Monday, 25 November 2013

Spotlight: An Interview With DeeJay Arens

DeeJay Arens resides in north central Minnesota. Besides writing, his creative outlets include theater and filmmaking as part owner of a production company. He also works as a vocational vendor and Member/Owner services manager for a natural food cooperative.

Mariah: Tell me about yourself.

DeeJay: My name is DeeJay Arens and I live in Bemidji, MN. By day, I am marketing coordinator for a natural foods cooperative. By night, I am a writer, co-owner (with my partner Steve) of Saarens Productions which produces film and theatre, and co-owner of a vocational placement firm.

Mariah: Do you have any unique talents or hobbies?

DeeJay: As far as talents go; I am a jack-of-all trades and a master of none. I guess my hobbies are everything I do in the afternoons and evenings. The production company allows me to be engaged with one of my first passions. I get to produce, act, direct, design sets and lighting, and , of course, write. Last year we released our first full-length film, Slip Away, for which I wrote the screenplay and played one of the roles. It was an amazing experience. We’re so lucky to be surrounded by amazingly talented people who share their time and immense talent with us.

Mariah: Tell me about your book, The View From a Rusty Train Car.

DeeJay: “Rusty Train” follows the relationship of Jared and Luke. They become fast friends at a young age and their feelings for each other evolve into something deeper. They are trying to understand and deal with their own feelings for each other in a time when that simply was not acceptable at all; society and their families make that abundantly clear to them. They end up on completely different paths, but what they feel isn’t easily ignored. No matter where they are in life, there is a bond between them that can’t be broken.

Mariah: I've read that this was a hard book for you to write. Tell me why it was important to you, to write this book.

DeeJay: That is true. Knowing, from personal experience, what it is like to be gay, coming out, the differing ways people treat you, and the expectations of society, I had to go back to some dark places. It was for me, like so many, a difficult journey. There are many emotions and experiences that are unpleasant to revisit, but to tell an honest, emotional story it was imperative that I go there. Again, this is not something unique to my personal experience. I wanted to tell it in hopes people struggling with the same issues could hopefully relate and perhaps it would help them through a difficult time knowing they are not alone. My intention was also to help the people

Mariah: The View From a Rusty Train Car has won two awards. Did you ever imagine that would happen? What was it like?

DeeJay: Absolutely not. There are hundreds of thousands of books published every year. The thought that my little book would be recognized never even occurred to me. The nominations alone floored me. Then to win… there aren’t even words to explain the emotions. I feel very honored. Sometimes it doesn’t feel real still. I am lucky to have an amazing team behind me at Writers AMuse Me. It is a testament to their support and work on the book as much as it is to the story.

Mariah: Did writing this book help you in any way?

DeeJay: Absolutely. Like any dark experience in life I think there are always some residual feelings that follow us through life. Writing the book helped me come to terms with those. It was a catharsis in many ways.

Also, this was my first book. Like I mentioned earlier, working on it with Mary (my editor) was like getting a Master’s Degree in creative writing in a very short time. I learned so much and I can’t begin to thank them for all of their time and for sharing their vast knowledge with me. I hope I do them proud in my future endeavors. Hopefully that means they won’t have to put so much work into it!

Mariah: What was the best thing about writing The View From A Rusty Train Car?

DeeJay: The entire experience. I honestly can’t name just one thing. It was a dream realized being published. It deepened my love of writing. Living with the characters through the journey is like nothing else. They become such an important part of your life. They become real. Meeting other authors and watching them work on their craft and supporting each other is inspiring. The awards, which honestly were not anywhere even a thought of the whole process, were truly an amazing experience. Finding a truly amazing team with which to work is the biggest gift of all.

Mariah: What are you working on now?

DeeJay: By far the hardest question! Well, let me see. I am working on a sort of prequel to Rusty Train. It’s a book on the life of Ellen. I wanted to see how she became who she is. I’m also working on a mystery which is really fun and challenging at the same time. I needed something lighter so there are some elements of comedy from the main characters. But don’t be dismayed, it has its moments of drama, suspense, and intrigue for sure! Well, I hope so anyways. I’ve also started a sort of family drama set at their summer cabin where adult siblings are having a reunion. Some long buried family secrets are revealed and some relationships may never be the same again.

I am also working on a play about a chance reunion of old friends and a screenplay that finds the main characters in a fall-out shelter. Yeah. I have no lack of projects at the moment.

I am always glad to hear from people so feel free to connect with me!
Slip Away can be seen on YouTube in 3 parts.
Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:

Monday, 18 November 2013

Spotlight: An Interview With Ben Galley

At 25, Ben Galley is a young self-published author from sunny England. He is the author of the epic and gritty fantasy series - The Emaneska Series. He has published four books to date, and doesn’t intend to stop any time soon. Ben is incredibly zealous about inspiring other authors and writers. He runs the popular advice site Shelf Help, where he offers advice about writing, publishing, and marketing. Ben is also the proud co-founder and director of eBook store Libiro, a store exclusive to indie authors. If you want to know more, Ben can be found being loquacious and attempting to be witty on Twitter (@BenGalley) or at his website -

Mariah: Your website says you've been writing since you could hold a pen. Tell me about the first story you can remember writing.

Ben: Well, the first story I ever wrote is currently hiding deep in my hard-drive, and there’s probably where it will stay. I was about 11 when I wrote it. It was an odd book, I’ll tell you that, and I spent years on the thing. It was called the Kanandapur Gang, and was heavily influenced by Brian Jacques, who wrote a series of books about Redwall, a sandstone abbey populated by anthropomorphised forest creatures - hedgehogs, moles, mice, badgers, hares, all fighting off the evil forces of weasels, rats, ferrets, and stoats, to name a few. My book was much the same, only with Rhesus monkeys and jungle creatures, and set in the depths of a southern Indian jungle. There was fighting. There were feasts. There was lore. There was magic, and mystery, and personal struggles. It was a very innocent book, that’s for sure. Good vs evil unto the very end. Boy-hood romanticism with a handful of blood and guts for good measure, and enough fantasy to keep my imagination happy. I’ll never resurrect it, but I am immensely proud of it. It was over 100,000 words in length, after all! But it’s served its purpose now, and that was to lay the foundation for where I am today.

Mariah: You do everything yourself. You write, edit and even sketch your own maps. You manage tours, do your own marketing, build websites and attend book signings. How do you manage to do all that and run two websites, and have a life, and not go stark raving mad?

Ben: With a careful and balanced frame of mind! I do have a tendency to pile my to-do list high, but I’ve learnt (at my peril) to focus on the tasks that are most important first. Prioritising is key to not dropping the ball, in my opinion. That, and always having a structured to do list and a trusty calendar by your side. It does take a certain attitude and drive however. I’ve always had a bit of tenacity in me, which is lucky, and also a bitter-sweet propensity to obsess, which can be a friend one day and a foe the other. All of these things drive me on, keeping me working hard, but they keep me focused too. There have been difficult times when your heads spins and you feel just that little bit overwhelmed. All it takes is a moment to regroup. The fact is that self-publishing is a job, and a job means work. And if you want to make an impact, it means hard work. But as a wise man once said - nothing is worth having if it hasn’t been earned with hard work. That’s what drives me.

Mariah: You could have easily kept all your knowledge of the industry to yourself, yet in 2012 you launched Shelf Help, a website geared to help authors who want to self publish. Why was it important for you to reach out and help others?

Ben: There were two reasons for launching Shelf Help. The first was to solve a couple of problems. It can be hard to find clear, concise, and honest advice on self-publishing sometimes. It can also be hard to know which companies are trustworthy, and which ones are not. Or in other words, which ones will be good for you, and which ones will hold you back. Unfortunately for us, if we fall foul of one of these companies, or publish without doing a lot of research, it can cost time, money, and even our rights. Too many authors suffer from this, and I wanted to put that right.

Secondly, I wanted to share my method of self-publishing, something I’ve now come to call the Shelf Help Method. It stands for three things: affordability, professionalism, and a technology-driven approach. I found a way of attaining the high standards that are vital to us indies, while at the same time keeping costs very low. It cost me around £400 to publish my debut novel The Written, and I did it by exploiting digital platforms, using today’s technology sell books. It’s a method that is definitely working for me, so I wanted to share it with upcoming authors, to hopefully give them a good chance at reaching their goals.

Mariah: How old were you when you started writing The Written?

Ben: I started in 2008, so 21. I seemed like I had been sucked into a cycle of dead-end jobs, so for me it was a way to escape the mundanity and do something truly productive. 

What is your favorite book in the Emaneska Series?

Ben: Now that’s a hard question! I’m extremely proud of the whole series, especially the two Dead Stars books. But there’s something about Pale Kings - it always pinches the top spot. I think it marked an important milestone for me. It seemed like a step up for both the plot and my own understanding of Emaneska. Whether by design or accident (you can never quite tell with writing), the ideas in Pale Kings were bigger, the world vaster, and its story bolder. That’s why I’m so proud of it - it shaped both the Series and me as a writer.

Mariah: What was the most challenging thing about writing a four volume fantasy series?

Ben: Consistency. The Series was released over a span of three years, so naturally as I moved on from each book, a few extra ideas would pop their little heads up along the way, often distracting me, or in a way tempting me, from the overall plot that I’d already decided on. The trick was selecting the best ideas, while trying to maintain the plot-lines and hints I’d put in The Written. That was hard enough, but when you factor in reader feedback and ideas expressed in reviews and emails, it can be hard to stay focussed on what the best path is.

Mariah: What advice do you have for other young writers?

Ben: I always have three main tips for young and upcoming writers.

Number 1 - be professional, in every thing you do. Every email you send, every book cover you source, every bit of editing you do, needs to be polished to a professional standard. It’s the only way you’ll stand out amongst the crowd and have a shot at making a living.

Number 2 - aim high, but be warned. By all means, aim to be a bestseller. I know I do. But at the same time, don’t assume you can make millions overnight. As I said earlier, writing, publishing and marketing are all hard work, and take a lot of effort. But let me assure you it’s very worthwhile, and there’s never been a better market for entrepreneurial authors.

Number 3 - write a bloody good book. This may be the last tip, but it’s also the most important. The success of any book, as it always has, rests on how good its story is - how much it can move a reader, and how many readers can it move. Your debut needs to be the very best you can make it. If that takes time and practice, then that’s what it takes. Bear this in mind when you’re planning your masterpiece!

And if you need any more tips, you can find them at Shelf Help!

Mariah: What projects are you working on now?

Ben: Right now, I’ve got quite a lot on the go. I’ve recently launched a brand new eBook store, just for indie authors. it’s called Libiro.

I’ve also got two new books on the way, one about self-publishing, and the other a strange standalone fantasy that I have high hopes for.

And lastly I’ve also got a graphic novel on the way! I’m very excited by the thought of it finally climbing onto the shelves. It’s being drawn right now, and we’re hoping to be able to launch it in December of this year. That’s all!

Thursday, 14 November 2013


I planned on spending the month of November slaving away on my latest novel project, Pitbully. However, things haven't turned out that way. Instead of focusing on that, I've taken a step back and decided to spend some time with my poetry. My poetic wings are a bit rusty, but I've managed to write some new material. Some of it is even half way decent. I've even been submitting and got an acceptance in my email last night.

I feel like this is an important step for me. It's not really a break, it's more of a shift in priorities. I feel like I've been pushing myself a lot these past few months, and while a little determination isn't a bad thing, I was starting to feel worn down and burnt out. I wasn't enjoying writing the way I used to, so I decided to take a step back and refocus things.

So far this month I've written about a dozen new poems, one short story and one flash piece. It's not that I didn't enjoy writing, but I was just getting tired of everything feeling so hard. I love writing, and yes, sometimes it's hard, it should be. If it's not hard sometimes that means that you're never pushing yourself. But I'm tired. I'm tired of pushing and grinding and forcing and slogging. It felt like I was going up a mountain, but instead of taking the ski lift, I was opting to walk. It's a long climb, and for a while, I want to be on the ski lift. I spent from April to October working diligently on The Demon In Him and immediately after I started Pitbully. So I'm taking a break. I don't know how much longer it's going to last, because even now I can feel myself wanting to write Pitbully again. I do know, that I'm going to keep writing poetry and short stories. They're heck of a lot of fun for me and let's face it, that's why I really do this, it's fun.

I guess I just needed to remind myself of that.

What do you do when you start to suffer from burn out?

Monday, 11 November 2013

Spotlight: An Interview With Stephen L. Park

Today I am very excited to share this interview with you. Stephen L. Park is the author of Boots: An Unvarnished Memoir of VietnamHe served in the US Army during the height of the Vietnam War. As an Infantry Platoon Leader (Lieutenant), turning back the enemy, while ensuring the safety of his men, was his highest priority. The writing of BOOTS was both therapeutic and a means to provide an accurate account of what it was like to serve in a combat role. Steve is an accomplished artist and lives with Sherry, his wife of 46 years, in Lake Wylie, South Carolina. They share their home with three rescue dogs. BOOTS is his first book.

Mariah: Tell me a bit about yourself.

Stephen: I am no doubt considered old by most people today, but I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up. Lately, there have not been enough hours in the day for me, and am surprised at how busy I stay - I am retired after all - but I am on some good pills from my shrink at the VA.(Veteran’s Administration). I still enjoy learning new things, more practical than academic in nature - one of the things I am doing is putting down a herringbone pattern hardwood floor, my tribute to Parisian apartments, using some 500-600 pieces of wood and it has taught me mucho bunches. I also drive an old car, a Citroen 2CV named Roseanna, that never lets me down. Am I rambling too much? Probably. Next question.

Mariah: What got you into writing?

Stephen: I got the idea in my head to leave a personal record, for family or whoever might want to read it, about life in war. I literally thought about it for several years, and once started I was so tentative it was all done in secrecy. I would write only when my wife left the house and quickly put it away when she returned. I finally admitted what I was doing, let her read it after swearing to certain conditions to give a critique. She reads several books a month, was a librarian, and book club member. She was as nice as possible, but I had written about fifty pages of crap. Then I found The Writer’s Block, bought an English handbook to relearn passable punctuation and grammar, and learned to write what needed to be said. That is a simplification of the tremendous amount of support and encouragement I received from beginning to end.

Mariah: Writing books seems to be a common way to heal from events in our lives. Was writing Boots part of a healing process for you?

Stephen: It was by far the most unexpected effect of the writing, a complete surprise. Looking for the right word, the act of writing one word at a time slowed down all the thoughts swirling around in my mind for years. It forced me to separate and focus on the minutia that was important, and it would hold it in my mind until I finished writing about it, not allowing me to flash to other times or places. That saturation caused by writing changed so much for me in a positive way.

Mariah: What was the hardest part about writing about your experiences in Vietnam?

Stephen: This is a tough question. On the technical side, I would begin writing in the past tense and without realizing I soon had everything in the present tense because that’s where my mind would go as I wrote. On the mental side, it hit raw nerves at times that intensified certain emotions. In the end, it was about the memories and the emotions that accompanied them, good or bad, and the honesty to write them down.

Mariah: What one thing do you want your readers to get out of reading your book?

Stephen: I simply want them to have a mental reaction to some part of it. It could be how young the soldiers were, the mental and physical stresses, the boredom and monotony, fears, adrenalin spikes, humor, living in the elements, or the importance of contact with friends and family back home.

Mariah: Are you still in touch with any of the people you served with?

Stephen: I went to a company reunion last year, my first after forty-four years, and knew two people there. I served with all of them but they were in other platoons and I just didn’t remember them. I swap emails with one of the two, and the other called me several months ago and we laughed about Boots making him a hometown hero. I evidently said too many good things about him.

Mariah: What unique talents or hobbies do you have?

Stephen: I doubt unique would describe me but I started back drawing last spring and attend a small group weekly where we have a live model, and hope to be back painting within a month. I have a rather dormant degree in studio art. I like to decorate ‘found objects’ or re-purpose something. Last week I bought a small wooden bowl at the thrift shop and made a nesting site for our Wren’s next spring, along with a woven basket for another nest. And I bring home cans of paint from the recycle center - I never know when I may find something to use it on.

Thank you for stopping by Stephen. It was a pleasure, and an honor, to interview you. 

If you'd like to learn more about Boots please feel free to visit his page on the Writers AMuse Me website.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Writing is Hard

I got another rejection the other day, but it was for some of my poetry, so it doesn't really matter. Well, okay, it would have been awesome to have another poem published, but it's not the end of the world for me. See, the thing is, getting poetry rejections doesn't hurt me. At all. I take them with a grain of salt. It's not that my poems don't matter to me, because they do. A lot. But for some reason I take poetry rejections extremely well.

Maybe it's because I'm able to reason that poetry very much depends on personal taste. It's like picking out perfume. One scent isn't going to appeal to everyone. (actually, bad analogy for me because I'm allergic to perfume hahaha but you get my point) I know it should be the same for books, but it's not. Books are bigger. Books are harder.

I wish I could write my stories as freely as I write my poetry. I have a confidence with poetry that I do not yet have with novel writing. It's just not there. I toil and torment every chapter, every word. I feel every falter as if I have plummeted off a cliff. I can get over a bad poem like stepping over a puddle, but if I even feel that I've made a wrong turn in a story it's devastating for me. I think I'm trying too hard, but I don't think I know how to not try too hard.

Pitbully has come to a screeching halt. I'm going to force myself through this. I will. I did it with The Demon in Him and I'll do it with Pibully. I don't know how, but I'm going to do this. I'm going to write this book if it kills me. Then, when I'm done, I'll write another book if it kills me. I'll just keep writing books until they pour out of me as easily as my poems do.

I'll get there.

One timid word at a time.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Spotlight: An Interview With R.M. Clark

This week I got to sit down (virtually, of course) and interview R.M. Clark. R.M. Clark is a writer and dedicated civil servant. He has written several middle grade books, including Dizzy Miss Lizzie. He lives in southeastern Massachusetts with his wife, two sons and crazy critters. Center Point is his debut “grown up” novel.

Mariah: Where did your love of writing come from?

R.M. Clark: I've had voices and stories in my head ever since I was a little kid. I took several creative writing classes at the University of Idaho and loved it. Nothing came of it until I was in my mid-20s and I took a fiction writing course at a local college to see if could really write something of substance. Unfortunately, I was not disciplined enough and I abandoned that endeavor. The voices died down for many years, appearing again in the internet age of the 2000's. I got together with a group of message board friends and wrote, via alternating chapters, a series of really bad but hilarious "group novels” (to use the term loosely). After a while, my contributions became larger and larger and the voices started speaking louder and louder. In early 2007, I decided to write a novel on my own and I did. I was hooked, big time. The voices continued to haunt me, so, what the hell, I wrote eight more novels in the next six years.

Mariah: Your biography on the Writers AMuse Me website says you've written several middle grade novels, tell me about them. 

R.M. Clark: My first was Dizzy Miss Lizzie, published in 2012. It’s the story of a friendship between two girls--one modern-day and one Victorian-era--who can visit each other through a basement portal. I really love the story but, unfortunately, the publisher went AWOL and left all her authors without payment or rights returned. I wrote two follow-ons for Lizzie (Cat Scratch Fever and Running on Empty), but they are currently on hold. Next came Good Golly Miss Molly, about a batgirl who solves a mystery at a minor league park. This one got me an agent and will be published under a different title next summer. In the two years it took to sell Molly, I also wrote The Right Hand Rule, a mystery involving middle school science fair winners (think of it as a cross between The Big Bang Theory and Clue), then The Tock Tock Man, in which a boy finds an Alice In Wonderland-type world whose citizens are mostly clock parts and uncovers a centuries-old feud between neighboring clock villages. This one is currently with the agents. Finally, we have The Night Train, about a young girl who discovers that a model train village in her great-grandfather’s house allows her to journey into the past. This one is on hold while the agents work through the large pile of manuscripts I have given them.

Mariah: Was it hard for you to go from writing middle grade books to grown up novels?

R.M. Clark: Not really, because, as I later found out, I was really a middle grade writer attempting to write in an adult voice. I wrote my first novel (now trunked) as an adult paranormal mystery, then rewrote it as YA after months of rejection. Center Point is my second of nine completed novels and all the others after it are middle grade. The problem I had was rewriting CP four years after I completed the original. By then my work was exclusively middle grade and I no longer had a 25-year-old narrator voice in my head. I found it, fortunately, so I added some swearing and an “implied” sex scene to Center Point.

Mariah: Where did the inspiration for your book, Center Point come from? 

R.M. Clark: First off, it’s not the least bit autobiographical. My parents were married for fifty years and I was never a professional student. Still, I wanted to show how a father could influence a son’s life years even fifteen years after he’s gone. I came up with the Native legend of Komaket and just went from there.

Mariah: Was writing a mystery challenging?

R.M. Clark: Absolutely! To me, the problem with mystery writing is trying to be unique. There are hundreds of novels with hard-boiled detectives, spunky reporters, alcoholic ex-cops and serial killers. These are all fine premises if done correctly, but none of them spoke to me. Guns and gore don't necessarily bother me; I just didn’t want to use them as plot devices. I needed to find angles that hadn't been done (or overdone) many times before. The idea of tying together cemetery patterns and Native American lore and zoning laws and a Revolutionary War battle along with a father's dying wish seemed daunting, but the voices spoke and it all came together eventually. I hope!

Mariah: What was the thing that challenged you the most?

R.M. Clark: Definitely staying the course and resisting the urge to trunk this novel. I'm a notoriously slow writer and the first draft of Center Point took a good ten months to complete (Halloween, 2008). In the original version, Dennis was just 21 and the stakes were not nearly as high. I tried to get an agent, but came up short every time. I started writing middle grade books and eventually landed an agent for the kid stuff, so CP faded into the background until 2012. On the agent's advice, I revised CP to make Dennis 25 years old with a bit more of an edge. So five years after appearing in my head, Dennis finally gets to tell his story. Adios trunk.

Mariah: Was there a scene that was harder to write than the others? 

R.M. Clark: Sure. A major scene near the end takes place underground.  I’m not a fan of tunnels and darkness, so it gave me chills as I went through it. The scene still kind of freaks me out when I read it.

Mariah: What are you working on now? 

R.M. Clark: My tenth novel is a middle grade mystery about Devin, a sixth grader who aspires to be a magician but is really bad at performing magic. Then after a magic trick gone terribly wrong, he finds his body is being shared by a 19th century magician named Erich, who turns out to be a young Harry Houdini. Devin’s magic is better but he has to find a way to get Erich out of his head and back to his time.

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to interview you! 

Where to find R.M. Clark