Thursday, January 28, 2016

Interview With Author Jared Lillis

   Jared Lillis is releasing his first book, Groundhogs: The Supercharged Forecaster on February 2nd, 2016.  I had a great opportunity to interview this up and coming children's author and am sharing it with you.

Author/Illustrator Jared Lillis
Tell us a little bit about yourself.

   I have an art degree and, in recent years, added writing and animation programs to my education. However, I have worked with children for most of my career—formerly at a YMCA and currently in the field of mental health at a pediatric clinic. With my new children’s book I was able to combine my creative arts pursuits with my love for kids.

What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?

   My book is titled Groundhogs: The Supercharged Forecaster. The story idea hit me when I saw the online cover of the picture book Groundhog Weather School by Joan Holub. Joan’s book is a humorous, educational book featuring groundhogs who can’t actually forecast the length of winter. My idea was to take this fun legend of weather-forecasting groundhogs to the extreme, thus the supercharged forecaster was born.

How would you categorize your book?

   The book is a middle-grade action/adventure/fantasy/sci-fi story sprinkled with humor. It has a Stuart Little flavor to it, not that any mice or groundhogs actually get eaten. J

Introduce us to your series lead character.

   The hero of my story is a groundhog named Jet. Humans become his enemy when a traumatic event occurs while he is still a cub. This event also leads to the advancement of his forecasting abilities far beyond those of any other groundhog in his community.
   When a down and out weatherman named Heath Waverly comes along, Jet’s views of humans are tested. He must decide whether or not to use his weather-forecasting abilities to save humans from natural disasters. The eco-supervillain, Forrest Cutler, makes Jet’s decision especially difficult by attempting to destroy Jet’s home.

What is it about these characters that appeal to you as a writer?

These characters are appealing because they must stand strong, both mentally and physically, to overcome great hardships and tragedy. Their courage and moral character is tested to the limits as they find their path to forgiveness of themselves and their enemies.

How did the book come to be titled?

   Due to the fact that I envision this story as the first in a series, I decided on a general title which provides a feel for the whole series, and a subtitle which identifies the big idea or hook of the first story.
Available Now

Tell us more about the cover design. How involved were you with creating the cover?

   I created the cover illustration for the book. It features Jet in a lightning storm facing off with the giant, robotic milling snakes which are intended to be used by the villain to wipe out national forests, starting with Jet’s home. I also drew fun chapter-heading artwork, as well as character designs on the back cover.

Tell us something about your book that isn't mentioned in the synopsis.

   This book involves powerful messages about forgiveness and the value of every individual without coming off as preachy. The environmental theme snuck up on me, as well. I didn’t realize I had an eco-friendly story until an editor suggested I promote this aspect. My response was to print the book and companion school supplies on wheat-straw paper from Woody Harrelson’s company, Prairie Paper, Inc..

Give us a summary of your book in a tweet.

   A scrappy groundhog must work with humans and forecast lightning strikes to save his home from an eco-supervillain planning to pulp entire national forests with giant, robotic milling snakes.

How much of your experience is in your book?

   This book comes mostly from my imagination rather than experience, with the notable exception that everyone faces the decision to either forgive those who have hurt us or hold grudges against them. And, as in my story, my experience has proven that peace comes by forgiveness.

Describe your writing process.

   My writing process has changed dramatically over time. I used to just sit down and write from beginning to end. However, this always resulted in the need for extensive rewriting, so I now start by developing a high concept, then appealing characters, followed by a plot outline with what I call the “nine necessary” story points. Only after this is solid will I start writing a rough draft. I teach this method in a youth writing program which is offered for free by my new company,

Describe your writing environment.

   Very simple. Just me at home on my computer with no white noise…or any other color of noises.

How much research did you put into your book?

   For a children’s book titled Groundhogs there was a surprising amount of research that went into it. For example, I had to study photos in order to draw them accurately, including their four digits on their forepaws, and their five-digit hind paws. I also looked into their environments before I decided that the edge of a forest by a small town would be realistic. I researched all natural predators of groundhogs. Snakes were among them, which helped me decide on giant, mechanical snakes as the best creature to harvest trees and threaten Jet. Then there are all those little-known, peculiar groundhog behaviors. Some people may know that groundhogs really do whistle to warn their family of predators, but who knew their young are called cubs, or that they can actually climb trees? I sure didn’t.
   Then there was the subject of bionics. Dr. Drizzlen, the bionics scientist who helps Jet defeat the enemy, has gadgets galore. I needed to gain a basic understanding of the subject to explain how his futuristic devices operated.

What are your hobbies, interests outside of writing? Do any of these activities find their way into your books?

   My hobbies, interests, and career definitely influence my writing due to the fact that they overlap. I can learn behaviors of kids while working at my pediatric clinic, and my experience with art and animation help me create a highly-visual storytelling experience.

What is the best advice received as an author? What is the harshest criticism? What have you learned, or can learn, from either?

   The best writing advice I have received is probably to keep striving for something better. Whether it be a story concept, an act, or a scene. There is always a way to make it better. This is why I value getting many critiques and making several revisions before calling a story finished.
   The harshest criticism may be more directed to my chosen subject matter than my writing itself. It’s the idea that children’s books are somehow less important than stories for adults. I completely disagree. My purpose is not only to entertain, but to influence my readers to make good choices in life. And I think we can all agree that it is much easier to make a positive impact on youth than adults. It’s safe to say the next title in my series will not be Fifty Shades of Groundhogs.

What advice might you give aspiring authors?

   Never give up on your dreams. This is a common phrase, but is very true. Writing is often a long and challenging process, but great stories, like anything else of real value, take time to develop. And in today’s market, no one can prevent you from becoming a published author except yourself.

What kinds of books did you read as a child? Did the genre you read most influence your decision to become an author of the kind of books you write today?

   I remember Dr. Seuss books the most, but it wasn’t books that influenced me to become an author of children’s books. It was the children I have worked with over my career. When I pick up a picture book in a roomful of rowdy preschoolers and they calm down and converge on me to hear me read it, that shows me the power kid’s books can have.

What specific authors or books influenced how and what you write today?

   I haven’t been influenced by specific authors or books, as I must admit I wasn’t a big reader as a kid or an adult. I was mostly just into the artwork. Thankfully, this is changing now that I have a writing program with kids who demonstrate an interest in reading and writing far beyond what I had at their age.

What types of books do you read now for pleasure?

   The type of books I like to read are pretty much the type I like to write. Fast-moving action/adventure where an underdog hero must overcome seemingly-impossible odds to defeat the villain and save the day.

Do you have any favorite characters, and if so, what is it about them that appeals to you?

   In general, my favorite characters are those who start at rock bottom and don’t quit until they find a way to reach the top—without resorting to immoral behavior to get there. This is the type of person we need more of in the real world.

What is next for you?

   I’m currently focused on the marketing phase of this book, along with my youth writing program, but I hope to get started on the second installment in the series soon. I also look forward to finishing the third story, which is already in rough-draft form. It takes us in a new and even more humorous direction.

You can contact Jared and find out more about his book and other projects at  and .

Monday, January 25, 2016

Wearing Masks

   Oscar Wilde once said, "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth."
   I pondered the quote and found it smacked against the idea that people hide behind masks. That you really don't see who they are until the mask is removed. I thought about the me I present to people. I tend to be very introverted and view myself as rather boring. A kind of "what you see is what you get" kind of a person.
   I find the writer me much more interesting. The idea of putting on a mask and pretending to be someone else is exciting. After all, I can be anybody I want to be whether it's a teenager finding himself swept away to another planet, a police detective solving a murder, an alien discovering what it is to be human, or conversely a person realizing they may not be exactly human. The possibilities are truly endless.
   When I wear the mask of a character I create, there is a sense of freedom. Through them I can use colorful language, take dangerous risks, confront enemies, be humorous, flippant, impulsive or calculating in ways my unmasked self never would. With the mask firmly in place I can explore within myself what it is to be bad and good, scared and brave, lonely and loved, hopeless and hopeful, and it becomes part of the character. Maybe with all the different masks I don I see the real me as the words make their way onto the paper. Maybe, in part, the truth of me is what I tell readers in my writing.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Secret

     I don't normally write short stories or flash fiction but here's a piece I wrote awhile ago that I thought I would share. Feel to comment.

The Secret

I stop copying the equation Mr. Rinaldi is still animatedly writing up on the board and explaining with more fervor than should be allowed after lunch. Not really his fault. He is actually a good teacher but calculus, or any other class for that matter, right after lunch is a challenge. Some students are still swept up in the conversations started at lunch but didn't come to a satisfying conclusion due to the shortness of time. Others suffer from food hangovers and find the only cure is to sleep it off. Quite a few, like me, are just plain distracted.
Laying my pencil down, I slip my phone out of my pocket, using the desk to hide it from view. I tap the screen and bring up the text I have probably viewed at least a dozen times since it came in shortly after I left A.P. Physics this morning.
Meet me at our regular place after school. Please, Lexi. I'm sorry.
Movement to the side catches my eye and I quickly close the screen and stuff my phone back in my pocket. I glance over and see Nikki leaning back in her desk and Jasmine leaning forward to whisper in her ear. I watch but their eyes never flick my way. I slowly release my breath and pick up my pencil. It wasn't about me.
I resume copying the equation. Math had become nothing but signs and symbols to explain things that simple numbers could no longer do. Complicated curves and twists whose mysteries and frustrations could be represented and solved with the formulas that graced Mr. Rinaldi's white board every day.
As I watch my pencil fill my notebook page, I wonder if there is a formula that could make sense of my situation and provide me an answer for what I should do about the text.
I glance around the class. Nikki and Jasmine aren't the only ones busy exchanging secrets as I see papers passing between desks and fingers discretely tapping on phones. After watching everyone for a few seconds I begin to change my mind. They are all smiling. Secrets don't make you smile.
Class comes to an end which leaves me with one more to get through before the end of the school day, and I still haven't decided about the text. As I walk down the hall the phrase, "Hey, did you hear...," stops me in my tracks and I listen long enough until I feel it's safe to move on. Gossip is simply a secret that escaped. Someone wasn't careful or, worse, they shared.
Secrets and friends are incompatible. You have to choose. It's either your secret or them. You can't have both. I've seen people who've tried and it isn't pretty.
I enter my economics class and take my regular seat somewhere in the middle. Not long after, Rachel enters and slides into the seat next to me.
"Hey, Lexi," she greets me brightly. "Some of us are going to the yogurt shop right after school. You want to come?"
"Sorry. I have a ton of homework and I got to work tonight." My lie comes out smooth and the act is starting to feel more natural.
Rachel puts on a pretty pout. "We never see you much. This is supposed to be our senior year. Time to have fun. Remember?"
I give her a smile. "Try telling that to my teachers."
She shakes her head sympathetically. "I told you to take an easier load, especially since you kept that job from the summer."
"Next semester will be better," I say as Ms. Miranda calls the class to attention.
"Promise?" Rachel whispers to me.
"I promise," I whisper back as I open my book and force myself to concentrate.
The clock seems to work against me as the hands speed closer to dismissal time. When the bell sounds, I say goodbye to Rachel outside of the classroom since I am heading the opposite way from her.
I know what I'm going to do about the text. My lie to Rachel and the fact I am heading toward the block of science classrooms indicate my choice. Then again, maybe I really knew all along what I was going to do.
Entering one of the physics classrooms, a quick look tells me no one is there so I make my way to the supply room. I try the handle. It's unlocked. Slipping inside, I turn on the light, closing the door behind me. I stare at the containers lining the shelves in front of me holding magnets, resistors, metric weights, and a myriad of other physics lab supplies. My excuse as to why I'm here is well rehearsed and always at the tip of my tongue in case someone comes in. I've never had to use it.
A few seconds later I hear the knob turning but I don't turn around. The door softly closes and I feel a familiar set of arms encircle my waist. "I wasn't sure you would come," he whispers in my ear, sounding thankful and relieved.
"I wasn't sure either," I whisper back as I lean against him.
Suddenly we tense as we hear the classroom door open, his arms drop away from me.
"Yo, Mr. Stevens. You here?" a student says rather loudly.
He turns from me, opens the supply room door a bit, and calls out, "Yeah, I'll be right there." He looks back at me. "Will you wait?"
I simply nod and watch as he slips from the room and shuts the door.
Yeah. I have a secret.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Interview With Author CW Hawes

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing CW Hawes.  CW has proven himself a versatile writer with published works in the genres of mystery, horror, and diesel punk.  In this interview we discuss his newest release, By Leaps and Bounds, from his post-apocalyptic series, The Rocheport Saga.

Tell us a little about yourself.    
Author CW Hawes
     I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota when I was sixteen, and have lived there ever since. And no, I’m still not used to the cold — I do, though, very much appreciate warm weather and never take it for granted. I retired in January of 2015 and have been writing full-time ever since.

What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
     My latest book is By Leaps and Bounds (The Rocheport Saga #5).  It has a release date set for January 22, 2016.
     The Rocheport Saga began with a single sentence: “Today I killed a man and a woman.” From that sentence it grew to over 2200 manuscript pages. As to where the initial sentence came from, I don’t have a clue!
     I think the drivers for the series are my fascination with The Renaissance Man, my interest in simple living, libertarian and anarchist thought, and a desire to see a better world: a world where people truly live by the Golden Rule.
Available Now
How would you categorize your book?
     I would categorize my book in the genre of Science Fiction, with a sub-genre of Post-Apocalyptic, and a sub-sub-genre of Cozy Catastrophe.

Introduce us to your series character.  What is it about this character that appeals to you as a writer?
     The main character of The Rocheport Saga is Bill Arthur. The story is narrated through his journal entries and occasionally those of other characters in the little band of survivors that Bill leads.
     Bill is for the most part quiet and unassuming. He is a Renaissance Man and an armchair philosopher. Prior to the cataclysm, he was a nobody. Afterwards, his knowledge catapults him to a position of leadership. He knows how to survive in the post-apocalyptic world, where most around him don’t. He is a person who is not dependent upon the technology that makes up our modern world. He can live without it. Most of us cannot.
     He is also a dreamer. He dreams of a better world. A world of peace and harmony. One where people live by the Golden Rule and respect each other, even if they disagree with each other. We are all brothers and sisters in humanity.

How did the book come to be titled?
     My wife actually came up with title, not liking the one I’d decided on. I liked it and then added a sentence with the words “by leaps and bounds” so the title would have a tie-in with the novel.

Tell us more about the cover design.  How involved were you with creating the cover?
     For all of my book covers, I give the initial idea to my wife. Sometimes she runs with it as is and sometimes she modifies it. There is a back and forth process where we end up with something that pleases her eye as well as mine.

Give us a summary of your book in a tweet.
The Rocheport Saga  (Book 1)
     Nearly everyone is dead. Can Bill Arthur save civilization?

How much of your experience is in your series?
     Quite a bit, actually. Not that I’ve lived through an apocalypse and write of firsthand knowledge. However, people I’ve known often find their way into the series. Incidents, will find their way in. Experiences such as camping, Boy Scouts, and the Army will make an appearance.
     I believe, regardless of the genre, all books are a picture of the writer and his or her worldview and life experiences.

Describe your writing process.
     I’m an unabashed pantser. I cannot outline to save my soul. In fact, I almost despaired of ever writing a novel because of the unrelenting plotter propaganda that one has to plot out a novel or somehow he or she is an inferior writer. That a pantser cannot achieve anything other than a mess for a first draft. All of which is unadulterated hogwash.
     Once I learned there is such a thing as the “plotless” novel and that many writers, yes, even famous ones, are pantsers, a weight lifted off my shoulders and I started writing.
     My process is simple. I take an idea and just start writing. I usually have no idea where I’m going. I just keep in mind I have to make my characters suffer. I have to torture them and create angst and suspense. And I have to bring the story to some sort of conclusion consistent with the character and his or her problem. The ending may not be “happy”, nor may it even result in much change. But the story does come to an end.
     I write my initial draft in pen or pencil. Then I type and make edits while I’m typing. Once typed, I read the story two or three times, checking for flow and consistency. Then ship it off to my beta readers. When it comes back, I look over their comments, make changes if I think they’re warranted. Then give the book a final read through and publish it.
Rocheport Saga  (Book 2)
How much research did you put into your book?
     I do a lot of research. Not all of it enters into the story. I use the research mostly to make sure what I’m writing is “realistically possible”.
     Generally, because I’m a pantser, I don’t do research beforehand because I don’t know what I’ll need. Very often I’m writing with one hand and have the other on the computer keyboard looking up some piece of info.

What are your hobbies, interests outside of writing?  Do any of these activities find their way into your books?
     The world is a big place and very interesting. I have lots of interests and most of them find their way into my novels in some way, shape, or form.
     Cooking and food are in everything I write. So is tea and often a fountain pen. Philosophy and music usually shows up, as well.
     One love I have is the rigid airship or zeppelin. Other than my Justinia Wright mystery series, airships make their appearance in most of my writing. And I am trying to set a mystery on one of the new Zeppelin NTs for Miss Wright to solve. Don’t want to leave her out of the fun.

What is the best advice received as an author?  What is the harshest criticism? What advice might you give aspiring authors?
Rocheport Saga  (Book 3)
     The best advice I’ve ever received and that I can give to an aspiring author is in Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. Especially the first letter.
     The harshest criticism I’ve ever received was on a well-known sonnet board. I was getting crap that my form wasn’t perfect (and Shakespeare’s was?), when another poster said there was nothing untoward in my form. She just wondered why I bothered to write the poem in the first place. If it hadn’t been for Rilke, I might have melted.

What kinds of books did you read as a child and did the genre you read most influence your decision to become an author of the kind of books you write today?
     I read widely as a child. Without a doubt, Poe’s stories, Saki’s “Sredni Vashtar”, and Aiken’s “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” gave me an enduring fondness for the horror story. Sherlock Holmes and The Thinking Machine, for the mystery. Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Erik Frank Russell, and Groff Conklin’s Omnibus of Science Fiction certainly gave me a taste for sci-fi that shows up today in my post-apocalyptic and dieselpunk series.

What specific authors influenced how and what you write today?
Authors I seek to emulate are:
Kazuo Ishiguro because of his focus on character and lack of dependence on plot.
Robert E Howard because of his effective use of atmosphere, suspense, and action.
H P Lovecraft because of his effective use of atmosphere and the creeping psychological terror he evoked.
Robert A Heinlein because of his ability to weave his philosophy into a story and make it part of the whole.
Isaac Asimov because of the simplicity of his writing.
Rocheport Saga  (Book 4)
What types of genres do you read now for pleasure? 
     I read widely. My favorite genres are mysteries, especially private detective stories, science fiction, sea stories, and horror/dark fantasy.

Do you have any favorite characters, and if so, what is it about them that appeals to you?
     My favorite characters Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe. I like their quirkiness and mental prowess.

What is next for you?
             Why writing, of course!

CW Hawes can be reached at:
     Twitter: @cw_hawes