Interview: Kim McMahill, Author of A Dose of Danger

McMahillADoseOfDangerFolks, please give a warm welcome to Kim McMahill.We chat about Wyoming, snakes, how to win at an obstacle course, and plenty more! Enjoy!

How does modern pop culture influence your work? Do modern cultural references date a piece or add touchstones for the reader?

My stories are generally set in the present and several are even futuristic, so it’s impossible not to be influenced by modern pop culture in order to write realistic stories. In my latest novel, A Dose of Danger, a researcher believes she’s found a miracle weight loss supplement. In the U.S. the diet product industry is a 40 to 100 billion dollar a year industry, driven by the need of many to conform to social pressures to be thin or strive for a trendy look. We’re constantly deluged by what the perfect body image should be and the latest fad promising to deliver. But what if we were all thin and fit? Those invested in the diet product industry might not be too excited to see their profits disappear.

Modern cultural references definitely date books. Ten years from now that diet supplement might actually exist, so the plot no longer delves into a “what if” scenario. But hopefully the overall story is strong enough that it really doesn’t matter and the reader will see it as a touchstone, not an outdated story. Sometimes when I read an older book I get those nostalgic, “oh I remember that” feelings, and the memories evoked only make the story more enjoyable.

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

During summer breaks throughout high school I cleaned motel rooms. There’s no comparison. Writing novels can take me on any grand adventure I can dream up and I get to share those stories with the world. The only thing I dreamed of when cleaning motel rooms was being done, and I seldom wanted to share any of those adventures with anyone.

McMahillMarkedInMexicoDo you have any phobias?

I can’t even look at snakes when I go to the zoo or I’ll likely have nightmares. We didn’t have a lot of snakes where I grew up in Wyoming, but we did have rattlesnakes. The up side was that my dad let my sister and I have all the cats we wanted since keeping the rodents (common snake prey) away from the house and barn also kept the snakes away.

When trekking through Khao Yai National Park in Thailand every time our guide stopped to show us a flower or mushroom, my heart nearly stopped. They have some seriously poisonous snakes in Thailand. Finally my husband asked the guide to quit pointing excitedly at the ground, because every time he did I was sure it was a cobra.

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

I absolutely loved The Lord of the Rings Trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novels. I re-watch my DVDs at least once a year, sometimes more. I wasn’t quite as excited about The Hobbit, and it was definitely a bad idea to mess with The Wizard of Oz.

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

Kids that grow up in the country tend to be self-entertaining and often very creative, and I was no different. We only had about four channels of antenna television, so sitting around the house wasn’t an option. I had a pony, but no tricycle since those aren’t conducive to dirt roads, and dogs and cats for companions. When I got a little older I had a mini-bike. My sister and I would ride around the hills behind the house exploring all the gullies and rises all day. I loved to downhill ski, which I find ironic now since I’ve grown to dislike the cold. How did I stay out all day, seldom stopping for lunch, not wanting to miss a moment on the slopes?

I never thought about being a writer, but I should have known that’s where I’d end up. I had an active imagination as a kid, and I guess I still do. I love adventure and discovering new places. Now, whenever I can’t get out on the road, I can always read a book or write one and uncover something new and exciting.

McMahillShroudedInSecretsWhat do you do when you are not writing?

I enjoy gardening and spending time outdoors in the summers, reading and jigsaw puzzles in the winter, and traveling as much as I can whenever I can. I also enjoy tennis, playing and watching professional matches, and following my Wyoming Cowboys!

What is the first book you remember reading on your own?

I don’t remember which specific story was first or my favorite, but I do remember a book of fairy tales that I absolutely loved. I read each story over and over until I wore the book out.

You have to run an obstacle course. Who do you invite along (living or dead, real or fictional)? Will there be a tasty libation involved?

That’s a tough one. Jack, in Marked In Mexico, is full of surprising skills which came in handy while eluding drug dealers in the Mexican jungle, and Logan in A Dose of Danger is not only smoking hot, but he will do whatever it takes to get the job done, against the odds and a host of professional assassins. But, Dirk Pitt has been part of my reading life for decades. He can get out of any situation, anywhere. I can’t tell you how many times he’s saved the world. Regardless of who participates in the obstacle course there would likely be libations. Dirk loves a fine tequila, Jack has also been known to dabble in the drink, and Logan will go with whatever the situation calls for.

McMahillADoseOfDangerBlurb for A Dose of Danger:

When researcher Grace Talbot and her team discover a possible solution for weight loss they are targeted by a group dedicated to controlling the multi-billion dollar a year diet-product industry. Her unsanctioned testing methods bring tragedy to the family ranch and the attention of the local sheriff’s deputy. With her colleagues either dead, missing, or on the run she soon realizes she must trust the deputy with her life, but can she trust him with her heart?

McMahillMarkedInMexicoBlurb for Marked in Mexico:

An idyllic Caribbean vacation turns deadly when hostages are taken at one of Mexico’s most popular Mayan ruins. The kidnappers believe the abduction will be a simple way to negotiate the release of a colleague from a Texas prison, but the stakes become much higher when they realize one of their hostages is the daughter of a powerful U.S. Senator and another, an ex-Army Ranger who has no intention of playing by the rules. After a daring escape the Senator’s daughter, Jessica, and the ex-Ranger, Jack, must endure a terrifying manhunt and a desperate fight for survival. While trying to stay alive in the unforgiving jungle they forge a bond that will last a lifetime and find love neither wanted, but were unable to avoid.

Places to Find Kim McMahill



Author Website

Author Blog


Interview: Kelly Michelle Baker, Author of The Waters of Nyra

BakerTheWatersOfNyraVol1Folks, please give a warm welcome to author Kelly Michelle Baker. We spend some quality time talking about one of my favorite things – biology! But we also chat about some of my other favorite things like Harry Potter, fantasy authors, Ken Follett’s World Without End, and plenty more. 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?

Books are time capsules. They often reflect the era in which they were written. If Tolkien were to compose The Lord of the Rings today, would it be different? Maybe not the core messages, but the setting and characters might have subtle 2015 traits vs. the 1930’s and 40’s. Hobbits shaped a world far outside Middle Earth. It’s become an almost tangible piece of civilization, still pervasive over 60 years later. Tolkien’s an outstanding example, but far from alone. Take Harry Potter. The boy wizard turned non-readers into bibliophiles and put adults in the children’s section of Barnes and Nobel. Everyone knows Harry. It’s been almost 20 years since The Philosopher’s Stone was first published yet it’s the gift that keeps on giving; an upcoming stage play, a spin-off film franchise, bonus publications by Rowling through the online interface Pottermore, etc. Fans are just as jazzed as ever (myself included). Where we’d be without Harry is hard to envision. Personally, I think the explosion of young adult readerships would be a bit paler. Cash-cows like Twilight, The Hunger Games, Divergent, Unwind, and The Maze Runner would exist but, without flying on Harry’s coattails (or Nimbus 2000), be far less lucrative.

If you were sent on a magical quest which other 4 fantasy authors would you take with you?

1) David Clement-Davies. I went with him on a Kickstarter quest once, but perhaps one day we can do something more exciting. He too writes about dragons. David has one of those lyrical voices caught between prose and poetry, and he can play it out through animals. He weaves dark worlds and darker psychologies. There’d be no journey’s end without him. He’d know the magic, but more importantly, the enemy’s next move.

2) Clare Bell. First, she’s a stone’s throw from where I currently live, so I wouldn’t have to travel much out of my way. Second, she’s a biologist, sustainability advocate, and an animal fiction writer—in other words, who I want to be when I ‘grow up.’ Together, we’d go on a paleontological dig for prehistoric felines.

3) Brian Jacques. If anyone knew warriors, it was Brian. He also had a knack for describing mouth-watering feasts. He’d be in charge of swords and snacks.

4) Patricia C. Wrede. She knows dragons as well as quests, but more importantly, she knows humor. On a magic journey, I’d need someone to keep my spirits up. Patricia’s a bucket of laughs and lemon-water (read Dealing with Dragons for clarity).

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

The only reboot I know well is the The Wicked Years by Gregory Maguire. The books were dense, but clever enough to warrant multiple readings. They work because they pay homage to the source material, but not at the expense of the story or characters. They can exist on their own without relying on constantly winking at the reader. I can’t stand that. It’s like a bad movie with no creativity, using celebrity cameos to garner box-office success. I can’t think of many books relying on such crappy hand-tricks, but that’s mostly because I avoid reboots. Still, good-retellings are out there. I hope to find them.

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

I’m a biologist! Writing doesn’t pay the bills (and for a long time, neither did biology). I’m currently working on the water crisis in California, but I hope to get back into wildlife ecology in the next few years. For my master’s I studied coyote diet and how it varies between season and location in the San Joaquin Valley. Coyotes have a bad rep but are extraordinarily important to human-modified ecosystems. If I could devote myself to preserving North American predators (and biodiversity in general), I’d be pleased as punch! As much as I love fantasy, nothing is more astonishing than the world we already live in. It’s more than worthy of our curiosity and exploration.

In this age of publishing, self-promotion is really necessary for the author. What do you enjoy most about advertising yourself and your works? What do you find most challenging?

To be honest, I hate advertising myself. I don’t mind other people doing it, but from me, it comes off vain and needy. I go through a cold sweat before putting anything up on Facebook or Twitter. I spent fifteen years keeping my manuscript a secret. Now when I hear my dragon’s name on another’s tongue, I have a little flip-out (like they’ve just read my mind). I’m slowly getting better, but it’s an adjustment. What I find difficult is telling strangers that I’ve made something worth looking into, but having no idea if that’s true. If I’m reaching a Watership Down fan, then yes, they should read my book. If they like teen-paranormal romance, they might hate it. Finding my target audience is challenging because animal-fiction is going through a dormant stage, at least for older readers. But this inspires me to write something new and peddle The Waters of Nyra when I can.

BakerTheWatersOfNyraVol2If you could sit down and have tea (or a beer) with 5 fictional characters, who would you invite to the table?

Caris from World Without End (Ken Follett) and Alexandra from O Pioneers! (Willa Cather) would be on either side of me. Though separated in time (1300’s vs the early 20th century), they are young people struggling for their dream career, fighting the oppressions of their sex, heritage, and social standing. Hell-bent on a singular source of happiness, Caris and Alexandra abandon the niceties of comfort and deeper relationships (romantic or otherwise) which wait on the fringes of their ambition. Life begets choices. As a millennial who graduated just in time for the economic recession, I can identify. I’ve been running a race and not quite getting ‘there,’ leaving much of what I love on the road. It’s a timeless battle, and one to which billions can relate.

Beyond these two would be Theo Decker from The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt). In literature, we too often see characters who play their best cards in spite of bad hands. Theo is dealt bad cards and then cheats. Yet we root for him. He’s a good person, even when he’s swindling, even when he’s using, even when he’s betraying his friends. How can we possibly love him? Because, like Caris and Alexandra, he is us. He screws up. Badly. But he learns. His ethical 180’s are slow and arduous, but life is like that. I followed him through hundreds of pages and it still wasn’t enough. I want to know what he got up to after the final paragraph.

Across from Theo sits Morgra from The Sight (although as a wolf, she might need special accommodations). Morgra is one of the great villains of literature, although few have heard of her. The best baddies aren’t baddies, or at least they didn’t start out that way. Some are borne from injustice or trauma. Morgra is no exception, however, whether she was transformed by circumstance or an innate hostility is never answered, not by the heroes, not by her. She’s the ultimate enigma. We hear her thoughts in a few chapters but she’s still impossible to decipher. I love characters like that, with self-belief that could either be true or entirely fabricated. At teatime, I’d take one last stab at trying to figure her out.

And finally, at the head of the table, would be Jean Valjean of Les Miserables. He is one of those rare characters who experiences his ethical turnaround at the beginning of the story, not three-quarters through. As readers and creators, it’s easy to forget that not all journeys twist at the ‘climactic battle.’ Valjean defies the formula. His story is about the after.  The generosity of people is often overlooked, especially since the selfless rarely wave their flags. Valjean would be the guest of honor because he would never ask for it, and serve as a reminder that the story doesn’t end with wisdom. Rather, it begins again.

Which favorite fantasy worlds would you like to visit and what would you do there?

Not gonna lie: Harry Potter. No elaboration necessary. You’ve read it. We all have. There’s a wonderful quote by Ms. Rowling: “All these people saying they never got their Hogwarts letter: you got the letter. You went to Hogwarts. We were all there together. Of course it happened inside your head, but why on earth should that mean it wasn’t real?” I went to Hogwarts with friends and strangers and look forward to dozens of visits.

What is the first book you remember reading on your own?

That I fell in love with? The Grand Escape by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Sometime in early elementary school I was pushed (kicking and screaming) away from picture books toward intermediate-reader novels. None of them starred animals. As a misanthropic seven-year old, I started boycotting stories and turned to informative non-fiction. In doing so I became extremely learned in zoology. I begrudge nothing, as this may have resulted in my career in ecology. But it wasn’t until I discovered The Grand Escape, which stars cats, that I realized some authors were writing strictly-textual animal fiction. From there I hopped to Brian Jacques’ Redwall, Kenneth Oppel’s Silverwing, and really didn’t look back until I discovered historical fiction in my 20’s. More ‘mature’ animal fiction waned in popularity some ten years ago, thus getting The Waters of Nyra to the surface has been tricky. So I’m grateful to older readers who haven’t turned their noses up at talking dragons. The kids have been great, too!

You have to run an obstacle course. Who do you invite along? Will there be a tasty libation involved?

I’d take my own brainchild, Nyra, who has a knack for evading death. This is partially because she has a lot of help. But in spite of personal trepidation and more self-doubt than any eleven year old should have, she’s moderately clever and resourceful. I’m neither fast thinking nor thrill-seeking, so I’d have to strap myself to someone much more tenacious: her. A tasty libation? I’d settle for root beer, but Nyra (being a dragon) would prefer cool water from Fitzer’s Reservoir.

BakerTheWatersOfNyraVol1Book Blurb for The Waters of Nyra, Volume 1:

Never an ordinary dragon, Nyra grew up forbidden to breathe fire or fly. Like her mother before her, she has only known a life of enslavement, held in thrall by mountain dragons, which need Nyra’s ripening wings to secure hunting for the future.

But at the cusp of her first flying lesson, new rumors whisper through the herd. Mother pursues friendships in forbidden places, blurring the once succinct enemy line. In a whirlwind of realization, Nyra uncovers a secret in plain sight, one thought unknown to her enslavers, and one putting her at the focal point of rebellion should it come into play.

And come it does, but through a terrible accident, killing the slaves’ last chance of escape. To survive, Nyra must conquer the sharp-ended lies cutting her future to ribbons and the war threading in their wake.

BakerTheWatersOfNyraVol2Book Blurb for The Waters of Nyra, Volume II:

After braving the ocean, Nyra finds herself incarcerated on the other side of the world. The would-be saviors are in the midst of civil war, and her presence enflames their rivalry. Caught by the Sorja herd, Nyra is held prisoner with Olieve; a Royal as garrulous as she is blind, neither friend nor foe, but essential to the young dragon’s escape. Yet even escape has little promise, as the opposing Raklisall herd has a poisonous outlook on Agrings, so potent it reawakens an old scandal of superstition and murder.

At the crux of deceit, scorn, and prejudice, Nyra must unearth new weapons in her natural repertoire and learn the identity of a mysterious hero. Only then can she return home, and at long last free her downtrodden kin.

Places to Find Kelly Michelles Baker









Interview: B. T. Lowry, Author of Fire from the Overworld

LowryFireFromTheOverworldFolks, please welcome author B. T. Lowry, author of Fire from the Overworld. We chat about pulling rickshaws, the consciousness behind all things, the Vedic pantheon, and much more! Please 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? 

Great question.  I definitely think that fantasy affects human cultures today.

I’ve heard that Tolkien was upset to see modern society losing its connection with mythology. He saw that these myths gave people moral guidance and connected them to deep truths, so he wrote The Lord of the Rings partly to reconnect readers to their mythological heritage. His story is rooted in ancient myths.

I believe that we will always crave myths and legends. Impartial logic can never fully satisfy a human being, because we are so multifaceted. Reality is subtle, expansive and multi-layered, and stories reflect this wonderfully.

Joseph Campbell argued that myths have reality in the subconscious world, but that they shouldn’t be taken literally. While I agree with this, I also feel that there are plenty of mysteries beyond the scope of scholarship, anthropology and science. Unicorns may not exist, but other myths could be historical records which are so outside our current cultural context that we can only classify them as fictional. We might rule out as impossible whatever it can’t understand, but we cannot say for certain what is real and what is not. The old cultures certainly had knowledge that we do not.

My own stories are largely rooted in the ancient teachings of India. These teachings speak about levels of consciousness where different kinds of beings reside, and give methods on how to go to each one. There are gods and other celestial beings, and lower beings too. Many consider all this to be mythology, but as in all traditions, the perspective sees things in a deeper way than the observer. Call me pretentious, but like Tolkien, I hope that some deeper truths resonate my fiction. I’d like the reader to get both a good story, and something substantial to consider. That’s the kind of fiction I like.

Given the opportunity, what fantastical beast of fiction would you like to encounter in the wild? Which would you avoid at all costs? Would you take a selfie with the beastie?

I would like to encounter Airavata, the four-tusked elephant carrier of Lord Indra, the leader of the demigods in the Vedic pantheon. I would avoid Vrtrasura, a massively powerful demon who is an enemy of Indra.

Even though at heart he was a self-realized sage, Vrtrasura somehow found himself in the role of a great enemy of the gods. In their final showdown, Vrtrasura actually schooled Indra on the principles of being a ruler and a warrior.

If I had a camera and it didn’t break the mood, I might just take a selfie with Vrtrasura :)

Conventions, book signings, blogging, etc.: what are some of your favorite aspects of self-promotion and what are some of the least favorite parts of self-promotion?

You know, I’m very new to promotion. In fact, this is my first blog interview! Initially I did not want to do any promotion. I just wanted to live in my cave, writing away. But slowly I started a site and am now putting up a new scene each week. Readers can vote which scene they’d like to see made into a story. And I’m gradually figuring out what to do next.

I love to connect with people interested in the same kind of things that I am, and to hear how they feel about my work. I just wish I didn’t have to go through all the technical stuff to meet them!

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

I pulled a rickshaw in the wee morning hours through the streets of Calgary, Canada. Mostly my customers had been drinking, and I would bring them to their home or their car. It was a weird job because I saw the seedy underbelly of the city – drugs and violence and sex. I got hit on many times a day by men and women, and sometimes offered money for… services. I didn’t take it! I lost some of my innocent outlook during that job, though it did get me to India for the first time.

Compared to writing, that job was hell. Writing is such a great creative outlet. I can make an entire movie in words, with no budget and no crew. But I do draw from the experiences I’ve had in my life, like the ones in that weird job, so I can’t say I regret it.

Do you have any superstitions?

Ha! I sometimes find myself avoiding walking under ladders and such, just in case.

I also have convictions which others might consider superstitions. I believe that plants and animals are conscious beings, not so different from us. I think there is consciousness behind the movements of the clouds and rivers and oceans, kind of like nature gods. I can’t believe that everything is just made up of inert chemicals, moving around by chance. I think there is consciousness behind everything. In this way I relate more with the old cultures of the world than the post-renaissance scientific worldview.

LowryFireFromTheOverworldBook Blurb of Fire from the Overworld:

“Fire from the Overworld” is a terrific debut!” -David Farland, New York Times Bestseller.

Two students of natural magic study under their master, living in a desert village. One, a young woman, travels from her body to higher realms. She finds a battle raging there which threatens their world. The other, a young man, enters the minds of humans and animals. There he uncovers a spreading psychic disease.

To restore balance, she must leave everyone she holds dear. He must skirt into the realm of death.

Filled with extraordinary adventure and mysticism, Fire From the Overworld takes the reader on an inner and outer journey. This is Epic Fantasy rooted in ancient wisdom.

Places to Find B. T. Lowry,

Interview: Simon Turney, Author of Praetorian

TurneyPraetorianTheGreatGameDark Dabbers, please clap your eyes together and welcome Simon Turney, author of the historical fiction Praetorian, to the blog.  We chat  about ancient Rome, stage fright, Masada, Tolkien, and so much more! Enjoy!

What now-dead author would you like to interview? What are some of the things you would chat about?

I suppose, given my genre, I should be saying Apuleius (whose work Frankie Howerd emulated in Up Pompeii – Oooh matron!), or Aristophanes and his frogs and clouds. In honesty, most of my favourite authors are still alive and kicking, some quite hard. I would dearly love to meet the man who was responsible for the Notitia Dignitatum – the catalog of Rome’s military stations and existing forces in the early 5th century. It is missing sections and aspects that would be of great interest to a student of the late Roman military. And because while that’s drool-worthy exciting for me, but excruciatingly dull for a reader, I would also have to say J.R.R. Tolkien. I would love to know what plans he had that never came to fruition even at the hands of his son. I would love to know the history of the Witch King of Angmar, leader of the Ringwraiths in particular. And the history of Tom Bombadil.

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

I would love to relive my first experience of watching the 80s mini-series Masada (aka The Antagonists). I remember watching it in around 1981 and being utterly riveted. I have watched it as an adult and it is still one of the best pieces of film ever made, in my opinion. I love the talented Peter O’Toole‘s portrayal of the war-weary general Flavius Silva so much that it has heavily influenced the characters in my own work. But nothing will ever beat the feeling of a first watching. I used to wait for Saturday night (I think it was Saturday!) to come around, switch on the TV and settle myself in ready, no matter where I was. I watched it at my grandparents’ and even missed a meal to see it. I even went to Masada a decade or so ago, purely off the back of that series.

TurneyTheBelgaeReality in my fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writings?

I think the level of mundane material in a book is critical. It can mean the difference between Biggles and Schindler’s Ark. If it is too heavy, it can make the book laborious, slow and OTT – like that bit of the Bible where everyone is ‘begat’ing each other. No one wants to sit and hear in detail a legionary’s toilet habits (curly poop!) when they could be reading sword fights and chases and love scenes. There is a certain requirement for it, but I find that, given these specific examples, lengthy travel is best dealt with in retrospectives while setting the next scene (unless the journey contains its own fascinating events.) Bathroom breaks I only introduce to the text if it has a place (sometimes it does – I had a legionary attacked in the latrines) or in the form of toilet humour, which gives it an extra point as well as jogging the reader’s memory that all people have to answer nature’s call in due course, even half way through cleaving a Celt in twain. Cussing is a troubling one. Every writer approaches it differently. I like to write work that my family can read. There is a great deal of violence, but I’ve yet to ever write a sex scene, and my cussing is generally of a level I would consider acceptable as a reader. I reserve the F word for moments when I want the audience to blink in shock. Maybe once or twice a book in general, and often not at all. That being said, I cuss a lot myself while writing… especially when the coffee runs out.

TurneyGalliaInvictaConventions, book signings, blogging, etc.: what are some of your favorite aspects of self-promotion and what are some of the least favorite parts of self-promotion?

For me the social network revolution has produced the best bit. I enjoy connecting with readers and other writers on Facebook and particularly on Twitter, which is – let’s face it – just an ongoing world-wide conversation. The sheer vibrancy of life in the world of Twitter grabs me. Also, from a couple of years ago getting to know a Roman reenactment group to produce book covers, I have ended up as one of the unit, marching in kit, putting on displays for the public and generally exploring the life of a legionary. Not only am I learning more with every event than I ever did from half a dozen textbooks, I’m having fun into the bargain and experiencing a growing camaraderie with my fellow legionaries. For me the worst side is public speaking. I suffer with tremendous stage fright and on the odd occasions I have tried it, I tend to end up a sweaty, blubbering panic-ridden wreck stumbling and stuttering through things that I could expound on to the end of time in a small group of friends.

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

My worst job was in admin and then computer network management for an insurance company. Though the job itself was pleasant enough, the extreme corporateness of the company sucked all the joy out of life and years of work there felt like walking into a tomb lit by fluorescent tubes. Moreover it did not take long to come to the conclusion that insurance was a business founded on making the ordinary man suffer. In that respect it was similar to the civil service, in which I’ve also worked! I’ve had soooo many different jobs. I’ve sold cars, sold paint, heaved around bags of sand, managed networks and small admin departments, hired cars, paid farmer subsidies, pulled pints, entered fuel data and so much more. Most were slightly more mind-numbing than even the most dull soap-opera. Quite simply nothing compares to writing. Writing wears me out like no other job has. Even when I am not writing, I am thinking about the plot and how I can improve things – as I go to sleep, as I drive the car, as I shower, as I eat my dinner. But at the same time, that is fine, because writing is a labour of love, not a job. It is simply the best career in the world, despite all uncertainty and stress.

TurneyHadesGateWhat nonfiction works have you found useful in building fictional worlds, cultures, and plots?

I have an enormous library of classical texts and historical reference works. My office is basically wallpapered with books. My wife bemoans my work text collection, as does my bank manager! I always look out specific texts appropriate to my plot (Les Voyages d’Alix: Massilia is a prime example for my next book.) But since most of my work is historical, most of my locations are real and the works I use are simple location-based guides and texts. Apart from a huge variety of fairly random texts, the one series that I find uniformly helpful on all projects are the military history works of Osprey Publishing which are era, nationality and unit specific.

TurneyCaesar'sVowWhat are the top 3 historical time periods and locations you would like to visit?

I would love to visit ancient Rome, but it would have to be a qualified visit. I wouldn’t want to do it as a slave or a pauper. As a free citizen (or preferably a noble) is the only way to realistically visit Rome. I would just love to see what Rome looked like without all the blokes hanging around the Colosseum in Roman tribune costumes that are slightly less convincing than Gary Glitter’s defense lawyer. Other than ancient Rome, I would love to visit late Byzantine Constantinople. The last days of that empire under the threat of the Turk fascinate me. When did the kebab come to Istanbul again? Other than that, again, I would love to visit Charleston in the early days of the American Civil War, when it was all still to play for. I am a Confederate at heart, not because of the ‘slavery issue’ but because I believe in the individual rights of the American states to self government, and not to be ruled from Washington. And because of the cool coats. And the accents. And some of the commanders. I think I’d look good in a confederate grey coat and the red artillery hat!

TurneyTalesOfAncientRomeVol1Which ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?

Oooh, most of them! I’ve read things like the Iliad and Odyssey, and the Aeneid. I read Ovid’s Metamorphoses and various Greek and Latin playwrights. I read both Caesar’s campaign diaries and Suetonius’ 12 Caesars. But there are sooooo many others I haven’t read. I have only dipped into Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, and have been trying for years to get around to reading them fully. I have Vegetius’ De Re Militari on the shelf behind me and have only used it piecemeal for reference. I’d love to read that through. Likewise Thucydides and Herodotus. There’s just not enough time in the world for all the things worth reading, is there? And it’s not like they could televise ‘On the military institutions of the Romans’ is it?

TurneyInterregnumCare 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?

Frankly, I have never got used to fanmail. When people tell me how much they life my books I come over extraordinarily shy and embarrassed. I am not a natural self-promoter. Therefore any time anyone gushes over my work, it’s awkward. Probably the oddest moments for me have been when I’ve been at a big author do, such as ‘History in the Court’ in London, and have spoken to some of the biggest names in Historical fiction, only to find out that they already know about me. That’s strange. I never expected such people to have heard of me, but it seems my infamy has spread! Probably the most embarrassing thing I’ve had was a long conversation with a fan, who enjoyed my work, but entered the conversation believing my name was Stephen. He called me that for half an hour, and I was so surprised that I didn’t immediately correct him – my name is Simon, incidentally. Then problem is that when someone has called you the wrong name several times it becomes awkward to broach the subject, and so I went by my expected pseudonym for half an hour. Weird.

TurneyPraetorianTheGreatGamePraetorian: The Great Game book blurb: 

Promoted to the elite Praetorian Guard in the thick of battle, a young legionary is thrust into a seedy world of imperial politics and corruption. Tasked with uncovering a plot against the newly-crowned emperor Commodus, his mission takes him from the cold Danubian border all the way to the heart of Rome, the villa of the emperor’s scheming sister, and the great Colosseum.

What seems a straightforward, if terrifying, assignment soon descends into Machiavellian treachery and peril as everything in which young Rufinus trusts and believes is called into question and he faces warring commanders, Sarmatian cannibals, vicious dogs, mercenary killers and even a clandestine Imperial agent. In a race against time to save the Emperor, Rufinus will be introduced, willing or not, to the great game.

Places to  find S. J. A. Turney



Interview: Erin Gitchell, Author of The Feast

GitchellTheFeastWelcome Erin Gitchell, author of The Feast. Today we chat about the company of Ents, Firefly, library work, coverart and more. Enjoy!

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

Book / Movie: Howl’s Moving Castle. I’d like to read the book before seeing the movie. I did it the other way around and have regretted it ever since. I wish I could go back in time and read the book for the first time without the movie characters in my head.

TV Series: Firefly. It was such a fun show! Perfect blend of humor, danger, spunk, chemistry, violence, and shiny lingo. The first time I saw it, I missed a few episodes here and there. I’ve watched it multiple times since, but I wish I could go back in time and watch it properly the first time around.

Given the opportunity, what fantastical beast of fiction would you like to encounter in the wild? Which would you avoid at all costs? Would you take a selfie with the beastie?

I think I’d enjoy traveling with an Ent for a while, and I’d REALLY enjoying talking to a dragon (but not the kind that would want to eat me). I would definitely avoid a dementor, since, being a muggle, I’d have no way to protect myself from them. And no, I’d never take a selfie with an Ent, dragon, or dementor. My daughter is the only beastie I’ll take pictures with (begrudgingly).

Who are your non-writer influences?

I work at a library and see a wide variety of people every day. Some just look so much like characters, it’s hard not to imagine them that way, inventing fantastical histories and personalities for them. The downside is when they do actually talk to me, I have to pretend like I didn’t give them a name and place in a story. I’m influenced by daily life, just little moments that trigger ideas, nothing grand or methodical. “There is learning in everything,” someone said in a book I read once, and it’s something I truly believe.

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

I’d be an inventor or explorer. I like to take things apart and try and fix them, too, which kind of goes along with inventing. Or an artist (but not the snooty kind). However, I am pretty happy being a librarian (except when grumpy patrons yell at me).

McKinleyTheDoorInTheHedgeIf 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?

Required Reading:

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings trilogy also encouraged)
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
1984 by George Orwell (if they somehow managed to make it this far in life without reading it)

Encouraged Reading:

A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin
Sabriel by Garth Nix
– Anything by Robin McKinley
– Anything by Robert Jordan (if they want to go down that road, more power to them!)

I guess the syllabus focuses on fantasy. Oh well.

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?

In truth, I haven’t had one yet, unless you count joining the Legolas Fan Club in junior high with the first LOTR film came out. It was a very awkward club. I usually just demonstrate my admiration for an author by re-reading the book(s) over and over.

MarillierWildwoodDancingCover art can be so important for a book, making or breaking sales. What cover art has caught your eye, that you found stood above other books?

Some covers are so photoshopped these days, that’s all I see (the photoshopping)! It’s great authors have access to artists that can use that kind of software (whether they’re self-published or working with a publisher), but sometimes there are just too many layers. That being said, some of my favorite fantasy covers were created by Kinuko Y. Craft (she has done covers for Robin McKinley and Juliet Marillier, among others). They are EXTREMELY detailed, but in a way that’s not overwhelming…more like a, “The more you look, the more you see” kind of way. I’m intrigued when the cover tells a story, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be an illustration of a scene within the book.

Which mythical/fantastical race would you rather be?

I always choose mermaid (so long as I am speedy enough to avoid getting eaten) since there’s so much of the ocean that needs to be explored. However, not everyone can see the benefit of being a mermaid…

GitchellTheFeastGoodreads blurb about The Feast: Rebellion was sown…Revenge will be reaped…and The Feast for freedom awaits!

Delaterra, once a land of peace and prosperity, is tainted with suspicion and fear. The King’s Eyes and Ears, spies without conscience, hunt the Farmers, a group of Delaterran rebels who are dedicated to restoring Delaterra to her former glory. Yet there are whispers traveling fast on the wind, that the Farmers are not alone in their desire to rid the world of the Nameless One and the tyranny he sows. As The Feast draws near, a woman trapped in the body of a horse, an ex-knight, a seer, and an assassin must draw the factions together if they are to have any chance of success.

Places to Find Erin Gitchell





Interview & Giveaway: Edoardo Albert, Author of Edwin: High King of Britain

AuthorEdoardoAlbertIt is my pleasure to have Edoardo Albert on the blog today. His novel, Edwin: High King of Britain, is the first in the series chronicling the Christian kings of England of old. Come enjoy our chat on historical figures, Tolkien, how the Anglo-Saxons took their swearing seriously, and more! Scroll down for info on the Giveaway!

Who are some of your favorite historical villains? Who are some of your favorite historical heroes? In general, are these villains and heroes misunderstood by the modern public?

Of course, Aristotle was right: all men act according to what they see as good – even the worst men in history do not get up in the morning to twirl their mustaches and cackle, “What is the evillest thing I can do today?” But yet, men do evil, and great evil at that. A favorite villain must be one with a certain style and panache, so I suppose someone like Napoleon would rank at the top of the tree there: a man whose vanity and energy plunged Europe into a decade and a half of war, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and a world remade, yet whose charisma was such that he is still regarded as a hero as much as a villain. Such was his personal magnetism that I’m sure if I’d been in his orbit I would have ended up circling the Napoleonic sun along with all his other satellites. As for heroes, you’d be hard put to do better than William Wilberforce and the others who campaigned, and succeeded, in ending an institution as old as humanity and one that no one could really have imagined could be ended: slavery. But, since evil lacks imagination, slavery and human trafficking is on the way back, for what better way to demonstrate pure power than to own other human beings.

As to these and other historical figures being misunderstood, it depends on where you stand on the debate as to whether one can enter into any other age in any real way. The cultural and historical relativists have strong arguments, but in the end, as a writer, I plump for the belief that the fundamentals of human existence unite us through the ages. Besides, all men consider their time to be normal, and in writing historical fiction that is one of the great rules to bear in mind when dealing with the strangeness of past cultures.

Reality in my fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writings?

To be honest, mostly by ignoring them. Bathroom breaks are the common lot of humanity and although the toilet difficulties in pre-modern times are quite interesting they are better dealt with a non-fiction book (in fact, that could be a whole new book right there – Toilet Habits of the Past!). Anglo-Saxon swear words have transferred all too well to modern English, so I haven’t felt any particular need to include them, and a characteristic of pre-modern and barely literate peoples was a far greater reverence for language, so even the cursing was better done. There’s quite a bit about travel in Edwin: High King of Britain, for with roads being generally poor, rivers and sea were more highways than obstructions.

AlbertEdwinHighKingofBritainMyths 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?

At the most surface level, it has spawned various fandoms, from Harry Potter to Tolkien geeks to Trekkies. The writers of the golden age of science fiction were indirectly responsible for the space race, their writing inspiring many of the scientists and engineers that worked on the Apollo missions. Modern fantasy fiction seems to have had a more diffused effect; it’s probably stepped into the void left by the decline of religious belief in some countries of the old West, although in that case its more placebo than anything else. I suspect the jury is still out as to whether its long-term effects will be for good or ill.

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

The Lord of the Rings. It still stands head and shoulders above all modern fantasy, and to read it again would be to enter Middle-earth afresh – who wouldn’t want to do that?

What nonfiction works have you found useful in building fictional worlds, cultures, and plots?

For the world of Edwin – a very real but only dimly perceived world – the two foremost documents are Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Without them, we would have only archaeology, which is vital for a deep understanding of a world but leaves us without names or actors within that world. Apart from these foundational sources, there has been a great deal of excellent scholarship on the period, notably by James Campbell (a different Campbell to the one who wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces), Peter Hunter Blair and Nick Higham. I’ve also hugely benefited from my conversations with my archaeologist co-writer of Northumbria: the Lost Kingdom, Paul Gething, who shared his expertise, knowledge and passion for the period with me through many long conversations.

Who are your non-writer influences?

Apart from Paul, my wife and children. Harriet is my first reader, my best critic and, as an actress and voice teacher, the perfect person to read my stories out loud to me; there is no better way to learn if something works or not than to hear it read to you. And having a family has simultaneously reduced the time I have available to write by half but increased my productivity when I do write by something like fiftyfold – I have reason to write other than myself now!

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

Thucydides and Herodotus are on my to read list, along with the Aeneid, from the Classical period. The lack of sources for the early Anglo-Saxon era means that it’s really not that difficult to read everything that’s survived from then, and Bede is such a pleasure to read that I return to him frequently.

With the modern popularity to ebooks, a book is no longer limited to a specific genre shelf. It is now quite easy to label place an ebook in multiple genres (i.e. YA, Fantasy, Horror). How do you see this affecting readers? Have you been inadvertently lured outside your reading comfort zone?

I would hope it means that people will read more widely; I suspect that little of the self-consciously literary fiction of the second half of the twentieth century has any lasting value, but some of the genre novels will survive as long as people read – Stephen King is a better chronicler of our times than the vast majority of literary novelists. As to me, I read widely as a matter of course, so I’d be delighted to be lured out of my comfort zone.

If you could go enjoy a meal in a historical setting (time travel, here we come!), where/when would that be, and what would you eat? Who would you invite from that time and place to sup with you?

Gosh, that’s a tough question! Part of me would like to attend the Last Supper, but I’m not sure I could bear to be present for the events of the day afterwards. Apart from that, I’d like to invite Dante and Boccacio to a high medieval feast in Italy – days of feasting, song and conversation – and then to drop into the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford in the 1930s when Tolkien, Lewis and the Inklings were all in full flow.

What do you do when you are not writing?

Read! Bring up children. Day job – the usual stuff writers do when they’re not writing.

I snooped around on your website. You have written in several genres: SFF short stories, history books, a biography of Tolkien, a children’s book, historical texts on Islamic philosophers. Which do you find more challenging: the non-fiction or fiction works? Are there genres you would like to branch out into even further? Do you work on more than one book at a time?

Non-fiction and fiction present different challenges. With non-fiction the first and greatest challenge is to tell the truth. Of course, that’s also the challenge of fiction, but the templates of truth are different in each case. Non-fiction requires adherence to sources, proper understanding and sifting of contemporary scholarship – with its enthusiasms and biases – and synthesis; there’s always more you could write! Fiction demands the writer remains true to the story and its characters, removing himself from them as far as is possible. I think working in different areas has benefited me hugely as a writer and I’d definitely hope to write in further genres; in fact, a book I’ve been commissioned to write on the spiritual history of London is turning into something of a new genre in itself: part history, part travel, part spiritual autobiography, I’m making it up as I go along! When writing, I usually just write one book at a time, but I’ll probably be reading and researching the next at the same time.

Thank you for your questions; they really made me think hard!

About the Book

Debut historical fiction series vividly recreating the rise of the Christian kings of Northumbria, England.

In 604 AD, Edwin, the deposed king of Northumbria, seeks refuge at the court of King Raedwald of East Anglia. But Raedwald is urged to kill his guest by Aethelfrith, Edwin’s usurper. As Edwin walks by the shore, alone and at bay, he is confronted by a mysterious figure–the missionary Paulinus– who prophesies that he will become High King of Britain. It is a turning point.

Through battles and astute political alliances Edwin rises to power, in the process marrying the Kentish princess Aethelburh. As part of the marriage contract the princess is allowed to retain her Christian faith. But, in these times, to be a king is not a recipe for a long life.

This turbulent and tormented period in British history sees the conversion of the Anglo-Saxon settlers who have forced their way on to British shores over previous centuries, arriving first to pillage, then to farm and trade–and to come to terms with the faith of the Celtic tribes they have driven out.

The dramatic story of Northumbria’s Christian kings helped give birth to England as a nation, English as a language, and the adoption of Christianity as the faith of the English.

Places to Find Edoardo Albert





Edoardo Albert has one paperback copy of Edwin: High King of Britain. The giveaway is open to US, UK and Canada residents. In order to enter, leave a comment answering this question: What historical figure would you like to read a historical fiction on? I’ll select at the end of the book tour (midnight September 19th, 2014). Leave me a way to contact you in the comment (email, twitter, etc.). Good luck!

Follow The Tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Monday, August 25
Review at Princess of Eboli
Review at 2 Book Lovers Reviews

Tuesday, August 26
Review at Just One More Chapter
Review & Giveaway at Unshelfish

Wednesday, August 27
Review at Dab of Darkness

Thursday, August 28
Interview & Giveaway at Dab of Darkness

Monday, September 1
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Review at Queen of All She Reads

Tuesday, September 2
Review at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, September 3
Review at The Writing Desk
Review at The Mad Reviewer

Friday, September 5
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Monday, September 8
Review at A Book Geek
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Tuesday, September 9
Review at Book Nerd

Wednesday, September 10
Review & Giveaway at 100 Pages a Day – Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Interview & Giveaway at Thoughts in Progress

Friday, September 12
Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews

Monday, September 15
Review & Giveaway at Words and Peace

Tuesday, September 16
Review at Layered Pages

Thursday, September 18
Review & Giveaway at Beth’s Book Reviews

Friday, September 19
Review at Book Drunkard

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Interview: Michael Coorlim, Author of Sky Pirates Over London

CoorlimSkyPiratesOverLondonI have enjoyed several of Michael’s works, so it is with great pleasure that I wheedled an interview out of him. Please sit back and enjoy the chat about Doctor Who, Stargate, The Lord of the Rings, Xena, and plenty more!

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

That’s a hard question. I’ve found that often, a lot of my favorite series don’t really match up to the way I remember them, because they haven’t aged well, or because I’ve changed from the person who first enjoyed them.

That said: Doctor Who. It hasn’t let me down. I’d love to watch it all over again with fresh eyes.

CoorlimInfernalRevelation1Reality in my fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writings?

Reality is important when it comes to characterization and consequences. Lengthy travel and bathroom breaks and the like should be skipped over unless, for whatever reason, they’re vital to the plot or the character’s nature. Swearing is definitely part of characterization; the way people talk and the words they use tells us a lot about them.

My most recent release, Infernal Revelation, recently had a reviewer mark it down for its profanity. The speakers in question are rebellious teenage boys outside of adult supervision, and yeah, that’s how they talk. It’s part of their cultural make-up. In particular, it’s a YA book, and teens know how teens talk.

What book should be made into a game (card, PC, board, etc.) and why? Is there a specific character who you would want to play in this game?

I’d like to see a simulation/management game based on Leo Frankowski‘s Cross-Time Engineer. A modern day man is sent back to the 13th century and has ten years to prepare medieval Poland for the Mongol invasion. I like games where you build things, where you see a lot of development on any scale, personal or social or whatever.

CoorlimMaidenVoyageOfRioGrandeWith the modern popularity to ebooks, a book is no longer limited to a specific genre shelf. It is now quite easy to label place an ebook in multiple genres (i.e. YA, Fantasy, Horror). How do you see this affecting readers? Have you been inadvertently lured outside your reading comfort zone?

Genre has always been a bit of a tyrannical marketing tool. I think that we’re only beginning to see the possibilities available. This has impacted my writing more than my reading… I’ve always read anything I could get my hands on, but now I’m no longer being told that to be a successful writer I have to pick a single genre and stick to it.

I think we’re going to see some great experimentation from big name authors in the future.

Who are some of your favorite book villains? Who are your favorite hero duos from the pages?

Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes was great because you don’t really see him so much as you see the effects of his presence. Hero duos: Frodo and Sam. Gilgamesh and Enkidu if you want to get tragic about it.

CoorlimFineYoungTurkOften various historical aspects (people, locations, events) are used in fantasy and sometimes rehashed in a far-flung future. Are there examples of such historical aspects being used well in the SF/F genre? Examples of what didn’t work for you?

I read a lot of alternate history and time travel fiction. Michael Chriton’s Timeline – the book – was good. I didn’t care so much for the movie. Stargate – the movie and the television series – mined mythology, as did the Hercules and Xena television shows. They weren’t terribly accurate, but they didn’t have to be. It was just great to catch the references.

Oh, and the early Doctor Who seasons did a lot more with time travel. They weren’t always terribly accurate, but they were a lot of fun.

In writing your bad guys, do you want the reader to enjoy hating on him/her, or do you want the reader to be waiting for that magical moment when they redeem themselves?

The best villains are the tragic villains. Ideally I want my readers to identify with and even sympathize for my villains. I want them to understand why they commit terrible acts, and perhaps to see how they might end up in the same situation. Ultimately, though, what makes a villain is the failure to change, to grow like the protagonist does. They are defined and defeated by their destructive patterns.

I want readers to feel bad for my villains, but also that their downfall was inevitable.

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

Middle-Earth. Lembas wafers.

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?

I was on a Worldcon panel with Eleanor Arnason, Bud Sparhawk, and Connie Willis. All I could think about was that I should probably be down in the audience instead, not alongside Hugo and Nebula award-winning authors. I’d grown up reading their stories.

Cover art can be so important for a book, making or breaking sales. What cover art has caught your eye, that you found stood above other books?

I think I notice bad covers more than good, but I’m approaching them from a design standpoint. I evaluate them for their color compositions, layout, and typography. I find it hard to “see” them like a reader.

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

The validity of genre fiction compared to “literature.” There are a lot of people out there who like to look down on others because of what they read and what they enjoy. I think it’s a form of insecurity, seeking validation through the dismissal of others.

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 really liked Merry and Pippin in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In my own work, I’ve found that often secondary characters will spawn books of their own; in The Collected Bartleby and James Adventures, Bartleby’s fiance Aldora makes a few appearances, but I was so taken with the character that I wrote the second collection in the series all about her. I have vague plans now to do the same for some of the other characters, namely James’s old friend and con-artist Buckley and his experiences with the Parisian underworld of the Belle Epoque.

Places to Find Michael Coorlim