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Author Interview: Maura Jortner – The Life Group

This is the twelfth interview in my series of Author Interviews.

Pull up a chair, sit back and relax. Enjoy reading.

I am chatting with Maura Jortner, author of The Life Group.

I grunt loudly as the heavy door gives at last. I stumble inside. The chill kisses my skin immediately as darkness falls over my eyes like a curtain. There is a heavy silence that envelopes me. I slip into the nearest pew and shift uncomfortably on on the hard wood.

Hi Maura

Thank you sooooo much for chatting with me today. First up, tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m at professor at Baylor University, so I spend my days teaching. I have two children—a ten-year old, and a six-year old, so there isn’t much free time. But there is a lot of KC Undercover.

Whoa, okay so you are really busy. How on earth do you find time to write? I am very impressed. Now, tell me about your writing… What age were you when you started?

Age? Bwahahaha! I’ll never tell you that, Laurie.

Awwwwww 🙂

But I will say, I began writing about five years ago. My oldest daughter was five then, and she loved to hear bedtime stories. I began telling them to her, making them up as I went. But they got so long and complex, I couldn’t remember everything that had happened; I had to write them down. And suddenly, I was in love with writing.

My first novel was written for my daughter. She was the main character and she loved it.

It was terrible. Really awful.

But she loved it, and I was hooked after that.

Hahaha! Love it. How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I think I knew for real when I wrote my first query letter and sent it off. Before that, it was just for fun. After I took that step, I knew I wanted to try to make my way as a writer professionally. Even after it got rejected. (LOL)

Oh yes, been there! The trenches are hard work.

Okay, so tell me, what was your favorite book as a child and why?

As a child, I really loved Island of the Blue Dolphins. I found Karana’s story empowering. I wondered if I could make it on my own out in the wilderness.

And favorite book as an adult and why?

I have so many favorite books, this really doesn’t seem fair. But I guess if I had to choose, I’d say A.S. King’s Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. It’s a fantastic read—two girls drink a petrified bat and then they can see the future. Who wouldn’t love that? But what I’m more drawn to is King’s feminism and her ability to draw wonderfully complex characters and family situations.

Tell me a bit about your novel? The Life Group. Where did you get the idea?

Two events inspired me to write THE LIFE GROUP.

First, one of my students mentioned being part of a life group. He said something about why he hadn’t done his homework–and it was completely innocent, some kind of charity work with his group–but it struck me as odd that people his own age had so much control over him. They could persuade him to do things and perhaps even lead him down a bad path.

The second event was of greater significance: one of my colleagues went missing. The vanished teacher wasn’t gone long—less than a week. And good news, she was fine—just mental illness showing its ugly head—but the events of those five days struck me to the core.

Oh my gosh, that is intense.

Later that semester, as I drove to the local daycare to pick up my children, thoughts of my friend swirled through my head. I remembered the gnawing feeling I had–my stomach alternating between tight clenches and high-up flips. I recalled my heart thumping as I trotted down sketchy streets in the bad part of town, looking for her apartment. In my mind’s eye I again saw my colleague’s office key sitting on the side table as if she’d left it there, not knowing she would be abducted in the next moment. My children’s daycare in sight, I gripped the steering wheel tighter, and then it came–the entire plot of The Life Group. It bounced straight into my head.

Wow, that is an amazing story. And scary. Tell me about Rachel? Is she modeled off anyone?

I’m a highly visual writer. I need to see the events happening in my imagination to get them down on the proverbial paper. So, I certainly had a picture of Rachel in my head as I wrote THE LIFE GROUP. Likewise, I had a picture of Tim and Leah as well. But they are not “real” people, per say. No one I knew or could point to.

This is a gripping story that goes to a dark place, what are you hoping your readers take away from this story?

Well, the first message, I think, is clearly about suicide. I don’t want to see any teens (or anyone, for that matter), become so filled with despair that they might think about ending their lives. I want them to get help.

But THE LIFE GROUP goes further, as your question suggests. Yes, there’s certainly something in there for me about becoming obsessed with another person to the point of losing one’s self. Leah was obsessed with Mason. Rachel became obsessed with Tim.

There’s also something in there about religion as well… but perhaps my readers can best judge what it is.

What is your writing process?

This might sound odd, but when I need a new project, I just try to open my mind to ideas. When it hits (and it always does), I take notes and plot it all out. I make sure the story is as fully formed as possible, the plot, ready and tight. Then, I start writing. I commit to getting one thousand words a day down at this point in the process. After about two months, I have a full first draft. Then, it’s time to shape and get it to other readers to read and critique.

How long did it take you to write The Life Group?

Not long, actually. Once that plot dropped into my head, I knew I had to get it all down. I plotted it out quickly and then just started writing. I wrote like a madwoman. I wrote as much as I could each day and I had a full first draft after about three and a half weeks.

WOW! That’s amazing.

Of course I took a long time to edit it—years, really. THE LIFE GROUP went through many drafts until it was finally ready to be published.

Are you writing a book two?

No. THE LIFE GROUP is a stand-alone work.

Are you working on anything new?

I’m always working on something new (LOL). I can’t say much about the manuscripts in development, but I *can* say that I finally landed an agent in April. I’m working with Jennifer March Soloway from the prestigious Andrea Brown literary agency.

Congratulations!! That’s fantastic.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone wanting to write a book?

I’d say just do it. Get it done. When Stephen King talks about writing, he says to take three months to write a book. One season should equal one book, he says. I think that’s great advice.

Work. Work hard. You can’t do anything until you have a first draft, so get it done.

Oooo yes, that is great advice. Thank you soooo much for chatting with me today, Maura.

 

Stepping out into the sunlight is blinding, sending a white haze over my vision. My skin still feels cool and I rub my arms. I feel like coffee… and to call my mum.

 

You can read my review of The Life Group here

 

About the Author

Maura Jortner grew up in New Hampshire and now lives in Waco, Texas with her patient husband, two amazing daughters, and one unruly cat. She teaches literature and writing classes at Baylor University. A lifetime ago, she used to direct plays and put on puppet shows for kids, which led to a Ph.D. in Theatre History. Currently, when Maura’s not writing, she’s spending her time like every native-born Texan: worrying about how many chiggers might be hidden in the grass outside her house or if she put enough sunscreen on her kids. Maura is represented by Jennifer March Soloway at Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

You can find Maura at…

Twitter–@maura_jortner

FaceBook @MauraJortnerBooks

Website–maurajortner.com

You can find The Life Group on Amazon

 

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Author Interview: James L. Weaver

This is the eleventh interview in my series of Author Interviews.

Pull up a chair, sit back and relax. Enjoy reading.

Today I am chatting with James L. Weaver – Author of Poor Boy Road and Ares Road

It’s a little creepy out here, surrounded by trees that rattle in the wind. My head snaps up at the bang in the distance. Was that a gunshot? Maybe from a rifle. Sheesh… The road, if you can call it that is nothing but dirt beneath my trainers. How long until I find this place.

Through the brush and waning sunlight I spy the boarded up windows in the distance. Eeeep.

 

Hi James, Thank you for chatting with me today.

First up, tell us a bit about yourself.

Unfortunately, I’m not a full-time writer…yet. I work for Smithfield Foods, the nation’s largest pork producer in the role of a corporate safety director. I do a lot of technical procedure writing (not nearly as fun as fiction), safety metrics and training development. Much to the chagrin of my peers, I tend to get heavy handed editing their technical programs which I’m sure drives them crazy.

Hahaha!

In my free time, I’m either writing the next Jake Caldwell book, or spending time with my wife and two kids. I’ve been married for twenty years now and have a daughter who is a senior and a son who is in middle school. Still a lot of sporting events we’re bouncing around to. When I’m not doing those things, I’m working out or binge watching a series. I just finished Game of Thrones and have moved onto Shameless. Both are fantastic shows!

Oh I love a good marathon watching session! Now, tell me about your writing…

What age were you when you started?

The first real story I remember writing was in my sophomore year of high school in an English class. It was a fantasy story about a knight fighting some monster and it was absolutely horrible. I think I still have it in a box in the basement. Then in college I took a writing class as an elective and had this awesome instructor who let me know that I had some measure of talent I should really cultivate. I was an engineering major and didn’t do anything with it, but I remembered Nina Hajda and would eventually connect with her years later to have her read my first novel attempt.

Wow, what a great story.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I was always a big reader. Stephen King was, and still is, one of my favorite authors and I always thought I would like to write like him. Then, in my early twenties, I read a horror book by a New York Times bestselling author (who shall remain nameless) and I honestly thought the book was one of the biggest pieces of shit I’d ever read. I said to myself, “I could do better than this guy” and banged out my first real attempt at writing. It was a cop/serial killer book called Dark Aura. I shopped it around to a number of agents, but gave up after my home office wall was coated with them like a wallpaper of failure. I found the manuscript a few years ago and as I read through it, agents were right to reject it! It was decent story, though lacking a bit in originality and the quality of writing just wasn’t good enough. I dabbled with three or four screenplays and a handful of novel starts that never blossomed into anything. Years later, I ended up writing another book called Jack & Diane that I eventually self-published and sold a decent amount of copies. I still love that story, though I’ve gotten much better as a writer since then. I think seeing Jack & Diane in my hands, something I could pass out (or even sell) was when I made the decision that I really wanted to pursue a writing career.

What was your favorite book as a child and why?

How far back do you want to go? As a little kid, I always loved the Dr. Seuss story about the Star-Bellied Sneetches (which is still VERY applicable in today’s world). Jumping forward into my teens to the first book that blew my socks off, I’d have to go with The Shining by Stephen King. I still remember reading the infamous bathtub scene on the bus going to school and feeling scared! It blew my mind that I could actually feel that tension and fear while riding a bus full of screaming kids at seven in the morning.

Yes, books really can get the heart pumping, can’t they? Favorite book as an adult and why?

Oooh, that’s a really tough one…so many good ones. The Stand or It by Stephen King would rate up there – such well-written epics. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – brilliantly written, funny, touching, everything you want in a book. Anything by John Hart, John Sandford or Lee Child I will immediately pick up and devour.

Tell me a bit about your novels? Let’s start with Poor Boy Road. Where did you get the idea?

The best description I can use to describe my novels actually comes from a great review I received. The review called it “Redneck Noir”.  Loved that description. The idea for Poor Boy Road started with an idea I had for a character. I didn’t want to do a cop, but I wanted someone who fought for the good guys, someone with a strong moral compass who wasn’t afraid to break a few rules and bones if it was for the right cause. I had this amorphous blob of a man forming in my head for months before the details started penciling themselves in. A leg breaker for the mob…a rough childhood that led him down the path of violence…a desire to break out of the life that started haunting his dreams.  Once I had the basic character of Jake Caldwell down, I just needed the right setting to put him in.  When I went to Warsaw, Missouri in the beautiful Lake of the Ozarks for my grandmother’s funeral, the plotline for Poor Boy Road weaved itself in the fifteen-minute drive from the cemetery back to my dad’s house.

The basic plot is Jake is a leg breaker for the Kansas City mob who wants out. His boss gives him a choice – take out a competitor drug lord in his hometown and Jake can go free, or take a dirt nap. At the same time, his sister calls to tell him the alcoholic, abusive father who Jake hasn’t seen for sixteen years is dying and she needs Jake’s help. Add in a kidnapped teenage daughter of his childhood sweetheart, a charismatic hulk of a county sheriff and some dirtball small-town criminals and there’s plenty of action.

Redneck Noir. I love that. I think that is very accurate. Tell me about Jake Caldwell? Is he modeled off anyone?

Jake isn’t really modeled after anyone in particular, but rather an amalgamation of traits I found appealing in a character. He’s a tough man who came to realize the path of violence he was on was turning him into something he didn’t want to be – namely his alcoholic, abusive father. He’s spent his life running from the ghosts of his past and wants to turn the corner and become worthy of a better life. He’s physically imposing, knows how to fight and is supremely confident of his ability to bash his way out of most situations. One of my favorite lines of Jake’s is “I’d better scare you or you’re a lot dumber than you look.” But, behind that tough facade, there really is a good, but insecure heart. He wants the good things including the only woman he ever really loved, but simultaneously worries he’s not good enough for her and that his past will put her in danger, which (spoiler alert) it does. I find him to be an extremely likeable character.

Agreed. I found the scenes with his dad quite emotional. I love Bear… Where did he come from?

Oh man, I love Bear too. In my original outline for Poor Boy Road, Bear was going to turn out to be the bad guy, but the more I wrote him, the more I fell in love with the character and I just couldn’t turn him to the dark side. For those who haven’t read the books, he’s the Benton County Sheriff and Jake’s best friend growing up.  He is such a smart ass and probably reflects more of me than any other character in the series. I’ve actually laughed out loud a few times as I’m writing and my wife will ask me what’s so funny. When I reply, “Oh, something Bear just said”, she gives me a funny look like I’m crazy. My favorite parts of the books are the interactions between Jake and Bear. They have a great chemistry. I wanted a partner for Jake who shared his desire for justice who wasn’t afraid to not just bend the law, but break it if the ends justify the means. Bear is definitely a fan favorite and don’t be surprised to see a Bear Parley book in the not too distant future.

Oh yes!! I would totally read that. Sign me up now… and then there’s Halle?

Halle is the spitfire teenage daughter of Jake’s love interest Maggie. She’s beautiful and athletic with great situational awareness. I don’t want to say too much more for those who haven’t read Poor Boy Road yet.

Now tell me about Ares Road?

Ares Road is the stand-alone sequel to Poor Boy Road. You can read Ares Road without reading the first one, but you’ll miss some of the character backstory. I wanted to up the stakes from Poor Boy Road and experiment a bit with a more complex plot. I succeeded in the complexity piece as I ended up having to create a flow chart just to keep the character plotlines straight. While Poor Boy road basically wrote itself, Ares Road worked up a little more blood, sweat and tears to finish, but the end product was worth it.

The basic plot is Jake is trying to go legit and is in the process of learning the ropes of the private investigation business from an old friend. When they stumble upon the search for a silver briefcase containing something deadly that people are willing to kill for and his old friend is beaten into a coma over it, Jake and Bear find themselves wrapped up with the Russian mob, the FBI, terrorists and a bad, bad politician.

I love the final product of Ares Road. It’s faster paced than Poor Boy Road and introduces a number of characters you’re going to see in later books.

Yes, I found that Ares Road fairly thumped along!

What is your writing process?

I tend to write in spurts. I know they say you should write at least three pages a night, but I don’t usually work that way. I might pound out five hundred words one night, not write anything for a couple of days and then crank out 4-5,000 words the next night. I’m not a big fan of staring at a blinking cursor. If I have something to say, I put it down. If I don’t, I let the story percolate until something comes up. That said, as I hit the last third of my books, I usually will spend a couple of hours every night until I hit the finish line.

I tend to edit a bit as I write, re-reading previous chapters and revising a bit as I go. By the time I finish the rough draft, it’s half-way polished. Then, I have an ever growing list of words that I use the “Find” function in Word and start cleaning up the manuscript. My list has words like “that”, “was”, “looked”, “nodded”, “grinned”, etc. I replace the passive words with action where I can. My characters tend to swear like sailors, so I’ve added curse words to the list to limit their use to places where I really feel they’re needed. Sometimes, nothing quite captures the moment like a good ‘ole F-bomb. My novel checklist is well over a hundred words and it usually takes a good couple of weeks of steady effort to work my way through it. Then, it’s one more read through to catch the simple stuff, then off to beta readers and eventually my publisher.

How long did it take you to write Poor Boy Road? What about Ares Road?

Poor Boy Road took about six months from start to finish. The story flowed really well for the most part as I had most of it mapped out in my head before I even typed the first word. Ares Road ended up being about nine or ten months in the making. It was a much more complex plot with a lot of moving parts that I had to make sure played well together. I had a major snag where I couldn’t figure out how to get from Point A to Point B without re-writing major portions of the book and it took a good two to three weeks to figure out a way to get past it.

I hear you have finished book three? can you give us a hint about it?

Book three in the Jake Caldwell saga is, indeed, “finished”.  It’s been through my editing process and through a few beta readers. It now sits in my editor Kate Foster’s very capable and talented hands where I wait for her to slash it to pieces (in a good way). After she’s done, it goes to another awesome talent named Rebecca Carpenter for the copy editing.

A hint? I will tell you it’s called Blackbird Road, and that Jake and Bear will find themselves caught between two deadly Russian spies at war with each other over a technological weapon that could kill a lot of people. It’s an even more complex plot than Ares Road and took over a year and lots of flowcharting to complete. I’m very excited to see what my publisher comes back with on the draft. I’m hoping for a pre-Christmas release, but we’ll have to see how the revision process goes.

Wooooooo I will keep an eye out for it. 🙂 Are you working on anything new?

I’ve started drafting Book 4 of the Jake Caldwell series. I can’t give away anything about it just yet as I’m only a couple of chapters into it and it jumps off immediately after the “oh shit” last line of Blackbird Road. My plan is to write as many of these suckers as people will read. I’m thinking about doing a Bear Parley book for my fifth novel in this world, but we’ll see how it goes.

YAY!! More and more books. Finally, what advice would you give to someone wanting to write a book?

Stop whining that you don’t have time and just do it. I have a full-time job and two active kids so I’m busy too. You just have to make the mental leap that you’re going to do it, then sit at your computer and type “Chapter One”. Set some goals to have X number of words by X date. You might also start creating some character biographies of your main players – what’s their background, what’s their physical and mental characteristics, what do they like or don’t like? Knowing your characters and what they’ll do can drag you through the rough patches. I also like to make a rough outline of the plot of the story. It doesn’t always end up as you plot it because the story goes where it wants to go sometimes, but plotting a general course will help put the wind in your writing sails. And, if it’s a month or two down the road and you can’t seem to get anywhere, maybe your story idea just isn’t good enough for a book. Twist the circumstances around, put someone in peril, have someone fall in love with someone they shouldn’t, kill off a character. Play with it until something sticks. The key is to not give up.

Thanks so much for your time, James. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.

 

Darkness is falling, and I wanna get off this road before full dark. A pebble makes its way into my trainer forcing me to stop and empty it. I hop around for a moment and snag my jacket on a tree branch. Damnit.

A twig snaps behind me. Shit. I run…

 

You can read my review of Poor Boy Road Here

You can read my review of Ares Road Here

About the Author

James L Weaver is the Kansas City author of the Jake Caldwell series featuring IAN Thriller of the Year finalist Poor Boy Road and the sequel Ares Road from Lakewater Press. He makes his home in Olathe, Kansas with his wife of 20 years and two children. His previous publishing credits include a six part story called “The Nuts” and his 5-star rated debut novel Jack & Diane which is available on Amazon.com. Author note: a handful of the raters are actually not related to him.

His limited free time is spent writing into the wee hours of the morning, playing parental taxi cab to his kids’ sporting endeavors, and binge watching Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Current favorite TV shows: The Walking Dead, Westworld, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Game of Thrones and Shameless.

Current favorite music artists: Alter Bridge, Rush, Sara Bareilles, Halestorm

Last best book read: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Favorite comedians: Bill Burr, Louis CK, John Caparulo, Kathleen Madigan, Mike Birbiglia, John Mulaney

Twitter: @jlweaverbooks
Amazon links:

Author Interview: DC McGannon – Charlie Sullivan and the Monster Hunters

This is the tenth interview in my series of Author Interviews.

Pull up a chair, sit back and relax. Enjoy reading.

I am chatting with DC McGannon – Charlie Sullivan and the Monster Hunters series

I pick up the newspaper I find on the damp ground outside my door. Huh, where did this come from? The headline doesn’t appear to be very important. I really need to head to the coffee shop in town for my… There is a smaller headline just  under the fold. People missing? How strange. Maybe I have time to read the story…

The skin on the back of my neck crawls. I tuck the newspaper under my arm. I’ll get coffee first.

 

Welcome DC. It’s wonderful to have you here.

Tell me, what gave you the idea for Charlie Sullivan and the Monster Hunters?

Charlie Sullivan and the Monster Hunters was born out a conversation that Michael (my son and co-author) had many years ago about writing a story together. I had just “retired” from a grueling career that nearly put me out of commission as a human being, and also one where I did a lot of technical and educational writing. I was just burned by it all, and walked away from it all, just like that.

 

Michael and I were working together on some things and began having those “What if …?” type of conversations. This was back when I think the first or second Harry Potter had been published and I hadn’t even heard of it yet. We started asking each other, “What if we wrote a story about a group of friends, incorporate our love for monsters, folklore, and stories of old, but at the center of it all it would be about the friends and how they overcame massive obstacles in their own lives and came together to save the world somehow, reluctantly and certainly not by their own planning?”

I believe it was George Lucas who once said something to the effect that, “A special effect without a story is boring.”

The “monsters” would be the special effect, but we really wanted to write a story about the relationships between this group of friends and their families, and their enemies.

Oh I love this. I believe the concept of family and friends is integral to a good story. (And a good TV show and a good movie.) I love those moments of a team sitting around a table eating and talking. A good story is all about relationships.

Each week we began creating character after character until we had this sprawling cast, good and evil, that would then spread out over several books.

By that point, Michael was in his first year of college. He did his first two years of college while he was still in high school, and so I would ride with him each week to his night classes, sit in the parking lot and write and sketch and play with ideas for the story.

As we had the direction of where we were going down, we decided to lock ourselves in a room during a two week break from school and we wrote the first book. It was messy and we had no idea what we were doing, but we wrote it and began looking to get it published.

After working the industry side for a short bit, and realizing we didn’t like what we were seeing, even with the interest that was shown for that version of the book, we decided to step out as indies.

Wow, Brave.

Talk about scary! That was back when, if you said you were self-published or an indie author, people would throw rotten fruit and dead mouse carcasses at you. It was rough. And we still had no idea what we were doing. We got to the point where we figured out how to get the book printed and setup as an ebook, and man we thought we had made it!

Then nobody wanted to buy it, and we soon realized it sucked! Haha! We still had a lot of work to do with it. So we went back to work again. We figured out a whole lot more and kept getting better until we found a groove and felt comfortable with re-releasing the book. We’re still improving, but this series is our baby, and we have fans around the world of all ages that we touch base with us weekly and we are proud of how this baby is growing up. We now have four of the six books in the main series out, and the next two are on their way.

Woooooo two more? Terrific.

We never realized the adventure we would have with this series, but I wouldn’t change one step of it for anything (Except maybe more sales. Yeah, I wouldn’t mind selling about a million more books! Hehe.)

But not many others can say they have written a series of stories with their son, and it’s truly one of the proudest moments in my life! Not long after all this began, my second son was born. He was a surprise blessing, and when he was born, Michael and I decided we wanted to write this series for him. He was our target audience. We have kept it at the forefront of our minds that we wanted him to fall in love with these stories when he was able to read them.

Oh that is wonderful! The perfect audience.

Now, he’s reading them and loving them and is one of our biggest fans. He cries, laughs, threatens us when something happens to a character he loves, and jumps up and down cheering while reading them, and I feel we’ve done exactly what we set out to do. The real joy for us is that there are thousands of others who have joined in that expression with him, and it moves us deeply with each word we write.

Our other books are based on life experiences that either we’ve had or inspired by what we’ve seen in the world around us. Even our horror writing, which can be quite gruesome and disturbing at times, has its basis in real life experiences, some of it quite personally.

Eeeeeeep. Really? I think that can be what’s truly scary.

And, of course, being life-long lovers of folklore and mythology, a lot of our stories are born out of the stories that people have carried down through the ages.

In everything we write, we try and touch the past with the present and hope that it endures the future.

Tell me about Charlie, did you base him on anyone? What was your muse?

My muse? Ha! My muse is coffee, and popsicles, and sushi. But not necessarily in that order.

Hahahahhahaha OMG me too! Coffee could lead me anywhere!

Just kidding. I think.

Charlie is special in a lot of ways. He’s a reluctant leader, but as the story progresses he realizes he has to step up and be that leader. The consequences are huge no matter what, but he steps into those shoes with a lot of fear, questions, and humility. As with any leader, sometimes that backfires on him, and sometimes there is cause for celebration. Let’s just hope the latter is the case at the end of it all. We’ll see soon! 🙂

His makeup and history is connected to many people. There is significance in each part of his name to someone, and also his reluctance, his tendency to be a loner, his wit, and strength of character. Charlie is also inspired by what I would love to see in humanity as a whole. Sometimes we mess up, but we always get back up, and we always, no matter what, look to do what is best for others around us, with integrity, regardless of what people might think of us.

Oh this is a lovely sentiment.

You have four books in this series currently. Tell me about them.

Lets start at the start. Charlie Sullivan and the Monster Hunters: The Varcolac’s Diary (Book 1)

This is where it all started, obviously. The story begins with our main cast of characters in middle school and about the most unlikely group of characters to become friends as you can imagine.

There’s Charlie, of course, and Darcy Witherington, the mayor’s daughter and a very popular student among town. Nash Stormstepper is of Native American heritage and holds a lot of anger and tension inside, but has a softer side as well as we see him caring for an elderly resident of Hunter’s Grove, the fictional town where this story takes place.

Two reader favorites are Lisa and Liev Vadiknov, the Russian (for lack of a better term) goths. One always dresses in white, the other in black. They’re quite eccentric, yet very intelligent. Witty and somberly dramatic. Outward and inward. And on and on. It’s like watching chess pieces sometimes, but their ways often gain them the ire and discrimination of their classmates. However their love for one another as brother and sister is strong and it keeps them through many a trial.

From there, we meet a widely diverse cast of characters of adults, other students, monsters, and even people who are hundreds of years old (you’ll just have to read to see for yourself).

I am, and loving every minute of it!

The issue of bullying surfaces here and is threaded through the books. It’s an issue that Michael and I are passionate about, along with child literacy, and we often present on those subjects as authors.

Yes! I strongly believe children should be read too from day dot. They should be surrounded by books. My strongest memories are of my poppa reading to me while sitting on his knee telling him he was reading it wrong! I am the auntie who buys every kid I know a book… or several… every birthday and special occasion and for “just cause”

There’s a creepy mansion that crowns the top of Hunter’s Grove, it’s called Hunter’s Key (there’s a significant reason things are called “Hunter’s” that you’ll discover in the book), and “the Key” is a character all to its own. We purposefully wanted this house to be a central character in the book, and it plays a big role in all of the books.

This book brings our cast together and launches them into the danger that will grow from book to book. In book 1 we take time to introduce everyone and everything. There’s so much that happens in various global locations, that we felt it important for the reader to really have a grasp on who and what everyone is in the story. Everything that is introduced in book 1 plays vitally in the other books, and I guess you could say, it all comes back to center at the end!

And then there’s Charlie Sullivan and the Monster Hunters: Witch Moon (Book 2) 

This is one of my favorite books in the series. It takes place in Ireland and mixes both fictional and real locations. We dive deep into some legends and folklore central to the Old Country, and this is where you see a group of witches first introduced in book 1 take center stage. It’s dangerous, full of intrigue, and digs deep into the story.

Oooooo and then Charlie Sullivan and the Monster Hunters: Council of the Hunters (Book 3)

Council of the Hunters is where everything shifts. There is a betrayal and it literally spins everything into what will ultimately reveal in the final books. There is a great cost to everyone’s actions and many of those begin to play out very quickly in this book. A whole new level of evil is unleashed here and it sets the pace for the remainder of the books.

This is where we also see significant changes among the characters as they transition to high school and many of the issues that teenagers face during this time also weigh on their already stressful lives.

Charlie Sullivan and the Monster Hunters: The Dragon Gate (Book 4) 

If I may say so, this is where things really get jiggity! Haha! Michael hates it when I use that word. Basically things get shaken up really big here. Ultimate sacrifice and loss is experienced; separation, fear, as well as a deepening of the relationships among the main cast. It’s a wellspring of emotions, trial, and facing evil on a global scale.

This story takes us to Japan as well and introduces a very real location that you can actually visit there, which we call The Dragon Gate (again, you’ll have to read about it to learn which location it is in Japan), and it plays an important part of the history of Japan and of course in our story.

Ultimately, what takes place at The Dragon Gate unlocks a series of events that awaken the Ancients. There are six ancients, and let’s just say things go global and cosmic in a big way. A worldwide unleashing of evil happens, and alliances, friendships, trust, and belief are all challenged. It’s big, sweeping, and a book that we had a lot of fun writing.

Of course, that leads us to Book 5: Rise of the Ancients, which will be available soon. It is quite exciting! I just read another scene that Michael completed last night, and all I can say is that my blood is pumping on this one.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh yes!!! I hope soon is very soon?

Okay, so here is a question for you. Was book two, three, and four harder to write or did it all flow easily? How many books are planned in the series

I feel like they flowed pretty well. It’s a story that we have enjoyed writing together. After book 3 we took a long break as we were getting tired. We were doing a lot of traveling, speaking, and had taken some time to write a few different stories. We didn’t want to get burned out going in to book 4. It took us longer than anticipated to get book 4 out, and we really heard about it from the fans. (Sorry folks, we didn’t mean it. Please forgive us.)

I think book 4 was harder to write only because of how dangerous it was. The consequences were super high there, and we were very emotional throughout. The whole time we kept everything secret, even from my wife, reading groups, etc. So it was even more difficult to keep it to ourselves, and keep the storyline a secret for maximum effect.

The first time my wife and younger son read it, they didn’t make it through chapter one without crying feverishly. My younger son wouldn’t even continue reading the book for weeks, he was so upset. Yet, at the same time, he kept saying to me, “What happens next? Is ___ okay? What happens to ___?” And all I could say was that you just have to go read it for yourself.

Like I said, it was dangerous—for our characters, and risky for us as writers. But I believe it has paid off big.

WOW… what amazingly terrific and instant feedback. 

There are a total of six books planned in the main series, and then we have stories working for several characters who have some cool backstory that people have been asking about. At the end of our current series, we plan on re-releasing all six books in a boxed set with artwork, etc.

We have a table-top game designed with a top international artist that has been in waiting for almost four years, so there’s a lot more to come for Charlie Sullivan and the Monster Hunters.

OMG that is sooooo cool.

You write together with your son, Michael. How does THAT go? Any arguments? What is your process?

It’s very peaceful process. I believe we really complement each other. We don’t really have any arguments. We do have a lot of very deep conversations about the story and where it is going and what considerations must be made along the way. He’s much more methodical about his writing process, while I am much more “just sit down and get it out” kind of a writer.

Sounds fun.

At the end of the day, we’ve come to realize that with as much of the writing that we share, it would be difficult at this point for anyone to know where one of us has left off and the other has picked up. I feel we’ve really become a solid writing team.

If you read our separate works, you can see the differences fairly clear, but within this series, it’s hard for even us to find the difference sometimes.

Hmmm intriguing. Separate works? I must hear more. 🙂

As a father, it has really given me a wonderful opportunity to grow with my son creatively. Again, how many others can say that? I feel blessed for it all. To be sure, he has made me a better writer, and I’m grateful for it.

You are now a publisher. Tell me about that journey?

It really was born out of the frustration we felt from within traditional publishing in the very beginning, and the more I spoke to “insiders” the more I was convinced that it didn’t need to be that way. Now, I have nothing against traditional publishing in the big picture, but I feel it’s quite volatile right now, and authors get caught in the middle a lot of times. I would welcome traditional publishing if it was right, and it would have to be right, but I’m an indie at heart. Always have been, even outside of writing.

The more we grew in publishing our own works over the years, the more we realized that there were others looking for a similar place to call home, and so we very gently began working toward that.

Not all of the writers we work with are published by us. There are some who will never have our name on their work, but we have worked with them behind the scenes to help them progress. I feel that is much a part of our job as publishers as publishing a book.

The goal has always been to help other writers be a part of a publishing family and grow right where they are. We are very much a family. We don’t have a lot of bells and whistles to offer anyone right now, but we’re working on it. Mostly, though, we wanted to take the pressure off of authors to create a wonderful story and have it published in a quality format.

Sounds wonderful.

I can tell you that we have been attacked, lied about, lied to, criticized, thrown under the bus (so to speak) and experienced about as much drama and crazy as you can imagine, even at this level, and it has really shown us just how cut-throat and desperate a lot of people are in this industry, but we have kept trucking and doing the very best we can.

Oh, that’s awful.

If our authors get picked up and go to bigger and better places, then our job is done. If they want to stay with us and grow with us, then I feel our job is done there too. We’re easy to get along with, easy to work with, and have a lot of grace in this process. Doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it sure is a lot more fun.

We now have four distinct imprints and will be adding a new one in 2018, so there’s a place for a lot of writing under our umbrella. Again, it’s not about being the biggest on the block, but as we grow, we want to focus on quality of story and quality of relationships within our publishing family. It’s been a great ride so far, and we’re taking it one step, or book, at a time.

WOW!! Four? That’s amazing. You must be so busy! 

Even in rejecting a manuscript I had an author write me and say, “That was probably the nicest rejection that anyone could have given me. Thanks!” I think we can be nice in publishing and still be successful, and it’s my intention to prove that.

How do you come up with your ideas?

People watching, mostly. Hehe. No really, it mostly goes back to life experience and drawing from that, putting those experiences into their proper context and delivering a message in the story.

I’m a visionary, and so I probably have way more ideas than I’ll ever be able to produce, but that’s the nature of being a creative. Sometimes that’s frustrating, but it can be liberating as well. 

I have nearly 30 years of working with people professionally from all over the world and in just about every background you can dream of. This has taught me a lot, and I feel I’m only just beginning to relay all that in story form. It should be exciting in the years to come.

I flesh out a lot of ideas through sketching, journaling, going for hikes or long walks, and often just picking up on very small details that are happening throughout the course of my day. It’s those in-between moments that can really light up a story, and so I look for those. An expression that flashes across someone’s face for a split second, a hug that lasts one second too short, a person arguing with someone on their cell, the way someone carries themselves down a set of stairs, the brush of someone’s hand against someone they love, the energy of a crowd at a concert, the silence in being alone, the vastness of the big questions in our universe, and just how small we are in comparison. 

It all lends to story.

What messages do you want the Young Adult readers to take away from reading about Charlie Sullivan?

You can have alone time, but you can’t do life by yourself. People need each other, and we each need people who are different from us in our lives. Truth matters. Honesty is crucial. Bullying is not a winning strategy. There is always someone to talk to. The big picture matters, but it’s the smaller moments that will get you there. Who you are when no one else is looking, is who you really are. Be comfortable with who you are, not arrogant, but trust that you are precisely who you are meant to be. It’s okay to make changes, to grow, learn, connect, but be honest about you. Learn to look in the mirror and love who you see. You may need someone’s help to do that, but it will be worth everything as you grow!

Have fun, make a difference, and don’t be afraid to talk to that person, read that book, climb that mountain, wear that shirt, or even snort milk out of your nose because something was just that funny.

Ha ha! 🙂

Keep in mind that often the walls we put up around us are only meant to see who will climb over them and share our space without judgment. Remember that, as well, when you’re looking at someone else’s wall. Be kind, respectful, but be human. Don’t compromise your values. First, however, know your values, and your value. There are true friends in this world. If you get hurt, and you will, don’t let it harden you. Become wise, but never stop loving and being teachable.

Did I mention to have fun? And eat popsicles if you like! God knows, I do.

What a fabulous philosophy

What about their parents? What would you want them to take away from this series?

Wisdom, grace, compassion—let them flow. If you don’t have those, get some. Be the example. Love, and do so in front of your children. Turn off the screens and look in their eyes. Hold them, kiss them, cheer them on, tell them you’re proud of them, and mean it. If you can’t, get help for that. That’s on you, not them.

Don’t fear making mistakes, it’s human. We didn’t get a manual as parents, and if you did, it probably wasn’t written very well. Make sure you make things right. Tell them you love them. Every. Day.

Listen to your music loud enough for them to tell you to turn it down, then take some time to listen to their music too.

Be genuine. Present. Available. Even when it’s not convenient.

Remember LOVE is spelled T-I-M-E. Spend time with your kids, you’ll figure out all the other stuff.

Oh, and read to them, and with them.

I think reading is the most important skill we can teach children. I am always harping on about it to anyone who will listen.

What do you want the YA audience to know about your books?

I hope they have as much joy reading them as I have had writing them. Sure, they have a message buried in there, but I hope you laugh, cry, get angry at the injustice, and cheer for the moments when love (or a good crack across a monster’s head) prevails.

Also know that there are some truly remarkable legends hidden in there. Read beyond these books and learn about history, folklore, mythology, kindness, triumph and tragedy. If this is your starting point for reading, I am honored. If it’s just another series you plow through because you’re one of those people who read 18,574 books a year, thanks for taking us along for the ride. It really means everything to us. Seriously.

If you haven’t gotten into the reading groove yet, let me know how I can help, or a teacher, or a librarian, or someone who cares about your future.

Reading is a key to unlocking your potential and the future you desire. Wherever you are on your reading journey is okay. Just keep walking!

If it’s not my books, find something that interests you even a little and start there. I personally love reading biographies and autobiographies of rock stars, but then I also love reading about leadership and business strategy (boring, I know), and Edgar Allan Poe, and Shel Silverstein. I also love a good graphic novel. Then sometimes I just like to draw, and eat popsicles. Hehe.

And drink coffee? I know I do. Do you have any other new works in progress?

Yes, always.

I have several short story collections coming out soon with Michael and he and I are also writing an adult futuristic thriller together too. I do have a young adult novel that I’m secretly writing alone, but I can’t say anything about it. It’s one I’ve been working on for years, and I hope to have it ready to begin reading soon. We’ll see. I have a couple more that are in the background, so I’m not sure when those will be ready.

Oooo sounds interesting. I must chat to you about all of these soon!!

We just wrote about thirty short stories in the last month and a half and those will be released first as audio narrations, probably many of them on Youtube.

Point is: Yes, always.

Holy moly… Sooooooo busy? I just don’t know how you do it. I am sure family helps.. and laughter!

A little birdie tells me you have a NEW book coming out soon. A new collection of 3 short stories coming out on Friday the 13th, called “Halloween Games: Terrifying Tales of Young Adult Horror” Tell me everything.

Well, what’s kinda cool about everything that I write, either by myself or with Michael, is that all our writings are connected at some level to the same universe. Some of it looser than others, but it’s all connected. 

About two years ago, I started writing a couple of stories about spooky games that can be played at times like Halloween, or at parties, or sleepovers. For the life of me, I couldn’t finish those stories, and then this year I just decided I wanted to finish them, but at the time they weren’t connected to our other writings. So I connected them by way of a secret character and an unseen world from another set of horror stories in our other books.

When I connected those worlds, it all just fell into place and I knew I could finish them. With Friday the 13th coming up this year during October (Halloween month!) I thought it would be fitting to share these stories, given their spooky nature.

Yes!! a great time. Oooo Should I be afraid?

One story is based on the legend of Bloody Mary, the game using the mirror, in a twisted kind of way. It’s also a ghost story of sorts, but is also about friends who’ll be there when needed.

Another story is about a Halloween party gone wrong. Very, very wrong. And another is about a haunted mansion that is a gateway to some terrifying atrocities.

One of these stories includes a backstory of something that happened to me as a teenager, but I won’t say which one. You’ll have to guess. Let’s just say truth is stranger than fiction here.

eeeeeep!

You’ll meet a certain character that is in each story, quite subtly. He’s one connection to a larger universe, as is the town where these stories take place. There will be more stories in the future to add to these that will further connect them all.

For now, though, my purpose in writing these stories is to have a set of creepy stories that people can enjoy during the Halloween season, or whatever season you like to read scary stories in the dark.

But if you read them, be sure to check in the corners, and close your closet doors. And you might want to leave at least one light on. Oh, and stay away from windows and mirrors, and by all means, DO NOT go into that creepy house on the hill on Halloween night!

Oh come on DC!! I am freaking out over here already. Ooooo my skin is crawling.

Goodness! What are you thinking?

Any advise for writers in general?

I’ll defer to the masters for advice, and I am not the droid you’re looking for. Haha! (Sorry.)

I could give you the odds, no wait

“Never tell me the odds.”

😛

I believe it was Stephen King who said something like READ, READ, READ, and, WRITE, WRITE, WRITE.

Learn the rules, but then learn how to break them, and when. Surround yourself with honest people, and keep going. Don’t stop. Most people give up too soon. If this is what you want to do, take the long view. Read deeply, widely, and learn from other writers.

There are a lot of great books, podcasts, and other resources that can help you as a writer, but don’t let it all overwhelm you. I’ve seen people get so bogged down with advice that they never type a single word.

I’ve also seen a lot of people talk about writing, a lot, but never get that first word out. Then I’ve seen some people get words onto the paper and then publish it without editing, without revisions, without following the rules of writing, especially when their breaking them.

I’ve also known people who write crap (can I say “crap” here?)

Absolutely! 😛

…and then present themselves as experts on writing (this happens a lot, which is why you should be careful who you listen to).

Look, just start writing. Get a chapter out, and then get the next one out, until you finish a draft and then your work has truly begun. At that point you need to engage reading groups, critique groups, or book clubs, or a group of friends who can help you shape your writing to the next phase. Then you’ll need to employ at least one editor, if not more and different types of editors, and then revise, revise, revise.

It’ll get easier as far as your own process goes, but always be brutally honest with yourself and give others permission to do the same (kindly).

I’ve made the mistake of not spending as much time as I should on the writing, many of us have. Don’t beat yourself up. Ultimately, there’s no right way of doing all of this. It’s whatever works, and works well. You’ll figure that out along the way. It’s never too late to get better, to start that book over, or to take a different direction until you get it right. This is a process.

Sometimes you just need to get a story on paper, put that paper in a folder, and start a new one, and keep doing that until the right one comes out.

I heard someone say recently that the best thing you can do for your creative work is to start another creative project right away. Regardless …

Let’s have fun while doing it.

Oh DC, thank you sooooo much for chatting with me today. I don’t want it to end. We shall have to do it again. (I really want to hear more about your adult futuristic thriller).

Thanks for having me as your guest.

 

The coffee was pretty good at this place. As DC leaves I debate ordering the Country Omelet Supreme. I stop myself only just. Now… what was that newspaper story about…

 

About DC McGannon

D.C. McGannon pretends to be a ninja sometimes and two of his biggest fans, his sons Michael and Nathaniel, play along with him to make him feel better about it when he does. His other biggest fan (his wife, Holly) usually nods her head in restrained agreement, walks away, and hopes nobody gets hurt.

Mr. McGannon is the author of the Charlie Sullivan and the Monster Hunters series with his son, C. Michael McGannon. He is also at times a pirate, an alien, or simply the one who retrieves the Frisbee from the far side of the yard. D.C. lives with his family and their little Maltese dog somewhere in the Midwest. He is partial to coffee, video games, and coffee.

You can find more about D.C. McGannon at

www.WyvernsPeak.com (YA Publisher)

www.TheMonsterGuys.com (Podcasts, stories, speaking)

www.twitter.com/DCMcGannon

www.twitter.com/TheMonsterGuys

www.facebook.com/DCMcGannon

www.facebook.com/TheMonsterGuys

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/D.-C.-McGannon/e/B007W5I9CW/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1506568119&sr=8-1

 

Don’t be long (Friday Fictioneers)

PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

 

He crept closer to the cracked, dirty pane of glass. Would they see his shadow? Breath puffed from his mouth like fog, warming his nostrils enough to make his nose drip.

Ducking up, he glanced inside. Terri was seated on a rickety wooden chair. Arms tired behind her back. That was going to make things difficult.

But not impossible.

Flicking his wrist, he released his molten blade. The transmuting metal hardened and burst into flame. Three slashes created an entrance. Flipping through the air, he hit the ground at a run and slid to his knees. “Hi. Sorry I’m late.”

 

 

This is a Friday Fictioneers prompt

word count: 100

 

 

© solothefirst. All Rights to the works and publications on this blog are owned and copyrighted by Solothefirst. The Owner of this site reserves all permissions for access and use of all documents on this site.

Review: Bob by Tegon Maus

Bob by Tegon Maus

About the Book:

After 27 years as a newspaper man, Peter Anderson’s career is slipping away, at least it was, until he stumbled upon the story of a lifetime. Sent to do a fluff piece about lights in the night sky over Arizona, he discovers far more than he ever expected when he comes upon a mysterious young woman held prisoner in a basement. After helping her to escape, she disappears before he can learn the truth about who she is or where she came from. His search for her leads him back to the lights in the sky and leaves him with more questions than answers. The only thing he knows for certain . . . the only thing he can count on are the two words offered repeatedly by his friend and guide . . . “IS BELT.”

My thoughts:

Is ok.

Ha! Okay? More than. I really enjoyed this book. Science Fiction along the lines of old favorites from the 80s. Written by Tegon Maus this is a fun read, and a fun adventure. Full of humor, this is a read that flows easily from scene to scene. We follow main character Peter Anderson investigating a strange story with potential to be a career maker… or breaker. It all depends on if he is believed.

Bob, the titular character is just that. Such a character. Full of warmth, mystery and loyalty. I wanted to know more about him. Him and his cousins!

Spaceships, ray guns, time travel and little grey aliens. Bob has it all and then some. Androids, mysterious pods, dancing lights…  If you are after a fun, scifi read. Then Bob is a great book to open.

But be warned… people may not believe you. 🙂

You can read my interview with the Author Tegon Maus here

Uh ah, no way (Friday Fictioneers)

PHOTO PROMPT © Sarah Potter

 

“Ew ew ew! Don’t touch them.”

“But maybe it’s in there.”

“Of course it’s in there.” She kicked out with her foot. She missed by a mile. Probably because she was standing on the opposite end of the hall. “Why did you leave them out there for so long.”

“I didn’t see them.”

The sigh she heaved practically rumbled the floor. “How could you not see them?”

He shrugged.

“I know I saw it. It was huge. Eight giant legs… eyes everywhere.”

“Don’t exaggerate.” He shuffled but didn’t move any closer.

 

 

“I know, throw em out.”

 

“… you do it.”

 

 

 

 

 

This is a Friday Fictioneers Prompt

word count: 100

Potentially inspired by finding a giant huntsman in my mailbox today!

Spray guns at the ready…

 

 

 

© solothefirst. All Rights to the works and publications on this blog are owned and copyrighted by Solothefirst. The Owner of this site reserves all permissions for access and use of all documents on this site.

Review: The Life Group by Maura Jortner

Review: The Life Group by Maura Jortne

About the book

ONE MISSING GIRL. ONE RADICAL CHURCH. ONE DAY.

“THE LIFE GROUP is an intense thriller that keeps you eagerly turning the pages, dying to find out all the answers. Teens and adults alike will devour this rollercoaster story with a shocking ending that makes you question everything you thought you believed.” -Emily Bleeker, author of WRECKAGE and WHEN I’M GONE

“With THE LIFE GROUP, Maura Jortner saves us from the same old YA whodunit formula with a truly original storyline and taut pacing that pulls the reader relentlessly toward the devastating conclusion. THE LIFE GROUP’s topical details and themes are sure to resonate with thriller lovers of all ages, and the characters will stay with you long after the last page is turned.” -USA Today Bestselling author Lisa Stormes Hawker

Every day since her sister vanished, Rachel has visited the radical church where Leah was last seen. There are still no suspects or leads, but Rachel’s positive clues lie in that church somewhere.

Thirteen days on from Leah’s disappearance, the pastor introduces Rachel to Tim, a devout worshiper of his Lord. To avoid dealing with his own demons, he agrees to spend the day helping Rachel search for her sister.

It’s Saturday, March 14. Maybe today will be the day. Maybe today Rachel will be reunited with Leah. Or maybe today will change Rachel’s life forever.

For fans of GONE GIRL, this “intriguing mystery” has a “truly original storyline” and will pull you relentlessly toward the devastating conclusion.

My thoughts:

WOW, the pace of this story – the time frame of it occurring over the space of a day and the tension contained within the pages as Rachel discovers more and more about her sister and her new friend Tim is truly amazing.

I read it so fast because I didn’t want to put it down, (Nearly missed my train stop!) I have read many a good story but this is truly original.

Maura Jortner has done an excellent job in this debut book. Her characters are deep and layered. The responses genuine and heartbreaking. A well written piece that gripped me from the start and didn’t let go.

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