Thrilled to welcome you to my blog to chat about your book launch for Vigilantes. Vigilantes releases today!
MJ: The blurb is very intriguing Allan. Where is the story set and why did you choose to set it in that country/place? Are your novels and short stories set in different countries? And what genres do you write in and why?
ALLAN: First, I would like to thank you, Marjorie for giving me the opportunity to visit your popular blog. The setting for Vigilantes is in Bordeaux, France where my protagonists are attending a funeral for one of their co-workers. Their escapades will take them to different European countries as well as more obscure destinations in Asia. They search for two brothers who have been evading the law for twenty years, by hiding in different countries. I love international stories and I wanted this one to take the readers to different settings as seen through the eyes of my hero.
Yes, I set many of my stories in different settings, different countries. Part of the fun in writing is the research, visiting various cities online, looking at photos, what is the country or city famous for? Can my readers see the cafes and boutiques, hear the language or the birds singing, or the waves beating on the shores? I hope so.
Although my reading preferences lean toward thrillers and mysteries, I love writing historical fiction as well and plain feel-good stories too.
MJ: Aww, so very fascinating and such a breadth in your writing. Thank you for your kind words. I love how you interview so many guests on your blog, Allan. Including me – twice! You are so generous with your time. The writing and creative community is so important isn’t it? You must have met so many amazing guests.
ALLAN: I have indeed, met many wonderful, friendly folks, like you. We are all in the same situation of wanting to share our stories with a new and wider audience. When I originally started my blog – South Branch Scribbler – I did so as a way to share my own writing and books and the idea came to me, I could have guests and share their stories, find out more about them and pass it on. It has been a fantastic experience. I not only discovered really cool people but really cool books. So much fun.
MJ: Yes, my thoughts too. We are all in this together and gain so much by being supportive friends. I see you are from Canada. Yeah! It’s a lovely country, so friendly and welcoming. If I could become an adoptee Canadian I would… My daughters and I visited Montreal in the days of easy travel before the pandemic. I loved it! Which area of Canada are you from? And fill us in on any family/details/hobbies you have…
ALLAN: I must admit, I love Canada and feel most fortunate to be a citizen of this huge beautiful country. Thank you for the nice comments and you’re always welcome. I too, love Montreal, a fascinating city with so many cultures and deep history. But there are so many other great places to visit. I live on the east coast of Canada, in the maritime province of New Brunswick. Our province borders the state of Maine in the west, The province of Quebec in the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. The seaside community I live in is called Cocagne and is mainly a French speaking village of Acadian descendants. The bay is across the road and an inspiration and setting for many of my stories. My family lives close by and I see them all frequently. I’m fortunate that way.
As of late, I have been dedicated to my hobby of writing. I am fortunate to be retired and can devote more time to my stories. Previous hobbies included stained glass and woodworking and as gratifying as they have been, I’ve decided to concentrate on my writing and it remains my central focus.
MJ: Awesome. Your latest book is part of The Drake Alexander series. How many books are in the series and can you tell me how they connect, what inspired them and what they are about?
ALLAN: My newest novel coming is the third in the DA series, titled Vigilantes. The two earlier novels were the first stories I wrote. Drake Alexander is a former soldier of the Canadian Armed Forces. The first novel brings him and his people to look for the man that killed Drake’s best friend’s sister. It took them three years to track him down. During this novel, Drake discovered he and his cohorts have a talent for rounding up bad people. They have the financial resources, the time, the manpower, the know-how and they don’t back down from anyone.
The second novel has Drake and his team rescue a priest that is a boyhood friend of Drake’s when he gets in trouble from an historical relic discovered in his church in Peru. Incan gold and Spanish raiders. This setting was inspired by the horrible plight of the Incan people at the hands of Spanish and foreign looters. It was the first story I wanted to write but when I started, a novel by well known author, Clive Cussler, came out titled Incan Gold. I didn’t want to be accused of plagiarizing Cussler’s idea, so I passed on it and wrote Dark Side of a Promise, which takes place in Bangladesh, another country that amazes me.
Vigilantes picks up from the last tangle with the enemy. As I mentioned earlier, at a funeral, Drake is approached by a man who continues to mourn for his daughter that was killed during a bank robbery twenty years previous and the culprits have never been apprehended. He asks them to help.
MJ: Wow, good luck with Vigilantes, sounds fantastic. As you also write short stories, (and I do too!) which do you prefer writing long narratives, or short stories? I’d love to hear more about your short story collection.
ALLAN: I’ve always enjoyed reading short stories and love writing them. I have no preference when it come to writing a longer or shorter story. Sometimes an idea forms with no length in mind. Occasionally it ends as a short story or novella. Or maybe I get an idea that fits with the shorter version. It would be difficult to say which I like best as I find fulfillment in both. I feel it begins with the idea or inspiration. There have been several times when I sit to write and I intend for it to be a short story but most times, I let the words flow and see where it ends up. It only differs when I decide to write a longer version because of an idea, like the novels we talked about above. But I enjoy both equally.
My latest collection is titled A Box of Memories. Many of the short stories were inspired by memories of an incident in my life or a memory of what may have happened to someone else. One story in particular – Four Boxes of Memories – was inspired by my own boxes of keepsakes, things I can’t throw away, birthday cards, drawings by the boys when they were small, rocks and seashells, postcards, plane tickets, and such that make up our histories. There were four of them and I was thinking that someday I would have to part with them, no matter how dear they were.
MJ: That sounds lovely – I also find it difficult to throw things away! Are you a procrastinator/plotter/panster/cafe/at home writer? What is your favourite place to write?
ALLAN: I have the neatest spot to write in. I converted my previous workshop to a more friendly spot to read and watch movies… and to write. I’m a morning person and I cherish quiet moments. No music in the background, no one leaning over my shoulder. My wife has been terrific, allowing me to write freely and uninterrupted. I write from six in the morning until eleven, usually. And almost every day now. Unlike others, I could never write in a café or in public, too many distractions for me and yet, I admire writers who can do so.
I’m definitely a panster. I run with an idea, no outlining, just enough research to get me going. There have been a few times I knew the ending but not often. I like to see where it all goes. Interesting enough, on my WIP, I was stuck and stared at the computer for some time, unsure of where to go and when I couldn’t decide I started to write about where the protagonist was sitting and then the words followed.
MJ: Oh, me too Pantser to the core! What your writer’s tip and or disaster? Make it funny, serious or both!
ALLAN: So, my one and only tip is to keep writing and sort out the garbage later.
MJ: Sounds like simple but great advice. What do your family think about your writing?
ALLAN: When you mention family, I think of my children and they’re spouses. Their support and encouragement have been tremendous. Always attending my events, sharing my posts, telling their friends but oddly enough, they don’t read my stories. They are happy for my accomplishments but not readers. Oh well.
My other families’, siblings and in-laws for example, read and comment on my writing, usually favorable. They don’t always like the rough sections and tell me so, but in a nice way.
But the support is always there, the encouragement is always appreciated.
MJ: That’s wonderful!
The master vintner at Chateau Lambert Estates, Jean-Paul Chouinard, stares up the rise at the family cemetery, where the darling of the house was laid to rest yesterday. The grave site is surrounded by four men and a woman. The people whose service Mireille Lambert was in when she died. One of them was her lover. One of them is Drake Alexander.
Chouinard knows what they do. He knows who Alexander is. He hears the whispers. Vigilantes. He grieves knowing the brothers who are responsible for his daughter’s death twenty years ago have not been apprehended. Maybe it’s been too long. Maybe the brothers are already dead. Maybe, if he asked, Alexander and his people could find them.
Buy your copy of Vigilantes on Amazon:
I live by Cocagne Bay in Eastern Canada where the summers are hot and the snow is deep in the winter. I married the greatest gal on earth, Gloria, and have a son Adam, two stepsons Mark and Chris (Mireille)Young. Three grandchildren Matthieu, Natasha and Damien.
I love reading. My mother was a school teacher and taught me to read and write when I was young. I’m presently retired and write as often as possible. My other hobbies include woodworking and stained glass.
I love jazz and am a HUGE fan of JJ Cale.
I have a wonderful life. I hope that you will read my novels – Wall of War and Dark Side of a Promise & a short story collection titled A Box of Memories. I trust you will enjoy them and if so please tell someone.
I can be reached at email@example.com Please visit www.southbranchscribbler.com if you like short stories, guest writers, artists and musicians and interviews.
Hi Alex welcome to my blog. It’s great to be able to return the favour, and to thank you for the lovely feature interview you did for me recently on your blog.
Alex Pearl is an extremely shortsighted copywriter, author, ghost writer, travel writer & artist.
MJ: I love the premise of your YA novel Sleeping with the Blackbirds – a darkly humorous modern fairy tale story – which tackles many important topics: bullies, homelessness, single mums and abusive parents. How did you get the idea for the story?
ALEX: That’s a tricky one. The story came to me gradually, and the circumstances in which it was written was fairly bizarre. I was working for an ad agency at the time that was going through a global merger, and work dried up while this was all going on. So I had time to think about my first book. Strangely enough, the title came to me before the story became fully formed. And the rough outline of the story involving the schoolboy Roy Nuttersley leading a miserable life with awful parents and school bullies looming large in his life, and of course, the birds who try to assist him – these were ideas that I had in my head before I started writing the thing. I think the idea of a young boy and birds may have come to me because my son at that time used to imitate seagulls, and he was quite brilliant at it. And it’s no coincidence that we have a 400 year-old-oak tree that towers over our own garden, just as one does in Roy Nuttersley’s. But the details of the story evolved as I wrote it. That said, the ending to the story, which many people didn’t see coming and seem to have enjoyed, came to me before I’d started writing it. So it was a case of knowing how it started and how it ended but not knowing much else until I started to write.
MJ: I believe your debut was published in 2011. Are you surprised at how your writing path has changed/developed since then?
ALEX: Not really. I’m a bit of a chameleon, probably because of my background in advertising and the fact that copywriters are always briefed to adopt a certain tone of voice that is suitable for the audience they are addressing. So for instance, you’d write in a certain formal style when talking about an investment trust to readers of The Telegraph, and a very different lighter tone of voice when talking about Smarties to children and mums. And my approach to writing books is the same. I’d like to have a go at any genre.
MJ: On your Amazon profile, I was amused to read that you are perhaps the only human being on this planet to have been inadvertently locked in a record shop on Christmas Eve. How did this happen? And did you manage to have your Christmas dinner?
ALEX: To this day, I’m not entirely sure how it happened. All I can remember is stepping into the shop in broad daylight. I think it must have been about 4.00 in the afternoon. So it wasn’t even normal closing time. I don’t remember hearing people locking up or anything like that. But that’s what they obviously did. And strangely enough, all the lights were left on. So when I finally found the record I was wanting to buy and discovered nobody behind the till my first reaction was one of mild annoyance. Then when coughing loudly and profusely still produced no results, I went behind the till myself and into a back room that was empty. At this point I gave up all hope of spending my pocket money and marched over to the front door and on yanking it hard to get out, nearly pulled my arm off. It was locked. Only then did I realise the full horror of the situation. But thankfully, I’d spotted a telephone in the back room (this was well before mobile phones had been invented), and I called my father who duly called the police, who in turn tracked down a caretaker who lived in Mile End and took over an hour to finally show up with keys to unlock me from my temporary prison. So in answer to your question, yes, thankfully I did get my Christmas dinner. But it must have been a miserable Christmas for the staff who I learned later, were fired.
MJ: Since you were an advertising copywriter, if I were to ask you to write your own slogan, what would it say?
ALEX: Aha! The advertising slogan question. I actually hate slogans. The best ads don’t actually have them. But that’s a subject for another day. I’d settle for something funny. There’s a lovely piece of graffiti that I’d love to have written: ‘Smile they said. Things could be worse. So he did. And they were.’ It doesn’t say anything about me exactly, but its delicious, deadpan irony is the kind of thing I love. So it does tell you something about me indirectly I guess. I suppose I haven’t really answered your question. Hey ho, or ‘La-di-da’ as Dianne Keaton says in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.
MJ: You mention that you are a slow writer, I relate! Is that because you get distracted? What is the slowest aspect of the writing process for you, or perhaps the most difficult part.
ALEX: I get distracted, I procrastinate, I put things off. I’m just generally a bit shambolic and disorganised. And then when I write I tend to take time; writing and rewriting. I’ve read that Douglas Adams used to go backwards and forwards like this and used to end up with mountains of screwed up paper in his bin, which I find reassuring. The hardest and slowest part for me is the planning stage. For my first book ‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds’ planning took up almost as much time as writing. For my second ‘The Chair Man’ planning and research took me for ever – far longer than it took to write the thing. This said, ‘Blackbirds’ didn’t require any research at all. With ‘The Chair Man’ I had to look into the ways terrorists communicated in 2005. It’s not an easy subject to research as you can imagine. But I did find an obscure book written by academics in America that delved into this. I also had to find out about GCHQ and MI5, which again are difficult subjects to research for obvious reasons. Then, of course, I had to get the politics right. So all in all it was something of a challenge.
MJ: I love your book covers. Do you get much input into choosing them? And are you swayed by enticing covers yourself? What are your favourite cover/s and book/s.
ALEX: I’m glad you mentioned that. I’m very fortunate to have a good friend who is a serious, professional advertising photographer. He photographed and designed both my covers. I love his work, so it’s a bit of a no-brainer using John because you know whatever he produces is going to be fantastic. For ‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds’ he took an atmospheric shot on Hampstead Heath and used an excellent typographer to design a special typeface for the title.
And for ‘The Chair Man’ he created this strong silhouette in the studio and again used a special typeface to create the title. Interestingly, John used a similar silhouette technique for the film poster he shot for Guy Ritchie’s ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.’
MJ: Awesome! I love the black and white style that you use on your blog to platform so many authors. How did that come about? What made you choose that style?
ALEX: Thank you, Marjorie. I wanted to keep the style of the website simple, consistent and stylish. So I deliberately kept the typeface reasonably large sans serif in grey, which always looks classy, and decided that all portraits should be in black and white. Besides creating a distinctive house look, it also gives the books the prominence they need, as they are always reproduced in full colour. Many people have commented on the look of the site, and some love the fact that it’s so very readable. There’s nothing worse than having to squint at tiny type on the screen that you have to blow up.
SLEEPING WITH THE BLACKBIRDS
Eleven-year-old schoolboy, Roy Nuttersley has been dealt a pretty raw deal. While hideous parents show him precious little in the way of love and affection, school bullies make his life a misery. So Roy takes comfort in looking after the birds in his garden, and in return the birds hatch a series of ambitious schemes to protect their new friend. As with the best-laid plans, however, these get blown completely off course – and as a result the lives of both Roy and his arch tormentor, Harry Hodges are turned upside down – but in a surprisingly good way.
“Wonderful images and thought-provoking scenes.” Bramwell Tovey, composer & broadcaster
“The strength of the author’s voice held me captivated long after turning the last page. With the wit of JK Rowling, Alex Pearl has definitely earned his place in the young adult fiction hall of fame.” Lisa McCombs, Readers’ Favorite
“A delightful fairy story that deals sensitively and compellingly with modern-day issues like homelessness, single mums and abusive parents.” George Layton, actor, screenwriter and bestselling author.
THE CHAIR MAN
Michael Hollinghurst is a successful corporate lawyer living a comfortable, suburban life in leafy North West London. But on 7 July 2005, his life is transformed when he steps on a London underground train targeted by Islamist suicide bombers. While most passengers in his carriage are killed, Michael survives the explosion but is confined to a wheelchair as a result.
Coming to terms with his predicament and controlling his own feelings of guilt as a survivor conspire to push him in a direction that is out of character and a tad reckless. In a quest to seek retribution, he resorts to embracing the internet and posing as a radical Islamist in order to snare potential perpetrators. Much to his surprise, his shambolic scheme yields results and is brought to the attention of both GCHQ and a terrorist cell. But before long, dark forces begin to gather and close in on him. There is seemingly no way out for Michael Hollinghurst. He has become, quite literally, a sitting target.”The nearest I ever got to a “terrorist incident” was in East London, when I heard the IRA bomb go off in Docklands in 1996. I cannot predict my reaction were I to be caught up personally in such events, but I hope I would not go the same way as Michael Hollinghurst, the central figure in this entertaining and elaborately plotted novel. It is a gripping thriller that repays careful and close reading (and I will certainly read it again).” Graham Smith
MJ: If you could share your experiences and thoughts whilst writing The Chair Man? ALEX: Once I had worked out the story in some detail and written a synopsis, and had taken copious notes from research sources both online and from books, I felt able to start writing. And the writing process is far more enjoyable and liberating than the planning and research, which I don’t especially enjoy. But it’s the ammunition I need – a kind of road map if you like. Without it I just don’t know where I’m going and I simply don’t have the confidence to write. I envy people who are pantsters and can just sit down and write. I just can’t do it. I tried it once and after 15,000 words I dried up. I still have the unfinished manuscript somewhere. My daughter nagged me for ages to finish it, so I wrote ‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds’ instead. MJ: I believe The Chair Man is your thriller debut. Have you any plans to write any more thrillers and if so what topic/backdrop do you plan to use? ALEX: I knew you’d ask me that. I really want to write a sequel to ‘The Chair Man’ but am struggling to come up with a storyline that I’m happy with. I know how the first half of the novel kicks off, but it’s the last two thirds that have so far eluded me. Perhaps I’ll resolve it. We’ll see. MJ: How did you become an author? And do you think it has changed you? ALEX: It just happened. I suppose I’ve always toyed with the idea of writing fiction, but never really had the confidence that I could do it. But once you have an idea in your head, writing it isn’t actually that difficult. Has it changed me? No. Not one bit. MJ: Have you a favourite character in The Chair Man? Or a particular character that you had great difficulty developing, or who altered in a way you did not expect. ALEX: That’s a really good question. And the answer is yes. Surprisingly, I ended up liking one of the terrorists Qssim who is a very complex character. I originally intended him to be pretty nasty, which he is initially. But as the book develops his character develops, too and he becomes a much more sympathetic character that you can relate to. It’s interesting that some readers find him more likeable than the protagonist who is a victim of a terrorist attack.
MJ: What are your writing plans for the future? ALEX: If I can plan a sequel to ‘The Chair Man’ I will definitely write it. Time will tell. I’m also planning to get back into painting, which I haven’t done for many years. I used to paint large abstract paintings on glass and exhibit them. I’m hoping to produce enough new pieces for an exhibition in the next year or two. You can view some of my work here: http://glasspaintingsbyalexpearl.weebly.com
Wow, I’m impressed! And so jealous, I wish I could paint.
MJ. Is there one marketing tip you would like to share? ALEX: I’m no expert at marketing. But I have found that offering a free ebook and using services like The Fussy Librarian to promote it can be quite effective. I have seen around 800 copies downloaded in one day. But services do vary. Ereader News Today managed to shift 1,000 copies on one occasion and only 300 on another. I was rather pleased with myself when I placed a free ad on Nextdoor.co.uk for residents of NW3 which is the postcode where my thriller is set. Doing so led to 100 downloads in a day and three reviews. And that cost me nothing.
Alex’s first novel ‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds’, a darkly humorous urban fantasy, written for children and young adults, was initially published by PenPress in 2011. It has since become a Kindle bestseller in the US. In 2014, his fictionalised account of the first British serviceman to be executed for cowardice during the First World War was published by Mardibooks in its anthology, ‘The Clock Struck War’. A selection of his blog posts is also available in paperback under the title ‘Random Ramblings of a Short-sighted Blogger.’ In 2019, his psychological thriller, ‘The Chair Man’ that is set in London in 2005 following the terrorist attack on its public transport system, was published as an ebook by Fizgig Press. The paperback followed in 2020. Alex lives in NW London with his wife and two children who are far smarter than their old man. He is quite possibly the only human being on this planet to have been inadvertently locked in a record shop on Christmas Eve.
I’m pleased to welcome Chantelle Atkins to my blog to chat about her writing group Chasing Driftwood. Recently, I submitted a poem to her writing competition and won joint first prize, winning a 1 to 1! It’s been really helpful getting 1 to 1 feedback on a short story idea I am developing. More about that soon.
In the meantime, here is the Q and A with Chantelle.
I’m curious about the origin of the name of your writing group: Chasing Driftwood? Why did you decide to set this group up?
I decided to set it up because at the time I had been writing and self-publishing for a while and had learnt so much in the process that I wanted to be able to help other writers with their own journeys. Also, I had never been able to find a writing group locally that fit in with having a family, so I set up the adult group first to fill that need and it went from there. I used to be a childminder and really missed working with kids, so putting on creative writing workshops for children was the next natural step and this eventually grew into after-school writing clubs, adult workshops, online courses and more! I think it comes from a passion for writing. I want to help other people start writing and keep writing. I had a long period of time where I lost writing entirely because life was so busy, so I know what it’s like to not have the time or the energy to devote to it. But I want to show people that you can make time and that it is definitely worth it! The name came from two old indie songs that were in my head one day when I was trying to choose a name for it. Chasing Rainbows by Shed 7 and Driftwood by Travis. I’d been stuck for a name for ages as so many have already been taken that use the word writing or write for example, so I went with Chasing Driftwood Writing Group and thought it sounded unique.
I’d love to find out more about your writing journey. Please elaborate…How long have you been writing for? And when did you start the group?
I’ve been writing my whole life. I still have lots of the stories I wrote as a child. I was totally obsessed with reading and writing. It’s all I ever wanted to do. I always found it so incredibly exciting and magical. Through my teens it saved me and my stories grew into novels. I also wrote a diary back then religiously every day. I then had a ten-year period where I did not write at all. This coincided with finishing University and having my first child. I then had another very soon after and decided to become a childminder so that I could earn money while looking after my own children. Then I had the third one…and I was exhausted, happy, but exhausted! There just wasn’t time for writing and I thought I had left it behind me and missed the boat. When my then third child started school, I had a sudden panic that life was slipping me by and I hadn’t fulfilled my childhood dreams. So I quit childminding, started dog-walking and got back into writing. Once it started, it just refused to stop and that was ten years ago now! When the fourth child came along, I hung onto my writing with all my might and these days I am very strict about making time for it. I will never let it go again. I published my first novel The Mess Of Me in 2013 and set up Chasing Driftwood in 2015. We then became a CIC in 2017 and in 2020 I gained a business partner!
In your opinion, what demons and obstacles are there to overcome in order to progress and be successful in writing?
Oh my gosh, so many, and that’s the saddest thing, because so many people start writing and give up, or want to write but never dare to do it…Time is the biggest hurdle for most people I work with. Lots of people come and go within the adult writing group for example, and life gets in the way for them. Busy jobs, young children; there just isn’t enough time and energy for writing. I’m always offering advice and tips on making the time and sticking with the discipline needed. The next biggest one is self-doubt, I think. People have a story in their heads but don’t think they can do it justice. I think all writers suffer from self-doubt to some degree. It comes and goes and you are constantly battling with it and trying to drown out the self-criticism. The other hurdle I think is other people. Sometimes because they are the reason you are busy and tired, and don’t think you deserve to devote time to writing…and sometimes because people look down on it, tell you it’s a waste of time, not a real job and so on. I know this happens to a lot of writers and I had to put up with that myself when young. I want to encourage people to do it anyway!
Tell us a little about the Chasing Driftwood group and the writers who are part of the group and the services you offer to adults and children.
The adult writing group is quite small at the moment as several of the long- termers cannot or do not want to do it via Zoom, which I perfectly understand. We used to meet in a community hall where we had a cosy room all to ourselves every other Monday evening. The group varies in size between three to five people, or seven to ten. People do come and go, as life gets busier and they get less time to write, but there are a few who have been with us for several years now. Some have gone on to finish novels they are now trying to find publication for and some have written novels and gone on to secure publishing deals. They are a real mix of people, genders and ages, and I don’t think they will mind me saying that we are probably all classic introverts! The group is running monthly at the moment via Zoom, using more of a workshop style format to get them writing, as many of them have really suffered with the pandemic and not being able to write. As well as the adult group, we offer adult workshops. These used to be in venues such as halls and libraries, but are currently via Zoom. For children, again we had after-school clubs but cannot go into schools right now because of Covid, so these are all on Zoom. We also have three clubs for home-educated children, and online courses for children
Has it been more difficult and challenging to manage the group throughout the pandemic?
Yes, definitely. During the first lockdown a year ago, I didn’t do anything. I was so shocked and scared and so concerned with helping my children through it, I just couldn’t get my head around the writing groups carrying on. I knew there was Zoom and Skype and all sorts, but I just couldn’t do it. I stayed in contact as much as possible via email and I set challenges and prompts on the Facebook page but that was all I could manage. I felt really sad and scared that I would lose my business by not moving it online, but at the same time, I just didn’t seem to have the emotional energy needed to keep it going. That all changed once the kids started going back to school. I finally had the time to organise myself, set up Zoom and try it out and it all took off quite well. Now I am really pleased we have so much online and we will always offer online workshops, courses and clubs now, even when we can return to physical ones. When we had the latest lockdown and school closures again, I managed to work through it this time, juggling my clubs etc with home-schooling! It was tough, but we managed.
I’ve read The Mess of Me which I’ve been meaning to read for some time. I knew I would like it! From your writing style, I get a sense that you are a character driven writer. This is also apparent in the chosen name of your blog The Glorious Outsiders. What a great name for a blog! How did you decide upon the names of your books/blog? Would you agree that you are a character driven writer? And why?
Thank you! The name for the blog came from my characters. When I first set up a blog, I had not published anything and just used it to share snippets on. I then picked up a few tips from another writer about rebranding the blog, making it speak for you, letting people know who you are and what you do. I thought about my characters and realised that all of them are outsiders in some way, and none of them really care that they are. The Glorious Outsiders seemed perfectly apt for them and for me. The names of my books have come from various places. Some come to me really quickly, even before I’ve written the books, for example, The Tree Of Rebels and Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. The Boy With The Thorn In His side came when I was half way through writing the first book and I realised that for me at least, the lyrics of that song by The Smiths really made sense for the story. This Is Nowhere comes from a Neil Young song called Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere. The story offered the title up as one of the characters played Neil Young records, so of course I had to play Neil Young while I was writing it and when I listened to the lyrics of that song, I knew I had a perfect title. And yes, I would agree that I am very much a character driven writer. It’s always characters that come to me first, and they start talking about their lives and worlds and problems and then eventually a plot comes from that! I love creating characters, it’s so much fun, and with reading too, I am much more drawn to character driven stories.
I believe you’re working on a new project, a supernatural YA series with co-author Sim Sansford. What’s the process of writing a novel together.How does this work and would you recommend it?
Yes, I never, ever thought I would write with another author! I’ve read books by others who have tried this and was in complete awe as to how they achieved it. I’m quite a control freak about my own writing, my style and choices and characters, so I didn’t think I would ever be able to co-write something. Sim became my business partner in November 2020 and brought to the company exactly what I needed: an injection of youth, enthusiasm and ideas! It’s brilliant to have someone to bounce ideas off and to share the workload. We got on really well with it, so when he suggested writing something together my instant reaction was, why not? I had no idea how it would work or where it would go. Sim had a loose idea and we decided to write it in first person from alternating character points of view. He created a character called Darcie Duffield and I created JJ Carson. We knew it would be a supernatural/super abilities style story and again, this was something I had never imagined I would write, but it has gone so well. We finished book one in about six weeks I think and rolled straight into book two, which we have just finished! We have started to edit book one and have ideas to start book three. It worked by one of us writing a chapter, sending it to the other, then they responded with theirs and so on. We message lots throughout the day with ideas and questions and somehow it has just worked out! It’s been really exciting and fun and I would definitely recommend if you can find the right author to work alongside.
What does the future hold for Chasing Driftwood?
Hopefully, we will continue to grow. At the moment, I feel like we are putting lots of things in place that will benefit the CIC later on. So there is a lot of unpaid work going on right now as we work towards future goals. We have set up copy-editing and proofreading services to compliment the writer’s groups, workshops and courses. We intend to keep adding new online courses to the site for adults and children. We are putting together our first collection and it will be the first thing we publish under Chasing Driftwood. It’s a pandemic themed collection we hope to have ready by the start of the summer. It will be testing the water really as we would love to evolve the CIC into an indie press at some point. Again, we might cut our teeth on this idea by publishing our co-written series with Chasing Driftwood, but it is early days, so we will see! We have other projects in the line for when covid finally frees us all…A nature-based project for young writers and a community writing project among others.
It is my pleasure to welcome Tracie Barton Barrett to my blog today. Tracie and I connected during the initial stages of the pandemic. She contributed a piece about the impact of isolation in the anthology compilation, This Is Lockdown, which is available to buy on Amazon.
Since then, we have become friends, so I thought it would be nice to invite her over to my blog for a chit chat!
Here’s the Q and A:
What inspired you to write this particular story? As an animal lover, particularly a horse lover since birth, I’ve always wanted to write a book celebrating these magnificent beings. My hope in writing FINDING HER SPIRIT is to tell the story of Maren Markey while telling the story of many horse lovers. My blog entitled, “Why Did You Write a Horse Book,”https://whydidyouwriteahorsebook.blogspot.com/
My hope in creating BURIED DEEP IN OUR HEARTS was to celebrate our important bond with our animals and honor their memory.
What advice would you give new authors? There is soooooo much to learn and this is a marathon, not a sprint. Marketing will make up a bigger part of what you do than you think (or want). Join a group of fellow authors. Writing can be isolating and connecting with others who understand can make all the difference! Know there will be ups and downs–times when you feel happy about your work and other times when you feel you couldn’t construct an even simple sentence. There will be people you think might buy your book who don’t. Conversely, there will be people who you never thought in a million years would be interested who will! And, I’ll say it again, there is sooooo much to learn and this is a marathon, not a sprint.
Do you have any pets? Yes, we have two cats, Oliver Monkey and Bubby. They are our two furry boys and definitely run the household. We just pay the mortgage.
Where do you write? Do you have any special routines? Sometimes I’m in my office, dining room table, and sometimes I’m outside or at the library. Sometimes I’m sitting in my chair in the bedroom, and sometimes on the floor. Just depends! I don’t write for a book everyday, but I’ve journaled every morning for about 29 years. I think it helps get the juices flowing. But, it’s amazing, it seems as though the day isn’t complete if I don’t journal, and I almost feel “backed up” when I don’t!
Are you a plotter or a pantser? I’m more of a plotter. However, for FINDING HER SPIRIT, I began writing before I knew the ending. With BURIED DEEP IN OUR HEARTS, I knew the ending before any of the other parts of the book. Finish this sentence: This Igloo is something I built when I was young living in Michigan. Although I generally dislike the cold, I have good memories of building it.
“Tracie Barton-Barrett has done something remarkable with this lovely book. She’s captured the essence of childhood dreams.1. “Which of us hasn’t had a dream of something that seemed unattainable as a child? Whether it was a pony or a puppy or just to have a best friend, we’ve all been there. Barton-Barrett’s Maren navigates a difficult childhood fraught with adult problems like divorce and mental illness and “normal” kid problems like loneliness and the school cafeteria. Yet Maren never gives up on her dream of owning a horse of her own and when one avenue fails her, she finds another one.This is a beautiful, heartening story of resilience for all ages, but especially horse-loving girls.”–Michelle Flye, author of HOURGLASS.
“Tracie Barton-Barrett, author of Buried Deep in our Hearts, has done it again. She reminds us of the gifts available when we open ourselves to the unconditional love of animals. In Finding Her Spirit, a beautiful coming of age story, Maren’s love of horses is a touchstone that helps her navigate her adolescent and teenage years. Not only does she have the normal challenges like a friend’s betrayal and young love, she’s also adjusting to a blended family and the mental illness of her father, whom she adores. Though all this, Maren finds solace and strength from her relationships with horses. Finding her Spirit reawakened my own childhood love of horses and had me cheering for Maren as she discovers her authenticity and resilience.” –Heather W. Cobham, award-winning author of THE MOTHER TREE
Bio: Since I was en utero, animals have had my heart and my husband and I are currently owned by our two cats, Oliver Monkey and Bubby. As a Licensed Clinical Professional Mental Health Counselor with a specialty in pet loss, workshop facilitator, and former psychology instructor, my life’s work has been to honor this important bond with these fabulous beings. My first novel, BURIED DEEP IN OUR HEARTS, was written to help celebrate this bond and honor their memory. When not writing, I’m an advocate for other Indie authors, traveling, hiking, enjoying the outside, dancing, singing to music in the car, playing the piano, or watching movies and TV, particularly quoting “Friends,” and “The Golden Girls.”
Blurb for FINDING HER SPIRIT: Packing for college in 1991, Maren Markey stumbles upon her old diary. Reliving moments from her past, she remembers weekend visits with her Daddy after her parents’ divorce, struggles with her new stepfamily, a new friendship, romantic interests, and a strong connection with a special horse. Through it all, Maren’s deep love for horses serves as a constant lifeline in her ever-changing life. Join the ride as Maren finds her Spirit.
Welcome to Kyrosmagica! It is wonderful to have you over for a chit chat, Sally.
Lovely to be here Marjorie and thank you for the invitation.
MJ: I’m delighted to be reading Life is Like A Bowl of Cherries, Sally, the title is so beguiling, particularly as I do love fruit, and cherries are a favourite!
MJ:Sally,I’d love to hear more about your nomadic life. I believe you have lived in many countries. Which of these places has a special place in your heart and why?
My father was in the Royal Navy and was posted overseas several times. On occasion we were able to travel with him as a family, including my first trip at age 18 months to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). The first year was documented in photographs and I don’t really remember as I was too young, but certainly by the time I was three I was aware of my surroundings and the people in my life. We lived in a house on the edge of the jungle and we had a cook and an amah or nanny for me. My two sisters were 13 and 14 by this time and when they came back from school I was handed over to them. Anything they did I did too, and I was swimming every day in my rubber ring which I loved and still do today, but without the rubber ring!! On one memorable occasion, I followed my eldest sister up a steep ladder during a diving competition. She completed her dive and surfaced expecting applause to find a stunned silence and groans from the crowd. I had crawled to the end of the diving board, stood up and jumped off. Apparently I surfaced and told my sister ‘again’.
After Sri Lanka we returned to the UK for two years followed by two years in Malta which were amazing, and after another two years in England we moved to South Africa. My memories of our time in Cape Town are very vivid as I was ten years old by this time and well aware of the situation at that time with apartheid for example. As a family we had to attend an induction day so that we knew what we could say and what the rules were for segregation. I found it very difficult as I had friends at school in England from the West Indies and the Middle East and it felt very uncomfortable being unable to be friends with anyone because of their colour.
David and I have lived and worked in several countries over the last forty years and certainly our experiences, and the people we have met, have provided us with amazing memories. As a writer all of my travels have left me with memories that are wonderful to dip into and use for stories.
They say that ‘home is where the heart is’, and for me that is certainly the case, and wherever we might be living, as long as David and I are under the same roof it is a special place.
MJ: Oh, how lovely.
MJ:Writing short stories and poetry takes a special skill. Can you summarise the way you approach writing them – any rituals you have, or methods you use?
The stories start out life a great deal longer than they end up. I tend to write in my head first when walking or exercising, then come back and dash it out on the computer. I spend a lot of time revising and editing down to a point where I feel it reads aloud well. And I always ask myself, would I enjoy if I read the story for the first time.
I tend to stick to the Japanese poetry which is constrained by the number of syllables. I love the various formats and experiment depending on the theme. After the first draft, I usually end up changing the words within a certain syllable count to find the one that expresses the most action or emotion.
With everything I write, I use David as a sounding board and he is brilliant with suggestions that might enhance or improve the piece.
MJ: You feature so many authors on your wonderful blog Smorgasbord. This must be a labour of love as I’m sure it must take up so much of your time. As an indie author you give so much to the community in features, reviews and the like. How do you manage your time? And do you ever feel overwhelmed?
One of the key elements I learned early on in my management career was project planning and this was vital when dealing with major construction, installation or sales and marketing campaigns. I carried this over to when I was running my own business for the next twelve years and then as a blogger.
For me blogging is a full time occupation and a business despite the blog itself not being monetised. I am an indie author with 14 books to sell and nobody else is going to do that for me. With 20,000 new titles added to the shelves on Amazon each week, it is tough to get noticed, particularly in the popular genres.
Twenty years ago I was helping authors get their books noticed in a very different way with book launches, radio interviews, press releases and my own first book got some great publicity nationally. However, it is very different now, and the focus is on local physical marketing and global online promotion.
As an author of six books in 2012, I needed a platform to market my own books and that involved creating an online presence across other areas of social media. I began building Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn systematically over the years. I don’t belong to any other social media because as you say, it is time consuming to maintain, and these three are the most consistent referrers of visitors to the blog after WordPress Reader.
I had a project plan in place to achieve my vision of how I wanted the blog to develop. To market my own books, I felt that the content on the blog needed to appeal to a varied market. I set out to develop a magazine style platform with a number of topics. I began with health which I have been involved in for over fifteen years by that time, and slowly added the other areas I have been involved such as book marketing, music and humour as the followers and my confidence grew.
After three years I felt that there was a strong enough following to offer free book marketing to other authors, which is when the Café and Bookstore came into existence. There are now over 150 author promotions, two book fairs featuring all the authors in the Café, and around 50 individual author spotlights a year. My hope is that I can help in some small way to showcase an author and their work within our writing community, whilst also promoting my own.
As to finding the time to post in the way I do… I always schedule ahead by at least a week and usually two. In the case of a series I schedule all the posts at one time. This creates time for me to maintain social media, spend time on my own writing projects, and read and review books.
The project plan is not completed, and in the blog’s 9 th year I hope to continue to find new ways to get all of us noticed and sell some books.
MJ: You are an inspiration, what a wonderful goal.
MJ: The title of your latest release: Life Is Like A Bowl of Cherries. How did you choose the title and what were you trying to convey?
My life experience has been one of highs and lows as is the case for so many people. The reason I appreciate what I have right now, is because of the tough times in the past. Nobody has a perfect life and that is what makes it so fascinating. I wanted to reflect this in the stories I write, but I try to end each of them with a hopeful outcome.
As to the name of the collection…I bought a punnet of cherries last year and could not believe how they looked the same but some were bitter and some were sweet. When I was looking for a title it came to mind.
MJ: That’s so cute!
MJ: After eight years blogging what advice would you impart to new bloggers starting their blogging journey?
Everybody has a different reason for beginning their blogs and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. I do dislike the term Hobby Blogger which is used for anyone who does not commercialise their blog. Whether it is one blog a week, one a day or more, it takes time to prepare, format and market. Various skills are required and whilst it should be enjoyable, it takes work, not just to create the posts, but to get noticed.
I do suggest that anyone thinking about blogging visit a load of other blogs first to get a feel of what is out there, the format, the response in terms of followers and comments. That is usually a solid indicator that people enjoy the content.
A good place to start with your own blog is with your passions, which might be cooking, music, writing, etc. Start with one blog a week and sprinkle with some reblogs of other people’s posts that you are following and enjoy. They will appreciate the gesture and return the favour.
Follow and comment on other blogs and share on social media by clicking one of the buttons at the end of the post. Just saying ‘I enjoyed that thank you’ with your name is very welcome. One thing I do suggest is that you don’t put the URL of your blog in the comment as that should come up with your name, and most blogs block comments containing URLs.
Follow bloggers you enjoy on Twitter and Facebook and retweet their pinned tweets…and if you are an author this is particularly important. I do have a pdf of Book Marketing for authors, including set up for blog and social media and if anyone would like a copy then they just need to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
MJ: Has your writing mojo stayed the same during this unprecedented time of covid?
Like all of us we have had to adjust to several lockdowns and still having to get on with life in the most hopeful way possible. I felt it was very important for my own wellbeing to ensure that the blog continued as normal during the year. More than ever being online and staying in contact was crucial, and authors were still writing books that needed to be marketed. Music and laughter are important in my life, particularly at the moment, so there was no thought of not carrying on as usual.
MJ:You live in Ireland now, what made you settle there? And do you ever see yourself moving?
My husband is Irish and despite leaving for work when he was 18 years old we have visited family regularly and lived here for five years in the mid-1990s. We loved living just outside of Madrid and periodically on the south coast of Spain for my time on radio, but we got to our mid-60s and felt that it would be a good idea to return to Ireland. We are in good health but even if you are relatively fluent in a language you would still find it difficult coping with illness, or possibly being left on your own to cope with it.
It has been nearly five years now and I miss our friends and the sunshine, having swapped 300 days of blue skies for 300 days of rain! But the warmth of the people here certainly makes up for that. Additionally this last year, there has been a sense of feeling less exposed as we live in a rural area on the coast. Without the usual holidaymakers arriving from Dublin this summer, the incidence of the virus has been much less than it has been elsewhere in Ireland and in the UK. Obviously we are sorry for all the small businesses dependent on this annual influx but it is better to be safe than sorry.
We love our house which took four years to renovate, with some work is still needed in the garden, which is weather dependent. There is enough room to move in some help as we get older, as neither of us are care home material…so the answer is we probably are here for the duration! For the time being lol…
Thank you again Marjorie for inviting me over and I hope that I didn’t outstay my welcome… I do love to chat… Happy 2021 everyone.
Excerpt from The Scratch Card
Elsie Thompson attended the morning service at St. Cuthbert’s and dropped in to the coffee morning in the church Hall to catch up on the gossip in the parish from the last week. She also wanted to share the good news with her friends that she had won twenty pounds on a scratch card the day before, and she had four crisp five pound notes in her purse to prove it.
Mr. Singh the owner of the corner shop where she always bought her tickets, had beamed at her as he handed over the cash and commented it would not take her far sadly. She laughed and spent one of the fivers on another card, in the hopes another win might get her somewhere with a lot more sunshine than Liverpool. To be honest, even enough for a day out in Southport would be lovely for the both of them, and her husband Frank would enjoy a stroll down Lord’s Street, and she would treat him to a posh tea at the Prince of Wales hotel.
Elsie paid for five cups of coffee and a biscuit for herself and her four friends with one of the remaining fivers, and they sat in a corner happily sharing their news and plans for the following week. It was money well spent, and an hour later, Elsie walked home to get the roast lunch prepared, looking forward to their son Tom’s monthly visit with his wife Steph and their two boys.
As she crossed the main road, she saw a young lad sitting on the pavement outside a closed charity shop, he was playing the guitar, and at the moment the only audience seemed to be his dog leaning up against his shoulder. Elsie paused in her mental preparation of the roast pork with crackling, roast potatoes, carrots, cauliflower cheese and peas, followed by apple pie and custard. The boy’s face was pinched, and he shivered in the cold breeze that had picked up in the last couple of hours. His music was actually not half bad, and he had a nice voice, which drew her closer to hear more clearly. He smiled in recognition of her attention and the dog stood up and wagged its tail.
Elsie looked into the open guitar case and saw a few coppers were strategically scattered to entice further contributions. She had appreciated her own little bit of luck, and a few shillings wouldn’t be missed. She took her purse out of her handbag, opened it and realised she only had some pennies. Shaking her head she pulled out one of the remaining two five pound notes and tucked it beneath some of the coppers to stop it flying away. She looked up into the boy’s face when he suddenly stopped singing and saw tears running down his face into his dirty scarf.
MJ: I’ve read this story and it is one of my favourites!
Sally Cronin is the author of fourteen non-fiction and fiction books published over the last twenty years. After a nomadic life living and working around the world, she and her husband now live on the Wexford coast in Ireland. As an indie author she began blogging seven years ago as a way to promote her own books and then created The Cafe and Bookstore to promote other authors and their work. Smorgasbord Blog Magazine is also home to health, food, music, life stories, poetry and humour.
Latest book: Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries, Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet
Thank you so much to Chelle for this feature on her blog and lovely short intro:
Morning my lovelies. Hope you’re all keeping safe and well. Today I’m delighted to welcome M J Mallon over to chat with us. We’re discussing the emotions of a first time author, paranormal activity, how her superpower would help humanity, mythical creatures, which one of her characters she’d love to bring to life, her most recent book, This is Lockdown and more.
Do pop over to read and comment at Chelle’s blog, Curled Up With A Good Book – link below:
Today, it is my great pleasure to welcome author of family drama and mystery genres, book reviewer, and enthusiastic supporter of the writing community James J. Cudney to my blog.
Jay is sharing some fascinating insights into his writing life. And Jay’s books are on promo during May! (So whatever you do don’t miss out on the offer links towards the end of the interview.)
In my interviewer mode I sometimes like to call myself MJ… So, donning my MJ superpowers… Lol. Let us begin.
MJ:I’d love it if you could tell me a little about yourself and your writing journey.
Jay: Writing has always been part of my life, but it went on the backburner after graduating from college. I’d jot a few lines down here and there… everyone at work would send me their documents to proof or fix. Friends would ask for advice on how to summarize a situation or meeting. Then I worked for 15 years in a complex corporate and technology role. I had no time to write, but when I left in 2016, I decided to explore my passion again. Three years later, I have eight books. I seriously don’t know how it happened… I mean I do… but really… it feels like someone else lived this life and now that I’m back in a corporate technology role, figuring out how to balance both of these versions of me at the same time is almost impossible. The one thing I do know: I am thrilled to be a part of the literary book world, and I will never leave it again!
MJ: I’d love to find out more about you. Where are you from? What anecdotes would you like to share? What makes you tick?
Jay: I was born in Fort Myers, Florida in the USA. Various ancestors immigrated to the US between 1750 and 1900 from Germany, England, Ireland, and Scotland. Three of thirty-two branches seem to have arrived before 1750 but I cannot be certain when. The last person to emigrate was in 1910, so we’ve been here for a very long time. They mostly settled in the PA-NY region, and my immediate family all grew up on Long Island, the suburbs of New York City and not too far from the Hamptons. Although I lived a 45-minute drive or train ride from NYC, I only visited a handful of times before I turned twenty-one years old. My parents weren’t big fans of the city, and as an only-child, I didn’t get out very much. It’s amusing that I now live here, and my parents visit at least one Sunday a month for brunch and to wander around a new neighborhood with me. I also like to learn about new cultures and visit different parts of the world. I’ve been to Europe, Asia, and South America. I’ve been to Canada and Mexico numerous times, and 35 / 50 states. I would love to get to Africa and Australia this decade. I much prefer colder weather, so I’m even open to a trip to Antarctica and the Arctic Circle.
MJ: Some ‘marketing experts’ advise that you should have one photo of yourself on all of your social media. I notice you have several, and one with a very fetching bow tie. What are your thoughts on this? (I tend to think it is nice to have more than one photo as it gives an indication of aspects of the author’s personality.)
Jay: I agree with you 100%. When I think of a single picture, I think of fake advertising. It’s a specific pose to reach a specific audience. I have one professional picture which was taken on my last day at a prior job, so I could use it on LinkedIn for future networking. I like having different looks so my personality shines through. I love the bow tie photo – it’s from a wedding I went to in Florida three years ago… for… the narrator I mentioned earlier! Thank you for the compliment. That’s pretty much my natural everyday look… okay, joking… it’s definitely not the normal me, but I do like to have a bit of fun in my photos.
MJ: Yes, why not and we both like avatars! Here’s yours!
MJ: I’ve never been to New York, or to the USA. Sigh. As we are confined to our homes during this time it would be lovely if you describe your favourite view from your home? Or a favourite place you enjoy going to.
Jay: Quarantine is definitely an experience we shall not forget. I don’t mind it much because I’m a homebody, but I do miss getting out to see friends or eating at restaurants. I’m lucky in that I have a large one-bedroom apartment in a safe and quiet part of the city. It also has a seven-hundred-square-foot terrace and I’m on the top floor, so I can see great horizons and look upon parts of the East River. I have flowerboxes and large trees on the terrace, including a small arbor and several bushes, as well as a dining area and a lounging area.
When I feel trapped, I can step onto the terrace and experience a bit of nature and the sounds of the city. Sometimes it’s too windy, but it’s usable from March thru November, as long as the temperature stays above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. I spent a good part of this morning assembling a raised flower bed to grow vegetables this summer. Tonight, we’ll eat outside. It’s a bit of a magical place.
MJ: How delightful. I love your colour scheme and how nature joins you on your terrace.
MJ: You read and review so many books. I’m in awe. Do you believe that all authors should read extensively/review? How important do you think it is for an author to read in multiple genres?
Jay: I am a lucky guy, and I am grateful for all that I have been given. I live with my partner, but we do not have children. We have a rambunctious two-year-old shiba inu dog named Baxter.
Other than those two, and my job, and visiting family and friends, my time is pretty much my own. I am able to prioritize non-work hours to focus on writing, reading, and blogging. Up until three years ago, I didn’t have a blog nor had I written a book, so my reading choices came from book series I’d come to enjoy and finding new books at the store. Suddenly, when my blog took off and I published my debut novel, my reading choices skyrocketed. I was getting books from publishers for free, subscribing to NetGalley, and meeting bunches of indie authors who wanted to share book reviews. I made it a priority to get to know them, as it helped my own book marketing skills and I built a network of amazing people around the world. Now, I feel guilty because I’ve met so many wonderful authors yet I cannot find the time to read all their books. I split my reading in half now. Fifty percent comes from series or authors I enjoy reading, and the remaining half comes from indie authors I’ve met or new authors I occasionally try to help when time permits. I do think authors should read in all genres they write in, plus a few others to learn how to blur the lines. It’s hard to review when I’m writing or editing, so I need to balance those pieces. It’s important for authors to know their limits and not spread themselves too thin. It’s also important to make connections and help others just as we’ve been helped in the past.
MJ: We’re on the same page. I’ve had so much help in this writing journey so I love to pay it forward by helping other authors too. It is all about community. I love your dog – so cute!
MJ:How do you manage your time? I believe you returned to full-time work recently. I also work full-time (but for now I am on furlough.) Generally, I find it difficult to find the time to do what I want… But, you seem to smash it, what’s your secret?
Jay: Thank you – that means a lot. I do pride myself of multi-tasking and achieving a lot in a brief amount of time. I’m super-organized and keep an Excel document with a list of tasks and a list of posts planned for my blog going out for 3 months. I have several ‘open’ spots for when something new comes up, but it contains all my marketing plans for my own books, all my blog segments, and all the books I plan to read. I fill in once a week with something new that comes up… that way, when someone asks if I can share a post on them, I sometimes can make it work. I also know when I am tapped out and can’t do anything else, given my schedule.
I get up 2 hours before I start work so that I can spend 90 minutes clearing my email and social media accounts. I want to start work with confidence that I’m not already behind. I run through it again at night, balance cooking, the gym, and errands, and then I make time to read for an hour or so before bed. I keep to a routine, and I ask myself every morning – what are my priorities today? Nothing changes them, short of an emergency or better method of accomplishing a task… I’m dedicated to keeping this running smoothly, and when I need the downtime, I take it. That’s the only real advice I have in this realm, but it works for me.
The new job after three years has been difficult to adapt to. I lost ten hours a day, which basically equates to reading 2 books per week and writing 10 chapters per week. So… I knocked my Goodreads Reading Challenge down from 208 to 104 this year, and I will publish only 2 books instead of 3, as originally planned. I’m sorry about the work situation for you. I hope things change quickly… it’s a little scary what the future could bring, but maybe it will turn around faster than we expect.
MJ: Yes, it is scary. I hope the turn around is faster Jay. Thank you so much for your kind words. Luckily, I’m at that stage in my life when writing full-time is my end goal. Perhaps that goal post might be brought nearer than I originally expected.
MJ: What are your favourite authors and books. What have they taught you?
Jay: I’m a big fan of Agatha Christie, Ken Follett, Kate Morton, Edgar Allan Poe, and Henry James. Although I’m not nearly as talented, I’m probably a combination of all five of these amazing authors. They’ve taught me how to balance the detail and depth of a character with letting readers have their own imagination. Often a review will say I’ve added too much to the picture, but I think there’s always room for creativity, and what I project might be different from what the reader perceives.
MJ: How did you find your recent video interview experience with Valentina?
Valentina is so easy to work with, and I actually relaxed more than I expected. Two years ago, I was on a radio show, and I spoke too quickly and softly. I was better this time, but I still felt like I could be more personable and outgoing than I come across. I recommend all authors do something like this, then learn how you’re perceived. It helps you create your image and figure out how to interact with others in a way that makes you shine. You should give it a try, then we can learn more about you too. 😊
MJ: Oh, how terrifying! I am considering starting a Youtube channel but will need to get some practice in before I dare to chat with Valentina.
MJ:If you could introduce me to one of your favourite characters what would they say to me.
Jay: Help! He’s making me do things I never thought I’d do. Please, I’ll pay you to stop him from controlling my actions. (Ah, there’s my humor coming out…)
MJ: Love it! Every book needs at least one funny character.
MJ:Finish and edit this sentence to reflect you, the day to day Jay: Each day one of my socks goes missing… (This happens to me all the time!)
Hmm… did the washer or dryer eat them? Each day one of my socks goes missing… Baxter has an unhealthy fetish for fabric, and he is vicious about socks. If there’s ever a sock that falls from the drawer or the laundry basket, he steals it. Aggressively, then he growls when I try to take it back. It’s nuts. He’s the sweetest dog until socks are involved. I find half eaten socks all over the apartment. I’ve threatened to make him pay for the replacements out of his dog food allowance.
MJ: Now I know who the culprit is. Baxter has been teleporting here to eat our socks too. Naughty doggy!
MJ:How do you decide on the titles for your books.
The titles in the Braxton Campus Mysteries are a play on words. The 1st and the 2nd word mean one thing together, and then 2nd and the 3rd mean something entirely different. Take the latest: Frozen Stiff Drink. Frozen Stiff means you’ve got a dead body. Stiff Drink means you need something to relax. Not only are those the two themes to the book, but it’s a clue to the murder weapon in this mystery. It’s the same setup for the first five in the series too, except Academic Curveball is only two words. Here’s where I messed up… I honestly thought curveball was two words, so the title was Academic Curve Ball, meaning Academic Curve and Curve Ball… the book was about grades being changed on the baseball team, so it was a cool title… then a beta reader pointed out that it was one word. I was heartbroken for days and thought of different titles… couldn’t work it out!
MJ:Giveaways of books, got any tips?
Jay: Rafflecopter has some free options. I like doing random comment winners on a blog post. Ultimately, people want free stuff, so you have to do them… but then shipping can be expensive for physical books. I usually focus on audiobooks or Kindle editions. I participated in the Goodreads giveaways when they were free, but when they went to over $100, I didn’t see the value in getting your money back, so I stopped doing those. Instagram has become very popular for them.
MJ: How do your family and friends respond to your writing career? Are they supportive?
Jay: They are supportive. My mom and a few other relatives read all the books. Some haven’t said anything, and occasionally… it bugs me. I’d happily give them to them for free, but I don’t like pushing my work on others either. Friends have surprised me. Some haven’t offered to help in any way, shape, or form. Others who weren’t that close have been super supportive. I think it just comes down to those who like books read them, those who aren’t readers ignore it! I am totally okay with it because everyone has their own online stores or products and services. I can’t or haven’t done tons to help them either… it’s impossible to keep up, and with friends, you always know they’d be there if you really needed them to be. For the most part, they all think it’s cool. I hardly ever bring it up around others tho, as I feel weird about it. It’s not a secret, but I tend not to discuss my writing career with friends and family unless they ask me questions.
MJ: Do you plot a little, or a lot? Or not at all?
Jay: 100% start with a plot and detailed outline that notes 2 or 3 scenes and the key things to happen in them. But it might only say something like “Kellan goes to the diner and overhears a conversation that provides him a clue about the time of the murder. Involves Character A and this location.” As I’m writing the beginning of the scene, I decide who else should appear in it from the supporting cast, so that I can share side stories and keep the feel of a wonderful small community. I try to include 3 or 4 of these in each book so I can have a larger series in development over time.
MJ:What do you think of social media? Any tips for managing the time suck that it is.
Jay: I absolutely hate it. But it’s absolutely necessary. Routine is best. I have one for all sites I’m on. I follow it in the morning and again when I’m done with work. If I let myself go on again before bed, it’s more casual and I’ll just randomly check for tags or people that I’m curious about. It’s important to limit your time, otherwise you’re going down the rabbit hole. Two hours max a day for me, and then I force myself to switch to genealogy, Spades, or random Wikipedia reads.
MJ: Tell us about your audio book journey. How did you set about transferring your writing so it could be listened to in audio form. Are you a keen audio book fan?
Jay: This one is interesting. I do not like audiobooks. I am a quick reader, and I often read a book in less time than the average reader. This is only because I’ve read over a thousand books this decade, so it’s just become the norm to me. Listening to an audiobook is generally 4 times as long for me. I don’t have that amount of time, plus I like to imagine my own voices for the characters. So… big reveal… shocking, I know, but I don’t actually listen to audiobooks. I also get distracted too easily. If I have headphones or earbuds, I can walk around the apartment. I find myself making coffee and cleaning something, then 10 minutes have gone by and I tuned out of the book! So… I can’t listen to one. I’ve listened to most of mine, because that’s the right thing to do. My publisher handles the selection process, and then the narrator will reach out to me for any tips. I’ve never picked my own narrator… too bad, a good friend of mine is a narrator and I would’ve loved to give him the book! But I’m glad for those who have been selected, and they all bring something extra to the story and the setting.
MJ: It’s great to see that you have your books translated into other languages. How did you arrange this, was it a complex process?
Jay: Oh! This is another one my publisher handled. They told me they were beginning the process, and I had to provide some guidance. A month later, I saw the ad for a book I wrote in Spanish, and I didn’t even know it was done. Shocked, I say! So… I wish I could help there, but I wasn’t directly involved. I’ve now got 5 in different languages, so I’m eagerly figuring out to market them and learning German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish so I can share new types of posts. I’m someone fluent in Spanish, but only in conversation, not in book marketing!
MJ: Have you got any pearls of wisdom for a new writer?
Jay: Know your goals. If you want fame, money, influence, etc. If you just write because you want to write and have no plan or thought about where to go, you won’t (in 99% of the cases) be successful. Be sure to have a 6-month, 1-year, 2-year plan so you can pace yourself and see modest wins in the beginning. Adjust and adapt. Re-baseline. Always think about the future needs and plans.
MJ: Would you ever consider doing a Tik Tok video? Or do you prefer not to.
Jay: Umm… I’ve heard of it. I’ve seen a few. I’m so inundated with everything I have to do now, I can’t take on anything new! LOL I supposed I should learn it at some point tho, right?
MJ: I’m tempted, but… it might embarrass my kids. Not that that would stop me!
MJ: Share a funny story to cheer us all up in Lockdown.
Jay: I wear glasses and contacts. Before quarantine, I wore contacts to work every day. Now that I’m home all the time, I tend to wear my glasses. I try not to wear contacts much now unless I have an important work meeting and need to go on video chat. When I’m walking Baxter in my mask, and it’s a glasses day, they fog up. I’ve almost stepped into traffic, bumped into signs, and had to stop in the middle a sidewalk simply to be able to see and not fall down. It’s embarrassing, and I now put a tissue at the top of the mask. Someone once stopped on the street, about six feet away, and said, “Are you okay, do you need me to call an ambulance?” I must’ve looked like such a fool just staring into space waiting for my glasses to clear up. I mumbled something like “all good, just waiting for my spectacles to defog, ma’am.” As the person walked by making an odd noise, he said, “Actually, I’m a sir.” Lord, I shouldn’t ever talk to people. I’m a mess.
MJ: Lol. That happens to me all the time! No, not being called Ma’am or Sir, my glasses fogging up!
Jay’s books are on promo during May. This week its his debut 2017 novel Watching Glass Shatter, Download the Kindle format here as it’s only .99 from 5/17 thru 5/21.
Frozen Stiff Drink: Death at Danby Landing, the 6th book in the Braxton Campus Mysteries, will be available as a .99 Kindle download. via Amazon.
The 3rd book in the Braxton Campus Mysteries series Flower Power Trip is on sale for only .99 cents from 5/20 thru 5/24. You can download it to your Kindle here
The 4th book in the Braxton Campus Mysteries, Mistaken Identity Crisis, is available for only .99 as a Kindle download from May 21st thru 25th. If you haven’t experienced this mystery and family drama, get it now via Amazon.
Not only were many of the books in the Braxton Campus Mysteries discounted to .99 this week, but the 5th book, Haunted House Ghost, is also available as a Kindle download for only .99 from 5/29 thru 6/2. To take advantage of this discount, visit Amazon via this link..
Father Figure is a .99 Kindle download from 5/23 thru 5/27 – help yourselves! Thank you so much for your support in sharing, downloading, reading, and reviewing. I appreciate it! You should pick it up before the virtual book club coming up soon… check it out @ Download @ http://mybook.to/FatherFigure for only .99 this week.
James is my given name, but most folks call me Jay. I live in New York City, grew up on Long Island, and graduated from Moravian College, an historic but small liberal arts school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with a degree in English literature and minors in Education,Business and Spanish. After college, I accepted a technical writing position for a telecommunications company during Y2K and spent the last ~20 years building a career in technology & business operations in the retail, sports, media and entertainment industries.
Throughout those years, I wrote some short stories, poems and various beginnings to the “Great American Novel,” but I was so focused on my career in technology and business that writing became a hobby. In 2016, I refocused some of my energies toward reinvigorating a second career in reading, writing and publishing.
I write in the family drama and mystery genres. My first two books are Watching Glass Shatter (2017) and Father Figure (2018). Both are contemporary fiction and focus on the dynamics between parents and children and between siblings. I’m currently writing the sequel to Watching Glass Shatter. I also have a light mystery series called the Braxton Campus Mysteries. There are six books currently available in multiple formats: Kindle, physical print, large print paperback, and audiobook. Some are also translated into foreign languages such as Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and German. The books are Academic Curveball, Broken Heart Attack, Flower Power Trip, Mistaken Identity Crisis, Haunted House Ghost, and Frozen Stiff Drink.