Interview: Steve Umstead

What words can accurately portray the honor and privilege it is to have a friend so encouraging and supportive as Steve Umstead?  Without the perfect words, how do I go about writing an introduction for an interview I was lucky enough to host?  This task has left me an author without words.  What an embarrassment! So, on with the interview…

How do you consume your caffeine?

Minimum two large cups of coffee in the morning. However I have been known to dip into the two ounce goodness known as 5 Hour Energy, especially in the early evening with a long night ahead.

5 Hour Energy rocks, though I’m quite confused by their Decaf option.  I’ll never understand that one! 

The obligatory question for any author.  What are you currently reading?

I’m just getting to the end of the second book in Allen Schatz’s Marshall Connors series, 7th Inning Death. The first, Game 7 Dead Ball, was excellent, and the follow up is just as good. Goes to show the quality a self-published author can put out there. And fortunately enough, there’s a third after this one.

I have yet to read Schatz series to compare to your standard, but I think it’s safe to say that your work is another example of the quality of a self-published author.

Since you’re a SciFi author, I must ask you, Blade Runner or Alien?

Ooh, good one. Two very different, yet very awesome movies. I’ll go with Alien – Blade Runner is a little too dystopian for my taste (I’m more of an optimist about the future…then again, a deadly alien isn’t exactly positive!)

No, it’s not.  But it makes for a good movie!  A little change in pace.  You are six years old and your first grade teacher asks you, “Steve, what do you want to be when you grow up?”  How do you answer?

At six, it was definitely an astronaut. It was still the era of the early space age, and what kid wouldn’t have wanted that as a job?

That doesn’t at all surprise me!  Another crazy question.  If you were an animal, which would you be?

A parweasel. Hey, it’s a made up animal, but it makes an appearance in Gabriel’s Return, and is downright wicked…

I love it!  I should have known.  Okay, one last random question before we get into some more about you as an author.  What is your favorite word?

I guess I’ll go with “cripes”, as it’s a frustration word that’s clean around my kids. I still picture Jim Carey in Dumb & Dumber when he locks his wallet in the newspaper vending machine and looks through the glass, saying “Criiiiiipes!”

I have a friend who says “Macaroni and Cheese” when she’s frustrated.  I must say, I prefer “cripes” as a swear word! 

Now down to business. If you could choose, past or present, who would be your mentor?  What questions would you ask?

Oh my, what I wouldn’t give to sit down with Arthur C. Clarke for a few hours. His vision of the future, from way back when, and how most of it came to be, and his ideas for the more distant future, would be the start of endless questions.

Sounds like you would need some 5 Hour Energy for what would have been an epic conversation! 

When did you first start writing?

Technically, the first fiction story I can remember was when I was 13 (just before high school), and I wrote a science fiction team-action type of story for fun. If I recall correctly, I never really finished it…and I really wish I still had a copy of it.

That’s the worst.  I wish I still has some of my early writings as well. But you’ve come a long way since the unfinished writings of a 13 year old.  You’ve now independently published two books, Gabriel’s Return and Gabriel’s Redemption.  Which was your favorite scene to write?

I mentioned in another interview a scene I wrote in Gabriel’s Return where I described the inner workings of a liquid explosive and gave the device an almost human quality, and that was enjoyable. But one of the most fun was a battle scene, hand to hand combat, with two quite large soldiers. Bodies being thrown through furniture, battle armor being cracked and twisted, and harsh dialogue. That was in Gabriel’s Redemption, and it was an easy write!

How much of the story did you know before you sat down to write?  Did you have a careful plan or let the story develop beneath your typing fingers?

With Gabriel’s Redemption, the story came out of a scene (Chapter 1 as it turns out) I had in my head for many years. When I sat down to outline the story, it all came out of that scene, and because it was NaNoWriMo, I had a fairly detailed outline chapter by chapter to give me a daily writing plan. With Gabriel’s Return, I knew the overall story and most of the scenes, but didn’t use an outline (honestly I didn’t think I needed it…mistake.) I’m an outliner, I’ve found out. I need that prompt each day to know what scene I’m going to write.

I still haven’t figured out which works best for me.  Both have their benefits.  Where did you find the inspiration for your characters?

I’ve been a fan of action and science fiction for a long time, and although I’ve never had the honor of serving in the military, I’m in awe of their commitment and training, so I tend to draw strong characters from those sources.

I know that your son has published a short story.  What was that like when he first told you that he was writing to publish?       

Absolutely thrilling. I know it was because he saw I was able to do it, and he’s truly a gifted young writer, so I was all for it. And it was very exciting when he did publish. He’s gotten very busy with high school now (freshman this year) so he hasn’t been able to get back to the next story, but he talks about it a lot and I’m sure it’s around the corner.

I can’t even fathom the joy that brings you! 

What advice or encouragement could you offer to new or unpublished authors?

Write, write, write. Keep writing. You’ll get better as you go, and you’ll have more works to get into the readers’ hands. Don’t write one and spend every waking moment trying to push it.

I believe I’ve heard that from you a time or two!  Always so supportive!  Is there anything specific you would like to tell your readers?

Don’t go it alone. Find yourself fellow writers. It’s an amazing group of supportive people!

I couldn’t agree with you more!  Last question. What’s next in the pipeline?  Anything details you can share?

Gabriel’s Revenge is under way, with a projected publishing date of in and around mid-December. I’m doing my best to have the complete trilogy available for the holiday season. After that, I’ve got a little time travel/alien invasion story bouncing around in my head I may give a whirl…

Sounds awesome!  I can’t wait.  Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions.  It’s been a joy.

Check out the hyperlinks above to find Steve’s books on amazon, or visit his website at http://steveumstead.com/

Thanks for stopping by!  For  your chance to win a free copy of either of Steve’s books, leave a comment below.  Two will be chosen at random!

Published in: on 10.13.2011 at 10:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Smaller, Obtainable Goals

It seems like it was just yesterday when school was wrapping up for the year and I was making big summer plans.  Big plans.  I was going to read a book a week.  Write a blog in the same amount of time as well.  That’s not to mention all the domestic goals that I had. Oh yeah, and write a novel. You might be inclined to question my progress, though I recommend that you don’t.   Towards such goals, my progress has been limited!

In the seven weeks of summer, I have read six books (not as bad as I thought) though only one of them was indie.  Shame on me.  But I’ve only penned one blog—this is my second.  Domestic goals are looking even worse.  And that novel?  Nothing to report there.

But when I step back and look at my summer, I’m not seeing the deficits between my accomplishments and my goals.  Instead, I find that I focus on the experiences I had.  Tragedy struck my family a little over a month ago, followed by weeks of unplanned and unexpected activities.  Two trips back to Cincinnati, my nieces visit for a week, and my husband surgery all detracted from what was supposed to be  a summer of nothing but reading and writing and relaxing.  The tragedy aside, I wouldn’t trade in any of the unexpected activities of the summer!  It’s been a great time.

However, now I’m sitting here feeling the pressure once again of elapsed time between writing sessions.  Three weeks left before schools starts, and the novel I dreamed of finishing in one summer has hardly started.   A small sense of disappointment settled in when I realized that perhaps my goal is no longer obtainable unless I plan on spending it entirely in front of my computer.

A novel, I understand, is forged through hours spent writing.  And even more spent imagining, developing, and exploring the story within the mind.  It’s a commitment, and one that I am willing and ready to make.  I have a wonderful (I’m a bit biased maybe) story that I’m excited to share with the world, and it’s one just itching to be told.  I have no qualms that I can complete my story, committing to it isn’t the issue.  My hesitation, and the birth of my disappointment, is in the timeframe that I had set for myself.

I recognized a couple of days ago how limited my summer free time had become.  Resigning to the realization that making any sort of progress towards my novel was out of reach, I toyed with the idea of abandoning my writing goals for the summer completely.  I had a hard time seeing past the final goal of the novel, unable to break the task down at all.  And if I can reach my final goal, then why try, right?

It took the encouragement of a good friend to realize just how WRONG I was.    I had mentioned to him that I had three more weeks of summer and planned on getting some writing and editing completed in the time (hopefully).  To which, he responded, of course, I could get a lot done.  And then, I’m sure without even realizing just what he was doing, he did what I couldn’t do before.  He broke down my larger goal into smaller, obtainable goals.

“Think of it this way,” he said.  “My chapters came in just over 2K words or so.  Write a chapter a day, one scene each day, and in 3 weeks, you could have 42,000 words written.  And when you think about it, completely doable.  Two hours a day, 1K words/hour… Poof, done.”

Poof!  So simple.  Knowing me, I want to give myself a bit of leeway.  So a new goal immerged.  Two thousand words a day, 6 days a week, for three weeks.  That is 36,000 words before school starts.  A decent start to a novel!  It’s not my whole novel in the summer, but if I’d focused on that goal from the start, I would have missed out on SeaWorld with my nieces, Cheesecake Factory with the family, and relaxing and recovering with the hubby.

36,000 words and lots of memories seems like a pretty successful summer to me!  Now to make it happen!

Published in: on 07.24.2011 at 1:05 pm  Comments (4)  

#SampleSunday FanFic: Vampire Academy

This is from a FanFic that I’ve been writing for Vampire Academy.  Check out my FacFic Page to read more.

Excerpt from Chapter 1: Memories

My memory faded quickly when shattered by the muffled screams of a girl in house we were watching.  Her shrieks were muffled by the weight of sleep, and perhaps a pillow.  I did not react.  Then I noticed a change in the darkness of the room from which I had heard the scream.  Movement.  The other guardians, ten in all, were chatting with one another through our communication system.  I quickly called them to attention, and they fell silent at my command.

I heard a soft, melodic voice call out quietly, “Liss.  Liss wake up.”  The concern in the speaker’s voice startled me and all my muscles tensed in response to an unseen danger.

“Andre.”  The girl who screamed was now moaning, still lost in sleep, fearing evident in her mumbling.  “Oh God.”

The girl must be ‘Liss’ or Princess Valissa Dragomir.  The oldest survivor of a Royal family assumed the title suiting their status.  Since Valissa was the last of the Dragomirs, her rightful title became Princess, a title inherited when her family died several years ago.

“Liss, you aren’t there anymore.”  The first girl frantically sang.  “Wake up,” she pleaded, her voice sharpened by the worry of the nightmare that made the Princess scream.

It was easy to assume that the girl with the Princess was Rose Hathaway.  When I arrived at St. Vladimir’s, I was given a file on each girl, and I knew their histories well.  Rose was the daughter of the well known and highly respected guardian, Jeanine Hathaway.  According her file, however, she lacked the discipline and appropriate attitude to carry such a respected name.  Valissa was mostly a quiet individual, though her file was marred by the indiscretions that were certainly influenced by her loyalty to her misguided novice friend.

The girls had been best friends since they began school together at the age of 5.  Rose was with the Princess the night her family died in a car accident, and according to her file, it was a wonder that she survived.  A notation in the file indicated that their friendship became even closer after the accident, the two hardly seen separated, and Rose began to demonstrate protective behaviors  Alberta, the Head of the Guardians at the school decided to observe the friendship closely to determine if Rose could be trained to be Princess Valissa’s full time guardian following graduation.  A couple of days before the girls’ disappearance, they both began acting strange and Valissa seemed frantic and bothered.

Based on the information provided in the file, I held a very low opinion of Rose Hataway.  Being raised at the Academy, she understood the value and importance of the Princess.  The file made it clear that Rose’s defiance of authority was to blame for her disappearance and despite her frantic attempts to stop her friend, Valissa joined her when she left.  No guardian would endanger a Moroi as Rose had and I agreed with the school’s decision to expel Rose upon her return.

But there was something in the urgency of the movements in the shadows and the concern-filled plea of the girl that gave me a moment’s hesitation when I recalled my opinion of her.  Despite her record, could her intentions have been misunderstood?

With my heightened senses from my dhampir blood, I could hear the fear in the ragged breathes of the dreaming Princess.  As her breathing slowed, I stilled myself, not even realzing until that moment that I had begun to run to the girls.  I was at the edge of where the lights met the shadows now, visible, but I didn’t even dare to take the step backwards to conceal myself in the shadows.  My hearing was more sensitive than a human’s, but nothing compared to that of a Moroi.  Even one step could alert the girls to our presence, something we really didn’t want to do.

“It’s okay,” Rose comforted Valissa.  “Everything’s okay.”

“I had the dream.”

“Yeah.  I know.”  A hint of concern lingered in Rose’s voice and I wondered what dream haunted these girls’ rest.  Several moments passed an the girls breathing seemed to slow.  No movement in the shadows.  A light came on followed by no other indication that they were still awake.  I began to think the girls were asleep again and contemplated moving from the light when Rose spoke again.

Published in: on 06.19.2011 at 6:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

An Absolute Favorite: Spinach Lasagna

Every now and then, I like to include a recipe on my blog.  Why?  Because cooking is a passion, too.  And besides, even authors have to eat.  This is a fun recipe that makes lots of left overs to be enjoyed later or easily frozen.  Hope you enjoy!

Spinach Lasagna

  • 12-15 Lasagna noodles
  • 1/2 onion chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minces
  • 4 or 5 handfuls of spinach, chopped
  • 4 cups ricotta cheese
  • 2/3 cup grated Romano cheese
  • salt
  • Italian seasoning
  • black peeper
  • 1 egg
  • 3 cups mozzarella, shredded
  • 3 cups tomato sauce
  • Parmesan Cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bright a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.  Cook until al dente and drain.

Combine onion, garlic, spinach,ricotta, Romano and seasonings in a boil.  Taste and adjust to your liking.  Add egg and stir until well combined.

Begin layering.  Lay noodles to cover the bottom of a 13×9 inch baking dish.  Spread cheese/spinach mixture over noodles.  Top with tomato sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan.  Repeat until all ingredients are gone.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour.  Allow the lasagna to cool for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.  Enjoy!

Published in: on 06.19.2011 at 9:55 am  Comments (1)  

Book Review: In Memory of Greed by Al Boudreau

Give me vampires or demons.  Other-worldly denizens.  They are the foundation of what I’d call a good book.  Until recently.

I picked up In Memory of Greed by Al Boudreau, and found that I had to adapt my definition of a good book.  There are no paranormal creatures to be found between the proverbial covers of his book, yet I couldn’t put the book down.  While reading In Memory of Greed, I even had to impose a restriction on myself to ensure that I didn’t neglect my domestic responsibilities by spending my days on the couch with my finger floating over the “next page” button of my e-reader.

As Murkin Mocado leaves work early for a doctor’s appointment, he notices a loose rail car from his employers shipping yard gaining speed as it races towards the busy town.   Comprehending the impending disaster, Mocado tries everything he can to avoid the catastrophe only to be hindered by police officials.  By the da

y’s end, Murkin Maocado, ex-Navy Seal, and son of the senator, finds himself shot, chained to a hospital bed, and accused of murder.

With a combination of his ebbing freedom and military background, a team of power-starved, corrupt men determine Mocado a necessary addition to their plans.  With the help of the ex-Navy SEAL, these men intend to see their dream take shape with no regard of the lives of others.

Joelle Barstow, an operative well trained in industrial espionage, has been given the assignment to gain information about one of the players of corruption.  As the operative learns more about her target, she discovers an illegal scheme involving big businesses and government officials.

Barstow’s assignment leads her to Mocado and the others, testing her skills and endurance.  Both Mocado and Barstow are left to manipulate their individual situations to ensure their survival as they face multiple deadly situations.  Mocado’s handlers try to maintain control as their plan spirals from them and they inadvertently cause a horrific disaster.

From the first scene, Al Boudreau creates a world that leaps from the pages and pulls you straight into his world.  The reader easily transitions from the chaotic streets of Oakland to the executive office of St. Louis without feeling lost or confused.  As the characters travel around the world, the reader is also able to enjoy the greenery of Ireland and beauty of Kenya.

The imagery is not the only strength Al exhibits in In Memory of Greed.  The characters’ strong personalities and rich descriptions define them in a way that allows the re

ader to easily identify with them.  I experienced the characters anxiety, their relief, their pain.  With such strong character development of the main characters throughout the book, Al was able to introduce several minor characters that fit easily into the story without confusing the reader with an onslaught of names to follow.  Each character was natural, and I never questioned, “Who was that again?”

When discussing this great piece of writing, one must not forget the non-stop action.  This political thriller took off with a high-speed race between a rail car and our hero and never slowed down.  The urgency necessary to manipulate the situation the way the crooked antagonists do throughout the book is felt with each turn of the page.  I felt the strain of hours without sleep or food as the characters tried to evade capture, tail their targets, and beat the clocks they all felt ticking.  The accelerated heart rate described from time was mirrored by my own as the suspense and action propelled the story.

There is no other word to describe the content of this book than awesome.  With the combination of suspense, mystery, and enough mushy stuff for a romance reader like myself, this book appeals to all audiences.  I give In Memory of Greed high recommendations to anyone looking for a good book to read!

Published in: on 06.15.2011 at 4:00 pm  Leave a Comment