Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev

Ashna Raje fears losing her restaurant, her connection to her late father, his legacy. Ending up on a reality cooking show with her first love was not her solution, nor his preference, as he’s moved away from that life to become soccer star Rico Silva. Old wounds open and heal in this second of the Raje series, a standalone novel in itself. If you like Jane Austen or not, Dev’s take on her work is fresh and delicious, with moments that take your breath away, as when Rico saves Ashna’s toes from being severed by her dropped chef”s knife, diving across the room and damaging further his career-ending injury. Dev makes romance novels more accessible to those of us who don’t prefer them by making the stories credible and the characters delightfully flawed, yearning and yet drawing back, again and again until dear reader is just as frustrated. I didn’t read romance until I won a set of novels by Sonali Dev. There’s so much more going on than the steaminess and sexual tension, although there’s plenty of that amongst the dynamics of family and friendship and careers. I highly recommend this book and basically anything by Sonali Dev. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy from the publisher William Morrow Paperbacks through NetGalley.

Pale by Edward Farmer

This story is an excellent example of how slavery didn’t end, but only transitioned to slave wages, as the white plantation owners continued to hold power over “free” blacks. In the mid 60s, In a country rife with racial tension, Bernice takes the advice of her brother to work as a domestic servant at the Kern plantation along with him when she finds herself alone. Secrets seep out slowly from this plantation, and Bernice strives to protect her own. Farmer represents well the horrors domestic servants faced (face?), especially black women at the mercy of white men, and the power that a white woman can wield is enough to damage the lives of those she considers inferior, as we see today in “Karens.” I highly recommend this book, as you have to continually tell yourself how far away from legal slavery it was, and yet the horrors remained (remain). Farmer is a powerful writer, who draws the reader into an increasingly frustrating tale. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy from the publisher Blackstone Publishing through NetGalley.

Book of the Little Axe by Lauren Francis-Sharma

Patriarchy and colonialism force strong-willed, 18th-century Trinidadian Rosa Rendon eventually to the Crow Nation in Bighorn, Montana. Circumstances cause her to take her son back to her beginning, both of them outsiders everywhere. This is a tale of what happens when strangers dictate the life of a young woman with an independent mind, a woman who becomes a fierce mother. It’s a good read, an excellent portrayal of fighting against cultural norms and bracing historical eras. I recommend it. I also recommend researching the cultures and peoples in the story. I received a digital copy from the publisher Atlantic Monthly Press through NetGalley.

The Bright Side of Going Dark by Kelly Harms

Social media influencer Mia Bell transitions cold turkey to real life, unaware that a fan’s sister takes over her account to save her sister, who believes in Mia. Harms leads her troubled characters to a fated collision in order to eventually find balance in their lives. This story is a brilliant look at how powerful social media can be, and the expectations of followers, as well as the integrity (or lack) of those they follow. Though this book feels like a quick, easy read, it delves deep enough into the dangers to show that the lives of real people are affected by seemingly casual posting. It also shows the connections that can be made online and IRL. I highly recommend this book and pretty much anything written by Harms. Fans of Ann Garvin and Kelly Simmons will appreciate her style. I was fortunate to receive a copy of this wonderful story from the publisher Lake Union Publishing through NetGalley.

The Apartment by K.L. Slater

Freya accepts a too good to be true offer of an inexplicably affordable luxurious apartment in a desperate moment, exposing herself and her daughter to nefarious landlords. Slater leads the reader on a curving, dipping trail of hidden agendas and friendly facades, reminding us that we are never truly alone and nothing is ever truly private. Fans of Catherine Steadman and T.M. Logan will love the suspense and wicked reveal. I highly recommend this thriller. I was fortunate to receive a copy from the publisher Thomas & Mercer through NetGalley.

The Essence of Darkness by Tom Clearlake

FBI Special Agent Elliott Cooper investigates five unexplained child disappearances from a small town. He uncovers something beyond the FBI’s jurisdiction, something that literally changes him. Although this novel has a few inconsistencies, such as things working when the story requires them to work, it’s a fun tale of evils beyond the hand of man, the importance of loyalty, and astonishing graphically detailed descriptions of physical transformations and emotional turmoil. I recommend it for anyone who likes the stuff of nightmares born from the mind of a horror writer like Straub or Koontz. I was fortunate to receive a review copy from the publisher Moonlight through NetGalley.

The Dark Continent by Scott Reardon

An incredible tale of an attempt to create the super soldier meets the Island of Dr. Moreau is an interesting read. The main characters are fully flawed, sympathetic saviors of humankind. Though the author lays out a save the world kind of trope, the story focuses on the US being attacked. I received this graphic, violent drama from NetGalley for an honest review, but NetGalley summaries don’t inform reviewers if the book is part of a series.

David Simms—Author

David Simms lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia after surviving life in NJ and Massachusetts with his family, three furballs, and one ghost. When not writing to earn grocery money, he teaches English, Psychology, and Creative Writing. His current side gigs include working as counselor for teens, guitar teacher, ghost tour guide, book reviewer, and guitarist for a sketchy authors’ band. He sold his first story back in 2003 and has placed short stories in various anthologies, along with scribbling on walls everywhere since. Fear The Reaper and Dark Muse are his first two novels.

Tell me about your writing process: schedule, environment, inspirations, magic spells, etc.

My writing process is an amalgamation of chaos. I fight for the blank spots between the minutes. Waking up at dawn, you’d think I might have a few minutes, but a crazed seven-year-old senses my every move and is there to thwart my muse, often smothering her until he passes out that evening. I teach high school which means I may have a planning period or might have a minute to run to the bathroom. When my classes are testing or writing, I might sneak a few paragraphs or a page. Mostly though, I’m a night owl, no matter how hard I try to heed the advice of my heroes and be creative before the sun rises. My muse goes bonkers once the moon rises for some reason. I prefer to write on the back porch in spring and summer, while in colder weather, I hide in my man-cave/library. I also keep random notebooks everywhere. I constantly text myself with thoughts about characters or plot twists. When does the inspiration hit? When I’m on the move—whether it’s on the treadmill or driving. I don’t recommend taking notes in either situation, but something kickstarts that muse who loves to screw with me. As for spells, I do live on the top of a big hill. Plenty of room for shallow graves.

Walk me through your submission / publishing process from “final” draft to final product, including who does what when, and marketing that you do as the author.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with Crossroad Press for two novels. David Wilson, owner and CEO of the publishing company, set me up with two kickass editors who took that “final” draft and forged something so much better out of it. They allow great flexibility for the covers, which can sometimes make or break a book and walked me through whatever I didn’t know—which is plenty.

As for marketing, that’s when it all gets ugly (for authors). Hunting down blurbs is akin to sliding down a cheese grater for anyone with a soul. It’s so tough to ask for, especially when you realize writers are so swamped. Thankfully, I’ve been so lucky to have people such as Heather Graham, Elizabeth Massie, Steve Berry, Brad Meltzer, and others say a few kind words. That alone had me walking on air. I’m not a business guy, but playing in a band where romance writers were the core audience (victims?), I learned a ton from them about how to publicize one’s work, how to utilize social media without being too annoying, and luring jaded readers to one particular book out of thousands of others. In my experience, nobody markets better than romance authors. Finding that niche is key if you want to break out of the horde.

Talk about your support system online and IRL; who are your biggest cheerleaders?

A writers’ support system is more than a lifeline. It’s a therapist, best friend, tackling dummy, and mentor, all rolled up into one—sometimes into one person. Again, I’ve been blessed with having some of my favorite writers give me tips along the way, often steering me clear of potholes I never knew were there. Thank you F. Paul Wilson, Tom Monteleone, Deb Leblanc, David Morrell, and K.J. Howe—you’ve helped that last brain cell off the ledge many times over the years, along with countless others.

I’ve been part of a few writers’ groups with varying success and highly recommend it. Right now, I run a monthly workshop where I’m teaching various topics—yet learn just as much as I teach. The group has become strong allies and friends even though we’re incredibly different. My immediate family has helped, always, yet I’ve been just as bewildered by who doesn’t read my novels as who does. It’s a sobering experience to find a close friend won’t read it, yet a coworker shares it all over the state. Many times, logic does not apply to art.

Finally, my students have been amazing—they let me know their true feelings, which I love and need. If something sucks, they’ll tell me!

How does life influence your writing and vice versa?

Good question! Having a couple of degrees in psychology helps as I often find myself in odd situations. I started off my career as a behaviorist in a school where kids typically were headed to residential placements, juvie, or on the way back…not all, but many. I saw some frightening and very sad things that taught me plenty about the human condition, sometimes about the horrors of the parents who watched them. I made sure to travel plenty around the country, partially to absorb the landscapes of National Parks (learning to write them in descriptions that don’t go on for chapters is a great task!) or to learn the people of each region. Expanding my repertoire of body language, dialect, and customs was invaluable.

Then there was the day I discovered I was living less than a mile from one of the darkest secrets in American history. That became Fear the Reaper. Finally, music worms its way into most of my work, either overtly in Dark Muse, or in themes or minute threads.

What do you love most about your creativity?

I love everything about my creativity. It’s yanking it from my head and getting to the finished product that’s the problem. Once I can get past my own insecurities and anxiety about the novel (thinking about editing, publishing, a dream deal or agent, or if someone will actually enjoy it), it’s a fun thrill ride. There’s a song by The Foo Fighters I often think about after writing a story or song—“Something From Nothing.” It amazes me that artists of any media can see, hear, or sense something that never existed before and with some bit of magic, it becomes a reality. I explored this in Dark Muse (along with where songs come from) as I’ll never get used to that moment when a cool idea erupts, germinates into a story or character, and then when I feel I’m the most terrible writer in the world, I watch my fingers bang out something that I can’t figure where the hell it came from. Then there are those days when I can’t spell for my life or write a sentence that my kid wouldn’t spit on. It’s magic—until it’s work.

Connect with David:

Charles Reis—Writer of the North

Charles’ wonderfully hippie mother gave birth to him in 1979 in the smallest state of Rhode Island. Although he grew up in the town of Coventry, he now resides with his cat Joey in West Warwick, a city whose residents make the guests on The Jerry Springer Show look like the culturally elite. His primary writing interest is horror, but also freely dabbles in fantasy and science fiction.

Joey with fundraiser anthology “rejected”

Tell me about your writing process: schedule, environment, inspirations, magic spells, etc.

My writing process must begin with inspiration. I mean, let’s face it, you can’t separate creative writing and inspiration. It’s a symbiotic relationship. For me, it can come from anywhere. An example is “Alone” found in the anthology Rejected, which is inspired by a nightmare I had as a kid. Once I get that, the magic begins!

The process itself is 65 percent writing and 35 percent research. Depending on the research needed for a story, it might be a lot more. While the stories may contain zombies, ghosts, and dragons, I try to stay accurate when it comes to culture, history, and language. Recently, I’ve had three drabbles (100-word stories) accepted in Forgotten Ones: Drabbles of Myth and Legend. Each dealt with certain cultural mythologies (Icelandic, Persian, and Canaanite). I did my research to make sure it was accurate to the beliefs. Other stories had me researching historic figures and locations, regional slang, etc. It’s time-consuming, but it’s worth it. I’ve learned so much stuff about other people and our world from my research … an added bonus!

My actual writing process is simple. Every morning (the only time at my apartment when it’s quiet), I sit down at my laptop and type away. Whatever words come into my head, I quickly get them down. However, this can only continue if my brain works properly. If it gets stuck and I can’t type, I must step away from my desk. Most of the time when I do, the words return to me as my brain reboots.

During the process, I often change, remove, or add scenes and characters. This requires me to go back over what I’ve done to make sure everything is coherent. That can take up time, but it’s necessary.

Walk me through your submission / publishing process from “final” draft to final product, including who does what when, and marketing that you do as the author.

Before I consider my draft to be final, I’ll read the manuscript out loud. This helps me correct errors and to hear if the dialogue is natural. I’ve noticed over the years that sometimes a sentence will read correctly in your mind, but when it’s verbalized it sounds weird. I don’t just do this once, but dozens of times. I know my story is the “final” draft if I read it aloud a few times and don’t change anything.

Next, I’ll need to find a perfect home for it. Since my stories fall into flash fiction/short works, I look for publishers that are looking for works for their anthologies. Many have a theme, like with More Lore for the Mythos, in which the stories had to be connected to the Cthulhu Mythos (That was a fun one to write for since I’m a huge Lovecraft fan). In the past, I’ve modified existing works to fit the theme, but only if the story will benefit from it. I did this with my first story to be published in print, “Maiden from the Sea.” The plot and characters were the same in the original manuscript as with the final draft, but the date and location were different. When One Night in Salem sent out a call out for submissions, they wanted stories that take place on Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts. I went back to my manuscript, changed the original location from Block Island to Salem, and had the setting on Halloween. Presto! It was accepted!

Once the story is accepted, then it’s the waiting game for its release. That can be anywhere from one to six months. When it’s out, I do my best to market it using my social media, such as Facebook and Instagram. If not provided by the publisher, I’ll create artwork to highlight my contribution. This isn’t because I’m an ego-maniac, but many on my social media accounts are friends, family, and acquaintances. A short description with a buy link accompanies the artwork and I use them to go on a promotion blitz, posting on any appropriate group that I find. I don’t do it daily, only once or twice a week. I don’t want to “overkill” it.

Other promotions are virtual book releases on Facebook. I’ve done this mostly for Dragon Soul Press, and it can be a lot of fun! Generally, I get a half-hour spot for the event to do a post every five minutes. If the event involves an anthology release that has my story in it, I will focus on that. If not, I’ll write about my other works. However, I make sure to interact with others in the event, such as posting a picture for a writing prompt, asking about their favorite authors, etc. Yes, I use these events to promote myself, but I try to make sure others get involved.

Talk about your support system online and IRL; who are your biggest cheerleaders?

Much of my online support comes from fellow authors, including Erin Kathleen, Zoey Xolton, Stefan Lear, Roma Gray, Vonnie Winslow Crist, Kevin Lewis, and Amber Newberry Izzo. There’s so many more that I just can’t list them all. I feel a little guilty about leaving so many out. Anyway, I find the vast majority of writers are supportive of one another. I’ll mention that I’ve met Kevin Lewis and Amber Newberry in person, while I’ve had some fun conversations with Erin and Stefan.

The publishers are also supportive. I give props to FunDead, Eerie River, Dragon Soul, and Black Hare for their help. However, I’ll give a special shout out to David Reavis of Breaking Rules Publishing, who convinced me to start up my own Facebook Author’s Page.

I will say my biggest IRL cheerleaders would be my good friends Andrew in the UK, Alex in Ireland, and Steve in the USA. They encourage me when I get frustrated and lift me up when I feel low… great friends indeed! Stephen and Alex have also used their social media to promote too.

How does life influence your writing and vice versa?

My characters tend to be based on people I know, although loosely. Also, many of my personality traits, from hobbies to personal experiences, end up in my characters. Some examples are Rebecca in “Maiden from the Sea” in One Night in Salem (we share an interest in the paranormal and folklore) and Ernest in “Battle of Plymouth” in Coffins & Dragons (we both lost our fathers). I have so many examples, but that will take all day to list.

Does writing influence my life? A little, but only when it comes to research. Generally, this happened when I’m writing about another region or culture. When I wrote a story that took place in France (“The Glass Mausoleum” in Creep), I had a desire to visit that country. So far, I’ve been twice!

What do you love most about your creativity?

I feel like I’m creating a living world, bringing an entire universe into existence. Whenever I write a character, monster, or planet, I breathe life into them. Creativity allows me to play “god” in some way. Sometimes I believe that when the story is published, the world I created comes alive in some alternate reality. It’s silly, but that’s what creativity does to me.

Connect with Charles:

Sara A. Mosier—Author and Poet

Sara Mosier is a Nebraska author and poet, who received her BA in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her writing focus is fiction and poetry, which she enjoys typing on an old 1950’s typewriter. She has poetry published in several issues of Laurus Magazine, Cocky-Tales anthology, and University of Nebraska Press’s 75th Anniversary edition of “Voices of Nebraska.” Her romantic short stories “Sparkling Human Conundrum” and “Summer Dilemma” can be found in the anthologies Love Dust and Salty Tales on Amazon. She was also recently published for her short drabbles in Oceans by Black Hare Press

Tell me about your writing process: schedule, environment, inspirations, magic spells, etc.

My schedule for writing varies; it all depends on when my muse strikes, but I would have to say that it’s mainly during the evening when my house is quiet. My inspirations comes from other books, poetry, and music. Music is probably my main source of inspiration, because I can hear a chorus and see an entire scene in my head. Troye Sivan has been a great writing tool as of late, given that the majority of what I write is m/m LGBTQ fiction.

Walk me through your submission / publishing process from “final” draft to final product, including who does what when, and marketing that you do as the author.

I usually always have a beta reader look over my work after I’ve combed over it a thousand times. I have three people who are my go-to betas: Jensen Reed, Melissa Snell, and Olivia London. They have helped me with countless short stories that I’ve seen published—that includes over-all plot and grammar. As to my marketing techniques, I promote on Facebook and my Instagram. Just recently I started a tumblr as well.

Talk about your support system online and IRL; who are your biggest cheerleaders? I mentioned all my betas in the previous question—they really are my biggest cheerleaders. Also my sibling Caleb and sister Jenna always read my short fiction. My Dad, although he’s not a fan of queer fiction (lol), has read all my published works, and I really appreciate that more than he knows.

How does life influence your writing and vice versa?

Well, things have been pretty stagnant lately while being in quarantine, but people I meet and talk to influence the shaping of characters. I tend to people-watch at coffee shops, parks, etc.

What do you love most about your creativity?

What I love more than anything is when an idea pops into my head so suddenly and so fully that I get butterflies in my stomach. When a character comes to life right off the page and I feel as though they’re a real person that I created—it’s the best feeling when that happens—also when I dream up locations and I can see them clearly in my mind’s eye.

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