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I Love Twist Endings

Julie L. Kusma Author Interview

The Many Worlds of Mr. A. Skouandy follows a psychiatrist as he evaluates a patient that was dropped off and, in the process, learns the history of the patients in the sanatorium. What was the inspiration for this collection of short stories?

As my thesis for my MA.E.CW, Fic (Master of Art, English, Creative Writing, Fiction), I selected a collection of short stories instead of submitting a novel. I love to write short stories, and I love twist endings, so pulling a collection together was in my wheelhouse. I wanted and needed a theme to connect each story together. My answer was to bookend the story of Dr. Blanchard on both sides of the collection and connect the stories through the character of Aaron Skouandy and the sanatorium. Of course, the ending has a twist, which hopefully brings the reader full circle about the subject matter of each story and why it was included in my short story cycle.

I really enjoyed the short story “Silence So Deafening.” Do you have a favorite story in this collection, and why?

Silence so Deafening is a favorite of mine too, and it was placed in a contest and received publication, which was beautiful. But my favorite has to be Inseparable because my sister and I really stayed in the cabin this story is based on. I let her be the main character and kill me off. This delighted her to no end. Neither one of us has any plans to ever revisit the cabin. Ever.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

The stories were centered around assignments mainly. For example, Baby Makes Three started off as a memory required for the first part of a project. My memory was about the adoption of my eldest son. The second part of this same project was to flip that memory on its head. I did just that and turned my characters into aliens and developed a plot around their baby. My professor immensely enjoyed it and commented that Science Fiction may just be my genre. I’m not sure about that. I haven’t written another Sci-Fi piece since.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

I have two books in the final revision stage. The first is a collection of shorts (several previously published online). The majority unseen by the public and written after peers in the writing community asked me to please turn them into full-length stories and make them into a novel. The title is The Crooked Crone and Other Mystifications and is slated for publication this fall. The second novel, We Three: The Ipswich Chronicles, is based on the main character from the book previously mentioned, the Crone, and her sisters. The story is about how they learned they were witches and their journey to find the source of magic, and my Beta readers loved it. So excited to publish this novel, targeted for spring 2023.

Additionally, I have a couple of collaborations with my writing partner, Derek R. King, slated for this summer. First, the second volume, Amore, of our new The Lighter Half Series, which launched in February with volume one, Abracadabra. These are delightful and magical collections of poetry. Second, we have a wonderful poetry collection for children themed around faeries titled The Enchanted Faerie Realm. This children’s book is slated for publication in May of this year.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Summoned to Oakwood Sanatorium, Dr. Blanchard struggles with the strange occurrences linked to a man abandoned in the hospital’s lobby. The bizarre situation he’s been called to evaluate triggers an internal conflict between science and spirituality and leads to decisions that shake his beliefs and calls his own sanity into question. In the end, no choice remains but the acceptance of the cruel reality of his life.

This short story cycle is a blend of psychological suspense, horror, soft science-fiction, alternate universe, and alternate history, thematically tied together by outcomes that are unanticipated, unintentional, and always unexpected.

The Many Worlds of Mr. A. Skouandy, the title story that bookends nine tales in between, is presented in the postmodern collage style, including admission forms and patient sketches before each piece and doctor’s notes after each. The stories can be read separately, but when read sequentially, a much larger story is revealed, generating this unique psychological horror novella.

The Many Worlds of Mr. A. Skouandy

The Many Worlds of Mr. A. Skouandy & Other Stories from Oakwood Sanatorium is an assorted collection of short stories ranging from heartbreaking to horrifying. Author Julie Kusma explores loss, loneliness, grief, and a host of other mental afflictions in these winding, interconnected tales from the titular mental hospital. We follow Dr. Shepard Blanchard as he investigates the curious case of a newly admitted patient, one Mr. A. Skouandy and his mysterious knowledge of other patients in the ward. Dr. Blanchard becomes transfixed with Mr. Skouandy’s claims, and his investigation leads him on a journey through the origins of how the inhabitants of Oakwood Sanatorium came to reside there.

The main narrative takes place in the Oakwood sanatorium in the 1940s. We are not privy to Dr. Blanchard’s interviews with the patients; instead, we are treated to events in their lives that cause them to end up in Oakwood Sanatorium. The patient’s stories of loss or trauma and the resulting mental illness or psychotic break offer an interesting reflection on how the diverse characters deal with grief in their lives.

The author explores many genres: science fiction, fantasy, and horror are all represented here, while most of the stories are steeped in reality, as unsettling as it may be. The novel itself is a vehicle for some of Kusma’s works that have appeared previously. Dr. Blanchard’s prologues and handwritten notes offer a connecting thread to the stories, and it works to varying degrees. I feel some of the stories mesh well together in the setting, but others feel forced at times. “Free of Bees “and “The Writing Room” fit nicely. “Silence So Deafening” and “Baby Makes Three” have a very Twilight Zone-vibe, which works for this collection.

The Many Worlds of Mr. A. Skouandy & Other Stories from Oakwood Sanatorium is a collection of short stories collected from patients in a sanatorium, making it easy to combine elements from multiple genres. Readers who like the unusual, strange, and horrifying aspects of life will find this eclectic book a great escape from the day-to-day realities.

Pages: 172 | ASIN : B09FKCYN44

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Tygers

Tygers by [J. Warren]

J. Warren’s Tygers is a book set in a alternate universe where America is led by a super-conservative government that treats homosexuality as an abomination. As such, young gay men are taken to facilities and camps that promise to “cure” them of their condition. In this world, it is easy for young gay men to be radicalized and used by terrorist cells. Through the eyes of Aaron Miller, a gay teenager, we get a first-hand account of how difficult it is to navigate this new world. We also get up close and personal with two members of a terrorist cell, Marcus and Victor, as the author helps us see what could push a person down such a dark path. As expected, this book is full of love and violence, laughter and tears. Aaron’s coming of age seems to be happening at the same time that his country seems to be devolving into ancient ways. He falls in love, loses his love, and goes down a dark path of destruction. On the other hand, Marcus and Victor encounter some unexpected challenges of their own.

If there is one thing to be appreciated about Tygers, it is the superb character development. Throughout the story we get an understanding of who Aaron is, his relationship with his family, and the mental space he is in. This makes him more relatable and likable and a character with great depth. It is difficult not to root for him, especially since he is so young and confused. And even though Marcus is quite mysterious, we get an understanding of him and what he is passionate about. While he is quite villainous, the author tries to humanize him as well, something that emulates the nuances of real life.

Ultimately, it is the fact that this story is believable that makes it scary. Clearly, the author took his time to ensure the plot is solid. What’s more? His writing style is light, refreshing, and easy to read. There are no long-winded paragraphs and every page is both informative and entertaining. While I enjoyed the story, I thought some of the scenes were graphic and can be off-putting to some, but otherwise it is enthralling literature told with a unique writing flair.

Tygers is a riveting dystopian novel with poignant commentary on society and chilling parallels to contemporary issues, all told through a compelling character that will affect readers long after they close the book.

Pages: 282 | ASIN: B0994MKWWL

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Becoming Olive W.: The Women of Campbell County

Becoming Olive W.: The Women of Campbell County: Family Saga Book 1 by [S. Lee Fisher]

In the early years of the 20th century, Olive Westchester’s mother dies in childbirth, leaving Olive a toddler to be raised by a distant, tyrannical father and her 6 older siblings.  At an early age she displays a remarkable maturity and intellect and is running the finances of the family farm from the age of 10.  She longs to attend college when she grows up, a rare enough event for a woman in her generation.  But her domineering father is only interested in sending her to finishing school to polish off her headstrong edges and make her suitable for marriage.  When Olive’s beloved brother, Fred, is sent off to war against his wishes, it changes everything.

Becoming Olive W is the first book in a trilogy by S Lee Fisher called The Women of Campbell County: Family Saga. It covers a period of about 13 years, following Olive from the ages of 3 to 16, with the majority of the plot taking place during the first part of World War 1. Fisher handles the leaps through time with a deft hand, and the reader is rarely, if ever, left feeling as if there is something missing.

Whether it was intentional or not, the style is reminiscent of the sweeping plots of Barbara Taylor Bradford. With Olive and her family, Fisher has created a gripping tale and irresistible individuals you emotionally connect with. There are all the elements of a multi-generational family epic with memorable characters, wealth and poverty, treachery, difficult circumstances, great love rubbing up against abiding hatred and fatal flaws galore.

Olive was an intriguing character that I enjoyed following, even though I found it hard to see her as just a 10-year-old child. She seemed very mature for her age, rather like an adult than a child. A woman really, who manages the finances of a large farm and stands up to her father and and other family members with such tenacity.

The dialogue was well written and had a good pace and flow that creates some very engaging scenes between characters. I felt the tone was more suited to the early 19th century in Jane Austen’s England rather than a small-town in the U.S. in the early 20th century.

Becoming Olive W is an emotionally charged family saga set in a realistic historical setting with riveting drama that will keep readers consistently entertained. Olive is a character that I will remember for a long time.

Pages: 312 | ASIN: ‎ B08Y5LC5BJ

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True Inspiration is a Mystery

Author Interview
Rayo Scala Author Interview

The Claviger follows a unique group of beings that hold the knowledge and evolutionary traits to save the earth. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

True inspiration is a mystery to me. Who really knows where it comes from? With this script I did try to make it seem as though the reader was watching a feature length film. Although, I don’t really know where that came from either…

I enjoyed the unique characters in your story. What were some driving ideals behind your character’s development?

The characters in this script just showed up as I was writing the book, more like the book was writing itself. They just morphed into the storyline as it evolved. I tried to make them believable as a way to draw in the reader.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

The main theme in this novel is that all life is precious.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

My next script FORCE QUIT is being finalized. It’s a story of four Heyoka empath foster kids and their mysterious sigma male guardian. It’ll be published sometime in the fall of 2021 or sooner.

Author Links: Website | Amazon

The Clavigers are guardians, custodians, defenders and aware reincarnates. They are Endlings, the last of their kind who possess the distinct mosaic traits of a unique and ancient version of Homo sapiens. Since before the Pleistocene Extinctions, over one hundred and twenty centuries ago, they have been reincarnating and with every reincarnation they carry with them the retained empirical awareness from all of their previous lives and missions. The vast knowledge that they have acquired during that unique evolutionary journey has brought them to this point in time for the most important mission of them all.

A River To The Ocean

A RIVER TO THE OCEAN by [RAYO SCALA]

A River to the Ocean by Rayo Scala explores the expansive boundaries of the mind and how we manifest our dreams. Following the story of Jager as he searches for his missing brother 30 years after he first disappeared, we see the bond between family, both found and blood. The reader traverses across America with Jager and glimpses heartwarming views of the people his brother impacted as he traveled around the world. The characters we meet hold Anti-establishment views and aim to reach a higher plane of spirituality, emphasizing love, tenderness, and ascension.

A River to the Ocean carries an overarching message of higher self throughout the story while critiquing humanity’s detrimental effect on the Earth. While sci-fi elements are a huge part of the story and create scenes that couldn’t actually occur, each fantastical piece somehow feels attainable. These metaphysical theories are backed by the efforts of genuine people who aim to bring peace to the world and nourish their lives.

I loved seeing the bonds created throughout this book. Each character is well fleshed out and made to feel dynamic and lively. I believed in their motivations and their connections to Jager as they helped him along his journey to find his brother. As he travels from California to Hawaii to Montana, the people his brother loved and care for extend that same hospitality and support to Jager, showing the importance of found family.

However, as family felt like such a huge and important piece of the story, I found myself curious about the blood family members beyond Jager and his brother. Jager has children that he doesn’t often mention, and throughout the book I wondered about the extent of their contact and involvement in his life. I was also curious about the parents of the two men—did they miss Jager’s brother, and search for him later in life? Despite these questions, the extended connections made with those outside of blood family provided a great support system.

A River to the Ocean is an eye-opening story that reminds us to be conscious of the effect we have on the Earth, and how unstable our future can be. This book warns against filling your life with fear and suggests that we use our love, care, and attention to manifest a greater world to come. With a mindset like this, we can keep our Earth healthy and thriving and build lasting connections with the people around us.

Pages: 281 | ASIN: B07DZN3MTJ

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The Claviger

THE CLAVIGER by [RAYO SCALA]

The Claviger, by Rayo Scala, is a science fiction thriller based on the clavigers, an elite group of combatants who have been reincarnating over the last hundred centuries keeping intact all knowledge from past lives. They are on an important mission to protect mother earth from centuries of destruction posed by humanity. Considered aware reincarnates, the clavigers die and get reborn at around roughly the same time and by the time they are teenagers meet and greet each other reminiscing all previous knowledge. They are expert tacticians, master craftsmen, and linguists who have been interfering with events around the world over centuries to maintain natural balance and harmony on earth.

In present times, FBI agents Egan and Kun along with homeland security Talib and Alma are on a mission to crack down claviger operations. The clavigers possess powers to hack into systems, conduct sting operations, and kill their enemies to disrupt world trade and economies. These traits make them a formidable challenge for the mafias across many developed nations who send in teams to encounter them. However, our protagonists must find a way to discover the real motives behind claviger operations.

The Claviger is a thrilling story with a fantastically detailed backstory. The character developments in this story are methodical and well defined and every character has a unique arc that comes to fruition at the end. The author has bridged the gap between the past and the future using detailed narratives. Vivid imagery has been used to describe memories in flashbacks and there are many historical as well as mythological references. Advanced weaponry, conspiracy theories, and fast-paced action give readers a mix of James Bond and Stars Wars-like vibes.

The interaction among the characters is another unique feature of this plot. The clavigers tend to talk among themselves with a mix of old Shakespearean English while our protagonists speak modern English with cuss words. This helps readers easily understand the mood in the chapters. I enjoyed how secrets and mysteries were slowly revealed throughout the story, and this slow delivery keeps the suspense consistently high. The mix of science fiction and historical events create a conducive environment for a big revelation at the end.

The Claviger tells an imaginative and riveting story with a one-of-a-narrative. Readers who enjoy stories that combine history, action and subtle science fiction elements will find plenty to enjoy in Rayo Scala’s suspenseful-action adventure novel.

Pages: 259 | ASIN: B081F69PHR

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And the Last Trump Shall Sound

And the Last Trump Shall Sound by [Harry Turtledove, James Morrow, Cat Rambo]

In the not-too-distant future, Mike Pence has ascended the ladder to the presidency, but the foundation that was laid during Donald Trump’s time in office still stands strong. The United States has become little more than a caricature of its former self as its people grow more and more extreme about almost literally every issue imaginable. Finally reaching a breaking point, the west coast declares its independence and comes Pacifica, prompting the northeast to consider following suit. As both nations adjust to the change, the stories that emerge range from terrifyingly feasible to laugh out loud absurd, with just a little of the bizarre thrown in for color.

And the Last Trump Shall Sound is a trilogy of novellas that explore a different aspect of the future of Trump’s America in the wake of Pacifica’s succession. Each entry is penned by a different author and as such, projects a drastically different voice. Although each story is connected and follows a linear timeline, using different authors helps to keep it fresh. 

“The Breaking of Nations” by Harry Turtledove illustrates the first days of Pacifica and the struggles faced by its leaders. Of the three, this one is easily the most frightening for its plausibility and passages that read more like non-fiction at times. Turtledove paints the picture of a future devoid of any semblance of morality or democracy and the people who want desperately to salvage what they can.

In contrast, “The Purloined Republic”, by James Morrow takes a more absurd approach to solidifying Pacifica’s status as an independent nation, a couple of years down the road. Taking a page out of classic spy and espionage novels, Morrow’s tone is much more tongue in cheek as our heroine Polly agrees to go undercover in the hopes of undermining Pence’s legitimacy, even among the most devoted Americans. What follows is a series of events that can only be described as both ridiculous and wildly entertaining. 

The final entry is “Because it is Bitter” by Cat Rambo, and this one gets weird. Set six years after the formation of Pacifica, it veers firmly into science fiction territory, and stops just short of portraying life in America as dystopian. It combines the implications of Trump’s future with a complete lack of privacy that raises plenty of questions about freedom and manipulation. It provides a fitting end to the trilogy as it leaves the door open for both hope and uncertainty.

For me, the opening story was the weakest of the three and made getting into the book a little slow, but it was nonetheless well written and a necessary read for the other two to make sense. I thoroughly enjoyed the differences in style and tone, and would love to read more from these writers in the future.

Pages: 257 | ASIN: B086Q1M8VQ

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