Monday, March 25, 2013

Author Interview: Joyce Yarrow

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Today, I'm pleased to welcome author Joyce Yarrow to the blog for an interview. Here is the blurb for Joyce's latest book, Code of Thieves:

Full-time private investigator/part-time poet Jo Epstein travels to New York and eventually to Russia to help clear her emigre stepfather—who is framing him for murder and who is sending him threatening messages in Russian nesting dolls (matryoshkas)? Her investigation takes her on a journey into her stepfather’s past and into the honor-bound code of the “vory,” a Russian criminal syndicate.

Here's Joyce with more.

1. You said on your website that “settings are characters.” What do you mean by that?

Well, it is often said that a place ‘has character’ – and since our environment has such power to shape us, I would take it one step further. Cities and towns, suburbs and wilderness all share the qualities of a living organism, both symbolically and in reality. This is why streets are called arteries, mountains taunt us with their grandeur, and Billy Joel sings about being in a ‘New York’ state of mind.’

As I see it, my job as a writer is to bring to life the physical universe in which a story takes place, so that the border between character and setting blurs and the two merge in the reader’s mind to create an alternate reality. Raymond Chandler was a master at this, to the point where a mini-industry has sprung up in Los Angeles, taking mystery fans on tours of the settings portrayed in his books. Here’s a classic example: “The muzzle of the Luger looked like the mouth of the Second Street tunnel, but I didn't move. Not being bullet proof is an idea I had had to get used to.” From The Big Sleep.

When I traveled to Russia in search of settings for Code of Thieves, each place I visited—Vladimir Central Prison, the Moscow Metro, the Matryoshka Factory, et al—became a character in its own right, revealing its unique personality and inviting traumatic events to transpire there.

2. Do you revisit certain themes in your writing and, if so, what are they?

This is a dangerous question to ask a writer who feels that self-consciousness is a hazard of the trade. In my estimation, themes are for readers to find on their own when stimulated by a good story. On the other hand, each book I write has a strong intent. The intent of Ask the Dead was to show how a detective seeks on many levels. The intent of Code of Thieves was to prove that revenge always acts like a boomerang—coming back to destroy the perpetrator—no matter how many years it takes to complete its trajectory.

3. What is one thing you must have when you write?


4. If your book was going to be made into a movie, what would the soundtrack be like and who would write it?

I did create a video book trailer for The Last Matryoshka (the hard back edition of Code of Thieves). For the soundtrack, I mixed the voices of the Russian Army Chorus with urban American bass & drum beats, reflecting the two continents where the story is set. Istoria’s book trailer for Code of Thieves also includes a wonderful Russian folk song.

Howard Shore did a fantastic job on the music for Eastern Promises and if Code of Thieves were to be made into a feature film, I’d love to see him score it collaboratively with Herbie Hancock.

5. If you could meet any three people (living or dead) who would they be and what would you talk about?

I would love to meet author Ruth Rendell and ask her how she developed the capacity to see so clearly into dark hearts.

If I could meet Albert Einstein I’d ask him how to split the atom of peace.

It would be an honor to meet Salman Rushdie and talk about how he managed to explore so many complex facets of India through one character’s eyes in Midnight’s Children.

6. What’s up next for you?

I am co-writing a novel with Indian writer Arindam Roy that covers two generations of crime, romance, and adventure. The book is set in India and N. America and explores multiple strands of society in both settings. I will embark on my 3rd trip to India next month – this time to go to my first Indian wedding and then to a writing residency at Hesse Centre in Bhimtal.


Joyce Yarrow was born in the SE Bronx, escaped to Manhattan as a teenager and now lives in Seattle with her husband and son. Along the way to becoming a full-time author, Joyce has worked as a screenwriter, singer-songwriter, multimedia performance artist and most recently, a member of the world music vocal ensemble, AbrĂ¡ce.

Joyce is a Pushcart nominee, whose stories and poems have been widely published. Her first book, Ask the Dead (Martin Brown 2005), was selected by The Poisoned Pen as a Recommended First Novel and hailed as “Bronx noir”. Her latest book, Code of Thieves, takes place in Brooklyn and Moscow. It was published in hardcover (as The Last Matryoshka) by Five Star/Cengage and is now available for Kindle and other ereaders through Istoria Books. ( A new edition featuring an essay by Joyce and an interview with her will be released April 2013.

Joyce considers the setting of her books to be characters in their own right and teaches workshops on "The Place of Place in Mystery Writing."

What people are saying about Code of Thieves:

"Intricately layered like the Russian nested doll of the title..." Library Journal
"You'll want to discover the secrets buried in The Last Matryoshka..." Lesa Holstine, Lesa's Book Critiques
"Joyce Yarrow....may very well prove herself to be the Mickey Spillane of the 21st century...." Seattle Post Intelligencer

Code of Thieves is available for Kindle  and Nook now. Versions for Nook and other e-readers will be available within 3 months.

Look at other Istoria Books offerings here:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Difference of a Year

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

I was going through my email last week, looking for something, when I stumbled on a couple of messages I've kept around for encouragement. They were sent after a workshop I attended in early March of last year. It was a pretty rough experience and left me doubting my ability to cut it as a writer.

Let me set the stage. I had a novel I'd been working on, off and on, for about 10 years. Yes, you read that right - 10 years. But I'd completed the first draft (finally) the previous summer due to a period of unemployment. I'd submitted a part of it for critique and been told it hadn't sucked. I'd lived with it so long, I figured I knew everything about it by now.

Well, I didn't. That workshop made it glaringly obvious that this manuscript had serious problems. And I despaired of ever fixing it. After crying a bit (okay, more than a bit), I put the story away. Faced with yet another rewrite, I just couldn't bear to look at it any more.

But I knew that I had more to learn. About that time is when I started working seriously in short fiction. I read. I attended more workshops (in person and online). And I kept writing.

Fast forward to March 2012:

  • I have one book published (the first in the Hero's Sword series), with a contract for three more.
  • I have a short-story accepted for publication in an online magazine.
  • I have another short story accepted for publication in an anthology.
  • I've learned (through workshops and books) a ton about just why that first novel manuscript didn't work.
What a difference a year makes.

The biggest difference in where I was in March 2011 and where I am in March 2012? No, not the books or the workshops (although they have undoubtedly helped). It's something intangible, something I think every successful writer does even if they can't articulate it.

It's perseverance. "Stick-to-it-iveness." A plain-old refusal to give up.

It's changing the mindset from "I'll never get this right" to "I am going to get this right - eventually."

Because honestly? I've wanted to write fiction forever. Really. If you'd asked me at any point in my life what I hoped to be doing in 10 years, I'd have said I'd be a published author (no really, it was part of my answer in an interview in 1998)

And I finally made it happen. Not because I'm talented, or a genius, or the next Stephen King. I just wouldn't give up. Call it what you will - stupidity, stubbornness, whatever.

Am I a NYT or Amazon best seller? No, not yet. Still working on that. And that's something I can't control.

But when I go to Amazon, I get to see a book, an honest-to-goodness book cover, with my name on it. I can control that. I can write and learn and publish myself. And that is pretty freaking cool.

A year ago, five years ago, 25 years ago - I wouldn't have thought it would happen. But it did. And all I really did was show up, keep doing, and stuck to it.

So when my daughter, 12, looks and says, "I'd like to work for a fashion magazine someday, but it probably won't happen" I know what to say.

Keep dreaming, keep working, keep showing up. Persevere.

Because hey, you just never know.

Calendar image courtesy of tanakawho - used under Creative Commons

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Author Interview: Michael Brookes

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Today, I'm pleased to welcome author Michael Brookes to the blog for an interview. Michael's latest book, Conversations in the Abyss, available now. Here's the blurb:

Stealing Lazarus’s miracle gifted him immortality. Combined with his natural ability of invading and controlling people’s minds this made him one of the most dangerous people on Earth.

But the miracle came with a price. His punishment was to be imprisoned within the walls of an ancient monastery and tormented by an invisible fire that burned his body perpetually. To escape the pain he retreated deep into his own mind.\

There he discovers the truth of the universe and that only he can stop the coming Apocalypse.

Here's Michael with more.

1. You work in two creative fields: games and writing. Do you find that they support each other or are they two completely separate parts of your life?

They complement each other. I write a lot of documentation as part of my job. Much of this is public, or at least publisher facing so it has to be interesting as well as informative. Spending more time writing helps improve the writing I do for work as well improving the quality of my novel writing.

And in a happy convergence I have been asked to write the official novel for our new game Elite: Dangerous.

2. What are the major themes you deal with in your writing?

In my latest book I deal with the nature of reality, meta physics and what makes humans different.

3. What’s the one thing you must have when you write?

My laptop! I also require Jaffa Cakes.

4. If you hosted a dinner party, who are six people you’d invite (living or dead)?

I’d invite a varied group:

Assuming he really exists I’d first invite Lucifer and along with him Jesus, I’m sure the two would have plenty to talk about.

I’d then invite Ian M Banks, my favourite author. I’d love to pick his brain.

I think Bill Clinton would have some good stories to tell.

There has to be a pretty face at the table, but preferably somebody with brains as well, so Helen Mirram would receive an invite.

John Milton as the writer of the greatest story ever told would be more than welcome.

5. If your book was made into a movie, who would you want to write the soundtrack?

I think a German band called Grendel (cyber goth) with suitable orchestral backing would do a good job.

6. What’s up next for you?

I have a first draft called Faust 2.0 that needs developing. It’s about an Internet chatbot that starts granting wishes. I also have the third novel in the trilogy to write and the game novel as well. Busy times :-)

Conversations in the Abyss is available now from Amazon US and UK.

About the author

Michael Brookes is an Executive Producer with a leading UK games developer. Working in games and writing are two of his life passions and considers himself fortunate to be able to indulge them both. He lives in the east of England, enjoying starry skies in the flattest part of the country. When not working or writing he can sometimes be found sleeping. Which is good as that is where many good ideas come from.

Also by Michael:

The Cult of Me
For too long he dwelt apart, watched those who passed him by. With his unique abilities he entered their minds and inflicted terrible suffering upon them. They didn't even know who he was. The game has lasted for years, but now the game has become stale. On an impulse he decides to make a final and very public last stand. After surrendering himself to the police he enacts his plan to seize the prison for his final bloody act.

There he discovers that he's not as unique as he once thought.

Buy it on Amazon today

An Odd Quartet
A quartet of dark short stories (10,000 words) to thrill and chill.

The Yellow Lady
Grave robbing is a dirty business, in more ways than one. When he disturbs the grave from a childhood scary story he discovers it's not always treasure to be found.

This Empty Place
At the heat death of the universe, Death contemplates his existence.

Forced Entry
Terrorists seize an average suburban house. A Special Forces hostage rescue team is sent in and encounter more than they were trained for.

The Reluctant Demon
A young demon prepares to take his possession exam.

Buy it on Amazon today

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Storm Clouds: Hero's Sword Vol 2, Excerpt 1

While I finish edits and await cover art, here is a sneak peek at the first chapter of Storm Clouds: Hero's Sword Vol. 2.


Kids milled all around me, excited babble filling the air. The last bell of the day rang, signaling our release. I slung my backpack over my shoulder and shut my locker. Someone banged into me, sending me to my knees. “Watch it, dorkface.”

Trina Poppelman’s sparkly pink backpack bounced in front me as she walked to the door with her cheerleader buddies. I wished I had my bow so I could sink an arrow into the stupid, silver “T” decorating the bag.

Okay, I don’t really have a bow. Not in this world, anyway.

My name is Jaycee Hiller. I play this game called Hero’s Sword. A few weeks ago, I was actually transported into the game and became my avatar, Lyla Stormbringer. I had a sword, and a bow, and went on a quest to protect the lady of the estate of Mallory. Then I came back.

If that sounds confusing to you, imagine how I feel.

I got to my feet and brushed off the knees of my jeans. When I’d returned from Mallory, I’d been inspired to stand up to Trina for a while. Well, maybe for a day. But now I was back to my usual routine at Tanner Middle School - namely, trying to hide.

“Hey Jaycee, I think you dropped this.”

I turned my head, and my heart relocated itself to somewhere in my throat. Nate Fletcher, who has been my secret crush for, like, forever, stood there with my zippered pencil case, black with the Hero’s Sword logo, in his hand. “Thanks,” I said. Was my voice always that squeaky? I tried to think of something cool or funny to say, but my mind was as blank as a freshly washed whiteboard.

“Well, have a great weekend.” Nate waved and headed for the front doors with everyone else.
The mass of kids around me had thinned. “Yeah, have a great weekend,” I said. “See you on Monday. Did I mention I like your hair?”

Now that Nate was gone, a million things I could have said crowded my brain. Great timing, as always.

“Uh, Jayce, who are you talking to?” My best friend, Stu Porter, was standing beside me looking concerned.

I stuffed the pencil case in my open bag. “Nobody. Nate Fletcher, but he’s gone. So what are you doing this weekend?”
I walked through the front doors, Stu at my side.

“My mother says if I don’t get the grass cut this weekend, she will ban me from Hero’s Sword until I do,” Stu said, his face sorrowful. His red hair blazed in the sun, making it look like his head was on fire. “And she says I have to help her clean and close the pool, which is going to be completely gross.”

I patted him on the shoulder. “Look at it like a quest. Fearlessly battling the evil slime monster threatening to consume the Empire.” Stu chuckled. We always walked home from school together, at least as far as the turn onto my street. We chatted about Hero’s Sword and our fantasies of defeating cheerleaders for the entire walk.

I waved to Stu, walking backwards as I started down my street. “See you online this weekend?”

“If I get all my chores done, sure. Wish me luck.”

I waved in response, turned, and jogged the rest of the way to my house, your typical suburban thing with a neat front yard. I wished I was allowed to cut the grass. With my luck, my mother would have something else in store for me, something exciting like polishing the silver.

“Hey Mom,” I called as I stepped inside. She was in the dining room, counting out her fancy china and silverware for the party she was hosting tomorrow. I tried to sneak upstairs.

“Jaycee, come in here please,” Mom said as I placed my foot on the stairs. This would not be good.

I wasn’t wrong. “Yeah, Mom?” I stood in the doorway, as if that would protect me from what came next. Fat chance.

“You know my book club is meeting here tomorrow, and I need help getting ready,” she said. “I’ll wash the china. Get the silver polish from the kitchen and get to work, please.” She pushed the box containing her good silver toward me.

I dropped my backpack. “Why can’t you use the every day stuff?” I gave her my best sullen look.

“Because I only host once a quarter, and there’s no reason not to use the good silver,” Mom said. “I know it’ll interfere with your precious video game time, but really, you’ll have all weekend for that. Now go.”

I grabbed the box and stomped off to the kitchen. This would take forever.