“She slammed the phone down again. It felt like her life was spiraling out of control. Why had she bothered to call? Was she still atoning for her adolescent crime?”
This tale is another in the author’s series about the small town of Driftwood, Oregon. The story, however, begins a continent away at an art auction in New York. There, readers are introduced to a young woman named Michelle, who will journey from one side of the country to another in an attempt to restart her life, currently plagued by an unseen blackmailer. As Michelle’s story unfolds, so too does the interplay between Volkov, a Russian gangster in Portland, and Whitehorse, a Native American police detective in nearby Driftwood. Previously adversaries, they currently share an odd sort of truce until money laundering, counterfeiting, political influencing, and murder begin to create a toxic mix that simply can’t be ignored.
Author Cook effectively weaves his two narratives together. Eventually, Michelle and Whitehorse are engaged in efforts to not only keep themselves safe from Volkov’s assassins but, in the detective’s case, his wife as well. Continuing characters from previous books in the series are on hand to give a feeling of family to this novel. One of the more appealing players is Chiara, the Driftwood Police dispatcher who is bright, perceptive, and perhaps well on her way to one day becoming a detective herself. On the villain’s team, Kseniya is a stone-cold killer who is as lethal as she is beautiful. Her ability to dispatch individuals with extreme prejudice is matched only by her inability to exhibit any form of emotional involvement with them—until she encounters Michelle.
Author Cook does a first-rate job of mining interpersonal relationships as he’s peeling back the layers of his plot. His depictions of interactions between husbands, wives, and lovers feel honest and real. The people who populate Driftwood are folks readers can enjoy spending time with, particularly as they keep the bad guys at bay.
The Kindle edition of Gallery of Gangsters: A Driftwood Mystery will be published on August 24. You can pre-order it by clicking on the image above.
If you click on the image below, you can read the first chapter. It introduces the new character, Michelle Garrison, and begins to weave the tangled web that will engulf all of Driftwood. Be prepared for the final confrontation between Detective Charley Whitehorse and the sinister Vasily Volkov!
From his Amazon Author Page, we learn that Adam was born and raised in Silverton, Oregon, and that he studied abroad for a year in France. Ever since that time, he has been passionate about international travel. He is an avid outdoorsman, enjoying hiking, backpacking, camping, mountain biking, and scuba diving. He is the co-founder of the Northwest Independent Writers Association. Currently, he resides in Vancouver, Washington, where he is an active member of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.
Will: Adam, how did you come to realize that you’re a writer?
Adam: Even as a child I was told that I was a story teller. I’d come up with the most imaginative stories. As an adolescent, I wanted to see my stories go “big time” as a book or movie, but of course I felt I didn’t have what it took to make that happen. It wasn’t until after college that I seriously gave it a go and wrote the first chapter to my first book. Then the next, then the next. After the book was finished, I felt “accomplished,” but not quite like a writer yet. I knew that no one was ever going to give me permission to be a “writer,” so I just went and made it happen through self-publishing. When I held that first proof in my hand when it arrived in the mail, that is when I realized I had accomplished being not just a writer, but an author.
Will: Can you give us a glimpse of your process? How do you get your ideas? Do you develop an outline first or are you what they sometimes call a “pantser?” How structured are you about your writing—do you have a dedicated space for writing, a dedicated time?
Adam: I’m most definitely a “panster.” My ideas mostly come from the ether. From the muse. Nudged into existence by the inspiration of music, other books, and movies. My last book touches on that where the narrator, a writer, literally sits at a table with his muses and discusses the story being told—and how they quite often push back or admonish him. I have a general idea where the story is going, then it just happens to come together as if it were meant to be. I do, however, really need to reign that in and learn more the art of story and outlining. I’m a binge writer. Usually in 4-hour blocks on a weekend. Usually at a favorite café with comfy couches where the ambient sounds of the café act as white noise.
Will: You have two books in your Tales of Avalon series: Echoes of Avalon and Ripples in the Chalice. Can you tell us about them?
Adam:Echoes of Avalon is my first book and serves as a repository for all the knowledge I accumulated through my life regarding my love for fantasy, mythology, legend, and history. Before school would start, I’d hang out in the library in the mornings just reading encyclopedia articles about anything that had to do with swords, knights, castles, and ancient battles. My father had a similar passion, so our house was full of books, too. The Hobbit was my first adult book that I read. Echoes of Avalon is a love letter to my love of all that. Ripples in the Chalice is its sequel. I often pitched Echoes as “If you could go back in time to witness the actual event that inspired a fairy tale, it would look like this.” Such is the story of a knight in shining armor, charging up a mountain of glass, to rescue a princess in an ivory tower. But since we’re talking about real life here, does the princess want to be rescued? And by him? Ripples in the Chalice isthe follow-up revolving around the consequences of one’s choices, made all the more profound by the involvement of the Holy Grail.
Will: What about your book The Tower?
Adam: When writing Echoes of Avalon, my editor told me my antagonist needed to be more fleshed out; a real person with real motives. So I wrote this novella as a back story to my villain to explain why he is the way he is. The story goes waaaay back to when the progeny of exiled angels passed themselves off as gods with a little “g,” incurring the wrath of God with a big “G” and getting a front row seat to the Great Flood for their troubles.
Will: I confess that I was blown away by your novel Midnight in Silverton: American Gothic. What a strange and wonderful book! And the new audiobook version is extraordinary! What can you tell us about it?
Adam: If Echoes of Avalon and Ripples in the Chalice were love letters to my fascination with fantasy, then Midnight in Silverton was a love letter to my home town and the people there. Echoes is a repository for my life knowledge, Midnight is a repository for my life experience. It was a lifetime in the making, born of a thousand inspirations. From Bradbury, to King, to Hemingway, to…well, just about everyone whose words touched me. It’s very meta, where the reader is along for the ride with a wink. I’d call it a “faux-ography” that draws from my personal life to provide a stage for a murder mystery with supernatural elements. As I mentioned above, the Narrator’s muses guide him while he tries to solve the murder, even though he *might* not want to find out who it is. Though it has elements of Fight Club, Dandelion Wine, Arrival and other great stories, this one’s uniquely all mine.
Will: You are a co-founder of NIWA—the Northwest Independent Writers Association. How did that come about? What should our readers know about NIWA?
Adam: While promoting my first book, I nabbed one of the last spots in the vendor room for Orycon, a sci-fi and fantasy convention in Portland, Oregon. The event organizers asked if I’d mind sharing my spot with another author who had signed up late. I was totally fine with that and that’s how I met Mike Chinakos, author of the wonderfully fun Hollywood Cowboy series (An 80’s metal band that also moonlights as vampire hunters). He noticed that we weren’t the only ones selling self-published books that day and suggested we should all band together and pool our resources. I said, “Ah, heck no, that sounds like a lot of work!” Sigh. It was. But I wouldn’t change it for anything. The friendships and connections I’ve made have been priceless. If I wantreaders to know one thing about NIWA it’s that there are so many great authors right here in your own backyard who deserve a look (C’mon! A hair band that fights vampires! How can you not want to read that?).
Will: Are you working on a new project? Can you give us a peek at it?
Adam: I have an un-published manuscript that has come very close on a couple of occasions to being published with traditional publishers. It’s a WWI vampire/zombie action adventure. I’d like to take a stab at making it into a graphic novel. All my writing is very visual. I basically have a movie projector in my head, and this story isn’t any different and so would lend itself very well to the graphic arts media. In a nutshell: What if, at the height of trench warfare in the First World War, the Germans got so desperate to break the stalemate that they tried lobbing a vampire at the Allies? With a tagline like “A weapon of mass destruction is only as good as your ability to control it” goes a long way to telling you how that plan goes.
Will: Do you have any advice for aspiring independent authors?
Adam: Keep at it. Don’t quit. Write something. Then read something. Then write something else. Repeat. Mostly, just keep at it. I subscribe to Duotrope, which is a website and information-center for places to submit writing to. It keeps track of your submissions. It tells me I submitted a variety of stories over 200 times over several years before I finally got my first “real” acceptance. It didn’t pay much, but the fact the publisher turned my Film Noir Bigfoot creature feature (Incident at Ape Canyon) into a multi-voice cast audio story was well worth it.
Will: Adam, thank you so much for sharing some of your writer’s journey with us. I wish you wonderful success with all your projects.
I live with an artist wife, and Sharon never ceases to amaze me. She enters her studio (formerly, our dining room!) in “paint clothes” (of course, she’d be beautiful even dressed in rags!), starts blending different colors, and confidently approaches her easel armed only with a palette knife. Hours later, she emerges, the cutest smudges of paint on her nose and cheeks, and asks me to take a look at the initial phases of the piece she is birthing. (It seems appropriate that what she is painting on is called a “cradled birch panel.”) Her work staggers me. Here’s her website.
The Oxford Dictionary defines abstract expressionism as a development of abstract art that originated in New York in the 1940s and 1950s and aimed at subjective emotional expression with particular emphasis on the creative spontaneous act. Wikipedia says it put New York City on the map, eclipsing Paris as the new hub of art in the West. I don’t know about all that, I only know my wife’s work knocks my socks off. Here she is:
So why have I’ve called my blog “Art and Crime?” I don’t mean to imply that Sharon is in any way a criminal—far from it! But I write murder mysteries. As I’ve accompanied her to showings at the galleries that feature her work, I’ve learned that art galleries are far and away one of the best places to launder money! Oh, I thought, I can use that! And indeed I have.
Gallery of Gangsters is the final book in the Driftwood series (and one of Sharon’s paintings is on the cover!) If you click on the image below, you can read the first chapter. Let me know what you think.
The book will be released on August 24. Pre-order it now for only $0.99—a $5.00 savings. Here’s the link.
Ron Miner graduated from the University of Rhode Island over 45 years ago with a BA in English. He spent thirty-five of those years as a landscape designer and contractor in Oregon. Continuing to write behind the scenes, he began to assemble a collection of short stories and family history pieces.
In 2011, his father passed away, and the family made some unusual discoveries. A magical trove of artwork, writing, photos, and memorabilia of all shapes and sizes lay dormant among his father’s belongings, giving him a rare insight into what the Second World War in the Pacific theater was really like.
Will: Ron, did you always know you were a writer, or is that something that happened later in your life? What prompted your becoming an author?
Ron: Thanks, Will, for inviting me in for a chat.
In a way, it’s a funny question. I wouldn’t say I excelled at anything in the high school classroom, but science held my interest, and I was told I was pretty good at math. When the dreaded SATs were unleashed my junior year, I scored well in math and miserably in English, enough so, that I was persuaded to take the test a second time as a senior and improved slightly.
In college, I bombed out as a physics major, overwhelmed by organic science, labs, and that abominable calculus with its weird mathematical vocabulary. I dropped most of it before midterm and survived on the remaining three courses that were going much better, one of which was English Literature. So much for SATs.
But an actual writer? No, that wasn’t on my radar then. Yet, using words as I used to use numbers was a pleasant option for meaningful expression, and I kind of took to it. I also found I far preferred writing creatively to slogging through term papers or assignments.
Eventually, I became a landscape designer by trade (one of the other two college courses), and creative writing got away from me for most of the next forty years, other than website development or business-related correspondence. For a while, I considered fashioning a landscape design and construction book with extensive photography and illustrations. Coffee table landscape books were trendy during the 80s and 90s, and our company put together some pretty artistic projects over the years. I just never seemed to find the time to get beyond collecting ideas and project photos and packing them away into various files. The book idea sat on the back burner and the birthdays flew by.
Then something unexpected happened.
I received word that my father had passed away, and it opened my eyes and heart to writing about a subject I had never considered. I was beginning to scale back my landscape operation anyway and started my first book as we headed into the fall and winter of 2011. It was something I’d never experienced before: a convergence of available time, an engaging subject, and extraordinary motivation.
Will: Can you share your writing process with us—how you get from “idea in your head” to “words on a page?”
Ron: It varies. Sometimes an inspiration simply happens. It could come from a book or a movie, perhaps an encounter of some kind on a train or on a hike. A concept jumps out and the juice starts to flow. We’ve all seen a film and said to ourselves, “I wish I’d thought of that.” There are so many storylines that have gone through countless mutations and are unrecognizable as a new piece of fiction. I mean, how many snobs have inherited an old Tuscan winery and then thought they wanted to sell it? However, I think I get the most satisfaction when an arbitrary thought dances through my head, unanticipated and original, and then it hits me! If I’m lucky, I grab a notepad and hammer out a few sentences describing the “it” before it gets away.
I am not a spontaneous writer, blessed with the ability to sit down and effortlessly rattle off prose by the page. It’s more of an exercise for me. Often, I need to move around as I work on the rough draft to explore where certain aspects might be going. In my novel, for instance, I began with the general idea for the ending first.
Once I can pull together enough coherent pages, it takes multiple rewrites before I’d dare let anyone see it. Edit, edit, and so on. Like I say, slow as molasses. In landscape work, I used to tell my crew to stand back and look at what they were doing from a short distance. It’s easy to get too close to your work. In writing, I find that a chapter or essay works far better if I can set it aside for a week or more. Get some distance from it. The next time I have a look, it’s with new eyes. It also helps to have a terrible memory.
Will: Your first book, Sketches of a Black Cat, is a direct result of your finding “a magical trove of artwork, writing, photos, and memorabilia of all shapes and sizes” left by your father after his passing. That sounds like something from a movie. Can you tell us about the discovery and then how you wove all that material into such a compelling book?
Ron: The Discovery is actually a chapter title because that’s exactly the way it unfolded. My father was typical of many World War II veterans in that he didn’t talk about the war very often with the family. He sometimes shared a funny anecdote or mentioned an old “buddy” who had gotten in touch, but most of the post-war energy for returning servicemen like my father was focused on reentering society, meeting the right girl, raising a family, and starting a career. It was the 50s and the economy was booming due to war-time levels of production. So it was common to put the war stories behind them and move on.
Consequently, I didn’t know much about his World War II experiences. However, I did know my dad was an artistic fellow in a whole host of ways. When I was a young boy, he surprised me one day by showing me the contents of a manilla folder in a file cabinet in our basement. In it were sketches of planes, jungles, and soldiers—wonderful stuff for a kid. He had done them all during the war, much of it in Guadalcanal. I secretly took friends to visit the folder for, I don’t know, a year or so, when I suddenly found the cabinet locked. My dad was on to me. I didn’t see them again as a young man.
When he passed away early in 2011 at 93, we endured several months of confusion and disorder involving his actual status. His second wife was in declining health, difficult to communicate with, and they lived 3000 miles away. It took six months before we could even arrange a service and visit the house.
When we finally made the trip to New England, the house had been empty for years. It would be an understatement to say going through his effects was unpleasant. Rodents of all kinds had been there first. I worried about the condition of his artwork and if it was even there at all. I was thrilled to find it intact, and our search also uncovered another several boxes of notebooks, photos, and keepsakes that I had never seen before. It was a moment filled with electricity, and I suspected his entire wartime story was scattered within these boxes––if I could only piece the puzzle together.
It began with the artwork. I decided on a creative design for the book, using a sketch or painting to begin each chapter. My landscape office became the bunker, with writing, photos, graphics, maps, and research materials stacked about like a 1940s police detective’s room. I read his writing, journals, logbooks, and official Navy War Diary. There was a collection of magazine articles, letters written home, and hundreds of black and white photos, many with descriptions on the back. I decided to use the outstanding graphics throughout the book as part of the narrative.
I connected with a talented artist and book designer, Anneli Anderson (StudioAnneli), who took my rough layout, text, and assorted materials to heart and gave the book an inventive, scrapbook appearance. Our collaboration has continued now for two books and second editions. Initially, Sketches of a Black Cat was only available in full color, but the cost for self-publishing in color was somewhat prohibitive. We decided to release a black and white and later, an ebook, along with the collector’s edition in full color.
Will: Is it fair to say that your second book, The Last Word, is the result of the reception BlackCat got? I know that although The Last Word is a novel, it is based on actual events and anecdotes you compiled by interviewing ten World War II veterans and painstakingly recording their stories. Can you tell us about that fascinating process?
Ron: Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a journalist with an assignment in the year 2038. It’s an interview with an old man––a very old man. And he fought in World War II.
The Last Word is the unquestionable by-product of Sketches of a Black Cat. My initial opportunity for a real interview with a World War II veteran came in 2013. As luck would have it, he had read a brief snippet in the paper about my initial book launch at a small, local college. He walked up forty stairs using a cane, waited in line with a newly minted book under his arm, and promptly handed me a photo of my father, picturing the two of them at a squadron reunion together. I still get goose bumps when I recall his words: “I knew and flew with your father.”
His was the first of nearly a dozen videotaped interactions with men who were members of a night flying Navy squadron that also included my father. Dad, indeed, had left behind a trove of writing, memorabilia, and documentation about his adventures as a part of this little-known group of flyers, but I had published the book after his death, and there were many unanswered questions. With the opportunity to speak to his colleagues came a reprieve, a second chance to ask them about the things I could never ask him. As the book caught on, I continued to film interviews with veterans up and down the West Coast. I developed friendships and accumulated priceless narratives. They told me stories with humor, sincerity, and tears––stories that begged for an audience. By 2018, I knew it was time for a new book.
There was another influence. A big one. This wonderful group of ninety-somethings who had so graciously invited me into their homes were passing away. I was attending funerals and losing friends. I found myself wondering, How long will it be before they are all gone?And beyond that,someday in the not-so-distant future, this process will play itself out until the last veteran in all of World War II surrenders to time.
It suddenly occurred to me that I should create that individual now.
I again put pencil to paper (OK, fingers to keyboard), and started developing a novel, my first attempt at historical fiction. I was a reasonably experienced interviewer by then, had a wonderful assortment of compelling tales to draw from, and a pretty good notion of what my last World War II veteran might like to say on behalf of his comrades, given the chance. His personality grew into a composite of all the gentlemen that I’d interviewed, his mind filled with memories of skies above vast, unexplored regions, expansive seas between tiny specks of Pacific coral, and the nostalgia borne from well over a hundred years of living. While my fictitious character recounts his story in 2038, it becomes a way of emphasizing how fragile––how finite––the World War II generation and their in-person accounts are today.
Will: Your works are a glowing tribute to “The Greatest Generation,” and I understand that you are still involved with these heroes. What are some of your ongoing projects on behalf of Black Cats and World War II veterans?
Ron: I’ve had numerous meetings with museum curators and staff trying to develop exhibits that would showcase the Black Cat squadron, whose legacy is still one of the least known to come out of World War II. I then began to develop a documentary using the footage from interviews and the collection of photos and video from my library. I got as far as an eleven-minute trailer available on Youtube, which I’ve also given to museums and use for presentations. Movie making is a lot of work!
I’ve reeled in some of the more ambitious projects, and now try to promote the books and use Facebook as a forum, blog, and communication tool of sorts. Some of my ads continue to cast the net for squadron members, hoping to connect with a few more on the West Coast, but time is not on our side. I’ve launched a new post called “Help Me Tell Their Stories” that I hope will be a platform for families of World War II veterans who might wish to furnish accounts that may never find their way into print, so that I can compose and share them with readers of my posts.
Will: Can you tell us what the self-publishing process has been like for you? Unlike novels which are plain text, your books have photographs, maps, drawings, all of which make them exponentially more difficult to manage. How did you do it? Do you have advice for other indie authors who may be daunted by all that?
Ron: Self-publishing has been a mixed bag. I enrolled in a self-publishing seminar as I was working on my first manuscript. I ended up showing a few chapters to the instructor over lunch, using the complication of artwork and graphics as a ruse to get him to look at it. I was shocked when he smiled and started passing chapters around the table. This instructor became a wonderful advocate and encouraged me to self-publish, describing it as the wave of the future. So, I tried it.
The print book was high-resolution and the file was huge. Reducing resolution very much made some of the images on the Kindle file blurred or otherwise garbled. The file size added a lot to Amazon’s delivery cost, and to the selling price of the ebook. The layout, including fonts, drop caps, and the images in both booksis pretty complicated, especially Sketches. Things can also move around depending on the device and often escape from where they were intended. I think some of this might have been avoided with a conventional publisher.
Overall, I am very pleased with the quality of the print books and the publishing-on-demand aspect works for me. I was relieved not to be saddled with a garage full of books.
I seriously considered conventional publishing with The Last Word, and at times, still wish I had gone that route. I felt this was a truly unusual storyline and wanted it to have the widest possible audience. However, it was somewhat time-sensitive, in that it presupposes a date in the near future and was inspired by interviews with elderly people who I hoped to share it with. I was afraid to wait the two years it might take to get through the publishing process. Of course, now, we are beyond that anyway.
I depended on a pro to help with the formatting and setup. I would have had no idea how to create a master file like the ones for Sketches or The Last Word. In fact, it was tricky for Anneli at times, but I like to say that she not only pulled it off, she added the sparkle.
This process definitely adds a layer of cost and carries some risk if you find the book doesn’t sell. In my case, I was determined to tell my father’s story. I looked at it as an expenditure I might make for a vacation or favorite pastime, as something that I wanted to do and not as an investment. The fact that the book has been relatively successful for a self-published book is both unexpected and gratifying.
You never know.
Will: What can we expect from your next project? Can you share a behind-the-scenes peek with us?
Ron: I’m currently working on a local history project about a small Oregon community founded in the mid-1800s. The early pioneers are fascinating individuals, and to dig into the lives of folks whose names adorn street signs and creeks today is quite an experience.
For me, non-fiction is tough. Sometimes I find I’ve been working all morning and have a single, tangled up paragraph to show for it. Research is time-consuming and distracting, partly because it’s interesting. I find I now prefer fiction, and especially historical fiction. That way, if you really get stuck, you can just make it up.
I enjoy short story writing and will probably bundle together a collection at some point. I also think I’m old enough to be thinking about that memoir. If not now, when? If you wait too long, you might lose the ability to do it, and if you do it too soon, you might miss the best thing you ever did.
I think you should relive your life in prose while you can and see if you can determine what that gleam in your parents’ eyes amounted to. Hey, at least someday they’ll have something to use for your obit.
Will: Ron, thank you so much for sharing your fascinating “writer’s journey” with us. This has been a real joy.
This month, I am interviewing USA Today Best-Selling Author April Aasheim. Her Amazon page describes her as an avid reader and researcher, an amateur ghost hunter, an author of witchy things, and a believer in all things magick. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her family and her familiar, Boots the Cat.
Will: April, you are arguably one of the most successful indie authors on the West Coast, if not in the country. If I’ve counted correctly, you have five series out there, with more on the way, I presume. The first book of your juggernaut series, The Daughters of DarkRoot, has 1123 reviews on Amazon the last time I looked. What’s the secret to your success?
April: Thank you for that kind introduction.
As for my success, I used to think it was just marketing, and then nurturing your readership. Get eyes on your book and it will be read. But I now know that’s not entirely true. That’s only a few pieces of the puzzle. My Dark Root series do sell well. But when I wrote my Alchemy of a Witch series, which took place in another time with different characters, my readers didn’t all follow. (Even though I love this series).
So, I think the real secret to success is to just write. Write from the heart. Connect with people. Bring them into your world. My first book took 18 months to write, and I put my heart and soul in it. People responded. I still get emails and messages telling me how much my books meant to them. If you can get a reader to feel something, they’re going to remember you. The marketing only works if you have a product people want to buy.
Will: When did you first realize you were a writer? Can you give us a glimpse of your process?
April: I knew in first grade. I just knew. The teachers would always ask what we wanted to be and I’d always say, a novelist.
As for my process, the first thing is to sit down and write. I dedicate most every day, 9-11:30, Monday through Friday, to writing, rain or shine. This has taken a toll on my personal relationships at times, but it was important to me, and if something is important you find a way to do it. I also write most nights for an hour. One thing I am working on in 2022 is more balance. I’ve written 18 books now, and I think I’m ready to try other things too.
When I sit down to write, I first close my eyes and decide what must come in the scene. Then I just let my imagination go and it usually comes to me. Once you shut your brain off, your imagination can run wild. As soon as I’ve ‘seen’ the scene, I open my laptop and write it out as quick as I can, then fix it later. I notice when I don’t meditate first, it’s much harder to work out the scene.
Will: Not long after I started to read The Daughters of Dark Root, it occurred to me that although there’s plenty of paranormal stuff going on, that just serves as the backdrop or context for a saga of family relationships—mother/daughter, sister/sister—as well as a story of the growing independence and empowerment of a young woman. What was your inspiration for that series?
April: I had moved from Arizona to Portland, and was missing my siblings at the time, and I was nostalgic for our childhood. When you have siblings, especially as many as I have (5!) there is going to be drama. But through everything, love. So, a lot of the characters were drawn from my own sisters—at least pieces of them. And of course, a lot of the main character, Maggie, was drawn from my own tempestuous youth.
Miss Sasha, the matriarch and coven leader of the council, was based on my own mom. I’ve always had a complex relationship with my mother—who was a free-spirited, witchy woman who read tarot cards and removed curses. She was mostly ‘love and light,’ but had a dark side, too. One of the scenes in The Witches of Dark Root finds Maggie trapped in a dark room with a spirit, and Maggie is terrified. That came directly from childhood. I was afraid of ghosts and my mom thought the best way to get me over it was to put me in a dark room until I wasn’t afraid. It backfired. And to this day, I sleep with a nightlight. Writers often put their trauma into stories. That’s how we cope. Still, I loved and admired my mother until the day she died last fall. And she gave me plenty of writing material.
Will: Can you tell us about some of your other books? Do you have any favorites?
April: I absolutely love the Alchemy of a Witch series. I decided spontaneously to write a medieval witchy series set during the plague and witch hunts. As luck, or misfortune would have it, a few weeks after I started writing the first book, COVID hit. And so, I was experiencing the world of fear and suspicion, right along with my main character.
The story is an epic tale of a woman fleeing her village when the Witch Hunter General accuses her and her mother of starting the plague. During her travels, she meets an alchemist, who teaches her the ways of magick and transmutation. Later, she meets a priestess, a hedge witch, and a shapeshifter. And through these encounters learns more about magick and herself.
The research for this series was intense. I learned that alchemists were not only real, but there were many of them, including Paracelsus and Isaac Newton. Some even worked for kings. They worked to turn lead into gold, and to find eternal life. Most had to labor in secret, and write their recipes in code, for fear of being labeled a heretic or a sorcerer, and hung.
The book became bigger as the research grew, and one book turned into four. I love how the story turned out, and I adore the characters. Now, I’m obsessed with alchemy.
Will: You’ve told us you recently lost your mother. If it’s not too personal, can you share how that has impacted your creativity?
April: Thank you for that thoughtful question.
Well, my mom did provide me lots of writing material. She took me on adventures as a kid not many others got to experience. We were on the carnival circuit for several years, lived in a ghost town, and even a taco truck. And now that she’s gone the world seems a bit less colorful.
Luckily, I take my pain and write through it, and that’s where some of my best scenes come. And also understanding. I miss her every day, but she was my biggest fan, and I know she’d want me to keep writing. As a final gift to me, she left a review on my book The Good Girl’s Guide to Being a Demon, just a few weeks before she passed. And I didn’t find out until afterwards.
I believe my mom is here with me, and though I would give anything to have one more day with her, her presence is too big to be doused by her death. And now I feel freer to write my memoire, which I’ve always wanted to do, but wasn’t sure I could without hurting her.
Will: Marketing books well requires a whole different set of skills from writing good books, and for an indie author, that can be quite daunting. What methods of promoting your works have you found to be the most successful?
April: It changes yearly, if not weekly, haha.
Social media of course. I’m trying TikTok now, but it’s a challenge for me to keep up. Facebook worked for a while, and Twitter does sometime. There are also places you can promote your books for a fee, but I recommend waiting until you have a few books before you pay for that.
Network with other authors in similar genres. Do projects with them, like anthologies or signings. Do newsletter swaps and giveaways with them. Other writers are not your rivals. A book may take a week to read but a year to write, so your readers will need something else to keep them occupied until your next book comes out.
Will: Do you have any advice you would like to share with other indie writers?
April: Write from your heart. Invest in nice covers. Network with fellow writers. Develop a thick skin. Take feedback from bad reviews, but don’t let them cripple you. Savor the good reviews. This is a world of ups and downs. Some days you sell, others you may not. Love your books, whether others do or not. They are a piece of yourself.
Will: April, thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences with us. You’ve given us a lot to think about!
For my readers who would like to know more about April and her books, click here to go to her website.
From her Author Central Page on Amazon: ” Samantha Henthorn was born in1970something in Bury, England. She used to be a nurse, now she is a disabled author… After a diagnosis of MS in 2005, Samantha eventually accepted early retirement in 2014. Looking for an occupation where she can work at her own pace, Samantha drew on her observation skills and imagination to start writing. Samantha often feels as though she is living in a sitcom and this is reflected in her style.
Will: When did you first realize you were a writer? Do you have a particular schedule for writing, a special place for doing it, some kind of routine?
Samantha: I have to think about this one! I have a memory of owning a Matchbox Doll; I called her Maude and wrote the word ‘AUTHOR’ on her cardboard bed-slash-coffin. I was about five or six years old, and already searching for a pseudonym to deflect responsibility from myself (the doll was the author, not me). Many years later, the final post of my nursing career was community-based. We would train student nurses regularly. I would tell them that I was a bestselling author but gave it all up to pursue a nursing career, and my colleague would tell them he used to be in a band (also not true). It wasn’t until I eventually accepted early retirement for health reasons in 2014 that I started writing full time. I enrolled for a non-accredited creative writing course at the local library. Eight years later, I’m in the final year of my creative writing degree and have published twelve books.
Yes, I do have a routine, physiotherapy first thing in the morning, then I have a rest, then I write (getting dressed, looking on social media, eating and drinking are included in that time).
I have a few different places I like to write in my house but I do have an ambition to be ‘one of those writers’ who turns up at a pub and spends the day writing and possibly drinking – I know I wouldn’t get anything done though.
Will: The humor of your Curmudgeon Avenue series has really helped me get through this seemingly unending pandemic. Please tell us about the series. What was your original inspiration for it?
Samantha: Nice one Will! Curmudgeon Avenue actually started out as a short story. The tutor of the library course mentioned above tasked us with writing a five-hundred-word piece titled ‘Winter’. It was October at the time and as I drove home, not only was I greeted by falling leaves and autumn sun, I was reminded of the four-storey Victorian houses on the main road in Whitefield (North Manchester). I used to get stuck in traffic here on my way home from work and would often see lights on in the front rooms of those houses; people already at home enjoying their evenings. I wondered what was going on in their lives, and so I wrote the fictional version. The reason I used the word ‘Curmudgeon’ was that during the week, Mr Henthorn and I went to the supermarket. I hadn’t regained confidence in walking and was still using rollator wheelchair. A man pulled up beside us in the car park and started waving his fist at us – we had parked in the last disabled bay but he wanted the space. ‘What a curmudgeon’ I thought – and there was my title.
Will: In the throes of the pandemic, you participated with some other authors in a charity project, What We Did During Lockdown. Can you share with us what that experience was like for you?
Samantha: The pamphlet? What We Did During Lockdown is just four stories and one poem. How it came about was my response to suggestions of ‘what you should write is…’ During the pandemic, there were several charity endeavours here in the UK; 100-year-old Captain Tom Moore walking up and down his garden and so on. I posted to Facebook ‘now is your chance to put all those ideas to good use’. The friends who came forward weren’t the busybodies who had tried to tell me what to write. It was great fun, and everyone we collectively knew bought a copy. The money raised was (not much) donated to Bury Hospice. I still donate monthly, just in case anyone orders a copy. The next collaboration I have planned is with the multi-talented voice actor Lindsay McKinnon (more of this later).
Will: You’ve recently published a new novel, My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister. Can you give us an inside look at it?
Samantha: I wanted to write a story about witches for as long as I can remember (I am named after one!) My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister is set mostly in a pub near Pendle (notorious for the 1612 witch trials). Protagonist Epiphany hates her name and everything about herself. She is struggling to cope after the lockdown ends and just as she reaches her lowest point she is visited by Sadie, her half-sister’s half-sister. Sadie becomes the supporter that Epiphany (Pippa for short) never had; she eases all her woes and convinces her that her mother and sister are witches (and therefore left her out of the coven).
Things don’t add up with Sadie, for a start, Pippa is the only person to have seen her and soon, secrets are revealed and twists are turned. Pippa is shown to be immature for her age, and making little progress in life. Without giving anything away, one Goodreads reviewer wrote: ‘We are left to guess at what is real and what is not real.’
Pippa struggles with her mental health throughout the book, but it turns out to be more serious than first thought with scenes of heavy drinking and hospital admission. Pippa has a positive outcome from seeking help, which is the real reason I wrote this book. I am a retired RMN and I know how difficult it is for people to take the first step to recovery.
Will: What do you think about the writing of short stories? Your two collections, QuirkyTales to Make Your Day and The Queen’s Speech come to mind. Can you tell us about them?
Samantha: I think short stories are a great way to convey a seed that would be better suited to a quick read than a full-length novel. When I wrote Quirky Tales to Make Your Day, I had entered a few writing competitions, and eventually was longlisted a few times in the now defunct 1000 Word Challenge. Those stories ended up in the collection. The Queen’s Speech arose from the research I did for my 2017 novel 1962: (An uplifting tale of 1960s Lancashire). Not only did I read information, I spoke to my parents. Mum could not remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, but Dad told me he was petrified. They also spoke to their counterparts and fed any information about that year back to me. I also met a former school dinner lady who told me she had been trained to cut deep into the meat (in the event of nuclear fallout) to prevent poisoning children with radiation. ‘What difference will it make?’ she told me.
I have another short story collection planned with my talented colleague and wonderful friend Lindsay McKinnon. We met almost three years ago when Lindsay started narrating Curmudgeon Avenue.
Will: In your newsletter, you’ve spoken about the process of making your novels into audiobooks and the narrator with whom you’ve been working. What’s that been like for you?
Samantha: Audiobooks are a game changer. When I received the email from ACX to let me know that someone had auditioned to narrate Curmudgeon Avenue, I was overwhelmed. More so when I heard Lindsay’s voice. Lindsay McKinnon is multi talented, she can do any accent and she is hilarious. When I heard the first few sentences of Curmudgeon Avenue I nearly cried – the only thing that prevented me exploding with tears of joy was that I tried to place the voice. She sounded FAMOUS. She sounded like Joanna Lumley doing the Galaxy Chocolate advert (I hope that translates to the US – basically, the most gorgeous voice you’ll ever hear). Lindsay came to meet me, and I was even more astounded – she could have been from anywhere in the world, but Lindsay lives just up the road from me! We have become firm friends and as already mentioned plan to write a short story collection together. Lindsay has shared a few of her stories with me already. The world is in for a treat. This woman can make getting her gas boiler fixed into a hilarious and thought-provoking three-part drama. I’ll be adding my story about a woman who thinks Gene Simmons is her daddy and a few more. We did our first author event two years ago at Radcliffe Library just before the lockdown started, and the librarian commented in all her years in the book business she had never met a narrator and an author who got along so well. Obviously, Lindsay and I are meant to be the next big writing team to hail from the UK… and if you need any proof of that listen to the audiobook of My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister when it is published soon. It is the most delightful thing I have exposed my ears to in a long time. I have invited Lindsay along to help me answer this question by sharing her bio:
Lindsay McKinnon wrote performed and staged her first performances in the backyard of her Liverpool home at the age of seven. Following three years at Drama College, her career has included work as an actor, singer, writer and stand-up comedian. Lindsay continued to perform as a singer after returning from ten years living in Canada. In recent years, Lindsay has built a small studio and followed a long-held dream of being a voice artist/ narrator. This is how Lindsay first made contact with the brilliantly funny author, Samantha Henthorn. Lindsay and Samantha are a match made in heaven (or at the very least, North West England).
Will: Are you working on a new project that you might give us a glimpse into?
Samantha: Of course! I’m always having story ideas. At the moment I have a few poems on the go for the MS society and am in the final year of my degree meaning I will produce three pieces of fiction before May this year. After the course, I plan to write these narratives as novels. They will all be quirky contemporary fiction, two of which will be psychological thrillers.
Will: Do you have any advice you’d like to give to other indie authors?
Samantha: Yes I do. GO FOR IT, and KEEP AT IT. Remember to take your own advice before the overwhelming amount of instruction you’ll find on the internet. If you are looking for books on the craft (and I’m sure you’ve heard this), Stephen King’s On Writing and Joanne Harris’s Ten Things About Writing are superb books. The only other thing I’ll say is that reading, reviewing and networking with other indie authors is worth its weight in gold.
Thank you, William.
Will: Thank you so much, Samantha. I really appreciate your taking the time to share highlights from your author’s journey.
To learn more about Samantha and her books, click here.
The countdown is underway! On September 30 the Kindle version will be released, and I feel that my generous supporters need something back. I’ve just reduced the regular $3.99 price to $0.99, and Amazon assures me that anyone who pre-ordered at the regular price will be billed at the new sale price instead. (Whew! That spares me the task of having to track down early buyers and give each of them $3.00 back!) If you haven’t already purchased it, please take advantage of the sale here. If you’re a “hard copy” fan who craves the feel and smell of paper, here’s the link to the paperback. BTW—any of you who live locally, I would be more than happy to make a “house call” and come to your home to sign your copy!
On other fronts, my audiobook narrator Joel Zak has submitted the “retail sample” of D&D to ACX for evaluation. If it passes muster, he will proceed full-bore with recording the Driftwood Mystery. Here’s another BTW—for fans of that book, there is an epilogue in the new book of short stories. I couldn’t help myself!
And may I say a few words about being an indie author and trying to market your books? I don’t mean to be a whiner, but it’s freakin’ hard! Truth is, when you publish on Amazon, unless you’re already famous, you’re a needle in a humongous haystack. I’m posting on Instagram and Facebook, taking out ads on Amazon and BookBub, but have yet to create any “buzz.” If you’re a fan of my writing, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the new book. And if you’d care to share that with your friends, I would be truly grateful.
I am happy to announce that the paperback edition of my new book of short stories has been released today and is available for sale on Amazon. Here’s a link. The digital version is still on target for publication on September 30 and you can pre-order it here
Meanwhile, work proceeds on the audiobook production of Dungeness and Dragons, with a tentative release date around December-January. Fingers crossed!
I will begin work on my October Newsletter soon. It will feature an interview with Connie Lacy, an independent author in Georgia who can really spin a tale. You don’t want to miss it. If you haven’t yet signed up for my monthly newsletter, please do so here.
Writing books is fun; promoting them is not. I continue to experiment with marketing strategies. This week, on April 20 and 21, Seal of Secrets will be free and each of the three other books in the Driftwood Mysteries series will be only $0.99. I guess it’s a little like fishing: I cast my line out, using the freebie for bait, and hope to get a bite on the discounted books. My goals are modest, namely, to get more reviews and to earn enough to pay for the promotions. (Of course, the immodest goal is for just that right person to pick up one of my books. You know, the guy with the connections at Netflix and/or Amazon Prime, who says, “Hey, I can make a screenplay out of this!”) Anyway, that’s my version of buying a lottery ticket— the chances of hitting it are considerably less than being struck by lightning on the way to pick up my mail, but so what.
That being said, although the freebie will end after those two days, I’ll continue to discount the others through May 4. I’ve got my fingers crossed for Dungeness and Dragons, which has gotten such good professional reviews and that nifty little gold medallion from indieB.R.A.G.
Meanwhile, work on the short stories is continuing. One has actually morphed into a novelette, about four times longer than the others.
Well, dear friends, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!