An Interview with Joanne Rawson + Giveaway

Upcoming Fire and Ice author Melissa March took the time to interview the “queen of chic-lit” Joanne Rawson about her most recent Melange release, “Always Mr. Wrong.”

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Melissa: Nothing stays cemented in a girls mind like her first real crush. Who was your first serious crush?

Joanne: Oh my, that was a long time ago. In the words of Greta, from Sound of Music, I was sixteen going on seventeen. He was seventeen going on eighteen.

First day back at school in the lower sixth form, he walked into the registration room, and I felt my face blush, my stomach fluttered and if I had been standing, I am sure my knees would have buckled. He was much taller and well built than any of the other guys in my year. He had a cheeky smile, and oozed confidence, so why had I never seen him before? It turned out he was retaking the lower sixth, hence his maturity!

Like having a new car, every car you see is the same as yours, I saw him everywhere, popping up in the most unexpected places. Then the bombshell came, I saw him with a girl from the upper sixth. Like Clare my life was ended, I would never find love again. Weeks later I was trying to forget him, praying for a miracle that he would see me across a crowed room, and knew right then and there he couldn’t live without me. “Yeah, like that is so going to happen.” Said my best friend.

Oh yea of little faith. It was as I was standing in the lunch line, someone muscled in at the back of me. An arm slipped around my waist, and whispered in my ear, “would I like to have lunch with him.”

My crush became my first love, for two years after.


Melissa: This story invites us to be a part of how Clare met Guy.  I always love a good how-did-they-meet story. So….how did you meet your husband?

Joanne: Having just got out of a relationship I was so off men. I had gone to my friend Polly’s for the weekend; I sat in a pub having a quite drink, when the proprietor placed a fresh glass on the table. “It’s from John,” pointing to a hunk in tight jeans, denim shirt and a waistcoat. Yummy! Much to Polly’s amazement, I asked him to join us. We talked for a while, had a couple more drinks and then Polly and I left. A couple of hour later the phone rang, it was him, apologising for it being so late, but it had taken him an hour to find Polly’s phone number. Next night he took me out, and since then we have never spent a day apart.


Melissa: Clare’s friend Jess doesn’t know that Clare and Guy have history so she plays matchmaker. Have you ever played matchmaker or had someone try to fix you up?

Joanne: When I was a restaurant manager, on Sundays we had anything up to a three-hour waiting list. Every Sunday, I had an elderly man who came in asking for a table of one, which always caused me trouble taking up a table of two for a one. Anyway, one Sunday a lovely elderly lady came in asking for a table for one, not long after my regular guy. Talking it over with my assistant Jason, wondering if I could ask them to share, he thought I was crazy. Even so, I wandered over put my solution over to my regular guy, then took him and introduced him to the lady. I could not believe it they both agreed. For the next six months, I was at that restaurant they came in every Sunday and during the week. Not sure how it all ended.


Melissa: Have you ever had a bad Star Wars fantasy episode?

Joanne: Not a bad fantasy as such, but enough to put me off having one.  I was dating this guy, with long unruly hair, a bushy beard, that I found a rather intellectual, cultured and mature, seeing as I was going through my arty, farty, intellectual phase at that time. Then one-night things got a little amours; off came his shirt, and to my horror, the beard continued down his chest, and around his back, yes folks I was dating Chewbacca. Just to say every time now I see Chewbacca I cringe.


Melissa: I love English sayings. But I’m not familiar with one in the book. What is silly o’clock?

Joanne: I am not sure if it is an English saying, but it is a saying I use. Instead of saying, “She rang me at three o’clock in the morning.” I would say, “she rang me at silly o’clock this morning.” My friends would know it was an inappropriate time of the morning she called.


Melissa: Your character Eleanor was a hoot. Is she based on someone you know?

Joanne: Mainly I make up my characters, but there perhaps is a mix match of people I know, or that I have observed. Some of the tales I tell are real life stories from people I have met over the years.

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About Joanne Rawson

Joanne Rawson was born and brought up in Derbyshire England. After leaving college in 1984, she headed off to be an au pair in the Loire Valley, France for one year.

Returning back, to England, Joanne worked work for Derbyshire Education Authority in special education, and then for Derbyshire Social services working with adults with learning and physical difficulties.

In 2005, Joanne and her husband decided to give up their hectic lifestyle, after ten years of managing branded restaurants around London’s M25, now spending her time in England, Goa, and Malaysia, writing romantic novels and short stories.


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About Melissa March

Melissa March lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and son. Love You To Death is her first published novel.

She gravitates toward YA fiction and is currently working on three other novels, expanding her genre to include an adult mystery.

She spends most of her time writing, trying to figure out how to work her blog site, and chasing after her toddler.


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~ * ~ GIVEAWAY ~ * ~

Leave a comment below to be entered to win a copy of “Always Mr. Wrong”

A winner will be chosen on March 16, 2014

An Interview with Author Walt Trizna + Giveaway

Jill Bisker, author of “Within Reach” and the upcoming “Finding the Way Back” stopped by to have a chat with fellow Melange author, Walt Trizna, author of “New Moon Rising” and the new sci-fi novella “Elmo’s Sojourn.”

First, a little about “Elmo’s Sojourn.”

Elmo, a retired scientist, travels through a wormhole to the planet Roth where he helps combat an alien invasion which is menacing the planet.

JILL: Please tell me a little about yourself – Where you come from? What led you to writing?

WALT: I was born and raised in Newark, NJ, but since then lived in the Midwest, LA, Miami and now in Pennsylvania.

I’ve always been an avid reader, feel naked if there is not a book close by.  I began writing poetry in college and pursued that for about thirty years while I pursued a career in science. About 14 years ago I began writing fiction.


JILL: What books and authors influenced your career?

WALT: I’ve read a great deal of science fiction by Arthur C. Clark, Asimov, Ray Bradbury among a host of others.

For horror I’ve read H. P. Lovecraft and Stephen King and Algernon Blackwood.


JILL: Your story, Elmo’s Sojourn, is a space jumping sci-fi story.  Do you write other genres?

WALT: I also write horror and the occasional poem.


JILL: How did you come up with the premise of your story?

WALT: I belong to a writers group, The Wordwrights, and one of the members writes children’s books.  She told us she had to write a story beginning with someone yelling that they have a problem.  Couple that with a Far Side cartoon where a wife is looking from a door down into a cellar.  In the cellar is her husband with the head of a fly.  She’s yelling, “Lunch.  Are you still a fly?”

With that in mind I had intended to write a story, Cellar Science, but enjoyed the story so much that I continued and the result was the novella, Elmo’s Sojourn.


JILL: Your time machine seemed very well thought out – is it based on something in theoretical science.

WALT: The time machine is a product of my imagination.

While I was in college, there was a guy in the dorm who built a tesla coil.  You could pull something like a quarter million volts to your finger, but since the amperage was low, you survived.  I had to get that thing into a story.


JILL: How do you personally relate to your main character in your story?

WALT: I was a scientist for 34 years, but a biologist not a physicist.  I love science and the opportunity it gives you to discover something new, when all the parts of a puzzle suddenly come together.  I share the wonder Elmo has for science.


JILL: How challenging was it to build your alien landscapes and creatures?

WALT: I have a very active imagination so it was really quite easy.  But the creatures changed along the way.  The first creature that comes through Elmo’s machine was going to be the dominant creature on Roth, but of course that changed.  Then Valmid was going to be a sinister being and that changed.  Since I needed some conflict, Gylex came into being and I could just picture what it looked like.


JILL: What theme do you want to convey to your readers?

WALT: I think, as with most science fiction, I want to create adventure and the wonder of the unknown.


JILL: This would make a great series – have you considered writing the next adventure?

WALT: Glad you asked this one, it’s already written.  Elmo’s Invention is a prequel to Elmo’s Sojourn.  In Elmo’s Invention, Elmo is working at Los Alamos and here sets out to build a time machine using an old iron lung, but things do not go as planned.

This novella is longer than Elmo’s Sojourn and still needs a lot of editing, and then out it goes.  I’m sure there will be other stories fermenting in my brain, but they have yet come to the surface.


JILL: What are you working on now?

WALT: Currently, I’m doing a great deal of editing.  I have two novels written but are in need of a rewrite.

The Beast Awaits is the most complete.  It deals with a monster created through stem cell research.  It escapes into the Everglades and its destruction leads to enhanced global warming.  How’s that for ‘hot button’ issues?

Sweet Depression is a novel which is a cross between the work of James Patterson and Robin Cook, a very sinister thriller set in a pharmaceutical company.


JILL: In your point of view, what is the most difficult part of the writing life?

WALT: Imagining story ideas I find to be the easiest part.  The writing can be difficult and the editing is, I find, even more difficult.  But the part of writing I find the most difficult is trying to get the work published.  I agonize over writing query letters.


JILL: Do you outline your stories before you sit down to write?

WALT: For short stories, I mull over the plot before I put pen to paper.  I write all my first drafts by hand.  So when I begin writing the story, it’s already fully formed in my mind.

For novels I use an outline but keep it fluid.  In a steno pad, for each novel, I form an outline to include scenes and dialog when the characters start talking.


JILL: What plans do you have for your writing going into the future?

WALT: If I can publish Sweet Depression I have plans to write at least one sequel.

I’ve also published a short story, Martian Rebirth, which I want to develop into a novel.

And of course, my brain keeps on cranking out short story ideas.

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 About Walt Trizna:

Walt Trizna, a scientist for thirty-four years, is now a full-time writer of horror and science fiction. He has published more than twenty stories, both online and in print. Walt lives in West Chester, PA with his wife, Joni.

Find Walt at Melange:

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About Jill Bisker:

Jill Bisker lives in Stillwater, MN with her husband and a calico cat named Senora. She believes in empowering women to be strong enough to protect themselves, while still soft enough to be loving and compassionate. Her work includes paranormal mystery and traditional high fantasy, as well as contemporary and humorous fantasy and an everyday living blog. Her novella Within Reach is her first publication with Melange. Once a dedicated stay at home Mom, Jill now writes full-time.


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Leave a comment below and enter to win a free ebook copy of “Elmo’s Sojourn.”

Winner will be chosen on March 10, 2014.

An Interview with John Steiner + Giveaway

We’re happy to be introducing a new series of interviews with some of our authors.

We’re kicking things off with author Daphne Olivier (“The Pegasus Project”, “The Way it Was” and “The Kennaway Woman”) interviewing author John Steiner (“Fire Alive!” and The “Squad V” series)

First, a little about “FLIPSPACE: Flight of the Mockingbird”

Training for the ISS Mockingbird, Colonel Sumitra Ramachandra and Major Lamarr Fitch find that they’re being deployed before certification. The ISS Astraeus, an International Space Organization vessel fails to transmit its latest exploration report in the Gliese 667 System twenty-two light-years away. Colonel Ramachandra learns that the Mockingbird she commands was built for more than intra-solar operation. Three people with complicated and enigmatic backgrounds are added to her crew roster just before launch.

Now let’s get things started!

“FLIPSPACE: Flight of the Mockingbird” by John Steiner

Daphne: Hello. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.

John: As a kid I was disappointed by the science fiction I was seeing, and in junior high school I preferred writing a fictional character’s journal rather a journal of myself as assigned by the teacher. Because I’d practically addicted to spaceflight I’ll start daydreaming it if I’m not getting enough in the news or in fiction.
Daphne: Flight of the Mockingbird is science fiction story that takes place in the far-distant future. Do you write in any other genre?

John: Other genres include speculative fiction, fantasy and horror.


Daphne: Who is you favourite sci-fi author?

John: It’s probably a tossup between Michael Crichton and Arthur C. Clarke. They both tackled stories with the backing of solid science, and still engrossed us with the depth of their characters and events in the story.


Daphne: What is the most memorable sci-fi book you’ve ever read?

John: That would be the Giants of Ganymede series by James P. Hogan. It involves finding a dead human astronaut on the moon who has been there for over 50,000 years. The discoveries and debates between main characters were intense and riveting, and engaged me to also speculate as to the outcome of the novel. This is what’s referred to as Active Reading, as those the audience is a participant in the story.


Daphne: What inspired you to write Flight of the Mockingbird?

John: The spaceflight monkey was riding me pretty hard. NASA missions were few, far between and all unmanned. Even shows involving space exploration were a let-down. I was excited for the series, “Star Trek: Enterprise” until a character I call, “Captain Buzzkill from the 26th century” steps in and spills the beans about what the first starship will encounter in the future.


Daphne: If Flight of the Mockingbird was made into a film, who would you choose to be the leading character?

John: That’s tough, because I’m not that familiar with Hindi-American or Bollywood actors from India. Most of the actresses from India I’ve seen kept their hair long, whereas Colonel Sumitra Ramachandra has hers very short.

I do picture Chief Carl Anders as being played by Carl Weathers, and wrote Major Lamarr Fitch as if he were Nathan Fillion.


Daphne: What are you working on at the moment?

John: The finale for the Astraeus Event series of Flipspace. I have a science fiction novel, “Bridging the Lotus” and a fantasy novel, “Brute” that are both waiting to be finished.


Daphne: Do you manage to write every day?

John: Not always. I’ve learned never to force a story if it’s not flowing, because the results always turned out bad.


Daphne: How do balance writing with all of life’s responsibilities?

John: To quote Captain Kirk in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, “First order of business, survival.” The day job must be dealt with, because that’s where my steady money is. Sometimes Sniffles, my cat demands attention and may get very insistent.


Daphne: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do to overcome it?

John: Originally I wouldn’t take on more than one story at a time, but lately I’ve realized that a mood shift will push me to do a story in another genre, where creativity opens up. Also, I have a few PC games that I imagine my story through as I play, or just to numb the mind.


Daphne: Do you plot your stories from beginning to end or do you just get an idea and run with it?

John: I envision key scenes, and gauge how much character growth or plot development is needed to bridge them. Many times the ending isn’t known to me until I get there. Other stories I had plotted out, but the pathway leads itself to an unexpected direction.

Think of Shmendrick the Magician in The Last Unicorn, “Magic, magic, do as you will.”

There are even times when I get the story in whole or in part during the dream. If it’s too vague, sometimes the dream will provide a narrator or subtitles.


Daphne: Do you think the Flipspace device you describe in your novel will ever be developed and used to achieve faster than light space travel?

John: The science suggests that tesseracts could exist, but the question is why they don’t occur naturally. Two hurdles exist for interstellar flight. The first is energy, but the second is precision. Vacuum Energy could solve the power problem if we can figure out why observed

Vacuum Energy doesn’t match what established quantum principles suggest should occur. Also, figuring out how to harness it is the other issue. With precision that may prove trickier, because it means calculating trajectories with several magnitudes more accuracy than we’ve ever done before.

Alternative means of FTL travel are serious points of interest for NASA. One of those is the Alcubierre drive. You can find a description on or other the 100 Year Starship Project which is


Daphne: The combat scenes you describe in Flight of the Mockingbird are very realistic. Are they based on real life experience or are they simply drawn from your imagination?

John: My time in the military was only a couple months, and that was back in 1992. However,

I had spoken to veterans of wars from WWII all the way through to the latest Iraq War. I read about military combat experiences, operations and watched documentaries on the subject. I had decided that in adult fiction I wanted no sugar-coating of combat. That combat is a terrifying thing is the point of why we should avoid conflict until left no other choice.


Daphne: I was intrigued by the gene importation therapy, cellular cybernetics and genetic hacking you describe. Do you think humans will ever utilise such practices?

John: The 20th century is where we discovered DNA, learned its code for proteins and unravelled the human genome. In the 21st I expect us to understand the epistatic genome which are the genes that don’t code for proteins, but influence those which do. Then Our understanding of gene interaction will be good enough that we’ll tackle major medical problems and work them with the same efficiency as any other machine.

Gene therapy exists now in its infancy, and I think we’ll go further at first to deal with genetic disorders. Following that, we’ll tackle those genes which are normal in the human species, yet lead to series problems, such as joints, blood flow, aging and other ailments that are the result of mutations that all primates inherited or that are common to all mammals.

Then we’ll decided that maybe we should have a double-retina. There is one defective step in the pathway for making vitamin C that all primates have, which we may decide should be fixed. If we learn how to prevent harmful mutations, we’ll then be able to insert the amphibian regeneration gene, whereas the one all mammals, birds and reptiles have contain defects.

In the century to come we’ll learn to write genes that have no natural parallel, but create enzymes that can in turn produce nanotechnology. This would give us thumbs at the molecular level.


Daphne: One of your characters is reconstructed and brought back to life 28 years after his death. Present-day doctors are already using stem cells to grow new body parts, but is it theoretically feasible to reconstruct a whole body.? And if so, would the reconstructed man have the memory and personality of the one who died?


“Fire Alive!” by John Steiner

John: Captain Malcolm O’Connell is a carry-over character from “Fire Alive!” His reconstitution had to do with the Xerces Protocol, which involved not only preserving neurological stems cells, but a computer backup to the neuro-synaptic pattern that represents his mind at the moment of death. I’m still deciding on what new limits to lifespan might emerge, but in Flipspace there are several legal issues as to what is considered the same person, and whether a patient has a living will for “Do Not Reconstitute.”


Daphne: Is your novel part of a series?  Can you tell me a little about the world you’ve created and what makes it so different from today’s world.

John: At present, Flipspace is a twelve part series, which I constructed on the model of television or cable series. The first twelve stories are “The Astraeus Event” which is where the ISS Mockingbird crew are sent on various missions to eventually figure out what happened and how to find the crew of the ISS Astraeus.

The world of Flipspace, which is in 2175, is where I think we’ll end up as a world of nations and alliances based on the social and geo-political trends I see today. While I can’t be sure we’ll have solved the FTL problem, I think the other technologies of Flipspace will arrive by 2175 or sooner. That all depends on what emerges that might stall advancement of civilization or even knocks us back.


Daphne: Did you use a critique partner or group to help with revisions and editing?

John: With Flipspace I had a test audience. One of those is a civilian pilot, who is a big fan of WWII aces, and another is a good friend of mine at the college I work for.


Daphne: If you had a time machine, what time period would you travel to?

John: Forward… definitely forward. I tell people never wish to live in an era before penicillin. I have a good idea of where humanity will be in the future, but the time to get there is likely longer than I’ll live. Malcolm O’Connell as the “oldest non-consecutively living” human being is born in 2002. Most especially, I would love to be on hand to witness our first encounter with extra-terrestrial life, in particular intelligent life.


Daphne: Some of your characters are genetically enhanced. If you had access to such “enhancement” what characteristics would you choose?

John: My wish for enhancements is closer to fantasy, which would be a duel state genome, where traits for human and wolf were present, and I switched between them. Barring that, the claws and sharp teeth just because I feel like I should’ve had them. The fluorocarbon nano-cages that O’Connell and the Ghostwalkers have would be nice. I’d love to sprint for nearly an hour and not be short of breath. Anything that meant joints and nerves never broke down. Having the kind of immune system like a shark, where disease and cancer are never a factor would be great, without having to wait four hundred million years of evolution to get it. Better senses, and greater capacity of the brain. It’d be a long list.


Daphne: What hopes and plans do you have for your writing future?

John: I have to wrap up “Brute” and “Bridging the Lotus.” I’m also considering an urban fantasy series in the same writing template as Flipspace. I feel like the “Squad V” series needs one more novel to show where the overall theme is ending at, and maybe a few prequel stories to go with it. Other stories will be brought to me as the universe sees fit.


Leave a comment below and we’ll give one lucky commenter a free copy of John’s first FLIPSPACE mission, “Flight of the Mockingbird.” Winner may choose Kindle, PDF or ePub file format.

Winner will be chosen via on February 25, 2014 March 4, 2014.

NOTE: Due to an issue with comments not posting, this giveaway has been EXTENDED.

John Steiner

John Steiner

About John Steiner:

John Steiner earned his Associate of Biology at Salt Lake Community College and works as a college tutor at Salt Lake Community College. He exercises an avid interest in history, science, philosophy, mythology, martial arts as well as military tactics and technology.

Contact John:

Daphne Olivier

Daphne Olivier

About Daphne Olivier:

Daphne Olivier grew up in the foothills of the Amatolas, where the novel is set, and where many of the locals still speak with pride of their German/Irish heritage. The story of the Kennaway Girls has always fascinated her, and a visit to the museum in East London, which displays a collection of historic memorabilia, inspired her to write a novel based on the life of one of these brave women.

After training as a nurse, Daphne married and for many years lived on a farm. Today she lives in a small South African town together with her husband and their two dogs.

Contact Daphne:

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.


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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.

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