A Visit from Australia: Ryan Sullivan

Australia has always fascinated me. Perhaps this is due to its unusual history as part of the British Empire. Maybe it’s because of that old Rescuers movie with Miss Bianca and Bernard haring off to the interior to do their rescuing and albatrossing. Or maybe it’s because of all the incredibly poisonous snakes and spiders. At any rate, we have a visitor today from Australia, fantasy writer Ryan Sullivan. I can’t remember what the time difference is between down under and here (California), but I imagine it’s either extremely late or extremely early (depending on which direction you’re flying), because I’m exactly on time here (10:32 AM). So, with that in mind, let’s proceed posthaste and forthwith.

Ryan SullivanDedicated shopper and egg tester from Detroit, Charles G., writes in to ask, “who are you?” I assume the question is meant for you, Ryan, so why don’t you take a stab at that?

I’m a writer, a musician, a student, a piano teacher, a son, a grandson, a brother, a nephew, a cousin and a friend. But most of all, I’m Ryan Sullivan.

With all these options available to you (music, education, galactic exploration, etc.), why do choose to spend your time writing?

I believe it’s because I’ve been fascinated with creating stories since I was seven. But if I had a psychologist for whatever reason, they’d say it was because when I lost my dad to cancer at age six, I wanted to feel in control. Writing would give me that chance.

But why fantasy of all the available genres?

Harry Potter nudged me towards this path, but I can’t remember the exact book that made me start reading lots of epic fantasy. When I discovered that genre, I knew it was what I wanted to write. The Lord of the Rings movies also had a big influence on me.
There’s a lot to love about fantasy. The world is what you make it. The rules are what you make them.

Aundes AuraSo how about a peek at your most recent book. What’s it about?

All the light in the world is in danger. Save it!

I must admit, you’ve managed to intrigue me with just two sentences. Speaking of being intrigued, if I’m going to head down to Australia to visit, do you have any recommendations? We actually just had a relative relocate down there, so I don’t ask this question facetiously. I trust, though, that you won’t steer me toward a place infested with snakes. 

As unsheltered as I am, I still don’t believe I know the best place to recommend. But if you’re looking for somewhere nice and warm, try the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. If you want to experience some culture and desert heat, go for Ayer’s Rock, an important Aboriginal landmark in Northern Territory.

Landmarks! That word has great segue potential into the category of Monolithic Life Moments (philosophy, politics, religion, beliefs, etc). So…er…beliefs. How do your beliefs inform and influence your writing? 

I believe life is for living, so set goals and shoot for them. Life’s too short to hope for an afterlife that likely doesn’t exist. If there is one, great. But without consciousness, how can you experience it? So I’m going to achieve what I can while I’m here. Because of the nature of my books’ world, my characters believe in the gods, and the gods do exist to some extent. However, the characters in my current work-in-progress, Three Bridges, have developed a more varied concept of the gods. One of the characters is more world-weary and doesn’t have a lot of faith in them – he believes that they are passive overseers, and their job is done. He believes one must make use of the resources the gods offered when they created the world. Another character actually believes in a different set of gods completely, the Trinity.

Are there any fantasy writers that had a great deal of influence on you?

I’d say Emily Rodda’s middle grade books influenced me a lot in those early primary school years, and later J.R.R. Tolkien. I wanted to create something as realised as The Lord of the Rings, with a more mature style than in The HobbitAundes Aura is the first step along the way. Towards the end of writing Aundes Aura, I started reading A Game of Thrones. George R.R. Martin has had a huge impact on the way I write, but this won’t be quite evident until Three Bridges is available. While reading the opening chapters of A Game of Thrones, I marvelled at how Martin had moved the plot forward and had these awful things happen, all without the characters leaving their home. Aundes Aura was an adventure crossing borders and seas in a bid to save the world from eternal darkness. My challenge with Three Bridges is to have (mostly) everything happen within one city. I also wanted to make the characters more realised and sympathetic, and the world more brutal.

Finally (and this is rather final question in terms of non-academic finals), what do you want your epitaph on your grave to say? I don’t mean to be morbid, but death and exits are rather normal components of life. We don’t talk about them much in the West, which has always puzzled me. At any rate, some of the best fantasy is very much about death (I think Tolkien said that LOTR is primarily about death).

Master of the Universe.

Thanks, Ryan, for stopping by. Best wishes for your books and your career.

Please visit Ryan at his website, on Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook. You can sign up for his mailing list, and also check out his latest book, Aundes Aura, on AmazonUS and AmazonUK for Kindle (as well as paperback).


Landon Porter Falls Through the Skylight

Contrary to what a lot of you are thinking, Landon Porter is not Cole Porter in disguise (and back from the dead). Landon is Landon. That’s the unusual thing about humans, as opposed to beagles, for example, or the cormorants of Madagascar (stay away from their nests or they will drop coconuts on your head). If you’ve seen one beagle, you’ve seen them all. And if you’ve seen one Madagascaran cormorant, you’ve seen them all; maybe you’ve seen one too many if it drops several coconuts on your head.

You see, with humans, they’re all unique, like snowflakes or Faberge eggs or 90s Seattle bands. Landon is a fantasy writer. I haven’t read his books, mind you, but I have a firm belief he IS a fantasy writer due to the preponderance of evidence (Sherlock Holmes, that’s me). Anyway, Landon dropped in today, crashing through the skylight due to a minor parachute malfunction. So, here he is, answering questions and even more questions.

Hey there, Landon. I have a good homeowner’s policy, so I won’t sue you for breaking my skylight. Anyway, who exactly are you?

I am Landon Porter, a spec-fic writer and all-around nerd. I’m a few
months out from turning thirty as of this interview. I’ve been telling
stories since I was kid and writing original works online since 2002
in the now-defunct webcomic, Ledgermain.

Webcomics, skydiving? After such a career, why are you now writing books?

Because the stories are already there in my head. If I didn’t write
them, they’d probably stay there, piling up. The act of creation is
something that just feels good.

As an added bonus, entertaining people is something I just love doing.
There’s nothing like hearing about people who get excited or surprised
or pumped about a story I created.

Now, according to my advanced computer modeling, you apparently have chosen to write in the fantasy genre. Did a withered gypsy woman instruct you to do so after you crossed her palm with silver? Why fantasy?

It’s just so big! You can do anything in the fantasy genre and shape
every facet of the world to work exactly the way you want it to. It’s
a bit like being a mad scientist really: you put your mind to it and
no matter how insane or over the top the thing you’re trying to make
happen is, it happens.

Rune BreakerToo true. That sort of reminds me of my cooking philosophy. Now, what’s the deal with your most recent book? What’s it about? 

My most recent release was Path of Destruction, the third book of my Rune Breaker series. After I really knocked the cast around in the previous book, this one is all about them actually getting to know each other and themselves.

Also there’s an awesome giant monster battle.

Ah, monsters. I’m very fond of monsters. They make me hungry. How about yourself? What do you usually like to eat?

I am nothing if not a simple man. A nice chopped steak on a bagel with
scrambled eggs, cheese and onions with hashbrowns on the side make me
a happy camper.

Speaking of scrambled eggs (and I will refrain from quoting Lenin’s egg quote here), how do you see the world, and how does that form your writing?

I think the world is a lot more glorious and awe inspiring than we
give it credit for, from how we interact with each other to how
everything in our universe reacts to everything else.

That’s why my stuff is all about intellectual curiosity, personal
relationships, and the wonders that can emerge from following up with
them. I don’t write dark, cynical stuff. I write about glory and
heroism and who that darkness and cynicism is ultimately doomed to
fail.

Are there some fantasy writers who have greatly influenced you (other than me, naturally)?

I, of course, read Tolkien in high school, along with Mickey Zucker
Reichert and Robert Jordan. All three of those gave me the taste for
the genre, along with Jeff Grubb’s Magic: the Gathering licensed
novels.

More recently, I’ve found myself highly admiring Jim Butcher because
we have similar approaches to story telling (never backing away from
the light moments but knowing when it’s time to be serious), Brandon
Sanderson (especially his amazing world building) and Scott Lynch
(For… everything he’s done with the Gentleman Bastards books)

Speaking of people we admire, Fred G. of Chicago, Illinois, just phoned in with a question for you. He says Christopher Nolan (director of Batman, etc., and frequent consumer of bagels) is right up there on his list of amazing people, along with Abraham Lincoln and Shirley Temple. If you could call him up and say, “Nolan, there’s a book I’d like you to turn into film,” which book would that be? 

Mickey Zucker Reichert’s Legend of Nightfall. I think the feel of that
universe is right up there with Nolan’s style and the main character’s
slow turn from villainy to heroism would be right up his alley.

And there you have it. Let that be a lesson to all of you. If you have a moment, please visit Landon at his website. You can also purchase his books right here (that’s more of a there than a here).

 


A Momentary Visit with Tony LaRocca

Every once in a while, another author visits me on this site. It happens somewhat more frequently than the proverbial blue moon. I suppose it should happen more, but I find my time taken up in the pursuit of other things: cheese, angry mice, small popinjays, etc. Be that as it maybe may be, we (you and I) are visited today by Tony LaRocca. I find these visits interesting for several reasons, but the chief among them is that people are like books. And if one encounters a book responsible for writing other books, why, that’s even better. I haven’t read Tony’s writing, mind you, but we can certainly read him at this moment. So, without further ado: Tony LaRocca.

Let’s jump right into it. Who are you?

TonyLaRoccaAmzLike everyone and everything else, I am a collection of particles and energy that has existed in one form or another since the Big Bang. I’m also a writer, electrician, animator, U.S. Army veteran, artist, occasional karaoke crooner, and the father of two kids who are far too cute for their own good.

Well, that’s all well (non-water type) and good, but why do you write when you could be devoting a great deal of time to karaoke crooning?

Because none of those other things give me the delicious rush I feel when I’m writing, and a story or character takes on a life of its own. It’s incomparable, as if liquid fire is suddenly shooting through my nervous system. Then comes the miserable part, refining and polishing the gem over and over until I’m happy with it. That isn’t anywhere near as fun – it’s more like slicing my skin open with a lemon-soaked salt crystal – but the end result is extremely satisfying.

Speaking of crystals (I live in California and we’re infested with crystal-oriented people, both the medicinal and the non-medicinal sort), how do your beliefs instruct your writing?

falseidolsI’m not sure how much my belief system affects my writing. Things lurking around in my id come out to play, but that doesn’t mean that they’re a part of my core philosophy. Part of the problem is that my feelings are in constant flux. I can be furious, happy, sad, or passionate about something one day, and then a week later, not so much. Writing is taking a snapshot of how you feel about something at a single moment, it doesn’t necessarily reflect how you feel all the time. Months or years later, someone can come along and judge your entire philosophy based on that snapshot. You just have to remember that you’re the one who was brave enough to put it out there.

Having said that, some things obviously do come through. For example, though I was raised in a very Catholic household (and at one time in my misguided youth even wanted to become a priest,) I’ve come out of the closet in recent years as agnostic. I think that there may or may not be some sort of higher being that created us and influences our lives, I don’t know. But to me, religions are things created by people. Now if you’re a person of faith, I’m happy for you, I truly am. Just don’t kill or demean anybody else, or pass laws that cripple our children’s scientific education. My frustration with religion comes across in my short story “False Idols,” with a bit of ire at Monsanto thrown in for good measure.

Likewise, I try in my daily life to keep an objectivist view on the world (A=A, a thing is what it is,) but my imagination is always questioning reality. This comes up in “All Part of Being a Dragon,” “Shattered Possibilities,” and “The Autumn People.” Keep in mind, I didn’t set out to write any “what is reality” stories, I just wrote them as the ideas came to me, and their themes became apparent on their own.

As far as morality and the meaning of life go, I’ll just quote Bill and Ted: “Be excellent to each other.”

Ah, Bill and Ted. They are sages. A lot of people (ie., the Taliban, most members of Congress, and Kim Kardashian) would do well to listen to them. Speaking of influence, do you think authors have a responsibility in terms of influencing their readers, sort of like parents with children, teachers and students, Plato and Socrates (or perhaps it was the other way around?)?

If you’re asking me if I think I should use my stories to influence people’s morals, then my answer is no, not consciously anyway. I say not consciously, because if you’re honest in your writing, then whatever you believe will shine through; it won’t need shoehorning. Besides, questions of morality pretty much wind up being a Rorschach test for the reader. Deep down, everybody has a moral code that may or may not be the same as the one they show in public. If their morality jives with your story, then they’ll come away feeling happy and vindicated. If it doesn’t, then they’ll feel offended and persecuted. If it touches part of their secret moral code that they don’t want to admit to having, then they might decry your work, and even feel angry that you’re admitting what they can’t, but hopefully, they’ll also feel relieved and enjoy the validation. I’ve always loved Kurt Vonnegut’s idea that the purpose of writing is to show others that they’re not alone.

I have to ask the proverbial island question, even though no man is an island, according to Dylan whatsisname (which seems pretty self-evident; I mean, an island floats indefinitely in the ocean, and a man would sink after a while, or get eaten by a shark). If you were banished to an island, such as Greenland or Australia, and then locked inside a building on that island (such as the Sydney Opera House), what book would you bring with you?

Escape by David McMillan, so I can learn how to break out, a Charles Atlas book about dynamic tension so I can be strong enough to make my escape, and a book on astral projection so I can arrange the getaway car.

Thanks for stopping by, Tony. Best wishes with your writing career!

You can check out Tony’s latest book, False Idols and Other Short Stories on Amazon and Smashwords. Also, take a moment and visit him at his homepage.


The Guardian and Indie Fantasy

I guess there’s indie fantasy and there’s indie fantasy. But I mostly digress. Damian Walker, a writer himself of speculative fiction, writes for the Guardian in the UK. Recently, he threw out a challenge to the indie fantasy and science fiction community. Come give me your tired and huddled masses of words, he said, and I shall judge them and see if any are fit for consumption. Hundreds of authors, their noses quivering, did so (self included), galloping over to his column on the Guardian website and posting book links and titles and blurbettes. That was about a month ago.

On Wednesday, Walker posted his findings. The results of his taste test were instructive. He remarked:

I set out looking for a great indie-published book to rival the magnitude and sheer storytelling bravado of George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones. The brutal truth is that nothing I saw came close.

However, he did note five titles that were worthy. Curious, in the tradition of George, I sampled the five samples. All five of them were fairly similar in terms of their literary aspirations and scent of graduate writing programs. Heady stuff. Grim, vague, er…educated. Or, edumakated as we say in my uneducated neck of the woods (forests have necks…whoda thunk?). Literate and brimming with angst and full of words like eleuthemeric.

Taste is a subjective thing, mostly. I say subjective because salt is salt, regardless of intensity and regardless of whether you appreciate salt or not. Sometimes, it’s a good thing to not be liked.

By the way, this reminds me of an old story about myself. Once upon a time I spent a great deal of that same time iron sculpting. Fool that I was, I focused my style on a sort of quasi-Giacometti look, an elongated take on quaintly old-fashioned realism. Figures of farmers in overalls carrying their suitcases (Dust Bowl refugees, I suppose), and girls in sundresses wearing big floppy hats (the farmers were not carrying the girls, in case you tripped over my comma). One day, buoyed by youthful optimism and a great deal of ignorance, I entered several pieces in an art show in an edumakated neighborhood near to where I lived at the time (but also rather far). Needless to say, I did not place. The pieces that did place were admirably modern and devoid of suitcases, floppy hats, or any other hint of reality. In fact, I was initially uncertain whether they even contained atoms. I was, being dumb (due to lack of edumakashun), dumbfounded, but not struck dumb. In response to my spluttering, a friend remarked to me, “you know, sometimes, depending on who is doing the liking, you really don’t want to be liked.”

Too true. If you have a glass of something handy, please raise it with me. Here’s to not being liked!


Read an E-Book Week (and 4 of my books are free at Smashwords)

March 3-9 is Read an E-Book Week. I’m still somewhat hazy as to why it’s that week, but, hey, who cares? Maybe it’s because the planets aligned to form the shape of a book or maybe because the Queen of Sweden declared it was so? Anyway, you can visit the official site, learn more, enter a contest to win a Kindle PaperWhite or a Nook, score some free books, eat some amazing onion rings, etc. Okay, you can’t get onion rings there (the internet is sadly limited in certain aspects, such as digital-to-analog food transfer).

In honor of the week, I’ve set four of my titles to free at Smashwords. Ankle on over (to borrow a phrase from Wodehouse) and grab ’em. In case you’re wondering, they are: The Mike Murphy Files, The Girl Next Door, The Ocean Won’t Burn, and The Christmas Caper. Spread the word, s’il vous plait.

Also, don’t forget that the Infamous Amazing Spectacularly Fantastic and Breath-taking Indie Fantasy Bundle is running over at StoryBundle! It’s a pretty righteous deal. Seriously. Where else can you get so many quality fantasy books for just one dollar? Though, you can pay more than that if you want.


The Tormay Trilogy and other great fantasy at StoryBundle!

There’s a cool collection of indie fantasy for sale over at StoryBundle. It includes books by Joseph Lallo, David H. Burton, Neil McGarry, Daniel Ravipinto, Blair MacGregor, Jefferson Smith, and Christopher Bunn (that’s me).

If you’re unfamiliar with StoryBundle, it’s an innovative site that puts together bundles of indie books and then allows customers to set their own prices for them. The books are DRM-free, of course, and in .mobi and .epub formats. Also, StoryBundle lets you earmark part of the purchase price for charity if you want. Very classy setup and one of the more forward-thinking book-selling places around.

If you’re an indie author and curious about getting involved, check out their FAQ page.


The offensiveness of christianity and the non-offensiveness of erotica

Lately, I’ve been somewhat amused by a scenario played out in different forum threads concerning writing and reading online. The scenario is essentially the same each time. Someone will question the morality of erotica. This questioning tends to be driven a christian perspective. Those who write in the genre respond with a certain amount of indignation, demanding tolerance and decrying the intolerance of the questioner.

Regardless of one’s opinion on the morality of erotica, there’s a logical disconnect with that response if we honestly believe in freedom of speech and equality. The erotica writer cannot demand tolerance from the christian for something (erotica) that is in violation of the christian’s beliefs, and then declare the christian intolerant if she does not acquiesce, without allowing for the existence of a second demand: the christian demanding tolerance from the erotica writer on the matter of christian beliefs on sexuality, the marital relationship, purity, etc., and then declaring the erotica writer intolerant if she does not comply.

Bit of an impasse, eh?

The problem is that the two demands cannot truly co-exist. Therefore, I think it’s much more honest and practical for the erotica writer and the christian to acknowledge they are not going to agree on the matter and that they aren’t required to approve of what the other thinks. For either to talk about tolerance or respect for such a fundamental issue is not reality. A further step, though not one I really expect, would be an openness to honestly discuss their philosophical differences on the matter.


Tax Day Free Fantasy

In honor of tax day (well, actually, in honor of the relief of tax day being over [unless you’re the type who files for an extension]), a whole bunch of authors have banded together to offer a passel of free fantasy books for Kindle. There’s a lot of them. Thirteen, actually. I’ll post them later today. They’ll be going free at midnight tonight.


Author Interview: CJ West

Today, after great deliberation and in honor of the failed Swiss expedition to Mars (December 13, 1969) which resulted in such a tragic loss of life, I’d like to welcome CJ West to the program. As you probably know from your high school history lessons, the Swiss rocket prematurely ignited while the astronauts and launch crew were enjoying a last minute fondue at Le Grande Chien restaurant down the road. The rocket, unmanned and without steerage, rose several hundred yards into the air before wavering, yawing to starboard, whereupon, with all boosters suddenly firing, it plunged down to earth in the middle of Herr Fritz Steubeneinz’s cow pasture. Many cows were lost and Switzerland’s space program was set back several decades. Now, without further ado, here’s CJ West (oh, and by the way, it might prove worth your while if you make sure to read all the way down to the end of the post).

——

CJ, thank you for taking the time out of your busy life to drop in. I trust you’re well, healthy and no longer on the run from the Swiss. Why don’t you begin and tell the audience a bit about yourself?

I grew up in rural Massachusetts in a town my family has been in for 100 years. Living here I developed a love for hunting, farming, hiking.. any outdoor sport really. My first career was in computer technology and I worked with consulting firms including Arthur Andersen to help businesses better manage their computer infrastructure. I thought I loved that work until I discovered writing.

So what got you into writing? I suspect it was the farming. I work on a farm myself, and there’s nothing like a recalcitrant head of lettuce to make you gnash your teeth and think about a career change.

In 1999, I received a few books on writing and began tinkering with my first novel. I loved the process and to this day writing gives me a freedom to enjoy creativity that I couldn’t unleash any other way.

Why don’t you tell us about your books?

When I write, I explore something that is meaningful to me. I shape a story around a central question and usually set the book somewhere here in New England. My last book is a good example. I was struggling with the notion that we are limited by our upbringing. I wrote The End of Marking Time, which is a modern 1984 that explores the prospects of a man who was raised by a mother who had few parenting skills and less money. Michael is trapped in an ultra-modern criminal justice system and he asks the reader to set him free. The book is somewhat experimental as it employs first, second and third person point of view. It’s also a very thought-provoking book because it asks each of us to decide whether Michael should be given another chance or not.

I also write the Randy Black series about an anti-hero in search of redemption.

Are there any books or authors that have influenced you a lot?

Sommerset Maugham wrote a book of short stories that heavily influenced my writing. I’ve since passed it on so don’t have the title. Relic, by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child inspired me to create great monsters. Finally, The 6th Sense, inspired me (the movie version) to write books that surprise and delight readers by showing them something and then turning it on its head.

Do you have any advice for other writers? Or farmers, if you prefer.

The best advice for writers is to write a great book, and prepare it professionally. Marketing advice seems to go out of date the moment it is printed.

What inspires you to write?

I love writing. It is that simple. I look at the world like a really smart three year old and I’m always wondering why and what if? My inspiration grows out of those questions.

Do you wish to achieve anything specific with your writing (other than influence Switzerland to make reparations to Herr Steubeneinz, of course)?

I hope to support myself and my family as a writer. This goal is becoming achievable for more and more writers with the digital revolution and I hope to be among them.

Exiting the planet is essentially a given. Writers leave a mark behind them that is somewhat unique in comparison to non-writers. How do you wish to be remembered when you take your last bow?

My hero is a woman who cared for many children. She had a huge impact on my family and dozens of others. I hope that people remember me for my kindness and patience.

Where can your rabid fans hunt you dow… er, I mean, find… well, where can they get in contact with you?

I enjoy interacting with fans. If you are in New England, you can find me acting in live murder mystery events. If you are outside New England, you can connect with me on Facebook. My social media links are all listed on my website at www.22wb.com. I also host a monthly book group for indie writers and a companion Blog Talk Radio program.

Thanks, CJ, for stopping by. We wish you the best of luck with your writing career and all of your other pursuits!

——

You can find CJ West’s books on Amazon if you click on the next sentence following this sentence. They are available in ebook format, as well as paperback (and, yes, this is the aforementioned next sentence). However, one tiny little thing I’d like to add about CJ is that he is doing amazingly cool giveaways for the entire year of 2012. The giveaways involve a free Kindle Fire each and every month. It doesn’t get much better than that (unless there was also a complimentary fondue with each Fire, of course). If you’re interested, check out the giveaway here. Tell your friends.


Author Interview: Dianne Greenlay

Autumn is drawing to a close, the days are getting noticeably shorter, and a tractor is disking the field outside my office window. He hasn’t touched the strawberry field yet. Despite the limited sunlight, the berries are still growing and they’re still sweet. That’s life, isn’t it? Like the wise man once said, there’s a time ordained for all the chapters of life, whether that be the genesis of a galaxy, the dying of a star, or strawberries ripe and ready to be picked. I find a certain melancholy in that, but there’s also a great deal of practicality. Everything in its place, and though we might rage against the dying of the light, or rejoice at the birth of a baby, each thing should be taken with grace.

It appears that I am in a serious frame of mind. That said, let’s welcome writer Dianne Greenlay to the blog.

——

Hi, Dianne. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and visit.

Hi Christopher, Thanks for this opportunity!

I’d like to hear about your journey as a writer, of course. First, however, can you tell us about yourself, where you’ve come from and where you’ve gone?

I was born in the small city of Swift Current, SK, in the southern Canadian prairies, the first of two children, into a family that was struggling financially at that time. Education was important to my parents, however, and they scrimped to buy a set of encyclopedias for our home. I loved those big heavy books and I can still remember the magical feeling when the dark little squiggles on the pages became letters, then words, and then ideas, for me. I could read by the age of four or five by which time someone (I don’t remember who) introduced me to the Magical Hall of Free Squiggles – The Public Library! It became an internal challenge for me to read a book a day (we’re talking picture books and Children’s First Readers here, not War and Peace) and I went routinely every Saturday to sign out my armload of another 7 books for the week.

How odd that trips to the library, due to changes in technology and how children spend their leisure time, are rapidly becoming a nostalgic thing for a great many people. I have fond memories, myself, of the weekly trip to our local library (the John Steinbeck library, complete with a statue of Steinbeck out front, politically incorrect cigarette in hand). With such an early background of books and reading, where did you go from there?

Fast forward 12 years and I graduated from High School and was accepted into the University of Saskatchewan’s School of Physiotherapy. I moved to an even more remote place on the prairies ( Shaunavon, SK) and became a sole charge physiotherapist as well as an EMT. By the time I had three biological children and three step-children, my husband and I were avid travelers and took the entire family to as many travel destinations as we could afford –  Europe, Caribbean, Mexico, several states and Canadian provinces – and on each holiday, there seemed to be an adventure waiting for us of epic proportions (being swamped in a small Zodiac boat a few miles off the Pacific coastline of Vancouver island by a massive Orca (killer whale), or being stung by a large swarm of small-sized (thank goodness) jellyfish off a Mexican beach, for instance). We are an active family and have hiked in rainforest, rockclimbed, ziplined, parasailed, cave spelunked, and eaten fish that sat out in the hot tropical sun for a few hours before being cooked up by local fishermen, and lived to tell about it all.

That’s a great way to raise your family! It’s all well and good for children to sit in school for hours on end, learning their letters and numbers, but there’s a great deal of insight to be had from jellyfish stings and all that. I think you would get on well with my wife. She sailed all over the South Pacific as a child with her family. With the sorts of experiences you’ve had, I imagine you found a large store of inspiration waiting to be tapped for writing. How did you get started?

Even as a child,( just before fire was discovered), I had a strong imagination – I was the self-appointed leader of the neighbourhood (may I use the Canadian spelling?) group of kids for a game we called “Thinking Circle”. We would gather round and come up with ideas as to what to play that day. Often there were so many ideas, that I began to write them down and we would put the slips of paper into a “genie’s bottle” (aka pickle jar with various rocks, bits of coloured macaroni and sparkles glued onto it) and withdraw a slip whenever we wanted a theme or idea to follow up with – lost at sea, Roman charioteer, jungle girl, etc. I have always kept several notebooks of writing ideas around but it was a couple of years ago that I was googling a medical condition and in the search results, up came “women pirates”. No idea what the connection was, but sometimes the universe works in mysterious ways, and obviously the little gremlin that lives inside my computer has a direct line there. I didn’t even know that there were such things as female pirates so I read about them, only to find that not only were there many of them, but that they were very well documented and several were quite famous. I read some more and researched their lives, taking notes (gruesome stuff, living back then), until several notebooks later, I had the basis for my novel, Quintspinner – A Pirate’s Quest. It was during the following conversation with my grown children that I was spurred on to actually get started on the manuscript:

Me: I would like to snowboard. I’ve always wanted to do that. Maybe you could teach me how this winter.

(Stunned and uncomfortable silence greets me)

Them: Really Mom? You know, snowboarders fall a lot and umm, well…  Say! Do you know, you’d make a GREAT lawn bowler.

At this point I realized that there were things on my “Bucket List” that had been there so long that they were no longer age appropriate and that I had better get going if I wanted to check any of the items off. So, I wrote a novel. I completed a marathon. And I learned to dance on pointe ( OK, maybe not dance, exactly,but I can lift my entire bulk up onto the tips of my pointe shoes and carefully step, side to side, without falling down. Pouring myself into a body suit and tutu is another thing altogether.)

I have a lot of sympathy with the idea of things no longer being age appropriate. My knees aren’t what they used to be. However, I’ve found that encroaching mortality is a fabulous inspiration for focusing in on the right things and discarding the used-to-be-right things. Now, on to your book. How did you come up with the name Quintspinner?

The title came about after reading about the origins of “spinner rings”, which are readily available even today throughout tropical locales. They are fashioned after Tibetan prayer wheels, which were apparently used in meditation and manifestation rituals long ago. Spinning objects are thought to promote higher vibrations, offering the user a clearer path to bringing about healing, powers of prophesy and so on. (I suppose rings are much more portable than items carved from stone). I couldn’t decide which power to include in my story, so I thought, “Why not include several?” Again I researched, this time numbers and found that the number “5” was, and still is, considered to be a very powerful number – 5 oceans, 5 continents, 5 senses, 5 planets visible to the naked eye, many religious references to 5 – so “Quint”, sounding much more exotic than “Five”, became my choice and I invented the term, “Quintspinner”.

That’s a great explanation, and certainly adds a layer of richness, in addition to just sounding poetic. Can you give us a rundown of the plot?

Quintspinner – A Pirate’s Quest takes place in the early 1700’s. A young woman, Tess Willoughby witnesses a murder and comes into possession of a legendary Spinner ring, which leads her to uncover a shocking family secret. Even so, she never imagines, as a direct result of being the ring’s new owner, that she will find herself on a merchant ship bound for the pirate-infested waters of the West Indies and forcibly betrothed to the murderer who covets her ring. Longing to be with William, a press-ganged sailor, and with her life in jeopardy, she must make decisions – dangerous, heartbreaking decisions – as she is faced with her Quintspinner legacy. A spin of her ring could result in her freedom … or her death. It’s a tale of pirates, secrets, magic, betrayal, and romance on the seas of the West Indies.

An editor that I worked with briefly, suggested that I drop Tess’s age to 16 or 17, so it would be a Young Adult contender, as well as being geared towards an adult audience. William is a strong secondary character, and I have heard from several male readers that they liked this. It seems to fit into several genre categories, as reviewers have described it as an adventure, a fantasy, an historical novel, and a romance. When I was writing, I didn’t have any particular genre in mind – I was just wanting to write a fun and compelling story – so I have probably broken several accepted rules of genre writing. ( And hopefully have therefore provided a satisfying read for a wide variety of readers).

How’s the response been so far for the book?

So far Quintspinner has been shortlisted for the 2010 Sask Book Awards for Best First Book, placed First for Reader Views Best Historical, and thereby earning the Tyler R. Tichelaar Best Historical Award, placed Third for Reader Views Best Young Adult, been nominated as a finalist for the Montaigne Medal, placed Third for Creative Arts Council Book Awards, earned an Honorable Mention in the YA category of Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards, and has been chosen as finalist for Foreword Reviews Book Awards in Best Young Adult category. I’m a bit in awe over this but absolutely thrilled and relieved to have the affirmation that it’s not just my friends and family who like my book. There are obviously many armchair adventure-seekers out there and I’m so honoured ( there’s that Canadian spelling again) to have them along for my imagination’s journey.

Quintspinner sounds like a book that would easily lend itself to a sequel or two. Do you have any plans to continue with the characters?

I knew that there was too much story to tell to fit it all into one volume, so I am presently at work on the second installment. The Quintspinner story will be a trilogy when it is all done. Already my characters have taken the plot in directions that I hadn’t intended, but boy, is it exciting! I attended the Surrey International Writer’s Conference a year ago, and picked up this great tidbit from New York agent Donald Maass: when plotting an adventure, think of the absolutely worst thing that could happen to your character(s) … and then MAKE IT WORSE. And it’s so effective – makes for absolutely riveting scenes. 🙂

That’s good advice. I’m currently working on a new fantasy, and I’ve been trying to make things worse in each chapter. I suppose I’ll have to start apologizing to my characters pretty soon. Writers learn from other writers, of course. Are there any in particular that have influenced you?

I loved Sidney Sheldon’s Master of the Game, for all of its twists and turns, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, for her historical detail and injection of humour into her characters, and Dr. Seuss’s books, for proving that imagination and short-n-sweet make a winning combination.

Dr. Seuss was a master at what he did. Despite being a children’s book writer, I can honestly say (or, rather, I’ll confidently defend my assertion) that he was better with character and dialogue than a great many novelists. The fellow who refuses to eat the green eggs and ham? He has a superbly articulated character and an excellent emotional arc. Speaking of other writers, do you have any advice for those coming up through the ranks?

Writing and publishing has changed at nearly the speed of light in the past two years. Self-publishing is coming into its own and there is an endless amount of discussion of the pros and cons of traditional vs. self-publishing. Personally I see a way for the two to have a symbiotic relationship. An author can now make her/his own platform, and test a book’s interest from the buying public in terms of reviews, awards, and even initial sales, which does a lot of the footwork for the traditional agent, helping to select those books most likely to be profitable with a wider distribution.

I am a new author and have very limited experience but would advise others to remember that we are writing in the age of the Internet so read, read, read: writing and publishing newsletters, blogs, Twitter feeds, web pages, books in your genre and also outside of it, and make contact with those who know more than you do. Such technology is a gift. Don’t fear it – learn how to use it and embrace it. There is a whole world out there of others who, besides being authors, editors, agents, publishers, reviewers, and bloggers, are wonderful people in their own right. No one has ever refused to give me words of advice when I asked, and I have made many new friends in the process.

Like you point out, it certainly is a brave new world out there. I only hope it isn’t a Huxleyian sort of world. It’ll be interesting to see where publishing is, a couple years down the road from now. Though, like I said before, there’s a time for everything, whether it be disking the strawberry field or publishing.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to steer a bit farther off-shore from books and ask some other questions. I always love asking about food. I love the creativity of food and cooking (for those of you wondering, I’m as thin as a rail). It’s fairly similar to writing a story in my estimation: setting, characters, details, timing – it’s all there. Anyway, do you have a favorite meal?

My favourite meal would have to be a cardiologist’s nightmare: T-bone steak barbequed to medium rare, baked potato and pan-fried mushrooms smothered in sour cream, butter, and salt, steamed asparagus sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice (see, it’s not all bad) and strawberry shortcake with real sweetened whipped cream for dessert. OK, now I’m salivating in spite of my chest pains…

That sounds superb. I like the lemon juice touch. It’s interesting how even a tiny touch of lemon juice can greatly modify the flavor of a dish. Speaking of cooking, do you have any interesting hobbies, or the like, that you care to share?

I am a founding member and actor and director of Darkhorse Community Theatre. We do an annual dinner theatre production that draws audiences from as far away as large cities such as Calgary and Vancouver. Nevertheless, when you can make a hometown audience laugh and even more so, cry, you know that they aren’t just seeing their friends up there on stage – they are totally into the characters and the story! I guess being involved with live drama helps with building characters and plot when writing fiction.

Still in the creative vein, I play piano, guitar, and djembe (African drum, shaped like an hourglass), I have built a three foot high raised stone patio onto the front of our house, and my husband and I renovate old houses as a hobby (I can drywall and shingle with the best of ’em).

I’m trying to steer clear of using the word “wow,” but I’m afraid I just used it. I think you’re following more of the da Vinci model, rather than the niche creative specialist. That’s marvelous. I’m a firm believer in the idea that creativity easily flows into a multitude of channels, if given the chance and encouragement. You’ve obviously proven that for yourself.

Well, I think I’ve taken up enough of your time. Before you head back to the colder climate of Canada, let’s circle back to your writing. Do you have any goals you hope to achieve?

It is my hope that my readers will be transported into an imagined world of adventure, leaving the humdrum and worries of everyday life behind, if only for a short time. If my stories can make their stresses take a back seat, then I am satisfied. Of course, wealth, fame, and obscene amounts of adulation would be nice options, too.

Pirate wealth, preferably. Minus the cannon-fire and walking the plank, of course. Thanks again, Dianne, for stopping by. I wish you the best of luck with your writing and all your other creative endeavors.

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Dianne Greenlay maintains a website where you can learn more about her writing. Also, you can visit her at her blog, Write on the Way to Somewhere, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook. Her book, Quintspinner – A Pirate’s Quest, is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.