Book Review: Dalton Highway by Freddie Ahlin

Dalton Highway by Freddie Ahlin

Genre: Horror / Psychological thriller

Indie release (Sept. 2020)

5 of 5 stars

A nail-biter of suspense and psychological horror, Dalton Highway is a thrill-ride of a read.

Synopsis: With his back up against a financial wall and not wanting to disappoint his wife, trucker Tom Richards takes on the potentially dangerous job driving the 666 km long Dalton Highway through the isolated and often hazardous Alaskan wilderness with his loyal dog, Presley, as his companion. A sudden storm sends the truck crashing off the road, setting Presley loose in the forest with Tom giving chase, but there is something ominous amongst the trees that seems to be chasing them both….

This debut novel by indie author, Freddie Ahlin, is a strong opening piece. Despite a slow start, taking its time to build up Tom’s dilemma and apprehension at taking on the job, once the suspense and action arrived, it was full speed ahead with the story. At times, I was completely absorbed in Tom’s harrowing journey both physically through the unforgiving terrain of Alaska and psychologically as he battles with some mysterious demons of his past, disembodied voices that relentlessly taunt him as he struggles to find his dog and survive the often unforgiving elements. But, like all good psychological thrillers, the reader often struggles with wondering just how much of the terror is in Tom’s head. Who or what are these ghosts that haunt him? Is the forest actually haunted? What if it’s not?? The psychological thrills of this book were stellar and the ending was truly satisfying. Looking forward to reading more by this author!

The Innovators #14 with…author C.K. Shackleton

Like any other effort, writing has its fun components, but my advice would be to view the activity of writing as work. Actual work. Changing your perspective that writing is actually going to require true, consistent effort from you in the form of real work ethic will lead to more tangible results.

Introduce yourself and your books.

My author name is C.K. Shackleton.  I am the author of 4 books (so far) in the fast-paced and fun Edward Prince Adventure Series.  In publication order, they are “The Mystery of Coronado Cay, “The Bolshevik Ballerina,” “The Lost Idol of Ishtar” and most recently, “Roosevelt’s River.”  I’ve published other fiction and non-fiction books under other names, but the Edward Prince books were by far, the most fun to write.

Tell me about Edward Prince:  who or what inspired him? Is he a hero or an anti-hero?

I believe Edward Prince is a hero.  There are plenty of deconstructed, post-modern anti-heroes in current literature and pop culture right now and plenty more are being created everyday.  I like a lot of their stories, but a character created in our time that fits the mold of a “pre-modern, traditional” hero like Prince could be seen as anachronistic if not ironic.  I’m totally fine with that.
Edward Prince is always searching for the truth and more importantly, he seems to be willing to sacrifice his own comfort and in some cases, risk his life to get to it.  Prince was born in the last quarter of the 19th Century as the Victorian Era in most parts of the world started to make way for the Edwardian Era.  To me, that is probably one of the most fascinating times in history as new technological achievements intersected with humanity’s relentless ambition to explore the vast and mysterious corners and cultures of the Earth.  I wanted to tap into that excitement through the eyes of someone like Edward Prince.  To me, he is the culmination of those explorers, innovators and artists of that time, who kept throwing off the shackles of earlier convention and rigid thinking and pressed forward to discover something new.  
I suppose my inspiration for creating him is an amalgamation of fictional heroes from that era, like Edgar Rice Burroghs’s Tarzan and John Carter and certainly from the lesser-known protagonist, Charles Marlow in two of Joseph Conrad’s books.  The “cool under pressure” approach that Prince occasionally displays was borrowed from Ian Fleming’s James Bond (007).  I finished reading the original series a few years ago and always thought Fleming had an interesting insight into the mind of 007 facing odds greater than what most people would ever know.  As for real life examples, I think Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Shackleton were big influences.  Neither of those men lived to a relatively old age, but both experienced more adventure in their adult lives than most people on the planet.
By no means is Prince perfect.  There are times when he makes mistakes in judgment, drawing the wrong conclusions and losing his cool, like anyone would do under stressful circumstances.  He also seems to be afraid of committing to others in the long-term and that is possibly connected to the loss of a loved one early on in his adult life.  I think the idea of the flawed hero, who is still a hero, was really brought to the forefront by Stan Lee, the visionary behind most Marvel Comics characters, like Spider-man, Iron Man and the Hulk.  These flaws were present, but never inhibited the characters from accomplishing their mission.  
One other fictional inspiration that I drew from for the last Edward Prince book was Idris Elba’s character Detective Chief Inspector John Luther in the excellent British television series “Luther.”  DCI Luther is philosophical, observant, occasionally misunderstood and usually a little ahead of the rest of the pack he’s surrounded by and that seems to be an advantage.  Luther always found himself in difficult situations that required bending the rules and sometimes that meant going off to do his own thing.  I suppose those themes coincided with a slightly older, somewhat more world-weary Edward Prince in “Roosevelt’s River.” 
I’ve had adventures of my own, spending my childhood growing up in two different countries and then in my adult life doing business with people from so many cultures and economic classes.  As an author, you can draw from that area of your life so much when you’re trying to create something that feels authentic and rings true to the reader.

Why historical fiction?  What compels you to write in that genre?

I enjoy a lot of different genres of fiction, such as science fiction, thrillers, graphic novels, TPBs along with the occasional Steampunk book.  However, in writing my books, I followed the advice to write the book you’ve always wanted to read and I took that to heart.  I’ve loved studying history since I was a kid.  I think people who find history boring or learning about historical events to be dry have never had the right teachers or had it presented in a way that made it relatable.  History is messy, it is sometimes murky and it has lately been controversial, but it is rarely uninteresting.  
In The Edward Prince Adventure Series, I wanted to experiment with putting some real-life historical people with my fictional characters connecting the places and events, but never losing the pace.  I’d like to think I was able to do that with some success in all of the books to one degree or another. 

Why have you chosen to write Edward’s adventures as serialized short stories?  How does that add to the overall theme/vibe/feel of the series?

Serialized fiction has been around for a long time going all the way back to before Dickens.  However, as a fan of Ian Fleming’s 007 series, I’ve always admired how there was this underlying thread that was consistent to Bond’s character throughout the series that reflected on his ongoing relationships with the characters of M and Miss Moneypenny.  In the books, Bond struggles with killing someone and seems to never lose that angst.  He also seems to see himself as a civil servant first and always appears to put hedonistic pleasures such as food, women and alcohol second.  He is even married briefly in my favorite of the books, but even that ends in tragedy.  Unfortunately, the films have never captured that vision fully.  Instead, we’re treated to a Bond that is bedding a woman every 30 minutes, driving expensive luxury cars, shooting everything up in sight and wearing tuxedos.  Don’t get me wrong, they are enjoyable to watch, but most of them divert away from the essence of what I think Fleming was trying to do.  I also like that Bond aged in the books as well.
So my reasons for writing these as serialized stories came from that notion of what I read in Fleming’s books.  Also, I was a big reader of comic books growing up and no one wrote cliffhangers and serialized fiction like some of those comic book creators, who wanted you to come back for more every month.  There was also another little-known series that probably played a role in all of this work called “The Great Brain” by John Fitzgerald.  As a kid, I read every single one of those books and they were based in true-to-life settings, but likely embellished for entertainment purposes.  Serialized fiction is all around us in every medium.
I think in today’s world of distraction and a zillion things competing for a reader’s attention, writing these shorter books seemed to be a natural response to all of that stimulus.  I trust that readers are sophisticated and imaginative enough to fill in the gaps.  My focus in writing these books has always been to keep the reader engaged from start to finish.  Therefore, action first, dialogue second and brief descriptions third.  I try to maintain my allergy to writing a lot of exposition.  You’ll also notice that I don’t spend too much time plumbing the depths of Prince’s soul or any other character for that matter.  The goal has always been to give the reader a satisfying adventure that touches on the lives of real people from history along with places and events connected to them.  

Is there some recent history that you think Edward could / should re-write or be a part of?  What is it?  What would he do? 

I think Edward Prince, a character who is committed to seeing the mission through, but figuring out how to do the right thing at every turn, even if it is to his disadvantage, is a timeless idea.  I think someone like him would always be the kind of person you’d want on your side, whether it was during the Second World War, the Vietnam War or the events of September 11th, 2001.  I think that commitment to doing what is right in the face of fear and loss is one of the prime traits that makes him a hero.  I think he’s also someone who aspires to serve something bigger than himself or his own ego.  There are men and women all around us who are like that.  You don’t have to agree with them or the way they think, but they are real and they are reliable.  That being said, I think if we had more people like that, society wouldn’t quite be in the same chaotic state it is today.  

Who or what inspires your creativity?  What gets in the way of it? 

Anyone who reads the Edward Prince series will see that I love history and I love adventure.  In each Edward Prince story, a germ was taken from an event or real person’s life and then expanded upon.  That means that L. Frank Baum really was staying the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego at the time “The Mystery of Coronado Cay” takes place, Lenin really was hiding out in Paris, licking his figurative wounds from his failed 1905 coup of Russia as “The Bolshevik Ballerina” happens, T.E. Lawrence was investigating cool archeological finds in the Middle East before serving in the First World War alongside a cholera outbreak that had happened at that time and in that area, as depicted in “The Lost Idol of Ishtar” and Theodore Roosevelt did take that crazy trip on the River of Doubt with Colonel Rondon and his son Kermit, as shown in “Roosevelt’s River.”  I wove in other characters into each book that were based on other less-notable people in history.  Of course, each adventure takes a fictional course, but I’d like to think that since we don’t know every moment of each of these people’s lives, the possibilities are endless.  
Modern-day Lebanese-American philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb made a career out of telling the layman about randomness and it can affect us daily.  I remember when I first approached Taleb’s work in “The Black Swan,” it was a real challenge and I found it vexing.  Over time, I discovered that one of the main themes to his writings is that there is so little that is in your control and the sooner you can accept that and prepare for it, the sooner you will be at peace with yourself and the world around you.  He would bristle at that kind of summary.  It takes a lot of work to get to that mental and emotional state though.  In many ways, Taleb was my “gateway drug” into studying philosophy. 

Outside of history and Taleb’s work, I enjoy watching movies and television when I can, listening to music, reading fiction and non-fiction and studying the ethical side of philosophy.  After all is said and done though, I think my biggest inspiration for creativity comes from looking at the world around me.  Relationships with family and friends, interactions with nature and just pondering the universe around me are very important and can be an endless source for creativity.  

What is your biggest challenge in being an indie author? How do you overcome it?

For every indie author, I think there are always a number of challenges, such as time management, motivation and organization.  To me, the one that loomed as large as those I just mentioned has always been self-doubt. The way I overcame that self-doubt was to dig deeper into myself and rediscover why I started writing in the first place.  Of course, it was about writing stories I wanted to read, but it also had to do with letting go of the results and expectations tied to the results.  I can’t force people to like my work or even to read my work in the first place.  This became a more dominant thought as I wrote more fiction and each book was published.  It became about writing for myself and in a way that ultimately, I was satisfied with the outcome. If a reader feels the results of my work are satisfactory too, then I consider it a win.  

Best piece of advice for up-and-coming writers? 

Film Director Kevin Smith once said that after “Clerks” premiered at Sundance he had received quite a bit of praise, but the most poignant was when someone came up to him and congratulated him on “finishing it.”  That’s always stuck with him and I’ve always remembered it too.
So many writer projects remain unfinished in their various forms and if this happens too frequently, the writer will likely develop the habit of not finishing any projects.  Like any other effort, writing has its fun components, but my advice would be to view the activity of writing as work.  Actual work.  Changing your perspective that writing is actually going to require true, consistent effort from you in the form of real work ethic will lead to more tangible results.  This will require some planning from the writer, some research and writing outlines.  My ultimate message is to never give up and to figure out how to finish your projects, even the ones you ultimately decide no one will see.  
I believe that you should never let perfect be the enemy of good and never let good be the enemy of done.  

What do you most want for readers to take away from your work?

Honestly, with the Edward Prince books and my other works of fiction, I like to keep some of the areas of prose sparse for a simple reason.  I like the idea that subtext is all around the story and that I don’t have to explain every single thing to my readers.  They get to use their imagination and their own reasoning abilities to put some things together.  Therefore, what they take away from each book and each story is theirs to keep.  
I hope they feel inspired to go out and do something good for other people.  True heroism is found in simple service.  I write characters who are trying to do the right thing for a reason.  Even more, I hope readers just enjoy the adventure!

Upcoming projects?  Where can readers find you?

If people read the books in The Edward Prince Adventure Series in the order published, starting with “The Mystery of Coronado Cay,” they will find Edward Prince avoided certain making choices that he ultimately began to resolve at the end of “Roosevelt’s River” and it seemed to mark the end of his adventures and his career as a roving, globe-trotting newspaper reporter.  However, I have been loosely outlining book 5 in the series (which would take place only a couple years later) and I have another one planned thereafter.  Both of those books will feature prominent people from history and will follow the same format.  Prince will be a few years older, but hopefully a bit wiser.  I also have plans to publish work under other author names in both the fiction and non-fiction category.  

I have limited time in my day for social media and updates, so I don’t maintain a website as C.K. Shackleton or a Twitter account, but people can find me on Instagram and Facebook where I share updates and news on projects I am putting out there: 
Instagram – @ckshackletonauthor    Facebook – @C.K. Shackleton
They are always welcome to reach out to me through those mediums.  

The Innovators #13 with…author Patrick Kaiser

I want to use whatever platform I am blessed with to shed light on the multiple facets of autism. All the struggles that come with it and the unexpected gifts. I want to make the beauty of it all known to the world.”

Introduce yourself.

My name is Patrick Kaiser. I am a 29 year old indie author with autism from Kansas City, MO. I started writing when I was in the 6th grade. At the time, Christopher Paolini – the author of Eragon – was just beginning to gain recognition. His story of being a 15 year old best-selling author spoke to me. I’d always had a good imagination and loved telling stories. Learning that I could earn money doing so just clenched it. I began reading heavily and studying anything and everything I could on how to write good stories and how to get published. In high school I developed an interest in poetry. I’ve never had any formal training even to this day, but according to my friends, family, and teachers I had a gift for it. I began writing a ton of one-off poems that were honestly pretty dark and depressing. Being a social outcast due to my autism made me very cynical and depressed which was exhibited in my writing.

Senior year I was introduced to the idea of verse novels with Ellen Hopkin’s books. I loved the concept, but could never get into the books. Free verse is just bland to me and the stories told in most verse novels weren’t fun to read for me. They were so gritty and real with characters I just couldn’t relate to. The constant themes of drug abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, and social politics were so blah. Not to make light of the real life instances of those experiences, they’re horrific beyond measure and absolutely unforgivable, but I always preferred to read to escape reality. I wanted books that married my love of poetry with the sort of stories I loved – Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Hunger Games – but I never found any that met that threshold. When I was 25, I started to experiment with the idea of writing those sort of books. At the time, I was still super unconfident and self conscious, always wanting to write those books, but always finding some reason to tell myself I wasn’t good enough. Over the next few years I grew and matured, became more confident the more I studied. I found info on Indie publishing and how viable it was, courtesy of the success story of Amanda Hocking, who is considered the matriarch of current Indie publishing. She made millions in a matter of months after years of being rejected by traditional publishing companies. In 2019 I decided to be brave. I had a backlog of poems I’d written over the years, more positive than my high school endeavors, so I slapped ’em together, did a little research and self published my first 2 poetry collections on Amazon in February of that year. Almost two years later here we are: seven books out with number eight releasing in Febrary 2021.

Tell me about your books.

My first trilogy, Crimson Minds, involves a psychic gang war in modern day Chicago as the backdrop for a murder mystery. It covers themes of identity: are we the product of our circumstances or our choices – nature vs nurture, are are we beholdened and defined by our past or can we make an effort to rise above and grasp a better future than the one we’re told we can’t change.

My newest book, Frost, is the start of a new series and deals with family: is family determined by blood or by choice? Genocide, hatred, & racism –just because you’re at the top of the food chain does that mean you’re infallible? Are those that are different by no choice of their own lesser simply because of that fact?

All of these themes are set against the backdrop of an action thriller and are told completely through poetry.

So far, it seems to be working for me.

You identify yourself as an “Autism Advocate.”  What does that role entail?

I just want to use whatever platform I am blessed with to shed light on the multiple facets of autism. All the struggles that come with it and the unexpected gifts. I want to make the beauty of it all known to the world. I also want to help support the friends and family of those who are diagnosed. Living with autism is hard, no doubt, and living with those living with autism is harder still, and those people deserve just as much support as those diagnosed.

What role does your advocacy for autism play in your writing?

It’s mainly just the other half of what I’m trying to accomplish. I hope one day my writing can help and entertain those with autism, and I hope that my support of the autism community can result in my work reaching new readers.

The hashtag #makeitecho appears on your website.  What does it mean / refer to?

For a few years I had a Youtube channel where I posted videos of my one-off poems. It was called EchoVerse Productions and our tag line was “Love is the mission statement. Let’s #MakeItEcho!” I’m still trying spread that mantra. I want to spread entertainment, peace and love with my writing, while making you think.

Who or what inspires your creativity?  What or who do you hope to inspire with your work?

I get super inspired by Japanese anime and Japanese culture. The Japanese tell such great stories, that are super entertaining while touching on sensitive themes. My goal is to tell similar stories with my works. I’d like to inspire evolution within the Verse novel community. I constantly read and hear that verse is only suited to the realistic and gritty kind of stories, I want to flip that notion on it’s head. I’d also like to become a great source of inspiration for those on the autism spectrum. I want them to know that they’re more than their diagnosis.

Tell me about your online shop. What merch can be found there?

I sell tee-shirts, mugs, blankets and a lot more with designs influenced by my writing, all at affordable prices.

Upcoming projects? 

My current wip is called Sight and it is book 2 of my current series. I also have a new series planned to start in early 2022 about a robin hood in space kinda story. Hunger Games mixed with Firefly, if you will.

Where can readers find you and your work?

You can find me on social media @authorpdkaiser (Facebook & Instagram).

My website: www.authorpdkaiser.com

And: Amazon.com/author/patrickdkaiser

Thanks, Patrick!!

The Innovators #10 with…author Eric Woods

It takes time, hard work, and patience as an indie,
and we should never give up on something we love.

Introduce yourself and your books.

Hi, my name is Eric Woods. I am an independent multi-genre author who has published three novels: Pummeled (2018), Dragon’s Blood (2019) and Welcome to Oblivion (2020) along with a collection of stage plays (Playing with the Macabre – 2020) which were written between 1997 and 2003. My interest in writing began in third grade when my class was given the assignment of writing a short story. I became hooked on creating fictional worlds ever since.

Tell me about “The Amalgam”

The Amalgam is the universe by which my stories live and breathe, and the ultimate plan is to publish 10 novels within this universe. I also included the play collection as part of The Amalgam, as characters from several of those pieces will pop in from time to time in the novels. The Amalgam was inspired by a couple things – the Stephen King Dark Tower universe and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Both tell multiple tales but they all occur within the same world, there is a supreme antagonist that oversees the chaos, and many stories and characters come together at the end. The Amalgam will culminate with the 10th novel, where many characters from the other stories come together to face off with the primary antagonist of the universe.

You’ve written in both the drama and horror genres. Which do you most prefer to write in? To read? Why?

My dream as a writer has always been to write in the horror and suspense genres. I grew up on 1980’s slasher films and have loved horror movies since I was a kid. In grade school when we were assigned to write short stories in class, I always went with a scary and suspenseful story. It is just what I have always been drawn to. Horror is also my preferred choice when reading, although I have expanded my choices in the last year as I have gotten to know more and more independent authors. With PUMMELED (my first novel), I took a somewhat personal approach and used themes that were personal to me. That book was somewhat of a release for me, but it also shattered a decades long feeling that I couldn’t complete a full-length novel.

Who or what inspires your writing/creativity?

Stephen King is my horror inspiration. I read Pet Sematary in middle school and was hooked after that. I am also fascinated by dreams. Both Welcome to Oblivion and my next novel were initially inspired by dreams. With WTO, I recall a dream of being lost inside a dark, giant mansion and not being able to find my way out. I felt the presence of something following me but saw only a shadow.

You are a great supporter of other indie authors. Tell me what draws you to support other writers and why do you think it’s important to do so?

I do not see other indie authors as competition. I know how hard it is to get noticed as an author. It is not only a challenge just completing the first draft of a story, but the tiresome, never-ending process of editing, revising, and finding others willing to read and give feedback is an intense process. Followed up with the actual publishing procedure, and authors have already put in endless hours just in the hopes of getting a few eyes on their work. Independent authors and artists love their creations, and it is likely that they have been discouraged by others as they hone their craft. If I can help them along the way, that is what I will do.

What is your biggest challenge in being an indie? How do you overcome it (or have you/can you)?

As with any independent author, artist, singer, etc., the challenge is getting people to notice your work. There are literally thousands of independent authors around the world with easier access to self-publish now than ever before. So, the challenge is growing a fanbase who can find your work and take a chance. It is also a challenge being able to put up with rejections and bad reviews. The only way to overcome any challenges is to fight through them and not become too discouraged. It takes time, hard work, and patience as an indie, and we should never give up on something we love.

What is your superpower? What is your writing kryptonite?

I believe my superpower is being able to create unique, entertaining, and chilling stories that leave my readers wanting more. My kryptonite is time. It took me decades to finally break the barrier and finish my first novel, and I write whenever I have free time. But free time is not always the easiest thing to come by. Along with my full-time job, I am also a freelance writer. During the months of March through October, I serve as the tour guide for the local Lincoln Ghost Walk several nights a week.

What are your upcoming projects?

I will publish my 4th novel, Clippings, in March. It is uniquely formatted and not your traditional tale. The chapters are written in various forms of media communication (newspaper articles, blog posts, newscast transcripts, e-mails, etc.). I am even recruiting people who wish to have their images appear in the articles as “characters.” My 5th novel (PUMMELED: Submission) is tentatively scheduled for a Thanksgiving 2021 release. I am still working on the first draft of that one.

Where can readers find you?

At: www.ericwoodsauthor.com on Instagram @eric_woods_author and on Facebook

Thanks Eric!!

The Innovators #7 with…author Lee Vockins

Introduce yourself and your books.

Yo, I’m Lee (also known as Lee A. Vockins). I’m a published writer, independent author and soon-to-be accredited life coach. For the past two years I had a novella available on Amazon (The Hunter: Monster Within), but it is currently unpublished so I can make some major changes. Although a successful release, it wasn’t quite up to my recent standards or writing ability. Us creatives are fickle creatures, right? Always striving for perfection.

Tell me about your book, The Hunter: Monster Within

The Hunter: Monster Within is a dark fantasy tale of monsters and magic and hope. It follows the journey of the enigmatic Azerius, and his inner struggle for power. He hunts those that lurk in the shadow, but only by harnessing something dark within himself. He has some interesting friends; oddities, supernatural and mysterious, much like himself. In my introduction to the series, Monster Within, Azerius embarks on the ultimate hunt. A challenge, perhaps, but something far more sinister waits just beyond. A challenge that he never could have anticipated… himself.

I wrote this book when I was going through a lot of struggle. It was my anchor and my means to vent. There’s a lot of darkness within, but it comes from somewhere true. On the surface, it’s a gore-smothered dark fantasy, but beneath, it’s a story about embracing difference, and those that are different. It’s a story of finding strength and hope, no matter how bad that inner struggle may seem.

Unfortunately, the re-write of the book isn’t quite ready yet, but it is in the works, and is looking more like what I intended it to be.

What role does creativity play in your life? What other creative ventures / hobbies do you have besides writing? Who or what inspires you?

Creativity, I find, is something that I must do, and I’m sure that many others can relate with this. It’s part of my being. My mind is always coming up with new ideas that I just need to put to page. It’s my vent and my escape, but also the thing that makes me feel most alive.

I have written in many forms over my years; game design, poetry, music. I have also played guitar since I was about 18 and I like to paint now and again (although I’m not very good). I love photography, especially when I’m out walking among nature, as many have probably seen on my Instagram. Oh, and graphic design, narration, and video editing. So, I’m quite the creative…

And who and what inspires me? My simple answer to this would be anything and everything. The world and all the souls on it. Nature. History. Books. Art. TV and movies and music. However, one of my biggest influences for my writing is H. P. Lovecraft. I grew up reading the Nerconomicon and all the tales of C’thulu, and you’ll probably see that reflect among my works of fiction.

You are open about your mental health struggles on your blog. Tell me why you feel that is important to be open about, to write about, to share.

I feel that it’s important for me to be open about my mental health because I need people to know that there is light in the darkness. I need people to know that there is every chance of getting back to a positive state of mind, no matter how lost they may feel. I’m hoping that by reading about some of my personal struggles, and how I got to where I am now, they will continue to fight.

I also want to push through a lot of the stigma out there surrounding the subject. Like, medication is bad for you or men aren’t allowed to show emotion or cry… these constructed mentalities need to stop, because they are dangerous for the people that are struggling. It’s okay to not be okay, and it’s okay to just be yourself.

You identify as a Stoic. Tell me why. What role does Stoicism play in your writing/creativity?

I’ve been studying philosophy for about a year now, and among the ancient philosophy’s, Stoicism has resonated with me the most. The main reason for this, I believe, is that it builds upon much of what I have already practiced. Stoicism has influenced much of modern-day talking therapies, and as such, the study of it caught my interest. I already knew much of it, without the knowledge of its origin.

The philosophy helps me with my focus, routine, and ability to control my emotion. It enforces a daily ritual of self-reflection. It has taught me to let go of objects and relationships that weren’t serving my potential. It has taught me to accept fate and know that everything happens for a reason.

And that’s just the surface of it; I could talk about this subject for hours. But, for purposes of my creativity, it has mainly helped me with my daily routine and my confidence. One of the main points of Stoicism is to realise what we can and cannot control. So, what I can control is the effort I put into my work. What I cannot control is how others will perceive it. This gives me great confidence in my work because I know that everything that I do is to my potential. I have done what I can, the rest is up to fate.

What is the best part about being an indie writer for you? The hardest/most frustrating part?

I love being an indie writer. I love the absolute freedom to create and not having to worry about what might appeal to the mainstream. I absolutely write for me, and that is a powerful feeling. I love the marketing and business side of it. I love connecting with the community and developing new ideas to promote with them.

Have to be honest, I’m just having fun with it. I haven’t found anything hard or frustrating… yet.

If you got locked in a library overnight what section would you be found sleeping in? What books will be surrounding you?

That’s a difficult one. So much choice! My taste in books is extremely broad. But, to make the most out of being locked in a library, I would probably be found in the philosophy section. There is still much about the subject that I wish to learn and many philosophers that I am yet to learn from.

What upcoming projects are you working on? Where can readers find you and your work?

Aside from The Hunter: Monster Within, I am also working on the follow up book to the series. I like to write as ideas come to me, so always have multiple projects on the go. In terms of fiction, I also have a short story and poetry collection that I’m putting together.

Alongside all this, I’m writing some non-fic on self-care, incorporating my knowledge and experience of philosophy, psychology, and spirituality. I don’t like to put dates on the releases of anything, but I will definitely have something out by the end of next year.

You can find me and my work on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Goodreads.

My Website is http://www.lavockins.com.

Thanks Lee!! Looking forward to your next releases!

The Innovators #6 with….author Darren Edden

Introduce yourself and your books…

Hi, I am Darren Edden, I live in the UK and I write science fiction but also currently working on a thriller and dark fantasy just to broaden my scope.
My debut novel was The Mirror of our Creation, a science fiction novel about a signal received from the orbit of Jupiter and four individuals who come together, all having their own interests in the signal and find themselves making first contact. Whilst this is happening there is also a pandemic sweeping the world (written pre Covid!) and the novel dips into the governments handling this and how this links to the main story spliced with intermittent snapshots of global news. The aliens in this story are not what you expect and soon the intrepid foursome realise humanity is not what all it seems to be…

Why science fiction?  What compels you to write in that genre? Favourite sci-fi book and movie or tv show?

A good question, it all started when I was a child and watched shows like the original Star Trek (repeated by the way), Gerry Anderson and his Captain Scarlet/Thunderbirds creations, The Bionic Man series, all these and much more filled my head with imagination and wonder. I find comfort in the ability to escape reality and create something new and wonderful I can retreat to, its always a blank canvas, a new world, a new universe… I read a lot of science fiction as well as other genres but I don’t have a favourite book, authors yes, George Mann, David Brin, and James Herbert (horror). Favourite film is Bladerunner, it captures a mood of the future that seems tangible and real, as regards TV shows its actually Supernatural and Doctor Who.

Where did the idea for The Mirror of our Creation, with its focus on space and time travel, come from?

This is an interesting question, the idea came from a short story I wrote and published for a short time on Amazon titled The Destiny of Jenny Tutbury. This was about a woman who was visited by travelers from the future to stop her from creating the very thing they used to travel back in time. Once written and published, I found the story intrigued me and I started to plan out what I thought would be a prequel but actually became its own entity with the ending of the book referencing Jenny leading onto the short story.
I have always wanted to write a book about first contact and I wanted it with multiple characters from different backgrounds all living in a not too distant future with subtle advances in technology exist, the pandemic arose as an additional subplot that linked nicely to the main story (not even seeing what was to come in reality). The ending was always in place with the introduction of Jenny at the end to complement the original short story The Destiny of Jenny Tutbury. 
That was when I decided after finishing the first book I would rewrite the short story and turn it into a full-blown novel of its own hence, The Future of the Present Past.

You have some cool extra-terrestrials in the book.  Do you believe in them?

Such a controversial question…yes I do, my version of the aliens was always going to be different. I did not want bug-eyed monsters or the usual stereotype of alien, that was the beauty of my aliens, they were unique and formed part of the twist in the book, maybe touching a little on Arthur C Clarke 2001 but, still different enough. 
The universe is too vast, too wide and too vibrant in colour not to have life elsewhere. I would like to think one day in our future we will be spread enough far and wide to be our own aliens derived from ourselves, now that’s something to think about…

Time-travel is a big theme in your latest book, The Future of the Present Past. What inspired you to focus on that?

I have always been fascinated with time travel and the various concepts that seem to exist, the paradox they cause, and the difference of opinions of what time travel can or cannot do. It is an area that I know has been written again and again so I was mindful I had to approach it differently.
For a while, I have had the title The Future of the Present Past written down with no outlay planned for it and I have always wondered how to use it because it’s a good title. It was only after I had rewritten The Destiny of Jenny Tutbury that I finally found the right use for it. 
Time travel played a huge part in that original short story and I expanded it out even further in the latest book and it was quite hard to keep it grounded and believable whilst not letting the reader get lost between timezones when flipping between characters and places, I didn’t want to write the normal time travel stories, I wanted something fresh and as a writer, I strive to be different using subplots, backstories, etc. and the twists within the story of The future of the Present Past and how it all links with the first book The Mirror of Our Creation is subtle but I think has provided a little bit of uniqueness.

If offered the opportunity to time travel, would you?  If no, why not.  If yes, where and when you go and what would you most like to do once there?

There are so many ways I could answer this as I am a huge fan of Doctor Who, specifically the Russel T Davies years as he brought it back to life with the brilliant Christopher Eccleston and my favourite David Tennant.  I would jump at the chance to time travel and I have always been drawn to the Victorian era for some unknown reason. George Mann provides an excellent alternative Steampunk Britain in the victorian era with his excellent Newbury and Hobbs series of books. It’s the clothes, the scientific discoveries or lack of, the simplistic life without today’s gadgets. Once there I would write and publish, which may not be a good idea as this would create a paradox and….well, maybe I would just travel the world and see it in all its early glory or just hang out with Nikola Tesla.

Who or what inspires your writing?  What advice would you give aspiring indie writers?  

There are two people who inspired me to write: Joss Whedon, with the intricate characterizations he builds into his stories, and Russel T Davies for the way he tells a story and gentle weaves subplots into the main stories. 
As for advice, I self publish because I don’t want to be the next J.K.Rowling or Philip Pullman or even the brilliant and gifted Neil Gaiman, I want to be…Darren Edden and my style of writing. Be original and don’t be afraid to experiment, self publish on platforms like Amazon, it’s free so if it doesn’t work it has only cost you time and not money. Never give up or walk away. I did that and did not lift a pen for five years and have regretted it ever since missing opportunities because my ideas were used by others so you lose the potential to be different and unique.

What do you want readers to take from your work?  Where can readers find you?

Wow that’s a good one to ask, I want readers to be satisfied in what they have read, hopefully I have given them characters to identify with or at least warm towards and a story worth their investment and them wanting to come back for more. 
My work at the moment is exclusive to Amazon and I have made it accessible on Kindle and paperback, moving forward eventually I hope to expand past Amazon and distribute to small independent book shops and sell through my own website but that’s the future.

Thanks Darren!!!

You can find both novels in the Destiny series, The Mirror of Our Creation and The Future of the Present Past on Amazon:

The Innovators with…..author Eme’ Savage

Introduce yourself and your books.

I am Eme Savage author of The Genesis Chronicles. I write soulful fantasy with mysticism, magic, and mayhem. “Echoes of the Gidat” is my debut novel about a King with unnatural powers, the genocide of the Gidat, and a boy who is the subject of the Third Prophecy. “Tetarul Parallel” is the second book in the series about a young woman with a dark past who comes into possession of a magically enhanced book which will show her the role she is to play in the Prophecy. I also have a short story called “Elegy of the Gidat” which is also part of the Genesis Universe.

Tell me about The Genesis Chronicles: when was its “genesis” and where do you think the story/world/characters came from? What inspired them? What draws you to them?

I love that! There are two timelines that are woven together throughout the series. The Genesis Timeline is the one that came to me first. I grew up on 80 acres of woods and farmland. There is a crik that ran through our property. We would go down there and look for fossils and artifacts. I imagined what it might have been like for the first people who lived here and the story ran from there.

The Omega Timeline came later. The characters took on a life of their own, as they often do. I am drawn to really soulful, philosophical tales that focus on the idea that there is something bigger than ourselves at work. Each story is part of a larger arc but has a theme within them that pertained to a certain time in my life. “Echoes” is about the loss of innocence and finding your purpose. “Tetarul” is about knowing your worth and overcoming trauma. I’m still working out the main themes for my current WIP, but I wanted to bring my own voice as a person with a disability to the table. I am drawn to complex characters mostly because I’m a complex character. Epic fantasy is so often about good vs evil, but the reality is there are shades of gray in everyone. The villain believes they are the hero of their own story, and the heroes aren’t always pure with their intentions. I’m drawn to characters who make mistakes, have insecurities, and they all at the end of the day want to be seen for who they really are. 

As for the world? Worldbuilding is relaxing. I can get lost in developing topography, culture, language, and history for hours. I put a quote from the various books that exist in this world and the beginning of each chapter. I would love to read the Tome of Torcici. It’s quoted quite often. I’ll let you know when I write it. I’m endlessly researching how prehistoric tech might have worked and how people might have lived in that time period. It feels familiar because it is earth-like, but there are notable differences in the world I created. Magic is real, there are sentient beings other than humans, and there are floating islands. I believe that if you build a good world, that the characters will come from that environment and then the plot will drive itself forward.

Why fantasy? What draws you to write in that genre?

Fantasy provides an unrestricted way to process the world. Mental leaps come when we allow ourselves to imagine the improbable or the impossible. I end up in the most interesting places when I allow my mind to wander. I put myself in other people’s shoes and try to understand where they are coming from and what circumstances led them there. I take complex ideas, and issues and process them through the lens of fantasy. Such reflection has led me to a more positive and peaceful place. Don’t we all do that when we watch shows and read stories? Well, maybe not everything. Sometimes an escape from reality is just that, an escape. And that’s a good thing too. Reality can be too much at times.

What role does creativity play in your life? Besides writing, what other creative pursuits do you pursue? Who or what inspires you?

The act of creation is everything. If I can create in whatever form, then I have a sense of well-being. I have been sewing almost as long as I have been writing. There is something soothing about the feel of fabric, the crinkle of pattern paper, and the detailed work necessary to give the project something unique. I specifically enjoy costume design. I was the costume designer for youth theater programs for five years. I put together over 500 costumes in those years, everything from Hairspray to Addams Family. Right now I’m creating a cosplay of one of my iconic characters, The Lady. I’m posting once a week on Wednesdays showing the process I’m going through to get it ready in time for Halloween. I would say my Ma has a lot to do with my love of costumes. She was not a consummate sewist, but she found ways to make these elaborate costumes. My favorite was when I was a peacock. It was a blue sweater with blue tights. She handstitched peacock feathers to my backside, and to a band on my head, created a beak out of painted cardboard, and put my Da’s yellow farm gloves on my feet.

What is the best part of being an indie author?  What is the most difficult part of being indie for you?  What is the best piece of advice you can give to aspiring indie authors?

The best part is the amount of control I have over my work. I decide how it should look, what the content should be, and how much I want to charge. But the best part is interacting with readers. It feels intimate and wonderful. It tickles me to no end when someone pulls a quote out of my novels and tells me what they got out of it. It surprises me every single time. The worst part right now is marketing. It’s a steep learning curve, but I will find a way to master it like I have all the other parts of the writing process. The best advice I can give to aspiring indie authors is to not compare your work with someone else’s. Comparison is the death of creativity. The only thing you should be comparing your work to is your previous work. We are all at different places in our journey. We should be viewing that as something to aspire to, and not a commentary on how much we have yet to do or that we are somehow lacking. You are doing great! Keep going! You absolutely got this! The writing community is so helpful. Sure there are a few bad apples out there, but for the most part, people are so helpful and encouraging. We need that since writing is such a lonely profession. 

What is your superpower? Do you use it for good or evil?

Connecting ideas and things that don’t seem to connect at first glance. I found I have a knack for predicting the socioeconomic effects of public policy. And yes, I did use it for good. I wrote a series of articles on austerity policies, jobless recoveries, tax policies, monetary and fiscal policies, and the global economy.

What was your favourite childhood book or author? How did it/ they influence as a child? And now as an adult?

This one is easy. Madeleine L’Engle is my all-time most influential author. My 4th-grade teacher read “A Wrinkle in Time” to us and I was hooked. That was when I started writing fantasy and SciFi. I loved how the mystical, fantastical, and scientific would intersect in her world. The Time Quintet is the finest series out there. It was true then and it is true now. She was a true pioneer. Women writing science fiction/fantasy was not that common, and having a female protagonist was even less common. “Many Waters” is my favorite. It is a Noah’s Ark retelling, and that sparked my imagination. I reread the novels years later, and I was stunned at how much her writing influenced my style.

What upcoming projects are you working on? What do you want readers to take away from your books? Where can readers find you?

Right now I’m revising the third novel in my series called “Mirror of Ettek”. It picks up where “Tetarul” leaves off with imminent war on the horizon in the Omega Timeline and the aftermath of the Beast Attack in the Genesis Timeline. Both MCs have endured serious physical injuries and are looking for a way to cope. Sakedos possesses a magically enhanced Mirror. He hopes to glean some significant insight into his own situation by watching Vitos’ story unfold. 

I plan on drafting the Scifi companion novel during NaNoWriMo. It will dovetail into the fantasy series. We will learn more about Etevun, the Gidat Tree, Mercy, and the Voice. I have a working title for it, but we’ll see where it goes. I’m very excited about this idea. 

I want you to think about them long after you put the books down. I want at least one idea in there to stick with you and keep you awake pondering the deeper meaning of life. Every reader has taken something different away from these books, and that is what I find so interesting. People from different walks of life and different parts of the world finding their truth in these pages.

You can find me on Instagram and Twitter under the handle @eme_savage, on Facebook as eme.savage, Goodreads as Eme Savage, and both books can be found here: Amazon.com as an ebook, paperback, and on Kindle Unlimited. 

The Innovators #4 with………Author Billy Ray Middleton, Jr

Introduce yourself.

My name is Billy Ray Middleton Jr. I am the author of ‘The Silhouette’ and do a podcast called ‘Blabbercast.’ I also occasionally do Instagram videos/podcasts @ ‘AuthorBillyRay.’

When and why did you start writing?

I started writing around thirteen, mostly thoughts, feels, poems and things of that nature. I liked playing with words and getting things out when I felt the urge. It’s therapeutic to spill your mind on pages.

What role does creativity play in your life?

Creativity is important for me since there are so many things I won’t experience, so in my own worlds I can experience anything I want. Also, I like going outside of the box and creating a unique style of art, whether it be writing or working with video. I enjoy the term ‘Chaotic Beauty.’

Tell me about The Silhouette: who or what inspired the story and characters and why a Lovecraftian romance?

The Silhouette went through many phases over the years, and as most artistic works, it kind of becomes like a child to you. I had an idea for a girl who was physically damaged but still very sweet through her trauma when she could have easily rejected the world that was cruel to her. I asked myself a question, ‘Is love physical more than anything else?’ I wanted to open the door to a curious question of the word ‘Love’. I wanted to put two characters in a situation where they never saw each other, but were right next to each other where only their words and little ticks were on display. Basically, loving someone 100% for only them, the real them, not the external sexual stuff.

The book fell into the Lovecraftian style since it was the best fit for it. I wasn’t thinking about Lovecraft as an inspiration when I wrote it. The book simply fell into it. I’ve always enjoyed the not-knowing aspect of his works and others who do the Lovecraft thing. Our minds do well with blank slates and mysteries.

When and why did your podcast start? Who or what is featured?

In 2013, me and my closest friends started ‘Blabbercast.’ My best friend really wanted to do one and since I can never shut the F up it seemed right up my alley since I talk a lot. I enjoy a Kevin Smith vibe or Howard Stern. I don’t like filters, I know people think different and speak different in private, I always say ‘Let it out. Act like its the glorious 90’s still. This era of fake-ness is lame.’

Who or what inspires your writing?

I actually hated reading since everything was so wordy and never got to the point. So my first inspiration was to try to take some of that out and write more screenplay-like. I like dialogue, and I use it. I like fun and scenes that move, not blabbering on for ten pages about nonsense. The indie books — (yours did this great, Melanie {awe, thanks Billy}) — moved at a perfect pace; I really have enjoyed those reads without the corporate machine behind them F-ing everything up. In fairness I have read some I liked that were mainstream. I love William Peter Blatty, I thought the Exorcist was mind blowing. George R. R. Martin is great as well. I found the Game of Thrones books pretty quick since he moves it quickly or makes scenes, at the very least, interesting.

Any writing quirks?

I don’t have many quirks. I never have had writers block, I just have the ‘I don’t like it’ thing and I never write to just write, I need it be acceptable to me, and then hopefully a lot of people enjoy it, but I need to enjoy it and have fun, whatever happens after that is meant to be or not.

Best advice for other indie authors?

My best advice is to have fun. Ignore all the BS writing rules. They don’t exist. Period. Have good grammar and ‘Do you’ as they say. Don’t be put in a box. Don’t worry about reviews so much either. I found most people review poorly and are hypocritical. If their favorite author wrote something incognito and they were told it was an indie author, they would be extra harsh on it. The look on their face when they found out it was their favorite author? Mind blown! LOL Obviously reviews are important as is people’s opinions. I just feel people in the literary world are too constrictive. That doesn’t work on me.

What is your spirit animal?

A dog. I don’t know if my explanation will fit in with the spirit animal thing, but when I see a puppy my heart sings. My black heart turns red, and I smile and must pet it. I love them. Their loyalty is far superior to humans and it is true unconditional love.

Favourite author and book?

George R. R. Martin – A Song of Ice and Fire, It’s just such a massive accomplishment and I had so much fun reading those for two-months. His dialogue is just so good, and the imagery is fantastic.

What are your upcoming projects?

The newest novel is on the way. The Nicest Parts of Hell – I am not giving too much away. All I can say is I am going to some strange places. Rockstars, psycho’s, serial killers, and blood and love. A lovely Friday night.

Thanks Billy! Check out The Silhouette on Amazon. A highly recommended read that I really enjoyed!!

The Innovators #3 with…….

Julia DeBarrioz, author

I’m excited to kick off the indie author interviews with the multi-talented Julia DeBarrioz, author of the fantastic Dakota del Toro series, artist and super supporter of other indies!

Introduce yourself.  When did you start writing and inspired you to keep writing?  Tell me about your books.

 Hi, I’m Julia! ::waves::

 I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I was an only child who lived in a rural area with no other children around, so I entertained myself by telling stories and re-telling stories I knew. I cut my teeth writing fanfiction, and finished my first novel when I was 12-13. (It was horrible, LOL). I have to write. Writing is how I process emotions and understand the world, and if I have a story kicking around my head that I don’t have time to sit down and work on I get twitchy and cranky. At the moment I’m writing the Dakota del Toro series. It’s urban fantasy set in New Mexico featuring a woman who is a bounty hunter for supernatural creatures. She finds missing women who have been taken by the monsters on the side, and she gets mixed up in a vampire revolution, as well as romantically entangled with the comandante. Oops!

Where did Dakota Del Toro come from (who or what inspired you to create her) and why is she the central character of your books? Dakota has been with me since I was a teenager, and maybe I can blame a goth cowgirl stage I haven’t really ever outgrown, LOL. I loved vampire stories with a strong female lead, but I wanted to read a story about a character who could both kick ass and embrace her femininity. Maybe that sounds stupid now, but back then those things were presented as mutually exclusive, and it was frustrating. I set the books in New Mexico because, well, I love it there, and I guess it’s a bit of vicarious living on my part. I’ve always been fascinated by Spanish/Latinx culture. I’ve travelled in Spain and Latin America, and I have a tiny bit of Spanish heritage on both my mother’s and father’s sides. Writing Dakota and her supporting characters has been a fun way of connecting with that.

You deal with some big social issues in the books (marginalization and abuse of women).  Tell me why that theme plays such a big role in the series.  There are two things that really scare me: bears, and the patriarchy. We’ve come a long way as far as women’s rights, but you still don’t have to look far to find stories in the news about abuse that happens in this country, and women with brown skin get the worst of it. Google ICE assault allegations, the results are horrifying, and Native American women face violence at staggeringly disproportionate rates compared to other demographics.  America seems like a safe, happy place to live on its shiny surface, but there is a dark underbelly that frankly, should not exist. It makes me angry, and I guess I don’t know what else to do about it except write my stories, try to raise awareness, and vote for people who I hope will actually give a shit.

Why vampires and werewolves?  Who is your favourite literary vampire?  Favourite actor to play a vampire?  Would they make a good Diego de Gama?  If no, then who would play him best on the big screen?  And Dakota? I think I have to blame my dad, who raised me on campy vampire movies. I’ve just always liked that medium. My favourite literary vampire would have to be Lestat, the Brat Prince. Alexander Skarsgård played a pretty excellent vampire in True Blood. I don’t think he’d really work for Diego, LOL. Even though they’re actually musicians, I think Maluma and Rosalía would make for awesome casting for Diego and Dakota.

How do you use social media as an indie author?  Best advice you can give to new indie?  Best money ever spent on or for your writing (an app, a subscription, a workshop, etc)?

 Like anyone else, I guess, I try to use social media to keep people updated and find new readers. I’m not a huge fan of Facebook and I’m terrible at updating on Twitter, but I do enjoy the community on Instagram.

 My best advice to a new indie author might be to watch your wordcount. When you’re starting out and trying to convince people to give you a chance, don’t hit them over the head with a 700 page tome. No one will wade through that. I feel qualified to say this because I made this mistake years and years ago, and it took a lot of work to remedy. The best money I’ve spent for my writing would have to be on book review services. Getting honest reviews might be the hardest part of being an indie, and having access to a pool of reviewers who are willing to go that extra mile after reading are worth their weight in gold.

Tell me about the process/decision to create your own covers?  What is the inspiration behind the designs/colours / theme?  Do you create or sell other artwork not related to the book covers? 

 I guess I’m double cursed, being a writer and an artist, ha. I’m a printmaker at heart, and I think that’s probably reflected in my covers. I have a degree in fine art, and I guess I always wanted to design my own. I know my covers are very different from other books in my genre, but I wanted to evoke a mix of the Spanish and Indigenous folk art of the Southwest, as well as 1960s revolution art. I do make other art besides book covers. I draw, I paint, and recently I’ve gotten into pyrography (wood burning). I’m not very good at collecting money for my work though, LOL, I seem to always be giving it away. I like to make people happy.

You find yourself stuck in a bomb shelter for an indeterminate time.  What one fictional character do you hope to be there with you?  What two movies will you watch and which three books do you want to have?

 Oh dear. What a 2020 question. I would have Jack Sparrow in the room, because I think he’d be pretty entertaining. We would watch Pirates of the Caribbean and The Mask of Zorro, and I would want to have Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins, and He Shall Thunder by Elizabeth Peters. I never get tired of reading those books.

What’s next for Dakota and Diego?  Any other new projects in the works?

 I have several more books planned for Dakota and Diego, though I do intend to make it a closed series. I am trying to release the next book this winter, and there will probably be 7-8 books when all is said and done. I also have some spin-offs planned. I want to tell Eduardo the bandit’s story in 1860s California, and I’m branching out into contemporary western romance with a new release coming this November. It’s called Evangeline Goes West. Look for it on Amazon. 😀

Julia DeBarrioz
Indie Author
juliadebarrioz.com
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