Author Spotlight: DIANA DUFF

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The genius of Diana Duff’s writing is its elegant simplicity. “It seems such a strange thing to be doing, I thought, however ordinary the surroundings: waiting in a coffee shop in Oxford Street with the London traffic roaring outside, for my mother, whom I would not recognize when she finally arrived.”

With a path that led her from South Africa to Ireland, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, Ms. Duff’s page-turner memoir, Leaves from the Fig Tree reads more like an adventure novel, submerging us in the vastly different worlds she has known with a story of isolation, travel, rebellion, love, and freedom.

At age 2, she was transported from South Africa to her family’s historic estate in rural Ireland, County Cork, in a Victorian estate called Annesgrove (originally Ballyhimmock), built in the 1700s.

A descendant of the brother of the Earl of Annesley, Diana’s pedigree isolated her as a child within the rigid confines of Victorian life in rural Ireland, with no siblings or other companions except a series of ill-equipped governesses, juxtaposed with the expansive freedom and wild magic of the Africa that called to her again and again.

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I talked with Diana from her home in Johannesburg about her story and her writing path:

You were quite the globe-trotter! You went to Kenya from Ireland at age 18, then stayed in Kenya and Tanzania until you were 30, when you went to South Africa. What do you remember most about Africa in your early days there? There was a freedom there that allowed people to live an eccentric way of life doing their own thing. During that time, it was not a very structured society, and it was a fantastic place to live. People were really individuals, they didn’t try to fit into any social system or way of behavior, and they didn’t need to. Kenya was my freedom.

How did living in the midst of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya impact your view of the world? I was so young, I didn’t really appreciate the dangers. But we certainly lived in the middle of it all.

In thinking about writing mechanics, is there one thing that you consistently see writers getting wrong? Nowadays there is a tendency to overdo the shock tactics, and maybe that’s required the way the world is now. It seems that authors feel pressured to write about sensationalist topics rather than writing what they feel strongly about, what moves them. And those books aren’t like art and it’s less of a pleasure to read them. In Isak Dineson’s Out of Africa, for example, you can really see the people, you can feel them.

Which is your preference for the books you read – fiction or nonfiction? What are you reading currently? Though I read mostly fiction now, I’m also reading Heat by Ranulph Fiennes and The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner.

Since you’ve seen so much of our world, what do you think is most different about it now compared with when you were younger? Politics, power and money seem to be the ruling factors today. A drive towards material wealth takes all the color out of life  and is not at all appealing. But there are still magical places in the world. Where I work, we have a lovely Moonlight Market – an evening, outdoor organic market with organic foods and lots of gems and minerals, which attract amazing people with amazing stories. Stories are the common thread for me, for everyone.

Everybody’s interesting. Every single

person has got a story to tell.

At age 85, Diana still works – at Bryanston Organic Natural Market, an organic outdoor market and gem and mineral store, where she meets fascinating people every day. “Today I met a man who’s building a life center on Green Island (Queensland), I met two Americans, someone who’d gone to Malaysia on a canoe trip, and someone who’d been gored by a hippo.” And she has written another story (fiction this time), which takes place in Tanzania.

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Diana’s book, Leaves from the Fig Tree is published by Rebel e Publishers in Kindle, paperback, and other digital formats and can be purchased on Amazon.

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Author Spotlight: J.H. BOGRAN

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picture1Author J.L. Bogran is a novelist and screenwriter born and raised in Honduras. The son of a journalist, the writing craft is clearly in his blood as evidenced by his media success and list of prolific projects. His debut novel, Treasure Hunt, was selected among Preditors and Editors’ Top Ten in a reader’s poll. Today we’re talking with him about Poisoned Tears – his forthcoming third novel, his writing process, and his other passion: screenwriting.

You’re bilingual in Spanish and English. How did you learn English and how do you decide which language to write in?

Just as practice will get you to Carnegie Hall, the same goes for learning English. I started with basic grammar and conversation practice at a local school, but later my jobs required me to speak English for extended periods of time. First as a front-desk clerk at a hotel, then working in the garment manufacturing industry, where I had to work with people from all over the world. And although I’m a professional translator, I don’t like to work on my own stuff, so the first thing I decide is the language to write the piece. That clears the path for all the decisions that follow.

Do you read in Spanish or English?

I read books, newspapers and almost anything in both languages.

Where did your inventive idea for Poisoned Tears come from?

My wife likes to watch animal shows on TV. One show listed the top ten most dangerous animals. That triggered the idea of “what if somebody used an animal to hide a murder?” I developed the idea further, and it later became an outline of the book. Part of my research took me to New Orleans. I had the notion that my character hated the city but wasn´t clear on why…until I saw a game in the Superdome and thought losing a pro-football career there would make the person hate the venue, and the city by extension.

What does Knox, your protagonist, struggle with the most? And what does he have in common with Sebastian Martin, the main character in your novel Firefall?

Alan struggles a lot, first with his own hatred of the city, then the police rejecting his theory on a serial killer prowling the city. Later he partners with a journalist, only to discover that he doesn’t like the opportunistic writer. Although not directly mentioned in the book, Alan Knox has a younger brother named Bill, who happens to be Sebastian Martin’s boss. So the connection is slim. In terms of what they have in common, they’re both tortured souls, both widowers, and reluctant heroes.

How did you get started writing screenplays?

That can only be attributed to serendipity. A few years ago I ran a video store, and one night a customer dropped by asking if I had any old Buster Keaton movies. Surprised that I even knew who Mr. Keaton was, we started talking about movies, and he told me he was working on a TV project. I volunteered, and first he gave me this look of “Oh, damn, not another guy who thinks he’s better looking than George Clooney!” But when I confessed that my passion was for writing, he told me he was down one writer on his team and offered me a job on the spot. So far, I’ve been a writer for two motion picture scripts, and co-writer for three TV serials. Most recently, I wrote the script for the movie 11 Cipotes (11 Kids), which was considered a contender for the 2015 Oscars in the Foreign Film category. The movie is about a bunch of kids driving everybody crazy in a small town in Honduras. A man studying to become a priest takes the kids to form a soccer team, and then they are invited to a championship in the big city. It’s the adventure of their lives. You can see the trailer here.

Are you disciplined about writing? Do deadlines bring out your best or worst writing?

I wish I were more disciplined. It’s funny how my own creations take a lot of time to finish, but if I do work-for-hire, like a screenplay, I’ll wrap everything up before a deadline. I once finished a first draft of a movie in just four weeks.

Do you write on a computer, sitting properly at a desk, or longhand on coffee-stained napkins in a noisy cafe?

A combination of all of the above, actually. And it depends on the job at hand. For a screenplay, I’d have to sit and type it because of the formatting. However, for novels or short stories, I would write chapters in a notebook, then take a picture of each page and save it to my Dropbox just in case I lose the notebook. Typing them into a computer gives me the extra benefit of doing a first round of edits simultaneously.

What’s your next project?

This is a tricky question to answer, and one I usually avoid. A couple of times my actual next project turns out to be different from the one I described in a previous interview. I’ll compromise and say I’m working on a couple of projects; a sequel to Firefall, a joint project with marvelous British writer Steven Saville, and I’m currently in negotiations to take on another script. So which one will see the light first? Only God knows!

Any favorites in your choice of pens?

Ballpoint I guess. Now, for signing books there’s nothing better than a classical fountain pen!

About Poisoned Tears, forthcoming on March 15, 2017:

Retired Dallas private investigator Alan Knox dislikes New Orleans so much he won’t even drink Abita, the local beer. It all goes back to the day his knee and his promising pro football career were wrecked in a Superdome game with the Saints. But when his estranged son calls and asks for help finding a missing fianceé, the guilt-ridden Texan heads for the Big Easy where he soon finds himself in trouble up to the tops of his snakeskin boots. What starts off as a missing person case turns into a hunt for a serial killer who uses exotic poisonous animals to dispatch his victims. Painfully aware he can’t go it alone, Knox joins forces with an over-the-hill journalist and an unfriendly police detective as he navigates the dark streets and seedy bars in search of his prey. Great plot, colorful descriptions of NOLA and well-drawn characters. Poisoned Tears is full of so many twists and turns that it will make your head spin long before you get to the heart-thumping surprise ending. –Paul Kemprecos

J.H.’s books are published by Rebel ePublishers.

For more information about J.H. BOGRAN, check out www.jhbogran.com, and follow him on these sites:

Thanks for tuning in today, and now…countdown till March 15th!

Author Interview: CAT CONNOR

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If you don’t know her already, I’d like to introduce you to successful, New Zealand-based mystery/thriller author, CAT CONNOR, and the star of her highly acclaimed Byte series – Ellie Conway.

Did you invent Ellie Conway, or did she find you and ask you to tell her story? I saw a video in my head. I could not see the main character but I could hear her. I had no idea what her name was, but I knew she was FBI and she was living in Virginia. She never really introduced herself, she just showed me scenes and expected me to keep up. I only knew her screen name until another character called her by name. Which was a little bit weird, but fun for me. The other thing is that I didn’t know what she looked like for a long time. Everything she shows me is from her point of view so I couldn’t see her unless she looked in a mirror. She doesn’t so much ask me to tell her stories as show me video of scenes that don’t let up until I write them down. She is fun, though. Her sense of humor is great so I enjoy having her in my head.

Did you consciously set out to build a series around Ellie, or was the first book a standalone and then you later decided that Ellie had more to tell? The first book was a standalone based on a ‘worst case scenario’ after some real life chat room death threats. My rights to my book Killerbyte were tied up in the bankruptcy of my first publisher, and a very wise author (Jeffrey Deaver) told me to write another book while I was waiting/fighting to get my rights back. So I did. Turned out Ellie had a lot more to tell me. So I wrote another one … and by the time I signed with Rebel I had three of the Byte novels under my belt. So the answer is no, I never set out to write a series. Ellie just has a lot to say, and every time I think we’re done, something new pops up. She doesn’t like to tell me everything at once. For example, all the way through this series Ellie has mentioned New Zealand. We know she likes the place and she vacations in NZ, and that she’s worked there (both undercover with the CIA and also with the FBI), but it’s not until the 9th book that everyone will find out a bit more about her ties to the country.

Is Ellie you, and what do you personally have in common with her? Ellie isn’t me. I wish I was her. She’s someone I’d really love to hang out and drink tequila with. We share a birthday (Dec 12), we both dislike honey, although Ellie really hates it and I can tolerate it, if I’m sick. We are both a wee bit smart mouthed. Physically we are the about the same height and body shape – that makes it easier when I’m writing some scenes. For example, I know that (when both are standing) if someone is six foot tall, Ellie can look them in the eye quite easily but if someone is six foot six she needs to lift her chin to do that. But no, she’s not me.

What would you tell a mystery writer who writes standalone books if they want to write a series? Do you do a lot of planning to keep track of what you write about Ellie from one book to another? If you were planning to take a standalone novel and turn it into a series – get a notebook and make damn sure you keep really good notes regarding your characters. ALL of your characters. (Even the dead ones.)

I don’t plan. I rely heavily on Ellie to show/tell me the story, she never shows me the end until I’m about to figure it out for myself.

Every book I write has at least two large notebooks attached to it (I’ve kept them all, they live in a HUGE lidded plastic storage bin). The notebooks are for everything I think is important while the story is unfolding. (Formulas for explosives, locations of CCTV, names of people who were killed, partial scenes, chapter summaries (which I write AFTER the chapter is finished), chapter titles (which are always songs), occasionally photos of locations.

Because I’ve written the series and I’ve also written about twenty short stories about Ellie and her team, I have a lot of information in my head. I do trust myself to insert the right name/character detail/reference a lot of the time without checking I was right until I’m almost finished the manuscript.

I don’t usually need to check things regarding Ellie or her team, although I did have an issue with Lee’s eye color in DATABYTE, because I couldn’t remember if his eyes were brown or blue, or if we’d ever mentioned them. They’re brown. His brother has blue eyes 🙂

I have no overreaching plan for the series. I don’t have a development plan for characters either – they evolve as things happen. Maybe because they live in my head and are not confined to a definite set of black and white characteristics they are more fluid and more capable of evolving as the stories progress. Each story emerges through my fingers as Ellie starts showing me video.

What’s coming up for you as a writer in 2017? The 9th Byte book is coming up in 2017. I finished the writing of METABYTE last night and it will be with my publishers and editor by the end of November. METABYTE was previewed at the end of PSYCHOBYTE, and is quite the twisty tale.

Metabyte Preview: SSA Ellie Iverson nee Conway’s world is turned inside out by a late night call from her husband saying his teenage niece, Harley, is missing. Harley’s parents are out of the country and suddenly incommunicado, thus raising Ellie’s internal alert level from yellow to orange. Adding to the rising alert status is the discovery of freshly dead formerly deceased federal agents. Crime scenes and dead agents emerge at an alarming rate. Working under a directive from the Director of the FBI and with the Wayward Son Protocol, Ellie and Delta A try to stem the flow of death. Cryptic messages from missing Ret-NCIS Special Agent Noel Gerrard alludes to the seepage of sensitive data, and then undeniable CIA involvement. Coded messages hidden in attempted hackings of Iverson Technologies provide clues regarding the missing parents of Harley Iverson and a potential link to the Wayward Son Protocol. In the midst of turmoil, the sudden death of a team member leaves Delta A reeling. The team struggles on to uncover layers of deceit culminating in more death. 

Apart from METABYTE, I’m not sure. I expect Ellie will start pushing me to write another book soon enough. I thought 9 was the last, but she seems to think there’s another story to be told…


Cat’s books are published by Rebel ePublishers

For more information about CAT CONNOR and her Byte thriller series, check out: www.catconnor.com

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