Guest Post: Catching the Muse by Barbara Venkataraman

VenkataramanDeathByDidgeridooFolks, please welcome Barbara Venkataraman to the blog today. I have enjoyed her Jamie Quinn mysteries quite a bit. Check out my reviews of Death by Didgeridoo and The Case of the Killer Divorce. Today, Barbara is going to share a little about herself and then has a fun guest post, Catching the Muse, for us all. But then she has gone beyond that and given us Bittersweet, a short fiction piece, for us to enjoy.

Barbara Venkataraman is an attorney and mediator specializing in family law and debt collection.

She is the author of The Fight for Magicallus, a children’s fantasy; a humorous short story entitled, If You’d Just Listened to Me in the First Place; and two books of humorous essays: I’m Not Talking about You, Of Course and A Trip to the Hardware Store & Other Calamities, which are part of the “Quirky Essays for Quirky People” series. Both books of humorous essays won the prestigious “Indie Book of the Day” award.

Her latest works are Death by Didgeridoo, first in the Jamie Quinn series, The Case of the Killer Divorce, the second Jamie Quinn mystery, and, just out, Peril in the Park, the latest in the popular Jamie Quinn series. Coming soon, Engaged in Danger–the next Jamie Quinn mystery!

 

VenkataramanCaseOfKillerDivorceCatching the Muse

I wish I could tell you how to capture that vixen, the muse, the mythical creature who bestows inspiration–but it’s simply not possible.  She (mine is a she) is a shape-shifter who delights in dancing just out of reach, teasing me with fantastic tales sung in perfect pitch and enviable prose. When she does appear (and I never know when that will be), I must pretend that I can’t see her for fear she’ll leave me.

After countless attempts to conjure her, I’ve discovered that she finds water soothing and will whisper ideas in my ear when I’m swimming, or soaking in a fragrant bath. More importantly, I’ve learned what her favorite drink is. Sometimes, after a strong brew of energizing (and sleep-depriving) coffee, she will magically appear. Then, with a wink and a laugh, she will sit next to me, an ephemeral creature, her gossamer robes tickling my arm, and pluck ideas from my mind as if plucking a lute. Although the music isn’t always beautiful, or even original, it is mine and it flows like the water my muse loves so much.

 

VenkataramPerilInTheParkBittersweet

Who would have thought this could happen to us?  An economic superpower in our day and we never saw it coming.  Okay, that last part isn’t true. They did try to warn us:  the botanists and economists, the climatologists and even those pretentious foodies, damn them! But we refused to believe it.  So spoiled and gluttonous were we that we couldn’t imagine such a vacuum in our lives, couldn’t imagine that one of our greatest pleasures, second only to, well you know, could disappear so suddenly, leaving us in a glassy-eyed stupor.

At first, there seemed to be no cause for alarm.  Sure, a few high-end distributors declared bankruptcy and most of the artisanal boutiques quietly closed down, but that didn’t affect the rest of us. Even as the price started creeping up, we took it in stride, still happily gorging ourselves on a regular basis.  Every holiday was an excuse to buy new varieties created in whimsical shapes or mixed with exotic flavors like hot chili peppers, spicy ginger, aromatic curry powders or edible flowers.

People even ate it on insects!  Now, why would I make that up?  Others drank it in liquid form; some preferred it melted or frozen. Touted for centuries as an energy-booster, an antioxidant, and an aphrodisiac, it was all that and much more.  In fact, some of the wealthiest ladies went to luxury spas so they could bathe in it! Isn’t that decadent? The flavors were so rich and complex that no scientist ever managed to synthesize it in the lab. Believe me, they tried. If I told you its name meant “food of the gods,” maybe you could start to understand the depth of our loss…

In our defense, we had a lot of other problems to worry about. There were no world population councils back then so people could have as many children as they wanted. My own grandparents had twelve kids! The population climbed to 9 billion before we did anything about it. On top of that, the climate was changing and real estate which had been “underwater” due to the housing bubble was now literally underwater. Coastal areas were disappearing, Louisiana was sinking and the popular area known as South Beach was cut off from the mainland forever. At the same time, countries were locked in a massive power struggle over the dwindling supply of fossil fuels.

Is it any wonder we paid no attention to those whining foodies? I mean, they were always complaining about something.  If it wasn’t the shortage of truffle pigs, then it was the ban on pâté de foie gras or the counterfeit caviar flooding the market. Their concerns were so alien to the rest of us plebeians that we tuned them out when we really should have listened to them. Only the Doomsday freaks took them seriously and, naturally, they started hoarding the “food of the gods” because, well, hoarding was what they did best.  Always preparing for the world to end, they saw no sense in going hungry while they waited. It was the hoarding that jacked the price up enough for the world to finally notice.

Outside of our purview, the fragile crops that supplied the delicious elixir were dying from insect infestation, disease, and climate change, and demand was quickly overtaking supply.  Speculators entered the mix and real panic set in.  It became the hottest commodity in the world, even overtaking gold.  Financial markets were so volatile that in West African countries, where the crop was cultivated, ripe pods became the new currency, just like in ancient times.  Black markets sprang up everywhere and nobody could talk about anything else.  Elected officials were besieged by rabid voters demanding immediate action. Riots broke out and the processing factories were looted for raw materials. Even natural disasters couldn’t distract people for very long…

I’m sorry, where was I? You’ll have to forgive me but ever since I reached my 115th sun cycle, my mind has started to wander. Oh, yes, the governments became involved but, of course, they only made things worse. Truthfully, I don’t know if there was anything they could have done anyway. Our best agri-scientists worked around the clock but, in the end, all they could do was bank seeds in all of the master seed banks and watch it play out. In only ten years, all of the crops were utterly decimated, never to return. Even the hoarders and black marketeers eventually reached their last precious morsels. And, because they had no choice, the people of the world adjusted, but there was a sadness that permeated everything, a yearning that would never pass, a taste that could not be forgotten…

I know you’re wondering why I told you this long story, especially today, when we should be celebrating your 21st sun-cycle and eating a feast of the best synth food in town, but you’re my only great-great-granddaughter and I wanted to give you something really special. Yesterday, I went to my Cryo-storage unit to get your gift so that it would thaw out in time.  Here, please take this and remember to savor every bite:  it’s like nothing you’ve ever eaten before and nothing you will ever eat again. Yes, it is a curious shape, it’s meant to resemble an animal that’s now extinct; it was called a rabbit.  I hope you don’t mind if I watch you take a bite, it would give me great pleasure. Oh no, please don’t cry! Like life, chocolate isn’t meant to last. Only the joy of experiencing it lingers on.

Places to Find Barbara Venkataraman

Blog

Goodreads

Amazon

VenkataramanTripToHardwareStore

Interview: James Maxey, Author of Bad Wizard

MaxeyGreatshadowHeldigFolks, it is with great pleasure that I have James Maxey visiting today. I have enjoyed several of his books such as Nobody Gets the Girl, Hush, and Greatshadow. His latest book, Bad Wizard, is also pretty freaking awesome. Interviewing him was truly entertaining for me and I expect you shall be entertained as well. Enjoy!

Myths and beliefs that we would consider fiction or fantasy in modern literature once upon a time shaped history (think of all the hunts for  unicorns & dragons). Do you see modern fantasy fiction affecting  human cultures today and how?

You only have to turn on the TV to see that fantasy is permeating our culture. I mean, ABC has an oxymoronic “fantasy reality” show called The Quest. It’s jocks and models running around pretending to be paladins and talking about how to fight dragons. High fantasy has definitely moved out of the geeky, nerdy niche it used to occupy into the mainstream. That said, I think there’s a distinction between fantasy fiction shaping popular culture and enduring fantasy beliefs still deeply rooted in our core culture. The elves and goblins and witches of past eras have morphed into the Men-in-Black and ETs and psychic advisers of the modern age.

MaxeyBadWizardIf you could, what book/movie/TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

This is a terrific question because, as it happens, I’ve been going back in recent years and reading a lot of classic novels that I first experienced as a child or teenager. Sometimes, my differing perspective now that I’m 50 years old lets me see the true power of a work that was perhaps lost on me when I was younger. Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea meant nothing to me when I was 15. Now, I get it.

That said, I sometimes wish I could travel back in time and regain the sense of wonder I had when I first experienced some of my favorite works. For instance, in my late teens/early 20s, when I first read Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, I thought it was the best comic book ever written. When I reread it recently, though, I was surprised at how simplistic and one dimensional it seemed. The reliance on talking heads on TVs to deliver page after page of backstory was kind of grating. This isn’t to say that The Dark Knight Returns wasn’t an absolutely amazing and groundbreaking comic in it’s time. It’s just that part of the power was it’s freshness, the fact it hadn’t been done before. But after three decades of people imitating it, it’s lost it’s power to amaze me on a reread.

MaxeyNobodyGetsTheGirlOver the years, are the changes in society reflected in today’s villains and heroes?

There are obviously traits a hero might have possessed at one time that would render him creepy now. Randal McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was an idealized free spirit who couldn’t be made to conform to a corrupt society. But, reading the book today, the horrible misogyny of the character makes it difficult to root for him. And if you ever go back and read the original Tarzan books, the underlying racism will leave you cringing. On the flip side, at one point it was acceptable to hint that a character was homosexual if you wanted to make him seem villainous. Now, you’d be more likely to see homosexuality presented as a sympathetic trait.

Of course, the biggest change is probably in the proportion of male and female protagonists. Female protagonists were once restricted to romances and children’s books. Today, a book like The Hunger Games can give us a complex female action hero who has a role to play in the world other than falling in love.

MaxeyHushWafflesWhat biographies of the creators of your favorite genres do you want to  read? Are there lesser known creators that still need a biography?

Hmm… I honestly don’t read that much about other writers and creators. Until this moment, I don’t think I’ve even noticed it as a gap in my education. I’ve always engaged with authors through their books. Their personal histories, politics, etc., don’t hold much interest for me.

What has been your worst or most difficult job? How does it compare to writing?

Bill collector. Ug, that was just horrible, hounding people for money. It doesn’t compare well with writing. It doesn’t compare well with anything. Back when I was a bill collector, I stopped at a fast food restaurant and as I was leaving an old man in dirty clothes came up to me carrying bags of fast food and asked if he could get a ride back to his house, since he’d just picked up dinner for his kids. I said sure. When he got in my car, he said he was happy to be in air conditioning, that the sun had been killing him all day. I asked what he did for a living and he said he swept parking lots. He asked me my job, and I told him I was a bill collector. He wrinkled his nose, shook his head, and said, “I would never do that.”

MaxeyBitterwoodWho/what are your non-writer influences?

Music plays a huge part in fueling my creativity. The Mountain Goats, Rasputina, The Dresden Dolls, The Decemberists… I’ve always got a soundtrack running through my head. Keen readers will be able to spot song titles and other references woven into my books and stories.

My biggest non-writer influence, if I may be a bit pretentious, is reality. Seriously, I absorb every odd little fact I can find about biology, geology, archeology, history, politics, food, art… you name it. I’ve read books devoted to the history of salt, and came away with a greater understanding of the world. For me, all good fiction–especially fantasy fiction–has to be built on a foundation of knowing as much as possible about the real world.

What reboots (or retellings) of classics have you enjoyed? Are there ones that haven’t worked for you?

I have the same answer for both! The greatest example ever of classics adapted and given new life has to be Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The worst example ever of something adapted and utterly mangled has to be the movie version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

MaxeyWitchbreakerIf you could go enjoy a meal in a fictional world, where would that be, and what would you eat?

Easy! I’d go to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe and nibble on whatever food came by to offer a taste.

If you were asked to create the syllabus for a college class in SFF literature, what books would be on there as required  reading? As passing discussion?

I could do an entire semester on H. G. Wells. The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, and The Island of Dr. Moreau are amazing books that stand up well to modern literary tastes. Wells was an amazing visionary, and even though he was working from a lot of flawed assumptions (for instance, thinking that Mars could support life), you still see his fundamental grasp of how the world works. It’s not a cop-out that microbes defeat the Martians in The War of the Worlds. He understood that humans weren’t the true pinnacle of earthly life–single celled organisms are the earth’s true dominant life form.

MaxeyDragonforgeCare to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment, either  one where someone was gushing over your work…..or one where you were  gushing over another author’s work?

So, back in 2012, I was invited by Orson Scott Card to help teach one of his writing classes. Of course I said yes. As it happened, my novel Greatshadow had just come out, and I thought, hmm, I’ll take him a copy and maybe he’ll read it and say something nice about it eventually. But, when we got together, he’d not only already read the book, he’d already given it a glowing review online! That was a big thrill.

I would say that one of by biggest geek out fanboy moments came when I met John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats. He’d just done a concert and I was leaving the venue and, suddenly, there he was, just standing on the sidewalk out front. I went up and told him how much I’d enjoyed the show, asked him a few questions about some of his older albums, and left feeling a bit magical. I felt as if I’d just run into a unicorn or something.

MaxeyDragonseedWhat is a recurring or the most memorable geeky argument or debate you have taken part in?

Oh lord. From the age of 11 to sometime last week, my cousin Tony and I could argue endless about who was stronger, Thor or the Hulk, and sometimes take the argument to another level by bringing in Superman.

But, by far, the geekiest thing I’d ever heard discussed was in the hall at ConCarolina’s. A group of geeks were discussing their favorite podcasts, and one of the guys said that such and such show was his favorite World of Warcraft podcast. This caught my attention and I said, “Favorite implies you listen to more than one. Just how many World of Warcraft podcasts can there be?” Dozens, I was informed. But most weeks he only listened to three. I consider myself a pretty big geek, but, damn, that’s hardcore.

Places to Stalk James Maxey

Goodreads

The Prophet and The Dragon blog

Jawbone of an Ass blog

Amazon

 

Revenge of the Simians by Thomas Weston

WestonRevengeOfSimiansWhy I Read It: I enjoy stories about animals evolving to the point where they can collectively compete with humanity for supremacy.

Where I Got It: Review copy via Audiobook Monthly (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: If you have been searching for a grittier version of Planet of the Apes or The Rats of NIMH, check this out.

Narrator: David Dietz

Publisher: Thomas Weston (2014)

Length: 5 hours 55 minutes

Author’s Page

Francine and Wayne work at a medical research facility. Their jobs pay the bills, keep them fed, and suck their souls away. They are the ones to work closely with the experimental & experimented on animals – feeding them, cleaning up after them, and strapping them down for further tests and injections. Meanwhile, the upper crust of the research facility loan out their militarized experiments to the military, who in turn, run covert ops that bring about political chaos in chosen cities and countries. If that alone were not enough to keep the readers entertained, Thomas Weston takes the story a step farther when the simians start thinking for themselves, organizing, and challenging the authority of humans.

This story started off strong, with Fran and Wayne sympathetic to the apes they worked with but also feeling they were trapped in their current jobs due to financial burdens. Plus we had little snippets of the various military uses the apes were being put to. Then there are also the apes themselves, sporting names like Ishtar, Marduk, and Emond. They have character, desires, motivations. We also have some immediate bad guys that are great to hate on, such as some of the lead research scientists who are sadists when it comes to their simian experiments.

Even though the story is speckled throughout with various conspiracy theories and political commentaries, I was able to set those aside for the story. Many of the characters stayed true to their motivations throughout the story, except for Francine and Wayne. They went from sympathetic to highly selfish to chaotic evil and the transitions weren’t particularly clear. While there are a fair number of female characters in this story, by and large, they are being led around by the males, instead of making independent decisions and actions. There is a notable exception late in the story with Francine, but the whole scenario stretched the creditability of the story (if I go into detail, I give way part of the ending, so I won’t).

While I really like the plot idea of apes taking over the world, I felt that the main research facility sported too few of the simians to get the job done. Perhaps if the author had expanded the numbers in some plausible way, this would have made the final outcome of the novel plausible. Also, the apes use a kind of biowarfare towards the end and the idea that the humans wouldn’t catch on in time to control or even outright stop such an outbreak was not believable.

Overall, it is short enough to be a fun, gritty read for those who enjoy this niche science fiction. However, if you are looking for a great piece of literature to hold up and say, ‘Hey, it really could happen!’, this is not it. If you are easily insulted, then do note that the main characters sooner or later hit on nearly every major group that you can insult – woman, homosexual, democrat, republican, etc. I think this was done to reflect the small-minded nature of many of the characters and are not necessarily a reflection of the author’s views on the world. I don’t know if you will be cheering for anyone by the end of the book, but it was the same for me with Brave New World, one of my all time favorite classics.

The Narration: David Dietz did a good job of narrating this tale. He had to come up with a variety of ape voices, in both male and female, while keeping them all distinct. I am sure the ape voices put a lasting bur into Dietz’s voice.

What I Liked: Basic plot; book cover for Kindle edition; good set up for story; decent ending in general.

What I Disliked: Some of the characters changed too quickly without enough of a reason given; the women were definitely secondary to the male characters; the plot made some big stretches towards the end so that the story was unbelievable in certain places; the audiobook cover (very dull).

Knot in Time by Alan Tucker

Book, beer, cat - I'm good to go.

Book, beer, cat – I’m good to go.

Why I Read It: A fun time-travel romp, why not?

Where I Got It: Won a copy from the author (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Like your time travel to have cool tech, aliens, alternate endings, and maniacal spiders? Then check this out!

Publisher: Mad Design Inc. (2012)

Length: 302 pages

Series: Book 1 Tales of Uncertainty

Author’s Page

Dare (short for Darius) is a 19 year old high school drop out working as a janitor when he is first approached by the Keepers, who are there to keep time running smoothly. First contact doesn’t go so well, and even second and third contact don’t go so well. But eventually, Dare is swept up into a space ship with time traveling capability. M’sang, a rather enormous hamster alien, takes on training Dare, along with the ship’s artificial intelligence, Kim. After some hard knocks in the training ring, Dare is sent on his first mission with some cool gadgetry. And then he runs up against Hope, who is working for another team of time travelers, and she doesn’t hold back.

As the adventure continues, we end up on a future moon that has a small but tenacious population in a sprawling base. For a while, Dare isn’t sure who to trust – Have M’sang and Kim been using him, misleading him? Is Hope right in her efforts to preserve a thread of time she considers to be the right one? To add to his confusion, Lauri, a bio-engineered young lady, enters the mix, along with her substitute father figure, Dr. Lansing. The moon base takes on a deadly personality when a genetic experiment (Hans, a rather large and very intelligent, nearly indestructible spider) is let out to play. Plus there’s all those hamster aliens wanting to invade the base. Yep, Dare has plenty of knots to untangle.

I had a lot of fun with this book. Dare often tosses out quips and references to 80s and90s movies, making little cultural touchstones for the readers. He’s a likeable kid, even if he does come off as too much of a good guy at times. But this feeds into his naivete as he always falls for the damsel in distress. The book pings back and forth from humor to action to mystery to occasional violence. It’s a good balance insuring the reader is never bored or feels the need to hurry through a section to get back to the good parts.

The time travel element is well done, being mostly used as a mechanism to tell the story and not getting hung up on the physics behind such a possibility. The characters were easy to connect with. The bad guys had enough variation that some I wanted dead in horrid ways while others I sympathized with a bit. I especially liked M’sang, his gruffness, his ability to toss Dare around the martial arts room. The mental image of Dare being thrown down by a large, irate hamster gave me the giggles more than once.

There’s only a few females in this novel (Kim, Hope, Lauri, any others?) and two of the three are very attractive. In fact, was one a sex worker early in her career. My one criticism is that I would have liked to see a greater variation in the female characters, as we do with the male characters. Over all, a very entertaining read and I definitely look forward to reading more works by this author.

What I Liked: The big hamster has got some serious moves; Dare was a fun POV for the story; maniacal Hans!; good balance of action, humor, and serious moments; the cover is stunning.

What I Disliked: There are few female characters and they are first introduced as hot, sexy things and later get to be a little more.

What Others Think:

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Dark Taste of Rapture by Gena Showalter

ShowalterDarkTasteOfRaptureWhy I Read It: I have enjoyed other Alien Huntress books.

Where I Got It: Review copy from the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: If you enjoy heavily armed sexy alien half breeds, check this series out.

Narrator: Sebastian York

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2014)

Length: 11 hours 39 minutes

Series: Book 6 Alien Huntress

Author’s Page

Note: Even though this is Book 6, it works fine as a stand alone.

Our two heroes of the story, Noelle Tremain & Hector Dean, each have deep, dark secrets and these secrets keep them separated for much of the book. They first meet at AIR (an acronym for the organization that hunts down misbehaving aliens on Earth) boot camp – Noelle is a trainee not expected to graduate and Dean is a bald, badass instructor who gives her no quarter. While we get a little time at boot camp, the story then jumps ahead several months to where Noelle is graduated, badged, and on the streets kicking ass. A prominent businessman dies in a nasty fashion and Noelle and Hector are paired up to fight evil, the kind of evil trafficking in slaves.

This was another fun romp in the Alien Huntress series. The bad guys deserved a messy end, the good guys were sassy and dedicated, the tech was fun, and the sex scenes were sizzling. For much of the book, Noelle and her gal pal Eva provide plenty of snarky comedic relief. Everyone needs a friend like Eva who will tell you when you’re an idiot and threaten to smash the face in of anyone else who says it. Plus, she’s rather petite and travels well in a duffel bag. ;)

Hector Dean has plenty of hang ups. His childhood was pretty gritty and he carries the guilt of having killed other children when he lashed out in pain, anger, and despair as a kid himself. Oh, and he has very sensitive arms. Yes, he has this wee little issue of setting things ablaze and turning people to ash whenever he feels a strong emotion, such as anger, fear, arousal. So he hasn’t really made time with the fairer sex. For years now I have believed that male virginity was a highly under rated quality in our society and I very much enjoyed how Showalter employed this aspect of Dean’s character.

Noelle comes from a rich family, and one that has dismissed her as frivolous and useless (except as a trophy daughter) for years. Her decision to become an AIR agent and work for a living, of course, deeply embarrasses much of her family. She too has her secrets and one of them concerns her ability to withstand painful torture with a smile and snarky remark.

The plot was fun, with Dean & Tremain closing in on the slavers, and then losing them again, only to come close yet again. In fact, it somewhat mirrored their own burgeoning relationship. As one moves forward, the other pulls away, and so forth. The draw between the two is palpable, creating plenty of tension for the reader. My one little criticism concerns Hector and his supposed lack of creativity when it comes to having sex without using his hands or arms. Let’s say Hector started thinking about girls when he was 15 and let’s say he is in his mid-20s for this book. Well, he’s had 10+ years to consider how to pleasure a woman and/or himself. Yet, he is rather daunted by how to go about this in the book, at first at least. He’s a planner, always considering possibilities, so I would think that he would have imagined how to get to business. And if he couldn’t imagine it, well there are plenty of videos out there.

But once we finally get Noelle and Hector locked in a room together, sparks do fly. Don’t worry readers, Showalter doesn’t leave you feeling unsatisfied with this book.

The Narration: Sebastian York did a very good job. He had several characters, some with accents, to pull off and they all came across as distinct.

What I Liked: Cool fancy tech; aliens and their powers; the sexual tension between the main characters; Eva’s stalwart friendship; the sex scenes.

What I Disliked: It was a little unbelievable that Hector had not figured out how to do the deed without using his hands and arms; the image on the cover seems to have odd proportions to me, especially in the upper arm to lower arm ratio.

What Others Think:

Red Hot Books

RT Book Reviews

Fiction Vixen

Lost In Literature

Ramblings From A Chaotic Mind

Interview & Giveaway: Anika Arrington, Author of The Accidental Apprentice

ArringtonAccidentalApprenticeFolks, please give Anika Arrington a warm welcome. She’s here to chat about her book, The Accidental Apprentice, and plenty of amusing things, such as Firefly, great food, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, and the need for sleep.If you’re interested in the giveaway, scroll to the bottom.

From your own writings, are there any characters you would like to cosplay?

Madame Falstead would be fun, with her wicked cane and crazy red hair. I’m even the perfect build if a bit taller than she is. There are aspects of her character that are slightly autobiographical as well, so I think slipping into her shoes for a day would be rather comfortable.

What reboots (or retellings) of classics have you enjoyed? Are there ones that haven’t worked for you?

Well, I’ve loved both of the Sherlock Holmes reboots. Downey Jr. and Cumberbatch both do incredible things with the character, and their Watsons are equally brilliant. Honestly, I now want to go watch the first episode of Sherlock season 3 just thinking about it. So stinking hilarious!

As far as remixes not working, while nothing specific jumps to mind besides Disney’s Maleficent (which wasn’t awful or anything), I’m not thrilled with the modern trend of bringing a story back around to make the bad guys merely misunderstood. I think every writer who has studied at least a little understands the value of having an antagonist that people relate to or sympathize with, but that doesn’t make them the good guy. If you are willing/capable of killing people or destroying civilizations to get what you want, then you are a bad person. And I like stories where the good guys win. Maybe not in the way you expect and not without loss and sacrifice, but the bad guy is the bad guy and the good guys (while not necessarily perfect) need to win in the end.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you chose to do?

I am a mom of 6, so if I wasn’t writing I know my time would fill up quickly, and that would be just fine with me. I toyed with the idea of going to culinary school to become a pastry chef, but I don’t think the hectic world of the professional kitchen is for me. And I love physics, but my brain doesn’t hold onto formulae in the way that’s required to play with the cosmos. My list of interests goes on for miles, actually, but the only thing I have ever been able to stick with and play with is the written word. Although I was rather good at charcoal drawing. . . .

As a published author, what non-writing/reading activities would you recommend to aspiring authors?

That is a trick question as all activity relates to writing or reading in some way. But in the spirit of the question: Cook!! Or at the very least, Eat!! Make it a truly visceral experience every time you sit down to a meal. Take in the scents and pick them apart in your head. Savor the mouth-feel of every bite. Let the flavors move you. And then when you sit down to the page let that same act of observation permeate every scene. A huge part of the “show-don’t-tell” aspect of writing is just taking observation to the next level. I am still learning and struggling to apply the concept, but all close observation feeds creative endeavors. Walk in a natural setting, and notice the smallest details of the life around you. Watching cloud shapes. Go to museums: art, historical, natural history, science. Listen to music., with a careful ear for melody, harmony, and lyrics. And love people. Engage with your family, co-workers, neighbors, and friends as often as possible, and I don’t mean on social media. Listen to people. Listen to the way they talk as well as what they say. Learn how to read between the lines so that your characters will never have to say insipid things.

FreemanMechanizedWhat were you like as a kid? Did your kid-self see you being a writer?

Ha, if anything my kid self knew it better than my adolescent and early adult self did. I memorized stories at the age of three and one of my parents favorite party tricks was to hand me a book and let their friends stare in awe as their three year old “read” herself a story. I would draw pictures and make up the stories that went with them. And I have always told myself stories in my head at night to put myself to sleep. I was pretty nerdy from the get go, but in a fairly out-going way. I was 6th grade student council president, lead (or at least I tended to have the most lines) in the school plays, and I spent my recesses in the library’s non-fiction section reading books about sharks, spiders, how to draw horses, whatever struck my fancy. And my kid self really wanted to be a doctor until I realized I am one of those people that can’t handle blood.

If you could sit down and have tea (or a beer) with 5 fictional characters, who would you invite to the table?

Root beers and hot chocolate all around for Samwise Gamgee, Charlotte Doyle, Meg and Jo March, Neville Longbottom and The Weasleys, and Anne Elliot from Jane Austen’s Persuasion. (Hey, I’m a writer. I never said I could count.)

What do you do when you are not writing?

Did I mention my six children? The oldest is 8 years old this month, so yeah. . . . I love to be in the kitchen if my previous response didn’t make that evident. I love listening to baseball on the radio during the season (Go D-backs!). Watching it on tv makes me mad, no idea why. And I do like going to the movies. I don’t get to the theater as often as I would like, but that’s what Redbox is for, right? There are even things that I don’t do with my time that I miss, like going to art museums, concerts, practicing the piano and Japanese. As a parent (mom or dad) you give up things to make sure the family runs smooth. Oh and sleep, I miss sleep.

Side characters can make or break a story. What side characters have you enjoyed in other works? What side characters in your own work have caught more attention than you expected?

I’ve always been of the mind that the side characters are where it’s at. Wash from Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” series was my favorite. In fact, nearly every time Alan Tudyk appears on screen his character ends up stealing the show for me. Neville Longbottom is my favorite character from the Harry Potter series, particularly the way Matthew Lewis played him in the films. He grows so much and develops as a character in really great ways, you just can’t help cheering for him in the end.

As far as The Accidental Apprentice goes, Crispin stands out as a sneaky B-character who runs off with most of the scenes he’s in. He’s so funny and tenacious and I just want to ruffle his blonde curls. I’m looking forward to making him a point of view character in the sequel.

Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

Barring anything unforeseen, I will be at the Chandler Author Walk in Chandler, Arizona on November 21st. I’ll be selling and signing copies of The Accidental Apprentice and Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology. I’d like to add a few more, but we’ll see. I’m hoping to start work on Accidental’s sequel in January. And of course, any events I am attending can be found on my website, www.anikasantics.com.

The Accidental Apprentice by Anika Arrington

The Accidental Apprentice by Anika Arrington

The Accidental Apprentice by Anika Arrington

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The Accidental Apprentice by Anika Arrington

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Interview: Gabi Stevens, Author of The Wish List

StevensTheWishListEveryone, please welcome Gabi Stevens to the blog today. She is the author of the Time of Transition series. She also writes under the name Gabi Anderson (Destiny Coin series) and G. S. Anderson (Preternatural). Today we discuss Harry Potter and Cinderella, Star Wars I and backstory, game shows, reboots versus retellings, and plenty more!

Who are your non-writer influences?

Dare I be cliché and say my family? Okay, now that that’s behind us . . . I have to thank the teachers in my life who taught me how to think and dream, especially in high school. I went to boarding school and not only did those teachers see us in the classroom, but they also lived with us on campus. We ate meals with them, I babysat their children, etc. They introduced me to Sci Fi and Fantasy novels.

StevensAsYouWishWhich ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?

Ooo, confession time. I haven’t read Dickens. I know. Shocking. But I will, one day. I’ve really never read Hemmingway, but I know the plots, and I just don’t want to. Okay, I have read The Old Man and the Sea, but none of the others. Steinbeck is another author I’ve never read. I tried to read The Red Pony once, but, well, no. I only kick myself for the Dickens. I haven’t read all of The Canterbury Tales or any of Beowulf, but I can claim to have read part of The Aeneid in Latin, as well as some Livy, Tacitus, and Palutus’s Menaechmi. And I can claim Faust, parts one and two in German. (Too much bragging?)

What reboots (or retellings) of classics have you enjoyed? Are there ones that haven’t worked for you?

If you subscribe to the Joseph Campbell school of thought, there is only one story, so essentially every story is a reboot. That said, I loved Harry Potter (books more than movies, although I loved the movies too), which is essentially Cinderella. I myself have written a couple of Beauty and the Beast stories (one of my favorites). If you can’t tell, I love fairy tales (must be my German Lit background). I enjoy most of the new retellings of them–although no one has ever tackled my favorite, King Thrushbeard (or Grislybeard, as some have translated it, although the point of Thrushbeard is that the king’s beard looks like the beak of a bird).

StevensWishfulThinkingI’m not as fond of reboots. If it was good before, why remake it? Psycho? Really? And not enough time has passed to reboot some of the series (Could be that I’m just old). Dare I confess I haven’t seen the new Spiderman reboots? Planet of the Apes? Mad Max, ignoring the modern incarnation of Mel Gibson, is pretty awesome already. So what if it’s dated. That’s part of its charm. And clearly, the new one is not out yet, but did we really need a new one? There are so many untouched stories out there, why remake something that’s already been done and done well? But of course there are exceptions. I can’t wait for a good Hulk movie. And (I know this is controversial) I do like the reboot of Star Trek (but I loved the old series). But if they have to reboot, why not pick the really old stuff, like the Thin Man series. But my favorite is the reboot of Sherlock Holmes in the BBC’s Sherlock (huge fan of this reboot).

There is this rumor that you have been on a few game shows – an experience worth repeating? What would your favorite characters from your own writing be like on a game show?

I have indeed. I was on the Family Feud with the women in my family when Richard Dawson was the host. We won twice then lost the third time, but only won the “Big Money” once. So many tales to tell from that experience, especially since two of our members had heavy Hungarian accents.

Then I appeared on Sale of the Century, and lost it in a tiebreaker because they said tiebreakers would be hard questions– it was easy, and by the time I thought, “But that’s easy,” the other guy had answered.

AndersonTemptation'sWarriorBut my favorite was on Jeopardy, where I came in third, but won the best set of pots and pans ever. No, seriously, they will be handed down to my children, the quality is that good. And I was doing great until Final Jeopardy. To myself I was chanting, “Don’t be US presidents, don’t be US Presidents”, and up pops the category: US Presidents. Man, the day before (because you watch several tapings while you wait) no one got the Final Jeopardy question right (What does Alice cross in “Through the Looking Glass?), and I was sitting in the audience screaming to myself because I knew it. My question: The last surviving president to have signed the US Constitution. Really?

So if my characters would be on game shows my characters, Tennyson Ritter, hero of THE WISH LIST, would do awesome on something like Jeopardy, but horrible on something like Family Feud. He’s got brains, but he just doesn’t have the exposure to the real world to answer questions about how other people would answer. Jonathan Bastion, hero of AS YOU WISH, is too savvy a businessman not to know how people respond to things, so Family Feud would be his game. And Hyacinth, one of the Fairy Godmothers who appear in the entire trilogy, couldn’t be bothered to do something like a game show. She would probably watch them and mock the contestants that appeared on them.

What is your favorite fictional holiday (from books, movies, or tv)?

Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19th) is my favorite, closely followed by May the Fourth (Star Wars day!).

AndersonFalconAndWolfHow did you celebrate that first time experience of having a piece accepted for publication?

That was fun. I bought my daughters little tokens—one got a Pocket Dragon (porcelain figurine) reading a book, one got items for her Josefina doll, and I just can’t remember what I got the youngest. I bought my husband a ping pong table, which has since gone the way of the dinosaur. For myself, I bought a tiny Swarovski crystal inkwell with gold quill. When I got the call my husband was in the air, flying to Britain, so I had to leave a message at his hotel to call me as soon as he arrived with the words, “Good news” so he wouldn’t panic upon arrival. My two oldest daughters jumped up and down, and my youngest just looked up at me and said, “Chocolate milk.” Way to bring me down to reality quickly, but she was only four.

If you could sit down and have dinner with 5 dead authors, who would you invite to the table? What would they order?

Mark Twain, Isaac Asimov, Edgar Allan Poe, L. Frank Baum, and Agatha Christie. But I would order for them–tacos, enchiladas, burritos, chips and salsa, margaritas, green chile, and sopapillas. They need to be exposed to the food from where I’m from. Especially the margaritas. Can you imagine the conversation we could have after a couple?

AndersonEverYoursIf you were asked to create the syllabus for a college class in SFF literature, what books would be on there as required reading? As passing discussion?

How about for your 8th grade students?

I already did give my eighth graders SFF literature. Not only did we read a bunch of short stories—Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder,” “There Will Come Soft Rains”; Asimov’s Nightfall; Stephen Vincent Benet’s By the Waters of Babylon; but we also read the entire I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.

As for college, here is my list of must reads: Stranger in a Strange Land, The Stars My Destination, A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Martian Chronicles, The Foundation Series, The Lord of the Rings, Doomsday Book, Lord Foul’s Bane,…I know I’ve forgotten a ton.

Care to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment, either one where someone was gushing over your work…..or one where you were gushing over another author’s work?

When isn’t such a moment awkward? When I’m the one doing the gushing, I figure I’m bothering the author. I had a chance to meet Brent Weeks last year and his wife and their little girl and all I could talk about was child rearing. And when someone gushes to me, I always wonder why? I’m not that good (did you know that most writers are terribly insecure).

AndersonPreternaturalWhat is a recurring or the most memorable geeky argument or debate you have taken part in?

When my husband and I watched Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, we spent two hours discussing the movie at the end. We are both huge Star Wars fans (the original series, and Han shot first) and we didn’t like it. What it boiled down to for me was it was all backstory. As a writer you’re taught not to dump backstory on the reader. Yes, you give hints to what happened in the past, but unless it’s relevant, you don’t need backstory. SW I, II, and III are all backstory. I didn’t need to know why Anakin turned bad. I already knew he had and that he was redeemed. Funny, considering I usually like spoilers, but the difference between spoilers and backstory is huge.

Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

I am currently working on shopping around my first pure fantasy novel. I’ll keep you posted. In addition, I’ve got a story collection, Preternatural, on Kindle and Nook under the name GS Anderson, which is receiving some great reviews (Phew). Look for me and news about me at my web site: www.GabiStevens.com. You can also find me at Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

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