Monday musings: Readers provide awesome inspiration

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By Gae-Lynn Woods

Writers find inspiration everywhere, and often, readers inspire us the most. I’ve had the pleasure of attending several book signings and writer talks, and have even hosted a book launch party at a local winery. Every event and every reader has been a blast.

Most readers ask similar questions – where story ideas come from, whether my character Cass Elliot is named after the famous singer, or how long it takes to write a book. Some share story ideas – like the time a urologist was literally pulled out of bed to perform kidney surgery on a mafia boss while gowned armed guards stood watch in the operating room.

Occasionally someone comes to an event with a gleam in their eye and a detailed list of questions:

How could you end THE DEVIL OF LIGHT without bringing the old man to justice? I want him dead. Or at least in prison. (All I can say is, I’m writing a series. I know, I know. THE DEVIL OF LIGHT leaves the reader hanging, and maybe I could’ve ended that book better. All I know for sure is that the old man isn’t done with Forney County, and Cass isn’t done with him.)

Please don’t let anything bad happen to Hitch. I know he’s a horrible multiple murderer, but I kind of like him. (I kind of like him, too. Which worries me a bit. I’d like for him to hang around Forney County for a while, but we’ll see where the stories go.)

I really loved your writing style in A CASE OF SOUR GRAPES, but I don’t like Maxine. She’s too into her handbags and shoes. Couldn’t you write like that but use Cass as your main character? (It wouldn’t work. Maxine and her foibles are as key to the plot as is the search for the missing husband. Cass is too intense to bring that same level of impulsiveness and misadventure to a story.)

But my favorite reader interaction to date occurred at church, which is a little weird given that I write crime novels with a certain level of violence. A lady with the sweetest disposition pulled me aside one Sunday and said, “I thought about you yesterday.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes. My son killed two deer and was processing them, getting ready to put them in the freezer. While I watched, I realized how hard it must be to actually dismember a human body.” Slight frown. “Or at least to do a neat job. It’s not easy to take a leg off at the hip without making a mess. It’s got to be even harder to saw through bone like Hitch did. What do you think?”

We spent the next several minutes, this gentle lady and I, discussing how one would go about cutting up a human body. Where would you do it? What about evidence? What do you do with all the parts? Dig a hole? Use a wood chipper? Where does one find a wood chipper in a rush? How much bleach would it take to clean up?

The fact that we were in the church foyer with congregants streaming around us didn’t bother either of us in the least.

“Well,” she said, patting my arm. “I just wanted you to know I was thinking about you.” And off she went to refill the coffee urn, leaving me to wonder if she would ever have thought about dismembering a human body before reading my books.

I certainly hope so.

I can’t afford that kind of therapy for my readers.

Gae-Lynn Woods

is a Texan mystery writer who has traveled the world, lived overseas, and come back home. She and her husband, British jazz guitarist Martyn Popey, share a ranch in East Texas with a herd of Black Angus cattle, one very cranky donkey, and The Dude, a rescue kitty with attitude.

Visit Gae-Lynn’s

BestSelling Reads page   |   Amazon author page   |   Facebook   |   Twitter   |   Google+   |   Goodreads   |   LinkedIn   |    Website   |    Blog 

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New bestseller: Seek and Destroy

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The second Eva Driscoll thriller will be available on Amazon on Wednesday, November 14. Get a taste of this new blockbuster

By Alan McDermott

As Gray stepped up to the ATM machine, he looked around out of habit. He’d known a couple of people who had been the victim of distraction thefts, so he always made sure there was no one near him when he used the machines. That was when he saw the Renault pull up on the other side of the street. The buzz cut and leather jacket of the driver grabbed his atten­tion, setting him immediately on edge.

“Daddy! You’re hurting me!”

Gray looked down at Melissa and let go of her hand. He hadn’t realized he’d been squeezing it so hard. He knelt in front of her and kissed her tiny fingers. “I’m so sorry, darling,” he said, with one eye on the Renault.

Two men had climbed out of the back seat, and they were heading his way. He recognized the look they shared and pegged them as mili­tary, either former or current. Whichever it was, they reeked of trouble.

Gray took Melissa by her other hand and led her away from the ATM. He needed to get her somewhere safe, and the only place he could think of was the café. If something bad were about to happen, he didn’t want Melissa witnessing it, and the owner was a friend who could handle himself. Like Gray, Marco had spent time in the armed forces. Unlike Gray, Marco was built like a tank.

Gray led Melissa to Marco’s place, and when he glanced back he could see that the two heavies were still following him and had closed to within twenty yards. He opened the door and saw his friend behind the counter, preparing a sandwich.

Ciao, Tom. Come va?

“Marco, I need help.”

The big man’s forehead furrowed. “Problem?”

“Maybe. Can you keep an eye on Melissa for a few minutes?” When Gray saw the confusion on Marco’s face, he resorted to what many peo­ple do in foreign countries. “You watch Melissa? Five minutes? I go?”

Si, si, non c’è problema.” Marco smiled.

Gray tried returning the expression but suspected that it came out as a weird grimace. He turned and left the café just as the two strang­ers mounted the curb. There was no emotion on their faces, and Gray wondered if they were simply heading inside for something to eat, but that thought was quickly dispelled.

“Courtesy of the ESO,” the first one said, and launched at Gray, aiming a boot at his chest. Gray easily parried it and countered with a punch to the man’s jaw that connected with a satisfying crunch. He followed up with a left, but it glanced off his opponent’s forehead. The other man joined in, catching Gray on the side of the face with a fist that felt like a hammer, and Gray’s legs barely kept him upright. He’d never been hit so hard in his life, and wasn’t about to let it happen again. He shook his head to clear it, then spun and delivered a roundhouse kick that almost tore the second thug’s head off. The man went down, and Gray turned to face the other just in time to block a fist traveling at speed toward his face. He struck out with his open palm and caught the man in the sternum. The crack of bones echoed the pain on the man’s face.

“Sonofabitch!” he grunted, but kept coming. A vicious uppercut sent Gray staggering backward, and he fell over the café’s wooden adver­tising board and ended up in a heap on the ground. He tried getting to his feet, but kicks started flying in. One caught him in the temple, and he collapsed once more, curling into a ball to prevent damage to his major organs.

The assault stopped abruptly, and Gray heard shouting and the sound of a distant siren. He opened an eye and saw Marco chasing after one of the thugs with what looked like a meat cleaver. The two attack­ers were sprinting to the car they’d arrived in, and they managed to get inside the moving vehicle before Marco could take a swipe at them.

Gray sat up, trying to make sense of it all. A single word jumped into his head.

Melissa!

About Seek and Destroy

She got away once. They can’t let it happen again.

Eva Driscoll is on the run. She has a new identity, and the best part of $20m liberated from the CIA. Henry Langton is dead but his sinister allies are circling, and not even a presidential pardon can help Eva against an organization that operates above the White House.

With agents around the globe and no tactic off limits, Langton’s men are calling the shots. When they track down ex-CIA computer expert Farooq Naser and threaten Andrew Harvey and Tom Gray, Eva knows they will come for her next. She needs to run—and fast—but what chance does one woman have against the most powerful group in the United States, with just a few ex-spooks and a couple of mercenaries on her side?

But her pursuers should know that, even backed into a corner, Eva Driscoll is not the kind of prey to give up without a fight. But will it mean hurting those she cares for the most?

Alan McDermott

is a husband, father to beautiful twin girls, and a full-time author. Alan lives in the south of England, and in 2014 he swapped writing critical application for the NHS to penning thrillers that have gone on to sell close to a million copies.

His debut novel, Gray Justice, was well received and earned him membership of Independent Authors International. That book launched in July 2011, and by the time he’d written the follow-ups, Gray Resurrection and Gray Redemption, it had attracted the attention of a major publisher. Alan signed with Thomas & Mercer in 2013 and has now written six novels in the Tom Gray series and a spinoff called Trojan. Alan’s eighth novel, Run and Hide, introduced a new female lead, Eva Driscoll.

Alan can be found:

BestSelling Reads author page   |   Amazon Author page   |   Website   |   blog   |    Facebook    |   Twitter

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Monday musings: The bookstore as tourist attraction

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By Scott Bury

In days of yore, I used to love hanging around in bookstores. Whether they sold new or used books, I could while away hours ambling down the aisles, perusing the obscure titles, poring over the pages, admiring cover typography and wondering about the authors. Sadly, it’s a pastime I haven’t enjoyed for a very long time.

Until last September, when I visited Portugal with my lovely wife. From the time we started planning the trip, one of the must-see spots was the Lello & Irmão bookstore in Porto. This is the bookstore that’s famous as the place that inspired J.K. Rowling’s setting of Hogwarts for her Harry Potter series.

The evocative double curving staircase is not the only reason it’s an inspiring bookstore. The inlay ceiling, the baroque woodwork, the antique lanterns—and the incredible range of books! There are books in many languages, bestselling books, books of great age and prestige, beautiful editions and even comic books.

But what is the most immediately striking thing about this bookstore is the crowd inside. Because of the Harry Potter-inspired fame, hordes of tourists cram into it daily. Lello & Irmão bookstore actually charge admission and limits the number of people they let inside at once. If you buy a book, they’ll refund the price of admittance.

Lello & Irmão was not the only bookstore I visited on that trip. Roxanne and I also popped into Livraria Bertrand in the Chiado section of Lisbon, known as the world’s oldest still-operating bookstore. It was first opened in 1732 by Pedro Faure, who took on the Bertrand brothers as partners some time later. The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 destroyed the bookstore and the Betrands moved to a different part of the city. In 1773, the Bertrands returned to the rebuilt Chiado section of Lisbon, its current location on Rua Garret.

Bertrand today is a chain of 53 bookstores across Portugal, and is owned by the Porto Editora publishing company. a

Livraria Bertrand in Lisbon, the oldest still-operating bookstore in the world. Photo: Wikipedia

I rediscovered the joy of spending time in a bookstore in Portugal. And on coming back to North America, I understood one reason that I don’t enjoy that activity as much at home anymore. It’s because bookstores here aren’t much in the way of bookstores anymore.

Every time I enter one in Canada or the U.S., there seems to be more space turned over to knick-knacks, coffee and food at the expense of books.

I have no problem with coffee in a bookstore. Books and coffee are a natural combination. But seeing more space for things that are far less important than books taking away space for them—that’s disheartening.

What about you? What are your favorite book places in the world?

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Monday musings: Why do we love to read horror?

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Photo: Capture Queen (Creative Commons)

Pandemic. Totalitarianism. Climate change. Terrorism. Jihad. Illegal immigration. Socialism. Job loss.

Judging from hyperbole in social media, we are out-and-out terrified of these things. As evidence: people advocate shooting refugees to keep them from crossing their border.

As (occasionally) the author of horror, my job is to reflect my audience’s fears back to them in symbolic way. This can be a way to help deal with them, but mostly, through fantasy, we can take some joy from our fears. It’s like riding a roller-coaster: it’s fun because it scares us, but we’re really safe.

A long, grisly, nasty yet honourable tradition

This is what fantasy and horror writers have always done: create stories that give us another way to look at what’s really bothering us. It has a long history in a technological era:

Godzilla, the monster awakened by atomic radiation and that could breathe out “atomic fire,” reflected our fears of nuclear war and radiation.

Zombies, like those in The Walking Dead series and World War Z, reflect our fear of incurable, virulent and especially contagious pandemics, made even more horrifying and destructive by their ability to instantly render their victims as vessels of further transmission.

Hereditary is the fear of what you don’t know about yourself, which you may have inherited from your parents.

Horror movies like Predator and Venom play on the most primeval fear of all: getting killed and eaten by a predator. Other horror movies play on more modern fears of surveillance, mortgage foreclosure, and of course, the old standby, the Other—people not of our tribe, and therefore a threat. Don’t forget the 2001 horror movie actually called “The Others,” with Nicole Kidman.

Have you not noticed how terrified some people are of people from other cultures?

Fear of sex

Dracula, the Un-Dead, the progenitor of nearly all the vampire books since, plays on several fears. First is the fear of contagion—Bram Stoker’s heroes thought Lucy’s affliction was a blood disease, after all – but also the fear of being infected with something that will change your nature (becoming a vampire). There is also the fear of the Other, the foreigner, the intruder who by his very nature is dangerous. But mostly, Dracula was a sublimation of the greatest fear of the Victorian era: sex.

Yes, I am saying that sucking up blood was the only way that a Victorian era writer would portray sexual lust without getting banned or arrested. Don’t believe me? The vampire was ultimately defeated by a woman’s sexual attractiveness. Oh, sure, Dracula said he was only interested in her blood. But he was lured to his doom by a beautiful young woman, who invited the vampire into her bedroom and made him stay all night long. Now tell me Stoker was not writing about sex.

Image: Vancouver Sun

Still holding onto that argument? Watch Francis Ford Coppola’s film based on the book and try to sustain it.

Today, there’s a lot of fear about crowds of refugees or migrants getting past the border. I don’t understand the fear, myself. Which means there is already a really bad book or movie, or both, based on exactly that idea in development right now.

The biggest fear, though, that I can see is the fear of change. Any new idea still evokes howls from predictable corners. How could writers deal with that?

What about readers? What fears would you like your favourite authors to write about?

Leave your suggestions in the Comments.

Scott Bury

just can’t stay in one genre.

After a 30-year career as a journalist and editor, Scott Bury published a children’s story, and a story that bridged the genres of paranormal occult fiction and espionage thriller. Since then, he has published 12 novels and novellas without regard to staying in any one genre: fantasy, satire, mysteries, thrillers and biography.

In 2012, he published his first novel, the historical magic realism bestseller The Bones of the Earth. His next book, One Shade of Red, was a satire of a bestseller with a similar title.

From 2014 to 2017, he published the Eastern Front Trilogy, the true story of a Canadian drafted into the Soviet Red Army in 1941, and how he survived the Second World War.

He wrote four Hawaii mystery titles for Toby Neal’s Lei Crime Kindle World; Jet: Stealth for Russell Blake’s Jet Kindle World, and two for Emily Kimelman’s Sydney Rye Kindle World. Since the cancellation of the Kindle World program, he has revised and published the first title, Torn Roots, as the first volume in a stand-alone series, Hawaiian Storm.

He has also launched a new mystery series with Wildfire, featuring the smart and passionate Tara Rezeck.

Find out more about Scott and his writing:

And follow him on Twitter @ScottTheWriter.

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When life echoes art: So many very tall people!

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Lately, BestSelling Reads authors have been recounting times they’ve found the real world echoing things they previously wrote about.

Last month, Raine Thomas wrote about marrying an alien. Her husband comes from another country, and n her 2014 novel, Return of the Ascendent, two characters travel between worlds to be together.

Caleb Pirtle III wrote about headlines telling the story of a college football team being suspended for sexual assault, after writing about that idea in Friday Nights Don’t Last Forever.

And how can we forget the bombshell when the government admitted that it could track every keystroke on every computer, tablet and smartphone connected to the Internet. This after Alan McDermott constructed the plot of his 2015 novel, Gray Vengeance, around what he thought at the time was a fictional idea.

Scary on many levels.

The Witch Queen cometh

I have found life imitating things I wrote about, too. In 2011, I published a paranormal occult story, mostly for fun, called “Dark Clouds.” In it, the Witch Queen’s son notices the wind coming from all directions at once. Cloud gathering over the capital city, and he knows his mother is up to no good. Then last year, when visiting the Czech Republic, my wife and I looked up at the darkening sky as we dined al fresco. Bluish black clouds descended, rolling and seeming to reach ephemeral tendrils toward us.

The Tepla River near Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic, at around 7:00 p.m. in June — an oddly dark evening for midsummer. The wind ripples the surface of the river just before driving dark clouds overhead.

Then the wind hit, swiping a half-full glass bottle of water off our table. As we stood to avoid the shards, the wind swept my wife’s chair away, throwing it down a flight of stairs.

All around us, napkins and cutlery clattered and fell to the floor, and other diners rushed indoors. Then the wind stopped as suddenly as it came.

Recently, I found a more subtle echo all around me. Indeed, it seemed to follow me. In 2015, I published Torn Roots as part of a program from Amazon that it has since cancelled. I have just published a revised, expanded version of that book.

So where is life imitating that piece of writing?

The week I was short

One of the main characters is Rowan Fields, an assertive environmental activist. Okay, some people call her abrasive, snarky, bitchy. Fine.

When I was first working on the book, I wanted to make her striking and unusual. So I wrote about a thin, six-foot-tall blond Canadian woman in Hawaii. I figured 183 cm women would be unusual.

The man who took this picture was nearly 200 cm tall (6’6″)

I finished writing the book, sent it to my editor, made revisions to the version that came back, and uploaded it to Amazon, all under the delusion that Rowan Fields was a unique character.

Then I started noticing six-foot-tall, blond women in Ottawa. Every day, I would see at least one, if not several.

In late September, my wife and I took another trip, this time to Portugal. And we both remarked on the number of very tall women and men we saw.

For the first time since my teen years, I felt short. I’m fairly tall, at 184 cm (just shy of 6 feet, one inch — I have lost a half-inch since turning 50).

All around us, dozens of women at least 180 cm tall, and men towering over my head — including the very gracious German gentleman who took this picture of me on the wall of the Moorish castle ruin in Sintra.

It wasn’t like they were all German and Scandinavian. There were extraordinarily tall men and women speaking English, Slavic languages and others I could not identify. I wondered if there was a convention of very tall people, and I had not been invited.

You see what you look for

But what could I do? I couldn’t very well start taking everyone’s picture for publication. And how do you work this idea into a conversation? “Hi, you look like a character I created. Can I take your picture?”

I think I’d be committed to the Portuguese mental health system pretty quickly. Or at least flagged as a potential stalker.

Maybe it’s just that you notice what you’re looking for. Every time I update my car, about every four years, I notice a lot more cars just like it on the road. This year, I’ve been struck by the number of white cars on the roads. Maybe the incidence hasn’t really changed, but how can I tell?

Take a look around next time you’re in a busy urban area, and see if you see any very tall people and white cars. Leave your responses in the comments and we’ll see if there are any trends.

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Monday musings: Life inspired writing inspired life

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By Autumn Birt

I love adventure, especially traveling. One of my remaining bucket list trips is cave rafting in New Zealand (seriously).

The only thing that makes a trip more interesting is throwing in some local history and artifacts and I’m pretty much in love. Hiking the Inca Trail in Peru to Machu Picchu was an experience that will live with me and color my writing. How could following an ancient pathway of stones and steps through mountain passes and by a handful of stunning ruins, each unique, to end at one of the wonders of the world not show up in a story somewhere, especially when you are a fantasy writer?

My hobbies of hiking, kayaking, and sailing have lent a realistic air to many of my books. I know what it is like to carry everything you need on your back for days at a time, slogging through mud and crawling over steep ledges. I’ve ridden horses, though prefer motorcycling over long distances. I know the feeling of stepping into a new land and feeling equally lost and fascinated.

Those are the easy details that permeate my writing, often without me realizing it. But it was a conference in Miami in 2010 that not only changed my worldview but inspired an entire series.

The guest speaker was a proponent for an Everglades National Park, but had given up because he didn’t think the Everglades would exist in fifty years. Slide by slide, he unrolled more scientific details on climate change and historic trends in past climate changes than I’d ever seen. He ripped away the idea that the seas would rise slowly and lethally. Instead, he showed the ancient benchmarks where the land dropped feet at a time due to storms. A storm surge would arrive, inundate everything, and never leave.

The future we have crafted due to past actions is not going to be predictable or follow a smooth chart laid out by scientists doing the best they can with predictive modeling. It will be messy, chaotic, and cause havoc we can only guess at. Working as I did in sustainable agriculture for a government agency, my mind whirled with how would governments respond? How many such storms as Katrina in the US would it take for an area to be abandoned? How many would it take to weaken a government to the point it could be overthrown or bought?

Throw in increasing droughts, lack of clean water, and a pandemic or two, and you have a world in chaos.

It took years with those ideas planted in my brain to finally grow into the post-apocalyptic series, Friends of my Enemy. A twisted tale of a dark future rife with conflicted relationships, it is nevertheless one of my favorite things to have written, even though it is so far different from the epic fantasy books I usually prefer. It is my nightmarish dream and imbued with a bit of hope for mankind in our not-so-distant future.

Plus, the unruly roots sprouted out of that conference eventually lead me to quit my job.

I’m not a prepper or survivalist by any means, but when the future looks unstable, the government you work for is not responding to mitigate anything of what might be coming, and you are going to be in your late 60s by then anyway, grasping life and seeing the world while you can still enjoy it feels so much better than saving for retirement because some guy in a suit said you should. Ok, I might be a bit of a rebel at heart too.

And, you know, it doesn’t hurt that I live in a self-contained, all-terrain adventure vehicle. I’m totally prepared for the zombie apocalypse. 😉

Autumn Birt

is a bestselling author in fantasy, epic fantasy, and war – not all on the same series though!

She is the author of the epic fantasy, adventure trilogy on elemental magic, The Rise of the Fifth Order. Her newest series is Games of Fire, an epic continuation of the world and characters begun in The Rise of the Fifth Order. Book 2, Gates of Fire & Earth, is also a Fantasia Reviews 2017 Book of Year nominee and winner of Best Worldbuilding.

She is also the author of Friends of my Enemy, a military dystopian/ dark fantasy tale laced with romance.

Stop by her website and blog to learn more about the worlds of her books at www.AutumnWriting.com. You can also find her on Facebook at Author.Autumn.Birt or more frequently on Twitter @Weifarer. Check out Exclusive Stories page to pick up free short stories.

Learn more about her on her BestSelling Reads author page and Amazon Author Page.

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