Author Interview ~ Fran Clark

Today SSV welcomes Fran Clark, a professional singer and songwriter, and now the author of Holding Paradise – a novel of mother, daughter, and their search for connection. Fran was born and currently lives in West London. She is studying for a Creative Writing MA at Brunel University. Recently, she released her second album of original songs. She is now working towards the completion of her second novel. Fran talked to me about her novel and her writing.


Fran, please tell us about your book and where you got your inspiration for it? Why did you feel you had to tell this story?
Holding Paradise is about love, trust, betrayal. It explores relationships and takes us from the Caribbean to London and back again. I was inspired by my mother’s stories about life in the Caribbean that I compared to that of someone raised in London, as I was. That sparked an idea about the lives of two women from different worlds.

What did you enjoy the most about writing it?
I think the thing that was most satisfying was my relationship with the characters. They lived with me for almost three years – the time it took me to write it. I watched them grow and they helped me move the narrative along into places I may not necessarily have planned.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or is it all imagination?
In some respects, there are similarities, but I would have to say that it was important to infuse more imagination into the story than real life. Who wants to read about real life anyway? Most of us are pretty boring. A novel is a place to escape real life.

What do you think about research? Did your book require lots of it? How do you research?
I recently wrote a post about research. I think it is absolutely necessary if it adds to the authenticity of your story. As writers we need to achieve a believable sense of time, place and setting. Imagination alone is not always going to get you there. If historical detail is needed then you need to get your facts straight. Holding Paradise did not need a lot of research, and I was able to find answers by talking to family and reading up on the time the novel is set. Research can be very exciting but you don’t want your fiction to sound like a history book. Making the researched material flow into the narrative is important.

Have you ever hated something you wrote?
Well hate is a strong word but I certainly disliked many attempts at writing along the way. I write short stories and some of them should never see the light of day. I have two novels filed away on my laptop that I’m sure I will never resurrect although I may borrow some of the better ideas within them some day.

What are some things you learned from writing this book?
Mostly I learned that I love to write. I haven’t always wanted to be a writer. I am a singer-songwriter, and music has always been my passion. I’m happy when I’m making music and can’t imagine my life without it. And that is exactly how I feel about my writing now too.

What do you think about editors: writers’ best friends or necessary evil? What was your experience with editors?
Yikes – don’t get me started.  Pretty sure I’ve written a post about this on my blog too! Firstly I have to say editors are completely necessary. All top writers have them and so should all the rest of us. I get tired of reading awful grammar and typos in books. Those writers who feel they don’t need them are mistaken. Writing is a lonely job but to make your writing really work you need to bring in expert help. I didn’t always see eye to eye with my editor about some of the changes he wanted to make but with compromise we worked it through and he absolutely improved on a few aspects of my writing.

What’s next? What are you working on now?
I’m in the middle of writing my second novel. Unfortunately it is taking a bit of a back seat because of family commitments and the heavy workload from my Creative Writing MA. But I intend to finish it this year. Lots of research is needed for this story, so I need to get stuck in and get it written. I’m really looking forward to completing it – having a second novel will make me feel truly initiated into the title of writer.

What is your writing environment (a quiet room, a coffee shop, loud music, etc)?
I usually need as much quiet as I can get. I sometimes write late at night when everyone else is tucked up in bed or in the early hours of the morning when everyone else is still asleep. As a bad sleeper this tends to work for me. But it must be said that I can lose myself in my writing and whether I have music playing softly in the background, or the television is loud in the room next door, I can click away at the keys and not notice anything else.

When did you first tell yourself: I’m a writer?
That didn’t happen until I let other people read my work. The feedback I got from the first readers of Holding Paradise was very encouraging but it wasn’t until I paid for a professional critique. After I read the report I thought, ‘Hey, a professional has read this and didn’t laugh out loud.’ It was a positive report and to have someone I didn’t know speak about my work like that made me want to pat myself on the back: I had arrived.

Are you scared of sharing ideas – so nobody could steal them?
That has never really occurred to me. It is often said that there are no new stories or plots and in many respects that’s true. The important thing is the telling of the story and that’s what sells books. I focus on my storytelling and making sure I’m writing something that is worth reading. That’s all I can do. If someone has to steal ideas, then that’s pretty sad, don’t you think?

What do you do when a new idea pops up in your head while you’re working on something else?
Notebooks. The writer’s friends. Jot all your ideas down. You can come back to them anytime and by recording it you’ll never forget the idea. But there is no problem with writing more than one story at a time. Some writers prefer to work that way while others find they have to focus on one. I’m a multi-tasker but I don’t think I could work on two novels at once. I can fit in the odd short story and my assignments for University but that’s about all. That’s more than enough if you want to do your writing justice.

What tips do you have for aspiring writers?
Just start. Be dedicated and persevere. There will always be difficult times and times when you feel you are writing rubbish. But that’s what editing is for. As long as you are passionate about your story then the ideas will come. See if you can finish the whole piece, that is do a complete first draft, without the input of others. When you get to second draft stage, then get opinions as those can sometimes help you improve your writing. Trust your own opinions too. Don’t assume that because someone doesn’t like something about your story that it is wrong. Writing should never feel like hard work. I’ve spent some really happy times just tapping away on my laptop.



Holding Paradise

On a grey and miserable morning in 2008, London businesswoman Angelica Ford boards a plane and flies off to the blues and greens of her mother’s island in the Caribbean. Angelica is desperate. She is looking for a way to save her marriage and win back her daughter. A web of lies has torn a hole into her seemingly perfect world and she is convinced that only her mother, Josephine Dennis, can help her turn her life around.

Josephine Dennis arrived in England by ship on a cold winter morning as a young mother joining her husband. She weathers a lifetime of secrets and betrayal, as she raises her family in 1960s London. A matriarch with strong family values, she told her children colorful stories to guide them through life. It is the wisdom of one of these stories that Angelica seeks. Josephine has one last story to tell – the story that could change both of their lives.


Fran will have her online book launch on Friday April 25 on her website, from 9am to 9pm GMT. See details on her blog to sign up for the party and a chance to win a copy of Holding Paradise. You can also view the book trailer on Youtube.


Giveaway: The Swashbuckler Contest

The Swashbuckler Contest

Book Giveaway ~ Starts 12/9 & Ends on 12/13

Swordplay features heavily in The King’s Sword, so in honor of C.J. Brightley’s Author Interview & Review, we are proud to introduce the Swashbuckler Contest.  Who is your favorite sword wielder (or wielder of a swordlike weapon)?  What is it that makes this swashbuckler your favorite?


Ms. Brightley agreed to kick off the contest by sharing her favorite.

C.J. Brightley’s favorite sword-wielder:  Sir Percival Blakeney aka The Scarlet Pimpernel. He’s brave, passionate, and selfless. He takes on the persona of a simpleton in order to continue rescuing people from the guillotine incognito. He’s a hero and a natural leader. In the Scarlet Pimpernel books, he doesn’t use his sword much, although he’s quite skilled. I was first introduced to him through the 1982 movie starring Anthony Andrews as Percy, Jane Seymour as Marguerite, and Ian McKellan as Chauvelin, and near the end is a fantastic sword-fighting scene, complete with fashion jibes. Second (but only by a hair) is Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, because he’s awesome.

Pick out your favorite swashbuckler and share it with us on Silk Screen Views!


Contest Rules:   12/09/13 – 12/13/13

  1. You must follow Silk Screen Views by WordPress or Email.
  2. Add a Comment Below with the Following Information:
    1. Your Name
    2. Email Address
    3. Your Favorite Swashbuckler
    4. Describe the Swashbuckler
    5. Tell us why you choose this sword wielder.
    6. If you can, a link to the swashbuckler’s picture.
  3. Leave a comment for C.J. Brightley or Silk Screen Views on the C.J. Brightley Author Interview & Review.
  4. Winner/s will be Announced:  12/14/13
  5. Enjoy the Author Interview & Reviews! Links are posted at the end.
  6. Thanks for joining us!



There are three chances to win!

We are giving away 1 signed paperback and 2 electronic copies of a King’s Sword.


18138310Check out the latest addition to Silk Screen Views’ Author Interview & Review series! DarthVal recently sat down to chat with C.J. Brightley, author of the Erdemen Honor series.  Read the author interview and book review on The King’s Sword.

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.

The Alien Contest

The Alien Contest

International Book Giveaway

What’s your favorite alien? Is it the cutest alien ever created? A kickass monster from space? Do they live on Earth? Are they part of an invasion, a seduction, nefarious world domination, an unexpected ally or just an average schmo that wants to live in peace?

Harmless? Maybe…


Pick out your favorite alien and share it with us on Silk Screen Views!

You don’t have a favorite alien?!??! It’s not too late! Go search on the internet & make your choice! There are countless aliens to choose from:  books, comics, movies and more!


Contest Rules:   5/15/13 – 5/19/13

  1. You must follow Silk Screen Views by WordPress or Email.
  2. Add a Comment Below with the Following Information:
    1. Your Name
    2. Email Address
    3. Your Favorite Alien
    4. Describe the Alien
    5. Tell us why you choose the alien.
    6. If you can, a link to the alien picture.
  3. Leave a comment for Gini Koch or Silk Screen Views.
  4. Winner/s will be Announced:  5/20/13
  5. Enjoy the Author Interview & Reviews! Links are posted at the end.
  6. Thanks for joining us!



You have a choice!
Get a signed copy of one of the following books + extra goodies from the author.

  • Book 2 – Alien Tango
  • Book 3 – Alien in the Family
  • Book 4 – Alien Proliferation

   ~     ~  


Gini Koch

Check out the latest addition to Silk Screen Views’ Author Interview & Review series! Snarktastic Sonja and I are happy to have had a chance to talk to the author of the popular Katherine “Kitty” Katt series, Gini Koch. Read the interview and follow the links to SSV’s reviews on what I like to call the Triple K series.

Curious to find out more about the author? Check out Gini’s 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.