Archive for the ‘Literary’ Category

phil in b&W.jpgPhilip Cioffari is the author of the novels: DARK ROAD, DEAD END; JESUSVILLE;  CATHOLIC BOYS; and the short story collection, A HISTORY OF THINGS LOST OR BROKEN, which won the Tartt Fiction Prize, and the D. H. Lawrence award for fiction. His short stories have been published widely in commercial and literary magazines and anthologies, including North American Review, Playboy, Michigan Quarterly Review, Northwest Review, Florida Fiction, and Southern Humanities Review. He has written and directed for Off and Off-Off Broadway. His Indie feature film, which he wrote and directed, LOVE IN THE AGE OF DION, has won numerous awards, including Best Feature Film at the Long Island Int’l Film Expo, and Best Director at the NY Independent Film & Video Festival. He is a Professor of English, and director of the Performing and Literary Arts Honors Program, at William Paterson University. www.philipcioffari.com

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Bronx Kill. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?

A: My novel, The Bronx Kill, is about a drowning death and the effect it has on those involved in the incident. On a hot August night, five teenage friends challenge each other to swim the East River from the Bronx to Queens. In the attempt, one boy drowns and the body of the only girl among them is never found. The three survivors take a vow never again to speak about the incident. When they reunite five years later, they find themselves at the mercy of the drowned boy’s brother, an NYPD detective, who holds them responsible for his brother’s death and vows to bring them to justice by any means possible. The lead character, Danny Baker, one of the three survivors, must fight not only to preserve his childhood friendships but to save himself and his friends from the detective’s brand of vigilante justice.

Bronx Kill Cover JPEG.jpgI wanted to write about the complexity and durability of friendship. The apparent and not-so-apparent ties that bind us, the debts we owe one another, the divisive factors that can tear a friendship apart, the loyalties that can supersede everything, even ethical and moral principles—these are my concerns here.

In particular, my focus is on friendship that originates in childhood, that continues to hold us together long after childhood ends, friendship that develops and matures over time, that changes as the dynamic of the relationship changes, friendship that allows us at its best to be individuals within the larger framework of the we.

The characters in this novel have been friends since grade school. They have experienced the small triumphs and defeats that occur in playgrounds and alleys, on handball courts and ballfields. They have endured the mean streets of the Bronx, faced hardship, humiliation and loss; but it isn’t until their mid-twenties that they must confront the most severe test of their loyalty to one another. I wrote it as a suspense thriller because I thought that was the most effective way to engage the reader in this story.

Q: What do you think makes a good mystery/thriller? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A: Of course there are many elements that go into making a successful story. In my book, I strove 1) for a high level of tension throughout, 2) a strong atmosphere of danger and foreboding, and 3) strong, clearly defined characters. I also try to find something sympathetic in each of my characters, even the seemingly unlikeable ones.

Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A:  I work out the details of the story as I write. I take notes along the way but mostly the process is intuitive, instinctual as I move for scene to scene. What does my character want? What would be the step or steps he/she would take to get what he/she wants? The way I see it character drives plot.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A: Characters usually form inside my head. I may jot down a few notes but mostly I get a feel for them, who they are, what they want. Then they become more defined in the writing process. My lead character in The Bronx Kill is Danny Baker, a 24 year old man who returns to his hometown, the Bronx, after a self-imposed exile of five years. He is haunted by a sense of guilt and responsibility for the death of his friend. He wants to find the truth about what happened the night of the drowning, but as important is his search to find out the truth about himself, why he did what he did, why he hadn’t acted differently, what more could he have done to save his friend. I knew Danny well enough that I didn’t really have to go outside myself to develop him.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A: The obsessed detective who seeks revenge for his brother’s death came to me as I was writing the story of these friends. He assumed a greater role in my mind, and hence in the story, as I got deeper into the book. He wasn’t there at the start. What characterizes him is his unswerving dedication to seeking justice for his dead brother. He’s ruthless and will use any means necessary to enact his vengeance, which adds considerably to sense of imminent danger in the book.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A: As Elmore Leonard said, cut out the boring parts. I try to make each scene absolutely necessary. Each scene jumps the story forward. I use the mood and atmosphere not only of the physical setting but also the interior landscape of the characters’ minds to keep the tension high and unrelenting.

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A: I use as much specific, physical detail of the place—whether it be a street, a room, a tavern—to create a visual image for the reader. I always have a particular street or room or bar in mind when I write.  I use the quality of light to highlight atmosphere. I make sure I know my settings well. I’ve been there, lived there. I know the place in all seasons, at different times of the day and night, on holidays and work days. I try to capture the feel of a place, not only its physical details.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A: I never start with theme. Theme is something I discover after I’ve written the final word. I concentrate on telling the truest, most convincing story I can tell. Theme will take care of itself. And, yes, themes recur in my work. That’s probably inevitable.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A: For me, editing improves my work. Makes it tighter, more focused. I cut out waste, superfluity.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A: Perseverance. Showing up at your desk everyday. Continually improving your writing style. Keeping an open, curious mind. (Sorry, that’s four)

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

A: Writing has always brought me pleasure. If it didn’t, I’d stop.

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

A: Taking workshops and going to writers’ conferences have helped me immeasurably.

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A: Learning the craft of writing is a life-long endeavor. Enjoy the ride.





Read Full Post »

roccoA writer for over three decades, Rocco Lo Bosco has published poetry, short stories and two novels. His first novel, Buddha Wept (Greycore Press, 2003), about a spiritually gifted matriarch’s experience of the Cambodian genocide, received good reviews (e.g., Publishers Weekly) and much praise from readers, many of whom called it “life changing.”  His current novel, Ninety Nine, is published by LettersAt3amPress. Lo Bosco also has a nonfiction book in press with Routledge (2016), co-authored with Dr. Danielle Knafo, a practicing psychoanalyst, entitled Love Machines: A Psychoanalytic Perspective on the Age of Techno-perversion. He is currently working on his third novel, Midnight at the Red Flamingo. Additionally, he has edited papers in the fields of psychoanalysis and the philosophy of science and has also worked as a ghost writer.

Connect with Rocco on the Web:

www.roclobsoco.com / www.twitter.com/roclobosco / www.facebook.com/roclobosco

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Ninety Nine. To begin with, can you give us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?  

A: Thank you. My book is about a poor and mixed––mine, yours and ours–– Italian-American family fighting desperately to survive in Brooklyn in the early 1960s. The story centers on the two (step) brothers living in a family threatened by psychological fragmentation from within, dangerous levels of poverty and two vicious loan sharks who will have no trouble killing the father if he doesn’t find a way to pay their boss. Meanwhile the two boys run with a small gang, The Decatur Street Angels, led by one of the brother’s cousins, a dark-minded genius who invents wild and daring exploits for the group that become progressively more dangerous during the summer of 1963. One of the brothers is involved in his first (and secret) love affair with an older woman while the other is losing his mind over the abandonment of his mother. The event streams of the book culminate at the novel’s end in a stunning and unexpected climax.

Michael Ventura, novelist, essayist and cultural critic said, “In Lo Bosco’s Ninety Nine you experience the vitality, brutality, faith, doom and grace of people whose only choice is to figure out how to take it. They endure situations from which there is no escape, surrounded by beliefs and attitudes from which there is no escape, and their nobility is that, in the midst of such a Brooklyn, they nevertheless know and value beauty and are exalted by wonder.” I think this properly captures the spirit of my book, and what I secretly intended in writing it.

ninety-nine (1)The novel creatively draws on my early years growing up in Brooklyn, but its inspiration emerged from two very specific things: a dream and a book.  When I was five years old I had a dream that has stayed with me my entire life, a dream that in essence predicted the character and quest of my life.  The dream appears in the book, and it will become clear to the reader why that very dream inspired the novel.  The second inspirational element came from finding a book I was never supposed to see. When I was fourteen I found it in the bottom of a box that held my father’s war memorabilia—a large, government-issued volume about the Second World War. It contained far more pictures than text. I returned to this forbidden book repeatedly and viewed images that literally altered the trajectory of my life and shaped my particular interests in human endeavor. I knew I could not remain silent. Though I did not yet know that I would write, I knew that I would not want to pass through this life quietly, hunkered down in some existential bunker until the danger passed.  At fourteen I already knew the danger never passes. That forbidden book appears in Ninety Nine, but it was also part of the inspiration for Buddha Wept.

Q: What do you think makes a good novel? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

  1. Well, it is not truly possible to narrow a good novel down to a formula of some kind. If it was possible to do so, a novel would not be . . . well, novel. In that there are certain areas of overlap that good novels share, I can say with some certainty that a good novel has interesting and complex characters facing interesting and difficult situations, and the whole of what they do and what happens makes for a damned good story. Additionally, the characters and their story may imbue the reader’s experiential perspective with renewed radiance and a degree of insight. It does no matter how bright or dark the novel is; a good novel deeply affects the reader in some way.

Now on the other side of the question, because language and human imagination suggest infinite capacity, any attempt to reduce the novel to some theory will ultimately fail. Literary theory is necessarily incomplete because human experience is infinite, as is the human imagination and the capacity of language. There can be great novels that do not meet conventional criteria. Finnegan’s Wake, for example, is considered by many to be a literary masterpiece. Also future technological developments will create new possibilities for stories. I’m thinking here of Charlie Booker’s television series, Black Mirror. I believe that the stories/scripts of these shows, which freely mix science and science fiction, have great literary merit. They’re like a 21st century version of the Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone.

Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover the plot as you worked on the book?

I first saw and wrote scenes. Characters and situations based on memory and imagination began popping into my head.  A scene would begin as a kind “of picture poem” –– a snapshot of characters and situations that conveyed an intense emotion or insight. These “picture poems” seemed to constellate around the recollected dream (mentioned above), which provided the gravitas that drew them together.  As I collected more scenes, they began to suggest a linkage and a trajectory. As I sequenced and connected the individual scenes, the story began to form. At this point characters were bouncing around in my mind, telling me what they wanted to do within the story that was forming. I felt I was always a little behind while writing the book, kind of catching up to the story (and its characters) that was telling itself through me.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

Dante is a complicated character. He attempts to manage the chaos and violence of his life by using his intellect. He takes refuge in the laws of nature, trying somehow to reconcile them with his wild family life and his crazy life in the streets of Brooklyn. He wishes he could be brave and fearless like his stepbrother, but he thinks too much. What he doesn’t realize is how much he feels and how what he feels gives him a power of which he is not yet aware.

Dante emerged from the dance between my memory and imagination. It’s not like I developed him. It’s more like he was hidden within me, and I had to find him–– as were the other characters as well. Once I found them, they had a lot to say.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

There’s no one villain in my story. Everyone is a villain in some way, and some may be heroes as well. Memory provided the realism, imagination the radiance, and intellect the insight.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

Okay, keeping in mind that the experience of writing for me is more like a possession than something I plan out carefully from the beginning:

I kept foremost in my mind the art of showing as opposed to the craft of telling. I wanted to create a portal into another world—in this case the world of a family fighting to survive in Brooklyn during the early 1960s. I wanted the reader to experience this world through every sense. I kept my verbs sharp and my descriptions brief but packed with appeal to the five senses.  I read everything I wrote aloud to hear it and see if it transported me, if it felt real and strong, if it made music. I paid close attention to how I paced the story, making sure I always had the reader wondering what would happen next, utilizing scene cuts to gas the story and imbuing scenes with plenty of action and cliffhangers. I wrote the story so the suspense and tension keep building throughout until it all culminated in a denouement with multiple outcomes.

I paid attention to how I stacked long and short sentences. I kept my chapters short. I peppered the narrative with insights and unexpected brief assertions that quickened the pulse. I worked with great care around the dialogue. The dialogue is what brings the characters to life. They have to speak somewhere in between the way people really talk and how they would talk if they always said the brightest, sharpest, wittiest, or most interesting things. They have to speak so that the reader wants them to say even more than they do. They have to say unexpected things at times. Not because it’s cool for them to do that, but because they themselves carry a depth they are not consciously aware of. That depth in which so much is hidden is where they come from and where their story comes from as well.

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

I went back to Brooklyn. I took lots of pictures. I walked the streets that I’d known so many years ago. I stopped in a bakery and got a lemon ice. I went home, got drunk and climbed into a hot bath and looked at the pictures until the water got cold. By then, I knew I had the setting.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start, or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

I think certain themes occur throughout my work, my thought and my life: the tragic nature of human existence, the unending desire to be loved and to love, love’s relationship to death, the limits of human knowledge and the search for certainty, the irrepressible urge for transcendence that wars with human limitation, and the incredible beauty to be found in all of this. I never concern myself with a theme when writing fiction. The “theme” will emerge from the story. I am foremost and obsessively concerned with writing a damned good story.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

I don’t think there is a clear divide between the two or even a truly satisfying definition for either. Both make their presence known in different ways. With the important caveat that they cannot be separated or even cleanly defined, I think we admire craft but are amazed by art. Craft is the technique, art the vision, though one cannot exist without the other. Craft is learned through study, discipline and endless repetition. Art comes onto the scene with defiant wings mounted on the body of craft. Art is the result an upsurge of one’s being that must manifest as a concrete demonstration. Its form is always tied to its culture, but its motive transcends culture.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

The three things that come to mind are: (1) the ability to write a distinctively good story with interesting characters that affects the reader in a meaningful way; (2) the ability to rework the story until it sings; (3) a relentless devotion to both.

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

Who am I to argue with Lawrence Kasdan, whom I have followed since his debut as the writer and director of Body Heat, a neo-noir which I found perfectly diabolical. What a plot and what characters, especially Matty! (“You aren’t too bright. I like that in a man.”) Yet, I would concede to his statement only with the caveat that homework is also defined as something given to oneself rather than only by a teacher. And what is that homework? Read, read, read and write, write, write.

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

I’ve relied almost wholly on books because I’m a cranky and stubborn loner. I shall name only a few that proved critical in my development as a writer and novelist.

  1. Early inspiration was Beat Poetry along with other beat writing (e.g., Kerouac’s On The Road).
  2. Writing The Natural Way, by Gabriele Lusser Rico.
  3. Using Both Sides of Your Brain, by Tony Buzan. Get the latest edition.
  4. 1984, by George Orwell.
  5. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov.
  6. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess.
  7. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, by Oscar Hijuelos.
  8. Labyrinths, by Jorge Luis Borges.

A recent set of novels, among the best I’ve read, and that I strongly feel every aspiring writer should not only read—but deeply and repeatedly study—are the four Neapolitan Novels written by the brilliant Elena Ferrante and translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein. These books are treasures of story, insight and writing genius.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

Learn to tolerate the terror evoked by the blank page, and learn to love enduring bouts of solitude.





Read Full Post »


Please give a warm welcome to debut novelist Linda Lucretia Shuler. Linda wrote her first story when she was six, Koko the Monkey, which she still has tucked into a drawer. Since then her stories and poems have appeared in anthologies and literary journals, and a handful of her plays have been produced in schools and community theatres.

Linda received a BFA in theatre from the University of Texas, and an MA in theatre from Trinity University while in residence at the Dallas Theatre Center. She taught theatre arts in college and high school for three decades, loving every moment and directing nearly a hundred plays in the process. She also wrote theatre arts curriculum K-12 for Houston ISD, conducted numerous workshops, and performed in community theatres.

Hidden Shadows, Linda’s debut novel, takes place in Willow City, a ruggedly beautiful section of the Texas Hill Country less than three hours from her home in San Antonio. Several other manuscripts are in the works, reaching across the genres. These include a prequel to Hidden Shadows, plays, and a collection of poems and a half-dozen different story ideas demanding attention.

Linda enjoys participating in Toastmasters, writer organizations, critique groups, and book clubs. She continues her love of theatre, delights in watching the birds flocking outside her office window, and is an enthusiastic fan of San Antonio’s championship basketball team, the Spurs.

Q: Congratulations on the release of your first novel, Hidden Shadows. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?

A: The story revolves around Cassie Brighton, a woman overwhelmed by loss. Devastated by the accidental death of her husband, she flees to a remote homestead deep in the rugged Texas Hill Country. Alone in a ramshackle farmhouse steeped in family secrets, Cassie wages a battle of mind and heart as she struggles to overcome the sorrows of her past, begin anew, and confront the possibility of finding love again.

What people are saying:

Hidden Shadows is a wonderful novel of a women’s journey of self-discovery and search for purpose. The characters will win your heart (and sometimes break it) in this beautifully written and satisfying story of loss and renewal.”

Sandra Worth,

Award-winning author of The King’s Daughter: A Novel of the First Tudor Queen. 

My inspiration came, in part, from the remarkable women I’ve met who suffered incalculable loss, and yet somehow survived and lived each day with joy. I marveled at them, at their courage, their spirit. And I asked myself, “How?” What did they endure in private, what interior battles did they wage? What dwelled in their spirit that made them victorious over such sorrow? And I’ve met those who did not endure, those who forever walked in the shadows of grief. And I asked myself, “Why?” Why do some souls shatter under the weight of it, while others survive? Because I’ve experienced grief myself – who hasn’t as the years collect? It’s part and parcel of life – the need to write about it must have been there, lurking inside me, silent.

But the lure of landscape led me, too. I traveled through the thirteen-mile stretch of an isolated, rugged, glorious stretch of Texas Hill Country called Willow City Loop. And I fell in love with the place, with its craggy, impossible hills and winding country roads. And I fell in love with old houses, too – the sort that are scattered throughout the small towns of Texas, sporting wrap-around porches with swings or rocking chairs, and a weathered “come on in” look.

These elements were, in a small way, inspiration for Hidden Shadows. But there’s more, so much more. I could write pages. Some of it is unknown to me, odd as that may sound. That secret part of ourselves that reveals itself as we write.

HiddenShadows_medQ: What do you think makes a good literary novel? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A: Literary genre is character-driven – which means that the truer your character, the truer the story itself. To write effectively about a character, you must know her (or him), know everything about her inside and out – especially things she doesn’t know about herself.  What motivates her? What are her dreams, her fears? What drives her nuts, or brings her joy? What life experiences has she had up to the moment the story begins, and how did they affect her? Know her physical self, too –  every element of her face, the way she moves, the sound of her voice, her unconscious gestures, and so on. Then you must listen to her, and allow her to guide you.

Literary genre is a style that’s dependent upon character. But all other elements that form a fascinating, well-structured story are necessary, too: plot, action, theme, language, etc. It’s all a grand mix. Sometimes trying to apply a single genre to a work is like trying to force a round shape into a square hole. How does one decide? For example, Hidden Shadows also includes romance, mystery, and a touch of magical realism.

Perhaps it’s the style in which a book is written that helps determine a genre. If that’s so, then one would assume language would be a huge factor. But I’ve read “literary” works written in styles far different from mine, so who knows?

Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A: Because I let the characters lead the way, like an over-permissive mother, they had a tendency to wander, to explore this pathway or that, or just sit in a corner and pout. I had to ask myself many a time, especially in the beginning, “Where the heck is this story going?” I veered into side paths and bumped into dead ends before finally, at long last, settling us all on the right path.

I didn’t pre-plan; the plot was a vague, misty map in my mind. I knew the destination, but wasn’t exactly sure how to get there. As a result, I ended up tossing a lot into the trashcan, words upon words, page after page, bye-bye. The map finally came into focus, the direction clear, the steps taken. But I swear, cross my heart, that the next book (a prequel to Hidden Shadows) will be more carefully mapped before I begin the journey.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A: I saw Cassie clearly in my mind, as if I had glimpsed her in passing, or in a dream, or a photograph somewhere. I began by writing reams about her, developing a character study, exploring her past, asking her questions, discovering her inner life. Then I talked aloud to her, as I did to others in Hidden Shadows:

I visualized her sitting in the chair opposite me  – green velvet, an armless antique I inherited  – and asked questions about her feelings or actions, her fears and dreams. Sometimes I railed at her for being obtuse, or making bad decisions, or keeping her thoughts hidden. Or I just looked at her, at how she was sitting, or what she was wearing, the expression on her face. Once I changed places. I sat in that green chair and became Cassie for a short time, speaking as she would, responding to the questions. I had to laugh at myself, thinking if anyone were to suddenly appear and witness what I was doing, they’d swear I was crazy.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A: Guy Wilkins, a wild mix of good and bad, is a wounded soul I ended up loving. Sometimes I hated him, too. I felt for him, cried for him, dreaded what he became. But aren’t we all a mix of good and bad and everything in between?

I found a photo of him in a magazine somewhere. I knew it was Guy the moment I saw it: the dark gaze, the creased face, the lean-muscled stance. I kept that photo in front of me while I wrote, a constant reminder, as if he were truly there.

Guy was real to me from the very beginning. He still lives in my thoughts. I can see him, hear his voice, feel compassion for his troubled soul. If a character is real in the heart of a writer, surely it must be so for the reader, too.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A: If I’m excited about what I’m writing, the narrative is usually exciting. If I’m bored, uncertain, stressed, or otherwise in a rut, the narrative reflects that, too.

Each one of us must find the approach that works best for our nature and genre. For me, I try to immerse myself in the moment, to put myself into the scene – to experience sight, sound, smell, touch as if I were truly there, right there, that very second. Sometimes I view scenes behind my eyes as if I were watching a film, with my characters the actors (including close-ups) speaking and moving within a particular setting. I want to meld with these characters, to see through their eyes, to think and feel through the filter of their minds and hearts.

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A: I visited the surroundings, snapped photographs, studied dozens of other photographs and paintings of the Texas Hill Country landscape. I did the same with rambling, old country houses – the sort with wrap-around porches and a weathered, welcoming feel. I strolled through surrounding towns like Fredericksburg and Bourne, and meandered among the limestone walls of a century-old German homestead. Eventually everything became a part of me.

I try to sink myself into the setting as I write, really see it in my mind, hear the sounds all about, sense the air and sun and wind and so on, hoping to bring each moment to life for the reader.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A: I hadn’t consciously thought about themes, to be honest. It was more of an inner feeling, a silent voice that propelled me onward. I vaguely knew it would include dealing with a sense of loss, of loneliness and sorrow, and finding a way through it all, renewed. What I hadn’t realized was that almost every single character would end up experiencing grief, and facing it in different ways.

Nor had I planned the other themes resonating in Hidden Shadows, themes of healing and connection to the land, to our ancestors, to others, to ourselves – and to the redemptive power of love. These came unbidden, unfolding as I wrote. Sometimes I felt as though another hand, another heart, somehow spoke through mine. It all came as a surprise to me after the first draft, as if I had discovered hidden parts of myself.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A: How are we to untangle the two? Craft and art are like conjoined twins, inseparable. Each may have a different function, but neither can exist without the other. For example, assume a writer is eloquent with words; they spill from his pen like pearls, shiny and beautiful. But unless he knows how to use them effectively, what good are they?  Or what about the writer who thinks of a fascinating character or an action-filled plot and so on – but doesn’t have the skill to form them into shape?

Art and craft work together as a team. There may be times when one is dominate, but the other is always there. For example, many writers (such as myself) like to begin a chapter by writing writing writing without pausing for breath. For me, that’s the fun “art” part. Then I must go back and edit like crazy – the necessary “craft” part – for the work to be whole. Art and craft, craft and art – different functions, perhaps, but forever holding hands.

Can editing destroy the initial creative thrust? Sometimes, yes, if we’re over-enthusiastic. I’ve deleted many a thing, only to realize I killed something essential, and so put it back in again. But the reverse is true as well: I’ve left “as is,” like a mother refusing to toss out her baby, but in the end realized I had to edit. It’s akin to pruning a tree, cutting off the odd branches to help it thrive.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A: *Persistence, patience, perseverance – and determination, too. Writing a novel is a long, often demanding process.

*The ability to visualize the work as a unified whole – not as a series of slung-together segments – from beginning to end.

*Belief in oneself. (This isn’t as simple as it sounds, but it’s essential.)

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

A: In a way this is true. No matter how enjoyable writing may be, it requires discipline, sticking to a schedule, plunking yourself down in the chair and getting to work. An aching tummy, a headache, not enough sleep? Too bad, gotta sit down and write. Want to browse the internet, pull up Facebook, watch that TV show, yack on the phone? Nope, not `til later.

Yet when all is said and done, if writing isn’t a joy in spite of the homework ills, then why do it? Life is too short, the years pass in the blink of an eye. I write because I want to write, for whatever reason. It makes me happy. It also drives me nuts, but that’s part of parcel of creativity.

The yin and yang.

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

A: There are several terrific magazines for writers –such as “Writer’s Digest,” “ Writer’s Market,” and “Poets and Writers” – that I’ve found to be helpful.  As for books on how to write, I’ve bought a bunch – but after a chapter or two usually put them down, never to return.

What has proven to be the most beneficial to me, and the most enjoyable, is reading the works of other writers. All genres, all styles. If I like a particular novel, I ask myself, What did the author do to make this story fascinating, or effective, or not-put-downable?  How did she/he rev up the suspense? Develop the plot and characters? Employ dialogue, setting, the senses? And so on. If, on the other hand, I don’t respond to the book and find it a chore to finish, I once again ask why. What is it that didn’t work for me?

As for workshops, I’ve enjoyed professional writer organizations and conferences. I’ve found kindred souls as well as inspiration and information about the writing life. Networking is half the battle, so I’m told. I’ve met agents, editors, publishers, gifted writers via conferences.

Writer critique groups can be wonderful. I’m fortune to have found a terrific critique group. I can’t imagine a writing life without having these gifted people by my side. They were with me at the genesis of Hidden Shadows; their insightful comments helped me develop the story into what it is today. I’m happy to know they will continue to be with me as I begin the next project, a prequel.

I’ve also enjoyed book clubs. Not only have I ended up reading delightful works I may not have otherwise considered, I’ve learned a great deal about what readers respond to well, and what they don’t.

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A: Shakespeare said it best: To thine own self be true. We should strive to write from our own unique mind and heart and muse, to find our own voice and trust it. If we write from an inner truth, it will be true to the reader, and so believable – no matter the genre, no matter the style.

Read Full Post »

silvio03cSilvio Sirias is the author of Bernardo and the Virgin (2005) and Meet Me under the Ceiba (2009), winner of the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize for Best Novel, and most recently The Saint of Santa Fe.  A native of Los Angeles, he spent his adolescence in Nicaragua and currently lives in Panama.  In 2010, Silvio was named one of the “Top Ten New Latino Authors to Watch (and Read).”  He has a doctorate in Spanish from the University of Arizona.  He has also published academic books on Julia Alvarez, Rudolfo Anaya, and the poet Salomon de la Selva.  In addition, he has a collection of essays titled Love Made Visible: Reflections on Writing, Teaching, and Other Distractions.  The Routledge Companion to Latino/a Literature lists him among the handful of authors who are introducing Central American themes into the U.S. literary landscape. For more information, visit his website at www.silviosirias.com.

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Saint of Santa Fe. What was your inspiration for it? 

A: Thank you for the congratulations! I read about the tragic, yet heroic, story of Father Hector Gallego’s in a local newspaper shortly after my wife and I moved to Panama. Something about his sacrifice, as well as the photograph they published, started to haunt me. Even though his disappearance and death occur nearly forty-three years ago, Panamanians still remember him and the work he did. In fact, they continue to clamor for justice in his case.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist. 

A: The story is about a young, Colombian priest who left his homeland to start a parish in a remote area of Panama. He soon discovered that his parishioners had been living as indentured servants for generations. He helped to free them. In the process, however, he offended a wealthy landowner and he was kidnapped by military operatives never to be heard from again. Also, in researching the novel I met his sister, Edilma, who moved here from Colombia fifteen years ago to discover the truth about her brother’s death. The novel tells her story as well.

Q: How was your creative process during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any bumps along the way? 

A: This has been the most difficult of the three novels I’ve published. At first it was because I knew little about Panama’s culture and history, so I had a lot to learn. It took me about three years to become comfortable enough to write about my new, adoptive homeland with confidence. Then, because of this insecurity I included too many historical details in the narrative, weighing the pace down. It took me quite a while to decide what to jettison, but once I did the pace improved significantly.  Finally, General Omar Torrijos, a figure many revere in Panama, is the villain in this tale. It was a tremendous challenge to flesh him out. He became clear after I took a trip to Coclesito—a town he adored and used as an experimental Sirias - Cover - 9781937536565.inddstation to improve rural conditions in the country. In fact, he died in a plane crash while flying there. During my visit I felt his spirit and I came to understand his legacy with absolute clarity. But it all took quite a while, nearly ten years from the moment I decided this would be my next novel. Of course, I took long hiatuses, but getting this story right required of all my faith and patience. In the end, though, I am thrilled with the results.

Q: Do you experience anxiety before sitting down to write? If yes, how do you handle it? 

A: I am also a teacher, and even though I have been teaching for many, many years, I still get a bit nervous before starting every class. I take it as a sign that I care about what I’m doing. It’s the same with writing. But as with teaching, after a few minutes into it the anxiety disappears.

Q: What is your writing schedule like and how do you balance it with your other work and family time?

A: When I write full-time, I work from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. five days a week.  My wife and I have chosen to lead a simple life. We own little and are almost debt-free. Because of this, I can take long stretches off from my teaching job, usually two years at a time.  It is then that I can devote myself entirely to my next novel. I am hopeless at multitasking.  When I write, that is all I do. I just can’t balance it all, I’m afraid. But because of this, I am much more of a homebody when I am a writer than when I’m a teacher.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author? 

A: Such an honest question deserves an honest answer. And although my answer may seem brutal, any writer facing such a situation has a difficult choice to make. I couldn’t be an author if my wife wasn’t 100% supportive. Every writer needs a spouse who helps to nurture the muse, otherwise it would be akin to sabotaging one’s work. As heartless as this may sound, I’d say either give up on writing or get out of what appears to be a bad relationship. To become a writer one has to make countless sacrifices, and a spouse needs to be on board for all of them.

Q: George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Do you agree? 

A: I wrote an essay titled “The Kindly Demon that Fuels Me.” I wrote it precisely in response to Orwell’s essay “On Why I Write,” where the quote you mention can be found. I agree that most writers have demons. Mario Vargas Llosa added to this thought by saying that novelists write to exorcise demons. Yet the one that drives me is a benevolent one, taking the form of my desire to be remembered after I’m gone. When I look at it this way, I am don’t find my demon terrifying in the least.






Read Full Post »

A current Quarter-Finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Awards!
Storm Ketchum, a damaged emigre to the coastal town of Avon on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, is in love with his town, his island, and the sea, and vehemently opposed to the coastal development juggernaut that’s sweeping across the modern-day Banks. He’s an ardent admirer of Hemingway and of the Hatterasman, a rugged, self-sufficient abstraction from old-time Hatteras Island lore. He hates his name, is not a private eye, and isn’t in fact any kind of detective at all – until he’s forced to become one by extraordinary circumstances. 

On the verge of losing his modest waterfront home to an unscrupulous developer, Ketch stumbles onto the scene of a nonviolent crime that might coincidentally expose the perpetrator of an unsolved murder and enable him to save not only his own home, but also the similarly threatened bohemian boatyard community he’s inexorably drawn into. And in case Plan A fails, he’s hard at work on a Plan B that’s both laudable and pitiable – if he can’t stop them from seizing his property and ruining what’s left of his historic town, he’s hell-bent on turning the event into a political statement, by converting his bungalow into a new and embarrassingly prominent landmark. 

His allies include a loyal dog, a salty charter boat captain, the sketchy denizens of the boatyard, and an alluring dive instructor who may or may not have a hidden agenda. With the help of this motley crew, Ketch struggles to make sense of his new reality, while trying to save some of the things that really matter along the way.

I’ve been daydreaming about being a writer for quite some time. I wrote a novel that I tried to shop to

traditional publishers back in the Nineties, but it went nowhere (partly because it was admittedly not that good, now that I look back at it). But I thought I could do better, so after I retired from my previous career, I tried my hand at it again. The result was “Port Starbird” – and though I think it’s good enough to be traditionally published, I chose to initially take the indie author route. Amazon makes it easy to do that nowadays, which I greatly appreciate; I like being free from corporate control; and I like being able to express myself freely and write about a place that’s special to me – North Carolina’s Outer Banks region. If you live in OBX, or like me have been there and would rather be there right now, you might enjoy my books!



Read Full Post »

scottdriscoll author photo BW (1)Scott Driscoll is an instructor at the University of Washington Professional and Continuing Education programs where he has taught creative writing for 20 years. He has also taught fiction and creative nonfiction in the Writers in the Schools and Path With Art programs and online through the Seattle-based Writer’s Workshop, as well as at Seattle’s Richard Hugo House literary center. Scott was awarded the “UW Educational Outreach Excellence in Teaching Award” for 2006.

Driscoll has been awarded eight Society of Professional Journalists awards, most recently for social issues reporting. His narrative essay about his daughter’s coming of age was cited in the Best American Essays, 1998. While enrolled in the UW MFA program, he won the Milliman Award for Fiction.

Driscoll continues to write feature stories for Alaska and Horizon Airlines Magazines while starting work on his next novel, which will be set in Latvia at the time of the Song Festival.

“Writing for me is about applying form to the mysteries we suffer.”

Learn more at www.scott-driscoll.com

Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Better You Go Home. When did you start writing and what got you into literary fiction?

What got me into literary fiction. In high school I rarely felt anything like a personal connection to the authors thrown in my path by well meaning teachers (not even, especially not even elitist, whiny Catcher In the Rye). Then one day I read, at a subversive teacher’s suggestion, Norman Mailer’s The Deer Park and The American Dream and it hit me like a punch to the gut. I had never realized that words could have such blunt force. This was a revelation.  A few years later, college on hold while I traveled in Europe (I bought a bike in Amsterdam and rode to Munich for the Oktoberfest, got sidetracked by early snow in Augsburg just north of Munich, and couldn’t sleep outdoors anymore and so looked for a job), I planted myself for one hour each day during my lunch breaks from my American Express Bank job in the local American base library. There I read for the first time Beckett’s trilogy, Molloy, Malone Dies, and the Unnamable. Reading Molloy, I had such a strong reaction (angered that words so detached from conventional story telling, springing so deeply from the inner psyche of a character, could get under my skin as much as they did) I threw the book down, earned a reproof from the librarian—I was her only customer—then picked it up and kept reading. It was through words in novels such as these that I discovered a world the existence of which I had only a vague suspicion, like some forbidden alternate world adults spent your education hiding from you. Being naturally curious, I had to explore that world. I can’t say I turned serious about writing, though, until my daughter was born.  Providence had thrown an opportunity my way: confined indoors holding my child, or sitting near while she napped, I learned to have my typewriter ready and I went to it at every chance. Determined to write stories that could be read, I read literary journals, any that were mailed to me free of charge (surprising how many lit mags were happy to get rid of back stock) and I learned about story structure by deconstructing stories that had succeeded.

Did you have a mentor who encouraged you?

I actually did not have much in the way of mentoring, but I had books, a few key teachers along the way, and a strong desire to figure this thing out. I want to answer this question in order to deter others from seeking the path of going it on your own. Mentors can provide an invaluable service. I would urge anyone who wants to be serious about writing to start by reading books such as James Wood’s How Fiction Works and Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction, and What If, the 3rd edition, and John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction and after you’ve read those, read Robert McKee’s Story. Learn what you can about characters and structure and point of view. When you think you’ve mastered point of view, read Percy Lubbock’s The Craft of Fiction and start thinking about narrative distance. Now you are ready to take a writing class. Take several. Start a critique group with peers who know what they are talking about. None of this is a guarantee of publishing success, but I can guarantee that your writing will improve and you will learn to write like a writer who pulls from a deep well and then pours words into containers that allow readers to slake their thirst. Even if publication is not your goal, this will allow you to dig down into the material that you need to express and that is a milestone of success and should keep you going until you hit your next milestone. 

Did you have any struggles or difficulties when you started writing?

When I started this book I took a deliberate approach. I planned. I sketched the story spine and spent countless hours sketching my characters’ situations. I had once devoted four years to writing chapters for a novel without giving much thought to story structure.  After throwing away four years’ worth of work, I vowed to never make that mistake again. I wrote one last short story, got it published in an Better You Go Hom cover (1)anthology in company with some pretty big name authors, then turned to writing magazine articles and the occasional personal narrative essay. For a time, no more fiction.

When you first start, enthusiasm matters.  Write as many words as you can as often as you can. Take notes when you travel.  Think of yourself as a flaneur when you are away from home. Walk into the crowded sensory world that is at your disposal, look left and look right and observe and record. Later, come back to this material and strengthen nouns and verbs and get rid of unnecessary modifiers.  Be suspicious of figurative language. It is your enemy.  First learn to observe.  But when you are ready to get serious, write into the form you have learned. 

How do you keep your narrative exciting?

There are tricks. Keep your main character relentlessly in pursuit of a Goal. Every chapter, every scene in every chapter, should increase risk for your character and push your character incrementally closer to a point of no return. Second, find a way to keep tension on every page. There is a misconception that tension derives only from plot, from causing the reader to keep wondering what in the world will happen next. That is only one form of tension. Tension also should be situational. Boost the sense of urgency.  Shorten the time line. Make trouble imminent. Do more to destabilize the ground situation. Make it as uncomfortable as possible for your character to stand pat. Tension also derives from contrast.  Place cynical cruelty beside innocent virtue. Place age beside youth. One of the masterpieces of 20th century literature, Lolita, is full of this kind of tension. Humbert Humbert cynically seduces the nymphet, to borrow the narrator’s own expression. There is a long tradition of this in English literature, starting with Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa. Joyce Carol Oates’s story, “Lovely, Dark, Deep,” in Harper’s November 2013 places a young pretty blond seemingly naïve poet beside an aging corpulent smug even cynical Robert Frost. A contemporary, Frost could dismiss. This honesty and sincerity coming from such youthful loveliness creates a disturbance Frost cannot ignore. Tension also derives from the presence of oppositional characters. Place characters together whose values are so diametrically opposed that even when they attempt to cooperate it doesn’t end well. I found this particularly useful in Better You Go Home, Chapter Twelve, when my narrator is taken by his translator, Milada, to see the town historian. The historian is a former security apparatchik, and Milada’s father was unjustly imprisoned and tortured in the same prison where this guy worked. When the historian dismisses her father and his ilk as running dogs of the decadent bourgeoisie, you can imagine how Milada erupts. I had no idea this was going to happen when I set out to write this chapter. But when it happened, the story changed. The oppositional nature of my characters became a defining force.

During the process of writing, your chapters will go flat for you.  When this happens, close the file.  Open it again late at night.  It will seem especially dull now. Go to sleep agitated.  Wake up determined to quit writing. You are a failure.  You are dull. You are not worth the cost of ink in your printer. Now you are in the right frame of mind. Open the flat spot. Rough it up.  Add lots of sensory detail. Lots. Linger. Dwell. Slow down. Later, maybe the next day, open this file. Find the excitement in all this new detail. Throw away the boring crap that led up to it. Now write forward from this rough patch.  Surprise yourself. It’s okay.  You don’t need to quit after all. After all, the best writing happens in the rewrite, when you are convinced you are worthless.

Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to right. Can you relate to this?

A blank screen or blank sheet of paper reminds me of my first failed attempt to write a story. Blankness is intimidating, at least for me. So, I write sketches and early drafts on paper on a clipboard, but I only use scratch paper, that is, already used paper. That way I trick myself into believing that it doesn’t matter.  It was throw-away anyway. Once you have a block of writing, the terror goes away.  Now you have something tangible to work with. Same with the screen. Pull up text that you already have in a file. Have that on your screen when you start. Also, I reread and edit and tinker with material from the day before, then I surge forward.  Maybe I push the story ahead by 800 words or so.  Then I go back, look for missing details, improve a few sentences, strengthen a few verbs, just enough so that it doesn’t sound too awful, then I go forward again. This leap-frog process allows me to overcome my fear of the blank page and to have a trail of sentences behind me that isn’t too embarrassing to look at when I reopen the file the nest day. 

How do you celebrate the completion of a book?

I told my wife that when I had a contract for my novel in hand I would shave my mustache.  She and my son reminded me of that promise. But this happened after I had “finished” my manuscript.  I had written furiously on heavy rewrites right up to the point when I hit send (Coffeetown Press wanted an electronic version of the manuscript).  When I hit send, it was early September.  I suddenly felt empty, despairing.  If I didn’t have this book to devote myself to, what else mattered? Sure, there were magazine assignments to keep me busy and UW classes to start preparing for, but it’s not the same.  For months and months I had glued myself to the chair in front of my PC and screen and obsessively dwelled in the world of my novel. Now what? I felt as if I’d been exiled. No, I did not feel like celebrating. I felt like hiding. When the phone call came (some time in the second week of October) saying Coffeetown Press wanted to offer me a contract to publish my novel, then I felt like celebrating. I waited until Thanksgiving then took a really good bottle of wine (and a cigar, but, shhh, don’t breathe a word of this to my son) to Orcas Island with my wife and son and my adult daughter who was visiting form LA where she is in grad school, and there at one of the most lovely spots on earth (if you like a damp, chilly atmosphere) we officially toasted my book, and there for the first time I allowed myself to think, hey, for five minutes I could admit to being happy (like survivors of Eastern bloc horrors, I am suspicious of “happy”). 

What do you love most about the writer’s life?

The writer’s life is something that required a long apprenticeship. In my twenties I worked odd jobs and managed apartment buildings so that I could free up evenings to write. I had the writing fever, and I had books for mentors, but I also knew that I was woefully ignorant about form and structure. I vividly recall looking out the window toward Puget Sound (for two years I managed a building in Seattle’s Pike Place market that afforded a millionaire’s views, so I’d watch long tankers glide in toward the industrial docks and watch ferries lumber out to the islands and watch violent windstorms kick up waves and lash the waterfront) after a session of typing (when everyone else was asleep, and fortunately my immediate neighbors were hard of hearing), and I even realized that it was just that, a session of typing, and I wondered, how does one bridge the gap from sitting here to the fulfillment of desire if I have no notion of the path to the goal?   But I kept at it. When I had my daughter then I got serious.  I had a few stories published in literary magazines and I discovered my first writer’s critique group, and then, and only then, did I begin to feel like I had the rudiments of a writer’s life, but even that paled to going through the MFA program at the UW and winning an award, and seeing a few more stories published.  By then I was divorced and the writer’s life was squeezed around lots of other stress.  I started writing for magazines because I needed to make some money and I started teaching occasionally and I was into that routine before it occurred to me, hey, wait a minute, is this what you imagined when you were staring out at the windy Puget Sound? (It wasn’t.  I had imagined acclaim, speaking engagements, travel, shaking hands with fawning admirers.) Now that my novel is out, I have had a couple young writers independently (they don’t know each other) say to me: hey, what you have, X number of years from now, that’s what I want. This took me aback.  I hadn’t realized that I could say I have a writer’s life. What I didn’t tell them was that even now I could not continue this writer’s life without the very generous support of my wife. (Or my family would be living much like I did when I was in my 20s, minus the Millionaire’s view). 

Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?

Go to: www.scott-driscoll.com or http://scottdriscollblogs.wordpress.com or look me up at www.coffeetownpress.com. 

Where is your book available?

www.coffeetownpress.com or:
Bookstores/Libraries: Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Partners West, Midwest Library Service, Follett Library Resources; eBooks: Overdrive, Kobo and other major retailers; for more information or to order direct, contact info@coffeetownpress.com 

What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author?

This support has been absolutely critical to me so I’d say negotiate. Often the one who is writing is not the one earning the most money for the household, and that often also means they have more childcare duties and less respect for their time. In order to make time for the writing, I feel it is critical to schedule blocks of time, as if it were a job, and to make sure that the spouse understands that this time is inviolable, no different than time at the office. Whether you produce quantities of pages or not is irrelevant.  Sitting at your desk, or wherever you go with your laptop, musing, tinkering, sketching, observing, daydreaming, this is all part of the process. But take time to learn form. Once you learn to write into form, you will have something eventually to show for your time. Also, remind your spouse that devoting this time to writing creates a flow of empathy that benefits all. 

George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

I would amend what Orwell said. It should read: “Thinking about writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.” The writing is life itself. Anyone who’s written books will tell you they feel more intensely alive when writing than when not. Living in the world of the imagination can be powerfully addictive. Yes, it’s horrible when it doesn’t go well, and yes rejection is painful, but ah, the writing, the passion it arouses, the feelings it conjures, the insights it reveals. Aside from the love of loved ones, what could be better?





Read Full Post »

Leland studied Creative Writing and Ethnic Studies at San FranciscoStateUniversity where he discovered the enormous possibilities of poetry, experimentation, and critical theory. He eventually earned an MFA in Writing from ColumbiaUniversity on a merit fellowship. He has published fiction in Open City, Fence, Dark Sky Magazine, Drunken Boat, and Monkey Bicycle, among other literary journals. He is also the project director for an upcoming literary event series, Phantasmagoria: Language and Technology of Suffering, for which he received fiscal sponsorship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

About the book:

Is Epstein a despicable man?

He’s certainly trying desperately at something. When his wife disappears he’s frantic to talk to his daughter. But what can he tell her? There must be a reason and he’s all but sure about the gruesome answer. Can he protect Sylvia from the truth, from her terrible lineage and, ultimately, from himself?

Off-beat and sordid, The Blood Poetry is a twisted, yet honest look at our desire to connect with others and the ways in which we are often stymied by our own efforts to get closer. Epstein is a curious mix of monster and romantic struggling to maintain a shred of dignity in his dingy, beat down world.


What was your inspiration for The Blood Poetry?

The title of my novel, The Blood Poetry, came to me quite a while after I finished several drafts.  I plucked the title from a line in the novel where an evangelical preacher of a church led by conjoined-twins who date back to the Civil War, refers to his sermon as “blood poetry.”  That seemed very fitting to me as a title.  The novel literally and symbolically revolves around “blood”—as nutrients for the undead characters; the blood of explicit and implicit violence; and, perhaps most importantly, blood as the central metaphor for “family and lineage” which, for the main character, is the source of his suffering.  Also, as a fiction writer and reader, I’m very drawn to voice and adroit uses of language—not simply lyricism, but the odd ways one can craft language to demonstrate a character’s state of mind; the manipulation of cadence and tempo to convey tension rather than relying on plot; and, when it comes down to it, I like reading other writers who invent bizarre ways of narrating because it feels like I’m being invited into a really strange and, maybe, dangerous place.

Tell us something about your hero and/or heroine that my readers won’t be able to resist.

I don’t think there are any true heroes in my book.  The protagonist ultimately transforms into an “anti-hero.”  He’s our narrator, our vehicle into the novel’s world, and the character with whom a reader may feel very conflicted empathizing.  I hope he’s more complicated than simply being despicable—he is, in fact, empathetic, too; pretty funny, vulnerable, and victimized; and really does have a sincere interest in the wellbeing of his daughter, Sylvia.  The question is: Can he overcome all the uglier elements of his personality?

Is there a villain or villainess in your story? Tell us about him/her.

Although I just described Epstein as an anti-hero, the villain that he reveals to us as the epitome of evil is Professor Applebaum—his mother’s boyfriend during Epstein’s childhood.  Professor Applebaum—as a bloodsucker and stand-in for forces which terrify us most as children—transforms Epstein’s mother into “a monster.”  He observes—and is complicit—in the suffering that Applebaum imposes on victims.  Although our main character was a child during that time, the fact that he was complicit in the pain of other people devastates him.  Epstein is not, at his core, an evil man.

Who is your favorite character in the book and why?

I think my favorite character in the book is the daughter, Sylvia.  As the writer, I was able to develop a lot of empathy for her; plus, in the beginning, she’s very rambunctious and rebellious, morphs into someone who is more introspective, but still has a lot of verve.  Sections which involved her were a lot of fun to write because I allowed myself the freedom of messing with the language, as well as mimicking her internal voice.  She seems to be the smartest, most empathetic, and most humane character in the novel.

What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?

I’m not totally sure, but I’ve always liked the opening.  It begins immediately with Epstein sprinting toward Sylvia’s school—the set-up is tense, and I hope the language reflects that.

What do you love most about being an author?

I really, really like making things up—characters, worlds, and voices.  And it’s always exhilarating to affect people who appreciate dark fiction in a meaningful, impactful way.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell my readers?

Thanks for still finding wonder in the world of words.

Author’s twitter: @lpitttsgonzalez

Author’s facebook: www.facebook.com/TheBloodPoetry

Link to excerpt: www.goodreads.com/book/show/15727062-the-blood-poetry

Link to purchase page: www.amazon.com/gp/product/1935738259

Link to book trailer: http://www.youtube.com/user/TheBloodPoetry2012

Read Full Post »

When I was in first grade, I had an art teacher who shamed me into crying in front of the entire classroom.

She had given us an easy assignment. Handing out blocks of wood, she asked us to draw faces on them. I loved art, and happily got to work drawing a man’s face. When I’d finished with his features, he looked more alien than man, I thought, so I painted his face bright blue. (I blame my mother: she had been reading to me from her science fiction novel rather than any of those boring children’s books.)

My teacher went down the row of student desks, nodding and smiling as the children held up their wooden faces for praise. And then she got to me, and nearly went into one of those whirling fits of rage I now associate with Roald Dahl characters.

“You painted your face blue?” she shrieked. “You can’t paint a face blue! What kind of face is that?”

“It’s an alien’s face,” I said, tearing up.

I might as well have said “Satan.” The art teacher hauled me over to sit in the corner and made me do another face while the rest of the kids tittered.

Now, this story happens to be true, but if I were writing fiction, I could have chosen to relay from a different perspective. For example, I might have written it from the teacher’s point of view, or from the point of view of the town sheriff, who is called into school after the art teacher is found dead…or after an alien invasion, during which the art teacher and several other people in town are abducted! Then I might have used multiple points of view.

Wrestling with point of view is something that writers do every day in fiction, and it’s one of the most frustrating—and fun—aspects of writing. Sometimes it takes several drafts before you get the point of view that works for a particular story; for instance, if you’re writing about an alien invasion, you might want what’s called an “author omniscient” point of view, which basically means that you’re relaying the story from on high, from multiple points of view or even in multiple time frames. If you want a scarier, tenser read, you might choose a first person point of view, where the narrator doesn’t really know what’s happening, leaving the reader to ride along on her coattails as she figures things out.

In Sleeping Tigers, my first novel, I chose what’s called a “limited third person” point of view—this means that I can only be inside the main character’s head, and nobody else’s. I did this because I wanted to create a tight emotional connection between my protagonist, a young woman named Jordan, and my readers, while still having the freedom to write lush descriptive passages of other characters and the setting (San Francisco and Nepal, in this case).

For my next novel, The Wishing Hill, to be published in spring 2013 by Penguin, I created the story of two women who are bound in ways they don’t suspect, so I decided to alternate points of view between them. That lets the reader discover their complex interconnectedness even before the characters themselves know what’s going on. Now I’m writing a paranormal mystery; for that one, I’m using a first person point of view to ramp up the scare factor.

Take a closer look at the book you’re reading right now and check out the point of view. Think about how the story might have been different if the author had chosen a different one. Did the author make the right choice? What would you have done?

About the author:

Holly Robinson is a journalist and comic whose work appears regularly in national venues such as Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Huffington Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, More, Open Salon and Parents. Her first book, The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter: A Memoir, was published by Harmony Books in May 2009 and was released in paperback in June 2010. It was a Barnes & Noble memoir selection as well as a Target Breakout Book.

Ms. Robinson holds a B.A. in biology from Clark University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She and her husband have five children, two cats, a single gerbil and two very stubborn small dogs. They are currently renovating an antique house north of Boston, and will probably never finish it.

To learn more about Holly Robinson, please visit www.authorhollyrobinson.com

Sleeping Tigers
By Holly Robinson

Jordan O’Malley has everything she ever wanted: a job she loves, a beautiful home, and a dependable boyfriend. When her life unravels after a breast cancer scare, Jordan decides to join her wildest childhood friend in San Francisco and track down her drifter brother, Cam, who harbors secrets of his own.

When Cam suddenly flees the country, Jordan follows, determined to bring him home. Her journey takes her to the farthest reaches of majestic Nepal, where she encounters tests—and truths—about love and family that she never could have imagined.

Funny, heartbreaking, and suspenseful, Sleeping Tigers reminds us all that sometimes it’s better to follow your heart instead of a plan.

Get it for the Kindle and in paperback.

Read Full Post »

Magdalena Ball’s latest novel, Black Cow, is the engrossing, poignant story of a family trying to spiritually survive in a world ruled by materialism.

James and Freya Archer live in one of Sydney’s poshest suburbs. Together with their teenaged children, Cameron and Dylan, they live the good life surrounded by luxuries and everything money can buy. James has an executive position in a top firm, drives a Jaguar and wears Gucci silk ties. Freya works in real estate–not that she needs the sporadic commissions, as James’ corporate career allows her to enjoy weekly manicures and beauty salons, tanning sessions and $900 bags. Cameron and Dylan have the latest smartphones and laptops.

Yet, are they happy? Far from it.

The family is trapped in an endless cycle of “consumption without limits” where money and possessions have become dangerous obsessions rather than a means to happiness. The kids have no idea what money is, as if the coins and bills fall automatically from the sky. They waste food, throwing away platefuls and buying more:

“It was a consumption binge: an endless cycle of buy and chuck out.”

The kids, always hooked to their electronic gadgets, don’t even raise their eyes to greet their parents when they come from school, lost in their own virtual realities and always in a bad mood in spite of their ample allowances and all their latest goodies.

Freya is profoundly frustrated by her real estate job and by the fact that she must be a constant actress in order to pimp for houses. James, on the other hand, is constantly tortured by stress. He often complains of shoulder pain, headache, stomach upset. As if that isn’t enough, he drinks way too much alcohol on a daily basis. Freya knows that something is definitely wrong. She also knows she must do something before it’s too late.

The one day James suffers a nervous breakdown: depression, exhaustion, his hands and feet jerking spasmodically. He’s had a close call, but what will it be next time? A stroke? A heart attack?

What James and Freya crave is simplicity, going back to basics. What they crave is change. With this in mind, they decide to leave the city and all their luxuries and try their luck in a remote farmhouse in the peaceful island of Tasmania.

“Life was too short, and before you knew it, after a lifetime of putting off what matters, the family you love have grown and you’ve forgotten who you are…”

But will it work? What is real happiness? Is it a state of mind unrelated to location?

I really enjoyed reading this novel. I have been reading nothing but genre fiction lately, so this was definitely refreshing. Black Cow is the absorbing, moving story of a family trying to stay together in a world full of consumerism, a place devoid of spirituality and deep emotional connections. This is a tale that will make you pause and ponder about the quality of your own life. Ball writes with skilful perception and attention to human emotions and motivations. The characters, especially those of James and Freya, are deftly drawn, real people with fears and tribulations and especially, filled with contradictory feelings about what they think they want and what they need out of life. They’re devoid of idealism. Our society is a force that shapes us all, and Ball shows this through her characters, telling it as it is, with its own ugly realities. Most readers will identify with James and Freya and their predicament. I especially enjoyed Freya’s and James’ inner monologues and their takes on life. Ultimately, Black Cow gives us hope.

Get the book:


Book Depository

Bewrite Books

Click here to read an excerpt

Read Full Post »

CS DeWildt lives in Tucson Arizona with his wife and sons. His novella Candy and Cigarettes was recently released by Vagabondage Press as an ebook. His short stories can be found online at Bartleby Snopes, Word Riot, The Bicycle Review, Foundling Review, and Writers Bloc.

About the book

In the face of revenge, innocence is meaningless.

Death is omnipresent to small-town loner Lloyd Bizbang. Today proves no exception. After being attacked yet again by a pair of sociopaths who have targeted him since childhood, Lloyd stumbles upon a sight he wishes he could unsee in the town junkyard. Now as he just tries to live through another day, the bodies are stacking up in the town of Horton, and Lloyd finds himself connected to each of them via the drug-and-drink-addled, unhinging police chief, yet another person who has an old score to settle with Lloyd. A game of revenge and survival is underway, but will there be a winner at the day’s end?


Thanks for stopping by The Dark Phantom. Tell us a bit about your novella, Candy and Cigarettes, and what inspired you to write such a story.

The setting initially. I wanted to set something in a fictionalized version of the town I grew up in, something dark, something that explored the nature of revenge and redemption. So I got to work and put my main character, Lloyd Bizbang, on shoulder of the main highway that ran through town and the story just took over from there.

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 don’t outline. I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work for me. I work better without a plan so I start with a vague idea of where I’m going and then take the scenic route. I find interesting stuff along the way and if I get lost it doesn’t matter, I always end up someplace.

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

Ah, the muse. So easy to dismiss unless you’ve really tried to create something true.
I wait, plain and simple. My muse is wild and runs out on me often, like a bad-for-you lover you just can’t break free from. She’s high maintenance, but she’s mine and I know she’ll come back to me eventually. She knows I’m faithful to her. I just keep at it and she returns, tearful, remorseful, and full of sweet surprises.

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

I spent two months getting a quality draft together. Then I submitted it to a few appropriate small presses, waited for the rejections, got them, and then finally received word Vagabondage Press was interested about nine months after I finished it. From there it was almost another year for editing and finally publication.

Describe your working environment.

I try to keep it sparse with as little distraction as possible. I try. But most of the time it’s a mess. I just moved to a bigger place and now I have a room just devoted to my writing. It’s the first time I haven’t had to share my space with a houseguest or washing machine or the accumulated crap of my three plus decades as a good consumer.

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

It goes with the territory, so you better get used to it. If someone says something especially spiteful, well that says more about them than the work. And you just have to realize that writing is a highly subjective art form. Take any great work of literature and read the reviews on Amazon.com. No matter what it is some people will love it and some people will hate it. That said, I take constructive feedback, but in the end it’s my party and if you don’t like it, you can go someplace else.

Are you a disciplined writer?

More than most, less than some. It’s tough to say. My goal is to get something on paper every day and most days I succeed. But I’m sure there are other writers who would consider me lazy if we’re talking word count only.

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 solved that problem by waking up earlier than everyone else. I love to write in the early morning, when it’s still dark and the world is quiet. It’s as if I’m the only person alive and I’m doing exactly what I want to do.

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

You can’t be a writer if you don’t write, so put in the time.
I think I saw that on the television.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: