Monday, February 8, 2016

Author Michael Bradley and the Supernatural Thriller

Today we interview Michael Bradley, author of a new work of supernatural thriller titled Sirens in the Night.  We are both members of the Wilmington Writers Group (that's the Wilmington in Delaware, not North Carolina).

Congratulations on your new book, Michael! Tell us about Sirens in the Night.

Sirens in the Night is a supernatural thriller that asks the question, what would happen if myths were real? The novel focuses on the efforts of police detective Samantha Ballard as she investigates a series of unusual deaths in the city of Philadelphia. As she embarks on her investigation, she is forced to face a reality that tears down the very framework of what she believes is possible. Jack Allyn, a radio DJ in Philadelphia, just wants to reignite his floundering career, but he is drawn unwillingly into Samantha’s investigation when his friend becomes the next victim. The two must team up together to take on a force that is as malevolent as it is beautiful.     

Sirens in the Night was published by Amberjack Publishing. How did you come to work with them? 

I had been in the midst of sending out submissions to agents and publishers when I came across an article in Writer’s Digest about Amberjack Publishing, announcing that they were now accepting submissions. I decided to give it a shot, and the rest, as they say, is history. They liked what I had to offer, and wanted to negotiate a contract for the publishing rights. With this being my first publication offer, I have to admit that I was a little cautious because I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t signing up for something I would regret. The last thing I wanted was to allow the excitement of getting a book deal to blind me to reality. But, in the end, everything worked out for the best, and the book was released last year in November.

I believe that Amberjack Publishing wanted you to change the title for your book, correct? 

The book’s working title had been Beware of Greeks, a take on the old saying “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”. It had been one of those titles that, when it came to me, I instantly fell in love with it. So, I was a bit heartbroken when my publisher asked me to change it. There was a great deal of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” before I succumb to my publisher’s wishes. But, in the end, the new title has grown on me, and I’m happy with it.

You previously self-published a book.  How does self-publishing compare with your experience with Amberjack Publishing?

The big difference is that you’re not alone. A publisher brings resources to the table that I might not otherwise have had access to with self-publishing. I had an editor who was fabulous to work with, and a graphic designer to take care of cover artwork and book formatting. It gave me, the writer, the opportunity to do what I do best, which is write. When you self-publish, you often have to play all of those roles, and it can take you away from moving on with writing the next book. On the flip side, my royalty percentages are lower than if I had gone the self-publishing route. But, I think the sacrifice was worth it.

Very good.  What's next -- a sequel to Sirens in the Night?

Not at the moment. I have an idea for an indirect sequel for Sirens in the Night, but I haven’t developed it enough yet. I’m currently working on a new thriller with a more psychological angle this time. I just finished the first draft. The working title is Follow You Down. I don’t want to give too much else away about it yet.

Let’s finish up with a process question: how to you write?  Do you do it in the same time and place every day?

I usually write at a small desk I’ve got down in my basement. It’s small, leaving little room for distracting adornments. As for time, my intent is to write every night for a few hours, but you can pave a lot of road with good intentions.

We’ll look forward to your next book.  Thank you for your time, Michael.

Michael Bradley's books can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-a-Million

You can follow Michael Bradley at:

Twitter - @mjbradley88

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Historical Fiction and Non-Fiction from Jorgen Flood

Today I interview Jorgen Flood, author of several works of historical fiction and non-fiction, all of which are associated with his native Norway.  Jorgen and I are members of the Brandywine Valley Writers Group (in the Philadelphia suburbs).
Congratulations on your books, Jorgen!  Although all of your work is related in one way or another to Norway, these books are all written in English, correct?
Yes, pretty much. All of my fiction books. However, one of the non-fiction books was published in Norwegian.

You self-published these books.  What was your greatest challenge in the self-publishing process?
I actually started out with a publisher for my first book, but felt I had no control over distribution or pricing. I am sure the level of support from the publisher is different if you have a best seller, but for me the self publishing route was the best. I have not regretted it, and ended buying back the rights to my own book (for a modest amount) Marketing is undoubtedly the biggest challenge for self publishers, since companies like Amazon and Smashwords (an e-book company) handle the distribution very well.  

How many books have you published?  Which was your most popular book?
I have published three works of historical fiction, and five non fiction books. Two of the historical fiction books are from the Viking age, while the last, Steel Armageddon, consists of five war stories covering the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Steel Armageddon is without any comparison my best seller. It outsells the other seven books combined.

I understand that your latest books collect articles you wrote.  Correct?  Where did they originally appear?

That is correct. The last three books are short historical stories regarding Norway. Most of the articles were originally published in "The Slooper," an online and paper magazine for the local lodge of Sons of Norway.  The book versions are expanded, both with regards to text and pictures.


Very good.  What's next?
I have started the third and final book from the Viking age, but at the moment the progress is not as fast I would have liked.

Let’s finish up with a process question: how to you write?  Do you do it in the same time and place every day?
No, though mostly at home and in the evenings. I have on occasion rented a room in the Poconos for a couple of days when I want to get something finished without interruptions.
Well, then I'll let you get back to work!  I look forward to your next book, and thanks for your time, Jorgen.
Jorgen Flood's books can be purchased from Amazon or Smashwords. His website is at

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Sarah Cain Interview: The 8th Circle

Today we interview my friend Sarah Cain, author of the new thriller The 8th Circle.  I had the privilege of reading and commenting on an early version of this book.  Sarah, congratulations on your hardcover thriller from Crooked Lane Books!  I’m sure there are a lot of writers out there who would like to know how you got an agent. How did that come about?

Getting an agent was a process. After sending out loads of query letters that didn't generate much interest, I decided to try my luck at Thrillerfest, the big thriller writers conference in New York. By this time I had a polished manuscript that had been critiqued by my special critique group--including you, thank you very much--and felt pretty confident. I went to the conference pitched and got lucky. Six agents wanted full manuscripts and two wanted fifty pages. I sent them off, and within a month I had offers from four. I went with my agent Renee Fountain because she really seemed to have the best feel for the book, and she was really enthusiastic about it.

Your main character is a Philadelphia newspaper columnist named Danny Ryan. His brother and late father were policemen.  Why pick a newspaperman for the protagonist in a murder mystery, instead of a cop?

I picked a newspaperman for my protagonist because I worked in PR in my former life and had a lot of interactions with the press. I also wrote op-eds and ghost wrote articles for the some of the Philly business papers. Plus John Baer of the Philadelphia Daily News is a friend, and he was kind enough to read my manuscript and offer advice. Really, I just felt more comfortable going at it from a reporter's point of view because I've always been a writer.

You chose a 3rd person point of view for your novel, and switched the p.o.v. between several characters.  How did you decide on that?

For me, third person is the easiest way to write. There also some very distinct subplots in the novel, and the only way to manage them was to go with multiple view points.

Let’s finish up with a process question: how to you write?  Do you do it in the same time and place every day?

I always write from midnight to 2:30 am, which is a holdover from having small children. I also write from about 3 to 6 pm. I'm really not a morning person, though if I don't have anything scheduled I'll get up and write. I do 2,000 words a day always at my desk, which is kind of a cupboard filled with notes and photos and other debris.

One more question: I know you are contracted for a second book.  Does that one also feature Danny Ryan?

I'm finishing up my second book now. It is a sequel to the first and features Danny Ryan. The working title is Blood Angel. As of right now, it's a bit lighter than the first.

We’ll look forward to it.  Again, Sarah Cain’s first thriller was just published by Crooked Lane Books.  The book release party will be at the Chester County Book Company in West Chester, PA, on Saturday, 16 January 2016, from 1 to 3 pm.

Follow Sarah Cain at, at Twitter @sarahcain78, and her blogs at or

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Jason Pollock Interview: Could Emily Brontë Beat Up Jane Austen?

Today we interview Jason Pollock: writer, stand-up comic, actor, raconteur, magician, and man-about-town. He's just released You're Really Reading This Book? My Ramblings on Social Media

Tell us about your new book, Jason. How did it come about?

I’ve seen people doing Gofundme and Kickstarter to get out of debt and save their mortgage. I think that’s kind of tacky. This is a way to have accomplished something and sell something at the same time.

At a horror con back in October, I met a horror writer named Joe Knetter. He said he wrote a book called Thoughts and took them from his Facebook. I said that’s a great idea! People have found my Facebook funnier than my actual stand-up. Why not compile that into a book with chapters? He said to do it. I said, “Isn’t that stealing a similar idea?” He said, “I don’t give a shit.” Thus, the rest is history.

How does your book compare with great works of American literature, such as Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick or Pimp by Iceberg Slim?

This is a great question. As far as Moby-Dick goes, probably more laughs per page. Pimp? Unfortunately, not as much sex and violence.

Jason, how would your book be different if it had been written by, say, Jane Austen?

I don’t think it would be different. I, honestly, believe that Jane would’ve written it the exact same way. Not even a question.

While we’re on the subject: if Jane Austen fought Emily Brontë in a steel-cage death match, who would win?

I think we both know they don’t call her “Bruiser Brontë for nothing.

Fox News has proven that writers (such as Jason) who use the Oxford comma are terrorists. Why do you hate America, Jason?

We all know Fox News is not necessarily accurate. I don’t hate America. It’s quite the contrary. It’s because of my love of the American people that I’m really trying to correct, educate, and get America to use the proper punctuation.

We’re almost out of room. Any last requests, Jason?

Yes. Please extend the interview. HAHA!! I jest. It’s, seriously, an honor that people are reading and liking the book. Thanks for taking the time to interview me to help me publicize it. The more books sold the more I can pay off the vet bill and catch up on the mortgage. It’s all for a good cause!

Thanks Tony and fellow readers.

You can follow Jason on Facebook here.

Jason Pollock's new book is currently available here or here or even here.

Monday, January 4, 2016

"The Expanse:" Heating Up

Syfy's "The Expanse" is billed as Space Opera, but--if the setting was on Earth--most of the first three episodes of that series could have been police procedural or political thriller.

Consider the action on Ceres: murders, bribery, theft.  The setting is new, but the action could have fueled a typical episode of "Law and Order." The data smuggler could have been found in any contemporary thriller, renamed as an industrial spy.

I associate Space Opera with battles between starships. Yes, the ice hauler Canterbury was destroyed in the first episode, but that was hardly a battle, since the Canterbury didn't have any weapons.

However, Episode Four (titled "CQB," military-speak for "Close Quarters Battle") finally delivered. The flagship of the Martian fleet, the MCRN Donnager, fought six smaller vessels. Plenty of excitement there: the pride of Mars was overcome by the mysterious, technologically-superior attackers. The Commander destroyed the Donnager to prevent boarders from taking the ship.

A few observations:

The Commander of the Donnager was an Asian female, which was a nice contrast to the typical rock-jawed Anglo-male ship's captain that we usually see.

On the various "Star Trek" shows, the bridge set was elaborate, while the hanger bay was almost featureless. The art director of "The Expanse" went the opposite way. The Donnager's Commander ran the battle from a fairly small room (I was unclear whether this was the bridge or the CIC, since both were mentioned). The special effects for the sensors were good, but the overall impression was underwhelming. Ah, but the hanger bay was spectacular! It was a multi-story structure with gantries and catwalks and various cool stuff. The walls looked like a theater with box seats that went all the way to the ceiling. It didn't make much sense, but damn! It looked great, even if it was mostly CGI.

On the negative side, the final ten minutes of the episode featured everyone in space suits...and you couldn't tell who was whom. Martian marines in black spacesuits fought boarders in similar suits. They were as indistinguishable as Stormtroopers on "Star Wars."

Now, I accept that, since soldiers fight in uniforms, space-suited Marines might wear identical suits. But there was no reason for the four surviving crew of the Canterbury to be in identical spacesuits!

Yes, their spacesuits were different from those used by the Marines. But, once again, we couldn't tell who was whom! With their suits on, I couldn't even tell which of the four was the sole woman!

Look, the crew of the Canterbury were civilian workers, not soldiers. There was no reason for them to wear identical spacesuits. In fact, since the corporation they worked for was so cheap, they might well have had to purchase their own spacesuits. A single line about how one penny-pinching character was wearing an older, bulkier model of spacesuit would have explained all of that.

In my last post, I mentioned Larry Niven's Gil the ARM stories. In one of them--I believe it was "Death by Ecstasy"--he mentions that a spacesuit is the most expensive possession a belter owns. It's almost like a home, and they usually spend a fortune customizing it. And after they customize it with gizmos, they paint it.

If the art director of "The Expanse" had followed that precedent, we would have had no trouble figuring out who was in each of the belter's suits.

Overall, though, "The Expanse" has improved as it's gone along, and I expect to watch it to the end. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Some Thoughts on "The Expanse"

Tonight the Syfy channel debuted a new series titled "The Expanse." After a long period in which the channel broadcast nothing of interest to me (sorry, I didn't watch "Sharknado"), they've finally come up with a decent show.

Not that I don't have issues with the show.

I'm not expecting innovative science fiction. The show is based on a series of books, which the authors intended to be space opera. Now, space opera can be a lot of fun. But it's focused on action, not new concepts.

Most of my own science fiction reading took place 30 years ago. Yet I've seen nothing in "The Expanse" that wasn't explored by other writers long ago.

For example, the independence of the inhabitants of the Belt was explored in Larry Niven's "Gil the ARM" series. He also wrote a lot about how humans would be changed by living in varying gravity. War between Earth and its colonies was one feature of Samuel R. Delaney's Triton. And so on.

No, space opera like The Expanse (the book) or "The Expanse" (the TV series) lives or dies on action and its characters.

I've only seen the first episode, but so far the producers have done a satisfactory job. The sets (most of which are probably CGI) are too pretty and too large, but this is TV. I did read the first book in this series, and most Belters are supposed to live in cramped, rather shabby spaces.

(SPOILER) In a later episode, Detective Miller is fired and leaves Ceres. He carries everything he owns in a single bag. We only saw one short scene of Miller in his lodgings, but it didn't look like the apartment of someone who could fit all his belongings in a backpack.

But this is TV. People want to see pretty pictures, and CGI can make us lots of pretty pictures.

There are also some aspects that they're just not going to get right. Gravity, for one thing. Ceres is supposed to be under .3 of Earth gravity. You'd walk differently under .3 g. But, even if the show could do that, it would look very strange. Another gravity-related issue is the attenuated bodies of the Belters. But there just aren't that many tall, extremely thin actors available--not good ones, anyway. So most of the Belters are just skinny-but-normal actors.

By the way, wouldn't low gravity attenuate the rat and the bird? I don't know, but I assume it would.

One thing that the casting director could do, however, is give us more variety. I counted one African-American who had lines, and a few actors that I assumed were South Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, etc.). I didn't see a single East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, etc.). Most of the cast were Anglos.

If nothing else, more diversity would help us tell the actors apart. For example, on the shuttlecraft Knight, there was a crew of five. One was female, and the other four were all white guys with black hair! All of them needed a shave (or had full beards). Yes, one (the assistant engineer) was heavier than the rest, another (the pilot) always wore a watch cap, and the medic...well, I knew it was him because he wasn't a pretty as the lead, Holden. But why couldn't one of them have been Chinese? Or just an Anglo with red hair? In fact, the only blonde I recall in the entire cast was Holden's navigator girlfriend!

One last thing: we know how zero-g sex works. Yes, some of our Astronauts have had sex in space. And you don't do it like Holden and his blonde navigator girlfriend did it.

Sex involves thrusting, so there's an equal and opposite reaction. Our Astronauts found that you need to harness the participants together to keep them from flying apart. (I assume it's a stretchy, rubber harness.)

But again: show business! A harness would probably look like fetish or bondage gear.

Well, I expect to keep watching "The Expense" least for a few more episodes.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

An Article for the Chester County Day newspaper

For the past dozen years, I have written articles for a local charity.  Chester County Day is, perhaps, the oldest house tour in the entire USA.  (This tour was not held every year in its early days, so some other tours organizers argue that they have the oldest, continuously-held tour.)  Profits from the tour benefit the Chester County Hospital, which is in southeast Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia.

To publicize the tour, the organizers distribute an annual newspaper.  This is where the following article appeared.  However, due to space considerations, this article was truncated.  Worse, several typos were added when it was edited down.

This year's Chester County Day was held on Saturday 3 October.  Hurricane Joaquin made it a damp day for a house tour, but it went on nonetheless.  And, for anyone who is interested, here is the full article I wrote for the event.

The People Behind Chester County Day

by Tony Conaway

We anticipate that between 3,000 and 4,000 people will purchase tickets for the 75th Annual Chester County Day. It takes hundreds more to put on this event, the oldest and longest-running house tour in the country.

The revenue from Chester County Day is donated to the Chester County Hospital. This year it is earmarked for the Hospital’s Cardiac program. Appropriately, The Day is run by the Women’s Auxiliary to the Hospital.

Each year, the first Women’s Auxiliary group to begin preparations for The Day is the House Committee. The House Committee is responsible for contacting the owners of the sites you visit. The members of this committee start searching for suitable houses in January of each year.

The criterion for selecting a house for the tour has never changed. A house on the tour should be:
·      An early structure furnished with antiques
·      An historic home (either by use or by association)
·      Or, a newer structure with significant architectural features or collections
Of course, a selected house must also be accessible and have sufficient parking nearby.

Once potential houses are identified, a formal tour request letter is sent to each homeowner, inviting them to participate. If the homeowner is willing, a visit is then set up. “That’s the fun part,” says House Committee Chair Debbie Hess. “Meeting the homeowners, marveling at the uniqueness and charm of their homes and then getting to know them as we work together towards the first Saturday in October. We add public landmarks, lunch stops, rest stops, and covered bridges nearby to complete the tour.”

Once the houses on the tour are selected, several other committees can begin their work. One such is the committee that produces the newspaper that you are reading. The Chester County Day newspaper has been edited by Eric Chandlee Wilson for the past 25 years. The proofreader and assistant editor, Michael Pillagalli, has worked on many Chester County Day committees, so he knows The Day well.  He is ably assisted by Robin Young. Not only are there may logistical challenges in putting together the newspaper, each article must be assigned to a volunteer writer.

It may surprise you that the money paid for Chester County Day tickets does not cover all the expenses. The Sponsorship Committee has an important job, convincing businesses and individuals to donate (either cash or with needed goods or services).

Many people make their donation by buying advertisements in the Chester County Day paper. In this way, they publically demonstrate their support for the Hospital. The donations and advertisements allow the full cost of the Chester County Day tickets to go to the hospital. All expenses for The Day come from these sponsors.

The current Sponsorship Committee chair, Marie Robinson, notes that “I have learned that there are many loyal sponsors who happily return each year, but others need to receive some personal contact. My job is to follow us with everyone who had been there for us in the past and to recruit new sponsors.” Among her new initiatives is the House Sponsors program, which includes “two builders who had worked on some of the homes on this year’s tour. The have special promotions letting people know that they have worked on a particular house featured on Chester County Day.”

Once the houses have been selected, someone has to figure out how to direct visitors to and from each house.  Lon Pritchard has handled this job for years, along with the heads of the Parking and Marking Committees. He also serves as our Cartographer, creating the all-important map that visitors use on The Day. Each year, he does his best to select a route that “shares the ambience of Chester County in as relaxing, natural mood as possible. Some less traveled (but safe) roads are used to achieve this task.” The continued growth of houses and business in Chester County makes this more difficult every year.

While the tour is a lot of fun, its ultimate purpose is to earn money for the Hospital. Naturally, the event has to be publicized. That is the job of Kathleen Malloy and Jeanne Reith.

One of the most effective forms of publicity is the slide lecture. Held at multiple locations throughout the county, this allows hundreds of people to preview the tour. To facilitate this, Photographer Jeff Dippel takes the slides.
Pat Mehok is the official Lecturer, who narrates the slide show.

Tickets are sold at a few sites, such as the lobby of the Chester County Hospital, where volunteers staff a table. Tickets are also sold by mail. Joan Atkins handles the mail-out tickets, and is also Business Manager for The Day. The Business Manager has a wide range of responsibilities, from seeing that the tickets are printed correctly, directing the bills to the Treasurer, answering all phone and email queries about The Day, and – after the event – writing up the final reports.

Right before The Day, signs are posted directing traffic. This is the job of the Marking Committee, chaired by Rob Miller. Of course, they must take those signs down after The Day, too!

Unless you are walking to visit the sites, everyone on The Day arrives by automobile. Naturally, all those cars need a place to park. Parking is handled by Steve Oakes and Herb Schwabe. This year, Herb is also doing the important job of notifying every municipality on the tour, some of which may assign a police officer to handle traffic. The Parking Committee is always looking for additional volunteers, who are willing to spend The Day working outside.

Finally, at each of the 30 to 40 houses on the tour, there is a greeter, plus a guide in each room that is open to the public. Arranging a greeter and multiple guides for each house is a massive undertaking. Linda Gibson has handled the job of assembling and placing the guides. Sarah Finnaren is in charge of the greeters.

As you can see, Chester County Day could not exist without the efforts of its many volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact the current Co-Chairs, Louise Milewski or Karen Weber. You can do so by phoning the Business Office at (610) 431-5301.

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