Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

29 September 2010

Interview with YA writer Jason McCammon

More than fifty years after publication of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, most fantasies are still set in a Tolkienesque landscape. Jason McCammon breaks the mold in his first novel, a young-adult novel called The Ancient Lands: Warrior Quest: Search for the Ifa Scepter (Brown-Eyed Dreams), which is set in a land patterned after regions of Africa. He intends more books in “The Ancient Lands” series.

Welcome, Jason, and congratulations on your book Warrior Quest: Search for the Ifa Scepter!
 What draws you to writing for children?

I wanted the reading experience to be fun. Besides, the book was adapted from a screenplay of an animated “G”-rated movie. With children, there is still a magic element of imagination that I think many adults lack. I certainly didn’t want to create a great story that I think is very imaginative and leave the children out of being able to experience it.

What was your favorite part of writing Warrior Quest: Search for the Ifa Scepter?

I often think of a story in several pieces. So when those pieces come together, it’s really a good feeling. It’s almost like giving it life.

What writers have had the greatest influence on you?

I wouldn’t say that I am influenced by any particular writers, but by anyone who sets their mind to do something and does it. I’m a big fan of the human race’s endeavors and accomplishments. Just look around you at the things sitting around in your living room; you’re looking at people’s ability to create. You’re looking at something that started inside someone’s head.

Personally, although I still read fantasies with European-like cultures and landscapes, that setting feels a little tired and I now actively look for books outside that mode. Why did you choose to use a nontraditional setting?

I suddenly became aware that I too had never read any fantasy stories or seen any fantasy movies with African tones, themes, or people. I just had to ask myself, why not. I then decided to make one of my own to fill the void. Besides, what’s the point of being traditional when it comes to fiction?

What research did you do on African cultures, geology, and animal life for your book? Was it easy or hard to find the information you needed?

I did a lot of poking around into African mythologies. I also looked into various African cultures. But I didn’t want to be too specific about each one. You’ll find elements of Yoruba, Massai, and Ashanti, as well as others.

Also, I used these things as a platform for the story, not as a driving force. I wanted the story to be mine, my creation, but I also wanted the opportunity to introduce African elements into America’s reading. So it is meant to be more of an introduction than a history lesson. I am an expert on nothing but my own imagination.

What is the significance of scepters in Yoruba culture?

The priests used the scepters as a medium for divination. They used them to communicate with the gods. They could also be called a “tapper.”

What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to other writers?

I’m in a constant state of creating, everyday, all day. It’s always going on up there in my head. So I’m usually thinking about something for a while before I get to work on it. That’s because I’m usually thinking about it while I’m working on something else. I’m currently writing the second novel, but I’ve already spent a lot of time thinking about the third. While I was writing the first one, I was thinking about the second one, so I was thinking about it for a good six months before I actually started working on it.

What I would recommend to other writers is to write. It sounds easy and straightforward, but there are so many people out there who have been writing a book for years upon years but actually haven’t been writing a thing.

Also, write from your heart, from deep within it. Edit several times and be purely objective.

You’ve chosen to self-publish your novels. What do you see as the benefits and downsides of your choice?

It is so nice to be able to have control of your book and its future, to not have someone telling you to change this and that and pressuring you about schedules. At the same time it would be nice to have more money for marketing. Let’s also remember that big publishers know what they are doing when it comes to marketing. They have been there many times before and know where to be and when. I’ve spend so much time trying to learn about the “book business” that sometimes I feel as if my eyes are going to burst!

What other books do you have planned for “The Ancient Lands” series?

Well, the second novel is currently being written. It will be ready by next year. The first illustrated novel, entitled The Adventures of Farra and Bomani, is right around the corner and will be completed before this year is out. I had samples at the Harlem Book fair on Long Island in September.

Jason, thank you for visiting my blog today.

You can learn more about Jason and Warrior Quest: Search for the Ifa Scepter by visiting his Website at and his page on FaceBook. Warrior Quest: Search for the Ifa Scepter is available in paperback and Kindle format from and in multiple ebook formats from

27 September 2010

Contest winner

The winner of this year's birthday contest is CHARLES GRAMLICH of Razored Zen. Congratulations, Charles!

22 September 2010

Interview with writer and artist Steve Malley

Steve Malley’s new book, Crossroad Blues, debuted in August. In this suspense novel set in New Zealand, a harp-blowing drifter meets a revenge-driven woman and becomes entangled in her quest to find her best friend’s murderer. Meanwhile, the killer sets his sights on them.
 In addition, Steve’s first graphic novel, Leather Tales, is again available, now in electronic format.

Welcome, Steve, and congratulations on publication of Crossroad Blues!

Thanks for having me, Shauna. ☺

What was your favorite part of writing Crossroad Blues? 

The last few days of the first draft, when the end was coming fast and hard, and I couldn't get the words out fast enough. It was an exhilarating time. I couldn't wait to find out how the story would end!

What writers have had the greatest influence on you?

John D. MacDonald and James M. Cain, definitely. Gil Brewer. Joe Lansdale and Andrew Vachss. George Pelecanos and Elmore Leonard. Frank Miller and Jaime Hernandez. Dave Sim gave me the courage to tackle my first graphic novel and set the whole ball rolling.

Every character in Crossroad Blues is alienated from other people and from society itself, and even the landscape is unfriendly. Does this reflect your own history or view of life in any way?

Good question. To be honest, I hadn't seen that sense of alienation until you pointed it out. I intended Crossroad Blues as a modern-day Western, complete with evil rancher, a heroine with fire in her blood, and the quiet stranger who rides into town. That sense of isolation and alienation was completely unconscious.

Besides alienation, are there other themes or topics you’re drawn to in your writing?

I just try to ride the stories where they want to go. Often, in the beginning, I'm groping for colored threads in a twilight landscape. Most of what I find is usually wrong. By the end I've usually got a tiger by the tail and no way to control it. Theme and topic develop entirely on their own.

That said, some stuff does pop up again and again in my work: The morality of violence. Past sins returning to poison the present. The self-serving, untrustworthy nature of authority. Predators favoring victims at the edges of society because nobody gives a damn.

Why have you chosen to write in so many genres?

I'm not sure I have a choice. Whatever comes bubbling up out of that stinking marsh at the bottom of the basement stairs, I grab it and run. I see a character or two. A situation. Some scrap of emotion. It's not until I'm hips-deep in the story that I discover what I'm writing about.

LeatherTales (graphic novel/noir) was a meditation on violence and second chances wrapped around lesbian assassins taking on the mob.

Templar (graphic novel/adventure) was about a kid growing up in her father's shadow, told as DaVinci Code meets James Bond.

• The Serina graphic novels (graphic novel/erotica/autobio) were about my time in New Orleans and the pain of trying to love an addict.

Poison Door (crime/thriller) explores legacies of violence and cycles of abuse against the backdrop of a drug war and stolen children.

A Legacy of Teeth (horror) has family secrets leading to a zombie plague.

Blood and Skin (paranormal suspense) is very much about the past poisoning the present—with ghosts, revenants, black magic, and tattoos. I've just finished my last rewrite on Buried—in which a young woman returns home after a long absence and all hell breaks loose—and started writing a Steampunk adventure.

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

For three or four years, I woke up early every morning and wrote at least a thousand words a day. Crossroad Blues was written during that period. It was great: three months to a first draft, then the rewrites.

Things changed. This past year and a half has been full of upheaval and opportunity, bad luck, blessings and trouble. I spent a lot of it with notebooks and a fountain pen, writing in snatches whenever I could. Lately, I've been doing most of my writing at night.

All I can say is, that damn story took another step forward every day.

My best advice for aspiring authors:
Keep. Fucking. Moving. Do not look back. Go forward to the end. No matter what, no matter when or where or how, keep writing ’til you hit The End.

You’ve chosen to self-publish some of your novels as e-books rather pursue a traditional publisher and paper books. Why did you do this, what expectations do you have for your e-books, and how did you choose which manuscripts to self-publish?

I've got a fantastic agent, Anne Hawkins of JHA Literary, shopping Poison Door right now. She'll also get first look at Buried and anything else I write that might suit her.

Thing is, she represents my literary thrillers. She doesn't handle graphic novels, horror, paranormal, action, erotica, or adventure. For that stuff, I'm on my own.

For a long time I wondered whether my “other work” would ever see the light of day. Thanks to the explosive growth of the e-book market, all those stories are able to find readers!

What other books will you be releasing soon?

Serina vol.1 is waiting for a new cover painting, probably next week. Templar will be out once I resolve some technical issues. I've got a couple more passes to make on Blood and Skin before that one's available. After that, probably A Legacy of Teeth. ...

There's a reason my blog is called “Full Throttle”! ☺

You are also a professional artist, illustrator, and tattoo artist. How does your artistic career help or hinder your writing?

On the one hand, it's like I've got this really wide pipeline to the unconscious: Stuff comes at me as fast as I can draw, paint, tattoo, or write it. On the other, like any other job it's a challenge carving out the time to write. The landlord wants his money no matter what's going on with my latest novel.

Steve, thanks for visiting my blog, and good luck with your e-publishing endeavors.

You can learn more about Steve and Crossroad Blues by visiting his Website at and his blog at Crossroad Blues is available in Kindle format from and in multiple formats from His re-released graphic e-novel Leather Tales is also available from and


CONTEST: My third annual birthday contest is still going on. Comment on last week’s post by 11 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday, 25 September, to enter to win your choice of a trade paperback copy of my historical novel Like Mayflies in a Stream or a $10 gift certificate for or Barnes & Noble (winner's choice).


Coming next week: interview with writer Jason McCammon

17 September 2010

Third annual birthday contest

To celebrate turning 54, I’m holding a birthday contest again this year.

To enter, comment on this post by 11 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday, 25 September. Any comment will suffice, but if you need a topic idea, I suggest telling me how you'd like to celebrate your next landmark birthday. Be inventive! Don't just say that you'll celebrate your 50th with a colonoscopy and an AARP membership; think of something cool! (And then I hope you'll do it.)

One poster will be chosen at random from a hat by my husband. The winner will receive their choice of a trade paperback version of Like Mayflies in a Stream (an $11.95 value!) or a $10 gift certificate for or Barnes & Noble (winner's choice).


Coming soon: interviews with authors Steve Malley and Jason McCammon

05 September 2010

I'm blogging today at Novel Spaces

Those of you who enjoy my grammar posts may wish to stop by the Novel Spaces blog and see my Sunday, 5 September 2010, post. I discuss the difference between grammar and style and how to know what style to use in the manuscript you're working on.