Indie Monday

Today’s guest: Jordan Scavone

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On occasional Mondays, I’ll be featuring other authors on my blog—authors who produce quality work outside the boundaries and strictures of the traditional mass-produced, mass-marketed commercial publishing world and traditional bookstore shelves.

Today I’m delighted to feature Jordan Scavone. After receiving his undergraduate degree in Children’s Literature and Theater for the Young from Eastern Michigan University, Jordan began working on his first picture book. In April of 2016, Jordan received his M.A. in Children’s Literature from Eastern Michigan University. Currently, he lives with his wife Chelsea, their cat Lizbeth, and soon-to-arrive baby boy (June 2020!).

Jordan is the author of five books. Four are books for children: Might-E (2017, illustrated by Caitlyn Knepka), The Mud Princess (2018, illustrated by Monica Guignard), A Girl Named Adam (2019, illustrated by C.N.J. Zing), and Turtle Day (2019, illustrated by Monica Guignard). His latest publication is a young adult novel, Night Warrior, newly released last month and already getting rave reviews.

Recently I posed some questions to Jordan. Here’s what he told me.

DL: Welcome, Jordan. Could you tell us a little about yourself?

JS: I am an author with four children’s books out and one brand-new young adult novel! I am a infant/toddler teacher and strive to bring as many new books into my classroom as possible. I like video games, movies, unicorns, and playing Dungeons and Dragons!

DL: Tell us about your latest book and works in progress. Where did the ideas for those works come from?

JS: My latest book is called Night Warrior and it follows a high-school-age girl who is a wannabe fantasy author. However, after some magical shenanigans the characters in her book start to enter her world. Sword and magic adventure in an urban setting! It’s a bit of a contrast from writing children’s picture books, but it was a blast to do and people have been receiving it really well. This book pulls inspiration from playing Dungeons and Dragons, and I even used a campaign to help build the lore of the book.

DL: Why do you write? What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

JS: I write because I get too much creative energy and I need to get it out. My brain generates stories and I write them down. I used to just do it for myself so I could experience the stories in a better medium, and then I found out people liked them, so, books! I hope to do my best to allow everyone to find themselves in a character I one of my works. I want to be inclusive and welcoming to as many people as I can.

DL: Please talk a little about your writing process. What is your favorite part of the process? Least favorite?

JS: My writing process is strange, at least I think it is. My favorite part also happens to be my least favorite part. I’ll sit down and write for hours on end and get a lot done, but then find issues with being able to write regularly. So, I love that I can sit and write for hours on end, but I also kind of hate it as it really takes up a whole day! My writing process is very unorganized…

DL: Could you reflect a bit on what writing or being a writer has meant for you and your life?

JS: Deep down I always wanted to write for others and I think I knew that when I was a kid. I remember we had a program called “Storybook Weaver: DELUX” when I was in elementary school and I would write bad fantasy books with the stock images and characters they had in the program and then show them to everyone in my class. As I got more self-conscious, I stopped showing people my writing as much. I’m still self-conscious about my writing but am more willing to let people see it…clearly. At the end of the day writing has brought me new friends, new experiences, and so much fun. I think the thing that brings me the most joy is when people get happy when they read something I write. When I go to a school and do a reading for 400+ kids and they are silent during it then want me to read more books, it means a lot.

DL: What are links to your books, website, and blog so readers can learn more about you and your work?

JS: Between these links, all the links to my books and contacts can be easily found:
Website: www.jordanjscavone.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/MightEBook

Email Contact@JordanJScavone.com

Twitter @RealJScavone

The Return of Toby

Last week I did an interview with Jeff Milo from the Ferndale Area District Library for his new podcast, “A Little Too Quiet.” We had a relaxed and wide-ranging conversation, including taking about my writing and background. As you might expect, we spent some time talking about my series of mysteries, the Martin Preuss mysteries, set in and around Ferndale.

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As I write this, the show is scheduled for the end of February 2020. You can listen to all the episodes of the podcast here: https://alittletooquiet.podbean.com/. Jeff’s conversations with other local authors (including Josh Malerman, Kathe Koja, and Michael Zadoorian) are thought-provoking and enjoyable.

Jeff and I also talked about my more recent writing. The last pieces I’ve published have been in a different genre from the mystery novels: they are a pair of dystopian novellas. One, “The Bright and Darkened Lands of the Earth,” appears in an anthology, Postcards from the Future: A Triptych on Humanity’s End (Quitt and Quinn Publishers and Whistlebox Press, 2019) along with the works of two other fine writers, Wendy Sura Thomson and Andrew Lark.

My other novella is a stand-alone sequel to “The Bright and Darkened etc.” published separately as The Exile (Poison Toe Press, 2020).

Writing dystopian fiction—or really post-apocalyptic fiction, as my two recent works are—turned out to be more taxing than I thought it would be.

I have to admit, at first it was fun.

I had published six Preuss mystery novels in a row from 2011 to 2019, and I felt like I was getting stale. I thought turning to dystopian fiction last year in response to an invitation from Andrew Lark (who spearheaded the Postcards project) would be a good change. It would let me take a break from mysteries, and indulge one of my long-time pleasures, post-apocalyptic fiction and films.

After I wrote the first novella, I had an experience that I’ve never had before, even with the Preuss series . . . an entire world sprang up in my brain as I thought about the characters, their situations, and their world, and I could see possibilities for continuing to write about them in several more novellas. My plan evolved into writing The Exile and maybe two or three more installments set in that world, and then combine them all into one large work.

I took to thinking about the different pieces as part of The Dry Earth Series—so called because the action takes place in a world devastated by climate catastrophes.

And here’s where it starts to get depressing.

I think of these novellas as “speculative fiction,” to use the term that Margaret Atwood uses: fiction that begins with current conditions, and then engages in a kind of thought experiment to project forward in order to imagine how things might turn out, given where we are starting from. She’s a master of it in works like The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, and most recently The Testaments.

Several current trends came together in “The Bright and Darkened Lands of the Earth—not only the climate disasters that we are starting to see already (vide Australia burning), but also emerging global pandemics (vide the coronavirus), the breakdown of our lawful democratic system and the failure of the American experiment (vide your news today), looming failures in agriculture leading to widespread famine (vide Monsanto’s latest annual report) . . . all of these converged to create the nightmarish hellscape of “The Bright and Darkened Lands of the Earth.”

And I continued to explore their impacts in The Exile.

And not by simply discussing the problems themselves, of course, but rather by showing their devastating effects on the desperate lives of individual characters.

Without getting into spoilers, it’s not a pretty picture.

The more I wrote about the world of the Dry Earth Series, the more all the problems I was writing about—climate devastation, cultural suicide enacted daily in the political sphere, an uninhabitable earth, mass extinctions of plants and animals, violence released into the air along with lingering radiation—began to seem so possible.

Even, unfortunately, so likely.

As this country seems to be embracing its own apparently inexorable dystopian future, thinking seriously about the kinds of nightmares the future holds became more and more difficult and disheartening for me.

My mental state, already reeling and fragile from the corruption and mean-spirited, willful stupidity spewing nonstop out of Washington, began to decline even further.

I decided I need a break from my break.

The solution was simple: for my next project, I’m going to return to the world of Martin Preuss and his son Toby.

After I finished “The Bright and Darkened Lands of the Earth” and sent it off to the editor, I launched into the seventh Preuss book and finished about 13,000 words on the draft. I stopped when the novella came back from the editor, and then I found one of the characters in the novella to be so compelling that I began another manuscript that turned into The Exile.

Talking to Jeff Milo about the Preuss series made me realize how much I missed the characters of Martin Preuss and most especially Toby.

Toby, who brings so much light into his fictional father’s life, does the same for me. Profoundly handicapped, he is an accurate and loving portrait of my grandson Jamie. Toby is a source of enormous comfort, joy, and wisdom for his father, as Jamie was for those of us who knew and loved him.

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Jamie Kril, the model for Toby Preuss

Regretfully, Jamie is no longer with us. But while we were privileged to have him, Jamie taught us so much about love, patience, the necessity for presence in one’s life, and what is really important in a world that seems crazier and more out-of-control by the day.

Writing about Toby, and showing how sweet and loving he is and how important he is in his father’s life (and, indeed, the lives of everyone he touches), gives me the chance to celebrate his great gifts, and by extension the gifts of all the children and people like Toby and Jamie.

We need that now, more than ever.

So that’s what’s next for me. I’m shelving the harsh, nightmarish, disintegrating world of the Dry Earth Series, and returning to the world of Martin and Toby—which is harsh and nightmarish in its own way, but at least tends toward order and social reintegration. Crimes are solved, mysteries are cleared up, criminals are held accountable.

And at the end of each day, a regenerating visit with his dear Toby always awaits investigator Martin Preuss.

My sabbatical from dystopian fiction might turn into a “Mondical and a Tuesdical,” as folksinger Lee Hayes said about The Weavers’ enforced break from music during the McCarthy hearings in the 1950s. Right now it’s hard to tell.

Regardless, look for the next entry in the Martin Preuss series in the fall of 2020. I can’t give out any details of the plot just yet—except to say that due to overwhelming demand from my readers, Martin Preuss may—just may—finally get a girlfriend.

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, when you have a chance, please have a listen to Jeff Milo’s podcast at https://alittletooquiet.podbean.com/.

 

Indie Monday

Today’s guest: Joe Spraga

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On occasional Mondays, I’ll be featuring other authors on my blog—authors who produce quality work outside the boundaries and strictures of the traditional mass-produced, mass-marketed commercial publishing world and traditional bookstore shelves.

I’m delighted that today’s featured guest is Joe Spraga. Joe is the author/illustrator of two books for children, The Snitch, the Witch, and the One Who Was Rich (2015), and Phrebbel The Phrongol’s Vacation Pictures (coming soon).

Recently I posed some questions to Joe. Here’s what he told me.

DL: Welcome, Joe. Could you tell us a little about yourself?

JS: I was raised in the Detroit Metropolitan area. I’ve always been artsy and I’m a graduate of Western Michigan University, with a Bachelor’s of Arts in English (Creative Writing) and a Minor in Philosophy. I’m a former musician who had to reluctantly retire and became legally disabled in 2015 due to health problems. I enjoy spending time with dogs, as should all right-thinking people.

DL: Tell us about your latest book and works in progress. Where did the ideas for those works come from?

JS: I wrote my first book, The Snitch, the Witch, and The One Who Was Rich, because the chorus of the book popped into my head one day while in a painting class in college. It had been an ear worm for me for many years. I knew then that I had to make a story out of it.  My writing style for my children’s literature is verse. However, I make sure to be as didactic as I can be with overtones of social commentary while still keeping it entertaining.

My new book, Phrebbel The Phrongol’s Vacation Pictures, will be out in a couple of weeks. It is a “brain game” style book that promotes critical thinking in a fun and interactive way for children. STAY TUNED FOR THIS ONE!!!

DL: Why do you write? What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

JS: I knew I was a writer in college, but I did not start taking it seriously until many years later. I have always observed life, and read books. Seeing the connection between the two is a very natural and important thing for me. I write because I want to make the world a nicer place with quality ideas that can be fun and entertaining for children and adults. I also write because it comes naturally to me and it’s fun!

DL: Please talk a little about your writing process. What is your favorite part of the process? Least favorite?

JS: Well, let’s see here . . . I honestly don’t know if I can explain this clearly, but I’ll give it my best shot. I feel my books are more “written through me” than writing them myself. I have a very “sing-songy” type mind, and things just pop into my head. I feel the universe is using me as an antennae to receive these ideas. Once I have the ideas, my process is very structured. I lay everything out ahead of time, visually, like a story board. Then, I make the words and pictures as entertaining as possible for the reader while being didactic and stimulating at the same time. That’s easy to understand, right? HA!

DL: Could you reflect a bit on what writing or being a writer has meant for you and your life?

JS: Being a writer has given me a purpose. With all of my health problems, being disabled is a constant struggle. Being a writer gives me a reason to get excited about something and get out of bed in the morning. It is also cathartic for me. I understand my place in the universe better, and it helps me work through my own personal issues. I hope my writing helps my readers do the same.

DL: What are links to your books, website, and blog so readers can learn more about you and your work?

JS: My website is https://joespraga.com/ All of my social media links are on my website. I can also be reached via email at the bottom of my website. My email is joe@joespraga.com.

The First Chapter of THE EXILE

 

Exile finalI’m releasing a new book this week . . . a novella, The Exile (Poison Toe Press).

I’m calling it Book 2 in the Dry Earth Series. It’s a self-contained, stand-alone companion to Book 1, The Bright and Darkened Lands of the Earth, which appears in an anthology of three dystopian novellas, Postcards from the Future: A Triptych on Humanity’s End (Whistlebox Press and Quitt and Quinn Publishers, 2019).

Also included in Postcards are excellent, gripping, and thought-provoking works of dystopian fiction by Andrew Charles Lark and Wendy Sura Thomson.

The Exile describes eight days in the life of one of the characters from Book 1, an elder named Mae. She’s a secondary character in the first book, but I found her story compelling enough to want to continue it.

The Exile follows her banishment from the underground settlement where she lives with her tribe in a bleak post-apocalyptic future. It’s not a pleasant world (post-apocalyptic realities usually aren’t). I like to think of it using the term that Margaret Atwood uses, speculative fiction. Like her Handmaid’s Tale, Books 1 and 2 of my Dry Earth Series take current events and circumstances and speculate on what they might evolve into.

The Exile takes place in the same world as The Bright and Darkened Lands of the Earth, and contains a few references to events in that first book, but nothing that will spoil your enjoyment of it. If you’re a fan of dystopian fiction, I hope you enjoy The Exile, and if you do then I guarantee you’ll find Postcards from the Future impossible to put down (as many reviewers have noted).

Like Postcards, The Exile is available for purchase in print and Kindle versions from Amazon; you may also order the paperback version where ever books are sold. It’s literally brand new, so if you can’t find it on Amazon then give it another day or so.

 

The Exile, Chapter 1

And she’s awake.

A muffled noise, a whisper of rag-wrapped feet on the dirt floor, some words of murmured instruction: these pull her from sleep. In a sweat, heart pounding. The sounds are not loud, but she has always been a light sleeper; even with only one good ear, she could be awakened by the echoes of distant noises in their underground settlement back when she was a child, imagining monsters.

Now Mae is an old woman and she doesn’t have to imagine the monsters. They are real, and already here. Wandering in the Upground.

And sometimes down below, in her underground settlement, too.

Sitting up, she is surprised that she has even fallen asleep. After the meeting of the Council of Elders, of which she is part, she had lain awake for most of the night, worrying over whether to tell Odile about what had happened.

Odile is the chief elder of the Council, as well as her companion. The other members of the Council did not let Odile know about the meeting, and made Mae swear she would say nothing to Odile until the Council as a body could speak with her.

It was a brutal, unfair request to make of Mae, and what the Council decided was equally unfair. After agonizing about it for most of the night, Mae had decided she needed to let her companion know about it, regardless what she had promised.

Mae looks over at Odile’s mat. Her friend is still asleep, a small bundle with a grey head protruding from her tattered cover. It is cool and airless in their underground settlement, but Odile is old—older than Mae—and gets chilled easily.

Mae watches the rise and fall from her companion’s breathing. The sound that woke her did not come from Odile.

Mae looks around the room where they sleep. In the dim light from the lantern out in the tunnel, all seems quiet.

She lies back, adjusts her aching bones on her sleeping mat, and closes her eyes.

She tries to calm herself. Whatever dream she had been having (now dissipated entirely) and the tense Council meeting of the night before have left her with a deep feeling of unease.

She opens her eyes and stares at the support beams crisscrossing the rock overhead.

Now fully awake, she begins to feel the familiar pressure in her bladder, and decides she must find her way to the sanitation chamber to relieve herself before she can try to get back to sleep.

She makes her way down the tunnel outside her room to the foul-smelling chamber, where she squats over the trench in the dark. She rinses her hands in the water standing in a bowl carved into the rock walls, and goes back out into the tunnel. It is lit, as all the corridors are at night, by the flickering light of a small lantern.

That’s where they take her.

Someone comes up from behind and pins her arms in a bear hug. She struggles, but she is held fast.

Someone else—she can’t say who because they approach her from behind—ties a rag over her mouth and throws a hood over her head. The material of the hood is threadbare, like most of what they own in the settlement, and it lets in some of tunnel dim light but not enough for her to make out who her attackers are.

One of them strikes her over the head with a heavy object, not hard enough to knock her out but with enough force to make her old legs wobble and let go from under her. The arms that pin her release her and she is allowed to fall to the ground, heavily and clumsily.

The fight goes out of her, along with her breath.

Dazed and winded, she feels hands grasping her roughly and half-carrying, half-dragging her down the tunnel away from the sanitation chamber and her own sleep chamber. She is too confused to figure out which direction they take her.

At last, she feels her attackers pushing her up an incline. She panics. It must be the passageway to the Upground.

Why are they taking her there?

She tries to shout, but with the rag across her mouth she can only emit a high screech. She tries to shake herself free but the hands that hold her are too strong.

Can anyone hear her?

Can anyone help her?

Her shins bang and scrape against the rocks on the ground as they pull her up the passageway. She is still barefoot and wearing only the nightshirt she sleeps in.

She can feel the air warming as they drag her up from the underground and rise to what was once the entrance of the nickel mine where they have made their settlement.

Finally, they bring her to the opening. She can feel the full heat of the above-ground world through her thin clothes and the flimsy hood on her head.

She hears her attackers exchanging words with the entrance guards. Their voices are low and urgent, but she can’t make out what they are saying.

She is pulled over the rubble that surrounds the entrance. The jagged old concrete blocks, bricks, bent and burnt wood slats join with the remnants of old weeds and branches from the dead trees to cut and scrape her bare feet and legs as they pull her away from the settlement.

Disoriented, she has no idea how far they drag her. At one point, her attackers pick her up off the ground—she is old and malnourished and does not weigh much—and she feels them begin to trot with her.

They go on like that for what feels like hours.

When they finally stop, they let her fall to the ground and pull the hood from her head. It is still night, but the sun never sets in the far north where they live, so the sky is a dim golden color. The sun of early morning makes her squint so she still can’t tell who has taken her, but she hears them panting from the exertion of carrying her.

She lies on her back. Someone unties the rag from around her face. Her mouth is dry, cottony, bitter with the oily taste of the cloth. She tries to scream, protest, call for help, but her tongue doesn’t work and all that comes out is a hoarse croak.

A face looms close to her own. She sees it is Cyn, one of the security squad. Cyn cradles her head and holds a container of water to her mouth. Thankful, Mae drinks. It loosens her tongue enough for her to rasp, “Cyn, why do you do this?”

“Sorry, elder,” Cyn replies. She lets Mae’s head down and sets the water container on the ground beside her.

“Come,” another woman barks. “Leave her!”

Cyn gets up but Mae grabs at her cloak. “Wait!”

Cyn gently pries Mae’s hands free. The other woman now looms over Mae. Mae recognizes her as Meela, the leader of the security work group. In the light of early morning, Meela’s eyes are black, the color of pitch darkness underground.

Glowering down at Mae, Meela says, “Know this, elder Mae. You suffer banishment from the settlement by order of the Council of Elders.”

“No,” Mae protests, her voice still rough from the rag that was wound around her mouth. “That would never happen. Odile is the chief elder. She would never—”

Meela holds a hand up to cut Mae off. “Nay appeal,” she says, “nay protest. If you return, you will be dragged up.”

Killed.

“How can this be?” Mae asks. She is an elder herself, as well as Odile’s companion—when did the Council take this vote? She was present at the last secret meeting, and this never came up. How would Odile ever agree with it?

Mae tries to sit up, but Meela puts a foot on Mae’s shoulder and kicks her down flat onto the red dust of the ground.

“Come,” Meela orders Cyn.

“Cyn,” Mae cries, “nay go!”

The two women ignore Mae’s pleading. They jog away without looking back.