Test of Time Author Interview with Jacqueline T. Johnson

  • M.A. Greene: In your own words can you tell readers what Test of Time is about?

           Jacqueline T. Johnson:  The story is about the adventure of two men who meet on the crossroads in their lives to discover they’re being used by their government to start a war. Former assassins learns to work together not only to outsmart their leaders but in the end, become unlikely heroes to the people.

  • M.A. Greene: When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

           Jacqueline T. Johnson: Being a writer isn’t something I had dreamed about. Sometimes the dreams that are unexpected are the most fruitful. Writing started for me on the day I wrote one sentence and from there my imagination caught fire. I can’t see my future career goal without writing in it.

  • M.A. Greene: Do you mind sharing what that one sentence was?

          Jacqueline T. Johnson: Can you love someone so deeply that you can feel their pain?

  • M.A. Greene: How long did it take you to write Test of Time from start to finish?

          Jacqueline T. Johnson: Test of Time was written over twenty years before its publication in 2013. Confidence in my writing ability is what delayed its publication but to answer directly…six months no more.

  • M.A. Greene: Wow writing a book in 6 months is impressive. Did you decide to traditionally publish or self-publish and why?

            Jacqueline T. Johnson: I tried the traditional route but after numerous denials and changes that was suggested, I decided to go the self-publication route. Self-publication gave me a sense of control of the design and outcome. I do think I’m now in a place where I’m more educated about the publishing industry. I’m looking for agent representation before I go traditional with my next project. 

  • M.A. Greene: How did you develop Erich and Nash’s personalities?

          Jacqueline T. Johnson: In the beginning of the story, I knew the basic outline of what kind of story I wanted to write. As I wrote different sceneros, the characters and their personalities developed, Erich needed a confidant, that is how Nash came about. Just like when we develop a conflict you’ll need to a villain. In writing, many of my characters developed themselves.

  • M.A. Greene: Who in the book is your favorite character?

         Jacqueline T. Johnson: Erich is my favorite but I love writing the villains. 

  • M.A. Greene: What made you start the book off with Nash being pardoned from prison?

          Jacqueline T. Johnson: I wanted to first capture the reader’s imagination and draw them in with a hint of mystery. I also wanted to lay a foundation of tension between Erich and Nash. Throughout the series, I give hints to how and why Nash was arrested. A good story has to capture the reader in the first few paragraphs. I believe opening like this does capture the reader’s imagination for more besides, it leaves opportunity for a prequel. How did they meet and who is Erich really?

  • M.A. Greene: How do you come up with such vivid descriptions?

        Jacqueline T. Johnson: When I write, I want my readers to see and feel not only what my characters feel but I want them to become a part of the story. When I describe an object, I don’t like it when a writer is too wordy, just tell me and allow my mind’s eye to create it. Most of the time, I close my eyes. If I can see it, I can illustrate it. Writing is art without pictures.

  • M.A. Greene: What type of research did you do for this book?

          Jacqueline T. Johnson: I did some on weaponry but the rest is all imagination.

  • M.A. Greene: Your book has won awards. How did you first find out you won awards for your writing and how did you feel?

            Jacqueline T. Johnson: Everything was via email. I felt all the emotions of being stunned to elation.

  • M.A. Greene: Do you write with or without music?

            Jacqueline T. Johnson: I can do both, nothing really distracts me once I get to writing.

  • M.A. Greene: What is your favorite genre and least favorite genre and why?

            Jacqueline T. Johnson: I like fantasy, not really sci-fi. I love stories with the heroes and villains. I least like horror. Not into fear.

  • M.A. Greene: What advice would you give to aspiring writers? 

Jacqueline T. Johnson: Believe in yourself. If you don’t believe you can achieve it how will others believe in what you created. A dream may not manifest immediately but delay isn’t denial. Tomorrow is another day.

Desire of Whimsy Author Interview with Charletta Barksdale

M.A. Greene’s Desire of Whimsy Interview with Charletta Barksdale

  • M.A. Greene:  How you would describe Desire of Whimsy in your own words?

         Charletta Barksdale: I mostly describe it as a fiction fantasy series, but with a love story that’s hidden between paranormal and real life, which brings the supernatural story to life. Basically its about a young woman that is coming into her adulthood. Accepting a new job, moving out on her own for the first time and discovering many new things about herself including discovering she has special gifts. In between it all she cares for a coma patient at her job which she is passionate about, but is drawn to one patient in particular, hoping to speed his recovery, she gets attached. Its the paranormal part that shes not aware she is causing that makes her different. The different struggles is the exciting part and I hope readers want more. This is my first book, i still have so much to learn and stories to tell, i want everyone that pick up my book want more.

  • M.A. Greene: When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

           Charletta Barksdale: I realized I wanted to be a writer about 4 years ago, when I decided to finally take journaling to another level. I’ve always liked to write short stories and ideas in my journal but I never turned any of them into a book until now

  • M.A. Greene: That’s so interesting.  How did you come up with the idea for Desire of Whimsy?

        Charletta Barksdale: Desire of Whimsy was a short story I entered into a contest… OMG years ago with colleagues at work. It had a different title called Desire of dreams

and actually had first decided to write a more serious story regarding my life. But at the time I was definitely still going through a healing process that was to touching to write. I do still plan to write it, more than ever. I know I jumped off the question but in truth… it came about by me deciding which story do I want to talk more about and which will remain just a short story for a contest on goodreads.

The ideal was from my journal, im always writing things down and thinking of really cool things to talk about with others. So one day i was sitting there thinking about where do people minds really go when they are in a coma and begin to write those ideas down in my journal

Wrote a short story, then entered it into a contest and got really good reviews.

  • M.A. Greene: How long did it take you to write Desire of Whimsy, the actual novella, from start to finish?

             Charletta Barksdale: Oh wow… it took me 4 years to complete it. I work full time as a Development software engineer coding automated scripts by day and releasing stress by writing. It really took a long time because i hadnt put much time into turning into a book until i decided to set goals for myself. If i wanted the dream to come true, then I realized i had to make time for that goal.

At the time… i didnt see myself as a writer, writing at the time was a hobby that i did when i had time. It is now after publishing my first book I have decided that i want to write more then working in IT

  • M.A. Greene: When you made goals were they like writing for an hour every day? Writing in the morning before work? What were your goals that propelled you to finish?

       Charletta Barksdale: First it started out as writing on weekends and I realized that it was not going any where at that rate. So I decided to set a more grounded goal and at the beginning, I would write a chapter each month. I figured if i wrote a chapter each month i would have 12 chapters before the year was up. After i realized I actually finished 12 chapters, i was excited to finish the book, so it became 1000 words per week. no matter what, just write something.

After finishing a chapters in 2 years, i didnt realize i would be spending a year with my editor 😊

my whole 12 chapters crumbled but it was an amazing experience… like i said writing was a hobby, there was still so much i needed to learn and I had really good support encouraging me

  • M.A. Greene: Good support systems are essential to writing. It can be so isolating if you don’t have the proper support. Did you decide to self-publish or traditionally publish and why?

           Charletta Barksdale: I totally agree!  Actually both… The idea was to self-publish, i did not want set deadlines for myself. i needed control over my time and I really just wanted people to read my stories. It was after working with my editor, i realized i needed assistance, i wanted to find a way to seek the help i wanted but also keep most of my royalty rights. I was okay with not going traditional, my mind at the time was thinking bigger. Write the book, create your own site and cut the middle person out. Well, publishing a book requires many processes that I was not aware of, until I did my research. This is how i found Lulu, a self-publishing company that assist you through the process. After the long year of editing with my editor i had to go through another process with lulu. I really takes a lot of work to self-publish but it is worth it at the end. Its such a big accomplishment to know you did all that by yourself. Create the story, create your own design… who doesnt want credit for that.

Making a decision to not go traditional was a very hard decision. Telling my marketing team i did not want an agent or deadlines is mega big and challenging but the reward is satisfying knowing I had more control over my book. I have many that are interested in doing more. I purposely wrote the short book because it is the first of a 5 book series and I wanted to draw people in because giving out the whole series.

meant rather than giving out the whole series


having producers interested in turning the story into a book was more satisfying then going traditional

  • M.A. Greene: How did you come up with Serenity and Trance’s personalities?

      Chareletta Barksdale: I wanted their personality to go with the true meaning of their name. It was by definition their personalities came to life. Serenity is a calm peaceful but kind soul and Trance is in a coma and the name true definition is hypnosis, and taping into those meanings brought the idea of those personalities to life.

I’m not sure if anyone realized the symbolizing of each characters name in the book. Serenity, Trance, Delusion… all deals with dreams, hypnosis, coma etc… and if caught while reading, it brings the story to a whole new light 🙂

  • M.A. Greene: How did you come up with how drifters were able to go through dreams?

       Charletta Barksdale: I wanted the coma world to feel real, we all dream when we are sleep but what causes them. I needed a really good way to bring Trance mind while in a coma to life but also make the world real and powerful enough so that people that read it want more. We talk about angels, the unknown but how cool is it to come up with your own idea of what it may be like in a spiritual world. Its why the cliffhanger was so important, i have so much more to add to this story

  • M.A. Greene: What advice can you give aspiring writers for the writing process and what advice would you give them as far as getting an agent and the publishing process?

      Charletta Barksdale: My editor once told me that writing is an art, the takes practice. If you practice hard enough you will become better at what you do. I believe success comes from within, everyone has it locked underneath their own talent, waiting to be discovered. Never give up on your dream because your ideas are important too. Remember to “just write”, because 2 words will become more and more words becomes chapters and before know it, you have a book. As for getting an agent, I would tell them to design their plan before making any decisions. Publishing, I want them to understand, it is just the process and its truly up to them on what route to take. You book can be seen even with self-publishing and the hard work will pay off with being very patient.

M.A. Greene’s Fate of Flames Interview with Sarah Raughley

  • M.A. Greene: In your own words, can you tell readers what Fate of Flames is about?

             Sarah Raughley: I like to pitch it as Sailor Moon meets Pacific Rim. Basically, it’s about four girls with the power of the elements tasked with fighting giant monsters called the phantoms to keep the world safe.

  • M.A. Greene: When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

              Sarah Raughley: Very young. I’ve always loved telling stories but I actually didn’t think I could be a writer as an actual profession until sometime after high school when I just went for it.

            Sarah Raughley: The Sailor Moon reference is really about having four different girls that are superheroines coming together to save the world. Only in my book, everyone knows who they are, which makes them celebrities. However, in every story you want to make sure all your characters have fully realized personalities and backgrounds so that they jump off the page.

  • M.A. Greene: How long did it take you to write Fate of Flames from start to finish?

              Sarah Raughley: I started writing it for Nanowrimo in 2012 and I probably finished it sometime early 2014. But I was writing and editing on and off.

  • M.A. Greene: Are you a plotter or a panser?

         Sarah Raughley: Definitely a plotter. I like to know where I’m going with the story!

  • M.A. Greene: In the book, Maia and the other effigies ( the superhero girls who protect the world) go to France. Did you do research for that part of the story?

              Sarah Raughley: Definitely a lot of research. Although I couldn’t travel to the country I used whatever resources I had to make it feel real.

  • M.A. Greene: How did you come up with scrying and can you explain to those reading what it is?

             Sarah Raughley: I liked the idea that the Effigies are in this constant cycle of death and rebirth, meaning that when one dies, another girl is ‘called’ to take her place. It’s kind of like Buffy the Vampire Slayer in that way, but I wanted a way for the girls to be able to contact the Effigy that died before them. When Effigies die they don’t really ‘pass on.’ They stay in this constant state of limbo and can be reached with in the recesses of the new Effigy’s mind. To do that, the current Effigy needs to meditate and try to communicate with the spirits that are trapped inside her. That is scrying. In Fate of Flames I use the Russian matryoshka doll as a kind of visual aid from what Effigies really are.

  • M.A. Greene: The effigies, especially Belle seem to have a cynical view about their duties. Belle mentions the life expectancy of an effigy is short and a former effigy had a drinking problem. What made you decide to have a darker side of the job instead of them being more excited to be effigies?

           Sarah Raughley: Well, Maia is at first excited to be an Effigy. But the problem is, when you’re a young person with the weight of the world on your shoulders, it makes sense that there would come with that lots of burden. I wanted to portray the girls not as perfect, but as human beings trying their best in impossible situations, rising despite their weaknesses to try to do what is right.

  • M.A. Greene: How long did it take you to find a literary agent?

              Sarah Raughley: It took me a few months from when I first started querying agencies, however that’s definitely on the quicker side of things.

  • M.A. Greene: I have heard from multiple writers and agents that it’s better for a writer to not have an agent or wait for the right agent rather than have the wrong one. I know many writers are thrilled when an agent offers representation. But what factors played a role in letting you know the agent was right for you?

             Sarah Raughley: I had a list of questions and an idea of where I wanted my career to go and my agent ticked off those boxes. You do want an agent that works for and with you and gets you, and does the best to help your career flourish.

  • M.A. Greene: Can you give some examples of the types of questions you asked your agent and how you knew the direction you wanted your career to go?

            Sarah Raughley: It’s been a long time (10 years) but I let her know that I wanted to sell my books to trade publishers (Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, etc) and I asked her how she might position my books to editors, why she liked my books/writing, what she loves about fantasy and the genre I write in etc.

  • M.A. Greene: Did your agent help you revise the book more or was it ready to send on submission, when you tried to find a publishing house for your book, once she accepted your book?

               Sarah Raughley:  Most of the time we revise a few times before sending it out to publishing houses. But it really depends on the agent. Some agents are more editorial, and that was also something I was looking for.

  • M.A. Greene: The back jacket cover says you were getting your PHD in English. How did you balance furthering your education while working on this book?

            Sarah Raughley: Definitely time management! Time management, knowing when to work on what, and giving myself ample time to finish each project. Oh and knowing how to take it easy on yourself and give yourself some R&R time. I think I’m still working on that one lol.

  • M.A. Greene: What was your path to publication like?

                Sarah Raughley: Hmmm…there have been some bumps along the road, definitely. There are still bumps. But bumps are to be expected. At every stage there’s a new challenge so I just work out how to knock them down when I get to them.

  • M.A. Greene: What advice can you give aspiring writers for the writing process and what advice would you give them as far as getting an agent and the publishing process?

                Sarah Raughley: When it comes to the writing process, keep reading. Read widely. It’ll help you hone your own voice and writing skills. As far as getting an agent, definitely do your research (there’s lots of reputable places that offer free advice) and don’t worry if your publishing process has a few bumps – it’s totally normal and totally something you can handle!

Interview with Eileen Cook on her book You Owe Me A Murder

  • M.A. Greene: In your own words can you tell readers what You Owe Me A Murder is about?

            Eileen Cook: It’s my play on Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. Kim meets a stranger, Nicki, on a flight to England. They each share their lives. Kim has an ex-boyfriend and Nicki’s mom is a huge problem for her. As a joke talk about how they could get away with the perfect murder if they killed each other’s enemy. Or at least Kim thinks it’s a joke until her ex-boyfriend ends up dead and Nicki expects her to return the favour.

  • M.A. Greene: It was a great read. How did you get the idea for You Owe Me A Murder? Were you watching Hitchcock’s movie or was there another way you came up with the idea?

            Eileen Cook: I’ve always loved the idea of taking classic stories as a foundation and then spinning them for a modern YA audience. I’ve always loved thrillers and Hitchcock (and Patricia Highsmith who wrote the book that the movie is based on) are a great blend of psychology and horror. I love the mental aspects of things more than “scary” thrillers.

I was playing with different ideas and then came across the book Strangers on a Train. I watched the movie again and that was all it took for my brain to start spinning. Twisted friendships are an interest area of mine so once I had the idea I was off!

  • M.A. Greene: From start to finish how long did it take you to write You Owe Me A Murder?

Eileen Cook: It typically takes me about a year to write a book if you count the time trying to sort out the plot, writing drafts, throwing a draft away, crying, repeat, write a new draft, polish, and send off to my editor who then makes more changes.

M.A. Greene: Are you traditionally or self-published?

Eileen Cook: I’ve done both. I’m traditionally published with my YA and fiction, but I’ve written non-fiction books for writers. (Build Better Characters is one) and those I’ve self-published. I think the best thing about being a writer these days is that there are a lot of options and choices to get your story out into the world depending what you want and what’s important to you.

  • M.A. Greene: Wow, that’s great you’re a hybrid author. Which route did you take first traditional or self-publishing?

Eileen Cook: Traditional was my first route. When I published my first book in 2008 ebooks were still just growing. In fact my first publishing contract didn’t even mention them because they weren’t a “thing.” The rise of ebooks meant that self publishing was a real viable option for a lot of writers which is great. I love working with my agent, editor and publisher, but I also love the freedom that comes with doing indie for my writer guides.

It’s important to decide that whatever route you go (or doing both) that you put out a professional product, know what you’re good at doing and where you need help and then reaching out to readers.

  • M.A. Greene: When you first sent out your first manuscript into what is known among writers as the “query trenches,” when you query a book to see if you can get a literary agent to represent you, how long did you query before you found an agent?

Eileen Cook: Query trenches seems like a nice way of putting one of the levels of hell that still gives me nightmares. It depends on how you want to measure the time. I wrote and queried four full books before I wrote one that garnered an agent. However for that book she was one of the first batch of three queries that I sent out on that book.

If you count only that book that it took no time at all. I however count the other books as I still have the rejection letters! : ) Back then a lot of them still worked by mail so you had to send them a letter with your own stamp so they could mail it back to you to reject you. There is something extra horrid about having paid for the stamp that sent the message of “thanks, but no thanks.”

  • M.A. Greene: That must have taken a lot of will power to keep finishing books that did not get an agent until one finally did. How did you stay motivated to continue finishing novels and submitting to agents before getting to that book that finally got you one?

       Eileen Cook: Irrational optimism.

Ha Ha. I did quit a few times in the process. The problem is that I really LIKE writing and telling stories. This is what I always wanted to do and felt like I was always meant to do. That meant that while I could never be sure if I would be published, I knew if I quit there would be no chance I would publish.

So, I cried with friends sometimes. I visualized what it would be like if/when it finally happened. I kept writing and kept trying to become a better writer.

  • M.A. Greene: How many years did it take from finishing the very first manuscript to the one you got an agent for?

           Eileen Cook: Oh this is a harder one to remember. I’ve always been writing, but if I did my math right I finished the first book I sent off to query in 1998 or 1999. I signed with my then agent in 2007 and the book came out in 2008.

When I’m asked what makes the difference between published writers and unpublished I often say persistence. It’s not talent. (although obviously that’s a huge help) it’s a love a story and a willingness to get knocked down and then dust yourself off and get up again. It’s not easy.


That’s why every time I see someone has published a book, regardless if I like it, or it’s my kinda thing, I celebrate. A lot of sweat and effort and tears went into it.

  • M.A. Greene: I’m starting to realize how much sweat and tears go into writing a book from revising my YA sci-fi/fantasy story.

Eileen Cook: I am sending you all sorts of good vibes! (Picture me cheering complete with pom-poms) It’s hard, and it’s wonderful and there’s nothing I would rather do.

  • M.A. Greene: At this point in your life, are you a full time writer or is writing your second job?

          Eileen Cook: Writing and teaching writing are now my full time job. I gave up my previous day job (I was a counsellor) about four years ago now. This is for me, literally living the dream. I spend my day with my imaginary friends and helping other writers with their story. I’m the mentor at The Creative Academy for Writers https://creativeacademyforwriters.com

It’s a free (yes free) online writing community, we have daily sprints, classes and accountability groups. If people are looking for a place to get some encouragement I hope you’ll join us.

  • M.A. Greene: I’m already a part of a magnificent group called James River Writers. If your group is free, I’m happy to check your writing community out as well.

Eileen Cook: It is free. We have a pay what you can model where people can chip in (think like Public Television) but no one is required. We have a lot of fun so I hope you’ll check it out. We have different groups/forums for different genres, we have classes on all sorts of topics, tech support for people doing indie publishing etc. Plus we have a lot of fun. There are interviews on their with my agent and a couple other agents if people want to know more about the traditional route too

M.A. Greene: In You Owe Me A Murder, how did you develop Kim( the protagonist and Nicki (the antagonist personalities)?

Eileen Cook: Oh! I love me a twisted friendship. Kim came to me first. I could easily imagine what it must be like to be trapped on a school trip with your ex and his new girlfriend. However, I will admit that Nicki was the most fun to write. Villains are always so complicated and messy. I was a counsellor for years before I was a full time writer so human behaviour, what people do and why they do it is really interesting to me.

I don’t see anyone as all good or all bad. Kim is the protagonist, but she’s made her fair share of mistakes and hopefully with Nicki you know she’s the bad guy- but you also sense that her life has been complicated too.

  • M.A. Greene:  Are you a plotter or a panser?

            Eileen Cook: I was born a panser- but have become more of a plotter. Now I’m plotser existing somewhere in the middle. I tend to plan out the structure of the book, but I’m also open to seeing where things go as the writing evolves. It takes me awhile to really understand the characters. Once I do they seem to have their own ideas of what should happen in the book.

Silly characters. If only they would do what I tell them the process would go much easier. Ha!

  • M.A. Greene: What piece of advice would you give notice writers?

           Eileen Cook: I would have a lot! First I would say READ. A lot. Books are the best teacher. Read widely in your genre and also challenge yourself to read things you might not otherwise try. I would tell them to write- being a better writer is about practice. You can learn and get better- we are all still getting better. I would tell them to surround themselves with positive people- someone who is going to cheer you on when you need it and kick you in the bum when you need that. Lastly I would tell them it’s likely going to be a bumpy journey so celebrate every small win along the way and enjoy the process as much as you can.

Interview with Kris Spisak on The Novel Editing Workbook

  • M.A. Greene: I’m M.A.Greene. You can keep up with my updates about me reaching for publication on twitter @MAGreene996. What made you decide to write this book?

            Kris Spisak: I speak at a lot of events, from writing conferences to university programs to public library workshops and beyond, and while my range of topics vary a bit, it all comes down to empowering yourself with the words you choose. My first book, Get a Grip on Your Grammar, was in line with this mission, but over time, I realized I had so much more I wanted to say.

I frequently teach workshops and give keynotes on the power of creative storytelling, so I wanted to dig in more on that note. After experiencing the transformative power of deep editing discussions, both with audiences and my own editing clients over the past ten years, I wanted to create a resource that could be a writer’s go-to, something that would give them a list of specific exercises and tactics that they could use to bring their work to the next level. And with that idea, The Novel Editing Workbook was born.

  • M.A. Greene: One great aspect of your book is it is divided into macro editing (big picture revisions) and micro editing (smaller details once you’ve finished your macro edits). Did you write one section before the other or work on both sections simultaneously?

            Kris Spisak: This workbook is really a novel editing plan, and it is a compilation of all the advice I’ve given to my editing clients and workshop attendees over the years. People think of “editing” and “revision,” and they want to start with sentence one of page one; however, that’s not where to process begins. You’ve got to have the bones in place before you can worry about your skin’s complexion. There’s an order to the editing process that all writers must follow if they want to be effective and efficient in their spit-and-shine of that first draft that emerged out of them. If you don’t have a process, the editing stage can feel endless. You’ll find yourself circling back on old issues again and again. But with structure, you can feel the progress being made, and a story can, stage by stage, slowly become that book that the author first dreamed it could become.

  • M.A.Greene: One example I’d like to share from The Novel Editing Workbook is exercise 6 from the Macro editing section, which says, “EXAMINE the first paragraph of every chapter. Do you rehook your reader within that paragraph? If not, make it happen.”  I’ve heard of trying to have chapter endings make the reader want to turn the page, but not making sure they are still interested during the proceeding paragraph in the next chapter. It was such a great piece of advice.  How did you come up with this tip?

Kris Spisak: As a freelance fiction editor, I read a lot of writers’ work, and there are common weaknesses that arise in newer writers’ stories. Cliche chapter beginnings, “data dump” chapter beginnings, or “warm-up for the writer” chapter beginnings don’t do anything to help a story. Every single page, every paragraph, and every single sentence needs to make the final cut of a finished manuscript for a reason. If it’s not hooking your reader and/or driving the story forward, why is it there at all?

You’re absolutely right that people think about this with chapter endings, but they seem to forget about it at the start of chapters, right where a reader pulls out their bookmark, ready to dive in. Don’t ever give a reader the opportunity to put that bookmark back in the book.

  • M.A.Greene: I know you write fiction as well. What is your writing process like? Does it differ when you’re writing nonfiction vs when you’re writing fiction?

            Kris Spisak: It differs dramatically. I found my nonfiction voice through my blog and Get a Grip on Your Grammar, but fiction has a different vibe for me completely. I love being a storyteller and having the opportunity to pull readers into my imagination. I think because I work with so many fiction writers, I see that power so much more profoundly.

            I usually juggle multiple of my own projects at a time, but I almost always have at least one fiction and one nonfiction book on my mind. Different moods make me lean more toward one or the other on any given day–and deadlines, of course, really force me to make that choice sometimes!–but I do love the possibilities that both offer a writer and a reader.

  • M.A.Greene: Do you mind sharing what fiction writing you have completed or are working on?

Kris Spisak: I’m happy to share. While I have a few stories in progress, the one that is closest to its debut is a women’s fiction project, a novel about two contemporary sisters (a social media-addicted supermom and her bohemian opposite) on a wild goose chase across eastern Europe searching for their elderly Ukrainian grandmother, who was either lost by the airline or covertly escaped. It’s a story about sisters, the power of a strong line of women, and the folk tales of baba yaga.

  • M.A. Greene: Sounds like it’s a comical book that also might have its more serious moments as well.

           Kris Spisak: There’s definitely a lot to play with across this territory.

  • M.A. Greene: One aspect of this book I love is that all the tips are concise even though there are many. How did you make these tips so condensed?

               Kris Spisak: By the time that writers get to the editing stage of a manuscript, they’re tired, right? They don’t want to slog through a lot of meaty discussion. They just want help–help that’s logical, well-organized, and straight-to-the-point. That was my goal with The Novel Editing Workbook.

Hiring a paid editor can be a valuable experience, but not everyone wants to go through that process–and not everyone has the means to go through that process. This workbook is a bit like a mini experience with a professional editor. If a writer’s ready to push up their sleeves and get to work, this is a resource that (hopefully) can be there to transform a project, preparing it for whatever its next stage might be.

  • M.A. Greene:  It helped me be more at ease with revising knowing I can turn to this book for help. When did you first start writing fiction? Childhood? Adolescence? Adulthood?

            Kris Spisak: I’m so happy to hear it’s been helpful to you!

            I’ve been writing stories since I could write sentences–from a diary to childish mystery books and beyond. Poetry had my heart for the longest time in middle school, high school, and college. My first publication was actually in poetry, and it was there that I really recognized the power of every single word within a line. Every writer should experiment with poetry, because there’s so much to learn from that medium–whether you plan to pursue it or not.

  • M.A. Greene: How many revisions do you do for a novel?

Kris Spisak: This is a question that always prompts me to think of the daVinci quote, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Of course, one can’t abandon it too early, or it won’t be as powerful as it could be.

There’s no real answer to a specific number of revisions. I always recommend that after a novel draft is ready, an author needs to give it a period of rest, not looking at it (and trying not to think about it) for a bit. Then, they need to tackle the macro-edits, all of the big picture revisions we’ve discussed (story structure, character depth, balancing of description and dialogue, etc.). Only after a writer feels like their macro-editing has really covered all the necessary territory should they move into the micro-edits, looking at language choice and sentence-level subtleties. And, of course, the third stage is the final proofread. Yet each one of these stages deserves some time. It varies depending on the author and even depending on a specific work, but powerful editing can make such a difference in a project. I encourage every writer to give each of these editing stages their best effort because the world will see what they can do if they put in the work.

  • M.A.Greene: Do you suggest writers only do macro edits before sending their work to beta readers or critic partners or macro and micro edits?

          Kris Spisak: This largely depends on who the beta readers are and what a writer hopes to gain from their perspective; however, it’s best to put in as much work as you can up front, not asking for feedback until you’ve given your project everything you can. Otherwise, you might hear feedback that you could have figured out yourself if you only pushed harder.

  • M.A. Greene: I agree poetry can help writers. I got into writing poetry when I took a poetry course in college. It’s amazing how a few words can evoke so much power just by the way they are strung together. What is your favorite fiction genre and why?

              Kris Spisak: I’m led so much by my mood when it comes to what I’m looking for in a great book. I read a lot of fiction and non-fiction, but when it comes to fiction genres, historical fiction and women’s fiction often are where I spend my time. However, I also love YA (young adult), suspense, thrillers, mysteries, and the occasional romance. Literary fiction is like a little occasional treat for me, just like poetry, where every line is composed with such care. Different genres have different structures and conventions, and it’s fascinating to me to see how different authors make it come alive. Reading talented writers is a lesson for every writer out there.

  • M.A. Greene: So true. I really believe in order to be a good writer you need to be a reader. What’s your least favorite genre and why?

Kris Spisak: “Least favorite” seems strong to me. I’m less drawn to sci-fi and fantasy personally, but I have endless amounts of respect for writers who craft those genres well. My critique partner is a fantasy writer, and she consistently amazes me. World-building in such stories can be jaw-droppingly awesome.

  • M.A. Greene: If there was one piece of advice you could give aspiring fiction writers, other than reading your Novel Editing Workbook what would it be?

            Kris Spisak: Writing is a craft to be learned, and hard work and perseverance are what can enable you to meet your writing and publishing goals. There’s no such thing as a “born writer.” Sure, people want you to think that, but even the greats had to learn. Maybe this is just your time for learning, but keep going. Who knows what’s on the path ahead if you just continue to read widely, write as much as you can, listen to advice, and figure out what truly makes sense for you.

Abbie Emmons Author Interview 100 Days of Sunlight

  • M.A.Greene: In your own words can you tell readers what 100 Days of Sunlight is about?

           Abbie Emmons: 100 Days of Sunlight is a story about getting back up when life knocks you down. It’s a story about love and perseverance, friendship and family, struggles and victories. It’s about two people who overcome the challenges life has thrown at them in a brave and beautiful way, which I hope will encourage anyone out there who is facing a challenge and needs a boost of confidence, joy, and sunshine. 

  • M.A.Greene: When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

           Abbie Emmons: I’m not sure if there ever was a pivotal moment when I realized I wanted to be a writer. The thing is, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. I was always fascinated by stories, (thanks to my mom for reading so many books with me growing up!) and always felt there was something magical about it. As soon as I knew how to make words, I started writing stories – and I haven’t been able to stop since!

  • M.A. Greene: How did you come up with the idea for 100 Days of Sunlight

           Abbie Emmons: 100 Days of Sunlight is a story that I feel has always been in my heart, I just didn’t know it until the premise dawned on me one day in the spring of 2017, quite like a lightbulb turning on. I immediately fell in love with the idea — two characters experiencing loss, recovery, and hope; two characters connecting to help each other heal in ways they wouldn’t have been able to alone. I knew it would be a love story, but not just about romantic love — it would be about the love between brothers, and grandparents, and friends. I wanted to write a story about finding happiness, even in the darkest of times. And the premise of 100 Days just followed. 

  • M.A.Greene: How long did it take you to write 100 Days of Sunlight from start to finish?

           Abbie Emmons: Well, like I said, I first had the idea in spring of 2017. I took the summer to plot and outline the story, then started writing in November. To this day, it is my shortest writing process – it took me 27 days total to write the first draft, which then had to go through many rounds of revisions and edits before it became the book I’m holding in my hands today!

  • M.A.Greene: From your youtube videos I learned you have written previous manuscripts but 100 Days of Sunlight was the story you decided be your first to publish. What factors went into you knowing this book was the one that you present to the world?

           Abbie Emmons: That’s a great question! I think it’s important to put a lot of thought into your debut novel, because it really “sets the stage” of what the world can expect from you. In the end I chose 100 Days because at the time it was my favorite story I had written. I loved the characters and what they stood for. Beyond that, the themes were most pressing on my heart to share with the world. I’ve been so humbled and grateful for the amazing response this novel has received. 

  • M.A.Greene: Are you a plotter or a panser? 

           Abbie Emmons: A plotter, all the way! I can’t sit down to write a first draft until I know EXACTLY what is going to happen, start to finish, in detail. My outlines get really hefty (up to 20,000 words sometimes!) but they help me to stay focused and enjoy the writing process.

  • M.A.Greene: How did you develop Tessa and Weston’s personalities?

           Abbie Emmons: My characters are often inspired by people in the real world, and 100 Days of Sunlight is no exception. Tessa and I share a lot of the same personality traits and habits: blogger, writer, perfectionist, neat-freak, introvert, waffle-eater, book-lover… Her personality is a lot like mine, so it was easy to write from her perspective, and also really insightful. 

Weston was inspired by every person who has overcome incredible challenges and limitations without losing their spirit, humor, or zest for life. People like Nick Vujicic, Rob Jones, and Travis Mills, to name a few inspiring individuals. Weston’s story was an incredible opportunity for me to explore the emotional journey of getting back up when life knocks you down. Or, as Weston calls it, “punching Life in the face.”

  • M.A. Greene: 100 Days of Sunlight really does a great job of balancing serious topics of dealing with temporary and permanent disabilities while still being an uplifting story? How did you manage to write like this? Also, did you do any research into the disabilities of Tessa and Weston have?

           Abbie Emmons: Thank you! I think the balance here is finding the silver lining. Tessa and Weston go through a lot, but they ultimately conquer their fears and come to see that their lives are full, beautiful, and worth celebrating. 

And yes, I did a ton of research before writing, while writing, and after writing this book. It was a fascinating and educational journey to explore all the different experiences my characters went through, and I really enjoyed learning about everything! I’m a bit of an information sleuth, so it was cool to dig up all kinds of blog posts, personal experiences, firsthand accounts, vlogs, articles, more blog posts, and more videos. I think the most interesting thing I learned throughout the researching process is: no two experiences are exactly alike. Which meant I was able to craft unique experiences for my characters, while still holding true to what other people with these disabilities have gone through, and have so kindly shared via their blogs and YouTube channels. Another bonus was that my editor had actually worked as a sighted guide at a center for the blind — so she had all kinds of helpful input on Tessa’s condition and ability to navigate her world.

  • M.A.Greene: Small spoiler but Weston doesn’t let Tessa know he has a disability. Can you explain why you decided to write the story that way? Did you ever consider Weston letting Tessa know he has a disability from the beginning?

           Abbie Emmons: I love this aspect of the book, because it’s all about Weston’s internal conflict. He doesn’t tell Tessa about his disability because, for the first time in years, he has the opportunity to be treated like an able-bodied person. Tessa yells at him and constantly complains about her temporary disability, because she has no clue Weston has a permanent disability. If Weston had told her from the very beginning, she would have treated him differently because of it. I think this gives us some valuable insight into the ways we judge others based on appearance, and how we can’t really know what fears and doubts a person may be struggling with, however optimistic they appear to be on the outside. 

  • M.A.Greene: You have a youtube channel, which is how I found out about 100 Days of Sunlight. What made you start your channel and how long have you had it?

           Abbie Emmons: I started making videos in 2015 but didn’t have a clear focus for my channel until May 2017. That’s when I had the idea for “WritersLife Wednesdays” – which spiraled into the whole focus of my channel. I love talking about stories, and YouTube is the perfect place to share my passion with fellow writers! I’ve made so many amazing friends through the community, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

  • M.A.Greene: What is your favorite genre and your least favorite genre and why?

Abbie Emmons: My favorite genre, unsurprisingly, is contemporary. I love a good realistic fiction about love – not just romantic love, but friendships and families. I think the world needs more books about love. My least favorite genre is horror, because I don’t like dark/creepy stories. I think there’s enough horror in the world without us having to make it up. 

  • M.A.Greene: What piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers? 

           Abbie Emmons: I would give them the piece of writing advice that changed my life: Story isn’t about what happens. It’s about how what happens affects and transforms the characters. 

If anyone out there follows my YouTube channel, they’ve probably heard me say this a lot. In my opinion, it is the golden rule of writing. When you make everything in your story matter to your characters (given their motivations and fears) you can truly engage your reader and leave them thinking long after they turn the final page of your story. Secondly, you always have to remember why your story matters to you. Remembering your “why” will keep your passion alive through the darkest days and lead you to those gloriously satisfying words: the end.

Thank you so much for having me on your lovely blog today! I’m so glad we could chat about writing together. J   M.A. Greene: Thank you for letting me interview you. You can purchase 100 Days of Sunlight here. https://www.amazon.com/100-Days-Sunlight-Abbie-Emmons/dp/1733973311/ref=sr_1_1?crid=30W9YQOTU09OA&dchild=1&keywords=100+days+of+sunlight+abbie+emmons&qid=1590178988&sprefix=the+100+days+of+sunlight%2Caps%2C161&sr=8-1

J.C. Ahmed’s Girl at the Well Author Interview

M.A. Greene: Hello. I’m M.A. Greene a YA writer reaching for publication. You can follow me on my writing journey on Twitter @MAGreene996.

  • M.A. Greene: Girl at the Well is a novella about a sheltered teenage princess who learns her parents rule several lands with a cruel authoritarian rule. How did you come up with  this idea?

          J.C. Ahmed: I don’t know how I came up with it originally, but for months I had this idea about a girl coming out of a well with a warning. I loved the idea but didn’t know what to do with it. When I read an article about wealth inequality, it provided the spark and the rough outline of The Girl at the Well came to me over a few days.

  • M.A. Greene: That’s so interesting how to completely different topics came together so well.  How long did it take you to write Girl at the Well from start to finish?

          J.C. Ahmed: Probably 6 to 8 months. Writing a rough draft usually takes me a few weeks, but I edit over and over.

  • M.A. Greene: Wow, I think anyone who can write a rough draft in a few weeks has a special type of talent! Do you edit in stages for one topic at a time such as going over characterization, plot etc. or several different things at one time?

          J.C. Ahmed: Well, I should clarify, I spend weeks developing the story in my mind. Then when I’m happy with where I want it to go, I start writing it down. So, that first draft is usually very fast and very rough. I think The Girl at the Well first draft was around 20k words, but the final book was around 65k, so I add on a lot. Initially I focus on plot. Then I focus on characters. Then on dialogue. Then I do a lot of fixing things up. Reading it over and over again. I also go through it once working backwards from the last chapter to the first. I also use a text to speech converter and listen to it as well to catch problems.

  • M.A. Greene: Ok ok. Do you consider yourself an underwriter, someone whose first drafts are shorter than their following drafts?

          J.C. Ahmed: Yes. First drafts are always very short. Then as I read through, I get more ideas and start adding on. If things aren’t clear, I’ll add onto the story, so that everything makes more sense.

  • M.A. Greene: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

          J.C. Ahmed: I didn’t really decide that. I often suffer from insomnia, so when I would lie awake, I would make up stories. I often spent weeks forming stories in my mind. One day, I came across something about self-publishing, and I thought maybe I should write down one of my stories and give it a try. Writing has become a fun hobby for me since then.

  • M.A. Greene: What age range were you when you came across something about self-publishing that made you pursue your hobby? Were you a teenager? A college student? Working adult?

          J.C. Ahmed: Working adult. I always read a lot but writing a book seemed like something really difficult and challenging, and not something I thought I could realistically do. But then I started reading some how-to books, and watching how-to videos, and went from there. The process has become easier with each book. I’m working on two right now, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot from struggling through the first two books I have out.

  • M.A. Greene: Writing a book can be difficult. Did you ever attempt to write books before the ones you have published? Or was your first attempt at writing completing finished works?

          J.C. Ahmed: The first one I tried to write is called Io Hunter and the Guardians of Aldernar, which I did publish. But then I put it through a rewrite last year because I learned so many things and came up with ways to improve it. I’ve had a couple of books that I started, but then gave up on.

  • M.A. Greene: I was curious. I know I started several novels that I never completed as a child, teenager and adult before finishing the first draft of the book I’m revising for publication now. You mentioned you saw the article on self-publishing. Did you ever consider traditional publishing? And if so, what made you decide to self-publish?

          J.C. Ahmed: I haven’t considered traditional publishing. I like being able to do what I want with my stories and have control over everything. It would be great to have a company that could promote my books for me, but then I would have to give up some control to get that.

  • M.A. Greene: What type of research did you do for this novella?

          J.C. Ahmed: I did some research on wealth inequality because it was the central theme. I also researched different kinds of landscapes for the setting, read some history of royal families, and how portals have been used in stories. And of course, I did some research on wells. I’m sure there were other things, but that’s all I can remember now.

  • M.A. Greene: Girl at The Well has a blend of politics with fantasy. How did you decide what the right amount of each should be so the politics did not bog down the story?

           J.C. Ahmed: It’s tough because I didn’t want the story to come across as preachy. I’m not sure if I accomplished that or not. I would have to leave it up to the reader to decide. I think by having characters the reader could connect to, along with problems to be resolved and some romance, that I hope it’s something people can enjoy without being too overwhelmed by the message.

  • M.A. Greene: What is your favorite genre and your least favorite genre and why?

J.C. Ahmed: Sci-fi and fantasy are my favorites. I love books set in space. I don’t read horror or anything very violent because I’m a wimp.

  • M.A. Greene: What piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

          J.C.Ahmed: Read a lot of books on how to write. There are also courses available online that aspiring writers can take. I didn’t do enough of that before I wrote my first book. That’s why I had to go back and rewrite it. I still thinks it’s a good book (of course, I’m biased) but it could have been a lot better if I hadn’t jumped into the writing process so quickly. Learn and prepare, then write.

Kris Spisak’s Get A Grip On Your Grammar Interview

  • M.A.Greene: First let’s talk about your book Get A Grip On Your Grammar. What made you decide to write it?

            Kris Spisak: Writing Get a Grip on Your Grammar was a bit of a happy accident. I was teaching college writing courses at the time, and I was an active @jamesrvrwriters volunteer; however, even surrounded by so many words, I kept seeing the same mistakes over and over, little subtleties that people kept missing. I started posting weekly playful reminders on Facebook, which later became my blog… and then while I was having fun with my weekly posts, they somehow just took off.

            I was convinced to self-publish a collection of my first 100 writing tips, and that little indie ebook was what eventually brought me to my agent and my first traditional publishing deal. That deal was Get a Grip on Your Grammar: 250 Writing and Editing Reminders for the Curious or Confused (Career Press, 2017). We just passed Get a Grip on Your Grammar‘s 3rd birthday, and it’s been an especially exciting year because 2020 saw its first hardback edition!

  • M.A.Greene: Your book baby has a 3 year anniversary that’s awesome. What was the publishing process like for Get A Grip On Your Grammar? Did you find a publisher right away or did it take a while?

            Kris Spisak:  I’ll admit that my first traditional book deal was a bit of a dream story. The subject was something I was writing for fun, not initially for publication at all, other than on my blog. When things started moving with it, I was so surprised. The blog began in 2012. I self-published a collection of the writing tips in the fall of 2015. In 2016, I signed with my literary agent (someone I had met and really enjoyed connecting with at a James River Writers event a year or two prior), and one week after signing with her, I had a book deal. It was wild!

  • M.A.Greene: That’s amazing how your publishing journey went! What’s great about this book is that it can be used for fiction and nonfiction books, school, work, and more. Did you intend for it to be so versatile?

            Kris Spisak: Thanks. I try to shape my work around how we can all communicate better, no matter what that communication may be–whether it’s storytelling through fiction, the language on a cover letter, an email to your boss, and anything (and everything!) in between. I now teach workshops across the communication spectrum, from corporate environments to creative writing conferences, and it seemed like Get a Grip On Your Grammar was the book that was missing in all of these settings. I mean, I love “The Elements of Style,” but a playful, contemporary resource was something fun to add to the world.

  • M.A.Greene: Get A Grip On Your Grammar is written in a down to earth tone with hints of humor. It doesn’t feel like I’m reading a textbook or any book of that nature. Did you mean to write it that way intentionally?

            Kris Spisak: Who says conversations about the English language have to be something that puts you to sleep? I think we’ve all been trained to think of it that way, or perhaps we have memories of slogging through painful grammar lessons in our school days. But think of the worlds than can change (personally, professionally, and creatively) with a better usage of words.

            I honestly never thought about readers at the start, because I was just having fun with the topic, first on social media and then later on my blog. That’s just how it came out. I think I found my voice as a writer by having this “no pressure project” honestly, without worrying about anything else but entertaining myself. I had fun, and I think, in the end, it allowed my readers to have fun too. (Though “in the end” might not be the right wording because my writing tips blog is still going strong!)

  • M.A.Greene: That’s great you had a no pressure zone to start for the material for your book. When you traditionally published Get A Grip On Your Grammar, was that when you started taking your writing career seriously or how did you decide to start doing that?

Kris Spisak: The publication of Get A Grip On Your Grammar was a landmark moment for me in terms of my nonfiction writing and in my efforts to help others. I had been slowly stepping away from teaching college writing courses and moving into ghostwriting and editing over a number of years, and that book solidified my goals. For the longest time, I had seen myself as a fiction writer who loved helping other writers on the side, but Get a Grip on Your Grammar flipped that script. I became an author and editor, dedicated to the power of storytelling and communication, who also writes fiction. For me, the shift was unexpected but empowering.

  • M.A.Greene: For those of you who don’t know, I’m in a writing group called James River Writers. Kris is on the board of directors for JWR. How did you get into that role and how did you join James River Writers in the first place?  

            Kris Spisak: I had come to Richmond for graduate school, and my plan was to be here until I finished my degree and then move on to a bigger city. James River Writers was one of the biggest reasons I stayed in Richmond (well, JRW and meeting my husband, but JRW came into my life first so I think they get equal credit here). My employer at the time offered to pay for me to attend my first James River Writers Conference in 2004, something I couldn’t have afforded on my own at the time. The education, the inspiration, and the amazing community sucked me in. I’ve been a dedicated member ever since, as a volunteer for years doing little side efforts like stuffing tote bags and helping at events, and then later as a board member. This is my second year as board chair of James River Writers, and I’m honored to be in the role. It’s an amazing organization.

  • M.A.Greene: I’m glad you became a member. I found out about your book Get A Grip On Your Grammar when it was being sold at a James River Writers conference. You’re absolutely correct when you say it’s an amazing organization. Finally, what advice would you give to all types of writers since this book can be useful from anyone writing in school, from writing a book, magazine, or pretty much any other type of writing?

            Kris Spisak: So often people think that great writers are born that way, but here’s the secret: it isn’t true. Every writer has to learn. Every writer has to practice and work to perfect their craft, no matter what type of message or story or audience there may be. But when a writer cares and truly tries, great things can happen.

              https://kris-spisak.com/ Thank you again for chatting with me, and if anyone is ever curious for more (beyond my books), I have a monthly writing tips newsletter where I love to connect with other language lovers. You can learn more about this and all of my work on my website: http://Kris-Spisak.com.

Bill Blume’s Gidion’s Hunt Author Interview

M.A. Greene: Hello. I’m M.A.Greene a YA author reaching for publication. You can follow me on my writing journey on Twitter @MAGreene996.

  • M.A. Greene: So can you tell us when you realized you wanted to be a writer?

            Bill Blume: High school. My first real ambition was to write comic books, but I didn’t have the artistic chops for it. My senior year, I wrote a novel called THE DEMON RIDERS. It was really six short stories about this teenage team of superheroes with journal entries by the characters between each story. It was a mess of a book that should never see the light of day, but it indirectly led to one of my earliest short stories getting published, “The Deadlands.” My wife had unearthed the manuscript and had said it would make an interesting YA (this also led to my first serious dive into YA writing as an adult. The first third of the manuscript I wrote turned into that short story.

  • M.A. Greene: You should be proud you finished any attempt at a novel in high school! When I was a senior in high school, the first piece of writing I completed was a short story. I one day plan to rewrite and publish it. It must have been good to turn into a short story anyhow.

             Bill Blume: Oh, I should clarify. The only concept that survived was the main character of Paul Starnes. The first third of the novel I’m referring to isn’t the one I wrote in high school. Oh, it was really, really bad. The manuscript I drew on for the short story was something I wrote more than a decade ago. Sadly, that manuscript will never see the light of day, because I’m now cannibalizing some of the ideas and one of the characters for an entirely different novel I’m in the middle of writing now.

  • M.A. Greene:  When did the initial idea for Gidion’s Hunt come to you?

            Bill Blume: The idea for GIDION’S HUNT came to me back in 2010. I was in the middle of writing an adult urban fantasy that featured a 911 dispatcher as the main character. It ended up drawing on some not so good things in my life at that time, and the relationship with it became toxic. I doubt I’ll ever return to it, but I was deep into that book when I bailed on it, and I was really frustrated and angry. When I confided in my wife about what was going on, she asked me, “What’s the book you really want to write?” I knew the answer immediately: I wanted to write the best damn vampire hunter novel anyone had ever seen. I didn’t originally think it would be YA, because my intention was to make it as realistic as possible. As I prepped to write the book, making it a YA book actually proved a perfect fit, even as I made it realistic. The idea was to make it seem as if the reader could imagine this hidden society of vampires existing within our world.

  • M.A.Greene: So were you a fan of vampire novels and movies long before writing the story?

            Bill Blume: Absolutely! I love a good vampire novel and film. DRACULA was one of the earliest novels I read back in high school. One of my favorite vampire hunter books from when I was growing up was VAMPIRE$ by John Steakley. I felt he overpowered the vampires, but I loved that he didn’t make the hunters anything other than just human. That said, I also loved “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.”

  • M.A. Greene: How long did it take you to write  Gidion’s Hunt  from the first draft, then to finish the book?

Bill Blume: In a sense, GIDION’S HUNT only took a few months, but it was written over the course of two summers. Back then, my kids were little (not even teenagers yet), and they would go to South Carolina to stay with my parents for a few weeks. I used that time to take a lot of leave from work and just write. Gidion’s voice comes so easily to me whenever I write him. Even though the book isn’t written in first person, it’s such a close third person, that’s it’s essentially in his voice.

  • M.A. Greene: If you’re in the mood for a YA story, watch Vampire Diaries. If you want to watch something more adult, start off with The Originals, even though I’ve only watched a few episodes of the spin off.

             Bill Blume: I might do that. “The Originals” is the one I’m honestly more curious about. haha!

  • M.A. Greene: I love the close third person narrative the story is written in. You absolutely got having a character’s “voice” be strong in the story. What type of research did you do for Gidion’s Hunt? You give a lot of details how vampire hunters are not only suppose to kill vampires and track them. Also did you do your research before, during or after the first draft?

             Bill Blume: I did some research beforehand. The biggest and most useful bit of research came from trying to find a pack structure in nature to mimic for my vampires. I feel like wolf pack structure should be saved for the werewolves, so I eventually ended up using hyenas. It was fascinating. In the hyena world, the women rule, which is why the big villain in the book is a female vampire. Also, male hyenas tend to be more nomadic unless they’re lucky enough to get adopted into a pack, which is rare. This is why I included nomadic vampires as part of the world building, and why most of them are male vampires.

There were also times I went and explored parts of Richmond I feature in my book. I went down to the Canal Walk to choreograph what the opening sequence of the book would be like. I still have the pictures I took for that saved on my computer somewhere.

I did have to research a bit in the middle of the book. I needed to figure out what kind of habits a person who donates blood might need to adopt to compensate for that frequent blood loss. This was applied to my feeders, who are humans that have decided to essentially be servants of the vampires.

  • M.A.Greene: Who knew researching about people who donate blood would be something that could fit into a vampire story. I’m sure going to actual places in your book must have helped it feel authentic.  Early on we learn that Gidion’s grandfather was a vampire hunter but he keeps the secret of being a hunter from his father. Without too many spoilers can you explain why you decided to have the story go in this direction?

Bill Blume: This, oddly enough, fell into the whole “trying to make it realistic” category. Speaking as a dad, there’s no way in hell I’d ever let my kid do something that dangerous. Grandpa loves Gidion a lot, but he’s obsessed with his mission to kill vampires. I needed an adult mentor to justify Gidion doing this, but I also wanted a healthy relationship with a parent there. I did love that there’s this whole dynamic of three generations of vampire hunters, but they never really openly talk about it. It’s this whole dark history that Gidion’s dad doesn’t want Gidion to ever learn about, and he doesn’t realize Grandpa has gone behind his back to spill the beans and recruit Gidion. It was only after I finished writing the second book, GIDION’S BLOOD, that I realized what I’d been writing about the whole time was how people deal with loss. The Keep family does not handle their loss well, and it makes their lives and the lives of others a mess.

  • M.A. Greene: I found the three generations interesting as well. It’s so interesting how seemingly “supernatural” or “fantasy” books can have many layers of depth in them. I appreciate that in stories. Many YA stories have the protagonist learning how to adapt to their new abilities in their hero role in the first book and that was not the case for Gidion. What made you decide to have Gidion already know so many skills as a vampire hunter starting from the beginning of the book?           

        Bill Blume: Because of the reason you’ve just pointed out: so many stories do that whole “hero trains to learn their powers/skills” element. It can be useful for explaining the rules of the story to the reader, but it also delays getting to the real action. Also, Gidion is a bit of a natural, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. It’s great as a vampire hunter, but in terms of his personal life, it’s something that’s not good in the long run. His father and Grandpa are both evidence of this.

  • M.A. Greene: I knew there had to be a reason. I was curious about that from the first chapter. Are you a plotter or a panser?

               Bill Blume: I’m a bit of a hybrid in that I’ll do whatever I need to do, in order to get the story written. I pantsed GIDION’S HUNT. I just really knew how I wanted the book to end, and I figured it out as soon as I wrote the scene at the comic book shop. The sequel was somewhat different. With GIDION’S BLOOD, I had to partially outline the first half of the book, because I had two antagonists trying to hunt down Gidion. My outline included all the things those characters were doing that Gidion wouldn’t see (because the whole book is from his POV), so this made sure they weren’t constantly reacting to him and making things too easy for him. After that, I pantsed the rest of the book, but again I knew my ending. I typically know a few key moments in a story that I want to hit, and that’s it. The characters lead me the rest of the way.

  • M.A. Greene: I look forward to reading Gidion’s Blood. And when I finish that book hope I can count on an interview for the sequel as well. Are you more interested in writing for Young Adults or other age groups as well?

              Bill Blume: Thanks! I’ll confess that when I wrote GIDION’S HUNT, that second book was what I was always writing towards. I had most of the beats of that story planned waaaaaay back in the first book, and there are little nuggets in the first book that take on a whole new meaning after you read the second book. I’d love to do that! And I do love YA as a writer and a reader. I find it’s a more progressive market of books. Too many adult books are mired in some terrible stereotypes that ignore what our present day world is becoming and needs to be. YA is more adventurous and open to experimentation. I’ll out myself and confess that Gidion Keep’s adventures are not without their share of old tropes, but I like to think I included enough new stuff to make up for that and make it fun.

  • M.A. Greene: Do you write with music? And if so, how do you select the music you will listen to when writing and what type of music do you listen to?

Bill Blume: I typically write to orchestral music, mostly scores from films. My favorite composer is Marco Beltrami. His score to the film “3:10 to Yuma” is just brilliant. For GIDION’S HUNT, I wrote most of it to Ramin Djawadi’s score to “Clash of the Titans” and Alan Silvestri’s score to “Captain America: The First Avenger.” I listen to music with lyrics before I start writing, stuff that fits the mood, but might distract me otherwise with the lyrics. I listened to Metric’s “Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?” back when I wrote GIDION’S HUNT. The last track on that album “Love is a Place” is what I always imagine playing as Gidion returns to school at the end of the book and gets the news of what’s happened (avoiding spoilers here).

  • M.A. Greene: Interesting. What are your favorite genres, least favorite genres of books and why?

          Bill Blume: Fantasy is my first real love. The first movie I remember seeing in the theater was “Star Wars.” I was four when it originally came out. My parents probably will always regret taking me to that film.

  • M.A. Greene: Lol! Why do you say that?

            Bill Blume: They do not like the content of my writing. My mom tends to consider most vampire-centric fiction as “garbage.”

  • M.A. Greene: Oh I’m sorry to hear about that. Well your not garbage helped me escape the tragic events on the news, so I thank you for writing it.

            Bill Blume: Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Gidion’s voice is a blast, because of the humor in it.

  • M.A. Greene: I saw your book trailer when I put in Gidion’s Keep in youtube. I liked that it was short and precise. Did you draw the pictures yourself? And how long did it take to make your book trailer?

             Bill Blume: Thanks! And yeah, I did almost all of the artwork. I fudged the image of the teacher and found a picture of a teacher at a blackboard and created the silhouette from it. The pic that probably required the most work was the gravesite, and it’s the one I’m most proud of, because both Gidion’s dad and grandpa were made from pictures I took of myself. The one of Grandpa looks funny, because I’m just standing there with my arm hanging out in the air. I had to pay a local teen actor to do the voice, and that caused it to take a long time to make. The images didn’t take as long as you might think, because I have a background in graphic artwork. The trailers (I made four) for the fourth book required months of work. I’m never doing that to myself again, the whole multiple trailers thing.

The length of it I owe to my publisher at the time. Their advice about them was to aim for 30 seconds, like a TV spot. It was a good call.

  • M.A. Greene: Finally what advice would you give aspiring writers in regards to staying motivated to finish their story, the publishing journey, or so forth?

            Bill Blume: Start with short stories, if you struggle with finishing a novel. There’s something you gain from reaching the end of a story, and short stories will speed up your learning curve. I resisted writing short stories for a very long time. It’s one of my biggest regrets, because I learned so much from the time I focused on writing short stories.

           You can follow Bill Blume on twitter at: https://twitter.com/BillTheWildcat

How To Stay On Top of Your Writing While Dealing With The Anxiety of The Coronavirus (COVID-19)

By M.A.Greene

This pandemic is real.  Whether you’re in a position where you are staying at home right now or working and coming back than staying glued to the news for updates, it can be difficult for some writers to dive into their story worlds when the real world around us is starting to feel like a dystopian novel.

              I want to make a disclaimer. If you are unable to write right now, due to the coronavirus that’s ok. But it can be healthy to keep up with your writing. One reason is it’s getting away from the constant stream of updates on the news. Also, it can more productive than watching television. Keeping up with our writing can keep our writing dreams alive. It can use your energy that is used for worrying to put into something constructive you enjoy.

               Below are a few ways practical ways to keep your writing dreams alive during these stressful times of the coronavirus.

              First, figure out whether you need to journal about your worries and concerns for about 10-20 minutes before writing. I have heard of the benefit of journaling to get your thoughts not concerning writing out of you before starting creative writing is beneficial to some people. Try seeing if that works for you.

              Second, watch the news for an hour to see what is happening but have an alarm on your phone reminding you to write and turn the television or news updates online. Put a timer on for 10-20 minutes at a time and write. Also, put the remote out of arm’s length away from you when writing. Get off the internet. Do this before watching any more of the news.

              Third, write using a timer in 10-20 minute intervals before tuning into the news. And only make exceptions such as if there is time-specific times that news shows that concern your area that will be giving updates.

              Forth exercise for 20-60 minutes before writing. Numerous studies show working out releases endorphins which is the natural feel-good chemical and is all-around healthy for your body. Whether you keep up with the news while exercising or not is something you can experiment with to see what works best for you. But please when you exercise to do so at home or keeping 3-6 feet from others in alone or small groups of less than 10 or alone in noncrowded spaces outside. I’m recommending less than 10 because I personally, feel that is playing it safe rather than going to the maximum number of people that has been suggested.

               A fifth suggestion is talking to a loved one to chat about what is daily dystopian-novel-like events in the news before writing. Maybe processing these events with someone else and knowing you are not alone in this can help. If you do this please be mindful everyone has various levels of what they can handle. Do not do this everyday if you write on a daily basis or even every other day unless your sure your loved one wants to discuss the events. Some people need to unplug from the current events more than others.

The final talking about events that are not about the virus. Maybe you picked up a new hobby during this time or revisited an old one. Perhaps you are reading a great book and you really connect to the character or something inspiring happened on the news, such as when the two students played live music from a safe distance for an elderly woman. Whatever it may be, talking about uplifting things can help put you in a clearer mind frame to write sometimes.

Don’t forget it perfectly ok even though your staying on top of your writing if your not as productive as you might have been before this pandemic happened. Everyone is human.

               So these are some ways to stay on top of your writing during these difficult times. Let me know if any of these tips work for you. Also, if you have any tips that was not mentioned please tell me as well. Have a healthy rest of your day.