Guest Post by the Author of Isle of Gold: Seven Jane

I’ve always wondered where writers get their inspiration. As a development editor I love helping a story unfold, but I personally can’t sit down and do my own world building. Recently I talked to my friend, author Seven Jane (The Isle of Gold, Black Spot Books, October 2018) about finding inspiration for historical fantasy, and the cross-over–for better or worse–with Hollywood.

Beautiful young woman with blond hair standing in profile. She holds the collar of her leather jacket with her hand and covers her face. The photo is black and white.

 

I’ve always been a fan of pirate stories and ocean folklore, and I wanted THE ISLE OF GOLD to both fit in with classic tales, like Treasure Island, and stand apart from them—and to not get lost in the sensationalism of Hollywood pirate dramas that retell mythology on their own terms. In writing a historical fantasy of the pirate era the main thing I wanted the story to do was avoid tropes of peg legs, talking parrots, and buried treasure while making use of real mythology and actual ocean phenomenon while abiding by rigorously researched historical truths on the people who sailed, the ships they sailed on, and the lives they lived at sea. In addition to these, this story served as an opportunity to touch on some of today’s most pressing societal issues of diversity and inclusion, from women’s rights, to racism, to romance and love outside of the heternormative.

In terms of the natural world, two uncommon real phenomena that were mentioned in the story were frost flowers and the green flash of light on the ocean (no, Hollywood didn’t make that up for Pirates of the Caribbean!). Frost flowers are delicate ice structures that “bloom” on the surface of the polar oceans in the dead of winter. Likewise, green flashes are most often seen at sunset, last only a second or two, and are essentially a result of light refraction and visual trickery as the sun suddenly and briefly changes colors. Here’s a cool article on the green flashes, which, because they are so unusual, have provided much fodder for paranormal speculation by sailors over the years!

Legends of the mystical island Bracile and the red-sailed ghost ship Caleuche are just as steeped in ocean folklore as the cursed goddess turned sea monster Charybdis and sirens…especially the not so beautiful kind. I wanted to bring in one iconic pirate name, and while I drew from several real pirates in building Winters and Merrin’s characters, Davy Jones came directly from legend—(both as a real man and an idiom for the bottom of this sea). Jökulsárlón, and its neighboring Diamond Beach in Iceland became the perfect setting for a real-world embodiment of Bracile.

The ships, their rigging, and their weaponry was all brought from historical research on 17th century sailing culture. As I began to research these in earnest, a few interesting facts rose to the top, particularly in the lack of diversity on these vessels. While we tend to think of pirates as ragtag crews of every nation and color, it wasn’t necessarily true. In fact, even white men pirates still practiced the normal racism and biases of the time, often trading and profiting from the slave trade themselves. It was rare to see a person of color in a position of power onboard a pirate vessel, much less one who was beloved and respected. For this role, Jomo was introduced. Likewise, with the exception of a very few and very famous female pirates (Anne Bonney, Mary Read, etc.) women were not allowed to sail. In fact, in the pirate code written by Bartholomew Roberts, women were not only forbidden to sail, but to bring one aboard was punishable by death. This alone gave Merrin an incentive to keep her identity and sex a secret from the men on the ship. Lastly, a profession as a whore was just as taboo as sexual empowerment by women of the time (or empowerment of any kind, really) and this norm was challenged by Claudette, Mrs. Emery, and even Evangeline herself. There are subtle hints throughout the story to a more romantic than platonic love between Merrin and Claudette, too, proving the currents of love run according to their own desire, regardless of race or gender—and this also affected the budding romance between Merrin and Tom Birch, was remained understated as falling in love was never Merrin’s goal when she set out to sea.

Writing The Isle of Gold was as fantastic an adventure as the story itself. Part history, part mythology, and part imagination, this story drew as much from real sea phenomenon as it did from some of the oldest sea legends on record, told by a strong protagonist who acts as a lens of crystallization for deeper diversity issues that linger just below the surface of a fantastical pirate adventure.

Interview with YA Horror Novelist Bryce Gibson

In my humble opinion the golden age of teenage horror novels was in the 80s. They were light on horror and really fun reads. They made for amazing palette cleansers between hard core horror. With this in mind I reached out to YA horror author Bryce Gibson.

 

Bryce
Photo by Megan Byrne Photography

 

On the blog today is YA horror author Bryce Gibson. Bryce is the author of a number of books including The Reading Buddy, Perennials, and the newly released The Resort. Bryce, welcome to my little corner of the Internet.

Great! It’s awesome to be here.

Congratulations on the release of The Resort! I really enjoyed reading it. It reminded me of all the horror movies I watched as a kid.

Thank you I’m glad you liked it.

You and I have discussed movies a couple of times on Twitter, especially our love for the Sleep Away Camp series. What is your favorite movie series?

Picking a favorite movie series is tough, but the first thing that comes to mind is Halloween.

The Resort reads like a throwback to the 80s horror franchises…which franchise was your inspiration when writing this novel?

I don’t know if there is any one franchise that was an inspiration for writing The Resort, but, in my mind, the book kind of has the feel of 2000’s The In Crowd. I know that’s not 80s, but it has a similar tone. Fun and scary. I can see some of the 1988 remake of The Blob in there as well.

I was pretty sad when you unmercilessly killed off a main character in The Resort. What scenes did you find hardest to write?

There’s a scene near the end that has a big reveal, as all three of my teen books do. There’s a lot to explain during those scenes, and I don’t want it to come across as being too over the top. Anytime antagonists in books or movies explain their actions, things can easily slip into ridiculousness. It’s hard to balance.

You are also a farmer, so I would imagine that takes a lot of work. How do you balance your responsibilities as a farmer and writer? Do you have a set writing schedule, or do you just write every day?

I grow muscadines and scuppernongs, both of which are harvested in late summer/fall. I’m the busiest in the fields during March through mid November. Most of my writing is done in the winter when there is not as much work to be done on the farm.

As an author do you feel that social media has changed the way books are marketed?

Social media has definitely changed the way books are marketed. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine being in the publishing business and not having access to Twitter and Instagram.

As a book blogger, I am always interested in what people are reading. What is on your nightstand at the moment?

I’m finishing up a book called Friend Request by Laura Marshall. It is a fun read that reminds me of an adult version of Point Horror. I have so many books on my TBR pile/shelves/stack(s)/list that it’s ridiculous, but I’m planning on reading a Robert McCammon next.

What is your favorite under-appreciated novel?

Last year I read a book called The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young. It is full of twists and turns and definitely worth checking out.

I know you are currently working on a middle grade novel. Are you going to be working on a “adult” novel in the future? I think the world needs a Southern 80s inspired horror novel…. Just my personal opinion.

My middle-grade book Mortimer was actually written several year ago, before I published my first teen book. I’m in the process of doing a quick revision on it. I’m looking forward to seeing what people think. Next, I’m working on another teen book titled Tethered. I’ve read some of it to my writing/critique group and the feedback has been great. It isn’t exactly horror or thriller, but a dark family drama. It’s is by far the darkest and most serious book I’ve written. As far as an adult novel, I would love to, but I don’t have any immediate plans on doing one.

Sam Hooker: An Introverted Curmudgeon

I had so much fun doing the last author interview I decided to reach out to another author whose book I enjoyed at the beginning of the year. Mr. Sam Hooker, author of Peril in the Old Country.

Sam Hooker
Photo courtesy of Black Spot Books

I am very happy to have author Sam Hooker on the blog today! Sam is the author of the wickedly funny fantasy, Peril in the Old Country. Sam, thanks for taking the time to answer a few of my questions today.

My pleasure! I derive great satisfaction from ignoring my own blog, and this gives me an opportunity to do that while blogging at the same time. I am Schrödinger’s Blogger.

First, let me say that I loved Sloot. He is a character that stays with you long after you read about his adventures. I feel like Sloot may have been based loosely on someone. If so, could you share more?

Sloot Peril is the result of never having taken a risk. Not even a small one. Every non-fictional person has taken a risk in their lives, even if it was nothing more daring than an exciting sock color with an otherwise drab suit.

 I’ve probably put more of myself in Sloot than I’ll ever admit, and I don’t have to. You should see my sock drawer. It’s scintillating.

This is such a standard question, and I feel dorky for asking, it but what was your inspiration for Peril? It is really original, and I can’t say I’ve read anything like it in a long time.

Thanks! I’ve heard it said that all writers cram their first novels with every bit of inspiration they’ve ever had. Where’s that kitchen sink? I think I’ve got room for it next to the cathartic telling-off that my high school Latin teacher will never realize is directed at him.

Of course, this is my second novel, so I managed to restrain myself a bit; however, the inspiration for this one still spans a great deal of the literature and film that have coagulated in the stew of my brain. Dystopian films (anything that Terry Gilliam has ever done), the farcical works of my favorite novelists (Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Roger Zelazny), and sarcastic or curmudgeonly comedians (Dylan Moran, Eddie Izzard) have all put something into the pot.

 Also whiskey.

There seems to be a trend where authors are giving their books soundtracks. If you were to give Peril a soundtrack, what would it be?

I listen to a lot of movie soundtracks and instrumental music while I write. For this book, Danny Elfman’s soundtrack for The Wolfman was on heavy rotation. Eerie, atmospheric, and at times urgent in a way that reminded me I hadn’t murdered anyone in a while.

 It’s probably cheating to use another soundtrack for my own, but the only other types of music I listen to are dubstep and Norwegian folk metal, and I hate dubstep.

I personally can’t read, write, and listen to music at the same time. I usually either get pulled into the song that is on or space out when I am reading. Do you listen to anything for background noise when you are writing?

My Spotify playlists are brimming with background music that I can ignore. It’s either that, or I have to listen to my own thoughts. Nothing could be worse for my writing process than letting my brain have something to do with it.

I wanted to be Indiana Jones when I grew up. Did you know that you wanted to be a writer? Did you feel you were encouraged to be a writer, or did writing come a bit later in life?

When I was four years old, I wanted to be a fire truck. That’s not a typo.

 Shortly thereafter, I decided on writing. Like most writers, I started a dozen or so novels before I finished one, and now I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. That’s mostly due to my complete lack of skills outside the realm of telling ridiculous stories.

When I talk to writers most have a ton of stories in the bottom drawer of their desk. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

I believe the technical term is “oodles.” If I had a dollar for every novel I never finished, I’d just keep starting novels and never finish them. That’s a gold mine! What confluence of magical happenstance landed me with that deal? I probably sold my soul for it. That’s fine, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t using it anyway.

As a book blogger I am always interested in what people are reading. What is on your nightstand at the moment and how big is your TBR (to be read) pile?

I’m presently re-reading Joe Lansdale’s The Magic Wagon, which is one of my five “desert island” books. I was thrilled to get a limited edition, autographed copy last month.

Lansdale and I are from the same part of Texas. In addition to being an amazing writer, he’s a martial artist with a stack of belts as long as my most rambling pastiche. I took lessons from him for a few months while I was in college. He bloodied my nose once during a demonstration (not on purpose, and I release Joe from all liability).

That’s my best fanboy story.

I just finished Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone. I don’t usually go in for YA, but I loved it. I’ve got Christopher Moore’s Noir up next, probably a return to Discworld (Pratchett) after that—I never get through more than half a dozen books before returning to that amazing series—and then Alcy Leyva’s And Then There Were Crows should be delivered. Preorder that now! #shamelessplug

I think 2019 is going to be a deep dive into Tolkien, starting with The Hobbit for the hundredth time, and not stopping until I hit the back cover of Unfinished Tales.

I heard that you have a bit of a thing for stew. So, my last question is: what is your favorite stew recipe? 

No one knows how stews start. Over time, the pot has simply been over the fire since before anyone can remember. You just keep adding to it, and hope that someone finishes it off before it starts participating in conversations.

Sam, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions today.

Thanks for having me, and thanks for supporting my work!

Peril in the Old Country is available now on Amazon and Black Spot Books.

 

Interview with the Author of The Hawkman Jane Rosenberg LaForge

I wanted to try something a little different in my little piece of the internet. I reached out to the author of The Hawkman Jane Rosenberg LaForge to see if she would mind if I interviewed her. As you can tell by the title of my blog post she said YES….Okay I might have squeed a few times….

I am excited today to have the author of one my favorite books of 2018 on the blog. A huge thank you to Jane Rosenberg LaForge for taking the time to answer a few of my questions.

Jane RosenbergI want to fangirl for just a moment. I loved The Hawkman so much that I messaged Jane through her website at a ridiculous time of night then squealed when she took the time to write back. Since then I have also read Jane’s An Unsuitable Princess, which is part memoir and part fantasy and utterly brilliant. Thanks you, Jane, joining me.

J: This is exciting for me, so thank you!

 

The Hawkman is an original take on the bearskin fairytale. What inspired you to retell it in the way you did?

J: It is a re-telling of “The Bearskin,”; but there’s also a lot of “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Cat Skin” in it too. I read “The Bearskin” in German in graduate school, and the story always stuck with me. I was quite taken by the idea that although The Bearskin has to pay his dues, so to speak, he gets other people to do some of that penance while he cannot, and he pays them to do it. I don’t necessarily think that’s fair, paying people to pray for you. Shouldn’t you pray out of dedication to God, or a spiritual idea or quest? Isn’t paying people to pray for you cheating? The ending of “The Bearskin” kind of addresses that. I’ve always wanted to write about that, and “The Hawkman” was the result. Not that it came out the way I planned, but there it is.

The Hawkman comes across as a labor of love. What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

J: Thank you for saying that! I’d say starting is the most difficult part. After that, there’s the problem of discipline. In graduate school I got a lot of criticism about point of view and voice, and those are two things I always have to watch out for. One of my teachers told me it takes discipline to maintain voice, control point of view. So in addition to getting started, I have to really concentrate about whose point of view I’m taking, what that person sounds like, and whether I can make that person sound authentic, and consistent.

What inspired you to write The Hawkman?

J: I’ve always been curious about World War I. I knew a lot more about World War II because my maternal grandfather fought in it (in the Pacific) and my mother and uncle were raised as Army brats. But my other grandfather, who died when I was young, served in the Russian Army in World War I, and all I knew about his experience was that conditions in the trenches were pretty awful. So I had the idea of a soldier (from “The Bearskin”) and I needed somewhere, or some time, in which to place him, and I used what little I knew of my paternal grandfather’s experience, and went from there.

Both The Hawkman and An Unsuitable Princess are takes on fairytales, or have fairytale elements. What draws you to that genre?

J: I very deliberately wanted to use the conventions of the fantasy and fairy tale genres in “An Unsuitable Princess” because I was trying to make a point about life, or should I say, adolescence. Also, there was the setting of the first Renaissance Pleasure Faire to consider, which is fantastical, and fairy tale-like. Many, many Tolkien fans and history buffs and Dungeons and Dragons players wound up at the  Renaissance Faire, and the “fantasy” part of the narrative had to be set in a time and place that addressed those elements.

That said, I should point out that I had a difficult time publishing “An Unsuitable Princess” because of its format (the pairing of a “fantasy” story with footnotes which contained the narrative for the memoir). People could accept the fantasy, but they could not deal with the memoir part. And the point of the memoir is that I didn’t necessarily have the most interesting, exciting, instructive life, but it did give rise to this peculiar fantasy. Everyone fantasizes, and those fantasies, no matter how outrageous, are grounded in reality. And the fantasy I wrote up was pretty pedestrian. I wrote it to hit all the bells and whistles of the genre, so without the memoir, it was kind of paint-by-the-numbers. It wasn’t worth as much without the memoir.

But I couldn’t get them published together, so a writer friend said to me that I should just write a fairy tale, and be done with it. So I did.

There’s another advantage to working with fairy tales that I’d be remiss not to point out. and I hope I can explain it. If I told you the real, unexpurgated story of my life, you’d say, “No way!” If I told you that my father was deaf and probably clinically depressed; my mother was institutionalized for mental illness when I was a kid; my sister was a math prodigy-genius who struggled with alcohol, anorexia, and even issues beyond that; and that I grew up around all kinds of movie stars and rock singers and hippies and drug addicts in a famous Los Angeles neighborhood, would you believe it? How can so much be going on at once? Each one of those things is probably a novel (or a lifetime of psychotherapy sessions) by itself. But by using myth and fairy tales, stories that are familiar if not foundational, I can couch all of this stuff in a way that is far more understandable, and believable. I am borrowing the authority of these tales as a way to make my stuff palatable.

Since The Hawkman made me cry it is only fair to ask: what book has made you cry?

J: This is going to sound weird, but Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom” made me cry. And I cried hard. This was really more of a personal thing to me, because I read it after my mother died, and there’s a sequence about a married couple who’s broken up, and they get back together again. I don’t think most people would cry about that, but given that my mother was gone, and there was no possibility for my parents to do the same, I cried.

When I was reading The Hawkman I felt that it was geared toward the originality of the story and not pandering to readers. I really appreciate when writers don’t pander. When you’re writing do you try more to be original or deliver to readers what they want?

J: I try to be original in my choice of words, in how I describe settings, people, appearances, emotions—in all my descriptions. I studied with a writer, Kate Braverman, who liked to point out that every oak tree is “gnarled,” and every brook is “babbling,” and that older men always speak in “stentorian” voices. These are not so much clichés as they are shortcuts, easy outs for writers who need to describe something but can’t come up with a way to do it. So I always have Kate Braverman in the back of my head saying, “That’s too easy. Pump it up.” I’ve also learned, from other writers, that descriptions have to be appropriate to the purpose or ethos of the story, so you can’t describe something in psychedelic terms, for example, if it’s a place or item from the 18th century.

I don’t know about pandering; there are so many ways writers pander. You could say that re-telling a fairy tale is pandering, because you are giving readers what they already know. You could say that having a death at the end of a book is pandering, because you’ve written an ending that is so final. I used to teach a class on detective fiction, and a lot of detective fiction could be said to pander; the case is solved, the bad guy gets what he deserves, and the wrongly accused are exonerated and go on to live their lives. But that’s the purpose of comedy, and detective fiction: to turn the world upside down, and show how it can be righted. Only in noir (for the purposes of this argument) do you have an untidy ending; the bad guy might get away, corruption continues, and the basic problems in society are never fixed. And noir is not pandering. But I can’t write that!!!! I’ve tried. I really have. So maybe I am a panderer. (Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone I admitted it.)

You have been in the publishing industry for sometime. Have you noticed any changes in the type of books that are being marketed, or do you think that is more driven by what consumers are buying?

J: It’s probably more of a feedback loop. Someone writes “The Girl on the Train,” and it sells well, and then other authors start writing books with “The Girl Who” in their titles. So, yes, Kate Bernheimer started writing fairy tales and then Michael Cunningham put out an entire book of fairy tales and then Roxanne Gay wrote her fairy tale and Helen Oyeyemi wrote hers and so on. People write this stuff—whatever it is—because they are inspired by something, sometimes another book, and they’re able to sell it to publishers because people are buying it, and so they write some more. When you query agents and publishers, you usually try to say, “This book will appeal to readers of….” and you name previously successful, well-known books or authors. But I can’t say I’m an expert on what’s marketed, purchased, encouraged, discouraged. I just write what I can write, and I’ve written a lot of stuff that will never see the light of day, because it’s just so awful. So I write what I can write. That’s what works for me.

I love how active you are on Twitter! You are very passionate about journalism. What changes have you seen in the journalism industry over the last decade? Do you think that the next decade will see real (newspaper) journalism fly out the window in favor of sites like Buzzfeed?

J: I was a journalist for about a dozen years at some very small newspapers. I had a chance at the big time and sorta blew it; well, let’s just say that I wasn’t able to sustain my position in the big time, and had to surrender it. Any changes I’ve witnessed in journalism are really what anyone else who keeps up with the news has seen, because I haven’t been a journalist since 1995. (I am married to a journalist but we have a non-intervention policy in terms of his telling me every last thing about his job.) But it was my first career, and how I came to writing, and I would hate to see print journalism, or the conventions and ethics of print journalism, disappear in favor of sites like Buzzfeed. And I don’t think that’s going to happen, because even Buzzfeed has produced stories that are based on sources, and research, and interrogation of those sources and research. There may not be a physical newspaper, but there will always be journalists. Maybe they will work for not-for-profits, like the Poynter Center and how it runs the St. Petersburg Times in Florida; or something like The Marshall Project online.

Let’s end on a bit of a silly question. Do you Google yourself? (I’ve Googled you and you are extremely accomplished!)

J: I’m sure if you Googled other writers, you would find some who are far more accomplished, but yes of course I Google myself, isn’t that terrible? I Google myself to look for any reviews that are coming out, or to see how a magazine I was accepted to turned out, or sometimes I Google myself to retrieve dates or publication information that have escaped my brain for some reason. But I do not, I am glad to say, do the same thing with other search engines (are there any others?) for purposes of comparison. So I guess I’m not that much of a narcissist. Just a low-grade one.

Jane, thank you so much for taking the time to drop by my small corner of the Internet today. The Hawkman will be released on June 5th from Amberjack Publishing.

The Hawkman is now available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and I am sure many other fine bookstores.