“Chatting with the Pros”: Interview with award winning fantasy author L. Deni Colter

Chatting with the Pros

My “Chatting with the Pros” guest today is an award winning epic and dark fantasy author. She may not be as prolific as some writers, but everything she writes seems to shine in the fantasy realms. She is a two-time winner of the Colorado Book Award, and a Writers of the Future winner. That is three books and three awards. She must be doing something right. Please help me welcome fantasy author L. D. Colter.


L.D. Colter

Kaye: Would you briefly share the story of your own publishing journey?

Liz: I seem to have done a bit of everything along the way. My short stories have been traditionally published in magazines and anthologies. My first novel, A Borrowed Hell, was published by a small press that closed only a few months later, but fortunately the book was picked up again almost immediately by another small press. My epic fantasy novel, The Halfblood War, was acquired by a mid-sized publisher, and I chose to self-publish my latest novel, While Gods Sleep.

Kaye: Your books written under L.D. Colter are contemporary and dark fantasy, while your epic fantasy, The Halfblood War, is written under the name L. Deni Colter. What was the reasoning for the change of pen name?

Liz: I didn’t actually change my pen name, just added a second one. I started with L. D. Colter for my contemporary fantasy. When my epic fantasy novel was published, I decided to add the pseudonym L. Deni Colter to make it easier for readers to differentiate my writing by genre. While plenty of readers, like me, enjoy multiple sub-genres of speculative fiction, not everyone does, and I feel I write the two styles quite differently. I don’t separate my work in any other way, though. My website and author sites include my actual name, Liz, both of my pseudonyms, and all my books.

Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?

Liz: I didn’t consciously decide to write with a view to publishing until well into adulthood, but I’ve been a daydreamer all my life—I nearly flunked out of 5th grade due to it—so I was hard-wired from the start to create fiction. I started toying with the idea of writing during high school but stayed too busy through college and for a long time after as I pursued of different interests, more school, and many different careers. Finally, I found myself with a seasonal job, a rainy winter off, and my first computer. I started a novel that winter and wrote 10,000 words in the first week. I’ve never looked back.

Kaye: Your first book, A Borrowed Hell,won the 2018 Colorado Book Award for Science Fiction/Fantasy. Were you surprised? Can you tell me a little about that book?

Borrowed Hell.ColterLiz: Yes, I was very surprised and honored to win. When I wrote A Borrowed Hell, I set out to write a contemporary fantasy with literary themes about a man forced to face his difficult past in order to move forward in life. To receive an award for this book, and especially one from Colorado Humanities—an organization dedicated to the humanities and the ways in which the human experience is documented—was very rewarding.

The story follows my protagonist’s challenges, which take place in both the real world and an alternate world. I think this last bit of the back-cover copy sums up the plot pretty well. “July is willing to do anything to end his world-hopping, right up until he learns the price: reliving a past he’s tried his whole life to forget. He’s not sure his sanity can take it. Not even to get back to his own world, a woman he’s falling in love with, and a life he finally cares about.”

Kaye: While Gods Sleep won the 2019 Colorado Book Award for science fiction/fantasy. Where did you get the idea for this story?

While Gods Sleep.ColterLiz: As to the origin of this, I’ve loved mythology ever since discovering a fascination with ancient religions and cultural myths in high school. Greek mythology was my first passion, and it seemed the natural place to start when I decided to write a set of fantasy novels based on different mythologies. It was great fun to finally write a book rooted in the Greek myths I love, but better still was getting to play with them in completely unique and original ways that were entirely my own creation. It was a goal of mine from the start to avoid the more common tropes and to take this in unexpected directions, beginning with setting it in an alternative 1958 Athens ruled by conjoined queens. From there, I threw a mortal man into the eerie underworld of Erebus where he becomes entwined with sleeping gods, the factions that seek to control them, and an enemy powerful enough to destroy them all.

Kaye: Your latest release from Wordfire Press is The Halfblood War. What can you tell us about that book and the inspiration for it?

The Halfblood War.ColterLiz: These days I read widely across speculative fiction genres, but I grew up reading epic fantasy almost exclusively. Those books shaped my love of reading and were a huge part of my life. I enjoy the current directions epic fantasy is taking, but it was very fulfilling for me to get to write my own traditional epic fantasy and mold it into something unique and, hopefully, compelling. This novel took me longer to complete, by far, than my others. It was a true labor of love and I’m grateful to Wordfire Press for acquiring and publishing it. The premise revolves around Tirren, heir to the ruler of Thiery, who is raising his half-Elven bastard son in a land that hates and fears the Elves. It’s a stand-alone novel, written with an adult audience in mind, and weaves themes of prejudice and acceptance with love and betrayal, capricious and dangerous elves, and epic battles.

Kaye: What do you consider to be your biggest writing accomplishment to date?

Liz: I have to laugh, because my answer is always the same: my latest project, whatever that may be. Right now, that would be an unpublished novelette and my work-in-progress novel.

Kaye: In my review of the Undercurrents anthology, I refer to your story, “Songs to Sing and Stories to Tell”, saying that it explores saying good-bye. Can you tell me about this story from the author’s point of view? Did I get it right?

Liz: Yes, absolutely, I see that story as being about letting go, or as you put it, saying goodbye. Not my protagonist letting go of her past or her memories or her love, but trusting her instincts to let go of fear of change and false security and to embrace the unknown. That said, though, once a writer publishes their work, it belongs more to the reader than the author so different readers might see different themes.

Kaye: Which type of writing do you prefer, short fiction or novels? Why?

Liz: I enjoy both. There’s a lot of reward in completing and polishing short stories more quickly (faster for me, anyway) and getting them out in the world. If writing is going to be a career, though, conventional wisdom says it’s going to be based on producing novels. I’m not a fast writer—if I manage one book a year I’m doing well—so it’s a huge commitment for me to start a new book, but there’s also the fulfilment of really delving into story and character and the pleasure of wrapping up multiple storylines in a satisfying way.

Kaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a story you’ve ever had?

Liz: That might be my short story that won the Writers of the Future contest, “The Clouds in Her Eyes.” I had no notion what I was going to write when I began and went to my odds and ends file, where I toss all my passing and partial story ideas. I was trying to choose between three different prompts: a title idea (The Clouds in Her Eyes), an image of an old windmill on a dry and barren farm, and an image of a ship’s wooden figurehead. When I challenged myself to combine all three, the story was born.

Kaye: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Why?

Liz: I have to side with the pantsers on this. That said, though, I don’t really see pantsing and plotting as black and white options, but as a continuum. People who outline in the thousands of words still have to let go of the outline at some point and wing it. Likewise, most pantsers have some level of plotting going on, even if it’s at a scene-by-scene level as they get there. For me, I usually start with atmosphere (dark, humorous, gothic, whatever), an idea of the main character, sometimes a theme, and then an opening scene. While all that’s coalescing in my head, I usually get a sense of the ending, which gives me a rudimentary arc. At that point I start writing and figure the rest out as I go.

Kaye: What do you think is the single most important element in a story?

Liz: Wow, that’s a tough one. Tomorrow I might have a different answer, but today I’m going to say detail. Not excessive detail, but those sharp, specific details that bring stories to life. The level of detail in a story enhances so many other elements: character, setting, emotion, pretty much everything except plot. And a good plot, poorly told doesn’t make for a good story. Evocative writing is what engages me as a reader.

Kaye: What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?

Liz: A local author was kind enough to read an early draft of the first novel I wrote (the epic fantasy). She gave encouragement but advised me to seek out workshop opportunities to get detailed feedback for the many things I now realize were very novice mistakes. It was hands down due to her advice that I started on the right road to becoming a professional author. I followed her advice and joined a 10-week online workshop led by a well-published author. I’ve been a part of critique groups in one form or another almost constantly since that time, as well as attending conferences and workshops when possible, especially during my early years of writing.

Kaye: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Liz: Don’t write in a vacuum. Along the same lines as the advice I was given when starting out, I feel it’s hard to be objective about what you’re writing without some external input and feedback. Find fellow writers who are genuinely invested in helping to improve your work and, hopefully, at least some who are further along the career path than yourself. We know how we intend our work to read, but without a sounding board, it can be difficult to know if we’re succeeding.

Kaye: As a fantasy writer, what kind of research do you find yourself doing for your stories?

Liz: As a reader, I’m a huge stickler for logistics so it’s very important to me in my writing that I get details right in my own books. Not just big things, like avoiding plot holes, but small details, too. You never know what expertise your readers might have and, as a reader, I hate having my suspension of disbelief suddenly ruined in the middle of a story by a detail that’s blatantly wrong. So, yes, I get lost down research rabbit holes all the time. I research online mostly, but I’ve been known to read multiple textbooks for a novel as well as reaching out in person to experts or sensitivity readers.

Kaye: What can your readers look forward to in the near future? What are you working on now?

Liz: My current work in progress from L. D. Colter is the next in my mythology-based novels, this one centered around Slavic paganism. It’s a contemporary fantasy (working title: When the Winds Sing) set in far Northern California, near where I lived for 12 years. There are many wonderful settings and inspirations in that area, and I’m looking forward to playing with them all. The book is about 1/3 written and I hope to have the first draft completed before too long.

I hope, in time, to get back to an epic fantasy set I started and set aside some time ago. I had other projects needing attention, but it’s well started and has a concept and characters I still love.


Liz has followed her heart through a wide variety of careers including draft-horse farmer, field paramedic, Outward Bound instructor, athletic trainer, and roller-skating waitress, among other curious choices. She is a two-time Colorado Book Award winner in Science Fiction/Fantasy, a Writers of the Future winner, and her short stories have been published in a wide variety of magazines and anthologies. She writes contemporary and dark fantasy as L. D. Colter and epic fantasy as L. Deni Colter.


I want to thank Liz Colter for joining me here today and sharing so much about writing in the fantasy genre. You can learn more about Liz and her books on her website or her Amazon Author page. Join me next month, as we celebrate Superheroes and Supervillains, and my “Chatting with the Pros” author guest will be fantasy and science fiction author Kevin J. Anderson.


You can catch the monthly segment “Chatting with the Pros” on the third Monday of every month in 2019, or you can be sure not to any of the great content on Writing to be Read by signing up by email or following on WordPress. Please share content you find interesting or useful.


Journeying into the Worlds of Fantasy in April

Fantasy

In April, Writing to be Read celebrates fantasy. That area of literature and visual media where fantastical elements become possible, and maybe even expected. Fantasy is as old as the fables and fairytales which birthed it centuries ago. In fantasy, anything is possible, and readers journey to worlds beyond their own imaginations, allowing effective escapes from reality, which is why it is such a popular genre.

Although in fantasy, anything may be possible, each story world must have its own set of rules which should never be broken. And it’s the author’s job to be sure those rules are clear for readers and ensure that they are never breached. To ensure this, authors go to great lengths, drawing up elaborate story bibles and creating maps of their worlds in order to keep everything straight.

There are many subgenres of fantasy, including dark fantasy, which carries readers into evil realms; high or epic fantasy, which ventures into magical worlds on the hero’s journey; low fantasy, which magical elements mingle in the real world; magical realism, which takes place in worlds similar to ours, but where magical elements are common place; urban fantasy, where legends come to life; sword and sorcery, with sword weilding heroes who thrive on gallentry; space fantasy, which takes place in the imaginative worlds in the far reaches of the universe; western fantasy, where magical or supernatural elements invade the landscapes of the old west; fantand superhero fiction, where protagonists use supernatural powers to manipulate the elements of the real world.

The hero’s journey originated with fantasy, and that is where writing instructors turn to provide examples of the way that journey progresses for their students. Bilbo Baggins’ hero’s journey in The Hobbit is exemplary, but it is only a prelude to the ultimate hero’s journey Frodo embarks upon in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. J.R.R. Tolkien paved the way for fantasy writers right up to those of present day.

Stick with me this month for a great line-up of fantasy reviews and interviews with authors of the fantasy genre. My “Chatting with the Pros” author guest is L. Deni Colter, and my supporting interview is with J.B. Garner. I’ll also be reviewing the X Marks the Spot anthology, edited by Lisa Mangum; Severed Wings, by Steven Elliot Altman; and Indomitable, by J.B.Garner. I do interviews on Mondays and reviews on Fridays, so drop in and find out what is happening on the fantasy scene.


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“Severed Wings”: A Mythological Urban Fantasy

Severed-Wings-temp

Severed Wings, by Steven-Elliot Altman is an urban fantasy of romance and new beginnings, where creatures of myth live and miracles happen. Skillfully crafted to weave together past and present to create a captivating storyline that kept me guessing.

When an accident leaves Brandon in a wheelchair and unable to persue his acting career, he thinks his life is over. He walks away from everything and everyone connected with his past life, searching for something or someone to give meaning to his life again. What he finds is a couple living across the hall who behave a little oddly. When he uncovers the secret which they carry, he doesn’t know if it’s his curse or his salvation, as he suddenly finds himself with supernatural abilities, in a battle for his life, and those of his friends, with a creature of myth and legend.

Severed Wings will make you believe in angels and demons and everything in between, at least until you turn the last page. I give it five quills.

Five Quills

Severed Wings will be available June 3, 2020


Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


Jeff’s Movie Reviews – The Invisible Man (2020)

Jeff's Movie Reviews

The Monster You Know

by Jeff Bowles

It goes without saying that the new Universal Studios reboot of the horror classic, The Invisible Man, offers a uniquely compelling movie experience for our hyper-political, hyper-aware post-#metoo era. The year 2020 is a very different time from 1933, the year Universal released its classic Claude Rains iteration. We understand the world in a startlingly different fashion, and complex psychology, trauma, abusive romantic relationships, and violence against women are all very much at play in the stories our culture has begun to tell.

Rest assured, though, The Invisible Man is not an overtly political movie. More like a chilling and subtly “woke” product of its times. Gone are all the old monster movie affectations—silly white mummy bandages covering a mysterious face, wired monocles and burning cigarettes floating in mid-air—replaced by psychological horror, emotional and physical torment, circa 2020 big-budget computer generated special effects, and a pretty nifty concept for a military-grade invisibility suit. Not to spoil too much, which really is a challenge with this movie, but the monster in this Universal monster picture is still very much a science fictional prospect. He’s also slightly reminiscent of a bad guy you might find in any average modern video game, which is how you know you’re in for one hell of a boss fight.

See the source image

Elisabeth Moss, who is just as excellent here as she is on Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, plays Cecelia Kass, the traumatized victim of a seemingly abusive relationship who is desperate to escape her wealthy tech developer husband. Cecelia gets free of his post-modern rich dude Dracula castle in the opening sequence of the film, only to learn a couple scenes later he’s ended his own life and left her his fortune. Which, you know, is really just a springboard for some invisible-man-ish fun and mayhem.

What kind of tech does her husband, Adrian, develop? Optics, of course, the kind that can turn someone… well, you know. I say Cecelia is the victim of a seemingly abusive relationship because while its clear Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has done some truly terrible things to her, we’re never really sure what they were. It’s sort of a narrative issue, a lack of basic context, because as the action and suspense ratchet up, certain story beats become less formidable. Again, spoilers are easy to drop, but how did this guy get this way? He’s not just a monster. His exists solely to watch you realize your most intimate fears. The film insists on hints and allegations, relies too heavily on stereotypes, but only as it applies to Adrian and his brother, Tom (Michael Dorman), who may or may not suffer from some intense form of younger sibling Stockholm Syndrome.

Realistically, if this movie were called The Wolf Man or Frankenstein, I doubt I’d question how insidious the villain is, but we’re dealing with issues of domination, psycho-sexual violence, and truly, more emotional clarity is called for. Not to put too fine a point on it, but simply tossing around terms like narcissism and sociopathy doesn’t really help fill in a backstory. Lot’s of people are sociopathic and narcissistic, and not too many invent invisibility suits and murder-stalk their exes.

The good news for audiences, however, is that none of the above matters much, because The Invisible Man is a focused and frightfully suspenseful film, full of unexpected twists and a finale that is less cliché good guy, bad guy showdown than morally ambiguous coup d’état. At times, the movie is downright ingenious in its concoction of more and more elaborate and devilish scenarios. The supporting cast is excellent, and thankfully, exist as more than simple horror movie cannon fodder. The real unease and dread of The Invisible Man comes down to a basic relatable fear: if I tell them what’s really happening to me, they’ll call me crazy and put me away.

See the source image

Which isn’t to say the movie readily offers up easy explanations for all it entails. As the credits roll, it becomes clear writer/director Leigh Whannell wants us thinking hard about what we’ve just seen. Sharp-eyed viewers will spot the answer to the penultimate question posed by the film within its first few tense opening moments, but some audiences may leave dissatisfied by the ambiguity of it all.

Ultimately, The Invisible Man is about desperation and bare-knuckled survival in the face of victim-hood and victimization, an unavoidable totem of an age in which the sins of very powerful, very sleezy men have been outed in spectacular public fashion. Truly, the film is an intimate and personal take on the classic Universal Pictures series of old. It both loves and understands the need to update its source material, and though the final product is uniquely contemporary, its essential nature remains the same. Imagine an enemy you can’t see, who’s watching you in all your most intimate and private moments, who’s obsessively calculating new ways to make your life a living hell. It’s still a great concept for a horror story, which H.G. Wells must’ve recognized when he published the original novel in 1897.

The most frightening monster is the one who knows you best. Abuse at the hands of a loved one is a horror unlike any other, and in real life, more and more, the world is waking up to the fact that this phantom, this particular invisible man, has plagued us since the very beginning. Ultimately, the conscious approach filmmaker Leigh Whannell and his excellent cast take toward the subject is timely and clear-eyed. This invisible man is a beast of a human being. He’s been in your home, your bed, and he will do whatever it takes to possess, consume, and destroy you. Now that’s scary. And not a single floating cigarette or mummy bandage in sight.

Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives The Invisible Man an 8 out of 10.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

GB Cover

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


You can keep up on what Jeff’s been watching and catch all of his great movie reviews the third Friday of each month on Writing to be Read. Subscribe to email or follow on WordPress today.


“Writing for a Y.A. Audience”: An Asylum for Inspiration

Writing for a Y.A. Audience

On the way to my parents’ house, I pass an insane asylum.  It has all the key characteristics to making it creepy.

abandoned ancient antique architecture

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Abandoned? Check.

Broken windows? Check.

Overgrown, crumbling porch? Check.

Mysterious past? Check.

By “mysterious,” I mean that everyone I talk to has a different story about it.  Most people say that one time “long ago,” the inmates rebelled and its been closed ever since.  Of course there are stories about those inmates still trapped inside.  Not sure how they could still be trapped with broken doors…

Some people tell me they used to sneak inside.  Some say evil things happened inside.  There is a huge chain-link fence surrounding the rambling building right now, so no one can sneak inside anymore.

When looking it up, there is very little information about the abandoned psychiatric center.

Driving by it so often inspired so many thoughts for a story.  Did I want to write about an inmate?  Would it be a work of historic fiction or a mystery?

A ghost story took form, and along came HAWTHORNE HIGH.  What happens if an old psychiatric center is transformed into a haunted high school?  Find out in this young adult novella.

Hawthorne High

Jordan Elizabeth is a young adult author who is obsessed with history and ghosts.  You can connect with Jordan via her website, JordanElizabethBooks.com


“Mind Fields”: Hitler’s Afterlife

Mind Fields

Arthur Rosch Copyright 2019

A Guest At The Eternal Passover Seder

“Avraham, give our guest some more gefilte fish.” Mother Rachel spoke in Yiddish and gestured towards the man seated at the place of honor on the long holiday table.

Evidently the man couldn’t speak. His eyes bulged from his head, his arms went this way and that. Some hidden force seemed to glue him to his chair so that he could not even rise.

Adolf-Hitler-1933

“He looks funny,” Avraham, eldest son, tried to conceal a giggle. The man was indeed a comical figure. His little mustache, his hair combed over his forehead, these were unusual accoutrements at the Eternal Seder. In the Spirit World the Eternal Seder was just that, an unending celebration of Passover. It occupied an archetypal place in the Cosmic Order.

“Why is he doing that?” asked Sipporah, younger daughter. The guest was thrusting his right arm out, almost straight, but bending and sagging from the fatigue of eons of attempting this salute.

“It’s supposed to mean Victory,” Zeyda Moishe said skeptically.

“I think he is perhaps deluded,” Baba Zifnah decided. “Don’t let him spoil the Seder.”

“There is always a guest at Seder,” said Cousin Frankl. “They are not always so unpleasant.”

The candles glistened, filling the chamber with soft light. More light, soft but differently colored, emanated from the spacious double windows.

“It is our tradition to welcome everyone, from all the Worlds and Spheres,” Mother Rachel declared. “Even the Hell Worlds.”

“Do you think he’s from one of those?” little Micah interjected with excitement. His eyes gleamed with ghoulish fascination.

“It is not ours to judge.” Zeydah Moishe said. “Sins are put aside during Passover. That is the whole point. The Angel Of Darkness passes over our house.”

There was a sound entering the chamber, a sound as of a colossal wagon loaded with tons of lead. It groaned with a sound so deep that most of it was felt rather than heard. Shadows covered the windows. The light was attenuated. Little Gavril, the toddler cousin, rose with curiosity to look out.

“Don’t!” commanded Mother Rachel. “Sit down! Our Guest’s crimes are rolling past our house. Praise God they don’t stop here.”

The grinding sound continued as if forever. Sledges pulled by immense demon-steeds yanked them forward a bit at a time. At last peace was restored. The Guest seemed to sag. It was possible to see a hint of remorse in his countenance. Then he straightened and attempted his rigid arm-salute.

“I thought for a moment that he might regret his crimes,” said Sipporah.

“For a moment, perhaps.” Zeyda Moishe replied. “But look: he is again celebrating his imaginary victory.”

“Too bad.” Baba Zifnah commented quietly.

“Without regret, without an accounting,” said Zeyha Moishe, “Crimes cannot be forgiven. It will take this one some time. Perhaps twenty eons, perhaps a thousand. Regret and remorse will come to him, but not for a very long time. Let us say a special prayer for his soul.”

Those at the Seder, all but the one who glared impotently, bowed their heads and began the traditional benediction. “Baruch Atah,” they intoned, “Blessed Be You.”


“Tabitha’s Death”: a Y.A. novel that dares to journey into taboo realms

Tabitha's Death

Tabitha’s Death, by Jordan Elizabeth is a dark fantasy journey into death and beyond. This book is masterfully crafted to present the often taboo subjects of depression, cutting and teen suicide. Speaking as someone who has lost a son to teen suicide, I thought the subject matter was handled with sensitivity and tact. Even as a work of fiction, Tabitha’s Death carries messages many teens may need to hear.

Tabitha thinks she wants to die and tries to take her own life, but she finds it’s not that easy.  The Grey Man snatches her away from death and won’t let her die until she completes certain tasks for him. As she journey’s through the strange realms beyond death, she learns that there’s more going on beyond death’s doors than she’d realized and her life maybe wasn’t so bad.

A truly inspirational approach to Y.A. fiction, resulting in an entertaining, yet thought provoking story. I give Tabitha’s Death five quills.

five-quills3

Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


“Chatting with the Pros”: Interview with bestselling horror author Jeffrey J. Mariotte

Chatting with the Pros

My author guest today on “Chatting with the Pros” may just have books in his blood. Before he was an author he managed a bookstore.  He’s gone on to work in both marketing and publishing, and become a bestselling, multiple award-winning author with leanings toward dark fiction. He’s got great insight into writing on the dark side which he’s willing to share with us today, so let’s welcome Jeffrey J. Mariotte now.



JJM Headshot

Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?

Jeff: I started writing stories when I was very young, probably 7 or 8. They were terrible, of course, and utterly derivative, mostly of the Hardy Boys novels that were my primary reading material at the time. I kept at it all through school, and by the time I got to college I knew I wanted to make my money writing something–I just didn’t know precisely what. I went in as an advertising major and did some copywriting, but graduated with a degree in Radio/TV/Film, a minor in English, a literary award, and a published article. Three years later, I got a job at a bookstore, and eventually became a manager (and later, opened a store of my own). It was while managing a store that I met a lot of authors and publishing professionals and found out the realities of publishing, and sold my first short story. So I guess the short answer to the question is: always, and the long answer is: I always wanted to write, but I didn’t know I could do it professionally until much, much later.

Kaye: What draws you to dark fiction? Why not romance, or mystery, or western?

Jeff: The truth is, I have written in two of those genres, and others besides. I’ve written both mysteries and westerns (along with science fiction, fantasy, straight fiction, and more), and intend to continue. In fact, the next couple of books I’m planning are both westerns. But yes, I am drawn to the dark side, and often when I work in those other genres I bring in elements of horror or dark suspense. I’ve never really analyzed it, but I suppose it’s a combination of a longstanding interest in horror and the supernatural, and an awareness of the darker, more unpleasant aspects of human nature.

cold_black_hearts_smerKaye: Cold Black Hearts is one of several recent releases through Wordfire Press. With more than 70 novels under your belt, what lead you to join the Wordfire family?

Jeff: I’ve known Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta for what seems like forever–this goes back to meeting authors through my bookstore work. They’re two of the greatest people on the planet. They’re supremely talented, super nice, and scrupulously honest. When I saw the books they were putting out, I knew I wanted to be part of their line, and to work with friends rather than strangers.

Kaye: My review of Cold Black Hearts posted this month, but for those who didn’t catch it, would you like to tell me a little about it?

Jeff: It’s a supernatural thriller about a police detective who loses her hearing in an explosion, but gains something else in its place–a heightened sense of empathy. That quickly becomes a burden in a crowded metropolitan area, where people’s emotions press in on her from every side. When she’s offered a job in a remote part of New Mexico, working to free an accused killer from prison, she takes it. But it turns out that she’s just stepped from the frying pan into the fire, because there are strange, spooky things going on.

Kaye: You don’t advertise your books as horror, but as dark thrillers. In your mind, what is the distinction?

Empty RoomsJeff: Actually, that’s WordFire‘s tag, not mine. I think of Cold Black Hearts and some of my other books as supernatural thrillers, because they combine traditional thriller elements–law enforcement, espionage, etc.–with supernatural elements. The first book of mine they published, Empty Rooms, was a straight, non-supernatural mystery/thriller, and it was very dark indeed, so I guess the phrase came from that.

 

Kaye: You also write comic books and graphic novels, short fiction and nonfiction. Which is your favorite type of writing? Why?

Jeff: The novel is my favorite, because it gives me more room to tell a complete story–to really dig into the characters’ psyches and explore their worlds. I love it all; I’ve even recently done some very short, 3-page comics for HyperEpics.com, which is a blast. But if I had to only pick one, it’d be novels.

Kaye: Which author, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with? Why?

Jeff: As a bookseller for decades, and someone who’s worked in publishing–in addition to 20 years as a professional novelist–I’ve been lucky enough to meet and spend time with most of my favorite authors. I’ve visited with Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, David Morrell, Clive Barker, Don Winslow, and James Lee Burke (among others) at their homes, hung out with Wallace Stegner, Stephen King, Sue Grafton, Joe R. Lansdale, and Neil Gaiman, had meals with Robert B. Parker, James Ellroy, Jonathan Maberry, and Joan D. Vinge… Plus, every day I get to have a meal with my favorite author, Marsheila Rockwell (who is, coincidentally, also my wife and frequent writing partner, and a magnificent fiction writer and poet on her own). My point is, while it’s cool to have lunch with an author, it’s not exactly something I haven’t had a chance to do.

That said, I’d love to have a meal with the recently departed William Goldman, who’s a longtime favorite for his novels and his screenplays, and who’s the author I’ve most wanted to meet, but never had a chance to. He’s done it all, and exceedingly well, and I wish I could have benefited from his insights in person.

Kaye: What’s the most fun part of writing a novel? What’s the least fun part?

Jeff: The most fun part is finishing it, and seeing it become a real-live book. The rest of it is hard work. The research, the working out of the plot, the discovery of who the characters are, the actual chore of sitting down and turning out page after page after page… it’s a grind. Not to say that it’s not fun, but it’s work, too. The least fun part is probably when, in the editing/revising process, I realize that I have to cut lines or scenes that I really loved writing.

Kaye: What is the one thing in your writing career that is the most unusual or unique thing you’ve done so far?

Jeff: There’ve been several, but if I have to pick one, I guess it’d be that time I went to the set of CSI: Miami to hand-deliver copies of the first-ever CSI: Miami graphic novel (which I wrote) to cast members, all while being filmed for Access Hollywood. Which promptly cut me out of all the footage–but they showed the book, and that’s what counts!

Kaye: Which of your books would you most like to see turned into a film? Who would you like to play the lead?

Jeff: There are several I think would be great for film or TV, but for the purposes of this interview, let’s say Cold Black Hearts, with Jessica Chastain.

Kaye: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?

Jeff: Catch up on reading and TV shows, I guess. Bake more. But also, since 1980, every dollar I’ve made has come from the business of writing/editing/publishing/ book selling/ etc. — from the written word, and the process of getting it out of the brain and into a reader’s hands. So if I wasn’t writing, I’m sure I’d still be doing something in that realm.

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Kaye: What’s in the future for Jeffrey J. Mariotte? What should readers look forward to?

There’ve been 6 books published so far this year: The SlabMissing White GirlRiver Runs RedSeason of the Wolf, and Cold Black Hearts from WordFire, and YA-horror Year of the Wicked from Simon Pulse. So readers can do some catching up while they’re waiting for the next thing.
JJM Books2Jeff:The newest release is to be a weird western short story in an anthology called Straight Outta Deadwood, published on October 1. The book is edited by David Boop and has stories by a bunch of pals, including Charlaine Harris, Steve Rasnic Tem, Shane Lacy Hensley, and the wonderful Marsheila Rockwell, so everyone who likes westerns with a side of spooky should check it out. After that, there are some comics projects in the works. Novel-wise, I have a thriller on submission, and I’m working on a new book (or will be back to it, as soon as I get this sent off)! So stay tuned.
I want to thank Jeffrey J. Mariotte for taking the time to chat and share with us. You can learn more about Jeff and his books on his website, or check out his author pages on Amazon and Wordfire Press. And be sure to check out my double review from October 4, featuring Jeff’s Cold Black Hearts.
In addition, I was fortunate for the opportunity to bring you a bonus “Chatting with the Pros” this month with award-winning horror author Paul Kane. If you write dark fiction and horror, or just enjoy reading it, you won’t want to miss that interview, too.

Like this post? Let me know in the comments. You can be sure not to miss any of Writing to be Read’s great content by subscribe to e-mail or following on WordPress.


Interview with horror author Roberta Eaton Cheadle

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Today my guest is an author who I’ve gotten to know well, because she is a member of the Writing to be Read team, where she writes a monthly blog segment on children’s literature that’s proven to be very popular, “Growing Bookworms”. By day she walks in the world of fondant and children’s fiction, but when darkness falls she transforms into an emerging horror author. But this author doesn’t just emerge, she explodes onto the scene with  this month’s release of her first novel length horror tale, Through the Nethergate.  In addition, this month she also has a short story appearing  in  Dan Alatorre’s Nightmarland anthology, and another coming out in the WordCrafter paranormal anthology, Whispers of the Past. I’m really excited to be able to interview her about her experiences with horror, so please help me welcome author Roberta Eaton Cheadle.

Kaye: You started out writing children’s stories with your son, but you’ve recently leaped into the horror realm, which is kind of at the opposite extreme of the spectrum. Was that a hard transition for you?

Roberta: It wasn’t a hard transition for me at all. I have always loved supernatural, horror and dark psychological thrillers so I think this genre comes naturally to me. More recently I have been reading and re-reading a lot of dystopian fiction such as Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and The Long Walk by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King).

I can remember reading my Mom’s copy of Stephen King’s The Shining behind the couch in the lounge when I was ten years old. After that book, I worked my way through the rest of her Stephen King collection and several other adult horror books too.

Kaye: Can you name one thing you have to think about when writing horror that you might not ever think about when writing for children, (or any other genre, maybe)?

Roberta: When writing from the point of view of the victim, I need to imagine their fear and describe this in a way that brings out the same emotion in the reader. When writing from the point of view of the party who sees a ghost or discovers a body, I need to imagine their shock and horror at what they are seeing. To describe the tumultuous feelings that would bubble up inside them at seeing something truly frightening or gruesome.

I would never attempt to scare children or invoke feelings of fear and anxiety in them. My Sir Chocolate books series is my attempt to draw children into a happy and safe world of complete fantasy where good always wins and any less likable characters are drawn into the circle of friendship and become part of the team.

Kaye: When making the move into adult fiction, why did you choose to write horror? What draws you to the genre?

Roberta: As mentioned above, I have always liked supernatural horror. I was drawn to it from a young age even though it scared me half to death when I read both The Shining and Salem’s Lot by Stephen King.

I have also always gravitated towards psychologically disturbing books that make me think such as Roald Dahl’s short stories for adults. I have never forgotten Lamb to the Slaughter about a pregnant woman who kills her husband after discovering he is having an affair. She saved her own skin, and that of her unborn baby, by making the murder weapon disappear in the most innovative way imaginable.

The idea of writing about ghosts came to me while I was writing While the Bombs Fell, a fictional biography about my mom’s life, growing up in the small English town of Bungay, Suffok, during WWII. My extensive research while writing this book led me to discover the history of one of the oldest inns in the town which is purported to be haunted by over twenty ghosts. The little bit of information that is available about each of these ghosts intrigued me, and I decided to write a selection of short stories, each featuring the circumstances leading up to, and the death of, a specific ghost.

As I went along with Through the Nethergate, Margaret injected herself into this story and it took on a whole new direction with her having the power to reincarnate the ghosts.

Kaye: What is the biggest challenge for you in writing horror?

Roberta: I think like many other new writers, my biggest developmental area has been learning to show instead of tell in my stories. I believe I have improved a huge amount in this area. As I came from a non-fiction writing background, I have also had to learn to write more descriptively and really reach into myself and find the whirlpool of emotion my characters are feeling in any given circumstance. These emotions must be shown and not told which takes me back to my first point.

Kaye: Your latest release is a work of horror, Through the Nethergate. Where did your inspiration for this story come from?

NETHERGATERoberta: As mentioned above, my original idea was to write a selection of short stories, each featuring the death of one ghost.

As I went along the idea for Margaret with her power to reincarnate ghosts and experience their deaths and pain came along. Margaret has recently lost her parents which gives her heightened sensitivity to the world around her.

At the same time, the idea of having one ghostly master to rule over the others popped into my head and this evolved into the ghostly black dog, or Black Shuck, which is an ancient myth in Suffolk and its surrounds. Legend in Bungay has it that Hugh Bigod, a most evil descendant of the original Normandy invaders and the man who erected Bungay Castle during the 12th century, still haunts the castle in the form of the black dog. The inn around which Through the Nethergate is centred, shares a wall in its cellar with Bungay Castle.

There are four other descendants of the Bigod family who are also alleged to haunt the town in their ghostly carriage drawn by fire breathing horses.

Initially, the reader will believe that Hugh Bigod is the villain of the book, but this is not the case. There is a far greater evil force at work who covets Margaret’s power and who makes Hugh Bigod look quite pathetic and ridiculous in his small attempts at evil.

Kaye: Can you tell me a little about Through the Nethergate?

Roberta: Through the Nethergate is intended to demonstrate to the reader how evil has always existed in our world and how evil forces manipulate human inventions and greed for power and wealth to their own ends. Evil has always existed, and it always will, but there is the counterbalancing force of goodness and the kindness and empathy that exists in an equal number of people. This is a book about faith and my belief that goodness and faith always prevail.

Kaye: If Through the Nethergate were made into a film, who do you see playing the lead as Margaret? Who do you see playing your villain, Hugh Bigod?

This is a tough question for me as I don’t watch movies or television. I will have to base it on my previous experience of movies.

I would choose Drew Barrymore to play Margaret in a similar manner to her portrayal of Charlie (Charlene) in the movie version of Firestarter by Stephen King. She would need to be a few years older, however, as Margaret is sixteen in my book. The mixture of innocence, toughness and a strong will to survive are the qualities in Charlie’s character portrayal that underpin my selection.

For Hugh Bigod I would choose Richard Chamberlain in a mixture of his portrayals of Father Ralph de Bricassart in The Thorn Birds and Captain John Blackthorne in Shogun. In both series he portrays someone who is able to separate himself from the anguish of the people around him and ruthlessly pursue his own ends and survival.

Kaye: The setting for Through the Nethergate is an ancient inn with quite the history. How much historical research went into it?

Roberta: I do a massive amount of research for my books with partial or total historical settings.

Each ghostly character in Through the Nethergate came from a different historical era and I had to do meticulous research into what people wore, drank and ate during those particular time periods, as well as how they traveled and the political agendas and attitudes towards servants, masters, females and religious figures that prevailed at the time of their stories and deaths.

For example, Katharine is a reluctant Benedictine nun who comes from a wealthy background and is forced into Bungay Priory during the 14th century. She is in love with William and conspires to escape her dreary life by running away with him. James Wilson was a Benedictine monk who was the cellarer at Glastonbury Abbey during the 15th century when Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, presided. James originates from Bungay where his father was the local blacksmith. Peggy and her husband and child are survivors of the great fire that destroyed much of Bungay in the 17th century. The book also includes other historical figures such as John Collins, the famous Chartist from Birmingham, Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed, a Hungarian Countess and one of Europe’s most prolific serial killers, as well as Tom Hardy, a highwayman who rode with the infamous Dick Turpin and Amelia Dyer, Britain’s most famous female serial killer.

When featuring real people, I must research their stories in as much detail as possible to ensure I get the facts correct. I usually check between five and ten sources, depending on the amount of information available.

Kaye: You also do a lot of short dark fiction, and have stories included in several dark anthologies. In fact, you have two stories “Last of the Lavendar” and “Missed Signs” coming out this month in the WordCrafter paranormal anthology, Whispers of the Past, and “The Siren Witch”, “A Death Without Honour” and “The Path to Atonement” are featured in Dan Alatorre’s Nightmareland horror anthology, also released this month. Do you prefer writing short dark fiction or novel length horror? Why?

 

Roberta: I like writing both kinds of story.

Short stories are fun to write, but they are restrictive because of their length of 1 500 to 3 000 words. It can be tough to get all the necessary background and detail into a short story in a clear and concise way. I had to cut quite a lot out of “A Death Without Honour” to get the length and sharpness right. Dan Alatorre was great at helping me with that. Sometimes I struggle to get the ending wound up in a concise and exciting way with short stories, as I did with “Last of the Lavendar”, the ending of which you helped me improve greatly. I like writing for anthologies because I learn so much. I also get a lot of guidance from the experienced editors and also from reading the stories included in the anthologies by other authors. They really are a wonderful learning and growing experience for me.

I have written two novellas now, While the Bombs Fell, and my recently completed A Ghost and his Gold which is about the Second Anglo Boer War fought between the “Boers” [farmers] and the British Empire in the early 19th century. I love the length of novellas because it allows for more detail and depth than a short story, but is still fairly short and concise. I think that modern readers prefer shorter stories due to their busy lifestyles.

Through the Nethergate is my first full length novel and I enjoyed writing it and “seeing” how my imagination could take off and extend to a much longer story.

I am currently 40 000 words into a dystopian novel which will be part of a trilogy about a future world dealing with drastic climate change and the fourth industrial revolution. Trilogies are popular and this idea came along so I thought I would jump right in. I love to experiment and learn about new things.

Kaye: What is your biggest fear? What scares you?

Roberta: Real life scares me. The prospect of climate change wreaking devastation on our planet, overpopulation, poverty and criminality which are changing the way society operates as well as the Fourth Industrial Revolution which will forever change the nature of the working world, these things scare me far more than “monsters under my bed.”

Dystopian novels like 1984 by George Orwell and The Long Walk by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King) really disturb me, but I can’t help reading them. It is better to be informed than not. Even H.G. Wells gives great insights into the nature of society and how it could evolve in his books The Time Machine and War of the Worlds, which are really frightening.

Kaye: What is the scariest story that you’ve ever read and why do you think it is the scariest?

Roberta: I think 1894 by George Orwell is the scariest dystopian novel I have read. Living in the world he describes is so awful I think people would be better off dead.

The Shining is the scariest supernatural horror book I have ever read. The ghosts in the Overlook Hotel that become visible and can harm Danny and his family are most frightening. The invasion of his father’s mind in order to bend him to the will of the evil in the hotel was terrifying. Stephen King has a way of describing things in such a visual way, you feel as if you are living them with the character in the book.

Kaye: What is the scariest story that you’ve ever written?

Roberta: My short story about Amelia Dyer called “Justice is Served” in the murder mystery anthology, Death Among Us, is quite scary as it is based on a real serial killer who murdered babies.

From a purely fiction point of view, I think “The Path to Atonement” in the forthcoming Nightmareland anthology is quite eerie and chilling. “Missed Signs” from the forthcoming Whispers of the Past is frightening because it is within the realms of probability.

Kaye: What methods do you use to create suspense and make a story scary?

Roberta: I use a slow build up to the deaths as a tool to create suspense as well as a lot of visual descriptions and emotional language. Dialogue and onomatopoeia are good ways of conveying literary “sound effects” and tension in a story.

Kaye: Who is your favorite villain or monster from a horror story or film? Why?

Roberta: My favourite villain is Dracula. I loved his sly intelligence and sneaky ways of manipulating his victims and also the heroes of the book.

Kaye: Is there more dark fiction in store for the future readers of Roberta Eaton Cheadle? What are you working on now?

Roberta: I have recently finished the first draft of A Ghost and his Gold and sent that off to my developmental editor. I am hoping to have it available on Amazon in March/April 2020.

I am also working on book 1 of my dystopian trilogy about a world where drastic measures are required to address climate change and the unemployment caused by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The first book is called Russian Roulette Anyone? And will probably be available in October 2020. I also hope to participate in more anthologies next year as I really enjoy those.

I want to thank Roberta for sharing with us today. I too have been a fan of dark fiction since a young age, and at one time delved into all works Stephen King. I read The Shining while babysitting one night when I was 15. I was totally immersed in the story and couldn’t put the book down, but I had to call and wake up my mother to talk to me about three a.m. because the story scared me silly. I finished the book before the sun came up though. Although I grew up reading the masters like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Anne Rice, John Saul, and Peter Straub, doing so set a high bar for the writing of horror.

Roberta gets cudos though for having the nerve to do what I’ve not found the courage to do, the nerve to immerse herself in a world of fear and terror in order to write a novel of dark fiction. You can learn more about Roberta and her books by visiting her on her Amazon Author page or on her Facebook page. You can also learn about her children’s books and her creativity with fondant at Robbie’s Inspirations. And don’t forget to catch her “Growing Bookworms” blog segment on the second Wednesday of every month right here on Writing to be Read.


Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


“Through the Nethergate”: A supernatural journey through time

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Through the Nethergate, by Roberta Eaton Cheadle, is a captivating journey in the here and now that reaches through the barriers of time to bring legend to life, and it’s a very scary legend. This is a tale of horror, but not all spirits are evil, and many of Cheadle’s ghosts make up the cast of characters. Cheadle brings the characters in this story life masterfully, even the ghostly ones, whose backstories are woven into the legend’s tapestry to become part of the whole while still standing on their own individually.

When Margaret comes to live with her grandfather in a haunted old inn that has been in their family for centuries, she discovers that she has the uncanny ability to bring spirits back and make them more real and substantial. But, she doesn’t possess the ability to release them from the tethers that bind them to this plane. As she meets each of the inn’s ethereal occupants and learns their stories, she finds they are all held by an entity of local legend, Hugh Bigod, who prefers to appear in the form of a huge black demon dog. Hugh Bigod was a truly evil man and his spirit is just as nasty. When he feels the spirits pulling away from him, as Margaret’s presence breathes new substance into them, he blames her and vows to stop them by putting an end to her.

Through the Nethergate is a brilliant production of the stories within the story, and an excellent example of god vs. evil dark fantasy. Filled with plenty of suspense and clever story twists. I give it five quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.