Saturday, November 26, 2011

Q&A with Devin O'Branagan

When I first joined Devin's forum in September, I had no idea that it would become such an integral part of my life. I sometimes wondered if I should get out and find a writing group like this in the real world, but with this group it didn't really matter. I grew to know them, to appreciate their support and their individual talent, and in process Devin became a very good friend.

Now that I've finished reading Threshold and Witch Hunt (expect a review soon), I'm very excited to share this Q&A with you. Enjoy!

Devin O'Branagan - author

1) The classic: Tell me a bit about yourself. I know a bit from your forum and your bio, but for those who don't - spill the beans!

I’ve been writing fiction since I was five years old—my first story was a ghost story. My first two published novels, also paranormal fiction, were released by Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books in English and by Heyne in German. I have since published six more novels in a variety of genres including paranormal thrillers, paranormal chick lit, comic chick lit, canine chick lit, and young adult urban fantasy. In addition, I write a humor column for TAILS Magazine.

2) I always like to find out about a fellow writer's routine while they work - still trying to master my own. What would you say are your "needs" when you sit down to write?

All I need is my laptop computer. I have no special routine—I just sit down in my favorite easy chair and write. I have a big basket next to the chair, and it is filled with haphazard notes I’ve made on plot, characters, dialogue and research. I also have a dictionary and thesaurus at the ready. Otherwise I’m a fly-by-the seat-of my-pants kind of writer.

Moving onto THRESHOLD!

3) I've often heard you say that this book is your "favourite baby". What is it about THRESHOLD that makes it stand out from all the novels you've written?

I believe it’s my best-written novel. It is also my most inspirational. For me, writing isn’t just about telling a good story, but also about moving people’s hearts.

4) What was your inspiration behind THRESHOLD? Not only the NDE, but all of it - the shamans, the bit "art" themes, etc. 

THRESHOLD was inspired by a near-death experience of my own, which fueled my lifelong spiritual journey. That journey took me through the study of many religions and metaphysical paths, including shamanism. Other themes in the book, from art to quantum physics, are areas of personal interest to me. Everything in my life is grist for the mill of my writing.

5) She wasn't there very much, but I really loved Quinn "Queen B". She's strong, assertive, sometimes brash and rude, but still understanding, compassionate, and not blind to her own fault. I'd love to know more about her. 

Throughout my life I have met people of true power, and people with imagined power. I wanted to explore that dichotomy and did so via Branwen and her mother, Quinn. It’s interesting how many people have claimed Quinn as their favorite character in THRESHOLD. I think it’s because she is representative of a woman who is truly powerful.

6) More importantly, tell us a bit about YOUR favourite character in THRESHOLD. 

The primary protagonist, Cole, is my favorite character. He is amazing. Prior to his NDE he was not a nice child, and even though the reasons for that are explained, he never justifies his bad behavior. He owns it, tries to change, and seeks redemption. He has such courage, even if reckless at times. And he has genuine compassion. I loved working with him.

7) Other works:

My first novel, now out of print, was SPIRIT WARRIORS, a paranormal thriller about the end-times as prophesied by the Hopi Indians. While researching it, I lived in a log cabin near the Hopi reservation and studied with the spokesman for the Hopi Elders. I may update and rerelease it when time allows.

WITCH HUNT was my second novel, published by Pocket Books in English and Heyne in German. It is a paranormal thriller about three hundred years in the history of a family of witches, from the days of the Salem trials through to a modern, fundamentalist-inspired witch hunt. It went out of print as well, so I had the rights reverted to me and in 2010 released an updated version of it. It spent much of 2011 on Amazon’s Metaphysical Fiction Bestsellers List and was recently picked up by Turkish publisher, Dogan Egmont.

GLORY was released last year and is the first in my planned young adult urban fantasy series, THE LEGEND OF GLORY. In GLORY, a seventeen-year-old girl’s blood holds the cure for a deadly pandemic plague, and a witch, an angel, and a vampire are assigned to be her bodyguards. It, too, was on Amazon’s Metaphysical Fiction Bestsellers List and was also nominated for the 2011 Best Popular Paperback for Young Adults List, sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) of the American Library Association.

And then there are THE RED HOT NOVELS, a chick lit series that includes the suspenseful comedy, RED HOT PROPERTY, the paranormal chick lit sequel, RED HOT LIBERTY, and the canine chick lit spinoff, SHOW DOG SINGS THE BLUES. These books are comedic, but include a depth uncommon to traditional chick lit. I like to deal with issues in my fiction: gay rights, animal welfare, taking a stand for what is right in life no matter what the cost, rising above one’s limitations, etc. Even the delightful SHOW DOG SINGS THE BLUES—which is told from the dog’s perspective—has a message. When a pampered show dog is mistaken for a cowdog and has to work on a ranch for the day, she discovers she is much more than just another pretty face. The main characters in the RED HOT series (human and canine) grow, learn, and become more than they imagine is possible.

SHOW DOG SINGS THE BLUES hit the #1 spot on Amazon’s Hot New Releases and spent time on the bestsellers list for books about dogs. I donate a portion of the proceeds to Australian Shepherd Rescue.

8) I'm currently reading WITCH HUNT and so far I'm loving it. It seems you and I share an interest in historical intolerance. What is it about the Salem Witch Trials that sparked your imagination for this novel?

In 1989 the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwā—a death sentence—against author Salman Rushdie for writing a novel offensive to the Islamic faith. I was horrified, and my first thought was, “That couldn’t happen in America!” My second thought was to remember the Salem trials. Because of the strong influence groups like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition were having in the 1980’s, I grew concerned that history might repeat itself, and so I wrote WITCH HUNT as a cautionary tale.

9) Care to tell us about any new projects in the works? You're hardly the time to stay idle for long.

I am working on the sequel to GLORY, titled PRETTY SACRIFICES. I am also working on THE TWILIGHT BONE, which is the prequel to SHOW DOG SINGS THE BLUES. The third book in the RED HOT series, RED HOT VAMPYRE, is in the planning stage.

10) I love that you're so interactive with your readers. What made you decide to create your forum? 

Following the release of my first young adult novel, GLORY, I made a lot of public appearances. Most of the teens who attended my programs had writing ambitions, and I felt the need to encourage their talent. I originally started the forum simply as a place to hold flash fiction contests for new writers. Over time it grew into the wonderful writers’ forum it is today. Our international membership now includes people of all ages and all experience levels, from beginning writers to professional authors. We also have members who are not writers, but are artists, publishing professionals, as well as people interested in animals, metaphysics, and reading. The forum allows me to interact with fans in a personal way that I find most rewarding.

11) Any parting words? The rest is up to you!

One of the things I’m most proud of is how I’ve found ways to use my writing to support animal rescue. I’ve held two major raffles to raise money for Best Friends Animal Society, the nation’s largest no-kill sanctuary for homeless, abused, and abandoned animals. The prizes I offered were to feature the winners’ pets as characters in my novels. Through sales of my books and plush toys related to the themes of my writing, I also support Australian Shepherd Rescue, Border Collie Rescue, and cat rescue groups.

If anyone would like to learn more about my books, animal rescue projects, and forum, please visit my website at

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Devin O'Branagan's Witch Hunt - A Review

Leigh has been married to a Hawthorne for a decade, but never knew the family secret: the Hawthornes are witches. When the dynamic Preacher Cody instigates a new, world-wide witch hunt, Leigh must choose sides. Will she stand with her husband and children, or will she run? 

This isn't the first witch hunt the Hawthornes have faced, but it could be their last. Will anyone survive?

The first book I picked up after finishing O'Branagan's Threshold, was Witch Hunt, her second published novel, recently updated and reprinted.

The title goes a long way to explain what drew me to this book. The "Burning Times" is a particular passion of mine, and as a result is the basis of many of my own works. I was excited and intrigued to see what another author would do with similar material. I wasn't disappointed. I was angry. Just as the author intended I would be.

The structure of Witch Hunt is an effective flip-flop from the past to the present as it follows the history of the Hawthorne family from their persecution during the Salem witch trials to the present-day hounding by a local televised and zealous Preacher. With stops along the way in Ireland and Denver, the novel offers a wide net of faiths, rituals, local cultures, and local prejudices.

While at times seeming far-fetched and over-the-top, it's sobering to remember that many of the most bizarre, cruel events in the novel are solidly based on well-researched fact. The trials in Salem, for example, are almost completely based on anecdotes from the time. I can attest to that, having done a lot of research myself. What Devin does, though, is add the human element back into the history. It's easy to become dissociated with deaths that happened over centuries ago, but Witch Hunt reminds us that the victims of such radical purging had personalities, families, loves of their lives.

This is a book the will spark your rage against the injustice created by prejudice, and how easily the masses can be lead to believe the ridiculous if there's someone charismatic enough in the big chair. At the same time, it's a story that inspires courage and hope that it is possible to stand up and do something about it. To pick a side and show support and change the world for someone else. In that way, Witch Hunt is similar to Threshold, in that it's a lesson in stepping up; in making difficult choices and learning to accept the consequences.

This book needs to get more attention; not just for the important reminder it offers, but also for it's well-crafted story, wonderful characters, and let's not forget that always-needed touch of magic ;)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Weather Patterns

It seems I want what I don't have. Although this applies to many aspects of my life, it also pertains to writing - and never more so than in my choice of seasons for a given novel. 

I woke up this morning to find the first bit of snow on the ground. I like winter. I don't like the driving, or when the snow gets all mucky and brown (or yellow), and I don't particularly enjoy that it goes on as long as it does in my neck of the woods, but I like the first heavy snowfall of the year, and I love how the sky gets orange at night when it snows. It makes me feel like I'm wrapped up in a big fleecy towel. 

It's also when I start writing about summer. 

Some of my best thunderstorm and sunny-day descriptions take place in the dead of winter, and likewise I can come up with some fantastic winter-plots during a heat-wave in August. 

I suppose in a way it makes sense. Once more it's writing as a part of escapism - avoiding reality by creating my own. When I'm writing these scenes it removes me from the time of year, the tedium of heavy winter coats or the discomfort of humid-nothing-works-except-nudity-and-air-conditioning afternoons, and brings me somewhere I want to be. That's what all writing is, right? I guess I just notice the season contradiction because it's really the only aspect that keeps with reality. 

Oh, I can imagine that I'm in a world with magic, where a dragon could land on the building where I work, smash in the window with a heavy spiked tail and whisk me far away from the day-to-day routine...but I'm nearly 100% certain that's not going to happen. Probably. 

With the weather, I know that what I write will come true. I know the eventually the snow will melt (hopefully, although come April I begin to doubt it), and some of those days I've written about will actually happen. What sort of concerns me, though, is that I'm never happy with "what is", always looking forward to the next phase. But I guess it's a balance. Looking forward to the future, and expressing it through writing, while at the same time appreciating what's outside my window now. 

So I'm going to switch to my winter boots today, and maybe write a good old-fashioned snowman-building,  snowball-fighting scene. Just because. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

November Flash Fiction

It's the middle of the month, and you know what that means! Time to vote for your favourite flash fiction submission at Devin's Forum!

The difference this month? I maaayyyy have entered a submission of my own. Want to guess which one?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

C.J. Duarte's The Dash - A review

The only thing more difficult than trying to find time for great book in a busy schedule? Trying to find time for two. As I was reading O'Branagan's Threshold, I was also making my way through Volume I of The Dash - and both authors succeeded in sucking me into their worlds - Devin onto a ranch in Montana, and C.J. into the black-and-white world of Cloak Valley.

And I don't mean black-and-white in a rational, logical sort of way. I mean literally.

Claire Bead is a twenty-three-year-old Canadian woman with dreams of becoming a successful author, at the turn of the first decade of the twenty-first century. When she cuts work one day in a fit of desperation, Claire suddenly finds herself thrust into a dangerous bind, one from which she expects no escape. Just as suddenly, however, she feels her body disappear into thin air. 

What follows is an epic mystery unlike any other, as Claire wakes up to discover herself in a whole other world: the picturesque, whimsical, black-and-white town of Cloak Valley, Monochrome. Crippled by an imperfect memory and by the fleeting uncertainty of whether she is alive and dreaming, or dead and dreaming, Claire, with the help of others, tries to make sense of the muddled existence in which she finds herself; to make sense of recurring visions, which may or may not be dreams within greater dreams; and above all, to make sense of her own fractured identity and intangible history. As she becomes more and more comfortable in a strange land, she prepares for a future that might be either some form of an afterlife, or the last rush of unconscious desires that fly through Claire's mind, before she meets her demise.

A sprawling tale of spiritual self-discovery, misadventure, terror, intrigue and romance, The Dash also provides its readers with an invaluable capacity for personal interactions, at the least expected moments. It is not only a story to be read, but a story to be experienced. Just as Claire must eventually find the answers to life's most profound questions, in an increasingly-formless world, so can the reader be thrust directly into Claire's viewpoint, and embark on an enchanting ride sure to both heighten the senses and nurture the heart.

There are some crazy fans out there. Fans of films, books, shows, and graphic novels that stand outside the lines of genre. Fans who are proud of themselves for their own unique tastes, and passionate about the often overlooked, but usually exceptional "cult classic". If you are one of these people, then you must pick up this book.

The story begins when Claire - for reasons yet to be explained - jumps out of a window. It just gets more bizarre from there. After she wakes up, she begins her exploration of a town full of fascinatingly odd characters, in a setting that very quickly takes the reader out of their own reality and plops them down unceremoniously into one that is, although very similar in many ways, a little skewed.

For me, stepping into Cloak Valley was a bit like stepping into a graphic novel. It's a world where everyone's reactions and emotions are exaggerated and where people's flaws and quirks become the focus-point of who they are, like walking caricatures. Not a single character fit the mould for a typical human being, and yet somehow could be related to, attached to. This is what I loved most about this book,and it is also what marks The Dash as something new and unique.

The plot follows multiple story-lines and multiple characters, but everything comes back to Claire as she tries to figure out what's going on around her. Another aspect I love about the book is the very deep feeling of metadrama that pops up occasionally through out. As a writer, it seems that Claire has the worst case of writer's block ever experienced. As a writer reading this book, I can appreciate that.

A project nearly a decade in the making, the dedication Duarte shows in crafting this piece shows in every vivid (if colourless) description and every character with a signature accessory. It is not only a novel, it is a craft piece of art, and, if you are prepared and willing to try something new and different, then I recommend you order the book here. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Coming up...

I'm hoping that my next couple of posts will really catch the fancy of my readers. This Wednesday, look for a review of CJ Duarte's The Dash, and following that, an exciting new author Q&A! Well, I'm excited about it anyway.

After reading Devin O'Branagan's Threshold, I'm really looking forward to getting deeper into her head with a few pointed questions, and to give her a chance to promote the new book! Intrigued by what you've read so far? Click here to read another writer's perspective on all of Devin's books to date. It's a really great website with some really great insight! Check it out.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Devin O'Branagan's Threshold - A Review

Cole Dillon drowns in Deer Lake shortly before his thirteenth birthday. Elijah Thunderbird, a Native American shaman, travels between the worlds to bring Cole back from death. Unfortunately, Cole isn’t supposed to survive, and with the natural order disrupted, dark spirits follow them home.

During Cole’s near-death experience, he is assigned an important mission that involves saving the lives of many other children. However, when he is revived, he can’t remember the details and undertakes a challenging quest of discovery.

Meanwhile, the dark spirits begin to manifest in the lives of the local town residents, bringing hatred and death. When shamanic visions reveal that many young lives are indeed in imminent danger, Elijah has to help Cole find the courage to do what is required of him before it is too late.

As Elijah tries to help Cole, he struggles with his own personal demons, and both men—one young, one old—must decide how much they are willing to sacrifice in order to save others.

A moving paranormal thriller about courage, faith, and the transformative power of love.

Whatever you're doing right now, stop it. Making dinner? Let it burn. Sleeping? WAKE UP, sleep can wait. Instead, you must all hurry and buy this book. You will not regret it.

I fell in love with the main character of Threshold within the first two pages of this novel. A budding attorney, Cole is clever, funny, and a (at first) typical thirteen year old boy. The novel begins as Cole, his older sister Leah, and his younger sister, Rachel, hold a trial condemning the new member of their household: their stepmother. In this brief scene, I already learn so much about the characters I will grow to love.

The setting is divided between a cattle ranch, the Indian reservation, and the small town of Deer Lake in Montana, and the imagery of each is unique and beautiful, the characters rich and interesting, and the themes moving, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking.

An intense look at near-death experiences and the lessons we can learn from them, Threshold deals with  personal demons, actual demons, and everything in between. It's a commentary of prejudice, on acceptance, on coming-of-age, on the destructive nature of hate and the healing power of love.

These may be themes that have been touched on ad nauseum over the years, but O'Branagan's light touch, with her mix of humour and believable and, more importantly, relateable experiences, manages to steer Threshold away from being trite to a beautiful and touching narrative.

If I had to pick one flaw, it's only that it ended too soon. I would have been happy with a lot more.

I highly recommend this book, and after you've read it, come and meet Devin for yourself at her forum! It's a great place for writers, readers, or people just looking for a good chat.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lights, Camera, Action!

I cast movies in my head. Not just any movies, of course: book adaptations - especially my own. No, no, I'm not getting ahead of myself with fantasies of big movie deals, and premieres, and pretty dresses (dreams are the food that keep me going *sniff*), it's just something I find happens while I write. 

Scenes play in my head like a movie reel. There's dialogue, camera angles for the action scenes, close-ups and wide shots, and while it can get a bit distracting sometimes, it's a great way to get the words down. I'm not so much creating as describing what I'm seeing. This turns out to be a huge help with seeing subtle details. With character it can be facial expressions or movement. People aren't stiff, or permanently stoic (unless you're Barret), and adding the little details like a smirk, or a blink, can add to the character. With setting, it's the difference between a silent, backdrop forest, and one the reader can get immersed in, filled with the sound of birds, and twigs cracking, and the wind blowing through the trees.

I'm curious how many other writers do the same, because I know I'm not unique in this way. Most of my characters are the ones I've made up in my head that I can't match to anyone real, but I have faces of all kinds of famous people in mind while I write, attached to one character or another. Sometimes it's a post-writing match just for fun, but I find that choosing someone to play the role of my lead, for example, helps me to stay consistent in her description. I always have a general idea of what she looks like, but what if in one scene I describe her hair as wavy and in another it's straight? 

Same with setting. Picturing it like a movie set helps me remember where all the doors are to which rooms (bathroom second door on the left), and how to reach that secret stairwell that brings you down to the second room in the basement that can't be reached any other way. Since consistency is one of the key elements in keeping a story real and allowing the reader to get lost, I'm willing to use whatever tricks or cues I can to help me remember that Barret likes to drive blue cars, not yellow. 

I'm a DVD junkie. I love movies for the same reasons I love books - they're great stories, with interesting characters - and I watch so many of them that I guess it's not surprising I would use mental films to help me write. Is it a nice thought that one day I may see these films come to life? Maybe. For now, though, I'm content to keep them all in my head - it will never be more perfect than how I see it ;)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Good luck!

It seems I've come down with a touch of the flu. It's wonderful actually. We've become very close friends. On the downside, I'm a bit out of it for a full blog post.

BUT I do want to send a huuuuuuuuge vote of confidence to all writers participating in Nanowrimo2011.

Not sure what it is, but intrigued by how fun it is to say? It stands for National Novel Writing Month. Just as it sounds: over November, the goal is to write an entire novel. No pressure.

I haven't participated yet, but many of my friends are this year. My role will be to do my best to offer support, indulge them with coffee and chocolate to help them maintain some degree of sanity, and be there to listen to their wails of frustration.

Honestly, it's a great challenge, and ultimately it's meant to be fun. Sound like something you'd be interested in? There's always next year - and I encourage you to try!


And the post isn't over yet! The beginning of November also means a new flash fiction contest at Devin O'Branagan's forum. This month's prompt: dark angel.  Check it out and submit a story OR if you're more the reading type, check it out on November 16 to read all the entries and vote!