Wednesday 26 June 2019

A Slice of Cake With... Melissa Macfie

For most of her life, Melissa Macfie has pursued artistic endeavors such as drawing, painting, and sculpting. She holds a M.Ed. in English Education from the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University, and has spent the last sixteen years as a public school English teacher. She also spent a short time serving as the co-host of Alpha Centauri & Beyond, an Internet talk radio show about science and science fiction. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, Donald. Their children, Elizabeth and Donald, are grown and pursuing their own dreams.

What kind of books do you write?

Ever since I was a little girl, I have been fascinated with the extraordinary in everyday life. Rainbows, birth, the affinity some seem to have with animals, to name a few - all scientifically explained, but yet there is still something more to each. Call it magic, miracle, or divine intervention; it is a mystery for which I don’t want or need a plausible explanation.  I would much rather think of what we conceive as reality as layered, and much like the color spectrum, we, with our imperfect eyes, cannot see all. There may be multiple layers for all I know, but the most real is our everyday life. We know this reality all too well - struggling to pay our bills, find a job we can at least tolerate, raise our kids, and find a healthy relationship. It’s easy to lose ourselves here, but there are glimpses and traces of something else, another layer. This is the mystery. In it lay coincidence, destiny, and purpose. So, as a result, I write about a fantastical, layered world, and one woman’s quest to find where she belongs.

Can you describe your writing why?

My motivation is tied to my choice to become an author. In the beginning, that choice wasn’t a conscious one. I had a particularly bad day at work, the kind that makes you reassess your career choice. Everyone has those days, the kind of day that really makes to reflect on what you were thinking when you decided to be a … It doesn’t matter how you finish that sentence. The funny thing is I can’t remember what it was that had me so upset, but certainly then it was earth-shattering. I remember thinking on my way home, “What if I quit my job, and ran away from home?” I never meant to follow through with the idea; it was a fantasy. Everyone has them or so I’m led to believe, and at this moment in time, this was my fantasy…quitting my job. The other part was a reaction to not wanting to go home, even in my fantasy world, to tell my family that I quit. I didn’t quit. I am still at the same job, and I truly love being a teacher. I just had a bad day. 

But at the time being the responsible person I am, I did the next best thing. I closed the door to my office, sat in front of my computer, opened a Word document, and typed, “I’ve quit my job, and ran away from home,” in quotation marks. For two years, this was the first line of my secret manuscript. I went out to buy a USB the next day and transferred all evidence of this document to it. I was perfectly happy keeping it secret until I overheard a conversation between two colleagues at work. That conversation was about a middle-grade book one of the teachers was writing. I listened, asked questions, and became comfortable enough to venture forth that I too was writing a novel. The resulting shift in the conversation and their genuine interest gave me the courage to tell my family.

Now three and a half years after my first publication, I write because I love it. It is a world I control, (or at least my characters allow me to believe I have control, most of the time.) There are no external mandates stating when and how it has to be done other than ones that I impose myself. It is so unlike my teaching profession and I have come to find that I have indeed broken free and I am actually living my fantasy when I write.  

Share with us your favourite passage from the book you enjoyed writing the most

The mile and half mile marker signs for the Darian rest stop taunted her. She could see it in the distance, its Golden Arches lit, as if from an ocean away. An hour later, she finally pulled into the only available spot in the parking lot. The vibrations of shifting gears woke Spencer and he jumped up and danced around the front seat. Brenawyn could barely hook the leash onto his collar.

“Hold still, dog. Oww! Stop stepping on me. Ouch! Remind me to get your nails trimmed.”

Spencer licked her face and whined. “All right, I know. Five hours is a long time to be stuck in the car. I know. I have been stuck in here too. I couldn’t help it, though.” Throwing a glance back at the congested highway, “People who can’t drive should stay home.” 

Yanked by her dog the second the car door opened, she swore that she’d leash train him yet, no matter how long it took. Tongue lolling out the side of his mouth, he pranced in circles around her, bumping her legs and stepping on her toes. Adjusting her hold on his lead, Brenawyn led him to the scalped grass. 

Here, she let out the retractable leash enough to allow him to sniff everything within a five-foot range. She glanced around, her father’s voice in her head - always be aware of your surroundings, Bren - and saw the odd shadows the cars cast in the poorly lit lot. Faceless silhouettes moved on missions to and from the building. Music thumped from an open car somewhere nearby; she could feel the bass in the soles of her feet. No one looked threatening. No one looked friendly, either. 

“Okay, time to go, Spence.” Turning around, she dragged the dog back to the car, opened the door, and struggled to get him in as he whined. “Just hush. I’ll be right back.” 

She opened the restroom door and, a fetid odor hit her. Lazy gnats buzzed low over the stagnant water pooled beneath the sinks and around the toilets. She hesitated for a moment, considering her less than adequate foot attire. Why had she drunk the whole extra-large coffee in the car? It left her no choice but to brave the bathroom. “God, I hope that’s water,” she prayed as she navigated around the larger pools. She inspected the stalls - no paper, no paper, not flushed, no paper, God knows what on the seat, and no paper. Rooting around in her purse, Brenawyn excavated the last two tissues from their plastic sleeve. If only she had replaced them with a new pack before she left, though two were better than nothing. Choosing the first stall with no paper, Brenawyn closed herself within the small space. 

The adjacent stall’s hinges squeaked as she turned to flush the toilet with her foot. Hands braced on either side for balance, Brenawyn glimpsed an arthritic hand reaching under the stall wall. “I’m sorry, there is no extra paper in here. I had to use a tissue myself.” But there was no other response than the hand withdrawing. 

Brenawyn jumped and dropped her purse when a screech bellowed out from the adjacent stall. She knocked on the stall wall, concerned, but as she bent to retrieve her fallen bag, the gnarled hand darted under the wall again to clamp onto her ankle. Heart pounding, she pivoted and wrenched herself loose from the bony claw’s vise-like grip. 

The shrieking continued and the claw found her again. Shit, this was just the sort of thing her father had warned her about. She pulled the handle. The door didn’t budge. Panicked, she yanked on it. Nothing. The latch. Undo the latch first. Brenawyn stomped on the wrist, feeling a wet pop reverberate through the sole of her shoe. 

She flung the door open and dashed out. I fall, I’m dead. Her flip flops slipped and squeaked across the floor; she lost one along the way. She left it. She crashed into the door and pitched herself into the arms of an unsuspecting man walking into the shared restroom vestibule. “Are ye hurt, lass?”

Dazed, Brenawyn clutched the wall of muscle, finding brief comfort, and she looked up into bright blue eyes, but she had to get away. “Sorry. Don’t go in there.” 

The safety of the car beckoned in the distance; Spencer was barking and clawing at the window. She threw her bag on the hood and frantically searched through it, dumping half its contents before she found her keys. She fumbled, her fingers stiff and awkward, before finally grabbing the keyless remote. Pressing both the unlock and panic buttons, she scooped up her purse, whisked the wallet, passport, and other junk strewn across the hood into the bag, and threw herself into the car, jabbing the buttons over and over again long after the first contact locked the doors. Spencer stood over her lap, hunched low, growling out the window. 

The panic alarm screamed. No one in the packed lot paid attention. Finally finding the right button, she disengaged the alarm before she jammed the key into the ignition, started the car, and revved the engine. Wrestling the dog to the passenger seat, she didn’t see the woman approach. Her head whipped to attention, eyes locked with the old hag as the car rocked from the impact of the woman’s fists on the hood of the car.

 “Shit.” Brenawyn threw the gearshift in reverse without looking and careened out of the parking space, the smell of burnt rubber filling her nose. Spencer rushed into the backseat and growled at the woman.

Brenawyn craned her neck to get another look, but the woman was gone. A car horn blared and she slammed on her brakes seconds before plowing into the hag. She ripped through the gears as she threw the car into first. Twisting her neck to judge the distance, “What the fuck is going on?” Three hundred or more feet between the car and the parking space—no one could move that fast.

The old woman stood in the middle of the bypass road, cradling her arm, ignoring horns and screeching brakes. She raised her arms, the left wrist hanging at an impossible angle. Eyes glowing with red incandescence met Brenawyn’s stare. 

“Oh, hell no!” She popped the clutch and whipped the wheel to swerve around the woman.

A line of cars waiting for their chance to sit in traffic materialized beyond the building, but Brenawyn leaned on the horn and took the shoulder. Gravel hit the undercarriage like machine gun fire as she flew past the stopped cars at breakneck speed. #

Tell us about your latest project

I am working on the fourth book in The Celtic Prophecy series, Amergin’s Covenant. In it, Brenawyn must broker a peace between gods and humans, and uncover the remaining members of the Coven who covertly machinate to seize divine power.

Amergin’s Covenant will be published in June 2019.

What's your favourite cake?

I can’t decide which I love more - 

A - Chocolate cake (Duncan Hines with the pudding preferable) with a homemade chocolate whip cream icing. 
B - My mother’s homemade strawberry shortcake. The shortcake recipe has orange zest in it and comes out so light, with homemade whip cream and fresh strawberries (in-season.)

Strawberry shortcake is a lovely summery choice. You can connect with Melissa on Facebook, Twitter and on her website

Join me next week when I'll be having a slice of cake with Nix Whittaker.

If you would like to take part in A Slice of Cake With... please fill in the form found here. I'd be delighted to have you.

You can also support my writing endeavours and buy me tea & cake - it's what makes the world go round!

Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet, completely addicted to cake. Find all her books on Amazon. Join the discussion in her Facebook group Buss's Book Stop. 

Wednesday 19 June 2019

A Slice of Cake With... J. I. Rogers

J. I. Rogers is a green-eyed, ginger-haired, caffeine addict who is currently working on The Korpes File Series of science fiction novels. When not acting as a conduit for the voices in her head, she’s a poster child for Gen X and the Queen of most boondoggles that lead to eye-strain and tinnitus.

What kind of books do you write?

I enjoy penning gritty, humanoid interactions in a retrograde society sprinkled liberally with advanced technology, conflict, aliens, artificial intelligence, all set on a hostile world. 

Can you describe your writing why?

Do you mean aside from good music, a Muse with a cattle prod and an addiction to coffee, and an imagination that operates 24/7? I find story fodder everywhere.

I’m happiest when I’m creating. After thirty years of working in largely non-creative jobs to pay the bills and support my family, I’m finally able to pursue my art full time. I’m a professional artist by trade, but until 2012 I’d never taken my writing seriously. Instead, I’d spun my stories into the aether while playing old-school fantasy roleplaying games like AD&D, Traveller, and Shadowrun, and… I was content to do so. It was recreation.

What prompted the change? Real life things: I moved, I didn’t have the same social circle, but I still had the need to tell stories. 

In 2012 I worked with a small game design company, and I’d talked them into letting me do some worldbuilding for them – “every world needs depth.” That rekindled the gamer spark, but I had no outlet, so I dragged out a project I’d begun back in the 80s (illustrations and a plot for an animated movie – art school, film animation, and a long story for another time) and started developing it. My only goal was to create something I’d want to read. From there, The Korpes File Series began. My goal is still to create something I’d want to read. I’m glad that others seem to enjoy it as well.

Share with us your favourite passage from the book you enjoyed writing the most

“What really happened down there? I can’t believe that Davis would do this to you, or deliberately hurt James. I certainly don’t believe he’d try to kill himself.”

Nash considered a myriad of believable stories he could tell her. He sighed, a sad smile touched his lips. “No. I respect you too much to lie to you, and I like you too much to burden you with the truth. Let it go, Ashley. Unali no kor-aleh kes Tulum.”

“That’s lovely. Can you tell me what it means?”

“It’s the third precept from the Kai-Dahl. Loosely translated it means ‘those that live as shadows should fear the dark behind them.’”

The Korpes File – Book One in The Korpes File Series

Tell us about your latest project

As it happens, book two in this series was released on March 31st. The Korpes Agenda picks up six months after The Korpes File concludes. 

Nash Korpes, the lead protagonist, and his affable sidekick, Davis Trent, begin their new careers working for Harlo-Fyre, the leading light in technological development in the known world… Don’t yawn; nothing is as it seems. Old enemies, aliens, an AI, conspiracy, stolen children, love, betrayal, and a devious plot to ethnically cleanse a nation has yet to unfold. 

“Working for Harlo-Fyre had been their dream, and by taking the top prize at the last Symposium, they’d achieved it. It had been five months since their contracts were signed and they left the military, but Davis wondered now if his friend had made the transition. It hadn’t taken long for Nash to abandon his spectacular apartment in favor of the couches in the staff lounge. Davis was also aware of the poisonous sentiment circulating. Nash had made a lot of enemies in Harlo-Fyre’s research and development section, including it seemed, Doctor Owen Saunders, the head of the Department. It was the same situation Nash had lived with at KMR and D. We escaped, we’re free! Why are you settin’ yourself up again?” 

The Korpes Agenda – Book Two in The Korpes File Series.

What is your favourite cake?

Do I have to pick just one? ☹ Okay, I’ll pick one that has many things in it that I like.

Vanilla-Sour Cream Coffee Cake

If the cake is baked in a tube pan, spoon large, fresh strawberries into the centre when serving.

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (get the good stuff – don’t skimp)
1 ¼ cups sour cream
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
¾ cup pecans, walnuts, or hazelnuts, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/3 cup Vanilla Powdered Sugar* or powdered sugar (optional)

1. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
2. Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl or with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Blend in vanilla and sour cream until just smooth.
3. Gradually add dry ingredients and beat well until fluffy and light coloured. There should be no lumps or dry spots.
4. Combine brown sugar, nuts, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Place about one-third of the batter into a well-greased pan. Sprinkling with one-third of the nut mixture. Repeat, making three layers of batter and ending with a layer of nut mixture.
5. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven 55 to 60 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean and top of the cake is not shiny. Let stand in pan about 15 minutes before removing from pan to cool completely on rack right side up. Serve on a cake plate, dusted with *Vanilla Powdered Sugar, if desired. 

This cake freezes well.

*Recipe for Vanilla Powdered Sugar
Place a piece of whole or split good-quality vanilla bean into 2 cups sifted powdered sugar in an airtight container. Let stand 4 days to 1 week until scented as desired.

Thanks for the cake recipe - sounds yummy! You can connect with J. L. Rogers on Facebook and on her website

Join me next week when I'll be having a slice of cake with Melissa Macfie.

If you would like to take part in A Slice of Cake With... please fill in the form found here. I'd be delighted to have you.

You can also support my writing endeavours and buy me tea & cake - it's what makes the world go round!

Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet, completely addicted to cake. Find all her books on Amazon. Join the discussion in her Facebook group Buss's Book Stop. 

Tuesday 18 June 2019

Tuesday Poem - Cup of Tea

The toddler alarm blares loud and clear
I stumble through nappy changing
Rub crusty eyes and put the kettle on
It's time for a cup of tea

Two breakfast made and destroyed
Uniform found, teeth brushed, shoes cleaned
Reading book, spellings, lunchbox or dinners
No time for a cup of tea

An hour walk to school and back
In rain, wind, sun and occasional snow
We stop off for toddler time
I am owed a cup of tea

Lunch is a blur
Afternoon cartoons reign supreme
There's work to be done
But first a cup of tea

One more trip to school and back
Then it's homework and dinner and bathtime
Snuggly bedtime stories are my favourite
Then I sit, with a cup of tea

You can support my writing endeavours by buying me tea and cake.

Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet, completely addicted to cake. Find all her books on Amazon. Join the discussion in her Facebook group Buss's Book Stop. 

Friday 14 June 2019

Flash Fiction - Am I Awake?

She cries. I have a vague memory. Again, she cries. I stir. More fractious wailing. Eventually, I groan. The misery doesn’t stop and so autopilot moves me. Heavy limbs fight every motion as I zombie out of bed. Eyes refuse to clear their slumber but a memorised route prevents accidental collision. The bedroom door is opened with silent precision so as not to fully wake the child. Hesitant steps are taken. I hold my breath. The child sleeps. Now I must tiptoe back the way I came making not a whisper of a sound. Tiptoe. Tiptoe. She cries. I wake.

This week's challenge was to only write 100 words in ten minutes. 

You can support my writing endeavours by buying me tea and cake.

Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet, completely addicted to cake. Find all her books on Amazon. Join the discussion in her Facebook group Buss's Book Stop. 

Wednesday 12 June 2019

A Slice of Cake With... Chloe Hammond

Chloe Hammond is an Aquarius, very Aquarius. Born in Liverpool in 1975, she grew up in West Wales, but now lives in Barry in South Wales, with her husband and rescue cats and dogs. She always wanted to write, but life got in the way. Last year she was diagnosed with extreme anxiety and depression, which caused nightmares and sleepless nights. In her typically contrary way she used this to her advantage and the nightmares became this novel, and the sleeplessness nights were when she found time to write it. 

She has a lovely sea view from her desk, which she gazes at to still her mind so her characters can burst forth and have their say. Darkly Dreaming is her first novel, but Rae and Layla are demanding book two and three in the trilogy are written as soon as possible, they have adventures to live.

What kind of books do you write?

I write books about my characters dealing with the day to day problems in life- what to have for Lunch, who’s turn it is to sort out the leftovers, and how to pay the rent. My characters just happen to be vampires. 

Can you describe your writing why?

I first got the writing bug when I was about nine and our teacher read us a poem and then got us to write our own versions. I was hooked on playing with words to get them to say exactly what I want them to. I wrote continually after that. I even pestered my tutors at university to let me include creative writing as ¼ of my behavioural sciences degree until they gave in and let me. After university though, with the pressure of an all-encompassing vocation working with homeless teenagers, my writing fell by the wayside. Which attributed to be eventually becoming very I’ll with anxiety and depression. Which is why I refuse to get stressed out about marketing, or writing as much as other people. I write because I must, it keeps me balanced and well. And I write the books I would like to read- funny, vicious, grown-ups’ novels about best friends, who are vampires. 

Share with us your favourite passage from the book you enjoyed writing the most

Annie looks tiny, childlike and vulnerable, sitting there and I need to remind myself how easily she would be able to protect herself against a human if she needs to. Although it’s a balmy night, this isn’t a tourist beach, so there’s no one else here and she is sat out of the line of sight of the little cottage on the point. The rest of us have merged with the shadows under the trees and we wait, crouched in the shadows. I spend the next forty minutes wrestling with my emotions. On the one hand, I have been adamant that I’m not going to become a killer, and I’ve always abhorred the idea of even squashing an earwig. On the other hand, I never knew that vampires existed outside of my nightmares, but I did know about the human monsters that prowled the internet and residential Children’s Homes, picking their victims like ripe plums. I hate the predator abusers, with a passion born of supporting so many of their victims, and I know that many of the cold, calculating perpetrators escape justice and run rings around the legal system, which I don’t feel can deal with such soulless monsters. To remain fair to ordinary people, there are too many loopholes they can wriggle through. We have set this trap so that no one with innocent intentions will fall into it, and I admit to myself that I don’t feel they are any loss to humanity, and my friends need their blood, I am finding that I can be coldly dispassionate about the maths of this equation. There is another part of me that I can feel stirring, despite my best attempts to quash and ignore it, a part of me that has awoken as I ran to the beach, that I can feel uncoiling and flexing like a newly woken cat, excited at the prospect of stalking, toying, and killing. The scents of humans still linger from the locals who have picnicked on the beach this afternoon. They choose it because it’s kept secret from the tourists, so there is somewhere peaceful for the locals to go. Their smells stir the hunger in me and stoke the desire to hunt I am battling. Eventually, I hear a car crunch over the gravel as it pulls slowly into the carpark. My new vampire limbs mean I’m not at all cramped from stooping in the shadows for so long, and my vampire hearing means it is easy for me to listen as the man leaves his car, quietly clicking his door shut and slowly approaches Annie. He appears to be in his mid-thirties, average height and build with brown hair. He wears a t-shirt featuring one of the older bands we had ‘liked’ for Verity, and dark jeans. He looks utterly average, utterly nondescript. ‘Verity?’ Annie turns towards him. ‘Verity, I saw your posts. I was worried about you,’ he calls softly as he approaches her, crunching slowly through the sand in his Converse. Once he has obliviously passed by my hiding place, intent on his prey, I turn my back on the beach and I turn my mobile on. It is set to Verity’s Facebook page. I’ve had a good look at his face, so I can scroll quickly through the profile pictures on her friend list. He’s not on there. Ah, cunning: leaving no trail. The hunter in me wriggles in anticipation. This was not your common or garden pervert; we’ve hooked ourselves a proper monster. I almost pant in anticipation, and then, horrified, I remind myself that I am not supposed to be enjoying this. No matter who, or what, he is, I am about to be involved in killing a human being. I have to remember to consider what this will make me, who I could become. I must not lose myself in the thrill of the hunt. I must not let myself become a monster.

Tell us about your latest project

I am in the process of creating my first audiobook. I’m working with a lovely local actress to record Darkly Dreaming, Book 1 of The Darkly Vampire Trilogy. If things go well we will collaborate on the rest of the trilogy. I also plan to start writing Darkly Dazzling, Book 3 of the trilogy.

What is your favourite cake?

I have to pick 1???? I can’t do that. Oh Lord. Um, Victoria sponge. With raspberry jam and proper buttercream.

It's a classic choice and one of my favourites as well. 

You can connect with Chloe on Facebook and Twitter and find out more about her books on her website.

Join me next week when I'll be having a slice of cake with Jennefer Rogers.

If you would like to take part in A Slice of Cake With... please fill in the form found here. I'd be delighted to have you.

You can also support my writing endeavours and buy me tea & cake - it's what makes the world go round!

Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet, completely addicted to cake. Find all her books on Amazon. Join the discussion in her Facebook group Buss's Book Stop. 

Saturday 8 June 2019

Flash Fiction - Crying in the Wind

The best thing about bad weather is you can use it to lose yourself in. When it's hammering it down with rain and your fractal thoughts are in a maddening flux, a walk in the rain does a lot to bring things back into perspective.

It's generally rather uncomfortable to walk along in soaking wet clothing. And when the droplets of water begin running down your forehead, saturating your eyebrows to the point where the rain starts stinging your eyes... well, then you know you got wet.

The sheer genius of getting soaking wet in the rain is that your other problems shift time zones because right now you have to deal with getting out of worsening weather. By peeling off sodden clothing you can almost imagine you are shedding a worn-out version of yourself. Replacing that old worry wort with a fresh, towelled dry, invigorated whippersnapper who will have cream and marshmallows in their hot chocolate, thank you very much.

I can't say being caught in the sun has the same rebirthing connotations. Burnt skin and sunstroke, for the most part, lead to misery and woe, headaches and sickness, plus the hot gasp of pain as the slightest breeze dances across your sunburn. No, sun worshipping is not for the fair-skinned or those easily vexed by heat. You might think a fire sign would be well equipped to bask in the ultra-violet radiation all day long. You'd be wrong.

Snow, on the other hand, is a veritable time machine. It sucks you further back to childhood wonder with every flake that falls upon the ground and when those flakes begin to settle, the growing excitement is almost too much to bear. Sledges and snow boots are unearthed from odd little cupboards under the stairs. Fifteen layers of clothing are eagerly applied before booted feet crunch outside in utter glee. No matter the cold, no matter the wet gloves, no matter how much it hurts when you receive an icy ball to the face. Snow is fun. 

We mourn the rain that turns it into slosh and the dirt from vehicles that soils the gleaming white piles of pure joy into grey sludge. It's not even fun to go out in that rain. Not when it's killing the snow. I'll leave those tears for the wind. He can whip them away faster than I can make them fall and any sobs are lost in the howl and the roar of violent nature.

Yes, I leave my crying for the wind. 

If you enjoyed reading my flash fiction, you can buy me tea and cake and I'll write more!

Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet, completely addicted to cake. Find all her books on Amazon. Join the discussion in her Facebook group Buss's Book Stop. 

Wednesday 5 June 2019

A Slice of Cake with Karen Diem

This week I am delighted to have a slice of cake with Karen Diem.

As a writer, Karen Diem is a traditionalist. Her plans for adulthood centred on writing books from a cabin in the woods, with multiple cats as company and as endless sources of amusing anecdotes. She began by telling stories and handwriting scenes as a child. While she later graduated to an old manual (no, seriously!) typewriter, she had to return to her roots when the typewriter revolted after a particularly awful batch of fan fiction. She still considers the computer keyboard to be one of technology’s greatest gifts.

As she grew older, she took the writer-required variety of odd jobs before finally settling in as a technical writer. In that profession, Karen wrote a number of books and online Help systems for her employers, as well as an assortment of other documents. Somewhere along the line, the Society for Technical Communication threw a couple awards at her. After too many years, Karen disappeared from her technical writing job with a dramatic flourish of glitter and falling chocolates… or a polite resignation letter to the good people who paid her.

Without an outlet for her hyperactive imagination, she started writing anything on everything. Everything. Somewhere, there’s a receipt with a haiku about dog cookies on it. Gathering what little remained of her wits, she turned to fiction. During the last few years of her technical writing career, she had thrown together most of a novel. She abandoned it, although it may someday be completed after some major revision, perhaps as a steampunk trilogy… Did this biography mention she could be distracted by shiny ideas?

However, the idea of writing fiction stuck, and she began the Arca books, a series blending superheroes, mythology, and an intrepid heroine to make a delicious urban fantasy smoothie. Karen published the first book in the Arca series in May 2016, with the next book following a year later, along with short stories in between the two books. She is hard at work on the next few instalments in the series.

What kind of books do you write?

My books are about a version of reality where people have superpowers, mixed with a heavy dose of tongue-in-cheek and Murphy’s Law. I call it superhero urban fantasy.

Most of my heroes are genuinely good people with character flaws, who will trip over things in the dark and get in their own way at times. My main character, Zita Garcia, definitely has the wrong thing to say for almost any situation. The villains might chew up the scenery like the hammiest of drunken Broadway actors, but they’ll also have times where they try to figure out why someone’s throwing pies at them or where they’re actually smart and effective. Bystanders don’t behave predictably. Bosses only call when you’re busy rescuing people. That sort of thing.

Can you describe your writing why?

I love writing about my imaginary friends. I get cranky if I can’t write. Since I prefer not to alienate my real loved ones more than necessary…

Additionally, I’m also a huge consumer of multiple fiction genres, with the occasional nonfiction chaser. I’m a polygenre-ist?  A gentle subversion or rewriting of unrealistic, classic, or unhealthy tropes makes me happy. For example, male-female completely platonic friendships don’t usually show up in books unless the characters are actually related or one/both of them are gay. Superhero costumes don’t have pockets unless they’re wearing pseudo-military gear. Stalking one’s soulmate to win their heart—neither realistic nor healthy. 

The reason I publish is because I hope that other readers will have as much fun with my characters as I do. Also, bills. For some reason, people want to be paid for goods and services. Go figure.

Share with us your favourite passage from the book you enjoyed writing the most

Each one of my books has been fun for different reasons. Since my favorite passages from Monster would have spoilers, here’s a section of Power

Andy stared at the newspeople busy filming Wyn, Jerome, and Aideen. He inched closer to where Zita leaned against a tree. “I’m totally going to lose my geek card. It’ll spontaneously combust. I still haven’t thought of a good superhero name.”

“Birdbrains?” Zita suggested, keeping her own voice low and grinning. If he’s talking to me, he’s not wallowing in self-pity, and that’s a huge improvement. “Birdseed Pervert might still be available. That totally would work for you.” 

He snorted. “No. You suck at names. I wish I had my phone so I could check and see which ones are trademarked. J—Chevalier is awesome. He had his name all ready.” 

Zita shook her head and turned away, scanning the highway. The mass of cops must’ve felt confident they had the situation in hand, as they were allowing EMTs to tend to the wounded. “You just got a massage from a live electrical wire and broke an overpass with your butt. Are you seriously worried about trademarks?”

“What? Lawyers cost money, especially the sharks I’d need if one of the big comic companies came after me for infringement.” 

She rolled her eyes. “Pick something easy, then. How about Thunderbird? Your big form resembles one, and it references a muscle car. That’s all macho and might fool someone.” 

Andy grimaced. “I’m really feeling the love here. No. Almost every Native American superhero in comics has a name like Thunderbird or Chief Something-to-do-with-animals, even if it’s somewhat… sacrilegious. Not to mention, it feels wrong to pick my own name. You don’t give yourself names. Others gift you with them.” 

She rubbed the back of her neck and watched the other three goofing for the cameras. “You may be stuck with Mano then. Arca’s okay. It’s short and easy to spell.”

“I don’t like Mano. I mean, maybe Dreadnought—no, that one’s taken—or something cool. Dr. Dreadnought?” 

“Doctor Birdseed Pervert?” Zita poked his side, her smile conspiratorial. 

Andy shook his head. 

“More seriously, mano, I’ll help you think of something. Though I still think you should run with Birdseed Pervert while you got the chance. That name could be big.” 

Tell us about your latest project

The fourth book in the Arca series, Monster, was released on May 5, 2019. It’s fun! My very physical, straightforward, and undiplomatic main character has to chase down a serial killer obsessed with her family and solve a mystery (in addition to fighting bad guys). 

Also, she gets to rescue someone tied to the railroad tracks, because, hey, classic! 

Book five, as of yet untitled because I’m being horribly indecisive about it, is underway. I’ve already thrown someone off a cliff, literally, so I’m having a blast with it.

What is your favourite cake?

Chocolate layer cake, with chocolate fudge icing and curls or broken pieces of quality chocolate on top, unless I can get a still-warm-from-baking chocolate chunk cookie cake with hot fudge and Haagen Daz ice cream on top. That might be a tad specific, but dessert is important to get right. 

I agree with you on that one, Karen! You can keep up to date with all of Karen's writing news on her website, follow her on Facebook and Twitter and join her on Pinterest.

Join me next week when I'll be having a slice of cake with Chloe Hammond.

If you would like to take part in A Slice of Cake With... please fill in the form found here. I'd be delighted to have you.

You can also support my writing endeavours and buy me tea & cake - it's what makes the world go round!

Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet, completely addicted to cake. Find all her books on Amazon. Join the discussion in her Facebook group Buss's Book Stop. 

Tuesday 4 June 2019

Books Read in May

Pearl (The Sisters' Secret #3) by Katlyn Duncan

** spoiler alert ** Recap: Pearlina must complete her Drywalking Ceremony and bring back a human sacrifice but love gets in the way.

Review: I have enjoyed all three books in this series. The mermaid POV this time was so well written that you felt sympathy for them from the beginning and I was assessing each human Pearl met as to whether they would be a good sacrifice! My only niggle was that when she decided not to go back there was a lot of she never fit in any way but prior to her ceremony she was a model mermaid and that was all she'd ever wanted. Obviously, it's a fast love story, she only has a few days, but the emotion feels real and fits with what we know from the previous books.

Jade by Rose Montague

Recap: Jade Smith is the new cop in town. She's part shifter, part witch, part vamp and part fae. But not even Jade can handle what happens next on her own.

Review: A fast-paced, easy to read, fun novel. On the surface, it looks like the author couldn't decide what aspect of urban fantasy to write about so she threw it all in and you know what? It works brilliantly. Ok, so it might be super convenient for one character to have all the power she'd ever need to win the day but the reasoning behind this power is fascinating. My only complaint would be that there were so many interesting characters that I wanted to know more about them and I felt like we just met them so fleetingly. I'm looking forward to getting stuck in to book two. And my god woman! That was one helluva cliffhanger ending!

The Harvest by Alanah Andrews

Recap: Luc has reached final harvest and his superb emotional control guarantees a high ranking position. But he never clears harvest putting his sister in danger when she reacts wildly. 

Review: Excellent sinister world building of a dystopian future with echoes of Divergent. A prequel that leaves you with lots of questions and the immediate desire to read on. The characters were intriguing and the setting was well described.

The Path of Swords by Martin Swinford

Recap: Luan is a second son and has chosen the sword path. This short story tells of his journey to the Guild of the Sword. 

Review: all the elements of epic fantasy are present - a special sword, access to a magical realm, old mentor, feisty sidekick and lots of coincidences. But it's well written despite the obvious trope and fans of fantasy will enjoy the familiarity. There's a degree of sympathy for naive Luan and a great deal of mystery surrounding what will happen next. The story had natural pace and I'd read the next book. 

Year of the Guilty Soul by A.M. Leibowitz
Recap: We follow a year in the life of teenager Toni, as they try to figure out who they are.

Review: A sensitive insightful coming of age short story that deals with the entire gamut of emotions. It's compelling because the characters are so realistic, the social and family groups so natural. It feels like you were there watching and listening, very well done.

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

Recap: Charlie Worthing just made Novice Winter Consul. Armed with her wonky face and a good memory, all she has to do is survive the Winter. And HiberTech. And The Gronk. And nightwalkers. And figure out the whole Toccata/Aurora thing. She'll be fine as long as she doesn't dream...

Review: As enjoyable as ever, Fforde takes winter to the nth degree and makes it insane to survive through. It's intelligent prose that makes you think twice with some great characterisation and a main character you want to root for. It has all the lovable quirks you'd expect from a Fforde novel and I almost expected Thursday Next to turn up.

Star Mage Exile by J.J. Green

Recap: Carina is an unlikely merc with a big secret. When the latest job for the Black Dogs goes south, she risks revealing her true nature to survive.

Review: This is a great short story prequel that delivers in world-building, characterisation and laws of magic. I like that it's not click your fingers and bang. It felt like there was a real richness to the background detail and the characters were so well defined that you felt sad to leave some of them despite the brief tale. It's a great entry book to the series with lots of intrigue and no real idea of what exactly is going to happen next. I also enjoyed the blend of sci-fi tech, a proper fantasy space opera!

Coffee, Kids and a Kidnapping by Alyssa Helton

 Recap: Charlie is a single mum with three kids, two of them on the spectrum. She holds down a full-time job and drinks a lot of coffee! Her work includes confirming children up for adoption have no outstanding relatives wanting to make a claim.

Review: A real insight into Charlie's daily life which speaks of experience either on the job front or the special needs kids scenario. The characters feel drawn from real life and the dialogue, on the whole, is pretty natural. I don't read many first person POV books but this was done well, maintaining pace and interest. I'm not religious yet found the references to church and daily devotions interesting at how integrated it was in her life. Oh and there's lots of chicken dinners as well as coffee lol.

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

Recap: Sofia Khan is not getting married. She captures her woes on her blog leading to a book deal about dating (lucky thing) and then meets a string of very different men while all around her life stubbornly continued to churn out the unexpected.

Review: I enjoy reading books that offer a glimpse into other people's way of life although that said, we all have families and the dramas that come with them! The writing style was chatty and easy to read and the diary entries were much more emotional impactful than I expected. I was shedding a tear in several places. I'm also a sucker for a love story and this one had me all gooey in the middle. 

Smile Again - A collection of short stories by Eunice Nascimento
Recap: A collection of heart-warming short stories.

Review: The nicest thing about this collection is all the hope and happy endings. A day of sunshine on a gloomy day. All the characters are lifelike, the dialogue realistic and stories that make you smile.

Checking Out: Clockwise by T.W.M Ashford

Recap: Pierre, the concierge of Le Petit Monde, has an unexpected visit from a hotel inspector. He accidentally sends her into the jaws of the Yakuza yet on a rescue mission the gangsters have been slaughtered. On a quest to find the inspector, he dodges bullets in the Wild West and inadvertently releases a banished species back into the universe.

Review: I liked the character Pierre from book one so I was pleased to see him taking centre stage in book two along with his girlfriend Viola who is feisty and bad-ass. It's fun multi-world building with interesting alien species. Poor old Pierre lurches from one disaster to another and compels you to read on to find out what happens next. It's a fast-paced, gunslinging, time travelling, adventure! The addition of the random narrator and change in POV in the odd paragraph/chapter was a little jarring but at least George appeared in book two, especially after the cliffhanger ending of book one! But now we are left with a what on earth will happen next so I know I will have to read book three and that's a sign of good writing.

Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet, completely addicted to cake. Find all her books on Amazon. Join the discussion in her Facebook group Buss's Book Stop.