The Contest and Other Stories is a collection of inspiring stories that got me to think and reflect. What was the inspiration behind this collection?
JD: I originally wanted to create a coffee table art book with all paintings connected to a framing story.
KR: Around 2007 or 2008, Joe started bringing these quirky short stories inspired by paintings to the critique group in Prescott, Arizona that we both belonged to.
In February 2011, he shared his draft and invited me to assist with the project as a co-author. We continued to work on polishing the stories and the connecting novella together. In our bios, we say that he has the vivid imagination and I have the word-whacking polish, but the truth is, we both contributed to the imaginative creation and to the nuts and bolts polishing and editing. We multiplied our mind-power by working together!
What were some themes you find yourself exploring in your short stories?
JD: The relationships artists have with drinking, higher consciousness, and insanity.
KR: As Joe says, some of the stories explore the artists’ lives directly in the genres of magical realism, dark fantasy, horror, the paranormal, and alternate history, or as a fabulous motif. The other stories were developed using a painting as a prompt, but have no relation to the artist or their work. Those stories explore life challenges and transitions such as birth, death, falling in love, relationships, family life, and work, also through the medium of various fantasy genres. The connecting novella explores the archetypal overbearing father who insists that his only son follow in his footsteps, while the son rebels to make his unique contribution to arts and literature.
What is the collaboration like between the two of you?
JD: Long distance.
KR: By the time Joe and I started working together on this project, he lived in Arizona and I had landed in California. So we shared thoughts and drafts for The Contest and Other Stories via email.
Will you be putting together another collection of short stories?
JD: We’ve been working on solo projects lately. I completed a connected short story collection in 2016 titled Story Time Karaoke @ The Chicagoua Cafe.
KR: I’ve been working on stories inspired by dreams and a novella created entirely from a series of dreams, with a working title of Loop: Life is But a Dream.
As for other joint projects, Joe and I just published a humorous dystopian sci-fi novelette, Space Race: Robot Rebellion in the Future Wild West (Tootie-Do Press, 2018). We also have a YA story, Thirteen, published in an anthology called 31 Nights of Halloween (Rainstorm Press, 2011). Neither of these stories fit the theme of The Contest, so we searched for other alternatives for publication.
Inspired by the works of international artists, this collection contains nineteen spellbinding Young Adult – New Adult magical realist, paranormal, slipstream, alternate history, and fabulist tales linked by a novella: Peter John Rizzo, a 1960 graduate of Yale University’s journalism program, inherits a floundering art magazine from his uncle, John Rizzo, with the provision that he must increase the circulation or forfeit all assets to creditors. Peter Rizzo, Pete’s father, is a banker who scorns careers in the Arts and Humanities, and is jealous of his late brother’s influence upon his wife and son. Classic Art Expose’s devoted but unorthodox editorial assistant, Jason, and two university interns, sisters Shirley and Evie, help Pete start a monthly short story contest with artwork prompts, hoping to expand and save the business. As the four friends publish the winning (and sometimes disturbing) stories over the following eighteen months, Pete battles his father’s attempts to ruin his business and his reputation, and in the process, discovers a sordid family secret. What else could possibly go astray?
Posted in Interviews
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A woman destroyed his ability to trust. A man destroyed her ability to care. Can love unlock their fear and heal their wounded hearts?
His marriage over and his career in jeopardy, Trevor Donaldson seeks sanctuary at the Diamond D Ranch in Arizona. After gunning down the man who shot his partner, the accusations hanging over his head, the hounding media, and his own inner turmoil keep him awake at night.
Ketra Weston sought sanctuary at the Diamond D to escape the ugly backlash she suffered after a violent assault following a Good Samaritan act gone wrong. Time at the ranch promises to provide the peace and anonymity she needs to help her heal.
Trevor and Ketra are careful to keep their distance from one another. Trevor’s contempt for women, after his failed marriage, and Ketra’s skittishness after here brutal attack, leave them both wary of the opposite sex. But, everything changes when Trevor discovers that their lives are intertwined and he learns that her past just might hold the key to his exoneration.
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H.A.L.F. tells the story of H.A.L.F 9, a Human-Alien Life Form that escapes from the military facility where he was created. What was your inspiration for this imaginative and thrilling novel?
The original idea and plot for this story came to me one day as I was driving in my hometown of Tucson, Arizona, listening to a techno-rap song called “Cowboys and Aliens”. What can I say – it was a hot day in the desert! I’ve long been fascinated by the remote area in southern Arizona, the borderlands between Mexico and the U.S. There’s a military testing range out there and not much else. That song on that day got me thinking about how alien conspiracy theorists talk about a secret underground base. And I thought what if such a base is under the missile testing range? And what if there really are human-alien hybrids? And why would a shadow government want to create such a being? The series has been great fun for me, a huge X-Files, Twilight Zone and Star Trek fan. Fun to create my own alien worlds and adventures!
H.A.L.F. 9 forms a bond with other teens that he comes across and their relationships are dynamic and deep as well. What themes did you try to capture when you were creating the relationships the characters had?
When I write a first draft, I generally don’t think about themes. I also don’t spend time outlining relationships before I write. I try my best to let the characters “speak” and for the relationships to evolve organically.
But once the first draft is written, with the assistance of my content editor, I fine tune. In The Deep Beneath, I had not originally intended for H.A.L.F. 9 to become romantically interested in Erika. But he’s a 17 year old guy who’s never been around girls his own age! Of course he’s interested in her!
As for the three human teens, I spent a lot of pre-first draft planning time creating a relationship backstory for them. On the advice of an early editor, I decided to have Erika and Jack having problems in their boyfriend/girlfriend relationship right off the bat. That’s not a typical starting point in a YA book and I think it was good advice. Over the three books, readers get to see complex relationships play out. And I think that’s more like what life is really like. Even with people we love deeply, we don’t always get along. There are ups and downs. But will we stick with someone through thick and thin? Or bail on them when the going gets tough?
Ian and Erika are best friends. Like many best friends in coming of age stories, their relationship is tested by the difficult circumstances they’re thrust into. The circumstances of the story force them to journey beyond their small town and into the wider world. And oh what a world they step into! They each are confronted with moral dilemmas and the choices they make affects their relationship.
What emerges is a story that over the 3-book series is about loyalty, trust, and having each other’s backs. Not only do we see this in how the three older teens deal with each other, but also through how Erika is teaching H.A.L.F. 9 about living in the human world.
As I’m just finishing up revisions on the third and final book in the series, ORIGINS, I’m going to miss these characters! I’ve enjoyed writing their relationships and watching them grow.
H.A.L.F 9 has telekinetic and telepathic powers which make him a valuable asset to the government. These powers are used in unique and interesting ways. How did you handle the use of these powers in the novel where they were believable yet useful?
I was inspired to give H.A.L.F. 9 the powers that he has from my research into a real top secret military project called Project Stargate. It was started in the 1970’s and the purpose was to research the potential of “psychic warfare.” This was during the cold war and they were seeking to create a “remote viewing” spy network but there was also this idea that enemies could potentially be taken out from thousands of miles away using only the mind.
Of course they didn’t produce much in the way of results. The funding dried up and the program ended (allegedly ;-).
These sorts of top secret programs inspired the story. What if aliens had stronger psychic abilities than humans, and if a human-alien hybrid was engineered to have the stronger alien psychic abilities, what could it do? Media often portrays aliens as having much more developed psychic abilities than humans, so I thought it would be believable for a human-alien hybrid to have these sorts of powers.
Giving the hybrid being these abilities was like creating superpowers or a magic system. So I had to think of its limits. That led to a rather unique problem for the hybrid beings that acts as a limit on their “magic” and is, I think, one of the more unique aspects of the series.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
H.A.L.F.: ORIGINS (H.A.L.F. 3) will be available August 24, 2017! I’m so excited for it! It has been a super difficult book to write due to all the threads that spread out in book 2. But I think that readers will find the wrap up exciting and satisfying – and all questions will be answered!
H.A.L.F. 9 has taken his first breath of desert air and his first steps in the human world. Created to be a weapon, he proved too powerful for his makers and has lived a sedated life hidden from humans. But H.A.L.F. 9 has escaped the underground lab he called home, and the sedation has worn off. He has never been more alive. More powerful. Or more deadly.
Erika Holt longs to ride her motorcycle east until pavement meets shore. She bides her time until graduation when she’ll say adios to the trailer she shares with her alcoholic mother and memories of her dead father. But a typical night in the desert with friends thrusts Erika into a situation more dangerous than she ever imagined.
Circumstances push the two together, and each must make a fateful choice. Will Erika help H.A.L.F. 9 despite her “don’t get involved” rule? And will H.A.L.F. 9 let Erika live even though he was trained to kill?
The two may need to forget their rules and training and if either is to survive the dangers of the deep beneath them.
Posted in Interviews
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