Author Interview - Tominda Adkins (Plus a Vessel Giveaway!)

If there's one thing I enjoy more than books that can make me laugh, it's authors that can do the same!  Along with taking the time to answer my questions, Tominda Adkins, author of Vessel (Book I: The Advent) is sponsoring an awesome giveaway of her hilarious and fun novel.  Check out the details after the interview, and join me in a warm Her Book Self welcome to Tominda Adkins!

*applause, applause*

Welcome, Tominda!  Tell us a little about yourself - How did you get started as a writer?
Coming up with stories has always been my bliss. Four days out of five, I was that kid at recess who just got on the swingset and did nothing else. Except I wasn't just swinging, I was completely spacing out and building intricate plot lines about dragons and god-knows-what-else in my head. I was always writing up character profiles, drawing them, creating maps and new nations, and building story outlines. By the age of eleven I pretty much knew that I wouldn't be content until I published a book, and yet I never planned for a writing career. Majoring in English never crossed my mind. I wasn't interested in English; I was interested in my stories, and in telling them the right way. I discovered the right way by reading a lot, and by writing a lot.

How did you come up with the concept for the Vessel series?
The short story: Too much anime as a kid! My personal favorites were Ronin Warriors and Sailor Moon. The long story: When I was twelve, my best friend Lindsey and I stayed up until dawn writing separate epic fantasies. The notebook I filled that night hardly resembles Vessel, but the seeds are there: five young men, elemental powers, and comedic situations. It just kept evolving from there. Anyone who knew me in high school can tell you I was never without a spiral-bound neon notebook filled with this ongoing story and supplemental manga-esque doodling. I went to college, put it away for a few years, and tried writing some light literary fiction, which never got anywhere. And then one day, Jordan invited herself into my head and the rest of Vessel just came pouring out of me. It all fell into place, and this time I knew it was mature enough, it was good enough, so I dropped everything in order to get it published. Now I am finally able to share it with readers, and I couldn't be happier with the response so far.

One of the things I loved about Vessel: The Advent was that it is a road trip novel. I've always enjoyed stories where a physical journey parallels the journey of character development. Are you a fan of road trips? What is your favorite destination and method of travel?
I do love road trips! I'm generally content on the road, whether alone or with friends. I love driving, and I adore diners (I've honestly fantasized about being a trucker). Two summers ago, I drove from West Virginia to Seattle in four days. My car broke down five times and the AC was kaput for the entire journey. Despite what my travel companion will tell you, it was the best trip ever.
Honestly, my favorite destination is someplace I've never been, and my favorite method of travel is by horse. But since I don't own a horse and rarely get the opportunity to ride in Seattle, I'll say that 'by car' is a close second. It's when I'm driving around listening to loud music that I start to visualize key scenes for Vessel. Probably not the safest way to craft a novel, but it works for me.

Was it difficult to develop so many characters concurrently?
Character development always feels like the easiest part. One thing that consistently amazes about writing is the way characters tend to dictate their own creation. You start to get a feel for them, but sometimes when you begin priming them to be a certain way, they flatly refuse. You want specific relationships to form, or you want a protagonist to show strength before he's ready, but the characters have a way of pointing you in the right direction and thus improving the story itself--if you let them. It's truly a group effort. I sit and type, and I've got these guys glaring over my shoulder the whole time, saying: "Are you kidding? I'd never do that!" or: "I'm wearing what?" and: "Yes! Yes! I'd totally say that!" and so on. When this whole thing started, for instance, Corin was supposed to be a total ditz. He wound up being the most sensible character I've got. I wanted Ghi to stand out as the key male protagonist for Book I, but Jesse absolutely jumped up and stole the show. There was no stopping him. All these developments were for the better, though, and I have my characters to thank for it.

 Whose storyline was the most enjoyable to write?
Jesse is obviously a ball to write, but Khan's storyline is probably my favorite right now. There's a lot of mystery to him--not just concerning his past, but his current actions. Doing a character who doesn't speak is a challenge, but a fun one. Readers sometimes ask why he doesn't talk. It's not that he doesn't know English; he just doesn't see the point in speaking in most situations. Or maybe he's just a total sociopath. I don't know. Heck, I created the guy, and I hardly know what he's thinking half the time. He has a lot of depth, though; he's a lot sweeter and selfless than readers realize right now, and I can promise that he'll continue to surprise.

Your website has a Vessel character quiz - which character is most like you and which is the least?
This is a fun one! I think a lot of people would guess that Jordan and I are the most similar, but I don't see it. Friends do tell me that reading Vessel is like sitting with me while I tell a story, and I guess the way I talk really does show through in Jordan's narration . . . but she's just so cranky. I like to think that if I were stuck on a tour bus with the Vessel, I'd have a darn good time. So I'll say that I'm most like Jackson. He's loud, friendly, up for anything, and rarely in a poor mood. I can identify with that. The least like me is probably Khan. He and I don't have much in common, except maybe a predilection toward tattoos.

Another aspect of the book that I found really entertaining was Jordan's narration and her witty banter with Jesse. Do your friends and family consider you a funny person or is most of your humor saved for your writing?
I see humor in everything, and I'm always bursting to tell someone a funny story. I'm a total ham, sure, but it helps that the most outrageous (and usually embarrassing) things always happen to me. I don't know why that is. I'm like a Seinfeld situation magnet. I can't walk out the door in a long skirt without it winding up over my head in a strong wind, or ripped completely off by bicycle gears, or half-digested by pygmy goats. You see? There's this stereotype of authors using their sorrows to inspire, or writing to make use of their pain. I suppose, then, that I write to make use of my absurd circumstances. So when a naked man accidentally locks himself in my kitchen pantry (true story), I just think: "Yep. I can use that."

Using a haiku, how would you persuade someone who had never read the book that Vessel: The Advent is a work they will love?

What an original question! Here goes:
Earth is in peril!
Five gods, one girl, add liquor . . .
Oh no. We're all doomed.

The Hollows were also a delightfully creepy new concept and I liked that you took a new spin on zombies as an adversary. Are you a fan of zombies in books and movies? How did you come up with your reinvention of them?
I had eight zombie apocalypse nightmares in 2010! I wouldn't call myself a zombie afficianado, but I do appreciate a well-done zombie movie or graphic novel. Zombies terrify me for the same reason that sharks do: you absolutely cannot reason with one, and it wants to eat you. You can't reason with a toddler, either, but a toddler can't gnaw out your intestines. Unless it's a zombie toddler.
Zombie movies definitely helped inspire the Hollows, who've undergone some major evolution throughout re-writings of Vessel. They used to be demon spirits in another dimension, then vampire-like beings, and probably other things I'm forgetting. For a long time, I wasn't sure what their endgame was, what they were after, you know? "Taking over the world" is overdone, and there are too many civilized vampires out there who kill with moral discrecion. I wanted the adversary to be savage, calculating but insatiable, and scary. Then I saw this bad movie a few years ago about seances, with this black ectoplasm floating up out of a kid's mouth, and I was like: Yes! That's what my evil is! It doesn't think, it just feeds--like zombies! No political goals, no dreams of eternal life, no name even--just a hunger. A hunger that takes the shape of the people it has fed upon and emptied. Hollows. Bingo.

You already have some plans for future books in the Vessel series - what can you reveal about the next book?
Well, there will be five books in all, and each one will shine a little extra light on one Vessel in particular. Jesse got Book I. Next up is Jackson. In Book II, we'll learn a lot more about the Luna Latum, the Vessels' abilities, and their drink preferences. Basically, the boys get a few months of R&R at their new digs, the Elysium (where Jordan is miserable, of course). Then they are called to Egypt by the Luna Latum Consulate, where sand is displaced and trouble is had. My website promises "cults, prosthesis humor, the bloody return of a certain not-quite-dead princess and her flesh-eating horse, and, naturally, a gay disco club". The book doesn't have a subtitle yet, and in fact I'm holding a contest to name it. The winner will have a doomed character named in his or her honor!

What other projects are you currently working on?
I write the occasional speculative short story, but right now Vessel is all I have time for. I'm always looking to do cover design, typesettng, and e-book formatting for other authors, though. Eventually, I want to expand my publishing capabilities and promote works other than my own. As for what I'll be writing after Vessel, who knows!

Where can we find out more about you and your work? is a great place to start, and the Elysium blog: I'm always trying to keep things interactive and show visitors a good time. And, of course, anyone is welcome to email me: I love questions, comments, suggestions, rants, recipes, weather updates--whatever you want to send my way.

Thank you so much for sharing your time and work!
Thank you for the questions, Lisa! This has been a pleasure. Happy reading!

And now for the giveaway details!  Great news for eBook fans: for a limited time only there is a FREE download available at the book's website!  In case that's not awesome enough, Tominda Adkins will also send a paperback copy of the novel to one lucky Her Book Self reader!  To enter the contest for the paperback copy, leave a comment below with your email address and answer to the question, "Are you a fan of road trips? What is your favorite destination and method of travel?"  Giveaway is open to US and Canada mailing addresses and ends on April 13th! 

Winner will be selected using and will have three days to respond via email with a valid mailing address; if no response, a new winner will be chosen.

Vessel (Book I: The Advent)

I love to laugh so it should come as no surprise that I also love books that make me laugh.  Granted, some of my favorite books are poignant classics or tear-jerking works of literary fiction, but I'm also a huge fan of straightforward well-told stories that bring a smile to my face and make me giggle a bit as I read them.   So it was with Vessel by Tominda Adkins. 

When five strangers share recurring dreams about both ancient Egypt and the Statue of Liberty, they all know something strange is going on. However none of them, least of all pop star Jesse Cannon, could have expected that behind the dreams lies the truth that they each represent the reincarnation of a god sent to defeat evil incarnate. A firefighter, a philanthropist, a convict, a diva celebrity, and an amnesiac who just might be a terrorist make an odd host for the spirits of earth, water, fire, air and light; but it's up to this cocktail of characters to stop the plague of zombie-like Hollows determined to destroy them and spread a deathly plague. For Jesse, saving the world is going to have to wait until after his appearance on Oprah, and it's up to Jesse's frazzled assistant - the book's hilarious narrator - Jordan to keep the unlikely heroes in line.

Vessel, Book I: The Advent is the first in Tominda Adkins' new series, and if the subsequent books are as well done as this one, readers are in for quite an enjoyable treat. I love the characters that Adkins created and the witty banter - especially between Jordan and Jesse - was delightful. From New York to Chicago and Toronto with flashbacks through the Middle East, Vessel blends fantasy with real life details to give the story a great structure. The Hollows were also a unique and wicked creation. Described as "the lasting imprint of a dying person", these flesh-eating beings masquerading as humans were a frightening and suspenseful addition to the story.

Adkins' book is not a life-altering work of profound literature but what it is, is a heck of a lot of fun. Multiple passages that are literally laugh-out-loud amusing are mixed with nail-biting action sequences to create a fast-paced story that is highly entertaining. With a writing style that might best be described as Rick Riordan meets Christopher Moore, Tominda Adkins shows wonderful promise with this debut work and I eagerly look forward to the future books in the Vessel series!
 The biggest downside to books that make me laugh is that a good portion of my reading is done in public.  It's always an interesting experience to be stifling a snicker when the bus riders around me are casting strange glances my way.  Are you a fan of funny books?  Do you prefer more serious literature?  Or do you like to mix it up?

Stay tuned this week for my interview with Tominda Adkins and a Vessel giveaway!

A Song of Ice and Fire

I'm not much of a re-reader.  I generally follow the opinion that with the overwhelming size of my TBR list, it's sort of crazy to go back and read something that I've already read.  Yet, I do make exceptions.  The Harry Potter series is one that I've revisited a few times.  There are Mark Twain works that I read in middle or high school that I've gone back to as an adult.  I've honestly lost count of how many times I've torn through R.A. Salvatore's Homeland after first reading it in the early 90's.

And I'm about to embark on another journey of rereading.  A Song of Ice and Fire is the name of the epic fantasy series by George R.R. Martin.  There are currently four books in the series with the fifth due out in July.  Book one, A Game of Thrones, has also recently been made into an HBO series and debuts next month (and yes, I'll agonizingly be waiting until it's released on DVD/Blu-Ray to indulge as I don't have premium cable).  I have been following the trailers and promos on George R.R. Martin's website and I must say it does look quite awesome!  But back to the books, I read the first in the series in 2006 and the second (A Clash of Kings) and third (A Storm of Swords) in early 2007.  And then I stopped.

For those unfamiliar with the series or Martin's writing, book three leaves off with some shocking cliffhangers, only half of which are resolved in book four (A Feast for Crows).  The fourth book carries the story of half the characters in book three, but the other half are left hanging until book five A Dance with Dragons - the book that Martin fans have just been told (officially!) will be released in July.  So I've waited four years to even crack the spine of book four but since there are four months until the release of Dance and four books in the series leading up to it, I figure now is the ideal time for a reread!
Check back here for my progress report:
March: A Game of Thrones (finished 3/31/11)

April: A Clash of Kings (finished 5/07/11)

May: A Storm of Swords (finished 6/28/11)

June: A Feast for Crows (finished 7/19/11)

July: A Dance with Dragons (finished 8/3/11)

If anyone wants to join in the series reread or try out A Game of Thrones, let me know as I'd love to swap notes and join discussion!  Or if any long time Ice and Fire fans want a partner for the happy dances of joy that will accompany July's release, I'm glad to join in those as well!

"To read is to fly..."

"To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.”
- A C Grayling

I haven't posted a good quote in a while and this metaphor really made me smile.  I think it's sometimes hard for me to put my love of reading into words, but the next time someone asks me why I spend so much of my time with my nose in a book I may just respond, "To read is to fly".

The Peach Keeper

Willa Jackson and former classmate Paxton Osgood have never been close friends despite the fact that their grandmothers were inseparable. With their stations reversed from past generations - the Jackson family meeting financial ruin and the Osgoods climbing to social elite - the two girls have never had much in common. However, when Paxton takes on the project of restoring the Blue Ridge Madam, a mansion built by Willa's ancestors, a skeleton buried under a peach tree thrusts Paxton and Willa together to uncover the secrets and half truths hidden in the distant - and not-so-distant - past.

In The Peach Keeper, Sarah Addison Allen has composed another gem of a novel. Set in Walls of Water, North Carolina the story is infused with the signature southern charm and touch of magic that distinguished Allen's previous works (The Sugar Queen, Garden Spells). The mystery is compelling and the characters are delightful. Willa and Paxton were equally enjoyable to read and as the masks that each hid behind were whittled away, I was torn between which heroine I preferred.

Though less dependent on fantasy elements than some of Allen's other novels, The Peach Keeper still had an air of magical realism to it. Allen fans will also enjoy a brief cameo appearance from a past heroine. I really enjoyed this book. The plot is fresh and unique, but the themes of love and friendship - across generations, past grudges, and hurdling stereotypes - are timeless.

An advance review copy of this work was provided by the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program.  This review represents my honest and unbiased opinions of this book.  The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen is on sale Tuesday, March 22, 2011. 

Romancing Miss Brontë

When I set the challenge for myself to get through Jane Eyre in a Week, I didn't think it would take over my blog for the past seven days, but I also didn't realize what a blog-worthy book I was embarking on. Also, I can think of no better book with which to conclude Jane Eyre Week than Juliet Gael's Romancing Miss Brontë.  I read this book last month - yes, before reading Jane Eyre - and I was captivated by the story.

Though the title would suggest a fanciful romance, Romancing Miss Brontë by Juliet Gael is a mostly somber historical fiction about the life - and eventual love interest - of Charlotte Brontë. The book opens on the younger life of Charlotte, with sisters Emily and Anne and brother Branwell, and their father the Reverend Patrick Brontë.

Assuming the pen names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, the three sisters encourage each other in literary pursuits and all succeed in publishing novels but keep their endeavors hidden from family and friends. As tragedy repeatedly strikes the family, the novel takes a tearful turn but is slightly brightened by the courtship between Charlotte and her father's curate Arthur Bell Nichols.

I really enjoyed this book. Though I previously knew very little about the lives of the Brontë sisters, Gael stayed close to fact. The everyday scenes and conversations that she wove for the now-famous authors were entirely believable and worked to transpose the reader into Charlotte's life. I certainly would have preferred a happier story, but the true joy of Brontë's life was in the legacy of literature that she left for future generations.
I suppose it's a slightly off-kilter order of operations to read a novel about Charlotte Brontë before reading her most famous work, but I think knowing a little about the author's life and family gave me an added appreciation of the story created in Jane Eyre.  It was delightful to realize the parallels between Charlotte and her fictional heroine, and I think the correlations are intriguing regardless of whether Gael's work is encountered before or after Brontë's.  I'd definitely recommend this book to fans of Jane Eyre as well as those looking to learn more about the Brontë family or anyone who enjoys stories set in the 1800's. 

Jane Eyre Update (Part 3 - Fin)

I finished the book!

I'm sure the world doesn't really need another review of Jane Eyre so I'll keep this more general with my impressions of the book and sharing some more quotes that I loved.  I will say that the excellence of Jane Eyre the novel lies in the excellence of Jane Eyre the character.  Late in the book, another character sums up her personality by saying, "Jane, you are docile, diligent, disinterested, faithful, constant, and courageous; very gentle, and very heroic".  It is this compilation of traits that make her such a magnetic narrator and protagonist and makes her story so engaging.

Here's a few more Jane Eyre quotes I loved:

"It is a happy thing that time quells the longings of vengeance and hushes the promptings of rage and aversion." (4324)
"...there is no happiness like that of being loved by your fellow-creatures, and feeling that your presence is an addition to their comfort." (4625)
"The rooks cawed, and blither birds sang; but nothing was so merry or so musical as my own rejoicing heart." (4850)
"Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be.  If at my individual convenience I might break therm, what would be their worth?" (6007)
"...if you are a Christian, you ought not to consider poverty a crime." (6501)
"I have not much pride under such circumstances: I would always rather be happy than dignified;" (7803)
"I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth." (8608)
Brontë has a wonderful talent with words and her elegant style and first person voice made this book a true joy to read and digest.  It rightfully earns its place as a classic and I'm glad that I finally took the plunge and tackled it!

Jane Eyre Update (An Interlude)

With my new-found love of the work of Currer Bell, I couldn't resist sharing the following video with all the fellow bibliophiles out there. Hilarious and historically accurate! (Okay...maybe not the dinosaur part...)

(The video link is here: for those reading from an RSS feed or other source)

Oh, and I'm actually in the final stretch of the book! 74% done with less than 48 hours left...

Jane Eyre Update (Part 2)

Jane Eyre is my BFF this week.  Mr. Rochester has fully entered the scene and I must say I love how believable are Jane's feelings for him.  At first I really didn't like the idea of an eighteen-year-old heroine falling for a man almost twice her age, but this isn't some swoon worthy love-at-first-sight vampire crush.  Jane even explicitly tells Rochester that she does not find him handsome (I think I actually laughed out loud at that part).  As they spend more time together though, Jane develops admiration and respect for him and her feelings are borne out of this companionship rather than girlish idealism.  I don't want to go into the mystery that's unfolding at Thornfield Hall, as I don't want to spoil the surprises for those that are unfamiliar with the story, but I'm definitely settling in to the camp of readers that adore this book!  Here's my progress update as well as some quotes I've highlighted thus far:

"If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse.  When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard - so as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again." (1013)
"Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs." (1033)

"I remembered that the real world was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had courage to go forth into its expanse, to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils." (1520)
"It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it." (1997)
The numbers in parenthesis represent the Kindle "location" of the quote - apologies for the lack of page numbers.  I think the final one is my favorite (so far).  How about you?

I was hoping to pass the halfway mark in the book today, so I'm still a bit behind where I'd like to be to finish by Friday, but even if this is an eight day read, I'm definitely enjoying the journey!

Jane Eyre Update (Part 1)

I thought it might be fun to provide a progress ticker for my Jane Eyre in a Week challenge (I couldn't resist going with a St. Paddy's Day theme!).  I didn't get the jump start that I wanted this weekend so I'm already a little behind, but nevertheless it is a lovely novel and I'm greatly enjoying it so far!  I'm just past the first ten chapters which chronicle Jane's early life with the Reeds and at the orphanage.  Brontë is a master at emotional writing and right from the start it's easy to get drawn into Jane's story.  I'm hooked already and since Mr. Rochester has been introduced - in name only - I'm plenty eager to keep reading!

Thanks for all the wonderful encouragement on my previous post!  It's great to know that there are others out there who have not (yet) read Jane Eyre and equally delightful to hear from so many who highly recommend the book!

Me and Jane Eyre

I've never read Jane Eyre.
That's the look on your face about now, right?  

I think I might be the only person in the book blogging world - and possibly even on the planet - that has not read Charlotte Brontë's masterpiece.  I'm not sure how I got through high school and all of college (including multiple elective literature classes) without reading it, but it's true. I know the story. I've seen the play and bits and pieces of the multiple film adaptations. I know the characters and could probably even bluff my way through a conversation about the book and appear to know what I'm talking about.  And I've read Wuthering Heights which also lends me some credence to be able to talk about the Brontë sisters with some semblance of intelligence.

But I've never read Jane Eyre.

Until now.

With the release of the new movie version of Jane Eyre (starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender), I think its time for me to get with the program and move this one off my TBR pile.  I'm really interested in seeing the film - as I said before I already know the story and the trailers for this one have me hooked - but I want read the book first.  So here comes my challenge - Jane Eyre in a week!  I know how long the book is and I know how slow I typically am in reading classics (yes, I started The Count of Monte Cristo in December; no, I still have not finished it) but I really want to push myself to see if I can get through Eyre in seven days or less.  I have the book on my Kindle (oh trusty, glorious reading device!) and it's over 8000 "locations" long.  I don't normally endorse speed reading and generally feel that great work should be savored, but for me Jane Eyre has been my ultimate procrastination, so I'm hoping a potentially frenetic pace will get me to dive into this one and finally read it start to finish.  (For those who see no challenge in getting through a tome this long in a week, keep in mind that I work full time and have multiple commitments outside my job as well.  Everyone reads at their own paces, and for me this will definitely be a stretch!)

Wish me luck!  I'll be sure to blog about my progress!

Author Interview - R.T. Kaelin

As I mentioned with my review of Progeny, I first discovered this book on LibraryThing and along with raving reviews, I was introduced (in the online sense) to the book's author who graciously agreed to a Her Book Self interview!  Please join me in welcoming R.T. Kaelin!

*applause, applause*

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I live in the swamplands of Ohio – otherwise known as Columbus – with my wonderful wife and two small children who keep me on my toes. I am a lover of books but the selection of books I read now is more of the Llama Llama, Red Pajamas flavor. I am a sports fan – Bengals and Reds – but do not get to as many games as I would like. I love good music, although my taste is quite varied (Mumford & Sons, Owl City, Eminem, Green Day, OneRepublic, The Beatles, O.A.R., Third Eye Blind, Steve Miller Band).

How did you get started as a writer and why did you choose fantasy as your debut genre?
How much space do you have? Here is the short version: I would write when I was younger but had this horrible trait of hating to read my own writing. Such an aversion to editing makes producing anything of worth difficult. I used to read a lot, devouring books in a day or two, but as I got older, went to college, got married, and had kids, the amount of time I had to read decreased more and more.

A couple of years ago, I made the conscious decision to start making time to read again. I picked up Magician: Apprentice by Raymond Feist – a book I remembered really liking when younger – and re-read it after fifteen years. I happily discovered Mr. Feist had continued with the world he had created and quickly devoured every book he had written. I love immersing myself into an entire world to the point where it becomes a familiar place I long to return.

After writing a number of short stories for a gaming group I was a part of, I challenged myself to do something larger. Fantasy was a natural choice for me as I have an active imagination and love storytelling.

Progeny is definitely epic - both in its story and the world that you created. Did you start off to create such an expansive work or did things develop as you wrote?
A little of both. Before writing anything, I worked for months on crafting the world. I came up with maps, countries, cultures, people, places, mores, weather, gods, histories, laws, events, etc. I wanted a solid backdrop for when I wrote the story – I wanted characters to react to the world around them just like ‘real’ people do. The choices each one of us makes every day are based on the world around us. I wanted the same thing for the characters so their decisions felt natural.

After the framework of Terrene was done, I developed the overarching plot for the series (Progeny is just #1) and put it aside. I had a basic plotline for the first novel and I finally started to write Progeny. As I went along, many things evolved from my expectations and details about the world seeped up from nowhere. Great swaths of the story were very organic, though. In fact, one of the main characters was an accident; he just sort of wrote himself into the story. Overall, it was a combination of planning and not being afraid to let the story tell itself.

Were there any characters or scenes that you wanted to include but ended up cutting out for length?

Not at all. That is one of the benefits/curses of self-publishing a novel: the author can put in whatever he or she wants. My copyeditor focused only on typos, grammar, and structure – all editorial decisions on content were mine. Now, the goal is to have Progeny picked up by a major publisher, and if that happens, I fully expect them to chop things from it. Personally, I began re-reading the Kindle version and I think I could chop about 15% now, easy. It is my debut novel and I will freely admit I was a little wordy in places. I am much more conscious of that as I continue writing the second in the series.

Your historic heroes are known as The White Lions - why did you choose that color and symbol for them?
To be honest, I am not exactly sure. I looked back at some of my early notes, and from what I can decipher, it seems I plucked the name from nowhere. I do recall having the idea for the origin of their name from the beginning. I wanted to mimic real life and illustrate that even momentous things (like acquiring the mantle of “The White Lions”) are often guided by somewhat random events.

The White Lions did not choose their name, nor was it bestowed upon them. Rather, it was something they inherited from the populace due to a chance circumstance. Their introduction to the world of Terrene and people of the Oaken Duchies happened to be under the banner of a minor baron who was willing march into battle with them despite their fantastic claims they were sent by the Gods and Goddesses. The baron’s coat of arms happened to be a stylized white lion on a black pennant and “The White Lions” were born.

I will say this: I wanted a version of the white lion on black background for the cover of the book at a very early point in the process.

The system of magic in the book was one of the most unique and creative story elements I've encountered in a while. How did you come up with it?
This is a great question as the origin of the Strands is a good story that shows the randomness of the human mind.

Early in world-building process, I did not know what I was going to do with magic. I did not want to rehash or reinvent traditional systems already in use in other’s works, nor did I want to shout ‘poof!’ whenever something fantastic happened and expect the reader to swallow it. However, as I worked on everything else, I left that problem alone, figuring I would address it eventually. Then, one night, I had a dream where I saw these golden, pulsating strings of energy hovering around me. I woke up and had my answer for magic in Terrene. I sat down, and in a half hour, the entire way magic works in Terrene was done. The nine types of Strands, the colors and what they represent, how they can be combined, how only some people can see or ‘touch’ them…nearly all of it flowed out in one sitting. I made a few modifications as I wrote, but most everything from that half-hour has stuck.

If you could touch and weave Strands, which elements would you want to control and what sorts of things would you want to do with them?
All nine, please. However, assuming I was like most mages in Terrene and I could only touch a handful of types, I suppose I would choose Will, Void, and Air. Void and Air for the simple reason that I could use the two together to create the ports to allow me to travel instantly between two places (Tuscany, here I come!) and Will for the simple reason it would let me talk my way into/out of any situation.

Your book has so many great characters that I'm hard pressed to choose a single favorite. From which character's perspective did you most enjoy writing?
Jak (the elder brother) and Nundle (the out-of-his-element and resourceful Halfling) were my two favorites to write. I am a very empathetic person, which helps me as I write from the different characters’ point of view. However, Jak’s personality is very similar to my own, so his chapters were even easier. Nundle is fun to write as his perspective on the world is unique in relation to the others we meet in Progeny. He is a short Halfling in a tall person’s world whose spirit cannot be beat down, no matter the situation.

What other hobbies or activities do you enjoy besides writing?
Well, I do not have as much time to spend on other activities right now as writing has taken up a large portion of the little free time I have. I like to cook when I have the time – I am the chef in the house – and enjoy making dinner for the family. As mentioned earlier, I am a Reds and Bengals fan so I like to watch baseball in the summer and used to like to watch football in the fall… however, the Bengals have ruined that for me as of late. When I am not writing in the evenings, I enjoy watching a handful of television shows (Castle, House, Big Bang Theory, and – I will admit it – Glee).

Cubs vs. Reds - Jackie Robinson Day
I will extend a belated congratulations to your Cincinnati Reds for winning the 2010 NL Central - are you expecting your team to take the division again in 2011? Keep in mind that the Cubbies are hopeful about the addition of Carlos Pena to our team as well as the return of (my fave!) Kerry Wood...
Thanks for the congratulations. Here is to hoping they can repeat, but as a Cincinnati sports fan, I have come to expect disappointment. Perhaps not to the level that Cubs fans have, but typically, a good year for a Cincinnati team is immediately followed up with an incredibly frustrating one. However, if the young core of players continues to get better, then I am optimistic. Check back in July, though.

I know a sequel to Progeny is in the works. How much can you reveal about it at this point?
The rough draft is well on its way but I do not want to give away much. We meet some new people in the second of the series and a little more is revealed about what is really behind what is happening in the Borderlands. I would love to say more, but I do not think I should at this point. The one person who I have shared the first (thrice-edited ) twelve chapters with said she thinks she likes the story more than Progeny’s.

What other projects are you currently working on?
I am glad you asked, actually. As I have already mentioned, Progeny is a self-published title – a decision I made to prove an ambitious undertaking by a new novelist could be really good (after literary agencies ran from the length of the book). The great reviews the novel has received tells me that not only can I legitimately write, but encouraged my belief the book can be a commercial success.

However, I am struggling with the same issue all self-published authors: no one knows about the book. I am the author, editor, publisher, and marketer. The stigma around self-published titles is crumbling amongst readers, but it is still difficult to overcome and gain any sort of recognition.

So, in an effort to draw new readers, I am going to be releasing a series of short stories detailing past events relevant to characters or places in Progeny (and perhaps a few sneak peeks of what is in store for the future novels). Each installment of the “The Terrene Chronicles” will be about 5,000-10,000 word short stories, released as I write and finish them and available free at my website. I'll also be bundling up a few (as they are completed) and selling them for the Kindle for $.99.

Links to the short stories as they become available can be found here:

Where can we find out more about you and your work? is the website of the book ( also points there). The book has a following at and (where I blog). You can get details on the book or see reader reviews at either of the sites (as well as at or purchase print editions at or The Kindle version was released last month for those of you with a Kindle (or Kindle reader software).

Thanks so much for agreeing to the interview and sharing your time here!

Book Trailers

I'm curious what the general book blogging population thinks about book trailers. Generally, I don't watch a lot of online videos but I certainly see the value of video trailers as a promotional tool for book marketing.  If a picture truly is worth a thousand words, than book trailers might be a more effective means of advertising than simple book summaries.  But again, I'm curious to hear other book bloggers weighing in on the topic - Do you watch book trailers?  Why or why not?

Since I posted my review of Progeny yesterday and will be sharing my interview with R.T. Kaelin tomorrow I thought I would take the chance to share Progeny's book trailer today:

Progeny: The Children of the White Lions

I know in the past I've written a bit about the inherent duality in seeing something labeled as a "debut work".  Do you read those words and foresee a fresh new writer to discover, or do you shy away and ponder that maybe that author still has a bit of polish and buffing yet to accomplish?  I've always leaned more toward the former and when I heard some buzz around LibraryThing about a new fantasy novel hitting the scene I jumped at the chance to read and review it!

Nikalys and Kenders Isaac have lived a simple life as children of a farmer in the town of Yellow Mud. When a summer day leads them away from their village, they never predicted that it would also save their lives. From a distance, the two witness the magical destruction of their town - including their friends and family - by a mysterious elf and several robed figures. After watching the terrifying encounter, the two siblings flee. Magic has always been outlawed in their home, but even more startling than seeing it destroy their lives is the discovery of unique powers within themselves. Setting out to notify the authorities, Kenders and Nikalys soon cross paths with a giant of a man named Broedi. Possessing the rare talent of shapeshifting, he is a fortunate ally who holds the secrets to their past - as well as their future.

Progeny: The Children of the White Lions by R.T. Kaelin is a stunning work of epic fantasy. The story is wonderfully told and full of action and adventure. Along with the Isaac siblings and their large companion, the book is populated with well-developed characters. The story lines are beautifully woven together and each new multi-dimensional hero or villain that is introduced adds a new layer of perspective to the tale. These characters flourish in the the expansive fantasy landscape that Kaelin has created. A single village or kingdom is not enough to contain the story, so the setting is an entire nation with multiple terrains, laws, races, and cultures. Along with a pantheon of gods - good, neutral, and evil - the story refers to seasons, history, education, politics, ancient prophecy, customs, and legends of the land, all of which contribute to bringing the world to life. The universe also contains a richly detailed and unique system of magic. The system is built upon the concept of Strands - nine of them, each with a unique color and property - and those with a gift for magic wield it by weaving together the types of Strands they are able to use. Some users can control multiple types such as fire, air, water; some can only touch a few; others have no knowledge of magic at all; while some can sense it but not use it.

Cleverly conceived and expertly crafted, Kaelin demonstrates great talent as a writer with this work. The grand scale world-building, rarely seen in a debut novel, is on par with current greats of the genre such as Brandon Sanderson (Warbreaker) and Jim Butcher (Furies of Calderon). Though it nears seven hundred pages long, the epilogue comes far too soon; but the story holds great promise for future adventures in the series. Overall, Progeny is a fantastic book! It is appropriate for young adults or fans of high fantasy of any age. While it does tell a succinct story, it will definitely leave readers eagerly anticipating its sequel!
For fans of the genre, Progeny is definitely THE book to read this year!  (Or at least it is THE book to read while awaiting the immensely anticipated George R.R. Martin work, Dance with Dragons on July 12...) Available in paperback and recently released in Kindle format as well, I hope Progeny gains the popularity and readership that it most definitely deserves!
Stay tuned this week for my interview with author R.T. Kaelin!

Dreams of Joy (A Weekend to ReCOVER)

I was really excited to discover this week that Lisa See's website announced the title and cover of her newest book!  Dreams of Joy is the sequel to See's novel Shanghai Girls, which I read back in 2009.  The first book told a wonderful story, but the ending was left with a rather large question mark and - as is the case with most great fiction - I didn't want the story to end.  I've read most of See's books including her most popular ones (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love) and her writing is always quite captivating. Here's the cover of Dreams of Joy alongside Shanghai Girls:

I like how the cover art on the new one (left) compliments the style and form of the first (right).  The pictures are beautiful and I like how the portrait style - which played a role in the plot of the first book - and the inclusion of flowers ties them together despite the vastly different color schemes.  There's also a play on words in the title of the sequel as the main character (the daughter of the first book's heroine) is named Joy - so the titular dreams are both those of a hopeful future and those of a girl of a new generation  Dreams of Joy won't be released until May 31, but I'm glad to have a date to look forward to that will continue the story begun two years ago in Shanghai Girls!

       A Weekend to ReCOVER is a meme hosted by Her Book Self that is all about discussing and analyzing interesting and unique cover art - new or old, classic or pre-release, anything that strikes your fancy!  Whether it's a comparison or just a single work that stands out to you, feel free to chime in with a comment below or join in the fun with a post of your own.  Be sure to leave a link so I can stop by and read about what cover(s) you're admiring or criticizing this week!

The Emperor's New Clothes (Fairy Tale Fridays)

For this week's edition of Fairy Tale Fridays, I wanted to revisit a classic story that I remembered and loved from my childhood.   The Emperor's New Suit (or "The Emperor's New Clothes" as it is often called) by Hans Christian Andersen relates a fable about a vain ruler whose "only ambition was to be always well dressed."  This seems a very selfish goal for someone in such a high position but it is this attribute that leads to his troubles and ultimately to the grand lessons of the tale.  As the story begins, 

"...two swindlers came to this city; they made people believe that they were weavers, and declared they could manufacture the finest cloth to be imagined. Their colours and patterns, they said, were not only exceptionally beautiful, but the clothes made of their material possessed the wonderful quality of being invisible to any man who was unfit for his office or unpardonably stupid."

I love that the story takes place in a fairy tale like realm where the general populace would possess enough superstition and naivete to accept the existence of such magical fibers.  And of course none of them - at first - have the humility or courage to admit that the cloth is invisible to them or to challenge the so-called weavers' claim.  As the swindlers work, the emperor sends many people to inspect their progress.  Both a minister and a courtier that the emperor deems honest go to see the fabric.

Neither wants to admit to being unfit for their position or to be declared "unpardonably stupid" (love that phrase), so both of them lie and report to their leader that the cloth is beautiful, the design and colours exquisite.  At this point in the story, I always wonder what would happen had the emperor sought to see for himself rather than sending others in his stead.  The emissaries he sends to report for him are both described in the tale as "honest" and yet neither is truthful to the emperor.  Here we see one of many important lessons coming out of the tale and it's not only that honesty is the best policy but it's caution in whom we trust.  In a quote usually attributed to Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott wrote,
"Oh what a tangled web we weave,
when first we practice to deceive."
I can't think of a more appropriate way to summarize what happens in this story.  All of the townspeople and everyone close to the emperor begins to fabricate (pun intentional) what the cloth looks like and when the emperor is finally presented with the work, he goes along with the charade.  Often in telling this story, blame of some sort is placed on the emperor but I like to cut him some slack.  In many ways he's the last person to pretend to see the fabric and in his situation, with everyone around him declaring to see the material, it would be immensely difficult to admit to not seeing it.  However, since all we ever learn about him is that he is the ruler and enjoys fine clothing, I often wonder why he did not just pretend to disagree with the weavers' taste.  Why did he not throw out the "suit" and declare it ugly?  Or, when pretending to try it on, why not argue the fit as uncomfortable and refuse to be presented in it?

Yes, it was foolish of the courtiers and the people to pretend to see what they did not, but in the end, the emperor was the only one who went so far as to don the imagined clothing!  The ending of the story is rather amusing as a young child finally declares - as the emperor is paraded through the streets - "But he has nothing on at all".  This is both a testament to childlike innocence as well as an observation of mob mentality.  Once the statement is made it ripples through the crowd until reaching the ears of the ruler.  Andersen closes the tale with the statement, "That [hearing the crowd] made a deep impression upon the emperor, for it seemed to him that they were right; but he thought to himself, 'Now I must bear up to the end.'"  So despite knowing the truth, he goes on with the pretense in order to once again save face, providing Andersen a final satirical barb.

This story is a wealth of morals and lessons and I really enjoyed rereading it.  I was surprised at how close the text was to the various versions I heard and read as a child.  It wasn't a twisted or darker version of what I remember and still maintains a lighthearted humor and silliness for bedtime enjoyment.

The Emperor's New Suit by Hans Christian Andersen marks 3/12 in my 2011 Fairy Tale Challenge and continues Fairy Tale Fridays originally started by Tif of Tif Talks Books!  Feel free to share your thoughts on  this tale in the comments below or join in the fun with a post of your own!  I'd love to hear about what fairy tales - new, old, reinvented, retold - you're reading this week as well!

The Tudor Secret

It's historical fiction time again!  I realize that the past few reviews I've posted have all been historical fiction, but especially in the doldrums of winter, it's a genre I love.  There's something wonderful about allowing a book to spirit me away - not only to distant lands, but to long ago times as well! - when I am most in need of a vacation.  My most recent bookish trip was to London in the summer of 1553 in which I explored the pageantry of the English court!

C.W. Gortner's The Tudor Secret is the first novel in the new Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles. The book tells the story of Brendan Prescott, a young man who was raised in the Dudley household after being abandoned as a baby. Prescott is brought as a squire to the court of the ailing King Edward VI. Immediately caught up in the intrigue and drama surrounding the nobles who seek the throne for themselves and others, Prescott is drawn to the charismatic and commanding Princess Elizabeth and soon finds himself working as a double agent for her and the Dudley family.

This book was really interesting and well constructed. The fictional hero fit in seamlessly with the setting and players of the Tudor court and the novel provided an imaginative look at the final days of Edward VI. Where as many historical fiction works focus on King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn or on the reign of Queen Elizabeth I; this book was unique for portraying a younger Elizabeth and the turmoil in London surrounding the task of crowning a rightful heir. The Tudor Secret was a fast and entertaining read. I enjoyed Gortner's writing and am excited to see further drama and mystery unfold in future books in the series.
 Do you enjoy "traveling" via historical fiction?  What place or time period have you visited lately?