Friday, September 7, 2012

A Song Apart by Jeffrey H. Baer: Interview & Excerpt

Rising pop singer Shannon Kistler never expected to see college student Kevin Derow on a Manhattan street wearing her concert shirt. But she offers gratitude in her own way, leaving her biggest fan in shock. When the two teenagers meet again six days later, Shannon slips Kevin her phone number, and the unlikely romance begins.

Soon they find they have several things in common: lonely childhoods, a passion for music, and making unpopular choices about their own lives. The public cannot take Shannon seriously as a teenaged recording artist, but she risks her sudden success by making some public mistakes after breaking into a soulless music industry with unusual ease. Meanwhile Kevin loses the respect of family, friends and coworkers over the girl he idolizes-and unwittingly blows the lid off a payola scheme devised by Shannon's record label, threatening her career and possibly his own freedom.

A Song Apart revolves around two young people from distinct backgrounds who choose to follow their hearts rather than their peers and find a greater reward at the end of their paths.

Review by Sophia Flynt
“Kevin is just a normal kid minding his own business when he happens to catch the eye of his dream girl. This is no ordinary crush, this girl is the biggest sensation in music since Brittney Spears (I’m gathering). Shannon Kistler is a celebrity, sure, but she’s also down-to earth and she and Kevin connect. What follows is a friendship turned romance that faces unusual conflicts and threatens to tear them apart at every turn.
I genuinely enjoyed this story. Mr. Baer is an excellent writer and storyteller, and I found it to be an extremely easy read. The dialogues were real and funny, and felt authentic. I liked how I was able to picture everything that was happening, feel the city scenery, and imagine the characters as they were – and not once did I feel bogged down by an overabundance of needless descriptions. To me this is a sign of a great writer, one who can paint the scene perfectly while utilizing word economy. I recommend this book not just to music or romance fans, but to anyone who has ever been young and dreamed of bigger things…and to have those dreams come true.”


The Public Be Damned

Someone tapped my shoulder as I waited for the light to change on the corner of 23rd and Park. “Excuse me,” said a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman from today’s Political Science class at Manhattan University. “Your name is Kevin, right?”
I nodded.
“Why are you wearing that shirt?”
I glanced down at the image of Shannon Kistler on the front. “Oh–I like her.”
“Why?” She winced.
“Adam liked Eve, Romeo liked Juliet, Anthony liked Cleopatra…it’s a tradition, I guess.”
“But her music is juvenile.”
“So I’ve heard.”
The streetlight changed, but my classmate stared at me as we crossed Park Avenue. I walked up 23rd Street to the bus stop at the Flatiron Building, my backpack full of newly purchased textbooks. Halfway up the block, a guy in a three-piece suit who talked on a cell phone glanced at my shirt as he walked toward me. “Wait a second,” he muttered. “Man,” he snarled at me, “I can’t believe someone like you put on that shirt.”
“And I can’t believe someone like you got off your phone to tell me so.”
He frowned and walked away as I continued toward Broadway. At the Flatiron Building I stood in my usual nook, watching for my express bus home. The sidewalk was practically empty, but I caught the attention of a curly-haired guy, maybe a year or two older than me, strolling toward Union Square with a friend. The guy tapped his friend’s shoulder and pointed at me, but I waved him off before he yelled at me.
The traffic on Broadway was as thin as the pedestrians on the sidewalk. The other Staten Island-bound express buses stopped by the building regularly, but my wait for the X12 was always longer for one stupid reason or another. I already spent a whole year waiting for many things, including the bus, and I knew that wouldn’t change any time soon, especially with everything I still had to learn about accounting before I got my BBA.
An early September breeze blew through my hair as a black limo stopped at the light on 22nd Street. I couldn’t guess who was inside–a bridal party, a foreign dignitary, or a corporate big shot. But I was hypnotized by the long car, watching it roll down Broadway and onto 21st Street after the light changed.
“Excuse me,” a black man in a parka and a wool hat said, “you got any change to spare?”
“No, I don’t. I’m sorry.”
“Hey, you don’t gotta be sorry, okay? You don’t got it, you don’t got it. That’s all. You don’t gotta be sorry for nothin’. People always getting’ into trouble ‘cause they sorry for stuff they can’t control, and we got all these world problems because people do a lotta shit they sorry about later. And that uses up a lotta energy, you know? They can use that energy to do other stuff.”
He clamped a hand on my shoulder, to my horror. “Look, man,” he continued, pointing, “you a young guy. You don’t need none of that shit, okay? You don’t gotta worry about nothin’ but the rest of your life. You got lotsa time to do whatever you please, and bein’ sorry ain’t gonna help you. So you don’t got the change, you don’t got the change, and that’s the way it goes. You don’t gotta be sorry about it, okay? Don’t be sorry. You got it, don’t you?”
Yeah. I’m sorry I apologized. I nodded slightly, trying not to roll my eyes.
“Yeah, you get it.” He smiled, showing off his yellow teeth. “You get it. You a good guy. Go get yourself some nice pussy.” He slapped my shoulder and marched off.
Oh, no, you did NOT use the P-word on me…
“Hey, mister,” a girl’s voice yelled, “you got a nice shirt on!”
“Thank–YOU!! HOLY SHIT!!” It was Shannon Kistler herself, calling to me from the limousine sitting at the light a few moments ago. She laughed, ducked inside and rolled up the window. I snatched my backpack and chased after her, but the heavy textbooks slowed me down, and she made a swift getaway.
Two minutes later an X12 finally pulled up. “How you doin’?” asked the driver after he opened the doors.
“Hanging in there, thanks,” I fumbled, paying the fare.
“School started again?” he asked, pulling away from the curb.
“Yeah,” I muttered.
“You don’t seem happy about it.”
“I had a long day.” I would’ve said why I really didn’t seem happy, but he’d never buy it.
“Well, pick a seat and take a snooze,” he said. “You look like you could use it.”
“I’m way ahead of you.”
He chuckled as I grabbed a window seat and followed his advice.


Hello Jeffrey, Welcome!  I’m pleased that you could join me today and tell us some things about your path to authorhood.  So, let’s begin.  First off, tell us about your current release.

A Song Apart is the story of Shannon Kistler, a rising pop star who rode her debut CD to astonishing success, and Kevin Derow, a college student and Shannon’s unlikeliest fan. Since they’re both teenagers, their life choices come under fire from people around them. Shannon hears it from a spiteful media while Kevin encounters hostility from family, friends, and even an occasional stranger who can’t stand her music. Nevertheless, Kevin and Shannon fall in love and change each other’s lives for the better while finding the courage to be themselves.

Tell us about your next release.

Right now I’m editing The Strickland File, a novel I wrote over a decade ago–and boy, did it need editing. Based on previous experience, it’s about a college graduate coping with politics and adversity at his new job. To be clear, I didn’t write The Strickland File to get revenge on anyone, but to connect with the public via a story the “average Joe” can identify with, like A Song Apart.

What is the hardest part of writing your books?

Ten years ago I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is high-functioning autism that affects social skills. It answered a lot of questions about my childhood and troubles finding steady work, but that’s a different matter.

Writing in itself isn’t a struggle, but sometimes I have a tough time expressing myself exactly the way I want. People who read early drafts of A Song Apart, for example, claimed my writing was vague and unclear, as if I threw words on the page and expected readers to figure out what I meant. Some professional editing cleared that up, but then other readers asked me why Kevin and Shannon act as they do in the story. I wasn’t sure what they meant until I read a detailed analysis of the characters in Herman Melville’s Billy Budd in a how-to book, and then I realized they meant deeper character motivation. I fixed that as well, and hopefully that won’t be a problem for future novels.

How do you describe your writing style?

Economical, among other things. One might think since I’m an ASpie, I tend to overstate a lot of things in my writing. But if I prefer to read novels that get right to the point, then I would write such a novel as well. Of course, that means spending a lot of time editing, but the results are well worth the effort. Although some of our most respected authors relied on extensive description to establish their unique styles, I don’t always have the patience to read those passages. Editors tell hopeful writers to take out what doesn’t move the story forward anyway–which also explains why A Song Apart has no explicit sex. ; )

How do you develop your plots and your characters? Do you use any set formula?

I find the plot and characters develop themselves, actually. I never start a story without a basic idea of what to write about, but I get other ideas as I write and during downtime. Editing, to me, is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, so there’s an element of fun to it.

Do you listen to music while writing? If so what?

I split time between 70s pop, the music of my childhood, and old school R&B, my favorite genre nowadays. I like to sing, so I have to make sure I don’t type any lyrics into a manuscript.

Do you have any suggestions for beginning writers? If so, what are they?

First and most important, be yourself in your writing. Don’t just write what you know, write what you want, and NEVER let anyone talk you out of it. Your subject matter may not match what’s on the New York Times Bestseller List, but it doesn’t mean readers can’t enjoy and be moved by it. It’s safe to say you won’t be happy sounding like someone else.

Second, don’t be afraid to consider publishing your own book. A Song Apart was rejected by agents 336 times (337 if you include the phone rejection). I wasn’t upset, but I was still frustrated enough to check out CreateSpace (’s print-on-demand service) and eventually sign with them. I chose CreateSpace because Amazon backs them up, but similar companies provide different services. If you choose to self-publish, research the companies carefully. Some of them aren’t as interested in your book as they are your checkbook.

Third, if you’re lucky enough to get an agent, put in a good word for me.  ; D

My childhood was like a lot of other childhoods--difficult. I was quite advanced for my age, as everyone discovered when I was able to read the Times Square message boards at age two--out loud, no less. My grandparents told me how surprised the pedestrians were to see me read; I was too engaged to notice, or else I'd have passed the hat around.

Unfortunately, the other kids weren't surprised. In fact, they were downright offended and often reminded me as much. The worst of it came in junior high school, when the entire grade hated my guts without knowing why. Looking back on it, though, I should've thanked those kids for giving me all that attention.

I realized I could write in seventh grade when our English teacher asked us to write an essay about a famous woman. Since I loved pop music, I chose Roberta Flack as my essay subject, but I was out sick the day after I handed it in. When I went back the following Monday, a girl in my class said "Gee, thanks, Jeff. We all really wanted to hear about Roberta Flack." It seemed the teacher was so impressed with my essay, he read it to the class, and my classmates had yet another reason to consider me persona non grata.

My so-called "bad reputation" followed me to high school. Suffice it to say Graduation was the happiest day of my life.

In April 2002 I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, which is high-functioning autism that affects social skills. It explained why I was socially inept as a child as well as why I couldn't find and keep jobs on my own. No big deal--the diagnosis helped me accept myself as I am. There's no cure or treatment for AS, but I find Paxil frees up the rigid thinking that comes with autism--and I'm a more well-rounded person for it.

I live in Coney Island with my wonderful girlfriend Karen, whom I've known for 22 years.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Athena's Son by Jeryl Schoenbeck: Interview and Excerpt


In 276 BC, Egyptians are terrified when a series of murders are linked to Anubis, god of the dead. The evidence is inexplicable. The victims' bodies have no wounds and the killer's tracks are enormous animal prints. Egyptians believe the jackal-headed god doesn't want the new lighthouse build. The pharaoh needs someone special to solve the crimes, someone with the skills and intellect to track down a vengeful god.

Twelve-year-old Archimedes is that person. He is blessed by Athena, goddess of wisdom and war, with extensive knowledge of science, mechanics, and medicine. He has to tread carefully when he applies the cold logic of Greek science in a sultry, mystical world of Egyptian culture. But when an ancient scroll puts him on the path of the killer, it also brings another god back from the dead. Now Archimedes is going to need Athena's war skills.


Chapter 5 excerpt, Athena’s Son

The pressure on Damokles was growing. He was one of the foremen in
charge of building Pharaoh Ptolemy’s lighthouse, and they were falling
behind the construction timetable.
Workers continued walking off the job as more dead men were found  and the murders were increasing to nearly one a week. Pharaoh Ptolemy
brought over hundreds of skilled Greeks like Damokles to make sure this type problem wouldn’t crop up.
Damokles’ expertise was not specifically construction, but rather making sure the men kept working and did not loaf or sneak in naps. Ten years as a platoon commander in the Macedonian army gave him the aptitude to get men to do what he wanted.
But he was finding that threatening laborers was different than commanding hoplite soldiers. Once in a while a hoplite might be put to
death to get the fear of the gods in the others.
Now, a god was already killing the laborers. There was no more fear to
hand out.
“These are not jackal tracks,” the hunter hired by Damokles told him.
The hunter, Shenti, was a tracker by trade. Rich merchants and nobles of Ptolemy’s court paid the hunter to track large game in Egypt. “At least, not a jackal of this world. They are too large.”
The hunter was on one knee and gently tracing the outline of a print
that lead to and from the latest victim. The dead man was one of the
more reliable workers, and now he was as cold as the stone he helped
He was found under the same circumstances as the previous ten. He was laid out on one of the massive stones used to build the base of the
lighthouse. His arms were crossed and there was the carefully placed
turquoise scarab amulet on his chest.
Great Zeus, Damokles thought, the gods don’t actually come down to kill simple workers. “Perhaps it is a rogue lion,” Damokles offered.
Shenti laughed dismissively. “No. Not a lion, or panther, or cheetah.
Cats have their claws retracted while they walk, or stalk. Dogs or
jackals cannot retract their claws and so the claws are evident in the
tracks they leave. Like these.” He pointed as he got up and looked around, as if sniffing for the predator.
“So they are dog tracks,” Damokles hoped to put an end to the rumors.
“No dog tracks I have ever seen,” Shenti said. “These are twice the
size of a dog. Besides, the throat would be torn out. That’s how dogs
attack. This poor soul has no wounds. Look at the depth of those tracks.
The weight of the…,” Shenti paused, thinking what to call it. “The
creature that made these tracks has to be about the weight of a man.”
Here it comes, Damokles thought.
“I have hunted and tracked every predator in Egypt since I was a boy,”
Shenti said. “I know how they hunt and I know how they kill. No animal or man killed this worker.” Damokles was about to interrupt, but Shenti did not give him the chance. “You may want to ignore what is happening, Greek, but your Egyptian workforce is not. Anubis is walking the earth and these are his tracks.”
Even Damokles had to admit the tracks were large and no mutilation was apparent on any of the 11 bodies that have been found. For a moment he wished he was back in the army, fighting an enemy he can see and dealing with men who bleed when they die. He would have to go to Pharaoh Ptolemy and report more bad news.

What was the inspiration for your book?

The idea was always in my head since I started teaching ancient
civilizations. I knew students could get bored reading just fact after
fact in a textbook. They were so dry. What I wanted to write was an
interesting story to capture and hold my students’ attention, but also
included information about ancient Greece and Egypt.

Why did you pick Archimedes as the protagonist?

Archimedes makes a perfect hero first, because he really was perhaps the
greatest scienctist in the ancient world, and second, because he did
travel to Alexandria, Egypt to study and Alexandria at the time is the
greatest and most vibrant city in the ancient world. So the book has a
great premise to start with.

What was the most difficult part of writing the book?

As any historical fiction writer can attest, it is the amount of
research that goes into writing a well-crafted but accurate story. A
fantasy book can just make up a magic wand to save the hero; or a
realistic fiction doesn’t have to explain to the reader what a car is.
Just making the food and setting accurate is a lot of work, not to
mention all the research on Alexander the Great.

Who is your favorite author?

Easily Charles Dickens. His twists and interesting characters kept me
glued to his stores. I tried to do some of the things he does with his
stories and Pollux, one of Archimedes’ antagonists, is modeled after
Dickens’ bad guys.


Jeryl Schoenbeck wrote his first book when he was 9, sending off a series of drawings and a story idea to Charles Schultz, the creator of Peanuts. Schultz personally wrote back and, although he had to reject the idea, encouraged the young author to keep writing. After earning his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Jeryl worked in newspapers for a while and then went back to college to get his teaching degree, later earning his Master’s Degree in education.

As a middle school teacher of ancient civilizations, reading, and writing, he wanted his students to read a historical fiction book geared toward children about a real person from ancient Greece. He believed ancient civilizations could be more exciting than the text books make it sound. There were not many choices of books, so he took Schultz’s advice and wrote his own.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cold Water by Billie A. Williams: Interview & Excerpt

The school was already quiet and had that certain kind of feeling empty places have like the ghosts of everyone in the past lined the walls watching you. Zip was silently hoping against hope that he could just walk home to find a warm cooked meal, no gangs, his mother all cleaned up and smiling, waiting for him. Instead, his mother was carted off to a psychiatric hospital and his only choices were homeless or foster home. He chose in an instant when he saw the worker from Child Protective Services charging across the walk toward him. Homeless wasn’t the problem. He’d been that before. Bullying gangs, survival and freedom were on his mind now.
Kindle  |  Nook  |  Goodreads

Chapter One

Zip ever so slowly tromped down each step, one at a time. He had a heavy weight on his shoulders; at least, to him, to him it was a very heavy weight he'd carried for longer than he could remember. The school was already quiet and had that certain kind of feeling empty places have. The ghosts of everyone who had ever passed this way lined the walls watching him. He was silently hoping he could just walk home to find a warm cooked meal, and his mother waiting for him.
He had gotten used to the messy house and stale cigarette odor. But he’d never get used to the fear that the smell of alcohol on her breath put to his insides. He wished it could be the way it was before his father left them. The alcohol—that was an illness. Mother is “sick with the disease of alcoholism,” the woman from Child Protective Services said. That was the second time. That was the time when he went to THAT foster home. A different foster home than the first one he had been sent to. She said that, the social worker, she was the one who said about it being a disease, the disease of alcoholism. He never forgot it.
The first time, no one told him anything about why he couldn't be with his mother, except he needed to go live with someone else for a while. The experience with the second foster home made him promise he would never go to another one again, no matter what.
Every step down the stairs, he tried to imagine he was crushing one of the bad things that happened in his life lately—if only he could. Zip tried everything to steer clear of trouble. He hoped that somehow he would be able to get around Snake and his gang for a change and walk home peacefully. He even tuned out the jeers of the gang. They called him a lily-livered-coward, a girl chicken. If he stomped and crushed enough of the steps like they were his troubles, even if they were just the steps to the back door of the school, maybe he’d be okay. Even if everything was only in his imagination, maybe his mother would be okay—or dead. The word slammed into his mind like a jackhammer. Death was around every corner for him. He grew numb to it, mostly—or so he thought he could. But, he never did, not really.
If he did everything right, Mr. M said he could get out of here and be somebody. But what? Wasn’t he already somebody? Didn’t he count the way he was? It was hard to think when…the thought slipped from his mind. He pushed open the door and immediately saw Snake and Waxy playing keep-away with little Tyler Worth’s new backpack full of books. She bragged to everyone about her new backpack. She showed off to anyone who would listen, saying it was her birthday present. Zip skirted the playground. He felt like a rat sneaking away. At the same time, he was glad Snake and his gang had found someone else to harass today. Never mind Tyler was a first grader. She was new to the school and to life on this side of the tracks. AND she was a girl. Zip’s hands curled into fists as his anger built. He tried not to listen when Tyler screamed and cried to the group to just stop and leave her alone.
“Give me back my books, give me back my backpack.” He could hear the tears in her voice. He tried to block them out. “Leave me alone. Somebody help me, please.”
The gang’s answer was wild laughter and teasing jeers. “Oooh, baby wants her backpack. Let’s see—all that’s in here are some stupid books. See Dick, See Jane—baby stories.”
“No, don’t,” Tyler cried as Snake dropped the book on the ground. Zip heard it land with a pop on the blacktop.
He started around the corner to safety. If he could get out of earshot of the loud laughs and Tyler’s feeble pleadings, he’d be okay. Home, home free for once this week. That’s all he wanted. His stomach knotted. He couldn’t take it anymore. She was a little girl. Couldn’t they leave anyone alone?
Zip spun around and retraced his steps. He marched as if he had a troop of soldiers behind him. He didn’t stop until he was inches from Snake's face. The chaos Snake was causing the little girl angered Zip. “Leave her alone,” Zip yelled in a voice filled with as much anger as he felt, a voice he tried to make deep and loud. He spaced the words with air so each had weight of its own. He hoped to make them listen for a change. “Back off and leave—her—alone.”
A moment of dead silence stretched endlessly across the steaming hot blacktop of the playground. It was so silent the katydids forgot to chirp. Silence, except for Tyler’s sobs. A gust of wind moved a swing. The chain squeaked like a message of old hinges and haunted places. Zip’s skin crawled with a million ants. Anger bristled the hairs on his arms. The dread of confronting the bullies that plagued him after school hours faded as Tyler turned to face him. Her huge hazel eyes opened so wide with fear the whites seemed twice as large as they should be. Tears streamed from those eyes like a waterfall.
“Ooooh, big tough baby Ziegfeld is coming to rescue the damsel in distress, is he?” Snake teased.
The members of his gang quickly picked up the chant Zip had grown so used to hearing. “Baby Ziegfeld runs from boys like a little girl scardy cat, m-e-o-w,” they taunted as they surrounded him.
“Run Tyler,” Zip called out to the little girl. She scrambled to grab up the books the gang had pulled out of her backpack. She stuffed them back into the bag as she watched them out of the corner of her eye.
Zip wished she’d hurry and go before they decided to mess with her again.
As if hearing his wishes, she grabbed up her backpack and zipped it shut. She hugged it close to her. Then Tyler took off running like someone had set her on fire.
Zip breathed a sigh of relief before he turned to face the gang. His sure punishment for interfering and daring to face Snake would be next. Snake was in his face. Fear replaced the anger he had felt a moment ago. He hadn’t thought about taking on four guys at once. He hadn’t thought about the consequences of trying to help Tyler. Snake shoved Zip’s right shoulder and he stumbled backward, nearly falling.
“Come on, baby boy. Show us what you’re made of,” Snake jeered.
Twist shoved Zip into Tony. Tony shoved him off into Waxy. Zip felt like a ball in a game of hot potato. They flung him from person to person until he was so dizzy he couldn’t see straight.
When Zip was flung back to Tony, Tony grabbed his arms and held them down at his sides. Snake doubled up a fist and hit him square in the gut. It felt like all the breath had been knocked out of his lungs as the air blew out of him like a windstorm. The force pushed him backwards into Tony.
Zip gasped, sucking in a gulp of hot stale air. If Tony hadn’t been holding him, he’d have crumpled to the ground on the spot. He wished he had collapsed. Then maybe he would have avoided Snake’s next punch. It connected with his nose. This time, bright red blood spurted from his nose, and down his shirt. It felt like his nose was split in two.
Zip’s mind erased the pain his nose was causing and the blood that still spurted out of it from the punch. He needed to do something to stop them. He wasn’t about to stand there and take a beating. He jumped up using Tony as a brace he kicked out and caught Snake in the groin with the toe of his tennis shoe. Snake doubled over, holding himself. He collapsed in a moaning heap to the ground. Tony flung Zip toward Waxy and landed a blow to Zip’s left eye at the same time. Zip struggled to get out of Waxy’s grip. Anger fueled his strength. He tried kicking out at Tony, but Tony stayed just out of reach. “Oh, baby’s gotta bloody nose,” he taunted.
Zip bounced his feet forward, using Waxy as a lever to lift him off the ground. No one dared approach his flying feet for fear of getting a kick like Snake got.
“Hey! You kids!”
Zip heard Mr. M’s voice. Waxy released his grip, and shoved Zip off. Tony connected another gut punch as Zip stumbled forward toward him. Zip lurched and fell over from the force of Tony’s last punch. His struggle against Waxy ended as Waxy suddenly pushed off to rescue Snake before Mr. M could reach them. Waxy grabbed one of Snake’s arms as Tony grabbed the other. They yanked Snake to his feet.
“I’m not done with you yet,” Snake said in a voice like a growl as he struggled to straighten up enough to run. He pointed a finger at Zip. “You’ll pay for this,” he said, allowing his gang to hold him up as they sped off. They evaporated from the scene before Mr. M reached where Zip was sprawled on the ground.
“You okay?” he asked as he helped Zip to his feet.
“Yeah,” Zip said. He really wasn’t. He hurt everywhere, but he wasn’t going to tell Mr. M that. Mr. M couldn’t do anything anyway. Zip just wanted to get home and be done with this day.
“Is your nose broken, do you think?” Mr. M asked trying to reach out to touch Zip’s nose.
Zip turned away abruptly. If it was broken, he didn’t want anyone touching it. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Come with me back into the school, we’ll clean you up.”
“Ah, no thanks. I gotta get home. Ma will be worried,” Zip said. His mother never seemed to worry about him, not lately. But Mr. M didn’t need to know that. Zip was afraid to have to talk about the incident. He wasn’t going to rat out Snake and his guys. Chances are he’d get a worse beating than he already had gotten from them if he did. It was better if he just went home, as fast as he could.
He broke free from Mr. M and raced off.
“Wait, I’ll give you a ride,” Mr. M said.
Turning and running backwards for the few seconds it took him to shout, “Thanks, I’m fine,” Zip waved over his head to Mr. M and ran faster.
But, he wasn’t fine. If he didn’t keep running, he’d feel the pain. He was used to pain. It wasn’t the first time he had been the brunt end of a beating by Snake and his gang. Zip wished he knew how to stop it. But, until they set their sights on someone else, he was their target. He’d just have to live with it.
His insides hurt where he’d been punched, his nose hurt and the blood dripped down onto his shirt and jacket. He could barely see out of his eye as it started to swell shut. Zip wound around the block and through the alley on Baxter Avenue. He doubled back through Xavier Park. It took him a half hour longer to get home that way. Snake didn’t know where he lived. Zip wanted to keep it that way. The roundabout way was the only way he could figure to keep anyone from knowing where he lived. As he ran, he kept his eyes peeled for any sign of Snake’s gang colors.
The gang could be waiting around any corner. Surely they’d want to get revenge for what he had done to Snake. He knew that, so he kept to the shadows as much as he could. He slipped through backyards. Ducked into doorways and stayed close to the dumpsters in the alleys. If you run long enough, you figure out all the ways to keep from being seen. You figure out all the tricks to hide in plain sight. No one was going to see him tonight, no one.


Are the names of the characters in your novels important?  How and why?


The names of my characters are very important, especially with my Zodiac Series which usually is some combination of the name of the zodiac sign and designates the character profile of the protagonist.


But it is important for me to select a name for each of my characters that reflect the part they play in the story whether they are part of the zodiac series or not.  I choose the names, not just for the protagonists but all of the more important characters.   And often, more often than not my starting place is the Zodiac signs and meanings as well as what tree this character would be—designated by their birth date.


As an example of how a name affects the character "Zip" in Cold Water is a Scorpio. First his nickname 'Zip' comes from his action of zipping wherever he goes or whatever he is doing. His 'real' name is Ziegfeld Scorpio-Scorpio is his zodiac sign, character traits of this sign: intense, strong-willed and determined.


I use the zodiac signs and their meanings to reveal my characters in my stories. I have finished the Zodiac series from Aquarius through Leo (Leona Augustine – in Orchestrated Murders to be released November 2012).


How do you develop your plots and your characters? Do you use any set formula?

I don't have a set formula persé. However, no matter where the story idea comes from, I usually begin with character sketches as I feel characters can either make or break a novel. Even if the character is setting, or an entity such as a company or a certain political group, it still needs to be defined in order to make it relevant to the story itself.


I may do a summary outline of sorts with story goals for each character and a story goal for the overall focus of the story.


Some times as with Watch For The Raven (my other young adult book)I started writing and didn't stop to think where I was going. It seemed the story just wanted to be told. It was from a prompt my mother gave me. I was her caregiver when she was terminally ill with cancer. She said "When my grandpa used to tell me stories he always began them with 'when turkeys chewed tabaccy and Tag was a pup.'" I wrote that phrase across the top of my page and began writing. It took over a year before I submitted that manuscript, but it was a rare experience with a story that nearly wrote itself.


I have used The Marshall Plan For Novel Writing by Evan Marshall where I filled out a detailed outline (not your high school English class Roman numerals kind of outline though). This is a tedious process. You don't have to adhere to the outline by any means as you write, but if you do—you have your synopsis pretty well written by the time you are finished, which, to me, is a real plus. Saves a lot of work later.


 Have any of your characters been modeled after yourself?


I think it would be extremely difficult to write an authentic character without using yourself and your experiences, to some degree, to define them. Not that I am all my characters, heaven forbid, but pieces of me are, I'm sure, incorporated into them. I would like to think I do not have a villainous bone in my body, but those nasty people have to come from somewhere – and if I own the good I have to own the not so good. Revenge is sweet. Some of my character rogues have been developed because the story was awoken when some injustice (perceived or real) occurred in my life. Sort of like the current  tote bag saying going around "Don't annoy the author, she may put you in her book and kill you."  

Is there one passage in your book that you feel gets to the heart of your book and would encourage people to read it?  If so, can you share it?

This particular passage is from when Zip is staring into the school yard wishing he didn't have to grow up, didn't have to worry about bullies, homeless, hunger or any of the other things that he is now forced to deal with.
Zip passed by the playground; it was empty. Dead leaves crowded against the fence all around the playground as if trying to escape. He knew how they felt as he had felt the same thing so many times. Someone had forgotten a book. It lay on the ground. The wind turned its pages as though it was reading them. Zip wondered what the title of the book was and then wondered why it mattered. It was abandoned, just like he was.
Wind whipped a piece of white notebook paper into the fence and held it there as if it were another child watching him, wondering where he was going, why he was free, why he didn’t have any rules to follow today.

He did have rules, he wanted to shout. Not easy ones like sitting in a classroom listening, trying to follow the rules of classroom. Be quiet, listen and repeat. No, his rules had changed. Now, they were watch your back, check that dumpster for food or clothing, grab what you can to eat and wear. Things weren’t as easy as they were in school, safe, at least, for part of the day. The swings creaked as if they understood, yet they seemed to laugh at him, mocking him that he couldn’t just walk in and ride them to imaginary places. He wouldn’t do that anymore, anyway. Pretend was for babies, not for homeless teenagers.

What book are you reading now?

I am currently working on a series that involves a woman who raises and trains Bloodhounds for Search and Rescue missions. So I am reading Nora Roberts The Search in which she operates just such an enterprise. Her dogs however are Labrador retrievers. But the principal is the same.  My writing instructor (yes, I'm enrolled in another novel writing class with Long Ridge Writers Group—I'm always taking more workshops and classes)suggested that I read how other authors handle the interweaving of dogs into their stories. Ms. Roberts is an excellent author. I could only hope to have some of her talent rub off on me.

What was the scariest moment of your life?

Oh that isn't as easy as it might sound, I've had many. Like when I thought that the Blue Heron flying over my head when I was walking the mile home on a rural road to my grandparents house, that he was about to swoop down and grab my 8 year old body and haul me away to his castle rock to feed me to his babies. 

Or when I was picking raspberries for my grandmother and a black bear was picking berries in the same patch as me. I was miles from home. I was worried I would become more tasty to him than the berries we were picking. I froze, which was probably a good thing…he left and I raced home as fast as my 10 year old legs could carry me. 


But those weren't the scariest – the scariest was when my first book Death by Candlelight was published way back in 2001. This person who nearly flunked high school English, this person who thought socializing was more important than knowledge so much so she nearly didn't graduate with her class—this person actually had someone who believed in her enough to publish a book by her. I was terrified.  What if they found out I was a fake, I was a failure? What would people who knew me think? I still have not reread that book after it was published. It's too scary.

Nearly 35 books later I still get that chill, that terror of a new book coming out—what will people think? I wonder if I'll ever get used to the term Author attached to my name. {smile and shiver}


Tell us about your current release.


Cold Water (a Young Adult Mystery Suspense) is actually a continuation, or a different voice I should say, from an earlier novel. Knapsack Secrets contains many of the same characters, even Zip. So many readers wanted to hear Zip's side of the story. What was he going through? What was happening to him outside the adult story of Knapsack Secrets…that I had to write his story.


It took a long time. I couldn't find his voice at first. Although, I was a tomboy growing up, I was a woman, a white woman – I won't pretend I knew exactly how an African American teenager would think – though I have nephews who are. It took me many false starts until I finally found Zip, or did he find me…So this is a book I've wanted to write and people have wanted to read, that's a good feeling.


Zip finds himself homeless, again. His mother ripped away from him and sent to a psychiatric clinic—actually a place to dry out for alcohol abuse. Rather than risk a foster home, he knew teenagers were the last pick for most foster parents or it seemed that way to him. He decided the street was better, bullying gangs worried him, survival worried him. But, he was resilient and when he was rescued from a gang attack by a woman (Vanilla Lady to him, because she smelled vanilla clean) who was herself suddenly homeless and destitute, he found a cause—someone who needed him.


She needed him, he was street wise, and he needed a mother figure. Then they adopted Valentine Azusa, who became Granny Val to Zip. The story centers around him trying to stay out of bully's way while he tries to help his two new friends in whatever ways he can to survive and thrive.


I have a readers guide for this book and it has resources in it for anti-bullying techniques, help and links to more information. It deals with such important issues facing our young people today. I hope it will help in some small way.


Tell us about your next release.


My next release Orchestrated Murders, November 2012 is the release date, is another I've wanted to write for a long, long time. It's a story that involves a young woman from Poland who comes to the United States to find her sister, Alka, who was sold into indentured servitude to save Leona's life. Leona is now sold to the same family under the guise of finding her sister. However, Kevin Kratz has other plans. It was his family that took Alka away to the United States all those years ago to be a seamstress in his museum. Leona is now to be designated seamstress in this same hoarder's museum.


Leona finds that everything is not as it seems in America. She is locked in her room, or locked in the exhibits she is working on. No freedom allowed. Everyone who befriends her seems to wind up dead. There is no one left for her to turn to, she needs to rely on her own wit and wisdom to save herself.


I had visited an actual museum that is the basis for this story. I was scared beyond imagining before we got out of that place. It was a hoarder's collection of epic proportions from doll houses, and merry go rounds, to orchestras—whole, life-sized orchestras suspended from the ceilings, river boats and the crown jewel (replicas but perfect) and everything in between the final exhibit with the four horsemen of apocalypse was the curtain call for me. I was out of there – and there is only one exit you can use – it's like the Bates Motel you check in and you can check out, but you can never leave. It still haunts me.  


Best-Selling, Award winning Mystery/Suspense author Billie A Williams is a fiction, non-fiction and poetry author and has won numerous contests for her short/flash fiction stories, essays, and poetry. Currently she has over two dozen books published. She is published in various magazines such as the literary magazine Thema; Guide, a Magazine for Children, Novel, Writing Etc., and Women In The Arts newsletter as well as Sister’s in Crime, to list but a few.

Williams is currently a member of The Wisconsin Regional Writers Association (WRWA) Sister’s in Crime, Women in the Arts Program, ,  Pen Writer's Org., Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. (SCBWI) and Children’s Book Insider, and the Children Writers Coaching Club, Working Writers Club. Visit her at her website or sign up for her Newsletter The Mystery Readers Connection at  . Visit her blog at 

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