Sunday, 26 June 2016


Atlas Obscura has been having bug week this past week.

I don’t know if that’s a recognised phenomenon, like shark week, or if it’s just something they decided to do because they had a whole lot of random copy about bugs, but it’s been quite interesting.

They’ve covered everything from the pain scale of insect stings through to the hidden bugs sending messages when you retweet that meme. NOTE: it is always perfectly safe to retweet any pictures from MY twitter handle. I know as much about coding secret messages into images as I do about wedding planning and I’m officially an old-age spinster (if you live in a time before woman had occupations to note on their official documentation).

I found it especially comforting to read through these articles when I was struck with my own bug on Wednesday. It made for some nice breaks in between familiarising myself with the toilet bowl from both ends.

One thing I appreciated was the tiny little bugs that were crawling all over the screen while I was reading the articles. I was only fooled twice into thinking they were real and attempting to crush them mercilessly against my laptop screen.


And for once the laborious effort I put into transitioning my website from the delightfully easy Squarespace to the frustratingly multi-optioned WordPress paid off.

Bug! There is a wordpress plugin called bug.

It puts a bug on your screen. Not only that, the bug wanders about a bit.

A miracle of engineering. Now in full view on my website (which you may already know if you’re reading my blog on there, but if you’re not you should immediately visit by clicking this link –

They say it’s the little things in life that make you happy and whoever “they” is in this case “they” would be right.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Zara Altair - The Used Virgin

Please tell us a bit about yourself

Zara Altair combines mystery with a bit of adventure in the Argolicus mysteries. The Used Virgin is the first in a series of mysteries based in southern Italy at the time of the Ostrogoth rule of Italy under Theoderic the Great. Italians (Romans) and Goths live under one king while the Roman Empire is ruled from Constantinople. At times the cultures clash, but Argolicus uses his wit, sometimes with help from his tutor Nikolaos, to provide justice in a province far from the King’s court.

Zara Altair lives in Beaverton, Oregon. She is a fiction author writing in the historical fiction genre. Her approach to writing is to present the puzzle and let Argolicus and Nikolaos find the solution encountering a bit of adventure and some humor in their search. Her stories are rich in historical detail based on years of research. Zara is working on a historical novel Felix Ravenna: A Mosaic set in the same time period with Argolicus as the main character. To get on the reader list for Argolicus fans go here (copy and paste to your browser).

Zara loves reader feedback. Be sure to leave a review. Write comments here on the Author Page. Zara replies to all comments.

Author Q&A

What genre are your books?

Historical mystery. In Italy, giallo storico.

What draws you to this genre?

I’ve been reading in this genre since Nancy Drew for mystery and a gift subscription to monthly history books for kids.

Have you ever considered writing stories for other genres?

Yes. I’ve ghostwritten a number of steamy romance books and sometimes I write science fiction.

When did you first discover your passion for writing?

I’ve been telling stories since I was two when I sat on the back porch and told stories to Yoohoody, the owl who perched in the tree. I’ve been writing stories since I was seven.

What inspired your latest novel?

A phone conversation with my daughter. We were talking about how much we love the Italian day and she said, “Mommy, you should go to Ravenna.” Then she told me about Theoderic leading his people across the frozen Danube and eventually arriving in Ravenna. I thought, “I wonder what it was like then?”

I started researching and discovered a time of divided loyalties, intense theological differences, and a “barbarian” who lived like an emperor.

Do you have a teaser for The Used Virgin?

After Rome, before the Middle Ages, Italy belonged to the Ostrogoths. A young magistrate of mixed ancestry retires to find people are just as corrupt and venal in the provinces.

A corrupt Governor. A young girl. And old man.

A ruined reputation is worse than murder in Italy. Argolicus and his lifelong tutor, Nikolaos, discover evil, greed, and extreme extortion.

Argolicus unravels the threads.

What is your least favorite word?


Do you ever read your stories out loud?

Always. And in my writing group we read each other’s work. You can instantly hear the clunks or the stumbles over awkward phrasing.

What’s the first book you remember making an indelible impression on you?

Anna Karenina. I couldn’t stop. I read all night and finished just after dawn.

Do you have a favorite author?

In historical fiction, Robert Harris. My favorite is Pompeii. I love how his “Roman” is an engineer. And, the reader knows from the beginning that Vesuvius is going to erupt. From that moment on, it is a cliffhanger. Plus, for world builders, his alternative history, Fatherland, is a prime example of a character caught in the surrounding culture.

What are you currently working on?

Along with the next short story, The Peach Widow, I’m always at work on the novel Felix Ravenna: A Mosaic which takes place two years after the mystery series. Oh, and there’s that other contemporary mystery series that is percolating in my head with retired detective, Jake “Cozy” Cozzens.

If your book were made into a movie, who would you cast?

When I started, it was Tom Hardy as Argolicus for the smoldering undercurrent, but Argolicus is 32 at the time of the mysteries, so I needed a new actor. Argolicus Clive Standen. Nikolaos Dragos Bucur.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Write. Study story. Read in your genre. Start your author platform. It takes time. Have everything—author bio, book description, website, email autoresponder (emails written and sequenced), email opt-in—set up before you publish. Write. Edit. Keep writing. Connect with other writers. Plan you next book. Keep writing.

That’s all practical. Most importantly, believe in your story.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Katherine, thank you so much for the interview. Although writing is a solitary activity, sharing our individual stories is part of building a community.

Thank you, Zara. How can readers keep in touch?

Author Website, Author Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Goodreads, Amazon Author Page, THE USED VIRGIN

Sunday, 12 June 2016

The Waiting Game

I remember my first love. I’d sit by the phone waiting for him to return a call. Desperate to hear his voice but unable to phone him because if I did that I’d call down the wrath of Murphy’s Law and my call would be placed through to his line at exactly the same time as he rang and then we’d both be thinking we were talking to other people.

As you do.

Perhaps this has something to do with my lifelong resentment of phonecalls?

More likely, it’s my awkward timing when I can’t scan a face for visual cues that it’s my time to talk but there’s still food for thought right there.

This week, I’ve been reminded of those emotions. The frustration. The longing.

Yes, I’ve been running the gamut while waiting for a publisher to get in touch and let me know if my book is on their go or whoa list.

Given the attachment I have to my current manuscript, there’s even touches of love mixed up in there.

Waiting is so hard. Admittedly, waiting to hear back from a publisher isn’t as bad as some waits I’ve had. Anything connected with a hospital or me sitting alone on a couch at night is usually a lot more worrying, but it’s still got it’s hat in the ring.

Oh. I typed ring and looked at the phone. Now, that’s just sad.

Anyway, got to end this blog post here. Otherwise, I might be typing and posting when they’re trying to get through to my computer via email and our electronic messages could bump and reflect off each other as non-deliverable packages in the night.

Or something like that.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Jessica Knauss – Awash in Talent

Meet Jessica Knauss – Author of Awash in Talent

Please tell us about yourself

I’ve wandered all over the United States, England, and Spain, mostly with my husband. We’re currently settled in the beautiful American Southwest, but don’t know where the wind may take us next.

My highly praised novella, Tree/House, is available in ebook, softcover, and audiobook formats, and my genre-defying short stories have been collected in Unpredictable Worlds. My love of Spain has led to a medieval epic novel, Seven Noble Knights, which will debut December 15 from Bagwyn Books. Contemporary paranormal Awash in Talent is my first novel to be published. It’s available now from Kindle Press.

Find all the latest at my website and blog at

Author Q&A

When did you first discover your passion for writing?

I didn’t so much decide to be a writer as I was born one. I was writing, illustrating, and stapling together children’s books before I knew alternative careers existed. When adults asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I was baffled: I was already a writer. They asked if I was going to be a children’s book author, but I knew writing was an apprenticeship and responded that I was going to write at whatever level I was reading at, ending up with novels for adults, of course.

Awash in Talent is being marketed as YA/New Adult, and it was just as challenging as my historical novel, in different ways. Over the years I’ve found that categories of writing aren’t hierarchical. Writing for adults and for young people have different criteria, but neither is a higher level than another.

Which character or characters do you identify with in your book? Why?

Beth is a younger sister and is lavished with praise because of her Talent. That happened to me as a youngster, so I can understand that dynamic and why she becomes self-important, though I studiously avoid that fate.

I sympathize with Kelly, and I think my readers will, too. She’s a firestarter who doesn’t understand her own Talent and feels like an outsider. Oddly, that’s one of the most common feelings in the world.

Though I’m not a psychic like Patricia, I did go from California to New England for college and fell madly in love with the region, the way she does.

Do you dislike any of them?

My most notorious character is Emily, the self-centered, envious sister of multi-Talented Beth and a thoroughly unreliable narrator. While I wouldn’t say I dislike her, I sympathize with her in reverse. I think about how I would react to the situation she’s in, and I either take it to extreme levels or have her do the opposite. My true love is in a wheelchair outside my door and his wife is nowhere to be seen? I might, if feeling gutsy, wave at him from the window. Emily grabs the wheelchair handles and takes off down the street! In that way, she’s my most fun character.

It’s a great challenge to try to have the reader sympathize with someone so extreme.

Do you ever read your stories out loud?

It’s essential to read your stories aloud. At some point in the process, my husband has to listen to every one of my works. He helps me find awkward sentences and inconsistencies, and the process helps me find typos. It’s the best way to fine-tune dialog. If it’s hard to read out loud, then it’s not likely anyone would say it that way.

Do you ever feel self-conscious when writing love scenes? Why or why not? I feel so self-conscious, in fact, that I don’t write them unless they’re totally unavoidable to the plot. I do perversely enjoy writing scenes in which lovemaking is interrupted or frustrated. I have a theory that my love life is so satisfying, I don’t have any drive to write love scenes. I remember enjoying making up love scenes ages ago, when I was with a boyfriend who withheld affection.

What is the story of your first kiss?

This was the withholding boyfriend. We dated for six months before I was able to cajole him into a closed-mouthed lip bump. It’s likely that my teenage years of enforced chastity contribute to Kelly’s shyness and confusion when Brian is so attractive to her. (See excerpt below.)

Excerpt from Waterfire: Awash in Talent, Part II

Kelly, the narrator, lives at a school for firestarters with her friends Jill, Raúl, and Brian. She has a major, and she thinks unrequited, crush on Brian.

Last night, we had another fire drill. Or so I thought. It was earlier than the alarms usually go off, about ten thirty. Jill and I had just gotten under the covers when the blaring started. We’re practiced at this now, so we had our flip-flops, sweatpants, and sweatshirts (it’s definitely fall now) ready to grab by the door. I checked Jill’s pocket for my safety sack and she checked for hers and we were out the door.

Since I got a buddy, fire drills have been kind of fun. I don’t have to fake-smile anymore. I just go with Jill and find our little group and stand around in good company, listening to Raúl’s latest stupid comments. This time, we went down to the designated area on the docks and quickly found Brian and his buddy in the crowd, but there was no hanging around.

“Hi,” I said casually, but both Brian and Raúl were panting, and Brian had this intense look on his face.

“There’s an actual fire,” he said. “It’s going to be a while before we can go back inside. Jill, can you cover for Kelly?”

She grinned like an accomplice. “I got this. And so does Raúl.” I watched her punch Raúl on the shoulder, but still had no clue what was going on until Brian grabbed my wrist and started moving away from the group. My heart was leaping out of my chest—Brian was kidnapping me. The boy I liked was taking me away in the dead of night. Didn’t he like Jill? What was he planning? What did any of this mean?

Pretty soon, we were holding hands and running, and finally the questions cleared out of my head because we were headed in the direction of Waterplace Park and, was that—? Yes, through the buildings, I could see masses of people gathered along the water’s edge, and flickering, shimmering air, and tendrils of smoke. We were going to WaterFire! In sweats and flip-flops over pajamas, but still. I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be.

Before we even arrived at the waterfront, I could hear the snap-crackle of the burning wood. We gazed at the spot at the opening to the harbor where the first pyre juts out of the water. Each pyre rests a good foot or two above the water on a pole, both buoyed and anchored in place by three large black underwater spheres. Both the first pyre and the next one, headed inland at the mouth of the river, were burning low embers.

“Go ahead, Kelly. Refresh the flames,” Brian said, almost like a dare.

I started to protest, but then realized Jill had my safety sack and my patch was off for the night. The feeling of freedom almost knocked the wind out of me. I looked to make sure no one was watching—it was only farther down along the river that the real crowds started. I felt a whirlwind of crackling happiness around me and poof! The first pyre was healthily ablaze again.

“That’s so cool how you do that. You could become an arsonist and no one would ever suspect you.”

What is the best part about being a writer?

There are loads of advantages to being a writer. One is that I’m never bored because there’s always something to work on. Another is that inspiration can come from anywhere. You never know when that incident at the grocery store might come in handy. The most important is probably that you can make up entire worlds and decide what matters and what doesn’t.

What is the worst part about being a writer?

Working all the time without pay. Not a lot of people seem to know this, but it’s a fact.

Please buy books at new-book stores and check them out at libraries. A book is an author’s love, joy, and whole life for months or years. $2.99 or $4.99 is far from a rip-off, especially since you might spend hours enjoying it.

What are you currently working on?

The sequel to my historical epic, Seven Noble Knights, is my priority, but Awash in Talent is going to have a sequel, too, and I sneak in a chapter here and there. I hope they’ll see the light soon!

Get Social

Where can readers go to learn more about you and your work?

Author Website, Author Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Goodreads, Pinterest, Amazon Author Page, AWASH IN TALENT

Friday, 3 June 2016


I’ve just finished a very nice two-day break from work.

And by “break from work” I mean break from my day job and full-on with my writing job.

The joy of sending my work out to a line editor and a beta reader came to an abrupt halt two weeks ago when they unceremoniously sent it back.

Obviously, that’s part of the process and I knew it was but still. . . couldn’t they have done all the other stuff that needed to be done? The little rewrites and the corrections and the perhaps changing everything that happens in the end?

Except I think that would be a ghost writer and I don’t earn enough to pay myself to write let alone anyone else.

So, getting back to the point in hand, I decided to take a short break from insurance in order to focus on editing. I’d also agreed at some point to participate in a writer’s panel in the library and I thought two days seemed about right to recover and be able to interact normally with people again.

In fact, I was so worked up about the panel on Wednesday night that on Wednesday morning, instead of eating my celery for my mid-morning snack like a good girl, I ransacked the vending machine and ate a bag of Doritos and a bag of green onion chips.

Corn and potatoes. Stuff of champions.

I wouldn’t normally mention it, I eat out of vending machines so often there’d be room for nothing else, but the thing was I forgot about the celery altogether.

If I take something to work and don’t eat it as scheduled, I pop it in the fridge for the following day. If it’s a Friday, then I pop it in the organic bin because weekends and celery do not mix.

But as I said, I was stressed and feeling a bit anxious and once I’d overloaded on carbs and fake cheese flavouring, I completely forgot about the celery languishing in my bag.

Because I’m so organised, it was already cut, and I’d put it into a little Glad baggie with a sandwich seal to keep in the flavour.

I’m not sure the flavour of three day old room temperature celery is something that should be kept inside a baggie. On the other hand, when I broke open the seal and the aroma escaped, I discovered the flavour isn’t something you want exiting willy-nilly either.

So, celery is out of the question for the rest of the year. I’m hoping I can stomach carrots when the work-week rolls around again.