Shifting species

Shifting species

Hi, I’m Jimmy Manley. I’m a shapeshifter.

Sounds badass. Makes people think of fangs, and howling at the moon, and rending shit. I mean, shifting species, right? Sets expectations.

You know what isn’t so cool about that whole shapeshifter thing? Yeah, you don’t get to choose what you turn into.

Take me, for example, although you probably aren’t going to want to in a minute…

I’m a were…goat.

Yah. I’m the ‘butt’ of every joke. I get asked if I’m always horny, or only in my other form. I don’t get told to go away, though. I get told to butt out, or hoof it.

My main offensive skill is that when I fart, I clear the room. No, aha, buts about it.

There was this one time in high school, and another birthday party I definitely wasn’t invited to (that’s…well, not cool, but normal), but the cool kids kept rubbing my nose in it. After a week of really unsubtle hints, I also knew where it was being held.

Did I mention my system really has issues – like, Geneva Convention level of issues – with coriander?

So I had a really nice curry that Saturday. Delicious. And then I took a little walk after dinner. They’d really done a nice job decorating the garden. I’m glad I got to see it empty to get the full effect.

Paramaribo – the turning point

Paramaribo – the turning point

Paramaribo – because the Artemis is not a small yacht

 Map of Paramaribo…as it turns out, there really aren’t a whole lot of places you can anchor a large yacht along the coast of Suriname. Up a river is about the only bet, which is why you find the Artemis, highly recognisable and all, limping up-river to Domberg after running afoul of some dirty weather off the northern coast of South America. 

That, and Paramaribo is one of the spots that an ex-vampire sea-faring businessman might legitimately be expected to be familiar with. It started life as a Dutch trading post in the early 17th century, briefly became British territory, and got taken back by the Dutch in 1667. It’s also home to one of the oldest synagogues in the New World, the Neveh Shalom. 

It’s one of the few places mentioned in Death is for the Living that I haven’t actually been to, which meant that I spent a lot of time staring hungrily at sun-drenched photographs and harbour guides while the snow fell outside my window. The only spot along the South American coast I’ve been to is Isla Margerita, which is a considerable distance to the Northwest of Paramaribo – no real help when you’re trying to figure out logical landing points for a 70-foot yacht with storm damage.

If you take a look at the map insert, you’ll see that if you’re sailing South from Guadeloupe, aiming to stay well clear of stray landmasses, but happen to run into the trailing edge of some bad weather sweeping in from the Atlantic, Paramaribo is a logical spot to wind up – especially as your other options for a considerable distance up and down coast are shallow scrapes in the coastline which may or may not offer anchorage for something as large and as heavy as Artemis – or any kind of convenient access to the supplies required to mend sails, fix roller-reefing gear, or any of the other minor dents and scrapes.

It’s also a logical place to expect that the local vampire clan might have a substantial footing, along with a number of unaffiliated others keeping an eye on the doings of that substantial footing, leading to a pivotal point (sorry, couldn’t resist) in Artemis‘s voyage.

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.

The litter box inspires me

The litter box inspires me

…and when I say the litter box inspires me, I mean it inspires me to do almost anything else.

This weekend it’s been inspiring me to go way outside my comfort (and competency) zone, and make some promo graphics for the Cortii series, as well as Death is for the Living. Overall, and especially compared with the first batch, which I mostly knocked together in PowerPoint, I’m fairly happy with these, although you will see why I mostly stick with the writing and leave the graphic design to them as didn’t fail art classes on several continents.

Currently I’m using the free version of Canva, which, while irritating in that most options are paid, and if you pay for a pro graphic, you get exactly one use of it, is still better and more flexible than what I was using.

So, without further ado, here are some of the graphics you may see popping up in my social media! (Cat-box inspired…)

Through the HostageWhile at some point I do plan to save up for a do-over on the cover of Through the Hostage, particularly the figure and the title font, I do love the backdrop the cover designer found, and it is actually a different section of that backdrop that I’m using as the setting for this Twitter image.

Lesley-Ann Brandt as Mazikeen, Lucifer


The elevator line, for those who’ve read Through the Hostage, can be squarely blamed on Senja Ventiva, Cortiora of As’ra’tan. While I haven’t, and probably won’t, scour image sites for models of how I think the Cortiian characters look, because I prefer to leave readers their own impressions, someone did challenge me once to one of those “who would play your characters if Hollywood made the movie” games, and Lesley-Ann Brandt in the first few episodes of ‘Lucifer‘ was the best match for Senja as I see her that I’ve ever come across.

Fighting ShadowsFighting Shadows is also up at some point for a cover re-do. This one I’m actually very fond of the initial title font, but the background image doesn’t really have anything to do with the story, even though I do love the dramatics and the camera flare. To date, it’s also one of the only storylines where you see the whole of Wildcat Cortia acting in one of the ‘bread-and-butter’ roles for Cortiian units – advance infiltration and shock troops, both areas in which the Federated Planets alliance troops are shockingly (aha) bad.

Lucy Liu in Elementary


I’ve never found that perfect actress to play Khyria. As several book reviewers have pointed out in varying degrees of shock, she’s female, and she doesn’t feature in one of the approved female positions in a plot, by which I mean mostly between the hero and a mattress. Because of that predominant lack of women in similar roles, I’m still looking. I wouldn’t turn down Lucy Liu, in the unlikely event that the Cortii series ever got picked up as a major event by the film-making industry, but it’s far from an exact match.

Elemental Affinity promoAside from the title font, which looks more thriller than sci-fi to me, I really do like the cover for Elemental Affinity. The cover designer took my few lines of ‘these are some of the settings, this is basically what the book’s about’ and came up with something that matches the White Mountains fort very closely.

Liam Neeson


I have no idea who might be suitable to play Cahan, Lord Warleader of the Golden Valleys, but I do have a potential suspect for the captain of his guard, Warron. Warron shows up as a secondary character in Elemental Affinity, Elemental Conflict, and in the Unaltered novella, and is basically responsible for making sure his lord remains mostly unperforated, a role he shares in Elemental Affinity with Khyria.

Elemental Conflict promoAnd I really do love the cover for Elemental Conflict. I don’t like the title font for a sci-fi series, but the cover image is perfect and I will fight to keep it. It was also the one where I probably cam closest to driving my long-suffering cover designer nuts, but then again, he does say ‘unlimited revisions’ in the website…

Kyle Schmid in CSI Miami


I have been looking for that perfect actor to play Anst an Nabat, who comes into the forefront of the series in Elemental Conflict. I haven’t seen a perfect match yet in terms of ‘if Hollywood picked up the series and money was no object’ but Kyle Schmid might be closer than some.


Unaltered promoAnd finally, Unaltered, the Cortii series novella I had no intention of writing until I found myself unable to concentrate on the shit I was supposed to be doing for two months straight, and on which I then wrote at least one 6,000 word day… This cover is from Covers by Robin, and it’s one of my favourites.

Irin Seviki


Also, since before coming across Covers by Robin I was getting desperate enough to consider trying to learn to use Gimp sufficiently well to pull my own cover together (don’t do this, really, it’s a job for an expert), I did actually spend some irritating hours scouring sites for an image I could accept for Irin Seviki, and this was the best I found.

And of course the boxset, which is also designed by Covers by Robin, which I grabbed for my post header. One day I hope print on demand will get to the point where I can actually bring out a serious boxset that looks like that, but for the time being the boxset is e-book only and due to the strain on my very limited supply of patience posed by interior formatting for multiple different platforms, it’s currently also my only Kindle Unlimited offering.

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

Buy the books!

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!