Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

29 December 2009

The old year now away is fled

My final blog post of the year seems a fitting time to look back at 2009 and forward to 2010.

Social networking

One of the biggest writing-world surprises of 2009 for me was the abandonment of blogs for Facebook. Many of the writing friends I connected with at the beginning of the year through visiting each others’ blogs I now see primarily on FB. As much as I enjoy reading the tidbits my friends post on FB about their families, their activities, and their progress on a story or book, the trend toward FB dismays me.

If blogs go the way of dinosaurs, I will miss the long essays, thought-out arguments, carefully constructed jokes or photo displays, and tutorials. Although some people do occasionally post longer material on FB, most information is conveyed as sound bites, slogans, and aphorisms. FB works well for announcing one is baking chocolate-chip cookies or has posted new photos of the progress of their barn renovation, but is totally inadequate for making a nuanced argument.

And yet I myself have gotten sucked into hanging out at FB, to the detriment of my blog. My intention for 2010 is to start blogging again every week; please feel free to nag if I don’t.


None of my friends had awful covers this year, and many were blessed by the cover gods and received gorgeous covers. Many of the books I bought also had great covers. Granted, I will buy a book because it has nice cover art, but still, in 2009 cover art seemed to take a turn for the better. Perhaps with the economy still in the tank, publishers felt they needed better covers to entice people to approach and buy their books. Whatever the reason, I was happy for the trend and hope it continues.

The reactions to the cover for Like Mayflies in a Stream have been strong and contradictory. One bookseller thought it was a great cover because the contrast, the tension between the figures, and the lighting all draw the eye to the book. Other people have said that they found the cover repellent. I now routinely ask people at booksignings what they think of it. It’s fascinating to hear how differently people react, and I wonder how many of the covers I loved in 2009 turned other people off.

Dark and stormy night

The trend in both fantasy and romance toward dark books set in grimy, unpleasant places and headed by heroes with questionable moral compasses continued in 2009; I stopped buying most such books long ago. The rise of steampunk seemed to promise a change in direction; instead, I fear we are getting much the same books, only now they are set in a violent, grimy, gloomy Victorian London.

It’s not that I want to read variations on Pollyanna. But life is both glorious and horrible, beautiful and ugly, uplifting and soul searing; I want to read books that reflect the full range of human experience, not just the dark half. My life has enough dark already.


One of my goals for this week is to set writing goals for 2010. What’s floating around in my head is that I want to send out several stories (which will require writing them first), write another novel, and go to a couple of writing conferences. Oh, and get more sleep so I will be rested enough to accomplish the other goals.

How about you? What did you think of 2009’s covers? Or my cover? Are you tired of dark books yet? What goals will you pursue in 2010?

Happy New Year, everyone.

01 December 2009

Clarion Workshop opens for applications

The Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop is accepting applications for its 2010 class from 1 December 2009 through 1 March 2010.

For those unfamiliar with the Clarion workshop, it is an intensive six-week-long workshop in which you write short stories and critique the stories of your seventeen classmates. Ideally, you write six stories during those six weeks, but the number is up to you.

Although the instructors come from the world of speculative fiction and the workshop teaching focuses on spec fic, people who write in any genre are welcome to apply.

The lineup of teachers for 2010 is especially wonderful:
The online application process is easy. You submit contact information, a brief summary of your educational background, a few details about your writing habits and goals, and two short stories.

As you may know, I attended Clarion in 2009 and found it worth every penny. My writing improved, my critiquing ability improved, and I made seventeen friends-for-life, most or all of whom will be famous writers one day. I blogged about the experience here and here.

To learn about Clarion 2010 and the application process, check out the Website and the links there.

If you want to know more about my six weeks at Clarion, please feel free to ask questions in the comments or to email me privately at ShaunaRoberts [at]


The blog Suko’s Notebook is having a contest, and the prize is the historical novel Melinda in the Wild West by Linda Weaver Clark. Linda was interviewed at For Love of Words in August. To enter the contest, leave a comment here.


Hadley Rille Books, which published Like Mayflies in a Stream, is celebrating its fourth birthday. If you haven’t checked out its offerings before—mostly science fiction and fantasy—they’re worth a look:

23 November 2009

Writing about the new New Orleans

While in San Francisco recently, I met someone who was not from New Orleans who was writing a novel in which the failure of the federal levees in New Orleans was an important incident. I promised to send him some names of books for background reading, particularly books by NOLA authors he might not come across otherwise.

It occurred to me that other nonlocal people may also be writing books that have scenes set in the new New Orleans. Writers can no longer rely on pre-Flood books or memories from vacation trips. The landscape has changed, the vocabulary has changed, the ethnic makeup of the city has changed, and even the attitudes of people have changed.

Here are a few suggestions for background reading for such writers.


1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina by Chris Rose. This book contains some of Rose’s daily columns in the Times-Picayune, which were a must-read for every New Orleanian in the months after the Flood.

Oral history by Dr. Bennett deBoisblanc (my pulmonologist and a hero of the Flood): Other oral histories collected in the same project can be accessed from

Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in Its Disaster Zone: A Memoir by Joshua Clark, a writer and publisher who stayed in his French Quarter apartment during and after the disaster.

Many people have published memoirs since the Flood. This link will take you to memoirs that sells.

Practical matters

If someone is going to write about the aftermath of the Flood, they’ll need to know something about the issues New Orleanians dealt with—mold, insurance claims, depression, unsafe water, financial disaster, lack of electricity, and finding a reputable contractor, among others. Here are a few links to brochures and Web pages.

“Repairing Your Flooded Home”

“Disaster Recovery: A Guide to Financial Issues”

“Picking Up the Pieces after a Disaster: Important Steps for Your Safe and Speedy Recovery”


“National Flood Insurance Program Flood Insurance Claims Handbook”

“Recovering from Disaster”

“A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home”

“Treatment of Flood-Damaged Older and Historic Buildings”

Flood control and its failures in Louisiana

Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana’s Cajun Coast by Mike Tidwell

Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America by John M. Barry

The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina—The Inside Story from One Louisiana Scientist by Ivor van Heerden and Mike Bryan

Reportage on Hurricane Katrina

Many magazines had special issues or published picture books after the Flood. I was not impressed with Time magazine’s Hurricane Katrina: The Storm That Changed America.. Two that do seem good are:

Katrina: Why It Became a Man-made Disaster; Where It Could Happen Next, a special edition (undated) of National Geographic

Katrina: The Ruin and Recovery of New Orleans by the staff of the Times-Picayune


Spoiled by Tom Varisco. A tiny book of photographs of ruined refrigerators. Available from

Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster by Michael Eric Dyson. An analysis of the role race and social class played in the federal and public response to the Flood.

A.D.: New Orleans after the Deluge by Josh Neufeld. A graphic novel about the Flood.

This list is far from comprehensive; there have been a deluge of books about the Deluge. I’d welcome your suggestions for background reading for nonlocal writers.

13 November 2009

World Fantasy Con revisited

At last I have recuperated sufficiently from the 2009 World Fantasy Con to report on it. That fact alone should tell you I had a great time. So much went on that I wish I could have split myself into three or four people to take advantage of everything.

Never having experienced WFC before, I had expected a Con similar to the Baton Rouge and Los Angeles Cons I've been to—guys in Klingon costumes, lots of teeshirt and jewelry vendors, panels manned by unprepared people who learned of their panel assignments at the last minute. I was wrong. WFC was more like the Romance Writers of America yearly convention, only oriented even more strongly toward the professional writer.

The Con ran from 29 October to 1 November 2009 in San Jose, California, and I was impressed from the very beginning. Registration was organized and efficient—I love organization and efficiency, and they are usually all too lacking at Cons—and each registrant received a large bookbag stuffed full with magazines and books, many of them hardcovers. Wowie zowie! I collected more free publications at the giveaway table and came home with hundreds of dollars' worth of reading material.

Official events at WFC included an art show, a dealers' room whose vendors were primarily bookstores and publishers, a group autographing session, readings, panels, interviews, and a closing banquet followed by the World Fantasy Awards.

At least two panels were slotted for each time period, and often I wanted to go to all of them. A sampling: "Poe's Influence" (the theme of this year's WFC was the 200th anniversary of Edgar Allen Poe's birth), "The Role of the Raven," "Overlooked Early Writers of the Supernatural," "Why Steampunk Now?" "The Role of Religion in Contemporary Fantasy," and "What Makes a Good Monster," to name a few.

I sat on one panel, called "Writing Human Characters, Whether or Not They're Human," with David B. Coe, Kate Elliott, Laurel Ann Hill, and Kay Kenyon. According to the program description, we were to discuss "the challenges of writing relatable [sic] nonhuman characters in heroic and mythic fantasy...." In fact, though, we talked more about science fiction aliens than about vampires or other fantasy creatures.

The mass book signing was scheduled to last an exhausting three hours, but both autograph seekers and authors wandered away after about two hours. I talked to many people and sold and signed several books, so I consider the signing a success.

My goals for the conference were to network and to try not to buy too many books. I reluctantly skipped most of the panels and readings to go to parties and to hang out with my Clarion friends (which soon included the class of 2008) and their friends. Unlike RWA members at a conference, few WFC attendees had business cards. Thank goodness for Facebook! A flurry of "friending" after the Con means I'll remember names and faces for next year.

And yes, I do intend to go next year, when WFC lands in Columbus, Ohio, over Halloween weekend, and not only because I can visit my family in nearby Beavercreek. I'm already planning what to do differently to get even more value from the Con. Number 1 on the list: Get more sleep before and during the Con. This year, I was Zombie Woman by the end of the first day.

Think you might want to go to World Fantasy Con? Check out my brief post at the NovelSpaces blog on why you should attend next year.

04 November 2009

Interview with debut fantasy author Kim Vandervort

Kim Vandervort’s first novel, The Song and the Sorceress (Hadley Rille Books), debuted 15 August. This epic fantasy follows the adventures of a runaway princess and her companions as they seek to find and destroy a dangerous sorceress.

Welcome, Kim, and congratulations on publication of The Song and the Sorceress!

Thanks, Shauna! And thank you for having me!

What was your favorite part of writing The Song and the Sorceress?

This is a tough question, like being asked to choose between my children! However, I would have to say that my favorite part of writing Song was the process of discovery. While I always had a fairly solid idea of where the novel was headed, sometimes the novel would take an interesting turn that I had not anticipated, and it became a lot of fun to see where this new plot twist or idea would take me. These were the times when I almost felt more like a reader than a writer—I had to keep going because I wanted to know what would happen next!

Probably the best example of this I can point toward is when the Vequen appear. Like my characters, I had no idea they were there until they showed up. Once they did, I really wanted to know who these people were and what their culture was like, and I had a lot of fun with that piece of the story.

What writers have had the greatest influence on you?

First and foremost, Anne McCaffrey and her Dragonriders of Pern series. Not only was Dragonsinger one of the first fantasy novels I remember pulling off my school library shelf and absolutely loving, I also belonged to a Pern fanfic club through middle school and high school that gave me the opportunity to hone my burgeoning writing skills by writing and publishing short stories set in the Pern universe.

From there I became a huge fan of Piers Anthony, Steven Brust, Mercedes Lackey—anything I could pull off of my mom’s shelf at home. I absolutely ADORED David Eddings, and in later years, I became a huge Tolkien fan. I find something different to love in almost every fantasy I read, but I tend to gravitate toward well-drawn characters.

Are there certain themes or topics you’re drawn to in your writing?

Most of my main characters are fairly young—from adolescents to young adults—and a common theme seems to be the search for identity and belonging, something I think many young adults can identify with.

I also like my female characters to take a strong role in the story. As a young reader, I got tired of women relegated to the role of the love interest, the witch, the prostitute, or the damsel in distress; I wanted to see more heroines, with complex characters, the power to make their own choices, and the brains to work their own way out of a situation. So, much of my writing seems to explore these ideas.

What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to aspiring authors?

My writing regimen is all over the map! I wrote Song off and on for much of my life; I got the idea for Song when I was eleven and have played with it ever since. However, up until recently, writing was more of a hobby, something I could only do in my spare time.

Now that I have more books to finish and fans anxious for the next book, I try to write 1,000 words a day. Even if I don’t hit that goal, writing every day breaks the task into shorter, manageable doses and keeps my head in the story. I also try to not worry about the details while writing that first draft, as a lot of my best work comes from the revision process anyway. I would definitely recommend this tactic to aspiring authors, especially those who start well, but have trouble finishing a project of any length. The daily goals seem daunting at times, but help get me a lot closer to the end than writing in occasional bursts the night before my writer’s group ever did!

Do you have any other advice for my readers who are working on their first novels?

Revise, revise, revise! Don’t be afraid to cut or change what you’ve written, and don’t think that the book is done on the first, second, or even third draft. Find a writer’s group and go over the novel until you’re sick of it. Then, go over it again! The novel will never be perfect, but it needs to be well polished before it leaves the house. And revision has taught me more about writing than the process of drafting ever did.

When will your next book come out, and what will it be about?

My next book, which I will finish by the end of 2009, is tentatively entitled The Northern Queen and will continue Ki’leah’s adventures as she takes up her birthright as Queen of Si’vad.

Kim, thanks for visiting my blog, and good luck with your next book.

Thanks so much! And congratulations to you on the publication of your new novel!

Thanks, Kim!

You can learn more about Kim and The Song and the Sorceress by visiting her Website at and her blog at Her book is available at (trade paperback, hardcover) and Barnes & Noble (trade paperback, hardcover) as well as by order from your favorite bookstore.

20 October 2009

Reading-habits meme

I found this reading-habits meme recently at Charles Gramlich’s Razored Zen blog and thought I would give it a go.

Do you snack while you read? If so, what is your favorite reading snack?

Yes, I snack, usually on good chocolate and a glass of water (bottled Pellegrino if I’m treating myself; filtered water from the fridge for ordinary occasions).

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?

My mother once caught me coloring in the line drawings of a poetry book my aunt gave me, and I caught holy heck. I partially got over the trauma in college and grad school, where I did mark up my textbooks. Even so, to this day, before I pick up a highlighter or pencil I consider whether I can get by with just sticky notes.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?

Bookmark, always, always, always. Breaking the spine or dogearing would be blasphemous.

Fiction, nonfiction, or both?

Both. I'm not fussy. I was one of those kids who read cereal boxes.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere?

I prefer to stop at the end of a chapter or scene, but some authors have awfully long scenes. In that case, I’ll stop anywhere.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?

Sometimes. I keep a dictionary next to my favorite reading spot for that purpose, but I don’t always read there.

What are you currently reading?
  • The Memory of Whiteness by Kim Stanley Robinson (sf novel)
  • The Frugal Book Promoter by Carolyn Howard Johnson (nonfiction)
  • The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction by Samuel R. Delany (literary criticism)
  • Year’s Best Fantasy 9, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (fantasy short fiction)
What is the last book you bought?

Soulless: An Alexia Tarabotti Novel by Gail Carriger. It appears to be a comedy of manners/fantasy/steampunk/horror novel about a Victorian woman who stakes vampires with her parasol.

Are you the type of person that reads one book at a time, or can you read more than one?

More than one. Usually I have going a novel, at least one short-story collection, and at least one nonfiction book. I'm also often reading something on my Kindle as well.

Do you have a favorite time/place to read?

I love to read anytime, although perhaps Sunday afternoon counts as my favorite.

My favorite place is in "my" recliner chair in our living room.

Do you prefer series books or stand alones?

Neither. If a stand-alone book is great, I get annoyed that there aren’t more like it. If a book in a series looks good, I get annoyed that I have to read so many other books to work my way up to it, especially if some of the early books are out of print. (I rarely read books out of sequence.)

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?
  • Barbara Hambly (sf, fantasy, mystery, historical fiction)
  • Guy Gavriel Kay (fantasy)
  • Brandon Sanderson (fantasy)
  • Jennifer Blake (historical romance)
I also recommend my friends’ books when appropriate.

How do you organize your books? (by genre, title, author’s last name, etc.)

I put all autographed books together, and I keep all of my aunt’s books together. Otherwise I don’t have a system. Some are grouped by genre; some, by author; if I’m in a hurry I’ll stick a book anywhere there’s an open space.

12 October 2009

Interview with romance writer Liane Spicer

Continuing my series of interviews with Novel Spaces bloggers, I introduce today Liane Spicer, author of Café au Lait (Leisure Books). This romance novel, Liane’s first, is set in Trinidad and Tobago, Liane’s home.

Welcome, Liane, and congratulations on publication of Café au Lait!

Thank you, Shauna. It’s a pleasure to be here.

How did coming from a small country affect your ability to learn about the business of writing and to find an agent and a publisher?

I started learning about the business via writing magazines and articles in Writers Market, then graduated to doing most research online. My location in the Caribbean initially lengthened the querying and submission process; I had to snail mail everything and include arcane stuff such as international mailing coupons, which were something of a PITA for those on the receiving end. Now that many agents and publishers accept queries online, my location is not an issue. I found my current agent, Susan Schulman, days after I began e-mailing agent queries.

Trinidad and Tobago are such beautiful and—for some of us—exotic places to read about. Did you start Café au Lait with the setting first?

I believe I did. There was no question that my first book would be set on the islands. I pre-selected locations for pivotal scenes and when I was ready to write I sketched an outline and made character notes. The story more or less wrote itself from there on.

With such an appealing setting, did you have trouble keeping it from overwhelming the story? How did you balance the readers’ desire to vicariously enjoy these tropical islands with their desire for a satisfying romance?

It was quite a balancing act because I’m very passionate about the physical beauty of my homeland! Every reviewer to date has enthused over my handling of the setting so I think I managed to succeed in conveying the imagery without overwhelming.

How did you become interested in writing romance? What other genres are you interested in writing?

When I read about Kensington’s pioneering Arabesque imprint I decided I’d begin with a multicultural romance. I’ve also written the first draft of a memoir and several chapters of a mainstream novel. Then there’s that sci-fi short story that came out of the blue…

What writers have had the greatest influence on you?

Gerald Durrell, whose obsession with ecology and conservation helped set the naturalist in me on fire from my childhood. D.H. Lawrence for his unflinching exploration of emotion and sensuality. Ayn Rand for the power of her reasoning. Marilyn French for her focus on the female perspective. Shakespeare for his unparalleled facility with language and understanding of the human condition. Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry for showcasing the humor in the ordinary.

Are there certain themes or topics you’re drawn to write about?

Foremost are environmental themes. I’ve been reading about the so-called “eco-thriller” subgenre and that got me thinking of pioneering an “eco-romance” subgenre. Ambiguity is a theme that I enjoy exploring—all the shades of gray that continue to baffle me. Paradox, pain and pleasure, love, hatred and betrayal all wrapped in one package—these complexities continue to fascinate and perplex me, so I write about them.

What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to aspiring authors?

I’m really, really bad at maintaining a regimen. I used to work late at night when the household was asleep but now that I have a day job again that isn’t practical. I’ve started scheduling two hours in the evening for writing and not allowing anything to get in the way. My only recommendation to aspiring authors would be to find a routine that works for them, rather than to try and adopt anyone else’s.

Do you have any other advice for my readers who are working on their first novels?

Focus on writing your story and make it the best that it can possibly be before even thinking of sending it out. Stop talking about it; talking dissipates the energy and tension that should go into the process of creating a novel.

What are you writing now?

My agent submitted my second romance to the publisher this week, and I have to decide now whether I want to work on the memoir or the mainstream novel that are partially written or to begin a new romance.

Thanks, Liane, for talking about your work, and best wishes on your writing.

Shauna, thank you for having me. Congratulations on your brand-new release! I’m looking forward to reading Like Mayflies in a Stream.

You can learn more about Liane and Café au Lait at her combination Website and blog at Café au Lait is available at your local bookstore as well as online at, Barnes & Noble, and Borders.

05 October 2009

A book is born

Today is the official release date of Like Mayflies in a Stream, my third book and (woohoo!) first novel!

For those new to my blog, Like Mayflies in a Stream takes place in ancient Mesopotamia in the world's first city, Uruk, currently ruled by a tyrant. The protagonist, a priestess of Inanna, risks everything in her quest to save her friends and family. Mayflies was inspired by the "Epic of Gilgamesh," the world's first known story.

You can order Mayflies from your local bookstore or find it online at in hardcover and trade paperback and at Barnes & Noble in hardcover and trade paperback.

01 October 2009

Interview with romance authors Jewel Amethyst and Stefanie Worth

Three members of the Novel Spaces blog—Jewel Amethyst, Farrah Rochon, and Stefanie Worth—saw their new anthology of romance novellas debut two days ago, 29 September. Holiday Brides (Leisure Books) contains a trio of romance stories set during winter holidays. Jewel also has a new book out—her first!—called A Marriage of Convenience (Leisure Books).

I interviewed Farrah Rochon in May 2007; today, Jewel Amethyst and Stefanie Worth visit.

Jewel and Stefanie, I’m so glad you are dropping by my blog today. Congratulations on publication of Holiday Brides and A Marriage of Convenience!

JEWEL: Thanks for inviting us.

STEFANIE: Thanks for having me, Shauna.

Although a novella is shorter than a novel, some people find them harder to write. How would you compare the experiences of writing each?

JEWEL: In a novel, you have the advantage of using plots and lots of situations to develop the characters in the book. In a novella, you don’t have that luxury so you have to find more succinct ways of getting your readers to feel and fall in love with the main characters. But I enjoyed writing both.

STEFANIE: I wrote my first novella last year for The Holiday Inn anthology. Being a “pantser,” one who doesn’t outline her stories, I found that I had to be much more organized in my thinking to finish the story within the shortened deadline. This time, I needed to outline to contain the story in the allotted word count. The effect has carried over, and I’ve done a lot more pre-plotting with my current novel-in-progress than I did with the first.

Not having a particularly romantic nature, I’ve wondered why getting married during the hectic holidays is considered romantic. Do you have a theory?

JEWEL: I grew up on the Caribbean Island of St. Kitts, which is featured in “From SKB with Love,” my contribution to the Holiday Brides anthology. Most weddings on St. Kitts actually occur around the Christmas holidays, which is also the carnival season. There is a certain practicality to it. That’s when most Kittitians return to the island on vacation, so friends and family members can participate in the weddings.

On a more romantic note, I would say it is the magic of the season. The holidays take you back to a time and space when you were a kid and you were excited about the presents, the magic, the whole spirit of love and happiness. What’s happier or more magical than having your true love commit to you? People would like to spend their first Christmas together or bring in the new year committed forever to the person they love.

STEFANIE: I think getting married during the holidays is a little crazy myself. But, hey, so is love. lol

How did you become interested in writing romance?

JEWEL: I guess romance was just a natural fit for me. I write a lot of other stuff: short stories, poems. And I have outlines for novels of other genres. But I guess I’m a romantic by heart and I like happy endings. I’ve never set out to say, “Ok, I’m going to write a romance novel today.” The story ideas come to me while I’m going about my daily life, and I eventually develop them and write them. If it happens to be romance (9 out of 10 times it is), then that’s what I write.

STEFANIE: I stumbled into the genre when I was trying to sell my first book, Where Souls Collide. Although there was a relationship in the story, there wasn’t a happily ever after ending. As I began shopping the story, I learned about genres and the rules of those genres. When the book sold to Dorchester, I knew I had some tweaking to do in order to meet readers’ expectations.

Jewel, the heroine of A Marriage of Convenience has been hit hard by life, losing her money, her job, and her fiancé. She would seem a heroine many women could identify with in these financially hard times.

JEWEL: Definitely. Not every woman is extra pretty, rich, or without the constant cares of today. The average woman today has to worry about making ends meet, paying her bills on time, her appearance, and yes, many do worry about meeting Mr. Right. I wanted Tamara to be every woman. I wanted her to have the same troubles, anxieties, despair, and insecurities that present-day women experience on a regular basis. That is why I made her plus size and had her struggle with her weight, finding a job, making ends meet. For me, the impact is not in the troubles themselves, but how she eventually learns to deal with them and finds love in the process without changing her external circumstances.

What writers have had the greatest influence on you?

JEWEL: That’s a tough question. I can’t pinpoint any one who has had a direct impact on my writing, but inspiration-wise, James Patterson and his prolific writing across genres and Sydney Sheldon with his captivating plots and surprise endings have been a big influence. I think I’ve read just about every John Grisham, Robin Cook, and Dan Brown novel. In terms of romance writers, I was a long-time fan of Danielle Steele.

STEFANIE: As a child I loved fantasy stories and Nancy Drew mysteries. When I got older, I began sneaking my mother’s romantic suspense novels off her shelf while she was at work. Ultimately though, I read A LOT of Stephen King growing up—as in everything he wrote. I also love reading Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. In later years I became a Dean Koontz fan.

Are there certain themes or topics you’re drawn to write about?

JEWEL: Not really, though I find myself writing quite a bit lately about people who experience and overcome extreme hardship.

STEFANIE: Although I was pretty ambivalent about it when I started my first novel, I now know that I am a paranormal writer. Everything I attempt to pen comes out with some crazy otherworldly twist. I think I wasn’t sure I’d be able to sustain my fantasy train of thought, but I’ve proven myself wrong. And I’m glad I did.

What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to aspiring authors?

JEWEL: I have none (lol). I tend to write on inspiration (bad for dedicated authors) rather than by set goals. The setback for inspiration-based writing is that it lacks discipline and you take longer to complete the work. I love writing and I’d hate to become so bogged down with a rigid regimen that it becomes tedious. What I would recommend for aspiring authors is to do what works best for you. If dedicating a number of hours each day works, do so. If writing sporadically when you get the urge works, do that.

STEFANIE: I have a full-time job and three kids, so I tend to write after most people I know are sound asleep. If you need eight hours of shut-eye a night, no, I wouldn’t recommend this approach to you. I would suggest that you try to write when you feel most creative. It’ll spare you the agony of sitting down at the keyboard when your muse has flitted off for the day.

Do you have any other advice for my readers who are working on their first novels?

JEWEL: Stick to it. And if you fail to get it published, write another and another. Many authors have their first books either unpublished or published after their second, third, or even umpteenth novel. My first full-length novel is still not published. But with persistence and a bit of luck, I got my second one published. Had I given up, “A Marriage of Convenience” and “From SKB with Love” would still be sitting on my computer (or filed away in my imagination), never to see the light of day.

STEFANIE: Join a reputable writing group. Learn the business of writing. Believe in yourself. Armed with those three tips, I think you’ll be able to ward off a lot of first-time author fumbles and spend more time enjoying yourself as a writer.

What are you writing now?

JEWEL: I currently have a work in progress, but as it’s still in its formative stage I won’t elaborate on it yet.

STEFANIE: My next novel is due to Dorchester December 31st. I’m hoping the story becomes the first in a series for me. It’s a follow-up to last year’s “Can You Believe” novella that appeared in The Holiday Inn anthology. My hero and heroine have settled into a new post-reality show life full of supernatural surprises.

Jewel and Stefanie, thanks for visiting For Love of Words, and good luck with your writing.

JEWEL AND STEFANI: Thank you for having us.

You can learn more about Stefanie at her Website at or her blog at Both Stefanie and Jewel blog twice a month at; both are also on Facebook. Holiday Brides and A Marriage of Convenience are available at bookstores and online at the links below.

Holiday Brides: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders

A Marriage of Convenience: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders


The winners of my birthday contest are RAE ANN PARKER, who chose Amy MacKinnon’s Tethered as her prize, and FARRAH ROCHON, who chose Carleen Brice’s Orange Mint and Honey. Congratulations!


Like Mayflies in a Stream is now available online at in hardcover and at a discount at Barnes & Noble in both hardcover and trade paperback. The official release date is 5 October.


Book release party in Southern California

I’ll be signing Like Mayflies in a Stream Sunday, 11 October, at 2 pm at Mystery & Imagination Bookshop in Glendale. Everyone is welcome to drop by for some wine, snacks, and conversation and to browse the store’s stock of mystery, sf, fantasy, and horror books.

Mystery & Imagination Bookshop

238 North Brand Boulevard
Glendale, CA 91203

23 September 2009

Interview with romance writer Karen White-Owens

Karen White-Owens’ newest novel, I Can Make You Love Me (Dafina), will be released 6 October. In this contemporary romance, childhood friends rediscover each other, but time’s wounds interfere with renewing their former affection.

Karen, thanks for visiting my blog, and congratulations on the publication of I Can Make You Love Me.

Thank you.

In addition to being a multipublished novelist, you’re a librarian, an editor, and a writing teacher. I’m guessing you love books. What did you read as a child?

The book that comes to mind is Seventeenth Summer, written by Maureen Daly. I remember checking it out of the school library and loving the story. Seventeenth Summer was a beautifully written story about teenage love, choices, and angst. It started my hunger for romance novels.

Maya Angelou is one of my favorite authors. When I was in high school, I checked out all of her books. I love her poetry. I'm in awe of all poets because they say so much in very few words.

How do these other careers help or hurt your writing?

All of my work experiences help when I'm writing my stories. As a librarian, I meet and help all types of people with interesting gestures, emotions, and habits that find their way into the pages of my novels.

Also, working at a library gives me the advantage of doing all of my research at work. When I need to know something, I go to our computer catalog and find what I want. The added bonus is I can check it out for long periods.

Teaching at Wayne State University was and is still one of the thrills of my life. I was enthralled with the idea of teaching at the university where I earned my undergrad degree. But I soon learned it took a lot of work and preparation to teach a class effectively. Working with aspiring authors taught me compassion. I learned how to express ideas while respecting other writers' work, even if I didn't agree or understand the subject matter.

What is your favorite part of writing?

My favorite part of writing is the creating. I like to sit down at the computer and let the characters take shape and tell their story.

What writers have had the greatest influence on you?

I believe Stephen King is the person who influences me the most. No one drops you into a scene the way Stephen King does. At some point, I hope to be able to do the same, plus rip your heart out with my prose and then wipe away your tears with a satisfying ending.

Are there certain themes or topics you’re drawn to in your writing?

Many of my books involve growing up, taking responsibility for yourself and your family, and being a good parent. Whether we want to believe it or not, when you have a child, he or she must come first in your life.

What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to aspiring authors?

I get up between 4 and 4:30 am and write for approximately an hour or two and then I go back to bed for about an hour. When my alarm clock goes off at 7 am, I start getting ready for work. On my lunch hour, I edit the pages that I wrote that morning. After dinner in the evening, I make the editorial changes I made during the day.

Do you have any other advice for my readers who are working on their first novels?

“Finish the novel” will always be the best advice I can give anyone. Join a writing organization is my second suggestion. The best thing I ever did when I first started writing was becoming a member of Romance Writers of America (RWA) and forming a critique group. Both were incredibly helpful.

What are you working on next?

I'm working on a manuscript that will be released October 2010. The story is connection to my two previous novels, The Way You Aren't and I Can Make You Love Me. Some of the characters will appear in Where Love Begins.

Karen, thanks for visiting my blog, and good luck with your next book.

You can learn more about Karen and I Can Make You Love Me at her Website at and her blog at Her book is available at your local bookstore as well as online from, Barnes & Noble, and Borders.


Win one of Karen’s books—or a book by anyone else I’ve interviewed at this blog—in my Birthday Bash contest. Enter by posting a comment at my 17 September post by 26 September.

22 September 2009

Blogging today at Novel Spaces

I'm blogging today about setting as inspiration at Novel Spaces. Please stop by if you have a chance, and check out the posts of my fellow Novel Spaces bloggers as well.

17 September 2009

Second annual birthday bash contest

To celebrate turning 53, I’m holding a birthday contest again this year.

To enter, comment on this post by 11 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday, 26 September. Any comment will suffice, but if you need a topic idea, I suggest listing something you like about getting older.

Two posters will be chosen at random to win a book of their choice (up to a $20 value) by me or any author I will have interviewed here by the end of the contest.

Those authors (with links to their original interviews) are:

romance writer Karen White-Owens

horror writer Terence Taylor (New this week! See post of 15 September.)

Western writer Jack Martin

historical fiction writer Linda Weaver Clark (She is having a birthday contest too. Enter by posting at

novelist DeAnna Cameron (GoodReads members can enter until 8 October to win The Belly Dancer at

sword and soul writer Milton Davis

historical fiction author Dianne Ascroft

fantasy writer Leslie Ann Moore

historical and fantasy romance writer Jade Lee

historical fiction author Mingmei Yip

fiction writer Amy MacKinnon

historical romance writer Lynna Banning

mystery writer Ed Lynskey

mystery writer June Shaw

fiction writer Carleen Brice (NEWS: Orange Mint and Honey is being made into a Lifetime TV movie called "Sins of the Mother.")

fiction writer Therese Fowler

historical romance writer Jennifer Blake

romance writer Hailey North

historical mystery writer Laura Joh Rowland

humorist Christee Gabour Atwood

historical mystery writer Candice Proctor

speculative fiction and nonfiction writer Charles Gramlich

romance writer Farrah Rochon

15 September 2009

Interview with horror author Terence Taylor

Terence Taylor’s first novel, Bite Marks: A Vampire Testament (St. Martin’s Griffin) debuts today, 15 September. Publisher's Weekly called it “Truly enjoyable and imaginative...sure to delight any vampire fan” in a starred review, and the quote on the cover from New York Times bestseller L.A. Banks says, "Terence Taylor delivers masterful world-building, edge-of-your-seat prose, and characters to die for—his is an exciting fresh voice in vampire literature." In his urban horror story, the vampires of New York hunt a dangerous threat to the secret of their existence: an infant vampire accidentally set loose by a vicious vampire with a serial killer mentality.

Welcome, Terence, and congratulations on publication of your first novel, Bite Marks: A Vampire Testament!

Thanks, Shauna! It’s pretty exciting, especially after all it’s taken to get here. Hopefully it’s the first of many more. So thrilled you could fly us to the gardens of Castle Dracula for the interview. The blooming wolfsbane is especially fragrant this time of year... (since it’s a virtual interview we can have it “virtually” anywhere, right?)

It seems an appropriate setting. Your book has one of the scariest covers I’ve ever seen and makes it clear your vampires hark back to the evil creatures in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Did you have any input into the cover design?

I did not, deliberately. I do design work myself, and I paid bills while finishing Bite Marks doing print and video graphic design and animation, so I really appreciated the final result. I kept myself from making any suggestions ahead of time, even though I’d designed a few mock covers over the years to put over my desk as inspiration while working. What they sent me was wildly original and nothing I would have come up with on my own. I’ve decided that a full-time graphic designer can do a better job than a writer who does it as a sideline.

Contractually, I had an opinion. The background was originally black and white, and I suggested the sepia tint, which they added, so they do listen. I don’t know whether the artist actually read the book before designing the cover, but it captures the tone of the novel perfectly for me.

Why do you enjoy reading horror, and what do you think readers will like about your book?

I’ll answer the second first. While I think it’s great that the vampire has become such a darkly romantic figure in the past decade, I think we have to leaven passion with fear...these are nearly immortal beings that would have to view us as food or playthings. Vampires are not like us, and frankly, I think it’s time to “bring scary back” to the vampire novel. My cover definitely says that! I think there are readers are looking for that again, the same kind of chills they had reading Stephen King’s Salem's Lot or Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. So I’m calling this my ScaryBack Tour, with apologies to Justin. If he can “borrow” Michael Jackson’s moves, I can appropriate his marketing campaign.

With Bite Marks, I tried to write the kind of horror story I enjoy, which is horror as a branch of classic myth, fantasy, and folklore, whose purpose is to give us something we can walk away with into our everyday lives. My life may be bad, things may look bleak, but if I read a story or see a movie about someone taking on horrific forces that make mine look tame, even laughable—and win? I feel better equipped to take on my own real-world demons when I wake up the next day.

I hate movies and books that pile on gratuitous violence based on a slim premise and end with the bad guy just wiping out anyone who’s left. Take the American sequel to “The Grudge.” The original played out the moral roots of the story; the U.S. version just made it a series of grotesque death set pieces, pure gornography, killed EVERYONE, and the DVD extra was the death of the one character we didn’t see die. What does that leave me with as a viewer? As gruesome as “Hostel” was, at least it ended with the one survivor brutally killing the man who killed his friend and started it all for him, as we cheered him on. There was a catharsis of some kind. I need to leave a horror story with a sense that I can win in the world, not that it‘s a hopeless morass of all-consuming evil I can never hope to beat.

My exception to that rule is stories like “Tales from the Crypt,” about horrible things happening to terrible people, which still give you a release. They’re twisted morality plays that still reflect the light, even while they revel in the muck. All I ask of horror writers and directors is that they not leave me alone in the dark when they shut down and go home at the end of the day. The added advantage of promising not to abandon your readers actually gives you the ability to go even deeper into the realm of fear, because your readers trust you to get them back out into the light before you leave.

What writers have had the greatest influence on you?

I got interested in the genre because of my maternal grandmother, who got me into ‘50s B horror movies, horror comics, Fangoria, but also had Bullfinch’s Mythology, classic fairy tale collections with all the blood intact, The Arabian Nights, Dante’s The Divine Comedy with the Gustav Doré illustrations, books on ghost hunting and flying name it. They all merged into one big mass for me, and I saw the connections between my favorite horror movies and classic myths and fairy tales long before I read Bruno Bettelheim or Joseph Campbell. As I grew up I found James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough, Robert Graves’ The White Goddess, Montague Summers’ books, and a host of other books that expanded the discussion for me.

Oddly enough, most of my literary influences are a variety of writers not read nearly enough today. Most black writers I read when young dealt with social issues, not horror stories, except to the degree that their work detailed real-life horrors. So I tracked down Roald Dahl’s stories after seeing the credits of the “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” adaptation of “Lamb to the Slaughter” and read everything I could find. That led me to another British writer, John Collier—BRILLIANT—and recommended reading to anyone who likes a chill and a laugh at the same time. I get much of my twisted sense of humor from him. Then on to Ray Bradbury and Saki...

Ismael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo was a big influence later, along with William Burroughs’ work, in showing me how free you could be with reality and still comment on it. I read Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita when I was ten because it was in the house, never forgot it, and always cited it as an influence. I re-read it recently and moved it up to one of my top five favorite novels of all time, along with Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, George Orwell’s 1984, and Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. It was weirdly amazing to see that I’d spent twenty years getting back to what he did in the Forties, in blending prosaic reality and social commentary with wildly paranormal events and characters. It locked in a literary template I’ve been unconsciously following ever since.

Now I read Tananarive Due, an amazing writer and good friend; L.A. Banks, another black horror writer whom I know mostly through her work; and a host of new writers coming out. The great thing for me is seeing the rise of so many writers of color in the field of fantasy, when there were none I could find growing up. For years we only had Octavia Butler and Sam Delany to point out in science fiction.

There are so very many more writers of color being published, and wild young voices exploring all the possibilities the field has to offer, and writing for everyone to read. I love the idea that my being in print may inspire new writers who never saw themselves or their sensibilities in horror before, of any age, color, creed, or preference.

Are there certain themes or topics you’re drawn to in your writing?

Loss and redemption, so far. My Catholic roots coming back to haunt me, maybe. I keep finding after I’ve written things that they often seem to address those issues, in different ways. How everything is temporary, but in losing one thing we find another, sometimes greater, good. I suppose it’s been a theme my whole life, moving almost every two years as an Air Force brat while I grew up. It seems to be a bigger issue for me than I thought it was, because it’s always there in the end.

If anything, I get so immersed in the worlds I create as I’m writing that whatever I may have intended to say when I went in often changes. I find meanings in my work when it’s done I never realized I was putting in when writing. It’s a very revealing process and leaves you feeling vulnerable when the book is coming out and you realize how honest you’ve been. If you’re doing it right...

What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to aspiring authors?

Regimen... Yes. Well. That would be a strong word to use. I now sit at the keys pretty much every day, though it took me a long time to get there. My opinion is that writers are always writing, we’re just not always writing it down. You see things all around you that feed the beast, you work in your head on story or characters or other elements of whatever you’re working on while you do errands, spend time with friends, clean house, cook dinner.

What I learned working on the final drafts of the first novel was that the writers who always said you should write every day were right. I used to binge—work out stuff in my head then spend two or three days just downloading everything from my brain into words on the screen. Working on Bite Marks I got into a daily routine—get up late morning and check the news while I eat, do e-mail, read last night’s work and do a little tweaking, then make phone calls, all the while downing cups of hot Assam tea with milk and honey. Go out to deal with the world, do errands, come home, crash, go out for dinner or a drink with friends, or make dinner at home and watch a little TV. Comedy mostly. I need a few laughs before plunging into the dark.

Anywhere from 9 to 12 pm (I have to take a break for the “Daily Show” and “Colbert Report”) I hit the computer and start writing. I re-edit what I did the night before again, to get back into the head and up to speed, then plunge forward until around 3 or 4 am, when I crash into bed, sleep, wake, and start the whole thing over. Walter Moseley wrote a great slim book called This Year You Write Your Novel and he says three hours a day gets a book done in a year, and he’s right. Any more than that I may as well get a day job.

That’s three hours of writing down. Don’t forget, you’re ALWAYS writing, even while at a party or fighting with a lover or friend—a part of you is laying aside lines for a chapter, or throwing out lines to see the reaction for later when you’re alone with the book...your true love...

Do you have any other advice for my readers who are working on their first novels?

Finish it. Whatever you do, no matter how awful you think it is while you’re doing it, finish it. That’s when the real work begins. You have something from beginning to end, you know what it is, and why it sucks, and if you see the problems, you can identify and fix them.

How do you balance writing children’s television shows and writing adult horror novels? Do you ever get confused and add an inappropriate element to one or the other?

People always look at me funny when I tell them I wrote kids' TV for years before going into horror, but some of the scariest stories in the world are written for kids. I always remind people—they killed Bambi’s mother. Blam! Right in front of us, I don’t care how subtle and artful it was! Was anything more horrifying than that? How could I top that?

What I learned in twenty years of writing for kids of all ages was how to write moving stories with fully drawn characters, containing conflict and resolution with social issues layered in along the way. Some were funny, some scary, and both abilities come into play when I work on my horror novels. In short, I learned how to screw with people’s heads, and if I can keep a three-year-old child quiet and locked to a screen, involved in a story about socializing and sharing with others, thinking it’s a funny story about colorful characters they’d like to hang with—scaring the crap out of a grown up is easy.

I actually stopped writing kid’s TV when I seriously started to finish the book because I was afraid of bleed through. When I spent my days working on happy upbeat moral fables for young minds, what I wrote at night was relentlessly grim, the far side of the coin. There was no balance of light to dark. Doing graphics while I worked on the book involved a different part of the brain, and I didn’t have to switch hats in the same way. I think if I had tried to keep writing the kids’ shows at the same time, it would have been a very different book. Much smaller words for one thing, and no vampire baby. Or a very cute one.

That’s not to say I’ve abandoned writing for younger audiences. I have a scifi teen book series I am working on with a friend in L.A., and one day could see doing some Halloween-based kids’ special or series.

When will your next book come out, and what will it be about?

The next book will be out in April 2010, Blood Pressure: A Vampire Testament, the second in the Vampire Testaments trilogy, which sets the stage to continue with books set in almost any time period. That’s done, so no one needs to worry that I don’t know where to take the story next.

It was great fun to write, even if I took seven years to write the first one and had one year to write the second, because I rolled right into it from the first. I was up to speed, and I got to revisit characters I had to leave behind when I finished the first book. It was like a reunion! Twenty years older they are at least a little wiser...but there are still a few surprises. I can’t say more without spoiling the first book.

Right now I am working on a novel called Lucid Tea, which I keep calling “Faust meets Orpheus and Eurydice.” It’s about a freelance graphic artist who comes back to New York for his uncle’s funeral a year after losing his fiancée in a car crash. He’s wracked with guilt, and as he faces the one-year anniversary of her death, he begins to see her in dreams, along with his dead uncle, who’s trying to pull him into a plan to save the world from an early Apocalypse.

It’s my anti–Chosen One novel. I got tired of seeing characters born into destiny, who were always intended to do something great. This book is about the also ran. He’s not the chosen one—the chosen one was his dad, but they lost him—so Carlton’s the guy they could get. That’s how I felt a lot of times working in TV—I wasn’t the guy they wanted, but a lot of times I was the guy they could get, who got the job done.

Then it’s on to the third of the Testaments in January. I’m still working on a title...All I know for sure is that it's going to open in Shanghai, 2027, with a family of survivors from the second book about to return to New York to settle the escalating war between vampires and humans once and for all. My sister just moved there for three years because of her husband's job, and while I made plans to go visit next year, it occurred to me I could do some research, some writing, and even deduct everything! ;) The oddest things affect art...and I get to pull in and create a whole new Chinese vampire myth.

Terence, thanks for visiting my blog, and good luck with your new books.

Thank you for inviting me, and best of luck with yours! Is Transylvania Air sending a car to get us back to the airport before nightfall? Or are we running for the border from the wolves over there? Just hand me a branch of that wolfsbane, will you?

You can learn more about Terence and Bite Marks: A Vampire Testament by visiting his Website at He also blogs twice a month at Novel Spaces at His book is available at your favorite bookstore as well as online at, Barnes & Noble, and Borders.


I'll be posting twice this week. Come back Thursday for a chance to win a book by anyone I've interviewed at this blog in my second annual Birthday Bash Contest.

09 September 2009

Snips and snails and puppy dog tails

If you’ve ever wanted an intense writing workshop experience, it’s time to start scrimping and scraping together your pennies for next summer. The 2010 Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop has a fantastic line-up of instructors for next summer: Delia Sherman (wife and collaborator of Ellen Kushner), George R.R. Martin, Dale Bailey (horror writer), Samuel “Chip” Delaney, and, for the team-taught final two weeks, fantasy writer Jeff VanderMeer and editor Ann VanderMeer.

For more information on the 2010 Clarion workshop, see, and for more information on the instructors, visit

I expect that one day, looking back, going to Clarion will be one of the most important events of my life and of my career. I wish every one of my friends and blog readers could experience it.


Next Wednesday, I’ll have my second annual birthday contest. Stop by and post, and you may win your choice of a book by anyone I’ve interviewed here or my 5 October release, Like Mayflies in a Stream.


I’ve opened a Café Press store with Like Mayflies in a Stream teeshirts, sweatshirts, mugs, notebooks, and other paraphernalia. Please stop by and check it out.


Need to fill space at your blog? I’m available for interviews and guest posts. If you’d like to do a book review, please contact me with your mailing address at ShaunaRoberts [at] ShaunaRoberts [dot] com or leave me a note below if I have your address, and I will send you out an ARC of Like Mayflies in a Stream.

Book clubs who read Like Mayflies in a Stream after it comes out, I’m happy to attend your discussion by phone. If you’re in Southern California, I’ll try to come in person.


Please don't forget to get your flu shot soon. There needs to be a few weeks separation between getting the seasonal flu shot and getting the H1N1 (swine flu) shot, so even though it's early September, this year it's the right time to get a flu shot.


Okay, so I lied about the puppy dog tails.

07 September 2009

Blogging today at Novel Spaces

I'm blogging today about worldbuilding at Novel Spaces. Please stop by if you have a chance, and check out the posts of my fellow Novel Spaces bloggers as well.

02 September 2009

Interview with debut Western author Jack Martin

A long-time devotee of Westerns, despite being Welsh, Jack Martin published his first Western novel this year. The Tarnished Star (Robert Hale) is an old-style Western about a sheriff who finds himself on the run from hired gunmen.

Congratulations, Jack, on publication of your first novel, The Tarnished Star!

Thank you.

Tarnished Star’s a traditional Western, and I make no excuse for that. You can have social commentary and tackle serious issues that are relevant to today’s society and all its ills. But sometimes it’s good to have some pure escapist fiction with thrills, suspense, and action. That’s what I hope Tarnished Star provides.

What was your favorite part of writing The Tarnished Star?

That’s a difficult question—I’m not sure how to answer that. Sometimes I very much enjoyed the writing, but at other times, when inspiration was short, it became something like trudging uphill thorough heavy snow. But, and stretching the metaphor somewhat, when the thaw came things were coming up roses again. I think the creation of any novel is half agony and half ecstasy. You’ve just got to go with the flow.

I still love Westerns, and I know other people who do, too. Why do you think the popularity of Westerns has declined?

I’m not sure if the Western has really declined, but it’s definitely not as visible as it once was. I think there was a lot of overkill at one time and the Western started to parody itself, but there’s always been good work out there in both books and movies. I think now that the Old West is drifting further and further into history, the books are starting to have an historical worth.

These days there seem to be two kinds of Westerns—the revisionist and the classic, escapist kind. There is room for both. And another good thing that not only affects Westerns but other genre fiction is that pulp-style fiction is starting to get the image of being cool when once it was frowned upon by pompous bores. It used to be that even writers such as Raymond Chandler, these days an acknowledged genius, would get only grudging praise.

How did someone from the other side of the pond come to love American Westerns?

I was brought up on a diet of Westerns, and the sense of freedom that goes with the genre appeals to the wanderer inside me. When I was a kid, John Wayne seemed the ideal to me, and I always preferred Westerns to any other kind of entertainment, a passion I inherited from my grandfather. When my friends were watching “Star Wars,” I had my nose buried in a Louis L’Amour.

I used to think this was strange myself and that to write Westerns you had to be American, but then I thought, that’s crazy—H.G. Wells didn’t come from Mars, and Jonathan Swift certainly didn’t hail from little people land. The West of the Western is a mythical land that never really existed and is as much a fantasy as, say, Middle Earth. It’s an imaginary place and I think anyone, anywhere, can set stories in this landscape of the imagination. But the Western is as much an attitude as anything else. And what I mean by this is that it’s all about being an individual and realizing a person is in charge of his/her own destiny and that we all have this inner strength. Mind you, it’s also about fun, adventure, and frolics. I don’t think you necessarily even have to visit the Western states to write a Western.

Mind you, I am looking forward to visiting the US for the first time next year and seeing some of these places that have been a part of my imagination for so long. To many people, names like Arizona, Texas, Colorado, and many more may be nothing but place names, but to me they sound like strangely magical places the exist somewhere over the rainbow. I know I’m romanticizing things, but I don’t care because anywhere is what it means to you, and the West is very much a part of my makeup.

What writers have had the greatest influence on you?

Ian Fleming has always been a favorite—I don’t think any writer has ever mastered pacing the way he did. British Western writers such as George G. Gilman hugely impressed my young mind and still do and kept my interest in the West when times were lean. And for many years Stephen King and James Herbert encouraged my imagination. But I’ve so many writers I admire—Louis L’Amour, Mickey Spillane, Owen Wister, Elmore Leonard.

These days I’m enjoying the works of Richard Stark, Raymond Chandler, Elmer Kelton (who just passed away in August), and a lot of the old pulp writers, whom I am actually reading for the first time. And I think Max McCoy is a brilliant modern Western writer. But I guess in some way everyone I’ve ever read has influenced me to a degree. The imagination is like a sponge and it soaks up all kind of things.

Are there certain themes or topics you’re drawn to in your writing?

Independence and self-reliance are very important to me, and I think every character I’ve ever created holds these traits as a core part of their makeup. I like the theme of the Everyman facing up against huge odds and prevailing. It’s a classic theme—goes all the way back to David and Goliath. But then again, I also love to read about adventure and exploration. Hey, I like a gunfight as well as the next man.

As actor Gary Dobbs, you’ve appeared in episodes of “Dr. Who” and “Torchwood.” Who is your favorite Doctor?

Well, I grew up with Jon Pertwee, and I never missed the show in those days. I’ve liked them all, though, and I think each has brought something to the character. Matt Smith, the new kid, is going to be superb.

What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to aspiring authors?

I’m an odd person and I have no set routine other than to write something everyday, but when I’m working on a story it demands every waking moment. When not actually writing I’m churning things over in my mind. Obviously there are times when I just don’t feel like it, but you’ve got to be firm and get down to it. It’s like any other job, and the more you do it the better you will become.

Do you have any other advice for my readers who are working on their first novels?

Keep at it, no matter what. There will be times when you think you’re wasting your time but ignore these negative feelings that are part of all creative endeavor. Just keep going, pushing, shoving, and always have a belief in yourself that will carry you through the rough times.

When will your next book, Arkansas Smith, come out in the United States, and what will it be about?

Arkansas Smith is an enigma—he is intended to be a series character, and he should grow through each book so that the reader gets to know more about him as we go along. In the first novel, which is to be published in the UK next March and will be available at the same time in the US, we get his origin, and believe me, it was a grim and gritty beginning.

But there is still much that we don’t know about the character, and at the end of the book many questions will have been answered but a great many more will have been thrown up. He’s a classic Western type character, but he is something of an enigma, known to the Sioux as The Whispering Wind, and hopefully this will endear him to readers and keep them coming back. Book by book I plan to place Arkansas in every situation of the classic Western. I want to use all the clichés but at the same time make them somehow fresh.

Jack, thanks for visiting my blog, and good luck with your writing and acting.

Thanks it’s been great talking about myself.

Learn more about Jack (a.k.a. Gary Dobbs) and The Tarnished Star at his Website at and his blog at His book is available at and the British bookstore The Book Depository. (Note: Because The Book Depository has free shipping worldwide and lists The Tarnished Star at a lower price than, it’s actually the cheaper way for Americans to buy it.)