campbell, who took over all responsibilities and changed the company name when James B. Baker of ProMart Publishing passed away. Mr. Baker had many admirable goals, but the one that meant the most to him was to publish and promote new talent. Mr. Campbell has carried on in this tradition and has expanded the numbers and the kinds of publications produced each year. He publishes upcoming artists and writers alongside the pros. We have several editors on staff, and we take pride in the publications we produce. The novels, anthologies, and magazines have in recent years progressed to perfect bound publications, most with full colour covers. I’m responsible for the editing of Champagne Shivers, Expressions, the Potter’s Field anthologies, and the Side Show 2: Tales of the Big Top and the Bizarre anthologies.
Our publications are sold in the electronic store on the SDP website, in a couple of brick and mortar bookstores, and in The Genre Mall. Mr. Campbell also travels across the USA each summer to promote and sell SDP publications at many conventions.
BARBARA: Where do you see the publishing industry five years from now? Do you think e-book sales will outrun those of paperbacks?
CATHY: I love paperbacks. I don’t read e-books. I’ve paid $35+ for a book written by someone whose work I admire, yet I decline the generosity when writers and publishers offer free e-books. In my line of work I spend anywhere from six to fourteen hours a day looking at a computer screen, so a paperback will always win me over. And for the record, that goes for review copies as well; especially review copies.
BARBARA: Your illustrations have drawn many compliments from NTD readers. What do you find most enjoyable about the work in process? The most challenging?
CATHY: All art is a challenge for me, simply because I’m one of the slowest artists on the planet. It takes me two to five hours to design a piece of filler art, and a minimum of ten hours to complete a full page artwork. For some, art comes easy. For me, it does not. I’m hard on myself as an artist and because I have a deep love for the physical aspects of drawing, I never want the painting to end.
I’m not as flexible as most artists, nor am I as talented, and it just blows me away when I receive a compliment, a kind review, a fan letter, or someone actually takes the time to hunt me down to ask if they can buy one of my originals. The truth be known, the reason why I became an artist in the first place was because I dared to send a small piece of filler art to an editor and he published it on his cover. That editor changed my life because he gave me the confidence to continue, to experiment, and to submit more of my work to other publications. American artist Marge Simon saw that very first cover and invited me to collaborate with her. At the time, she was the most published artist I was aware of – she’d won great recognition and awards for her art and her cartoons – so I was as nervous as hell about working with her. I gave collaboration a shot. I loved it, and I learned from it. Over the years I’ve worked on art collaborations with more than a dozen artists and illustrators, and I’ll always be grateful for that experience because it served as an education in its purist form.
BARBARA: Could you describe what a typical work day is like?
CATHY: My typical work day is spent multi-tasking. One day never resembles another. I chose to work on what I’m interested in at the time, what my mood or creative energy dictates, and the job I feel I’m best suited for on any given day. I might spend three or four hours reading and responding to submissions to my projects or spend an hour researching potential markets for my own work and my online monthly newsletter, Expressions. Every now and then, to give my work variety, I take on a private job editing a novel or a chapbook.
I tend to do artwork during the day because I prefer natural light. I write the majority of my stories, poems, and reviews in the evening because that just happens to be the time when I’m the most creative and productive, and it’s also a time when the phone or the doorbell is less likely to ring. When I need a break, I wander out into my flower garden and pull weeds or water the lawn, or go on facebook to play a few rounds of Word Twist or to learn more about what other creative people are working on. To dump the junk in my head, I read a good book or magazine, watch a movie or an episode of North of 60, Bones,Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, or CSI Las Vegas.
No matter what I’m working on, I like to take breaks every three or four hours. The only exception to that rule is when the writing is going well. I never stop writing when the words are coming faster than I can type them. I’ve also been known to dive out of bed at five in the morning because of an idea I fear losing. I’ve also been known to work until six in the morning because I’m on a roll.
I seem to thrive on maximum overload so, in an effort to hang on to my own sanity and stay grounded, I try to spend as much down time as possible with my family, and I always shoot for one to three short vacations each year.
BARBARA: Which forums would you recommend to authors hoping to promote their work? Any other advice?
CATHY: I choose forums that suit my particular wants and needs, places where my levels of privacy and comfort aren’t in jeopardy, a forum that feels like home. While I believe that a writer can’t spend too much time on promotion, I think writers have to allot a fair amount of time to their craft. In fact, most of us work so long and hard at our chosen professions, we wish we had more time for self-promotion. There are those of us who would much rather work on an illustration, a short story, or a novel than tackle the chore of marketing and promoting ourselves.
Still, I’d have to say that the absolute best form of self-promotion is publication. The more you’re published in reputable books and magazines, the wider your audience, and the more likely you’ll be acknowledged as someone who’s serious about their craft.
It certainly doesn’t hurt to remember that readers don’t admire you because you’ve had 500 or 600 illustrations, poems or stories published. The reality is, truckloads of crap are published each year. Readers admire writers simply because they enjoyed their work, they could relate to it, and it lit an emotion in them.
It’ll always be quality, not quantity that counts most in this business. If you can accomplish both of these simultaneously, you’ve more than done your job.
Some time ago Night to Dawn Books published Heroes of Ancient Greece, an anthology featuring Ralph E. Horner’s tale, “Atalanta.” I was pleasantly surprised and pleased to learn about his brainchild Tandem Tryst and forthcoming sequel. Also fascinating is his background in magic and balloon art. He has crafted every balloon animal you can imagine and now, he has brought his experiences with him into publishing and marketing. So let’s hear what Ralph has to say about Tandem Tryst and his upcoming sequel.
BARBARA: I’ve known that you’ve written short stories for some time, having published one in Heroes of Ancient Greece. What motivated your transition to novels?
RALPH: Actually I started writing novels first. I wrote three rather short novels between 1985 and 1995. They were about fifty-five to sixty-five thousands words, and during that time I did write one short Christmas story. Even though I was a bit discouraged after none of these novels got published, the concept of Tandem Tryst seemed better than the other stories I had written. That alone motivated me to continue writing it. I also decided that extending the story to eighty thousand words would make it easier to sell.
BARBARA: Could you tell me about balloon animals and magic? How do you garner publicity for your business?
RALPH: Every year I try to make four or five new balloon creations. I’m up to around one hundred now. I used the term make new balloons rather than learn because once you’re up to making twenty-five or thirty you start creating things that aren’t in balloon books. Figures like Angels, Frankenstein, the wolfman, fairies, etc. Also with magic, I learn a new trick or two a year and try to implement comedy into most of them. If you can get the kids laughing that really helps a magic show. I now teach balloon art and magic for children and adults at a local junior college. For advertising my business I use the area phone book which also gives you an on-line listing.
BARBARA: Do you find yourself bringing your experiences as a clown to the printed page? If yes, can you give an example?
RALPH: Outside of the fact that clowning and creative writing are both considered entertainment, they are very different. With my stories usually being series in nature, I don’t often use humor, but there are exceptions. In “Pandora Spoxx” from the Startling Stories Anthology, I used humor to color my Captain Danger and the Space Rangers story. I used a lot of puns and satire in that one. Even in my novel Tandem Tryst I occasionally wrote in a humorous situation and a little joke here and there, and when the two main characters are watching a vaudeville show, I wrote an entire comedy routine that could have taken place at that time.
The sequel Midnight Mist, which I’m working on now, has the most humor of any novel I’ve done. For the first time I’ve even written in a character who is a birthday party clown.
BARBARA: Where did you get your ideas for your characters and theme for Tandem Tryst?
RALPH: I was mowing the grass one day and the concept of the story came to me. What if my wife passed away suddenly and then years later I was somehow able to travel back in time and meet her soul in a previous life. And what if she looked, sounded, and acted as my wife did? This would be the ultimate blessing for someone who lost their soul-mate.
Tandem Tryst was originally going to be a third story in my Witch’s Moon trilogy I was writing. Since the first two novels took place in MA this one would too, and the time was to be 1893. When I told my mother about this new novel she mentioned that the time was the same as the World’s Columbian Exposition here in Chicago. I’d heard of that fair, but knew very little about it. Since I live in the Chicago area I changed the story to that location. I spent more time researching the history of the fair than I did writing the story. I was only in the third chapter when I saw the book The Devil in the White City being advertised in the Chicago Tribune. I knew I’d done the right thing by putting the story at the fair. Instead of having this novel as a third story of an unpublished trilogy I decided to make this a separate story. As far as the characters, they evolved as I wrote the novel.
BARBARA: I hear you’re working on a sequel, Midnight Mist. Could you give a preview of this tale?
RALPH: While my lead characters, Jeff and Melody, in Tandem Tryst solve the problems, like revealing the stalker, another dilemma opens up as Tandem Tryst comes to a close. I don’t want to say too much about Midnight Mist that might spoil Tandem Tryst for people who haven’t read it, but the sequel gives the first story closure for the two lovers. In the first story Jeff, who is from 1993, goes back in time to Melody’s time 1893 and in Midnight Mist, Melody comes to Jeff’s time with some new and existing problems.
BARBARA: Most writers find moving from short stories to novels a great leap. What do you find the most challenging about novel writing?
RALPH: Well, since I started with short novels, and novellas, I would say the hardest part about writing a full length novel is trying to incorporate side plots and keeping the word count up, if you’re not use to writing that long of a story. The thinking process is different for a novel.
BARBARA: What advice would you give an aspiring author trying to hone his or her technique?
RALPH: Join a writers’ support group. You have to have other writers evaluate your work. Writing has so many facets involved; plot, dialogue, narrative, good descriptions, a good writing style or voice, punctuation and the list goes on. Just when you think you have these attributes down your writers group will find another flaw for you to consider. Your writing can always improve. Sometimes the criticism of the group is painful, but it’s worth it if you want to improve and get published. If the people in your group don’t find your problems, the editors at the publishing houses will.
BARBARA: “Atalanta” enjoyed a favorable review. What motivated that tales, and how did the collaborating with Tom and the other contributors come about?
RALPH: I had two stories published through Tom’s magazine Classic Pulp Fiction Stories and we had done another anthology together. One day he emailed me asking if I could write a story about Atalanta the woman warrior from Greek Mythology. I had never heard of her, but told him I’d do some research and write one. Tom was planning an anthology of Ancient Greek Heroes and also contacted a mutual friend, Mike Black to help him with the writing. Tom wrote two stories; one with Hercules and one about Atalanta. Mike wrote a Hercules story and I did a second one with the Atalanta theme. It was a lot of fun writing in a new genre.
BARBARA: Where may people get copies of Tandem Tryst and Greek Heroes?
RALPH: Amazon.com has both of them. You can also buy Tandem Tryst from my publisher, Wings-press.com, or my website www.ralphehorner.weebly.com, and the book store at the Chicago Architecture Foundation where they conduct the White City bus tours, and at their on-line store www.architecture.org. I believe now you can also order it at Barnes and Nobel.
BARBARA: If you could give one piece of advice to an author trying to promote their books, what would it be?
RALPH: I’m still learning myself, but I’d say get a website, try to get on-line reviews and schedule book signings and readings to get your name out there.
Tonight, I am honored to talk with prolific author Sharon Maria Bidwell, who hails from Britain. Her latest, Nights in Pink Satin, has just been released as of June 19. She writes in slipstream, romance, horror, gothic, cross-genre, and other genres. Though she is best known for her longer works, her short stories have appeared in many magazines, including Sam’s Dot Publishing, Night to Dawn, Roadworks, Epiphany Magazine, and others. Her secret to success? She takes the bull by the horns and writes away…
BARBARA: Congratulations on your new release, Nights in Pink Satin. Tell me a little about your book.
SHARON: NIPS (as I’ve taken to calling it) is the story of Vincent, a vampire, who is as old as the hills and essentially bored. He fills his time with little diverting pleasures such as the annual ball for which he’s seeking a new coffin. When he assumes a female vampire has placed an order for a pink coffin lining he mistakenly breaks into the home of a young gay vampire called Martin. Martin is so painfully lonely that at first you think he’ll be a pushover for any attention that Vincent bestows on him but like most of us there’s a moment when we’ll speak up for ourselves. Vincent’s in for a few surprises. Vincent is also lonely but he’s not aware of it in quite the same way as Martin is and yet the meeting changes his awareness. The result makes for an interesting, humourous, and quirky love story.
If anyone is interested, I have to thank fellow British author, Fiona Glass, for drawing my attention to a news story of an abandoned coffin. As you can see from the news article, the lining looked rather “pink”. It was the spark for my idea. You’ll also notice it’s quite an old piece of news. I just didn’t have time to finish it until this year: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/norfolk/6590769.stm
BARBARA: How do your readers react to your writing in diverse genres?
SHARON: I’d have to say I receive mixed reactions. There are readers who will focus on one aspect of my work and there are some who want to hear about all the things I do, even if they don’t always read it. They may try a story out of their “comfort zone” and so far (fingers crossed), I’ve always received a favourable response when they do. I don’t expect every reader to like or even show an interest in everything I do. I don’t expect a reader of my gay romances to read a heterosexual romance (or menage) or vice versa, and I don’t expect them to seek out my darker stories.
I can’t and won’t say I’ve been “sidetracked” by the romance genre (although I also write various sub-genres within that category) because that makes it sound as if I perceive it to be something I’m doing until something better comes along. I’m saying that because I think early on a couple of mistaken individuals made that assumption. I’m as surprised as anyone to be writing what I’m writing but I’m delightfully surprised, and while I’ve many GLBT titles to date, I do hope to write more het titles too (I have another due later this year). I also hope to get back to writing some of my darker stories (although I believe some of my romances can be darker and deeper than some readers expect).
If I could write exactly the way I wanted to write, I’d do exactly what I’m doing now…I’d just be able to clone myself and have about three avenues of writing open to me on a regular basis. The problem is finding time for them all and there are moments when life itself interferes.
BARBARA: What motivated you to begin writing?
SHARON: Love of books. Life. I didn’t have an easy childhood. It can’t be easy when one parent suffers ill-heath and my mother had many personal and physical problems, yet one of my earliest memories is of her reading to me. I still have many of those books. She even taught me to read where my school failed but that’s a longer story. Books were always my friends. They never let me down. Books enabled me to live through so many adventures, several lifetimes in one. I think to be a full-time writer would be the best job in the world, even though like any job you have your good and bad days. Anyone who doesn’t think writing is work has it wrong.
BARBARA: What do you find most challenging about the writing process?
SHARON: What springs to mind is time. Just finding the time. The truth is most writers have at least a part-time if not full-time job and even if you don’t there’s everyday life, family and friends to consider. Maybe that’s not the dream everyone wants to hear of but it’s the truth. Writing is a solitary pursuit and sometimes it’s difficult to be solitary, especially if it doesn’t come naturally to you.
What’s difficult about the process itself? I’d have to say waiting for or seeking out that one thing that makes a story special. I’m not even going to pretend that I manage to do that every time. You can take any plot and break it down into basics, but there’s got to be “something” that clicks into place, that changes a story that has been written a million times before and turns it into someting that will stick in a reader’s mind, make it memorable, even haunting. Not all stories can or even need to do this but they are the ones readers will keep for a lifetime.
BARBARA: What books would you recommend to aspiring writers?
SHARON: Ah…now you’re asking me to give away all my secrets. LOL. Hmm…oh god, you really are! I wouldn’t buy most of the ‘how to write’ books out there…or, to put it another way, do be selective. They can be entertaining and most have “something” to offer but you’ll read an awful lot of books to glean very little information from each. I’m not saying they’re worthless but there comes a point when you have to accept that’s time you can spend writing.
I’d tell every aspiring author that they may think they understand punctuation and grammar but check they really do know what they’re talking about. I’d recommend “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” by Lynne Truss. You’ve probably heard all about this book but really, everyone should read this because if nothing else, it highlights the woefully poor attitude to the subject. If you think a publisher never turned down a story owing to terrible punctuation and grammar, think again! A few errors can be overlooked — it’s what editors, line editors, and proofers are there for — but if a writer displays a lack of care and disinterest in how they present their work, many publishers notice. Penguin produce a good punctuation guide and another good book I’ve recently come across is “My Grammar and I (or should that be me)” by Caroline Taggart and J.A.Wines. If you really can’t stomach the convoluted methods of learning grammar that applied in my grandmother’s day (and really who can?) then this is a lighthearted educational way to look at an old approach that works. Even so, I’m not going to pretend to be a punctuation or grammar expert. The one thing I excelled in at school was spelling but I’m not going to pretend I never put a comma in the wrong place. The damn things just love to slip in when you’re not looking.
For plotting, if you can find a copy (which was difficult last time I searched) check out “Plot & Structure” by James Scott Bell. The fact is stories do follow patterns, and even if you want to break the patterns up, recreate the universe as we know it, like any rule you wish to break, it’s best to know exactly what the rule is in order to know how best to break it. I haven’t read many books on personal success stories. However, I did find “Sometimes the Magic Works” by Terry Brooks very entertaining, and to contradict something I said above, if you wish to specialise in a particular subject, be it for example, poetry, children’s books, or crime, I would look for a “how-to” book focusing on that specific genre. Learn your market. Learn how to research.
BARBARA: I know a few writers who are also illustrators, and on your website, you mentioned an interest in drawing. Have you explored that interest?
SHARON: Only as a way to relax, and alas, I get little time for it these days and I am woefully out of practice. I have been playing around a little with illustrating in case I ever decide to self-publish something, but that’s mostly with digital programmes. We moved last year and I’ve been knocking down a dilapidated garage. Don’t laugh. Yes, I’ve actually been wielding a sledgehammer! The plan is to have a summerhouse put up in its place very soon and as well as a place to enjoy the garden, read, write, and entertain, I want to use it as space for drawing. My father died a couple of years ago and left an entire art course. I want to follow that coursework. With drawing even more than writing, I can forget what day it is, and even how much time is passing. Nothing else exists apart from the project in front of you. You forget all your worries. I’m thinking that maybe I don’t manage that so often with writing because there’s a certain amount of “worry” involved in that kind of creation. The drawing is really just for me. The writing is for sharing.
BARBARA: How would you define slipstream writing?
SHARON: Difficult to define. LOL. It’s writing that slips around the edges of and takes from a variety of genres, containing elements of more than one or even many.
BARBARA: How did you make the transition from short story to novel writing?
SHARON: It was actually sort of the other way around. I always wanted to write novels and plunged straight into them but none ever pleased me. I’ve since realised I needed to learn the craft of writing first in order to support my storytelling ability. I seldom wrote short stories. I think I felt as my father did that no sooner had he got into them than they were finished. Then I decided to take a creative writing course. Because of the nature of the course, I had to submit shorter work and my emphasis changed to short stories. I would recommend every writer to write short stories. The process teaches you how to be concise with your writing, how to characterise swiftly, how to make a story more vibrant. You stretch this process out somewhat when writing a novel but you learn so much from writing short stories and even grow to appreciate them more. A good short story can haunt you as much as any novel can. I don’t think I would have ever written a publishable novel if it hadn’t been for writing short stories.
BARBARA: What advice would you give aspiring writers about time management?
SHARON: I am NOT the person to ask. I wish someone could teach me. The internet is a blessing and curse as it can be terribly distracting. I try to write before I check email etc but then I can’t write because I’m wondering if I have email. Then I’ll see to that only to think “I’ll just pop into that forum…or drop a good friend a line…or maybe I ought to do a bit of promo…or I could see what books I could add to my towering to-be-read pile.” I struggle with time and my worst trait is procrastination, although once I get caught up in a story I can type for hours, forget to eat or drink, and come away from the keyboard feeling physically and mentally shattered.
BARBARA: Where may someone purchase print or ebook copies of your works?
SHARON: My longer works are in ebook formats from my publishers and I’d prefer readers to purchase from the official sites:
A couple of my titles are available on Amazon’s Kindle. If you see any listed elsewhere they’ve probably been pirated. Please don’t purchase from pirates or take part in file sharing. It’s illegal and the writer receives nothing. My short stories are mostly in small press magazines available from individual outlets.