Author Interview: The Magical Mindscape of J.L. Mulvihill

For our first author interview of the year, I have the privilege of probing the magical mindscape of J.L. Mulvihill, Southern Haunts editor and writer of fantasy, horror, steampunk, and more. She’s the author of poems, short stories, and several novels, including Lost Daughter of Easa, Boxcar Baby, and Crossings.

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Let’s start off with something basic but fundamental. How long have you been writing and what prompted you to go from amateur to professional?

Well, the funny thing is, I have been writing for as long as I can remember. I found an old journal of my mothers and there is an entry there that said “Today Jennifer made up her first poem, ‘light, light, burning bright’.” Okay so I didn’t actually write that, I was only two years old but I think if I could have written it I would have. We will just say I have been writing poetry and short stories as long as I have been able to write. I just saw it as a hobby and sometimes therapy. When I got into bands, I started writing song lyrics too. One day however, about eleven years ago, I had a strange nightmare about being chased through the woods by a giant spider. The dream would not leave my head but kept playing over and over until characters started emerging. I told my family about it and they encouraged me to write the story down. I did and the next thing I knew I had 180,000 words down on paper. What to do with that now I wondered. Well, that was when I started the long trek to getting the story published and it became my first novel, The Lost Daughter of Easa.

Frankly, I find that story fascinating and a bit terrifying. I’m a bit arachnophobia too, but it’s more of an irrational hatred toward them. Too quiet. Too many eyes and legs. Bleh. But you’ve just sold me on reading Lost Daughter now. It’s bound to be a fright-filled tale.

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Which writers have influenced you the most along the way?

I, of course, am a fan of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, L. Frank Baum, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Lois Lenski, Robert A. Heinlein, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, Anne McCaffrey, Terry Brooks, Edgar Allan Poe, and Stephen King. I could probably go on for a while since I read a lot when I was a kid that was all I pretty much did was listen to music and read books.

Apparently, you forgot about Stan Lee. I dug up this picture of you and him together at Dragon*Con 2014. 😉

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Name five favorite novels that either influenced you or have simply stuck with you?

The Strawberry Girl – Lois Lenski;
The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien;
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradury;
Dragonflight – Anne McCaffrey;
Lost Horizon – James Hilton

The Hobbit and many works by Bradbury would be on my list as well. I can see a lot of Bradbury’s influence in the coming-of-age aspect of Boxcar Baby, especially focusing on a gritty, darker side of it.

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I know you field this question on a lot of writing panels. But I’ll ask it again here. Always leads us into the mind of the writer. Where have you found inspiration for your stories/books?

Inspiration for my stories and books come from my dreams, parts of my life, my children and family, the world and people around me. Sometimes it’s something I hear on the history channel or Discovery and then develops into an idea. Maybe an object I see in a shop or on the ground. I guess most of my ideas just come from the twisted world inside my head.

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You have worked as an editor on Seventh Star Press’s Southern Haunts series as well as authored several stories and books yourself. Which work do you find more fulfilling, writing and editing your own stories or editing, and shaping, those of others?

I think I prefer to work on my own stories because I feel like I am invading on peoples’ creativity when I edit. However, there is a certain satisfaction one can achieve when an anthology is created and finished. Especially when the idea of the anthology like Southern Haunts was something you helped come up with from the beginning.

I agree wholeheartedly there, Jen. I always feel intrusive if I’m doing more than proofing someone’s work. And even then, you can run into subjective disagreements about exposition, dialogue, and basic grammar. I’d rather be writing than editing anyday.

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Your young adult fantasy novel, The Lost Daughter of Easa, and The Steel Roots series, which I’d term as a steampunk fairy tale and coming-of-age story, are rich worlds with descriptions and characters that fill them out in great detail. From outside appearances, both seem to involve heavy world-building and a lot of planning and outlining.

Could you tell us about your creative process with these pieces, with a focus on these topics?

When people say heavy world building, I feel like I am cheating because those worlds are in my head; and, yes, I guess I did create them but to me it is not such a hard task as it sounds. For Lost Daughter of Easa, I literally have a tri-board with sticky notes on it with regards to characters, places and things. I actually do have an outline, in fact an entire book filled with notes about everything from mythological creatures to the string theory and traveling between worlds. I follow my outline, and when I come to a creature or object, I look it up or research for good measure. Here is the trick though; I have books for this series. A lot of people rely heavily on the internet; I have books of all sorts about giants, and fairies and elves and dragons. The only things I do not have books on are spiders, because I hate spiders, and I will not even have a book about them. I look those up at the library or, yes, the internet. Now as far as the world, like I said it is alive in my head, so I just close my eyes and can go there. I see all my scenes as if they are really happening before me.

The steampunk series is a little different. I did a lot of research both in books and online about the 1800s and the Victorian era as well as the revolutionary time period, workhouses, and factories. The cool thing about this story is that it is in America, not a fictional place. Although it is set in my alternate history, I can look up these towns and see what they used to look like and then describe them, maybe altering bits and pieces here and there. Some the Steel Roots series has elements from my childhood as well that I have incorporated in the story to make it real. For instance, the very first sentence is taken from when I lived with my grandparents. I would hear the train whistle every night and every morning far off in the distance, and it would comfort me. I, of course, do a fair bit of research about trains, hobos, and the like. I go to museums and take notes. I immerse myself in so much research that sometimes I forget I am supposed to be writing.

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How many installments will we see in The Steel Roots series? And will we see a sequel to Lost Daughter on the shelves this year?

Crossings, Book #2 of the Steel Roots series was just released in December of 2014. The publisher is expecting another one from me this year, so I guess there will only be three, though I dare say with so many characters afoot there could be some spin offs maybe, I am hopeful. As for the sequel to Lost Daughter of Easa, I cannot guarantee it will be out in 2015, but I can guarantee I will be done with the manuscript in 2015.

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What are you working on currently? And can you provide us with a snippet from it?

I am currently working on both the sequel to Lost Daughter and the next Steel Roots book, as for a snippet, let’s just say in Lost Daughter the dragons will awaken. As for Steel Roots, I can only tell you that it will be the greatest invention ever. Spoilers, Sweetie, spoilers.

As winsome and evasive as River Song herself, eh, Jen? I guess that’s part of the mysterious allure that keeps readers coming back for more. Frankly, I’m looking forward to continuing AB’Gale’s journey.

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What new creative works will you have hitting the shelves or the web in 2015?

I know that the Steel Roots sequel is slotted for release sometime in 2015, as for the rest we will just have to wait and see what 2015 has to bring.

One last question before we go, Jen. Where can we read more about you and your works? Do you have a writing blog or website(s) that you’d like to promote here?

You can find out more about me on www.elsielind.com or go to jlsbooks.blogspot.com/

You can also find out more about Authora and some poetry at the following link: http://home.comcast.net/~mulvijen/site/

Or catch me on my Facebook pages:

https://www.facebook.com/JLMulvihill

https://www.facebook.com/mulvijen?ref=hl

https://www.facebook.com/TheElsieLindSeries?ref=hl

https://www.facebook.com/SteelRootsSeries?ref=hl

Jen cosplaying The Spider Witch from Lost Daughter of Easa.

Jen cosplaying The Spider Witch from Lost Daughter of Easa.

Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Jen. It’s been great chatting with you again and letting our readers learn more about you and what you have planned for the new year. Wish you the best in 2015. Hope to see you back on the Southern Fandom Convention Circuit soon.

If you would like to meet J.L. Mulvihill in person and pick up a signed copy of one of her works, you can find her at the First Annual Dark Oak Press Book Signing at the Barnes & Noble in Ridgeland, Mississippi on January 24, 2015. Alexander S. Brown, Kalila Smith, Kimberly Richardson, and publisher Allan Gilbreath will be in attendance.

For more details, find the event on Facebook HERE.

Stay tuned to this blog for more interviews, announcements, updates, and more.

Author Interview: Traumatizing Minds with Alexander S. Brown

When I first met Alexander S. Brown at a fandom convention, I had no idea that I was meeting the scariest man to pass through Vicksburg, Mississippi since General Grant. But after reading “Traumatized”, his self-published horror anthology, I was convinced. I was no longer just a friend or colleague but a fan as well. Today, I am happy to be able to shine some light on the dark, fruitful imagination of this wonderful writer and what he has in store for his fans in the future.

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When did you know you wanted to be a professional writer? And how long did it take you to make that dream happen?

My senior year of high school was when I decided to be a professional writer. Although I have written books through the ages of 18 and 29, my actual dream hadn’t reached fruition until the last year. Although I was overly thrilled to produce short fiction for anthologies: Dreams of Steam, Clockwork Spells and Magical Bells, Luna’s Children, and Capes and Clockworks, it wasn’t until I helped produce Southern Haunts volume 1 and 2, and published Traumatized and Syrenthia Falls that I finally felt my career had begun.

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Which writers have influenced you the most along the way?

My biggest influences have been Stephen King, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, Chuck Palahniuk, Anne Rice, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and the list continues.

If you could talk to any of those writers, living or dead, which one would it be and why? What would you want to discuss?

I would pick Clive Barker. He is a brilliant name in the horror genre that provides a great diversity of being poetic and horrific. I also admire his fantasy themed horror: Imagica, The Thief of Always, Weaveworld, etc. I would want to discuss with him how different scare tactics captivate audiences. I would also enjoy speaking of story ideas.

Good choice! Barker’s Weaveworld is one of my all-time favorite novels. Ranks up there with Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Dune. Poe, Lovecraft, Kind, and Palahniuk have influences me as well. Koontz and Rice have too but to a lesser extent. I’m more of a fan of Rice’s works written under the Rampling pseudonym than her vampire novels.

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How did growing up in the Deep South affect the content and style of your writing? Have you worked any of those real-life experiences into your stories?

A lot of what I have written about has been inspired by actual places, events, or southern folklore. Growing up in the South has provided a great deal of opportunities for my writings, especially by living in a secluded, wooded area for the majority of my life. The Southern culture can be seen most in these following pieces: Syrenthia Falls, Southern Haunts 1 & 2, and Traumatized.

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What genre(s) do you prefer to write? Are there any that you avoid entirely?

I have no problems writing in any genre as long as I can keep the genre themed with suspense and horror.

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You started out as a self-published (or indie) writer but have transitioned to traditional publishing with the Southern Haunt anthologies from Seventh Star, the new edition of Traumatized from Pro Se, and your first novel (Syrenthia Falls) released by Dark Oak Press earlier this year. In your experience, what are the pros and cons of self-publishing versus the traditional route?

To say being self-published is the greatest nightmare alive would be untrue. When Traumatized was first published, I had no one to help or represent me in the world of publishing, so I used a vanity press that charged its authors to get published.

The only good thing that came from this was I now had a product that I could sell and I could attend conventions and promote myself. Had I never done this, I would have never learned about the con circuit and I would probably still be in the dark. With that said, I gained placement in three publishing houses: Seventh Star Press, Dark Oak Press, and Pro Se Press (Pro Se Press is now in control of Traumatized as it was pulled from the original press).

In this interview, my goal with this question is to direct unpublished authors to attend conventions and converse with other authors and publishers. If you are serious about your work, then this will give you the opportunity to fish it around.

I am in complete agreement there, Alex. Attending conventions is what led to me being published. Without the networking opportunities facilitated by conventions, namely meeting authors and publishers face-to-face, we’d never have hooked up with Dark Oak Press, much less Pro Se. In fact, this very interview series is a direct result of meeting authors, editors, artists, publishers, and others at these fandom conventions.

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Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing (or the process of polishing, editing, and publishing your stories), and how do you deal with this?

Writing isn’t the hard part, editing is. There are so many ways a sentence can be structured. Also there are plenty of times where less is more and I overdo it. Sometimes cutting multiple paragraphs to pages from my stories are necessary when I finish writing.

In my opinion, editing is what separates the amateur from the professional. Anyone can write. Anyone can write a story. But very few people are willing to take the time and effort, much less spend the money on a professional, to whip their story into shape for publication. Those of us who can slog through it, take the criticism from ourself as well as others, and make the changes necessary to turn out a polished product are the real professionals, whether we are published traditionally or self-published.

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What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Write your entire manuscript and while you’re writing it look for publishers who are small or medium sized. After you finish writing your manuscript, edit, edit, edit, and start building an audience on social media sites. Also, write blogs in regard to the subjects that focus on your writing genre.

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Are you working on anything currently? Can you provide a snippet from it?

I am working on a few things that are top secret, if I shared them with you, I would have to kill you. However, I’m happy to share a segment of the last ebook that Pro Se Press published and a segment of Syrenthia Falls.

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From Outhouse published by Pro Se Press, Story 3 in the Night the Jack O’ Lantern Went Out series

I crossed tha kitchen floor and gazed out left and right. I ain’t seen nothin’ scary and nothin’ ain’t sound spooked. Tha night was calm. Although that shoulda made me feel better, I wondered how fast I could run ta tha outhouse and back.

I took a deep breath and opened tha door. Tha rusted hinges hollered. Once I was on tha porch, tha cool wind blew in my face, causin’ my bonnet ta tickle my forehead and tha sides of my cheeks. I shivered out of fear and coldness, and also tha pressure in my bladder.

Tha screen door done slammed behind me, causin’ me ta jump. Then I shot off tha porch like lightenin’. I went left, round tha back of tha house that looked over some of our crops and that hill where Poppa and me done flew kites. In tha dead night, I heard it. It was a growl, lot like a riled mongrel.

I looked ta tha crops. No more than twenty feet away, thirty at best, was somethin’ that struck fear in my soul. Hidin’ in ‘em crops out yonder, crouched close ta tha ground was two eyes as big as saucers. And they were glowin’, jus’ like Poppa said. And they were red, jus’ like tha tobacco in his pipe when he smoked it.

Not far down from ‘em spaced eyes was a pulled back meat eatin’ grin. In that moonlight, I could see its teeth and theys were jus’ like a bear trap. Its skin was withered like Poppa said. It also had a saggy chest, remindin’ me of some of tha old ladies of our church, where ‘eir breasts dropped when they lost tha perk. Its stomach was a gross pot belly that dropped between its squattin’ legs. When tha wind blew, it caused its thin hair ta sway in tha night like moss.

Fer what seemed seconds, we stared at one another. It let out a tongue tha size of a cow’s tongue and lapped its lips. Not wastin’ anotha second, it charged at me.

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From Syrenthia Falls published by Dark Oak Press

“You guys are good storytellers,” chuckled Syrenthia.

“Speaking of which,” mumbled Blake with a mouthful of taco salad.

Blake swallowed, then chugged the carton of milk as if he had gone the whole day without a drink. He wiped the milk residue from his upper lip with an open hand as Syrenthia listened in anticipation.

“Okay, there’s a place called Owen Falls, it’s in the northeast part of town. You take Old Foster Road. After you hang a left, you’ll come to a concrete bridge. After pulling over, you follow a trail under the bridge into the woods, and then you see The Falls,” explained Blake while Syrenthia yearned for the punchline.

“Five years ago was when the murders started, and it only happens on nights of a full moon. But these aren’t just murders, they’re mutilations. Most bodies have been found so shredded that it takes dental records to identify them,” continued Blake as Lynn stopped eating.

“You’re joking,” claimed Syrenthia. “It’s an urban legend right? No bodies were really found were they?”

“No, it’s true. My cousin’s friend was one of the policemen that restricted the area,” insisted Danny.

“Isn’t that how urban legends start?” Syrenthia quizzed. “It always happens to a friend of a friend?”

“Yeah,” Danny agreed, “but the area is restricted.”

“That’s a useless defense,” interrupted Sarah.

Syrenthia’s eyes widened and her desire for more information grew. Blake returned to eating his food as if the story had no effect on him and Danny began speaking.

“You see, three months after the murders, a warden staked out the area. Story goes, the watchman for that night rigged up a hunting stand so he could see everything… What he saw made him stay in that tree the whole night. The next day, investigators came for him. When they found him, his hair had turned white and since then he has never said another word.”

“Why didn’t he radio for help?” Syrenthia questioned.

“The story is bullshit,” added Sarah.

“Does anybody know what caused the murders?” Syrenthia asked.

Lynn shivered. “No. Two summers ago, a couple went to The Falls on the night of a full moon. Story has it that when the police found the couple, every single body part had been mauled or ripped from their bodies.”

Danny interrupted. “They were some of the last victims, but the police discovered something. You see, out of the five years the murders happened, the victims had either slash marks or were mutilated beyond recognition. The murders could have been done with a machete or knife, but the couple that was ripped apart had something strange left with them.”

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Thanks, Alex. Let’s hope those teasers send our audience scrambling to order a copy of both from Amazon.

Do you have a new or upcoming release you want to plug here? If so, when and where can we find it?

Pro Se is publishing a short story monthly from my collection The Night the Jack O’ Lantern Went Out. I’m writing Traumatized 2, editing Southern Haunts 3, and writing a sequel to Syrenthia Falls called Starla’s Moonlight. Southern Haunts 3 can be expected out in 2015. My other works such as Traumatized 2 or Starla’s Moonlight will hopefully see publication in 2016 or so.

I appreciate you sitting for the interview, Alex. I’m sure the readers enjoyed learning more about you, and I hope aspiring writers out there appreciate the advice. Best of luck with the next edition of Southern Haunts, your Pro Se Digital Short Series, and the sequel to Syrenthia Falls. Look forward to all of them. Thanks again and keep on writing, my friend.

For more about Alexander S. Brown and his works of fiction, check out his Amazon author page HERE.

To follow his blog, click HERE.

D. Alan Lewis & A Double Dose of Lycanthropy

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With the release of not one but two werewolf-themed anthologies from Dark Oak Press this week, I thought it expedient and enlightening to interview one of the people who made it possible. Author, editor, and good friend D. Alan Lewis has been sweating these two Luna’s Children collections since last year, working diligently to comb through the massive amount of submissions, select the best stories, and then edit them for publication. Though he has not been alone in this daunting task, his drive and dedication have made these anthologies possible.

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This is a glowing introduction and rightly so. But then again, I am clearly biased as Alan saw fit to anchor the first volume, Luna’s Children: Full Moon Mayhem, with my edgy, ultra-violent revenge fiction piece entitled “Beta Male, Alpha Wolf.” As editor, Alan also selected my Cycle of Ages Saga story about dwarves on a submarine powered by a dirty nuclear reactor for Capes & Clockwork, Dark Oak’s recent steampunk superhero anthology.

In addition to his duties as editor, technical writer, and father, D. Alan Lewis is a writer of some of the most imaginative fiction to make it onto my bookshelf. When I first met him at MidSouth Con in Memphis, this unassuming, quiet fellow with the wolfish baby blues sat behind a table with his first novel, Blood in Snowflake Garden. After reading the back cover, I took this absurdist Cold War-era noir tale of murder, mystery, and cupcakes at Santa’s North Pole home with me and enjoyed every page. You will never read another Christmas story like this one. Since then, he has written and published several pulp stories and a few novels. Of them, the gritty, unflinching supervillain tale, The Bishop of Port Victoria, is another favorite. Of course, I could go on and on about telling you about this talented technical writer turned genre author and editor; instead, I’ll let him tell you about himself, his influences, and his projects.

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Q. As writers, we all come from different backgrounds and found our way to this profession in our own way. How did you make the transition from amateur to professional writer? When?

A. I grew up telling stories, some for honorable purposes and some not. As a teen and young adult, I got into roleplaying games and usually ended up running the games, since my friends loved the stories I’d weave for them. I’d toyed with writing for many years, but never got started. This was partly due to procrastination and partly due to a lack of support from family and friends. After my last divorce, I decided to jump in to the writing world with both feet. I hooked up with a writer’s group in Nashville and with their support, I managed to finish my first novel.

From there, it became a matter of networking. I’d been going to SF&F conventions for years, so I started talking to authors and publishers who attend. Those contacts lead to multiple book and story deals. And that leads to the latest work, the 2 Luna’s Children books.

Q. What genre(s) do you write? And do you prefer writing short stories, novellas, or novels? Why?

A. I’m a bit of a writing slut. I write a little bit of everything in all kinds of lengths. I have 3 novels out at the moment; a murder mystery, a pulp/noir tale, and a steampunk adventure. As for short stories, I have steampunk, pulp/noir, superhero tales, horror, and vampire & werewolf stories, and straight-up Sci-Fi.

I don’t have a preference about the length, as long as I have enough room to tell the story that I’m trying to convey.

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Q. What writer(s) has/have influenced your writing the most? How have they influenced you?

A. Douglas Adams has always been a favorite and a major influence. His works were so ‘over the edge’ at times and I loved that. While I didn’t want to be his clone, I did want to write like him. Early on, all my stories were developed as comedies, but I didn’t feel that I could match his level of craftsmanship. And as I worked, I found that my skills were more along a darker path of storytelling. 

Q. Is there a work of fiction that you keep coming back to, one that you read over and over again? If so, why?

A. Douglas Adam’s ‘The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul’. I just love it.

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Q. As a writer, are there common themes or topics that you like to explore?

A. I love surprise twists, so everything I write has something in it that I hope will catch the reader off guard. I also love having tortured, troubled characters. As far as topics, I don’t have anything that I include in every story.

Q. As an editor, where do you find the time and patience to edit something as daunting as an anthology?

A. Patience is needed in ample amounts, some of the time. It never fails to amaze me that some authors will send in a story riddled with errors, but if an editor misses one and it gets in the final product, those same authors will throw a fit.

 As the first reader, I look for a story first. Does it fit a need that my anthology needs? If so, then I look at the errors. If there are too many, I send them back to the authors and explain what mistakes I’m seeing and ask them to rewrite it. Then, once it comes back, I get to work. With Luna’s Children, there were so many stories that I had a team of editors helping me with all the stories, making sure that I didn’t miss anything. 

With Capes & Clockwork, I was dealing with mostly established writers who knew their craft. I also had only 16 stories to deal with, so that anthology fell into place quickly and efficiently. The Luna’s Children books were the complete opposite. While there were a number of talented writes, there are a lot of first-timers. Still, many of those first-timers were giving me great stories, underneath all the mistakes. Luna’s Children includes 43 stories in the 2 volumes, which were drawn out of over a 150 submissions.

 Needless to say, the werewolf stories took much longer to weed through, edit and put together.

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Q. What special challenges do you face in editing an anthology versus a novel?

A. An anthology is a collection of stories from OTHER people. These are not my stories, so I can read it as an outsider and can spot problems and issues. When I edit my own stuff, I have to try and remember not to read it as the writer but as an outsider. While in my mind, I know how a scene is playing out in the words. But as the reader, is that scene playing out in the same way? Sometimes as a writer, you can’t see the obvious mistakes since you’re too close to the story. 

Q. What can you tell us about your newest releases, the two volumes of Dark Oak Press’s werewolf-themed Luna’s Children anthologies? And where can readers find it?

A. Luna’s Children: Full Moon Mayhem and Luna’s Children: Stranger Worlds is now available on Amazon Kindle and will soon be available in print and other ebook versions. All will be available at your local and online book retailers. 

Full Moon Mayhem contains 22 stories that are more based in the real world. While, the 21 stories in Stranger Worlds takes the werewolf genre into new worlds, other times, different realities.

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Q. Now that these collections are finally being released, what will you be working on next?

A. Currently, I am working on the submissions for Capes & Clockwork 2, which is an anthology of Steampunk’d superhero stories. The first volume came out early this year and was such a hit that the second book was green lit immediately.

In addition to that, I’m working on short stories for the upcoming ‘Black Pulp 2’ and ‘High Adventure History 2’, both from Pro Se Productions. I’m also outlining an untitled Steampunk/Noir detective story that I hope to have out by year’s end. In the long term planning, are the next books in the Hawke Girls and the Snowflake Garden series.

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Q. Finally, where can we find out more about you and your other works of fiction?

A.  My website/blog is:  www.dalanlewis.com

      I am on twitter:  @Dalanlewis

      I’m on Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/AuthorD.AlanLewis

     And I have an author page on Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/D.-Alan-Lewis/e/B006DA9P2U/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_2?qid=1331611519&sr=8-2

 

Thanks for sitting with us for the interview today, Alan. Good luck on your future projects and upcoming appearances. In the proud tradition of tired werewolf cliches, I hope you have a howling good time. 😉