Check These Out: Books for a Thrilling Christmas

Greetings! With me on the blog today are two authors already known to many of you: the fabulous Andra Watkins and the equally fabulous John Howell.

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They’re here to talk about the latest books in their series. Click here and here for series information.

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Hard to Die was published by Word Hermit Press. Our Justice was published by Keewaydin Lane Books. Stick around later for the giveaway info.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andra: 1. I’m afraid to answer FaceTime, because my parents like to call when they’re either naked or scantily clad.
2. Once I break the seal, I eat SweeTARTS until my mouth turns raw. I cannot stop.
3. My favorite movie of all time is The Princess Bride. My husband thinks that’s inconceivable!

Vizzini, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik in The Princess Bride

Vizzini, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik in The Princess Bride

4. I love to meet my readers. The furthest I’ve traveled to meet a reader is Australia. She was delightful. But all my readers are.

John: 1. I have written a thousand words a day for seven days a week since 2012.
2. I began writing after turning seventy, five years ago.
3. I love to write poetry but won’t show it to anyone.
4 I live with my wife and three rescue pets on an island in the Gulf of Mexico.

John lives somewhere on this map. Perhaps you see him waving.

John lives somewhere on this map. Perhaps you see him waving.

El Space: What was the inspiration behind your series?
Andra: What if you disappeared? Or no one knew exactly how you died? And because nobody knew what happened, you couldn’t fully die?

I’ve always been fascinated with unresolved deaths. Somebody, somewhere, knew what happened, at least for a little while. Both Hard to Die and To Live Forever give real people with unresolved deaths new adventures. It’s speculative fiction at its ‘what if’-iest. If you’re skeptical about giving me a try, here’s what real readers say about this series:

“One of the most imaginative books I’ve ever read.” Jen Mann, NYT best selling author of People I Want to Punch in the Throat
“I LOVED this book!” Nicole Knepper, author of Moms Who Drink and Swear: True Tales of Loving My Kids While Losing My Mind
“Absolutely thrilling read!”
“My new favorite.”
Hard to Die is hard to put down.”
“Riveting.”
“One of the best reads I’ve seen in a long, long time.”
“A magical tale.”

John: My sister and I were touring the Aircraft Carrier Lexington moored in Corpus Christi. [Photo below.] Our father was a naval aviator during World War II and served on the Lexington. We wanted to walk the halls and in some way get a sense of his experience. While standing on the flight deck, it occurred to me that this symbol of American military strength was unarmed and vulnerable to anyone who would want to destroy this treasure. Although my series is not about the Lexington, it did set the stage for the subsequent terrorist quest to embarrass America.

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El Space: Which authors inspire you?
Andra: Several books informed my Nowhere Series. Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind was a white-knuckled tour through Barcelona. I loved the fantasy, the inventive ties to forgotten books, and the homage to the landscape. I hope Zafón taught me how to keep a reader turning pages.

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Sum: Forty Tales of the Afterlives by David Eagleman, a neuroscientist, is a slim gem of speculative fiction. His short afterlife tales are so tight and inventive. He first made me think about what an alternative afterlife could be.

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski is a grounded fantasy tale I wish I’d written. Gosh, the writing is gorgeous. I love how she chose to deal with loss, death, and the afterlife, all through the eyes of a mute little boy. I’d read this book over All the Light We Cannot See.

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John: I am inspired by Nevil Shute and his book On the Beach. I was impressed in the manner that he could make up a fictional situation and characters and craft the position so that it seemed real and did not have a happy ending. Kurt Vonnegut inspired me in several books by how he could use actual situations as backdrops to a fictional story. John Irving gave me the courage to write about whimsy, and did it with a boldness that allowed the reader to believe the appropriateness of a sometimes outrageous situation to the storyline. Finally, Andra Watkins continues to inspire me through her determination to bring her stories to life in spite of all challenges to her personally.

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El Space: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received recently?
Andra: Keep writing. 2016 has been tough for many people. It’s been especially hard on me. I launched a book a week before the election while I was afflicted with a significant illness. I don’t think I need to tell anyone how that launch turned out. I’ve cried and raged and questioned myself ten thousand times, but in the end, writers must write, even when writing makes no sense. Especially when writing makes no sense.

John: A talented writer, Craig Boyack, wrote a post on how to add suspense to a story. Although sometimes we don’t think of adding suspense in certain situations Craig pointed out a way to add a small portion even though it has no meaningful outcome to the story. The reason I thought this was great advice is we often think of suspense elements as some core plot elements and not a way to raise the enjoyment level of a story. I think his opinion changed that concept for me.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Andra: I Am Number 13 is the third book in the Nowhere Series. It will be available in Spring 2017. I have at least three more characters lined up for future installments, though I no longer say how many books that will be. These characters become their own very insistent people. Hard to Die wasn’t supposed to be part of my Nowhere Series. That’s how insistent Theodosia Burr Alston is. And the male narrator, Richard Cox, wasn’t in the first three drafts. I look at Hard to Die now and can’t imagine it without him.

John: I am currently wrapping up the editing on a book titled “Circumstances of Childhood.” It is a story about a guy who is very successful until he runs amuck with a Security Exchange Commission audit. He needs to rely on a childhood pal for help but the question remains can the friend help him. The book goes to beta readers in January.

I have also started a thriller about a couple who find a cell phone on the beach. The phone contains some valuable information encoded into the contact list. The guy who lost the phone has been punished and now the boss wants his phone back. The chief of police is right in the crosshairs since he turned the phone over to Homeland Security since he thought some of the photos looked suspicious. The first draft should be finished by May.

Thank you, Andra and John, for being my guests!

Looking for Andra? You can find her here and here.
Looking for John? You can find him here and here.

Looking for Hard to Die and book one in the series? Check Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Looking for Our Justice and other books in the trilogy? Check Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Another place you can look is your front doorstep, because I’m giving away a copy of Hard to Die and Our Justice to a commenter. The winner will be announced on December 15.

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What is Kitty up to? No good, I suspect. Stay tuned. . . .

Author photos courtesy of the authors. Book covers from their websites and Goodreads. Still image from The Princess Bride from moviereviewland.blogspot. Gulf of Mexico map from worldatlas.com. USS Lexington at Corpus Christi photo from tourism-review.com.

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A Writer’s Process (5b)

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We’re back with E. L. Kaminsky—the awesome El. Thanks for your comments yesterday—always appreciated. We’re continuing our conversation about mysteries and El’s work in progress. If you’re just tuning in, this is part 2. You might check back to part 1. Also, might I remind you of the suggested blog theme music courtesy of Dreamland’s Insurgents.

As we begin, let me share the GOOD NEWS: Congrats are in order for El! Her short story, “All in the Family” was accepted in the short story anthology, Death Knell, edited by Nancy Daversa, Terry Friedman, and Elena Santagelo (Infinity Publishing). It is available here. Huzzah!!!

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El Space: Happy to hear that, El! So, what authors influenced you as a writer? Why?
El: I started reading Kurt Vonnegut in high school, then got hooked on Tom Robbins. Jitterbug Perfume is one of my all time favorite books.

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I started seeking out the humorous, sarcastic characters of Gregory MacDonald, Elmore Leonard, Tim Dorsey, Christopher Moore (who wins best book title ever, IMHO, for Island of the Sequined Love Nun.

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I then sought out the strong heroines of Rita May Brown, Sara Paretsky, Patricia Cornwall—love them all. But then along came Janet Evanovich and that changed everything for me. Her style, her humor, but mainly her characters were everything I ever wanted in a mystery novel—to read or to write.

What attracts me to all of theses authors is the “quirk” factor, either in their characters of their use of language. The humor, sarcasm, zany situations all appeal to my desire to get lost for a while in a novel.

El Space: You mentioned that your main character is haunted by her grandmother’s ghost. What do you find appealing about working on a ghost story?
El: I’ve had a few experiences in life that lead me to believe there is more to our existence than meets the eye. I thought it would be interesting to explore the concept of my main character’s conscience through the use of a ghost, her grandmother, who meddles in her everyday life, giving her advice—solicited or not.

El Space: Will you pursue an agent, a publisher directly, or go the indie route?
El: That’s a really good question. When I began this journey, it was traditional all the way. I have queried agents, gone to conferences, entered contests; as yet none have brought me much luck. I received good comments, had encouraging scores, but no deals. So I stopped spinning my wheels for a while and decided to write again. The activity of trying to get published was too much like work. It was stressful and dissatisfying. I went back to my characters for a while.

In the meantime, I helped a dear friend write his memoirs. We used CreateSpace for his process and it was fairly easy. In the future, I may go that route. This book is available on Kindle and in print here.

El Space: It’s great that you could help out in that way. But what do you like most about the mystery genre?
El: It absorbs me and entertains me without disturbing me. I have an imagination that keeps me up at night, so I can’t read anything too realistic. I need the farfetched, wacky stuff.

El Space: What mystery books have you read recently that you thought were great? Why?
El: Anything by Donna Leon, because her descriptions of Venice put me right back there; Janet Evanovich’s Plum Spooky, because no matter how many times I read it, I still laugh out loud.

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Fear Itself by Elena Santangelo, because the family she portrays reminds me of my own in so many lovely ways.

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El Space: You’re also a singer. What’s your specialty?
El: Right now, I sing lots of stuff from the 50s, 60s, and 70s in a group called Package Goods Orchestra. My first love is jazz standards, and I have the good fortune of sitting in once in a while with some very talented musicians from the Somers Point Jazz Society. I had the great fortune of singing in a group that backed up the great Rosemary Clooney back in 1996 and 97.

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El Space: Awesome!
El: Awsome is exactly the right word. Rosie was one of my mother’s favorite singers, so I heard her music all my life. I feel that my mom had a hand in my getting the gig. Mom had been gone about a year when I answered the ad.

To this day, I am amazed that I passed the audition and had the priviledge of working in Rosie’s great presence. She was an amazing musician, beloved by her band and all of us. Even with her physical challenges, she was a trouper. Generous, kind, and funny as hell. When she died a few years later, I felt as if I had lost my favorite aunt. I wrote a tribute that ran in a magazine where I was a contributing editor. Rosie’s official fan site also ran my story. Here is the link.

El Space: How do you incorporate your music in your writing?
El: There is a headspace that you go into when a song is lifting you up. Your voice is in the zone, harmony is flowing and it just transcends. That’s the way writing feels when my writing is working. Time flies and I have an exhausted, exhilarated feeling afterward.

Music plays a big role in my life, and my writing. I listen while I work; my characters have favorite music, too. And I have an idea for some music-themed mysteries. Stay tuned.

Well, as the old saying goes, how time flies when you’re having fun. Thanks again, El, for being my guest on the blog. If you have questions for El about her process or her music, please comment below. And don’t forget El’s blog here.

Photo of Rosemary Clooney from npr.org. Congrats from free-extras.com.