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Anne K. Edwards

Invitation to a Book

Interview with Linda Lucretia Shuler, Author of ‘Hidden Shadows’

by marbob00 marbob00 on 11/24/15

LindaShuler_authorPix72Linda Lucretia Shuler can’t remember when she didn’t love to tell stories; they’ve rattled around in her thoughts, demanding attention, since she was old enough to scribble with a pencil. It’s a part of her, like breathing, like dreaming. It simply is.

Ms. Shuler published poems and short stories in literary journals while planning to begin a novel “someday soon.” But life has an odd way of taking unexpected turns. After receiving a BFA and MA in theatre, her career veered into teaching Theatre Arts, directing dozens of shows, and acting in community theaters. When she couldn’t resist the desire to write any longer, she retired early and focused on that “someday soon” novel – just a good deal later than originally intended. Hidden Shadows is the result.

She enjoys participating in writer critique groups and community theaters, and is an award-winning member of Toastmasters International. She’s also an enthusiastic fan of the San Antonio basketball team, the Spurs. She’s here today to talk about her debut literary novel, Hidden Shadows.

Congratulations on the release of your debut novel, Hidden Shadows. When did you start writing and what got you into the literary genre? 

I began writing when I was around six or so, with a story called Jo Jo the Monkey. I have it still, tucked in a drawer somewhere. I published my first poem a couple of years later about a dappled pony. I don’t think I had ever seen one; I simply liked the word “dappled pony,” and so conjured a picture of it in my mind. Umpteen years passed, published poems and stories came and went, until at long last I wrote my first novel, Hidden Shadows.

Hidden Shadows is a conglomerate of genres: literary, romance, mystery, with a dash of magical realism tossed in for good measure. I didn’t have a specific genre in mind; I simply wrote was in my heart and imagination, letting the words come as they might, letting the characters breathe and move and speak as they would. It was always a surprise to me, the way the plot twisted or turned, sometimes as if on its own volition, as if everything written on those pages came from a source other than my own.

What is your book about? 

Hidden Shadows is a story of healing, of finding strength amid adversity, of allowing the sorrows of our past to guide us toward a brighter future. It also illuminates how grief, if allowed to fester, can corrupt the human spirit. This is a story of connection: to the land, to our ancestors, to others, to ourselves. And, most of all, it’s a story affirming the redemptive power of love.

What was your inspiration for it? 

I’ve met remarkable women who suffered incalculable loss, and yet somehow survived, and lived each day with joy. I marveled at them, at their courage, their spirit. And I asked myself, “How?” What did they endure in private, what interior battles did they wage? What dwelled in their spirit that made them victorious over such sorrow? And I’ve met those who did not endure, those who forever walked in the shadows of grief. And I asked myself, “Why?” Why do some souls shatter under the weight of it, while others survive? Because I’ve experienced grief myself – who hasn’t as the years collect? It’s part and parcel of life – the need to write about it must have been there, lurking inside me, silent.
But the lure of landscape led me, too. I traveled through the thirteen-mile stretch of an isolated, rugged, glorious stretch of Texas Hill Country called Willow City Loop. And I fell in love with the place, with its craggy, impossible hills and winding country roads. And I fell in love with old houses, too – the sort that are scattered throughout the small towns of Texas, sporting wrap-around porches with swings or rocking chairs, and a weathered “come on in” look.

These elements were, in a small way, inspiration for HiddenShadows. But there’s more, so much more. I could write pages. Some of it is unknown to me, odd as that may sound. That secret part of ourselves that reveals itself as we write. 

What type of challenges did you face while writing this book? 

Because I let the characters lead the way, like an over-permissive mother, they had a tendency to wander, to explore this pathway or that, or just sit in a corner and pout. I had to ask myself many a time, especially in the beginning, “Where the heck is this story going?” I veered into side paths and bumped into dead ends before finally, at long last, settling us all on the right path.

I didn’t pre-plan; the plot was a vague, misty map in my mind. I knew the destination, but wasn’t exactly sure how to get there. As a result, I ended up tossing a lot into the trashcan, words upon words, page after page, bye-bye. The map finally came into focus, the direction clear, the steps taken. But I swear, cross my heart, that the next book (a prequel to Hidden Shadows) will be more carefully mapped before I begin the journey.

What do you do when your muse refuses to collaborate? 

Muse is a tricky thing attached to the dreaded noun, work. If I feel like working, Muse is usually right there, sitting on my shoulder. If don’t feel like working, Muse goes on vacation. When that happens, there are a couple of ploys I use:

#1: Bribe it. “Okay,” I say to Muse, “I’ll sit down for just a few hours. If I really, truly concentrate I’ll treat myself to ________” (Fill in the blank.) The trick is that once I get started, Muse is fooled into joining me, and before we know it, the hours and words fly by. However, I must be sure to fulfill that promise of a treat, or Muse will remember I didn’t keep my word, and be reluctant to play if I try this approach again.

#2Lure it. I tidy up my working space, sharpen a new pencil or two, light a fragrant candle, place something pretty nearby (usually a favorite figurine, as a small turquoise “good luck” bear). Then I say to myself, “Oh, how nice, how inviting,” and I sit down to work with a smile. Muse usually ends up there, too.

#3: Ignore it. Sometimes I find it helps to go on a mini-vacation: stroll through a park setting or somewhere inviting, eat at an outdoor café, perhaps go to a movie. Muse then grows impatient, nags in my ear, says, “You’ve had a breather so enough being lazy. Let’s get going!”

How do you keep your narrative exciting? 

If I’m excited about what I’m writing, the narrative is usually exciting. If I’m bored, uncertain, stressed, or otherwise in a rut, the narrative reflects that, too.

Each one of us must find the approach that works best for our nature and genre. For me, I try to immerse myself in the moment, to put myself into the scene – to experience sight, sound, smell, touch as if I were truly there, right there, that very second. Sometimes I view scenes behind my eyes as if I were watching a film, with my characters the actors (including close-ups) speaking and moving within a particular setting. I want to meld with these characters, to see through their eyes, to think and feel through the filter of their minds and hearts.

Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to right. Can you relate to this?

Absolutely!  “Vague anxiety” happens to every creative person, especially those of us in the arts – which includes the written word. It’s sort of like stage fright, a momentary self-doubt that can paralyze.

An actor may freeze offstage, but his fright disappears the moment he steps onstage and focuses on the character. It’s the same for a writer: if we lose ourselves in the act of writing rather than worrying about how it will be received, anxiety dissipates. But if we worry about how our writing will be received, our creativity is stifled, our voice smothered.

Where is your book available? 

The ebook version of Hidden Shadows is available for purchase from Amazon Kindle, Apple iBookstore, BN Nook, Kobo Books, OmniLit, etc.

The print version of Hidden Shadows will be available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble Bookstores, Brodart, Coutts, Davis-Kidd Booksellers, Emery-Pratt, Follett, Ingram, The Book Despository, The Book House, etc.

Purchase links will be available on the chapter excerpt page: 

What is your advice for aspiring authors?

As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet: “This above all: to thine own self be true”

In other words, believe in yourself. Write from your own unique heart and mind and muse. Find your voice, and trust it. If you write from an inner truth, it will be true to the reader, and so believable – no matter the genre, no matter the style.


Interview with Stephen Caputi, Author of 'I Should Have Stayed in Morocco'

by marbob00 marbob00 on 11/09/15

Steve Caputi caputi_author_pix300is best known for his involvement in the creation, building and management of successful nightclub and hospitality businesses. Decades of experience in the industry and the good fortune to work with a succession of the best performers in the world gave him a broad base of skills… skills that were instrumental in his entrepreneurial quest and subsequent sparkling career.

As an Ivy-league student-athlete, he graduated from the renowned Cornell University School of Hotel Administration in 1979. Rostered as the ‘smallest player in NCAA Division 1 football’, he lettered under George Seifert, world-champion coach of the San Francisco 49’ers and played centerfielder on Cornell’s EIBL championship team of 1977, led by hall of fame coach Ted Thoren. Steve set several all-time team and NCAA records, one of which still stands 37 years later.

His career experience was equally as fortunate as he was trained by the best club management experts in the business while managing the Texas billionaires’ favorite watering hole – the ultra-private, magnificent Houston Club. In the early 1990’s, Steve was President of Michael J. Peter’s gentlemen’s club empire, featuring the world-famous Solid Gold, Thee Doll House, and Pure Platinum. It was during that era that adult clubs became legitimized. After redesigning and opening Club Paradise in Las Vegas, Steve became a partner in South Florida’s most successful long-term nightclub chain ever, Café Iguana. Over the decades, businesses under his direct control amassed nearly a billion dollars in revenue.

Steve was blessed with everything a man could want until he got tangled up in Scott Rothstein’s Ponzi scheme in 2009, at which time everything was lost… including his freedom. So began his most recent quest upon his release from the Federal Bureau of Prisons… to find out what happened, how it happened, and why!

About the Book: 

Stephen Caputi’s memoir, I Should Have Stayed in Morocco, is not just another forensic account of billionaire Ponzi-schemer Scott Rothstein’s life. Caputi opens his heart and soul as he takes the reader on a journey through two decades rife with personal experiences, misadventures and wild escapades with Rothstein, climaxing with their now-infamous ramble in Casablanca. It’s a frighteningly true story of how friendship and loyalty was dedicatedly served to a master-manipulator, just to be rewarded with deceitful betrayal and a prison sentence.


Read the First Chapter

Purchase from Amazon / OmniLit

Q: Congratulations on the release of your memoir, I Should Have Stayed in Morocco. What made you decide to write your own biography?

A:  It was kind of a happy accident, the result of an unfortunate circumstance. I was stranded in the “Hole”, (slang for solitary confinement) in a dingy federal prison in Jesup, Ga., with literally nothing to do but ponder the past. I had nothing to read, nothing to do, nothing to look forward to until the next bowl of gruel was tossed into the cell through a flap in the door, and nothing to watch since the tiny three-inch window slit was old and yellow and glazed. Total emptiness, which was driving me crazy. For a career claustrophobe, being thrust into a seventy two square-foot space that contained only a bed, toilet and sink constituted the worst case scenario. My worst nightmare had materialized, and there was no getting away from it. No relief. I knew why I was in prison, but I didn’t know why I was in the Hole.

I began writing out of desperation. My mind was still scrambled from the shock of being thrown in the Hole. As a last resort I started to chronicle everything that happened… which wasn’t much. I wrote down every item served at every meal, everything that the guards did and said, and kept a diary of sorts that was chocked full of their shenanigans. I figured that there was no way people knew how inmates were treated in prison… and wondered if anybody cared.

Morocco_medThe process of reflection prompted me to search for answers… about my life, about the sequence of events that led me to federal prison, and about the system that put me away. It evolved into a full-fledged quest for the truth.

Q: Did you write by the seat of your pants, or did you structure the book in advance? 

A:   Actually, I wrote this by the seat of myorange jumpsuit!

Q: How would you describe your writing process? Did you find the process easy or difficult?

A: Tormented is the first word that comes to mind. Writing from a prison cell was far from idyllic. I wrote after every meal, and started by chronicling every mundane event—like the trips marching to and from the ‘recreation’ cage in handcuffs. Or the shackled treks to the showers, or after delivery of every meal. Every night I’d write for an hour before crashing, after the last of the day’s insipid counting rituals were duly completed.

For my protection, I was forced to stash the written notes I was taking in-between pages of books that I was reading. I couldn’t risk mailing them out from the Hole, so I waited until after I left to transport them out. Which presented another challenge, since everything we mailed out was subject to being inspected and read. Due to its content, my writings were extremely risky. If any of the brass got wind that I was keeping a diary of their antics, there were no imaginable limits to how they might retaliate.

As an example, an inmate buddy of mine had been the unlucky recipient of “diesel therapy”—an intimidating tactic so commonly used by the Bureau of Prisons that it commanded its own nickname. Since his arrival, he was overly insistent that his rights not be violated. Because of his annoyance, he’d been kept suspended on a perpetual road trip for a year and a half. The guards would transport him in chains in a Twilight-Zone-like ride to nowhere, on an endless bus ride from one federal prison to the next. It took months and a dozen letters from his Congressman to get him anchored somewhere. Their explanation was that they “lost” his paperwork. No apology. Acting with impunity was a routine… a matter of policy for the gatekeepers who harbored little or no fear of outside pressures or intervention.

Q: Did you suffer from writer’s block at any given time? If yes, how did you overcome it? 

A:    It was more like “cell-block” than writer’s block. The biggest challenge I faced in my writing exploits was finding the best way to properly and effectively communicate the emotion of the roller-coaster ride I was on… while I was on the ride! I had no alternative but to write about all the horrible things that were happening—to me and other inmates—while I was suffering the indignities that I was writing about in real time. The awful physical conditions, inedible meals, harsh treatment, lack of medical attention, arcane and oppressive rules and regulations, lack of exercise, heavy-handedness and the calculated, dehumanizing protocols of the Federal Bureau of Prisons were overwhelming. I struggled every day to balance giving an accurate representation of what was happening… without it being overridden with emotion and dripping with hate by the time my thoughts were scribed to paper. Controlling my own emotions was of paramount importance, since I had to keep my sense of humor intact and my wits about me in order to maintain at least some semblance of objectivity.

Q: That’s an interesting title. Did you choose it? 

A: It kind of chose me… but I knew it would be the perfect title the second I wrote the first line of the prologue. I was reliving the experience of the train pulling away from the station, on my way to federal prison, as my girl waved goodbye. It was a devastating moment for me, and that short sentence that I muttered to myself captured the essence of the book. In that singular moment, the trauma and drama of everything that I’d been feeling for the twenty-three months prior to my incarceration collapsed upon me. I was engulfed in a quagmire of heartbreak, despair, frustration, regret… and fear. It was the first moment that I really believedthat I Should Have… Stayed in Morocco.

Q: Why should anyone read your book? What do you think they will gain from the experience? 

A: For one, the book gives a human portrayal of Scott Rothstein, the fourth largest Ponzi-schemer in U.S. history, from the perspective of a close friend… not from social media posts. I lived the experience with him, which was very much different than reading about him through regurgitated internet blogs. My experiences with him spanned several decades, and most of my stories are still unknown to the general public. What happened to me could have happened to anybody that was vulnerable enough to have complete trust in a valued friend of many years. A friend that suddenly went ‘AWOL’ and betrayed everyone around him without any conscience. This makes my story relevant to anyone who has close, trusted friends or business colleague whose integrity seems to be unimpeachable.

Additionally, I used my misfortune to fuel a truth-seeking mission. I wanted to know why and how the current prison system evolved into the monstrosity that it is. How millions of our citizens have been corralled into prison, and why there had been 518,000,000 arrests in this country since 1970. Why seventy million men and women now have criminal records. I was living in a prison population that consisted mainly of drug dealers, the vast majority of whom were non-violent marijuana ‘offenders’. The injustice of it all struck a nerve, and I decided to do a bona fide journalistic investigation of the subject. My findings are part and parcel of the book… and the truth is ugly. People need to know what’s really going on in America today—as well as what happened yesterday to facilitate it—and not rely solely on the mainstream media for information. The time for sticking our heads in the sand and ignoring the truth is over.

Q: How was your experience working with an editor? 

A:  Outstanding… and humbling, to say the least. Their input was just what I needed. The process enabled me to view things from different perspectives, and to visualize alternative (and improved) ways to effectively communicate my thoughts. I also enjoyed being challenged and forced to defend my positions regarding different elements of the story that I felt were important. The editing process required me to validate and support the facts as I presented them. It was actually as much fun, as it was constructive.

Q: What have you learned from the writing of this book? 

A: Writing the book forced me to sharpen my focus on all the subjects I was writing about, since I was determined to keep my objectivity despite my environment. I didn’t want to write anything resembling most of the propaganda and drivel that had been written about Rothstein. I became better at stepping back from my emotions, and took great care to substantiate my conclusions (or disprove them) based on solid research of the issues. I trained myself to look for the facts behind the apparent reasons, and to be open-minded to whatever truths I found.

Q: What’s on the horizon for Stephen Caputi? 

A: I am going to finish the last two books in the I Should Have Stayed in Moroccotrilogy, and then reenter my career as a nightclub and restaurant entrepreneur. The next book will be the second in the I Should Have Stayed in Morocco series, entitled Club Fed Confidential: Inside the Perpetual Prisoner Money Machine. It will be a more in-depth look at what really goes on inside prisons. The final (untitled) book will provide a professional analysis of the real cost of the criminal justice and prison systems, and a critical look into the skullduggery of the prison industrial complex.

Q:  If there’s one thing you wish readers will take away from your book, what’s that? 

A: Despite what happened to me, I haven’t given up on friendship, love and trust… which doesn’t have to be treated as if it were a four-letter word. However, people who have a trusting nature (like I do!) need to learn to place limits, keep reasonable checks and balances intact, and listen to their instincts—their ‘guts’. If you’re in tune with your intuition, you cannot go wrong.

This equates to making the conscious choice of not ever engaging in any kind of behavior that you feel might be illegal, or just doesn’t feel right for any reason—or no reason. Not for friendship, love, or money!

Interview with Historical Novelist Donald Joiner

by marbob00 marbob00 on 11/04/15

frontsmallcoverGeorgia native Donald Joiner is a veteran who served during the Korean War era. A retired school superintendent and a lifelong student of history, Joiner has been married for fifty-two years and is a proud father and grandfather. He has taught Sunday school in his church for forty years. Joiner has also authored two previous books about antebellum churches in Georgia. Connect with the author on Facebook.

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Antioch Testament. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?  

A: When the novel begins, it’s 2004 during the height of the insurgency in Iraq. An American army patrol manages to rescue a frightened group of Iraqi Christians fleeing Islamic militants. The refugees’ severely wounded leader, a priest, carries with him a mysterious bundle the group brought with them from an ancient Christian monastery in northern Iraq. Barely clinging to life, the priest insists on handing over the carefully guarded bundle to an American chaplain stationed at the army base.

When the bundle is unwrapped, the chaplain finds a large, scuffed, leather-bound ancient manuscript written in an unknown language. Fearing for the manuscript’s safety in war-torn Iraq, the chaplain arranges to have the manuscript sent back to the states. Eventually, the manuscript winds up in an Eastern Orthodox monastery where internationally-recognized linguists begin the arduous task of translating it.

What the linguists discover is absolutely astonishing; the manuscript is a first century AD testimonial in ancient Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, describing what happened to Jesus’ apostles after his Resurrection. But time is running out. What the linguists do not know is that a fanatical Iraqi insurgent cell is bound and determined to retrieve or destroy the manuscript before its secrets can be revealed.

I’ve always been intrigued by the remarkable transformation that occurred among Jesus’ apostles after his Resurrection. The bible tells us that before that event they had a motley collection of fishermen, laborers, and revolutionaries seeking to drive out the hated Roman occupiers and the restoration of  David’s earthly Jewish kingdom. The New Testament tells us quite a lot about them before the Resurrection, but very little afterward.

What happened to them? Where did they go? What did they accomplish? How did they die? From the fragmentary evidence left to us in early Christian traditions, I decided to tell the rest of the story. The Antioch Testament is a work of historical fiction, but it is based on early church traditions.

Q: What do you think makes a good work of historical fiction? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A: 1. The historical setting is very important. Events that take place in your story must be based on actual events of that particular historical era. If you get these events, dates  or characters out of historical sequence, rest assured some of your readers will point this out and discredit you.

  1. Characters in historical fiction should reflect knowledge available to individuals at that time. You don’t want characters of the first century AD, for example, carrying firearms centuries before firearms were invented or writing on paper centuries before paper was available.
  2. The plot in historical fiction should be based on actual events that took place in that era or surrounded by known historical situations particular to the era.

Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A: I tried to develop the individual characters of the apostles based on evidence about them available to us through their depiction in the New Testament as well as what ancient church traditions had to say about them.

Ignatius of Antioch. the character responsible for telling the story of the apostles, is believed by Syriac Christians to have been appointed bishop of that city by St. Peter himself and Antioch was in fact a central by way for early Christian disciples on their various missionary journeys in the East. Tradition tells us Ignatius was a companion of several apostles and because most of them traveled through Antioch I decided that Ignatius would be the ideal character to tell the story.

Early traditions guided the plot of the story. If tradition said an apostle carried out missionary activities in Persia, I placed him there in the midst of events going on in that era in that location. Once I placed an apostle in a specific location, actual historical events guided the plotting of the story.

As an example, since tradition said St. Peter was martyred in Rome, I had to get him there and have him arrested while preaching in the catacombs, and taken to prison, then to trial by a magistrate, then to a place said by tradition to be the location of his execution.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A: The army chaplain, the one responsible for sending the ancient manuscript to America, is a composite of several ministers I have known. Though very severely wounded in Iraq, he convinces his unbelieving brother to accompany him on his quest to have the manuscript translated. The character of the brother is based on someone I knew personally.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A: The antagonist character  was easy to create. Osama bin Laden hated the West in general and the US in particular; despised Christians and plotted the events of 9 – 11. I modeled Zaid Al Rifia, the leader of the fanatical Iraqi cell, on what we know of bin Laden.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A: Throughout the book I placed telephone conversations between Zaid and his agent in America telling about the efforts of the insurgent group to track down and get their hands on the manuscript. Something outside the regular storyline can add tension and excitement to the main theme of the story.

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A: I utilized a map of the Roman Empire with place names of the first century AD. I also inserted large chunks of historical events such as the Jewish revolt against Roman rule in Judea, the struggle of Queen Boadicea against the Roman legions in Britain, and the war between the Romans and Persians in the East. I also inserted Emperor Nero, Roman General Vespasian, and other historical characters to lend credence to the story.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A: My theme all along was to demonstrate the incredible sacrifices made by Jesus’ apostles in order to be obedient to his last command that they carry the Good News to the far corners of the world.

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

A: I think writing is hard work. Writing historical fiction can be especially difficult. You better get the historical events in the story right. There are many history buffs out there who pride themselves on knowing intricate details about various historical eras. The author may be writing historical fiction, but he can count on his readers knowledge about the historical events surrounding the characters in the novel. If he gets dates wrong or mishandles historical characters or events, the reader will be sure to share his errors with others and cross him off the ‘must read’ list.



Genre:  Christian Fiction/Historical Fiction/Suspense

Author:  Donald Joiner

Publisher: Seraphina Press

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

Donald Joiner, a veteran who served during the Korean War era, is a lifelong student of history.  Joiner’s passion for history shines through in his debut novel,The Antioch Testament, a sweeping, suspenseful novel resplendent with rich historical detail.

When The Antioch Testament opens, it’s 2004 during the insurgency in Iraq.  An American army patrol manages to rescue a frightened group of Iraqi Christians fleeing Islamic militants. The refugees’ severely wounded leader, a priest, carries with him a mysterious bundle the group has brought with them from a northern Iraqi Christian monastery.  As he clings to life, the priest insists on handing over the carefully-guarded package to the American army chaplain. When the bundle is unwrapped, Army chaplain Charles Monroe finds a large, scuffed, leather-bound ancient manuscript written in an unknown language. Fearing for the manuscript’s safety in war-torn Iraq, the chaplain arranges to have the manuscript sent to Augusta, Georgia, his hometown.  Eventually, the manuscript winds up in an Eastern Orthodox monastery where internationally- recognized linguists begin the arduous task of interpreting it. What the linguists discover is absolutely astonishing: the manuscript is a first century AD testimonial in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, describing what happened to Jesus’ apostles after his Resurrection. But time is running out.  Unbeknownst to the interpreters, a fanatical Iraqi insurgent organization is bound and determined to retrieve or destroy the ancient manuscript before its secrets can be revealed.   Some secrets may be worth dying for—but these secrets might even be worth killing for.

Imaginative, inventive, and intriguing, The Antioch Testament explores the lives of the apostles after the resurrection. A thoughtful and thought-provoking page-turner, The Antioch Testament is a carefully-crafted page-turner with a pulse-pounding plot, and engrossing storyline.

Interview with fantasy author J.J. Sherwood

by marbob00 marbob00 on 11/01/15

jjOn a cold winter night, wind howling into the desert sky, one ordinary hospital gave witness to a historic event. JJ Sherwood was born at 2:30 a.m. on December 31st, just barely managing to squeeze in to supplant New Year’s Eve. JJ has always had a flair for the dramatics.

Sherwood began writing in the womb after a harrowing incident in which Mother Sherwood swallowed a pen—and thus, destiny was born. JJ’s first work was completed by the age of 5: a riveting tale of a duck attempting to climb into an apartment during the pouring rain. Unfortunately this book is not in print, but it served as the first spark that spurred on a lifetime of creativity.

Much of JJ’s childhood was spent tearing through the woods, playing out fantasy worlds, and tying Barbie to the roof so that the Power Rangers might rescue her. Middle and high school carried on this roleplaying, while college encompassed creating and refining over 250 characters in the world of Aersadore.

After escaping college, finally armed with the tools of the trade and a lifetime of development, JJ set to writing what would become the Steps of Power series: it was then that Eraydon slew his first dragon, Jikun battled the warlord Saebellus, and Taranus rebelled against his brother’s throne.

When not orchestrating the lives and deaths of the people of Aersadore, JJ’s hobbies include drawing, video gaming, wearing a bathrobe, and eating too many baked potatoes. JJ Sherwood lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with one loving and extremely patient spouse, a bearded dragon, a monk parakeet, and four cats who look far too similar.

What’s inside the mind of a fantasy author?

Voices. A lot of strange voices of individuals in invented cultures who tell you exactly how to do things.

What is so great about being an author?

The great thing about being an author is writing something pulled from the recesses of your creativity and then finding someone as excited about your thoughts as you are.

When do you hate it?

I hate the business end of writing—self-promotion, having to ensure you make a profit, etc… While I know it’s necessary, it is not enjoyable by any means… I’d rather just write!

KingsorPawnscoverSMmWhat is a regular writing day like for you? Be honest!

I wake up, feed my four cats, say hello to my parrot, wave to my bearded dragon (who either bobs his head back or scowls), and then I start writing. And then I don’t stop working until about 10 at night (wherein I take a two hour break to play League of Legends with family and friends) and then I work again until 2am. Sleep. Repeat. 7 days a week. And I love it. 

Do you think authors have big egos? Do you? How do you know?

Some do, some don’t. I have met authors who are extremely successful and they have truly admirable humility. I have met other very successful (and non-successful authors) who give off airs of arrogance. I once gave advice to another author after beta reading his novel; he discounted my constructive criticism and that was pretty much the last time we spoke. Arrogance is certainly present. For myself, I wouldn’t say I have a big ego so much as a fragile one. It’s tough—pouring 100% of yourself into your work and hearing something negative in return. You have to grow a very thick shell. And I think sometimes, for some authors, this manifests itself as arrogance—having a “big ego” or “superiority” is an easy way to take the blow from a negative review and shake it off because “such an opinion is beneath them.” 

How do you handle negative reviews?

I haven’t had one yet, but I imagine I’ll be pathetic through negative reviews for a while. I’ll have to get myself a good bottle of Riesling. And a pizza. Maybe a Snickers bar on the side. I’ll have to grow a spine, frankly. 

What is the usual response when you tell a new acquaintance that you’re an author?

Generally people are excited. They think it’s “cool.” I suppose, since I’ve “always been a writer,” I don’t quite understand that enthusiasm, but I’m always very flattered by them. 

What do you do on those days you don’t feel like writing? Do you force it or take a break?

I force it. I find that if I take a break, the “don’t feel like writing” phase lasts much longer than if I just tell myself to suck it up and write anyways. 

Any writing quirks?

Well, I wear a bathrobe (yes, even in the summer) while I write. A thick, warm bathrobe. I also have a folding chair with a box on it beside my chair… for my cat. Having a cat next to me helps me write better (And keeps him off of my keyboard!). I also lock myself in the smallest, quietest, darkest space available. And then I listen to Batman music. 

Have you worked on your novel intoxicated? What was the result?

I have, once. The result was the impression I was the most genius writer since Chaucer. The after-result was realizing that I am, in fact, not. 

What would you do if people around you didn’t take your writing seriously or see it as a hobby?

Until less than a year ago, that was pretty much everyone around me. I speak rather colloquially online and in person. If I don’t have at least 5 exclamation points in a paragraph or a dozen emoticons, it’s probably not me. So I think a big part was the inability of people to separate the goofball they know with someone who can “write a legitimate novel.” It was tough for a long time—frustrating and rather insulting. I will say what many in my shoes have said: it hurts. But I will also say, in my case, that it’s forgotten the moment they read and love my novel or see the success I have at conventions/online, etc… It has been a bit of “validation,” honestly. And so I suppose it’s eventually had a positive effect on everything. 

Some authors seem to have a love-hate relationship to writing. Can you relate?

I understand that completely. There are days where I feel that way—usually when the voices in my head refuse to co-operate. I love those characters but I hate that they can cut their strings. 

Do you think success as an author must be linked to money?

To a degree, yes. There are probably brilliant authors out there who do not have the financial means to hire a good editor or good artwork or good publicity and so they will never be discovered. It’s a real shame. I think having money going into the field is often very important to your future success. However, more than this is the way an author handles themselves online—through forums and social media—as well as in person at conventions. I ran into an author at a convention whose cover failed to impress me, but their personality was so magnetizing that I purchased their book and am enjoying it thoroughly. I hope they achieve the same impressions online—they deserve it. 

What had writing taught you?

Some authors write their characters from their experience. I live with experience learned through my characters. 

Leave us with some words of wisdom.

Never be afraid to share your work! So many authors I know (and even myself, at times) are embarrassed to share their work for fear of criticism. If you don’t share your work,  you’ll never know how far you have come or how far you have to go. Take a chance on the people in your life. They might just surprise you. 


Title: Kings or Pawns (Steps of Power: The Kings Book I)

Genre: Fantasy

Author: J. J. Sherwood


Publisher: Silver Helm

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

The first book in JJ Sherwood’s Steps of Power epic fantasy series. The Kings, Book I: Kings or Pawns is a political intrigue that spirals into an action and adventure series as the final events unfold.

8,994 P.E.—The elven city of Elvorium has become corrupted to the core by politics. With his father dead and The Royal Schism at his back, Prince Hairem becomes the king of the elven world on Sevrigel. Young and daring, Hairem is determined to undo the council’s power, but quickly finds his loyal council members brutally murdered by an assassin loosed within the city.

As corruption and death threaten to tear the city apart from within, the warlord Saebellus threatens the city from without, laying siege to Sevrigel’s eastern capital. With the elven world crumbling around him, Hairem finds himself in a dangerous political balance between peace and all out war.

Book Review: ‘Bach, Casals and the Six Suites for ’Cello’ by Steven Hancoff

by marbob00 marbob00 on 10/31/15

Being an avid, life-long fan of classical music and having studied the violin in my later years, I jumped at the opportunity to review this ambitious work put together by internationally renowned guitarist Steven Hancoff.
Hancoff 3CDBach, Casals and the Six Suites for ’Cello, a project that took Hancoff eight years to complete, is a fascinating, immersive multimedia extravaganza that combines music, history and art, a gem for classical music enthusiasts.
The ebook has four volumes:
Volume 1 is all about Bach’s life; volume 2 is about Bach’s death and the following 80 years of total obscurity until his music was discovered by Felix Mendelssohn; volume 3 focuses on Pablo Casals, his heroic life, and how serendipity brought him to Bach’s music; finally, volume 4 consists almost entirely on nine videos about the mystery and greatness of Bach, and how he didn’t allow his personal tragedy to define his music. Over one thousand illustrations grace the pages of the volumes, including three hundred works of contemporary art. There’s also a scholarly bibliography.
The four-volume ebook is available on iTunes and is accompanied separately by a 3-CD set recording of Hancoff’s acoustic guitar transcription of the suites. Readers may listen to samples here.
Like some other famous creative artists in history, Bach led a harsh life, losing his siblings and parents by the time he was ten, then having to work for years in an environment that didn’t support his music talents. He was even thrown into jail at some point. He never recovered from the death of his wife, whom he loved dearly. It was in times of deep pain and hardship that he created his sublime masterpieces, Six Violin Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo and then his Six Suites for ’Cello Solo.
The cello suites are a testament to the tragedy in his life, to all the pain and sorrow, but also to his determination and transcendence—a gift to his then gone beloved wife. Particularly interesting and surprising is how Bach’s prodigious music almost fell to oblivion if not for the efforts of Felix Mendelssohn’s great aunt, and how Pablo Casals discovered the suites in a little shop in Barcelona and how he studied them for over a decade before performing them in public.
Steven Hancoff’s passion and reverence for Bach and his music resonate throughout and shine through the pages of these volumes. He’s done an admirable job presenting “the miracle of Bach,” as Casals once put it. Moreover, his transcriptions of the suites in acoustic guitar are a pleasure to listen to: serene, bitter-sweet at times, filled with emotional power and depth, always sublimely beautiful.
Bach, Casals and the Six Suites for ’Cello is a feast to the senses, a testament to the greatness of Bach and comes highly recommended from this reviewer.
Useful links:
Listen to a samples Steven Hancoff’s transcription of the six suites here:
Watch the video “Bach in 3 Minutes” on YouTube:
Watch Hancoff’s various videos on the subject:
Connect with Hancoff on Facebook and Twitter @StevenHancoff.
My review was originally published in Blogcritics.
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