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Sky High

Sky High - Helge Mahrt

I like to read books that take a creative stance on how the future of the earth might play out. Lots of books, television shows, and movies have tackled this topic, but every once in a while I stumble on a unique concept that makes me fall in love with the genre all over again. 

Sky High is a fast paced and straight to the point work that left my heart racing despite the questions circling around my head. It has a Brave New World feeling to it, but the plot is one that seems terrifyingly plausible. In addition, while the plot is nowhere near similar, the slang used throughout the work reminded me slightly of A Clockwork Orange, however, Sky High is much easier to read than the slang/dialect in A Clockwork Orange. 

My main complaint is that I have so many questions after finishing reading it. I'm not sure if the author is planning a sequel or not, but I desperately hope so. Overall the plot is very well paced, character development is excellent, and I was hooked within the first couple of chapters, unable to stop reading until I was finished. 

Highly recommended and I look forward to this author's future work. 


Some Bio Information

My name is Helge (pronounced hell-ge, ge like in get) and judging by my name you probably have already guessed that I’m not a native English speaker. Actually I’m German, but I am married to a Spanish woman and have been living in Madrid for seven years already.

My interest in writing sparked very early, when I was still in primary school. We would get little comic strips of four vignettes and had to write stories that matched the images. I was amazed by the possibilities and enjoyed the task immensely.

In my teens I had some ideas floating around in my head and I did a lot of world building for a story that I’ve never gotten around to bring to paper. I still remember fondly how I’d type on an old IBM notebook (which was more like a brick) after dark, when I was supposed to be sleeping already.

After finishing my A levels, writing didn’t play a big role in my life until recently. I was busy studying computer science, and then moving to Spain, and all that entails, but I’ve always had this notion of “one day I’ll write a book”.

Eventually I realized that “one day” will never come unless you sit down and put some work into it. So in 2013 I learned about NaNoWriMo and decided to participate. I actually managed to crank out about 6000 words on the first weekend but then failed miserably. I just didn’t have the discipline yet.

I tried again in 2014 and managed to write every single day. It was very exhausting, for I also had to work my day job, but it was also a revelation. Not only was I able to achieve the insane goal of 50000 words but also something incredible happened: When reading a book, I usually reach a state where I’m not aware of the actual act of reading anymore, but just of the images created in my mind. Something similar happened while writing, only a lot more intensive. I was so immersed in my story, and in discovering what was happening next, that I forgot that I was typing. It felt like reading a book, but the experience was a lot more powerful.

So here I am now. I have a full time job at a big IT company, which is quite demanding, and I’m trying to find time to write on my second book whenever I can.


Q&A

1. Tell us a little about what inspired you to write this book. 

I don’t exactly remember when I first had the idea, but I wanted to try creating a different kind of Sci-Fi story. Most of which I’ve read play in Space, where the human race managed to get off Earth. So I asked myself: What if we failed to colonize space? What if we were stuck here, running out of living space? So I started dreaming up Skyreach and this really cool transportation medium, the Tubes going up and down the city, and things took off from there.
While writing Sky High, I almost exclusively listened to Ellie Goulding’s album Halcyon Days, and I feel that it influenced the story.

2. How long did it take you to put your work together? 

Sky High was my NaNoWriMo 2014 project. I wrote the first 50k words within a month, but then made the mistake to take a break. Stuff happened, and it was September 2015 before I got to continue the story. I had lost all momentum and had to read what I had written so far again. It was really tough to get a vibe going again, but it was also a very surprising experience – there were so many details which I had forgotten already, and I really liked what I had so far.
I resumed writing and finished the story in another 15k words or so. All in all – pure writing time – I’d say it took me 2 months.

3. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? 

I have a fulltime day job, so I have to squeeze in writing time whenever I can – usually in the evenings when my wife is already asleep. 

When writing Sky High, I had to keep up with the daily word goal, which was quite tough. We were still living in a smaller flat and my desk was in the living room, right next to the TV. While my wife was relaxing on the couch, I put on my headset, cranked up the music to drown out the TV, and then wrote for about 2 hours every night. It was a rush, but I ended up exhausted at the end of November. 

In 2013 I first participated in NaNoWriMo, but I started late and failed after about 5000 words. I swore to prepare better next time, so I used October 2015 to start inventing the world my story would take place in, and some of the main characters. From there I took the “pantser approach” and just started writing, never looking back.

4. What was your least favorite part of the writing process? 

I think the worst part was waiting for my editor to be done. It’s not that he was slow, but it was so hard to wait!

5. How would you describe your writing style? 

Since the book has been out, I’ve read a couple of times that my style is “precise”. I think I can agree with that: The draft I sent off to my editor was right below 65k words, and when it came back it only shrank down to about 63k. I’ve read that most writers need to cut down on their writing, after the first draft, but I always have the feeling that I need to expand more on different topics/parts. I’m a very goal-oriented person – trying to get there in the most efficient manner - and I think it shows in my writing. 

6. What is your ultimate writing goal? 

I’d love to be able to live off my writing.

7. What would you like readers to take away from your work? 

First of all, I’d like them to enjoy what they’re reading. I think that’s most important. 
Further than that, it’s hard to tell at this point. I’ve only written one book so far. With Sky High, my goal was to create a mad-chase experience, and I think I’ve succeeded in that. With my next project, I’d like to create a different experience – but I haven’t decided on which exactly yet.

Foehammer

Foehammer - Duncan Campbell

I've been searching for an appropriate way to describe this book for the full 48 hours since I finished reading it. And what have I come up with? Zilch. I don't know that I can do it justice in a simple turn of a phrase. It lies somewhere in between Avengers, Resident Evil, Revelation (as in the book of the Bible), and heck, I don't know, The Thing? The X-Files? Fringe? On top of that, throw in a little bit of political corruption and intrigue and a multitude of half-wit masses who no longer care about their government, and you have Foehammer. 

I want to say that I was hooked from the beginning, but I was not. It took 3-4 chapters for me to really figure out what was going on -- about the time the team was assembled and meeting for the first time. But I cannot put this on Campbell. I was having a difficult time focusing. 

But once I was hooked, I could not put my Kindle down. I stayed up way past my bedtime just to finish this book. Partially because I was so into the plot. And partially because, although there is a lot of humor and downtime in this book where they're not fighting off bizarre creatures, the plot and Campbell's writing style is just enough to put me on edge and make me uncomfortable enough that I couldn't fall asleep until I had a resolution. 

I love the questions that the plot brought to my mind. Most importantly, I love that the questions are not blatantly posed to the reader. With just the tiniest hint of what's going on in the world of Foehammer, alarms ring in your head and you realize that world is not right; something seems terribly wrong. 

While I want to go on and on about this book (I'm practically gushing already), I'm going to stop and simply say that you should read it. Period. End of story. The characters are exceptionally well developed, the plot is positively entrancing, and the writing style is clever and smooth -- leading you on with each page turned. 


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Some Bio Information

Duncan Campbell was born and grew up in Yorkshire in the UK. After school he left York to study philosophy at the University of Sussex. 

A huge dose of magic mushrooms whilst backpacking in Thailand resulted in a powerful hallucinogenic experience that awakened a strong interest in shamanism. The ‘spirit world’ sequences in the Foehammer books are drawn directly from his diary entries at this time.


Q&A

1.    Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process?

I write lots and lots of drafts. This allows the story and characters to develop slowly and gives me lots of reflection time. Most people don’t believe it, but there were more than eighty drafts of Foehammer before I was happy. This took eight years. It’s a very personal story and reflects strong beliefs that I hold – so it was worth it.

2.    Is the story over? 

No, not at all. It has just begun! There are two more books. Unfortunately only a few characters survive!

3.    Which Foehammer character do you relate to the most? 

It has to be two. I am half Jester and half Curtis! In fact if you want to go into psychological depth then Curtis represents my super ego and Jester my id.

4.    What’s your least favorite part of the writing process?

Getting stuck on a single sentence to describe something. 

5.    Who’s your favorite author?

When I was a boy I read The Lord of The Rings about twelve times – so Tolkien.
As an adult, I rate Iain M Banks and Cormac McCarthy

6.    Can you give us a little hint of the inspiration behind Foehammer?

I can give you loads! Strangely, the tone of the book is inspired by the sound of the post punk band Killing joke. Many of the scenes contain subtle Killing Joke references. I wanted to capture the intensity of their music and gigs in written form (an insane goal – but there you go).

Politically Foehammer is also an angry statement about social complacency, politicians profiting from war and increasing global wealth inequality. Jester and Curtis will never allow themselves to be sub-dermaly chipped and tracked by the government! Foehammer are my small army of resistance. Crooked politicians and corrupt corporations beware, there are only six of them – but they will find you and nothing can stop them.

I am also inspired by classic graphic novels and sci fi. Some reviewers have spotted a hint of Alien and Aliens, and I hope there’s some Bladerunner in there – as I adore that film.

7.    What’s your ultimate writing goal?

To keep going. First I have to finish the trilogy – and then I have a box of about three hundred more ideas to get through. I will do a British ‘superhero’ collective in a few years time.

Dead Center

Dead Center - Danielle Girard

As a rule, I don't refresh my memory on a book's teaser before reading it. I don't read other reviews nor do I reread the brief description on Goodreads or Amazon. I like jumping into the book with no preconceived notions whatsoever. 

So when I started Dead Center, I was a little confused. The scenes jump around quite quickly at first and I couldn't figure out who's eyes I was looking through at various times. And while this made for a rocky start to the book, what kept me going was the author's strong dialogue and impressive way with words. 

After a few chapters, I was able to pick out which characters were being referenced and I grew accustomed to the way the book jumped perspectives. Then I was really able to focus on the plot.

I was trying to piece the entire puzzle together instead of realizing that there might be a couple different smaller puzzles in the mix. But again, the quick pace of the plot and the author's enjoyable writing style made it easy for me to simply sit back and let the plot take me where it would. 

Overall I highly enjoyed this crime thriller and would recommend it. I look forward to reading more by this author. 


Some Bio Information

Almost two decades ago, Danielle decided she wanted to try to write a book. She set out to write something sweet, maybe even romantic, but on page 5, someone got shot and it's been that way ever since. The Barry-award winning author lives with her husband, who is careful never to lurk in dark corners, and their two children. They split their time between San Francisco and the northern Rockies.


Q&A

1.    When did you know you wanted to be an author? 

I wrote a little in college, but “writing” was not an acceptable career choice in my house. My parents were doctors and business people, so “art” was not a vocation. It was a hobby. For that reason, the interest in writing was always pushed to the side by “important” things like organic chemistry and calculus II. After college, I worked in finance where met a woman who wrote romance novels. She inspired me to sit down and just start something. I had no idea what it would turn out to be until (on page five) someone got shot. I was 24 and I’ve been writing suspense ever since.  

2.    Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? 

Nothing can replace the time in the chair. If you don’t sit there, even just to stare out the window, you don’t get it done. I try to write a certain number of words every day when I’m in a book (usually 1000) but I fall off that wagon regularly. (Today, for instance.) Sometimes I think it’s my brain’s way of recognizing that I haven’t solved an issue that has to be dealt with before I can keep going. But, I’m also pretty good and getting back up, dusting off and getting back in the chair. And I do give myself time between books to recharge. Usually the next book starts talking to me and I know it’s time to sit down and start again. 

3.    Who is your favorite character in Dead Center? 

I have a real soft spot for broken characters. I guess this comes from my belief that we are all damaged in some way. Some of us do better at hiding it, but it’s these little cracks in our plaster, these little breaks that make us interesting and also real. Jamie Vail, protagonist of Dead Center and lead member of the Rookie Club, is like this. She’s quite angry and a little self-destructive, but when push comes to shove, she’s also fiercely loyal and protective. I love that she is a series of contradictions (like of all of us) so she feels real to me. 

4.    What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

The toughest part of any book is the beginning. I don’t know my character yet, so I have to let her talk to me, tell me who she is and show me how she handles things. For that reason, the beginning takes the longest. I feel like the first 10% (40 pages-ish) has to really hold together before the story can take off. I usually spend a month or more on the beginning. After that, the rest of the book is usually written, edited, and prepared for publication in another 4-6 months. The end is always the easiest because it’s been teasing itself out in the back of my brain for so long. 

5.    Who is your favorite author?

Wow. That is such a hard question. As a person, John Connolly is one of my favorite authors. I think he’s brilliant and kind and his books are magic. I’m lucky to have a lot of authors who I consider friends. Elizabeth Strout, Lisa Gardner, Alafair Burke, Lee Child, Jonathon King, Jeff Abbott. They are both wonderful people and wonderful writers. While most of the readers I know are suspense authors, I read all over the board, so I also love Jeffrey Eugenides, Colum McCann, Sue Mott Kidd, John Green, Jodi Piccoult, Junot Diaz….did you say one favorite?     

6.    Describe your favorite place. 

I love to travel. Love love love it. So my favorite places include the tiny hill towns in Italy, Macchu Picchu, Peru and a tiny island in Thailand called Koh Tao where I was once, twenty years ago. I am lucky enough to spend a lot of time in Montana and I am in love with the mountains and the snow (even when it comes in July). But, if I had to choose just a single place, it would be my office. I’ve got big windows that look out into the yard and the mountains. It’s such a peaceful view. The room, on the other hand, is an absolute mess. I have a sign that says, “Genius is a messy process.” I swear it’s a quote I found somewhere, but my husband is convinced I made it up to explain my office. I don’t like to admit that he might be right.

Despite the mess, the office is also a beautiful space. The walls are painted a light sea green, the wall behind my chair a little bolder. My husband and kids have framed all my covers, so they hang on the walls along with art done by my brothers (who are both artists) as well as some pieces done by my kids and a few photographs. On one wall is a case with all my taekwondo belts in it, from the white one all the way through to my second degree black belt. These remind me that good things take a lot of time and effort. Not to mention sweat and blood and a fair number of tears. 

7.    What’s your ultimate writing goal? 

Ultimately, I want to write a compelling story that is engrossing, draws you in and makes it hard to let go. At the same time, the characters in a story are, to me, the most important part. I want the protagonist’s struggle to be real. Sharing those struggles through genuine characters is a way to help all of us be better and stronger, even in the toughest of times. That’s what I hope to accomplish in my books.

Another Day in Paradise

Another Day in Paradise - Laurie Hanan

This is a delightful and intriguing mystery that really makes you crave a tropical vacation. While normal mysteries tend to be on the gloomy side, Hanan's is based in Hawaii and the sunshine and vibrant colors of the land can't help but shine through her words. 

I love the main character, Louise. She's fun, charming, and tackles each day with an energy that I find not only inspirational, but I'm also envious of. 

The story moves along at a great pace and I really didn't see the twist coming until the very end. It had a great progression that kept me guessing. Hanan gave away just enough for me to form my own opinion, but not guess the ending. I love that in a mystery. Not predictable, but I was still able to read a little bit between the lines. 

Overall I thought this was a wonderful book and I look forward to reading about more of Louise's adventures. 


Some Bio Information

I grew up in the picturesque islands of the South Pacific. My father pioneered air travel to much of Micronesia, and I inherited the travel bug from him. After studying art at the University of Washington. I set off on my world travels. I met my husband in Israel, married him in Cyprus, and we settled in Hawaii. I retired after a career with the Honolulu Postal Service and started writing my Louise Golden mysteries. My husband and I live on Oahu with our two youngest children, an overweight Westie, and a bipolar cat.


Q&A

1. Who is your favorite author? 

There are so many wonderful authors whose books I enjoy immensely. But if I am forced to narrow it down to just one favorite, I must say it’s Bryce Courtney. Besides being a fabulous storyteller, he was a wonder, dear man. I had the privilege of making his acquaintance before he passed away and he left an indelible mark on my life.

2. Tell us a little bit about your writing process. 

I start with a premise, then work it into a loose outline, leaving a lot of room for the plot to take shape as I write. I update to the outline as I go, asking myself after each scene, “What has changed? What new conflict has arisen because of the change?” If there is no change or conflict, maybe the scene doesn’t need to be there. Readers tell me they’re always surprised by the turns my stories take, and that’s probably because as I write I never know what’s going to happen next. 

3. What do you have in store for Louise? Will we be seeing a lot of her? 

There are four novels in the Louise Golden mystery series. I do intend to keep writing about Louise, but I am currently taking a detour. Writing a novel is always a huge challenge, but I want to stretch myself in a new direction. My work in progress is a young adult novel. The main character is Louise’s neighbor, Emmeline, who my readers have watched grow from a delightful ten-year-old into a surly teenager. Writing from the perspective of an eighteen-year-old is the most challenging thing I’ve taken on as a writer. 

4. Describe your favorite place. 

There’s no place on Earth like the Big Island of Hawaii. You can still find something of the  ‘Old Hawaii’ in the lifestyle there. The landscape ranges from snow-covered mountains, to rain forest, to miles of bleak, arid land, to sandy beaches. The volcano spills out lava that carves a path through towns and countryside and cascades in to the ocean, to form into solid rock. There’s something so primal, so elemental, about watching Earth give birth to itself. 

5. Is there such a thing as the perfect writing atmosphere? 

I need to be alone to write. I can’t concentrate when my husband and kids are home because they constantly interrupt my thought process, even if they aren’t talking directly to me. I like sitting at my own desk by my back door, with plenty of fresh air but no distracting view. It’s only here that I’m bored enough for my imagination to kick into gear. 

6. Was there a deciding point in your life that made you want to be an author?

I think I always wished to one day be an author. As I got older, I thought when I retired from my job at the Honolulu post office, I’d sit down and try to write a mystery. And if that was successful, maybe even a series. I was struck by illness and forced to take a medical retirement much earlier than planned. But I wasted no time starting that first novel. 

7. What’s your ultimate writing goal? 

Ultimately, I’d want to make as many people as possible happy with my stories. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

The Gamble

The Gamble - Geoffrey R. Tigg

If you're looking for a fast paced, high action thriller, The Gamble should be on your "To Read" list. Each time you think that there's nothing else that could possibly go wrong for poor Jamison, he finds himself in another unlucky situation. 

The Gamble is a suitable name for this book in that Jamison is indeed playing a game, it just so happens to be a very dangerous game where the stakes include not only his life, but also the lives of people he works with and cares about. 

I always struggle with books that are a little too intense -- sometimes they take themselves too seriously and don't give the reader any breaks from the action. But Tigg offers a bit of lightheartedness where Jamison's love life is concerned. I enjoyed these scenes as they say a lot about Jamison's character. Although he's caught up in something that is over his head, he lets himself have fun and doesn't seem to take the situation as seriously as others would like him to. 

This book is very well written and highly enjoyable. Anyone who understands gambling more than I do (not much of a gambler) will probably see more connections than I did, as well as further appreciate Jamison's situation. 


Some Bio Information

Born in Windsor Ontario in 1950 to English Immigrants, I’ve been exposed to many different life styles and living environments, including living in Mexico City as a teen. I’ve been fortunate enough to earn degrees and certifications in engineering, finance, logistics and consulting and have practiced those disciplines at various times in my working career.

I’ve been fortunate to visit and live in many parts of Canada and appreciate the opportunities that many of us experience, as well as recognize the disparities across our society.

I love telling and listening to stories about life experiences and culture, and now focus my efforts as an artist and novelist telling those stories in my own creative way. My discipline is my passion, straining to get it right so others can relate to the message and feel the emotion that I intended to deliver. My stories are complex with interrelated events that focus on the characters’ emotions and actions as they respond to the common event that ties them together.


Q&A

1.    Tell us a little bit about your writing process. 

a.    In summary, I develop a story idea in my mind, usually based on something personal, a place, an event, some current event.

b.    I have developed over my 5 years of writing mystery/murder stories, a story line framework. The framework is EXCEL spreadsheet based. The frame work has a sheet for characters, a sheet for research, a sheet for the story line plots (usually 2-3), etc.

c.    I have each plot/story line in a column noted by the characters in that plot line (at the top). I have time periods down the side rows, usually set in days split into 4 periods. I place the scene ideas into the cells under the plot lines. I add dates, times, weather etc in the row header. I develop the first pass of the story. Each character is noted in the character sheet, along with notes about each character- I usually go to the Internet and find picture of a person that looks like the character in my mind. I copy that photo so the character is consistent when I write a scene involving that character. Sometimes I have a sheet with maps or other specific info that must be consistent that involve the story. Because most of my work involves real places the details must be correct or the locals would know- I try to be realistic for that audience. 

d.    Once this ‘draft’ story line is complete- I begin to write- usually 8-10 weeks after the spreadsheet is began. (I have a MS Word layout framework so I don’t have to format after. I usually establish an initial cover page design.

e.    The story usually takes its own direction and I alter the spreadsheet storyline as things evolve. The base story usually alters about 3 times before the final work is completed.

f.    The draft goes to beta readers (I have 1-2), I edit.. then it goes to a paid editor.. Usually 3 cycles of edit that included continuity, grammar, etc. I finalize the cover design with a designer, including the back page synopsis. 

g.    Finalize & Publish.

2.    How do you keep all the pieces straight as you’re putting them together?

a.    The spreadsheet is the key here. Each story line scene is color coded so I can follow the line of events and ensure integration with other plots work. If the novel changes direction, all the scenes are reviewed.

b.    As I have characters that move in and out of various novels, I keep the character files updated and ensure the continuity from one story to the next.

3.    How much research did you have to complete for this book?

For The Gamble- the research was about 2-3 weeks, as it included things on terrorists, technology, Google Maps (I use this to see the location and scene details) ferry & air flights, etc

4.    Is Jamison’s story over? 

No- I’m ½ way through writing ‘Covert Acts’ the sequel. There may be a 3rd novel in the series. From my experience I try to keep my work in the 80,000 word range- so the stage of the story dictates the decision to create a sequel. That happened in ‘The Myth of Kukulkan and Eye for an Eye. This is usually a consideration because of book cover price and production cost issues.

5.    Who’s your favorite author?

John Grisham.

6.    What’s your dream vacation? (Or have you already been there?)

Cruise the Mediterranean- planned for next year.

7.    Describe the perfect writing environment.

I prefer to write in the morning in my office at home. A couple of hours max. I like 1 or so hours at night, usually after 7pm.