Wednesday, August 30, 2017

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Chris Kennedy & Mark Wandrey, Science Fiction Authors

Chris Kennedy, Author

Science Fiction authors Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey teamed up to bring us THE REVELATIONS CYCLE, a series of military science fiction novels. The two authors write what they like to read—real-life characters, rather than bigger than life heroes, and a “fun, imaginative, but credible read” free of messages. Villains we can relate to, but hate.

Chris Kennedy, former naval aviator and elementary school principal, has also written the "Theogony" and "Codex Regius" science fiction trilogies. In addition, he is a publisher and is currently working on his next book, The Progenitors’ War.

Mark Wandrey, whose diverse background he believes contributed to his writing, has also written the Turning Point series, a zombie apocalypse book with a twist and the Earth Song series, five space opera books. Next up is Four Horsemen – Alpha Contracts.

Don't miss the two excerpts following the interview.

Mark Wandrey, Author
Q: I’m always fascinated with the origin of Science Fiction plots, which typically seem so creative. Your five-book (so far) series THE REVELATIONS CYCLE has been described as “military sci-fi, powered armor squaring off 
against advanced alien technology, and a little bit of skullduggery and cloak and dagger…” How do you conceive of these plots? What inspires them? Do your backgrounds have any influence on plot-creation?

Chris Kennedy: As a former naval aviator, I would have to say that my background plays pretty heavily in influencing my stories, and I am drawn to stories that involve flying, at least a little, whether that is in atmosphere or in space. Regarding THE REVELATIONS CYCLE, though, Mark is the main creator, so I’ll let him take it from here.

Mark Wandrey: I’m inspired greatly by what I consider the golden age of mil-sf, the 60’s and 70’s. Hammer’s Slammers, Starship Troopers, Asimov’s Foundation. I wanted to create a universe with some pretty tight rules, which I believe goes against the current tenants of SF where there are planet-killing energy weapons, super-powerful inertial compensators, and faster-than-light communications. If you’ve read any 4HU (Four Horsemen Universe), you know we have none of those. I believe these tighter rules have actually given us a deeper playground, instead of shallower. Yes, it makes it a little tougher for the writers—you can’t use as much handwavium—but the stories are more colorful and down to earth.

That said, the stories tend to be what I’d like to read, and influenced by what I have read. A lot of times I’ll just create one from whole cloth, and it works, or it doesn’t. The main story line for THE REVELATIONS CYCLE (4 books and 2 anthologies so far) is based around a primary plot I came up with, heavily influenced (and improved) by Chris Kennedy’s input.

Q: I assume that you are both readers of science fiction. Who are your favorite authors? Why? What other genres do you read?

Mark Wandrey: Robert A. Heinlein by a long shot. Behind him, and equal in many ways would be Gregg Bear, Ben Bova, John Varley, Alan Dean Foster, Orson Scott Card (influence for my Earth Song universe), and Larry Correia (for action and fun). I mostly read SF, but I’m also a huge fan of ZA (zombie apocalypse), which influenced me to create my Turning Point series, last year’s Dragon Finalist A Time to Die. I’ve just felt ZA books needed a little realism, and tried to incorporate it into my series.

Chris Kennedy: My favorite authors are David Weber and John Ringo. I love Weber’s space opera and Ringo’s gritty combat. They say that an author is the sum total of every author he/she ever read; if that’s true, you’ll see an awful lot of Weber and Ringo in my writing.

Q: How do you decide who will write which books? Do you review the plot and characters with each other?  Do you have any “will not include” characters or scenes that you’ve agreed never to use?

Chris Kennedy: Mark had almost completed the first book, Cartwright’s Cavaliers, when I agreed to team up with him, so alternating books was an easy way to start since we live in different states. As we’ve written them, we’ve developed a number of support mechanisms, like sharing information on a Google drive and over Facebook, which will help us as we begin to write the next books together. Our next book, The Four Horsemen – Alpha Contracts, will see us together for the first time under the same cover (besides the anthologies), and then the next series, the Omega Wars, will be completely co-written. After that? We’ll see what fans think.

Q: How do you make the stories credible? Do you create rules within the worlds that you build? What will cause a reader to stop reading a science fiction story?

Mark Wandrey: Credible fiction has always been a must for me. The best written books that can’t maintain that necessary edge of believability, and avoid completely shattering your level of disbelief, are not readable to me. I think that’s a number 2 killer for most readers, right after horrible editing, and excessive ‘message fiction.’ Chris and I strive to give our fans a fun, imaginative, but credible read. As credible as giant robots, kaiju, and fusion powered starships can be, anyway.

Q: Speaking of messages, do you find that science fiction enables you to deliver a message or do you write strictly to entertain your readers? What kinds of messages do you want your reader to walk away with?

Chris Kennedy: We made a conscious decision early on that these books would be “message free.” There is too much message fiction and too much in-fighting in all aspects of society at the moment. We wanted a universe where readers could get away from all of that and just enjoy the ride. Based on the series’ reviews, I think we’ve been pretty successful in creating that environment—Mark may have been too modest to mention it, but Cartwright’s Cavaliers is a finalist for the Dragon Award for Military Scifi this year.

Q: What makes an effective villain in science fiction and in THE REVELATIONS CYCLE books specifically? Who is your favorite villain of all time?

Mark Wandrey: The best villains are the ones you can both relate to, and hate at the same time. My favorite is actually two, Darth Maul from The Phantom Menace because he was just a glorious pit bull of a bad guy, and the other is Jenner from The Secret of Nimh. He’s a classic ‘my way is better’ back stage manipulator, but when faced with that grand choice, doesn’t mind getting his hands bloody.

Chris Kennedy: With Revelations and into the next series, we’ve intentionally limited how much the readers know about the villains, and have introduced them, little by little, lending an aura of mystery to them. Now that the readers think they know who the villains really are, they may find out that they don’t know as much as they think they do…

Q: How do you engage your readers to care about your characters? Do you prefer “comic-book super heroes?” or everyday people placed in extraordinary circumstances? If the latter, what gives them the ability to fight off the villains?

Mark Wandrey: I make my characters as real as possible. In  CARTWRIGHT'S CAVALIERS the hero is an overweight teenager who inherits a merc company. He’s also into 20th century pop culture and is a bit of a brony. I’ve caught heat for that, but I’ve also had a huge swell of approval for a ‘non standard’ hero. But you can relate to him, and that makes you care. I don’t like larger than life heroes, they might well be one of those elements you mentioned earlier that ruin a story for me. Since it’s the latter, I’d say the good guy’s ability to win is usually because their cause is just, and they have a firm will and noble heart. Okay, right, sometimes it’s just luck and picking the right friends.

Chris Kennedy: I don’t think any of our main characters have been superheroes—all four have their own failings that they will have to overcome as the series moves forward. Personally, I think that makes them more relatable to readers. That said, one of the characters I wrote has been the least liked of any of the Horsemen, because of his imperfections. I tend to look at it from the other side though—who else has the greatest potential for growth?

Q:  Are you able to use your settings to drive the story or develop your characters? How valuable is the use of humor to create your characters?

Mark Wandrey: The settings are just as useful in character development as situations. I believe that using one and ignoring the other contributes to a 2-dimensional character. Humor can be quite valuable, if the story calls for it. I try to interject at least a little into even the most somber scenes, but sometimes grim is best. So I guess the answer is ‘sometimes.’

Chris Kennedy: You learn a lot more about someone through adversity than you do when the times are good. So far, there’s been a lot of adversity for the Horsemen, which has allowed us to develop the characters and has given readers some good insight into what drives them. As far as humor goes, most people read because they’re looking for some form of escapism from their daily problems; if you don’t have some humor in the story, it won’t be as much “fun” for the readers. I’m a fan of humor.

Q: What’s next for both of you?

Mark Wandrey: Next up is Four Horsemen – Alpha Contracts in the 4HU. For myself, I’ll be relaunching my Earth Song series with the release of Overture, a book I first wrote nearly 20 years ago. It needed updating. After Alpha Contracts comes Omega Wars, and several other standalone books in the 4HU as well such as Peacemaker by Kevin Ikenberry. The skies are the limit just now, and I love this business.

Chris Kennedy: In addition to working with Mark on the 4HU, I am also the publisher for a number of other authors, which keeps me pretty busy but lets me produce some great scifi and fantasy. In addition to that, I’m also working on the next book in my own series, The Progenitors’ War.

Q: What do you both like to do when you’re not writing?

Mark Wandrey: Right now I have a day job as a US Customs Broker. I’m an avid shooter and love to travel. In mid-September, Chris and I are going to New Zealand for a signing tour.

Chris Kennedy: In addition to writing and publishing, I also work as the curriculum manager for enlisted sailors who are learning to maintain the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18 Hornet fighters. Yeah, that’s a lot, but I have three kids in college, so…I just don’t sleep that much. When I get the time (or make it, more like), I love to play golf and travel. After the book tour of New Zealand this year, we’re setting our sights on the UK for next year’s book tour. I can’t wait!

About Chris Kennedy
A bestselling Science Fiction/Fantasy author, speaker, and publisher, Chris Kennedy is a former naval aviator and elementary school principal. Chris' stories include the "Theogony" and "Codex Regius" science fiction trilogies and stories in the "Four Horsemen" military scifi series.

Chris is the author of the award-winning #1 bestseller, "Self-Publishing for Profit: How to Get Your Book Out of Your Head and Into the Stores." Called "fantastic" and "a great speaker," he has coached hundreds of beginning authors and budding novelists on how to self-publish their stories at a variety of conferences, conventions, and writing guild presentations, and he has published six authors under various imprints of his Chris Kennedy Publishing small press.

Chris lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where he manages the curriculum for sailors learning to maintain the Navy's F-18 Hornet. He is the holder of a doctorate in educational leadership and master's degrees in both business and public administration.

About Mark Wandrey
Located in rural Tennessee, Mark Wandrey has been creating new worlds since he was old enough to write. After penning countless short stories, he realized novels were his real calling and hasn't looked back since. A lifetime of diverse jobs, extensive travels, and living in most areas of the country have uniquely equipped him with experiences to color his stories in ways many find engaging and thought provoking. 

His current work is the Four Horsemen Universe, centering around the recently released Cartwright's Cavaliers, and coming soon Winged Hussars. The Four Horsemen Universe, 4HU, is full of aliens, mercenaries, and adventure. Placed just a hundred years in the future, humanity finds itself part of a Galactic Union filled with thousands of races, and the only thing we have of value to trade is our time honed ability to kick butt. 

His other series include the Turning Point series, a zombie apocalypse book with a twist. A Time to Die (2016 DragonCon Dragon Award finalist) was released in May 2016, and the soon to be released sequel, A Time to Run. He also has the Earth Song series, five space opera books placed in a future where an orphaned mankind must fight for its very existence in a hostile galaxy.


Book 1: CARTWRIGHT’S CAVALIERS by Mark Wandrey

Heir to one of the leading “Four Horsemen” mercenary companies, Jim Cartwright is having a bad year. Having failed his high school VOWS tests, he's just learned his mother bankrupted the family company before disappearing, robbing him of his Cavalier birthright. 

But the Horsemen of eras past were smart—they left a legacy of equipment Jim can use to complete the next contract and resurrect the company. It’s up to Jim to find the people he needs to operate the machinery of war, train them, and lead them to victory. If he’s good enough, the company can still be salvaged.


The last two operational tanks were trapped on their chosen path. Faced with destroyed vehicles front and back, they cut sideways to the edge of the dry river bed they’d been moving along and found several large boulders to maneuver around that allowed them to present a hull-down defensive position. Their troopers rallied on that position. It was starting to look like they’d dig in when Phoenix 1 screamed over and strafed them with dual streams of railgun rounds. A split second later, Phoenix 2 followed on a parallel path. Jim was just cheering the air attack when he saw it. The sixth damned tank, and it was a heavy.
“I got that last tank,” Jim said over the command net.
“Observe and stand by,” Murdock said.
“We’ll have these in hand shortly,” Buddha agreed, his transmission interspersed with the thudding of his CASPer firing its magnet accelerator. “We can be there in a few minutes.”
Jim examined his battlespace. The tank was massive. It had to be one of the fusion-powered beasts he’d read about. Which meant shields and energy weapons. It was heading down the same gap the APC had taken, so it was heading right towards that APC and Second Squad, and fast.
“Shit,” he said.
“Jim,” Hargrave said, “we’re in position. What are you doing?”
“Leading,” Jim said as he jumped out from the rock wall.

Book 2: ASBARAN SOLUTIONS by Chris Kennedy

Nigel Shirazi was first in line for the chairmanship of Asbaran Solutions, one of the prominent “Four Horsemen” mercenary companies. First in line…until his drinking and temper caused him to fail out of college and get disinherited by the family.

Now he leads the life of a playboy. Nigel will have to learn to control himself if he’s going to take the reins of the company, figure out who’s behind the vendetta against Asbaran, and work out a way to stop them. But they’ve taken his sister hostage, and that makes him a very, very angry man!

Planet Moorhouse, Kepler 62 System
“This is bullshit,” Sergeant James Wilson said. The tall, dark-haired trooper spat, the betel nut chew making his spittle a bright crimson on the sun-bleached sand.
“What’s bullshit?” Private Dave Daniels asked, his pale brows knitting. “This is only my second contract, but it seems like pretty good duty to me. Walk some fence line, guard a mine, and get paid a ton of credits? Seems pretty soft. No one’s trying to kill me, and I can go down to the bar after my shift. Sure, the locals look like anteaters, but they pay well enough so I can afford some of the overpriced beer they’ve imported.”
“Naw, that ain’t what I’m talking about, at all,” the sergeant replied. He spat again. “Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy not getting shot at as much as anyone. Having actually been hit a couple of times, I may even enjoy it more. What I’m saying is that this whole contract’s fucked up.”
“Why’s that?”
“Do you see the bird on our crest?” Sergeant Wilson asked, pointing to where the Asbaran Solutions company flag hung limply from the staff in the humid, breezeless air.
Private Daniels nodded his head, then wiped the sweat from his eyes the motion caused. “Yeah. There’s a bird with the company’s motto, ‘Kill Aliens. Get Paid.’”
“Do you know what kind of bird that is?”
“Nope; it looks like some sort of griffin.”
The sergeant stopped and glared at the junior enlisted. “Do they not teach unit history at basic any more, or are you just too fucking stupid to remember? It ain’t no damn griffin, boy; it’s a huma bird.”
“A huma bird?”
“Yeah. It’s a type of bird that never lands; it lives its entire life flying above the clouds where you can never see it.”
“Wow, that’s pretty cool. I’ve never heard of a bird like that.”
“That’s because it doesn’t exist, you dumbass,” the sergeant said, cuffing the private in the back of the head. “It’s myth-o-logical. The point I’m trying to get through your stupid fucking head is that us Asbaran ain’t for sitting around guarding shit. We’re mobile; we strike from above and crush our enemies. We don’t hang around waiting for them to hit us while we’re sitting on the damned toilet in a guardhouse on some godforsaken planet at the ass-end of the galaxy.” He spat; another red stain marked his passage. “If the Founder could see us now…”
“What? What would he do?”
“If the Founder could see us now, he’d probably come back and kill every single mother fucker in management. This ain’t how we’re supposed to be used. It don’t play to our strengths…and it just ain’t right!” He sighed. “It ain’t what I signed up for anyway.” He spat again, hitting his first mark dead center. “I signed up to be up there,” he continued, pointing up to the sky.
Daniels looked up to where the sergeant pointed and squinted. “Hey, what’s that?” he asked. “There’s something up there.”
Sergeant Wilson looked up. A miniature boomerang shape could just be seen, silhouetted against the clear green sky. “Fuck!” he grunted as he broke into a run back toward the shelter. “Incoming! Get under cover now!
He had only covered half the distance to the bunker when he heard the tell-tale shriek of the banshee bombs, and he knew they weren’t going to make it.

Book 3:  WINGED HUSSARS by Mark Wandrey

For more than a century, Winged Hussars has been the richest of Earth's mercenary companies, as well as the only one to specialize in space warfare. Led by Alexis Cromwell, they have carved out a reputation in the galaxy for being dependable, unflappable, and lethally efficient. Until people began shooting at them everywhere they went.

The Four Horsemen are being hunted, and the Hussar’s future is dark. But there’s one thing Alexis’ enemies didn’t count on—Alexis Cromwell is nobody’s prey.

Book 4: THE GOLDEN HORDE by Chris Kennedy

The slaughter is on! Across the galaxy, Human mercenaries are being ambushed, and an ever-increasing number of companies aren’t returning from their contracts. Someone even appears to be plotting the demise of the premier Four Horsemen companies, and disaster for the other three companies has only been averted by the narrowest of margins.

The fourth horseman is in play, and time is running out to save the Earth and everyone on it!

Book 5:  A FISTFUL OF CREDITS – Anthology edited by Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey

Fourteen outstanding authors. Fourteen extraordinary stories. One bestselling universe.

It’s the Twenty-Second Century. The galaxy has opened up to humanity as a hyperactive beehive of stargates and new technologies, and we suddenly find ourselves in a vast playground of different races, environments, and cultures. There’s just one catch: we are pretty much at the bottom of the food chain.

Enter the Four Horsemen universe, where only a willingness to fight and die for money separates Humans from the majority of the other races. Enter a galaxy not only of mercenaries, but also of Peacemakers, bounty hunters, and even a strung out junkie in the
way of a hired assassin.

THE REVELATIONS CYCLE (Four Horsemen) Series Page 

Mark Wandrey

Chris Kennedy

Twitter: @ChrisKennedy110

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Carl R. Brush, Author

Carl R. Brush, Author
THE YELLOW ROSE - co-author
Carl R. Brush writes historical thrillers. His villains are real villains and they are quite scary. Reviewers say, "Great characters, suspense, and thrilling action-packed scenes." He sets his stories in the past because he feels a need to detach his “writing self” from “contemporary turmoil.” But he believes his themes of racism, political corruption, and oppression can be applied to the contemporary world.

Three of his novels—BONITA, THE MAXWELL VENDETTA, and THESECOND VENDETTA—track a fictional family from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s in the San Francisco area. His fourth novel, THE YELLOW ROSE, which he co-wrote with Bob Stewart, is set in Texas during the 1836 Texas Revolution.

Brush lives in Oakland, California with his wife. They love to travel and enjoy their grandchildren. When he’s not traveling, playing with the grandkids, or writing, Brush plays the saxophone with an amateur jazz band. His sequel to BONITA is awaiting publication; and he is working on the sequel to THE SECOND VENDETTA. 

Q: Why do you write historical, as opposed to contemporary, thrillers?

Carl R. Brush: How did you know to ask me the same question I’ve asked myself many times?

I answer me that matters of murder and justice are just as “thrilling” in nineteenth and early twentieth century America as they are today. But that’s a justification not an explanation.

 I live and breathe and function just fine in the twenty-first century, so, why don’t I feel so comfortable about writing there as well? I believe my writing self needs a detachment from contemporary turmoil. It’s more fun for me, for example, to write about people experiencing automobiles as a rather scary novelty than to create a modern car chase.

Furthermore, though I’m in a different time zone, I do explore contemporary issues in my tales. Such “modern” subjects as racism, political corruption, and oppression, fit just fine into a setting a hundred years or more in the past. Amazingly, every “modern” conflict you can name was alive and kicking “back then” as well as today. And it thrills me somehow to write about the folks who lived amidst those conflicts that were long ago and far away, but, paradoxically, are just as alive here and now.  Long answer to a short question, Joyce, I hope your readers stuck with me all the way.

Q: You write historical thrillers with scary villains and brave heroes and also characters based on real people. How do you mix “real” people with “fictional” characters?

Carl R. Brush: Cf. my answer to the first question. Although it’s important to stick to basic biographical facts about a historical character, you start with the notion that he or she was human with all the impulses and fears and hopes that drive anyone alive today. Then you examine the actions they took in their historical situation and ask what that reveals about their character. Hundreds of clues that there await. For example, what sort of person would issue an emancipation proclamation, but wait so long before doing so? What sort of person would spend his whole life promoting and supporting Jim Crow, then turn around and champion the most comprehensive civil rights legislation in history? Neat questions, huh? What better writing prompts?

Q: The three books, BONITA, THE MAXWELL VENDETTA, and THE SECOND VENDETTA are part of a series that tracks a family from the mid 1800s to 1910. Is the story based on a real family? If so, how did you first discover them? If not, how did you create them?

Carl R. Brush: The Maxwell family is essentially my own creation, though they contain elements of my own family’s history. My great-grand parents came across the plains on a wagon train in 1864 just as Andy Maxwells grandparents did. They settled in northern California, though nowhere near the Maxwells’ Circle M. I attended college at Berkeley, just as Andy did. I have a familiarity and affection for both San Francisco and the Sierra Nevada, so setting my story there was a natural inclination.

The similarities, however, pretty much end there. My ancestors were small time farmers rather than big time ranchers, and they had neither great wealth nor political prominence. I wanted a larger canvas than my rather pedestrian family background provided, so I made my protagonist’s father a cattle baron with political influence and ambitions. Thus, it became natural for the story to move back and forth between the Sierra and the city, between the rural and the urban. Plus, for the back story, I could step into history and the founding and formation of California and the American west and all the attendant glory and agony. Lots of fun.

 Q: BONITA has been described as a book “for those who love history from a woman’s perspective.” Why did you decide to write a story about a woman in the 1800s? How were you able to develop her character—was there much research already done, or did you have to piece together your character and her actions? Was she unusual for her time?

Carl R. Brush: Ooh, so many wonderful questions do you ask. I could spend days and days and pages and pages. But relax, I’ll keep it short. Or shortish.

Why  a woman? Well, I like women, especially strong women. I married one, as a matter of fact.

Bonita’s character was in my head before I even began writing. American frontier women don’t get enough attention in either fiction or history even though their role was as influential as that of men.  A quick Google will reveal I’m right about that.

Only someone with Bonita’s impetuous, headstrong personality could conquer the obstacles she faced on her way to becoming an independent female in the mid-nineteenth century. The novel enters her life when she is twelve, when she finds a way to accompany the Rancho Sausalito vaqueros on a night time mission to rope grizzly bears. I didn’t find it difficult to discover where her character gave her both victories and troubles as I developed the story.

Her story did, however, require substantial research because she was born in 1830, when California was a sparsely-settled frontier. The population of San Francisco, née Yerba Buena, was only a couple of hundred in 1842 when the novel’s action begins. The state’s “European” inhabitants were primarily Mexican ranchers and Spanish missionary priests. Bonita’s story, though, follows her through the Mexican-American war, the gold rush, and into the era of California statehood, when the population exploded. I found ways to include her in such prominent bay area families as that of Captain William Richardson and Mariano Vallejo and into contact with a number of other historical figures like John Frémont. Thank the heavens for Google or I’d still be researching rather than writing.

Was she unusual for her time? Yes, but she was not alone. From former slave, civil rights activist, and entrepreneur “Mammy” Pleasant to Lawyer Clara Foltz to architect Julia Morgan, the women who played lead roles in California history is long and amazing.  

I could go on, but . . .

Q: Reviewers praise the mixture of adventure in the past with your ability to “explore racial tensions, discrimination, corruption, and exploitation.” Did you intend to reveal the issues of a particular time period in order to instruct contemporary readers about such issues or did you include them to draw a faithful and complete picture of the time period?

Carl R. Brush: I did not intend to offer 19th century incidents to illuminate modern issues. Not exactly. The issues are right there staring at me. I’ve had a lifelong interest in history, and when historical events merge in theme with modern ones, well it all just happens naturally.

Q: You co-authored THE YELLOW ROSE with Bob Stewart changing your choice of setting from California to Texas. What made you decide to travel to the Lone Star State?

Carl R. Brush: Bob invited me. I resisted. I knew nothing about Texas history beyond “Remember the Alamo!” He was a Texas native who had lived in San Antonio his whole life.  What could I offer to such a project? However, he insisted, and I’m very glad I relented. It was a fresh and exciting world, those few months of the 1836 Texas Revolution. How many of us know that Texas was the only state that was a nation before it was a state? Not to mention the joy of discovering the woman behind the song, “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”

Thanks, Bob, for inviting helping me aboard the train. It was quite a journey, and I miss you.

Q: The use of everyday items and events from the era as back story can help support a story. Do you integrate some of these items to develop a more intriguing plot? How do you choose what to include?

Carl R. Brush: I mentioned above showing peoples’ reaction to the novelty of the automobile. That was a natural item to include because transportation is a crucial matter in every era, and a major change in modes thereof makes for big changes in peoples’ lives. It also helps create plot complications. The horse can do things the auto can’t, and vice versa, so who has one versus who has the other can be pretty entertaining.

Dress is another natural, useful item both for plot and character. For example, Dressing up a “tomboy” like Bonita in an elegant gown with appropriate hairstyle gave her some fits—that damn corset!—but was necessary to advance her transformation into a successful career woman, which was the whole point of the plot at that point.

Q: How useful is humor to create your characters or develop your story?

Carl R. Brush: I’m not a leave-‘em-laughing kind of writer. One-liners elude me. However, I think I create some humor that warms up the story and creates smiles. One such involves that automobile again. The Maxwells faithful and ever-present servant is a Chinese fellow named Ling Chu. He’s traditional in all things, being, for example, an avid practitioner of acupuncture. But guess who introduces the Maxwell family to the automobile despite their resistance. Who lobbies to use it for every trip from the ranch into town? Who takes care of it as if it were a baby? Who becomes the official Circle M chauffeur? Yep. So, doing triple duty, the Model T serves as a character variation for Ling Chu, gives the reader a chuckle, and creates some plot variations.

Q: What’s next and when?

Carl R. Brush: I just completed a sequel to Bonita that takes her to New Orleans to uncover her parents’ background and solidify her claim to her daughter. That’s awaiting publication. I’m now working on a sequel to THE SECOND VENDETTA, so I’m re-immersed in the world of Andy, Many Clouds, and their two “adopted” children.

Q: Tell us about Carl R. Brush. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Carl R. Brush: My world’s a busy and pretty happy place these days. I have six grandkids, four of whom live within a mile. Actually, three of them live within a mile, since one is about to leave for Wesleyan in Connecticut and who knows after that? We see the other two from time to time.

We travel a lot. I have a niece who works for USAID, and we like to follow her to her various international postings. The last one was Jakarta a few months back. What a revelation that was. In addition, we generally go abroad each year to check some country or city off our list.

 My wife is from Louisville, so we visit there a couple of times a year.

I play sax in a little amateur jazz combo.

I read. I walk. I give thanks for my (so far) good health. 

About Carl R. Brush by Carl R. Bush

I’ve been writing since I could write, which is quite a long time now. I grew up and live in Northern California, close to the roots of the people and action of three of my historical thrillers, MAXWELL VENDETTAand its sequel, THE SECOND VENDETTA, which take place in 1908-10 San Francisco and the high Sierra. The third of the trilogy, BONITA, is set in pre-gold-rush San Francisco. A fourth and fifth in the series are on their way.

For yet another historical tale, THE YELLOW ROSE, I made a literary jump from California to Texas, where my co-author, the late Bob Stewart, dwelled. It’s a tale of the Texas revolution and an imagined affair between Sam Houston and a legendary mulatto woman, Emily West, who is best remembered as The Yellow Rose of Texas.

I live with my wife in Oakland, California, where I enjoy the blessings of nearby children and grandchildren.

Not again.

It’s taken Andy Maxwell two years—1908-1910—to help his family recover from the vendetta that nearly killed his mother, burned their Sierra Nevada ranch house, and exhumed some long-buried family secrets—including the fact that his father was black. At last, Andy thinks, he can return to University of California and pursue his history doctorate in peace.

Not so.

First of all, it turns out they don’t want a miscegenated mongrel in the Ph.D. program. Just when he’s enlisted the eminent San Francisco journalist, Ambrose Bierce, to help him attack that problem, it turns out that marauder who started all the trouble in the first place didn’t stay Shanghaied. Michael Yellow Squirrel is back for another try at eliminating every last Maxwell on earth. So much for school.

And then there’s the election.

Reform gubernatorial candidate Hiram Johnson wants him to run for the California legislature and help foil the railroad barons.

And then there are the women.

The debutante beauty and the Arapaho princess.

So, how is Andy Maxwell, going to deal with all these quandaries? The Second Vendetta answers that question and many more with a tale-telling style that pulls readers into the book and doesn’t let them go till they’ve turned the last page, wishing there were more yet to turn.

Early California, 1908. Andy Maxwell sets out to solve the mystery surrounding the stabbing death of his younger brother outside a San Francisco bar. He’s certain the murder is part of a vendetta against his family, but frustration and suspense mount as he fails to convince authorities that the killing is anything more than the sad consequence of a brawl between a pair of drunks. The police, the U.S. Army, even his mother refuse to entertain the possibility that the killer, Michael Yellow Squirrel, is one of a clan who intends to wipe out the Maxwells and their California Sierra Nevada ranch.

Andy’s quest for the motives and perpetrators behind the scheme carries him from California to Wyoming and deep into his family’s pioneer past and psyche, where he unearths disturbing secrets about, among other matters, his own racial heritage. It also plunges him into a romantic dilemma involving a blonde debutante and an Arapaho princess. Although Andy’s initial purpose is to foil a conspiracy against his family, his journey eventually leads him to question not only his own values, but also those of the frontier that spawned and nourished them.

This historical thriller, the prequel to another gripping historical novel, THE SECOND VENDETTA, is set nearly one hundred years in the past, yet THE MAXWELL VENDETTA embodies themes as contemporary as racism, political corruption, and sexual exploitation. In short, contemporary America mirrored in a novel of early California.


Meet Bonita. Often reckless, often victimized, a deeply spiritual person who transforms herself from
a rebellious adolescent into a prominent entrepreneur.

When we meet her as a twelve-year-old in 1843, her future looks idyllic—a privileged life on a hacienda overlooking San Francisco Bay. But her penchant for eavesdropping and her feisty willfulness wreck everything. She learns that she’s not who she’s been told she was. True to her rebellious nature, revealed in the beginning when she sneaks out on a nocturnal adventure to learn how to rope a grizzly bear, Bonita strikes out on her own to discover the truth about her heritage.

Along the way, she becomes immersed in the swirl of historic events that surrounds her—the Mexican-American war, the gold rush, California’s drive for statehood. An intense romance both complicates and enhances the quest. 

Her search and its discoveries create fresh challenges, challenges she meets with the originality and boldness that by that point we’ve come to expect of this extraordinary woman named Bonita.

Check out the extraordinary trailer

About THE YELLOW ROSE - Co-author with Bob Stewart

Historically, “yellow rose” was a term for a pretty mulatto woman. Also historically, the original Yellow Rose of Texas was one Emily West, and her story is intertwined in song and legend with the Texas Revolution of 1836. That series of battles, led by Sam Houston, made Texas a republic, its own country, a historical event unique among our fifty states.

THE YELLOW ROSE is set during the revolution and supposes that Emily and Sam not only collaborated in certain incidents that gave the Texans victory, but became romantically involved in the process.

The novel mixes legend with fact. No one knows for sure if our Emily met Sam Houston or if she participated in the revolution at all. On the other hand, no one has proved the contrary. So, THE YELLOW ROSE asks the question: what if. . . .

Here’s a link to a trailer:


Book Links




Author Links
Twitter:  Carl R Brush @carlrbrush

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Christine Simolke, Author

Christine Simolke, Author
Christine Simolke joins us again to tell us more about her novel, CHILDREN OF ITALY, based on her family’s immigration to the United States in the early 20th century. In addition to entertaining readers, Simolke believes that historical fiction is a way to help them understand what it was like to live in the past. When writing, she starts with her characters. The plot and setting evolve from what they want. She is working on the sequel to CHILDREN OF ITALY, which starts in 1939 and follows the family's story for several years. 

Simolke is a retired teacher, active in non-profit work in her community, and an avid traveler who lives in North Carolina with her husband.

Q: Your historical fiction novel, CHILDREN OF ITALY, is based on your familys immigration to the United States. Reviewers say, it has a "Love story, secrets, and even a bit of suspense!" and that its “a page turner.” Do you believe that historical fiction is an effective way to teach about the past, and in your case, about immigration?

Christine Simolke:  For those who enjoy fiction, in my opinion, it’s a great way to learn about and understand the people/society/political climate of a past time period. Good writers of historical fiction do a great deal of research to embed their readers in surroundings that reflect the past to help them understand what it was like to live in those times. When writing CHILDREN OF ITALY, I wanted my readers to be immersed in the culture and feelings of an immigrant in America in the 1920’s.

Q: I confess that although I am an avid mystery reader and author, my favorite novel is James Clavells historical novel Shogun. It was highly entertaining, and I felt like I was in medieval Japan when I read it. What is your favorite historical novel? Or who is your favorite author?

Christine Simolke:  My favorite recently written historical novel is The Light Between Oceans. My favorite authors of historical fiction are John Steinbeck, the Bronte sisters, and Willa Cather. I agree, Shogun is great!

Q: Reviewers of CHILDREN OF ITALY are eagerly waiting for a follow-on story. Will it bring the reader into todays world of immigration?

Christine Simolke:  Thanks for including that! The continuation of CHILDREN OF ITALY picks up in 1939 when WWII begins with Nazi Germany’s attack on Poland and the US is still two years away from entering the fighting. It will not venture into today’s world of immigration as it will only cover the course of several years.

Q:  A recent reviewer writes that CHILDREN OF ITALY is “relatable to today’s immigration crisis.” Do you agree? How might an historical fiction book such as yours contribute to understand or help the “immigration crisis?

Christine Simolke:  I think the immigration issues of the past are much the same as during the mass migration of European immigrants in the early 20th century. Though we are a country full of immigrants and their descendants, those entering our country from other lands face discrimination still today. I think if readers of historical fiction can be reminded of the fact that we are all descended from immigrants, they might better understand recent immigrants and be more likely to treat them with respect instead of viewing them as outsiders.

Q: You have traveled extensively. Does travel help you envision stories? When I travelled, it surprised me to learn more about what it meant to be an American.

Christine Simolke:  Yes, I think that meeting other people and appreciating other cultures is a great inspiration for writing; and I agree with you, it has also shown me that our country, with all of its struggles, is, in my opinion, the greatest place to live. I’m very proud and thankful to be an American.

Q: When you write your stories, what comes first: plot, character, or setting?

Christine Simolke:  Character is my top consideration. I think about what I want my characters to think/feel/dream. The plot and setting evolve from their desires.

Q:  Reviewers tout your characters: “these characters had me hooked from the very beginning” and are “richly developed characters.” Would they have behaved differently in a different setting, i.e., if they had immigrated to Russia, for example? How influential was the setting to the actions of your characters?

Christine Simolke:  The setting of early 20th century America and Italian culture are very central to the story in CHILDREN OF ITALY. The characters are very influenced by the expectations of their families and their place in society. But that being said, I think being an immigrant to any country would have many of the same inherent challenges. I think readers of any nationality could relate to the plight of these immigrants as their feelings of isolation and discrimination are something we’ve all felt in one form or another.

Q: Youve also written an historical middle grade novel. What can you tell us about it?

Christine Simolke:  My middle grade novel has not been published yet, but it is also about an Italian-American family. It takes place in 1970 and is about the terrorization of one immigrant family by the KKK in a small southern town.

 Q: What will be your next publication? Do you plan to write any contemporary fiction?

Christine Simolke:  I hope to finish my novel that continues the story of the Falconi family of CHILDREN OF ITALY. Whether it will be published or not, I can only hope. I love writing historical fiction and don’t see myself writing contemporary fiction anytime soon.

Q: Tell us about Christine Simolke. What do you like to do when youre not writing? Have you travelled somewhere exciting recently?

Christine Simolke:  I am a retired teacher. I’m active in non-profit work in our community, and I love to read, cook, and exercise at our YMCA. My husband and I haven’t traveled recently, other than to NYC and the North Carolina coast to visit our sons. I am really having fun doing author visits with book clubs who have read CHILDREN OF ITALY. If any of your readers would like to have me do an author visit with their book club, they can contact me at I will be glad to Skype if they aren’t within driving distance. I really enjoy connecting with readers and other writers.

Thank you so much for the interview!

About Christine Simolke

Christine Simolke is the granddaughter of Italian immigrants. She was inspired by her  grandmother’s life story to write a novel of the immigrant experience. She has traveled to countries all over the world and is thankful that her ancestors chose to settle in the United States. She is a former language arts teacher and currently resides in North Carolina with her husband. They are the parents of two wonderful young men. When she is not writing, she's active in non-profit work.

The idea for her book, CHILDREN OF ITALY was formed many years ago when she wrote a research paper in graduate school based on an interview with her grandmother, Giovanna and stories her great aunt, Evelina told her. Her grandmother and her family immigrated from Italy to America in the 1920's, and Christine and her family were always fascinated by the stories of their voyage to America and their early life in the United States. Their tale of hope, struggle, perseverance and love of family has been an inspiration to all of the generations after them.


Against the backdrop of the early 20th century, as millions of immigrants pour through the
doors of Ellis Island in search of the American Dream, Italian immigrant, Luigi Falconi, works as a coal miner to carve out what he hopes will be a better life for his family, who remain in Italy. Soon he will be with them again, but a dark cloud threatens to ruin all he has struggled to accomplish. After twelve years apart, his wife, and three daughters leave Italy to join him in America. Luigi looks forward to their arrival with anticipation, but first he must end his affair with the troubled Isolde, who cannot accept that he has never loved her. Luigi is all she has, and she plots to keep him.

While on board the SS Roma as it sails to Ellis Island, Luigi’s eldest daughter, Giovanna, begins a romance with Alessandro, a dashing member of the crew. When he immigrates to America a short time after their voyage, intent on reuniting with her, she and her family have vanished. As the Falconi family struggles to assimilate in America, Alessandro perseveres in his hunt for Giovanna. His search intersects with the bitter Isolde’s efforts to win Luigi back, with heartbreaking and surprising consequences for all of them. 


Purchase Sites

Author Sites


Twitter address: