I had fun doing the character interview of Talion‘s heroine, Lu, for  Stacy Eaton’s blog at World Literary Cafe, so I came up with another one. Right now I’m in the middle of writing the sequel to Talion, so the characters remain very much alive in my head.

Hank and Debbie Darlington own a small, upscale resort in the mountains of Utah. The hard work of running the business keeps them so busy they can avoid facing the serious problems in their marriage. They also fail to notice as a serial killer closes his net around their niece, Lisa, who is there for a summer visit.

I imagined what might happen if Hank and Debbie went for marriage counseling. This interview with their marriage counselor takes place a few years before the events in Talion.

COUNSELOR:  It says here in your file you were referred by Dr. Messenger at the fertility clinic.

DEBBIE:  Yes. I—we—we’re having some problems talking to one another.

COUNSELOR:  All right. Why don’t we start by having each of you tell the other what you’re feeling? Hank, would you please tell Debbie what you’re feeling right now.

HANK:  I feel like having a beer. Quit giving me that look, Debs. It was a joke.

COUNSELOR:  Sometimes people make jokes to cover up their nervousness. Are you feeling anxious about this session?

HANK:  No. Should I?

COUNSELOR:  Not at all, Hank. We’re here to communicate with each other. Honest communication will help you feel less anxious.

HANK:  I’m not anxious. I just don’t want to be here.

DEBBIE:  Hank, you promised.

HANK:  Why don’t you ask her? This was her idea.

COUNSELOR:  What was her idea? Starting a family?

HANK:  You don’t need kids to be a family.

COUNSELOR: Debbie’s in the middle of treatment for infertility. And you’re saying you don’t want children?

HANK:  I told her that from the start, before we got married. I don’t want kids. I’m not cut out to be a father.

DEBBIE:  That’s not what you told me. You said you weren’t ready for children. We talked about how people change, and you admitted you had no idea what you’d want in twenty years.

HANK:  I knew I didn’t want kids—then, now, or ever. But you kept grinding.

DEBBIE:  That’s not fair. You wouldn’t discuss it at all unless I kept after you. It’s the same with everything. Your tactic is to avoid talking until I just give up.

HANK:  And yours is to keep grinding until I just give in. I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning an argument with you.

DEBBIE:  Why did you marry me if that’s how you feel?

HANK:  Same reason you married me, I guess.

COUNSELOR:  I’m sensing some hostility from you, Hank.

HANK:  Big surprise. The two of you have me cornered.

COUNSELOR:  I’m not on anyone’s side. I’m here to work with you both.

HANK:  Oh, come on. The whole point of this little session is to get me on board for the treatments. Isn’t that right? Dr. Messenger didn’t like my attitude, so he set this thing up. There’s no chance in hell Debs is gonna change her mind. I’m the one that’s supposed to change. And you—no offense, ma’am, but you’re on her side whether you mean to be or not.

COUNSELOR:  That’s not true.

HANK:  Debs doesn’t give a shit what I think. She don’t care if we go bankrupt paying for the treatments.  She’s been brainwashed by her parents and the Mormon Church into believing she can’t be happy without kids. Damn it, Debs. Don’t start that. She always does this. She says she wants the truth, but when I tell her, she starts bawling.

COUNSELOR:  Are you all right, Debbie?

DEBBIE:  I’m fine. I just wish—it seems like just once he could. . . .

COUNSELOR:  Could what?

DEBBIE:  At least act like he loves me.

COUNSELOR:  Hank, do you love Debbie?

HANK:  Yeah, of course I do. But that don’t mean I’m giving in.

COUNSELOR:  You agreed to her coming to the fertility clinic. In a way you’ve “given in” already. Now she’s undergoing these painful procedures and turning to you for support, and you’re not there for her. Can you understand why she might feel hurt and confused?

HANK:  What do you want from me? I’m supposed to be honest about my feelings. But look what happens when I am.

COUNSELOR:  Why don’t you tell Debbie you love her? Let her know that no matter how strongly you disagree on this issue, it doesn’t change your love for her.

HANK:  What the hell—okay. I love you, Debs. That’s why I married you. Okay, I said it. Now what?

What do you think? Can this marriage be saved?


Years ago I quit writing short fiction to concentrate on writing novels. Full-time teaching was draining my energy and leaving only limited time for my own work, so I had to make a hard choice. My stories had done okay for themselves. All of them were published in respectable journals, and a couple won grants from the Illinois Arts Council. But the publication of which I’m proudest is “Yubi,” which appeared in Yellow Silk: Journal of the Erotic Arts.

Conceived and edited by Lily Pond, Yellow Silk is a top-tier journal published quarterly from 1981 to 1996. According to the Phil Stephensen-Payne’s indexing site Gallactic Central, Yellow Silk has showcased the work of a long list of notable writers and artists: Sigmund Abeles, Kim Addonizio, Angela Ball, Robert Bly, Angela Carter, Marilyn Chin, Wanda Coleman, Judy Dater, Margaret Drabble, Lee Durkee, Louise Erdrich, Susan Griffin, Marilyn Hacker, Jane Hirshfield, Ha Jin, Galway Kinnell, William Kotzwinkle, Dorianne Laux, Mary Mackey, Carole Maso, W.S. Merwin, Bharati Mukherjee, D. Nurkse, Mayumi Oda, Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, Octavio Paz, Marge Piercy, Andrew Schelling, Ntozake Shange, Robert Silverberg, Terry Tempest Williams, Robert Wrigley, and many more….”

The “many more” covers me. “Yubi” appears in the same issue as a story by Angela Carter and an interview with Mary Mackey. Imagine my elation. The theme for that issue is Animal Lust. In “Yubi” a woman falls in love with her parakeet. (Yes! They have sex! You’ll have to read the story to find out how.)

At the heart of Yellow Silk is the wisdom that erotic energy is the wellspring of not only sexual desire but love of any kind. It’s a primal and spiritual force connecting us to one another and to nature. Joining sex and violence is a corruption of that force. The poems, stories and art in Yellow Silk abound with sensuality and frank depictions of sex, but they’re never brutal or pornographic.

Mary Mackey seems to express the journal’s philosophy in her interview with Lily Pond:

There are, after all, only three forces that keep the world together: forces that create, forces that preserve, and forces that destroy. When you cut Eros off from all the other forces that create, you end up with a small, damaged thing. It’s as if you picked the eye from a bird and called it the whole bird or the wing from a butterfly and called it whole.

Illustration by Tony Speirs

After the quarterly journal ended, Yellow Silk issued a couple of anthologies and then ceased publication altogether. I’m guessing its problems were the same as those facing literary journals today: high costs, not enough subscribers. In the case of Yellow Silk, the cost factor would have been magnified by the journal’s production values: quality paper, beautiful art printed in color. That stuff costs big money. And Yellow Silk paid its contributors. I received payment for “Yubi,” not a huge amount but very generous for a literary journal.

Back issues of Yellow Silk can be ordered online, most for amazingly reasonable prices, with intriguing themes like The Mysteries of the Orgasm, Memories, Hair, Stoned, True Heart, The ‘Other’, Passion, and Womb with a View. You might want to email before ordering to ensure an issue is still available.

Thank you to Lily Pond for permission to use these illustrations by Tony Speirs from Issue 46. They are copyrighted.

I’m thrilled to welcome Cherie Reich, the accomplished author of numerous novels and stories, including GravityThe Foxwick Chronicles, and her just released book, The Nightmare Collection. In the post below, Cherie gives some insight into how she conceives and writes her stories.

Writing a First Draft in a Month, or NaNo Style

Thank you for having me today on your blog, Mary!

Since 2009, I’ve been a big supporter of NaNoWriMo. As this year’s NaNo has just finished, lots of writers now have completed or mostly completed first drafts of their novels. But I have to admit I like writing NaNo-style for all my work, whether it is a short story, a novella, or a novel. The fast-paced writing life isn’t easy, but there are ways that will help you get your manuscript done.

As a plotter, I need to know where I’m going before I start a draft. Otherwise, I get frustrated and have to step away from the project until I figure out what’s wrong with the novel. I will often spend several weeks to a few years thinking about a story. I daydream about it and learn about the characters and scenes. This is my discovery time of a story, whereas pantsers do this as they write.

After this thinking time is over, then I sit down to write out a brief outline. This usually includes a chapter by chapter or scene by scene timeline of the characters and what is going to happen to them. It’s generally pretty basic, and I’ll write down anything that comes to mind.

At this point, I’ll do one of two things. I’ll either start writing, if I have the time, or I’ll set the outline aside until I’m ready to write.

When I’m ready to write, I’ll block out how long I think it’ll take to write the work. Do I want to write just a chapter/scene a day or write two? I try not to go over three a day because it can make for some frantic moments as the deadline approaches. Then, I write.

At the end of the day, I will also think about the next chapters. It keeps me on track, and it makes it easier to start the day writing than trying to figure out what comes next.

For The Nightmare Collection, each story was written in a short amount of time. If I remember correctly, the short story Nightmare at the Freak Show took a day or two to write, the novelette Once Upon a December Nightmare took a week or two to write, and the novella Nightmare Ever After took about ten days to write.

Do you like to draft NaNo-style? Or do you take your time?

— Cherie Reich

About The Nightmare Collection:

A legend is hungry tonight.

A child monster will get its first taste of blood in Nightmare at the Freak Show. Four friend will enter the forest on December night, but only one can survive in Once Upon a December Nightmare. Almost ten years after Cassie’s December nightmare, the monster awakens to hunt again in Nightmare Ever After.

Add this book to Goodreads!

Publication Date: November 17, 2012

Cover art by Nicemonkey at Dreamstime.com.

Cover design by Aubrie Dionne.

Bookworm logo for Surrounded by Books Publishing created by Cherie Reich.

The Nightmare Collection is available from Smashwords and Kobo. It’s also available for Kindle in the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, France, ItalySpain, and Japan; and for Nook in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Readers who prefer a paperback can buy The Nightmare Collection from CreateSpace and from Amazon in the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, France, Spain, and Italy.

About the Author:

A self-proclaimed bookworm, Cherie Reich is a writer, freelance editor, book blogger, and library assistant living in Virginia. Her short stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies. Her e-books include the horror series Nightmare, a short story collection with authors Aubrie Dionne and Lisa Rusczyk titled The Best of Raven and the Writing Desk, the futuristic space fantasy novelette trilogy Gravity, and The Foxwick Chronicles, a series of fantasy stories. She is a member of Valley Writers and the Virginia Writers Club.

For more about Cherie Reich, visit her Web site and blog, find her on Goodreads and Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Enter The Nightmare Collection giveaway!

Enter the giveaway for a chance to win a prize package that includes a signed copy of The Nightmare Collection, a signed copy of Gravity: The Complete Trilogy, and a $10 Amazon Gift Card. The contest is open internationally, and two lucky winners will be chosen.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Pick up Cherie Reich’s latest book, The Nightmare Collection.

Once the idea for a story has taken root, the writer looks for the best way of telling it. She makes decisions about point of view, tone, and structure that determine what the story becomes. These are problems of craft. It’s a delight when the writer finds a solution that is ingenious and simple. Most readers will enjoy the story without thinking about why the writer has told it in that particular way, but other writers and discerning readers do notice.

The Nightmare Collection consists of a short story, a novelette, and a novella linked by an overarching story: a monster roams the forest killing people and arranging their bodies in a ritualistic way. On the surface the monster’s motives are simple: it drinks blood to live. But there are hints of an intelligence behind the brutality. “Nightmare at the Freak Show,” the poignant short story that opens the collection, suggests a ruined humanity in this creature that now lives only to kill.

The novelette, “Once upon a December Nightmare,” belongs to a genre familiar to fans of horror movies. Four teenagers go joyriding in the mountains at night. Mysteriously, their truck breaks down. There is no cell-phone reception so they cannot call for help. They must decide whether to stay with the truck until rescued or hike back to the highway. They know from having watched those horror movies not to split up, but the woods are cold and eerie and they want to get home. Caught up in the tensions and obsessions of adolescence, they fail to realize at first just how much danger they’re in.

“Nightmare Ever After,” the concluding novella, blends romance with suspense as a woman who survived an attack by the monster teams up with an FBI agent to track it down. In a familiar trope of romance novels, the two are attracted to each other but often at odds. Reich creates an intimacy between the characters—an intimacy the reader shares—that is not present in the other two narratives. I cared about what happened to them. “Nightmare Ever After” is a gripping tale that kept me turning the pages to the end.

Reich might have structured her story as a novel with a preface and two parts, but it wouldn’t have been as good. She would have lost the flexibility to play around with tone and genre. Instead she has written three distinct works of fiction. All of them deliver the frisson promised by the title. Each stands on its own and can be read and enjoyed on its own, but reading The Nightmare Collection from beginning to end is an even bigger treat.

The Nightmare Collection is available from Smashwords and Kobo. It’s also available for Kindle in the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, France, ItalySpain, and Japan; and for Nook in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Readers who prefer a paperback can buy The Nightmare Collection from CreateSpace and from Amazon in the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, France, Spain, and Italy.

About the Author:

A self-proclaimed bookworm, Cherie Reich is a writer, freelance editor, book blogger, and library assistant living in Virginia. Her short stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies. Her e-books include the horror series Nightmare, a short story collection with authors Aubrie Dionne and Lisa Rusczyk titled The Best of Raven and the Writing Desk, the futuristic space fantasy novelette trilogy Gravity, and The Foxwick Chronicles, a series of fantasy stories. She is a member of Valley Writers and the Virginia Writers Club.

For more about Cherie Reich, visit her Web site and blog, find her on Goodreads and Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.


Join the fun on The Nightmare Collection blog tour!

I hope you’ll come back to Ancient Children on December 6 for a guest post by Cherie Reich. Meanwhile, follow the The Nightmare Collection blog tour for more guest posts, interviews with the author and her characters, and excerpts from the stories. Scroll to the bottom to enter The Nightmare Collection giveaway.

Monday, December 3





Tuesday, December 4




Wednesday, December 5





Thursday, December 6






Friday, December 7







Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a prize package that includes a signed copy of The Nightmare Collection, a signed copy of Gravity: The Complete Trilogy, and a $10 Amazon Gift Card. The contest is open internationally, and two lucky winners will be chosen.

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Lu Jakes, the protagonist of my thriller TALION, is being interviewed today at World Literary Café. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to drop by and meet this extraordinary fifteen-year-old girl who must fight to save herself and her friend from a serial killer.

World Literary Café is a wonderful site for authors and readers to connect with each other. I appreciate their hosting Lu. Special thanks to Stacy Eaton for organizing the interview program, writing such terrific interview questions, and putting together the posts.

The first time a blogger requested a character interview to promote my novel I felt a mixture of annoyance and dread. The concept seemed bogus. I thought turning my villain, Rad Sanders, into a pitchman would make him less menacing. But I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity. After some false starts, I figured out a couple of ways to make the interview interesting to readers and valuable to me.

Of course  the character has to speak in his or her voice. With a first-person narrator, the voice is already fully developed and ready to go.  But even in third-person narrative, the character’s voice exists in dialogue and thoughts.  I built on those. I found that once I had Rad’s voice, everything else followed. He couldn’t deliver a canned synopsis; he could only tell the story from his perspective.

Then I threw in some conflict. Just as it does in the novel, conflict drives the action and keeps readers interested. Since I could write my own questions, I invented a scenario in which Rad highjacks the interview. He berates me for cutting one of his scenes from the novel and refuses to hear my explanation. He becomes sarcastic and aggressive. It turned out to be a lot of  fun, and I actually got to know my character better.

Lu is far more decent, so she tries her best to explain her world to readers who have never visited such dark places. And Stacy’s questions sound like an adult gently coaxing a shy teenager out of her shell, offering her the acceptance she needs so much. I hope you’ll enjoy reading the interview as much as I enjoyed doing it. You’ll find it here.



In case you miss summer . . .

I tripped over a word usage error while reading a thriller that I’ll call Evil Conspiracy. I sighed and put my Kindle aside. Once I get over my annoyance, I might give the novel another try. Or I might not. Here’s the odd thing, though. Not long ago I encountered the same error in another thriller—call this one Hitman in Love—and winced but kept reading. Why did I abandon one thriller and not the other? The question started me thinking about why readers give up on books. In my experience, it usually comes down to one or more of these reasons.

The writing is incompetent

The author of Evil Conspiracy derailed my reading by using the word discrete where he should have used discreet. Other common usage errors are to confuse phase with faze and to use less rather than fewer to describe discrete (not discreet!) things. Punctuation errors and typos can be just as distracting. Judging from book reviews, some readers will overlook mistakes until they become a constant irritant while others abandon a book after one or two typos. I fall into the first category—as long as the writer is doing other things right.

. . . here’s a little reminder.

The error in Hitman in Love appeared later in the story when I felt involved with the characters and wanted to know what would happen. Up to that point, the prose had been clean, and the writing had style. Clunky prose bothers me intensely. No matter how good the story, I reach the point where I cannot face another clumsy sentence.

Readers are less likely to tolerate an incoherent narrative, poor pacing, stilted dialogue, or unbelievable characters because these weaknesses prevent them from getting into the story in the first place.

Several months ago I committed to reading a political thriller. Let’s call this one Thugs in High Office. It ran over 700 pages, but the opening scene was so compelling I figured the length would be no problem. Unfortunately, the pace slowed and then dragged, weighed down by flashbacks that went on too long and had a tenuous connection to the plot. Most were devoted to a character whose colorful past interested the author more than it interested me. I plowed on past page 400, figuring the backstory would end as the plot moved toward the climax. But no. When the story sank into yet another flashback I stopped reading.

The writing is too complex or unconventional

Books can be difficult not because of incompetent writing but because of a complex prose style or complex narrative techniques. These qualities put off readers who don’t understand them or who would rather be entertained than challenged.

Readers are kind of like hummingbirds . . .

Unsophisticated readers confuse complexity with incompetence. I once came across a reader review complaining about run-on sentences in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Children of Hurin. Tolkien was a superb linguist, the inventor of languages with highly complex grammar. He knew how to write a sentence. This reviewer had no idea what she was talking about. A run-on is a grammatical construction in which two independent clauses are joined without a conjunction or proper punctuation. It’s not any sentence that “runs on” longer than the reader thinks it should.

Frequent shifts in point of view and convoluted narratives can also discourage readers. I like telling a story from the perspectives of multiple characters—not head-hopping but changing point of view from one section to another—and enjoy the work of writers who take chances with point of view. But I can understand why some readers would rather settle upon one character and stay with that character throughout the story. These readers will never be fans of my books.

. . . flitting from blossom to blossom.

Once upon a time I had an agent. He took me to meet an editor who said my novel was half literary and half commercial. She suggested making it more commercial if I wanted to interest a major publisher like the one she worked for. I tried to change my writing and found I couldn’t. In the end, I published the novel myself. I suspect the editor was right. With a more commercial style it would find a wider readership.

I’m not suggesting writers should ‘dumb down’ their writing, just pointing out that complexity turns some readers off. And I’m not implying those readers are stupid. Maybe they just want to relax with a novel, not recall their college days of writing essays in Introduction to Literature.

I hope the little guy made it to his winter home.

The same goes for experimental writing. Formal innovation, meta fiction, stream of consciousness—inventions that define modern fiction—require more attention than many readers care to give. My writing is conventional, but I owe a great debt to James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes, William Burroughs, Don DeLillo, and others. If I hadn’t read their work I would have sadly limited idea of what a story is.

The material is offensive

Considering how many readers loathe profanity, I wish my characters would quit using the F word. Why can’t they be satisfied with “phooey” or “drat”? It’s my fault. I create them from my experience, and I’ve known too many people with potty mouths. I do wonder about readers who choose stories about cops and hardened criminals and expect them to say “Go jump in a lake” instead of “Go fuck yourself.”

But profanity gives minor offense compared to graphic scenes of sex or violence, or depictions of racial hatred and other ugly aspects of human nature. As long as darkness exists in the world it will find a home in the imaginations of some writers. I’m one of them. Still, I understand when readers choose not to subject themselves to stories that are ugly or depressing. I threw up in the middle of Naked Lunch and finished it anyway, but others might sanely choose to spare their stomachs further distress.

The book’s worldview is incompatible with the reader’s

Everyone understands the world according to his or her own beliefs and experience. When they encounter a book that contradicts their worldview, readers can be angry or baffled. The fiction of Ayn Rand is an obvious example. It inspires some people and infuriates others. Usually the discordance is subtler, but it can still cause readers to abandon a book.

I know many readers love Gone with the Wind, but I couldn’t get past the idea, conveyed without irony, that loss of the genteel Southern way of life was a terrible thing.

A while ago I read a Christian suspense novel that could have been titled Convict Finds God. (Actually, it had a much catchier title.) The story was told well and held my interest for two-thirds of the book, at which point the suspenseful plot was resolved. The rest was devoted to the protagonist’s new life in Christ. I guess this last part would have emotional resonance for religious readers that it didn’t have for me. Oh, I finished the book, but I was bored by the time I turned the last page.

Photos by Joe Heumann

Yet I love The Lord of the Rings, a novel steeped in Tolkien’s Catholicism despite being set in “a world into which Christ has not yet come.” (I’m pretty sure that phrase is Tolkien’s, but I can’t remember where I read it. If you can help me out here, I would appreciate it.) Great novels create a reality so complete that readers abandon their own and—at least while the story lasts—live in the one the writer has made. This transcendence is what I love most about reading fiction.

Every time a reader picks up a work of fiction, the magic either happens or not. And the reasons are as individual as the person holding the book. Or e-reader.

I love novels in a series. With each book you get to know the characters and their world a little better until they become like friends and you can hardly wait until your next visit. With the debut of Jim Giammatteo’s A Bullet for Carlos, I’ve discovered a new friend in Brooklyn cop Connie Gianelli.

Connie has a starkly divided life. A single woman with a job that leaves her no time for a social life, she lives alone with her cat Hotshot, rescued from a crack house. She frets over her loneliness and yearns to marry and raise children. The trouble is, she’s committed to being a cop, a career she chose because of her uncle, mobster Dominic Mangini. She loves him but detests what he does. Both her parents are dead; Dominic is like her father. He has impressed on her the importance of family. “La famiglia é tutto,” he tells her. Family is everything.

Her job places them both in a difficult position. Connie’s fellow cops assume she’s dirty because of her family associations. She isn’t, but her integrity is always in question. She understands that as a cop there is a line she cannot cross. But what happens if she comes up against that line? Will she do her job or remain loyal to her family? For obvious reasons, Dominic wishes she would leave the police. Since she refuses, he does what it takes to protect her.

As the story begins, Connie and two other cops are ambushed during a drug buy. They have no backup. Previous buys have been sabotaged by leaks from the department, so plans for this one are closely guarded. But the dealers know about it anyway. Connie finds herself trapped in an alley, outgunned, with two dead partners. She can either call for help or die. She knows the police won’t arrive in time, so she calls Dominic. He sends a lieutenant with men who kill the dealers and recover the cash the cops have brought to the buy. But no drugs are found. Maybe the mobsters took them—although Dominic forbade it—or maybe the dealers never brought any drugs since they planned an ambush. Anyway, suspicion falls on Connie. Questions arise about how she survived the ambush. To clear her name, she must uncover the real leak. That means investigating the Mexican cartel running the drugs. Both her superiors and Dominic order her to leave the cartel to them, but under the pretense of investigating a cold murder case, she travels to Texas, where she tracks a sadistic serial killer and faces the ruthless cartel leader who wants her dead.

The intricate plot converges neatly without feeling contrived. Giammatteo moves skillfully between Connie’s first-person account and omniscient third-person narration. Connie’s compelling voice centers the story on her. She’s a wonderful character—sensitive, tough, and honest with herself. When she begins working with flamboyant Texas cop Tip Denton, readers might expect the conventional romance to blossom, but Giammatteo gives them something truer. A friendship based on affection and respect.

The story contains some profanity and violence. It would hardly be realistic otherwise. If you enjoy hard-edged crime fiction, A Bullet for Carlos will keep you riveted. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll be looking forward to the next Connie Gianelli novel.

For a limited time, A Bullet for Carlos is available as an ebook for only $2.99.


Giacomo and Slick

About the author:

Giacomo grew up in a large Italian family in the Northeast. No one had money, so for entertainment he and his family played board games and told stories. He loved the city—the noise, the people—but it was the storytelling most of all that stuck with him.

Now Giacomo and his wife live in Texas, where they run an animal sanctuary with 41 loving “friends.” Sometimes he misses the early days, but not much. Now he enjoys the solitude and the noise of the animals.

Connect with Giacomo on his Web site.

A month ago I posted an essay on second-person point of view and its ambiguity and rarity in fiction—especially genre fiction. Thanks to that post, I learned about a crime thriller, Bigger Than Jesus by Robert Chazz Chute, in which the protagonist, a hitman, narrates the story entirely in second person. The concept interested me. I wondered if the author could sustain the narration for two hundred or more pages. He does. Bigger Than Jesus is a stylish thriller with a likable antihero and an engrossing story.

Jesus Salvador Umberto Luis Diaz works as a hitman for the mob, but he’s not a sociopath. Just a former soldier without job training for anything else. He performs his duties because he has no choice. His goal is to acquire the money his latest victim stole from the mob so he can escape to Florida with his girlfriend. The trouble is, he finds himself embroiled in an internal struggle for power—a Machiavellian game in which he is merely a pawn. Jesus’ greatest talent is the ability to talk his way out of dangerous situations. He faces quite a few of them. The more he’s forced to lie, the more urgent it becomes for him to find the money before the lies catch up with him.

A Cuban émigré who came to the United States illegally, Jesus relates his horrific childhood experiences in flashbacks that might have slowed the story if they were less adroitly done. Instead they give a deeper understanding of Jesus and his motives while telling a gripping story of their own. As with the main story line, Chute’s pacing is perfect.

The second person narration feels natural from the first page. After a while I stopped noticing. The second person is essential to Jesus’ character and the way he relates to himself. Jesus aspires to be a ninja, quicker and craftier than the other players. After setting up an elaborate ambush, only to get bushwhacked, he comments, “You aren’t a smart ninja.” In first person, the remark would be an admission of incompetence. Spoken to himself, it becomes the humorous jeer of a spectator.

Near the end, the author presents the reason why Jesus thinks in second person. It ought to be unnecessary. The reason occurred to me earlier in the story, and anyway the narrative voice works beautifully and needs no justification. But I can guess why Chute does it. Some readers might be annoyed or unsettled by the strangeness of second person, so he explains. If these readers hang in there long enough to reach the explanation, it ought to satisfy them.

With Bigger Than Jesus, Robert Chazz Chute proves that genre fiction can be inventive and unconventional in its use of language while delivering a suspenseful story. I look forward to the sequel and the further adventures of Jesus.

Today it’s my pleasure to interview Ricki Wilson, an independent author and professional educator from Oklahoma. Growing up among genuine cowboys, Ricki learned at an early age to appreciate the true value of a good horse and a faithful dog. Maggie’s Fall, Wilson’s first novel, is a tribute to both. The Kindle Book Review describes Maggie’s Fall as “A true-to-life family saga set in the contemporary west that is both endearing and well written.”

Hi Ricki. Thank you for being here today.

Thank you for inviting me. I’m honored.

It’s rare today to find an author who does nothing but write for a living. Do you have a day job other than writing, and if so, what is it? What are some other jobs you’ve had in your life? Have they influenced/inspired your writing?

I am a professional educator. I teach English in a public high school by day, and I teach Composition and American Literature in a local junior college in the evenings. I am currently teaching 5 days and 4 nights a week and spending my weekends grading and planning. This schedule is leaving me no time for writing, a situation I intend to rectify at the first opportunity. I love teaching, and I don’t want to give it up, but in my dream world, I would write full-time and teach part-time.

 What compelled you to write your first book?

Some people paint, some crochet, or bake, or play golf; I write—often for the same reasons that I read, to escape, to discover something beyond my physical world. Writing Maggie’s Fall began as an experiment to see if I could create the reading experience from the other side, to see if I could record a story as I was imagining it. The process was arduous and exhilarating in equal measure. Following the age-old adage to “write what you know,” I chose familiar subjects (stray dogs, horses, and cowboys) and wove them into a story.

I loved Maggie’s Fall. The characters are so sympathetic and true to life, and life on a horse ranch is shown so memorably. Tell us briefly about your book.

Maggie’s Fall is about Maggie McClellan, a single and single-minded woman whose sole purpose in life is to protect the M-Bar Ranch and the M-Bar Ranch family: her son, T.J., Martha and Jonah (who have lived on the ranch as long as Maggie), the M-Bar horses, and one stray dog who knows all Maggie’s sorrows.

Maggie is smart. She knows how to run a ranch and how to keep her guests happy; she knows when to stay out of Martha’s kitchen and not to leave Jonah’s tools lying around; she knows how to soothe a frightened colt, and that T.J. worries too much for a little boy, but she doesn’t know how to stop an anonymous investor from buying out her leases. Maggie will not lose everything her parents built. Saving the M-Bar is the only way to keep her parents’ memory alive. When the pressure of holding everything together weighs too heavily, Maggie breaks a long-standing rule: she rides off alone across the M-Bar pastures without telling anyone where she’s going.

Witt McCreigh has been Maggie’s best friend her whole life. When Maggie never returns to the ranch, Witt saddles Maggie’s best mare, abandons the formal search party, and follows his heart. Witt rides with one hope—to find Maggie alive, and one regret—that he has never told her how much he loves her.

What are you working on at the moment?

 I am working on the sequel to Maggie’s Fall when I can make the time to write. Around mid-summer, I thought I was close to being finished, but when I stopped to re-read, I realized that I had not put my best voice on paper. I trashed 201 pages and started over. I would rather delay publication of the sequel than insult readers with a mediocre effort.

Do you have a favorite character? Why is s/he your favorite?

I do not have a favorite character from Maggie’s Fall; I love them all. However, I do have a least favorite character, Bronc Weller. It’s a very odd feeling to create a despicable character, but I had fun doing so.

If you could live in one of your books, which one would you live in?

There are elements of Maggie’s Fall that I would like to experience, such as the warmer winters of West Texas, or having the opportunity to be around my horses all the time. I guess I do create settings that hold appeal for me. I have two novels in their infancy. Once centers around the drag racing scene and the other is set in a farming community. I have a weakness for old hot rods, so that would be fun, and I already live in a small farming community, so I know the joys of small-town life firsthand.

The main characters of your stories—do you find that you put a little of yourself into each of them or do you create them to be completely different from you?

 I’m sure this will seem like an odd answer, but I don’t feel as if there is any part of me in my writing. Other than being the writer, I simply don’t factor in. I am an omniscient writer, in that I watch the story play out and I record what I imagine, but I do not play a part in the story. I’m always hopeful that I’ll find a way to better explain this.

When growing up, did you have a favorite author, book series, or book?

 The first “big book” that I remember reading was Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty. If memory serves, I was in the second grade. I still have the book. I have always been an avid reader. In elementary school I read Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, The Black Stallion series—one of my favorites was Cinchfoot (another horse story). I read Gone with the Wind in the sixth grade. I’m sure I didn’t grasp it, but I remember the feeling of being swept away in the saga. I discovered Vonnegut in high school, and I was blown away.

What about now: who is your favorite author and what is your favorite genre to read?

 Discovering the literary canon fueled my addiction for words. I can now barely read anything without a pen in my hand for recording quick annotations (I love the “notes” feature on e-readers.), and, for me, The Great Gatsby is the finest novel in existence.

My reading tastes have become far more eclectic in recent years, and I try to divide my reading time between pleasure reading and literary fiction. Because I began Maggie’s Fall as a pleasure writing experience, I wrote it to be in the pleasure reading category; however, I would love to attempt a work of literary fiction one day.

It’s always difficult for me to choose one favorite (with the exception of Gatsby), but literary works I treasure include Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, Steinbeck’s East of Eden, Martel’s Life of Pi, O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, and, more recently, Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility and Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot.

On the other side of the fiction coin, I’ll read just about anything (except blatant erotica). I often read a book at a student’s request (The Book Thief, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) or a friend’s recommendation (Stephanie Plum), but lately I’ve been finding some great reads through my Indie Author connections. Your work, Talion, is at the top of my list, along with the John Reeves novels by Kirkus MacGowan, the Olivia Hart series by Alana Siegel, LiaFairchild’s In Search of Lucy, and one book I really liked that’s not getting much notice is Stephen Shea’s The Not So Simple Life. I have no shame in admitting that I practically inhaled the Twilight series, and while I’m neither Team Jacob nor Team Edward, I am most definitely Team Stephenie. I had students in my classroom who had previously read nothing longer than a Facebook status and they were devouring the series. For that, I say “Thank you, Ms. Meyer!” In writing these lists, I fear that I’ve been disloyal in my forgetfulness. I have a list of books on Goodreads .

What advice would you give aspiring authors?

 I would advise those who aspire to publish to be avid readers, to educate themselves about the current and ever-changing trends in the publishing field, and to prepare themselves for the reality that the writing is the easiest part. A year ago I never would have dreamed that I would have to build a dedicated Facebook page, that I would need to be on Twitter, that I would need to develop a website — all for the purposes of promoting Maggie’s Fall and making contacts. I am no good at self-promotion, and I don’t enjoy it, but it hasn’t been all bad. Indie authors are extremely generous in helping one another, and, thanks to social networking, I’ve been helped along my way by those more experienced. Because I abhor promoting myself, I choose to promote my fellow Indie authors through my blog, Indie Spotlight.

Where can readers buy Maggie’s Fall and connect with you online?

Maggie’s Fall is available for Kindle, Kindle apps, and in paperback from Amazon and Amazon UK.

Maggie’s Fall is also available from: Barnes and Noble,  Smashwords, and iTunes.

I welcome readers and fellow authors to join me on Facebook and Twitter.

My website celebrates Maggie’s Fall, and my blog, Indie Spotlight features Indie Authors. Any author who would like to be showcased can find the details on my website.


Recently I happened on an article in the online edition of Forbes magazine: “Publishing Is Broken, We’re Drowning in Indie Books – And That’s a Good Thing.” The author, David Vinjamuri, assesses the conflict between traditional and Indie publishing and predicts both will survive, even thrive. Vinjamuri begins by quoting two well-known authors who speak of Indies with smugness and disdain.

Brad Thor, a writer of techno-thrillers, declares that publishers “separate the wheat from the chaff” and that any “good writer with a great book . . . should be able to get a publishing contract.” I’ve never read this guy’s novels. Maybe he’s good. But I disagree that landing a contract with a big publishing house proves his or any writer’s excellence. I’ve encountered plenty of bad writing in novels issued by major presses.

Reading Tami Hoag’s Ashes to Ashes, I came upon an expository passage crudely borrowed from sources I recognized from my research into serial killers. It’s not plagiarized. Just partly digested and vomited onto the page. Okay, so Hoag was concentrating on plot and character development and left some crappy writing in the manuscript she sent off to her publisher. Where was her editor? Indie authors are exhorted to hire a professional editor lest their books seem amateurish. Let’s hope they find someone better than whoever applied the final coat of polish to Ashes to Ashes.

Maybe the editing was rushed to meet a publication schedule.

Bestselling authors are expected to write a book every year or so. Otherwise readers might abandon the brand and start reading some other author. Charlaine Harris, an author whose writing has given me delight, has been producing a Sookie Stackhouse book about every year. I’ve read all of them through Dead in the Family. Another has been published since then. Or maybe two. I’ve stopped caring. So have many fans, who find the plots lackluster and become frustrated by the lack of coherence in the story from one book to the next.

Harris’s publisher makes a lot of money from her novels. Maybe the people in charge figure her fans will buy them anyway, so there’s no longer any need for quality.

Commercial publishers are in business to make money. Nothing wrong with that. But the profit motive doesn’t necessarily foster literary excellence. Vinjamuri brings up the famous example of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, a novel rejected because Toole refused to make changes that an editor thought would render the novel more commercial. Later, Walker Percy championed the novel. It was published and won the Pulitzer Prize. Having the right connections helps. There are elements of luck and timing in literary success.

You wouldn’t know it, though, reading Sue Grafton’s sneers about Indie authors:

“I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall.”

Grafton pisses me off for a couple of reasons. First, she makes the broad generalization that every Indie author rushes to publish without mastering the craft of writing. Granted, much Indie writing is awful. But what is true of many (or even most) doesn’t hold for all. As in the process of commercial publication, cream rises. (So does shit, but that’s another story.)

Second, Grafton’s mystery novels aren’t “Carnegie Hall” material either. They’re the well-crafted products of a pedestrian imagination. I don’t want to offend Grafton’s many fans, but her work isn’t as wonderful as she seems to think. Sure, her books deserve to be published. They entertain many, many readers. But so do the novels of Indie authors like Morgan Hannah McDonald and Melissa Foster.

Read Vinjamuri’s article if you want evenhanded analysis of why Indie authors get dismissed while Indie filmmakers and musicians get respect, why the pricing practices of commercial publishers have created problems for them, and the ways publishing could change. As his title suggests, Vinjamuri finds reasons for optimism. It’s heartening to think there might be room for everyone.


Last month, I was immersed in the first draft of the sequel to Talion. The story flowed straight from my head onto the page. Sometimes I had no idea what would come next. It just came. Writers understand what I’m talking about, what a blessed state it is. The last thing I wanted was to stop. But a vacation was coming. A vacation I was looking forward to.

I handled the dilemma in the usual way – with self delusion. I resolved to keep writing during the trip. Nothing big, I told myself. An hour or two on the days I wasn’t travelling. Just to keep the novel alive in my head. I packed my iPad and bluetooth keyboard, a notebook and plenty of pens. I lugged this equipment from place to place for eleven days, but – surprise! – I got nothing written. Oh, I jotted down a few impressions, descriptions of place and the like.

But sustained sessions of writing? No way.

I’ve been fooling myself like this for years, forgetting how impractical it is to wedge an hour of writing into days crammed with activity. But more to the point, I forget that on my last dozen vacations I felt no urge whatsoever to write. Vacations are just too much fun – visiting family and friends, exploring places, and indulging in hedonistic pleasures like eating and shopping. Only when the trip ends and I come home do I feel disappointed in myself.

This time, unpacking my keyboard, I felt the usual guilt and dutifully beat myself up. I wasn’t a serious writer, not really dedicated to my craft, and if I never succeeded it was my own fault for not trying harder. Then I stopped. Why was I doing this? I had a great time. I stayed with my nephew and his family in Salt Lake. We celebrated Frontier Days in Cheyenne, went shopping in Denver, and hiked down a mountain in Deer Valley. I took dozens of photos. I went to the places that are the setting of my sequel. That’s research, right?

Maybe a journey demands commitment. Maybe it’s not something I can undertake while part of me stays home, settled into a writing routine. Or maybe I’m fishing for excuses. Anyway, the neglected first draft hasn’t expired during my absence. I touch the keyboard and it awakens like a lover, sleepy and expectant.


When I was four, my family lived in Soldier Summit, Utah, a forlorn place high in the Wasatch Mountains. Population two or three dozen people, tops. Our house was heated with a coal stove. It had running water but no indoor toilet. My father had been working as a dispatcher at the railroad station there, but now he’d gone into business in Heber, a small town by most standards but a metropolis compared to Soldier Summit. Heber had an actual grade school where I would begin kindergarten that summer.

In the spring, shortly before we moved, I went outside to play after a rain. Like many storms in the mountains, it came up suddenly, exploded in a downpour, and then dissolved into blue sky. The world looked clean and new. The sage brush on the slope above our house lost its dustiness. Dandelions the size of silver dollars grew in our muddy yard, the fiercest yellow I’d ever seen. Even today I have trouble thinking of dandelions as weeds. They’re cousins to the fabulous blossoms that surrounded me that day.

Rivulets flowed in the rutted path downhill, so full of sunshine it hurt my eyes. But I looked anyway. I couldn’t stop looking. A feeling welled inside me — deeper than happiness, sharper than excitement. The sunshine was inside me, flowing through me like the bright water, and I was larger than my body. I grew as large as the sky. I thought, I am — something beyond naming that flew away like a bird as I reached for it.

Though I could hardly read yet, I think the writer in me was born then. I’m still reaching with word after word for things unnamed.