This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Martha Engber, whose new novel Winter Light won the 2021 Gold Medal IPPY Award for Young Adult Fiction. Adding to the fun was discovering that we both grew up in the Chicago suburbs around the same time–which turns out to be the setting for Winter Light, the story 15-year-old Mary Donahue, a smart but troubled kid navigating the brutal hand life has dealt her.
Engber who received a journalism degree before working as a freelance reporter for the Chicago Tribune, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and other national publications, is also also a freelance editor and workshop facilitator. Her writing career has included work in a wide variety of genres, including newspaper articles, poems, essays, and plays.
Steve Zettler, the author of the recently published novel Careless Love, is a professional writer, actor, and photogapher. His earlier works include the international thrillers The Second Man, Double Identity, and Ronin, as well as the Nero Blanc Mystery Series, which he co-authored. Steve has also had a long career as an actor on the stage of both New York and regional theaters, as well as appearances on countless television shows and feature films.
I had the privilege of interviewing Steve Recently about Careless Love¸ which was praised by Kirkus Reviews as “powerful tale of the many ways love can go wrong.” Here’s what he had to say.
THE MAKING OF A THOUGHTFUL DETECTIVE STORY—AN INTERVIEW WITH ERIC D. GOODMAN
Think of Detective Sam Spade. Or Mike Hammer. Then put him in a beautiful location with fascinating history and culture and give him a soul that’s open to change. Author Eric D. Goodman takes this combination and stirs it up with a mystery that hinges on clever hidden clues and long-held secrets. The result is The Color of Jadeite, a noir novel that’s packed with fast action, riveting characters, and a sense of purpose.
When an unknown collector sends retired investigator Clive Allan along with Asian beauty Wei Wei to China to search for the lost jadeite tablet of Emperor Xuande of the Ming dynasty, the elements of the novel begin to swirl like a kaleidoscope.
This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Harriet Arden Byrd (aka H.A. Byrd), author of the new fantasy novel Aru’s Realm. Like the novel itself, this “realm” is hard to shoe-horn into a category. A young girl who has caught the interest of a “master of magic,” Aru’s realm in some ways resembles the 19th century, including steam trains and horse-drawn carriages. In other ways, Aru’s realm is one we have never seen before, not only because it includes monsters and magic but also because it has many strong women and lacks the concept of war.
TZ: Your work has many roots in traditional epic fantasy but is distinct in having a pacifist bent–and also in centering on strong female characters.
An Interview with Co-Writers Michael J. Tucker and Tom Wood
I’ve co-authored non-fiction for most of my career, but never considered co-writing novels or short stories. Having complete control over the work has actually been one of fiction-writing’s chief draws for me–distinguishing it from the science writing, playwriting, and other collaborative writing I do.
But recently authors Michael J. Tucker and Tom Wood had made me re-think co-writing. They have just published a co-written, A Night on the Town. a short story about two strangers whose paths cross on a fateful rideshare encounter.
Both were gracious enough in this interview to enlighten me about the co-writing experience.
TZ: A Night on the Town is written using alternating first-person voices—which strikes me as particularly well suited to co-writing because it gives each author the ability to develop a distinct character or characters (kind of like improvisational theatre).
I had the pleasure of reading THE AUGMENTED MAN, a story of a US soldier with a stormy past. Author Joseph Carrabis delves into the psychological and physical aspects of warfare and its effects on the psyche of this soldier, Nick Trailer. Mr. Carrabis shared his thoughts on various aspects of his writing and reading with me.
What kinds of books do you read?
Well written. They’re getting harder and harder to find, though. But reader friends tell me I’m persnickety about what’s well-written. Genre doesn’t matter to me, nor does fact or fiction. But well written? I don’t yield on that one.
Who are your favorite authors?
The first who come to mind are Terry Melia (Tales from the Greenhills) and Joanell Serra (The Vines We Planted), both indie authors and both have amazing talent (I’m waiting for their next books).
I grew up surrounded by a dazzling number of talented classmates in Evanston, IL. Many went on to become world-famous academics, politicians, actors, directors, screenwriters, playwrights, and novelists. Todd London, the author of the new novel If You See Him, Let Me Know, was one of those people.
Todd lived right down the street from me, and we went to junior high and high school together. We even attended the same summer camp. But neither of us ever realized that last part, partly because I was too shy and insecure (or perhaps too vain and self-absorbed) to connect with him.
Todd is now Head of the MFA Playwriting Program at the New School, School of Drama and the Director of Theatre Relations for the Dramatists Guild of America.
I had the pleasure of reading REQUIEM FOR THE STATUS QUO, a novel about a caretaker’s experiences with an Alzheimer’s patient, the narrator’s own father, in the Seattle, Washington area. The author, Irene Frances Olson, cared for her father, who suffered from the same disease. She currently participates in various organizations dedicated to Alzheimer’s patients and their family and friends.
What kinds of novels do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Any nonfiction?
I always read Fiction and Non-fiction simultaneously. Lately I have been shying away from any Fiction themes that are too intense, violent, or suspenseful as I have enough intensity in my life without having my leisure time fall into that category. With that said, however, I will most likely return to such themes when/if the world calms down a bit.
Have you written a book lately (or not so lately)? We’re still looking for authors to be interviewed on Late Last Night Books!
Looking for authors with stories to share
Once again, I am looking for authors who want help publicizing their new books or writing projects–or, as before, even a not-so-newly published book–in future blog posts. In my experience, getting your name and work “out there” is the most painful part of being a writer. I’m hoping this blog can help make that process a little less painful for others–especially writers (and that’s most of us) who don’t have well-funded publicity machines working on our behalf.
When I read Eric D. Goodman’s novel Setting the Family Free, I was impressed with the themes that give the novel a memorable richness, so as I prepared to interview him, I put together questions about the ideas that resonated with me most. In his answers below, Eric expands some of my observations to include fresh themes that have even deeper meaning. Two of the most intriguing are that stories are different to almost everyone who knows them and individuals are unique to each of the people who know them. Read on to learn more about this thoughtful author and the perceptions that gave rise to Setting the Family Free.
I had the pleasure of reading MANAGED CARE, by fellow Black Rose Writing author Joe Barrett, and of interviewing him for this month’s post.
1. What kinds of novels do you read? Who are your favorite authors? Any nonfiction?
I enjoy dark, offbeat satires – especially ones that allow readers to really empathize with main characters that have a twisted perspective on the world – like Nabokov’s Lolita or Donleavy’s The Ginger Man. I also am a huge fan of dialog, I like getting to know characters by what they say and do, as opposed to reading literal descriptions. In addition to the above mentioned two, some of my favorites are Nick Hornby, Jonathan Tropper, Matthew Norman, and Ron Curry. And I wish Paul Neilan would write another book because I thought Apathy and Other Small Victories was hysterical.
Lily Iona Mackenzie’s new novel Freefall: A Divine Comedy is a “coming-of-age” novel about four women turning sixty. As a woman of “a certain age,” this concept naturally caught my attention. The story of “wacky installation artist” Tillie Bloom and three friends from her teenage years follows the women’s lives over four decades in three countries, centered in the San Francisco Bay area, Whistler, BC, and Venice, Italy. The result is an imaginative, sometimes “hilarious,” romp with a touch of magical realism that also turns out to be a serious meditation on the relationship between art and mortality.
Besides Freefall, Mackenzie has published reviews, interviews, short fiction, poetry, travel pieces, essays, and memoir in over 160 American and Canadian venues.
I had the opportunity to interview writer Michael J. Tucker this month about his new novel, Summer Haze. Mike is the author of two critically acclaimed novels, Aquarius Falling and Capricorn’s Collapse, the poetry collection Your Voice Spoke To My Ear, and the memoir A Disrupted Life. His short stories include the Amazon best-selling short story series, Katie Savage.
Tucker’s newest work, Summer Haze, is a coming-of-age novel about three gifted musicians who all overcome childhoods of verbal, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse but eventually bond as a band of singer songwriters . They play in dive bars throughout the South and casinos along the Gulf Coast, navigating the challenges of friendship, rivalry, success, and, eventually, loss.
These days many of us are glued to the news as conflicts near and far are reported with up to the minute details. Can you imagine then how it must have felt to residents of Dubno in Soviet occupied Poland in June 1941 to hear rumors that Germany was about to invade? Jewish families in particular had few if any choices to assure their survival. In one family a young man decided to ride his bicycle to a near-by town to learn what he could. For Wolf Kogul that was the beginning of years struggling to survive war, tragic loss and future guilt.
Each story of that time adds
concrete knowledge of those terrible years, bringing the truth of specificity
that history books can only generalize about.
Nancy Burke is a writer, musician, and psychoanalyst who recently published her first novel, Undergrowth. In my mind, though, she remains a young girl who I saw annually at a mutual friend’s childhood birthday parties–so clearly I have a lot of catching up to do. In this interview, I had a chance to get the process started, at least it terms of Nancy’s writing life
That writing life has been prolific and diverse. In the years since those birthday parties, Nancy has received numerous writing awards and grants, and, as a psychoanalyst, has published non-fiction articles and edited the nonfiction book Gender and Envy. Also a songwriter, she has recorded two albums of her original songs: American Goodbye and a second scheduled for release later this year.
Bill Woods, author of the new novel Orient Beach, has been a published writer 57 years–sort of. He first published a story at age 15 in the Sunday Edition of The Memphis Commercial Appeal after winning a short story contest.
But then life got in the way.
“I had a little business meeting with myself when I finished high school,” Bill recalls. “On the one hand, I really, really wanted to be a writer. However, I grew up poor. Becoming a starving artist did not seem romantic to me. So now, a retired engineer, I’m back where I started. I still want to be the writer I wanted to be at 15. “
A lifetime later, Woods has become that writer.
In my review of The Bookshop of Yesterdays in January, I talked about the novel’s complex interweaving of different types of stories, including a mystery, an adventure story, a love story, and a tribute to literature. This month I’m pleased to have Bookshop’s author, Amy Meyerson, tell us some of how she created this bestselling novel, which will be translated into nine languages. Amy teaches in the writing department at the University of Southern California, where she completed her graduate work in creative writing. She’s been published in numerous literary magazines and currently lives in Los Angeles.
SW. I really enjoyed the clues in the story’s scavenger hunts. How did you approach writing the ones that weren’t direct quotes?
AM. There are three different scavenger hunts in the novel, two from Miranda’s childhood and the one her uncle sends her on in the present day of the book.
Part 2 – Should you take a creative writing degree? And if so, how to choose one
Morris: Any general advice for writers who are wondering
whether to take such a course? Who should take them? Who shouldn’t?
The Rushes looks into the world of film making. Its two protagonists struggle to put career ahead of romance, but the penis has a way of rising. Best friends since childhood, they get college degrees in film making and begin Hollywood careers. Their long-range goal is to make their own films together, after they get the credentials necessary from working for others, the others tending toward the tyrannical. Everyone works long hours. Sex and romance get squeezed in.
As I read, I wondered how the author knew so much about the film industry. I learned he wrote and directed The Green Plaid Shirt, a 1996 romance/drama about life during the initial onslaught of AIDS.
Question: Carson’s big break into Hollywood comes when he’s hired by Zach, a producer who later berates him with a gay slur.
I met Anna Marsh at a Yale alumni event where her name tag told me she had received a PhD in psychology there in 1985. I expected to hear stories of a career in academia, musings on current psychological research, and perhaps tales of her illustrious classmates (one of whom currently serves as Yale’s president). We did, in fact, do some reminiscing. But our conversation took an unexpected turn when Anna mentioned being a fiction writer.
I soon learned that Anna had completed a master’s in writing at Johns Hopkins after leaving her career in government. I wanted to know more, especially about the value of formal writing education in a person with a wealth of learning and life experience.
In Brothers published by Bold Strokes Books, protagonist Jamus back-burners his gay life to raise his infant brother after their parents die in a car wreck. Intrigued by the concept and by the book as I read it, I wanted to ask author Ralph Josiah Bardsley more about the lives of the very real characters he created.
Question: Main protagonist Jamus puts his limited gay romantic life in the closet to raise his toddler brother after their parents are killed. I might say he made a good decision, a responsible one, regarding raising his brother, but a wasteful one when he put being gay in the closet to do it. To what extent is he responding to his church-going South Boston Irish Catholicism?
And the winner is… Abandoned Homes: Vietnam Revenge Murders by Frank E. Hopkins was recently named best book of the year in the mystery/thriller genre by the Maryland Writers’ Association. It’s a tale of murder discovered thirty-five years after the crime, and the novel allows Hopkins to reach back to the Vietnam War era to explore the anger and division that tore America apart. Frank, who is also the author of two other novels—Unplanned Choices and The Opportunity—was kind enough to talk with us about his work.
Frank, I’d like to start with a question I sometimes ask myself. You and I both started writing seriously – or at least started publishing – after we retired. Do you have any regrets that you didn’t begin much earlier?
Published by Black Rose Writing on 2/8/18 The Long Road follows a young man, sometimes in mental turmoil, as he doggedly prepares for his dream career in aerospace engineering. I’m pleased to have first read this work in manuscript form and now to see it available for the world to read.
Question: What are a few of your all-time favorite novels, and what makes them so? Is there a type of fiction that you read most often?
Answer: My all-time favorite is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I gravitate toward stories that are realistic and that include characters who take a long time to overcome their problems but are victorious in the end.(Dickens wrote two separate endings, one of which has Pip “victorious.”)
A. L. Kaplan’s debut novel, Star Touched, is about Tatiana, a young woman seeking to survive in a world devastated by a meteor eight years before. As a “star-touched” person with special powers, she flees the persecution of those like her and seeks refuge in a small town she once visited. It had been a haven before, but it is now oppressed by powerful thugs that rule and exploit the townspeople.
Kaplan’s stories and poems have been included in several anthologies and magazines, and her novel, Star Touched, was published last October. She is a board member of the Maryland Writers’ Association and its Howard County Chapter. She holds an MFA in sculpture from the Maryland Institute College of Art, and works as props manager for a local theater.
I recently interviewed English writer Roz Morris about her new book, Not Quite Lost: Travels Without a Sense of Direction (Spark Furnace, 2017), a delightful collection of essays that mixes travel and memoir. This interview is in the current (winter) edition of Rain Taxi Review of Books.