On Editing, Part 2 ~ an interview with pro editor Kate Johnston

     Welcome to the second installment of my ~On Editing~ series. Last week’s post spurred some excellent conversation from many who were kind enough to visit and read about the importance of good editing.

     This week, I thought it might be beneficial and informative to chat with a professional editor and ask some questions that might shed light on this critical aspect of publishing one’s work.

     I met professional editor Kate Johnston while speaking to a writers group about my own self-publishing experiences. I found her to be delightful and knowledgeable. She was kind enough to agree to share her expertise on the subject of editing. I hope you’ll find the information helpful; I certainly did.


First off, Kate, I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview. There seems to be some confusion about the various types of edits one can have done to their manuscripts. Terms such as proofing, copy editing, and substantive editing come to mind. Could you give us a brief rundown of the different types of edits and what each one entails?

Certainly, Al. There are many editing forms. The duties of one form of editing can overlap the duties of another. The three below are the most commonly known forms.

A substantive edit (AKA developmental editing) is like an overall critique of the manuscript’s content and structure. A substantive editor improves the flow of text, suggests recasts, and enforces a logical structure. In a work of fiction, the substantive editor may track the continuity of plot, setting, characters, theme, as well as flagging discrepancies. Decisions are judgment-based and therefore should be negotiable with the writer. Again, depending on who you talk to, this form of editing can happen before, after, or in conjunction with copyediting.

Copyediting (or baseline editing) is rules-based. (Think about all those grammar lessons you learned in school.) Copyediting flags faulty grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting. A copyeditor may track the consistency of facts. (Although fact-checking sometimes can be considered part of a substantive edit.) Unlike substantive editing, copyediting does not involve interventions such as smoothing transitions or restructuring plot.

Proofreading is the reading of a manuscript in its final draft form to detect and correct production errors. It is the last step in the editorial cycle.

Great information. Here’s something I’m curious about. What are a few of the most common writing blunders you encounter in the average manuscript?

Misspellings because spellcheck is not infallible. Confusion between its and it’s. The use of that vs. which. Misuse (or abuse) of commas. Incorrect formatting of dialogue.

Ah, commas. I used to be a comma abuser, too. Kate, with the advent of e-publishing, individuals can self-publish their works with relative ease, yet many forgo having their work professionally edited due to cost. Could you share your thoughts on this?

I think writers are doing themselves a disservice by not going the extra mile to make their work the best it can be. Readers will notice mistakes, and their disappointment (or disgust) will ensure they won’t recommend your book much less buy anything else you write. Who wants to buy shoddy material? Yes, editing is costly, but it should be considered an investment in your career.

Yes, that’s a valuable lesson we, as writers, must learn, sometimes the hard way. Is there a practice by which individuals who have limited funds can enjoy the benefits of quality editing? For instance, do you feel it would be helpful to have a few chapters professionally edited then use it as a guide to self-edit the remainder? In other words, is a partial edit a viable option in your opinion?

Copyediting would be possible to do yourself. As long as you know grammatical rules, then it’s a matter of training your eye to spot errors.

However, as substantive editing involves editing the manuscript as a whole, the author would have to be extremely tough on herself. She would also have to objectively track and correct problem areas. I’m not saying that’s impossible, but it is difficult. These are her ideas, her word choices, her writing style, and her decisions all at the mercy of the proverbial red pen. If she’s the one wielding that red pen, is it realistic to think she’ll be as thorough as an editor?

That’s certainly a great point. I’ve heard that reading one’s work out loud helps to ferret out problems that can be missed while proofreading. Do you feel this is a valuable practice, and do you have any other tips writers can employ to improve their work?

Reading out loud is a wonderful device and can be helpful for many writers. Personally, I find workshops or classes to be helpful in honing a specific area of writing. Read books in the genre you’re writing to get a feel for structure, setting, style. Read anything that’s well-written to help you learn sentence structure, punctuation, or spelling. But the best tip I can give writers is to write every single day, even for just fifteen minutes. It’s considered practice. Musicians and athletes must practice every day to stay in shape or to improve their skills. It is the same for writers.

What are your thoughts on beta readers and writers groups?

There are some good beta readers and writing groups, and there are some bad ones. All groups have different approaches, writing and reading styles, attitudes, personalities, and expectations. Don’t settle with a so-so group just because you need someone to read your stuff. A bad reader is not better than no reader at all. I have done beta reading both online and in person. I have exchanged work with strangers as well as friends. I have belonged to various writing groups. Some of the experiences were terrible. Some were awesome. The terrible experiences were so devastating I nearly gave up writing. If you ever get to that point, get out of the group—fast. No one should ever make you feel like your writing is invaluable or that you can’t succeed.

Above all, make sure you are among supportive, positive, encouraging, knowledgeable writers who can give honest, constructive feedback.

Strunk & White’s, The Elements of Style is a classic reference for writers. Do you have any other favorite manuals you might recommend?

That’s my number-one guide. I also use The Chicago Manual of Style and MLA Style Manual. Outside of techy-type manuals, I love Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, On Writing by Stephen King, and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.

I’m of the opinion that you just can’t edit your own work. As an editor, do you feel you can edit your own work?

I can—to a point. I have an easier time with the copyediting, but even then I miss errors. As far as content, I don’t bother giving it to anyone to read until I’ve written a couple of drafts. That’s because I am the only one who understands the story that needs to be written. If I have someone get involved at too early a stage, it can be very disruptive. I belong to a great writing group whose members help me sort out structure or track character motivation. My writing group asks me questions I wouldn’t think to ask myself.

The drawback to editing your own work boils down to emotion, I think. We writers know what we want to say, but sometimes we don’t execute it well (talk about irony). Worse, we’ll read it and still think it’s dandy stuff. We need the other person for that constructive criticism because they are not emotionally connected to the material. Flaws such as typos, awkward sentences, plot holes, and Little Darlings are glaring to an objective reader.

What other words of wisdom can you give our writer/author friends from an editor’s perspective.

Take pride in your work. Your name is on it, and you want people to recognize the effort and care you have put into it. If an author doesn’t care about the quality of his work, then a reader isn’t going to consider that author as professional, talented, or knowledgeable.  Expect to revise, and revise, and revise again—but at the same time don’t cave on areas that seriously matter to you. Editing is a vital part of the writing process. It can make the difference between an author who is worth reading and an author who isn’t.



Kathryn Johnston graduated from University of New Hampshire with a dual degree in English and Psychology, with a focus in creative writing. After college she worked in various places as a copyeditor and copywriter while writing fiction on the side.

Currently, she is a freelance editor and writing coach for fiction and memoir manuscripts.

Her short story, Treasures, was published in The Greensilk Journal. She has completed a novel, Spark of Madness, and is shopping it around to literary agents for representation.

For those of you who are interested in speaking with Kate about the possibility of having your work edited by her, she can be reached at k.johnston@comcast.net and is currently accepting new clients.


Thank you for visiting and reading this week’s post. As always, I encourage you to take part in the conversation by leaving a comment below. I always do my best to respond to all who do.

All the best,


Posted in #SampleSunday | 17 Comments

On Editing

     The ever-growing popularity of e-readers and related devices has opened the door to countless individuals longing to become published authors. It’s never been easier to develop a work and self-publish, thereby bringing one’s dream to fruition. Unfortunately, there’s a problem that lurks within this wonderful realm of opportunity. The problem has to do with quality. Far too many books are being published before they should be, lacking thorough, quality editing.
     I’ve been asked by a wonderful friend to post the following open letter to writers/authors. She is a voracious reader and has many friends who also devour books at an impressive rate. She has informed me that her thoughts are shared by a vast number of readers. I believe her and consider it to be a massive red flag. My intent is simple: to help bring about positive change in order to help authors and their works shine.
     Her letter:
     First, let me say I am not a writer. I am a reader. I am not, nor do I claim to be, an editor or an expert of any kind. 
     I have the greatest admiration and respect for all writers, be it Indie or otherwise. I read lots of Indie books and most are very good stories. However, far too often I get turned off by the books because of editing errors. Some are slight and some glaring. While I will continue to read the books with errors, I have friends that will not read Indie books for that very reason. 
     I am NOT trying to be mean; in fact it’s just the opposite. I want each of you to become world class authors, but to do so you must do a better job of editing your books.
     I do realize how difficult it is to see your own errors until it’s too late. However, if you’re going to publish a book on a worldwide site I urge you to do whatever it takes to ensure that your books are error free.
     Please take this in the spirit it is intended as I truly have the greatest admiration for each and every one of you.
     I’m very grateful for this letter, as it’s a wake-up call to those of us who really care about our craft and wish to give our readers the best we have to offer. Please bear in mind that this is not the first time I’ve heard this message; insufficient editing is one of the greatest challenges adversely affecting our endeavors as successful authors. Further, I can speak to this topic with experience and conviction. The beginning of my journey as a writer found me as guilty of falling short of thorough editing as any other. I self-published prematurely, my work containing what I now realize was an unacceptable quantity of errors. The bottom line: you don’t know ’til you know. As a result, I decided to take action.
     I completely stopped promoting my own novel, In Memory of Greed, while receiving a vast amount of assistance from a number of experienced colleagues. As a result, during the time I was doing so, sales of my work all but disappeared. Yet, I have no regrets. I truly strive to offer my best work to readers and feel like I’ve finally done just that. A silver lining exists in the fact that I can now offer a paperback version of my novel with confidence and will do so in the next few weeks.
     I’ve asked my colleague Steve Umstead to write a guest post on the topic of editing, which he has graciously done. Steve is an author I have a great deal of respect and admiration for. I believe you’ll find the following post entertaining and informative.
     I hope you’ll give his Evan Gabriel sci-fi series a look. I’ve read his work. If you enjoy sci-fi, I know you’ll find his writing to be top-shelf.
      Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to the phrase “self-published”, and in the past it was well-founded. Self-publishing meant taking a first draft, using a vanity press, printing books for family and friends, maybe selling a handful at a trade show table. Today, self-publishing is incredibly easy…meaning that stigma is raising its ugly head again. Now it’s as simple as taking that same first draft and uploading a file to Amazon. The stigma? Poor editing. 
     I’ll preface this by saying I would never call my books error-free. I’ll also preface (can one have two prefaces??) this by saying when I refer to editing, I’m referring to copy edits (spelling, punctuation, grammar, capitalization, etc.), not editing for plot holes, inconsistencies, and so on. Why only copy edits? Because that’s the first thing a reader will pick out. In the case of e-books, they are only potential buyers who download a sample – if the sample has spelling and punctuation errors, that’s a lost sale even before they get to any possible plot holes.
     I’ve got some mild form of OCD, I’m sure of it…spelling errors and the like simply jump off the page to me, like glowing red letters. If someone pinned me down on what I felt was my strongest asset as a writer, I’d probably say what I call the “mechanics” of writing (the copy editing I mentioned before). So I find myself pulled out of a story when I stumble across an error. Actually pulled out, like setting the book down and doing something else before (maybe) going back to it. And that’s the stigma that self-published authors must avoid. 
     How? Never rely on only yourself to proofread. There is no possible way the author can read his or her own work and pick out errors. It’s like the sign in a doctor’s office that has the first and last letters of each word correct, but all the ones in the middle mixed up, yet your brain rearranges them on the fly and it becomes readable. The author’s brain reads what he or she meant to write and moves on, skipping right over “it was better then he thought”, or “he knew he woudln’t run”, or “the laser sites were misaligned”, or “hit the gas peddle”. (Did you catch those?)
     Who? Not Mom or your aunt. They will read it and love it and praise you at the bridge club meeting that night. Not your best buddy, who will skim it and buy you a beer for being an author. Either (a) use a professional editor, and/or (b) use multiple beta readers that know what they’re doing and will give you their full attention. 
     I’ll admit, I have never used a professional editor. Honestly, I can’t afford it – even a buck a page (a bargain!) would be a few hundred I didn’t have when publishing my first book. And I’ll admit again (don’t tell anyone), the only person to edit my first book was me and my son. However, for my second, I enlisted a whole slew of incredible beta readers and received such amazing and useful feedback and corrections, I will always have future works go through a series of beta readers.
     I’ve been in marketing most of my adult life, and the old saying of “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” is 100% true. Don’t skimp on editing, even with the best, most fascinating story ever written. Readers may never get past the first, poorly edited chapter.

Steve Umstead

Gabriel’s Redemption
 – Book 1 of the Evan Gabriel Trilogy
Now available for Kindle, Nook, iPad, and more
Gabriel’s Return – Book 2 of the Evan Gabriel Trilogy
Now available for Kindle & Nook
Visit http://www.SteveUmstead.com for details
     I want to thank you all for visiting my blog and reading this post on editing. Please feel free to add your questions/comments. Together, let us show a world of readers the quality that indie/small press authors are capable of.
All the best,
Posted in #SampleSunday | 27 Comments

R.B. Wood and his debut novel ~The Prodigal’s Foole~

I’m proud to host RB Wood’s Magical Mystery Blog Tour today. I have the distinct pleasure of interviewing this fabulous author and reviewing his debut novel, The Prodigal’s Foole.

I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know Rich Wood a little better. In addition, please do yourself a favor and purchase ~The Prodigal’s Foole~ and give it a read. And if you really enjoy it, as I did, a positive review on Amazon, Goodreads and anywhere else you can include it is always greatly appreciated. Please enjoy the interview and my review. 

All the best,



Rich, when and why did you decide to start writing?

Been doing it off and on since the eighties. The final push to really produce a novel began in 2007. My kids told me I “Should write my stories down,” and my partner was fully behind it. Never underestimate the support from those closest to you!

What life experiences have best prepared you for being a writer?

Travel, working in different countries and a long history of reading.

Please tell us about your latest work and what genre it falls under.

The Prodigal’s Foole is an Urban Fantasy novel—the first of a planned series actually. The premise is simple: “What if religions were created, not for the salvation of the masses, but to control magic?” I often thought, if magic existed, would the general public be completely clueless as the muggles are in Harry potter? Or would magic be an asset—a power to be controlled? And who would control that power?

And what would happen to the ‘status quo’ in the communication age?

What were your inspirations for writing The Prodigal’s Foole?

Works by Jo Rowling, Jim Butcher, Arthur Conan Doyle, Neil Gaiman. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (The FANTASIA one, not the Nick Cage disaster). These stories started out as fun, night time tales for my kids. I’ve since made the characters older and introduced adult themes and complex relationships.

I hope.

Rich, can you describe your writing process for our readers.

The process works, and I have to say I stole bits of it from Jim butcher. I outline where I want to go and what I want a story to be about. Then I draw a large arc. I map out the progression and the since, interlock them and at the top of the arc is the climax of the story. I’m a very visual person, and this pictogram drives me forward to fill in the details.

To what degree are your fictional characters based in reality?

I’m sure I pull traits from people I meet or have met. The key, from my perspective, is to make everything as real as possible, as I want the reader to think of magic as just another ‘reality point.’ So other than their ability to use (and abuse) magic, each character comes equipped with layers and gray areas, just like all of us.

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?

I’m working on book two of the Arcana Chronicles, called The Young Practitioner. I also have the outline of a SciFi trilogy completed and I’m working on a graphic novel series of scripts with a fellow author and comic book geek from Australia.

Would you like to experiment with a different genre?

Maybe…but I have stories to tell in the Fantasy/SciFi genres first.

Describe your ideal surroundings or conditions for writing.

A pub or my home office work best for me.

Do you have any writing idiosyncrasies?

I’m sure I do. My guess is they’ll be well defined in the reviews for The Prodigal’s Foole.

Briefly share your thoughts on traditional publishing vs. indie.

I just wrote a three-part blog about this very subject. To paraphrase, I think the smaller (indie) imprints will define the future of an industry turned on it’s ear by the advent of electronic media.

What advice can you share with first-time writers?

Don’t stop. Ever. If you look around you, there are thousand of newbies out there. You just have to outlast them all in a cutthroat business. Write what you want and what you know. Get feedback. Practice and improve. You’ll make it.

Bio and Contact Information


R.B. Wood is a technology consultant and a writer of Urban Fantasy, Science Fiction and quite frankly anything else that strikes his fancy.  His first novel, The Prodigal’s Foole, is scheduled to be published by Pfoxchase Publishing in the Fall of 2011.  Mr. Wood is currently working on the second book of his Arcana Chronicles series and is host of The Word Count podcast.R. B. currently lives in Boston with his partner, Tina, his dog Jack, three cats and various other critters that visit from time to time.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/rbwoodwriter

Twitter: @rbwood

Web Site: http://www.rbwood.com


Al Boudreau reviews ~The Prodigal’s Foole~

5 stars *****

The Prodigal’s Foole was the very first urban fantasy I’ve ever read. Now, if you had asked me the day before I started reading this work what the urban fantasy genre was all about, you would have been privy to a blank stare; I had no clue. And I’ve never been one to seek out works dealing with fantasy, magic, supernatural powers, or religion, the subject matter upon which this book is most definitely built. Therefore, once I sat down and gave this story a go, imagine my delight when it held me spellbound.

This is how Mr. Wood did it. He wrote great characters, both male and female, a piece of magic the best writers in the business sometimes experience difficulty in pulling off. Dialogue was hip, witty and most of all intelligent. These characters were people you wanted to know, to hang out with…to love…to hate. They came to life, which made it a hell of a lot easier to suspend reality and allow the fantasy aspect to work for me. The character development made me want to believe they could practice magic for real.

Wood chose the first-person narrative to tell the story. And though this point of view can be limiting in some novels, his use of balanced descriptions, comfortble pacing and a dynamic, well-conceived plot more than made up for the singular perspective this convention entails.

I also enjoyed the tasty side dishes of horror and suspense thriller contained within the story. Wood’s main character, Symon Bryson, got dragged through hell unwillingly, but dug deep, worked through his shortcomings and came out the other side a changed man, better equipped for the next inevitable battle. (you know there are two more books, right?)

Lastly, RB Wood took the time to make his writing tight and nearly error/typo free with excellent and greatly appreciated attention to the editing process.

Thank you for writing such a well written, entertaining novel, Mr. Wood. I’m officially a fan of your work and a new fan of the urban fantasy genre.
I highly recommend this novel and sincerely look forward to the next.

Posted in #SampleSunday | 5 Comments

“Sci-Fi in the Cage” ~the battle begins~

Well, ladies and gentlemen, as anticipated, Steve, and Michael, have delivered a pair of short stories that will surely impress and entertain you. Congratulations, and best of luck, to both authors.

Please read the following pair of stories then cast a vote for your favorite. The stories are shown without writer attribution to keep things as fair and unbiased as possible. The poll will be open until 6 PM on Wednesday, November 2nd. At that time, a winner will be announced. The winner will be interviewed on this blog on Sunday, November 6th.

I’ve included the prompt below, with the stories to follow. The poll is located at the end of the second story. Thank you in advance for reading and voting for your favorite.

~The prompt~

Mankind has been forever fascinated with the aurora borealis, more commonly known as the Northern Lights. Scientists explain the phenomenon as a “light show” in the earth’s atmosphere, created when highly charged electrons from the solar wind interact with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen, 20 to 200 miles above the earth’s surface.

The aurora, generally occurring near the Arctic Circle, sometimes moves farther south during increased frequency of sunspots. On the evening of December 5th, 2013, enthusiastic observers occupying mid-coast Maine had the distinct pleasure of enjoying such an event.

As a handful of hearty individuals braved both single digit hours and temperatures along the rugged shore, the mezmerizing light in the sky began to change. Inexplicably, the once multi-colored display changed to brilliant blue, rapidly decreasing in scope until it formed a concentrated vortex.

Onlookers familiar with coastal Maine were of the opinion that the dense shaft of light seemed to be focused on Monhegan, a small, rocky island ten miles from the nearest mainland, and barely a square mile in area.

They were correct in their assumption.

As the captain of a small ferry that frequented the island approached Monhegan at dawn, he rubbed his eyes in disbelief. There were no buildings. There were no boats in the harbor. Not a trace of vegetation, wildlife, nor a single individual that comprised the 65 full-time inhabitants was visible. All that remained was a rugged outcropping of stone.

Scientists, it seems, had gotten it wrong.



They say it’s the first thing that goes when you get old. Or was it the second thing?

I rubbed my eyes for what must have been the tenth time this morning. I stared out of the wheelhouse window towards Monhegan Island and hoped my vision wasn’t going for good, like the flight doc said it was.

I couldn’t get rid of the odd blur that surrounded the island. It was like that glow around a streetlight when you’re driving home late at night, maybe after one too many beers. Only this was…larger. And it looked like…a rainbow? Hell, maybe I should have left Tito’s a little earlier last night. But the tacos, and the mezcal, and the ladies. They wouldn’t let me. And here I was, driving my ferry (and that’s how I thought of the Janet Reno; she was old and ugly, but all mine) at oh-dark-thirty in the morning, wondering if the strange glow from the island was a hangover, or decaying retinas. Damn I was old.

Tito’s Bar & Grill had a broad party deck that overlooked the Gulf of Maine, and last night the aurora borealis was one of the brightest I had seen in years. Winter was coming and the deck’s heaters barely kept up with the chill, but the drinks and food were excellent. The intense light show and the fine female company capped it off. But now I was wondering if perhaps I should have gone to bed a bit earlier.

“Hey boss,” a voice said from behind me. “Tell me again why a former pilot hates flying.” The voice was accompanied by a mewling. I turned around to find Brad, the punk kid first mate I had hired a few weeks back, poking his hand into the travel cage that held the kittens for the Ferrelli family. The floor of the wheelhouse was littered with personal items I was delivering on this run; the box full of cats was just one of many. But apparently they were fascinating enough to entertain Brad. Which made me happy, not having to deal with the kid much on this run.

I turned back to the wheel as the ferry approached the dock. “I hate flying because I can’t fly anymore. I don’t want anyone else flying me anywhere. Now zip it, stop playing with your pussies, and get out on the bow to toss the lines.”

Brad walked out of the wheelhouse door, muttering under his breath. The island was close now, but I still couldn’t get rid of the glowing haze. That’s it, I’m done with mezcal. I checked the depth finder and radar: right on target for the approach.

Brad startled me by rapping on the glass in front of me.

“Hey boss, I don’t see the dock!”



“See? Told you.”

I left the ferry engines in idle and had nudged the bow up against the shore, then joined Brad on the bow. What the hell? I looked left and right. This was most definitely where the dock should have been. A few yards up on shore was the walking path that led to the boathouse, and past that to the general shop. The dock was gone.

I rubbed my eyes again. The boathouse was gone as well. And there was a low-pitched hum in the background, like a vacuum cleaner being run in another room while you’re trying to watch television.

“Stay here,” I said to Brad, and jumped off the bow. My feet splashed into the shallow water, and the cold instantly chilled me to the bone. I stepped up onto the shore and walked up the path.

I reached the spot where the boathouse should have been and was met with a patch of dead matted grass, exactly the size and shape of the small boathouse. A storm? I didn’t remember any storm at all, let alone one powerful enough to wipe out a dock and a boathouse. Then again, it was a lot of mezcal.

Just beyond the missing boathouse, the glow I had seen from the water was intense. Almost like…a curtain of light. I turned back to the ferry to see Brad sitting on the bow, picking his nose. He’d be no help, that’s for sure. I’m too old for this shit.

I walked up the path towards the light. I suppose it was curiosity, or perhaps just stupidity, that made me keep walking instead of getting back on my ferry and calling the Coast Guard. Probably stupidity.

The light was exactly like a curtain, a very distinct vertical wall reaching skyward beyond my sight. And I knew now it wasn’t my eyes that were the problem. I took a deep breath and stepped into the light…

…and promptly found myself on all fours, looking down on a pile of my own vomit. I coughed and more bits and pieces of last night’s tacos came up. My head was pounding and I was dizzy. Yep, stupidity.

I stood up and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. The smell of bile was overwhelming, and I knew right then and there I’d never touch mezcal again.

I walked a few dozen yards further along the path, hoping to find Carl, the unofficial mayor of Monhegan Island, to find out what the hell was going on here. As I crested the small hill at the end of the path, I dropped to my knees in shock. The general store, the boat rental shack, the camping store, the two bed and breakfasts…were gone. Nothing remained of the little town. Nothing but a large rock formation, right where the old ship anchor stood marking the center of the island. A rock formation that most certainly wasn’t there before today.

No storm could have done this. I felt the panic start to rise and started to turn back when I saw someone walk out from behind the rock. I squinted, cursing my failing eyesight again. It looked like a little girl. Mary Ferrelli!

I hopped up and broke into a jog, as fast as my old, paunchy body would allow. Mary had stopped walking and just stood a few yards from the rock, staring back. I hated to put this all on an eight year old girl, but I had to find out what happened.

I slowed to a stop in front of her, wheezing. She simply stood, emotionless, continuing to stare at me.

“Mary, are you okay?” I asked. “Where is everyone?”

“Everyone is safe, Robert Toren,” she said. At least I think she said. I didn’t see her mouth move. And her voice was…off. It was a girl’s voice, but not Mary’s. More like…my hearing-impaired nephew, a monotone sound, missing the hard edge of consonants. And it was in his head.

“Wha…what’s going on?” My fuzzy brain was having a lot of trouble processing this whole situation. This was far more than too much mezcal. “What do you mean, safe?”

Mary didn’t move a muscle, yet her voice sounded in my head again. “They are safe. They have been…relocated.”

Anger overcame my panic as a memory of my grandfather telling me of the relocation camps in Poland during World War Two flashed through my mind. And Mary…this wasn’t Mary.

“Who are you? Where…what…is Mary?”

The Mary thing stood still and the voice sounded again. “We used this body as we thought it would be comfortable for you to speak to, Robert Toren. We are one. We are all. In your language, we would be called the Collective.”

Comfortable? Is she…it…kidding?

The hum grew louder, like the vacuum was heading into this room to bother people watching a Patriots game. I looked around, then back at the Mary thing.

“Does this have something to do with the lights last night? Was that…the Collective?”

“Yes,” the voice said. “It was what we call the Awakening. All of the Collective units are awake now, all four hundred and twelve of them. It won’t be long now, Robert Toren.”

My head was spinning. This Mary thing was talking in riddles, and my anger returned.

“Listen,” I said, and reached out to grab her arm. And found myself on all fours again, dry heaving.

“Shit,” I said, spitting.

“Do not touch us, Robert Toren,” the voice said.

Yeah, not the first time I’ve heard that. Probably why I’m still single after all these years.

I stood up slowly and looked at the Mary thing. Something she/it said clicked.

“All units? And what won’t be long?”

“There are many of these units on your planet. We have been expecting the Awakening for many thousands of your solar orbits. We have been called and it is time for us to go.”

“Go where?” I realized I was speaking in questions only, like some party game, but I didn’t know what else to say.

The Mary thing finally moved. It raised one hand and pointed at the sky.

“You have a…ship on the island?” I struggled to remember my youth spent reading science fiction. Do aliens have ships? Do they teleport? Do they just jump really high? I’m talking to an alien. Awesome. I may have to cut out more than just mezcal. Maybe tacos too.

“This is not an island, Robert Toren. This is a Collective unit. This is how we travel.”

The ground beneath my feet rumbled, and the low background hum grew to a high-pitched whine.

The ground shook like the island was moving. Not an island, the Mary thing said. Oh hell.

“We must go now, Robert Toren. But you must join us. We cannot return you to outside the veil. And you would not recognize your world now anyway. Time moves…differently inside the veil. Everything you know is now gone. It has been several hundred solar orbits since you arrived.”

The ground was shaking violently now, and I had trouble standing. Even my well-trained sea legs were starting to give out. “Why? Why are you doing this?”

“It is a long story, Robert Toren. It is time for us to move on. We are finished watching your planet. Its time has come to an end, and we have other duties elsewhere.” The Mary thing turned around, and a light appeared in the side of the rock formation, like a door was opening. “Come, Robert Toren. There’s not much time now. Join us for a new beginning.”

I fell to my knees as the shaking grew unbearable. I looked past the Mary thing and saw the sun was changing position in the sky very rapidly. Not an island, it said.

The ground pressed up against him like the feeling he got many years ago, when his F/A18 Hornet was launched from a catapult back on the Reagan. And it all clicked. They were accelerating. Upwards. On an island.

Oh hell. I hate flying.




“Holy shit!” Sean cried, pointing to the horizon, where a brilliant display of the aurora borealis was rippling across the sky. “There it is!”

“Oh, my God.” Carol laughed, her breath fogging her glasses. “It’s fantastic!”

“Wow.” Lynne shook her head at the sight of the colors swirling and fading, a tapestry of light, the likes of which she’d never seen before.

“See, I told you guys this would be worth it.” Leading the others, Mack made his way carefully to the edge of the rocks that lay beyond Pemaquid Lighthouse Park at the southern tip of Maine’s Pemaquid Peninsula. The waters of the Atlantic Ocean crashed beneath them, the foam of the waves glowing in the light of the waxing moon.

The trip had been Mack’s idea. It was December 5th, 2013, and the forecast had predicted a vibrant aurora borealis based on recent solar activity. The four of them were sophomores at the University of Maine at Augusta, and Mack was always coming up with ideas for crazy things to do. Most of his schemes, however, didn’t involve going to stand by the ocean in the middle of a freezing Maine night.

“Yeah, you told us about five thousand times that it was going to be cool as hell,” Sean told him with a grin. “I only agreed to come to shut you up.”

“Smartass.” Mack punched Sean in the shoulder, and the two young men laughed.

Lynne stood close to Mack and wrapped her arm around his waist. “You outdid yourself this time.” She stood up on her toes and kissed him on the cheek. “This is awesome.”

Carol stood silently, holding Sean’s hand, staring at the shimmering sky. She knew what an aurora borealis was, but had never seen one before. “Hey…Mack?”


“Look at that.” She pointed to the northern edge of the aurora, which had taken on a decidedly blue tint. Instead of shimmering with many colors, it stayed blue, varying only in its intensity. “Is that supposed to happen?”

Mack opened his mouth to say something, then snapped it shut as the aurora took on a vivid blue, nearly cyan, hue with startling speed. As it changed color, it also began to shrink away from the horizon to form a swirling funnel of light, like a water spout.

“Isn’t that out where Monhegan is?” Lynne asked. Even though she was freezing, she felt the prickle of sweat breaking out along her spine as she watched the aurora contract to a shaft of blazing light that rose from the ocean, maybe ten miles away, rising into the sky as far as she could see.

“Yeah,” Sean said, mesmerized by the sight, but not believing it. “It’s hard to judge how far away it is, but I think you’re right.”

“This is impossible” Carol was shivering, but not from the cold. “Isn’t it?”

As if hearing her whispered words, the light suddenly vanished.


Eric Chisholm sighed as he piloted the boat, normally used as a ferry from New Harbor Maine to Monhegan Island, through the pre-dawn waters.

“We saw it, Dad.” Lynne, his daughter, stood next to him in the pilothouse. “We’re not making this up.”

“I know, hon,” he said over the thrum of the boat’s twin diesels. “If I didn’t believe you saw something, we wouldn’t be out here.” The sun just peeked over the horizon to the east. Glancing at his watch, he saw that it was just before 7 o’clock. “You’re also lucky it’s winter. If it was spring we’d have to wait for a load of puffin-watching tourists.”

Lynne smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. Off the bow was Monhegan Island, silhouetted by the rising sun, and she felt a sick unease in the pit of her stomach. She didn’t know why, but somehow the shadow of the island against the brightening sky made it look sinister.

Sean, Mack, and Carol were up on the bow, peering intently at the island as the boat drew closer.

Mack turned around and gestured to them, pointing at the island.

“Dad…” Lynne said as she realized why the island’s outline was giving her the creeps.

The houses and other buildings along the shoreline were gone. Even the Island Inn, which was right off the wharf where the ferry would normally dock. But they couldn’t dock there this morning, because the wharf was gone. There was no wreckage or debris, no smoke or evidence of fire. There was just smooth, glittering rock. Everywhere.

Her father didn’t answer. He had no words for what his eyes were showing him.

Altering course to take the boat through what had once been Monhegan harbor, he saw that there were no longer any boats there. They were just gone, as if they’d been erased from existence. There was no debris, nothing floating on the surface. Even the mooring buoys were gone as if they’d never existed.

As they sailed through the harbor, heading south, Mack came back to the pilothouse, a frightened look on his face. “You’re seeing this, right?”

“That there’s nothing here?” Eric finally found his voice as he tightened his grip on the wheel. “Yeah, we’re seeing it. Everybody’s been wiped out.”

“It’s worse than that.” Mac pointed to the rocky shore. “There aren’t even any trees up there. It’s like everything on the island’s been vaporized. And did you see the shore? The rocks are shiny, like glass. What could do that?”

Shaking his head, Eric told him, “I don’t know. I’m calling the Coast Guard.”

As Eric picked up the microphone and began to call for assistance, Mack and Lynne went up to the bow to join Sean and Carol.

“What do you think happened?” Carol asked as she watched the dead shoreline pass by. Even the water seemed lifeless. There was no algae, no seaweed. Nothing. Only glittering rock. “This is creeping me out.”


Turning to the sound of her father’s voice, she saw him gesture for them all to come to the pilothouse.

“There’s no response on the radio,” Eric told them, his face creased with worry.

“The Coast Guard didn’t answer?” Sean looked at the others. His father was an officer at the Coast Guard station at Boothbay Harbor, about twelve miles to the northwest.

“No one answered. And I checked the radio. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing wrong with it.”

“There must be,” Sean insisted. “If it was working, someone would have answered. And we can’t be the only ones who saw that light last night, and others must have come to check out the island.”

“Have you seen any boats?” Eric swept his arm around the horizon as he slowly piloted the boat back toward where the dock was. Or used to be. “I haven’t seen a single one since we left.”

“I haven’t seen any planes, either.” Everyone turned to Carol, who stood close to Sean. Her normally tan complexion, maintained by frequent visits to a tanning salon during the winter, looked pale in the early morning light. She made no attempt to pretend she wasn’t frightened. “Have you?”

The others shook their heads, as they reflexively looked up at the sky.

“I haven’t seen any navigation lights, no contrails, nothing.”

“It’s still pretty early,” Mack ventured.

Carol shrugged.

“So what do we do?” Lynne looked at her father.

“I guess the first thing is to see if there are any survivors.” Eric reversed the props for a moment, bringing the boat to a stop near where the boat dock had been, but where he knew the water should be a safe depth. The last thing he wanted to do was run aground on the unforgiving rocks. “We can only see what’s right along the shore here. There could be survivors farther inland.”

Mack frowned. Inland for Monhegan was a relative term, since the island was only about a mile long and maybe a third of a mile across.

After shutting down the engines, Eric went forward to the bow and released the anchor, which splashed into the water below. The anchor’s tines bit into the bottom a few moments later, and he secured the rope. The water was calm this morning, for which he was thankful, but it also bothered him. It was already too quiet here, and he had a bad feeling about what they might find.

“We don’t have a dinghy,” he gestured for Mack and Sean to follow him, “so I’m going to put in one of the emergency rafts, then we can paddle to shore and take a look around.”

The two young men helped him lift one of the raft containers, and on Eric’s command tossed it overboard, holding onto the lead rope as he activated the inflation system.

In a few moments, the bright orange raft had fully inflated, and bumped gently against the boat’s hull.

“Anybody want to stay aboard?” Eric asked.

All but Carol immediately shook their heads. After a moment, fear plain on her face, she shook hers, too. “I don’t want to go, but I sure don’t want to stay here by myself.”

Sean climbed in first, then Lynne and Carol. Mack followed, and he and Sean held onto a safety rope Eric had secured to the boat and tossed down to them. That let them hold the raft next to the boat as Eric climbed down.

“Let’s go,” Eric said.

Taking the four collapsible paddles, the three men and Lynne guided the raft to the shore where the boat dock had been.

Sean hopped out just as the raft touched the rocks, intending to hold the raft steady so the others could get out, but his feet slid out from under him

“Shit!” He fell flat on his back in the shallow water, cracking the back of his head.

“Sean!” Carol cried, reaching forward to help him. Taking his hand, he sat up as the raft pushed up against him, shoving him farther up the rock.

“Be careful,” he warned, rubbing the back of his head with his free hand. “The rocks are slick as ice!”

He got to his feet more carefully, and hauled the raft up onto the dry rock, which was slightly less slippery.

The others got out, and they pulled the raft farther up the shore, well clear of the water.

“Come on,” Eric said quietly, leading them up to where the Island Inn had once stood, a couple hundred feet away.

“Jesus,” Mack whispered as they reached the site of the Inn. There was no sign it had ever existed. As far as they could see, there was nothing but glittering rock. No trees, no plants, no birds. Not even the asphalt and gravel for the roads. There was nothing but smooth, glittering rock.

With a groan, Sean suddenly sank to his knees and vomited.

“Sean!” Carol knelt next to him, and saw that he was bleeding from his scalp. Only it wasn’t blood. It looked like the glittering rock beneath their feet. “Oh, my God…”

“What is it?” Eric bent down to take a look, then stepped back in horror as Sean collapsed on the ground, wracked with convulsions. The young man’s hair and the skin of his neck and face were consumed, transformed into the same glittering substance as the rock.

But he wasn’t just transforming. He was…disintegrating.

Carol screamed as Sean’s body, his convulsions finally ended, began to crumble away, being absorbed into the surface of the island.

In less than two minutes, there was no trace of Sean’s body. None at all.

Then Lynne pointed at Mack’s shoes. “Mack…”

He looked down, and saw the horrid glitter working its way up the soles. The others checked their shoes: they were all the same.

They ran for the raft, but it was already gone. It wouldn’t have mattered: the boat was listing, glitter spreading along the hull.

“I hope it doesn’t hurt,” Lynne whispered.

Posted in #SampleSunday | 18 Comments

“Sci-Fi in the Cage” ~the prompt~

Steve, and Michael … welcome to “Sci-Fi in the Cage.” This is a no-holds-barred competition, so I’m certain you’ll deliver a pair of short stories that are truly out of this world. You’ll be allowed a maximum of 2,ooo words and will have 24 hrs. to complete this challenge. The deadline is 12 pm EDT tomorrow, Sunday, Oct. 30th. Good luck to both of you.

~The prompt~

Mankind has been forever fascinated with the aurora borealis, more commonly known as the Northern Lights. Scientists explain the phenomenon as a “light show” in the earth’s atmosphere, created when highly charged electrons from the solar wind interact with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen, 20 to 200 miles above the earth’s surface.

The aurora, generally occurring near the Arctic Circle, sometimes moves farther south during increased frequency of sunspots. On the evening of December 5th, 2013, enthusiastic observers occupying mid-coast Maine had the distinct pleasure of enjoying such an event.

As a handful of hearty individuals braved both single digit hours and temperatures along the rugged shore, the mezmerizing light in the sky began to change. Inexplicably, the once multi-colored display changed to brilliant blue, rapidly decreasing in scope until it formed a concentrated vortex.

Onlookers familiar with coastal Maine were of the opinion that the dense shaft of light seemed to be focused on Monhegan, a small, rocky island ten miles from the nearest mainland, and barely a square mile in area.

They were correct in their assumption.

As the captain of a small ferry that frequented the island approached Monhegan at dawn, he rubbed his eyes in disbelief. There were no buildings. There were no boats in the harbor. Not a trace of vegetation, wildlife, nor a single individual that comprised the 65 full-time inhabitants was visible. All that remained was a rugged outcropping of stone.

Scientists, it seems, had gotten it wrong.


There you go, gentlemen. Take this scenario and blow us away with your sci-finery. There can only be one winner, so shoot for the stars.

Again, best of luck to both combatants. This much-anticipated pair of stories will post Sunday, Oct. 30th, by 1 PM EDT, and will be shown without author attribution to make the voting as unbiased as possible. Readers will be able to vote until 6 PM on Wednesday, November 2nd.

Let this ~Sci-Fi Cage Match~ begin.

All the best,  AB

Posted in #SampleSunday | 12 Comments

An interview with Anne-Mhairi Simpson

This week, it’s an honor and a privilege to welcome the winner of ~Fantasy in the Cage~, fantasy author, Anne-Mhairi Simpson, to my blog. My dear friend, whose name is pronounced as one word, Annvahree, was kind enough to  share some of her thoughts and experiences as a writer. Grab yourself a beverage, get comfy, and enjoy learning more about Anne-Mhairi and her wonderful work. And if you just can’t remember how to pronounce her name correctly, she has informed me, in person, that calling her AM is just fine.

When and why did you decide to start writing?

I’m not sure it was actually a deliberate decision. I used to tell myself stories as a kid (one of my dolls was shorter than the others and was usually the good guy. Barbie was rather ineffectual. The Sindy dolls were evil), and I honestly can’t remember when I started writing bits and pieces down. My first novel was written over the course of several years, starting in 2005, but I think I first started really taking it seriously in July of last year when I decided I wanted to enter for the Terry Pratchett prize.

What life experiences have best prepared you for being a writer?

Feeling like an outsider and a complete freak for most of my life Seriously, I’m hopeless at relating to people and recently realized that all my books deal with characters suddenly thrust into a world that is utterly unfamiliar to them. So about ten years of intense bullying at school as a child as well as going to school in France and both times I moved to South America prepared me for that!

Please tell us about your latest work and what genre it falls into.

For The Love Of Gods is a young adult epic/paranormal fantasy. I’m a little hazy on the exact niche because there are two worlds in the story, one with a lot of gods and elemental powers (which would be high fantasy) and one which is very similar to Earth but with magic and every single mythological creature I could think of (paranormal?).

What were your inspirations for writing it?

I have no idea. I was about three weeks away from finishing the wish-it-would-die-quietly novel when this girl popped into my mind and started telling me how she had to go through a wormhole to another world to do… something. What she had to do and why changed, but the girl and the wormhole, now called a nexus, remained.

Please describe your writing process for our readers.

Characters come and then I wonder what they’re doing and who they’re doing it with. And why. Other characters appear on either side, and then the world starts to build. By this time I have some kind of story problem, but that tends to change during the planning (read “extreme note taking”) process. But the characters remain. For The Love Gods actually started out on this world and then I realized she had to come here from the other world and switched everything around accordingly. My writing process is flexible, to say the least!

To what degree are your fictional characters based in reality?

In general they aren’t, but I can tell you that the grandparents in For The Love Of Gods are based on my paternal grandparents, both now deceased.

Can you tell us about your any upcoming projects?

The next book in the Battle of the Gods trilogy, Fire At Will, has been started, but I also have three standalones set in the same world clamouring for my attention. That said, I want to finish this trilogy and then maybe work on something else, which is currently top secret because I’m a bit hazy on how to realize it properly. Okay, I’m scared I won’t get it right, so I want to keep it quiet so I can work out the details in peace

Would you like to experiment with a different genre?

I’d like to be able to, but I’m not sure I could do another genre justice. I think dragons have a god-given right (maybe not given by, you know, God, but a god. Somewhere.) to exist and I also think magic makes everything better. More fun. More dangerous. More… just more. And I believe they frown on that in mainstream fiction, or any other genre which isn’t fantasy, so my chances probably aren’t that good of pulling it off.

Describe your ideal surroundings or conditions for writing.

Comfortable seating (currently propped up on my bed with pillows). No music – I tend to listen to the music and I don’t write. And I have to be calm, not upset about anything because my creative energy takes a dive into Hades when I’m upset and I can’t write at all. I could probably write while sitting on the deck of a sinking ship if it was sinking slowly and I knew I was going to get off in time. The relaxedness is most important, to be honest I don’t think it pays to be too picky about conditions. You never know what’s going to happen.

Do you have any writing idiosyncrasies?

No. I mean, apart from being reasonably well-balanced emotionally before I start. Anyone who knows me would probably call that an idiosyncracy.

Briefly share your thoughts on traditional publishing vs. indie.

Book for book, indie pays more. It’s much easier to get your book into physical bookshops if you are published traditionally. And there are certain traditionally published authors who have no respect for self-published authors, which annoys me. But honestly the differences are fairly superficial. Both sides have to work their hearts out and their butts off to be a success via either route. There are excellent authors on both sides. I believe readers are the final gatekeeper. The Dungeon Master, if you will, who controls where the story goes. Kind of.

What advice can you share with first-time writers?

If you’re writing a scene which is supposed to be emotional and it’s not uncomfortable (i.e. downright painful and making you cry) you’re not doing it properly. If you’re not physically feeling your character’s pain, there is no way on Earth your readers will.

The other thing is that you MUST MUST MUST get independent eyes on your manuscript, preferably those of experienced authors who have published successfully. Your family and friends will say they love it and probably mean it. With the best will in the world, unless they are successfully published (whether by themselves or a publisher) they don’t know what they’re talking about. Writers will tell you the truth and, what’s FAR more important, they will tell you how to fix it. Honest and constructive criticism will take a book to the next level. Which means you can’t be thin-skinned about it. If you only want people to tell you your book is wonderful, you’re not ready to publish, because once it’s published, someone will be mean about it. It’s a sure thing, like death and taxes.

Anne-Mhairi’s Bio

Real life is just too real, which is why Mhairi writes fantasy, preferably for teenagers because they’re closer to her mental age. This can, and often does, involve griffins, unicorns, werewolves and/or vampires. And because she likes a laugh, there are also pink mice and gods with faulty moral compasses. But whatever she’s writing, there’ll be a lot of blood and a LOT of magic, because that’s what makes her worlds go round.

She’s been to six schools (seven if you include university) and lived in five countries on two continents. She speaks three languages and bits and pieces of three more. She once galloped a horse into a cow (by accident) while at work and she’s been to Machu Picchu three times. Apart from writing, she likes pretty shoes, making jewellery, films, dancing, reading and chocolate. Don’t forget the chocolate.

Contact information:

Website:   http://www.annemhairisimpson.com/

Blog:    http://annemhairisimpson.wordpress.com/

Twitter:   @AMhairiSimpson

Posted in #SampleSunday | 7 Comments

“Fantasy in the Cage” ~the battle begins~

Leona, and AM…congratulations on writing two fantastic short stories. Best of luck to both of you.

This cage match is going to be an epic battle to the finish, ladies, and gentlemen. Please read the following pair of shorts then cast a vote for your favorite. The stories are shown without writer attribution to keep things as fair, and unbiased, as possible. The poll will be open until 6 PM on Wednesday, September 28th. At that time, a winner will be announced. The winner will be interviewed on this blog on Sunday, October 2nd.

I’ve included the prompt below, with the stories to follow. The poll is located at the end of the second story. Thank you in advance for reading and voting for your favorite.


~The Prompt~

For decades, Fairview Quarry had been a favorite spot for local high school students to congregate. This unseasonably warm October Friday inspired a dozen teens to skip school and party atop the lofty heights of the abandoned sites granite cliffs. Clad in swimsuits, the teen’s employed their usual cajoling, as dares to jump off the quarry’s highest point echoed across the murky surface of the water, nearly 90 feet below. Known as “Freebird,” the spot had claimed the lives of three students in the past decade, the most recent fatality occurring just a year prior. Strangely, not a single body had ever been recovered, despite efforts by experienced search and rescue divers.

Now, the latest dead teen’s best friend, Jamie Daigle, was contemplating taking the same plunge that had robbed him of his childhood companion.

“C’mon, Daigle, you chickenshit…jump!” said one of the truant teens.

Several taunts later, eleven faces peered over the precipice as Daigle plummeted, upright, and pencil-straight, toward the frigid surface.

Daigle fought the tendency to gasp as he broke the surface, the water temperature falling with every foot deeper he descended. He began to employ powerful strokes in an effort to return to the surface when a frightening realization struck; his body was being pulled deeper toward the submerged portion of the cliff face. He felt a burning sensation in his lungs, the need for fresh oxygen acute.

As panic began to take hold, Daigle felt a sharp scrape rake his spine, then felt his body rise to the surface. However, the surface he encountered was deep within a subterranean cave, a strange light emanating from just around the corner of the dank granite enclosure.


Bring The Light

He trod water for a few moments, dragging in lungfuls of air while he got his bearings. The cave was empty and there was no reason that he could see for the current that had pulled him in. He turned to dive for the exit, then looked back at the light. Had Todd ended up here too? What would he have done?

Jamie thought for a second before rolling his eyes and laughing. Todd would have checked out the light. And called Jamie a pussy for being so cautious.

Jamie swam for the side, reaching it in two strokes. He’d always been a strong swimmer, stronger than Todd. He still couldn’t forgive himself for not going to the quarry that day. Maybe if he’d been there… He shook his head. Dwelling on the past wouldn’t get him anywhere.

He pulled himself out, wincing as the scrape on his back complained, and listened as water sheeted off his body. He couldn’t hear a thing apart from water lapping gently at rock, but the light remained steady. It was a strange colour, somewhere between blue and green, with some yellow thrown in. He moved forward.

The cave narrowed to a passageway that wound to the left and as he followed it, the light grew stronger, shimmering off the rock around him like so many emeralds and sapphires. The passage was high enough for him to stand and walk comfortably, to the point where he barely felt that he was underground. A gentle breeze caressed his skin, warm enough to dry him off without making him shiver. He moved faster, eager to see what lay ahead.

He rounded a corner and stopped in his tracks. The passageway widened out into a large cave, bigger than the one he’d found himself in when he surfaced. The air glittered as though filled with the dust of precious stones and in the centre hung a blazing light.

He stared at it, his eyes adjusting, and realised he wasn’t mistaken. Or maybe he was hallucinating. The light really was hovering about five feet off the ground in the centre of the cave, on its own, with no support. He walked slowly around it, looking up and down, but could see no wires. As he reached the passage he had entered by he realised something else. The cave was otherwise empty and there were no other passages leading off it. Todd wasn’t here.

His shoulders slumped. In the short time since he pulled himself out of the water, he’d managed to convince himself that Todd would be here, even if Jamie only found his body. He leant against the cave wall, looking at the light. It was a welcoming colour, not so fierce he couldn’t look at it, and he straightened up and moved nearer. As he did so, he felt the warmth coming off it and reached out. The light played through his fingers as they moved, allowing beams to flicker across his chest and face.

He lowered his hand and backed away. His friends would be going nuts by now. Not that any of them were real friends, but still. He turned back to the passageway and almost ran straight into Todd.

“Dude, what’s the rush?” Todd’s smile was as easy as Jamie remembered and as Jamie ran his eyes over his friend, he could see no indication that this wasn’t a real, live, flesh-and-blood human. He reached out quickly, before he lost his nerve, and poked Todd in the chest. “Dude!”

Jamie massaged his finger. Todd had always worked out, and he was definitely all there. Physically, anyway. Jamie took a step back and was brought up short by the warmth of the light behind him.

“What the hell’s going on, man?” He snapped. Todd had never been one for practical jokes. “You’ve been gone a year! Where have you been? You weren’t here when I got here, I’m not blind!”

“Dude, relax, everything’s fine.” Todd held up his hands, palms out. “No, I wasn’t here when you got here. And I’m sorry I wasn’t able to see you. I’ve been busy.”

“Busy? For a dead person?” Jamie stepped sideways, away from the light and his friend. No, not his friend. This couldn’t be his friend. It wasn’t possible.

“Dude, I’m not dead. And anything is possible.”

Jamie looked at Todd, or whatever it was, his mouth hanging open. Then he turned and ran for the passageway.


Jamie ignored the familiar cry as he raced down the passageway, into the first cave and threw himself into the water. He pulled hard for the tunnel he could see opening up in front of him, desperate to get away from the light and the thing that looked like Todd and spoke like Todd and acted like Todd, but couldn’t possibly be him.

He clawed at the water, but he couldn’t seem to escape. He could feel his hands cupping around it and pulling him forward, but something was holding him back so that he couldn’t enter the tunnel. His lungs burned as desperation overtook him and his vision was growing dark when something grabbed him and yanked him above the water before dumping him on the rock beside the pool.

He lay there, gasping and wheezing, and as he recognised Todd leaning over him, wet hair plastered to his skull and concern written across his face, Jamie started to cry.

“Why, man? You knew I needed you. My dad, my mom… You were the only real friend I had and you just left. How could you do it?” He wanted to reach up and punch his ex-best friend in the face, but he was too weak, like always. He could only lie there and let the tears burn down his face.

“Dude, I didn’t choose to come in here. It pulls you in and you don’t get a choice about that. But the rest of it, everything else, there’s totally a choice. You choose!”

Jamie squinted up at him.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

Todd laughed and pulled him to his feet.

“Come on, I’ll tell you in the other cave.”

Jamie dug his heels in.

“I don’t want to go back in there.”

Todd’s face fell.

“Dude, it’s… It’s the only way. You can’t get back out through the water. But –” He held his hands up again as Jamie backed away. “But you can choose where you go. You can go anywhere. Just not back through there.”

He pointed into the water and Jamie frowned. Todd sighed and sat down on the floor.

“Fine, I’ll tell you here.”


Jamie approached the light. Just gotta have faith.

“That’s right, dude, you just gotta have faith. Just think about where you want to go and why.”

“You’re sure it’ll let me do this?”

Todd shrugged.

“Dude, hell if I know. It’s a good idea and I would have tried it if I’d thought of it. You got a good reason and you won’t be sticking around, so…” He shrugged again.

Jamie reached out his hand, holding in his mind a familiar image.


Saskia Daigle climbed onto Jamie’s bed and sat on the edge, her feet swinging nearly a foot off the ground. Even a four year old could work out that something was wrong. Mom was crying instead of yelling, allowing Dad to hug her instead of hitting him. Saskia didn’t think it would last, so she was in Jamie’ room. The one place she was usually safe.

It was full dark now and she should have been in bed hours ago, but Mom and Dad weren’t thinking about her. As long as she didn’t turn on a light, they wouldn’t know. Where was Jamie?

She stared at the floor. After a while she realised it wasn’t so dark anymore and looked up to see a glow in the corner of the room. As she watched it grew, brightened, then faded, to reveal her big brother. She opened her mouth to scream a joyous greeting but he put his fingers to his lips and she simply slid off the bed and ran into his arms.

“Hey, Sass,” he murmured as he stroked a hand over her hair.

“Hey, JJ,” she responded quietly, burrowing her head into his stomach. He picked her up and carried her over to the bed.

“Where have you been?” she asked as he sat her next to him on the bed.

“Well, I can’t tell you, Sass. But I can tell you two things, and you gotta listen hard. Can you do that for me?” He spoke quietly, so as not to alert their parents, and Saskia nodded.” Okay then. First, I love you and I will always be looking out for you. You got that?” Another nod. “Second, Mrs. Dobson down the street makes the best chicken casserole and she’s always got enough for one more. You got it? Repeat it back to me.”

Saskia repeated what he’d said. Jamie only hoped that, as she got older, she’d realise that Mrs. Dobson always had spare beds, too, and knew exactly what was going on in the Daigle household.

“You going ‘way?” Saskia asked and Jamie bit his lip before replying.

“Kinda. You won’t see me,” he said. “But I’ll see you.”

He got up and backed into the room, waved, blew her a kiss. She giggled and blew one back. Then he held her gaze until he could see her no more and the scene changed.

As things came into focus he saw an alleyway, dumpsters, buildings rising high around him, dim light coming from fifty feet away on a main road and Todd standing next to him. Between them and the road could be heard scuffling and cries for help.

“No, no, no! Please… Help! Help me!” The woman’s voice was high, and the man’s laughter ugly as he cut her cries off with a hand around her throat.

Ready, dude?

Jamie swallowed, nodded. It was going to take a while to get used to this telepathy stuff, let alone the rest of it.


Jamie looked down at his hand. A small stone glittered briefly, somewhere between blue and green with a dash of yellow thrown in, before his fingers closed over it. They crept forward and Todd nodded to Jamie, who stepped forward and pressed the gem to the side of the man’s head. Light exploded, painting the alleyway the colour of Caribbean for a fraction of a second before fading.

The man stiffened, then let go of the woman who didn’t even look to see why before staggering towards the road, her one remaining high heel making her progress slow and ungainly. But it didn’t matter. The man watched her go as though he’d never seen her before, then followed her slowly to the street. He turned right at the top of the alley, the opposite direction to the one the woman had taken.

“He really won’t remember?” asked Jamie. For the moment, he was more comfortable with speech.

“Nope.” Todd turned to face him. “Training complete. I’ll be seeing you around.”

“With this,” Jamie held up the gem, “I can always find you, right?”

Todd grinned and it was so familiar, Jamie had to grin in response.

“You can find anyone, dude. That’s the point.”

They clasped hands, then hugged.

“Bring the light, dude.”

“Bring the light.” Jamie smiled as Todd faded, then tightened his grip on the gem. He closed his eyes. The instructions were clear, imprinted on his memory. This was his job now. And he would never tire, never age, never die. No one would ever hurt him again. He stretched and his smile widened. The scrape on his back had healed.

Someone in need, he thought. There’s gotta be someone else around here who needs help.

There was.


Lost and found

Had he died? The light made him wonder for half a second before the frigid cold convinced him otherwise. He needed to get out of the water. Now. He headed to the light, hoping it led to a way out. Crawl stroking in the surprisingly deep water, he made it to the corner.

Stone steps led up to the cavern shelf. Weird. He painfully climbed the stairs. When he stood up, the light pierced his eyes angrily. It was like looking at the sun after being in the theatre for a matinee. He took a step back, but his cold feet refused to cooperate. He stumbled, slipped, and suddenly slid toward the light’s source; a rock cutting a jagged tear down his left calf.

As he fell, he wondered if his friend had experienced this when he’d jumped. God, he missed Harry. He came to an abrupt stop when he hit his head hard, the impact throwing him back into the dirt.

“Damn it!” His voice echoed strangely, as if muffled by a pillow. He carefully opened his scrunched-up eyes. The light wasn’t so bright now, but it surrounded him. He looked back the way he’d come but saw only light.

He stood up shakily. Despite his bloody calf and tingling feet, he started walking again, his teeth chattering. The echo made him think of every scary alien show he’d ever seen. He had to keep moving. No one would find him here. He had no wish to stay all night in a cave freezing, concussed and bleeding, not because of fear. No, not fear. He was tough. The taunts of chickenshit rang in his ears as if the kid stood next to him, mocking him. Why the hell had he let himself be led around by those assholes? He swore that when he got back, he’d do things the way his dad was constantly lecturing him to.

As he walked, the ground under his feet hurt less and shapes appeared within the light. Probably people at the quarry looking for him. A sigh of relief escaped him despite his attempt at being macho. Thankfully, they were too far away to hear it. He quickened his pace, his calf throbbing in protest. It would suck to be missed by the Search and Rescue people.

He stopped abruptly when this horse with no rider and wearing medieval armor appeared a foot away.

Then the sounds around him permeated his consciousness, the sight causing him to fear for his sanity and his safety. Great brutish men dressed in armor like something out of The Lord of the Rings were fighting each other. Shouts, grunts and expletives mingled, sounding like a loud soccer match gone bad.

He jumped back as a black horse and its ferocious rider bore down on him, a loud war cry on the man’s lips. Jamie stood frozen in shock and fear, half convinced he had hypothermia and was hallucinating. But not wholly. It felt too real.

“James! What in the name of the king are you doing here? And dressed like a crazy man?” The man said as he stayed his sword.

“I don’t know?” he answered, confused. How the hell did this man know his name?

“Father will kill you, if you don’t die here. Ryan, Peter!” He yelled at two men close by. “Take my brother home. Protect him with your lives.”

“Yes, my lord, Aaron,” they said, immediately pulling Jamie between them.

Aaron smacked Jamie across the mouth. “If I had more time, I’d horsewhip you. Putting your life in danger. And now I have to send two of my best men back to the keep.”

Another horse bore down, the man’s sword slashing toward Jamie. He ducked and backed up at the same time and fell down in the churned up dirt and mud. For the first time, he realized he wasn’t the only one wet. It was raining. He heard the snicker of the man who helped him up.

Aaron and one of his protectors fought the attacker off, running the fighter through the stomach with his sword. The blood gushed out and the grisly bearded man fell off his horse. Rolling when he hit the ground, he stopped at Jamie’s feet.

Jamie nearly fell again as the man’s face came into view. It looked like an older version of the friend he’d lost. “Harry?”

The man opened his eyes, looking around. “Jamie?” the man asked.

“But, you can’t be you. I lost you last year!”

“It’s been ten years since I jumped off that cliff to end it all. I thought it was successful until I ended up in a cave,” Harry said, his words coming out in weak gasps.

“Jamie! How do you know one of the enemy? Your words, and his, are strange. I’ll expect a full answer back at the keep! Now leave!”

“I can’t! I have to know what happened to him,” Jamie cried.

Harry reached a hand over and grasped Jamie’s. “You have to go. This is no place for a teenager from our world. I was found and given a place to stay and adopted by the Duke of Kilntred. He’s the mortal enemy of the Duke of Honatine. Jamie, if you make it back, tell my parents I’m sorry.”

Jamie nodded but Harry would never know his answer. He was dead. Jamie looked up in time to see three more men on feet attacking them. He didn’t know what to do. He was practically naked, no shield, no sword, not that he’d know how to use either one. Not to mention no shoes. He stayed kneeling in the mud while Aaron and the others fought off the new onslaught.

When they’d beaten the men back and more of Aaron’s men had interceded, Aaron spoke again. “Now, you shall leave this battlefield. Peter, Ryan, remove him whether he wills it or no.”

“Yes sir!” Peter grabbed Jamie under one arm, Ryan the other, pulling him up. “Let’s go!” Jamie went willingly. His mind focused on assimilating his circumstances.

It was slow going. The first fifty feet of intense fighting, Peter and Ryan let go of Jamie to fight the combatants off. Each clash of metal caused his heart to race. He wished he knew how to use a sword and wasn’t mostly naked. His bare chest felt vulnerable in his current surroundings.

They were nearly clear of the battlefield when three men attacked. Peter and Ryan fought hard, but Jamie could see they were tiring. He saw a sword on the ground next to a fallen warrior and grabbed it. He lifted it how he saw the others handle their sword and tried to fight the third warrior off.

The man sneered. “You’re nothing but a boy!”

“I’m sixteen. Old enough,” Jamie replied indignantly.

“Sixteen?” the man laughed uproariously. “You need to work on those muscles, boy. You look like a girl.”

Livid, Jamie swung the sword like a baseball bat and connected with the man’s shoulder.

The man growled in fury, bringing his sword back to strike, but Peter blocked it. They fought hard, the metal clanging against metal. Jaime moved to the side as Peter and the other warrior circled each other. On they fought, while Ryan defended against the other two. Jamie felt useless and watched in desperate hope as his protectors fought on.

The sight awed him. He thought Ryan was a goner more than once when his opponent’s sword swung close, but Ryan was too good for his enemies. He blocked and attacked all in one smooth move. Peter had pushed the crude man back onto the battle field. After agonizing minutes, Peter slashed his opponent’s sword arm, the blood stain quickly spreading. The look of surprise on the man’s face made Jamie wish he’d had his iphone to take a picture. The man met his eyes just as he was smirking at the priceless joke running through his mind. Jamie shivered.

Fear trickled down his spine. Yellow teeth appeared when the warrior smiled. “Laugh now, boy,” he shouted. “You’ll be quiet soon enough.”

Jamie couldn’t comprehend the man’s meaning. He stared at Peter who’d suddenly started shouting at him.

“What?” he asked. I—“

Jamie opened his eyes. He didn’t remember closing them. Where was he? He remembered his friends calling him chickenshit for not jumping in the quarry right away. He jumped, then, what? His head started pounding, the pressure manifesting itself against his left eye. The light, he recalled walking, er, falling, into the light and being in the midst of a battle. No, that can’t be right. He must have hit his head when he fell. So where was he now?

Aaron strode into the room as Jamie was trying to put on pants with no zippers or elastic. As Aaron approached him, he tripped, falling face first against Aaron’s chest.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“You’re not James.”

“I’m Jamie Daigle.”


Jamie backed up against the bed at the ferocity in Aaron’s voice.

“Where’d you come from?” Aaron stalked Jamie, their faces pressed nose to nose.

“I don’t know. I fell through this light and here I am,” he retorted, anger finally giving him the courage to stand up to the muscular man. He shouldered past Aaron, and went back to trying to make his pants stay up. “I’m not from around here. I’m from Long Beach.”

He looked up in time to see Aaron’s face pale. “It can’t be. Stay here,” he ordered as he stalked out the way he’d come in.

“Like, where the hell would I go?” he muttered rebelliously.

It seemed an eternity before Aaron came back. Wordlessly, Aaron pulled Jamie by his ear, down stone steps into a great hall. Jamie swung his arm up when they arrived. “I’m not five,” he said angrily.

Aaron just gave him a dark look then ignored him, joining the group of people waiting in the hall. “What’s happening? Where am I?” Jamie yelled at Aaron’s retreating back. Why wasn’t anyone saying anything?

“Aaron, there’s no need to be rude. Jamie, I’m Alaina,” she spoke softly, her voice like a haunting melody you wanted to hear repeatedly. He walked to her without conscious thought.

Aaron laughed. “Now I’m inclined to believe him. All otherworlders react to you that way. It’s the siren half of you.”

“Do you have any other family that found the light?” Alaina asked.

He started to deny it when he remembered the story of his uncle’s disappearance. “My uncle. About twenty-five years ago.”

“That explains much. As far as we can tell from others who’ve come, time in our world runs about ten years to your one.”

“But that means my parents are frantic! I have to get back!”

Alaina’s eyes told him the news before her words. “We cannot take you back. Your kind appear in the mist. We don’t understand why or how, nor can we predict when. But it’s why we’ve been fighting for that field. Each side wants the unknown power for themselves.”

“But I don’t belong here,” he said, frustration making him bold.

“You do now, I’m afraid,” the man on Alaina’s left spoke up. “I’m Jonathan. You’re family, related to the man who earned us our first title and began buying up land. Your uncle looked just like you, son. Look at James, and the portraits around you.”

Jamie looked closely at the man, then the woven tapestries and paintings that lined the walls. He saw many men and women who looked like him, his father, and his aunts. His ancestors. He swallowed. His uncle had lived a good life. Still, he didn’t want to be stuck here.

“We will take care of you. Teach you our ways,” Jonathan spoke firmly.

Jamie supposed Jonathan was right. His best friend was dead—again. His life had deteriorated to him jumping off cliffs to prove himself to idiots. What did he have to lose?

“I can’t wait.”

Posted in #SampleSunday | 7 Comments

“Fantasy in the Cage” ~the prompt~

Leona, and AM … an adrenaline-filled welcome to “Fantasy in the Cage.” As you know, this is a no-holds-barred competition, so dig deep and give our readers your best short stories. You will be allowed a maximum of 2,ooo words, and will have 24 hrs. to complete this challenge. The deadline is 12 pm EDT tomorrow, Sunday, Sept. 25th. Good luck to both of you.

~The Prompt~

For decades, Fairview Quarry had been a favorite spot for local high school students to congregate. This unseasonably warm October Friday inspired a dozen teens to skip school and party atop the lofty heights of the abandoned sites granite cliffs. Clad in swimsuits, the teen’s employed their usual cajoling, as dares to jump off the quarry’s highest point echoed across the murky surface of the water, nearly 90 feet below. Known as “Freebird,” the spot had claimed the lives of three students in the past decade, the most recent fatality occurring just a year prior. Strangely, not a single body had ever been recovered, despite efforts by experienced search and rescue divers.

Now, the latest dead teen’s best friend, Jamie Daigle, was contemplating taking the same plunge that had robbed him of his childhood companion.

“C’mon, Daigle, you chickenshit…jump!” said one of the truant teens.

Several taunts later, eleven faces peered over the precipice as Daigle plummeted, upright, and pencil-straight, toward the frigid surface.

Daigle fought the tendency to gasp as he broke the surface, the water temperature falling with every foot deeper he descended. He began to employ powerful strokes in an effort to return to the surface when a frightening realization struck; his body was being pulled deeper toward the submerged portion of the cliff face. He felt a burning sensation in his lungs, the need for fresh oxygen acute.

As panic began to take hold, Daigle felt a sharp scrape rake his spine, then felt his body rise to the surface. However, the surface he encountered was deep within a subterranean cave, a strange light emanating from just around the corner of the dank granite enclosure.


There you have it, ladies. Wow us with your writerly wonderment. Good luck!

Posted in #SampleSunday | 5 Comments

An interview with Steve Umstead

Welcome to my interview with my great friend, science fiction author, Steve Umstead. Steve has just started writing Gabriel’s Revenge, book 3 of the Evan Gabriel trilogy.

Steve was kind enough to share some of his thoughts and insights into the process of becoming a successful author. I hope you enjoy the interview.


When and why did you decide to start writing, Steve?

Start writing “for real?” I guess that would have been October of last year, when I finally got up enough courage and cojones to sign up for November’s NaNoWriMo. I had written some before that, but had never – and I mean never – completed a story start to finish. I had a lot of first chapters, which I then went back and edited over and over again – ended up with a great first chapter, and nothing else. NaNoWriMo made me finally sit down and write, start to finish, saving editing for later.


What life experiences have best prepared you for being a writer?

Reading, hands down. I’ve been reading since I was 3 (so I’ve been told) and was into my mother’s books by 7 or 8 (Jaws & All The President’s Men still stick out). And as a youth in the 70’s, a lot of movies (Star Wars) and television (Battlestar Galactica, Starblazers cartoons) made a huge impression on me in terms of science fiction.


Please tell us about your latest work.

The second book of the Evan Gabriel Trilogy, Gabriel’s Return, just launched in mid-August, and continues the science fiction/adventure tale where Gabriel’s Redemption left off. I term it ‘near future scifi’, as it’s based heavily in reality and current technologies & settings. I enjoy that type of reading myself, and I feel it gives a wide range of fans/readers an opportunity to enjoy it – not just hard scifi fans.


What were your inspirations for writing it?

For many years I had the opening scene to Gabriel’s Redemption in my head, right down to the conch ceviche they made on the beach in the Caribbean. When NaNoWriMo rolled around, I knew I wanted to use that scene, so I created an outline around it. From there, the Evan Gabriel character, his backstory, his motivations, his future, all grew out of it.


Please describe your writing process for our readers.

It’s changed a lot since book one! Back then, (a) I didn’t know of any other authors, as I hadn’t even yet dipped into the online pool with them, and (b) was only writing for the challenge of finishing a story. That was a general outline created in October, then a minimum of two hours per night, every night, from November 1st through the 26th. I’d head into the dining room as the kids went to bed, left the wife to whatever TV shows were on the DVR, and wrote. Today? Much different. I have a LOT of social media commitments and promotional activities that can (and do) distract from the writing process. Gabriel’s Return was started in April, and after some personal and job roadblocks in May & June, sat untouched. I went back to it in late June, then worked my tail off in July to complete it. I had lost motivation in the middle I suppose. Also, I didn’t outline it – big mistake. For me an outline is necessary, as it shows me what scene I’m writing when I sit down to write. In a good hour, knowing the scene ahead of me, I’ll do 1500-2000 words. (The last week of writing Gabriel’s Return, when the story was very exciting, climactic, and almost telling itself, I wrote 30,000 words in seven days.)


To what degree are your fictional characters based in reality?

Well, I’ll give a little inside information. The main character (Evan Gabriel) is named after my younger son. I thought he (10 at the time of writing) would get a real kick out of seeing his name in a story (again long before I ever considered publishing). And in the story, his older brother (Zack) is named after my younger son. As for basing the characters in reality, not much specifically – each one is a compilation of many characters I’ve seen on TV, movies, read about in books. I just tried to make each one unique without cliched – something that can be hard to do.


Can you tell us about your any upcoming projects?

I believe this is being posted on September 5th? That would mean Gabriel’s Revenge, the final installment in the trilogy, is five days old. Readers of Gabriel’s Return will see the reason for the Revenge name at the very end of book 2. Commander Gabriel has had a tough life, has seen many fellow soldiers die, and has reached a breaking point. If things go well, it should be released before the holiday season.


Would you like to experiment with a different genre?

I would, and though I love science fiction (and already have an written-down idea for a 4th, non-Gabriel story which I’ll be working on next), I’ve always been a fan of the thriller/technothriller genre. That probably has a lot to do with being a huge Tom Clancy fan (back when he actually wrote his own books). Definitely something I’d like to give a shot, say early 2012?


Describe your ideal surroundings or conditions for writing.

Either pure silence, or white noise. I’ve tried to write in front of the television, but even with a show on I’m not watching, it simply doesn’t work. My current spot (and probably forever spot, as I don’t see our house suddenly gaining square footage for a writing study) is the dining room table with a pair of noise-canceling headphones and instrumental music (even music with lyrics throws me off). Or I might head to a local Panera or Barnes & Noble; background crowd noise (and free coffee refills) seems to work pretty well.


Do you have any writing idiosyncrasies?

Hmmm…if I take out the previous answers (headphones, instrumental music, etc.), not sure if there’s anything left! I’ll be switching to day writing for book 3; the after 9PM writing was good for a one month challenge, but I lost some family time. Instead I’ll be carving out a long lunch hour(s) to get my 2,000 words per day. Therefore, that rules out the red wine and Guinness… I guess if I said I wear my underwear on my head, or drink a gallon of tomato juice with hot sauce, or insist on having the house at 55 degrees, that would make for a good story. But none of them are true…or are they?


Briefly share your thoughts on traditional publishing vs. indie.

I’m indie all the way. However, I think sometimes the traditional VERSUS independent is an argument taken too far. We’re all authors, all trying to get our work into the hands of readers, and we’re just taking different routes to get there. Is either right or wrong? Who knows. I only know that I am 100% satisfied with self-publishing my work as an independent author, as I want (need?) that control. Being self-employed for over ten years, I know that I want full authority to change my cover art, my pricing, my blurb, and so on. I read a comment from one traditionally published author I had recently done a book review on where she said they could not change the blurb, even though the book contained several erotica scenes not specified in the blurb. “The publisher won’t change it.” I was shocked. To me, that means giving up far too much control over something that I had put my heart and soul into. Nope, not for me. If I succeed beyond my wildest dreams, or fall flat on my face broke, I want to look back on it and know that I did it myself, and no one else was responsible, either way. Right or wrong, success or failure, it’s on me.


What advice can you share with first-time writers?

One of the greatest pieces of advice wasn’t from a specific person, but from the NaNoWriMo program itself. Don’t stop to edit!! Write, and keep writing, until the story is finished. It could be perfect, or it could be a jumbled skeleton, but finish the plot line, then go back and fill in the details, rearrange scenes, fix poor sentences. Without that advice, I doubt I’d have ever finished my first book, let alone a second.



Bio and Contact Information

Steve Umstead has been the owner of a Caribbean & Mexico travel company for the past ten years, but never forgot his lifelong dream of becoming an author. After a successful stab at National Novel Writing Month, he decided to pursue his dream more vigorously…but hasn’t given up the traveling.

Steve lives in scenic (tongue-in-cheek) New Jersey with his wife, two kids, and several bookshelves full of other authors’ science fiction novels. Gabriel’s Redemption was his debut novel, published in February of 2011, and Gabriel’s Return, the second in the trilogy, launched in August. If his life allows it, Gabriel’s Revenge, book 3, will arrive before the holiday season.


Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/steveumsteadwrites

Twitter: @SteveUmstead

Web Site: http://www.SteveUmstead.com

Amazon Links to Steve’s works:

Gabriel’s Redemption (1): http://www.amazon.com/Gabriels-Redemption-Gabriel-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B004LZ5686

Gabriel’s Return (2): http://www.amazon.com/Gabriels-Return-Gabriel-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B005HEXAP6

Barnes & Noble Links to Steve’s works:

Gabriel’s Redemption (1): http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/gabriels-redemption-steve-umstead/1101862376

Gabriel’s Return (2): http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/gabriels-return-steve-umstead/1104883916


Posted in #SampleSunday | 12 Comments

An interview with AJ Aalto

Congratulations, once again, to my wonderful friend, AJ Aalto, for her win in ~Horror in the Cage~ with her short story, “Dinner for Two (Hundred).” AJ has shared some interesting facts about her travels along the writer’s road. Get comfortable, and enjoy getting to know this fabulous writer.

When and why did you decide to start writing?

I wouldn’t say it was a decision as much as it was a defense mechanism; stories kept piling up in my brain and there’s only so much useable space in mine. I had to get them onto paper, or “paperspace” at least, to de-clutter the grey cells and stay sane … though my shrink bill would indicate this hasn’t yet worked.

What life experiences have best prepared you for being a writer?

Studying Biology at University forced me to be able to condense complex ideas into simple terms, while maintaining all the pertinent details. It also taught me to pursue the “why”—which is invaluable—and to notice, compartmentalize and store minute details for quick retrieval: colour, size, texture, velocity. These skills are extremely useful in writing.

Please tell us about your latest work and what genre it falls into.

My first dark urban fantasy novel will be launching soon, entitled “Touched”. The protagonist, Marnie Baranuik, is a bumbling forensic psychic and ex-preternatural biologist who has no social graces, and who would really prefer to hole up like a hermit, eat cookies and fail at Sudoku puzzles rather than solve ooky paranormal crimes. When a murder victim’s severed head appears in her mailbox, she no longer has a choice in the matter. Enter the FBI’s preternatural crimes unit, and Marnie’s hermit days are over.

What were your inspirations for writing it?

I was taking a break from writing an epic fantasy trilogy which had flaws so big they were melting my face. I decided to have fun with a character who had tons going for her, if only she could by some miracle manage not to cock it up. Because she’s a total spaz character, I get to throw mad crazy stuff at her—demons, psychotic psychics, a horny ex, an overly critical fuss-pot vampire, a ghoul or two—and watch her fumble, face-plant and fail spectacularly with most of it.

Please describe your writing process for our readers.

My days begin at 4 am. By the time there’s sun, I’m at my horribly disorganized desk amongst piles of scrap notes, teetering books and clutter, to begin the frenzied typing with no sense of direction that is my day. I rarely outline. If I do, the outline is largely ignored. I try to keep note cards, but they too get shoved in the desk drawer and forgotten. When a scene/story/book is finished, I’m always surprised. I tend to do between 8-10 thousand words in a sitting. If I’m not going to hit that mark, I take a 10 minute shower with the hot water on full blast, aimed at the base of my skull, to stimulate creative activity. Then I crank the tunes and get back to work. I don’t believe in writer’s block—I believe in putting my muse in a headlock and giving him an atomic wedgie.

To what degree are your fictional characters based in reality?

I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by epic dorks and nerdly creative types. Sadly, quite a lot of the Marnie Baranuik character is a blend of my foul mouth and the actions and random “deep” questions/observations of my wacky sister, Robin Landry. Neither of us are shy about being dorks. We’re both enjoying our mental illnesses. I took Robin and myself, and the bizarre shit we do, and asked, “what if I chucked a broad like us into a broth of magic, monsters and creative maledicta?” When the answer was a dreadful shudder, I knew I was onto something.

Harry Dreppenstedt and Agent Mark Batten are also based on people I’ve known for years, people far more elegant and sexy than myself, whom I admire and lust after. I doubt I could write a book without both of them cropping up in it.

Can you tell us about your upcoming projects?

Book two of the Touched Chronicles, entitled “Death Rejoices”, is nearing completion now, in which Marnie appears New and Improved … “now with people skills”. Also: zombies, baby! I’m excited about the zombies. A third book in the series, tentatively entitled “Dirt Nap” is fully outlined … but as I’ve said: snarkptooey-splat on outlines. I’m also collaborating on an as-of-yet untitled fantasy epic which will be released in small serial novels, the first few of which are outlined. My co-author is big on outlines, so I’m going to learn to be a good girl. Wow, I almost kept a straight face typing that.

Would you like to experiment with a different genre?

Dark urban fantasy and horror are my comfort zones (not sure what that says about me) but I’d give a murder mystery a whirl. A book must have death, snark and sex for me to enjoy it. If I attempted a mystery, it would likely be a forensic entomology procedural; that would make my science-y half happy as a vulture on viscera. And yes, science-y is so a word.

Describe your ideal surroundings or conditions for writing.

My study is, more often than not, far from ideal. I find clutter distracting but I’m always too mentally busy to clean. A quick shout-out to my wonderfully supportive husband, who recently hired me a maid because, and I quote: “I married a writer, not a house cleaner—obviously.” Heh. Gotta love him.

For my writing to really flow well, I need music of the exact right feel for the scene—or for the character, each one has their own playlist—hot tea, something to nibble on, phone off, curtains closed, kids out, social media off (this is sometimes I problem for me), and candles. I dislike artificial light.

Do you have any writing idiosyncrasies?

I buy the “smell” of each character, and wear it when I’m having trouble connecting to them. I’m a hypersensual person due to bipolar disorder, but this works in my favour when I have to mentally bookmark someone. I use a specific perfume, cologne or scent. For instance, a vampire character of mine wears 4711 cologne, which has been made for over 200 yrs. I bought some, and tip it on my wrist when I need Harry to put the right words in my ear. Fragrances add a dimension to my focus that few other things could.

I also read everything aloud, and have a spectacular beta reader, Heather Goldie, who will read passages out loud for me also. Every Thursday morning I see Heather for instant, live reactions as she reads whatever sludge most recently dribbled out of my head. Her laughter is one of the sweetest rewards in the world.

Briefly share your thoughts on traditional publishing vs. indie.

Personally, I’m really enjoying the freedom of indie publishing. Everything is my call. I say when the project is ready, I say where it’s going and for how much and for how long, how I promote it, what it looks like and ultimately sounds like. If it sinks or floats, that’s all on me. On the other hand, I don’t want the traditional publishing sector to suffer, as I’m a bookseller and a lover of print media. The smell of a new paperback novel can make my eyes roll back in my head, and I’m quite content thumbing through a Sunday NY Times leaving black fingerprints on my tea cup. I have a profound respect for the gatekeepers as guardians of eloquent language. We need to find a happy balance between the two for both to prosper. Traditional publishing is still important, but don’t take your eyes off some of those indie writers; there is gold in this new stream of authors taking the drive and direction of their art into their own hands, and that is very exciting.

What advice can you share with first-time writers?

Write every day. Write. Every. Damn. Day. Make writing an obsession, not a hobby. Make it something you simply cannot get through your day without. If you don’t take yourself and your craft seriously, neither will anyone else.

Bio and Contact Information

Bio: AJ Aalto is an unrepentant liar and a writer of  blathering nonsense offset by factual gore. When not working on her horror novels, you can find her singing old Monty Python songs in the shower, eavesdropping on perfect strangers, stalking her eye doctor, or failing at one of her many fruitless hobbies. Generally a fan of anyone with a passion for the ridiculous, she has a particular weak spot for smug, pseudo-intellectual assholes and narcissistic jerks; readers will find her work littered with dark, imperfect creatures and flawed monsters. AJ cannot say no to a Snickers bar, has been known to swallow her gum, and may be standing in front of her bathroom mirror, snort-giggling at exploratory homemade zombie noises, like all horror writers are wont to do. A fan of saprophytic harmony, blatant carnivoracity, skin slippage and the lovely bloat of putrefaction, she can usually be found lurking in underwater caverns, waiting for unsuspecting divers. Rumour has it that AJ Aalto is the secret cause of Rapture of the Deep–but it’s likely she started that rumour herself.

Twitter: @AJAalto

Web Site: http://www.ajaalto.com/

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