10 Questions With Author A.L. King

After a brief August hiatus, we’re baaaaaaaack! Did you think we forgot? Impossible. (But summertime was calling, and we simply had to answer.)

Cue the trumpets! This one was worth the wait - our author interview series continues today with Alexander (A.L.) King.

The horror, mystery, and suspense author provides a perfect segue to Fall…and on Friday the 13th no less. Mr. King is a force. We promise that after you read his answers to our ten questions you’ll find yourself reinvigorated to look at your own writing (and writing goals) in a whole new light. We certainly did!

As an added bonus for our readers, Mr. King has dished up a lovely plate of “Scraps” - a captivating tale that is sure to give you…paws. ;) You’ll find it at the end of this interview.

Author A.L. King

Author A.L. King

The Celestial Thread: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

A.L. King: According to my parents, I came to them and told them that I wanted to be a writer when I was four years old. My dad quotes me as saying, “I want to be the world’s greatest horror writer.” They were immediately supportive of my creative ambitions, as was everyone else I told over the years, including friends and teachers.

It wasn’t until I got older that I started to wonder what made me choose this path before I could even read. I’m pretty sure it was a TV special about Stephen King. Watching it is one of my earliest memories. I recall seeing covers of his books onscreen, and footage of him signing them for people. The narrator of the show was talking about how scary his novels were, but everyone they interviewed seemed so happy about his work. Maybe I fell in love with that contradiction.

Most importantly, his writing translated into something respectable, noble even. I’m not sure how something like that caught my attention at such a young age, but it did. I think the same day I saw that special on television was likely the day I announced my dream to be a writer.

TCT: What do you see as the greatest influences on your writing?

ALK: As noted, Stephen King—or more accurately, the idea of him—got me interested in the art of the macabre. But I had to work my way up to reading his work.

It was frustrating, knowing I wanted to write but not being able to read just yet. My brother and sister had copies of the Alvin Schwartz series Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I begged and bothered anyone who could read to recite them to me. I would also flip through the books constantly, attracted to the grisly illustrations by Stephen Gammell.

The first chapter book I read for myself was a Goosebumps book. I still get goosebumps (you see what I did there?) when I think about the moment everything clicked. I was in the first grade, in the back of my parents’ car, travelling somewhere with a book open, frustratedly trying to make sense of it. Then suddenly—words turned into sentences, the sentences into paragraphs, and the paragraphs into pages. From that point on, I dedicated myself to reading. Many kids couldn’t wait until the school year ended so they didn’t have to read. For me, I proudly counted the number of books I could finish during summer breaks.

I abbreviated my name from Alexander Lloyd King to A.L. King so it wasn’t such a stretch for book covers, but I’m glad I did it. Somewhat of a pen name, it is true to who I am while serving as an homage to R.L. Stine and Stephen King, two of my earliest influences.

Edgar Allan Poe caught my attention in middle school, and Chuck Palahniuk in high school. More recently, I have been exploring the horror manga of Junji Ito. His ability to take a simple or absurd premise and grant it a surprising and often beautiful depth is something I admire. That inspiration has been an awakening of sorts. No matter how strange an idea, I’m not afraid to explore it. I’ve found that it’s necessary for me to go back and forth between the serious and absurd. That balance is life, whether we like it or not.

TCT: If you could be a character from a book for a day, who would it be and why? 

ALK: Christian Grey.

Just kidding. I’ve never read the 50 Shades series, and I don’t plan on doing so soon, but I’m not going to mock the author or those who enjoy the books. They got people reading, and that’s what matters!

To answer this question seriously, I had to look at my bookshelf. Darkly Dreaming Dexter immediately stood out to me. For those who have not read the book, the smash hit Showtime series that ran for eight seasons is based on the title character, Dexter Morgan. Yes, I realize that he is a serial killer who preys on killers, but just hear me out!

As an avid fan of horror and most all things macabre, I often feel as he does, like an outsider. Gleaning some insight into the mind of Dexter Morgan might teach me a thing or two about compartmentalizing the more extreme aspects of my interests. Also, ideas are constantly bouncing around in my head like particles in an electron cloud. Maybe understanding the focus and attention to detail he possesses would allow me to get even more done with my writing.

At the very least, being Dexter for a day might be a cathartic experience...

TCT: What do you think makes a good story?

ALK: Logic.

It may seem a contradiction that logic and creativity play such a large part in the writing process, especially when exploring the supernatural, but the two things complement each other like yin and yang. Fiction is a fabrication, but every work of fiction exists within its own world. For that world to feel real enough to hit the reader with the emotional or intellectual effect you intend, there must be boundaries. Or rules. Sometimes those confines are spelled out solely in the work, but they should often share a stage with reality.

It may be obsessive, but I’m constantly putting details of my story through a test. I call it the police test. Most of us do this, especially when we’re watching bad suspense movies. We ask ourselves why a character didn’t simply call up the police and instead subjected themselves and maybe countless others to further hell. When the answer is, “Because it’s a movie,” or “Because it was good for the plot,” then it fails the police test. It’s lazy writing. Usually about that time the audience is jarred and recalls that they are absorbing fiction, or they stop caring for the characters.

There are of course several self-aware films that used these writing tropes to their creative advantage. While Scream was groundbreaking, The Cabin in the Woods is my favorite example. For those who haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil the film. But I will say as a fan of supernatural slashers (no matter how illogical they are) that the explanation it delivers for the repetitive nature of such movies is nothing less than genius.

Good writing is like being that annoying kid who keeps asking, “Why?” If writers leave no stone unturned, then something magical happens. That’s why I’m not a fan of gaudy symbolism, but that’s a subject for another time.

TCT: You write a lot of horror, what (if anything) scares you?

ALK: When it comes to ghosts, zombies, vampires, etc., what truly scares me is the thought that those things don’t exist. At least that’s how I feel, and I think many people secretly feel the same. Life can box us in, and we’d like for something—even something of supernatural ilk—to come along and shatter those boring perimeters. When we’re young, we fear the things underneath our beds. As we get older, I think we’re more afraid that nothing’s there.

Or maybe I’m just a weirdo.

TCT: If you had to choose, what author (living or not-so-living) would you consider a mentor?

ALK: I touched on Stephen King and my other mentors, primarily from the horror genre. While they are still influential to me, I am at somewhat of a rebellious phase in my writing. I’m trying new things. I’m consistent in that I’m always thinking about something creative, but I’m also letting my inspirations lead me any way the wind blows. Chances need to be taken at this point.

That revelation has been incredibly important and allowed me to pursue my dreams unlike any time before. In the past, I was always so concerned with the notion of leaving behind this perfect body of work, being remembered and revered long after I’m gone—seeming almost as supernatural as the things I write about.

Then it hit me. I’m never going to get to a point where I can write full time or explore my more profound ideas if I don’t start getting published. I have to start paving my own way, wherever it eventually leads. If I’m lucky, some of my works will be studied in literature classes. If I’m even luckier, the one about the guy who has a heart attack on the crapper (The Golden Hour, published in the anthology The Toilet Zone by Hellbound Books this year), or the story about a mysterious force that shows up while women are babysitting and kills the kids by literally sitting on them (The Baby Sitter, still waiting to hear back on it), will still be recalled fondly for their entertainment value.

Only time will tell if I reach that point, but seeing that I’ve had upward of ten stories accepted by various publishers during the sixth months I’ve been pushing my writing, I’d say I have a great start.

TCT: You wrote a very sweet children’s book, Leif’s First Fall. Where did the inspiration for the story come from?

ALK: I’ll be utterly honest. At the time I developed the concept, I had a fear of hair loss. I was driving along one day, looking at the fall leaves, and I started wondering what a young tree might think were it sentient enough to understand that it was essentially balding. I considered all the comical things it might do to hide its thinning top.

With that seed of an idea in mind (yeah, I know I’m one for bad puns), I contacted Jeremy Gordon, a talented artist friend from college. He was immediately onboard with the idea. The next step was drafting a poem and sending it to him. He based the illustrations on the poem, we shopped it back and forth on Facebook, and then I self-published it.

Although I’m inclined to write darker genres, I will say that it makes me incredibly happy when friends, family, and locals who have purchased the book describe how much their kids enjoy it. That means as much to me as the positive feedback on any other work, if not more because it’s so different from my norm. I think any time you have the chance to reach young people creatively, as children’s books like Rainbow Fish (gifted to me by my Aunt Terri) and The Berenstain Bears (discovered at school) did for me, you’ve done something amazing. You’ve gotten them interested in reading, maybe even the arts.

Leif’s First Fall also includes a great moral message that we all go through changes. That’s the universal thing that bonds us. I think I needed to work through that at the time. Although I still have a decent head of hair (or so I think), writing that story helped me exorcise those fears of balding.

As REO Speedwagon said, “roll with the changes.”

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

ALK: I read, watch horror films almost religiously, and enjoy spending time with friends and family. I moved next door to my parents, so in the evenings I like to visit and drink a few beers with them. That’s what I’m doing as I type this.

My dog Buddy makes sure I walk him every night, and he never fails to keep me lively while I’m writing. Sometimes walking him—or just stepping away to make sure he’s not getting into stuff—allows me the space I need to work my stories around the previously mentioned police test.

For an income, I work at my parents’ furniture store. Although my goal is to be writing full time within the next few years, I enjoy the job and believe that the physical labor involved allows my mind a much-needed rest before it’s time to hit the creative grindstone again.

I’m also on city council and a few local boards, so my writing keeps me busy on top of everything else, especially since I’ve started putting in so many hours.

TCT: Does music play a role in your writing? What’s your favorite artist/album?

ALK: Music absolutely plays a role. I have trouble reading when music with lyrics is playing. But when I’m writing, I love listening to music with lyrics. I guess it just depends on the flow. There’s a difference. Like input and output.

I listen to atmospheric stuff, jazz, chill-out mixes, occasionally hip-hop, classic rock, psychedelic rock, screamo, and sometimes folksy sounding stuff like The Devil Makes Three or The Dead South. I also recently discovered the unique trio known as Red Hearse, which includes Jack Antonoff of Fun.

As for my favorite band to listen to when I’m writing something dark, I would have to say Brand New. Their 2017 album Science Fiction is my favorite album. Lyrically and instrumentally, it really gets me in the zone.

I love music while writing, but there’s nothing like the feeling when you are so into your work that you aren’t sure how long ago it stopped playing.

TCT: Any current projects in the works?


ALK: Several!

I’ve had some success with a wonderful Australian publishing company, Black Hare Press (BHP). When I decided that I was going to push my writing career this year by submitting a total of sixty works to various publishers, I submitted a drabble to BHP. It was the first thing accepted in 2019, and it motivated me.

Since then, I have had multiple 100-word stories selected for their drabble anthologies. In addition, two longer works will be coming out in their collections (Abduction, in Deep Space and The Carolers in Eerie Christmas). They have encouraged a wonderful writing community, and I’m proud to share the stage with talented authors in their books. My writing queue for the next few months is mostly related to their calls for submissions.

Pretty soon, I will devote some serious time to finishing some of the novels I’ve started. But for now, my goal is to have enough of my stories in print that a publisher can put out one hell of an A.L. King anthology… only after the story rights have reverted to me, of course.

Co-writing is another interest of mine and something I hope to explore soon. Just as approaching my craft as an actual job has improved my work, I believe collaboration will help to further expand my horizons.


Alexander Lloyd King (publishing as A.L. King) is an author of horror, fantasy, science fiction, and poetry. As a fan of dark subjects from an early age, his first influences included R.L. Stine, Edgar Allan Poe, and Stephen King. Later stylistic inspirations came from foreign horror films and media, particularly Japanese.

He is a graduate of West Liberty University in West Virginia, has dabbled in journalism, and is actively involved in his community. Although his creativity leans toward darker genres, he has even written a children’s book titled “Leif’s First Fall.”   

He was raised in the town of Sistersville, West Virginia, which he still proudly calls home.

Be sure to follow A.L. King on Facebook and stay up to date with his latest publishing news!

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Scraps

By A.L. King

The winter night came early, and Mrs. Flint sent Thaddeus home. 

“Your home,” she emphasized, as if worried he would burden another family with his presence before dusk had fully settled. It was obvious how nervous he made her, desiring to spend so much time with her son, Bertram. She would have felt even less at ease if she knew that Thad was not as interested in her pup as he was in collecting her family’s scraps.

Hanging his cloaked head, he walked the sidewalk of the gated community. Energy efficient streetlamps cast dim shadows around him. Both hands tucked in the pouch pocket of the only hooded sweater he owned (he’d worn it out of a secondhand store just days before coldness took clutch of southern West Virginia), Thad fingered his latest treasures: a can of Vienna sausages, a chicken leg from the bucket Mrs. Flint had purchased at the local deli, and a few strips of bacon sealed in a Ziploc bag. He felt bad for not swiping more, but he knew he had to be wary. If he got too greedy, if they caught him scouring their refrigerator and cabinets, all of his hard work might be for nothing.

In other towns, more generous families than the Flints often invited him to stay for dinner. When the meals concluded, some went a step further by packing up leftovers and sending them home to share with his family. “Don’t worry about bringing back the container,” one matriarch said. “I’ve got more Tupperware than my cabinets can hold. Tell your family we said welcome to the community.” Thad had liked getting in the good graces of those families. He also liked, on those rare occasions, being able to share a treat, something tastier than pilfered pasta packets and cans of uncooked beans, with his own family.

As far as he could tell, the Flints were not mean people. With a new pup—Bertram’s little sister, who would be one in January—they had to limit their generosity. Even if Mrs. Flint liked Thad, he was pretty sure they didn’t have the means to offer lavish dinners to him and his family. Life in the gated community was expensive, and bank statements he found while snooping through their house told him they were not long for that kind of living. 

Nearing the woods—he traveled them not just to avoid the community gatekeeper but also to get home—the boy of nearly thirteen took a breath of painfully cold air and sighed out a haunting mist. His visible exhalation danced like a ghost before him, an ethereal and ephemeral avatar of guilt. Then it suddenly dissolved, and all that remained in his path was the shadowy jungle leading home.

Home. His home. At least for the next few weeks. 

He crossed the street, pushed through a fractured section of gate, hunkered down, and began making his way through the lower, frost-tinged branches. It was like entering another world. Shrinking behind him was a suburban empire, built upon an intricate and cluttered evolution of nature; expanding in front of him, for miles and miles, was a persistent realm of society’s purer ancestry.

Thad walked deep into the woods, his head lifting steadily the farther he went, for the branches were no longer eye level. He looked at the high-rising trees and now felt good to be on his way home. He wondered what Mrs. Flint would think if she could see him walking, the pale sliver of a moon breaching leafless canopies to illuminate his new posture, a visceral shape stalking across the dirt above long-buried roots. 

He considered himself a missing link of sorts, although he was more than a defunct combination of human and animal. There was no compromise in his faculties. Only a switch. He could survive equally on either side, changing his properties with the ease of putting on or removing his sneakers. 

He picked up speed, leaping above and darting around foliage with predatory agility. Finally, he reached the cavernous opening framed by withering vines. This was their latest home, where they would remain until their business with the Flints was finished. Dropping his body into the likeness of a quadruped, he did a swift bear crawl into the den. His eyes were just beginning to adjust to the darkness when he heard his kin tearing and lapping at something. Miles away, the Flints were probably just now preparing for their family dinner; right there in the underground, Thad’s family had started their feast without him, devouring whatever prey had been unfortunate enough to make their acquaintance.

The boy—a missing link who could fit in with wolves and mankind—began stripping down. He removed his shoes, socks, pants, underpants, hooded sweater, and t-shirt and set them on a rocky shelf. From the sweater’s pouch he extracted and prepared his own bounty. With a few bacon strips in one hand, fistfuls of Vienna sausages in the other, and the chicken leg clenched between his teeth, Thad was ready to join the buffet. He lowered himself to the den floor and gingerly worked his way betwixt the members of his pack. Their fur and hot breath wrapped him in warmth. The scent of their feast flooded his nostrils. 

Venison! His favorite!

He dropped his slim pickings for whoever wanted them. He shared what he had and had what they shared. That was their way. Besides, even if he came home empty handed, no matter how much he hated disappointing his pack, he knew he would be forgiven. His work would pay off when the time came.

Diving into a splayed open deer carcass, he edged his teeth in sideways and tore off a piece of muscle. He could taste the youngness as he chewed, and he liked that. The younger meats were softer, not simply easier to eat but juicier. No fangs snapped his way, so he figured there must be enough for all of them: at least two young deer lying amongst them in the dark, or a young deer and its mother.

Thad possessed no memories of his biological mother and father. From what he’d been told, they took him on a stroll through the woods when he was four, and only he was found six months later, naked with paw prints all around him in the dirt, the location of his parents a mystery. 

During the next few years he was the subject of many tests, studies, and articles. At first he wanted to tear the doctors’ and journalists’ throats out—he only ever succeeded in biting off and swallowing the lobe of an unfortunate man’s ear—but it eventually dawned on him that he would never escape the four-walled cages they locked him in unless he played along. Language was not lost on him, so he learned to speak like them. He learned to listen, and to operate as a human.

Shortly after his seventh birthday, a couple finalized his adoption. Julian and Jill Cartwright took him to their home in the country. Thad liked that; he liked it a lot. Living there, he learned to pass between both worlds. By day he was a boy, working vigilantly at homeschooling studies; by night he was a hunter, sneaking out and into the timberlands.

He had returned from one of his hunting sessions and was preparing to use the spare key—which he’d fetched from under a fake rock—to let himself back into the Cartwright house. However, he stopped an inch shy of slipping the key into the lock when he heard a low rumbling behind him. It sounded like distant thunder. He turned away from the door, hoping a fresh rain would fall soon. Allowing the rain to wash the blood of rabbits from his naked body (he was always naked when he hunted) would be much simpler than risking a shower at this late hour.

But as he pivoted, he saw a series of silver glows. Eyes of predators far more ferocious than he could ever hope to be were staring at him from the tree line, reflecting the light of the front porch motion sensor. There was something familiar about those orbs, something almost familial. 

Thad shook with a mixture of fear and excitement, unsure which reaction was dominant. He could not move his feet, nor could he take his eyes from theirs. Their stares held more than the electric glow cast down at the lawn and into the first few feet of the tree line. They possessed a knowledge he felt was clawing to escape his own skin, a knowledge he wanted to set free. 

Those wise forms started forward, across the road and into the Cartwright’s lawn. They ambled up to him, not like wolves approaching a small and defenseless young boy but instead like young boys approaching a puppy apt to startle.

When the wolf at the forefront was so close that Thad could feel her breath on his hand (by then a fist so tightly balled it tried to consume the spare key) he wanted to run… whether he would make it two steps or even one. Then, perhaps sensing his rising adrenaline, the wolf lowered her head and rubbed it against his knuckles. She continued brushing against him affectionately. Her fur felt safe and warm, like home, and that was when Thad recalled just how he had survived in the woods for half a year after he and his parents went missing. These wolves had cared for him—they still cared!—and so they had returned for him. 

With this understanding, he did not fret when the entire pack surrounded him and began licking away the rabbit blood. Moments later, he used the spare key to open the door. Then he welcomed his furry family inside to meet the Cartwrights. 

Years later, on the outskirts of a gated community, having finished the venison, the wolves took to licking Thad once again. It was imperative that he be clean for when he returned to the Flint house tomorrow. The suburban family could not suspect him of violence. He still hadn’t figured out where they hid their spare key.




10 Questions With Author Dana Fraedrich

By the grace of Instagram, we connected with steampunk and fantasy author Dana Fraedrich several years ago. And recently we had the good fortune of meeting up with her in real life at the Printer's Row Lit Fest in Chicago. Dana is the real deal. She is a kind, intelligent, passionate, and hilarious human being; not to mention a dedicated and talented writer. We had such a great time hanging out with her at the lit fest - watching her work her magic, drawing readers of all walks of life into the steampunk genre - it was inspiring!

We're honored that Dana agreed to answer 10 questions for our author interview series. And guess what? She even went the extra mile and humored us by taking on a bonus question!

Read on, get to know Dana, and then fast track it to her social media channels and website to learn about her Broken Gears series, what she's writing now, books she's reading, and all the good stuff she's learning throughout her journey as a writer.

Author Dana Fraedrich

Author Dana Fraedrich

The Celestial Thread: What drew you to the Steampunk genre? Did a particular author influence you?

Dana Fraedrich: I always grew up seeing and hearing how things were put together. My mum is a seamstress and my dad is an engineer - readers can definitely see those influences in my books, lol. I've read a lot of classic literature, so I was aware of HG Wells and Jules Verne, but I don't think I really realized steampunk was a thing until my twenties. I was reading the Ketty Jay series by Chris Wooding while on vacation with my family when things clicked, and I immediately wanted to write in this genre. There's so much opportunity! But steampunk also requires such specific components to be steampunk, it also provides some really great structure.

TCT: How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time writer?

DF: About five years. I published my first and second books, Skateboards, Magic, and Shamrocks in 2012 and Heroes, Legends, and Villains in 2015 and did next to nothing regarding promotion. Those two books provided a massive learning opportunity for me as a writer and a business owner. We all just want to write and our books to sell themselves, but that's not how it works. Eventually, I realized I needed to give my promotion fears the middle finger and jump into the marketing world. I read, I tested, I learned, I tried new ideas. When the release of my first steampunk fantasy book, Out of the Shadows, came round I actually started posting pictures and working to get reviews and, you know, talking about it regularly. The hubs and I talked about me quitting my job and making a full-time go of this author thing for two years before I actually took the leap. In January of 2017, I did that thing. About 50% of my time goes into growing my business. I cannot recommend researching and planning and educating oneself before undertaking an endeavor like this. If you do, you'll probably avoid making a lot of the mistakes I did. You can check out my blog post about quitting my job here and the two-year review from this past January here.

TCT: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

DF: I think my parents reading to me and my sisters as children was a really impactful experience. My parents read to us every night before bed, and my older sister would come into our room and listen, which I think really shows how powerful stories are. And of course that introduced us all to new worlds and ideas.

TCT: How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

DF: I don't think it was so much publishing that changed my writing. Rather, I think it was being immersed in the writerly world. As I've gotten deeper into it, I've signed up for more newsletters (I highly recommend Reedsy, for instance, and the podcast Writing Excuses) and attended more writing workshops. I've heard some people say they don't bother reading articles on writing or going to classes for one reason or another. To be honest, I think that's a mistake. As writers, we should always be striving to improve. All professionals*, no matter what their field, should. If you're not filling at least some of your time with education, then I question what you are filling it with and how that's affecting your progression as a writer. If you don't have time to sit down and read, Audiobooks, Siri Speak, whatever the Cortana version of Siri Speak is, podcasts are all services that allow you to listen to educational content on the go.

*I realise some people may read the bit about professionals and think it doesn't apply to them because they're just publishing books as a hobby. Please don't do this. Indie/self-publishing has long had a reputation for not being serious, not being as good as traditionally published works, etc. It's come a long way and lots of people now view it as a legitimate avenue, but not taking the time and resources to do your books professionally hurts the rest of us. It's like Stephen King said in his book, On Writing: "But if you don't want to work your ass off, you have no business trying to write well—settle back into competency and be grateful you have even that much to fall back on."

TCT: How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?

DF: This is always really tricky. I lead a critique group for YA and MG writers, and every reader is different. Some are really good at inferring things from context and others like things spelled out more explicitly. I think this is where you really need to lean on your alpha readers, editor, and beta readers. If a majority of them are telling you the same thing, then you need to fix that bit. If it's about 50/50, though, consider the weight of that part. Is it just a little joke that only landed with some of your readers but not with others? Or is it a major plot piece that people really, really need to get? If the latter, then maybe you should provide your readers a bit more help.

TCT: How do you select the names for your characters?

DF: I use BabyNames.com for a lot of them. There's usually some trait about them I want to be represented in their name. I also use it to choose names of a certain origin. For instance, in between big projects I'm working on a collection of urban fantasy short stories, so the ifrit characters have Persian or other Middle Eastern names since ifrits are from Middle Eastern culture. Others are just random, though. Felicia and Lowell's names, for instance, are just some I plucked out of the ether.


TCT: In all the books you’ve written thus far, is there one scene that stands out that was the most difficult to write?

DF: I have a weirdness about timeslips. I think it's because I've read some books with timeslips that were so hard to follow, it really turned me off of them. Granted, I've read one or two that handled them well, but the rest have really tainted the whole concept for me. So imagine the tantrum I threw when my editor for Raven's Cry said, "I really think you need to move this bit at the beginning of Part 3 and make it a time slip." It was a whole thing. Emails back and forth, me verbally barfing on the people around me about how much I didn't want to it. Lots of wine was involved. And huffing. So much huffing. He was right, though. In the end I did it, and the book really is better for it.

TCT: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good or bad ones?

DF: I used to read them all, good and bad. I recommend doing this in small bites. Bad reviews can really send you into a downward spiral. Even if you have ninety-nine great reviews out of a hundred, that one will dig onto the front of your brain like a sticker burr. I think things can be learned from criticism, especially if there are points that consistently pop up. Total honesty here, pacing was an issue with Out of the Shadows. I saw that come up in the reviews time and time again, so I made sure to work on that when writing Into the Fire and my other books.

TCT: You do most (if not all) of your own marketing, what do you find most enjoyable about that part of the job?

DF: Marketing is really difficult for me, mostly because I know so little about what I'm doing. I hate feeling lost and I especially hate pouring time and money into something that might be a total waste. So learning might be my favorite part of that. For instance, I just took Bryan Cohen's class, Amazon Ads Made Easy. It was ridiculously helpful! I now feel way more confident about both those and online ads in general. Feeling like I have a handle on this slippery invisible beast that is promotion takes away so much stress, which saves me both time and energy. That's a feeling not much else can match.

TCT: Outside of writing, how do you feed the creative beast?

DF: I feel like creativity is an ouroboros. Consuming it also feeds it. So I listen to a lot of fiction podcasts - Wooden Overcoats, Welcome to Nightvale, King Falls AM, The Bright Sessions - and, of course, reading. Some TV shows feed that too, but it's kind of like eating junk food. There's a lot of stuff on TV that's entertaining, but it doesn't really nourish my creative side. Some exceptions include Final Space, iZombie, and The Dragon Prince. I also make candles themed around my characters and books. There's something about blendning a scent and getting that color just right that's really satisfying for me. If you ever catch me at a live event, you can buy those candles from me too.

Bonus: What other authors are you friends with and how do they help you become a better writer?

Beverley Lee - her settings are so atmospheric. Her characters are amazing. And her pacing keeps you on the edge of your seat!

Sarina Langer - reading her books is like playing one of my favorite video games, like Dragon Age. There's humor, there's heart, there's adventure. Love!

Our fantastic hosts, Andrea and Denise - :D These two are incredible. So encouraging and helpful and funny. I highly recommend following and connecting with them because your life will be better for it. Support systems are life!

James Fahy - his IG feed is so random and fun, and his books, whether his middle grade Changeling series or his grown up Phoebe Harkness series, are super enjoyable.

KJ Chapman - Snarky, sassy, and quick. Her books are like watching a really good movie.

KN Salustro - Amazing artist and excellent sci-fi writer. If you like space operas and adventure, her stuff is perfect for you.

Vickie Lee - she writes and illustrates a weekly webcomic called Dungeons and Doggos. It's adorable and super fun and I highly recommend it.

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Dana Fraedrich is a dog lover, self-professed geek, and author of the steampunk fantasy series Broken Gears, which includes the Amazon bestseller, Out of the Shadows. Dana's books are full of secrets and colorful characters that examine the many shades of grey that paint the world. When she isn't busy writing or attending book shows and author conferences, she can be found playing video games and frolicking among the Bookstagram community (the bookish corner of Instagram).

Stop by Dana’s website - wordsbydana.com and be sure to follow her on Instagram @danafraedrich, Facebook @wordsbydana, and Twitter @DanaFraedrich

10 Questions With Author Elizabeth Rago

This month we decided to go local for our author interview series!

We met fellow author and Illinoisan Elizabeth Rago just over a year ago. At a local coffee shop, we got together to talk books and writing, what life is like being women in business; and of course, the joys of motherhood inevitably made its way into the conversational mix. She had just published her novella, On Tenterhooks, and we…well, you know you can always visit us in editing hell.

We fired off ten questions to the vivacious author, and she fired back with some fabulous answers! In her typical fashion, Elizabeth is genuine and insightful. (Seriously, just wait until you read her logic behind marrying a werewolf!) We’re so excited for you to catch a glimpse into her life - be sure to follow her on social media (links below) to get to know her even better!

Author Elizabeth Rago

Author Elizabeth Rago

The Celestial Thread: What is the first story you can remember writing?

Elizabeth Rago: I remember writing a non-fiction piece about penguins in the 4th grade and I still have it today.

TCT: Would you rather have more time or more money?

ER: Hands-down more money. I have all the time I need, I simply have to manage it better. I have so many projects I want to start in terms of making the world a better place and supporting people and organizations and a lot of those ideas need financial backing. 

TCT: Name one book that you’ve reread, and one book that you closed without finishing. (And tell us why.)

ER: I've been on a mission to re-read the books I read as a child, so one most recent read for me was "Go Ask Alice". I read it in high school and remember it having a huge impact on my ability to be compassionate towards another person who was going through such a horrible personal descent. I had to read it again as an adult. It hits home a bit harder this time around, because I've known so many people who've succumbed to suicide.

One book that I closed without finishing was "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold. I have a very hard time reading books where children are the victims of heinous crimes. I'm an empath, so those stories not only stick with me but haunt me for weeks and sometimes months afterwards, making life debilitating at times. I recognize these books are powerful, and I can't negatively critique them, but I also cannot bear to read them.

TCT: Your book, On Tenterhooks, is a novella. Why did you choose that format?

ER: I've always absolutely LOVED short stories and novellas. Of Mice and Men, A Christmas Carol, Ethan Frome, Animal Farm, Three Blind Mice by Agatha Christie - all pull you right in and send you on a tale with the characters from the get-go. I live for those quick reads. 

On Tenterhooks started as a screenplay originally and honestly, it was a little too Rom-Com for what I wanted in terms of the depth of the characters. So I tabled the screen play and started to write it as a short story. Writing in these shorter formats requires me to get to the point and dig deep to understand the women in my stories right away without leaving time for the mind to wander. After I completed it and started sending my manuscript out to be considered for publication, agents liked the initial story, but they wanted it to be longer than a novella. "Unknown authors don't do well publishing novellas. You're not Stephen King." was a response that sticks in my head.

I also want people to wonder about the characters beyond what's presented on the pages and the shorter format allows for that kind of imagination to open up for the reader.

TCT: As readers, we’ve belonged to a number of bookclubs, it’s always exciting to have an author participate in the discussion of their book. You’ve done a lot of this as an author - what’s it like being on the receiving end of the questions and discussion?

ER: It's a bit scary to be on the receiving end because what if someone hated your story? I do love discussing the hows and whys of writing and what ends up happening at an author visit is quite magical - the conversation inevitably shifts from me and my story to a group member encouraging one of her friends to write her own personal story. We all have a story to tell and my mission with one of my other projects, The Modern Domestic Woman, is to tell the amazing stories of women around the world.

Gathering a group of women inevitably brings about personal storytelling, which is my favorite environment - enjoying the stories of other women.

TCT: Are you a pantser or plotter?

ER: For my fiction writing, I'm both for sure. However, I don't create timelines and outlines when I first start a story. I vomit out all my ideas first, then I let the characters start talking to me. (I know, a bit crazy, but all writers have to be a bit insane.) As the story grows, I dump all these scenarios and conversation and descriptions out onto paper and then I start to organize. I step back and take a look at how the story and people are shaping up. I write spin off short stories based on the characters to get to know them more and then round and round I go. More ideas flying by the seat of my pants and then planning and editing. A LOT of editing. 

TCT: Is there a character you’ve written that when you look back on her/him, you realize you’ve put the most of yourself into?

ER: I'm working on a horror/supernatural novella at the moment which is basically me as a fictional character - I lazily named her Elizabeth. I've always wanted to be a character in a book. Her life is tweaked a bit - she's divorced (I'm married) and her kiddos are in high school and college, while mine are still in grade and middle school. But this woman is very much me on the page and what I would do if there was a supernatural presence in my house.

TCT: Kiss, marry, kill - zombie, vampire, werewolf…go!

Kiss the vampire (Historically, vampires have always been a little too femme for me, but I wouldn't pass up a good kiss if the vampire was Michael from "The Lost Boys" or even the 1970s "Love at First Bite" with George Hamilton.).

Marry the werewolf (MUCH more manly and my type, plus we can enjoy life during the day and he can go out on killing sprees in the night while I read and drink wine. Not a Twilight werewolf, I'm thinking more of a dark chiseled one from Underworld).

Kill the zombie (no brainer).

TCT: If you could give your younger writer-self one piece of advice, what would it be?

ER: Write down every single silly idea, buy those vintage books you saw at those estate sales, and start getting up early in the morning to write because that's when your brain is the most creative. 

TCT: Any writing projects in the works that your readers can look forward to?

ER: Oh my goodness, YES. That horror story I mentioned earlier where I'm the main character will be published this year. It's called The Neighbor and I've been delayed in finishing it because I got in a car accident in 2018 and battled a really brutal concussion, shoving all my fiction projects to the back burner. 

I'm also working on a historic fiction piece about two women who survived the Peshtigo fire of 1871, and lost their families in the process. These two unlikely friends are brought together by their own personal tragedies to carry on together. This brutally devastating event happened the same time as the Chicago Fire, but few know of the Peshtigo fire because - Chicago.

Elizabeth Rago is a professional freelance writer with over 15 years of experience specializing in women’s lifestyle content. She’s written for the Chicago TribuneToday’s Christian WomanLiterary Mama, and other lifestyle and literary publications. Elizabeth proudly works with many women-owned businesses in the health, wellness, performing arts, luxury lifestyle, beauty and home decor industries, supporting them with creative content. She is also a syndicated columnist and editor of The Modern Domestic Woman.

In 2016, Elizabeth was featured in Mending the Sisterhood & Ending Woman’s Bullying by author and humanitarian writer Susan Skog, and in 2018, published her first work of women’s fiction, On Tenterhooks. You can follow Elizabeth on Instagram @elizabethrago and join The Modern Domestic Woman community on Facebook

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10 Questions With Author Phil Cobb

We’re back with the latest edition of ‘10 Questions’ and the man of many hats, author Phil Cobb. We had a blast coming up with questions for this guy. To quote Phil, “If I can entertain people and provide some laughs along the way, I’ll be a success.” Well, mission accomplished, Monsieur.

The former newspaper writer and editor’s responses are relatable, insightful, and humorous. Read on to see for yourself, we dare you not to laugh out loud!

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The Celestial Thread: Let’s start with the obvious, what are you working on now?

Phil Cobb: Here’s the pitch I sprung on literary agents at a writers conference: When an egotistical dog decides to become a hero, he messes up relationships, creates angry enemies, and panics the U.S government. More than one agent responded: “I don’t do dogs.” Well, neither do I; I’m just writing a novel about one. 

Currently, I am re-editing the draft -- a process that has me saying “Oh, my god” and rubbing my face in dismay like chef Gordon Ramsay. 

In addition, I’m crafting a novella as an origin story that will be a giveaway to help promote the novel. 

TCT: Paper copy, e-reader, or audio book – which is your preferred medium for reading? Any favorites you’d recommend?

PC: I have two full bookcases, plus a Kindle and a Nook. They all call to me with their siren songs, but I alternate among the three so that none feels slighted for too long. If there’s a choice for downloading a digital book, I prefer the Nook because its Eink is easier on the eyes. As for audio, I’m a virgin; maybe someday we’ll hook up.

TCT: Describe your writing style in three words…ready? Go!

PC: Direct. Inventive. Humorous.

TCT: If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?

PC: Turn off the tube and become the equivalent of a literary body builder. In other words, flex all the writing muscles by creating short stories in different genres: military, detective, thriller, romance, sports, sci-fi, et al, while trying out different styles in each genre -- sparse, wordy, flowery, overheated, stream of consciousness, etc. -- and rewriting each story from different points of view. 

Also, read a book for 30 minutes, then spend another 30 minutes analyzing the purpose of that passage and the techniques the writer used.

Crap. That’s what I should have been doing instead of watching game shows on television. Can I have a do-over?

TCT: Do you hide any secrets in your writing that only a few people will find?

PC: Sorry, there aren’t any clues to a hidden treasure, but there are references that I expect some folks will recognize and many won’t. For example, my protagonist encounters five buzzards, each with an odd name taken from a Charles Dickens character. Alert playgoers may figure out who was my inspiration for a dogcatcher’s relentless nature. There are many more, such as clues to the model I took from television for the wisest of beings and his baffling advice.

TCT: Who is your author hero, and why?

PC: Just one? I’ve got several, but let’s go with Tom Wolfe for his brilliant skewering of what I call human “graspirations” in “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” his masterful presentation of the space program in “The Right Stuff,” and his energetic “boffo” style of reportage in such pieces as “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.” 

TCT: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

PC: It’s a choice among a sloth, a snail and a turtle. Snail wins because a sloth gets nowhere and a turtle moves too fast. But if someday I can kick my writing speed into a high gear, my spirit animal will be the squirrel who chews on my nuts, the ones that fall from the tree outside my window.

TCT: What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? We’re lady folk, Phil…proceed with caution ;)

PC: I’ll start by saying that I have not tried to get in touch with my feminine side the way Norman Bates did in “Psycho.” 

Not knowing how women talk among themselves is a problem in writing dialogue. For example, if a woman is commenting on a blouse that a friend is considering, I can’t have her say: ”That sucks, bro.” Rather, I need to learn more code, a la: “Do you think that is your season?”

Also, to keep the narrative from bogging down, I cannot have female characters interrupting too many sentences.

Seriously, if I’m having a depiction problem, I go to the memory bank and draw upon the actions, personalities, motivations and machinations of lady folk whom I have known. 

TCT: What is the best money you ever spent as a writer?

PC: When I write, thoughts for new scenes will intrude on the scene that is in progress, so I jot them down and shove them off to the side. Later, like Dr. Frankenstein, I need to rearrange and stitch all those scattered parts into a logical narrative. Unfortunately, MS Word and OpenOffice weren’t flexible enough for me. WriteWay Pro and yWriter5 were more helpful. 

But I continually heard other writers crowing about the digital megalith: Scrivener. So, I watched a video that demonstrated its wonders. Drooled like Pavlov’s dog. Bought Scrivener. Uh-oh, couldn’t figure it out. Bought Learn Scrivener Fast to baby-step me through it. Ding, ding, ding! We have winners! Those two programs are the best writing money I have spent.

TCT: What are your future writing goals?

PC: I want to experiment with different genres. Right now, I’m listening to Dan Brown’s MasterClass on writing thrillers (whether you love his stuff or hate it, he is an excellent teacher). I also might try a mystery novel, perhaps with humor interspersed.

Overall, my goal is to enjoy writing. You see, I spent many years writing and editing material for companies and clients both full-time and overtime, leaving me worn-out time; but that’s over, and now it’s my time to do what I want. If I can entertain people and provide some laughs along the way, I’ll be a success.

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My Life -- Phil Cobb

I was born in paradise -- Hawaii -- but I was a military brat so we left when I was one-year-old, precluding any future happiness as a surfer, beach bum or hotel pool boy. 

Still, I can’t complain about my childhood. Going to school barefooted in Alabama was great. In Virginia, I got to dodge frozen dog poop that my best friend threw at me; he had gloves, I didn’t. 

In high school in Ohio, I didn’t get a letter sweater even though I was an athlete on the chess team.

At the University of Texas-Austin, I gave up my dream to become a marine biologist because my Bunsen burner wouldn’t stay lit in the chemistry lab. My consolation prizes were a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in journalism.

After taking a year off from responsibility to write the Not-So-Great American Novel, I got hired as a copy editor on the San Antonio Express. I felt like a real newsman when I got yelled at just like Jimmy Olsen on the Daily Planet. But when I found out that I made less money than the city’s bus drivers, I switched to the Houston Post. 

As time went by, I signed up for one of life’s standard packages: wife, kids, in-laws, pets and a mortgage. But they all needed money, so I switched to producing publications for Conoco. After that, I helped start a communications firm; we played a lot of solitaire while waiting for the phone to ring.

Today, I’m happily immersed in a bilingual Spanish-English marriage where I get chewed out in both languages. Other highlights: I’ve run a marathon and didn’t finish last; I took up yoga so it could put me in the hospital; I pick at my guitar like it’s a scab; and I’m teaching myself French while struggling to beat the computer at Scrabble. 

My sites:

  • Facebook: @philcobbauthor - Where you can see my famous shower photo.

  • Twitter: @PhilCobbBooks - I scour the internet for writing tips for you.

  • Website: philcobbauthor.com - A blog about fun, follies and loss of innocence in writing and life.


On the Blog Today: Author Q & A

Author interviews? We love them! it’s a great way to learn about other authors and what inspires them to write. And hey, if we’re lucky, we might even get a vibe on just how many cats they have.

So, we thought we’d try a new thing on our blog - a series where we interview authors in any stage of their writing journey. Published? Awesome. Writing your first draft? We can relate. Into writing poetry or flash fiction? Bring it on. You get the idea, we’ll come up with ten random questions for a quick bit of insight into what makes you, as an author, tick.

To kick things off we’re interviewing each other (blast the ego!). It’s a quick read, and if you make it to the end - thanks for humoring us. If you decide you want to join in on the Q & A fun, drop us a line in the comments and we’ll get in touch! (p.s. If we know you, consider yourself asked. 😉)

Authors, Denise M. Smith and Andrea Hunter

First up, ten questions for Denise:

  1. If the moon was cheese, would you eat it?

    Yes, but only if it was served with fava beans and a nice Chianti...

  2. What is one book you’ve read that you just can’t shake and why?

    The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. It’s horrible, traumatizing really, but at the same time grand sweeping and filled with wonder - a love story unlike anything I’ve ever read. It shattered me into a bazillion pieces - can’t wait to read it again! 

  3. What’s your writing Kryptonite?

    Prioritizing! I always wade deep in guilt for not getting “real stuff” done first. Also, Andrea sometimes reads in random accents - I am useless after that. 

  4. When you’re not writing or reading, what are you most likely to be found doing?

    Well, lately with our frigid Midwest weather I’ve been binging Netflix with my daughter - we watch all different genres, so I learn tons about character and story arcs. Like reading, it really helps with my own writing. Also, I enjoy fun hiking adventures with our ginormous dog. 

  5. Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

    Yes! Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina...ugh. Just. Can’t. Loved the movie, does that count? 

  6. When did the writing bug bite you?

    Oh, haha for a sec I thought you asked where! Um, I wrote a lot of interesting stories in grade school - paper notes count, right? But I didn’t get really into it until high school when I had an amazing and hugely supportive creative writing teacher.

  7. Kiss, marry, kill (hypothetically speaking, of course): Jamie Fraser, Edward Cullen, Mr. Rochester  

    Kiss - Jamie, love him but couldn’t live without modern amenities. Marry - Edward, only because my skin would sparkle instead of wrinkle Kill - Mr. Rochester, yuck! First wife in the attic? Circumstances be damned - reg flag! 

  8. What are you currently reading?

    The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton & Dana Fraedrich’s Out of the Shadows. One in the car, one on my nightstand. 

  9. You’ve invited your favorite author over for dinner, what’s on the menu?

    Crab legs and cold beer, “Welcome, Stephen!” 

  10. Would you rather live in a haunted mansion, or in an un-haunted cottage?

    UN-haunted cottage. I bring my own demons, so...

Still here? Awesome, Denise had some good questions for Andrea:

  1. If you could travel anywhere on earth right now where would you go, and why? 

    Bulgaria. It’s so full of mystery, history, and magic *wink* - it’s a perfect setting for our book - I would love to experience it in real life.

  2. What author/piece of writing most influenced you?

    Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It is beautiful in its simplicity, and timeless in its message. I was in 5th or 6th grade the first time I read it, and I’ve read it at least once a year since then. Every time I do I get something new out of it.

  3. What dream would you most like to realize? 

    I used to dream of being a rap music icon. And while I still feel like that’s an attainable goal (despite my obvious lack of musical talent), it has taken a backseat to getting our book published. 

  4. What song lyric speaks directly to you soul? 

    It’s so hard to pick just one, but my brain instantly goes to U2’s “All I Want Is You.” You know, the part (in my head) where Bono singles me out in an ocean of screaming Mrs. Bono wanna-be’s and sings, “But all the promises we make, from the cradle to the grave, when all I want is you.” Yeah, that’s the one.

  5. Who fostered your creativity more than any other? 

    My mom. She was crazy creative - like, no coloring books in our house because coloring on plain paper forced you to use your imagination - creative. She believed I could do anything, and made me believe it too! (Though, I think she was pretty clear in expressing her doubts about my future as a rap star.)

  6. What’s your favorite movie adapted from a book?

    Of course I loved Lord of the Rings, I even liked the Harry Potter movies (I know that’s a touchy one with some people). But One movie I love that was adapted from a book is Water for Elephants. Ugh! It got me right in the feels…I sobbed through the book AND the movie. 

  7. If you had unlimited money, what would you use it for?

    I’d bust out of Illinois and buy my goat farm in Montana. We’re talking goats for days. Then I’d host a Goat Farm Writing Retreat…yes, you’re invited. No, you cannot milk my goats.

  8. What’s the biggest Ah-HA moment writing advice you have received along your writing journey?

    I’ve gotten a lot of writing advice through the years. At first I took it all to heart…and you know, some of it was slightly soul crushing. I have this writer friend who I connected with on Instagram, we were recently talking about how we deal with rejection in our industry. It can be a tough pill to swallow, and you have to have thick skin, for sure. But she reminded me that perseverance is key. JK Rowling and Sylvester Stallone received dozens of rejections for Harry Potter and Rocky. BUT they kept at it and, well, we all know how things ended up for them! We even made up a hashtag to use as a mantra to not give up - #BeASlyBeAJK , I use it frequently!

  9. Would you rather have your book be published or turned into a movie or television series? Yes, and YES!

  10. What do you do in your spare time when you’re not writing or reading? 

    I’m in my garden when it’s not sleeping under a blanket of snow and ice. Otherwise, I enjoy taking hikes with my dude and dog, working on my sweet dance moves, and coming up with craft projects that will set the flea market circuit on FIYAAAAA! ;)

There you have it. The weird, the writerly, and the moderately entertaining duo. Want in? We’d love to come up with ten questions for you. We’ll share one Author Q & A each month - can’t wait to learn more about your authorly adventures!



Yikes!