Sarah Potter Writes

Pursued by the Muses of prose, poetry, and music.

Archive for the category “Writing”

Author Interview: J. S. Strange

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 of France,  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.

Friday Fictioneers — If Flowers Could Talk

Genre: Quirky fiction
Word count:100

IF FLOWERS COULD TALK

 “Happiness is living outdoors, enjoying the sun and rain.”

“How about the wind ripping off your petals, too?”

“Who’s a sarky, short-ass bunch?”

 “So would you be, if someone had cut you down to quarter size and jammed you in a vase.”

 “We assure you it’s just as painful for us.”

 “At least you can see out the window.”

 “Your water stinks.”

 “Ditto.”

 “Let’s have a competition to see who wilts last.”

 “They’d better give us dignified disposals.”

 “Hell, we don’t want cremation by bonfire.”

 “Better than rotting slowly amid stinky refuse.”

 “The compost heap, that’s the way to go.”

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Friday Fictioneers: 100 word stories
Photo Prompt: image copyright (c) Dale Rogerson

Friday Fictioneers — Delinquents, 1969

Genre: Historical
Word Count: 100

DELINQUENTS, 1969    

The bus station waiting room was the in-place to hang out on Saturday afternoons, according to Anita. Two years my senior and a cross-between Raquel Welch and a rouged porcelain doll, she was the epitome of cool.

Then there was me; her shadow, stepped into a stranger’s skin for a joyride to another planet where the inhabitants communicated in unintelligible grunts and monosyllables.

Ex-borstal boys with No.2 haircuts, braces and bovver boots, roamed this planet pumped up with testosterone, looking to pick an effing fight with some poor geezer or rob the payphone for loose change.

Sensible folk queued outside.

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Friday Fictioneers: 100 word stories
Photo Prompt: image copyright © J Hardy Carroll  

Friday Fictioneers: Out-Twitted

Genre: Quirky fiction
Word Count: 100

OUT-TWITTED

“Madam, I’m not trying to nick your trinkets!” squawked the indignant magpie.

 Lady Annabel prided herself on speaking bird language. “Then why do you keep pecking at my window?”

 “I’m addicted to putty.”

 “That proves it. You intend to remove my windows, with thievery in mind.”

“Magpies’ love of shiny things is mere folklore.  Ask your neighbour, the Professor. He’s done a study on it.”

 “He’s nuts, like all academics.”

 “If you believe in folklore, I must warn you I’m alone and mourning for my mate. So you’d best avert your eyes from me, or I’ll curse you with sorrow.”

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Friday Fictioneers: 100 word stories
Photo Prompt: image copyright (c) Janet Webb

Friday Fictioneers — Art Installation, AD 2316

Genre: Post-apocalyptic science fiction
Word Count: 100

ART INSTALLATION, AD 2316

 Welcome to the tri-centenary celebration of life on Old Earth.

 Item 1: Wooden desk, whitened with paint to disguise the murder of a tree.

 Item 2: Plastic writing implements to poison the oceans and scribble out fish.

 Item 3: Metal paperclips to imprison tree-paper.

 Item 4: Sticky substance to glue tree-paper to tree-paper.

 Item 5: Two soft toys…

 “Mother, what are they?”

 “They’re birds called penguins. They used to inhabit the South Pole of Old Earth before it boiled.”

 “Are those two the only ones we rescued?”

 “No, my child, there were real living penguins…”

 “Without deflector shields, you mean?”

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 Friday Fictioneers: 100 word stories
Photo Prompt: image copyright © Claire Sheldon

Author Interview: William D. Holland

Today I’m thrilled to have a chat with my very good blogging friend and fellow author, Bill (William D. Holland). This is a return visit, as Bill was also my guest storyteller in January of this year, when he shared an excerpt from his paranormal crime thriller Shadow Over the Hangman’s Noose, the third book in his “Shadows” series.

Welcome back to my blog, Bill…

Very exciting, being interviewed by someone I respect greatly, so thank you Sarah, and hello to my new friends across The Pond.  Sarah has tossed a few questions my way, some softballs, some very hardballs indeed, so I’ll try to answer them all with my trademark bluntness and honesty.

My pleasure, Bill, the respect is mutual and may you gain many more friends from over my side of The Pond 🙂 Now for those softballs and hardballs…

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Bill, was there a defining moment when you decided to become a freelance writer, or did life decide it for you?

Oh my goodness, Sarah, let’s see.  I had always wanted to be a writer, dating back to my college days, but as trite as it may sound, life had other plans for me . . . and then I managed to get in my own way for a number of years, blocking any possible progress.  So the turning point you are asking about came eight years ago when I realized that the teaching profession, after eighteen years, was not what I envisioned it being.  It was moving in a direction I could not live with, and so one day I tossed my keys to the principal of the school and told her to have a good life.  The next day I declared myself to be a writer.  I had no financial safety net and not one clue how to actually be a freelance writer, but by God that’s what I told the world . . . I am a writer!!!

Before you started your blog “Artistry with Words”, you had a blog titled “The Happy Life as an Alcoholic” and 5 years ago you self-published a 52-page eBook titled Loving life as an alcoholic. Why did you equate the words “happy” and “loving” with the alcoholism and what made you decide to kick the addiction?

The second question is the easy one to answer: I decided to begin recovery because I was miserable and I didn’t want to die.  It’s been over ten years now and I still don’t want to die.

Happy and loving?  Without alcohol dictating my every move in life, I am now free to enjoy life and love myself and others, and that’s what I try to do daily.  I love life; always did when I was younger, and now that I’m not drinking I love it again.

As a side note, I no longer write in that “alcohol” blog because I don’t want to be known as a writer who only writes about addiction.  I’m so much more than a recovering alcoholic.  I’m not a writer who writes about addiction, nor am I just a writer who is recovering.  I prefer to think of myself as a spiritual being having a human experience.

You’ve self-published 15 full-length books, although I counted 26 publications in all, if you include the shorter publications. Did you ever submit any of your works to traditional publishers, or did you decide to self-publish from the start?

No, I didn’t start out self-publishing.  When I began writing novels, my goal, and my dream, was to be picked up by a major publishing firm, and then fame and fortune would follow shortly after that.  My first three novels were pitched to many, many publishers, to no avail.  After that I decided the publishing game had changed, and my best chance at any exposure was to simply self-publish.  I have no regrets, by the way.   I love writing, so even if my circle of followers is relatively small, and sales are modest, I still get to do what I love doing, and that is writing and telling a story.

And without trying to sound all Pollyanna, if I didn’t make a penny on my novels, I would still write them.

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So far I’ve read and enjoyed (in a nail-biting sense of the word) your novel Shadows Kill, which you describe as “Death Wish” meets “Silence of the Lambs” and is the first book in your Shadow Thriller series. Why does someone as mild-mannered, peace-loving, and gentle as you choose to write such dark and visceral fiction?

There are two influences, actually.  When I was a child the famous serial killer, Ted Bundy, was our paperboy (he delivered newspapers to homes in our neighbourhood).  Once it was discovered that he was a serial killer, it was only natural to become fascinated by the dynamics of an evil human being appearing so normal, and Bundy did, in fact, appear very normal.

I then became fascinated by the concepts of “Good and Evil.” What if there is a real entity of Evil?  What if it invaded the bodies of humans and guided them on evil lives?  And what if there were those among us who are chosen to fight Evil?

That is the basis for my Shadow Series of novels.

With which of your literary characters do you identify the most and why?

That would be Tobias King, the main character in Resurrecting Tobias.  It is as close to an autobiography as I am likely to write.  Toby is me and I am Toby.  A great deal of the story is fictional, but the spirit of the story, and the spirit of Toby . . . well, read it and you’ll catch a glimpse of me growing up, maturing, falling, and finally finding happiness.

Are all of your novels set in your home town of Olympia near Washington? If so, how much artistic license do you take with the setting; in other words, would locals recognise the locations? And (you don’t have to answer this last bit) are your literary characters composites of people you know, plus bits of yourself?

I would say 90% of my novels take place in Olympia. The only exception, really, was Resurrecting Tobias, which takes place in a number of different locations, but they are all locations I have visited or lived in.  And really, I take very little artistic license with Olympia at all.  Locals would most definitely recognize streets and actual businesses that I write about.

Characters are definitely composites of people I have known, or do know.  I’ve mentioned this before: I am basically a lazy writer when it comes to inventing characters and doing research for locations.  I write what I know about almost all of the time, and that includes people.  I’ve lived sixty-eight years and during that time I have met some fascinating people.

This year you’ve taken a break from novel-writing to concentrate on self-publishing 3 colouring (coloring) books, which I believe have yielded some healthy local sales, especially at the farmers’ market where you also sell quails eggs and herbs. Why have you diversified into producing colouring books and would you advise other novelists to diversify rather than focus on one area of creativity?

There were a few reasons for the coloring books. I wanted another item I could sell at the markets, so I did one for each of the two cities where the markets are located (their histories) and one about urban farming.

The second reason was because I had spent the better part of the four previous years writing novels that were dark and gloomy, and it was affecting me in a negative way.  I could sense my mood darkening and that is not a good thing for this boy.  Alcoholics should not spend too much time in the darkness if it can be avoided.

Finally, I switched gears because I felt my novel-writing was getting a bit stale.  I needed a break from my characters and I suspect they needed a break from me.

Would I recommend diversification?  Definitely if you are a freelance writer who needs the income from your writing endeavours.  And truthfully, I recommend a switching-of-gears for any writer from time to time. I think it helps a writer to grow when a new challenge is faced, and I think it helps a writer to remain fresh in his/her writing. Staleness is an easy trap to fall into, and a comfortable place to be.  I’ve seen quite a few well-known authors fall into that trap, when they should have retired five years earlier.

Who in your life has inspired and/or influenced you the most?

You said “in your life” so my answer is about life in general, and that person would definitely be my father.  He died many years ago, when I was nineteen, but the lessons he taught me are still with me today.  I still miss him greatly and it’s almost been fifty years since I saw him last.

His influence?  Hard-work….focus….treating others with respect….never complain….find answers, not excuses….family and friends are treasures and should always be protected….get the most out of your talent and then push for more….these are things which will be with me until I join him in the next realm.

Who is your favourite author?

There are three who have influenced me greatly: Harper Lee, James Lee Burke, and John Steinbeck . . . master storytellers, exquisite creators of scenes, and an ability to see the grimy, gritty underbelly of life, in very realistic ways, without glorifying it.

What is your next project?

I’m currently on the second draft of my next “Shadows” novel, this one called “Shadows Fall on Rosarito.” That will be the fourth in that paranormal-thriller series.  And I’m halfway through the fifth in that series.  The working title for that one is currently “Shadows Embrace Mary and Her Little Lamb.”  Once those two books are finished I’ll get to work on a “coming of age” story about my life during the 60’s with my best friend Frank.  It will be dedicated to Frank because, well, he’s dying of cancer right now and it’s important, to me, that he be immortalized.  Good people always should be, don’t you think?

Thank you so much for the questions, Sarah.  I hope others find my answers interesting.  If they want, they can find me on my blog at www.artistrywithwords.com, and all of my novels can be found on that blog as well as at Amazon under the name William D. Holland.

Again, thank you!

Friday Fictioneers — Rewind

Genre: Mainstream fiction
Word count: 100

REWIND 

“Over & out” (your last text message).

No, I didn’t mean it. Come back…

My fingers type panicked nonsense.

Text not sent. The word “not” blanks me, as an opaque oblivion wedged between two possibilities.

This is the story of my life, its path strewn with the litter of my impetuosity.

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“Love u xxxx” (your first text message).

No, you can’t mean it. Moi?

My fingers type lovey-dovey nonsense in ecstatic knots, rendered more rubbishy through my somersaulting heart.

Text sent. “Am counting the minutes” you reply. The possibilities are endless, but I know this relationship will end in disaster…   

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 Friday Fictioneers: 100 word stories
Photo Prompt: copyright © Ted Strutz

#Tanka 33 — Light and Shadow (plus some scintillating “shades of”)

In June meadow land,
she meets her silly shadow
and it makes her laugh.
Winter’s black dog locked in cage;
birds, bees, butterflies abound.

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I dedicate this tanka poem to my shadow, which needs locking up in a cage permanently, if it can’t behave itself.

Last week, I reached the conclusion that I was flogging a dead horse with the juvenile fiction market; I just don’t write the type of novel that appeals to contemporary children or young adults. Okay, full stop and amen to that.

Fast forward to this week, by which time my shadow had convinced me that I should give up novel-writing altogether.

On Monday morning, I went to check the results of the First Three Pages of a Novel Competition in The University of Winchester Writers’ Festival. As I scrolled down the page in search of them, my shadow said, “You’re deluded if you expect to find your name there, considering you’re probably up against brilliant writers, including MA creative writing students.” Then I read this…

Highly Commended: ‘Counting Magpies’ – Sarah Potter

To my utter amazement, I had reached the top six with the opening pages and synopsis of my adult speculative fiction novel. But it gets better, because in the reviewer feedback, amid some wonderfully encouraging comments, it said the magic words

…shades of Margaret Atwood and Naomi Alderman.

Well, those are some “shades” I can deal with; the sun has definitely got his hat on and is coming out to play.

Friday Fictioneers — Lipstick and High Heels

Genre: Mainstream fiction
Word Count: 100

~~LIPSTICK AND HIGH HEELS~~

“Lunar, my dear, you’ve a heavenly body but, for heaven’s sake, keep your mouth shut in front of my parents.”

“What’s it worth?”

“My everlasting love.”

“Liar! All you care about is your inheritance.”

“Not so. I just don’t want my snot-bag of a sister getting her hands on the money.”

“What if she’s at the dinner party, too, and wants to engage in girl-talk.”

“She doesn’t do girl-talk. …Look, it’s essential that my parents don’t get wind of my sexuality, or they won’t leave me a penny.”

“I can’t wait to kick off these stilettos and become Michael again.”

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 Friday Fictioneers: 100 word stories
Photo Prompt: image copyright © Dale Rogerson

Friday Fictioneers — Nineteen years later

Many thanks to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for choosing one of my pictures as the Photo Prompt for Friday Fictioneers this week.

Last week, some of you will remember that I wrote some alternate lyrics to the song “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” but, because of the 100-word restriction, had to end mid-verse and complete my word count with the promise of a further instalment for this week. Well I meant that as a joke, but a few people said they were looking forward to Part II, so here it is!

For those who missed “The Crazy Bears’ Battle” last week and wonder what on earth is happening below, here’s the link. And please feel free to sing along to both instalments.

Genre: Alternative song lyrics
Words: 100

THE TOMBOY AND HOMICIDAL DOLL’S VENGEANCE

If grown lads go to the potting shed
They’re in for a huge surprise
If grown lads go to the potting shed
It could end in their demise. 

For every year since skiving from school
They’ve met up there for certain
Because today’s the day they
Commemorate that battle.
 

Laughter time for lazy louts.
The pot-smoking hillbillies are having
A dopey time today.

Watch that doll creep up on them
And see her snaggle-teeth go clickety-clack.
 

See her bite the lads with glee.
They’re off their heads alright,
They never feel a thing…

Epilogue: ‘Rich Compost For The Asparagus Bed’

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To read other Friday Fictioneers’ stories for this week, or to add a 100-word story of your own, please click on the blue frog below.

 

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