Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Interview with mystery author L.X. Cain

Mystery author L.X. Cain joins me today to talk about her thriller/mystery Bloodwalker.

L.X. Cain was born in the U.S. but now lives on the Red Sea and busily taps away at a laptop, coming up with stories to thrill and entertain readers.

Please tell us about your current release.
Bloodwalker is a spine-tingling mystery with lots of action and a streak of horror. It’s a genre mash-up that I loved writing, and I hope readers love reading.

Here’s a short teaser:

Children are disappearing. The strangest thing is it happens every time the Zorka Circus leaves one of the Eastern European towns on its tour. Rurik, the circus’s Security Chief, thinks someone in the circus is behind it. But who?

What inspired you to write this book?
I was thinking about how people in some cultures and faiths refuse to question them. They’re almost brainwashed by their family and their society, and follow like lambs. I wanted such a person to finally understand that they could stand up for themselves, and what’s right, and defy their upbringing.

Excerpt from Bloodwalker:

Chapter One

Budapest, Hungary

“School is out, no books today.
Boneyard’s where the children play.
Marta’s there and Peter, too,
Silent faces, cold and blue.
Shut the doors. Lock them tight.
Ratman prowls the streets tonight.”

The refrain of the children’s song swelled, and the winds swirled it up to the roof of an old stone church. Perched on its parapet, a line of gargoyle statues stared dead-eyed at the horizon. But one set of eyes stabbed downward. Rurik leaned over the edge, his gaze roving the street two stories below, searching for the source of the Hungarian rhyme.

The retreating sun stained Budapest red. Shadows of tree limbs and buildings bled across lawns and sidewalks. Yellow pansies bowed their heads and furled their faces closed for the night. Sparrows, pigeons, and swifts abandoned the sky.

Rurik scoured the area till he spotted the rhyme’s young singers.

Three kids, probably no older than eight or nine, neared the gate of a train yard at the end of the road—the killer’s hunting ground.

Forbidden things drew children. The grittier and scarier the place, the bigger the thrill. So there they went, two girls and a boy, shoving each other, squealing and laughing in fearful delight.

They didn’t know four children had vanished, one by one, over the past month. Never any sign of struggle. Just schoolbooks found along the road.

Rurik’s rooftop position afforded him a good view of Budapest’s Istvantelek train depot. But as the children squeezed under the loose chain between gate and fence and wove down the path, the shadows grew. Subway cars sitting beneath electric wires seemed to lengthen on their tracks. Inch by inch, murk swallowed the tall grass and bushes that marked the boundary between the newer train warehouses and the rotting old one the children headed for.

Plenty of places for a killer to hide.

-- end of excerpt --

What exciting story are you working on next?
I have a Thriller called Coldest Night that will be published mid-2017. It’s about a tiny Alaskan town where almost all the citizens live in one big apartment building. When a toxic gas fills the area, a wanted man must rescue his estranged wife and daughter from residents who’ve become dangerously affected.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I started writing in 2009—and it was so much harder than I expected! Luckily, I found online writing communities that helped me learn. After a little while, I started getting published in magazines and anthologies. In 2013, I got an offer from an agent and a publisher. That’s when I truly considered myself a writer.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I write full time since I retired in 2009. I was lucky to retire early, and I really enjoy all the freedom and excitement that comes with being a full-time author.

When I’m not writing, I watch TV, cook, or go out with friends. I’m also on social media a lot. Too much. It’s difficult to find time to write, so I don’t publish as many books as other writers I know. But everyone must be who they are…

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
While many writers believe in daily word goals and aim for a quickly written draft, I don’t. I take long breaks where I don’t write, but instead think about my book and the characters. Sometimes I don’t write for months at a time, not until I’m sure I understand everything about my story, the plot twists, and the characters in it.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
First, I watched Perry Mason a lot and wanted to be a lawyer. Then I watched the first Bob Newhart show and wanted to be a psychologist. Finally, I realized I just wanted to be on TV. LOL! Not really, but I definitely needed to be in a creative field. I’ve worked in commercial film, been a dancer, and a singer. Now I use my experiences to create characters for my books. Writing is the perfect career!

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I moved to Egypt some years ago to work at resorts. It’s been wonderful living in the land of the Pharaohs—plenty of sun, friendly people, and a laid-back lifestyle!

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Thanks for joining me today, L.X.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Interview with writer Laurie B. Levine

Author Laurie B. Levine is kicking off a new week with me. We’re talking about her debut YA coming-of-age novel, Now I Know It’s Not My Fault.

Laurie B. Levine has a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy from Syracuse University, and is Clinical Fellow in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. She has been in private practice, helping people understand their trauma stories, for more than twenty years. Now I Know It’s Not My Fault is her first novel.

Welcome, Laurie. Please tell us about your current release.
Alexandra Geller is a bright, 14-year-old from an accomplished, well-educated family, coming of age in the big hair 1980’s. The sudden death of her mother five years ago, and her relationship with her well-meaning but emotionally unavailable father, leaves her vulnerable as she tries to figure out who she is. Early in her freshman year, she’s befriended by Paula Hanover, a young, attractive science teacher at her high school. Alex is thrilled to be chosen by this woman and relishes the feeling of finally “belonging” to a mother figure. Paula’s intentions aren’t so benevolent, as she slowly and carefully draws Alex into a relationship designed to meet her own needs, not Alex’s. Desperate for maternal attention, Alex finds ways to ignore the vague sense that something is wrong. Her compelling story sheds light on a common, but rarely talked about kind of trauma which is subtle, and occurs under the radar.

What inspired you to write this book?
I started writing this story several years ago but then put it down. I was inspired to pick it back up after a female teacher in our town was accused of sexually abusing several male students. There were two objectives for me in writing this book: the first, to shed some light on the fact that women can be abusers too. There’s a lot written in abuse and trauma literature addressing men as abusers, but very little about women. I wanted to write a story that depicts an attractive, charming woman in that role. The second objective was to draw attention to a more subtle form of abuse. When most people think about child sexual abuse, they think about an adult engaging in direct sexual contact with a child. Now I Know It’s Not My Fault highlights a kind of abuse that occurs under the radar, but can be just as damaging.

Amber and I sit, sideways, in the first two seats closest to the door and lean against the blackboard. My knee begins to bounce as Mrs. Hanover finishes up with another student at her desk. 
She walks over with a huge smile and says, “Alexandra Geller. Who did you bring with you?” She always calls me Alexandra and I hate it. Everyone calls me Alex except Mrs. Hanover and my grandmother. 
Nervously, I stand to introduce them. “This is Amber.” Paula shakes Amber’s hand as I drop back into my seat. I’ve seen my father offer a handshake, but never my mother, or any of her friends. I decide women shaking hands is commanding and resolve to start doing it. 
Standing over us wearing black jeans, tall black leather boots, and a long, clingy v-neck gray sweater, Paula asks, “What can I do for you two?” 
With my hands dug into my jacket pockets I answer, “I don't understand the parts of a cell.” 
She smiles. "What they are or what they do? 
“Plant cells or animal cells?” 
She smiles. “Let’s start with a plant cell. Can you name the parts?” 
“Nucleus, golgi bodies, endoplasmic reticulum…those cleaning thingies,” I say using my fingers to count off the properties I can remember. 
She looks amused. “First off, the ‘cleaning thingies’ are the vacuoles. And the endoplasmic reticulum is part of an animal cell, not a plant cell.” 
“See. I don’t understand,” I say with a grin. 
“Where’s your book?” She repositions a chair from the second row and sits facing me. 
“At home. I use hers for class,” I say gesturing toward Amber with my thumb. 
Paula laughs. “It’s probably going to be easier for you to learn Biology if you actually put the time in to memorize the material.” I bristle. I must look discouraged because she says, “Look, it’s okay if science isn’t your best thing.” 
In that moment, something inside me quiets. I feel understood by an adult for the first time in a very long time. 
She continues, “Plant cells have a cell wall, animal cells don’t. And those cleaning thingies, the vacuoles, are in plant cells but usually not animal cells.” 
I sit up straighter. “Okay,” I say slowly, not really absorbing what she’s saying. 
“Let me draw them for you...Where’s your notebook?” 
“In my locker,” I say without any hesitation. 
“Really?” she says with one raised eyebrow. “Take off your jacket and give me your hand.” 
I offer her my right hand, palm up. 
She pushes up the sleeve of my shirt, to the middle of my forearm. Her fingers feel cool against my warm skin. She cradles my hand in hers, across the desks. Her thumb rests along the inside of my wrist keeping me still. I hold 
my breath and think, Holy shit! She’s touching me. Paula begins drawing a plant cell and its structures on my palm. The sensation of the ball point on my skin tickles but I resist the urge to pull away. I look up at her. Smiling, she holds my gaze until I drop my eyes. I blush. Mesmerized by her touch, I don’t hear anything she’s saying as I stare at the diagram written in her loopy handwriting and blue ink. 
Luckily, Amber is paying attention and asks, “Why do plant cells have cell walls and animal cells don’t?” 
Paula says, “That’s an excellent question. Good for you.” Amber beams. I’m instantly jealous. 
Paula answers, but looks directly at me when she does. “That’s just one of the mysteries of the biological world you have to memorize. Now, let me draw you an animal cell.” 
I fish through the pockets of my jeans and pull out a Kit Kat wrapper. “Finish on this,” I say. She smiles again but this time her brown eyes seemed to sparkle at me. 
She says, “I knew you were cute, Alexandra, but I didn’t realize, until today, you’re also really funny. You’re so shy and quiet in class.” My cheeks redden again. I laugh nervously as I tuck my hair behind my ear. 

What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m not actually writing anything now, but I am percolating on a story that picks up with Alex, the main character in Now I know It’s Not My Fault, ten years down the line. I really like the character, and it would be interesting to see where she is after college and how her experiences with Paula affect her life into adulthood.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I published my first article when I was a 23-year-old graduate student, so I guess I’ve technically been a writer since then. I’ve been a therapist for more twenty years and it’s hard to think of myself as anything other than that, professionally. But I think publishing my debut novel probably means I’m now a writer also.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I’m a Marriage and Family Therapist and I have a private practice in the town where I live, so most days I see clients. Although, I almost never work all day, which often leaves me large blocks of time to write. I enjoy the balance of doing therapy and writing. I have to admit, I always use the open blocks in my schedule for writing. I have three kids and a giant dog who need my attention.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I almost always write the music of the Fleetwood Mac station on Pandora.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a young child, I wanted to be a jockey. I was small and loved horses so it seemed like an obvious choice.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I’m a bit shy, and both love and hate all the attention my book is getting.


Thanks for being here today, Laurie. All the best with your 'percolating'!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Interview with cozy mystery author Annie Hansen

Mystery author Annie Hansen is helping me wind up another week here on Reviews and Interviews. We’re chatting about her latest Kelly Clark Mystery, Take the Donut. It’s book 3 in the cozy mystery series.

Annie Hansen is a graduate of the University of Illinois with a B.S. in Biology. She is a partner with Hansen Search Group, a staffing firm she cofounded with her husband and business partner, Brent Hansen, in 2001. She was named the winner of the Helen McCloy Mystery Writers of America Scholarship in 2011 for her submission of “Give Me Chocolate.” Annie is the author of The Kelly Clark Mystery Series and can be reached through her website: www.kellyclarkmystery.com. She lives with her family in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Welcome, Annie. Please tell us about your current release:
The third novel in The Kelly Clark Mystery Series, Take the Donut, takes the reader further into Kelly’s mysterious back story. Kelly’s past has been something she’s been trying to hide from, but when a new piece of evidence is brought to light, she is tempted to try and change the story altogether.

Kelly Clark has spent the last three years of her life running from her tumultuous past. With her violent ex-husband, Steve, locked up, Kelly is now in a supportive and loving relationship with her boyfriend, Jack, and reconnecting with her two sisters. Kelly finds time to help her sister, Adelle, launch a new donut business, while also getting her parents to move back to their hometown of Geneva, IL from their home in Miami. But when a jailbreak at Steve’s prison threatens her safety, Kelly is drawn once again to solving the mystery of what made her ex-husband derail in the first place. When Kelly finds out one of her close family members may have been involved in Steve’s fraudulent money schemes, Kelly begins to doubt everyone around her. Did she trust the wrong people? Is Steve coming back to get his revenge on Kelly? Featuring an interesting heroine who is determined to make a new start, Take the Donut is a cozy mystery that centers on temptation, family drama, greed, and sweet revenge. Is William lying about his past? And if so, is Catherine willing to sacrifice their beautiful life in order to find the truth? Featuring a fascinating heroine who longs for answers but is blinded by her own privilege, We Could Be Beautiful is a glittering, seductive, utterly surprising story of love, money, greed, and family.

What inspired you to write this book?
I want to complete this series to the end because I feel like I owe it to Kelly, my main character. I started this madness for her, I need to end it and end it well. Or at least, in a way that will complete Kelly’s story. For some reason, I found that the third book in the series was much more difficult to write than the first or the second. I think by the time you get to the third in a series, you’ve really attached to and connected to your characters. Every move they make has a big influence on the outcome for the series. In my books, there are three main sisters that are the pivotal characters. I’m in love with all three of them and want the best for them. But this is a murder mystery series, someone has to die!

What exciting story are you working on next?
I am currently hibernating! I plan to spend the months of January and February reading, reading, and reading. It rejuvenates me and allows my mind to rest so that in the spring I can start location scouting. I use real locations in the towns surrounding Geneva, IL, where my main character, Kelly Clark, lives. That will begin in the spring and then the writing kicks in during the summer. I hope to start writing my 4th Kelly Clark Mystery by summer of 2017 with a release by fall of 2018.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I really accepted the role after my first book was published. I realized quickly that the audience expects a professional, so it’s time to step up and take on that role. I like to say to myself, “Own it, girl! God gave you this opportunity and desire to write. No second guessing or negative head talk. Step up and own it.”

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I do not write full time right now. I’m a partner in a staffing firm I cofounded with my husband in 2001, Hansen Search Group, so that takes the majority of my time. I’m also a mother of young children. Right now, my life is a lot of juggling and working whenever I can. I work a lot at night when my kids go to bed.

When I’m writing a new manuscript, I only write about two pages a day, but I commit to it every day. It really helps to stay checked into the stories and the characters. I’ve written three books like this now and it works for me. If I write every day, I end up with a first draft after 6 months. The editing and re-writing from there is madness.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
If I’m stuck, I vacuum. It clears up all the cobwebs in my head.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I read all the time as a kid, but I never imagined I would write myself. I thought seriously about being a healthcare professional, but I’ve discovered I’m scared of blood, so I’m kind of glad that path did not work out. Hahaha!

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Thanks for being here today, Annie!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Interview with thriller author Craig A. Hart

Thriller author Craig A. Hart is chatting with me today about his novel, Serenity. It’s the first in a new series.

Craig A. Hart is the stay-at-home father of twin boys, a writer, and editor. He served as editor-in-chief for The Rusty Nail literary magazine and as manager for Sweatshoppe Media. He also served as director for Northern Illinois Radio Information Service, an outreach that brought daily news and information to the visually impaired.

Besides the Shelby Alexander Thriller Series, Craig is the author of Becoming Moon, The Writer's Tune-Up Manual, The Busy Writer, and The Girl Who Read Hemingway.

Craig lives in Iowa City, Iowa with his wife, sons, and two cats.

Welcome, Craig. Please tell us about your current release.
Serenity, the first book in the Shelby Alexander Thriller Series, stars an aging ex-boxer and retired fixer whose activities flirt with the wrong side of the law. Shelby moved to Serenity, his boyhood hometown, looking for a slower pace of life. But trouble follows men like Shelby, and he finds himself embroiled in an underworld of drugs and violence that may prove to be his undoing.

What inspired you to write this book?
I’ve always loved fast-paced action books, but I also have a literary background. I wanted to write a series that married the thrills of an action series with some of the things I love about literary fiction: characterization, strong relationships, etc.

Additionally, I grew up in Michigan, and love the state. Although I don’t live there currently, it always surprises me how many of my writings are set there. So I when I began making plans to launch this new series of thrillers, naturally I wanted them to be set in my home state.

What exciting story are you working on next?
It’s full speed ahead with the series! Book two, Serenity Stalked, launches in February 2017, and book three is scheduled for April 2017. In Serenity Stalked, a killer with a trail of dead bodies has come to Serenity seeking to slake his thirst for death. As the first unspeakable murder shocks the sleepy Michigan town and the local media demands answers, the sheriff targets Shelby Alexander, whose only crime is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now Shelby must move quickly to clear his name, even as the killer closes in on his next victim…and this time it might hit Shelby a little closer to home.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’ve been writing since I was fourteen or fifteen, but I don’t think I assumed the identity of “writer” until I was twenty. That was when I began to try and make it professionally.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I don’t write full-time. My full-time job is stay-at-home dad to two-year-old twins, so my work day is full of diapers, spilled milk, and all the other fun stuff that goes with toddlers. I try to write during naps and after they go to bed, or when I can get a babysitter to come in for a few hours. Prior to kids, I was full-time in the writing and publishing business, so having the vast majority of my time suddenly disappear was shocking. It took some adjusting, but I figured out strategies to help me continue production. I talk about this process in my book, The Busy Writer: Finding the Time and Inspiration to Write.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Hmmm…I wish I had something fascinating and weird, like “I always write with one hand tied behind my back,” but that would be a silly lie. One thing I do sometimes is write on a manual typewriter, especially if I’m feeling blocked. Something about the nostalgia of the machine will often provide a surge of creativity and get me over the hump.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
At a really young age, I went through the normal stuff: detective, soldier, fireman. At a slightly older age I wanted to become a pianist. And I did, for a while, until I had to undergo carpal tunnel surgery. That put an end to those dreams. From then on, it was writing all the way.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Thanks for being readers! I don’t think a lot of readers truly understand how much they mean to writers. I, for one, love readers and hope they know that—I guess now they do!


Thanks, Craig. Happy writing!