Author Interview: C.J. Brightley ~ The King’s Sword

C.J. Brightley is an independent author who has released the first two books in her fantasy adventure series, Erdemen Honor. I recently read the first book in the series, The King’s Sword. It is at its root a story about friendship. The story follows Prince Hakan Ithel as he flees the castle following the death of his father, the king, in an effort to survive a deep political conspiracy that could end his life. Desperate and on the run he meets up with an ex-soldier whose sense of honor compels him to aid the young royal.

I love a good adventure tale, and The King’s Sword did not disappoint. Finding it an enjoyable read, I contacted the author to see if she would be willing to participate in our Author Interview & Review series. Not only did she say yes, but she arranged to have King Hakan Ithel, one of the main characters stop by during our recent interview.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. Be sure to stay tuned to hear more details about the Swashbuckler Giveaway Contest!

DV:  Hello, C.J. Thank you for joining me for this interview.

CJ:  Thank you for having me.

DV:  I understand that King Hakan Ithel of Erdem will be stopping in to talk to us later, on his way to a State meeting. But, for now, let’s talk about you.

What did you do before you decided to become a writer?

CJ:  I actually began writing The King’s Sword back in 2007 during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November, right after finishing my master’s degree in international affairs. The first drafts of both The King’s Sword and the sequel, A Cold Wind, were finished by January 2008. I worked on edits for nearly a year before beginning to query agents. I received some very encouraging feedback, but didn’t find a good match.

In the meantime, I put the books aside and focused on my other career. I worked in several positions in national security from 2007 to 2011, spending most of the time on nuclear issues. I left an intelligence position to go on maternity leave and did not return. However, I still do some consulting on a part-time basis while I stay home with my daughter.

I stopped querying for a long time, but I kept reading about publishing and writing. I began seriously considering indie publishing in early 2012.

DV:  HOLY SHMOLY! You were a spy! Don’t try to convince me otherwise, I have decided that it is really cool to interview author and former spy, CJ. True or not, it is now my reality. (Big grin)

CJ:  Ha! I wish it was that exciting. Mostly I read a lot of emails.

DV:  I could so go down a rabbit hole here, so let me get back to your writing. When did you first know you wanted to become a writer?

CJ:  I’ve always imagined stories, and I made a few attempts throughout middle school and high school to write them down. I didn’t take fiction writing seriously for a long time, although I always excelled in academic writing. In high school and undergraduate, I struggled to get my papers long enough; I can’t write “fluff” the way some people can. In graduate school, clarity and conciseness were more appreciated. That validation of my natural writing style was encouraging.

I knew I loved writing, but I didn’t consider writing a novel until I was looking for a job in 2007. My husband had gotten a job in DC, which was in theory where my education had led us. But since I didn’t have a security clearance yet, my job hunt felt like hitting my head against a brick wall. I began writing The King’s Sword as something to do. In a new city, with my husband at work every day and discouraging job applications, it was nice to feel like I was participating in something big. I didn’t expect to ever publish the book. I received a job offer in the middle of the month and began work the first week of December, so it worked out well! As I mentioned, I put writing fiction aside for a while to focus on my career, and came back to it after my daughter was born.

DV:  What was the first fiction you ever wrote?

CJ:  The first? I can’t even remember. The earliest one I still have is a fanfic of The Scarlet Pimpernel that I think I wrote in seventh grade. I was so irritated by Marguerite! I had to fix her and make her a stronger character. Now, not only do I look back on my fanfic and laugh, I can laugh at my irritation with Marguerite. I’m not sure how much she was supposed to be a character in her own right… she serves more as a foil for Percy.

DV:  How does your family feel about you being an author?

CJ:  They’re proud! My husband and family all read and enjoyed The King’s Sword. My mother doesn’t read fantasy, but even she enjoyed it; I think she appreciated the realism. Her view of fantasy is rather dated, because there are amazing fantasy books out there. She thinks of fantasy as a lot of non-fantasy readers do – that it’s an excuse for magic and magic users to swoop in and solve everything. I wasn’t consciously going against that trope when I wrote The King’s Sword, but I am glad the book appeals to her.

DV:  Your author bio describes many of your hobbies and interests, including: making jewelry, baking, and teaching karate. How do these interests influence your writing?

CJ:  I tend to alternate between phases of making jewelry and writing. I enjoy them both, but sometimes I get stuck with a problematic scene or run out of inspiration for new jewelry pieces. Having a different creative outlet helps exercise my imagination without spinning my wheels on something that’s frustrating me. I’m working on improving my silversmithing skills. I think it’s very important for authors, and people in general, to be constantly learning and exploring. Facing challenges is a way to grow as a person. Technical challenges in a setting a stone in a pendant or editing a novel keep me interested and creative in solving problems.

I’m sure you could see the influence of karate in Kemen’s life! The biggest influence my karate experience had on him was actually his love of teaching. I enjoy teaching, but I don’t train soldiers. He does. The more I explored his experiences and his personality, the more I realized how important that responsibility would be to him. He’s tough and he’s supremely skilled, but he’s not harsh for the sake of being harsh. He’s demanding because he knows how important the skills are in keeping the men under his command alive. He cares about them.

DV:  Author, spy, ninja, and silversmith?? Plus your primary genre is fantasy? I may be developing a girl crush, here. What is your favorite fantasy story/series of all time?

CJ:  Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but I haven’t read as much fantasy as I would like. I didn’t read much fantasy after I began graduate school in 2005, and since then I’ve read more nonfiction and international fiction. Feel free to hunt me down on GoodReads and recommend some recent fantasy books.

Some of my all-time favorites are The Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis, and Children in the Night by Harold Myra (there are two other books in that series as well, but Children in the Night is truly phenomenal). I love The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, and A Wrinkle in Time as well. I enjoy Neil Gaiman and Guy Gavriel Kay.

DV:  What about urban fantasy, since I see you are working on a UF project?

CJ:  My project started as UF, but I’m not sure what it would called now. It’s something that fans of Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti would like. I enjoyed This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness by Frank Peretti and the Circle Cycle by Ted Dekker. I love Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. I’m not as well-read in UF as I’d like to be (again, please recommend books to me!).

My new project/series has something of the story-within-a-story that characterizes the Circle Cycle. It’s a fast-paced, urban adventure with monsters, brainwashing, a dystopian government, supernatural entities,  and a lot of questions about what it means to be human and how we relate to God. I am a Christian, and the books do have a Christian perspective, but I think others will enjoy it too.

DV:  That recommends list could get pretty long. I read all over the board in genre, but I always seem to circle back to Sci-fi/Fantasy. So, which would you rather be, spell caster or superhero?

CJ:  If I could cast spells, I would be a superhero! But I’m all about the good guys, so if it’s one or the other, I’ll go with superhero.

DV:  Any thoughts on what your superpower would be?

CJ:  Getting things done. I’m easily distracted by new shiny things, and I tend to overbook myself. I’d like to be superfast and have the ability to complete everything I intend to do.

DV:  How did you discover indie publishing and get started?

CJ:  I read several self-published ebooks from Amazon and even a few blog posts about self-publishing before I realized, “Hey, I could do that!”

I did query agents for a while, but despite some very positive feedback, I didn’t get the response that I’d hoped for. As the publishing world was changing so fast, I eventually decided that self-publishing might be the wiser choice anyway. Since I’d hoped for the validation of a publisher “picking” me, it was a difficult decision. I’m glad I choose to go indie, though. Creative control is important to me.

As the publishing world continues to change, I believe indie publishing is becoming even more appealing, not just for books that didn’t find traditional representation, but for those that have been traditionally published too. My only regret is that I didn’t publish The King’s Sword and A Cold Wind earlier.

DV:  What has been most challenging for you in self-publishing?

CJ:  The most challenging thing for me is getting publicity and attention. Although traditionally published authors have to do a great deal of their own marketing work too (unless they’re a HUGE name), I’m new to the marketing world. I blog on my website, and I love to connect with readers and other writers. Marketing is a never-ending task, and honestly, I don’t want to spend too much time on it. I’d rather spend time writing the next book!

The King’s Sword has picked up some good reviews, which is helpful and encouraging. Reviews are important, especially to indie authors, so it’s very much appreciated when readers take the time to rate and review a book.

DV:  The King’s Sword is the first book of the Erdemen Honor series. What made you decide to write this story?

CJ:  I discovered NaNoWriMo at the end of October 2007, so I spent several days outlining and planning before I could begin writing. The initial concept was a basic coming-of-age story, just told from the mentor’s perspective. As I began writing, I realized the story was at least as much about Kemen as about Hakan. I loved his voice and the way he described things. He wasn’t as hard and harsh as I’d thought. He was reserved, but he had a gentle, poetic streak that he kept hidden. The events of the story didn’t change too much as I wrote the novel, but the focus and layers changed from a simple adventure story to something with more depth. It’s not complicated, and I’m not sure I’d call it an epic fantasy. But there’s more to it than just adventure and sword-fighting.

DV:  Did you have the entire series mapped out before you began? How many more books will be in the series?

CJ:  No, I thought The King’s Sword would be the end. But I discovered the world had greater depth than I’d explored in the first book. I wanted to do more with the characters. The story arc of the first book was complete, though, so I needed a new book.

A Cold Wind is published and the third book, as yet untitled, is in progress. There’s also a fourth book set in the same world but much later in history with all new characters. That one is in progress as well. I’ve thought about a book 5, but don’t have plans for it at the moment. Each book ends at a satisfying place – there are no cliffhangers that leave you asking: “What???” The books follow naturally from each other and there are common threads, but you’re not going to be left angry and unsatisfied at the end of any of the books.

I’ve also written a few short stories in the same world: Street Fox (a prelude to book 4), Heroes (concurrent with book 4), and Color (after book 4). I have ideas for a few more short stories and novellas as well, but none in progress at the moment. You can find a recommended reading order on my website.

As far as my UF series, it’s much of a giant story, more like the Lord of the Rings or the Circle Cycle than a series of mostly self-contained books that deal with the same characters. I want to have the third book in that one drafted before I publish the first, because so much of the story is really interwoven from one book to the next.

DV:  How long did it take for you to write The King’s Sword?

CJ:  The first draft was done at the end of November 2007 (about a month), but it was very short and incomplete. I wrote it mostly in order. The internal story arcs weren’t evident in the text… I knew them, but I expected the reader to read between the lines entirely too much. Editing was largely a matter of filling in those gaps and took several months (I was working full-time too). My beta readers were essential.

DV:  What about book two, A Cold Wind? Was it easier or more difficult to write the second installment?

CJ:  A Cold Wind actually started with a scene near the end of the book. I had to figure out how to get my characters to that point; of course, by the time I got there, the scene had to be rewritten! But the process was very different – I had a better idea of where the story was going and how to get there, and I wrote a lot of scenes out of order, shifting between viewpoints. The first draft took about seven weeks.

Like The King’s Sword, it was very short. Editing was mostly a matter of adding in the depth and layers that were in my head but hadn’t made it onto the page. Editing was a little easier, because I’d learned so much from writing The King’s Sword. However, I did have a number of issues that took some time to resolve. One of the challenges of A Cold Wind was that although I knew Kemen, I didn’t know my other point of view character at all.

DV:  Living in near DC, did the political climate of the capital influence your perspective when writing about the King’s castle in Erdem?

CJ:  Not directly. I’m definitely aware of politics, but I don’t enjoy political infighting and didn’t want to make that the focus of the story.

DV:  What influence did your karate background have on Kemen’s fighting style?

CJ:  It was very influential. Writing a fight scene blow by blow isn’t the way to keep things interesting though… fighting can be very technical. If you detail everything, it slows the story down too much, and only another martial artist may understand what’s going on anyway. What’s important is the emotional impact of the action on the characters and bystanders.

But if you’re interested, I imagined Kemen using a blend of traditional Japanese karate and taekwondo, as well as Okinawan kobudo, or weapons techniques. I have experience in all of those, so I felt confident writing them, and I know they’re effective. However, I didn’t want his style to be an exact analogue. Erdem isn’t Japan, and the military is more akin to the Roman legions than samurai warriors. They have an appreciation for teamwork, military chain of authority, and education.

DV:  Speaking of fighting styles, Jedi or Ninja?

CJ:  Ninja.

DV:  I knew it! (Grin) If you were in Erdem, what would be your weapon of choice?

CJ: I like escrima sticks, which are basically a practice weapon for short swords, as well as any short club. I also like the bo, which is basically a long pole. Both of those exist in some form in Erdem. I would be terrible with Kemen’s favorite weapon, the long sword.

DV:  Would you say that A King’s Sword is more about Kemen or Hakan as told through Kemen’s eyes?

CJ:  I think it’s more about Kemen and about their friendship as it develops. Hakan draws Kemen out. But I do love Hakan’s character; the story isn’t primarily about him, but his growth is important to the story.

DV:  Which character was your favorite character to write?

CJ:  Is it cheating to say Kemen? I love how understated he is. I enjoy the contrast between what he thinks and what he actually says out loud. I love how he doesn’t think of himself as a hero; he can’t help doing what he thinks is right. He’s not perfect, but he is defined by honor.

DV:  Not cheating at all. Kemen is a strong character. There did not seem to be any magic in the world of Erdem. This is a bit of a departure from usual fantasy. Was this conscious choice or did it just evolve this way?

CJ:  I kept my mind open to places where it seemed appropriate, and it just never seemed like the right choice for this story. This world does not have magic – it would be too strange to introduce it at this point. I didn’t want magic to be a major factor, but I was open to it early on.

DV:  It seems like you went with traditional gender archetypes from sword-wielding days gone by. Do you plan to stick to this model, or will we see any heroic female characters in the future?

CJ:  This world, especially Kemen’s slice of it, does conform to traditional gender archetypes. I think you’ll see a slightly broader range of female characters in A Cold Wind, but it’s not a world where sword-wielding women make sense. There might be exceptions, but it wouldn’t be common. That said, women don’t have to handle swords to be heroic. My short story Heroes has a little girl who is pretty feisty. I might explore her story in more depth later.

My UF has some strong female characters, so I hope you’ll check it out when it’s published too!

DV:  The friendship that evolves between Kemen and Hakan is very strong. What relationships in your life inspired this relationship?

CJ:  It’s not based directly on any relationship in my life. But I spent several years working in the Pentagon, and I imagined the type of friendships men develop when going through something difficult such as war. Women don’t always get to see those forged-in-fire relationships, and men don’t demonstrate their friendships the way women do. I wanted to be true to the characters’ personalities when I showed their friendship and how it developed.

DV:  (Responding to some commotion) It sounds like our esteemed guest has arrived.

(Turning to King Hakan with a curtsey) Your Majesty, it is an honor to have you join us today.

King Hakan: Thank you for inviting me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

DV:  You have had an eventful year. Let’s go back to when you first fled the castle, what was your plan at that time?

King Hakan:  I didn’t have time to make a plan; I didn’t even have time to grab a cloak! When I first fled the palace, I thought my best course of action would be to head toward Rikuto and hope Ashmu Tafari would grant me refuge. I was not sure whether I wanted to be king at that point and was more concerned with staying alive than regaining my throne. Within an hour or so, I realized I’d be lucky not to freeze before I made it to the nearest town. If the assassins didn’t kill me first.

DV:  What was your first impression of Kemen upon initially meeting him?

King Hakan:  (hesitates) The first few moments, I was terrified. He’s… big, and he’s difficult to read. He hadn’t killed me yet, but… I’d heard reports that brigands were doing some unsavory things to travelers who got caught alone. He might have intended to rob or murder me, or worse.

It became apparent quickly that he wasn’t an ordinary bandit. But I didn’t realize who he was for quite some time. That was my fault; he told me his name the first day, but I’d forgotten the names of the officers my father had honored.

DV:  Why do you think that he was willing to help you?

King Hakan:  (snorts) He couldn’t help himself. If I hadn’t been the prince, he would have taken me to the nearest town, given me his last coins to pay for my lodging and then tramped off into the snow to be alone. Since I was prince, he couldn’t get away that easily; he was compelled by his own honor to protect me from assassins.

I think, at first, he wanted to take me to Rikuto himself and make me Tafari’s problem. It would have been easier for him.

DV:  Begging your pardon, but it sounds like you had a hard time adjusting to life on the road. What was most challenging for you during this time?

King Hakan:  (he straightens a little) I admit, the physical adjustment was difficult. I’d spent my life in the palace being pampered and coddled. When I tired of swordplay, my tutor didn’t have the authority to make me continue. I enjoyed riding and most of my studies, as well as singing, so my other tutors rarely had cause to discipline me, but when they did, they were limited to pleading with me that my father would be disappointed in their performance if I did not study harder. My father… was never pleased with me. Studying or not studying made little difference.

The most difficult physical ordeal I experienced before fleeing the assassins was a hunting trip when I was fourteen. A squall developed, and the wind and rain were so strong our tent collapsed. We had to ride four leagues back to the palace in the storm. From the first drop of rain to arriving back at the palace was perhaps five hours; the servants followed behind us after packing up the tent. I was responsible for only myself; servants carried the gear and cared for the horses once we returned.

Suddenly, after the coup, I was alone with a soldier who thought nothing of walking eight leagues through the snow. I thought I would freeze, my feet blistered, my shoulders ached, and my lungs were not used to the exertion. I was always tired and sore. I can laugh at myself now, but I struggled then. It didn’t help that Kemen seemed to find everything easy.

DV:  People seem to fear Kemen based on his appearance. Why do you think that is? How long did it take for you to get past this fear?

King Hakan:  (chews his lip a moment, as if considering his words) Well, he’s a good head taller than most Tuyets, and he’s obviously a soldier. Men of arms sometimes intimidate civilians for no reason other than their familiarity with weapons. He is difficult to read at any time, and his dark skin makes it even more difficult to interpret his expressions, especially in dim light. Now that I know him better, I realize he hides his emotions out of long habit.

He doesn’t give you anything to work with in his words, either; he’s terse, bordering on rude at times. It was more pronounced when I first met him; he’s softened since then. He might not have told you, but he’d been in a kind of self-imposed exile for several years. I think he’d gotten out of practice at speaking to anyone.

He probably understated it, but Dari are not always treated well in Erdem. It’s a problem I’d like to address. Perhaps some hate him because he’s Dari. More likely, most people fear him because they fear retribution for what Tuyets have done in the past.

Once I realized he wasn’t a bandit, I was no longer afraid of him. But I was intimidated. If you’d met him, you’d understand why. He gives off this air of supreme competence; on anyone else it would be arrogance, but he’s too quiet for that. Just… competence. Nothing ever flusters him. He never looks fatigued, worried, or concerned. He makes you want to sit up straighter and answer questions with a “sir” at the end.

DV:  On more than one occasion, you offered your throne to Kemen. Why?

King Hakan:  (quick, embarrassed laugh) Erdem needs a strong leader. We need someone who loves this country, who is wise enough to guide us back to the glory we had generations ago. I’m… (looks down) I’m not entirely sure I can be that king. Kemen could, if he had good advisors.

He’s not a politician. My fear, if he’d accepted the throne, would be that someone would stab him in the back. He wouldn’t expect it. As much as he drilled me on guarding against an opponent’s treachery, he doesn’t think like a snake, and he wouldn’t be as wary as a king must be.

I don’t believe my father died of natural means. I don’t know if I’ll ever know who did it. I hope it was either Vidar or, more likely, Taisto. I have no proof.

Kemen was probably wise to turn down the throne. It’s… knowing him, he couldn’t accept it. Perhaps it was cowardice that made me offer it. Fear. But he’s right; it is my responsibility to reign. A crown is heavy, though.

DV:  How does a king find a suitable wife? Do you have anyone in mind?

King Hakan:  A king may court whom he pleases. My father’s marriage was not happy, though, and I wish to be cautious.

DV:  You heard it here, ladies, another eligible bachelor! (Smiling) Seriously though, how has close contact with your citizens influenced you as a new ruler? Does this context make the weight of crown any easier to bear?

King Hakan:  I’m changing a number of the tax laws. I didn’t realize how poor the people were; my life was even more privileged and sheltered than I’d realized. I don’t wish to make myself poor; that isn’t the job of a king. But the taxes could be more fairly applied.

I will rely on Kemen for advice on how to address the border incursions by the Tarvil.

I have plans for several schools for common children, similar to those for the foundlings who serve the army. It will be some time before the schools are ready to operate, but I am excited about offering new opportunities. Education is important, and I think it will benefit Erdem if more people are better educated.

I am also considering some way to offer loans from the treasury for business development. Trade diminished greatly during my father’s reign and the country suffered for it. I’m not sure whether it would be most effective to have the trade minister manage trade with Rikuto directly, or serve more as oversight for private businesses. It is difficult to make wise decisions with so little historical information.

As for whether my experiences the last year has made the crown easier to bear, no. Quite the opposite. Before, I considered the consequences of my actions in the abstract, and it was frightening. Now, I have faces to imagine as I sign edicts into law. Yet… I am stronger than I was.

DV:  How have you grown since you fled the castle?

King Hakan:  How haven’t I? (smiles) I’m not afraid of ruling. I’m cautious, and there is a weight to the responsibility, but I am not afraid. Kemen taught me that.

DV:  I am getting the times up signal from one of your advisors. I know that you need to get back to your Kingdom. Thank you for stopping by, Your Majesty. We appreciate your time. (another curtsey)

King Hakan:  Thank you for your interest. If you are ever in Erdem, please allow me to offer the hospitality of the palace. (He is quickly swept out of the room)

DV:  Wow. What an impressive young man. If I were younger . . .(laughing). Thank you for coordinating his visit.

Ok, C.J., back to you . . . if you were going to cast your characters with current actors, who would play Kemen? How about Hakan?

CJ:  I try to avoid thinking of actors in the lead roles, because I don’t want to prejudice how I write the characters. I found some good headshots a few years ago that fit the general look, but they’re not online anymore.

DV:  What songs might be included on the soundtrack?

CJ:  I’d hope to get a new score for the movie! Preferably by John Williams, and mostly instrumental, like the soundtrack for The Lord of the Rings.

DV:  When you finished the book, how did you celebrate?

CJ:  Ha! When I finished the first draft, I was sad for about a week because it was over, and then I realized I had to write A Cold Wind. I celebrated when I finished editing. My husband and I went out to eat and I got some decadent dessert. I forget what it was… possibly chocolate cheesecake.

DV:  Speaking of dessert . . . what is your chocolate of choice: milk, dark, or white?

CJ:  Dark.

DV:  Good answer, everyone knows I love the dark side (grin). Is this going to be a tradition now when you finish your books?

CJ:  Next time we will celebrate better! I’ve never had a book launch party, and I’d love to have one.

DV:  That sounds like a lot of fun! Do you have any other milestones that you celebrate as an author?

CJ:  I was really proud when I published The King’s Sword. The book had been ready for years but I hadn’t made the decision to jump into self-publishing. I’m glad I did. The story deserves to be shared, and I’m glad people are enjoying it. Selling the first copy was incredibly exciting. Friends and family have bought copies, but my very first sale was actually to someone I didn’t know, so that was momentous. I still appreciate every sale.

DV:  Who was the first person you let read the completed story? What did he/she have to say about it?

CJ:  I sent the completed first draft out to a group of beta readers, Andi, June, Peggy, and Garry. That first draft had problems (every first draft does!), but they pointed out that the problems weren’t “first novel” problems. That was actually very encouraging – they saw what I wanted to do with the book and believed in it. June in particular helped me realize what gaps needed to be filled so that the story on paper was the story I imagined. I really appreciate their help and excitement.

DV:  What has it been like to have fans? Any particularly cool fan moments?

CJ:  The first fans were actually writing buddies that I shared bits and pieces with as I wrote, as well as the whole thing once it was completed. Several of them said that parts of The King’s Sword and A Cold Wind made them laugh out loud or brought tears to their eyes. One of them was proud to be the first Kemen fangirl. Kemen and Hakan both have fans now, and I love knowing other people care about my characters.

DV:  How about you as a fan . . . what are the top five books that you read this past year?

CJ:  1421: The Year China Discovered America – Gavin Menzies
Shardik – Richard Adams
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
Red – Ted Dekker
Under Heaven – Guy Gavriel Kay

DV:  Hunger Games and Under Heaven were also high on my list last year . . . more fuel for the girl crush! What about now, what are your currently reading?

CJ: Wolf Totem – Jiang Rong (translation by Howard Goldblatt)
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China – Jung Chang
The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order – Samuel P. Huntington
Perdido Street Station – China Mieville

DV:  We touched on your Urban Fantasy project earlier. Can you share any details about that project?

CJ: I’m working on the first edit of the first book and beginning the first draft of the third book in the series. I think there will probably be four books in the series. If you’re interesting in finding out when it’s available, probably early next year, please sign up for my newsletter. I send out newsletters only a few times a year, so I won’t clog up your inbox or anything.

DV:  Excellent! You heard it here, SSV fans. Comment below with your name & email address if you are interested in beta reading for CJ and I will forward your information along to her.

CJ, again, thank you so much for participating in the interview.

CJ:  Thank you! It’s been fun.


Aren’t you super-excited to check out her books? Never fear, SSV fans! You can win a copy of one of her books by sharing your favorite sword-wielder with us. Just click on this Swashbuckler Giveaway for contest details and check out the book review for the King’s Sword.

Author Interview: Gini Koch ~ Kitty Katt Series

Snarktastic Sonja and I are happy to have a chance to catch up with Gini Koch, the author of Katherine “Kitty” Katt series, for SSV’s Author Interview and Review series! We’re going to keep it interesting with the Triple K series by posting a book review for it for the next couple of days. We already have reviews posted for the first two books in the series. Follow along with us as we post the others!


Gini has just released the seventh book, Alien in the House, and celebrating with a blog tour. Let’s get comfortable and settle in to get a behind the screen view with the popular author and her zany alien series. Don’t forget to enter the contest!


At present, how many different pen names do you write under? How do you keep them straight?

I’m currently published as Gini Koch, G.J. Koch, Anita Ensal, Jemma Chase, A.E. Stanton, and J.C. Koch. And I keep them straight because I, um, do. It’s a controlled form of schizophrenia, I make it work for me. 😀

When did you start writing?

At least a decade before I got published, but a good twenty years after I’d really had a lot of story ideas. Because I listened to a teacher who said you could only write if you outlined, and I believed her. By the way, she was wrong. You can only write if you write, and find the right way to write for you.

Can you point out the moment or event that made you think, “Yes! Writing. This is what I want to do!”

Yeah, I can. I’d passed on yet another party on a weekend, that my husband and daughter had gone to, so that I could write. This was before I really knew that I was going to go for publication. It was a beautiful day, and they had a wonderful time. Even though they had fun and everyone at the party had missed me, I realized that I hadn’t felt like I’d missed out on anything because I’d really gotten some great stuff written. I realized then that I’d rather write than do anything else. At that point in time, I decided I had to do what was necessary to get my writing to a publishable level, because it was clearly my “one thing” and I never wanted to stop.

Do you write more than one story at a time?

It depends, but usually. I have the kind of “jump around” mind that makes that fairly easy. When I’m on deadline (which is always now — and I am not complaining about that!) I do have to prioritize, so I don’t get to jump around as much these days.

How’s your Spyder and what’s it’s name? No way it’s Poofykins, right?

LOL, no, it’s not. I don’t actually own a Spyder, though I’d like to. Long story about why that pic of me on a Spyder ended up without me taking a Spyder home — let’s just say that men who ignore the only interested customer because said interested customer is a woman are men who don’t make a sale.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life, whom would you like to see  play the lead role as you?

Linda “The Terminator” Hamilton. But they’d probably cast Bette Midler. And who could complain about being portrayed by the Divine Miss M?

What would I find in your refrigerator right now?

Lots of stuff. LOL I’m on deadline, so no time to list the contents. Besides, if I did, the hubs would instantly conclude there was more than enough food in there to make for dinner and I’d be screwed.

If you could trade places with any other person for a week (famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional) with whom would it be?

I don’t want to trade places with anyone. I’d like to trade bank accounts with J.K. Rowling or Bill Gates, though.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

Pretty much anything that happens. LOL! Everything that happens is as much a surprise to me as it is to the characters. That’s the fun of being an extreme linear writer.

I love the Poofs and the Peregrines. Kitty always had her animal menagerie. Based on your bio, you and Kitty obviously have that in common. Are you similar in other ways?

I get this all the time, with any main character I write, for any series, really. And, of course there’s some of me in Kitty. I think what readers tend to not realize is that every character created by an author has part of the author inside them. They come from out of our heads, we are the Gods, they are all reflections of us. Including the villains. Perhaps, especially the villains.

As a dog lover, I gotta ask: What kinds of dogs do you have? Names? Breeds? Cats? Other animals?

The Canine Death Squad consists of:

  • Li’l Leader, an American Staffordshire Terrier
  • The Spotted Fiend, a Dalmatian
  • Big Baby, an American Pit Bull Terrier

The Killer Kitties are:

  • His Highness Lord Ebol
  • Squirrel

We have no other animals because the hubs feels that we’re already far too outnumbered.

Why Armani as the uniform?

That’s what the characters told me they were wearing. And you know, men look good in Armani. Pretty DARNED good! ;-D

The Alien family is becoming quite large. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Keeping track of every character and all my various plot points. It’s what I do, but it’s still got challenges associated with it. I have a spreadsheet that lists every character, including when they joined the series. Wish my editor had suggested I do that during Touched by an Alien, as opposed to during Alien in the Family — the catch up was painful. LOL!

Will you continue adding to the family?

Of course. People don’t go through life without adding new people in, losing people along the way, and so on. Does this mean that sometimes a fan favorite doesn’t have as big a role? Yes it does. But said favorite will be back, next book.

Will we see stories with a different POV?

Not in this series, no. This is a first person POV series, and, as I say a lot, if I’d wanted to write it from, say, Christopher’s POV, I would have done it already. Not to say that I never will — I’ve learned to never say never — but this is Kitty’s series, and so it’s from her POV.

By the way, there are reasons I don’t want to show other POVs. When you’re choosing the POV for a story, it’s important that you pick the one that will best serve the story. In this case, the stories would not be served in the right way if I was in someone else’s head or heads.

Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?

I have infinite freedom with this series. My editor at DAW is amazing and wonderful. Pretty much anything I want to do she is 100% behind, only ensuring that we do it right and that it fits within the series. So if, for instance, I created a minor character I really liked, I have the freedom to bring them back any time. That’s why three minor characters who were introduced in Alien in the Family came back, full time, in Alien Diplomacy — I liked them, and I missed them, and I wanted them back full time. As for themes and ideas, any I want that I haven’t touched on yet or fully finished with are coming up in later books.

Have you ever hated something you wrote?

Of course I have. Every writer has. But no reader of mine will ever see what I don’t like, because I don’t submit or publish what I don’t like.

Are you a person who makes their bed in the morning, or do you not see much point?

I’m married and therefore have someone else living in the house with me, and it was important to set a good example for our daughter, the chicklet. So, yes, I make the bed every morning. It’s not that much work and it makes the room nicer. And the Killer Kitties prefer to lounge on a made bed, thankyouverymuch.

I love Kitty’s play list. How much of that music plays in the background as you write?

All of it. Every song mentioned in every book is on my play list for that book and more besides. My Alien series play list, at this moment, has over 1,170 songs on it. Some are repeats within the list, but that’s a lot of music. I add more in for each new book.

Ever have a song play that inspired a plot line?

All the time. About 50% of my ideas come from my dreams, and at least 30% come from music.

Which typically comes first, the plot or the song?

Depends. I truly can’t say every time. Writing tends to be very organic for me, so I don’t try to nail down all the inspirations lest they lose their effectiveness. However, I can absolutely say that you can consider that, despite never getting a shout out in any book in the series, Smash Mouth’s “Get the Picture?” album could be the called the Band That Wrote Touched by an Alien.

I also love that her iPod comes equipped with several appropriate playlists.

Well, that’s the beauty of being a writer — you get to equip your characters with the things they’ll need to survive, even if they’re things the characters wouldn’t think they’d use to survive, like hairspray or a Mont Blanc pen.

What is your biggest writing weakness, and what do you think you need to change to work on it?

As of right now, my biggest weakness is being late on my deadline for Alien Research and time management is the answer. Part of that would be not doing interviews and guest posts and such. LOL! You see how well I’m doing with that.

Out of the A.C. abilities, which one would you like to have?

Hyperspeed. Hands down, hyperspeed.

Out of the extended friends and families that spans the galaxies, which race would you be if you had to choose one that’s not A.C. or Earthman?

I’m a cat person, so the Feliniads all the way.

Can you share with us a wild adventure you want to have?

I want to have every book in this series on the New York Times Bestseller list, preferably several of them on at the same time. And sooner as opposed to later. That would be a wonderful, wild adventure, believe me.

Thank you for joining us on SSV, Gini! Sonja and I really love Kitty, the gang and the growing animal kingdom. We hope this isn’t the last we see of you on Silk Screen Views and look forward to reading future works!


Read the SSV reviews on the Kitty Katt Series. Links will be added as review posts are made.

  1. Touched by an Alien:
    1. Review by Soo
    2. Review by Sonja
  2. Alien Tango by Soo
  3. Alien in the Family by Sonja
  4. Alien Proliferation by Sonja
  5. Alien Diplomacy by Sonja
  6. Alien vs Alien by Sonja
  7. Alien in the House*

*Review for book seven will be up in a few weeks.

For more information about the author and her various work, check out Gini Koch’s website.


Enter the Alien Contest

Win a Book from the Kitty Katt Series!
Read the contest post for rules and information.








Book Seven

If you’re already a fan of the Triple K series, I’m sure you’ve already made plans to buy the latest addition! Here is a brief synopsis of the series:

Katherine “Kitty” Katt’s world turned inside out and upside down after the Event. What’s the Event? It should have been another day on the daily grind, but it wasn’t. While heading back to the office from a meeting, Kitty witnessed an angry man turn into a monster and attack. Instinct kicked in and Kitty raced over and made a vital strike with a Mont Blanc pen! A group of extraordinarily handsome men converged on Kitty and whisked her away. The rest is history.

Aliens are real. Kitty’s parents are much more than “normal” parents. It’s almost impossible to resist the urge to slobber over the heart stoppingly handsome Alien men. Improbable connections are Kitty’s secret weapon and her roaring need for justice is her chosen steel. Let’s not forget the battle purse or her Ipod. Kitty’s music always sets the mood to defend Earth against bad aliens.

Author Interview: K. L. Schwengel ~ First of Her Kind

Are you ready for another SSV Author Interview and Review series release? 

Yes? Let’s roll!

Bookaholic Olga had a chat with K.L. Schwengel, the author of fantasy novel First of Her Kind, and set up an insider’s look behind the screens into K.L.’s writing and life. Soo had so much fun reading the interview that she had to ask the author a few follow up questions that have been added to the whole. The links to enter the Evil Villain Contest, Olga’s book review for First of Her Kind and more are at the end of the post.


How long have you been writing? Why did you start?

I’ve been writing ever since I was a kid. In school, when I should have been taking notes, I was writing stories. Nothing really came of it. Then life intervened, and I followed my artistic muse instead. More life intervened, but I always wrote. The problem was: I never finished anything.

A handful of years ago I decided I was either going to get serious and finish what I started, or abandon it altogether. I found out abandoning it wasn’t an option. I’m not sure why I started. Probably because then, as now, there were all these characters running around in my head demanding I tell their tale. You can only keep them bottled up for so long.

You can’t abandon the stories. Which story or book did you finish first? Has it been published?

I honestly don’t remember the name of the first story I every finished. It was in the late 80’s probably. A fantasy, of course. I sent it off to Marion Zimmer Bradley for an anthology. It was rejected, but I received the most encouraging, personal hand-written rejection letter. Of course, I’ve unfortunately lost it. Both the rejection and the story.

How do you develop your plot and characters? What comes first, the plot or the characters? 

Usually it’s the character and a situation that come first. From that, I develop a plot. I’m a complete pantser. Although I generally do know the ending and have it written well before I’m done with the rest of the story.

I’m pretty sure I know what you mean by “pantser” but can you define it for us?

Pantser = I don’t outline. I start writing and let the story and characters take me where they will. I have an idea of where I’m going. Usually that’s just in my head (scarey place to visit, trust me!) although I will make notes, and jot down ideas. But there’s not chapter by chapter map.

Do you outline your stories first or do you follow your inspiration wherever it takes you?

I follow my erratic inspiration. I have an ‘idea’ of where I want to go, some signposts along the way, certain things I want to see happen—but as far as laying out what’s going to happen chapter by chapter, no such thing exists in my world. My characters have a habit of making a mess out of even the loosest outline.

What is harder for you to write: a Good guy/girl or a Villain? Why? 

It’s infinitely harder for me to write the good guy. Usually even my good guys end up slightly tarnished. I think because I see the truly good guys as… well… a bit boring.


Okay, I know, there are probably stellar examples of interesting good guys and gals, but if they don’t have that hint of villainy they lose me. Villains tend to get a bad rap, and most of them should. We tend to look at them as the guy in the Black Hat, and that’s all we see. But something, at some time, pushed them over the edge and made them choose that Black Hat. All of us, I think, have that potential and it’s rather fun to explore it in a safe and controlled environment.

Who is your favorite Villain?

Oh, that’s a tough one. The first one that pops into my head is Sikkukkut from C. J. Cherryh’s Chanur series. Villains who have that smooth, oily, feel–yeah, like that.

How did you come up with the title? Is the title important to you? 

Titles are always very important to me. For the longest time Between Darkness & Light was my working title, and among my Betas it was referred to as BD&L. I always knew that was more of a theme for the series, but I hadn’t settled on anything I liked for a title until I was nearly done with final rounds of editing. I heard a similar line in a song and it just clicked. It is, after all, what Ciara is.

What was the hardest part about writing this book for you? What was the easiest? 

The hardest part of writing this book (and, for me, any book) is finishing. That sounds like such a simple thing, you start, you finish. But I suffer from extreme rewriteritis. I tend to want to make every sentence perfect before moving on. I get mired in editing and rewriting, polishing and honing, before I ever get through. Then I lose interest and it goes into a file. I have to force myself, on the first draft, not to look back. Not to worry if things aren’t quite right. That’s what editing is for.

The easiest part… the second, third, fourth, fifth drafts. Okay, so maybe that wasn’t easy, but it was more fun. Because I had the structure, the bones, and now I got to start fleshing it out, adding details, and giving depth to characters and scenes.

Why did you end this story with a cliff hanger? Why not reward your protagonist for all her suffering and then start a new story about her in a new book?

Because not everything ends with Happily Ever After and because on a personal level, I’m a big fan of cliff hangers. Seriously. If The End is just that, I might fall out of love with the characters in the time between installments and have no real reason to pick up the next installment. But if I’m dying to know what comes next, if I’m left without complete resolution… it’s like having that desert tray next to the table and knowing I’m not allowed to touch it until I’ve finished my meal. The biggest reason, I suppose, is because Ciara’s story doesn’t end after Book One. This is just the beginning for her. One step in her journey. Bolin’s as well, though his story started long before First of Her Kind.

As a side note, I never really thought of the ending as a “cliff hanger” per se, so I’m surprised to hear it called that by several readers now. Surprised and, yes, a wee bit delighted.

Do you have a favorite cliff hanger?

Joe Abercrombie and any one of The First Law books.

What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing this book? 

That there’s a lot more of me in some of my characters than I care to admit. And also, I can put a lot of words down in a day when I’m on a roll.

You write fantasy. Do you think it needs research? What kind? 

Absolutely. At least for me, it does.

  • Food
  • Drink
  • Herbal Medicines
  • Weaponry
  • How far can a horse and cart travel in a day?

I’ve researched all of that. I’ve even gone so far as to check the etymology of words to make sure they fit. Even though I’m not creating historical fantasy, my world has a medieval feel to it, and I think it helps draw the reader in when certain details have familiarity to them. If everything is strange and unique, it’s like having too much to look at. Plus, *I* need to know. I sometimes get hung up in details, even when I’m not using them in the story.

So, yeah, research. A lot.

How many books/stories have you written? Which is your favorite? 

Well, if you’re talking finished… under ten. It’s very hard to pick a favorite. There is a fantasy piece due to come out in an anthology this summer that I’m quite fond of because I interjected a bit more humor into it. I love the characters in it and the interplay between them.

What is the name of the short story and the anthology that is coming out??

The story’s title is A Woman’s ScornThe anthology should be coming out mid-summer. I don’t think a final title has been decided on. Or, more likely, um . . . I just haven’t asked.

You made the decision to self-publish. Why? Did you consider going the traditional route? What are advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing in today’s publishing world?

A lot has been written on the topic of self-publishing vs. traditional. I did a couple blog posts myself when I made the decision. It wasn’t an easy one for me because I was a dyed in the wool traditionalist. Never, ever, was I going to stray from that path. I had my list of dream agents, my query letter polished, and had started First of Her Kind on the first set of rounds.

Ironically, research I was doing to find reasons NOT to go the independent route is what caused me to do just that. In the end, what it boiled down to was control. Yes, I’m a bit of a control freak. Being an independent allowed me to have my fingers in every aspect of my book’s success or failure.

The downside of that? I have my fingers in every aspect of my book’s success or failure. Truly the proverbial double-edged sword. You have to be okay with all the aspects of putting your book out there: marketing, book keeping, editing decisions, timelines, etc. But, a lot of that is falling on the authors even when they sign with one of the Big Six.

What do you like to do when you are not writing? 

Work my dogs. I raise Australian Shepherds and keep a small flock of sheep. I compete with my dogs in stock dog trials, and also help other folks train their dogs to do the same. I break that up with spending time with my family, camping, getting together with friends, and reading.

How did you get into raising and training Australian Shepherds?

As a child, one of my favorite authors was Albert Payson Terhune. He wrote books about Collies. I loved Collies and always wanted one — had a couple of mixes growing up. Through high school and college I got into riding horses. The lady that owned the stable where I rode raised Aussies. I fell in love with them and forgot all about Collies. I believe the heritage of a breed should be preserved. Aussies are working dogs. If I was going to have them, they were going to work. So we do. 🙂

What is your preference: Ebook or print? Why? 

As a reader or a writer?

As a reader, I love my Kindle for ease of packing and portability. But having an actual book in your hands—bending the spine back, carrying it with the cover curled over while you read and cook at the same time (please, don’t attempt this at home), actually turning the pages… and the smell of paper and ink… there’s nothing that compares to it.

As a writer, I love the physicality of the print book. Being able to sign it and hand it over to someone else has an immediacy and a tangibility about it that makes the relationship with the reader somehow more personal.

What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to learn about you? 

Oh boy, this is a tough one. I’m not sure there is anything really surprising about me, I’m rather normal. Well, normal in my definition of the word, I guess. I’m the youngest of nine children. Does that qualify as surprising? I write standing up, because my day job (yes, that pesky thing) keeps me on my butt nine hours a day. That might be something.

What’s the layout for you to write standing up? Do you stand at a counter? Adjustable platform desk?

My hubby made me a workstation. Basically a long counter that’s the right height. It’s not adjustable, but my secondary monitor is. I have a stool if I feel the need to perch, but usually don’t. I might add a balance board so I can <strike>fall off</strike> get some exercise while working. It’s important to stay physically fit, you know.

If you could have one paranormal ability, what would it be? Why? 

Oh boy! Um… I think I would go with psychokinesis. Not because I’m lazy, but because I’m not as strong as I often think I am, and it would be great to be able to move things with thought alone.

Could you tell us a little about your future writing plans? 

I’m currently finishing up the first draft of Book Two in the Between Darkness & Light series. Emergence is longer and more involved than First of Her Kind. It is also a little darker in spots. You’ll see the relationships deepen. The characters are going through some changes that aren’t easy for them—or me. More characters are introduced and bring with them levels of tension (and humor) that may be unexpected. The ending is already written and, yes, there will be a third book.

Along with that, I’m working on an Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance that I’d like to have out by the end of the year as well. It’s a modern day tale involving angels, demons, and other supernatural sorts. The working title is Crossing Paths.

There are a couple other projects I’m involved in that should see fruition this summer.

Tell us something about First of Her Kind that is NOT in the blurb. 

Wow, this question is tougher than it seems. *drums fingers on keyboard* Okay, how about this? Ciara’s power, the one her aunt calls the wilding, first manifests itself when her mother dies. In grief and anger, Ciara strikes out against the unfortunate healer tending her mother. Her step-father pushes him aside, saving his life, but Ciara’s outburst still manages to destroy the side of their house.


Evil Villain Contest ~ Show your dark side!

Are you curious about First of Her Kind? Want a peek at the story and see what Olga thinks about it? Read Bookaholic Olga’s review of First of Her Kind!

Did the interview tease your brain about the author K.L. Schwengel? Find out more about her and her work on her website.

Author Interview: Mia Marshall ~ Elements Series

Sonja recently had the privilege of sitting down with Mia Marshall. Mia is the author of the Element series and the second of book of the series, Shifting Selves, has just been released. Let’s dive into the interview and get an inside scoop into the series and Mia!


What three words would you do to describe yourself?

Start out with an easy one, why don’t you? Let’s go with introverted, goofy, and determined. Determined is a nice way to say ‘overly intense on occasion.’

Are you anything like what you thought you would be when you were a kid?

Well, I still spend most of my discretionary income on books, and I still prefer fantasy worlds to reality, so that’s the same. In a lot of ways, I’m exactly what ten-year-old me would have wanted: I’m a writer, I have cats, I frequently eat cereal for dinner. I did take a lot of unexpected paths to get here, which would have thrilled the younger version of me.

Do you have ritual habits that you do when you write? If so, what are they?

I sit down and write. That’s pretty much it. If I’m struggling to find words, I put on music. If I’m still struggling, I move to the couch for a change of scenery. If things are really bad, I take a dance break. But really, sit down and write is the ritual.

What do you do on a bad writing day? How do you get out of the funk?

No matter what, I have a minimum word count I assign myself each writing day, at least 1000 words. But I don’t beat myself up if those words aren’t particularly good, or if I stop the moment I hit 1001. So long as I keep writing, regardless of how hard it feels or how much I dislike what I’m churning out, I know I’m making progress.

What did you edit OUT of your books? What was the hardest thing to cut out?

In every book, there seems to be one character that doesn’t make it past the first draft. They’re either superfluous or require a lot more attention than I can give them in order to have a proper arc. In Shifting Selves, for instance, the first draft had Mac’s Dad show up for the final third, but he didn’t really add anything to the story. So, I sent him back to the woods until he’s needed for a future book. These cuts aren’t hard for me, really. Once I see the final, much tighter version, I usually just wonder what the hell I was thinking for the first draft.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

I’m pretty sure it was my third grade teacher who first wrote “wordy” in the margins of one of my stories. I have a tendency to use twenty words when ten will do, and I constantly need to be aware of that. Part of it is just my style–I’ll never write sparse prose, nor do I want to–but I keep “wordy” in mind when I’m editing, and it helps me pare down my wealth of adverbs.

The best compliment is any time someone tells me my books transported them to another world and they can’t wait for the next one. There’s really no higher praise than that.

When you read a negative review, how do you react? Does your face scrunch up in disagreement? Do you cuss and rant out loud? Do you fall inside your thoughts and contemplate if they may be right?

It depends on the review. If it’s a variation on “It just wasn’t for me,” I shrug and move on, because no book is for everyone. A lot of reviews completely contradict each other, so I’d drive myself mad if I took them too seriously. If there are good points in a review, I’ll absolutely take them into consideration for future books, but I let my instincts tell me which ones I should pay attention to and which I should ignore.

The reviews that seem to completely miss a plot point or theme or that fixate on small details sometimes lead to muttering and cursing, but I usually rant to a friend and then just try to let it go. You can’t internalize this stuff–that way lies self-doubt, writer’s block, and the bottom of a bag of Cheetos. If it gets too bad, I remind myself that the 50 Shades bundle has a higher score on Goodreads than Macbeth, and suddenly the reviews seem far less important.

There has been a lot of talk recently in reading communities about Series vs. Serials. While there is definitely a series arc as to Aidan’s discovery of herself, I really appreciate that each book tells a complete story. How many books do you have planned in the series? Do you have the arc mentally (or visually) planned? Or do you wing it?

I definitely have a plan, though it’s drawn in broad strokes, and the details change as I move through the series. At the moment, I have a five book series planned, though there’s a possibility of bumping that up to six or seven. Honestly, a lot of that will depend on how people respond to books two and three. I write this series because I love it, but I also write for an audience. If people are buying the books, I’ll write more of them.

Regardless of how many books there will be in total, I definitely have an end game in mind. I’m not a fan of the never-ending series, and I think if a series isn’t heading toward a specific end point, there’s a risk of it becoming repetitive. Also, I want to give Aidan Brook a happy ending. I can only torture the poor woman for so long.

Was there a character or event that gave you growly fits? Made you grit your teeth and Grrrr as you wrestled it down and put it to paper? Anyone ever do something so stupid that you didn’t want to put fingertips to keys?

Oh, Vivian. That woman refused to tell me who she was for so, SO many drafts. I basically put her in as a placeholder, because I knew the series needed an earth, and I also wanted to show that elementals weren’t all equally powerful, but damn, I struggled with her. She was, in her time, a preppy college kid, a Los Angeles club kid, and a New Age earth goddess. Vivian, as we now know her, came to me about a week before the final version of Broken Elements was due. My lesson: despite being an introvert, I sometimes have a really hard time writing them.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book? Would you go back and change anything in the first now that the second is out?

I’m good with book two right now and will likely remain that way until I realize I somehow backed myself into a corner for book three. I’d always love to go back and do just one more edit to clean the books up a bit more, but no one has time for that, least of all my editor.

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

My primary theme throughout the series, the one I consciously refer back to while I write, is that of choice–choosing your family, choosing your life, choosing the right path rather than easy one. This is obviously true for Aidan, but I want it to be the case for all the characters. They should be active, rather than reactive, and I want them each to have their own series arc in which they make choices that lead them where they need to go, rather than blindly following the heroine just because she’s the one on the covers.

The covers of your first 2 novels are very indicative of the character of the books. Who did the cover art? And how did you settle on these adaptations? Will you stay true to this them throughout the series?

Cynthia Fliege designed both covers, and obviously she did a fabulous job. She makes a point to read each book before designing the cover, so they really capture the spirit of the books. Though we work together on some revisions, the concepts are entirely hers. Initially, they came about because we couldn’t afford to hire models for a photo shoot and didn’t want to rely on stock photos. The end result looks quite different from most urban fantasy covers, but hopefully that just makes it stand out. So long as she’s willing to design the covers, I plan to keep asking her.

Do you have a picture in your mind of actresses to play Aidan and Sera? Or actors for Mac and Simon?

We’re in dreamland, right? Emma Stone is too short for Aidan, but they can fix that through Hollywood magic and/or stilts, and I’d love to see what she could do with Aidan’s particular sense of humor. Sera is a lot harder, because Hollywood isn’t exactly awash in Pacific Islander actresses. Can we go with an unknown for this part? Mac would be a brunette/brown-eyed Chris Hemsworth, possibly mixed with a less hairy Opie from Sons of Anarchy. Simon would have to be that guy. You know. The skinny guy with dark hair and pale skin and really green eyes? Okay, I’m terrible at this game. Tell me who you’d cast.

Who is your favorite character? Why? Any based on people you know?

I can’t play favorites! I will say that Simon is the most fun to write, with Sera a close second. And Mac makes even me swoon a little. Yes, I swoon for an imaginary man I created. Yes, I do probably need therapy.

I try not to base anyone on real world people or relationships–I prefer my writing to be baggage-free as much as possible.

If you could have any of the abilities of your characters, which would you want and why?

If I was a water elemental, every morning, I could create my own private pool. No cleaning or gym membership required! I could work with that. I suppose the healing abilities could be useful, too, if I wanted to be selfless.

Josiah is not a lovable guy. The girls’ relationships with him reflect this. I want to ask so many questions – but they all result in spoilers. So, I will settle on . . . Tell me more, tell me more! Will these relationships ever resolve into cuddly feelings? Or will they finally just have had enough and smack him? Or something else all together?

I protest the spoiler-bait nature of this question! Here’s what I will say: Josiah isn’t evil in elemental terms. He’s an old one, and he very much has the moral code of one who’s lived for millennia and seen the world change time and time again. In his world, humans and shifters really are insignificant. Aidan and Sera, however, are very young elementals and are still connected to the human world–and they plan to stay that way. That’s not a conflict that will be resolved easily, if at all.

The old ones certainly seem like old fuddy duddies! Do you see them evolving in the remainder of the series? Or will they eventually evolve? Do you have any real world experience that you relate this to?

The old ones are very fixed in their ways, though of course each element reacts somewhat differently to change. Some might evolve; some might not. You’re trying to trick me into revealing a spoiler, aren’t you? It won’t work!

I don’t draw on real world experience, exactly, though I try to imagine a very stubborn grandparent trying to reason with their young whippersnapper of a grandchild, then multiply that by a hundred.

One of my favorite things about this series is the relationship between Aidan and Sera. Did you base this on a relationship with which you are familiar?

Though not based on any one person, I was definitely inspired by several relationships I’ve had with both friends and boyfriends. I tried to capture that ease you get when you’ve known and loved someone a long time, to the point where you practically have your own language and no amount of distance can really break the connection you share.

A penguin wearing a sombrero walks through your door right now. What does he say and why is he there?

If a penguin is wearing a sombrero, one must assume he’s on holiday and is looking for a party, particularly given how close we are to Cinco de Mayo.

If he ended up walking through my door instead of a bar, one can only imagine he’d sigh heavily in disappointment and ask where the liquor cabinet was–assuming he wasn’t fleeing for his life (frantically waddling for his life?) from my two bengal cats.

If you were stranded on an alien planet, which character would you choose to be stranded with and what three things must you have at hand?

You’re not giving me nearly enough information here. Is it someplace cold like Mars? Then I’d need Sera, obviously. A dry planet? Better have Aidan with me. It is a high tech dystopia in which lives are run by computers? Vivian’s the one. Is it a planet populated only by women and/or prepubescent boys? Then you better give me Mac, if only for some eye candy. Regardless of which world I ended up in, I’d want a fully stocked e-reader, a lifetime supply of coffee, and a really warm blanket. Hypothermia’s no joke, yo.

If you could only thank one person that has been along for the ride as you write, who would that be? Why? And, what would you say?

Well, I thanked her in the dedication to Shifting Selves, but it’s always worth thanking my mom again. When I was recovering from a major surgery and couldn’t work or pay rent, she let me live with her, which totally beat being homeless. Plus, she encouraged me when I had the crazy idea that I would use that time to write a fantasy novel, and she hasn’t stopped encouraging me since. I got lucky in the mom sweepstakes, that’s for sure.

Thanks so much, Mia, for sitting down and talking with us. I really enjoyed the first two books and cannot wait for the rest of the series!


Enter the Contest to win Elements goodies!

Book 1

Book 2

Read the reviews that Sonja wrote for the books in the Elements series: Broken Elements and Shifting Selves. You can visit Mia Marshall’s website to get more information about her and her work.

Author Interview: Allen Gray ~ Overwatch

AG 01

Iraq by Allen Gray

SSV is happy to announce the latest addition to our Author Interview and Review Series! The 4th addition to the series will be a little different. While the focus on SSV are mainly works of fiction, that’s not the only genre of books we read. We read a wide spectrum of books in our lives and want to share our thoughts on them.

Let’s welcome Allen Grey to Silk Screen Views and get a look behind the screens into Allen’s thoughts and a peek into his work. The book, Overwatch, is a collection of poetry based on war, soldiers, returning home and a gauntlet of emotions.

You can read the review for Overwatch. Remember to enter the Contest to win a signed copy of the book or special poem written by Allen Gray.


Allen GrayDescribe yourself in three words and give a short explanation for each word.

Studious – After years away from the classroom, I’ve tried to come back and study the great poems with a vengeance. I don’t know if there is enough time to catch up to those who have spent a life in serious study, but I’ve realized writing emotions down is not enough. Learning from our predecessors and attempting poems and stories that are part of that tradition is an important process whether we truly succeed or not.

Disorganized – I’ve never had a clean desk, never dated my journal entries, and my world is decorated in coffee rings. Partly because of this, I’ve also been able to see some old material in a new light and make some pretty good new poems out of it.

Plainspoken – Not that I don’t attempt to stretch my vocabulary. However, I don’t believe in being unnecessarily difficult for a reader. If an idea is too complex to be understood, I hope it is because the idea is complex. If it is my writing that is causing the misunderstanding, I consider that a failure as a writer–which happens. Poetry should connect people rather than become some cosmic puzzle.

When did you start to write? Did it start with poetry or writing stories?

It took me many years to take writing and books, seriously. In high school I skated by, content to be a little better than average. My senior year I enrolled in Journalism and received a lot of positive feedback on stories I wrote. That was the first time I felt I could write something someone appreciated.

As far as creative writing, I had read Shakespeare, Frost and written the occasional rhyming poem for an assignment, but I didn’t fall in love with writing until my 2nd year of college.  A professor assigned our class to find a contemporary poem and present it to class. Before the assignment, I had never read anything outside of textbooks.

I happened across a Louis Simpson poem titled “Working Late.” A son remembers walking past his father’s office at all hours, then discovers the person working past dark years later is him. The amount of emotion a person could get from plainspoken language, whether it was masculine feelings, feminine feelings, political or religious anger–that was the first time I really saw poetry (and later fiction) as an outlet.

What inspires you to write poetry?

  • Experience
  • Emotion
  • War
  • People who mistreat others.
  • People who attempt to deceive.
  • Relationships
  • Exploitation of nature and others.
  • Spirituality
  • Fear

Wow, I guess the short answer there would have been everything. Although certain emotions, perhaps anger, elevate the importance of it.

What do you want to share when you write? 

The message changes for me based on the subject. With war and coming home: perhaps poetry is a way to tell the kid who’s feeling self-destructive, or the leader who feels their deep emotional pit is a sign of weakness, or the buddy with survivor’s guilty – “you are not alone.” With nature and social issues, it’s the things that we miss out on by keeping ourselves insulated, or the people we never know because we don’t bother to look below the surface.

Do you think you have achieved that goal?

I don’t think I ever quite achieve it. Sometimes I brush up against what I really want to say or I nail a certain angle. But, that’s what makes a writer keep trying. The best poets kept evolving as their understanding increased. I hope I don’t get to the point where I’ve shared everything. That is a long way off at any rate.

Can you give a brief description of Overwatch for those who are not familiar with it?  

Overwatch primarily deals with returning from war. Only the first poem, ‘Desert Poem,’ takes place in the desert. There is little to no combat, but there is the the experience of dust storms, of Soldier suicide, guilt, honor and lost honor, the family disconnect, the loss of faith and the enormous amount of work it takes to want to engage with the world once more.

The book does not attempt to show a one-size fits all approach to coming home but show the varied mental states in which people arrive. Some have the thousand yard stare, some have panic attacks at Walmart, some close off to their families, some self destruct, some value their families more than ever, and some break down crying on the tarmac in a little town in Maine in front of strangers.

Out of the collection of poems in Overwatch, which piece speaks the most with you?

Each poem, depending on the time. Ok, I know that was a cop out.

“A Soldier Severs The String” was probably the most emotional. It’s about Soldier suicide. No one who has had a loved one die this way is ever the same and there is much still unwritten here.

“Bangor” filled me with the biggest sense of needing to get out of my own head and help someone else. Anyone who knows the story of these veterans who get up at O Dark Thirty to welcome Soldiers knows they likely need someone to look after them. However, they heal by helping and they are inspirational.

“Life Begins” is something that can’t really be said. Sometimes telling a spouse how you feel has to be done in an act and not words…

“Awake Now” draws on the shock of returning only to see a war zone on your home soil. After the first Gulf War, 1991, George Hennard committed the worst shooting spree, of the time, outside the gates of Fort Hood. Toward the end of the surge, in 2009, Nidal Hasan committed an even greater atrocity. There is a raw feeling that never goes away when you realize  you haven’t left it behind.

Is the whole book a dedication to your brother first and then other soldiers or both?

It’s meant for all Soldiers. Steven Ambrose was right. It is a brotherhood of arms. We get divided into subgroups of fighters and support types, or the different services call each other groundpounders, squids and wingnuts. But at the end of the day each person signed a piece of paper that could have placed them in a bullet’s path. In most of the poems, I attempted to not use names. Even in places where names were necessary. I hope the acts are such that most soldiers and family members can identify.

The images that the poems evoke are startling, can be so ordinary and yet terrifying. Are some of the poems your memories and experiences?

They are all personal experiences.

Every writer has a “ritual” of sorts for writing. What’s yours?

Mine changes but waking early is the one constant. Mine is less of a ritual since retirement and becoming a student. But I do write much better in the early morning when the world is completely quiet.

If you could name the big influences on your writing, what or who would they be?

Someone I’m sure will get left off but at this point in my life I’m influence by the writers in my home state.  Robert Penn Warren took the time to look far beneath the surface in his poems. His life was a continuous move from a segregated world to a world that finally took “all men are created equal” seriously. His poems and his stories deal with memories as a kind of ghost story and I think that nails the experience of carrying one’s memory with them.

Joe Bolton was another Kentucky poet who died way too soon. However in 8 years he wrote some of the most haunting lines. I also remember he could provide some of the greatest encouragement at the same time he was marking up some of my juvenile writing.

Personally, my wife, Gwendolyn Gray, has been a great sounding board for many of the ideas that have gone on to become poems.

Angela Gwynn is a very talented poet whose poetry I hope will find its way into a book soon. She is also mentioned in the thank you’s because she provided a great ear for some of the frustration with putting these experiences to paper. She provided blunt, honest feedback that made me work harder to be exact.

Did you choose the cover art on the book or was the artist found for you?

The publisher, Diane Smith, found Dru Blair’s art. We were looking through personal photographs and struggling to find one with an adequate resolution. The clouds from Blair’s painting seemed to represent what we were looking for.

What does the cover mean to you? What thoughts and feelings does it invoke in you?

There is a spiritual feeling in Overwatch that is always there. I’m not saying it is always a positive spiritual feeling. There were many times when the speaker of these poems lashed out, but even in lashing out he has to acknowledge that higher power. I think the clouds in the painting were intended to be symbolic, drawing back on Desert Storm years earlier. However it said a lot to me about the way a speaker projects their own feeling onto the landscape before them. Some might see awe, some might see anger, and the desert can be both, or something else entirely.

I really enjoyed reading what others thought of your book that is written on the back of the book as Words of Praise. Do you know them? How are they a part of your life?

Diane Smith contacted several writers she knew. I have been in touch with each writer since then and have not tired of being grateful that they gave such a positive opinion. I will say that Charlie Bondhus has been a very supportive writer since then. I’ve really gotten to appreciate his talent as a poet and his thoughtfulness.

Do you start a poem with an idea or a line that’s come to you?

D – All of the above.

I carry a small notebook.  Because sometimes a line comes up. Sometimes it’s an image or metaphor. Sometimes a title without a poem. I don’t always have the time to sit down and write it out but I try to write down the seed of the idea as it happens.

Do the feelings that’s in the poems take over you while you’re writing a piece? Is it hard to disengage from that when you’re done or does it linger?

For the first draft, yes. The feelings make the writing urgent, and they dictate what gets written. Having said that, writing out of strong emotions may have the same effect that others get writing while drunk. The intoxication lowers inhibitions, but it can also make the finished product into a jumbled mess. Once the rough draft is down, there’s a bigger job of carving the poem into a more polished draft. It is difficult to disengage. I’ve found that many poems need to be put in a drawer or a filing cabinet for day or weeks or months. The hardest part at looking at my own work is reading it as a reader. Reading a draft I haven’t seen for a while, and reading it out loud, and marking each spot where I stumble over the words has been helpful. It’s a practice I recommend to anyone writing poetry.

What was it like for you to get everything together for this collection?

I was on terminal leave when we pulled this book together. Which means I had, for all practical purposes, worked my last day in the Army but I was still technically in. So, many of  the poems were still raw. However, working with the publisher was a big help.

Was the experience of getting your book published what you thought it would be? How was it the same? Different?  

This honestly happened much sooner than expected. I did not expect to be contacted by a publisher asking for my work, but fortunately Diane and I had workshopped each other’s poetry. She was looking to publish a book whose focus was on veterans and knew from our online workshop what I wrote.

Even so, I knew how frustrating it can be just to get read by a literary journal, both as a submitter and as a slush pile reader. There is more poetry being written and submitted perhaps than any other time in history. Some of it is ambitious and there are many good poems. However, fatigue can set in. That is a detriment for an art form that requires attention to subtle meanings, images and multiple layers. Knowing that, this experience working with Grey Sparrow and having them take a chance on an unproven poet has been better than expected.

The experience shows the importance of meeting other poets, networking, attending workshops. While schools and workshops are no substitute for talent and it’s possible for great work to be written outside the institution, there is something to be said for honing your talent and soliciting blunt feedback from people who know and care about the same art that you love.

What do you have planned next? Are you working to put together another collection?

Right now I am trying to focus on craft. Some months I will focus on a theme and generate as many poems as I can. Not all of the poems will be successful. When I dive in to a subject, I consider emerging with 5-10 good poems a success.

Tell me about National Poetry month.

National Poetry Month is in the month of April and goes back to 1996 with the Academy of American Poets. In other more successful months such as Black History Month and Women’s History Month, we have always celebrated through a selection of artists like Langston Hughes or Dr. Maya Angelou. Poetry month celebrates all the artists.

No one has a definitive answer on why April, except maybe some guy named Eliot labeled it the ‘cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of dead land,’ in a poem.

Why did you decide to participate? 

To me, this is the observance that reminds us of our humanity. So many have stopped reading poetry, perhaps because teachers and academics took the joy out of poetry. It is seen by many as an academic subject that we have to slog through instead of as a way of hearing the voice of an original speaker who is letting us into his or her world. Some will say it does not matter but in times of trouble, it was a way for the priest going back to Babylon to explain the unknown, for the Russian citizen to share news without being shot, for the slave and/or for the prisoners of the holocaust to send word and for the outsider to develop empathy.

What has the experience been like thus far?

It’s exhausting  but fun.  If we were only writing limericks it might be less exhausting.  This year’s theme for me is Fathers and Sons so it involves much research into history, the Bible, Greek and other mythologies, with a few personal narratives thrown in.

Thank you, Allen, for joining us on Silk Screen Views! It’s been a pleasure to have you on our site. Allen is a friend of mine that I’ve met on Scribophile. Even though we’re friends, I’ve learned quite a bit about Allen and his work by participating in this interview. I hope you have enjoyed looking beyond silk screens and enjoyed a glimpse into Allen’s life and work.


You can find Allen Gray on Goodreads or Scribophile

Allen does not have a website yet and it may be a little hard to find his book. You can buy a paperback copy of Overwatch on Amazon. For a hardback copy, you can buy a copy from Grey Sparrow Press or email Diane Smith:

Read Soo’s Review of Overwatch and find out what she thought of the poetry collection.


A signed copy of Overwatch or a special poem written by Allen Gray.

Author Interview: The Hofer Brothers ~ Duck Blood Soup

Sonja recently had the opportunity to talk with brothers, authors, and engineers Jim (James) and Frank Hofer about their book, Duck Blood Soup, and how their passions inspired their writing. Don’t forget to enter the contest to enter a copy of their book for Kindle!

~Hofer Brothers and Writing~

How did you two decide to write together?

Contest! Guess the breed of Frank’s dog for your chance to win a copy of Duck Blood Soup.

Jim:  Frank and I started blogging at about the same time and would interact with each other a lot through blog comments. For some reason, we were talking about tabloid magazines one time, and thought it would be fun to do a tabloid website, similar to the Onion, but the Onion wasn’t well known at that point.

Frank:  From 2003 to sometime in 2004, Jim and I wrote some blog posts we thought were humorous. We kind of lost interest and our half dozen readers were deprived of our wit.

Jim:  It was a good creative outlet for us, but it eventually ran its course. I suggested that we team up to write a novel. We could either do his favored genre Sci-Fi or mine, Fantasy. He opted for Fantasy, but on the condition that we didn’t do Sword and Sorcery.

Frank:  I guess Sword and Sorcery is a negative influence for me. If we wrote a fantasy novel, we would stay away from clichés. I suggested “Muskets and Magic” with the technology from around the industrial revolution.

Jim:  I was a little worried that we couldn’t write descriptive and exciting battles with muskets but agreed to try.

What’s it like to work together on stories?

Jim:  It is a lot of fun to write together. It’s kind of like a big tandem story.

Frank:  Jim and I live about 1500 miles apart, so together is a relative term. We set up an FTP site where we keep draft documents. Our emails to each other are usually very terse “chapter 2 back to you” sorts of things.

Did you ever want to re-write something your brother wrote?

Jim:  We would constantly rewrite each other’s stuff. One of us takes the first stab at a chapter, turns on change tracking, and the other one edits it. It passes back and forth until someone flags it a “Clean”, meaning that all of the changes have been accepted.

Frank:  Inside the chapter files we have our notes and edits to each other. Our notes are enclosed in brackets and edits are highlighted as document changes in MS word. Our bracketed comments might be about plot inconsistencies, actions a character might take based upon their personality, directions for new plot lines, and so on.

Jim:  Of course there were many instances where one of us would mark it clean, the other would have a revelation, and the process would restart.

How did you feel when your brother critiqued your work? No sibling rivalry?

Frank:  We both come from technical professions where everything we do goes in front of peer reviewers who critique our work. We also critique other engineer’s designs and code. We know how to give criticism and how to receive it. We never take a comment as a personal attack. We want the book to be as good as possible.

I think the end result is that we have a book where you can’t tell who wrote what part. There are some parts that I know I did the first draft like the food, the national colors for the two countries, and Jeunelux’s dream for example. Some ideas that I know are Jim’s: paper trees, dragon flies, the giants attacking a town, and anything with Vilmish. But for at least 75% of Duck Blood Soup, I don’t remember who did the first draft and who did what revisions.

How long did it take to write this book?

Frank:  I don’t remember exactly. A year for the first draft, maybe?

Jim:  And then lots of tweaking from test reader feedback.  We’ve both have jobs that pay actual money so writing is still a hobby.

Jim:  Getting it onto Amazon took several years, because we kept trying to get an Agent and go the traditional route. Plus personal life and paying jobs got in the way.

Frank:  We’re currently working on the second book. There are four or five first draft chapters that are ready for edits. I hope it takes less time to get a version ready for test readers. My hope is to have a solid draft of the whole book for them around August.

Jim:  This time we are taking a slightly different approach by trying to move the story along before polishing anything.

What influenced your writing the most?

Jim:  That is a tough question. There are writers I admire who I attempt to emulate. There are movies and books and games that send my imagination to strange places. Even the daily news could trigger a thought experiment that comes out in my writing. I had dinner a few nights ago with the parents of one of my daughter’s skating friends and immediately started thinking about the father as a potential character.

Frank:  I think one of the surprising influences on our writing is our software background. One of us once commented that we were doing the object oriented development process for Duck Blood Soup. We had chapter requirements, we knew the input conditions and what we wanted for output. Everything else was just implementation.

I think our engineering background also influenced our writing. We both want the technical details correct. We both write technical documents that need to be understood years from now. If I pick up a test procedure written 5 years ago, I better be able to understand what to do. Even if I wrote it, it has to have enough detail because I’m not going to remember what I intended back then. Clarity and word choice is important.

Do you work from an outline? Or does your story just evolve?

Jim:  We have basic plot points but it is up to the writer to get from one point to another. Some of my favorite chapters were character driven and completely unplanned in the original story arcs.

Frank:  But if the story changes and goes in a different direction, that’s okay. Sometimes the characters are going to do what they do.

Jim:  Jeunelux, Dramian, and Vilmish had major parts of their plot lines change based on character attributes they had developed. I remember sending emails to Frank saying things like, “There is no way Jeunelux is going to let this happen this way.” Din’s character traits changed his fate.

Frank:  Occasionally I pick up a draft of what Jim has worked on and I’m surprised at something he’s done. I usually go with it. So not only are we writing a story, we’re reading a new novel at the same time and trying to get what we write to sync up with it.

Other times we set up problems to be solved. For example, I designed the prison at Genderalt and Jim had to find a way to break in. The description in the book was the same that Jim had to work from. I didn’t give him any back doors or hints.

Ever disagree on where to take the story or character? Do you leave the result to chance? Paper rock scissors or dice?

Jim:  We have plenty of disagreements on stories, characters and text to keep or delete.

Frank:  I don’t remember any serious disagreements. The biggest disagreement on Duck Blood Soup was the order of the first three chapters.

Jim:  Most of the time the problems work themselves out, other times it’s a matter of who has the strongest feelings about it. No screaming fights or anything though.

Frank:  I’ve never cared for the part where Vilmish shakes himself like a dog coming out of a lake, but I left it in because Jim liked it and it wasn’t important enough for me to argue.

Some chapters go back and forth a dozen times before we get a clean version. We have the plot points set out, and sometimes the characters insist on doing things their way but there was never anything that threatened to derail the book. Living 1500 miles apart might help with that.

Did the story ever take a turn that you wished it didn’t take?

Jim:  There were two characters that I became very attached to while writing the book. In the original story arc, both died. Thankfully I saved one of them, but I couldn’t save the other. I have a story arc started for the character that survived.

Frank:  I don’t really remember the story going off in a completely unexpected direction. Sometimes the characters seem intent on doing their own thing but we adapted.

Jim:  My son has warned me not to kill off one of his favorite characters, which I almost killed him off in book one, so that was lucky.

Did you intend for this story to be a treatise on racism? Do you think it is?

Jim:  When we started building our world, we had to consider what prejudices from our world should carry over. Which should we ignore, and which should ones to flip on their heads.

Frank:  I wanted the prince to be somewhat of a bigot and I think we both figured that could be used to manipulate him. I kind of like how we used food so wildly different species could have something in common.

Jim:  Racism started as a useful plot mechanic, but when we tried to figure out why certain characters thought and felt the way they did, I think it turned into something more.

Frank:  It was never intended to be about racism, but when I started working on book two, I realized how much racism played a part.

How did you decide on the cover for your book? Who designed it?

Frank:  That’s a question for Jim because it’s a friend of his.

Jim:  I built the cover using a map that a friend of mine created for us. We have other ideas for covers that are more traditional, but my friend has a family life and a paying job too, so we went with this cover for now.

~Diving into Duck Blood Soup~

Why did you choose these four races? Of the four, which do you like the most?

Jim:  Frank is very good about pushing us away from clichés, so he immediately shot down the traditional Orcs and Elves along with Swords and Sorcery.

Frank:  Giants were the original non-humans. We needed rampaging behemoths to destroy a town.

Jim:  I told him that I couldn’t think of any books that looked at Giants being more than lumber thugs.

Frank:  Having them be sensitive artistic types came later. I really like how they turned out. I think Sangres were next. They were originally sneakier and deadlier but we wanted something different about them.

Jim:  The Sangres were probably because of my fascination with vampires but not sparkly ones. Although I did read those books.

Frank:  Having a stereotypical vampire was boring. We kept the blood drinking part, gave them some interesting powers, and tried to develop an ethical system for them that would be in direct contrast to how people think of creatures who dine on blood. I think the Sangres are my favorite.

Jim:  I think Frank came up with the S’rephs, the flying race.

Frank:  To me the S’rephs aren’t as well developed at the other races. We’re making them more well rounded in the second book and I like them a lot better.

If you could be any race in your story, which would you prefer? Why?

Jim:  A human wizard would be awesome, but since there’s only a small percentage of humans that are wizards, I would probably want to be a Sangre.

Frank:  Can I be a wizard? If not, then a Sangre. I like their philosophy and ethics. Heightened senses and strength from drinking blood is also a plus.

Jim:  Actually, choosing Sangre is almost cheating, because you could still experience what it was like to be any of the other races and even be a wizard if you so choose.

Is it easy to have a Giant for a friend? You know… do they actually fit in the doorway? Sit on a chair? Punch a hole in the roof by standing up too fast?

Jim:  It wouldn’t be easy, but I think it would be a friendship worth the effort. If your house isn’t built with Giant friends in mind, it might be best to meet outside.

Frank:  You would have to have some rooms to the proper scale. I think we mention that kitchens need to be modified if you’re going to have a giant for a chef.

Jim:  And you might want to be in a tree or on your roof, because they would feel awful if they accidentally stepped on you. I would worry most about the mood swings, and I certainly wouldn’t want to pick up the tab for dinner and drinks

Which character did you find the easiest to write or relate to?

Frank:  Groenendael. Whenever I talk to someone from a different culture, the conversation invariably turns to food. If something isn’t too far out there, I’ll try it. I think Groenendael is the same way, although I don’t know if I’d try duck blood soup.

Jim:  Jeunelux and Dramian were the easiest for me to write. For book two, I’m working on the Jeunelux chapters. I’m also digging into Chowmach’s head. It is an interesting and disturbing place.

Which character are you most like?

Frank:  I’m a foodie. So I’d have to say Groenendael.

Jim:  I kind of modeled Garimet off of my interactions with my daughters and nieces, but he is also based on my father-in-law.

Do you ever want to slap your characters for being silly?

Frank:  Vilmish needs to pull his head out of his rear, and in book two I suspect he’s going to get that pointed out more than once.

Jim:  I’d probably smack Beauceron at several points, but then I would likely get a death sentence.

There are several strong female characters. What’s the inspiration? Why female?

Jim:  Strong female characters were Frank’s idea, but once he suggested it, I ran with it.

Frank:  One of many reasons was Hermione Granger. I thought she was far more interesting and competent than Harry and I’d rather read a book about her. When we started writing Duck Blood Soup, one of the positions going in was that we wouldn’t have traditional, rigid gender roles.

Jim:  There are plenty of strong females in my life: my wife, my daughters, my sisters, my mother, as well as my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law. Gender stereotypes and limitations really rub me the wrong way. My daughters and nieces are very intelligent people who could offer a lot to society. I try to let them know that they can choose whatever career they want, to ignore anyone who tells them otherwise and not let gender-biased influence hold them back.

Frank:  We didn’t want female characters who sat around waiting to be rescued or who were nothing more than decoration. We would have women in combat, in positions of authority, or out doing stuff while trying not to make a big deal that they were women.

I think writing Jeunelux was the hardest to write because neither of us has ever been a teenage girl. For the other female characters in the book, I could pull traits from women I knew in the military or at work.

Book two introduces a female lieutenant leading Petrev Avidita’s old combat unit. She was inspired by someone I learned about from the 1950’s radio show Tales of the Texas Rangers. I was so impressed with how a mousy little guy could order around a bunch of huge Texas Rangers and they would gladly take his orders that I grabbed his leadership, changed his gender and popped her in to the new book.

You’re stuck on an island and you can have two items plus one of your characters. Pick & why?

Frank:  All I need is Greoenendael. Then he could get us rescued.

Jim:  Can I have my smart phone and a solar charger? That way I have tunes, books and games. I’d take Tervuren for the conversation and the likelihood that he could come up with a way to get us off the island if we choose.

If you could play with any magic-tech device, what would you choose & why?

Jim:  I’ll have to come up with one in book two so I have a decent answer the next time someone asks this question.

Frank:  The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver. That would really be handy! I know that’s not in Duck Blood Soup, but that’s the device I want. Or a TARDIS. Yeah, make it a TARDIS.

~The Love of a Foodie~

Do you plan to name all the books in the series after food?

Jim:  Frank has proposed a working title for book two that involves food, but he’s indicated that he has a better title idea now. Maybe his response will tell us both.

Frank:  I don’t know. We have a working title for the second book but that’s probably going to change. The title Duck Blood Soup didn’t show itself until after the state dinner chapter.

What is your favorite meal in the book?

Jim:  I would have loved to have been at the state dinner. Unlike Beauceron, I would have eaten everything they put in front of me, and been looking longingly at the meals the other races received.

Frank:  That is a difficult question. I love the tomato soup with the frozen tomato sorbet in the middle. It’s been a long time but I believe it was prepared by Chef David Kinch of Manresa restaurant in Los Gatos California. Chef Kinch’s food was the inspiration for most of the gourmet dishes. Fans of Food Network’s Iron Chef America may have seen him destroy Bobby Flay in Battle Cabbage in 2009. It was one of the most lopsided victories in the history of the show.

Ever thought to include any recipes? If so, which?

Jim:  We have talked about it, although some of the dishes are ones that Frank has had at high end restaurants, so I don’t know if he could recreate them.

Frank:  I’ve heard that David Kinch is writing a cook book. I’ll leave that to him.

So, I guess they will not be writing a cookbook soon, but they did provide us with a link to some recipes. And, thanks so much to Frank and Jim for taking the time to do this interview.


~~ Enter the Giveaway! ~~

For your chance to win a Kindle copy of Duck Blood Soup, identify the breed of Frank’s dog from the pictured above!


Check out Sonja’s review of Duck Blood Soup.

Look at the handy Races & Character Glossary for Duck Blood Soup provided by Frank Hofer.

To find out more about the co-authors, James & Frank Hofer and their work, check out their website.