A Midsummer stroll

A Midsummer stroll

Taking a Midsummer stroll

…to my local grocery store, and then looping back long the highway.

Stream at MidsummerHaving visions of grime, graffiti, and optional gore? Yeah, not so much. This is one of the many reasons I landed in Canada fifteen years back and I’m still here. Spring in BC is when everything with roots makes like a triffid and grows like mad, and today, at the official transition from spring into summer, it’s warm, slightly rainy, and the paths are surrounded in every shade of green. That, and all the little streams have plenty of water.

My path followed this stream for quite a long way, punctuated by occasional happy dogs, and my turn beside the  highway included a patch of purple flowers. One of my other favourite trails in the area is lined in buttercups, which are one of the few flowers I actually know the name of.

One of the other nice things about this area is that mid-morning on a showery Sunday it is quite possible to walk for an hour and encounter only about five other people. This is just as well, as it seems that everyone has decided that physical distancing is far too difficult, and no one has a clue how long two metres is anyway. Much easier just to wear a mask under your chin and do what you want.

Between family and work drama, it’s been an interesting few weeks, and having crawled out from under my cats, I found myself in need of some perspective (sounds better than ‘I got up cranky AF’). Because of that, and because lockdown hasn’t been good for my non-existent exercise routine, I headed out for a walk. I’d say ‘I headed out for a walk in the forest’ but that’s the main option in this area (did I mention the phrase ‘things growing like hell’?), and hopefully the photos add any missing context.

Holiday plans

Despite the fact that I’ve been working from home since mid-March (which has been fantastic, and I wish I thought this meant my office was actually going to update their remote work policy once the crisis is over), I’m looking forwards to a few days off at the end of next week, even though what I’m actually going to do, as non-essential travel is still discouraged (in a very polite and Canadian manner) in the province, is sit on my ass in my apartment and read a bunch of new books I’ve laid in for said time off.

Honestly, three months into lockdown, and having not actually been outside Vancouver since autumn 2018, I do hope that at some point in the foreseeable future I will be able to at least take a trip to the Island for a change of scene without endangering myself or anyone else. However, despite the number of ‘ooh, look, VACAY AT LAST!!’ photos growing on social media, I’m not yet at the stage of cabin fever where ‘fuckitol’ looks like a good prescription, so books, cats, and tea stash it is. With some luck I’ll even get some more editing done.

Creek and flowersAlso, if we’re being honest, there’s a lot of worse spots to be stuck for the long term than Vancouver. Even the scabbiest parts of the city that I’ve come across are still pretty liveable, and where I’ve wound up is very far from a scabby bit. I really can walk to the store via a trail that could be the wilds of planet XZ472 in StarGate (and may have been, since most of StarGate was filmed in BC…), and there are a lot of other, even nicer, trails around.

Plus, my cats very much approve of this lockdown thing, and people working from home. It means their human is around pretty much full time in case of boredom, hunger, or a need for belly-rubs.

If you want to see (a lot of) photos of cats and how we spend our time in lockdown, my ‘author’ Instagram is a must-have resource, and you can follow me here: https://www.instagram.com/j_c_steel/

Writing to escape

Writing to escape

Meeting the voices in my head

I’d started telling myself stories as as a way of escaping whatever actual events I didn’t want to be part of by the age of five. 

Don’t get the idea from this that I had a bad childhood – on the contrary, I lived on a yacht that was variously in the Caribbean and southern Europe, I was home-schooled, I had my own dinghy, there was a cat and dog on the boat who respectively made sure I behaved and led me into trouble. However, as my parents were from the WWII generation, they saw absolutely no reason why, for example, I shouldn’t be perfectly capable of using a knife and fork and eating with my mouth closed by age three. They also thought, as an aspiring human, I should be able to sit quietly and at least not snore out loud when they had adult guests over. Quite reasonable, and I’d fucking love it if more parents today applied at least the same behavioural standards to their offspring in public as they do to their dogs. My eardrums would be a lot happier, not to mention enjoyment of restaurant meals uninterrupted by views of semi-masticated globs being spat back onto tables.

However, as there are few things more boring than to listen to a conversation that you can’t join, because, well, either the topic bores the pants off you or because most adults have issues talking to five year olds in anything other than “Is that your teddy, dear? How wonderful!”, I learnt the joys of escapism early. It probably helped that due to that homeschooling, I could read crap (“Peter and Jane saw a BUTTERFLY!!!!”) by the time I hit my third birthday, and actual books of some interest by the time I was five.

By the time I was five, I had an imaginary friend. My imaginary friend would discuss shit that interested us, like exactly what that thing on the bottom of the harbour might actually be, and just how much light refraction might be throwing off our guesses at how deep it was. My imaginary friend had other friends, most of whom I never really got to know very well. Not to mention a horse. A really big horse that would kick the crap out of people it didn’t like. (Yeah, I know, I lived on a boat. I didn’t get within thirty metres of a horse until I was ten or eleven. Don’t ask why a horse.)

Nowhere to go

Sadly, no good thing lasts forever, and by age thirteen, the boat had been sold, and I was in the middle of nowhere, France, about three months from being shipped off to boarding school. (The Famous Five has a lot to answer for.) I didn’t have any particular objections to learning to gravel patios and put up screening walls, and I already knew how to paint. There certainly wasn’t much else to do – no water, no dinghies, no beaches, no deserted islands that I was allowed to just row to and wander all over until Dad leant on the foghorn and scared all the pelicans out of the trees to call me back.

That autumn led to boarding school, in northern England, amid three hundred or so teenagers. This was in the mid-90s, and I’d never heard of Oasis. I didn’t care if my jeans were Levi, not that I got to wear jeans very often: ‘home clothes’ were treats reserved for weekends, after Saturday morning school and afternoon activities. Going into town (after school and activities), was permitted at age thirteen and up, provided you could scrape together two other people to go with (oh, ha).

Writing to escape

Luckily, my imaginary friend had been fleshed out a lot in the years between five and thirteen. She lived on a different planet. She was in training for some kind of special ops unit (did I mention that this school was a Quaker school? I was a great culture fit.) She could fly spaceships. About the only point of commonality was that we both lived in highly-regulated environments and held a very low opinion of those controlling our lives.

My imaginary friend was the mainstay that mostly kept me from resorting to some of the more popular coping mechanisms at the school, such as petty shop-lifting, alcohol, self harm, bulimia and/or anorexia, etc. Writing to escape started happening after about my first year, when someone pretty much told me to write it down already so they could read the stories.

I started in a tiny notebook I’d picked up somewhere, smaller than my hand. By the middle of the next year, I was writing on the pages in my school binders, and not at all coincidentally, doing better in class (my brain switches off fast when I’m bored, and listening to the same thing repeated ten different ways for the folks in the back reading much-fingered copies of ‘J17’ magazine was, well, boring). I wrote five novels in class in a little under three years (and, yes, smart-arse, I did pass my exams, with good grades, even) before I finally escaped to the wilds of Wales and university, and by that point, the habit of writing to escape was pretty firmly fixed.

Some twenty years later, and under substantially less pressure, I actually find that I need to consciously make time and space for writing. It is a pressure valve, and when there’s no pressure, well, less writing happens. Because I do enjoy having a ticket off-world almost whenever I can muster the concentration, it does still happen, but I’m unlikely to ever transform into one of those writers who churns out a book every couple of months – even if I could afford to not work 40 hours a week, 49 weeks a year. Nothing sucks the joy out of it quite so much as writing because  I have to write, rather than because I feel like writing (Nanowrimo 2014 taught me that while I can do it, it isn’t fun, and I end up with a hurrah’s nest of unedited crap I still haven’t dared open up to see if several years of editing could turn the “write first! Never edit as you write!” approach into a readable novel).

To sum up a very long and rambly post, most people read if they feel like escapism, which I also do. It’s just that, as the voices in my head never shut up anyway, I also write to escape. Also, because the voices in my head are of such very long standing, I actually have an incredible bonus as an author. I don’t need pages and pages of notes on planetary culture and character backstories. It’s all right there for the asking.

Chris Tullbane, Galaxy of Authors

Chris Tullbane, Galaxy of Authors

Chris Tullbane author

Chris Tullbane

Out for pre-order: Investigation, Mediation, Vindication!

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In the beginning…tell me what made you decide to start writing?

I started writing when I was 6 or 7, not longer after we’d come back to the USA from Germany. There was an assignment to write a poem for my 3rd grade class and, as kids will do, I took it as an opportunity to tell everyone how unhappy I was to have moved to a new neighborhood. Somehow, the poem rhymed. And the meter wasn’t entirely awful.

As far as fiction is concerned, I received a multi-month severance package in 2013 when I was laid off from my software development job. After a few months of hiking and re-education, I got bored, so I decided to sit down and write something. No outline. No real concept of a plot. All I really had was my main character’s name, John Smith, which was at least vaguely funny to me.

That first draft was a mess (as all first drafts are) but enough of my friends and family enjoyed it that I decided to keep going. I liked being able to talk with people about my stories, and the feedback loop as I sent my wife and friends new pages. Seven years, five books (three unpublished), and two novelettes later, here I am!

Are there any authors or artists who influence(d) you?

Glen Cook, who was the first fantasy author I read whose prose was both accessible and poetic.

Keith Parkinson, who once spoke about finding the mundane in the fantastic, and vice versa.

Mark Strand, who looked our class in the eye, and told us all we were too young to be worrying about writing poetry and that we should go out and live life instead.

Lastly, the cover for the Storm in Her Smile is strongly influenced by the work of Thierry de Cordier, whose oceanscapes are this incredible blend of power and mystery and passion.

Tell me about your book.

The stakes are real. The mediation isn’t.

John Smith is San Diego’s least successful private investigator. He’s a community college dropout who lives with his parents. He’s a lover of martial arts movies and beer, not necessarily in that order.

What he isn’t is a mediator. Unfortunately, supernatural forces are preparing for war, and the only person who can maintain the peace—and keep San Diego from tumbling into a hell mouth—is a mediator.

Thanks to a yellow pages ad placed when he was drunk, and the fact that every actual mediator in San Diego has been murdered, John Smith is going to have to fill that role.

And that’s when things really get weird…

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

I have three other ‘finished’ books in the Many Travails of John Smith series which will need some polish before publication, and one quarter-finished book in the Murder of Crows series, which needs to be finished sometime before August if I’m going to be able to release it this fall.

What’s your opinion on the practice of ‘banning’ books?

That’s a tough question. In the abstract, I’m not a fan. I think people should have the right to decide whether or not they want to buy a given book, not a government or some corporation.

At the same time and in regard to new books, a publishing company also has the right to decide not to publish something (either initially or after public uproar has convinced them it would hurt their brand sufficiently). It’s their money, after all!

As far as older books are concerned, I think it’s important to judge them for the era they were written in, and not by today’s standards. What’s seen as acceptable in the 2010-2020s will quite possibly look archaic and possibly even ill-intentioned a few decades from now. When it comes to the old classics, I’m all for some sort of acknowledgement or even warning that they maycontain outdated ideas, language, and beliefs, but I don’t think it serves anyone to pretend that the times in question (or the books written in those times) didn’t happen. History matters, even if just as a measuring stick for where we are now.

Like I said, it’s a tough question to answer. Whatever you do or don’t do, someone will be unhappy.

Tell me about a principal character in your book. What makes them memorable?

Juliette Middleton is one of the vampires assigned to chaperone John prior to the supernatural mediation. After getting kicked out of her House in New York for reasons as-of-yet undetailed, Juliettespent years following punk bands on tour as they crisscrossed the United States, enjoying their music and eating their roadies.

Eventually, she ended up in San Diego, where she became the youngest council member of a brand new vampire House. She’s not the best fighter in the world, and she’s not always the deepest thinker either, but she’s a fount of unending sarcasm who finds John to be the perfect target for pretty much any cutting comment she can think of.

Their ‘frenemy-ship’ becomes one of the cornerstones of the series.

Indie, or traditionally published – and why?

Indie! I spent quite a while querying lit agents for both series, and made it as far as full-requests on both Investigation, Mediation, Vindication and See These Bonesonly to eventually get rejections 3-8 months later. With See These Bones, I even found an agent who believed in the book. Unfortunately, she didn’t think she could sell it, both because it was too long (130k words instead of 100k) and because I didn’t have the sort of brand and following that would make me a sure bet for one of the big 5 presses.

That conversation convinced me to go the indie route. If I have to build my brand/following myself anyway, I might as well be getting all the benefit from doing so, right? Now that I’ve released two books and two novelettes, I wouldn’t ever think of going back. I enjoy the freedom of being able to make my own choices, and being able to move at a much faster pace.

It’s said that to write well, you need to read a lot. What do you think?

It definitely helps. I’m sure there are people so uniquely talented that simply by learning the language, they’re able to turn around and create something masterful, but for the rest of us, reading is a great way to see and understand what works and what doesn’t, informing the choices and style we’ll pursue in our own work.

That said, I don’t do much in the way of careful analysis or studyanymore, at least when it comes to fiction. Most of my learning is done passively as I read, because the truth is, I enjoy books and words. I’d rather lose myself in a story than consciously look for techniques I can copy.

Tell me what you feel the worst, and the best, aspects of being an author are, and why.

The best aspect of being a writer, to me, is the creative rush when you get deep into the weeds and are cranking out page after page. Finishing a 10+ hour burst of writing madness is kind of like taking a weekend-long martial arts seminar… by the end of it, your brain feels like it’s floating, and you have this sense that for a brief moment, you were acting as a conduit for ideas and knowledge, the effects of which won’t be understood for some time. That’s pretty cool.

I think most authors agree that the worst part of our job is marketing! It’s especially true for indie authors, who are doing everything themselves. I know I’d much rather be writing than looking at ad campaigns, putting together promotional tweets, arranging advance reviews, and all of the other things that are so necessary to make a book a success. But that’s part of the gig… I just wish I was better at it!

Are you a plotter, or a pantser? What do you think of the opposite approach?

I’m a hybrid. I create outlines for each book, so that I know what needs to happen, when, and why, but I leave them loose, with most of the connective tissue undetailed. That allows me freedom to explore tangents or expand in unexpected directions without completely wrecking the whole structure. It also keeps me from feeling like I’m just filling in the blanks or painting by numbers.

If I was a pure plotter, I’d probably produce books a lot faster… but I’m not sure I’d enjoy writing them nearly as much.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

Sort of! I like to plant seeds for future events that will often go unnoticed by readers. On a second read, when they already know what’s coming, they see those seeds and realize I’d been dropping hints all along.

In The Murder of Crows series, I also have one throwaway comment that will be repeated in the sequel for an eventual payoff in book 3. It’s super minor but I’m still excited about it. I keep waiting for someone to notice it in See These Bonesand alert me to what seems to be an error (but is, in fact, intentional), but so far, nobody has.

Tell me about one favourite hobby or pastime that isn’t writing or reading.

For a while, it was martial arts, specifically Bujinkan, although my wife was always better at it than I was. Then both my knees decided they’d had enough, and that was the end of that!

These days, I like to go out for walks when I can and my body feels up to it. When that’s not possible, I’ll listen to music outside in the shade.

What are you writing at the moment?

I’m making hurried, last-minute revisions to Investigation, Mediation, Vindication—I just got the author proof and always want to do another edit pass when I see the words in print—before its May 19th release. I’m also trying to plow ahead with Red Right Hand, the sequel to See These Bones.

What’s your opinion on the belief that indie books are badly edited and lower quality than traditionally published?

I think that, like most overly broad statements, it needs qualification.

The barrier for entry is low for indie books, so there are a lot of them, and it’s true that many are badly written and never passed through an editor’s hands. So yeah, the averages might skew downward, from pure numbers alone. At the same time, I’ve read some fabulous indie books that were polished to an inch of their lives and equal to anything in the upper echelon of traditionally published fiction.

On the other side of things, I’ve noticed more and more typos in recent traditionally published books. I think we’ve also all read books where we wondered how exactly the author managed to convince one of the big 5 presses to publish it. Sometimes, traditional publishing just means you already have a name or know a guy, and is no indicator as to actual quality.

My rule for both is to check the writing sample, if one is available. Generally, that’s all it takes to see if there are any issues with grammar, spelling, or style. As for plot and character… well, those require a deeper read so there’s not much you can do unless you have reviewers you trust. I’ve read a few books where the author’s voice was fantastic, the characters were likeable, the editing was excellent (from a pure copy perspective)… and then the plot laid an egg 75% of the way through.

What can you do? Writing is hard!

What is your favourite genre to write, and why?

Science Fiction, Fantasy, speculative fiction, and whatever else they are calling it these days. I like being able to put my own twist on reality. My world-building on the page can be fairlylight, as I write in first person, and lean heavily on the unreliability (and often willful blindness) of my narrators, but I still spend quite a bit of time figuring out details that may never be directly divulged. That process of first creating the puzzle and then slowly piecing it together definitely satisfies a creative need.

Also, it’s just fun to play with expectations and to be able to throw in something completely off the wall (like a vegetable demigod!) if I feel like it.

If you could, would you live in the world you’ve created? Why / why not?

Nope! See These Bones’ world is a post-apocalyptic charnel house, where having superpowers is one of the few paths to a good life… and even then, only if it’s the right power and you’re born in or can escape to the Free States.

Investigation, Mediation, Vindication, being an urban fantasy, is just a slightly skewed version of our world, but I don’t think I’d want to live in a world of chupacabras, crab assassins, goblins, or vampires… especially with humans being the bottom rung on the power ladder.

If you could go back to the start of your writing career, what is the one piece of advice you’d give yourself?

Revise your story until it’s perfect. Than revise it again. I don’t regret the years I spent querying agents because I used those years to edit and to write new books, but I would have had an easier road if I’d spent more time upfront on revisions instead of charging on to subsequent books in the series.

Do you listen to music when you write, and if so, what do you like?

I would love to have absolute silence when I’m writing… which is, of course, an impossibility. (I’d wear noise canceling headphones, but they’d distract me too.) I live in a new community and it has been a construction area for the last year and will likely remain one for the next year, so I’m learning to shut out noise as best I can. Even so… no music!

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

I did a lot of research on San Diego for Investigation, Mediation, Vindication and its sequels and was surprised just how violent the town’s history was. From the 1979 Cleveland Elementary School shooting that became the subject of the Boomtown Rats’ I Don’t Like Mondays to the 1980s McDonald’s massacre in San Ysidro, to the time someone stole a tank (!!) and drove it down the freeway… It definitely made me see the city with new eyes.

Tell me three unique things about you.

In the mid-90s, as a college student in Baltimore, I attended a party in Kansas that was being held for players of a Norwegian-based MUD (the text-based precursors to MMORPGs). There, I met the woman I’d been trading emails with, a grad student from UCLA, and promptly fell in love. A little over two years later, we were married, and 23 years further down the line, we remain very happily so. At that time, meeting someone online was actually considered weird!

My dad was an officer in the US Army, so I spent a number of years overseas as a child/teenager, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany and Madrid, Spain. I loved both cities.

Thanks to a dedicated bar space and an incredibly indulgent wife, I have roughly 75 different whiskies. My goal is to eventually have at least one bottle of every Octomore release. We just discovered online whisky auctions, so financial doom is nigh.

Chris, thank you for participating in Galaxy of Authors!

Holly Rae Garcia, Galaxy of Authors

Holly Rae Garcia, Galaxy of Authors

Holly Rae Garcia

‘Nolitete bastardes carborundorum’ (Don’t let the bastards grind you down) ~ Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

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In the beginning…tell me what made you decide to start writing?

I wanted to see if I could write a book. And I know that’s a terrible answer, because I’m not one of those writers who have been writing since they were old enough to hold a pen. I have been a voracious reader all of my life, so I have always appreciated and loved the written word. I figured, what better way to learn how to write a book…than actually writing a book? The learning curve was steep and at times almost impossible, but I finished it and proved to myself that I could do it. It was tons harder than I ever thought it would be. Along the way I also fell in love with writing short stories and flash fiction. The short form is a fantastic way to flex your writerly voice, and learn which genres you prefer to write in. I continue writing books because I’m addicted to them. I never dreamed I would have this much fun challenging myself.

Are there any authors or artists who influence(d) you?

I’ll be that clichéd author who says Stephen King, because that’s what was on my mother’s bookshelves. And he’s Stephen Freaking King… the man is a legend for good reason. That, and true crime about mothers who killed their children were usually on our coffee tables. I should have slept with one eye open. I’ve loved Poe for as long as I can remember, and of course my younger years were filled with Christopher Pike, RL Stein, and Mary Higgins Clark.

Tell me about your book / series.

A mother loses her grip with reality as she seeks revenge for her son’s death.

Rebecca Crow’s four-year-old son is dead, and her husband is missing.

Divers find her husband’s car at the bottom of a canal with their son’s small, lifeless body, inside. The police have no suspects and nothing to go on but a passing mention of a man driving a van. Guilt and grief cloud Rebecca’s thoughts as she stumbles towards her only mission: Revenge.

James Porter knows exactly what happened to them, but he’ll do anything to keep it a secret.

James didn’t plan to kill Rebecca’s son, but he’s not too broken up about it, either. There are more important things for him to worry about. He needs money, and his increasing appetite for murder is catching the eye of a local detective.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Unpublished: zero.

Outlined but not started: two.

Finished and currently with beta readers: one.

Surprisingly enough, I don’t have any that are half-finished.

What’s your opinion on the practice of ‘banning’ books?

This is a tricky one because my first instinct is to say that I think it’s ridiculous. But some books are filled with racism, hate, bigotry, misogyny, etc., and probably deserve to be shelved forever. The question I suppose is whether or not we can still learn from those books. As for banning due to stuffy parents wanting to control what their little darlings take in, I have one word: PornHub. Or is that two? Either way, kids these days have access to far more damaging media than a book.

Tell me about a principal character in your book(s). What makes them memorable?

James Porter is memorable because he’s the bad guy you can’t help but like. You wouldn’t want him to date your sister, but you would drink a beer with him if he was buying.

Indie, or traditionally published – and why?

I went the route of a small press (Close to the Bone/UK) because there are much higher royalty rates, and a much more personalized experience. They were also great to work with in letting me design my own cover.

It’s said that to write well, you need to read a lot. What do you think?

Absolutely. I feel it’s important to immerse yourself in your craft. I always find it odd when writers aren’t readers and/or “don’t have the time to read”, because why would you want to benefit from a culture you don’t partake of? I do have to watch what I read while first drafting, as style and voice tend to bleed over.

Tell me what you feel the worst, and the best, aspects of being an author are, and why.

The worst bit: It’s changed how I read novels and how I watch movies. My husband (also a writer) and I now discuss plot/character/etc. and why something is or isn’t working with other movies and books. It’s one of those bells that can’t be unrung.

The best bit: Having just written something and feeling like I’ve nailed what I was trying to do. I also love the subculture of writers, both Indie and traditionally published. They are incredibly supportive and encouraging.

Are you a plotter, or a pantser? What do you think of the opposite approach?

Plotter. I like to have a timeline and a chapter-by-chapter summary before I start drafting. Of course, it changes almost immediately as I write. I think writers should use whatever works best for them.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

I don’t think so, not consciously anyway. I did put the number 1418 in Come Join the Murder on purpose, since it’s my photography studio’s room number at work. I think I used it as someone’s address but now I can’t remember.

Tell me about one favourite hobby or pastime that isn’t writing or reading.

Photography is a big one, mostly macro stuff and food photography. I also like to watch cheesy B-Horror flicks with my husband (I’m looking at you, Zombeavers) and go to the beach.

What are you writing at the moment?

I’m co-writing a horror novella with my husband featuring Bigfoot, tentatively titled Easton Falls Massacre. It is currently with beta readers.

What’s your opinion on the belief that indie books are badly edited and lower quality than traditionally published?

I think Indie gets a bad rap by a few authors who want to skip the editing step, either because they can’t afford it or just don’t care. I’ve read a few poorly edited Indie books, but I’ve also read some fantastic ones. I think traditionally published books tend to all have the same “feel”, and Indies get to play around more and experiment with ideas and form. I like both.

What is your favourite genre to write, and why?

I’d say it’s a tie between psychological thriller and horror. I love psychological thrillers for that in-depth headspace you have to immerse yourself in, and it’s fun to play around with people’s emotions (that probably makes me sound like a sociopath). Horror is fun because it’s something I grew up with, and it feels very natural to me. It’s stepping to the edge of those intense emotions, but with a safety net that you can close at any time.

If you could, would you live in the world you’ve created? Why / why not?

For Come Join the Murder, I basically already live there. I made the town a hybrid of Galveston and Surfside, TX. I was born in this area, and still live here now.

If you could go back to the start of your writing career, what is the one piece of advice you’d give yourself?

Not everything you write needs to be (or should be) published. Some of it is for the exercise, or fun, or a contest, etc. I put too much pressure on myself at the beginning to get that “published” stamp.

Do you listen to music when you write, and if so, what do you like?

Oh, definitely. For Come Join the Murder it was a Van Morrison playlist on repeat. I pulled it up when I was trying to think of something Rebecca could listen to in the car while she was driving, and just kept listening. Morrison is very soothing. For the action scenes I did switch to atmospheric sounds (rain/crowds/highway/etc) to get in that space. For my current book, the Bigfoot horror novella, the playlist is a lot of Five Finger Death Punch, Alice in Chains, and Shinedown.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

That it is 1,000x harder than I thought it would be. I have so much more respect for the process now.

Tell me three unique things about you.

– I’ve moved 21 times in my 40 years of life (I don’t like to sit still).
– I once met and photographed the President of Argentina (Mauricio Macri).
– I have an Advanced Open Water Certification from PADI (Scuba Diving) but haven’t been diving in years. One day I’ll pick it back up.

Holly, thank you for participating in Galaxy of Authors!

Galaxy of Authors: Keyla Damaer

Galaxy of Authors: Keyla Damaer

Keyla Damaer

‘Farewell, wherever you fare.’ ~J.R.R. Tolkien

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In the beginning…tell me what made you decide to start writing?

I don’t have an answer to that. I’ve been writing since I could. Words can be magic if combined in the right way.
A few months back at my parents’ house, I found stories I wrote when I was a teen. They’re garbage, of course, but the desire to put down words has always been there. I could say that I write because I must and when I don’t, I feel sick. I write for myself stories that I would like to read.

Are there any authors or artists who influence(d) you?

Indeed. When I was a kid, I used to read sci-fi books in Italian. I don’t recall the authors or the books though. I suppose the first one to influence me was Marion Zimmer Bradley with her Darkover saga, for the science fiction part. Then, when I started reading in English, I discovered Asimov, Clarke, Adams, and others. Yet, don’t expect to read hard sci-fi. Too much technobabble bores me, and for this reason, I limit it as much as I can in my stories. Also, I’m not a scientist and I prefer to write something scientifically inaccurate.

Tell me about your book / series.

Some people say to never trust a spy.

The Parallels is the first installment of The Sehnsucht Series. The keyword here is Sehnsucht, a German word for “The inconsolable longing in the human heart for we know not what” to quote C.S. Lewis; a yearning for a far, familiar, non-earthly land one can identify as one’s home. It’s the longing for something or someone unattainable, Utopian, that possibly doesn’t exist. All my characters, mostly aliens, suffer from this ‘syndrome’ in a way or another.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Book two, three, and four of The Sehsnsucht Series are all in first draft stage. They all require heavy editing and a great deal of rewriting. Last year, I wrote some short stories that I intend to publish in an anthology introducing the readers to my world. Right now, my critique group is reading them and one by one I’m sending them to beta readers. It’s going to take a while before they’ll be out.

What’s your opinion on the practice of ‘banning’ books?

Books are a free-speech medium. They shouldn’t be banned even if they offend a group of people. Whether that group is big or small doesn’t matter. We live in a world that has become too sensitive. I’m not afraid to use words to tell stories. No one should. Besides, I come from a country where education is free for everyone. Mind that in this context, free means affordable for everyone. No one needs to get loans to have a college degree here. Culture should be available for everyone at a fair and affordable price.

Tell me about a principal character in your book(s). What makes them memorable?

Halazar is an alien female and a soldier. She has lived all her life in times of war and always fought for her people. She deeply believes in duty and justice and will have to choose between them.

Indie, or traditionally published – and why?

I’m independent. Mostly, because I write for myself, I write what I would like to read. I don’t want to be told what to write and how. I don’t want others to be responsible for the marketing choices for my stories. Just this month, I received two offers from two minor publishing houses without prompting them. I refused. I’m not saying I’d say no to a good deal. I’m just saying I don’t want to waste time waiting for it. If someone likes my work, it’s out there. They can reach out for me. In the meantime, I’ll be my own employer.

It’s said that to write well, you need to read a lot. What do you think?

Absolutely. How can anyone write without reading?

Tell me what you feel the worst, and the best, aspects of being an author are, and why.

The answer to this question changes in time. A couple of years ago it would have been different from now and in a couple of years, it may change again. Right now, my worst enemy is marketing. I’m still trying to figure it out.

Are you a plotter, or a pantser? What do you think of the opposite approach?

Lanees

Probably more a plotter than a panster. There have been times when I sat and wrote a scene I hadn’t planned just because it came out of my head that way. I wrote Lanees’s final chapter in The Parallels like this. It wasn’t planned at all. I was watching the news, something grim I still remember vividly, and boom. I imagined the final scene in all its details, and the next day I wrote it. Of course, I edited it a few times before it reached its final shape.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

If we’re talking about Easter Eggs, they’re filled with it. If we’re talking about details only a few people will notice, I hope not.

Tell me about one favourite hobby or pastime that isn’t writing or reading.

Reading, travelling, gardening, meeting new people, and drawing. I’m not really talented with that, but I drew all the symbols in my Series. I also drew my characters and then sent those drawings to my cover artist who used them to create The Parallels’ stunning cover you can see.

What are you writing at the moment?

Book two of The Sehnsucht Series. It begins where the first one ended and introduces some new characters. The main character changes too. This time it’s going to be a Manderian male.

What’s your opinion on the belief that indie books are badly edited and lower quality than traditionally published?

Some indie books are badly edited, and their covers scream amateur all over the place. The cover is the first step into marketing because it’s the first thing the reader will see. The second is the blurb, and the third is the content of the book, if they ever get to that point. Authors shouldn’t publish a novel until it has been edited unless they’re really good at self-editing. I know some of them. I also know editors are expensive if they’re good, but we need them. I must say, and this pleases me deeply, that the majority of the indie books I read do not have this problem, and I’ve read a great deal of indie books in the last two years.

What is your favourite genre to write, and why?

Sci-fi and that’s what I write. Like I said before, I grew reading this genre and I’ve always been fascinated by space. I can cry if I spot the ISS passing over my head and I get all emotional when I recognise a planet in our night sky. If I win the lottery, I’m gonna buy an expansive telescope.

If you could, would you live in the world you’ve created? Why / why not?

Eleanor

As a human, I wouldn’t want to live in Manderian space. Manderians, the alien species featuring in The Sehnsucht Series, don’t fancy Terrans. They tend to be xenophobic, some more some less. They’re also at war against Earth—or Terra Prime as they call it—and the other planets allied with Earth.

If you could go back to the start of your writing career, what is the one piece of advice you’d give yourself?

Confront yourself with other authors, let them read your story and listen to their advice. And most of all, hire an editor. A developmental one can be helpful to make you understand where you’re going and where you can’t go. Those can be very expensive, but they can light up your path. Read a lot and practice. Write, write, write. Do it every day, every moment that you can.

Do you listen to music when you write, and if so, what do you like?

Sometimes I do. When writing, I prefer classical music, especially Ludovico Einaudi. When I’m self-editing the first draft I prefer silence. When working on the editor’s suggestions anything will do. Pop, rock, usually something from the ‘80s or ‘90s. I don’t listen to a great deal of contemporary music.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

I learnt many things while creating my stories and I think the most important one is that we aren’t alone. I found a great number of people willing to help and I also helped many more. I don’t do it with the expectation they will do something for me. One can learn a great deal even from others’ mistakes. Cooperation with other authors in my same shoes encouraged me to do better. It still does.

Tell me three unique things about you.

  1. I’m Italian but I write in English.
  2. I’m not a chocolate fan.
  3. I can dream entire scenes of my stories.

Keyla, thank you for participating in Galaxy of Authors!

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