Friday, December 30, 2016

Interview with mystery author Sharon Henegar

Mystery author Sharon Henegar is my guest for this last post of 2016. We’re talking about her new thriller, Sidestep.

Sharon Henegar started out in the Midwest, and although she is not in the Witness Protection Program she has lived in 27 houses in seven states. She now resides in a Midcentury Modern house in Salem, Oregon with her storyteller husband, Steven; Zoƫ, the Springer spaniel-mix dog, and Millie the cat. Together they conduct retreats for writers and storytellers.

Henegar believes in home cooking, the restorative powers of humor and dogs, in buying secondhand, that a convertible should be driven with the top down, that life needs dessert, and that M&Ms should be bought in bulk. She is currently working on the next book in her Willow Falls mystery series.

Welcome, Sharon. Please tell us about your current release.
Sidestep is about Beth, a woman with secrets, who steps away from her life for just a few days before starting a new job in a new part of the country. But when she tries to step back again she finds that her life has been stolen. All of it. Home, job, name, money, all gone. She has to get her life back. But how far can she go in dealing with monsters without becoming a monster herself?

What inspired you to write this book?
The seed for Sidestep came from my fascination with the fairy tale “Puss in Boots.” At the end of the story, the giant is tricked out of his home and lands and then killed, seemingly just because he is a giant. He never does anything bad in the story to deserve such treatment. I started thinking about the unfairness of that, and identity theft, and what I might do if someone stole everything from me.

In 2015 a writer friend and I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo—aka National Novel Writing Month. The combination of a definite goal (50,000 words in one month) and a little friendly competition (how many words have you done today??) was irresistible. When I sat down on November 1 to begin, I had no plot or characters in mind, just a curiosity about what a woman might do if someone took over her life. Soon Beth and her dog Clover erupted from beneath the surface of my brain, and we were off. Twenty-four days later, the result was Sidestep.

Excerpt from Sidestep:

I quietly entered the room, any sound made by my footsteps covered by the noise our prisoner made. The afternoon light shone now on the other side of the house, and this dimly lit room felt sad and empty, the carpet a little damp, the short draperies over the windows hanging a bit crooked. The figure tied to the chair in the closet was the perfect decorative touch.
Fake Beth shook her head, trying to dislodge the sweater, but to no avail. She yelled again in a rusty voice, “Help! Help! Can anyone hear me? Help!”
I crept up behind her and spun the chair one hundred eighty degrees so she was facing me. She uttered a little yelp. After a moment I pulled the sweater off of her head. She blinked, swallowed. Squinted at me.
“What the…Who are you? Let me loose, damn it!”
 I stared down at her. The wig that turned me into Mary Claire had never felt tighter.
 “I don’t know who the hell you are, but you can't do this. Untie me at once.” She seemed to be aiming for a note of authority, but it came out as petulance. I said nothing.
“Wait a minute. I've seen you somewhere.” She stared at my face. Swallowed. “What the hell is this? Who are you? What is going on? Untie me, do you hear?”
 I kept looking at her. A feeling of power grew in me with every heartbeat.
“You’d better untie me, you bitch. You’ll never get away with this.” No trace of her assumed accent.
I remained silent. She stared back. After a minute that felt like a week I saw a tremble in her lower lip, but her voice maintained its sneer.
“Let. Me. Go. Now, I tell you. You’re going to be sorry. I know I've seen you somewhere. I will be able to tell the police who you are.”
I let my silence spin out a little longer. When I spoke in Mary Claire’s Boston voice, I was surprised at how gently the words came out.
“I'm standing right in front of you, and you don’t even know who I am.”
That’s when the first flicker of fear flitted across her eyes. I smiled at her.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I've completed the fourth book in my Willow Falls Mystery Series and am doing the final edit. The series features Louisa McGuire, her dogs Emily Ann and Jack, antique-shop-owner cousin Kay, and a host of denizens in their imaginary Midwestern town. If you like your mysteries cozy with a sprinkling of humor and dogs, please check them out!

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
In the fourth grade my best friend Nancy Jo Harding (how I wish I could find her again!) wrote and illustrated books about horses. We were nine. At that age we thought we were horses, so perhaps you could say we were writing autobiographies.

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 retired five years ago from a 30+ year career as a librarian. One of the fabulous things about retirement is that you do not have to do anything full time! But I wrote my first three novels while still employed, and I did it by getting up at 4 a.m. every day and forcing myself to get at least two sentences down before going to work. It was rare to write only two sentences, but keeping the bar low got me out of bed and in front of the computer.

Now, along with writing novels, I revel in reading and watching movies, seeing friends, cooking, and hanging out with husband and pets. I knit, and create upcycled clothing. I regularly shop on driveways and write my long-running blog Queen of Fifty Cents. I’m having an awfully good time!

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I love semicolons…which drives one of my editors crazy. A few chapters in she is reduced to writing “grrrr” in the margins!

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer. Or a horse.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Of course I would love for everyone to fall in love with my books. But what really matters is reading itself. Reading teaches us, transforms us, expands our lives exponentially. Readers are the reason that writers take all of our experiences, our thoughts, our dreams, and create new worlds that never existed before. So I would like to thank all of you for being readers!

Saturday Books | Amazon | My writing blog, Pensive | My thrifting blog, Queen of Fifty Cents

Thank you for helping me wrap up 2016. All the best with your writing!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

New interview with thriller writer Sarah K. Stephens

Today’s guest, Sarah K. Stephens visited back in April to talk about short stories and I promised to have her back when her debut novel released. Today is the new interview about that book, a psychological thriller titled A Flash of Red.    

Sarah K. Stephens earned her doctorate in Developmental Psychology and teaches a variety of human development courses as a lecturer at Penn State University. Her courses examine a variety of topics, including the processes of risk and resilience in childhood, the influence of online media on social and behavioral development, and evidence-based interventions for individuals on the autism spectrum. Although Fall and Spring find her in the classroom, she remains a writer year-round.
Her short stories have appeared in Five on the Fifth, The Voices Project, The Indianola Review, (parenthetical), eFiction, and the Manawaker Studio’s Flash Fiction Podcast. She is also a regular contributor to the Mindsoak Project. Her debut novel, A Flash of Red, released earlier this month by Pandamoon Publishing.

Welcome back to Reviews and Interviews, Sarah.

Please tell us about your newest release.
A Flash of Red begins with psychology professor Anna Kline and her architect husband, Sean, each examining their fractured marriage. Both share a mutual obsession with Sean’s failings as a man and Anna’s “specialness”. Although Sean seeks solace from his perfect wife in the cold intimacy of the online world, Anna copes by offering her own oppressive version of devotion. Becoming an ever-more tangible presence in their weakening marriage is the question of Anna’s mental state and whether she will follow the same path of her now institutionalized mother.

When Bard, a student of Anna’s with a family history of schizophrenia, discovers Sean’s addiction, Bard’s platonic admiration for Anna morphs into a delusion of special intimacy. Guilt-ridden with his own past failure to protect his older sister, Bard’s skewed mind begins to see Anna as another woman in need of rescue.

After Sean receives an anonymous e-mail at work one day threatening to expose his online activities, he immediately assumes his wife is behind the email, leading Sean to vacillate between playing the role of the perfect husband in front of Anna and covertly struggling with how to counter his wife’s hostility. Meanwhile, disturbing events begin to plague Anna. Ominous messages are left on her doorstep, reveal themselves on her walk home from work, and invade even her most private moments.

As Sean and Anna’s marriage becomes a battleground of manipulation, Bard privately crafts a strategy to save Anna from her husband. When Bard’s plan forces the three characters to meet, the ensuing chaos leaves none of them unharmed. . .or unaccountable.

What inspired you to write this book?
The initial idea came from preparatory reading I was doing for a new course focusing on the intersection between childhood and the internet. In a world where high-speed internet is so accessible, and where so many families do not use internet filters for their children’s devices, pornography exposure is incredibly common in even young children (keeping in mind that a big chunk of early porn exposure is unintentional as children search the Web). When that is mixed with a lack of open discussion about sexual intimacy in children’s other developmental relationships (which is still the norm in much of American culture), children and adolescents develop very skewed views of what physical intimacy should look like.

As I read through this literature, it occurred to me that our culture might be facing an upcoming generation where the very definition of intimacy has shifted. And then I began to wonder what a marriage might look like if one partner was deeply emotionally dependent on pornography—how would that attack the foundation of their union? From there, the story began to take on a life of its own.

What’s the next writing project?
My next novel is entitled Dear Heart—it’s a psychological thriller with a stronger familial focus. The main characters are a Russian Orthodox family who adopt an older child from abroad. Whereas A Flash of Red explores small deaths that can kill a relationship, Dear Heart details how the poison of secrecy can seep into family life. It will be published by Pandamoon Publishing sometime in 2017.
What is your biggest challenge when writing a new book? (or the biggest challenge with this book)
The biggest challenge for me is setting aside time each day to be quiet, still, and write out the ideas I’ve developed in my head. I’m a very active and energetic person, so sitting down to write the words out remains a difficult task for me. Luckily, though, I just installed a standing desk, which makes the process that much easier.

If your novels require research – please talk about the process. Do you do the research first and then write, while you’re writing, after the novel is complete and you need to fill in the gaps?
Given A Flash of Red’s focus on mental illness, I certainly read a lot of case studies focusing on both Schizophrenia and the more specific De Clerambault Syndrome (otherwise known as Erotomania). I also found memoirs of individuals who have coped with mental illness themselves or whose family members suffered from psychosis to be incredibly helpful. Reading such personal reflections on the effects of becoming disconnected from reality enhanced my understanding of the very private experiences that occur in the presence of mental illness. For example, Elyn Saks’ excellent memoir, The Center Cannot Hold, provides detailed insights into the life of a person suffering, seeking treatment, and ultimately living successfully with schizophrenia.

What’s your writing space like? Do you have a particular spot to write where the muse is more active? Please tell us about it.
Currently I write at my standing desk in our home’s living room. I don’t like being sequestered off from my family while I write—I prefer to be in the thick of our home’s active (some might say chaotic) energy. It feeds my thoughts and, somewhat surprisingly, helps me to focus. My desk is also next to a large window, where I can view our neighborhood songbirds as they eat the berries off our bushes. Whenever I get stuck for a word or phrase, I watch the birds swoop and sing, and it always serves to set my mind to work again.

What authors do you enjoy reading within or outside of your genre?
My current favorites are: A.X. Ahmad, Jessica Francis Kane, and Tana French. I have a longtime love for P.D. James’ work and was very excited to see her book of short stories released posthumously this Winter.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers today?
I hope they enjoy A Flash of Red. If they are able, I’d ask them to please post a review on Amazon and Goodreads. In today’s writing world, reviews make a significant difference in authors being able to connect with their readership.


Thank you for coming back to Reviews and Interviews!
Thank you for having me!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Interview with novelist Cinzia De Santis

Novelist Cinzia De Santis joins me today and we’re chatting about her romantic historical sci-fi fantasy, The Guide of Time. Book I: The Journey.

Cinzia De Santis was born in Italy, but moved to Venezuela shortly after. She studied Marine Biology and, after a successful and varied career, Cinzia decided to devote her time on her passions: books and travelling. Cinzia used to be an actor, performing both as an amateur and a professional and it was at that time that she started writing short stories. Cinzia moved to England in 2003 and lives in London with her husband and daughter. The Guide of Time is her second novel in English.

Welcome, Cinzia. Please tell us about your current release.
Alexander von Rossen is the last in a line of the Guides of Time, an extraordinary force that has taken mankind to a higher state of knowledge. Over the centuries, by inspiring scientists to make great breakthroughs, the Guides have helped humans to transform their view of life and death. But the Guides have powerful enemies who want to keep mankind enslaved, in a permanent struggle between good and evil. Alexander faces an unexpected complication. Ariane Claret is a young woman with an extraordinary talent for music. She bursts into his life at a crucial moment and produces in him feelings he had never known before. Without realising it, she holds the secret to the victory or destruction of Alexander, the Guides and, ultimately, mankind. Book I: The Journey can be bought in Amazon
What inspired you to write this book?
The seeds of The Guide of Time were sown many years ago when I was studying science at university. At that time, I came to realise that great discoveries were always a combination of hard work, serendipity and inspiration. Of the three, inspiration was the one that intrigued me the most. Scientists often describe it as the appearance of an idea out of nowhere, a ray of light that comes to them with dramatic suddenness and often a sense of certainty. But, where do these ideas come from? What if mankind has been guided by unseen hands? And what if other forces, equally powerful, promote fanaticism and hatred? The answer to these questions is the essence of the trilogy of The Guide of Time.

Excerpt from The Guide of Time:
The elderly editor, beard now largely grey, was staring at the document in his hands. For the first time in his publishing career, he was lost for words. In the chair opposite him, a woman was smiling at him, almost as though she was enjoying his discomfort. He raised his eyes and frowned at her. Her name was Ariane Claret.
—Is all this true? I mean, did it really happen?
—Yes, it’s true —she said calmly.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I am finishing Book II of the series. I plan to release it in February 2017

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I think of myself as a story-teller. In that sense, I started writing in my early twenties.

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 now. My brain is at its most creative in the late afternoon/ evening, so I often spend the morning and early afternoon to do routine stuff: writing emails, marketing, replying to readers

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Well, I am a geek at heart, so I love writing “geeky” books. The downside is that sometimes I get lost researching things that fascinate me and I lose focus.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Astronaut, geologist, archaeologist, anthropologist: very geeky!

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Ever since I was a little girl, books have been my best friends, my companions during tough times. I used to have a hectic life, with a stressful job, pulled in all directions as a mother, a wife and an employee. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer - I already had colon cancer - I knew my body was telling me something. It was time for me to calm down and devote myself to things that fulfilled me spiritually and emotionally.


Thanks for being here today, Cinzia!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Interview with thriller author Krista Wagner

Thriller author Krista Wagner joins me today to talk about her spiritual dramatic thriller, Intent.

Krista Wagner is a 70's product who lives in Southern California with her supportive Marine Corp veteran husband, three entertaining and very bright children, a suitcase of stories begging to be finished, and an indispensable faith in Christ. She graduated from National University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Since 2008, she has been an English Instructor. Her debut novel, Intent, was completed during a 2013 summer road trip, Rian Field, a psychological thriller, was released January 2016 and The Gold, a middle-grade fantasy, released Summer 2016, and her YA realistic issue-driven novel, indigo, released December 2016. Krista enjoys suspenseful films, reading the Bible, and spending time with her family.

Welcome, Krista. Please tell us about your current release.
Trying to deal with small town life and feeling that she has no real purpose, Raylee Johnson finds a new source of confidence when her former high school crush returns to town. When she begins to feel better about the direction her life is going, Raylee is thrust into a maze of doubt, uncertainty, murder, and deceit where the only thing she does know for sure is that her life is engulfed in lies.

What inspired you to write this book?
I have always enjoyed the suspense genre and so the story fell into that kind of atmosphere. At some point, we all experience doubt and deception and sometimes a loss of faith, so these elements helped laid the foundation for Raylee's story.

Excerpt from Intent:
Thunder vibrated against the building and the rain was coming down more urgently. She whipped her head toward the window as if expecting something to come through it.
      She had been uneasy during thunderstorms since she was a little girl. Her grandmother used to try to soothe her by taking her out to her front porch and sitting next to her as they watched the lightning. They would count "one-one thousand, two-one thousand," and they usually got to five-one thousand before the thunder rolled again. But it was when they didn’t get past two that Raylee would get edgy. She hadn't liked the thought that any moment lightning might zap her. It reminded her of her fear of death in the way that it was so unpredictable, and she didn’t like surprises.
Raylee shuddered and hurried toward the back of the restaurant to the office. She passed a young couple entangled in each other’s arms. “Everyone has someone but me,” she whispered as she walked faster.

What exciting story are you working on next?
A sequel to my middle-grade fantasy, THE GOLD, entitled THE FOREST. The protagonist is the bully from THE GOLD, so we get his story and see how the magical forest changes his life. I am also planning to publish a short story anthology.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I was seven years old. This is when I began to write short stories, plays, and songs.

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 write every week. I am also an English professor. The best time I find to write is at night, when the kiddies are asleep.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
My characters tell me where to go in the story and they surprise me with how they grow!

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An actress, then an author. I did perform in many plays, but I never seriously pursued that route. I did have many short stories and poems published, but it wasn't until 2013 when I earned my MFA in Creative Writing that I became serious about publishing novels.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Writing and reading is medicine for the soul.