Friday FabOoolousness – Amber West on Smuggling, Scotch, Home Remedies, and The Ruth Valley Missing

Like most of the other writers I adore today, I first met Amber West on social media last year.  We hit it off… talking about writing, watching television, and sharing general life experiences with each other.  Then, one day, Amber contacted me with one of her brilliant ideas—we should start a weekly blog series where we review television shows to help busy people know what is worth a watch and what is not.  With that, Why It’s Worth a Watch Wednesday was born.

Author, Photographer, Blogger, Mother, And All-Around Awesome Amber West
(photo courtesy of Jonas West Photography)

Amber and I have grown so close over the last year and a half that it seems almost impossible that we’ve never met in person.  My parents are her friends on Facebook… and they also adore her.  Her sister and I chat on Twitter… and hopefully everyone meets her soon as I’ve asked her to use her fabOoolous fashion sense to do a guest post covering my Football Sweetheart characters… but that’s later; today is all about Amber.

I cannot express how much Amber means to me.  There have been days where I have wanted to bang my head against the wall, throw my laptop out the window, and quit writing altogether.  In these moments, Amber jumps in and talks me down off the ledge.  She makes me laugh; she makes me cry (tears of joy); she makes me feel loved.  One day, we will meet face to face.  And, when we do, I will hug her like there’s no tomorrow.  Heck, I hope she’s a hugger…

For those who are unfamiliar with Amber, here is a brief bio:

Amber West is a Northeastern transplant dodging rodent sized bugs and sweltering heat in the jungles of Central Florida. When she isn’t battling the urge to pass out, she’s busy being a wife, mother, geek, photographer, and writer, in no particular order. You can read her ramblings at her website or find her on Twitter where she abuses hashtags and makes people laugh. Or at least, makes herself laugh.

The bio is in Amber’s words, but I will concur that she makes people laugh.  A lot.  Just look at this video she built for our WatchWed series:

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Before we jump into the interview, check out Amber’s blurb for her debut mystery novel, The Ruth Valley Missing.

Enjoy!

The Ruth Valley Missing:

Jameson Quinn is sick of trying to find herself in the big city. After a gallery opening ends in a trip to the ER and an argument with her self-involved boyfriend, she decides to take off for the peace and quiet of a small town — Ruth Valley.

The small town has everything Brooklyn lacked: simple people, peaceful surroundings, and a feeling of safety. Jameson even finds the perfect house to rent from the town’s most eligible bachelor, Sheriff Jack. Life is finally headed in a promising direction.

But something isn’t right. A young man is mysteriously injured, then disappears — and Jameson finds he isn’t the only person to suddenly vanish. The suspicious behavior of an abrasive nun and a creepy priest set her off on an investigation of what’s really happening. Will she figure out the secrets of Ruth Valley before she’s the next to go missing?

*****

When you were a little girl, did you dream of one day writing a bestseller, or did you have something else in mind?

I don’t think being a bestseller was ever something I dreamed of, little or not so little. I was never the kid who had grand ideas of being rich and famous. I loved writing and acting, but never entertained either of those as a career. They were just something to do for entertainment.

Little did Toddler Amber know that her days of thievery would pay off in the end… as research for her books!
(photo courtesy of Jonas West Photography)

But, in fifth grade, the school I went to did one of those “slam books” for the entire fifth grade class. One of the questions was “what do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer: a writer. I guess that means that I just didn’t care if I made money being one.

Fifth grade was also the first time I had a work of mine published. A short story I wrote about an orphaned tiger was accepted for a Young Writers’ Anthology.

Really?  Why haven’t I read this short story, Amber?  You know I want to!

I don’t have it anywhere!  I may have to go on a little expedition in my mom’s closets…

Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?

I remember being on the monorail at Disney with my family when I was a kid and seeing a man looking out the window. He looked sad and alone, which seemed odd given where we were. For the rest of that day (and days after) I kept trying to work out his story.

Basically, I’ve always been a bit of a watcher. Well, that sounds creepy…like I’m some kind of peeping tom! I have a habit of watching how people interact, or the expressions on their faces, the way they stand, etc… If I see something that doesn’t quite fit, stories start popping into my head.

It’s not just people watching, though. I can be inspired by a place, too. I love photography, so even when I don’t have a camera with me, I’m always taking mental snapshots. Some of those snapshots turn into stories.

I also have really vivid dreams. Every once in a while, I wake up thinking, “That would make a great scene in a movie/story!”

Who are a few of your favorite authors?

I’m so incredibly behind in current reading, so I feel like my author list is completely antiquated. I’m a dorky Shakespeare girl, and I’ve read Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead about a million times. If it’s witty, even in the darker moments, then chances are I’ll enjoy it.

As a kid, Roald Dahl was one of my favorites, but I was a pretty voracious reader very early on, so the more I sit here and think, the more the list will grow.

Shakespeare likes to help Amber in the kitchen…
(photo courtesy of Jonas West Photography)

The cover art for your book is amazing.  Did you design it yourself?

Oh, thank you! I did, actually. I wanted something that would capture the mood of the book without really giving anything away; but being broke as all-get-out, I needed to design the cover myself. As I’ve mentioned, I love photography, so I used an original image of my own and built on that.

Many writers imagine a celebrity or familiar face when developing their characters.  Did you have anyone particular in mind when writing Jameson and why?

Oddly enough, no celebs in mind for Jameson. There aren’t too many redheaded American actresses that fit her, and I didn’t want to have the voice of an actress with an accent in my head while I wrote, so I didn’t try to have anyone in mind.

I’ve since explored someone who would fit, but still haven’t found the exact woman right for the role. When I write in first person, there’s a bit of me that feels like I’m method acting, so in some ways, I imagine myself in the role.

Granted, Jameson would be a red-haired, green-eyed, fitter version of me, but still.

I DID picture specific celebs for two other characters in the book. Taking a note from you, I may have to do a blog post on that in the future. 😉

I know exactly who you are talking about AND I can’t wait to see The Ruth Valley Missing dream cast! 

Speaking of celebrities, who are you thinking of at this very moment?

David Tennant. He might be occupying the role of a future character in another novel starring Jameson. Yes, after some really great feedback from readers who want more, I am considering making a series…

And I just watched The Decoy Bride, some episodes of Doctor Who, and an episode of the BBC’s QI on which he guest starred.

Personally, I loved Mr. Tennant in Fright Night. His portrayal of Peter Vincent was absolutely fabOoolous!

I wouldn’t be myself without asking about television – what are your four favorite television programs airing today? 

Oh…that is a tough one. The Good Wife used to be high on the list, but now that I am without cable, I haven’t been keeping up (CBS doesn’t have a great iPad viewing option). Parenthood, Grimm, Castle, and I’ll say Downton Abbey, since here in the states we are between seasons.

Now, let’s go to the movies… what is your favorite film of all-time?

Oh, that’s a terrible question. I can’t possibly answer it. But I’ll tell you three movies I own: Emma, Ever After, and Serenity. My movie collection is nearly non-existent, so the fact that I own these speaks volumes.

What snacks do you order when at a movie theater? 

Generally, I stick to stealing a little popcorn from my neighbor (so long as I know them, of course) and either water or Cherry Coke. I can’t handle a lot of sugar, so candy snacks don’t happen often, and most movie chocolate isn’t the kind I like.

If we are being honest, I’m more likely to bring snacks in my purse than buy any. When we were kids, we rarely got to go to the movies (five kids meant a lot of creative free outings), so when we did, we were total snack smugglers.

Amber and her group of smugglers… scheming their next job.
(photo courtesy of Jonas West Photography)

Besides writing, I’ve noticed you’re quite the photographer and you love to share tons of fun home remedies and recipes…

First, name one place that you’d like to visit with your camera and why…

Right now I am on a major Scotland/Ireland kick. I know. That’s two, not one, I know. So if you are going to twist my arm, Scotland. It would be the ultimate retreat for me. I’d do nothing but take photos and write.

And eat. And drink proper beer and scotch.

It’s a good thing I plan on walking a lot on this imaginary trip.

Now, share with us the craziest home remedy that everyone should know about…

Well, for any of your readers that didn’t read about me shoving a garlic clove in my ear, that probably sounds pretty crazy.

Also, dipping your feet in raw egg yolks to bring down a fever…

WHAT??!!??  Dipping your feet in raw egg yolks will bring down a fever??  That’s nuts!  But, I’ll try it next time.  Why not?

That’s pretty much how I approach most home remedies.  If they can’t hurt me, why not try them?

And, lastly, do you have a tasty, quick, and easy recipe you’d like to share with us today? 

My parents gave me a waffle iron sometime back. It is a very cool tool to have, but I was curious to find more uses for it than just making waffles. So, I took a can of biscuits, split the biscuits open and filled them with whatever I was craving – jalapeños and cream cheese – and stuck them in the iron.

In minutes, you get stuffed biscuits. A yummy quick and easy snack!

Another quick treat that is surprisingly delicious – roasted cauliflower. Chop it up, toss it in olive oil and some salt, crumble goat cheese and crushed walnuts over the top, then toss it in the oven to roast at about 375 degrees. When it gets nice golden edges, it’s done!

Roasted Cauliflower… I may have to try this, minus the goat cheese of course.  No cheese for me!

*****

Isn’t Amber amazing AND adorable?

Need more Amber?  Catch up with her at her website, or follow her via her Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Loveit accounts.

Do you have a question for Amber?  Have you read The Ruth Valley Missing yet?  If so, share your thoughts here!  We’d love to hear from you! 

And, because Amber is so fabOoolous, she’s kept her Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales price live just for the Ooo Factor readers!  Be sure to click over to Amazon and buy The Ruth Valley Missing today if you haven’t already.  It’s worth it!

Friday FabOoolousness – Steven Montano’s Post-Apocalyptic World

I first met Steven Montano on Twitter last year courtesy of our mutual friends, Jen L. Kirchner and Amber West.  Not only does Steven write a post-apocalyptic dark fantasy fiction series, but he hangs in one of the coolest posses in the Twitterverse.  He’s friendly, he’s funny, he loves his family (in an absolutely adorable way), and he’s a San Antonio Spurs fan.

Author Steven Montano

That’s right — Steven yells for our Texas team all the way from the great state of Washington.  I may live in Dallas and root for the Mavericks on a consistent basis, but when the Spurs and Mavs face off, I am a Spurs fan all the way.  Needless to say, I love Steven even more now.

Steven fell out of the sky one day and landed behind an accountant’s desk.  Rather than write novels about his experiences in an alternate post-apocalyptic world besieged by vampires, he decided to reconcile accounts and calculate journal entries.  Thankfully for his own sanity and our enjoyment, he still writes on the side.

Steven has published four stories in his Blood Skies series, with the most recent release, Soulrazor, releasing this past March 16th.  How about a little bite?

Blood Skies:

In the time after The Black, human survivors of the Southern Claw Alliance clash with vampire legions of the Ebon Cities in a constant war for survival. Earth as we know it has been forever damaged by an arcane storm that fused our world with distant realms of madness and terror. Things that once existed only in our nightmares stalk the earth.

Now, humanity is threatened by one of its own.

Eric Cross, an enlisted warlock in the Southern Claw military, is part of an elite team of soldiers and mages in pursuit of a woman known as Red — a witch whose stolen knowledge threatens the future of the human race. The members of Viper Squad will traverse haunted forests and blighted tundra in their search for the traitor, a journey that ultimately leads them to the necropolis of Koth.

There, in that haven of renegade undead, Cross will discover the dark origins of magic, and the true meaning of sacrifice…

Black Scars:

Something ancient has awoken. Primordial and wholly evil, a living shadow emerges from a prison made weak by the magical cataclysm called The Black. Now the Sleeper stalks the land in search of its old enemies, leaving a trail of madness and destruction in its wake.

Eric Cross, a Southern Claw warlock, has been sent to find the Woman in the Ice, the only known means of stopping this evil. Aided by a grizzled ranger and a band of wardens and inmates from a sadistic prison, Cross’ mission will bring him into conflict with an array of foes: the barbaric Gorgoloth, vampire shock troops out of the Ebon Cities, and a cadre of mercenary nihilists called the Black Circle.

On a mission that will take him from a lost temple once ruled by insidious wolf sorcerers to the vicious gladiator games of the vampire city-state of Krul to the deadly ruins of an ice city, Cross will play a pivotal role in an ancient conflict whose outcome will determine the future of the world.

Tales of the Earth: A Blood Skies Short Story:

In the time after The Black, humans battle against the onslaught of the vampire armies of the Ebon Cities.

In a desolate patch of remote wasteland, a young woman named Rooke, part of a group of prisoners held by the corrupt prison wardens called The Revengers, struggles to stay alive. Ordered to unearth a terrible chamber of ancient power and hounded by once-frozen vampire savages, Rooke’s journey into darkness will reveal forgotten secrets of the conflict that has brought The Black to our world.

But will Rooke survive long enough to tell anyone?

Soulrazor:

The war continues…

Eric Cross and his team of elite mercenaries are the bane of the Ebon Cities. Armed with the cutting-edge arcane weaponry of the Southern Claw, Cross and his crew – Black, Kane, Ronan, Maur, Grissom and Ash – have become a veritable thorn in the side of the vampire armies.

Now the team is tasked with halting vampire activity near the remote city-state of Fane, where the Ebon Cities have teamed up with a former Revenger in search of a deadly weapon called Soulrazor.

To make matters worse, something sinister has happened to Cross, and the key to his salvation is somehow directly tied to the Ebon Cities’ new soldiers: a host of necrotic angels who bear traces of divine power.

Cross and his team must travel across a blighted wilderness and do battle with a vile array of enemies as they race not only to save the city of Thornn from total annihilation, but to rescue Cross’ very soul from an enemy more powerful than he could ever imagine…

*****

When you were young, did you dream of one day writing a bestseller, or did you have something else in mind?

I’ve wanted to be a professional writer since I was eighteen years old.  I actually went to college to get a Creative Writing degree (which I did, along with a minor in European History), but life got in the way and “starving artist” wasn’t really a viable career choice when my father caught ill, so I went into the first job that presented itself: accounting.  Been stuck there ever since.

But all this time, I’ve always harbored a love of writing, and I’ve pursued it as a hobby most of my life.  It was only a couple of years ago that I decided to take the plunge and publish my work on my own.

Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?

Wow, good question…a little bit comes from everywhere.  I’m something of a popular media goofball, so I find influence in films, television, fantasy and sci-fi fiction, and music.  I also pull inspiration from my surroundings (Washington state is a gorgeous place to explore nature), from video and role-playing games, and from my own dreams, which are pretty durned scary.

Mt. Rainier, Washington -- photo by Jonas West Photography (Amber West)

Who are a few of your favorite authors?

China Mieville and J.V. Jones are my favorite authors of dark fantasy fiction.  Their ability to create new worlds and populate those worlds with believable characters and unusual but totally realistic conflicts are unparalleled.  I also love their prose, and I try to emulate some bastardized hybridization of them both as often as I can.  ;D

I also hold a deep appreciation for Clive Barker (whose works got me into writing in the first place), Tanith Lee (whose prose taught me how to write), John Marco and Tad Williams (whose works, at various points in my life, got me back into writing when I’d all but given up on it.)

The cover art for your books is amazing.  Did you design them yourself? 

I concocted the skeletons of the ideas for the covers, but I can’t take credit for the actual design.  Syd Gill is amazing, and she crafted the covers for Blood Skies and Black Scars.  I can’t get over what a terrific job she did.  My friend Barry Currey designed the cover for Soulrazor, and I thought he did an amazing job, as well.  The only one I designed on my own was Tales of a Blood Earth, and it’s…meh.  It’s okay.

Many writers imagine a celebrity or familiar face when developing their characters.  Did you have anyone particular in mind when writing Eric Cross and why?

Alan Edwards got the scoop on this.  Eric Cross’s physical appearance is actually based on a character I created for an NBA Basketball game for the XBOX.  The character came out looking better than I expected.  When I started working on Blood Skies, the same character name came to mind, and it occurred to me that he’d look just like that dark-haired, lean little Point Guard I had leading the Las Vegas Vipers.  Yes, I’m a dork.

I don’t normally assign actors to characters until after I finish the books.  Now, I do a regular blog post after each novel identifying which actor would get to play them, but I try not to think about that too much while I’m actually writing, since I’ve always been pretty good at imagining up people’s appearances.

As it turns out, James McAvoy gets the honor of playing Cross.  He should feel lucky.  ;D

I can see it...

Speaking of celebrities, who are you thinking of at this very moment?

My wife, as usual.  =D

Steven and his equally talented and beautiful wife, Liberty

Besides writing, what other hobbies do you enjoy?

As I mentioned before, I like to play XBOX (mostly 1st person shooters), watch NBA Basketball (Go Spurs!!!), and watch lots of movies.  I also love to hike, go bike-riding, shoot hoops, dance, and read.  I’ve also spent the last few years learning how to cook, and I must admit I’m not half bad in the kitchen these days. ;D

I wouldn’t be myself without asking about television – what are your favorite television programs airing today? 

Right now we’re watching Person of Interest, Castle, Game of Thrones, Modern Family and Hot In Cleveland religiously.  There are at least a half-dozen more we want to give a shot, but as it is we only get a little bit of TV time in every night.  Oh, we’re also plowing our way through Enterprise, since we’d never gotten to watch that one when it was on the air.

Person of Interest is a favorite in our household as well...

What is your favorite movie of all-time?

I call unfair, I can’t answer that question!  ;D  I don’t have any one movie that I hold in preference to all others, but I do have a short list: Aliens, Saving Private Ryan, The Usual Suspects, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (the American version), Inception and Unforgiven top my list at the moment.  I’m also deliriously looking forward to Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.

What snacks do you order when at a movie theater? 

I tend to sneak my own snacks in.  Paying $10 for a box of popcorn feels like getting robbed at gunpoint.

The Blood Skies series brings us vampires, witches, and zombies – Oh My!  Name your favorite book, movie, and/or television series featuring the supernatural undead. 

China Mieville’s Bas-Lag series alludes to a hidden necropolis of aristocratic undead, and I’ve always liked the way he handles vampires in his novels, making them the dregs of the netherworld.  John Steakley’s Vampire$ did a nice job of making vamps scary again instead of romantic sissies.  And you have to love the classics – Bram Stoker’s Dracula and J. Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla are masterworks of the vampire genre.

In film, I’ve always appreciated the brutality of vampires in the Blade films, as well as the tongue-in-cheek (yet very scary) Fright Night films (the originals…I haven’t seen the Colin Ferrell version).  And with all apologies to zombie “purists”, I’ve always enjoyed Zach Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead.  And (again with apologies), though it doesn’t feature traditional “zombies”, I think 28 Days Later is one of the best horror films ever made.

*****

Can everyone tell from Steven’s responses that he loves to smile? 🙂

Any fan of the Fright Night films is a friend of mine…and Blade?  Heck yea!  Who’s with us?

If you haven’t already, be sure to get to know Steven better by reading his blog, liking his Facebook Author Page, and following him on Twitter and Goodreads.

Do you have a question for Steven?  Have you read his Blood Skies series yet?  What’s your favorite zombie movie?  I’d love to hear from you! 

Remember to stop by Amazon to buy a copy of Blood Skies (available in paperback and Kindle), Black Scars (available in Kindle), Tales of a Blood Earth: A Blood Skies short story (available in Kindle), and Soulrazor (available in Kindle) if you haven’t already.

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