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Just How Sordid

Tantra Bensko Author Interview

Tantra Bensko Author Interview

Remember To Recycle explores a twisted state of dystopian society run rampant with political tension and censorship as experienced through the eyes of a sordid slew of characters. How did you decide on the starting point for this novel and how did that help create the rest of the story?

Thank you for asking. I based the novel on current reality based on in-depth study of foreign policy and traditional patterns of involvement by intelligence agencies who use propaganda to skew public opinion toward a military agenda.

I began the book inspired by the guys who go through my recycling bins to take what they can sell; I made a recycler character who has a clever scheme to take what he learns about the people in the neighborhood that way. The idea made me chuckle, and I wanted to see what kind of goofy brilliance he might display. I also had often joked around with a housemate about the empty buildings across the street which are owned by the church. We’d see people go in and never come out. I was also inspired by our jokes about the counter-intuitive business choices of the local ice-cream truck driver. The truck indeed broadcasts the recording of a scolding woman’s voice, just like in the novel.

Though entertainment is the ultimate point of the book, my main serious goal with the book is to balance the propaganda about the White Helmets, though characters in the United States who had hear the stories about a group like them on the nightly news or watch the Hollywood movie about them.

This novel follows the introduction to Nancy and her relationship to the Agents of the Nevermind in book one, Glossolalia. Nancy has done sordid things in her past, but she was forced into it. In this book, she’s again given the chance to be a hero and make amends for her role in political intrigue, even if it means using the dirty skills she was raised with. Some methods are so dirty, she hardly even lets herself know just how sordid she can be. But like all the other POV characters, she has a good heart.

I chose the beginning scene because it was cinematic, with the dramatic contrast arising from Nancy relaxing at her unusual dwelling, chuckling at the anomalous sound of the ice-cream truck that never seem to make any sales. That prepares us for dark humor in the book. She’s being startled by the loud sound of a hard snowball smashing the glass of the window beside her head. She puts on her costume when she realizes someone outside might be looking at her, so we see how she’s been living “underground,” hoping no one recognizes her, in a somewhat primitive location, but someone mysteriously is communicating with her.

She finds a painted rock inside the snowball and the image reminds her of herself and her one friend, a lovely artist named Becky. Nancy has followed another such anonymous note to lead her to Becky in the past. So that beginning creates questions about the dynamics of some major characters, as it sets in motion Nancy’s sleuthing, and involves the reader in the mystery.

I remember the excitement of thinking of the snowball, with ice-cream and a rock inside, at the beginning. Most of the book was already written, but that image created a colorful motif that I went back and inserted through the novel. It was gratifying the way it drew a lot of elements together.

You’re able to weave together the intricate lives of a ragtag group of characters. What themes did you want to capture while creating your characters?

I focused on the theme of the heroism of examining and exposing social engineering, and the difficult choices, nobility and sacrifice that can entail.

I felt this story was very well written. What’s your experience as a writer?

I appreciate that. I’ve been writing all my life, as well as studying the form, not only for my benefit but for my students, as I teach fiction writing and edit manuscripts. I’ve explored a variety of genres; psychological suspense, which is the overarching category all the diverse books in the series fall into, fascinates me because of human psychology making propaganda and other forms of deception easy and bewildering, creating the need for answers. I love the feeling of figuring out the answers to such mysteries, such a rush, a shudder. It’s the perfect genre to dramatize the ability of intelligence agents working behind the scenes to gaslight the public. So, I read and watch movies and TV shows in that genre a lot, to understand what works best. I’m always studying more about fiction and screenwriting techniques. I learn as much from the screen as the page, and organize my books like movies.

This is book two in the Agents of Nevermind series. Where will book three take readers?

It continues the theme of the Agents who combine deception, mind control, blackmail, and occult practices. I’ve been including history about that intersection in the books, returning to certain historical figures such as John Dee and Edward Kelley, and their use of Enochian language as a spy code as well as an attempt at magick.

The novel is called Encore, and is Gothic. A highly-acclaimed performance troupe has a special requirement to make their shows work: the audience can’t be aware if any of the actors are replaced by a standby (similar to an understudy.) Their resident hypnotist, Dune, who is rumored to be an Agent of the Nevermind, accomplishes that by hypnotizing the standbys to believe they’re the actors they’re mimicking, and even coat their own auras with the residuals of their actors.

His wife is the star, but must leave the troupe due to cancer. Her standby and Dune have strong chemistry. He kidnaps her while she’s hypnotized to believe she’s his wife, and takes her to an alchemist’s castle. Underlying the story is the real history of a few powerful countries’ competing mythologies meant to gain supporters for them in wartime.

I hope this book will move readers to appreciate themselves for who they are.

Author Links: GoodReadsTwitterFacebookWebsite

What if the homeless men going through your recycling know more about your life than you do? Like who is going to die. One of the recyclers, Dave, wearing disguises he keeps under a bridge, memorizes the information in people’s bins. He, like many others, idolizes the Rescuers, a supposedly neutral, unarmed humanitarian aid group in a Balkanized country, as the possibility of WWIII looms. The Nevermind Agents lie on the evening news to garner support for proxy wars. They say the Rescuers are unarmed, neutral, and giving humanitarian aid to a Balkanized country. Their movie about them is a blockbuster. Rescuer costumes are the bit hit for Halloween. But it’s time to unmask them. And that requires a plan so ingenious, even the planner can’t know how it’s done. Living not far away from Dave’s bridge, Becky donates generously to the Rescuers, making her finances even more insecure. She doesn’t know what to think when she finds things in her apartment moved slightly. The toothbrush is wet. There’s a stain on the ironing board. The cat food is nearly gone. Is it her imagination? Is someone messing with her mind? Could it be Stan, breaking in because he loves her? He certainly loves putting her body into mysterious BDSM contortions for their videos. But what’s that muffled moan she hears in the background when she calls him on the phone? Becky hires her friend to spy on Stan. The woman has gone underground since escaping from the Nevermind; she wears a wig, and a mask meant for burn victims. She has traveled across the country to befriend Becky, taking a chance on an anonymous message recommending she do so, though she doesn’t yet know the reason.

A Thriller for Thinkers

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A Full Gothic Ending

Susann Oriel Author Interview

Susann Oriel Author Interview

See Me Forever is a genre-crossing novel with elements of romance, mystery, and paranormal as well. Did you start writing with this in mind, or did this happen organically as you were writing?

I love early Gothic so I wanted to create a story where those themes are used in a modern setting and with a full Gothic ending. So the story begins as a conventional romance but gradually becomes darker. It could be described as a modern-day bodice ripper. The book also has a strong mystery element which I’ve written in a traditional mystery style.

Arianna is innately beautiful but isn’t sleazy and has a level of class and integrity that is to be admired. What were the driving ideals behind the characters development throughout the story?

The heroine is small town born and bred – she’s quite traditional in her thinking so I used a somewhat old fashioned writing style to reflect that in her thoughts and speech. There’s also Victorian-style speech to show the different time periods that the spirit and Arianna exist in (they converse in the older style speech). The hero is plagued by guilt over a past event and is also terrified of losing Arianna to the evil in her haunted house.

Detective Gauge has some skeletons in his closet but still falls for Arianna. What was the inspiration for the relationship between Arianna and Logan?

To Logan Gauge, Arianna is completely different to anyone he’s ever known – a set of contradictions – fiercely passionate but with a cool, calm demeanor, upfront and honest but someone who seems to have a secret side when she’s in touch with her spirit world. She straight out falls for Logan. Naturally, she’s attracted by his looks but she loves him for his goodness. She describes him as strong and good and sure.

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

As I love mystery and my books always have a twist (as any good mystery should), the next book is about a very sophisticated serial thief (woman) who lives in one of the most exclusive apartment buildings in New York. To say more would give away too much as this story will be a whodunnit until the last page. It is, of course, a romance.

Author Links: GoodReads | Amazon

As a spirit sensitive, Arianna Harte is used to encountering the dead. So when the mysterious spirit in her crumbling Victorian mansion finally reveals his presence, Arianna is confident she can control him. But Edmond Wilde is unlike other spirits. He possesses a deadly power and is prepared to use that terrifying ability to claim her. As Arianna gradually learns of the house’s dark past and the source of Edmond’s power, she finds herself increasingly under his depraved control. Only one man can fight for her—a fearless, mortal man, stronger than Edmond. But he is a man with his own ghosts from the past.

Placing early Gothic themes and styles in a contemporary setting, See Me Forever is a story of strange happenings, blended time periods, obsession, betrayal and death. With multiple characters and plot twists, mysteries both past and present are revealed, testing Arianna’s gift in ways she never thought possible. Can she and her courageous lover defeat the powerful spirit who threatens their very existence?

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See Me Forever

See Me Forever by [Oriel, Susann]

See Me Forever begins in an old alluring home in Erradale Bay where Arianna Harte, a beautiful woman oozing with class, purchases the home in hopes to begin a new life. A spirit is instantly drawn to her, becoming obsessed with wanting her to himself. Edmond Nathaniel Wilde is the man behind the spirit, a well-spoken man who comes from the Victorian era where sins such as infidelity are not to be tolerated. Meanwhile, Logan, a detective, is investigating an incident involved with Arianna’s home and finds himself beginning to fall for Arianna’s beauty and charm. Between a passionate spirit and a detective filled with skeletons in his closet, Arianna will be thrown into a dark and brooding love triangle with supernatural twists.

See Me Forever, written by Susann Oriel, is a beautifully written love story that has a touch of all the right genres; including action, mystery and supernatural elements. It is hot and steamy, romantic and at times frightening, providing a story line that is full of entertainment for all readers.

The words drip with elegance and sweep the reader through a colonial home. Gargoyles adorn the outskirts of the beautiful colonial styled Oak Lane property, giving the reader a glimpse into a home which would have been luxurious in the Victorian era. Susann’s style of writing is easy to read but descriptive; the conversations and interactions between both spirit and human are easily imagined and felt by the reader.

I love the way Susann Oriel describes Arianna Harte. She is innately beautiful but also physically stunning, catching the eyes of suitors around her. But she isn’t sleazy or forward and has a level of class and integrity that is to be admired. Her encounters with others are filled with lustful desire and will leave the reader feeling as though their blood is on fire. Arianna’s is a sensitive, different from a medium in that she sees the spirits as well as feeling them. This particular talent will land her in sticky situations as she sees the faces of those who pass everywhere she goes.

The story begins with more questions than answers and I was eager to know how Edmond had passed. There is an element of suspicion surrounding his death and how his first wife may have died. A woman who previously lived in the home is now an elderly lady and once held Edmonds affections. How do they fit together to form the pieces of the puzzle? You will have to read it to find out!

You’d be mistaken to think that this novel is only a love story. There are mysterious plot changes, broody characters and action scenes that will leave you begging for more. I would recommend See Me Forever for those who enjoy a romantic novel but also enjoy their haunted house styled stories.

Pages: 296 | ASIN: B06XXML53F

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The Heart of Hannen

The Heart of Hannen (Atriian Trilogy, #1)4 Stars

Christine Clavin is not a typical teenage girl. Her past is marred by a violent attack so scandalous that her peers avoid her, whispering behind her back. The only redhead in a family of dark-haired people, she’s certain she was adopted and doesn’t belong. She has no friends, and her rage is so deep that when she loses control, she’s dangerous, even to her own family. Her family is at their wit’s end and wants to have her committed, but her older brother Sam does what he can to protect her. Christine wants to be normal, even dating a dashing newcomer, but the date seems to end badly although she still has feelings for the boy.

Christine finds solace by the pond near her house, something catches her attention, so she dives in, and when she comes up for air, she’s in a completely different world. Struggling with the language, the oppressive culture, and her own nightmares, she must find a way to survive and get back home. Her inner fire becomes her greatest asset, but it could make her either a well-treated slave or a fugitive trying to get back home.

The Heart of Hannen is one of the most unique books I’ve read all year, with elements of dark fantasy and gothic romance that tie together seamlessly. Christine is magically transported to the world of Atriia where men rule, and women are bought and sold like horses. This is definitely not the place for hotheaded seventeen-year-olds with anger management issues to thrive, and she runs afoul of men and women alike. When she’s sold to the staff of a local Lord’s castle, she learns—the hard way—how to fit in.

I especially enjoyed that Christine could use her wits, temper, and sharp tongue to do great things, even under the control of an oppressive culture and evil men. Without spoilers, let me warn you that there are twists and turns that you will never see coming, and they are fantastic.

The best part of this book was the invented language. There’s a glossary at the back of helpful words, but I decided to figure it out myself. This helped me get deeper into the story and the main character, since we were both trying to make sense of words that were just out of reach. As she becomes more used to Atriia, so did I, and the story got even better from there.

My only complaint about the book is that the pacing is slow. The plot advances at a snail’s pace, characters are indecisive, and some scenes—while interesting—do little to advance the story. While some tension is good, drawing it out too long invites skimming to a scene where something actually happens.

If you’re a fan of dark fantasy or romance, you’ll find much to like in The Heart of Hannen. Though the main character begins the tale at age 17, this is a land of kept women, fierce battles, blood, and sensuous love scenes, so I’d recommend it for mature readers.

Pages: 488 | ASIN: B00IWYP17S

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Roots in Gothic Fiction

Terry Lynn Thomas headshotThe Spirit of Grace is a murder mystery story set in the 1940’s against the backdrop of WWII-era California. I thought the detail in this story did a great job in capturing that era. What research did you do to understand the backdrop for your story?

My father fought in World War II, and he and my mother moved to the San Francisco Bay Area when he mustered out of the Navy. As a child, I was regaled with stories of my father’s time in the war, and of their time as a newly married couple in San Francisco. Those stories inspired me set the series in this era and location. As for research, once I decide exactly when my story will take place (Grace takes place in October 1942), I read the newspapers from that time, along with magazines (such as Life and The New Yorker), I read novels on the best seller lists at that time, and have discovered a passion for old time radio shows, which I listen to as well. When I am writing a novel, I don’t read anything that is not period appropriate. I really try to capture what it felt like to live during that time period. The beauty of setting a story in San Francisco is that it is easy for me to be in a certain place (Ocean Beach, the Legion of Honor, The Cliff House, to name a few) and really conjure up the past. I hope my readers will be transported to 1940s San Francisco, and love it there as much as I do.

Sarah is the only witness to her mother’s murder and is under suspicion, but has amnesia. What was your inspiration for Sarah’s character and the situation that she was in?

I knew when I wrote this book that Sarah needed to have some flaw that isolated her from her family, while at the same time casting suspicion on her. I wasn’t sure how to capture that exact scenario, so I stepped away from the story for a few days, and viola, this situation presented itself. I am also seeding the backstory so the reader knows that Sarah has issues, and these issues become apparent to the reader as the story unfolds.

I enjoyed the romantic relationship between the handsome writing assistance Zeke and Sarah. How did their relationship develop while you were writing it? Did you have an idea of where you wanted to take it or was it organic?

A little bit of both, actually. I don’t write romance per se, but Sarah needed someone to help her, a partner, if you will, who had his own issues. I especially wanted her to have a man around who was interested in her and who ignored her gorgeous mother in law. But Zeke and Sarah’s relationship unfolded organically, and it is still unfolding now, as I write book three. Zeke is a man who is way ahead of his time. You have to remember that during this time period, women couldn’t open a bank account, or rent an apartment (to name two examples) without the help of a man, be it a husband, father, or brother. Zeke—as the reader will discover—gives Sarah her freedom. He believes in her, and helps her grow by giving her freedom and honoring her as a person.

I think that the story has roots in the Gothic romance tradition. Do you read books from that genre? What were some books that you think influenced The Spirit of Grace?

Grace does have its roots in Gothic fiction. Most of the books I read are British, and are written before 1960. I love Dorothy Eden, Mary Stewart, Daphne Du Maurier, Patricia Wentworth, and—of course—Agatha Christie. I think that I pull from the vast reading I’ve done in this genre, especially because it is my intention to write in the style of these old-time Gothics. It’s interesting because I know these books are not terribly popular right now, but I have connected with so many readers who remember these books, and love these stories. It’s also a pleasure to write during a time when there wasn’t Internet or cell phones. While I embrace our modern way of communicating, I do think technology disconnects us from each other. I like to remember what it was like before we were so connected, and I hope that my stories are able to help my readers remember that, too. I have a secret passion for Gothic mysteries from the 1940s through the early 1970s, such as those published by ACE Gothics. The covers are fabulous, and I find those stories to be so beautifully written, but often disregarded as women’s pulp fiction. When I created the Sarah Bennett Series, I intended on paying homage to those old stories, and to that particular style of writing. Hopefully modern readers will relate to my heroine, who doesn’t wait for someone (her romantic interest, for example) to save her. She saves herself, and becomes strong in the process.

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Sarah Bennett doesn’t remember the night her mother tumbled down the stairs at Bennett House, despite allegedly witnessing the fatal fall. There was talk of foul play, dark whispers, and sidelong glances, all aimed at Sarah, prompting her family to send her to The Laurels, an exclusive asylum in San Francisco, under a cloud of suspicion. Now, on the one-year anniversary of her mother’s murder, Sarah has been summoned home. Convinced of her innocence, she returns to Bennett House, hoping to put the broken pieces of her life back together. But when another murder occurs shortly after her arrival, Sarah once again finds herself a suspect, as she is drawn into a web of suspicion and lies. In order to clear her name, Sarah must remember what happened the fateful night her mother died. But as she works to regain her memory, the real murderer watches, ready to kill again to protect a dark family secret.

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