Author Interview: Mike Steeden

 

Hello, friends.  A few weeks ago, I encouraged fellow writers (and anyone else who wanted to play along) to write a short story to accompany the writing prompt I featured and then allow me to interview them.   As with many things new, a lot of times people like to wait until they see someone else dip their toe in the water before they take the plunge.  But I anticipated as much when I put the challenge out there.  So, rather than waiting for someone to be the first to respond to my prompt, I’m jumping right into the interview mode, sans the homework.  Today, I’d like to introduce you to my favorite Knight of the British Empire, Sir Mike Steeden!   (Okay, he hasn’t technically been knighted yet, but I’m sure once the Queen reads about him here on my blog, she’ll make time on her royal calendar to invite him over for tea and she’ll take care of it then.)  Without further ado, heeeeeere’s Mike!

Please tell us your name (or pen name) and the links to your blog, website, Facebook fan page, Twitter, etc. When did you start writing? What motivated you to undertake writing your first novel?

Mike Steeden

Firstly, young Rachel, my thanks for the invite. In doing so you must surely be a tad crazed…and there’s nowt wrong with that, all the best people I know are bonkers.   Anyway, I go by the name Mike Steeden, a one-time Private Detective specialising in fraud investigations, now a fast aging-juvenile.

When did I start writing? As a person who cannot spell for toffee, I have to say, “Since ‘Post it’ notes became redundant, and not long after the moment ‘spellcheck’ magically appeared on Word.”

The reason I began writing was to unburden my…such as it is…chock-a-block brain of the plague of words it had housed for far too long.

You can find Mike at his blog at: https://mikesteeden.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/michaelsteeden or simply @michaelsteeden.

Please offer us a snippet of your most recently published novel and tell us what it’s about. Also, please share the link(s) to purchase your work:

I well remember the day ‘The Blue-Eyed Cat’…a lovely gal also known as sweet ‘Lily’…had finally been freed from her solitary confinement within the lonely prison cell that is my dark and, of late, empty skull. At last at liberty, the world was now her oyster and boy has she, against all odds, enjoyed herself.

Herewith the ‘blurb’ thing that, in essence, describes Lily’s tale without giving too much away:

‘A book of mind-boggling time-travel, feverish sex, syrupy romance, ho hum history, a dark future, The Moon, Constantinople, Paris and Berlin human consciousness, infinity, a tongue in cheek take on all things carnal, art for art’s sake and three thoroughly mad yet oh so delightful gals.’

Insofar as the overtly risqué shenanigans Lily and chums…both female and male…get up to, shenanigans that committed prudes would no doubt declare as obscene all I can say in my unnecessary defence is that they are nought but an exaggerated take upon the nonconformist life my delightful, yet deliciously, uncontrollable Shirl, long since decided we adopt. By Jove we’ve had some fun.

I believe it is of some importance that ‘The Blue-Eyed Cat’ does have the potential to appeal to free-thinkers, Bohemians, Mata Hari on an average day, Ms Dietrich when the fancy takes, dab hand illiterates, raving lunatics of any and all persuasions plus, of course, uninhibited romantics. Having said that, this is definitely not a book suitable for killjoy Great Aunt Maud, the local Vicar, pious Uncle Percy, racists, sexists, homophobes, those of a sensitive disposition nor, sadly in many respects, swoony types.

You can purchase “The Blue-Eyed Cat” and the rest of Mike’s work at: https://www.amazon.com/Mike-Steeden/e/B015WAUW8C?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1583784194&sr=8-1

Mike was then asked to select three of the next few questions I posed and answer them as he chose.  He selected the following:

If you had one year to prepare, which record do you think you would have the best shot at breaking in the Guinness Book of World Records? Have you ever actually attempted to break a world record at anything?

I’ve never really felt the need to be the best at something or break records. It’s likely the alpha-male gene took one look at me and thought ‘no’. Having said that, I once, late teens, lead the field in a school cross-country run in Richmond Park…a park overlooking the River Thames, south of London and favoured by Henry XIII when not beheading his wives…for the first 5 strides of the long-distance race. I was rather proud of that small success.

After that minor victory I fell hopelessly behind my enthusiastic peer group. However, albeit by unhappy chance, I found that I’d done so well that I’d been chosen for the County of Surrey team in the upcoming annual county contest.

How so, one might ask? Well, what happened was that bringing up the rear, instead of running round the large lake known as ‘Pen Ponds’ like the others, I in my lack of wisdom, spotted a walkway that dissected said lake in two. You see, taking that path enabled me to both shorten my part in the tedious run, and also allow me a little time to enjoy a puff of nicotine. The beauty of my scheme was that, if I made the right choice when re-joining the others…the keen ones…I’d defeat the ignominy of coming in last.

How wrong I was. My calculations not fit for purpose. Unbeknownst to me at that time, I’d prematurely re-joined far too early! The net result was that I’d come in third in a field of over 80 adolescent athletes. The word ‘bollocks’ came to mind as the Sports Master passed on…to him at least…the good news that I’d made the county team.

I never did take my place with the others come the big day. My cunning plan, soaking my right foot in a bucket of beetroot juice for several hours in order that the authentic look of a foot damaged beyond repair would not be in doubt, saved me.

What characteristics, personality traits, likes, or dislikes does the protagonist in your most recently published novel share with you?

Ah, Lily the protagonist. Small, yet perfectly formed, a gal who takes life as it comes; a gal who never gives up on a good cause, despite the curse of dilemmas, the predicaments she finds herself in, and the perilous dangers she has to overcome when seeing to it that fascist Nazi’s get their comeuppance. The bravest gal in all of time…almost, yet that’s the way she’d have it. That she, not unlike my dear Shirl, finds fervent romance and all that that unveils along the way a characteristic that is the one that appeals to me most.

If you could travel through time and take any character from your most recently published novel, who would you take and why? Would you travel to the future or the past and why?

Without a shadow of a doubt it would have to be the incorrigible Lady Freya Hella, a dyed in the wool charmer of lesbian persuasion, who is not just a time-traveller, but time itself. A lady of compassion towards the suffering good and by far the worst enemy the wicked would ever want to know. Additionally, and by nature, Freya defines love in all its definitions.

It is thus, rather than me take her upon a journey across time, she would…hopefully…ask me to join her in the escapade as we, along with sweet Lily, turned back time.

You asked in which time direction would I travel. Backwards, my answer, always backward for I wish to see history in factual progress rather than foolishly take it as read that any and all historical accounts are unambiguous.

Thank you, Sir Mike, for taking the time to answer all my nosy questions with such fascinating responses!  I wish you the best of success with “The Blue-Eyed Cat” as well as with your many other titles for sale!

(If YOU would like to be featured in an upcoming interview, please visit my Call to Writers for details.)

Author Interview: C.S. Boyack

Hello, friends.  A couple of weeks ago, I encouraged fellow writers (and anyone else who wanted to play along) to write a short story to accompany the writing prompt I featured and then allow me to interview them.   As with many things new, a lot of times people like to wait until they see someone else dip their toe in the water before they take the plunge.  But I anticipated as much when I put the challenge out there.  So, rather than waiting for someone to be the first to respond to my prompt, I’m jumping right into the interview mode, sans the homework.  Today, I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite blogging brothers as well as one of the most productive (and most imaginative) authors I know, C.S. (Craig) Boyack*.

*(Don’t let the word count here deter you from reading the whole thing… Craig’s discussion of his book “Grinders” will captivate you, and his answers to my questions will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat!)  Without further ado, I hereby present C.S. Boyack:

Thanks for inviting me over to kick off your author interview series today. I hope it becomes a big hit on your blog.

Rachel was one of my first blogging friends and earliest supporters. I lost track of her for a while, as we all did, but I’m thrilled to see her back.

My first question involves giving you the basics about myself and providing a few links where you can contact me and read my books. Always the rebel, I try to provide my bio box these days along with all the links.

You can contact Craig at the following locations:

Blog   |   My Novels   |  Twitter   |   Goodreads   |   Facebook   |   Pinterest   |   BookBub

One of the cool things about Rachel is she’s very artistic. I doubt many other authors could boast this, but she made two of my favorite book covers. As an encouragement to click on the “My Novels” link above, check out ‘Will O’ the Wisp’ and ‘The Experimental Notebook of C. S. Boyack.’ She did a fabulous job on the covers, and I still move copies of those titles.

Let’s see… I’m supposed to tell you about my newest book and provide a snippet.

The new book is called Grinders. It’s a bit of science fiction known as cyberpunk, and I’m pretty excited about it. It’s about police officers chasing criminals known as grinders. These people operate back-room surgeries to install small bits of hardware and software into their customers. It’s almost like the tattoo industry and the plastic surgery gone haywire if you want to think of it like that. That’s the plot, but cyberpunk is largely about the environment, and it’s extensive in the story. It’s almost a character in its own right.

A small sample, but I want to lead you in first. My main character, Jimi, is a painter in her off hours. She’s purchased a Bloody Mary, then taken it to the roof of her building to work on a new project. She is accompanied by her cat, Cole, who is a robot:

***

The rooftop was windy, so Jimi set up behind the doorway. The garden held all manner of vegetables, and there were even some tropical fruit trees. The bananas weren’t quite ripe but made an interesting picture. She opened her photos and found the street scene with the drone and raindrops. “Can you project this across my canvas, Cole? I want to draw the… Cole?”

Cole sat across the roof from her on the very edge of the safety wall. A group of swallows flitted just outside his reach.

“I thought you were going to help me.”

“We discussed no such thing. Besides, I’m a cat. Disdain is part of our charm.”

“Ugh!” Jimi returned to her canvas and drink. Her phone made a small hologram but didn’t project it. She tried to draw the street scene as best as she could. Cole could always project it later, so she could adjust the proportions.

She snitched one of the peppers and dipped it into her drink. By the time Cole interrupted her, she’d figured out the best place to situate the drone in the painting and decided to expand the composition so some of the lights from the grid and neon from the stores made it into the image.

“Sorry to interrupt, but the crew is ready to place your vases,” Cole said.

“Okay. We got a few hours of sun, at least.” She bundled up her things then grabbed the glass. “How are the birds?”

“Maddeningly, intelligent enough to stay out of reach.”

“Millions of years of evolution, pal. That’s their edge.”

***

If you’d like to check it out, this is the purchase link: http://mybook.to/Grinders

Moving on to the next question. If, for one day, you could be any character from your most recently published novel, who would it be and why?

This is a tough one for me, because I don’t know that I’d want to be anyone else. Since it’s only for a day, I’m going to choose Lou. He’s the senior partner to Jimi who I mentioned above. I’d kind of like to explore the cyberpunk world of San Francisco, and he’d be a good one to do it as. I’d get to experience things that are important to the story, like The Grid, robotic and holographic characters, and might even go see the electronic forest before they turn it all into plywood. Then maybe I’d have a nightcap with his holographic girlfriend, Piper.

If the protagonist in your most recently published novel came to life and moved next door to you, would they be a good neighbor?

Either Jimi or Lou would be good neighbors. First of all they’re cops, so that has something going for it. Then there is the fun of creating a cyberpunk world. It’s near future, so I had to do a little projecting based upon where we are right now. The Internet has taken over so much of our lives that people don’t interact much today. We all live in our own little microcosms and this doesn’t change in the future. Having one of them next door wouldn’t be intrusive at all. Jimi is a bit more outgoing, so she might be painting in her back yard from time to time. Although, her cat might stalk the bird feeders a bit.

Even the antagonist in the story wouldn’t be a horrible neighbor. He spends most of his time indoors obsessing over his own personal problems.

What is the one thing you have done and the one thing you have not done during the course of your life that would most surprise (or shock) your readers?

This is a tough one, Rachel. Mostly because people are so judgmental, and I have a public image to maintain. I’m going to go for it and see what happens. I have an ulterior motive, because I’m thinking about writing a novel that would include some of this.

As a young man, I stuck my nose into every dark hole in the west. I’m talking about from the high arctic of Canada to Mexico. Most of these were the result of hunting or fishing trips. I know the vocal minority thinks this is horrible today, but back then it was a way of life for many of us.

I haven’t fired a rifle in twenty years now, but would again if the motivation hit me. What I gained from it is real life experience. This all happened before cellular phones, and when you’re three hundred miles into the wilderness you can’t call for pizza or an ambulance. You have to figure some things out for yourself. I have insight into a world that no longer exists. I’ve seen herds of caribou and musk oxen. I’ve been startled by the buzzing of a rattlesnake, and even played with horny toads as a kid. Having a beer with the Inuit people in their town hall was fun.

One of the advantages to an author is that I know how firearms work, and what they’re suited for. You’ll never hear the pump-racking sound of a double barreled shotgun in one of my stories. (Double barreled weapons don’t have a pump mechanism.) I also know how to build a camp and start the fire. Any zombie apocalypse I decide to take on will have realistic elements in the story.

Leading to the second part of the question, I’ve eaten a buffalo tongue (and testicles). I’ve dug my own clams and hauled in buckets full of Dungeness crabs, then cleaned and cooked them myself. I had to survive for a week on a cube of butter, some Pop-Tarts, and a case of beer. Good thing the river was full of silver salmon, and butter is a great way to cook them.

So to get to the second part of the question, I’ve never once eaten a raw oyster. I know people love them, and I might one day, but it really doesn’t appeal to me.

This interview has gotten long with the snippet included, but I’m going to tack a blurb on anyway. I hope your fans will take a chance on Grinders, and thanks for having me over.

***

Blurb:  Jimi Cabot made one mistake as a starving college student. When she went to work for the San Francisco Police Department, it nearly cost her the job. The union stepped in and they had to reinstate her. They did so by assigning her to the duty nobody wants, Grinder Squad.

 

Grinders are people who use back room surgeries to enhance their bodies with computer chips, and various kinds of hardware. Jimi is sure that if she can just bust one grind shop, it will be her ticket back.

 

Paired with veteran cop, she soon learns that Grinder Squad is a cash-cow for the department. They are nothing more than glorified patrol cops, and generally get the worst assignments.

 

Matchless is the most wanted grinder of all time. He disappeared years ago, leaving only the evidence of those he enhanced during his career. With these pieces, Jimi picks up the cold trail to try working her way back to more respectable duty.

 

Grinders is a cyberpunk story set in a world where global warming has eroded coastlines, and society has solved many of our current problems by replacing them with new ones. There are cyber shut-ins, cyber-currency skimming schemes, and more in this futuristic tale.

 

This book also takes the opportunity to poke a stick at current issues that seem to have lasted into the future. Entitled people, helicopter moms, overzealous homeowner associations, and lack of decent jobs are all present. Never preachy, these issues make up the day to day work of a patrol officer.

I hope you enjoy Grinders as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you.

***

Thank you, Craig, for taking the time to answer my questions with such mesmerizing responses!  (And also thank you for the kind words!)  I wish you the best of success with “Grinders” as well as with your many other titles for sale!  (Buffalo testicles, really?  Wow!)

(If YOU would like to be featured in an upcoming interview, please visit my Call to Writers for details.)

Honor and the Changeling

Hello again, dear friends.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been recapping some of the crazy-extreme events of my past year, but there were also some really amazing moments.

To start, an essay I wrote won an Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest’s 88th Annual Writing Competition.  In the past, while I haven’t entered every year, each year that I did enter, I submitted a fictional short story.  This time, however, I was pre-occupied with other fiction to stop and write a story that would be limited by how many words I could use.  So, I wrote an essay on the families who had been in the news for being separated at the border.  I used the theme of all the Ancestry and 23-and-Me commercials we see so frequently offering to tell us where our family roots were planted, then did a compare and contrast with the border situation.

While I would have, of course, preferred to place in the top ten “place” winners for the essay category, I’m definitely not complaining about being in the top fifty (forty of whom “win” in name only) category, or the Honorable Mention.  After all, being considered “honorable” is nothing to sneeze at.

But my real proud moment accomplishment of 2019 was participating in my second NaNoWriMo and writing “The Changeling of the Third Reich.”  I first had the idea for this story in February, 2014.  At the time, I was wrapped up in so many other projects, I set this one aside.  It was my favorite story idea to date, and I wanted to give it all the research and attention I knew it would take to make the idea really come to life.

As time marched on, life happened, and the day job happened, and then Gastroparesis, and then Lupus happened, and I lost hope that my great idea would ever come to pass.  In September, Sister Michelle’s sister was placed in hospice for her metastatic triple negative breast cancer, and Michelle and I planned a trip up to see her.  As we planned our trip, we tossed around the idea of stopping in D.C. on our way home to unwind.  While there, we would visit the National Holocaust Museum (which I haven’t seen since 2001, and I highly recommend), and I could research some more of the in-depth parts of my story.

That didn’t happen.  We got the call a few days earlier than we had planned our visit and were told to “get here now!”  There were no flights the rest of the day, so we dropped everything and took off driving.  Susan passed away before we got there, while we were only five states away.  (Damn Cancer.)  I did all the driving and my knee, ankle, and foot blew up from being in the car for so long.  (It’s about a 16-hour drive if you can take it all in one day.)  (Damn Lupus.)  Family stuff happened, I felt like crap, Michelle was distraught, yada, yada, yada, and I just wanted to be home.

In October, Sister Michelle and I decided to take a girl’s day, and we visited the much-closer-to-home Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Pete.  It was very negligible in the way of tangible things to see (compared to the National Holocaust Museum), however, it had one amazing employee who made the visit worthwhile.  He was an older gentleman and from Europe, so he had seen so much of the actual concentration camp sites and other such museums in person, plus because of his age, he remembered a lot of stuff first-hand from when he was a boy.  An added bonus was that he had met so many holocaust survivors while he worked there that he then had their stories to share, too.  The tour was supposed to last an hour, but it was more like two and a half, and he answered every question any of us had, and I actually learned a lot that I was surprised that I didn’t already know.

This visit was exactly the push I needed to declare “The Changeling of the Third Reich” as my NaNoWriMo project. I finished with 81,100 words under my belt and finished the first draft a week later with 93,500 words.

The funny thing was, in waiting so long between the time I originally had the idea and when I wrote the first draft, not only has (of course) my writing become exceedingly better, but I’ve also ventured away from the super dark endings I used to envision, and made it a bit lighter, though still as psychologically thrilling.  Meaning – I’m very glad I was forced to wait to write this so I could do it justice.  Anyhoozle, without further ado, I submit for your approval, the following synopsis:

The year is 1968, and the Vietnam War is in full swing.  Dr. Bridget Castle, a neurosurgeon in Boston, handles the victims of anti-war protests, the casualties of war, and being a woman in a man’s profession with ease.  Her husband, her parents, and her patients all love and respect her, but her tight-knit world is in danger of unraveling when someone from her past shows up and threatens to expose her closest-held secret: That she is a Concentration Camp survivor.

For more than twenty-three years, Bridget has walked in the shoes of a girl killed in the Blitz, blurring the line of when her own identity as a German Jew ended and when she assumed the role of changeling.  If not for her childhood diary to remind her of all she endured, she would be completely successful in taking on the memories of the girl she replaced.  But when a patient from Germany is placed in her care, she finds herself unable to deny her past any longer.

Hold on tight as you travel with Bridget through the twists and turns of this psychological thriller, and watch her claim retribution as the former prisoner now holds the key in THE CHANGELING OF THE THIRD REICH.

Let’s talk:  Have you ever planned something so detailed, you had it mapped out to the letter and then life happened and you had to reconfigure everything on a moment’s notice?  Have you ever visited any holocaust museum?  For the writers, how often do you plan a story and set it in stone, then start writing and take it in a completely different direction?

Waiting Game and Writing

Hello, friends,

Since my last check-in, I had the blood work I mentioned.  I expected my iron to be low and possibly my B-12.  But I never expected what happened instead…  My “sed rate” (short for erythrocyte sedimentation rate, also known as ESR) came back high.  It’s supposed to be between 0 and 20, and mine was 125.  (Zoinks!)

bariumSoooo… needless to say, my doctor ordered a bunch of extra tests, more blood work, a CAT scan (hence the nasty barium you see here!), an x-ray, and other stuff.  The x-ray already came back fine.  The second sed rate test came back elevated again.  And I don’t yet know the ANA and Rheumatoid Factor test results, nor the CAT scan results.  As far as I know, I have to go back again next week for yet another sed rate test.  I don’t know what he’ll order next depending on the other results.  But until I know something, I’m still plugging away trying to make it through the day without puking or needing a nap!  I’ll keep you posted as I learn anything.

In other news… Since I’ve been too exhausted to spend much time at the computer writing anything new, I’ve been taking some of my printed manuscripts to bed and trying to commit to editing at least a few pages each night.  I believe I’ve made it through all the obvious typos, misspellings, bad or missing punctuation, etc.  (Printing it out really makes quite a difference in catching these little blunders as far as not seeing the same thing as my eyes have passed over on the computer screen so many times before.)

I’ve let a few people (including a few of you) read some of these manuscripts before, and many of you had some remarkable suggestions.  But there was one manuscript – The Prison – which I’ve only let a couple of people even see.  It was the first one I wrote, and I wrote it before I learned and became obsessed with “The Rules.”  You may remember my frustrations when my exact-word orientation from my Autism got in the way of “just writing” once I learned there were so many dos and don’ts.  I got so hung up on The Rules, that I wasn’t able to “just write” anymore, and as I’ve been re-reading, I wince as I see how much I held back.

Don’t get me wrong, I (now) think The Rules are a good thing (for the most part), though my Autistic brain still wishes they were called “The Suggestions” instead.  What I realized was that my first manuscript had so much more “feeling” behind it and felt less “mechanical” than the others.  When I asked myself why, I came to a conclusion:  I used a lot more similes and strong descriptions in The Prison than I used in my other works.   The sad thing is, I know exactly why I did this as well…  I got so stuck on “Show Don’t Tell” (of The Rules), that I was afraid I was “telling” too much, so I deleted almost all instances of these types of phrases and sentences in my subsequent work.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of my problem was due to an article I read that instructed me:  “In order to show and not tell, you have to write as if you’re describing what’s happening to a blind person.”  So, I did just that.  And in doing so, I added a lot of stage direction (a LOT of stage direction!) as well as clumsy description that sounded as if I were telling the story of cyborgs rather than people!

For example:  After learning The Rules and allowing myself to become obsessed with adhering to them — or else!–, I wrote:

Neil’s face turned scarlet as he jumped to his feet.  His chair fell to the floor, and he narrowed his eyes.  “What did you do?” 

Rivers grabbed her arm as hot soup splattered on her.  Tears formed in her eyes.  “I’m sorry.”

He grabbed her shoulders tightly and put his face close to hers, then without saying a word, he released her and spun on his heel.

*~*~*~*~*

Ugh!  Isn’t that just awful?  It feels so cold and mechanical.  I’m embarrassed to think I actually allowed people to read my work like that!

Now, I’ve changed a lot of sterile scenes like that to be something more like this:

Neil jumped to his feet.  His face was flaming, and he appeared to be six inches taller than he already was. His eyes penetrated Rivers’ as he glared at her with repugnance.  “What did you do?” 

Rivers’ voice caught in her throat, and she began to tremble. “I’m sorry,” she said under her breath.  Tears streamed like twin rivulets down her cheeks as she tried to ignore the hot soup that splattered on her arm.

He huffed and grabbed her shoulders, digging his fingers into her flesh.  He pulled her so close, she could feel his hot breath on her face. 

She attempted to explain, but her voice caught in her throat like a lump of clay suffocating her.  Before she could speak, he grimaced and released her as if she had the plague.

*~*~*~*~*

Isn’t that much better?  The sad thing is, that’s roughly how I wrote in the first place, (though I admit I had a bad habit of changing points of view as well as making the scenes too short and choppy…  Those are some of The Rules that are actually a good idea to follow.)  So, as I’ve been able, I’ve been slowly making the changes to a lot of these old works and trying to get them in their best possible shape once and for all.

 Anyway, that’s what I’ve up to lately, friends.  What about YOU?