Saturday, May 30, 2015

Between the Bindings with Jon Ripslinger

Good morning, y'all!!  I hope this Saturday is bringing you lots of time to read and fun with families. Today, on Between the Bindings, we have Jon Ripslinger, author of The Weight of Guilt.  Take it away, Jon. :)


Becoming a Writer

I don't think a person chooses to become a writer.  Writing chooses the person.  It's a voice that seeps into your brain and whispers: Write something.  Give it a try.  First of all, you have to listen to the voice and follow its directions.
            Because I liked my literature classes, I first heard the voice in high school, but I did nothing about the whispering.  Too young and stupid.  After graduating, I joined the Navy and, while serving, I took a college correspondence course in English because the voice was still telling me to explore writing.  Turns out, my grammar and spelling were bad, but I got a B in the course because my instructor said I visualized very well.
            After my discharge from the Navy, I made a major decision.  The voice still whispering in the back of my brain, I decided to become an English teacher.  What better way to learn about grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure - all that - and someday become a writer?
            But life got in my way.  I got married.  My wife and I raised six kids.  Because my job as a high school English teacher didn't pay well, I worked part-time jobs after school and during the summer.  Sadly, too busy for writing, I shut the voice out.  Then I happened to read Judy Blume's Forever.  It's the story of a girl who feels it's okay to enjoy sex with her boyfriend because she believes their love will last forever.  But when she goes away to a summer camp as a tennis instructor, she becomes involved with one of the other instructors - proving that first love is not always forever.
            I loved the book, the writer's style, and the story's theme.  I thought to myself Man, I can write a book like that!  I know about teens.  I've been working with them for years.  I have six of my own.  The whispering voice was back, louder than a whisper this time, and very clear: Write something!  I joined a local writer's group that met every Thursday night.  I attended local writing conferences.  I took a Writer's Digest correspondence course about writing fiction, the beginner's course and the advanced course.  With my instructor's guidance, I wrote a novel titled Black Water.  I started the book June 10, 1992 and finished the rough draft March 23, 1993.
            Yes, I keep records like that.
            Agents and publishers rejected the book.  I set it aside, kept writing, and over the years published seven other young adult novels.  In May 2012, I took a serious look at Black Water.  I thought, No wonder no one likes this book.  The premise is good, but the writing is lousy and the ending is predictable.  I rewrote the book and this time had it professionally line edited, critiqued and proofread.  In November 2013, Red Adept Publishing offered me a contract for the manuscript, now titled The Weight of Guilt.  I'm happy and proud to say it's a novel chosen for review on this blog.
            Which brings me to my second point:
            A writer needs to be persistent and believe in his work.  Never give up.
            My third point: Seek help wherever you can.  Subscribe to writing magazines and blogs, like this one.  Buy books about writing.  Join writing groups and attend conferences.
            Another point: Somehow, somewhere carve out your own writing space so you can go there everyday in a familiar setting and enter your present story world.  My two daughters shared a bedroom.  After they moved out, I invaded their empty space, made it mine, and eventually sold my first novel.  But not until I had my own writing space.
            Here's another point and a very important one, I think: Fall in love with the process of writing.  If you do that, rejections won't seem so bad.  The long wait for an agent's or publisher's reply won't seem so bad, either.  A bad review might hurt, but not that bad.
            Why not?
            Because what you love to do every day is return to the computer and hook up again with your story friends.  Listening to them telling their story in your head and recording it are the most important things you can do that day.  In fact, if you don't sit at the computer with your story friends, you feel guilty.  You can't help it.
            You know how many folks are addicted to working out and feel rotten if they miss their time in the gym.  Same thing with a writer.  If you haven't had your time at the computer that day, all is not well.  I know some writers claim writing is a drag: it's painful, it's misery.  I'm not one of them.  In fact, I'll offer this somewhat embarrassing statistic from my records.  Over the years, I have sent out 179 book queries to agents and publishers and have had eight books accepted for publication.  Not a very good batting percentage.  Would a person really do that if he didn't enjoy the process?
           
 To sum everything up:
            If you've been chosen to be a writer, listen to that voice whispering in your head.  Welcome it.  Embrace it.  Nurture it.
            Remember, nothing in the world will take the place of persistence.  Not even talent.  You fail only if you quit.
            Seek help from others.  There's tons of it out there.
            Find your own writing space where you and your story friends can rendezvous daily.
            And lastly, fall in love with the writing process.  Make it an important part of your life.

Happy writing and good luck!
            Yes, you'll need luck.
            But you'll find it.
            Trust me.

About the book:
Driving home from a bonfire party, eighteen-year-old John Hawk crashes, killing his girlfriend, Riley.  Bullied and tormented at school, and crushed by his guilty conscience, John transfers to a school on the banks of the Mississippi River, where he attracts the eye of the principal's daughter, Megan.  Though he's reluctant, she convinces him to be her prom date.  The morning after prom, Principal Jones reports Megan missing.  Four days later, her body is recovered from the river, and John becomes the prime suspect in her death.
            Charley Cotton, Megan's best friend, knows that Megan had a secret, but she doesn't trust John because of his past.  John is desperate to avoid adding to the shame he carries for Riley's death, though - it's destroying his life.  With Charley's help, he learns that others in Megan's life had a motive to keep her quiet.  But every effort they make to uncover the truth edges them closer to a desperate murder with everything to lose.


About the author:
After Jon Ripslinger retired as a public high school English teacher, he began a career as an author.  He has published many young adult novels and truly enjoys writing books for teens.  He has also published numerous short stories in Women's World magazine.
            Jon and his wife, Colette, live in Iowa.  They are the proud grandparents of thirteen grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
            When not working writing, Jon enjoys the outdoors, especially fishing.  He waits patiently for the next "big one" to strike.

Friday, May 29, 2015

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Jon Ripslinger


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hey, Jon!!  Welcome to The Gal.  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jon Ripslinger:
I'm a Navy Korean War Veteran, having served aboard the USS New Jersey during the conflict.  I was a high school English teacher for 35 years.  My wife and I have been married 59 years and are the proud parents of six children, 13 grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

Jon Ripslinger:
I'm pretty much an open book.  The one thing I never tell anyone, except for now, is that I watch the soap opera General Hospital every afternoon with my wife.  We tape the program so that if we miss an afternoon we can watch it in the evening.  Soap writers understand thoroughly the function of scene and sequel.  They are great at giving characters goals, creating disasters for characters, and providing hooks at the end of scenes and episodes thereby creating suspense - which keeps viewers coming back week after week, regardless of how absurd the plot lines might be.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

Jon Ripslinger:
Silas Marner was required reading in one of my high school English classes.  I think it's the only novel I read in high school.  I didn't become a reader until I went to college.  I didn't read a lot until I decided I wanted to become a writer.  Then I read everything YA.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

Jon Ripslinger:
Nothing right now.  I'm busy with the Red Adept Blog Tour for my YA novel The Weight of Guilt, and I'm busy on social media promoting the book.  But I've got my eyes set on John Greene's latest novel, Paper Towns.  I'm into realistic, contemporary YA fiction.  Since it's what I write, it's what I read.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

Jon Ripslinger:
Reading Judy Blume's Forever launched me into a YA writing career.  I read the book sometime during the 1980s.  It's the story of a girl who thinks it's okay to have sex with her boyfriend because she thinks their love is so strong that it will last forever and they'll marry one day.  But they break up before summer's end.  She's devastated and struggles to move on.  After reading the story, I thought I can do that.  I know about kids.  My wife and I have six of them.  I'm a high school English teacher surrounded by kids every day.  I can write sentences and paragraphs.  I can punctuate.  I can write a book and get it published!  And so I did.  But not without tons of failures and rejections.  I didn't sell my first YA novel until 1994.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

Jon Ripslinger:
My two daughters shared a bedroom.  When they moved out, I moved in, quickly.  The room features a full-size office desk, table, filing cabinets, bookshelves, two computers and three printers.  On one wall hangs an inspirational poster: Miracles happen only to those who believe in them.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Jon Ripslinger:
When I'm writing a scene, I of course visualize everything that's going on.  If two characters are in conflict, especially a verbal battle, I scowl, frown, scrunch up my face, bite my lip, jerk my head back, roll my eyes, wave my hand, or stomp a foot just like the characters living in my head do.  Weird.  I'm glad no one is watching.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Where do the ideas for your books come from?

Jon Ripslinger:
My inspiration comes from incidents I've been involved with personally and situations that I know of that have aroused my curiosity.  For example, while I was teaching high school English, I encountered many talented students who were squandering their academic and athletic talents, the inspiration for Derailed.  I knew personally a young man whose father killed his mom, dismembering her body, and tossed the pieces into the Mississippi River, the inspiration for Missing Pieces.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?

Jon Ripslinger:
Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, Phillip Roth, Scott Fitzgerald - all wrote books that I've enjoyed, but as I said earlier, Judy Blume's Forever started me off as a writer.  After reading Judy Blume's book, I started reading Norma Klein, Richard Peck, Robert Cormier, Norma Fox Mazer, Harry Mazer, and Paul Zindel.  Later on, I read Chris Crutcher, Will Weaver, Ellen Wittlinger, Kevin Brooks, and A.M. Jenkins.  I also enjoyed the books of Sara Zarr, Robert Lipsyte, and Jennifer Hubbard.  Now it's Rainbow Rowell and John Greene.  All of these writers tell well-plotted, realistic stories filled with exciting characters struggling to make sense of their own lives - which is exactly what I'm trying to do.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What inspires you most?

Jon Ripslinger:
A harrowing, unique situation in which a character has to make gut-wrenching decisions gets my creative juices flowing, and I keep asking How and why did that happen?  What happens next?  What if...?  Situations from several of my books: Triangle - a girl teases her boyfriend with sex while frolicking around her backyard swimming pool at midnight.  She jumps into the deep end, but he mistakenly jumps into the shallow end and breaks his neck.  Who is Lori Darling - a boy discovers that the girl he's madly in love with has been sexually abused by her dad for the past ten years and is still being abused.  The Weight of Guilt - a guy dates two different girls and each one dies violently.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing that you find most challenging?

Jon Ripslinger:
The most challenging part is getting the rough draft written.  On a good day, after two or three hours of writing in the morning, I'll get myself five or six pages written.  Sometimes only two.  Maybe one. And the most challenging part of writing the rough draft is writing the first chapter - setting the scene, suggesting what kind of story this is going to be, introducing the main character and introducing conflict but avoiding information dumps.  And the hardest part of writing the first chapter is hooking the reader with a first sentence.  I can't tell you how many times I wrote and rewrote the first chapter for TWOG.  Twenty, thirty - I don't know.  I wish I'd have kept track.  Even now if I reread the chapter, I'd find some little thing I'd like to change.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

Jon Ripslinger:
A likeable, vulnerable, flawed character faces an overwhelming situation, perhaps a death-threatening one.  He attacks the situation head-on, overcomes great obstacles, and emerges triumphant.  In the process, he earns a better understanding of himself and of the world in which he lives.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Tell us a little about your book(s), your target audience and what you would like your readers to take away from your story.

Jon Ripslinger:
The eight novels I've published are contemporary, realistic stories for young adults from ages 14-18.  All of them involve male/female romance.  Six of them include a mystery, suspense and a major crime - usually murder.  Two of them are simply love stories.  All end happily and suggest that though life is tough for today's teens, they can grow and survive if they make smart choices.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Jon Ripslinger:
Tough question.  After giving this a lot of thought, I've decided I'm not like any of my lead characters.  I'm a rather conservative, non-risk-taking sort of guy.  I tend to think before acting and act cautiously.  I'm non-violent.  My lead characters often find themselves in dangerous situations they should have avoided in the first place.  They sometimes act impulsively, making a bad situation worse.  They're capable of violence and often in the story's climax react in a violent way, at t times exhibiting bravery I'm not sure I possess.  I hope that doesn't make me a coward.  In my defense, I think I'm loyal, honest, and moral - qualities that my lead characters also possess.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Why did you pick your particular genre?

Jon Ripslinger:
The young adult genre was an easy pick for me.  First of all, my wife and I have raised six kids of our own, helping and guiding them through the angst of surviving their teen years.  Secondly, over many years of teaching, I read thousands of student journal entries dealing with teen anxiety.  Students often wrote their very private matters: abuse at home, boyfriend/girlfriend abuse, other troubles in their love life, feelings of doubt and lack of self-esteem, secrets they were keeping.  Really, I knew what was going on in their lives and what they were thinking.  I also became close to hundreds of students.  I lived in the same neighborhood as many of my students.  Some rode to school with me in the morning.  I socialized with their parents.  Gradually, I became sensitive to teen problems and felt I understand them deeply - their feelings, desires, fears, and frustrations.  I didn't need to research story ideas: A classroom full of ideas sat in front of me every morning.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What have you learned creating this book?

Jon Ripslinger:
Never give up on a project you believe in.  I started TWOG June 10, 1992, and completed the final draft December 15, 199 - I keep records.  From the time I started to the time I finished the final draft and found a publisher - 23 years.  After the book's many rejections, I worked on other projects during that time and successfully published seven other young adult novels prior to TWOG.  I had originally written the complete story from John Hawk's point of view.  In 2012, I dug the story out of my file drawer and I decided to include Charlotte Cotton's point of view.  So I had to rewrite and add Charlotte's chapters and eliminate some of John's.  Not only that, I found it easy to capture Charlotte's female voice if I wrote in the present tense.  That meant I had to go back and rewrite John's chapters in the present tense, too.  A very difficult job.  But I didn't give up.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your book different from others in this genre?

Jon Ripslinger:
Another tough, tough question.  I think my books are well-plotted, character-driven stories featuring a lead who has definite goals, faces huge obstacles, and acts with determination.  Many YA novels introduce a character who is passive and spends his time in the story reacting to events that overwhelm him instead of creating story action because he's trying desperately to achieve his goal.  I think TWOG clearly follows the standard, time-honored technique of presenting a beginning, middle, climax, and resolution.  I also think he voices of my teen characters are distinctive.  I hope those qualities make my young adult novels different from many others.  Maybe not all, but many.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is in your 'trunk'?

Jon Ripslinger:
I have three other YA novels in my trunk that are waiting to be rescued: Kissing Lessons - a young man wants to remain a virgin until he marries but fails miserably.  Desperate  - a gifted high school football star falls in love with a bisexual girl and becomes embroiled in the murder of the girl's female lover.  Deep Water - a high school girl discovers her BFF since fourth grade is gay, is madly in love with her, and won't take no for an answer to her advances and to a relationship.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Jon Ripslinger:
I hope the future brings the release of my YA novel Trapped.  In this story, a boy discovers that he man his widowed mom has fallen in love with and wants to marry - her high school sweetheart - is a thief and murderer.  The book is in the hands of Red Adept Publishing, and I'm sure the publisher is waiting to see how well TWOG does in the market place before making a commitment, which is smart business protocol, and I understand.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Thanks for stopping by, Jon.  It has been GREAT having you.  I have got to get my hands on some of your other YA books and good luck with Trapped.  That sounds like a really interesting premise to a book and, WHEN Red Adept Publishing decides to publish it (ALWAYS stay positive :D), you are definitely welcome back for that one, too. 
            One more thing before you go: Where can we find you?

Jon Ripslinger:
Blog ** Facebook ** Twitter

About the book:
Driving home from a bonfire party, eighteen-year-old John Hawk crashes, killing his girlfriend, Riley.  Bullied and tormented at school, and crushed by his guilty conscience, John transfers to a school on the banks of the Mississippi River, where he attracts the eye of the principal's daughter, Megan.  Though he's reluctant, she convinces him to be her prom date.  The morning after prom, Principal Jones reports Megan missing.  Four days later, her body is recovered from the river, and John becomes the prime suspect in her death.
            Charley Cotton, Megan's best friend, knows that Megan had a secret, but she doesn't trust John because of his past.  John is desperate to avoid adding to the shame he carries for Riley's death, though - it's destroying his life.  With Charley's help, he learns that others in Megan's life had a motive to keep her quiet.  But every effort they make to uncover the truth edges them closer to a desperate murder with everything to lose.


About the author:
After Jon Ripslinger retired as a public high school English teacher, he began a career as an author.  He has published many young adult novels and truly enjoys writing books for teens.  He has also published numerous short stories in Women's World magazine.
            Jon and his wife, Colette, live in Iowa.  They are the proud grandparents of thirteen grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
            When not working writing, Jon enjoys the outdoors, especially fishing.  He waits patiently for the next "big one" to strike.

REVIEW: Weight of Guilt


The Weight of Guilt
Jon Ripslinger

Genre: Young Adult, Crime Fiction, Murder, Suspense
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Publication date: 2.24.2015
Pages: 253


Though this book has a lot of characters in it, the story is mainly about three high school students: Megan, Charley, and John Hawk.  Megan and Charley have been best friends for a long time, and John is new to their school and their small town.  Even though John has a bit of a secret past, he's a good looking guy and, after Megan tries to get Charley to go out with him - with no luck - she sets her eyes on him for herself.  One night at prom and everything changes.  Megan is missing and then found dead.  The cops have only one suspect - John - so it's up to Charley and John to figure out who really took Megan's young life.

I'm always completely honest in my reviews, and this one will be no different.  I wanted to love this book - and I did - but it wasn't until after Megan disappeared that it really grabbed my interest.  The first couple of chapters, to me, were kinda boring and dragging - and let me explain why.  It seemed like every other YA book I've read - gorgeous girl meets good looking new guy who has a past o_O  Sound familiar?  She then dumps her on again-off again boyfriend so she can go with new guy to the prom (even though she had originally tried to set up her not-so-gorgeous best friend with him) and she doesn't really seem to give a flying flip that he doesn't want to go to the prom or who else she may be hurting.  Yes, I found Megan pretty selfish and self-centered.  And slutty.  This is made even worse by the way she treats her father and step-mother when John arrives at her house before the prom.  But then, after their talk in the car after prom, you find out a little bit more about her and her family, and you see that she really is kinda human after all, even though she has this hard, not-so-sweet candy exterior.  Once she goes missing and you start seeing how upset Charley is - and the memories from the past that Charley shares with John - you get to like her a little bit more.  Unfortunately, by the time I started liking her, she was already out of the story.  But that happens.  This IS a murder mystery ... which means someone has to die.

Once her body is found, things REALLY get good.  As I mentioned, the cops have only one suspect, and they're willing to do anything (including lie to him about facts of the case) to get him to mess up or, even better, confess.  The only problem is: he DIDN'T do it.  John and Charley start investigating themselves - first, separately, then together.  There's a lot of suspense and intense moments throughout the story, especially when they are dealing with the cops involved in the story.  And Megan's parents.  As they get closer and closer to finding out who the murderer is, things get more intense - and a little scary (not horror scary, but definitely had me biting my nails and hoping nothing happens to these two).  I started figuring things out around the time that they did, but there was way more to the story than anyone ever expected and, in the end, John is considered a hero.  Even though Megan's dead, there is a happy ending, and I liked the way everything was concluded.

I really liked Charley.  I don't know, I guess I relate with the not-so-pretty, not-so-popular girls in these stories.  They always seem more real than the "perfect" girls in these stories.

The character I disliked the most will probably shock any of you who have read this, but it was John's sister.  Yes, I disliked her more than the person or people that harmed Megan.  She is John's sister and, no matter what has happened in his past, she should have been there for him.  Instead, she seemed to believe everyone but him and blame it all on him as well.  Maybe she was just nervous and worried, but she handled everything all wrong.  Her behavior and attitude only made things worse for John.  (And her son was a tad annoying.  She never seemed to do anything to settle him down or explain things to him.)

Favorite quote: "Fresh out of boyfriends today."  Charley is a sarcastic one.  And pretty witty, too. :)

About the book:
Driving home from a bonfire party, eighteen-year-old John Hawk crashes, killing his girlfriend, Riley.  Bullied and tormented at school, and crushed by his guilty conscience, John transfers to a school on the banks of the Mississippi River, where he attracts the eye of the principal's daughter, Megan.  Though he's reluctant, she convinces him to be her prom date.  The morning after prom, Principal Jones reports Megan missing.  Four days later, her body is recovered from the river, and John becomes the prime suspect in her death.
            Charley Cotton, Megan's best friend, knows that Megan had a secret, but she doesn't trust John because of his past.  John is desperate to avoid adding to the shame he carries for Riley's death, though - it's destroying his life.  With Charley's help, he learns that others in Megan's life had a motive to keep her quiet.  But every effort they make to uncover the truth edges them closer to a desperate murder with everything to lose.


Excerpt:
Riley's drunk, and it's my fault.  Swaying near the blazing bonfire with a dozen other kids, she's guzzling beer from a red Solo cup.  They laugh, jostle, and slop beer over themselves.
            Damn!  I should have been paying more attention to her.  I should have kept better track of time.  You idiot, John!  I need to get her home and tuck her into bed - now - or we'll both be in deep crap.  I step up behind her in the brilliant firelight.  The heat feels good on my face and arms, but the smoke curls into my nostrils, and I cough.  Someone must have piled wet logs on the blaze.
            I touch Riley's shoulders.  "We better go."
            She whirls.  "Where have you been?"
            "Checking out Brian's weightlifting equipment.  I forgot the time.  Sorry."
             Flames leap and crackle into the crisp night air, casting flickering shadows across Riley's face.  Her eyes glitter like stars in the inferno.  A few kids rotate, trying to keep all sides warm.  Earlier, we roasted hot dogs, bratwurst, and marshmallows over the oak blaze.
            "What time is it?" she asks, her words slurred a little.
            "Midnight."  I'd promised her folks I'd ave her home already.  I don't need them yelling at me again.  Or breaking us up.  That thought jars me.  I'd rather lose an arm and a leg than lose Riley.  She's the only good thing in my life, except wrestling.
            "They never come home before two or three," she says and gulps her beer.
            "Let's throw that away.  You've had enough to drink."
            She smiles, her mouth crooked.  "Look who's talking."
            "I haven't had a sip."  True statement.  I never drink the night before a wrestling tournament.  I dump Riley's beer but hang on to the cup - I don't litter.  I also help little old ladies cross the street.  "I can do without your folks pissed at me.  They already don't trust me."
            "Yes, they do."  Riley grabs my free hand and squeezes.
            After planting a kiss on her forehead, I say, "C'mon, pretty lady.  Home we go."  I guide her by the elbow away from the fire.
            The party was a spring break bash at Brian Holdforf's parents' farm pond.  Dense woods block out half the sky, and a breeze ripples the treetops.  My arm around her waist, I guide Riley across the pasture to my car, which is parked by the farmhouse.  A squatty barn and a tall silo loom close by.  Brilliant stars and a huge moon light our way.  Laughter drifts up from the pond, and the scent of pigs floats in the air.
            Opening the car's passenger door, I toss Riley's cup in the back.  Then I slip her into the seat and close the door.  After I climb in, I close my door and poke the lock button to make sure we're secured.  "Buckle up."
            Rather than take Interstate 80, I drive a ribbon of country blacktop that twists through hilly farmland.  I think I can drive the blacktop faster than the highway - hardly any traffic and less chance of the cops picking me up for speeding.  I don't need another face-off with them.
            "I'll bet my parents aren't home," Riley says after we've been on the road a minute or two.  She leans over and kisses my cheek.  "Let's park somewhere.  This road's dark."  Her hair smells of a wood smoke, her breath of stale beer.
            I smile.  I wouldn't mind parking for an hour or so and making out.  "We need to get you home and into bed."
            Wisps of fog curl in my headlights.  I'm zooming downhill toward the Des Moines River, and the curtain of fog thickens quickly.  I cut my speed from seventy to fifty, then to thirty.  I don't want to be going too fast if a deer darts into the road.  Fifteen...
            The fog turns dense - a gray, billowing wall that reflects the glow of my headlights back into my eyes.  I squint and dim the car lights.  I swallow and slow the vehicle to a crawl: ten miles per hour.  I glue my eyes to the yellow center line and guide the car's left fender along the line.
            "Why are you slowing down?" Riley asks.
            "Can't you see how soupy it is out there?"
            I'm not sure when I cross the bridge over the river.  The fog is too thick to see even the side rails.  But when I head uphill, my grip on the wheel eases.  I fill my lungs and exhale slowly.  I've escaped the danger.  The moment I can see ahead of me though - still going ten miles an hour - I spot headlights racing towards me.  They blind me.  I barley have time to swear.
            This can't be!
            Even Riley sees the headlights.  She screams, and the next sound is the wail of my horn and the hideous grinding shriek of brakes as I try to swerve and evade the headlights.

About the author:
After Jon Ripslinger retired as a public high school English teacher, he began a career as an author.  He has published many young adult novels and truly enjoys writing books for teens.  He has also published numerous short stories in Women's World magazine.
            Jon and his wife, Colette, live in Iowa.  They are the proud grandparents of thirteen grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
            When not working writing, Jon enjoys the outdoors, especially fishing.  He waits patiently for the next "big one" to strike.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

REVIEW: Double Visions


Double Visions
Matt Drabble

Genre: Horror, Supernatural
Publication date: 6.2.2015
Pages: 370

Recommended by: Sage's Blog Tours, Read 2 Review
Date read: 5.20.2015


I want to start off with saying that I'm just not one of those fan-girling bloggers that are waiting, breath held, for the next novel from their favorite author to come out.  BUT (there's always a but, isn't there?) ... there are a few - a very few - authors that, yes, I will fangirl about (and I can't believe I'm admitting that now).  Matt Drabble is on that list.  So, when I received an email from Sage (at Sage's Blog Tours), there was no way I was saying no.  And I am SO GLAD that I didn't.

This book ... was awesome!!  Seriously.  I was sucked in from the very beginning and, before I knew it, it was the next morning, I had not slept, and the book was over.  The descriptions ... the stories ... the characters ... the freaky stuff ... I have so much to say, and yet I have no idea where to start.  The description of what happened before was pretty powerful, and the girl that visited Jane at her home was, yeah, perfect.  The identity of the serial killer kept me guessing throughout the ENTIRE story - every time I thought I figured it out, another twist appeared that had me rethinking my choice - and the ending - WOW!  Definitely a must-read.


About the book:
It has been 8 years since the country cowered in fear as the serial killer christened The Crucifer wreaked bloody havoc.
            Jane Parkes had always considered her ability a fine line between a gift and a curse.  She calls it The Shadow World, a place where she can see through the eyes of killers and help bring them to justice.
            Her desperation to prove herself led to a basement confrontation that she wasn't prepared for.  As a result, the Detective that had allowed her to work on the case lay dead alongside the killer.
            She put away her ability to see inside the minds of monsters for 8 long years, but now someone else has taken up The Crucifers' mantle.  Someone is killing again, only this time The Shadow World is a two way street and he wants to play.
            Sucked into a desperate race for survival, Jane is going to learn that sometimes when you stare into the darkness, someone stares back.


About the author:
Born in Bath, England in 1974, a self-professed "funny onion," equal parts sport loving jock and comic book geek.  I am a lover of horror and character driven stories.  I am also an A.S. sufferer who took to writing full time two years ago after being forced to give up the day job.
            I have a career high position of 5th on Amazon's Horror Author Rank of which I am immensely proud.
            "Gated" is a UK and US Horror Chart Top Ten Best Seller and winner of the Full Moon Awards 2014 Horror Book of the Year.
            "Asylum - 13 Tales of Horror" is a US Horror Chart #5.  It was also voted #5 on The Horror Novel Review's Top 10 Books of 2013 and is a Reader Favorite 2014 Gold Medal Winner.
            Both "The Travelling Man" and "Abra-Cadaver" won Indie Book of the Day awards.

Website (visit to download a free short story)

REVIEW: The Experiment of Dreams


The Experiment of Dreams
Brandon Zenner

Genre: Thriller, Science Fiction, Genetic Engineering, Psychology
Publication date: 2.26.2014
Pages: 277

Date read: 5.19.2015


When Sage (from Sage's Blog Tours) contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in being part of this blog tour, I immediately recognized the cover of the book, something that I had purchased sometime last year, but hadn't had a chance to read yet.  Since it was something I had planned to read anyways, I went ahead and said yes.  And I'm glad that I did.  And irritated with myself for waiting so long to read this.

I enjoyed this book.  It was an interesting story line, the main character (Ben) captivated my attention (especially the emotions that he had about the death of his wife) - when the story line changes from just a guy seeing a new doctor, I kept reading and reading.  Now, there were parts where things were a little far-fetched, where the writing needed some help (a second edit would be a wise decision), but all-in-all the story was good, different, and I enjoyed reading it.  I would also read more from this author - I love the way he describes things, the detail that he adds.


About the book:
A shocking psychological thriller: Benjamin Walker's lifelong career of testing experimental drugs and medicines, as well as participating in fascinating sleep-related studies, has come to an end.  A new and lucrative job opportunity is offered to Ben, working on a project named Lucy, a machine capable of reading and recording a person's dreams in intimate detail.  All is finally going well for Ben...until strange dreams of a town named Drapery Falls begin to plague him, and memories once hidden begin to reveal themselves.  The doctors and staff onboard team Lucy are not who Ben thinks they are, and Mr. Kalispell will stop at nothing to keep Ben's emerging memories buried for good.  Ben is put on a collision course that will bring him to the brink of total insanity, and perhaps even death.  At the heart of it all, Ben's worst enemy is his own mind, and he must confront his past in order to save his future.  The twist and turns in The Experiment of Dreams will keep you guessing, down to the very last line.



Excerpt:
"Just a moment," Dr. Wulfric said, using a swivel knob on the keyboard to fast-forward the scene.  He stopped as the images cleared to what looked like mountains; only they were very blurry.  Then the image again snapped into unimaginable charity, the brightness of which startled and entranced Ben.  His brain let loose a sense of euphoria that swept through his body.  The camera was high in the air - in an airplane or helicopter - flying above a colorful mountain range or deep valley, perhaps the Grand Canyon.  Ben didn't know.
            "It's beautiful," Ben said.  "Is that the Grand Canyon?"
            "I'm not sure."
            Patches of brush in the far distance appeared in such detail that Ben doubted that he'd be able to see it any clearer if he were there himself.  Suddenly the camera dropped, diving straight into a massive gorge.  The plane barreled down, and then quickly leveled itself, going faster and faster - like a jet.  Ben felt his stomach lurch as the camera swung straight up, hugging the wall of the canyon.  It was so close to the rocky edge that whatever aircraft was taking these pictures was in serious danger of crashing into the wall.  Flashes of dark brown, yellow, and orange whizzed past the screen at amazing speed, yet the image was never blurred; only his eyes couldn't process the speed in which they were passing.  When Ben blinked and held his eyes shut, the exact image of whatever was flashing by on the screen stayed in his mind like a photograph - no streaking or blurring whatsoever.  It was so fast - too fast.  The scene swooped down and back up through the valleys and gorges, in unbelievable detail.
            Ben's mind whirled.  Dr. Wulfric hit a button and the screen went black.  Ben shuttered his eyes, letting his brain rest.
            "So, what do you think of my video?" Dr. Wulfric asked.
            "I don't know.  Those colors ... I've never seen colors that vivid on a TV screen.  What is this, some new high-def system you're testing?"
            "Not exactly," he chuckled.  "The little girl was my daughter, although she's no longer a child.  The roller skating rink is just like the one we went to on her third birthday, maybe a little different.  The mountains, though - I have no idea where they came from."
            "Okay..."
            "That, Ben...was from a dream I had a few days ago.  I don't remember dreaming it, but that was indeed recorded from my dream."
            Ben looked around the room - the CAT scanner, the computer monitors and blinking machinery, and the Pyrex breakers and other lab ware.  "What exactly are you guys doing here?  You recorded your dream?  Is that what that thing does?" Ben pointed to the scanner.
            "Sort of," Dr. Egan replied before Dr. Wulfric could answer.  "What we have here are two separate technologies.  We've created a serum that actively monitors the neurological activity in the brain during REM sleep and transmits the activity to that piece of equipment over there.  That instrument is called a Frequency Responding Lucid Transmitter.  The serum works off the electrical output of the brain, triggered in part by the release of serotonin in the pineal gland, which lies above the medulla--"
            "Yes, Ben," Dr. Sulfuric said, waving Dr. Egan down - who was pointing at the base of his head to his own medulla oblongata.  "To answer your question without confusing you any further..."  He looked again at Dr. Egan, "that device can read and transmit the images from your sleep - from anybody's sleep.  Presently, it can only transmit during the REM cycle, but that is about to change.  This machine can record a dream in greater length and detail than the dreamer is aware when he's dreaming."
            "That's just crazy," Ben said.  "I mean in a good way.  It's amazing.  I'm starting to see where I fit in with all of this."
            Dr. Wulfric smiled.  "We would like to further explore the extent to which this machine can operate.  We need someone who can utilize their REM cycle to its fullest potential.  Someone like you, Ben."

About the author:
Brandon Zenner was born and raised in Red Bank New Jersey, only a short distance from the shore.  His short fiction has been published in both print and online publications, the first being PLAZM 28, submitted when Brandon was just 19 years old.  In 2014, Brandon published his first full-length novel, "The Experiment of Dreams," as a Kindle ebook.  The paperback novel followed a year later.  His second full-length novel is well on its way.
            Throughout his early years writing, Brandon's favorite practice was to open a dictionary to any random page and aimlessly select the first word that his finger touched.  He would then feverishly write a short story using his Smith-Corona typewriter.  Using a mechanical typewriter, without the aid of auto correct, taught the importance of grammar and spelling (as well as patience and aggravation).

Friday, May 22, 2015

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Matt Drabble


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Everyone, this is is Matt.  Matt, this is everyone.  :)  I'm pretty excited about this interview because I'm a big fan and own almost everything that you've written, so give me a second while I fangirl *swoon* (haha). 
            Okay, I'm better now.  Tell us a little bit about yourself, Matt.

Matt Drabble:
Born in Bath, England in 1974, a self-processed "funny onion," equal parts sport loving jock and comic book geek.  I am a lover of horror and character driven stories.  I am also an A.S. sufferer who took to writing full time two years ago after being forced to give up the day job.  

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

Matt Drabble:
  • The first concert that I attended with Bon Jovi.  The support act was a band called The Dan Reed Network.  I became a big fan of theirs and ended up being pen pals with their costume designer.
  • I was a teenager when the movie "The Lost Boys" came out.  My friends and I all brought long black coats from local charity (thrift) shops and wore them no matter how hot the weather got.
  • Being a big comic book fan, I once wrote a letter to a Spiderman issue professing my admiration for the cliff-hanger storyline.  They published my letter and were very impressed by my writing t the point of saying that maybe one day when I grew up I might be a comic book writer.  The trouble was that I was 22 at the time.
  • I was a very promising rugby player when I was young and I thought that I might have the chance of a pro career, but that ended when we moved and I went from an all boy's school to a mixed school and discovered girls.
  • During an IQ test when I was younger, I came out with a score of 142 which put me in the upper echelons of the scale.  It serves no real purpose in life, it only meant that I was able to maintain a full time job at university and only attend a handful of classes while still passing the exams and gaining my qualifications.  In reality I tend to get bored very easily and am often fidgety.  I tend to read a book with the TV on and music playing at the same time in order to relax.
The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

Matt Drabble:
Lord of the Flies.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

Matt Drabble:
James Herbert's "The Fog" and the graphic novel "Watchmen."

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

Matt Drabble:
I have always dabbled with writing and would often have several notepads with incomplete books and story ideas.  A few years ago I was diagnosed with a degenerative back condition and couldn't work a normal full time job anymore.  As a result I needed to find a way of generating some kind of income and pulled out some of my old notes and thought that I'd try and at least finish a book.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

Matt Drabble:
I have a small office at home.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Matt Drabble:
I cannot write in silence, I always have the TV on normally with a movie or the best thing is a mini-series.  It has to be something familiar enough that I can follow it without watching it.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?

Matt Drabble:
Anything by Stephen King, particularly "The Dead Zone."  I love a novel with multiple story strands and characters.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Matt Drabble:
Sometimes I suppose motivation can be a problem if there are other things going on or if a new book isn't getting the attention that you hoped for.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

Matt Drabble:
It is always characters for me.  How can you care about their predicament and struggle if you're not interested in them.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Matt Drabble:
I think that every character is me.  It is said that when you dream everyone in your dream is actually you.  I think that all the characters that I write are me in some way or the me I'd like to be or the me that I fear I am.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Why did you pick your particular genre?

Matt Drabble:
I write in the Horror/Dark Thriller category.  I enjoy the pacing and creating someone that the reader will become interested in before placing them in jeopardy.  Horror gives a wider canvas to paint on without becoming completely unbelievable.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Matt Drabble:
I always try and write three dimensional characters with well rounded storylines.  I know that there is a market for instant gratification and some readers will get bored if someone hasn't been decapitated on the first page, but I always try and follow King's example and create a whole world.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is in your 'trunk'?  (Everyone has a book or project, which doesn't necessarily have to be book related, that they have put aside for a 'rainy day' or for when they have extra time.  Do you have one?)

Matt Drabble:
I have a "Man-Cave" that I'm constantly tinkering with.  I'm a big comic book fan as well as movies and gaming.  So I have a lot of self-built shelving and display cabinets.  My latest project that I've just finished is a coffee table where the top is a replica of an old Nintendo game controller.


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Matt Drabble:
I am currently writing a sequel to "Asylum" which will be out later this year.  I also have half of my first Zombie novel done called "The Croatoan Virus."

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
It's been great having you on, Matt.  Thanks for stopping by. :)


About the book:
It has been 8 years since the country cowered in fear as the serial killer The Crucifer wreaked bloody havoc.
            Jane Parkes has always considered her ability a fine line between a gift and a curse.  She calls it The Shadow World, a place where she can see through the eyes of killers and help bring them to justice.
            Her desperation to prove herself led to a basement confrontation that she wasn't prepared for.  As a result, the Detective that had allowed her to work on the case lay dead alongside the killer.
            She put away her ability to see inside the minds of monsters for 8 long years, but now someone else has taken up The Crucifers' mantle.  Someone is killing again, only this time The Shadow World is a two way street and he wants to play.
            Sucked into a desperate race for survival, Jane is going to learn that sometimes when you stare into the darkness, someone stares back.


About the author:
Born in Bath, England in 1974, a self-possessed "funny onion," equal parts sport loving jock and comic book geek.  I am a lover of horror and character driven stories.  I am also an A.S. sufferer who took to writing full time two years ago after being forced to give up the day job.
            I have a career high position of 5th on Amazon's Horror Author Rank of which I am immensely proud.
            "Gated" is a UK and US Horror Chart Top Best Seller and winner of the Full Moon Awards 2014 Horror Book of the Year.
            "Asylum - 13 Tales of Terror" is a US Horror Chart #5.  It was also voted #5 on The Horror Novel Review's Top 10 Books of 2013 and is a Reader Favorite 2014 Gold Medal Winner.
            Both "The Travelling Man" and "Abra-Cadaver" won Indie Book of the Day awards.

Website (visit to download a free short story)