Monday, November 28, 2011

New Release: Cast of Illusions

I'm thrilled to announce the release of my new historical-fantasy novel, Cast of Illusions. Independent of the Shadow Fox series, this novel is tamer and a bit more, well, literary. While it does not take place in a real historical setting, it is based on Elizabethan England, during the rage of playhouses and theater, and would best be described as a Shakespearean fantasy. Here's a synopsis and a peek:

Jonathan Wilder is about to make a name for himself. His plays and troupe of actors are considered among the best in Salsima, and he is on the verge of building his own playhouse. However, when his latest play greatly offends the king, he and his troupe are forced to impersonate a royal party to infiltrate the exotic and presumably savage people known as the Selphyn, an elfin-like race with a special bond with animals. In over his head with politics, Jonathan will find himself in an intrigue worthy of one of his plays, with mistaken identities, treason, assassinations, kidnapped princesses and feverish passions. Just what a misanthrope with social anxiety needs.
JONATHAN WILDER HAD died one-thousand, four-hundred-and-thirty-two times, give or take a few. The majority of these deaths had been by stabbing, either with a rapier or dagger. Two hundred had been by poison, sixty by hanging. He’d also been beheaded, thrown from a tower, trampled, choked, smothered, and, on one memorable occasion, simply died of fright. He preferred dying by the sword, as smothering and choking usually occurred when he was a woman. This was not always the case; eighty-four times he’d stabbed himself with a dagger as Lady Macmaren. That was the only benefit of getting older: those days of donning gowns and wigs were behind him. Regardless of the manner of his death, the only ones that mattered were the ones that garnered applause or cries of dismay. The quiet deaths could mean the death of his company: too many and he’d lose his audience to the King’s Men. But never had a death mattered more to him than today. The future of his career depended on it.

His feet thundered on the hollow wooden stage as he danced in the choreographed duel with Thomas, and twice he narrowly missed stepping on a groundling’s fingers. Six groundlings were sitting on the stage, leaning forward in complete absorption. Thank heaven they were a fairly disciplined crowd; the last thing he needed was for lusty audience members jumping into the final duel, their real swords drawn. Usually he welcomed audience participation, but not with this play, not today.
Sweat poured into his eyes but he didn’t dare wipe it away and risk throwing Thomas off. And so he let his eyes sting and blur, relying more on his memory of the choreography than sight. When it was time for the killing blow, he “fell” for a feint, throwing his arms up to block a head attack that didn’t come. Instead Thomas’s dulled rapier sliced under his arm. He gasped and fell to his knees as Thomas yanked the blade free. Blood pooled, a crimson stain on white silk. There was a feminine yelp from the audience, and a deeper, gruffer voice yelled, “No!”

Thomas dropped next to him, pulling his head into his lap. “Forgive me.”

It was all Jonathan could do not to smile up at him and say, Did you hear that woman squeal? Did you hear that yell? He blinked the sweat out of his eyes. “There is nothing to forgive. She loves you. The strife between our houses is mended in your love for one another. May God…grant you…joy.”

Jonathan’s eyes closed, and for several moments there was no sound but a dizzying and deafening thumping in his head. He waited, holding his breath. Someone reached out and touched his shoulder, one of the groundlings presumably. Finally there was a thunder of applause. Thomas pulled him to his feet as the cast assembled behind them, waiting for him to lead the bow. But he was still remembering the stage kiss in Act Four, the shock of a woman’s lips instead of a ten-year-old boy’s. I will not yield to your will, but by bending yours to mine shall I have you. The line, written with Gregory in mind, came out more forceful than intended with Miranda standing opposite. He had seized her shoulders and for three full seconds crushed her lips against his; she pulled away with a gasp and dropped her next line.

Behind the curtain it was all awkwardness, none of the heated passion from their onstage exchange. He shook her hand and muttered congratulations, only to go absolutely rigid when Thomas threw his arms around him, picking him up off the ground.

“Well done, a great success!”

“Please put me down.”

“Very well, but I doubt your health would suffer greatly if you displayed occasional elation.”

“My heart grows weak at this very moment.”

He pulled off his blood-stained shirt; the sewn-in pig’s bladder wasted with the rent of a sword cut. His ribs were sticky with blood that was still wet to the touch. He heard distant applause above him in the galleries of the Unicorn, and a lady’s handkerchief, whether by design or accident, fluttered down in front of him. Thomas picked it up and smelled it, closing his eyes. “Attar of roses.” He studied the embroidered letters. “Sweet RF, I am yours.”

“And half the ladies in Diernioch,” Jonathan said.

Cast of Illusions is now available on Amazon Thanks for checking it out!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In Appreciation of Serials

After suffering through a very long dry patch (18 months to be exact), I finally started a book that has survived past the 25,000-word mark. I had about five false starts on other projects, and to this day I don't know why I abandoned them. It wasn't for lack of ideas or enthusiasm. I could blame my day job, but I was still working when I wrote the majority of my current project. The only thing I do know is what worked this time.

I'm currently at 64,125 words on my current project, which is tentatively titled Starnight. I won't give too much away, except to say that the genre does contain the words young adult, paranormal, and romance. I'm still reluctant to put the words together, I guess out of fear of the inevitable Twilight comparison. I promise, however, that there are NO vampires. Anyway, when I was only a few chapters into the book, I did something I've never done before with a WIP. I sent the chapters to two of my best readers, my best friend Julia and my niece Kathy. They are a fairly safe bet: they've read and enjoyed everything I've written (with the exception of a 112,000-page sci-fi manuscript that will never see the light of day). But there's always a chance that I might bore them. After I emailed it, I started to have serious misgivings. I was still so early in the process, in that precarious, fragile stage where the tiniest thing could shut me down. If they didn't like it, or were even kind of "meh" about it, I doubt I would have continued writing it. Thankfully, not only were they enthusiastic, they were demanding! And I have to say that nothing has ever given me so much motivation to write. Every 5 to 10 days I send them what I have, and they devour it and demand more. Not just that, but Kathy has offered insightful guesses as to where it's headed as well as pointing out a couple of silly mistakes I made, and Julia calls me immediately so I can get her instant, gut reaction to specific things. It's incredibly rewarding to know what works and what doesn't (at least for these gals, and if anyone is my target audience, they are), and which characters are pushing buttons. I've made several decisions I may not have thought of based on their feedback. But most importantly, because they're excited about it, and anxious to find out what happens, I've never had more fun writing a book. I think about them now when I write: oh, they're going to love this, or hate it (but in a good way). I think I'm more anxious to hear what they have to say than they are to find out what happens. Last week I sent what I had so far to my agent, and she was frustrated that I left her hanging as well. Can't say that I'm sorry though!

All of this has put me in the mind of the lost art of serials, when authors, most notably Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, published their novels in weekly or monthly installments in magazines. The public went crazy for them. Apparently even American audiences would line up at the docks when a new Dickens serial was due for delivery, shouting questions to the crew about what was going to happen. Not only was this fantastic publicity, but it made the novels cheap and accessible to everyone. I mentioned to Julia that many contemporary writers were doing an internet equivalent: each week they post a new (and free) chapter of a novel on their website. It's a good way to develop a following. And now I've discovered another benefit -- if it catches on, it's excellent motivation for the writer. I'm seriously considering giving it a shot myself. Maybe not with Starnight, but with something completely new. The thought of writing just one chapter and posting it for free is rather intoxicating. The instant feedback, questions, criticisms and compliments would completely shape the entire novel. It would turn my whole writing process upside-down, and probably in a really good way. I've always been too private with my work, and don't give many the opportunity to provide feedback until it's already published and too late. This would almost be like a group project!

I'll keep you posted if I decide to start my own free serial. In the meantime, I want to thank Julia and Kathy for being such a fantastic audience, not just on this book, but all of them. I'm a very lucky writer.

Ashley J. Barnard
Dark Fantasy with a Contemporary Twist

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dark Night of the Soul

A lot of people ask me if the Shadow Fox series is YA. They usually get a resounding "No!" along with a look of horror. If they have an older teenager (or are an older teen themselves), I usually tell them I don't recommend anyone under 17 reading the series. It's not that the first book is that bad; I'd say some mature 15-year-olds could handle the first one. It's the sequels, and particularly the third book, that I'm concerned about. I have a rating system for anyone who asks. Shadow Fox is PG-13, Fox Rising is R, and Night of the Fox is NC-17. I haven't been too worried about the third book until, of course, it came out this week. Now I'm starting to get nervous.

It's a lot for an author to ask his or her readers to care about the "hero" when he's committed an unthinkable crime. Heroes are supposed to rescue, not terrorize. However, books shouldn't just reflect the lighter side of human nature. People screw up and make bad choices. They're driven by obsessions and haunted by past traumas. If they've been victimized, they often perpetuate the abuse, sometimes even switching into the role of the victimizer. One of my favorite themes to visit as a writer is the path that a victim of childhood abuse chooses as an adult. Usually I will have two people who have been victimized and showcase what happens when one chooses to perpetuate the abuse, and the other gains strength and wisdom from the experience. I understand that my portrayal of these choices will make some people really uncomfortable, but I want it known that this does not stem from an exploitative or perverse motive. I had a point to make that as awful as Jared's genetic disease is, his psychological issues are worse. As a reviewer so poignantly pointed out, "There are no monsters to blame the evil on, just the human soul and the depths to which it can sink." The inherent message which I hope will come across despite all the ugliness, is that we all have the power to self-destruct or not, and we can't use our traumatic pasts as excuses for depravity.

If you've come on the journey with me so far, I hope you'll hang in there to see it through to the end. I promise that there will be a lot of incredible things that happen on the way, not just the traumatic ending. I also promise that my next fantasy will be much lighter fare; I think we could all use a breather.

Many thanks to Darkiss Reviews who just gave me the most amazing review of this final volume, along with hope that the message will get through after all.
Dark Fantasy with a Contemporary Twist

Friday, August 19, 2011

Hometown Book Signing

(Originally posted on Writer's Vineyard 8/17/11)

Ever since I learned to read I've been a voracious reader. I grew up in Davis, California, and used to beg my dad to take me to our local bookstore, The Avid Reader. My favorites were anything by Roald Dahl, Garfield, and Choose Your Own Adventure. And when I decided I wanted to be a writer, in the sixth grade, I started imagining what it would be like to do my own book signing at The Avid Reader. At that time, nothing could have better said, You've Made It, than to sign books at my own hometown bookstore.

Years and hundreds of rejections later, that dream started to fade. I was obsessed with finding an agent or a publisher, never mind book signings, and I was close to giving up on the whole enterprise altogether. Then things finally started to fall into place: I got an agent, which then led to a publisher. I spent the next several months doing revisions, marketing, and general celebrating. When the first book came out, it was time to think seriously about book signings. But I've lived in Phoenix, Arizona for the last 17 years, and The Avid Reader was nowhere near my radar.

I try to get out to California at least once a year to visit my parents and sisters who still live there, and when I was planning my summer trip this year, I mentioned to my stepmom how neat it would be to do a book signing at The Avid Reader. Well, to say she took the ball and went running with it would be a vast understatement. She did it all: she contacted the bookstore, the local newspaper, and my sister's restaurant to arrange a post-signing party. And man, did she lay out the red carpet. I doubt Dean Koontz has ever received this kind of reception. She scheduled a massage, a facial, hair and makeup, and would have taken me shopping to get a new outfit if I needed one. When she found out we could bring wine and cheese, she bought NINE bottles of wine, three boxes of cookies and about five different exotic cheeses. She called everyone and stopped people in the street. In all of my wild imaginings, I never came up with anything this good. It was truly amazing.

Somewhere in the middle of all my pampering the day of the signing, we stopped by the bookstore so I could meet everyone and make sure everything was set. And that's when I found out I was doing not just a signing, but a reading. I'm a pretty shy person, and I hate talking about my books. I squirm just telling people what it's called and the basic premise, because trying to explain a contemporary fantasy to someone who doesn't know fantasy always sounds trite and ridiculous. So doing a reading would be like one of my worst nightmares. My stepmom Susan reminded me we were bringing nine bottles of wine, and I relaxed a little. Surely one little glass would be harmless and would help me stay calm.

As soon as we got set up that evening I was a wreck, so I wasted no time in downing a glass of wine. After that, everything was sort of a blur, and it's difficult to remember, like getting married or giving birth. I know at some point I had another glass, and when I introduced myself and the books I was shaking like crazy. I opened the book to begin reading where I put my bookmark, but in my fumbling I lost my place and started reading about two pages too early. It worked out fine; there were a couple of lines in those two pages that got laughs, and as soon as that happened I started to calm down. During the Q&A afterward, I was actually enjoying myself. While I'd been reading, more and more people arrived, so looking it up it was a delightful shock to see so many faces in the audience. And all in all, between what the bookstore sold and what I sold from my own stock, I sold a total of 31 books. Not bad!

After the signing we all walked down to my sister Cary's restaurant, Our House. I had yet another glass of wine, and this one was fairly large, but I felt incredible. Oh, did I mention I hadn't eaten since noon? I was walking on air, talking to family I hadn't seen in forever, and sold some of the books I'd brought with me. And I was still feeling great a couple of hours later right before I was puking up what seemed like gallons of red wine into my dad and stepmom's beautiful, lush front yard. Well, at least I waited until most of my audience was gone.

I came home from my trip feeling much more confident. Doing another reading doesn't frighten me now in the least, and after some great feedback from people who are reading my books, I'm much more eager to get them out there.

One thing's for certain, however: I will watch my wine from now on.

Ashley J. Barnard
Dark Fantasy with a Contemporary Twist

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Night of the Fox

Check out my gorgeous new cover for the third book in the Fox series (September 2011)! Done by the amazing Amanda Kelsey.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Tale of a Portrait

(Originally posted on All Things Historical Fiction)

Hi. My name is Ashley, and I have an unhealthy obsession with Lord Byron. Yeah, I know he’s been dead for almost 200 years, and it sounds a little creepy. But a girl should have a hobby, right?

Byron and I were introduced about ten years ago, when I was cast in a Tom Stoppard play called Arcadia. My character was a thirteen-year-old in love with the poet, and though I had heard of him, I didn’t really know him yet. There were enough tantalizing tidbits in the play to get me interested, and when I started doing a little research, I was done for. After all, the man was beautiful, a poet, and very, very wicked. What’s not to love?

Soon I was reading biographies and collections of his letters, just for “fun.” He temporarily derailed my fantasy-novel aspirations; I took about a five-year break from fantasy to write three novels that featured Byron. You would think they all would have been historical fiction, but only one of them was; the other two were science fiction and contemporary. And the historical-fiction novel came as a complete surprise: I only wanted to read more of his letters, and instead ended up writing a novel, more or less, about his portrait, and his daughter Ada.

Reading 19th-century letters may sound boring to some, but Byron’s were incredibly witty, eloquent and charming, with his acerbic commentaries on society. I especially enjoyed reading his letters to and from his wife Annabella, knowing that while they called each other cute names like “Duck,” they were secretly loathing each other, and Annabella was plotting his downfall almost from the beginning of their marriage. Anyway, a few years ago I was at the library in the biography section, looking for another volume of letters to read, when I spotted something new: The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason, and Byron’s Daughter by Benjamin Woolley. I knew about Ada, of course, but only as Byron and Annabella’s only child. I didn’t know that she was important enough, in and of herself, to warrant her own thick biography. I read the introduction, and I was hooked. Forgetting about the collection of letters, I checked out Ada’s biography instead, and by the time I got home, I had the makings of a new novel.

The introduction of Bride of Science reads almost like a thriller. Ada Byron, on her twentieth birthday, is given a sealed casement. Present is Dr. King, the former manager of a lunatic asylum, to ensure that Ada, upon opening the casement, does not give way to violent hysterics. Ada knows what she’s about to open; she passed by it hundreds of times in her youth, but she’s never actually seen it. Her grandparents, at Annabella’s command, kept a thick velvet curtain drawn over it at all times, so that Ada might never catch a glimpse of her father’s face. Annabella fervently believed that if Ada even saw what Byron looked like, the poisonous blood of poetry that ran in her veins would be activated, and she would fall victim to lewdness, madness and debauchery, like her father.

The portrait in question is probably the most famous portrait of Byron in which he is featured in Albanian dress. It’s a stunning portrait done by Thomas Phillips in 1814, which has a turbaned, mustached Byron dressed in extravagant silks with a ceremonial sword. When Ada opened the casement, she was visibly unaffected, but a few years later she did report being at war with her feelings. Annabella had steered her toward math and science, but her father’s poetry awakened her passion.

I devoured the biography, and discovered another interesting tidbit. When Ada was eighteen, she attempted to elope with her shorthand tutor. While Woolley maintained that the tutor’s identity is officially unknown, it is believed that he was William Turner, the brother of Edward Turner who was a chemistry professor at Cambridge. But because next to nothing is known about this man, he leaves much to the imagination. And that, coupled with the amazing story of the portrait, became the foundation for my novel, In Byron’s Shadow.

Nicholas Price is a young, aspiring poet obsessed with Lord Byron. He is heir to his father’s title and estate, and when he meets Ada Byron on his twenty-first birthday, he is determined to marry her, whatever the cost. But because her mother disapproves of his devotion to Byron, he disguises himself as a shorthand tutor named William Turner. And while we all know that their intended elopement doesn’t work out, this is where In Byron’s Shadow really begins, and the portrait of Byron plays an integral part.

During and after the writing of this novel, I fantasized about having that portrait on the cover. It truly is stunning, and because it is an important plot point, I knew it would be perfect. When the book was finished and ready to go, I went about finding the rights to the portrait. It turns out the Government Art Collection in London owns the portrait, and they were kind enough to grant me a license for the image. Then my good friend, writer and graphic artist T.K. Toppin, whipped up a lovely design to integrate with it. I’m thrilled to have this as my cover, because as you read about this famous portrait, you’ll be able to see exactly what I’m talking about.

If you’re interested in Ada Byron, I highly encourage the biography by Benjamin Woolley. Ada truly does have a claim to fame entirely separate from being Byron’s daughter; she’s credited with being one of the first “computer programmers” because of her work with Charles Babbage and his Analytical Machine. And nothing passes the time like a good Byron biography; my favorite is Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame by Benita Eisler.

Thanks for listening. I’m really happy to be here at Romantic Poets Anonymous, and I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Interview with Jude Johnson

Sure, you’ve heard of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Tombstone and the O.K. Corral, but chances are you haven’t heard of a little town in Southern Arizona called Bisbee, or given much thought to the miners in the area who risked their lives on a daily basis. And I’ll bet you didn’t know that some of those miners were Welsh.

Let me direct you to a delightful serving of Southwestern history as seen through the eyes of three Welsh brothers in the Arizona Territory in the nineteenth century. In Dragon and Hawk by Jude Johnson, Dylan, Evan and Huw Jones are miners who just want to go home. To make their fortunes, they try everything from robbing trains, bounty hunting and card-sharking. But when Evan is blindsided by love, everything changes, and nothing will stop him from finding the mysterious woman known as The Señora, a Native American healer whose totem is the hawk. But according to her legends, Hawk’s greatest enemy is Dragon, and when Evan Jones, the Red Dragon of Wales, comes to her for healing, her first impulse is to run. But her heart has other ideas.

I’ve invited Jude over for a little Q&A and some tea to tell us about her book which comes alive in historical detail. I even had the pleasure of meeting her in person a couple of months ago as she makes her home in Tucson, and I’m in Phoenix, just a 90-minute drive. I’m proud and delighted to call her not just a fellow Champagne writer, but a friend.

Thanks for coming over, Jude! From one Anglophile to another, I very much enjoyed the departure your novel takes from a typical western with all of the Welsh influence. Are you Welsh yourself?

Firstly, thank you for such kind words and inviting me to tea! It was great fun to meet you, too, and I think we should get into some major mischief at a conference sometime. I usually make it to Phoenix in less than 90 minutes now that the photo radar’s down. (wink wink)

And nope, I have not a bit of Welsh heritage. Scots-Irish, Dutch, Norwegian, French, Swede, Mexican, Mayan, and Spanish—but no Welsh. I seem to have an affinity for the language though, and when I was in Wales, in Caerphilly I had such an incredible sense of déjà vu that I knew exactly what I would see as I rounded a corner and climbed hills. And everything was indeed, just as I thought—down to a stunted tree on the side of a valley with a stream running smack down the center. I was shaking by the end of that day, totally weirded out. So I must have been a Cymraes (Welsh woman) in a previous life.

How did Welshmen end up in Arizona mines?

They were actively recruited in the late 1870s and 1880s from Wales and Pennsylvania by Ben and Lewis Williams, Bisbee’s Copper Queen Mine Managers—whose father was a metallurgist from Swansea, Wales. Ben Williams convinced about 300 Welsh and Cornish miners to come to Bisbee to assay the Copper Queen, map the mineral lodes, and set up more efficient smelters. They were treated fairly well for the time period, especially compared to the Irish, Mexican, and Slavs, but mining was extremely dangerous and nasty work for everyone involved. Most of these Welshmen remained in Cochise and Pima Counties even if they did get out of mining. But they never formed Welsh communities like back East. They melded into the fabric of the Territory so well that few people knew they were Welsh.

Like The Señora, your grandmother was a native healer. What experiences did she have that you drew from for the story?

“Nana Pinky”—and I have no idea where that name came from, my family called her that—had interactions with Apache that were family legend I’d heard from childhood (supposedly she’d met both Cochise and Geronimo, but I have no documented verification). I’m not sure if she trained as a healer with the Apache specifically, but she definitely incorporated many of their traditions into her medicines. And evidently she’d had some medical training in Mexico as a young woman. The one photo my mom had of her showed a stern woman with upright carriage, thick white hair braided and wound about her head, and cheekbones that would cut steel. Unfortunately, she died at age ninety-five or six in 1960, so I never met her. My mom told me she often helped Nana with her concoctions using mesquite, creosote, and palo verde bark. Those “noxious syrups” Nana made her drink every day growing up “to strengthen the blood” must have worked—my mom rarely ever got sick for her remainder of her life.

Your story is filled with typical Arizona creepy-crawlies, and I know your house in Tucson is pretty much situated in the uncontained desert. What’s your best (or worst) creepy-crawly experience?

You don’t like spiders and snakes, if I recall correctly. Let’s see…best would be the Gila Monster. “Bob” hangs out by our garage and appears to eat quail eggs and hatchlings about every other year. I’m sure he comes out more often but we don’t get to see him. For readers who don’t know, Gila Monsters are one of only two venomous lizards in the world. (The other is the Mexican Beaded Lizard which is mostly found in…surprise! Mexico.) Gila Monsters are incredibly beautiful black and salmon-orange beaded-looking beasts, way bigger than the Geico Gecko, and move like Godzilla rampaging through Tokyo: much hissing and foot stomping. (You can hear how one sounds: They are so slow you practically have to help them bite you. Their venom isn’t fatal to humans but I would never chance handling Bob; pain is something I prefer to give than receive. He’s exceptionally cool to watch when he’s trying to scare you though!

Worst: Freakin’ bark scorpions. Itty bitty little almost clear-colored nasty scorpions that hide in firewood that someone (we won’t mention names but it begins with hus and ends with band) forgets to bang on the concrete before bringing it into the house. Damn things blend into the carpet. Last time I was stung on my toe, the entire side of my leg went numb for about two weeks. Anything that eats scorpions is welcome in my house.

Most writers start out as pretty imaginative kids. What kind of games or make-believe did you partake in that planted the seeds for the writer you would later become?

Before I started school, I had an imaginary horse named Shiner who had wings like Pegasus and magical powers to shrink and slip down the bathtub drain. As I got older, I climbed trees and pretended to scout for Washington in the French and Indian War, or imagined I was in the crow’s nest of a tall ship far out at sea. And yes, I fell out more than once! (Explains a few things, doesn’t it?) Mostly I read everything I could get my hands on, stepping into a different life in each book. I frustrated my grade school librarian to no end by reading every book in the entire library by the end of fifth grade, and parking my butt at her door on the days new books arrived.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Don’t laugh, but I didn’t think about it seriously until I hit forty. I’d always done fairly well with papers and essays and such, but never, ever considered letting anyone read stories I’d composed. When I had my son I read to him every single night before bed, and as an extra treat I’d compose a story on the fly. When I became involved with a group of friends on an Internet forum, a number of them dared me to write a Western. I never could resist a double dog dare…

I know Champagne Books recently contracted the sequel to Dragon & Hawk. What is that one called, and when is it scheduled for release? Are there any more sequels to come?

Book Two is called Rage of Firebirds and picks up the Jones saga in 1886. So far it’s set for release in April of 2012 (I’m hoping they’ll bump that up). Champagne also just contracted Book Three: Blood of a Dragon, set in 1904 Tucson, with a release date in fall 2012. I haven’t started writing Book Four yet, but it’s percolating at the back of my brain and I’ve started research. My initial intention is a total of five books to end the story in 1917.

Tell us about your short story that’s coming out in July.

Within The Mists tells a tale of an arrogant lieutenant in Nelson’s Navy on his way home from the Battle of Cape St. Vincent when he’s blown overboard in a violent storm. He’s rescued by a beautiful selchie and taken to a mysterious island within the mists where of all sorts of magical folk find haven. Based on the Celtic legend of people who walk the land as humans but become seals in the sea, it also incorporates some of my guilty pleasure addiction to stories of the British Navy a la Hornblower, Master and Commander, and The King’s Coat.

What are you working on right now?

I’m trying to do two things at once—typical Gemini! I’m working on compiling my research on the Welshmen who influenced Southern Arizona into a nonfiction resource. I’m hoping to get it together in time for the 2011 West Coast Eisteddfod, a Festival of all things Welsh ( ) where I’m giving a presentation in LA this September.[I also get to help judge the Tom Jones Panty-Throw and Welsh Male National Costume Contests! Woot!]

And I’ve begin a new book set in Revolutionary War America, loosely based on a friend’s distant relative’s true story. He was pressed into the British Navy and jumped ship in Boston Harbor, hid out in the woods and a cranberry bog, nearly froze to death and was rescued by a young farm girl whom he later married. He became a prominent citizen of Braintree—now Quincy—Massachusetts. I’ve been reading Ben Franklin’s more bawdy writings and a couple of wonderful treatises on Colonial history to get a good feel for the period. My friend has supplied me with all the ancestral information, so I’m just about ready to submerge myself into nonstop writing.

Thanks for stopping by, Jude! Let us know where we can find you and your book on the web.

It was my pleasure! Let’s meet again soon for tea—or a pint down at the pub!
Of course my book is available through Champagne Books:
As well as Amazon and Amazon UK (just search for “Jude Johnson”)
And I’m “chuffed to little meatballs” that Dragon & Hawk is still #1 on Fictionwise’s historical fiction list!

My website is, and you can view the trailer for Dragon & Hawk on YouTube here:
My Blog:
Facebook Page:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

New Release

In Byron's Shadow, a historical romance, is now for sale on Amazon! Check it out:

At the age of twenty-one, Nicholas Price has the world at his feet. He has just graduated from Oxford, he is heir to his father's title and fortune, and he is about to meet Ada Byron, the daughter of his idol Lord Byron. His life falls apart, however, when an attempted elopement with Ada ends in disaster, resulting in his disinheritance. Destitute, he takes up residency in his mother's country estate, which is on the brink of ruin.

Ten years later, now a cynical misanthrope, Nicholas receives a visit from Catherine O'Reilly. Catherine once assisted Nicholas in obtaining access to Ada, and as she has also been cast out by her father, she has come to Nicholas for shelter. Catherine has been raped and is pregnant, but refuses to name her rapist. Nicholas agrees to take her on as a maid, but focuses all of his attention on winning Ada back. It is his eccentric brother James who can see through the submissive servant to the fiery, passionate woman within.

When more encounters with Ada end badly, it is Catherine who opens Nicholas's eyes to see how far he has taken his obsession with Byron. It is also she who helps him nurture his poetry, and to see the blessings around him in spite of his financial ruin. Soon Nicholas cannot resist falling into a love triangle involving Catherine and James, all of them unaware that the secret Catherine is harboring is about to shatter the fragile world Nicholas has managed to forge.

Thanks to my wonderful friend TK Toppin for a fabulous cover design!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Amazon vs. Champagne covers

If you're thinking about buying Shadow Fox in print, consider ordering it from Champagne rather than Amazon. The Amazon cover I just received has a black border around the cover art, and it is not even centered. The cover art on the back is completely missing.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Novel of the Year

(Originally posted on the Writer's Vineyard)

Getting my first book published last year was literally a dream come true. There wasn't a day since I was 12 that I didn't wish for it. When it finally happened I didn't think there was anything that could top it; I had what I wanted most in the world, so what was left to ask for? When I was notified earlier this year that Champagne Books had nominated it for Novel of the Year for 2010, I actually had a moment of feeling guilty, like I'd taken advantage of the universe. That faded fast -- such things do -- and instead I relished the honor of being nominated. And like all nominees say, I told myself that being nominated would be enough.

At the beginning of our Awards Ceremony via instant chat on Coffeetime Romance, I misread the first category. If you've never attended a live chat, it is pure chaos; we had 10 or 15 people all typing at the same time, and the information flies by like bullets. It's really no wonder I thought the first award was for Novel of the Year; somehow I'd missed it was Best-Selling Novel of the Year. While I was genuinely happy for Nan Arnold, whose novel Pesto Packin' Mama sold the most copies for 2010 (also nominated for Novel of the Year which only added to my confusion), I realized what a bunch of horseshit all of that "I'm just happy to be nominated!" is. I was surprised at how disappointed I felt. Almost in the same breath, I found instant relief in knowing I was among good company: TK Toppin, Ciara Gold, Michael Davis, and KM Tolan are all fantastic storytellers not to mention wonderful friends, and I thought, well, at least we can all commiserate together. I was already planning my post-losing email to TK -- hey, let's get drunk together, my friend! Who needs that award anyway? I then went on to make a fool out of myself by joking about not winning; my fellow attendees must have thought, geez, lady, you want to win everything??

Needless to say, I was pretty astonished when I discovered my category was still coming up -- saved for last. Excited and then wary -- I faced the distinct possibility of losing (in my mind, anyway) twice. But I didn't. I was hoping to win, obviously, but I really didn't think I would. Shadow Fox is pretty dark with a lot of edginess. And I had read some of the competition and didn't think I really stood a chance. So it was truly shocking -- and delightful -- when I realized I had won. And while that was a spectacular feeling, I also felt terrible that I'd let down my fellow nominees. After all, I'd had several minutes in which I wallowed in misery with them, and even though it was only my own perception (and dumb mistake), I still felt like I had played a trick on them. Psych! I'm actually going to abandon you and accept this lovely trophy (which just arrived in the mail yesterday) and plaster pictures of it all over Facebook. And, essentially, I did exactly that.

So while I'm flaunting my award, which I will not give back for the world, I also want to tell TK, Ciara, Big Mike and Kerry that I won't take this award for granted, and that I was truly honored to be in their company. (Nan, you too, of course, but you sold a buttload of copies so I know you'll be fine!) We always support each other and cheer each other on, but we've never really had to compete before (at least I haven't). It sounds like a trite, insincere cliche for me to say I wish I could share it with all of you, but I really wish I could. Especially since I'm the new upstart on the block and you guys have shown me the ropes. You can all say you didn't need to win, that's okay, I deserved it, blah, blah, blah -- but I thought I lost for a while, remember? I expected to say, oh, well, I didn't win. Instead I said, "Oh f***. I didn't win." So you can't fool me.

To the Higher Powers at Champagne: I am deeply honored. I shall try to make you all proud. Again, I feel like I'm taunting God or the universe or what you will -- in September I'll have three books published, I've been taken in by a new family, and I just won this incredible reward. Surely that's enough! Right?

I won't mention that Shadow Fox's two sequels have release dates in 2011. *ducks behind shield to avoid rotten vegetables* That would never even cross my mind.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Interview with TK Toppin

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of reading a futuristic science-fiction adventure. There are few science-fiction tales that I can say I have enjoyed, and I'm pleased to report that this is one of them. Sci-fi stories, in my experience, tend to be on the cold, technical side. A lot of gadgets, formulas, wormholes, and robots that often miss an essential ingredient: heart. While The Lancaster Rule flaunts clever inventions, it also, in its feisty and stubborn heroine Josie, has plenty of heart. This is not to say that the story is in any way maudlin or sappy; quite the opposite. There are political coups, assassinations involving people cut in half, betrayals and passion. Josie may have been asleep for 300 years, but don't make the mistake of assuming she'd prefer to sleep through life now. This woman is awake, and ready to shake up our world's future with brazen language and sauciness.

The Lancaster Rule is the first novel of a trilogy published by Champagne Books, and is deservedly nominated for Best of Novel of 2010 by Champagne. I've found the series's author TK Toppin to be as fascinating as her story -- she makes her home in Barbados and is a very talented graphic artist as well as writer -- and she has honored my blog with an interview.

Hi, TK! Thanks for joining me and answering some questions. I recently finished your wonderful sci-fi adventure The Lancaster Rule. I found it wonderfully imaginative, and the future you envisioned felt real and entirely possible. Were you inspired by anything in particular when coming up with ideas for futuristic devices, technology and culture?

Really? Wow, thanks for that. I tried really hard to imagine what it would be like for my main character to step into the future and see things as she would—things that are everyday and normal for those living in it, but completely foreign to my protagonist. But I didn’t want it too far-fetched, because when you really think about it, 300 years into the future isn’t that great a gap. And after a couple of devastating world wars it tends to put a damper on things progressing. So, it was like imaging you went to school after missing a couple of months or so and all the other classmates know what’s going on in class and you have to catch up or else look like an ignoramus. It was also really fun to create all these new stuffs, like gadgets and weapons and such. I tried, also, not to make them too much like what we would normally see on TV or in the movies. Of course, the ‘krima-stick’ is something like a modified light sabre! Basically, I wanted to make these new things believable and realistic…without going too far into the ‘yeah-right, that would never happen’ line of thinking.

The name Lancaster is the first thing that snagged my attention about your book. While it wasn’t about the War of the Roses as I guessed, it is about warring factions. Were the Yorks and the Lancasters in your mind at all when you chose the name for the future’s dictator?

You know what? I’d never even heard about the Yorks or Lancasters until after I wrote the book and people wanted to know what the title was and told me. That’s how bad I am at history. Then I had to Google it and thought: “Holy (enter expletive here) crap! What have I done?” But by then, I didn’t want to either change the name or the story. I chose Lancaster because I like the name. I went to school with a girl named Lancaster and I always thought the name was very classy and different. (The credit of the title goes to a good friend, Jess. After all, I was all ready to call it Time Flies or some such droll title).

So…if you have no objection, I’m going to out you as a woman. I really can’t resist it, because, let’s face it, there isn’t much sci-fi out there penned by females. Do you have any idea why there is this general belief that sci-fi is a men’s game? (You’ve proven effortlessly, by the way, that that is not the case.) And did you choose the author name of TK Toppin purposefully to maintain gender ambiguity?

Where to start. It might be because most people think SF is riddled with very ‘manly’ stuff like conquering new worlds, the impressive hardware they use (weapons), all the tech-talk, the space ships, blah, blah, blah. But lately, I’m seeing more and more women who are getting in to it, reading it, spinning amazing tales, etc., and they make my humble little book look like a toddlers first attempts at learning joined up words. In my opinion, in real life, most men and women sort of think the same, even though we pretend we don’t. And when there’s important things at stake, like say your life, the people you care about, your home…we generally tend to react the same way. Instinctively, we want to defend ourselves, protect our loved ones, so on and so forth. Not only that, we tend to think and react the same way when it comes to relationships. The only difference is that one has an outty and the other has an inny. Anyway, so why can’t a woman be put in the same position—story-wise—as that of a man? And why can’t her story be just as adventurous and filled with action? When I began writing, I knew I wanted to write a science fiction or a future fiction story because I like those things. Adventure, action, unbelievably real characters…that feeling you’ve entered in to an epic new world. Who doesn’t, right? I didn’t set about trying to make a point, only that that was the story I wanted to write and it just happened to fall into a rather selective genre where the gender lines are rather defined. I’m glad to see they aren’t so clear-cut now, and all sorts of sub-genres are sprouting out, like SFR (science fiction romance), and Space Opera. I chose TK Toppin not really to disguise my gender, but more out of ease. It’s my real name in initials. My real name is a right old fashioned tongue twister!

Your heroine, Josie, is an artist, and in my nosy inquires, I have discovered that you too are an artist. Are you also feisty, foul-mouthed, and completely stubborn? I mean that in the most affectionate way possible.

Haha! Absolutely!! Not sure about the feisty, as I’d just as easily turn tail or bow down under pressure and opt for a good ole boulder to hide under. I’m not one for confrontations because it’s just easier to walk away—preferably unscathed. That, however, doesn’t mean I secretly want to bludgeon the ‘confronter’ to a messy pulp. But foul-mouthed and stubborn…don’t let me start. And yes, I’m an artist as well. I incorporated into Josie some aspects of my life since I repeatedly heard that you write best about what you know about. I know arty stuff. So, why not make her an artist (that was the easiest part to write about). I also know how to cuss and make a fuss, so…

You didn’t shy away from the causalities of warfare. People get sliced in half, Josie gets her ass kicked multiple times…did you find that penning some of the more gruesome details was a bit cathartic?

Well, not sure about it being cathartic…but it was somewhat of a release of sorts. A realistic approach. In war, they are casualties—it’s unavoidable. And it’s messy. No one ever gets stabbed or hacked without some amount blood loss. Explosions don’t look pretty and bits and pieces of organic matter make a lovely mess and get into everything. And lets not talk about the smell. I’ve never been in a war, never want to, never hope to even accidentally fall into one. But looking through news reports, photographs, accounts of survivors, you can’t help but wonder what it must have been like for them—the gruesome realism of it all that it becomes surreal. It’s a sort of conditioning that you have to live through in order to survive, to get from one point to the next, one day to the next. I knew from the beginning, that if I was going to write about a ‘war’ or confrontation, that I wouldn’t pretty it up. Nor ignore the fact that people can cause great harm towards each other, intentionally or unintentionally. When our instinct to survive kicks in, there’s no telling what kind of damage we can unleash.

Early on in the book, you switch from third-person narration to first-person, and Josie is the only character who tells the story in her own words. I was surprised when you also told the story from Josie’s point of view in third person. So fess up: what was your objective with these shifts in POV, especially for Josie herself?

It just sort of happened that way. I remember I read a few books like that, I thought the different POVs were great in the story-telling. I didn’t plan of doing it, as I’d planned on having it strictly from Josie’s POV in first-person. But then, it sort of limited the range in the storytelling, especially in the scenes where Josie isn’t even around. And as the characters took off, I changed it, since I wanted to get into the other character’s heads, get the complete story from different angles. Maybe it was a bit of a great leap for someone just starting out into the written world. I made a few oops’s, bit I’m learning. And there’s still so much more to learn! Someone who read it said that they loved how I switched it around because it gave you some time in each of their heads. Others sort of liked it but weren’t fussed. There was only one person who didn’t like it at all, the POV shifts, even though they loved the story. Can’t please everyone, can you?

Your passion for martial arts is very apparent in your novel. Care to tell us anything about that?

I’m the most physically lazy person imaginable. My love of martial arts is purely visual and vicarious. That doesn’t mean I don’t understand it, appreciate it, or would love to be able to do it. But I’m a realist; I know my limitations—and my threshold for pain.

Now for the ubiquitous question: What inspired you to become a writer, and what, specifically, inspired The Lancaster Rule? How long did it take to get it published?

I always wanted to write something. I always did write something. I also doodle lots so I’m thinking it’s like an extension of sorts that goes hand in hand—from cartoon characters with dialogue boxes to conjuring up a verse for a personalized greeting card. I also wanted one day to write a really exciting story, filled with everything I love to read about. Action, adventure, amazing characters… Then I read a truly horrible book and thought, I could do better. And then it started to bug me that this book, that put me to sleep more times than I managed to get through a single chapter, actually got published.

After I wrote The Lancaster Rule, well, during the writing, I knew that there was more to tell, so the subsequent sequels were birthed. The getting to the publisher story is your typical long and lengthy ordeal that began with seeking out agents (and getting those gracious ‘no thanks’) to eventually scouring the list for potential publishers. The idea of electronic books piqued my interest. I’d not really heard much about them, and living in Barbados has its drawbacks. I’d just finished reading a marketing book about the ‘long tail curve’ in sales/marketing/interests and how more and more people are gravitating towards the electronics products, from music to books, rather than the traditional since their ‘shelf life’ is longer. It got my interest immediately, so I researched some established and well-respected indie publishers that did both electronic and print, and was super-lucky to have been accepted by Champagne Books.

Is The Lancaster Rule your first published novel? When are the two sequels scheduled to release? What are you working on now?

It most definitely is my first published book. The sequel, The Master Key, is due out for July of this year. The final, The Eternal Knot, is at the publisher’s and I am awaiting their decision.

Congratulations on LR’s well-deserved nomination by Champagne Books for Novel of the Year for 2010. Did you scream when you heard the news? (Not that I would have any experience with that.)

Thank you. Haha! I didn’t scream else hubby would’ve jumped up screaming himself, but I did re-read the email I got from our publisher a few times. It didn’t help that I was in bed checking it via my trusty little iPod and it was fairly late, so I wasn’t even sure if I saw it correctly. I really couldn’t believe it, or that the book was THAT impressive enough to be even considered. I must’ve have done something right…though, I’m still trying to figure out what it is. When I saw the other books listed, I thought: “Yeh, right! I don’t stand a chance, not with them in the running!” Despite the outcome, I’m just very grateful and still a bit in awe that I was even considered to be in the running.

What is the strangest question or comment you’ve received from a reader?

Thankfully, none yet.

I peeked on the web and found your blog at Is this the best place to find you and information on your books on the web?

Yes it is.

I just want to add, thanks Ashley for having me. It’s been a pleasure and I hope the release of your sequel, Fox Rising, this month is doing well!

Thanks, TK! It was my pleasure to host you.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fantasy Faction

So I'm very thrilled to announce my appointment as a regular staff writer for Fantasy Faction, a fantasy forum and ezine that is a terrific resource and community hangout for fans of the genre. Marc, aka the Overlord, is one of the nicest people I've had the pleasure of running into on the web, and has graciously invited me to post a monthly article on writing fantasy and the genre in general.

I encourage you to check out the website; it's very professional. After weeks of scouring the web to find a good fantasy hangout, I can easily say this is the best one I have come across. And not just because they like me.

I'm getting started on my first article right away, and in the meantime, check it out. There's reviews, discussions, a book club, and all the latest news in fantasy.