Thursday, November 2, 2017

Interview – Mike Duke – Author

AMES: Hey Mike, thanks for joining. Let me start off by saying I loved reading Low. Books about religion, man’s sins, our souls, and our struggle to find meaning in life really intrigue me, so this was a perfect book for me. If you don’t mind me asking, how much of your own inner struggle was part of this story?

Duke:  A good part. There is a lot of me in Officer Mark Adams, some directly and some metaphorically. I grew up in the church and had a very strong faith even into my adult life through some very trying times, potentially very bad medical diagnoses with our daughter, and a couple of separations over the course of 25 plus years of marriage. But there was something that finally tipped the scales, challenging both my faith and my wife’s eventually in the mid 2000’s, and, to be honest, my faith has never quite looked the same since. I never lost it, but I often felt like Job for a number of years, wrestling with God over what had happened, the whys and so forth and other things that continued to happen. In fact, a passage from Job has always stuck out to me ever since then that I’ve never seen any preachers really talk much about but it’s how I’ve felt at many times.  

Job 23:13-17 “But He is unique and who can make Him change? And whatever His soul desires, that He does. For He performs what is appointed for me, and many such things are with Him. Therefore, I am terrified at His presence. When I consider this, I am afraid of Him. For God made my heart weak, and the Almighty terrifies me; because I was not cut off from the presence of darkness, and He did not hide deep darkness from my face.”

To speak more directly to the aspect of struggles with sin though, I grew up in a very fundamental type church that was Charismatic / Pentecostal but later changed over to a Reformed Presbyterian church after much personal study. Many people can be very judgmental of others who do not struggle with the same choice sins as their own. That’s something I’ve noticed. And it doesn’t matter whether they’re religious or not. It’s universal. Mercy is most often reserved for those most like us when it comes to violating right and wrong…until we start to see ourselves as sinners as well. As long as we hold onto some level of self-righteousness we are more likely to judge others more harshly and withhold compassion, mercy or understanding. Part of writing Low was to really depict the universality of sin from numerous angles and walks of life. We are all guilty in some way, on some level. The question really is, have we squared with it? I love the way the movie The Addiction speaks to this and its why I used a couple of quotes from that movie at the beginning of some sections.

AMES: While reading this book, I was amazed by your handle of police jargon, procedure, thought processes, and so on. I knew you had to have had experience as an officer. Do you think you would have been able to write this book, especially with such command, without this experience?

Duke:  Absolutely not. Write it? Sure. But as you say “with such command”, no. It’s funny how life goes. I wanted to be a writer in high school, was going to college to be a English Lit teacher with a minor in Journalism and then my wife and I got pregnant with our son Alex and I had to scramble for a job. I decided on law enforcement and applied. I made it through all the interviews and didn’t get hired right off but was number one on the waiting list. I worked a horrible job on a brake press for a company that made logging tractors for 9 months before I got the call and an offer for a job. But it was all those experiences over almost 12 years that really gave me insight into people and knowledge of police matters and various dealings on the street that gave me the “command” as you say to write LOW.

AMES: So you also write poetry, I read. May I ask if you would share a small piece of your work here with the readers?

Duke: Sure. Hmmm. Hard to choose, but lets see. I think I’ll share this poem I wrote almost 7 years ago when I lost my German Shepherd Zeus. He was my best buddy for 12 years after I rescued him from a shelter when he was 2 years old. It’s called…

THERE WAS A TIME

There was a time
When limbs were strong and steady
Through wooded trails and snowy woods,
Swimming behind and
Dashing ahead
At every creature noise.

When “Walk?” was the word of release,
A prancing, dancing bull set in motion,
Whirling like some ecstatic
Dervish at the door,
Waiting for me to exit.

There was a time when his royal stature and
Menacing bark demanded respect,
A fierce protector by birth,
Announcing intimidation to all
Who passed his roadside kingdom.

Oh, how I long for his days of
Youthful zeal and diligent adventure,
Racing, tromping, stomping
To and fro, ever ready to
Explore with me,
Or relax by a fire on chilly nights,
Head in my lap, at peace,
The world, right as rain.
There was a time,
But it is gone.
The day is spent, the night has come,
The long anticipated dread become real.
The labor of loving the aged and
Withered frame at end,
The fight against frailty
At last, turned to futility.

And so I held him one long, last time,
His head in my lap,
His eyes full of happiness, and
I whispered my love and thankfulness
For all our years of closest friendship,
Whispered “Sweet boy” nothings
In his ear and finally said Goodbye.

There was a time his presence
Filled our lives day and night,
But now the memories fill the void,
Pile up like feathers and
Settle at the foot of my bed
As I cry myself to sleep…

In Loving Remembrance of Zeus
R.I.P.
Love ya buddy…


AMES: I also learned how to tell stories and write through RPG’s and GM’ing / DM’ing. How much would you say that experience shaped your future in writing? What would you say to parents thinking of letting their kids play RPG's? Would you say it would be a good experience for them?

Duke:  I started playing D&D at age 16 and got into several other roleplaying games – Shadowrun, Vampire the Masquerade, Werewolf, Mage, Cyberpunk, Rift, Battletech / Mechwarrior and some others. On one hand if you get to the point of being the DM or GM you learn how to shape and run a campaign / story or even write your own, so on that level it can be helpful. For me, I have an obsessive streak, and I found that the more I got into those games the more time and mental creative energy they consumed and for years I ended up stopping writing completely because of it. Everything went into the games. Now, that’s not to say it would be like that for everyone, that’s just my personal bent and experience. I saw something recently where they’re using D&D as a therapy / tool for Autistic kids because the area they’re weakest in, social skills, D&D essentially has templates built into character construction and gameplay that help develop those skills. In the end, I think parents need to know and read their kids. My son was very big into the Mechwarrior games growing up and got very obsessive over creating mechs (just like I did) and would spend a lot of time playing the computer game. We encouraged him to monitor and manage himself as much as possible and not let the obsessive tendencies take over. And when he didn’t succeed we’d step in and put limitations in place for a time and then give him back the reins. Ultimately, parents need to know their kids, but overall I think there are good qualities to D&D and Shadowrun and some others, but the World of Darkness games (Vampire, etc) are definitely aimed more at adults, in my opinion.

AMES: You once said that “people so often are willing to sink to the lowest depths to get what they want, or, the human condition.” So, do you believe greed is inherently human? You also believe in redemption, and your characters seemed to believe in redemption, but I won’t give anything away. Would you say redemption is a moral of the first story? Is this your legacy, your message, that all can be redeemed?

Duke: I believe self-deception and selfishness, manifested in many different ways, is the human condition. We all have our choice sins and weaknesses that call to us, based on our own personal bents, our heart’s desires and the way we were raised, both nature and nurture. And I do believe in redemption. Can all be redeemed? I don’t know if that’s the right question or way to look at it. I think a better observation after reading Low, is, people get what they want the most. They become the person they want to be the most. They choose the things in life they desire the most. And in the end, they’re stuck with that. Is it a tragedy or a comedy? Redemption or damnation? Depends.

On the flip side, redemption isn’t simple, sterile and pretty. There can be periods of sincere doubt and struggle, struggle with those choice sins in which one may fail at times and get up and struggle again. The famous preacher Charles Spurgeon from the 1800’s said “My agonizing death struggle with sin is proof enough that I am a child of God.”

So, do we want redemption or do we want something else? Redemption means admitting that there’s something wrong with us or something wrong that we’ve done or that we’re doing, and in our social climate today those are not popular concepts. In fact, redemption only makes sense, only seems glorious, if we recognize the depths of sin people, including ourselves, can sink to. And I can say with confidence I’ve done wrong, I do wrong, and I have a crooked soul that needs to be made straight. A collaborator in my own demise, I look to redemption as my saving grace. 

AMES: Your training in martial arts really shines through in a few sequences. You write with authority. As some writers believe, you should write what you know. Do you think we will be seeing more of Officer Adams? Will you write other cop stories?

Duke:  I’ve been doing martial arts of different kinds since 1989 and teaching since 1999. I started out in Shorin Ryu Okinawan karate and got my black belt in that. After going to the police academy I got into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Thai Boxing, Aikido, Wrestling, and Chin Na (form of kung fu heavy on joint locks). Several years later I got into JKD, Silat, Sayoc Kali (all blade tactics, apprentice instructor for almost 6 years), Atienza Kali (all blade, and long blade), Kuntao (Chris Derbaum) and AMOK (more Filipino martial arts). The last 11 years, since I got out of law enforcement, I’ve been teaching high speed, tactical and off road driving as well as hand to hand combatives to military, law enforcement, bodyguards and private citizens.

I definitely believe in writing what you know and I will certainly write other stories that involve cops and martial arts related. I have a flare for adding action to my horror and for writing some thriller pieces as well with a horrific edge. And fans will see more of Officer Adams. I have plans for a sequel to LOW. But I’m hush hush on that right now. ;)

AMES: You said you love Neil Gaiman’s work. What’s your favorite Gaiman book? Any other author’s or works that significantly influenced you?

Duke: Tough pick between Neverwhere and American Gods. I loved them both greatly. But everything he writes is wonderful. As far as other influences, early on it was definitely Stephen King but when I started writing Low I had just plunged head long into H. P. Lovecraft and devoured a large portion of his work and felt it influenced me greatly in my imagery.

AMES: What kind of research did you do before and while writing this book? How important would you say research is to write a good novel?

Duke:  I did a lot of research on night terrors and the history of nightmares for this novel. I had already done significant reading years ago on the little known biblical stuff revealed later in the book. (no spoilers!) Other than that, I was good because I chose to write what I knew about. But yes, as a general rule, I do believe research is important to a good novel. Knowledge is key to achieving authenticity. So, if you don’t have the personal experience and knowledge then research is critical.

AMES:  Do you have a favorite scene from Low that you just enjoyed writing or feel proud of?

Duke:  Man, there’s so many. Especially from the all the different dream sequences, the descent to hell, and some of the police stories, but the one that has just stuck out that I enjoyed is a short scene where these three little hobgoblin-like critters from the shadow / dream realm crawl up under Chad’s hospital bed and are slithering their tongues up into his ear and arguing with each other. It’s darkly humorous and I had a really fun time writing that scene.

AMES: Thanks for joining today. I loved your book, Low. Good luck with the next novel.



Bio:
A fighter, writer, teacher and lover of things both light and dark, especially shiny, sharp things I train others to stick in people more efficiently. Philosophical, spiritual, pragmatic and struggling with cynicism, yet never giving up on redemption. I find obsession the best way to pass the time.

Mike served his community as a police officer for almost 12 years, including time on the SWAT team, before entering the private training industry where he has spent the last 11 years teaching military, law enforcement, bodyguards and private citizens, high speed, tactical and off road driving as well as hand to hand combatives and blade tactics.


LOW (back cover blurb)

Officer Mark Adams is fed up with God, his wife and the legal constraints of his job. He longs for a life he can enjoy and to see true justice meted out.

Chad Bigleby is a lawyer thrown into a deadly moral quagmire, forced to decide whether he will abide by man's laws or make his own.

Each man is being driven to the edge of his limits.

Both men are on a collision course.

All because something wicked has arrived in Pleasant Grove, something ancient and obsessed with vengeance, eager to punish the souls of men for their sins.

How LOW will they go to get what they desire most? And what will it cost them in the end?

Hell only knows...



Thursday, October 26, 2017

Review - Dead-end Demons - Jeffrey Beesler



For some reason, Amazon won't let me post this review, only allowing me to give a rating of stars without any text. So, I'll post the review here:

Dead-End Demons, by Jeffrey Beesler, is the second novella in the Horrors of Helensview series. I liked the first book, though Jeffrey was still growing as an author and it wasn’t perfect.

This second book blows that first novella out of the water. Jeffrey has grown tremendously as an author, exploring themes of greed and change, death and forgiveness, even racism and loss.

Dylan, who lost his brother in an explosion in the events of the first novella, is visited by an old acquaintance who Dylan mistook for dead. Will the old acquaintance and Dylan team up to stop a demon menace, or is there more to the picture than what seems?

The writing is great. The themes of greed made me think about current politics. I found it funny that the main antagonist got all their money from inheritance, which reminds me of people in office these days. Division and race are themes explored as well, as the antagonist tries to put a wedge between family with the help of money and lies.

This novella reminded me of Supernatural meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 4.5/5

I’m happy to see Jeffrey’s amazing growth in writing. I know his books will entertain for years to come as he continues to write.

Find it here.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Interview: Jonathan Janz



AMES: I heard you teach film studies. How do you think teaching that class helped prepare you for the writing of this book, and actually all your books?

Janz: On a general level, teaching film keeps me immersed in the world of storytelling several hours a day. I'm constantly mindful of what makes a great story, and though the two mediums--fiction and film--are different, they share a striking number of similarities.

Studying film editing makes me a more efficient storyteller, as does examining the structure of a screenplay. The manner in which we study framing and cinematography reinforces the need to constantly select powerful and/or atypical visual details in order to paint my picture.

Even the acting in films helps inform my writing. Stage business is so important in every medium, and just as every gesture or facial expression helps create a character on screen, so too do these mannerisms and expressions develop a character on the page.

So, yes, teaching film brings with it some serious opportunities for me, and I try to maximize those opportunities by being just as attentive to our content as my students.


AMES: You write about kids that can be very cruel. The main character, Will, is hounded at every turn by some very mean kids. Did this happen to you? 

Janz: I'd like to say I never got bullied, but yeah, I got bullied, and pretty mercilessly. From being hit and thrown down to being excluded and mocked to someone pissing in my football helmet for a joke...yeah, I know very well what it's like to be bullied.

Essentially, Will is me. There are some differences--my mom, for instance, was very much involved in my life instead of being a burnout like Will's mom; also, I was an only child, so Peach is based on my two daughters--but in his experiences, his poverty, and his attitudes, I am Will.


AMES: Your description of the relationship between Will and his mother seemed very on point, particularly the prescription drug use and how that tainted the relationship between the mother and son. Did you draw on real life for any of this?

Janz: As I alluded to in the last answer, I didn't experience this from my mom, but I've seen friends go down that road of prescription addiction, and it's heartbreaking to watch.

From there I basically put myself in Will's shoes and felt what he'd feel and thought what he'd think. But that real-life knowledge really was helpful in developing those interactions.


AMES: The story ends in a way that can easily lead to a sequel. You’ve said you are writing part two very soon. Could you let us know a little about your thoughts on part two? Will it have the surviving members of these young kids as the main characters? How far into the future will we be going?

Janz: Yes! I'm so excited about the sequel. It will indeed feature the surviving cast members, as well as at least one character from another of my novels, SAVAGE SPECIES (which is referenced in CHILDREN OF THE DARK).

The way I've been thinking about the sequel is a bit like ALIENS, in that a survivor from the first horror has to return to face her/his worst fears. There's a militaristic element to COTD 2, and like ALIENS, the threat will be amplified and multiplied. I'm having a blast writing it!


AMES: The Children (Wendigos) were fantastic monsters. There were hints of winged monsters as well. Can you elaborate on what those winged beasts are? Will they have a major role in the sequel?

Janz: I'm glad you brought those creatures up. They figure strongly in SAVAGE SPECIES, and they'll play a huge role in COTD 2. They're called the Night Flyers, and they're just as lethal as the Children.

Their first attack in COTD 2 will be awfully memorable.

Thanks so much for the interview, Draven. Talk to you soon!


Bio: Jonathan Janz grew up between a dark forest and a graveyard, which explains everything. Brian Keene named his debut novel The Sorrows "the best horror novel of 2012." The Library Journal deemed his follow-up, House of Skin, "reminiscent of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House and Peter Straub's Ghost Story."

Since then Jonathan's work has been lauded by writers like Jack Ketchum, Edward Lee, Tim Waggoner, Bryan Smith, and Ronald Kelly. Novels like The Nightmare Girl, Wolf Land, Savage Species, and Dust Devils prompted Thunderstorm Books to sign Jonathan to an eleven-book deal and to give him his own imprint, Jonathan Janz's Shadow Side.

His most recent novel, Children of the Dark, received a starred review in Booklist and was chosen by their board as one of the Top Ten Horror Books of the Year (August 2015-September 2016). Children of the Dark will soon be translated into German and has been championed by the Library Journal, the School Library Journal, and Cemetery Dance.

Jonathan's primary interests are his wonderful wife and his three amazing children, and though he realizes that every author's wife and children are wonderful and amazing, in this case the cliché happens to be true. You can learn more about Jonathan at http://jonathanjanz.com. You can sign up for his Shadow World newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/cKLKt5. You can also find him on Facebook, via @jonathanjanz on Twitter, on Instagram (jonathan.janz) or on his Goodreads and Amazon author pages.