Category Archives: Storyteller Showcase

Greg Anderson Elysee—Writer, Educator, Filmmaker, and Model

Describe your creative process: schedule, materials, environment, and inspiration (including African folktales).

Well, I don’t have a general schedule for when I’m writing. Although I should give myself one; it may be more productive. But for the most part, I’d write in my notebook: ideas, scenes, dialogue, or whatever, whenever I’m on a bus or train. Over time, I’d fill a majority of what I want to put down on the computer. Or I’d write the general story beats and then find time to sit in front of the computer and go to town writing. I try my best to write a little something every day. If I haven’t written, my mind is probably developing some sort of idea and churning to make sense of it and figuring out the time line and so on. Before typing the final script, I also tend to write all the scenes out of order. It keeps me from being bored and helps me figure out the pacing and structure of the story. I usually write three drafts before I’m satisfied to send to the artist. Before that third draft, I’ve probably sent it to some people whose opinions I trust to let them read and critique and give me thoughts and feedback. Depending on certain critiques, and if they fit my narrative or strengthen my themes, I’d fine tune accordingly into that final or third draft—or fourth.

Walk me through the publishing process from final draft to final product and talk about your marketing strategies.

Well, after I finish a couple of drafts of the script, I send it to the artist. He or she begins to lay out the art, usually with thumbnails, and we go over it together, which is followed by my approval or any changes. From there, the artist would pencil and ink the script, and there are a few occasions where this process leads to another draft of the script. Sometimes the artist and I would shoot some ideas back and forth to make a scene stronger or visually more appealing. Then I’d make an edit of a new draft, which I would have ready for the letterer. After the pencil and line work are done, we move to the colorist, and after that the letterer, who will put the dialogue and sound effects into the pages. The production designer, who is usually the letterer, will begin to finalize the pages to prepare it for print. We send to the printers and they start to proof, and soon enough receive my approval to print. After a few weeks, or a month or two, depending on where it was printed, I get a final product in my hands ready to sell.

In terms of marketing, I sell a lot at conventions and online. I have a pretty strong Facebook presence that allows a lot of interactions and fan base building. My fans and supporters are great people and can sometimes go above and beyond to help me financially by buying and sharing my work. Kickstarter also helps me with marketing, pushing to another and usually wider audience. I try to do at least two conventions or events a month to push the product. Some cons are more profitable than others, but as long as I got a good bit of new readers, I’m usually happy. I also get messages from retailers, schools, and sometimes libraries for copies.

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

Well, as stated above, I have a lot of great supporters online, many of them from Facebook and Kickstarter. In real life, I have a good couple of friends who are always down to support my dream, especially having watched me develop my craft since I was a kid to now. My partner is also very supportive. My family also pushes and support as much as they can, especially if things aren’t going too well for me financially, even though most of them don’t really read my work—haha. But my parents get super hyped when the see me on TV, see a feature on me, or when I win awards. They’ve always encouraged and pushed me with my writing, so they’re happy seeing the success of my books thus far.

How does your art / work influence your life and vice versa? Here you can share about your journey of bringing your creative endeavor to fruition.

Well, my work is my life for the most part. There’s not a day that passes where I’m not thinking about my work. I would be miserable if I didn’t have my writing and my books as my outlet. In just a few short years I’ve achieved a lot, met wonderful people, and have gotten wonderful opportunities. And with each new release, I gather more of a following and come closer to financial stability. I teach on the side and do other odd and side gigs. I’d love to get to the point where I can just live off my work, do shows, and not do anything else. That may take some time, but I’m glad my work is a part of my life, and seeing it grow and prosper has helped me a lot, especially with my own mental health.

What do you love most about your creativity?

I love the fact that people take to my work. I’ve always felt like an oddball growing up and books were always a source of escape for me. I felt at peace with books. So the fact that I now have my own work and people are finding it as a form of escape is one thing I love most. I love that I’m writing what I want and that I’m trying to showcase types of people I feel aren’t always showcased or represented the way I feel they should and people, other oddballs like myself, take to it, support, and ask for more.

I am also very grateful of how my mind works. I do hear that many people have trouble writing or coming up with ideas or being inspired. My head continues to be a well of sorts and I can’t turn it off. I always have something churning and I love problem solving my ideas in my head to make them work. I have a lot of fun with that. So whoever blessed me with that, thank you.

Connect with Greg and purchase Isnana:


Webway Comics

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Buy Isnana Vol.2 at Amazon

Buy Isnana comics at Peep Game Comix

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Barbara Claypole White—Novelist

Describe your writing process: schedule, environment, inspirations, etc.

Where to begin with my horrible process? I don’t find my ideas easily, and I have many false starts. Often the story seed is buried in a different idea, one I’ve already abandoned. I guess the gardener in me needs to keep digging. Either that or I’m a masochist.

My writing radar is always switched on, and when something makes my gut tingle, I pay attention. For example, after a summer of freaking out about funky issues with my heart, a guy collapsed three rows ahead of me on a transatlantic flight. Add a family history of heart failure, and you have the opening for THE PERFECT SON (my heroine has a major heart attack—at 47—on a plane).

Once an idea sticks, I write, research, and rewrite. My favorite method of research is the one-on-one interview with people who understand the experiences I want to explore. Those interviews shape my first and second drafts, and I amble down every detour until I’ve excavated the story’s heartbeat. At some point I create a story board written to movie beats, but I don’t hit my groove until the third draft, which is when I pull in beta readers.

I’m an early morning writer, and my prime hours are 6:30—8:30 a.m. Even when I fly back to England to see my mother, I guard that early morning routine. It’s my anchor.

My alarm goes off at six, I grab coffee and a banana, and head upstairs to my desk. The first thing I do after booting up my computer is turn off the Internet. I break around 8:30 a.m. for breakfast and to check email, and then I go back to writing until noon, when I shower and get dressed. In the afternoon I switch to research, blog posts, or anything with a ticking deadline. I keep the daily business of being an author—social media, answering emails, etc. for the evening.

That’s the goal, but family life and self-doubt intrude constantly. Family always comes first, that’s never up for debate, and fortunately I can write anywhere and through just about any crisis. All I need is a laptop, a charger, and an iPod. When I’m on an airplane, a glass of wine is also involved. 

Walk me through your publishing process from final draft to final product, including who does what when, and what marketing you do.

My last three books have been with Lake Union, and the press has a specific way of handling edits. I submit the manuscript to my acquiring editor and do one round of big picture edits for her. That normally takes about a month. Then the manuscript is officially accepted, we start on the cover and back copy, and slam into a tight editing timetable. It goes back and forth between me and my developmental editor for first and second pass edits (normally he has it for two weeks, I have it for two weeks, we repeat). Then I get the copy edits and normally have ten days to turn those around, and after that we go to page proofs. In addition, I hire a freelance editor as an extra pair of eyes for copy edits.

Marketing is a gray area for me, because I hate book launches and would happily hibernate through them. About six months before my pub. date, I create a marketing plan and establish what my publisher will handle. I book local events, including a catered launch at the library, reach out to local press and local book clubs, and pay for a blog tour. That’s pretty much it, but I try to be authentic on social media, because my main marketing tool is me.

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

My husband and son are amazing. They are always available for brainstorming and feedback, and our son, an award-winning, published poet, is one of my beta readers. I trust his feedback implicitly, and since much of my fiction steals from family life, he has the right of veto. My BFF is also an essential part of my process. She’s a voracious reader—not a writer—and has given brutally honest feedback on every manuscript, including the one that ended up in a drawer. My sister, an artist back in England, is another cheerleader.

I’m blessed to have family who have encouraged me to be a dreamer, friends who understand the bizarre nature of the writing life, and an agent who is sympathetic to my weird levels of stress (a double dose of OCD + an aging parent in another time zone). I’ve also been incredibly fortunate with my editors at MIRA and Lake Union. A good editor is everything.

And, of course, there’s the writing community. I have terrific support from other authors online and locally, but I’ve worked hard to establish those connections. You can’t survive this industry without the camaraderie of other writers, and that has to be earned. Network like you mean it, people!

Talk about how your life influences your work and vice versa.

Writing is my therapy, my escape, and the way that I process the world. On some level it’s about crafting a better story for myself and people I love. When you live in the trenches with mental illness, you need to believe that bad days end, each day brings a fresh start, and in-between there are people who understand. That’s why hope and a sense of community are important elements in all my stories. As a mental health advocate, I pray that my characters do their bit to chip away at the stigma, shame, and stereotypes—especially with OCD, a chronic illness that has no cure and demands constant management.

My son has battled OCD for most of his life. When he was little, I was terrified that he would never grow up to be loved for the incredible person he is, but would always be judged by his anxiety. Which is crazy, because my husband of thirty years also has OCD. (For the record, our son has been in a serious relationship for the last four years.)

But that maternal fear gave birth to my first hero, James Nealy. He appeared in my head when I was several drafts into the manuscript that would become my debut, THE UNFINISHED GARDEN, and refused to leave. James is brilliant, sexy, wealthy, and locked in a private war with obsessive-compulsive-disorder. He’s a romantic hero who struggles with an invisible disability, but exhibits incredible compassion, empathy, and courage.

Those are the qualities that I see in my son, even as he negotiates the relentless horrors of intrusive, unwanted, repetitive, obsessive thoughts. He is my muse, my inspiration, and the reason I’m passionate about creating characters who are successful in life and love despite messed-up brain chemistry.

What do you love most about your creativity?

Not sure I can answer that one, but I love hanging out in my garret with my imaginary friends. I talk to them all the time. As I said, they help me process my life. They keep me sane, and they keep me laughing.


Bestselling author Barbara Claypole White writes hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness. Born in England, she works and gardens in the forests of North Carolina and is an OCD advocate for the A2A Alliance, a nonprofit that promotes advocacy over adversity. Her novels include: The Unfinished Garden, which won the Golden Quill for Best First Book; The In-Between Hour, a SIBA Okra Pick; The Perfect Son, a Goodreads Choice Awards Semifinalist; Echoes of Family, a WFWA Star Award Finalist; and The Promise Between Us, a 2018 Nautilus Award Winner. She is currently working hard on novel six, The Gin Club, and is excited about the July 2019 release of The Unfinished Garden audiobook.

To connect with her, please visit






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Camille Pagán—Author, Journalist

Describe your writing process: schedule, environment, strategies, and inspirations.

I write from 9-4 during the workweek, and sometimes earlier in the morning or on the weekends (especially when I’m editing). I’m a creature of habit, so I work almost exclusively in my home office—I’m not a coffee shop or kitchen table kind of writer. I need silence (which I don’t always get; my “assistant” happens to be my dog, and she barks her head off when the delivery trucks come down our street) and long chunks of time dedicated just to writing in order to produce a book.

As for inspiration, I find it everywhere—conversations I’ve had, things that have happened in my own life, trips I’ve taken. At any given time, I have two or three novel ideas I’m contemplating even as I’m writing another draft.

Walk me through your publishing process from “final” draft to final product, including your publishing team and marketing that you are expected to do as the author.

I write about one novel a year, and I’m currently working on my sixth, which comes out next February. I can tell you that there’s no set process … it’s a little different for every book I’ve written. For example, I wrote all of I’m Fine and Neither Are You before selling it to my publisher. But I sold my sixth book, This Won’t End Well, based on a few chapters and an outline, and then wrote a draft. After polishing my first draft (which usually takes 4-6 months to write), I then turn it in to my agent and editor, and go through three intense edits before going through proofreading and copyedits. Marketing starts months before a novel comes out, and lasts … well, it never really ends. That can include connecting with readers through social media, speaking to book clubs, and doing talks at libraries, bookstores, and other organizations, just to name a few.

Who are your biggest cheerleaders online and IRL?

I’m a member of the Tall Poppy Writers, which is a wonderful marketing collective of approximately 40 women authors, and that’s a huge source of support for me. My husband, my sisters, and my best friend are my IRL cheerleaders—I couldn’t do this without them. I’m also a member of numerous online reader and author groups, like Great Thoughts Great Readers (which is on Facebook) and the Women Fiction Writers Association. For a fairly social person who works by herself at home, connecting with others in these groups keeps me sane.

How does your writing influence your life and vice versa?

Well, writing is almost like an act of therapy for me. It’s not that I write about what’s happening in my life so much as I examine themes that are on my mind—honesty, connection, commitment, desire.

What do you love most about your creativity?

That my career is centered around my creativity. I’ve always wanted to be a novelist, and I have to pinch myself sometimes when I realize that’s become my full-time job. I worked as a health journalist for 20 years (and still occasionally write articles for outlets like Health and, and as much as I like research and facts, it’s so fun to create an entire world in 300 pages.


Peonies in September
German translation







Therese Walsh—Author of Novels and Non-Fiction

Describe your writing process: schedule, environment, strategies, and inspirations tangible and abstract.

I’m a creature of habit, so when I’m writing well, I’m writing every day. When I’m not writing, I may find it difficult to reconnect with the habit, which almost always leaves me feeling anxious and unfulfilled. So while I know I don’t have to write, I also know I’m my best self when I am writing. Knowing that, you may not be surprised to learn that when I’m writing, I tend to dedicate many hours a day to the page. I have an office with a regular desk, but I also have a treadmill desk in our family room; you might find me in either of those places, or even in the kitchen writing and watching the birds. (If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know I’m a big bird-watcher and amateur photographer.) When I feel stuck–whether or not I’d call it writer’s block–it’s usually because I’ve made a mistake somewhere. This might mean a character behaved unnaturally, or I forced a plot point, or (name your infraction)! Sometimes it takes a few days to figure out where I’ve erred, but other times it’s a longer process. It’s always frustrating for me, and I can’t seem to move beyond the problem scene until I’ve figured it out.

Walk me through your publishing process from final draft to final product, including publishing team and marketing expectations of yourself as the author.

Is any draft a “final draft” when you’re traditionally published? Eventually, yes, but once you submit your polished “final” draft to your editor, you are bound to see that draft again—and probably change it again, too. That draft goes to your copy editor, who’ll return the draft to you with scads of notes and questions, which you’ll need to turn around with a “stet” (leave that word or phrase as originally written) or with a change that makes your story more concise or clearer/better in some way. After, your manuscript will be presented to you with those changes in the style of the actual book but with loose pages. At this stage—and through second- and sometimes third-pass pages—it’s important that you don’t make significant changes to the story. But sometimes you or your editor will catch errors/inconsistencies, or have a last-minute inspiration, and you’ll work something into the manuscript. Meanwhile, meetings with marketing and publicity may begin, in person or by phone, or even a combination of the two. That’s when you’ll hear the team’s plan for your book, and have the opportunity to ask questions and make suggestions.

For my part, I try to supplement whatever in-house initiatives are ongoing, usually by reaching out to bloggers, by sending myself on a tour (real and/or online), and especially by making inroads with my local arts community. I make sure my local bookstore(s) know when my book will be releasing, and I work in conjunction with my publisher to plan some events. It’s important that you try not to burn out once you move into full-time publicity mode, because it can be exhausting. But it can also be exhilarating, once your book arrives and is in your hands—first in the form of advance reader copies (ARCs) and later as early copies of your truly final draft, bound and covered and reader-ready. Always take time to appreciate this milestone. Personally, I like to throw a release-day party, usually to follow my first book signing.

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

My husband is my biggest cheerleader, followed by my kids and extended family. But I also see a lot of support behind the scenes from several author friends—people I trust with my early scenes and chapters, who know I need fuel and encouragement but will tell me if there are issues with the story. I also see a lot of support through the community of writers at Writer Unboxed; some of my most potent fuel comes from them.

How does writing influence your life and vice versa?

Writer Unboxed, which I co-founded with Kathleen Bolton thirteen years ago, has had a tremendous influence on my life as a writer. It has kept me tethered to writing during tough times, when I might otherwise have given up. In a broader way, my life informs my writing, because I tend to process ideas through my writing. And my writing influences my life because, on the other side of “The End,” I have a clearer understanding about an idea or a problem, or even my own human capabilities and limits.

What do you love most about your creativity?

I love the way it can surprise me, whether it’s a mid-scene revelation or a way of tying up a scene that springs up seemingly out of nowhere. Times like that, I feel like there’s a ghost over my shoulder, typing in those words, because it feels more than a little otherworldly and outside of myself. That’s when I feel luckiest to be a writer.

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Warren Alexander—Author, Poet, and Photographer

Describe your writing process: schedule, environment, and inspirations abstract and material.

My mind takes me where it wants to go. So as a non-linear thinker, process is fleeting and I would rather be free to have useful and stupid thoughts than be a slave to a schedule. As I no longer work for others and I am an insomniac, my work hours often include time between 2am to 5am. I do put in many hours trying to round my ideas into cogent and alluring sentences and paragraphs. I never know where ideas come from. A friend made a joke 30 years ago and I used it as the basis of a chapter of my book and an award-winning short story.

We live in a small but wonderful apartment in Manhattan, thus my work area is more practical and compact than comfortable. We try to keep our library to 400 books, but we are willfully neglect about that number.

Walk me through your publishing process, from final draft to final product, and marketing.

I am sorry to disappoint but this will be terribly pedestrian. Almost everyone I know in the arts finds the business side odious. And as I have only completed one novel, my experience is limited. I have had short stories, poems, and photographs published, but that was purely a hit and miss proposition of submissions to selected publications.

But I am already thinking about the marketing for my work in progress, a satire on business, which I believe has commercial potential. I will ultimately want to appeal to an agent or a traditional publisher; thus I have been gathering bits that may help. My current publisher, Creativia, of my novel “Cousins’ Club” believes in free downloads as a means of marketing and 12,000 people have taken advantage. I have written poems for the first time in 45 years and had them published and I have photographs appearing in art magazines. I also participate in select on-line writing boards where the atmosphere is collegial, solicit reviews for my Amazon page, and appear at book events. I think of each as being one inch closer to my goal. Obviously I do not know how many inches will be needed.

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

My wife of 47 years is absurdly supportive. She’s an artist and an inveterate reader and we both understand our need to be creative. My friends and family have gone out of their way to help. Many have used their good names on social media to alert others of my work, others organized events, others submit reviews and buy books, and others offer literary advice. I like to think of myself as a curmudgeon and lacking sentimentality, but I have been genuinely moved by the efforts of so many.

How does your life influence your writing and vice versa; how has your life prepared you for writing?

I have always been an independent spirit and thinker, whose benefits and limitations I have long understood and accepted. I approach things with a great ferocity which I think also appears in my work. Cautious people do not change the world. My creativity and my ability to analyze and connect disparate events and facts stood me well in business and in school. But my “I do not care about your arbitrary rules” has not. One boss used to say to me, “You’re not one of us.” To which I replied, “Why would I want to be.” Accordingly, why would I want to write what has been written or photograph what has already been shot.

What do you love most about your creativity?

I apply creativity to every aspect of my life. There are few things I do as routine, for I think how can I do this differently. They call it conventional wisdom because it comes from drunks at conventions.

Writing is problem solving. How can I create characters that are true to their purpose but are still different, vivid, and believable? How do I create dialogue that is witty and distinct, yet propels the story? How do I create events that are new and fresh, yet relevant and germane of the story? How do I create consequences for people’s actions that the reader will accept? As I write satire, how do I amuse a reader for hundreds of pages? I embrace all these challenges and quietly celebrate every victory. But you can never become smug, because the next sentence is just a keystroke away.

Connect with Warren:


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Spillwords Press

Jade Cinders—Author, Poet, Founder of Facebook’s Writing Bad

Tell me about your writing process, including schedule, environment, and inspirations material and abstract.

Now that I’m a student, I write mostly during spring and summer breaks. I call these my “on” periods. During my “on” periods, I have a rigid schedule: work, gym, dinner, 1 hour writing, and then 1 hour reading (though, I often read for longer). During my “off” periods, I’ve been trying to introduce a simple 500 words a day to maintain momentum without interfering with my school work.

As for environment, I write in my bedroom on my laptop while sitting on my bed. I know, super classy. I live in a small apartment, so there’s not a lot of options, and this is the most comfortable spot to me.

I find my inspiration from everywhere, but my favorite source of inspiration is real life. I read a lot of news, history, mythology, and true life stories—and when I read these I get ideas for stories. It might just be from a person’s or town’s name, or maybe the local lore of a lake. I find that stuff to be a goldmine of inspiration. For example, I read about an ancient underground city that went seven floors deep that was discovered in the middle east. From that I built a fantasy story of a hidden magical city under San Diego.

Walk me through creating and maintaining Writing Bad.

When I first created Writing Bad, I did so because I was tired of the pretentious belittling I’d see in other writing groups. I would see more developed writers just tearing the newbies apart limb to limb, destroying their self-esteem, and it pissed me off. I wanted to create a group where everybody felt welcome to share their writing, regardless of their skill level. I wanted to ensure we branded the group properly. The colors were black and white, the atmosphere friendly, chill, laid back, edgy cool, with a bite. We weren’t afraid of profanity, and we didn’t censor. We allowed freedom of expression. That was what separated us, and what separates us. The first year I spent every hour checking in on the group. I have had to shift through some admins, though my lead admin Samantha has remained loyal and reliable (couldn’t have done it without her), until we finally reached today’s team. I’m not as involved today as I used to be, or as I’d like to be, but the group has continued to flourish and grow. It’s beautiful to see what it’s become.

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

My biggest support system would be my boyfriend and my lead admin & friend Samantha.

How have life experiences prepared you for writing and how does your art influence your life?

Hmm…I’m just going to say it’s been a journey. A long, crazy journey.

What do you love most about your creativity?

I love that my creativity allows me to see outside the box. I love to read, and I read so many different things. I’m not the type that only reads something that is in line with their beliefs—rather, I enjoy challenging my beliefs. I enjoy challenging the limits. I love reading fiction, nonfiction, politics, science, history, and more. I honestly just love to learn, and the more I learn, the more I love to share what I learn.

Connect with Jade:

Jade Cinders



So Easy

Ann Garvin—Author, Professor of Health, Mentor

I met Tall Poppy founder Ann Garvin in Bloom. She is approachable, super supportive of other writers, and apparently has amazing stamina. She’s astonishingly friendly and unsurprisingly witty. She’s a Renaissance woman of our times. We’re lucky to have her, really.

Describe your writing process—schedule, environment, techniques / strategies / magic spells, and inspirations material and abstract (what’s in your office? who’s in your head?).

When I’m deep into a book, it’s all I can think about. I get behind on everything. I love to write early in the AM. I get up, get coffee and start to write, and I’m astonished to see how much time passes so quickly. I like quiet, sunshine and my dog at my side. Otherwise I just need a computer and an idea.

Walk me through your publishing process, from final draft to final product: who does what when and what marketing you do as the author.

Oh Lord, it seems like the longest road. And sometimes I don’t know what is happening behind the scenes. Eventually I get the cover idea, which seems like the most fun of the process, as long as I like the art work. Usually I love it. I’ve been lucky. Then it’s a lot of fact checking and proofing and waiting. I spend a fair amount of time figuring out what I’ll do for speaking, promoting, travelling and marketing. I line up readers for early reviews and call bookstores. I dream about what dress I’ll wear to the Oscars after the movie based on my book gets nominated. I write another book. I spend a lot of time hoping and praying.

Tell me about your support system online and IRL, including the steps in founding Tall Poppies and Bloom.

The Tall Poppies are a life saver. They are my tribe, my information base, my support system and my reality check. They really are my number one support system. I have a lot of wonderful non-writer friends, and while they cheer me on, they aren’t part of the publishing world, so don’t know how to help in that regard. I like keeping them a little separate, so that I am reminded that writing isn’t the only thing in my life.

It’s been six years since I started the Tall Poppy Writers and it’s been quite the learning experience. We went from a few writers helping each other to a much more organized system of support across the board. We started with a website, a few authors and a lot of energy, and we are still here today working to lift up women writers wherever we can.

How does your life influence your writing and vice versa?

When my parents died last year I couldn’t do much of anything. My life has been so busy lately and it has slowed my writing down. This year I worked really hard to cut things out and make more room for writing. I’m hoping it worked and I’ll have more books soon.

What do you love most about your creativity?

I love that my impulse is to go kind of zany, but my style is a little more down to earth. I think that is a good place to be. Aim high, but hit a little less out of the park; it lends itself to a more balanced life and story.

Author Extras:

“Listen to Your Mother”

“The Fifth Semester”

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The Fifth Semester


Jessica Strawser—Writer, Editor, and Speaker

Photo by Corrie Shaffeld

Tell me about your writing process: schedule, environment, strategies / techniques, and inspirations material and abstract.

I’m an organic writer—I think a lot ahead of time about the characters and what my story’s central questions will be, but don’t outline in detail or swear by any particular tools or strategies, beyond reading voraciously, as much as I’m able. I’m very disciplined, with daily and weekly goals, and believe firmly in the power of forward momentum once I get going on a manuscript.

I wrote my first two novels by night, as my babies/toddlers slept, while working a demanding day job as editorial director for Writer’s Digest magazine. Not long after signing the contract for Forget You Know Me, I scaled back my role at the magazine and shifted to writing by day as my primary focus. A writing career involves a fair amount of evenings and weekends for things like book clubs, conferences and festivals, so this is a much more workable focus for my family, which always comes first.

Describe your publishing process, from final draft to final product, including publishing team and timeline. How did your work in the industry prepare you for the writing world as an author?

It’s been a little different for every book, particularly as staffing changes at my publisher have led to a few editorial team transitions, but I’m working at the pace of about a book a year. I refine a draft until I think (hope) it’s close to working as what I envisioned for the story, then get feedback from a few trusted readers and revise yet again before turning it over to my editor. Then comes another round to incorporate the excellent suggestions from her professional eye.

My work in the industry taught me what a team effort publishing is; I have enormous respect for my editors, having been one, and deep gratitude for the efforts of the hardworking support teams—marketing, publicity, design and beyond.

Who are your biggest cheerleaders online and IRL, and how did you get into the Tall Poppies (beyond being an excellent storyteller)?

My family and friends—who’ve seen firsthand my dedication to this craft since long before I ever got published—are my biggest cheerleaders, and their warm support means the world to me.

Also, at the start, were my colleagues at Writer’s Digest—we were all writers with a genuine love for the work we were doing there, and it was humbling to have them so enthusiastically in my corner—as well as a debut author group called 17 Scribes—it was invaluable to be tapped into a network of other authors publishing their first novels in 2017, and many of us remain connected today.

I’d met some of the Tall Poppy Writers through conferences, WD, the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and online, and had admired their collaborative spirit and talented body of work for years; I was elated when they invited me to join.

How does your life influence your writing and vice versa? Please share fun details about being the 2019 Writer-in-Residence for Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

While I don’t write directly from life experiences, of course we all are heavily influenced by the phases of life in which we find ourselves and the beautiful (and not so beautiful) aspects of human nature that turn our heads. I’d find it impossible to separate the two!

It’s a wonderful honor to be serving as the newly minted Writer-in-Residence for the Cincinnati library system this year; it encompasses more than 40 branches, and I’ll doing community engagement with local readers (visiting library branch book clubs and hosting a podcast) as well as aspiring writers (teaching free workshops and holding office hours, for instance).

What do you love most about your creativity?

Through dreaming up a story from pure imagination, somehow, I end up feeling more like me.

Connect with Jessica:

Jessica Strawser





Brian Barr…author extra!

I’ve been working on a fantasy collaboration with my friend, Shawn Michael Vogt, and I would love to share the introduction with you. It’s set in a fantasy world I created called Akasha, and it features Shawn’s character Kitsune no Akuma, a swordsman who dons a living fox mask, and a bounty hunter character I created who is named Jacquin. The story is called Overkill in the Chaos Cathedral.


Jacquin the Jackal cut through the final bandit’s throat at the bottom of the steps, then ascended towards the Chaos Cathedral.

Overhead, blood rain fell in scarlet summer tears, thunder cracked, and lightning crashed from the fuschia skies as the ancient constellations sparkled in their fabric. The storm added to the Chaos Cathedral’s already intimidating structure, strange and mystifying in sight with its ancient vermilion stone composition and obsidian spires. The Cathedral’s bell tower sung, as if announcing the bounty hunter’s arrival. Those stairs leading towards the Chaos Cathedral were archaic, decked with cracks and broken ends, shaky under Jacquin’s boots of gold.

As Jacquin placed his sword into its golden sheath, his brown eyes gazed from the gaping holes of his gold-plated half-skull mask, the cathedral proud on that hill. Jacquin the Jackal knew the chaote warlock, Lucius of Kane, was waiting for him there.

Lucius would know Jacquin as soon as the men met, Jacquin was sure, for the bounty hunter’s reputation preceded him just as much as the dark warlock he’d been hired to hunt. The Jackal was recognizable with that well-known skull mask that covered his shaved scalp, forehead, cheeks, and nose, with golden fangs hanging over his upper lip. He was also known from that blood-red cape that flowed behind his 6’1” frame, decked in golden armor, and the sharp spikes that lined his golden gauntlets and boots.

Jacquan the Jackal was known, and feared, as the greatest bounty hunter on the entire globe of Akasha. He liked to think that in Heaven and Hell he would be a frightening force as well.

Behind Jacquin were the corpses of the bandits he slain, littering the cathedral’s courtyard of sand and stone. They were great fighters, but not worthy, well-trained for robbery but lacking in strategic swordplay. Lucius of Kane, the necromantic mage, was an idiot for hiring them as sentinels to serve vigil at the cathedral’s gates. He should have stuck with more undead swordsmen like the skeletal bastards he sicced on Jacquin ten miles down the road, or the vicious hellhounds and violent winds he summoned to slow down the bounty hunter in his trek five nights before.

No worries. Jacquin didn’t need to think about those failed opponents now, not anymore. He was done with them. Lucius was all that was left. If the chaote was smart, he conserved enough of his magic power for Jacquin’s arrival.

Now that mighty cathedral waited, with its iron gates open, calling to Jacquin, the ringing bell in its highest tower mocking him. The skulls resting atop spikes were the only sentinels to serve vigil now, with the remainder of rotting meat cursing the air with a putrid stench. They grinned as skies of violet stretched overhead, clouds spinning in circular rings above the unholy place.

Jacquin stepped past the threshold of the ebony, scale-patterned double doors, which were already open for him.

In the darkness of that evil place, with its stained windows and empty hues, Jacquin could make the outline of Lucius at the alter. There was his man, his target, his coin, the warlock who committed the sin of dream murder. Lucius of Kane had entered Coral Deinera’s dream with the aid of his puissant chaos magic, depleting her essence to oblivion while she slept—Coral Deinera, the princess of Thorinia.

A death mage hiding under the protection of roughians, Lucius needed to die.

Jacquin was from the Micante islands, black as obsidian, wild as fire within his very being. He’d been raised in the ways of slaying sinners, those who felt above the law of the Joint Kingdoms. He answered to both the Kings of Thorinia and Drakia, on call whenever they needed a scoundrel to be punished, even to the point of disposal. Jacquin had no problem with getting his golden gloves bloody.


The man in the fox mask cocked his head, listening to the sounds of battle echoing up the stairwell. He looked down at the lifeless body laying at his feet, stabbed hundreds of times. There was no blood, but then, there never was.

His friends were always hungry, and he liked to keep them happy.

He reached down, pulling the last of his soul-daggers from the body, tapping it absently against the fox mask that covered his face. “Well, this is rather awkward,” the man in the fox mask said, seemingly to no one. And yet… “The bounty hunter made better time than I had expected. What to do, what to do?” He paced back and forth, only stopping to kick the body of the death mage.

“I have no wish to kill the fool,” the man in the fox mask continued. “He’s only doing his job. But I’ve slaughtered his target, and he won’t be at all happy about that, nor about the bounty that I’ve robbed him of. Perhaps, it’s best to just leave and let him sort things out.” His mind made up, he turned to leave, pressing the soul-dagger against his chest, the flesh yielding as the blade slid through, disappearing back into his body.

As his fingers began to trace through the air, carving a door out of the aether, his mask writhed into life, baring its teeth. Whispers filled his head, and he slowly dropped his hands, listening intently.  

He chuckled, shaking his head in amusement. “I like it, my love. But will it work?” The mask, his audience, mewled and the man nodded. “Fine, we’ll try it. I can always kill him if things don’t work out, I suppose…”

A growl from the fox mask was the only response its wearer received. The man stroked his fingers along the mask, and stepped back into the shadows, patiently waiting for Jacquin’s arrival.

Be on the lookout for the second book of my Carolina Daemonic series, Rebel Hell. It should be out this year.

Brian Barr…professional story

I’ve always loved telling stories and writing since I was a kid. I would share ghost stories with my cousins and friends, write comics on lined paper, jot short stories, etc. I had a love for reading and fiction for as long as I can remember.

The first time I got interested in publishing or releasing my own work was when I saw my friend Matt Rowe releasing his own Xeroxed zines in a DIY punk fashion. I was impressed by Matt’s creativity in writing articles and poetry, and doing art; it awakened a need in me to create and put out my own work. At the time, I learned about different avenues, but it would be a while before I actually pursued serious publishing.

My books started to get published around 2014/2015. Carolina Daemonic was my first novel, released by J. Ellington Ashton Press, and I published Empress with Chuck Amadori through Comixology first. I published short stories, mostly horror, through a few small presses before my friend Jeff O’Brien got me into publishing stories on my own. I still publish with small presses and publishers, but I also like to release my own work. I mostly marketed on Facebook, where I was shocked to see so many writers, artists, and comic creators, and fans of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. I also did a little local promotion, and El Burrito, my favorite restaurant which is no longer in business, sported posters of my work and helped sell my book. I did a local showcase at Richland Library, and also collaborated with a bunch of local authors for a Make Your Own Adventure book the library hosted.

Doing Empress with Chuck Amadori has been a great learning experience for me. Chuck taught me how to write comics to the point, and how to best outline my scripts without clutter. We worked with the artist Marcelo Salaza and the colorist Matheus Bronca, who are amazing, and currently we work with artists Sullivan Suad, Zilson Costa, and Geraldo Filho. Matheus still colors a number of our covers and helps with flats, I believe. Without them, our comic would not exist.

I’ve learned that in order to be more successful, specifically in the areas you care about, you have to be true to yourself and connect to the right people. Not all audiences will appreciate your work, so you have to find the right audiences for what you like to do. You also have to engage with them, and be a fan yourself, loving, sharing, and appreciating their work genuinely. You can do this if you really care about what you do and the people you network with, and it comes to a great advantage without effort. I’ve also learned to know when an audience or direction doesn’t work and to keep moving.

My brain-saving technique is to listen to my brain when I’m writing. Basically, if I feel drained and uninspired, it’s time to rest. When I’m in the flow, it’s time to write down every idea that comes to me, to store it, and to get in the zone as I write. Just let it all come out, then revise and revise until I’m ready to send it to an editor and release a story as a finished project. But there are times when I need to recharge and it doesn’t help to push at that point. Sleep gives me the recharge I need.