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jonathanJonathan Raab is a veteran of the Afghanistan war, where he served as an infantryman assigned to a combat advisor team. He is the editor-in-chief of Muzzleland Press and an editor for the War Writers’ Campaign. His work has appeared in The New York Times’ At War Blog, CNN.com, the Military Success Network, Literati Presents, The Stars and Stripes, and many others. His second novel, The Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre, will be available in late 2015. He lives in the Denver metro area with his wife Jess and their dog, Egon.

Connect with Jonathan Raab on the Web:

Website / Facebook /Twitter 

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

The novel is about three men who serve in an infantry platoon deployed to the Afghanistan War. It follows their training, their deployment, and a little bit of them coming home from it all. I wanted to tell the story of men serving in the Long War, especially from the National Guard perspective.

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

War writing tends to be nonfiction, but I think fiction is the best place to tell war stories. You can tell more truth that way. Every war is different; every war is the same. But every good war story should have good characters, be accessible to civilians, and tell something new (if possible) or true (as true as a story about war can be).

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

I tend to outline everything from the start, but that outline changes as I write. It’s a constant process of writing to catch up with the outline, and discovering that the plot is moving in new and unexpected directions.

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?

I have three protagonists in the novel, which is something I wouldn’t recommend to aspiring writers! Each character offered a unique perspective on the book’s events. They’re all based on guys I know, in whole or in part. A little bit of me is in each of them, too.

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 real antagonist. The Taliban is in this book, of course, but they’re not really the focus. This is more of a character study—how three men deal with going through the Big Green Army Machine.

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

I tend to write short, focused chapters. That helps the reader feel accomplished as they go—hey, I finished another chapter!—and so they keep reading. Each scene should communicate something new and important about your characters, the plot, or (preferably) both. If your scene doesn’t do that, cut it. Cut it right out.

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?

There’s several settings here—but the prevailing setting is that of the Army culture itself. The use of specific language, cultural tropes, and illustrative anecdotes or scenes helps to communicate that to an audience that may not have served in the military. Try to tell larger truths about the setting or culture in small, focused ways. For example, there’s a scene where our characters arrive in Afghanistan on a big command base. Instead of being greeted by enemy fire and soldiers around them ready for combat, they’re screamed at for minor uniform infractions. That scene tells a lot about the culture and the situation, and what’s to come for our characters.

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?

The broader theme is that war is stupid—on several levels. I knew that going in, and my characters and plot didn’t disappoint in that regard.

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

Editing should refine the creative thrust. If it compromises it, it’s not really editing, it’s revision. That said, authors need to know when to throw out those lines or scenes they really love—we can convince ourselves something is really good when it is in fact unnecessary or even distracting.

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

1) The novelist finishes a novel. 2) The novelist is open to intense but fair criticism to make the book better. 3) The novelist keeps writing, and keeps improving.

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?

It’s like homework, sure, but it’s also a lot of fun. It’s also very frustrating. It’s a love-hate activity, for sure.

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

This is a cliché, but Stephen King’s On Writing is really, really good. I’ve taught a part of it in my English class. I’ve never been to a workshop, so I can’t speak to that. I will say that you don’t need a fancy MFA or creative writing degree to be a writer, although those things can certainly be helpful to many people.

There’s a whole industry designed to separate writers from their money, so don’t go chasing expensive conferences, retreats, or seminars. They might be helpful, but you can probably learn more from joining a free writers’ group or just plugging away at the craft. Books are cheap, so read all the time. And it doesn’t cost you anything to write and share your work with trusted friends who will give you open and honest feedback.

You just have to be ready to be told that your precious baby of a story sucks, because you will write something that is awful. And that’s okay. What matters is how you deal with your failures—large and small. Don’t quit. Keeping writing. Even if it takes you the rest of your life to get published.

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

Don’t let your own ego get in the way of producing better work. Also, don’t worry about being a perfectionist—write, write, and write until that project of yours is finished. You can fix all of your issues in editing, when you open the door to others, and when you can read your own work with fresh eyes.

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51RqV8fD+EL._AA160_In this book, I was intrigued to learn about Joe’s very first days as a fire fighter. I will be the first to openly admit that I love Joe Corso’s stories about his career, and, as he recounts his memories, I felt as if I was transported into the very soul of the young Joe. He describes his very first day and meeting the men he was to worked with, men whose courage and dedication he strove to emulate throughout his career. Experienced fire fighters ,who took the young rookie under their wing, guided and encouraged him, whilst all the time instilling in him the firm codes and values they worked by.

There’s so much in this book. The Prologue, which has been researched by members of the IAFF tells the history of the Maltese Cross, which is the international symbol of the fire service. I loved reading Joe’s recollections of the alarm calls they went on, the unusual characters he met, and how this close knit brotherhood of men dealt with the odd bad apple or two. I also discovered that there are many types of fires, and whilst all are dangerous, the smoke alone given off of the source materials of some can be deadly. Then the history of the old fire brigade building came to life, as Joe and his friend had to recover the old fire station journals from the roof space, and discover other things, stored there.

At the end, Joe has looked back at the animal hero’s of the service, the brave fire horses and included an interesting and humorous article by Jim Blanchard of the Saugus Fire Department and a fantastic photograph.

What can I say, this book captivated me, I just could not put it down. I loved reading of the true comradeship, loyalty and brotherhood of these brave men as seen through the eyes of the author as a young man, and the pictures within were just fantastic to see – the icing on the cake as they say.

Reviewed by Susan Keefe

Available in Paperback from Amazon  and on Kindle.

 

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ImageIn this, the second book in the Roma Series, the story opens with Alabaster Black (alias Bianca Nerini) returning from Rome to Boston, Massachusetts, leaving behind her lover, Dante, and friends in Rome, Italy.
 
Rendition, her employer, a covert U.S. agency, has persuaded her to infiltrate Nasonia Pharmaceuticals, a drug manufacturing company owned by Cyril Sargent. Nasonia, is working on a revolutionary new drug using insect-based genetics to develop a new cancer-cure and Rendition want to know more.
 
Then, when Farrugia and Gennaro, her friends from the Rome, arrive in Boston for another reason, she discovers that leaving the past behind is not as simple as just getting on a plane; they bring some disturbing news for her, ghosts from the past have resurfaced…
 
I found Wasp’s Nest a compelling reading, action-packed and with intriguing characters. The plot had plenty of twists and turns, some surprising secrets, and it kept me on the edge of my seat, guessing until the very end.
 
Gabriel Valjan includes a tantalising glimpse into Book 3 of the Roma Series, Threading the Needle which I had read first, but I realized that the author created each volume independent of each other.
 
 
Reviewed by Susan Keefe

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ThreadingtheNeedle_FlatAn action packed political thriller.

Isidore Farrugia is a cop, brought up during the Years of Lead, a horrific period in Italian history, a time of terror and killing, his childhood memories, scarred forever by the brutal death of his mother. Nevertheless, he is a good man, loyal and protective of his friends and colleagues.

This is why although off duty and out of jurisdiction, when his friend Bianca arranges a meeting with her informant, Charles Brooks, he insists on coming too. However, soon his onlooker role changes, when the young 23-year-old American, Bianca came to meet is killed, and so are his assassins.
Then another murder takes place, and the Italian police investigators find themselves unearthing a web of political intrigue.
Bianca has a secret though, she knows, she must uncover the truth behind the information she has been entrusted with, despite warnings from her mysterious online contact Loki, to stay away. Adastra, a weapons manufacturer is hiding something… But what?
I found myself hooked, right from the start of this brilliant, action packed, political crime thriller, which is set in Milan.
For those, like myself, who are interested in history, the Afterword about the Years of Lead by Claudio Ferrara was very interesting.
This is actually the third book in the ‘Roma’ series, by this talented author, and there is a tantalising glimpse at the end into his fourth book, ’Turning to Stone.’

Threading the Needle is available in Paperback from Amazon.

Review by Susan Keefe

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ENGINE_24This book is a collection of five short stories written by Joe Corso, a retired fire fighter from notes he compiled whilst in service.

Whether you want a glimpse into the true life of a fire fighter, or are just looking for a fantastic collection of stories, this is definitely the book for you!

The author has an amazing ability to bring his stories to life, his vivid descriptions of the locations, situations and emotions felt has you sitting on the edge of your seat, itching to turn the page to find the outcome and yet not wanting the story to end.

Each story is completely different, but all contain the crew of Engine 24 of the FDNY to whom the book is dedicated.

This is a compelling collection of short stories. I finished them feeling that I had been allowed a privileged insight not only into the very real dangerous world of a fire fighter, but also, that I had been able to  feel the sense of the comradeship, dedication, duty and loyalty to fellow workers they share.

I hope the author continues to write more FIRE stories for his number one fan!

Available at Amazon on Kindle here: http://www.amazon.com/Engine-24-Fire-Stories-ebook/dp/B00E8898M6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1375715932&sr=8-1&keywords=FIRE+Stories+engine+24

Reviewed by Susan Keefe

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ImageAlabaster Black is hiding from the United States Government. Over the past two years she’s had different identities. As a forensic accountant, she does forensic investigations of people’s finances in order to protect the country’s internal financial system and stop dangerous greed. But her latest report to secret organization Rendition ends badly and so now she’s on the run in Italy under yet another fictitious name: Bianca. 

In beautiful, historical Rome, she meets government investigator and amateur archaeologist Dante, member of Roma Underground, and soon their relationship takes her on an adventure underneath the city itself. Before long, however, she’s being followed, Italian artifacts start disappearing, and the two of them set out to trap the guilty parties. 

This was an enjoyable read! Conspiracy, double identities, car chases and espionage, all against the backdrop of magical Rome, with its great food and marvelous art history, make this an entertaining, intriguing read. Indeed, the setting is one of the most engaging aspects of the novel. The author describes the foods and locations in vivid detail, bringing the story to life. I liked the heroine. She’s strong, smart, and pragmatic, kind of like a female James Bond. At times the pace drags a bit but on the whole this in a well written and suspenseful novel with a strong heroine that will be enjoyed by fans of the genre. 

Website: http://gabrielswharf.wordpress.com/

Amazon Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Roma-Underground-Gabriel-Valjan/dp/0983676488/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Roma-Underground-ebook/dp/B007EF8XE4/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1330448149&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble paperback and Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/roma-underground-gabriel-valjan/1108929219?ean=9780983676485&itm=1&usri=roma%2c+underground

 

 

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ImageKim Antieau has written many novels, short stories, poems, and essays. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, both in print and online, including The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Asimov’s SF, The Clinton Street Quarterly, The Journal of Mythic Arts, EarthFirst!, Alternet, Sage Woman, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. She was the founder, editor, and publisher of Daughters of Nyx: A Magazine of Goddess Stories, Mythmaking, and Fairy Tales. Her work has twice been short-listed for the Tiptree Award, and has appeared in many Best of the Year anthologies. Critics have admired her “literary fearlessness” and her vivid language and imagination. She has had nine novels published. Her first novel, The Jigsaw Woman, is a modern classic of feminist literature. Kim lives in thePacific Northwest with her husband, writer Mario Milosevic.

Her latest book is Her Frozen Wild.

Learn more about Kim and her writing at www.kimantieau.com.

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About Her Frozen Wild

Scientists in the Altai inSiberiauncover the 2,500 year old frozen mummy of a tattooed priestess or shaman. This mummy has the same mtDNA (mitochondrialDNA) as American archaeologist Ursula Smith whose mother disappeared inSiberia30 years earlier. Ursula travels from theU.S.toSiberiato unravel the mystery of the “lady” and meets Sergei Ivanovich Polyakov, a Russian doctor who graciously invites her into his home. After they become lovers, she discovers he has the same tattoos on his body as the tattooed lady. He tells a disbelieving Ursula that they have met before and she is destined to save the ancient People, considered as devils by some and shape-changing gods by others. A shaman takes Ursula to one of the sacred timeless caves where Ursula’s mother supposedly disappeared. When Ursula allows the shaman to tattoo her, she is thrown back in time where she must unlock the mystery of the People and their link to her past in order to save them and Sergei—even if it costs her her life.

Interview

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

I live in a small town inWashingtonStatein the beautiful Columbia River Gorge with my husband, writer Mario Milosevic. I grew up inMichigan, and Mario and I met atMichiganStateUniversitywhen we both attended a six-week writing workshop there one summer. We’ve lived out West for nearly thirty years and consider it our home now. We like to get out into the woods as much as we can and hike. Once a year we go toArizonaon a writing retreat. That helps us survive all the rain!

When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

I’ve been a writer for almost as long as I can remember. When I was in first grade, I won an art prize for something I had drawn. I got a lot of praise for that. It was very exciting for a six-year-old, but I remember thinking that I probably couldn’t make a living as an artist so I should become a writer instead. To this day I have no idea where a six-year-old would come up with something like that! And I now know from experience that making a living as a writer isn’t any easier than it is for an artist.

ImageDo you have another job besides writing?

Yes, I’m also a librarian. I was a branch manager, which meant I ran a public library. Now I’m a selector. This means I get to buy books for a living. For a long time I selected all the adult fiction for our library district. Now I select all the young adult books and graphic novels, for all ages.

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

I was book crazy. I read everything and anything. We had lots of history books in the house, and I gobbled those up. We also got mail order books where there’d be two books in one. They were so cool because you’d read one and flip it over and there’d be another cover and another book. I loved the classics: Jungle Book, Wizard of Oz, Swiss Family Robinson, Gulliver’s Travels, Little Women. I read Charles Dickens, Alexander Dumas, Jules Verne. I also read any horse book I could find. I loved anything that was strange and wonderful, but I didn’t really discover science fiction until I was in college. I’m not sure why. Maybe my library segregated the science fiction so I never saw it. In any case, I was eclectic in my tastes. I read pretty much anything my parents brought into the house or anything I could get from the library. I liked adventure stories. I loved the Black Stallion series and the Narnia series.

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

I read a National Geographic magazine article about the discovery of a mummy in Siberia. They called her the “ice maiden.” She was tattooed, and she was buried with a conical hat and other items that made archaeologists believe she was a priestess or shaman. As soon as I read the article, I knew I would have to write about her. That’s when Her Frozen Wild was born. In my book, archaeologists uncover a frozen tattooed female mummy in the Altai inSiberia, too. But when they take a DNA sample and put it in the worldwide DNA database, they discover her DNA matches almost perfectly with Ursula Smith’s DNA, aPortland archaeologist who is peripherally involved in the project. Nobody can explain how this could have happened since Ursula is inPortland and has never been toSiberia, and the mummy has been encased in ice for 2,500 years. Despite being terrified of flying, Ursula travels toSiberia to unravel the mystery of the “lady.” She meets Sergei Ivanovich Polyakov, a Russian doctor who invites her into his home. After they become lovers, she discovers Sergei has the same tattoos on his body as the tattooed lady. He tells a disbelieving Ursula that they have met before and she is destined to save the ancient People, considered as devils by some and shape-changing gods by others. Ursula can’t imagine she is destined for anything, but she goes with Sergei and a shaman to one of the sacred timeless caves where her mother supposedly vanished thirty years earlier. When Ursula allows the shaman to tattoo her, she is thrown back in time where she has to unlock the mystery of the People and their link to her past in order to save them and Sergei.

Did your book require a lot of research?

Yes! I probably did more research for this novel than I ever have. I generally enjoy research. I’m a librarian and a writer, so research comes naturally to me. But I had to learn a lot about a lot of topics for Her Frozen Wild. Archaeology is an avocation of mine, but I’m not an archaeologist. I hung out with an archaeologist for a while and interviewed her. Of course I learned everything I could about the Siberian ice mummies, and I kept in touch with an archaeologist who had traveled to the Altai and researched the mummies. I learned as much as I could about the Scythians, who lived in that part of the world. Some scholars have theorized that the Scythians were the source of the stories of the Amazons. I learned all about bear mythology, too. In fact, my husband and I spent some time with a modern-day Siberian shaman and became part of the Bear Clan. I also learned everything I could about cave art, tattooing, shape-shifting legends, alchemy, and Russian flora and fauna.

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

Some of the best advice I ever got about writing was from writer Algis Budrys. He said we should ignore reviews. “You’re never as bad as they say,” he said, “and you’re never as good as they say.” I do try to ignore reviews. Fortunately, most professional reviewers have been kind to my work. It does hurt when you find something that seems harsh and cruel from a reader on some website. I try to remember that it’s just one person’s opinion.

When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?

I seem to write a lot about finding home. I didn’t realize this for years. Writers are often oblivious to their own themes! Then I discovered that I had ended three of my novels with the word “home.” I tried to figure out what that meant, but I’m still not! I have been trying to find a place to call home all of my adult life, a place where I feel valued, where people live in harmony and kindness with one another and the environment. I do know most of my books are about how we as humans live together on this Earth.

Do you have any unusual writing quirks?

I can’t start writing a novel until I have a title. I don’t like this particular quirk! I usually come up with a title fairly quickly, but there have been times when I just couldn’t get one I liked. If I can’t get a title, I can’t start the book. This is very frustrating. I am trying to get over this little quirk.

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?

I’m afraid I’m wary of critique groups. I was fortunate enough to go to college where I took many writing classes. This was a great foundation because I learned a lot about technique. Teachers were able to tell me what was working and what wasn’t necessarily working. The downside to that was that my writing teachers didn’t like or understand anything genre. Once I wrote a science fiction story, and my writing professor wrote in the margins that he didn’t know what to say about it. “If you must write this sort of thing, I suppose it’s all right,” he wrote. I was astonished! So I do think it’s good to have people read what you’re writing, especially when you’re first starting out. But writing groups can be harmful. As writers, we need to develop our own voices. We can’t develop Joan Didion’s voice or Stephen King’s voice; we need our own. I’m not sure you can develop your own voice when a whole chorus of people are telling you what they think you’re doing wrong. People in these groups often start writing for the group in a way that will get approval. The work coming from a particular critique groups starts sounding alike. I have been a part of some writing groups that were helpful. These were the ones where we met as peers not to critique one another but to share our work, if we wanted, and to talk about our process and how we were doing living the writing life.

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