Last week the sad news came that Rachel Caine had died after her long, hard battle against cancer. Rachel Caine was a wonderful writer, and a wonderful woman, and she is sorely missed.
I first got to know Rachel Caine through her Morganville Vampire novels – fast-paced page-turners about what it’s like to go to college in a Texas town run by vampires. I worked at a bookstore then, and we had the great good fortune to have her come to a signing at our store.
In fact, I took one of the early calls setting it up. A woman on the phone asked to speak to my manager; well-trained, I asked who was calling. It was Rachel herself. “Rachel Caine! Rachel Caine! Rachel Caine!” I exclaimed, jumping up and down. Yes — I literally jumped in the air, and literally yelled in my excitement, right into the phone. Three times. Rachel just laughed her warm laugh.
She was just as warm and friendly in person – so down to earth, so fun to be around. We had the pleasure of hosting her twice. The second time was for Prince of Shadows, the story of Romeo and Juliet but also the story of Benvolio, Romeo’s friend and cousin, a master thief who becomes close with Rosaline, Romeo’s unrequited love. I loved Rachel’s Morganville stories, but this book is just a marvel. Told through Benvolio’s eyes, it immersed me in a Renaissance Verona that’s lush and gritty. The stories unfold from unexpected corners, and with surprising twists and turns and depths. It’s a gorgeous book.
Rachel’s writing, which I loved from the start, just kept getting better and better. I was hooked and grabbed by The Great Library series. She wove an entire world for this series, full of rich characters fueled their love of books, invention, and knowledge. The main character, Jess, is a book-smuggler in a society where it’s a mortal crime to own your own book. Because this world is run by a tyrannical Library which has absolute power over all books and all knowledge, and they enforce their law with terrifying automata – pitiless lions, sphinxes, and gods. The story moves from England to Egypt to the wild, rebellious America. I am not half doing these books justice. If you enjoy fantasy, especially with a steam-punkish edge, go, take a look yourself.
Rachel was a prolific writer, who wrote so much more than I have had a chance to read. There’s her Weather Warden series, adult urban fantasy about Wardens, “gifted with a supernatural ability to control the weather … sometimes. On a good day…But the Wardens—Earth, Weather, and Fire—work as much against each other as with, and their captive Djinn are on the constant verge of rebellion. Add to that a sleeping, but intelligent, Mother Earth, and this could get very messy.”* Outcast Season is a companion urban fantasy series about an outcast Djinn. These sound like books I have to explore.
And there are more. Stillhouse Lakeis the first in a series of adult thrillers. My husband and I started the audio book – it was gripping and intense. Too intense for us, honestly; it may be the audio format was just too vivid, or that we’re just not thriller people. The writing was excellent. If you like enthralling, chilling thrillers, go and check this series out.
There are even more fantasy, paranormal, and sci-fi novels and series to explore on her website. For anyone who loves great writing in these genres – go, have a look.
I got to know Rachel more through her Twitter. Even as she fought an aggressive cancer, she was warm, kind, passionate, and honest – an ally and advocate for writers and people in need in general. I learned still more about her through a tribute written by people who knew and loved her.
Rachel’s legacy lives on in the books she’s written and the lives she’s touched. It was my honor and pleasure to meet her, and to grow to know her in her writing. Readers and lovers of good writing, you can help keep her legacy alive. Find her books, and dive deep into new worlds.
You can find her books in bookstores, at Barnes and Noble, and at Amazon. Many of her ebooks are on sale now for a very good price. And you can watch her Morganville Vampire series on Amazon Prime.
It’s my great pleasure to welcome Alexandra Coulter to my blog. Alexandra has been in a critique group with Aud Supplee and me for many years.
Tell me a bit about your writing history. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer? And what led to that?
Alexandra: I had written most of my life and always enjoyed it. My earliest memory was of a story about lions I wrote in 3rd grade. I penned several collections of stories about a group of characters in spiral notebooks. From time to time I’d write stories or essays on a topic. However, no one ever said I could be a writer.
Gemma: Was that discouraging? Or was it simply not something that you thought about?Alexandra: I wasn’t discouraged. I wrote because I enjoyed doing it. As the years went by, I did several writing assignments and a few articles for friends and relatives, but it still hadn’t occurred to me that I might be a writer.
Gemma: Wow, even after doing significant writing… So, how did you come to that realization?Alexandra: During a time when I didn’t have to work, faced with many hours alone at home, I knew it was time for me to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had spent my working career chasing the music business the only way I knew how, through my administrative, typing and organizing skills. A series of unsatisfactory jobs leading up to my semi early retirement left me wondering what to do with myself. Was I going to give up and do nothing, looking for the same old job or make a commitment to become a writer? When it dawned on me that I had already done a lot of writing and I really enjoyed it and found it easy, the decision was made.
Gemma: Excellent! To find something that you enjoy and that comes easily is really a gift.
What came next?
Alexandra: That prompted me to take a writing class, get a lot of library books and learn everything I could about it. Despite a difficult teacher, I produced in that class, writing 2 and a half short stories, while most of the class only managed 1 over the 6 weeks. After a short set back, I came out swinging.
Gemma: Good for you for overcoming that setback. Was it the teacher?
Alexandra: Yes it was. He criticized everything I did, including commenting on knowledge he didn’t have, on the content. The rest of the class liked what I did. So, I eventually realized he was a jerk and that shouldn’t stop me from moving toward becoming a writer.
Gemma: Excellent. That’s not an easy realization to come to. Where did you go from there?
Alexandra: I had read somewhere that you can call yourself a writer when you’ve written 100,000 words. I was determined to do it! I remember the day I realized I’d reached that point. When I had reduced the number of words in my novel from 180,000 to 100,000. I figured I must have written much more than 100,000 words, maybe pushing 300 or 400,000! That was the moment I felt I could call myself a writer.
Gemma: I had never heard that definition – but that’s an excellent goal to achieve. And it’s quite cool that you came to it not by struggling to reach that number, but by cutting down to it.
Gemma: Tell me a bit more about your writing history.
Alexandra: My first published writing came in college where I maintained a monthly column called “Stick this in Your Ear,” which featured my thoughts on contemporary music and local musicians. I had been writing love stories and essays. And even a few pieces for local small-town publications. From the first writing class, I developed my stories into novels and worked with them. The first novel, The Easy Road, was published on Amazon as an e-book in 2012.
Alexandra: When I found myself out of work again, I decided to give professional freelance writing a try. I had moderate and sporadic success which had me running back to the safety of a “real” job time and time again. I gave up the idea of freelance writing in 2014 and have never looked back. I continue to play with my second novel and am developing a book for teenage girls, through my critique group, that I hope to publish in the next few years. Writing continues to be a practice for me, striving for 3 pages a day and 10 pages a month.
Gemma: 10 pages a month is my goal, too – perhaps not coincidentally the page limit for our critique group!
Gemma: what’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of?
Alexandra: I think the initial short story of Easy Road was maybe my first truly organized and me-inspired work I’d done. For the class I wrote a sci-fi story that I do still like, but The Easy Road has come to be a much bigger piece of work and more integral to my growth as a writer. I haven’t read it in a long time, but I feel proud of putting it together and publishing it.
Gemma: that really is an accomplishment! Tell a little of what it’s about.
Alexandra: It’s about a 30-something accountant with aging parents, a girlfriend and an impending partnership in the accounting firm who’s offered a record deal. He struggles with taking what he always thought of as the easy road of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.
Gemma: I’ve read drafts of that novel in our critique group, and it was quite a ride! It’s so satisfying that now it’s a book.
Gemma: What do you feel is your mission as a writer?
Alexandra: My mission has always been to say what I feel compelled to say. I wish to be a conduit for words. I believe I have stories to tell and messages to communicate. I’m not sure I can say what writing means to me. It’s always been my solace. I have been journaling steadily for many, many years now. It has allowed me to find my voice and my inner core, to learn more about myself and how I tick. Writing has allowed me to express the visions in my head. Written words have, at times, allowed me to express thoughts and feelings I couldn’t any other way.
Gemma: So much of that rings true for me, and I bet it resonates with many other writers, too.
Gemma: What’s the hardest part of writing for you?
Alexandra: Well, that has changed over the years. I think, these days, the hardest part is finding the time and energy to give to it.
Gemma: What’s the part of writing you like best?
Alexandra: I’d like to say that it is when I get it right on paper. When I say exactly what it is I wanted to say. That is a wonderful part of it. But I also really like praise. When someone appreciates what I’ve said to them. That I have somehow eased or lightened their burden, lifted their hearts, opened their eyes.
Gemma: That’s the most wonderful kind of feedback, I think. Your writing has certainly opened my eyes in some new ways!
Gemma: What kind of experiences have most influenced your writing?
Alexandra: My experiences in the music business have certainly had an influence on my fiction writings. I find what inspires me more than anything is live music. Live performances. I do like to write with music on. I am quite sure that influences me on many levels. My other impactful influences are other people and their words.
Gemma: And your writing often has music and musicians in it – that influence really shines through.
Gemma: What other kinds of things have an effect on your writing?
Alexandra: Maybe movies like Help and Spinal Tap had an effect on my writing. Certainly, it was the people I met. As for my non-fiction writing, I have been influenced by Susan Jeffers, SARK, Marianne Williamson, and Libby Gill. Writing teachers Brenda Ueland, Natalie Goldberg, and Anne Lamott. I’d have to say too, that I have been heavily influenced by my writer’s group who have kept me committed, guided me back to the path and showed me a new way month by month.
Gemma: Me, too, Alexandra, me too!
Gemma: What kind of things do you read?
Alexandra: I don’t have a lot of time to read these days. Most of what I read are my colleagues’ work. I read selected works of the spiritual authors I most like and I read health and healthy eating publications.
Gemma: I’m touched and honored our pieces are a lot of what you read – but also sad you don’t have time for more!
Gemma: What are you reading presently?
Alexandra: I am reading Ask and it is Given by Esther and Jerry Hicks. An Abraham book. There are quite a few business books in my stack and I always have an inspirational writing book. At the moment it’s If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland.
Gemma: I’m glad you take time to read these!
Gemma: What are you working on now?
Alexandra: My focus continues to be How to Create an Awesome Life – A curriculum for girls. A book of classes for girls 14 to 18 to help them find themselves and build lives they can love. I am working on 2-pages per day writing practice on a topic and trying to complete an essay every month (or 2). I am also working on developing my writing at work to be able to grow my career.
Gemma: What is the next project you hope to work on?
Alexandra: I have a good draft of my second novel, Lucky Day. When I complete the Awesome Life, I hope to do a final draft of the novel.
Gemma: Tell us a little bit about Lucky Day.
Alexandra: This one is about a girl drummer who dreams of recording her songs, but her bad luck continually keeps her from realizing her dream.
Gemma: I’ve read that in its earlier drafts, and I’d love to see it published.
Alexandra: My first novel, The Easy Road, will be published as a physical book this year.
Gemma: that’s very cool!
Alexandra: And I want to work on my publishing company, UpWrite Words, including a physical book from author Paulette Terrels-Clarke. Other projects bubbling under the surface are to revive my blog and develop some of the material I have in my files.
Gemma: that sounds like a lot of great projects to look forward to.
Gemma: Readers, check out the e-book of The Easy Road here. And be sure to check back for Alexandra’s future projects.
Alexandra: Thanks, Gemma, for talking with me. It’s been a real pleasure!
Gemma: The pleasure is mutual! Thanks for being part of my blog, and part of our critique group!
I’m delighted to welcome Katrina S. Forest to my blog. Katrina and I have been in the same critique group for many years, along with Laura Selinsky and others, and Katrina is the first of us to release a novel! It’s a very cool-sounding middle grade sci-fi called My Best Friend Runs Venus.
You can buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Katrina’s site, or order it from your local bookstore. I ordered a copy from my local Barnes & Noble – I got Free Shipping to my home and it arrived in only about 2 ½ days. (It looks even more cool in person – so cool, in fact, I ordered another copy from my local indie bookshop for my great niece!)
To celebrate this great news, I’m taking part in a blog tour for Katrina’s book; the tour runs until June 16th. This blog tour is hosted by Lola’s Blog Tours. You can see the full tour schedule here.
Be sure to get to the bottom of this post, as there’s a tour-wide giveaway for the blog tour. One winner will win a signed copy of My Best Friend Runs Venus along with a $25 Amazon gift card.
Here’s what the book is about:
“At 12.9 years old, number-obsessed Kade Walker has never heard of death. Literally. But neither has anyone else he knows. Kade is one of hundreds of kids “living” across the solar system through robotic avatars while their real bodies sleep in pods on Earth. Unfortunately, robot bodies can be hacked.
One day during an (innocent!) experiment, Kade unwittingly breaks a major security wall and releases an infamous hacker. The madwoman targets all the royal avatars, including Kade’s best friend, Princess Tamika of Venus.
If Kade and Tamika don’t want to become the hacker’s puppets, they’ve got to stop her fast–even if it means waking up on Earth to fight with bodies they never realized could be hurt.
Sidebar: after a quick peek inside, now I know why Kade looks the way he does – I think.
Welcome, Katrina! What a fun story this sounds like. Can you tell us something (non-spoilery!) about what first gave you the idea for it?
Katrina: It started with me trying to take a fantasy-based idea I saw on an old TV show and imagine how it could conceivably work as a science fiction setting. The show’s premise was that a group of teens were secretly interstellar royalty and drew magic powers from their respective planets. I think a lot of sci-fi starts with the “what ifs.” So in this case it was, “What if we could live comfortably on other planets without magic (or magic-like levels of terraforming)?” “What if we had kids and teenagers in charge?” and more importantly, “Why would we do that?” I came up with the concept of the robot avatars allowing people to live across the solar system. And since kids are much more adaptive to new technology, they’re the only ones that can use it 24/7. Hence, they’re in charge. The characters who would inhabit this world were then developed, which is actually the complete opposite of my usual brainstorming process.
Gemma: I love the thinking behind this! Tell me a little more about one of the characters. For instance, which of them would make the best friend?
Katrina: Princess Lorelei of Mercury would make a great friend, as long as you can understand her unique way of talking. (She’s trying to create a simplified language and throws a lot of invented words into her speech.) She’s very open and accepting and tends to see the good in people. She’s also a creative type, and let’s face it, they’re awesome. 🙂
Gemma: oh, she sounds like a lot of fun!
Gemma: I’d like to know a bit about your writing past. What’s the first story you remember writing?
Katrina: The first story I ever wrote was called “The Prettiest Flower.” I think I was five. Old enough to sound out simple words but young enough to go pester my mom for spelling helping every two minutes. I guess technically it was a non-fiction piece and included such impressive insights as, “Flowers are pretty” and “Bees like flowers.” I stapled together pieces of construction paper with only a mild attempt to straighten them out first, and my cover was an extra-wide sheet of paper from a dot matrix printer. I knew that “real” books had logos of some kind on the back of them, and because I was making a “real” book, mine got one, too. It was the Chiquita banana logo. I took the sticker from the fruit basket. My mom still has this book, and a few years ago, she showed it to me. It was a totally surreal experience. ^_^
Gemma: I love this! And it’s awesome your mom kept it to show you. When did you realize – or decide – that you wanted to be a writer?
Katrina: Pretty early. My mom got me a school memories book when I entered kindergarten. Every year had the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (It changed to, “What do you hope to do after graduation?” for 8th grade and up.) Every year, without fail, I wrote “writer” or “author.” In kindergarten, apparently, I was also open to the possibility of being a ballerina.
Gemma: it’s always good to keep an open mind about such things. And it’s quite impressive that you’ve followed this dream for so long and now have brought it into the world with a novel! What’s the hardest part of writing for you?
Katrina: The hardest part is admitting when I’m stuck. I like to try to push through problems, and sometimes what’s really needed is a quiet step away with a long walk, a cup of tea, or a good book. Or, you know, all those things, because they are all awesome.
Gemma: I totally agree – and those are good ways to get unstuck. What’s the best part for you?
Katrina: The moment of breaking through the aforementioned stuck-ness.
Gemma: yes – that’s a wonderful moment! I think many writers can relate.
A lot of writers when they start out emulate other writers, consciously or not. Can you think of any authors you emulated?
Katrina: Not specifically, although I’m sure I have subconsciously. I do remember being a kid and writing a line I thought sounded totally awesome and way better than what I normally wrote…only to realize shortly afterward that it was a line from Charlotte’s Web. Apparently I’d read the book so many times, my brain just sort of internalized it. ^_^
Gemma: well, that’s an excellent book to absorb! What are you reading presently?
Katrina: I’m currently reading The Merchant Princess series by Charles Stross. My friends are all reading the Laundry series by the same author, but I just really latched onto the protagonist in this one. She’s a very analytical character who finds herself in what’s essentially a magical portal story. Characters really make or break a novel for me. I’ll sit through the most predictable of plots and the most uninteresting of settings if the characters are good. Thankfully, The Merchant Princess has good characters and an intriguing setting and plot to go with them.
Gemma: that sounds like a great combination, and I know what you mean about good characters. If I don’t like at least one character, I can’t make it through a book.
What are you working on now?
Katrina: I’m finishing up a YA novel called How to be an Immortal. It’s about a gorgon and a vampire forming an unlikely friendship as they try to find the gorgon’s sister and stop a mysterious entity from stealing a bunch of humans’ life energy.
Gemma: I’ve been enjoying reading this in our critique group, and I’m very excited to hear you’re close to finishing it. I can’t wait to read the finished book — and, of course My Best Friend Runs Venus! I think it will make a great summer read.
Thanks so much for joining me on my blog, Katrina – and congratulations on your new novel!
Meanwhile, I’ve been hard at work on my fantasy novel. If you look deeply into my author photo, you can catch a peek at early lines from my first draft.
All right, honestly, I haven’t been writing it with quill and ink, but I do write the first drafts longhand. I like the ease and physical contact of writing with pen and paper.
During this year, Running Wild Press has been busy with many awesome projects – just check out their twitter. Among their latest offerings are writing courses.
From RWP: we’re launching a fully online creative writing program.
Want to join a supportive, online writing community for feedback and encouragement? Take a Running Wild Press writing course.
These fully online courses will be taught in 4 to 8-week formats entirely online by experienced instructors from higher education institutions from around the country.
Three of these courses will be taught by my anthology colleagues Elan Barnehama, Nick Mazzuca, and Amelia Kibbie. I heartily vouch for their writing abilities, because their stories are honestly some of my favorites. Check out my interviewswiththem for more about them and their stories.
A fourth course will be taught by Dr. Lisa Montagne. I’m not acquainted Lisa, but if you’re interested in reading and writing poetry, have a look! You can check out all the courses here.
As for me, check back soon for more interviews with new authors, and of course I’ll keep you posted with any news!
Continuing in my series of interviews with my Running Wild Anthology colleagues, I’m very pleased to feature Nick Mazzuca. Nick’s story “Buck It and Bolt” is great sci-fi with a gritty soul and lots of heart.
Is there part of the Anthology’s cover collage that reminds you of your story?
I really like the inserts of black-and-white photographs layered under the color overlays – it reminds me of the Cowboy Bebop opening, which is another piece of science fiction centered around regular folks grinding their way through their days.
Would you add anything to the cover to hint at your story?
I’d put a diffused starscape in the background.
What do you like best to write?
I enjoy throwing characters into impossible, no-win situations and seeing how they crawl out.
What’s the biggest stretch for you to write?
I’m great at figuring out the how of world-building, but getting my characters to sing requires a lot of effort.
Where do your stories fall on the plot-driven vs. character-driven spectrum?
I try to cut it straight down the middle. Plot is there for characters to struggle against. Characters are there to survive what the plot throws at them.
What authors did you love most as a kid? Now? What authors have influenced your writing most?
I was a huge fan of Clarke, Peter David, Harlan Ellison, Conan Doyle, and Rosemary Sutcliffe growing up. Frank Herbert’s examination of societies through personal point of view still informs much of my artistic worldview, though I very much reject the “Great Man” theory underpinning it. Right now I’m enjoying Shelley and LeGuin.
Is there a place that you’ve lived (or visited) that most influences your writing?
I grew up in Nebraska, but moving to Philly really did cement my notion of what a city can represent for a people. Economics, sociology, and history really do come together to create the vibe Philly has. Philly is weird, but you never see a bumper sticker saying “Keep Philly Weird.” It stays that way on its own.
What’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of/happy with?
My Master’s Thesis: The Dreamer Deepe. It’s a Lovecraftian horror play that I wrote close to a decade ago. There’s a ton wrong with it, but it moves and has a solid sense of space and place.
What have you been up to since the Anthology came out?
One of my plays had a reading at the Valdez Last Frontier Theatre Conference. Spending a week binging theatre and taking nature photos in one of the most magnificent places on Earth… doesn’t suck.
What do you plan to work on next?
I’m restarting work on a sci-fi horror play as well as getting the outline of a screenplay about alien abduction into gear.
How can readers connect with you?
Twitter for my random musings and angry political scoldings: twitter.com/nickmazzuca
Instagram for lots of striking images (and the occasion fuzzy friend!) @nickmazzuca
Thanks for being part of my blog, Nick! It’s great to hear your news and plans, and I wish you the best success with them!