Book Tour and Giveaway! HARBINGER by Lee French and Erik Kort

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Title: Harbinger
Series: The Greatest Sin #2
Authors: Lee French and Erik Kort
Publication Date: October 2014
Genre: Fantasy

Harbinger Adjusting to her new life as a soul-bound agent of the Fallen has Chavali pushing herself harder than ever before. Between learning to fight, dealing with idiots, and climbing stairs – lots of stairs – she has little time to waste on thoughts of the future. Or the past.

When another agent fails to report in, Chavali is sent on the mission to discover her fate. Ready or not, she saddles up for a new adventure with new dangers.

The search takes her to Ket, a coastal city slathered in mystery. There, she faces ghosts from her past and demons of her future as she seeks answers. All she seems to find are more questions.

Plague, murder, lies, espionage…this city harbors much more than meets the eye, and maybe too much to handle.

Amazon / Goodreads

 

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Lee French Lee French lives in Olympia, WA with two kids, two bicycles, and too much stuff. She is an avid gamer and active member of the Myth-Weavers online RPG community, where she is known for her fondness for Angry Ninja Squirrels of Doom. In addition to spending much time there, she also trains year-round for the one-week of glorious madness that is RAGBRAI, has a nice flower garden with one dragon and absolutely no lawn gnomes, and tries in vain every year to grow vegetables that don’t get devoured by neighborhood wildlife.

Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads / Pinterest

 

Erik Kort Erik Kort abides in the glorious Pacific Northwest, otherwise known as Mirkwood-Without-The-Giant-Spiders. Though the spiders often grow too numerous for his comfort. He is defended from all eight-legged threats by his brave and overly tolerant wife, and is mocked by his obligatory writer’s cat. When not writing, Erik comforts the elderly, guides youths through vast wildernesses, and smuggles more books into his library of increasingly alarming size.

Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads

 

 

Author Interview

Why do you write within your chosen genre?

I’ve always been attracted to fantasy and science fiction. It validated the bizarre stuff going on inside my head to read stories with equally or more bizarre ideas and events. There’s nothing like a talking pig and spider to say ‘hey, that talking clock idea doesn’t make you a freak’. More than that, though, the genre is about the human condition, in a way that’s disguised enough to make teenagers not realize they’re reading about important things. I learned a lot about empathy and morality and behavior, just like one does reading other genres of fiction. In fantasy and sci fi, it’s just wrapped in robots and elves and dragons and space ships and magic. Which are all way cooler than reality.

Do your characters sometimes surprise you with their behavior? Or do you always have complete control?

Control. I’ve never been in a situation where I put a character into a situation and then was somehow surprised by what I decided they should do to get themselves out of it. The idea of a character somehow acting on its own is a little ridiculous, when you stop and think about it. It’s a fictional creation of my brain that exists entirely in my brain. It doesn’t do anything unless I make it do that thing. Plots, on the other hand, do surprise me, in the sense that I frequently find myself saying (to the air, because I talk to myself out loud), “What would make for the best story here?”, and the answer isn’t always my first instinct. The character’s behavior follows what the character would do in that situation. if that surprises me for some reason, I’ve made a grave mistake somewhere along the line.

Do you outline first or take an idea and run blindly?

Yes! I make notes and outlines, and then have a brilliant idea in the middle and run off the rails into the unknown. Right now, I’m in the middle of transitioning to a more structured, professional writing approach, with hard deadlines and plans for the next 1-3 years. It’s a difficult change to make from ‘OMG! I wrote a book! OMG! I have another idea and must barf it out now!’, so it’s slow going on that front. My hope is to set myself up with a schedule that includes time specifically set aside for outlining and other planning work, which will make everything flow smoother.

Do you set your books in real locations or do you make them up?

I’ve done both. The Greatest Sin books are set in an entirely fictional world. The Maze Beset trilogy is set in the real world with real locations. I also have my own fantasy setting, called Ilauris, for which each region is inspired by the flavors of a real world culture. The first book from that setting, Damsel In Distress, takes place in a region inspired by Celtic myth and Arthurian Legend. The second book from Ilauris, which I am writing the first draft of now, takes place in a region inspired by Ancient Persia.

Having done both, neither is easier than the other. Using real world locations means either visiting/living there, or looking up details on the internet. It can get time consuming if true accuracy is important, which it tends to be. Having a fantasy world means making up every single little detail. This kind of effort is easy to get lost in, as new and interesting thoughts lead the mind down a rabbit hole of setting minutia – this also gets time consuming.

Where do your ideas come from?

Like anyone else, I watch movies and TV, and read books, have friends and loved ones, and go places and do things. There’s nothing new under the sun, just different ways to tell all the same stories. I’ll be out someplace and see an image that makes me think of something, then something else, then a cascade event leads me to a story idea. Someone posts a thought on a social media site, and it’s inspiring in a tangential way. One of my kids says something while playing with Legos or dolls, and it strikes me in some way. It all starts with a single moment that grabs some demented neuron and shakes it until a kernel idea falls out. I write that down, and build out from it until I have something interesting enough to pursue into a full story.

Do you edit as your write? Or do you write an entire rough draft before doing any edits?

As I write, no matter how much prep work I’ve done, I always find myself coming up with details that I didn’t think of before. They almost always have to be inserted prior to the point I’ve reached, and in order to find those points, I wind up re-reading earlier parts. Those earlier parts tend to get some light editing as a result of that tendency. On the whole, though, I prefer to keep moving forward until I get to the end. When I finish a first draft, I set it aside for at least a month, then come back to it and begin the revision process. Trying to hack into it sooner than that is difficult, because I’m generally convinced the whole thing is trash by the time I’ve written an ending I know will be redone ten times before it works properly. I need some space from it to evaluate the ideas and flow without just deleting the entire file and starting over again.

When you first begin writing a new book, is your main focus on the characters or the plot?

I begin with a character, not a plot. The main character is my focal point, the piece of the story that I’ll stay with the entire time. (I happen to prefer 3rd person limited as a POV.) That character’s wants, needs, desires, flaws, goals, relationships, and capabilities are where the plot comes from. As such, the plot serves the character, not the other way around. Along a similar vein, the setting is, in the initial stages of planning, more important to me than the plot, too. Take a basic plot and put it into two different settings, and you have two different stories. When it comes time to actually write, though, the setting becomes the background, having already had its effect on the plot by then.

Do you write a book sequentially, from beginning to end? Or do you sometimes write scenes out of order?

For the most part, I write sequentially. It’s hard for me to write a scene without knowing what happened prior to it. That said, I do sometimes leave parts out intentionally in a first draft, using a placeholder of some kind, like {insert x type of scene bit here}, because I know that working the details of it out right then would disrupt me too much as I’m going along. That piece typically gets added as part of revision. Aside from that, I often find that I skip over parts I think will be boring, only to come back after the fact and realize something important needs to happen there.


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#MondayBlogs: NEGATIVE IMAGE – “Sometimes I don’t feel real.”

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“Sometimes I don’t feel real.”

I hadn’t meant to say the words aloud. The private thought came tumbling out in a harsh whisper. Those words had been haunting me for so long, and now suddenly they sit out in the world awaiting judgment.

Adam looks at me as if I’ve lost my mind, and maybe I have. “What are you talking about?” he asks.

His voice is tinged with frustration. We’d slipped into this quaint little art gallery to escape the sudden rain. Galleries are not our typical hangout. We live in a small apartment and don’t have much wall space. Not that it matters, since we can’t afford “fine art” anyway.

Adam has walked at least three laps around the place, his boredom evident in the huff of his breath. I’ve been lingering over this one image, with the violet trees that can feel either magical or icy cold, depending on how I look at them. But what really strikes me is that, no matter what I see, I know it’s not quite real. The negative image is the opposite of what is, or maybe it’s a reflection of what the truth hides behind.

I feel like that reflection, hiding behind my own projection of what I’m supposed to be.

*

The above is a teaser from my short story Negative Image, which is one of three of my stories included in the anthology entitled Reflections, from the Mind’s Eye Series. This is the second book in the short story series, and features 4 Authors, 2 Poets, and 2 Photographers. Each story and poem was inspired by a different photo taken by one of our photographers. Those photos are included in the anthology. Take a look at them before you read. What stories do you see there?

 

Reflections Cover - md Do you trust what you see?

Right becomes left.
Up becomes down.
Distorted, unreal.

Your world looks new when you see its…
REFLECTIONS

Contents:

PHOTOGRAPHS by Ben Ditmars
3 Stories by Jason McIntyre: ANSWER THE QUESTION / RITE OF SPRING / PRINCE OF PILLS
INSANITY by Helle Gade
3 Stories by Maria Savva: SHADOWS / ESCAPE / THE GREAT FLOOD
TINSEL TOWN by Ben Ditmars
3 Stories by J. Michael Radcliffe: A TALE OF TWO CHURCHES / SEEDS OF DESPAIR / EYE OF THE DRAGON
IMMORTAL LOVE by Helle Gade
3 Stories by Darcia Helle: FREE FALL / NEGATIVE IMAGE / TRUNK FULL OF LIES
MINE by Helle Gade
THE SQUIRREL by Martin David Porter
FOOTSTEPS IN THE DISTANCE by Ben Ditmars

Photos by Martin David Porter and Helle Gade

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

The ebook is available as a free read for Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime members!

Thanks for reading. :)

Book Review – EMPIRE OF SIN: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and The Battle for Modern New Orleans

Empire of Sin

From bestselling author Gary Krist, a vibrant and immersive account of New Orleans’ other civil war, at a time when commercialized vice, jazz culture, and endemic crime defined the battlegrounds of the Crescent City

Empire of Sin re-creates the remarkable story of New Orleans’ thirty-years war against itself, pitting the city’s elite “better half” against its powerful and long-entrenched underworld of vice, perversity, and crime. This early-20th-century battle centers on one man: Tom Anderson, the undisputed czar of the city’s Storyville vice district, who fights desperately to keep his empire intact as it faces onslaughts from all sides. Surrounding him are the stories of flamboyant prostitutes, crusading moral reformers, dissolute jazzmen, ruthless Mafiosi, venal politicians, and one extremely violent serial killer, all battling for primacy in a wild and wicked city unlike any other in the world.

Published: October 2014

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My Review:

New Orleans has a fascinating history and Gary Krist captures much of it here. In just 30 years, from 1890 to 1920, New Orleans attempted to and almost succeeded in transitioning from a city of vice to a city of virtue. A once racially diverse and tolerant city was turned into a racist, intolerant city. Storyville was created, music floated in the air, and jazz was born.

The new sound was born sometimes in the mid-1890s, in the working-class black clubs and honky-tonks near the poor Uptown neighborhood soon to be known as Black Storyville.

This book is an easy and enjoyable read. I have never been to New Orleans and was not around in the early 1900s, yet I felt like I was there in the city, at that time, getting to know all these people. The sights and sounds, the people and the politics, all of it came to life as I read.

“The appearance of a white man in the negro district will cause his arrest,” Newman decreed, and “should a Negro woman even stroll in the white district, she will be jailed.”

Krist covers a broad scope of material. He touches on everything from the early development of the city, to its cultural diversity, to Reconstruction, music, crime, political corruption, racism, and the emerging prohibition. We see how all these issues intertwined to spark changes, some good and some disastrous.

The campaign against the Italian underworld – part of a larger effort by the so-called respectable white establishment to wrest control of their city from the forces of vice, crime, and corruption – had roiled New Orleans for the better part of three decades, eventually degenerating into something like an all-out class warfare.

While Krist takes on a lot of subject matter, I never felt he overreached or lacked focus. In fact, the wide array of information is what allowed me to immerse myself fully in the era.

The rampage went on all night – in the District, the Vieux Carre, and any other neighborhoods where blacks might be found. It was clear that the rioters had one simple, ugly intent: “The supreme sentiment was to kill Negroes,” as the Picayune put it. “Every darky they met was ill-treated and shot.” And through all of this, the New Orleans Police Department arrested no one.

The amount of research done for this book had to be overwhelming. Yet it never felt that way as I read. There is no forcing of information or recitation of facts. The content flows smoothly. Only after I closed the book did I realize how much I’d learned.

 

Thanks for reading. :)

Featured Book: Psychological Thriller KINGDOM COME, CA by Judy Strick

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In this compelling psychological thriller reminiscent of The Picture of Dorian Gray, reclusive artist Ruby Wellman retreats to rural Kingdom Come, California, a small town, 21st century Brigadoon. Ruby, who still suffers from the effects of a childhood tragedy, quietly focuses on her surrealist paintings and keeps locals at arm’s length. When six-year-old Finn McCord moves in next door with his contentious parents, Ruby is pulled into the boy’s disturbed and dysfunctional world. Finn talks only to animals and imaginary friends. Ruby, who communicates through her paintings which nobody sees, immediately identifies with the boy and sees parallels to her buried past. As the boy’s visions become more vivid and he further withdraws from the world, Ruby’s paintings and Finn’s dreams collide in an unexpected explosion that both heals and reveals old secrets and wounds.

In Kingdom Come, CA, author Judy Strick paints a compelling world of engaging characters placed in a rural setting, Readers will find a deeply satisfying work of literary fiction that leaves them questioning everything from their own responses and interactions to the very way they define reality. Ruby and Finn are joined by a cast of colorful supporting characters: from Ruby’s divorced and broken parents to the worldly and sophisticated Hannah and Mischa McCord. They are a curious addition to an eclectic collection of Kingdom Comers that includes an herbalist guru, a ruggedly handsome jack-of-all-trades part-time sheriff; a dead ‘40s cowboy movie star, a dog named Tonto, and the Wizard, Finn’s new best friend. Strick populates her novel with rich, engaging personalities, developing them fully to beautifully capture the complexities of the human condition. The world that she creates may delve into the mystical, but it is securely affixed to a reality that is made all the more familiar by the three-dimensional characters who inhabit it.

Published: July 2014

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Excerpt:

APRIL 18, 1978- SANTA MONICA CA.

Let’s go back thirty-four years, to a balmy spring day, sunny and warm, with just enough breeze to ruffle the palm trees along the palisades.

We Wellmans, four of us then, had gone to the Ocean Park pier on the occasion of my eighth birthday. I had picked the pier instead of Sea World or Knotts Berry Farm, my other choices. The decision had been prompted by a third grade urban myth making the rounds on the playground: The Ferris wheel in Santa Monica was said to have magical powers, and from the top of the ride you could see all the way to China. And if you held your breath and made a wish at that very moment, your wish would come true. I was enchanted by the idea. Eight year olds still believe in magic.

And so I chose the pier.

I’ll never stop ruing my choice. If only I had wanted to see Shamu jump through a hoop, or longed to ride on the rollercoaster at Knotts Berry Farm, if only I had not wanted to make a wish.

If only I had never been conceived

There are several pictures of that day, taken by a strolling photographer in a clown suit: a group shot, all of us squinting into the sun: Adele and David in their tie-dye and denim and their two adorable kids. And a solo shot of yours truly, Ruby Louise, mugging it up for the camera. I’m wearing seersucker shorts and a t-shirt with big red letters-‘Birthday Girl’. A red helium balloon is tugging at my wrist and I’m grinning a big loopy grin. My new teeth are too big for my face and my curly hair is blowing and I look like a chrysanthemum.

In that photo my brother was not the center of the photos, or for that matter, of the day. My brother was very cute. He was only five. All five year olds are cute. Not so eight year olds with bony knees and big teeth, but it was my day. I was the one getting all the attention, and I loved it: hot dogs and candy apples, cheap plastic prizes my father won for me at coin tosses and dart games, breaking waves and cawing seagulls making background music, and the calliope playing mechanical Strauss waltzes.

And then it was time for the big event- the Ferris wheel, where dreams came true.

We waited in line, hand in hand, my father and I, while my mother, her big halo of wiry curls, waited with my brother behind the ropes at the entrance to the ride. Abe was crying; he wanted to go on too. “No way,” my mother had said. A squirmy kid like you, you’ll fall off and kill yourself.”

So it was just my Daddy and me; much to my delight. I was nuts about him. He was tall, and cool for a father, with his long hair and his Frank Zappa t-shirt, He squeezed my hand and winked at me. I was excited and a bit scared; looking from down there, at terra firma, the top of the ride seemed very high up.

It was finally our turn and a shiny red gondola arrived. My father helped me aboard and bowed. I giggled, charmed and embarrassed. A chrome bar was locked in place to hold us in. The brake was released with a loud clunk, and we floated slowly up into the air. I clutched the bar, at first a little nervous, and then I surrendered to the whole experience, drifting u-u-u-u-up, our car swaying each time we stopped to take on passengers, honky-tonk sounds floating by like bright confetti. My Daddy and me- no snotty little kid to suck up the attention.

And I looked around. The sounds from below were more muted, blended, like a hum. The whole of Santa Monica bay and the curve of the beach stretched like a diorama up and down the coast; tiny toy sailboats dotted the water, and the horizon line, a million miles away, faded into the sky. I was bursting with happiness and the total rightness of my life at that very moment.

 

Meet the Author:

JudyStrick Judy Strick is a native of Southern California. She holds an MFA from Otis Art Institute, and in a former lifetime was a fine artist and then a toy designer. She studied screenwriting at AFI and fiction writing at UCLA, and has spent the last 10 years honing her novelistic skills. *Kingdom Come, CA* is her debut novel. She lives in Los Angeles with her 2.5 dogs.

Website / Facebook / Twitter

 

About the Book Interview with Judy:

Tell us about your main character.

Ruby Wellman is a 40-year old surrealist artist of a reclusive nature, whose life was formed by the scars from a hidden childhood tragedy. She has left L.A for a tiny town in the mountains of California, where she lives quite happily alone — that is until neighbors move in across the road. Ruby is slowly and inextricably drawn into the lives of the McCord family; and especially six- year old Finn, a child who, too, is hiding secrets that have crippled him. The two unlikely friends connect through Finn’s dreams and Ruby’s paintings, in a most uncanny and unexplainable way.

Were you surprised by the behavior of any of your characters or the direction of your plot at any point while writing?

I was constantly surprised, by both my characters, and their actions. I was surprised when they showed up on the scene and glad to see where they decided to go. I don’t mean to abdicate responsibility in the creation of my book; but I do believe that, for me, when I enter my writing zone, I’m on another level of consciousness, not far removed from the dream state. The words are coming from some ancient well of memory that the brain retains to help us get through life.

Please share a few favorite lines or one paragraph.

The opening line: “What wish could have been so important, that the very making of it would wind up destroying my family? And now I can’t even remember what I had wanted so much on that lovely afternoon by the sea, the last afternoon of my childhood.”

How long did it take you to write this book?

It took me four years, the longest I’ve worked on any project in my life. I’ve pushed this book as far as I’ve ever pushed anything in my life (except childbirth). I’ve learned that the best work comes after the lousiest creative block. For me, one of the true joys of writing is the aspect of problem solving — when you finally get it right, and everything comes together. And then you just love the damn story.

Tell us about your cover art and how it pertains to your story.

The images, hopefully, reflect an air of mystery, and of the unexpected. The image of the Ferris wheel is a recurring metaphor throughout the book, as is the theme of fire. Hopefully the mountains, and the setting sun invoke California, at the time of day when change is about to occur.
Is there an underlying theme in your book? If so, tell us about it and why/if it’s important to you.

I suppose my underlying theme in the book, and in my life, is the elusive and plastic nature of what we define as reality. I want to articulate, through fiction, an open mindedness to the unknown.

 

Judy will be giving away a series of short stories! Sign up on her website for more information.

Thanks for reading. :)

Blog Tour and Giveaway! HEARTS IN THE STORM by Elmer Seward

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Title: Hearts in the Storm
Author: Elmer Seward
Published: May 2014
Word Count: 35,400
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Content Warning: Mild profanity and “off camera” sexual situations
Age Recommendation: 18+

Hearts-in-the-Storm Struggling with loss and regret, Trista sets out for North Carolina’s Outer Banks, hoping to find peace in her stormy life. Fate and an old golden retriever set her on a path toward healing with an unlikely hero, the man that the locals call “Duck.” Despite his careless and irresponsible behavior, Trista is drawn to him.

Trista discovers that Duck is haunted by the ghosts of his own shattered past. Desperate for help, she is faced with the necessity of placing her hopes and her life in the hands of this man that many blame for the death of his best friend. As Hurricane Renee bears down on the Outer Banks, Trista and Duck drive a wave-battered boat into the teeth of the storm. Each one hopes to conquer the tempest that rages around them and the tempest that rages within.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Excerpt from Hearts in the Storm by Elmer Seward:

He dragged out of the seaside door onto the long, wooden deck. Standing for a moment, he looked out at the ocean. The waves were crashing and churning, whipping up foam as they battered the beleaguered sand. Shells, rocks, and other debris were dragged out as quickly as they were deposited. The water was in constant motion. There was a storm off shore, and the beach was catching the brunt of its fury.

He took a long, slow sip of coffee, hoping to clear the cluttered remnants of last night’s bender. Shirtless and wearing a tattered pair of shorts, he stood watching the eastern sky. It was gray and ominous, but the thickly filtered daylight still hurt, and he watched the waves through squinted eyes at first.

He laid his cup on the deck railing and leaned forward, straining to glimpse the pelicans riding the rolling waves just beyond the break. They would appear as they crested the top of the roller coaster waves and then disappear as they glided down into the valleys between them. Occasionally, one would take flight, circle for a moment and then dive, disappearing beneath the water for a brief moment.

The beach was deserted – only him and the pelicans. As he watched, something odd caught his attention. Just beyond the birds, another dark object in the water appeared and disappeared. At first he thought it was one of the pelicans, but there was something unusual about the shape. Maybe it was a fin. It was common to see dolphins just off shore. It could be a shark fin. They prowled just off shore more often than the local tourist rental companies or local city officials wanted to announce. It crested into view again. No, it was too far out and in the sunless water, too dark to identify . . . but not a fin. It disappeared again. He watched closely, waiting for it to crest. There it was, but it was taller. It was moving. It was . . . an arm. A head and a waving arm being tossed in the tumultuous water.

The sound of the waves roaring and crashing was all consuming, but faintly he could hear another sound almost imperceptible. He strained and was sure he heard a voice in the intermittent roar and crash, a voice crying for help.

He searched frantically up and down the beach. There was no one. He had to act quickly. He grabbed an old cork safety ring that hung as a decorative prop on the deck of the cottage and jumped down the steps into the deep sand. As he ran, his feet sank into the loose, shifting sand. It felt like he was lifting leaden legs as he struggled forward. Finally reaching the firmer wet sand, he sped up only to hit the water. Again, each step was like moving an anvil. He moved into the waves, diving into each one to avoid being knocked backward. As he wrestled with the waves, he tried desperately to find the person who would rise and then vanish with the rolling action of the water.

Swimming now, fighting against the current determined to rush him back to shore, he was becoming exhausted. The water was battering and pulling him, but he pressed on, trailing the safety ring in his wake.

He was close now. He could see the figure. It was a girl, maybe in her mid-teens. She was flailing her arms, desperately trying to keep her head above water. She wasn’t being successful. Alternately, she was choking, gasping, and screaming as her head broke the water. Then she was sucked down again.

As he swam to within feet of the struggling figure, the girl disappeared and did not reappear. He looked frantically for her. He dove hoping to find her. The dark, churning water was murky and obscured his vision. Then he saw her hand just below him. He swam deeper, his lungs burning. She saw him and was reaching toward him. Her eyes were wide with panic. He extended his arm as far as he could. His fingers were inches away. In the next instant, she was swept away in the shifting current. He peered through the darkness, his lungs about to burst. She was gone.

 

About the Book Interview:

What was the inspiration behind this story?

The genesis of this story actually came from our rising high school senior. She expressed a desire to enter the Coast Guard after graduation. When we asked her why she was so interested in the Coast Guard, she said, “I want to help people.” Out of that simple comment, the story was born as I walked the beach on vacation that summer.

Tell us about your main character.

Trista is haunted . . . not by a ghost but by a dream. Years after losing her daughter in an accident, she still struggles. In sleepless nightmares, her daughter calls to her. Determined to answer the anguished cries of her daughter, she travels to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Only one thing stands in her way, Hurricane Renee. For Trista, love and regret are more powerful than any storm. She will answer her daughter’s call at any cost.

Which is your favorite minor character and why?

Sissy is my favorite supporting character. I prefer to call her a supporting character because I don’t think her role is minor in this story. When I began writing, I have to admit that she was a very flat character. Early on, she took on a life of her own. She became this fiery, tenacious woman who tries, sometimes unsuccessfully, to hide her tender caring side. Because of her fiery nature, her behavior is sometimes aggressive and unpredictable. Duck is her younger brother. Because Duck’s world has collapsed, leaving him stumbling through life, she finds herself being both sister and mother. Sissy battles conflicting emotions. She loves Duck and tries to protect him from himself and others, but she quickly becomes frustrated with his self-destructive behavior. She is often torn between wanting to kill him and wanting to save him. As the story progresses, she struggles with another paradox, the realization that bringing back the old Duck might mean losing him forever.

How did you come up with the title?

The original working title of the book was The Lost. It was interesting how I didn’t realize until I was well into writing how the necklaces in the story were representative of the two main characters. The title Hearts in the Storm just seemed to make sense for both the necklaces and these two broken-hearted individuals living in their own personal storms.

Tell us about your cover art and how it pertains to your story.

Hearts in the Storm really is about finding calm in the storms of life. The cover art with the calm water against the backdrop of the storm clouds on the horizon depicts this concept. The empty dock represents Duck’s tangible loss at the end of the novel, but it also mirrors the loss and solitude of Trista and Duck’s prior lives. The heart necklaces superimposed over the scene are more than the necklaces that figure prominently in the story. They are like Trista and Duck, torn, jagged and incomplete. However, brought together in the storm, they become whole.

 

About the Author:

Elmer-Seward Elmer Seward was born and raised along the Chesapeake Bay in southeast Virginia. Growing up, the cemetery behind his house was his playground. The metaphorical theme of death and rebirth that figures prominently in his novels is probably influenced in some way by the time that his mother heard, through the screened window, a small voice crying for help. Rushing from the house and through the yard, she discovered her all-too-curious six-year-old son at the bottom of a freshly dug grave. In that moment, he discovered that trouble is much easier to get into than it is to get out of. Sometimes we need help getting out of the hole that we jump into willingly.

He is blessed to have a blended family of six children and four grandchildren. He is also the reluctant servant of two crazy dogs, a Maltese and a Japanese Chin. All of these strongly influence the characters and events in his novels; however, his beautiful wife, Mitzi, is the true inspiration for the tender hearted but determined women in his stories.

Amazon Author Page | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Website

 

Giveaway:

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Book Review – DARK SCREAMS: Volume One – Multi-Author Anthology

Dark Screams

Stephen King, Kelley Armstrong, Bill Pronzini, Simon Clark, and Ramsey Campbell are the first contributors to a mind-bending new series of short-story collections that push the boundaries of horror and dark suspense to the bleeding edge. From Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar of the acclaimed Cemetery Dance Publications, Dark Screams: Volume One reaches across genres to take readers beyond the precipice of mortal toil and into the glimmering void of irreality and beyond.

WEEDS by Stephen King
When a meteorite lands on his property, Jordy Verrill envisions an easy payday. Unfortunately for Jordy, this is no ordinary rock—and the uncompromising force inside has found its first target.

THE PRICE YOU PAY by Kelley Armstrong
Never pay more than you owe. Sounds like easy advice to follow. But for Kara and her childhood friend Ingrid, some debts can never be repaid . . . especially those tendered in blood.

MAGIC EYES by Bill Pronzini
Edward James Tolliver has found a weary sort of asylum among the insane. He knows he’s not one of them—but how can he tell anyone about the invaders without sounding that way?

MURDER IN CHAINS by Simon Clark
Imagine awaking to find yourself in an underground vault, chained by the neck to a murderous lunatic, a grunting goliath who seems more animal than man. What would you do to save yourself?

THE WATCHED by Ramsey Campbell
Little Jimmy gets a glimpse of the cold truth when he finds out that it’s not always what you see that can get you into trouble; it’s who knows what you see.

Published: December 9, 2014

Amazon / Amazon UK / Barnes and Noble

 

My Review:

Rating and reviewing anthologies can be a challenge. Each author brings his/her own unique style. Some of the stories were absolute 5 stars, while others were easily forgettable.

WEEDS by Stephen King is, of course, well written, but it also felt predictable. It leans into science fiction with a sprinkling of horror. This one was previously published way back in 1976. I don’t know if King updated the story at all. It held my interest and was probably true horror back when it was originally written. Now, though, it becomes just another story that could easily get lost in a batch if not for King’s name attached to it.

Very faintly the earth was groaning, as if in sleep filled with pain.

THE PRICE YOU PAY by Kelley Armstrong is a thriller and one of my favorites here. This one has great twists and shatters all those expected stereotypes that come with the genre. Definitely a 5-star story for me.

She reached down and touched iron on her ankle, and it all rushed back, and she doubled over, stomach clenching.

MAGIC EYES by Bill Pronzini is a psychological thriller, written as journal entries from a man who’d been institutionalized. I enjoyed the approach and Pronzini’s writing style. This would be my second favorite of the bunch, worthy of a higher rating.

I did not kill my wife. I am not crazy.

MURDER IN CHAINS by Simon Clark is a thriller with nonstop action. While the action held my interest and the concept was interesting, I didn’t feel this one closed well. In the end, the story made no sense. I didn’t understand the point of it all.

I was chained to him by the throat.

THE WATCHED by Ramsey Campbell is a mixture of psychological and paranormal suspense, and is written from a young boy’s point of view. I didn’t connect well to this one. The writing is fine, though perhaps the story would have been more suited to a longer piece.

His breath looked like nervousness made visible as he craned over the footbridge to see that the hide was deserted.

Each of these stories is short, with the entire anthology taking only a couple of hours to read. The two highlights for me were Kelley Armstrong’s and Bill Pronzini’s stories, well worth the time and investment.

 

Thanks for reading. :)

Hardtimin’ Holidays: A Lifetime Behind Bars

Do you all remember Tyler? He’s the young man serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, for a nonviolent crime he committed as a teenager. He didn’t hurt anyone, but still we condemned him, treating him as unworthy of even the hope of redemption. Yet he has redeemed himself, despite society’s arrogance in tossing him away in a concrete cage – forever. Tyler has written a series of thought-provoking essays that I’ve shared here on my blog. We haven’t heard from him in a while, and I was happy to receive the following piece from him just recently.

Imagine being forever condemned for the crime of stepping out of bounds as a teenager, for crossing a line in a moment of youthful defiance, for temporarily losing your way. Imagine spending the rest of your life paying for that mistake, knowing nothing you do from then on will matter to the society that locked you away. Now read Tyler’s words, and tell me if we are right in keeping him caged.

prison

 

Hardtimin’ Holidays

Hardtimin” Hoilidays is what I call this time of year. Speaking from a prisoner’s perspective, the winter season is always the toughest. Every phone-call home, every visit, every letter is felt just a little deeper during this time; even the last eleven years of these winters spent in a small concrete cell has not changed that. Now is when I feel the most…isolated. Loneliness and separation are held close and reminders of better days become impossible to escape.

Yup – Hardtimin’ is in full swing, and crazily, it is my favorite time of year.

Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years have always been my favorites. Some of my fondest memories are of times spent searching for the best candy houses, looking at Christmas lights, turkey dinners or kissing a girl on New Year’s Eve. Days of skiing and snowboarding, love and heartfelt laughter – these were periods filled with family and friends – those I love. Even as I write a smile forces itself upon my face.

When spent far from home, however, surrounded by high walls, tall gates and heavy locks in a lonely and barren institution, these memories act as both salve and sword.

How is it that when I remember Thanksgiving Days of good food and company and family it hurts? How do dreams of love, comfort and happiness leave me waking with a residue of tears? How can a wish feel like a punch to the gut? The wind is knocked from me when I close my eyes and wish for a wood-burning fire, or to smell the aroma of pines at a Christmas Tree lot? My wishes are of holidays free with family and friends living happy and healthy, productive and successful.

Whatever the wish or memory or dream, it all seems to hurt more this time of year.

But…it is because of these heightened emotions that I say this time of year is still my favorite. Nostalgia is at its highest mark during the winter. My memories are painful, but the pain is sweet and I am grateful for it.

I have come to find that the majority of men in here with me do not have these types of memories. (Trust me when I say that this makes me feel all the dumber for becoming so lost.) Most of my fellow inmates do not know about pine trees and cabins, snow and sledding. When a winter desert wind breaths across their faces they do not close their eyes and think of decorations, laughter and love.

So, whatever pain I feel from a past that is gone or hurt that comes from an unknown future, I am lucky for what I have had and still have – Mom, Dad, brothers, sister, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends – supportive and loving and caring, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

The very same holiday memories that hurt, keep me going.

Thank you for reading.

Tyler


 

Here are Tyler’s past essays:

Letters From Prison: Behind and Beyond the Wall
Letters From Prison: Time To Live, Not Just Exist
Letters From Prison: Dodging Bullets On The Prison Yard
Is This Forever? Choices Made, Lessons Learned
Holding On To Hope: Making A Difference From Behind Prison Walls

 

And here is a piece written by Tyler’s father: Kids, Gangs, Bad Choices, and Lives Destroyed

 

Nick has written a compelling book chronicling Tyler’s descent from a happy and loving child to the troubled teen arrested and, ultimately, imprisoned for life. The story is fictionalized, in that names and minor details were changed to protect everyone’s privacy. Here’s a look:

Destructive Justice By all accounts, Nathan Frank started out as a terrific kid with the brightest of futures ahead of him. With the advent of adolescence, however, Nathan’s world and his relationships begin to unravel. No matter which way he turns, he seems to find conflict. Eventually, with his powerful personality, he becomes his own generator of conflict as he steadily enters a world of drugs, defiance and ultimately a criminal street gang. Finally, he runs off the rails at full throttle, coming to a hard stop at seventeen years old when he is arrested for his participation in a botched robbery. With his arrest, Nathan is swept into a justice system of condemnation and ruination for those who enter its control. There, the fact that he is a troubled teen means nothing – maybe less than nothing. Nathan is tried as an adult and sentenced to multiple life terms for his crimes. So at seventeen, he enters a world where exploitation, violence and abject hopelessness reign. Forgiveness, rehabilitation, redemption are hardly even notions within our justice and corrections systems. Logically, Nathan should be crushed by his fate. He very nearly is. But, the man Nathan becomes, a man who finds his strength in fundamentally good qualities that he suppressed for so many years, will not be crushed. Somehow, in one of the worst places on earth, he rediscovers the best parts of himself. Destructive Justice follows Nathan from the great promise of his earliest years, to the great tragedy of his adolescence, to the small light of hope for an even greater redemption.

Amazon / Amazon UK / Barnes and Noble

 

Tyler is far from alone in being locked away for life for a nonviolent crime. This fate is continually handed out to far too many teenagers. Prison has become a for-profit business, fed at the expense of our youth.

Thanks for reading. :)

Book Review: SHEER FEAR by Geoffrey David West

Sheer Fear

What happens when your brother is framed for murder, then dies himself?

Just before he dies, David Hart tells his half brother Jack about the conspiracy to protect a famous public figure from allegations of historic child abuse by killing the accusers and framing him for the murders.

How can Jack find justice for his brother and avoid being killed himself? Simultaneously Jack has an unknown enemy who is playing vicious tricks on him, each one deadlier than the last.

Published: October 2014

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

My Review:

Geoffrey West is a born storyteller, and Jack Lockwood is one of those faulty heroes you can’t help but love. I think he’d be fun to hang out with, though I’m not sure I’d live through the day. His character is so well developed that it’s easy to forget he is not a real person.

It was typical of the kind of mess I’d been getting into recently – like just about everything else in my life at the moment.

The opening scene here is one of the best written within the crime/suspense genre. The action is immediate. West effortlessly places us in the midst of a heart-stopping scene. I found myself holding my breath as I read.

David Hart had about a minute left to live.

The action continues on at a quick pace, pulling us into the chaos that is Jack’s life. The one drawback for me was that there is a whole lot going on, involving many characters and various subplots that run parallel and dissect one another throughout. This, at times, detracted from the main plot of child abuse and cover ups. Despite this, West weaves an intricate and gripping tale with unforgettable characters.

“They don’t like to leave loose ends. And from where I’m sitting, Jack, you look like one of the loosest ends I’ve ever seen.”

While I think any series works best if read from the start, each book is the Jack Lockwood Series is able to be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone.

 

Thanks for reading. :)

Finding Strength Despite The Horrific Abuse: BURNT EDGES by Dana Leipold

Burnt-Edges-Banner

Title: Burnt Edges
Author: Dana Leipold
Published: October 21st, 2014
Word Count: 56,000
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Content Warning: contains sexual abuse and domestic violence
Recommended Age: 18+

Burnt-Edges Abuse or an uncertain future. This is Laurel Lee Page’s choice when she is faced with an unplanned pregnancy at 18. Born into a broken family, all she has ever known is guilt and shame. No matter what she does or who she meets, Laurel appears to be living a condemned life but she is determined to find independence and freedom in spite of her family’s legacy of hatred and self-contempt. Can Laurel see that she is in a powerful position, poised to break the cycle of abuse? Set in Southern California during the tumultuous 1960s era, Burnt Edges is based on true events and proves that strength can be found even in the most horrific situations.

Amazon / Barnes and Noble / Goodreads

 

Excerpt from Burnt Edges by Dana Leipold:

Laurel decided that Rusty was Mother’s favorite child. The afternoon in the garage had been proof. But because he often took the brunt of Father’s anger, she felt a bizarre kinship with him. She also loved the stories he would tell when they had nothing to do. He would make up tall tales like the one about spacemen who came to Earth to taste hamburgers because they had none on Mars. He described them as little green men with antennae.

“Whenever they come to visit, people find their hats missing, because the Martians steal them to conceal their antennae,” Rusty said.

“That’s just silly,” Laurel said.

Gerry sat in the dirt, playing with rocks and half-listening. Laurel thought he’d rather be playing football or punching some kid, so he sometimes got bored of the stories.

“No, it’s true, really.”

“What did they do to hide their green skin?” Laurel asked.

“They also steal women’s pancake makeup and put it all over their faces. Helps them blend in.”

“Ew, they wear girl’s makeup?” Gerry said, sticking out his tongue.

Laurel giggled, imagining Martians wearing makeup and hats just to get a taste of a hamburger.

 

About the Author:

Dana-Leipold Dana Leipold is a freelance writer, author, and member of the Association of Independent Authors and Creativity Coaching Association. She has self-published two books: a collection of limericks in Dr. Seuss-style for adults entitled, Stupid Poetry: The Ultimate Collection of Sublime and Ridiculous Poems, and a non-fiction book entitled, The Power of Writing Well: Write Well. Change the World, to help writers get their message heard, create stories that connect, and leverage the power of writing well. In addition, she coaches other writers on story structure, messaging, and writing skills so they can achieve their dreams to become published authors. Leipold lives with her husband and two children in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Amazon Author Page | Facebook | Twitter | GoodReads | Website

 

About the Book Interview:

What was the inspiration behind this story?

The story is based on real events that an important person in my life went through as a child. Since she was not in a position to tell her story and I was, I decided the world needed to hear it. What I really wanted to show in this story was the pattern of abuse that gets carried on within families without much thought. It just becomes the way life is lived but what happens when someone becomes aware of that pattern? That’s what the novel is all about.

Tell us about your main character.

Laurel Lee Page is a caring, sensitive, and shy little girl. All she wants is the approval of her parents and acceptance from her peers. She tries to do what she thinks will get people to love her but it seems that all backfires and she ends up feeling guilty and alone. Though she seems timid, if someone threatens a person Laurel loves, she will stand up and fight for them. Laurel also has a sense of humor that serves to protect her from the terrible things in her life.

Which is your favorite minor character and why?

Grandpa Humphrey is my favorite minor character because he gives Laurel hope. He’s funny and reminds her that she’s stronger than she believes she is.

Please share a few favorite lines or one paragraph.

“I wish life were easier, Laurel Lee,” he said. “But God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. He’ll put us through the fire a few times so we get a little burnt around the edges but all in all, we come out fine.”

How long did it take you to write this book?

I started writing it in 2011 and finished this year…so that’s roughly three years. Whew!

How did you come up with the title?

I actually did not come up with the title, one of the characters (Grandpa Humphrey) did! It sounds weird but it’s true. See my favorite line above. :-)

 

Giveaway Details:

There is a tour wide giveaway. Prizes include the following:

• 5 Lucky Winners will each receive a $10 Amazon gift card.

Giveaway is International.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

#MondayBlogs: Cheap Thrills On Cyber Monday!

Today is the final day of my Black Friday / Cyber Monday 99 cent sale! Two of my titles are part of a big sale event put together by The Book Enthusiast. Both are suspense/thriller novels. Here’s a look:

KillingInstinctCover -Small Sandman built his dubious reputation by turning the dreams and nightmares of others into harsh reality. Now he’s pursuing his own twisted dream; the beautiful Maria Milan. But she doesn’t want to become a player in Sandman’s sordid fantasy.

Michael Sykora is a hit man who kills for justice. Sean Riley is a hit man born to kill. Together, they’re out to take down Sandman and his organization. Whether mercy is given depends on who catches him first.

 

Sean stood in the shadows of the bedroom, watching Maria sleep. He’d done the unthinkable. For the first time in his long, restless and oddly successful career, he’d had sex with the intended victim. More than that. He’d gotten involved. He’d fallen for this woman who’d been marked to endure excruciating horrors at his own hands.

He shifted in the darkness, wishing he could crawl back under the sheet. He already missed the feel of her skin pressed against his own. With a quiet sigh, he tugged his pants on. He had a job to do.

Killing Instinct is book #3 in my Michael Sykora Series, but this book can be read as a stand-alone. You can read part of the first chapter on my website, or use the ‘Look Inside’ feature on the Amazon page.

 

The Cutting Edge My name is Skye Summers. I’m a hairstylist and I can’t stop fantasizing about killing my clients. Not all of them, of course. I only want to kill the ones who irritate me, which, if I’m being honest, is most of them. My occasional fantasies have turned into chronic daydreams. They’re bloody and vivid, like watching a slice-and-dice movie on IMAX.

I also want to kill my husband’s ex-girlfriend. She’s not a client but she tops my list. Eighteen years ago, she gave birth to his daughter and she has tormented him ever since. I should be troubled by this growing desire to use my surgically sharpened shears for more than a haircut. Instead, I wonder how I can get away with it.

I work as a hairstylist in a salon called The Cutting Edge. When I started my career 17 years ago, I had visions of my unfettered creativity transforming ordinary women into sexy tramps or glowing goddesses. I was terribly naïve. Now I spend my days trying to explain to the round-faced Oreo-addict that, no matter what I do to her hair, she will not leave looking like Angelina Jolie. Try and pull that off tactfully.

At the moment I am contemplating murder. Today is Friday and I have been on my feet since 8 a.m. The clock above the desk tells me it is now 2:10. I have not eaten lunch. Have not even peed all day. The woman in my chair is speaking nonstop and I am thinking about killing her.

Read part of the first chapter on my website, or use the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon.

 

I hope you’ve found some great shopping deals on this shopping-crazed weekend!

Thanks for reading. :)