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My Mother’s Day Tribute

You are intelligent, patient, funny, witty, compassionate, humble, understanding, eclectic, strong and classy…only to name a few…

You taught me to be a free-thinker, to enjoy a wander through the woods, to be independent, to choose my words with care, to use my common sense and to know that I can never have too many books.

I’ve inherited your never-ceasing imagination, the “eye” to take an interesting photograph, a thirst to learn new things, a fascination with history and the ability to look good in almost any hat.

You were a dedicated, hard-working teacher for over 30 years; leaving the house by six and more times than not, arriving home closer to five…but then you’d have a home-made dinner on the table by six. I still don’t know how you did it.

This year marks 50 years of being married to your college sweetheart – another amazing feat especially considering the sweetheart… (Love you, Dad, but you know you can be…difficult sometimes).

You are your father’s daughter – a storyteller through and through…which is why you are an award-winning children’s book author.

You are forgiving – I’m sorry I took all your Metallica CDs when I left for college so many years ago.

You never expect anything; so your eyes light up with every gift and thoughtful gesture and we can see how precious it is to you.

Mum author photoYou inspire me because you are always full of energy, love and life.

You are my mother and I wish I could be there today to tell you all this in person. I am extremely proud of you and can only hope to be half the woman you raised me to be.

I love you, Mum.

To my own and all the mothers of the world: thank you for all that you have done/continue to do/will ever do for us.

Happy Mother’s Day!


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Interview with author JC Morrows

One of the joys of working at McKay’s is getting to speak with the authors that share their literary works with us. And when we’re lucky, those authors return to us when they finish new projects. JC Morrows is one such author who will be back at McKay’s for a second time (!!!) with the latest book in her Order of the Moonstone series. I recently had the pleasure of talking with this bestselling author of YA Christian speculative fiction and am happy to share our conversation with you. Read on, and be sure to mark your calendars for when JC will be at a bookstore near you!

McKay’s: I would love to hear you talk a little bit about the world(s) you’ve created. What drew you to them? What is it about that time/place that keeps you writing in it? I know that talking about inspiration can be hard, but if possible, can you talk about what inspired you to “live” in that setting?

JCM: I have always been a fan of fantastical, out-of-this-world stories. Of the different series I have written (only one of which is published so far), each one takes place in a very different “world.” As a young child, I was miserable with my own life much of the time and I escaped into books. Those worlds were my safe place. That love of worlds has naturally carried over into my own writing. Now they are so much more than a safe place. They are a warm haven when I’m having a rough day.

Typically, I write from a dream… or from an idea. My writing buddies and I have lots of in-depth conversations, and I love watching my ideas develop into possible stories during these sessions, including character development, world-building, plot and series mapping.

McKay’s: Your stories seem to have a number of steampunk elements to them, but it seems that most people place you in a young adult/Christian/speculative fiction box. Do you consider yourself to be a writer of steampunk fiction in addition to these other labels? If so, are you involved with the Steampunk community at all?

JCM: I am an oddity among even the few Christian writers I know of who weave their stories around a steampunk theme. I am completely fascinated by pieces of the steampunk world, but only pieces.

I love the Victorian clothing, but only the ones that are modest. And I love the idea of finding a way to utilize steam power instead of gasoline or nuclear energy. Those things fit so nicely into my story worlds, adding a layer of intrigue and endless possibilities.

As far as considering myself a “steampunk” author, I actually have a page on my website where I talk about the difference between “steampunk” and what I write – affectionately calling my own work SteamTheme.

McKay’s: What are your writing habits like? Do you have a set routine for when/where/how often you put pen to paper (or finger to keystroke)?

JCM: This is sort of a running joke in my family. I am not a morning person . . . never have been one. However, as a single mother who also home-schools, the only time I can truly concentrate on writing is when all is quiet – so I get up between 4 and 5 am every morning to write and/or edit.

There are days that see me still writing throughout the day (mostly when I’m on deadline), but I try to do so only when the children are occupied with other things.

McKay’s: I’ve read that you’ve been a storyteller since you were a little girl. Think back to the earliest stories you can remember telling. What were they about? Are there similar elements from the stories at that time that can be found in your current works?

quote 2

JCM: The earliest stories I remember telling were about castles and dragons and princesses. I was always crazy about fairy tales. I just had a tendency to make the damsel one who could get herself out of distress. That is certainly true of the heroines in my current series. I did not purposely base Kayden’s story on any fairy tales. However, there are definitely similar themes throughout the story. Kayden goes to the palace and falls in love with the Prince. Of course, instead of running away at midnight, she has to decide whether or not to follow through on her mission to assassinate him.

McKay’s: I know that A Dangerous Escape just came out, on the heels of your other recent publication A Dangerous Love, which released back in February. Congratulations on that! When you publish one of your stories, do you take any time to rest and celebrate? Or do you simply move on to the next story?

JCM: With my schedule, I can actually do both. We always celebrate when a book is finished – and then again when it releases, but if I take time away from writing, it’s a struggle to get back into my routine, so I do some sort of writing or editing every day – even on vacation.

McKay’s: Do you think you will ever stray away from young adult books and write anything geared more for adults? Why or why not?

JCM: I actually have already. I wrote the Andarii Chronicles for an adult audience. However, after my beta readers and my writing buddy read through it, they all begged me to rewrite it as a young adult series. I fought against this for a long time because I felt that it was more important to stick with my original plan. That is why the Order of the MoonStone series was published first.

After many conversations and some deep introspection, I have realized that ultimately it’s more important to give my readers what they want than to stubbornly stick with an idea that may never see the light of day.

So, to answer the question . . . I will most likely stick to writing for a young adult audience. Besides, it’s not as if there aren’t plenty of adults who enjoy reading YA fiction (myself included).

McKay’s: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

JCM: I spend time with my family. I read. I enjoy swimming and I’m learning (slowly and somewhat painfully at times) to play the piano and violin.

McKay’s: When and where can readers find out more about you and what’s next?

JCM: The best place to keep up-to-date on what’s happening is my Facebook Author Page or my Newsletter. I make every effort to update my website frequently, but I post on Facebook almost every day. All of my updates in GoodReads and other social media, as well as the posts from my blog, show up there as well.

JCM: Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this interview. I look forward to my next author event with McKay’s… not to mention my next shopping trip. 

Be sure to stop by and meet J.C. at a McKay’s near you, and check out her events page  to see all of the places she’ll be visiting during her A Desperate Escape book tour!

Nashville – May 7th           1:00pm

Knoxville – May 14th         1:00pm

Chattanooga – May 28th   1:00pm

 

Tour Poster A

 

JC Morrows: Best-Selling author of YA Christian speculative fiction, drinker of coffee and avid reader – is a storyteller in the truest sense of the word. She has been telling stories in one form or another her entire life and once her mother convinced her to write them down, she couldn’t stop.


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Pokémon GO

With Pokémon’s 20th anniversary this year, there are still big things happening for the franchise. Recently, Nintendo announced a new pair of titles, Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon. Pokémon GO, the alternate reality smart phone app, is starting beta testing in Japan this month.

The release of Pokémon GO opens up a new world of possibilities. There will be real life special events and gyms where trainers can face off against others and earn rewards for their efforts. You’ll be able to encounter “wild” Pokémon in the real world and have impromptu battles with other nearby trainers.

One of the coolest things, to me, is the aspect of immersing myself within the stylized world of Pokémon and creating an experience for others that is as enriching as my own have been. My brother and I have been brainstorming ideas, playing with themes, and generally having a lot of fun discussing our plans for Pokémon GO‘s release. Here are just a few of the ideas we’ve come up with.

  • Our last name is Watts, so we’re thinking of having an all electric-type team. We would costume ourselves as Benjamin Franklin and Nikola Tesla, and have a bluetooth speaker ready to pump out some AC/DC and other electricity-themed music.
  • If we’re able to get others in on the action, we’ve considered setting up unofficial gyms where other trainers can challenge an array of enemies, and if successful, he or she would receive a special badge, just like in the other Pokémon games.
  • We basically want to pretend to be NPCs in the Pokémon universe, and make corny puns and generally have a good time while battling trainers
  • And of course, the ultimate goal is to catch and raise the perfect team to become the most powerful Pokémon trainer in the world! Or maybe at least the most powerful trainer on the block… it could happen!

What are some things you can’t wait to do with Pokémon GO?


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Opening Line Challenge (Literature Edition)

Grab a scrap piece of paper and a pen; number 1 to 10. Read the opening sentence of these novels (pulled directly from the shelves of McKay’s). Write down what novel it comes from and once you reach the end, check your answers!   Simple enough, right?

Enjoy! I hope you find something that might spark your interest!

1.“A surging, seething, murmuring crowd, of beings that are human only in name, for the eye and ear they seem naught but savage creatures, animated by vile passions and by the lust of vengeance and of hate.”

2. “Lee Chong’s grocery, while not a model of neatness, was a miracle of supply.”

3. “I call our world Flatland, not because we call it so, but to make its nature clearer to you, my happy readers, who are privileged to live in Space.”

4. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

5. “Mr. Phileas Fog lived, in 1872, at No. 7, Saville Row, Burlington Gardens, the house in which Sheridan died in 1814.”

6. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

7. “When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.”

8. “On January 6, 1482, the people of Paris were awakened by the tumultuous clanging of all the bells in the city.”

9. “The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon.”

10. “Marley was dead, to begin with.”

 

Answers:

  1. “The Scarlet Pimpernel” by Baroness Orczy
  2. “Cannery Row” by John Steinbeck
  3. “Flatland” by Edwin A. Abbott
  4. “1984” by George Orwell
  5. “Around the World in 80 Days” by Jules Verne
  6. “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
  7. “Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka
  8. “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo
  9. “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
  10. “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens


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Interview with author Reice Ann Towns

In May of 2010, Nashville was flooded. If you lived in Nashville at that time, it’s likely that that event is, and forever will be, ingrained in your memory. You know where you were when it happened, how you reacted, how your friends reacted, and how you handled the devastating aftermath. I myself, while a Nashville resident at the time, was out of town visiting my family. I remember my own shock and horror as I first saw the flood on the news, and then feeling as if my fingers couldn’t dial my friends’ numbers fast enough to see if they and their homes were okay. I remember returning to Nashville the next day and seeing that the waters were still as high as the stop signs downtown. I remember helping friends clean up their flooded homes in the weeks that followed. I remember the city coming together to recover.

Reice Ann Towns was able to photographically document much of that flood. She has since researched the history of Nashville’s floods and has published her own book, Forty Feet and Rising: Nashville’s Historic Floods 1793 – 2010 on the subject. For anyone looking for a historical perspective on Nashville’s floods, you should contact Reice Ann and order a copy of this important work. Read on to learn more about her and her book.

forty feet rising

McKay’s: How did you become interested in the topic of Nashville Floods?

RA: I received my first digital camera as a birthday present in 2009.  Once I figured out how to use it, I became a shutterbug.  I was working in Metro Center at the time of the 2010 flood, and Metro had the area closed for three and a half days – I think it was because of the levy there.  My office was closed, of course, so I went around to different areas of the city and began taking pictures.  I showed them to my coworkers, and they suggested I write a book.  I thought they were joking around until they admitted they were being serious.  I talked to The History Press in South Carolina about my proposal, but they turned me down since I contacted them in the summer of 2010 (they wanted more time to pass before publishing it).  Before I was turned down though, the man I was working with suggested I write the book from a historical perspective rather than doing a picture book.  I did some initial research at the downtown public library, and when I saw how much information was out there I thought, “Ok, I can do this.”

McKay’s: You mentioned that “previous actions and lessons unlearned affected the metropolitan area during the devastating May 2010 flood.” Do you think those lessons have been learned since 2010?

RA: I’m not sure how to answer that one, unless we have – goodness forbid – a future flood where Nashville could see if any of the changes were implemented. I think the NWS (National Weather Service) and Corps of Engineers learned their lessons as far as keeping the lines of communication open so both agencies know what the other one is doing all the time. Metro has made changes in future development requiring builders to raise the height of whatever they’re building to an elevation where future flooding will be minimalized, and future development is now forbidden in areas where Metro bought out and raised homes in the floodplains.  Part of the reason why I included previous floods is to show how the flood patterns kept repeating themselves.  For example, many of the same streets and areas that flooded in 1926-27 (i.e. downtown Nashville and East Nashville) were the same streets and areas that flooded in 1929, 1937, 1975, and 2010.

Here’s an example of a lesson unlearned: On Jan. 22, 1849, The Daily Gazette stated the following:  “It would be well for our city, if every house within the limits of the inundation, used for a dwelling was levelled to the earth, and future buildings of that kind prohibited. … There are vacant lots all over the city, in high and dry localities. These might be put to use and rendered a public blessing.” As I mentioned to many people, do you think the people back then might have been on to something, and we missed the boat? A few months after the 1975 flood, developers began building residential subdivisions in areas that had been flooded which added more damage to the 2010 flood (the areas had been open land owned by individuals until developers bought their property).

McKay’s: In all of the floods you’ve covered since 1793, are there any that you would consider to be your favorite? Perhaps “favorite” isn’t the right word, but are there any that stand out the most to you? Or were the most interesting to you for one reason or another?

RA: No, I can’t really think of one flood I would consider my favorite or that would stand out. I thought it interesting though to see the estimated amount of damage in the previous floods – like $1 to $2 million in damages, and businesses’ property loss of $125 or even $40,000. The monetary amounts sound laughable now, but I know at the time those floods occurred it was a lot of money to them.  One item that stood out to me as being humorous is that there was a steel tank 14 feet in diameter and 30 feet long that washed up in the vicinity of the Jefferson Street Bridge in the 1926-27 flood.

McKay’s: This book must have taken a long time to research! Care to share any of your research tips? Or ways for staying motivated when the research feel daunting?

RA: Yes, a lot of research was involved.  I used to joke that the downtown public library was my home away from home.  I received a lot of my materials from a dissertation by Samuel Adams Weakley, and I spent many hours on the microfiche and microfilm machines at the library.  I also kept and used many newspaper articles from The Tennessean, The City Paper, and other newspapers for the 2010 flood.  For the 1926-27, 1929, 1937, and 1975 floods I got my articles from The Nashville Banner.  I took a few “mental stress breaks” when I got overwhelmed.

McKay’s: Your book offers a lot of information that would appeal to a variety of readers. Who would you say the target audience is for this book? The average layman? Government? Organizations like the Army Corps of Engineers? Local Nashville folks? People studying disasters and disaster relief?

RA: I wrote the book with the target audience being local Nashvillians, although anyone else in the groups you listed above might be interested.  It might also be of interest to high school or college students who have to research a project and/or write a paper about floods/natural disasters.

McKay’s: Any future books currently in the works?

RA: No, I’m not presently working on any new books.

McKay’s: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

RA: When I’m not writing, I enjoy reading, photography, spending quality time with family and friends, and cross stitching.

McKay’s: Where can readers learn more about you and any updates, events or future books?

RA: Unfortunately I do not have my own website, and I do not have any book signings lined up in the immediate future.  I self-published my book and am having a difficult time getting a book signing as the publisher has a non-returnable policy if the bookseller does not sell the book.  If anyone is interested in purchasing a copy of the book, I have several copies available on hand for resell; the cost is $30 (Author House wanted to charge $38, and I told them no way).  Other online retailers sell the book for $37.99 or higher (I just saw on Indigo the price is $55.50).  My email address is ralikestostitch@comcast.net. Please be sure to identify in the subject line something about purchasing a copy of the book so I won’t delete it as an advertisement email.

 

Reice Ann Towns grew up in Nashville and has lived there for the majority of her life. She has enjoyed research and writing since she was in elementary school.  In her spare time she enjoys reading, photography, and cross stitching.


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New Year’s Resolution

Hi.  My name is Eliza and I am an addict.

I am addicted to making lists…Grocery lists. To-do lists. Shopping lists. Lists of TV shows I need to watch. Lists of quotes I one day want to put on T-shirts. Lists of lists I should make.

As part of my 12-step recovery plan for the New Year, I’m gathering together all my scraps of paper and post-it notes in an attempt to step more solidly onto the road of organization. I would like to share with you now the first result of this de-cluttering process…

Objects owned by fictional characters that I wish were mine

1. Special Agent Aloysius X. L. Pendergast’s 1959 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith

Riding around in style, Pendergast is the hero of 15 Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child novels. Don’t let his albino undertaker appearance and smooth southern New Orleans’ accent fool you…his genius is on par with Sherlock Holmes and you do NOT mess with the people he cares about.

writer vest

 

 

2. Richard Castle’s “WRITER” Bulletproof Vest

Seriously, is there really any explanation necessary here?

 

 

 

 

3. Kitty Katt’s Ipod

Heroine of Gini Koch’s Alien series, Katherine “Kitty” Katt has been saving and protecting the Earth for a dozen novels now. She never goes anywhere without her ipod because you never know when a battle with bad-aliens-who-intend-to-take-over-the-world will ensue, and you need to have your best butt-kicking playlist on hand. (And yes, for each book I’ve made a list of the songs mentioned…she has awesome taste!)

4. Mississippi’s Hat (from the film El Dorado)

One of my favorite characters from an John Wayne movie (who isn’t the Duke himself), Mississippi (born Alan Bourdillion Trahern) avenges the death of Johnny Diamond, the man who raised him, all while being mocked for his (I think) awesome top hat.

5. Alexia Tarabotti’s Parasol

Soulless heroine of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, Alexia’s parasol inspired me to buy my own…all I need now is to find someone who can modify it to shoot sleeping darts, silver bullets and add the retractable blade. Hey, when you’re defending yourself against werewolves, vampires and ghosts…you gotta have all your bases covered.

6. Dr. Johnny Fever’s Coffee Mug and/or T-shirt

Early morning radio DJ from the world of WKRP in Cincinnati, Dr. Fever is rarely seen without his mug or wearing his Black Death Malt Liquor T-shirt. Until I have either of those items, I guess I’ll just have to be content to quote him constantly. “I’m telling you, free coffee is a constitutional right! Just look it up – Juan Valdez versus the state of California!”

7. Charlie Aleph’s Under-the-Cuff Spring-Loaded Silver Ball Shooters

Golem (though he prefers the term “Mineral-American”) Charlie, is the best partner that a human who’s pulled into an alternate universe could hope to have. A featureless black bag of sand animated with the essence of a T-Rex who dresses like a Film Noir hero – seriously, what’s not to love! Check out D.D. Barant’s Bloodhound Files series to enjoy Charlie’s sarcasm. (And please write the publisher requesting they make a Golem action figure line…I want them all!)

macgyver8. MacGyver’s Bag

Because it isn’t for what he brings, but for what he finds along the way…like the bars of chocolate that really can stop a sulfuric acid leak.

 

 

9. Dave Lister’s Leather Jacket (After it is thoroughly cleaned at least twice to rid it of the Chicken Vindaloo smell)

Lister was just a lowest-ranking crewman aboard the mining ship Red Dwarf until he was marooned three million years in the future. Now, he is the only human floating around in a galaxy far, far away with the hologram of his dead bunk-mate, a humanoid creature that evolved from his pet cat, and a Series 4000 mechanoid servant robot. Lister is pretty lazy, slobbish and unmotivated… until he encounters things that wish to kill him, then hilarity ensues. Admittedly, the British sci-fi comedy series Red Dwarf is an acquired taste but if you only watch one episode, I recommend “Meltdown” from Series IV…it’s my favorite.

10. Judy Garland’s Brown Dress

Summer Stock is my favorite MGM musical because it has the two greats: Judy Garland and Gene Kelly. In one of the best dance duet scenes of the movie, where a simple small-town square dance becomes the scene of an awesome “dance-off”, Judy Garland is wearing this brown dress with orange/red accents. It’s very 1950, not flashy at all and probably by today’s standards, if you were at a party, it’d be boring…IF you weren’t dancing. The flare of the skirt is perfect for spinning around a dance floor.


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Interview with author Jeff Dennis

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Dennis and his lovely wife, Cheryl, when they were here for Jeff’s author event. They were down-to-earth, loving souls, and the kind of people that you like immediately. In our brief conversation, I learned that while Jeff is an author, he’s also much more than that; a passionate musician, an avid reader, and most importantly, an extreme lover of living life.

Jeff was kind enough to let me pick his brain about who he is, his writing process, and his life.

McKay’s: I’d love to hear about your fiction writing process.

JD: Story ideas and characters percolate in my mind sometimes for years before I get around to capturing my vision in words. For example, ideas for my latest thriller, TO TOUCH INFINITY, began bubbling up in my imagination somewhere around 1995. Then when the 9/11 attacks happened and the Department of Homeland Security was created in 2003, I knew I had my starting point. So you could say my new novel has been 12 years in the making.

As for process, I always start with character. I think fully drawn, believable human characters are what really dictate the plot, and are what readers ultimately respond to. Before committing words to paper, I create fictional biographies for each of my main characters, including photos clipped from magazines so I know their physical appearances. When I finally begin writing a novel, I work every day. I find it necessary to write every day to stay on top of the narrative thread as I weave the plot. Taking time off tends to unravel that all-important thread. I work mornings, because that’s when my creative powers are highest. (When I was still working in the corporate sector, I would often get up at 4 am and write for an hour or two before shuffling off to earn the daily bread.) I start each writing session by editing the work I did the day before. If I have done the proper setup of my character profiles, plotting tends to be easier because I know my characters as if they are real people. I know their strengths and weaknesses, their ambitions and motivations, their personality traits and flaws. I know what they would do in certain situations. Not that plotting is easy. It’s just easier for me if I have done my homework on my cast of characters first.

Writing novels requires a huge amount of self-discipline and dedication, but I love the process. I love creating characters and plotting their way through story scenarios. Writing fiction is challenging and personally rewarding to me. I’ve been lucky enough to make a little money at it, but it is something I would do even if I didn’t make a penny. Something deep inside my psyche drives me to write fiction. My goal each time out is to entertain myself. I figure if I do that, a few other people might find the story entertaining as well.

McKay’s: I know that you’ve done a lot of technical writing in addition to your fiction writing. What are some of the differences in writing each style? Any unexpected challenges in shifting from one to another?

JD: Yes, I spent 30+ years as a technical writing consultant for IT firms in the Atlanta area. The paychecks were wonderful, but to be honest, technical writing has always bored me. And I’m really not a corporate kind of guy. I retired in April 2015, and immediately felt like I had been released from prison!

That said, technical writing has taught me the value of word economy. Technical writing is all about getting the point across in the least number of words. It’s about creating concise, at-a-glance documentation to inform end users how to use computer software applications and/or hardware systems. It’s about presenting information in the most succinct format possible. Lots of bulleted lists and procedural steps. You can’t get verbose. You really have to pare it down to what is most critical to the user. I have carried much of that writing mindset over to my literary work. I have never had a problem shifting from one type of writing to the other though several technical writers I know who have attempted writing fiction have struggled with the transition. In short, I find technical writing to be too confining for my writing tastes. I much prefer the creative, wide-open freedom of writing novels and short stories. While I do have a lot of technical expertise, my imagination is my strength. Don’t tell anybody, but there were a few times over the years that I dipped into my imagination and made up things when I couldn’t fully grasp a technical concept. The funny thing is, my subject matter experts thought my made-up stuff was right on. I didn’t do it often, but I found it fun to try it once in a while to see if it would pass inspection by technical reviewers. Science fiction is what I call that type of technical writing!

McKay’s: If you could only pick one piece of writing advice for novice writers, what would it be?

JD: Read, read, read, read (read widely and deeply, even outside your preferred genres), write, write, write, write … and never ever give up. Believe in yourself and your story ideas, and develop your writing skills. Remember, it doesn’t happen overnight. The path to producing polished, commercial fiction requires commitment to your craft and a long apprenticeship.

I wrote four long, bloated (i.e., terrible) novels before I ever made a sale (a short story sale to Eldritch Tales magazine). Those four novels and many of my early short story attempts are my “trunk” writing. They’ll never see the light of day. They constitute my very long apprenticeship. Those works were part of the process. I never would have been able to produce the four books of fiction I have published without that early, painful part of the process. At times I wanted to throw in the towel. So many rejections, some of them unnecessarily harsh. But I never gave up. I kept writing. Despite all the negative feedback, I continued to believe in my ability to tell a good story. 

McKay’s: Who are some of your favorite authors to read?

JD: Wow! That’s a tough question because I read so much and have very diverse tastes in popular fiction. I like any story that is well told and engaging. Authors who pull me in from the first page and keep me captivated throughout are high on my list. Authors whose stories and characters stay with me long after I finish their books also rank high with me. Perhaps the best way for me to answer is to list my favorite authors by genre.

Mystery/Thriller – Peter Abrahams, Giles Blunt, Gerry Boyle, Sandra Brown, Edna Buchanan, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Nelson DeMille, William Diehl, John Dunning, Joseph Finder, Lisa Gardner, James W. Hall, John Hart, Carl Hiaasen, Greg Iles, John Katzenbach, Ed McBain, Geoffrey Norman, P.J. Parrish, Ridley Pearson, Bill Pronzini, Lawrence Sanders, James Siegel, William Tapply, Randy Wayne White, Stuart Woods (his first 6 novels … nothing past that).

Horror/Dark Fantasy – Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, F. Paul Wilson.

Mainstream – Mitch Albom, Chris Bohjalian, Pat Conroy, Bernard Cornwell, William Goldman, Sara Gruen, Jon Hassler, Homer Hickam, Elin Hilderbrand, Evan Hunter, John Jakes, Wally Lamb, James Michener, Irwin Shaw, Nicholas Sparks, Jonathan Tropper, Meg Wolitzer, Jess Walter, Herman Wouk.

As you can see, I’m a voracious reader. Every time I read a book by one of these accomplished authors, I learn a lot about storytelling techniques.

McKay’s: Has anyone or anything in particular been a good role model for you in your pursuits?

JD: I had a wonderful creative writing instructor in college (Bryant University in Rhode Island) who saw the raw writing talent in me and encouraged me to work at it. Professor Mary Lyons took me under her wing and taught me writing mechanics and how to write realistic dialogue and how to pace a story. She motivated me, letting me know that if I really dedicated myself, I could become a capable fiction writer. Her critiques were brutal at times, but she toughened me up and improved my writing immensely. I believe every aspiring writer would benefit from the tutelage provided by someone like professor Lyons.

McKay’s: Now that you’ve reached your goal of publishing a novel (and then exceeded it by publishing more!) do you have other milestones that you’re hoping to obtain?

JD: I don’t consider it a definable milestone, but I have long wanted to write a straight-ahead comedy. Much of my work heretofore has been very dark and macabre, and, at times, ultraviolent. Those who have read any of my stories know that I intersperse black humor along the way. I love dark humor, but I would like to lighten things up and write a comedic novel that keeps the reader smiling/laughing. It’s a huge challenge that I’m not convinced I can pull off. Just ask any stand-up comedian how difficult it is. Humor is very subjective. Something someone finds hilarious offends other people. Or maybe something you intend to be funny falls flat. Not sure I can do it, but that’s never stopped me from trying. Someday maybe . . . hopefully?

McKay’s: Anything currently in the works?

JD: Absolutely. I am currently writing the sequel/conclusion to my second novel, KING OF THE HOBOS. The working title is HOBO JINGO, and if the writing gods cooperate and the creek don’t rise, should be published late next fall or early 2017.

McKay’s: Your website states that your friends and family call you “Doc.” Care to share the story behind this nickname?

JD: It’s funny, the origin of nicknames. For some inexplicable reason, I’ve always been a magnet for nicknames. I’ve been tagged with many over my lifetime, but the longest running has been Doc. It started out as derogatory, but in time, with everyone in my social circles calling me that, I started liking it. Over the years, my nickname has morphed from a negative jab into a term of endearment.

You see, I have always been a bit clumsy, a complete uncoordinated klutz. More so after partaking in alcoholic beverages. In the late-70s I was playing in an Atlanta band called Sawtooth. I shared a rehearsal house with the rhythm guitarist, Ray Jennings. One night, after playing a party and slurping down a bit too much firewater, I accidentally broke a few things. So Ray branded me with the nickname “Doctor Destructo.” Over the years the name got whittled down to Doctor D and then finally just plain old Doc. This is the first time I have made that story public. As I said, I am now fond of the nickname. Probably more information than you wanted, Becky. I’ll bet you’re sorry you asked that question, eh?

McKay’s: I hear you also play guitar! Talk a little about your band.

JD: Ah, yes. My other passion … music. I play rhythm guitar and sing in a trio, The Third Rail. We do acoustic versions of classic rock covers and play mostly private parties around the Atlanta area. Some of the bands we cover are the Beatles, Rolling Stones, U2, Eagles, Van Morrison, Allman Brothers, Moody Blues, and Dire Straits, to name just a few. The Third Rail has been together for a little over a year. The lead guitarist and I go way back, having played in several bands together going back to the mid-1980s.

So how and when did I get started playing guitar? In elementary school my parents pushed me into playing the trumpet. I hated every minute of it. My lips hurt constantly and I didn’t have the wind to coax pleasing sounds from the instrument. I was an uninterested and very unskilled third trumpet in our elementary school orchestra. My first foray into music was a disaster. And then, an epiphany happened. I saw the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show when I was eleven years old. I saw all those young girls screaming their heads off for the four longhaired Brits playing those wonderfully loud electric guitars. I said to myself, “that’s for me.” And like a zillion other young boys, I convinced my parents to buy me a cheap electric guitar (electric guitar sales in the US went off the charts in 1964). It was a used Teisco Del Rey. It looked great but really was a piece of crap. The neck was slightly warped and it wouldn’t stay in tune. But it was mine and I thought I looked cool with it strapped on. It was good enough for me to learn a few chords and join my first rock band. It also got me away from that damned trumpet!

And so began my lifelong passion for the guitar. Rock music has always been a huge inspiration for me, and it has greatly influenced my fiction writing. Readers will find many references to rock/pop artists and songs in all three of my novels and many of my short stories.   

McKay’s: Where can readers learn more about you and any updates, events or future books?

JD: Readers can learn everything there is to know about my work and me on my website at www.jeffdennisauthor.com. I love to hear from my readers, and I always reply quickly. I value each and every one of my fans.

Thank you, Becky, for giving me this forum. I appreciate it. And I really enjoyed both of my McKay Books signing appearances in Chattanooga and Nashville. Everyone made me feel right at home. And oh what a great bookstore! For a bona fide book junkie like me, it felt like being in heaven.

Jeff Dennis Author Photo 

Jeff Dennis is an Atlanta writer and author of four books of fiction. He is also the rhythm guitarist/vocalist with the power acoustic trio The Third Rail. You can read more about him at http://www.jeffdennisauthor.com


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Veterans: Thank you for your service

wpmVisiting my grandparents’ house growing up I was always enamored with this photograph of my grandfather. He looked so young that I almost couldn’t recognize him – almost. The kind glint in his eye and his smile were still the same decades later, but as a child, the photo was a bit of a mystery to me. It hung in a large frame surrounded by at least half a dozen similar photos of young men, and it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized that they were Marines, just like my grandfather. Like many veterans of World War II, my grandfather rarely spoke about his service and I never recall him doing so in my presence.

Both of my grandparents have passed away, my grandfather in 2011, so in search of more information about our family veteran, I turned to my mother. Not surprisingly, she too knew little about her father’s service during the war. “He just didn’t talk about it”…but that’s not to say she knew nothing.

He’d enlisted likely around 1941, along with his cousin “Strawberry” (named for his bright red hair) out of a sense of civic duty – that it was the thing to do. He’d been stationed in San Diego, Hawaii and Samoa in the South Pacific. He was in Radio and Communications. My mother did not believe he’d seen much active, violent duty – a fact that I found comforting. Although, I doubt he would have admitted it to his loved ones even if he had.

Those were really the only specific details my mother knew, but not the only stories. In 1942, while on a 48-hour pass around Thanksgiving, my grandfather returned to Indiana and married my grandmother. Afterward, when they were living in San Diego, they stayed with an Italian couple that treated them like family; hosting fellow Marines to large meals on Sundays. The newlyweds also loved visiting the San Diego Zoo and spent many days there together.

I loved hearing those stories, but my favorite one relayed to me by my mother took place while my grandfather was in the South Pacific. Marines were given ration coupons for their cigarettes and beer, but since my grandfather didn’t smoke and rarely drank he traded those coupons with other Marines. For what? Milk and ice cream. Hearing that, it truly made me smile because it was so in line with the man I grew up with and loved…my grandfather loved his ice cream.

After his tour of duty, my grandfather finished the college education that he’d started before enlisting. He was a vocational agriculture teacher for a number of years, then an 8th grade science teacher (teaching at least one future astronaut). He loved his children and grand-childern and was one of the most entertaining and animated storytellers I’ve ever heard. And even though he did not speak about his experience during the war, he was proud to have served his country. Every now and then you could have heard him humming the the Marine Hymn because after all, once a Marine, always a Marine.

Semper Fi, Grandpa.

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My gratitude and thanks to all veterans on this day of remembrance. You do us all a great honor and service.


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The Censorship Monster

Yesterday, author Saladin Ahmed tweeted this: “Censorship in America is less about making books illegal and more about a status quo that ensures certain stories never get a wide audience.”

As an avid reader, a good story is better than chocolate for me. I WANT TO READ EVERYTHING YUMMY. So this statement gets under my skin because it means I might be missing out on perfectly good stories because I never hear of them; or worse, they’re never even published.

A few weeks ago, I listened to an interview on the Sword and Laser podcast with author Cherie Priest, a Chattanooga native who’s published many popular steampunk novels, like Boneshaker. She mentioned how her agent had approached Scholastic with a middle-grade novel she’d recently written featuring a girl space pirate. Everybody likes space pirates, right? Especially 10-14 year olds? But Scholastic turned Priest down, along with several other publishers, saying that there was no audience for such a book—girls don’t read sci-fi, and boys don’t read books with girl protagonists. And this is in 2015. If publishers turn down authors like Priest, with many publications and awards, then what about all the other novels I’m missing out on? I like space pirates!

I’ve heard other horror stories- a woman author rejected by agents multiple times until she pretended to be a man; how The New York Times Book Review reviews almost exclusively white male writers; the difficulties of publishing while black. This isn’t to say only women and people of color have trouble publishing; I’m sure examples exist of white male writers being censored before an excellent story can land in the hands of readers, but it does seem like the industry’s weighted against them. What also seems evident is that there are plenty of examples of how readers’ choices are being censored without us even being aware of it.

Certainly Banned Book Week should honor the many classics that are frequently banned by schools and libraries—like 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Ulysses—but these books, despite being banned in some places, are readily available for reading in the US. What worries me more, as an avid reader, is that my choices are being censured before I even know there are choices. And what can we, as readers, do about it? There are nifty book challenges, like this one from Book Riot, that challenge readers to find books and authors outside their comfort zones. Readers can also be more aware of the authors they’re reading—while I read about 50-50 male and female writers, I read too few books by people of color. Being aware of this prejudice, even if it’s subconscious, means I’m more likely to pick up an awesome sounding story by a person of color. And maybe if we buy more of these books, reviewed them, recommend them to our friends, then the publishing industry will start listening. This should be our market. Let’s tell the publishers that we want good stories no matter who writes them.

Kingsbury Author Pic

Margaret Kingsbury’s short stories and poems have appeared and/or are forthcoming in The Devilfish Review, Pulp Literature, NonBinary Review, and Expanded Horizons. She lives in Nashville, TN where she teaches at Lipscomb University and, of course, works at the Nashville Mckay’s. You can follow her on Twitter @MargaretKWrites


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Interview with author Daniel Klingler

He’s a cosmetologist. He’s an actor. He’s a business owner. He’s now an author.

Meet Daniel Klingler.

I recently had the pleasure of talking with Daniel, cosmetologist extraordinaire, about his thoughts on beauty and life. With over ten years of experience working and training in the cosmetology industry, Daniel has taken his experiences and passion for helping others enhance their natural inner beauty and wrote an instructional book, Everyday Makeup Secrets. This book is filled with tips and tricks of the trade that will help women take their beauty into their own hands. It is my honor to share some of his thoughts with you.

McKay’s: What’s the most common makeup question you get from clients? 

DK: I am commonly asked how to fill in the eyebrows. My answer begins with correct brow grooming. I have a small panic attack when I see a client who has not groomed their eyebrows. It is so difficult to get a beautiful shape when there are stray hairs over the brow bone. Second, find the correct brow shape for your face. You can’t go wrong with a soft angled brow. My favorite brow product would be ANASTASIA (found at Sephora, Ulta or online). Quick tip: With a small brush, apply a light concealer along the bottom of the completed eyebrow. It will strengthen the brow shape and add dimension to the brow.

McKay’s: In one of your descriptions for your book, you say “Women love how makeup can make facial features pop and can hide flaws,” which seems to implicate women as your target audience. Do you think men can find it helpful as well? Do you ever get questions from men about how to hide flaws and take care of their skin?

DK: I am so glad you asked that question. If I were being transparent, I wish I would have included a specific section for men. Although women are my target audience, I want men to know it is OK to wear makeup. If it’s to cover a blemish or to cross-dress, there is information that will help. Now, makeup is 80% corrective and 20% color. Men have issues with acne, dark circles and skin discoloration. The chapters in my book address these concerns and are applicable to me. I’ve included a section on Tattoo Cover as well!

McKay’s: Your book seems to be about everyday make-up secrets. Will readers also get information on how to do theater make-up? 

DK: I wrote this book to be a reference for all things “beauty” makeup related. Although, the roots of corrective makeup (highlights and contour) come from Theater Makeup. I have submitted a proposal to produce a Theatrical Makeup book. Fingers crossed!

McKay’s: If you could only pick one piece of make-up advice to give to someone, what would it be?

DK: I only get one piece of advice!? I suppose I would share my #1 tip…Good makeup starts with a clean palette. Meaning, take care of your skin. I purposely included a chapter on skin care. When you understand your skin type you will be able to find skin care products and makeup that work with your specific skin needs. The rest will fall into place.

McKay’s: Are there any colors or shades of makeup that you detest?

DK: I only detest the wrong “shade” of color on the wrong person. This requires folks to understand their skin tone. If you have strong red undertones, makeup with an orange undertone may completely clash. But that same color could look gorgeous on someone with olive skin.

McKay’s: You seem to wear many hats (both literally and figuratively) from author, to cosmetologist, to business owner/entrepreneur, to actor, to the hats you wear in your personal life. How do you manage to juggle them all?

DK: Lots of Champagne!! Actually, that’s a great question. My salon is in my home which helps a lot. When I am not with a client I am designing wigs for a show. Honestly, I don’t know anyway else to be. Recently, I performed (as an actor) in back-to-back productions while designing wigs for shows and seeing salon guests. I’ll sleep when I die.

McKay’s: I’d love to hear about your writing process. Was it a difficult transition from makeup artist to writer? What were some of the unexpected challenges and pleasures of that process?

DK: I have a background in curriculum and development so the transition wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. Also, I taught in cosmetology schools for Aveda and Paul Mitchell for several years. I was very clear about how the book should be laid out from the beginning. Not that there weren’t challenges! My publisher (Alpha) had set guidelines before I wrote my first word. For example, I knew the book would 256 pages. Those pages were broken into chapters with a spread count for each chapter. My editor would send me emails asking me to add more information, add a sidebar or include another tip. That was probably the most frustrating part of the process.

McKay’s: I know that you’ve done quite a bit of work for theater productions. Do you have a favorite play/musical that you like to watch?

DK: On TV, THE WIZARD OF OZ. Ironically, I would say on-stage WICKED; however, I worked the National Tour of WICKED and was able to watch the production for weeks. I may have finally worked it out of my system!

McKay’s: Do you have a “dream production” that you hope to someday be able to do the theatrical makeup for?

DK: I want to share some insider information for those who want to get into theatrical makeup. There are not a lot of “makeup” jobs in theater. You want to become a wig designer with a proficiency in makeup. Most actors are given a design and learn how to apply it to themselves. Unless it’s a musical or play that requires extensive prosthetic makeup like Beauty and the Beast or SHREK. I would suggest going into film work for more consistent work. With that being said, I am designing the makeup for ADDAMS FAMILY THE MUSICAL. This will be a lot of fun, lots of gray-scale makeup! In terms of wig design, I am dying to “re-design” HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH. I designed the show prior to it coming on Broadway. I was able to see Neil Patrick Harris as HEDWIG on Broadway. The wig designer (Mike Potter) re-imagined a dozen more wigs for the production. It inspired me to tackle the production again.

McKay’s: In your free time (if you get any!), what do you enjoy doing?

DK: That’s the pleasure of living in your bliss! Even though I am constantly working, half the time I don’t realize it. I was working on a client the other day. It was a beautiful day. While her color was processing, we took our coffee onto my back porch. She said, “Isn’t nice we don’t have to work today?” I said “Yes….Wait a minute, I am working!”

A few months ago I started taking Pilates and Yoga. Stretching has been so good for me, especially in a field where you are standing and using your hands so often.

McKay’s: Any last thoughts that you’d like to share with our readers?

DK: I love makeup and hair design, I love the artistic aspects of the field, I love the connection with my guests and I love how it makes a person feel to transform them. With all of that said, beauty truly begins from within. I have a personal quote I hung on my wall, “I want to make you beautiful so you can be beautiful for others”. I think it would be irresponsible not to point that out. My guests always say, “It’s time to make me beautiful.” and I always respond, “My job is to enhance your beauty.”

McKay’s: What’s next? 

DK: I am about to design four shows in the month of September. CHRISTMAS CAROL (Indiana Repertory Theater), ADDAMS FAMILY (Beef and Boards Dinner Theater), LA CASA AZUL (Gregory Hancock Dance Theater) and ANDREW BROTHERS (Actors Theater of Indiana). I will be appearing in some TV segments featuring Makeup Tips and Halloween Makeup as we get closer to Halloween. I have been in discussion with my publisher about two books, however, nothing has been finalized at this point. Lastly, I am giving myself a well-deserved vacation in London and a 12 day Mediterranean Cruise….I am counting down the days!

Meet Daniel in person at the Nashville McKay’s on Friday, Sept. 25, at 6:30 pm.

 Daniel Klingler
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Owner of Neck Up Designs, Daniel is a AVEDA trained and certified cosmetologist who has worked in the beauty industry for over ten years. In addition, he also taught cosmetology at the Institute of Beauty and Wellness in Milwaukee. Daniel has received numerous awards such as the prized AVEDA National Talent Scholarship Award and the Instructor of the Year Award from the Institute of Beauty and Wellness. His latest adventure has taken him to Broadway where he’s styled for some of Broadway’s biggest shows. He holds a doctorate in Education Administration from Cardinal Stritch University and currently lives in Indianapolis.