Good Mysteries

A Place to Find Great Mystery Books

                     Interview with Author Stephen Brayton


 Stephen L. Brayton owns and operates Brayton’s Black Belt Academy in Oskaloosa , Iowa . He is a Fifth Degree Black Belt and certified instructor in The American Taekwondo Association. He began writing as a child; his first short story concerned a true incident about his reactions to discipline. During high school, he wrote for the school newspaper and was a photographer for the yearbook. For a Mass Media class, he wrote and edited a video project. In college, he began a personal journal for a writing class; said journal is ongoing. He was also a reporter for the college newspaper. During his early twenties, while working for a Kewanee, Illinois radio station, he wrote a fantasy based story and a trilogy for a comic book. He has written numerous short stories both horror and mystery. He has also written a paranormal mystery, entitled Night Shadows, sequels to Nights Shadows and Beta are in rewrite/revision stages.

You are a 5th Degree Black Belt instructor who owns Brayton’s Black Belt Academy in Oskaloosa, Iowa. You have a background in radio broadcasting and graphic design, among other things. When did writing enter the picture?

As a child reading Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown collections along with other mysteries, I started writing a few short stories featuring a Quad Cities detective named Sam P. Petersen. After college while working at a radio station, I discovered I had plenty of time to write. I completed a fantasy type novel and an introductory trilogy to a comic book venture that never took off. The serious writing began in middle and late 90’s after I moved to Oskaloosa, Iowa.

Who influenced you the most during your earlier days as a writer and why?

Well, I mentioned some of the books I had been reading. I also started enjoying horror novels. My parents urged me to keep writing along with a few teachers.

As fiction writers we create characters, giving birth to them as we bring them to life. Where did Mallory Petersen, your private detective in Beta, come from? Is she a composite of women you’ve known or a complete figment of your imagination?

Mallory is a salute to all the women I’ve met during my years in martial arts. She is what I strive to be as an instructor and her skills are phenomenal. Originally, I thought of resurrecting Sam P. Petersen, but decided a female protagonist worked better. Mallory has many of likes and dislikes and possesses some of my quirky sense of humor.

What are the top five elements that you think make a good story?

Knowledge of the English language. Writers have to know the rules for punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Yes, we all make mistakes, but agents, publishers, and especially readers will notice mistakes if we don’t catch them beforehand. Yes, writers are allowed to be creative, but the creativity better be part of the story and not just the writer being ignorant of the rules.

Understanding your style of writing. Every author must develop a style. Whether it’d be Patterson’s short chapters or Parker’s concise conversations, or Shakespeare’s using language nobody ever spoke or understood (I’m kidding, folks, don’t jump on my back), you have to know your style of writing and stay with it. Don’t copy another author or change up your style or you’ll turn off your readers.

Knowledge of the subject matter. If you’re writing a medical thriller, you’d better know the difference between the patella and the femur. Cop novels need realistic language and proper procedure. If you have a vampire showing up, know the parameters for your version of vampires. I just finished reading a book about white water rafting and the author’s knowledge of the activity kept me interested.

Knowledge of how to write. Writers must: know the proper placement for back story, how to move the story along so it doesn’t drag, know the places to add tension and when to ease it back, how to tweak the readers’ emotions and thoughts throughout the story. Concerning this last one, let me give examples. For mysteries, you must know when to sprinkle in the clues or red herrings. Do you want the reader to get emotionally involved with certain characters? How? Do you want to lead the reader down a certain path before you throw a twist in the plot?

Retaining truth and ‘realism’ in the story. I’ve read a lot of books where characters aren’t consistent throughout or are not believable. Imagine Star Trek’s Spock suddenly doing a stand up comedy routine. Characters must act and say things that fit their personality but also fitting their type. I read a story where the bad guy and his victim talked to each other way too long and said things inappropriate to the situation. I was instantly confused and turned off.

If you could sit down and talk to any author in the world (living or dead) who would it be and what is the first question you would ask him/her?

Be difficult to talk to a dead guy, wouldn’t it? Lol. Actually, I’d enjoy some time with H.P. Lovecraft. The first question? Unfortunately, and I know everybody asks writers this same question, but I’d want to know he conceived his ideas. The man wrote some fantastic material. I’d also like to let Robert E. Howard know how his stories would influence a plethora of future writers. The man was a tragic figure and suffered massive depression, especially after his mother’s death. He left this world way too soon and who knows how much more he could have created.

If a plot or storyline doesn’t seem to be working, how long will you struggle with it before you move on to something else?

Good question. I’ve had plots I thought were just awesome but when working the outline, realized I had no clue where to go with the story. After a few days they fizzle. However, I’ve been working on a sequel for one of my books for a few years and only a few days ago finally figured out a way I might be able to keep it alive.

Describe your work area and why that kind of atmosphere works for you.

I usually write in the lobby of the motel where I work nights. It’s quiet and I don’t get too many phone calls or guests checking in. If I’m writing longhand, I’ll dim some of the lights. The radio is tuned to the NPR station playing classical music. That stuff all sounds the same to me but it keeps my mind focused.

What made you decide to take up the Martial Arts in the first place?

I’m not a sports guy. I’d get slaughtered playing football and I can dribble well with only my left hand. I went out for Little League as a kid but came in last most times during track season. But I’ve always wanted to stay healthy and so I’ve played racquetball and lifted weights and recently got back into a little running even though I’m aware of any soreness in my knees. Back in 1991, I saw a sign advertising two weeks of free class at the local taekwondo club. I gave it a try, really liked it and stayed with it.

You’ve written novels and short stories; which do you prefer and why?

I don’t really have a preference. Short stories helped me practice my craft but I enjoy the pleasure of creating a novel. Once in awhile, I’ll have this great idea for a short story and I’ll complete it in a few days, then set it aside and come back and polish it up later.

What will you be working on in 2012?

My resume. Unfortunately, I’m half serious and may have to polish it sooner depending on how things progress at work. It’s a long sordid mess I’d rather not get into right now.

I’ve set myself a goal to complete the current private investigator story by the end of 2011. Then I’ll probably go back and hammer out the sequel to my first book, Night Shadows. I’d like to work on the third Mallory Petersen story if I can get the kinks out of the outline. Plus, there are few others in the bin waiting, so I have plenty of stuff to keep me occupied.

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                       Interview With Author Gary Rockey


      By way of Carnegie Mellon Drama Department, G. L.  Rockey earned a B.A. from Michigan State University and pursued a career in the television industry. From Providence to Phoenix and cities in between, he produced and directed a variety of television programs and managed TV station programming. While program manager at KTSP-TV in Phoenix, he represented NATPE (National Association of Television Program Executives) to Germany. He has a master's degree from Cleveland State University and taught a course there. 


Rockey’s works of fiction include novels: The Journalist*; a political thriller; Time&Chance, mystery suspense; Truths of the Heart, romance suspense; and an anthology, Bats in the Belfry, Bells in the Attic. He has also written a nonfiction book, From the Back of the House: Memories of a Steak House Clan. Reviews/samples at author’s website.


Rockey currently writes article for ScripType magazines and is at work on a fourth novel.


Keyword: G. L. Rockey




What inspired you to write your first book?

Looking at the big mahogany desk of a TV station general manager . . . I was his operations manager and we had weekly meetings with all department heads. First book started out as THE MAHOGANY DESK . . . turned out as TIME&CHANCE



What has been your biggest challenge as a writer?

Two things: Figuring out how to respond to people who think writing/art is not “real” work, and handling rejection . . . mostly notes from publishers


What other authors have most influenced your work?

This always sounds like boasting but I’m a little older . . . I like/liked reading Somerset Maughm, Thomas Wolfe, Edna Ferber, Faulkner, and don’t forget Steinbeck . . plays of Tennessee Williams, William Inge, Lillian Hellman . . . . more recently Nelson DeMille . .


Have you ever hated something you wrote? Did you scrap it or just rewrite it?

Sometime you think everything you write is hack .  .  . Unfortunately or fortunately I’m one of those who backup files from since every, some are on those disks before floppy, then floppy, now sticks and it’s all still there if and when it might be revisited . . .


Do you have a specific daily writing routine? What is it?

When it’s quiet, mostly in the early A.M. . . .


Are you a perfectionist?

I wish…


Do you outline your novels or just write off the cuff and see where the story takes you?

No outline usually, sometimes a rough one when a story starts to take shape just to see where we all are and who is saying what


What has been your greatest triumph as an author? Your greatest disappointment?

Haven’t had any triumphs yet . . . disappointments - - like Jeff Herman writes in his guide, “’There’s an ancient Jewish saying, ‘Man plans, God laughs.’”


Who is your favorite author and why?

I’d be fibbing . . .


What are you working on now?

Getting a print publisher for TRUTH’S OF THE HEART (it’s an ebook only now from London Circle; finding a publisher for a romance novel, FIVE STAR RVIEW; finishing a novel set in 2050; and marketing recently released novel REDACTED (Zumaya) 



                       Interview With Author Regan Taylor


From earliest childhood Regan Taylor was an avid reader and upon discovering Alexander Dumas and Charles Dickens she was hooked on books that carried the reader away to a different time and place. Preferring the quiet of her room and a good book to spending time with people she traveled far beyond those four walls.

 It was while working as a police dispatcher, first for the California Highway Patrol and then her local police department, she began to write fiction, primarily time travels and romantic suspense. In the spring of 2009 she returned to the day job she always liked best, working as a legal secretary. Although, curled up in her bunny slippers with her fur faced children, Mel, Missy and Bogie, while writing is one of her most favorite things to doer wrote?  In what ways do you feel you’ve improved as an author since then?

What was the first piece you ever wrote? In what ways do you feel you've improved as an author since then?


Oh, please, don’t ask!  It’s still available in some places and to be honest, not all that good.  I think if you ask most authors they’ll tell you their first book wasn’t quite as wonderful as we thought when we first wrote it.  Back then I didn’t understand point of view, I’d flip back and forth between omniscient and third person. I wrote more like a screen play than a novel – which makes sense coming from a theatre background. One of my editors, Jay, who has known me for oh gee, about 4-5 years and through six books has repeatedly told me she sees a difference from my first book and where I’m at now. I think I’ve got point of view down; I can pull more emotion and feel more comfortable with humor coming out for my characters

Do you have a special place where you go think and find inspiration for your books? Where is that and why did you choose it?

Not a place per se – I’ve dreamt most of my books or at least key scenes in them. They say most of us use only 10% of our brain. I believe that when we dream we are tapping into that other 90%. When I get in the writing mode and the words are just flowing I loose all sense of time and space. I’ll sit for hours and suddenly look around (or one of the cats will want some attention) and it’s only then that I realize how much time has gone by.

You write several series. Which is your favorite and why?

My favorite is my Bride Series. I love western romances. I think there’s that “girl” thing about horses and the image I have of men in the mid-1800s is so attractive to me. Oh I know women had no rights and what we consider as abuse today was fair game. But there is still something so romantic about the era.  Book 3, Traveling Bride, which is about to go through it’s second round of drafting, is a time travel. That is really my favorite genre.

How do you resolve issues/disagreements during the editing process?

That depends on the editor.  I’ve been fortunate to have several truly wonderful editors. They understand where I’m coming from as a writer, they understand there is a person at the other end of the email and they love the process as well as being extremely talented and the tops of their field. I’ve also had two editors from hell. They were rude, abusive and one of them lied about things that were easily verifiable to get her way.

As I said, I’ve been very fortunate with my editors on the whole. They are a key component to making the book the best it can be. They are an objective pair of eyes that are looking for what does and doesn’t work. While I may be friends with my editors, when it comes to the process, friendship stops at the door. I rely on them to spot the things that I may have missed.

My good editors see dialogue with me as part of the process.   With someone who is objective and shares the goal of making the book the best it can be there aren’t really any disagreements. Opinions, yes. But you work together  

What do you think is the key element in creating a good story?

I think it depends on the story and the genre. For me, it’s a combination of falling in love with my hero and liking my heroine enough so that if she were a real person, she’s someone I’d want to be friends with.

How much stock to you put in reviews? Do you think readers choose books based on what reviewers say?

No. Not very much. If it is a well written review, one that clearly states what does and doesn’t work I pay attention. If something worked, then I want to replicate those feelings.  If it didn’t, I want to know why it didn’t for that particular person. I’m not sure about readers relying on them. I know I don’t when I’m looking for something to read. But I suppose I’m an odd one because I’m not much for paranormals like werewolves, vampires and shapeshifters and it seems the majority of readers are.

What has been your most successful marketing tool so far?

Me.  LOL.  Indentured Bride, book 1 of my Bride Series has been my most read book so far. Two things happened that I feel pushed it up where it is: the first is I was paired on Amazon with Linda Lael Miller --- the program they have where it says “if you liked this book, you’ll like this one.”  If I ever meet Ms. Miller in person I’m going to give her the biggest hug ever. I know she didn’t have anything to do with the pairing, but if she wasn’t such a fabulous writer she wouldn’t have such a tremendous fan following and her book wouldn’t have been there to pair mine up with. (Hope that makes sense). The other is I contacted my local cable station and asked them “how’d you like to spend Valentine’s day with a romance author, or three?”  They said yes and three authors I adore (Karin Tabke, Brenda Novak and Allison Brennan agreed to do the shows with me – yes, shows!  I suggested a quick one day spot and the station said “how about a week of romance?”  Of course we said yes! So Indentured Bride was featured on the television station through the week.

Have you ever had writers’ block? How did you beat it?

I did for the first time this summer. My kitty, Molly, lived to be 22 and the last 5 years of her life she had chronic kidney disease.  She was my mainstay, my one constant for 22 years and suddenly she was gone. She was always by my side or with me, especially when I wrote. When she died life stopped for me. Not just writing, but life in general just kind of froze.

At the same time I was in the middle of 5 books being released over a six-month period.  I was in editing mode for most of last year and for me editing is a different mind set.  I believe when we write we are in a right brain mode – the creative side of our nature. When we edit, it’s very left brain. With edit after edit coming through I wasn’t really able to move into that creative side.  I did Nano in November and that got me kick started again.  And, I fell in love with the hero of that book. So there you go – falling in love does it for me.

How have your personal experiences affected your writing?

Oh definitely!  In many ways The Glass Cage was right out of my personal life. My McKenna series relies heavily on my background in law enforcement; the Eyes series draws on my belief in past lives and walk-ins. The Treasures Antique series again draws on some of my law enforcement background. You also see at least a reference to at least one of my cats in each book. It may be a character’s name or, like in The Photograph, MaiTai is the star of the book.

How do you feel about the e-book revolution?

Love it. Two years ago I’d see maybe 1 or 2 people a week reading an ebook on their PDA. Now I see at least a half a dozen Kindles and Nooks on the bus every day.  One of my personal “issues” with print books is I don’t like being without a read. With e-books you never have to worry about what to do when you finish your current read.

What are you working on now?

The Ten of Cups which is the fourth book in my Four Cups series, which is a sub-set of eXtasy’s Tarot series.  This one is going to be a little different for me. Well actually the series has been because my heroines are in their 40’s but they are surrounded by major hotties, two cougars and two married women with healthy libidos. This one, Amber’s story is shaping up a bit different from anything I’ve done before and I’m excited about it.  And remember the question on editors?  Well here’s a perfect demonstration of how it works with me.  I had the idea of where to go with this book and wrote my editor. We brainstormed some plot points before I even started writing it. I don’t think it would be as solid as it feels if I didn’t have her input on what would and wouldn’t work.

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                        Interview With Author Bob Boan         



BOB BOAN has been a member of the space community for over thirty years developing RF and optical systems for communications and sensing satellites. He has multiple patents and publications in his field. He has been a practicing author since 2003. Previously, he served in academia.

He earned a BS from Campbell University, a master’s from the University of Mississippi and a doctorate from Florida Institute of Technology.

You’ve written non-fiction of a scientific nature (An Introduction to Planetary Defense: A Study of Modern Warfare Applied to Extra-Terrestrial Invasion (Brown Walker 2006) & fiction - Williams Lake Was Once The Center of The Universe (Verbal Pictures Press 2008), Bobby becomes Bob (Twilight Times Books 2009) and Don’t Tell Brenda (Twilight Times Books 2011). Which genre do you prefer and why?

I enjoy working in both science and fiction. You might find it surprising that I, with my many years of training and practice in the sciences, prefer writing fiction. Whereas writing technical material is controlled by the laws of physics, I have control when writing fiction. In fiction, I am constrained only by my imagination. I get to design and develop characters and environments to facilitate the story line. I, and I alone, determine Who, What, When, Where and How. I start by selecting the beginning. Then I decide how I want the story to end. Then I fill in the details which lead one from beginning to ending. I can, and normally do, allow my characters and details of the plot to migrate from my original concept. I like to let them grow with the story.

Apparently, unlike some novelists, including at least a few well-known writers, I find it imperative to ensure that the physics is correct. Encountering a case of deviant science in a novel is the surest way to get me to abandon a book. Science fiction, within reasonable bounds, is given a bit of a pass with respect to the physical laws when a viable explanation is provided.    

As a scientist, you probably have a very organized mind. Does the workspace where you write reflect this? Describe it.

Organization is extremely important to me in all phases of my life. My workspace included. I insist on an area free of clutter. I have a microphone on the left side of my computer because I use voice recognition software to transcend my typing deficiency. I have two jump drives on the high side of the microphone. I have a mouse pad and mouse on the right side. When working at home, I frequently keep a dictionary nearby to confirm proper usage of words. I typically use the Internet on the road. There are other items in the vicinity but not allowed to invade the workspace. The remainder of the work area is open. I use two computers in my writing. I have a desktop at home and I travel with a laptop. The software configuration in both computers is the same. I transport the most current versions of my work from the machine on which it was generated to the other via jump drives. Because of my experiences with computer glitches and resulting data loss, I am a fanatic about backing up my work. When writing a book, I use two jump drives as backups as well as for transportation. My fifth in-progress back up is through an online service. I also backup the final version on a CD which is stored in my safe deposit box.

What inspired you to write Bobby Becomes Bob?

I don’t remember the exact original motivation. I first had the idea for what eventually became Bobby Becomes Bob in the late 80s. I thought it was a good story that should be told—I still do. In that incarnation, Bobby was going to be a spectacular hero. He was going to be so extraordinary that he exceeded the boundaries of his environment. That changed one day when one of my daughter said that she would like to know more about how things were when I was growing up. I didn't know what to tell her about my environment so I replied that if she asked questions I would answer. I came to recognize that she didn't know what questions to ask because she had no understanding of my pre-family life. So, I decided to try to show her and others through Bobby's eyes. I set about re-configuring the book. While I kept the original concept for the beginning and the ending, I changed the tone of the body. I made Bobby a vulnerable, naïve lad. I think that my efforts to tell her about life in the 50s and 60s produced a far more realistic and likeable Bobby. I had to coax the final Bobby out of the corners of my mind where he was hiding, intimidated by the original construct of his character. It was difficult to bring him to life after having had that original vision for my hero.

What do you think makes good writing?

To bake the best cake or to make the best pizza, use the best ingredients. The first and most important ingredient in good writing is a good plot. If you want to be a good writer, develop a good plot. The next ingredient is character development. Unfold your character descriptions over the course of pages and chapters. Your principle characters should be too complex and too important to the story to be exposed to the reader all at once. I like characters with whom I can identify. If your characters are too big or too powerful or too anything, you are using something other than the best ingredients and your writing will probably fall outside the category of good. The last principle ingredient in good writing is good storytelling. As the story is being told, season to taste.

All writers get discouraged at times. What was your lowest point as an author?

I tend to be an upbeat person; as a result, I experience very few low points. My lowest point as an author came in a self-addressed-and- stamped-return envelope that I had sent to an agent with a query letter and several chapters from a novel. Inside was a piece of paper with scribbling that effectively said, "Sorry. Good luck with your technical writing." I was bummed—not because I received a rejection—but by the fact that someone who I thought should have been championing writing and the book publishing industry had shown so little regard for my efforts. The agent apparently had read nothing more than my bio. I would much rather have read, "Edit your work more thoroughly." It did need significant editing. Alternatively, a comment like, "Your writing is far too immature to be sellable," would have been better and accurate. It would have been nice to have received some constructive criticism for making improvements in my work—realistically that may have been too much to ask.

Who has given you the most encouragement in your writing career?

In general, people have been very encouraging of my efforts. Lifelong friends such as Timothy Lee, Harry Rogers and Johnny Allen have provided support. There have also been others such as Harold "Fat Harold" Bessent, Robert Honeycutt and Becky Stowe who have been helpful.

While my friends have been great, offering their encouragement, a small cadre of professionals in the literary field has offered me the greatest encouragement. I found a friend and mentor in Rickey Pittman. Rickey is an author and editor in his spare time outside serving as a freshmen English composition teacher at Delta Community College in Monroe, Louisiana. His sage advice led me to produce a better product. Lida Quillen has been very encouraging. Lida is the owner and publisher of Twilight Times Books ( I was fortunate that she saw promise in my work. It was only after receiving guidance from more learned writers such as you, Carol, and Michael LaRocca that I decided to personalize bit characters by naming them instead of merely listing their function. The benefit of providing names for those characters was that they came alive, enriching the story.

Do you prefer print or e-books? Why? Do you think e-books will ever replace print books?

Since I do my writing and editing on a computer, I effectively write and edit e-books. I've read the electronic manuscripts of several other writers. In short, I have spent a lot of time with e-books. That said, I'll take the printed version, thank you very much. I prefer the manageability and portability of the printed version—no batteries or external power source required.

“Ever” is an extremely long time. I lack the qualifications to be able to make predictions that cover “ever.” On the other hand, I hope that printed books continue to be available as long as I read. We do have to continue to ask ourselves, “How many more trees can we sacrifice for paper?” It would be nice if the answer were "unlimited." That is, however, an unlikely answer.

What would you say is your most unusual writing quirk?

That's a difficult question to answer. I've been told all my life that I'm different from other people. I don't tend to think of those idiosyncrasies which make me different as quirks. I guess my most unusual writing quirk might be that when I'm typing manually, I frequently leave out words yet when I'm voice typing, I duplicate words. If that's not the correct answer, then it could be when I proofread my work I read the text exactly the way I thought it regardless of what is actually on the page. As a result, I have to wait an extended period of time to effectively edit my output. The other thing that could qualify as my most unusual writing quirk is that I tend to use that, got and lot to excess (you will note that I've used the word “that” twice already in this sentence); a fact which was pointed out to me by my friend Rickey Pittman. After completing the first draft, I spend time searching each manuscript for those words in order to improve the text by replacing as many as possible. As you can easily see, I've got to work a lot harder at using other words instead of those three; however, that just says a lot about the way I talk.

What do you like to do when you aren’t writing? Hobbies?

On more than one occasion I’ve told people that I have never been bored in my life. I can say that because it is true. It is true because there are so many things I enjoy doing and so many things I want to do. I go dancing as often as possible. Here in the Southeast, particularly the Carolinas, my generation prefers the State Dance of South Carolina—the Shag. I'm a college basketball fan; I am an avid fan of Atlantic Coast Conference basketball. The month of March is magical. I enjoy a good book when possible. Since I spend a lot of time behind the wheel of a car, I frequently listen to audio books. When I have the opportunity, I like to play bridge, especially duplicate. I spend as much time as I can on the beach. You might also find me just shooting the breeze with friends.

What is your next writing project?

I have several projects in my active bin. Travis S. Taylor and I are currently working on to a follow-up to Planetary Defense. Alien Invasion: the How to Guide for Defending Earth (Baen) is scheduled to come to market summer of 2011. Following that, I have plans to complete three mystery novels. Shortly after the first of the year, I will return to work on The Defense Affair. It is a story of big business and Government gone wrong. I am going to do some restructuring as well as adding additional text before turning it over in February to my co-author for completion. During March through June, I plan to complete The Nine O'clock Strangler. Strangler is a tale of a series of murders in Orangeburg, South Carolina in the 60s. Another string of identical deaths grips the city four decades later. Strangler will be followed in the second half of the year by a story of international murder for hire currently entitled The 1000th Assassination.

Author's Note:  I have recently filmed segments for a National Geographic production, ALIEN INVASION (working title), which was precipitated by An Introduction to Planetary Defense. It is still in post-production, but National Geographic announced it to the press January 5, 2011—Nat Geo gave away copies of the book to the assembled TV journalists.  My interview bites appear mostly in the first act.  An airdate has yet to be announced; National Geographic will only say it will air in "spring 2011."

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        Interview with Award Winning Horror Author Ray Garton


Ray Garton is the author of 60 books, including more than 40 novels and novellas and seven collections of short stories.  His novels include the Bram Stoker Award-nominated Live Girls, Sex and Violence in Hollywood, Lot Lizards, Ravenous, Bestial, and most recently, Scissors.  He lives in northern California with his wife Dawn and their many cats, where he continues to write every day.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?  What obstacles did you face.

I was about eight years old when I decided I was going to be a writer.  But by then, I’d been writing for a while.  I started before I could write.  I would draw stories in panels, like in a comic book, so they were entirely visual, because I couldn’t write yet.  Once I learned to write, then all I did was write.  I wrote constantly.  Around the age of eight, it occurred to me that this was something I might do for a living when I grew up.  I wrote my first novel in sixth or seventh grade.  It was awful, of course, but it was great practice.  Once I discovered I could do it, I kept doing it.  Friends would read them, although they had to keep them hidden, because most of my fiction was in the horror genre, and that was forbidden.

I was raised a Seventh-day Adventist and educated entirely in Adventist – or, as I like to call them, Sadventist – schools.  That was my biggest obstacle.  Sadventists believe that all fiction is wrong, immoral.  Horror fiction, of course, is unspeakable.  Everyone around me – including my parents – frowned on what I did.  Some of them, especially some teachers, recognized that I had talent, but they disapproved of what I wrote and told me I should write for Jesus.  Whenever I said I was going to be a writer when I grew up, I usually got laughter as a response.  Everyone told me to forget it, that I would never make it.  They all said it was impossible even to get your foot in the door in that business and I shouldn’t set myself up for such disappointment.  I had an English teacher my freshman year in high school who told me I would never be a writer because I couldn’t diagram a sentence.  Diagraming sentences made no sense to me.  I thought it was idiotic.  For that reason, she told me – almost every day – that I would fail as a writer.  I sold my first novel at the age of 20, and the first thing I did when I got my box of author copies was send one to her.

What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as a published author?

Hmm.  I’m not sure how to answer that.  My immediate response is – keeping the mortgage paid!  But I don’t think that’s what you mean.  Of my 60-something books, I think the best is Sex and Violence in Hollywood.  It’s not a horror novel.  It’s a comedy thriller.  I wrote it from 1999 to 2000, and it was the most enjoyable writing experience I’ve ever had.  I knew I wanted to write something about movies – I’m a movie nut – and I wanted to write something funny.  I had a seed of an idea, but I didn’t write an outline.  I sat down and began writing and the book flowed out of me so smoothly and so steadily – it astonished me.  I honestly didn’t know what was going to happen from one page to the next, so I was in as much suspense as the reader – and I was just as surprised when something unexpected happened.  It was almost like I wasn’t writing it – like I was taking dictation.  And the finished product was immensely satisfying.  I had a lot of trouble getting it published, though.  New York publishers loved the book!  They praised it!  But it wasn’t a horror novel, which is what people expected of me.  And it wasn’t exactly a thriller, or a mystery.  They didn’t know how to market it.  So although they all liked it, they rejected it.  It was finally published in a limited edition by a small publisher that specialized in horror.  Readers weren’t interested – I’m a horror writer, the publisher specialized in horror, and this wasn’t horror.  Nobody bought it.  But it was just published as a paperback and ebook, so I’m thrilled that people will finally be reading it.

I think the thing I’m proudest of in my entire career is the Grand Master of Horror Award.  I received it in 2006, and even now, four years later, when I see it on the shelf in my office, I’m still flabbergasted!  When I was first told that I was being given the award, I thought it was a mistake.  Or a joke someone was playing on me.  Every other recipient of that award is a writer I whose work I admire and respect.  Some of them – like Richard Matheson, Stephen King, Peter Straub, Harlan Ellison and Dean Koontz – have been great influences on me.  The award put me in dizzying company.  And it was presented to me by Peter Straub, who’s been a literary idol of mine since I was in high school.

Are you an organized or disorganized writer?

I’m terribly disorganized.  I’m a mess.  I know writers who meticulously outline, and then write the novel following that outline.  Some of them even have spotless, neat desks.  I’m not like that.  I’ve tried outlining, but if I write a whole outline for a book, I feel like I’ve written the book and I lose interest.  Another problem is that I can only write while I’m actually writing.  Writing an outline isn’t the same as writing the book.  Once I start a book, it never follows any outline I try to write because I tend to be pretty spontaneous.  I like to follow the characters and see where they lead me.  I can’t do that if I follow a pre-written outline.  As I write a book, I bounce around a lot.  While I’m in the middle of Chapter 15, I’ll go back to Chapter 3 and make some changes, then drop in on Chapter 9 and do some work there, then go back to where I left off.  Writing has always been a chaotic experience for me, and I don’t know how else to do it.  I think I’d go crazy if it were neat and tidy.

Was there ever a point in your writing career when you wanted to give it all up?  If so, what was that point and what turned it around for you?

There have been many of those points.  Many.  The first was probably when my first novel was published.  I was living in the Seventh-day Adventist village of Angwin, California, in the Napa Valley.  It’s the location of one of the cult’s colleges, Pacific Union College, which I had attended as a student for a while.  But at that time, I wasn’t a student.  I had already started on my second novel.  I moved back there because that’s where most of my friends were, some of whom I’d know my entire life.  But when word got out that my first novel – a horror novel – had been published, my friends stopped talking to me.  They would actually cross the street when they saw me coming.  Teachers at the college denounced me in their classes.  They referred to me as “that devil-worshiper living in the village.”  That caught on, and next thing I knew, everyone was saying – and believing – that I was a devil-worshiper.  I was accused of stealing dead cats from the biology department to perform Satanic rituals in my apartment.  I received threatening phone calls.  My tires were slashed and someone spread dog shit around inside my car.  Finally, one day while driving a route I took almost every day, I passed a car parked beside the road.  It pulled out and followed me, got close, and a hand holding a gun came out of the window and took two shots at me, then swerved around me and sped off.  I went onto the shoulder, terrified.  I moved immediately.  When I told my parents, they were upset, but not for the reasons you might think.  They were worried that I would publicly say negative things about their religion.  “It wasn’t the church!” my mother insisted.  “It was just some crazy person, you can’t say it was the church!”  And then she added, “Besides, Ray – think of the life you’ve led.”  She was referring to the fact that I wrote horror fiction, and that I liked movies and novels and comic books, all sinful and prohibited.  So my parents essentially thought I’d brought it on myself.  I kind of fell apart after that and went into a downward spiral of depression and alcoholism, and I thought maybe I should stop writing.  But I couldn’t do anything else.  If anything, writing saved me.

There have been many financially dry spells when I’ve wanted to give it all up.  But again, I can’t do anything else.  And now, I’m almost 48 and I’ve never held a regular job.  I’ve actually tried to get a job.  Do you know how prospective employers look at you when they learn you’re pushing 50 and you’ve never been employed?  It’s not pretty.  So I just keep writing.  I knew going into this that I wouldn’t get rich.  I do it because I love it.  Writing is often its own reward.

What do you think of the e-book revolution?  Do you think they will ever replace print books?

I think it’s wonderful.  I read recently that people who normally don’t read are reading now because things like Kindle and iPad make it so convenient.  Not only can you read books on them, of course, but you can order a book and be reading it in seconds without ever having to leave your house.  That’s not great news for book stores, of course, but the whole world is changing.  I think it’s exciting.  I don’t think ebooks will entirely replace regular books – a lot of us are diehard book lovers who like to feel those pages under our fingers, or, like me, actually enjoy the smell of books – but I think they’ll probably become the norm.  I think regular books will eventually become ... quaint.

What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?  Hobbies?

I’m a passionate movie lover.  My wife Dawn and I have a collection of more than 4,000 movies on VHS, DVD and laser disc.  I’ve been crazy about movies my whole life.  My head is bulging with useless movie and Hollywood trivia.  My office walls are covered with movie posters, I blog about movies, and I often have a movie running while I work – usually something I’ve seen many times and with which I’m very familiar.  I also love animals.  Until recently, Dawn and I had nine cats, but we lost two of our oldest cats a month apart.  I go for a lot of long brisk walks.  There’s a walking trail at the local park, part of which runs along the Sacramento River, and I enjoy walking that.

What do you think is the most important element in creating a good horror novel?

Without a doubt, the most important thing every writer must do when writing a horror novel is to forget that he or she is writing a horror novel.  That label brings with it so many expectations, so many tired old clichés and overused tropes.  The two most important things of any novel – horror or otherwise – are character and story.  If your reader doesn’t care about your characters and recognize them as real people, he won’t care about your story.  This is especially true in horror because the purpose of horror is to disturb and frighten the reader.  That will only happen if your read cares enough about the characters to care about what happens to them.  You have to make your reader love your protagonist – or at least want very much to follow that protagonist – and hate or fear and understand your villain, or nothing that happens in the book will affect your reader.  Horror fails miserably when it focuses only on killing characters in ugly ways, or subjecting characters to situations that are supposed to be terrifying – but it doesn’t flesh those characters out and make them engaging for the reader first.  Without that, whatever happens to them doesn’t matter.  One of the things I enjoy most about writing horror is making my reader love my protagonists – and then putting those characters through hell.  After all, that’s what fans of horror fiction want.

You’ve crossed genre lines from horror to suspense/thriller (Shackled), non fiction (In A Dark Place) and young adult (Lights, Camera, Action in the Alex Mack series) for example.  Any desire to add another genre to your list of accomplishments?  If so, what will it be?

I’ve just done that!  Cemetery Dance Publications just published my first science fiction novella, Death Hunt on Ervoon.  More accurately, it’s space opera.  From 1999 to 2007, I was laid up with a bad hip.  It required tons of medical procedures, three operations (including two hip replacements), and a lot of narcotic painkillers.  During that time, I was looking for some light comfort reading.  I took from the shelf some of the old pulpy science fiction novels I loved as a kid – books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, E.E. “Doc” Smith, early Robert Heinlein and others.  I immersed myself in those books for a while and had so much fun reading them that I thought I’d try my hand at writing in that genre.  It was just for my own pleasure and was never meant to be published, but Rich Chizmar at Cemetery Dance talked me into it.

For the record, In A Dark Place: The Story of A True Haunting, which told basically the same story that was later the basis for the movie The Haunting in Connecticut, was marketed as nonfiction, but it wasn’t.  The whole thing was a complete fraud, and the book definitely was fiction.

Do you believe in vampires?  

When Live Girls was published in 1987, my publisher forwarded a letter to me that wasn’t signed.  Actually, it was a note.  It read simply, “How did you find out about us?”  Ha!  No, I don’t.

What would you say is your worst habit as a writer?  What is your greatest strength?

I think my worst habit is that I get too involved in whatever I’m writing.  I can’t shut it off.  It’s not like a regular job where you can leave your work behind at the factory or the office or the store, or whatever.  When I’m deeply involved in a novel, I become absent-minded, distracted.  The story is always running in my head – characters are doing things, the plot is unfolding.  Sometimes it’s frustrating.

I think my strength as a writer is dialogue.  I love to write dialogue, and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

What are you working on now?

I just finished my first nonfiction book.  It’s about efforts to turn the United States into a theocracy, and it’s called The United States of Jesus.  I’m about to start work on a new novella called Vortex.  And I’ve got a couple of novels kicking around in my head that I haven’t started on yet.

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                      Interview with Author Jane Toombs


 Jane Toombs’ published books total over eighty along with twenty plus novellas, most in print and many in e-books.  She lives, with the Viking from her past and their calico grandcat, Kinko, across the street from the south shore Of Lake Superior in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula wilderness amongst the wildlife.  They enjoy marvelous summers, colorful falls, terrible winters and refreshing springs.   

You write in several genres. Which is your favorite and why?

 Paranormal, usually with  romance, is my favorite.  I think this is because at an early age I read E. A. Poe,  H. P. Lovecraft and A. Merritt.  Or maybe I enjoyed them because I have a natural leaning toward paranormal--who knows?

 Are you a disciplined writer? Organized or impulsive?

 I’m pretty organized because I’m a plotter.  Though I did write my first two published books, both paranormal gothics, by the seat of my pants,  all that fell apart with the third book, where I discovered I needed to plot ahead to keep from wandering all over the place.

 What has been your greatest triumph as a published author? What was your greatest disappointment?

 I suppose maybe selling to H/S on my first try felt like a great accomplishment at the time.  What I didn’t realize was how I would have to limit my writing to fitting into their lines. Which may also have been my greatest disappointment.  

 If you could go back to your time as an unpublished author and do one thing over, what would it be?

 If I could go back to being unpublished, I’d start writing seriously much earlier than I did.          

 Do you think book covers sell books?

 I certainly think they do make  readers pick up a book. To look at if it’s in print at a bookstore and also to check out intriguing ebook covers online.   But I also think most readers want to be sure the content matches what the cover promises. 

 Do you think e books will ever replace print books?

 Not for a long time.  Some readers still want what they think of as “real” books, though they’re dwindling.   So eventually, yes.

 What marketing strategies work best for you?

 I sure wish I knew.  I belong to a closed group of twelve authors who promote each other, I belong to promo sites and appear on blogs and do interviews and chats, plus getting reviews.  And I do have a web site  ( But I have no clue which of these are effective.

 Who are your favorite authors?

 I’ve had many favorites in my time.  Andre Norton comes to mind.  And  MacCaffery and certainly Poe, Lovecraft and Merritt for paranormal.  But I also read murder mysteries, where Dana Stabenow, Michael Connolly, Carol O’Connell  and Nevada Barr are favorites. 

 What are your hobbies?

 You’re asking an old bat who’s had to give up many things I used to enjoy--knitting for one.  Though I can still type with no problem, osteoarthritis has made some skills I once could do effortlessly impossible now.  It also limits my gardening.  But I still enjoy walking with the Viking from my past--just not as far.  And reading.

 What are you working on now?

 I’ve finished my Darkness of Dragons Trilogy, and Devine Destinies has published all three, Dragon’s Pearl, Dragon’s Diamond and Dragon’s Stone. But there’s a dragon novella lurking insistently in my mind, which means I’ll probably do that next despite my New Year’s Resolution. (Not actually breaking it, as I did promise The Turquoise Dragon to Devine Destinies awhile back.)  Last New Year’s Eve I looked over all my unfinished books and was ashamed of myself.  Most were either trilogies or series and so I resolved to finish the first book in every one of my series before I did anything else. I started with Darkness of Dragons and finished Dragon’s Pearl.  Devine Destines snapped it up so fast I then had to finish the other two books before I could begin the first one in another trilogy.  I already have two books in another series, Deadly Deceit, Shadow On The Floor and Watcher At The Door, waiting to come out at Red Rose Publishing, so when they do I may have to interrupt whatever I’m doing to write Darkness On The Shore, the third.  And there are eight in all.  So no telling when I’ll finish the other five waiting series. But I will, if I live long enough.  I take New Year’s Resolutions seriously.



NOTE FROM JANE TOOMBS: I will pick two winners, one each for a download of each of my books for those who comment on my interview.

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        Interview with Award Winning Author Tim Smith


 Tim Smith is the award-winning author of five novels, including the recently released romantic comedy “The Sweet Distraction.”  He has also published a series of thrillers set in The Florida Keys involving a former CIA agent named Nick Seven, and the contemporary romance “Anywhere the Heart Goes.” Tim works as an administrator in the human services field, serving adults with disabilities, and is also a freelance photographer. When he isn’t pursuing his two passions he can often be found in The Florida Keys, where he researches future novels in between parasailing and seeking out the perfect Conch Fritter.

What is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made as an author?

 I could say publishing my first book, but I think the biggest mistake was assuming everyone would be as enthused about my books as I was. When my first one was released eight years ago I just knew the critics would be as excited about it as my friends and family were, so I sent unsolicited review copies to a few of them. I’m still waiting for USA Today and The Miami Herald to get back with me. Come to think of it, Matt Lauer hasn’t returned my calls either, and we went to college together. At least I got a “thank you” from William Shatner for the free copy I sent him!

 Are you ever jealous of other authors’ successes?

 Not really, because I think there’s room for everyone on this crazy merry-go-round. I can’t really be envious about someone else’s accomplishments because in retrospect, I’ve achieved some successes other writers haven’t, so it all balances out. What irritates me is when the local media – at least in Dayton, Ohio – embraces a hometown author who was fortunate enough to land a gig with a “name” publisher and they’re treated like they were Hemingway reincarnated. The people who write these features obviously aren’t aware that there are a few dozen talented authors in town who deserve some notice for their hard work.

 What discourages you the most about the publishing business?

 Finding an audience for your book because you didn’t write about what’s “in” at the moment. It’s discouraging to write a real story about real people and have it ignored because the characters aren’t vampires or teenage sorcerers. I also become frustrated by the elitist attitude of some book sellers and critics when they see who published your book, or if you self published. There’s a big misconception that assumes that because you didn’t land a contract with Doubleday or St. Martin’s, you obviously have no talent. That’s narrow-minded thinking and it doesn’t have a place in my universe.

 How do you market your books? What has worked best?

 I maintain an online presence through chats, blogs, cover features and interviews. I like to rack up three or four good reviews for a new book but I don’t put a lot of effort into getting those because I’m not convinced they help sales. I’ve never had anyone tell me they bought one of my books because someone gave it a five star rating. I try to drive people to my website so they can get acquainted with me and my books. I no longer do press releases unless it’s part of a feature package I’ve purchased because they’ve gone unnoticed in the past, and I don’t waste money on print media advertising for the same reason. I like to do personal appearances at book festivals and being the guest speaker for groups like the Optimists or Rotary Club. I really enjoy doing those because I meet new people, I always sell a few books and they usually feed me.

 How do you really feel about e-books?

 I think e-books definitely have a place in this non-stop tech crazy world we’ve become, but they’ll never replace print books. I must admit that I’m pleased with the way they’ve taken off recently, but audio books performed the same miracle once they caught on. Each time something new comes along people seem quick to write the obit for the previous version. Fifteen years ago, vinyl records were considered dead in the water thanks to CDs, but now they’re making a comeback. I’m saddened, though when I read that traditional bookstores are going out of business because of current technology.

 What is your opinion about the “sell X-number of e-books before we will produce your book in print” rule that many publishers have?  Do you think authors would sell more books if readers had a choice between e-books and print from the minute his/her books are released?

 I think our books should be released in both formats, without a contingency attached, so readers can have a choice. I’ve lost potential sales for my two most recent books because they were not available in print, including some independent bookstores I’ve cultivated relationships with. I can understand the quota system from a business standpoint, but the goal should be more attainable or the author should have a choice in how they want their books made available. I understand why publishers set the bar pretty high in hopes that you’ll market your e-book and create a demand for a print version, but let’s be reasonable.

 You’ve written thrillers and romance novels. Which did you enjoy writing the most and why?

 I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed writing all of them, but I suppose my heart lies with romantic thrillers. It’s easier for me to devise plot twists with those stories and they’re a lot of fun to write, especially when you come up with good characters and intriguing situations. I had a blast writing the two romantic comedies because I was able to slant the viewpoint from the man’s side, but it’s probably time to do something with intrigue and violence again.

 Have you ever thought about writing in another genre besides the two just mentioned? What would that be and why?

 I can list the ones I would not consider, like vampire, paranormal and historical romance because I’ve never been able to get into those stories. I began writing a self-help book a couple of years ago and plan on finishing it. One day I’d like to tackle a true crime story or biography, if I can find a subject that hasn’t been done to death.

 What have been your biggest obstacles in selling yourself as a male romance author? Any examples you’d like to share?

 The biggest obstacle I’m finding is that a lot of women readers can’t accept the idea that a man can write an entertaining straight romance and get all the details right. I had a female romance author tell me as much on a recent online chat, and frankly I was surprised by her apparent bigotry. On the flip side, I received feedback from a female reviewer for my most recent book who said she was pleasantly surprised that I wrote masculine characters better than women writers do. Gee, I wonder why???

 What authors do you read and why?

 When I want to lose myself in a fast-paced adventure I’ll read James W. Hall or Robert B. Parker. If I’m in a noirish mood I’ll pick up Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane or Donald E. Westlake. I also like Carl Hiaasen, James Swain and Ian Fleming. 

 What are you working on now?

 I’m currently writing a new series of romantic intrigue stories, but with a twist. They’re a throwback to the pulp fiction novels, with the only continuing character being the cynical wisecracking tough guy hero, and a different woman drifting into each story as the love interest. I’m envisioning them as updates of the private eye TV shows we watched in the 60’s and 70’s, where you never saw what happened between the hero and the woman of the week. I’m really trying to resurrect Phillip Marlowe and Peter Gunn, but don’t tell anyone!

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