Friday, March 29, 2013

Featured Author: Brent Hartinger

About the book:

Book 4 in the Lambda Award-winning Russel Middlebrook Series!

People aren't always what they seem to be. Sometimes we even surprise ourselves.
So discovers seventeen-year-old Russel Middlebrook in The Elephant of Surprise, a stand-alone sequel to Brent Hartinger's landmark 2003 gay young adult novel Geography Club (which has now been adapted as a feature film co-starring Scott Bakula and Nikki Blonsky).

In this latest book, Russel and his friends, Min and Gunnar, are laughing about something they call the Elephant of Surprise – the tendency for life to never turn out as expected. Sure enough, Russel soon happens upon a hot but mysterious homeless activist named Wade, even as he's drawn back to an old flame named Kevin. Meanwhile, Min is learning surprising things about her girlfriend Leah, and Gunnar just wants to be left alone to pursue his latest technology obsession.

But the elephant is definitely on the move in all three of their lives. Just who is Wade, and what are he and his friends planning? What is Leah hiding? And why is Gunnar taking naked pictures of Kevin in the shower?

The Elephant of Surprise includes Hartinger's trademark combination of humor and romance, angst and optimism. Before the story is over, Russel and his friends will learn that the Elephant of Surprise really does appear when you least expect him—and that when he stomps on you, it really, really hurts.

Interview with Brent

I’m very happy to have Brent Hartinger here today, to talk about The Elephant Of Surprise, his fourth book in the YA Russel Middlebrook series. Before we start talking about this latest book, due to launch tomorrow, I asked Brent to catch us up on the first three books in the series.

First of all, Brent, tell us a little bit about the three books leading up to The Elephant Of Surprise (great title, by the way).

Geography Club tells the story of a gay kid and his misfit friends, as they create a secret gay-straight alliance in their school. It's mostly about Russel (the gay one), Min (who's bisexual), and Gunnar (who's straight).

As for the others in the series, well, my theory on sequels is that people THINK they want to know what happens "next" in a story -- they think they want a continuation of the last book. But that's not really what they want, because if a story is told well, it's resolved. It's over.

No, what readers want is a sequel that makes them FEEL the way that first book made them feel. To do that, you need to give your characters a whole new story: new challenges, new themes, new secondary characters, new twists, new resolutions.

So for The Order of the Poison Oak (the second book in the series), I had the three main characters, Russel, Min, and Gunnar, leave town completely: they go to work at a summer camp for burn survivors -- and they all learn about sex and betrayal.

Then in Double Feature (the third book), the three of them get jobs as zombie extras working on a horror film -- and Russel has to deal with coming out to his parents, and also a long-distance relationship. That was a fun book to write, because we get to see the same period of time from two different perspectives -- Russel's and Min's -- and of course their experiences are COMPLETELY different.

You are living every author’s dream, Brent. A movie is being made of the first book, Geography Club. Congratulations! How did that come about?

Thank you. It's been a long time coming.

First of all, it took ten years to sell the book itself. I wrote the first draft in 1991. Over the next few years, lots of editors wanted to buy it, but their publishers wouldn't let them. The accountants always said, "There's no market for a book about gay teens."

So then HarperCollins finally buys it in early 2001, it's published in early 2003, and it's a big hit, right? I mean, right away. Apparently, there was a market for a book about gay teens. Who knew? And so the movie rights are optioned just a few months after it's published.

And for years, different producers tried to get it made. Big budgets, small budgets, as a TV series, you name it. It came really close to getting made a couple of times, but over and over, they kept hearing, "There's no market for a movie about gay teens."

I know. Right?

So when I learned in 2011 that it was finally really going to happen, I was, like, "Uh huh. Sure." In fact, even on the plane down to Los Angeles to the set, I was thinking, "I bet this still isn't going to happen." And when I got home, after the wrap party and everything, I remember thinking, "Boy, I really hope they back up their files!"

At that point, I'd been around the block a few times. But it did happen, and I'm overjoyed.

As a writer, I would be afraid of what a script would do to my story. Did you have anything to do with the movie? Did you have any say in the storyline?

I wasn't involved much with these particular producers, although they did ask my opinion from time-to-time. In a way, that's okay with me. There's much, much less pressure: I get credit if the movie's well-received, but I don't get blamed if it's not.

It helps that I have another movie that I wrote that will hopefully film this spring. Being involved with two movies in the span of a year has been wonderful. I feel like I've made so many new friends.

As for Geography Club, the movie, I finally saw it two weeks ago (and as I said, I was also on the set for a while). I'm pretty confident it'll be well-received, because it's very good. A little different from the book, but good.

An interesting thing about the individual scenes: I was watching them film one scene that was right out of the book and that also basically happened to me as a teenager. And as I was watching, I sort of had this weird, out-of-body experience where reality all ran together, and I couldn't quite remember which part happened to me, which I made up, and which I was seeing in front of my eyes.


Here's the trailer:

Go ahead, tell us the truth. Is the book better than the movie?

I'm not just being diplomatic when I say they're two totally different things. You can't compare them.

Okay, yes, I'm being diplomatic!

Okay then, I’ll say it: the book is always better! But I’ll still go see the movie. When will it be out?

No official release date just yet. They say by the end of the year, but you know how these things go.

(Fun fact: Justin Deeley who plays hunky Kevin in the movie was born in Louisville, Kentucky, where I live!)

He's a very nice guy! I hope he has a big career ahead of him.

Did any of the things that happen in the books actually happen to you? Have you ever saved someone from a forest fire? Did you ever join a baseball team to impress a guy...

It's almost never exactly what happened to me. I never saved anyone from a fire, and I never joined a baseball team for any reason.

 But when I write about something, I have almost always experienced the emotions involved. 

For example, I've worked with lots and lots of kids over the years, including some like Ian who are way wise beyond their years. I've always had a really easy rapport with kids and teenagers. One time one of their parents said that to me, and I said, "Really? I wonder why." And she said, "My child says it's because you don't treat him like a kid. You don't talk down to him." And for a minute, it didn't make sense. How else would you treat a kid? But then I remembered how adults had treated me as a kid, how patronizing they could be, and how incredibly frustrating that was. I guess that taught me not to do it!

I have saved kids from drowning (as a lifeguard). And unfortunately, I've also done waaay too many things to impress guys.

I also did once work as an extra in a movie, but it wasn't a zombie movie. It was Come See the Paradise with Dennis Quaid. And you can barely see me, and it ended up being a total flop. I mean, like one of the biggest flops of the year. 

In Order of the Poison Oak, Russel is a camp counselor. It’s written so convincingly you must have also been a camp counselor once?

Nope, I was never a counselor, but I'm thrilled I fooled you!

I did have a couple of former camp counselor sources that I grilled mercilessly on the details of being a counselor. And just from life experience, I could sort of figure out the emotions involved.

There were certain things I wanted to include because they're seem so iconic to summer camp: skinny-dipping; an Indian legend; a summer romance; and lots of action around the camp fire. But I'd like to think I wrote about these things in a way that was somehow fresh and different. And just in its being a gay teen book, I think I subvert a lot of the camp stereotypes.

How do you get your ideas for plotlines?

Usually something I read, or a story someone told me. Sometimes it actually happens to me. But whenever I see a good idea for a story, something fresh and new and original, I always know it right away. I think, "I'm going to write that story one day!"

And eventually, I do.

How do you handle the load of promoting published books and writing new books?

I don't sleep!

The truth is, I really, really, really love what I do. So even though I work really hard, it usually doesn't feel like work.

I've never enjoyed the "boring" parts of the business: pitching projects, outlining, putting together presentations or lesson plans, proof-reading, and the like.

But I can honestly say I love the actual writing, the answering emails from fans, doing interviews like this, meeting new people. I'm a shy person, but it's easy to talk to people when you're a writer, because everyone wants to talk to you!

Plus, I spend so much time alone, I'm always ready to go out into the world whenever anyone invites me.

Is The Elephant of Surprise the last Russel Middlebrook book in the series or will there be more? Please say there will be more, please say there will be more...

It's very, very possible. It depends on how well this one sells. But if I do it, I'll jump five years into the future, with Russel in college. 

And if Geography Club, the movie, is a hit, there's already talk of doing the next book as a movie too.

Cool. I love the idea of a jump into Russel’s college years. Excellent idea. Now get writing it. :) I’ve read that you also had a trio friendship in real life, like Russel, Gunnar, and Min. Was your Gunnar a geek and Min a brain?

It's funny, those characters are so loosely based on my friends that I sort of forget that I've said they were. My friends are just as quirky, but in such different ways. Well, my "Gunnar" really did want a theramin once, and my "Min" is very smart, but not a know-it-all or a brainiac.

Incidentally, I love writing about Russel, Min, and Gunnar. I never get bored with them! I could write about them forever. It helps that they're all so different. But I especially love writing about their friendship -- how they affect each other, how they joke around. That's the most interesting aspect of all my friendships -- although, interestingly, my "Min" and my "Gunnar" live in different towns and barely know each other.

See how different my books are from my real life?

What do you like best about writing? What’s your least favorite thing?

It's actually the same thing. I love writing, and I hate writing.

I think everyone can write the first three chapters of any project based on excitement and momentum alone. But then you hit that wall. You realize you've got a whole story to tell – a whole damn world to create. And for me, that's intimidating and exhausting.

You're so right! I am totally there with my current WIP.

I always compare writing to getting a boulder rolling. It’s really, really, really hard for me to get it moving – so hard I really have to work myself up to even trying. And it’s so hard that once I get it rolling, I don’t want to stop, not until I’m done with the whole project. I'm sort of manic that way.

But there's another part of it too. Once I get rolling, once things are really coming, a sort of euphoria takes over. I'm not a religious person, but I gotta say: I find the writing process to be a transcendent experience. You're at one with the universe. It’s such a rush, pushing harder and harder for that elusive glimpse of infinity — and then, finally, getting it.

Basically, I hate the writing process, and I love it at exactly the same time.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

This is it. Which is great in those years when everything's hitting, and I'm making a lot of money. And it's terrifying when your projects aren't connecting, or your editor leaves, or when that "sure-fire" movie deal falls through.

They say writers should have a "back-up career," which is probably smart. The problem is, if I had a back-up career, I would have switched to it long ago. This is a high-wire act we writers do.

Writing fiction is a really, really, really hard way to make a (good) living. On the other hand, it's never dull.

How did you create the plot for this book?

This is book #4 in a series, and with every book, I've wanted my characters to have some interesting, but completely different experience. In Geography Club, they start a "secret" gay-straight alliance (they call it the Geography Club because they think that sounds so boring that no one else will want to join. And yes, I have heard from dozens of angry geographers over the years!).

In The Order of the Poison Oak (the second book in the series), they go to work at a summer camp for burn survivors. In Double Feature (the third book), they get jobs as zombie extras working on a horror film.

I've also always tried to make the books light and funny, which I think explains some of their success.

Well, for The Elephant of Surprise, this latest book, Russel gets involved with a mysterious guy who's a member of a group called "freegans." They're actually a real-life group of environmentalists who give up all their possessions and live on the streets, foraging for food and other necessities. I remember reading about them years ago. And the more I researched them for this book, the more interesting they became. It's a totally different kind of life – and as Russel learns in the book, it's a pretty fascinating one, and in some ways, even a very romantic one.

And dramatically speaking, there's nothing like a character who makes your main character question everything about his life. That's the function Wade (the freegan) has with Russel in The Elephant of Surprise.

Do you outline, write by the seat of your pants, or let your characters tell you what to write?

Oh, I'm a big outliner. I don't get into too much detail in the outline, and I never stick that closely to it, but I like knowing it's there. I need to know: can this story even work? IS there a story? Basically, I'd rather see the flaws in my story in an 8-page outline than after I've written myself into a corner in 200-page manuscript.

I know other writers use a different process, and whatever works for them works for them. I used to do it that way – for years, I resisted the whole idea of an outline. But I write screenplays too, and that's sort of impossible to do without outlining – screenplays are so much about plot and structure. So I was forced to outline, and it worked for me, and I'm so much more efficient now. I think my books are better to.

Did you have any say in your cover art? What do you think of it?
The cover was my idea, and I worked with an artist who I've worked with on all my recent books – April Martinez

The title is a pun on the expression "the element of surprise," and it's a whole recurring theme in the book – when surprising things happen (and they do!), the character imagines an actual elephant stomping on him.

I wanted to convey the book's humor and fun, and I think April got the look exactly right. But then she always does.

I think she did too. Great cover. Have you ever bought any books just for the cover? Did you enjoy the book(s)?
Yes, when I was 12. And no. Learned that lesson well!

What do you do to market your book?

You name it. Wash your windows? Bake you some cookies?

Why yes, to both. But I have to admit I’ve already read all four in the series.

It's funny, just about the only thing I don't do anymore is tour. I've done that – I once did a 14-city tour. And it's fun to meet new people, make new friends. But it's also expensive and exhausting, especially for an introvert like I am. But the Internet has changed all that – bookstores have closed, and it's much harder to get people to turn out for any author's event (unless you're Suzanne Collins). Which is actually fine by me. I'd rather interact via social media anyway.

That said, I still do just enough events that if you really want to meet me in person, you can.

Do you have imaginary friends?

I do! I constructed these whole, elaborate fantasy worlds when I was a boy – super-spy, Middle Earth adventurer, member of a rock band. And I'm proud to say, but also a little embarrassed, that I still return to these worlds whenever I'm alone. And you know what? You're the first person I've ever admitted that too!

That's probably because you sense I have imaginary friends too. I’m constantly on the lookout for new names. How do you name your characters?

That's such a tough one. You want it to be unique, but not call too much attention to itself, not be too precious. You want it to maybe say something about the character's personality, but you're worried about being too literal.

I have a character named Otto Digmore, which is about as far out as I've even gotten. But it is my favorite name.

My main character in these books is Russel Middlebrook. I liked the named "Russel" because it seemed to suggest movement (and I spelled it with only one "l" to indicate he was different from other people). And the last name, which I love the sound of, was meant to sort of indicate that he was "mid-stream," in the process of moving from one place to another – on the border between one place and another. Since the title of the first book was Geography Club, and I sort of play with the metaphor of "geography," it seemed like the perfect choice.

What would your main character say about you?

"Geez, you're even more neurotic than I am!"

I think your imaginary friends have a lot in common with mine. Are any of your characters inspired by real people?

Russel is certainly "inspired" by me, and his two best friends Min and Gunnar were "inspired" by two of my friends. All through my life, I've also always had a thing for friendship trios. Maybe this has something to do my being a gay teenager -- life was safer that way.

 But it's interesting how quickly Russel, Min, and Gunnar became their own characters. In my mind, they now seem totally different from myself and my actual friends. Embarrassingly, I think of them as real people. Even now, when people ask me who they're based on, my first impulse is to think, "What do you mean 'based on'? They're real people!" Which I guess is the goal of writing fiction, right?

Absolutely. Tell us about your favorite scene in the book.
There are four long scenes that map out the trajectory of the love affair between the two main characters, two guys, but they're about as unlikely settings for a love story as you can get (by design!): the first takes place at a Dumpster and then a garbage dump; the next takes place in an abandoned building; the next takes place in an abandoned streetcar in the woods; and the last one takes place in the abandoned building again.

If I do say so myself – ahem! – I love everything that happens in all these scenes. I think it's one of the most unusual gay teen love stories ever I've ever heard about, and I think it's some of my best writing ever.

Thanks for asking!

Thanks for answering! How do you handle criticism of your work?

That's the real challenge, isn't it? Because the job of a writer isn't to be adored. It's to be read. And reading fictional is all about an emotional response, some good, some bad. It's literally a writer's job to be criticized.

That said, I stay as far away from criticism as I can. I write the book, and my job is pretty much done. While I'm writing the book, I listen to criticism from my editors and early readers. But once I'm done writing it, that means I'm satisfied. It also means it's out of my hands – it can't be changed. I let other people have their own reactions, and I don't want to intrude. I also don't want it to bum me out! It can be such an emotional roller coaster if you let it, because obviously everyone reacts to a book differently. Again, that's the whole point. But I don't want to be there to watch. I'd never get out of bed if I did.

Smart man, very smart. Tell us one weird thing, one nice thing, and one fact about where you live.

I live near Green Lake in Seattle, which is a neighborhood near this urban lake just north of downtown. It's so fantastic!

It has something called an "aqua theater," which means the stage is out on the water, and the seats are built on the shore. Good idea, huh? Um, yeah, except for synchronized swimming, it didn't work so well. Now they just use it for rowing.

There's a park that surrounds the whole lake – almost three miles. And almost every day, when I'm done writing, I walk it. It's WONDERFUL, especially for a work-at-home person like I am.

A fact? I think it's the second most-used urban park in the country (after Central Park in New York).

Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do when it happens?

What I get is "I don't want to write" block. Writing is hard, hard work for me (see above answer), so I procrastinate. But it's never been the case that if I actually turn off the Internet and sit down at the computer for five days in a row, nothing comes.

If anything, I have the opposite problem. There are way more stories that I want to write that I'll ever have the time to get down on paper.

Is there anything in particular that you do to help the writing flow?

Oh, I get stuck all the time. So I go for a walk, or take a shower. Or I give up for the day, think about it before I go to sleep that night, and let my subconscious mind work it out. What do you know? Nine times out of ten, that works!

You obviously write a lot, but what do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I confess I’m a little envious of writers like Stephen King, who writes for exactly four hours every day (even Christmas), stopping at noon. And I feel bad that I don’t do what all the writing books say I should do: keep a journal, constantly observe the world, make notes on napkins.

But when I’m not writing, I’m so not writing. I’m reading or biking or cooking or playing video games or going to plays and movies — basically, enjoying life — but I am definitely not writing. I don’t think I’ve ever once had an inspiration for anything writing-related if I’m in one of my “non-writing” phases.

I can’t just turn my creativity on and off, and it’s definitely not always running in the background, like my computer’s anti-virus program.

For me, it’s all or nothing: all consuming or completely checked out.

Fortunately for us, the "all consuming" wins out most of the time. I read all four books in the series and loved them all. Brent's characters stick with you and become your imaginary friends. Check them out, people.

About the author:

Brent Hartinger is an author, teacher, playwright, and screenwriter. Geography Club, the first book in his Lambda Award-winning Russel Middlebrook Series, is now a feature film. In 1990, Brent helped found one of the country's first LGBT teen support groups, in his hometown of Tacoma, Washington. In 2005, he co-founded the entertainment website, which was sold to MTV/Viacom in 2006. Read more by and about Brent, or contact him at

Connect with Brent
Website / Facebook / Goodreads / Twitter

Buy the book:
Amazon / Barnes & Noble

Other books by Brent Hartinger

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Dragon's Loyalty Award

I have been given this lovely award by the indefatigable Ty Patterson, who is quite possibly the funniest blogger I've ever known and a huge supporter of Indie authors. The loyalty award is not given lightly and goes to those who help upcoming authors, and I thank Ty for his help and for bestowing this honor on me.


The “rules” – if you so chose to participate – associated with receiving the award are:

1. Display the Award Certificate on your website.

   See above.

2. Announce your win with a post and link to whoever presented your award.
   See here (the post) and to the right (who nominated me).

3. Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers.

   See below.

4. Drop them a comment to tip them off after you’ve linked them in
   the post.

   See your inbox.

5. Post 7 interesting things about yourself.
   See below.

"Interesting" and "me" don't really go in the same sentence, but here goes...

7 Sorta Interesting Things:

1. I have one published book, two complete manuscripts, five novels, and one novelette in the works. A.D.D. much?
2. I'm a serial weed puller, sweet tea drinker, and procrastinator.
3. My dirty little secret: I read more audio books than hard copy or Kindle. Gasp!
4. I'm crazy about the moon.
5. I like Pina Coladas, getting caught in the rain, the feel of the ocean, and I have half a brain.
6. I recently hired a lawyer.
7. I look for heart rocks wherever I go.

My nominations are:

Tricia Drammeh
Leti Del Mar
Gregory A. Hart
Jade Kerrion
Paul Anthony
Rachelle Ayala
James Moushon
Joss Landry
Melissa Lapierre
Michael O'Gara
Ara C.T.
Patti Roberts
DelSheree Gladden
Linda Leander
Billie Thomas

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Featured Author: John Covington

I commented the other day that it's rare to have a non-fiction book on this blog, and here we are with a third--and the second one in a row. Today I welcome John Covington to talk about his novel, What I Learned About Leadership from My Dog, published by Virtualbookworm Publishing. I've learned a lot from my dog, so I can't wait to see what John says.

About the book: 

While training his German Shepherd for search and rescue, it was obvious that the relationship building and leadership required to work with his dog was exactly the same as with people. Dogs are great labs to improve our leadership as they give you instant feedback, have little or no ego, and if there is a problem, it's always the human's fault.

Interview with John:

How long have you been writing, John, and how did you start?

I have been writing for about 15 years. I got started by writing a quarterly news letter to promote our consulting business. The newsletters were in a Dave Berry, Lewis Grizzard type of style, and I got a lot of positive feedback and many friends asked me to put them in book form. That inspired my book Let’s Don’t Pave the Cow Paths.  

How did you come up with the title of your book?

The title of the book reflects the conversation I want to have with the reader. I actually did learn a lot about leadership from my dog and hence the title.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

Yes, I am CEO of Chesapeake Consulting. 

How would you describe your book in a tweet? (140 characters or less.)

It is the story of a dog teaching some clueless dolt about leadership. The dog has the patience of Job.

How did you create the plot for this book?

I have a lot of leadership experience both as a consultant and a direct line leader.  In training my dog for search and rescue, I saw so many issues that related to leadership of humans that the plot just flowed.

Do you outline, write by the seat of your pants, or let your characters tell you what to write? 

I try to write a book every other Lent. During the off year I ponder what the next book will be and the subject matter dictates the effort.

Did you have any say in your cover art?

Yes.  The artist is an amateur photographer and a good friend, Sean Wise.  Sean also runs his own business.  

Tell us a book you’re an evangelist for.

The book's title is Influencer Book. Basically it says that no one listens to anything you have to say that we must have them experience something either by hands on experience or by a well-written parable. I try to use that in my books.

I would totally agree with that theory. What do you do to market your book?

Mostly through e-mail blast to our client base for our consulting business.

What would your main character say about you? 

“He is almost as smart as a dog.”

Which author would you most like to invite to dinner, and what would you fix him? Or her.

Dave Barry and bring Lewis Grizzard back from the dead.

How do you handle criticism of your work? 

No problem.

Do you have a routine for writing?

During Lent I write at least an hour for 40 days. By the end of Lent I am so far along it would be stupid to quit, so I press on to finish. 

Where’s home for you? 

Severna Park, Maryland, however I spend a lot of time in Tuscaloosa, Alabama – Roll Tide!! 

Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do when it happens?
Yes. What I do is listen to the voice of my 10th grade English teacher who said “Just put something down on paper.” 

What’s one of your favorite quotes?

“Each dog owner gets the dog they deserve.” 

If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Some Caribbean Island, as long as the publisher is paying.

About the author:

John Covington is an avid trainer and handler of working dogs and CEO of Chesapeake Consulting. He was educated in the US Naval Academy and the University of Alabama earning a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. John is active in community affairs, enjoys hiking and biking, and has been married to the same woman since 1972. This is currently John's fifth book.

Find John at his website

Buy the book at Amazon

Monday, March 25, 2013

Featured Author: Elvie Dell

Elvie Dell is here today to talk about her non-fiction novel, All About Me – A Journey to the Inside, for youth to adults, published by Virtualbookworm Publishing

About the book:

This is a book that is for born-again Christian believers who find themselves frustrated and confused with internal battles and silently ask themselves, “What’s wrong with me? Everyone else seems to have it all together.” The key word is seems! There is a rest for God’s people!

II Corinthians 5:17 tells us that if we are in Christ, we are a new creature, old things have passed away and all things have become new. If you’re still struggling with a lot of “old” in you, this may be the insight you long for.

Being saved doesn’t mean an instant personality make-over. The new creature this scripture refers to is our spirit man. We are a 3-part being: spirit, soul, and body. Gaining a better understanding of ourselves and learning to differentiate between the three helps bring us peace.

As people begin to recognize where their struggles really lie, and how to hear from their spirits, they find peace in the knowledge of what’s normal and common to us all as part of the human experience. Learning to walk out this new found freedom is a fascinating journey. We can rest in the assurance that God has a good plan for our lives.

Interview with Elvie

How long have you been writing, and how did you start?
About seven to eight years, just piddling around with writing but nothing too serious.  This is my first publication. My kids and husband used to tell me, “You should write a book,” but I didn’t really think I had the time or the know-how. Then one day I felt impressed to write about THIS one topic, so I enrolled in a correspondence writing course to learn what I could, and to finish what I felt was a divine assignment.

What do you like best about writing?

I like the creativity. Especially with fiction, you can control the way things go and you can just make it up as you go. Non-fiction is much more difficult for me.

What’s your least favorite thing about writing? 


How did you come up with the title of your book?

I had a baby book as a child (one of those albums moms document their kids’ growth in).  It was a book that was “all about me.”  This piece is “All About Me” too, but in three different realms rather than just your physical growth and change.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

We have a family business, and I stay busy helping with the bookwork and administrative end of that.

How would you describe your book in a tweet? (140 characters or less.)

This book is for born-again Christian believers who find themselves frustrated and confused with internal battles and silently ask themselves, “What’s wrong with me?

Why did you decide to write this book?

I had been learning a lot about the different aspects of man (spirit, soul, and body) from many different sources and how to differentiate between the three.  When we don’t understand how we’re made, it can be quite frustrating. I also heard a teaching about “your assignment” (something specific God created you to do). Among other things, I felt like part of my assignment in life was to write this book—-to take these teachings and put them in book form, simply written so that even a child could understand. So I guess this is just the result of obeying the promptings of my heart. And hoping that others can benefit as well.

What will others learn from reading your book? 

Understand first, that this is a book for born-again believers. Without that foundation, it probably will not make sense. Hopefully they’ll learn that the things they are experiencing and the frustrations they face (even as believers) are common to us all. (We often think that once we get saved, life should just fall into place and that’s not always the case—we still have things to deal with—-like our nature and our flesh.) I hope they learn to differentiate between the different dimensions that make up a person (spirit, soul, and body) and find peace in being who God created by learning to allow the right aspect of their being to have the ultimate authority in their life. That is, learning to listen to your spirit and requiring your soul and your flesh to line up. Then you’re in position to fulfill whatever assignment God has for your life. It’s always a path of peace and great joy. It should come naturally to you and be something you enjoy, because you were made for that purpose.

Do you outline or write by the seat of your pants?

I had an idea of how it was supposed to be laid out. The outline was something I had to come up with after-the-fact to make sure it flowed.

Did you have any say in your cover art?

Yes. I knew it was supposed to have a lot of color; but I asked my artist to see what she got in her spirit as far as the design, and we were both in agreement.  That was a neat process. 

What do you think of it?

I love it.  It’s colorful, it has a message, it makes you think, and it’s appealing. My son told me that if the cover isn’t just right, people aren’t going to pick it up—-that the cover is a huge draw for the younger audience. I think it hits the mark. 

Tell us about the artist.

I actually did an acknowledgment page in the front of the book about her. She is gifted in prophetic art and that’s what I was looking for. She’s a personal friend, and I trust her walk with the Lord and the gifts in her.

Tell us about your favorite scene in the book.

I like peeking into the three different dimension of who you are—-the chapters on spirit, soul, and body, because it’s written from the voice of each—-the spirit has its own voice, likewise the soul and the body and each one reflects a slightly different personality.

What song would you pick to go with your book?

No idea…

Who are your favorite authors?

C.S. Lewis, Donna VanLiere, Jan Karon, William Paul Young, Frank Peretti, Beverly Cleary, Barbara Park, Stan & Jan Berenstain, and of course Dr. Seuss!

What are your favorite books?

a) as a child: all the Ramona books by Beveryly Cleary, Amelia Bedelia, Curious George and Dr. Seuss books.

b) as a teenager: All Quiet on the Western Front-—I remember reading this in high school, though I don’t remember much about it except that at the time I thought it was a good book. Most of my reading as a teenage was required reading. I went through a time when I simply did not like to read.

c) as an adult: As an adult, I started picking up children’s books again. I didn’t enjoy reading that much, but once I had kids, I wanted to make sure they enjoyed it. So I began to read to them—-A LOT—-and in the process I began to love it myself. I rediscovered my favorite books as a child and new authors such as Barbara Park (Junie B. Jones series).  We read the Chronicles of Narnia series. My own personal reading favorites included The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti, the Mitford series by Jan Karon, The Left Behind series by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, The Shack by William Paul Young, all of Donna VanLiere’s books, and the Cape Light series by Thomas Kincaid and Katherine Spencer.

Which author would you most like to invite to dinner, and what would you fix?

That’s a toss up.  Probably either C.S. Lewis (because he’s so deep—-I’d enjoy just listening to what he had to say) or Beverly Cleary. She was just fun reading and knew what it felt like to be and think like a kid—-she just seemed to understand everybody.

What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?

A Time to Advance by Chuck Pierce--paperback

Do you have a routine for writing?

Only when it hits me. Then I better get it down on paper.

Do you work better at night, in the afternoon, or in the morning?

Whenever it starts to flow, which can be at any time. I prefer mornings but that’s not always the case.

Where and when do you prefer to do your writing?

At home at my computer.

Where’s home for you?


Do you ever get writer’s block?


What do you do when it happens? 

Walk away and do something else. If it’s not happening, it’s just not happening.

Is there anything in particular that you do to help the writing flow?

No. It’s not something I can force. It usually comes by inspiration. I have to really have a lot of quiet.

What’s one of your favorite quotes?

Eleanor Roosevelt: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” 
And my dad:  “Where there’s water, there’s a hole.”

What three books have you read recently and would recommend?

This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I enjoy reading, cooking, gardening, being outside, and hanging out with my family.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Right where I’m at! I think America is the greatest and most desirable place to live. I love to travel and visit other places when I can, but there’s truly no place like home.

If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, where would you go? (Don’t worry about the money. Your publisher is paying.)

I’d love to see Israel.

What are you working on now?

I have a couple of children’s manuscripts that have been in the works for a while...just fun and whimsical reading and not a lot of thinking required. Sometimes our brain needs a break—-both for the writer and the reader.

To read an excerpt of All About Me: A Journey To The Inside, go here.

About the author:

Elvie Dell is a free spirit, a freelance writer and poet (and a few other things that don’t pertain to writing). She loves to read, watch Lucy re-runs, cook, travel when she can, garden (on a very small scale), fish with her sons, shop and explore with her daughters, craft with her grandkids, just hang out with her husband...and read Dr. Seuss!  She’s intrigued by the very young and the very old and the simplicity of life.

Elvie has four grown children, and three grandchildren. She lives in Texas with her husband, two dogs and six chickens. For more about Elvie and her books, go to her website.   

Buy the book on Amazon

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Featured Author: Will Macmillan Jones

I'm happy to have Will Macmillan Jones here today to talk about his soon-to-be-released fantasy novel, Bass Instinct, the fourth outing for The Banned Underground series.

About the book:

Dai the Drinking Dragon has been kidnapped by the Dark Lord for nefarious purposes, and by his Receptionist for even less reputable reasons.  Without their bass player, The Banned Underground are now in deep trouble with their Record label.  They have to produce the recordings for an album, and someone has stolen the tapes from the last gig.  Can they make some more recordings, or will Freya, the renegade dwarf bass player, distract the boys whilst the Dark Lord’s evil schemes come to fruition?

The Dark Lord has found some Thugs to help him in his latest plan to invade the Dwarf Mansion, but they have other things on their minds.  Like looting and pillaging the locals, and it’s all going wrong again.

Will record-producing Adam set his Ants on The Banned?  Or will it all come good in the end?  Time is Tight on this one for The Banned Underground.

Interview with Will

How long have you been writing, and how did you start, Will?

I’ve always been interested in writing, I think. I was lucky enough to have an English teacher at school who encouraged all of his class to write, and I enjoyed it at school.  Then I wrote my first book in my twenties. And awful rubbish it was as well. But it formed the basis (after a lot of reworking!) of the first book I had published, The Amulet Of Kings - the first in The Banned Underground series.  I’ve been lucky enough to be signed by  Safkhet Publishing to write a series of eight of these comic fantasy books for them.  Which I think means that they like the books.

I'd say so! That's great. How do you come up with the titles?

Titles are a treat to play with for me. I love messing around with ideas centered on the story I’m creating, and then finding a suitable short title. Two or three words work best for me, and are easier to repeat when marketing!

Tell me about it. What was I thinking when I titled my book Murder & Mayhem in Goose Pimple Junction? But I digress. Do you have another job besides writing?

I’ve been self-employed in tax and accounting for thirty years now. And horribly dull it is too. But it has provided me with a huge base of characters to use in my books...

How do you create your plots?

I fall between the two stools of ‘plotting’ and ‘pantsing,’ really. I start by imagining the basis of the story, and then build that into a series of checkpoints. I insist my characters meet the checkpoints, but a lot of the time I leave it entirely up to them to get there on their own. And sometimes, they all fly away on a tangent, and I have to alter my careful plan to accommodate what they want to do.

Some characters do have that annoying talent of ruining a writer's plans sometimes. How do you market your book?

My favourite way is actually to sell the books inside bookshops at signings. Some authors hate doing that, but I love engaging with the readers. As signings inside Waterstones are much less easy to come by these days, I do a lot of online marketing too.

How do you get to know your characters?

They muscle in on my dreams and daydreams, and force their way into whatever I’m writing.  Freya, for example, the ‘bad girl/rock chick’ in Bass Instinct first appeared in the previous book in a bit part, and we got on so well that she got a much bigger role in book four. Can I leave her out in the future? I’m not sure, but I would certainly not rule out another appearance. The same for Ricky Vander. I’ll say little about him, so as not to spoil the surprise. But I think he’s coming back, too.

Which character do you most enjoy writing?

That just has to be Grizelda the witch. I’m not brave enough to tell you who she is based on...but she only has to appear and the scenes take off. Many of the other characters take off too. They can run away, of course, whilst I can’t.

You can run, but you can't hide, right? What would your characters say about you?

Oh dear. Grizelda threatened to turn me into a frog.


The Banned Underground took me out drinking, then dropped me back home insensible and naked.

I hate when that happens!

The Dark Coven came past one evening and magically bricked up my front door.

Now, that was just mean-spirited.

The only one who isn’t consistently rude to me is Freya. So if I get to go to a desert island, she’s my choice. Just don’t tell the others...

Mum's the word. Are any of your characters inspired by real people?

They all are. I’ve met everyone of them in real life, although some of course are composites. But an attitude here, a mannerism there, a behavioural trait...and some of the minor characters are actually friends of mine who have begged for a cameo, suitably disguised of course!

Your favourite scene?

It comes down to a choice of two:

In the first scene, The Banned Underground are playing on stage, when –to Jumping Jack Flash – their guitarist is blown across the stage by some feedback, and smashes apart the mystical Throne of The King Under The Mountain.


The other scene is also in The Mystic Accountants. The Banned have just recruited their fist bass player, a drunken welsh dragon called Dai. Dai has been to fetch his Fender Bass guitar, and on the way back, he meets the RAF…

“Pen-bre Firing Range, this is Victor Kilo One Six, inbound from RAF Valley.”
“Victor Kilo, this is Pen-bre range.  Go ahead.”
“Pen-bre Range, Victor Kilo is a training flight, inbound for a strike mission, five minutes to run from the east, height 800 feet.”
“Victor Kilo, Pen-bre Range.  Radar contact acquired.  Your strike clearance is approved. Be aware of local traffic in your 10 oclock, same height.”
“Pen-brE Range, stricke clearance copied.  Looking for the traffic..AND WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?  ARMING WEAPONS SYSTEMS!”
“Victor Kilo, are you visual on the traffic? Can you identify?”
“Victor Kilo One Six, Pen-bre Range. Your strike clearance is cancelled. Disarm weapons systems and return to base immediately.”

What song would you pick to go with your book?

Music runs throughout my books.  Well, writing about a blues and rock n roll band, that’s a given, isn’t it? Every scene has its own theme or music, and it’s always rock and blues.

Who are your favourite authors?

Well, obviously I’m going to say Tolkein, as a fantasy writer. But I do read quite widely, and like a lot of different things. I’ve been reading The Dresden Files recently, by Jim Butcher, and inevitably I read the comic writers: Pratchett, Holt, Rankin. One of my favourite authors is Richard Bach, who writes about flying and life. Jonathon Livingston Seagull and Illusions will always be on my bookcase. As will Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light.
What are you reading right now?

One of the greats: Ray Bradbury. Something Wicked This Way Comes. It’s a paperback, because I don’t think I could afford a hardback copy, which is what I’d prefer. I don’t own an e-reader of any sort.

How do you handle criticism of your work?

With silence, as far as the writer of the comments is concerned. That, for me is the only proper response. Then I think about what has been said, and take what I can from it for the future.

Do you have a routine for writing?

No, I don’t really. I’m lucky, because I work from home and so my laptop – and the current WIP - are always available to me. I can just write whenever the mood takes me. 

About the author:

Will Macmillan Jones live in Wales, a lovely green, verdant land with a rich cultural heritage.  He does his best to support this heritage by drinking the local beer and shouting loud encouragement whenever International Rugby is on the TV.  A fifty-something lover of blues, rock and jazz he has just fulfilled a lifetime ambition by filling an entire wall of his home office with (full) bookcases.

His major comic fantasy series, released by Safkhet Publishing, can be found at: and information on his other work and stuff in general at: and

Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads / Amazon

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Featured Author: The Time Trading Guru Robert Renaud

We don't have many non-fiction authors on A Blue Million Books, but I'm happy to be talking with non-fiction author Robert Renaud today. Robert explains his new book, The Time Trading Guru, shows people how to embrace the time trading principles of time, flexibility, and money, and the DREAM process to take life breaks and to become personally fulfilled. His first book, The Red Tape Chronicles, is a compilation of his cartoon strip, The Bureaucrats, the red tape comic strip about life in the service.


About the book:

If you want to escape the workplace and live life again then The Time Trading Guru is for you. Embrace the time trading principles of time, flexibility, and money, and trade that “work” and wasted time into “value” time by leveraging life breaks to live life to the fullest.

Robert, how did you get the idea for this book?

It really is a by-product of the challenges I’ve had in my life. I learned to take control and steer my own course.

How long have you been writing?

Well over 20 years, but mostly in business writing.

Did you have a nine to five job before you decided to write a book?

I still have a nine to five, but I use it more wisely and take advantage of time trading to live life to the fullest.

What will readers learn from The Time Trading Guru?

People will learn to manage their perceptions and take the time to live life today and to become personally fulfilled in the process.

Explain time trading, please.

Absolutely, The Time Trading Guru is about using the levers of life: time, flexibility, and money and the DREAM process that provides steps to goal setting, to take life breaks. By following this blueprint you stop postponing your life to some time in the future and begin to live life today.

What makes you a time trading guru?

A guru simply means “teacher” and this is precisely what I do in my book and on my blog where I muse about living life now and not some time in the future.

How long did it take you to write The Time Trading Guru?

I’ve had the ideas for quite a few years, but when I actually put pen to paper it took me about 4 months to write the book.

Do you think it’s possible to be a dreamer and a realist?

Absolutely, if you don’t have dreams, you’ll never aspire to be more than you are, but at the same time you need to be realistic about the how to achieve things. Don’t compromise the things that mean the most along way.

How would you describe your book in a tweet? (140 characters or less.)

Use the time trading formula to live life to the fullest.

Who is your target audience?

This book is directed primarily at workers. Millions of readers world-wide would be interested in The Time Trading Guru because everyone is looking for a way to gain a better quality and balance in their life without having to sacrifice what they already have. The simple time trading formula is attractive because it takes what most of us already know and makes one a master at pulling the levers of life: time, flexibility, and money to reach his dreams.

What is your favorite genre to read?

I like non-fiction in general because I like to learn new things.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I like to draw - it allows me to be completely free.

Name one thing you couldn’t live without.

A cup of tea in the morning.

Do you have any regrets?

None, I wouldn’t be where I am today without all the good and bad experiences along the way.

About the author:

Robert Renaud is a life enthusiast, pragmatic career man, spirited dreamer. He has lived his dreams, from dancing with a princess, living as a millionaire in Ecuador, to being a cartoonist. He’s a dedicated family man who leverages time trading to live life to its fullest and becoming personally fulfilled in the process.

Connect with Robert:
Website / Facebook / Goodreads / Twitter / Amazon

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Interview with Tonya Kappes's June Heal

Tonya Kappes's cozy mystery, A Charming Wish, was released by MagiCal Press on March 11. I'm delighted to have Tonya's main character, June Heal, here today for an interview. But first...

About the character:

June Heal is a homeopathic curest who discovers she has magical powers when she relocates her flea market homeopathic cure shop, A Charming Cure, to the magical town of Whispering Falls, Kentucky.

About the book:

"Tonya Kappes' A Magical Cure Series, charmed me until the end!" ~ Cozy Mystery Book Reviews

Bubble, Bubble. . .

It seems shop owner and newly appointed Whispering Falls Village President June Heal has it all: Beauty, wits, bewitching powers...Sheriff Oscar Park. Life is good. Because life in Whispering Falls is magical.

Cures and Trouble. . .

But when a member of the community is found dead on the steps of A Charming Cure, June's homeopathic cure shop, and her fingerprints show up at the scenes of local robberies, she is kicked off the village council and her powers fall under scrutiny. Until it's uncovered who is wreaking havoc on the town...June's magic is suspended.

Magic Stirs. . .

With the help of a rather obnoxious genie and Mr. Prince Charming, June's Fairy-God cat, June is determined to figure out who is framing her. Time is of the essence when it becomes clear that the true villain is trying to get rid of her...permanently!

And Trouble Doubles. . .

Oscar Park will do anything to protect June even if that means giving up all of his magical powers. . .or worse, his life.

Interview with June:

June, how did you first meet Tonya?

There was a vacancy in her head, so I just sort of moved on in. She told me that she didn’t like witches. . .

Want to dish about her?

I concoct my best homeopathic cures in the middle of the night, my cauldron seems to work best during those hours, and Tonya is always awake with this little notebook in her hand. She never sleeps! I bet if she would give up one of her three pots of coffee she drinks a day, she might get a little shut eye. I left a message with the Sand Man to drop Tonya visit.

Did you ever think that your life would end up being in a book?

Never! I’m just a small town Kentucky girl.

Yay! Kentucky! I wonder if Whispering Falls is close to Louisville. Tell us about your favorite scene in the book, June.

Tonya continues to write about my life, so in the third novel, A Charming Wish, she started with my story when I found out that I had a genie bottle in my shop. . .with a genie living in it!

Did you have a hard time convincing your author to write any particular scenes for you?

Yes! Tonya always wants to write my story her way or the way she thinks I should live my life, but I keep telling her NO! It’s my life, and I can live it how I want to. Sometimes she does have some good ideas with new potions.

What do you like to do when you are not being actively read somewhere?
I love spending time with my fairy-god cat, Mr. Prince Charming and my boyfriend, Oscar Park. Hanging out with my friends that live in Whispering Falls is a lot of fun too.

Tell the truth. What do you think of your fellow characters?

I absolutely adore them! Each of them have a special magical talent that is disguised by their store front. I love how they interact with their clients. Shandra owns A Cleansing Spirit Spa. Her clients think they are getting a manicure, but Shandra is really reading their palm. All of Whispering Falls is like that!

What's the worst thing that's happened in your life?

What did you learn from it? I lost both of my parents at a young age. It has been a hard long road learning all the ropes of life without their guidance. I’ve learned to trust my intuition. It hasn’t failed me yet!

Tell us about your best friends.

Mr. Prince Charming is my fairy-god cat who showed up on my door step with a turtle charm hanging on his collar on my tenth birthday. I’ve always wanted a charm bracelet! I knew we were going to be fast friends. He has never left my side and I’m twenty-five.
Madame Torres is my snarky crystal ball. Even though she is a pain in the rear sometimes and we argue, she always has my best interest at heart.

How do you feel about your life right now? What, if anything, would you like to change?
There are a lot of changes that only Tonya and I know about. I’m not sure if those changes are good or bad. I guess we will have to wait and see.

What aspect of your author’s writing style do you like best?

I love how she adds humor to my life of chaos. I don’t think my life is funny, but she writes it in a way that makes readers laugh out loud.

If your story were a movie, who would play you?

I adore Mandy Moore. I think she would make a great me!

Describe the town where you live.

MAGICAL! Whispering Falls is settled in the foothills of Kentucky, surrounded by beautiful mountainous limestone and Kentucky bluegrass. The town is filled with quaint shops. Each shop has a gorgeous ornamental gate that leads you into magical store with special powers. When a tourist comes to our small town, they can’t wait to come back.

Describe an average day in your life.

I have to have my coffee first thing in the morning. Then Mr. Prince Charming and I go to my shop, A Charming Cure, and start working on new homeopathic cures. When a client comes in, I rely on my intuition to what is the root of their ailment, and then I make them the perfect cure. After work, I tend to spend some alone time with my boyfriend. Lately, I’ve been in a little pickle. Someone was found dead on the steps of my shop. Needless to say. . .someone is framing me for murder! Any free time I have, I’m trying to figure out who wants me gone.

Will you encourage your author to write a sequel?

She is on the third novel. I think she has six in mind. 

Super! Please come back when the next one is out!


About the author:

Tonya Kappes is an Amazon Movers and Shakers, and self-published International bestselling author. She writes humorous cozy mystery and women’s fiction that involves quirky characters in quirky situations., the first novel in the Olivia Davis Mystery series, is a double finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards in the Mystery and Humorous Categories. Carpe Bead ‘em is a the winner in Amazon’s eFestival of Words in the Women’s Fiction Category.

She travels to various writers groups giving workshops on marketing and promoting no matter where you are in your career, and in self-publishing.

Become a member of Tonya’s STREET TEAM! It’s a gathering place of readers who love Tonya Kappes novels, and Tonya gives away monthly prizes! To sign up for Tonya’s STREET TEAM, newsletter, view book trailer, and upcoming news, check out Tonya’s website,

Connect with Tonya:
Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads / Website / Blog

Buy the book:
Amazon / Barnes & Noble

Monday, March 18, 2013

Featured Author: Kim Boykin

I'm happy to have Kim Boykin here today to talk about her just released novel, The Wisdom of Hair. The chick lit book, published by Berkley Books, has been touted by NYT bestselling novelist and author of Ocean Beach, Wendy Wax, as, "A lovely, engaging novel...witty and eloquent." In addition to an interview with Kim, we're treated with a guest post and a book excerpt.

About the book:

"The problem with cutting your own hair is that once you start, you just keep cutting, trying to fix it, and the truth is, some things can never be fixed. The day of my daddy's funeral, I cut my bangs until they were the length of those little paintbrushes that come with dime-store watercolor sets. I was nine years old. People asked me why I did it, but I was too young then to know I was changing my hair because I wanted to change my life."

In 1983, on her nineteenth birthday, Zora Adams finally says goodbye to her alcoholic mother and their tiny town in the mountains of South Carolina. Living with a woman who dresses like Judy Garland and brings home a different man each night is not a pretty existence, and Zora is ready for life to be beautiful.

With the help of a beloved teacher, she moves to a coastal town and enrolls in the Davenport School of Beauty. Under the tutelage of Mrs. Cathcart, she learns the art of fixing hair, and becomes fast friends with the lively Sara Jane Farquhar, a natural hair stylist. She also falls hard for handsome young widower Winston Sawyer, who is drowning his grief in bourbon. She couldn't save Mama, but maybe she can save him.

As Zora practices finger waves, updos, and spit curls, she also comes to learn that few things are permanent in this life--except real love, lasting friendship, and, ultimately... forgiveness.

Interview with Kim Boykin 

Welcome, Kim! I love the title of your book. How did you come up with it?

I was at a pitch conference in New York and the editor who eventually bought my book that was titled Separate Ways at the time said, “Yeah, but what’s the book really about?” I told her it’s about the wisdom of hair, that women change their hair to change their lives and she said, “THAT’S your title.” And she was right.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

Nope. I spend most days writing in my pajamas. I admire those folks who hold down a job or have little kids and write. They are probably way more organized than I am, which isn’t hard.

Do you outline, write by the seat of your pants, or let your characters tell you what to write?

I never use an outline and have little to know idea of where the story’s going when I start out. I just listen to the voices as they carry me along. I’m not ashamed to say I do hear voices and would be devastated if I didn’t. When my characters get stuck or something’s not making sense, I stop and figure things out, but for the most part, I just put my people in a box and see what they do.

Did you have any say in your cover art?
The only real say I had was with the first proof I saw. The background was steel gray, the hair dryer was red, and there was hardly any of the woman’s face showing. I complained that it didn’t look at all like the story inside, and they made it gorgeous, purples and green, more of the model’s pretty face. I LOVE IT!

I do too! Which character did you most enjoy writing?

Without a doubt-Sara Jane Farquhar. She’s a big gorgeous woman with a mouth on her and the best friend a girl could wish for. Heck, even I wish I had a Sara Jane Farquhar in my stable of friends.

I’m constantly on the lookout for new names. How do you name your characters?

Interesting question. Initially, her name was Shirley, a good sturdy Appalachian mountain name, but I thought I needed a sexier name and Zora came to me. I have a book of names I look up the meanings of names to see if they’re on target with their characters and lo and behold, Zora means “the light of the dawn.” It’s a fitting name since The Wisdom of Hair is a coming of age story.
What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?
For all the indie bookstore fans, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve tried, but I have a really hard time reading “real books” these days. I’m a Kindle girl so far because I read faster and way more with an eReader. I’m writing a romance now, so that’s what I’ve been reading. Too many titles to mention. Everything from Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series to Brenda Novak’s Whiskey Creek Series, to Why We Never Danced the Charleston by Harlan Greene, and everything in between.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Right down the road on a little island called the Isle of Palms near Charleston, South Carolina. Conde Naste travel magazine proclaimed Charleston the number one tourist destination in the world, and of course the US. We have a vacation home there and it gets harder and harder to leave each visit. Phenomenal weather, food, and people. Y’all come!

What are you working on now?
A love story set in the Charleston Lowcountry during 1952. It’s loads of fun to write.


Kim's Guest Post

by Kim Boykin

I was born in the ’50′s in a time when women were encouraged to stay home and dream for their husbands and their children, for anybody but themselves. Somewhere in all that, my mom decided she wanted to go to beauty school.

To this day, even at 81 Mom is still gorgeous and has always enjoyed the latest styles and fashions. Working at the Bomb Plant (we’ll save this topic for a later blog) and with three daughters, my dad thought he should save every penny rather than opening his wallet which would certainly have resulted in financial ruin. Mom was a resourceful woman. She figured out how to whip up the latest styles, but in a time where women had their hair washed and set once a week, and by set I mean girded in lacquer so that it was like a pretty plastic helmet, she was stumped. She wanted to learn how to fix her hair, and with my older sisters nearing college age, she wanted to be able to send us to college, something my dad wasn’t totally on board with at the time.

Out of all this, Betty’s Beauty Salon came to be in a shabby little row of buildings on Main Street, New Ellenton, South Carolina. Mom worked hard and worked her way into a nicer building, and while the digs changed significantly, one thing NEVER changed. Women came to her shop to find themselves, to nurture themselves, something that wasn’t at all en vogue like it is today, and to find their dreams.

Maybe they were drawn there because it was a safe place to be yourself, to speak your mind, to share your joys and your sorrows. Aside from a phenomenal haircut, great color, or a scalp massage that often had her clients purring, I believe they were drawn to Mom’s dream itself. Whether it was her or the dryers and shampoo bowls or the building with the little wooden sign over the door, Betty’s Beauty Salon represented a dream that one brave woman dare to dream; and it actually came TRUE! And isn’t that what we all want? At least once?

I’ve got my dream, it’s 292 pages long and debuted 3/5/13. My wish for you is that you find yours, and if you haven’t found it yet, answer the call to find it, even in the most unassuming places.

Excerpt from The Wisdom of Hair

According to the brochure, beauty school was supposed to be The Beginning of an Exciting Career That Will Last a Lifetime. But the first thing that caught my eye when I walked through the front door of the Davenport School of Beauty was a sign on slick white poster board posted by the cash register.  A bubble over a pair of legs said, NO MORE THAN THREE ABOVE THE KNEE. Looking down at my uniform, I didn’t need a ruler to tell me that I was out of line. 

I pulled at the sides of my uniform, trying to lengthen the hem like a lot of the other students. I could just picture us all after school let out, sitting around our respective homes with scissors, big red tomato pin cushions, and spools of white thread scattered about, undoing our hemlines.

Nobody looked anything like the proud confident blonde on the cover of the brochure, except for one girl.  She was the only one not worrying with her dress. Hers was an inch or two below the knee and had a sassy little slit up the back. From the neck up, she looked like a movie star, and the way she carried herself made you forget that she could probably afford to lose fifty or sixty pounds.

As attendance was called, we were supposed to introduce ourselves. Some of the girls stammered or giggled.  My own voice came out just above a whisper, but the big girl spoke in a deep, sexy drawl with a proud confidence that every single girl in the room coveted. We looked at Sara Jane Farquhar in awe, and there wasn’t a single soul in that room, even our instructor, who didn’t want to be her.

“Now, ladies, I am Mrs. Cathcart, your instructor here at the Davenport School of Beauty. I’d like to welcome you, the winter class of 1983.” She paused, waiting for us to applaud ourselves. When we didn’t, she did, and we all joined in. “As students, you’ll learn the art of fixing hair over the next six months. Along with the latest fashion trends, you will master vital skills like pin curls and finger waves. And though perms and color will be your bread and butter, if you can learn to do an upsweep, you can make a fortune these days.”   

“Class, if you can give a woman a good hairdo, she will crawl to you on her deathbed for you to fix her hair.  A woman whose hair has been properly colored is a customer for life. Let me assure all of you, there is great honor in making a woman in your charge look and feel beautiful. This is indeed one of life’s highest callings.”

We stood there applauding for all we were worth, completely mesmerized by Mrs. Cathcart’s address to the Class of 1983. I looked around the room. There were twenty-three of us. One girl was crying. Later on, when she dropped out, Mrs. Cathcart would say she was called elsewhere.    

After the applause ended, Mrs. Cathcart led us past the area with all of the dryers and shampoo bowls to a large room in the back that was both storage room and our classroom. Each workstation had a faceless mannequin head with glossy black hair.  All of them were identical, except one or two looked newer than the others. 

Most everyone leafed through the blue clothbound textbook at each station, except for the crying girl. She ran her hand over the top of Cosmetology Today and started to cry again. She bawled at the drop of a hat, everyday. I think it must have had something to do with her being pregnant, although I don’t think she knew she was at the time.

Sara Jane Farquhar leafed through her book, and then shoved it onto the little shelf under the top of her workstation. She looked at Mrs. Cathcart like she already knew it cover to cover and was ready to go to work. Mrs. Cathcart gave Sara Jane a dirty look and told everyone to open her texts to page one.
All of Mrs. Cathcart’s lessons were drawn out on the back of old maps, the kind teachers pull down like window shades.  They were old and yellow and torn in a couple of places, but when she pointed her yardstick to Cosmetology, an Introduction and started teaching, it was clear that she was a very good teacher.

I was the only one who took notes; I may have been the only girl there who knew how to take notes. Mrs. Cathcart liked that. She smiled and nodded at me every time I recognized something important and wrote it down. She went on for at least two hours before she told us we could have a break. There was a rush for the Coke machine, which by the time I got there only took exact change. 

“You need dimes?”

I looked up and saw Sara Jane Farquhar smiling at me with a Coca-Cola in her hand.

“Thanks.” I handed her my quarter, but she gave it right back.
“Keep it. I always have change.”

“Thanks. I’m Zora.” 

“I’m Sara Jane Farquhar,” she said, the way Marilyn Monroe might have introduced herself. Sara Jane wasn’t putting on; that was just the way she talked. “So what do you think about all this?”

“I’m excited and a little nervous, how about you?”

A group of girls were huddled together listening to a bony girl with a bad perm mimic Mrs. Cathcart’s speech to us. All of them kept cutting their eyes around to make sure she didn’t come around the corner and catch them.

“They shouldn’t be making fun of her,” I said.

Sara Jane nodded. “The joke’s on them. Everything Mrs. Carthcart said was right.”

“She’s sweet, but don’t you think she’s a little overly dramatic?”

“Maybe, but women come to a stylist because they want to feel beautiful. Even if it’s just for that one hour they sit in your chair, even if their hair looks like hell the next morning. For an hour, they had the undivided attention of someone focused on making them beautiful. They don’t get that in real life unless they give it to themselves, and a lot of women just seem to give up on that.” Sara Jane took a swig of her Coke. “But I don’t have to tell you that. You’ve been to a stylist; you know what I’m talking about.”

I nodded, and hoped she couldn’t see my embarrassment. I’d never been to a beauty salon; never had anybody cut my hair but Mama and Nana. I didn’t have a clue as to what she was talking about, but I believed every word Sara Jane Farquhar said.

“So, where do you live?”

“Just off Main in a little apartment on Beckett Street.”

“You’re lucky to have your own place. I live with my parents.”

Mama had embarrassed me so many times when prospective friends came over, the thought of inviting someone like Sara Jane Farquhar to my apartment made me nauseous. But after two days in Davenport, I was lonely, and gawking over Winston Sawyer hadn’t helped any.
“Do you want to come over today--after class?”

“Sure.” Sara Jane smiled, and pushed one of her perfectly bleached blonde tresses off of her face. “That would be fun.”

I explained the arrangement I had with the owner and she said that was fine by her. She would keep me company while I cooked. She also showed me how to pour salted peanuts into my Coke bottle during one of our breaks. She said it was a good, quick snack because you could eat and drink at the same time. The salty and sweet tasted good to me, but I almost choked the first time I tried it. 

It’s funny how neither of us ever really said anything about being best friends that day, the way you might on the first day of grade school, but after two fifteen-minute breaks and a lunch together, we just were.

About the author:

Kim Boykin learned about women and their hair in her mother’s beauty shop in a tiny South Carolina town. She loves to write stories about strong Southern women and is an accomplished public speaker. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, three dogs, and 126 rose bushes.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Featured Author: Michael O'Gara

I'm happy to have my blogger buddy, Michael O'Gara, back today to talk about his novel, Ambassador Death. Michael was here in September to talk about The Happenstance Marshall, and he's hosted me on his blog to promote Murder & Mayhem. Well, not to promote murder and mayhem, but to promote my book, Murder & Mayhem in Goose Pimple Junction. (Yes, that's what they call a shameless plug.) I'm happy to have him here to today to talk about his latest book.

Interview with Michael

Welcome back, Michael! When was Ambassador Death published?

It was published by Heartland Indie Publishing LLC on February 20, 2013.

Would you tell me about the book, including its genre and what
 it’s about?
The book is a thriller. It’s about a former spy, Cassandra Crossing. Cassandra is beginning to feel like the bishop on the President’s chess board. She is moved around to keep the country’s enemies in check. Cassandra is no longer an unknown intelligence operative. Now she's a celebrity and hero after a very public assignment protecting the southern border.

This time Cassandra is being assigned to foreign soil and to a very dangerous job. She will be a very public target for those who would sabotage her vital mission to help keep a continent at peace.  It is a job she is uniquely qualified for by heritage, experience and training.  To complete her mission, the first order of business will be survival. She will also unexpectedly have to deal with something new; a serious romantic interest.  It is an assignment that will require the balance of a tight rope walker, the wisdom of Solomon, the courage of a hero, and unusual diplomacy. It is a unique challenge for an unusual woman.

This is the second book in the Cassandra Crossing Assignments series and the follow-up to Crossing Cassandra.

How long have you been writing and how did you start?
I started writing in early 2011, so it’s been about two years.  I started writing just because it came so naturally to me, and I enjoy it so much. I joke that I daydream in Technicolor and the stories in the books I write are just feature-length daydream stories. I guess at heart I’m just a creative story teller. There is no trick to starting a writing career. I just started writing and twelve books later I’m still at it.

Wow. Twelve books in two years. That's amazing. What do you like best about writing?

I like the process of creating a good story full of interesting people, an intriguing plot or mystery, different places, and in the case of a series, character growth over time.

What’s your least favorite thing?

My least favorite thing is the patience required during the editing period. The book has to sit for a while and go through a number of edits before it is ready to publish.

How did you come up with the title of the book?

Oh that’s a surprise one needs to read the book to discover. 

What a hook! How did you create the plot for this book?

Like all of my books, it happened organically. What I mean by that is I start writing with a general idea and no outline. It’s creativity run amuck within an organized mind. In other words, I can’t explain the process, I just know it works. I do keep a spreadsheet of characters and such as the plots and character relationships can get quite complex.

Did you have any say in your cover art?

Good or bad, I have to take responsibility for the covers. I have designed the covers of all my books, though I have some help with the photography for the backgrounds of some of the books. My wife and a dear friend have donated photos for use on my covers. I use Photoshop and another photo program to create the designs.

I think they're great. When you start a new book, do you know what the entire cast will be?

No way. Too many interesting things can happen in the process that require the addition of characters. 

Do you have any secrets on how to name your characters?

Usually I just pull a name out of “thin air” that seems to fit the nature of the character. Sometimes if I’m stuck for a name I’ll pull one at random out of a phone book.

Are any of your characters inspired by real people?

No.  I don’t know people like those I write about. They are strictly creatures of my imagination.

Are you like any of your characters?

I’m not like the heroes and heroines of my books. That’s the fun of writing. I can create these characters from scratch.

What are you working on now?

I’m presently working on three books at the same time. One is a romance, one is an action thriller, and the other is a fantasy. The romance novel is the only one close to being finished.

I can't wait to read it! Come back when it's out, and tell us about it.

About the author:

I’m a full time author. I “love” to write, and for me it is like breathing; necessary for my  well-being. It is a pleasant and constructive addiction being a story teller. I consider myself foremost just that; a story-teller.

My goal is to write books that entertain with stories that readers are “so into” that they don’t want to put the book or e-reader down. I write mostly mystery, thriller and historical fiction novels, but who knows what I’ll write about next. I don’t. I guess that’s just how it works for me. My imagination will just grab an idea and away I go.

My wife Ronda and I live in Missouri. We are both graduates of Fontbonne University in St. Louis where I earned Master of Fine Arts, Master of Arts, and Master of Business Administration degrees. Now if someone thinks I'm an "idjit" at least I can say I'm an "edumacated idjit." 

You can take excerpts of my books for a “test drive” on Amazon by using the “look inside” feature or downloading an excerpt on Smashwords. I have nine novels published to date with three more scheduled for release in the near future.

My novels are available either in print or for all the major eBook reader formats at most of the major online vendors. 

Connect with Michael:
Website / Blog / Blogspot / Book blogs / Facebook / Linkedin / Twitter   

Amazon / Smashwords / Barnes and Noble