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Kindle Author Sponsor: Amy Corwin

Book Title:

The Vital Principle (A Second Sons Inquiry Agency Mystery)

Author:

Amy Corwin

Kindle Price:

$0.99

Available from:

Amazon


Author's websites:

http://www.amycorwin.com
http://amycorwin.blogspot.com
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Book Review:

“This book reminds me of Amanda Quick’s writing, which I adore. Do yourself a favor and buy this book!”
—5 stars from Carolyn

Book Description:

In 1815, an inquiry agent, Mr. Knighton Gaunt, is asked by Lord Crowley to attend a séance for the purpose of revealing the spiritualist as a fraud. The séance ends abruptly, however, and during the turmoil, Lord Crowley dies, leaving Gaunt to investigate not only fraud, but murder. Suspicion turns first to the spiritualist, Miss Prudence Barnard, but as Gaunt digs deeper into the twisted history of the guests at Rosecrest, he discovers more deadly secrets. Inevitably, long-time friends turn against one another as the tension mounts and Gaunt is challenged to separate fact from fiction.

Book Excerpt from The Vital Principle:

In this scene, inquiry agent Knight Gaunt is questioning Miss Prudence Barnard, a spiritualist he was hired to expose as a fraud. While he doesn’t quite believe she murdered their host, he’s not entirely sure she didn’t, either, and she’s not making it easy for him.

“May came from the right, however. Past the dowager and Lord Crowley.”

“Question her, then.”

“Rest assured, I will. And the others came around the table from that direction, as well.” He glanced at her again, remembering the details. “You assisted the dowager, didn’t you?”

“I don’t remember precisely, but I supposed I might have.”

“She was standing a yard or so away from the table. And you stood in front of her with your back to the table?”

Her expression tightened. “Then you do remember. Although I'm sure you believe I was close enough to Lord Crowley to pour a few drops of Prussic acid into his brandy. That is what you’re insinuating, isn't it?”

While her accusation was true, he couldn't actually picture her doing that. He had closely observed her the previous evening, waiting for her to try some trick. If she had approached Crowley’s snifter that closely, he ought to remember it.

“If you wish to admit—”

“I do not.”

He nodded. It would have been extremely difficult for her to carry around a bottle of Prussic acid without either pockets or a reticule.

Of course, he intended to verify the lack of pockets or reticule with Miss Barnard’s maid and the other lady guests. One of them may have noticed.

“If you’d just ask the dowager—” She stopped and then added hastily, “But don’t bother her now. She’s not well. It’s been very difficult with first her husband dying and now her son….” She ended awkwardly and glanced away, turning to focus on the sewing basket and magazine. Then her gaze flashed to his. He could see a sudden memory leap into her mind as her expression changed.

“What is it?” he asked.

“I was wrong.” Her dark brows scrunched briefly. “I—”

“What?”

She shook her head.

“What did you remember? There’s no point in holding back. Ultimately, I’ll discover the truth.”

This earned a small, tight smile. “You’re frightfully conceited.”

“Yes.” A smile twisted his mouth. “Now what did you remember?”

“I—it’s probably nothing.”

“Will you stop equivocating? If it’s something odd, I can assure you there were enough people in the room to help confirm it. There’s no point in being coy.”

“Is that what I’m being? Coy? How unusual.” She certainly had a talent for sweetly stated sarcasm.

“I’ll hold whatever you tell me in confidence. I’m reputed to be a reasonably fair man.”

“As long as women aren’t involved. And it conforms to your idea of the truth.”

“Undoubtedly.” He held her gaze.

She flushed and pushed at the magazine on the table with her fingertips. “I’m sorry. That was rude of me. You do rather have a reputation, however, for distrusting women. Although I’m sure you must have an excellent reason.”

“I assure you, I don’t dislike women.”

“As long as they stay comfortably in their place? And aren’t charlatans? We mustn’t forget how important absolute honesty is.”

“As long as you answer my questions truthfully, I’m completely impartial.”

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"The Vatican Dagger" (The Alchemy of Blood, Book 1) by David Wisehart — Chapter 4

A vampire novel set in the Italian Renaissance.

Dracula, the exiled prince of Wallachia, arrives in Rome pursued by rumors of his evil past. Hoping to establish a new power base among the warring city-states of Italy, Prince Dracula allies himself with the Borgia family.

In exchange for a secret marriage contract with Lucrezia Borgia, Dracula helps Cardinal Borgia become Pope Alexander VI. But when the new pope forbids the marriage of Lucrezia to the Wallachian prince, Dracula's revenge threatens the Borgia dynasty and the future of the Roman Catholic Church.

The pope's brilliant son, Cesare Borgia, enlists the aid of Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolò Machiavelli to defeat the growing forces of darkness.

The Vatican Dagger
by David Wisehart

Villa Cafaggiolo
October 1477

Lorenzo de' Medici was not a handsome man. His face on a peasant would have been hideous. On the master of Florence it was merely disarming, a reminder that Lorenzo was not a prince but a citizen. He had a thick lantern jaw. His right eye seemed larger than his left. His nose was fat, crooked, off-plumb. It made inferior men feel equal in his presence. Lorenzo wielded the power of a king behind the mask of a fool.

I could kill him now and be done with it, thought Montesecco.

The papal condottiere had surrendered his long sword and his cinquedea at the gate, but kept a stiletto in his boot. If necessary, he could dispatch Lorenzo with his bare hands. Lorenzo was an athlete, strong and dexterous at twenty-eight, but Montesecco had killed better men.

Getting out alive would be another matter. Two guards stood near the door. Before entering the cenacle, Montesecco had counted seventeen soldiers patrolling the Villa Cafaggiolo, a country estate six leagues northeast of Florence. The fortress was battlemented and encircled by a gated enceinte. Two towers surveyed the surround. Montesecco was a stranger to this province, the Mugello. He did not know the lay of Tuscany as well as Lorenzo's men. It would be difficult to evade capture without a reliable plan of escape.

He did not yet have a plan.

Lorenzo and Giuliano would have to be killed together. That much was clear. If one of the brothers survived, Florence might rally to the Medici and resist the revolution. However, Lorenzo and Giuliano rarely appeared together in public. It was a problem Montesecco had not yet solved.

But he did not come here to finish the hunt. He came to set the quarry's mind at ease.

Lorenzo sat behind an oak dining table. He was dressed in rich finery—a farsetto dyed in alessandrino blue, with pearl buttons up the front, covered by a minivered black cioppa of silk brocade. The left shoulder displayed a fermaglia with the Medici crest. Lorenzo appeared to be unarmed except for a paring knife and a blue ceramic plate. A large hunting dog, a black cane corso, rested on the floor at his master's feet. Montesecco stood opposite Lorenzo. Bowls of fruit decorated the space between. A book lay on the table. It was leather-bound, closed with a clasp, and much too thin to be a Bible.

"I bring greetings from the Holy Father," said Montesecco.

Lorenzo smiled. "He is dear to me, as always."

"And you to him."

"I pray daily for his health."

"Your prayers have been answered. I do not know a healthier soul."

"God is just."

Montesecco had little patience for the soft language of diplomacy, but he endured it for the sake of reconnaissance.

Lorenzo selected a plump fig from one of the serving bowls, sniffed it, and rolled the fruit between his fingers. "What news from Rome?" he asked, then popped the fig into his mouth.

"His Holiness the pope sends his love and desires your love in return," Montesecco began. "He wishes you to reconcile yourself with his nephew, Count Girolamo. This business over Imola has distressed the pontiff greatly, and he desires nothing more than to see the old alliance between Rome and Florence restored. He is confident that you will see the mutual benefits of such an alliance, and that together you and he may continue to strengthen the ties of mutual affection. To that end, he invites you to attend the Easter festival in Rome, where the Holy Father will honor you with all the respect and love due to such a noble lord and cherished friend."

Lorenzo washed down the fig with a sip of wine. "Well said, Gian Battista. You do honor to your post. But if you came here to reconcile me with Count Girolamo, I fear your mission is in vain. There is nothing to reconcile. I love the Count as I love my brother."

"He will be glad to hear it. There have been many ill rumors out of Florence."

"Slander is a plague of the tongue," said Lorenzo. "The Venetians are stirring mischief again. The doge loves a good scandal. When he cannot find one, he fashions one out of whole cloth to amuse his court."

"The court of Imola was not amused."

Lorenzo nodded. "I understand. It is true I once had my own plans for Imola. When I heard the Duke of Milan was thinking of selling the town to raise funds, I worried it might fall into the hands of an enemy and block my trade routes to the Adriatic. Now that Imola is in the capable hands of Count Girolamo, I could not be happier. My own hands are kept busy enough with the management of Florence and the provinces, not to mention the family business. One more town would be nothing but a burden. I have no imperial ambitions. Quite the contrary. I seek only trading partners and friendly neighbors. Therefore, as you can see, Girolamo's gain is mine as well."

"I will be sure to tell him so," said Montesecco.

"I would tell him myself if he were here."

"He could not join us, but I bring a message from him."

"And what does my dear friend say?" asked Lorenzo, inspecting the fruit bowls with renewed interest.

"He wishes to inform you that the lord of Faenza has taken ill."

Lorenzo stabbed an apple with the paring knife and raised the red temptation to his lips. He bit into the juicy white flesh with a loud crunch. The dog perked his head up from the floor and wagged his tail.

Montesecco continued. "If Carlo Manfredi dies, it may cause trouble for Count Girolamo."

Lorenzo leaned forward with his elbows on the table. "Girolamo wants to know if he can rely on Florence as a friend in times of trouble."

"Yes."

"Stability in Imola is in my own best interest." Lorenzo leaned back again, gesturing with the skewered apple. "You may tell Girolamo that I pray for his success and will support him where I can. But this is something he and I should discuss in person. I will draft a letter for you to take back to the Count, inviting him and his lovely young wife to dine with me here at his earliest convenience."

"Very good."

Lorenzo removed the apple from the knife, took another bite, and fed the remainder to the dog. "And what are your plans tonight?"

"Riding back to Florence. I've taken a room at the Inn of the Bell."

"Please, stay here as my guest. I'm hosting a dinner tonight for my academy friends. A conversazione. You should join us. I have the best chef in Italy."

"A bold claim."

"Put it to the test. I'll be heading back to Florence in the morning. We can ride together."

"How can I refuse?"

"You can't." Lorenzo stood up from the table. "May I give you a tour of the villa?"

"Please."

#

Montesecco followed Lorenzo and his hunting dog through the Medici castle. The condottiere noted each doorway, window, and staircase while his host narrated the display of artwork his family had collected or commissioned.

"Are you a connoisseur yourself?" asked Lorenzo.

"Not on a soldier's pay."

"Montefeltro was a soldier. He became a prince, almost a king. Visconti, Sforza, Malatesta—examples are legion. All men should rise above their station. You will not be a soldier forever, my friend. You have already become a diplomat. It would be wise to acquire at least a passing knowledge of art and antiquities, to impress the lords and pursue the ladies."

"I bow at the feet of the master."

Lorenzo paused in the hallway. "These two paintings here, which do you think is better?"

Montesecco studied the panels on the wall. One was a portrait of two young boys, probably Lorenzo and Giuliano, on horseback. The other was a mythical depiction of nine women bathing in a stream.

"They are both excellent," said Montesecco.

"Which do you think is worth more?"

"I couldn't say."

"Look at the colors." Lorenzo pointed to the mythical scene, indicating a robe which fell around the ankles of a goddess. "What color is this?"

"Blue."

"Ultramarine. Very expensive. The pigment is made from a powdered gem, lapis lazuli, a precious stone imported from the Levant in times of peace and pirated in times of war. The gem is crushed into a powder and washed with lye to draw out the color. The first washing produces ultramarine. Second and third give duller and cheaper blues, like this one over here."

He pointed to a boy's ciopetta in the other picture.

"This vermilion," said Lorenzo, indicating a bright red flower in the mythical scene, "is made from quicksilver and sulpher. Again, at great cost." He turned to the duller reds in the other picture. "These ochers and umbers, on the other hand, are from Tuscan earths. Cheap and plentiful."

"So the mythical painting is worth more than the picture of the boys," said Montesecco.

"Actually, no. This is a portrait of me and my brother. I would not part with it for the world."

"A trick question."

Lorenzo smiled. "One cannot value sentiment with the unaided eye. The thing to remember is that only brilliant painters get to work with brilliant colors. This picture of the Muses cost me a small fortune. The pigment cost more than the painter. I commissioned it from the greatest painter in Florence, which is to say, in all the world. Sandro Botticelli. If you're lucky, you may meet him tonight at dinner."

"Will your brother be at dinner tonight?"

"Not tonight."

Montesecco sensed that he had said too much. He returned the conversation to its former theme. "So the mythical painting has the higher market value?"

"Unless I'm buying." Lorenzo stared at Montesecco a moment, as if to resolve a question of his own. "History can also play a role in valuations. This portrait would be priceless if people knew the story behind it. And if the artist were known."

"You sat for the picture. You must know who painted it."

"Yes. And so does my brother, though he was three years old at the time and may not remember the name. We both swore never to speak that name again, and we have not discussed it since. It is a name I will take to my grave."

"Why is that?"

"That, of course, is the story behind the painting. Which I will tell you now, though I have told few people and may never tell it again."

"Why tell me?"

"Because I value your friendship, Gian Battista. The story is this. When I was seven years old, and my brother three, my father commissioned a portrait from the most famous artist of the day. There was not a painter in Italy who could match his work. He was, I believe, the highest-paid artist the world had ever known. Demonically prolific, but he gambled and drank and whored like a soldier. As a result, he was forever in debt and in search of new commissions."

"Like this one here."

Lorenzo nodded. "Contracts for commissions are like wedding contracts. Extremely detailed. The contract for this portrait specified the subject, the pose, the background, the deadline, the pay schedule, and most importantly the colors. Ultramarine and vermilion."

"But these colors don't comply," Montesecco observed.

"And therein hangs the tale. When my father saw the finished portrait, he was ecstatic. He paid the painter more than the contract price, as a bonus for brilliance. Of course, when my father saw the painting, he saw only his children. He loved his children, and therefore loved the painting.

"When my grandfather saw the portrait, he was furious. Cosimo de' Medici, pater patriae, father of our country and master of Florence, loved his grandchildren dearly, but he loved nothing more than business. He would brook no slight to the family's honor. As you will have guessed by now, the painter substituted cheap colors for those agreed upon, and pocketed the difference to pay his debts."

"He stole from the Medici."

"A fatal mistake."

"What happened to him?"

"He was arrested in a bordello, coitus interruptus, and tortured in the Medici palace. He confessed before the inquisitor arrived, but was tortured nonetheless. They burned the soles of his feet until fat dripped into the fire. He was then made to walk on coarse salt until he passed out. These and other tortures continued for many days. Finally, his heart surrendered and the Devil took him home. They butchered his body and fed it to the dogs.

"The scourge of justice did not stop there. The father of the artist was already dead from drink, but the mother lived in Florence, supported in high style by her loving son. She was quietly killed by agents of the Medici and buried in unhallowed ground. It was later discovered that the painter had several bastards. These were slaughtered, along with the whores who suckled them.

"That was not the end of it. My grandfather was a connoisseur of art, the greatest collector in all of Europe. The Medici bank has branches in Rome, Venice, Milan, Pisa, Genoa, Naples, Gaeta, Ancona, Lyon, Avignon, Bruges, and London. We have agents and spies throughout the Western world. My grandfather used these agents to find and acquire—to buy if possible, to steal if necessary—every picture that had ever issued from the hand of this villain who betrayed our family. One by one, these paintings were destroyed. Records were erased from every catalog and ledger. It took many years before the mission was accomplished.

"You are now standing before the painter's last remaining piece. It is one of a kind. For me, a memento mori. He was a great artist, but a greater fool. At his height, he was the most famous painter in Florence, perhaps in all the world. If I told you his name now, you would not recognize it."

PREVIOUS: Chapter 3
NEXT: Chapter 5

Kindle Author Interview: Jeffrey A. Carver

Jeffrey A. Carver, author of The Chaos Chronicles, discusses his book, his journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about The Chaos Chronicles?

JEFFREY A. CARVER: This three-volume book starts on Triton, Neptune's moon. Here's how I describe the first volume, Neptune Crossing, online:

When John Bandicut sets out across the surface of Triton, he's hardly ready for the storm of chaos that's about to blow through his life. The alien quarx that soon inhabits his mind is humanity's first contact with an alien life. The quarx, part of an ancient galactic civilization that manipulates chaos theory to predict catastrophic events, seeks to prevent a cometary collision that could destroy the Earth. But it must have help. If Bandicut chooses to trust the quarx, he must break all the rules—indeed, sacrifice his life as he knows it—to prevent humanity's greatest cataclysm. Leaving friends and lover behind, hurtling across the solar system in a stolen spaceship, Bandicut can only pray that his actions will save the Earth—even if he doesn't live to see it again.

The new chaos of his life continues in Strange Attractors, which lands him in an enormous, enigmatic structure called Shipworld, out at the edge of the galaxy—and again, in The Infinite Sea, where he and some nonhuman friends he picked up in the second book find themselves beneath the surface of an alien sea. They have become, more or less against their wills, a band of world-rescuers. (The story continues in a fourth book, Sunborn, published separately—and in two books yet to be finished.)

I tend to write long, complex stories. It's in my nature. The Chaos Chronicles started as an attempt to break a very long, complex story into smaller sections, each to be written relatively quickly (for me—I'm a slow writer), with the story as a whole stretched out over some years. I didn't quite realize how many years. The three books in this volume took about a year each. (The series was planned at six volumes.) I took some time away to write Eternity's End, set in my Star Rigger Universe—unrelated to this series. That project took way longer than I'd expected. Then I returned to the Chaos series to write the fourth book, Sunborn, and that also took way longer than I'd expected. Six years longer. I'm working on the fifth book now: The Reefs of Time.

Each of these books has an Afterword, written especially for the ebooks, about the process of writing the book.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you do your world-building?

JEFFREY A. CARVER: The master of world-building was the late Hal Clement (Mission of Gravity).  He and I used to appear together on panels at conventions from time to time, and we noted that we had almost exactly opposite methods of world building. Hal would figure out the gravity and atmosphere and chemistry, and all the other physical parameters, and then work out what kinds of beings might live there. I always start with my characters—human or nonhuman—and learn what kinds of beings they are, then figure out what kind of world they must have. I always sort of wished I could do what Hal did. Hal told me once he wished he could do what I did.

I research as needed. In the case of Triton, I consulted with a scientist at JPL on what it would be like to be on Triton. In Strange Attractors, I was free to make it up; the world was an artificial environment designed to support many kinds of life. In The Infinite Sea, I drew on my own underwater experience as an avid scuba diver for a sense of what it would be like to life and move undersea. 

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

JEFFREY A. CARVER: Almost the same answer: it's a process of discovery. The characters are the most important part of my stories. I learn about them as I write their stories. I'm not one of these people who creates biographies for my characters before I start writing. I couldn't possibly do that. I have to see how they operate under stress, how they relate to others, before their larger stories emerge in my own mind. Most of my characters start with a single image in my mind, or a situation, and everything grows from that tiny nucleus. It's a matter of constantly asking myself questions, and being alert for details that matter. I should acknowledge, too, that the group of writers I meet with regularly help me sometimes in seeing things that are difficult.

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

JEFFREY A. CARVER: A bright, curious person with a sense of wonder and a desire to explore interesting worlds and peoples with me. Age, somewhere between ten and a hundred and ten. My readers are the best people in the world! (Not that I'm prejudiced or anything.)

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

JEFFREY A. CARVER: I started showing signs of interest in writing in junior high, but really went at it more seriously in college. I collected rejections for six years, then sold a story to Fiction Magazine. They lasted just long enough to publish it. Then I sold to Galaxy, and continued to collect encouraging rejections from anthology editors. Finally, one of them asked me if I'd be interested in writing a novel—send me an outline, he said—and I jumped at the chance. That was how I wrote my first novel, Seas of Ernathe. After that, I mostly focused on novels, with Star Rigger's Way, The Infinity Link, and others.  I'm working now on my 17th book, which is the fifth in the Chaos series.

One of the best things that happened to me as a writer was joining a good writing group. I'm still part of it, more than 30 years later! And they help me with every piece of fiction I've ever written and published.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

JEFFREY A. CARVER: I think I pretty well covered that, except that I'd add: rewrite, rewrite, rewrite for as long as needed. And pay close attention to your editor, because he or she probably has insights that you're missing.

DAVID WISEHART: You wrote a novelization for Battlestar Galactica. How did that process differ from your work on other novels?

JEFFREY A. CARVER: It was great fun. I'd just finished the first draft of Sunborn, after years of struggle. I got to work with the script and the final DVD of the show, and turn a visual production into a novel. The story-creating part of my brain got a little rest, while the part that figured out how best to tell the story got to run free. It was a fast job—they didn't give me much time—and I didn't have too much latitude to expand on the story. But that was okay. The most interesting part of it was discovering scene after scene that worked great on the screen, but didn't quite hold up to the written page—and working out how to change things just enough to enable the story that worked so well onscreen to work as well on the page.

It must be said, too, that it was cool as hell to be involved in the show even on that level. It turned me into a fan of the series.

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

JEFFREY A. CARVER: Rows and rows of authors on my bookshelves. The classic writers like Heinlein, Bradbury, and Clarke. The younger writers—no longer so young—who followed, like Brin and Ellison and LeGuin. Tiptree, Silverberg, Cordwainer Smith. Tolkien. A blur of writers who followed. Willis. Haldeman. I created a page on my website of recommended reading because every time someone asked me who my favorite writers were, my mind would go white. There are so many!

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

JEFFREY A. CARVER: The Lord of the Rings.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

JEFFREY A. CARVER: The traditional way, right up until ebooks. Two years ago, I released ebooks of the first three Chaos books for free download for a good, long time, in order to promote the new publication of Sunborn. (They were out of print in paper.) Many of my backlist books were released as ebooks through E-reads.

Then, last year, I decided to go indie with a handful of my books. The first three Chaos books. Eternity's End. Then the Chaos omnibus. And I'm working now on a soon-to-be-released two-book omnibus of two of my star rigger novels, Dragons in the Stars and Dragon Rigger.

DAVID WISEHART: With a successful career in traditional publishing, why publish on Kindle under your own imprint?

JEFFREY A. CARVER: For all but the most successful writers, backlist is dying in traditional publishing. Also, all indications were that there was more room for actually earning decent money from my books if I repubbed them myself—not just on Kindle, but also Nook, and several other stores via Smashwords. Those indications were correct. This is proving to be a more profitable model—at least for me, right now, with backlist books.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

JEFFREY A. CARVER: I think for new writers, it's still best to try to break in through traditional publishing. Don't underestimate the value of working with an experienced editor, and with a company that knows books and knows how to publish them. That said, what works for one person might not work for another. For some people, going indie clearly offers benefits. But if you do, research what you're doing. Find an editor—pay an editor—to work with you to produce the best writing you can produce. Don’t do it fast; do it right. Care about quality. Care about the reader.

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeffrey A. Carver writes, "If there's one guiding principle to my writing, it is that I try to tell stories that I would want to read myself—stories that excite, compel, and entertain. As a fiction writer, my favorite themes have been star travel, alien contact, artificial intelligence, and transcendent realities—and the moral, ethical, and spiritual implications of these possibilities. Though I'm known primarily as a hard science fiction writer, the characters are always the most important part of my stories.

"Born in Cleveland in 1949, I lived for most of my growing years in Huron, Ohio, on the shores of Lake Erie, where I was a pretty decent high school wrestler and an annoyingly dedicated student. Upon graduating from Brown University (Providence, R.I.) in 1971 with a degree in English, I stayed in New England, where I live today. In 1974 I earned a Master of Marine Affairs degree (translation: ocean resources management) from the University of Rhode Island—a degree I have never really put to use. At various times I have been a scuba diving instructor, a quahog diver, a UPS sorter, a word-processing consultant, a private pilot, and a stay-at-home dad. I now live with my family in the Boston area, where I divide my shrinking time between home duties and writing (both fiction and freelance technical and web-content writing). I am a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and The Authors Guild.

"I was also, in 1995, the host of an educational television series, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing, aimed at teaching junior high school students the basics of science-fiction writing. That material later grew into the online course Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, originally published by MathSoft, Inc., and aimed primarily (but not exclusively) at younger aspiring writers. Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy is now online and free to the public at WriteSF.com.

"My interests include science, space travel and astronomy, religion, nature, underwater exploration, and flying. I wish I had more time to spend on them!"

Visit his website, read his blog, and check out his free online writing course.

Are you a Kindle author? Would you like to be interviewed for this blog? You can! See details on my Kindle Authors Wanted page.

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Kindle Author Interview: Blake M. Petit

Blake M. Petit, author of Other People's Heroes, discusses his book, his journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about Other People's Heroes?

BLAKE M. PETIT: Other People's Heroes is a superhero adventure about a reporter who has grown up wanting to be one of his city's champions. When he discovers a power of his own he thinks he has his shot, but instead, he learns that the Capes of Siegel City aren't what he thought they were.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

BLAKE M. PETIT: Major characters, for me, are often dictated by the plot, then developed in relation to it. I think of the sort of person that fills the role I need for the story, and go from there. Of course, sometimes a character will surprise me (as happened with the character Sheila Reynolds in OPH) and I wind up course-correcting the plot to follow where they want to go.

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

BLAKE M. PETIT: For OPH, I'm really looking at two audiences. First off, this is a love letter to superheroes, and I think anyone who likes old-school comics will enjoy the book. It's also a comedy/adventure, the kind of tale where funny characters react to a serious situation in an amusing way. It's the Ghostbusters/Back to the Future/Shaun of the Dead effect I'm going for.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

BLAKE M. PETIT: That's a tough one, as I don't think it's really over yet... and probably never will be. I had an overactive imagination when I was a kid. I had a couple of great teachers who showed me how to turn that into an asset instead of a liability. Ever since then, I've been learning the craft, how to shape a story, and what kinds of stories I really want to tell. I think my writer's journey is as much about learning what stories are already in me as it is about anything else.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

BLAKE M. PETIT: It changes from project to project, but usually I have to have a strong set-up and a clear ending in mind. From there, I just write one word after another. The ending may (and often does) change as I go through the story, but without an end point in mind, I lose my way and get bored. If I know where I'm going, I can find my way to the end. Then, once I'm done with the first draft, the REAL work begins...

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

BLAKE M. PETIT: Writers who write ABOUT Story are the ones that speak to me the most—Neil Gaiman, William Goldman, Kurt Busiek, Terry Pratchett and Stephen King in particular. I also have an appreciation for the classics, which helps, as I'm an English teacher in my day job. I continue to be amazed every time I read something by Mark Twain.

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

BLAKE M. PETIT: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Besides just being a fantastic book, it's a nearly flawless example of character development and world-building. Anyone who wants to write speculative fiction of any kind should study the hell out of that book.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

BLAKE M. PETIT: That's still a work in progress. Last year, I recorded the entire book and released it a chapter at a time as a free podcast novel. Now that it's in ebook form, I'm hustling up coverage and interviews from any blogger, reviewer, and podcaster who'll have me, in addition to putting together a podcast promo and using Social Media to spread the word as much as possible.

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

BLAKE M. PETIT: Superhero novels have an audience, but it's not a huge one. Plus, this book is a revised and expanded edition of a paperback that came out some years ago. Once I got the rights to the book back from the original publisher, I thought that this would be a better, faster way to get it out there in the public eye than spending months or potentially years looking for a new print publisher. The ebook space is proving to be really effective at getting stories to people who otherwise may never have seen them. I've got one more book from that old publisher that I'm going to release the same way once I finish revisions. After that, I'm going to take a couple of new projects and hunt for traditional homes, but I think the ebook format is going to be vital to any author trying to make a name for himself in the future.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

BLAKE M. PETIT: It's old advice, but it's so, SO true: get someone you trust (NOT your mother) to edit your book. Get a few people, in fact. Get people who either don't care enough to lie to you about how awesome you are or care TOO much to lie about how awesome you are, and then revise the heck out of the book before you send it out there. Then, be all over the Internet and shout the fact that you've got a book at anybody who'll listen.

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Blake M. Petit is a writer, columnist, reviewer, podcaster, actor, director, and teacher from Ama, Louisiana. He is the author of the novels Other People’s Heroes and The Beginner (coming soon as an ebook), as well as the short story collection A Long November and Other Tales of Christmas. His weekly comic book column, Everything But Imaginary, has appeared Wednesdays at CXPulp.com since 2003. In January of 2007 he joined with his longtime friend Chase Bouzigard to host the weekly 2 in 1 Showcase comic book podcast, appearing every weekend at CXPulp. Blake is a member of the board of directors of the Thibodaux Playhouse theatre company in Thibodaux Louisiana, where his original stage play The 3-D Radio Show was produced in 2004. In a former life as a newspaper editor, his weekly Think About It column won the Louisiana Press Association Award for best column in 2001. In his free time, he teaches high school English, which at the moment pays better than the rest of his more impressive-sounding endeavors put together.

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Kindle Author Interview: Terry Odell

Terry Odell, author of When Danger Calls, discusses her book, her journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about When Danger Calls?

TERRY ODELL: When Danger Calls is the first in my Blackthorne, Inc. series.

If someone asks single mother Frankie Castor to clear a room, she'll smile and find a vacuum cleaner. Ryan Harper uses a gun. Can they work together when their lives depend on it?

Frankie’s returned to her childhood home in Montana to help care for her mother. Her biggest worries are balancing the budget and the upkeep of an aging home. When she offers a man a ride home from the hospital, she never imagines she’ll end up having to choose between her daughter’s life and matters of national security that could cost the lives of millions. Ryan returns to his family home to find a way to prove he didn’t leak vital information on a covert ops mission gone south. As he searches for the meaning of a file he’s kept hidden from the mission, he has no idea that international mercenaries have been searching for it—and him. When the mercenaries come after Ryan, he’s torn. Fighting for his country wars with fighting to rescue people he loves. Set against a Montana mountain backdrop, When Danger Calls is a story filled with action, adventure, and romance, where the stakes keep getting higher and higher.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you create and maintain dramatic tension?

TERRY ODELL: I start by giving my characters what seem to be reasonable goals. In When Danger Calls, the heroine is driven by family loyalties. She's a single mom with a decent career, but quits her job and moves across country to keep an eye on her elderly mother. From that point, I ask myself what obstacles I can throw in her path, escalating the stakes until by the end of the book, she's coming face to face with terrorists. It's a matter of giving her a goal in every scene, and then blocking the path to achieving it. Or, sometimes, letting her achieve it but having it backfire.

For Ryan, my hero, he's a covert ops specialist and good at his job. So when his last two missions go south, and he's accused of being the leak, or worse, the traitor, he quits his job and sets off to find the real culprit and clear his name. And I'm going to keep doing what I can to make sure he can't get what he wants. At least not easily.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

TERRY ODELL: I'm very much a character-oriented reader and writer. I usually start with either the hero or heroine. Once I know what they want, I'll find another character who seems to have the opposite goals. For example, in When Danger Calls, I started with Ryan, a covert ops specialist. On a recent mission, he was unable to save a young girl, who died in his arms. To create conflict, I throw him a heroine who's a single mother, who has a child about the same age. For Frankie, she's not looking for a husband. First and foremost, a man has to be someone who will love her daughter. Then, using the mystery/suspense plot lines, I can bring them together and pull them apart.

But perhaps the first thing I do to find characters is advertise. You can sit in on Frankie's job interview here: http://www.terryodell.com/editable_files/FrankieInterview.html and Ryan's here: http://www.terryodell.com/editable_files/RyanInterview.html.

As for differentiating characters, I think it's important to have secondary characters to help show more about the main characters. In When Danger Calls, Ryan deals with his ex-partner, Dalton, who's an outgoing Texan, known to have the best poker face on the team, and able to scam anything. He's quite different from the reserved, quiet Ryan. And the fun for me is that I get to write Dalton's story in the upcoming sequel, Where Danger Hides.

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

TERRY ODELL: In a nutshell—someone like me. I write the books I want to read. I'm looking for a good story with characters I can love.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

TERRY ODELL: How much time do you have? I did NOT write my first book in crayon. I never had dreams of being a writer. The short answer is, "I ran out of room on my walls for needlepoint and needed a creative outlet." But once I started writing, (and I was a card-carrying AARP member before tackling my first story, which was a Highlander fan-fiction short story), I found it's as important as breathing. I decided to try writing an original story, where the characters weren't already established. I thought it was a mystery, but my daughters insisted it was a romance. It was picked up by what was then Cerridwen Press, an electronic publisher, so I've been writing for the digital market long before the Kindle came into being.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

TERRY ODELL: I start with the character conflict I described above. I normally write about a scene a day. I'll read what I wrote at night, catch any errors or problems, and then the next day I'll go back and fix the scene, then move on. I'll decide what plot points and conflict need to be in the scene. I generally don't know where I'm going until I get there. I have no problem deciding that "something bad will happen" without worrying about what it is. For When Danger Calls, I knew Ryan had taken a file from his failed mission, and that it would be important, but I didn't really know what it was until well into the book.

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

TERRY ODELL: I say I have two categories of authors who inspire me. The first are the ones who, after reading, make me say, "I'll never be able to write like that." The second are the ones who inspire me to keep writing—the ones who make me say, "This guy got published, and I can write much better than that," so I keep going. I look at my first mentor, Sandra McDonald, who taught me the basics. The late Barbara Parker always had time and advice, sometimes painful to take, but it helped me grow. Suzanne Brockmann and JD Robb's characters and voices definitely fall into category one.

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

TERRY ODELL: That's a tough one. I think most of my books have bits and pieces of so many others, but from the time I was a child, I was always "fixing" stories so they came out the way I wanted them to. So even if I had a book that I wish I'd written, I'd probably have written it differently. If you insist on a title, I'd say Naked in Death by JD Robb. I read it, and immediately went to the bookstore and bought the remaining (at that time) 14 books in the series. But again, it was because of the characters more than the story.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

TERRY ODELL: I prefer to market "me"—I'll have 6 books out as of mid-June, I'm not marketing a single series. I have a website: http://www.terryodell.com and a blog: http://terryodell.blogspot.com. I go to conferences. I give workshops, both "live" and on-line. I have a Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/terry.odell and a Twitter identity (@authorterryo). I belong to MWA and its Rocky Mountain chapter, and RWA, and its Pikes Peak chapter. I also belong to Backlist eBooks, a group of authors who are re-publishing their back lists in digital formats.

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

TERRY ODELL: Why not? I was publishing with digital publishers before Kindles existed, and with the advent of so many new reading devices, making books available in as many formats as possible seems a logical step. Where I live, there are no bookstores, and the library is 15 miles down the mountain. Reading on an e-reader is much easier for me, and buying books with a click is a no-brainer. Plus, the digital market is less "restricted" than the big print publishers. I don't write in the box, and I don't like being pigeonholed, so e-publishing gives me a chance to tell the stories I want to tell. With the exception of my free short stories, all my books are available for the Kindle. I'd have those there, too, but Amazon doesn't let authors give away stories.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

TERRY ODELL: Make sure you're not publishing because you're getting rejections from agents or editors. It shouldn't be a shortcut. Understand why it's not being picked up. It could be because it's not ready. Have people who know the business read it, even if it means paying for it. An unedited manuscript will hurt your career. Yes, it's an investment of time and money, but you want to get quality out there.

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Terry Odell took up writing when she ran out of space on her walls for needlepoint and needed another creative outlet. She began writing what she thought was a mystery, until her daughters told her it was a romance. An avid mystery reader, she now combines her love of mystery with the happily ever after of romance. She is the author of six romantic suspense novels, with three publishers. She’s been a finalist in the Daphne du Maurier, the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, the Aspen Gold, as well as placing in the Laurel Wreath, and Best of the Best from Night Owl Romances. In addition, she is the author of numerous contemporary romance short stories with The Wild Rose Press.

When she writes, one of her favorite methods of developing characters is to shove them together and listen to them talk. She enjoys sharing what she’s learned about writing with others, and has given workshops for libraries and writing groups. A graduate of UCLA, she now makes her home in the mountains of Colorado where she can work on her next book and watch the wildlife from her window.

Visit her website, read her blog, find her on facebook, and follow her on twitter.

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Kindle Author Interview: Courtney Schaffer

Courtney Schaffer, author of The Story of Anna McGee, discusses her book, her journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about The Story of Anna McGee?

COURTNEY SCHAFFER: My story is about Emmie who works as a psychologist with the Edmonton Police. A horrible, tragic murder happened and Anna McGee is the only survivor. Emmie is told to interview Anna and find out what happened. Anna scares Emmie to the core and keeps luring Emmie back. Emmie must balance work, a secret relationship, and find out what happened in the McGee house in order to have her happily ever after that she deserves.

The Story of Anna McGee is my first short horror/romance story. I'm working on a vampire series entitled The Livia Winter Trilogy and two romance short stories.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

COURTNEY SCHAFFER: Developing my characters is definitely a process. I find little traits in myself and others that I include in my characters. I like writing a paragraph or two about my characters and including their looks, interests, and dislikes to develop their personalities. It helps me get a feel for who they are and how they think.

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

COURTNEY SCHAFFER: My ideal reader is likely female with an age range of late teens to late forties. They could truly be any age.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

COURTNEY SCHAFFER: Anna McGee is my first published short. It took a lot of courage to publish it and put it out there. I'm fairly new so criticism is expected. I have published poetry here and there for practice. I'm working on editing the few shorts I have to add to Kindle. I'm fairly inexperienced with publishing and starting out. It can be a daunting task.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

COURTNEY SCHAFFER: My house is hectic and loud with my husband, our son, and two dogs. I wait until everyone has gone to bed for the night and I start writing around 11pm. My desk is by a window so I can sit down with my laptop or paper and pen and write in peace.

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

COURTNEY SCHAFFER: Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Charlaine Harris, and Michael Crichton.

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

COURTNEY SCHAFFER: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton or Misery by Stephen King. They both took risks and pushed boundaries.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

COURTNEY SCHAFFER: I've marketed my story on Kindle and Smashwords. I plan to market all of my shorts and my Livia Winter Trilogy the same way. I've promoted through forums, Twitter, and Facebook, blog interviews, and book reviews.

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

COURTNEY SCHAFFER: I've sent numerous queries and submissions for the stories and books that I have written. After reading on a forum about Kindle publishing I figured I should give it a try. It's an interesting process taking everything I have, editing on my own, creating my own covers, and publishing it. It can be depressing when a writer wants to be published so badly and every query or submission is returned.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

COURTNEY SCHAFFER: My advice is to never give up. The first story might not be the greatest but reviews, advice, and interviews help so much. It helps to gain confidence to take that next step with your writing. You have to push yourself and not be afraid to write your heart out, regardless of what anyone thinks. If your first story doesn't do well then work on a new one and make it ten times better! Keep trying!

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Courtney Schaffer writes, "It's simple. I'm a mommy, wife, and writer. I love to travel and fly. I love listening to music as much as I can. I love movies, theater, and television. I've been writing short stories, novels, songs, and poetry since I was 10. I enjoy baking, painting, and writing outside."

Read her blog.

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Wednesday

"The Vatican Dagger" (The Alchemy of Blood, Book 1) by David Wisehart — Chapter 3

A vampire novel set in the Italian Renaissance.

Dracula, the exiled prince of Wallachia, arrives in Rome pursued by rumors of his evil past. Hoping to establish a new power base among the warring city-states of Italy, Prince Dracula allies himself with the Borgia family.

In exchange for a secret marriage contract with Lucrezia Borgia, Dracula helps Cardinal Borgia become Pope Alexander VI. But when the new pope forbids the marriage of Lucrezia to the Wallachian prince, Dracula's revenge threatens the Borgia dynasty and the future of the Roman Catholic Church.

The pope's brilliant son, Cesare Borgia, enlists the aid of Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolò Machiavelli to defeat the growing forces of darkness.


The Vatican Dagger
by David Wisehart

The bull, pierced by banderillas, turned and charged with fury into the crowd. People standing in the path of the bull tried to run. Others pressed in from behind, granting no escape. Dipping his horns, the bull gored a fat man and flipped him high into the air. The man landed on his back in the center of the piazza. Blood pooled around his legs. The bull cut a path through the onlookers until the blue-caped toreador leaped onto the back of the beast and thrust a toledo through its brain, dropping the bull in an instant.

Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia cheered from his office balcony above the public square. He scattered a basketful of rose petals into the wind and tossed a heavy coin purse to the victorious bullfighter.

A familiar voice called the cardinal back inside. "Your guest has arrived," said the secretary, Ludovico.

Rodrigo Borgia entered his office and closed the balcony doors behind him, damping the noise of the crowd.

"Two people were killed in the bullfight," he said. "Please see that they don't rot outside my window."

The secretary nodded and backed out of the room.

In a moment, the expected guest arrived, entering the office like the shadow of a storm cloud. He was an enormous man, a full head taller than Rodrigo Borgia, who considered himself a towering figure. The visitor's black robe contrasted with his chalky white skin. His dark eyes surveyed the room, then came to rest on Rodrigo.

Those eyes had never known fear.

Yes, thought Rodrigo. He is everything they say, and more.

"Welcome. I am Cardinal Borgia, Vice Chancellor of the Roman Church."

The man bowed and kissed Rodrigo's ring.

"Your Eminence," he said, not in Italian but in a guttural Latin. He had a thick accent, like the merchants from the East.

Rodrigo abandoned the vernacular, switching to the imperial tongue. "Would you care for a drink, my friend?"

"Are we friends?" the man asked.

"You are Vlad Dracula, I believe. The Prince of Wallachia?"

"You are well informed," said Dracula.

Rodgrigo crossed to the serving table and poured two cups of a strong Tuscan vintage. He rarely served guests from his own hand, but this was no ordinary guest. Rodrigo suspended protocol for a sense of camaraderie. He spoke as if they were old friends reunited after the wars. "I heard you were killed last year. In battle, fighting the Turks near Bucharest."

"I heard that story, too. I choose not to believe it."

The cardinal handed Dracula a cup, and lifted his own in toast. "To a long life."

Dracula finished his wine in a single quaff, then set the cup aside. "Did you call me here for a reason, Your Eminence?"

Rodrigo settled into his richly upholstered chair, leaning back with a sigh. "Are you a religious man?"

"I was born into the Orthodox, the religion of my people. But I converted to Roman Catholic years ago."

"Good. The pope will be pleased. Not that I care, mind you, but it will make things easier."

"What things?"

Rodrigo ignored the question. "I have seen you here before."

"This is my first trip to Rome."

"Are you sure?" asked Rodrigo. "I see you nearly every month. I've seen you in the marketplace, I've seen you on the street, I've seen you in this very room."

"That is not possible—"

Rodrigo raised a hand to silence him. With his other hand, he removed a silver coin from his desk and tossed it in the air.

Dracula caught the coin, glanced at it, and burst out laughing. "You speak the truth," he said, admiring the Wallachian silver. "I have traveled more than I realized."

"The likeness is striking."

"It was struck from my likeness."

"A clever fellow, too," said Rodrigo. "I should have met you years ago."

The smile melted from Dracula's face. He dropped the coin on the cardinal's desk. "Years ago I was a different man."

Dracula no longer wore the thick mustachio depicted on the coin. Rodrigo wondered if the prince had shaved it as a disguise, or to conform with Italian custom. Either way, it was not the bare lip that puzzled him most, but the niveous skin.

"You are a very pale man," he said. "Is that common in Wallachia?"

"A disease of the epidermis, which I contracted last year. Direct sunlight burns me. I won't bore you with the other symptoms, but they are not entirely pleasant."

"Is this why you fled into exile?" asked Rodrigo.

"Did I say I was in exile?"

"If you were still the Prince of Wallachia, you would not ride through Rome surrounded by Pazzis."

Dracula fixed him with a dark stare, saying nothing.

Rodrigo continued, undaunted. "The Pazzi family is weak. You could do much better."

"I am a foreigner," said Dracula, "and the Pazzis have taken me in."

"Yes, it is easy to be taken in by the Pazzis."

"I trust no one."

"Good. You will live longer that way. I am a foreigner myself." He pointed to the Spanish furnishings that decorated his office. A map of Catalonia, landscapes of Valencia and Jativa, and a large tapestry embroidered with a bull passant, the crest of the Borgias. "A Catalan among the Italians. They do not love me here. And they will not love you."

"It is better to be feared than loved."

Dracula turned to the window, looking out to the piazza where bloodstains marked the afternoon's entertainment.

Rodrigo recalled the diplomatic report from Bishop Gabriele Rangoni, received in March of last year. The report had been addressed to Pope Sixtus, but Rodrigo controlled a vast network of spies, and made it his business to monitor all messages to and from the pontiff. The letter from Bishop Rangoni, papal legate to Wallachia, had piqued Rodrigo's interest and fired his imagination. In it, the bishop described Prince Dracula's ruthless war against the Turks. "He tore the limbs off the Turkish prisoners and placed their severed parts on stakes," wrote the bishop. "He killed about 100,000 human beings by means of the stake or by other horrific tortures."

Was it any wonder that the pope now welcomed this defender of the faith?

"We hear many strange tales in Rome," said Rodrigo. "Each more outlandish than the last." He leaned forward, lowering his voice. "Is it true that you impaled the Turks alive?"

Dracula turned back to face the cardinal, and Rodrigo saw the sudden fierceness in his eyes. "Yes. Thousands of them. Men, women, and children. I skewered them from ass to skull and left them hanging there to die. As a warning to my enemies."

Rodrigo smiled. "Then let us be friends."

PREVIOUS: Chapter 2
NEXT: Chapter 4

Kindle Author Interview: Julie Hyzy

Julie Hyzy, author of Artistic License, discusses her book, her journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about Artistic License?

JULIE HYZY: Artistic License is a standalone romantic suspense. After five years in a bad marriage, Annie Callaghan establishes a mural painting business, recovers a stolen masterpiece, solves a murder, and finds new love. All in her first trimester.

Artistic License is my first published novel. It debuted in 2004 in hardcover and went on to multiple printings and paperback. What I love about this novel is how we watch Annie change as she recognizes new love and decides to go for it. She grows and learns and I had fun revisiting the wonderful excitement of a new relationship. In the interest of honesty, and now that I have ten novels behind me, I can see that there I made a few rookie errors writing. But the story is still one that remains close to my heart.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

JULIE HYZY: Character development is one of my favorite things. I usually spend a lot of time writing up a history of my main characters so I know where they came from, who influences them, and how they tackle problems. Of course, they surprise me from time to time when they refuse to behave the way I want them to. When that happens, I go back to discover the disconnect. You know what? The character is always right.

Occasionally, a character pops into my head, fully formed, with a name and a background and story to tell, ready to go. When that happens, I step back and allow the new character to introduce himself or herself. It's like magic. It's wonderful—this discovery.

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

JULIE HYZY: At first I thought my ideal reader would be a female, around age thirty-five, but I've found that I have more than a few male readers, and the age range for my stories runs from about age 13 to well over 90. I get a great deal of email from readers and there really isn't one solid demographic.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

JULIE HYZY: My first professional sale was a short story to a Star Trek anthology, Strange New Worlds, Volume V, published by Pocket books. I had stories in the next two volumes as well. Writing, for me, is like breathing. I have to do it. As I was bringing out my short stories, I'd started working on my first novel. That turned out to be Artistic License.

As you know, that's a standalone, and I loved the novel process so much, I went on to begin the Alex St. James series, with Deadly Blessings and Deadly Interest. At about that time, I was offered the opportunity to write the White House Chef series for Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime, beginning with State of the Onion. There are now four books in that series (most recent: Buffalo West Wing) with at least two more to come. I also write a second series for Berkley, the Manor House Mysteries. Grace Under Pressure has been out for about a year, and Grace Interrupted comes out in June.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

JULIE HYZY: I like to begin with a blank sheet of paper, turned sideways. I write down my protagonist's name in the center along with the names of her family, friends, colleagues, etc. Additionally I decide who has been murdered and why. At that point I try to determine the villain, but that often changes during the course of the writing. I also draw lines and scribble notes to indicate relationships.

I usually come up with a *very* loose outline, putting pieces of the story on Post-it notes and tacking them up on a big board. This is just enough to keep me moving forward. I have the worst memory, so this is extremely important. Things change a great deal during the course of writing, but I like to always know where I've been and what I originally had planned.

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

JULIE HYZY: I love Ray Bradbury more than any other writer. He's wonderful. Absolutely brilliant. I'm a huge fan of Diana Gabaldon, Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky. And I gobble up Jonathan Kellerman whenever he brings out something new. Lots of others, but those are some of my favorites.

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

JULIE HYZY: Jane Eyre.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

JULIE HYZY: I have a website, of course. And a personal blog. And a newsletter. All the basic stuff. I hand out bookmarks and occasionally do author talks. What has been great for me has been being a part of MysteryLoversKitchen.com and KillerCharacters.com, two fun blogs with other mystery writers.

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

JULIE HYZY: Artistic License, Deadly Blessings, and Deadly Interest garnered some nice reviews when they were first published. My character, Alex St. James, developed quite a loyal following. I still hear from readers asking when I'll write more. The books were doing nothing but sitting on my hard drive. Putting them up on Kindle has been the best.

In fact, response has been so incredibly positive that I decided to bring a never-before-published novel out as well. My Playing With Matches (published under pseudonym N.C. Hyzy) was optioned for film some time ago, but I'd never had it published. Just recently, I realized it might do better as a Kindle book than it would in print, so I commissioned a cover and brought it to ebook life. So far, I'm thrilled. My protagonist, Riley Drake has been a big hit with readers.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

JULIE HYZY: Have your work professionally edited. It may take a lot of time and effort to get things right, but it is worth it in the long run. Absolutely worth it.

Also—unless you know what you're doing, have your work professionally formatted for Kindle. I had someone format my first three (including Artistic License) but since then I've learned how to format on my own and Playing With Matches was my first attempt. Whew! Turned out great.

Lastly, invest in a great cover. A good cover isn't cheap, but you need to draw readers in and that's your first chance to catch their attention.

Remember that it's more important to upload quality than quantity. You only get one chance to make a great first impression. Make sure you present your best, every step of the way. As I stated in the beginning, I will admit that my first novel, Artistic License, suffers from a few rookie errors, but it's a fun story and it's offered online exactly as it was in hardcover. I believe I've improved as a writer because I write almost every day. That's the biggest, most important piece of advice I can give anyone who has a book yearning to be written... Write Every Day!

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julie Hyzy has won the Anthony, Barry, Lovey, Derringer, and Phobos Awards for her novels and short fiction. She is the author of the White House Chef Mystery series featuring Ollie Paras, who feeds the First Family and saves the world in her spare time; as well as the Manor House Mystery series, featuring Grace Wheaton, curator of Marshfield Manor in North Carolina—Come for the tour, stay for the murder. All her titles are available on Kindle. Julie also writes under the pseudonym N. C. Hyzy (for her non-cozy stories) and under S. F. Hyzy (for her science fiction).

Visit her website.

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Tuesday

Kindle Author Interview: Kathryn Shay

Kathryn Shay, author of The Betrayal, discusses her book, her journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about The Betrayal?

KATHRYN SHAY: The Betrayal is my first, brand new full length novel up on Amazon this month. For a limited time only, it’s priced at $.99. Here’s the storyline: Darcy Weston flees to her grandparents’ abandoned farm after her stepfather rapes her. There, she meets Jordan Mackenzie, a local boy, and the friendship of a lifetime begins. Jordan helps sustain Darcy with food and water, and his company, for months, but eventually her whereabouts are discovered. In subsequent years, the two young people try to stay in touch from their disparate worlds, but eventually they drift apart.

Flash forward twelve years. Jordan is an accomplished teacher and Darcy, an internationally famous, reclusive artist. They meet again when Jordan publishes a book that reveals secrets about Darcy's past. But they find themselves thrown together first over the scandal his book creates, then over a murder. Once again, they turn to each other for help and comfort as they deal with police investigations, a variety of suspects from each other's worlds, and a passion between them which won't be denied.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

KATHRYN SHAY: Mostly, I decide I want to do a story about something (school violence, firefighters, a hero/heroine who met as kids) and then create characters who would populate that book I figure out the age, gender, personality traits and relationships he or she valued. I try to make sure the characters are all not married, all not single, etc. I try to vary their eye color, hair length, build. I think about how they’d talk: would they speak correct English, clip endings, swear? Would they use terms of endearment?

In The Betrayal, the hero and heroine meet as kids, she’s from New York City and he’s from a small rural area in upstate New York. She’s a bit older. So her speech patterns are different, she uses the f-word and he says things like, “Holy cow.” As they grow older she maintains the sophistication but he still talks in a more innocent way. Also, I make sure all characters dress according to their background and taste. I try to have clothing mirror their personalities. One of the hardest things to do is differentiate introspection, when you’re in the characters’ heads. Their thoughts have to reflect how they speak. For example, a twelve year old would not use the term bathe in thinking about taking a bath. And then there’s the whole ball game of how men and women speak/think differently.

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

KATHRYN SHAY: People who like emotional, gritty stories, who want an author who takes risks, who’s looking for a deep, meaningful read. I’ve always written cutting edge situations, not in danger or suspense, but in the topics I choose and how I present them. My last print book was The Perfect Family and it’s a redeeming story of a young boy’s coming out, but it’s got a lot of tough stuff in it. The Catholic Church is repudiated for its stance on homosexuality. I’ve written about teen suicide, domestic abuse, date rape, adultery (and how it can be forgiven), and even a book where the hero slept with the heroine’s mother in the distant past. On a lighter note, in The Betrayal, I have an artist and I describe the art she does, its meaning and how her style evolves as she does. I use this to show her personality. I think that’s a bit different. There are also substantive issues in the book like sexual abuse and New York City gangs. So I want readers who want to read this kind of material to buy my books. I hate for a book not to meet a reader’s expectation.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

KATHRYN SHAY: I started writing when I was in middle school. I wrote plays and the neighborhood kids would perform them. Then when I was fifteen, I wrote a short story about a woman who went to New York City and got a job on a newspaper. She and the male editor butted heads over the place of women reporters in real news. Of course, they fell in love. I should have known I’d start out with romance novels.

In college, my mother insisted I take education courses to fall back on, but I also took every writing class available. I fully intended to pursue a writing career until I stepped in front of a class in my practice teaching and fell in love with the profession. I went on to teach, but kept writing short stories, essays and poetry.

I had a happy life with a great job, kids who were six and nine, a terrific husband, church commitments and a lot of friends. But I wanted to try my hand at a longer work. So I wrote, Images, a story about a hero who’s undercover and the woman he betrays. I received, oh, at least twenty rejections from publishing houses and agents—some of them twice because I rewrote the book several times—and it never did sell. (Thankfully, because it really had a lot of flaws.)

As working writers advise you to do, I began my second novel right away. This one was about a suicidal teenager, her father and the school counselor who’s determined to help them both. I knew a lot more about that subject, as I was a teacher and had my share of dealing with kids in trouble. As I sent out this one, (while I wrote another!) and received more rejections on the second, I began to get discouraged. I thought, “What am I doing? I had a near-perfect life and now I’m miserable trying to break into publishing.” My critique partners encouraged me to hang in there, my husband told me I’d never get published if I didn’t keep at it and so I persevered.

Finally, an editor at Harlequin Superromance pulled my book out of the slush pile and it became The Father Factor, my first published novel. It ended up with about a million copies printed. (Yes, you read that right!) It’s been reissued, translated into several languages and remains some people’s favorite book of mine. (I’m about to re-release on Kindle very soon.) After that, I wrote twenty-five books for Harlequin.

By 1999, I was ready to take on another press so I could write longer, grittier works, with more flawed characters. It took 18 months to sell a single title romance to Berkley, but I did get an agent. Again, the first book I wrote for this market never sold. But eventually, I did get a contract and my first Berkley came out in 2002—ironically, Promises to Keep, another school story. I wrote eleven novels for them.

But I wasn’t finished yet. When my son came out gay, I decided I wanted to write a mainstream fiction about the effect of the coming out process on families. I started this book in 2004 and it took me five years to write, in between all my Harlequin and Berkley contracts. Then, happily, The Perfect Family sold in 2009 to Bold Strokes Books, was published in 2010 and is now available. This is the book of my heart, and I’m thrilled it will have an audience.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

KATHRYN SHAY: Wow, that’s so hard to answer. For The Betrayal, I wrote totally by “the seat of my pants” instead of plotting out the entire storyline. All I knew was I wanted to start the book when the hero and heroine were in their teens and then go forward several years when they come together as adults. I had no idea it would be a suspense novel, no idea what the professions of the characters would be, no idea who would populate the book. I simply started to write. As each sentence unfolded, so did the plot. Suddenly, Darcy was a runaway and Jordan was a small town boy. She took the bus to upstate New York, where they met at her grandparents’ farm. And so each line, each paragraph, each page went. When asked by non writers how I write a book, I always say “one scene at a time.” This was never more accurate than in The Betrayal. Of course, I didn’t even know it would be called that because I didn’t know a betrayal or two were going to occur. I didn’t foresee a murder. And best of all, I didn’t know who the killer was until the very last part of the book, hoping that if I didn’t guess who-done-it, the reader wouldn’t either.

Now, there are drawbacks to writing this way. Originally I didn’t have any of Jordan’s Journals written out in the chapters. But since they became a focus in later chapters, I had to go back and put them in. I also discovered there were going to be vital new characters in the last third of the book, and so I had to work them in earlier. And as always, once I really knew the characters, I went to page one and began adding and adjusting personality traits. It was a wild ride, one that I thoroughly enjoyed and feared as the book unfolded. Would I really be able to write this way? Most of my other books had synopses to work from. For some of them, I had a spiral notebook where I plotted scene by scene before I wrote each one. Also, I wondered if the story would come out a jumbled mess, because all I did for the first 150 pages was write one scene a day without looking back at the previous ones. It was a mess, but I revised and revised and revised some more. And you know what? This book didn’t take me any longer to write than my other novels.

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

KATHRYN SHAY: Nora Roberts, not just for volume of work she puts out, but also for her unique plots, humor and great love stories. John Irving because he’s funny and poignant at the same time and because his work is always a bit quirky. Judith Guest because Ordinary People is so emotional. And Margaret Atwood for being able to conceive of The Handmaid's Tale.

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

KATHRYN SHAY: Any of Nora’s Death series, and the two mentioned above.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

KATHRYN SHAY: I keep trying to find ways to do this. In the past, I’ve done ads in magazines, a print newsletter, flyers, bookmarks, post cards and brochures on my work. With the Internet, everything changed, and now I don’t do any paper advertising, except some bookmarks once in a while. Since the digital world became so popular, I’ve done Virtual book tours where the writer visits various websites (I went to thirty sites for The Perfect Family) where you post blogs and do interviews like this one. The site managers also write reviews. I’m hoping to do and ebook tour for The Betrayal. And, of course, I have a website, www.kathrynshay.com; a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/kathrynshay; and a Twitter account, http://twitter.com/KShayAuthor. I take out Kindle ads, banners, and sponsorships, I’m trying to get noticed on the Kindle Boards. And my books have been on Daily Cheap Reads. If you have ideas of what more I can do, please let me know.

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

KATHRYN SHAY: This is a very complicated issue for me. First let me say, I’d like to go back to a major house at some time, but for now, what I’ve done is working for me. I published The Perfect Family with Bold Strokes Books because they’re primarily an LGBT press and I believed the story would get the treatment it deserved. I was right. It was the book of my heart and I want to continue to write women’s fiction like this. I’m trying to decide what kind of story I want to write next. And I’m thinking about getting another agent.

Meanwhile, I decided to put up my backlist on Kindle simply for the money. Then, I liked the independence of it all and decided to try writing some new books. I did a series of novellas online to see if new work would fly, and so far they’ve been my best sellers. I’m hoping The Betrayal, which is also brand new, will follow suit. So far, it’s doing great.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

KATHRYN SHAY: What most new authors don’t seem to know is if they put a book up self-pubbed, they can still sell it to print publishers or get a print publisher. So what do they have to lose? I think it might take more time for a person who was not previously published to make a name for herself, but then again, look at Amanda Hocking

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathryn Shay has been a lifelong writer and teacher. She has published 41 novels from the Berkley Publishing Group, Harlequin Enterprises, Bold Strokes Books and has several online works featured. She has won five RT Book Reviews awards, four Golden Quills, four Holt Medallions, the Bookseller’s Best Award and several “Starred Reviews.” Her work has been serialized in Cosmopolitan magazine and featured in The Wall Street Journal and People magazine. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and children.

Visit her website, find her on facebook, and follow her on twitter.

Are you a Kindle author? Would you like to be interviewed for this blog? You can! See details on my Kindle Authors Wanted page.

Discover new writers! Subscribe to the FREE Kindle Author Newsletter.