Meet a rising star: author Berit Ellingsen

I’m honored and excited to have author Berit Ellingsen to the blog today! She lives and works in Norway, and if you check out her Facebook page you’ll see she roams around a lot and her photos have a lot of snow, ice, water and cats in them. I read her brilliant, impressively reviewed novel, Not Dark Yet, as a part of a Jeff VanderMeer Holiday storybundle a few months ago, I still think about it often, and I highly recommend it.

NotDarkYetFor starters, I’d like to put my reaction to Not Dark Yet here, written right after I read it:

“Just finished “Not Dark Yet” by Berit Ellingsen. Her novel was recommended by Jeff VanderMeer and Ann VanderMeer as a part of their Winter Mix Tape Storybundle. “Not Dark Yet” is a brilliant story about human love and frailty in a time of earth-catastrophe, written with a crystal clear sense of the moment but also haunted by a dreamlike undercurrent of something akin to synchronicity. One of those books you don’t soon forget.”

(Berit was kind enough to have a further discussion with me about her book, and I’ve included the full transcript of that conversation at the end of the Q&A section). I have no doubt that Berit will be a fun, informative interview, so let’s get to it.

Q) Hi, Berit! Thank you so much for guesting on my blog! I guess the first question should be, is Not Dark Yet your first novel?

A) Thank you so much for inviting me to guest blog! I’m very happy to be here.
My first novel is The Empty City, which was translated to French by writer, translator, and publisher Francois Bon. The Empty City is a novel about silence and emptiness in the urban environment and is a sort of prequel to Not Dark Yet in that it shares a protagonist and some of the setting.

The Empty Cityune_ville_vide







Q) Yes, I immediately did sense the thematic connection between the books as you described The Empty City. Could you provide us with a brief introduction to the story of Not Dark Yet?

A) In Not Dark Yet a man leaves his boyfriend and apartment in the city for a cabin in the mountains. His relationship has come to a head and he’s had an affair that for reasons revealed in the novel went really wrong as well. At the same time he has applied for the newly announced astronaut selection and starts training for it. He also joins his farmer neighbors on their project of clearing the moor around the cabin to grow cereals, because the climate has become warm enough to make this possible, and the neighbors want to take advantage of the new opportunities that are opening up.

berit_iceQ) Is Not Dark Yet an entirely fictional world or do you employ actual locations, institutions and even real people, or at least have elements inspired by the real life versions?

A) I didn’t include any real life people or place names, but the climate change science and data about what’s happening with various plant and animals species as the environment changes are taken from various articles about climate change. The science in the novel is as close to correct as I could get it, to emphasize the climate change that is happening and what it might lead to, so that those effects aren’t just dismissed as “fantasy”, but that the reader realizes it is something that could happen in our world too.

I’m a science writer and follow climate science news, and used much of that in the novel.

Parts of some of the buildings mentioned in the novel, especially the laboratory in the start, the foyer at the space organization, and the restaurant in the hotel towards the end are from buildings that exist in our world. For example, the restaurant in the hotel is inspired by the restaurant in the Grand Hotel Des Bains in Venice where the film version of Thomas Mann’s Death In Venice was made. But other parts of the same hotel, such as the bar, are entirely fictional. I like architecture and interior design, so rooms and spaces are fun to create and think up.

humanity-of-monstersQ) It is fun to invent physical spaces, isn’t it? I would say that Not Dark Yet is a warning. It’s a warning that our planet is inexorably sliding into disaster if we don’t deal with what we’re doing to our ecology and climate. It’s not the only thing the book is about by a long shot but would you say that’s a fair overall assessment?

A) Very much so! In the world of Not Dark Yet, climate change has gone a little farther than it has in our world, and progressed to what is called exponential climate change, where the climate and environmental variables change with exponential speed, due to self-reinforcing feedback mechanisms in the climate systems. These mechanisms are in effect today, and many climate scientists fear that some of them, such as the melting of the Arctic sea ice, will start to change exponentially. At any rate, the world in Not Dark Yet is one where climate change has really begun to make itself known, to everyone all over the planet, even in the temperate zone and rich countries.

tibetan-monkQ) When we discussed Not Dark Yet before, you mentioned worrying that some westerners might be put off by the strong eastern-oriented cultural currents in the book, such as the Tao and the experience of the Buddhist monk. Was that worry justified in the reactions from readers? Personally, I loved those elements of the story.

A) I’m so glad you did, and I have heard from other readers who enjoyed it too, which I’m glad they did.

I think especially the chapter about the self-mummification hits a nerve with some people, and it is meant to do that. The way we view death in our modern societies is very impersonal and almost like death is the ultimate illness that we can’t wait to get rid of some day. So why would anyone who isn’t deeply depressed or politically brainwashed or terminally ill go towards death voluntarily? I found it difficult to understand myself when I read about it, but to approach an understanding one must know a bit about Buddhism and zen and how they view death, the mind, and the body. That said, the self-mummification process was rare even during those times when it was practiced, and understandably, only a very few did it. Today, Buddhist mummies are found in Japan, Tibet, Vietnam, China, and I assume Korea as well.

Some readers said they thought of the mummy and self-mummification process almost as an astronaut, someone leaving the Earth, and saw parallels between the protagonist’s training for the astronaut selection and the training that the self-mummifying monk does. That was something I hadn’t intended, so it was very cool readers “discovered” it.

writing penQ) That is extremely cool. I love first and last lines in novels. I spend a lot of time on my opening and closing paragraphs, and often I already have both figured out before I even start writing the rest of the novel. I don’t know why I do that, exactly, other than wanting to start and end on a hook or a bang, but knowing how I open and close the story is a kind of anchor for both ends of the yet-to-be-created book, and reassuring, I guess. The opening line of Not Dark Yet is fantastic:

“Sometimes, in Brandon Minamoto’s dreams, he found a globe or a map of the world with a continent he hadn’t seen before.”

That got me. I need a good first sentence. When I browse in bookstores I often choose books to read based solely on what their first sentence does for me. Do you agonize over first sentences and last? First paragraphs and last?

A) I’m so glad you enjoyed that first line. That actually comes from a recurring dream I had when I would find a new continent on a map and think “How on Earth did I not see that before?” and I would be so happy over the discovery, and disappointed when it turned out only to be a dream.

I don’t agonize over first sentences and last, I tend to go with the first things that come to mind. But I do edit the first and the last chapters very carefully and reflect over whether they are the best start and the best ending for the story. I usually know what the ending will be, and work towards it during the first draft. Since I only plan the plot sketchily, a lot changes during writing and editing, and chapters tend to change places too. I regard it as experiments, and try different configurations to find the chapter sequence and plot structure that suits the story the best.

nordaustlandetQ) As a Scandinavian, do you find that your harsh and beautiful environment influences your writing? If it does, do you involve it intentionally or does it just force its way into your writing? I ask this because I spent much of my life in Canada, and I have a great love/hate relationship with freezing weather and snow, but there’s no avoiding how wonderfully dramatic that kind of weather and landscape is.

A) The more I keep writing, the more I see how much the Scandinavian landscapes and environments influence my writing. I thought maybe it didn’t, but with Not Dark Yet I really see it clearly. That said, Not Dark Yet is not necessarily set in Scandinavia, since the climate and landscape of southern Scandinavia is shared with much of the rest of Europe, and the landscape of northern Scandinavia is similar to that of Alaska and Northern Russia.

All of the natural world influences my writing a lot, from climate and landscape, to animals and plants, and the living conditions for the people in it. These themes will probably continue to recur in my stories, whether they are set in the past or present or future.

beneaththeliquidskin_coverQ) Let’s move on to your writing method. I like to heavily outline my story with 3×5 cards and then manipulate them as I go along. Do you outline a lot or just proceed with a general idea of where you’re heading with the story?

A) I only make a very loose outline and go from there. That does tend to make for a lot of changes in editing and sometimes I have to print everything out to be able to move chapters around like a puzzle to try out various sequences. Cards might be a better way to do that. But every time I plan a story in detail, by the time I’ve arrived there, a lot has changed. I usually have an image I start with, and an ending, and try to reach that no matter how far removed it seems to be from the start. Sometimes I begin with the ending. For novels I see that planning a general structure is a good idea, but not go into details. Often it feels like I’m reading a story as I write. I’m writing it, but I’m also the story’s first reader.

Q) Do you have a strict writing schedule or get your work done in whatever windows the day offers? Do you write every day?

A) I would like to write or edit every day, but that’s not always possible. I don’t believe in a very strict schedule, because as a writer, I also need the time between projects to grow new ideas and inspiration and information and get new impulses and learn new things useful for writing. And some days the writing is just not there, while other times editing must take the front seat. I do like to edit as well, so that’s almost as fun as writing new things. I blame the liking for editing on my days as a computer gamer, where doing things over and over, while improving a little bit every day, was part of the game. Without that I wouldn’t have had the patience for round after round of editing.

Flash Fiction Intl_FINAL.inddQ) I think I saw that you have a new novel in the final stages of editing/polish. Can you give us a little teaser on what that one is about? And what are you plotting next, writing-wise?

A) I have a fantasy novella in the works I wrote a long time ago and didn’t know how to edit into shape. With more writing and editing experience, the novella has finally found its form. It’s about a scientist who has discovered that the Earth orbits the sun and not the other way around, as people believed for centuries, and is trying to convince her colleagues about this, despite many difficulties. The story is a twisted fairytale set in a city built on an enormous spiraling conch. I even think there’s a mummy in there too.
I’m also editing a novel set in the same world as Not Dark Yet, but introducing new characters. I can’t say much about it yet, since it will hopefully go into slush soon.

Q) Those ideas sound great! This has been awesome! I like to finish up with my guests by asking the same three questions so here we go: If you had to place a line from one of your books on your headstone, what would it be?

A) I think I would prefer this famous haiku by Basho:

summer grasses
all that remains
of warriors dreams

Q) I love haiku! What is your favorite restaurant and what is your favorite meal there?

A) (see answer below)

Ice aerial

Photograph courtesy of Karen Leigre.

Q) If you could be an animal, what would it be and why?

A) Since I don’t have a favorite restaurant, I’ll give you three animals instead. I would have loved to be a snow leopard roaming the Himalayas, although in a world that was not getting warmer and warmer and having less and less space for far-roaming animals such as the snow leopard.

I have seen images of the beaches of South Georgia in the southern sea, not far from Antarctica. The King Penguins there seem to be living in a primal paradise, with the ocean, the snow-covered mountain, and grassy meadows. One Norwegian wildlife photographer has called the conditions there “paradisiacal”, and I would agree. Being a King Penguin there looks like the perfect life. But sadly, also this population is shrinking.

polar bearThird, the life of a polar bear in an Arctic that was not vanishing, but stable and still containing sea ice and food, looks like a hard, but beautiful animal life. Like the snow leopard, the polar bear roams vast distances, and it is perfectly suited to its habitat.
Yet with the world being what it is today, I think I prefer being a human.

Thank you so much for interviewing me for your blog.

You are welcome! I’d like to thank Berit Ellingsen for dropping by the blog and participating in this wonderful chat about her books and writing process. If you didn’t already pick up on this, Not Dark Yet is fabulous and I highly recommend it.

Also, I’ve included my entire FACEBOOK conversation with Berit below, from the day she was kind enough to respond to my note on her book, and we talked about some of the fascinating elements of her story:

“Richard Ellis Preston Jr: For starters, I’d like to put my reaction to “Not Dark Yet” here, right after I read it: “Just finished “Not Dark Yet” by Berit Ellingsen. Her novel was recommended by Jeff VanderMeer and Ann VanderMeer as a part of their Winter Mix Tape Storybundle. “Not Dark Yet” is a brilliant story about human love and frailty in a time of earth-catastrophe, written with a crystal clear sense of the moment but also haunted by a dreamlike undercurrent of something akin to synchronicity. One of those books you don’t soon forget.”

Berit Ellingsen: Thank you so much, Richard! Very happy to hear you enjoyed it! What examples of synchronicity did you find?

Tao_Te_ChingRichard Ellis Preston Jr.: Yay I get to discuss with the author! It was a really cool sense, Berit, and I’m not sure if “synchronicity” is the right word, which is why I added “akin to,” but I’ll elaborate. I had to look up the term to make sure I’m applying it the way I want to, and Jung’s description of “(synchronistic) events are ‘meaningful coincidences’ if they occur with no causal relationship, yet seem to be meaningfully related” seems right. 1) The intense, (apparently epileptic?) bright light which rises nightly inside the narrator and takes him away from the physical world seemed to me to be strongly but inexplicably linked to the powerfully described interior experience of death (brightness) for the monk in the shrine when he performed what I assume is Sokushinbutsu. Both experiences, though causally unrelated beyond the narrator passing the mummy in the shrine on a tourist visit, seem to be related and important because they both seem to signal a return to nothingness, or a Tao-like absorption back into the whole, as the narrator senses so strongly at the end of the book. 2) Also, the attack of the owl and the out-of-whack storms and balances of the natural world are superficially separate but more easily related, as natural elements mankind alters and seeks to control turn on him in a chaotic result proving potentially deadly for both parties involved.

Richard Ellis Preston Jr.: Now that I’m thinking about it, I also would like to add that perhaps the narrator is the monk reincarnated/reborn in the Buddhist tradition, which would be interesting in the sense that through his meditations and purely natural self-mummification he has earned glimpses of the brightness (enlightenment) of Nirvana but the collapse of the natural world has screwed both his and the world’s evolving consciousness up as well. The narrator and the world are sitting in a heap of bad karma, literally.

VanderMeer Story BundleBerit Ellingsen: That’s an impressively thorough reading and understanding, Richard Ellis Preston Jr.! You are right on all accounts. Are you familiar with the Buddhist and Taoist traditions? They certainly inspired the book.

Richard Ellis Preston Jr.: Thanks, Berit – that’s quite a compliment coming from you. I’m big into the Tao and meditation, so I’m familiar with some elements of the Buddhist tradition. I was aware of the monk self-mummification, but I had to look up the actual word for it. That chapter was one of my favorites in the book.

Berit Ellingsen: Wow, Richard, I’m so glad and surprised to hear that. I actually thought most people would dislike that chapter because it looks so extreme from the view of a modern western life. I submitted the chapter a few places but I don’t think they liked it much. Some readers have said they enjoyed it. I’m impressed by your knowledge of the Taoist and Buddhist traditions. I find contemplative taoism and zen Buddhism say some very important things about life. When I researched the mummification, the articles emphasized that it was relatively rare, although mummies are found in Japan, Korea, China and Tibet. Probably other East-Asian countries too.

Richard Ellis Preston Jr.: The Tao is the best tool I personally have to understand life. I thought the monk chapter was a vivid, non-judgmental look into a real ritual I had never seen before. You did a fantastic job on the book. You certainly won me over as a fan. Bravo.”


berit_bearBerit Ellingsen is the author of two novels, Not Dark Yet (Two Dollar Radio), and Une ville vide (PublieMonde), as well as a collection of short stories, Beneath the Liquid Skin(Queen’s Ferry Press). Berit’s work has been published in W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International, SmokeLong Quarterly, Unstuck, Litro, and other places, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the British Science Fiction Association Award. Berit travels between Norway and Svalbard in the Arctic, and is a member of the Norwegian Authors’ Union.

Other works
Not Dark Yet
Une ville vide
The Humanity of Monsters
Flash Fiction International
Beneath the Liquid Skin

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Author Angela D. Mitchell Interview & Her New Novella, “Dancing Days”

It’s my honor and privilege to welcome author Angela D. Mitchell as a guest on my Bag of Good Writing Blog today. She is an accomplished author and she’s here to talk writing, author PR, “Falada,” fairy tales and her new novella, “Dancing Days.” Let’s get to it!

Q: Welcome to the blog, Angela!
A: Thank you! It’s great to be here.

Q: First things first, so please introduce us to your new fantasy novella, “Dancing Days,” and perhaps let us in on the genesis of your story idea.IMG_2027A: My novella Dancing Days was inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Red Shoes.” The original story is about vanity and punishment (especially female vanity) – Karen, a little girl, lies and schemes for the beautiful red shoes, and eventually finds that she can’t remove them – and that wearing them, she is cursed to dance without stopping, leading her to a brutal repentance.

In my own take, I wanted to go beyond the cautionary fairy tale and its spoiled little Karen and bring it into today’s world, to the urban fantasy niche, telling the story of a girl who is so warped by her own poverty and need that there is no price she won’t pay to escape them.

Enter the red shoes. But they come with a heavy price. And she continues to pay that price right into adulthood, hiding the curse of the red shoes because she loves them just as much as she hates them, and they have blessed her life just as greatly as they’ve cursed it. I also wanted to let her tell her story herself, in the first person, so that it reads almost like a confessional.

I was really excited by the possibilities of my new take on the story – I’d originally written it as a short story that was published in Fables Magazine years back, where I was very proud that it won the Reader’s Choice Award for that year, but the idea never left me, and over the last few years I kept thinking of my Karen, and I felt there was more to say. So I decided to really tell the story I wanted to tell, and expanded that original short into a full-length novella. I loved the idea that vanity and greed weren’t just there to curse Karen, but also to empower and drive her in her struggle to escape extreme poverty. Being able to explore those ideas in a novella allowed me to develop Karen as a complex and eventually sympathetic character, and her will, relentlessness, and yearning became the foundation for “Dancing Days.”

It’s a tragic and very gothic take on the story, but there’s also suspense, romance, and unexpected magic, and I really hope people enjoy it.

Q: ‘Gothic’ is always up my alley. You have also recently released another novella, titled “Falada.” Can you tell us a bit about that story as well?

FaladaA: Falada is directly inspired by the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, “The Goose Girl.” In that story, the heroine is set up to marry a distant king, but is victimized almost immediately by an evil maid. Everything that follows happens because she is unable to (or afraid to) speak up. I always loved the story (and especially the character of Falada, the talking horse), but I was frustrated with the heroine’s passivity.

So as with “Dancing Days,” I wanted to use some of the original story’s major elements, but spin them to create what I felt might be richer and more complex motivations for everyone from the heroine (named Géanna in my story, from the Irish for ‘goose’), to her mother (a powerful witch-queen), to the maid Marah, and to Falada himself. And most especially, to turn the original idea of simple cruelty and betrayal on its head, so that in fact it is actually ultimately a story of love and sacrifice.

Q: You certainly seem to feel comfortable in the wild, wooly and weird realms of fairy tales. Which fairy tales are your favorites and how did those lead to Dancing Days and Falada?

A: I was always inspired by fairy tales as a child, and alongside Tolkien and Lewis, they were my first real exposure to fantasy as a genre. I especially loved the combination of savagery and innocence, the idea of going into the forest to find the magic, and that a happy ending wasn’t a guarantee. I also loved that fairy tales are predominantly about girls and women, as heroines and as villains. As a little girl who loved Tolkien’s Eowyn and who kept looking for more fantasy heroines, fairy tales provided an unexpected glimpse of girls and women who faced danger and found strength and empowerment.
My favorite fairy tales tended to be the darker ones – in addition to “The Red Shoes” and “The Goose Girl,” I especially loved “Allerleirauh” (and the Perrault take on this same motif in “Donkeyskin”) “The Wild Swans,” “King Thrushbeard,” and “The Snow Queen.”

Q: As writers we all have our imaginary environments which haunt us and continually seem to demand that our story appear within their snowglobes. For you, what is the great attraction of writing inside the fairy tale realm, and have you written other stories in other genres?

Betrayals of WomenA: My primary genre is fantasy, but I’ve also written some darker, horror-tinged pieces like “The Bridge,” (a gothic, twisted “Beauty and the Beast” exploration with a female troll at the center) or the story “Safe,” from my short story collection The Betrayals of Women., in which a little girl chooses to knowingly get in the car with a predator rather than sit there one more hour alone and waiting in the rain.

For me, the power of a myth or fairy tale archetype is the excitement of exploring why a certain aspect has remained so fascinating or powerful through the ages. It’s not so much wanting to retell a story we already know, as it is about my becoming inspired by a particular idea and then wanting to spin that idea into something new and original.
For instance, I was always frustrated by the common trope of the woman who is forbidden like a child from doing something (usually one specific thing), but who then always cracks, often leading to the ruin of herself and even of mankind as a whole. These kinds of tales include Eve and the apple, Pandora and the box, Bluebeard’s bride, Psyche and Cupid, and others.

The BridgeSo I began to think about these ‘betrayals’ of women, and what they were actually saying, and thought it would be interesting to weave them all together into my own tapestry, in which I gave the women what I felt might be more understandable motivations than sudden impulse – and that became the title story for my short story collection. In my take, Eve isn’t weak when she eats the apple, she’s actively choosing knowledge over innocence, and when Pandora opens the box, she does so in knowing retribution against those who shun and fear her. Meanwhile, in my version, Bluebeard’s bride never opens the door of the bloody chamber at all. He asked her for one thing, she agreed, and she sticks to the bargain (and so she never finds out who or what her husband may be capable of).

What’s great about these kinds of explorations is that they have become a whole subgenre in fantasy fiction now. So I was exhilarated when I reached adolescence and discovered wonderful authors like Angela Carter and Robin McKinley, who used some of those classic motifs to create brand-new stories, villains and brave heroines, and complex worlds. Carter brought a grown-up sensuality and horror to the fairy tale universe, while McKinley showed me complex and powerful yet vulnerable heroines who inhabited those worlds in brand-new ways, in gorgeous books like The Hero and the Crown, Rose Daughter, Spindle’s End, Sunshine, and others. McKinley also did a gorgeous novel based on the “Donkeyskin” fable in her story Deerskin, and as with Sunshine, it’s a great example of a fantasy story that’s as much horror tale as it is fairy tale.

Even just this year, Naomi Novik made the New York Times bestseller list by exploring a host of classic fairy tale elements (especially “Beauty and the Beast”) in her wonderful fantasy novel Uprooted.

So there’s always a new way to explore those old archetypes and ideas – they persist for a reason. While I do occasionally branch out into urban fantasy and horror, I’ll probably always sneak in a fairy tale or classical myth reference here or there.

Q: You have written a lot of plays. What is the biggest difference, as you first sit down to write your story, between attacking a play format and that of a novel/novella?

A: With me, I always know right away if it’s going to be a play because I’ll just hear the dialogue, the rhythmic back-and-forth cadence between specific voices. I’ll get the idea shakespeare-spoilersfor the first scene or two simply because I can already hear the conversation in my head. I wrote my two-act comedy Aggro, for instance, because I could already hear the first conversation in my head – the one in which a woman tells her husband she’s just lost her job.

Plays are typically about revealing story and motivation through a kind of pure dance of dialogue, while fiction is really about getting that big idea and wanting to move in, explore it, paint the world, describe it, and bring it to life. And then live there awhile.

Q: As a full-time publicist and media expert, I’d like to zero in on a topic close to the heart of many indie writers: in this day and age of our indie-book-saturated internet, could you tell us a self-PR book strategy (outside of hiring you to do it, of course) that seems to be working well for indie authors an perhaps another one which is proving to be an ineffective waste of energy and time?

A: First off, one of the ironies of my 15 years as an independent publicist is that despite my experiences promoting wonderful creatives, artists, studios, festivals, photographers and musicians, I’m just really getting a feel for the world of literary and book publicity over the past year, so I’m not as much of an expert as I’d like to be. It’s incredibly complex and challenging, but also very exciting right now, because there are so many new opportunities for authors to simply get their work seen on their own terms.

I think the biggest challenge for most authors today – especially for indie authors – is that self-promotion can be a massive undertaking – it’s exhaustive and can easily become a full-time job that overtakes your writing time if you let it. But on the other hand, it’s so crucial – promoting your work is the only thing that’s going to build your audience and get you that readership that will continue to grow as your body of work does. Unfortunately, day by day, with the constant white noise of the web, all that self-promotion work is more important than ever, from blog tours, giveaways, and discounts, to social media and maintaining those constant review submissions. They’re all are just as important as that wonderful story or that perfect line of beautiful prose.

With that said, in terms of PR tools that can’t go wrong? Be prepared. You may not be a New York Times bestseller yet, but you ought to look like you are. This means that you should have a press kit that you keep up to date on a constant basis, and that includes one-page promotional pieces on each book or major work you’ve published. Spotlight the great reviews, promote accolades and awards, and use social media in a way that makes readers feel appreciated. Maintain connections with past and potential reviewers, and be respectful and appreciative of their time and attention. Promote each positive review you get on social media, and make sure you add mentions of them to the appropriate areas on sites like Amazon and Goodreads, etc.

In addition, it’s vital to have a clean, attractive and easy to navigate website (even better if you’re blogging about your work, or even generally about the kind of fiction you yourself like to write), and most of all, make sure your site, materials and releases always include a way for editors and reporters to reach you quickly and easily, even if it’s just via a dedicated Gmail address.

It’s always invaluable to quantify where you fit. Which authors would your book most likely sit beside on a shelf? And it goes beyond the literary — is there a television show, movie franchise, or band that has the same sensibilities, style, or storytelling approach? You can use that knowledge in so many ways to expand your own readership and fanbase.

Meanwhile, although I’m a big PR fan over advertising, I do think that savvy advertising can be useful and powerful, even on a budget, but you just want to be careful that you’re not preaching to the choir. Thus far, I’ve found that some indie ad promotions and services aren’t as useful as they might be because they’re really focused on reaching writers, not readers. This isn’t everyone, but it is a fair number, so it’s always best to really do your research, check out stats, and when in doubt, go with avenues that are dedicated to reaching wide reader bases, alongside very focused and keyword-centric Facebook and Twitter campaigns.

Q: Which social media platform do you think is working best for indie authors right now? Twitter? Facebook?

A: I think Twitter is incredibly valuable for staying in touch with your readership and for keeping the information flowing. But I actually think Facebook is more powerful for finding new readers and audiences overall. Facebook is a slower and more thoughtful environment that’s all about reading, scrolling, posting, etc., while Twitter is more brief and of the moment. We don’t tend to leisure over Twitter the way we might over Facebook.

Both Twitter and Facebook are great places to get your readers excited about helping get the word out about your work, so giveaways, special promotions and discounts always work especially well on those platforms too. The main thing is to build your brand while encouraging interaction and sharing – each share gets you in front of a new potential audience, a new potential reader.

Q: You (and I) are both fully participating in a new (2014) author publishing collective called Westmarch publishing. How would you describe your experiences with Westmarch so far?

A: Really remarkable – the best of all worlds. It’s a tremendous mix of writing, editing, and creative talent, and I’ve found it to be one of the richest and most rewarding WestmarchFinal_greenexperiences of my life as a writer. It’s been such a treat to work alongside some of the best and most dedicated authors I know (yourself included!), and to exchange ideas, strategies, support, appreciation, and more.

I think the best aspect of Westmarch for me is not only the continuous source of joy, fellowship and encouragement I’ve received, but also the ongoing and continuous exchange of ideas and strategies in today’s ever-changing world, on everything from literary sales, marketing, and promotion, to audience and readership development, and more.

Q: Thanks, Angela–it has been wonderful to get to work with you as well! Now, just a few of my Actor’s Studio questions you need to answer, and then you may escape back to your writing desk.

1) What is your favorite restaurant? Either Antoine’s in New Orleans, Agnanti in Astoria, New York, or Les Halles in NYC.

2) If you could be reincarnated as an animal, which one would you choose? A wild orca. Seeing them in the wild is one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve had while living in the Pacific Northwest, and they’re magnificent creatures. And they’re so connected – there’s such a sense of life, vitality, language, and connectedness among the wild orca families, it’s a really special thing. So yeah, that’s what I’d come back as.

3) If you could pick one line from one of your novels as your tombstone epitaph, what would it be? From Falada: “I was free—a creature of the wide world—and I could only be what I was.”

Richard: I learned a lot today–this was great! Thanks so much, Angela D. Mitchell!

Angela: Thank you – it was a pleasure and a privilege.


Angela D MitchellAngela Mitchell is a writer, columnist and playwright whose stories have appeared in FABLES MAGAZINE, ANOTHEREALM, TERROR TALES, and more. Her story “Until My Dancing Days Are Done,” received the Reader’s Choice Award from FABLES MAGAZINE and will soon be released as the expanded novella DANCING DAYS. Her book of short stories THE BETRAYALS OF WOMEN is available now, along with her story THE BRIDGE, and her just-released novella FALADA.

Angela has always been inspired by fairy tales and legends, as well as by authors like Robin McKinley, Angela Carter, Gregory Maguire, Peter S. Beagle, and others who found new magic in the oldest of stories. She brings to her worlds a delicate sense of dread and enchantment, and of beauty and beastliness around every corner.

Other works soon to be released by Angela via Westmarch Publishing include the novella DANCING DAYS, the novel VAN GOGH SKY, and a memoir of her childhood experiences in crossing the Atlantic Basin, entitled 1001 POTENTIAL CATASTROPHES AT SEA. Her plays include AGGRO, BETWEEN THE WISH AND THE THING LIFE, and MISSING THE COMET.

Author Robert Kroese on his successful DIS Trilogy Kickstarter and new novel City of Sand

Author Rob Kroese is a prolific novelist who operates in both the independent and traditional publishing worlds. Today I’ll ask him about his recent DIS trilogy Kickstarter (it was fully funded in a lightning flash but ongoing so you can still support it and get free copies of his novels and other cool rewards!) and his latest novel City of Sand, which is something of a genre-departure for him.

Richard: Welcome to the blog, Rob! First I’d like to discuss your latest Kickstarter project which has already topped its funding goal but is active with reward goodies through Thursday, April 9th, 2015. Please tell us a bit about the DIS Trilogy, which your kickstarter is fueling.

65b573b5c3247db1671cbf49545af0a8_originalRob: Thanks, Richard! In 2012, my satirical epic fantasy novel Disenchanted was published by 47North, Amazon’s sci-fi/fantasy imprint. It was a lot of fun to write, and it was well received by readers and reviewers. I’ve been meaning to publish more adventures set in the land of Dis for a while, and finally decided it was time. I’m doing two sequels, Disillusioned and Distopia. Both books will be independently published, which means I’ve got to handle the editing, cover design, marketing, etc. all myself.

The Dis trilogy is made up of three vaguely related novels that take place in the mythical land of Dis. Disenchanted tells the story of Boric the Implacable, an undead king who must travel across Dis to rid himself of an enchanted sword and finally get some peace. I’ll be following up Disenchanted with Disillusioned, which tells the tale of Wyngalf the Bold, a young missionary who realizes that he is the only one who can save the land of Dis from the scourge of dragons. Distopia, which completes the trilogy, follows a knight named Vergil who wishes he had been born during Dis’s heroic age, when men fought monsters and dragons–but soon has more adventure than he ever wanted.

53fc8c371a1ee5d9e89690fd5781ab2c_originalRichard: The speed of your DIS Trilogy kickstarter funding was blinding—fulfilled in what, three days? How do you explain such quick success?

Rob: Honestly, I’m a little shocked myself. It took just over three days to meet my goal of $3,000. Currently the project is just over $3,500, and we might actually hit $4,000 by the target date of April 9. Maybe the recent death of Terry Pratchett has left people craving more humorous fantasy? Whatever the explanation, it’s very gratifying to see this level of support for a project.

Richard: R.I.P Terry Pratchett. As an aside, a number of my readers have compared my writing (in a small way) to Terry’s over the years and I’ve quietly worn that as a little badge of honor. It’s tough to lose him so early. But enough about my ego and back to our discussion at hand. If you had an advice for Kickstarter project newbies, what would that be? What elements of your project were fails, in your opinion, and which elements proved the biggest successes? *(By the way, Rob’s DIS Kickstarter is still running and you can check it out by clicking on the graphic link just below.)

DisBooks-300x211Rob: Beyond the basics of making a clear, convincing pitch for your project, I’d say it’s Cover_Kindle-267x400very important to offer compelling rewards to backers. I don’t necessarily mean expensive rewards; often the best rewards are intangible. For example, with the Dis Trilogy, I’m giving higher-level supporters the chance to have a geographic feature in the mythical land of Dis named after them. Ideally, you want each level to seem like a slightly better value than the one below it. For example, at the $5 level, the supporter gets a single ebook. At the $10 level, they get not two, but three ebooks (the two Dis books and an additional bonus book). So a $5 pledge is a reasonably good value, but the $10 pledge seems more attractive. And the higher you go, the more you get for your money.

Richard: Last but not least, let’s discuss your latest novel, CITY OF SAND (disclaimer: I was one of the development editors on the manuscript and I think it’s great, so there) from indie author collective Westmarch Publishing. It’s a mix of old gumshoe noir (Chinatown) and mind-bending Philip K. Dick, as you have described it. Can you give us a brief introduction to the novel?

City of Sand Cover - KindleRob: As you mentioned, the idea behind City of Sand was “Chinatown as told by Philip Dick.” I’ve always loved stories where the protagonist’s own perceptions and memories of reality are called into doubt. I worked for several years in Silicon Valley, and I only found out afterwards how badly the groundwater is has been polluted in that area by tech companies. It was a disturbing sort of realization, that this supposedly “clean” industry is responsible for some of the most polluted groundwater in the country. It reminded me of the insidious corruption that characterizes noir movies like Chinatown. I thought it would be interesting to combine those two elements: a detective is trying to solve a conventional murder, but the truth is more horrifying than he can even imagine.

Richard: City of Sand is very different from your previous books – such as the humorous Mercury series – what was it like for you playing in this new ‘sandbox?” (canned laughter, applause)

StarshipGriftersCover600x900-266x400Rob: To be honest, it was HARD. I like writing fast-paced, silly novels with a lot of explosions and jokes. Writing a novel like City of Sand is almost like work. I think it turned out pretty well, but I’m going to stick to jokes and explosions for a while.

Richard: You (and I) are both participating in a new (2014) author publishing collective called Westmarch Publishing. How would you describe your experiences with Westmarch so far, as compared to your fully independent and traditional publishing house (47North) projects?

Rob: There are advantages and disadvantages so independent publishing. The advantages are mainly that you have more control over the product and you net a higher percentage of the sales price on your books. One of the big disadvantages is that publishing a book is a lot of work, and requires several different skillsets, such as developmental editing, WestmarchFinal_greenproofreading, and graphic design. Most people don’t possess all these skills, and it’s always a bad idea to try to edit or proofread your own book. A collective like Westmarch ameliorates those disadvantages by allowing us to take advantage of other authors’ talents and abilities. I’ve done two books with Westmarch so far, and both Dis books will be release as Westmarch titles as well. I think it’s a fantastic way to publish.

Richard: Now, just a few of my Actor’s Studio questions you need to answer, and then you may escape back to your writing desk. 1) What is your favorite restaurant? 2) If you could be reincarnated as an animal, which one would you choose? 3) If you could pick one line from one of your novels as your tombstone epitaph, what would it be?

cover1-266x400Rob: 1) Waffle House. Well, maybe not my favorite, but it did sustain me on a motorcycle trip across the country last year.
2) Is this like on The Wire, McNulty’s boss asks him where he doesn’t want to be transferred, so he can screw him by putting him on harbor patrol? I don’t think I’m going to answer this one, because I’m afraid you’ll pull some strings and prevent me from being a fox. I mean ostrich. I want to be an ostrich. Not a fox.
3) “So it turns out my linoleum installer is in league with Satan.”

LOL! Thanks, Rob Kroese!

Author BIO and Contact Information

Author Rob KroeseRobert Kroese’s sense of irony was honed growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan – home of the Amway Corporation and the Gerald R. Ford Museum, and the first city in the United States to fluoridate its water supply. In second grade, he wrote his first novel, the saga of Captain Bill and his spaceship Thee Eagle. This turned out to be the high point of his academic career. After barely graduating from Calvin College in 1992 with a philosophy degree, he was fired from a variety of jobs before moving to California, where he stumbled into software development. As this job required neither punctuality nor a sense of direction, he excelled at it. In 2009, he called upon his extensive knowledge of useless information and love of explosions to write his first novel, Mercury Falls. Since then, he has three more books in the Mercury series; a humorous epic fantasy, Disenchanted; and a quantum physics noir thriller, Schrodinger’s Gat. His latest book is Starship Grifters.

Email Rob at

Connect with Rob on Facebook

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The Wonderful Cover Designs & Art of Author Roberto Calas

I would like to introduce you to author/illustrator Roberto Calas on the blog today, and I’m excited to have him here. Roberto is one of those Renaissance men who can do Map_Tagged_PurpleScarab_Final_1500more than one thing well, and he is both an accomplished writer and a working book cover designer. Roberto designed the book cover for my The League of the Sphinx: the Purple Scarab novel and we’ll look at that later on. He also designed the book’s interior map of ancient Egypt which is age-ready and fantastic.

*(interior map for The League of the Sphinx:The Purple Scarab designed by Roberto Calas seen here on left.)

Roberto loves history much in the same way I do and he always provides a fun, informative interview, so let’s get to it!

Q) Okay, well, let’s start with your writing. You have completed the three books of your Scourge trilogy; can you introduce a new reader to the main premise of the series?

ScourgeCover_New_250Roberto: Thanks very much for having me on your blog, Richard. And yes, I’d love to talk about The Scourge. The book is a historical fantasy, set toward the end of the 14th century, in England. And while I pride myself on historical accuracy, this is not exactly your father’s England. Well, not your great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather’s England either. This England has been afflicted by another great plague. Only, this plague turns its victims into mindless demons. The Archbishop of Canterbury forbids travel north of the Thames River, where the plague is much worse. But one man defies the Church. Sir Edward Dallingridge (a real 14th century knight and the real builder of Bodiam Castle) travels north with two of his fellow knights, because his wife was in Suffolk when the plague broke. Sir Edward is determined to find his wife and bring her home. But he has more than a hundred miles of demon-ravaged landscape to cross if he wants to reach her. And, as he learns, it’s not just the plague victims that he has to worry about.

NostrumCover900x600Q) I see that you travel to England a fair bit (I have been there twice and I hope to go about 15 more times), and I have seen you post pictures of churches and possibly other buildings which appear in the Scourge series. Is your main character based on a real person or is he entirely fictional but placed in a historically accurate setting?

Roberto: Everything in the Scourge is absolutely historically accurate, except the parts that aren’t. I was painstaking in my research. Traveled to every place I wrote about. Spoke with innumerable members of the National Trust and English Heritage. Collected suitcases full of literature on castles, churches and villages. Read books on the period and the characters. I even did the damned audio tours and didn’t skip over the boring parts. How’s that for dedication? So, despite the fantastical elements of the story, the book reads like a true historical fiction. With real characters from history, real places and real events.

EmaculumQ) What is your writing method? I like to heavily outline my story with 3×5 cards and then manipulate them as I go along. Do you outline a lot or just proceed with a general idea of where you’re heading with the story?

Roberto: Ideas for stories are tiny seeds in my brain. No, seriously, when I was two, I put a twig with buds up my nose and part of it broke off. Was a real mess and my mom thinks a piece stayed in there. So I always like to think that the stories come from that tree. Um. Where was I? Oh, right, seeds in my brain. They start small, and I let them germinate and compete against each other until the strongest seed outpaces the others, and I realize that I have a story. When I finally go to write it, I determine characters and basic plot. Then I go into Excel and start plotting scenes (many of which will have already been catalog, tagged and released into the wild while the idea was gestating). I put down the keystone scenes, then spend a few days thinking of the other scenes. I try to get every scene in the book written down, along with brief, emotive notes about what has to go in the scene, or a snippet of dialog I thought of in that scene, etc. And when I have every scene plotted, I begin writing.

And, usually, I throw out about ½ to ¾ of the scenes and the story goes completely different places.

Q) That is very similar to my method, and I probably discard at least half of my original cards by the time I have finished. About your art skills–were you an art student or did you teach yourself?

Spring_1000Roberto: I’ve always had two loves in life: Coke and Twizzlers. And while eating and drinking those things, I found that enjoyed writing and making art. Of the two skills, I am by far a better writer than artist. Writing is the only thing I have ever been able to do better than anyone I know (not counting other authors, of course). I went to school for journalism, became a reporter, then magazine editor. And when the writing job market disappeared for a while in the 90s, I went back to school for design.

(*Book Design for Seasons of Truth:Spring on left by Roberto Calas)

Q) You run a book illustration business called Ravenscar and I see that you have done a fair number of covers. What has your experience been making covers with the author collective of Westmarch Publishing (of which we are both members)?

TheBigKeep_1200-641x1024Roberto: Making covers for Westmarch has been fantastic. We all know each other well (as well as you can know someone online (although I have met at least one of you)), and there is no pressure. There is only support. Because of this familiarity with the authors, I can really let myself go and try things that are way out there, knowing you won’t threaten to sue me or send someone over to remove my left kidney with a tuning fork. Some of my best covers have been for Westmarchers.

(*Cover design for The Big Keep seen at right by Roberto Calas)

Q) You manipulate a lot of stock images in your book covers, something that is very common now. What are the advantages and disadvantages of making art that way?

Ansible16_FinalishRoberto: Speed. To illustrate a cover by hand would take days and days and days. By using stock images, I can finish a cover in days and days and days. Wait a minute. What *is* the advantage to stock images? Hmm. Well, for one, my hand illustration skills can’t match some of the wonderful photographs out there. And while I tend to do a bit of hand illustration on most covers, I can speed things up by finding the perfect background, or the perfect character image. I also tend to use a 3D modeling and rendering to create elements that I need.

(* Cover design for Ansible 15716 by Roberto Calas)

Q: You have designed my The League of the Sphinx: The Purple Scarab novel cover and I love it. We had a bit of a false start with it, and then you just took off and found the perfect image. Can you tell me about the process you used, and how you came up with the scene?

Roberto: I find that with 75% of the covers, the first one doesn’t work. I think of the first cover as a burning arrow. It strikes somewhere in the dark, illuminating the target. And then it lights the entire field on fire, and creates a massive grass-inferno that ravages the land. But it allows me and the author to see where the target is and adjust accordingly. Shame about the fire, but eggs and omelets, eh?

rev1_LeagueOfSphinxFINAL_500With the final version of The Purple Scarab, you had shown me some samples of covers you liked, and mentioned that you liked having a central element that takes the attention. When you said this, I knew right away that the scarab had to be the central image. So I set off to create the beetle in Maya (a high-end 3D program). It took me about four days and six different versions to get the scarab right, but once the beetle came together, I knew everything else would fall into place.

I used a stock image of the pyramids at night as a background, painted a bit in the night sky, and put the scarab in place. I spent a long time on the typography before coming up with the Eye of Horus R, and that seemed to tie it all together.

Q) Yes, I adore that R! (And I’d also like to note that I am writing The League of the Sphinx series as R.E. Preston, to separate it from my regular-adult stuff. All of my future Kids, MG and YA books will be in R.E. Preston mode.) Now that the Scourge series is complete, what have you got coming up, writing-wise?

BoMM_Book2_Cover_LBRoberto: I’m finishing the last book in my fantasy series, The Beast of Maug Maurai, then writing a Scourge novella starring everyone’s favorite character from the series—Sir Tristan. And then I’m looking forward to writing a book I have been aching to write for five years: A historical fantasy about a thief in the 16th century.

(* Cover design for The Beast of Maug Maurai on left by Roberto Calas)

Q) If you had to place a line from one of your books on your headstone, what would it be?

Roberto: “In these times of madness, only madness will save us.” It’s not the best quote in the books, but it gets repeated again and again, in a number of different ways, and has come to kind of symbolize Edward’s struggle. I don’t have any tattoos at the moment, but I plan to have that tattooed on my arm in Latin soon.

Q) You live in Sandy Hook, NH. What is your favorite restaurant there, and your favorite meal?

Roberto: Sandy Hook is a beautiful little section of Newtown, Connecticut. No one had ever heard of it. Not until December 14, 2012, when a 20-year-old with an arsenal of weapons walked into the elementary school and killed twenty children and six teachers. I have two children, twins, and if we had not decided to put them into a magnet school the year before, they would have been there that day. It affected me more than I would ever have imagined. Seeing the flowers and candles and teddy bears piled up to my shoulders. Having to drive every day through a town that had become a memorial was a lot to handle. I still get tears in my eyes when I think about it. I could have lost my children. And many others did. The shooting took place less than a mile from my house, and I still feel a horrible black spot on my soul from that day.

Shit, why am I talking about this?

Sandy Hook is a beautiful place. I love The Hook restaurant (excellent pizza and the owner is a Miami Dolphins fan, like me). And the Newtown Library is one of the best small town libraries I have ever been in.

Richard: I don’t see how living so close to such a horrific event can leave a person unscathed. I thought of it when I typed the question, actually. But I am glad that you still think so highly of the place. And I’m sure your restaurant is nice but, the Dolphins? I can’t point fingers though, since my team is the repeatedly-imploding Redskins.

In conclusion, I’d like to thank Roberto Calas for dropping by the blog and having a chat about his writing and his art. If you are a writer looking for a cover artist I would highly recommend Roberto’s cover design, both for how the art looks and how professional he is to work with.


AuthorPic_ArmorRoberto Calas is an author and lover of history. His serial trilogy (The Scourge) is about a 14th century knight fighting his way through a demon-infested England to reunite with the woman he loves. And every bit of it is true except for the made up parts.

In addition to The Scourge series, Roberto has written The Beast of Maug Maurai (fantasy), and Kingdom of Glass (historical fiction in the Foreworld universe). He lives in Sandy Hook, Connecticut with his two children, and visits the United Kingdom on a monthly basis to be with his fiancée, Annabelle. Sometimes he fights demons to reach her.

You can learn more about Roberto on his website:
He’d be most appreciative if you liked his facebook page, too:
And if you feel you can only take 140 characters worth of him at a time, his twitter handle is, @robertocalas.