Archive for the ‘writer interviews’ Tag

Interview with Nicholas Kotar   Leave a comment

Displaying headshot.jpgToday, I am meeting with Nicholas Kotar, writer of Raven Son, a delightful fantasy that I am pleased to be re-reading. Raven Son was one of my favorite Authonomy books because it was a dark tale that mines a culture that hasn’t been overdone by previous writers and it includes themes of faith and redemption without sugar coating human nature. Lela


Tell us about yourself, Nick.

There’s a story I once heard about a certain Russian writer (I have my suspicions it was Chekhov), who was asked what he did for a living. He answered, somewhat surprised, “What do I do? I love my wife Olga!” There’s a lot of wisdom in his answer, in addition to its humor. It’s an answer I happily appropriate. My lovely wife, our new baby son Adrian, and I live near a Russian monastery in upstate New York farm country, where I recently completed seminary studies and now I work as an editor and translator for the monastery’s press. I come from a family of Russian émigrés who were forced to leave Russia after the Revolution of 1917. This has led to the rather strange designation that we apply to ourselves: Russian-American. Despite the passage of time, I still strongly identify with my Russian roots, and my writing comes from that strange place of conflicted identity and tortured soul and searching for beauty.


How did you come to write a fantasy based on Russian fairy tales?

Displaying COVER_print.jpgLargely by accident, if you believe in accidents, that is. I’ve been steeped in fairy tales since I was a kid, and Tolkien’s fantasy is the reason I write in the first place. Raven Son (which is inspired by both) began writing itself in a marine-themed café in Amsterdam airport during a 13-hour layover on the way to Cairo. I had convinced myself that I shouldn’t sleep at all to avoid jetlag (which, incidentally, didn’t work), and after the third cup of coffee of the morning, I pulled out my moleskine and just started to write. It was a scene where a Syrin, a paradise bird from Russian mythology, reveals herself to the main character, hinting at catastrophic events to come. As I wrote, more and more fairy tale motifs and characters suggested themselves to the story, perhaps because Russian fairy tales are often morally complex. They grapple with the darkness that attacks the human heart in astounding ways.


Can you give any examples of what makes these tales so compelling?

The characters that inhabit these stories are very modern in some ways. There’s rarely a traditional damsel in distress, the female heroines are often quite plucky (sometimes alarmingly so), some of the “bad guys” have the odd habit of switching allegiances, so you never know whom you can trust, and ending is rarely simply “happily ever after.” The darkness present in these tales is palpable and real, not just as a convention, but in ways that suggests inner conflicts that are all too real in life. At the same time, the stories never succumb to the moral nihilism present in so much modern literature, especially fantasy. So for my purposes, these tales are wonderful because they grapple with the reality of suffering and evil, but they provide much more than a simple solution for all problems. Inner transformation is expected of these characters, and if it doesn’t happen, they die, or worse, they become deathless. It’s very compelling stuff.


Tell us a bit about Conquering Time Publications which published Raven Son.

After I graduated from UC Berkeley, I taught for a while in a small Orthodox Christian private school in San Francisco. During my time there, we had a brilliant group of teachers, some of whom were inspired poets and writers. We would regularly meet to read and discuss literature – Dostoyevsky, T.S. Eliot, Tolkien, Charles Williams, and others. Eventually, some of us began to write our own stories and poems, and we would discuss them as well, just like the Inklings used to do in the Oxford of Tolkien’s day. Then we began to organize public readings of our new works, and eventually we began to write stage productions of storytelling and choral music. This collaboration of different artists named itself Conquering Time (an allusion to a life from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets), and we’ve now performed on both coasts of the US, in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Paris. When I finished Raven Son, our group decided it was time to venture into publishing as well, and we have several projects in the pipeline in addition to Raven Son.


If you could do anything you wanted to do or be anyone you wanted to be in this lifetime, who would that be?

If I had unlimited money, I’d go on a long walk through North England with my wife and son, stopping over at B&Bs with four-post beds on the way. Then we’d find a nice cottage somewhere in Derbyshire where I’d spend a year writing. That would be amazing.



One of your readers suggested that Raven Son could be allegorical to the condition of the United States in the 21st century (or the Russian Revolution in the last). True?

It’s is a tricky question. It sounds like a question Tolkien was asked regarding the allegory in the Lord of the Rings. He bristled at the word “allegory,” and suggested “applicability” would be more proper. I agree with his approach. Allegory is not a very convincing form, because it tends to preach and hit people over the head with its message. But at the same time, like many Russians, I can’t disregard the moral issues and dilemmas of my time, and my own wrestling with moral problems can’t help but come out in my fiction. So of course some aspects of America in the 21st century will inevitably appear, though perhaps indirectly. As for the Russian Revolution… I grew up with stories of how glorious Tsarist Russia was. My grandparents fled their homeland because they were persecuted, and any émigré fiction will have a heavy dose of nostalgia. The Revolution is an event that stands tall in my own cultural formation. It’s a Rubicon of Russian experience, so to speak. It represented the breakdown of everything that my family has considered good and beautiful, and to see similar processes slowly occurring even in the US of today frightens me. So it’s not just nostalgia; it’s an engagement with a historical event that continues to resonate in our own time. I think good fantasy will always engage with moral quandaries in a brave way, without providing easy answers or pat solutions. However, I would be hesitant to call Raven Son an allegory. It’s an adventure story, first and foremost.


How do we find your book?


Nick’s Website:


Find Nick on Facebook.




Interview with Polly Johnson   Leave a comment

Displaying F_DSC_0124 - Copy.JPGWelcome back to Writing Wednesday. Today I am visiting with Polly Johnson, the writer of Stones, a novel of grief, loss, acceptance and friendship.

Tell us something about yourself, Polly.
I’m married to David and have two grownup girls who are great friends. I live about twenty minutes from London, which is handy to pop in and out to events, but I also have some nice countryside around me. I work in a secondary school with special needs students of all kinds, but I dropped a day last year to concentrate more on writing.
When did you first start writing?
I’ve always written. I have ‘books’ and illustrated stories and poems the earliest of which was done when I was seven. Apparently I’d disappear upstairs for hours to draw and write and read books.
We know each other from Authonomy, Harper-Collin’s slush-pile site where writers can interact with one another for critique and cross-pollination. Two things — I know you as Cariad, which means “beloved” in Welsh, I believe. Why is that your screen name?
I am half Welsh and spent a lot of time there through my life, so when I was choosing a name to use on Authonomy, that one just popped up. Perhaps it reminded me of the country and my dad, who isn’t here anymore.
Second, what has the Authonomy experience done for you and your writing?
Well, apart from Stones being picked up by Harper Collins, I think the main thing has been talking to other people who write, because it can be such a solitary experience. I do have a writing group (we met on an Arvon course about six years ago) where we crit. our writing very honestly, but the comments and friendship you get on Authonomy is the main reason I’m still there.
In Stones, the main character, Coo, is a teenager dealing with the untimely death of her brother from alcoholism. What inspired that theme?

I suspect, me. I wrote it after a period when I’d written nothing and was stuck because I became fixated with thinking about audience and theme and what was popular. I realised I’d forgotten about writing for ‘fun’. I decided to go upstairs and just write without even thinking, like I used to do, and Stones came out of that. I didn’t intend it to bear any relation to real life, but the fact is that I also had an alcoholic brother who wrecked the family, and a lot of unresolved issues like Coo has, so I suppose that surfaced in the book.

What are your plans for the future with regard to writing? Stones has been published by Harper-Collins. Will there be more books to follow?

I have finished a second one, which I’m sending out to agents because I don’t have one still, and I’d like to be in paperback and not just e-book if possible. It is speculative fiction and aimed at adults. I’ve also just started a third, which is aimed at a YA audience. There’s also a picture book idea knocking around, when I have time.

Polly, this is where I let you talk about whatever you want to talk about.

Not sure I have much to add. I’m not brilliant talking about myself. I do have a bit of a bee about e-books and Kindles! I don’t happen to think that anyone’s book should be on sale for 99p for instance. It is often years of work, and it is a unique product. I think books and writing are devalued by a price that is less than you pay for a cake in Starbucks.  I’ve also just discovered that there is a site offering my book for free download – along with whoever else that doesn’t know about it, and that annoys me too. E-pubbing has led to a culture where people think they should just be able to get a book (or piece of music) for nothing, and I think that’s wrong.
I totally agree with you. That’s a needed rant that I hope resonates with other writers and readers.
Links to your book(s) and an author pic and if you have an author website would also be good.
Here’s a tiny url to my book on Amazon:
You can reach Polly at the following: my wordpress blog (very dull)

And Twitter:

Interview with CL Chase of The MacKenzie Murphy Series   Leave a comment

Writer Wednesday got off to a late start today because sometimes life happens while we’re making other plans! Lela
Today, I am interviewing CL Chase, the writer of the Detective MacKenzie Murphy series. These are a little different from the interviews I’ve done before, because Chantelle lives here in Fairbanks, where I make my home. Her books, focused on a young Fairbanks school teacher who solves crimes for a hobby, are filled with references that I recognize — the rigors of sled dog racing, the cold, the need for a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Chantelle, tell us a little bit about yourself. 

I come from New Plymouth, Idaho. where I was born and raised, growing up on a dairy farm. I came up to Alaska at the end of August 2011 to work for room and board as a dog sled handler. How the idea came about to do something like that was a passion that I had to come up to Alaska and run dogs since I was around three years old. I had been working for conservation corps at the time and I emailed a musher who had an ad on a mushing website about a possibility to come work with them. They replied to my email saying that the position was filled; however, they had a few friends if I wanted them to pass my information along. I had nothing to lose so I responded back to go ahead and pass my information along. That got me in contact with the mushers that I ended up coming to Alaska to work for.  I worked until the end of April when I went back down to the Lower 48 to acquire some more job skills and work once more for the conservation corps.

I returned to Alaska early February of 2013 after being called up by the mushers that I had worked for the winter of 2011-2012. I have been up here ever since then. A person most often times can’t make a living just by running dogs unless they are really well known and have lots of sponsors. Even then, usually they have some other field of expertise. I started working at a bakery in Fairbanks around the start of June of 2013 based on some connections that I had between the mushers I worked for and their friends who owned the bakery.  I started out working there as a dishwasher and farm help, but I had been asked if I would be interested in baking at some point. I am open to trying something to see if I like it or not which was why I got my shot at baking in September at some point after the store relocated from one location back to its previous location. I became a baker and have been one ever since.


When did you start writing? What was the first thing you ever wrote?

Speaking of writing books, I really started writing in one of the summers while I was in middle school or junior high as it is sometimes referred to. I have been a voracious reader growing up and I had been reading a lot of historical fiction at the time. The setting for when I started to write was a truck ride with no radio and no one talking to fill the void of monotonous motor and motion. I got bored from the lack of distractions other than a notebook and ball point pen that I had in my possession so I started to write historical fiction. For anyone who knows this genre, it requires a considerable amount of research so my writings ended up being more fiction than historical. Although interesting, I ended up scrapping that project due to the fact that I felt as though I was doing the work an injustice.


I think we all do our first writing an injustice. It takes time to develop our skills.

 I then began writing fantasy which was interesting once again, however, I did end up dropping that project because I was working on it during a darker period of my life where my brother and parents were fighting (the rebellious teenager years) and I couldn’t get involved. Needless to say, that writing was not my forte, however, it did lead me to realize that I need to write what I’m passionate about and interested in. My first project that I really ended up keeping and thoroughly liking was a short little story about a mother and a daughter going for a weekend dog sledding trip together. When the mother got hurt, it is up to the daughter to get them safely home through the storm that raged on. This short story will be in another one of my projects that consist of a series of short stories and poems that I have accumulated since around 9th grade when that first short story came about.

Detective Mackenzie Murphy Series Cases: 1-16The MacKenzie series is short stories for about middle-school readers, revolving around the fictional detective MacKenzie Murphy, a Fairbanks teacher and recreational dog musher. How did you end up developing the series?
I honestly don’t know how my detective series came about, but I started writing that genre when I was still in high school and ended up typing it all up then giving it to a friend to read. That friend ended up reading it aloud to her boys and decided that it should become a book. Although the detective genre is what I have out there, I don’t really have a favorite genre per say because I tend to focus more upon the things that I love or am interested in rather than a set subject. I am hoping that readers will learn something from my Detective Mackenzie Murphy Series and any other books that I have out in the future. It is important to keep learning things to keep things interesting otherwise life is a monotony of the mundane with no hope of pursuing purposeful passions or of any further progression.
So the first book in the series was published under the Valley Walker imprint. The second book in the series is self-published through Create a Space. For the writers who follow my blog, can you talk a little bit about the two different experiences and your reason for going to Create A Space? And will Cases 17-32 be available on Amazon?

Detective Mackenzie Murphy Series Cases 17-32I mentioned that I had showed the detective series to a friend who determined that I should pursue the publishing into a book. This friend has been a great support system for me and she was the person to help publish my first book, which is why it initially started out as Valley Walker Press as the publisher. This publisher is also a fellow author and I asked permission to mention her name. It is because of JoEllen Claypool that I ended up becoming a self-publisher and setting up my own publishing name and business: Chase Dreams Publishing. I then set up the Kindle versions and put both of my books: Detective Mackenzie Murphy Series Cases 1-16 and Detective Mackenzie Murphy Series Cases 17-32 on Amazon for that.

There are a couple ways to publish and it is important to review any contract you sign for the publishing. My initial publishing was through Valley Walker Press so that I could get the work out there, having neither the confidence nor the experience to do such a task. In the contract that I signed, it stated that I would be allowed to go to another publisher or self-publish after a certain quota was met. I was then able to publish under my own business following a set of rough guidelines that had been given to me by JoEllen, whose sole purpose with this process was to help me publish. Now, I didn’t have to set up my own business, I could have just published through CreateSpace and have them be the publisher, however, I knew where I wanted to go and that I was going to have other works in the future to publish so that is the reason that I actually set up my own business.

The two books (Detective Mackenzie Murphy Series Cases 1-16 and Detective Mackenzie Murphy Series Cases 17-32) that I have out are available in Amazon for both Kindle and print versions.  They can be purchased there, through createspace or through me personally. If it is purchased through me personally then I will also be able to personalize them and autograph them for whoever is purchasing them or for whoever they are being purchased for.

What are your plans for the future? Will the Mack make a third entry into the literary world? Or are you working on something else?
At the moment, my goals for the Detective Mackenzie Murphy Series consist of having these two books about Mack and then two more that consist of a relative after Detective Mack Murphy and then there will be two more that are prequels and that will be all that the series consists of. At least, that is where I see it going. Other than that series, I have a collection of short stories and poems that I am working on as well as a story that is 256 handwritten pages about a fictional Mystery Musher. The short stories and poems is probably the next closest thing to being done seeing as I still have to type up cases 1-16 of the continuation of the Detective Mackenzie Murphy Series. I handwrite all my stories, or at least the majority of them due to the active lifestyle I lead where I am not often in front of a computer, with the exception of working on a few projects here or there.

I hope that this answers all the questions that you had and I greatly appreciate you presenting the interview. I also hope that this can help you decide on your own publishing ventures. The thing about writing and publishing is that you ultimately have to believe in yourself and just go out and do it. There will always be critics out there and if you look in the mirror, you might even see one staring back at you. The important thing is that you strive to make your dreams a reality. Even if getting a book published is not your goal, it is important to set goals to achieve and write for yourself if not for others. Feel free to contact me with any questions or feedback that you might have.

MacKenzie Murphy Cases

Mackenzie Murphy never meant to be a detective, but when there was no one else to call. . . there is only one Detective Mackenzie Murphy. From Alaska to Idaho to London and everywhere in between: Solving every mystery, making it history; All criminals beware, because this detective will stand up to any dare. Call it madness or even something like sadness, but the truth behold, the crimes untold. No matter the case or crime, just give the detective a little time. From now on, all criminals beware, because Detective Mack Murphy will take your dare. Don’t give a dime about crime, and you’ll pay the time. Detective Mackenzie Murphy is her name and solving crime is her game. This book is for the young and old alike and brings the added fun of creative activities at the end of each chapter for younger readers.

I love the quirky jingle quality to the pitch. Lela
Cases 1-16
Cases 17-32
Chantelle (CL Chase) can be found on Facebook

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