Interview with Author Ben Willoughby

Today I have the privilege of interviewing one of my favorite indie authors, Ben Willoughby. We first ran across each other on Twitter, and since then I’ve gotten to know him and his writing. So without further ado, let’s chat with Ben.

CW: Tell us a little about yourself.

BW: First, thank you for inviting me to partake in this interview! I’m flattered to have the honor of talking on your blog!

CW: You’re welcome.

BW: My name is Ben Willoughby, and I’m a happily married husband with a beautiful wife and a lovely daughter who turned three last October. I’m an indie writer who’s mainly dabbled in fantasy as well as horror. I have a dieselpunk trilogy I’m currently working on. In my full-time job, I’m a graphic designer.

CW: You’re a bit like me. Writing in several different genres. What did you read as a child?

BW: I really got into mysteries and science fiction as a kid.

For mysteries, I ate up every single Sherlock Holmes book Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, as well as many of Agatha Christie’s Poirot books.

For science fiction, I read a lot of HG Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, Jules Verne, and AE Van Vogt.

When I first started writing for fun at thirteen, I tried to come up with my own mysteries, but could never really finish them. Some have said you should write what you enjoy, but I’ve found I can rarely figure out how to do a straight up detective novel.

I also read heavily into military history. My dad was an officer in the army (he’s since retired), so I grew up with a lot of his old books laying around the house, and was exposed to them. By middle school I had a better knowledge on events like the Napoleonic Wars or World War II than most kids my age.

While my family was stationed in Europe in the mid-90’s, I would go to school and read Erwin Rommel’s World War I memoir Infantry Attacks, and I got to go to the Waterloo battlefield for my thirteenth birthday. I could never get into historical fiction – I think the only historical fiction book I read was The Killer Angels, which was later turned into the movie Gettysburg.

CW: Very interesting. Similar interests, you and I. Aside from writing, how do you spend your free time?

BW: I do artwork, whether it’s sketching or graphic design. My main full-time work for the past decade has been in graphic design, as well as motion design and editing. This has helped me in my writing, since I’ve been able to design my own covers. With the exception of Gods on the Mountain, where I used a freelance artist to paint the cover for me.

I also do a lot of personal study on various topics. My favorite subjects are military history and theology.

And of course, when my daughter is awake, and is in the same room as me, she always desires daddy time.

CW: Yes, there is always the requisite “daddy time”.

BW: There is.

CW: Being a writer, you’re also a reader I would guess.

BW: Yes.

CW: How many fiction books do you read a year?

BW: I read quite a bit, though I don’t know if I can really pin a number on it. If I had to “guesstimate,” I would say about two dozen a year. Part of the problem is finding the time to sit down and read – I’ll get involved in another project, or have to spend time with the family, and by the time I’ve sat down in a place where I can read, I’m too tired to mentally focus. I’ve been getting better about it recently, however.

I also read quite a bit of non-fiction on top of fiction. I recently read a book on what life in England was like at the turn of the first millennium, and am now going through a book on Martin Luther.

CW: What book do you think everyone should read and why?

BW: This is a hard question to answer, because obviously not every book is going to be for every person’s taste. Any book I say, there will most likely be someone out there to say it’s not for them, or could never, in any way, edify them.

CW: Fair enough, so tell us instead about a book that has influenced you as a person.

BW: I used to have an enormous, single volume of Matthew Henry’s commentary on the Bible.

CW: Hey, I had one of those! A great Puritan commentary.

BW: Yes, it is. His analytical way of thinking, and explaining everything as if he were writing a sermon, influenced how I read things in general, which was carefully, word for word, and with a larger picture in mind. It did way more to assist my understanding of comprehensive reading than any test I took in school did.

CW: Spot on about Matthew Henry. Okay, you are being exiled to a small island in the Pacific. You can take 3 books with you. What books would you take and why?

BW: a. The Bible, to maintain my faith and knowledge in true wisdom.

b. The Encyclopedia of Military History by the Dupuys. I used to read that for fun as a kid. There’s enough information in there to pass away eternity and a day.

c. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein, because that’s good sci-fi. (Also, fudge the movie.)

CW: Very interesting choices. So now tell us about a book that’s influenced you as a writer.

BW: It’s hard to pin this down exactly on any one book, because obviously we glean from everything we read, and there are plenty of authors out there who have influenced us. If I had to point to one (in a collective sense), it might be George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.

The earliest books did a great job not only in character development, and every character feels different in their motivations and desires, but the worldbuilding was also excellent. Westeros felt like a real, functioning world. I won’t say his worldbuilding is perfect, as there are a few parts I find a tad bit contrived (eg., one house ruling the same position for thousands upon thousands upon thousands of years), but compared to other works, it’s much more polished. To step into the story is to step into another land.

It’s a bit sad for me to say all this, and I hesitated doing so, since I’ve stopped reading the series long ago. George R.R. Martin takes decades to write one book (confirming my earliest fears that he was the new Robert Jordan), and his storyline has gotten bogged down in so many subplots he’s now admitted he’ll have to write several more books. Also, it’s quite obvious he’s sold out to HBO. But that’s another rant for another time.

CW: Of all your books, which one is your favorite and why?

BW: I find myself still going back to my novelette The House That Homed. It was a lot of fun to write (about three-quarters of it was complete, on-the-spot improvisation) and it showcases my sense of humor, which admittedly is pretty unique and relies heavily on non sequitur. Whenever I pick it up and reread it, there are scenes (like Officer Bruce’s meltdown) that still make me crack up. There are also some parts that will reenter my head as I’m out and about and make me chuckle (like the “It’s the Kickstart guys again” line).

CW: Oh, yes, The House That Homed is fabulous. Superb dark humor. Now, if I hadn’t read any of your books, which one should I start with and why?

BW: In all honesty, probably one of the last ones I published, Mannegishi. I think it’s the much more polished of much of my work, in terms of development, story, and build-up. I was also pretty proud of how I developed each of the individual characters, and how they relate. This was the book where, at a pinnacle point in the romance subplot, my wife actually lamented, “I don’t even care about the aliens anymore!” It was also a lot of fun to write scenes involving exchanges between certain characters, such as the scene where Rick and Lucy have some brief convos, or all the scenes where Sam and Rick go at each other, and so I feel like those scenes really work.

CW: I haven’t read Mannegishi yet. It is, however, on my list. Thank you, Ben Willoughby, for chatting with us today.

And now here is a bit more about Ben, where you can find his books, and get in touch with him.

Ben Willoughby was born in the United States and, being a military brat, ended up seeing a lot of it (along with a foreign country or two). At a very young age, he found a love for reading. At the age of 12, he found a passion for writing. In his late 20’s, he decided to pursue publishing many of the ideas and concepts he had developed over the years. He currently lives in Ohio with his loving wife and young daughter. When not writing or reading, he spends his spare time sketching and smoking his pipe.

You can find Ben’s books at:

https://www.amazon.com/Ben-Willoughby/e/B00WV2OQI2

Ben’s website is: http://benwilloughbyauthor.blogspot.com/

And you can find him on Twitter (https://twitter.com/BenWilloughby84)

and Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13877156.Ben_Willoughby)

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Interview with Karen J Carlisle

 

I’ve never been a fan of time travel, yet I realized very recently that right here on planet earth we do time travel all the time. Today’s guest lives in my future and I live in her past. That’s because she sees the sun before I do and for other very scientific reasons.

I first met Karen on Twitter. I think it had to do with our mutual love of tea that we followed each other. Then we ran into each other on the now defunct Steampunk Empire. And we’ve been in each other’s future and past ever since.

So all the way from the future in Adelaide, Australia, we have with us Karen J Carlisle and she is going to talk to us about herself and her new book.

CW: Welcome, Karen! Glad you can visit with me here in the past. At least it’s the past for me. For you it’s the present.

Karen Carlisle: Thank you for giving me this opportunity to get in practice for being the Doctor’s next companion.

CW: My pleasure. So, tell us a little about yourself.

KC: I’m a science geek. I’m a Doctor Who fan. I’m an artist. I love to garden. I’ve played D&D since 1979 and have been a historical re-enactor since 1994 (though I don’t get much time to do it now).

When I left school, I wanted to be a writer, an archeologist, a photographer, a cinematographer, an artist, an astronaut and the Doctor’s next companion. Instead I did my B App Sc and became an optometrist.

After a few false starts and an unexpected, and forced, career change, I’m now pursuing my first love of writing. I work more hours than I ever did before. And I’m loving it. I get to create things. (Some people even like them.) Bonus!

CW: What did you read as a child?

KC: The earliest recollection is a book from primary school: ‘Stig of the Dump’ by Clive King. For some reason that one sticks in my head. My favourite childhood book was ‘The Dark is Rising’, by Susan Cooper. I’ve just finished re-reading it. Still love it.

I moved onto crime and mystery, delving into Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Sherlock Holmes books. A librarian, who wanted to expand my reading diet, introduced me to ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ and then I gorged on fantasy. Science fiction wasn’t far behind. I think I’ve read just about every Star Wars novel and Doctor Who novel that was published in the 70s and 80s. So, most of my literary diet is fantasy, science fiction or mystery-who-dunnits.

CW: Aside from writing, how do you spend your free time?

KC: I love to create.

I’ve been a costumer since 1980 (my first fan con was Conquest in Brisbane). I do photography, draw (pen and ink mostly. I have some of my work on Redbubble). I’m also a Doctor Who fan (since early 70s) and an old movie buff.

I spend a lot of time in the garden – though I’ve neglected it this year. I have a chemical-free (mostly) edible garden, and companion plant garden as well.

There are way too many things to distract me. I can’t list them all here.

CW: How many fiction books do you read a year?

KC: I’m a notoriously slow reader these days. I used to read a few books a month when I was at university.

These days (due to an extraocular muscle imbalance – oh ugh, technical jargon.), I can manage one a month. This year, I’ve struggled to complete three, as I was ill most of summer and am slammed with a writing deadline at the moment. Though I still buy books as if I was still reading at Uni-speed.

My ‘must must- read’ pile is nudging nineteen books. Guess what I’m doing when this book is published?

CW: What book do you think everyone should read and why?

KC: 1984 by George Orwell.

I studied this book in high school. It’s a cautionary tale for those of us who value personal or thought freedom, and a handbook to those who seek to control the masses. Read it.

These days, I see parallels all around me. Social media playing Big Brother – watching our every move, And we let it happen. Ordinary people participate, swept up in the group mentality, while those who shout the loudest vilify and control those on the fringe, or those with differing opinions.

Governments are defunding arts and declare words, such as ‘climate change’, should not be used in official documents and research. Both are known tactics when trying to curb independent thought and control a population.

It’s all there in 1984. It’s been used before, to great (and detrimental) effect… And we all know how that ended.

Or is that being too cynical?

CW: No, not at all! 1984 is one of the all time great books. It is definitely a must read, as you say, if we care at all about our actual liberty and our freedom to think. And again, as you point out, we do indeed know the real life exemplars of 1984 ended.

So tell us, now, about a book that has influenced you as a person.

KC: Okay, this will get a bit deep and meaningful now. If I dig down to my philosophical and emotional core, the New Testament of the Bible had the earliest and lasting effect on me.

I was brought up a Methodist but taught to question why, and not follow blindly. I believe if we treat others equally – as we expect to be treated – then the world will be a better place. No strings attached. No caveats. No buts. Everyone has a right to live and love. This hope keeps me going, gets me through moments of anxiety.

Bill and Ted (as in Excellent Adventure) got it right: Be excellent to each other.

CW: It is the Golden Rule in practice. You are absolutely right: if we only followed it, our world would be a much better place for everyone.

Okay. You are being exiled to a small island in the Pacific. You can take 3 books with you. What books would you take and why?

KC: Argh, the answer changes whenever I get asked this question; it depends on my mood and where my headspace is in at the time.

Right now? In no particular order:

  • Lord of the Rings (the trilogy in one book — even if that is cheating). I find the story full of hope, of undying friendships, loyalty and love, and good triumphing over evil. All these things seem to be of lower priority these days, but it is something most people crave. I need a friend who will keep looking for me and rescue me, or at least do regular book drops. (Or at least will help me hide the bodies… Did I say that out loud?) Plus I have a thing for Aragorn.
  • Blue Moon Rising by Simon R Green. This is my ‘comfort book’. I read it first in the 80s. It’s a feel-good, fun adventure, with a spirited female character and an unlikely hero. Its voice is easy to read. It always makes me feel better.
  • A never-ending notebook (and pencils). If I couldn’t write while I’m there, I’d go absolutely barmy! (NB: I take it an unending dark chocolate supply is a given, right?)

CW: We’ll make an exception on the dark chocolate, just for you. Now tell us, please, about a book that’s influenced you as a writer.

KC: I can’t confine myself to one. I’d say it’s a combination of writers – Agatha Christie (many of my stories end up with as mysteries), Conan-Doyle (Sherlock Holmes – for mysteries and that slightly off-kilter Victorian feel), and Gail Carriger (for her voice, which she calls comedy of etiquette. I wish I’d come up with that phrase!)

CW: Of all your books, which one is your favorite and why?

KC: Of the books I’ve written? That would be ‘Doctor Jack’.

I’ve always had a fascination with Jack the Ripper – not the creature himself, but the history and mythology that has been woven around it. Who was he? Will we ever know? Why did the chief of police really scrub away the graffiti on the wall – was it political, was it a cover up? Why didn’t they use some of the latest forensic methods, such as fingerprints (the new technique had been used in France)? Was there a conspiracy? Why weren’t some of the newspaper eye witness accounts used in the coroner’s court? There have been so many theories over the years, yet we are no closer. It is the ultimate true crime who-dunnit. It was a story rife for speculation.

I wrote ‘Doctor Jack’ as an experiment in writing from the villain’s point of view. Every bad guy thinks he’s the hero of their own story. They have their own loves and hates, their own dreams and goals. I wanted to show that , and perhaps have the reader understand his thinking, without necessarily condoning it. I mean, the murders were horrid.

CW: If I hadn’t read any of your books, which one should I start with and why?

KC: Start with Doctor Jack & Other Tales (paperback).

This is the first paperback in the first series I’ve written. You can read each story separately; they are complete in themselves, but there is a background story arc threaded through them, which concludes in The Illusioneer (I’m working on now).

If you read the ebooks, start with the novella, Doctor Jack – my retelling of the Jack the Ripper story. Doctor Jack was my favourite story to write. You can go back and catch up on the first three short stories, which fill in the background. However, Doctor Jack does have a spoiler for the second short story, An Eye for Detail.

CW: Where we can find your books?

KC: You can find shopping details and links on my webpage: www.karenjcarlisle.com/shop

They are available via various online bookstores in Australia and internationally, including:

Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Booktopia, Fishpond, Angus & Robertson/Bookworld.

You can also buy the paperback direct from me (if you live in Australia).

CW:  Would you give us contact information, such as a url to your website, Amazon page, Facebook page, or wherever else we can find you?

KC: Sure!

Web: www.karenjcarlisle.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kjcarlisle

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KarenJCarlisle/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/KarenJCarlisle

CW: Thank you so much for visiting with me in the past. I hope things are just fine in your present, which is my future. Goodness. Thanks again, Karen, for visiting. All the best to you.

KC: Thank you for having me on your blog!

CW: And if you head on over to www.karenjcarlisle.com and answer today’s question, Karen will put your name into the hat for a chance to win an ebook of one of Viola Stewart’s adventures. That is a very good deal!

 

 

Karen J Carlisle is an imagineer and writer of steampunk, Victorian mysteries and fantasy. She was short-listed in Australian Literature Review’s 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition and published her first novella, Doctor Jack & Other Tales, in 2015. Her short story, ‘Hunted’, was featured in the Adelaide Fringe exhibition, ‘A Trail of Tales’.

Karen lives in Adelaide with her family and the ghost of her ancient Devon Rex cat.

She’s always loved dark chocolate and rarely refuses a cup of tea.

The Illusioneer & Other Tales

Viola Stewart returns for a third set of adventures.

Viola needs a holiday. But, even at the beach, or while partying on the grand tour of Europe… there are things afoot.

Seeing is believing… or is it?

The Illusioneer & Other Tales: The Adventures of Viola Stewart Journal #3 is currently scheduled for release in late October/early November.

For more information, sign up for Karen’s newsletter: http://karenjcarlisle.com/sign-up-email-list/

 

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Day 4 of the Give In To The Feeling Blog Tour

Give in to the feeling - Blog Tour

Today is Day 4 of the Give in the Feeling Blog Tour and I’m pleased to have with us today, Sarah Zama, who is the author of Give in to the Feeling.

You can check out the entire schedule on Sarah’s website The Old Shelter.

I first met Sarah, I believe, on either Goodreads or 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.org. In either case, I’ve gotten to know her and her wonderful world of Roaring Twenties Chicago. So without further ado, let’s talk with Sarah!

CW: Your story is set in 1926 Chicago. Why pick that year and city?

SZ: Blood’s and Michael’s stories were originally thought to happen in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, but as I researched the time period, I increasingly became fascinated with the 1920s. It was a time of great change in the life of people, but also in their hears and minds. And since the story of my trilogy deals with change and coping with it, I finally decided for a shift in the time period.

As for the city, although every place has an interesting story to tell, as I researched the Prohibition I quickly realized Chicago and New York City were the cities that offered the most in terms of setting. So many things where happening and the two cities (the two biggest in the US) were in the forefront in the changing habits of America.

I finally decided for Chicago because I was fascinated with the ‘city of neighbourhoods’.

CW: You note on your blog you try to make your story as historically accurate as possible but it is also fantasy. What is your definition of fantasy?

SZ:  I said ‘fantasy’, but I could have more accurately said ‘speculation’. Fantasy, for me, is anything that isn’t, but could be. Speculative stories go a bit further than mimic stories may go. They go that extra step that subverts reality in some way or another.

All stories exist to expand on our experience, to let us experience things we are unlikely to ever experience in our life. That’s the whole point of every story. Speculative stories come down harder on us. They subvert reality in a way that exposes what is normally hidden or taken for granted, and with the use of symbols lay meanings in front of us in a way that is more challenging.

Not all readers are comfortable with this kind of manipulation, though. Readers may not understand the symbols, or the subversion, and see only the surface, see a story that has no connection with reality.

In the end, it’s all up to the individual sensibility.

CW: How much of your story is history and how much fantasy?

SZ: With regard to my 1920s stories, most of them are history. Setting, historical events, and societies, I tried to present as close to history as possible. But in these stories, the spirit world exists and mixes with the world we know freely.

CW: As writers of alternative history, we are asking “What if such-and-such did or didn’t happen?” And then we try to answer that question. As readers of alternative history, each of us has a threshold beyond which we can no longer suspend disbelief. Are there any elements in your story where you are pushing the boundaries of fantasy in a historical setting?

Well, my stories can’t be considered alternative history. As I said, I tried to be as faithful to history as possible. But as a reader of alternative history there are lines I have a very hard time crossing.

I think that history always makes sense. We might not like what happened, we might not accept what happened, we might condemned what happened, but there is always a reason why certain things happened. I ask alternative history writers to keep in line with this. Their alternative history has to make sense. There has to be a reason why something, at a certain point, didn’t happen the way it did. And the consequences, the way the alternate history evolves, also have to make sense.

The moment I start questioning the alternate history, I’m out of the story.

CW: What is it about speculative fiction and Dieselpunk in particular that attracts you over say romance or mysteries?

SZ: As I said above, I think this is largely a question of personal liking and affinity. I actually love mysteries… though I would never be able to write them. Romances? Not so much. And there isn’t an intellectual reason for that, I don’t think one genre is better than another, inherently. I do think some genres are better than others for me, because some genres resonate with me while others don’t.

The reason why I love speculative stories is that I think their subversive elements can be used in a very powerful way to question reality as we know it, and so it has huge potentialities for philosophical thinking. Fantasy, SF, Horror stories push elements of our reality to such huge extremes that they naturally cause questioning… if the reader isn’t scared away.

I mean, think of a story like Animal Farm. On the surface, you could say there is nothing realistic about it. But that story was actually depicting a very specific historical moment and contains a universal message of freedom and equality that still speaks to us more than half a century later.

I’ve been a fan of fantasy since I can remember. I’ve been into mythology and legends since I was very little. And I’ve always loved history since I studied it at school. When I was very little, I would watched 1930s and 1940s mystery films on TV with my granny. I suppose all of this fell together when I finally met Dieselpunk. It happen by chance, I just stumbled upon the concept, and I was instantly fascinated. Serendipity, I suppose.

CW: Give in to the Feeling deals with the spirit world. What is it about ghosts that interests you?

SZ: I’m not sure I can answer this. I’ve always been fascinated with the fact that the world we see and touch isn’t all there is. That if we can – and are willing – to go that extra step, we can touch and see a different world.

Maybe this is just a way of symbolizing our connection with our deepest self. I don’t know. What I know is that in my stories, when the spirit world and the real world come together, good things normally happen… although not always in an easy way.

CW: Is your book a “classic” ghost story? Or are ghosts just lurking on the fringe?

SZ: Give in to the Feeling isn’t a ghost story at all. There are spirits in it, but no ghost.

Ghost Trilogy is of course a ghost story. There is only one ghost, but it’s a very important character, central to the story. It is also the catalyst of all the changes, especially inside the characters. Dealing with this ghost forces nearly all characters to look inside themselves and deal with what they find there.

CW: Why did you choose the cover you did for your book? As I recall, you had an Art Deco look as a possibility.

SZ: I commissioned a graphic artist to do the cover. We talked about what I was looking for and what she could actually do for me. The result is a compromise between the two.

CW: What makes the main characters in Give it to the Feeling tick?

SZ: I think it’s the aspiration for something more and better. They are all willing to go that extra step, because they know it will bring good things to them. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always cooperate.

CW: Blood is a rather unusual name for a character. How did he get it?

SZ: A lot of people seem to like Blood’s name, it is very popular among those who have read parts of the story.

It is part of his Lakota name, which is Wewacipi, meaning Blood Dance. There is a story of how Blood received his name, but since this is part of Ghost Trilogy, I’d prefer not to reveal it now.

CW: What is your next writing project?

SZ: I’m still working at Ghost Trilogy. It is completely drafted and the first novel is nearly ready to go. I’ve actually already submitted to agents, which is why I know it is not ready yet… Books Two and Three are still at the second draft stage.

I’m also playing with the idea of a series of stories again set in the 1920s but in Europe. The main character is Ombretta Vivaldi, an Italian folklorist. I created her for a challenge and I became fascinated with her, but her story is still an embryo. So much to plan still.

CW: I remember Ombretta from several snippets you shared on 8 Sentence Sunday. She impressed me as a fascinating character. I hope we get to see her soon. 

What does the future hold for you?

SZ: Success for my stories, of course!

CW: And here’s wishing you lots and lots of success!

You may connect with Sarah at the following:

Contact Info and Links

Email: oldshelter@yahoo.com

Blog: www.theoldshelter.com

Website: https://sarahzama.wordpress.com/

Social Media:

Twitter: www.twitter.com/JazzFeathers

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/jazzfeathers
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jazzfeathers/
Google+: https://plus.google.com/+Theoldshelterdieselpunk
Pinterest: https://it.pinterest.com/jazzfeathers/

Biographical Note

A bookseller in Verona (Italy), Sarah Zama has always lived surrounded by books. Always a fantasy reader and writer, she’s recently found her home in the dieselpunk community. Her first book, Give in to the Feeling, comes out in 2016.

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Interview with J. Evan Stuart!

One of the best books I read last year was Entangled, the debut novel of J. Evan Stuart. I enjoy character-driven mysteries and Entangled fits the bill to a T. And today, I’m excited to bring to you this interview with a very talented up and coming writer. Without further ado, meet J. Evan Stuart!

cover copy web

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’ve always been a reader. From the time I was young I always had a love for books and would look forward to escaping into make believe worlds. I can’t say I’ve always wanted to write and just kind of started on a whim. For awhile I was tutoring students and a boy I was working with had an assignment to write a story beginning and the focus was on conflict. We came up with an initial scene taking place in a restroom where two boys confront each other and an iPod ends up being dropped in a toilet. For whatever reason the scene stayed with me and a year later I took pen to paper and wrote it out. Once I got started that was it. I have been writing for about six years now.

What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?

My debut novel is Entangled. About three years ago I found a small news article in the newspaper. It was no more than a couple hundred words about a thirteen year old boy in a small Kansas ranching and farming town who was accused of murdering his parents and shooting his siblings. The article struck a chord with me, so I cut it out and saved it. Months later I wrote what would be the first chapter. It was a year after that I began to write the story.

How would you categorize your book?

It is a police procedural mystery with strong thriller and suspense elements. Because one of the dual protagonists is an eighteen year old accused of killing his parents and is on the run, it could easily crossover into YA. I think it would also appeal to those who like to read romantic suspense, as long as they want a story that is heavy on suspense and want a romance that is subtle. Minus bulging muscles and various other body parts.

Introduce us to your lead protagonists.  What is it about these character(s) that appeal to you as a writer?

The story starts with the reader being introduced to Connor Evans. He’s a high school kid who hates ranching and small town life in Ashlin, Nebraska. While his father expects him to follow in his footsteps of carrying on the family ranch, Connor has no interest in ranching which often puts him at odds with his father. The only escape he has from the boredom and his strained relationship with his dad is sneaking out to drink with his friends which often leads to them getting in trouble with the local authorities. When his parents are murdered all the evidence points to him and he finds himself on the run trying to deal with his grief and avoid being caught.

Sonya Reisler is a newly promoted detective with the Nebraska State Patrol. She wants to credit her ambition and dedication as the reasons for her promotion but, when she finds her new partner is her former mentor and lover, she has her doubts whether she truly earned her promotion. Sonya is sent to Ashlin to look over a murder investigation case before it is sent to the DA. She begins to notice small things that make her question whether Connor Evans committed the crime and gets the okay to conduct her own investigation. The nature of the crime hits close to home for Sonya and has her facing memories and demons she’s spent a lifetime burying. When her path crosses with Connor’s, professional lines become blurred. What starts out as an opportunity for her to prove to herself she earned her promotion, quickly escalates into something that could end her career altogether.

I think readers will find Connor the easier of the two to understand. Through flashbacks and his actions in the present, we see a teenager trying deal with his world being turned upside down and the aloneness he feels. Sonya is more of a mystery. She has a past that readers only see glimpses of, but we really only see her in the present. Something is fueling her desire to solve the case but we don’t know what it is until the very end. I think Sonya and Connor play off of each other well throughout the entire novel.

How did the book come to be titled?  Or, how does the title relate to the story?

Entangled is a good description of what happens to Sonya when she lets this case become personal and gets so deeply involved it becomes impossible to free herself from it.

Tell us more about the cover design.  How involved were you with creating the cover?

I was very involved in the cover design and sketched out how I wanted the characters positioned and what elements needed to be present. I sent my sketches to Ronnell Porter who expanded on my ideas and created the final product. I think his addition of the yellow police tape across Connor was a great idea. Connor, in many ways, is a danger to Sonya, causing her to cross many lines when it comes to this case. I think the cover really conveys what readers will find in the story.

Describe your writing process.

In a word? Chaotic. I work in scenes, usually starting with the dialogue that occurs between characters then slowly fleshing it out. I often don’t know the exact setting or even where in the story that particular scene will take place. I just picture it and know it will happen somewhere in the story. As more scenes form and are fleshed out, I continue to build on them, rearranging them until the story starts to come together. Then it’s a matter of stitching everything together. This method tends to give me more flexibility than if I were to work in a linear fashion.

How much research did you put into your book/series?

I ended up doing quite a bit of research for this story starting with the setting. I looked at many states where cattle ranching is done and Nebraska seemed to fit the bill for the other story elements I needed. While Ashlin is a fictional town along with some other features, many other places mentioned are real. I also had to do some research on the Nebraska State Patrol and some legal elements. My main goal was to make the story plausible and believable as possible.

What is the best advice received as an author?

I’ve been very fortunate in that I have had good support in my writing journey and have gotten a lot of good advice along the way. One of the best pieces of advice I received was to trust your readers. As a novice I was guilty of overwriting and over explaining because I was unsure of myself as a writer and wanted to make sure my readers understood what I was saying. Once I trusted that the readers would get what I was saying without my spoon feeding them, my writing greatly improved.

What specific authors or books influence how you write today?

This is a tough question. I think everything I read, good or bad, becomes part of the collective. I can tell if I really like a book because I will want to reread it again immediately. With the subsequent read I will really try and figure out what it is the author is doing that makes me love the story. One author that does come to mind that I found particularly interesting when it comes to writing style is Lisa McMann. In her book Wake, I was really taken with the brevity of her writing and how she used very short sentences that packed a lot of punch. I think that tends to stick with me when I write.

What types of genres do you read now for pleasure and do they influence what you write today?

I’m still a huge fan of YA and MG (middle grade) literature and I also love fantasy. For the most part I will read anything that sounds interesting.  I’m partial to character driven stories, so as long as I like the characters it really doesn’t matter the genre. As for what I write, I started with writing fantasy and paranormal because that was what I read most. Writing a police procedural mystery came as kind of a surprise for me since that is the genre I read the least.

What is next for you?

Currently I am working on the second book in the series entitled Enmeshed. I am hoping to complete it sometime in 2016.

Where you can buy Entangled and get in touch with J. Evan Stuart!

Entangled on Amazon!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jevanstuart

Website: http://jevanstuartauthor.blogspot.com/

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Interview with Justinia Wright, PI

Today it is my privilege to interview the famous Minneapolis private investigator, Justinia Wright. I’m sitting in the equally famous oxblood oversize wingback in her office, where many have sat before me in much less happy circumstances.

cwh: Miss Wright, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

JW: You are very welcome.

cwh: To begin, how long have you been a private investigator?

JW: Eight years.

cwh: And before that you worked for the CIA, is that correct?

JW: Yes. I worked seven years for The Company.

cwh: What made you leave and decide to become a PI?

JW: I can’t give you specifics. Let’s just say I didn’t see eye to eye with my boss and what he was asking me to do. As for becoming a PI, I didn’t do that right away. I opened an art gallery and sold art with a partner for two years.

cwh: Where was that?

JW: In San Francisco. When that didn’t work out, I moved to Minneapolis and got my private investigator’s license.

cwh: Why Minneapolis?

JW: The Twin Cities aren’t an overly large metro area, yet are large enough. There is a wonderful mix of cultures and the area offers many opportunities for musical and artistic expression.

cwh: So why become a PI?

JW: From my time in the CIA, I knew how to get information and perform surveillance. In a sense, it was going back to what I knew without all the bureaucracy.

cwh: How is being a spy similar to being a private investigator?

JW: As I mentioned, gathering intelligence and conducting surveillance. Where it differs, is that I have to do my own analysis.

cwh: To date, what has been your most difficult case?

JW: [She rests her chin on steepled fingers for a few moments before answering.] I’d be inclined to say the case Harry has called Festival of Death.

cwh: Harry’s your brother and assistant, right?

JW: Yes, that is correct. He and Bea, his wife, keep the office and household running efficiently. [She pauses.] Although the case he is currently writing up, about the poor murdered minister, was quite puzzling. So either of those.

cwh: Do you investigate yourself or do you have a support team?

JW: A team. The best team. I don’t know where I’d be without David Nagasawa, Gwen Poisson, and Ed Hafner. Or Harry. I do a little field work. Mostly, though, I work as a handler, so to speak, and analyze the information I receive.

cwh: Do you find being a woman to help or hinder you?

JW: I don’t find being a woman to help or hinder. There are many more women in the business now than ever before. What matters is if you get results. And I get results.

cwh: Do you work often with law enforcement?

JW: Yes, I do.

cwh: How would you describe your experience?

JW: Overall, I’d say positive. I’m frequently called in to assist on difficult homicide cases, something I like very much. They especially like getting results and I, of course, get results.

cwh: Do you have a liaison?

JW: Yes, Lieutenant Cal Swenson of Homicide.

cwh: Now, Harry has given us a certain picture of your relationship with Cal. Is that picture accurate?

JW: Cal and I are friends and I think I’ll leave it at that.

cwh: What motivates you as an investigator?

JW: My sense of justice and fairness.

cwh: I understand you can be difficult to work with sometimes. Do you care to comment on that?

JW: [A big smile appears on her face.] Depends on how you define “difficult”. Do I expect competency? Yes. If that is being difficult… [She shrugs.]

cwh: Competency, yes. But what about your interactions with your clients and Lieutenant Swenson? As your brother portrays those interactions, well, it just seems—

JW: That I’m difficult? Well, that’s Harry. He does tend to get a bit melodramatic in my opinion. Sometimes, clients don’t know what they know or what they think they know can impede an investigation. My job is to cut through the crap, so to speak, so I can help them.

cwh: And Cal?

JW: The police are a bureaucracy. Sometimes Cal is a bureaucrat against my better judgement. All in all, I don’t think I’m any more difficult to work with than anyone else.

cwh: You’re an amateur painter and pianist. Any thoughts about going professional?

JW: No. Not really. But I do like painting and performing, so who knows?

cwh: I see our time is up. Thank you very much, Miss Wright for giving us this opportunity to give your fans a bit more information about you.

JW: My pleasure.

You can see Justinia Wright in action in Festival of Death and Trio in Death-Sharp Minor, available on Amazon and soon in other fine online retail establishments.

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