Tag Archives: Disquieting Visions

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

by Tracey Morris (originally published at: https://writertracy.livejournal.com/197182.html)

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 MichaelAVentrella.com.  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:  https://www.audioacrobat.com/play/WW8gCj6X

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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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Magical Words

by David Coe

The writers of the Magical Words blogsite (https://magicalwords.net) — 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 https://bellarosabooks.com/Magical_Words-pre-order.htm.

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:  https://www.audioacrobat.com/play/WXxbV5b4

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Value of Anthologies

by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

You know…I hear an awful lot that the major publishers don’t do anthologies because there is no money in them. Well, if I’ve said before I’m saying it again, I’m not in this business for the money (saves on a lot of disappointment. For me, the value in anthologies is their promotional opportunity. In this age of the growing list of extinct genre magazines there are not as many ready sources for print publication of short stories. Okay…let me amend that, there weren’t as many ready sources for print publication of short stories. That is rapidly changing to the extent that even the major publishers are scrambling on to the anthologist’s wagon.

But back to why I’m doing this. From a promotional standpoint, for the amount of time it takes me to key a short story I have the opportunity to group my work (assuming it will be accepted) alongside a variety of other authors, each of which have their own dedicated fan base. That means all of my fans that pick up the book because I haven’t finished the next novel yet, and all of their fans that pick it up for their various reasons all get to read—I hope—my story.  Now, let’s ramp that up a bit. Let’s assume that at least one of those authors is a “name”. All of a sudden the scope of the exposure is exponentially increased.

Now, given that anthologies are these days generally themed in addition to all those theoretically amassed fans of specific authors, we also have all the fans of whatever particular genre or theme the anthology in question is targeting. For example, my story In the Runes was accepted for the anthology Rum and Runestones, a collection of pirate-and-magic stories. Pirates are very popular. So is magic…with the fantasy crowd, anyway. This means that a story that might have been hit-or-miss in a general fantasy anthology will be more likely to find its target audience because the readership already knows what to expect when they pick up the book.

So you see, anthologies hold quite a bit of benefit to those that write short fiction.

For me, however, there is even more to it. I am also an editor of anthologies, or in probably more accurate terms: an anthologist and packager of anthologies. The difference? I do all the work and simply turn in print-ready files to the publisher. The reason I embrace the stress and strain of this when I could be writing quietly in my own little world? I LOVE to create books from concept to completion. I get ideas…lots of ideas…and then I run with them! Anthologies let me do that a lot quicker because others have to do most of the writing. Currently I am senior editor of both the Bad-Ass Faeries anthologies (Mundania Press) and the new Legends of a New Age anthology series (Dark Quest Books).

But the best reason of all for my particular insanity? I want to help those who are where I used to be; those just getting started, those not quite sure how to go about climbing that ladder to stand beside me. If I can help other aspiring authors get their start and avoid some of the pitfalls I encountered along the way, then I have done a good thing and I can be more than happy about all the effort I put into creating and promoting these anthologies.

If you would like to learn more about my novels or the anthologies I have been a part of, please visit www.sidhenadaire.com or www.badassfaeries.com.


Award-winning author Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for over fifteen years. Her works include the urban fantasies, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, and The Halfling’s Court: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale. She has edited the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, and No Longer Dreams, and has contributed to numerous other anthologies and collections, including Dark Furies, Breach the Hull, So It Begins, Space Pirates, Barbarians at the Jumpgate, and New Blood.

She is a member of The Garden State Horror Writers, the New Jersey Authors Network, and Broad Universe, a writer’s organization focusing on promoting the works of women authors in the speculative genres.

Danielle lives somewhere in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail, mother-in-law Teresa, and three extremely spoiled cats. She can be found on LiveJournal (damcphail, badassfaeries, darkquestbooks), Facebook (Danielle Ackley-McPhail), and Twitter (DMcPhail). To learn more about her work, visit www.sidhenadaire.com or www.badassfairies.com

You can listen to the audio from when Danielle was a guest of Blog Host, Gail Z. Martin’s Ghost in the Machine podcast here:  https://www.audioacrobat.com/play/WZW7hSbx

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A Great Project

by Chris Jackson

We did a great talk at Ron Russell Middle School in Portland, Oregon yesterday. I did a talk on writing, and we brainstormed on a short story project – they provided the ideas, characters, genre, plot and setting, and I get to write it! Awesome fun! I’ll be doing a Science/Fantasy/Horror/Humor story about a cemetery-space station orbiting Saturn where a genetically modified Sasquatch and a talking monkey find a magical tome that animates a dead veteran soldier, who then raises an army of undead and must be placated by being married to a kidnapped rock star.

Wow… this should be fun!

Update: This awesome project has been percolating in my mind for a few weeks, now, and it came to me that it could be expanded to other schools in other states. How about this: a whirlwind tour of the US, and ideas for short stories from schools in several cities. Write them all up and put together an anthology! Proceeds go back to the schools for their Lit programs.

You can listen to the audio from when Chris was a guest of Blog Host, Gail Z. Martin’s Ghost in the Machine podcast here:  https://www.audioacrobat.com/play/WBhdhY3s

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Freebie Friday

Our guest blogger, Lori Handeland, is giving away magnets and bookmarks for joining her Full Moon Club at:


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The Holy Terrors

We call her Gizmo for short.

by Crymsyn Hart

If my pets had voices they would say, “You’ve done enough writing for the day” after only five minutes on the keyboard. “Come out and play with us. Throw the ball so I can catch it. No throw the Frisbee so I can catch it.”

I can already hear them barking at me to get my attention and pull me away from the computer. And if it’s not my two dogs, then it’s the bird screeching at such an insane volume that even with music blaring, earplugs in, and me in the other room with the door closed, I can still hear him.

I love my pets very much, but they run the house. Now that I’m working from home, I get to spend my whole day snuggling with my black Lab, Morrigaine or fighting with my Border Collie/black Lab mix, Cadence. Both of them are my babies. Morrigaine makes a wonderful footstool as I recline on the love seat and she takes up the other cushion. While I do that, Cadence is jumping by my head so her two front paws land on my laptop and press a whole bunch of keys and gibberish appears on the screen. She has already victimized my laptop and my v, b, & n keys have been sacrificed to the writing gods. Luckily the sensors are still intact so I can still write.

If Cadence isn’t jumping on my keyboard, she accidentally steps on the power cord and with one wrong move pulls it out of the laptop therefore leaving me gasping for my lost words because I hadn’t pressed save in the last couple of minutes or ready to throw the laptop across the room because it needs a new battery. Once Cadence pulls the cord out and that doesn’t get my attention, she then pokes her wet nose into my arm. I think this is the worst of her actions to interrupt my writing day. Because she seems to do it right when

Lapdog, foot warmer, and great Frisbee catcher.

I’m in the zone. Of course, there’s nothing I can do except look longingly at the screen, and pray that my characters will talk to me once I’m done being the slave that my dogs have trained me to be.

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Glamorous Life

by Lori Handeland

I used to go to work wearing make up, with my hair “done,” wearing skirts, hose, heels.  I had manicured nails.  Those days are done, and truthfully I don’t mind.  But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people upon hearing what I do comment,  “What a glamorous life!” after which they usually ask my husband why he’s still working for a living.

My day always begins at 5:30 am when I roll out of my canopied princess bed, complete with filmy harem curtains—ahem—I mean my king sized bed, of which I sleep on about ¼ because my husband and his dog hog the rest, and hit the shower.  In my mansion there is only one shower and if I don’t get it before the teenagers, forget about hot water.

For the next hour I masquerade as an alarm clock, routing teenage boys from their rooms, pounding on the bathroom door so the next guy can get his turn, feed, clothe, find lost homework, books, wallets and cell phones.  By 6:45 I shove them out the door and say, Whew!  The mansion is mine until 3 pm—in theory.

Since I am the queen of my castle, I do not wear make up; I do not do my hair.  For work I wear flannel pajama bottoms and sweatshirts, no shoes, just slippers.  It is heaven.

Until the doorbell rings and the Fed Ex man asks if I’m home sick.  Is that a comment on my appearance or just that I appeared?

Next I grab my coffee and sit at my computer to read over what I wrote yesterday on my latest work in progress.  I make some headway before my husband returns and sets up shop at the kitchen table.  His phone rings, the fax machine buzzes, the doorbell blares and his employees tramp in and out dropping off time cards and picking up materials.  I slam the door to my throne room and put in my ear plugs.

I return to the world of the Nightcreatures where kick ass heroines fight deadly monsters and survive.  Someone taps me on the shoulder and I shriek.  Luckily I can’t hear the shriek because of the earplugs.

My husband has just taken the new puppy for a walk.  He hands me the adorable ball of fluff.  As soon as I’ve enfolded him in my arms hubby says, “He rolled in poop.  Gotta go.”

Puppy and I take a shower.

Since I’ve been torn out of my imaginary world for the time being, I run to the drycleaners figuring no one will be there in the middle of the day.  The clerk says, “I’ll be right with you, Mrs. Handeland.”  The customer in front of me turns, looks me up and down and with a wrinkled nose says, “You’re the writer.”

Uh, no.  That would be another Mrs. Handeland.

When I get home, it’s time for lunch.  But the cupboard is bare.  The servants are really slacking off.  I partake of the last few grapes in the bag and some cheese.  That should get me through until the chef makes dinner.

The cover for my next book arrives via e-mail attachment.  “How do you like it?” my editor asks.  I stare at the beach scene they’ve put on my jungle book and wonder if I got someone else’s cover.  I point out that there is no beach in this book.  “Can you put one in?” my editor asks.  I spend an hour creating a dream sequence for my heroine, complete with a walk on the beach.  By the time I’m done, they’ve changed the cover to a jungle.  But they like the beach scene so much, they leave it in.  I can’t decide if that’s good or bad.

I manage a few more pages in the Nightcreature world before my younger son calls to be picked up from school.  I drive there in my work clothes, then spend the return ride hunched over like a crone wishing I had long hair to cover my face since my darling son neglected to mention I was also giving 6 of his friends a ride.   “Dude, is your mom sick?” one of them asks.  “No,” he answers, “she always looks like that when she’s writing.”

Like what?  I think, but I know better than to ask.

At home, the chef has not shown up.  The servants have not returned from the grocery store and the dusting fairies haven’t arrived yet either.  I mix a casserole with noodles and whatever is left in the house—noodles will cover a multitude of sins around here–then return to Nightcreature land where my heroine never has to make dinner, run errands or pick up a truckload of teenagers.  Her puppy doesn’t poop (because she has no puppy, although werewolves are another story) and if someone recognizes her when she’s out and about it’s usually to say “thank you for saving my life” unless of course, that person, or creature, has been sent to kill her.

Come to think of it, even with the puppy poo, I like my life so much better.  I get to visit other worlds every single day, and in my imagination I can be anyone and still return to my glamorous life whenever I want.

So tell me, what’s the biggest daily interruption to your glamorous life and how do you cope?

For more information on my paranormal romance series, The Nightcreature Novels go to:


You can listen to the audio from when Lori was a guest of Blog Host, Gail Z. Martin’s Ghost in the Machine podcast here:  https://www.audioacrobat.com/play/WrNnPlDk

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Freebie Friday – Janny Wurts

Guest blogger, Janny Wurts, shares an excerpt of her latest book:


Readings from her books can be found here:


For folks unfamiliar with her work, To Ride Hell’s Chasm is a standalone fantasy with a plot that wraps up in four and a half days. It is available in print and e format.

An excerpt can be found at:


A readng from the book can be found at:


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by Janny Wurts

In celebration of the delightful thrill of seeing my Cycle of Fire trilogy released in audio format, the moment seems ripe to share some of the helpful particulars of my experience – which, with a bow to my editor at Audible in London, was lovely all along the way.

Calmed down from the giddy dance, just after signing the contract, my overloaded brain realized: wow, for a  fantasy story, no question, the right reader will be essential. If the listener doesn’t follow the magic – they’ll become horribly lost. First thing, I wrote to my audio editor and asked how the narrators were chosen. The correct term, from their side, was ‘casting the narrator’ –  but, would I have any input?

I was invited to submit a suggestion list: which narrators were my favorites? That stumped me. I am writing all day, not listening to books – how could I choose among the constellation of talent, heretofore outside my bailiwick?

First, I asked everyone who liked audio books who they loved to listen to. I lurked audio forums and took down favorite narrators. I asked a prominent internet reviewer at https://fantasyliterature.com (a review site I respect) who was on the hot list of their favorites. This gave me a list of 20. A subsequent search of audio sites’ ‘sample’ clips from the computer allowed me hear them.

Two stood out, with the qualities I felt suited the story. I reported those names back – and was told one was booked, and the other did not work for Audible. However, I was assured, this bit of homework mattered. And in fact, it did! The talent that Audible cast, David Thorpe, was so close to the mark, I was ecstatic.

Second, I fretted over all the strange names and places I had put in the book. It’s one thing to spell them out in print, but how might a narrator pronounce them in recording? After the first gulp of panic, I grabbed the books, paged them through, and  wrote down every single made up name in the trilogy. The table function in my word-processor let me compile them into a neat, alpabetical list. Then I flipped on the MAC laptop and (thank gosh for podcasters who taught me the works) fired up GarageBand, which let me record a very clear audio file.

As an aside, I’d used this software, before. A simple mixer and mike makes it easy to create reading teasers in MP3 format for free download. The idea that readers can sample a book on their morning commute is a no brainer, to widen exposure.

I sent the text file and the little audio file of my recorded pronunciations over to Audible in London and suggested it might be helpful.

The result has me transported – not only does the narrator’s gifted voice suit the story, but every single strange word carried the nuance and inflections I had envisioned.

Once the books were released in audio, it was evident that listeners needed a map, and more, a print glossary helped the reviewers get the names spelled right. So an area on my website now holds these resources to complete the listening experience.

Here are the links to each of the books. Sample clips on the page will demonstrate the result.



My sincere thanks to David Thorpe and the production staff at Audible in London for a superb job!

You can listen to the audio from when Janny was a guest of Blog Host, Gail Z. Martin’s Ghost in the Machine podcast here:  https://www.audioacrobat.com/play/W6KBrnCk

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