Interview with Joseph Y. Roberts

Today, I’m interviewing Joseph Y. Roberts. Joseph has written a series of short stories and novellas that revolve around a single, central character—Jacob Vanderhoek. I find them fascinating because they take place in South Africa in the 1970’s, during a time of great racial turbulence. Jacob is a new Selous Scout—a shadowy Special Ops regiment of the Rhodesian military. The setting and character arc keeps me reading as Jacob grows from a young, and decidedly racist recruit, to a changed man tortured by his life as a Scout.

The first story in that series is Bright Light, Dark Heart.

Joseph—tell us about yourself.

I was born in the late fifties in San Pedro, the harbor suburb of Los Angeles. I grew up there in the sixties when it had a small town feel despite being a part of the L.A. metropolis. Because of that, I like to call myself a “small town boy from a big city.”

I spent many years working as a newspaper graphic artist building display ads. When you work at a newspaper, you learn the ins and outs of human behavior, especially those of your coworkers. My hobby of tabletop role-playing games honed my understanding and drafting of character backstory and portrayal. (Yes, I am a reformed gaming geek. I know what a D20 is.) Through those years, I also wrote and shared opinion essays on LiveJournal. These experiences and interests paved the way to becoming a writer, something I suspect may be common among writers.

About two years ago, I relocated to the Pacific Northwest to be closer to family. I’ve always loved forested land and rain, so I believe I was born for this region. By moving here, I feel I fixed some kind of cosmic mistake. In short, I have arrived where I need to be… for now.

I love that area, but I’d be a statistic—not enough sun for me. But it sure is beautiful.


How long have you been writing seriously?

Going on four years. When I became permanently disabled and was forced into early retirement I no longer had anything constructive to do. To pass the time, I found myself daydreaming to songs on the radio. One song in particular, Africa by Toto, became a recurring daydream that grew in detail every time I indulged in it. I came to love visiting it and became attached to its central character, an adventurer from South Africa. So obsessed, I decided to write the daydream down. Thus, I wrote my first Jacob story, the novella “Zimbabwe.” More ideas followed based on Jacob and I was hooked. I’d always wanted to be a writer. With this turn of events, I decided to make a go of it.


What do you like to do for fun?

Well, on Sunday nights I like to listen to “Floydian Slip” on the radio while indulging in a craft beer or a cider. (Highlight of my week.) Overall, cruise Pinterest, listen to music on Pandora, and toy around with my role-paying games (even though I don’t have any players at the present). Once the weather warms up a tad more, I’ll start taking walks again.


Do you write to music/create play lists?

Since my current writing career was born from daydreaming to music, absolutely yes! I’ll either pick a playlist that reflects the mood or genre of the story I’m working on, or I will select a theme song for the story. For example, for the novella “Mozambique,” it’s “Brothers In Arms” by Dire Straits. For the novelette “Scars,” it’s “Get Together” by The Youngbloods. I often listen to Pink Floyd songs to get deeply in touch with my emotions for writing purposes.

I’ve found I can’t write with music on if it has words. I tend to sing along.


Who are your favorite authors? Have they influenced your style?

Mostly the Sci-Fi writers I enjoyed reading back in the Seventies: Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Larry Niven, Frank Herbert, and George R.R. Martin. Later, I became a fan of Robert E. Howard, Richard Brautigan, and Clive Barker. Now, not all have influenced my style, but they do inspire me in other ways. They all taught me things.

Misters Bradbury and Martin taught me to imbue my tales with hearts and souls. Mr. Martin also taught me that a powerful story does not require a happy ending. Niven and Clarke inspired me to write SF and that, no matter how advanced technology becomes, humans will still have flaws. Mr. Howard taught me the joys of a rollicking adventure and that a writer need not be chained to one genre. Mr. Brautigan taught me not to take this all too seriously and that it’s okay to cut loose once in a while and be the madcap.

I haven’t yet expressed all these influences, but they are there, lying in wait in my head.


What inspired “Dragonfly?”

Like some of my other Jacob stories, it was born of my interest to follow up on characters that appeared in earlier stories. In this case, to explore what became of the helicopter pilot in “Scars.” It was also my way of addressing the issue of homeless veterans and the struggle with drug addiction. The latter topic gained a personal dimension when a family member passed away, possibly due to an overdose, during the writing. The story has a greater meaning for me than it did when I first conceived it.

Really good stories have a way of doing that. I appreciate you tackling that topic as I also lost a loved one to addiction last year.


Tell us about your two main characters? Were they inspired by real-life?

That’s easy, Dragonfly has only two main characters. The protagonist, Jacob Vanderhoek, is my prime recurring main character, the star of the series. He’s my flawed hero: noble in intent, but faulty in execution. A man raised in a hyper-masculine environment, who proves to be too empathetic to remain that way. As for inspiration from real life, I gave him some of my own traits, but far from all. He’s not my alter ego, by a long shot.

Adrian “Dragonfly” Thackerey, the title character, isn’t based on any one real person. But his statements about drug addiction, and about heroin in specific, are drawn from things friends who were addicts have said to me.

Their banter was inspired by similar exchanges between myself and my male friends.


What is the most special thing a reader has said about Dragonfly?

Pamela Murray said: “Very well constructed, the characters jump off the page, they are so real. I hope to have a chance later today to finish it, SO intriguing!” I suspect I can count her as a fan, eh?


What are you working on now?

My historic novel about the Second Boer War. It’s been in progress for the last three years, and I’ve entered the final stages for release (editing to be specific). When it is, it will be my first novel.


Dragonfly Book Blurb:

Johannesburg 1999. Not all battles are fought in the field between armies arrayed side to side. Some are fought inside, where no one can see, a war of the soul. Every conflict has a victor, but it must also have its vanquished.

Jacob must help an old friend from long ago find his way. Does he have the resources to succeed? Can he defeat an enemy he neither sees nor understands?

Where can readers find out more?

Facebook author page

Amazon author page

Smashwords author page

Joseph, thank you for your time and for sharing with us. I look forward to your future efforts.

Interview with Lisa Hofmann

Today, I’m interviewing Lisa Hofmann, who lives and writes in Germany. I got the surprise of my life this past fall when I read the first two books in her Medieval Fantasy Dies Irae series – Stealing the Light (which won an Honorable Mention in the 2016 Writer’s Digest Self-Published E-Book Awards) and Into the Dark. Surprised because I haven’t read much in this genre and I was truly blown away at Lisa’s story-telling abilities. I’m normally a slow reader and I flew right through both. I can’t wait for book three and after our interview, I’m anxiously looking forward to Trading Darkness.

Lisa, Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m 41 years old and a summer person, who loves traveling, art, music, and cats. I’m an independent writer, which means that I don’t sell my work to a publishing house, but instead market directly to my readers.

I don’t do this because my manuscripts were ever rejected by a publisher. I just never submitted anything to an agent or publisher simply because I don’t believe this would work for me at this point in my life. I’m basically a very stubborn person, and I feel a strong need to retain my independence in my creative expression. Holding all rights to my work and having full control of what I do with it is very important to me, and I love that what was unthinkable twenty years ago is actually possible nowadays with e-books and print-on-demand.

Going it alone is hard work, but luckily, I have a wonderful, supportive family who can live with the fact that I chose to handle it this way. They are the kind of people who will tiptoe around me while I’m editing, and sometimes even throw food at me when I’m sitting at my desk in front of my laptop drafting new material. I sit there a lot because I’ve always been a workaholic, and I treat both of my professions with a lot of dedication.

As an Indie Author myself, I completely understand. Thank you for sharing that with our readers.


You said both professions? So you don’t write full-time? What kind of job do you have, and does it play any role in your stories?

In all honesty, I wish I could write full-time, but I’m afraid I have to work long hours in my day job to ensure my cat can continue to lead her decadent life of luxury…

No, seriously, most independent writers can’t live on what they earn from their books. Many, many authors who write for publishing houses can’t, either, for that matter. But, since I’m my own publisher, I also have costs to cover that non-Indies don’t have, such as editing, cover art, and formatting, and unless I sell a certain number of books, I have to live with the fact that those costs may exceed the earnings from the works I produce. Until I can manage to achieve a steady income from my books, I’ll just have to work in two jobs, really. That can be tough, sometimes, but did I mention I’m a stubborn person…?

Whether or not my day job has ever played a role in my stories, I can’t really say. I don’t think it has, at least not directly. But I work in a social profession, so I’m always around people during the day, and I believe that has some influence on how I look at things and the way I write, as opposed to if I lived in seclusion or worked in an office job as an accountant or whatever with little or no customer contact. I actually worked in an office job in my early twenties for a time, and soon realized that’s not for me. I was bored to death.

Life is about achieving a balance, and although I often find myself having to meticulously organize my days around my family and those two jobs, I also think it makes me go about my writing extremely consciously. I use the time I spend on it well, I think, and I can’t say I’ve ever sat in front a blank screen for hours, wondering what to write – I sit there for just under a minute, wondering what to write first before I start typing like the devil was at my heels.

Why do you write, and how long have you been writing seriously?

I’ve been writing seriously for about three years now. I always dreamed about writing, and I was that kid in school who was always asked to read her essays aloud, but it wasn’t until a friend started encouraging me a few years ago that I considered actually publishing something of mine. It started out as a hobby to help me to cope a little better with the stress of my day job, but I soon found myself communicating with other writers. Somehow, one thing just led to another, and here I am.

I published my first two novels and several short stories in 2016, and my new book is coming out this summer.

Who are your favorite authors? Have they influenced your style?

I read a lot of different things. What and how I read has changed over the years since audio books have become more affordable, e-books are easy to take along anywhere on my phone, and works by Indie authors have become readily available. But I still try not to miss anything new by Dean Koontz, Stephen King… and… here goes: Cornelia Funke. A children’s book author, I hear you say in bewilderment. How does that fit in? Well, it does. She has evolved in the most interesting way as a writer, and I love her most recent YA series. The writing as such is superb, and the story is rich and intriguing.

I’m sure most authors are shaped in some way by the words they read. It would be strange if it were otherwise. However, I think it’s always wise to read a LOT to make sure you’re not influenced too much by the voice of any other individual author. You have to make sure you don’t surrender your own voice to someone else’s style. As a new author, it’s not just important to find your own voice – you have to be able to keep it, and develop it, and listen back to it so you never forget to take what you’re doing to the next level and keep evolving positively.


What are you currently reading?

I have this habit of reading three or four books in parallel. Right now, I’m reading an as yet unpublished work by an Indie writer friend. I’ve got Amanojaku by Damien Lutz on my phone’s Kindle. I’m also revisiting an older book I read years ago, as an audio book version this time, since I spend so many hours a week in my car: Lightening by Dean Koontz.


About your latest work that’s coming in summer, Trading Darkness: What inspired it?

A true story did. Some of the characters in Trading Darkness are loosely based on people who lived during the final wave of the local Witch Trials in the 17th century. While researching a paper for a college class I took twenty years ago, I came across an event that was never explained, and that was when the initial idea to this book started taking shape in my head. The story I spun around this event is purely fictional, of course, but it’s been stewing in me this long, which was why I finally decided to give it priority over the series I’m also working on at the moment. I’ve always been fascinated by local history, myths and legends. I think this is generally what influences and inspires my writing most.


Tell us about the characters who were inspired by real-life.

That would be Agnes Smith, for one, a secondary character inspired by the real-life Agnes Schmidt, who lived near Wildenburg around the year 1650. She was a mother of six who was “tried”, which really means she was tortured, and sentenced to death for being a witch. On the eve of her execution, she was imprisoned in a barn near Friesenhagen, which is the village I modeled Oakwood on. The “witch tower” at Wildenburg Castle was full, so there wasn’t any room for her there. A guard was posted outside that barn to make sure she couldn’t escape. She’d been tortured, so no one really would have assumed she’d actually be in any state to flee. But despite the locked door, and despite the guard, she did. I found that remarkable. She must have been a very strong woman. No one could explain how it happened, and that was what got me thinking. Maybe the guard took pity, or there was another way out of the barn, but again: she’d been tortured, willfully broken, though through it all, she never confessed, so… when they found her a few days later, she was with one of her children. She was asked why she’d fled. Silly question, really, but they did ask, and her response was noted for the record. She said she hadn’t intended to escape her sentence, but that she’d merely wanted to see her children one last time to say goodbye.

Another character who is loosely based on a real person is Hermann Heistermann. He was the bailiff at that time, an exceptionally greedy and cruel man who took great pleasure in having people tortured. He was a real villain, and that’s how I depicted him in the book as well, though something good came from his existence in my story. I won’t say what.


Can you tell us anything about the fictional characters without giving too much away?

Yes, of course! There’s a really dark demon with a deep longing for vengeance. There’s a character I modeled on Ricdin-Ricdon, better known as Rumpelstiltskin, but he doesn’t spin straw into gold. And, we have a heroine, who falls in love with a knight in shining armor. I loved writing all of them. Finishing the final chapter was awful, because I knew I’d miss them.


What are you working on right now?

I’m working on the third book of my current series. It’s titled Fair of Souls, and I’m having a lot of fun getting back into that. Lorcan will be traveling to many interesting places, trying to find his son, and later, he will be faced with having to find a way to keep The Fair safe from the dangers that have arisen with Catherine’s ascent to power. We’ll be seeing a very angry, power-hungry Catherine establishing her rule in Trondenburgh and beyond, while Dean is in deep trouble. I’m very excited about writing this.


Where can readers find out more?

My Amazon page

Readers can follow me on Facebook

My Author website

And I’m on Goodreads

Lisa, thank you for your time and for sharing with us. I’m looking forward to both Trading Darkness and Fair of Souls 

Interview with Damien Lutz

Today, I’m interviewing Damien Lutz, who lives and writes in Australia. I must admit that I don’t read much sci-fi, but I met Damien in a writer’s workshop so I read Amanojaku and became an instant fan of his writing. His style so easily blends the technical aspects of sci-fi with the human elements that make a story worth reading. He writes about the human condition and wraps it inside a futuristic world. Bravo!


Damien – tell us about yourself.

I’m a writer and web designer living in Sydney. When I’m not working at my full-time job or writing in my spare time, I like to swim, or do some digital illustration. I couldn’t live without my laptop. If the power ever goes out for too long, there’ll be no more Mr. Nice Guy.

I hear you on the laptop thing, but I’m going to have to try this summer when I spend two weeks in Africa.

What would you like readers to know about your book, Amanojaku? And what the heck does that mean anyway?

Amanojaku (天邪鬼), n : a demon-like creature in Japanese folklore, able to provoke a person into perpetrating evil deeds.

Andre Cross keeps his volatile temper on a sturdy leash—an implant auto-medicating him to subdue his violent impulses.

Dreaming of leaving his dark past behind, he slaves away on Brulle’s perilous vertical farms, and peddles the drug Neura, to fund his escape to a distant ocean city called Anchora.

But when he meets the beautiful, self-aware android Mo Da, he discovers the implant not only sedates his aggression, it also subdues his ability to love. Andre’s desires unravel his carefully controlled plans, delivering him to a place where even his implant may not contain his rising emotions, or the madness of Amanojaku determined to consume him.

I know you don’t yet write full-time… what kind of job do you have and does it play any role in your stories?

I’m a User Experience Designer for digital products (apps, websites, etc.), so I research how humans interact with technology, and design apps and websites based on those findings. The work gives me insight into the relationship between humans and technology, and the UX processes have similarities and parallels with the writing and storytelling processes. So, my job both inspires and financially supports my writing. But it also steals my writing time.

The way you write it wouldn’t surprise me if you suddenly become famous.

How long have you been writing seriously?

I started writing seriously at the beginning of 2014. I had an epiphany, that I was single, childless and had plenty of spare time, something many people would love to have, and I wasn’t utilizing that. I figured it was time to make the most of that luxury of spare time, to pursue a dream. The fear of failure makes us put a lot of expectation on ourselves, so much that we don’t even try to chase a dream. I told myself I was testing the dream of writing, and if I didn’t like it or do well, it was okay to give it up. At least then I had tried and knew it wasn’t for me, and I’d be free to move onto something else. But I loved it, and I have many stories inside I’d love to articulate and share.

That was right about the time we met. How fortuitous for me, and of course for your readers.  🙂

Who are your favorite authors? Have they influenced your style?

I read Stephen King constantly, as his style and creativity inspire me. I take notes while I read his books—on structure, technique and style. His writing breaks rules, but his style feels like someone very real is telling you the story, which is what I’m hoping to develop in my own style. Also, I love Tom Robbins. His stories are crazy, funny, poignant romps through metaphorical stories that turn preconceived notions, about all things, inside out. He’s changed the way I view life. I’m hoping develop a style that is a Robbins/ King hybrid.

Good to see you shooting for the top, and you’ve sure got the writing chops to succeed.

In your wildest dreams, Amanojaku is made into a movie. Who plays the lead roles? Why?

Yes, that is my wildest dream! I don’t have anyone in particular in mind, but Andre, the main character, is non-Caucasian, and the cast has a mix of ethnicities, religions, sexualities, etc. to reflect diversity, so I’d like to see that kept true.

What is the most special thing a reader has said about your writing?

There are two most special comments. The first is from a San Francisco Book Review, which likened Amanojaku to Blade Runner, such a compliment, especially considering that BR is a film. The other is from a reader of Android’s Orchid (the short story that Amanojaku was born out of), which said “The story of the android Ki Po is beautiful and soulful.” The fact that the spirit of the story shone through the sci-fi made me very happy, as it’s a goal of mine to give my stories insight into the human condition as much as how technology might affect us.

 What can readers look forward to next from you?

I’m working on the four sequels to Amanojaku, which is a big job and will take a while. While I’m ticking those over, I’m also writing shorts stories for an anthology, one of which, The Motherhood Effect, will be printed and illustrated in the April 2017 issue of Popshots Magazine

I’m hoping to publish my next stand-alone book, Dismantling Henry, later this year, which follows the attempts of an unreliable, out-of-work actor trying to reclaim his career, and fighting the effects of signing over the rights to his digital image.

I can’t wait to read the next one.

 Where can readers find out more?

Check out artwork, explore Brulle and more:

Buy Amanojaku on Amazon

Damien, thank you for your time and for sharing with us. Good luck on your next book.