Saturday, December 31, 2022

Mark Stevens

The son of two librarians, Mark Stevens was raised in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and has worked as a reporter, as a national television news producer, and in public relations. Antler Dust was a Denver Post bestseller in 2007 and 2009. Buried by the Roan, Trapline, and Lake of Fire were all finalists for the Colorado Book Award (2012, 2015, and 2016, respectively), and Trapline won. Trapline also won the Colorado Authors League award for best genre fiction. Stevens has had short stories published by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, by Mystery Tribune, and in Denver Noir (Akashic Books). In September 2016, Stevens was named Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year. He hosts a regular podcast for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and has served as president of the Rocky Mountain chapter for Mystery Writers of America.

Stevens's new novel is The Fireballer.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

From the day I started writing it, this novel was called The One. It was sold as The One. The “1” is the fastball and the fastball is Frank Ryder’s dominating pitch. I also thought The One worked because Frank is the talk of the sports world. But, no. Too generic in search engines. And it would lead in all different directions, both within book and non-book searches. Arriving at The Fireballer took weeks and weeks of going around and around with my editor, my agent, and a few friends who got pulled into the head-scratching fray.

What else was in play (so to speak)? Unhittable. Pitch Perfect. Never Saw It Coming. Payoff Pitch. A couple dozen others.

For a long time, The Fireballer was in the running. It had staying power. It covered a lot of ground because Frank throws a supremely fast pitch and, in my mind, he’s kind of burning down the joint with the issues he’s bringing to the table. It was one of those stubborn titles that stuck around and insisted on being adopted. In the end, I loved it.

What's in a name?

Frank Ryder is 22. He’s a kid. But he’s carrying so much weight with him. So much emotional baggage. I wanted him to have an old-school first name. Something classic. Something simple. And I like the hard ‘k’ sound at the end. And, to me, Ryder suggests travel—horseman, rider, long-distance. And in the course of the book, Frank Ryder travels a long way. Both his soul-searching tour to Denver, Birmingham, and Atlanta and the internal trip he takes to put himself back together.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings are hard but endings are harder. However, if the beginning is the right one, then every scene (one hopes) should flow in good order toward the major crisis. And that should point the direction toward the right ending. Yes, should and should. You never know.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I don’t see how you can write a character without putting yourself into the work. I don’t see how they can be separated. Even if you programmed Artificial Intelligence to write your novel, it would still be your program.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Maybe in a broad sense non-literary inspirations influence my writing. If I hear a great song that is compelling and has something new and different to say, that might inspire me in a very general way. When I watch a movie, I might be thinking about plot and structure. But my writing influences are other writers and their books and stories. That’s the bottom line.

That magic business of putting words on a page that create images in another person’s head? If you stop and think about it, that’s a very strange process and there’s nothing else like it.
Visit Mark Stevens's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Fireballer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Elyse Friedman

Elyse Friedman is a critically acclaimed author, screenwriter, poet and playwright. Her work has been short-listed for the Trillium Book Award, Toronto Book Award, ReLit Award and Tom Hendry Award. She has also won a Foreword Book of the Year Award, as well as the 2019 TIFF-CBC Films Screenwriter Jury Prize and the 2020 TIFF-CBC Screenwriter Award.

Friedman's new novel is The Opportunist.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I think the title is pretty apt, since the story is about exploitation and corruption. I like that it doesn’t identify any character in particular. The titular opportunist may well be the 28- year-old nurse who is marrying her wealthy 76-year-old patient, but it could refer to anyone in the narrative. I did play with a bunch of titles way back when, including Avarice (too boring) and Killing Kelly, which had that hint of fun and danger I was looking for (plus good alliteration), but ultimately it sounded too much like the TV show, Killing Eve.

What's in a name?

I have a bad habit of using the same names over and over again in my fiction. I like names that sound real to me, even if they are a little bland, Andrea, Martin, John, Amy, Allison, Michelle, etc. If I pick up a book that isn’t by Charles Dickens or Kurt Vonnegut, and the names of the main characters are Chasworth Butterly or Antonella Wickdon, I bristle. Having said that, one of my main characters in The Opportunist is named Kelly McNutt, which is not a commonplace surname. But it seemed right for a feisty redhead who is a tough nut to crack.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

I think my teenage self would be surprised that I had written a murder-y thriller. My teenage self would sneer, take a deep drag of a Player’s Extra Light and ask me why I hadn’t written a book of raw angry poems instead.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more? Endings are a breeze. I almost always envision the ending of a story before I start.

Getting there is the challenge, since I don’t plot things out in advance. I know the destination, but not the route. Beginnings are a little harder, but the toughest part is always the middle, or the muddle as some people call it.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

It depends on the book. My first novel was my most autobiographical. Since then, I’ve had less and less in common with my protagonists. But there are definitely some similarities between me and Alana, the main character in The Opportunist. We both drive decrepit, ancient vehicles, will do almost anything for our children, and will eagerly scrape the hard white icing from the aluminum cinnamon bun pan into our mouths while simultaneously regretting it.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

The news influences my writing, but in a subconscious way. I don’t write about issues, or set out to tackle topics in my fiction, but the zeitgeist seeps into the narratives. Kind of like a base-note in a perfume. It’s there, a part of the thing, but it’s subtle (I hope).
Follow Elyse Friedman on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Adam Braver

Adam Braver is the author of Mr. Lincoln’s Wars, Divine Sarah, Crows Over the Wheatfield, November 22, 1963, Misfit, The Disappeared, and Rejoice the Head of Paul McCartney. His books have been selected for the Barnes and Noble Discover New Writers program, Border’s Original Voices series, the IndieNext list, and twice for the Book Sense list; as well as having been translated into Italian, Japanese, Turkish, and French. His work has appeared in journals such as Daedalus, Ontario Review, Cimarron Review, Water-Stone Review, Harvard Review, Tin House, West Branch, The Normal School, and Post Road. Braver also edits the Broken Silence Series for the University of New Orleans Press, a book series that tells the firsthand accounts of political dissidents. In addition to being the Associate Director and a faculty member at the NY State Summer Writers Institute, he serves as the Library Program Director at Roger Williams University, where he is also on faculty. He lives in Rhode Island.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

In some respects, this is a tricky title. On the one hand, it is quite literal, with its allusion understood by the underlying events of the opening pages. It also is a phrase later chanted by one of the characters. But I also hope that its metaphorical aspects are part of the underpinning of reading the book—namely, the idea that much of the novel looks at a significant moment in modern history, and the moment where a kind of idealism is challenged, and for some, even, lost, or destroyed. And in tracking the echoes of that time—the feelings of confusion, loss, and uncertainty—it was important to me that the book ultimately become about the idea of connection through beauty and grace (even when difficult to see). And with The Beatles being for many (at least in my world) the touchstone of the unconditional belief in love and peace (a version of my saying beauty and grace), that title, Rejoice the Head of Paul McCartney became the title almost from the get-go, in that it told the story of the story in so many ways.

What's in a name?

I am fascinated by the expiration dates of names. I’m often struck by how many names of the generations above me (and in many respects my own) have gone dormant. Quite often, a name will come to memory, and then I will scour almost twenty years of student rosters to see I have never had a student with that once common name. But I also do love the rare occasion when I do come across a student with one of those long forgotten names. It feels to me as though they carry the character of an era in them, as though they are a living part of history and inadvertently carrying with them some sense of tradition. (Of course, they usually are deathly embarrassed by having an “old fashion” name.) So, while I don’t tend to think about my characters’s names in term of allegory or homage, I do try to honor them with names that are not just there for naming, but rather with the same sense of character and completeness that I feel when I meet someone whose name has really become them.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I picture my teenage self seeing this book as the literary equivalent of doctoring and manipulating a photo of yourself to imagine what you’d look like as an old person.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

It’s a tough question, in that to really get going with any earnestness, I need to know what the experience of the novel will yield — meaning the place where a character starts with some kind of hope, the experiences that challenge the character’s sense of what they expect, and how the character is affected or changed by how it ends up. If there isn’t that kind of transition, then I have a hard time squaring it as a narrative; instead, it just reads as a long anecdote. I find there are novels that build off a series of cause-and-effect events, and there are those that are about the wave of effects born from a single event. Rejoice the Head of Paul McCartney (as with most of my novels) tend to adhere to the latter. So with that in mind, I’d have to say that I rewrite and revise the beginning more than any other part of a novel. And it makes sense to me, as there is a winding-in to it, finding the place and the people and the emotional tenor that tells you that this is where the story starts.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

By and large, I’d say that I am in all my characters in some way or another — the good, the bad, and the ugly. This novel draws from so many of experiences I had run into throughout my life — from my boyhood in Los Angeles, all the way through adulthood in San Francisco and then later in New England—that it was hard not to find myself tapping into my own emotional world. That, of course, is not to imply that these characters are based on my own experiences, but, rather, ones that I might have observed, or were legendary among peers, etc. Quite often, it might just be an opening situation that is based off something else, and then imagination takes over for the purposes of the story. For example, there is a section of the book that kicks off with a couple at a diner where the kitchen tries to pass off a plate of basil as a salad. That is something that had happened to me any my wife years ago. And it set a tone in real life, as it does with this section. Still, there is nothing of either of us directly in the story, nor is there anything else in that section that is connected any real experiences — other than the emotional experience, which, I guess, gets to the heart of the question. The only way that I can make my characters authentic is to draw from my own emotional well (as unpleasant as that can be at times while doing it). If a character is suffering, I need to draw from my own past suffering. Joy. Grief. Anger. Love. All the same. Dug up and relived, in order to take the character out of being a character, and instead into a person who is real and honest— a person who, in some capacity, may connect to many of us.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Without question, music, and in too many different ways to list out here in any detail. But in short, writers like Bob Dylan had a tremendous influence on me in regards to language and its power; others taught me a lot about rhythm and tone; so many taught me about the lines between formal and experimental, with the permission to play with form and to find new meanings in those forms; other showed me attitude and humor and conviction; and taken all together. I suppose it all adds up to the idea that being able to be so moved in a matter of minutes by a song — despite the style or genre or era — is something I’ve always wished I could replicate in narrative.
Visit Adam Braver's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

John Van Stry

John Van Stry is a United States Air Force veteran who worked in robotics and as a flight test engineer and as a quality and test engineer in the medical devices industry. He is a collector of motorcycles and big cats.

Van Stry's new novel is Summer's End.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Honestly, I don't think it does all that much - I mean I hope that it does pique their interest enough to get them to look at the blurb because for a lot of us I think the idea of the end of Summer makes us think of coming changes.

As for how I came up with the name? I honestly don't remember. Most of the time I have trouble coming up with a title and a lot of working titles often go through a change before the final title. This one never changed. What's funny is that my publisher and editor didn't like the title when they first saw it. But after they read the book they never suggested changing it again. So I think the book does capture the title, once you've read it.

What's in a name?

I picked Dave's name because I hadn't used that name, for a character before. There is no special significance to his name, just like how to so many of the people out there, their name has no real significance beyond what they may bring to it themselves.

Now, the nickname of his you find out about in the final chapters, there is a lot of significance to that name. To me I think it is the final 'piece' of the puzzle about who he used to be.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Not at all. In some ways this novel calls back to some of my favorite authors who wrote stories that reflected on both the people and the societies you are liable to find in the future. It looks at how people deal with problems, difficult problems, what motivated, intelligent, and competent, people can and will do, when they have to. Robert Heinlein and Roger Zelazny were both favorite authors of mine growing up. These are the kinds of stories that they wrote, as well as a great many of the authors I read back then.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

That changes from book to book. Sometimes I won't write the first chapter of a novel until I'm about three or four chapters into a book. That wasn't the case with this one however. The ending of this book did get a large rewrite. There were several reasons for that but most of it came down to wanting to see how much my editor liked the story. When I submitted it, the ending really did need to be flushed out and well, maybe I went a little overboard and added an extra thirty or so thousand words. But, she loved it, so obviously it was the right thing to do.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I don't really see all that much of myself in my characters. When I first started writing, perhaps there was more than a fair bit of me in some of them, but nowadays I try to make my characters unique and new to me. It's more enjoyable to write them that way. Also it lets me explore things more. So I'd have to say that there is little, if any, connection.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I get a lot of influence and inspiration from the things I've seen and done in my life. I've worked on a lot of very interesting projects as an engineer, but I've also worked in the trades. I've got some interesting as well as different hobbies as well. All of those things have introduced me to a large number of fairly interesting people, not always good, and doing things or seeing things that most folks will never experience. The kinds of things that make you stop and wonder.

Sometimes I look back and find those things very inspiring.
Visit John Van Stry's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 16, 2022

Henriette Lazaridis

photo credit: Sharona Jacobs
Henriette Lazaridis is the author of The Clover House, which was a Boston Globe bestseller. Her short work has appeared in ELLE, The New York Times, New England Review, The Millions, Pangyrus, and more, and she has earned a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artists Grant. She is a graduate of Middlebury College, Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar, and the University of Pennsylvania. Having taught English at Harvard, she now teaches at GrubStreet in Boston. She founded The Drum Literary Magazine and currently runs the Krouna Writing Workshop in northern Greece. She writes the Substack newsletter The Entropy Hotel.

Lazaridis's new novel is Terra Nova.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I had a hard time settling on a title for Terra Nova that could signal not only the narrative of my two Antarctic explorers James Watts and Edward Heywoud, but also the story of Viola Heywoud, the woman who loves them both and who remains in London. My placeholder title was Had We Lived, a striking phrase I drew from one of Robert Scott’s final messages from his race to the South Pole. His race against Amundsen had inspired my novel, but that title didn’t capture Viola’s story, and, powerful though the phrase is, it didn’t really capture the ideas of exploration and ambition that I wanted for the book. Finally, after trying After Images (too soft) and An Undiscovered Light (didn’t sound good read aloud), I settled on Terra Nova. It’s a reference to Scott’s Antarctic expedition by that name, but it also stands for all the new territory that each of the three characters in my novel is striving for, including Viola in her art and in her work for the women’s suffrage movement.

What's in a name?

I knew right away that I wanted Viola to be Viola. In my mind, she had a bit of Shakespeare’s Viola in her, from Twelfth Night, in the sense that she crosses between traditionally male into traditionally female worlds. Early on in the novel, there’s a recollection of a moment when Viola puts on her lover Watts’ clothes and then photographs him in a pose typical of a female nude. To me, this is a way of taking Shakespeare’s Viola into the gender roles of the early twentieth century.

As for Watts and Heywoud, honestly the names came right away, as I began to write. I decided just for fun to spell Heywoud that way to sneak into his name a bit of the conditional: would.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

My teenaged self would recognize the fascination with Antarctica, because I’ve been obsessed with that continent and with Robert Scott since I was seven years old and saw a documentary about the race to the Pole. But teenaged me would be a bit miffed at any suggestion that an Antarctic explorer could be anything but noble. And yet, that’s the key question for me in this novel: what would a different, less noble, explorer do upon discovering his rival’s flag already at the Pole? Not everyone is going to be as stoic as Scott was.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I had the hardest time with the ending of Terra Nova. I had three characters and I didn’t think all three of them should be ok when the novel ended. But I wasn’t sure how they’d align. Would Heywoud and Viola stick together? Would harm come to Viola—likely at Heywoud’s hands? Would Viola and Watts run off together? All were possibilities, but it took me a while to figure out what Viola would do, what she would choose. The beginning was, in a way, easy to start. I knew I was starting in Antarctica. I was nervous to begin, but woke up the first writing morning and joined my two men on the ice, moving little by little towards the Pole.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

There are elements of me in each character I write. Or, let’s put it this way: I have some of the same questions that my characters have, though I might answer them differently, and I experience them in different situations. Viola and Watts wrestle with how to make their mark as artists, and that is surely something I think about. Heywoud wrestles with leadership, and that’s something I care about as an athlete, a teacher, a good citizen.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

For Terra Nova, I had a weird and, to me, energizing set of influences. Twelfth Night’s Viola, for one. But also and especially Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, for the way that the monster and Victor Frankenstein are dependent on each other for their identity. They can’t live with each other, but can’t really live without each other. And one more: Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow-Up, in which a fashion photographer enlarging photos in his darkroom realizes he has captured a murder scene by accident in the background of his photo-shoot. I knew early on that I wanted a Blow-Up moment in the novel, and, thus, some manipulation of photographs to be an important element of the plot.
Visit Henriette Lazaridis's website.

Writers Read: Henriette Lazaridis Power (May 2013).

The Page 69 Test: The Clover House.

Coffee with a Canine: Henriette Lazaridis Power & Finn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 12, 2022

Sharon Dempsey

Sharon Dempsey is a PhD candidate at Queen’s University, exploring class and gender in crime fiction. She was a journalist and health writer before turning to writing crime fiction and has written for a variety of publications and newspapers, including the Irish Times. Dempsey also facilitates creative writing classes for people affected by cancer and other health challenges.

Her new novel is The Midnight Killing.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Titles are tricky beasts. They have to do so much: entice the reader, sell the story and still not give too much away. I enjoy coming up with titles but often the marvellous marketing team at Harper Collins come up with something that grabs the attention and works well with the story. My last book, Who Took Eden Mulligan? was originally called The Hanging Dolls, but the editor felt that it sounded too much like a horror novel, which it did, so the title we settled on came from graffiti found at the crime scene and I love it. It suits the book and sets the reader up asking questions, right from the start. The Midnight Killing got its title from the crime scene at the start of the book. It suggests mystery and something sinister. Of course I love that combination!

What's in a name?

Naming characters is one of those processes that takes time. You know when you know! I often trawl through baby name websites. My character Rose has some history behind her name since it is an adopted name she chose for herself. She left behind her family, her hometown of Belfast at eighteen to go off to university and changed her name from Roisin to Rose.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

My teenage self would be deliriously happy to know I am a writer. That making up stories is my job! It’s what I have always wanted to do and while it didn’t always seem achievable, I am so happy to feel that I have made my dream come true. I am also doing a PhD and I think my teenage self would be stunned to hear that fact.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings are way easier and more fun! It can be hard to keep the momentum going for over 100,000 words. I do often start out knowing where the book is headed. It's important to understand your characters’ trajectories and the narrative arc and when you are writing a detective novel you need to be interested in the craft of plotting and feeling for the beats of the story. Knowing when to reveal information, when to hold it back and when to turn the whole thing upside down! Readers like to do some of the work too. They don’t want to be spoon-fed the story, they want to anticipate what is going to happen so that when that conclusion comes they feel a certain inevitability about it. I’ve had a few comments about the ending of The Midnight Killing, though as some readers have found one particular scene a little unnerving. I can’t say anymore!

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

We don’t write in a vacuum. Everything I feel, and experience ends up in my writing one way or another. I am a news junkie, so a lot of longform journalism inspires my stories, plus stories I have heard growing up always end up being used in my work. I love stories and feel like I collect them, saving them up to use later!

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I am a huge music fan. Bands and artists like Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, the Beatles, Taylor Swift, Phoebe Bridges, Billie Elish all inspire me through their song writing. It’s just storytelling by another name. But news, politics and history as I previously said also seep into my work, informing the story.
Visit Sharon Dempsey's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Midnight Killing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Denise Crittendon

Before making the big leap into the world of sci-fi & fantasy, Denise Crittendon held a string of journalism jobs. In addition to being a staff writer for The Detroit News and The Kansas City Star, she was editor-in-chief of the NAACP’s national magazine, The Crisis. Later, she became founding editor of a Michigan-based lifestyle publication for black families. After self-publishing two manuals that empower youth, “Girl in the Mirror, A Teen’s Guide to Self-Awareness” and “Life is a Party That Comes with Exams,” she entered the new-age healing movement as a motivational speaker for teens. These days, she fulfills ghostwriting assignments for clients and writes speculative fiction on the side. Crittendon divides her time between Spring Valley, Nevada and her hometown, Detroit, Mich.

Where it Rains in Color is her debut novel.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

My title is an accurate description of the planet I created and, therefore, should have been a no-brainer. For some reason, it wasn’t. Ironically, I went through a few titles -- some so bad I’m too embarrassed to list. The rejects I’m willing to share are: Mama Indigo, a reference to the blue-black complexion of the protagonist and If She Speaks. If She Speaks is part of a comment one of my characters makes when discussing another character who happens to be mute. Neither of these titles captured the novel very well, and I quickly cast them aside. Then one day, an obvious title suddenly dawned on me. Since the surface of this world is awash in colored mists, I decided to go with Where it Rains in Color. And that has been its title ever since. In fact, the publisher loved the title the minute they saw the manuscript.

What’s in a name?

Originally, my protagonist was named Leala. I have no idea where I got the name, but it felt right, so I went with it. Eventually, I began looking up African names for some of my other characters. Imagine my surprise when I realized Leala was an African name. Not only that, it’s given to girls in the west African country of Mali. I recognized Mali as the land of the ethnic group, the Dogon, a tribe I found endlessly fascinating. Immediately, the wheels of my mind began turning as I asked myself why and how I came up with the name. I saw it as a sign that the inhabitants of the planet I was creating were from Mali. Since this was my first draft, it was very easy to begin weaving the Dogon tribe into the mythology and history of the planet. There were other signs and coincidences that led me to incorporate the Dogon culture into the novel, but the name was a particularly strong one because it seemed to have surfaced out of nowhere and yet, it had special relevance. Once the name Leala served its purpose of awakening me to the possibility of incorporating Dogon legends into the novel, I added a syllable. I know that sounds like a strange thing to do, considering its importance. However, I was bothered by how much Leala sounded like Princess Leah from Star Wars. I fixed the problem by adding the Li and calling her Lileala.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

It varies. I once wrote a short story by jumping right into a scene though I didn’t have a specific idea or plot in mind. It just flowed and took on a life of its own. When I actually have an idea then that’s another story. It’s one thing to not know where you’re going with your writing and to allow a stream of consciousness to guide you. However, when I know what I want to say I’m sometimes a little challenged at first. That’s because I’m not in the zone yet. Once I start writing all sorts of feelings, moods and ideas start to take over and I’m in a better space. I’m a pantser, so I don’t follow an outline and I prefer not to know too much about how the novel will unfold. For that reason, I have to say endings require less change than the beginnings. In the beginning, I’m often finding my way. Toward the end, I’m there.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality or are they a world apart?

I see certain aspects of myself in my characters and certain contradictions as well. It’s on a subconscious level though. I’m never aware of it as I’m writing but later it jumps out at me. For instance, my protagonist in Where It Rains in Color is very rich and spoiled. I have never been spoiled because I didn’t come from a background of privilege and didn’t have indulgent, lenient parents. However, my mother had a tendency to be a bit over protective, primarily because she didn’t perceive our neighborhood as safe. So, suffice it to say I was a late bloomer who grew up rather sheltered and naive. After receiving the first proof of Where It Rains In Color, I happened to zero in on an incident where Lileala trusts someone she should know better than to trust. At first, I was a little taken aback that I had included that scene. My second reaction was one of reflection. I had to admit to myself that I, too, had been known to open up at times when I definitely should have kept my mouth shut. In addition, I can relate to Lileala’s visions. No, I’m not telepathic and my spirit certainly has never traveled through time. Yet, I do tend to have psychic dreams. So, there’s that parallel as well.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Star Trek. I’m a long-time trekkie. I watched the original and was impressed with Lt. Nyoto Uhuru (Nichelle Nichols) the first black female officer in space, but my true Star Trek addiction didn’t happen until I began watching The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. I loved them because they were other-worldly, progressive, visionary and philosophical. I’ve always had an overactive imagination. The Star Trek series helped me unleash it even more. I also harbored a burning desire to write something that could have a positive impact on society. That’s what all of my writing represents. It’s very rare for me to write anything (non-fiction as a journalist or fiction as a sci-fi writer) that doesn’t have a strong social message. So, when I see something in the news that’s racist, sexist, ageist or speciest, my mind begins to fill with alternative perspectives. I start brainstorming new concepts and pondering ways my writing can uplift the underdog. In many cases, black people are still marginalized in this country and beyond which means I’m continually contemplating fantasies that reshape our reality and reimagine our lives in glorious Afrofuturistic worlds.
Visit Denise Crittendon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Zachary Daniel

Zachary Daniel is Midwest native raised in Germantown, Wisconsin. Now residing in Salem, Oregon he enjoys sports, travel, boating, family, friends and drink.

He graduated University of Wisconsin La-Crosse with a degree in Nuclear Medicine. Not too long after, he transitioned to finance and started Digital Edge Wealth Management.

Daniel's new novel is Manifest Destiny.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The title does not immediately do work to bring readers into the story, it instead brings on meaning as the story develops. Manifest Destiny is a historical term used to describe how colonial America could not be held east of the Mississippi, instead destined to expand across from sea to shining sea. This is a play on the main characters anger, grief and holding onto the past. It cannot be held back and eventually let out.

However, the story brings you in quickly. You are thrust into action from the beginning and are left trying to catch up to what Nick the main character is up to. As the beginning develops, the bigger picture opens up.

What's in a name?

Truthfully, I picked the main character name as Nick to be as generic as possible. In order to leave as many readers without a preconceived notion of the character as possible. Allowing the book to establish and imprint on the name, not the readers experiences/persons in their own life.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

Incredibly surprised. I hated writing during that time. As I've grown I have come to appreciate the medium and what words can do. I had a story to tell the world and writing was the best medium.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I think it's harder to write endings. You have to wrap up a lot of narrative structure from the story and stay consistent to all you developed.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I see myself a little in a couple of characters, the most being the main character. Really only in the quirkier parts of their personality or actions. The core of the character is nothing like me. I am a carefree, jovial and adventurous. I have never done anything violent and rarely get angry. I don't hold onto the past except for fond memories and learning experiences. It took a lot to get into character to write the darker elements of the main character because of this.
Visit Zach Daniel's website.

The Page 69 Test: Manifest Destiny.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Alex Kenna

Alex Kenna is a lawyer, writer, and amateur painter based in Los Angeles.

Before law school, Kenna studied painting and art history at Penn. She also worked as a freelance art critic and culture writer. Originally from Washington DC, Kenna lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, and giant schnauzer, Zelda. When she’s not writing Kenna can be found nerding out in art museums, exploring flea markets, and playing string instruments badly.

Her debut novel is What Meets the Eye.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

What Meets the Eye is a murder mystery with a heavy focus on art forgers, so I wanted a title that would get readers thinking about the distinction between appearance and reality. The title also applies to the two main characters, Kate Myles and Margot Starling. Margot is a rich, beautiful, and wildly successful artist. But under the glitz and glamour, she struggles with trauma and mental health issues, and is in a significant amount of pain. Kate is a down-and-out PI who struggles with addiction and lost custody of her child. But as the story progresses, it becomes clear that she’s a very strong person working hard to rebuild her life.

The close runner up for a title was Memento Mori, which is an art historical term for a symbol representing the inevitability of death – like a housefly on a beautiful Dutch still life.

What's in a name?

I didn’t have a symbolic reason for choosing names. As a character, Kate Myles is smart, practical, and no-nonsense. As a person, I thought she would probably opt for a short utilitarian nickname, and Kate felt accurate. I’ve also always liked the name. For Margot, I wanted something a little more glamorous. My friend’s husband is very artistic, and his last name is Starling, which I stole for the character. When I got an offer on the book, I told her that I borrowed her husband’s name. I’m not sure she knows yet that the character gets murdered, but she’ll find out soon enough.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

My teenaged self would be shocked that I wrote a book at all, because I started out as a visual artist. I was doing figure drawing in my early teens in this ramshackle place above a garage. Then I fell in love with painting and ended up majoring in art and art history. It wasn’t until my thirties that I started seeing the parallels between art and writing, and decided to try something different.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Honestly, it’s the middle that I struggle with. Beginnings are pretty easy for me. I spent many years confronting a blank canvas, so I don’t feel intimidated by a blank page. Beginnings are exciting and you get a sense for the book’s potential. I also usually have an idea of where I want to end up. But I am constitutionally incapable of organizing or writing an outline, so I often have to go back and rethink the middle chapters to make sure that everything holds together. Sometimes on a second reading, I notice loose threads that need to be addressed or a scene that seems to come out of nowhere.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I can relate to the two main characters in my book in different ways. Kate is a hardworking but disorganized introvert, who struggles with a lot of self-doubt. Those are definitely traits that I share. When the book picks up, she is trying to regain a sense of self after losing her career and her family. I wrote the book after leaving a job that I loved. It was during COVID and I was stuck at home self-isolating with a relatively high-risk pregnancy. So, the idea of suddenly losing part of your identity really resonated with me.

Margot is outwardly very confident and audacious, but underneath, she hates herself in a lot of ways. Personality-wise, I don’t have much in common with her. She’s also cruel, and I’m not. But her way of thinking about art and her dark sense of humor are similar to mine.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My book was very influenced by contemporary art, and there are a lot of specific cultural references in there. I tried to think about who Margot’s influences would be and made sure to include them. As a painter, she’s a realist, but also intellectual and interested in art history, so she would have had a wide range of inspirations. In the book, she talks about Artemisia Gentileschi, Spanish Baroque artists, Sophie Calle, and K├Ąthe Kollwitz, among others. But in thinking about what her art would look like, I thought about other artists, including Trevor Paglen and Stefan Sagmeister.

There is another artist in the book, Jason Martinez, and I got the idea for his painting style after seeing a beautiful piece in a small random gallery on LA’s West Side. I really wish I’d gotten the artist’s name to give them a shout out.

Outside of art, I’ve been a criminal prosecutor for almost a decade, which has given me a sense for how prosecution, white collar crime, and police investigations work. That experience has been invaluable in writing about crime.
Visit Alex Kenna's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Ava Barry

Ava Barry was a script reader for Bold Films and Intrigue Entertainment, and an editorial assistant for Zoetrope: All-Story, Francis Ford Coppola’s literary magazine. She is the author of Windhall, also available from Pegasus Books. She lives in Australia.

Double Exposure is Barry's new novel.

My Q&A with the author:

What's in a name?

Los Angeles has enough interesting locations that I didn’t need to invent too many new ones, but one — Edendale Academy — was named after the original name of the Los Feliz/Echo Park area.

Marcus Loew’s name is a tribute to the man who founded the Loew’s Theatre chain in Los Angeles — as well as Metro Goldwyn Mayer studios!

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Definitely surprised! When I was younger I was baffled by mystery authors — how was it possible? I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of keeping a reader in suspense. Now, I realise that you write a mystery much like you write any other novel, but maybe in a slightly different order.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings have always been very difficult for me to write. It used to be such a problem that I would put off writing because I was convinced that you needed to start right at the beginning, but of course, that isn’t true. Now, when I’m starting a new project, I just start writing at whatever point feels natural, and try to wrangle that into the storyline later.

While I have a general idea of how a story is going to end, I like to catch myself by surprise, so I leave some of it open to change. I feel like in order to surprise a reader, you have to be able to surprise yourself, because so many modern readers have already seen everything.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

There’s a tiny bit of me in each of my characters. That might sound a bit cheesy, but I think it’s impossible to write a fully-fleshed out character unless you can relate to at least some aspect of them.

I thought my correlations were subtle, but after my best friend read the book, she called me with a list of things that I had pulled from my real life, and she was right about every single one of them. Whoops!

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I have a long history of working in restaurants, and while the majority of my customers have been either pleasant or forgettable, you get some real nightmares — anyone who has worked hospitality or retail can probably relate. Without being too specific, there are a few former customers who have made their way into my books — not that these people have enough self-awareness to recognise their literary counterparts!
Visit Ava Barry's website.

--Marshal Zeringue