Friday, August 30, 2013

Coming Soon

Constantly teased and taunted by the popular girls, Elena Baxter desperately wants to fit in. On her sweet sixteenth, she receives two shocking gifts: telekinesis and the surprising truth about her heritage. With high hopes that things will be different now, Elena returns to school to find that nothing has changed. Only this time her hurt feelings and frustration boil into something even she cannot understand.

When her powers explode, chaos ensues and she learns that her new ability is greater than she ever desired. As she learns to control her powers, Elena discovers there’s so much more to her heritage than she ever imagined.

As Elena bounded back up the stairs, her mom watched, smiling, thinking about the last 16 years, and of all this next one would bring.  She knew there would be a lot of changes, more so than Elena could possibly know, and she was looking forward to every one of them.  She could hardly wait for Isabel’s arrival the next day so they could finally tell Elena the truth about who she was, and help her to blossom and start to become whom she was meant to be.

Andrea Buginsky is a freelance writer and author. “The Chosen,” a middle-grade fantasy novelette, was her first book, and was followed by “My Open Heart,” an autobiography about growing up with heart disease. “Nature’s Unbalance” is the second story in THE CHOSEN series. Andrea is currently working on another series: a YA fantasy. To learn more about Andrea, visit her on her website.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Fantasy Author Mathew Bridle

Mathew Bridle, Author

Mathew Bridle has enjoyed reading fantasy since he was a child, so it is not surprising that he writes fantasy. His new book YOUNG WARLOCK—with more to come—is for young adults and, according to its author is “quite dark, some humorous—mostly though, a romp through my imagination.”  As important, “It’s a story about learning to stand on your own two feet in a world filled with danger and adventure.”

Bridle is from the UK, has a wife and three children who occasionally allow him to play xbox, and likes to make people laugh. His 3-word description of himself is: balding, fat, and 50!

To really understand him, however, don’t miss the excerpt from his newest novel following this interview.

Q: Why do you write fantasy? Why do you find this genre appealing? What first attracted you to it?

Mathew Bridle: I have always been drawn to fantasy, even as child. I was always reading the latest copy of 2000 A.D. or my brother’s Marvel comics. I just love the freedom of imagination that fantasy has. My mind just runs riot, I see the worlds in my head as though I was there, like walking through a prophet’s vision. I’m then compelled to site and tell everyone about the wondrous things I’ve seen.

Q:  Tell us about your most recent release, YOUNG WARLOCK.  Who are your intended readers?

Mathew Bridle: YOUNG WARLOCK is for young adults. Some of the content is quite dark, some humorous—mostly though, a romp through my imagination. It has taken a few years to get it into shape and focus the story down to a few characters. Dekor, the young warlock in question, causes an awful lot of problems for himself, not all deliberately. He has to flee for his life and on that journey he begins to question himself about who he is and what he will become. It’s a story about learning to stand on your own two feet in a world filled with danger and adventure.

Q:  When you write fantasy, how important is believability? How do you create a world that readers will embrace?

Mathew Bridle: Believability is crucial to me, even when I’m reading—if I cannot picture myself walking in the world which someone has created then I think how can anyone else do it. I like my characters to experience the good and the bad things in life. I want the world to exist around them and I want a lot to be going on in the world at large. I struggle with tightly focused stories where only a single character gets to experience it all.

Q: Why do your readers care about your characters?

Mathew Bridle: That’s tough to say. I do not create friendly, flawless people. Sure, there are good ones which I want you to like but I also want them to be real, so some part of their make-up must be flawed, but not always in an obvious manner. YOUNG WARLOCK is the beginning of a saga, so a lot of the content has to introduce future players together with the workings of the world in which they all exist.

Q:  What makes a good villain? How relevant is the concept of hero vs villain in your books?

Mathew Bridle: A good villain, to me, is one who loves what he does, is what is, and does not necessarily need a reason. My bad guy, a half-troll-half-human warlock is doing what he’s doing for a very simple reason which I’m not revealing here. He is a cruel tyrant trapped in his own beliefs. He is however, not the only bad guy in this part of the saga. I have a few devious characters who play a larger part than first appears.

As in real life, people change sides or allegiances, or just get bored and fancy a change. Even good guys can be turned for a price.

Q:  Do you write your books to deliver a message to your readers? Or are you writing purely for entertainment?

Mathew Bridle: I suppose there is message. Some early commentators thought there was one which is pro-religion, but most just read it for the purpose which I wrote it for—to entertain, to suspend reality.

Q:  What made you want to be a writer?

Mathew Bridle: As a child, in primary school, I was always writing. I am blessed with an overactive imagination. I see stories in most everything I see and read. A tiny statement or line in a song can become a novel or a story.

Q:  What is your greatest strength as a writer?

Mathew Bridle: I never run out of ideas, just time.

Q:  What’s next?

Mathew Bridle: Next, is the sequel ‘Fire and Thorn’ I’m about 10 thousand words into it, though I have written 300 thousand words of future story line, so I have plenty more to come.

Q:  Tell us about Mathew Bridle.  What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Mathew Bridle: I was recently asked to describe myself in 3 words: balding, fat and 50! I’m a bit on the crazy side always trying to get a laugh out of everything. I work at a day centre for adults with learning disabilities. I have three children and have been married for 18 years. I like to read; I’m currently reading The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan; plenty of action in that one. I play xbox with my kids (when they let me) and watch as many movies as I can fit in, the last one being the new Wolverine movie.

About Mathew Bridle

Mathew Bridle was born in Horsham, West Sussex in 1963 where he spent the first 35 years of his life. Educated in state school, he barely scraped an ‘O’ level in English. He has tried his hand at many things even running his own graphic and web design company for 15 years until he had enough of not being paid. Now he works with adults with learning disabilities near his home in Crawley, just a few miles from his birthplace.

Over the years Mathew has written a handful novels, The Rising, Lagoon, 3 Phaze and Emun of Mor all of which are available free in ebook from most major book sites. Over the past three years there have been over 20 thousand downloads of his books. He is pleased with the general response to his early work acknowledging the fact that they are generally quite poorly written to which he responds ‘I left in their original state because it shows how I have developed as a writer. I am not at all worried how they are perceived so long as people enjoy reading them. I will leave them as they are’

He is currently working on the direct sequel to YOUNG WARLOCK, Fire and Thorn which follows the progress of Dekor as he embarks on a quest in the unchartered territory of Salzear and the lost troll tribes.

Compelled by his lust for the flame the young warlock is driven on a trail of destruction. Running from those he once trusted, he befriends a tattlejack, Icthus, whose gift of extracting the truth could become his greatest strength. Now all he needs to do is defeat his lust and prove his worth to all those who doubt him, including the young girl who is carrying his child. Only the old priest believes the boy, Dekor, to be something more than just another warlock.

The dogs of war are gathering. The undead seek allies among the enemy horde in the north in their bid to rout the mages, break the control of the Council of Twelve and take the land for themselves. Together the goblins and the undead set out to scourge the lands of Alzear of all who stand in their way.

The pieces of the prophecy are slowly cohering. The gods have chosen their warriors and the people have chosen their gods. War is coming, a war whose like we have never seen. The fate of an entire people may rest in the hands of a headstrong young man and his unborn child.


"Very dangerous," chirped a voice, startling Dekor who jumped to his feet. "Most dangerous indeed. Ice works best in water, not fire."
"Who are you?" Dekor asked the green-skinned creature hunched in front of him. Its claws dug into the soft earth as it leaned closer to sniff him.
"Icthus. Who are you?" The creature shuffled nearer, water dripping from his smooth skin, reaching out to poke at Dekor's torn cloak.
"I am Dekor, from Mor."
"More what?" Icthus brushed his skin with his long, spindly fingers. Blinking twice, his thick eyelids left a fresh coating of mucus over his bulbous eyes. His long pink, forked tongue flicked in and out of his broad mouth tasting the air.
"Mor is a place, a country." Dekor paused, twisting the toe of his boot into the soft earth, "My home."
"On the run, are we?" Icthus padded around Dekor, surveying his island.
"Wh... what makes you suggest that?" Dekor's words tumbled over his tongue. Icthus picked up a stick and began poking about in the soft soil. The spines on his back rose and fell with his breathing.
Pulling a worm from the ground, Icthus responded, "You have no bags, no food, no weapons." He walked around Dekor checking his pockets and clothing.
Dekor shrugged. "Yes, I am on the run." I have done some wrong things, some by accident, others not."  
Screwing up his face as Icthus flicked out his tongue snatching the fat worm from his own hand, Dekor shuddered.
"No one will find you here. No one comes here." Icthus walked back to his small hut made of sticks whose walls were splattered with handfuls of thick black mud. "Come in if you like, nothing will harm you here."  
They walked over to the small hut which stood on the shore of a large open expanse of water.
"Does the marsh end here? As far as I can see there is more marshland to the east while a dark shadow obscures the horizon to the north. Everywhere else, there are swamps.”
"Wall that way, cliffs that way," Icthus replied nonchalantly hopping up onto the veranda of his home.  
Dekor followed him inside.
"What?" he asked, looking at Dekor's puzzled face.
"Nothing, your house is much larger than I expected it to be." Dekor's eyes roamed around the hut taking in the neatness of everything.
Icthus responded, "I might be small, but my home does not have to be." Tipping his head to one side, he looked Dekor over from head to toe.
"Where are you going in such a fine robe?" queried Icthus, reaching out to feel the fabric, "Exquisite is it not?"
"Yes, but not originally mine." Dekor wished he could stop blurting out the truth. It was becoming an irritating habit. Icthus looked at him, smiling.
"Problem with your tongue?" Icthus' smile broadened until his mouth had consumed the larger part of his face. 
Dekor's mouth became a thin line. "You know what is happening? How do you know?"

Author and Purchase Links
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Author Links

Twitter: @mathewbridle

Thursday, August 22, 2013

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Author Claudia Harbaugh

Claudia Harbaugh, Author
Author Claudia Harbaugh enjoys reading and writing about the Regency era. Her passion brings us her novel HER GRACE IN DISGRACE. Reviewers enthusiastically endorse the historical romance, “A cast of original characters turn THIS novel into a well written story with surprising and humorous twists and plots.”

Besides being a confessed Anglophile, Harbaugh is devoted to her family, loves to read, and enjoys being by the ocean. She also has a Shih Tzu named Camden, “who is very cute and a little spoiled.”

Don't miss the excerpt following the interview.

Q: What about Regency romances appeals to you? Why do you enjoy them?
Claudia Harbaugh: The Regency era is a wonderful backdrop for romance because of the contrasts. Outwardly, all was politeness, but there was tension in the lack of equality between men and woman, rich and poor.

A great story can be built from such contrast. I know we think that our generation is worse than any other generation - ever. But the Regency, while all glitz and glamour on the outside, was rotten to the core. Extreme poverty was a huge issue, while the elite 10,000, the crème de la crème of society spent what would constitute a typical laborer's monthly wages or more on a pair of boots or a length of lace. Alcoholism was rampant in all rungs of society. The poor drank because they were hopeless, the rich because they were bored (and hopeless).

The idle rich were so bored that they did crazy things to amuse themselves; the men and even some women would bet on anything. The men's clubs had betting books that would wager what a certain someone might wear or with whom he or she would dance. Gambling was epidemic and men would lose their entire fortunes on the turn of a card.

As far as fidelity in marriage was concerned, it only mattered what things appeared to be. If discretion was maintained and a cheating spouse conducted his or her affairs unobtrusively, then society turned their collective heads and considered it acceptable.

Yet, despite all of this, there was an elegance and refinement in that period. The language was rich and carefully crafted.  It was necessary for the people of that day to “read between the lines”. I love the dialogue of the Regency and when someone does it correctly, i.e., Jane Austen, it is marvelous to read and enjoy.

Q: Many of your reviewers praised your character development in HER GRACE IN DISGRACE and said it was nice to read “characters with some meat to them.” How did you develop your characters so that readers care about them?

Claudia Harbaugh: Not wishing to sound crazy, the characters really come alive in my head. After a while they start directing their own dialogue. I do my best to give them their head, so to speak. So, to answer the question, I’m not sure I do anything in particular except try to allow them to behave as a real person would. None of my characters are based on any one person. They are a bit of an amalgam. Most of the characters have a little of me, God help them, and little bits of others that I meet along the way. But there is no conscious modeling after anyone. People care about people when they are real and vulnerable. My goal is to make my characters vulnerable.

Q: Reviewers of HER GRACE IN DISGRACE say that your heroine is not your typical Regency heroine. What’s different about her? Why?

Claudia Harbaugh: Isobel is a flawed human being. Often heroines in romances are all goodness and light. Not Miss Isobel Kennilworth. I would imagine at first, while perhaps pitying her plight, readers are frustrated with her. But in the end, she realizes her mistakes and tries to make reparation. And she is extended grace.  The old Isobel would have refused to accept it, but the new Isobel does accept it and becomes vulnerable and more open to extending grace to others. She is still not a perfect person, no one is. But she has grown as a human being. Isobel’s personality does not change, however. She will reappear in Book 2 and we’ll see what mischief she will be up to.

Q: Did you write HER GRACE IN DISGRACE to deliver a message? Or were you writing purely to entertain your readers?

Claudia Harbaugh: Purely for entertainment, but as I wrote, the theme of grace reared its forgiving head and I couldn’t ignore it. So, it is woven into the story, but it was not intended to overwhelm the tale. I read romance for entertainment purposes and I wrote HER GRACE IN DISGRACE for the very same reason.

Q:  Did you do much research to assure historical accuracy? Where/how?

Claudia Harbaugh: Well, first of all, I read a LOT of Regency fiction myself, so I have been learning facts and nuances through osmosis. But, still, when it came down to it, I had a lot of research to do. All I can say is thank heaven for the internet. There are a lot of sites out there and I can’t point to one, or even a few in particular. I would just write along and come across a sticking point. For example, the characters must travel from London to Hertfordshire. How far was it? How long would it take? How fast could a coach go? And so I went to Google maps and other sites to answer those questions. Some of my research didn’t actually end up in the final book, but was needed to give me a better understanding of how it all worked.

Q:  How important is the history part of your romances? Could you have the same plots in a modern setting?

Claudia Harbaugh: It would be much more difficult for Reginald, Duke of Warwick to maintain a bigamous existence in the 21st century. A lot of my plot would be unbelievable today. But, with a few alterations I suppose it could translate into modern day. People have the same desires and needs and hopes no matter who they are and where they come from. We all have similar struggles and finding oneself as well as true love are among those struggles.

Q:  What makes a good villain? How relevant is a villain to telling your story?

Claudia Harbaugh: I think a good villain is a complex villain. No one is all bad, nor all good. My villains in HER GRACE IN DISGRACE were not pure evil. They were weak men or women who made some very bad choices. I think the heart of villainy is selfishness and lack of empathy. Isobel could have been a villain, because she began as a self-serving egotist. Thankfully, she picked up some empathy along the way and emerged as a heroine. As to relevancy, all stories must have the constant tension between right and wrong. What a boring story it would be without a villain!

Q:  What inspires you to write? Where do you get your ideas for plots?

Claudia Harbaugh: I really wish that I could answer that question, but I honestly don’t know. I write because I have to. It is a sort of God-given desire and gift, I suppose. I adore stories. I love to watch movies rich in dialogue and human interaction and conflict. I think the phrase that helps me craft a plot idea is simply: what if? What if this happened or this person did this or that. My brain is fertile ground for make-believe.

Q:  What’s next?

Claudia Harbaugh: The Widows of Woburn Place Book 2. You’ll see the familiar cast of characters and some new ones. However, Isobel and Saybrooke were the main protagonists in Book 1, Laura, Lady Tyndale and a new character will be the main protagonists in Book 2.

Q:  Tell us something about Claudia Harbaugh. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Claudia Harbaugh: I really love my family. My husband, John and I have two beautiful daughters, two wonderful sons in law and three adorable grandsons (aged 3, 18 mos and 4 mos). The hard part is that one daughter lives in Rochester, New York with her husband and two boys and the other lives in Walford, Iowa with her husband and son. We live in Virginia. So, when I can, I go to visit and spend time with them and they come here as well.

We also have a Shih Tzu named Camden (named for the town in Maine, not New Jersey). He is very cute and a little spoiled. I adore the ocean, but rarely visit even though it is fairly close to me. Another activity I enjoy is theater, as a member of the audience and as a participant. I am active in my church drama team and write and act in plays that we perform at Christmas time and occasionally in the summer.  

My favorite thing, besides spending time with my family, is reading. I read every night for at least an hour, often longer. A perfect day for me would be lying on a sandy beach, kindle in hand, reading and munching on snacks and occasionally cooling off by playing in the waves.

About Claudia Harbaugh

I have had a love of "story" for as long as I can remember. Reading has always been a passion for me. I waited until my 50th decade to publish a book, but I have been writing for many years; mostly plays. I am fascinated by the words people use and how their interaction with others reveals who they are. Words are my thing. I love movies and tv that are rich in clever dialogue.

I am a self-confessed Anglophile. Everything sounds better with a British accent. And while the mystique of early 19th century England fascinates me, I doubt very much that I could survive there. I am much to outspoken and independent.

I am grateful that I can say that I have been happily married for almost 32 years (we’ve been married for 40…just kidding). My husband John is my biggest cheerleader. Together we have two beautiful daughters, if I do say so myself. Courtney is nurse and she and her husband Greg have two boys, Carter (3) and Evan (5 mos). They are truly my delight. Megan, our youngest, is at present a stay at home mom. She and her husband Daniel have one boy, Elijah (18 mos) who is my other delight. Unfortunately, they all live far from me, but I make an effort to see them as much as possible. We also have a Shih Tzu named Camden, who is very spoiled, but also very sweet. My faith, family and love of spinning stories are the heart of who I am. HER GRACE IN DISGRACE is my first novel and the first book in a planned series: The Widows of Woburn Place.

Reginald Aiken, Duke of Warwick is dead and his young widow is not grieving…until the will is read.

Isobel Kennilworth Aiken, Duchess of Warwick spent 6 years of her young life in a loveless marriage. Now, at the age of 24, Isobel is a widow. As Isobel awaits the reading of her late husband’s last will and testament, she feels no grief, but in fact is quite hopeful. She is eager to start her life anew. But, as the droning of the solicitor’s voice washes over her detailing the bequests to various servants and family members, a shock awaits her. The "other woman" was not his mistress, but his lawfully wedded wife and together they had a son. Six year old Reggie is now the Duke of Warwick, displacing Reginald’s brother Charles. 

There is a collective gasp as the revelation is made that instantly cuts off Isobel and Charles and dashes their hopes for the future. Isobel must indeed start again, not as a titled, influential and wealthy widow, but as plain Miss Kennilworth, tainted by scandal, something to be avoided at all costs in Regency England. Can she get past the disgrace and humiliation she has endured and fight her way back into society? Will she find love again with her childhood sweetheart, Andrew Stafford, former vicar, now Lord Saybrooke? Or perhaps she will rekindle the romance with Jeremy Ingles, Lord Westcott, who had caught her fancy at her come out six years earlier, but had not been ready to be leg shackled. 
But before Isobel can find true love, she must come to grips with her past mistakes and the people she has hurt along the way. She must discover who she is without the title of duchess to her name.

Chapter 1 

Isobel Kennilworth Aiken, duchess of Warwick, sat expectantly in her chair, the mid-morning sun streaming through the large window of the stately library at Wren House. The sunshine, so rare in London in April, cast a glow over the crowd that was gathered in the room. No one spoke. Dozens of eyes watched Isobel’s black clad figure for signs of distress, none came. She was the picture of elegance and serenity, her lovely face and large gray eyes revealing nothing. Inwardly, however, she was rejoicing. It would soon be over. They had buried Reginald in the family crypt near Warwick Park in Warwickshire and now they were back in Hanover Square at Wren House awaiting the reading of the will. Isobel smiled to herself and sighed. Seated to her left, her Aunt Maude, Lady Whitcomb patted her hand, mistaking the sigh of relief that escaped Isobel as one of sadness.

Reginald is really dead, thought Isobel once more, and soon she could have a new beginning. True, she had not been able to produce an heir. Therefore, Isobel knew that she would be relegated to the dower house in Warwickshire, but she was sure she would be welcome here at Wren House in London. Her husband’s brother and heir, Lord Charles had said as much. He sat beside her, fairly bristling with excitement. He is rejoicing almost as much as I am, thought Isobel. If Reginald had hung on another few months from the wasting disease he battled for nearly two years, Charles would have had to escape the wrath of the moneylenders by fleeing the continent. Lord Charles, second son of the sixth Duke of Warwick, was as rackety as they came, but there was no real harm in him. Of course he drank and gambled too much, as did all his peers, but Isobel knew that deep down, Charles was a good man. At least he wasn’t heartless and cold like his brother. But enough about Reginald. He was dead. She may only be the Dowager Duchess of Warwick, but she was free. Free to  begin a new life. She had done her duty and now she was about to receive her reward.

The solicitor, Mr. Pickens cleared his throat, signaling that the reading of the will would commence. The family hadn’t understood the delay and Mr. Pickens, ever the stickler for propriety had refused to say. No one but he and a handful of servants had seen the black-veiled woman slip silently into the room with a young boy in tow. They stood in the back, the woman clinging to her son’s hand. That was Pickens’ cue. He began to read.
“The ninth of April in the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and seventeen. I, Reginald Wilbur Percival Aiken, 7th Duke of Warwick, Marquess of Crewes, and Viscount of Fenwick, being of sound mind hereby bequeath…”

Pickens’s voice flowed over Isobel like a dream. He named servants and sums that were less than Isobel’s pin money, but to each servant the sum was a boon. The list of servants seemed to go on forever with names she did not recognize. It did not concern her. Pickens droned on past second cousins and cousins. There were no surprises. Those Reginald had approved of were rewarded handsomely. Those of whom he had disapproved were made to feel his displeasure from beyond the grave, including his sister, Letitia, who had wed a loose screw and was living to regret it. Letitia had not bothered to attend the reading.

“And to my wife…” Here Pickens paused and Isobel sat up a little straighter.

“…to my wife,” repeated Pickens seeming loathe to continue, “Adriana…”

There was a universal gasp. Isobel looked hard at Mr. Pickens.

“Surely, Mr. Pickens, one of your clerks has erred. My name is not Adriana.” Isobel’s voice was tinged with ice, something she had perfected in her four years as marchioness and two years as duchess.



Monday, August 19, 2013

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Author Christian Baker

Christian Baker, Author

Christian Baker combines the genres of thriller and science fiction to bring us THE BLEAK DOOR—“a scifi thriller with elements of horror, love, and fundamental humanity,” according to a reviewer. Written to both deliver a deep message and to entertain, the author says “science fiction is just an excuse to deal with a very tangible and real subject in a different way.”

When he’s not writing, Baker enjoys exploring new subjects—particularly those dealing with human nature. And he values his loved ones most of all.

Don't miss the excerpt following the interview.

Q: One of your reviewers claimed, “The fusion of real and surreal kept me glued to the page.” When writing THE BLEAK DOOR—or any science fiction—how important is “reality” or “credibility” to telling the story? How do you create that sense of reality?

Christian Baker: From my point of view, credibility in what is written makes the difference between the reader just reading a story and really experiencing it. This is key. I like my readers being immersed in and gripped by it, being oblivious of the hours going by, of the world surrounding them.  In my view, this is only achieved when the situations and the characters are natural, like ourselves, like our life. Thus, author and readers are bonded by the mind and emotions. It is a very special experience.

Q: Why did you choose science fiction as your genre? What first attracted you to it?

Christian Baker: I am very fond of literature as a whole. Perhaps science fiction awakens that fascination and the search for the new, the mysterious, the unknown, which all of us have deep down. In THE BLEAK DOOR in particular, the science fiction approach allows touching on very strong issues in us and our society far more subtly than a conventional story might have posed. But, ultimately, and upon finishing reading the book, the sense of reality it puts across is so clear and tangible that it transcends the genre.

Q: You describe THE BLEAK DOOR as a “science fiction thriller?” How did you make it a “thriller”?

Christian Baker: Since my early youth, I saw myself by and large as a reader being forced to make a decision between two types of books. Those with excellent content aimed at the intellectual readership and those that are fast-paced and emotion-charged, but leaving a void in readers when finishing them. When I undertook this fascination endeavor I strongly set my mind on putting together the purest essence of both universes so that the reader could be engrossed in the franticness of a thrilling story and, at the same time, feel his/her intellectual side is intact. The fusion of the science fiction and the thriller genres set the proper framework to envelope the hidden intrinsic message with the background of a fast and dramatic story.

Q:  Would you say that THE BLEAK DOOR is more “thriller” or “SciFi?” Would readers who enjoy thrillers like it even if they’re not SciFi fans?

Christian Baker: I think it strikes a balance. In the case of THE BLEAK DOOR, science fiction is just an excuse to deal with a very tangible and real subject in a different way. If the typical thrillers' reader allows science fiction as the author's license so that he can approach tangible and real issues, not linked to fantasy at all,  he might be pleasantly surprised.

Q: Did you write THE BLEAK DOOR to deliver a message and/or for the readers’ entertainment? Reviewers, for example, said “Behind the apparent fiction the story presents very basic questions of our existence and humanity” and “thought-provoking.”

Christian Baker: I wrote the story seeking both things equally intensively. I wanted the reader to be shaken by a deep message and, in turn, even when exhaustion led him to drowsily close his eyes, he would be unable to put down the book.  The experience had to be intense in both senses.

Q: How did you come up with the title THE BLEAK DOOR? Why is it significant?

Christian Baker: I wanted a title that wasn’t evident just as I wanted the reader to immerse himself in the story without realizing what was coming. THE BLEAK DOOR shows us a threshold hidden by a door. It doesn't allow us to fully grasp whether it is convenient for us to go through it or not. It is part of the discovery we will have to live through as we begin to understand and experience things along the story.

Q: How do you create characters that are “well drawn and create a real emotional connection with the reader”?

Christian Baker: The story has several characters, which at some point get linked to us from different aspects of our inner selves. They are somehow a mirror of us. And, as we progress in the story and become part of what they happen to face, we gradually rediscover ourselves. The real and emotional connection is just a natural consequence of feeling protagonists, not just readers.

Q: How important is the concept of “villain” to THE BLEAK DOOR? What makes a memorable villain? Do you need a villain to have a hero?

Christian Baker: I think that the villain in a way embodies the challenge we have to face. We might state that when the villain is simple and predictable, our challenge is minor. In THE BLEAK DOOR the challenge we have to face will be immense. The process we are involved in is more significant than the outcome itself.

Q: What’s next?

Christian Baker: First and foremost to enjoy the present, and how positively and beautifully readers are welcoming the book. I believe books have a life of their own. They are like our children, given birth by their parents and then they spread their own wings. I feel that THE BLEAK DOOR is in that trajectory and my wish is that it reaches many, many people with its message. Then, the readers will wink an eye at me, another message will be given birth to and we, once again, will renew that mutual understanding that will bring us together in another story, other emotions, a new learning process.

Q: Tell us about Christian Baker. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I am knowledge-hungry, eager to dive headfirst into new subjects and go all out for new experiences. Human nature fascinates me, and so do its challenges - those that aim at a more fair world with happier, inwardly fulfilled people.

And, above all, enjoy my loved ones, and appreciate what having them next to me each day means.

About Christian Baker

I came into the world one year before a man would walk on the moon, at the end of a decade that held the dawn of change in its guts. I was raised during a special and complex time but I retain memories of profound sensitivity and a love of knowledge that impregnated the experiences of my childhood. I look back fondly on my afternoons in the neighborhood.  I can still see old the cinema where sensations, words and images appeared as if by magic before my wide eyes.
Time advanced with its sure steps and my love for the seventh art spread to a passion for literature. In the pages of books I discovered that prodigious spark which unites the author's tale to the depths of our imaginations. Through reading, writing and the tests life uses to shape us, I learned and grew. Creation and vision nested deep within me.

One day, four years ago, the stream of words and images that I had intoxicated myself with for so many years as reader and spectator, along with the clarity conferred by life's challenges, gave way to the writer that had been lurking within me, waiting for the chance to break free.
That is how THE BLEAK DOOR was concocted, an intense and powerful tale, one that sticks to your skin as soon as you take it in your hands. We will travel its pages together, setting off as spectators. We will move quickly into a world of unique sensations, down a winding path paved with fear, drama, doubt and reflection. It will force us to look within ourselves, to flee, to rediscover who we are.

It is my hope, dear reader, that we remain forever united by this experience and that we may journey together always.

About THE BLEAK DOOR – A science fiction thriller novel

The President of the United States is abruptly hit by a serious and unknown disease. Suddenly, and while his successor was being discussed, he miraculously recovers. Relief rapidly spreads among his assistants and public opinion. The most powerful man on the planet has come back. Or, at least, that is what everyone thought. 

A different enemy, beyond our understanding, expands his webs. Soon changes in laws, persecutions, and weird and flabbergasting experiments start to take place. A top-notch interdisciplinary team is clandestinely put together in order to grasp the inexplicable and thus put up some sort of resistance. They were not aware that the knowledge of that truth might only be the beginning of the nightmare. 

THE BLEAK DOOR tells us about a world becoming oppressive, violent, without any clear apparent reasons. It faces us with complex questions of our inner self and our response towards  manipulation both from an individual and a social level. It positions us before our selfishness, our decisions. And, above all, their consequences. 

An electrifying, obscure, fast-paced story from its very first page. 

The Beginning

Few minutes remain before I see his eyes again. My pulse races as the desire for his voice, his skin, his breath, devours me from within and pulls me uncontrollably towards the abyss. We know what they do to those like us who dare to defy the ban on contact between our castes. And I feel a profound terror each time I think of this.
The rocky mountainside offers our protection, the place where our bodies and emotions intertwine and we dedicate ourselves to one another. Like those old poems I read in the pages of that black covered book that accompanied my first juvenile sensations.
Kaled appears silently, like always. I pretend that I don’t see him coming, although I would sense him from a thousand miles away. He hugs me from behind, pressing his body against mine as his lips caress my neck and I shiver within. I turn around and kiss him passionately, as my breathing and my feelings tremble beyond my control in an attempt to express what words cannot transmit.
Our clothes disappear, leaving our bodies to meld with the rock and warm air. There is no other place in the world. The rules of others do not apply to us. We belong only here, always and forever.
We fall asleep, my ear against his chest, tasting his heartbeats and the humidity that pounds against our bodies. I delight in the moment, trying to make the most of each second, before we must furtively lose ourselves in the shadows and return to our respective places, pretending not to miss the other, lost among so many strange faces.
 A sound. I open my eyes quickly. He remains asleep and all is silent around me. I shut my eyes again and I let myself be enveloped once more in the warmth of his skin and my emotions.
When I feel the cold metal against my skin, terror overcomes me and a scream escapes my throat, mingling with the cries of my beloved. Several armed men surround us. I try to grab my clothes, almost as a reflex, but one of the men steps on them, forbidding me to cover my nudity.
They put us against a rock wall, separate us, and look us over. They can taste their miserable victory, knowing that in those moments they are our God, as our fate lies in their hands.
 One of them smiles, and approaches Kaled. He places a knife  a few inches from Kaled’s abdomen as he passes it from one hand to the other, prolonging the horror of the moment as long as possible. Kaled tells me to close my eyes, not to look, but I want to see the spark in his eyes up to the last second.
And as the tears spring forth uncontrollably, I feel the earth shake under our feet. Maybe it is my denial, my way of escaping the inevitable. But then I see Kaled’s face and the faces of our attackers, and they all show a mixture of confusion and disbelief. A feeling of emptiness takes hold of my stomach, and my legs no longer hold me up, as I surrender to the fog of confusion.
When I reopen my eyes, the mountains have disappeared, and pearly white walls reframe my outside world. I find it difficult to focus my eyes as my heart pounds with unbridled force. I take a few seconds to realize that I am hanging upside down and unable to move, next to the bodies of the men that were our captors only a short while before. They are naked now as well and their expressions show terror. I cannot see Kaled. Dear God! Where am I?
A man dressed in a strange suit enters the room. He carries an unrecognizable instrument in his hand. He approaches the first of the group and rests the instrument on the skin of the man who had made a game of threatening Kaled. A suffocated howl of pain escapes his throat, as his body convulses. Other figures covered in those strange suits enter the space and now our screams and horror combine into one cry as we realize we will be next.
Someone approaches, extending that strange instrument towards my body. I close my eyes as tight as I can. My heartbeat is as strong as the fear that now invades my entire being. I think of Kaled, in his sweetness, in his skin, in his warmth.
Then only my old poems and the shattering of a thousand glasses within me.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: British Author, Nicola J. McDonagh

Nicola J. McDonagh, Author
Book 1 in Series: The Song of Forgetfulness

British author Nicola J. McDonagh brings us ECHOES FROM THE LOST ONES, the first book in a new series, “The Song of Forgetfulness.” A reviewer recommends it “to anyone who enjoys Sci-Fi, dystopian, action, and adventure stories.” McDonagh herself says there is “lots of action and adventure and strange goings on.”

When she is not writing, McDonagh excels at taking photographs. She is a trained actor and used to have her own touring company. Currently the award-winning author teaches creative writing at the local high school. She is also writing the third book in the series, while she finishes editing the second.

Q: Tell us about ECHOES FROM THE LOST ONES, the first book in the series “The Song of Forgetfulness.” Do you consider your genre “Fantasy”?

Nicola J. McDonagh: I wouldn’t say that the series is strictly Fantasy. It leans more towards dystopian Sci-fi. Although there are elements of the supernatural in Adara’s special power, there are no dragons or wizards or goblins and the like, that you usually find in Fantasy novels. There is however, lots of action and adventure and strange goings on.

ECHOES FROM THE LOST ONES is a tale about Adara, a seventeen-year-old Citydweller who has a special gift that she must keep a secret. She has the power to sing to the birds and make them land. In a future where most edible animals have become extinct, her power is highly sought after.

The story takes place in Scotland, in a time when plague and global warming have depleted mankind’s numbers and killed off all animals, except for birds that never land for fear of being eaten. In NotsoGreatBritAlbion there is hunger. The all-controlling Agros have cut supplies to the inhabitants of Cityplace and the Woodsfolk community, and have begun to raid settlements to find Meeks-gifted young ‘uns.

When Adara’s brother Deogol disappears, she must leave the confines of her Hygiene home and go in search of her missing bro-bro. Adara’s journey takes her through the ravaged terrain of NotsoGreatBritAlbion, where she must defend herself against hormone fuelled Nearlymen, ravenous wolfies, and murderous Agros.

Adara encounters many unusual people on her journey; from the serene and gentle, Ladies, to the dreaded, mask wearing, wolfie-taming Clonies. Yet amongst these misfits and outcasts, Adara finds friends and allies who help her to realise her true potential when she is put to the test during her stay at the Monastery in the Clouds; where she must use all her skill and power to save herself and those she loves from being slaughtered by Agro spies.

Q:  Your reviewers praise your “idiosyncratic use of language.” How do you use this language to create engaging characters that readers will care about? How do you use it to develop a unique setting?

Nicola J. McDonagh: I use the language as a way of getting instantly into the character’s personality and unfamiliar world.  As the narrative is from Adara’s point of view, it made sense to have her talk to the reader in her ‘own’ voice. The characters and futuristic setting become more credible and believable, when the vocabulary reflects this by being different to today’s spoken or written word.

I wanted the reader to experience what Adara sees and feels through her eyes, and a good way to do that, was to create a slang-based language that instantly says, ‘this is another time and place’ because we don’t speak like that now. We get to know what Adara is like and how she reacts to the action around her by the way she uses words to describe her journey, and the people she encounters. In a sense, we become her friend, and as a result, empathize more readily with her.

Q:  One of your reviewers says, “A story of trust and faith, ECHOES FROM THE LOST ONES is an adventure that takes you to a time and place like no other.” How do you make your unique time and place believable? Is believability important?

Nicola J. McDonagh: I think it is extremely important to make time and place believable, otherwise the reader cannot be drawn into the action, or care about the characters.

In ECHOES FROM THE LOST ONES, I use the quirky language and vivid descriptions to create a sensual and plausible environment. Employing appropriate similes to enrich the narrative helps create an authentic setting. We first encounter Adara as she is scrambling through insect filled herbage, into a densely packed wood. We have all seen insects and grass and trees. So the reader can identify with the environment presented. I then bring it into the future by adding unfamiliar accessories and words that hint at another time and place. Such as Synthbag, Sterichoc and killpainpill.

Q: What led you to write ECHOES FROM THE LOST ONES? Who/what influenced you?

Nicola J. McDonagh: ECHOES FROM THE LOST ONES began as a challenge from students that attend a creative writing class I teach at my local High School. They kept giving me books to read, such as ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘Divergent.’ I’d read them and we’d discuss their merits and failings. The biggest gripe by far was that the female characters never went to the toilet. I asked them if they wanted to see this in the books they read and they said, “Yes.” Then they said, “Why don’t you write one?" So I did.

I think when I was writing it the biggest influence was from ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ by Ursula K Le Guin’. The way in which she describes settings is very visual and I knew I wanted to make my narrative as descriptive as possible to draw the reader in. Her use of language is also quite lyrical and often poetic which gives her narrative a distinct voice, again something I aimed to do. Then there is A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess. His use of language and the ‘nadsat’ that Alex and his friends speak, has an immediacy that I wanted for my narrative.

Q: Why are you writing a series “The Song of Forgetfulness?” (rather than just a standalone ECHOES FROM THE LOST ONES)?

Nicola J. McDonagh: I decided on making The Song of Forgetfulness into a series because when I was writing it, I couldn’t stop. I have written so much about Adara and her world (even a prequel-but don’t tell anyone) that if it were not split into different books, then it would be far too long. Also, the story changes, as do some of the central characters, and it made sense for that change to occur in different books. ECHOES FROM THE LOSTONES tone is quite different from the second and third book, as the action and plotline evolves from the original story.

Q: How relevant is the concept of a “good villain” to your story? What are the characteristics of a good villain?

Nicola J. McDonagh: In my story a lot of the characters are initially presented as ‘evil’ but as Adara, and the reader gets to know them, they become less so because of their circumstances and the way in which they interact with the central character. I did this intentionally to draw attention to the way in which people often make snap judgments about others based on looks, ethnicity, and religious beliefs.

I think having a character that appears to be evil then turns out not to be, is a way to incorporate human frailty that we all identify with. It adds a complexity to the text and can give weight or credibility to the plot/subplot. A ‘good villain’ should be a bit more knowledgeable about things the other characters needs to know, or have a redeeming quality so that the reader warms to them. They should show a vulnerability that in some way justifies their actions. Perhaps they were ill-treated and their ‘evilness’ is a result.  As a reader we want to have a loveable baddy that turns out to be good after all. It leaves us with a sense of satisfaction.

Q:  Do you use humor to tell your stories? Do you consider humor important?

Nicola J. McDonagh I try to include humor in a story as much as possible. I believe it helps to bring the narrative alive and make the situations and characters more engaging and believable. If we can laugh along with the characters then we identify more with their story. I also use humor as a relief from the more serious subject matters that I address in the book.

Q:  Do you write to deliver a message or to entertain?

Nicola J. McDonagh: A bit of both I suppose. Primarily I want to entertain, but what’s a story without some sort of message? A bit two-dimensional. In the book I deal with issues that are of concern to us today. Such as overpopulation, rapid advances in technology and global warming. The book is set in Scotland because oceans have risen and that is all the land that is left in Great Britain. There are no animals because of viral infection, except for the elusive birdybirds and they never land. In ‘Echoes,’ I am trying to suggest that if mankind continues to abuse this beautiful planet, then a world like the one I have created might happen. But I am also trying to say that we are all connected somehow, and that we all have something special inside us, even if we aren’t sure what it is. That we are all capable of doing something amazing if put to the test.

Q:  What’s next?

Nicola J. McDonagh: I am currently writing the third installment to The Song of Forgetfulness, as yet without a title, and am working on a series of short stories for audio release as well as paperback and digital-titled ‘Glimmer’. And I am thinking of returning to an unfinished children’s book, called ‘Marauders of the Missing Mummies.’

Q:  Oh, I like that title ‘Marauders of the Missing Mummies!’ Good one. Tell us about Nicola J. McDonagh. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

A: I am a trained actor and photographer and used to have my own touring theatre company. I have a Hons degree in Drama and English Literature and a Diploma in creative writing. I won The Suffolk Book league’s Short Story Competition in 2011 and work mainly in schools as a creative arts practitioner providing arts based workshops for young people. I also teach creative writing for both adults and young people.

When I’m not writing, I’m taking photographs, or making sun photos. I love to experiment with photographic techniques and can often be seen gyrating around a darkened room with a camera and a torch making my ‘painting with light’ images. I also love to cook and grow some of my own vegetables. I enjoy sitting in the summerhouse and watching nature run amok in my back garden. Sometimes with my husband, I go for bicycle rides around the country lanes. I feed and pamper a number of rescue cats and relax by watching a good movie or HBO series with my husband. At the moment I am learning to play the flute and the piano accordion.

More About Nicola J McDonagh

I am a creative writing tutor, photographer and published author. I trained as a photojournalist many years ago and have an Honors Degree in Drama and English Literature. I live in a 17thCentury timber-framed cottage in Suffolk UK with my husband and many feral/rescued cats.

I used to be an actor/director and scriptwriter, but gave it all up when I moved to Suffolk and fell in love with the scenery. I had to capture the wildlife and flora in my big garden and surrounding area, and thought I would go back to photography full time, but stories kept popping into my head influenced by the landscape around me. I had to write them down. But I’d not written prose for over twenty years. I struggled for a while and decided it would be best to go back to college.

After gaining a Creative Writing Diploma, I entered and won the Suffolk Book League’s Short Story Competition 2011. The next year I was short-listed for the Escalator Genre Fiction Competition. This gave me the confidence to complete my manuscript, which came into being during a writing class, I teach at the local High School. Two of the girls that attend challenged me to write a dystopian young adult novel and ‘The Song of Forgetfulness’ series was born.

I try to write something every day, even if it’s only a few hundred words. Most of the time I do a lot more and often complete a chapter or two. At the moment I am editing the second book in the series and dipping in and out of the third one.

First in the Series: The Song of Forgetfulness

I’m not like the other girlygigs in Cityplace; I’m a bringer. I can sing to the only animals left in NotsoGreatBritAlbion and make them land. Adara, catcher of birds -that’s what they call me and that’s what I can do.

Now that the Agros have cut supplies and folk are near starved, I’d best keep shutums about my name though, or everyone will want a piece of me.

I’d best creep and peep all stealthy-like to track down my bro-bro. Snatched by Agro scum for who knows what.

Good job I’m trained in  S.A.N.T. ways too, for I’ll need all my roughhouse skills to keep the Agro spies, Nearly’s and wolfies at bay until I find and bring home my bro and all the other missing Meeks.

I just wish I knew who or what is following my every move.


Something tiptoed down my back. I clenched my teeth so as not to yell “Yak” and continued to crawl. My hands touched squish and prickle and bugs swarmed around my fingers and neck. I was being chomped by all things natural and I wasn’t even a gnat’s breath away from the perimeter fence. I knew nowt about the Wilderness, except it was full to brimming with beasties that craved my flesh.
When far enough away so as to be no more than a speck in the distance, I stood and shoulder wriggled until whatever trickled through my flesh hairs fell off. I looked to the sky and with the sun on my right, headed north into the thick herbage; legs heavy from the vegetation that clung to my shins and ankles.
The shrubbery gave way to towering trees crammed so tight that after a few steps I was surrounded by dark. Slim streaks of light slashed through the branches and I was able to see enough so as not to trip over the massive gnarled roots that spread across the ground like giant oldie fingers. I took in a breath of leaf rot and made my way all hush-hush through the forest, ears wide open for sounds of danger.
A snap to my left caused me to stop ‘bruptly. I turned my head in the direction of said noise. All quiet. I was skittish to be sure not knowing if wolfie or Agro were on my trail. Another crick-crack, but from the right. I waited for a sec, and then darted into the most densely packed part of the wood. The sound did not follow.
My lower bits began to pulse. Santy Breanna told me once that pain was merely a mind jest and if I forced my will to block it out, then it would cease. So I focused on my purpose; to find my bro-bro, and hoped that she was right.
She was not.
My thoughts turned to the soothers in my backpack and I peered into the gloom in search of somewhere to rest. An unruly hairshambles of a plant high enough for me to squat behind became my hideout whilst I rummaged through my Synthbag and took out a bar of Sterichoc and a killpainpill. Crouched and aching in the prickly vegetation, I swallowed down the tab, scoffed the confec and waited for the goodliness to take effect. I shuffled position and wedged myself deeper into the fronds. It was a robust shrub and I quite believed that I was safe, until the ground began to tremble. I looked through the leaves and saw a whole flock of legs of the male kind coming my way.


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Twitter: @McDonaghNikki