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Q&A with FAIRMIST author, Todd Fahnestock

Fairmist website

The Debt of the Blessed:

Within the Thiaran Empire, citizens put on jeweled masks and turn away from those who are taken. As long as one child is sacrificed each month to the Slinks and nobody interferes, their society will thrive.

But seventeen-year-old Grei’s mind is alive with treason, and he plunges into the heart of a prophecy that will drive the Slinks back to their fiery dimension. All he must do is travel to the capitol city and sacrifice one last innocent. As Grei wrestles with the prophecy and battles those who would kill him, he hurtles toward his final decision: save the empire, or save his own soul.

 

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GTB was lucky enough to score an exclusive Q&A with author Todd Fahnestock! Here, he talks with us about his latest novel, FAIRMIST.

How did you come up with the idea for Fairmist?

Because of a girl. (Ain’t that always the way?) Back when I thought up the concept for Fairmist, most things were driven by a girl or the thought of a girl. Love lost. Or love that was never had in the first place. Fairmist was about the latter. I was enthralled with this amazing, sensual woman when I was in college. We had a smattering of passionate nights, but never officially dated. And so I thought up the idea: What if this mystical woman really did want to be with me but couldn’t because of a world-destroying prophecy that held her back? No spoilers here, as that’s not how the prophecy ended up working in the later drafts of the novel, but it was what precipitated the story.

 

Why Fairmist? Why not some other book?

The theme of the book is so applicable to our current world. And I love the medium of fantasy to give larger-than-life examples of our modern day troubles. Fairmist is all about lies and deception, and there are so many lies in our society. Some of them we swallow whole without ever questioning them. We accept the reality that is presented to us, go along with it just as long as it’s familiar, even if it’s terrible. It makes me think of that scene from the Batman movie The Dark Knight, where the Joker is talking about how people don’t freak out if things go to plan, even if the plan is horrifying.

 

Tell me about the Ringblades.

The Ringblades were a surprise to me. There is a cadre of swordsmen/policemen in the story called the Highblades that are ubiquitous in the story. Highblades are all men, and one day while rough drafting in my friend’s basement, the Ringblades popped up in the story as a counterpoint to the Highblades: an imperial cadre of assassins who are all women. Initially, I intended them to be cold-hearted and ruthless. In the end, they morphed into this wonderfully vulnerable and utterly badass group who care for each other and believe wholeheartedly in their mission in the world. They became integral to the story.

 

Who was the hardest character to write?

Grei, the protagonist, was by far the most difficult. In the early drafts, the side characters hijacked the novel. They were colorful and compelling and they stole the show. They drove all the action, which caused the novel to sag because the protagonist was just along for the ride. It put me in a pickle that took me fourteen drafts to fix. It was a growth moment for me as a writer. These days, I keep a close eye on my side characters. If they start taking over I either lash them to the novel’s purpose or thrust them into the protagonist role to see how they like it.

 

Who was the easiest character to write?

Blevins leapt off the page from the start. He wrote himself, with his angry, uncaring attitude, his mystery, and his ultra competence. He would be the type of friend that would frustrate me to have, as he’d never commit to helping you with anything, but when you were totally in over your head, he would be the one to save you.

 

Who is your favorite author?

When I was a teenager, all I read was fantasy. Piers Anthony, Terry Brooks and Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman were my favorites. These days, I have favorites for different genres. George R. R. Martin is obviously a master storyteller. I’m in awe of what he has done with Game of Thrones…assuming he brings it to a satisfying conclusion. It is going to be an amazing trick if he pulls all of those epic storylines together. Of course, he might solve that problem by just killing off all the characters until he’s down to one and stick their banner in the Iron Throne. I’d have to say, though, that the writer I admire most right now is John Hart. I enjoyed his first two novels, King of Lies and Down River. They were top notch. But his third novel, The Last Child, transcended the genre. It blew me away. I was in such awe of this masterpiece that I dreaded his fourth novel coming out. I was sure it couldn’t possibly stack up to The Last Child, and I didn’t want John Hart to fall from the pedestal upon which I’d put him. But I was wrong. Iron House was even better. That is an incredible feat to achieve. Now I dread his fifth novel coming out.

 

If you had a million dollars and had to spend it, what would you buy?

Ha ha! Wow. Well, I’m a Dad, so my first thought is to set up robust college funds for my kids. Boring, I know. But that’s what I’d do first. Second, I’d take my wife to a tropical island for a month, if I could pull her away from her job, which she loves. Third, I’d reward my amazing friends for their contributions to Fairmist and my forthcoming middle-grade book, The Wishing World (Starscape, fall of 2016). I’d hire my Creative Diplomat/PR Manager, Jaclyn McDonald, full time and hopefully entice Liana Holmberg, the freelance editor who worked on The Wishing World with me to work on all my projects with me. She’s just flat-out amazing. I attribute the Starscape purchase of The Wishing World directly to her artful handling of me and my writing. I’m a writer who needs an editor, and editors who can provide Liana’s kind of creative, novel-elevating work are rare.

So where does that put us? That’s half a million at most. I can’t put any in the bank? I think then I’d buy an enormous house in the mountains and rent our current house for an alternate stream of income. Then I’d buy a 1969 Camaro because I’ve always wanted one.

 

Where do you get your ideas?

These days, many of them come from my children. My upcoming middle-grade novel, The Wishing World, comes straight from them, either from my inspiration just watching and interacting with them, or actually from the ideas they have contributed to the story. They’re both insanely creative, and it makes me grin every day. Also, I watch a lot of movies and almost always go off into a daydream when something vivid strikes me. I’ll sit there in the movie theater creating a different story idea or a powerful scene in a book while I’m watching the movie’s story play out on the screen.

 

Describe a writing routine.

My ideal writing routine: Get up, go for a 5 mile run. Shower. Rough draft for four hours per day for four days each week, generating 1,000 to 3,000 words each day. Aim to have 10,000 each week. On the fifth day, do marketing, correspondence, etc. Book signings or conferences on Saturday. Writers group and more rough drafting on Sunday.

My actual writing routine: Get up, sometimes go for a 3 mile run. Get back, think about writing. Shower. Go to work. Come home at 5:30. Go to Tae Kwon Do. Eat. Argue with children about homework. Put them to bed. Put myself to sleep watching The Big Bang Theory or Agents of Shield, Jessica Jones or Daredevil, or any of the amazing Marvel movies. Get up in the morning and wonder when I’m going to write. Reach the weekend with a gasp and start writing at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday. Have a flurry of rough drafting and cap off the weekend with 5,000 words. I’m fortunate to be prolific, otherwise I could never do this, have a day job, be a father and stay sane. (The sanity thing, of course, is still in question).

 

What are you working on next?

The Wishing World will come out from Starscape Books this fall, and I’m super-excited about it. It’s a middle-grade novel about a whimsical, imaginative world where children transform into their ideal hero. The main character, Lorelei, is based on my daughter and her voice just flows out. She’s driven, snarky and hilarious. When I go back over the story for editing purposes or just to review, I’ll bust out laughing at things she says. I love Lorelei. I can’t wait for the world to meet her.

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Thanks to Todd Fahnestock for an awesome interview! Check out his website!

Want your own copy of FAIRMIST? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”B00T0GQ64Y” locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

Q&A with Johan Twiss, author of I AM SLEEPLESS

I-AM-SLEEPLESS-SIM-299-smal

While the others slept, Aidan spent hours each night running sim after sim. Although he was only a twelve-year cadet, he had completed more simulations than any prime— ever.
“You are setting history,” General Estrago told him. “No one has ever made it to the current simulation you are attempting. The other Masters and I are eager to see what comes next.”
So was Aidan.

The planet Ethos is at war with a mysterious enemy known as the Splicers. Their only successful defense is the Prime Initiative. All newborns with the compatible genetic code are taken from their families and injected with the Prime Stimulus. Each child that survives the stimulus develops an extraordinary ability and is conscripted into the military for training.

After turning twelve, Aidan is moved to the upper-class at the Mount Fegorio training complex. His special gifts allow him unprecedented success in the virtual training simulations, advancing him further than any prime cadet in history. No one knows what lies after sim 299, not even Director Tuskin, the ruthless and reclusive ruler of their planet. But something, or someone, has been guiding Aidan there. If he can pass the final tests, he may discover the key to ending the Splicer War.

 

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We had the honor of speaking with author Johan Twiss about his new book, I AM SLEEPLESS. In this post he answers a few questions about himself and his work.

Johan Twiss - John Burger

 

 

 

 

Where did you get the idea for this book? (I AM SLEEPLESS: SIM 299)
Most of my book ideas come from dreams I have at night, which are a mashup of events that happen in my daily life combined with the books, shows and media I take in. So basically, my dreams are about me being a super hero and so are my books.

For I Am Sleepless, I had a dream about kids with super powers, but they had physical handicaps. Around that same time, I was also thinking a lot about how much I could accomplish in life if I never had to sleep. Mash those two ideas together and that’s where the idea for I Am Sleepless sprang from.

Will there be more books in the series? (I AM SLEEPLESS: SIM 299)
Yes, the series is a trilogy and I have two more books planned. Search for the Reader is next and The Splicer King is the final book.

What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a mini novella series titled 4 YEARS TRAPPED IN MY MIND PALACE. I’m about 3/4 through the first draft and have a release date of May 2016.

You can download the first 5 chapter sampler (remember it’s a first draft) at my website http://iamsleepless.weebly.com/4-years-trapped-in-my-mind-palace.html​

4 YEARS TRAPPED IN MY MIND PALACE SYNOPSIS:
Diagnosed with a rare form of meningitis, eleven-year-old Aaron Greenburg is paralyzed from head-to-toe. He can’t move a muscle or any part of his body, including his eyes or his eyelids to blink. Although he is alive, his doctors believe he is brain dead and unaware of his surroundings. But Aaron is not brain dead. He is very much aware of everything, trapped in his own mind with no way to communicate with anyone, including his parents.

Placed in a rest home for full-time care, Aaron retreats into his mind to cope with his imprisonment. But after one year alone, Aaron receives a roommate in the form of an outspoken, old, Jewish jazz musician named Solomon. With the blanket diagnosis of dementia, everyone thinks Solomon is crazy, especially Aaron. But when Aaron talks to Solomon in his mind, carrying on the normal one-way conversations he has with all of his visitors, something strange and unexpected occurs.

If you had a superhuman ability, which one would you like?
Touch someone and take away their greed. Think of how much better this world would be if you could take away greed and selfishness. Say so long to wars, murder, broken families, etc…

Who is your favorite author?
Brandon Sanderson. I’ve been hooked to his books ever since I read his Mistborn series. I’m pretty sure I’ve read every book he’s published, some of them multiple times. The worlds he creates, the magic systems, and the intrigue/mysteries he has running in the background make amazing stories.

What do you do when you are not writing?
I love to play instruments and create music. I play/dabble in a number of instruments including guitar, bass, trombone, blues harmonica, piano and percussion. The best part is my kids are getting old enough that they are starting to make up songs on the piano and we have Family Jam Sessions. We also have Family Fight Nights. My oldest children take martial arts and we like to put on the sparring gear and go at it. The kids take turns coming at me two at a time, (even my 3-year old daughter), and they practice their strikes, kicks, blocks, etc… Basically, they get to hit dad and we have a lot of fun.

My wife and I also own and operate the online retail store www.playfullyeverafter.com. We sell toys, games, costumes and home décor items. It’s more than a full-time job, but luckily we have a handful of wonderful employees, (most of them family members), and we get to work from home. This gives me a little more flexibility to write.

When and why did you begin writing?
This writing journey started as I became more involved volunteering with Anti Human Trafficking non-profits. You can learn how I became involved in that work at my blog http://abolitionistjb.blogspot.com. As I researched, learned and met individuals who had been sold into slavery, I realized I wanted to tell these stories. But some of the stories are so raw and unnervingly sad that they are hard to read about and can send people into depression.

I’ve talked to some people who said they couldn’t handle how sad these tragedies made them and they didn’t want to learn anymore about it because it made them so depressed they couldn’t function.

So I set out with the goal to write a fictional story that gave the facts of human trafficking, showed you what was going on around the world, but gave hope through a hero, almost a super hero of sorts, that fought back. I wanted to make learning about these tragedies palpable to help spread awareness about what’s going on and what’s being done to combat modern slavery.

This became my first story, ABOLERE. Right now Abolere is a trunk novel. It was the first book and I learned a lot about writing in the process of creating the story, but it still needs some TLC to make it publishable. My goal is to finish it by Dec 2016. You can read the first chapter sampler on my website at http://iamsleepless.weebly.com/abolere.html.

What genre do you consider your book(s)?
This is tough because I have books planned for multiple genres including Science Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fiction and Crime Fiction. I also have two non-fiction books I want to write.

That’s why I decided to create the pen name Johan Twiss. I plan to use the Johan Twiss pen name for all of my SciFi/Fantasy books and my real name, John Burger, for everything else.

The problem is I have a backlog of book ideas and I get more each week. My wife lovingly smiles and nods her head, sometimes rolls her eyes, every time I say, “So I had a dream last night and I’ve got this great idea for a book.” Maybe someday I will be a full-time writer and my writing will slowly catch up to my list of ideas.

Do you write an outline before you write?
Yes, but it’s very bare bones. I have a long list of book ideas that I let simmer in my mind. When one of them starts to combine enough “cool scenes” in my head, I move it to the outline stage. My outlines consist of a few bullet points, with very few details, and they are usually incomplete sentences. It’s basically a list of the scenes I’m excited to write about, put in order for the story to take place.

This is where my addiction to writing is fed. I love the discovery process of filling in the gaps and creating a story from these scenes. I’m always surprised and fascinated by the ideas that pop into my mind and exploring where those take the characters and plot. It gives me goosebumps. It’s the drug that keeps me writing.

Please fill in the blank:
Keep Calm and Eat Chocolate— unless you’re allergic, in which case I will eat your chocolate and mourn for you.

What advice would you have for writers?
As Dory says in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” But in the case of writers it’s, “Just keep writing, just keep writing.” The more I write, the more I learn about writing. I have a couple of trunk novels that may never see the light of day, but I learned quite a bit from the discipline of writing them.

Tell us three things no one knows about you.
1.  I play a mean blues harmonica, along with guitar, bass, piano, a variety of hand drums, and the trombone.
2.  I once met the Yankee Hall of Famer Joe Dimaggio in a Martinez, California strip mall parking lot. I was an 8 year old kid and my dad pointed him out to me. So naturally,  I went up to Jumping Joe as he unlocked his car and asked for his autograph with my dad’s softball mitt that I snagged out of the back of our minivan. The signed softball mitt was later stolen. There went my college fund.
3.  I’m Batman- wait, I wasn’t supposed to tell you that.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?
Writing is an addiction for me, and it’s one that I wholeheartedly feed. I love the discovery process creating a story from scratch. I’m always surprised and fascinated by the ideas that pop into my mind and exploring where those take the characters and plot. It gives me goosebumps. It’s the drug that keeps me writing.


How do you deal with writer’s block?
Honestly, I have not experienced writer’s block yet. I’m sure I will at some point, but for now I have dozens of ideas for books and exciting scenes I want to write in my current works in progress. Right now I wonder if I will ever be able to write all the stories I want to tell.


 

We hope you enjoyed this Q&A session; now go out and buy his book! You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1517166330″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

A North Shore Story by Dean Economos and Alyssa Machinis

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For the teenagers of Chicago’s North Shore, everyone has something to hide.

In a daring attempt to impress the elusive Sophia, Michael makes the biggest decision of his life, stealing over a hundred thousand dollars from St. Theodore Community Church. That same night, Nichole’s insecurities are finally forgotten with a drug she soon won’t be able to control.
When Michael makes his getaway, he sees his friend Joseph cheat on his girlfriend with the priest’s daughter and knock over a candle that sets the church ablaze.
As the consequences of that night unfold, Joseph is blamed for the fire and the missing money. Can the teenagers of the North Shoreconfess their vices to help their friend? Or will their greed, infidelity and  jealousy change all their lives forever?

Thanks to PR By The Book for putting me in touch with the authors! We did a Q&A session about their debut novel, A NORTH SHORE STORY.

 

Dean Economos

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Give us some background, what did you do before writing this book? I went to college at Loyola University Chicago and received my undergrad in Biology and a minor in Biostatistics. I then went on to receive my M.B.A. from Loyola’s Quinlan School of Business with a concentration in Entrepreneurship.

What were the events that inspired the book? The book was inspired by different experiences growing up. Those key events and experiences were then intertwined with the more current events of our church’s media coverage.

Some parts of your book are things you actually experienced, they must have stuck with you for you to want to write about them years later. Did you always know you wanted to tell these stories? I kind of had a premonition growing up that these events would be shared. My friends and I would always say we should’ve had a show like Laguna Beach, or something of that nature. So, in a way, I did think these stories would be told in one way or another, I just didn’t think I’d be the one to tell them. Like other stories of turmoil, we are drawn to A North Shore Story because we can relate to the characters.

Can you elaborate on what is relatable about the internal struggles of the book’s characters? What makes these characters extremely relatable to readers are the confidence and relationship problems each one of them goes through, whether it be friendship or romantic. Some characters go through other internal struggles such as underage drinking, drug use, and sexual peer pressure. I think that everyone at one time or another has been in one of these circumstances.

What was your favorite part of writing this book? Since this was my first book, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought I was supposed to have a template or well-thought out plan before writing anything. Instead, I jumped into it head-first and developed the story as I wrote. I feel that doing it this way allowed myself to be more creative and not stick to a “script” per say. I was even surprised at what I was able to create.

What inspired you to write this story so many years later? What originally got my gears turning was the media’s coverage of our former priest and his embezzlement of church funds. I then started to think about our time growing up at our church and the events that our friends and I experienced. After pinpointing key events, I began formulating the plotline which now makes up A North Shore Story.

You know some of these characters in your waking life. Who was the most exciting to write? How have they changed because of what happened? The most exciting character to write about was definitely Kate. Kate, and the girl who she’s based off of, has a very exciting personality and a distinct attitude. When our friend read the story, she loved how she was portrayed in the storyline. I think that she, along with the rest of our friends, have changed in that we’ve learned how to tackle the problems that Kate and the rest of the group are dealing with right now.

Tell us more about your personal part in the stories. Are you in the book? How did you change your story for the fiction rendition? I am in the book. With my character, and with all the characters, I left elements of real life in the story and in the personality, but overall the fundamental qualities of each character are unique from their real life counterparts.

What strengths did you and Alyssa bring to the table to help one another write the book? I felt more connected to writing the actual story. I was able to figure out and connect the different subplots of the book, while Alyssa is very familiar with novels and creative writing. With those skills, she helped make the book come alive.

Do you anticipate a sequel? I’ve thrown ideas around in my head, and I’ve talked about it with Alyssa. We’re open to it, but haven’t started writing anything yet.

 


 

Alyssa Machinis

alyssa

Tell us about your background, what have you done since the events that occurred that inspired A North Shore Story? Well, I went to college at University of Illinois and graduated with a degree in Advertising and minors in both Business and Communications. Now I work at an advertising-technology company as a Digital Strategist.

What is your side of the story depicted in the book? Did you change the reality for the fiction version? My side of the story is depicted in the book, but it’s pretty separated from reality. The biggest and only consistency between my character and I are our driven personalities.

What was the most difficult part about writing this book? The most difficult part of writing the book was helping it come alive. The content was there, and the story was strong, but fostering the story from a passive standpoint into an active point of view was a challenge.

What do you think the most important lesson from the book is? The most important lesson from the book is to be confident in who you are. Don’t worry about what other people think because the fear of judgment can turn you into a person you don’t want to be.

What part of this story do you think appeals to young adult readers most? I think what appeals to young adults about A North Shore Story are the pop culture references mixed with struggles that I think a majority of teens have experienced or encountered at some point in their lives.

What clique were you in in high school? Can you tell us an event that happened to you and your friends that almost made it into A North Shore Story but isn’t included? I was definitely in the choir group throughout high school. There weren’t many events that didn’t make it into A North Shore Story, but we almost wrote in a choir sub-plot. However, we switched it to fashion as the story developed.

What were some of your favorite books in high school, when the story takes place? I loved the Harry Potter series and the Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben. He writes excellent mystery novels, and J.K. Rowling is a genius.

Who is your favorite author? What were a few books that inspired your writing? I don’t necessarily have a favorite author (I read a lot). However, I do think that J.K. Rowling’s writing style was very influential on my own. It’s also comforting to know that she had humble beginnings just like Dean and I have now.

Do you think you’ll write another book? Like Dean mentioned, we’ve talked about it a little bit. However, as of now we have not made any strides toward writing another book.

A NORTH SHORE STORY sounds pretty thrilling! Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”B017N3U6UK” locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

Q&A with Lisa Becker, author of Clutch

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Clutch is the laugh-out-loud, chick lit story that chronicles the dating misadventures of Caroline Johnson, a single purse designer, who goes through a series of unsuccessful romantic relationships she compares to various styles of handbags – the “Hobo” starving artist, the “Diaper Bag” single dad, the “Briefcase” intense businessman, etc.  With her best friend, bar owner Mike by her side, the overly-accommodating Caroline drinks Chardonnay, puts her heart on the line, endures her share of unworthy suitors and finds the courage to stand up for the handbag style that embodies what she ultimately wants – the “Clutch” or someone to hold onto.

 

We are proud to present this Q&A with author Lisa Becker. The idea of “men as handbags” is a really funny and unique one, and I’m sure we can all identify with it one way or another! Enjoy this post, then go out and buy her book – click [easyazon_link identifier=”0692489894″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link] to purchase it.

 

1) Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m fortunate to have had a series of wonderful careers outside of writing including being a wife, mom, PR professional, college professor and community volunteer.   CLUTCH: A NOVEL is my 4th book.  The book actually started out as a screenplay that was optioned by a production company housed at one of the major movie studios summer 2014.  Unfortunately, it fell out of development.  I was eager to have this fun story with some of my favorite characters told, so I turned it into a short novel earlier this year.

 

2) What inspired you to write CLUTCH?

When I was writing the Click Trilogy, (Click: An Online Love StoryDouble ClickRight Click) I was obsessed with NCIS reruns and would have the show on in the background as I wrote.  There was an episode when one of the characters mentioned that men were like purses – something useless to hang on a woman’s arm.  I started thinking about how men are like handbags and the idea grew from there.

3) What advice do you have for women in search of their clutch?

In the modern classic film, “The Shawshank Redemption,” Tim Robbins’ character, Andy Dufresne, says to Morgan Freeman’s Red, “Get busy living or get busy dying.”  That quote comes to mind when I think about searching for the clutch.  If you feel like it’s not going to happen, then just give up.  You heard me.  GIVE UP!   Just surrender to that notion that you’ll end up alone.  If that is truly the case, do you want to spend the next 30, 40 or even 50+ years wallowing in misery?  Sitting around and lamenting your singleness?  Or are you going to get busy living?  Buy your own home!  Travel to all of the places you want to visit!  Adopt a child!  Write that novel!  Engage in hobbies and activities that bring you joy!

Chances are, when you start focusing on what will make you happy – not who will make you happy – you WILL be happy.  Happiness is evident and infectious.  Happiness makes you more interesting and more attractive to someone else.  And when that happens, you are more likely to meet the right person who is going to complement the amazing life you’ve created for yourself.

 

4) What are your plans for the future?

In addition to promoting the new book, I’m looking into making connections within the motion picture industry to try and get a movie version made.  I’m eager to see if there’s interest from someone else on bringing this fun and quirky story to the big screen.  So if you happen to be a well-to-do movie producer looking to make a new romantic comedy, please get in touch!

 

5) How can readers connect with you?

lisa becker

 

Lisa’s Books: Click: An Online Love StoryDouble ClickRight Click and clutch: a novel

Find Lisa: Facebook | Twitter  | Pinterest  | Web  | YouTube

 

 

 

 

 

The Poet’s Secret – Q&A with author Kenneth Zak

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Elia Aloundra, a young lit student, sees a reclusive poet, Cameron Beck, recite a poem at a campus pub before he vanishes. Ten years earlier, Beck had published a popular collection of ninety-nine odes to one anonymous muse before dropping from the public eye, leaving behind a decade of speculation over his disappearance and the identity of the muse. Elia always found sanctuary within the pages of great books and raised Beck’s work into that pantheon, memorizing every verse by heart.

But her love life pales in comparison to the great romances of literature, and she sets off in search of Beck hoping to finally leap from the page and unveil the secret to love incarnate. What she doesn’t know is that as her quest begins, Beck is perched atop a cliff on a remote Caribbean island and about to attempt suicide. Decades earlier a Spanish shipwreck entombing mystical Aztec relics was found off that same island.  Elia must win her way through Beck’s protective circle: Isabella, a robust island matriarch with heavy voodoo juju, Paco, a local fisherman and cantina owner, and Fatty, a burnt out, transplanted New Orleans crawdad of a doc. What Elia cannot fathom is that Beck’s secret will change both their lives forever.

This fascinating Q&A was brought to you by Kenneth Zak and PR By The Book!

Watch the book trailer here:

What inspired you to write The Poet’s Secret?

At the time I wrote The Poet’s Secret, I was on a personal pilgrimage. I essentially took a three­year sabbatical, sort of an adult “time out,” and embarked on a new path. I dedicated myself to explore the meaning of life and love and particularly the arc of passion. I became consumed by the idea of living in the present, honoring the “now” as the only real moment in time, the only authentic eternity, which allowed me to both disconnect and connect like never before and let go of the constructs of past and future as fictions created by the mind. I gained a new appreciation for relatively brief moments and encounters as having potentially profound effects. I was living abroad, reading, writing, surfing and slowing down my existence.

The tale that became The Poet’s Secret was conceived in a hovel perched atop a one­table taverna in the hillside village of Avdou, just a scooter ride from the blue waters of the Aegean Sea on the island of Crete. I was sequestered alone, halfway around the world from my home, and recovering from a life, and a relationship, that had left me hollow, or at least I thought at the time. But it turned out words kept flowing out of me, first in raw, chunky verse that faintly resembled poetry and then in images and scenes that bore an even fainter resemblance to a novel. For months I wrote, swam in healing waters and disappeared into this remote, antiquated Greek village. I had never done anything like that before, but at the time it was the only existence that made any sense.

So many miracles happened during those months. I experienced a cleansing, a healing and an awakening, and I began to perceive light and water and imagery and words and the souls around me like never before. I eventually returned to California, and then traveled to Bali, Mexico, Costa Rica, Thailand, Cambodia and South America, following the sea and surf with laptop in hand and continuing to write. The backstory to writing The Poet’s Secret is a story in itself.

How did you select the locations for the novel?

It was tempting to set the bulk of the novel in Greece, a country I adore. However, as the story evolved the compass for the island setting spun toward the West Indies, and the story’s life raft washed ashore on the fictional island of Mataki. I was fortunate to spend a good part of my sabbatical on tropical islands and coastal villages that certainly informed the setting. As for the early campus setting, I based it on a fictionalized version of my beloved alma mater, The Ohio State University.

What was your particular process in terms of plot, outlining and character?

I essentially began the novel with two scenes that were haunting me. First, I had a reclusive poet on a remote island cliff about to attempt suicide. Second, I had a bookish young woman captured within the confines of the great romances of literature. I really had no idea about their connection, if any, but those two images would not let go of me. As I began to write, the concept of the woman yearning for what nearly kills the poet began to take hold.

The process was fairly organic. I let the characters breathe and lead me into the story. I wasn’t even sure whose story it was until shortly after the first draft. Once the closing scene appeared to me I realized that it was really Elia’s story. I then just had to navigate getting there. While I did not develop any formal outline, I downloaded scenes as they appeared, stockpiled them and later wove them in when they seemed to make sense. It was a bit like swimming across a sea, not sure which direction land might be but hoping that if I kept going I would eventually find my way.

Stumbling, a bit blindly, through this creative process was both exasperating and exhilarating. As I was working on revisions, I attended several writers’ conferences that stressed the necessity of thorough plotting, which made me feel a tad vulnerable. I later read an interview about Michael Ondaatje’s process in writing The English Patient and realized I was in good company.

The novel is filled with excerpts of poetry, which came first, the poetry or the narrative arc?

Most of the poetry was written before any narrative took form. The poetry came in often painful and soul­ searching flourishes, and then was revised over time. There is a line in The Poet’s Secret where Dean Baltutis refers to the poet’s inspiration being “survival.” That is precisely how it felt at times. I also wanted to combine both poetry and prose into one novel and attempt to slow down the reader a bit at the beginning of each chapter to contemplate and absorb the poetry, to be in that moment so to speak, before continuing on the narrative journey.

What in particular surprised you about the process of writing The Poet’s Secret?

I didn’t want to force plot twists or preconceived outcomes. I let the characters find the story. I let go of expectations and trusted the story to evolve. Tapping into this creative process was freeing, exhilarating and challenging, sort of like jumping off a cliff into the sea for the first time. I had never done anything quite like it, but this particular process for me felt authentic. I certainly was surprised how well the early drafts of the poetry and manuscript were received, which bolstered my confidence to pursue the project through publication.

Water imagery is abundant throughout the novel, what is the particular connection for you with water and particularly with respect to this novel?

I was thrown onto a swim team at age 8 even before I passed beginners swim lessons (I was terrible at the back float). But water soon became my life and in many ways my salvation. Throughout my youth I swam, played water polo, lifeguarded and hung around Lake Erie in northeastern Ohio. Somehow, I didn’t even see an ocean until I was 18. But I recall climbing out of the backseat of a Datsun 210 hatchback (or what they claimed to be a backseat) after driving for 22 hours to Ft. Lauderdale for spring break and telling my college buddies to just pick me up in a few hours. I was mesmerized. I sprinted into the Atlantic Ocean and swam and bodysurfed until dark. Today, I surf or swim almost every day. I feel like I am about eighty percent water, the remaining twenty percent made up mostly of curiosity and mischief.

Much of the water in the universe is said to be a byproduct of star formation. I’m no scientist, but I like the way that sounds. Because when I look up at the night stars it feels a lot like gazing west an hour before the sun dips into the sea, at least at my secret little spot by the water. Flickering diamonds scatter everywhere along the surface, and if I squint just right, I forget the sea is even there. Instead, it looks like a galaxy of stars shimmering right into me, washing across my heart, reflecting off my smile and filling me with the belief that I can just float away into the universe. So I often do.

Spiritually, water often represents purification and healing. To me, water represents so many things, perhaps most importantly love and life and the sacred feminine. I once nearly died underwater while surfing in Uluwatu, a place few have ever heard of and even fewer have visited. But I know on so many occasions water has saved me, water has healed me, and water has reset my compass when I have been spinning in some uncontrollable vortex. So for me, my life and my love seem to be tied to returning to the great aquatic source, again and again, maybe just to fill the chasm that still exists in me, and maybe to some degree still exists in all of us.

I have been fortunate to swim with sea turtles and dolphins in the wild on many occasions. When I stare into the eyes of a sea turtle or a dolphin I cannot help but believe that they understand this great aquatic connection, a connection beyond humanity, beyond species, beyond even the stars. So when I am writing about passion, heartbreak, healing, life and love, it is only natural for me to write in a particularly aquatic language and style.

Where is your favorite place to write?

My favorite place to write is on that squeaky metal spring cot in that hovel above Mihalis’ taverna in Avdou, Crete. After that, any place as long as I have my noise cancellation headphones. I’ve written and revised all over from kitchen tables to airplanes.

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing over thirty years now in one form or another. I wrote a bit of poetry in high school and then did a bunch of required writing in my legal profession. It was sometime after law school that I penned my first novel (unpublished), and then about ten years ago when the idea for The Poet’s Secret first took flight. I also have some published short fiction and poetry.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Haruki Murakami, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Paulo Coehlo, Milan Kundera, John Steinbeck, Michael Ondaatje, Jorge Luis Borges, Rumi, A.S. Byatt, Carl Safina, Tom Spanbauer and so many more.

How did those authors influence your work?

My favorite authors inspire, entertain, challenge and provoke me. I don’t try to write or emulate any particular style. But when I read the opening of Cannery Row time stops.

How did you become affiliated with the Romance Writers of America?

Someone recommended I send an early draft of The Poet’s Secret to the RWA. While The Poet’s Secret is by no means a traditional genre romance, it was selected an RWA Golden Heart Finalist in romantic suspense. I was the only male nominated that year (attending the national conference and award ceremony is another story altogether). When my face went up on the Jumbotron in front of thousands of mostly female authors at the award ceremony it was a bit unnerving. Writing anything can be fraught with self­doubt. The RWA could not have been more welcoming and supportive and certainly gave me a bolt of confidence to continue writing and revising, as did the nominee class from that year, the appropriately named Unsinkables.

How did your professional career as an attorney influence your writing and how do you balance the two careers?

I think practicing law actually spurred my interest in creative writing. While I was in private practice, I felt constrained by the form restrictions requisite within the legal profession. I also felt a lot of legal writing often served more to obfuscate than illuminate and writing poetry and fiction allowed me the freedom to explore and express myself in a different medium. The Poet’s Secret is not “another lawyer’s courtroom thriller” in any respect, nor am I particularly drawn to that genre since I’ve lived it. Nonetheless, my legal career (now as General Counsel for a large private brokerage company) is both fascinating and challenging. I draw some inspiration from the poet Wallace Stevens who for years continued his vibrant writing career while an executive for an insurance company. As far as balance goes, my evenings and weekends are spent around the keyboard as much as possible.

Tell us about your involvement with 1% for the Planet and The Surfrider Foundation.

Perhaps only a poet would give away money before it is even earned, but that is what I felt compelled to do given my love of the ocean and conservation causes. In addition to ocean swimming, free diving and water polo, I have been an avid surfer for nearly two decades and have surfed around the world. Subtle conservation themes are laced through The Poet’s Secret, but my love of the ocean and our planet is anything but subtle. I hope to leave this world and particularly our oceans better than I found them. Penju Publishing’s membership with 1% For the Planet and my pledged donations to The Surfrider Foundation are an effort to spread awareness, give back and pay it forward.

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