Thursday, October 29, 2015

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: David W. Edwards, Novelist, Screenwriter, Producer, Director

David W. Edwards, Author
Writer, producer, director NIGHTSCAPE 
Reviewers describe David W. Edwards newest novel, NIGHTSCAPE: CYNOPOLIS  as “Urban horror at its best... a rollicking, action-packed thriller/fantasy” and “unique;” and Edwards as “a master of character building.” He positions his new book as an “urban-horror novel.” Although it is the second of his NIGHTSCAPE books, he says it is standalone even though readers of both might recognize some characters.

Both a screenwriter and novelist, Edwards “feels comfortable” writing either. He is also a director and producer as well as writer of the feature film Nightscape. He is currently editing the first in a new series of books, Nightscape Double Feature No. 1. When he’s not writing, producing, directing or working at his market research-based business, he manages to get in some hiking with his wife, play low-stakes poker once a month, and occasionally go see a movie.

Q: Tell us about NIGHTSCAPE: CYNOPOLIS. Is it a sequel to NIGHTSCAPE: THE DREAMS OF DEVILS? Is it horror, paranormal, thriller, adventure, or ????

David W. Edwards: I’d characterize it as an urban action-horror novel. How’s that for a hybrid genre? The book features a lot of widescreen physical action but the motivating threat is supernatural. More specifically, it’s about a former counterculture radical who turns Detroit’s dogs feral and its underclass into a horde of jackal-headed beasts. The few remaining humans must find a way to elude the military blockade preventing their escape or defeat the thought-virus at its source—before government forces sacrifice them all.

Each NIGHTSCAPE release works as a standalone effort. If you read the first novel or see the film prior to reading CYNOPOLIS, however, you’ll be rewarded with some surprising connections.

Q: Is NIGHTSCAPE targeted at Young Adult readers? Do you believe this genre grabs young adults most effectively?

David W. Edwards: Even though THE DREAMS OF DEVILS features teen protagonists, neither that book nor any of the other entries in the series are targeted at the young adult market. That’s not to say teens wouldn’t enjoy the series. But the entries released so far are intended for mature readers. Or, at least readers who can handle profanity and graphic violence along with high-falutin’ references to Frantz Fanon, G.W.F. Hegel and quantum physics.  

Q:  A reviewer of NIGHTSCAPE: THE DREAMS OF DEVILS touts the story as “a refreshing departure from the usual paranormal teenage drama” and “a perfect read for those looking for a paranormal adventure off the beaten trail.” Do you agree? And, if so, does NIGHTSCAPE: CYNOPOLIS follow this approach?

David W. Edwards: I’d like to think both books are uniquely compelling. CYNOPOLIS is distinguished from the previous book, in part, by its emphasis on action. After the second chapter or so, the action is relentless and varied, running the gamut from simple fisticuffs to psychic warfare. The finale is a continuous thirty-plus page battle scene. It’s like Tom Clancy meets William Burroughs.

Q: Do you feature villains vs heroes in your stories? What makes an effective villain? Do you need a villain to portray a hero?

David W. Edwards: With one exception, I’d hesitate to describe any of the characters in CYNOPOLIS as wholly heroic or villainous. I generally take a Shakespearean approach, that is, I let my characters’ thoughts and actions speak for themselves without editorializing. Even my protagonists are flawed in important (and hopefully, relatable) ways. One of the main point-of-view characters, for instance, leads a street gang. Events compel him to question gang culture and his relationship to the larger community. His change of mind gives the story’s coda its moral force. 

Q: What traits do you use to develop your characters so that readers will find them engaging and care about them? Is humor helpful? And are they perfect or flawed?

David W. Edwards: CYNOPOLIS has a fairly large cast of characters. To help readers keep them straight, I focused on one or two distinctive personality traits. One character, a homeless but educated bookseller, has an irresistible habit of composing bits of poetry. It’s not just a readily identifiable personality tic. This habit proves essential in resolving the central conflict.

I also work hard to distinguish characters on the basis of dialogue. My goal here is to craft dialogue that’s putatively realistic, but doesn’t simply mimic real speech with all of its fitfulness and disconnections. When appropriate, I try to give my dialogue the quality of a persuasive dream.

Q: Do you prefer writing screenplays or novels? What’s the main difference? Is it more difficult to write a screenplay or a novel?

David W. Edwards: I’m perfectly comfortable writing both screenplays and novels. My training as a screenwriter at the University of Southern California gave me a strong sense of story structure and helped inform my approach to dialogue. Screenplays, however, are necessarily limited in scope and impact. Firstly, screenplays are blueprints for movies. They aren’t regarded by producers as ends-in-themselves. So the actual writing tends to be flat and functional compared to that of an involving book.

Secondly, given that movies are primarily a visual medium, complex psychological and emotional states are challenging to get across with novelistic power. It’s easy enough to drop readers directly into a character’s thoughts in a book. The equivalent in film—the voice-over—isn’t nearly as effective and can’t be sustained to the same degree as prose without losing most of the audience. There are a few stream-of-consciousness rants in CYNOPOLIS that would be impossible to replicate on film without veering into quasi-Terence Malick territory. 

Q: Do you write primarily to entertain your readers? Or, do you also embed a message or two in your stories?

David W. Edwards: At the risk of sounding hopelessly insular, I write to entertain myself. I gravitate to the stories I wish already existed. Imagining what my amorphous readership wants would lead to madness as readily as any secret grimoire of H.P. Lovecraft’s. When it’s appropriate to the story, I also try to give it some elevated sensibility or purpose beyond entertainment. CYNOPOLIS has a definite moral center, though I’ll leave it to readers to suss out the novel’s meaning.

Q: How relevant is credibility in a paranormal story? What will drive a paranormal reader crazy if they encounter it in your story?

David W. Edwards: Credibility is of paramount importance. That’s why I conducted loads of research for CYNOPOLIS. Getting the mundane details right is what makes the fantastic elements of your story believable. I spent a week in Detroit shadowing a no-kill dog rescue operation, participated in police ride-alongs, conducted a variety of interviews and risked the attention of the NSA in researching the answers to questions like ‘How can you explode a rocket without its piezoelectric arming mechanism?’

If I’ve done my job right, the only thing that will drive a reader crazy is the anticipation of learning what comes next.

Q: What’s next?

David W. Edwards: I’m currently editing the first in a new series of books, Nightscape Double Feature No. 1. The book consists of two pulp-style novels and will be published in a tête-bêche or dual-cover format like the old Ace Doubles. The first novel, The Thousand-Eyed Fear, is set near the end of World War One. It’s about a ragtag group of teen soldiers tasked with infiltrating a secret German base that harbors a terrible supernatural threat. The second novel, The Blood Canvas, is a pre-World War Two murder-mystery featuring a female French detective who uses surrealist art techniques to uncover clues. Credit goes to genre veterans Derrick Ferguson and Sean Taylor for their exceptional work on these stories. The book has a February 2016 pub date.

Following that, I plan to issue a Nightscape concept album in the vein of Rush and Black Sabbath, along with another novel, Nightscape: Among the Unsaved. There’s certainly no shortage of ideas, just the time and resources to realize them.

Q: Tell us about David W. Edwards. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

David W. Edwards: I have a fairly demanding day job as a market research-based business consultant. Most of my spare time outside of that or writing-related activities is spent with family or friends. My wife and I enjoy hiking in and around our hometown, and take in the occasional movie in the theater (my preferred venue). I also participate in a low-stakes poker game about every six weeks or so. I’m not a great poker player, but I’m not one to shy away from a little risk.
About David W. Edwards

David W. Edwards is the writer, director and producer of the feature film Nightscape and author of the novels NIGHTSCAPE: THE DREAMS OF DEVILS and NIGHTSCAPE: CYNOPOLIS.  He attended the University of Southern California’s prestigious screenwriting program and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English Literature while working for a variety of Hollywood production companies. He’s the founder and former CEO of a successful high-tech market research firm, and a former two-term state representative. He currently lives in Hillsboro, Oregon with his family.


Detroit’s eastside has seen its share of horrors. Once-proud factories gutted for scrap. Whole neighborhoods burned out and boarded up. Nature drained of color. But nothing like this: a thought-virus that turns the city’s dogs feral and its underclass into jackal-headed beasts.

The city erupts in chaos and nightmare violence. Communication in or out is impossible. The skies fill with lethal drone copters and airships bristling with heavy-duty cannon. Abandoned to their separate fates among hordes of monsters, the few surviving humans must find a way to elude the military blockade preventing their escape or defeat the virus at its source—before government forces sacrifice them all.

Breakneck action, rogue science and deft portraiture combine for a grand and gripping tale of urban terror.


Website  Readers can order a discounted and signed edition of the book from this site

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Katalin Kennedy, Author

Katalin Kennedy, Author
Katalin Kennedy describes her newest novel, RECONNECTING, as “plausible or realistic fiction” about relationships older women create as they enter new life segments. Although she writes fiction, Kennedy focuses on relationships in her books and primarily targets women, but has been pleased that men have read and appreciated her novels.

Kennedy is currently working on her third book to involve relationships. When she's not writing, she participates in a variety of organizations and causes, and loves to travel. She currently lives in Cornwall, Ontario.

Don't miss the opportunity to enter a giveaway following the interview.

Q: In what genre would you place RECONNECTING? Why?

Katalin Kennedy: This is a question I’m frequently asked, and one with which I have difficulty. I’ve used my own term ‘plausible fiction’, although I understand that the term ‘realistic fiction’ might be better known. My story line is not based on any real life anecdote, nevertheless, it is within the realm of plausibility. I make reference to a good number of historic facts, and that gives the novel a realistic flavor.

Q: The theme for RECONNECTING seems to be the exploration of the relationships that accompany friendships. What drove you to delve into this theme? 

Katalin Kennedy: As long as I write, I will always discuss some aspect of the relationship people develop among each other.

In RECONNECTING I wanted to explore the threads that connect a small group who are older: Marlie, Kendra, Vanessa and Iris. Unless we live on a mountain, being part of a community no matter how small, is an integral aspect of our human need. Our networks diminish and certainly change once we close the door to the ‘work force’ community. The change dictates that we redefine who we are, both to ourselves and to others. Mental health professionals continue to promote the importance of social contact as a means to achieve our own positive attitude about aging. Thus, coming together at the Condo Complex in Ottawa, the four women redefine their new ‘community’ and at the same time, begin to explore who they are in a new role they must now assume. Along the way, their ‘entanglements’ with each other come to form a closer bond and a realization that one never has to stop learning.

Q: Reviewers appreciate RECONNECTING as “a good feast for the soul.” Did you intend to write both an entertaining story as well as offer insight and guidance through ‘reconnecting?’

Katalin Kennedy: The women meet for weekly dinners. I chose this setting because I do think it is a way many of us interact with each other. Through these times of being together, we learn about the women’s beliefs, their attitudes and their individual stories; it is also a means by which the women themselves learn about each other. Thus while they nourish their bodies they also nourish their soul. I’ve incorporated dialogue into a good portion of the novel, which to some extent ‘lightens’ the more serious aspects of their discussions. 

For a reader to want to turn the page of a novel, there needs to be some form of involvement.  If the reader is comfortable with the characters at informal gatherings, more profound points can also be raised for personal reflection.

Q: RECONNECTING primarily involves women as the main characters. Have you targeted women readers? Or will men also appreciate the story?

Katalin Kennedy:  Years ago, one of my professors at university offered the advice to write about what I know. So of course, I’ve targeted women as the reader. From both a personal and professional point of view (having worked for years in women’s issues) I am familiar with the role of older women who live alone. In this novel, nevertheless, there are the compatible male characters Sam and Robert who are also older, and who have equal concerns about their life course and beliefs. A number of men whom I know have read my novel and have been quite comfortable about the discussions that take place within it.

Q: What do you consider essential characteristics of an engaging character? What will make readers want to follow your protagonist, Marlie, and her friends?

Katalin Kennedy: Good question again… one that I can’t help but think is quite subjective. From my point of view, a character needs first to fit into the story line. And second,  s/he needs to transmit a certain amount of humility and conviction; at the same time, s/he should suggest some flaws, which s/he may or may not recognize. In other words, the characters (not only the protagonist, but each of them) need to be somewhat like we are, human, so that we can relate to them. That after all is generally how a reader becomes involved with and takes away from what the novel conveys.

(I want to digress here and comment that for the writer, this is somewhat a double edged sword. Readers may assume that the characters portray thinly disguised traits of the author. From the point of view that they are life like and believable, this is a positive observation. But from the writer’s agonizing creative process which is involved in bringing characters to life, this is a rather dismissive opinion.)

Q: What do you consider to be the key characteristics of a friendship/relationship?

A: Being open and accepting. These seem to be simple enough characteristics, but they are not. As Marlie and her friends discover, once the ‘superficial’ layers of what they thought they knew about each other are peeled away, they each harbor other traits which were quite different from what they had assumed to make up each persona. And these are traits which require a new understanding in their relationship.

Q: Do you value humor as a component of telling your story and/or of developing relationships?

Katalin Kennedy: It is one component which seems to work. Laughter is a great communicator, especially after a glass or two of wine. Humor seems to suggest the impression that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, which is a comfortable lead-in to relationship development. Once that path has been opened, we can more easily tread off into disclosing more significant aspects of our life.

Q: You have written poetry, columns for a newspaper, and now two novels. Do you have a favorite? Were you able to leverage your column-writing experience for your novels?

Katalin Kennedy: I guess the last work one creates is more likely the favorite. But I’m not sure. I have a good comfort level with most of my previous writings. They portray a perspective that was valid at the time; surprisingly, most still resonate as applicable even now.

I’ve not thought of my previous writings as ‘leveraging’ but I suspect there is validity in that way of thinking. I tend to be what I call a ‘brief’ writer; I generally need to go back and expand on a narrative. Both in poetry and in column writing of the 500 word requirement, I was able to express my thoughts in what I’ll call distinct ‘chunks’.  Eventually, I felt too closed-in by that method and wanted to expand into writing a full length novel. I suppose the previous approaches served me well. I learned to compartmentalize. I certainly did that in my first novel “The Women Gather”, which unfolds through  letters, articles, diaries, newspaper clippings and videos.  To some extent it is also evident in “Reconnecting” as the various characters have their own distinct story lines – which eventually interconnect.

Q:  What’s next?

Katalin Kennedy: The idea for “Reconnecting” began to emerge while I was in the throes of writing my first novel “The Women Gather”.  And again, I experienced the emerging of Book 3 as I was completing “Reconnecting”. This serves a positive aspect: giving me confidence that I still have more to say. I’ve been asked whether I would do a sequel, but that is not yet in my consideration.  As both “The Women Gather” and “Reconnecting” are quite different in style and of course in content, I need to make sure that the third one will follow my need for diversity. The story line is evolving; research, outline, character formation etc. are being worked out.  At the same time, I’m planning to take my previous writings (some of which are on my web site and compile them in one book.

Q:  Tell us about Katalin Kennedy. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Katalin Kennedy: I am a retired civil servant, who worked in social service programs in Ottawa, with the Canadian Federal Government. After moving to Cornwall Ontario, I joined a number of community organizations having held office in some of them as my biography indicates. I enjoy the company and causes of diverse groups, (both in age and in gender). I do belong to a Book Club through the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) which gives me a good sense of what other writers address. I love research and learning to such a degree that my tablet has become a good companion; a thought races in the brain and I need to explore it further. Travel is at the height of activities which I enjoy having been through Britain and Europe on a number of occasions, and in China. I’m disheartened by the tragedy of peoples who need to leave their homeland to seek asylum elsewhere. It is an experience I understand, having come to Canada as a refugee in my childhood.

About Katalin Kennedy
 Katalin (András) Kennedy escaped from Hungary with her parents on Christmas Eve 1956. She married Duncan Scott Kennedy in 1972 and graduated from Ottawa’s Carleton University. In the latter part of her career, she managed major national projects with Health Canada’s Family Violence Prevention Programs, until her retirement. Her beloved soul mate, the Rev. D. S.  Kennedy passed away in 2006. She now resides in Cornwall, Ontario and continues her involvement in various organizations: Canadian Federation of University Women, Probus Club of Cornwall and Area, Encore Seniors’ Education Program and the Cornwall and Regional Writers’ Society. For ten years she was a columnist for Seaway News. In 2012, Kennedy launched her first novel “The Women Gather” and in June 2015 “Reconnecting” was also released by Baico Publishing.

RECONNECTING is an essential novel for our times. Katalin Kennedy expertly weaves a captivating story about how the bonds that women experience guide their choices -- and ultimately destiny -- through relationships that can be as messy and wondrous as life itself. As we get to know Marlie and her enquiring mind, her pondering of crucial issues and ensuing flashes of insight reveal how love and friendship, with a good dose of providence, can guide our lives and lead to wisdom. This book is as heart-warming and comforting as a good feast for the soul. We are left wanting to share more time with Marlie and her distinctive friends.

RECONNECTING excerpt: Page 61

            “Damn this aging thing!” Iris heard herself bemoan to Marlie later that evening as they and Poppy consumed the last of the leftovers. “The Asians have such a sensible attitude about growing old and having respect for their elders. I have to say I don’t think much about the wisdom of my years as I helplessly watch my mother return to infancy. She's 95 for pity’s sake. We weren't meant to live that long, and not that way.”

“We each have our own story,” Marlie was trying to assemble words that would convey comfort. “My mother died twenty years ago: too young, too early, and too healthy. For years, there wasn't a day that went by without me wishing she was still alive. She died so suddenly. So unexpectedly exactly a year to the day of my father's death. They were very much in love. I've heard others having that experience. When the first year anniversary of Owen’s death passed, I can't tell you how relieved I felt. Oh, I shudder having made such a horrid admission, out loud. I think my mother died of a broken heart and I wondered if I would as well.” Marlie stopped abruptly. “I'm sorry! You didn’t need to hear this. You have enough to deal with.”

            “What kind of friends are we if we have to tip-toe around each other?” Iris was quick to respond. “Your parents and husband died all too young. My father was 98 when he passed away two years ago. My mother's body is still on the planet, as is my ex-husband Warren's. Which of us is better off emotionally? Who knows? Still, you have your gorgeous daughter Mandy. I was so pleased to spend a bit of time with her again.” …

            Marlie was somewhat puzzled to hear about this part of her daughter’s connection with Iris. She knew it existed, but not to what extent. Was she sensing a tinge of envy? Of being left out? What else about her daughter did she not know? Has she been so self-absorbed that she hadn’t been paying sufficient attention? Or had Mandy deliberately left parts of her life completely private? How foolish she suddenly felt. Mandy was a grown woman, with her own friends, and her own life. There were probably tons of things she didn’t know about her. Marlie had been surprised that Mandy decided to delve fully into work on her thesis, directly after Owen’s death. Perhaps that was the way she coped. Owen had been the world to her and she to him. When they had decided to have a child, Owen confided that he preferred having a daughter; he simply said he knew girls to be more sensible. He had also teased Marlie: ‘I don’t want you to become jealous of our relationship, when she becomes a beautiful young woman.’ Father and daughter had been very close. Strange that she was now feeling envious of her daughter’s relationship with one of her dearest friends.

Social Links
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Author: Katalin Kennedy 
·         First prize: $25 Amazon gift certificate and autographed copy of Reconnecting
·          Second and third prize: Autographed Copy of Reconnecting

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

CHECK IT OUT: Character Unveils Cover

Joyce T. Strand, Author
My protagonist Brynn Bancroft is here today to unveil the cover of her second mystery, LANDSCAPE FOR MURDER, scheduled for release Nov. 5 and available for pre-order. 

Brynn Bancroft evolved from the Jillian Hillcrest mysteries where she served as Chief Financial Officer at a small biotech company. For a variety of reasons, including her own divorce, discovery of her affair with the CEO, and her disturbing past, she decided to leave her position and agreed to help manage her ex-husband's winery. 

As the protagonist in HILLTOP SUNSET, Brynn begins to shed her past and her behavior of protecting herself by blocking emotions. We watch her transition from a shallow uncaring person to someone who starts to understand the emotions of friendship and love.

At the same time, much like Jillian—who occasionally shows up in the Brynn Bancroft mysteries—Brynn, too, attracts mystery and murders as she grows to enjoy life at her ex-husband’s Hilltop Sunset Winery.

In the following brief interview, she offers some hints about how she becomes involved in LANDSCAPE FOR MURDER. 

Q: So tell us about this mystery. When we left you at the end of HILLTOP SUNSET you were seriously considering abandoning your career as Chief Financial Officer and joining your ex-husband to manage a new winery. How did you become involved in another murder?

Brynn Bancroft: Yes, I definitely opted to help Liam develop his winery instead of being a CFO. I find it more enjoyable and fulfilling than discussing the financials of a public company.

And I am particularly excited about this great new killer cabernet we’re launching.

At the same time, I started to paint again. It's quite therapeutic. And that’s how I met a new friend—while painting a landscape together with him.  I was waiting for him to join me one day when a police car stopped and told me about his murder and asked me to come to the station to tell them what I knew.

Q: And just what did you know about your murdered artist friend?

Brynn Bancroft: Not much. I was dumbfounded! He was a gentle elderly gentleman who enjoyed painting—and old Hollywood movies. He was not wealthy nor was he offensive. I couldn’t imagine why someone would want to murder him.

I was aware, however, that he was searching for his missing daughter who had disappeared as a teenager some 30 years earlier. 

Q: What about your ex-husband, Liam? How are you two getting along now?

Brynn Bancroft: Well, I’m not sure what’s happening between Liam and me. He is still working at his job and only visits the winery occasionally, so I manage it myself along with our winemaker. But, I admit, I always look forward to Liam’s visits. I feel, well, safer and more at ease when he’s around. But I just don’t know what’s going to happen with us. He seems to think of me as his business partner only. Which I guess is OK. Maybe. But sometimes, I yearn for more.


A friend’s murder. An unconnected cast of suspects, including the victim’s missing adult daughter. As if that wasn’t enough, Brynn Bancroft’s winery has been broken into. Can she deal with her co-owner ex and help the police find her friend’s murder so she can finally overcome her own troubled past and enjoy family life with her teenage ward?

Available for pre-orders now. For release on November 5, 2015.

Excerpt: Chapter 1

       The sheriff’s patrol car annoyed Brynn Bancroft when it stopped in the narrow curve of the road next to her, and its driver put down his window. She had traveled more than an hour to her favorite meadow where she could sit at her easel and paint in solitude without interruption. She had just gotten started. She regretted not having walked further into the muddy field.
       The uniformed driver, whose sandy hair was cut close, removed his dark glasses and said, “Hello. I’m Deputy Hallis from the Marin County Sheriff’s Office. Sorry to hear about your friend.”
       Brynn turned to face him, confused. She didn’t know him, nor had anything recently happened to any of her friends, as far as she knew.
       He must have detected bewilderment on her face. He said, “Your artist friend. Haven’t I seen the two of you here painting when I’ve driven by on my way to town?”
       Although perplexed by the interruption, Brynn understood that the intruder was referring to a fellow local artist she had befriended on former painting trips to the area. The two of them had sat together in this same spot.
       Brynn said, “Why, yes, if you mean Kenneth Sterling. We often painted together. Is there a problem?”
       “Yes, ma’am. Can you tell me your name, please? And where you are from?”
       Brynn’s concern for her friend overcame her annoyance, and she answered, “My name is Brynn Bancroft. My ex-husband and I own the Hilltop Sunset Winery in Sonoma.”
       “I see. And you came over here to paint with Mr. Sterling?”
       “Yes. What is this about?”
        The deputy hesitated briefly and then said, “I’m afraid your friend is dead.”

About Joyce T. Strand, Author

Joyce T. Strand writes who-done-it mysteries that typically involve a murder or two, often a touch of romance, and always a few red herrings.

LANDSCAPE FOR MURDER is the second of a trio featuring Brynn Bancroft, a corporate executive transitioning to winemaker, preceded by HILLTOP SUNSET, the first Brynn Bancroft Mystery. Bancroft played a minor character in Strand’s novels On Message, Open Meetings, and Fair Disclosure—three mysteries solved by Jillian Hillcrest, a publicist whose boss was Chief Financial Officer Brynn Bancroft.

In addition to the current-day mysteries, Strand published THE JUDGE'S STORY in June 2015 a historical mystery set in a small California town (Ventura) in 1939 that features a California Superior Court Judge.

Although fiction, the Jillian Hillcrest and Brynn Bancroft mysteries are inspired by real California cases. She based the protagonist in THE JUDGE'S STORY, also fiction, on the memoir of a California Superior Court Judge (1941).

Much like her protagonist, Jillian Hillcrest, Strand headed corporate communications at several biotech and high-tech companies in California’s Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. Today, in addition to creating mysteries, Strand writes and publishes a blog, Strand’s Simply Tips, is a writer for a regional wine magazine, and is working on the third Brynn Bancroft mystery, to be published in November 2016.

Strand lives with her two cats and collection of cow statuary in Southern California, and seeks out and attends as many Broadway musicals and other stage plays as she can.

About HILLTOP SUNSET: A Brynn Bancroft Mystery (1)

A mystery set in wine country pitting financial exec Brynn Bancroft against a determined stalker, a troubled love interest, and a haunting past.


Purchase Links
Amazon for Kindle

Amazon (book and e-book)
Barnes and Noble (e-book only)

All books
Barnes and Noble

Author Links:
Twitter: @joycetstrand

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Ellie Midwood, Author

Ellie Midwood, Author
Ellie Midwood created her unique novel set in Nazi Germany, THE GIRL FROM BERLIN, to tell an entertaining story and also to depict everyday life during this period and what it took to survive. She thoroughly researched the events and personal lives of the people in Nazi Germany to tell "a story of an SS Officer, his Jewish wife, and their fight against the Reich." She assures us that she lightens her story with humor, because her characters do like to laugh, even in the worst circumstances.

Midwood, born in Russia, currently lives in Brooklyn and has written several novels about New York, a city she loves. She is working on the third book of THE GIRL FROM BERLIN trilogy, among others. She is a “dedicated yoga practitioner” an avid reader, and a student of languages.

Don't miss the excerpt from her book following the interview.

Q: You’ve written several other novels, all of which take place in modern-day New York. What inspired you to start the series THE GIRL FROM BERLIN set in 1930s-40s Germany?

Ellie Midwood: It all started nine months ago when I was watching a documentary on the liberation of Auschwitz (I’m Jewish myself so matters like these have always been of great importance for me), and the book actually was first supposed to be strictly about the Holocaust and concentration camps. But as I started doing my research I realized that so many memoirs and biographies have already been written by the people who were actually there, and I would never write with the same feeling and sincerity as those survivors already did.

However, the subject was getting more and more interesting to me, I started reading more books (mostly non-fiction) on the topic, watched probably every documentary imaginable, and even found files from the CIA which became available for public only after the 80’s or 90’s I believe, about the counterintelligence activities and Nuremberg trials as well. And the Holocaust story became a historical fiction, partially a spy thriller, partially a love story.    

Q: Is the girl in THE GIRL FROM BERLIN based on a real person, or did you create her in order to tell your story? Did you envision the plot and then decide on the character?

Ellie Midwood: It’s a great question, because a lot of people are asking me how it was possible that an Aryan SS officer falls in love with a Jewish girl in the book, because there weren’t many cases like that in Nazi Germany. However the ones that happened became my other inspirational source, just like the story of a young Jewish girl Ilse Stein who fell in love with and got saved – together with her family – by the Nazi captain Willi Schultz, who was in charge of the Minsk ghetto (documentary is called ‘The Jewess and the Captain’). There’s also another memoir written by a Holocaust survivor called ‘The Nazi Officer’s Wife,’ so I would say that my main character Annalise is a collective image of those real Jewish women, even though she’s entirely fictional.

Q: How do you engage readers in today’s world to care about characters in the first half of the 20th century?

Ellie Midwood: Many people still have that fascination with World War II and Nazi Germany history in particular because it touched so many lives in one way or another. I would say that many of us today have at least one person, dead or still alive who remembers the events of that time or participated in them, so it certainly is an interesting subject for a lot of readers nowadays.

What’s really important is the eternal topics which arise as the story develops: that love does conquer all and erases all the differences even in such horrifying circumstances, that you have to stand up to evil even though sometimes you’d be alone against millions, that you have to follow your heart and do what you feel is right, and not blindly obey your leaders… I tried to embrace it all in my book to make the readers think about their lives and their choices in the 21st century.

Q: It’s easy to assume that there is a hero-versus-villain approach in a book set in Nazi Germany with a Jewish protagonist. However, are there different levels of heroes and villains? Are some villains more villainy? And are some characters neither?

Ellie Midwood: The readers would be very surprised to learn that there are not purely positive or purely negative main characters in THE GIRL FROM BERLIN, and that’s exactly how I planned it to be. I didn’t want to make it another good guy – bad guy story, if you know what I mean, where all the Nazis are bad and all their victims are good. I wanted to show them real people, who make mistakes, who make wrong decisions, who are forced to do certain things sometimes to survive, to save their own lives and people dear to them, but in the end they are very honest to themselves and still try to do the right thing.

For example my protagonist Annalise, who is supposed to be a very positive character, starts working in the Reich Main Security Office in order to help the counterintelligence, but still harms her own people by fulfilling her duties of an SS-Helferin. She has to lie a lot, she starts an affair with another man, and that’s definitely not what you expect from a positive character.

Her husband Heinrich, who is now one of the key agents for the allied intelligence, back in the day executed hundreds of Jews following the orders of his commander. He shot his first wife to save himself from being compromised. That’s definitely not something a good character would do.

But if I made them too good, they wouldn’t be real. They wouldn’t last a day in Nazi Germany if they would start an open fight against the regime, and I wanted to make it clear in the book. They’re ordinary people who wanted to help the people but who also wanted to survive.

As for the villains, and that’s another interesting point, some of them turn out to be not as evil as they seemed in the beginning. There are very brutal, hateful Nazi characters in the book, but they play minor roles. The main ‘villain’ – the leader of the Austrian SS Gruppenfuhrer Dr. Ernst Kaltenbrunner turns out to have his own story, and his character changes greatly throughout the whole story. We only see the first glimpse of it in Book One, and later the readers will be able to see the full transformation unravel. He’s actually my favorite character in the book, very complex and unpredictable, good and bad at the most unexpected moments. He wasn’t supposed to be in the story at all at first, but I came across his biography and after doing more research, I just knew I had to make him one of the main characters. He was a very controversial man, but had a very interesting personality. 

Q: You were reared in Russia. Do you think your perspective about Nazi Germany is different than those from other countries? Did that perspective influence your story?

Ellie Midwood: I was raised in Russia, but the funny fact is that I don’t really consider myself Russian. My family is all Jewish, and it’s a very different ethnic group from the Slavic Russian people, and that was the reason why I moved to the United States; it was very hard for me to fit into their society just because the mentality is very different. So speaking of the Russian influence, especially Russian government influence, which has a very strong opinion on the WWII, there was very little of it, if any.

Something else influenced my writing though. Many members of my family fought in that war, my great grandfather came back with minor injuries, like my three great uncles; my grandmother’s uncle never came back and nothing is known of his fate. And my grandfather, who was only seventeen at that time, was lucky enough not only to survive but to go all the way to Berlin where he served later for several years in the Soviet occupation zone. That’s where he learned German, which he started to teach me later, and learned about German culture and traditions.

It’s very interesting that he, a soldier who fought in the front and saw people die every day, didn’t seem to have any hard feelings for the German army soldiers. He was telling me many stories that sometimes they, the Russians and the Germans, would announce a quick ‘non-offensive’ to exchange vodka for cigarettes and other interesting things like that. He explained to me that they weren’t bad people, they were just following their orders like all soldiers have to. I tried to make exactly this point in my book, that not all of them were bad. I’m not talking of the hardcore Nazis here of course, especially the ones belonging to the Einsatzgruppen, or responsible for the Holocaust in the other way, it’s a completely different question. Their atrocities are undeniable, and there’s no doubt about that.

Q: What kind of research did you do for historical accuracy and back-story? What were some of the more interesting pieces of information you uncovered?

Ellie Midwood: I probably read everything written on the topic: ‘The Gestapo: The History of the Horror,’ ‘Nuremberg Diaries,’ ‘Nuremberg Trials,’ other historical non-fiction books, many recovered and now available for public documents from the CIA archives, watched every documentary possible, read many biographies and memoirs… I actually started to joke that I live in 1930-40s now while writing this trilogy, I don’t watch and don’t read anything unrelated to the topic, it’s very funny, but I’m a perfectionist that way, if I get into something I have to really study it to make myself impartial as the author.

It is naturally assumed, especially concerning the war criminals, that they were evil, horrible people. And after a thorough study I came to the conclusion that there’s a lot more to their stories. If they were really bad, brutal Nazis and it was confirmed by multiple sources, I transferred them into my book as they were. But if some characters, I’m talking about real political figures of that time of course, were different and acted not out of blind hatred but because of some other reasons, I tried to show it as it was.

All the historical events in the book, together with main Nazi leaders, are all real and based on what truly happened, described by both history books (I used different sources, not only American, but Jewish, British, French, German and Russian as well, to get an objective point of view on the matter because every country has its own opinion of the events of that time) and witnesses’ statements. So the book is very accurate from a historical point of view.  

Q: Were you able to use humor to develop your characters or tell your story?

Ellie Midwood: Oh yes. One of my beta-readers actually pointed it out as one of the great features of the story, that it’s not too dark and bloody but has a light side to it. My characters are very real people and like real people they joke, they try to keep up the mood even in the scariest situations. My main ‘villain’ Dr. Kaltenbrunner is especially interesting in that sense, he’s very sarcastic and feisty even with his superiors, and my readers told me that they loved his character just for that.

There is another great character who the readers will meet in Book Two, Otto Skorzeny, who is another firecracker, they’re both Austrians and some of their dialogues are absolutely hysterical. That’s how they were in real life according to the sources, and I couldn’t help but put that in the book. Sometimes their witty dialogues lighten a very serious mood, and it’s really fascinating that they sometimes joke about very dangerous things as if it’s nothing. It shows their character. 

Q: Did you write THE GIRL FROM BERLIN series strictly to entertain readers, or did you also intend to educate and/or remind us?

Ellie Midwood: It’s definitely not for entertainment only, it’s a very touching story in every aspect, and it has a lot of very important themes which are timeless and of which people are needed to be reminded. No wonder that after every Holocaust remembrance post people put a hashtag ‘Never Again.’ Unfortunately today we still have very real cases of genocide but many people prefer to close their eyes to it since it doesn’t concern them directly. That’s what happened in 1930s when Hitler came to power and nobody seemed to care about the anti-Semitic propaganda he started spreading. It’s very heartbreaking for me to hear now that people blame the Israeli people in adopting ‘Nazi’ policies in order to pursue their own ‘sinister’ goals. It’s the most ignorant point of view someone can possible express, and is very insulting for me as a Jewish person. People need to be reminded every single day of the things that happened during the WWII in order for those atrocities to never happen again. And that’s another reason why I wrote this book. 

Q: What’s next?

Ellie Midwood: I’m currently working on the third book of the trilogy ‘The Girl from Berlin,’ and after that I’m planning to write a book which will also be a part of the series, but at the same time will be separate from it. It’s going to be a sort of fictional memoirs of my main ‘villain,’ and he has a very interesting story to tell. I’m very excited and at the same time a little intimidated to start working on it since it’ll be the first book written from a man’s perspective by me, and I will have to really get into my character’s head to understand his motives and actions.  

Q: Tell us about Ellie Midwood. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Ellie Midwood: I’m a very dedicated yoga practitioner and an avid reader. So when I’m not writing I love my yoga classes and a good book. I also love studying a lot, especially history and languages, so recently I decided to remember all the German my grandfather taught me and really learn it this time. The subject I’m currently writing on was certainly a big motivation since I came across many words and notions that I left untranslated for the book to sound more authentic. Next language in queue is Hebrew, as I think I’ve gotten more religious and started to respect my history even more after doing so many researches for my book.

About Ellie Midwood

Ellie Midwood is a New York based author who loves writing about her city and its people. She's a health obsessed yoga enthusiast, a neat freak, an adventurer, Nazi Germany history expert, polyglot, philosopher, a proud Jew and a doggie mama.
Ellie lives in Brooklyn with her Sicilian fiancé and their Chihuahua named Shark Bait.

This is a diary of Annalise Meissner, a young German Jew with long time ago falsified papers, living a carefree life in pre-war Berlin. A talented ballerina, she comes from a wealthy family and at first doesn’t want to concern herself with the changes her country starts undergoing under the new Nazi regime. However, when the oppressions against the Jewish population begin, she realizes that she can’t be a silent bystander and swears to help her people in any way possible.

She falls in love and gets married to her father's longtime friend, Standartenführer Heinrich Friedmann, who even though he works for SD – the Reich Secret Service – seems to share her views, and soon Annalise learns why. Her new husband turns out to be a counterintelligence agent working for the US government, and together they start a dangerous game against the sinister Gestapo, trying to save as many lives as they can and not to compromise themselves.

But it's not only the persecuted people Annalise wants to save; she meets the leader of the Austrian SS Gruppenführer Ernst Kaltenbrunner who everyone seems to fear, but for some reason Annalise isn't intimidated by the Chief of the Austrian Gestapo and doesn't believe the rumors about his brutality. Gruppenführer Kaltenbrunner isn't hiding the fact that he would love to get this beautiful girl as his mistress, but Annalise, despite the mutual attraction, stays faithful to her beloved husband. However, the risky game she’s playing will soon change everything…


       “Ilsa! How did you allow this to happen?!”
       “Hello, grandma.”
       “Don’t you ‘hello grandma’ me, fraulein! Are you out of your mind to marry that man?!”
       Even though she was born and raised in Germany, Grandma Hilda was still very Jewish. Unlike my mom, who was already very ‘Germanized,’ Grandma still spoke three languages: German, Polish and Hebrew (the last two only with Grandpa when he was still alive and very rarely with my mom, who didn’t understand any of it anyway). Needless to say that with everything anti-Semitic going on, she hated everything connected to the Nazi party out of some former national pride I guess, which she clearly refused to give up.
       “Mother, what can I do?” My mom tightly hugged Grandma and kissed her on both cheeks. “She’s in love, she wants to get married.”
       “But why to a Nazi?!”
       “Grandma, Heinrich is very nice. He’s not like the other Nazis.”
       “No such thing as a good Nazi!” Once that woman made up her mind on something, no arguments normally worked to persuade her in the opposite, so I just shrugged and turned to the mirror to put on my earrings. “All of them are evil and merciless killers, that’s what they are! They think they’re better than everybody else! The descendants of Gods! And whoever is not ‘purebred’ enough needs to be get rid of in order not to ‘pollute’ the genes of the ‘superior’ race! Just look what they did to those poor people during Kristallnacht! And now my only granddaughter is marrying one of them!”
       “Heinrich wasn’t even in Germany during Kristallnacht, Grandma. He didn’t kill anybody.”
       “Well, it’s true, Frau Brauer.” My father finally came to my rescue. “Heinrich is more of a… an office worker. He works for Intelligence. He just collects information, he doesn’t actually walk around and kill people.”
       “Collects information about who, Richart?” Under Grandma’s stern look my father didn’t seem happy he got involved into the whole conversation. “The ‘unfits.’ The undesirable for the Third Reich people, which includes Jews, communists, and everybody else who doesn’t support them. Maybe he doesn’t hold a gun himself but the result is the same. Those people are dead. Or in camps.”  She turned to me. “But I guess that fact doesn’t concern you, does it? You betrayed your roots!”
       “I didn’t betray my roots, grandma! I can’t marry a man who I love because he’s German? What, are you discriminating against Germans now?”
       “They discriminate against us, and I can’t discriminate against them? Since your great-grandfather was forced to come to this country every single member of our family would only marry Jewish people. They were hiding their origin just like us, but that didn’t matter. We knew who we are and we honored it. And now you want to marry a Nazi! Do you even realize that your kids are going to be Nazis?”
       “Nazi is not a nationality or religion, Grandma.”
       “It is both a nationality and religion now, girl!”


Twitter: @EllieMidwood