Thursday, May 29, 2014

Polar Opposites author Kai Strand Wants to Know: Hero or Villain?

Today I'm handing the blog over to my friend and author, Kai Strand, for some interesting speculation on superheroes. Take it away Kai:

As we progress through life, we are forced to ask ourselves some deep ‘meaning of life’ type questions. Today, I’m posing such a question to you.

Hero or Villain?

You may think this is a hypothetical question, but I beg to differ. You may not have a super power like flight or invisibility, but you have joy and compassion. You may not have green lasers or lightning, but you have disdain and sarcasm.

So I ask you again:

I’ve taken to the streets to find out what people think:

Your turn! Weigh-in on my website and then hop over to the Contact page to sign up for my newsletter. (Hint: Soon I’ll be having a special giveaway for newsletter subscribers only, so you don’t want to miss out)

Polar Opposites: Super Villain Academy, Book 2 coming June 2014

The supers are balanced. All’s well in the super world. Right? When dogs drag Oceanus away, Jeff learns the supers are so balanced, they no longer care to get involved. The only one who seems to care is Oci’s ex-villain, ex-boyfriend, Set. With Jeff’s own powers unbalanced and spiraling out of control, he wonders if they will find Oci before he looses control completely, and if they’ll find her alive.

Need to catch up? Here is where you can pick up your copy of King of Bad: Super Villain Academy, Book 1

About the author:

When her children were young and the electricity winked out, Kai Strand gathered her family around the fireplace and they told stories, one sentence at a time. Her boys were rather fond of the ending, “And then everybody died. The end.” Now an award winning children’s author, Kai crafts fiction for kids and teens to provide an escape hatch from their reality. With a selection of novels for young adult and middle grade readers and short stories for the younger ones, Kai entertains children of all ages, and their adults. Learn more about Kai and her books on her website,

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Lima Bean Writing Challenge

So the other night my wife and I debated on what movie to watch. She wanted explosions, I was in the mood for monsters. We found something that satisfied both of our needs, "I, Frankenstein."

Yow. Bad mistake. The movie had no soul, just a CGI videogame. No characterization, no compelling drama. I mentally checked out fifteen minutes in, contemplating my ingrown toe-nail. After an agonizing hour and a half, when the "monster" stood on a rooftop with Batman-styled noiresque narration and music, I vowed to quit watching bad movies. Now, I love bad movies. Unintentional hilarity in cinema makes my day. But the movie made the cardinal sin in being boring. I thought I could write a better tale in one page utilizing the most mundane thing in the world I could think of.  I happened upon lima beans.

Here is "Lima Beans For Mom."

The cafeteria server asked what I'd like for a vegetable. I froze. People behind me grew impatient, sighing, banging their trays onto the rollers. My decision, so inconsequential to anyone else, carried the weight of the world, though.

The corn looked appealing. Peas were always hard to pass up, so round and small like miniature marbles that roll around in the mouth with a rewarding slice of goodness once you crush the thin sheath. Salads seemed safe, leafy and easy.

But the lima beans beckoned. Pale of color, a sickly nephew of green. I imagined the mealiness in my mouth, grittiness slushing into sand, the bitter flavor. It churned my stomach.

"Lima beans, please."

Someone behind me dropped a relieved sigh. I wish I could've done the same thing. I don't like lima beans. Never have. But when I look at them, they evoke powerful memories. I remember my mother slashing her palm across my cheek, telling me I'm going to eat the beans and like them or else. I never really understood what "or else" entailed and I suppose I'm glad I never found out. What Mom did when I refused to eat the beans hurt enough. Once, she jabbed her cigarette out on my hand, considering me a human ashtray.

I sat down in the cafeteria, my fork shaking like a divining rod over the green pods. I took a bite. Same horrific taste, yet this time the mouth-full of beans slid down like success.

When a waitress strolled by, I flagged her down.

"Could I get a box to go, please?"

Mom would enjoy the rest of them. I'd make sure of it. Of course I would need to spoon-feed them to her. One can't eat very easily while you're chained to a bed.

Ta-da! Did I succeed in making a compelling one page tale about lima beans? You guys be the judge.

But I'm issuing the challenge to y'all. Writers or not, let me read your one-page tales about mundane crap. It's fun! My next novel's going to be exclusively about lima beans! (But not really). Bring it, gang!

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Memorial Day Conundrum

Happy Memorial Day!

Time for Bubba next door to jump into his go-kart and go trawling through our suburban streets like a testosterone-driven kid. Woo-hah! Bust out the paddle-boats on the lake, strap on those bikini's and burn your face into a blood-orange crimson! Yeah! Pump those fists in the air to the throbbing bass of antiquated '80's arena rock! Let that mullet-flag fly! Go! It's friggin' Memorial Day! Yee-haw!

Except, therein lies my problem.

Memorial Day is a US holiday that started after the Civil War, commemorating the memory of those fallen in battle. The holiday grew into a day to remember all of the brave people who have died in military service, sacrificing their lives during time of war.

From there it blossomed (no doubt in no small part to the efforts of greeting card companies and advertisers) into a day to honor all of our lost, beloved ones. A very heartfelt, important sentiment.

But. When people wish me a "Happy Memorial Day," I cringe. It's a sad event to be taken seriously. Not a time to bust out swimsuits, sunburns and six-packs. Flailing a torn-off bikini-top in the air seems like a strange salute to the dead (although, I'd like to think they're enjoying it wherever they are).

So the next time my neighbor hollers at me over the fence, "Have a happy Memorial Day," I'm going to respond with, "I hope you have a very sombre holiday."

Friday, May 16, 2014

Author Heather Brainerd: Duck Tape or Duct Tape?

Let's give it up for my guest this week, Heather Brainerd. Heather's written a very fun (and funny) detective series, presumably starring her alter ego.

Stuart, thank you so much for having me over to chat.

*Heather, tell us about the Jose Picada, P.I. series.

Josie P. Cates left the corporate world to strike it out on her own as a private investigator. Of course, nothing is ever easy for Josie. The first little hitch: all her promo material was misprinted as “José Picada, PI,” and the cheapo printing company disappeared. Josie can’t afford to get it redone, so now she’s stuck using all this misprinted junk. And boy, do things get interesting from there!

*I can't even get along with my brothers, let alone write with them. But whatever you're doing, it works. How in the world does the process work?

Dave and I live three hours apart, so we email our various manuscripts back and forth. We each have total editorial power over the other. For the most part, we are of the same mind. The only thing we really can’t agree on is whether it’s “duck tape” or “duct tape.”

*Josie's a fun character. Best of all, she wields the razor-sharp tongue and wit that all good detectives do in noiresque tales. Based on anyone you know? (And no cheating, I happen to know you worked the same job Josie did before she became a detective!).

Thanks, Stuart. I really like Josie, too. She’s quick-witted and doesn’t take crap from anyone. I wish I could be more like her. She’s purely fiction, however, not based on anybody real. My insurance coworkers were, for the most part, pretty normal.

*Along these same lines, Josie's go-to computer geek, Bobby, seems to be based, many people I've met in the past. Truth or fiction?

Total fiction. Except that my brother is a genius with computers and math stuff. I’m horrible at both. Math plays an important role in the third José Picada book, so Dave got to use some nice big words while we were writing that one. It’s just in one scene, though – we didn’t overdo it. Oh, and Josie’s reaction to all the math-speak is pretty funny.

*I was certainly surprised (in a good way!) when you took Deception Al Dente down an unexpected supernatural alley. Can we expect more supernatural twists in the follow-up book, The Sound of Sirens? In future Jose Picada entries? In a way, the series reminds me of the late, great George C. Chesboro's "Mongo" series. (There dang well better be future entries! Don't MAKE me come over there, Heather!).

Hmm, sounds like I should check out the Mongo series! It’s funny, but we had no intention of taking Deception Al Dente in a supernatural direction when we started writing it. But that’s the way it wanted to go, so we followed along. And yes, you will see more situations along those lines in future José Picada installments. In fact, there’s a reason why Josie seems to attract supernatural shenanigans. But we’ll save that for later.

*What's Dream Shade about?

It’s a teen paranormal romance with a touch of mystery. Or maybe a teen paranormal mystery with a dash of romance. Either way, it’s about ghosts, and it was inspired by growing up in a haunted house.

*What's next in the ol' Brainerd and Fraser noggins that you're going to share with everyone?

We’re working on the third and fourth/final books in the José series. Before that, however, we have our first middle grade novel coming out this summer. It’s called Shadows of New York, and it’s a totally new spin on the vampire-werewolf theme. In fact, it kind of turns that subgenre on its head.

*Bonus round question! From oldest female detective to youngest...who would win in a fight, Miss Marple or Veronica Mars?

Miss Marple. She has a lifetime of experience to draw on.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Where Do Writers Get Their Ideas?

As a writer, this is the question I hear most often.

Wish I had a good answer.

Usually, when asked this, I end up looking like Bambi at the barrel-end of a shotgun. I stare, stammer, try to be witty. Stomp my hooves for a bit. But honestly? I don't know.

I suppose one could look at it as gathering my supper at a salad bar. I pick and pull and consider various leafy plot ideas, pile them on the plate of my mind, garnish them with what I hope is tasty style, top it off with a heaping dollop of my personality. My dressing of preference is humor, heart, and horror. Steaming hot jalapenos of plot twists really set it off. I know, I know, it's an unlikely combination of flavors, but hey! It tastes great at the time, even if it burns when it leaves.

Finally, I let my palate of imagination hunger for the best. I demand shrimp. I know it's hidden away in the refrigerator of my mind somewhere.

Not good enough an answer?

Okay. Most of my books start with an image that strikes me. Out of the blue. Then I take it from there.


A bitter farmer standing on his front porch, angry against the world, plotting revenge. The house's windows rattle behind him. Why? I wrote Godland, my forthcoming horror/suspense thriller, to satiate my hungering curiosity.

Neighborhood Watch, my suburban, paranoid horror thriller, was birthed by my snooty neighbor across the street who refused to ever speak, let alone look at us. And she always hid within a snug-tight red hoodie. Why? Again, curiosity drove me to crazy answers.

My forthcoming darkly comedic suspense thriller, The Secret Society of Like Minded Individuals, gave birth when my wife abandoned me on the "husband bench" at a large outlet store. I studied the desperately bored men joining me there, wondering what secrets they could possibly be harboring. The answers might astound you!

On the way to see my inlaws, we drive through a dilapidated town just over the border of Kansas into Oklahoma. Creepy and sad, painful to experience. I researched the town of Picher, Oklahoma. My findings will form a sprawling, epic ghost saga of how greed, ecological poison and the forces of nature destroyed a once prosperous mining town.

Dunno where this came from, really, but an image sprang to mind of a kindly, little ol' lady coming at me with hedge-clippers, smiling beatifically. My next novel. Somehow, someway, details to follow.

Actually, writing is good therapy, as well. My Tex, the Witch Boy trilogy started life as a miss-mash of my exorcising my high school demons along with the detailing of my recently graduated daughter's tenure in hell. The books grew from there.

So, those are my answers. Think I'll print it off, keep it in my pocket. Because, as I said, whenever anyone asks me where I get my ideas? I freeze, locking up like a guy at a urinal with twenty angry, full-bladdered men waiting behind him.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Raising Hackles With Jeff Chapman

I accidentally stumbled across author, Jeff Chapman, purely by accident. We discovered we were both Jayhawkers (graduates of the University of Kansas. Yay!), and had a mutual interest in horror fiction. Jeff's a terrific writer, able to raise the hackles on the back of your neck with smooth and beautiful prose. Give it up for Jeff!

*So, Jeff, everything you've written has been very macabre. Why the morbidity?

Morbidity seems to be in my blood. A tale dark and dreary always excites my interest. Fall and winter are my favorite times of the year. I don't know. That's just how I'm wired. Maybe I read too much Poe and Greek mythology in my youth.

*I also detect an old-fashioned voice at work here. I'm almost hesitant to classify your tales as "horror." I don't mean this in a bad way, quite the contrary. Your tales bring me back to a time when horror wasn't overwhelmed by stabbers, sadism and grue. Instead the reader is treated to poetic prose and subtle chills. How do you categorize your writing? (I know, I know, I'm asking you to put a label on it.)

One of the reviewers of Last Request described it as soft-horror. That's such an apt term, particularly for Last Request, that I started using it in my descriptions. I usually aim for conflicted characters, often suffering from guilt. Entrapment is another favorite and, having grown up on the plains, I think you can be just as trapped in a wide open windy space as in a small box. My favorite horror story is Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla, a vampire story and precursor to Dracula. Maybe the 19th-century is where that "old-fashioned voice" comes from.

*I feel your pain, brother, being trapped in Kansas!

The horror's definitely of a psychological slant in your tales. In my favorite work of yours, you like to put the characters through the traumatic turn-styles of terror-filled situations. (So, maybe there's a bit of sadism in your work, after all!). But I love how, as a reader, I'm suffering alongside your characters. Do these scenarios work so well, because they scare Jeff Chapman?

In Highway 24 the protagonist meets terror and guilt on a lonely highway in the middle of the night. I've been alone on those highways before, and if you let yourself drift into the right mood, they can be very frightening. I'm also a bit claustrophobic. I've lain awake at night worrying about being buried alive. Thank God for embalming.

*Never thought I'd read somebody blessing embalming.

Your last two stories have had hair-raising scenes set in crypts. What's the deal and what are you not telling us?

Crypts are deliciously creepy. Humans generally separate the living from the dead and limit their contact with corpses. Placing a character in a dwellling reserved for the dead immediately ups the creep factor. My favorite character from Last Request is the Sexton, whose spent decades talking to the "ghosties" down in the crypt. I find his eccentricities hilarious. The inspiration for the Sexton comes from Dicken's Stony Durdles, the odd gravedigger in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The caretaker of the cemetary in Highway 24 is rather strange as well.

*I'm a fan of everything of yours I've read. But with your newest work, Last Request: A Victorian Gothic, I really think you've hit your stride. Your prose, almost Victorian at heart, matches up perfectly with the period setting. Some of the scenes, particularly amongst the servants, reminded me of "Downton Abbey (Okay, I'm a closet fan)." What inspired this macabre tale about a night in the crypt?

I saw a reference once to a crypt in which the future occupant had placed a bell that could be wrung from inside in case of a premature burial. Premature burials are also a frequent theme in Poe's work. I thought about what someone might do to make certain they were dead and cutting off the head came to mind. The story wouldn't work as well now with most people being embalmed so I chose a nineteenth century setting. The rest of the story flowed from the initial problem and the setting. And yes, I love those Victorian and Edwardian costume dramas.

*What came first in Last Request? Your awesome hook (I'll let you explain it, if you'd like, but you won't get spoilers from me), the setting, or the plot?

The hook came first, the idea of an aging claustrophobe asking his relatives to cut off his head postmortem, just to make sure he's dead.

*Highway 24 is a great ghost story. You and I both share Kansas upbringings (gasp!) to a certain extent. And I can't recall if you actually stated this took place in Kansas, but I'm sure it did. Absolutely know it did! Give everyone a little background about Highway 24. And, putting you on the spot here...any truth to the protagonist's tale about his traveling salesman father?

I grew up in Beloit, a small Kansas town in the north central part of the state. U.S. 24 passes to the north of town. Yes, the story is set in Kansas and the town the protagonist visits is a conglomeration of Beloit and neighboring towns. The setting is rooted in reality but the ghostly (and angry) girl on the highway as well as the story about the father and son are pure fiction. Roads in rural Kansas can be lonely and spooky at night.

*The Crooked House of Coins was the first work of yours I read. And it still gives me the creeps thinking about it. Your mission, should you accept it? Scare everyone into reading it!

I wrote "The Crooked House of Coins" for an anthology of stories featuring crooked houses. I had wanted to do a "Fall of the House of Usher" kind of story but I didn't have the ingredients for a plot until I heard a news story about the 1933 Double Eagles. These gold coins are illegal to possess and were never officially circulated as the United States was going off the gold standard, but an enterprising treasury employee stole a few from the mint before the coins were destroyed. Needless to say, they are very valuable and highly prized among collectors. The story centers on two cousins racing against time to find a collection of the Double Eagle coins hidden in the house's structure. Their great grandfather left cryptic clues to the coins' whereabouts. He also hung himself in the third-story ballroom, a victim of financial ruin during the Great Depression. The cousins may be the only people in the house, but they're not the only beings in the house. Some ghosts are greedy beyond the grave.

*I keep bugging you about writing a full-length novel. Now get on it, you'll create a great one. What's next off your sick keyboard?

I'm working on a couple novellas. In "The Masque," a young artist is asked to create a mask to cover the scarring on a young woman's face. The woman's brother implies that the mask will help her to find a suitable husband, but as the protagonist falls in love with the disfigured sister, he learns that the relationships in the house aren't what they seem. "The Masque" pushes some of the subtle suggestions in "The Fall of the House of Usher" to their logical extreme. "The Quick and the Damned Damned Dead" is a frontier adventure story set during the American Revolution. Think Daniel Boone versus British soldiers as zombies. When those are done, I have a short fantasy novel to write based on my story "Esme's Amulet," about a young girl's dealings with a very nasty witch. I'm also collaborating with a friend on a werewolf novel set among the Pilgrims. 

*Sounds great, Jeff, and I can't wait to read them. There you go, folks! For some chilling late-night reads, seek out Jeff's works. You can thank (or hate) me later for the sleepless nights! Here's where you can find his tales:

Last Request:
Highway 24:
The Crooked House of Coins: