Monday, November 24, 2014

Author Interview: Ted Cross, Author of The Immorality Game

Today we feature Ted Cross, author of The Immorality Game.  Ted has spent the past two decades traveling the world as a diplomat, all the time dreaming about writing fantasy and science fiction. He's visited nearly forty countries and lived in seven, including the U.S., Russia, China, Croatia, Iceland, Hungary, and Azerbaijan. He's witnessed coup attempts, mafia and terrorist attacks, played chess with several world champions, and had bit parts in a couple of movies. He currently lives in Baku, Azerbaijan with his lovely wife and two teenage sons.

Here’s how Ted describes his book which releases today: Moscow, 2138. With the world only beginning to recover from the complete societal collapse of the late 21st Century, Zoya scrapes by prepping corpses for funerals and dreams of saving enough money to have a child. When her brother forces her to bring him a mysterious package, she witnesses his murder and finds herself on the run from ruthless mobsters. Frantically trying to stay alive and save her loved ones, Zoya opens the package and discovers two unusual data cards, one that allows her to fight back against the mafia and another which may hold the key to everlasting life.

Who are your influences?  
So many fantastic writers have influenced me, but the main ones are George R.R. Martin, Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, Colleen McCullough, Stephen King, and Richard K. Morgan.

When did you begin writing?
I always did well with writing in school, but I always thought I was too much of a procrastinator to actually write a novel. As I got older, though, stories kept invading my daydreams and they got more and more insistent. I still didn't seriously consider writing these stories out until I read A Game of Thrones by Martin. I had an 'a-ha' moment there, because the way he wrote, with each chapter rotating between different POV characters, really appealed to me and fit well with what I wanted to do with the first book I wrote (an epic fantasy I plan to publish next year).

How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc?
In different ways. The first was one that evolved over decades beginning in my teens with my love of role-playing games. I was never satisfied with any of the novels I read based on such games--I always felt they condescended a bit to readers. I wanted a great writer to write in a role-playing style world, but treat it seriously. 
Cover Illustration © Stephan Martiniere

Do you work from an outline?  
Not really. I mostly wing it, though I do write out a list of plot points once things begin to get a little complex. 

Tell me about your favorite scene in your novel.  
The scene I loved most is one that I know some readers won't like. You're in the middle of a sci-fi novel and suddenly a chapter starts with what seems purely like a fantasy story. It turns out later that it's just a very realistic virtual reality game that one of the main characters likes to play. But this scene plays an important role in the book, not just to establish how amazingly real virtual reality becomes in the future, but also in one of the climactic scenes.

Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?  
I like to be extremely patient. I'll let each coming chapter simmer in my imagination for as long as it takes for me to be satisfied that I 'have it'. I can write one or more chapters a week when things are hopping, but when a chapter isn't really ready in my mind, I'll stop writing for weeks or even months until I can get it right. Each of my two completed novels has taken me more than three years to write. I do hope I can work faster when I retire!

Have you ever tried writing in any other genres?  
Like I said, my first novel was epic fantasy. I do believe I'll mostly stick with fantasy and science fiction, though I do have some story ideas outside of these genres.

Do you have any interesting writing-related anecdotes to share?
Oddly enough this debut novel of mine began entirely as back-story to one of the characters in my epic fantasy! I get very detailed with the back-story of my books, and the particular back-story of one of the characters in the fantasy was so compelling and unusual to me that I eventually decided to write it. How a sci-fi thriller can lead to epic fantasy may sound odd, but it ends up being quite logical, based upon some hints within this first book.

Ted can be found at his blog: as well as on Facebook and Twitter. His book can be found in electronic format at Goodreads, Kobo, Google Play and and will soon be available at Nook and iTunes. He also plans to make a paperback available shortly.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Author Interview: Margo Bond Collins, Author of Sanguinary

Today’s post features an interview with Margo Bond Collins, author of urban fantasy, contemporary romance, and paranormal mysteries. She has published a number of novels, including Taming the Country Star, Legally Undead, Waking Up Dead, and Fairy, Texas. She lives in Texas with her husband, their daughter, and several spoiled pets. Although writing fiction is her first love, she also teaches college-level English courses online. She enjoys reading romance and paranormal fiction of any genre and spends most of her free time daydreaming about heroes, monsters, cowboys, and villains, and the strong women who love them—and sometimes fight them. Her latest release is a vampire yarn entitled Sanguinary. Here’s the blurb:

Only fifty years left before vampires rule the world.

When Dallas police detective Cami Davis joined the city's vampire unit, she planned to use the job as a stepping-stone to a better position in the department.

But she didn't know then what she knows now: there's a silent war raging between humans and vampires, and the vampires are winning.

So with the help of a disaffected vampire and an ex-cop addict, Cami is going undercover, determined to solve a series of recent murders, discover a way to overthrow the local Sanguinary government, and, in the process, help win the war for the human race.

But can she maintain her own humanity in the process? Or will Cami find herself, along with the rest of the world, pulled under a darkness she cannot oppose?

Who are your influences?
That's a tough question! Because I'm a college English professor, I've spent my whole life reading. I think every writer is influenced by everything he or she reads—along with every life experience and every interaction with the world and the people in it. That said, I think that my love of the old tales of heroes and monsters (The Odyssey, Gilgamesh, Beowulf) along with my love of eighteenth-century literature (Eliza Haywood, Jane Austen) and recent urban fantasy (Carrie Vaughn, Rachel Vincent, Ilona Andrews) probably combine to create the strongest influences on the stories I tell.

When did you begin writing?
The first story I remember actually writing down was basically fan-fiction of The Wizard of Oz. I wrote it in long-hand in a yellow legal pad. I’ve been writing ever since.

How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc?
I take inspiration from everything around me! Mostly, though, a character shows up in my head and starts talking. Currently, my favorite quote about this is one from Neil Gaiman: "You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it."

Do you work from an outline?
Sometimes. I used to be a total pantser (writing by the seat of my pants), but now I often sketch out the series of event.

Tell me about your favorite scene in your novel.
Ooh. The scene where Lili realizes that the voices in her head are real—she's not crazy, but rather is infected.

Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?
Write every day. That's it. Sometimes it's hard, sometimes it's easy—but it's always valuable, because continuing to write no matter the situation allows the writer to treat it as a job.

Have you ever tried writing in any other genres?
I'm always trying out new genres! Most of what I write is urban fantasy, but I'm working on a three-book contemporary romance series at the moment (due out in 2015 with Entangled), and I have a science fiction book twirling around in my mind right now.

Do you have any interesting writing-related anecdotes to share?
I'm in the process of working on a sequel to my urban fantasy Legally Undead, which is set in the Bronx, where I lived for several years. On my last trip there to visit friends, I took a walk around my old neighborhood to take some pictures of likely places for various scenes. New York City is great because it's full of strange little nooks and odd buildings—and I came across a tiny building that looked exactly like the top of a castle tower that had been sawed off and dropped down on the street. It was a business of some sort, so I decided I had to see the inside. But when I marched in with my camera and asked the people in the front if I could please see their back offices, they declined, vehemently, in very strong New York accents. They clearly decided I was insane—but that's okay, because I decided that there must be nefarious villains committing evil deeds in the back offices (what other reason could they possibly have for declining to let me see the whole building, right?). And in my book, the back part of the building, which has no windows, is a vampire stronghold.

    It hit me, hard, that no matter how I twisted it around in my head, Reese was going to be more than just an informant to me. I didn't know if I could trust him, this cowboy-vampire I had been thrown together with. But something about him sang to me, like a tune just out of hearing, almost recognized—a song of protection and death. And I wanted to dance to it, almost as much as I wanted to escape it.
   The department wouldn't force me to stick it out, wouldn't expect me to team up with a vampire for anything more than the most superficial of connections.   I could walk out at any time.
   But I wouldn't. He'd help us find and stop whoever was killing these women.
   That's why I'll stay in this.   "I'll tell you everything," I said to the vampire snarling at me. "But I'll need your help."Reese's lip dropped back down, covering the fang.
I was glad—it was easier to contemplate joining forces with him when he wasn't reminding me that he was one of the monsters.   "Talk," he said.   I shook my head. "Not here," I said, speaking quietly. How good his hearing might be was only one of the many things I didn't know about vampires.   He slid up to the bar beside me.   "We can't leave," he said, equally softly. I had to lean close to hear him.   "Why not?" I asked.   "Mendoza all but dared me to Claim you, back there." He didn't look down at me. "If I don't bleed you at least a little before we go, he'll be suspicious."   At his words, the half-healed bite mark Reese had left on my shoulder throbbed once, sending a hot pulse throughout my entire body.
   I wanted the response to be revulsion.
   Almost everyone who went undercover with the vamps came out addicted to their bite. The ones who could still string two sentences together, like Garrett, stayed on the force.
   The others . . .
   The press portrayed us as bumbling and stupid—and maybe we were. Sending detectives in against humanity's worst nightmare? We were like little kids trying to hold back the dark with matches, bound to get our fingers burned, and worse, maybe burn the house down around us.I paused and swallowed.

Sanguinary is available in electronic format from KindleNookKobo, or in paperback at Amazon

Margo can be found at her Amazon Author Page, through her website:, her blog, on Twitter: @MargoBondCollinGoogle+, her GoodreadsAuthor Page, her Facebook Author Page, her Pinterest, or contact her via her Email:

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Return of the Dragon in Pre-Orders

My graphic novel, The Return of the Dragon, has been beta read, and the changes have been made. It will be released through CreateSpace and Amazon for the Kindle on December 20 of this year. When it comes out, it will be enrolled in KDP Select for a 90 day period, which means these are the only two publishing venues where I will place the book until April of 2015. During that time, you'll be able to get a paper copy from B&N and many other online retailers, however, the digital format will only be available for the Kindle.

There is a Kindle app available which can be loaded onto many devices other than the Kindle, so if you have the app you won't have to own a Kindle to enjoy the digital version. Since the book will be enrolled in Select, if you have an Amazon Prime membership, you will be able to borrow the book or download it for free as part of your monthly allotment. Either way, I get paid, so don't be shy. Just make sure to read at least 10%; although once you start you won't want to quit.

But here's the best news. Since it is not coming out until December 20, I was able to enroll it now for pre-orders. That's right, you can order your copy now, and it will load onto your device or into your email account the minute it is released. The more people who pre-order, the better the chance that the book will debut at a higher position on the charts, so click this link now, and pre-order your very own copy.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Guest Post: The Writer as Anthropologist by Russ Hall

When I first moved to Austin, TX, from New York City. I found the people friendlier on the face of it than those I’d left behind in Manhattan, but also different. I’d been an editor sent to Texas by Harper & Row (now HarperCollins) to do some rite-of-passage sales work. But it wasn’t long before I called New York and told them, “I’m not coming back, y’all.” I loved Texas and still live here. I started right away letting a little twang and drawl show in my voice and I worked that into my writing as well.

It was that initial splash into the cold water of the differences that turned me into something of an anthropologist, observing and comparing the stark differences between the cultures, and later using that sort of thrill of newness to color the settings of novels. I wanted to share that early excitement with readers.

The setting of a book needs to support and help drive the action and character development of a novel. With Texas the choice of backdrop is vast, from the flat desert Southwest in the state, to the mountains of Big Bend, to the tall piney woods of Eastern Texas ranging from Nacogdoches to Houston, to the flat cotton fields of the panhandle, to the rolling, curvy hill country near Austin where the novel To Hell and Gone in Texas takes place. But it is the people who spice and flavor any setting.

As a newbie to Texas, I drove around with my eyes open and my jaw at times dropped. From the liberal pocket of Austin I had only to drive in any direction in those days to start seeing pickup trucks with gun racks in the back windows. The law said it was okay then to have an open container in a vehicle and many considered it a right to have a beer in one hand while driving.

Whole Foods then was a hippy-dippy communal grocery on South Lamar where everyone wore tie-dyed shirts and I didn’t see a bra for the first five years. How those times have changed! And the festivals were bold mixes of people, like those who celebrated chili cook-offs. But no one dared to use beans in a contest. In fact, that’s how you could insult someone. “I’ll bet that low-life puts beans in his chili.” And, yes, it was “he,” since only men could be the cooks in such contests.

At times it was hard to sort through what were normal customs and what were not. On a trip to San Angelo once I stopped at a convenience store in the middle of bumfart nowhere and a guy came out of the store drinking from a can of cold gravy. Turns out, that was not normal. Though warm biscuits and gravy is an everyday breakfast. Chicken-fried steaks were ubiquitous as well. But at the Texas State Fair they were deep-frying Snickers bars, cotton candy, and all manner of things, And folks, that’s just not right no matter what state.

An aspect I grew to like was that, when driving on a country two-lane road, the driver of an oncoming truck would wave, and I would wave back. Now, how nice is that? If the vehicle in your lane, say an old truck or tractor, was going slow, the driver would almost always pull over onto the shoulder to let you past. Then you were supposed to wave and he would wave back. If you just wanted to go slower and look at all the wildflowers, and Spring is a surprising circus of them, then you can pull over and trade waves—common courtesy then, but now easing out of fashion with the newcomers.

People were so darn friendly it made me giddy at first. While looking around on Austin’s 6th Street one morning (that’s the city’s version of New Orleans’s Bourbon Street) I saw a big old boy getting out of his pickup truck. The interesting bit was that on the back of his belt it said: Jim Bob.” Imagine going about with a name label like that, as if life was a constant convention. When he turned around I said, “Jim Bob, how’ve you been?”

He looked at me closely as he shook my hand and said, “Fine. Fine.” He was thinking, no doubt, that he didn’t know me from Adam’s house cat, but maybe he’d been drunk when we met. I knew his name, after all.

“How’s the family?” I asked, since just about everybody has one.

“Fine. Fine.”

This went on for a spell until he pried himself loose and went about his day, still shaking his head.

The range of characters varied, ripe picking for a writer. The brakes went out on my car once out in the middle of nowhere, which is easier to find than you think in a state this big. I drifted into the parking lot of an unpainted building that turned out to be a mechanic’s shop. I asked the fellow who came out if he could fix the car, and he said that reckoned he might could do just that. “Might could” is common speech, as is “fixin’ to go yonder.” As he spoke, though, I found myself hypnotized by the fact that he had only one tooth in his head. It was a solitary top front tooth that was green and had eroded in the middle until it had a waist. I could NOT take my eyes off that tooth. I tried to make myself, the way you do if someone’s showing too much cleavage, but I wasn’t strong enough. I stared and stared, thinking all the time, “Do NOT say anything about the tooth. Don’t say, ‘That’s the tooth of it’ or anything of the like.” I was mesmerized. Then I began to think of a pimento cheese sandwich on white bread with one bite out of it, and the bite mark showing the imprint of that lone tooth. I tell you, it about killed me to keep my mouth shut. And I haven’t used this fellow in any book I’ve written yet.

Texans also have fussy ways about how town names are pronounced. If you don’t catch on, they have phrases like, “It’s Burnet, dern it, learn it.” Carol Burnet had best never visit. And the town of Tow is pronounced to rhyme with “now.” I don’t know what they’ll do if they ever get a tow truck. There is much to be learned from the way people pronounce the simple word “oil.” You can detect geographical origin within the state as times depending on whether you hear: “earl,” “ol,” or “oh-well.” I’m told the young ladies of Dallas are encouraged to ask suitors, “Does your daddy have any oh-well on his spread.” (Spread means property or ranch, and ranch is not the dressing.) I’m not sure if that Dallas yarn is true or apocryphal, like the saying, “Contrary to popular belief, armadillos aren’t born dead beside the road.”

The other aspects useful to an anthropologist of an author are the physical ones. As I said, anyone thinking of Texas as being flat as a fritter everywhere is due for a surprise. Anyone hoping to see a saguaro cactus is in for another surprise. There isn’t a single native one in the state, though I have yet to learn of a New York publisher that hasn’t put one on the cover of a book set in Texas. Another surprise is that there is only one natural lake in Texas and it shares the border with Louisiana. ALL other lakes are man-made. And we have droughts, and I have put those to good use in books.

The critters round out the spice one can sprinkle into a book. From hand-sized furry brown tarantulas, scorpions, fire ants, mountain lions, to coyotes there are many colorful natives to choose from. I once got out of the car near a bridge over a long wash where I had actually seen some water. Seeing water in a West Texas river is not common. That’s why they are called washes or draws and only get business during floods when the rare rain hits the hard ground. I almost stepped on a squashed armadillo while getting out. It had been run over so many times it was the size of a manhole cover and no thicker than a dime and was going to have to be buried in a pizza box. Down closer to the water I wove through mesquite trees, mostly dead, and went past huge stands of prickly pear cactus covered in yellow blooms. I heard a rattle, and stopped. I thought, “Rattlesnake!” I looked down. The noise came from an enormous grasshopper. I’m talking biblical pestilence big. I took a couple more steps, and heard a rattle. I looked down. Rattlesnake! Its head was three inches from my shoe. The next thing I recall I was back at the car, already in the driver’s seat, may have even stepped on the squashed armadillo on the way in, or flown over the top of it. When I got my breath back to normal I drove away from there, returning a wave from an oncoming truck as I did.

The tool box is full of colorful details from a state like Texas, or any state. The trick is having fresh eyes and savoring everything the way a reader might.

A writer of mysteries, thrillers, westerns, poetry, and nonfiction books, Russ Hall has had more than twenty books published.

In 2011 he was awarded Sage Award, by The Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation--an award for the mentoring author who demonstrates an outstanding spirit of service in mentoring, sharing and leading others in the mystery writing community. In 1996 he won the Nancy Pickard Mystery Fiction Award for short fiction.

In 2014 he won First Place in the Austin International Poetry Festival.

His latest novel is To Hell and Gone in Texas. Al and his brother Maury haven’t spoken to each other in twenty years, but they’re going to have to soon when they are swept into the vortex of the Texas drug scene and come up against one of the fiercest cells of the Mexican mafia. Maury’s life as a lady’s man is in stark contrast to Al’s woodsy life as a retired detective. Yet they’re brothers, and blood will have its way, especially when others seek to spill it in the brutal style that is becoming their trademark.

You can find out more about Russ and his books at his website,