Author Interviews

Excerpt from Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt

"Exhausted, parched, and caked in grime and sweat, the men of the caravan ran full tilt to the edge of the enormous saline lake, ecstatic whoops of joy bursting from their throats as they tore off their clothes and plunged into the cool spring as Hannah waded in the shallows. Several white egrets took to the sky as flirtatious quail disappeared into nappy reed beds overshadowed by towering palms that rustled and swayed in the hot, dry breeze. The craggy trunks masked the small, thin faces of the children hiding at the water’s edge.
Though they enjoyed the swim, what they really needed was a fresh spring. The saline water could not satisfy their thirst. Hannah drank several long sips and then spat it out.
It was Alizar’s voice, rumbling like a storm cloud, that broke their reverie. He stood at the edge of the water surveying the surrounding landscape. When his eyes came to rest on a strange mountain beyond the lake, his hands fell to his sides in astonishment. “My word . . .”
“What is it?” Gideon sprung to his feet and threw on his tunica to join Alizar. As he eyed the mound, he too, could not believe his eyes. “By the gods of my father,” he said.
“Impossible,” said Jemir, his jowls hanging agape.
“It cannot be real,” mused Tarek.
“What do you think it is?” asked Hannah.
“That, my dear—” said Alizar, tipping his head slowly in Hannah’s direction without taking his eyes off the magical vista before him, “—is the city of Siwa.”
It rose in the north straight out of the desert floor like a magnificent hive carved from one tremendous block of clay, the walls blending seamlessly into the rosy earth. And yet it was clear from the little windows and doors that speckled the exterior that this was no natural formation. The city of Siwa stood nearly as high as the lighthouse of Pharos, being stacked at least seven floors vertically, and spanning a length of about thirteen city blocks from one end to the other. Every little dwelling, shop, temple, and home was connected to the rest of the raised mound by winding narrow streets, tiny earthen bridges, and footholds sculpted into the walls for access to the higher levels. It was a living human honeycomb. And what was more, tiny particles of salt and limestone blown across the expansive desert had become embedded in the silt and mud used to construct the city, causing it to scintillate like a sanguineous ruby in the warm light of the sunset. The caravan gazed on it, spellbound.
They were drawn toward it, eyes raised, until they stumbled on a small spring, hidden in a stand of date palms. They dropped to their knees in exaltation as if praying to a deity, the deity of water, of life itself. Inhaling the water, splashing it on their faces, each at last slaked of a painful thirst.
It was Gideon who suggested they camp there, outside the city for the night, as the inhabitants might think them bandits if they arrived after sundown. Tarek was disappointed at this, but the others quickly agreed. They had no idea how their presence would be interpreted by the local people.
“Can I go spying?” Tarek asked Alizar, his voice crackling with excitement.
Alizar considered it, and then shook his head. “No. I think Gideon is right and we should wait till the morning.”
“But the Siwans will see our campfire. They will know we are here,” protested Tarek, chewing on a date.
“Then we make no fire tonight,” said Alizar.
The following morning, Hannah awakened in surprise to find that she was surrounded by bright, curious eyes belonging to dozens of dirty children who crouched all around her. She nudged Gideon, who roused with a groan and rubbed his eyes. It seemed to Hannah, fresh from dream, that these were not ordinary children at all, but otherworldly spirit children, some having hair and skin the color of the whitest sea foam, while others bore exotic traits of the nomadic desert tribes. A few had the golden skin, curved lips, and slanted foreheads of the Egyptian people, while others looked distinctly Nubian like Jemir, with black skin, almond eyes, and plump lips that quickly split into happy grins. One gamine little girl even had blue eyes paler than Hannah’s.
Gideon quickly reasoned that Alexander the Great’s army and presumably Cleopatra’s and Caesar’s attendants had contributed these Greek characteristics to the Siwan people, an interbreeding which had, over the last six hundred years or more, resulted in an abundance of albino and blue-eyed youngsters. Alizar, too, propped himself up on his elbows to admire the beautiful children. “Welcome to Siwa,” he said.
The children began to squeal and chatter when the strangers awoke, calling back to unseen friends behind the palm trees to come and see. The caravan found they were further encircled by even more giggling children, who grabbed their hands and led them like prizes up the narrow path into the palatial city."
This excerpt continues at Buried Under Books on Oct. 14th.

 Interview with Sean T. Smith-Author of Tears of Abraham

BTWA:  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

STS:  I’m a nerd with a bit of pirate mixed in. I love my kids, and we hike as a family every chance we get.  I grew up in Miami, went to school at the University of Florida, decided to be a songwriter in Nashville, moved back to Florida, and started writing books about five years ago.
I read in a wide variety of genres, though in recent years, I spend more time writing than I do reading, and sometimes that makes me a little sad.
I love to fish down in the keys, dive for lobster, spearfish, and drink cold beer on the water while a local reggae band plays. The Rockies made a big impression on me, and I’ve hiked the Tetons, good parts of Yellowstone, and many of the peaks on the Appalachian Trail.
My lovely bride, Kelli, is a wonderful artist who paints oil on canvas; she is my muse. Also, marriage is really hard work! That’s a separate subject, but very much a part of my journey, learning how to be a good husband and better man. 

BTWA:  What inspired you to begin writing?

STS:  Girls and a healthy dose of self-delusion. Seriously, I started writing poetry when I was in high school, and found I enjoyed it. I’d bring an awful poem on a card, along with a dozen roses, for girls I told myself I was in love with. In college, I started writing songs. I got a little record deal and a publishing contract, and wound up moving to Nashville. Writing became so much a part of me, that when I moved away, I started going a bit nuts.  I started writing objects of Wrath following my father’s stroke. He was in the hospital, and I wanted to cheer him up, tell him what he meant to me. I did not know it then, but it was really a short story, and it felt good to be unfettered by the rules of songwriting; there was a joyful  freedom in it. I love writing, whether it’s a short story, a song, a stand-alone novel, or a series.

BTWA:  Who/what are your favorite authors/books?

STS:  Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Tim O’brien  are my favorite three authors. I also love Dickens, Vonnegut, McMurtry, Silverburg, Zalazny, Azimov, McCarthy, King, Brin, and Clancy. I could go on for a while.
It’s hard to choose favorite books, but there are some that have left a big imprint on me. East of Eden is my favorite novel; I love the way Steinbeck puts words together, and I admire his large themes and the way he packs an emotional punch. Hemingway’s work slays me, and while I hate the ending, A Farewell to Arms comes in at number two for me. He writes dialog like nobody else, conveying a staggering amount of emotion and information with few words. With his work, much of the story takes place between the lines.  Tim O’brien’s The Things They Carried is an absolute masterwork, the best war book I’ve ever read. His work is poetic, so profound that I want to hurl my pen across the room and never pick it up again. He’s that good.

BTWA:  What led to your interest in survival and apocalyptic themes?

STS:  When I was in my late teens and early twenties, we’d have family discussions about what we would do in the event of a nuclear war. In the late eighties, that was still a real possibility, with the Cold War in full swing. So we’d kill time on long car trips to the mountains discussing our plans. When I started writing Objects of Wrath, I tapped into those memories.
As an adult and a political junkie, my interest has intensified. While I write about those themes, it’s not simply an exercise in hypotheticals. I look at the potential for global violence, and try to predict likely paths and outcomes. When I write, I strive for realism in terms of the backstory.  The world is a very dangerous place these days, with mankind possessing the ability to cause its own extinction in a variety of ways. The struggle is real!

BTWA:  Give us a brief synopsis of Tears of Abraham.

STS:  All authors dread giving synopsis. It’s really hard to distill a novel down to a paragraph, and I’m crummy at it. It’s always a fair question, though. So, here goes.
The two central characters are Henry and Suzanne Wilkins, a husband and wife on the verge of divorce as the next Civil War breaks out. Henry is part of the Wolfpack, a clandestine counter-terror unit operating domestically. Following two more consecutive Presidential election victories by the Democrats, the country is even more divided than it is at the moment. The anger felt on the far right seeks an outlet, and Texas secedes from the union, along with the entire South. Fighting erupts on military bases. When the first shots are fired, Henry is in Montana, while Suzanne is at their home in Key West. He must fight his way home, pursued by the relentless Directors because he holds the key to the conspiracy that triggered the war. Suzanne holds out at her home on a canal, with one of Henry’s old Ranger buddies and a few other colorful characters. Ultimately, the Directors come for her. There is a good bit of violence in the book, and at its heart, it is a cautionary tale. Henry and Suzanne are America, broken, flawed, betrayed… but worth fighting for.

BTWA:  What are your thoughts on the possibility of a second American Civil War?

STS:  I don’t think it’s likely, but it’s certainly not unthinkable. It’s much more possible than it should be. Serious lawmakers in Texas are still calling for secession. I see bumper stickers that say “secede now,” here in Florida.
When Trump loses in November, and that seems highly likely, his supporters are going to feel cheated. He’s already sowing the seeds, claiming that the election is about to be rigged. There is a tremendous amount of bottled-up anger, on both sides of the political spectrum. The right catalyst could trigger a war. Where does all that anger go?
I firmly believe that the American people deserve better, and that the correct path is one of unity, rather than discord, of love rather than hate. A lot of people disagree with me. I wrote this book to entertain, but also to show, in an unflinchingly realistic fashion, what another Civil War might look like. To chin-check those who call for war when they have no idea what it would mean in reality to them, to their children.

BTWA:  Are you working on anything new?  If so, what, and when can we expect it?

STS:  I’m almost finished with the first draft of my next novel, Into the Valley of the Shadow. I’ve never self-published before, and I intend to try that out with this next book, releasing it sometime this fall, likely around the holidays.
The main character is a unique angel with free will and little power named Malak, which means “messenger” in Hebrew. The chapters alternate between the past and present in linear fashion. His first memory is of the crucifixion, and since then he’s been a gladiator, a monk, a scholar, a crusader, healer, and warrior. The consequences of his actions have rippled throughout the course of human history.
In the present, he is fighting to thwart a global nuclear war, and ultimately Armageddon.  One of the central themes is: Can he stop Armageddon; even if he can, should he?
This book has been daunting because of the amount of research involved and the scale… I’ve perhaps bitten off more than I can chew. Still, I love the character, and it’s been a lot of fun writing in various places in history. This book is grounded in a Christian world view, and I go to great lengths not to contradict either history or the Bible.  I intend to write a series of novellas to support the book.
If you don’t mind, I’d like to give a shout out to some of my colleagues who have been particularly supportive: Editor of awesomeness Felica A. Sullivan. She is amazing to work with, and has become my friend. I wouldn’t have any sort of career without her. I can’t recommend her highly enough to other writers. Jamie Mason is a wonderful, emerging Canadian author, and someone to watch. He’s got a rare gift for words. Check him out. Steven Konkoly is well ahead of me in his career, cranking out high-octane thrillers like The Perseid Collapse series. He’s been very helpful to me, and other newer authors, generously offering his advice and time.

BTWA:  How can we keep in contact with you?

STS:  Amazon Page:
Twitter: @scribeseansmith

Interview with Erika Rummel-Author of The Inquisitor's Niece

BTWA: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

ER: I am from Vienna, did my PhD at the University of Toronto, and taught Renaissance history there and at Wilfrid Laurier in Waterloo. 

BTWA: What inspired you to begin writing?

ER: As a historian and the author of more than a dozen books on social and intellectual history, writing historical fiction seemed a natural progression. What we know of the past is full of gaps and always falls short of telling the whole story. You end up asking yourself: But what was it really like? In historical fiction you are at liberty to speculate what people said or thought and what their surroundings were like. You can fill in the gaps.

BTWA: Who/what are your favorite authors/books?

ER: Among writers of historical fiction, I like C.W. Gortner and Eva Stachniak. I also like thinly disguised autobiography, such as Rachel Cusk’s Outline.

BTWA: Give us a brief synopsis of Inquisitors Niece
Spain 1516: Alonso, a Jewish physician, falls in love with Luisa, the niece of the Inquisitor General. There are many obstacles in the way of these star-crossed lovers: society’s prejudice against Jews, the ambitions of Luisa’s family, the husband she is forced to marry. Mix in Natale, Luisa’s treacherous confessor, whose loyalty is always to the highest bidder, and you have a story of danger, intrigue, and bravura which proves that Love really Conquers All.   

BTWA: Are you working on anything new? If so, what, and when can we expect it?

ER: I have new novel coming out in the fall: The Effects of Isolation on the Brain. It spans the period from post-war Vienna to the 60s in Canada. The protagonist is a young immigrant woman holed up in a cabin in northern Ontario. She is in trouble after trusting Vera, her glamorous but deeply disturbed friend, who has entangled her in a murderous game…    
BTWA: How can we keep in contact with you?
ER: Via Twitter @historycracks or on my blog:

Interview with Denise R. Stephenson-Author of Isolation

BTWA:  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

DRS:  I grew up in Iowa and left there after college to live in all of the out-of-the-way places where my novel, Isolation, takes place. Currently, I live in Oceanside, California in a condo just three blocks from the Pacific, which I can see from my rooftop deck. For two decades I’ve been a director of college writing centers. I love my work because I get to help student writers discover they can put clearly organized thoughts on paper, or at least in a computer document. In addition to writing, I’m a book artist. Sometimes when I’m overwhelmed by words, I love to play with paper and shapes and build new book structures; it uses a whole different part of my brain.

BTWA:  What inspired you to begin writing?

DRS:  In one way, Ive been writing all of my life. I remember as a teenager plotting stories with my best friend, Brenda. We plotted more than we wrote, but we were always plotting something. I think our parents would say we plotted more than story-lines as often as we got into trouble. But Ive been writing seriously since graduate school. Much of my writing has been academic.
However, when it comes to fiction, I really think it all began when my theatre company, Attention Deficit Drama (ADD), was working on a show we called A Million Monologs for the Millennium. One of our trio suggested that I write some of the monologs. I said I might, but I doubted it. A few days later I awoke with a monolog in my head which poured out of me whole cloth, no revision needed. That moment changed my writing from self-directed to audience-focused. I wrote three monologs for that show, one for a girl chased by boys, Squish, one for a middle-aged hippie, Hot Water, and one for an old woman in a holler in West Virginia, Rockin. The old woman has since appeared in a creative non-fiction piece called Middle of Nowhere, and she is in my novel Isolation.

BTWA:  Who/what are your favorite authors/books?

DRS:  My favorite author is Margaret Atwood. I was handed her Handmaids Tale in my mid-twenties and read the entire book on a cross-country plane trip, even though I wasnt much of a reader at the time. She has an amazing way of weaving together nature, science, religion and culturefrom a grounded character perspective. Even when her scenarios are somewhat outlandish, as in the MaddAddam Trilogy, I never doubt the veracity of her characters. Id have to say that her Oryx and Crake is probably my favorite book.
 Lest you think I only read living Canadians, I also love Ruth Ozeki, especially My Year of Meat. The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist is a favorite; its so surprising that Ive read it three times and can never remember exactly how it ends. In no particular order, a few favorite authors include: Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan, Jeffrey Eugenides, Gish Jen, Ursula Hegi, Jane Hamilton, Martin Cruz Smith, Ann Patchet, Isabel Allende, Kate Atkinson. I guess you can tell my bookshelves arent organized.

BTWA:  Give us a brief synopsis of Isolation

DRS: First, let me say that your word “brief” makes me smile. I know how writers can go on and on about their work without getting to the point, so I’ll try to be succinct.
Isolation depicts a bleak but recognizable future in which the fear of contagion reaches a fever pitch as a bacterial epidemic catapults the US into an apocalyptic crisis. As the book progresses the government imposes various bans on behavior: first, face-touching is outlawed, then touching others, and finally a outdoor ban moves everyone into quarantine. Isolation is epic in proportion, happening over roughly 70 years and across the entire US. It is told through the stories of people living ordinary lives, but with deep fears that cannot be quelled and a growing death rate that cannot be stopped.

BTWA:  Are you working on anything new?  If so, what, and when can we expect it?

DRS:  I’m playing with the idea of taking the characters from Isolation further into their bleak future, but doing so with one perspective at a time and developing very different future outcomes. For example, I might take the Enforcer Trevor into a negative future where things keep getting worse, while taking the Homelander Maggie into a romantic future where she is no longer alone. It wouldn’t be the traditional sequel because it would go in multiple directions, one for each character.

BTWA:  How can we keep in contact with you?

Interview with Renata Hannans-Author of P.S. Never Give Up Hope

BTWA:  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

RH:  I was born and raised on the Northside of Jacksonville by my grandparents.  I am a proud Jean Ribault Senior High graduate and an alumni of Jacksonville University.  I'd have to say that my greatest accomplishment is being a mother to my now 11 year-old daughter Timaya.  I had her when I was 18 years old, which was extremely challenging.  While I do not encourage teen pregnancy, I want young girls out there who are faced with this challenge to know that they can still achieve their goals.

BTWA:  You started out writing letters to Jonathan Hartley, the subject of the first narrative in P.S. Never Give Up Hope.  How did you begin corresponding with Jonathan and how did that lead to other juvenile inmates?

RH:  The day following his sentencing he was featured on the front page of The Florida Times-Union and the judge encouraged all educators or persons working with children to hang it up as a reminder that gun violence will not be tolerated.  I decided to hang the article and it is still hanging in my office today.  It is always a conversation piece and students and adults always ask me who he is.  It was then that I decided while working at William M. Raines High School to reach out to Eddie and ask him for advice for my students.  My intention was to simply keep these letters in a binder and let my students read them.  I began researching other juvenile defendants charged as adults and reaching out to them and as the letters poured with real, raw, and uncut stories and advice I decided to turn them into a book.

BTWA:  What are some of the troubling statistics that you have discovered about the juvenile justice system since starting this project?

RH:  The most troubling I would have to say is that there is no age limit on how young a child can be charged as an adult.  There are children as young as 12 years old facing life imprisonment for serious crimes. Although the Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional for children to serve such harsh sentences this is still being practiced in the United States.  We are the only country that treats our children as disposable and does not believe in second chances.

BTWA:  Do you have any forthcoming books/projects that you are working on?  Please tell us about them.

RH:  Currently I am working on another non-fiction book titled Hope Mail.  It depicts women who are incarcerated and delves into how men play a role in their incarceration. It is absolutely heart-gripping and I can't wait to release it next spring.  I'm also producing a documentary called The John Marcus Project which is self-titled after a young man who has been paralyzed for over 10 years yet he has triumphed over his circumstances.  It is a powerful story of faith and perseverance.

BTWA:  What advice would you give to young people headed down the wrong path and to those currently incarcerated/involved with the criminal justice system?

RH:  To the young men and women headed down the wrong path, I say to them, don't let your circumstances determine your future.  I encourage all young people to love themselves and don't look for it in people or things.  I would also tell them how important an education is and to be sure to finish school.  I've learned that many kids don't aspire to go to college because they've never been told that it was an option or they didn't believe they could go so they simply don't.

BTWA:  How can we keep in touch with you?

RH:  I can be best reached via email at   I am also on both Facebook and Instagram as Renata Hannans.  Please visit for my blog, appearance photos, and to order my book!

Interview with Monique Roy-Author of Across Great  Divides

BTWA:   There are a lot of novels out there about WWII and the persecution the Jewish community faced at the hands of the Nazi’s.  Rarely have I discovered a book that compares that behavior to the apartheid in South Africa.  How did you draw that comparison and decide to use it for the basis of your novel, Across Great Divides?

MR:  Knowing that many novels about World War II and persecution of the Jews exist, I decided early on before writing the book that I wanted to include a unique spin in my story. I didn’t want to write about the horrors of the Holocaust and concentration camps like many novels portray as the market is oversaturated with these stories; instead I wanted to create a hopeful story about how a family fled Nazi-occupied Europe and started a brand-new life in a foreign country, South Africa, and how they adapted to this new life. I drew the comparison very easily for Across Great Divides as the book is loosely based on my grandparent’s story of fleeing Europe and eventually, settling down in South Africa. I was born in Cape Town, and I was intrigued with the notion of comparing two great travesties of the 20th century—the Nazi occupation of Europe and apartheid in South Africa.

BTWA:     I read that you drew inspiration for Across Great Divides from your grandparents.  Does the emerald and diamond pendant necklace that plays such a role in your novel have any real personal or family significance?

MR:  No, the emerald and diamond necklace that is central to the story has no real significance to my family or our background. The necklace was placed in the story to serve as a symbol of success and hope.  Diamonds and diamond jewelry gave Jewish families the fortitude to survive the Holocaust. Diamonds were often used to barter for food and shelter, etc. as Jews escaped the Nazi regime. It was the Nazis who made vast profits out of selling off the possessions of those Jews who left Europe–and those who were deported to die in the extermination camps. 

BTWA:  Many people have mentioned enjoying Zoe and Zola, two of the characters introduced in South Africa.  Have you ever considered expanding into a novel based entirely around these characters and their lives?

MR:  I have thought about writing a novel based solely on South Africa and the apartheid regime. If I ever do decide to write a novel on South Africa, I would mimic characters based on the characters of Zoe and Zola. I really enjoyed creating their characters and storyline in Across Great Divides.

BTWA:   Have you written any other historical fiction novels?  Are they also based around WWII?  You were born in South Africa, have you considered writing more novels based in that geographic area?

MR:  No, I have not written other historical novels. I published my first book, a middle-grade novel called Once Upon a Time in Venice in 2007. This book takes young readers on a journey to Venice, Italy that is both physical and emotional. The novel revolves around the relationship between Samuelle, a young boy, and his grandfather Leo. Yes, I would like to write a novel based in South Africa. It is on my list! South Africa is a wonderful setting for a book and has a rich history and culture with which to create a great story.

BTWA:    If you were to ever break away from the historical fiction genre what other genre do you think you would write?  What do you enjoy reading? 

MR:  One of my favorite books is The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger, and I equally enjoyed the movie. The book was well-written and quite humorous. It was a fun read. In saying that, it would be entertaining to write a chick lit novel. Many of my friends have suggested I write a book on Jewish dating…we’ll see. I also enjoyed The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. It definitely captured my heart and my romantic side. Will there be a romance novel in my future? Maybe down the road when I get tired of historical fiction. Wink.

Interview with Theresa Rizzo-Author of He Belongs to Me

BTWA:  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

TR:  I married my high school sweetheart thirty years ago and I have four great kids-- 20-27yrs old.  I haven’t killed any of them yet, so I’d say I’m eminently qualified to write about families and relationships. 

BTWA:  What inspired you to begin writing?

TR:  Two things, really.  Firstly when we had children, I’d write about them and their escapades in my annual Christmas letter and friends and family got such a kick out of my little stories, that I thought it was cool I could entertain them that way. Secondly, the truth is . . . though being a stay-at-home mom is a laudable profession, I found it a thankless job (at the time) and living for my kids and husband was sucking the life out of me—all my fault by the way.  Writing was a wonderful creative intelligent outlet and it fed my soul and made me a much happier person and better mother and wife.

BTWA:  Who/what are your favorite authors/books?

TR:  I can’t possibly name all my favorite authors / books, but dozens of books and writers have inspired and influenced me through the years, a few off the top of my head are: Jodi Picoult, Kaki Warner, Susan Wiggs, Suzanne Collins, Sandra Brown, Nicholas Sparks and Harlan Coben.

BTWA:  Give us a brief synopsis of He Belongs to Me.

TR:  He Belongs to Me is a love story . . . a tale of betrayal and deception and of a young mother’s determination to recover what belongs to her.
Forced to leave her baby and tricked into relinquishing her parental rights, four years later Catherine Boyd is back and she'll do anything to regain custody of her son--even reconcile with the husband falsely accused of killing their son's twin.  
All in the name of love for a little boy, generations of pain and tragedy are exposed in a courtroom drama.

BTWA:  Are you working on anything new?  If so, what, and when can we expect it?

TR:  My next book, due out in March, is Just Destiny. Jenny is a beautiful young woman whose seemingly perfect marriage to Gabe is shattered by a tragic accident that leaves her husband brain dead. Devastated at the sudden loss, she decides to preserve the best of their love by harvesting Gabe’s sperm for later insemination.  But her husband’s powerful, grieving uncle, the man who raised him, thinks of Jenny as a gold digger and is willing to risk exposing long-held family secrets in court to stop her. The prospect of a grueling trial tests Jenny’s resolve, until an unexpected ally comes to her aid giving her the opportunity to win and the possibility of a second chance at happiness. 

BTWA:  How can we keep in contact with you?

TR:  I’m also happy to Skype or phone chat with book clubs who read He Belongs to Me and have a spot on my website for book club pictures.  Join in!
 Find Theresa On the Web:
v   Twitter
Book Buy Links:

v  Kindle

Interview with Jonathan Patrick-Author of Checkmate

BTWA: Jonathan, in writing “Checkmate” you portray the United States as weak 
and very vulnerable.  This is a big change from how other American 
authors usually write about the U.S.  Can you tell us a bit about why you 
chose this perspective and how current events may have influenced your 

JP:   Guilty as charged! I’m hoping the book may act as a wakeup
call to Washington to focus on what’s important. Let’s face it, we
are no longer the country of our fathers or even the country we
were fifteen years ago. In my opinion, when an individual or
country cannot look in the mirror for fear of seeing what others
see, both your own (national) self-respect and the respect of
others are in serious jeopardy. Having said that, I don’t feel
we’ve rounded the corner, never to return to being a nation of
people who hold their collective heads high. We can regain the
respect of the world. We just have our work cut out for us. I’m an
optimist by nature. It’s going to take some serious work and
sacrifice but I believe it’s doable.

BTWA:  Do you have intentions, or have you considered, developing Checkmate 
into a series or at the very least writing a sequel?  If you have, could you 
give us any hints as to what readers may expect?

JP:  I’ve given writing a sequel some serious thought and have even
gone so far as to title the book “Archers Paradox” but haven’t
really looked at which way to go as far as a story line. I hope I left
just enough dangling threads in “Checkmate” to carry my
readers forward to the sequel.

BTWA:  I have heard that many authors base their characters off of people that 
they know in real life.  Is this true for you?  Did you draw inspiration from 
your characters from friends and family?  Could you share an example or 

JP:   This one’s tough in that I don’t want to give away the storyline.
Okay, if you’ve read the book, Stacy’s mom (Nana) is pretty much
a dead ringer for my mother-in-law. “Nana” loves her two
grandkids and tries very hard to keep up with everything they do
including technology. Although she has most of the newest
electronic and computer gadgets, she really doesn’t understand
how they work. This shortcoming plays out rather humorously in
the story.
   Another character to mention is Captain Lee. Lee epitomizes
those people we’ve all met or heard of in our lives, that, while
being dealt a horrible hand, must push forward despite the long
odds of success.

BTWA:  In “Checkmate” you write about the naval branch of the United States
military.  Do you have any experience in the navy either yourself or by the
involvement of friends or family members?

 JP:  I was fortunate to have worked with the navy on several
operations and have several good friends that are retired navy.

BTWA:  When writing a novel such as “Checkmate” which is politically charged 
you run the risk of offending different segments of the population.  Was 
this something you were concerned with while writing your novel?  

JP:   I wasn’t aware that any part of the story was particularly more
offensive to one segment of our population than another. While
writing Checkmate, I made a concerted effort NOT to side with
any one political party or body but to cast some general

dispersions on the general processes used in Washington.

Interview with Lloyd G. Francis-Author of From Rum to Roots

BTWA:  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

LF:  I'm a native Californian, born in Oakland California early enough to remember the anti-war protests of the late 60's and the summer of love on the Haight. I was a storyteller from an early age, but I was also interested in science. That interest in science took me to engineering school where I re-discovered storytelling with a camera. I switched to photojournalism in within four years, in 1988, I had my first staff job at the Fresno Bee. I started reporting from the middle east during the late 1990's and after 9-11 I was sent to Iraq, Kashmir, and Afghanistan. I worked as a war photographer until 2006. After having two sons I decided I could not take such risks any longer. That's when I started writing. 

BTWA:  What inspired you to begin writing?

LF:  As a photojournalist I got satisfaction telling stories non-verbally. But after my parents died, and upon returning from the Battle of Fallujah, I felt unfulfilled taking pictures. I sought a medium that would allow me to express my feelings and observations in more detail. I started reading novels. And then I sat down and tried my hand at a short story. After that I started writing From Rum To Roots

BTWA:  Who are your favorite authors/books?

LF:  Great question! I LOVE family sagas. Steinbecks magnum opus, East of Eden and Naguib Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy ( Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, and Sugar Street)....also the USA Trilogy by John Dos Passos.....I love stories that are epic and explore relationships as they unfold in a historical context.....2666 by Roberto Bolano was a challenging read but it was extremely satisfying......Anything written by Graham Greene. He is a master of storytelling and his books are visual. It is a requirement for me that books evoke a sense of vision...

BTWA:  Give us a brief synopsis of From Rum to Roots.

LF:  It is 1937 on a sugar plantation in southern Jamaica. Linton McMann, the bastard son of the owner is unacknowledged, bitter and angry. He is working making rum. Tragedy strikes when his wife dies in childbirth and trying to escape his grief, leaves for New York. Meanwhile in Kingston Daisy Wellstead helps her mother run an ice business. She is soon trapped in an unhappy marriage with two daughters and seeking to escape she leaves for New York promising to send for her children as soon as she can. 
Linton and Daisy meet in New York, marry, start a family and move to California seeking opportunity. Ambition drives them to start a business making a drink known in Jamaica as Roots Tonic. It's a smashing success. 
As the money rolls in, The past begins to haunt Linton and Daisy. Linton is forced to confront his father and Daisy is compelled to face her daughters. Struggling with their personal histories in a land of plenty, Linton and Daisy come face to face with the truth and finally discover the happiness they so desperately seek. 

BTWA:  Are you working on anything new, if so what, and when can we expect it?

LF:  I am working on something new and I just started it. It's a thriller and it is also set in Jamaica and the United States. 
I do have a sequel in mind for From Rum To Roots. However I need time to ruminate on the ideas surrounding the story. The current thriller I'm writing has been percolating in my heart for four years now. That is how I work. I would not expect anything from me too quickly, maybe a few short stories. I work slowly and painstakingly. I like to have serious ideas underpinning my plots and for me that takes time.

BTWA:  How can we keep in contact with you?

LF:  E-mail:
       Twitter:     @lgfrancis
       Facebook: Rum To Roots page:
        Lloyd G Francis page:

Interview with L.L. Collins-Author of Living Again

BTWA:  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

LC:  1.     I am a wife (working on 15 years), teacher, mom to two boys, daughter, and sister. I have been writing since I was so small, I don’t even remember a time when I didn’t write or have a story in my head wanting to get out. Throughout high school and into college, I dreamed of someday having a story published. It’s on my “bucket list”, so to speak. I even got a degree in Creative Writing because I loved it so much I couldn’t bear not doing it. Of course, reality sets in and you realize, you need to pay the bills. I shelved my writing for several years, until the self-publishing world reignited my dream.

BTWA:  What inspired you to begin writing?

LC:  I have always loved to write, and had many people in my life that encouraged me to keep writing. My first novel that is going to be published, Living Again, was a story that I started in February of this year after wondering what it would be like to lose a spouse that you loved and lived for but lost. Then, my story was born.

BTWA:  Who are your favorite authors/books?

LC:  Favorite books- Collide and Pulse by Gail McHugh, Beauty from Pain and Beauty from Surrender by Georgia Cates, all of Colleen Hoover’s books, Relentless Series by Cassia Leo, anything from Tammara Weber, Tina Reber, Nicole Williams—can you tell I love to read? I could go on and on and on. There are SO MANY good books, and even more I haven’t even discovered yet!

BTWA:  Give us a brief synopsis of Living Again.

LC:  Living Again is about a woman whose life is happily perfect- she’s married to the love of her life, they are expecting their first baby, and she has a job she loves. One day, her husband is tragically taken from her in a car accident, and he never even gets to meet their baby. She has to learn how to live again, to go on after her picture perfect life was shattered while also raising their baby by herself. She later meets someone who pushes her to break down the walls she has put up after her husband’s death, but he has had a past relationship that scarred him and keeps him from fully trusting anyone. They must decide if they are ready to put the past behind them and move forward together, or if the scars from their past are too much to bear.

BTWA:  Are you working on anything new?  If so, what, and when can we expect it?

LC:  If so, what, and when can we expect it? Yes! I am working on Reaching Rachel, Living Again #2. It is on a secondary character in Living Again (the main character’s friend/coworker). She has a totally different but just as interesting back story that has brought her to where she is today, a girl who refuses to commit to anyone or tell anyone the truth about her past. It should be out early 2014.

BTWA:  How can we keep in contact with you?

LC:  Author website:
       Twitter:  @authorllcollins

Interview with A.J. Walkley-Author of Vuto

BTWA:  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

AW:  I was born and raised in Connecticut, where I started to write in elementary school, from Mary-Kate and Ashley newsletters and Hanson fan fiction, to poetry and fiction of my own.  I went to college in Pennsylvania where I majored in English Literature and minored in Creative Writing and Film Studies.  After graduation, I entered the U.S. Peace Corps, serving as a health volunteer in Malawi, Africa.  Back in the States, I became a journalist in my home state and a correspondent at the United Nations before moving across the country.  I currently write and blog for The Huffington Post out of Arizona.  The three novels to my name to date are Vuto (2013), which was inspired by my experience in the Peace Corps, Queer Greer (2012), which is based on my own experience coming to terms with my bisexuality as a teenager, and Choice (2009), which tackles the fraught subject of a teen pregnancy and the right to choose.

BTWA:  What inspired you to begin writing?

AW:  I honestly can't remember a time I wasn't writing! My father bought me my first journal in the fourth grade and I haven't put down a pen since.  I have always best understood the world around me by getting my thoughts on paper-both through nonfiction journalism and blogging, to fiction and novel writing.  I believe I was born a writer because there was never anything else I wanted to become.

BTWA:  Who are your favorite authors/books?

AW:  I love to read mysteries, fantasies, young adult fiction and contemporary fiction, with the occasional memoir thrown in.  It's definitely hard to narrow down my favorite authors, but a short list of writers I can't get enough of would be Jodi Picoult (Sing Me Home), Wally Lamb (She's Come Undone), John Irving (A Prayer for Owen Meany), Virginia Woolf (A Room of One's Own), and Tana French (The Likeness).

BTWA:  Give us a brief synopsis of Vuto.

AW:  Vuto is only 17 when her third child dies, mere days after birth.  Malawian tradition prevents men from considering a child their own until it has survived for two weeks. Frustrated at not being able to speak to her husband, Solomon, about all three of the children she’s had to bury alone, Vuto forces him to acknowledge the dead baby. Her rejection of tradition causes Solomon and the village elders to banish Vuto from the only home she’s ever known. She seeks refuge in the hut of U.S. Peace Corps volunteer Samantha Brennan, where Solomon discovers his wife has not left as she was told.  When Solomon arrives in the night to attack Vuto, Samantha disregards her oath to remain uninvolved in village politics and interjects herself into the center of the conflict, defending Vuto and killing Solomon in the process.  The women go on the run from Vuto’s village and the Peace Corps, encountering physical, ethical and cultural struggles along the way.

BTWA:  What is your process as a writer?

AW:  My process seems to differ with each book. For instance, Queer Greer was the first full-length novel I ever wrote; it took me about a year to write the first draft on nights and weekends, and another six months of editing. Choice I wrote the first draft of in 30 days during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2008, then another six months to edit it to completion. I wrote Vuto for NaNoWriMo 2011, yet it took me another year and a half to rewrite and edit it for publication. There is also another novel I have been writing for over four years now, based on the life of an incarcerated Texas woman I have been corresponding with since 2009 that I will likely be working on for another year at least. So, I would say I don’t really have a set process, other than trying to make myself write something every single day. 

BTWA:  Are you working on anything new? If so, what, and when can we expect it?

AW:  The book I hope to complete next is tentatively titled 1191635, which is the inmate number of convicted murderer Elizabeth Burke, currently incarcerated in a maximum security prison in Gatesville, Texas, where she has been since 2003. Despite the fact that Burke was sentenced to 77 years in prison for the smothering death of her seven-week-old son, who passed away on October 14, 2002, new evidence has since arisen calling into question her conviction. Burke’s life story reads like fiction, from being kicked out of her childhood home into a series of foster homes as a child, to entering into an abusive marriage, to losing her baby and being arrested for his death, losing her other three children as a result. The Innocence Project of Texas is currently investigating her case and it is my hope a positive outcome is possible for her in the form of a retrial in the not too distant future. However, I don’t feel like I can finish the book before her fate is known – so I may have to continue to work on this novel while also figuring out another topic I can flesh out and publish next.

BTWA:  How can we keep in contact with you?

AW:  Website:
Facebook Author Page:

Interview with Michael Meyer-Author of Deadly Eyes

BTWA:  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

MM:  I recently retired from a 40-year career as an English professor. I taught at universities literally throughout the world: Thailand; Saudi Arabia, where my suspense thriller COVERT DREAMS is set; the U.S. mainland; and at the University of the Virgin Islands, on the idyllic Caribbean island of St. Croix, where my mystery DEADLY EYES is set. Because I now enjoy the luxury of time to do as I please since I am retired, I devote most of my time to writing, reading, and international travel. My wife and I make it a point to travel internationally at least once a year. I live in southern California wine country with my wife, Kitty, and our two adorable rescue cats.

BTWA:  What inspired you to begin writing?

MM:  I fell in love with books at an early age. I think the CURIOUS GEORGE series did it for me. Now, as a retiree, I am able to put into practice what I preached for 40 years in the college classroom. Words and language have always inspired me. I love a good story, but I also love the implications and permutations that can be achieved through creatively making careful word choices. For instance, when a cashier at a store wants to swipe my card, I become alarmed. Why would I want someone to swipe my card when I am swiping it? If you are going to come visit me, are you coming or going? The possibilities are endless. My Master’s thesis was on categorizing two-word verbs. There is a huge difference between snap to and snap at. Language is all-powerful. I love the magic of words, of creating scenes and dialogue that will get the reader’s rapt attention. I am like a reader as I write, excited by not knowing precisely what will happen next.

BTWA:  Who are your favorite authors/books?

MM:  I have very eclectic tastes in reading. I thoroughly enjoy John Steinbeck and his CANNERY ROW and TORTILLA FLAT. I really like Richard Russo, and his STRAIGHT MAN. I am enthralled with the well researched histories of Stephen Ambrose. In a nutshell, I am an avid reader, and I immerse myself in a book, making it part of me and vice versa as I journey through it.

BTWA:  Give us a brief synopsis of Deadly Eyes.

MM:  . James Cuffy, better known as Cuff, is living in paradise with his girlfriend, Rosie, on the small Caribbean island of St. Croix, where the sky is as blue as Cuff's eyes, the ocean as pretty as Rosie's cheeks, where the gentle lapping of the waves is a lullaby, and the swaying of the palm trees is a dance. The sandy beaches are as white as sugar, and the horizon is a world away. St. Croix indeed is paradise, the perfect place for living, laughing, and loving. But the sandy beaches and the turquoise sea can provide no cover from the deadly eyes of the unknown stalker pursuing Cuff. Murder leads to murder as he attempts to untangle the terrible web in which he has suddenly become entangled. 

The twists and turns are many, the roads of the fast action leading in all directions, but time is running out, and Cuff, his faithful Rosie at his side, knows it.

BTWA:  What is your process as a writer?

MM:  I am out to have fun in life, especially so now that my working life is behind me. I am like a reader as I write, never quite knowing what will happen next. I am an early morning person, so most of my writing is done before noon. I work out before breakfast, and that is where many of my ideas emerge. It is not uncommon to find me running home from my daily walk in order to jot down some ideas that popped into my head while exercising, before I lose them. I never work from an outline. I merely sit down and work with the notes I have jotted down, and then let the characters lead me.

BTWA:  Are you working on anything new? If so, what, and when can we expect it?

MM:  I am always working on something. I just recently finished the most emotional piece of writing I have ever done, THE THREE KITTIES THAT SAVED MY LIFE, my true journey from grieving widower to the once-again happily married man I am today. I have been awed by all the wonderful reviews it has already received. Since the book was so emotionally overpowering for me to write, I am taking a short hiatus now before moving onto something new, possibly my third international suspense thriller.
BTWA:  How can we reach you?

MM:  Amazon author’s site:
Pinterest writing site:

Interview with Henry Martin-Author of Escaping Barcelona

BTWA:  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

HM:  I consider myself a Renaissance man of sorts, which is just a fancy way of saying that I try to get myself into as much trouble as possible. On the creative front, I write, work with wood, garden, paint, and design a multitude of things that are completely unrelated. One of my hobbies not related to literature is restoring old motorcycles, altering their aesthetics and breathing new life into the old machines. When not doing any of the above, I try to escape into the unknown, exploring old carriage roads on two wheels (motorized) and stay as far away from the noise of civilization as possible.     

BTWA:  What inspired you to begin writing?

HM:  Reading. I've been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, and I've been telling stories most of my life. There is something that just clicks and you know you have to write, because if you didn't, it would drive you crazy. This, of course, does not happen all the time, but when it does, I have to write. 

BTWA:  Who are your favorite authors/books?

HM:  My favorite authors are Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, Albert Camus, Karel Capek, Honore de Balzac, Peter Handke, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Kate di Camillo, Knut Hamsun... and many others. Favorite books? Miller's Rosy Crucifixion (Sexus, Plexus, Nexus) and his Black Spring top the list. Camus' The Stranger, Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, Hamsun's Hunger.  

BTWA:  Give us a brief synopsis of Escaping Barcelona?

HM:  A brief synopsis is the hardest one to write. Escaping Barcelona is an uncompromising tale of a young man, a big city, and how a single event can turn one's life upside down. It's a story of human will, a story of human character, of perseverance and struggle, dignity and pride, a story of survival against all odds. Escaping Barcelona is the great 'what if' in a world where the tourist areas hide a dark world under the glossy facade.    

BTWA:  What is your process as a writer?

HM:  I must admit that I'm not a disciplined writer. I try to write as much as possible, but I do not force it out. There are times when I spent six hours typing away, and then there are times when I cannot complete a paragraph for a month because it doesn't feel right. I do not start with a synopsis or a defined course. Most of my writing begins with a story, a simple story. Since most of my writing utilizes a first-person narrative, I try to think as the character I'm writing. Not so much trying to get into the characters head, but rather let the character get into my head. To borrow a phrase from someone who reviewed my novels, I try to create an "uncompromising realism". Once I get there, I research virtual tours, photos, maps, menus, et cetera, so I can see and feel the character's surroundings. That's when the writing begins.  

BTWA: Are you working on anything new?  If so, what, and when can we expect it?

HM:  Yes, I'm currently working on a new novel I call 36 Days. Set in an immigration center somewhere in Europe (location undecided) it will attempt to address the psychological deterioration of a man who landed in one of these centers due to mistaken identity. Since these centers are of non-penitentiary nature, the detainees are often in a legal limbo, without access to basic services such as translators or public defendants. I'm trying to portray the interactions of the protagonist with those he encounters between his arrest and his release, from the wardens to the detainees from varying backgrounds and cultures.   

BTWA:  How can we reach you?

HM:  You can find me either on Goodreads author page or on my infrequently updated blog  Mad Days of Me.

I always enjoy hearing from readers, so feel free to leave a comment at either place or email me at and I'll do my best to respond. 


  1. Thank you so much for having me here, Alana.

  2. You're welcome Mike! It was great working with you!

  3. Thanks again for taking part in the 'Isolation' tour and hosting Denise!