“Don’t use the phone. People are never ready to answer it. Use poetry.” ― Jack Kerouac
HAPPY NEW YEARS EVE!
I’m not for sure how many books I read during 2019, I know it was a few. Around the end of August I had decided to start this blog honoring and featuring Indie Authors, it was then I started logging and reviewing through Goodreads and Amazon, Goodreads has me down for reading 52 between the months of August thru December.
Although my site reviews Indie Authors and supports Indie Books there were a couple on books on my reading list that did not fall into the Indie category, in the end only Indies made the list. This list does not reflect that the book was written or published in 2019, it just happens to be when I read them.
After reading so many good book this year it can almost be overwhelming try to only pick 10 as the top picks. There are so many others that deserve an Honorable Mention. However, in the end there could only be 10 and these 10 have made a lasting impression on me unlike any of the others.
Honorable Mention– Electric Bluesby: Shaun O McCoy, Although it didn’t make it into the top 10 it defiantly deserves to be mentioned. This is a futuristic tale about a depressed out of work A.I. named Arty that is sure to put a smile on your face. Gabrielle Olexa had recommended this book, said that it was a cute book, and she’s right. It’s well written and Shaun is a fascinating individual that I had the privilege to interview. Defiantly worth a look.
10– Bird Wingby: Dreena Collins, This is a book of Flash Fiction and I love it. It was way back when I first read Black Coffee Blues by: Henry Rollins, that I realized how much I enjoy reading flash fiction. This book brought it all back to me. Thank you Dreena!
9- Ascendby: Leia Gose, Fun and Magical are two words that best describe Ascend. Leia has done a ridiculously good job creating this world that I want to live in, written for YA this book is fun enough for everyone. Good news is that she’s writing a sequel!
8- The Desert in the Glassby C.C. Luckey, This book is surprisingly good. If not mistaken it is a debut novel and CC brings it. I’m really excited that I had the opportunity to interview her in 2019 and can’t wait to see what she publishes next. If you haven’t read it you should, it’s a lot of fun!
7- Jenny of Lebanon by: Gabrielle Olexa I know Gabrielle takes a lot of heat because this book is identified as literary fiction. Looking at the reviews for Jenny of Lebanon readers either hate it or love it, if you are looking for something to rival Twilight or Harry Potter, this book will be a waste of your time, however, if you love words and wordplay I highly recommend this book.
6- Depths of Darkness(Saints and Sinners Book 2) by: Crystal L. Kirkham, this is book 2 of the Saints and Sinners series and I found it to be just as good if not better than the first. I consider Crystal to be a writer on the move, she is as talented as she is creative and her new book Feathers and Fae will be reviewed on my blog in early 2020.
5- Three Sharp Knives by: Jessica Conwell, This was a pleasant surprise to me, Three Sharp Knives introduced me to my first transgender main character as well as the struggles within their community.I love the book as well as Jessica and her writing style. The interview I published with her on 12/8/19 is my favorite of the year, hoping to have her back after reading her other novel, Cluster. My advise, Read this BOOK!
4- The Van Helsing Paradoxby: Evelyn Chartres, This is such a fun book, the flow is incredible and very engrossing. There will be more about Evelyn during 2020 on my site because I think her writing is phenomenal, I will be reviewing her work in the near future.
3- A Dress the Color of the Skyby: Jennifer Irwin WOW! is about all I can say about A Dress the Color of the Sky. Jennifer also will be my first interview / review featured in 2020. Really impressed with this book!
2- Postscriptby: Barbara Avon, I love Barbara! Her writing JUST does it for me. Every time I finish one of her books it has become my new favorite. I picked Postscript because the evolution of her writing style has STOLEN MY HEART with this tale, it’s also filled with hidden gems that kept me on my toes. ❤
1- The End of Hatredby: Rebecca Hefner, this book has earned my number one spot because it was the book that stole my soul to romance, it’s not just this book either, it’s the whole series. I love it and can’t wait until she writes another. Rebecca is going to be a writer that we will hear of for a long, long time.
“The one thing we can never get enough of is love. And the one thing we never give enough of is love.” ― Henry Miller
Johnny– Hi Ava! Thank, thank you for taking the time to visit with me and have a conversation about your book. Where did the idea for ‘Twice as Nice’ originate?
Ava– I think I read somewhere the phrase “space pirate” recently and I really wanted there to be a female space pirate! So I created Allie. As for the idea for the story, I just thought it would be a funny conflict if we put together a female who is somewhat asexual with a hypersexual male and see what happens. I love conflict!
Johnny– Space Pirate, I love it! You feature two different species of aliens Brex and Allie, (kudos on originality btw), where do you draw your inspiration from when you are creating different species?
Ava– Terran actually means human, but I understand it’s not very well explained in the story. As for Brex, who is not human, I guess I just draw on the many years of watching sci-fi shows and reading sci-fi books. But I also try to come up with something I haven’t seen.
Johnny– Brex is Primarsul, how did you go about creating this character? He is very unique in more ways than one.
Ava– To be honest, the idea for the story always comes first. As for the characters and the details, they just develop from the idea. I often “pantse” so I don’t know how they look until I write the scenes and sometimes even until I edit! For me, it’s easier to add the details later, and that’s only because what captivates me at the start is the story.
Johnny– This is the first book I’ve read that you’ve written, is sci-fi erotica the only genre you write? Or is this your first book?
Ava– I’ve written many unfinished speculative stories, novellas and even novels throughout the years – urban fantasy, dark fantasy, science fiction, science fantasy, paranormal, etc. However, as I don’t easily finish long stories, I decided to go shorter and shorter… and once I did and I decided I wanted to publish, I realized the only short fiction that was publishable was mostly erotica. Don’t get me wrong, I love it and I’ve read and written my share throughout the years, but this decision was more necessity than anything else. Luckily, I started writing and publishing in this genre – after doing some market research – and I LOVED IT. Who knew it would be so fun to write short steamy stories with aliens?!
Johnny– It most defiantly is steamy and fun! Do you self-publish? Or do you go through an agency?
Ava– Yes, I self-publish. I am such a control freak and so multipassionate that I suppose self-publishing is fun for me, and necessary. I can’t imagine someone telling me what to do with my story, so I just do everything myself, and it works! I have spent years writing, editing, designing, marketing… so the natural conclusion was to self-publish. It’s a challenge because you have a tiny budget and a LOT of tasks, but there’s also a lot to be learned, and that’s what I thrive on.
Johnny– What advise would you give to anyone that is wanting to write erotica?
Ava– Well, right now it’s not as easy to make money off erotica… if you’re in it for the money, you better write longer romance works. If you’re just writing for fun, shorter pieces are a great way to improve your craft and get feedback. Definitely read top stories on literotica.com if you want to improve your sex scenes and sign up on Erotic Authors, the subreddit, where people will help you on your journey.
Johnny– Do you have to be ‘thick skinned’ to write erotica? I would imagine that there are some pretty crude people out there that just think they can message or email you some pretty vulgar stuff, or for the most part, is everybody cordial?
Ava– For now everyone has been super nice, but after all, I have just started. I have only published 3 short stories and I have only been an “author” for 1 month, so I’m sure I might face some weirdness in the future, but so what? I have become pretty thick-skinned already since I have been active only for years and have encountered all kind of people. As long as people are reading my stories, I am happy.
Johnny– What does the future hold for Brex and Allie? Any plans for later adventures?
Ava– Yes actually! After some positive feedback and a couple of suggestions, I decided to turn this story into a series called Starfarers and Warriors. Sadly, I might not revisit those specific characters, or I might, in passing. I have a couple of ideas for other series as well and it’s usually always the same world but with different people/couples.
Johnny– This is a very short read, are you planning on writing larger volumes in the future?
Ava– Absolutely!!! Even though I said I’m not good at longer works, I actually can last for a novella (no pun intended). So I definitely plan on publishing some longer works in the romance genre in the future, since Romance readers prefer longer reads. Also, I get most of my royalties from Kindle Unlimited readers, and that’s really pennies when the work is shorter.
Johnny– Who or what is your inspiration? (Could be your favorite author, musician, or music), what makes you want to write?
Ava– To be honest, writing is in my blood, my breath, my everything. I have been a writer since a very early age and the only times when I don’t write, I am miserable. As for my inspiration, it’s J.K. Rowling. Even though it sounds cheesy, Harry Potter opened my eyes to the magic of world building and storytelling and I became a true fiction writer than. I started with fanfiction and slowly built up my confidence to come up with my own stories. And once I opened that well, OH BOY, I still get dozens of ideas every week…
Johnny– Give me a quick elevator pitch for “Kicking the Vow”.
Ava– Kicking the Vow is about a woman who is highly religious and who has taken a vow of chastity, but because of horrid circumstance, she has to go work in a brothel on another planet. There she meets the charismatic concubines Tanar and Crahain and the owner Seb, and suddenly, she doesn’t know what to do with herself!
Johnny– What are your plans for 2020?
Ava– I plan to release a story at least every fortnight, so I hope that 2020 will come with a bit more clarity. I want to experiment and perfect my marketing strategy, so I can reach more readers, and I would be very excited to write more series! I love some of the worlds I’ve created, and my readers love them, too, so the new year looks good indeed!
Johnny– That’s a pretty aggressive goal! Are you the person that needs to challenge themselves?
Ava– See, that’s a normal goal for me! I guess if I don’t go big, it’s just not me. If I’m not challenged, I’m bored… so that answers your question.
Twice as Nice: Alien Breeding Romance is a fast read that will take less than thirty minutes to consume. Although short but sweet I found that what it lacks in volume it makes up for in creativity. Twice as Nice is also the first erotica book to be reviewed on this site.
No spoiler alert warning needed for this but do expect the heat 🔥 to rise while you are reading this book. Ava leaves nothing to the imagination, she also leaves nothing on the table.
Although short but sweet I can’t help but give Ava credit for originality and creativity. For that reason I’m giving this a thumbs up. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐HIGHLY RECOMMEND
This short story contains explicit sexual content, some may look as a disclaimer while other view it as a welcome sign, where-ever you reading preference I feel positive that there will be something in this book that you will like.
Except GENESIS is an intergalactic brothel. And the more she works there with the charismatic owner, Seb, the flimsier her vows get. In this short, steamy story, let’s follow Raya’s sexy transformation. http://mybook.to/KickingtheVow
KICKING THE VOW When Raya’s small planet is torn by war, she has to find a new place to live and work… and were it not for her vow of chastity, she would have been happy about finding work in GENESIS.
Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.-Jim Morrison
Johnny– Hi C.C. thanks for taking the time to talk to me. Straight out of the gate I want to ask, where did the idea for The Desert in the Glass come from?
CC- I love adventure stories. Reading a book set in a detailed fictional world feels like the best kind of vacation. I wanted to write a book that felt real, but integrated some believable fantasy elements featuring characters the reader could relate to. The Desert in the Glass is written for people who love to explore.
Johnny– I don’t think I’m giving to much away by asking this, but basically this book is made up of three different stories that come together to complete this novel. All three are good enough to be stand-alone works, how hard of a decision was it to use these three in one book? were they originally independent stories or stand-alone works?
CC- Part 1, Terata, was originally a novella. As soon as I finished, I knew there was more to be told. I love road movies and I wanted my book to have legs, which led to the second part, The Red Road to Vegas. Part 3, The Birdhouse Keeper, was the most personally difficult to write, yet my readers say it’s their favorite. I see each part as following not a story-line but rather the unique life of a person, and all three of those people are critical pillars of the book’s structure.
Johnny– Where on earth did you come up with the “event” that takes place in Part 2, The Red Road to Vegas? That was very creative!
CC- We’re very, very small in the universe. Infinitesimal. Sometimes I’m surprised these kinds of terrifying incidents don’t happen a lot more often. Best not to think about that too hard, perhaps.
Johnny– How hard was it to develop the characters for this book? You get really detailed about them as individuals, I really like that.
CC- My writing process generally involves a brief initial description of a scenario and world before even thinking about characters. Once I have that idea in my head—which could be stated in as little as a single sentence—I ask myself, who is the actor? This person could be old or young, male or female. Eventually, someone in my head raises their hand. Then I put myself in their shoes, and get moving.
Johnny– Which was the hardest character to create?
CC- The main character of Part 3 worried me a little because she is a mother, and I am not. That’s an experience you can’t really understand unless you have it yourself—no pretending. I had trouble with her until I fell in love with her daughter, and realized that was something we had in common. After that, I knew her well enough to write her.
Johnny– You did very well, I personally believed her to be genuine. Which of the three stories proved to be the most difficult to write?
CC- A couple sections of Part 3 made me cry. Is it arrogance to cry at your own writing? The story digs deep into neurological issues, which I based on my personal experiences as a caregiver for a brain damaged family member.
Johnny– I don’t think it’s arrogance, it does say a lot about your passion, though. Let’s talk about the title for a moment, where did the name, ‘The Desert in the Glass’ come from?
CC- I knew from the start that I wanted time to be a constant theme of the book. There are many references to the counting of time in the book, from age differences between characters, whole sections set in different years throughout history, and the generally urgent pace. The other running theme of the book is the desert, which almost serves as a character itself. So, the book is an hourglass filled with desert sand, measuring the passage of time.
Johnny– How long did it take you to write this novel?
CC- I wrote Part 1 during a time when I was a caregiver for a family member. It was hard to hold down a regular job or any other commitments, so I turned to writing to keep me sane and give me an escape. The other two parts were written and edited over a period of just four months.
Johnny– Let’s talk about your writing process and habits, are you big on journaling? Do you start out writing by hand or digital all the way?
CC- I don’t do any personal journaling, but I always have pens and paper close at hand in case I have a lightning-flash idea that I need to record it right away. When I’m writing a story, I use a tablet and keyboard because my brain works faster than I can write by hand. I’m most comfortable typing because I’ve been using computers for writing since 1985. My father was an engineer so when I was a kid we always had the latest technology.
Johnny– Do you edit your work yourself?
CC- Yes, I do my own editing. I am protective of my work, yet I am a very strict taskmaster for myself. I read and re-read my work dozens of times, interspersed with breaks away from the manuscript and reading other authors’ books to clear my mind. If something doesn’t work in my story—if it doesn’t feel exactly right—I cut it and throw it away. And I’m crazy for grammar and spelling. I absolutely love editing, it’s my favorite part of writing. Sure, first drafts are fun and interesting and you never really know what’s going to happen. But when you edit, you really get to hone your craft, to take that raw material and make it glow. I feel little pride during my initial writing, but editing fills me with euphoria as I watch my story come to life.
Johnny– Does this love for editing help or hinder your ability or creativity while writing?
CC- It probably hinders it. It can be difficult to resist stopping and going back to double check the flow of the story, the quality of my sentences, and my grammar. Sometimes the frequent stops make for a better first draft, but it can also kick me out of my creative head-space. Drinking coffee helps, actually. It makes the story in my head play out in fast-forward, and if I stop typing, I won’t keep up and it will get away from me.
Johnny– If you were given the chance to go back and change any part of this book, regardless of how big or small, is there any part that you would change or alter?
CC- No. I’m not saying my work is perfect, of course. But every single step I take is forward, not back. And something that looks like a mistake to me may be an enlightenment to someone else, so I’ll let my work lay as it falls.
Johnny– Is there a bottom-line lesson to be learned from “The Desert in the Glass”?
CC- While my background is in philosophy, I try not to include overt morals in my adventure stories. But I do admit to a certain agenda; I love to feature characters in roles which may be surprising. A majority of my characters are female, but my writing is not romantic or “chick lit.” Not all of my characters are neurotypical, but my stories aren’t really about that. It’s okay for characters to be incidentally female, or unusual, or genius or broken in some way without the story being about that. And if the story ends up being about a normal typical guy, that’s okay, too. I write about regular people in irregular situations, and to me that means diversity without apology.
Johnny– I think you did an awesome job! Any chance you will be revisiting any characters or parts of this book in the future?
CC- No, The Desert in the Glass is a very self-contained story. But you’ll have to read to the end to find out why.
Johnny– What or who inspires you?
CC- I am in awe of the writers who have come before me, not because of what they’ve written but because of the circumstances under which they created their work. Writers are an odd bunch; they are compelled to create, perhaps even against their own will, like they have whole universes bouncing around in their heads that will burst out through their ears if not released through their fingertips. This process isn’t always fun or lucrative, but an impassioned writer doesn’t have any choice but to write—and, sometimes, drink to excess. I feel a kinship with the struggling writers who have come before me, and I hope to have the perseverance they did in sharing my stories with the world.
Johnny– Any particular writers you consider to be your favorite?
CC- Stephen King had a big effect on me when I was a teenager, not because of his horror themes but because of how he wrote his characters with such empathy even when he had little in common with them. I am also a big Richard Adams fan. But my favorite book of all time is actually by a very obscure author, Walter Wangerin Jr. He wrote a story in two books, The Book of the Dun Cow and The Book of Sorrows, which I highly recommend to pretty much everyone in the world. I’ve been known to buy copies of them at used book stores and randomly give them to friends.
Johnny– What can we expect next from C.C. Luckey?
CC- So many more adventures! I am just starting a massive multi-book series that will take readers on an epic journey to another world. I can’t wait to visit, myself. I’ll be the first one there, but I’ll be clearing the path and sending directions as soon as it’s ready to come visit.
Johnny– I cannot wait to see where your journey will take us C.C. I know one thing, it’s going to be great. Other than writing, what do you like to do for fun?
CC- I enjoy making miniature dioramas, like faux specimen jars and creepy scenes in tiny rooms where a crime has just taken place. I’m also very into video games, especially massive open-world RPGs.
Johnny– Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me! It has been a pleasure. Before we wrap this up is there any final thoughts or parting wisdom you’d like to share?
CC- It can take a long time to realize what you really want from life. The important thing is to keep trying until you find it, and don’t let anyone else tell you who you should be. For some people it’s creating a certain type of art, for others it’s having kids, and some people simply yearn for a return to nature. It can take decades to figure out where you fit in the world, and there’s no shame in learning late who you are. Just don’t give up until you figure it out.
Johnny– You are an awesome writer C.C. it has been an honor to visit with you.
CC– Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts and my book!
I knew there was something special about CC Luckey when I read her book. Then in her opening line during our conversation she said “I love adventure stories.” Well, well, well, so, do I.
There is nothing that I didn’t like about this book. It’s an evocative adventure that beacons my soul to the dusty deserts of Nevada. I could almost feel the heat on my skin and the sun on my face as I read…
Divided into three sections each more beautiful and troubling than the next, I found it hard to pick a favorite. In the end it didn’t matter though, what happened was “The Desert in the Glass” tied together as neatly as a professionally tied bow around a beautifully wrapped box. A work of art.
If there was one thing that stood out about this book it would be this, the expressive narrative in which C.C. introduces her characters that she had created to star in this impressive tale. Vivid portrayal, well established cast and a plot that is as solid as a rock I found this book to be nothing more than remarkable.
I’m giving The Desert in the Glass five stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ on both Amazon and Goodreads. It’s an adventure, not just that, it’s creative, it’s fun and I found it to be addictive. I love it and highly recommend it.
Below you will find links to contact and follow CC Luckey on social media as well as links to buy her books. If you are a fan of adventure, macabre and the unexplained you will not be disappointed.
The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” -Jack Kerouac
Johnny– Hey Jessica, first I want to thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me about your book ‘Three Sharp Knives’. Having read your book I understand the name, and what it stands for, do you have any particular story behind the term/brand? where did “3SK” come from?
Jessica– Hey Johnny! Thanks for reading, I’m always happy to answer questions! The title Three Sharp Knives comes from the idea that certain people are considered ‘dangerous’ to society simply for existing, like sharp knives sitting on a counter. The three narrators are all such people, three women who fall just outside the bounds of what the world wants to understand.
Johnny– You are such a charming writer, you have a way when you developed your characters that is so real and strong that I feel invested, “bought in” and very close to them, what do you attribute to that?
Jessica– Thank you. I’ve always been of the view that characters are more important than plot. I’ll read a book with interesting characters and a thin plot well before I will finish a book with a fascinating plot and flat characters. I think the number one thing I try to remember when developing my characters is that people don’t make sense. People are messy. People are illogical. People act in ways contrary to their own values. People screw up. But despite it all, most people in the world are trying to do their best to work toward what they envision “good” to be. Whether that is a moral good, a spiritual good, or just a personal good varies person to person. But I try to start with asking myself, “What does this character define as their ‘good’ and what does it look like when they try to work towards it? How will they screw up along the way?” I think that might be why my characters are relatable. I think most people can understand the feeling of knowing the good, wanting the good, but having no effing idea how to go about achieving the good.
Johnny– This book is written in a different format than most, separated into four sections with no chapters, (which, by the way, works!), is this your style when you are writing? Or is it unique to this book?
Jessica– I tend to work with sections more than chapters. My earlier novel, Cluster, works this way as well. I think I fits my stories structure-wise better than breaking them up into chapters. I want the narrative to flow in a series of long arcs, mainly to create the feeling that everything is connected, nothing separated from anything else. Past mixes with present.
Johnny– What motivated you to write Three Sharp Knives?
Jessica– So, the most simplistic answer to that question is that after I finished Cluster, a friend of mine said, “I think you should write a story about ghost hunters.” Naturally, I took that in the least logical, barely connected direction I could.
The larger answer is that I wanted a story about unconventional people and unconventional love. Obviously, there is a lot of LGBTQ+ representation in 3SK, but even beyond that, I wanted to write a book for people who feel like they don’t really fit anywhere, people who want to love and be loved, but find it difficult to be understood.
Johnny– I want to talk about your characters again, they are so damn believable, and likable, did you have inspirations or muses when you created them, or were they strictly products of your imagination?
Jessica– Way back when I was younger writer, I made the mistake of basing characters entirely on people I knew. This, predictably, blew up in my face when said people read the stories, mainly because I was not yet a strong enough writer to mask what I was doing. So, I now have a strict policy for myself against writing biographical (or autobiographical) characters. However, there are, of course, scraps and snipping’s of people I have known or encountered in my life. I don’t think any author can truly avoid that. And, honesty time, there is a bit of me in each of my narrators.
Johnny– Without giving anything away, what was the hardest part of this book to write?
Jessica– Ha! That’s a difficult one to answer without giving anything away, because the truth is that the most difficult part of the book to write was the ending. In part it was because I couldn’t decide how to execute it. It was a eureka moment on a long walk that finally gave me the ‘nested circle’ structure of the flashbacks in the last section. The other reason it was difficult was—and this will be very difficult to say without spoiling anything—because, well, authors tend to get emotionally invested in their own characters, too. I’ve had people tell me how hard they have taken various unkind things I have done to characters of mine they connected with. My knee-jerk response is, “I know! I’m a monster!”
Johnny– You did it beautifully! Although, I gotta admit, I was a little surprised at the ending, so I’m guessing your going to be that writer that likes to shock your readers?
Jessica– I actually try not to, typically. Otherwise there isn’t much of a surprise since the reader is expecting a surprise, you know? I’m completely of the mindset that surprise endings have to be earned. They need to be a surprise only due to the reader not putting the pieces together ahead of time.
Johnny– My thought is that this book was written through the eyes of three different individuals, which narration was the hardest to write for?
Jessica– Heather, actually, who is also my favorite character. She was hard to write because of how bleak her worldview is at the beginning of her section. In a lot of ways, it mirrored my own thoughts during darker, lower moments of my life, and it wasn’t always enjoyable to access those while I was writing her.
Johnny– Was it therapeutic for you to write her?
Jessica– It actually was. It is good to speak dark feelings aloud sometimes.
Johnny– I did this when I interviewed Rebecca Hefner and it was a lot of fun so I’d like to try it with you if you don’t mind. You get a call from Hollywood, your book is going into production to become a movie, you are chosen to cast it, you can use any artists you want, who do you pick?
Jessica– I’ve been asked about before actually! I think my main demand that would be that all of my trans characters be portrayed by trans actors. Beyond that, if Saoirse Ronan isn’t Heather and Katey Sagal isn’t Mari, I just don’t know that I could sign off on the production.
Johnny– Ha! Katey Sagal would be perfect! Good call for Heather, NOW, who would play Seph and Lia?
Jessica– She’s a bit older than the character, but I think Jamie Clayton from Sense8 would be a great Seph. For Lia, I’ve never been able to lock down who I think would be good for her role. But I’m open to suggestions.
Johnny– I’m curious, because your book centers around this, are you a fan of puzzle rooms?
Jessica– I am a huge fan of puzzle rooms, verging on being evangelical about them. I’ve done enough of them that I have formed strong opinions regarding their quality.
Johnny– What advise do you have for someone that wants to become a writer?
Jessica– Write the stories you think only you will be interested in. That won’t be the case. Write the books you wish you’d had at your lowest moments. Also, immediately stop thinking about writing as some mystical art. Like any craft, it needs to be honed and developed. Practice.
Johnny– What advise do you have for someone that might be struggling with gender identity?
Jessica– Trust yourself. A million voices will tell you that you don’t know yourself, that they know you better than you could. Surround yourself with the people who love and support you, discard the ones who don’t. Never be afraid to seek additional support. Hold in your mind the truth that no matter what, you have intrinsic value and are worthy of love and respect.
Johnny– I hope I’m asking this right, because I am ignorant about transgender people, I’ll be the first to admit that, but, at what age did you drop the gender society given you (because of the anatomy you were born with), to become the woman you are today?
Jessica– That’s a tricky one, because I spent a long time knowing and being in active denial. I was 33 when I finally came out, though.
Johnny– Was your family supportive? are you close with your family?
Jessica– The members of my family I am close with were very supportive, even if they didn’t understand right away. I, of course, had some members who were less so (especially among my then-in-laws) but the people who knew me the best knew that this wasn’t something I had decided based on some whim I was having.
Johnny– As a transgender woman do you feel accepted by society?
Jessica– In certain segments, sure. Otherwise, no, no I don’t. For one thing, the US government itself is currently hostile toward trans people. Aside from that, the background noise of life as a trans person is a cacophony of microaggressions, threats of violence, discrimination, distrust, and prejudice. So, we find our pocket communities. We build our “found families” and we do everything we can to try to change the way things are. But we have a hell of a long way to go.
Johnny– When you say “currently hostile” was it more-so after the 2016 election than before?
Jessica– Absolutely. Before 2016, things weren’t great, but it seemed like progress was being made, if only in an ‘inch at a time’ way. After the election, not only were protections and rights we had been granted under constant attack, it was almost as if a license had been given to not hide your prejudices.
*(I’d like to add a side note here, as a veteran who served in the US Army it breaks my heart and angers me to my core that you have to deal with this sort of hate and hostilities. When I joined, I joined so EVERYONE regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation could live in this country freely, peacefully, without fear or harassment from bigots and their hate, intolerance, and prejudice.) JS
Johnny– Jessica where do you want to be in 10 years?
Jessica– Watching my daughter start college (if that’s what she wants), going on adventures with my partner, and always, always, always still writing. Even if my audience can still be counted on one hand.
Johnny– You keep writing like you do I’m predicting that you will need a “few” hands to count your audience on. What are you wanting your readers to take away with them after reading 3SK?
Jessica– I hope they leave with more empathy and understanding for people different than they are, as well as more openness to love in all of its bizarre, beautiful forms. I hope I can make some people who have never felt understood seen, even if just a little.
Johnny– Do you have any projects planned for 2020?
Jessica– Roughly a thousand of them, though I am favoring a project that does have a loose tie-in to 3SK (much as 3SK has some loose connections to my earlier book, Cluster). Unfortunately, it is in the form of bringing back probably the last character 3SK readers wanted to see return, so….
Johnny– So… we might not see Seph and Heather again?
Jessica– You may, but they will be wandering through the background of a scene. I have this long-standing belief that everyone is the background character in someone else’s life. All of my novels have a shared universe, but rarely will I bring a main character from one book into the forefront of another. However, you may see someone who was a minor character in 3SK play a more major role.
Johnny– Do you mind giving a quick elevator pitch for Cluster?
Jessica– A group of misfit friends run a music venue/coffee shope/vintage toy store together while coping with love and loss of many different flavors. Also, there’s a lengthy discussion about ghost sex.
Every once in a while I get the pleasure to come across a book that totally catches me off guard. Three Sharp Knives was one of those books.
Upon opening this book, I was carried away with a narrative that was so mesmerizing, characters so endearing, a plot well-groomed that it belongs on a Hollywood screen, I could not help but fall in LOVE with this book! I think you will too.
Three against the world was a reoccurring theme that ran across my mind time after time while I was reading this. Love, defined on their terms was what I was left with.
I love this book! It has earned the five stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐rating that I’ve given it on Goodreads and Amazon. I’m proud to say that I am a HUGE fan of Jessica Conwell.
If a good story and strong characters is your thing, then Three Sharp Knives is the book for you. I can’t wait to read and review Jessica’s other book Cluster.
Great job on writing a great book Jessica! I’m a fan!!
“What all of us have to do is to make sure we are using AI in a way that is for the benefit of humanity, not to the detriment of humanity.” –Tim Cook, CEO of Apple
Johnny– Hello Shaun, thank you for taking the time to talk with me about your book, where did the idea for Electric Blues come from?
Shaun– Ha! I don’t think I’ve admitted this before, but I wrote this story right after smartphones were coming into the mainstream. I had a little android phone that I adored, and I wondered what it would be like if it was sentient.
Johnny– LOL, that’s pretty cool. Did you by any chance hang on to it over the years?
Shaun– I did! In fact, even seven or so years later, it still works 😀
Johnny– That is awesome! And it still works… that’s pretty cool. The opening lines in your book reads: “I can’t love. That’s okay, if you ask me, most humans can’t either.” That is profound, what is Arty telling us in this opening line?
Shaun– Well, first, let’s all hope that Arty is wrong there. The world is a lonely enough place as it is! It’s a little hard to answer this question without dorking out completely, but essentially, I imagine Arty here is dealing with the fact that most people have a romanticized view of love—and even Arty can tell that the people around him don’t have that Romeo and Juliet stuff at their disposal. Like all of us, I hope, Arty, as he meets new people and sees more relationships, will grow in his understanding of what human love really is.
Johnny– Just so you know, dorking out is completely allowed, in-fact is very much encouraged here, lol. Tell me more about Arty, he seems interesting. He lives in a storage unit due to his unemployment circumstance; it sounds like he is improvising, adapting and overcoming his current situation, which is rather amazing since he seems to be running on a rather dated program.
Shaun– Well, to be fair, he’s running a pretty darn advanced program compared to what we have today 😀 It just depends on your perspective, I suppose.
Johnny– I’m constructing that question from Arty’s narration, I guess; he had mentioned that other A.I. models having a more updated programming than he. As a reader he just seemed like what he lacked in his program he made up through improvising. Was this intentional? Or is Arty pulling a Captain Kirk during his‘Kobayashi Maru’? (LOL)
Shaun– Ha! I don’t feel Arty is winning the unwinnable Kobayashi Maru scenario here. Certainly, a Denizen H could come up with the plan that Arty did, and perhaps even a more cost effective one. That being said, I did envision Arty’s AI as sufficiently complex to display a level of creativity. To use human beings as an analogy, the ability to succeed and be employable is more complex than just how good our pattern recognition (intelligence) is or how good our education is. Those things help, but they’re not the end all be all. So too, for an AI, I don’t think that processing power and updated software are always going to win the day. Maybe most days, but not all of them!
Johnny– There are so many good points to talk about in this book I’m having a hard time choosing one to start with, we know where the idea came from, what was your motivation to write Electric Blues?
Shaun– While I started with the idea of my phone, the story really is a reflection of a lot more than that. As a child who moved a lot, I’ve definitely lived the fish-out-of-water story, which, to an extent, Electric Blues is. And, as an analytical person, sometimes I find myself confused, or even occasionally estranged by the people around me who are more intuitive. Arty, as a robot, works as a pretty good vehicle for getting that estrangement, and the eventual catharsis of finding a way through the world, across. Social situations are hard, insanely complicated, and yet, people are expected to understand them perfectly. So, I think it’s easy for a lot of us to feel for Arty because so many of us have walked that same path.
Johnny– I love the dialog between Arty and the Veterinarian, is Arty starting to develop a personality or is he being logical?
Shaun– Oh yes! I don’t think you can really have intelligence as we think of it WITHOUT having personality or character. And, a lot of those character points are going to look like emotions. That may sound crazy to say about an AI, but hear me out! Our emotions serve certain purposes. Anger helps us keep boundaries for our emotional and physical safety, affection helps us treat our friends well, sadness helps us reflect on our life choices, etc. etc. Arty may not feel anger, but he has to develop habits which keep his boundaries. He may not feel sadness, but he has to look back on his choices, and his relationships, and see if he can learn better ways, he can handle his next set of choices and relationships. So, while Arty doesn’t feel like we do, it’s sort of a moot point because he’s thinking in the ways that are the root of our emotions. I think this is one of the reasons why people can empathize with how Arty feels, even though he isn’t really feeling. And THAT, I believe, gets back to the first line of the book where Arty says most people can’t love. What that’s really about is the misconception of what love is, and maybe we all have a bit of a misconception of what it means to feel.
Johnny– You seem like a pretty philosophical person so I’m really interested in hearing your thoughts, Knickers basically tells Arty to go help the underprivileged in order to keep his Government assistance, (how revolutionary is that?), do you consider that to be socialism or maybe, responsible, creative government? Or, is it something else?
Shaun– I wasn’t trying to make a point about governments there! For many people getting government assistance in the US, their assistance is contingent on them looking for work. I just updated our current laws as if a legislative body were to try and get them to encompass AI. BUT SINCE YOU ASKED, I think the fact that AI might be able to take jobs from us in a way that automation never could before, we really should be ready to transition to a universal basic income if the need arises 😀
Johnny– I read on your social media profile that you are a former MMA fighter? How did you get started in that? Was this something you did full-time?
Shaun– OH! Those were beautiful days 😀 The beginnings of that were pretty tragic though. I was nearly killed by an infection when I was 20. I was in a coma and hospitalized for two weeks. When I came out of it, I had trouble walking more than 100 yards. My Aunt and Uncle, Tori and Barry Polinitza, agreed to let me stay on their horse ranch during the day and train at their martial arts dojo in the nights. I fell in love with the puzzle of fighting, and eventually just had to try it out in practice.
I never did do MMA as a living/full time though. I think it’s entirely possible I could have opened up a studio and taught, but though I won all my fights, I don’t think I was good enough to live off of the purses.
Johnny– That an amazing story Shaun, thanks for sharing, very inspirational! What discipline did you practice?
Shaun– I studied quite a few disciplines! Shootfighting, Jiu jitsu, Wrestling, Boxing and Mui Thai were the arts which helped me the most. Almost everyone I was training and competing with had learned one art a youngster, so it was always a puzzle for me to make sure I had the skills to avoid or neutralize what my opponents were bringing to the table.
Johnny– Do you still train and/or compete?
Shaun– I do a little boxing, but I’m retired from fighting now! I play tournament chess to satisfy my competitive drive.
Johnny– Which is more vicious? I’ve heard chess tournaments can be downright brutal. Are they that competitive?
Shaun– Brutal is certainly the right word for competitive chess! Imagine taking the Bar to become a lawyer, but that the exam is taking you back. You’re thinking as hard as you can for over five hours at times, and the toll it takes is difficult to explain. The brain is a top calorie using organ in the human body, and when measured, it apparently eats up as much calories in a professional chess game as an NBA basketball player’s entire body will burn in their game. Which is more vicious? Definitely MMA! After a few days rest, you’re going to be recovered from almost any chess game. That’s not true for huge number of fights!
Johnny– What made you want to become a writer?
Shaun– I feel like I have a million answers to that question, and maybe they all come together into one giant answer! My father and grandfather told me stories growing up which lit my mind on fire. My mother would always find time to read to me. My friends and I would play make believe growing up, so storytelling was baked into my early socializing. I played a ton of dungeons and dragons and had to run and write the campaigns for my friends. I read the entire fiction section of my middle school library in sixth grade and it started to leak out of my ears in prose. There are ideas I experience which are so beautiful I feel like I have to share them with other people. I feel alive after I write.
But, if there’s anything the research on consciousness I did for Electric Blues has taught me, it’s that people are particularly terrible at giving the reasons for why they do things. So, who knows?
Johnny– Ha! Fair enough, have any of the stories told to you by your father and grandfather ever made it into any of your writing?
Shaun– Not the stories themselves, but my father’s world building and my grandfather’s way of building a character certainly come through a good bit in what I do.
Johnny– Was Electric Blues your first book?
Shaun– Not by a long shot! The first book I wrote was in seventh grade. I don’t know that anyone should read it though. My first full length novel that was published is Even Hell Has Knights.
Johnny– What writing plans have you got for
the upcoming year? Any projects in the works?
Shaun– Oh yes! Wasteland, a book in my Hellsong Universe, is in its final editing stage. It should be a beaut!
Johnny– Oh sweet, any release date ETS’s?
Shaun– We’re working on late first quarter next year! That gives you guys plenty of time to catch up! You can start the series here:
Johnny– Who inspires you?
Shaun– I have a ton of heroes! Some from the sports I’ve competed in. Garry Kasparov in Chess, who branched out to fight for fair elections in Russia and who helped move his home village to safety during regional unrest. Mirko Filipović, a fighter who got elected to the Croatian Parliament. Epicurus, who’s philosophy is so strangely modern! But it’s not just my heroes who inspire me! I have a friend who quit his job and gave up his dreams because he felt what he was being asked to do was unethical. And I have friends who are actually raising decent human beings! How the crap are they doing that? I could never do that!
Johnny– Who is your favorite author/writer?
Shaun– Frederik Pohl, I think, is amazing. I really think his material is right up there with Asimov and Bradbury, but he’s not as well known. I’d recommend Gateway to anyone looking to get into him.
Johnny– Do you have a sequel planned or written for Electric Blues?
Shaun– I do! There is a sequel out now for Arty called Binary Jazz. I have a third one planned, called Digital Muse, which is on the backburner. I feel that it wouldn’t be a good Arty story if the theme didn’t in some way tackle an emotion. Electric Blues deals with depression, while Binary Jazz is primarily about how positive and negative emotions build friendships. The third story will touch on the idea love and how human beings in love look from Arty’s perspective.
Johnny– I notice Electric Blues was on Audible, (Great performance by Gabrielle Olexa btw), are any other books been converted to audio?
Shaun– They’re not! Electric Blues is the only one so far! I agree that Gabe did a fabulous job on the audio. Getting someone to be monotone for that long and still keep the story exciting to listen to was no easy task!
Johnny– Absolutely! Her monotone was nothing short of phenomenal! (I’ve included a link above for anyone wanting to listen to this amazing performance). Shaun, what is your process when you begin writing a book from an idea?
Shaun– For me, it seems different for each story. Sometimes there’s an image or scene that burns its way into my consciousness, and I play the detective to see what came before it and after it. For the Hellsong series, the setting came first, and the story-lines emerged as I imagined how people would handle that particular damnation. At other times there’s a concept or emotion I have that I want to share, and the story is just the best way to communicate it with another person.
Johnny– Any advice for inspiring writers, cage fighters, or chess players?
Shaun– All three pursuits straddle the line between science and art. They require both phenomenal discipline and unfettered passion. Most people I meet have one of the two requirements down. My advice to anyone who is chasing one of these three endeavors is to find the area you are most lacking, whether it be discipline or passion, and feed the weaker of the two.
Electric Blues is a fun futuristic tale of an A.I. that is looking for his purpose. In doing so Arty teaches us all the possible meaning of life. To think that this whole story came about because of a smartphone blows me away, and so does this book.
of room for this franchise to grow I can hardly wait to see what Arties next
adventure will be.
Dynamic narration is necessary to make this book work for the reader. Logical and engaging dialog are entwined presenting a believe-ability that will easily hold your interest to the end. Shaun has done a wonderful job with Electric Blues.
Personally, I love the fact that coping with his current reality Artie is teaching me the basics principles of philosophy. While searching for his purpose in an ever advancing world, Artie has taught me that adapting is surviving, when one door closes another opens, it’s just depend on how one chooses to view it.
I’m giving Electric Blues five stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ on bothGoodreads and Amazonbecause of it is original, humorous, and intelligent. I walk away from this book feeling both amused and charmed, but most importantly, entertained.
Shaun proves that sometimes the little things that come into our lives can provide some great opportunities. He also proved that with hard work and determination you can overcome adversity. Good luck 🍀 with all your endeavors Shaun, I’m a Fan! 🙏