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Author Interview Series 2020: Craig Stewart

Craig Stewart
Craig Stewart’s Author Photo

I’m excited to introduce another Canadian author, Craig Stewart! With a background as a filmmaker and author, he takes a very visual approach to the horror genre and won the New Apple Literary Award of Excellence for Horror in 2018 for his book “Worship Me”. The following interview questions focus on this book – one that I will be reviewing soon. I hope you enjoy these answers as much as I have. These answers are direct quotes. If you would like more information on his books, you can view all of those available for purchase through amazon here. Additionally, you can visit their author website at www.everythingcraigstewart.com.

What are a few of your favorite things? How did these influence Worship Me?

Whiskers on kittens, but that has very little to do with Worship Me. I guess, if I’m being honest, Worship Me has less to do with my favorite things than it does my least favorite things. Like most horror stories, it’s meant to purge the demons from our psyche, and the demons in Worship Me have to do with faith vs. flesh; it started with me questioning: how can someone reconcile spiritual belief with the bloody, bodily reality of being alive? And so, the setting became a small country church, like the one I was taken to as a child, and the invading force became a powerful, ancient entity that could reduce people to their bowels and bones. Through the trials of the characters, I tried to make this book an exploration of what living and dying really is; something I had been struggling with at the time, having been going through my own grieving process after the death of my sister. Really, this book wouldn’t have been written if I didn’t have that sorrow within me. It needed out, so I let it out. Otherwise, maybe it really would have been about whiskers and kittens.

Do you have any inside jokes with friends and/or family members that you like to sneak into your content?

I love inside jokes. There’s not as many as I’d like there to be in Worship Me, due to its tone, however, the layout of the church in the book is based off the real St. Paul’s United Church that I attended as a child. And, I always try to find a way to fit in the name of my high school drama teacher, who was the first person to really take a chance on me, creatively.

What do you find is the hardest part of the writing process?

Trying not to hate the world for not letting you just sit down and write. I often find myself in the middle of making dinner, angry at my food, because I just had a brilliant idea (or so I think at the time), and this food, sizzling away, mocking me with its little pops and fizzes, is keeping me from doing what I need to do. So, having an understanding that I need to eat, I guess that’s what I’m saying is the hardest.

How long did it take you to write Worship Me from the first idea to publication date?

Wow, great question. In total I’d say about seven years from its original conception. Originally, I wrote it as a screenplay and adapted the book from that.

What advice do you have to new authors?

Most likely, everyone is going to say “No.” In order to survive those rejections, make sure what you write is something you really believe in. Don’t write for someone else. Just write honestly, and then hope someone cares. Maybe someone will!

Who do you think the biggest unexpected allies in writing a book are?

Fellow writers. There’s a caricature out there of ‘the writer’ as a jealous, lonely narcissist – that, of course, exists – but, for the most part, all of the writers I have met have been brilliant, beautiful and generous people. They know the struggles and are more than willing to reach down and help to pull you back up. They might even dust you off, if you’re lucky.

Who do you think the biggest unexpected enemies in writing a book are?

Probably yourself. Though, maybe that’s not terribly unexpected. It’s hard to be heard in these loud times, and a lot of writers think, “Well, if I haven’t sold a million copies yet, then it’s my own failing, I’m just no good, like I always feared…Guess I’ll go back to canning tomatoes.” Only to realize that robots can tomatoes now (unless they’re genetically modified tomatoes – those ones can themselves). Anyway, chances are, your work is just getting lost in the cacophony of the modern age. The real truth is that people aren’t reading as much as they used to for a plethora of reasons. So, you may never sell a million copies. Don’t let that be your motivation. Again, write the book you’d want to read, then your biggest enemy won’t have anything to say.

What was your biggest inspiration?

Well, Worship Me, as mentioned earlier, was born out of grief, and my long journey losing my faith. Really, all the horror in the book was inspired by that painful process, which should help to explain why the book is so filled with pain. In terms of influences, I’ve always been a hardcore Clive Barker enthusiast. He’s the real reason I fell in love with writing, and with monsters. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead filled my head with nightmares as a childand sometimes as an adult. I always loved the claustrophobic storytelling with all those characters stuck together in a little house. That, certainly, influenced Worship Me. King’s The Mist, for sure.

If you could send a letter back in time to yourself when you were first starting to write Worship Me, what would it say?

Hi Craig, this is Craig. You invent time travel in the future. Also, don’t be afraid to show your heart – they’re much easier to rip out that way. And that’s what this story’s about.

Why do you write?

Like most authors, I write out of necessity. On the selfish side, the act of writing just makes my mind feel better – it helps sort out the chaos. On the slightly less selfish side, I can remember being a young gay kid growing up in a small town and feeling awkward and out of place… then, I found the horror section of the local video store, and it was filled with angsty stories of other outcasts that tore through heteronormativity with chainsaws and butcher knives. I felt scared, because it was unearthing feelings that I didn’t even know I had. I felt understood; I felt at home. I’d like to try to create works that could be a home for other outcasts.

Author Interview Series 2020: Margaret Lindsay Holton

I had the pleasure of being introduced to M. Lindsay Holton in October 2019 when she reached out to announce that with her book Trillium she returns to the indie publishing world after a 20 year hiatus. It has been such a pleasure emailing back and forth with this incredible author and learning from her responses to these questions. I haven’t even read her book yet, and I am really excited to do so now!

As someone with the future hope of writing a book one day, these interview questions were chosen for the purpose of learning from those that have more knowledge than me. ML Holton is the most accomplished author I have interviewed so far and I hope everyone basks in the wealth of experience demonstrated by her responses as much as I have. All of these responses are direct quotes.

For more information on and to purchase her other books, please take a moment to check out her Amazon Author Page, and for additional information you can visit her Artist Blog, Twitter Fan Page, and Facebook Fan Page.

What are a few of your favorite things? How did these influence your book?

I love what Nature offers us in all its daily and seasonal cycles of birth, growth, decay and death. As humans, we have invented so many ‘structures’ – social, and mechanical – to better control these natural rhythms, when, really, immersion is the best and most practical teacher. We are a part of Nature, not apart from it.

This understanding became the quiet flowing aquifer that flows through TRILLIUM. I wanted to ‘tell-a-story’ on top of those natural cycles. I had watched and learned from Nature while growing up on a farm in southern Ontario. Many city-dwelling, screen-addicts are so far removed from Nature’s generous gifts, they have lost the ability to ‘connect’ to that natural flow – at all.

Aside from Nature, I am very moved by thoughts and objects of, or about, beauty. Rachel Carson wrote – “when the mind is absorbed by beauty, those are the only hours when we really live.” – That is so true.

When we bring our attention to things of beauty, we are filled with a profound sense of gratitude that is never equalled by the frenetic ping-pong of daily living. Experiencing beauty, we find ourselves gliding on an awe-inspiring appreciation of the Wonderful. It suspends us in Time and Space.

Beauty is Truth and the Truth is Beautiful. Keats knew it. Ruskin knew it too. When we scoff and malign the beautiful, we belittle much more than the obvious. Cynics, skeptics, and those who relish the ugly or horrific, impoverish us all. Side-lining the beautiful is a downer. It makes us all petty and small-minded. Miserly even. – Why live like that when we have the power to CHOOSE?

I was very aware when crafting this story that I wanted both given elements – Nature & Beauty – ‘at play’.

Do you have any inside jokes with friends and/or family members that you like to sneak into your content?

I periodically insert family names for pets or loved ones, but affix them to different objects. As example, Jomo, Hazard, Folly and Quack or Cat have all popped up.

I have also re-told several amusing ‘family stories’ within the context of the novel only slightly altering them to better amuse or entertain readers.

What do you find is the hardest part of the writing process?

Letting go. I very much enjoy re-writing and re-structuring to make better sense of things, but I am well aware that at a certain point, I MUST move on and stop playing with words. (It’s like ‘playing with one’s food’. At a certain point, you’ve either got to eat what’s in front of you or throw it out … )

To counteract this ‘hold on’ tendency, I have learned to set strict targets and deadlines for myself. It is the best way to keep ‘on track’.

How long did it take you to write this book from the first idea to publication date?

I had the idea for this entangled rural family story over fifteen years ago. I wrote up a 15-page synopsis, drafted a detailed character list, spun out an opening chapter, then put the whole thing in my writing box.

At that time, I did not have the time or financial resources to under-take what I knew was going to be a big project.

By 2018, the necessary pre-conditions existed and I was able to sit and start. From February to October, I researched, wrote and edited for five days a week, Monday to Friday, from 10am to 6pm, with two small breaks and an hour for lunch. I then went to press at the end of the month with a very limited Artist First Edition of 100 copies. Those were published in Canada under my own private artist’s press label.

It was, in retrospect, a blistering speed to craft, edit and produce that 137,000-word historical fiction for publication. But, as mentioned, scheduling did keep me on track.

That’s not to say I didn’t make mistakes on route, I did. At the end, I rushed to publish without taking a breather away from the work. I am ashamed to say that that Author’s First Edition, published in late October 2018, is filled with typos. Those embarrassing mistakes were finally corrected in the American Amazon paperback and e-editions, first released in January of 2019. Somewhat ironically, that tiny Artist First Edition is now sought after by avid book collectors! Trust me, that goof, remains a tough one to live down. But, Live and Learn.

Above all, LEARN.

What advice do you have to other new authors?

See above. It is admirable to discipline yourself to ‘stick to a schedule’. But you MUST allow breathing space after the bulk of the writing is over. Take at least two weeks. A month is better.

Distance yourself from the work so that when you come back your eyes, ears and mind are fresh to do a proper final ‘read’.

Best advice: have another person proof your work. Take their constructive criticism and corrections in stride. Restrain the impatient ego.

Who do you think the biggest unexpected allies in writing a book are?

Strangely, the unexpected ally is the Self. People think that writers have this great luxury of lying around as they think and compose all day …

The truth is: writers are as pre-occupied with the necessities of earning a living as anyone else. Most writers must take other work in order to take care of their loved ones and themselves before they can take the time to write.

The luxury comes when you finally have some ‘alone time’.

After putting if off for months, even years, you finally get to have that much desired one-on-one conversation with Self.

In many ways, this experience is akin to catching up with an old friend you haven’t seen or heard from in years. Relish that alliance.

Who do you think the biggest unexpected enemies in writing a book are?

Time. Earning a living, and taking responsibility for the people and things in your life that need looking after, can easily become all consuming. If you do not have the time, you cannot write properly. If you want to write, you have to ‘take back’ time by having the money to buy it, and/or you have to step away, in part, from the joys and duties of being with the ones and things you love. A writer needs solitude IN time to write anything worthwhile. It is a love that demands your full attention.

What was your biggest inspiration?

My parents have inspired me throughout my entire life. Both were independent-minded, loving and curious individuals who gave much more than they took. My father was very disciplined about what he had to do on a daily basis. My mother was a delight-filled personality who intuitively understood the charm and reassuring, restorative value of a ‘good story’.

Both had lessons to teach about the Best Way to Live. I learned plenty from both. Their curiosity always inspired. Keep asking questions.

If you could send a letter back in time to yourself when you were first starting to write this book, what would it say?

Line up a good proof-reader to go over your ‘signed off’ manuscript. As much as you will resist, take a little time off before ‘going to press’. Make sure all your ducks are in a row before leaping over them. Otherwise, stick to your schedule, and tell an engaging and good story.

Why do you write?

I write to communicate with the greater Self that dwells within us all.

Author Interview Series 2020: Alyssa Marie Bethancourt

I first met Alyssa in 2011 while living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the time I could not fathom the fantasy world living within her brain that I would read from the pages of MORNNOVIN 9 years later and it was not a primary topic of our conversation. Over first first few of those 9 years Alyssa’s life turned upside-down and inside-out as I watched an acquaintance go through what must have been one of the most difficult periods of her life. Like a phoenix, Alyssa rose up. In my opinion, she is living proof that the dream of publishing a book can come true even in the most difficult of circumstances with the support of a community and, most of all, if you believe in yourself.

You can visit Alyssa Bethancourt’s website here to keep up to date on her current projects and you can purchase your copy of MORNNOVIN here.

  1. What are a few of your favorite things? How did these influence your book?

“Elves, swords, trees, dogs, music, wordplay, water, and the freedom to be odd. I feel like, for the most part, my interest in these things is almost immediately evident to anyone who reads my writing. MORNNOVIN doesn’t have as many dogs in it as I would like, though. I could also say that indirectly, through the writing process, the book was shaped on a molecular level by my exposure (or lack of) to these things as the work progressed. And many scenes only came together because of the music I was listening to as I brought them to life.”

  1. Do you have any inside jokes with friends and/or family members that you like to sneak into your content?

“Eh, not really? There is exactly one inside joke in MORNNOVIN, but the only person who understood it has since made a dramatically terrible exit from my life. Perhaps a sign that I’d better write to please myself alone from now on. At the risk of sounding maudlin, writing is a solitary endeavor and I’ve always done it in spite of the people around me, (especially family,) not with or for them. I do have some support now in the form of a writing critique group and a wonderful spouse who is my biggest fan, but that’s a very recent development.” 

  1. What do you find is the hardest part of the writing process?

“To quote writer Dorothy Parker, “I hate writing. I love having written.” 

This probably sounds boring, but the hardest part of the writing process is literally just figuring out and writing down what happens. I mean, broad strokes are fine, but then you have to sit in front of the blank page and answer the question of how to show that taking place, scene after scene, for an entire novel. Elf princess saves the world from certain doom, but like, how? Where? What does she do? What are the scenes you have to write? She has to get from here to there, but how much of that do you talk about? Do you talk about the actual steps? (No, obviously not.) How much do you describe? How much do you cut away from because it’s unnecessary? Just thinking about this is giving me Book Three stress. lol”

  1. How long did it take you to write this book from the first idea to publication date?

“There are two answers to this question.

The short answer is that I scribbled down the first exploratory scenes sometime mid-2008, and I wrote the very last scene of the final chapter on December 16th, 2014. So 6-and-a half-ish years to write, then I took some time off before editing, edited for a year, queried for a while, and finally published last year in 2019. Eleven years. Damn.

The longer answer is that I started writing the very first stories about Loríen when I was ten years old, back in 1989. It didn’t take long for those stories to become a novel; I think I finished the very first version of proto-MORNNOVIN (it had a different name back then, but the broad strokes were the same) within a year or so. It was awful, naturally. On top of that, I lost my only copy. I’d rewritten it completely by the time I was sixteen. That version, too, was embarrassing, but by that point I was deeply committed to these characters and their struggles. I rewrote it again in my early twenties. That draft sat in a chest in my house for more than a decade until I gave it one final chance to be the sweeping epic I knew it could be, when I started working on the now-published rewrite in 2008. So… from first inception in 1989 to publication in 2019? That’s thirty years. I don’t know if that’s a wow or a yikes.”

  1. What advice do you have to other new authors?

“Oh, I think other people have already said just about everything that’s worth listening to on the subject of writing. I doubt I have anything to add other than listen to those guys, then do your own thing. But above all, you can’t be a writer if you don’t write, so write. On the subject of publishing? Like, being an author? Shit, I still don’t know anything there. The only advice I can really offer is to find your own path and try not to let the fear paralyze you.”

  1. Who do you think the biggest unexpected allies in writing a book are?

“All of the authors of all of the stories you’ve ever read in your life – and I include fanfiction authors in this. You can attend all the creative writing courses in the world, but until you’ve really absorbed a broad spectrum of what other storytellers have tried out in the wild, you can’t internalize the reality of what works and what doesn’t. And you should always be reading more, always trying to learn something new either about writing, or about people and the world, or about who you are as a writer/reader. Authors who say they never read are not to be trusted and certainly not to be taken seriously. There’s no reason to pretend you’re inventing the craft when every storyteller from the beginning of time is out there ready to be your guide through the darkness.”

  1. Who do you think the biggest unexpected enemies in writing a book are?

“That’s easy: 1. yourself, and 2. everyone else.”

  1. What was your biggest inspiration?

“Without question, J.R.R. Tolkien. I wanted to write my own fantasy stories from the very first time my mom read THE HOBBIT aloud to me, when I was a toddler.”

  1. If you could send a letter back in time to yourself when you were first starting to write this book, what would it say?

“Hm. I may be a fantasy author, but I’m also a sci-fi reader. I know better than to try to affect the timeline. The most I could safely say to Past Me would be something generic like, “Believe in your words and don’t give up,” because it’s been a hell of a rocky road getting here.”

  1. Why do you write? (Optional)

“Because I have to. Sharks have to keep swimming, and writers have to keep writing. 

Honestly? I just can’t imagine not writing. There have been several points in my life where I’ve melodramatically declared that I’m never writing again, and it never sticks. I could just as easily declare that I’m not going to eat anymore, or breathe, or have red blood cells. I don’t get to decide any of that. I’m a writer, and that’s just how it is. I write because I need to.”