Friday, May 27, 2011

Around the Globe with CYNTHIA POLANSKY

It's a sunny but cool Friday and I'm looking for warmer climes. So I hop in my transporter and pick up this week's author, Cynthia Polansky. She gives me directions which fulfills my desires. Soon, we are sitting on a veranda outside a fashionable hotel in Tahiti. The water is absolutely gorgeous, the air is clean, and the sun is warm. She hands me a passion-fruit punch and we begin the questions.

1. Who is Cynthia Polansky and what makes you the most fascinating person in your city?

What makes Cynthia Polansky fascinating is her unpredictability. I seem to constantly surprise people with my interests and projects. That's why my tagline is "Expect the Unexpected."

2. Without revealing a deep dark secret (unless you want to), what one thing would people be surprised to learn about you?

I've never used any recreational drugs, not even marijuana. I just wasn't interested.

3. What interested you to be become a writer rather than something else such as becoming an archeologist?

I had always liked to write and thought I was fairly good at it, but lacked whatever magic ingredient was necessary to become a "professional" writer. In my mid thirties, a friend commented that I'd missed my calling. Irealized that I didn't want to miss it, and I signed up for an adult-education creative writing class the very next day.

4. Writers are readers. With which author(s) would you enjoy sharing dinner? Why?

I would love to have dinner with Stephen King; I've always been awestruck by his prolificness (is that a word?). I enjoy what I call "Twilight Zone" stories and King's imagination is as bizarre as mine. I'd also like to have met the late Cynthia Freeman, a mainstream novelist who crafted characters like no other could.

5. If I were stranded on a deserted island (or suffering a four hour layover at the airport), why would your book(s) be great company?

Either of my novels would take you completely out of your surroundings and into the world I've created or emulated. They are pretty fast reads, so they're better suited to the four-hour layover than a deserted island...though a tropical island is a nice place to come back to when you're finished in my world!

6. Share the Polansky process of writing in regards to: idea and character development...

Because I'm not Stephen King, I have to spend a good deal of time thinking about my idea and characters before I can start writing.

I have to know pretty much where the story is headed before it begins.

Story outline...

That comes after I've thought about the story for a while and have an idea of its direction. I definitely like to outline so I never sit down and feel intimidated by the pressure of creativitiy.

Research (do you Google, visit places/people or make it up on the spot?)...

I definitely use all available resources in my research: the Internet, books, interviews with real people, anything I may hear or see in the course of a day might find its way into my book. I write everything down on notecards and organize them into the appropriate book sections. Ultimately, some gets chopped but I prefer to have too much than too little.

Writing schedule...

I wish I could say that I write eight hours a day, five days a week, but that's just not the way my life goes. When I'm in research mode,. I'm always working, though: reading, outlining, bookmarking resources. My most striking ideas seem to come during three activities: driving, showering, or walking/running. I do have a regular weekly writing date with a good friend of mine who also has a busy life. It's the only way we can guarantee to get a specific amount of work accomplished. Now, when I'm writing for hire and have a deadline, I tend to be more methodical in my writing schedule.

Editing and number of rewrites...

As many as it takes! No fewer than three drafts: the rough draft, which I do in longhand; the first edit, which occurs as I'm typing the rough draft into the computer; and the second revision, which again is done in pen and ink on the printed-out manuscript. I am much more creative with a pen in my hand than directly on the keyboard.

7. “I think I have a good idea for a story, bit I don’t know where or how to begin. Your process may not work for me. Any advice?”

The instructor of that adult-education creative writing class gave me the best advice: Just start writing. Write one true sentence. Don't worry about where it's headed or how you'll get there. Just start writing. And he was so right! I tutor at the Naval Academy's Writing Center, and students come in every week with the same problem: they don't know how to start. I ask them to tell me a little about their paper, and they launch easily into a discourse. Then I tell them to write down exactly what they've just verbalized to me. It works like a charm! For some reason, "talking it out" seems to blow away the cobwebs holding them down.

8. I saw a great T-shirt the other day which read ‘Every great idea I have gets me in trouble.' What is your philosophy of life?

"Dog" spelled backwards is "God." If we lived as simply and happily as they do, we'd be a lot better off as a species! As Mahatma Gandhi said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."

9. Please tell me you’re not going to stop writing? What’s next for you?

I'm working on a nonfiction pop-reference book on the history of human body odor. Working title: WHIFF: Human Aroma Through the Ages. (I told you to expect the unexpected.)

10. Where can people find more information on you and your projects?

My website,, has lots of information about me and my novels. Readers of my nonfiction dog books can find me at, both of which are on the same site. I also have a blog of lists: homophones, odd street names, words that are no longer used in their literal meanings, etc. Crossing Polansky (a desperate attempt to humorously blend the film title Crossing Delancey with my cross-genre writing persona) can be found at, and I welcome suggestions for new lists, as well as suggestions for a new blog title! In fact, I think I see a contest coming down the pike...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Around the Globe with J.R. TURNER

On this cloudy and cool Friday morning, I hop into my transporter, pick up this week's featured author and we soon find ourselves at the end of a dock overlooking one of Wisconsin's many lakes. It's still cool here in the northern country, so we've brought along a thermos of hot chocolate and unbeknownst to me until that first sip, she's spiked the cocoa with a touch of Bailey's Irish Cream. Yowza! We discuss the upcoming fishing season and relaxing with our toes in the sand. Then, it's on to the questions...

1. Who is J. R. Turner and what makes you the most fascinating person in your city?

I'm your average Wisconsin homemaker. I bake, plan birthday parties, shuttle the kids to boy scouts and girl scouts, walk the dog, garden, and make quilts, crochet, knit, and other artsy fartsy things. Most likely my neighbors would consider my career as an author and all my travels interesting.

2. Without revealing a deep dark secret (unless you want to), what one thing would people be surprised to learn about you?

Gosh, I'm pretty much an open book (no pun intended!) I used to have a black thumb. I killed those plants that are supposed to take care of themselves. Even murdered a cactus! You'd never guess looking at my garden and the massive amount of houseplants I have now. This is one of those things, y'know? After all the green death in my life, I saw keeping a plant alive as a challenge. Through research and practice, I gained the skills needed to grow and maintain healthy plants. I love the challenge of fixing a "weakness" I find in myself.

3. What interested you to be become a writer rather than something else such as becoming trapeze artist?

I love stories. I had rough life, seriously rough. I bounced between relatives a lot, and many were not the best role models. My family was always involved in the arts—most juggling music and art in some form or another. When I was 15, I began working as a contract artist, covering the overflow for my mom. Painting was just a way to make a buck for me though. Maybe it was because my parents were so very talented. Whatever the reason, I know that no matter what school I went to, or what apartment I lived in, there was always a library nearby. I spent hours there, enjoying the cleanliness and temperature control—and the silence. The pure joy of burying myself in other places and people never left me. I always wrote, but it wasn't until 1999, when I got my first computer, that I decided to attempt it professionally.

4. Writers are readers. With which author(s) would you enjoy sharing dinner? Why?

Dean Koontz—for his love of language. Julie Garwood—for her amazing sense of humor. Stephen King—for being an amazing author (and to make my husband jealous!) And if the dead could show up wanting more than just brains for dinner—I'd love to dine with Margaret Mitchell and Mark Twain. The bravery of their social commentary through their entertainment is something I find fascinating.

5. If I were stranded on a deserted island (or suffering a four hour layover at the airport), why would your book(s) be great company?

Oh, they have so much going on in each of them! Romance and explosions in my earlier works, and spine-tingling ghosts, demons, and monsters in my newer books. Because they're designed to be a fast read, there wouldn't be any trouble passing the time.

6. Share the Turner process of writing in regards to: idea and character development, story outline, research (do you Google, visit places/people or make it up on the spot?), writing schedule, editing, and number of rewrites.

I generally write early in the morning. Five a.m. seems to be the ideal for me—though I don't know why. When I was an artist, I worked all through the night. As a writer, my best time is that space between sleep and just waking up. Maybe I can slide between realities from a dream-state better. When I'm developing a story, I prefer to write the first three chapters without constraint or research. If those three chapters work for me, then I'll stop and learn what I need to complete the book. I like to use personal journals online to gain insight to what my characters might experience and Google to 'see' locations.

I use an outline, generally a very loose scene-by-scene outline that is subject to change as I get deeper into the story. When I need to get submerged in the reality I'm creating, I like to do 10K Days—an event where the author aims to write 10,000 words in one day. The most I've ever written in one day was 23,000 words. I was very exhausted—but fully invested in my novel at the end. For rewrites, I generally do a story/plot edit, another round for characterization, and another round for technical issues like grammar errors or typos.

7. “I think I have a good idea for a story, but I don’t know where or how to begin. Your process may not work for me. Any advice?”

Just write. Your natural process will only emerge once you're doing the work of translating the idea to the page. There are no shortcuts for a writer to learn, there's only the way that works best for the individual. Above all though, have fun! If you're not having fun, the reader won't be either.

8. I saw a great T-shirt the other day which read ‘Every great idea I have gets me in trouble.” What is your philosophy of life?

Mine are "Don't sweat the small stuff" and "Choose your battles wisely." Not so much because I live by them, but because I need to constantly remind myself of these two axioms. I'm getting better as I age, though!

9. Please tell me you’re not going to stop writing? What’s next for you?

I almost did stop writing, but I couldn't stay away long. I'm working on Detour 2 Death now, it's the 3rd book in the Extreme Haunting series. I've been invited to write as many books in this series as I like, so I'll be busy for years to come. Beyond this, however, I'm now an acquiring editor for Echelon Press and in my spare time, I'm putting together a line of supernatural/urban fantasy books for adults. Not so much a series as it is a genre I'm drawn to. Currently, I've completed Racing the Moon—a book about werewolves written ala Jurassic Park and an urban fantasy ala Frank Miller titled Redemption. Both are fun books with a lot of world-building and research involved.

10. Where can people find more information on you and your projects?

I can always be found on my website: and on Facebook at: and on Twitter:

Thank you so much for letting me spend some time with you and your readers, Stephen!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Reviewers, Part 3

So, another in a long line of book reviewers steps into the arena. I hope you will check out Brayton's Book Buzz,, where I want to provide a fun and intelligent review of the literature I read. I do a bit of reviewing at, but I wish to expand a little more in the Buzz postings.

I want to be honest without being overly critical. I mentioned last week about the conditions I must follow for Suspense Magazine. Unfortunately, the first book I read to review was not a good book. I asked not to send in a review. I hope to never read another in the same category, but if I do, I will be honest about it. Yes, I do plan to post a review about this particular book on my site, if only to show you my intentions in regards to the reviews.

I don't just want to vaguely recommend a book or not recommend one, I want to provide the reasons I either did or did not enjoy it or why I think it's either a decent read or not. As an editor for Echelon Press, I loved the fact that after I found mistakes in others' writing, I could more easily discover them in mine. So I hope to provide a point of view from an editor as well as a reader. I want to concentrate on a few areas in the review and comment on each one.

Plot – I'll give not just the basic pitch of the story as found on the back cover or on the inside flap of a book, but how the author presents the story, the surprises, the challenges, the revelations. Is it formulaic? Is it complex? Does it make you want to keep turning pages or hope that the story ends very quickly? Is it complete or leave questions unanswered? Does it set itself up for a sequel? Is it believable?

Characters – Are they believable? Does the reader connect and empathize with them? Are the bad guys bad enough you love to hate them? Do you root for the protagonist even if he/she has personal problems? Is there too much information about the characters it drags down the story? Does the reader care about the characters or feel they are unnecessary to the story?

Dialogue – Is it choppy? Is it 'real?' Do all the characters sound alike? Is the author using too much foul language or not enough? If three or more people are talking, is it difficult to tell who's speaking? Do you know from the dialogue the mood of the scene or the particular character?

Writing – This encompasses a lot. How much detail is included? Is it important? Does the story drag or is it too fast? What is the quality of the sentence structure? Do the sentences and paragraphs make sense? Does the author have point of view problems? Are there editing mistakes? Does the author use a phrase that is unique and interesting? Does the author send you to the dictionary every few pages using words nobody ever uses in real life? (Not necessarily bad, but humorously frustrating at times.) Does the author move the reader through the story in a logical course or jump around? Does the reader get lost or confused by unanswered questions or language not understood by laymen?

I think those four aspects of the story should provide a quality review. With many reviewers (movies, television shows, restaurants, hotels, and books), they will end with a rating. Three stars, two thumbs up, "I give it a six out of ten." I've even seen one reviewer whose ratings are based on cakes sizes. I sort of liked that one. Anyway, since I'm a taekwondo instructor my ratings will be rankings of belt colors. In my organization, there are nine colored belt ranks – White, Orange, Yellow, Camouflage, Green, Purple, Blue, Brown, and Red. After Red there is a half step before Black Belt. (There are also nine degrees of black belt, but that's another story for another time). Now, I don't wish to demean the colors or the organization or the students who train by saying White belt is the worst. White is the beginning rank and as the student progresses in maturity and training, and experience, his/her skills will improve. So, if I ever give a book a White belt rating, I'm saying the author needs to improve his/her craft either with better writing skills, editing, or, in the extreme case, forget about writing in the first place and taking up gardening, which won't improve the writing, but will relieve me from having to read anything else by that particular author. lol. A high rank rating shows the author has presented an enjoyable book, written and edited professionally. A high ranking means I would probably enjoy other books by this author.

So, let's jump into the deep end see if the sharks are lurking beneath the surface or if I'll have visitors over for a chat, shoot the breeze, enjoy a few drinks, something thrown on the poolside grill. What I mean is, if you are interested in having your book reviewed by yours truly, please contact me at I will accept hard cover, soft cover, or pdf file. I promise to be honest and try to have a little fun.

Because if you can't have fun doing it, it ain't worth doing.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Reviewers, Part 2

I wrote last week's rant a few weeks ago during the time I was attempting to find reviewers for "Night Shadows." At the time, I didn't plan for this to go any further than one blog. However, since then, I've taken on a new assignment: reviewing books for Suspense Magazine, a monthly Internet publication. You can find more details about the magazine at I've agreed review a couple of books per month. If you're interested in the latest in mysteries, horror, and suspense, please take a look at this magazine. The publication is chock full of short stories, reviews, interviews, and a lot more.

However, I'm limited in my reviews. I've agreed to review only those books where I can provide a positive slant on some aspect of the books I read. I don't necessarily have to enjoy them or even recommend them, but I cannot rip apart the author's work just because I think it's a bad book. Because, as my supervisor wrote, while I may think it's not worth reading, someone else might enjoy it. If I cannot find something good about a particular book, then I can simply request to not review it.

I'm also limited by word count. They want brief reviews, approximately 350 words in length. Also, I was asked not to disseminate my reviews to other sites until after publication.

Partly because of my limitations with Suspense, and partly because of what I wrote in last week's post, I decided to jump into the field of book reviews with my own book review blog.

"Oh, Steve, are you sure you want to do this? Do you have the experience? Do you have the education?"

Please, hold your questions and protesting emails and I will answer all of them as best I can. Let me address the education question first. I have a B.A. in Communications. I've taken various college courses, including online courses in various subjects. I don't recall seeing Book Reviewing 101, but I think I'm intelligent enough to offer up a decent opinion and worthwhile review. As to experience…well, I've been reading books for decades. I've gobbled up so many books over the years I'm confident I am knowledgeable enough to discern bad from good. No, my opinion may not be shared by others and I may not like a lot of the 'classics' so enjoyed by many. For instance, I could have lived my life never regretting not reading "A Tale of Two Cities" or "The Scarlet Letter" or "The Pearl." Unfortunately, due to my high school English teacher's foisting these tomes upon me, (I still love ya, Jake.) I was robbed of the time I could have been reading a cool mystery. If you look around the 'net, however, you will find average men and women, just like me, (okay, I consider myself above average in many ways, lol), also reviewing books.

I would like to take this a step further. I don't just want to say I like this particular book, or recommend that particular novel. I want to provide reasons behind my review. Similarly, if I do not like a book or consider it not worthy reading, I will give you those reasons. Ironically, when I decided I wanted to do this, I was in the middle of slogging through my first selection sent to me by Suspense. I had to laugh, because my supervisor said I might receive a really bad book at times, but it wasn't going to happen too often. I ended up getting one first time out of the chute. I sent in the request (along with my reasons) to not do a review for that particular book. I could not recommend it and I could not find something good about it.

Next week, I want to explain a little more about my review process and give you the link to the blog. You might see it listed here in this blog, but currently there is nothing there except maybe my profile. I have to do some work to make it look cool. Unfortunately, unlike Brayton's Briefs, my book reviews won't be a regular weekly posting. I will be busy editing my books and writing new material to submit for publication. Also, as I mentioned, I will have to wait until Suspense publishes my reviews before I can expand on them on my site. I will also review other books not sent to me by the magazine and will invite any author wishing a review to contact me. A link to the reviews as they come out will be posted on my various sites, so keep watching the skies…wait, that's for tracking UFO's.

Keep watching my website and my blog for details.