I was recently interviewed by Dorothy Thompson for Blogcritics Magazine.
You may read the full interview here.
Posted in Book Reviews, Interviews, News/Events, Events, tagged book reviewing, how to write a book review, interview, mayra calvani, the slippery art of book reviewing on November 26, 2008 | Leave a Comment »
Posted in Dark Fantasy, Dark Fiction, Horror, Interviews, On the Spotlight, Paranormal, Series, suspense, tagged amira press, c. a. milson, Horror, supernatural, the chosen on November 18, 2008 | 1 Comment »
Today my guest is author C. A. Milson, whose book, The Chosen, was recently released by Amira Press and will soon be translated into Russian. Milson has traveled extensively all over the world. His expeditions have taken him to such places as Australia, New Zealand, Russian, China, Japan and Canada. His second novel, Bloodline Of Darkness will be available in mid 2009. The Chosen and Bloodline of Darkness are the first two novels in his horror/supernatural trilogy.
1. What inspired me to write this book? The first inspiration for writing this particular story came to me in 1989, when I was living inMelbourne, Australia. The original story was titled “Shack of Evil”, a 9-page story based on the character of Jamiesonn. The story idea came from a Hobby tex picture my mother had on the wall of her apartment. After writing “Shack of Evil”, I went on to write an additional 25 short stories, all of different genres, including a children’s story. “Shack of Evil” would later become the base for what is now the trilogy of The Chosen, Bloodline of Darkness, and Prophecy’s End.
2. What was the hardest part of writing this? The hardest part is the re-writing of chapters and scenarios. No part of writing is perfect from the first sentence, as I will have an idea for a chapter, then when I have reviewed it I am likely to scratch that whole scene and go in a completely different direction. The other hard part is coming up with new ideas and concepts. There are times when I can sit in front of the computer for hours with no inspiration at all.
3. What’s your favorite scene? One of my favorite scenes in The Chosen is when Alex faces his nemesis for the last time. Alex has been annointed with supernatural power that even the forces of darkness sit back in awe. There is this one scene where he is thrown into the sea of fire, and.. well, I won’t say too much as that will give the plot away
4. What do you hope readers will say about your book? I hope my readers will say that they loved my novel and await for the second one to come out.
5. What’s next for you? Next for me is writing Bloodline of Darkness,which is the second in the trilogy in the life of Alex Manning – A man who is put in the middle of a spiritual conflict he otherwise wants no part of. Bloodline of Darkness is set seven years after The Chosen. Alex has forsaken his powers to live a “normal” life, and the forces of Tartarus have arisen to harvest the souls of humans and plunge the world into darkness. Alex once again must stand and save humanity but can he overcome the ever present darkness that also reigns in his own heart?
The Chosen is available through my website: http://authorcamilson.blogspot.com, as well as many other online retailers.
Thanks for visiting the Dark Phantom, C.A., and good luck with your books!
Posted in Historical, Interviews, The Holocaust, Virtual Book Tour Guests, tagged dianne ascroft, german history, germany, hitler and mars bars, ireland, Irish Red Cross, Operation Shamrock, war, world war 11 on November 13, 2008 | 2 Comments »
When did you decide you wanted to become an author?
Since I was a child I’ve always enjoyed reading. I rarely went anywhere without a book and I spent every free minute reading. I still carry a book with me wherever I go. My handbag must be big enough to hold a paperback as well as the rest of my ‘necessities’. If I get a spare minute my nose will be buried in the book. But, despite having a very active imagination, being an avid reader and enjoying essay writing at school, I never considered becoming a writer. I enjoyed reading others’ stories but didn’t have the desire to create my own.
I was in my thirties before I got the urge to write and it occurred to me that I might be able to do so. Then, for several years after the idea first occurred to me, I yearned to write but didn’t put pen to paper. I was busy with too many other activities. Finally, I was galvanised into action, in the spring of 1998, when I heard an advertisement for a Belfast radio station’s Annual Short Story writing contest. I decided to enter it. There was only one weekend left to submit my entry before the contest deadline so I got started immediately. I didn’t win but my story, The Contest, was short listed and read on air. That success encouraged me to continue writing. I wrote sporadically and without any clear purpose until 2002 when I enrolled in the Writers Bureau correspondence course. Having assignments to complete focussed me and helped me decide what I wanted to write. Now I fit in course assignments between my other writing. One day I may find time to actually finish the course!
Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.
‘Hitler and Mars Bars’ is the story of a German boy growing up in war-torn Germany and post war rural Ireland. Set against the backdrop of Operation Shamrock, a little known Irish Red Cross initiative which aided German children after World War II, my novel explores a previously hidden slice of Irish and German history.
Erich, growing up in Germany’s embattled Ruhr area during World War II, knows only war and deprivation. His mother disappears after a heavy bombing raid, leaving him responsible for his younger brother, Hans. After the war the Red Cross transports the boys to Ireland, with hundreds of other
German children, to recuperate from the devastating conditions in their homeland. During the next few years Erich moves around Ireland, through a string of foster families, experiencing indifference, brutality, love and acceptance in varying measures. Plucky and resilient, Erich confronts every challenge he meets.
Although my novel is fiction, it was inspired by the real events of the Operation Shamrock initiative. Several years ago I met a man who, as a child, had been brought to Ireland as part of the initiative and he told me his story. It was the first time I had heard of Operation Shamrock and his experiences piqued my interest. I wanted to find out more and I read any material I could find on the subject. I also watched an Irish television documentary about the German children’s experiences. There is very little written about the project so I searched for people who might remember it. I contacted people in communities that had hosted the children. I spoke to former evacuees, their foster families, their classmates, their neighbours and members of the clergy. Once I had collected all this information I wrote a non-fiction article for an Irish magazine, Ireland’s Own, about the experiences of one child who participated in the project. When the article was completed, I thought that was the end of it. I had satisfied my curiosity and put my new knowledge to use in my writing. I didn’t intend to do anything else with my research. But, after the article was printed, I still had images and impressions of the people and places swirling around in my mind. I couldn’t forget their stories. Brian D’Arcy, BBC broadcaster and journalist, when he reviewed my book, realised that the human stories were what moved me and captured my imagination. He wrote, in his review, that the book was ‘beautifully written with a strong human story running through it.’ Family members suggested that the information I’d uncovered could be moulded into a good novel. Initially I didn’t want to pursue it but, unable to forget the anecdotes and stories I’d heard, the idea grew on me until I had to create a fictional story that would bring their world to life.
Did your book require a lot of research?
Yes, there was a lot of research involved in writing this book. Although the book is set only sixty years ago, during the ten year period from the last few months of World War II to the mid-1950s, it was before I was born. So I have no memories of the era. I did a lot of background reading about the period in Germany and Ireland. They were very different countries – Germany a battle scarred, industrialised nation and Ireland a quiet, mostly rural place. I read general histories and also biographies. I asked people who had lived through the era to tell me what it was like. I needed to understand their values and goals as well as the practicalities of their lives. There were lots of details about life in Ireland to check, such as when electricity was installed in rural homes and when television broadcasts began, to avoid anachronisms creeping in.
As I’ve already mentioned, I did as much research as possible about Operation Shamrock. I spoke to people in communities that hosted the children – the former evacuees, their foster families, their neighbours, their classmates and the local clergy. I contacted the Red Cross for details about the initiative. I did background research about the region where the German portions of the book are set. The City Archives in Hattingen, Germany were very helpful. I wasn’t able to go to Germany to do my research but the archivist provided me with general information about the area and also the Children’s Home where the opening chapter is set. He sent period photos so I could see for myself what the area looked like. He also put me in contact with the company that owns the Children’s Home and they provided further information about the building.
In Ireland I did background research about several towns and villages, learning about the schools and churches where scenes in the story are set. I relied on history books for basic facts but I also contacted the organisations directly to add details. I visited each area where the story is set so I would have an overall impression of it as I was writing.
I had to familiarise myself with farming methods for the era as well as other aspects of daily life. Ireland and Germany, during that period, were two completely foreign worlds to me. Though it involved lots of work, I found the research fascinating and sometimes I had to pull myself away from it to write.
Describe your working environment.
I would love to lounge in a comfortable armchair with music blaring from the stereo (preferably classic rock or bluegrass) while I write but I’d never manage to put a single word on the page. So I have to reserve those activities for my leisure time. Instead, I write sitting at my computer in the spare room. Although I’m mostly self-taught, I’m at the stage where I type faster than I can handwrite (and much more legibly…) so it’s easier to get my ideas onto the computer screen. I print a hard copy to edit my work. Then I retire to the sofa to make the changes and corrections.
My ‘office’ is the spare bedroom. The computer is set up in one corner of the room and there is an old sofa against the opposite wall. So I don’t have far to go between writing and editing. There’s also a cd player and I play classic rock and folk ballads, turned down low. I can’t concentrate if the music is above a murmur; I would just hum along. My bookshelves are against the wall behind me so it’s a short walk when I need to refer to reference material. The window is beside the sofa and there’s a lovely view of rolling hills and fields. Hares, pheasants and foxes sometimes wander past. It’s just as well that I can’t see the view from my chair at the computer, without leaning over and craning my neck, or I would never be able to concentrate. I guess it’s fortunate that most of my writing time is after dark or I might never get any work done.
Do you work non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?
I edit as I write. I stop several times during each writing session and read what I’ve written, making changes and corrections as I go. I start each new session by editing the last couple pages that I wrote the day before. If I’m not satisfied with my previous work, I find it hard to move on until I get it sorted out. I guess I’m a perfectionist. So I sometimes have to force myself to just forget about any phrase or paragraph that is niggling me and move on or I’d never complete the first draft.
When it comes to writing are you an early bird or a night owl?
Although I’m an early riser, I’m more of a night person when it comes to writing. I’m usually busy with chores in the mornings before I leave for the office and don’t get a chance to write. Once it gets dark outside I can draw inside myself and conjure up the images I need to create my fictional world. I guess that’s just as well since most of my free time is in the evenings. I try to write for a couple hours most evenings after the household and farm chores are completed. I don’t stay up very late writing, though, as we have a small house and I would disturb other family members. It’s often a juggling act to balance my family and writing life.
What type of book promotion seems to work best for you?
‘Hitler and Mars Bars’ has been released for just over 6 months now so I’m still finding out what works best. But I know that personal recommendations are important. Nothing can beat them. Positive reviews and comments from others in the writing world and the media are vital for my marketing efforts. So, before I undertook any promotional activities, I sought reviewers. I received favourable reviews from many regional newspapers as well as a Belfast daily paper, The News Letter, and the BBC broadcaster and journalist, Brian D’Arcy. I quote from them in my publicity material; their comments have been very beneficial to my marketing campaign.
Since I’m doing the marketing myself, I have to approach it in manageable segments. I’ve been promoting my book in ever widening circles. Initially I concentrated on the counties of Ireland where most of the book is set. Now I’m widening the circle to include the rest of Ireland. I sent press releases to the media, especially the newspapers, to encourage them to write articles about the book. As soon as they printed articles I contacted bookshops and libraries in the area to offer the book for sale. The media coverage is crucial to arouse interest. Many people won’t buy a book if they haven’t heard of it. Even if they see it sitting on the shelf and it seems appealing, it won’t tempt them unless they are already familiar with it.
The internet is also very important to my promotion efforts. It gives me the opportunity to publicise the book to a much broader audience around the world than I would have direct access to. So I have a website, a blog and I am always willing to visit other sites to talk about ‘Hitler and Mars Bars’. And because the material stays on the internet indefinitely the entries on these sites will continue to publicise the book for me.
So I have found that a combination of targeting specific markets where the book is particularly relevant and also trying to reach the broader reading public is a good strategy for me.
What is(are) your favourite book(s)/author(s)? Why?
Writers who capture the humanity of their characters have the greatest impact on me. Some of these authors and books include Maeve Binchy’s ‘Light A Penny Candle’, Adriana Trigiani’s ‘Big Stone Gap’, Jodi Picoult’s ‘Plain Truth’ and Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’ series. These authors create believable characters who I would like to meet in real life. The townspeople of Big Stone Gap in Trigiani’s books as well as Claire and Jamie in Gabaldon’s work are all people I feel that I know. I enjoy reading these stories because they bring the characters to life. They inspire me to aim for this in my own writing.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
I have both. Readers can learn more about my work; read excerpts and reviews; and order copies of ‘Hitler and Mars Bars’ on my website at www.geocities.com/dianne_ascroft. They can read my musings on writing and life as well as get details about my Virtual Book Tour on my blog, ‘Ascroft, eh?’ at www.dianneascroft.wordpress.com. The Book Tour continues until December 24. I hope your readers will drop by both sites and have a look around.
Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!
Posted in Mystery, Romantic Suspense, suspense, Virtual Book Tour Guests, tagged book covers, cover art, dream or destiny, gaslight publishing, lillie ammann, romantic mystery on November 11, 2008 | 18 Comments »
Authors who write for large New York publishers often don’t see the cover art for their books until the cover has already been printed. I’m fortunate that my small press publisher, GASLight Publishing LLC, allowed me to have input into the cover design of Dream or Destiny.
The cover designer submitted a great first draft. The body of a woman in a nightgown lay on her side on a hardwood floor, and the spine of the book looked like a blood-splattered door jamb. However, in Dream or Destiny, the victim was shot while lying on her back in bed, and there was no blood-splattered door jamb in the story.
I gave the publisher several suggestions, but the cover designer couldn’t find stock photos that would work with any of my ideas. He suggested several photo Web sites, but the publisher and I couldn’t find anything that fit the story. GASLight’s publishing plan didn’t include original artwork, but we all became increasingly frustrated with the cover. Now I understood why book covers don’t always match the contents of the books.
Although we always hear that you can’t judge a book by its cover, people do. Readers often choose books based on the author, published reviews, or recommendations from people they trust. Otherwise, customers in bookstores typically look at the front cover, then read the back cover blurb, and finally open the book and read a few paragraphs. The cover art, blurb, and opening have to capture readers’ attention or they will return the book to the shelf.
I help my clients who self-publish come up with the right covers for their books, and I wasn’t going to be satisfied with anything less for my own story. I talked to artist Aundrea Hernandez, who has created covers for several of my clients, and got a quote for original artwork for the cover illustration. Then I approached the publisher and offered to split the cost of the artwork. GASLight agreed, and I sent Aundrea an excerpt from the book. She sent us several sketches, and the publisher and I made suggestions. Aundrea kept refining the illustration until we all agreed it was perfect.
The vague and shadowy murderer Marilee envisioned in her dream, a smoking gun, and a bright splatter of blood occupy the top of the cover. Below the title and author name Marilee sits up in bed, eyes wide with the terror she felt on waking from her dream. The picture on the cover perfectly matches the opening scene of the story.
Does the cover of Dream or Destiny make you want to read the book? Do you have any cover art horror stories or any happy stories of perfect cover art to share? I’ll also be glad to answer any other questions you might have. Just leave a comment, and I’ll be back to answer later in the day.
Lillie Ammann is on a blog book tour for her second novel, the romantic mystery Dream or Destiny. You can read reviews, a free excerpt, and the tour schedule on her Web site. As a freelance writer and editor, Lillie specializes working with self-publishing authors. She blogs books, authors, writing, editing, and publishing at A Writer’s Words, An Editor’s Eye, where she covers. She and her husband Jack live in San Antonio, Texas.
About Dream or Destiny: Marilee Anderson dreams about a murder and wakes to find it really happened. She and David Nichols, the victim’s brother, become the prime suspects. Though they have their secrets and aren’t sure they can trust each other, Marilee and David team up to find the killer in this psychic suspense.
Your hair is getting white, you’re losing muscle tone, you wish gravity didn’t exist so wrinkles wouldn’t take hold of your face, menopause is finally kicking in – really kicking in. Is it the end, or the beginning of great things to come?
Authors Diana Black, Mary Cunningham, and Melinda Richarz Bailey share their experiences — sometimes sad, sometimes joyful, sometimes funny — about their road ‘downhill’. Or is it really to middle age? They also share their dreams and realizations about life and what it really means to be 50.
WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty is a combination of short personal essays, poems, and witty quotes that will touch your heart and enlighten your mind about the aging process. At the end of each chapter the authors invite readers to write their own experiences and thoughts, so you may want to have a pencil or pen in hand as you read.
Bad hair days, chocolate (and expanding waistlines!), dogs, the menopause (flashing!), being a woman, cell phones, and computers are some of the topics covered in the book. Take a look at this short segment on the powers of chocolate:
Seriously, how could something so rich and luscious;
something that can make most grown WOOFers lie, cheat
and steal; something that can, with one delicious, melt-in-your-
mouth morsel bring a menopawsal, endorphin
deprived, raving lunatic back from the brink of insanity;
be bad for you?
Oh, don’t pretend you don’t know what we’re talking
about. Who hasn’t searched underneath the sofa cushions
in January for a stray piece of Halloween candy?
And of course, every WOOFer over 50 must have a WooFer name. In the book, Diana Black is ‘d. d. dawg’, Mary Cunnigham is ‘Milkbone’, and Melinda Richarz Bailey is ‘Mad Dog’. Towards the end there is a list of names with their behavioral characteristics, so you can choose the one that best suits the WOOFer in you.
WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty is a light, humorous, entertaining, and certainly uplifting read. I finished reading it in two hours. Many of the segments are hilarious and made me laugh out loud – and mind you, I’m not 50 yet. This little book would make a great Christmas or birthday gift to anyone who loves a good laugh, but especially to those Woofers over 50.
For those interested, the authors have formed a club for WOOFers: www.woofersclub.com
And there’s also a blog: www.woofersclub.blogspot.com.
Posted in Articles, Romantic Suspense, The Writing Craft, The Writing Life, Virtual Book Tour Guests, tagged congo, dave donelson, diamond smuggling, heart of diamonds, romantic thriller, suspense on November 5, 2008 | 1 Comment »
As a journalist, I try mightily to verify my facts, source all opinions, and present both sides of every issue. Quite frankly, making sure my magazine feature stories are grounded in fact is as important as stringing together the right words to tell them. I try to use the same discipline when I write fiction. Even the genesis of Heart of Diamonds, my romantic thriller about diamond smuggling in the Congo, was subject to rigorous fact checking.
The concept for Heart of Diamonds sprang from an article in Time Magazine about the cozy relationship between Pat Robertson, the famous American televangelist, and Mobutu Sese-Seko, the dictator who raped the Congo for more than thirty years. When I found out Robertson owned diamond and gold mines and timber concessions in the Congo—making profits from what amounted to slave labor, no less—Heart of Diamonds was born.
Before I went deeper, though, I checked out the original Time Magazine article and found other reputable news sources that confirmed the basic facts. The Robertson-Mobutu connection was quite real. Mobutu, as you might recall, was essentially put in office by the CIA. He ran the country (which he renamed Zaire) with an iron fist while he and his minions stole literally billions of dollars. He also had one of the worst human rights records in Africa, which is saying a lot.
You wouldn’t think Mobutu and Pat Robertson would have a lot in common, would you? Robertson is one of the most successful evangelical preachers of all time. He founded the 700 Club, ran for President of the United States, and has millions of followers who subscribe to his version of Christianity. Doesn’t sound much like the makings of a buddy movie.
But it could have been. Encouraged by Mobutu, who controlled everything in the country, Robertson was deeply involved in money-making ventures in the Congo. The Time article reported that one time in the late 1980’s, Robertson and his wife and their entourage were flown from Paris to Kinshasa on one of Mobutu’s personal Boeing 707s. Once in Zaire, Mobutu personally took them on the presidential yacht on a ride up the Congo River to visit one of his estates.
In addition to a relief program in the Congo, Operation Blessing, Robertson had a private concern called the African Development Company, which made investments in mining, lumber, agriculture, transportation and power generation, supposedly with an eye to plowing the profits back into humanitarian efforts. One of those investments was a diamond mine in a small town south of Tshikapa near the Congo’s border with Angola. That’s where I placed the diamond mine in Heart of Diamonds.
One of the men who ran ADC for Robertson was Bill Lovick, a former minister who had been dismissed by the Assemblies of God church in 1985 for questionable fund raising practices. Readers of Heart of Diamonds may find similarities between these men and some of the characters in the novel, notably televangelist Gary Peterson, the missionary Thomas Alben who runs the diamond mine, and Moshe Messime, the President of the Congo.
As I read more and more about these guys and the things they were doing in the Congo in the name of Jesus Christ, the more fascinated I became with the potential for a novel. Heart of Diamonds obviously isn’t their story—the smuggling scheme, the connection to the White House, the U.S. military involvement, and so on are completely fictional. But there is a basis in fact.
In addition to researching Pat Robertson’s escapades, I did a ton of reading about the Congo, it’s history, politics, flora, fauna, and people. The truths I read threatened to make my fiction seem tame.
I studied everything from 19th century tales of exploration and the cruelties of King Leopold’s colonization to the MUNOC reports on violence in North Kivu Province, from missionary accounts from the 1970’s to news reports on the excesses of Mobutu’s regime. I compiled several thousand pages of notes on events as real as they could be, let them percolate through my brain, and then I wrote Heart of Diamonds, a work of “fiction.”