Tuesday, September 25, 2012

10 Questions with Bram Stoker Award-winning Horror Writer Benjamin Kane Ethridge (@bkethridge)

This Author Spotlight features horror writer Benjamin Kane Ethridge.

Benjamin Kane Ethridge is the author of the novel BOTTLED ABYSS (see above), BLACK & ORANGE (Bad Moon Books 2010), for which he won the coveted Bram Stoker Award,

and the forthcoming DUNGEON BRAIN (Nightscape Press, coming fall 2012). For his master's thesis he wrote, "CAUSES OF UNEASE: The Rhetoric of Horror Fiction and Film." Available in an ivory tower near you. Benjamin lives in Southern California with his wife and two creatures who possess stunning resemblances to human children. When he isn't writing, reading, or videogaming, Benjamin's defending California's waterways and sewers from pollution.

1. How did you get into writing?

My parents had a typewriter, and to my utter astonishment, I discovered I could type both black and red colored words. After I ran down the red ink ribbon, typing gibberish, I just continued on from there with black ink, which continues to this day via computer. 

2. What do you like best (or least) about writing?

I like returning to my work and being surprised with what I find. And I also hate returning to my work and being surprised with what I find. 

3. What is your writing process? IE do you outline? Do you stick to a daily word or page count, write 7 days a week, etc?

I start with the ending of a story, so I always know how it ends, but I’m never exactly sure how it gets there. I create an incomplete, loose outline that advances a few chapters at a time. I try to keep at a 3000-word-a-day rate, for five working days a week. I’ve been terribly lazy lately though and have been doing 1800-2000 words. It doesn’t help when I’m busy with other parts of life as well. The good thing though is I feel bad about it and try to improve my numbers after too long. 

4. Who are some other writers you read and admire, regardless of whether they are commercially “successful?”

I normally answer this question with a range of literary marquee writers, but some (but not all) other fabulous writers are: Michael Louis Calvillo, Robin Spriggs, Greg Lamberson, Ed Kurtz, Jeff Strand, Wrath James White, Sam W. Anderson, Gene O’Neill, Lisa Morton, Brad Hodson, John Palisano, Richard Payne, JG Faherty, and Jeff Wilson. 

5. Should the question mark in the above question be inside or outside the quotes? 


6. What’s your stance on the Oxford Comma? 

In fiction, sometimes it depends on the rhythm you’re going for. But most often I’d say comma placement depends on how the items are related. If you say, “The senator was detested, loathed, and hated,” the last comma doesn’t look right to me. Here’s why: the verbs are too similar—that final comma creates a pause to infer a stress on the last item, which doesn’t require one because of the repeated idea. However, if you say, “The senator was disrespectful, handsome, and cowardly,” it looks spot-on, especially if the most important thing you’re trying to communicate is the senator’s cowardice.

Benjamin, you are the first author to discuss the stylistic implications & applications of the comma versus the grammatical requirements of it. I often deviate from established "rules" of writing when I want to create an effect or an emphasis, or simply to wax eloquent. Thank you for illustrating this.

7. What is your book BOTTLED ABYSS about and how did it come to fruition? 

Bottled Abyss is about a couple who have lost their child and are disconnecting from life. They happen upon a bottle containing water from the River Styx one day and discover that the waters can heal and kill. What they decide to do with that power unfolds in the pages thereafter.

Fruition? I was in a morbid mood for a few months, so I decided to write something that took advantage of that state of mind.

8. What’s your current writing project?

I’m working on the NIGHTMARE BALLAD trilogy. I can’t say much about it, other than it’s going to drive people out of their damn minds. I’ve already lost mine just writing it.

9. What book(s) are you currently reading? 

The historical adventure novel, “Two for Eternity,” by Carl Alves. It’s a lot of fun so far.

10. Who or what inspires your writing? 

Reading great writing inspires me. Some people say reading bad writing inspires them, but not me. I start wondering what the point is, especially if dribble and dreck can make it to press and people actually buy it (probably questioning if they’ll ever pleasure-read again). It’s depressing. So, whenever possible, I try to read the good stuff and make-believe that all readers want good writing. 

This is an excellent point, Benjamin. I have often found myself thinking the same thing. I read widely, both traditional and indie authors. I must say I find quality writing at both ends of the publishing spectrum. But, as you said, I enjoy reading really great writing; it's very inspiring. That being said, poor writing is also beneficial because it helps me re-remember for the umpteenth time what weak writing is. It also takes some of the pressure off me, because I re-remember, again for the umpteenth time, that a powerful story is not built solely upon grammar and syntax and style; it is the STORY which ultimately matters.

Finally, is there anything you’d care to add? Please also include where people can read your published stories, buy your book, etc. 

For a listing of my novels, here’s my Amazon author page. Have at it, you beautiful, sexy, generous people.


Thank you, Benjamin. Congratulations on the Bram Stoker Award. No small feat, that.

Be sure to take a moment to check out BOTTLED ABYSS and BLACK AND ORANGE. And stay tuned for the forthcoming release of DUNGEON BRAIN, which will be featured here in a follow-up interview with Benjamin.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

10 Questions with Writer Michael E. Gunter (@Michael_Gunter)

This Author Spotlight features Michael E. Gunter, author of BLACKWELL.

At the age of ten, Michael saw his first episode of The Twilight Zone and got hooked on mystery. At eighteen, he had an encounter with Jesus Christ that changed the course of his life.

In 2001, he discovered his passion for writing. Today, he writes about the mysteries of life from a biblical Christian perspective; sometimes in straight up nonfiction and sometimes in the garb of fiction. His aim is to write great books that entertain and provoke meaningful contemplation and conversation.

When Michael is not writing, he enjoys spending time with his wife and kids, playing guitar, and refilling his favorite coffee cup.

Now through Monday, Michael is offering a limited number of free ebook copies of BLACKWELL. Simply leave a comment on this Author Spotlight. Be sure to include your EMAIL ADDRESS to which Michael can send your free ebook, as well as which ebook format your prefer (epub/mobi).

1. How did you get into writing?

I started dabbling with words as a teenager dreaming of rock-and-roll stardom. I wrote song lyrics to fill the space between guitar solos. After seventeen years of dream chasing, I woke up to find I had turned into a thirty-one-year-old man working in a Books-A-Million – no record contract, no screaming fans, no longer in a band. This may sound odd, but I really believe I had to let my musical aspirations fade before I could discover my real passion. Working amidst all those books, I could almost hear them whisper to me, “You can do this. Give it a try.” In April of 2001, I wrote my first short-story, then three more in quick succession. By then I was hooked and I haven’t been without a writing project since.

2. What do you like best (or least) about writing?
For me, the coolest thing about writing is the clarity it brings. Whether I’m giving life to a fictional character or writing non-fiction, I always end up learning something, expanding my view of the world, or diving deeper into the Great Mystery of life. Of course, there’s the entertainment factor and the satisfaction of bringing a very long project to conclusion, but it’s the clarity that I value most and what I hope to give to my readers.

The thing I like least about writing is the tension that exists between the worlds I create in my stories and the physical world in which I live. Both are demanding and neither seems to care much about the other. Sometimes I feel caught between them, developing a plot when I should be focused on work or family, or getting distracted by a task when I should be writing.

3. What is your writing process? IE do you outline? Do you stick to a daily word count, write 7 days a week, etc?
Although I’ve been writing seriously for eleven years, my writing process is still developing. Here’s what it looks like now: My designated writing day is Monday 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. I go to bed Sunday night thinking about a scene or chapter I want to write and wake up Monday ready to go. Lately, I’ve been able to add Saturdays and a night or two during the week, depending on what’s going on in the physical world. I do not have a word count goal, but can usually hit 2000. I feel like I’m a pretty slow writer. When I was writing non-fiction, I allotted myself one full year per project. But now that I’m writing fiction almost exclusively, I find that it takes me longer to get to know my characters and live with them in their world. No time is wasted. Even when I cannot write for several days, the story is still developing. As for outlining, that’s something I am trying to do more. It’s hard though as my characters don’t like it much.

4. Who are some other writers you read and admire, regardless of whether they are commercially “successful?”
Without hesitation, my two favorite writers are C. S. Lewis and Jack Finney. Lewis’s writings were instrumental in my spiritual development as a young man. I read The Great Divorce and Mere Christianity back to back and experienced something of a connection right away. I know it’s popular to mention and quote C. S. Lewis, but I can honestly say I admired him before I knew anything about him. Finney is the master of the time travel story. His depiction of the late 19th century makes me suspect he may have actually visited it. You could say my own fascination with the idea destined me to find him. If I ever figure out how to do it, I’d like to go back and meet both of these men.

5. Should the question mark in the above question be inside or outside the quotes?
Funny you should ask this question. I’ve always thought it looked strange to put the question mark inside, but that’s what my high school English teacher taught us so that’s how I do it.

6. What is your stance on the Oxford Comma?
Confession time. I’d never heard of this until you asked so I had to look it up. Again, I must give a nod to my high school English teacher who taught us to use it. My wife disagrees, as does her mother, who happens to be something of an editing wizard. But do I listen to them? Nope. I have a slight addiction to the comma, but I am seeking help.

7. What is your book, BLACKWELL: The Encounter Begins, about and how did it come to fruition?
BLACKWELL is about two couples, one human and the other extraterrestrial, living together on a ranch in Central Wyoming. When their idyllic life is threatened by an intergalactic assassin looking to settle an ancient score, loyalty and truth are put to the test. The idea for this novel began in 2001 as a short story entitled, “They Came, They Saw, They Stayed for Dinner.” One of the extraterrestrial characters stayed with me and even showed up in some of my other writings. Finally, in 2007, he convinced me to write his complete story. After a year of writing, he informed me that I’d written it all wrong and I should start over to get it right. So I shelved my first manuscript and started again. It was complete to his satisfaction in 2010 and published in 2011.

8. What’s your current writing project?
I am about one year and 100,000 words into BLACKWELL II. The story takes place fifteen years later and revolves around the daughter of Aldi and Elsa-Eska, the extraterrestrial couple from the planet Klyv. Although she is Klyvian, Sara has spent her entire life on Earth among humans. SPOILER ALERT: The villain from BLACKWELL is back and determined to finish what he failed to do fifteen years earlier.

9. What books are you currently reading?
I am reading The Enchantress: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott, Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldridge, and The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A. Kempis.

10. Who or what inspires you to write?
I am inspired to write by the belief that there is a Great Mystery at work behind the scenes of what we perceive as reality. Writing takes me to that place where the curtain is thinnest. 

Finally, is there anything you’d care to add? Please also include where readers can find you online and buy your books.

All of my published works are available at www.gunterbooks.com. BLACKWELL: The Encounter Begins is also available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. E-book versions are available via all e-reader stores.

Thank you, Michael. Be sure to visit us again when BLACKWELL II is published.

Visit Michael's website to check out BLACKWELL, as well as his other work. And follow him on Twitter.

And to be one of the lucky few to receive a free ebook copy of BLACKWELL, post a comment below, including your email address and ebook format preference.

Thank you!

Monday, September 10, 2012

AMPED by Daniel H. Wilson (@DanielWilsonpdx) - Review by Author Ryan Schneider

A well-written, scary look at our inevitable technological future. A solid read. After enjoying ROBOPOCALYPSE, I was pleased to find AMPED in my library's ebook inventory. AMPED wasn't quite as epic in scope as ROBO, but Wilson uses his insights into robotics and technology to predict what I truly feel is a technological inevitability. Technology which already exists TODAY need be tweaked only slightly in order to be realized as the vision painted by Wilson in AMPED. And it's a controversial one.

Specifically (and without giving anything away!), the story revolves around neurological implants used to treat maladies such as epilepsy and Parkinson's. As I said, the technology exists and is in use today. Now, imagine such an implant which could generate a mild, steady electronic pulse which would nudge your brain waves into a constant state of concentration. As Wilson states in the novel (and I'm paraphrasing), such technology will make a dumb person normal and a normal person a genius.

The real-world applications of such technology become readily apparent. As does its attractiveness.

And also the moral quandary. (Which Wilson explores thoroughly.)

If I had to choose something to complain about, it would be that the book felt a tad bit limited in terms of the interaction between the hero and the antagonist. I kept thinking of the redneck in REAL STEEL who beats the crap out of Hugh Jackman.

But the book does indeed have several nice surprises (which I won't spoil here). There's an ample love interest and a nice portrayal of paternal action by the hero; important stuff which is always challenging to write without it being corny or melodramatic.

Of particular note is Wilson's almost lyrical voice. He savors his words and his metaphors are brilliant. And of course the sheer concept of the novel is fascinating and utterly believable. The execution is also fun, as the book incorporates news reports, government documents, court rulings, and journalistic reports to assist with the storytelling. This was a brilliant, inventive way to take a break from what could easily become long-winded exposition.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

10 Questions with Romance Author Elaine Levine (@ElaineLevine)

This Author Spotlight features Elaine Levine, author of The Edge of Courage.

Elaine Levine lives in a small town on the Plains in Colorado with her husband, as well as a blind German Shepherd and a middle-aged parrot (who feels he raised her two children and lives for visits from her son as well as long-distance phone calls from her daughter in the Coast Guard). Elaine’s first published story, Rachel and the Hired Gun, won Romance Writers of America’s® Golden Heart® Award for Best Long Historical in 2007. Elaine is also the author of Shattered Valor.

1. How did you get into writing?

I was a big reader when I was a kid. I discovered romance fiction in my teens and decided, when I was in college, that I wanted to write it. There’s something cathartic about happy endings, good trumping evil, and hot, smexy sex.

2. What do you like best (or least) about writing?

The answer to both questions is “writing.” Seriously. I don’t like writing, but I love being a writer. The story I see in my head is invariably eloquent, emotive, and lyrical, but something happens when the words hit the paper. They crystallize into ineffective, bland, and chunky prose. I have to constantly carve away at them until I create something that’s close to what I imagined. It’s work. I don’t like my first drafts. If anyone were to read them, they’d think a first grader wrote them. But somewhere, in my final drafts, I begin to hear the echoes of my story vision. And that I love. That is what I want to give to readers.

3. What is your writing process? IE do you outline? Do you stick to a daily word or page count, write 7 days a week, etc?

I’ve written seven books now. Five of them have been publishedfour by a traditional publisher, one I self-published. I have yet to write a book the same way twice.

I’ve tried plotting, outlining, writing synopses, using note cards, and standing on my head. Nothing makes the process any easier. My stories, even though I write romances, are very hero-centric. Most are told significantly from the hero’s point of view. I can’t draft the story until I fall in love with my hero. Once that happens, I can hear him. I know what his hopes and dreams are, what he yearns for, what he fears. And then, I start listening for the woman who is his other half. She’s always the opposite of what he thinks he wants. She always makes him reevaluate who he is and what his life is about. I love that personal transformation. It never gets old to me.

So many authors suggest the only way to write a book is just to write the darn thing. They commit to one or four hours a day writing. Or x-number of days a week. Or 2500 words. Whatever. I’ve tried that, and it just doesn’t work. I can sit in front of the computer for hours. If I don’t have the words, nothing gets put on paper. If I try to force myself to just freaking concentrate and produce something, I can probably write a sentence an hour. It’s excruciating.

I’ve learned that I have to have thinking timewithout the expectation of producing words on pages. Lots and lots of thinking time. I need to daydream. I need to ponder. I need to wonder about stuff. That fills me with words. I run to my computer and vomit them onto the screen, then go off to daydream again. I get so forgetful and distracted while I’m in the conception phase of a story. When my thinking is good, when the story will be strong, I find I’ve shed myself and stepped into the skin of my characters, wearing their souls, feeling their fears, being them.

I know. I’m crazy. Thank God for my husband who cleans the house and does the grocery shopping and cooks our meals. It’s sometimes hard for me to get started writing a book because of that weird process I have. I warn my husband that I’m going under when I begin a new story. He always says, “No worries. I got your back.”

4. Who are some other writers you read and admire, regardless of whether they are commercially “successful?”

I love, love, love JR Ward and Lara Adrian. Kurt Vonnegut, Kenneth Roberts, and Jack London. Carolyn Jewel, Melissa Mayhue, Jennifer Ashley, Nalini Singh, and Anna Campbell. Kiana Davenport's House of Skin anthology is absolutely haunting. There are so many, it’s impossible to name them all. What a wonderful time to be a reader. Now, more than ever, authors are cutting loose and telling the stories they want to tell. No subjects are taboo—everything is open to investigation by the prying eyes of an author. That means an explosion of new, original, exciting fiction for readers!

5. Should the question mark in the above question be inside or outside the quotes?

No idea. That’s what editors are for.

6. What’s your stance on the Oxford Comma?

We should talk about this. I can tell from your last two questions that you are concerned (or curious) about keeping to the rules in fiction. I am an advocate for good grammar, punctuation, etc.--as long as it doesn’t get in the way of a story. The interesting truth is that rules don’t make a good story. While a good story can be poorly punctuated, with plenty of structural and grammatical errors, and still be a phenomenal hit with its readers, nothing can fix a bad story. A bad story is not improved by proper use of English. And conversely, the improper use of English will not kill a good story.

Here’s whywhen readers are into a story, they cease being aware of the act of reading. They enter another dimension that is a cross between listening to the story and experiencing it. Their eyes move so rapidly over the page that they aren’t even seeing every word. That is the magic of reading. They don’t care if a comma is there or not, or if a sentence ends with a preposition, or if any of the standard rules of grammar and punctuation are being followed.

Yes, Elaine, we should talk about this.

You are correct: when I read, I do indeed enter that other dimension in which I am experiencing the story as I am reading. 

As my eyes move over the page, they do not see every word . . . unless a word is missing, misspelled, or there is a punctuation error. I seem to have a knack for noticing such things.

For me, and this is just me, I absolutely 1 million percent DO care if a comma is missing. (Prepositions are another matter, as sometimes ending a sentence with one is a deliberate stylistic choice. I sometimes do such things in my own writing. But everything I do is deliberate.) However, if said comma is missing or there is an outright screw-up, it stops me dead in my tracks and yanks me out of that ethereal dimension, the thetic erupts, my disbelief is no longer suspended.

As a practical example, last year I discovered Tanya Huff's Valor series. They are phenomenal, exciting Sci-Fi military adventure novels starring a bad-ass Gunnery Sergeant named Torin Kerr. The problem is that the books were LOADED with grammatical problems. The errors grew more numerous as the novel progressed, and each book was worse than the one before it. Whomever was tasked with doing the proofreading was asleep at the wheel. I found it mind-boggling that such wonderful stories published by a major publisher (DAW) could be so blatantly amateurish. Because that is what typos scream when I encounter them: AMATEUR. 

As writers, this is what we do; proper grammar/punctuation is important. In last week's Author Spotlight, fantasy writer P.B. Dillon offered a practical, unforgettable example; PB wrote:

The best example I’ve found of its importance [it being the Oxford Comma] is the sentence, “We invited the strippers, Oprah, and Hillary Clinton”. Without it, Oprah and Hillary Clinton become the strippers. With it, they were invited along with the strippers. Without the Oxford comma, it’s impossible to distinguish what is meant.

It's stuff like this which makes me a stickler for grammar and punctuation. 

Unless you're defying convention for a reason, but that is a debate for another time. 

Okay, Elaine, back to you!

7. What is your book, THE EDGE OF COURAGE, about and how did it come to fruition?

I had some readers challenge me to write a contemporary western. Consumers of genre fiction have expectations about how a story in any given genre or sub-genre will unfold. The story ideas I had for a contemporary western kept sounding too saccharin to me. I knew I wanted to write the book as part of a series, so it would need to have a significant story arc that would not be resolved for several books. I wanted, in this first book, to tackle the issue of PTSD and what our warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan might be facing. Since I tend to write a little dark, I decided that I need to step into an entirely new sub-genre of romance for meromantic suspense. It was exciting and different. I love the historical western romances that I write, and I do have plans for many more, but it was fun to diversify a bit.

THE EDGE OF COURAGE is the first in a planned nine-book series called the Red Team. It’s based on the premise of nine special operations warriors who’ve left the military and have joined a private firm providing security and intelligence to the U.S. government. In the first three stories, they discover an enemy they made while serving in Afghanistan has followed them home to the U.S.

8. What’s your current writing project?

I’m currently working on the second book in the Red Team series, SHATTERED VALOR. I had hoped to have it out by the end of August, but I’m definitely moving closer to late September now (remember all that thinking time I said needed?). I’m hoping to get three books a year published in the series, which is a lot easier now that I’m self-pubbing them.

9. What book(s) are you currently reading?

None. I can’t read while I’m writing a story. I wish I could. I just never enjoy a story while I’m creating my own. I never finish any of them.

10. Who or what inspires your writing?

The happily-ever-after ending that my stories give readers is what makes me want to write. Life is scary. It’s hard. It’s rarely as rewarding as we’d like it to be. A romance is like a vacation for the brain and the soul. You know whatever bad things the characters are dealing with in the story will be resolved to their benefit. It feels as if you’ve tackled a hurdle and won. It feels good.

Finally, is there anything you’d care to add? Please also include where people can read your published stories, buy your book, etc.

Thanks so much for inviting me to visit your blog, Ryan! My books are available at Amazon and B&N. You can learn more about my books at my website, www.elainelevine.com. I have a Facebook page, but I hate the darn thing. I can’t ever figure out how it works. I do Tweet a lot, so I’d love it if you followed me on Twitter @ElaineLevine.

You're welcome, Elaine. Please let us know when subsequent installments of your series become available.

Be sure to visit Elaine's website and buy a copy of one of her books today!