19 January 2012

Stephanie Keyes - Star Child

Who I Am
Hello everyone! My name is Stephanie Keyes, but you may call me Steph. Personally, I am many things: a choc-o-holic, work-a-holic, mom-a-holic- well, you get the idea. For the past twelve years, give or take, I’ve been working as a full-time Corporate Educator and Curriculum Designer. That means that I’ve done everything from writing training programs, to delivering them, working on graphic design projects, developing on-line promotions, technical writing, and mentoring.

I started out as a Music Education major in college, but quickly learned that playing the clarinet wasn’t going to give me the income that I needed. So I put on my IT hat and switched to Management Information Systems and later graduated from Robert Morris University, eventually going back to school for my Master’s degrees in Education. I worked in the IT field for roughly eight years before making the switch to Human Resources, which has been a great move for me personally.

Writing became serious for me when I reached my twenties. Prior to that I was always making up short stories and penning them, but the characters were never interesting enough for me to follow through with them. Kellen St. James in The Star Child changed all of that.

The Star Child
The Star Child was my first foray outside the short story arena. Like many other writers I was spurred on by tragedy in my own life. My father was very ill when I started to formulate the outline that would become the earliest version of my novel. In addition, I was also suffering from post-partum depression after the birth of my first son. So there were many not so great things happening to me and then the idea for The Star Child came to me.

Many of you may have read that the idea for the book came to me in the shower, which is absolutely true. However, I wrote it because of the events afterwards. I came out of the shower, grabbed a journal and a pen, and started writing the first chapter. Two hours later, I knew that I had the idea for my first novel. Why? Because I cared. I finally came up with a character that mattered to me.  Interestingly, my husband was hooked too. From the moment he read the first chapter, he said, “You have to write this, Steph.”
The storyline came alive and I instantly felt a desire to write and never stop. However, I am married to a very wonderful man and at the time had one son who was two years old.   In addition, I was also working about fifty hours per week, so it was challenging finding the time to write the book. I ended up limiting myself to my son’s naptimes on weekends.

Video Trailer designed by Avalon Graphics
soundtrack by Bronwen Harrison

What It’s About
The Star Child is about Kellen St. James, who is incredibly bright. He’s a prodigy, has a photographic memory, and a truly dysfunctional family. Kellen also has to contend with constant, strangely-realistic dreams that he has about a girl he met when he was six years old, Calienta.  She simply turns up one evening in a remote cove in Ireland, several hundred yards from Kellen’s Gran’s house. After the encounter, she is frequently in his dreams. Then, after his Grandmother’s death, he meets her again and finds out that she’s more real than he imagined.
This encounter hurtles Kellen from his reality in upstate New York straight into the underworld of Celtic mythology. He is forced to navigate in an environment that he never believed existed, all the while fighting the clock to meet the demands of a prophecy that places him center stage.

One of the things that I love best about Kellen is that he is such a skeptic. Everything that crosses his path is met with a great deal of scrutiny and sarcastic wit. In that regard we could be twins. The other thing I enjoy about this character is that he has no special “powers”. There’s no super strength, he isn’t drop-dead gorgeous, he isn’t particularly athletic; he’s just very intelligent. So when he gets into tight situations he leverages his brain every time. There’s also a strong moral backbone to Kellen. Early on you really get a sense, I believe, of what he will or will not do. He’s honorable, but real.
I’ve always enjoyed Celtic folklore and a branch of my family is from Golden, Ireland. The stories, the traditions, the warnings about the good people - this was all passed down to me through my grandmother. There’s so much content that’s been written about this topic and each author seems to take their own liberties with the content so that the tales aren’t usually consistent.

When I began to build the storyline that would surround Kellen, I decided that I would pull in some of the legend that I heard or read about and place them in the context of the St. James world.  The TuathaDanann is the underlying legend of the story, the idea that gods and goddess were banished to the underworld and have become the faeries of Irish folklore today. Again, I took pieces of that concept and wove them into the story of the Star Child.
I love the idea of our world blending with fantasy, the concept that magick could be just around the corner if you only choose to look closely. That’s what you get in The Star Child: reality intertwined with fantasy.

My Dinner Party Guest List
If I could invite anyone to a dinner party, these individuals would be on the guest list:

Sting, Musician, Alive: I am a huge fan of new and interesting music. He is always coming up with something new, something that hasn’t been done before.

Carl Jung, Psychiatrist, Deceased: His viewpoints on inborn personality traits are interesting to me.

Brian Boitano, Figure Skater, Alive: Not only could he provide entertainment during the meal but he’s apparently an excellent chef.

Scarlett O’Hara,Character From Gone With the Wind, Immortal: Scarlet was the eternal optimist. After all, she coined the phrase “tomorrow is another day”.

Dexter Gordon, Jazz Saxophonist, Deceased: I play the saxophone myself and I love Dexter’s bebop style. I’d be very interested in hearing about his treatment of reeds. 

J.K. Rowing, Author, Alive: I don’t believe that I would be writing in the Fantasy genre if it weren’t for the influence of the Harry Potter series and Rowling’s determination to write as a young mother.

Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, Paranormal Investigators, Alive: After the meal is over they could lead us on a ghost hunt where we debunk individual perceptions in favor of scientific evidence. The deceased guests could play a starring role.

The Star Child is available from:
In paperback and on Kindle

Find out more about Stephanie at her website

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next time: we go to sea with author Margaret Muir

3 January 2012

please welcome: author Gabrielle Kimm

Photo – Charlie Hopkinson 2010
Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog, Helen!
At author events, when it comes round to the Question and Answer time towards the end of the evening, writers often get asked, ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ My answer to this is always pretty much the same  – I don’t get ideas.  Ideas get me. One minute I don’t have the idea, and then I do, and it’s got me by the throat, and won’t let go, and then I have to write it, and when I start writing, I often have perilously little idea where I’m going to end up.
I’ve just published my second novel, and it’s probably fair to say that the whole thing – my whole publishing experience to date – stems from one small inspirational source, which ‘got me’ in a really big way. That inspirational source was a poem: a particularly wonderful, fifty-six line dramatic monologue by the Victorian poet, Robert Browning. 
I first met Browning’s My Last Duchess as an undergraduate, at Reading University, in a tutorial session run by a darling professor called Geoffrey Matthews (a brilliant elderly academic who endeared himself to me for ever by revealing that he had a copy of The Beano delivered to his study every Thursday). I was, to use a hackneyed phrase, utterly blown away by this dramatic monologue, narrated by a sinister, smug Renaissance aristocrat, who coldly admits that he had his first wife permanently silenced because she had annoyed him once too often. So much untold back story, a complex, fascinating, dangerous protagonist and an intriguing setting – the Italian Renaissance.
The narrator – the duke – was in real life Alfonso d’Este, the fifth duke of Ferrara, and his late duchess was a Medici heiress, one Lucrezia de’ Medici.

I’d like to say that I decided to write a novel based on the poem there and then, but in fact I didn’t. It wasn’t until more than twenty years later  that I came across the poem again, now as a teacher, working with a group of Year Eleven English GCSE students. There in the AQA GCSE Poetry Anthology was Browning’s poem – I was absolutely delighted to find it again.  It was like meeting an old friend! (well, no ... thinking about it, perhaps not a friend. Given the duke’s homicidal proclivities.)
In the process of preparing my lessons, I started really thinking about the poem in depth, and the more I thought about it, the more questions I found myself unable to answer satisfactorily. Why, if the duke so despised his late wife that he resorted to murder to rid himself of her, is he still so fascinated with her painted image that he keeps it reverently hidden behind a sumptuous curtain which only he has the right to draw back? Why does he feel the need to show her portrait off to prestigious visitors, almost like a holy relic?  Could the poor girl really have been as ghastly a creature as he describes? If she wasn’t – why did he hate her so much? Is he slandering her deliberately in the poem, to exonerate himself of guilt at her demise, or did he in fact genuinely misunderstand her through some psychological flaw of his own?
It began to obsess me. I busied myself researching the facts which lay behind the poem, but signally failed to find adequate answers. The only way, it dawned on me one afternoon, to find out what really happened to these people and why, was to write it myself.
And thus was born my first novel, His Last Duchess (Sphere 2010). If you’d like to read Browning’s poem, and to find out more about how my book grew and developed – click here to link to my website

In the course of writing His Last Duchess, I gave Alfonso, my duke, a mistress.   He is a damaged and difficult man, though, and I knew that anyone prepared to cope with the demands of a relationship with so volatile and dangerous a lover would have to be seriously resourceful. Which is just what Francesca Felizzi turned out to be. Spotted by the duke and rescued by him from life as a street whore in Ferrara, she spends the best part of eight years as his paid mistress, and learns much about survival and self-preservation along the way. Francesca is beautiful and sexy and clever and fundamentally adaptable, and she uses all these attributes shamelessly.
When I finished His Last Duchess I was surprised to find that, although I was happy to say goodbye to my characters and move on, Francesca stayed with me.  She kept on intruding into my thoughts, and I found myself musing about her, and wondering what she was doing, and how she was managing.  I had sent her off to Naples at the end of His Last Duchess and I began to need to know how she was, as badly as I had needed to know the truth about the marriage of Alfonso and Lucrezia when I first hatched the idea for the first novel. It began to feel like an obsession, all over again.
It was clear what I was going to have to do!  A new novel was obviously brewing, and over the next couple of years it grew and developed and changed, and eventually became The Courtesan’s Lover.

The following link will take you to a blogpost I wrote about how the writing of The Courtesan’s Lover began and progressed Click Here and you’ll find some review excerpts for both The Courtesan’s Lover and for His Last Duchess on the home page of my website
I love the idea that a single source of inspiration – one fifty-six line poem – has taken me on such a journey. To take it right back to its start, Robert Browning was inspired by what he discovered about the marriage of the fifth duke of Ferrara, and that inspiration sparked the creation of his poem, My Last Duchess. His poem then inspired me, and led me to write my first novel – His Last Duchess. A fictional character created by me in the course of writing that book inspired me to produce a second book ... and to let you all in on a secret, I’m just in the early stages of planning a new book – a new book which, if things go the way I hope they’ll go, might just round the story off into a trilogy.

Helen, you’ve asked me to come up with ten potential dinner guests – alive, dead or fictional. I’ve had such fun putting this list together – though it wasn’t easy!  I originally came up with so many, I reckoned I’d need a giant marquee and corporate caterers, rather than creating the suggested intimate dinner party. So I started cutting the list down, and below are the ten who made the final cut.  (I’m a strict vegetarian, so I hope all my guests will be happy with the veggie menu I’ve devised for them) I hope you’ll come along to the dinner too, Helen.
 (H: I'll be delighted to attend - thank you!)

The final ten are here partly for their achievements and partly because I think they will all be wonderfully entertaining;  I’ve tried to pick people I think will get on with each other too ...
Jane Austen A number of my chosen guests here are story tellers. Jane Austen of course needs no introduction – I’m just in awe of her abilities.  She will be a quietly entertaining companion, I think - she has such a keen understanding of human nature, such a delightful, ironic wit. I adore her books, and I can’t wait to talk to her about plotting and characterisation.

Victoria Wood  Dinner parties are best when the conversation is amusing, I reckon, and Victoria Wood is simply one of the funniest people on the telly. I wish she was on screen more often. I’ve always loved her observational humour, her insight, her brilliant characterisations – and her wonderful skill on the piano.  (Hopefully, she’ll give us a rendition of The Ballad of Barry And Freda at the end of the meal.)

Alan Bennett  I have two Bennetts on my chosen list. Alan is the first. Again, here’s a consummate story teller, with a dry, gentle wit, and a piercing ability to understand the frailty of the human condition. From the Talking Heads monologues to The History Boys – just utterly brilliant drama, told with an unmistakeable voice. 

Mercutio  Shakespeare’s wild and wonderful dreamer from Romeo and Juliet.  It’s always been a toss-up for me as to whether the most fanciable man in literature is Mr Darcy or Mercutio. It’s a difficult one, this, but given that Mr Darcy can, as we know, be rather reserved in less than aristocratic social situations, I’ve plumped for Romeo’s excitable cousin instead. I love his wild, exuberant character, and his courage and loyalty. I’m not at all sure he’ll behave himself, but I hope my other guests will be up to the task of containing Mercutio’s effervescence.

Geoffrey Chaucer  For me, he is just the best story teller of them all. Down to earth, funny, vulgar, poignant, endlessly inventive ... simply wonderful! The Canterbury Tales is, to my mind, one of the most impressive collections of stories ever written – and the foundation of so much of English literature. I hope it will entertain Mr Chaucer to meet people like Victoria Wood and Alan Bennett, who are so very clearly his literary descendents (albeit in other genre), and we’ll all have so much to learn from him.

Elizabeth Bennett  I feel rather diffident bringing my second Bennett to the table.  After all, I’m going to be sitting her down either next to or opposite her creator.  But Elizabeth Bennett, from Miss Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has to be one of the most delightful heroines in any novel. Intelligent, funny, determined, independent and compassionate – I hope she will enjoy the evening and be suitably diverted by the assembled company.  

Leonardo da Vinci  Given the era and settings of my two novels, I felt I ought to have a Renaissance man at the dinner. And Da Vinci has probably the greatest mind that there has ever been. Artist, scientist, inventor, anatomist – the list of his achievements is unique. I’m a little worried that he will be SO frighteningly clever that I won’t be brave enough to say a word to him, but, given that he is a well-known and life-long vegetarian, at least we’ll have that in common as a topic of conversation, if I find myself lacking in other respects.  

Bill Bryson  On a number of occasions I have been acutely embarrassed in public by Mr Bryson - because I have been reading one or other of his books, and have ended up shouting with laughter (they are howlingly funny), and have had to apologise to my companions for disturbing the peace. I’m a rubbish traveller, but I’m sure I would manage much better were Mr Bryson to travel along with me.  (I’m lucky enough to be represented by the same literary agency, too)  I think I’ll sit him next to Geoffrey Chaucer – and then I can just sit back and listen to the ensuing conversation.

Robert Browning  Apart from the fact that I think Browning is a wonderful poet, and the fact that I know from what I’ve read of him that he was an entertaining and interesting companion, I will SO enjoy asking him  whether he approves of what I’ve done with his duke in my novel, and discussing Signor d’Este with him. I have so much to thank Mr Browning for! I’ve tried writing verse in Browning’s style in the past – rhyming iambic couplets with the rhymes hidden in run-on lines -  so if I’m feeling brave enough, I might show him one or two of my poems and see if I can get some feedback ...)

Modesto  Helen, I’m hoping you won’t mind if I pick one of my own characters to come to this dinner party.  Modesto is my eponymous courtesan’s manservant, and ever since he first came into my head, he’s been the character I’ve written with whom I would most like to sit down and have dinner – so I hope it’s OK if he comes along to this occasion.  Modesto is what was known in the Renaissance as a castrato – as a ten year old boy (along with tens of thousands of other boys) he was castrated by the church authorities to preserve his extraordinary singing voice and keep him a permanent soprano.  Despite this appalling start in life, Modesto is witty and wise and loyal and kind, and will so much enjoy the company around the table at this dinner. 
(You can meet him here for yourself in the first chapter of the book on my website!)

Helen: what a delightful post Gabrielle - I'm dashing off now to buy the books!

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