Topher Hoffman: Hello and welcome folks to this most exciting interview by the fantastic YA author Caytlyn Brooke!
Recently I posted my book review of her first novel Dark Flowers, and let me tell you, it kept me at the edge of my seat. If you can check out the full review here!
I see that you are the author of two astonishing books. Have read in your profile that you write about the shadier side of fantasy. What inspired you to start writing books in that genre?
Caytlyn Brooke: Thank you! Growing up I was always drawn to the darker aesthetic. Whether it was movies, books, poems, or haunted houses, I wanted it. Fear is a huge motivator and for some reason, people love scaring themselves, it’s like an adrenaline rush. I saw that that fear was underrepresented in YA fiction and wanted to be the one to send the shivers up readers’ spines and make them nervous when they turned off the lights. Fantasy books typically revolve around magic and love, adventure and exploration. I took all of those things and scraped a few layers down. In my writing, I aim to create nightmares. If it scares me or grosses me out, it’s going in the book!
TH: Every author began writing at various stages in their life. When did you start to write?
CB: There is no magic age to begin writing, and that’s what I love about it. I started writing in the 3rd grade. I remember our teacher brought in a specialist for a creative writing assignment and gave us a prompt to craft a story around. I loved every second and wrote triple the amount of my classmates on that horrible yellow paper. The specialist read everyone’s piece, but when she got to mine she paused and I remember her saying, “Wow, these descriptions are incredible. You’re going to be a writer one day.” Bam! I never looked back.
TH: Writing takes a lot of time. Does this have any effect on your family?
CB: Writing doesn’t take a lot of time, it takes all of the time! My family is wonderful and very supportive of me! I have two young kids so I only have time to write during nap time and late at night after they go to sleep. So my husband takes the brunt of the sacrifice. It gets hard, especially when I’m on a deadline to finish a book or wrap up my edits because unfortunately all of our time together is put on hold until I am done, but luckily I have taught myself to type really fast, and my husband never runs out of Cops episodes to watch.
TH: Has your family read your stories? If so, have they gave you any feedback? If they did, what was it?
CB: Yes they have! It took a lot for my mom to read, Dark Flowers because she does not do scary, and the sad parts had her in tears, but she made it through! My husband is always the first one to read my books and offers fantastic constructive criticism. My sister, however, is basically who I write for. Out of all the readers in the world, she is the top person I am trying to impress. I greatly value her opinion, and she gives me honest feedback, even if it’s harsh. Just recently I had her read the first draft of my newest book coming out next year, and she told me it was so horrible she didn’t even finish it. So I completely scrapped the first draft and summoned all the forces of darkness to me and wrote a fresh new take on it. This time she agreed it’s much better, thankfully!
TH: I’ve overheard that authors get into the zone when they start to write? Is that true? If so, what does it take for you to get into your writing mood?
CB: Haha, yes! I love that zone! My husband is still working on respecting that zone! It doesn’t take too much for me to start writing. In my head all day long I am constantly thinking of how my characters and the challenges they face so when I finally sit down to write, everything just pours out of me. I do have to have a large cup of tea beside me though, that is a must!
TH: Being an author, you must read a lot. What type of publications do you read?
CB: Oh yes! Reading is how I relax. YA is my favourite genre, and just as I write, I tend to drift toward fantasy and horror when I read. I’m just starting to get into sci-fi now that that genre is expanding to include a million other things other than aliens, those aren’t my favourite. Some of my favourite authors are Cassandra Clare and the Mortal Instrument Series, Laini Taylor and The Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, and my absolute favourite author I just started reading is Leigh Bardugo and The Grisha Trilogy.
TH: Speaking of reading. I know that I will be writing a review on my blog about your book Dark Flowers. Do you check your comments and reviews?
If so, how do you deal with the negative ones?
CB: I sure do, but only every few months when I think about it. It’s so easy to get hung up on negative reviews, whether they are warranted or not. If someone doesn’t like my book, I’m completely okay with that. Not everyone will love everything I do. They sting for sure because in a perfect world, every reader would think my books are amazing, but that’s not realistic, so I just brush them off.
TH: Can you please describe your new book, so the readers have an understanding of what the story is about?
CB: My newest book is a YA sci-fi/contemporary called, Wired. It is set in 2031 and technology has become the new drug whether people are aware of it or not. Maggie is a brand new book agent. She has her dream job, a steady paycheck, and good friends. The book opens on the launch of the brand new technology, the Vertix H2, which is described as revolutionary and it is. Rather than a phone that can only provide a very static, one-way experience, the Vertix completely submerges you in social media through the use of sophisticated virtual reality apps. At first, Maggie is hesitant, however, just like a drug, the first time she connects, she is hooked. Slowly her world begins to spiral out of control as she chooses to spend more time in the virtual world and thereby neglects her reality. Can she kick the social addiction or will it pull her under forever?
TH: Where did you get the idea for the book?
CB: I wrote it when I was waitressing actually. I grew so tired of dealing with diners’ wild children because they were too absorbed with their phones to notice their child scaling the wooden divider separating the tables. Phone addiction is everywhere, from toddlers to grandparents. Every person has a phone glued to their hand at all times. Moms at the park, dads taking their kids out for ice cream, a woman walking her dog, and a grandparent at their granddaughter’s birthday party. I wanted to write a book to shed some light on this cultural phenomenon because no one is talking about it. No one seems to see just how much they are missing and how dangerous phone addiction has become. So hopefully, Wired will help readers open their eyes and reflect on their own social media usage.
TH: Eliza and Millie are two charming little girls. Are they based on anybody that you know? If not, how did you come up with them?
CB: Thank you! The girls are actually based on my sister and I. Growing up we were obsessed with finding fairies in the woods. We would build little houses out of sticks and moss and leave chocolates for them. I took the idea of innocence and twisted it to the fairies’ advantage. Innocence is now a flaw, the reason why the girls’ are tricked by the shallow beauty. Every little girl wants to find fairies, but not every fairytale ends happily.
TH: When you wrote your first book and knew how much hard work was put into writing, how did you feel about continuing your writing career?
CB: I was actually never intimidated by the amount of work writing took. It’s been my dream to be an author since elementary school, and now that I’ve finally put all my words on paper and my dream is happening, I couldn’t be more excited! I have encountered several drawbacks and challenges, but dreams are never easy. If they were they wouldn’t be dreams, right? Now that I have two published books under my belt everything has started to get much easier which is awesome! Both of my books have won multiple literary awards, and I’ve been invited all over the country for speaking opportunities and book signing events which is really cool! I can’t wait to see what’s coming next!
TH: Is there anything in either one of the two books that are parts of you?
CB: There are a lot of little fun details that relate to either my siblings or me actually. For example, in Wired, Maggie laments about having small boobs the size of recess cups. That definitely stems from my own wish. Also in Wired, when Maggie orders pizza, she explains how much she loves the smell of pizza in a box. That’s a fun nod to my sister who can identify that smell on the busy New York streets! Also, in Dark Flowers, Millie mentions how badly she wants a kitten. That was taken from my own desire as a child. I love cats! In every single book I write a cat is included.
TH: Did it trouble you to write about kids and the experiences that they went through in the book?
CB: Oddly enough, no. The horror never bothers me. Watching it on the other hand, my gracious I couldn’t! The hardest part to write about was Eliza’s back story when she was five. I won’t spoil anything, but that was heartbreaking to write.
TH: Dark Flowers is an excellent name for a book. How did you come up with that?
CB: Thank you! I wanted something obviously dark to convey the horror. I settled on flowers because they represent the fairies. Flowers are flowers, innocent, beautiful, enticing, just like the outward appearance of the fairies and the realm. However, as you begin to scrape away the false outer layer, there is true terror beneath. I also like the idea that flowers don’t last forever. Very soon the beauty crumbles and death claims them. I won’t say any more!
TH: What character in your novel was the most entertaining to write?
CB: I really enjoyed writing Eliza from Dark Flowers. She is strong and sassy, not afraid to stand up for what is right. I wish I had had that confidence when I was thirteen. I also love her persistence and her devotion to Millie. I think that’s rare to find in friendships today.
TH: You now have two books. What is your favourite?
CB: Oh this isn’t a fair question! I love the creepy adventure of Dark Flowers, but I think Wired is such a strong piece and is so relevant to the issue of technology addiction many of us are currently facing. Can I say both for different reasons?
TH: What is next on your plate when it comes to writing?
CB: Next I can’t wait to dive into my YA adventure/fantasy trilogy! The first book is called, Among the Hunted and it’s about Blake, an eighteen-year-old guy trying to find himself in the wake of his dad leaving. What he didn’t plan on was meeting Kaitaini, a beautiful wind nymph on the run from a lustful God, who will stop at nothing to have her. I’m very excited for this trilogy because I’ve been working on it for years and it’s different than my other books. There’s epic battles, magic, and even some racier scenes I haven’t been able to really include in my other books yet. So stay tuned, it’s going to be fun!
Follow Caytlyn Brooke on Twitter to keep up to date with upcoming release dates and writing news! @caytlyn_brooke
Check out her books on Amazon and buy yourself a copy Darkflowers or Wired today!
Topher Hoffman: Hello Julia! Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for the readers at The House Of 1000 Books. I find it so amazing and motivational that there are so many authors out there that are doing what they love. Writing amazing stories. I am thrilled to get this opportunity to spend the time with you to do just that.
I see that you have a lot of books under your belt! How many novels are you up too?
Julia Colbourn: I’m working on book number four as we speak. I’m averaging a book a year so far.
TH: That’s great! It looks like you have publications that fall into various categories. What is your favourite genre to write?
JC: I love to write in many different genres – there’s usually a romance of some sort going on, but I like to write about real life situations, not cozy, unrealistic storylines. My first book is a dystopian fantasy (no elves or dragons, though!) and I’ve also got some non-fiction books that I’d like to write. My interests are very varied and I can’t see me settling into any one genre just yet. My style, however, remains the same.
TH: I like to find out in all my interviews when authors started to write. Some start at a young age, but others don’t start until they are adults. When did you find your passion for writing?
JC: I think I was born with it! Certainly, I wrote stories as a kid and revelled in writing essays at senior school, inspired by a rare gem of an English teacher. I first started writing seriously when I was at home with a young family. I had several articles and short stories accepted in magazines, but by the time I retired and had the time to return to it seriously, the writing world had changed and so had magazine content!
TH: Writing takes a tremendous amount of time, can you tell me if it ever gets in the heart of home life?
JC: I published my first book while I was still teaching – how I found the time to write it, I don’t know! Secret all-night sessions, fuelled by chocolate, I suppose! But when you have the writing bug, it’s very hard to ignore it. Now I’m retired there still isn’t enough time, as we are travelling a fair bit and have many other commitments, not to mention the time Twitter takes up (purely for marketing purposes, of course!!). It helps that my partner is Asperger – he likes to do his own thing which leaves me free to do mine!
TH: Has your family read your work, and if so what was one point that you got told as feedback that you continue to follow while writing?
JC: My sister is my proofreader, and though her preference is for cozier reads than mine, she still tells me that I write well. My cousin and several friends give me huge support and nag me to get the next book wrote, which is very motivating. My daughters sometimes mutter ‘no sex, please, mother’ but, while there is no gratuitous sex in my books, I do feel it’s unavoidable if you’re painting a true picture. There’s only one scene of a sexual encounter in my current book, so maybe, subconsciously, I’m taking their feedback on board.
TH: What is the one author that you have read that influenced you the most and what is your favourite book of theirs?
JC: If you limit me to just one, I’d have to say Austen (I discovered only a few years ago that I’m actually descended from her grandmother, which was cause for great celebration!). She was the first author to make me realize how you can use humour in a serious novel to great advantage. Trollope was another. And Thomas Hardy showed me how to not shrink from unpalatable truths.
TH: If you met that author and wanted to ask them one question, what would it be?
JC: Oh, I’d love to ask Jane Austen what sort of books she would write nowadays. She would be so pleased with the advances women have made over the last century. Can you imagine what her Twitter following would be?
TH: I read one of your interviews, and you described how you flesh out your characters. Have you ever created an antagonist based on somebody you seen in real life?
JC: No one character is based just on one person, but inevitably I use snippets from all sorts of different sources – people from my past and my present, TV personalities, even people I’ve just heard about. I might use someone’s voice, someone else’s mannerisms or body language, someone else’s facial expressions. It helps, when I write, if I can picture my character in my mind – I can literally see them closing their eyes, or changing their posture, and I can hear the tone in which they speak. The Narcissist in my current book is based loosely on a close (thankfully ex) family member.
TH: With having so many books out, you had a chance to develop so many characters. Who is the one type of character that you absolutely adore?
JC: It’s got to be the feisty female lead!! They’re all flawed in some way (as we all are) and my current main female character is badly damaged from a relationship with a Narcissistic personality disorder and at first appears weak and spineless, but she gradually wins through. Women are incredibly strong.
TH: What about out of the books you have written? Why is your favourite?
JC: My first book is my true love! I put heart and soul into it – some science, some novel religious theories, a bit of philosophy and observations of human society as a whole. There are also some hidden meanings in it, for those who like a book with layers. Sadly, I knew nothing about marketing in those days, and I just pushed it out onto the literary ocean and let it flounder on its own. I hope, at a later stage when I am more established, to come back to it and do it justice.
TH: Have you ever had a real-life problem and written it into the story?
JC: Inevitably. All authors draw on their own insecurities and childhood dramas (and many of their adult ones, too!) I went to quite a posh public school but my social life was always rooted in more down to earth circles, mainly at the local riding school where you had to muck in (and out) to earn a ride. This straddling of two worlds crops up in my third book, Seduction & Destruction, and to a lesser extent in my first book, where the female lead just doesn’t fit in anywhere. And my own partner is Asperger – there’s a whole book there, waiting to be written!
TH: To use a publisher or to self publish that is the question! If you had a chance to tell your younger writing self one piece of advice about publishing, what would it be?
JC: I think self-publishing is still my preferred choice – I’m too impatient to wait patiently for months for an inevitable rejection slip – but self-publishing involves a steep learning curve. I wish I’d known at the beginning what I know now. And I now have a huge support network through writers’ groups on Facebook and the Writing Community on Twitter – whatever question I have, someone will have the answer. And I’ve learnt so much – I never even knew what a beta reader was a few months ago!
TH: Can you tell us about your newest book?
JC: I love to look at dysfunctional relationships. They are far more common than most people think. In my latest book, I turn the spotlight on Narcissistic personality disorder, of which I have some personal experience. It was fascinating researching the topic and realizing just how common it is. I’ve also included a two-faced best friend (also drawn from personal experience). I have never understood why some people are so destructive for no apparent reason. As Paulie says, in my current work in progress, ‘What’s the matter with people, eh, Barney? You’d think they’d settle for a bit of honest love, instead of devoting themselves to making other people’s lives a misery.’
TH: Looks like you worked really hard on it! What is one thing in the book that you want your readers to take away from the novel?
JC: A better understanding of common human flaws. When we are young, we are constantly searching for the perfect job, the ideal best friend, the Mr. or Ms. Right. The sooner we realize that chasing perfection makes us miss the real opportunities in life, the better. Life is golden and so much fun, but it will never be perfect. Just dive in. Ride the rapids and learn to navigate around the immovable objects.
TH: What is the most important thing that you want your readers to appreciate when it comes to your work?
JC: I want people to feel that I’ve created real, three-dimensional characters and touched on some of the ugly realities that often get avoided in romances. I want my readers to be informed by my books and come away from them with thoughts in their heads that weren’t there before.
TH: Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers of the House Of 1000 Books blog?
JC: Writing is hard work. The best thanks any reader can give an author is a review. Please, please review any books you read. So many people don’t.
TH: Thank you for taking the time Julia to answer my questions! So there you have it, folks! Yet another lovely story for you all to check out!
Topher Hoffman: Hello Jamie. Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Jamie Stewart: Hi, it’s my pleasure. Well, I live in Northern Ireland with my wife and our two dogs. I am twenty-eight years old and I love to write.
TH: That’s awesome! Many kids have vivid imaginations. Running around all crazy fighting ninja’s, imaginary friends who only they can see, and monsters under the bed that your parents told you weren’t real. Were you a kid like that, and if so, do any of those ideas show in your writing? If not, where do you get your thoughts?
JS: You’ve just described me as a kid. I was always an imaginative child and I lived more in my head than anywhere else. It was actually because of this that I was reluctant to read initially because I couldn’t sit still enough to concentrate. My mind was always going a thousand miles a minute creating games to play with my friends or reacting scenes from films. Because of that energy films became a fixation first. They nourished that massive imagination in my head.
Recently, I watched an interview with a director about his childhood. He said that when he would go to the cinema, he would become inspired to make films like those that he saw. He wanted not just to film stories like the ones he saw but replicate camera angles, music and dialogue. In other words, he was inspired by the mechanics that created his favourite films and wanted to learn them in order to do the same. I was not like that. Films for me were windows into other worlds. Worlds like Star Wars, which became imprinted in my head and I would run around for days afterward pretending I was a character in it. I didn’t care about the tiny things like locations or special effects. I was in awe of the bigger picture, a bigger canvas, that needed imagination to create the worlds I was seeing on the screen. That’s why writing appeals to me. I love cinema to this day but as a writer you have no limitations, no rules. You can create as big as you can dream
TH: Some people get into writing at a young age, others when they are later in life and start going through a mid-life crisis. When did you get your calling? When did you not hold back anymore and have to share with the world your stories?
JS: I started to write at the age of nine before I fell in love with reading. Even to me, this seems odd. As I’ve already said I spent a lot of my time in my head, all kids do. The difference for me I discovered was when I’d play a videogame or go to the cinema with my friends I’d relive it for hours, days even weeks after. They didn’t. When I started to write it was partly inspiration and partly frustration. I found that I didn’t recognise anyone in all those games and movies.
It became a common thing for me to say to my friends if only that would happen to us.
That’s when I discovered the Goosebumps series by R.L Stine. My friend had a copy of some of his books, the ones with the really colour cartoonish monsters on the covers (how could I not be interested in them). Again, I struggled to sit down long enough to finish one but what I discovered was I recognised and empathised with the characters in them. They were all young kids or teenagers and the idea that they could fight off a horde of zombies or Dracula unlocked a door in my head. If they could do it why couldn’t I?
So I started to write stories. Those first few years were just exercises in recreating the things I have seen or played. And as I wrote them, I realised that my writing quality was nothing like the Goosebumps books. Writing and desire to improve lead me to become a reader. I soon fell in love with books after that, it just took the right one.
My decision to publish my stuff came from a place of frustration as well. My writing had progressed and I wanted to have feedback from people that weren’t in my social circle. Again, this was out of a desire to improve but also to see if an audience would not only enjoy my work but also love it.
TH: With all your reading, you must find inspiration from many other authors. I see you reading all the time. If you could meet any character from one of those books, who would it be and what would be the first question you would ask him after hello?
It’s difficult to choose one character. I’d chose Death from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett and ask him if he would like to accompany me for a curry. I think you’d have some pretty interesting conversation with him over a meal.
JS: As time goes on you end up picking up many different tips, ups and downs with your writing, and faced with many challenges and triumphs. If you could go back in time and meet yourself, what would you tell yourself to encourage yourself about your writing?
Don’t take the job so seriously that it becomes a negative. Of course, if you want to be a writer, you should be serious about what you write but it should always be fun.
TH: You and I have talked before about your writing. Do you have anybody in your family that doesn’t like your writing? How do you know?
JS: Not really. I have people in my family that don’t read, yet still support me.
TH: Now on to your short story. Your short story Insular is amazing! I’ve read it and reviewed it and gave you a big whopping five starts. Could you tell us where and how you came up with the idea and if there are any hidden meanings in it?
JS: I used to work in a home delivery department for a retail company. The job of picking groceries for others is very monotonous but also time orientated. We had to work fast in order for the first set of vans to leave in the morning. I noticed I would go a whole two hours without actually speaking to my colleagues. When I realised how rude I was being, I then noticed that everyone did the same thing. We didn’t socialise with each other, not when we were on the shop floor. I also noticed that if I was asked I knew where almost every item was on the shelves. I could do the job as if from muscle memory. As I was pondering this and pondering what did everyone think about as they worked from aisle to aisle an image popped into my head. It was of security footage of two people in a grocery aisle and if you peered closely you could see straight through one of them like a ghost.
My brain made the connection between how much my colleagues and I were spending in our own heads and the idea of being a ghost. I was also noticing at the time how people would fall into their phones despite being surrounded by colleagues and friends. It made me consider how as a society we have the tools to be more connected than ever in human history but how we are actually more isolated as individuals than ever before. Insular sprung out of that.
TH: The characters in the story were well done, are they based off anybody in particular? If so who? If not, where did you come up with the idea to make the characters the way they are?
JS: Thank you, it’s lovely to know that they connected with you. They aren’t based off anyone in particular. Insular was a turning point in my writing career because it was the first story that I didn’t plot before starting. I had the image of the security footage in my head and I had this idea that the main character, Peter, would narrate the story as a man in his seventies looking back to a particular time in his life. I found out the rest as I wrote. It was easy to do as I was living the life of these characters, one that was very unfulfilling.
TH: You got the character creation down. I am wondering, what do you think is the best way to create a character that you want people to like? Actually, in that case, a character you want people to hate?
JS: I don’t think you can set out to do that. You can’t set out to create the best hero or villain ever written. I think the best way to write a story is to let your characters be free to do what they want to do. That way they will surprise you and hopefully readers too.
A lot of the response I have received from people over the character of Julian Kensi is that he is a creepy villain. I never set out to make him a bad guy, I set out to tell his story. I actually feel sorry for him and I think why he creates that reaction in readers is because they recognise him and his struggles. Of course, Julian’s reaction to his struggles is not something many can recognise thank goodness.
TH: Finally, I know you have done very well on your last story Insular. I know the people reading want to is next for Jamie Stewart! What’s next Jamie? Give the fans what they want!
JS: Well, since the feedback from Insular has been so positive I’ve been inspired to write more short stories. My latest one will be released somewhere at the end of March beginning of April time. It’s called Trick Or Treat, and it’s more of a traditional horror vibe than Insular. Though, in saying that it’s traditional in the sense that it throws a particular horror standard on its head.
I am also currently sitting on a finished novel called Mr. Jones that I will be releasing sometime later in the year. It’s a coming of age story set in Northern Ireland, and it’s about books, music and friendships and how they can affect a person’s life. It’s a very different genre from my short fiction, but I’ve never felt like I have to keep in one lane.
If you are you interested in checking out Jamies Stewart’s short story? Check it out here: Insular: A Short Story of Horror.
Hey everybody. Welcome to the first ever House of 1000 Books author interview. Today I have the pleasure of introducing to you to Peter Hartog. He’s a Sci-Fi writer who recently released his first book called Bloodlines, and as you later find out in the interview, he is working on a second book called Pieces of Eight. He will tell you more about that in the conversation!
So with that, let’s get to it. Read on and enjoy the interview.
Topher H: Thanks for the time. I want to let you know that this is YOUR interview. If you want anything asked, feel free to write it in. If you want anything taken out, please feel free to take it out. I’m pretty easy on how we do this.
Let us start with what I like to call my series of hypothetical questions. Say, at the end of your career you had a chance to meet yourself before you began your writing career and you had a chance to tell yourself one thing about writing yourself about writing, what would it be?
Peter Hartog: Topher, thanks for the interview!
Since I’m at the beginning of my writing career, I have no idea what pitfalls lie between now and “the end”. But one thing has been clear from the get-go: you need a thick skin. Rejection is real and constant and the bane of anyone unprepared for it. If you can’t pick yourself up, you’ll never make it.
Writing, by itself, is its own reward. But for your work to be accepted, then published, that is an entirely different animal. I would remind myself to never give up, and to focus upon why I wrote Bloodlines, who inspired (and continues to inspire) me, and the boyhood dream that’s propelled me forward from the very beginning.
TH: Words have power. Some could lift a person others could destroy a person. Do you
recall an earlier time in your life where it dawned on you that language had the strength to do that?
PH: All you have to do is listen to Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream”, and that’s all you need to know about the positive, uplifting power of words. It’s so easy to fall prey to the antagonistic rhetoric of politics and so-called “noble” causes. The callous disregard of some folks that have a ready-made platform or create their own for the sole purpose of vilifying anyone who isn’t “you”, who doesn’t believe in what you believe, who aspire to bring down everyone else for personal gain. Those words, that power, is abused daily, and disgusts me. I combat that with treating people as I would want to be treated, and it’s something I try to reinforce with my children, so that they can incrementally help make the world a better place.
TH: What did your family members think about your writing when you first started it? Did they approve of it or did they think it was a waste of time?
PH: My wife, my greatest cheerleader and supporter, had been on my case for 14 years to write a novel. She became so tired of me manufacturing excuses as to why I wouldn’t, that she gave up pushing me a few years ago. When I finally sat down and put virtual pen to paper, she gave me a nod and a smile, then let me be me. I’ve only been met with support and encouragement, and I’m incredibly thankful for all of it.
TH: I read your bio, and in it, I saw that you may or may not Spider-man. I googled a fact; it turns out that Spider-man senses can be dulled. If you were Spider-man and your spidey senses were your writing, what could dull your spidey senses and slow down your writing of your book?
PH: Stress and exhaustion. My day job is both rewarding and taxing. I am the sole breadwinner in our family. Therefore, my focus is upon what pays the bills first. My own needs are secondary to my wife and my two boys.
Some days, I’m worn down by it all. When that happens, my creativity dies. I have no desire to sit before a screen and delve into strange new worlds. I’d much rather curl up and shut my mind off for a bit to recharge the batteries.
However, writing is like music. It ebbs and flows, flittering at the edge of my mind’s eye to soothe and cajole, inspire and engage. When the right tune pops on the radio or my iTunes, I start feeling the jazz and my mind races with possibilities. That’s when my “Spidey Sense” tingles, and I’m ready to blaze new adventures for Detective Tom Holliday and his eclectic team of malcontents.
TH: Hot off the press! You have a new book out. Can you please tell us about the book?
PH: I do!
The story is a blend of genres, combining elements of science fiction, crime, detective and urban fantasy. Think Blade Runner meets Harry Bosch and Harry Dresden.
It’s set in Empire City, a future dystopian version of New York City, where magic and technology co-exist, parallel dimensions spawn terrible threats, and humanity endures behind massive walls of stone and spell-forged steel.
Bloodlines follows the homicide investigation of a young woman, her body completely drained of blood down to a cellular level, and two eyewitnesses jacked on the designer drug Goldjoy claiming a vampire did it. Tom “Doc” Holliday, a disgraced homicide detective, is recruited to join Special Crimes, a semi-clandestine unit of special individuals solving cases by “any means necessary”.
Holliday is no stranger to the unusual. He possesses a fickle clairvoyance that he dubbed the “Insight” which allows him to see the dark and terrible things hiding upon his world. Throughout the novel, he also battles personal demons of his own – at the start of the story, he’s seven years removed from a corruption scandal, and a stint in a substance abuse rehab center where his girlfriend also committed suicide.
Accompanying Holliday is the irreverent Deacon Kole, a former Protector from the Confederate States of Birmingham, Leyla, a shrewd hacker who also wields magic, and Besim Saranda, an interdimensional being known as a Vellan with an agenda all her own.
From morgues and coffee houses, to underground drug labs and a foot-chase along the dirty streets of Empire City, the story ratchets up the intrigue, action, magic and suspense for a dark and fun ride.
Man, I just get goosebumps thinking about it!
TH: What made you want to write this book?
PH: Holliday’s story needed to be told, resonating with me unlike any other story I’d ever concocted before. The words flowed easily, and the chapters just piled up.
TH: Was there a goal in mind for the book?
PH: Yes. To write a complete novel. To share Holliday’s story with whoever wanted to read it. To prove to myself that I could do it.
TH: It takes a long time to write a book, how many hours a day did you write for?
PH: There’s no consistency to my writing time. With two young boys and a full-time job, my life is very busy. What I can say is I started in July of 2016 and hit the publish button August of 2018.
TH: After you wrote your first book, got it published, how did you change your thinking about writing?
PH: There’s writing, and the business of writing. I still know very little about the business end of things. A lot of that has to do with my lack of time as well as resources. If the question is solely about writing, my answer is I love every aspect of it, from planning, to writing, revising, editing, agonizing over plot points, discussing ideas with friends, or staring off into space wondering what’s next for my cast of crazy characters.
TH: Are any of the characters in the book based on real people? If so who?
PH: Leyla, Deacon and Besim are all based upon characters three of my best friends developed for our weekly Sunday night role-playing sessions. We’ve been gaming since the late 1980s, interrupted when I moved from Massachusetts to Georgia. They moved down here a few years later, and we’ve been table-topping ever since.
As for the actual story, I developed it and Empire City, then ran it as a role-playing game for my group for about a year and a half. I changed several aspects of their characters for novelization purposes, but essentially the renditions of Leyla, Deacon and Besim are a love letter to my friends, admiring their creative skills and paying homage to them as wonderful people.
TH: Do you wish that you would have written in anybody that you know of that you could just end up taking out your frustration out on? What would you do?
PH: No. That never comes up. It’s not in my nature to write in someone like that.
TH: How long did it take for your research for your book? How did you do it?
PH: Research was ongoing. Whenever I came up against something that I needed to know more about, I popped on the internet or checked in with some friends who are experts in certain fields. For example, a college friend of mine is a successful urologist in Long Island. I consulted with him regarding dialysis to make certain the chapter involving a similar process was handled accurately. In addition, another friend who is an Episcopalian minister in Michigan assisted me with a challenging chapter late in the novel that involves the taking of a life. As an author, authenticity and accuracy are keys to a successful story. I’m very thankful I know a lot of experts!
TH: What’s next for you? What are you working on?
PH: The sequel! It’s currently entitled Pieces of Eight. I’m slogging through chapter 22 and hope to have the first draft finished by the end of this year.
TH: Is your next book a sequel to the first where both books tie together? Or are you trying to keep them separate?
PH: See above.
TH: Did you edit anything out of the book so you could use it in the second book?
PH: I have several chapter’s worth of writing that I kept in case I needed it. So far, I haven’t used any, but you just never know!
TH: Is there anything that you want to add? Anything you want your readers to know?
PH: Every writer wishes he or she could make the NY Times list. Breaking into the traditional publishing industry feels like bludgeoning your head against a wall repeatedly, then doing it more when you think you can’t take it.
The truth is, you can’t give up.
I’ll continue to query literary agents, and maybe move on to publishers. However, make no mistake: there is no shame in self-publishing
That’s not why I’m continuing my search for representation, either. I simply want to see my book in a bookstore, just like every other writer out there. I’m extremely proud of my membership in the independently published ranks. There are oodles of extremely talented, and equally unheralded indies out there. And I will continue to support them on Twitter by purchasing their work and giving them as much exposure as an indie like me can provide.
Bloodlines is an entertaining story that combines many classic tropes into what I think is a pretty damn good book. It has all the elements a reader wants – humor, emotion, action, unique characters and a story to back it all up.
Sure, I’m biased, but I think if you give it a read, you might just think the same thing.
Thank you for your time.
TH: And thank you for your time!