Ben interviews Author Jaye Marie

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Welcome, Jaye! Tell us a little about yourself and your work. How did you get started writing?

DSC02093I had no intention of becoming a writer. I loved to read, and for most of my life that was enough for me. More than enough really, for I am a compulsive reader and will read anything I can put my hands on. Present me with a bookshelf full of books, and I will start at one end and read my way to the other.

Then I offered to edit my sister’s books. She hates computers, so I offered to type them up too. Before I knew it, my brain began to explore what other things I could be doing.

I tried to ignore that inner voice, for I was busy enough. Anita was writing faster than I could format, and there were all my other interests too. Gardening, DIY, dressmaking and a host of craft projects. I love to be busy, but it came to the point where something had to give, never mind add something else to the list.

jayeThat was then, and now I am busy writing the third book in my mystery thriller series. The characters just turned up in my head, one by one and nagged me for weeks until I gave in and listened. So you can never say never.

This genre came as a surprise, for I lean towards the supernatural, spooky kind of book, so I have no idea where the idea came from. If anything, I should have expected to write medical stories, as I always wanted to be a doctor, and these are some of my favourite television programmes.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I considered myself a writer when I held my first paperback copy of my book The Ninth Life in my hand for the first time. Up until that magic moment, I doubted I would ever feel like a writer. But holding that paperback copy finally convinced me.

9th lifeWhat is Ninth Life about?

It is the dark and disturbing mystery thriller of a middle-aged woman who has escaped dying so many times she would appear to have nine lives. At least that’s what the annoying voice in her head would have her believe.

Always a bit of a loner, with a failed marriage and relationships behind her, Kate Devereau’s life has not been kind, and despite her apparent immortality, death might have been welcome. Kate’s reputation as an English artist has grown, but she has no life other than art. No friends or husband.

When people around her start to die at the hands of a sadistic serial killer, she begins to wonder if she will be next. Is she finally running out of time? Is it her turn to die?

Who is your favourite character from your book and why?

Last lifeMy favourite character didn’t really appear until book two, The Last Life, and his name is Detective Inspector David Snow. The fact that my detective looks a lot like Tom Selleck should indicate how fond I am of him. I just love writing about him.

Do you have any other talents or hobbies?

Probably shouldn’t have chosen this question, as I could be here for hours. The list of my hobbies is incredibly long, so I will limit myself to my favourites. So apart from writing, which has to be number one, I love photography and am a puzzle freak. Jigsaws, suduko, PC games, I love them all. I also sew, knit and crochet and when I have the time I love to paint and draw.

What can we expect from you in the future?

I am just writing the third book in my mystery thriller series, The Wrong Life, but this might be my detectives swan song. I would love to write a supernatural story next, but anything is possible as I’m not really in control of any of it.

What would you want your tombstone to say?

Well, my life has not been easy by anyone’s standards, and now I am growing old, I sometimes look back and wonder how I managed to get through it all. So, the perfect epitaph for me would be: “She did her best…” Even though I made a pig’s ear out of most of it!

What is your favourite Fiction/non Fiction book?

My favourite fiction book just happens to be Scarlet Ribbons, my sister’s supernatural mystery romance. I was the editor for this one and fell in love with it. And no, she didn’t have to pay me to say this!

me x45Jaye Marie is the ‘oily rag’ and joint partner of the establishment and usually prefers to stay in the background.
Since Jaye and Anita decided to publish their books, all Jaye’s other interests have had to take a back seat. And as she (claims she) is not half as clever as she wants to be, they may well have to leave the country for a while.

Jaye is an avid Bonsai fan and has her own collection that demands her attention in the growing season or they will die. (It’s a bit like having children.)

Jaye has always preferred to be kept busy, although she does think that now she is over 70, she might be able to relax a bit more – but also doesn’t think that will happen any time soon. She has a need to be doing or trying something new. She makes all these plans in her head, knowing she is probably wasting her time, but just can’t help it.

two small old ladiesYou can find out more about Jaye, Anita and their work at or at Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.


Coming Soon: Bestselling Author Alice Kuipers on inspiration, commitment & writing!


Bestselling and award-winning author Alice Kuipers joins Ben’s blog – coming soon!

Kuipers has recently authored and produced an online writing course that covers ideas, inspiration, discipline, planning and commitment for writers.  It includes top tips from a top author for writers of every genre.

Alice was born in London. She moved to Canada in 2003. Her first novel, Life on the Refrigerator Door, was published in 28 countries and won several awards. Since then, she has published three further award winning YA novels internationally, most recently, The Death of Us. Her fifth YA novel comes out in 2017. Alice has four small children and she began writing picture books for them. Her first picture book Violet and Victor Write The Best Ever Bookworm Book was selected as an Amazon best pick for December 2014. Her second, Violet and Victor Write The Most Fabulous Fairy Tale, is on the Winter 2015 Kids’ Indie Next List.

Alice’s website is full of tips and hints for writers. Find her here: or online.

Ben interviews YA Fantasy Author Amie Irene Winters

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Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started writing?

AmieIreneWinters_SectionofMysteryWriting books never entered my mind until I completed my bachelors in anthropology and religious studies, and masters in environmental studies.

Only after having tried a variety of unique jobs – from park ranger, grant writer, natural history curator, to archaeologist – did I start experimenting with writing fiction. Why? Simply put, I thought it would be fun. And I was right. Writing has been one of the few things that I do that doesn’t seem like “work.”

Last year, I published my debut YA Fantasy book, Strange Luck. The next book in the Strange Luck series, The Nightmare Birds, will be released August 2, 2016.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

wedding-invitation-freeimagesWhen not writing, I love to be outdoors. I’m also a bit of a geek. I love playing Magic the Gathering, board games, doing puzzles, and curling up with a good book.

What is one thing that would surprise us?

Something that might surprise you about me is that I seriously considered a career as a forensic anthropologist or mortician.

Is this your first book? How many books have you written prior (if any?)

I wrote three books before I wrote Strange Luck. I consider them “practice books.” Writing these books really helped me find my voice and learn more about publishing and writing.

The Nightmare Birds is actually an adaptation of one of these earlier books. I retained my favorite characters and the general concept, but rewrote it to be a sequel to Strange Luck.

What genre is it and what is it about?

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00067]YA Fantasy with a bit of paranormal and horror. It’s about a quirky girl named Daisy Darling who discovers a beautiful, secret world built using stolen memories. The more cherished the memories, the higher the risk of losing them.

She possesses the unique ability to destroy the world and set its prisoners free, but first she must find the courage to battle the dark forces at play before her identity is erased and she’s trapped forever.

What inspired you to write this book?

file2661253104452I was inspired to write Strange Luck while passing a cemetery. I started thinking about memories, regrets, life, and experiences. Having as many experiences/memories as possible has always been a personal goal of mine (don’t even get me started on my mile-long bucket list).

Anyway, my mind wandered to the idea of collecting our most cherished memories and I thought it would be a unique concept for a book. And, because I’m a huge fantasy and magical realism fan, I decided to weave in lots of supernatural elements, too.

What authors have inspired you to write?

Joanne Harris inspired me to become a writer. Having only seen the movie, I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up a copy of Chocolat a decade ago, but I instantly fell in love with it. I absolutely adore the whimsical world that Joanne Harris creates, the hints of magic, and especially the sweetness she sprinkles throughout.

Years ago, I contacted Joanne to let her know how much she had inspired me and she actually responded! Not only that, she was super sweet and grateful, which made me love her even more. I also adore Neil Gaiman, Sarah Addison Allen, J.K. Rowling, Alan Bradley, and Mary Shelley. Growing up, I was influenced by The Secret Garden and Alice in Wonderland.

Are you a plotter or a pantster (writing by the seat of your pants)?

Definitely a pantser! While I do plot out loose ideas about the story and characters, I also allow plenty of room for the story to write itself and for discovery and surprise. There might be something that a character does or that the world possesses that I didn’t think of in the beginning, but as I’m enraptured in the story, it becomes more apparent.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

I tend to always root for the villain. Even when I watched Disney movies growing up I always wondered about the villain, why they were so vengeful, and why they didn’t deserve sympathy (Maleficent was my favorite by the way). That said, the entity in Strange Luck is my favorite character.

Since he is a dark wizard, his powers are limitless, so it was a lot of fun coming up with magical, evil, and strange things that he could do. I felt it was imperative to include a backstory about why/how he became the way he was, but I’m not one for giving away spoilers, so you’ll have to read it for yourself!

What could readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful?

Reviews are the lifeblood of authors. They are a way to let us know exactly what you liked and why. A good review seriously makes my day, even if it’s only a line or two.

What is the most difficult thing about being an author?

mocha-freeimageLoneliness. The majority of the time you are alone, usually in isolation. I’m an introvert so I get a lot of my energy by being alone in general, but after a while it can become difficult being alone so often and for long durations. I try to force myself to work at a café at least once a week.

What do you wear while writing?

I like to dress comfortably, so I usually wear jeans, a t-shirt, and slippers. I’m also one of those people who are ALWAYS cold, so there’s usually a blanket draped across my lap too.

MeandLokiDo you have a pet or pets?

Growing up, my house was like something out of Dr. Doolittle. We had every kind of pet imaginable, and yes, we had birthday parties for all of them. Right now, I have a pug puppy named Loki. He is VERY appropriately named.

What is something you want to accomplish before you die?

To visit all 50 states. This is something I’ve always wanted to do from an early age. I’m more than halfway through (yay!). Every time there is an opportunity to travel, I try to strategize to visit states I haven’t been to before.

AmieIreneWinters_HeadshotAmie Irene Winters is an environmental conservationist who’s had a lot of unique experiences – from participating in archaeological digs, camping solo in the Rocky Mountains, to designing natural history museum exhibits. But writing fiction has always been her passion. She’s the author of the Strange Luck series.

She’s a California native, but currently lives in a small western Pennsylvania town. She loves hiking, traveling, and spontaneous adventures.

You can find out more about Amie at her website, blog, facebook and twitter.

You can find her work at Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, BAM! and The Book Depository.


Ben interviews Author Katherine Dell

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Welcome, Katherine! Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started writing?

Katherine (35)I started getting interested in writing a few years back; around the time my first was born. At that time my husband and I had moved to a city where we didn’t know a soul, and our families lived far away as well. Being a new mom in a new place – it was a chance to re-invent myself. I started learning all I could about the craft of writing, and reading anything I could get my hands on. (That’s an understatement! I have a reading addiction.) I guess the rest is history.

Is this your first book? How many books have you written prior (if any?)

 Yes, Harmless is my first book. I’m currently working on its sequel while I wait to find the right agent/publisher. I also have ideas brewing for a YA / Military / Genetic Mutations type story –– but we’ll see where that one goes.

Harmless_JustFrontCover_FinalWhat genre is it and what is it about?

Harmless is a YA supernatural suspense. The story centers around Rachel Barnes, who has suffered a legion of losses: the death of her brother, her parents’ divorce, and now the move from a big city and her trusted therapist to a small town and a new high school. And just when the roller coaster that has become her life should finally be slowing, she’s done the unthinkable. In an effort to impress her new friends, she unwittingly releases a malevolent, leviathan-like spirit, fabled to grant wishes, that’s been locked away in small box for centuries.

When this mythical Wendigo spirit possesses her friend, Mason, giving him powers to manipulate the world around him, Rachel must decide how far she’ll go in order to cure him.

http___www.pixteller.com_pdata_t_l-298524As wishes asked upon the spirits contained within the box start coming true, Rachel learns the true, dark source of Mason’s newfound gifts; and her perception about life, death, and reality is tested. Now she must accept the very thing she’s been fighting against – the realization of her own wish, which could turn her into the very monster she tries to stop.

What inspired you to write this book?

file000553063849I’m fascinated with Aboriginal culture in Canada and the folklore that originates from this group of people. I also think, that if I hadn’t become a writer, I would have made a great psychologist. I know what you’re thinking ––– those two things don’t have anything to do with each other. You might be right, but those two things: stories surrounding the Canadian Aboriginal people, and the psychology of the human condition, inspired me to write this story.

Are you a plotter or a pantster (writing by the seat of your pants)?

 I’m a little bit of both. I know where my story has to go, just not entirely how I’m going to get it there. I usually write a point form list of what needs to happen in a scene. After that – I let my characters take it where they may.

Tell us a little bit about your cover art. Who designed it? Why did you go with that particular image/artwork?

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE my cover art! I had it, and a book trailer made when I was planning on self-publishing. Now that I’m querying agents I’m not sure that I’ll get to keep this cover when it makes it to publishing. So my affection for it is a bit bitter sweet.

I had an old colleague and friend of mine, Brianna Schretlen @Curly_Bri, design the cover for me. I think she captured the very soul of the story in this image.

What is your best marketing tip?

Talk to people, be passionate about what you write, and learn how to ‘pitch’ it so other people know how great it is too.

Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been before?

castle scratch4Some day, I’d like to travel to Europe and tour the castles there. To see such old places makes me wonder what untold stories they might hold.

What is your favorite fiction – or non-fiction – book?

 That’s a hard one to answer. I read new and wonderful books all the time, but two really good ones come to mind The Messanger, by Mark Zusak, and Misquitoland, by David Arnold. I think what I like most about these books is their ‘unreliable narrators’ and the psychological twists in the stories.

Katherine (33)Katherine Dell is a voracious reader with an unending passion for the written word. When she’s not typing away at her computer, or chatting it up with her writing buddies, you can probably find her in a cold hockey arena, cheering on her kids. Her past work experience ranges widely from Equestrian Instructor to Event Planner, but she thinks her years as an Executive Assistant benefit her most when it comes to promoting herself as a writer. Kath Dell logo_28OCT15She finished writing her first novel about six months ago and has since started writing the sequel.

You can learn more about Katherine and her work at or at Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Ben interviews Author Anne Riley


Welcome, Anne, tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started writing?

Anne RileyYou know how people take those brain tests, and they are either right-brained creative types or left-brained logical types? Well, my brain runs right down the middle. I am some of each. This has led to a very mixed career. I have a degree in accounting, and am a logical, detailed person, but I get bored easily unless I can create new and different ways to solve problems.

I have always loved writing, but never felt it was a responsible career to pursue. About five years ago, I retired from my job in private banking and dabbled in writing as a hobby. Now I’m hooked.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

When I am not writing, I live life as I please. A few years ago, my husband and I moved from our home in Oregon (a beautiful, beautiful place if you ever want to visit), to be closer to family in Illinois (not as beautiful, but it has the advantage of being the home of our loved ones). We make ourselves available to help where we can.

I love to ride bikes and swim and run. A knee injury a few years ago has limited some of my activities, but I am happy with what I CAN do.

What is one thing that would surprise us?

Hmmm. I think it is that I am a minimalist. I have discovered over the past few years that I do not like stuff, as in, possessions. Everyone is different of course, but for me, the more I own, the more it owns me, and I have discovered that as I get rid of stuff, I feel more and more free.

When we moved to Illinois, we were not sure of our living situation, so we sold most of our belongings and rented an 800 square foot apartment. Surprisingly, I love this austere way of living. We have only what we need, and we are free to live our lives without a lot of stuff weighing us down.

AerieIs this your first book? How many books have you written prior (if any?) What genre is it and what is it about?

Aerie is my second book. My first book, Elusive Little Sucker, is non-fiction. It is a set of stories that chronicle my struggle to find happiness. You can find it on Amazon. Aerie is a romantic suspense novel set in the high tech world of the early 1990’s. It follows Cara Larson and Liam Scofield as they wend their way through the complicated and cutthroat world of information technology.

What inspired you to write this book?

What inspires me to write all my books is the same thing: I have something to say on a subject. I am interested in all kinds of different ideas, and sometimes I will study one in enough detail that I feel I have something to say about it to the world. The nature of the idea determines the type of book I will write.

computer-keyboard-freeimageWith Elusive Little Sucker, I thought it was best to present it as a series of stories from my life, each of which resulted in a lesson that led me to discovering happiness.

With Aerie, writing about the perils of the high tech world would be absolutely boring. But putting it in a fast moving suspense story seemed to me the best way to entertain the reader as well as shed light on an important aspect of modern life.

compass-1420688-639x954Are you a plotter or a pantster (writing by the seat of your pants)?

Definitely a plotter. I have to map out the entire concept of the book in my mind. When I write, the book will often write itself, so I need to always be open to change, but having the concept established in my own head gives me more confidence to proceed. For me, writing is like riding a tiger. I am never sure what is going to happen. Having that concept in mind keeps me focused.

Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?

Absolutely. I won’t write about subjects I am not interested in or don’t know much about. I do not profess to be an expert on the things I write about, but I do make sure I have a working knowledge so that I can make valid points while writing an interesting story.

Also, I shy away from erotica or graphic sex scenes. I could probably write them if I could keep myself from laughing uproariously at my efforts, but others do it so much better, and I am comfortable with my limitations in this area.

ready-for-flight-free imagesWho is your favorite character from your book and why?

It is always difficult to choose a favorite anything, but I will say ONE of my favorite characters of all times is Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. He had it all, in my opinion: intelligence, patience, integrity, empathy. And if you take the movie into account, good looks, too!

What other books/authors are similar to your own? What makes them similar?

I actually tried to craft my books in the style of John Grisham. He writes legal thrillers, suspenseful books based on some aspect of the law. I would like to say I write ‘business thrillers’ but I am afraid the term would be interpreted as a complete oxymoron.

Business is boring, or so everyone thinks. Actually, there is so much evil that can be done under the guise of ‘business as usual’ that it is a field rich in opportunity. I like to weave a good suspenseful tale of evil that can be done using normal business practices.

If you could change ONE thing about your novel, what would it be? 

In Aerie, the one comment that really helped me was that it was a little too technical at the beginning. My mistake was trying to convince my reader I had the technical knowledge to write the book. I think I might have oversold the idea. What I would tell readers is to not let that get in the way. It is more balanced after those first few chapters, so hang in there!

What are you working on now? What is your next project?

Funny, I not only read more than one book at a time, I write more than one book at a time. I started a new romantic suspense novel, but have put that on hold because a new exciting idea popped into my head. I am writing a new little non-fiction book about kindness. It is very thought provoking and fun to write. I can’t say when it will be done, because I have to give the writing process complete freedom, but I can say, it is well underway.

What do you want your tombstone to say?

“She was true.”

What were you like as a child?

I was actually really anxious as a child. In fact, my anxious nature was a constant companion up until about ten years ago. Every characteristic can be both an asset and liability, and though my struggle with anxiety led to much frustration and unhappiness, it also had the effect of increasing my sense of empathy and appreciation for the struggles of others.

What is your favorite Fiction/Non-Fiction book?

Fiction: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It was the perfect combination of all the things I value: justice, integrity, kindness, empathy.

What books have most influenced your life most?

file0001486995335Wonderful Life by Stephen Jay Gould. Professor Gould was a famous paleontologist who wrote many books on how life on earth evolved. This book in particular focused on the contingency theory of life, i.e. the sheer accidental nature of how human life formed. It opened my eyes to a wider view of life and made me realize that nature is devoid of particular purpose and it is up to us to make our own meaning in life.

What book/s are you reading now?

I always have more that one book going. Right now, I am reading: From Dawn to Decadence, 1500 to the Present by Jacques Barzun – a History book about major events affecting civilization during this time period; The God Particle by Leon Lederman – a physics book about the subatomic particles that carry mass; and Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury – a classic. I read this in high school, and had the urge to re-read it. It is one of my favourite books.

Anne Head Shot 3 for FBAnne Riley was born the eleventh of twelve children in Washington state. In a family in which seniority ruled, she had no appreciable rights until a significant number of her older siblings went away to college.

She has a degree in Accounting from Illinois State University and an MBA from Portland State University. She has a wonderful husband, Tim, and three great kids, who have grown up and are now discovering the world for themselves. After spending 35 years in the lovely state of Oregon, Anne and Tim have relocated to the state of Illinois, where their parents reside.

You can find out more about Anne and her work at FacebookTwitter at @AnneRileyAuthor,  LinkedIn, Goodreads and Amazon.

Ben interviews Editor and Author, Christie Stratos

Christie Stratos headshot_outdoors

Welcome, Christie! Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started writing?

I’ve been a writer since the time I could write, and I’ve always loved writing and reading, but I actually started out my college education majoring in music education!

I didn’t think I could get anywhere with an English literature degree, so I started out in music; I played French horn all through high school and was in every group, pit orchestra, and competition I could manage. I figured that the time I spent on French horn should be put to good use, and since it’s nearly impossible to make a solid living with a music performance degree, I chose music ed. It really wasn’t for me. So I went back to the thing I always loved and majored in English lit.

I knew right away I’d made the right decision. While in college, I won a couple of writing awards – one for poetry, another for a social sciences essay – and I loved every lit class I took. Funnily enough I never took any writing courses. I didn’t know if anyone would appreciate my style, even with those awards behind me! So it took me quite a while to come out of my shell.

To this day I have a hard time telling people face to face that I’m a writer. And yet it’s the number one thing I love and want to do for the rest of my life.

Anatomy of a Darkened Heart ebook cover_finalIs this your first book? How many books have you written prior (if any?)

 Anatomy of a Darkened Heart (AoDH) is my first book but not my first published work. I’ve had poems and short stories published in literary magazines and journals, but my dream was always to be a novelist. And now I am!

I have a 10-year publishing plan, so there’s lots more to come, including four more books in the Dark Victoriana Collection. Almost all of my writing is dark fiction except my poetry.

What genre is it and what is it about?

AoDH is dark psychological historical fiction. It’s a mouthful of genre, but that covers it. AoDH is a multi-layered novel that explores which is stronger: people’s assumptions of a person or their own understanding of themselves. If everyone believes you’re a horrible person, that you’re evil, do you become their assumption? Is it enough to know that you’re not what they say you are? There are gray areas to everything, and AoDH highlights the gray side to every situation.

What inspired you to write this book?

DSC_0081Music always inspires me, and I think of lots of ideas to different pieces of music or even the same piece of music. In my mind’s eye, I saw a Victorian girl who was torn between her true self and others’ assumptions about her. I could see it all written on her face.

DSC_0141DSC_0100The whole book evolved from that vision, and it grew and changed quite a bit from my original extensions of that vision. I also wanted to bring out the fact that not everything in Victorian times was beautiful and elegant. There are many other facets to the 19th century.

Tell us a little bit about your cover art. Who designed it? Why did you go with that particular image/artwork?

 Anatomy 001 PODeBook Launch designed AoDH’s cover and I worked very closely with the designer. I had a vision that was so tough to define with words that I actually drew a picture (I’m no artist, I’m a chicken scratcher) to show what I was trying to accomplish.

The most important thing to me was that every single thing on the cover meant something. From the wallpaper to the stairs to the dress to the flower and beyond, everything represents something important in the book. I wanted not only to represent the book properly but have serious meaning behind the images so that as the reader comes across those particular things in the book, they have an “Ah ha” moment about the cover.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m writing Locke and Keye, the second book in the Dark Victoriana Collection. It was intended to be a novelette at about 10,000 words, but it’s now over 30,000. It’s officially a novella, and I’m not done yet!

Locke and Keye is not a continuation of Anatomy of a Darkened Heart. Instead it takes place in the same town and occurs parallel to part of AoDH, so we see some scenes from AoDH from another perspective and in more depth.

Locke and Keye is the name of the shop the story centers around – a locksmith shop that appeared twice in AoDH. The employees who work at Locke and Keye are hired by the owner, Mr. Locke, for some very specific reasons that become clear as the story progresses.

Just remember that when you make the lock, you own the key, and Mr. Locke owns the key to every secret in town.

Have you always enjoyed writing?

Always, and as a matter of fact, I’ve always felt very low when I don’t write for too long. For a couple of years after I graduated from college, I had a feeling of uselessness, regardless of how hard I worked at my full-time job or what else I accomplished.

Until I started writing again, I felt an emptiness that I couldn’t put my finger on. It turns out that if I don’t write, that’s what happens! Needless to say, I write a lot now.

What do you wear while writing?

Pink cupcake pajama bottoms and a Spiderman t-shirt. That’s my favorite thing to wear, but sometimes I’ll deviate – to another pair of pajamas.

Do you have a pet or pets?

I have a sweet little dog who just turned six, a mix of Havanese and Bichon = Havachon. She’s my little sweetheart but she’s got some chili pepper personality in her too. I love having a dog, and she’s the perfect match for me. I don’t know if any other dog could match me as well!

What is your favorite snack food?

CHOCOLATE – chips, chunks, melted, squares. I don’t care what form it comes in, I just want chocolate. Although if you offer me ice cream, I’ll eat it.

Christie Stratos headshot_outdoorsChristie Stratos is an editor and award-winning writer who holds a degree in English Literature. She is the author of Anatomy of a Darkened Heart, the first book of five in the Dark Victoriana Collection. Christie has had short stories and poetry published in Ginosko Literary Journal, Andromedae Review, 99Fiction, and various anthologies. An avid reader of all genres and world literature, Christie reads everything from bestsellers to classics to indies.

Anatomy of a darkened heart 3DYou can find her work at Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, Createspace, and Smashwords.

You can learn more about Christie and her work at her blogfacebook, twitter, instagram, youtube, goodreads, pinterest, and google+.

And don’t forget to tune in to listen to Christie live in an interview on ArtistFirst radio Wednesday at 7:30 pm Eastern!

Ben interviews Steampunk Writer Margaret McGaffey Fisk


Welcome, Margaret! Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started writing?

I was a storyteller before I started writing. Though I don’t remember how old I was when I told my first tale, I was famous for my creepy ghost stories and a space fantasy serial, if that’s the proper term for a told tale rather than a written one.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

When I’m not writing, I’m likely to do any of a large list of things including talking philosophy with my adult boys, playing video games, or coloring in coloring books. And reading, of course.

What is one thing that would surprise us?

Despite my being a keyboard jockey, you might be surprised to know I have a collection of fountain pens, mostly gifts or yard sale items, but the turquoise ink I prefer is hard to find.

Is this your first book? How many books have you written prior (if any?)

A complicated question. According to my records, I have completed 35 novels, but most are still in the editing process with one or two requiring top to bottom rewrites.

Of my published works, I have three series:

The Steamship Chronicles starts with Secrets, and also has Threats and Gifts available to round out the first major arc. Life and Law will be released this year to begin the second major story line for the series and follows the story of the main characters in Safe Haven, a prequel to the series as a whole.

Seeds Among the Stars is my science fiction adventure series and has two novels already published, Shafter and Trainee, with Apprentice due out this year. There’s also an eBook-only shorter work, The Captain’s Chair, set in the same universe.

My third series, Uncommon Lords and Ladies, is sweet Regency romance with three titles already released: Beneath the Mask, A Country Masquerade, and An Innocent Secret.

What genre is The Steamship Chronicles series and what is it about?

Secrets full print coverSecrets begins a steampunk adventure that explores the treatment of difference as Samantha Crill tries to find a place where her unusual knack for hearing the desires of semi-sentient mechanical devices is not a crime. She is able to use a hitherto unknown element of aether to make those desires come true. The laws of her native England condemn all with her trait as criminals from the moment the ability manifests, forcing families to harbour fugitives, or sacrifice their siblings or children to the law.

Her older sister Lily has been hiding Sam ever since the first signs, but rumors of safe havens for Naturals, as those with this trait are called, send Sam off on an adventure where her abilities make an already difficult journey harder, but she meets up with good souls like Nathaniel Bowden, a cabin boy with big dreams, and discovers more than just her family can see beyond the horrifying tales to the real person.

The tale has tense moments when disaster looms as well as joyous times. It is a story about acceptance and discovery.

What inspired you to write this book?

I have been reading steampunk since before the genre was named and classified. It’s the perfect junction of mechanical devices and social questions. I never really planned on writing a novel within the genre until Sam appeared one day and started whispering in my ear.

Me in Kabul

Margaret as a child in Kabul

I like to look at societies, law, and traditions, exploring the impact of decisions often made with valid logic or intentions that harm those without a voice. Culture clash is somewhat my area as I grew up seeing many examples of the same both in the countries where my parents were stationed and once we returned to the United States.

While Sam’s very nature puts her in opposition to those with the wealth to purchase these devices in the first place, there have been many examples in history and even today where people are segregated not for their own actions, but because of what others believe they will do if given the chance. We cannot learn to open our hearts and eyes to this if we remain ignorant, and stories like Sam’s have the potential to do more than just entertain, though she and Nat seem to do the last well enough to delight my readers.

How did you come up with the title of your book or series?

That’s a good question. To be honest, it was a struggle. When I first started writing Secrets, it and the next two books (and two more to follow later) were all one book called The Natural. However, when I got to where Secrets ends, I realized The Natural was a series rather than a single work. I moved the series title to The Natural Chronicles, but when I got some feedback, no one knew what a Natural was so it didn’t carry any weight.

The steamship plays a major part in the first volume of the series (books 1-3), is a shadow over the second volume, and once again a major player in the third volume. Not only that, but it carries with it a sense of steampunk even though my world lacks the dirigibles that are commonly used as steampunk markers…well, at least it does for now.

From that came the first three titles of Secrets, Threats, and Gifts because each is a stage in the journey Sam and Nat share. The first is simple: Sam is a fugitive under the law. She has to keep her nature a secret because she doesn’t believe she can trust anyone. The other two have clear meanings as well, but I won’t spoil the surprise.

Tell us a little bit about your cover art. Who designed it? Why did you go with that particular image/artwork?

The cover art for Secrets is a complex story. At the time, I wasn’t able to purchase cover art as I’ve done for some of my other books, and I have an artistic bent plus a strong vision of what I wanted for this cover. That’s not to say it is all my own work though.

mixed gearsThe base painting is The Ship “Favorite” Maneuvering Off Greenock, 1819 by Robert Salmon courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington. I looked through countless paintings of ships from that period, searching for one that had the right feel, was in a good position, and would allow me to make alterations. As it was, the resolution available for commercial use was too small for my cover and part of the agreement prevented scaling the painting any higher. To solve that problem, I extended the sky and duplicated the edge ships on the back cover to extend the width without changing resolution.

The additions beyond the back cover text sail are the paddlewheel and smokestack because none of the available paintings were of steam/sail combo ships, the figure in the smoke, and the gears. I created the smokestack and paddlewheel using real steam and sail ships as guidelines. The gears are from my collection of clockworks. My husband usually confines his photography to nature, but in this case, he made an exception and gave me a number of gear images to play with. The figure is an old photograph of my younger sister because it fit my image of Sam, and she was happy to volunteer. The hard part was finding a picture that worked, especially with the arm position right.

I’m still happy with how it all came together.

 If you could cast your characters in the Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play your characters?

This is not a question I can answer. Finding the right combination of looks and personality is something I’d happily leave to the professionals with the hope they remain true to the story. While I enjoy movies with actors in the right age range, I experience movies as stories so don’t disconnect from the story to recognize actors outside of it. This becomes quite amusing when I recognize someone but cannot place them until later. That’s how I know who is very skilled because the features match but the character is so different they don’t seem to be the same person.

Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you to write?

Marion Zimmer Bradley and Anne McCaffery were the first to inspire me and are probably the reason I write anthropological science fiction. I didn’t recognize how strongly Jane Austen and Charles Dickens influenced me, though, until I started writing in their period for both the social conventions and the extreme difference between the wealthy and those who haunt the streets. However, those same elements show up in my other novels as well.

Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?

bathroommirrorwritingI’ve actually given up on this writing habit, but probably the strangest thing I did was use wipe-off markers to write story notes on the bathroom mirrors. I have a bad habit of figuring something out just as I’m headed for bed and then forgetting it once I wake up. To avoid that, I crafted a solution, but not a convenient one. You can’t exactly pick up the mirror and take it into your study, while pictures of mirror writing are hard to read. Since getting a smart phone, I type my notes into that instead. A much more useful solution.

Are you a plotter or a pantster (writing by the seat of your pants)?

Neither and both. I call myself an organized organic. I do outline, but my outlines are more narrative summary. The main thing about them is that they are written both in and out of chronological/story order and then sorted into story order. They fall into the pantsing style, but because they’re outline blurbs rather than text (a thin line when some are up to 800 words and include dialogue and character movements), it isn’t usually considered such.

That said, I have pantsed many novels since I started writing, and every once in a while I still do it, but the writing is easier when I do the narrative outline, even if what happens in the outline doesn’t always end up in the book.

Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Racy?

The hardest scenes for me to write are those in the antagonist’s perspective regardless of type, but that depends on the book. I become my characters when they hold the POV, and some of those heads are very hard to be inside, whatever they are doing. So far I’ve only published my lighter novels (though they have some dark moments as do some of my published short stories), but I’ve written both long and short works with moments of true darkness.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why? How about your least favorite character?  What makes them less appealing to you?

Wow, that’s a very hard question. They all are favorites for different reasons. I love Nat and Sam. They share with me a love of adventure, as well as the determination to both do the right thing and not settle for less than they deserve. Mr. Trupt, the first mate, is just such a wonderful person between the way he commands the crew’s loyalty, guides each of them to being a better version of themselves, and is understanding when necessary. The somewhat villain of the piece is the engineer, Mr. Garth, but while he’s certainly at the heart of most of Nat’s troubles, once I learned why, it all made sense though I still didn’t prefer his methods.

As to the least, I’d have to stretch as those who come to mind have only cameos: The father on the docks who couldn’t spare a minute to help his son and the sailors who accost Sam at one point would certainly fall into the category of hard scenes if I had to be in their heads. They were bad enough to view from the outside.

Though she’s only present in the beginning of Secrets, there is also Kate, the lady’s maid, who is unwilling to see beyond her prejudice against Naturals no matter what Sam does. Her only saving grace is how much she cares for Lily. I will say Kate has a much bigger role to play in Life and Law, though she still never claims the POV.

Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?

Yes, I read my reviews. I might learn something from them, whether good or bad, and I’m not willing to miss the chance to see my story through my readers’ eyes. I do not respond to them in most cases because if the readers wanted to talk to me, they’re welcome to pop by my site and either comment on a post (if relevant) or use the “contact me” page. I cannot assume the review is a wish to start a conversation, whatever it says.

As to how to deal with them, there’s this concept of the reader’s 50%. No matter what I wrote, what a reader reviews is half my work and half what it triggered within them. I talk on my blog about perception and how it differs even to the point of a single word. I do my best to convey my vision, but if the reader has a firm connection with something, it will overwrite everything I put in. A bad review (or even a good one) might have that issue or might point to something I can do better, or even what my readers were hoping would be there that wasn’t, offering fodder for future works. The difference between a review and a critique is I cannot ask for clarification if I don’t understand, but in neither case should I argue. The reviewer speaks to their own experience and nothing more…or less. Learn from it and move on. If you can’t do that, don’t read your reviews. Doing so will cause more harm than good.

What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful?

Writing reviews is wonderful, but not everyone is comfortable doing that. If you enjoy my books, tell your friends and family about them. Word of mouth is the single most important element in a book finding its readership.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently editing Life and Law, book 4 of The Steamship Chronicles. This is a bit of a sideways move for the series because we’re leaving Nat and Sam behind for a bit in favor of Lily and Henry (Sam’s sister and husband). Sam is present in spirit, but there are questions to be answered in what she left behind. The sum total of these two volumes will bring us to the final volume of the series, though there are many other stories to write in the world, both with these and other characters, once the last volume is complete.

Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members. 

…I can’t believe the amazing support I have received by fellow authors.

When I first reached out on the Web, I discovered Forward Motion, the brainchild of Holly Lisle who has since passed it to Lazette Gifford. This is an online community of writers of almost every genre with challenges, classes, assistance, and discussion that helped me refine my writing and try many genres and stories I otherwise might not have. Besides, I’ve met many authors I enjoy reading and many who have become friends through Forward Motion.

What is the most difficult thing about being an author?  

This thing called time. There is never enough of it.

What do you wear while writing?

I’m a bit of an oddball. The majority of the time, I dress normally to write, the same way I did when working in an office. On the rare occasions I’m dragged out of sleep to write something down, I’ll put on a robe over my night clothes, and sometimes I’ll stay in slippers over real shoes, but generally preparing for a day in the “office” helps me focus on it as work time.

Do you have a pet or pets?

I have cats. I’ve had cats for most of my life except when I was in school. I’ve always wanted a bird, but the ones I want you have to know who will inherit them because they outlive us, and lizards and snakes but my mother wouldn’t let me and then I had young kids. Who knows, though. Someday, I might have a full-grown iguana wandering through the house palling around with the cats.

What is your favorite snack food?

Dark chocolate hands down. It’s not cloyingly sweet, it offers a touch of caffeine, and it goes well with both nuts and seeds, making it remotely healthy, which is not even considering all the beneficial properties they’ve discovered in the past few years. I could even go so far as to call it good for me…in so many ways.

What is something you want to accomplish before you die?

I would like to edit all of my novels and get them out to my readers. This should be doable, but it’s also a “one step forward, two steps back” process because I’ve been writing between three and five new novels each year.

Do you have any scars? What are they from?

My scars are many as I was a bit of a dare devil growing up, but though I’ve fallen off many cliffs and at least one roof, the most amusing of my scars are the small one at my hairline on my forehead and at my hairline on the back of my head. Why are they amusing? Well, both of them came from falling down the same flight of wood stairs…on my birthday. That doesn’t seem significant until you realize they were from two separate birthdays (my second and third, I believe). Makes you wonder just what was on my mind to make me so clumsy. I suspect chocolate cake is the culprit.

authphoto2-440x600x75Margaret McGaffey Fisk is a storyteller who explores tales across genres and worlds. Raised in the Foreign Service where she developed a love for anthropology, she has been a data entry clerk, veterinary tech, editor, support engineer, and programmer, among other roles. She pulls on her studies and experiences to give depth to the cultures and people that form the heart of her stories. Her 15 published works fall into science fiction, steampunk, young adult, fantasy, and historical romance.

She will be a panelist at BayCon, a San Francisco Bay Area science fiction convention on Memorial Day weekend. This is a wonderful experience with discussions about reading, writing, gaming, costuming, art, and more. Learn about it here:

You can visit, her publisher’s website, and her list of interviews to learn more about Margaret and her work.

You can also find her at FacebookTwitter, Amazon,  Goodreads and her blog.