Interview: Alethea Kontis on “The Goblin and the Treasure”

“The Goblin and the Treasure” is in the Once Upon a Quest anthology, a collection of fifteen tales of adventure, all brand new fairy tale twists from bestselling and award-winning authors. With inspirations ranging from The Ugly Duckling to Snow White, and everything in between (including trips to Camelot and Oz), these fabulous tales are full of adventure, magic, and a touch of romance.

Meet Alethea!

Alethea weaves fairy tale fantasy in the realm of Arilland, and dabbles in other fantasy worlds as well. She’s been a guest speaker about fairy tales at the Library of Congress, and gave a keynote address at the Lewis Carroll Society’s Alice150 Conference in New York City, celebrating the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

“The Goblin and the Treasure”

Out-of-work soldier Kira Kobold is handpicked by the High Wizard Zelwynn to go on a quest. Her companions? A growly ogress, a surly dwarf, a dimwitted troll, and an overly optimistic goblin. This wasn’t exactly the quest she was looking for…

Kira fumed. It was supposed to be her up there. According to the dreams, it should have been her.

“Company,” announced the High Wizard, “I present your champions!”

There was a smattering of applause at the declaration, but far more groans and grumbles.

Kira tried to contain her anger…and failed. “They don’t even know what they’re looking for!”

Zelwynn’s bushy brows furrowed. “Didn’t I say?”

“No!” Kira yelled. A few others echoed her answer.

“Goodness, that’s very unlike me,” Zelwynn muttered. “Thank you for setting me straight, clever young woman. Tell me, would you like to join this questing party as well?”

“What is the quest for?” Kira asked pointedly.

Zelwynn spread his arms wide and proudly announced: “The Lost Treasure of Zelwynn!”

Laughs were hidden under coughs, along with a few expressions of confusion. What on earth had the High Wizard misplaced in the mountains that he couldn’t just go find himself?

Kira narrowed her eyes. “Animal, vegetable, or mineral?”

“It is an instrument of both perfect peace and ultimate destruction,” Zelwynn answered. “Its value is beyond price.”

Trench and Forge exchanged knowing glances. The troll and the goblin didn’t stand half a chance against those two. But with Kira’s help they might. She loosened the grip on the hilt of her sword. “Fine. Count me in.”

“Kira Kobold, everyone!” Zelwynn announced as she approached the dais, and the crowd of soldiers actually cheered. Kira hadn’t expected that. Nor had she expected the High Wizard to know her by name, but she supposed wizards had their ways. At the top of the steps, she faced Zelwynn. Unafraid, she stared deep into those beady little eyes.

“It’s about time,” the High Wizard said. And then he winked at her.

– from “The Goblin and the Treasure” by Alethea Kontis

The Interview

“The Goblin and the Treasure” is based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Goblin and the Grocer.” What is it about the original fairy tale that inspired you to use it as the inspiration for your story?

The message at the heart of “The Goblin and the Grocer” is about the magic of books, and how vital they are to an optimistic life. Plus, I also love the whole crazy “cut out the Grocer’s wife’s tongue and put it on a whole bunch of inanimate objects so they can have their say” plot device. I’ve always been a big fan of personifying inanimate objects. Comes from being a young girl with a big imagination, I guess…

Why are fairy tales so important to you?

I began reading at three years old. By five I was eating up poetry and novels like there was no tomorrow, but the fairy stories were always my favorite. So on my eighth birthday, my French grandmother gave me a HUGE volume of collected tales by Grimm and Andersen. They were the unexpurgated tales, full of magic and monsters and darkness and blood and hope. These were the adventures of my childhood, and the well from which all my other stories since have sprung.

How do fairy tales manifest in your Trix Adventures series? Can you give us a sneak peek at what will be in book three, Trix and the Fire Witch?

Fairy tales leave most sensible people with a lot of questions. I like answering those questions with other fairy tales. Trix’s character comes from the Grimms’ tale “The Foundling.” Right before I decided to spin his adventures off into a series of novellas, I had just re-read Andrew Lang’s Crimson Fairy Book. Trixter is very much an homage to that book. Trix is the “Beggar Boy” who knows “The Language of Beasts” and “How to find out a True Friend.” Lizinia and Papa Gatto’s characters are straight out of “The Colony of Cats.”

I always wondered what would realistically happen to that girl dipped in gold, and her sister with the donkey’s tail on her forehead. Why was the Colony of Cats formed, and what would happen to all those cats after they died? Writing Papa Gatto as both The Godfather and the Cheshire Cat was just so easy…it made far too much sense!

Those who know “The Colony of Cats,” and have read “Hero Worship” from Tales of Arilland, will have a very good idea who’s going to appear in Book Three…including the identity of the Fire Witch!

Do your novels and stories connect with each other? If so, how? And why?

That, my friend, is an answer that will take more time than we have here. Arilland has become my Middle Earth. A Thousand Years of Faerie live in my head at all times now. I have begun including essays at the end of my novels (where I can) that discuss the origin of certain elements in that novel, and how they connect to the other stories. For instance, beta readers of “The Goblin and the Treasure” recognized my goblin mythology from When Tinker Met Bell, but they completely missed the MASSIVE reference to Hero until I mentioned it in the essay!

One day, there will be a map. But that is not this day.

You’ve been a part of the Once Upon anthology series from the beginning. How did the series begin, and what do you enjoy about participating in it?

“The Unicorn Hunter” in Once Upon a Curse might be my favorite story of all time. And then I started my tale for Once Upon a Kiss: “Once upon a time, long after the Wizard War, in the Third Age of Faerie the kingdom of Upper Reaches was separated from the rest of the world by a glass mountain.” At that moment, a Thousand Years of Faerie sprang into my head fully formed. I suddenly saw how everything I’d ever written and everything I’m ever going to write all fit together, and my life changed forever.

The thing I love best about my stories in the three Once anthologies is that right now they relate to each other more than they relate to any other storyline I have out in the world. I’m so excited for all my future projects from here on out!

What’s the status of Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants?

I made 55 episodes of the original Fairy Tale Rants. They are still available to binge watch on YouTube.

I miss making them SO MUCH! But as fun as they were to do, the filming, editing and promotion of each took a solid day out of my week and brought zero income, so I had to stop. I made a few more bonus episodes at the behest of my Fairy Goddaughters, and we debut a new Fairy Tale Rant Theatre production every Dragon Con at Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow. But Fairy Tale Rants will not be created on a regular basis again unless I can hit those milestone goals on my Patreon.

You incorporate aspects from a number of different fairy tales in your Woodcutter Sisters series, which is about seven sisters who are named after the days of the week. Three books in this series are out so far – what’s the plan for the other four?

That answer is best explained here:

What’s important to you about the patchwork skirts that Friday Woodcutter, the protagonist in Dearest, makes for herself?

“Friday’s child is loving and giving.” Since Friday’s nameday gift was a magic needle and sewing is her forte, it made sense to me that she would fashion skirts from leftover bits after she made clothes for the orphans. I did not realize how much this would become a metaphor for Friday’s heart in Dearest, and in my own life. A fan made me a patchwork skirt that I wear with pride. I look forward to making another one from scraps other fans have donated!

Tell us about Charlie!

Charlemagne Montesquieu, the Marquis of Albec, is my teddy bear. We have been together for almost 30 years now. He’s witnessed me at my best and stuck with me through the worst, with a steadfast determination that no other person in my life has ever had. (I refer you back to Question One, about the girl with the big imagination and her passion for inanimate objects. Did I mention that my first best friend was a tree?)

What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

I just finished an essay for Clarkesworld’s “Another Word” feature, about how I’ve developed as a podcast narrator over the last seven years. I loved delving into how exactly I use my experiences as a child actress to breathe life into other author’s characters. There’s a magic there—real world magic, and it’s a beautiful thing!

Click here to listen to some of the stories I’ve narrated.

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, a voice actress, a force of nature, and a mess. She is responsible for creating the epic fairytale fantasy realm of Arilland, and dabbling in a myriad of other worlds beyond. Her award-winning writing has been published for multiple age groups across all genres. Host of “Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants” and Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow every year at Dragon Con, Alethea also narrates for ACX, IGMS, Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders.

Alethea’s YA fairy tale novel, Enchanted, won both the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award and Garden State Teen Book Award. Enchanted was nominated for the Audie Award in 2013 and was selected for World Book Night in 2014. Both Enchanted and its sequel, Hero, were nominated for the Andre Norton Award. Tales of Arilland, a short story collection set in the same fairy tale world, won a second Gelett Burgess Award in 2015. The second book in The Trix Adventures, Trix and the Faerie Queen, was a finalist for the Dragon Award in 2016.

Princess Alethea was given the honor of speaking about fairy tales at the Library of Congress in 2013. In 2015, she gave a keynote address at the Lewis Carroll Society’s Alice150 Conference in New York City, celebrating the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. She also enjoys speaking at schools and festivals all over the US. (If forced to choose between all these things, she says middle schools are her favorite!)

Born in Burlington, Vermont, Alethea currently lives on the Space Coast of Florida. She makes the best baklava you’ve ever tasted and sleeps with a teddy bear named Charlie.

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Interview: Jenna Elizabeth Johnson on “Bane and Balm”

“Bane and Balm” is in the Once Upon a Quest anthology, a collection of fifteen tales of adventure, all brand new fairy tale twists from bestselling and award-winning authors. With inspirations ranging from The Ugly Duckling to Snow White, and everything in between (including trips to Camelot and Oz), these fabulous tales are full of adventure, magic, and a touch of romance.

Meet Jenna!

Jenna writes fantasy and young adult paranormal romance. She’s a talented visual artist as well as a writer, and creates the images and maps she uses for her various worlds.

“Bane and Balm”

When the stream providing healing water to Claire’s sick aunt dries up, she must venture into the dreaded Dorcha Forest, where she discovers a stranger willing to risk his freedom in order to help her on her quest.

Claire snapped out of her daze and blinked down at her dark rescuer once again. He had removed one of his gloves to reveal a pale hand, which he now held palm out toward the tree. The pull of magic, the stranger using his glamour, tugged gently at Claire’s senses and the fire eating away at the beech slowly died.

The eagle stretched its wings and clicked its beak, tilting its head upwards.

“In the tree?” the man murmured, his low voice growing quieter.

But Claire had heard the words anyway, panic gripping her heart. The stranger tilted his head and gazed into the branches above. She held absolutely still, not daring to move.

Perhaps he won’t see me, Claire thought hopefully.

The man’s hood fell back, and his eyes met hers. Claire sucked in another breath. This man looked nothing like the young farmers in her valley. His pale skin was smooth and unblemished, his eyes a severe, golden brown, so bright they reminded her of a wolf’s. Hair black as coal hung in unkempt strands around a haunted face of masculine beauty, and his mouth was drawn in a hard line. A mouth that probably never smiled.

– from “Bane and Balm” by Jenna Elizabeth Johnson

The Interview

“Bane and Balm” is loosely based on “Red Riding Hood.” What inspired you to use aspects of this particular fairy tale?

When Anthea reached out to me about participating in another Once Upon anthology, I had already started work on “Bane and Balm”. It was very much in its infancy, but I felt that “Red Riding Hood” was the closest match with where I had gone so far with my story. Claire, my main character, was already standing out as a bold young woman and I knew the answer to her plight waited in the heart of the haunted wood behind her home. I added in the element of the red cloak and the wolfish stranger to make it more like the original tale, but it’s very much its own Otherworldly fairytale. In a way, I kind of cheated, but I’m very happy with the story that evolved from what started out as the spark of an idea. Making “Bane and Balm” my submission for Once Upon a Quest helped give the tale and its characters direction and depth.

You’ve been a part of the Once Upon anthology series from the beginning. How did the series begin, and what do you enjoy about participating in it?

My involvement in these anthologies actually goes back a little further than Once Upon A Curse, the first Once Upon collection. Anthea first asked me to take part in the Faery Worlds anthology way back in 2013, and I jumped at the chance. Since then, any time I’m invited, I’m happy to take part. It gives me a chance to explore my world more (so far, all my stories have been from my Otherworld universe), and having a deadline for the short stories helps keep me productive. When Once Upon A Curse came along, I was challenged to write something new (all the other anthologies included previously published pieces).

I think what I most enjoy about being a part of the Once Upon anthologies is the challenge of creating more fairytales for my Otherworld universe, and getting to collaborate with so many wonderful, talented authors. Sorry, that was two things!

“Bane and Balm” is set in the land of Eile, which is also the setting for your Otherworld series. What inspired you to create this world?

My Otherworld series, and Eile (what the natives call the Otherworld), emerged from my time spent in my Celtic Studies classes during college. I wanted to bring Celtic mythology to life the way Rick Riordan opened up Greek mythology to his readers in the Percy Jackson books. There are some really cool stories and characters in Celtic lore and I wanted to share my love of these legends with readers, young and old.

Many of the locations in Eile itself are based on Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England. Pretty much the Celtic nations and British Isles. I actually hadn’t been to any of those places before starting my books (hurrah for Pinterest and Google images!), but I was able to make it to Ireland a few summers ago, so now I have my own experience to draw from.

The setting for Faelorehn (the first book in the series) takes place mostly in my hometown of Arroyo Grande, and the wooded swamp area Meghan (my main character) visits is an actual location. There is just something about that place that feels Otherworldly to me, so of course it made its way into my series. I also highlight a few other locations (the old village in town with its swinging bridge, one of our local beaches, a cool little post office and gift shop). It was a lot of fun featuring these places in my Otherworld series because every time I visit them I get to step into the story. And I’ve heard from many of my local readers that they just love reading about paranormal and magical events happening right where they live.
You practice both long sword fighting and target shooting with your longbow. How did you get started with these crafts, and what appeals to you about them?

Ha ha! I don’t get much archery in these days, but I still have my longbow and arrows! I have to give credit to my friend Laura for this. I’ve always liked the old arts of war (I’m a nonviolent person, I swear!), but Laura actually took the steps to make things happen. I got into sword fighting while at my first book fair in town. The author next to me had a daughter who was taking classes, so we got her number and a few years later, met our coach. I’ve stuck with it for several years and go to class when I can. I’m by no means at a competitive level, but I enjoy doing it and it definitely helps whilst writing fighting scenes in my epic fantasy series. Someday, I need to get back out onto the range with my bow.

I can’t say what makes these activities more appealing than others. Maybe it has to do with the fact that you must rely entirely on your own skill and body to perform well while swinging a sword or shooting an arrow into a target. Longswords and longbows are both somewhat primitive, the bow more so than the sword, and maybe it’s the fact that my Viking and Celtic ancestors probably used these weapons that also makes these activities so appealing to me.
What types of mythology do you most enjoy, and why?

Oh my goodness, Celtic mythology by far is my most favorite. I loved it so much I took as many classes on the subject as I could in college. I think it links back to my ancestry (I’ve got some Celtic roots) and there is just something that appeals to me about the Celtic Isles. Maybe it’s the nearly constant gray skies, or the mountains and hills, or the music, or the fact that trees are sacred to the Celts (I love trees). I also love Norse mythology and took a few Norse myth classes alongside my Celtic classes. Of course, in high school I was really into Greek mythology (Xena and Hercules!), but I think on a whole, I’m fascinated by all mythologies of every culture. At their core, ancient myths and legends are a reflection of a culture and the beginning of storytelling. As an author, I am always amazed by the wonderful stories our ancient ancestors wove to explain the world around them. We, as authors, are carrying on that legacy and it’s so important not to forget that storytelling is at the heart of our existence as human beings.
The Legend of Oescienne series is set in a world where dragons exist. Did you base your dragons off of any legends in particular? And what did you most enjoy about writing about dragons?

My Legend of Oescienne series was my very first leap into the writing pool. I have always loved dragons, even as a kid, and have always believed that, just like people, dragons can be benevolent or malevolent. My dragons are mostly benevolent, but there are a few mixed in who are troublemakers. One of the main characters in the series, the dragon Hroombramantu, is based very much on Draco from Dragonheart. I loved that movie and Draco’s bravery, wisdom, and kindness always stuck with me. I wanted Hroombra (Jahrra’s mentor in the first two books) to be wise and kind as well.

I think the best part about writing dragons is that my dragons are able to speak and reason just like humans. It’s especially fun to work with them because they react and behave as humans do sometimes, but they are so much more powerful, not to mention they can fly and breathe fire.

You’re a fan of honeybees! Are you a beekeeper with hives of your own?

I absolutely LOVE honeybees!!! They are actually sacred to the Celts (considered little cows with wings because they produce a valuable commodity). I had a hive some years back, but unfortunately, my bees disappeared. I miss having them, but if I ever find the time to get back into the hobby, I need to take classes and become more of an expert first. I’d honestly be happy if a wild swarm made a hive somewhere in my backyard (there’s a lot of space back there) just so I could have them around. For now, I have to get my honey from the local farms and farmers’ markets (I only get the good stuff – local, raw honey) so I have a constant supply for my tea. I especially love the fact that there is an old wisteria vine growing on my back patio and every spring/summer I can stand beneath it and just listen to all the bees visiting the flowers.
What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

Now that “Bane and Balm” is out in the world in the Once Upon A Quest anthology, I am focusing entirely on finishing the fifth and final book in my Oescienne series first. It’s been a long journey getting to this point, and my Oescienne readers have been waiting a long time for this one. Once I’ve finished the first draft and send it off to my beta readers and editor, I’m going to jump into either my Draghans of Firiehn series (will eventually be a collection of novellas set in my Otherworld universe but mostly outside of Eile) and a continuance of my Otherworld series (Cade, my main male character, needs his trilogy and there are a few more characters awaiting their own books, too). I’ve also been working on and off on a brand new trilogy I’m hoping to get traditionally published. Basically, I’m going to be busy this year!

Jenna Elizabeth Johnson is a best-selling, multi-award winning author of Fantasy and Young Adult Paranormal Romance. Jenna grew up and still resides on the Central Coast of California, a place she finds as magical and enchanting as the worlds she creates.

Jenna received a BA in Art Practice with a minor in Celtic Studies from the University of California at Berkeley. It was during her time in college that she decided to begin her first novel, The Legend of Oescienne – The Finding. Reading such works as Beowulf, The Mabinogi and The Second Battle of Maige Tuired in her Scandinavian and Celtic Studies courses finally inspired her to start writing down her own tales of adventure and fantasy.

Besides writing and drawing, Jenna is often found reading, gardening, camping, hiking, bird watching, and practicing long sword fighting and archery with a traditional longbow.

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Interview: Anthea Sharp on “Once Upon a Quest”

Meet Anthea!

Anthea Sharp writes fairy tale retellings, Victorian steampunk, fantasy romance, and has combined the Realm of Faerie with immersive gaming in her Feyland series. Once Upon a Quest is the third volume in the Once Upon anthology series.

Once Upon a Quest

Once Upon a Quest is a collection of fifteen tales of adventure, all brand new fairytale twists from bestselling and award-winning authors. With inspirations ranging from The Ugly Duckling to Snow White, and everything in between (including trips to Camelot and Oz), these fabulous tales are full of adventure, magic, and a touch of romance.

Elly took me out and set me gently on the floor. The stone was cold beneath my paws. I walked forward until I was a short leap from the throne. The fetid smell of ogre sweat pinched my nose, and I could hear the breath rasping in and out of his throat. One of his hands was big enough to crush me, should he so choose.

“Your eminence.” I made the ogre a bow. “My name is Mistress Bootsi, and I have come to look upon your might.”

“A talking cat?” He laughed, a harsh, nasty sound. “If you thought I’d be impressed, I’m not. I have no use for you.”

The ogre stood and, in a wink, transformed to a huge lion. He roared, and I shivered in fear. My instincts clamored for me to run, run! It took all my courage to stand my ground, and I hoped that Elly had the sense to do the same. Being breakfast for a lion was not part of my plan.

– from “Mistress Bootsi” by Anthea Sharp

The Interview

How did the ‘Once Upon’ anthology series get started?

A group of author friends and I started kicking around the idea of dark fairytale retellings. Everyone got excited to do the project, and I offered to manage the details, since I have experience running multi-author projects and anthologies. The fabulous Christine Pope offered her graphics skills, and Once Upon A Curse was born! It sold very well, and we decided to make this a yearly project. Quest is the third collection, after Curse (2016) and Kiss (2017).

How did you come up with the ‘quest’ theme?

We needed something to match the other titles. Curse (dark tales), Kiss (romantic tales)… and then Quest, featuring adventurous tales. We’re thinking about getting a little wild next year, and doing SF-set stories with Once Upon A Quark

After that, who knows? 🙂

What do you find compelling about fairy tales?

The archetypal plots and characters of fairy tales still resonate today, though all the authors are having fun putting modern twists on the stories!

Your own story in the collection, “Mistress Bootsi,” was inspired by the the fairytale “Puss in Boots” (also known as “The Master Cat”). Why did you pick this particular fairytale as the basis for your story?

When thinking of quests and adventure, “Puss in Boots” just stood out to me as a classic tale full of magic and adventure. Plus, we have a new kitty in the house, so felines are on my mind these days!

Your Feyland series is also based in part on fairy tales. What aspects of fairy folklore have you used in that series, and what inspired you to combine that with gaming?

I grew up on collections of fairy tales and also singing some of the classic old fairy ballads. I’ve always loved the story of “Tam Lin”, where the maiden saves her knight (in fact, we have a “Tam Lin” retelling in Once Upon a Quest).

I’ve also played computer games since, well, Zork, and then more recently lots of MMOs. I got to thinking one day (in 2010) about the parallels between being in-game and the descriptions of humans sucked into the Realm of Faerie: time moves strangely, everything feels intense, you emerge dazed and feeling like you’ve been somewhere magical and not-of-this-world…

And Feyland was the result – a series where a computer game is the gateway to Faerie. It’s not a new idea, and portal fantasy has a long, wonderful tradition (I suppose there’s a bit of my love for Narnia in the books as well) but I think my gaming experience put a new, different twist on the theme. I’m delighted to say that the Feyland books have found a wide audience, and I still have two more books planned in the series! The prequel is free, and the first book, The Dark Realm, is just .99 cents at all ebook retailers, for those who are interested in diving in.

You play the Irish fiddle! Tell us about the kind of music you play – and about your band, Fiddlehead.

I’m classically trained, but discovered Irish music in college, and never looked back. I love playing the fiddle, and my band, Fiddlehead, has three CDs out (find them on I also love putting music into my stories, and have released a short story anthology called Tales of Music & Magic that combines my love of magic, music, and short tales.

What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

I’m currently working on another fairytale retelling series, complete with a dark, enchanted forest, elves, and two sisters who must fight on opposite sides of an epic battle. Hoping to get those books out in 2019!

Growing up on fairy tales and computer games, Anthea Sharp has melded the two in her award-winning, bestselling Feyland series, which has sold over 150k copies worldwide.

In addition to the fae fantasy/cyberpunk mashup of Feyland, she also writes Victorian Spacepunk, and fantasy romance. Her books have won awards and topped bestseller lists, and garnered over a million reads at Wattpad. She’s frequently found hanging out on Amazon’s Top 100 Fantasy/SF author list. Her short fiction has appeared in Fiction River, DAW anthologies, The Future Chronicles, and Beyond The Stars: At Galaxy’s edge, as well as many other publications.

Anthea lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she writes, hangs out in virtual worlds, plays the fiddle with her Celtic band Fiddlehead, and spends time with her small-but-good family.

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Interview: Grayson Towler on “The Dragon Waking”

Meet Grayson!

Grayson loves dragons and dinosaurs, and has managed to tie them together in a wonderful, magical story in The Dragon Waking, a middle grade fantasy.

The Dragon Waking

For thirteen-year-old Rose Gallagher, having a friend who is really a dragon and can perform magic, change shape, and fly her away from the predictability of small-town life feels like a dream come true. But secrets have a price, and the more Rose learns about her friend Jade and the world of dragons, the more dangerous her life becomes. Rose soon finds herself risking her life to help Jade recover a mysterious fragment of a meteorite called the Harbinger, which has the power to awaken countless dragons from their enchanted slumber. When Rose and Jade come face-to-face with a rival dragon in a battle over neon-drenched skies of Las Vegas, it will take all their courage to avert a catastrophe sixty-five million years in the making!

The dragon raised its head very slightly, watching her intently.

Rose still trembled at the sight of the dragon’s long talons and massive jaws, but she mustered her courage and edged closer. The dragon slowly extended its great head toward her as she approached, a posture that suggested both restraint and intense curiosity.

Rose’s sense of fear melted into wonder. Never had she seen anything lovelier than the tremendous green dragon before her. The elegant shape of its head and neck, the subtle shadings of green on each of its diamond-shaped scales, the delicate patterns on the translucent membrane of its folded wings – every feature of the dragon struck a perfect balance between beauty and power.

– from The Dragon Waking

The Interview

What inspired you to write The Dragon Waking?

It’s the sort of story I wanted to read. That’s usually my starting point… the reader in me wishes a certain kind of book would be waiting for me on the shelves, and then the writer in me decides that I’d better get working to make that happen.

More specifically, I’ve always loved stories of dragons, especially the ones in which dragons and humans are companions. Not that I don’t enjoy a good rampaging monster story with a dragon as the star, but I’m more moved by stories like Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, or Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books – stories about the friendship between a humans and dragons.

I’ve often found myself spotting dragons in the environment, like clouds or rock formations shaped like dragons. I liked to dream about those formations waking up and becoming actual dragons. From those daydreams, the world of The Dragon Waking crystallized on a particularly productive evening of staring off into space.

Do you have more stories planned in this world?

I’m currently working on the second book in what I intend to be a trilogy. There’s a lot going on in this world, and I think there could be plenty of room for more short or long stories on top of the trilogy I have planned.

What did you find to be challenging with writing this story?

Well, it was my first book that I truly wanted to finish and get published, so there was a huge learning curve. The biggest challenges came from learning the conventions of the middle grade genre, and the first of these challenges was figuring out that the book was actually middle grade! I went in thinking it would be YA, and wrote it with that idea in mind. The resulting story turned out to be a better fit for middle grade, though.

Then the next big challenge was compressing the story down to middle grade length, which is a lot more restricted than YA. This was a crash-course in editing like I’d never experienced it, and I learned a lot.

The audience for The Dragon Waking is middle grade. Do you write stories for other ages?

I’ve got two novel-length manuscripts awaiting a second draft. One is a YA story to start a new series (really YA this time, I think). The second is an adult supernatural thriller. I’m quite excited about both of them, and I’m eager to get them into shape to pitch to publishers… if only pesky things like bills and my full time job didn’t keep getting in the way.

I do write short stories sometimes too, though I tend to focus on novels. I’ve got a sidestory from The Dragon Waking available on my website, and a couple other stories I’m going to try to get published this year if I can. I think my favorite of these is a story called “Crotar” about a 19th century British naval vessel encountering a very strange being in the south Pacific.

What’s important to you about Rose, and why did you give her these characteristics?

Rose has a lot of fine qualities, but I think the two most important ones are imagination and compassion. People tend to think of imagination as the ability to come up with things that don’t exist, which is part of it. But I also think a strong imagination is what allows us to see our world with greater clarity, and perceive truths that exist beyond accepted facts. It’s Rose’s capacity for imagination that allows her to see Jade and connect with her–most people couldn’t deal with the “impossible” appearance of a dragon in their world.

Compassion is just as important for Rose. Her compassion is why she can overcome her fear and connect with Jade, and sympathize with Jade’s mission to awaken the rest of the dragons. Rose is 13, which is a time when we’re still concentrated pretty much on figuring ourselves out, but that inward focus doesn’t mean we can’t expand our perspective and put ourselves in another’s shoes. I think Rose trained her compassion in working with horses, and learning to see the world through the eyes of an animal with a very different perspective than a human.

The Dragon Waking includes both dragons and dinosaurs. Why did you decide to include both? What’s the relationship between dragons and dinosaurs in the story’s world?

Is it not a kind of chocolate and peanut-butter combination? Seems so to me. In any case, I’ve always loved to toy with the idea of what would have happened if an intelligent, civilization-building race had evolved from the dinosaurs instead of mammals. At some point, it clicked that dragons would be a perfect candidate for that race.

In terms of the story, in the first book the main antagonist is a dragon who has disguised himself as a casino mogul named Rex Triumph, and has a dinosaur-themed resort in Las Vegas. When he gets back his full power, he naturally wants to bring back the old world he used to know. So he ends up animating a lot of dinosaurs, which in turn give our protagonists a lot of trouble.

In addition to writing, you also have a web comic. How did that start, and what do you enjoy about the comic that is different from what you enjoy about writing?

That’s Thunderstruck, and I started writing that as a conventional paper comic back in the mid-90s. At the time, I wanted to be an independent comic book artist-writer. Unfortunately, I chose to follow this aspiration right about the time the entire comic industry underwent a massive implosion, so the whole plan stopped being viable as comic stores folded left and right.

But the story stuck around, and when webcomics started to become a legit avenue for self-publishing, I revived Thunderstruck in that form. I wrote for many years, took a hiatus for a while to focus on my fiction career, and then came back and hopefully will be able to follow the whole complex story to the end.

The thing I like most about comics as opposed to straight prose is the ability to use artwork to express a story. Not only can a good picture be worth a thousand words, a visual medium like comics can sometimes express things prose never can. Yet comics still lets you keep many of the advantages of prose. It’s a unique medium and I enjoy exploring the various ways you can use it to tell stories…even though I feel like I’m a pretty limited artist, by comparison to many others out there.

What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

Currently it’s the second book in the dragon series that’s getting all my attention, apart from my monthly engagement with writing the webcomic. There’s a lot of fun things about this book. There’s a change of setting, as part of it takes place in Hawaii. It’s also a story where Rose’s friend Clay gets to share the spotlight. He gets to come into his own this story and has to fend for himself when Rose and Jade are engaged elsewhere. We’re also going to get a new villain I’m really looking forward to introducing, and we’ll find out some of the mysteries we haven’t yet touched about dragons.

Grayson Towler has had a lifelong fascination with dragons, dinosaurs, magic, and the mysteries of the natural world. In addition to being a storyteller since he could first string words together, he has been a marketing copy writer, web designer, substitute teacher, comic artist, and small business owner. He and his wife, Candi, and their dog, Luna, live in a house owned by three relatively benevolent cats in Longmont, Colorado.

Find Grayson at:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Find The Dragon Waking!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | GoodReads
Books-A-Million | IndieBound | Wordery | Albert Whitman & Co.

Interview: DeAnna Knippling on being a writing contest judge

Meet DeAnna!

DeAnna Knippling is a freelance writer, editor, and book designer living in Colorado. She runs Wonderland Press, a micropublisher of curious fiction and non-fiction for iconoclasts.

The Interview

You’ve been a judge for multiple writing contests. Give us an example of one type of contest, and what the authors submitted.

The contest that I’ve judged most for is the Zebulon for Pikes Peak Writers, and before it was revamped, the Paul Gillette PPW contest. In general, you end up submitting a query letter, synopsis, and sample first chapter. Just like in submitting something to an agent, the first stage is having someone read the query letter and decide whether the entry deserves more attention.

Let me tell you…I loathe query letters with a passion. It could be the best book in the world, and I would hate the query letter. I feel like authors are getting bad information on how to write query letters and are taking that information the wrong way in order to create the Most Boring Sales Pitches Ever. I don’t have a good system to replace it–learning how to write good advertising material is hard, and I don’t have it mastered yet–but I seriously would just rather burn most query letters, even if I have to print them out myself.

I never volunteer for that part. I would either reject everything or accept everything, nothing in the middle.

I get the submissions in the middle part mostly, where the first pass of readthroughs/judging on the synopsis and sample are done. I’ll give a little bit of feedback on the query letter if I have to, but often I’ll just scan through the query letter to see if I can pick up hints on how experienced the writer is, so I can give better feedback.

I also feel that most writers couldn’t write a synopsis to save their lives, which is unfortunate–if writers spent as much time on a synopsis as they did on their outlines (or just tossed their outlines and wrote a synopsis?), then I feel they’d have a better grasp on the core story they were trying to write. A lot of times I see things like the story not actually having an antagonist, or the writer not really being sure who the story is about, things like that.

In the sample chapters, what you get is the opening of the story, about 2500 words. My biggest pet peeve is people who are writing a prologue and trying to hide it as “Chapter One.” Uh-huh. I don’t mind a good prologue, but I vehemently resent a writer trying to fool me on this. Like it’s not immediately obvious. Sheesh.

What’s it like being a judge?

I’ve been a contest judge for a number of years. I always feel like it’s a nailbiting experience, swinging between the poles of snark and honestly providing feedback? As in, writers have a tendency (I’m no exception) to have a mental running Snark-o-meter whenever they’re reading critically. And yet those comments aren’t helpful, and I usually have to go over my responses several times to make sure I’ve cut most of that out.

I’ve spoken to a number of contest participants, and it seems like the people who are sending in contest entries–especially in contests that don’t lead directly to being published in an anthology–are looking for feedback that they’re not getting from their usual sources. A lot of them are early writers who don’t have a writing community at home to help support them, but it seems like most of the entries that I see are from writers who have been writing for a while and are covering the basics, but not seeing a lot of success in publishing.

The kind of feedback that that second level of writer needs is often hard to get, and I always wonder if I’m saying the right thing, making the right guesses about where the writer is and what they need to move forward. It’s like, sure, on the surface level you’re just trying to answer the questions, but you also have to keep in mind that someone is on the other side of those answers, dying to find out what’s working on the manuscript and what isn’t. So I’m always torn between wearing a kind of editorial hat (snark) and a writer support hat (decent feedback). I try to score like an editor and give feedback like a writer supporter, so that I’m not artificially inflating entries that probably shouldn’t win the contest just to be nice, and yet giving the most supportive (yet honest) feedback I can give.

What are you looking for in submissions?

I’m not an editor, so I don’t approach submissions by going, “What can I publish?” That’s not what a non-publishing contest is for.

Instead I’m looking for what level of writer I’m working with, first and foremost, so I can give feedback. We all have different paths as writers, which complicates things, but in general you can check off things like, “This person is handling beginner’s basics like dialogue and character correctly but not intermediate level things like pacing and opening a scene well” to determine how far along someone is. I’ve also noted a split between two different types of writers–I call them engineer brain and poet brain. Engineers plot well; poets have better style. It’s not a matter of right or wrong, but where one’s strengths lie.

Once I can kind of guesstimate how far along a writer is and the general areas of their strengths, I can start thinking in terms of what feedback might be useful.

I generally don’t care who wins a contest 🙂

How is an entry scored? Do you use rubrics of some sort?

There’s generally a checklist of some sort with spaces for feedback. I helped develop a checklist for the Zebulon with Pikes Peak Writers, and that was interesting. What are the main areas of writing? How do you organize all the aspects of writing into a system that makes sense in a contest, to multiple judges who themselves use vastly different organizational/teaching tools in their own writing? I think we did okay, but I always wonder if it could be better.

What do you aim for when you’re asked to write feedback letters?

I always aim to try to give decent advice for the level of writer involved. A lot of times, just because of the type of submissions I see, I end up typing a variation of, “You probably want to know why you’re not published yet, if everyone says you’ve got the basics down pat. Welcome to intermediate writing, where there’s not a lot of advice to be had because 90% of writers have dropped out at this point and it seems like everyone expects you to make the jump from amateur to professional with no extra work. It’s so simple, for someone who’s worked as much as you have…isn’t it? Here’s where you need to start working, though…” And then I try to block out two or three main areas for the writer to start working. I feel like the winners of contests are going to be happy no matter what I write; it’s the people who didn’t win who need to be able to walk out of a contest with a path ahead, arduous but true.

Why do you judge writing contests?

I like being able to dive down into the meat of where someone is in their craft, and find out what strengths and weaknesses they have, and how that affects the work. I’m starting to see how different writers’ points of view really affect what they write, and I find that incredibly interesting. Also, I really hope to be able to pass the education in craft that other people have given me forward, and this is one of the ways that I seem to be able to help.

What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

I’m working on a novel in a series I haven’t released yet. It’s the third novel in a near-future thriller series. Murder and tech that’s so close to being real that it’s scary; not quite Blade Runner but in the same spirit.

DeAnna Knippling is a freelance writer, editor, and book designer living in Colorado. She started out as a farm girl in the middle of South Dakota, went to school in Vermillion, SD, then gravitated through Iowa to Colorado, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Some of her fondest childhood memories are of putting together haunted houses in the basement of her grandparents’ house with her cousins, and taking flying leaps off haystacks and silage piles in the middle of winter with her brother. She was in charge of coming up with the “let’s pretend” ideas when they were kids, at least in theory. But then no plan survives contact with the enemy. She now writes science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime, and mystery for adults under her own name; adventurous and weird fiction for middle-grade (8-12 year old) kids under the pseudonym De Kenyon; and various thriller and suspense fiction for her ghostwriting clients under various and non-disclosable names.

Find DeAnna at:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Interview: Thea Hutcheson on “Judging Pashet”

“Judging Pashet” is in the Stars in the Darkness anthology, a collection of stories about why being just matters, and what the ramifications are for individuals, groups, towns, countries, or even worlds if justice is not expected, encouraged, or enforced.

Meet Thea!

Thea Hutcheson writes about magic, science, and everything in between. She has a special love for ancient cultures, and captured the essence of ancient Egypt and the impact of flooding – or lack thereof – of the Nile River on people’s lives in “Judging Pashet.”

“Judging Pashet”

In the time of the ancient pharaohs, the great annual flood of the Nile has not come to make the black soil fertile. Princes fight for power after the death of the pharaoh, blockading the boats that carry precious food up and down the river. Starvation faces Mert, her family, and her village unless she finds a way to render judgment on a dead man and make him pay for his crimes.

The stone floor was cool under her bare feet and the breeze from the opening swirled fresh air around her legs. Her heart pounded so loudly she could hear it in her ears. The horror of the crime she was committing made her hands tremble. Her breath harsh and loud in the silence of the tomb. She lifted the lamp and gasped.

The walls sported richly painted scenes of Pashet at his ease, receiving tribute, supping with Osiris.

The conceit of the man went beyond her understanding. She looked among the grave goods. Fine ebon chairs nestled against one another in a corner, ivory bracelets spilled across a carved box, and mounds of sheepskins, stacks of copper ingots, rolls of woven fabric, and tens of bronze oxen leaned against the walls.

And yes, baskets of bread, jars of beer, bags of seeds, pots of dates, honey, and almonds made an open ring around the sarcophagus.

– from “Judging Pashet”

The Interview

What inspired you to write “Judging Pashet?”

I love ancient cultures, especially Middle Eastern cultures. I have a book of Egyptian document translations and a lot of them are judgments of civil disputes. I found that priestesses were often called upon to hear testimony and render judgments, and I wanted to find out what Mert would do in the face of impossible odds and inestimable hubris.

How does “Judging Pashet” fit the Stars in the Darkness anthology?

A small village is suffering as a civil war rages for control of the crown, blockading the Nile river so that supplies have not reached them. The river has also not flooded yet, keeping them from planting. The villagers file a complaint against Pashet, the wealthy man who was responsible for the welfare of the village, who had been abusing them and failing in his responsibilities. As the designated judge in the matter of the villagers’ complaints against him, Mert is charged with finding a resolution. But he dies before she can render judgment, and she must find a way to mete out justice against a dead man and provide restitution to the villagers from his estate. Mert, who also lives in the village and sees her son suffer as a result of this man’s behavior, finds herself in an impossible situation when the needs of the mortal world and the requirements of the spiritual world clash. Her answer shows the selflessness of true justice.

Your protagonist breaks the rules to save people, knowing doing so would have repercussions for her personally. Why did you decide to put this in your story?

Ancient Egyptians had a highly developed sense of right and wrong and balancing the scales in both the mortal world and the hereafter. I wanted to explore mortal needs in direct opposition against spiritual laws.

Why did you set the story in Egypt, and why in this particular time?

I was bitten by the ancient civilization bug at the tender age of seven. I love all those Middle Eastern cultures. Egypt was a highly civilized and structured society, and I loved the idea of working in this part of the world. This particular time in history was very exciting. The death of a beloved ruler led to a dire struggle to fill the vacuum. It was exciting and a wonderful set up for the story’s conflict.

I had to do a diorama in the seventh grade for World History. I chose to do a mummy. I wrapped my Barbie doll in strips of an old sheet, working hard to create the patterns I saw on Victorian photographs. I painted a shoe box for the sarcophagus and several olive and lotion bottle jars for the canopic jars. I placed my pharaoh in the sarcophagus and filled the jars with dry dog food and put water in them (I hadn’t learned they dried the organs) and made a display. I got an A, of course, but my mother made me throw the jars away, unopened.

This was an opportunity to tell a story straight from my heart and the core of my interests. It’s also a bigger, better version of that first diorama, all fleshed out.

Why did ancient Egyptians put food in their tombs?

The Egyptians believed in the “as below, so above” philosophy. In other words, whatever you needed in the mortal world, you would want in the hereafter. So you would need food, plates, pets, servants, a chariot, your boat—all the trappings of a comfortable life. Unfortunately, even with all the elaborate precautions, many tombs were plundered, often almost immediately after they were sealed.

Several goddesses are mentioned in your story. Who are they, and why were they important to your protagonist?

Ipet is the hippo-headed goddess of childbirth. While male hippopotamus are vicious and are symbolic of chaos, females are exceptionally nurturing mothers. They represent the fierce caring required to carry a child to term, deliver the infant successfully, and nurture them in the face of terrible odds at all stages.

Maat represents justice, truth, honesty. She is often depicted with wings and often has an ostrich feather in her headband. That is the feather that is laid on the scale that Anubis, the god of the dead, holds when the soul is called to judgment. If the heart is heavier than the ostrich feather, the person has failed in their moral life, and is eaten by Ammit and can never live again.

Isis is the daughter of heaven and Earth. She is the wife of Osiris, who was killed and dismembered by his brother Set. She is also the mother of Horus.

What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

I am working on a time travel series. There is some romance in them as the story unfolds and the characters are brought together, ultimately to be a team. The Bee Lady’s Amulet is the first in the series and follows Melinda, a woman in modern times, who walks through a doorway in an ancient Cretan ruin and finds herself face to face with a goddess who gives her a mission to save people from the destruction of Santorini. The people she meets believe she is the emissary of the goddess and set about planning how to effect the salvation. She thinks that her mission is over when she delivers the message, and is frustrated to find out things are more complicated for her, especially when she finds herself falling into an impossible romance with the earthly husband to Askar, the Cretan goddess. She doesn’t want to stay with him in this ancient culture, but she is heartbroken to know that she will leave and lose him.

The next story features a modern man thrust back into the same time period with instructions from that same goddess to save a witch from the eruption of Santorini. He is young enough to still be discovering who he is, and is thrust into a completely foreign world that he is ill-equipped to navigate. In the course of learning to survive, he meets the woman he is to rescue, and finds that she is not what she thought he was, and all of his beliefs about magic and realism are shifted once again as he falls in love with her.

The third book requires all four of them to work together for the first time on a mission that is endangered by a group committed to anarchy, and which opposes the goddess’ efforts to protect aspects of her creation. In that cauldron the four will face culture shock, the meaning of their relationships, and their commitment to the goddess’ wishes.

Thea Hutcheson explores far away lands full of magic and science with one hand holding hope and the other full of wonder. Lois Tilton of Locus called her work “sensual, fertile, with seed quickening on every page. Well done…” Her work has appeared in such places as Hot Blood, Fatal Attractions, M-Brane, Baen’s Universe, the Beauty and the Beast Issue of The Enchanted Conversation, Realms of Fantasy, and several volumes of the Fiction River anthology series. She lives in an economically depressed, unscenic, nearly historic small city in Colorado with four semi-feral cats, 1000 books, and an understanding partner. She’s a factotum when she’s filling the time between bouts at the computer.

Find Thea at:

Website | Goodreads

Stars in the Darkness is a collection of stories about why being just matters, and what the ramifications are for individuals, groups, towns, countries, or even worlds if justice is not expected, encouraged, or enforced.

All proceeds from this collection will be donated to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Human Rights Campaign.

Amazon | iBooks | Kobo | Barnes & Noble

Books2Read | Facebook | Goodreads

Interview: Bonnie Elizabeth and the Fantastic Feline Heroes bundle

Meet Bonnie!

Bonnie not only writes fiction, she also blogged as her cat Chey for many years. In addition to cat stories, Bonnie writes fantasy, mystery, Gothic suspense, and occasionally science fiction. She writes books about acupuncture as Bonnie Koenig.

Fantastic Feline Heroes

Who doesn’t love cats? And what cat doesn’t have a great cat story of their heroism, even if it’s only saving their owner from a spider?

From honorable feline assassins to compassionate feline dreamwalkers, these cats are saving the worlds—at least for someone. This multi-author bundle pays tribute to every cat who has ever played hero, from little things to big.

If you purchase the bundle through BundleRabbit, you have the option to donate a percentage of the purchase price to either the Blind Cat Rescue & Sanctuary or Milo’s Sanctuary & Special Needs Cat Rescue.

Find the bundle at:

Amazon | Kobo | iBooks | Barnes & Noble | BundleRabbit | Facebook | Goodreads

The Interview

What inspired you to create this bundle?

Honestly? I wouldn’t have done if Kris Rusch hadn’t passed me in the hallway at the Master Class and said, “You need to do a bundle on cats.”

She made me feel guilty about not doing a bundle, even though I’m not really a manager sort of person. I like managing my own things, but not when there are other people around. I’d rather just take care of my own stuff and go my own way, so to speak.

Why did you choose the feline hero theme?

The idea of a cat bundle was really broad. There are lots of anthologies that use cats as a theme and I wanted this to stand out. Also, as I grew up reading fantasy and SF, I knew there were a fair number of professional anthologies that wrote about cats in the fantasy realm. I really wanted to do “Cats in Space” but I don’t write enough SF and I wasn’t sure how that would go over with cat people I knew. But cats as heroes? That I could totally see! So Fantastic Feline Heroes.

How do the stories in Fantastic Feline Heroes match up with what you expected? Were you surprised by any of them?

I think they hit the themes that I wanted. I guess my big surprise was that I “found” Matt’s on the BundleRabbit site. I hadn’t even invited him, but the story was such a perfect fit for the theme that it surprised me. But then again, if you’ve read my author interviews (done by my cat Gemini), you’ll notice I knew most of the authors, so the fact that there were really good stories from many different themes wasn’t a surprise.

That said, I was really thrilled that Mollie Hunt was able to participate. She’s an author I don’t know personally and I love that I get to introduce people to someone completely knew. And her story was such a delight!

Purchases of the bundle through the BundleRabbit website provide readers the option of donating a percentage of the purchase price to either the Blind Cat Rescue & Sanctuary or Milo’s Sanctuary. Why did you choose these two organizations?

As a long time cat blogger, I was familiar with the Blind Cat Rescue. I really thought that the people working with those cats, along with the cats themselves, were pretty heroic, and it seemed like a good fit for a bundle about heroic cats.

Dayle Dermatis suggested Milo’s Sanctuary, and it really fit with heroic cats. Again, it’s a shelter I was familiar with from blogging, so I could feel good about offering it as a charity that people could donate to.

In both cases, I know that other people who blog about cats who are very supportive of these two charities, and I hope that they’re excited enough about a new way to share this information that they’ll go out and tell people!

Tell us about your cats!

I have three cats now, Gemini, Ichiro, and Ham. I started blogging about Gemini but my cat, Cheysuli, who recently died, was the voice of my blog at Chey was a chocolate point Siamese and she had attitude. The household isn’t the same without her.

So how to organize this. I’ve always had cats. I got Gemini shortly after I lost my first Siamese, Simone, a lilac point. It seemed it was meant to be. Gemini just showed up at my doorstep, mewing. I took her in, even though I’m not a long-haired cat owner. I like sleek cats that are easy to groom. Gemini was anything but.

She wasn’t very interested in me or in my calico cat Georgia, who was my only surviving cat at the time. Gemini was only about 5 weeks old, give or take but she looked smaller, all short legs and cobby little body.

After a few months, I found Chey, who was a 3-year-old retired breeder queen that I got for the cost of her spay. She was a beautiful chocolate point cat. Chey and Georgia instantly bonded, which surprised me because Georgia had never liked other cats.

When we lost Georgia, I worried that Chey would be lonely as Gemini was never a particularly friendly cat. In fact, it’s only been in the last couple of years that she’s really come out and decided she likes me. She’s 12.

Anyway, we got Ichiro. He was a kitten. I got a boy thinking perhaps he’d be a little more outgoing. He’s sweet and quite a busybody, but he’s still a little hesitant. He’s very sensitive.

Chey hated him on site. In fact, she stopped eating. We force-fed her for days, and she ended up having a surgery before she came back to us. I think she just felt so betrayed that there was another cat in her household.

Once she got through her health issues, she tolerated him and he adored her. I think as time when on she came to accept him and like him as a companion that Gemini never never really was for her.

When we lost her in May of 2017, I knew Ichiro would be lonely without her. He was very clingy. My husband and I had a couple of trips planned in the summer, so we waited until the second trip was finished and then began searching for another cat for Ichiro.

My husband fell in love with this black and white tuxedo boy who was only five months old. We had talked about getting an older cat, but he liked this one. He’s a crazy kid and the name Ham stuck. We do call him Hamlet but it’s not about the Danish prince. It’s because he’s a “little ham”. And he is–always wanting to be the center of attention. Jumping in and not thinking. He’s a wild man. Hence his nicknames, Haminator and Hamnible Lecter…

Why did you decided to start blogging as your cat, and how did your cat feel about this?

I started blogging probably in 2005. It was a way to make myself write daily. It was actually about Gemini and not Chey. Chey came into this when I had this affiliate site called My Siamese, everything for you and your meezer, and I learned that adding blog content could help bring people to the site. Well it did, but I never sold much on the site, so I eventually pulled down the affiliate links and just used the blog as the main part of the site.

When I moved a couple of years ago, I sort of fell out of the habit of updating it. There were so many people out there blogging about their cats, and I didn’t really have anything new to or different to say. It was hard to get people to come read too, and if no one was reading I didn’t feel as if it was worthwhile. Plus, I was starting to write books and stories that did get read.

What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

I’m working on a bunch of short stories right now. I did a challenge in the fall to write three novels in three months, which I completed, and those will be coming out this spring or summer. I have a new series that’s sort of a dark fantasy series, and also a gothic ghost story.

The shorts are to give myself a rest and also strengthen my plotting ability. I think I do characters decently, and I’m always working on voice, but plotting can be my downfall. I hate hurting my characters. I hate doing bad things, so I need to work on that!

We’ll see what comes out of these shorts!

Bonnie Elizabeth started writing fiction when she was eight years old. Fortunately, that manuscript has long since been lost. In between a variety of odd jobs, including working as an acupuncturist, Bonnie wrote articles about acupuncture and the business of being an acupuncturist for a variety of acupuncture journals. She also blogged as her cat while transitioning to her real love of fiction writing. She writes the Whisper series, which begins with Whisper Bound, and has a number of other fantasy, urban fantasy, and mystery projects in the works.

Find Bonnie at:

Website | Facebook | Goodreads

Interview: David H. Hendrickson on “How to Get Your Book into Schools”

Meet Dave!

David H. Hendrickson has published well over one thousand works of nonfiction ranging from sports journalism to humor and essays. How to Get Your Book into Schools is his first book for writers.

How to Get Your Book into Schools

David H. Hendrickson leads you through every step of the process of getting your book into schools. He highlights the critical pitfalls to avoid, and points out ways to maximize your profit when a school adopts your book.

Dave has first-hand experience; his novel Offside, a coming-of-age tale of a young country boy from Maine who must adapt to a new life in the city, was adopted as required reading for its entire student body and staff by Lynn English High School, in Lynn, Massachusetts.

How to Get Your Book Into Schools is available in both ebook and print.

The Interview

What does it mean to “get a book into schools?’

There are two ways. First, your book can be one of many titles selected for a Required Reading list, then students pick the books that appeal to them. If your book is one of, say, twenty titles, and students only need to pick one or two, this will be a nice addition to your usual sales, but it won’t be a bonanza.

Alternatively, a school can choose your book for an “all-school read.” This is a very big deal, and there are ways to help make this happen, such as working with the school so the total cost fits their budget or grant.

Which of your books have you gotten into schools, and what sort of results have you seen from them?

I consider Young Adult to be the “sweet spot” for most schools. I’ve published three YA titles, but one is a sequel, so I’ve focused on the other two, Offside and Cracking the Ice.

Offside was adopted by Lynn English High School for an all-school read, which meant the school bought 1750 copies, and over the course of a summer, every student, teacher, and administrator read the book.

Since then, I’ve adopted a marketing campaign to duplicate that success, either with Offside or Cracking the Ice, and both books are now under consideration for use by several high schools.

Are there different techniques for getting your book into different types of schools? How about different grade levels?

In How to Get Your Book Into Schools, I point you to lists of public and private high schools, as well as those for middle grades, so you don’t have to spend hour after hour of researching that information.

Once you’ve selected the schools to target, most of the techniques are the same, but there are differences. For example, faith-based titles will appeal to faith-based private schools, but likely not others. Also, many private schools end their year earlier than public schools, so that has to be factored in.

Do schools tend to prefer different formats (ebook, paperback, hardcover)?

I haven’t seen interest in ebooks yet, but I expect that to change over time, especially in the more expensive private schools where all students may be required to own an e-reader.

For now, though, my focus has been on trade paperbacks, since the economics of hardcovers forces a list price of about twice that of paperback. For an all-school read or a student picking titles off a Required Reading list, that extra cost is prohibitive. On the other hand, if the book is going to become part of the curriculum, used semester after semester, then hardcovers are worth the cost. As a result, I’m now investing in the extra design and layout cost of adding the hardcover option.

What’s the most important lesson you learned that helped you achieve the success you’ve had with schools?

Be aware. Be aware of the opportunities available to you, and of problems as they arise so you can quickly address them. Be aware of hidden costs and the deadlines you need to hit.

And especially, be aware of cash flow. There are ways to address the problem, but if your book is adopted for an all-school read, you will almost certainly pay CreateSpace or IngramSpark up front for the printing, and then have to wait for the school to pay off its Purchase Order months later.

What did you enjoy most out of getting your novel Offside accepted by a high school?

I spoke at the school following the summer in which students read the book, and they treated me like a rock star. Other than family events, it was the greatest day of my life.

The applause was thunderous. A group of boys chanted the name of the book. After the talk, I signed hundreds of books, Post-It notes, journals, backpacks, and over a dozen—I kid you not—outstretched arms.

I’ll never forget that day.

What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

I’ll be spending the rest of January on short stories, trying to sell to four anthologies based on an assigned theme. After that, it’s back to writing the third, and final, book in the “Rabbit Labelle” series. (Offside was the first, and Offensive Foul the second, but both stand nicely on their own.)

I love the characters from that series and enjoy the surprises they’ve had for me. Rabbit, his mother, and Anna will always have a special place in my heart. I hope everyone who has read the books feels the same way.

David H. Hendrickson’s first novel, Cracking the Ice, was praised by Booklist as “a gripping account of a courageous young man rising above evil.” He has since published five additional novels, including Offside, which has been adopted for high school student required reading, and its sequel, Offensive Foul.

His short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and numerous anthologies, including multiple issues of Fiction Fiver.

Hendrickson has published over fifteen hundred works of nonfiction. He has been honored with the Joe Concannon Hockey East Media Award and the Murray Kramer Scarlet Quill Award.

Find Dave at:

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Interview: Mark Fassett and the TrackerBox Mac Kickstarter

What is TrackerBox?

TrackerBox is software for writers that takes all of the reports they get from Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and a host of other distributors, and organizes them into a single, manageable set of reports.

TrackerBox is currently only supported on Windows, but there’s a Kickstarter campaign to fund development of TrackerBox Mac!

The Kickstarter ends on Friday, November 17th 2017, so check it out if you’d like to see a Mac version of this extremely handy tool become reality!

Meet Mark!

Mark is an author, musician, software developer, and the creator of both StoryBox, a tool for writing and publishing, and TrackerBox.

The Interview

What exactly does TrackerBox do, and why does it save authors/publishers so much time?

TrackerBox will take the spreadsheets you download from the various booksellers like Amazon, iBooks, and Kobo, and it will put them into a single database. Then you can use the various reports and filters that TrackerBox provides to look at your sales data almost any way you choose (you can’t look at it upside down, of course). The biggest benefit, I think, is that it usually only takes a minute or so to import all of the sales data from all of your various booksellers. It will take a bit longer if you’ve added new books or a new bookseller as you have to answer a couple questions each time TrackerBox sees anything it doesn’t recognize.

What retailers and distributors does TrackerBox support, and do you have plans to add more?

There’s a long list, and it’s only getting longer. It supports the major players, Amazon, iBooks, Google Play, Kobo, and Nook Press, but it also supports quite a few distributors like Draft2Digital, Smashwords, XinXii, and recently added Pronoun. CreateSpace, Lightning Source, and Lulu are supported if you sell paper books, and ACX for audiobooks. That’s most of them, I think.

What’s involved with adding support for the Mac?

The Windows version was written in a language called C# and I used some software from another company to help me make it all pretty (well, as pretty as I can get it). That software is not available on the Mac (and C# isn’t really available in a way that I like, either), so I have to redo pretty much all of the code from scratch for OS X.

What kinds of reports can be generated? For example, suppose an author wants to drill down into sales of one series, or just look at sales of their stories in bundles.

You can see Net Sales or Net Income overall, or by title, or by title and vendor, and you can filter them pretty much any way you like: by Author, Title, Bookseller, Date, Sales type (Sales, Page Reads, Borrows, or Free), and more.

Also, I recently introduced filter sets into the Windows version, which lets you save a set of filters and recall them by selecting the filterset from a list. You can use this to do things like select all the titles in a series, and then you can recall that set to see just the one series, or to quickly get to the sales of all of your short stories.

Will Kickstarter supporters get a copy of TrackerBox Mac for less than the normal retail price, what will that price be, and what’s the license model?

Yes. The normal price will be $89.99 US, and I rarely do sales (I’ve done them just once before in the entire six years I’ve been selling it), so the Kickstarter pledge of $75 is about $15 off the normal price. This is a one-time fee, and will get you updates to the base software for free. There may be some add-ons at an additional cost at a later date, but they won’t ever be required to run the software. I only mention that because I have talked with some publishers about a publisher version with some additional features, but there aren’t any solid plans as of yet.

The license model is basically one copy per person using it. It’s licensed to an email address, not a machine, so you can use it on as many computers as you own. I make an exception to the one copy per person for a spouse that helps with the business, but I ask that if you hire an assistant (instead of using spouse slave labor), that you purchase a separate copy for the assistant.

Why did you develop TrackerBox in the first place?

Somewhere back in May of 2011, Dean Wesley Smith wrote a blog post about a piece of software he’d like to see, one that could ingest all of his reports and combine them into a single report that he could make sense of. The post seems to be missing now, but a couple of people took him up on it. I didn’t immediately jump on the bandwagon, because other people were already working on it.

But when I saw their solutions, I thought they had some shortcomings. The biggest one is that neither of them thought about what might happen if the writer wrote under multiple pen names. Also, I just didn’t like the UI for either of them.

So I took it upon myself to see what I could do, and twelve long days later, I uploaded version 1.0 of TrackerBox.

When will the next Grim Repo book be out?

I’m going to start writing it November 1st. A couple of writer friends and I agreed to start Dean Wesley Smith’s three novels in three months challenge a month late (and without Dean’s input, of course), and Grim 3 will be the first one. I’m probably going to write four and five for the second and third parts of the challenge. I expect they’ll all be out before the middle of next year.

Mark Fassett writes mostly science fiction and fantasy, but dabbles in other genres when he has no other choice. He lives in western Washington with his wife, children, and cats, and spends free time playing games and making music.

Find Mark at:

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Interview: Marcelle Dubé, on “Backli’s Ford”

Meet Marcelle!

Marcelle Dubé loves speculative fiction and mysteries. In Backli’s Ford, she has created a fascinating alternate history with strong characters, an unusual situation and an alien species stranded on Earth.

Backli’s Ford

In the early 1700s, an A’lle generation ship crashed in the woods of Lower Canada. Survivors stumbled out of the wreckage to find French settlers working the land. While many of the colonists sheltered the injured A’lle, some reacted with fear and loathing. Two centuries later, nothing much has changed.

This is the world Constance A’lle, first A’lle investigator for Lower Canada, must deal with when she investigates the beating death of an A’lle boy in the small village of Backli’s Ford.

Set in 1911, Backli’s Ford follows Constance as she survives an ambush that would have killed a human, fights prejudice in the constabulary, and discovers a terrible secret that risks destroying the delicate balance that has endured for two centuries between A’lle and humans.

Backli’s Ford is the first book in Marcelle’s A’lle Chronicles Mysteries.

The Interview

The fear and discrimination the A’lle face from the humans in Backli’s Ford has parallels to many situations throughout human history where people are faced with someone or something that is ‘different.’ What inspired you to create a world in which an alien race is forced to live among humans, many of whom are not at all welcoming?

It wasn’t intentional. I’m a premise writer – what would happen if…? That’s what happened here. I found myself wondering what would have happened if aliens had crash-landed in Canada when the settlers were setting up a colony? The rest – the prejudice, fear and hatred… and the understanding, compassion and acceptance – well, they came from knowing human nature.

The A’lle Chronicles begin in the early 1700s in Lower Canada. Why did you choose to set the story in this time and place?

I’ve always been fascinated by the early days of Canada. My own ancestors came to Canada from France in the mid-1660s and had to build a life for themselves from practically nothing. It was brutally hard work and the colonists had to help each other if they were to survive. Additionally, the Catholic Church had an overbearing presence in the colony, a presence that ruled the colonists with an iron fist. So, I found myself wondering what would have happened to the colonists–and the Church – if aliens had suddenly appeared? How would people have reacted? And then I wondered what ongoing effect these aliens would have in a society that had to deal with their arrival – assuming the colonists didn’t kill them on sight… Backli’s Ford is actually set in 1911, two hundred years after the A’lle crash landed – plenty of time for adaptation to occur, and biases to develop.

You’ve written many wonderful mysteries, including the Mendenhall Mystery series. What do you enjoy most about writing mysteries?

Figuring out whodunit and why. I never know the answers when I’m starting out. I write to find out. There’s something satisfying about starting from a point of chaos – the murder or crime – and ending with chaos set right. Or right-er.

When does the next book in the A’lle Chronicles come out, and can you give us a sneak peek as to what it’s about?

Plague Year, Book 2 of the A’lle Chronicles, is due out in spring 2018. In this one, Constance A’lle’s sister Gemma comes to Montreal to study nursing, much to Constance’s dismay. This is a dangerous time for the A’lle, especially in Montreal where A’lle have been disappearing, only to be found later, dead. The conspiracy Constance and Chief Investigator Desautel discovered in Backli’s Ford now takes an even more sinister turn, a situation worsened by the emergence of plague in the city.

“The Man in the Mask” is an A’lle Chronicles short story set in the Klondike area of Yukon territory. How does this story tie in with Backli’s Ford, and what made you decide to set it in the Yukon?

I loved the idea that someone would have come searching for the lost A’lle, only to end up as a refugee, too, but at the other end of the country. I live in the Yukon, so it was natural to choose the territory for a dramatic setting. To my surprise, the story ended up with a steampunk flavor (It has airships! In the Yukon!) and a “pulp” feel.

What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about writing it/them?

I’ve just finished the fifth in my Mendenhall Mystery series, featuring Mendenhall Chief of Police Kate Williams. I love Kate and her intrepid constables. Kate is smart and capable, and she has a good sense of humor, which helps with some of the situations in which she finds herself. Every novel has a different adventure, of course, but in this one Kate has to deal with the theft of bull semen and vandalism at a construction site. No title yet–I’m hoping inspiration will strike!

I’m also working on Plague Year, which is well underway, and have plans for at least three more in this series, plus at least one more set in the early years, when the A’lle first arrived. I love this whole juxtaposition of the Quebec I know with the Lower Canada of the stories, altered because of the presence of the A’lle.

And then, there are the short stories. I always seem to be working on one…

Marcelle Dubé writes speculative fiction and mysteries. Her novels include the Mendenhall Mystery series as well as fantasy, science fiction and suspense novels. She lives in the Yukon, where people still outnumber the carnivores, but not by much.

Find Marcelle at:

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