Saturday, March 14, 2009

Featured Author Interview: Danielle Ackley-McPhail!

Welcome to a special author interview, one of several that are appearing in celebration of Small Press Month! Today I'm visiting with Danielle Ackley-McPhail, who, incidentally, won an EPPIE last weekend for her anthology Bad-Ass Faeries 2. Congrats and welcome! And remember, readers, leaving a comment on today's post enters you into the drawing at the end of March for a great prize package~

So, Danielle, when did you first begin writing?

I have always written and even before I had the skills to write, I occupied myself with making up stories in my head. I think my serious story telling came out of my voracious reading habit. The first time my mother took me to a library she opened the door and said: "As many as you can carry." I've been reading ever since and in the reading I was becoming dissatisfied when the story ended...well, assuming it was a good story. I started continuing the story in my head when I went to bed at night...inserting myself into the plot, of course. It didn't make for a great night's sleep, but man, did it exercise my creativity. I've been going ever since. I think the only reason I don't have more book credits to my name is, then, I was too lazy to finish anything, and now, I haven't the time to dedicate the way I would like to. Still, I do manage quite a few short stories that have been published, and my second novel released in September 2008, so I do keep my hand in despite scheduling constraints.

Tell us about your latest writing project or published title.

This is tough. My latest published title is Tomorrow's Memories, by Mundania Press ( and it is a sequel to my first novel, Yesterday's Dreams.

In both books I incorporate and expand on Irish mythology. Basically Kara O'Keefe, a young woman descended from the Celtic Elves, the Sidhe, must sacrifice her prized possession, an heirloom violin, to rescue her family from financial ruin. In doing so she ends up at a pawnshop in the Village (NYC) and comes to the attention of both a member of the Sidhe and an ancient evil god. She becomes the prize in an all-out battle. In Yesterday's Dreams they win the battle, but the war is not over, there are several casualties, including Kara's father, and they all travel to Ireland and Tir na nOg to heal those that have not perished. They find the Sidhe of Ireland under seige and Kara must face ultimate evil once more to save those she loves.

Now, the novel in progress is much, much different! This one, Blood Will Tell, is a new kind of vampire novel. I can't give details at this time, but there is only very superficial resemblance to the vampires of legend. Right now it is under consideration by an agent, so we are keeping things quiet to ensure the idea stays original.

I also edit or contribute to a lot of anthologies. Those I am most known for are Bad-Ass Faeries, and Breach the Hull. Both were finalists for the 2007 Dream Realm Award, and Breach the Hull actually won. Bad-Ass Faeries is self-explanatory, and Breach the Hull is a military science fiction anthology. Both are published by Marietta Publishing (
How do you go about developing your characters?

I can't really say I develop them. To be absolutely honest, I discover them. Any time I try and specifically sculpt one, it turns out like Mr. Bill...very stiff and crude. But those I discover and draw out from the creative mix and learn who they are? Those take over the book and make it their own. I have to figure out what their motives are and their personalities, but it really is like they already exist and I'm just getting to know them: what they look like, why they do what they do, who they know and what they do for fun. It all just comes out without any calculated effort on my part. It makes the story very organic, and also, at time, very frustrating but I can't dispute the life force you can feel in the story when this unfolds properly.

How do you balance writing with the rest of your life?

Life? What life? I'm either working...or working...During the day I work for in publishing and all the other times I'm either writing books/stories or promoting them. If it wasn't for conventions I wouldn't get to have any fun. It's funny/scary, but my husband became an author just so he could spend time with me :)

Do you ever suffer from writer's block? If so, what do you do about it?

Hmmm...I have times I'm not inspired, but I don't like to think of them as writer's block because I'm quite capable of writing, I just don't have an idea. What I do then is read back over what I have already written. This way I find mistakes and polish what is there, keep what is going on fresh in my mind, and often end up with an idea of where to take things next, so I end up writing after all.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?

Reading...or making stuff...I am a costumer, and I sculpt costume horns for others. If there is a good movie out I'll even leave the house, though this is getting rarer and rarer. I hang out with my friends, but they are all genre fans's almost like research ;) Still fun.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book(s)?

Characters don't always do what you tell them to! In fact, sometimes they die even if you had plans for them later! The nerve. I don't use an outline because I find that, for me, the book goes where it wants too and if I went to the trouble of an outline, it usually just wastes time I could have been writing. That's just for me, though...I know others find outlines useful, it just doesn't work for me.

Thanks so much for being here today (and congrats on your EPPIE win!!). Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

You can find out more about me at, and I can also be found on LiveJournal, MySpace, and FaceBook. I'd give the urls, but I always mess up retrieving them...Look for me, you'll find me. When I have the option, I always go by my full name.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Picture Day!

Better late than never, right?
Here are some pics from last weekend's trip to Las Vegas:

The water show outside the Bellagio

Inside the Venetian

At the banquet later that evening (hey, we clean up nice, don't we??)

Chatting with my mom at the champagne reception (hubby took this from the balcony above)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Welcome Author Don Bruns!

Yes, folks, we have two author interviews back to back this week...and that means another chance to enter to win the prize pack of books this month!

Give a hearty hello to Don Bruns, who is a musician, songwriter, advertising executive and award-winning novelist. Bruns is the author of Jamaica Blue, Barbados Heat, South Beach Shakedown, St. Barts Breakdown and the forthcoming Bahama Burnout, a mystery series featuring rock and roll journalist Mick Sever.

Bruns is also the author of Stuff to Die For and Stuff Dreams Are Made Of. He has authored several short stories and served as editor of the anthology, A Merry Band of Murderers, which reached #5 on the Independent Mystery Bestsellers List in 2006. He is also a frequent contributor to The Little Blog of Murder. A former road musician who traveled and performed throughout the US with major entertainment acts, Don Bruns recently released a CD of original songs called "Last Flight Out," and performed two original songs at the 2004 Edgar Awards ceremonies. Don Bruns divides his time between Ohio and South Florida.

Welcome, Don! Can you tell us a little about your background?

I sent my first short story to Alfred Hitchcock Magazine when I was 12 years old. They promptly sent it back. So, when I turned fifty years old, I wrote another mystery. This time, with the help of Sue Grafton, it was published by St. Martin's Press, and with the 8th novel out this month I haven't looked back.

When did you first begin writing? Was there an event or moment in your life that triggered your desire to write?

I think the Hardy Boys were the reason I started writing mysteries. In the fourth grade, our teacher had us write a Hardy Boy type mystery...each of us writing one chapter. At the end of the year we had a book and I realized that I really could be a part of this writing thing.

Tell us about your latest writing project or published title.

Bahama Burnout is about a recording studio in Nassau that burns to the ground under mysterious circumstances. When it's rebuilt, ghostly things start to happen. Sessions are erased, instruments are smashed, and journalist Mick Sever investigates the strange happenings, realizing his life may be in danger as well.

How do you go about developing your characters?

Characters seem to develop themselves. I always thought that writers just said that to give their writing a magical kind of feel. But characters develop in response to their situation. When they being threatened with death, they respond a certain way. When they are with friends, they respond to the way that person treats them. I have no choice but to develop them in relationship to their surroundings.

What do you find most difficult about writing? What do you find most exciting or rewarding?

The worst part of writing is the actual marketing. You try any number of avenues. I haven't started Twittering yet, but I suppose that's next.

The most rewarding part of writing is talking to someone who's read your book. ( And liked it.)

What do you like to do when you're not writing?

I play guitar. Used to do it professionally and it's very therapeutic.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book(s)?

That I come up with sentences, phrases, quotes and thoughts that I never would say or use in real life.
When you write, what method do you prefer?

Computer. Note book. Sometimes I have to write on my arm.

Don, thanks so much for being here today!

Readers, for a chance to win a signed copy of his latest book, go to Don’s book tour page,, enter your name, e-mail address, and this PIN, 8459, for your chance to win.

Entries from Allie's Musings will be accepted until 12:00 Noon (PT) tomorrow. No purchase is required to enter or to win. The winner (first name only) will be announced on Don’s book tour page next week!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Writers' Wednesday: An Interview with Jessica Coulter Smith

Welcome to another edition of Writers' Wednesday! Remember, every comment on an author feature this month enters you into a drawing to win a great prize: a collection of books from some fabulous authors. So chime in and give Jessica Coulter Smith a warm welcome today!

Jessica, when did you first begin writing? Was there an event or moment in your life that triggered your desire to write?

I began writing in high school. I had an amazing English teacher, Mrs. Robinette, who asked us to write a short story. It could be about anything we wanted. I hate to admit that I don't remember what I wrote about, but I've been writing ever since. In the mid-1990's I had 3 poems published, then in the early 2000's I had another 2 poems published (all in anthologies). Whispering Lake, my new release, is the first novel I've completed. Somewhere in my many boxes there is a floppy disk (showing my age!) that has a teen story saved on it. I began that story in eleventh grade and have never finished it. I keep telling myself I'm going to unearth it one of these days, but that day hasn't arrived just yet.

Tell us about your latest writing project or published title.

Whispering Lake was picked up by Hearts on Fire Books and published first as an e-book in August 2008 and later as a large paperback in November 2008. It's about a young woman with a special gift who's had a bit of trouble in the romance department. She ends up being torn between a ghost and a guy she thinks is your "average" guy. What she doesn't know is that her "average" guy is really a werewolf. I won't spoil the story and tell you who she chooses!
Currently, I'm writing a werewolf series called the Ashton Grove Werewolves. The first book, Moonlight Protector, is almost finished. It should be released in early 2009, with 5 other books to follow.

5 other books - wow! What advice would you give to new writers just starting out?

Don't give up! If you have any doubts or concerns over the story you have written, read it over - read it over a hundred times if you need to, but in the end you're going to have to send it out. If you don't submit because "you just aren't ready" or you "can't handle a rejection letter," then take a breath and hit send anyways. You're going to get a rejection letter - or a hundred. I won't lie, no matter how prepared you think you are, you're still going to be bummed when you receive it. However, if you're lucky, they may have something constructive to say. Most don't ... either way, you will eventually receive an acceptance or you'll go back and look over your story one more time and maybe tweak a few things. In the end, it will be worth every single rejection when you finally find your publishing home.

What kinds of books do you like to read? Who is your favorite author?

I like to read romances mostly, but I also enjoy a good horror or mystery book every now and then. Some of my favorite authors are Charlaine Harris, Katie MacAlister, Terri Garey, Angie Fox, Mary Higgins Clark, and John Saul (in no particular order).

Do you ever suffer from writer's block? If so, what do you do about it?

Yes I do! Depending on how bad the "block" is, I either sit down and start writing nonsense until something actually comes out that's useful, or I will re-read what I've already written. Sometimes a bit of editing goes a long way! Even changing the structure of a few sentences will sometimes help me start writing again. Or by reading what I've accomplished so far I may be inspired to write another chapter or two. If all else fails, I take a week off to read and relax my brain and then I get back to it and work twice as hard as I did before.

When you write, do you use the computer or compose by hand, oral dictation, or some other method?

I actually don't use just one method. I predominantly compose my books on my laptop, but I also keep a black steno book with me at all times. If I last wrote something on the laptop, then I'll pull out the steno book and jot down the last few lines in case inspiration strikes when I'm away from the computer. I don't have a particular space in which I write though. Most of the time you'll find me on the couch with the TV on as background noise, but occasionally I'll feel like avoiding human contact all together and I'll grab the laptop and head to the bedroom.

You've shared some great insights with blog readers here today. Is there anything else you'd like to mention?

I would just like to say that finding the right publisher is paramount! Decide what you want to get out of the experience and then start your search. I had a list of probably fifteen publishers (or more) and whittled it down to about five or six after doing a little research on each. I actually decided to go with Hearts on Fire Books because they were small and fairly new. I knew that I would get more one on one attention from them than I would a larger company with hundreds, possibly thousands, of other authors.

E-book verses paperback is another consideration. I was lucky enough that my publisher did both. Just because you're offered a contract, doesn't mean you have to sign it (no matter how exciting it may be!). Make sure that your needs are being met by the publisher before signing anything. If it doesn't feel right, then either take some time to think about it or move on to the next place on your list.

Readers, want to know more about Jessica and her works? You can visit her website right here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Review of Catch of the Day by Kristan Higgins

You might remember that I sat next to the funny and fabulous Kristan Higgins at a book signing last month. I picked up her book Catch of the Day, which won the RITA last year -- and thanks to 2 cross-country flights last weekend, I finally got a chance to sit down and read it. Here's the skinny on this romantic comedy:

First Date à la Maggie:

Take one lovelorn diner owner (me).
A generous helping of nosy local gossips.
A dollop of envy at married sister's perfect life.
A splash of divine intervention (my matchmaking priest)...
Combine ingredients with one adorable puppy, add a strong but silent lobsterman with a hidden heart of gold—and watch the sparks fly.

The first thing I liked about this book: the terrific first-person voice, funny and self-deprecating and likable from page one. Maggie is the town spinster at age 32. She owns a diner, has a crush on the new priest in town, and finds her love life (or lack of one) the center of everyone's gossip circle. It doesn't help that her identical twin, Christy, has the life Maggie has always wanted: the perfect husband, the perfect job, the perfect baby daughter. When she finally finds a local guy who might be perfect, she puts her foot in her mouth more times than you can count. You'll like her, laugh at her, and feel for her all at the same time -- a great combination of character traits that (for the most part) are girl-next-door believable.

The second thing I liked about this book: it's a contemporary romance that isn't about too much more than a collection of small-town folks and the loves and lives they share. There isn't any paranormal activity in Gideon's Cove, Maine, no suspense or erotic encounters either. It was refreshing to see that you can, in fact, get lost in the everyday activities of quirky, appealing characters.

The only thing I didn't entirely like: the black moment in the story results from a classic "misunderstanding" that really could have been straightened out with a brief conversation between hero and heroine. (It's okay, Kristan, if you're reading this -- I still suspended my disbelief because by that point in the story I loved Maggie and Malone). Still, I wanted them together enough to keep reading, even though I really just wanted to kick Maggie in the keister and straighten her out.

Bottom line: Catch of the Day is a really fun, appealing comedy that will draw you in from start to finish. Pick it up if you get the chance!

Monday, March 09, 2009

EPICon Revisited

"I get it now; I didn't get it then. That life is about losing and about doing it as gracefully as possible...and enjoying everything in between." ~Mia Farrow

Well, I made it back from the EPIC Conference (bleary-eyed and drinking coffee by the gallon this morning, thanks to a hellish flight yesterday which included not only a "ground stop" of an hour in Vegas before we left BUT ALSO a "funky jetway" when we landed which prevented us from deplaning for another 30 minutes...)

but anyway...

I did not win the EPPIE in my category (sad face here). But I'm still glad I went, and I'm still pleased to be a finalist. While I'm disappointed, I have to remind myself that my first ebook was published less than 2 years ago, and my first print book less than 1 year ago. I have a lot of learning and growing to do. I also found it interesting, listening to all the presenters being introduced, that almost every one of them writes full-time. So I guess I'm also pleased that I can squeeze out a book a year while also working a full-time job (until Oprah calls, anyway).

I'm now off to teach on 4 hours of sleep...this should be fun...