Silent Terrorism: Saudi Arabia, a scary and chilling thriller by Phetra H. Novak

Silent Terrorism: Saudi Arabia, a scary and chilling thriller by Phetra H. Novak

Silent Terrorism – a book that is difficult to read, and a slap in the face of those who believe in the West’s moral superiority

I’ll admit it. I’ve read an early draft of this story, over a year ago. There were discussions about how the story might be perceived in the light of the U.S. elections, Brexit and the alarming increase of Islamophobia around the world. I’ve been allowed to read it again, in its final version. The book is published tomorrow. Silent Terrorism had the same effect on me as it did when I first read it: disgust (at some of the descriptions of violence and torture, and – frankly – some other scenes) but also a feeling of deep respect for the author and the publisher, for writing and putting this story out there. Some will not like it, neither in Saudi Arabia nor in Sweden (representing the western world, as the author states in her afterword), but this is a book that deserves being read.

Current events

The telling cover of Silent Terrorism.

The telling cover of Silent Terrorism.

In a way it’s sad the book was delayed by a year. We now have a crown prince in Saudi Arabia hell-bent on modernizing his country. Women get to unveil, drive cars and leave the house without a male guardian. What’s the country coming to? Civilization? Alas, even crown prince Mohammed doesn’t ever talk about LGBT rights, because, and this is expertly explained in Ms. Novak’s Silent Terrorism, Saudis believe that they don’t have any LGBT people in their midst. It’s supposedly a Western thing (odd given that we all descend from common African ancestors, but alas.) Against the backdrop of current events in Saudi Arabia (which includes both the secret police and the religious police forces), reading the novel showcased the research done by Ms. Novak. Impressive!

A fast-paced political thriller

The story as such is very high pace. There is hardly any downtime, the characters are chiseled out as they run, hide, leap, yell at each other or suffer torture. But they are, all of them, very much real-life human beings, very believable, credible. The only caricatures are the Swedish politicians portrayed in the novel, and I can only assume that to be purposely done, as they are indeed to act as stand-ins for much of the Western world and how we kowtow to black gold.

I haven’t read a thriller in a long time, and it was refreshing to indulge in the pace, the complexity of the plot and never really knowing how things end. Ms. Novak certainly does throw more than one curveball to make sure the reader stays on their toes and at one point I had accepted my fate and figured, “okay, this is it!”, but alas, I was wrong, again. Brilliant.

The finer points

Did I like everything about the story? Yes. However, I’ll grant you that I thought there was too much swearing, cursing and yelling. I don’t think I can remember any conversation (except at the very, very end) that does not involve people upset, screaming at the top of their lungs. I’m not a big fan of that kind of language/discourse, but that is, of course, a question of taste, and to a degree certainly warranted given the situations the characters constantly find themselves in. But yeah, sometimes less is more.

Silent Terrorism is like Ms. Novak’s My Name is Ayla, an important book in today’s world. The LGBT community needs dissonant voices. We are grateful for stories with happy endings, stories with fluff and rosy cheeks. But we also need the world to know that yes, there are still 76 countries where being LGBT is illegal, 13 countries where being LGBT carries the death sentence, and the het majority needs to hear this side of the story, too, not just about out and proud gay athletes and actors marrying their sweethearts. We’re not home free yet. I’ve bought the book (after Ms. Novak provided me with a free ARC to facilitate this review) because Phetra pledges to donate 50% of the proceeds to a sadly much-needed LGBT organization.

Silent Terrorism is releasing tomorrow

Silent Terrorism is released tomorrow, March 17th, from Beaten Track Publishing as paperback and e-book and is available on Amazon (for pre-order) and your other favorite sales channels. If you enjoy a political thriller, like exotic places and would like to learn more about the plight of the LGBT community in a country like Saudi Arabia, give this book a chance. You will not regret it.

Feel free to contribute! As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great weekend. I’ll be back on Monday with a post about racism in the publishing industry and how racism is a red thread through much of my own writing…

Hans

Silent Terrorism: Saudi Arabia, a scary and chilling thriller by Phetra H. Novak

Cat-phishing, deceit and authors: a never-ending story #amwriting #amreading #asmsg #LGBT

Cat-phishing: will authors, will readers ever learn? The truth will always come out in the end

I woke up to another story of “cat-phishing”, “fraud”, identity mischief and then some. Not the first and most certainly not the last time. This seems to be a thing in (LGBT) author circles. But why? And why is it so frequent in the LGBT writing circles? I see several reasons: the economy and the stigma still associated with being (associated with) LGBT.

Who is stupid enough to voluntarily put on the LGBT hat?

Right. Right? I mean those of us who are gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer etc. we can tell countless stories of discrimination, violence, people cutting their ties with us etc. Suicide & homeless rates, psychological ailments etc. are all much higher in the LGBT community than in the straight community. Hardly a surprise when you look at the way we’re being treated at the hands of others. Coming out the first time is life-changing, but we have to keep doing it, every day, for the rest of our lives. You might not believe that, but just telling a stranger about your husband is a coming out. You risk judgment (from a glare to a fist in your face), every time. And for a split second you have to make a decision: lie or be honest, is it worth potentially risking your life?

LGBT people have always written fiction, and some of us did so under a pseudonym or a pen name, maybe because we weren’t out, maybe because our employers didn’t know (reasons vary). When (mostly) straight women decided to start to write love stories about men (M/M romance), they did so under pen names, too. Some even chose male pen names (Some claim that readers prefer male writers; personally I couldn’t care less about the genitals, the gender of a writer. It’s their penmanship I care about.) But they did so because their families didn’t know they were writing “smut” (not my word!), writing about those despicable gays and their anal intercourse.

Many of these women live double lives, with a daytime existence in conservative churches with horribly conservative families, and a writer’s existence where they indulge in butt-fucking stories. Sorry to be blunt. I know that the vast majority of these writers are great human beings who support the LGBT community, some have even come out as LGBT themselves, as bi-, trans or genderqueer. But if your mother in law is a Southern Baptist, or your husband a Mormon, I totally understand why you’d write under a pen name…

It’s the economy, stupid!

Writing has changed, a lot, just in the past ten to fifteen years. With thousands of new novels published every day, readers making statements like “I don’t pay more than ¢99 for anything under 200 pages” etc., making a living as a writer has become virtually impossible. Most of us have day jobs where we work our asses off, dreaming of going home to write. We follow our muse, our passion in our free time, in the wee hours of the night.

Frequently occurring scandals in the LGBT writing community have scared away readers (and some writers), making it even more difficult to make a living. For me, my royalties peaked in 2015. After that, they’ve never recovered, after that first big blow-out on GollumReads. Several publishers have left the industry, too. Many authors are now self-publishing and prices have been slashed even more.

Did I mention that the LGBT community is tiny? Our market share is so small that it hardly registers on the grand scale of the likes of Amazon et al. And as long as our straight allies will say this about my writing (“I can’t read this, it’s not for me. I’m not gay!”), we’ll never be able to really make a difference, financially.

It’s a fine line…

If you don’t make a living with your writing, and if you hide behind a mask (fake or just a pen name), it’s easy to cross a line, accidentally or purposely. These days, you can add a button from PayPal to your website (I’ve removed mine since I never got any donations), or create a Patreon account or a crowdfunding campaign. The latter seem to be particularly popular with authors. I’ve long considered creating a Patreon account myself, to supplement my family income. Right now we live off my husband’s income and a stipend I receive from my father. My annual royalties are less than $500, annually! I say this not because I want anyone to feel sorry for me, but because I have nothing to hide. As a writer of gay fiction, my potential readership is infinitely smaller than those who write M/M.

I’ve felt conflicted about Patreon, simply because the added work that is needed to provide patrons with extra content would be taxing, no matter if you have one or a thousand patrons. And I can see how some might use Patreon or GoFundMe to specifically finance a project. I was thinking about audiobooks. I’ve seen a narrator create a GoFundMe to finance a trip to Europe (he failed miserably), and I’ve seen more than one such campaign to finance everything from laptops to funerals and healthcare. Mind you, these are all American cases, where people generally don’t have healthcare insurance. In desperation, people go to desperate lengths.

Now combine a pen name/alias and a blog post asking about money and a tweet about your health and boom, you’re awfully close to crossing a line. Just saying. The result is nasty. Already I’ve had this huge discussion on Twitter where people were talking about “real gay men” writing… While I’m grateful that some thought my name to be worthy of being on the list, but yeah, I’m not thrilled, because women write as well as men (the irony of this blowing up on March 8?)

Let the witch hunt begin…

After each of these scandals, we lose readers. We lose writers. We all lose. But worse, many among us feel compelled to publicly state who we are, what we are. For me, that’s easy. What you see is pretty much what you get. But what about the wife of the Mormon? What about the daughter in law to that Southern Baptist? They won’t be able to, lest they risk their marriage, their families, their kids! Coming out has real-life implications, even for straight women who voluntarily associate with Dorothy’s friends… Still, to this date, marriage equality notwithstanding.

I for one will never start a Patreon. I was skeptical from the get-go, afraid that the extra work wouldn’t be worth the few dollars a month you get (if any.) But more importantly, I do not wish to become dependent on anyone else, not give anyone (besides my family) the power over me and how I live my life, what I do with my money. Some patrons will always think they can tell you what to do (or not) with their money…

How to support authors…

There used to be a time when authors made a living by selling books. Maybe I’m naïve, but I’d like us to return to that place. If you want to help an author, here’s what you can do:

  • buy their books
  • if you like a book, tell your friends. Tell strangers, tweet, post on Facebook, upload the cover to Instagram. Review.
  • Follow our blogs, subscribe to newsletters, like posts etc. Every little helps.
  • Stay away from pirate sites. This is a huge issue for all of us. I pay hundreds of dollars every year just to fight piracy and have been able to get Google to stop showing search results to over 4,000 (!!!) pirate sites. In less than two years.
  • Leave us alone. We are human beings and we have a right to privacy. As a reader, you have no right to an author’s personal life, what they do, don’t do etc. So please, don’t pry, don’t stalk. If authors share their personal life, it has to be their choice. (This is, of course, by no means an endorsement of criminal activity by authors, just to make this perfectly clear!)
  • Be careful with (or stay away from) crowd-funding campaigns. You will never have a guarantee that money will be used as advertised. Buy an extra book instead, the audio version, or maybe a paperback of your favorite title if you want to support an author a bit extra. Write a nice post about their writing. The more people who buy books, the better, for all of us.

“Fangirling” is fine…

…even for us boys. Of course, it’s okay to idolize someone. I remember meeting my favorite ski star, Ken Read, ages ago when I was just a teen. Had it not been for my Dad who was with me, I’d never been able to get that autograph. I was just too star-struck! And when I stood feet away from one of my great ABBA idols, Benny Andersson, for the first time in my life (aged above 35!), I was completely paralyzed. Ask my husband. He thought it was hilarious.

When you meet us authors, remember that we are human beings, too. We are flawed, imperfect. Authors have mood swings, good days, bad days. We get sick, we fight with our families and friends, and we don’t always weigh every word twice, despite making a living off writing. So give us the benefit of the doubt. Focus your fangirling on our writing, our work, not on us as human beings.

Don’t be disappointed if we don’t reciprocate your love. An author (artist) has tons of fans, and they know us very well, but we can’t keep tabs on our readers. Sure, we’ll get to know some of you better, but it’s impossible to know you all, to be “friends” with you all. And despite what Facebook will have you believe, just because we accept a friend request, we’re still strangers. You don’t know us, we don’t know you.

I’m of course aware that we live in “social media” times, and that there are expectations to be out there. Some of us find that more easily accomplished. Others hide behind avatars, pen names etc. As long as we respect each other, we’ll be fine. Deceit isn’t, ever.

What is your take? Agree, disagree?

These are my personal views, of course. I’m fully aware that taking sides in contentious issues puts the author at risk. Bad reviews, public persecution even. But that is a risk we must take, or so I think. Feel free to contribute! As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great weekend.

Hans

Silent Terrorism: Saudi Arabia, a scary and chilling thriller by Phetra H. Novak

Writing and Politics: what is my responsibility as an author? #amwriting #amreading #ASMSG

Writing and Politics are often on my mind: takes sides or stay quiet?

Elections in Germany, Italy, the ongoing Brexit-chaos in the UK, extremist governments in Poland and Hungary, not to mention the reality show called “The White House”… It seems the world is going nuts. Politicians seem to no longer care about lying in public, quickly having learned from the American President that you can get away with murder (or was that the Philippine President?) It makes it almost impossible for voters to make a sensible choice. Artists have always been right there, in the middle of the vortex, either applauding benefactors or criticizing power. Writing and Politics is something always on my mind. What is our responsibility?

Everything is politics…

I recall the above statement from my college days when we were asked by a professor what politics was. The ultimate answer was “everything” in life, because it is all somehow influenced by the state, by society, and thus, politics plays a role. Which of course makes it difficult to stay away from politics in writing. Even the fluffiest of romance novels is somehow political, as it will have a conundrum at its core, misunderstandings, hinders for the loving couple-to-be to overcome. That conundrum, those hinders are politics or could be. There is a reason to assume that not everyone will agree and that people could potentially take different sides. I’ve noted that in many cases, no matter the question, if taken to the public, people will have a tendency to split evenly, almost fifty-fifty, for and against.

I have no doubt: whatever we write about is politics. I was thinking about a line in my coming novel, where my Korean character openly laments the Japanese occupation in very strong words, while the MC tries to offer a different view. I’ve been thinking about that paragraph again, and again. Leave it there? Take out those two sentences to “diffuse” it? There are other similar examples. It’s difficult to avoid in a novel which plays out against the backdrop of a war that still affects our geopolitical situation.

What is a writer’s responsibility?

A question I often contemplate is this one: do I have a responsibility to take sides? Actively? Many famous authors and artists do, be it Stephen King (who was “blocked” by 45 on Twitter) or J. K. Rowling, who takes sides on a great many issues on her Twitter account. But what about our writing? I often think about this, not just in terms of politics. We have more than one character, and we can allow different characters take different sides. I specifically recall my novel Jonathan’s Promise, where I was exploring the limits of “for better or worse”. No answers, just the question. I wanted to let it play out, not having made up my mind on the issue. One character got to take one side and another the opposing, and I let them work it out.

Is this a workable theory for politics, too? It is the approach I’ve taken with the example above, re the Japanese occupation. Yet sometimes, it isn’t quite as simple. Some questions are more important to me, they are issues where I have a clear view. Let’s take women’s rights or civil rights. Or LGBT rights. In the new book, they’re all thematized. It’s impossible for me to mention e.g. comfort women and not condemn that. It’s impossible for me to not condemn the ongoing institutionalized racism in the U.S. I’d not be painting a very accurate picture of the lives of the African American people, would I? The same is true for the LGBT community suffering a horrendous backlash at the hands of the current regime in Washington.

Silence is being an accomplice

Here’s my take: if you stay quiet, you’re an accomplice. If you mention that a woman worked as a comfort woman under the Japanese occupation of Korea, as a fact, and you don’t say what a horrific practice that was, you’re an accomplice. If you mention how blacks are stopped on the streets by the police because they’re black, and you don’t mention that this is racist, you become an accomplice. I don’t believe that we as writers have the luxury to “not take sides”, not in the long run. At the end of Jonathan’s Promise, I had arrived at my personal POV, and it was instrumental in the resolution of the novel.

The same is my take on my writing in general. I may use my writing to weigh the pros and cons of complex issues, but once I arrive at a stance, I will make that known. Not in my own voice, but through my characters. I am a citizen of this world, and I have a responsibility to work for its betterment, to contribute to a world that is a better place. I understand that not everyone will agree with me. Others may take opposing sides. I may offend, I may hurt, but I may also embolden, strengthen! Each piece of art is part of a discourse.

What is your take? Agree, disagree?

Writing and politics; hese are my personal views, of course. I’m fully aware that taking sides in contentious issues puts the author at risk. Bad reviews, public persecution even. But that is a risk we must take, or so I think. Feel free to contribute! As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week.

Hans

Silent Terrorism: Saudi Arabia, a scary and chilling thriller by Phetra H. Novak

What I personally learned from the #MeToo debate #SexualHarassment #MondayBlogs

Even as a man, I’ve had plenty to learn from the #MeToo debate

***PLEASE NOTE – THIS POST CONTAINS GRAPHIC PORTRAYALS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL IMAGERY***

The #MeToo debate’s awoken some old memories: I was twenty-four years old when I was raped. I never reported him. What would’ve been the use of it? Who would’ve believed a young faggot? Who would’ve cared? The police would’ve sent me away, laughing at me. AIDS fucker!  got what I deserved. It was on Ibiza, and it had been consensual at first. But my nos to certain things were ignored, and in the end, I was tossed on the street like a rag doll that no one wanted to play with anymore. I returned to my hotel, showered, cried myself to sleep and spent the next three months in agony until the test results from my first ever HIV test had come back. Color me lucky, at least with regards to that lethal disease, so many others back then were not.

This was me, back then. Young, naïve, innocent. My heart broke for these innocent kids in a home in Romania. I grew up fast, after that rape.

This was me, back then. Young, naïve, innocent. My heart broke for these innocent kids in a home in Romania. I grew up fast, after that rape.

The gay #MeToo experience

As a gay man, I have many experiences I share with my sisters, women everywhere. Men taking chances, not taking no for an answer, or reinterpreting it into a “maybe, if I just keep going”. In the gay dating scene, sex, in one shape or form, has always been pre-understood in most interactions, be it when you meet people in parks, clubs, public restrooms or in recent years, online. It’s no surprise, shunned by society, reduced to sex monsters, predators, we had no other alternative. It’s all we had, and even the most fleeting touch by a complete stranger was like making love to someone you’d been with for years. Rare moments, cherished. It has always been an extremely tight rope to walk, a fine line. Many men crossed the lines repeatedly over the years, but there was no alternative, there was no other story, nothing really that could’ve shown us there was “another way”.

HIV/AIDS changed things…

HIV changed things, in many ways. I’ve always had this nagging thought that the only reason why we are allowed to get married, or “partnered” is because the powers to be wanted us to live safe, monogamous lives, as boring as the rest of them, not because we were like them. No, but to keep us out of the parks. And things did change, for the better, for many of us. I’ve lived in a very happy and stable relationship for many years now. Alex and I celebrate our seventeenth anniversary this year. We’ve also always kept our relationship open to meeting others. That was never a secret between us, nor to the outside. Many don’t get that. That is fine. I don’t understand cheating.

But when you’re out there, meeting people, as fleetingly (and rarely, I might add) as I do, you also submit to the rules of the game, and for gay men, the rules include sex talk very early on in the conversation. No surprise, it’s why you meet. People are very straightforward with their wishes, their dislikes and what not. They will also ask you for very intimate details as early as the first message you exchange. It’s part of the game. I never thought otherwise, until this year.

#MeToo opened my eyes

I’ve always had a lot of respect for my sisters and the shit they had to endure at the hands of (straight) men, and I’ve often felt sad when I was thrown under the bus as a “man”, even though I’d never even look at a woman “that way”… But while I was an ally, unequivocally so, I never felt I had meat in the game. Until the discussions started last spring about unsolicited dick pics being sent to women by men they barely knew. I talked to some close friends about that and joked, that “dick pics” where the calling card of most gay men, and had been, for as long as online dating was a thing.

I’ve sent them, I’ve received them. However, I never sent them unsolicited, that just was never my cup of tea. But as I began to think about it, and the countless shlongs I had to look at over the years, I began to realize that what I really wanted, was to see a man’s face, his eyes. That is what I’m interested in, not his dick. Why? It’s not what I will talk to, not what I will remember (most likely.)

And I began to feel grossed out, really disgusted when I thought back to the days in the past when that was a common occurrence.

An example: even in business…

The latest dick pic I've received, pixellated to keep your eyes safe. I never asked for it, and the man who sent it was obviously already 'done'...

The latest dick pic I’ve received, pixellated to keep your eyes safe. I never asked for it, and the man who sent it was obviously already ‘done’. Not sure what he wanted from me. To work with him?

A little over a year ago, I was sitting on a ferry, on my way to town. Suddenly I get an alert on Messenger. I use Facebook for work, a lot, and I had met this person through my writing. “Met” is probably an exaggeration. He had sent a friend request. He works as a supplier to us writers and publishers, so I accepted, just as I accept all friend requests. Could be a reader, right? It was 10:28 am my time, and I was on my way to town when I get his message. I look at it and instantly cringe, because, well, this (see left) is what he sent (pixellated to avoid you the worst). But you get the gist, right?

I have never used Facebook for dating, my profile is very non-sexual in nature, G-rated I’d say, with the exception of a four-letter word every now and then. No idea what gave him the impression that I would be impressed by that photo, or that I’d want it in the first place? It was confusing and I told him as much. There was talk about doing more when we’d meet in person. I’ll grant you that I didn’t tell him to take a hike in strong enough words. I did tell him though that it had been unsuitable given my situation (I had people sitting all around me.)

A realization of sorts…

It wasn’t until later when I compared notes with my friends that I realized that I had been forced into a discussion with a potential supplier (!) that I had no intention of ever having in real life. And that is the very hallmark of sexual harassment, isn’t it? You suddenly find yourself in a situation that you have to deal with, a situation you didn’t ask for, a situation you can’t help and where getting out of it can be a challenge. Impossible even. Much later, I met him in real life. It was a very awkward situation, because he never looked at me, didn’t even acknowledge me. All I kept seeing was the above image. I pity the women who have to do this every day.

What can we do about it all?

Don’t get me wrong, #MeToo is primarily about women’s plight, and that is as it should be. Gay men share similar experiences at the hands of other men, men who can be as powerful or feel as entitled as their straight counterparts. There are even Lesbian women acting that way, emulating the “male” way of doing things, and having gotten away with it for far too long. I’m glad that we have this conversation these days. I’m glad that women in more and more places find the strength to say #NoMore, #NoLonger.

Now that I’ve found the strength to say no more myself, not to acquiesce that sort of behavior anymore, I can more actively help my sisters and speak up about the grave injustice this afflicts on millions and millions of women every day. I intend to keep doing that. I’ve said it, time and time again: there can be no LGBT equality without equality of the sexes. I, too, stand to win from this.

Have I been a saint through all this?

We need to do this for our children, girls, boys and others, to provide them with a better future, free of unwanted sexual attention or harassments.

We need to do this for our children, girls, boys, and others, to provide them with a better future, free of unwanted sexual attention or harassments. My son Sascha. Photo: private

Gods no. I wish. Have I made mistakes? Have I misbehaved? Probably. I don’t remember. I am sincere in this. There are no recollections in my memory. Normally, I remember my mistakes more than the good deeds, simply because the pain lingers. Had I fucked up so royally, I have a hunch I’d remember. Should anyone I’ve treated badly read this, here’s my sincere apology: I most certainly didn’t mean to. I shall not even try to explain it or excuse it. First of all, it’s impossible to explain that which you don’t remember, on the other hand, it’s of no use.

Where do we go from here?

We need to keep talking about this. It is a vicious circle, and only the victims can break it. This also means forgiving those who have wronged us. For several reasons. First of all, it strengthens us, it removes the stain of being a victim. There is far greater strength in forgiving than in hatred or revenge. Second of all, even the worst of offenders have been raised by men and women, and many have learned that it’s “okay” to behave that way, from both their fathers and their mothers. Men and women alike keep perpetrating these myths of a weak and a strong sex, of how a “proper man” and a “proper woman” must behave.

Forgive and teach others, help others how to be human, just human. But most importantly, to make sure we do not raise another generation of predators. The cycle must be broken now.

Finally…

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week and don’t be shy, chime in, share your experiences. Be respectful.

Hans

 

Silent Terrorism: Saudi Arabia, a scary and chilling thriller by Phetra H. Novak

#Review: “When Heaven Strikes”, divine story by F.E. Feeley Jr. #amreading #ASMSG #LGBT

When Heaven Strikes: the cover image is really foreboding of what’s inside…

Disclosures first. While I haven’t met Frederick personally, we are online acquaintances. The “pool” of gay fiction authors is, after all, quite small. For some time, I’ve wanted to read his book When Heaven Strikes, as I had heard a great deal of good things about it, just recently e.g. from my friend Tracy Willoughby. This week I finally got the chance to relax and read this book on my flight back from Madeira. I most certainly didn’t regret buying it.

When Heaven Strikes

The stunning cover of When Heaven Strikes

The setup

When Heaven Strikes starts with a scene that takes place in the past. Family at the beach and a storm approaching. Ominous, dangerous, lives are in danger…

The rest of the book reminds me a little bit of the film “Short Cuts“. We get to know an array of different characters, some more, some less. At some point, all those lives touch each other in one way or another, and the ominous storm depicted both on the cover and title plays a major role in the overall arc. I won’t give away any details, but at some point, I was also reminded of my own novel, Jonathan’s Hope, as the novel also deals with a topic that is addressed there. Frederick takes a very different approach than I did, and I found it very interesting to see how differently the same “conundrum” can be dealt with.

Core themes

When Heaven Strikes tackles a couple of major topics with his book. One is that of gay relationships, of deserving happiness, and the challenges of our generation, the first one to really have access to marital bliss and boredom. Do we really deserve it? What makes someone marriage material, particularly if we’ve been led to believe we’re not. And what is love? Would you recognize it if you met love on the street? We have, after all, been led to believe by a lot of people that being gay isn’t about love, that we’re sexual predators, perverts, and sinners.

This points of course to the other major topic, that of faith. Religion is, particularly in the rural USA, a big deal. Having lived stateside myself and having many American friends, I know just what an enormous role churches play in people’s everyday lives. And recent political developments to the contrary, many congregations are extremely hateful of anything LGBT and have used the most recent election to prop up their failing dogmas. When Heaven Strikes plays out in the mid-west, the heartland of evangelism, of Baptist churches, and how it affects the lives of people. Frederick paints a beautiful picture, as scary as it may be at times, and he deals with faith very delicately. I quite enjoyed reading those aspects.

Frederick Eugene Feeley Jr. author of When Heaven Strikes

Frederick Eugene Feeley Jr., author of When Heaven Strikes

The Writing

When Heaven Strikes is a beautifully written book. Frederick takes great care to describe landscapes and locales, to draw characters that are flesh and blood from page one. Whether it’s Anderson, Ted or even Jeff or Gary (***no spoilers, sorry***), two main and two side characters, all equally human. The way Frederick paints landscapes and sceneries is almost photographic and even though my own experiences of Iowa are limited, I had no trouble picturing both towns, landscapes or individual buildings etc.

What is When Heaven Strikes?

It’s a question us gay authors have to deal with, as our books swim (or drown) in the sea that is gay romance. There is certainly an aspect of romance in the story (which isn’t a bad thing) and a tad too much sex for my personal taste. But it certainly is no romance novel, even though I have a hunch that Frederick was subconsciously influenced by his surroundings when he wrote When Heaven Strikes, just as I was writing Jonathan’s Hope. You just can’t help it. When Heaven Strikes is great contemporary literature, social commentary and – maybe more importantly – a book that is a must read particularly if you are gay and troubled by your faith, or maybe lost faith altogether? When Heaven Strikes is available on e.g. Amazon as an e-book, paperback, and audiobook. I can’t wait to read Frederick’s coming novel, Closer, published by my publisher Beaten Track in March. You can pre-order it now.

Finally…

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Hope your start to 2018 was as good as mine… Have a good weekend.

Hans

Interview with M.D. Neu (@Writer_MDNeu), exciting voice in paranormal fiction #amreading #amwriting #ASMSG

Interview with M.D. Neu (@Writer_MDNeu), exciting voice in paranormal fiction #amreading #amwriting #ASMSG

I’ve met up with author M.D. Neu for a chat, about writing, his books and more…

I haven’t done an author interview for a while, but when Marvin and I got to chat about his books, I figured I wanted to learn more, and after having read his brand new novel The Calling, we sat down for a chat. Meet author M.D. Neu:

Author M.D. Neu

Author M.D. Neu

Who is M.D. Neu in his own words?

M.D. Neu is a writer, a husband and is driven to get the stories out of his head and into print. He also wants to tell stories about people and characters that he never saw growing up (everyday gay hero’s) and largely still doesn’t.

People like him; regular folks that happen to be gay, experience and feel other worlds and see into the future. When he’s not writing and working his day job he loves to travel and spend time with family and friends.

What is one thing you would like the world to remember you for?

That I told stories that everyone could relate to. That you could sit down and read one of my stories and see yourself in the leading role.

Writing

What got you into writing?

I started keeping a journal with I was a foreign exchange student in Germany. When I got back I continued to journal as it helped me process my internal coming out. It was a safe way for me to share my thoughts. From there it morphed into poetry and then into writing stories. It wasn’t something I ever thought I would consider doing for real, not until the last few years where somehow it became part of me and part of what I wanted.

The_Calling_Cover

The cover of The Calling

I guess I’ve always been creative, I’ve always been a talker, and I love telling stories so the three sort of pulled together and this is what that less than holy trinity turned into.

Are you a full-time author or do you have a day job as well, and if so, what do you do?

I work full time for a non-profit that works to end poverty and help those in need. It’s an amazing job and I have two incredible bosses. The best part of my day job is that typically when I leave for the day, I’m not carrying any of it with me. So, it frees me up for my writing. I’m very lucky in that regard.

I’ve just read your first novel, and I’ve read one of your shorter stories. Paranormal seems to be your “calling”. Why’s that?

Some of my favorite authors are paranormal and horror authors, Anne Rice and Stephen King top the list. Then I’ve always loved Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg. I loved the idea of things going bump in the night. It’s fun, but not in a “slasher-gasher” sort of way. I like a good jump scare but add in a little humor.

I try and write things that give me the chills but again not in a way that is going to gross people out. I want it to be fun and have humor to it as well. I also want it to feel real.

Some of the best ghost stories I’ve read have been ones that you never find out fully what happened or is happening kind of like Hitchcock’s The Birds or even Spielberg’s Poltergeist and now his Stranger Things.

Paranormal

I’m no expert in paranormal, quite the contrary. I do understand that there’s a lot of world-building going on, and I sense that even at the end of The Calling, you’re not quite done. I for one wonder where all the red wine comes from… Is that the appeal to you in paranormal or just a necessary evil?

It’s definitely part of the appeal. The Calling started off as a stand-alone story, my take on vampires and witches. I wanted to play around with how these mythical creatures could be around in our world today, especially with video cameras everywhere. As I plotted out the story and created the lore I found this rich world. There was a lot there. There was so much I wanted to explore and I knew I couldn’t cram it all into one book. So, assuming people are interested there will be a second book (hopefully). And I may even do some kind of prequel that focuses on Juliet.

You mention the Red wine, or as I simply refer to it, red. There is vampire magic involved, but as Victor mentions in the book, ‘nothing beats fresh.’

I will dive a bit more into the vampire side of things in book two. How they get their blood, how they can keep it fresh and I’ll even dive into more about their Keepers. I think I have some really cool fun stuff to share so I hope to get it all sorted.

You have taken vampires to a new level, displaying them in a new and interesting light. And the end of the book seems to open up for a lot more. Will we see a series or just a sequel?

Honestly, I only have a sequel planned, but as I mention I might do something with Juliet because I love her character and I find her really amazing and interesting. I’ve got pages of notes on her. We’ll just see what happens and how things go.

Author voice

You have a unique author voice, and your writing is extremely captivating. You literally had me drawn into the story before it really started. Even as someone who doesn’t read a lot of paranormal, I was really wanting to get back to the book, finish it, despite being on vacation with my family… The plot you built is very elaborate, intricate and full of twists. I must assume you’re a plotter. How much planning went into this novel?

Yep, I’m a plotter. Once I have my general idea and I’m introduced to the main couple of characters I start planning out the story. I keep my eye on the end and I have to make sure I can get to that ending in a logical manner. When it came to The Calling outline I found that by chapter sixteen there was no way I was going to get everything I wanted into this book. So I broke the story in half. So, The Calling is technically only the first sixteen chapters of the original outline. Book two will focus on everything that comes after that.

Once I have the outline I start to flesh out each chapter. I love details and description so I find pictures of the places I want to use and do my best to describe what I see. I also use placed I’m familiar with so I can add things like scent and sound to the story. I build all that info into my outline as well.

When it comes to twists I work with the end in mind. I know where I want to end up and then I have to think about the most real way to get there. I try not to wave ‘oh look magic’ or ‘oh look science’ I want the reader to believe that it’s possible so trying to get those details right is also part of the outline.

If I’m doing an action scene or I have a big scene where a ton of characters are I try and map it out so I know where everyone is going. I work out what they are doing in the chapter (during the outline phase) so people aren’t floating around.

The Dark & the Light

The Light and the Dark, tell us about your reasoning behind creating two kinds of vampires. Will we ever see the Dark unleashed?

The Light and the Dark. Honestly, they gave me nothing but headaches. The problem I have with the Dark especially is that if I left them up to their own devices they couldn’t really exist, not now anyway. They would have been discovered and killed off by now. To unleash the Dark would be to put our world into chaos. People would literally be showing up drained of blood on a daily basis all over the world. It would be a mess.

I had to rein them in, which I think works well because we get Victor. He is brilliant. He knows how to play the game and not take any crap.

When it comes to the Dark unleashed, I see parts of that world today, around us.

I mention it a bit when I was talking about the planning. There are parts of the world that are not safe (for whatever reason) and the Dark in those areas use this to their advantage. We may see more of this in book 2.

The gay aspect is very subdued, and you really had me confused there for a while (no spoilers.) In the end, I found it refreshing and gratifying, I have to say. Was that a choice you made on purpose? It seems that way, given Duncan’s own words?

Yes, that was my intent from the start. First and foremost I want to tell stories that anyone can relate to. Duncan could be your brother, cousin, best-friend, the stranger you see every day on the street. That should be who Duncan is and that is what I was going for.

I’m not a big fan of labels. We forget that we are all human first. Nothing else really matters from there on. So, I wanted Duncan to point this out. In fact, I had a little back and forth with the publisher on this fact (not in a bad way, my publisher is amazing and I adore working with them).

One of the reasons why I love to read other people’s books is to marvel at the ingenuity, the creativity we have. “How the hell did they come up with this…” I’ve had quite some moments like that in The Calling, but also in the other story I read, The Reunion. Care to elaborate on your creative muse?

I don’t really know if I have a muse so much as I have this characters floating around in my brain that I listen to. How I write kind of happens this way. I may have a dream or think, ‘what if’ and then if something clicks suddenly I’ll have a character come forward and they will start telling me their story.

For The Calling, I wanted to tell a vampire story that could work in our society today. Vampires that could be real. When I started thinking about the how. This guy Duncan came forward and started telling me about himself and the story grew from there. I want people to read The Calling and think, wow that could actually happen. I kind of also wanted to write a vampire story that Anne Rice would enjoy (I know I know, but it’s true.).

The Reunion

The Reunion

The cover of The Reunion

With The Reunion was a whole different ballgame. Some friends and I were playing this game with this crazy characters and when the game ended I didn’t feel like the story was over so I wrote this 3,600-word ending. It was nothing special, but from that, the idea of The Reunion formed and materialized. I changed the characters around and made them fit the story I wanted to tell. I also wanted to play on what we think we know. One thing that always drives me nuts about movies and stories is we will follow a single character and by the end of the story we someone find out everything. The character either stumbles onto the truth, overhears something, finds the diary, has the big bad tell them everything, etc. I understand why screenwriters do it, they want the audience to feel stratified with the ending. Okay sure that is wonderful, but it’s not real. That is why I like Alfred Hitchcock, he didn’t always answer everything; the characters only knew what they knew and nothing more. So that is what I did with Teddy. We only know and see what he knows and sees.

We often see male main characters described as hunks with six packs and what not. Duncan seems ordinary, at least physically. Was that a choice made on purpose?

If you want to read about beautiful gay men or beautiful gay women I can give you a list of wonderful books to read. If you want to read a story about someone like you who has an amazing adventure then this is that story. Duncan is an average Joe, plain and simple. He’s just average in fact all my characters fall into the average category because I want them to be someone we can all relate to.

Plug away…

Finally, what can we expect and look forward from you in the future? Plug away…

I’m hoping to launch my Sci-Fi Series A New World this year. I have this wonderful short story about a Drag Queen and an angel that I hope will get picked up. I’m going to be working on Book two of The Calling and there are a ton of other ideas I have floating around.

I also post poetry on my website for folks to enjoy. I try and get a few new poems up one a month (or once every other month) depending on how busy I am. So really I’m just starting up, there is a ton of stuff heading out. So I hope people can just sit back and enjoy some good storytelling from me.

Thank you, Marvin, author M.D. Neu, for answering my questions. If you want to connect with him, you can do so here:

His books are available from his publisher Nine Star Press, from Amazon and your other favorite outlets. I’ll talk to you again on Friday when I have another great review for you, a book from another author friend of mine I recently read… See you then.

Finally…

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Hope your start to 2018 was as good as mine… Have a good week, and don’t forget to check back in on Friday for another book review.

Hans

PS: A word to blow my own horn. I finally received a Kirkus review for one of my books, Disease, and they’re quite gracious, calling it “a must-read for anyone in the throes of an ordeal involving Alzheimer’s disease” (Kirkus Reviews, 1/3/18) If you haven’t read it yet, there’s no time like now!