Friday, March 24, 2017

Author Interview: Frank Cavallo: Author of Rites of Azathoth

Frank Cavallo is a horror and dark fantasy writer. His previous works include Eye of the Storm, The Lucifer Messiah, The Hand of Osiris, and the Gotrek & Felix novella Into the Valley of Death.
Frank Cavallo

He was born and raised in New Jersey. He graduated from Boston University with a degree in Communications in 1994 and he earned a JD from the Cleveland Marshall College of Law in 2001. His life-long fascination with the darker side of human nature has led him to devote most of the past 15 years to a career as a criminal defense attorney, at the Cuyahoga County Public Defender Office, in Cleveland, Ohio. There he has come face-to-face with some of the truest horror in this world. Murder, rape, burglary, drugs. That's his bread and butter. 
Rites of Azathoth 
F.B.I. criminal profiler Diana Mancuso doesn’t do field work anymore. Not since a tragic mistake that cost innocent lives. But when notorious serial killer Luther Vayne escapes from prison and resumes his campaign of brutal murders, the Bureau convinces her to take one last case. To catch him, she must understand him. She must delve into the arcana that fuels his madness, risking her life and her sanity to follow his twisted path. The trail plunges her into a shadowy world of occult rituals and unspeakable horrors, leading to a secret cabal operating at the highest levels—and a plot to summon the darkest of all powers, to bring forth an evil that does not belong in our world—to enact the Rites of Azathoth.
Who are your influences?
Since my newest book contains a Lovecraft character in the title, you’d probably expect me to say HPL, and you’d be right. But there are plenty of others, especially from that golden age of pulp fiction.
I remember reading the preface to an old collection of Robert E. Howard stories in which the writer (I can’t remember who, unfortunately) said that a lot of writers made him want to read, but only a few writers made him want to write. That stuck with me, for two reasons. One, because I agreed with him, Robert E. Howard made me want to write too. Second, there are very few writers I’ve come across since who made me feel that way. Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker are the two guys working today who have that effect on me.

When did you begin writing?
When I was about eight years old, I started writing stories in school. At first they were just monster stories at Halloween, then sci-fi stories in the mold of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. That became kind of a habit, and I haven’t stopped since.
How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc?
I try to write stories that I would want to read, and I hope that other people share the same interests as me. As far as how I come up with them, that’s a harder question to answer. I usually work through an idea a little at a time, mulling over various scenarios and permutations until I find something that I think would be interesting to explore.
Things like character names are particularly fun to toy with, and highly dependent on the setting. I wrote a “weird western” a few years ago set in the late 19th century. So I scoured things like lists of Civil War generals to get a sense of what names were popular 150 years ago. The fashions change from era to era of course, and in those days there were a lot of Biblical and Classical names being used. Today very few guys are named Jedidiah or Lysander, but back then it was pretty common. Once you have the names down it really gets you into the feel of things.

Do you work from an outline?
I definitely do, but I don’t always stick to it. At one time I did not outline at all, I would just start writing and see what happened. That was a messy way to do it, and I found that it was taking me a very long time to write a single piece, since I was constantly changing course, re-working the story, etc. These days I outline everything on the front end, but I’m always willing to deviate from that structure as things develop. So I take a sort of hybrid approach.

Tell me about your favorite scene in your novel.
Without giving too much away, there is a scene fairly early on in Rites of Azathoth that I enjoyed writing. It’s pivotal point for one of the characters, where he is just being introduced to this secret cult that worships the dark gods. The rituals he’s initiated into are violent and soaked with blood, but he’s very much aware that this horror represents a path to something he desperately wants. So he’s forced to choose—accept these twisted and obviously horrific practices or turn away and risk losing the chance to finally have the thing he wants most in life.
I love getting into questions like that. How much are you willing to tolerate to get what you want? How much are we willing to compromise in the service of our deepest desires?

Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?
This isn’t exactly revolutionary, but I’m very much from the school of “character first.” Everything proceeds from that, no matter what kind of fiction you’re writing. It all starts with interesting, flawed characters who confront their internal issues while also dealing with some external problem. You sometimes hear people say that there are only about seven basic stories that can be told. My thought on that is “who cares?” Because that idea misses the point. What you should always be doing as a writer is examining the human experience through the lens of a single character, who just happens to be embroiled in some version of one of those seven plots. The journey of that character is why you’re writing.

Have you ever tried writing in any other genres?
In a way, I suppose. I’ve written science fiction, fantasy and horror, broadly speaking. In each of those, I’ve tried to blend elements from different genres. In a larger sense, there’s an argument that all three of these are really just one genre: “speculative fiction.” If you look at something like The Twilight Zone that was not strictly a horror show or a fantasy show or even a sci-fi show, but from week to week the stories ran the gamut between all of them. So in a sense, I feel like everything I’ve been writing falls under this broad umbrella.
In terms of branching out into something very different, like romance or literary fiction, then the answer is definitely “no.” I just don’t know enough about those genres, because I’ve never read them. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

Do you have any interesting writing-related anecdotes to share?
The book I released last year, Eye of the Storm, took place in a steppe society, very much like the ancient Mongols or Scythians. I always try to get as close to what I’m writing as possible, so in this case it gave me an excuse to do something I’d always wanted to do, to go trekking in Central Asia for a few weeks. Hopefully some of that comes through in the book, like the taste of fermented horse milk, for example. It’s better than you’d think.

Frank Cavallo’s latest novel, Rites of Azathoth, was released in January 2017, published by Bedlam Press (An Imprint of Necro Publications).

“Rites of Azathoth is an occult-thriller rooted in the H.P. Lovecraft tradition, or what is sometimes called the Cthulhu Mythos. It is a book that will appeal to general horror audiences, especially any fans of Lovecraft himself, as well as fans of Clive Barker, Peter Straub and Jack Ketchum,” says Cavallo.

Readers can connect with Frank on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. 

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Two Promos; One Weekend

In the past, I have told you about Renée Pawlish's sales promos and Ann R. Tan's Instafreebie promos. Normally I can only tell you about one per post because they fall at different times of the month. However, this month, the planets have aligned, weekends have converged, and there has been a shift to the paradigm of epic proportions. Okay, that may be a little hyperbolic, but just a little.

Here's the situation, on the weekend of the 18th and 19th, Renée's promo featuring mystery and thriller ebooks on sale for 99 cents is running concurrent with Ann's Instafreebie mystery and thriller group giveaway which runs March 19 to March 21. 

Renée's promo can be found here:

Ann's can be found here:

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Author Interview: Ed Duncan: Author of Pigeon-Blood Red

Ed Duncan
Ed Duncan is a graduate of Oberlin College and Northwestern University Law School. He was a partner at a national law firm in Cleveland, Ohio for many years. He is the author of Pigeon-Blood Red, a fast-paced and suspenseful crime thriller. He currently lives outside of Cleveland, OH and is at work on the second installment in the Pigeon-Blood Red trilogy.

Pigeon-Blood Red tells the story of underworld enforcer Richard "Rico" Sanders, who believed his next assignment to be an ordinary job. Retrieve his gangster boss's priceless pigeon-blood red ruby necklace and teach the double-dealing cheat who stole it a lesson. A job like a hundred before it. But the chase quickly goes sideways and takes Rico from the mean streets of Chicago to sunny Honolulu, where the hardened hit man finds himself in uncharted territory when a couple of innocent bystanders are accidentally embroiled in the crime.
 As Rico pursues his new targets, the hunter and his prey develop an unlikely respect for one another and Rico is faced with a momentous decision: follow his orders to kill the couple whose courage and character have won his admiration, or refuse and endanger the life of the woman he loves?

Who are your influences?
Some of my favorite authors are Dashiell Hammett, Ernest Hemingway, James Jones, Somerset Maugham, Richard Wright, Ken Follett, Theodore Dreiser, Scott Turow, Dennis Lehane, Walter Mosley, Frederick Forsythe, and Lee Child.  I think they all have influenced me at least indirectly.  Since I write crime fiction, the author who has influenced me the most in that genre is Dashiell Hammett.  His writing in The Maltese Falcon is brilliant.  Spade's long monologue near the end of the novel where he explains to Brigid O'Shaughnessy that he "won't play the sap" for her and that he's "sending her over" is masterful.  Relative to Lee Child, few writers can elevate the level of tension in a scene as well or as often as he does, novel after novel.  When Reacher is in one of his frequent tight spots, the reader feels as though he is right there beside him.

When did you begin writing?
I've been an avid reader since high school.  I always planned to write for fun in my spare time, but there never seemed to be enough of it since I had a busy law practice.  In 2008 I wrote a legal text entitled Ohio Insurance Coverage, for which I provided annual updates through 2012.  Pigeon-Blood Red, the first in a trilogy, is the first work of fiction I've published.  The idea for the novel came to me in the mid-1990's when I was attending a legal conference in Honolulu.  I worked on it off and on in my spare time over the years but never had enough time to develop it fully.  I retired with the specific objective of doing that. Now that it's finished, I've started on the next installment of the trilogy, which I hope to finish this Spring.

How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc.?
As mentioned, the idea for Pigeon-Blood Red came to me when I was in Hawaii.  During an evening stroll around the hotel where I was staying, the germ of an idea for the novel came to me spontaneously, although at first the premise was inchoate and hardly a story.  The only thing I saw in my mind's eye was a beautiful, mysterious woman in danger and on the run and a stranger (a lawyer like me) coming to her rescue.  Only after much contemplation and many drafts did the story as it appears in the novel today come together.  As for the next two installments in the trilogy, my methodology for coming up with new stories and characters was to dream up circumstances under which the two main characters, a lawyer and a hit man with a conscience, might cross paths and how they both could become involved in the commission or resolution of a crime of some kind.  Once I hit upon the basic outline, I devised the characters and plot lines needed to raise the stakes and create the necessary tension to create a satisfying story.    

Relative to character names, in Pigeon-Blood Red "Paul", one of the two main characters, is the name of my best friend in elementary and high school.  "Elliott," Paul's last name, is the name of a biology teacher in my high school.  I borrowed "Evelyn", Paul's romantic interest, from the tragic lead character in Chinatown, a movie I admire a lot.  "Rico," the name of the hit man, just popped into my head.  "Litvak," his boss, is a variation of "Rybak," the name of someone I worked with in the steel mill one summer when I was in college.  Other names I took from the phone book or from my high school yearbook.

Regarding point of view, I use the omniscient third person narrator but I occasionally slip into telling the story from the point of view of one or another of the main characters.  Changing point of view within the novel is frowned upon by some but my only concern is whether novel reads well.

Do you work from an outline?
I use an outline only sparingly.  I start with a broad outline that tells me what the novel is about, who the main characters are, and generally how the story will end (although this may change as I write).  The details fill themselves in as I write.  As ideas come to me, however, I jot them down so that I don't lose them.  As I write, quite a bit changes from my initial conception as I develop new plot twists and add new characters.

Tell me about your favorite scene in your novel.
Character A is wearing the ring that belonged to a character who has been murdered.  Character B, the brother of the victim, notices the ring on A's finger while both men are eating in a restaurant.  A goes to the men's room and B follows him and locks the door behind him.  While standing at the urinal, A hears the door lock and knows he's in trouble but he's in an awkward and vulnerable position.  B forces A, still standing at the urinal, to confirm that the ring belonged to B's murdered brother but he claims that he got the ring from someone else and that he's innocent.  Does A talk his way out of the dilemma or does B kill him?

Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?
I have stumbled upon two compelling characters, one black and one white, from opposite sides of the tracks, and I've managed to develop three, I think, interesting story lines which bring the two men together and cause them to discover that they have more in common than either man realizes.  I don't know yet whether I can create more interesting stories involving these characters or whether I will have to move on to others.  Either way, I will write what interests me when I am in the mood to write, i.e.,, when the muse arrives.  I don't force myself to write for a set number of hours every day or at the same time every day.  That is too much like work, which I did for 37 years.  Now is the time for relaxation and writing when I feel like it is relaxing.

Have you ever tried writing in any other genres?
Besides my legal treatise, Ohio Insurance Coverage, I have not.  That said, I think I'd like to try literary fiction some day.  Some of the most memorable novels I've read fall into that genre.  Some that come to mind include From Here to Eternity, An American Tragedy, Of Human Bondage, The Naked and the Dead, and For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Do you have any interesting writing-related anecdotes to share?
E.L. Doctorow was such a perfectionist that even a note to his daughter's teacher explaining why she'd missed a day from school took him forever to write.  One morning after he had struggled with the note for so long that his daughter was about to miss her bus, his wife relieved him of the chore and dashed off the note, consisting of only a couple of sentences, in a matter of seconds.  I fear that I share this trait with Doctorow, although he is not a bad writer with whom to have something in common, even if it is a failing.  I don't know who said this first but it applies to Doctorow and yours truly: "Writing is easy.  All you have to do is sit down in front of a blank sheet of paper and open a vein."

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