Friday, October 9, 2015

A Q&A with Kenneth Zak, author of The Poet’s Secret

What inspired you to write The Poet’s Secret?

At the time I wrote The Poet’s Secret, I was on a personal pilgrimage. I essentially took a three­year sabbatical, sort of an adult “time out,” and embarked on a new path. I dedicated myself to explore the meaning of life and love and particularly the arc of passion. I became consumed by the idea of living in the present, honoring the “now” as the only real moment in time, the only authentic eternity, which allowed me to both disconnect and connect like never before and let go of the constructs of past and future as fictions created by the mind. I gained a new appreciation for relatively brief moments and encounters as having potentially profound effects. I was living abroad, reading, writing, surfing and slowing down my existence.

The tale that became The Poet’s Secret was conceived in a hovel perched atop a one­table taverna in the hillside village of Avdou, just a scooter ride from the blue waters of the Aegean Sea on the island of Crete. I was sequestered alone, halfway around the world from my home, and recovering from a life, and a relationship, that had left me hollow, or at least I thought at the time. But it turned out words kept flowing out of me, first in raw, chunky verse that faintly resembled poetry and then in images and scenes that bore an even fainter resemblance to a novel. For months I wrote, swam in healing waters and disappeared into this remote, antiquated Greek village. I had never done anything like that before, but at the time it was the only existence that made any sense.

So many miracles happened during those months. I experienced a cleansing, a healing and an awakening, and I began to perceive light and water and imagery and words and the souls around me like never before. I eventually returned to California, and then traveled to Bali, Mexico, Costa Rica, Thailand, Cambodia and South America, following the sea and surf with laptop in hand and continuing to write. The backstory to writing The Poet’s Secret is a story in itself.

How did you select the locations for the novel?

It was tempting to set the bulk of the novel in Greece, a country I adore. However, as the story evolved the compass for the island setting spun toward the West Indies, and the story’s life raft washed ashore on the fictional island of Mataki. I was fortunate to spend a good part of my sabbatical on tropical islands and coastal villages that certainly informed the setting. As for the early campus setting, I based it on a fictionalized version of my beloved alma mater, The Ohio State University.

What was your particular process in terms of plot, outlining and character?

I essentially began the novel with two scenes that were haunting me. First, I had a reclusive poet on a remote island cliff about to attempt suicide. Second, I had a bookish young woman captured within the confines of the great romances of literature. I really had no idea about their connection, if any, but those two images would not let go of me. As I began to write, the concept of the woman yearning for what nearly kills the poet began to take hold.

The process was fairly organic. I let the characters breathe and lead me into the story. I wasn’t even sure whose story it was until shortly after the first draft. Once the closing scene appeared to me I realized that it was really Elia’s story. I then just had to navigate getting there. While I did not develop any formal outline, I downloaded scenes as they appeared, stockpiled them and later wove them in when they seemed to make sense. It was a bit like swimming across a sea, not sure which direction land might be but hoping that if I kept going I would eventually find my way.

Stumbling, a bit blindly, through this creative process was both exasperating and exhilarating. As I was working on revisions, I attended several writers’ conferences that stressed the necessity of thorough plotting, which made me feel a tad vulnerable. I later read an interview about Michael Ondaatje’s process in writing The English Patient and realized I was in good company.

The novel is filled with excerpts of poetry, which came first, the poetry or the narrative arc?

Most of the poetry was written before any narrative took form. The poetry came in often painful and soul­searching flourishes, and then was revised over time. There is a line in The Poet’s Secret where Dean Baltutis refers to the poet’s inspiration being “survival.” That is precisely how it felt at times. I also wanted to combine both poetry and prose into one novel and attempt to slow down the reader a bit at the beginning of each chapter to contemplate and absorb the poetry, to be in that moment so to speak, before continuing on the narrative journey.

What in particular surprised you about the process of writing The Poet’s Secret?

I didn’t want to force plot twists or preconceived outcomes. I let the characters find the story. I let go of expectations and trusted the story to evolve. Tapping into this creative process was freeing, exhilarating and challenging, sort of like jumping off a cliff into the sea for the first time. I had never done anything quite like it, but this particular process for me felt authentic. I certainly was surprised how well the early drafts of the poetry and manuscript were received, which bolstered my confidence to pursue the project through publication.

Water imagery is abundant throughout the novel, what is the particular connection for you with water and particularly with respect to this novel?

I was thrown onto a swim team at age 8 even before I passed beginners swim lessons (I was terrible at the back float). But water soon became my life and in many ways my salvation. Throughout my youth I swam, played water polo, lifeguarded and hung around Lake Erie in northeastern Ohio. Somehow, I didn’t even see an ocean until I was 18. But I recall climbing out of the backseat of a Datsun 210 hatchback (or what they claimed to be a backseat) after driving for twenty­two hours to Ft. Lauderdale for spring break and telling my college buddies to just pick me up in a few hours. I was mesmerized. I sprinted into the Atlantic Ocean and swam and bodysurfed until dark. Today, I surf or swim almost every day. I feel like I am about eighty percent water, the remaining twenty percent made up mostly of curiosity and mischief.

Much of the water in the universe is said to be a byproduct of star formation. I’m no scientist, but I like the way that sounds. Because when I look up at the night stars it feels a lot like gazing west an hour before the sun dips into the sea, at least at my secret little spot by the water. Flickering diamonds scatter everywhere along the surface, and if I squint just right, I forget the sea is even there. Instead, it looks like a galaxy of stars shimmering right into me, washing across my heart, reflecting off my smile and filling me with the belief that I can just float away into the universe. So I often do.

Spiritually, water often represents purification and healing. To me, water represents so many things, perhaps most importantly love and life and the sacred feminine. I once nearly died underwater while surfing in Uluwatu, a place few have ever heard of and even fewer have visited. But I know on so many occasions water has saved me, water has healed me, and water has reset my compass when I have been spinning in some uncontrollable vortex. So for me, my life and my love seem to be tied to returning to the great aquatic source, again and again, maybe just to fill the chasm that still exists in me, and maybe to some degree still exists in all of us.

I have been fortunate to swim with sea turtles and dolphins in the wild on many occasions. When I stare into the eyes of a sea turtle or a dolphin I cannot help but believe that they understand this great aquatic connection, a connection beyond humanity, beyond species, beyond even the stars. So when I am writing about passion, heartbreak, healing, life and love, it is only natural for me to write in a particularly aquatic language and style.

Where is your favorite place to write?

My favorite place to write is on that squeaky metal spring cot in that hovel above Mihalis’ taverna in Avdou, Crete. After that, any place as long as I have my noise cancellation headphones. I’ve written and revised all over from kitchen tables to airplanes.

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing over thirty years now in one form or another. I wrote a bit of poetry in high school and then did a bunch of required writing in my legal profession. It was sometime after law school that I penned my first novel (unpublished), and then about ten years ago when the idea for The Poet’s Secret first took flight. I also have some published short fiction and poetry.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Haruki Murakami, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Paulo Coehlo, Milan Kundera, John Steinbeck, Michael Ondaatje, Jorge Luis Borges, Rumi, A.S. Byatt, Carl Safina, Tom Spanbauer and so many more.

How did those authors influence your work?

My favorite authors inspire, entertain, challenge and provoke me. I don’t try to write or emulate any particular style. But when I read the opening of Cannery Row time stops.

How did you become affiliated with the Romance Writers of America?

Someone recommended I send an early draft of The Poet’s Secret to the RWA. While The Poet’s Secret is by no means a traditional genre romance, it was selected an RWA Golden Heart Finalist in romantic suspense. I was the only male nominated that year (attending the national conference and award ceremony is another story altogether). When my face went up on the Jumbotron in front of thousands of mostly female authors at the award ceremony it was a bit unnerving. Writing anything can be fraught with self­doubt. The RWA could not have been more welcoming and supportive and certainly gave me a bolt of confidence to continue writing and revising, as did the nominee class from that year, the appropriately named Unsinkables.

How did your professional career as an attorney influence your writing and how do you balance the two careers?

I think practicing law actually spurred my interest in creative writing. While I was in private practice, I felt constrained by the form restrictions requisite within the legal profession. I also felt a lot of legal writing often served more to obfuscate than illuminate and writing poetry and fiction allowed me the freedom to explore and express myself in a different medium. The Poet’s Secret is not “another lawyer’s courtroom thriller” in any respect, nor am I particularly drawn to that genre since I’ve lived it. Nonetheless, my legal career (now as General Counsel for a large private brokerage company) is both fascinating and challenging. I draw some inspiration from the poet Wallace Stevens who for years continued his vibrant writing career while an executive for an insurance company. As far as balance goes, my evenings and weekends are spent around the keyboard as much as possible.

Tell us about your involvement with 1% for the Planet and The Surfrider Foundation.
Perhaps only a poet would give away money before it is even earned, but that is what I felt compelled to do given my love of the ocean and conservation causes. In addition to ocean swimming, free diving and water polo, I have been an avid surfer for nearly two decades and have surfed around the world. Subtle conservation themes are laced through The Poet’s Secret, but my love of the ocean and our planet is anything but subtle. I hope to leave this world and particularly our oceans better than I found them. Penju Publishing’s membership with 1% For the Planet and my pledged donations to The Surfrider Foundation are an effort to spread awareness, give back and pay it forward.


About the Author

Author and poet Kenneth Zak is an aquatic nomad. Years ago he shut down a successful law practice and embarked on a 3 year personal pilgrimage swimming, surfing, diving and writing around the globe in quest of a deeper awareness. He unleashed his creative self in a mountaintop village in Crete where he began his debut novel, The Poet's Secret, continuing work on the manuscript and his poetry in Bali, Costa Rica, Thailand, Cambodia and South America.

Born in Parma, Ohio, he now resides in San Diego, California. The original manuscript of The Poet's Secret was selected a Golden Heart® Finalist in romantic suspense by the Romance Writers of America. Foreword Reviews calls The Poet's Secret "a lyrical tour de force." The poem "Two Bits" from The Poet's Secret previously appeared in Kelp Magazine. His short fiction "A Promise" appeared in A Year in Ink, San Diego Writers, Ink Anthology, Volume 4 and his short story "Thea" appeared in A Year in Ink, San Diego Writers, Ink Anthology, Volume 8. His contributed articles have appeared in Luxe Beat Magazine and The Ohio State University Alumni digital magazine and he has appeared on Frommer's The Travel Show.

For more information, please visit or Kenneth Zak Author on Facebook.


About the Book

In The Poet’s Secret, young lit student Elia Aloundra sets off to a remote Caribbean island in search of the reclusive poet Cameron Beck, longing to know the man whose words move her so. What she doesn’t know is that as her quest begins, Beck is perched atop a cliff on his exotic island hideaway and about to attempt suicide. Elia soon finds herself swept up in the mystery surrounding his muse, but what she cannot fathom is that Beck’s secret will change both their lives forever.

An island tale filled with mystical sea turtles and sunken treasure, The Poet’s Secret was conceived in a mountaintop village on the Greek isle of Crete while the author was on a three­-year sabbatical. For every copy of The Poet’s Secret sold, $1 will also be donated to The Surfrider Foundation, an organization dedicated to preserving the earth’s oceans, waves and beaches.

The Poet’s Secret will appeal to fans of both Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient and the Cusslers’ Dirk Pitt series. More info here:

“Golden Heart® Award finalist in romantic suspense.” 
—Romance Writers of America

 “A beautifully crafted gem.” 
—Dirk Cussler, best-selling co-author of several Dirk Pitt adventure novels, with Clive Cussler

“A richly detailed novel suffused with exotic mystery and romance.” 
—Judy Reeves, writing provocateur and author of Wild Women, Wild Voices

“A thought-provoking blend of romance, poetry and adventure, The Poet’s Secret satisfies on many levels. Elegant prose explores the infinite promise of art, while a quickening pace unveils the story of star-crossed lovers, whose union feels timeless and exceptional at the same time. More than just a good read, this is a book to savor.”

— Kim Fay, Edgar Award Finalist author of The Map of Lost Memories


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Fantasy Review: The Great Bazaar & Brayan's Gold by Peter V. Brett

Contained within the slim bounds of The Great Bazaar & Brayan's Gold are a pair of short stories, a pair of deleted scenes (one for Arlen & one for Brianne), and a pair of reference pieces (a Krasian Dictionary & a Ward Grimoire). While one could argue that anything related to The Demon Cycle is required reading, these are supplementary bits of storytelling, snippets that add to the enjoyment, but don't redefine anything we already know.

Having said that, they're certainly worth the read, especially while we wait for Peter V. Brett to drag us down into The Core.

The Great Bazaar was a fun story, because it hearkens back to an earlier, more innocent time when Arlen was still a messenger. It explores a bit more of the world, exposes some surprising corruption within the messenger ranks, and adds snow demons to our monster repertoire. More importantly, it answers a question I always wondered about regarding thundersticks. It's refreshing to see Arlen as a young man again, bold and confident, but not yet laboring under the weight of his own destiny.

Brayan's Gold was less of a stand-alone story, feeling much more like the deleted chapters it really is, but it's exciting to have some scenes told from Abban's perspective. Again, this is a story of Arlen's early years, when he's already come to Fort Krasian and made an ally of the khaffit, but has yet to make his most important discovery. Here we are reminded of his treasure hunting past, and we understand a bit more of just how it is that he came to make that eventual discovery that would change his world.

Given that all of this comes from the lost pages of The Warded Man, it's not surprising that One-Arm is such a prominent force in both stories, but it is rather shocking to see Arlen fully encased in warded body armor. Sometimes we forget how far a hero has traveled, so it's refreshing to recall the days when he was still very much mortal, and not yet chosen. As for the deleted scenes, they're just that - deleted scenes - rather than self-contained narratives. Interesting, but nothing remarkable.

All told, though, The Great Bazaar & Brayan's Gold was a nice look back at the origins of Arlen and The Demon Cycle.

Paperback, 192 pages
Published July 7th 2015 by Tachyon Publications

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my honest review.

EDGE WEEK: Expiration Date edited by Nancy Kilpatrick (with GIVEAWAY)

Title: Expiration Date
Editor: Nancy Kilpatrick
Publisher: EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, Inc.
Genre: Science Fiction

Modern lives seem littered with expiration dates. Packaging tells us when our food will go bad; when we can expect appliances to cease functioning; when contracts for the internet finish! But as annoying as these small expiration dates are, they fade to nothing compared to the larger events: when a species goes extinct; when a body of water evaporates, or dies because the PH balance alters; when giant icebergs break apart and glaciers melt forever, threatening the ecosystem of this planet.

From the micro to the macro in terms of expirations, we are faced with the one termination with which we are all too familiar— the up-close-and-personal end of life for each of us and for the ones we love. It’s the personal that terrifies us most because it feels the most real.

Nancy Kilpatrick has gathered together twenty-five original stories by Kelley Armstrong; Nancy Holder & Erin Underwood; Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem; Lois H. Gresh; Gar and Judy Reeves-Stevens; Daniel Sernine; Paul Kane; Sèphera Girón; Kathryn Ptacek; Steve Vernon; Rebecca Bradley; Mary E. Choo; Morgan Dambergs; Tobin Elliott; Pat Flewwelling; J. M. Frey; Ken Goldman; Amy Grech; David McDonald; Ryan McFadden; Silvia Moreno-Garcia; Elaine Pascale; Richard Payne; Christine Steendam; and George Wilhite to look at the what-if’s of our expiring future.

These stories span a range of emotions. Some will make you laugh, other will make you cry. They are grim and hopeful, sad and joyous, horrifying and comforting. You can expect to be touched in some way.

Each of us comes with an alpha and an omega stamp, an inception and an expiration date. Knowing this is what allows us to focus on what is truly important: paying attention to our best-before date and treating ourselves, each other and life in general with kindness, understanding, respect, and experiencing the awe of the miracle that we are, at this very moment, alive!


About the Editor

Award-winning author Nancy Kilpatrick has published 18 novels, over 225 short stories, 1 non-fiction book (The Goth Bible) and has edited 15 anthologies. She writes mainly dark fantasy, horror, mysteries and erotica, and is currently working on two new novels. Some of her recent short fiction appears in: Blood Lite and Blood Lite 2; Hellbound Hearts; The Bleeding Edge; The Living Dead; Vampire Stories by Women; The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women;  Vampires: Dracula and the Undead Legions; By Blood We Live; The Bitten Word;  Halloween: Magic, Mystery and the Macabre; Searchers After Horror; Dark Fusion: Where Monsters Lurk; and Darkness on the Edge. She co-edited with David Morrell the horror/dark fantasy anthology Tesseracts Thirteen. She is the editor of Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead, Evolve Two: Vampire Stories of the Future Undead, andDanse Macabre: Close Encounters with the Reaper.

Nancy won the Arthur Ellis Award for best mystery story, has been a Bram Stoker finalist three times and a finalist for the Aurora Award five times. Danse Macabre won the Best Anthology of the Year from the Paris Book Festival, and Nancy's newest short fiction collection Vampyric Variations won silver in the horror catagory of the ForeWord Reviewers Book of the Year Awards.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Sci-Fi Review: New Megiddo Rising by Lars Teeney

I went into New Megiddo Rising thinking it was the first novella in a new series, but it turns out it's actually prequel to Lars Teeney's debut novel, The Apostates. While the novella can certainly be read alone, I can't help but feel that knowledge of the larger story might help to smooth over some of the gaps, put events in context, and make the conclusion feel like less of a dead stop.

Concept-wise, this was a really intriguing story. It's basically a post-apocalyptic dystopia, layered atop an alternate history (that sees Mexico as the real political power), driven by some deep commentary on the terrifying prospect of a fundamentalist Christian theocracy in America. It's a dark, ugly, unsettling future, and one that feels justifiably ripe for rebellion. I was immediately intrigued by the world and what was going on, and just as invested in the fate of the characters.

Character development was a bit simplistic here, without any read depth or backstory, but that may very well be something the novel expands upon. The roles were fascinating, particularly the more militant arms of the church, and the stench of corruption permeated the text. Dialogue was strong, however, and some of the narrative framework was nicely detailed and very well developed. Additionally, there were interesting bits of futuristic technology scattered through, contrasting nicely with the almost third-world conditions, but I wasn't quite sure how the two could coexist.

Like a lot of self-published titles, this could benefit from the touch of an editor - a query is not the same as a quarry - but I was sufficiently intrigued by the concept and the potential in the characters to keep The Apostates on my radar for a future read.

ebook, 87 pages
Published September 14th 2015 by Lars Teeney

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this title from the author in exchange for review consideration.This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my honest review.

#IWSG - Visibility and Accountability

The Insecure Writer's Support Group is a once-monthly blog hop aimed at sharing our doubts and concerns, while encouraging one another with assistance and guidance. As the lighthouse image suggests, it’s a beacon in the dark and a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Last week I wrote about giving up control and collaborating on a little side project with my wife. That was going well enough, but it got completely side-tracked by the announcement of the a new open door period at Angry Robot.

I need to make that window.

100+ days is more than do-able.

So, I've given my gorgeous wife permission to hound, chase, chastise, and threaten me into polishing my manuscript in time. She has threatened to divorce me if I don't get it done in time, which I'm pretty syre is a joke, but I'm not taking chances (LOL). Not only that, but I publicly posted my plans on Facebook and invited friends, family, and colleagues to question me on the manuscript's progress and hold me accountable.

No excuses. Let's do this.

EDGE WEEK: Blood Matters by Aviva Bel’Harold (with GIVEAWAY)

Title: Blood Matters
Author: Aviva Bel’Harold
Publisher: EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, Inc.
Genre: Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

Grief changes people.

Brittany used to be a normal teen. She ate like one, slept like one, and had typical teenage mood swings. But after she found her best friend dead, everything changed.

Grief might explain her loss of appetite and her lack of sleep. It might even explain why she sees her dead friend everywhere she goes. But it certainly won't explain why everyone she touches develops bruises or why she's attracted to the smell of blood.

And, she's pretty sure grief doesn't make you want to rip apart your boyfriend just to get closer to his beating heart.

But what happens when it's the choices we make, not the creature inside, that proves the monster is in us all?


About the Author

Aviva Bel’Harold writes young adult fiction: Horror, Science Fiction, ­Urban Fantasy, etc. — as long as the ­characters are young, full of life, and out for adventure.

When she’s writing, you’ll find her curled up on a sofa with a pen and a pad of paper, ­surrounded by her adorable puppies.

Born in Winnipeg and raised in Vancouver, Aviva Bel’Harold ­currently resides in Calgary with her husband, four children, and six dachshunds.

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