Reflections of a Musical Magician

Reflections of a Musical Magician:
The adventures of JaN PuLSfoRD, aTHeNa BLue, Madame la Pulse, and JaNa KYoMooN

By Bob Sullivan

View this article on the artist’s site here.

Those familiar with JaN PuLSfoRD tend to describe her music in evocative terms. One fan says she provides “the musical notes my weary heart seeks to restore love’s light”; another calls her “an explorer in the world of music.” In describing JaN’s live online performances, fans say, “Your music is like therapy. It washes away the hardships of the day as it nurtures the soul.” Still another, “Your musical massage each weekend is the perfect way to let all stress disappear and to feel at one with the universe.”

As much magician as musician, JaN uses technology the way a wizard uses her wand, bringing  piano, synthesizers, sound loops, and other digital wonders to cast intricate spells. Sometimes her spells take the listener deeper into their mind, transports them to another world of the imagination, or compels them to hit the dance floor.  Reflecting upon her musical journey, JaN said, “I live on the edge of technology, always looking for new ways of getting my music out there.”

Throughout her career, JaN has served others as a cunning musical druid, the silent partner of many notables: the Thompson Twins, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Darlene Love, from the pop of Steps to the jazz of Chico Freeman, and most famously, Cyndi Lauper, all talented vocalists and charismatic front men comfortable in the spotlight. And like King Arthur, they receive the credit and the accolades while their musical Merlin casts the spells behind the scenes. At the same time, her music is heard on TV stations all over the world, from MTV to BBC, Oprah Winfrey to Jerry Springer (!) and in independent movies and on line videos.

Given how the myth and modern fiction have credited the United Kingdom as the source of so many famous sorcerers and wizards, perhaps it’s not surprising that JaN was born and raised in Wales. Her parents supported her love of music at an early age: violin lessons at age 7; piano lessons shortly after. By the time she completed high school, she’d also learned the flute, cello, and clarinet. “Through high school I focused on the grades and exams required to get me into college with the goal of becoming a music teacher.”

Through perseverance, hard work, and dedication to her craft, JaN embarked on a successful career writing music for film and TV. Her early CDs of electronica are now collector’s items and her music won awards at the New York Film Festival. She also wrote the U.K.’s prestigious Song for Europe and played on countless sessions in the blossoming electronic London studio scene of the 80s. Eventually, JaN hit the road as the keyboard player for the Thompson Twins.

JaN reflects, “There is no such thing as overnight success. We make and discover our future, and are found by people who are looking for us in the same way we find people we are looking for. I have been jumping over hurdles all my life and when I fall, I dust myself off and start again. That is the trick—to get back up! I enjoy my feast or famine existence in the knowledge that I am true to my art, and still, after all these years, making a living with my music.”

Other established musicians took notice of JaN’s unique keyboard stylizations, and the demand for her talents grew. She moved to the United States and, in 1993, joined the tour band in support of Cyndi Lauper’s Hat Full of Stars.

During the tour, JaN shared with Cyndi her insight into the Arthurian Legend. They started writing new music, injecting their shared view of feminism and sisterhood as a creative power and exploring the various betrayals of that power in modern society. The result was Sisters of Avalon, Lauper’s sixth studio album. JaN not only provided keyboards and loops, but recorded, engineered, and mixed the final product (and afterward served as musical tour director on the road). A Christmas album followed, and their final co-creations were released as part of Lauper’s 2002’s Shine. Their partnership spawned twenty co-written songs between 1993 and 2001, and is arguably Lauper’s most artistic and critically acclaimed work.

YouTube Link: Sisters of Avalon album preview
At the same time, the internet sprang into the public domain, and JaN started her own Independent CD record label, Collecting Dust Recordings, to release music recorded by her production company under her alter ego “Madame la Pulse.” At English Valley Music Studio in the woods of Tennessee, JaN recorded, engineered, and released efforts for a host of talented musicians, including the late David Schnaufer, Kat Dyson, Felicia Collins, Sir Jam and Nigel Pulsford, her brother and lead guitarist from the rock band Bush. Most of the original ideas for Sisters of Avalon were recorded in this studio.

“I was seeing the potential the internet held for independent artist/musicians,” JaN recalled. “Back then, the internet was still an untapped adventure. On the other hand, I was incredibly naïve. I really believed the music business was about music and soon found the hard way that it’s about business—on every level. I got chased around by CEOs who didn’t have a clue about music or technology but knew that what I was doing was part of the future. Negotiations to buy the company got silly and I walked away. Later, Collecting Dust collided with the mp3 revolution and music quickly became devalued. No one wanted to admit that filesharing was stealing a living from many creatives—it really hurt the small indie companies and songwriters.”

In 2006, JaN first encountered the medium where her music has been discovered more recently and heard by a new group of fans—Second Life (SL), the virtual world in which JaN makes regular and highly attended appearances to perform using her avatar alter ego JaNa KYoMooN. “My friend the ambient musician Tony Gerber had discovered SL and, as the avatar/musician Cypress Rosewood, was having the time of his virtual life. I followed him in.”

JaN recalls her first musical adventure in a virtual environment. “I was part of the Peace Park Trio in 2006-7 playing at the Music ALL Music Peace Park, a sanctuary I built as a place of inner and global peace through music and the arts. I remember the exhilaration of really doing something new and special. The mixture of electronica with dulcimer and Native American Flute was extremely successful.”

In the summer of 2008, JaN began performing in SL as a solo artist. “It was quite a daunting prospect for someone whose whole musical life has been spent at the back of the stage or on the other side of the glass. At first I was performing hard-hitting electronica music from my aTHeNa BLue project, but the more down tempo, meditative ambient music was getting the biggest reaction. When I realized the positive aspect of performing this kind of music, I decided to dedicate most of my performances in SL to this end.”

Now back in the U.K., JaN performs online two to four times a week, while a dedicated radio channel (Radio JaNa) streams her music 24/7, growing her followers and a new set of collaborators only possible through the modern technologies of cyberspace. “Each day is like being on the Star Ship Enterprise, hailing all frequencies as I converse and write music with my creative collaborators in Greece, New York, Chicago, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Italy, L.A., London and Nashville.  Where I have my address is of no consequence.”

And her performances in virtual worlds are indeed “live.” JaN explains, “I prepare sequences in Logic and have everything running live. With computer running sequences and me playing over them, there’s a feeling that anything could happen. There is a certain energy from playing music live that you can’t communicate from lip syncing with ready-made mixes.”

YouTube Link: JaNa KYoMooN plays “Silver Shimmers”

JaN PuLSfoRD, aTHeNa BLue, JaNa KYoMooN—the musical magician vanishes, changes, conjures new personas, creates new moods, evokes new aural landscapes. On SL, JaN can finally create the proper otherworldly venue to accompany her musical spells. Where congregating avatars have the floor drop out from under them (no worries; avatars float), where colors swirl and pulse to the beat, where the paintings move across the wall. Not to mention the big purple disco ball. Even magicians have to accessorize!

aMBieNT ReFLeCTioNS oF JaNa KYoMooN is her third collection of Second Life compositions to be released commercially, and JaN’s first release through the D-Pulse Ovrtone label. About D-Pulse, JaN enthused, “I worked with DPulse on a few remixes and live shows with my aTHeNa BLue project. I have always admired their commitment to electronic music and I am so delighted to have them involved!” Ambient Reflection of JaNa KYoMooN is available in CD or download at all major online music sites.

As the title suggests, JaNa is casting her calming spells, weaving otherworldly tones of blues and jazz to draw you inward and help you escape to happier places. If this is the first time you’ve surrendered yourself to the musical magician’s spell, you’ll be pleased to know she has a huge “spellbook” in her back catalog—from dance electronica to soothing lullabies and everything in between. Jan.Pulsford

Highlight Discography:

Merlyn’s Magical Music
Sketches of the Kyomoon
Reflections of the Kyomoon
aLiVe iN a SeCoND LiFe (As aTHeNa Blue)
ReTuRN 2 ZeRo (As aTHeNa BLue)
Plus over 20 albums of Production music available from Universal Music Group

Highlights of Collaborations:

Sisters of Avalon – Cyndi Lauper
Delcimore – David Schnaufer
Night of Peace – Darlene Love
Merry Christmas, and Have a Nice Life – Cyndi Lauper
The Thompson Twins Live
True – Jeff Oster
The Leaders – Chico Freeman
Kathy Raimey – Still Moving
Oxygen + Love – Charles Green
Pride Remixes – Julian Marsh
Various Dance Remixes – Junior Vasquez

New Flash Fiction: Do Better

Do Better
By R. J. Sullivan

“Tommy?” Fingers dug into Tommy’s shoulder, rousing him from deep sleep. Oh, Jessica. Now I remember. Strange to wake up next to his girlfriend. Even more strange to awaken in a room of near-total darkness. He reached down and pressed against the coarse cold of concrete as he drew up into a sitting position. Jessica’s voice, full of panic, reached his. “There’s someone in here. She looks like an angel.”

“You’re dreaming. How can there be? You locked us in here hours ago.”

“Don’t be mean, Tommy.” He wanted to go on, He wanted to be mean. He bit back snide remarks that tried to push out of his lips. As he recalled what had happened, the anger at their stupidity stung all over again, no less shocking or painful than the first time.

“Lock the door, Tommy,” she had said. “Lock the door? It’s an abandoned building, sweetheart. No one’s supposed to be here. Who’s going to walk in?” He’d pressed his hand on the side of her pale, smooth face. At that time, he could still see her, drink in the sight of her delicate beauty that still melted his heart like butter. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she bit her lower lip with her intensity. Her eyes promised an incredible night he’d never forget, but only if he complied with her wishes.

“I’ll relax more, Tommy,” she begged. “It will make it better.”

How could he say no? He walked across the hard floor of the abandoned mausoleum, his footsteps echoing in the open chamber, and slammed the outer door shut. The bolt, though rusted, slid easily into the cement slot. When we’re finished, it will unlock easily enough.

Only later, he found out it wouldn’t unlock easily enough. It wouldn’t unlock at all, as if the latch had turned to stone and merged with the outer frame during their minutes of copulation. Then he discovered that several inches of concrete can thoroughly block any sort of cell phone signal.

But that was hours ago, before exhaustion forced his eyes closed, and even the thought of what might happen once their parents realized they were gone could no longer keep him awake.

Now he looked over and….indeed, he could barely make out the silhouette of another presence in the room.

Was there really an angel standing over there? The skeptical side of him screamed, “No, of course not.”  Sure, at one time this could be considered hallowed ground, but we’re not supposed to be here. If Mom and Dad ever find out you’d snuck out of the house to meet Jessica in an abandoned chapel on the grounds of an ancient graveyard, they’d more likely raise something from hell than conjure anything angelic to guide you home.

But there she stood, by the door, and even in the near-total darkness, she radiated an inner light that brought the beautiful, somber features of her face into sharp focus. She turned, took in the two of them, and shook her head.

Befuddled, Tommy could only stare as she reached out a hand toward the door. The air split with the discordant grinding of rusted metal, twisting and giving way, and the door slid open on its own

The breeze of frosty night air chilled Tommy’s body.

The apparition’s eyes met his. Did he imagine a twinkle of amusement? As they stood before her in their disheveled clothes, she wagged an index finger at them.  “If you head straight home now, it’s not too late. Go now, and do better.” With that, she vanished.

Copyright 2011 R.J. Sullivan. If you repost, please credit and link to:  Thanks.

Fiona Dodwell Interview 2–Obsessed!

Obsessed by Fiona Dodwell
(C) 2011 by Damnation Books
Launched September 1

So Fiona, welcome back! This is the second book release in 2011, with The Banishing having launched this past March. (Click here to read my first interview with Fiona.) Congratulations.

Give us the “elevator pitch” of Obsessed. The title conjures up an array of possibilities.

Well, Obsessed is essentially a story about a haunting. My main character, James Barker, witnesses a suicide on the railway tracks of London, and he begins to see visions of the dead man in his nightmares, in his home. He eventually visits a therapist who assures James he is experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. However, James isn’t convinced. He believes he is being visited by a spirit, and, in order to find out why, James begins to look into the dead man’s past. What he finds there leads him into a spiral of obsession and mental disorder.

You chose to remain with Damnation Books for both titles. Tell us what you love about DB that kept you there for your follow-up novel.

I love DB because they love horror, they support horror as a genre, they support horror writers. They’re all about the fiction, and the love of scary books. I couldn’t have wished for a better home for The Banishing and Obsessed. The cover-art, editing, support and help I received was so valuable to me.

How did the editing process go a second time, coming into it with some experience? Was it still nerve-wracking, or do these sorts of processes get easier over time?

I’d say it was easier, simply because I knew what to expect. I wasn’t so nervous. I was able to approach it without the nervousness that preceded the release of The Banishing.

What did you learn from the marketing of The Banishing that you took with you in preparing to market Obsessed? What worked? What’s not worth an author’s time or investment?

Well, The Banishing had a lot planned for its release. There were full page ads placed in some magazines here in the UK. I did two radio interviews, had several successful and positive reviews. I took part in blog tours too. I tend to think an online presence works the best, which is my primary focus for Obsessed. Online is magic, because you can reach the larger numbers. One magazine ad, or one newspaper interview is great, but it only reaches its specific audience – at least online you can move about, spread the word in various places.

Part of the process of book promotion is building an audience which you take with you to follow-up projects. How do you balance the joy of hearing from readers with the pressure of knowing you have fans who now have “expectations”?

It’s difficult. The Banishing was a surprise to me, because it was my first novel, I was so nervous. I half-convinced myself nobody would read it, and then convinced myself that those who would probably wouldn’t like it! I was a mess. However, once it was out there, I began to get very positive reviews. People seemed to enjoy it. I had emails from random readers, just because they wanted to tell me they loved my writing, that they had loved the book. It was a fantastic feeling, and something I feel positive about. What comes with that is the hope that you can do it again. I’m approaching Obsessed with an open mind. I believe it’s a good book – or I would not have put it out there – but I am open minded and sensible enough to know that not everyone who reads it will love it. Some will love it, though, and that makes it worthwhile.

How will Obsessed play to your readers who have expectations from you? How will it confound them? When you write, do you concern yourself with such things, or do you just write to the story?

I just write. I try not to think too deeply, or worry what people will think too much. As I said in the answer above, some people will love my work, others will not. That’s life – that’s human nature. I can’t write a certain story or in a certain way to impress people. I have to be honest. I always do the best I can do, and that’s what I’ve done here. People who read it and come away happy, having enjoyed it, are what it’s all about.
I know in writing The Banishing, you dug pretty deep into subjects most people would find uncomfortable–an abused spouse who chooses to remain with her abuser. Did you do the same “digging” in this book?

Nothing makes me happier than exploring those dark places of human nature! The Banishing explored domestic abuse and demonic possession – two great twins of evil. Obsessed is no different – I this novel and I explored and studied suicide, post-traumatic stress, and spiritual hauntings. Really fascinating subjects. I love to write about such things. I can’t do light and fluffy, I’m afraid!
What’s next for Fiona Dodwell?

I have finished my third novel, The Shift, and am currently submitting it to publishers for consideration. My fourth novel – as yet untitled – is at the very, very early stages, but I’m excited about it!

FACEBOOK: Search under “Fiona Dodwell Horror Author” and you’ll find me on Facebook.

Trailer for Obsessed:

R.J. Sullivan Context 24 Panel Schedule

Complete Context 24 Panel Schedule for R.J. Sullivan
August 26-28, 2011, at the Doubletree Hotel in  Columbus OH.

It’s now officially less than two week before the Context SF Con, and I’ve just received my panel schedule, which I’m anxious to share with you all. I’ll be discussing some fascinating topics with some very talented and entertaining people, so there’s sure to be something worthwhile at each and every one.

When I’m not at a panel, I’ll probably be at the Indy Horror Writer’s table in the book vendor space, selling and signing, talking to fans, and hanging out with Sara Larson, Eric Garrison, A.D. Roland (the Haunting Blue cover artist—sssshhhh, don’t tell anyone) and more.


10:00 p.m. @ Arena District
Horror: Books and Movies
With Michael West, David L Day, and David Burkhead.


1:00 p.m. @ Short North
Point of View
With Gary Wedland and Linda Robertson.

6:00 p.m. @ Arena District
Believable Heroines
With Lucy A. Snyder, Linda Robertson, and Matthew Cook.

8:00 p.m. @ Short North
Ghosts: Are they real or just scary?
With Karin Shah, Mark Evans, and Joseph Martino.

And don’t forget the Indiana Horror Writers/Apex Publishing Con Party Saturday Night!


1:00 p.m. @ Arena District
Publicity—writers and publishers
With Michael West, Joseph Martino, Rosemary Laurey

2:00 p.m. @ German Village
Dying in prose, poetry, or song: Does it sell?
With Lucy A. Snyder, Erica Neely, and Michael Oetting.

Indiana Horror Anthology Introduction by R.J. Sullivan

The Hidden, Horrific Pulse of Indiana

Ask most non-Hoosiers (and many Hoosiers for that matter) what Indiana is most famous for and they’ll most likely rattle off the Indianapolis 500. After that, some might offer a blanket statement about awesome college basketball or football. And of course, everyone knows about the Peyton Manning-era Indianapolis Colts, while a few years earlier they might instead talk about the Reggie Miller Indiana Pacers. Somewhere before or after these answers, corn and cornfields come to mind, but that takes us literally off the beaten path.

Ask those same people the following question: “What annual event draws the biggest crowd and creates the most tourist revenue for the state of Indiana?” Easy, many would say: the Indy 500. What else could it be? But the Hoosier in tune with the hidden pulse of the city, who knows the true interests of so many quiet people beyond the media-blitzed sports obsessed Hoosier, can tell you it’s actually Gen-Con, a four day gaming convention, transplanted from Wisconsin since 2003, that allows the hidden, secret geek-pulse of fantasy, horror, science fiction, (and games devoted to same) fans to explode onto the city, usually in the form of extravagant, borderline-vulgar costumes, or herds of bodies wearing odd t-shirts with sayings and images confounding to the non-fan.

I think the biggest kick I get out of attending these conventions, (outside of catching up with old friends or meeting celebrities and other authors) is watching the faces and reactions of the non-fans, what we of the body call the “mundanes.” I love seeing a group of purple elf-girls approach the hostess of a steakhouse to sign their group up for a table, usually under the name Eleana DragonSpawn or something equally confounding for the hostess to call out. Or the dumbfounded look on the bellboy’s face as he carries the Klingon’s luggage down the hall to his hotel suite. The look that says, I lost my request to get the weekend off, and now I have to put up with this shit, freaks dressed in bizarre costumes, speaking their strange language, drinking and eating and yelling and starting fights all because of their pointless games.

And then, once the long weekend is over, the bellboy can return to the familiar routine of escorting the visiting football fans in their Cincinnati Bengal jerseys. The hostess can breathe a sigh of relief as the fans of the rival teams down a few beers, scream team statistics at each other, and occasionally fight. At least, she may think, without a trace of irony, it will be another year before she deals with the weird people again.

But the so-called weird people haven’t left. They’ve just returned to the underground. They’ve just changed costumes.

And that’s what James Ward Kirk exposes in this first of an annual anthology called Indiana Horror. Kirk puts his finger on the hidden pulse of Indy, the horror writer (and horror fan, for it’s not possible to write what you’re not fanatical about). James put the call out for all Indiana horror writers to stand up and be recognized, and in just a few months, his allotted space filled up with a huge gathering of the weird, the bizarre, the horrific, and the strangely literary. Amazing tales penned by established pros and promising up-and-comers: A.J. French, Eric Garrison, Christine Rains, Allen Griffen, Sara J. Larson, Spyder Collins, and James S. Dorr, to name just a few.

Are you shocked that our homey Midwestern state features so many talented authors with such an intense interest in macabre literature? Indiana Horror is committed to that growth—the growth of new talent, the growth of Dark Fiction in all its forms. Of course, the growth I speak of is gnarling and twisted, just as it should be.

But I’m not convinced we’re witnessing growth. Rather, I think Indiana Horror celebrates undergrowth. Not the blossoming of a new seed, but the exposure of a well-established, hidden pulse beneath racecars, basketball tournaments and football playoffs. A wicked throb beneath the cornfields, freeways, small towns and friendly facades of our great state—finally come to light, if only for a few hundred pages.

Prepare yourself as James Kirk exposes the hidden pulse of talent that is Indiana Horror.

R.J. Sullivan
July 6, 2011

Indiana Horror Anthology went live on Amazon the weekend of August 14th. The anthology includes this introduction, plus new submissions by Eric Garrison and Sara Larson. Indiana Anthology was the brainchild of James W. Kirk. I’ve previewed most of it and it’s pretty awesome. Order your copy here.

Interview: Michael West Discusses Cinema of Shadows

So your new novel, Cinema of Shadows, takes place in a haunted movie theater. I know you have a lifelong interest in film and in horror films specifically. Did you pursue an education in film?
Oh yes.  I studied film and television.   I wanted to be the next Steven Spielberg or James Cameron.  Growing up, I would write screenplays for movies I would make with my friends and my parents’ video camera. When I saw the film Super 8, it really took me back, because that was me and my friends at that time.
How does writing a script differ from how you approach a novel?
In terms of plotting and dialogue, I really don’t approach them any differently.  In fact, I often read my dialogue aloud, to make certain it sounds authentic. Where they differ is how you convey character. In a screenplay, you have to do it all with dialogue and visual detail. With a novel, you can be inside someone’s head. You can get to know how they think and feel. It’s more intimate, and it leads to a much stronger connection and emotional investment.
I read that Cinema of Shadows taps into the “ghost hunter” subculture.
LOL…T.A.P.S. Yes. My sons and I are huge fans of Ghost Hunters,Ghost Adventures,and what have you. But, when you watch these shows, you’re waiting for them to walk into the Amityville Horror house, into the house from Poltergeist. You want chains to rattle and walls to bleed. You want to see ghosts, and it just never happens. So, with Cinema of Shadows, I wanted to create the scariest haunting I could imagine and then have my team actually get to deal with it.
Those “ghost hunting” groups have exploded across the country in recent years. What sort of research did you do to keep your “team” authentic?
That authenticity was something I really wanted. I hadn’t seen a lot of paranormal research using  scientific methods in fiction before. So, in addition to speaking with researchers about how they would approach certain situations, I actually took part in some investigations; the Hanna House in Indianapolis, and the Woodcarver’s Building in Converse, Indiana. I used all the equipment that, up until that point, I’d only seen on television. And I witnessed things, felt things that I couldn’t explain. So, in addition to the technical aspect of an investigation, I was also able to draw from my own feelings and experiences to paint a very vivid picture.
Like me, I know you share some great memories of the Eastwood Theater on the east side of Indianapolis. For me, personally, that was THE theater to see the original Star Wars trilogy, Fright Night, and I also remember their experiments with classic 3D films when attendance was slacking off. How do you think those experiences differ from today’s moviegoing experience?
There is something to be said about going to a theater that doesn’t have a screen the size of a postage stamp, to seeing a film projected in 70 mm with six-track Dolby sound that makes the concrete shake beneath your feet. Going to movies back then was a real event, and I miss those days so much. The closest I come to that experience now is taking the kids to the IMAX, but it’s not the same.
How have you used those memories in CoS?
I tried to convey that sense of loss when the characters first enter the Woodfield Movie Palace and see what it has become. It’s so tragic to see the movie palaces disappearing from this world. The architecture alone was just amazing; grand balconies, gold molding, statues and chandeliers in the lobbies. All the neon! There are still some out there. Working theaters, like the Artcraft in Franklin, Indiana, that show classic films on the weekends, or converted into concert halls for bands and comedy shows. I based The Woodfield Movie Palace in part on the Crump in Columbus, Indiana, and we were lucky enough to be able to film the book trailer for Cinema of Shadows there. So sad to see the walls crumbling and the paint peeling. I stood on the balcony and tried to imagine what it must have been like to see a movie there, back when everyone in town would meet up and be transported to another place and time.
What is on the horizon for you in terms of future book releases?
I have more novels for Seventh Star Press that will be set in Harmony, Indiana, the same town that served as the backdrop to Cinema of Shadows and my first novel, The Wide Game. (Read R.J. Sullivan’s review of The Wide Game here.) Spook House is the next one, and it will be out late in 2012. I also have a dark, epic urban fantasy series titled The Legacy of the Gods on the horizon.  Look for an announcement on that very soon. And I am editing an anthology for Ambrotos Press called Vampires Don’t Sparkle! for all those Horror fans who want to read gritty tales about vampires who don’t mope and brood about going to prom. That will be out in the first half of 2012.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my participation during my short time in the Indiana Horror Writers. Tell us a bit about the history as a founding member and as your current role a president. Explain the overall goals of the IHW, what it does and what it plans to do.
Indiana Horror Writers is a regional chapter of the Horror Writers Association. It was founded in 2004 by myself, Maurice Broaddus, Sara J. Larson, and Tracy Jones, and has grown from there. We are an organization dedicated to those who pen the darkest fiction. As a group, we try to help writers find their voice, share markets, and promote terrifying work. We also sponsor the Mo*Con convention every year in Indianapolis, which is always a wonderful event! As President, I try to keep the trains running on time. Not an easy task with a room full of writers.  LOL
 Where can readers find you and learn more about your work?

Faithful readers can always find me at my website,, or on Facebook and Twitter. You can find my short story collection, Skull Full of Kisses, and my debut novel, The Wide Game, at Graveside TalesCinema of Shadows, and future Harmony novels, can be found at Seventh Star Press.

Michael West will be a guest at FandomFest in Louisville, Kentucky, July 22-24, 2011. Join Michael and Seventh Star Press for the official book launch of Cinema of Shadows. Limited copies will be available, with the trade paperback version following soon! Learn details and see the book trailer for Cinema of Shadows at

Blue and Skye–A Cross-character Discussion, Part 1 of 2

By E. Chris Garrison and R.J. Sullivan. CGI Art by Nell Williams.

Two fictional characters discuss their various trials and tribulations as portrayed in the novels Blue Spirit by Eric Garrison (©2010) [2015 update: Second Edition by Seventh Star Press] and Haunting Blue by R.J. Sullivan (©2010). [2015 update Second Edition by Seventh Star Press]

Clutching a bright blue trade paperback book in her hands, the punkish teenage girl steps through the door of the Café Expresso in Broad Ripple and looks around.

Her gaze falls on the willowy young woman already seated and waving a dark green book back at her.  Breaking into a grin, Fiona “Blue” Shaefer heads over to the table and shakes hands with Skye MacLeod before taking a seat across from her.

Blue: Hi there, Skye! [Blue points to the Blue Spirit paperback in her hands] Thanks for answering my email.

 Skye: How could I refuse?  I mean, I get to talk about myself, right? [laughs]

Waitress: What can I get you?

Blue: Medium Mocha, please, extra syrup.

Skye: [nods at her cup on the table] I’m good, thanks.

Blue: [to Skye] So, it’s been so long since I moved away, I wasn’t sure if you still remembered waiting on me all those times at the Starbucks. It’s been almost a year!

Skye: It’s good to see you again, without a counter between us this time.  Wow, you’re not a kid anymore, are you?

Blue: N-no… [nods at copy of Haunting Blue in Skye’s hands] I guess you could say I’ve grown up a bit. I’ve been through a lot since the last time I was in ‘The Ripple’.   I always think of you at Starbucks, it’s weird to see you here in the Café Expresso.

Skye: Well, I still go to the Broad Ripple Starbucks sometimes, but after they fired me up in Nora, I just kind of prefer independent coffee shops.

Blue: And the coffee you have there…is that…uh…just coffee?

Skye: [rolls her eyes] You know, I’m not always boozing it up, kiddo. Just unleaded coffee today for me!  I, uh, kinda had to promise Annabelle I’d cut back.  Being a Vampire Noble in the game is awesome, but it doesn’t, like, pay the bills, you know?

Blue: Yeah, I hear you there.  So… [looks around the room] If I understood what you wrote, you have a little guardian fairy named Minnie you have to be tipsy to interact with. Is she around now? Or can you tell?

Skye: [shrugs] I see her more without alcohol these days, but she’s also more independent of me, too.   I haven’t seen her today.  She’s becoming much more her own person.  It’s good for her, but kind of sad, since I’d gotten used to always having her around, watching out for me.  So, I’m going through two separate types of withdrawal, sort of.  Three, really… [sighs] But I have Annabelle and my gamer friends to help me get by.

Blue: Oh, yes, Annabelle. [fans herself with paperback] I read all about you two. Only boy I can attract is the small town computer nerd but you…you land a firefighter. Every girl’s dream. Well…sorta.

Skye: [smiles and sighs] Actually, I adore nerdy guys.  Stuart was the biggest nerd.  Annabelle… well, she’s a bit like you, kiddo; adorable but a lot tougher than she looks.

[Waitress deposits Blue’s coffee, looks back and forth between Blue and Skye, winks at Blue, and returns to the counter]

Blue: (turning pink) Well, uh, thank you, Skye. And I’m not a prude, but it is a little weird. For months, all you used to talk about was Stuart this and Stuart that. Then he goes off with another woman, so you turn around bring in your own other woman. I’d call that sweet revenge if I thought you did it on purpose.

Skye: Stuart really betrayed me, Blue.  He was the love of my life, then he sold me out.  Blamed me for the fire in our apartment. Meanwhile, Annabelle saved my life.  She was there for me when I’d lost everything.  And, well… we can’t help who we fall for, right?

Blue: Don’t I know it? I would never thought I’d fall for a guy who plays Dungeons and Dragons. Speaking of roleplaying, tell me more about the Live Action Roleplaying game you’re into. I never played myself. Never really wanted to, then when I moved to Perionne and of course Chip talked me into it. But that was paper and dice. The live action vampire roleplaying thing seems like a whole other level, with costumes and the improv in character thing. Do players really take staying “in character” as seriously as you say in your book?

Skye: Oh definitely!  Some people hate to break character, like, ever. I have a lot of fun with it, it’s good to get to be someone else for a while. And, for most of us, our pretend lives are a lot more glamorous than our actual lives.   It’s like living in a story, and some days, you just don’t want the fantasy to end.  Which, I know is funny coming from a girl who sees fairies.  [laughs]

Blue: So… speaking of Fairies, I guess Indy has its own gnome-like Scottish Fairy who calls himself the “Transit King”?  What’s up with that?

Skye: [laughs] I know, right?  He’s actually pretty formidable, even if he seems to be a batty little old bum on the surface.  He’s older than dirt and claims dominion over the bus system.   I wonder if IndyGo knows about him?   He’s mostly friendly, though I get the feeling you wouldn’t to tick him off!

 Blue: Well, I didn’t see him on the bus on the way up, but then again, I try not to look very closely at the other passengers. It can get you in trouble.  Speaking of colorful characters, tell me about this fella Leslie?  The huge costume designer guy with the great vampire fashion sense—does he just make people look great for roleplaying vampires or can he work similar miracles for a prom or something?

Skye: [laughs] Oh yes, he’s larger than life!  He wouldn’t turn you away, doll, not if I introduced you first.  He specializes in costumes, nothing all that durable.  But I guess a prom’s all about costumes, isn’t it?   So… does this mean prom is close for you?  So, I’m guessing you’re going with Chip?

Blue: No, I just meant any kind of party. [trails off] I don’t know, a big costume party would be great about now. Just dress up like someone else and…forget about everything for a few hours. Yeah, that would be nice.

Click here to read Part 2 posted on Eric Garrison’s Blog

Blue Spirit and other works by E. Chris Garrison can be found at Silly Hat Books.

See more 3D graphic art by Nell Williams at

Book review: Spellbent by Lucy A. Snyder

Spellbent; Lucy A. Snyder; Del Rey/Ballentine Books 2009

Book one of the Jessie Shimmer series;

A review by R.J Sullivan

Score: 9/10 Arjays—because everyone knows Arjays are the coolest thing ever!

First of all, anyone who says fantasy art covers play no role in selling a book has never seen Spellbent.  In December 2010 I attended Apex Day in Lexington, Kentucky, with the Indiana Horror Writers, and in choosing from the overwhelming number of titles on display, I happened to look over at Spellbent. SOLD!

Okay, confession time. I’m a sucker for Tanya Huff and Elizabeth Moon. They tend to write sci-fi series novels about tough military and/or mercenary gals with giant guns blasting giant holes in bug-eyed monsters while slapping their boyfriends around and barking orders. It’s a sort of sci-fi junk food that I’ve acquired a taste for, and I’m not saying they’re great literature, but they are a heck of a lot of fun.

So I’m looking at this cover and I’m pretty sure this book is going to be great, and I’m also sure I know exactly how this book is going to play out.

I was half-right. The book WAS great—but it didn’t play out the way I thought.  It far exceeded my expectations.

While I was all set for an Aliens inspired Ripley-esque action piece (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) what I got instead was a book that tapped an entirely different vibe, but one that resonates with me just as much—the hero-against-all-odds tale. See, while I’m a Tanya Huff junkie, I’m even more of a Spider-Man/Stan Lee junkie, and I love any story of the underdog struggling against incredible odds. (This should be no surprise to anyone who’s read Haunting Blue, but I digress)

Okay, let’s get to it. And we start off—with the reason for minus one Arjay. We have Our Hero, Sorcerer’s Apprentice and hot twenty-something Jessie, and her former-college professor-now-sorcerer-and-lover Cooper.  This is just me being totally honest, as a middle aged guy, I could not get on board for Jessie and Cooper.  In fact, I found the whole thing decidedly creepy. Much is made throughout the first chapter of Jessie and Cooper’s sorcery exploits; much more is made of their sexual exploits, and how Cooper can’t keep his hands off of Jessie and how Jessie loves every minute of it. And since this is Jessie’s story, the reader is not given Cooper’s perspective. But I found it just a bit suspicious and frankly, a bit disturbing in an icky way.

In fact, later in the book, when Jessie is desperate to find Cooper, accusations are made. Evidence is presented, and the case is made that Cooper wasn’t interested in training Jessie at all, but just wanted to take advantage of her naivety and use and abuse her body while not really taking her seriously as a student of the magical arts. Jessie, of course, doesn’t believe a word of it, and stays true to her mission to save Cooper. But as I read the evidence, well, the accusations made perfect sense to me.

To be clear, I absolutely bought that Jessie was committed to Cooper. But it’s like watching a good friend giving themselves over to a relationship when you’re not entirely sure if the other person deserves that commitment or knows how lucky they are.  So—minor spoiler here—Cooper spends the majority of the book MIA, and frankly, Cooper still has to prove himself to me.

So enough on the quibbling point. Jessie and Cooper are off on a routine assignment, to cast a simple weather spell for a disgruntled farmer, when apparently a portal to another dimension–possibly Hell–opens up and swallows Cooper.  As if that’s not bad enough, Cooper has been pulled into Hell and something else has been transferred to our dimension—a really aggressive hellhound demon beasty thing. And it’s on a rampage.

At this point we meet Pal, Jessie’s familiar. Until this moment, Jessie has been unable to form a mental bond with Pal. Not that it matters; Pal is a ferret, which really doesn’t do Jessie a lot of good against an aggressive hellhound demon beasty thing. However, as people aren’t supposed to know that there are wizards in their everyday existence, the beasty has to be tracked down and killed ASAP, and Jessie is the only one who even knows about it.

To summarize, Jessie is terribly unprepared for the fight. While she does ultimately manage to stop the beastie, she takes a serious pummeling, making it clear that whatever Cooper’s intentions, she was terribly unprepared for an eventuality like this.

Much later, the council of sorcerers that run the world behind the scenes close in on Jessie and order her to give up her efforts to rescue Cooper. And they won’t take no for an answer, or play fair while they wait. And so, terribly injured, cut off from most of her magic powers, and even given a sort of magical “mark” so that other magic users will know not to help her, we watch Jessie refuse to follow orders, continue with her plans to save her lover, to a point where I could point to a spot in the book where I said to myself, “this is not worth it, I would give up right here, sign what I needed to, get my powers back, and abandon Cooper to his fate.”

But that’s why Jessie is a hero and why I just write about them. For the next 300 plus enjoyable pages we meet a delightful and intriguing cast of supporting characters while learning how this magic secret society operates in the real world, as the plot takes a number of dark twists, turns and revelations, all of which would be an incredible disservice for me to discuss or reveal.

Note: I have every intention of contributing book reviews to the Sci-Fi Guys Book Review site as often as my very slow reading pace allows. This review ended up on my own blog because Rodney already wrote his own rave of Spellbent here.

R.J. Sullivan Blog Interview: Kathy Tyers Part 2

R.J. Sullivan Blog Interview: Kathy Tyers Part 2

Q: When you wrote the first Firebird books as secular novels, were you aware of the salvation message even then, or is this something you drew out in the rewrites? Did writing for a Christian Fiction house help bring out the message you wanted, or create problems you had to work around?

KT: The Bantam Books version was more of a “cultural conversion story,” but I feel the potential always was there. I had a great time thinking through Brennen’s heritage from a religious viewpoint, brainstorming possibilities and running them past my friends. The assistant pastor at my church was a particular help with Fusion Fire, which deals with the existence of evil within and without.

Q: What surprises can readers of the secular and previous Christian Fiction versions of the Firebird series expect in this new re-release?

KT: My favorite “surprise” is a set of maps, beautifully adapted from my hand-drawn originals by the gifted Jamie Upschulte. The new titles continue the family saga for two more generations, and our heroes are there. Just a glimpse in Wind and Shadow. More centrally in Daystar.

Q: Okay, here’s the question I’ve been dying to ask for years. Would you agree with my assessment that Crown of Fire seems to indicate your struggle as a believer wishing to serve God with your talent juxtaposed with the temptation of chasing bestselling fame as a “name” author on the wildly popular Star Wars books? Did this create a dichotomy in your career path? If so, how did you approach this then and how do you approach it now?

KT: It’s actually more complicated than that. Crown was originally supposed to be Books 3 and 5 of that expanded series I proposed to Bethany House. And the Star Wars books were all written by invitation, so honestly, it wasn’t possible to “chase fame” by writing more and more of them. By the time Crown was contracted to be published, I was far more emotionally invested in the Firebird series than in Star Wars, although I will always owe SW a deep professional debt. I even considered turning down the invitation to write Balance Point, because I was writing Crown when the offer came. My Bethany editor, Steve Laube, essentially said “are you nuts?”

Q:  In the mid-2000s you went “off the grid” on a sabbatical for several years. Was Kathy on a “walkabout?”

KT: You might call it a walkabout, or maybe a pilgrimage. When my husband eventually lost his battle with alcohol abuse in 2004, I was too physically and emotionally exhausted to write. I took in a German exchange student for a year. I attended a C.S.Lewis conference at Oxford and taught at a writing conference in Pennsylvania. Then I went back to school.

Regent College in Vancouver, BC calls itself the unSeminary. It offers programs for Christians from all professions. Its focus on God as both Creator and Redeemer means that people who work in the arts—all the arts—are respected, challenged, and nurtured in community. It was a perfect fit, and I got used to working under a new kind of stress. Writing papers was comparatively easy for me (and I loved doing research in their fabulous library), but cramming for exams all those years out of undergrad … yikes!  I studied Christian thought and culture, Biblical books, systematic theology, history, Hebrew, postmodernity, exegesis, etc., and sang in a gospel choir—and for my thesis project, I was required to create a full-length work in my chosen art form. I assumed God would nudge me in a new direction, possibly poetry. What took shape, starting just a few weeks after I arrived in Vancouver, was a novel about Firebird and Brennen’s sons. That book, Wind and Shadow, has a different tone from the original novels. Of course—I was in theology school when I wrote it!

Almost as soon as I came back home, I stumbled on an idea for a contemporary fantasy, which I am also writing. With The Annotated Firebird, Wind and Shadow, and Daystar under contract at Marcher Lord Press and Holy Ground well underway, I think the walkabout is officially over.

Q: How does it feel to find your newsgroup of fans still active with discussion and anticipation, patiently waiting for your return into the spotlight?

KT: That group has become a circle of friends, no longer focused on my books but on each other. I love that! I hope they still get a kick out of the new books.

Q:  With social media, ebooks, the internet, etc., how have these innovations changed how you will go about promoting your upcoming releases versus the methods of the early 90s?

KT: The changes in my promotion calendar have more to do with my new publisher than anything else. Marcher Lord sells online only, so there probably won’t be any book signings. The focus will be on email, interviews, and conferences—starting with the February 2011 “Writing for the Soul” conference in Denver. It’s put on annually by the Christian Writers Guild. I’m scheduled to teach a two-day intermediate workshop on Point of View as well as a clinic on writing dialogue.

Q: Through the years I have known many openly Christian authors of secular fiction, who struggle with guilt and even receive judgment from other believers for their content. Many writers (I subscribe to this viewpoint) feel that holding a magnifying glass on the sinful nature of mankind struggling in our fallen world is a valid use of their gifts and not a contradiction to their beliefs. Do you have a response?

KT: At Regent College, I was exposed to some authors who’ve written thoughtfully about many aspects of being a Christian author, poet, musician, filmmaker, potter, etc. Let me point your readers toward Dorothy L. Sayers, Madeleine L’Engle, Nicholas Woltersdorff, Kathleen Norris, Jeremy Begbie, Alan Jacobs, and Maxine Hancock. Essentially, I agree with you: the real questions aren’t about superficial censorship but the sacramentality of creation, our honest humility in art and art criticism, and being choosy about which hill we really want to die on.

Q: Thank you very much for agreeing to this interview, Kathy! God Bless and I look forward to reading the next chapter in the adventures of Lady Firebird and the writing career of Kathy Tyers.

KT: All my best to you too, Bob. Thanks!

Learn more about Kathy at:

Yahoogroup: Lady Firebird Signup page:

R.J. Sullivan Blog Interview: Kathy Tyers, Part 1

R.J. Sullivan Blog Interview: Kathy Tyers, Part 1

Q: Kathy, thank you for agreeing to this interview. And also, thank you for answering my fan letter all those years ago with such a gracious response. Who knew we’d end up here decades later? Did you receive many fan letters back then?

KT: Right … who knew? There was a steady trickle of those letters, and they were mostly about the Firebird books or Star Wars. It was a pleasant surprise to hear from you about Shivering World.

Q: How did the Lady Firebird Yahoogroups list come about?

KT: A fellow who goes by the online name TZ Maverick asked for permission and invited me to participate. That was a new experience! I still think of the folks on the group as friends, though I don’t check in as often as I used to.

Q:  How did this daily exposure to fandom discussion and dialog differ from the pre-internet fan response? How did it affect your writing if at all?

KT: It was a world of encouragement when I needed it. I was living a real-life horror story, and someday I’ll tell that tale. But fandom discussions were quick, fun, and personal. They were also distracting, when I needed to be writing.

Q: As a midlist Bantam author, you received an invitation to contribute original fiction to the Star Wars novel and anthology titles—what would be for many SF authors a “dream gig.” How did that come about and what was your reaction at the time?

KT: Truce was a dream gig. I’d been a Star Wars fan since the first film’s release. Bantam Books originally acquired a license from Lucasfilm for Timothy Zahn’s first set of three Star Wars novels. Their phenomenal success proved there still was plenty of interest in Star Wars—so Bantam acquired a license for an additional book series. At that time, I’d published the first two Firebird novels with Bantam Spectra, another space opera called Crystal Witness and Shivering World. That meant I was “known” at Bantam—and my editor Janna Silverstein was a fellow Star Wars fan. One February day, she called to ask if I would like to be a Star Wars writer. I can still hear the grin in her voice, and it took me quite a while to wipe the grin off my face.

Q: When interacting with fans, do they fall into different camps—that is, Star Wars readers and Lady Firebird readers? Secular fiction readers and Christian fiction readers? Do you find your readers exclusive to one interest over the other or are they overall “well read” on all things Kathy Tyers?

KT: Every reader has favorites. Some of them overlap. What I have in common with all my readers is our enthusiasm for imaginative fiction. But I enjoy meeting them as people even more than discussing books.

Q: Explain the history of the Firebird books at Bantam, Bethany House…..and beyond!

KT: I started writing Firebird in the summer of 1983. It was acquired by Bantam in August 1986 and published in June 1987. Fusion Fire appeared in November 1988. My Bantam editor then asked for a stand-alone novel, so I set the series aside.

I never gave up hope of finishing it, even though I had no idea how it would end. I simply felt committed to the characters and their story. I met Steve Laube, then at Bethany House Publishers, at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in the spring of 1998, and we hoped to make it a five-book series. Within Bethany House, it was cut to three books (Crown of Fire is based on the outlines to books 3 and 5; book 4 simply went away). Those three were published in late 1999, early 2000, and later in 2000. Bethany House reprinted an omnibus three-in-one version in 2004.

In the following years, I met Jeff Gerke at a different writers’ conference. He worked as an editor and author, and we talked science fiction.  We corresponded irregularly then, but he consistently mentioned—or hinted—that he would like to be professionally affiliated. The hints and encouragement got thicker after he founded Marcher Lord Press as an independent, internet-based publishing house for fantasy and science fiction. So in 2010, having finished writing a new Firebird-universe novel (more about that below) and having started a final book in the series, I emailed him a proposal: the whole Firebird series, with no exceptions (except for that unwritten “book 4,” since the events I proposed aren’t possible now). He accepted—immediately! – with his own stipulation: he wanted the republished trilogy to include some features that aren’t available elsewhere. He suggested I read the Annotated Chronicles of the “Dragonlance” series as an example. I did, and then The Annotated Firebird took shape.

It was wonderful to reminisce my way back through Firebird, Fusion Fire, and Crown of Fire. I dug out the notebook of charts, maps, family trees, linguistic brainstorming and other notes I accumulated when writing the series, and I looked for things that might make interesting annotations. Since I also work as a writing teacher, other annotations are writing-method oriented … so readers who aren’t interested in the niceties of point-of-view etc. are welcome to skip those! MLP has scheduled The Annotated Firebird for April 2011 release, to be followed by Wind and Shadow in October 2011 and Daystar some time in 2012.

As they say here in Montana: Yeehaw!

Concluded Friday, February 11