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Archive for June, 2008

I love hearing success stories from non-traditionally published authors, so it's my pleasure to introduce you to Tony Eldridge, whose novel, The Samson Effect, recently caught the eye of a major Hollywood producer. The circumstances are unusual, to say the least.  Readers may peruse the full press release here, but to make a long story short, the Hollywood producer's name also happens to be Tony Eldridge–the factor which made him check out the novel and eventually acquire the film rights. 

Congratulations, Tony. That's quite a story. Tell us about The Samson Effect.

My current book is the action/adventure novel called, The Samson Effect. New York Times bestselling author Clive Cussler called it a “first rate thriller brimming with intrigue and adventure.” It is about a biblical archeologist and an Israeli biblical linguist who are searching for evidence of the substance that gave Samson his great strength. However, there are a couple of enemies they have to avoid who want to find, and use, the substance for their own sinister purposes. In fact, the arch villain in the story is a Palestinian madman who wants to use the substance to create an army of soldiers with superhuman strength to fight a worldwide battle for Islam in the name of Allah.

Readers can read an excerpt of The Samson Effect at http://www.samsoneffect.com/excerpt.html.

I was a minister for ten years and I still fill the pulpit on occasion. One area of study that fascinated me centered on the stories found in the Old Testament, like the story of Samson. To me, neither Hollywood nor the New York Literary empires could churn out stories that are as intense, action filled and entertaining as the ones described in the Old Testament. Since I am an avid reader of thrillers and action/adventure novels, bringing the love of the Old Testament stories together with the modern adventure stories I love was a natural. I wanted to write The Samson Effect in a way that would not be considered Christian literature, but would appeal to the people who liked fast paced action books with a religious tie-in.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

I am definitely a stream of consciousness writer. The only planning I do is when I am mowing the yard or exercising. I will often think through the story, the plot or characters. But when I sit and write, I write with free-flow sessions. I did try to outline, but I never stuck with it. Don’t get me wrong. In a sense, there is some outlining that needs to go on. With me, I do a lot of thinking and letting my characters act in my overactive imagination. This is a type of outlining since I will refer back to my imagination and use it as a basis of scenes in the book.

From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?

It took about three and a half years from the time I wrote the first words of the first draft to the time a perfect bound copy rested in my hands. That included about 3 to 4 months of writing the book, about a year of revisions, and a of couple years to let it sit before I got busy in getting it published.

They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?

You know, I came into this knowing that negative criticism was a given for authors. I set my mind to view it as a badge of honor. Fortunately, I have yet to experience a bad review or comments (at the time of writing this). I have been in a couple of major market newspapers, many online review sites and I have a few amazon.com reviews, but, I know the negative comments will come. And when they do, I will pull up my favorite authors like Clive Cussler, James Rollins, or James Patterson. If you look at any great writer today, they all have their critics. And that’s normal I guess. We all deserve a way to express our opinions. And the author who one day appeals to every person will be in a very unique and lonely club.

Do you have any unusual writing quirks?

I do have one quirk that is somewhat interesting in this modern age. I have to write my first draft in long-hand. I then either type it into my word processor or I speak it in using voice recognition software. But here’s where it gets quirky: I have to use black ink only. I will use blue ink in a crunch, but it puts me in a foul mood until I get my black ink pen back. I have a box of pens with black in my office so I never have an excuse to be in a foul mood.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

I will often get to a point in a scene where I either can’t come up with the conclusion or everything I try sounds contrived or forced. Times like that I have to go on one of my inspirational mowing sessions or jump on the treadmill. Sometimes I just get in the car and drive, letting my creative juices run their own course. You would be surprised at how many times the “Eureka!” moment comes to me when I give my imagination full liberty to do what it wants to do. But for me, it only works when I am totally alone. You don’t know how many times I came home late because of writer’s block. Luckily, I have a very understanding and supporting wife.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Yes. Readers can learn more about The Samson Effect at http://www.samsoneffect.com. They can also keep up with current news, find out about new reviews, and enter contest. Currently, I have a contest going on where I am naming a character in my next book after the winner of the contest.

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

I am writing the next book in the series. The Hollywood producer who acquired the film rights to The Samson Effect has asked me for a synopsis of four books in the series, so hopefully I will be busy writing for a while. I want to thank you for the opportunity to let me share information about me and my book with you. If anyone has any questions for me, they can visit my website and click on the contact tab. The e-mail address goes straight to me.

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!

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The Book:

Murder is no respecter of persons…

Richard Hayward’s promotion and move from the big city life to the sleepy town of Burshill, England, has been shattered. Sir John Bury needs a murder solved.

The results of Richard’s investigation cause a ruckus when several ladies of a particular ‘class’ become part of the inquiry. As the facts begin to unfold, they not only amaze Richard, himself, and the community of Burshill, but extend all the way to the top brass of Scotland Yard.

Excerpt:

“Good Lord! Look at that fog. Hope it means another sunny day tomorrow. Now off to bed and don’t forget to say ‘Rabbits.’ First of April in the morning. In fact” – looking at the clock, “it’s almost that now.”

Richard disappeared upstairs to the bathroom, Ella to the kitchen. While she was washing the crocks and tidying generally, a slight frown marred her usually placid face. She was recollecting the recent conversation, dismissed out of hand Richard’s gloomy forebodings. Of course Kate would return sooner or later, but better sooner than later.

For a moment she even considered writing to the girl herself; delicately hint that Richard was missing her; but she shook her head reprovingly. “Don’t be an interfering old bag,” she admonished herself. “They must sort out their own problems.”

Pity though that his first few weeks in Burshill should have begun under such inauspicious conditions. She was tremendously proud of her son although wild horses wouldn’t have dragged such an admission out of her. Following his father’s footsteps in the Police Force, Richard’s advancement had been nothing short of spectacular. It was generally believed he was the youngest officer ever to have achieved his recent promotion to the rank of Detective Chief Inspector, and with his promotion had come Richard’s transfer to Burshill…

…So he’d come to Burshill but of course his reputation had preceded him. There was a certain amount of antagonism to overcome – human nature being what it is – but Ella had no doubt he’d cope. In a way, he became a bit more human to his fellows when he broke the bone in his leg, not from some heroic deed but slipping on a patch of hidden ice! She smiled at the thought of his discomfiture over that episode, hung the tea towel up to dry, switched off the kitchen light and prepared for her own exit bed wards.

At that moment the telephone bell rang. Ella nearly jumped out of her skin. By official request the phone had been left from the previous owners, so probably this late call was from some friend who didn’t know of the change of an occupier. Curiously she picked it up.

“Hullo?”

A man’s voice asked if she was Mrs. Hayward.

“Mrs. Hayward, senior,” she corrected him.

“Good evening, madam. May I speak to the Chief Inspector, please?”

Ella was a copper’s widow and a copper’s mother but at this moment the mother came uppermost.

“He’s in bed asleep,” she lied. The voice at the other end was polite but firm.

“I’m very sorry, Mrs. Hayward, but I’m afraid I must insist. This is urgent.”

Ella felt like telling him to go to hell. She knew she was fighting a losing battle. “Who are you?” she asked crossly.

“Detective Sergeant Findon from Burshill Police. Your son will know me.”

By this time Richard was at the top of the stairs in his pyjamas. “What’s going on?”

“A Detective, Findon or somebody, insisting on a word with you. I told him you were asleep.”

Richard frowned but came down to the phone.

“Hayward here. What’s the trouble?”

“I’m really very sorry to drag you out of bed, sir, but the Chief Constable wants to see you.”

Richard was incredulous. “What, now?” He glanced at his watch. “It’s past midnight. Look here, is this some kind of April Fool’s Day joke?”

Findon was shocked. “It most certainly is not, sir!”

A more human note crept into his voice. “I almost wish it was! Anyway, sir, my orders are to send a car for you right away. Sir John is at home and would like you to meet him there. Allowing for this perishing fog, the driver should be with you in about ten minutes.”

Ella was fidgeting about beside him. “Surely you’re not going out now!” she remonstrated.

“Afraid I’ve got no option, luv. The Chief Constable himself wants me right away so it must be something important. While I throw a few clothes on, will you be a dear and make me a strong black coffee? That blasted sleeping pill of yours is starting to work and I need my wits about me.”

… But before he’d had time to take more than a few sips of the scalding coffee, the police car was at the door. The fog, he noticed with relief, was much less dense. The driver introduced himself and they were off. Sir John Bury lived about ten miles outside the town.

*****

Copyright © Marjorie Owen,

All rights reserved, Vintage Romance Publishing, LLC

ISBN: ISBN: 0-9793327-5-3

Purchase from Amazon.

Learn more about Marjorie Owen

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Practitioners of Traditional Asian Medicine have used bear gall bladders and bile for 3,000 years. Yet it wasn't until the 1980's that the cruel, intensive 'farming' of bears began. Though there have been positive developments with the Vietnamese government recently, bear farming still takes place in other parts of Asia. It is estimated that at least 12,000 bears are trapped in these inhumane facilities inside tiny cages the size of their bodies and subjected to a lifetime of suffering and pain as their gall bladders are drained on a daily basis. In spite of the fact that there are a large number of natural and synthetic substitutes for bear bile, making bear farming needless, bears continued to be subjected to this inhumane treatment.

In this interview, Dena Jones, Program Manager for the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) US, talks about bear farming, the campaign against it, and what we can do to help these beautiful wild creatures from experiencing a lifetime of suffering.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions on this important subject, Dena. What is the origin of bear farming? When did this cruel practice begin?

Bear gall bladders and bile have been used in Traditional Asian Medicine (TAM) for some 3,000 years. During the 1980s, the practice of extracting bile from bears held captive for this purpose became popular in a number of countries in Asia. Since that time, the marketing of and resulting demand for bile products has led to the introduction of the intensive “farming” of these wild animals.

The number of bears on farms has increased dramatically in recent years. At present it is believed that there are approximately 7,000 bears held on farms in China, 1,400 in South Korea and 4,000 in Vietnam, although the actual number could be considerably higher than official figures suggest, particularly in China.

What countries are currently involved in this practice?

WSPAAs mentioned, bear farms are known to exist in China, Vietnam and Korea, but some low level of the activity also probably takes place in other Asian countries. While the scope of bear farming is limited to Asia, the killing of bears for their viscera and the commercial trade in bear parts is a global problem.

Due to the decreasing number of Asiatic black bears left in the wild, gall for use in TAM now also comes from American black bears, Polar bears, Sun bears and Himalayan brown bears. Bears in North America, for example, are killed illegally and their galls removed and smuggled out of the country for sale in traditional medicine shops in Asia.

What is the bile extracted from the bears used for?

Bear bile contains an active constituent known as Ursodeoxycholic Acid (UDCA), which on ingestion is believed to reduce fever and inflammation, protect the liver, improve eyesight and break down gallstones. The products of the bear parts trade can be divided into three categories: manufactured bile medicines, farmed bile powder and intact bear gall bladders. Intact bear galls are sold for the highest price. During a 2006 investigation conducted by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), a TAM shop in Los Angeles was found to be selling a single gall bladder for $2,800.

As a result of the growth of the marketing of bear bile and the bear farming industry in Asia, bear bile is now being added to many non-medicinal products, such as wine and shampoo.

Isn’t there a substitute that can be used in place of bile for those who practice traditional Asian medicine?

Yes, there are a large number of herbal and synthetic alternatives to the use of bear bile. WSPA has surveyed TAM practitioners asking them about herbs that have the same medicinal properties as bear bile. This has resulted in a list of many different herbs that have the same properties and can be used as alternatives to bear bile.

UDCA, the active ingredient in bear bile, can be made synthetically, and it is estimated that 100,000 kg of this substitute is being consumed each year in China, Japan and South Korea, and that global consumption may be double this figure. WSPA actively promotes the use of both herbs and synthetic UDCA to reduce the suffering of bears on bear farms and the poaching of bears from the wild.

What exactly happens to the bears in these farms?

WSPAExtraction of bile from bears differs between countries, although all techniques result in serious animal welfare problems. In China the procedure involves the creation of a tissue duct, or fistula, between the gall bladder and the abdominal wall. Bile is collected by inserting a rod through the fistula, which then drains the contents of the gall bladder. To prevent the fistula from closing up the wound must be constantly re-opened, usually once or twice a day. Bears have been seen with inflamed and bleeding wounds, open incisions for bile extraction and swellings in the abdominal area.

The most common method of bile collection in Vietnam involves the use of ultrasound equipment to locate the gall bladder. Once located a long syringe is inserted into the bear’s abdomen to puncture the gall bladder. The bile is then siphoned off into a collecting jar. In Korea the extraction of bile from live bears is illegal. Instead farmers breed bears and slaughter them in front of their customers to prove the authenticity of the gall bladder.

Many bears live in cages measuring around 1 meter wide, 1 meter high and 2 meters long. Bears have been observed to be wounded and scarred from rubbing or hitting themselves against the bars of their tiny metal cages, where they cannot stand up or easily turn around. Prior to being used for bile extraction, bear cubs in many farms are trained to perform tricks such as tightrope walking for the amusement of visitors to the bear farms. At three years of age they are operated on to be farmed for their bile.

Is bear farming, and the commercial trade in bear bile, legal?

Bear farming is illegal in Vietnam but remains legal in China and South Korea. Products containing bear bile can be legally sold within these countries. However, international commercial trade from bear farms is illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). CITES is an international agreement between governments aimed at closely monitoring and controlling international trade in endangered plants and animals.

The legal status of the trade in bear parts within a country depends on the wildlife laws of that particular nation. For example, in the U.S. interstate trade in illegally taken wildlife or products from wildlife is prohibited, and 34 states ban the sale of bear parts within the state. Unfortunately, poaching of bears continues, in part due to the inconsistency of state laws and the fact that 11 states allow the sale and 5 states have no laws related to trade in bear parts.

How does the practice of bear farming affect bears in the wild – in Asia and elsewhere around the world?

All eight species of bears on our planet are regulated by CITES because they are either threatened with extinction or may be threatened if trade is not restricted. Five of the species are listed on Appendix I of the CITES agreement, which prohibits all international commercial trade in these animals or in products from them. With 75% of the world’s bear species already threatened with extinction, preventive measures are needed to protect remaining bears from a similar fate. The trade in bear parts puts pressure on small, isolated bear populations in particular.

One of the most common arguments made by the bear farming industry is that farming bears reduces pressures on wild populations, thereby aiding their conservation. It is argued that if the demand for bear bile is met by farmed bears there will be no need to hunt or poach wild bears. However, there is no evidence to support this claim of beneficial protection, largely due to an almost complete lack of information on wild Asian bear populations, particularly in China.

What is WSPA doing to end bear farming?

WSPA is pursuing a variety of approaches to reduce both the supply and demand for bear bile around the world. Through investigations WSPA has helped to expose the cruelty of bear farming and the illegal trade in bear parts. WSPA conducted international undercover surveys of the illegal trade of bear bile products in 2000, and again in 2006. This research documented the extent of the trade in several western and Asian countries including the U.S., Canada, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The organization has lobbied governments to take a strong stand against the bear bile trade and bear farming and also promoted the use of herbal alternatives to bear bile. Celebrities, like comedic actor Jackie Chan, have been enlisted to bring the anti-bear farming message to audiences around the world.

Have there been any significant developments in the campaign?

In 2005 WSPA reached a landmark agreement with the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to establish a national task force to phase out bear farms in Vietnam. The agreement outlines the government plans for three main stages: 1) registering and micro chipping of all bears in captivity, 2) stopping the breeding of bears on bear farms and 3) enforcing the ban on the taking of bears from the wild.

WSPA has also funded the development of a bear parts detection kit to assist in efforts to enforce laws against the commercial trade in bears. The kits are currently being tested in Canada, Australia and the Netherlands, and plans are underway to trial the kits in Asia. Use of the kits will allow government officials to monitor the presence of bear bile in medicinal and cosmetic products and will help in determining the trade routes used to distribute bear bile products.

What can people do to stop bear farming in Asia?

Anyone using alternative medicine should ensure that they are not consuming products that contain bear bile (usually but not always identified by the word “ursus” on the ingredient list). Citizens or ex-patriots of Vietnam, Korea and China should communicate to government officials their desire that bear farming be phased out as soon as possible in these countries. Citizens of other countries can also help by asking their federal officials to encourage the Chinese and Korean governments to end bear farming.

What can teachers and parents do to teach children about these important animal welfare issues?

One of the best ways to address the mistreatment of animals is through improving human understanding of and attitudes towards them. One way to accomplish this is by encouraging the inclusion of humane subjects in educational programs. WSPA works across the education spectrum, from school age children to university students studying veterinary medicine and other sciences.

“IN AWE” is the WSPA program for 5 to 16-year-old school children, teachers, teacher trainers and curriculum developers. Working with governments, teachers and some of its member societies, WSPA has helped embed animal welfare into the school curriculum of several countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Information about WSPA’s humane education program is available at http://animal-education.org.

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An adjunct professor at the University of Central Arkansas and Arkansas State University, Dan Skelton is the author of three published works, Out of Innocence, The Human Element, and Boojum. His fourth novel, Renascence, which he just finished writing recently, blends elements of futurism and religion. Skelton was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions. 

Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?

I'm a native Arkansawyer (yes, yes, Arkansan, too) born in Conway. Educated at St. Joseph School and then at Arkansas State Teachers College; after that I earned an MA+30 in English at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and, ultimately, earned a doctorate in Higher Education from the University of Mississippi, Oxford. I have taught in high schools in Fort Smith, Springdale, and Morrilton with a brief stint with fourth graders at St. Joseph. From 1967 until 2002 I taught at Southern State College, which became Southern Arkansas University, where I worked my way through the ranks to full professor and Chair of the Department of Theater/Mass Communication.

I have one child, a daughter, who makes me endlessly happy and two beautiful, brilliant, and talented grandchildren, a girl and a boy.

When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

Probably at the age of four or five, when I first learned to read, but definitely by the time I got into the Freddy, the Talking Pig, series.

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

Voracious. I read everything and had no serious fixation on any one genre.

Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.

My latest effort is still in manuscript. I finished the first draft last night (6-21-08) at around midnight. It is called Renascence and concerns a teenage girl named Skye and her best friend, Bombsie. Both are mall rats and drug heads. They live in a futuristic society in which belief in God is considered a mental illness worthy of a "mind wipe" and the "elderly" are "transitioned" in their mid sixties. Through the efforts of Skye's grandmother, Grandee Purr, the girl's life is transformed.

The other books I have written tend toward the gritty and dark in content and language. I began to think that any positive message was being lost because readers, perhaps, could not see the forest for all the ugly trees, so I decided to write a book that was strong, pure, and straightforward. That I have done.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

I never create an outline. By the time I write, I have given a considerable amount of time to the story–beginning to end. If I know where and how it will end, I can get there. I trust my creative impulse to lead me. Some elements are transformed and rearranged in the writing because, in that mysterious process, forces do supersede the rational mind, always for the better in my estimation.

Did your book require a lot of research?

No, a minimal amount, unless you count a lifetime of experience and observation research.

What was your goal when writing this book?

I wanted readers to appreciate the fact that God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit constantly seek to participate in our lives, that all of us caught in a mundane quotidian have the opportunity to cooperate with the supernatural and bring forth good out of apparently wasted and barren lives. Maybe just to present God's love, God's presence, God's availability, to establish that we humans are the body of Christ: arms, legs, eyes, etc., and that if good is going to be done for those in need, it will come through people cooperating with the spirit of God.

Who is your target audience?

Mostly teenage girls and women from as young as the middle grades, possibly, all the way up to include college students. Actually, I believe more mature women will like it also because the point of view shifts about between the girls and the older women. I'm hoping there will be no age barriers.

What will the reader learn after reading your book?

Who can really say? I hope they will learn that in the words of an old hymn, "there is no other way than to trust and obey," or that, as Whitman would have it, "The keelson of creation is love."

What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?

Certainly I synthesize things out of my experiences and so I suppose that puts me in the Hemingway camp as opposed to someone like Arthur C. Clarke.

Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is?

Some of my best thinking comes when I am taking walks or doing some task that allows me to function with my mind "out of gear," so to speak. As I automatically walk or drive or work at a chore, my thoughts can range about freely. When they do, they provide me an image, a line, a concept, or they connect up notions I have idly considered before. Next thing you know, hunks and slabs of story line come poking through to the surface.

Do you get along with your muse? What do you do to placate her when she refuses to inspire you?

So far, she has been generous. I am the one who resists, if I am in a funk over some real or imagined stress or failure in the material world. When that happens, I can block out communication for quite a while. She is patient with me, waiting until she finds a chink in my armor of obstinacy, whereupon she rushes in with some enticing nugget of possibility.

From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?

Eight months to twelve or fourteen months.

Describe your working environment.

Word processor–My! How that invention has freed me–and silence.

What type of scenes give you the most trouble to write?

Scenes of passion. It is so easy to overwrite. Francis Irby Gwaltney, Arkansas novelist and one of my early mentors, cautioned me about always trying to "rip your reader's guts out." I understood his point but realize that I am often still guilty of that error.

Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?

I do edit as I go along; however, there remains a great deal to do in that department even after the first draft has been completed.

They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?

I've had some negative comments from "strangers," though nothing that was too scathing. Truthfully, it hurts, but I try to keep a level head; I pray about it, and, ultimately, try to learn from it. If that sounds "saintly," it really isn't. There's agony enough in the process, believe me.

As a writer, what scares you the most?

Hmmm! Nothing really, although I have been given moments of pause upon considering the possibility of giving scandal or leading some infirm mind and will astray.

When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?

Love, duty, hope, responsibility. I think the culture we live in has neglected those, cultivating instead Lust, a sense of separation, despair, and irresponsibility.

Are you a disciplined writer?

I think so. At this point, I have three published novels and four yet to be published manuscripts so, if I'm not disciplined, I am productive.

How do you divide your time between taking care of a home and children, and writing? Do you plan your writing sessions in advance?

I don't plan my writing sessions in advance other than anticipating a weekend or a holiday period as a great opportunity. I function as a soccer grandpa; I help clean the house and work on the lawn, mind the kids as needed and run the usual assortment of errands. My writing, of necessity, comes after those needs are seen to, which means some late night work and snatched times on weekends.

When it comes to writing, are you an early bird, or a night owl?

Night owl, unless I have to teach the next day.

Do you have an agent? How was your experience in searching for one?

Yes. My agent is Mindy Phillips Lawrence of MPL Creative Resources; she is also my publicist.

My experience in searching for an agent parallels that of searching for a publisher–in a word, frustrating.

Do you have any unusual writing quirks?

Yes. I constantly punctuate by inserting three periods of ellipses, which vexes Mindy somewhat. Other than that, I'm sure I am a model of writing purity and saintliness.

What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?

My opinion is use them if you must. Some people need instant feedback, but, of course, what they want is instant praise. If that bolsters one, fine. If the comments grow snide or biting, check out of that place immediately.

As a young fellow, I rushed with writing hot in hand to teacher, parents, librarians, etc, asking "What do you think?" Mostly they were kind and helpful but, at some point, I came to realize that there was no ultimate arbitration, merely opinions and I lost the need to have myself validated. Now, I do what I do; if you like it, fine; if you don't, well, this is what I do.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

Yes, but almost always because I have allowed a case of Poor Little Old Me to overcome my industry. "Oh, I'm not good. I'll never amount to anything. No one's ever going to publish me." Etc,etc. What normally unleashes me is reading or going back to work again.
Sometimes, it is possible that a writer simply needs a small vacation in order for the internal computer to reset.

Technically speaking, what do you have to struggle the most when writing? How do you tackle it?

Keeping the dialogue believable, interesting and yet moving the scene along.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

Vexation! Frustration! Hair Tearing! Try to tell yourself it's not personal and keep on plugging away.

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

I don't know this for a fact but I'm betting if you sell yourself well, your books will move off the shelves quicker.

Who are your favorite authors? Why?

Oh, so many . . . Norman and Norris Mailer, Donna Tartt, Robert McCammon, Preston & Childs, Koontz, Anne Easter Smith, the fellow who wrote SARUM (Edward Rutherfurd), Thomas Wolfe, Tom Wolfe, Faulkner, Walker Percy, Reynolds Price, etc.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Find your own voice; stop trying to be Wolfe or Faulkner or anyone else.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Yes. About all you have to do is Google Dr. Dan Skelton.

Do you have another book in the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

Having just finished Renascence, except for edits, I am in a free wheeling state for the moment. I have a strong interest in the horror/supernatural and have been toying with dealing with Chupacabra or some other crypto-zoological creature.

As an author, what is your greatest reward?

Well, it's certainly not money. Probably having someone who is a total stranger find a way to tell me that what I wrote deeply affected them.

Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?

Only that I remain hard at work and hope that those of you who recognize my name from this source will give me a look-see the next time opportunity arises.

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!

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Gulp!
By Gabriella Goddard
Author’s Website: www.gulptime.com
Watch the trailer here.

Do you have a dream, yet are afraid to take the necessary steps to make it a reality? Do you have misgivings about taking that first step toward achieving your goal? Do you often fantasize about leaving your job or starting your own business, but freeze at the possible consequences? If you answered yes to some of these questions, you might consider getting a copy of this book.

The author, an executive coach and motivational expert, takes you step by step into the process of planning to reach your goals, from recognizing the pivot points in your life, to understanding what triggers your fears, to stepping out of your comfort zone, to cultivate the calm mindset necessary to overcome any challenge. The book is divided into 7 days (or chapters): Dare and Defy, Breakdown and Breakthrough, Center and Connect, Imagine and Invent, Plan and Prepare, Focus and Flow, and Gulp and Go.

In the tradition of such works as The Artist’s Way and Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, Gulp! is an inspiring and uplifting book. I found the prose engaging and a pleasure to read. Goddard’s style is warm, straight forward, and friendly. There are ‘wisdom’ quotes spread throughout, exercises at the end of each chapter, and many tips and practical advice. Though the program is meant for a week, it may also be followed on a weekly basis, thus finishing the program in 7 weeks. Though one could argue that the ideas and advice found in this book are also found in similar books on the same subject, I believe Gulp! is a fine addition to any self-help shelf.

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Hi all,

Some news about Amazon:

https://community.hsus.org/campaign/US_2008_amazon_fighting4?

If you’re an animal advocate and would like to help further, you can send a message to Amazon’s CEO (using the link above) urging him to stop selling material that promotes illegal animal fighting.

Thanks,

Mayra, aka The Dark Phantom

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Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel
by Phyllis Zimbler Miller
Women’s Fiction

They had their whole lives to look forward to – if only their husbands could survive Vietnam. In the spring of 1970 – right after the Kent State National Guard shootings and President Nixon’s two-month incursion into Cambodia – four newly married young women come together at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, when their husbands go on active duty as officers in the U.S. Army.

Different as these four women are, they have one thing in common: Their overwhelming fear that, right after these nine weeks of training, their husbands could be shipped out to Vietnam – and they could become war widows.

Sharon is a Northern Jewish anti-war protester who fell in love with an ROTC cadet; Kim is a Southern Baptist whose husband is intensely jealous; Donna is a Puerto Rican who grew up in an enlisted man’s family; and Wendy is a Southern black whose parents have sheltered her from the brutal reality of racism in America.

Read MRS. LIEUTENANT to discover what happens as these women overcome their prejudices, reveal their darkest secrets, and are initiated into their new lives as army officers’ wives during the turbulent Vietnam War period.

Purchase the book.

About the author…

Former Lieutenant Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the co-author of the Jewish holiday book Seasons for Celebration and the author of a success guide for teens. In this interview, Miller talks about her latest book, Mrs. Lieutenant, for which she's touring the blogopshere this month of June.

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Hi all,

Book Reviewing Month continues….

My two latest guests are Sharyn McGinty of In the Library Reviews and
Katie McNeill of Katie’s Reading.

Sharyn McGinty is the Print Review Coordinator of In the Library
Reviews, a review site also featuring author interviews, spotlights,
and contests. Started in 2002, the site reviews books and ebooks in
most genres, including Christian and inspirational titles…

http://blogcritics.org/archives/2008/06/16/071327.php

Katie McNeill writes reviews for Blogcritics Magazine and her own
blog, Katie’s Reading. She specializes in what she loves to read,
paranormal books — from horror to dark fantasy to paranormal romance.
She also writes a weekly column for Blogcritics called “Beyond
Bounds: The Paranormal and Fantasy with Katie.” If you’d like your
book reviewed by Katie, visit her blog and drop her an email. In this
interview, she talks about the influence of reviews and she also
compares reviewers who write nasty, mean reviews to playground
bullies seeking attention…

http://blogcritics.org/archives/2008/06/17/152613.php

I invite you to leave a comment under the interviews for a chance to
win some great prizes on July 2nd.

1st Prize: a Pump Up Your Book Promotion Virtual Book Tour (Bronze
Package Plan, coordinated by book publicity guru Dorothy Thompson),
OR, as an alternative to a non-author winner, a $50 B&N gift
certificate!

2nd Prize: a one-year subscription to ForeWord Magazine.

3rd Prize: a T-shirt with the cover art of The Slippery Art of Book
Reviewing on the front.

More details at Slippery Book Review Blog.

Thanks!
Mayra

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A teacher, writer and psychotherapist, Mathias B. Freese is the author of two books, The i Tetralogy and Down to a Sunless Sea. His fiction has appeared on numerous prestigious publications. His short story, "Herbie," was listed in The Best American Short Stories of 1974 along with the works of I.B. Singer, Joyce Carol Oates and Norman Mailer. Readers may read my review of Down to a Sunless Sea on my blog, The Dark Phantom Review. In this insightful, fascinating interview, Freese talks about his writing and the force behind it.

It's nice to have you here today, Mathias. Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?

Teacher, writer and psychotherapist, I have written for forty years. Struggled for years to shed being a teacher and to regain my humanity, I have succeeded. Underestimated my self and my intelligence — benign neglect by parents and all that sob story — I have worked real hard on deconditioning myself – read Krishnamurti – so that, combined with being a therapist, has helped me to see. I am a stranger in a strange land. I thrive in that wintry landscape.

When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

I suppose there are those who do that. I bumped into writing by my first effort, a poem, published in the high school yearbook, gutted by an English teacher who grossly misread it. Editors! What I suggest to people who ask about writing is that they purchase Mazola oil, go into the woods, and self-anoint themselves. It works.

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

I read because I was an introspective child, an observer. Early books were romantic such as Harold Lamb’s take on Robin Hood and Jewish Legends. The books mottled my mind, romanticized me, a la Don Quixote, a false reading of the real world. I read junk, good junk and superior junk. The key to this interview, dear reader, is to realize, as you do, if over 40, that we are the last to know ourselves. And the aggravating thing is, if we meet a good person or a gifted shrink, that others may grasp ourselves better than we do. And what is to be made of that?

Tell us a bit about Down to a Sunless Sea. 

In my middle age, frustrated, depressed, I wrote to understand who I was. I am an autodidact with all the defects of that. Stories were more therapy for my self than fodder for the reader. I never was really concerned about the reader. That has helped me serendipitously to this day. It is my assumption, given credence over the years, that I write for me, not you, in the expectation that you will pick up on it. And people do. In short, I made a pact with myself. I’d publish my book of short stories if all of them were published, as a testament to my craft. It took more than twenty years for that to happen, although not all stories were published. I’m constructed in this way, for the long haul, impatient in the present, patient for the years to come, although I now near my end, boo hoo.

The stories in Down to a Sunless Sea deal with the “deviant and damaged,” well, not exactly. They are epiphanies.I write about a cousin who had cerebral palsy and died driving a cab because he couldn’t handle the wheel with skill; about my daughter who had CFIDS; a macabre story about Juan Peron who had his hands cut off in his crypt –yummy – in fact, a story appeared in the Times about that and I was intrigued. And bingo! In 1974 Martha Foley listed me in The Best American Short Stories of 1974 for “Herbie.” I was listed with I.B. Singer, Joyce Carol Oates and dear Norman Mailer. I only recognized Mailer. I was so new at it.

I was now anointed as a writer. Curiously, the story is continually misread; perhaps I was too subtle. It is the mother in the story who is the real shark, killer and manipulator. Many readers omit her toxicity in their reviews. The i Tetralogy, a historical fiction, on the Holocaust is forever my most significant work and it has garnered remarkable reviews around the world. It is a sleeper and it is contaminated, for I take no prisoners and many of us are into denial about the Holocaust itself. In Down to a Sunless Sea, the story about Juan Peron has a parallel theme about Jews in Argentina, again overlooked in reviews; and “Alabaster” is a story about a Holocaust survivor, an unsweetened, non- sanitized look, I hope. Unconsciously I was writing about the Jewish experience, all preparation for my Tetralogy novel later on in life.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of –consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

To write an outline is to maim my efforts. I write intuitively, from the gut, with passion. I write and write, knowing that it is in revision that I prune the pear tree. What is most emblematic of how I work is in the effort to write about Nazis in the Tetralogy. I sunk into my self. I dwelt east of Eden. I learned that the species is by default a murderous one. So, it came to pass that I wrote Nazi poetry; I pushed myself, I considered that and I did it. I count so very much on the unconscious that it is my belief that all conscious writing is like the penmanship teacher in primary school holding your hand to help you make that cursive letter “p.”

What will the reader learn after reading your book?

We really don’t learn much from books except other people’s smarts. Again, I do not write for you. I write for me and for my understanding. I write without expectations of any readership, but I have a world of expectations for myself. What type of writer are you – the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes? I make no such distinctions. I am. I do not write a certain amount of words each day, having heard that conditional piece of advice for years. Who said so? Why? Did Tolstoy learn that when he took his MFA in Leningrad? I don’t read necessarily to deconstruct the artifice of a novelist. Read Hemingway too much and you’ll end up as a declarative sentence, noun and verb forever glued together. Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along? I leave anality for the last. I channel my unconscious, let it flow and then I cut back as necessary. I believe that I am a dugout on the vast Amazon River. I go with it.

Do you have any favorite authors or books?

I have read a great deal of Krishnamurti. His message is in my own work – the awakening of intelligence. However, Nikos Kazantzakis has always moved me, The Last Temptation of Christ, St. Francis and Report to Greco probably the greatest confessional since St. Augustine. He wrote a sequel in two volumes, in verse, to the Odyssey and by all accounts equaled Homer. I read him because when he writes about grapes I can taste the dew on their skins.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Marguerite Young, author, said that we should put the kitchen sink into our writings. To wit, in “Mortise and Tenon,” in the short story collection, I give information about Gustav Klimt, citing a few paintings that the characters see in the museum. It enriches the story, I believe.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

As you have gathered, I go my own way – should I go your way? Publishers fled from the The i Tetralogy. I don’t need someone else — it does help, I am human — to tell me this book is masterful; they ran away because of resistance and denial. America’s great contribution to the world besides Dick Cheney is marketing. I self-publish, draw inspiration from Thoreau, who only published 75 copies of Walden. When you die and I die, does it really matter who published us, except that our efforts are published – the rest is vanity.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

It is www.mathiasbfreese.com. Under "Pages" I have short essays or “factions,” published and unpublished, so you can get a sense of my interests – an essay for PMA discussing that the artist is never poor, to wit. I have links to reviews and interviews with me, especially David Herrle (www.subtletea.com), who does a terrific job. Parenthetically, Herrle did a 25 page literary analysis of The I Tetralogy which reflects as much upon his brilliance as it does upon my book. He was the first to state that the Tetralogy was a major literary effort, perhaps a work of art as well. The blog contains short essays as I go along in life and an ongoing memoir.

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

I am into rewriting Sojourner, a historical fiction about a Chinese who ventures to California during the Gold Rush. It is a philosophical quest that he is on. I wrote it about the age of 40, revealing my existential discontent, a need to find purpose and intention in this world. All the while I taught, I wrote, and I went back to school to become a psychotherapist which again was a latent need to understand my self. I practiced as a therapist and felt purposeful. The other book is Gruffworld; the first chapter,“Covenant,” is on my website, published in a major magazine. It combines the analytic insights I metabolized as a writer and therapist and reflects my readings of Krishnamurti, especially dealing with the awakening of intelligence. It takes place in an apocalyptic world as a creature comes into self-awareness.

In your collection, you use various writing styles for the different stories. Was this a conscious decision? It also offers readers a dark glimpse into the troubled mind of the characters. What’s in the mind of the author?

I’d like to answer both questions in one amalgam. I always write in order to make sense of my life and situation, and “making sense” is both the writer’s goal and his ultimate folly After four decades I can say that I have made some headway in my craft, but existentially it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. I write to “soothe” myself and the terror of existence itself. We face two questions: life and death, and they are fierce deities, insatiable, terrific adversaries, I must add. To make sense is to give order, to be rational. “I did this because of that.” Oh, yeah.

After the Holocaust, all is farce. The species is shattered. And if I make sense, at all, it is only for me. The surprise of all my writing is that I don’t take it too seriously. I kiss no ass. I am compelled to write but the folly is in feeling that it does good. It all is in my patrimony, given to my children. I don’t care about readers per se other than the fun it provides when reviewed well or a gracious comment proffered about the book. I am greedy about life while I have it, not greedy about my books, except as an extension of whom I am and that gets awfully murky.

Short stories were written to express emotional states, and often the style was not a conscious choice. I was learning, I’m self taught, I was experimenting. I never went for a MFA (Argh!). I never took a course except one which I quickly left, the lecturer needed to be adored. I was rejected so many times that I developed a defense: arrogance, which, inn effect, said – your loss! Obviously I have been proven right. Even that haughty feeling doesn’t last.

Thank you for your insightful, thoughtful answers, Mathias.

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Novelist, poet and short story writer Christopher Conlon is the author of the debut psychological thriller, Midnight On Mourn Street, just released by Earthling Publications and described as a "masterfully moving tale" by Booklist. Conlon's work has appeared on numerous publications such as Poets & Writers, America, Filmfax, Poet Lore, The Long Story, and Tennessee Williams Annual Review, as well as in such anthologies as Masques V and September 11, 2001: American Writers Respond. I recently had the pleasure of reviewing his novel for Blogcritics, and found it a haunting, beautifully written work.

Thanks for being here today, Christopher. When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

I never decided I wanted to be an author—to be honest, I’m not sure what an “author” is. It sounds stuffy and pedantic to me—I picture someone wearing a smoking jacket, pipe in hand, looking a bit like Somerset Maugham. No, I never wanted to be an author—I wanted to write. There’s a difference.

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

Oh my God, yes. And I still am. I started with the usual people kids find first—Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London. Mystery and adventure classics. Poetry, too, started for me then, with Poe—“Annabel Lee” was my first favorite poem. Eventually I found my way to science fiction and horror with people like Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Clifford D. Simak. Oh, and I must have read every Alfred Hitchcock anthology ever published. I loved those kinds of stories. Still do.

Midnight-cover-small

Tell us a bit about your latest book.

Midnight on Mourn Street is a short novel, what might be called “psychological suspense,” focusing on the relationship of a middle-aged man and the teenaged runaway he meets one rainy night. They seem to be strangers to each other, but in fact the young girl knows exactly who he is, and she pushes her way into his life with a very specific, destructive agenda. The slow revealing of the secrets of these people—and how they are connected to each other—is what drives the story forward. I’m happy to be able to say that the early reviews have been mostly excellent—Booklist has called the book a “masterfully moving tale” and a “top-drawer first novel.” That’s a little embarrassing for me to quote, but there it is.

From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?

That’s a good question. Hmmmm. I believe that the answer is about ten years. You see, I wrote an earlier version of the manuscript back in about 1997, 1998. It wasn’t bad. It had an agent for a while, and there were a couple of nibbles from publishers, but in the end nobody bought it. I eventually retired the thing to a desk drawer, and ultimately to my basement—that final stop of all failed projects! For years I thought nothing about the novel; I all but forgot I ever wrote it. But a couple of years ago I began to have some success in dark fiction—an anthology I edited, Poe’s Lighthouse, came out in 2006, along with a little collection of my gothic stories, Thundershowers at Dusk. I wanted to capitalize on the little bit of attention I was getting as a result of these projects, and I knew that the thing to do was to get a novel out—but I had no novel, especially not one in the suspense or horror genres, which was where my reputation was growing. But then I remembered that failed manuscript from the 1990s and realized that, though I hadn’t written it as a “genre” novel, it certainly had the elements of a suspense story.

Well, I dug it up and read it straight through—which was both a gratifying and a humbling experience. Gratifying because, you know, it was pretty good, really. But humbling because I could see obvious mistakes I’d made—mistakes I was unable to recognize back then. The language was wrong—the book was overwritten. The structure was sometimes wonky. Parts were repetitive. So I took most of a summer and completely overhauled the book, using the original manuscript as a template but rewriting it completely, from first word to last.

When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?

I don’t feel passionate about themes, which arise organically from the subject matter and which a writer is better off not thinking about at all. What I feel passionate about are characters. I get terribly wrapped up in them, in their lives, their troubles, their aspirations. I suspect all writers do. Flaubert claimed to do all his novel-writing in a state of cold objectivity, but I’ve never believed him. “I am Madame Bovary,” he said—well, he must have cared quite a lot about her to identify himself with her in that way. No, I’m emotionally invested as I write. Very much so. Revision, now, that’s another story—in revision it really is best to be objective.

Do you have an agent? How was your experience in searching for one?

I’ve had four agents over the years, all of them hard-working, honest, non-fee-charging men and women who never managed to sell a single word I ever wrote. Maybe once a writer is worth something monetarily an agent might be useful to negotiate contracts and such, but for small fry like me, agents are useless—or at least they have been for me. I find it best to talk to editors and publishers myself. Friends who are writers can be helpful too—Gary Braunbeck, who wrote In Silent Graves and several other well-regarded horror novels, was invaluable in helping get Mourn Street published, talking it up to people, pushing it wherever he could, because he believed in it. He was a far more effective agent for me than any of my actual agents have been.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

No. Never. I don’t even know what that is, really. Now, I go long periods—many months, in fact—when I write nothing at all, but that’s not writer’s block; that simply my natural rhythm. I’m not a crank-it-out kind of writer. I only write when I feel that I have something that’s ready to write. It’s perfectly okay with me if I don’t write a word for half a year. It always comes back. And when the story or novel or poem is ready for me, well, I’m ready for it too.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

That would be www.christopherconlon.com. Cruise on by!

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

Well, I have another editing project forthcoming—another fiction anthology. Titled He Is Legend: An Anthology Celebrating Richard Matheson, it features original stories by some of the biggest names in horror, mystery, and suspense, including Stephen King. (Yes, that Stephen King.) The book is due out from Gauntlet Press in February 2009. As for my own writing, I’ve finished another short novel, A Matrix of Angels—I have no idea who, if anyone, will publish it. I’m shopping around my fourth poetry collection, Starkweather Dreams, as well. And I’m beginning work on a stage adaptation of Midnight on Mourn Street—a small professional theater in the Washington, D.C., area, where I live, has agreed to give the script a staged reading. Beyond that, who knows?

Good luck with all your projects, Christopher!

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