Monthly Archives: May 2011

In Moderation

One of the things which always confuses me about the con going experience is when I get picked to be the moderator. I like to think I’m a nice guy and that I’m a fun person with whom to chat, but I’m not sure what would qualify me to guide a panel along and keep things on course…

At Con Carolinas (a convention, I should mention, that is totally awesome) last year, when asked a question about the craft of writing, I responded that Pre-zombie Apocalypse my favorite Bond was Sean Connery, but now that the Zombie Apocalypse was underway, I was leaning toward Daniel Craig.

Why would I answer so strangely?

I couldn’t remember what the original question had been… (And it really did sound like the Zombie Apocalypse had begun ithe hallway.)

I’m not an auditory learner. I’m more of an audio-visual-kinesthetic: which means in order to learn something, I have see it, hear it, touch it, taste it, pass it through my colon… freeze it, disinfect it, and then shoot it into space. Okay, so it’s not quite that bad, but add my wandering attention span (sometimes I have one and other times, it’s out in the hall somewhere) and you get me talking about Fang the ‘Stang, the flesh-eating 1964 1/2 Mustang convertible in my Void City series, on a panel that is supposed to be about pets.

Heh! He is kind of a pet. And he does eat pets… And people… And…

So my question is this: how much does it annoy you when the moderator is only loosely keeping to the topic at hand?

This Friday, for example, I’m moderating a panel called:

Vampires: Old and New
From Dracula to True Blood – discuss the appeal of bloodsuckers!
With panelists: Justin D Kates, Rebecca Carter, Theresa Bane, Brinke Stevens, DJ Torch, J. F. Lewis

What should I ask? Obviously the panel crosses a great swath of different types of media, but what would those attending such a panel actually like to hear? Or expect to hear? And what would the panelists like to be asked?

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Author Spotlight: Michael A. Ventrella, Author–Not That Guy On The World’s Biggest Loser (Part 1)

by Tracey Morris (originally published at:

Author Michael A. Ventrella used to think he had an unusual name. Then a man named Michael Ventrella won a reality TV show contest entitled The World’s Biggest Loser. Now, when people see his books, they often ask if he is that Michael Ventrella.

“Such is the price of fame,” Michael said.  But unlike his reality show namesake, Michael would like to be known as the author of the novels Arch Enemies and it’s sequel Axes of Evil, which are produced by Double Dragon Press.

The cover blurb for Axes of Evil reads:

One barbarian prophecy says the legendary hero Bishortu will unite the three warring tribes. Another tribe has a prophecy that directly contradicts this, and they want Bishortu dead. And a third tribe, which may or may not be comprised of werewolves, refuses to let anyone know what their prophecy says. Meanwhile, the Duke on whose land the barbarians sit wants them all gone.

In the middle of all of this is squire Terin Ostler, who has been mistakenly identified as the great Bishortu. Under the Duke’s orders to get rid of the barbarians, he heads to their lands without the slightest idea of what to do.

Along the way, he has to avoid crazed assassins, possessed werewolves, lovesick barbarian princesses, and confused goblins while attempting to figure out the meaning of the magical and mysterious Wretched Axes. Nobody said being a hero would be easy.

Michael said that he has been pleased with the favorable reviews that fellow authors have given to the book.

Jonathan Maberry says “THE AXES OF EVIL” is a taut nail-biter of a thriller.  Edgy, funny and dark.” Gregory Frost writes “Here Michael A. Ventrella takes up the mantle of Christopher Stasheff.  Terin’s exploits are as entertaining as those of Rod Gallowglass, and fans of THE WARLOCK IN SPITE OF HIMSELF will hugely enjoy THE AXES OF EVIL.” And Gail Z. Martin says“Humor, danger and a twisted tangle of unlikely prophecies make for a page-turning adventure.”

I recently had the chance to interview Michael via E-mail. What follows is the text of that interview.

Firstly, let us know how we can find you?

Look for the short guy with glasses and the coat covered in cat hair.

Do you have a website, twitter, facebook fan page, etc?

My web page is  It helps to have an unusual name, I thought, because I was able to grab the URL.  Now if you search my name you often find it associated with “world’s biggest loser.”

I’m  Mike Ventrella on Twitter (damn character limit), and Michael A. Ventrella on Facebook, GoodreadsBook Tour, and something called My Space.

I also have a blog where I discuss writing and interview published authors, editors, and agents.

I’m not that hard to find!

What is about to come out?

My strange Uncle Rupert.  And it’s about time, too.

I have a few projects in the fire.  First is a short story about pirates and magic (Arrr!) which will be a  sequel to “X Spots the Mark” from the collection RUM AND RUNESTONES.  This new story is called “Get Kraken!”

Second is a collection of short stories that I am editing which take place in the world of my two novels.  I have a number of excellent writers contributing, and I’m very excited about it.  (I have a story in it as well, which continues the adventures of the main characters from my books).  The collection will be called A BARD’S EYE VIEW and is due out early 2011.

Third is my new novel, which is about a vampire who runs for President.  It’s the West Wing meets the bat wing!

Any upcoming appearances we should know about?

I’ll be at various science fiction conventions here on the right coast;  you’ll find me as a guest at Philcon, Arisia, Lunacon, Albacon, and Ravencon every year, and sometimes others depending on my time.  There’s a schedule on my web page.

Tell us about you as a writer.

I like fun adventure stories with humor and danger.  I make no bones about being a writer of escapist literature.  All of my work tends to have unexpected plot twists, and I love hearing back from readers who say they were surprised!

I also hate clichés. I want people to act like they really would.  My characters argue, make mistakes, and don’t always do the right thing.

More importantly, they are not superheroes.  They’re just regular folk who have found themselves in an adventure.

Many fantasy novels, for instance, involve “the chosen one” who has powers no one else has.  By using The Force or the family’s Magic Sword of Noonah, they can save the day.  I don’t like those kinds of stories.  When Superman wins the day, it’s kind of expected, isn’t it?  To me, real heroes are everyday people who rise above their circumstances and solve the problems themselves.

ARCH ENEMIES and THE AXES OF EVIL involve a boy named Terin who is not the “chosen one” – the problem is that everyone thinks he is!  So they grab him and tell him he must save the day according to the prophecy.  He gets pulled into the adventure having no great skills or super powers and is in way over his head.  He ultimately is successful by being clever and brave, and to me, that’s more heroic than seeing the hero simply hit the bad guy with the sword until he dies.

Tell me a little bit about you as a person.

Back in the 1980s, I started a magazine about film animation called ANIMATO, and I’m still fairly well known as an animation historian.  I’ve been quoted in books and magazines such as ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY.

In the 90s, I founded the first nationwide fantasy medieval role-playing group (LARP) and now run The Alliance LARP, which has chapters all over the US and Canada.  My Rule Books and Players Guides can be found in gaming stores and on Amazon and places like that.

I’m a criminal defense attorney in my spare time.

Do you have any pets?

I wouldn’t be a proper fantasy author if I didn’t have cats, now, would I?  Four at the present:  Abigail, Einstein, Tess, and McGonigal.

Have they ever found their way into your work?

They’re like my editors.  If I leave a manuscript lying around, they rip it to shreds.  And I mean that literally.

What do you do to spark your creativity?

Well, it’s more of a matter of dealing with the spark.  It’s always there.  Writing, however, is work, and really there’s no other way around it than to sit at the computer, move McGonigal out of the way, and write.

Any advice out there for people who want to get started writing?

Lots, and that’s what my blog is all about.  Please visit!

The most important is to just keep writing, and finish what you start.  I talk to lots of people who want to be writers and so many of them have half-finished works.  Don’t polish what you have, finish it first!  No editor is willing to look at a half-finished book no matter how great it is.

What are your favorite books to read?  What are you currently reading?

I like the same thing I’m writing, of course.  I’m a big fan of the Harry Potter books, and mine have been favorably compared.  But I also read a lot of biographies, political books and history – and lots of magazines.  My bachelor’s is in Political Science so I have never lost an interest in it.

I wish I just had more time to read!  Between writing books and short stories, running a law office, and heading up a national LARP organization, I’m surprised I get any sleep at —  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

You can listen to the audio from when Michael was a guest of Blog Host, Gail Z. Martin’s Ghost in the Machine podcast here:

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A Journey Begins With…

by Shirley Damsgaard

Do you ever look at your life and wonder how you wound up here? I do…frequently. I’m a small town girl, born and raised in Iowa. I had a career outside of my home for thirty years, raised four kids, and am now involved in the lives of my six grandchildren.

I also write about witches, ghosts, and things that go bump in the night…not your usual career choice for someone with my background.

So how did I get here? I’ve always been interested in the paranormal. As a kid, while my contemporaries were reading Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, I was reading about Ruth Montgomery and Edgar Cayce. More than once, I scared myself silly by reading books about vampires, ghosts, or werewolves late at night. Later on in my life, those interests in the “other worldly” expanded to include folk remedies.  It was only natural, at least in my mind, that when I started writing, I would combine those interests and create a series whose characters practiced folk magick.

And here’s the funny part, once I made the decision to pursue this career, write about this subject matter, the right people have appeared in my life to push me along. (Need to know about magick as practiced in Appalachia? Not a problem—here’s an invitation to attend an event in Tennessee whose organizers are more than happy to introduce you to some local practitioners. Want to include Native American mysticism in one of the books? Here’s a Native American shaman to interview. )

Because of the above, I’ve come to the conclusion that regardless of my background and regardless of the “how”, right now, I’m where I’m supposed to be. And  it’s been a great journey getting here! I’ve heard amazing stories as related to me by those who’ve experienced them, and I’ve come to realize there’s more to the world than what we see.

With any luck, the trip’s not over yet!

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Paranormally Speaking

By Tina R. McSwain

Waverly Hills Sanatorium – Louisville, KY

Has to be one of the most haunted locations in the country.  Given its long history (around 100 years) there has been plenty of time to make a haunting.  Opened in 1910 as a tuberculosis clinic, it was expanded in 1926 to what is seen today.  It remained a tuberculosis hospital until 1961. 

Closed for a year, quarantined, and renovated, it opened back up its doors in 1962 as a geriatric facility called Woodhaven Medical Services.  It remained as such until the state of Kentucky closed it down in 1980.

So much death, dying, deplorable conditions, misery and mistreatment of the elderly, has made this place ripe with ghostly activity.  Add to that, suicide (or was it murder?).  During the time it lay abandoned, rumours of satanic practices within its walls permeated the local folklore. 

With its dark past, The Charlotte Area Paranormal Society decided to travel to Louisville and investigate Waverly.  While personal experiences are not considered evidence, they are deemed important, and almost everyone in the group had at least one.  Four team members experienced the sound of rolling coffin carts, and the bang of them stopping at the bottom of the Body Chute (long after they have been removed.)  Another four team members experienced a dark presence on the 4th floor which left them unnerved.   Still others saw “Shadow People”, and experienced the strange phenomenon of a “doppelganger”.  Two team members encountered the ghost of a dog that had met a tragic end at Waverly. 

We employed a great deal of technology, (8) Sony Hi8 night-shot cameras on tripods with IR illuminators, (3) roving Night Shot cameras with IR illuminators (these accompanied the teams as they investigated), (2) full spectrum HD video recorders on tripods with IR Illuminators, (2) roving full spectrum digital cameras, (1) roving full spectrum video camera with IR Illuminator, and (1) roving FLIR thermal imaging camera. Of course, team members ran digital audio recorders the entire time, and used
digital cameras as well.

With this much footage and audio to review, it will be some time before we can complete our analysis. We will post anything we find on our website. 

On a personal note, I will say that if you ever get a chance to investigate
Waverly, go for it!  But, don’t go alone!  It has been the most active site I have ever seen (and I have been to many across the country). I know I speak for my fellow team members as well when I say that the place, the images and the experience stays with you long after you leave.

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Things Readers Wish Writers Would Keep In Mind

by Gail Z. Martin

Last week I talked about things writers wish they could whisper in readers’ ears.  Now it’s time to turn that around and remind writers what readers wish they’d remember.

#1  It’s been a year since we read the last book in the series, so give us some gentle reminders to get us up to speed.  Admittedly, this is tricky for both readers and writers, because each individual reading a book will have forgotten different things than the next reader, and the writer has to cover the waterfront without slowing things down to a halt to recap the last four 600-page books.  Perhaps it’s best to agree to meet in the imperfect middle, with a few mental nudges from the writer (short of an full-blown recap) and the reader’s agreement to go back and skim through the last volume if they’ve forgotten everything.

#2  Just because you, the writer, have worked out ever detail in your head (or your notebooks), readers don’t have to know it.  Some writers get so enthralled by their own backstory that they feel compelled to share it, even when it doesn’t actually matter to the plot.  It’s like reading a book about World War II and having someone drop in a three-page description of the Napoleonic Wars just because you ought to know about them.  However, just because a reader becomes enthralled by a certain element in a book, the writer is not automatically obligated to fill in all the details.  Some things work better when mysterious around the edges.

#3  Speaking of which…writers shouldn’t feel compelled to explain what is better left unsaid (such as faster than light travel, wormholes, or magic), and readers should try not to feel gypped when they don’t get a free physics class as part of the price of the book.  The corollary is that just because a writer is a rocket scientist doesn’t mean he/she is required to explain physics to the poor reader who just wants a space opera adventure.

There.  I’ve gotten it all off my chest.  I hope I’ve touched on some things that other people wanted the chance to say.  Think of something else?  Let me know!

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Mood Music

by Crymsyn Hart

Music is a key thing to get me into the mood for a book.
Heck, I’ve even got so enamored on a song that I’ve concocted a whole story
around just the one song. Once the book is written, I have nothing to do with
that song or artist for a few months because I’ve just over played them. I don’t
particularly plan on who I am going to listen to during the day. I just put my
MP3 player or computer on shuffle and listen to whatever comes my way.

However, if I’m going to be writing dark fantasy, I like to
listen to Ballad Metal, what I call it, with such bands as Nightwish or Kamelot or
even some instrumental collections to bring me into the other world where dark
elves and even vampire fairies exist. If my muses decide they want to focus solely
on vampires, then I break out one of my favorites either Type O Negative or Concrete
.  When I get down and dirty
and into the action scenes or big fights, then I pop in Disturbed or Cradle of Filth
so I can see the battle happening before me in either the guitar riffs or the
screaming of the lead singer.  For other
things it all depends. I shy away from country and rap only because I’m not a
fan of the genres.

What bands help you get into the mood? Some authors post
play lists for their books, is that something you like or would you choose your
own play list if you could?

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Magical Words

by David Coe

The writers of the Magical Words blogsite ( — David B. Coe, Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, C.E. Murphy, A.J. Hartley, and Stuart Jaffe — are pleased to announce the release of the first Magical Words book!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Magical Words (and why aren’t you?!) it is a site devoted to essays on the craft and business of writing. For three years, the authors of MW have written on a wide range of topics, from refining authorial voice to worldbuilding, from finding an agent to making sense of publishing contracts.

Now, with the release of How to Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion, the Magical Words crew have produced what bestselling author Orson Scott Card calls “the best idea for a writing book that I’ve ever seen . . . an extended conversation with writers who know what they’re talking about.” This is a compendium of some of the best posts from the Magical Words site — nearly a hundred in all — accompanied by questions and comments from the blog’s readers and responses from the authors.

How to Write Magical Words is published by Bella Rosa Books, and can now be ordered online at

You can listen to the audio from when David was a guest of Blog Host, Gail Z. Martin’s Ghost in the Machine podcast here:

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What Writers Wish Readers Knew

by Gail Z. Martin

Writing is a strange business.  We writers labor in relative solitude, and then thrust our work into the public eye.  We get to meet a small fraction of the people who may consider or read our books.  And yet, there is so much we’d like to tell them.

So here are a few things I wish readers knew, or at least considered as they read.

#1—If you’re reading a series, enjoy the fact that you get to know the characters over a period of time.  Realize that you won’t know the people or the situations as quickly as in a stand-alone book, by design.  You can’t hold a book early in a series to the same expectations for quick character development as you can a single book.  And by the same token, if you come into the middle of a series, expect that there will either be some recapping or you won’t know everything.  How different is that from real life?  When you first meet someone at age 30, you don’t know their history all at once, not the way you do with someone you grew up with.  Savor the chance to get a leisurely introduction.

#2—Before firing off an email or a review on how an author got a historic element “wrong,” stop and ask—am I sure?  For example, I was recently taken to task by a reviewer who quibbled with my women fighters, stating that it was a modern view of women unheard of in the ancient world.  Oh really?  Joan of Arc, Elinor of Aquitaine,  Boudicca, Tomyris, Zenobia, and the Trung sisters are just a few examples of stories about ancient women who kicked ancient butt.  Especially in historical novels, pop culture’s understanding of how things were is usually woefully myopic and frequently incorrect.

#3—Please read the book as the author’s vision, and try to enjoy it as such.  Sure, if you’d been writing it, you would have done things differently.  But then it would be a different book.  If that really bothers you, maybe it’s time for you to start writing the books you want to read.  That’s what got me started.  There were stories out there I wanted to read and no one was telling them in the way I wanted to read them.  Who knows?  Instead of writing a review, you could be launching a new career!

Stay tuned for Things Readers Wish Writers Would Keep In Mind


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Balancing Act

by Crymsyn Hart

The summer is gearing up with conventions that I’ll be heading out to so I can hang out with some other cool authors and meet some great new people. I’ll be headng to Fandom Fest in Kentucky in July and then Authors After Dark in August. There I’ll be chilling with some more paranormal romance authors. I can just imagine that we will be talking about. Getting up together with more than three hundred women will be an interesting experience and who knows if there will be a cat fight or two.

Before all of that, I’ve found that I’ve been confronted with a balancing act of late. Writing for myself and writing for the market place. Not speaking for anyone else, but over the past couple of years I’ve noticed the market place has changed. Vampires used to be huge (not that they aren’t anymore), but zombies seem to be the in thing this year. At first it was okay to write just one couple in a book and the reading population was happy.

Now it appears that menage a trois and multiple partners are the new rage. Trying to follow the market, I’ve dabbled in this genre of the erotic romance, but find it difficult to keep up. I’m more of a one man and one woman kind of girl even though adding in the other characters makes for an interesting twist on the plot. So the question is, how do I balance everything?

I’ve always stuck by the staying that you have to write for you and not for the market. Most of what I write is for me. And I do admit, I bow and have found myself writing more of the erotic and adding in more of the sex than I find necessary, but hey, people love to read about sex. I find that I write more of the multiple partners as a dare to myself. Just to see if I can do it. And if the dare doesn’t work out, well then I guess I have to write more for me and hope that others en

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Filed under Books, Crymsyn Hart, Gail Z. Martin, J.F. Lewis, Tina R. McSwain

Paranormally Speaking

By Tina R. McSwain


Paraskevidekatriaphobia, the irrational fear of Friday the 13th. Derived from the Greek for Paraskevi (meaning Friday), dekatreis (meaning thirteen), and phobia (meaning fear).

(The fear of just the number 13 is called triskaidekaphobia.)

The number 13 itself is feared. Many buildings omit the 13th floor, choosing instead to go from floor 12 to floor 14. The Munsters from the old TV series days lived at 1313 Mockingbird Lane, to be sure the producer’s play on the superstition.

Couple that along with the notion that Fridays are generally regarded as unlucky. Take Black Friday for instance, when in 1929 the stock market fell, leading to many an investor’s death from suicide and the collapse of the US economy. And, you have the fear of Friday the 13th.

Many people postpone trips, refuse to make important decisions, or otherwise react negatively to the date.

Even us paranormal investigators. We did an investigation last year on August 13th (a Friday) in hopes that we would have tremendous luck in gathering evidence. It proved to be one of the quieter investigations we have done. So yes, we too succomb to the bad luck of Friday the 13th and now plan our outings for another time.

What about you, did you change your habits this Friday?

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