Author Bling

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Guest Post by Anthony Caplan


Voice is the quality in writing that lends authenticity to the experience of reading and compels a reader to trust that what he is doing is worthwhile. Like singers, a writer's voice gets stronger with training. Almost all writers have a sense of what their voice is; it's that combination of story setting and characterization that fits the author's range of authority, knowledge and expertise. Although voice can be confused with character, because usually an author speaks through his characters, either through dialogue or interior monologue, voice is more than just finding the intonation, accent and authentic mood to fit a specific character. It is about having the competency to range above and beyond the character's diction and mental frame of reference. After all, an author is the creator of a world, and that world has to be seamless and apparently boundless in all directions in the reader's imagination. The trick is a type of illusion, a leading of the reader's attention with smoke and mirrors elsewhere while the stage is being set.

As citizens of a liberal culture in which we are urged towards self-actualization, we are all supposed to find our true voice in our actual lives. What does that really mean, when someone is said to have found his or her voice? It is a proxy for achieving a place in the world. Most adults need to feel useful and accomplished. In Maslow's hierarchy of needs, acceptance and recognition come just below the apex of moral development. Acceptance and recognition from peers is usually reserved for people who have a voice, a say in what is being done and how it is being done. But as many people strive to have their voices heard, sometimes a cacophony results that leads nowhere. Look at Cliven Bundy in the news today as representative of a faction in adult America today that have lost their voice and never will find it again, seemingly.

In SAVIOR, I worked hard to get the voices of the characters right. I had the most fun with the villain, Samael Chagnon, whose voice is strong and compelling, and frightening in its lucidity. Al's voice is calm and sure and honest and therefore sometimes despairing. Ricky, Al's teenage boy, is hopeful, sometimes angry. For me, the greatest compliment so far in the reviews for Savior has come from a reviewer who had some difficulty with the book, but loved all the characters, even the minor ones, because they seemed alive and true. As a writer, that tells me I am on the right track.

Mayan rulers built pyramids and large urban centers in the Central American jungle, discovered astronomical and mathematical truths that would elude Europeans for several centuries, and enjoyed a flourishing society topped by royal kings and queens until they mysteriously disappeared. The Mayan people still are a force to be reckoned with in Guatemala and southern Mexico, however, and were only finally subdued by the Spanish in their strongholds in about 1690, more than 150 years after the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Nobody knows why the Mayan kings who built the world class cities at Copan and Chichen Itza disappeared, and it is only in the last ten or twenty years that archaeologists have finally unlocked the secrets of Mayan hieroglyphs that tell the story of their history and religious views. Misunderstandings about Mayan astronomy led to fears about the prophecy of the end of time in 2012, but there is still much to learn about their culture.

In Savior, Ricky comes across a Mayan tablet hidden in a back room of a Guatemalan surf shop in the town of Monterico. His father Al thinks it's a forgery but it turns out to be the Chocomal, a legendary artifact that contains a code that many believe holds the key to the creation of matter at the beginning of the Universe. Ricky wants to keep the Chocomal despite Al's misgivings, because it reminds him of his deceased mother, who loved all things having to do with Mayan culture. In fact, he thinks he hears her voice at times when he holds the tablet up close. Oddly, Al too has feelings of his former wife's presence when the tablet is near him. Until he is kidnapped by Los Santos Muertos, the LSM,  and taken off to their underground laboratory and tortured for the secrets of the tablet still in Ricky's possession.

Will Ricky find him and rescue him? It's his only hope besides death to escape the clutches of the LSM.

Knowledge is power. We live in the information age where even our personal information is valuable. Governments scoop up this knowledge about our private lives off the Internet like gigantic vacuum cleaners, sweeping it into computers. The computers churn out patterns, connections made in the oceans of information. By deciphering these patterns, our governments gain knowledge that provides vast power and an access to the lives of individuals undreamed of in past ages. The gain in security may pale in comparison to the corrupting influence of such absolute knowledge and power.

Megalomaniacs like Samael Chagnon, the leader of Los Santos Muertos, or LSM, in my book SAVIOR, know that the path to power runs through the world of knowledge, in this case, ancient knowledge that has lied buried in secret for millennia -- the hard won mathematical knowledge of the Mayan empire that carries the code of creation. With it, Chagnon will build a doomsday machine and  render world governments helpless before him. He believes Ricky's father knows the code, and tortures him to get him to reveal it. Al doesn't know the code. The only knowledge that matters to him now is information about his son, but as a prisoner of the LSM in an underground facility beneath the Alberta oil tar sands, that knowledge is inaccessible to him. Ironically, in the absence of such information, and using only his memories, senses and intuitions, Al gains knowledge and power that helps him survive until the final confrontation with evil itself.

 Savior on Amazon

A father and son stumble into the secret world of the Santos Muertos, a crime cartel bent on global domination. The son must find his father and keep the secret of the ancient Mayan code underlying the creation of matter in the universe from falling into the wrong hands.

A story of sacrifice and love.

A sample from Chapter One – The Hole:

The morning that Mary died, the television broadcast F5 tornado warnings in the mid-Atlantic, a man shot up a hospital in Fort Wayne, Dittohead Larry’s car dealership promised amazing deals in Kissimmee, and a crack opened in the sky that was getting bigger every day. Nobody noticed the crack, and nobody noticed that Mary and I had our two hands intertwined, as they had been for better or worse for seventeen years. Her face just held a remnant of the youthful girl I’d once known. The lines of intelligence around her eyes and the compassion that had burned brightly in them were fading before me.

She whispered something that I had to lean down to hear.

I pity you.

They were her final words. She was sure she was moving on, to a place beyond our comprehension and ability to touch. I have a hard time thinking about what I felt for her in the hospital. I wanted to turn off the television. There’s something so awful about a television in a hospital room. Now I would welcome the banality of it, the familiar numbing sensation and otherworldliness of it, especially the commercials. Yet, when I think about all the time I wasted watching television, I get angry with myself. We spend so much of our lives killing off any opportunity for wonder and grace; and then when it comes, we don’t recognize it until too late. But Mary, even in her dying, she was teaching me a lesson about how to live. I’m not sure about where she is–that place beyond our comprehension. Maybe it’s there for Mary. I can almost hear her voice. It’s the train that rips overhead like it would tear the roof off a house. I drop off the bunk and roll in a self-defense reflex. It disappears, leaving not even a Doppler, not even an echo of its passage.

I’m in a hole. I put my ear to the floor and can almost hear the ground water gurgling and working away at the stone. Blackness and the sound of the wind, not any real wind, are all I’ve got besides the resource of my senses. There’s almost nothing to feed on. Slowly the senses will atrophy and without them I will lose my mind. Not my soul. But a soul without a mind must be a tortured thing. Some would say they are the same, but I have proof of the contrary. His name is Samael Chagnon, and where he walks is a ruined place. Two, three steps and I come to the wall, the cold, wet, rough-plastered wall. Turn around 180 degrees and six steps back the other way. There is no sound, no light, no smell, nothing. But out of this nothing can come everything. Twice a day a vent opens in the wall. Somebody—I can hear the steps going away, the loud ringing of boot heels fading away as a corner is rounded—has slipped in a tray of cold rice and mush. The smell makes my head shake. Once in awhile there’s a piece of grisly chicken in it. It’s almost as good as sex. Then sometimes there are the beams of light shooting through the air over my head. It’s a grey light, not daylight, some kind of fluorescence, but it hits my eyes like the glory of God’s kingdom and lifts me to some other plane of existence. For a second it’s enough to keep me sane. It is a living hell. The devils that have imprisoned me here, the foot soldiers of Samael’s army, they call themselves Los Santos Muertos, expect me to roll over and forget who I am and die. But of course I have the resource, my memories to sustain me. I have to dole them out wisely though, because I don’t know how long I will be here. No, it’s a mistake to think that. That kind of thought lets in doubt, the pain of desiring light, touch, and mercy. The Dead Saints, Los Santos Muertos, make it a point not to feel any human emotions. They train themselves to seek out pain in themselves and force it on their prisoners. There is no mercy in this underground. No light. Only my sacred soul, but he will come to try and steal even that.

About Anthony Caplan:

Anthony Caplan is an independent writer, teacher and homesteader in northern New England. He has worked at various times as a shrimp fisherman, environmental activist, journalist, taxi-driver, builder, window-washer, and telemarketer, (the last for only a month, but one week he did win a four tape set of the greatest hits of George Jones for selling the most copies of Time-Life’s The Loggers.) Currently, Caplan is working on restoring a 150 year old farmstead where he and his family tend sheep and chickens, grow most of their own vegetables, and have started a small apple orchard from scratch His road novels, BIRDMAN and FRENCH POND ROAD, trace the meanderings of one Billy Kagan, a footloose soul striving after sanity and love in the last years of the last century. LATITUDES – A Story of Coming Home, released in the summer of 2012, is a young boy’s transformative journey overcoming dysfunction, dislocation and distance. His new book SAVIOR, a dystopian thriller, was published by Harvard Square Editions April 18, 2014. 

To find out more about Savior or the author, please visit  Anthony Caplan's website

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Monday, July 28, 2014

AR Simmons: An Author Interview

Image of AR Simmons

Welcome, AR Simmons.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I was born in Chicago where my mother’s family (recent German immigrants) lived. Dad was a country boy from the eastern Missouri Ozarks. After moving back to the hills, we worked a subsistence farm. My home today is on land cleared from the native forest by my grandfather. I worked as a carpenter and factory worker before entering the army at nineteen. I served a tour in the Far East. If I ever grew up, it was then.

My service experience gave me three important things: an appreciation of the cultural diversity of my country, an introduction to a world far different from my own, and the G. I. Bill, which paid for my education. In college (I was able to get Bachelor and Master degrees in four years), I majored in history and met a wonderful teacher from New Zealand who made my writing bleed. I refer to the red ink she used for corrections. 

I also met my wife and partner in college, where we had Art and Spanish classes together. We’ve been friends for a long time. She’s my first beta reader, my first copy editor, my illustrator, and my muse. She can be brutally honest. In fact, she told me (correctly) that my original draft of Bonne Femme was both over-crammed with scenes of dubious value, and totally unbelievable. While writing, I sometimes think Richard and Jill as us. Although I’m hardly Richard, she is close to being Jill.

What were you like at school?

I was smart and capable in elementary school, totally lost in high school, eager to get on with my life after a stint in the armed services in college, and a passionate teacher of history and spanish during my career in public education.

Which writers inspire you?

For simple style and setting, you can't beat Tony Hillerman. For passion of place and culture, you can't beat M.M. Kaye. Being an American, I have to mention the writer of the great American novel, Mark Twain.

Do you read much, and if so, who are your favorite authors?

I read a lot, but not as much as before I started writing. A body has to sleep sometime. Favorites? Mark Twain, Francis Parkman, Tony Hillerman, M.M. Kaye, Kipling ...  There are so many.

For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?

I like them all, but I'm really fond of reading my Kindle with white text and black background.

What is your favorite quote?

Life does not consist mainly—or even largely—of facts and happenings.
It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts forever blowing through one’s mind.

—Mark Twain

What book/s are you reading at present?

The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke

What genre are your books?


What draws you to this genre?

I like mysteries because I think that the human mind is a pattern finding thing. It’s why we see pictures in inkblots and clouds. We like to figure things out. I like suspense because we all like to be scared. (Think roller coasters and bungie jumping.) I like to have the reader emotionally invested. I want some of my characters to become precious to them. Then, when they are put in peril, the tension increases. I guess I’m a vicarious adrenaline junkie. I think most suspense readers are. I always try to have an intense climax scene. 

What are your ambitions for your writing career?

To gain a loyal readership and to entertain them. I just love doing an “Aw shucks” when someone tells me how much they enjoyed one of my stories.

When did you decide to become a writer?

Well, not after my first English Comp class. I had just started college after returning from the army. I was asked to stay after class to discuss my first essay assignment. My professor, a wonderful lady from New Zealand whom I consider to this day as the best teacher I ever knew, had some unkind things to say about my efforts. She also suggested that I drop her class and take “bone-head” English. I remember explaining that it had been some time since I’d been in school, and that I was “just rusty.” “No, this is more than rust,” she said. I stuck it out, and she made my writing bleed. It was the first time I knew that blue pencils were filled with red ink.

I decided I wanted to write fiction seriously sometime during graduate school while writing research papers in history. Come to think of it, maybe that research work is where I developed a passion for the investigation which is the heart of mystery novels.

Why do you write?

I grew up listening to my parents and grandparents tell stories around the dinner table. Spinning stories comes naturally to me. I also read a lot. I think that reading good books slowly, and thinking about them to the point that you become lost in them is the best way to learn to write. The short answer is that I just love to write. I even like editing my own work. Then there’s the feedback. Whenever someone tells me something about one of my stories that hits directly on the idea I was trying to convey, that is such a satisfying rush. I just love it. That’s all there is to it.

How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

Ten. My favorite is the 11th (working title: The Other Law).

What does your family think of your writing?

My wife thinks it’s good. The rest of the family thinks that it’s only me.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?

My first completed book, Men and Ideas; A History of Technology came when I was around 35.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Pay more attention to what she says. She's got better sense than you do.

Where do your ideas come from?

Musings, news events, and, believe it or not, listening to singer/song writers. A scrap of dialog from a movie, a television show, or another book may be the genesis. Of course, many of the ideas are the products of interaction between my characters: what would Jill do if Richard did that?

What do you think makes a good story?

All stories are about people and relationships. I have to have characters that mean something to me, and there has to be an interesting dynamic between them. Then there has to be a problem to solve (a victim to rescue, a criminal to catch, a love to win, a world to save, etc.) In the end though, it’s the characters. They have to come to life. If I don’t care about them and their plight, there’s really no point in reading (or writing) the book. 

Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?

A combination of the two. First, I develop an idea of the precipitating event, and then I imagine a conclusion. I develop central characters, the requisite minor characters (usually made up on the fly based on people I know, or amalgams of people I know). Then the story begins unfolding for me. One thing suggests another. At that point, it’s just go with the flow of ideas. Once the rough draft is finished, I construct a database of scenes. Since Richard is in all the stories, I usually include a field detailing when he knew what. Quite frequently, as in Call Her Sabine (RC #6) there are simultaneous stories going on. I need to coordinate them, so that requires two more fields. So it’s an outline/diary of the story. I hope that makes sense. 

Do you write full-time or part-time?

Full time now.

How much research do you do?

My wife and I take road trips to the locations used in the books when possible. Of course I do fact checking. In Canaan Camp I had to do research on everything from the Posse Commitatus to the weapons storage at Umatilla. Above my computer is a shelf containing DSM-V, the FBI’s Crime Classification Manual, a book on drug interactions, Bullfinch's Mythology, and several books on the history and lore of the Ozarks. Of course, you can’t beat the Internet.

Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?

I'm an early morning person. For years the time from 3:00 AM until 6:00 AM has been my best time for brain work and creativity. After that, it's when the mood strikes. I end up doing at least 60 hours per week.

Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

No. I ride a hot streak. If things are going well, I tend to keep at it. When I grow stale, I quit. I’m not a bean counter. I don’t have to be. I obsess. I usually set a timer so that I can take a break. Then I ignore the timer.

Do you let the book stew – leave it for a month and then come back to it to edit?
Yes. My writing has to cool enough so that I can read what I wrote rather than what I thought I wrote.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

Writing internal dialog not only of the main character, but of others including the bad guys. Sometimes nothing sets a mood better than intimate thoughts.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Find your voice. Write every day and please yourself. Creativity isn’t done by the numbers. Listen to criticism, but be true to yourself. If you don’t believe you, no one else will.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

From start to finish, I would say about six months. That takes me through to a “final” draft. Then the beta readers take over while I let it sit. The copy editing, cover work, and readying to publish usually takes another two to three months. I usually let the book rest long enough for me to be able to read what I wrote rather than what I thought I wrote. (For Bonne Femme that was several years.)

What is the easiest thing about writing?

For me, it’s writing dialog. I have a very good audio memory. I can hear my characters speaking. Believe it or not, I think I would recognize Jill’s voice if I heard it in the dark.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

Trashing all the “wonderful scenes” that really don’t belong in the novel is painful. I read somewhere that a pencil has two business ends, both of which should be employed liberally. Bonne Femme required about a 60% pruning job. Fortunate (or not), I’m a hoarder. I keep all versions in archives lest I inadvertently pitch out the baby with the bath water. I keep thinking that I can modify those scenes and use them in later stories, but I never do.

So, what have you written?

I have written 10 Mystery/Suspense novels, The Richard Carter series:

Bonne Femme
Cold Tears
Canaan Camp
Secret Song
The King Snake
Call Her Sabine
Road Shrines
Cold Fury
The Grass Widow’s Daughter

Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?

Richard Carter doesn’t consider himself brave, but he is. He always finds the strength to do what must be done. He is haunted by his Marine experiences in Somalia. He suffers from PTSD, survivor’s guilt, and bouts of clinical depression. Jill, his strength and lifeline, has made an uneasy peace with his law enforcement career, because she sees it as his vital therapy. She tries to tell him that things have just happened to him, but he insists that they are things he has done. Believe it or not, Abraham Lincoln is the emotional pattern for Richard. Lincoln was a man of immense sorrow and profoundly depressed most of his life. Yet, he was jovial and made almost everyone around him happier.
So don’t think that Richard is all gloom and doom. True, he carries a demon that cannot be exorcised because he refuses to write off to fate what he was forced to do in Somalia, but he primarily thinks of that only when he is alone. His wife and his job as a deputy keep him from the abyss. 

Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book?

Colin Firth as Richard maybe, and Cate Blanchett as Jill?

Where can we buy or see them?

Bonne Femme, Cold Tears, Canaan Camp, Secret Song, and The King Snake are available as ebooks at Kindle (Amazon), Nook (Barnes & Noble) and Smashwords (Kobo etc.)

Call Her Sabine and Devilry are available only in Kindle for the time being.

Road Shrines, Cold Fury, and The Grass Widow’s Daughter are presently undergoing copy editing.

Tell us about your book cover/s and how it/they came about.

My wife/partner/muse is my cover artist.

Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?

Yes, although it's still true that you can't judge a book by its cover.

What are you working on at the minute?

I'm redacting an intense mystery called Road Shrines that flashes forward from an abduction at a tribal store near Wounded Knee eighteen years ago. 

What’s it about?

1. A suspected serial killer.
2. A missing teenager.

Do you think that giving books away free works and why?

I believe that the importance of getting the book into the hands of readers cannot be overestimated. True, some of the freebies will be stored and never even opened, but who knows when one of your "gentle readers" might say the right word or make a recommendation that will pay off. Then again, remember that I write for the love of it, not to make a living.

What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?

We need feedback and promotion. A good review makes my day because it is always nice to run into intelligent and discerning readers who appreciate good work, right? Bad reviews come. Ah well. Seriously, an author must understand that his story simply won’t work for all readers. A critical review often will point out something that fails or needs worked on. Learn from it. Also, don’t get all wrapped in the star system, or else you’ll forget what a gift a good review is.

Do you have a strategy for finding reviewers?

Yes. I get the book into as many hands as possible. I also (and this is very important) research and follow book blogs. If anyone can help you, it has to be the good folks who commit their time to reading and getting the word out on new books. Reviews are the lifeblood of Indies because they rely on word of mouth and recommendations instead of purely on marketing dollars.

What do you do to get book reviews?

I contact good people like the one who owns this site.

Thank you for answering these questions. Could you let the readers know where to connect with you?

My links: