Tag Archives: fiction

Interview with a magician: R.J. Lewis

With no further ado, then, please help me welcome R.J. Lewis (Arjay) to my blog.

Arjay interviewMGF: You started out as a puppeteer, went from there to performing magic and Broadway. You’ve written screenplays and been in movies and on television, and you’re now a resident magician for Princess Cruise Lines. I hesitate to ask, but how does all that lead you to write dark fantasy and horror?

Arjay: Actually I write in several genres, wherever the story takes me. My main series is a collection of murder mysteries that feature a psychic detective who is a professor of parapsychology. I have two books released in that series, Fire In The Mind and Seduction In The Mind. The Muse is a stand-alone, inspired by my writing of a short story The Dark, which appeared in H.P. Lovecraft Magazine of Horror. I used to avoid scary books, as I was a bit of a sensitive child. However, I have been won over by the writing of Dean Koontz and Stephen King. As a reader I just get pulled in so strongly by the writing and the excitement of the situations, despite the dark overtones.

MGF: Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Arjay: My entire life I have been surrounded by writers. My father wrote a novel, which I never saw, and the manuscript is long gone. I have written plays and live shows since I was fifteen or sixteen. Finally two of my mentors and friends were writers, Parke Godwin and Marvin Kaye. I learned early on the discipline of the work and the joy of when you have a good writing day.

MGF: You’ve mentioned the “call of the odd” to me. I used to write a little horror myself (not very successfully), and I’m still a consumer of horror, so I have an idea what this phrase means to me. What does it mean to you as a writer?

Arjay: I am attracted to the paranormal. Which is interesting, as I am a major skeptic. Since ancient times we have been handed down stories of unusual creatures and concepts that defy explanation, as well as tales of those with extraordinary gifts. I think there is a desire within us as a species to explore those concepts, and fiction is the perfect outlet. We can create entire worlds, but as writers we must people them with characters that will appeal and pull the reader into the story. If so, the reader will go anywhere you want to take them and they will enjoy the ride.

MGF: I have to ask, since it’s the anniversary of Harry Houdini’s death. Some people think performing magic led him to a belief in the occult and then to a desire to debunk fake psychics in his quest to find the real thing. Do you think your career in magic affected your decision to write about odd things like psychic detectives and parasitic creatures?

Arjay: Absolutely. On one hand I am a complete skeptic, and can debunk people who bend spoons and “read minds” with ease. But underneath, a part of me wishes to believe in the impossible. And that part is what makes me strive in my act to create effects that will leave the audience wondering. My act is the perfect counterpoint. On one hand, I tell the audience it is all a trick, but then I do things that leave them unsure.

MGF: The Muse was definitely part of that “call of the odd”. I know there’s a little story about how it came to be written. Can you tell us?

Arjay: In June of 1999, I had the desire to write a horror tale about a night guard who saw things in the dark—that were actually there. I had been a guard in my youth and always found the dark places in the warehouse I worked creepy and for some reason those feelings came to the forefront with that story. It wasn’t until the next day, when I read the news that Stephen King had been hit by a truck in Maine. I was overcome with an odd sense that something needed that story to be written and since he couldn’t, it moved to me. The thought stuck with me and I wondered what it would be like if there was something—an actual physical entity that could make people write—and not just write, but write best sellers. That concept became The Muse.

MGF: Okay, so your characters in The Muse go through some pretty dark stuff. Do you ever write something and wonder, Where did that come from?

Arjay: For me that sort of sums up that entire book. My villain in The Muse is a famous writer who is secretly a serial killer, and who has a symbiont living within him that influences him. I knew that the creature had to leave him, but I didn’t expect him to devolve into a monstrous killing machine. A lot of the book revealed itself to me as I went, and I kept saying “I didn’t see that coming” which was great fun.

MGF: I have to admit I haven’t started your series about the psychic detective (Fire in the Mind, Seduction in the Mind, Reunion in the Mind)—yet. They are definitely on my list. These books are coming out pretty rapidly. June, September and November of this year respectively. Any chance you’re going to take a break and let us readers catch up?

Arjay: I have six books in that series already written, so I intend to release the next three next year, fairly quickly as well. I have over a dozen finished manuscripts and I want to start to release them to build momentum and establish myself as a writer. After that I will have to write the new ones, so that will slow down the release a lot. However, I have rough outlines for eighteen In The Mind books, which will not only cover the lead character’s growth but the ups and downs of his relationship with the female lead.

MGF: So your first book was published in June of this year and you already have a backlist. You obviously write a lot. What is your writing routine like?

Arjay: I write every day and usually block out nine to noon for writing new material. I live on the cruise ship, The Ruby Princess , which allows me to wander to various place I have to write, even outside in a deck chair. In the late afternoon, I will do rewrites on books that are getting cleaned up for the copy editor. If I have a release date looming, I put in evening hours as well.

MGF: Not that you need to, but because it starts tomorrow—any chance you’ll be joining National Novel Writing Month?

Arjay: My daughter, also a writer, is rising to that challenge. My rule is that I do not start a new book while one is sitting half done. This is why I have over a dozen finished novels. I have a book that I must turn my attention to in the In The Mind series, and I have a release on November 20 of Reunion In The Mind, so I must focus on getting that work finalized. However I will attempt to raise my word count for the month.

MGF: Finally, thank you very much for being my special guest today. It means a lot to have you here. I know my readers can go to your website (http://arjaylewis.com) to find out more about you and your novels. Anything else you’d like to include?

Arjay: Yes, I want to take a moment to praise YOUR writing. I went through your novel, Movie Magic all in one day and it is a great read. My complaint with many romance novels is that they sometime can be slow—often as a device to build the amorous tension. However, your book takes off like a rocket and keeps going, with vivid descriptions and fully developed characters, plus a four act structure that kept me turning pages. Since I have a background in magic and filmmaking, you really got the “feel” of what it is like to work in those industries. Plus the male lead is a magician! What more could I want?

What more indeed? Again, many thanks to Arjay for taking the time to answer my questions (and read Movie Magic). I’m looking forward to reading the In the Mind series and I highly recommend The Muse to anyone who enjoys horror. It’s fast-paced, horrifying and fun. And the twist ending caught even me off guard. Check out Arjay’s author page here: https://www.amazon.com/Arjay-Lewis/e/B071P9NND3/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

 

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Plastic fiction: What happens when writers give up on soul

Three years ago, Ursula K. Le Guin gave an impassioned speech in which she basically implored writers to write what they wanted to write and not what the publishing industry told them to write. She asked that literature in all forms return to being considered an art form. “Books aren’t just commodities,” she said.

I’ve often wondered if I would sell out if someone offered me the opportunity to sign with a big publisher that would basically guarantee my book would be a bestseller with an awesome marketing plan and everything all taken care of—but I had to write a book the publisher wanted with the plot all spelled out for me. Would I do it? Would I sell out? Would I turn out a plastic fiction book with no soul and no art just to gain readers?

I can’t answer that question. I fear I might. It’d probably be easy enough to write if I didn’t have to come up with the plot myself. And I have a respectable backlist now. Surely I should consider that in the equation. If I gained lots of readers with my plastic fiction—readers who enjoyed my style of writing and who would then consume my other books—wouldn’t it be worth it? But then, too, I’d be feeding the plastic fiction industry that has taken over the publishing world and made it more difficult for writers to be the artists they are meant to be.

Not sure you know what I mean by plastic fiction? Oh yes, you do. It’s especially prevalent in my chosen genre at the moment. For a while it was vampire romances (which has now morphed to include werewolves and shapeshifters and lots of other paranormals). I’m not saying these are all bad. I’ve even read a few that are exceptionally good. But those can be hard to find. And then there’s the fifty-shades phenomenon that is reflected in everything from content (way more explicit than just a few years ago) to covers (haven’t you noticed the trend to monochromatic still life since Christian Grey’s silk tie?).

I think the surge in independent publishing has been a reaction to writers trying to avoid the plastic fiction publishing industry. I’m proud to be a part of that surge. I love what I write, and I love publishing my little bits of art. They aren’t the highest quality—maybe they’re made of aluminum instead of gold or silver—but they aren’t plastic, either. I know this because they come from my heart and contain bits of my soul.

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Literary fiction authors are boring intellectuals with no imagination.

Ha! That got your attention, didn’t it?

Before I get slammed by literary fiction authors, please understand that I don’t actually mean that. I have read literary fiction I LOVE. I’ve also read some that I  hate. It happens, just like it does with genre—even (and possibly especially) romance, my own preferred genre.

The difference between literary authors and genre authors is that too often genre authors will just sit back and take abuse about our chosen style of writing. “It’s simple and easy,” says the literary author. A horror author replies **crickets** and gruesomely kills the literary author off in his next book. “It’s all about sex, sex, sex,” says the literary author. The romance author replies, “What? You don’t like sex? Of course it’s about sex.” But it’s not. “I can’t imagine reading anything genre,” says the literary author. “What the hell’s the matter with you, then?” says Me.

Seriously, I’m sick of it. As a librarian, I encourage reading. Period. Read what you want to read, but JUST READ. Our society as a whole is becoming less informed, less literate—and less tolerant of those with other viewpoints. A really great way to expose yourself to other viewpoints is reading. Here’s a beginner’s list of ten novels from various genres you should read now. Like, go to Amazon and download them to your Kindle because if you haven’t read them, you’re missing out.

  1. Watership Down by Richard Adams
  2. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
  3. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
  4. Nightbird by Alice Hoffman
  5. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
  6. The White Dragon by Anne McCaffrey
  7. The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop
  8. Swan Song by Robert McCammon
  9. Dune by Frank Herbert
  10. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

You’ll notice there are all different reading levels, genre and literary fiction included. My point with this post is that if you’re reading, you’re doing a great thing for yourself and for the world. And if you’re a writer, read what you want to read, write what you want to write and stop giving other writers a hard time. And if you’re a genre writer, STOP turning the other cheek. What you write is not less because of the genre. Only the quality of the writing can make it that.

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Disregarding the Oracles

I love science fiction. As early as the 1800s, science fiction authors were predicting today’s everyday things like motion-sensing doors and credit cards. Pretty commonplace by today’s standards, but imagine how out-of-this-world it must have seemed when Jules Verne described his “phonotelephote” which allowed “the transmission of images by means of sensitive mirrors connected by wires”. And yet today we take things like Skype and FaceTime for granted.

Other predictions have hit close to the mark as well. H.G. Wells predicted the atomic bomb. Tom Clancy wrote about a terrorist attack that was very similar to September 11. Writers have predicted everything from the World Wide Web to skywriting and lunar modules launching from Florida. So what is my point?

Yesterday I happened on this petition: Writers on Trump. It said many of the same things I have felt for most of this election season, which is, basically, that Donald Trump as president of the United States would be a disaster. I’ve kept my political views off this blog for the largest portion of the election season, but I’m crossing the line now. Here it goes.

This petition, which I did add my name to, is signed by some of today’s leading writers. Bestselling authors. Household names. Stephen King. Amy Tan. Jane Smiley. The authors whose names are bigger than the titles of their works. The ones whose new releases have long reserve list even though the library splurged and bought thirteen copies.

Today’s oracles.

Writers see the world differently. Writers observe, but they also influence. When Aldous Huxley wrote about mood-enhancing drugs in 1932, perhaps it sparked the invention of anti-depressants? But it is very difficult to understand how Jonathan Swift in 1735 could predict that Mars actually had two moons, a fact that was not discovered until 1877.

What are today’s writers predicting? Dystopia seems more prevalent than Utopia these days. Apocalyptic futures abound. Are these prophecies unavoidable, self-fulfilling or just warnings of what might be?

The Writers on Trump petition is pretty damn clear, and here’s the part you may want to pay attention to:

“Because the rise of a political candidate who deliberately appeals to the basest and most violent elements in society, who encourages aggression among his followers, shouts down opponents, intimidates dissenters, and denigrates women and minorities, demands, from each of us, an immediate and forceful response…we, the undersigned, as a matter of conscience, oppose, unequivocally, the candidacy of Donald J. Trump for the Presidency of the United States.”

Warning or self-fulfilling prophecy? History will decide.

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What happened next…

Author’s note: I have been encouraged to continue my sequel to Labyrinth. Understanding that what I write on my blog comes directly out of the files in my head—and therefore is completely unedited and unpolished—I’ve decided to undertake the challenge this month and post the story, serial-style, right here on my blog. So, direct from my brain’s writing den, here are a few more paragraphs chronicling the adventures of Sarah and her misguided brother Toby. If you missed the first part of the story, you can find it at the end of this post: Writers write…even when they’re not at a computer.

Sarah feverishly stuffed the backpack with all the things she wished she’d taken into the Labyrinth before. Water, protein bars, tissues. Thirteen hours was a long time, and Toby would make sure the Labyrinth didn’t supply any of her needs. Quietly cursing Toby for getting her into this mess in the beginning, she shouldered the backpack and turned.

Stephen stood in the doorway, his expression concerned. “Sweetheart, there’s someone here to see you.”

She forced herself to take a deep breath. She’d already told her husband she didn’t want to see a doctor, didn’t want a sedative, didn’t want to rest. Would he never give up? Why wouldn’t he leave her alone to do what she had to do? “I won’t take any drugs.”

“It’s not a doctor.” Her husband squeezed her hand and stepped aside.

Another man entered the room after him. Older, graying, a cloud of worry hanging over his face. He summoned a little smile for her—cautious even now. After all the years that had passed between them, he still looked ready to cringe away from a fight with his daughter.

“Dad.” Sarah nodded. “Hi.” She turned back to her packing. “I’m really sorry I don’t have time to catch up right now. I’m a little busy.” She considered telling him she was going after Toby, but knew it was useless. He hadn’t believed her back when Toby disappeared. He wouldn’t believe her now.

“Sarah.” Her father spoke so gently, she closed her eyes. Why did she still want his approval? Why did it matter anymore?

In spite of herself, she turned. “Dad.”

“Stephen says you think Toby took Davey.”

“I do.” She nodded. “Actually, I don’t just think he took him. I know he did.”

“Honey.” Her father stepped forward and put his hands on her shoulders. “Your brother has been gone a long time. He…he’s probably dead.” His features twisted a little in remembered pain.

Sarah knew her father had accepted Toby’s death long before. Drugs, he thought. A tragedy, losing a son to drugs, but Toby had been withdrawn for a long time before he disappeared.

Only Sarah knew the real reason for that. Only Sarah knew Toby had gone looking for the man who’d kidnapped him as a baby, answering a call he didn’t quite understand until she told him the story of the Goblin King who took him…because she asked him to.

Damn Jareth.

She should say, Toby’s not dead, Dad. And you have to stop blaming yourself. You aren’t to blame. I’m the one who did it. I’m the one who asked the Goblin King to take him and I’m the one who went to get him back. And now he’s looking for revenge. Probably Jareth, too.

Instead, her heart full of remorse and worry and guilt, she gritted her teeth and blamed the only person she could think to blame right then. She shook off her father’s hands. “He’s not dead, Dad. He took Davey, and I’m going to get him back.” She shouldered her backpack and turned to face them. “Spoiled brat always was taking my stuff.”

Stephen caught her hand. “Sweetheart—”

But it wasn’t him who stopped her. Her eyes were caught by a face in the mirror. A face she recognized though she hadn’t seen it in more than two decades. She froze, her heart beating so wildly she couldn’t hear her father or her brother. She couldn’t even hear her own voice though she thought she called out.

Jareth.

And then everything around her went black.

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“What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?”

In the course of Googling something else the other night, I ran across an article on a blog that intrigued me. The blogger devoted his entire time to tearing down a very successful author, whose name I shall not mention. In a nutshell, the blogger said she loved this particular author UNTIL she started following him on social media where said author made a number of missteps. Her main complaint, however, was that he never offered anything to the aspiring writers who clustered about him waiting for a morsel of genius to fall on them.

Instead, the author in question would fill his Twitter feed with his daily word counts, bits from his new books, or his favorite quotes from his old books. Why doesn’t the author just be himself? the blogger asked.

(Ahem. Possibly because he might not be his actual self. Lord knows, if I ever get to the point he’s at, I’m going to hire someone to handle social media for me. It’s part of the job of being a writer, but if you can afford to pay someone else to do it for you so you can keep doing what you really enjoy doing—writing—well, who can blame you…much?)

But I digress. This article got me thinking. Have I ever gotten any actually useful advice from a successful published author? I’ve seen several speak. Some tell stories about how they became successful. Sometimes you can glean some bit of something useful out of that, but for the most part, you’re left wondering, Why couldn’t that happen to me? Every now and then, though, somebody says something that sticks with you, that really helps.

Unfortunately, I honestly can’t remember who said the most useful writing tip I ever got from a published writer. I think it was a man, and I believe it was while I was in college. Other than that, I’m at a loss. At any rate, what he said was, “Tell you readers your secrets.”

That startled me. My secrets. He was talking about writing fiction. Novels. Not true stuff. Why would I tell my secrets? Real stuff. But I’ve found over the years that he was right. If you mix a little bit of reality into your fiction, it makes it live and breathe in a way that purely made up stuff could never do. And the great thing is, you don’t have to tell your reader what bits are true. You just write from the heart, mix in things that are true with things that you wish could be true or you fear ever coming true and what results is so much more than fiction.

Here’s a bit of writing advice from me, a published, if not yet successful, author. Don’t expect too much from your heroes. No matter how successful they are, they’re caught up in a balancing act, just like the rest of us. They may not have to make ends meet financially (well, the top 1% don’t, anyway), but they are trying to balance marketing and social media and family with what they really probably still want to do—writing. So don’t expect too much, but listen when you’re lucky enough to hear one speak. They might just give you that tidbit you’ve been waiting for.

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