Monday, March 21, 2016

Writer's Block - an acrid mystery from Julian Padowicz an acclaimed Holocaust memoirist

Shalom, commies!
Today's guest of honor is Julian Padowicz, author of acclaimed Mother and Me memoir series chronicling the adventures of an introspective Jewish boy and his beautiful self-absorbed mother who fled from Warsaw during the Holocaust. Despite the heavy subject matter, the memoir has a picaresque quality. Today Julian joins us to discuss his acrid mystery Writer's Block, recently republished by Ravenswood Publishing. If you are familiar with Julian's memoirs, you will recognize some of the archetypes in his novel as well. His life adventures certainly provide enough material for fiction.   

MJN: There is a buzz phrase known as "First World Problems" - the kind of problems that 90% of the world population would love to have. The blurb to Writer's Block begins with, "From his miserable childhood to his mediocre career as a college professor, fate had not been kind, or even terribly fair, to Kip." We all have our own definitions of what constitutes "miserable", "mediocre" or "fair". Were you being sarcastic and playfully deprecating when you described your protagonist's college professor career as "mediocre"?

JP: For a starter, Kip was born a Jew in Hitler Germany. When his mother brought him to America, she put him in boarding school, because she was young and ambitious, and had no room for him in her life. Then, in wartime America, he had to face his classmates with the name, Adolf. Does that qualify him for the word, miserable? But that's just a start. When he graduated college, his mother wanted him to join her in running the several dress boutiques she had accumulated from the generosity of her gentlemen friends, so Kip went to graduate school, half a continent away, where he hoped he would be out of her reach. There his boarding school childhood and adolescence with no parental input made him vulnerable to an older woman needing a husband. I would say Kip's problems are fairly serious.

MJN: Having read all your Mother & Me memoirs, I can tell that some of the characters and plot lines in Writer's Block are based on your own experiences as a quiet, observant child of a resourceful but narcissistic mother. Here is a crazy thought. Have you ever considered writing a work of fiction in which the roles would be reversed? Have you thought of creating a mother figure that was homely, socially withdrawn and defiantly self-sacrificing, doting on her rakish, bon vivant son?

JP: That's an interesting idea, but, on reflection, I would have to say that the kind of mother and son that you suggest are outside my realm of experience. What I can say, however, is that I'm currently working on a series of children's stories about a mother figure who is warm and caring and responsible and all the things that Kip and I always longed for our mothers to be.

MJN: I commend you on depicting the romantic adventures of a ... mature lover. In our youth-obsesses culture, romantic tension between people over 45 is considered almost distasteful. It's portrayed in a morbid or comical light. Most readers can read through the flashback to Kip's juvenile sex encounter in the car, or his early ill-fated marriage, but when we see him in the proverbial autumn of his life, courting a mentally disturbed woman, some readers might say "Ewww... Old people dating." I think of of the reviewers actually commented on the novel being "too sexual".

JP: "Writer's Block" is a sexual book. Kip is a man who has missed out on most of his allotted sex life, as he has of much that he believes he should have enjoyed. This book and its sequels deal with a man at the edge of old age, making up for the things he has missed.
MJN: In my review of the novel, I pointed out that Kip is a bit of a Peter Pan. He's sixty-eight going on fourteen. The fact that he is not burdened by a traditional family, that he doesn't have four kids and ten grand kids, continues to nourish that Peter Pan complex. And yet he is not a confirmed bachelor. In fact, he still has paternal longings for his estranged stepdaughter, who he had not seen since the divorce. Approaching seventy, he is still a wide-eyed seeker of true love.

JP: I couldn't have said it better myself. Yes, my Kip is a special person. Not only is he so sensitive and so shy that he has missed out on much of life, but, like his over-achieving, though non-nurturing mother (or Scarlet O'Hara, for that matter,) he has a special spark of optimism, mixed with his own sense of right and wrong. And, probably because of his mother's shortcomings, he has a strong urge to nurture people.

MJN: As writers, we both know that we don't dictate when inspiration will strike. I find that I do my best work in times of extreme stress. Sometimes I catch myself thinking, "If I could just get a little breather from my day job, I could write that great novel." And sure enough, when I get that breather, my literary inspiration evaporates. And that's what your protagonist encounters when he moves into a small coastal house in MA. Does that happen to you in real life?

JP: In real life, I've learned a few tricks that inspire creativity. In fact I have a talk that I give, entitled, "Waltzing with the Muse: One Author's Take on the Creative Process," in which I talk about what works for me. "Writer's Block," you know, took 25 years to write. Now a book takes me about a year. Kip, of course, wrestles with his muse all the time. In book number 4, "Alexander's Part Time Band," he learns something about his writer's  block from book number 1.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Rogue Agent by Kellie Wallace - a slick, sharp Dystopian thriller

Hello, commies!
I am pleased to spotlight a much-anticipated Dystopian thriller that I gobbled up in one sitting, Rogue Agent by Kellie Wallace.  What happens when human weaknesses catch up with a hardened hit man?

My thoughts
You are what you write - not what you look like or do for a living during the day. Appearances are deceiving, and author Kellie Wallace is a living proof of it. When you read some of Wallace's novels - and I've read several - it's easy to imagine her as a cynical cyber-punk, who spent all her free time reading violent graphic novels. In real life, the author is an upbeat, amicable girl with a traditional corporate job and a soft spot for baby koalas. This contrast between her corporal and her literary selves makes her writing all the more poignant.

In her latest novel "Rogue Agent" Wallace showcases her slick, sophisticated callousness. From the first paragraphs, the tone is set flawlessly and remains consistent throughout the novel. She describes rather unsavory details with nonchalant elegance. Less skilled authors are often guilty of overwriting gruesome scenes for shock value, but Wallace handles gross material with laconic humor. "Humming a tune, he squinted into the scalp of the guy in front of him. Minuscule lice jumped strand to strand, hiding in the tangles of blond hair."

The novel is set in a not so distant future, in 2040. The values and the human nature have not changed, but law enforcement is decentralized, and there are some criminals of international caliber that "the American government refuses to help." The protagonist, assassin Seth Langston makes rounds killing his targets with the same ease a plumber makes house calls. Yes, the job sucks on occasion, but the money is good. He starts off as a "cookie-cutter" hit man with "quotas to meet". But then he gets a much coveted promotion that affords him an instant lifestyle upgrade and certain professional latitude that he did not have before. Along with those privileges comes a whole new slew of temptations and doubts. Eventually, his human nature catches up with him - his conscience and his libido.

One of the most commendable attributes of the novel is that the readers' sympathies shift constantly. There are no clean-cut villains and heroes. Overall, this Dystopian gem is worthy of cinematic adaptation under the direction of Ridley Scott or Tarantino.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Fibers: Infiltration Trilogy - interview with Jennifer-Crystal Johnson

Greetings, commies!
Today's guest of honor is Jennifer-Crystal Johnson, a busy mother of three, indie publisher and author of a an interdimensional conspiracy thriller Fibers. In light of the recent resurrection of the X-Files, I'm sure her novel will appeal to conspiracy junkies. One of her other passions is domestic violence prevention. Don't hesitate to visit her Soul Vomit project dedicated to raising funds and awareness. I certainly hope that you will consider promoting this noble cause.

MJN: Opening lines are priceless. They set the mood for the novel. I was tickled by the opening line of Fibers: "Anna Reynolds didn’t know it yet, but she was caught up in the middle of an interdimensional conspiracy." I immediately thought of Slaughterhouse Five, "Billy Pilgrim came unstuck in time."

JCJ: When I read this, I was tickled! I take that as a huge compliment, and I have to admit that I did give the opening line a lot of thought as it's the first thing that catches the reader's attention and compels people to keep reading. I think opening lines are extremely important, so I often spend a bit of time on making sure that first line is interesting and sets the tone for the book, just like you said. Thank you so much! Slaughterhouse Five has been a favorite of mine since high school, along with a few of Vonnegut's other books =). I guess you could say that he's influenced my work as an author.

MJN: You were born in Germany but were raised in various parts of the world. How does that affect your writing style and your readership? Your fiction is not country-specific, but usually I can tell when someone's fiction has been influenced by international experiences.

JCJ: It's been a long time since I've traveled anywhere outside of Washington State, much less lived outside of this state. Even though I was born in Germany and had a German citizenship until 2012, I consider the US my home and am much more comfortable with English than German... although it is fun to have that bilingual background =).

As far as how the way I grew up has affected my writing, I feel that learning other languages as well as learning how to play a musical instrument (I play piano) as a child helps with brain development and creativity. It also helps with wording... there are certain rhythmic and musical qualities to language and I hope that my history of music, multiple languages (I also learned French in school, lol), and poetry positively impact my writing style. People who have read the book so far seem to have enjoyed it a lot, so I'm pretty excited to read the reviews once it's published! =)

My readership is yet undetermined... that is to say that I don't have enough people who have read my books to do any analyzing of my readership. I've always been a bit nervous about investing time and money into a marketing plan, so that will be a first for this book, too... I'm doing it despite my fears and worries ;).

MJN: Tell us about Broken Publications. I understand it's your personal company that you founded as a publishing platform for other independent authors?

JCJ: I actually started Broken Publications as a way to self-publish without looking self-published, if that makes sense... in 2010 there was still a bit of a stigma surrounding self-published authors, and I wanted to make sure that "bad" reputation stayed as far away from me as possible, especially considering how OCD I am about grammar and spelling lol. Once I started the company, though, I started getting inquiries and submissions from people, some friends and some strangers, and I decided to help others self-publish. I guess this particular mission kind of fell into my lap, like so many other things tend to do for me =). I have a tendency to get ideas and just run with them to see what happens, and with Broken Publications it was the same.

The other part of why I started Broken is because there are so many vanity publishers out there who tend to rob authors blind in pursuit of their dreams, taking advantage of people who have a personal goal. Personally, I never fell for it because one of my favorite things to do is research and learn, so from the very beginning I did my best to find out what I was getting myself into... although PublishAmerica, the publisher of my first novella (as discussed in the next question) when I was about 20, happened to be on the "Writer Beware" list, too. The experience with that publisher taught me more about publishing and what I didn't want, so I used those lessons to help me come up with Broken's royalty split, contract length, and so on. I also wanted to make sure I kept everything as simple as possible because legal jargon makes me - and I'm sure many other people - crazy! So the terms are very simple... no up-front charge for services (so essentially I work for free at first, which is challenging at times, but I believe necessary to not make my authors feel like they're getting screwed over), net royalties (the actual revenue after Amazon/CreateSpace takes their share) are split 40 (author)/60 (publisher), contracts last for 10 years, there is a buy-out option for roughly $500 or less, depending on how many copies of the book have been sold, and movie rights the publisher gets 10% while the author keeps the majority of it. I do also have a multiple book contract for the authors who commit to two to four books at once, and the movie rights split and royalties are a little different at 50/50 royalties and a higher movie rights percentage for the publisher.

The whole point was to make it a win-win for the author and publisher, and I'm more than willing to put in the work for a number of years until we see one or more bestsellers; whether that's one of my books or not doesn't matter. However, what will happen once books start taking off is that I'll add a book marketer and a book marketing budget to each book; nothing major, of course, because it has to be sustainable for me, but a lot of authors aren't marketers, so I want to help their books as much as possible.

Haha, I love talking business, can you tell? It's the longest answer yet!

Outside of Broken, I also provide freelance services to indie authors and business owners who want to position themselves as experts by publishing a book. Obviously that means the books have to be professional; so I do everything. In this case, I charge for services but not royalties. Editing is first (along with feedback as needed; I generally do three passes), formatting for print, book cover design, formatting for the Kindle, and consulting during the process so that my clients know how to do what they need to do as far as creating their accounts, filling out tax and financial information, and so on. I have done this so often that I started making videos about it so that authors who want to learn how to self-publish can easily learn how to do each step of the process. I plan to make an actual class about it, but the individual tutorials are free and can be seen on YouTube or on one of my websites, I know, shameless plug... but it's all to share knowledge and help authors =).

MJN: The protagonist of your novel The Outside Girl is named Ophelia. Was that a deliberate allusion to a famous Shakespearean heroine? I just keep thinking of the famous non-fiction book Reviving Ophelia that discusses the crisis of modern girlhood.

JCJ: It was accidental at the time, but it was one of those things that just kind of popped into my head mysteriously, so I trusted it =). I realized a few months later how perfect it was and was happy that I trusted my instincts. The book itself was originally inspired by a dream I'd had, which is true for the majority of my fictional work. Because dreams come from the subconscious mind, I personally feel like they have the potential to make a deeper impact for others. The human mind is an amazing and powerful thing, and the subconscious often knows things that the conscious mind can't... so when I have dreams that would make great stories, I always write them down and make something of them, simply because I know how amazing the mind is and I don't want to miss any opportunities it offers me, especially on accident =). I hope that makes sense... and doesn't sound too "woo-woo" lol! I've seen a lot of connections and strange, crazy things in my life, so my perception of things is sort of on a "big picture" basis.

MJN: I commend the mission behind Soul Vomit, which is to promote domestic violence awareness. It's too broad and serious a topic to cover it in a couple of paragraphs. I just have one question for you. Do you believe that men and women should be educated on this subject separately or together? I'm asking because very often there are gender components involved to the victim/aggressor relationship. Although, it's not always the woman who's the victim.

JCJ: Thank you so much! Soul Vomit, like so many of my projects, is still a work in progress but I want to keep it going for years, as long as I can come up with individual themes. I think your question is excellent, and although the broad answer would be that everyone needs to be educated about it, the types of abuse typically perpetrated tend to be different based on gender. For example, men tend to be more physically violent and sexually abusive while the emotional and mental abuse is secondary. However, when it comes to women being abusive, they tend to do it more emotionally; manipulation tactics such as withholding sex or threatening suicide being examples (this is not to say that all suicide threats are manipulation or that men don't use that tactic in DV situations... there are certain distinctions to keep in mind and if someone is truly depressed and suicidal, it should be taken seriously). Each situation has its own nuances and red flags, but women tend to not be accused of abuse as often because when most people hear the word "abuse," they think black eyes and broken bones (also, men generally don't feel comfortable with the stigma of being a "victim" of abuse because it makes them feel like lesser men, when the truth is that they should feel stronger than ever because they took a stand against emotional terrorism). This is not always the case, and because there's no physical violence, it becomes really difficult for police or the courts to get involved. There's no evidence except for in the victim's mind, which often presents as conditioned behavioral reactions, post-traumatic stress or flashbacks, anxiety, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, and so on. (No, I am not a psychologist, but based on personal experience and a ton of research, this is some of what I've learned =).) When kids witness abuse against one of their parents, the way it presents is completely different from how it is with adults (even if they're just babies when they experience or see the abuse), and unfortunately, the effects on your emotions often last a lifetime and have serious consequences. Bed wetting is one example, as well as overcompensation through being an over-achiever, which sounds like it isn't so bad, but can lead to early anxiety and stress due to the pressure of always doing well in school. Stress, anxiety, and depression has been linked to heart disease, so you can imagine how many consequences can come from abuse. It's tragic.

Personally, I believe that it should be a priority for judges, lawyers, and police to be educated in-depth about abuse and domestic violence. It's often an "invisible" problem, or people who are abusive aren't called abusive but "toxic." On top of that, it's nearly impossible for the victim to talk to their abuser reasonably because of fear or because the abuser simply won't listen to the victim; think about it... if the abuser had any respect at all for their victim, they wouldn't be abusive. This lack of respect translates into a lack of listening, taking them seriously, or being willing to work on the relationship at all. Everyone has known at least one "toxic" person; someone who thinks they're always right no matter what, who won't listen, and oftentimes who won't even listen if irrefutable evidence is presented. It's ridiculous! The extremity of these people varies, but no matter who you are, if you treat the people you love like crap, there's something wrong with you. Just saying.

I think it's most important for people to be aware that abuse isn't always physical. I've heard a number of people tell me or mention that emotional scars are much worse than physical scars because it takes a long time to heal; I can attest to this and tell you that it takes a lot of conscious effort to overcome some of these emotional scars. For example, when I left my ex, I had a severe fear of guns, even though my family has always been supportive of gun ownership and safety. Once you're staring down the barrel of a .45 (song reference, Shinedown, haha - trying to keep this a little lighter), things tend to change for you. I was pregnant with my younger daughter and thought I was going to lose my life via close-range gunshot to the face. Because of that experience, I spent about two years freaking out with anxiety and heart palpitations any time I was around guns, and the way I chose to combat this was through being around guns. I went shooting with a friend I trusted after I realized what my problem was (I was working as a pizza delivery driver and happened to deliver to Ft. Lewis, and there were a few times when I'd deliver to the barracks on post and they'd be in the middle of some training exercise and all the soldiers were armed... needless to say, I was freaking out!). Now, I can again be around guns without losing my mind or hyperventilating... it had been to the point that even toy guns made me react that way, so I knew I had to solve my problem somehow. Exposure therapy seemed to do it for me, but I did it without a therapist.

That being said, not every victim has my background or knows how to handle this kind of thing in a way that will work for them. Not everyone understands or has an interest in psychology, either. There are a lot of people who live with PTSD their entire lives, never able to fully heal. And, believe it or not, victims of domestic violence can even turn into abusers themselves, which is really sad. That's why they say to break the cycle, and the first step toward doing that for every individual is to be educated. They say the first step in solving a problem is to be aware that there is one; it's true. That's what Soul Vomit is all about... raising awareness and opening up dialog about the topic. Not everyone is comfortable talking about their own personal past, either, for fear of judgment or just being a private person. I'm not. And it makes people uncomfortable sometimes, especially when it comes to the topic of spousal rape. But if someone doesn't talk about it, the problem will never be solved. So... I'm talking about it =).

I know this answer wasn't very short or simple, but I hope this helped.... DV is such a huge topic! I almost want to do some kind of video series on it for my YouTube channel and the SV website. Idea again. Maybe I will =). If anyone wants to learn more about the Soul Vomit anthology, please go to The current theme is Domestic Violence Reversed, which focuses on female (or "less likely") abusers and emotional abuse; the invisible kind. Submissions are open =).

With that, thank you so much for interviewing me... your questions were excellent! I know I tend to go into quite a bit of detail, but I certainly hope that your readers had the opportunity to learn through this blog post. I love sharing! I also hope that everyone enjoys my book, Fibers. I'll be working on the second book, Numbers, this year. Hopefully everyone loves it and I also hope that the series raises awareness about Morgellons disease, which is an actual condition. It would be amazing if a cure could be found for the real life sufferers of Morgellons, so here's hoping that my book series helps to make that happen.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Cain: Sins of the Father - interview with Elias Raven

Greetings, commies!
Say hello to the suave, daring, enigmatic Elias Raven, a musician, lover, cook, all-around bon vivant and author of intensely erotic fiction. He would not reveal his head shot to us (or to anyone for that matter), but he was kind enough to open up about the real life inspiration behind some of his most erotically charged passages

MJN: You have an impressive biography outlining your accomplishments in the areas of music, literature and world cuisine, yet I could not find a single head shot of yours.  Is that omission deliberate?  Do you feel it adds mystique? 

ER: It does add to the mystique, but a lot of authors that are using nom de plumes don't always put up pictures of themselves for a variety of reasons. Mine is family related with my family being very religious. One brother is a deacon in the church, another is a faith healer, and the others hold a position of power that my choice of profession might cause some embarrassment to them, so I opted for this route. In addition, Facebook's facial recognition software doesn't add to one's feeling of security, knowing that even partial shots can be used to reconstruct your image. There are a lot of other authors that choose to remain anonymous, some more famous then me. J.K. Rowling has a nom de plume she uses including a man's name: Robert Galbraith. There is also Stephen King and his alias Richard Bachman. And the famous author James Joyce and Herman Melville all come to mind. I included the headline from The Sunday Times below when the news broke of J.K. Rowling's nom de plume being exposed...

"This past Sunday The Sunday Times broke the news that Robert Galbraith, the author of the crime book The Cukoo's Calling, is actually the nom de plume of Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling. Rowling expressed regret that her identity had not remained a secret a bit longer, calling it "wonderful to publish without hype or expectation." 

MJN: Not long ago I interviewed N.J. Salupo, another male author of erotica - a genre that seems to be dominated by women. I am going to ask the same question I asked N.J. Do you believe that erotica written by men has a different edge to it?  Even in the 21st century, when nothing is forbidden, and no proverbial stone has been left unturned, there is a lot of miscommunication between the sexes regarding what each party finds appealing in bed.

ER: I do believe erotica written by men has a different edge to it. The erotica books that I have read by women have a different flavor to them, but at the same time, the writing is spectacular. I was blessed to actually have a female author help me learn the ropes, so to speak, on writing erotic fiction (Gina Whitney). Part of what I do when I write my book(s) is I have a lot of alpha and beta readers that provide me continuous feedback as I go through the writing process. If I get something wrong or something that doesn't work we usually have a round table about it. I use the feedback as a way to write the best possible novel or novella that I can and having so much real time input is really a blessing for me as an up and coming author.

MJN: For me as a novelist, writing sex scenes is very challenging, because I only have my own experience to lean on, and I come from a place of tremendous insecurity, inhibition and dysfunction. (Too much information, I know). And yet, I've been complimented on my candor. The love scenes penned by me would fall into the category of "anti-erotica". When you write steamy scenes, do you lean on your own experience or on the commonly accepted fantasies that readers expect from erotic films and books?

ER: Actually, to be honest a lot of my writing (not all) does come from my own experiences. I was married for some time, and after my wife and I split up, I went on a journey of self discovery and learning. This included exploring the (BDSM) club scene in Hollywood and engaging with a partner that was a switch for about a year and a half. I also had a lover that was an older women that had studied Kundalini Yoga and Tantric Sexual Practices among other things that really opened my mind and body to a lot of possibilities. I always tried to keep an open mind, and I think in the end all those experiences have made me a much better lover then I was before.  I try to write what I find erotic and appealing and convey the images via the written word to my readers to stimulate and entice.

MJN: When you wrote Cain -Sins of the Fathers, how heavily did you lean on the Biblical archetypes?

ER: The original idea for Cain was based on Cain and Abel. I studied extensively the canonical and non-canonical texts as well as many of the books that are not approved by the traditional religious institutions. As I studied and started creating the story, I tried to keep my characters updated, yet tied to the past. I think the whole became a successful fusion of ideas that formed into a cohesive story that is both engaging and exhilarating. You will see familiar and non-familiar characters in my novels. That is the beauty of creating a world from your imagination.

MJN: Your maternal ancestors are Japanese.  Japan is a country of extremes.  Extreme manifestations of human nature exist side by side. You get exquisite beauty and discipline side by side with violence and emotional annihilation.  The Japanese tend to compartmentalize various aspects of what we refer to as "human experience". Does your ancestry affect your worldview and your writing?

ER: No thankfully. Although I respect and revere my ancestry, I am not bound by it. I always stay outside of the box in my thinking, choosing to see and paint with broad strokes and not minimalize my worldview where it would inhibit me translating my vision to my readers.