I adore time travel romances, so was thrilled when Gary Bullock asked me to beta read his wonderful novel and write an honest review after the book’s publication.
The Elsewhen Gene is entrancing and brought many smiles to my face. It is one of those novels that has a real feel-good factor about it and reminded me that hope and beauty still exist, as well as innumerable mysteries on a cosmic scale. The writing flows with the same gentle forward momentum and intertwining of light and shade as a sun-mottled brook. The descriptions are vivid and the dialogue authentic to the characters, whom I adored.
Laura and Elijah are both science geniuses and soulmates since childhood. Elijah sees future events. Laura sees what she thinks are ghosts but are really people in another universe into which she can sidestep at will. A romance between two such unusual people is never going to run according to convention, when it involves multiple universes and alternate lives. But it is a story of enduring passion between them both, as well as their crusade to reunite another couple who have ended up in separate universes to each other.
The novel has a most satisfactory end, but I am hoping that the author has more adventures in store for Laura and Elijah in a possible sequel.
The Elsewhen Gene is available at any of the following links
Gary Bullock was born and grew up in the hills of East Tennessee, then worked in New England, where he got his first film acting job, as Abraham Lincoln in a commercial for a Detroit radio station. He met his mate, Mil Nicholson there, and they were married in 1987 at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre on the set of The Importance of Being Earnest.
They moved to the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina, where he won his first film role in Winter People. He has also toured with Poetry Alive!, performing poetry in schools all over the East. He has written and performed his own one-man show as Abraham Lincoln. He and Mil also worked in dinner theatre, and carried out an artist’s residency program in theatre in Western North Carolina schools.
Gary and Mil then moved to Los Angeles in 1992, just in time for the riots, the fires, the floods, and the Northridge earthquake, and a co-starring part in Twin Peaks –Fire Walk With Me. Some other notable film roles were in Lakota Woman and Terminal Velocity, and most recently, Racing Stripes. Gary was a member of Playwrights Kitchen Ensemble in Hollywood as an actor, then later became a writer/actor member of Playwrights 6, also in Hollywood. Two of his scripts and part of a third were developed there.
He began writing partly to preserve his sanity during slow times for acting work, and because there were stories he wanted to tell. He soon found that he loved it. He has written both in book and in screenplay form.
Gary and Mil returned to North Carolina in 2005, and are busy writing, recording audiobooks, raising apples, persimmons, paw-paws, a large organic garden, dogs (a Jack Russell and a Silken Windhound at present), and watching the wildlife.
I’m delighted to welcome British author J. S. Strange (otherwise known as Jack) for a return visit to my blog. Jack writes zombie apocalypse novels featuring a feisty young woman called Winter Smith. You can read my review of his first novel, Winter Smith: London’s Burning, which he self-published in 2015, as well as an excerpt from when Jack featured as my guest storyteller last year.
He’s due to to publish the second book in the series, Winter Smith: The Secrets ofFrance, on August 17. Meanwhile, there’s a Goodreads Giveaway to enter for a chance to win a copy of the first book.
Jack, what age did you start writing stories/novels?
I started writing from a young age. I was always writing stories, whether it be brand new ones usually involving all of my cats, or stories adapting existing films and plots. I used to love sitting there drawing and writing, because I found it so much fun. When I was about sixteen, I started writing one book, and I finished it. I wrote it by hand. But then at seventeen I started writing the Winter Smith series.
Have you ever scared yourself with your vivid imagination?
Sometimes I’ve managed to spook myself out with my own thoughts. I’ve grown up on horror, so I’m always picturing horror scenes. It’s easy to imagine something going wrong, and there’s been a few cases where I’ve freaked myself out by convincing myself there is someone in the house with me, or I’ve heard a ghost.
What inspired you to write a zombie apocalypse novel?
It was the first thing I thought I could really tackle and enjoy doing. I’ve watched a lot of zombie films, and always loved them, and I find zombies really thrilling. I’ve heard people say they’re cliché, and it’s a shame to see people rule out zombie novels and films as just another zombie story. I get what they mean. A lot of the books I read never explained where the dead came from, whilst others were just blood and gore and nothing else. I also found that a lot of characters in these zombie books and films weren’t very interesting, and didn’t seem to have anything to them. So I thought, because there’s a whole world of zombies already there, I can have something to base my stories off, but I want to change it as much as possible. I want a zombie novel that has the zombies we recognise, but I wanted characters with personality and depth. I wanted more problems and flaws to these characters than just surviving and avoiding being bitten. I wanted to explain where the dead came from and why. In London’s Burning, I kept a lot of original zombie elements, because I think you need that. You need people to have something to latch onto and recognise. But in The Secrets of France, my next book, I’ve explained where the zombie virus came from, and I’ve also introduced a new breed of zombie.
Why did you choose to have a female as your main character in Winter Smith: London’s Burning and Winter Smith: The Secrets of France and how easy did you find it to write from her point of view?
I’ve always found females empowering, interesting and easy to get along with. I grew up with a lot of female leads, and I love nothing more than a kick ass female doing her thing. I grew up with Lara Croft, and I always found her appealing, because I loved the adventure and I love that it was led by her. She had so much depth and a great backstory. I also really love female led bands and pop stars, because they always seem to have an edge, and it’s great to see them doing their thing. So I just decided that in the process to change the zombie genre, I wanted it female led, as most of the ones I’ve seen or read or heard about are dominated by a muscly man, normally with a fighting background, fighting his way through the dead. I wanted a female character who was young, fresh and flawed, but could handle herself well. Saying that though, I never really went out intending to have a female lead for the sake of a female lead. Winter Smith came to me before the idea, so it was natural to include her as the main protagonist. I didn’t find it too hard to write from her point of view. Most of my friends are female, so I based some traits on some of them, very loosely. I hate stereotypes, and know humans are very complex, so I just tried to avoid making her too ‘girly’, and I tried to forget I was a young man writing as a seventeen year old female. I did read recently, however, that many male authors are now writing under female pen names, especially when writing female leads. Maybe I should have done that with the Winter Smith series. Who knows what would have happened?
Who is your favourite character in the novel and why?
I think my favourite character is Violet Black. She’s quite a flawed young girl, but she’s ballsy and has a lot to say, and knows how to stick up for herself. I love writing her, and I love making her witty and trying to make the reader laugh. I think you either love Violet or you hate her.
What’s your rationale behind choosing Gay and Lesbian Fiction as one of your two book categories for Kindle Direct Publishing, when there are no gay relationships in book one?
There are very subtle hints at sexuality in London’s Burning. I’m a gay author, and it took me a while to discover who I was and who I liked. When I was sixteen/seventeen, I mostly knew I liked guys, but there would be days where I would feel conflicted, and thought I liked girls, too. So writing sixteen/seventeen year olds, I had that in mind. So Winter Smith is trying to work out who she likes and who she is. I plan to explore the LGBT themes a bit more in books two and onwards. They’re not key parts of the story, at least not yet, but they’re there. I also chose the gay and lesbian genre because I’m a gay author, so I thought it might be good to try and fit in that category, in case people are looking for works written by authors in the LGBT community. I also thought that maybe, amongst all the erotica and romance novels, a zombie novel would stick out as well.
Do you intend to stick with this genre after you’ve finished the Winter Smith series?
I plan to write another two or three Winter Smith novels. There will definitely be a third, and more than likely a fourth, but I think the fourth might be the last one. I don’t plan to stick with the zombie genre. I think I need a break from that. As I mentioned earlier, people tend to write off the zombie genre as nothing new. But whenever I have tried to write something fun, it always has dark twists to it. I think I’d like to move into thriller writing, and I probably will stick to the horror genre, too, as that’s my favourite genre, and most of my ideas have horror to them. But I’d like to write some young adult novels, as well as possibly an erotic novel in the future. I want to try everything last least once. I need to find what works for me. Right now, horror and thriller seems to be the right thing for me. We’ll see!
How do you organise your writing time?
I don’t! I struggle. I need a place in the quiet to write, where I can’t be disturbed. But when you live in a house with TV’s playing programmes and hoovers going off, and people asking me questions, I find it really hard. I tend to write whenever I can. Sometimes it’ll be a chapter, other times it’ll be a page, then I’ll manage to find ten minutes. Sometimes, if I’m really lucky, I can write from morning until afternoon, but that’s very rare! I’m hoping it improves when I figure my life out and get my own space!
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
A bit of both! I had the whole plot written out for London’s Burning, but with The Secrets of France, I kept writing until every kink was ironed out and I knew where I was going, and how to get from book two to book three. With other works, I have the plot loosely planned out, remember the key points, and just write.
Why did you decide to self publish rather than publish traditionally?
I tried! Believe me, I tried. I submitted Winter to literally every publisher I could find. I still submit it now. Every rejection letter I got through was disheartening, mixed with happiness that I’d even had a reply. I know this is my first work, I’m young, and hopefully there’s plenty of opportunity for work to be published in the future. I think I knew I wanted to get Winter Smith out there, and I wanted people to read the story, so I self published. I’m quite good at marketing, to a certain extent, and I enjoy promoting myself and my work, so I wasn’t too worried about self publishing. I do think, though, that Winter Smith will be the only books I self publish. I hope that my next work over the next few years will get picked up. But maybe four or five years down the line, I’ll find nobody wants me, and I’ll be back at the self publishing game.
What interests do you have apart from writing?
I run a videography and website design company, as my background is in television programme editing. I enjoy film making, and I hope one day to write a short film, feature film or a television series. As I grow up, though, I realise that a lot of this work is very much about who you know, and coming from a small town, I know nobody, so whether or not that happens is another question. I also run a clothing company, because I like being creative and being able to design something.
Where do you see yourself in ten years from now?
Hopefully with my own successful business that I can live off, and earn decent money from. As well as that, I hope to be traditionally published. It’s one thing I think about daily, and wish to happen.
Imagine a shift to the way you see the world that arises through poetic narration. Imagine the world, at its base level, is a collection of selves. These selves collide, disperse, intermingle, and share themselves in lines of free verse. Such is the premise of Versions of the Self, poetry that assumes multiple types of selves exist and relate in ways that alter them. Each of the eight chapters looks at a different type of self, including the singular “I” and romantic interactions. These unique 80 poems definitely color themselves outside of the lines.
Christy Birmingham has written her poetry collection Versions of The Self from the first-person viewpoint because it’s about her personal journey. At first I found the constant use of the word “I” off-putting, but my initial reaction fast metamorphosed into feeling privileged, as a reader, to share in Christy’s honest account of putting herself back together, having had a relationship with someone who did his best to destroy her.
She tells of her deep love for this man and his gradual undermining of her confidence through mind-games and abuse, before leaving her for another woman. The form of manipulation she describes him inflicting upon her, is an archetypical use of what psychologists call “gaslighting”, in which the perpetrator’s tactics of manipulation ultimately cause the victim to no longer trust her own judgment. In fact, Christy does have a BA in Psychology and it’s possible that her area of study has retrospectively contributed towards her ability to express in words her traumatic experience.
What follows is an account of a woman lying in fragments, who must somehow learn to see herself as a whole person again and think herself worthy of love, or able to trust another to give of her love to him. It makes incredibly emotive reading, as she makes a detailed examination of the fragments, draws them together, starts to trust her own judgment, and rediscovers joy. It’s a redefining of her as a person, as she comes to accept that she cannot undo her experiences or lose the memory of them, but she can learn to move on beyond them and be a valid human being, with so much to give to the world. In fact, what I loved about Christy’s account was that not for a moment did she wallow in self-pity. Often, I wanted to give her a big hug and say “you are so, so brave. Go for it, gal!”
This poetry collection makes such an emotive read and would speak volumes to people who have or still are experiencing what Christy describes. I loved the way the writing flowed along in free verse with such forward momentum, occasionally pausing on its journey for detailed contemplation of a tiny detail. Christy has such a unique way of organising words and a fresh way of describing exactly what she means, but from a lateral slant.
If Santa has given you a Kindle for Christmas (or any other device upon which you can download the Kindle app) and your library is looking rather bare, here’s a bargain book that would look just wonderful on your virtual shelves.
From 25th December – 1st January, in the United Kingdom and United States, the Kindle edition of my children’s crossover fantasy adventure, Noah Padgett and the Dog-People, will be on sale at the discounted price of £0.99 ($0.99). Please note that purchasers of the Kindle edition are also entitled to download its Audiobook version for a knockdown price.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome to my blog for an interview the super-talented Mil Nicholson, narrator of the audio version of my children’s crossover fantasy adventure Noah Padgett and the Dog-People. Mil has an amazing talent for switching voices and accents for the different characters with a natural ease that draws you deep into the story. On top of that, she has a real soft spot for dogs, as you can see in this picture of her in LA with her pound dog, Florrie, whom she loved dearly.
Mil, when did you decide to become a professional actor and where did you train?
At birth. Most babies cry something incomprehensible, I yelled “Oh! for a muse of fire”. My first acting role was as the Sad Fairy at age seven. I didn’t train, but at seventeen was awarded a scholarship to the Royal Academy of dramatic Art in London. Sadly, I couldn’t participate due to family matters.
You have an impressive resume, with roles in over 70 theatre productions, plus parts in television and film. Which roles have you enjoyed playing the most in theatre, and which parts in television and film?
In theatre, playing Doris Wilgus opposite my dear husband, in The Owl and the Pussycat was a joy. Nurse Ratchet in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest was a delight, and Meg in the boisterous Irish musical TheHostage, which ran for eighteen weeks, was a blast. Over the years I was fortunate enough to play Lady Bracknell, Cecily and Gwendolyn in three very different versions of The Importance of Being Earnest. In September this year I travelled to Provincetown, MA, to reprise a role in Stage Moms performed seventeen years ago in Los Angeles. It was daunting, until I stepped onto stage, and I was home again.
For movies, roles in Spy Hard, The Handmaid’s Tale and a YouTube of A Couple of Horses Asses. The latter has sound problems, which maybe someday we’ll fix.
For TV, Home Front, Partners, Live Shot, all interesting experiences.
You were born and raised in the North of England, although you live in the mountains of Western North Carolina now. What age were you when you moved to the US, and why?
Wallsend, the small town at the end of the Roman Wall, was my birthplace, then at age seven moved to Harrow, Middlesex. I and my three lads aged four, three, and two, sailed to the shores of the USA, on the Queen Mary, her last official run from England to America. Their father was a ‘genius’ engineer, and a company in the USA was anxious for his services.
Your husband Gary Bullock is also an actor, as well as a writer. Have you ever starred in the same production?
Gary and I have acted on stage together in: Habeas Corpus, The Owl and the Pussycat, The Importance of Being Earnest, Jigsaw, Gallery, The Primary English Class, and in movies had small roles in the same movie, but not ‘starring’ parts. Gary has a resume of his acting work on act2sc3.com.
You are described on LibriVox as one of their “stars”, due to the excellent standard of your audio narrations and your dedication to the cause of making public domain classic novels available as audiobooks. I know that you’ve recorded eight books by Charles Dickens and three by Anthony Trollop, amongst others. Which book have you enjoyed reading the most and why have you taken on this momentous task as an unpaid volunteer?
As far as we are concerned, there are no ‘stars’ on Librivox; everyone is a volunteer on that site, and we are just happy to be a part. I love Charles Dickens’ writing; it’s just simply brilliant. Many people have been put off, mostly from school, at the dull way his work was presented to them. He’s absolutely hilarious, and in the dramatic areas tears will flow. I thought, that maybe I could bring a version to the public which would show how wonderful his novels are. I believe I’ve made a small impact with close to half a million downloads, and e-mail from all over the world from listeners who have been brought back to his writing. This is something money cannot buy. Whoa, here I am getting on my hobby horse again, I think you get the picture. Any of Charles Dickens would be my tops for favorites.
You’ve told me that Gary oversees the technical side of things with regard to your recordings. Briefly, can you summarise the process from beginning to end?
Gary is at the computer when I record. He listens for any errors or extraneous sounds. If found, we stop, and I re-record the area. After the recording session he edits the track. I then listen to the whole session, and if I find anything to change, he then re-edits. When the book is finished, he “masters” it. This comprises several different steps in order to have the recording as clear and noise free as possible. Gary has had praise for the sound quality from many quarters.
Do you, in turn, get involved at any stage in the creative process of Gary’s science fiction writing, or any other writing he does?
After he’s written for a while he’ll ask me to read it over, which is always my pleasure to do. He writes great dialogue in particular, and I get first look — Yay! We sometimes sit down together and try and come up with ideas, when writer’s block rises up. I recorded his first book, ’twas a grand time.
Why did you decide to audition and then sign up to narrate the audio version of my novel, Noah Padgett and the Dog-People? What was it about the story that particularly appealed to you? I know, for instance, that you’re a dog-lover.
Noah Padgett and the Dog-People, who wouldn’t want to check that title out? Well, I did, and the writing was so good and concept so intriguing I couldn’t resist auditioning. Yes, I do love dogs, and the characters in your book were such a pleasure to create voices for. I could see each breed in my mind, and almost see their mouths working. Plus Noah was such a super character, wise and childish at the same time. I could go on, but, I’ll just add, that it was my immense pleasure to record your book, and working with you has been a joy. Plus, I must mention that your husband’s cover design is very professional and simply gorgeous. If this audio book doesn’t do well, I’ll eat my…..I don’t wear hats…..but scarf maybe!!!
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a fifth book in an Apocalypse series, and a Self Help book also part of a series.
What do you enjoy doing with your time, when you’re not acting or narrating audio books?
Playing with our dogs, playing solo video games……remember Pacman? Exercising, I’m a WII person, playing badminton and ping pong, watching movies, writing as much as I can remember of my wonderful Mum’s stories for my sons to read, flying model airplanes, cooking, learning Latin, planning to get to the ocean as often as possible.
Thank you, Mil for your wonderfully entertaining answers and for taking time out from your tight schedule in the run up to Christmas. Wishing you and Gary all the best over the festive season.
And for the sake of any Star Trek fans (including myself), I just must post this shot of Gary Bullock acting the part of a Klingon.
Noah Padgett and the Dog-People
Please note that non-subscribers to Audible CAN SIGN UP for a 30-DAY FREE TRIAL on AUDIBLE (co.uk) and (.com)
A Limited Number of FREE PROMO CODES are also available for people would like to listen to the Audiobook in exchange for an honest review.* Please leave a message on Sarah’s Contact Page, if you’re interested. [*This offer is only available in the UK, which is the author’s country of residence].