A “Craving Vengeance” Interview With Valerie J. Clarizio + Giveaway

A little mystery, a dash of romance, add in a sexy detective and you have the Nick Spinelli mystery series by Valerie J. Clarizio.

Shelley R. Pickens, author of the upcoming YA thriller “The Haunting of Secrets”, took the time to sit down and grill fellow author Valerie J. Clarizio about the second book in her Spinelli series, “Craving Vengence.”

First, here’s a little about the book:

Nick Spinelli’s normal life as a homicide detective has been catapulted into a whirlwind of chaotic holiday adventures ever since he met the beautiful Shannon O’Hara.

Nick had hoped to spend his first Valentine’s Day with Shannon in a traditional manner, starting with a nice dinner out on the town and then perhaps a long warm adventurous night in her arms. His plans quickly change when cupid is found murdered in a back alley. The investigation becomes more and more inconceivable, as Spinelli discovers that Shannon is linked to the victim. When another cupid turns up dead, and it is discovered that Shannon knows him as well, Spinelli is motivated to go undercover as a singing valentine dressed as cupid, complete with wings and a quiver of arrows. How many other cupids are at risk? Is Spinelli on the killer’s list as well? The stress ignited by the day’s events causes sparks to fly between Spinelli and Shannon as he struggles to piece it all together and stop the string of slayings.

Shelley– So please tell us a little about yourself – how did you come to be a writer?

Valerie– This will sound a bit odd but I never read for pleasure until about six years ago. I had just completed my Masters in Business while holding a full-time and part-time job and suddenly had so much time on my hands I didn’t know what to do with myself. A good friend of mine handed me a Janet Evanovich book, from her Stephanie Plum series, and simply said, “Here, read this.” I said, “No thanks, I don’t read.” She put the book in my hands anyway and not only did I read that book, I read every book Evanovich wrote as well as every JA Konrath book I could get my hands on. I logged over 50 books read within that year.

I woke up one morning remembering the quirky dream I’d had and I thought to myself that Evanovich could make that dream into an awesome book. The more I thought about it I thought to heck with Evanovich, I’ll write the book myself. Hence, Nick Spinelli was born.


Shelley– So we start with murders on the most romantic day of the year! What made you choose Valentine’s Day for the setting of your story?

Valerie– Well, I’d already screwed up Spinelli and Shannon’s Christmas with murder and mayhem in Covert Exposure (book #1 in the series), so I thought that I may as well mess up their Valentine’s Day as well to see exactly how tough and in love they are. What a perfect day for testing love’s strength, don’t you think?


Shelley– Have you ever had a Valentine’s Day that didn’t quite go as expected like Nick and Shannon?

Valerie– Can’t say I did, and nor do I ever want to. I just want to take my heart-shaped box of chocolates and indulge.

Shelley– Nick Spinelli is one hot cop. What was your inspiration when you created him?

Valerie– When I started the series, I fully intended that Shannon would be the main focus, but as my fingers hit the keyboard Spinelli overtook everything, and told me how it was going to be. Now here’s my typical disclaimer – I work at City Hall and no matter how much some of the Police Officers think they are Nick Spinelli, they are NOT! I’d love to have just one Nick Spinelli on our force.


Shelley– Do you have to do a lot of crime research/police procedure for your books?

Valerie– Seeing as I’m fortunate enough to work at City Hall, I have plenty of easily available resources at my fingertips. The Firefighters lend a hand sometimes as well. Also, my brother is a Sheriff’s Deputy.


Shelley- In the book Detective Walker is an older married man who tries to help Nick through some of his relationship problems. Do you have a person like that whom you go to when things are rough?

Valerie– Oh yes, I have a great little circle of friends who are always there for me when I need them.


Shelley– Do you personally relate to any of your characters in this series?

Valerie– I like to think I’m more like Detective Walker. The down-to-earth, plain, supportive, brains behind the operation type.


Shelley– You left the book with quite a cliffhanger! So what can we expect from the next Spinelli adventure?

Valerie– I have a feeling that St. Patrick’s Day is going to test the strength of both Spinelli and Shannon. Only this time their adventure may take them out of Milwaukee and to ………

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About Valerie J. Clarizio

Valerie Clarizio lives in beautiful Door County Wisconsin with her husband and extremely spoiled cat. She loves to read, write, and spend time at her cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She’s lived her life surrounded by men, three brothers, a husband, and a male Siamese cat who required his own instruction manual. Keeping up with all the men in her life has turned her into a successful hunter and fisherwoman.

She holds a Master of Business Administration degree and works as a Finance Director. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and the Wisconsin Romance Writers of America.

Twitter: @VClarizio
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/val.clarizio

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About Shelley R. Pickens

Shelley Pickens is a Spanish teacher by day and a novelist by night. She’s been in love with everything paranormal since she can remember. After years of teaching high school students, she decided to take her firsthand knowledge of young adults and apply it to her passion for creative writing and fantasy.  When not teaching or writing, Shelley likes to spend time with her husband and two beautiful children in Atlanta, Ga.  Her escape from reality is her love of complex thriller and science fiction TV series like Supernatural and Sleepy Hollow.  In her spare time she is an avid watcher of little league baseball.  THE HAUNTING OF SECRETS is her debut novel.

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For a chance to win a free e-book copy of “Craving Vengeance” leave a comment below and let us know who your favorite fictional detective is. If you don’t have a favorite, that’s OK! Any comment will do.

A Look Into “The Third Eye of Leah Leeds” // Guest Post by Christopher Carrolli

"The Third Eye of Leah Leeds" by Christopher Carrolli

“The Third Eye of Leah Leeds” by Christopher Carrolli

A Look Into “The Third Eye of Leah Leeds”


Christopher Carrolli


In the third book of my series, The Paranormal Investigator, Leah Leeds returns to Cedar Manor for the first time in sixteen years. If you’ve read “Pipeline,” you may remember that Leah detailed the story of her childhood in Cedar Manor to the book’s main character, Tracy Kimball. It had always been my intention for that brief snippet of Leah’s history to become the basis of a future installment in the series, one that not only told the story of the house on Cedar Drive, but of Leah’s psychic gift known as third eye. And so on November 27, Melange Books released “The Third Eye of Leah Leeds: The Paranormal Investigator—Book Three.”

"Pipeline" by Christopher Carrolli

“Pipeline” by Christopher Carrolli

Throughout the series, I have tried to incorporate some larger and overall esoteric point in each book. In “Pipeline,” I saw that point as dealing with the final, fateful results when warnings go unheeded and time runs out, and the realization that time is a critical aspect of fate. In the second book, “The Listener,” I wanted to illustrate the light at the end of the tunnel that I believe ultimately exists, and the fact that everything that is hidden will eventually come to such light. So now I’ve arrived at the third book, which is about facing one’s demons, figuratively, and of course, literally.

What would any paranormal novel be without ghosts, poltergeists, and yes, demons? But keep in mind, Leah will not be entering the house alone; neither will the team for that matter. As with each new book, the time and the need for new characters arrive, and “Third Eye” is no different.

This time readers will meet Paul Leeds, Leah’s father, who remains adamant that his daughter not return to Cedar Manor—ever again. Paul remembers the family’s early history in the house through flashbacks, so I’ve written past episodes from not only Leah’s recollection, but from Paul’s as well. This brought out the child’s point of view, as well as the adult’s.

"The Listener" by Christopher Carrolli

“The Listener” by Christopher Carrolli

In “Pipeline,” it’s mentioned that in her teens, Leah had written and published a memoir for the society regarding her experiences in Cedar Manor. In “Third Eye,” the reader will get to read chapters from that memoir as each character is reading them. “Cedar Manor: The Leah Leeds Memoir,” or the book inside the book as it’s often called, is Leah’s fully detailed, first person account of the terrors she described earlier in the series. The memoir also tells of the Native-American seer that once diagnosed Leah as having an extremely powerful third eye at the age of five. Tahoe Manoa is the psychic paragon that re-enters Leah’s life to help her face down the dangers of Cedar Manor.

But the paranormal investigators also face a new antagonist in Cory Chase, a reporter from the local paper who’s been watching them from afar, keeping track of the odd, unusual circumstances that seem to follow them. He plots against the investigators, hoping to further his sinister agenda to gain a front page story.

And then of course, there’s the secondary story, the narrative that unfolds just underneath the main one, the one that everyone knows will lead to the next book. The events that take place in this book were foreshadowed in “The Listener,” as Leah began having visions and a recurring dream of the house. More foreshadowing occurs in “Third Eye.” Readers should pay attention to Brett and the circumstances surrounding him.

Book Four? Yes, but I won’t divulge the title just yet. I don’t want to spill any spoilers or overshadow “The Third Eye of Leah Leeds.”


Christopher Carrolli

November 15, 2013


“The Third Eye of Leah Leeds” is available for purchase now at www.melange-books.com


Igniting Fire Alive! // Guest Post by John Steiner

 Igniting Fire Alive! 

It licks without a tongue.
It breathes without lungs.
It devours without teeth.
It rages without a heart.
It cannot be frightened.

"Backdraft" (1991)

“Backdraft” (1991)
Photo from IMDB

These are the reason for writing the novel, Fire Alive! As a kid I wasn’t one of those who saw being a “fireman” as something I wanted to do when I grew up. Having seen Backdraft, I started to take interest in the idea that fire might be a living thing of sorts. I brought this up with one of the students at the college, where I work, and he mentioned that he had been in the wildfire service. He told me that the ideal psychology of a firefighter was one of believing the fire to be a living creature that was out to get you. I also realized that there weren’t that many stories which centered on firefighters.

Originally, I planned to write the story as taking place in the present day, but stopped myself. I’m a science fiction writer! Why not have it happen in the future? Who else has done science fiction firefighting other than Ray Bradbury? His firefighters burned books, so I didn’t think that counted. Fire Alive! takes place in the year 2026. It would allow me to toy with technological ideas, and possibly show how fire departments of the future might update their training.

From there, I endeavored myself to cast a story of how real firefighters handle their job using the metaphor of living fire creatures to convey to other people what the job was like. First, as always with my work, was to get the details right. I set about learning about fire suppression tactics, equipment, culture and procedures around firefighting.

An especially lucky find were the YouTube training videos by Captain Dale G. Pekel of the Wauwatosa Fire Department. Along with being a company officer, Captain Pekel is a certified firefighter instructor. His many videos demonstrate how to handle all manner of emergencies, and he shows how to build training props out of low-cost materials. After watching these, I emailed Captain Pekel explaining what I was writing and entailed some ideas I had. He particularly enjoyed my invention of the Ninth Evolution or “Ninth Circle” to the Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus confidence course, which at present has eight evolutions or tests that every firefighter must overcome.

I then decided on the environs for the novel to be set in, and realized that I should pay tribute to a local fire station not far from home. As such, Fire Alive! centers on Salt Lake City’s Station 8. I called that station and asked if I could interview them and get a sense of the station’s layout. The first time I called was interrupted by an alarm that the department had to respond to, which I describe later. The idea of compartment fires, those being fire incidences in enclosed spaces, seemed the most interesting. Urban/suburban fires were also the reason for choosing Station 8, whose zone of operation overlaps these nicely, giving a wide variety of action scenes. For that, I needed more information about combating fires.

Thus, I found firetactics.com, a webpage created by Paul Grimwood, retired firefighter who worked in New York and London, former Principle Fire Safety Design Engineer and currently serves as a Principle Fire Safety Engineer. His website contains a library of articles, many written by Grimwood himself, regarding various fire emergency situations. I still have the notes I took, when studying the websites articles on compartment fires. The basics seemed simple; that every fire needs fuel, air to oxidize and an ignition source.

However, the world is a bigger lab and things get more complicated when entering the Dragon’s Lair. Grimwood’s descriptions of how to read smoke, establishing tactical ventilation and the mechanics of fire behavior had me thinking firefighters faced an enemy akin to John Carpenter’s The Thing. I learned things that truly creeped me out, such as the concept of “Snake Fires.”

Snake Fires are when the smoke, which is unburned fuel, is so dense that it prevents sufficient air for a fire to burn. A room that’s ablaze might appear to be contained from spreading to other compartments. However, as the main fire is being slain by people on the hose line, a streak of combustion could occur along the ceiling. Lacking enough air to reignite the gas billowing over fire crews’ heads, this sinusoidal line of incineration would slither along at random until entering a new room where ample air exists with enough smoke for a new inferno to be born.

"The Thing" (1992)

“The Thing” (1982)
Photo from IMDB

This is likened to a scene in The Thing where the creature’s head detaches itself from the body, as the characters attempt to kill it. That this event had a real world parallel instilled into me more respect for what dangers firefighters face on the job. Of course, there’s also room in storytelling to show when things get really bad, and that sometimes people make mistakes.

In my correspondences with Captain Pekel he sent me a video of the National Firefighter Instructors Association. The speaker was Lieutenant Ray McCormack of NYFD’s Ladder 28. Lt. McCormack brought up the four D’s of firefighting: Dirty, Demanding, Difficult and Dangerous, which he said is how it will always be. There’s nothing wrong with today’s firefighter, Lt. McCormack said, however, he did find fault with some of today’s leadership. In detail, he described a steady drip-drip of safety messages that he believed undermined the most critical asset to any firefighting company, public trust. In this, he described the fact that a fire company might be so focused on safety for the firefighter that they fail to prioritize the safety of the people counting on firefighters to be there when needed most.

In place of the Culture of Safety, Lt. McCormack argues strongly for a Culture of Extinguishment. This led me to add a plot element in Fire Alive! where the main character, Captain Duane “Longhand” Longhurst reflects back on McCormack’s words as one of the firefighters who was in the audience that day. In the novel, Captain Longhurst often receives praise for a rescue of fellow firefighters early in his career. However, Longhurst himself always saw that mission as a failure for one unanticipated fact. Civilians, whose presence wasn’t known during Longhurst’s evacuation of other firefighters, had died just minutes prior to a new rescue team discovering their final whereabouts.

This is the memory that both haunts Captain Longhurst and motivates how he works throughout the story. Longhurst’s occasional discarding of safety protocol in order to save civilians earns his fire battalion the name Crazy Eight, but captures the firefighter motto of, Risk a lot to save a lot, risk little to save little and risk nothing to save nothing.

However, that’s ordinary fire with complexities that might elude those of us not baptized by its fiery wrath. For this novel, I set out to learn how an organism based on fire might come to exist. I looked into particle physics to uncover such things as Superfluidity. I postulated that in certain quantum states particles might convey their kinetic energy, which we experience as heat, in only one direction along their axis of spin.

This allowed me to devise a creature composed of particles that hadn’t formed atoms and didn’t have appreciable mass. Because of their quantum states, infinitesimally thin filaments became the composition of the creature’s body. These Superfluid filaments exist at less than a tenth of a degree above Absolute Zero. However, because of their spin-specific heat convection, the fire creatures were enveloped by temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun. This spin property also allowed me to craft a way that the creatures could absorb heat from fuel sources as a means of eating.

“Fire Alive!” by John Steiner

The title itself, exclamation point included, I came up with as a new emergency code that firefighters would declare when encountering what I called a S.P.O.T. or Self-Propagating Organized Thermotroph. When firefighters encounter Spots in the novel they would declare, “Fire alive, fire alive, fire alive.” This then informs all other first responders on the scene to change their tactics to suit the infernal creatures.

The stage was set, it seemed. However, I still felt that the spirit of firefighting needed to be defined. In my interview of SLC’s Station 8 firefighters there was great emphasis that I learn about the Knights of Malta and the origins of the Maltese Cross. The Maltese Cross has become the symbol of firefighters everywhere. The Knights of Malta arguably were the world’s first fire rescue professionals. During sieges of the crusades the Knights of Malta encountered a new weapon in the form of naphtha, a moderately combustible liquid that Arabic soldiers employed to defend their fortifications. At that moment knights found their mission changed from one of combat to rescuing their fellows from a fiery fury. This became the inspiration for a couple of scenes in Fire Alive!, one of which is Longhurst’s dream before waking up to the sound of a station alarm.

Equally important to American firefighters was the Irish symbolism that pervades firefighter culture. When Irish immigrants came to America they encountered bigotry that tends to be aimed at every new wave of peoples who choose to become Americans. The shamrock was a code that let Irish know they could find work without discrimination. For the story, I decided to advance this proud history by including Hispanic firefighters facing similar injustices.

A number of other social and political issues entered into the novel, which is something I find myself compelled to do in all my works. Living in Utah, I saw a chance to highlight issues that I believe Utahans need to address as a civic body and as a culture. Furthermore, because I find soldiers’ stories fascinating, I included a second main character who is a veteran of America’s war with Iran. Malcolm O’Connell, who in the story is a probationary firefighter fresh from the academy, was injured in the line of duty in the U.S. Army. His background allowed me to splice political issues into one of the most prevailing themes of science fiction. O’Connell is the beneficiary of technological and genetic enhancement from an Army Medical Corps program code named C.A.R.E. or Combat Augmentation and Recuperative Engineering.

It was my belief that the near-sociopathic urge to destroy the social contract of civilization would lead to a bill that forbids the government from paying for veterans’ healthcare. Forces into a voucher system, veterans become the latest prey by opportunistic private enterprise. This was a fictional legislative test bed that might well become the forerunner to dismantling Medicare and Medicare, despite the fact that the United States had a history of government run healthcare dating back to 1897.

The Army Medical Corps and Pentagon officials realize that outlawing government healthcare for vets would be its own national security crisis. Who would enlist if they knew that any injury meant they would be discarded as if their lives were cheap and disposable? The C.A.R.E. acronym is meant to imply that it’s a weapons program, which both parties are just in love with, but in fact is a clever way to break an unjust law and do right by those who put their lives on the line. I merged two real life Pentagon agendas, the Future Force Warrior Project and the Wounded Warriors Program.

My argument for its justification dates back to the earliest tool-using hominid, that of Homo erectus. The shaped stone that anthropologists call a hand-axe represented to me the first cybernetic augmentation technology. In place of sharp teeth or claws, we used inanimate stone to grant ourselves powers otherwise not bestowed onto us by evolution. Whether it was clothing, crutches, a peg leg, having a hook on the stump from a lost hand or today’s artificial joints and organs; human augmentation was always with us. I proposed through one of my characters that the C.A.R.E. Program was simply the next chapter in human progress. There is potential for misuse and abuse, even the emergence of monstrosities, however, I wanted to show readers how well-meaning justification might lead to such advances that many find abhorrent. It’s why Probationary Firefighter Malcolm O’Connell becomes the second most important character in Fire Alive!

However, he is just on probationary status at Station 8, which brings me back to that fire phone call I made to today’s Station 8. A signature of any fire station is their warped, even morbid sense of humor. I proposed an initiation prank that would befall Malcolm O’Connell on his first day on the job. I mentioned this to the firefighters I interviewed, and they agreed that it seemed like something their brothers would pull on a new guy coming into the station.

Then, their captain described to me the event which interrupted my first attempt to schedule an interview and tour of the station house. The newest firefighter at Station 8 was having his first day on the job. His first call was a Dead On Arrival scene, where the victim had passed away quite some time before anyone thought to call for help. Engine 8’s crews found the victim in a state of rigor mortis. The company captain insisted that the “Probie” [short for probationary firefighter] check for signs of life anyway. The probie described all the sounds of dead tissue straining and creaking, as he forced the mouth open and pressed the tongue down for a clear airway. He then made a plea for the dead woman to not open her eyes, while he put his ear to her mouth in order to look, listen and feel for any sign of breathing. His company got a good chuckle out of his momentary fear of a zombie plague Patient Zero. From their recounting, I realized that I needed to brush up on my firefighter humor. Those guys at Station 8 are way ahead of me in that department.

With all that firefighters face, the culture requires coping skills the likes of which we fiction authors might never contemplate as part of great storytelling. In writing Fire Alive! I wanted to write a novel that firefighters wouldn’t be disappointed in. At the same time this novel is geared toward allowing other untrained civilians like me to get a peek into the world of Old Man Fire and those who dedicate themselves to slaying dragons.

I hope you enjoy reading Fire Alive! as much as I had in writing it.

Fire. The light by we tell our stories and mythic tales. It kept the night at bay for hundreds of thousands of years. It guided humanity’s migrations across the globe, and became mankind’s first weapon of mass destruction.

What if fire developed a mind of its own?

Fire Alive!

-John Steiner

Author John Steiner

About The Author

John Steiner earned his Associate of Biology at Salt Lake Community College, where he is currently working as a tutor in math and chemistry. He exercises an avid interest in history, science, philosophy, mythology, martial arts as well as military tactics and technology.


We’re giving away a free ebook copy of “Tampered Tales” by John Steiner! Winner may choose PDF, HTML, or Kindle format.

“Tampered Tales” by John Steiner

About the book:

Theme I: The Other is a Mirror into Ourselves

The storyteller is an honest liar, for they admit fully to their fiction. However, a tale can be false, yet tell us the truth. For while the adventure speaks of “The Other,” it reflects back upon us what we know to be within ourselves.

Wry Folk
Oh, the age of innocence. A time in childhood where you could clap your hands and say “I believe in fairies.”Then one such creature is found, only it’s not a fairy and definitely not from this world. Six year old Jesse and her mother quickly learn that things which appear small, harmless and cute potentially bring with them more than one world’s worth of trouble into the house. The binding ties of any civilization of any planet are that they fiercely protect their young and seek their safe return at all costs.

Red Rover, Red Rover
People of the Earth had only their own eyes through which to see themselves. That all changes when the technological eyes of an alien probe comes to our planet in study of the local inhabitants around the world. What future lays ahead of Homo sapiens depends on streams of sensor data and number crunching of the undetectable and seemingly innocent Red Rover.

Four Days in Backwater
The Great Coyote chase to build the first faster than light vessel over, America’s U.S.S. Roadrunner is the third place design out of four nations. Yet it is first in FTL speed. It is also the first FTLV to discover traces of civilizations in other solar systems. The crew of U.S.S. Roadrunner are in awe of the aliens they meet, and take precautions the best human minds advise. However, the aliens see under privileged wayward yokels needing to be humored and humbled. Here Homo sapiens discovers all their theories of first contact fall flat on bad premises and do nothing but give the employees of Planet Copan’s truck stop a good laugh.

Small Time
With new technology comes many uses. Some constructive or even lifesaving. Others for great harm and to satiate personal ambitions. Many often end up what hobbyists tinker with in the garage. Others still become the expression of mischief. In Todd’s day hacking long since departed the digital world and entered into the very physical realm of biology. DNA became the new code to write and manipulate. Small Time racing of “mini-mounts” drew talent from all corners to be applied to a myriad of species. All bred to small stature, yet still strong enough to carry a rider heavier than they. Todd also dabbled in “Jacking” with a G of genetic code to wage a harmless war of ridicule against the corporate world. He fit the bill of real bioterrorists all too easy, even if it was clear to the authorities he didn’t do it.


Theme II: In Dreams, Thus Speaks the Universe

When the universe so commands, the story writes the author. Such tales come to us as we sleep, waking us with the urge to reveal what was shown us when our closed eyes rapidly darted from side-to-side.

Encyclopedia Capella
We think of autism as a rare affliction brought onto few among us. In Mr. Ency’s world nearly everyone, including Ency himself, exhibit the condition. A distant colony finds itself inextricably sinking into the proverbial sands of their desolate desert planet. Being an habitual encyclopedist cursed with such keen attention to absolutely everything around him Mr. Ency can’t help but record all of it. But it’s what lives in the wild dunes between cities that will test him and everyone else aboard one of the great hover ships cruising over burning sands.

The Rez
Most American Indians have had live in two worlds. Whether they grew up on The Rez or, like Randy Crowfeather, constituted “City Indians.” Believing that service as a Navy Seal prepared Randy for anything, he would discover how wrong he was. When the bodies of mutilated white people show up during one of Randy’s frequent visits with grandfather there came with it a tragic family past to be confronted. It is said that all Indians must, at some point in their lives, make a choice.

Dimensional Cloister
All parents hold their children up as being special and destine for great achievements. In Aziz’s time the scale of greatness would span across the entire multiverse. Brought to a school for gifted children, Aziz learns he isn’t the only little boy who can send his mind slide back and forth along the temporal threads of his life. Now he’s to learn how to save humanity from extra-dimensional parasites that unravel the very existence of their hosts throughout all time.

Suppose you lived your life all wrong. Imagine that because of bad decisions or even inadvertent choices prior to death your soul had been condemned to hell. Then what…? A tale of learning coping skills no living spirit would need in order to accept and accommodate an afterlife of deafening horror and blinding pain lasting eternity.

Theme III: Conjure Me A Tale

The act of storytelling is a form of sorcery. The teller casts a spell upon their audience in summoning up tales that never happened, yet impact the reader as if they had lived the adventure.

Just because you’ve studied sorcery for more than fifty years doesn’t make you a sorcerer, Eric’s master, Iccabazzi had said. Were it so easy sorcerers would be everywhere. The power of magic remained an external tool to him. To BE that power and have it within him as the air he breathed Eric needed to face the challenge of the dragon. Only it could make sorcerers of mere mortals. It more often made smoldering ash of those who failed.

Counting Coup
We’ve all heard the story of Custer’s Last Stand, and in recent years we learned the more accurate sequence of events as told by Crow scouts working alongside the U.S. Cavalry. Suppose there’s yet more to tell. Most armies pray for divine intervention in battle. With the arrival of a Manitou, a spirit of the Earth, one side will receive that aid in their darkest hour.

Arrows of Winter
Sure, being a diplomat in a feudal age can be tough in any civilization. On an alien arctic world harboring two indigenous species, one avian the other a rather out-of-place serpentine people, the rules of victory and defeat don’t change. The prince whom Ayawa served had to pay tribute to another kingdom who staked victory over his air forces in battle. Part of that tribute would take more than questing for the famed Redsmiths and healers of the serpentine Fshajar. It required that Ayawa learn nobility isn’t only bestowed at hatching, but is also earned though noble acts.

To Drop A Bead
Carl Bohonowicz struggled with more than simply getting people to say his name right. As the police department negotiator he didn’t quite seem suited to the job, and possibly the reassignment was a punishment as well as a leash. Then came the Randal Ivison hostage case. We all wear masks. How much they hide and what they let through are the only true differences.

Theme IV: Too True to be Real, Yet Was Lived

Bride of the Blackbird
On the first day of summer, 2010 a small neurotic songbird wages mono a mono war against an equally dark clad talking ape to defend The Misses and their beloved nest of hatchlings. An absolutely true tale of nature’s comedy in the style of the great humorist himself, James Thurber.

Celebrating the 4th of July // Guest Post by S.S. Hampton, Sr.

It is the holiday weekend—the 4th of July, Independence Day!

The Declaration of Independence proclaimed to the world the cause for armed rebellion against the British King, and the attempts in seeking relief from the King before resorting to arms. Though the war had been ongoing since April 1775 it would not come to a conclusion until September 1783.

In between are the names of Lexington and Concord; Bunker Hill; Valley Forge, Yorktown, and many others. Larger than life, almost mythical, names include George Washington; Henry Knox; Nathanael Greene; the Marquis de Lafayette, Friedrich von Steuben, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin.

As important as the 4th of July is, I believe we should also dwell on the deeper meaning of this day. The meaning goes far beyond successful armed rebellion against a repressive government—the deeper meaning is the establishment of a new nation, the establishment of a democratic form of government, and the writing of one of the foremost documents of its time or since.

The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia adopted the Constitution of the United States in September 1787, though it would not go into effect until March 1789. Consider the preamble to the Constitution of the United States:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

In a little over 4,500 words this document, imperfect as it was, provided the hopeful people of a fledgling nation with the legal framework needed to guide both on their path to greatness. Some of the imperfections of this document were later corrected through the adoption of the Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Fortunately “the framers” had the foresight to provide the means for the People to amend the Constitution as they saw fit.

The Constitution has been praised and condemned. Jurists argue that it is a “living document” that adapts to meet the needs of the People, while other jurists argue that it should not be considered so. Regardless of how it is perceived, the Constitution provides us with the means to govern ourselves, the ability to hold accountable those who lead our government, and to argue with our elected leaders—all without fear of being arrested without cause or due process, or arbitrarily confined to labor camps or psychiatric hospitals, or unjustly deprived of personal property, as other nations have done to their own citizens.

Is it any wonder that for centuries millions of immigrants hoping for a better life have fled wars, political persecution, and national upheavals, for this country? It takes courage, and hope, to leave one’s homeland for another country. In a sense they may better understand the Constitution and the promise of democracy as offered, than do native-born citizens.

So, take the time to read this magnificent document. Take a moment to remember that the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights would have never come to be if not for the courage of ordinary men and women who fought for such lofty ideals as written down on sheets of parchment by their peers in a long and costly war.

On this 4th of July, take a moment to reflect on what this day really means.

About SS Hampton, Sr.

SS Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 wonderful grandchildren, a published photographer and photojournalist, and a member of the Military Writers Society of America. He is a veteran with prior service in the active duty Army (1974-1985), the Army Individual Ready Reserve (1985-1995) (mobilized for the Persian Gulf War), and enlisted in the Army National Guard in October 2004, after which he was mobilized for Federal active duty for almost three years. Hampton is a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007). On 1 July 2013 he retired from the Army National Guard with the rank of Sergeant First Class. His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others. Second-career goals include becoming a painter, and studying for a degree in photography and anthropology—hopefully to someday work in and photograph underwater archaeology. After 12 years of brown desert in the Southwest and overseas, he misses the Rocky Mountains, yellow aspens in the fall, running rivers, and a warm fireplace during snowy winters. In December 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada, Hampton officially became a homeless Iraq War veteran.
Find SS Hampton, Sr. Online:

Melange Books: https://melange-books.com/authors/sshampton/index.html

Amazon.com Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/SS-Hampton-Sr/e/B00BJ9EVKQ

Amazon.com. UK Author Page http://www.amazon.co.uk/SS-Hampton-Sr/e/B00BJ9EVK:Q

Goodreads Author Page http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6888342.S_S_Hampton_Sr:_

Interview with Author Charmaine Pauls // by S.S. Hampton, Sr. + GIVEAWAY

S.S. Hampton, Sr.: Where were you born?

Author Charmaine Pauls

Charmaine Pauls: I was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

SH: You’ve had a varied professional career, both as an employee and an entrepreneur, including photography (I’m a photographer too). What led you into some of these fields?

CP: After completing a degree in communication, specializing in journalism and public relations, I wore many different hats in the industry, but the biggest portion of my working time was always spent writing. In my media and public relations capacity, it was always required of me to practice a certain amount of in-house photography.

My interest in photography really took off when I worked as public relations officer for the Performing Arts Council of the Free State (Bloemfontein). After completing two photography courses at a Bloemfontein college, it started out as a hobby. Soon after I moved to Pretoria and was employed as advertising manager for an international vegetable seed company (Hygrotech). I had to change from photographing ballet dancers and opera singers to carrots and cabbage. The task needed a different skill altogether, and I completed another two advanced photography courses at a Pretoria college. Food and events photography became an integral part of my professional occupation, and soon bloomed into social and wedding photography on the sideline, first as a favor to some friends, and later on as a business.

Simultaneously I was trained in graphic design to produce Hygrotech’s printed advertising material and discovered that I enjoyed it tremendously. When Hygrotech relocated to the north, I founded a (one-woman) graphic design company that I maintained for a few years until I was appointed as internal communications manager for an international banking group.

Shortly before my employment with the bank, I enrolled for a 4-year diploma course in natural medicine, another passion of mine, which inspired me to manufacture an herbal tincture range under my own label. My training in journalism, advertising, photography and graphic design helped tremendously in this regard. I however realized that the enterprise wasn’t my life purpose and continued producing herbal products for personal use while launching myself back into the corporate world, this time as brand manager for a French pet food company.

My professional career path encompasses a wide range of careers, from managing public relations for the National Council for the Deaf to marketing short-term insurance for Auto & General, but the common thread has always been writing. Born with a passion for writing, I wrote poems since primary school and won my first writing contest in 5th grade. I was finally able to turn my dream of being a fulltime novelist into reality in 2010.


SH: You’ve also lived in France and Chile. What led you to those countries?

CP: My husband is a Frenchman whose work takes him around the globe. After meeting and getting married in South Africa, I first followed him to France, and later to Chile.


SH: Why did you decide to pursue writing as a career?

CP: When I write, I know that I am doing what I was born to do. Planning plots and weaving sentences together to create a memorable piece of art that reflects meaning and emotion are what makes me tick. I believe in imagination and magic and there’s no better way expressing it than through a story. I’m happiest behind my laptop, in some world or another. I’m head over heals in love with this job.


SH: On a more personal level, please tell us about one of your happiest childhood memories.

CP: Some of my happiest memories are from our time spent in Heidelberg, Gauteng. We lived on the school grounds where my father was a teacher, far from town. For us it was like growing up on a farm with vast expanses for running, hills for exploring, dams for fishing, rivers for swimming and trees for climbing. Television only came to South Africa in 1976, and we didn’t have one until even later. Our only entertainment was the inventions and journeys our imagination took us on. It was a carefree and magical time of burying treasures, building secret hide-outs, reading in tree houses, hunting for mulberries and cherries, breeding silk worms, bicycle racing and developing a code language. Our time was spent outdoors until the very last ray of the sun had set. And when we came home, my mother used to wait for us in the door, always with a special treat, like melkkos (a traditional South African dish like a type of milk porridge with cinnamon) or tamaletjie (home made toffee).


SH: You’re married—how did you know when you found your “Prince Charming”?

CP: I’m a big believer in following your heart and ‘the signs’. When I went for an interview for brand manager with a French pet food company in South Africa, my friends strongly advised me not to entertain the offer, as it meant a substantial cut in salary and benefits. Obeying the pull of my heart, I attended the interview and stepped into the parking of the building at the exact moment of the eclipse of the sun. Considering this a powerful and positive sign, regardless the well-intended advice from my circle of support, I accepted the position. A few weeks later, a handsome Frenchman walked into my office, told me he was my new manager sent to South Africa from France for a three-year contract… and married me. I’ve known since the moment I laid eyes on my husband, that he was ‘the one’. It was a feeling stronger than that famous eclipse of the sun.


SH: Your first book with Mélange Books was “Between Fire and Ice.” How did that come about?

CP: I am intrigued by opposites and the (sometimes elusive) balance to be found in the middle of their extremities. Examples are light/dark; sun/moon; yin/yang; male/female; good/bad; past/future; fire/ice. When we first moved to Chile, my husband and I, both keen travelers, first visited the two most opposite parts of the country in both distance and characteristics: the Atacama Desert (fire) in the north and Patagonia (ice) in the south.

When I stood on top of the highest dune in the Atacama Desert, looking down over the eerie crater formations of the Valley of the Moon, I realized that this was the perfect setting for a fantasy romance. Marrying the desert to its complimentary counterpart, Patagonia, created a beautiful and metaphorical backdrop for my story. It also inspired me to attribute the regions’ geographical characteristics to the protagonists’ personalities – Cy (sun) is from the Atacama Desert, a fiery and dark warrior, while Elena (moon) is from Patagonia, a pale and gentle woman with a special gift of healing. From there I took the characters on a journey through Chile, following very much in my exploring footsteps from the Elqui Valley that is claimed to host the earth’s magnetic center to fascinating Easter Island. The plot for the story was inspired earlier that year during a family holiday in France, in the magical forest of Rochefort-en-Terre, but I didn’t know the intricate details and metaphors the tale would take on until the Chilean landscape enchanted me. The book took five months to write and another two to edit. It flowed amazingly smoothly and some say it’s because of that magnetic Elqui energy. Smile. I was delighted when Mélange offered me a contract, setting my dream in motion.


SH: In hindsight, is there anything different you would have done in the writing of “Between Fire and Ice”?

I would have hopped less between the female and male protagonists’ point of views in the love scenes. At the time I believed it was important to give the reader insight into the minds of both characters acting out in one specific scene, as I kept on asking myself, “How does he feel?” and “What is she thinking?”. In retrospect, I’d stick to one point of view per scene. And I’d tell less and show more.


SH: You have a new book, “Second Best,” being released by Mélange Books in February 2014. Would you please give us a brief synopsis of it?

CP: The first time Molly sees Malcolm is in Oudtshoorn, South Africa in 1978, when he jumps from the back of an army truck to challenge her through the school yard fence. Little did she know then, when she boldly gave him the middle finger, how their lives would become intertwined.

Surviving the secret horrors of an industrial school, juvenile delinquent Molly van Aswegen grows into a tough and troubled woman who has sworn never to love anyone enough to be vulnerable. When Malcolm McLeod, rebel journalist and soldier, comes home from the Angolan Border War to save Molly from her institution, he starts fighting a different war altogether – the battle for both of their souls.

Molly’s fight for survival and Malcolm’s moral struggle will expose them as anti-conformists, at risk of being branded and outcast from society during a politically turbulent time when South Africa is in the midst of a twenty-three year long war.

Second Best is a story about the scars of the human soul, and the road that leads to healing.


Andrew Pauls

SH: Would you explain how that book came about?

CP: I was inspired by both my father and my brother to write this story. My father was a teacher at several industrial schools for juvenile delinquents in South Africa. I’ve always wanted to write a story about a character from such a school and the challenges that come with the unconscious social branding. Growing up around and living on the grounds of these schools have sparked in me a special empathy with the children who often ended up here due to cruel circumstances. At the time in which the novel is set, we lived in Oudtshoorn, in the Cape Province. It was during this time (1980) that the famous and feared military reconnaissance unit, who played a major role in the Border War (1966 to 1989), was founded in Oudtshoorn. My brother, posted to the dog explosive unit for the two years of his compulsive military service, inspired the character of the protagonist, a journalist who arrives in Oudtshoorn for his three months of basic military training.


SH: How did researching and writing “Second Best” impact you, personally?

CP: I was touched in a great variety of ways, all of those most intense. I appreciated our soldiers anew for the role they played in defending the country’s borders. Simultaneously, I was haunted by the scenes I had witnessed from some video clips and photos. It was impossible to imagine what these brave men had been through. It also awakened in me a new understanding of some of the intricate politics that shaped our country.


SH: Understanding that the manuscript is not yet edited, would you provide an excerpt from “Second Best”?

Spring, 1981

Chapter One

            The smell of burning human flesh was unmistakable. He knew it from his days in the army explosives dog unit, when soldiers were torched during the Angolan war. Two steps brought him to the sofa. Slowly, he reached for the hand that held the candle. Gently, he wrapped his fingers around her wrist.

            “Easy, Molly.” He moved her hand holding the candle away from her scorching skin and extinguished the flame between his thumb and forefinger.

She watched as he knelt down in front of her, his coat flaring out behind him and his leather pants stretching over his muscular thighs. As always, he exuded confidence and strength. With the calm sureness of someone who knew what he was doing, he wordlessly commanded her, moving her arm this way and that, his head bent low to study her injury. Raindrops dusted his dark hair.

            He let go of her to walk to the end of the room that served as a kitchen, his metal pointed boots sounding angry on the wooden floor. When he returned, he pressed a dishcloth filled with ice cubes onto her red skin.

Only then did he lift his black eyes to meet hers. “Jesus Christ, Molly.” Sighing, he sat down next to her, pulling her against him to cradle her head against his chest.

When she pulled away, he said, “Do you have aspirin?” She shook her head. “You’re going to need some. I’m going to the emergency pharmacy.”

            “I won’t.”

            Instead of verbally arguing, his lips set in a determined line and his eyes fixed on her broodingly. If she hadn’t known him better, she would have found him terrifying. The darker skin tone under his eyes gave them a demonic look. Stubble tainted his olive skin. His square jaw and straight nose give him a gypsy-like appearance. But it was the look in his eyes that mostly had people on guard. If it weren’t for the long lashes softening his features, he would have looked like the devil himself. Malcolm wasn’t a man to be crossed. Although, he did let her get away with defying him more often than not. This time, he turned and left.

            When Molly woke up, she smelled cigarette smoke. Her wrist pulsed with pain that she ignored. She padded barefoot to the backdoor where Malcolm stood on the landing in the drizzle. The end of his cigarette burned red as he inhaled, staring into the distance. Molly stopped in the door and leaned against the frame.

            “How are you feeling?” he said without turning.

            She shrugged. The night was cold from the summer rain. Her skin broke out in goose bumps under the thin T-shirt and denim shorts.

            As if sensing her tightening flesh, he flicked his butt into the yard and removed his coat. “Here.”

            She shook her head, hugging herself.

            “Then come back inside.” He walked past her and stood waiting, a silent instruction for her to follow.

            Satisfied only when she had obliged, he threw the coat onto a chair and inspected the contents of the fridge. Molly watched as he prepared a sandwich and a cup of tea, which he handed her with two painkillers. She swallowed the pills dry, but took the cup anyway. It warmed her hands.

“I suppose you are here for the next chapter,” she said.

He didn’t answer. His intense look was fixed on her face for such a long time, that her fingers went involuntary to the scar, tracing it from her forehead across her eye to her cheek. Seeing his expression, she quickly lowered her hand, tugging her wheat-blonde hair behind her ear.

His eyes followed the movement. As if pulled there by her action, he lifted his hand and touched a strand of her hair. “What happened, Molly?”

“Don’t you want to hear the next chapter of my life?”

“I didn’t come here for that.” He twisted the wisp of hair around his finger.

She stepped back. His expression darkened as he watched the lock slip from his grasp.

“Why are you here, Malcolm?”

“I was at the club. Thought I’d come and see why you weren’t.” His voice softened. “What happened, Molly?”

She turned away from him to stare at a window. “He fired me,” she finally said.

“It’s not your fault.”

Her laughed sounded hollow to her own ears. “How do you know?”

“I know you.”

She flung around, desperation creeping into her eyes and her voice as she said, “I can’t go back, Mal. If they find out that I’m without a job, so soon, they’ll take me in.”

“I know.”

She picked up his coat and pulled it on with jerky movements. “You’re here now. Do you want the story or not?”

“No. Not tonight.”

“I want to do this.”

There was a knowing look on his face when he advanced slowly, stopping short of her. She knew that look. He was allowing her to defy him. His gaze held hers as he leaned over her and retracted a hand-size tape recorder from the coat pocket. The way her body reacted at the contact with his said something entirely different, and she could see that he knew that too, but he played along with her when she moved away from him by keeping his expression unreadable and putting more space between them, placing the recorder on the table and switching it on.

When she started talking, he walked to the backdoor and lit another cigarette. He dragged on it while she spoke, sending the smoke into the night. He couldn’t look at her while she told her story. His guts pulled into a ball, his fingers into a fist in his pocket. It was his job to listen to people’s stories. And he heard his fill of bad ones, hundreds of them, worse than hers. But hers affected him. Even if he wanted, he couldn’t take a distance. It was long past that, as much as she denied what they shared.

He understood her refusal to acknowledge their bond. The reasons were there, in her life history. But it was his private war, one he intended on winning, no matter how long it took. If listening was agony, far worse than what had been done to him in the war, he did it for her. He said he was doing it for him, because if she had as much as an inkling as to why he was really doing this, she would refuse.

It had been a few seconds since she had stopped taking to his tape recorder before he turned, switched it off and dropped it into his pocket. He looked at her from under his long lashes.

“Eat,” he said, nodding at the sandwich before moving to the front door.

“Your coat.”

“I can get it later.”

“Take it.”

She removed it and handed it to him. His eyes moved to her wrist. “Make sure it doesn’t get infected. There are wax strips in the bag.”

Molly watched him walk up the hill from the door of the old Richmond metal factory until his shadow melted into the night. When she reentered her empty loft, the loneliness was a punch in her stomach. It was as if he had never been there, his presence but a dream.

            She had spent the afternoon before Malcolm came, after getting fired, playing the event over in her mind, and then trying not to. Freddie had fired her and he had gotten away with it. She was letting him get away. But there was no other way. Unless she wanted to risk being locked up. She thought that when she had left that school it all of that was over, but she was wrong. It had only just begun. When the images of her humiliation wouldn’t stop coming, she hit her head against the wall, but they only returned clearer. The only way she could ease her emotional torment was with a physical pain.

            “Get your sorry ass in my office. Now.” Freddie didn’t have to shout. The contempt in his voice was more effective.

            As Molly watched him walking through the car repair workshop and taking the stairs to the glass box, the others watched her. She gave the men in the blue overalls a look that made them lower their eyes. Then she snapped her teeth at Gertruida, the receptionist, and when she walked past her, the older girl cowered.

            Molly took the steps two by two, aware of the men below who tried to glimpse up her skirt. She slammed Freddie’s office door behind her.

            “I told you, when I hired you, not to pull funny tricks.” He pushed a piece of paper over his desk. “You left me with no alternative.”

            Molly glared at the black text that swam on the white sheet. She blinked, but her eyes wouldn’t focus.

            “You’re fired,” Freddie said with satisfaction.

“On what grounds?”

            “Theft. It’s the second time this week that there’s petty cash gone. I should have known not to trust your type.”

            She crossed her arms. “I didn’t touch your money and you know it.”

            His eyes followed her movement, lingered on her breasts and then flickered to her legs. “I have proof. We’ve gone through your bag.”

            “Then it was planted there.”

            “It’s your word against mine. Who do you think they are going to believe?”

            Molly picked up her dismissal and slowly rounded his desk. In a second, Freddie’s dominant stance slipped. He pulled at his collar. His voice was high-pitched when he said, “You stay where you are.”

            Molly smiled as the man, twice her size, wheeled his chair away from her. Rumors. What did he think? That she was going to kill him? She continued her advance, until she was bracing one hand on the arm rest, the other crumbling the paper into a ball.

She brought her nose inches from his. “Don’t think I don’t know your type.”

            He flushed.

            “I know what’s going on in your head, Freddie boy.” Her gaze lowered. “And in your pants.” She blew his thinning hair from his forehead.

            He glanced downstairs through the glass, to where his employees were witnessing their every action. Molly straightened and placed her boot against the edge of his chair, between his legs. His eyes widened as she wiggled the toe. She laughed, seeing where his attention had gone, to where her skirt had lifted. With a firm kick she pushed his chair to collide with the wall at his back.

“I know how you’ve been looking at me. You’re a sick boy, Freddie.” She took his stapler from his desk. “So, you’re always on my case about going to church. I know what you are thinking when you sit in the front row of the Sunday service.”

His pushed himself flat against the chair back when Molly moved forward, the stapler in one hand, and the crumpled paper in the other. Not giving him time to recover from his daze, she straddled his chair, her skirt creeping all the way up her thighs. He opened his mouth as if he was going to scream, and at the same time, she felt his hard-on growing under her skirt.

            As her hand with the stapler lifted, caressing his earlobe, he whimpered, and when she clacked it twice next to the cartilage, a muffled sob escaped his throat. His hands shot up, protectively cupping his exposed ears. But instead of crunching the tender flesh, Molly stapled the paper ball to his tie.

            As swiftly as she had jumped him, she hopped off his chair. She stared at the embarrassing bulge in his pants, grinning, watching as his humiliation turned to anger.

His hands lowered from his head to grip the armrests of his chair. “You little bitch.”

            She straightened her skirt. “I bet that’s what you like to call them in bed,” she said sweetly. “Or do you fuck in alleys?” His eyes narrowed in his flushed face. “I refuse to be fired, Freddie boy. So take that piece of paper and shove it up your fat ass.” She turned and walked to the door. “I resign.”

            No one looked at Molly when she made her way downstairs and through the workshop. Gertruida made herself small in a corner as Molly glared at her. With a swift movement of her arm, Molly swept Gertruida’s desk clean. She didn’t look back as she walked from Cheetah Spare Parts and Repairs into the street of the industrial Johannesburg suburb.

She went straight to her nearby loft, and sat on the kitchen counter for a very long time, until she could even her breathing. She thought about what had happened, and why they had set her up, until her head ached. And then, when she wanted them to, her thoughts wouldn’t stop. She bashed her head against the wall, and took a candle from the drawer.


“The Winemaker” by Charmaine Pauls Available June 2013 from Melange Books

SH: Though people may move far from where they were born and raised, there is still a place we call “home.”

Considering all that South Africa has experienced in the past decades, what is your greatest hope for South Africa?

CP: My greatest hope is that this beautiful country will host and protect a rainbow nation with security, safety and equality for all.


SH: Is there anything else you wish to add?

CP: Be on the lookout for my novel “The Winemaker”, inspired by the world-famous Chilean winemaker Francisco Baettig, due for release by Mélange Books in June. Thanking you for the interview Stan!

Charmaine Pauls Bio

South African born Charmaine Pauls followed a career in all the facets of her communications degree, including public relations, journalism, advertising, and brand marketing. Her debut novel, Between Yesterday and Tomorrow, was released in August 2011. She currently resides in Chile with her husband and two children.

Website: www.charmainepauls.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Charmaine-Pauls/175738829145132?ref=ts&fref=ts

“Between Fire and Ice” by Charmaine Pauls Enter to win a free e-book copy!

Between Fire & Ice, About the Book:
Cy is heir to the powerful empire of his parents, a mining enterprise in Chile, South America. Their future power depends on his ability to produce an heir himself, a daunting prospect, as the human race is becoming infertile. But Cy’s mother – a brilliant, cold-hearted scientist – left nothing to chance, when she, in the year of her son’s tenth birthday, headed a project to artificially inseminate a fertile woman. At thirty years of age, Cy is instructed to marry Elena, who his parents surrogated and adopted for one purpose only – to have his baby.

Elena was hidden in a secluded cloister in the ice-lands of Patagonia, where the nuns, renowned for their mysterious magical practices, taught her the art of meditation and healing. A cruel education ensured that Elena submitted to her destiny, namely to give Cy a child. But soon Cy will learn that there is more to his bride than shy submissiveness. Under her gentle beauty hides a powerful woman who can give Cy the peace he is yearning for. She holds the key to his heart, and for once, he may just begin to believe in the destiny that had been preached to him all his life.

Available here: https://melange-books.com/authors/charmainepauls/betweenfireandice.html


Enter to win an ebook copy of “Between Fire & Ice” by Charmaine Pauls

Winner may choose the format of their choice. Kindle, ePub, PDF or HTML.

A Journey Through Fire and Ice // Guest Post by Charmaine Pauls + Giveaway!

I’m one of those authors who, every now and again, need to have a muse or two up my sleeve. Some writers confess to that perfect beauty, in the form of a person, an object or experiences as the key that unlocks the treasure chest of their words. Whatever it is that ignites my creativity, refueling inspiration is as vital to my writing as water to my body.

Author Charmaine Pauls in Chile.

I was born with traveling feet, and just as well that they start itching every so many years, because my family leads a nomadic life. Following my husband around the globe for his career has become an invaluable asset to my own. There’s nothing that motivates new stories and their backdrops in my mind like exploring unknown, magical, volatile and mysterious territories. It is therefor only natural that my romance novels Between Fire & Ice and The Winemaker both have their roots in a narrow ribbon of land running along 4270km of South American Pacific Ocean – Chile.

When we arrived in Santiago de Chile in 2009, we set out to explore this country of volcanoes, desserts, glaciers, lakes, rain forests, 7000m-high mountains and mystical islands. The two extremities that first caught my attention were Patagonia in the south and the Atacama Desert in the north. My curiosity piqued, not only because of these regions’ tourist attributes, but also because of my fascination with opposites, I made quick work of touring Chile from the top of its scorching desert head to the tip of its frosty Patagonian toes.





Patagonian Glaciers.

While ancient glaciers in the south lace the coast with mint-blue mountains of ice, in the north an endless stretch of rock and sand carpets the driest desert in the world – Atacama. The only things these two territories have in common are being secluded, almost inaccessible and poorly populated. It was love at first site. I lost part of my soul to the simultaneously gentle and volatile nature of these areas’ unrivalled virgin beauty.

Snow-capped volcanoes rise from the desert, their tranquil smoky halo’s dangerously deceiving. The silver buttoned domes of observatories dot the landscape, a reminder of the clearest, least light and weather polluted night sky in the world. Red sandstone canyons carve its way through the Atacama soil. The maze of roofless tunnels, animal skeletons on its sand bed telling tales of lost battles for survival, is not called the Valley of Death for nothing. But then, its path thrusts upon you the sudden surprise of natural rock pools, heated by the underground roots of the distant volcano.  When I stood on top of the highest dune in the Valley of the Moon, admiring the metal gray color of the strange planet-like craters, and the pink dust of the dying sun on the rosy cliffs, I realized that this was the perfect setting for a fantasy romance.

Valley of the Moon, Atacama

Valley of Death, Atacama.

The road from Atacama took me 4000km south into the last South American outback where only a few cowboys and sheepherders rule. No roads or airports connect man to nature here, and the only way of venturing to the index fingered portion of land, pointing to Antarctica, is by boat. This is a landscape so eerie and cold, so magnificently colored in golden lakeshores, emerald green water and turquoise skies, that it ignited in me feelings of both fantasy and fright.

Not only did I use these two settings as the birthplace and home of my male and female protagonists in Between Fire & Ice, but I also attributed the geographical characteristics to the personalities of the main characters. For example, Cy (meaning sun) is from the Atacama Desert. He is dark and fiery, a restless warrior on whose shoulders the responsibility of saving his family and his kingdom rests. Elena (meaning moon) was artificially inseminated and raised in secret in a Patagonian cloister. She is pale, with clear blue eyes and silver-white hair. She possesses a secret gift of healing, and is Cy’s opposite in every way. In the setting of the book human females are becoming infertile. When Cy’s cold-hearted scientist mother created Elena, she ensured that the girl would conceive Cy’s child, in order for her own selfish dreams to prevail. Thrown together by necessity rather than choice, Cy and Elena discover that the answer to happiness lies in the balance between their opposites. And so, I pay tribute to the contrasting Chilean lands that inspired the yin and yang of my imagination, leading to the creation of Between Fire & Ice.

Hot Springs Oasis at Atacama.

“The Winemaker” by Charmaine Pauls, available from Melange Books Spring 2013.

From the Atacama Desert and Patagonia the story takes the reader on a journey through the magical Elqui Valley that is claimed to host the earth’s magnetic center, the towering Andes mountains dusted with everlasting snow, and mysterious Easter Island guarded by its gigantic moai. And when my attention turned back to Santiago and its surrounding vineyards, producing some of the world’s finest wines, The Winemaker was born, but that’s a story for another time.


Charmaine Pauls


About Guest Author Charmaine Pauls

South African born Charmaine Pauls followed a career in all the facets of her communications degree, including public relations, journalism, advertising, and brand marketing. Her debut novel, Between Yesterday and Tomorrow, was released in August 2011. She currently resides in Chile with her husband and two children.

Visit Charmaine online at www.charmainepauls.com

Find Charmaine’s books at Melange Books – https://melange-books.com/authors/charmainepauls/index.html


“Between Fire and Ice” by Charmaine Pauls Enter to win a free e-book copy!

Between Fire & Ice, About the Book:
Cy is heir to the powerful empire of his parents, a mining enterprise in Chile, South America. Their future power depends on his ability to produce an heir himself, a daunting prospect, as the human race is becoming infertile. But Cy’s mother – a brilliant, cold-hearted scientist – left nothing to chance, when she, in the year of her son’s tenth birthday, headed a project to artificially inseminate a fertile woman. At thirty years of age, Cy is instructed to marry Elena, who his parents surrogated and adopted for one purpose only – to have his baby.

Elena was hidden in a secluded cloister in the ice-lands of Patagonia, where the nuns, renowned for their mysterious magical practices, taught her the art of meditation and healing. A cruel education ensured that Elena submitted to her destiny, namely to give Cy a child. But soon Cy will learn that there is more to his bride than shy submissiveness. Under her gentle beauty hides a powerful woman who can give Cy the peace he is yearning for. She holds the key to his heart, and for once, he may just begin to believe in the destiny that had been preached to him all his life.

Available here: https://melange-books.com/authors/charmainepauls/betweenfireandice.html


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“Excuse Me, What Did You Say?” // Guest post by S. S. Hampton, Sr.

I had been writing fiction—unsuccessfully—since about 1969. I was not published until 1992 and my second publication did not occur until nine years after that. Since then I have been published on a rather frequent basis. It has only been in the past two years that I began publishing through three different e-publishing houses and less than a year that I have been actively guest blogging in an attempt to raise my “Internet profile” with the hope of gaining some readers (and sales).

Apparently I have gained some readers because some of my writings have actually been selling! Sometimes when I “ Google” “author SS Hampton Sr” I even come across someone who has reviewed an anthology or magazine that one of my stories appeared in. That’s nice.

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

And then the other day I came across a review of a recent magazine from last year, mention of my story in that magazine, and after a few less-than-glorious comments, the word “disappointing.” “Disappointing.” My story that I wrote, “Disappointing.”

I confess that my first thought was, “That mother…an RPG round across the bow of his nose…” And, “I bet his wife wasn’t nice to him last night. Or depending on his interests, maybe she wasn’t cruel enough to him last night.” (To tell the truth, I cannot remember if the reviewer was male or female; I cannot even remember what site I found the comment on.)

Then I figured, “What the hell.” I have not thought about it since.

Because I am a member of three different author loops I sometimes come across comments from authors about nasty reviews or reader comments. Yes, words can hurt. Most of the time it may be the opinion of a lone individual, though in this day and age there seems to be “groups” of reviewers mobilized to trash an author or a particular book for whatever reason.

Well, stuff happens.

What I have learned in reading author comments is that as a writer you have to have a thick skin. Not everybody will like your writing. If someone posts negative comments, do not get into a pi—urinating contest with them. If you have to say something, I suggest you simply thank them for their time. Short and sweet and professional. And let it go.

You already have the best professional validation there is—a publisher thought your story or novel had sales potential and offered you a contract. Your publisher was willing to invest time and money and talent to prepare your manuscript for publication.

Besides, as adults, what is a nasty review or comment compared to real life disasters some of us have experienced? I would gladly take a few nasty reviews in exchange for some disasters I have suffered.

So, the next time you receive a less than glorious review or comment, don’t sweat it. It comes with the territory. Munch on some ice cream or orange rolls, watch a movie, let it go and get back to work. Your publisher is eagerly awaiting more writing from you.

Good luck and have fun!



S.S. Hampton, Sr.

S.S. Hampton, Sr.

About Guest Author S.S. Hampton, Sr.

SS Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 wonderful grandchildren, a published photographer and photojournalist, and a member of the Military Writers Society of America. He is a serving member of the Army National Guard with the rank of staff sergeant. He served in the active duty Army (1974-1985), the Army Individual Ready Reserve (1985-1995) (mobilized for the Persian Gulf War), and enlisted in the Army National Guard in October 2004; he was mobilized for Federal active duty for almost three years after his enlistment. He is a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007). His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, Ruthie’s Club, Lucrezia Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others. He is an aspiring painter and is studying for a degree in photography and anthropology—hopefully to someday work in underwater archaeology. After 12 years of brown desert in the Southwest and overseas, he misses the Rocky Mountains, yellow aspens in the fall, running rivers, and a warm fireplace during snowy winters. As of December 2011, in Las Vegas, Nevada, Hampton officially became a homeless Iraq War veteran.

Hampton is a published author with Melange Books.
View his author page here:

Hampton’s Amazon Author Page can be found at:

Amazon.com. UK Author Page can be found at:




“Hearts of Tomorrow” is available from Melange Books

 Hearts of Tomorrow

Melange Books, March 2011.

ISBN: 978-1-61235-118-6

 “Feeding the Ravens”

BLURB: Gerhard is taken to Valhalla by Elin, a Valkyrie, after his death. Unaccepting of his fate, he leads his soldiers to the Ifing, the river border between Asgard and Jotunheimr, home of the giants. If they cross the Ifing they will fight their way back home to Midgard – but will their Valkyries let them go?




SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Gerhard Schmidt, thin of body and with a ghostly white face crowned by short dark hair, stared at the savage figure leaning across the wooden table. The huge warrior wore a dark red long sleeve tunic and a thick leather strap that ran from one shoulder to his hip from which was suspended a sword in a scabbard. From behind the massive shoulders, the sharp blade of a single headed battle-axe glimmered in torch light. A score of huge warriors in padded jerkins, chain mail coats or animal skins, boisterously and eagerly crowded around him. The smell of sweat, burning wood, and roasting meat filled the air.


The bright-eyed warrior with a broad wind burned face marked on the left by a scar from forehead to chin, framed by long blonde hair and a huge drooping mustache, grinned broadly. He shoved a large tankard of sparkling mead forward. “Tomorrow, my friend, tomorrow! Battle! Until then, eat and drink!”

Gerhard didn’t answer, but with wide-eyed shock slowly surveyed his surroundings. He was in a smoky stone hall so vast that the line of torches faded into distant shadows. An endless row of embossed wooden shields decorated with ravens, eagles, wolves, and dragons was the only decoration on the stone walls. He looked up and in the gloom above, saw that the rafters were giant spears with broad heads, and the roof was made of overlapping round shields.

Filling the hall were long wooden tables and benches around which were clustered armored, cloaked warriors of a bygone age. Lithe, shapely young women with long hair hurried between the tables with pitchers and platters overflowing with food. The women shouted and laughed and danced away as the burly warriors grabbed at their buttocks or tried to pinch their large breasts. Sometimes the women let themselves be pulled close so that the warriors could feel them with abandon, nuzzle their throats, or bury their heads between full breasts.

Gerhard examined himself; he still wore his tan/brown/black forest camouflage smock over his field blouse above his stone-gray wool trousers that were tucked into his well-worn marching boots. His MP-43 Maschinenpistole with its curved 30 round magazine rested across his chest. He reached up and removed his sweat and grease stained Einheitsfeldmutz, or officer’s field cap…

“Diana Gabaldon” // Guest post by Marissa St. James

I read. A lot. Like other readers I have my favorite authors. A few years ago, I purchased a couple paperbacks and set them aside. (a bad habit of readers) It was a couple years before I made time to read them. When I finally got around to them I discovered that putting down these books to do other things was nigh on impossible… they were that good. The author was Diana Gabaldon. The books were the first two in her Outlander series. Now, I wait with great impatience for each new Gabaldon book to be released.

Reading those books got my own imagination running rampant. Time travel, Scotland, romance, adventure, mystery. Her books have everything and they encouraged me to try my hand at writing. That’s how Highland Eyes: Spellbinder came about.

I don’t think any book contains a single genre anymore. It can be classified as a romance but be suspenseful or mysterious. It’s just not possible to separate all those elements and still come up with something interesting. Yet, it’s a great challenge to make all the components work together to create a viable story.

Are there other things that influence me? Sure. Reading a sentence in a news story can trigger a “what if” moment. So can phrases or song titles. I like the challenge of giving them my own little “twisted” interpretations that have nothing whatsoever to do with their origins. Of course, there are other writers as well who inspire. Ideas and inspiration can come from anywhere and from the most unlikely places.

With the McKinley’s Jewel books, I wanted to do something different. Somewhere in the book, a character will make an appearance and seem to be completely irrelevant. That might be true of the particular story going on but I can promise that character will appear again in another story and their dilemma sorted out. I hope the ploy will create a bit of intrigue and readers will be curious enough to find out more.

Marissa is a lifelong New England resident. She began writing as a hobby when she was a teenager and turned it into a career after earning a degree in Humanities. She is an avid reader, and when she has the time, enjoys a variety of crafts. Marissa has written several romance novels as well as a collection of paranormal short stories.

Visit Marissa Online!

Website: http://www.msjbookshelf.blogspot.com/
Blog: http://www.marissastjames.blogspot.com/

Find the McKinley’s Jewel series at:
Melange Books


Fire and Ice Young Adult Books (an imprint of Melange Books)
You can find Diana’s Outlander series at www.dianagabaldon.com

“Rod Serling” // Guest post by S. S. Hampton, Sr.

Rod Serling

25 December 1925-28 June 1975




There is no single writer that I consider a mentor, though many have influenced me to some degree. Whether a fiction or non-fiction writer, their influence may be due to their style of writing, the subject matter they wrote about, or simply the perceived intelligence and skill that fueled the quality of their writing.

Rod Sterling

Rod Sterling // Source: Wikipedia

One writer who most definitely influenced me did so not strictly through the written word, but through the medium of television. But that medium was the end result of the scripts that he wrote, as well as the program that he created. (Much of the following information is drawn from the two sources above).

Rod Serling, in my opinion, is a writer extraordinaire. His series, “The Twilight Zone,” was a show that caught and fueled my imagination. There had been “darkly imaginative” programs of the fantastic before, but none were quite like The Twilight Zone.

Who can forget the opening of each episode, with its signature music, the surreal black and white image of a ghostly door spinning against a starry background that opens onto the stars, combined with the distinctive voice announcing, “You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension…”?

“The Twilight Zone” // Source: Wikipedia

The Twilight Zone was first broadcast on CBS on October 2, 1959—I was barely five years old. I can’t remember when

I first saw a Twilight Zone episode, but I was hooked.  Though the series ended in 1964, apparently I am not the only one who was hooked. It continued to go strong and for several years it was presented on cable as a special day-long New Year’s celebration. For several years I subscribed to cable for one month simply to watch The Twilight Zone Marathon.

The cost of subscribing was worthwhile. After all, where can one find episodes such as:

  • “The Eye of the Beholder” (written by Rod Serling)
  • “Deaths-Head Revisited” (written by Rod Serling)
  • “The Midnight Sun” (written by Rod Serling)
  • “To Serve Man” (written by Richard L. Bare)
  • “Little Girl Lost” (written by Richard Matheson)
  • “In Praise of Pip” (written by Rod Serling)
  • “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (written by Richard Matheson)
  • “The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms” (written by Rod Serling)
  • “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (from a Story by Ambrose Bierce and adapted by Robert Enrico)

Rod Serling, in an era of specialization, may not be considered by some to be a “true writer,” but in my opinion he was a Writer. He was a writer with an imaginative vision and the desire to communicate that vision. And that vision caught the attention of a generation and succeeding generations. Who can ask for a better legacy than that?



S.S. Hampton, Sr.

S.S. Hampton, Sr.

About Guest Author S.S. Hampton, Sr.

SS Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 wonderful grandchildren, a published photographer and photojournalist, and a member of the Military Writers Society of America. He is a serving member of the Army National Guard with the rank of staff sergeant. He served in the active duty Army (1974-1985), the Army Individual Ready Reserve (1985-1995) (mobilized for the Persian Gulf War), and enlisted in the Army National Guard in October 2004; he was mobilized for Federal active duty for almost three years after his enlistment. He is a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007). His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, Ruthie’s Club, Lucrezia Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others. He is an aspiring painter and is studying for a degree in photography and anthropology—hopefully to someday work in underwater archaeology. After 12 years of brown desert in the Southwest and overseas, he misses the Rocky Mountains, yellow aspens in the fall, running rivers, and a warm fireplace during snowy winters. As of December 2011, in Las Vegas, Nevada, Hampton officially became a homeless Iraq War veteran.

Hampton is a published author with Melange Books.
View his author page here:

Hampton’s Amazon Author Page can be found at:

Amazon.com. UK Author Page can be found at:




“R.U.S.H’ (Raw, Unbridled Stories of Heroism) is available from Melange Books

 R.U.S.H. Raw Unbridled Stories of  Heroism

Melange Books, September 2011.

ISBN: 978-1-61235-239-8

 “For the Glory Forever and Ever”

BLURB: Sometimes there is a blurry division between life and… An Army platoon is holding a combat outpost near Las Vegas. None of them can remember much about their lives before the war, or even the details of the war. Their final battle only hints at a possible soul shattering truth.


EXCERPT: Sergeant First Class Dominick Brenner pinched the flesh on the back of his hand. Hard. He didn’t feel a thing. Maybe he wasn’t dreaming, though he hoped he was.

“Riders coming in from the south!” a soldier gasped as he darted into the platoon command post, the CP.

Dominick stared at the back of his pale hand as he told the radioman, “Tell 2nd Squad to give them covering fire.” The soldier spread his hands helplessly, for without batteries even the internal land line between the CP and the fighting positions was useless. Dominick swore disgustedly and pointed at Private Ernesto Gonzales, a weary looking visitor from 1st Squad. “Go tell 2nd Squad to give covering fire!”

Dominick threw on his MOLLE gear, grabbed his Kevlar helmet and M6 Assault Rifle, and hurried out the bunker exit. Once outside he heard the zip of incoming weapons fire and the short, sharp explosions of impacting mortar rounds. From the perimeter came a steady rattle of outgoing weapons fire and the sharp crack and ‘whoosh’ of mortar fire. He splashed through the muddy rain puddles as he wound his way past the sand bag protected Morale, Welfare and Recreation bunker, the Mobile Field Kitchen, and one of the many reserve ammunition bunkers.

Dominick thought that while they were short of everything else, fortunately the lack of munitions was never a problem.

The blare of an air raid siren sounded across the lonely, rainy outpost. He looked around and spotted a pair of dark aircraft coming low out of the north. The turret containing four Longclaw anti-aircraft missiles whined and swiveled like a hungry beast. With a loud WHOOSH! amid clouds of sand, mud, and oily smoke, a pair of missiles leaped into the drizzling air. Glowing fireballs dropped from the aircraft; one of the Longclaws exploded against a fireball and the other blew up one of the aircraft. The stricken aircraft did a flaming cartwheel across the desert.

The rumble of the approaching jet rolled across the outpost as did the sharper cracks of shoulder fired Shortclaws. A trio of smoky trails raced toward the lone Eurofighter Typhoon as it dropped more flares and veered to one side, then whipped back to its original course. The Shortclaws exploded against the flares…

For the Glory Forever and Ever

You can purchase “RUSH” here: