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My guest this week is James Roby. Born in Detroit, James is a veteran of the USAF and served in many locations across the USA from Florida to Alaska, and traveled beyond America’s shores, too. Now he’s back in Detroit, a city that he loves and that is the setting for a series of novels featuring a team of investigators he calls the Urban Knights. We began by discussing his love for the city of his birth.
“ Thanks Frank for giving me the opportunity to spread the word about the UrbanKnights novel series. Well, Detroit IS home. I feel Detroit had a, pardon the pun, driving force in my early development. Good or ill, it’s made me who I am today. We’re all the product of our environment, of the things we’ve seen and done. Detroit for me, is a big part of that. Traveling the country, I encountered a lot of negative feelings about Detroit – a lot of it off base. I tried to be a representative of my hometown and help disperse some of the rumor and flat out lies about her. That’s why so many of my characters are based on real people I grew up with. Not everyone in the city is someone’s ‘baby momma’ or an ex-con. Some of them went to college, raised a family…the same things people everywhere do. That’s Detroit to me.”
Detroit is famous internationally as the USA’s “Motor Town” and fast cars feature in the UrbanKnights novels. I wondered what James drives himself.
“ I’m a Mustang man myself. Blame Steve McQueen in Bullitt. I’m on my third one and my next car will probably be another ‘Stang. I had a Chrysler and a Saturn in there too, but I’m a diehard Mustang fan.”
The American motor industry has suffered many set backs in recent years but James believes its future holds promise.
“ I don’t think it’s dead, by any means. I still see a lot of domestics around…and some of them are electric and hybrid. I hope this technology grows and becomes more widespread, if for no other reason, than to provide the market a choice.”
Detroit, too, has suffered – from a loss of population and some recent political scandals. At the same time the ratio of Black to White residents has reversed, suggesting the exodus was mostly of White people. That is something that inevitably features in James’s novels.
“In a lot of ways, Detroit is a microcosm of America in terms of race. You can see it clearly at the Detroit – Grosse Pointe border, one of the city’s more affluent suburbs. It’s like someone hit a switch. It’s a burden that has impacted the city and by extension, the country. Race and racism is like a big heavy weight around the leg of someone trying to run a race. Bad part is, no one but us is making us wear it. I lived through a lot of those changes, and it breaks my heart. There is, I feel, enough blame to go around.
With race so ingrained in the recent history of Detroit, it’s hard, if not impractical, to write fiction there and not at least touch on it. In the UrbanKnights, sometimes it’s subtle like a conversation. In Pale Horse, the main character, Jordan Noble and an old military buddy discuss why there are so few resources in Detroit to aid in their mission. Sins of the Father and my newest novel, Favorite Son, tackle gentrification, which in part, is driven by race.”
James went on to reveal a little more about this latest work.
“ A new casino is just opening in Detroit and instead of enjoying the grand opening, tragedy strikes. The owner is murdered in his office by persons unknown. The UrbanKnights are on the case and they quickly discover murder is only the beginning and this case will put them in conflict with powers far beyond Detroit’s borders.”
James’s stories are driven far more by characters and their motivations than by a preconceived plot.
“ I heard Dan Brown recently say the ‘story’ has been done. Basically, there’s nothing new under the sun. It’s up to the writer to make it interesting. I mean, whether it’s the latest action thriller or a historical drama, the setting may change but the elements are the same: Characters, conflicts, resolutions, etc. So, I feel character and motivations are the primary elements. You want to go on the ride with someone you like and are interested in. I often have an idea, not necessarily a plot, and the first question is, What would the UrbansKnights do? I would hope that’s what would make readers come back too.”
James writes early mornings and at weekends
“ I get up an hour earlier during the week for that quiet time to work on my books. I usually do catch up on the weekend.”
His stories are backed by lots of research.
“ I’m definitely a ‘pantser’. I get an idea and run with it. For example, I was walking down the street after seeing something on the news and the idea struck me – what if there was a terrorist attack in Detroit? What would [my leading character] Jordan Noble do, given his history in counter-terrorism? I just went from there. During the writing, after the thrill of a new idea wore I started asking questions: Why would a terrorist attack Detroit? How would that impact on the large Middle Eastern population in and around the city? Then there was the question of what agents of government would respond? What equipment would they use? You get the idea. So yeah, I have to research. A lot. I love Google. There is a ton of information out there. I also have some personal resources – people I met in the service, Police officers back home, that sort of thing.
It’s almost like an onion, each layer reveals another. My latest book, Favorite Son, took so many changes after the research started, it’s not even the same story! Research created a connection between me and the story. I go deeper and the story becomes more real.”
Like most of us indie authors, James wishes he could afford more professional help, especially with regard to marketing.
“ I fought this long and hard and finally gave in. I am currently working with an artist to redesign my first three covers. I’ve had a lot of ‘it’s ok’ responses to the covers I’ve designed. ‘It’s ok’ doesn’t sell novels. I’m also looking at some marketing services. If I had to give advice it would be, what you can do yourself, do. Otherwise, hire someone who is good at it. Also, unless you have a few thousand dollars just laying around, you’re going to have to prioritize. For me it was covers and marketing because that’s what gets the books in folks hands. You can also bypass some costs by tapping into different writing communities. I can’t put a price on how useful my writing group is. Check out social media for groups in your town. It will be worth it.”
(Images of the old covers are alongside, so you can judge for yourself whether they qualify as “okay” or “special”, FP)
James’s favorite writers are Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, Dashiell Hammett, Ian Fleming, and Walter Mosley. but the one he would most like to meet is Walter Mosely.
“ Just to hear the story of how he brought Easy Rawlins, to compete in a media where there are so few African American heroes. And how he connects with his audience, what worked best for them in their marketing…that sort of thing. I have seen writing good and bad but the mystery I struggle with is the marketing. I truly believe that’s the difference between a sold book and a stack in your basement is the marketing.”
An ideal day for James would be different depending on whether or not he had won a lottery prize.
“ I guess in the real world, waking up late, watching the Saint (starring Roger Moore, of course) with the wife and my dogs. And being in Detroit, of course, I have to get a couple of coney dogs at Kerby’s. Throw in a steak for dinner and man, that’s a day. But for a fantasy, I’m seeing a cruise ship, a beach and long days of doing nothing.”
Asked to name something about him that might surprise his readers, James reveals his love of dogs.
“ My wife and I have fostered over 20 dogs. We volunteer with a local organization that spare dogs from being destroyed. Once they’re rescued from shelters, we provided them a home and help socialize the little rascals, until someone adopts them. Well, except for the two dogs we ended up keeping!”
I hope you have enjoyed reading about James. You can discover much more, and links to his books, on his website.
Rebecca was the second Indie Author to feature in my “A Date With . . .” series during 2018 (the original interview is here). I recently asked her for an update on her career and her hobbies. This is what she said:
“Once again this year, royalties from sales and page reads of Touching the Wire for the whole of January, will be donated to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. I’d love some more sales, but this year, sales of it seem a bit slow although I am getting page reads via Kindle Unlimited, all of which count towards the donation.
My books are being read, and that is the important thing. I feel as if I’m making a little headway.
Last year, I published The Dandelion Clock, and it’s had some amazing reviews*. (The ending made me cry, by the way) Sales are steady , and I’m embarking on Amazon ads in the hope of spreading my words to a larger audience – I watched a webinar this afternoon about Google and Amazon keywords and categories – interesting stuff if I can put it into practice, but promotion is a tricky business and very time consuming when I’d rather be writing. I suppose it’s part of the price to pay for deciding to be an Independent author.
My WIP, Kindred and Affinity, is inspired by another branch of my errant forebears. This time, it’s my father’s side of the family that’s under scrutiny and comes up not so squeaky clean. My paternal grandfather was a Methodist and signed the pledge, mainly because his father was an alcoholic who beat his wife, got drunk, and fell off a roof. (He was a builder) My paternal grandmother’s father married sisters at a time when it was against the rules of kindred and affinity in the book of Common Prayer, hence the book title. He married his dead wife’s sister in 1891, and it wasn’t legal until 1907 so it must have been done in secret somehow. There had to be a story there, didn’t there? It’s taken me a while to tease it out, and I’ve discovered a lot about a woman I only knew as Auntie Annie, who died aged ninety when I was about seven. If I’d known I was going to write her story, I’d have asked her what it was… But you’ll have to read Kindred and Affinity to find out more. I’m 66,000 words into it and hope to publish it later this year.
This story is the first time that I’ve had no idea of the beginning or the end, but only a part of the middle – usually I have a beginning and an end and no idea what will happen in between. My books are somewhat seat of the pants writing style as dictated by the stupid decisions my characters make. I have various projects in mind to follow next year, but I’m not sure which one I’ll choose. They’re all contemporary fiction – mainly mystery, which will make a change from writing historical fiction. I have the titles and the covers for inspiration, but so far the stories are no more than a vague idea in the back of my mind.
Last year, I revisited all my published titles and edited them. You know the sort of thing – moved a few commas, cut out repetition, tightened the writing a bit. It took several months but was worth doing, and I enjoyed reconnecting with my characters. I had On Different Shores professionally edited and learnt a lot in the process – money well spent – hence my subsequent self-editing spree. I also brought out a box set of For Their Country’s Good trilogy which is selling steadily. Haven’t I been busy?
So busy, my painting has suffered a bit. I’m still painting and exhibiting in St Davids. We have two exhibitions a year at Easter and the beginning of August and sell a lot of work. I enjoy it, even though I don’t do as much as I’d like, and I’ve made good friends. It isn’t such a solitary occupation as writing, where my friends are mainly ‘virtual’ but good friends none-the-less.
In between painting and writing, I’ve replanted the new garden after spraying the whole area with weed killer to get rid of brambles – 24 one-ton bags went to the tip before we sprayed. I had to wait a year before I could re-plant, so I’m looking forward to some colour this summer. And we’ve put in a new fireplace and new curtains. And when I’m really bored, I mean desperately mind-numbingly bored, (edit out those adverbs) I do some housework!
Anything else? I’m hoping to look into the production of audio books this year. It is something I’d like to do as my mother and mother-in-law both lost their sight in later years and relied on talking books. Other than that, I’m a year older, a year stiffer, and hopefully, a year wiser and a better writer. Life is one huge learning curve, and I’m still climbing it.”
My latest ‘date’ is with Chris-Jean Clarke. Chris lives in South Staffordshire with her husband, Geoff, two teenagers and their adorable Papillion, Romey, who enjoys spending a few hours a week putting a smile on the faces of the patients at their local mental health hospital – Romey is a Pets as Therapy dog.
I asked first about her book Honesty in World War 2, originally published in 2016 and recently re-released.
“Honesty in World War 2 was inspired by an event that happened to my father following his National Service.
Prior to putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), I spent numerous hours researching and double-checking facts and stories told to me and my siblings by my mum about her experience of the war years. – She was only seven years old, when the war ended. – My mum inspired a number of events in my story. For example, my mum used to be a Tomboy and loved climbing trees. She bet the local boys that she could climb higher than them. On the positive side, she succeeded in her quest as she fell, bringing the branch down with her. However, on the negative side, she gashed her leg on a barbed wire fence. She often showed us her scar and was proud that she didn’t have any stitch marks, which she attributed to my granddad (her father) using a cobweb on the wound. In my story, twins Simon & Samuel (two of the evacuees) are playing by the brook when one of them has an accident. – Having been brought up in the city they not only struggle with living in the countryside, but would rather create mayhem than attempt to fit in. – Imagine their horror when Cyril’s mum starts to bandage a cobweb to the wound on Simon’s leg, especially as the villagers had already tied a pig’s lung to their younger sister’s feet to cure her of Pneumonia!
Although, Honesty in World War 2 was taken down from publication for a short while & has since been re-released, this was due to personal reasons. I promise the story has not been amended since 2016.”
Next I asked her about To Dye For and the Books4Kids programme for which it was written.
“PS Publishing and the Books 4 Kids program is a 501c3 non-profit corporation with a mission to “build children’s character through books.” The B4K brings authors to the classroom – in person or through electronic conferencing. The author reads from his or her book, answers student questions and then leads a discussion re. the moral of the book. – The moral behind To Dye For is self-esteem. – At the end of the discussion each child receives a free copy of the book.
To Dye For opens with Beth, a year-ten student daydreaming about fellow student, Mikolos (“Mike”) Samaras. However, thanks to the antics of Jenny Parker and Shelly Barnes, Beth truly believes that she doesn’t stand a chance with a guy like Mike – because she has red hair. Unwittingly, Mike also reinforces this notion by frequently teasing Beth about her hair. Beth becomes so despondent about her appearance that she decides the only way to solve her problems, is to emulate her younger sister’s beautiful locks and dye her hair the same shade as Grace’s. – After all, Grace is adored by everyone and has stunning strawberry blonde hair.”
Chris is a member of the Peacock Writers, a group of eighteen independent writers from around the world.
“Each of our anthologies are written around a given theme. 100% of the profits from the sale of these books are donated to aid various charities.
I have contributed to nine books, so far, but the book I would strongly recommend is: Springtime Bullies: Special Illustrated Edition (The Peacock Writers Present) (Volume 6)”
Before becoming a writer Chris had a long career working with people with disabilities. I asked her how that experience influenced her writing projects.
“Many of my stories have at least one secondary character who has a disability or special need.
For example, Beth’s sister, Grace in To Dye For has Down’s syndrome. Whilst, in Honesty in World War 2, Malcolm a veteran of the first world war, is slightly senile, and in a way childlike. Whereas, Graham is severely scarred and has walking difficulties – these injuries were incurred when his family home in London was bombed during the war.”
Chris doesn’t have “the luxury of having a quiet space to write, but that’s okay because I know deep down that if my family were to fly the nest, I would just waste the hours stressing about them, instead of writing.”
When it comes to editing, illustration and cover design, Chris uses a range of specialist services.
“To Dye For was edited by my publishing company, PS publishing and the Books 4 Kids program. They also commissioned an illustrator for my cover design.
Honesty in World War 2 was edited by Valerie Byron, author of No Ordinary Woman and other works. Trish Reeb, author of Death by Default and other works, proofread my manuscript. The online community at BookRix & LinkedIn encouraged me to work and rework my opening chapter to create the atmosphere and mood of the train station. (Initially, I had only intended the first chapter to be written in a couple of lines, as I wanted to swiftly move into Cyril’s story. Instead, Cyril’s story starts in chapter two.) Another member at BookRix created my cover for me, by manipulating Emily Roesly’s images. (NB Approval was sought from and granted by Ms. Roesly, author of Whispering Water and other works.) Sharon Brownlie, author of Betrayal and other works reformatted my cover, so that I have the option to have it published as a paperback or hardback copy, later this year.
My books for the Peacock Writers anthologies are edited as a group effort. – We read each other’s stories and offer each other tips. One of our members, Laszlo Kugler, author of Whisper and other works, creates most of our cover art.”
Chris promotes her books at BookRix, LinkedIn, FaceBook & Twitter.
“More of my books have sold since I have been active in FaceBook’s promotional groups, geared to drawing writers and authors together.
However, the other platforms have also been beneficial to me in their own right. In addition, to the support at BookRix community, their system converts our files so that our eBooks can be purchased from all of the major online stores. Trish Reeb, reached out to me via Twitter & offered her free time to proofread Honesty in World War 2. This story has also attracted interest at LinkedIn from a publishing company seeking autobiographies, and an indie film script writer.”
When I asked about writers whose work she admires, she nominated Doug Simpson, author of Soul Awakening.
“[He] is my inspiration. Although Simpson’s story is fictionalised, it is based on his belief that it is plausible for a person to have lived previous lives, whilst still holding fast to, and respecting, the religious belief that there is a heaven (or hell). It gave me great peace of mind to think that I may become acquainted again with family members who have passed on before me, and I don’t need to wait until I die before I will be able to chat to them again.”
As usual I wound up our discussion by asking Chris to reveal something about herself that might surprise her readers.
“Approximately 65% of my employment, took me from mundane to far flung places. One day, I could be cleaning/tidying bedrooms & bathrooms, wiping bums or cleaning up vomit, and the next I could be shopping for clothes or Christmas/birthday presents, eating out/going to the pictures or going on day trips/holidays in England and overseas.”
I enjoyed my date with Chris Jean Clarke and, now that I have shared it with you, I hope you did to.
My latest date with an indie author arrived a bit late, but was well worth waiting for, as I am sure you will agree. I am grateful to Sylva Fae for interrupting her holiday to answer my questions.
Sylva grew up in Lancashire where, “[If] there were hard times for my parents . . . they kept them well hidden from me and my brother. I had a simple but fun childhood, and I look back with fond memories. My parents were artists who had a love of travel and the outdoors. My dad especially loved travelling and would prioritise holidays abroad over buying expensive toys etc – he wanted us to experience new places and learn about other cultures first hand. My mum was the driving force behind buying a farm, which became a sanctuary for injured wildlife and unwanted pets. When not chasing hens and goats out of the house, we often went on adventures around the local moors and would play in the fresh air while my mum sketched the landscape.”
She now lives in Cheshire and owns a woodland in Shropshire. I wondered how that came about and what were the pros and cons.
“When my eldest daughter was a toddler we booked onto a supposedly child-friendly campsite. It turned into a nightmare of rules and regulations with tents regimentally spaced in a crowded field, then there was a horrendous rainstorm! Faced with keeping a rowdy toddler entertained in a tent, we gave up and came home. We had envisaged a relaxing camping experience, sat around the fire as the sun went down, space for our daughter to run wild and have fun, but instead we got the opposite. With a little research, we discovered that there were companies selling plots of woodland. We spent the summer pottering around different sites, until we found our vision of the idyllic woodland camp, hidden in the Shropshire countryside.
Everyone thought we were mad buying a woodland, and they’re probably right but we love it.
We have created a camping area with a fire pit and benches, that is enjoyed by many of our family and friends. Our three girls have the opportunity to experience a little of the childhood we had. They run wild, climb trees, make dens and have learned to cook on a campfire. It’s great to get them playing and learning new skills in the fresh air rather than slaves to technology, like so many other young people nowadays.
Drawbacks? None that I can think of. The woods provide us with a safe place to camp, fuel to heat our house over winter, and as an investment, the value of the land has more than doubled in the nine years we have had it. The only thing I wish was different is that we’d done this years earlier.”
When I asked her about the challenges involved in her past career as a teacher of children and young adults with special needs, she explained how she “fell into this line of work quite by accident, mainly because most of the other teachers were daunted by the challenge the groups presented.
“I never saw disabilities or learning difficulties, I only saw people who approached learning in different ways.
I planned my lessons to enable them to achieve at a rate and in a meaningful way to each individual. It was incredibly rewarding but also frustrating in that the current education system doesn’t fully recognise the achievements these young people make.
The lessons I learned from working with groups of this nature have enhanced my life, and the skills I now carry forward are valuable in many situations.”
Many of Sylva’s books are based on stories she created with her young children very much in mind and contributing to the process. I asked how she thought they compared to traditional children’s fiction like Enid Blyton’s “Famous Five” and “Secret Seven” or more recent works like the “Harry Potter” books.
“I grew up as an Enid Blyton fan, I think I read pretty much every one of her books. I do have a few chapter books, aimed at a similar level on the go, but my main focus is producing picture books. My own children loved the rhyming stories by Julia Donaldson, and the repetitive Hairy Maclary books by Lynley Dodd, and I aspire to create stories that will engage children in the same way.
As her children get older she is adapting her style: “I wanted to create the picture books as memories for my girls of the stories we created together, but already they have outgrown them. I have a few middle school chapter books in the works and a young adult book half written. I must say that I do love the picture book style most of all, but maybe that will change as my girls grow.”
Asked when and where she writes, she explains that since taking voluntary redundancy from her teaching job she writes while her girls are in school – and continues:
“Well, that’s always the plan but inspiration seems to come mostly at night, so I often work in the evenings as well. I type ideas on my mobile phone as they come to me so I’m rarely away from writing. I love to ponder story ideas while I’m sat on a log at the campfire.”
Next we talked about the difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing:
“I was offered publishing deals by two small press publishers but I didn’t feel completely happy with either. I’m not sure what it was that held me back, but I decided to publish independently instead, and I’m glad I did as both publishers have since gone out of business.
I did discover a fantastic publisher through my good friend and children’s author Paul Ian Cross. The Little Lights Studio in Vienna has created a bedtime stories app for families, and I’m proud to have been a part of this project from the beginning. I have five stories in the app and I’m in the process of writing five more.
So now I self-publish books but have a modern publisher for online stories – it’s quite a good combination for me.”
Like all the best children’s books hers are prolifically illustrated – by the author:
“I spent a long time trying to find an illustrator to create the pictures I have when I write. I discovered several things – I am very picky about the styles I like, illustrators are justifiably pricey, and I only like the most expensive! Because of this I stalled for a couple of years, unable to afford what I wanted but unwilling to compromise. I then discovered I could create my own illustrations quite by accident. It started just as a bit of fun creating the story characters for my children, but after showing a couple of my writer friends, they gave me the confidence to illustrate my own stories. Cover design is really just an extension of the illustration process so I do that too.”
Editing, however, is something Sylva regards as too important to undertake herself:
“Editing is definitely something I seek support with.
I believe in supporting other authors and have always offered my services as a beta reader and proof reader to anyone who needs it.
Now we have a faithful network of friends who share skills on a pay-it-forward basis. My work is currently being edited by children’s author Millie Slavidou.”
Noting that Sylva’s website has been rather neglected of late, I wondered how much effort she puts into marketing, probably the most difficult aspect of publishing for us independents.
“You are right! I started the blog after advice from experienced author Lesley Hayes, to write every day. She persuaded me to set up the blog and has encouraged me from the start. As soon as I found the way to illustrate and publish my own books, my energies have gone into that, and yes my poor little blog has been neglected. This is something I want to rectify. My next marketing plan is to reinvent the blog and use it as an additional marketing tool.
I think our best marketing tool is interacting within our community. The more we become involved and support one another, the more help we receive with marketing of our own books. You get what you put in.
I particularly enjoy doing live marketing events, reading to children and answering their questions. Young children are my main audience so their feedback is the most valuable.”
When I asked about her reading preferences she produced a long list of independent authors, including some who have, or soon will be, featured in these ‘dates’.
“I love a good psychological thriller, I want to be kept guessing right until the last page. Since I started beta reading for my writer group, I have read around many genres, perhaps ones I wouldn’t have chosen previously but it has been a great experience. Independent authors like Lesley Hayes, Nico Laeser and Val Tobin are current favourites of mine. In expanding my genres I’ve also discovered authors like Susan Faw, Eric Lahti and Melanie Smith. Each has a different style but I have learned so much from each of them. I would love to meet any of my indie author friends, as I feel we have become friends despite never meeting in real life.”
I like to ask my subjects to reveal something about themselves that might surprise their fans – or, in the case of a children’s author, the fans’ parents. Sylva offers three things:
“My debut book Rainbow Monsters won the Chanticleer Little Peeps award for best in category.
Perhaps not surprising given that I own a woodland, but I run a bushcraft and wild camping group when I’m not writing.
I’m a secret geek! I won the US Navy cryptology challenge two years running despite having no prior knowledge of cryptology or related subjects. Russian newspapers speculated that the winners were being recruited into a top-secret government taskforce, and
my local newspaper suggested I might be a spy!
Of course I’m not a spy, I only did the challenge because I enjoy learning new skills and I’m tenacious in pursuing my goals.
I guess I apply this same tenacity and persistence to my writing too. There is no luck in becoming an author, it takes a lot of hard work and a willingness to learn new skills constantly.”
A pleasant surprise to find myself included with a group of other writers at Sally’s place.
Rhonda Hopkins is a self-published author from Texas with two decades of experience working within the Family Court system. She writes often quite dark stories featuring zombies. She also has a non-fiction book in the pipeline which will be a guide for people encountering the Family Court for the first time.
I began our conversation by asking her about life in her native Texas. For me “Texas” invokes memories of old cowboy films, vast cattle ranches, rodeos and Dallas – both the TV series and the city with its glass and steel towers. I wondered how accurate was that image.
“That’s a great question and one I’ve never been asked before. Texas is amazing. We have just about everything here. Large cities, small towns, and wide-open spaces. We have a large variety of trees, my favorite being pecan. We had several in our yard when I was a child and l loved climbing them. I’d sit on a large branch, lean back against the trunk, and read for hours.
My grandmother and other relatives always had ranch animals, cows, horses, donkeys, mules, chickens, etc. So, I had the pleasure of having that experience. We still have cows and chickens. And of course, we have wildlife that come into the back – coyotes, foxes, raccoons, possums, and more. I actually posted about a run in I had with a raccoon previously.
As for rodeos – I grew up going to those.
My uncle is a champion bareback rider.
We live in a small town in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, so I feel like I have the best of both worlds. Big cities with everything you could want available and a small-town atmosphere where you know all your neighbors and have an active community.
We have canyons, an ocean, rivers, lakes, and mountains. I feel very fortunate to have been born and raised in Texas and can’t imagine living anywhere else. I have traveled to many other wonderful states in the U.S. and would love to visit them again, but Texas is home.”
I ask her about her years working in the Family Court system. She has a section of her website devoted to providing information for prospective users of the service, but I wonder to what extent her experience feeds into her fiction.
“I’ve worked within the Family Court system for nearly twenty years. The first nine and a half were at Child Protective Services where I dealt with child abuse and neglect. I was an investigator for most of those and a supervisor for the rest. I then did investigations/custody evaluations for the Family Courts. I met the most evil people and the most wonderful during those twenty years. There were funny, horrific, scary, and amazing experiences. All of that, I use in my writing. Most of my fiction is dark, but the best part to me is finding the light within the darkness. I try my best to show the hope and human spirit and endurance within my books.
I also have a new non-fiction book coming out soon, NAVIGATING FAMILY COURT: IN THE BEST INTEREST OF YOUR CHILD. It will offer an insight into what to expect if one has to go through custody litigation and how best to prepare yourself and your children. Co-parenting tips are also included. I’m very happy that I can use my experience to help others through a really difficult time. I’ll have a new website just for that topic once it’s released and I’ll transfer all my former blog posts there, so people will have access to the articles about domestic violence, child custody, and substance abuse.”
On her website she offers her books free of charge to serving members of the defense forces. She got the idea from Anna Erishkigal, a fellow author who writes epic fantasies Rhonda describes as amazing. “I think it’s important that we give back to those that sacrifice so much for our freedoms,” she adds.
I ask what drew her to write about zombies and what she would you say to someone like me, who has never read that genre and has no inclination to do so, to make me change my mind.
“I was asked to participate in LET’S SCARE CANCER TO DEATH, a charity anthology. The proceeds go to The V Foundation For Cancer Research. The theme was zombies. I love watching and reading about zombies, but never intended to write about them. But, when the offer to participate came up, the short story just sort of appeared fully formed. That short story was supposed to be the extent of my zombie work. But, I fell in love with the characters and their stories of survival. More characters came to me and they all seem to be begging me to tell their stories. So, a series was born. My first full-length novel DEAD OF WINTER should be out at the end of August or so.
While the SURVIVAL series has blood and guts – it’s zombies after all – that’s not the focus or even the main theme. I care, and I want my readers to care, more about the survivors and their stories, their perseverance and ability to overcome such a horrific apocalyptic event.
I don’t think zombies would even be the biggest threat in that world. I think it would be other humans.
So my books show the good and the bad of humanity and how my survivors cope with it all – the light within the darkness.”
Previous writers who have featured here have embraced controversial subjects in their writing – the Holocaust, FGM and the grooming of underage girls for sex. When I ask if she thinks it’s wise for writers to tackle such subjects she says that writers should write whatever touches their hearts.
Some writers have a special space for writing, or a time of day reserved for the activity. Rhonda has
a desk and an area set up, “but mainly I write from my big comfy chair on my laptop. But, I’ve been known to write just about anywhere or anytime the muse strikes.”
Currently writing is her only creative activity, but she wishes she could paint.
“My aunt is an amazing artist, but my stick figures don’t even look like stick figures. 😊 She is teaching me to crochet though, so we’ll see how that goes. I love cooking and baking. I especially enjoy baking special things for my nieces and nephews – like the Christmas Tree cake I made this past holiday. I did make ceramics a long time ago when my mom was into it. I might have to try that out again. Although, I’ve been thinking about trying pottery recently.”
I wonder if she uses professional help with preparing her work for publication.
“I use beta readers for the first read through, then a professional editor. I want my work to appeal to readers and be as well developed as possible.
As an indie, I strive to be professional and hire editors and cover designers.”
Her favourite author is Dean Koontz.
“I read many different genres and there are many authors I consider must reads, both traditionally and indie published. However, Dean Koontz is my favorite author. I’ve been reading him since I was about twelve and I believe I have read just about everything he’s ever written. I would hope I could manage to speak if I were having dinner with him – I’m such a fan girl. LOL He’s a magnificent writer, with a wonderful imagination. I’d love to be able to string words together like he can. After just a few sentences, I’m completely immersed in the story and even forget I’m reading. I don’t think that can be taught, but if it could, I’d hope he’d share that ability with me.”
I thank her for the frankness of her answers and she surprises me with an offer – a free copy of SURVIVAL for one of my followers. Here’s how to qualify to receive it: simply be the first to tell me, in a comment, what is Rhonda’s favourite tree.
Rebecca Bryn is the pen name of an English woman who writes gritty, no-holds-barred, historical novels. Born into a family with a long history of residence in Northamptonshire, she now lives in Pembrokeshire in the far west of Wales. Most of her stories are drawn from Northamptonshire and family history.
When I asked, in all innocence, what prompted her move away from the East Midlands, her response startled me with its frankness and humour.
“The long story or the short? It has to be the long, doesn’t it, given that I delve into what makes people who they are and expose my heart and soul in my writing? Truth hurts, but here goes. My husband left me for another woman and broke my heart. I spent seven miserable years alone, working 18 hour days at a job I hated to keep a roof over the heads of our two young sons. They were about 19 or 20 when I answered my sixteenth ‘Lonely Hearts’ ad in the local rag. Number sixteen proved not to be a total disaster. (He’ll be really chuffed to be called ‘not a total disaster’)To cut a long story short, we hit it off.
On our second date, he called me a knock-kneed knackered old shag bag and I retorted, somewhat hotly, that I wasn’t knock-kneed. We knew then we were a match made in purgatory, and we’d better stay together to avoid inflicting ourselves on anyone else.
He’d always wanted to move back to Pembrokeshire, and I had too many sad memories to happily stay where I was, though I loved my home village. Moving to Pembrokeshire has been both one of my greatest joys and biggest regrets. I made a hard choice, and the regret of it is written out in the historical trilogy For Their Country’s Good. It’s my way of asking for forgiveness, as Ella did.”
Does she feel homesick?
Yes, but I’m homesick for what was, rather than what it would be like if I moved back. Nothing can give me back the years when I was happy there. Most of all, I miss my kids and my family.
She has published six books in what seems like a short time and I wondered how she managed that. Once again I am surprised by her answer.
“I’m retired and have been for some years. I rarely seem to write more than about 500 words a day, and I had three books written before I plucked up the courage to publish the first one, so it seems higher than it actually is. I mainly tend to write/promote while half watching TV in the evening. Finding time, even though I’m retired, is desperately difficult.”
That is certainly something I can relate to – being retired and yet still not having as much time for writing as one would like. It turns out her practice reflects mine in another way too – thinking about the WIP whilst doing other things:
“My ‘office’ is two small coffee tables and a lounger. I like to be comfortable, even if I put my characters through the mill. I grab minutes when I can, and think about the writing while I’m doing other things. I only write when I’ve worked out the next part. Note to self: research the 2nd battle of Gaza!”
Bryn – or, rather the woman who writes under that name – also paints; stunning water colours of the landscape and seascape near her home. I wondered how the two creative activities compare.
“I think they’re two sides of the same coin. The important thing is the creativity and seeing things how they are.
I paint pictures with words and tell stories with paint.
It’s not so different.”
Her trilogy about people wrenched from poverty in nineteenth century rural England to new lives in Tasmania is inspired by family history. So is her present work in progress.
“The Dandelion Clock – ah, not a tale with a guaranteed happy ending. Not sure yet how it will end. 😉 It’s about young men who go to war, the girls they leave behind, and how war changes people. It was inspired by my grandfather’s time in Egypt and Palestine in The Great War. He served in the Queens Own Worcestershire Yeomanry. I have a photo of him on his horse, and I treasure his army fork, which hangs on a wall in my art room. I always used it to eat with as a child. He wasn’t a man who spoke much about his past, but he confided something to me one day that explained much about my mother, with whom I had a needy parent relationship. He’d promised my grandmother that if he survived the war, they’d get married. When he came home, he’d changed – he wanted different things – something many of the men returning from war discovered. But he’d made her a promise, so they married. It wasn’t a bad marriage, they stuck it for fifty-odd years, but I don’t remember any displays of affection, and
I don’t think they taught their children how to love.
Hence the title, The Dandelion Clock: he loves me, he loves me not?”
Her other novels include one about the holocaust and a gripping dystopian work about a post-climate-change world. I ask if she believes that writers have duty to share their passion about controversial subjects?
“Touching the Wire was inspired by a television report I saw. I can’t say which as it gives away the twist in the tail for those who haven’t read it. Once I started the research, I realised that I had to write it; this was something the world should know about and should never be forgotten. I wanted to give the women of Auschwitz the voice they were denied. Once written, I balked at publishing it. It’s a highly emotive subject, and I’d dealt with it in a controversial way. However,
my characters insisted their story should be told,
so I plucked up my courage, pressed ‘publish’, and ducked below the parapet.
I did have one one-star review from a woman who said I should be ashamed for writing it, and it was an insult to those who died. I did respond and I think I got her to agree with some of my points. Had I not already had two personal messages from survivors who thanked me for writing it, one saying that for the first time in seventy years she’d begun to contemplate forgiveness, I’d probably have pulled the book. As it happens, either she or Amazon removed the review. Those two positive messages of thanks from survivors have made my whole writing career worthwhile.
As a small token of my respect for the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, each year I donate royalties earned during Holocaust week to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum to support Holocaust education. Holocaust Day is January 27th and commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945. The first year it was only $25 – last year it was $200, maybe this year I can make it $500.
The dystopian novel, Where Hope Dares, was inspired by the thinking of the day into climate change. I took it several steps farther and imagined a world when the computer age had failed and gone beyond memory and climate change had significantly reduced human population. It was another book I was nervous about publishing, the research terrified me, but as dystopian fiction seems to be out of fashion I doubt many people have been mentally scarred by it.”
Until recently Bryn has not used a professional editor, but:
“I have one trusted beta reader who tears my writing to bits with relentless determination, and I do the same to hers. And a couple of others kindly volunteered their advice and opinions which were gratefully received. I recently had On Different Shores professionally edited and learned a lot in the process. When The Dandelion Clock is written, I shall put it aside for a few weeks while I re-edit and update the whole lot!”
Bryn’s favourite writers are JRR Tolkein, John Steinbeck and Douglas Adams. She welcomes advice from other writers, believing that “most of it is useful, even if you don’t think so at the time.”
In response to my questions about her nom de plume she admits to being a coward and continues,
“though I’m more open about the fact that I write since reviews have built my self-confidence. Why that one? My first child was to be called Rebecca. He was a boy. My second child was to be called Rebecca. He was a boy too. So, not wishing to do what my mother-in-law did and keep going until I had a girl, I chose Rebecca for my nom de plume. Then my first son produced twin girls, and quite by chance called one Rebecca. The Bryn part came from the names of my last two homes. Pen-y-Bryn – top of the hill – and Brynhedydd – Lark Hill. I miss them both. I suppose that makes me Rebecca Hill…”
In response to my request, she produces a long list of facts about her that might surprise some of her readers:
“I’m left-handed. I can build stone walls and lay bricks, do plumbing, plaster and render walls, lay patios, tile walls and floors, sew, cook, and touch my toes with my arms stretched out behind my head. (No it isn’t in the Kama Sutra – maybe it should be?) I’m useless with electrics, I can’t cut bread straight, or saw wood. I’m hopeless at housework. I have a terrible memory. Did I mention I don’t do housework?”
I take the last with the proverbial pinch of salt given that a recent Facebook post on the Independent Authors Support and Discussion forum asked why other items in the washing machine with a duvet cover always ended up inside said cover.
Rebecca’s page at Indie Author Network. There you will find descriptions of all her books and purchase links to your nearest Amazon store.