CD Review: Hammock – Oblivion Hymns


I was in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada the first time I heard Oblivion Hymns. I’d just clocked out after a long day at work, went back to the hotel, and put my feet up. I’d been thinking about the album all day: What would this new chapter sound like? How different would it be from Departure Songs? To what new places would the music take me? With some time finally all to myself, I put on my headphones, dimmed the lights, and submerged.

The album opener, “My Mind Was a Fog… My Heart Became a Bomb,” left an instant impression on me. The delicate play of piano keys during the intro lulled me into an immediate state of calm, washing away all traces of the day’s struggles. Then, at around the two minute mark… explosion. The heavenly strings of the Love Sponge Quartet launched a full-scale assault on my senses, and I surrendered willingly, knowing that the next hour of my life would be filled by something far beyond my expectation.

Oblivion Hymns unfolds like a piece of origami as you listen. It’s more of a journey than an album, each piece intricately composed, laid out, and arranged for maximum impact. Ambitious and far-reaching, this record plays to Hammock’s true strength, which is to say that Marc and Andrew are architects, and Oblivion Hymns is a blueprint of master craftsmanship. An instant classic, and well-deserving to be a part of the band’s catalog.

Although still present, Hammock’s signature wall of guitars takes a backseat in favor of neoclassical elements including strings, French horns, glockenspiels, and even a children’s choir. The mixture is subtle and splendid, with no one section overpowering another. To fully appreciate its depth, one must listen to this album multiple times. The songs are like treasure chests, and you find yourself closer to unlocking the prize with each attempt.

Each track is special and stands on its own merit, but I would be remiss to not specifically make mention of track eight, “In the Middle of this Nowhere.” Any attempt to describe this song would be doing it a great disservice, so I will only say that it arrives without warning, and leaves all too soon. It fills my mind with glorious visuals, and my soul with a healing touch. It could very well be the greatest Hammock song of all time, a claim I do not make without proper consideration. If not the greatest, certainly one of the top three.

As an added bonus to listeners that purchase direct, the exclusive tracks “Sleep” and “Cathedral” are included in a digital download. Make no mistake, these are no mere throw-ins. Each continues the thematic presentation in their own way, while adding something different at the same time. “Sleep” brings with it a dose of familiar guitar effects and droning bass notes, and “Cathedral” offers the soothing textures of a delay pedal, and softly-plucked acoustic guitar. Both, well-worth the effort to obtain, and fantastic additions to the album.


Hammock makes music that you hear with your heart, not with your ears, and Oblivion Hymns is no exception. With an expanded arsenal of tools at their disposal, Hammock has created something that is sure to stick with you long after the last track has played. The experience is unforgettable. If cast iron and stainless steel are built to last, then Hammock albums are crafted to score eternity.

In a word, breathtaking. In another word, masterpiece. Whatever the future may hold for Hammock, there is little doubt that Oblivion Hymns will become an influential and referenced work within a library full of rich, meaningful melodies. On a scale of one to ten, I give it all the stars in the sky.

CD Review: Hammock – Departure Songs

I don’t normally do music reviews. In fact, this is my first one ever, but when you encounter something as meaningful and personal as Hammock, it tends to make you want to sing its praises from the mountaintops.

A brief history: 2006 was the roughest year of my life, and many of my days were spent in solitude with nothing more than my thoughts to pass the time. It was during that time that I stumbled across Hammock’s Raising Your Voice… Trying to Stop an Echo. One listen was all it took, and my musical horizons had been forever changed.

Hammock’s music is nearly impossible to describe. I could throw about a hundred adjectives out there, but none of which would ever feel like the perfect encapsulation. Dreamy. Hypnotic. Beautiful. Life-changing. None of those are incorrect, yet they fail to do the music justice.

Though a bit simple, I summarize my experience with Hammock as follows: I have listened to music my entire life, but it wasn’t until after I discovered Hammock that I actually heard it.

Back in July, Hammock released a video from their upcoming album for a song called “Tape Recorder.” I must have watched the video fifty times, never growing tired of it. As gorgeous as Hammock’s music has always been, I had never found myself as immersed in sound as I did with “Tape Recorder.” I feel no shame in admitting that it brought me to tears.

That brings us to October 2nd, 2012, when Hammock released their latest offering, an epic double album titled Departure Songs. Clocking in at nearly two full hours of ambient bliss, Hammock continues to do what they do best, and yet, seem to evolve with every album. Each time I think that they can’t get any better, they prove me wrong, and I’m elated to be.

Hammock set a new benchmark with 2010’s Chasing After Shadows… Living with the Ghosts, but Departure Songs blows right on past it without apology. Tracks such as “Ten Thousand Years Won’t Save Your Life,” “Together Alone,” “Pathos,” “(Leaving) The House Where We Grew Up,” and “Hiding But Nobody Missed You” are immediate standouts, but there isn’t a dull track anywhere to be found. In fact, the album is so coated in complex eardrum pleasing layers that your favorite tracks will most definitely change between your first listen and your seventh.

Departure Songs is less an album and more an emotional exploration. It will make your heart both sink and swell over the course of its duration. Your mind’s eye will get an extended workout as the textures of sound hit your temporal lobe with the force of a mack truck and bring serene images to life.

If you are new to the splendor that is Hammock, Departure Songs is an incredible place to start, full of nineteen rich and tasty morsels that are slowly digested over multiple listens. If you’re like me, you’ll wonder why it had taken so long to find them, and immediately seek out their other recordings (which is money well spent, I might add).

If you are already a Hammock fan, then there is nothing I’ve said in this review that you didn’t already know, and you are well aware of their brilliance. In which case, I thank you for reading any way. 🙂

This review is rather wordy, but the bottom line is this: If you have not yet purchased Departure Songs, you should. If you’re not sure whether or not their music is right for you, then I strongly encourage you to listen to some samples and find out. Hammock could very well be the same musical awakening for you that they were for me.

Magnificent Guns of Seneca 6 Review & Author Interview

Available now for Kindle
By comparison to life on Seneca 6, the old West depicted on the silver screen is about as wild as a kindergarten class dancing around the maple pole. The denizens on this ol’ mining rock are facing a rise in outlaw related activity, and the impending revolt of the planet’s native people. The townsfolk need a lawman. A man that won’t turn yellow in the face of danger. Sheriff Jem Clayton has faced insurmountable odds before–even lived to tell the tale–but something sinister is a’brewin’… something that not even Jem will be able to face alone.

Through the eyes of author Bernard Shaffer, the world of Seneca 6 has been greatly expanded upon in this follow-up novel, and Schaffer invites you to come play in his sandbox while his masterpiece unfolds around you.

As with all of Schaffer’s works, the reader will be able to count on two things: 1. Unparalleled character development. Each character’s path through the story is chronicled in meticulous detail, showcasing a broad range of emotion that is easy for the reader to feel. 2. Perfect pacing. Whether writing a flashback scene to flesh out the backstory, or carefully sprinkling hints at impending doom, Schaffer insures that the reader can sense something big lurking right around the corner.

Magnificent Guns of Seneca 6 is everything that a sequel should be. It’s bigger, badder, and packs one hell of a wallop! It’s somehow both new and familiar all at the same time. Fans of the first book will enjoy getting to see their old favorites return, while also becoming attached to the newbies stepping into the spotlight to shine.

Also, for new readers looking to take a chance on the series, this book is a completely stand-alone adventure, meaning that knowledge of the first book isn’t required, but encouraged.

The best thing about this series is that you don’t have to be a fan of Westerns to enjoy it. At the end of the day, it all boils down to the story, and with this book Schaffer has written something truly, well, magnificent.

Interview with Magnificent Guns of Seneca 6 author Bernard Schaffer

Thanks for stopping by during this exciting time to talk to us about your new book, Magnificent Guns of Seneca 6. First of all, congratulations! How are you feeling?

David, thank you for having me back. Congratulations to you as well. One of the best things about the Kindle All-Stars is that the core group of people involved have stuck together and evolved. I’m proud of you for all your hard work this year.

I feel good. I’m really looking forward to releasing this book. It’s strange to love something you create, not as a product but as a place. I write about Seneca 6 because in my heart, I wish it were real. Someday I’d like to ask JK Rowling if she felt depressed every time she finished one of the Potter books. I always feel bummed out when I have to leave.

Readers might remember from earlier interviews that you’re always working on multiple projects at the same time. How long had you been working on MGoS6?

I officially started work on it April 30, 2012. I only know that because Word says that’s when I created the file. I have earlier notes that go back to last year.

Upon the completion of Guns of Seneca 6, how long did it take before ideas for a sequel started coming to you?

Probably right away, but not many of them got used. I needed time to let everything gel into a coherent story. The ideas rolled in like trains and I’d greet them at the station and dutifully record whatever they were carrying. Eventually, I figured it all out.

So, Magnificent takes place a year following the events of the first book. Give us a quick overview of what’s happening in Seneca 6.

Guns ended with Jem Clayton taking over for his father as the Sheriff. Jem is a pretty badass character and as I sat down to write about him being in his office, all these little townsfolk kept coming in to bug him with their petty grievances. As I wrote it I realized that Jem would be thinking the same thing I am. “Get me the hell out of here.”

Ultimately, Magnificent Guns of Seneca 6 is about following our own destiny. Jem starts off as a Sheriff because he thinks it’s what he’s supposed to do. Haeinwa’tha goes off on a quest because it’s what he’s expected to do. Ultimately, their interpretations of their “perceived destinies” is what gets them into trouble.

If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be “scope.” There’s a lot going on in Seneca 6 and a large cast of characters in motion. Was expanding its figurative universe a conscious decision going in, or did it just sort of develop that way as you went along?

I realized early on that Seneca as a planet is much bigger than one little settlement. Look at Earth. We’ve got arctic regions, deserts, rain forests and more. Life of all different varieties exists everywhere you look. You can see drastic change just by jumping in your car and driving for a little while. Seneca is a lot more remote than we are, but I have yet to fully explore it in my mind. Who really knows what lies beyond the wasteland?

That being said I wanted to fully develop the area we’re focused on. I wanted to explain exactly who the Beothuk are as a rich and varied people of multiple tribes, much like our own Native Americans.

I also liked the idea of bringing Bob Ford back. In the first book, he’s pretty much a patsy for Jem’s Gentleman Jim. Something that gets thrown away. I wanted to explore what happens when you throw someone away and they come back.

In the original Guns of Seneca 6, Jem Clayton was the clear lead character. In Magnificent, it appears as though Seneca 6 itself has become the real star. Talk about what you learned from writing the first book and how that played into your creative process with the sequel.

Each of the characters was already a living, breathing thing by the second book. If you notice, I didn’t introduce anybody we’ve already met. There’s no preface. If you’re reading Magnificent Guns, I assume you already know whats going on. We just get down to business.

Speaking of your creative process, is it different for each series that you write? With Whitechapel, you maintained a painstakingly detailed timeline on a whiteboard next to your desk. With Superbia, you were able to draw from your own personal experience on the force. How does Bernard Schaffer prepare for a book rooted almost entirely in fiction?

It’s by far the easiest because I can just let fly. The Whitechapel books are difficult because they are constrained by reality. Timelines, vernacular, anachronism, all must be considered. Not always followed, as some of my British reviewers so kindly pointed out, but yes, considered.

Superbia is more a case of saying, “All right, I know what happened. A whole bunch of other people know what happened. How do I tell the story but tweak it enough to keep it interesting and fictional?”

For the Guns books, I just need to be in the mood. I included my Guns iPod playlist in the Acknowledgments section to pay homage to the songs that kept my fires going.

Guns of Seneca 6 was described by many reviewers as a steampunk/western hybrid with elements of science fiction. MGoS6, while still steampunk, appears to have left the sci-fi elements behind in favor of a more traditional Wild West flavor. Did you find that your influences varied a bit between the two books?

It was more of keeping the story consistent with who the people in the story are. The stars of this book don’t really have access to too much technology, so it doesn’t play that big of a role. And generally, when they do get their hands on some, it goes badly.

Readers got a taste of the native people of Seneca 6’s culture in the first book, but the Beothuk are at the heart of the story in Magnificent. Giving life to that culture, including language, must have been exhausting. How did you go about its creation?

I’ve spent an ample amount of time with Native Americans. My old partner is a Seminole, and through him I’ve been exposed to their culture in ways that I could never have imagined. Anything you see about the Beothuk in the Guns series begins with what I believe to be true about the American Indian. Most of the language in the books derive from Native American words, including the names of the main Natives who are based on real people.

The seed for the Beothuk involvement with this story began a long time ago with one of my mother’s friends.
It’s a common joke among Natives that every white person they meet has a grandmother who was a Cherokee princess. I’ve seen it happen.

My mother’s friend is kind of daffy, I mean, she’s a sweetie and would do anything for you, but you understand what I mean. So, long story short, I was telling her how we’d just gotten back from a powwow and her eyes kind of glazed over. “Those are my people,” she said. “All of my life I’ve felt a special connection to them and have visions of being one of them. I bet if I went to a powwow and TOLD them that, they would take me in as one of their own.” Yeah. Because the Native Americans have nothing better to do than adopt needy old white ladies, right?

History has really done a grave disservice to the American Indian. We’ve turned them into some sort of fairy tale. I suppose that’s better than the Scary Red Injun John Wayne preferred, but I’m not so sure all this post-Dances With Woves/ casino wealth myth is any better. Ask any average American if people are lucky to be Native American. I bet they say yes. I bet they say all Natives got rich off casinos. Meanwhile poverty, unemployment, and substance abuse is running rampant on most reservations. Christ, I sound like Marlon Brando. I can’t apologize for it though. It’s a serious issue.

Your ability to create rich, entertaining characters is well-documented. Readers always have a hard time identifying their favorites. What about you? Is there a personal favorite for you within MGoS6?

I love Sam Clayton. It’s one of those things because I killed him off so early in the first book but he just looms over everything. I’m still not done writing about Sam, though. Or Tom Masters, for that matter.

The other character I adore is Bug. It’s funny but I call them their nicknames in my head. To me, he’ll always be Bug, the daredevil child doing tricks on the back of his destrier.

Since you love to bury hidden references within your books, any hints to the readers as to what area of knowledge they should brush up on in preparation?

I think anyone who knows the history of the Old West is going to love the books. For the people who don’t, they are in for a treat because the Western genre is as deep as any other. If someone reads Guns and decides to watch “The Wild Bunch” or go read a Ron Hansen book, I did my job. If they go to a powwow and experience Native culture (without, somehow, managing to tell everyone about their Cherokee princess relative) then it’s a win.

I certainly didn’t invent the Western, or the sci-fi Western, or Steampunk Western. I’m just doing my part to carry on the tradition.

Without spoiling anything for the reader, I will just say that you’ve certainly left enough slack at the end of this book to pick up later. Are you already thinking about a third Seneca 6 book somewhere down the road?

A few people have called Magnificent Guns my Empire Strikes Back. I can promise you two things. One, the Guns of Seneca 6 will return. Two, it won’t have any Ewoks or music numbers.

You’ve got an amazing Superbia series. You’ve got an amazing Seneca 6 series. You’ve got amazing collections of short stories. You’ve talked about your impending return to Whitechapel, but you’ve been unusually quiet as of late about your upcoming plans. So, what’s next for Bernard Schaffer?

I learned earlier this year that I needed to shut my trap about my plans. Nobody cares what you say you will do. It’s what you finish and deliver that counts. From here on out, I’m only discussing projects that are definite.

Each series has its own audience, and my goal is to make every release from now on a major event.
I feel like my writing is only growing stronger and I want to bring that to Superbia 3 and Whitechapel 2. If you liked what came before, find something to hold onto because I’m not swinging for the fences anymore. I’m trying to put it out of the stadium.

For more information about Bernard Schaffer, please visit his official website

Guns of Seneca 6 Review & Interview with Bernard Schaffer

Guns of Seneca 6 by Bernard Schaffer
Jem Clayton is the orphaned son of a highly decorated and well-respected sheriff. He went astray and ended up on the opposite side of the law. In doing so, Jem developed a reputation of being a courteous bandit that never let harm come to a woman, and he was content to live that lifestyle. Unbeknownst to him, a more virtuous path awaited him.

Jem’s home town of Seneca 6 is a small, prosperous mining community that had existed peacefully for many years. After becoming entangled with a dangerous group of intergalactic outlaws known as The Harpe Gang, Jem puts Seneca 6 in a direct line of fire when they come looking for him.

The Harpe Gang is unlike any force the universe had ever seen. Little Willy Harpe is a nasty human being with a penchant for cannibalism. He becomes even more deadly after taking possession of a “holy weapon”—a parasitic alien life form that bestows him with unprecedented power.

Guns of Seneca 6 tells the tale of a man who fled from his past and now fights to reclaim it. Jem has plenty of help along the way as he battles a most formidable foe and uncovers a shocking secret that fills in the blanks regarding the demise of his father.

Outlaws, savages, aliens, and a town under martial law: This is not the Wild West as you know it, and author Bernard Schaffer wouldn’t have it any other way. While the inevitable comparisons to Firefly would be impossible to avoid, by time I closed the book, I found them to be two very different experiences.

What they do share in common is a cast of strong characters that are so distinguishable and well-crafted that you could almost label any of them as the “main” character. Such an accomplishment has become Schaffer’s signature. If you were to ask five different readers who their favorite character was, you’re likely to get five different answers. For me, as much as I liked Jem Clayton, my favorite character was Doc Halladay.

I have read all of Schaffer’s books, and while each of them are fantastic reads, Guns of Seneca 6 stands out as my clear favorite. Answering why is a bit tough to explain. Guns possesses all of the trademark characteristics that comprise Schaffer’s style, but the book feels more relaxed than his previous work. I didn’t catch it until I was already a few chapters in, but it eventually dawned on me that there was a new rhythm to Schaffer’s writing that I’d never noticed before. The flow of his sentence structure is cleaner and simpler to read.

As much as I enjoyed Schaffer’s last book, Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes, it was an exhausting read. It read more like a technical writing manual and took me about two weeks to finish. Guns will enable readers of any level to feel entertained and less challenged. It’s structured in a way that allows you to just enjoy the story while subliminally giving you a lesson in how to write effectively.

Even as I was rounding the corner near the end of Guns, I was already envisioning where Schaffer may take the story next. I don’t doubt for a second that he’s got a list of notes for a sequel, and I’m anxious to reach the day when I can enjoy that one too. For now, if you’re not already a fan of Schaffer, you should be. I can’t think of a better introduction to what makes his work great than Guns of Seneca 6.

Q & A with Guns of Seneca 6 author, Bernard J. Schaffer

First of all, congratulations on your new book! One of my favorite qualities of yours is the relentless research you put into your projects. What all did you to prepare for this book?

My mom worked as a hairdresser at the Village Mall in Horsham Township when I was a little kid. There was a movie theater in the mall that showed second-run features, and I have clear memories of being around five years old and walking through the mall by myself to go watch Star Wars. I believe I saw it in that theater twenty-one times. The research definitely began then.

Actually, it began even earlier. Before I was born, my father conspired with my uncle to name me Wyatt, after Wyatt Earp. There was an election held by putting names into a hat, and whatever name was drawn would be the winner. Uncle Billy distracted the people in attendance while my dad rigged the hat so that every name inside read Wyatt. My mom was horrified at the result, but eventually uncovered their ruse.

The research was really just me referring to things I already knew from the life I’ve lived. You either hear the music of the open range and a man with two six-shooters or you don’t. You either look out at the stars and wonder what lies beyond them or…I don’t know what you are…someone who loves Nicholas Sparks books.

What would you say were your biggest influences when creating this story?

I thank Ron Hansen in the book because as soon as I finished THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD and DESPERADOES I knew I wanted to write a western.

After the meticulous research and anachronistic confinement of writing WHITECHAPEL: THE FINAL STAND OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, I needed something that allowed me to run wild.

Were there any clichés in the Sci-Fi/Western genre that you specifically wanted to avoid?

I think it would be hard to write either one and not have at least some of the standard themes. Both genres have been mined so deeply already that to do something truly original would be impossible. I tend to focus more on characterization and depth. If the characters are real to me, and real to you, it’s okay if something familiar happens.

You’ve recently said that you already miss the characters. Let’s talk long term potential of this series. Where do you want to go from here?

I’m in the middle of a different book called SUPERBIA which is probably going to end my police career. The trouble is, I can’t stop hearing that music I talked about. Seneca calls to me. Maybe I just don’t want to write about what it’s really like to be a police officer, because it’s too depressing. It’s funny, but also very depressing.

The sequel to GUNS is tentatively titled THE MAGNIFICENT GUNS OF SENECA 6. I have a decent, if rough, idea of what the book will be about and it will definitely be the next project I focus on after SUPERBIA.

I’ve never trusted people who want to write a “series.” When I see a book that says, “The First Book of the Whatever Series” I always shy away because it makes me feel like the author isn’t telling a complete story with that book. He is just setting you up for his next five volumes.

All right, Colt Defeater to your head, are you more interested in creating the next Jem Clayton story or the next Agent Price story?

The next Agent Price story is already written. I wrote it for KINDLE ALL-STARS PRESENTS: RESISTANCE FRONT and it is called “Operation: Fuhrerdie!”

I held the story back because it is just too controversial to include in that collection. Laurie asked me if I was thinking like an editor of an anthology or the author of a story when I showed it to her. She’s a smart cookie like that.

Rest assured, that story will see the light of day. And then people who know me will say, “I never liked that dude to begin with.”

Speaking of Colt Defeaters, you worked extensively to create entirely new weapons for Guns of Seneca 6, including working with a graphic designer. Can you talk about that process and why that was so important for you to do?

Glendon Haddix of Streetlight Graphics is the genius behind them. He designed them, named the parts, and had this tremendous vision of what they would be. My initial descriptions to him were humble and simple, and his brilliant mind created these works of art.

For a potential reader, which path is the closest to Guns of Seneca 6 between The Assassination of Jesse James, Firefly, Red Dead Redemption, Deadwood, and Clint Eastwood?

People bring up Firefly and the movie that was made out of it, which fails me at the moment, but honestly, I’ve never seen a single episode. Never saw Deadwood either. And, despite the sacrilege of what I’m about to say, no Clint Eastwood movie is ranked among my favorite Westerns.

Never… seen… Firefly? Well, folks, it’s a shame that Bernard couldn’t stay longer, but…

I’ve seen some early reviews of your book that liken it to Steampunk. What do you think of that comparison? Are you a fan of mangas like Trigun?

I love Lone Wolf and Cub (I have a half-sleeve tattoo of Ogami Itto and Daigoro on my left arm) and Samurai Executioner, but I’m sad to say that is the sum total of my knowledge of manga. As for Steampunk, Cyberpunk, you name it, I love it. If they created Piratepunk, I’d love that too.

After releasing a novel just a few months ago, it’s somewhat surprising to already be seeing another full novel from you. How long had you been working on this book? Did it overlap with some of your previous works?

I tend to work on several various projects all at the same time. GUNS OF SENECA 6 took about a year, all told. In that time, however, I did an enormous amount of other work. If I ever get the opportunity to do this full-time, look out.

Trying to decide how to follow a novel as dark as Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes had to have been a tough decision. What made Guns of Seneca 6 seem like the next logical release?

Whitechapel was an emotionally draining book for me, and written during a really dark time in my life. I wanted to do something fun and enjoy myself.

You’ve been very vocal about the harsh criticism slightly more sensitive readers have been giving Whitechapel. However, you’ve still made the decision to release an edited version of the book that removes a lot of the gore. Talk a little bit about that decision and what exactly you are doing to the tone it down.

The truth is, I would not write WHITECHAPEL today. At the time, I was on the verge of self-destructing and hanging on by the tips of my fingers. As I look back through the book, I see extreme scenes of gore and violence and sex, to the point that they frighten me, but I also see a commitment to tell the truth. I know what Jack the Ripper did, and anyone who reads WHITECHAPEL will know it too.

The struggle of Sherlock Holmes to overcome his own demons and return to fight one last great battle is clearly indicative of my own journey at that time. It’s probably the reason he isn’t in the book much at first. I didn’t have the strength to talk about myself at first.

I edited the book down so that people have an option. Even the edited version is not fit for children, but at least now readers can choose which one to read. And then, if they still complain, I will hunt them down and kill them.

Switching gears, how is the Kindle All-Stars project coming along?

Everything is on target for a Holiday release. I can’t wait. People are going to love this book.

You managed to bring in contributions from some powerful names in literature. Are you going to try and widen the net for the next KAS book and lure in more big names?

I think if the book is as successful as I expect it to be, they will come to us.

With Kindle All-Stars, you did the bulk of the editing yourself. As an author that has had his own work torn to shreds in the past, how did that prepare you to work with other writers in that capacity?

It was incredibly hard. I’m so used to getting my ass kicked by editors that even when I was being nice to people they were still taken aback. I certainly don’t enjoy hurting anyone’s feelings.

The biggest challenge that authors in the digital age face is providing a professional, polished product to readers. We do not have the editing and proofreading resources that come with a big-time publishing contract, so we have to police ourselves. Writers who think their work is too sacred to be scrutinized are amateurish and stupid. They also make the committed professionals look bad and I won’t have it.

As with all of our interviews in the past, I’m going to end this with the same question I always ask: What’s up next for Bernard Schaffer?

More and more work. RESISTANCE FRONT will release before the end of 2011. SUPERBIA and THE MAGNIFICENT GUNS OF SENECA 6 for 2012. I’ll also be tinkering with my second collection of short-stories called BERNARD J. SCHAFFER’S CODEX LEICESTER and the second KINDLE ALL-STARS Project.

Damn. That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? One of these days I’m going to do something completely crazy like take a vacation. Learn how to golf or go sailing.

As always Bernard, thank you so much for your time. You’re an uber-talented guy that deserves all of the acclaim you get. It’s only a matter of time before you hit the big time, but I hope that even when that day comes, you’ll still swing by to chat with me on my site. 🙂

It is my pleasure, David. Working with you on the Kindle All-Stars Project was one of the highlights for me. Thank you for your support, and keep up the great work.

Buy Guns of Seneca 6 for KINDLE, NOOK, or PAPERBACK.

Book Review: The Gifted Ones by Lisa Vaughn

They say that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, but more often than not, the truth is just more painful than fiction. This is the premise behind The Gifted Ones, a memoir written by author Lisa Vaughn, that chronicles a very difficult time of her life: adolescence.

You might be thinking, weren’t those awkward teenage years difficult for everyone? I’d wager that we all had our fair share of unique challenges, but I’d also wager that only a microscopic percentage of people will have ever dealt with the growing pains felt by Ms. Vaughn. Coming of age during the late ‘70s in Terra Haute, Indiana would’ve been challenging enough, but it was amplified by the iron-fisted rule of ultra-conservative, God-fearing parents. Lisa had a secret: she had fallen in love with another girl.

In The Gifted Ones, Ms. Vaughn tells her story openly with a commendable level of bravery. Being that this memoir is an actual recounting of true events from her life, I found myself experiencing the feelings that she likely had at the time. I laughed at the sarcastic barbs she exchanged with her mother. I felt the gentle tugs at my heart strings as she delicately expressed her feelings of love toward Selina. I got mad at her for making the dumb mistakes of a capricious youth. I cried from the gut-wrenching pain of seeing a love so pure and beautiful crumble away until it was lost. In particular though, I found my bottom lip begin to quiver as I read through the epilogue, but it wasn’t until after I turned the last page and stared down at a real-life photo of Lisa and Selina together as teenagers that the floodgates finally opened.

Not everyone will be able to relate to the tale of Ms. Vaughn, but it’s the moral of the story that you’d be a fool to miss. This book isn’t about same sex relationships, it just happens to include the story of one. At its core, this book is about love, pure and simple. A love that sees no color, race, or gender. It’s a book that is both romantic and cautionary. To love and to lose. No matter whom you have ever loved, you will be able to relate to this story on a personal level. I learned something about myself, which was an unexpected, yet much needed, side effect.

Readers will appreciate that Ms. Vaughn has written this book in a unique voice. It’s not the structurally sound format of a traditional book. Instead, it is written as though she is sitting right next to you, reading into your ear. It’s a charm that a cookie-cutter memoir lacks, and The Gifted Ones is anything but cookie-cutter.

Q & A with The Gifted Ones author, Lisa Vaughn

[DAVID K. HULEGAARD]: The events in your book took place while you were a young woman coming of age. What made it the right time to tell your story now?

[LISA VAUGHN]: Well, I actually started dealing with all that ‘baggage’ shortly after my mother passed away in 2005. I discovered I held a lot of pent up anger still and needed to work through it in order to forgive, let go, and move on. Through that process I also discovered ‘others’ along my journey that needed and deserved the same attention, including Selina. But it wasn’t until one fateful afternoon when, for whatever reason, I decided to sit down with a friend of mine and purge the story I had held inside my soul for 30+ years. After I was finished revealing my naked soul, she looked at me with tears running down her face telling me I MUST write a book, as the world needs to hear this story. And that’s when I knew the purpose of my entire journey…to share my story and emphasis the importance of acceptance.

[DKH]: Your story is extremely personal and you reveal many sensitive moments from your past. Was it difficult for you to speak so openly about your life?

[LV]: Yes and No. Once I committed to writing about my life, I knew I had to be genuine, which meant being real, raw, and honest. I couldn’t see sugar-coating any aspect of it, as that would change the entire feel and outcome of my story, thus changing my whole purpose of writing it in the first place. Once I gave myself permission to let it all out, my fingers took control and they typed as I purged. The hardest part was letting my husband read it for the first time! And then of course, when I unleashed it onto the world. What I thought would be the most joyous moment in my life was the most frightening, as I was once again setting myself up for rejection and not being accepted…and THAT scared the hell out of me!

[DKH]: Was it hard for you to relive this story while writing your memoir? Was there a particular part of the story in particular that you struggled to tell?

[LV]: Although very therapeutic and healing, yes, it was extremely emotional – a necessary evil of any healing process. The hardest parts to write were when my parents ‘found’ my diary and the initial episodes following that, and of course, when Selina left me. Both those scenes touched me at my core, even 30 years later. I still get choked up a bit when I read them, but also feel they were the most powerful chapters in the book.

[DKH]: What would you say was your primary goal with this book?

[LV]: My sole intent and purpose for sharing my naked soul with the world is wrapped around one simple word: ACCEPTANCE. If I can change one person’s outlook, either for themselves, their children, or even society as a whole, then I’ve done my job. To realize that love comes in all shapes and sizes, and if it is a healthy love, how can that ever be wrong? I thought for sure by the year 2011 this wouldn’t be an issue, but sadly it still is for some. Hopefully after being a voyeur into my life, even if you don’t agree, perhaps compassion and empathy will overtake the fear or misunderstanding and replace it with acceptance, or at the very least, tolerance.

[DKH]: You have said that publishing the book reconnected you with some of the people from your past. What is Selina like today?

[LV]: I knew as the words were flying onto the pages, that if I decided to publish I would have to locate at least Selina…which I ultimately did. And that itself made this project more than worth it. Even if I failed to sell one copy, my reconnection with my BFF, and the healing that came with it, was well worth my efforts. Today we keep in touch on a regular basis and have visited one another numerous times. She is the same person I knew 30+ years ago, her core has not changed a bit, which made it easy to fall right back into our friendship and make it seem as though we never lost precious time in-between. She is, and always will be, my soul-sister, and I can’t imagine my life without her in it now. I am truly blessed to be loved on so many levels now.

[DKH]: Has anyone that was featured in the book ever read it? What kind of feedback have you received from them?

[LV]: My husband, sister, Selina, Jon and Sis have all read it and have given me nothing but support, encouragement, and glowing reviews. Each was touched in their own ways, as each played a very different role in my life. I will have to admit, I was overwhelmingly nervous when I presented this little ‘firecracker’ to each of them, but pleasantly surprised at the amount of love I received back. I think when you open your raw soul to people and are completely genuine with them, they feel and respect that. I mean, how can you fault someone for complete honesty and revealing how they feel (felt)? You just have to respect that on some level, even if you don’t totally agree. Live and Let Live.

[DKH]: In the book, you posit that Selina knew you weren’t gay even before you did. Do you think that fact was more important to her than it was to you?

[LV]: Yes. In fact I know it was. She was able to foresee future problems for us in regards to family and acceptance, and ultimately me accepting my choice down the road, as I was already showing signs of drifting to the ‘other side’- all warning signs for her I’m sure. As for me, I still say I have the capacity to love based on WHO they are, not WHAT they are, so I don’t think it’s an issue with me, especially now that I’ve lived a full life with love on both sides – I know it can be done…and it can be awesome either way! Love is love to me.

[DKH]: Now that you’ve completed your memoir, what will you do next? Do you want to keep writing?

[LV]: I’ve been asked this many times, and my stock answer is I never say never! As an artist, I live to express myself in my work, whatever medium that may be, so if I feel I have something worthwhile to say, you know I will! At this point I have nothing to lose and everything to gain…so who knows? That chapter has yet to be written, as I said. Since we’ve reconnected, maybe I can get to work on The Gifted Ones, Part II, Senior Edition!

Buy The Gifted Ones on: Kindle

For more information, please visit Lisa Vaughn’s website.

Book Review: Whitechapel-The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes by Bernard J. Schaffer (@ApiarySociety)

Though I realize it will be considered blasphemous to say so, I actually have never read a Sherlock Holmes novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Growing up, my dad would watch the movies—all 18 times a week HBO would play them—and I found myself interested in the stories. However, it wasn’t until the 1985 Young Sherlock Holmes (critically panned, but a classic to me) that I became absolutely enthralled with the characters. If that admission loses my credibility for this review, then so be it, but I wouldn’t hold that against this book and deprive yourself of a great read.

When I first talked about Whitechapel with author Bernard J. Schaffer a couple of months ago, he said that his goal was to show readers a version of Sherlock Holmes that they’d never seen before. Mission accomplished. Interestingly, the story is told through the perspective of Dr. John Watson rather than the iconic super sleuth. By doing so, we’re also given a thorough view into the complicated life of Holmes’s most loyal and trusted sidekick. When Watson interacts with Holmes, Sherlock is a beaten and broken man who has become complacent in the ways of deduction, and is losing the struggle with his drug habit. He no longer sees the challenge in detective work, and he has grown belligerent towards his dearest friend. This leads Watson to seek his day in the sun and attempt to catch The Ripper himself, while the rest of London cries for their hero to rise again.

Mr. Schaffer’s greatest feat with this book is in his extraordinary character development. Perhaps none more so than of notorious butcher, Jack the Ripper. Being that the real Ripper was never identified, Schaffer opted to work from a blank canvas and create him from scratch rather than assign blame to one of the actual documented suspects. Going down that path required a great deal of homework, including speaking with an FBI analyst, and the story is richer because of it. Quite literally, the devil is in the details. As gruesome as the real Whitechapel murders were, Schaffer has recreated them in horrific fashion. In other words, if you’re a squeamish reader, you may want to skip this one.

Because I am not an expert on the Sherlock Holmes universe, I was able to sink my teeth into this meaty story and savor it for what it is—a fantastic piece of quality writing and storytelling. Diehard fans of Doyle’s work may not regard it so fondly, however, but I don’t get the feeling that pleasing them was the author’s intent. It is obvious that Schaffer is knowledgeable regarding the work of Doyle, and that he is a fan. Though he plays with borrowed characters using the rules of his own sandbox, they are all handled delicately and with the utmost respect.

As much as I enjoyed this book, it does not go entirely without complaint. The dream match-up of Holmes versus The Ripper is the star attraction of this story, but their eventual encounter is all too brief. It’s like anticipating Freddy versus Jason after a thorough build-up, only to have their final showdown reserved for the last 60 seconds of film. And while that aspect is a bit of a letdown, I still came away from this book completely satisfied. Why? Because the writing is stupendous. Let me say that again, STUPENDOUS. Every character, from the most prominent to the lowest bit player, is deeper than an ocean. There are scenes in this book that I will never forget, including an ending that brought tears to my eyes.

Schaffer is as much a teacher as he is an entertainer. His books are both treasure and textbook. Any aspiring writer should become familiar with his work and soak it all in. He’s got me as a fan for life. Treat yourself, buy this book.

Q & A with Whitechapel author, Bernard J. Schaffer

[DAVID K. HULEGAARD]: With a few weeks separated from the release of your book, how are you feeling about the reaction its receiving?

[BERNARD J. SCHAFFER]: Incredibly grateful. There are already so many Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper products available to people that to have them even notice mine is a tremendous honor.

[DKH]: Setting out to write a story for a character as well-known and beloved as Sherlock Holmes must have been an indescribable challenge. How influential was Arthur Conan Doyle’s original work on you as a writer—Sherlock Holmes or otherwise?

[BJS]: My first introduction to the character was through film. When I was a kid, Saturday’s were dedicated to cartoons in the morning, then a Kung Fu flick, a Godzilla movie, and a monster movie in the late afternoon. Every once in a while they threw in a Hammer film, and I distinctly remember watching Peter Cushing play Holmes in Hound of the Baskervilles as a small boy.

When I was fourteen, I bought a two-volume collection of ACD’s entire Holmes canon. The first thing I read was The Final Problem because I wanted to see how Holmes ended up. So there you have it. My first exposure to Holmes was a horror movie and my first reading was about his violent death. It’s really no wonder I wound up writing WHITECHAPEL, now that I think about it.

[DKH]: At any point were you concerned about potential backlash from the Sherlock faithful?

[BJS]: There was an incident early on with one of the Sherlock fan websites where the editor was apoplectic with outrage at my abuse of Jack the Ripper. That kind of threw me. I mean, he was okay with me turning Holmes into a drug addicted hermit and Lestrade into an abusive whoremonger, but how dare I give Saint Jack a sexual aspect and be so damn gory.

I tried to shrug it off.

[DKH]: You told me in a previous interview that the way society had seemed to romanticize the real Jack the Ripper was disturbing for you. Were you at all worried that readers may not view him as the villain in this story?

[BJS]: Actually, by the end of the story I had great pity for Monty. In real life, the “Good” guys and the “Bad” guys are really not all that different on the inside. It’s the choices we make that define us.

[DKH]: Was it difficult for you to get inside his head and create a cold-blooded killer?

[BJS]: At first, very much so. I could not wrap my head around why anyone would commit the atrocities that he had. It’s very different than creating a bad guy from scratch. You can build him into anything you want. I was looking at a finished product (The Ripper Crimes) and trying to figure out how the hell he’d put the thing together.

The FBI analyst for the BSU was very helpful in that regard. I could not understand for the life of me why Jack was taking specific body parts and arranging his victims a certain way. I was looking for some sort of scientific answer. They told me that there wasn’t one and that it only had to make sense to the killer.

[DKH]: You did an unbelievable amount of homework in preparation for this book. What was the main draw for you to reach into the past for this case and put a new spin on it?

[BJS]: It was out of necessity. My wife and I were separated and I was living in a small, run-down apartment. My personal life had collapsed and the two or three day stretches of not seeing my kids were tearing me apart inside.

I remember the day I started. I took out several large pieces of poster board and drew calendars on them for the months of August 1888 through December of that same year. I plotted out every event that seemed significant to the Ripper case so that I had a structured timeline to set my story in. Those were invaluable in keeping me on track.

[DKH]: On a personal note, will the word “cunny” ever be scrubbed free from my brain? 🙂

[BJS]: I’m including a secret message in GUNS OF SENECA 6 that will instantly scrub that word and all residual memories of Whitechapel’s horrors. You will instantly feel peaceful and at one with the universe…right up until the cannibal hillbillies show up.

[DKH]: There is a powerful scene in the book where a drunken Lestrade stumbles into an old church and has an epiphany as the veiled women wait for their sister. I don’t know if you had intended that scene to be so moving, but it had an impact on me. What influenced your version of Lestrade’s character?

[BJS]: Lestrade was a traditional Doyle character, but always shown as a foil for Holmes. He’s the stuffy old Englishman too caught up in his own pretension to see the clues right in front of his face.

The Lestrade in my book is a cop who would actually work in a place like Whitechapel. There is simply no way a cop can exist in that environment and not begin to reflect it. The people you deal with wouldn’t understand you and you’d be ineffective.

[DKH]: As a huge fan of Moz myself, I was pleasantly entertained by the numerous references to the music of Morrissey. Even the more subtle ones you’d tucked in there, such as Holmes’s declaration that he would never marry. Why was Morrissey such a strong influence on you during the creation of the book?

[BJS]: Nice catch. Morrissey was really the soundtrack to Whitechapel, and I would play his concert dvd endlessly while writing it. His persona of being committed to being alone and yet having all these frustrated feelings of longing gave me a very clear idea of Sherlock Holmes’ mindset. And probably mine as well, at that point in time.

[DKH]: So, what’s up next for the ultra-talented Bernard J. Schaffer?

[BJS]: A sci-fi western called GUNS OF SENECA 6 should be along shortly. I love this book and can’t wait for people to read it. I took all of the things and people I love about the Old West, threw them into a remote planet in outer space and shook it up like a Christmas globe. After the rigid structure of WHITECHAPEL where I was bound by so many rules and times and dates, I just needed something where I could be completely unbound. I’m telling you, the Old West in outer space is badass.

Before I go, I’d like to thank you for having me back again. I truly appreciate the support. Best of luck to you and your readers.

[DKH]: You are welcomed back here ANY time!

Buy Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes for KINDLE, NOOK, or PAPERBACK.

Book Review: What Money Can’t Buy by Liz Borino (@LizBorino)

When I first discovered author Liz Borino’s books, they were tagged as romance novels, and I had never really considered myself a fan of the genre. Not that there’s anything wrong with the romance genre, mind you, but those books often deal with plots that are based more in fantasy than reality. I tend to prefer the gritty, sometimes gut-wrenching, tales of real love—love that must sometimes endure hardship, and that requires work in order to be sustained. After doing a little research into the Taylor Twins series, I was delighted to find that this is precisely what Ms. Borino writes about. At just .99 cents, there was no risk in stepping out from beyond my comfort zone, and purchasing her first book, Expectations. I came away from it as a fan of her work, making the decision to purchase her second book, What Money Can’t Buy, an easy one.

The Taylor Twins series is centered on the lives of three main characters: brothers Matt and Chris, and Chris’s husband, Aiden. What Money Can’t Buy picks up soon after the events of Expectations, and their lives are quickly moving forward in different directions. Matt and Chris have successfully gained access to their individual trust funds and are now filthy rich. However, neither of them had intended to simply cash in and retire. Each still has a plan for what they’d like to accomplish in their lives. Matt has proceeded in leading the company he’d formed in the first book, and continues to indulge his love of business. Chris and Aiden have moved into a bigger house, and are preparing for the arrival of their twin babies being carried by surrogate, and sister to Aiden, Meghan O’Boyle.

As the title of the book suggests, the characters soon discover that money is not the answer to all of life’s struggles. While Matt overcame his addiction to alcohol in the first book, the stress caused from a pregnant girlfriend on bed rest has now led him to face new temptations, such as painkillers and other women. Chris, who was savagely assaulted by his father, must now relive that horror daily, as he has been entrusted with the medical care of his invalid patriarch. Aiden, who teaches at a successful dance studio, succumbs to a torn MCL and is told that he may never dance again. These new predicaments are tough, but they only scratch the surface of a very dark road ahead for everyone.

For only a second book, Ms. Borino displays a substantial amount of growth as a storyteller. Her pacing is vastly improved, and there are no wasted words. Every section of this book has a purpose and comes together full circle without the reader ever missing a beat. Traditional fans of romance will likely shudder at the dreadful scenarios that the characters are occasionally placed within, but there is no arguing that the author has captured a slice of life that can be related to in one way or another.

As average everyday people, we tend to believe that money would solve all of our problems, but Ms. Borino comes bearing a strong message, and warns us that such thoughts are not always true. However, What Money Can’t Buy is not without a silver lining. For every misfortune that the characters must bear, a new opportunity of hope is presented for them. Ms. Borino has quite successfully created characters that you can cheer for and care about—a fact that is no more easily proven than by my words of praise, speaking as someone who is not from her target audience.

Q & A with What Money Can’t Buy author, Liz Borino

[DAVID K. HULEGAARD]: You were able to write a sequel to your debut novel, Expectations, very quickly. At what point did you actually start working on the events of What Money Can’t Buy?

[LIZ BORINO]: They were in my head as I edited Expectations and as my release day approached, I found myself asking, ‘Well, okay great, what happens now?’ What Money Can’t Buy is part of the answer. Books three and four (coming soon) are the continuation.

[DKH]: Most writers will tell you that writing the first novel is the hardest part. Did you find that writing your second was much easier? How was the process different for you?

[LB]: Not at all. Actually, just the opposite. With What Money Can’t Buy, I had obligations, a deadline to start, and Expectations received such good response. I was struck with a fear I couldn’t duplicate the success. As a matter of fact, I almost pulled What Money Can’t Buy from publication because I was so scared.

[DKH]: Character development is crucial in any story–especially in a series. Were there any characters in particular that you wanted to focus more on this time around?

[LB]: Again, the opposite. In What Money Can’t Buy, I made a conscious effort to spread the focus more equally between the two couples. Matt wasn’t very well represented in Expectations and his story probably shows the most growth.

[DKH]: You have been vocal in interviews about how attached to your characters that you have become. Does that make it harder for you to put them in difficult situations?

[LB]: I love my boys, but the story must go on and without conflict, there is no story. My attachment to them does make it easy to get them out of said situations. Sometimes they get out, otherwise, their circumstances are changed. And that’s not always bad either, is it?

[DKH]: You have also said in interviews that even if you approach your books with a planned story in mind, that your characters wind up guiding you in completely different directions. How does that happen?

[LB]: How does it not happen? Sometimes, I’ll be writing and see their most logical reaction to a given situation and realize, ‘Well, that changes everything, now doesn’t it?’ You just need to go with it.

[DKH]: Were there any plot lines that you wound up cutting from this book?

[LB]: Yes. Matt almost died in a car crash on his way to the hospital to see his baby born. But in the end, I couldn’t do that to Chris and that would have left Dorothea alone with Carley. Not a great situation.

[DKH]: Even though Expectations was far from light, What Money Can’t Buy seems to explores even darker areas of humanity. Do you find that current events can sometimes play a role in the shaping of your books?

[LB]: Well sure. Writers take in EVERYTHING around them. Anything can make it into a story. Yes, even you.

[DKH]: Note to self: stay on Liz’s good side. 🙂 So, what’s next for Liz Borino?

[LB]: Book three and four and hopefully many sales. Please? Thank you. I don’t do well living out of a box.

Buy What Money Can’t Buy for: Kindle and Nook

Book Review: Surviving the Fall by William R. Potter

The independent book world is not unlike that of the independent film. Both are comprised of storytellers that choose passion over fame and art over wealth. Not to say that the two can’t ever go together hand-in-hand, but it’s a long road that leads to a final destination often unreached. Independent authors aren’t driven by promise of fortune, and their carefully-woven stories often consist of bold plot line decisions made without fear of a major publishing house wielding the creative axe. Surviving the Fall is one of those stories.

James Goodall is an ordinary man in every sense—superfluous and perfectly relatable. His Achilles heel is a giant heart pinned to his sleeve that constantly drives him to want to help the unfortunate. His behavior, as result of his kind soul, has driven a wedge between him and his now estranged wife. On a cold winter day in December, his rescuer complex is taken to the next level after he meets a fifteen year old girl named Ashley that was thrown violently from a speeding car. She is reluctant at first to trust him, but with nowhere else to turn in a brand new city, she reaches out to him for help—his dream come true.

Unbeknownst to James, Ashley comes with a lot of baggage that he is unprepared to face. Her cruel life has consisted only of prostitution, and a loveless mother that has left her emotionally scarred beyond repair. James takes her in and provides her with food, clothing, and shelter, though she remains guarded and unwilling to completely trust him. Over time, the two form a rather unorthodox friendship that includes its own special set of complications. James has a holy roller sister that continually makes him feel guilty about their relationship, and Ashley has a secret from her past that eventually comes back to haunt them both. She carries one last tie to the underbelly of society that she’d left behind and has endangered both of their lives.

Without beating around the bush, Surviving the Fall is a well-written tale by a clearly talented author. William R. Potter carefully walks the tightrope of moral turpitude, as the adult male protagonist struggles with the temptation of his Lolita-esque friend. I am far from a prude, but at times I actually became quite uncomfortable, and turned the pages nervously. It was more than hope—I needed James to make the right decision, which is a testament to just how real and engrossing Potter was able to make the characters and story.

In the end, however, this book isn’t about the occasionally awkward moments between a man and a teenage girl. It’s about their friendship, which never feels unbelievable at any point. James sees Ashley as a jigsaw puzzle, and yearns to help her put all the pieces back together again. It’s a noble gesture that even someone without a rescuer complex can identify with. The way that Potter tells the story from two unique perspectives on a collision course with each other kept me glued to the book way past my bedtime.

If I had but one complaint about this book, it’s that the ending left me feeling unsatisfied. Not because Potter failed to wrap it up convincingly, but because I wasn’t quite ready to leave the world he’d created. I wondered if there had been an opportunity for a final chapter that would took place three years later, after the events of the book had played out, and explore what the lives of the two protagonists may have been like at that point in their lives. Regardless, it was an enjoyable read that went by all too quickly.

Q & A with Surviving the Fall author, William R. Potter

[DAVID K. HULEGAARD]: Readers are always fascinated about where a writer gets their ideas from. How did Surviving the Fall come to be?

[WILLIAM R. POTTER]: Years before I wrote STF, I saw a TV news story which featured an area in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver where the child sex trade existed. I had heard of this area by its reputation; however I had no idea just how young some of the girls working there were. The area was known, not just in Canada, but worldwide as a place to go and purchase sex from children eleven years old or younger. I began to think about how a child could end up in such a horrible situation and how they might escape this nightmare life. A few thoughts became an idea and a plot outline was born.

[DKH]: Did you base the story’s protagonist, James Goodall, off of a real person or event?

[WRP]: James is a lonely man about to be divorced from his wife. I drew on my own experiences from my marriage break up to get James’ emotions correct. At that low point it is easy to attach yourself to anyone who can help take your sadness away.

[DKH]: In the book, James is challenged to make a moral decision between right and wrong as it relates to his relationship with a teenage girl. Tackling such a controversial topic had to have been tricky. Did you find it difficult to explore those moments with James?

[WRP]: Yes, it was difficult researching and writing about this topic. I don’t think anyone wants to believe that this type of abuse exists, especially so close to home. I put myself in my protagonist’s shoes and asked myself what would I do? Give into temptation and loneliness or do the right thing? I hope any guy reading the book might ask himself the same questions. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

[DKH]: At various points in the story, the reader is treated to some of James’s deep thoughts about the holiday season, or his immediate surroundings, that provide him with character, but aren’t necessarily tied to the plot. Are there any characteristics of yours that slipped into the narrative?

[WRP]: I’m not a huge fan of the holidays at the best of times and when you’re struggling with the emotional rollercoaster of a divorce, Christmas can be very difficult. All those flooding memories each tied to “First Christmas Together” type nostalgia. It wasn’t intentional but these thoughts certainly made their way into the narrative.

[DKH]: The setting in any book plays a significant character as well. Talk a little bit about the real life areas from your book and why you selected to include them.

[WRP]: I’ve always enjoyed books written by writers who incorporate their own neighborhood. If used correctly the author’s familiarity with the setting comes through so the reader feels right there in the scene. As I mentioned above, child prostitution exists in my city so there was no need to use an exotic locale or to create a fictional one.

[DKH]: Sentimentally, what does Surviving the Fall represent to you?

[WRP]: I believe it is the best of my earlier work (written in 2007). I recognized right away that STF touches on a controversial subject and I’m proud of myself for not toning it down. One reviewer mentioned she thought it was creepy and yet she still published a favorable review.

[DKH]: Several bodies of work now under your belt, what are the most important lessons that experience has taught you?

[WRP]: I realize tackling an issue or genre which challenges me is much more important than choosing a theme just to make sales. Publishing a young adult fantasy may tear up the Amazon best seller lists but writing something I can get passionate about is much more satisfying, at least for now.

[DKH]: What is coming up next for William R. Potter?

[WRP]: I have a full length novel called Falling Down the Hole and a horror novella called Fright Factory at the editing stage. Falling is about a man who loses his sight in a freak kitchen accident and then struggles to live as a sightless father and husband. Fright is about a forty-something couple who embark on a getaway weekend only to become the lead characters in an insane director’s “Snuff Film.”

Buy Surviving the Fall on: Kindle and Smashwords

Visit William R. Potter on: The Independent Author Network

Book Review: Gateway to Celesta by Tessa Apa (@TessaApa)

Gateway to CelestaI have a confession to make. As a 34-year old man, I’m far from an expert when it comes to the world of YA (young adult) novels—a fact that concerned me a little bit as I read through the first couple of chapters in Gateway to Celesta. However, as I continued to read, I realized that what author Tessa Apa had done was manage to tell a story that could be attractive to younger readers, but also offer enough complexity to keep older readers entertained.

Gateway to Celesta is the first entry of a forthcoming series of books that revolves around the lives of three extraordinary children. Sisters Frankie and Xim, and their brother Boscoe, are unknowingly entrusted as the guardians of an ancient puzzle called The Qui, which comes bundled with special powers. Once the children are able to unlock the Qui’s secrets, they are given the gift of “thought throwing,” and telepathic communication. They also soon discover that unlocking The Qui has greatly enhanced their primary natural talents, allowing them to excel even beyond their wildest imagination. However, the Qui’s most important secret is that it serves as the doorway that leads to the hidden world of Celesta.

As you might expect, a gift of great power soon attracts the attention of nefarious characters that would rather use its power for greed and destruction. A troubled teenage boy named Peter is given the task of seeking out the Qui and retrieving it for a shady faction known as The Chapter. Peter’s journey is a struggle, however, as he is torn between doing the sinister things mandated by his mother, and following the small traces of light that exist within his heart. When he meets Frankie, she makes him feel significant for the first time in his life, but allowing himself to fall for her would come with a hefty price for defying his mother’s wishes.

The influence of Harry Potter is impossible to ignore while reading this book. It’s highly likely that author Tessa Apa intended for this to be a story that parents could easily share with their children before bedtime. With the exception of a few fleeting moments that might be a little intense for younger audiences, I’d say she hit the mark straight on. Apa is incredibly imaginative, and her creation of the Qui puzzle, it’s powers, and the world of Celesta, are vast and complex. Perhaps even a little too complex at times, considering the intended demographic.

What you’ve got here is a more than adequate entry point for a sprawling new series that should satisfy J.K. Rowling fans wondering what to do in life after Potter. As with any first novel, Gateway to Celesta is occasionally rough in spots, and it could have used just a little more polish before release (Apa recycles a few of the same visual cues throughout the book), but there is no question that this author is poised for even greater works on the horizon. Considering that the cost of entry is but a mere .99 cents, the mystical world of Celesta is a bargain worth venturing toward.

Q & A with Gateway to Celesta author, Tessa Apa

[DAVID K. HULEGAARD]: Gateway to Celesta is very deep and contains many layers. How did the whole idea come about?

[TESSA APA]: It started with the concept that we are not always in control of what we think. You know how we can sometimes be swept away by unexpected thoughts? How they pop into our head from no-where or maybe they come from ‘somewhere?’ Does that make sense? Anyway, that’s where it began. I also wanted the book to be a warning – that we should guard our minds, and be very careful what we dwell on. The world of Celesta grew from there, and the whole concept that we all have the ability to tap into this power. Every single one of us – not just the special people.

[DKH]: How long did you wait before you decided to try and put your ideas into a book?

[TA]: I started straight away and pretty much wrote the first and the last chapters in the same day. After that I had to fill in all the detail. That part took four years (I’m the world’s slowest writer!)

[DKH]: Did your story change a lot as you wrote, or did you stick closely to your original vision?

[TA]: It changed a huge amount. I developed the relationship between Frankie and Peter. At first they were barely interested in each other. I also added a lot more tension with the fire and the dog being stolen (and thought murdered!). None of that was really planned at first – those elements just developed as I wrote. I even changed some of the characters names. Taking four years to finish it definitely didn’t help on that score. Because I was writing it with my children in mind (as my audience), they grew from pre-teens to teens in that time span, so I had to add more depth, conflict and relationship than originally planned.

[DKH]: Gateway to Celesta is the first book in a series. Do you have a plan for how many books you would ultimately like it to contain?

[TA]: I know there is a second book. I think there is a third. I’d love to say 6 or 7 but I just don’t seem to be able to plan that far ahead. I also keep getting ideas for other stories and those distract me a lot. I love writing short stories with fresh new ideas and seeing where they lead.

[DKH]: Did you have any real-life influences for creating the kids in your story, or are they all entirely your creation?

[TA]: How did you know? I have three children, two girls and a boy (like the James children). I read somewhere to write what you know and that’s why I went down that path – only some of their characteristics are similar though. They know which ones, but hopefully no one else does. Peter is entirely my creation though. I look for him everywhere, but haven’t seen or met anyone who comes close. Goose, the dog, is a shameless tribute to my dog – there’s a photo of her on my website.

[DKH]: What’s up next for you?

[TA]: I’m finishing a novella called The Girl Who Played Chess with an Angel. After that I have to fill in the gaps on the ‘Gateway’ sequel. I have promised myself to finish that this year. I think the first book is the hardest in so many ways. Cross fingers I can do a quicker job from now on.

Buy Gateway to Celesta for: Kindle

Book Review: Women and Other Monsters by Bernard J. Schaffer (@ApiarySociety)

As a writer, inspiration can hit you at any moment as long as your mind is clear and open. More often than not, however, the story ideas that hit you, while exciting and full of possibility, don’t always leave enough open space to craft an entire novel. You’re left with two options. You can either surrender to your doubt, allowing the story to continue to float past you harmlessly, or you can take your idea and attempt to mine a short story from it. With Women and Other Monsters, author Bernard J. Schaffer has taken the latter approach and offers up a serving of six deliciously twisted tales for your amusement.

In an effort to keep the stories from feeling familiar as the book progresses, Schaffer has carefully insured that each story is completely different from the last. Some stories are based upon the creations that stem from an overactive imagination, while others carry a subtle hint of morality buried deep within the madness. The one attribute that each story shares in common, however, is that each one will make you think. Some will make you laugh, some will make you queasy, but above all else, they will absolutely make you think.

Women and Other Monsters is likely to remind you of other great short story word-slingers, but take comfort in the fact that you’ll only sense influence, not imitation. While Stephen King is the most obvious of which, I was also whisked back to a time in my youth when Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, and Tales from the Crypt were the champions of scaring the pants off of suburbanites. To me, this book feels right at home in that same category. That’s not to say that the book is scary, but rather that it creates a pleasing concoction of chills, laughs, twists, and the macabre that will satisfy even the most jaded reader.

Schaffer pulls no punches with Women and Other Monsters. His imagination unapologetically consists of a balance of vast intellect and fearlessness when it comes to spinning yarns. He is going to tell you his story in his way and will make no concessions in reaching that goal. Readers that tend to be more sensitive may not appreciate his work, but I simply couldn’t put it down. I liked this collection of stories immensely and was left wanting more as I’d turned the final page. For the mere price of four quarters, this book belongs in the palm of any reader with a slightly askew take on reality. When one can see reality every day, it’s the gems like this book that make diving into insanity that much more fun.

Q & A with Women and Other Monsters author, Bernard J. Schaffer

[DAVID K. HULEGAARD]: How long had you been working on the short stories from your book before deciding to publish them all together as a collection?

[BERNARD J. SCHAFFER]: David, thank you for having me. Some of the short stories had actually been in existence for quite a while. “A Reluctant Death” was one of my very first as a maturing author, and I’d had it lingering around as an unpolished work. I was never satisfied with it, but it never quite let go of me. When I made the decision to do something in the e-format, I had already published several short stories in larger print mediums. The only other thing I had was a finished manuscript for Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes, but it was under contract with an agent. I took a hard look at some of the stories that were already written, like “A Reluctant Death” and “Cold Comforts” and completely overhauled them for publication. By the time I finished “A Reluctant Death” it became something I am truly proud to have written.

[DKH]: Were there any stories that didn’t make the cut?

[BJS]: My editor, Karen “The Angry Hatchet” S., absolutely refused to let me include an erotica piece called “Ancient Rituals.” It was just something meant to fill the pages and maybe titillate a few readers. I thought it was just harmless fun, but she hated it to the point that I had to decide whether to press on without her, or make a change. I remember complaining to her that I now had a story-sized gap in the manuscript, and she told me I could either publish something mediocre or get off my ass and make it awesome. At that point, I was pretty spent. I’d re-written, overhauled, and edited myself to the point of exhaustion. I opted to just write something for me. That I thought was fun. That turned out to be “Codename: Omega.”

[DKH]: I know this is probably going to be like being asked to pick a favorite child, but is there one story in particular in your book that means more to you than the others?

[BJS]: Tough to say. I like each one for their own merits, or for personal reasons. “Nazareth” was a particular victory for me because it was a HUGE struggle to get right. Karen and I went back and forth on that one so many times that each of us would fight, and then break to neutral corners to research our opinions. It became a duel of references. In the end, when it was finally done, I was just so relieved. However, I’d say “Codename: Omega” is my favorite in terms of a story. It’s cinematic and adventurous. Sean Price and I will be spending a lot more time together in the future.

[DKH]: When getting reviewed, your work inevitably gets compared to any number of potential influences, but who would you personally cite as your literary inspirations?

[BJS]: For Women and Other Monsters, the inspiration began with short-story masters like Stephen King and Harlan Ellison. I grew up reading their collections. I also see a clear influence from Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. Now, bear in mind, I don’t mean in terms of writing style. Out of all of them, I’m probably closest to King (style-wise).

[DKH]: In the book’s finale, “Digestif,” we’re given a rather touching auto-biographical glimpse at the man behind the pen. Is that an all-encompassing recount of your journey to print, or perhaps a clever parting shot for the reader whose mind has already been twisted and toyed with?

[BJS]: I have a confession to make. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed the most about short-story collections were the introductions that King and Ellison did. Sometimes, I liked the introductions a whole lot more than the story themselves. It’s the idea that the author is giving you a peek behind the curtain. I think it builds a partnership with readers and demonstrates a level of trust. I can tell you a little about myself and trust that you’ll still look at me the same way, just like any relationship.

[DKH]: It seems as though the majority of the stories don’t have a definitive ending. Was that a conscious decision to allow the reader their own interpretation, or did you feel like you stopped at the point in the story that felt the most natural?

[BJS]: The consistent thing people have said to me was that they didn’t want the stories to end where they did. They thought several could be full novels or much larger bodies of work. I’m actually quite happy with that response. It means I gave them a full ride when they expected something little. That being said, several characters will be returning in the next short-story collection (Bernard J. Schaffer’s Codex Leicester) due sometime in 2012. I know people want to see Rob the Vampire again, and I certainly want to go kick the crap out of more Nazis with Agent Price.

[DKH]: I am very excited for your next book, Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes, which just released on eBook this week. What attracted you to the subject matter and what are you doing within the Sherlock Holmes universe to add your own unique footprint?

[BJS]: Last Friday night I was investigating a homicide where a little boy got his brains bashed in with a baseball bat. His father was the murderer. I’ve been a police detective for several years now and have seen things that would make most people run for the hills. For me, the thing about Holmes is that Doyle told us all this interesting stuff about him but it never really mattered. He’s an intravenous drug user, but it doesn’t affect him. He’s an insufferable misogynist but nobody minds. I wanted to take this mythic champion of Good and break him down to human-size and see if he could still rise to the occasion. As for Jack the Ripper, it’s always driven me nuts that this monstrous serial killer who butchered at least five women has been turned into some sort of romantic figure. Nobody remembers the victims. I dedicated Whitechapel to the victims. People might disagree with the level of gore or brutality in the book, but I based everything on actual events as they occurred. I actually had to tone down the reality a bit because it was just too crazy. That being said, I also based the entire setting and all of Doyle’s borrowed characters as people who would actually live in that environment. Goodbye doilies and teacups. Hello Whitechapel.

David, thank you for being such a gracious interviewer. I greatly appreciate it.

[DKH]: The pleasure was all mine. Thank you for writing such an enthralling read!

Buy Women and Other Monsters for: Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords

Buy Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes for: Kindle