Good evening my faithful Readers. I have great news for you. My novella, Interrogations, is slated to be released in ebook format this Friday, August 2nd, coinciding with Scares That Cares’ opening day. However, you can pre-order that ebook now. Just follow this LINK and check it out.
For those of you who may not know, Interrogations is the continuation of Dredging Up Memories and will lead to another story, tentatively titled, Eradication. Hank Walker’s story is clearly not through and he has plenty of life left.
If you haven’t read Dredging Up Memories, you can do so by following this LINK.
Here is the synopsis for Dredging Up Memories:
In the best of times, loneliness is difficult. At the end of time it can be deadly.
Hank Walker is alone and struggling, not just with the undead, but with depression that threatens to swallow him. Searching for the family he sent away at the beginning of the rise of the dead, Hank is left to deal with loneliness, desperation, and his own memories that haunt him.
The dead are everywhere. The few people still alive are scattered, and the ones Hank comes across may be more dangerous than the biters.
With an unlikely traveling companion, Hank’s search takes him across the state of South Carolina and to the depths of darkness like nothing he has ever experienced before. Can Hank find his family and survive the biters? Or does he completely unravel in the world of the dead?
Curious? Keep reading.
Interrogations picks up where Dredging Up Memories left off. Here is the synopsis for the new novella:
Hank Walker woke up in a bed in a survivor camp. He should have been dead, and a short time after that, he should have risen and joined the ranks of the shambling biters—those who have died and come back seeking the flesh of the living. Instead, he woke up alive and in a safe place.
Or is it truly safe?
Ruled by Harrison Avis, a militaristic leader, Hank realizes quickly Fort Survivor S.C. #3 might not be so safe after all, especially for those who do not find favor with Avis.
When a member of the camp is exiled to the outside world, Hank launches a plan to expose Avis as corrupt. It’s a plan with possible grave consequences for all involved. Though he knows the dangers of failing, Hank is willing to take the risk to protect what remains of his family, if not from Harrison Avis, then from himself.
Excited? I hope so. I am.
If you would like to preorder the ebook of Interrogations, follow this LINK. I thank you, as does my publisher.
Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.
A few years ago, I started a story about a guy named Hank. He was alone in the dead world and searching for his friends and family in hopes of finding some of them alive. That story turned into a novel titled,Dredging Up Memories, and it follows Hank’s story into a downward spiral of … well, I can’t really give you all that information, now can I? Doing that would spoil the book for you.
One thing I can do is tell you about one of the main characters from Dredging Up Memories. Her name is Humphrey and she is a teddy bear. I know, right? Who names a female teddy bear a boy’s name? Anyway, she became like Wilson to Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away. She also became one of the most beloved characters of the Hank Walker universe.
After completing the novel, getting it published by Stitched Smile Publications, and then writing a handful of shorter pieces involving Walker, I approached a friend of mine about interviewing the characters of Dredging Up Memories. This young man—his name is Frank—went home and wrote out twenty-seven pages worth of questions he came up with for those characters.
What you are about to read are the first twenty-five hundred or so words of Humphrey’s interview. I know, it’s kind of mean not giving you all thirty-nine pages of it, but as I said above, I can’t give you all the information, now can I?
I hope you enjoy the following excerpt from The Hank Walker Interviews.
There is a room in an old school in the lower state of South Carolina. The school used to be known as Century Falls High School. It is now Fort Survivor #3. Half a block away is what is left of the middle school of the same name (minus the High, adding the Middle). Directly out the front gates are the remnants of the town that used to be Century Falls. Remnants that consist of burned out cars, and buildings that are little more than husks. If one were to pay close attention he or she would see the occasional dead corpse shambling around the debris and other corpses that are truly dead. If one was listening, then he or she would hear the occasional gun shot, putting that walking corpse down, joining its brethren on the ground among that debris.
This room is on the second floor on a long hall with double doors at each end. One set of doors leads down the steps and to the outside world. For the most part, these doors stay locked from the inside. The other set of doors leads down another hall that t-bones before reaching a set of stairs on either side of that t-bone. There’s no real need to get into where those halls lead.
The room number is 209, and it used to be Mrs. Willoughby’s math class. Most kids hated having Mrs. Willoughby, due to her always angry demeanor and her penchant for giving out zeroes and detention notes. That’s not a problem here now. Mrs. Willoughby is among the permanently deceased. The room, however, has been turned into a bedroom for children who have survived the End Times. Currently there is no one staying in the room and it is as dark in here as night is these days.
A creak rings through the room and down the hall as the door opens. A switch to the left of the doorway is flipped up and the glow of lights spill across the room, forcing the dark into the corners and beneath furniture. Speaking of the furniture, the room is nice. It is painted pink and white on opposite walls. There are a row of four beds directly ahead, foot lockers at the foot of each one. End tables are to the right of the beds, each one with a lamp sitting atop it. On the opposite wall is the exact same set up: four beds, four foot lockers and four end tables with lamps on them. It is clear to anyone who enters that this is a room set up as a basic dorm for little girls who … well, who may have lost everyone except for themselves. On the wall to the right, the same wall the door is on, is a long bookcase filled with books.
Sitting in the center of this room is a table with two chairs. This is not normal. The table is round and the chairs are simple wooden dinner table seats. There is a vase sitting on it with a single daffodil in it, its yellow star-like petals and tea cup bud brighter than the overheads that light up the room. Next to the vase are two bottles of water. They are already open, though the tops are still screwed on.
There is one other thing that is out of place in this room: a video camera. It stands between two of the beds on a tripod, its lens pointing directly at the table.
Two men walk into the room, one of them in his early forties, stubble chinned and a book bag over his shoulder. He reaches into the bag and unzips the front pocket. Jutting from it is a teddy bear in bunny pajamas. The man, known to many readers as Hank, sets the bear on one of the chairs. He doesn’t like the way the bear’s head barely comes to the bottom of the table. Hank goes to the bookcase and snags several of the hardbacks. At the table he sets the books in the seat, sits the teddy bear in it, and then scoots the chair up to the table.
The second man is younger, but not by much. His hair is sandy brown. Wire rimmed glasses are perched on his nose; his hair is long and is pulled into a ponytail that runs down his back. He walks over to the camera and presses a button on its side. The camera comes on. Accompanying it is a faint hum that is barely noticeable if you aren’t standing right next to it. He fiddles with it a few seconds more, pressing the red record button. He looks in the digital view finder and sees the red REC blinking, nods and walks away.
“Good morning, Mr. Walker.”
To the teddy bear Hank says “Humphrey, this is Frank. He is going to do your interview, okay.”
Humphrey says nothing.
“Come on, Humphrey. Don’t be shy.”
Still, the teddy bear says nothing. Really, why would it? How would it? It is just a teddy bear, right?
“Humphrey, Frank is a good guy. You have to trust me. Can you do that?”
The teddy bear’s head seems to move slightly.
The bear’s voice is soft, not much more than a whisper. But it is enough to startle Frank. His eyes are wide behind the lenses of his glasses. A lump has formed in his throat. If there is one thing Frank did not expect it is that the teddy bear would actually speak. He really did believe he would sit there at the table with the teddy bear, who had been Hank Walker’s traveling companion for several months at the beginning of the End Times, and field answers from Walker, himself. Not some inanimate object.
“Did … did Humphrey just speak?”
Hank laughs, rubs Humphrey on the head. “Yes, she did.”
“She? Yes, that is right. Humphrey is a she.”
“That’s right. A lot of folks wonder about that, why anyone would namea female teddy bear Humphrey?”
“It is a fair thought. Why would someone give a stuffed toy that is clearly a female a boy’s name?”
“Why do guys give their cars girl names?” Hank responds. “Who knows?”
“Okay, I’m going to leave you guys alone for a while. I’ll come back later and see how you are doing. Humphrey, Frank is not going to hurt you. I promise. He and I have already done this. You’re in good hands. Okay?”
Humphrey doesn’t look up, but she gives a small nod and whispers, “Okay.”
With that said, Walker turns and leaves, closing the door behind him.
The room is quiet for several long seconds. Frank has been in similar situations, with the silence being so loud you can hear it. He doesn’t like that feeling. It is awkward and thick. He is determined to fill the silence quickly. He picks up his notepad and flips it open. He turns the pages until he finds the first page marked in his scratchy handwriting as, Humphrey’s Interview. He looks at the first question and starts to ask it, then stops. He looks at the glassy eyes of the stuffed toy in front of him. This is a moment right out of a little girl’s childhood, where the stuffed toy is her best friend and they are having tea and crumpets with their pinkies out and slurping away at the nothing in the cups. He could almost see a girl with her favorite white and pink dress on and her hair pulled back into pig tails, her voice very much like the teddy bear’s in front of him. There is a moment of pure joy as he sees the little girl is blonde and her eyes are blue and she has dimples and freckles across her nose.
‘Is your tea good?’ the little girl asks.
‘Delicious,’ the teddy bear responds.
The little girl smiles wide, showing off her teeth, including the gap where one is missing.
Briefly Frank wonders if the Tooth Fairy visited her the night she lost that tooth. If so, how much money did he (or she) leave the little girl? A dollar? Two? Five? Maybe the Tooth Fairy was very well off and left her a ten spot or even twenty.
Frank shakes his head, smiles and then chuckles softly.
“What’s so funny?”
He is startled by this question. He’s the one who is supposed to asks the questions. The grin leaves his face and the chuckle dies off. “I … ummm … I just didn’t think you would talk to me.”
“Why is that?”
She is well-spoken for a young teddy bear who Frank imagines is around five or six.
“I just didn’t think you would, especially when Mr. Walker left.”
She seems to nod, but says nothing else.
“So, ummm … would you like to get started?”
Frank glances down at his notes. The first question is short, but he imagines it is an okay question to ask. At least, he hopes
“Let’s start from the beginning. What was life like before Hank?”
The silence he so hates fills the room, but it’s not that same awkward thickness. It is more of an anticipatory silence, as if Frank is watching a game show on a television of the past, one where the show has gone on for weeks and weeks and now there were only two contestants left and the host is about to announce the winner. There should be some sort of dramatic music playing, and maybe there is in Frank’s mind. The host opens his mouth and says, ‘And the winner of who doesn’t get eaten by a biter today is …’ and the commercial break interrupts the tension, sending the audience into a series of groans and ‘you’ve gotta be kidding me’s’.
But the silence doesn’t last all that long. In fact, it doesn’t even last as long as a short commercial break.
“It was fun,” Humphrey says. Frank thinks he can see her pink string mouth turned up into a smile. And is that a shimmer in her eyes?
“It was fun?”
Humphrey doesn’t say anything right away. When she does, several seconds have passed and it is not an answer, but a question: “How so?”
Though her face doesn’t change, Frank thinks it does all the same. Maybe it was a twinkle in the eye. Or maybe it was just a slight shift of the head, or the angle at which she is sitting, but something has changed and it is a physical thing he can’t figure out. What he does know is she looks confused, as any living, breathing person would be. Then the light bulb comes on and he realizes she doesn’t understand his question.
“Oh, umm … ’how so’ is another way of asking, how was it fun?”
“So that’s what I am asking: how was life fun before Hank?”
The creative mind is a place where thoughts conspire for either good or bad. It is also the center of imagination, and as Humphrey sits, stoically, in her seat, Frank’s mind begins imagining she iss moving, like a child would, maybe one of five or six years of age; maybe a little older. He can see her tapping her chin as if she is thinking. Her lips are twisted slightly, almost in a pucker. Then she smiles, her small pink thread lips turning up and her fuzzy fingerless hand pointing at him.
“Before Mr. Walker came I was alone in my girl’s room. They had left me when everything went bad.”
She is quiet, this time with her head dipped and her glassy black eyes staring down at the floor. One shoulder goes up in a shrug. Then she lets out a deep sigh.
“My girl’s dad died.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” And Frank truly is sorry.
“Me too. They thought he was dead and they were sad and scared and my girl—her name was Casey—she held me so close as she sat on her bed. She had taken a shower and I could smell her shampoo. She always smelled so clean after her showers. Her momma made her take one every night, and sometimes I got one too, but not in the tub. They put me in the wash machine with some clothes and I spun and swam and spun and swam, and then they put me in the dry machine and I tumble up and down until I am dry.”
Frank smiles at this. The Humphrey in his imagination is opening up without realizing she is doing so. He remains quiet as she continues her story.
“Then they put my pajamas on and I was fresh like my girl.”
She pauses, as if thinking again. When she speaks, her voice is almost a whisper and Frank has to lean in to hear her. Though he misses the first part of what she says, he clearly gets the second part.
“… they were gone.”
Not for the first time he wonders what it would be like to have gone through the End Times, as Hank Walker calls it. Would he have lost everyone he cares about? Would he have even survived the initial outbreak, and if so, would he have lasted as long as some of the survivors in Fort Survivor #3?
In his imagination—a place he thinks he will spend a lot of time during this interview—he sees tears in Humphrey’s eyes. They are no longer glassy and black, but soft and blue, almost real eyes. His heart sinks into his stomach as he realizes Humphrey is remembering the events that took her girl, her Casey, from her and left her alone when everything went bad. She takes a deep breath, holds it for a second and then releases it. She looks up at Frank. Her smile is still there, but it is not a happy one. What he sees on her face right then is resignation.
“Her dad tried to kill them. Her mommy escaped and took my girl with her. They screamed a lot as they tried to get away from him, and then my girl screamed even more when her mommy grabbed her up and left me behind.”
“She tried to grab me, but knocked me on the floor instead. I landed on my back. She cried and screamed and then the door slammed shut. I heard the car doors and … they were gone.”
Let me give you some context. The Anatomy of Monsters anthology was released on this date. We here at Stitched Smile Publications hosted an online release party, complete with author takeovers and live readings. It was a blast.
At the end of the party, four of us Stitchers got together and did a ‘live write.’ This is where we took a predetermined topic and wrote a story. We gave ourselves 300 words each and only 15 minutes to write each part. Here’s the kicker: Each writer had to wait for the one before them to write their part so they could start. Oh, and the 15 minutes included reading the previous parts.
In honor of The Anatomy of Monsters release, we wanted to do a piece involving a monster of some sort. After a bit of brainstorming, the topic was decided on. A descendant of Frankenstein had discovered the location of the Frankenstein Monster. It just happens to be in the possession of one, Ichabod Crane (he of the Headless Horseman fame). The descendant wanted the Monster back. This is how he goes about acquiring the family’s monster.
Those participating in the live write, in order of who wrote what parts: Lisa Vasquez, Nick Paschall, Donelle Pardee Whiting and myself, A.J. Brown.
Please make not of two things. 1) I have separated each person’s section with ***. 2) This is completely unedited. When you only have 15 minutes to write, you have no time to edit. So, in keeping with the live write concept, we have not edited this 1200 + word story.
I hope you enjoy this piece. Please leave comments and let us know how we did.
As always, until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.
By: Lisa Vasquez, Nick Paschall, Donelle Pardee Whiting, A.J. Brown
Victor sat in the library where the smell of books took over the room mingling with the smell of the burning logs in the fireplace. Since he was a child, this room held a mixture of emotions for him whenever he entered. Now, at the age of 81, the shadows crept over his features and deepened the lines of time as he stared at his reflection in the glass he was holding. ~A lifetime~ he thought to himself, ~A lifetime of searching, only to come up with baubles of the strange and macabre.~
Releasing a sigh, Victor stood up and downed the rest of his drink, letting the fiery liquid warm his throat and chest. He walked over to a display in the center of the room, the protective, glass casing illuminated by the overhead spotlight.
He studied the diary of his great-great-great grandfather, handed down through the generations, until he knew every single word. ~At least, the ones not written in code.~
The breakthrough came when he stumbled across a man who used to work as a cryptographer in the military as a young man, and happened to have an old 16th Century French encryption book from the court of Henry II. He’d been trying to wheel and deal with Victor for pieces of his other collections for years to no avail. Seeing this as an opportunity, the other man could not contain his excitement.
“If I break this code for you,” Jacquis said looking over his bifocals at Victor, “you sell me the Coronation Charter of Henry I.”
Victor let out a single laugh, keeping his gaze fixed on Jacquis,
“You’re paying with money you do not have yet. Crack the code, and we’ll deal.”
Three months later, Victor had the identity of the man who possessed what he desired … the body of the “Family’s Monster.”
Entering the ancient woods of New England in Northern New York, Victor pulled his coat tighter to his frame as his carriage bumped along the road. Pulling a pocket watch, he stared at the hands and tapped the glass once or twice, just to make sure the damnable thing was working correctly!
“Hurry up you fool!” Victor shouted, leaning out the window to breathe in the clean air of the New World, the woods of Sleepy Hollow filling his lungs as a small herd of sheep moved down from a close by hill.
“We’re almost their sire,” Gris said, the low-born child stammered, his imperfect form of speech landing him as a hand servant to the Frankenstein family instead of an orator,
“We’re pulling in now.”
“Good,” Victor said, leaning back to pat the satchel of gold he’d brought along with him.
The man who owned the body of his great-grandfather’s experiment was none other than the detective Ichabod Crane, an elusive sort that’d gone missing after reporting to Sleepy Hollow. It had taken three lawyers to find him, and two more after that to arrange this meeting, but they were finally meeting in the Crowsreach Tavern in Sleepy Hollow, at Dusk on the 8th of July.
It would go flawlessly.
When the carriage pulled to a stop, Victor waited a minute before his door was opened, Gris standing beside it with his mop of blonde hair glistening with sweat.
“Clean yourself up boy and be sure to bring in the payment when I call for you,” Victor said.
Gris nodded, walking behind Victor to go and set up the horses for feeding and bedding down for the night.
Opening the door, Victor scanned the crowd and was instantly attracted to a pair of dark eyes.
Ichabod Crane locked eyes with Victor, daring the older man to look away. He knew why he was there. He wanted Ichabod’s prize. He needed the monster. Victor doesn’t need it, Crane thought.
Maintaining a casual appearance, Crane walked over to greet his guest. He only invited the foreigner to his home because his letter said he had something of great interest to offer.
“You must be the detective, Ichabod Crane I heard so much about,” Victor said, presenting his hand in greeting.
Crane glanced at Victor’s hand before offering his own. “I am. And you must be Victor Frankenstein. I heard a lot about your work.” Crane looked over Victor’s shoulder to see Gris standing there bouncing from one foot to other. “Your … man … can wait with the horses. I don’t expect this to take long.”
With a backward flick of his eyes, Victor tilted his head to tell Gris to move out of Crane’s line of sight.
“Of course. But I do think this will interest you.” The aged collector bent down to pick up the bundle at his feet. “Where should we go to discuss this rare find?”
Crane led Victor the library to the right of the entry hall. As they entered, Victor looked around at the deep mahogany floor with a quality Oriental rug in front of the fireplace between two deep cushioned pub chairs. The table between the chairs was empty.
“I moved the decanter to the side board. You can put … whatever it is there.”
Crane walked casually to the sideboard. Would you care for a sherry? Or a brandy? I am afraid I do not have anything stronger.”
“A brandy would be welcome on a cold night like this.” Victor moved to the empty table and set the bundle down. He turned his heavy ruby ring as he watched Crane pour the dark amber liquid into snifters.
It wasn’t long before they discussed the deal.
“You have the Monster,” Victor said.
“It belongs to my family.”
“It belongs to me.”
“I’m offering you a thousand gold coins, Mr. Crane, for the Monster.”
Ichabod let out a humorless laugh. “Not even a million gold coins will get you the monster.”
“Let’s be fair, Crane.”
“Let’s be leaving, Victor.”
With that Victor flashed him an angry glance, nodded and turned to leave.
“Nice doing business with you, Frankenstein.”
Victor said nothing, as he left, leaving the gold coins behind.
At the carriage, he motioned for Gris. “I thought this would happen. You know what you must do?”
“Yes, Master,” Gris said. A crooked smile crossed his face.
Victor climbed atop the carriage to the driver’s seat and snapped the reigns. The horses started forward.
Gris walked away, with papers in hand. As he passed strangers on the street, he handed the papers to them.
“The Horseman’s Head?” One man asked. “You’ve found then Horseman’s Head?”
Ichabod heard the clamor and went outside.
“Excuse me, Boy? Come here.”
Gris did as he was told.
“What is this about the Horseman’s Head?”
Gris extended one of the papers to Ichabod, who snatched it and stared wearily at the odd boy. He read the few words on it.
“Where is this?” he asked.
“At the manor across the way.” He pointed down the road.
Ichabod turned and went back inside.
Barely ten minutes passed and Crane was on his horse and heading to the manor a few miles away. As he did so, he passed a darkened carriage hiding in the woods.
Victor smiled, lashed the horses into motion and made his way back to Ichabod’s home. There, in the basement, he found the monster.
“It’s time to come home, my child,” he said as he opened the cage the monster was in.
For the better part of the last seventeen months I’ve gotten to work with Lisa Vasquez, owner of Stitched Smile Publications, graphic designer and author. She’s witty and funny and believes in shenanigans. She is also hard working, dedicated and determined. I think this is why we get along, even though our personalities should clash.
Back in January, Lisa released her novel, The Unfleshed. Recently, I sat down to talk with Lisa about the new novel, among other things.
AJ: Before we get into the nitty gritty, tell us a little bit about Lisa Vasquez, the person.
LV: That’s the question I dread the most when doing interviews. I often put myself into separate boxes.
Lisa, the author, has been writing since she was in the 4th grade. My debut book, The Unsaintly, was released a few years ago and is my favorite work because it was my first published accomplishment. I just released my new novel, The Unfleshed this year and I’m currently working on my next novel as well as a few short stories.
Lisa, the book cover designer, has been doing covers for three years and it’s one of my favorite hobbies-turned-professions.
Lisa, the publisher, began her company in January of 2016 and is proud to say we have doubled our growth since then. We have amazing staff and authors. I love what the company stands for and how we support indie authors and help them learn to improve their craft and build their business.
AJ: That is a lot of Lisa! I would actually like to talk about Lisa, the author, for now. You said you started writing in the fourth grade? How did that come about?
LV: I had this teacher who was awesome. She engaged us and did all she could to spark a real love of reading. We did fun activities like completing stories when given the opening paragraph, doing stories from pictures (what’s going on here?) and then sometimes we did skits. I was in love with the whole process and in seeing what my fellow budding authors came up with.
So a shout out, if she ever sees it, to Mrs. Reese!
AJ: Do you remember the first story you wrote?
LV: Unfortunately, I don’t. I couldn’t even tell you what it was about.
AJ: Boy do I know that. I can’t recall the first story I wrote in school either, but that was because I hated writing back then. Now I wish I had been a better student.
Let’s talk The Unfleshed. What was the inspiration for this story?
LV:The Unfleshed was inspired by a few things. One of the important influences was Frankenstein (which led into Bride of Frankenstein). In the front of the book, I go into the story of how my father and I sat watching it after he had become ill with renal failure. They added him onto the transplant list and it suddenly became this dark blanket over our family.
Back then we had no internet so it was a time of reading thick medical books. We were pretty young at the time, I think I was about 13 (I’m the oldest).
My dad always used opportunities like this to talk to us about things. Comparing situations from movies or songs to real life scenarios. It was a cool way to open doors of discussion that might have been awkward or avoided otherwise. So we’re there and we’re watching, and he says, “Who would’ve thought when Mary Shelley wrote this, that one day taking body parts from people who died would give life to someone else? And that someday this wouldn’t be science fiction, but reality?” And it stayed with me every single day until today. It probably always will.
AJ: Parental lessons, especially given in this manner, always seem to stick the most. Having read The Unfleshed, I really want to know where Angus Wulfe came from.
LV: Angus came from a dark place. All my characters come from my head but this was me vs me. I tackled some heavy issues I won’t go into publicly. He also came from my love of Thomas Harris’ character, Hannibal Lecter. Somehow, this vile human was loved as much as he was hated. I wanted to be able to expose that in this story. The psychology of how we can empathize, even with monsters.
AJ: You put Angus through a hellacious childhood that we only get to see a glimpse of. I know this is part of character building, but at any point did you look at young Angus as a little boy and wonder, ‘why the heck am I doing this to him?’
LV: No, because that is reality. In order for the reader to relate, I have to make it real.
AJ: Oh absolutely. I have to ask this since you brought up Frankenstein: when The Unfleshed was published, did you scream, “It’s Alive! It’s Alive!”?
LV: Damn right! haha!
AJ: Hahahahahaha. Did you enjoy the … umm … how do I put this … the scenes where Angus inflicted his doctorly will on his patients?
LV: Actually, I did. I have to admit there was a tiny, evil giggle during those scenes. I might have some issues. That’s between us, though.
AJ: Us and all the readers out there. My favorite character in the book was actually a secondary character. Marshall. Tell me a little about him and where he came from.
LV: Oh yes, poor Marshall. Marshall is the balance in the story. No one is “all bad” and no one is “all good” in life. Some may come close, but to me, I feel like life puts us in situations and really tests our moral compass. If Angus hadn’t gone through his childhood, he might be Marshall, and vice versa. I like having a complex but balanced story that explores human nature. Marshall is “the conscience” in the story.
AJ: Marshall reminded me of Renfield from Dracula, but a little more tragic.
LV: He does kind of remind me of him in a way.
AJ: How long did you work on The Unfleshed?
LV: Hmm … well I wrote The Unfleshed as a short story back in early 2000. It was much different then. I changed it around because I wanted to change up the “zombie” craze a little. I mean technically, Frankenstein could be a zombie! I liked the idea of it and ran with it. Instead of zombies walking around, we had Frankensteins. It took a year to rewrite and about a year to polish it up.
AJ: A lot of The Unfleshed is steeped in history and in the medical field. Is that a direct relation to what went on with your father during your childhood?
LV: It did, but it didn’t seem realistic to have like … say a baker bringing people back to life. It had to be something believable. Since it’s set back in the 1300’s, there wasn’t education like there is today. When you were old enough to walk, you were old enough to work. But having the experience of my dad being sick and having an education in the sciences, it directly influenced the story.
AJ: Speaking of the setting, why did you set it back in the 1300s?
LV: Well it was the time of the plague for one. And secondly, I love time pieces. I love anything medieval or historical. They’re very interesting times.
AJ: Speaking of historical, you have another book titled, Unsaintly, that is somewhat historical as well. Tell us a little about this one.
LV: Unsaintly is a book about good and evil and everything in between. It’s spiritual, fantastical, and horror altogether.
AJ: Now, that one took you a little longer to write than The Unfleshed, right?
LV:Unsaintly took me ten years to write! Haha, so yes, a little longer
AJ: Ten years? Wow, that is a long time.
LV: Most of it was self doubt. The other part consisted of research and computer crashes
AJ: Computer crashes suck. So, Lisa, tell me, if you can, what do you want the readers to come away with from The Unfleshed?
LV: I’d like them to love the characters and enjoy the story. I hope they understand the complexities of the characters while getting a good old fashioned horror story. And finally, I hope I gave readers who enjoy the classics (Frankenstein, Dracula, etc.) something special.
AJ: Fair enough. Before I let you go, tell me what does the future hold for Lisa Vasquez, writer?
LV: More writing. As long as there is a story to be told I’ll be letting the demons out. I have a female assassin who’s getting antsy to be heard. She’s been in there longer than Unsaintly. And my Viking Werewolves are pacing their cages.
AJ: Very nice, Lisa. Very nice. I’m going to let you go now, but do you mind telling the readers where they can find you and your work?
Back in October, Cate and I attended a festival in Beaufort (South Carolina). Though it was only a one day affair, Cate and I made it a weekend get-away with no children. After the festival we went to the house we were staying in and settled in for the evening. Before I went to bed that night I checked the good old Facebook (don’t judge me, you do it, too). While scrolling through posts about politics, religion, kittens, memes and some book-related things, I came across one that simply read something about someone’s book being published by Stitched Smile Publications.
I had never heard of that publisher before. I took out a pen and wrote these words: Research Stitched Smile Publications.
After arriving home the next afternoon, I sat at the computer and started researching. I found a Facebook page and a website that was in the process of being built.
During the information gathering, I came to realize Lisa Vasquez was associated with SSP. I contacted her, and guess what I found out? She wasn’t just associated with SSP, she was the founder. Being that I know Lisa works very hard at everything she does, I wanted to interview her and learn a little bit more about Stitched Smile Publications.
Let’s hop right in, why don’t we?
AJ: Lisa, not too long ago you made a decision to open a publishing house. What led you to do this?
LV: I’ve been sitting on the idea for quite some time but I think the fact that I didn’t know the ins-and-outs sort of held me back. Which is a good thing, I think, because I sat back and learned and did my time behind the scenes. As an author, I understand the pain of wanting to put your work out and having more control over what happens to it. An author’s choices are:
1. Submit to a “Big House” Publisher and hope for the best.
2. Submit to an indie publisher and hope they don’t get screwed over.
3. Publish it themselves.
The problem with publishing it yourself is not having the skills to wear all the hats necessary. I used my own book as a guinea pig, helped and volunteered whenever I could, and then finally felt confident that I could do it. That’s when Stitched Smile was born!
AJ: When you say you sat back and learned, what do you mean?
LV: I have a background in graphics and have been doing it for about 20 years for various industries. Printing, however, is so much different. If you don’t know about dpi and bleeds, you kind of spend a lot of time tossing things out that you spent hours on. So that was the first thing I tackled, because let’s face it, people do judge a book by its cover.
The second thing was learning about the industry itself. What publishers were doing that were good, and what they were doing that left room for improvement. What I found was a lack of author focus and development. The author ended up losing their identity in a lot of cases or just became a “new release”. Fans love to know things about the author and engage with them. There were other things like contracts, distribution, and marketing. I did a lot of promotional work but the book world is its own animal. Same basic concepts but different language.
AJ: How did you go about learning the things you needed to in order to feel confident in starting Stitched SmilePublications?
LV: I asked a lot of questions, trial and error, talking to others in the industry with more experience, and then I took on a position with another publisher (Burning Willow Press) as their Design Manager and got to see firsthand how it was done in real time. I applied what I knew, added what I didn’t, did a lot of trial and error with my own book, which I still continue to do, and then realized my approach was definitely unique and had some good results. I set money aside and then dove into it.
I think you just come to that moment where you feel like the only way you’re going to know if you got it is if you try it. I love what I do, and I love helping people and that added the final touch to my decision. If you don’t love what you do, you’ll never give 100%. That’s how I decided to just put my ducks in a row and start the process. I had the support of my amazing staff who got the word out, and then Jackie Chin teamed up with me and things rolled without much effort. We all knew we had a winning formula.
AJ: Sounds like you’ve done your homework. Where did the name Stitched Smile Publication come from?
LV: I wanted to branch out from my normal “persona”. I had Darque Halo Designs, and I always used wings or a halo as a brand. I wanted something that was reflective of this other side of me. It’s dark, it’s scary. It was a smile…with the darker element added to it. I don’t think there’s anything more unsettling than a maniacal grin. Since the publishing company specializes in dark content, I wanted something that appealed to both men and women. And one that would appeal to the reader. So I sat there and thought, ‘what would be the epitome of this?’ Well, one of my favorite characters is The Joker. His most memorable feature is his grin. It hit me right then that this is what I was looking for.
AJ: My favorite bad guy of all time is The Joker, and his smile is what people remember about him. I like the name and the logo. I think it fits.
LV: Thank you!
AJ: How did Jackie Chin come to be on your staff?
LV: Jackie and I were friends previous to this. I designed her new logo for her. We bonded rather quickly and she had me on her show, Zombiepalooza Radio. From there we just kept talking and when I told her what I was doing she sat back and watched me. One day she grilled the HECK out of me—which I loved because it showed me that I was really ready for this.
Then she asked, “I want to be involved, what can I do?” Now see, this was a scary decision because I love that woman and I respect her, so now the stakes were high because I didn’t want to let anyone down but least of all her because she’d done a lot for me and I know others had taken what she’d done for granted. Slowly, we began formulating an approach for marketing and I just let her run with it. Since that first day, she’s really put her heart into it and I’m happy to say she feels like it’s her home, as well. I couldn’t be more excited that she believes in us.
AJ: I’ve listened and watched Zombiepalooza Radio and I think she does a great job. She’s also quite intimidating, but she seems to have a heart of gold.
LV: Jackie is a go-getter. She’s a strong woman and knows her stuff. She comes off as hard, but she is focused and knows exactly where she wants to go.
AJ: One or two more questions and I’ll let you get back to work. I’m a writer. What do you have to offer me that other small presses (or even larger ones) cannot?
LV: What Stitched Smile Publications offers is a personalized plan for each author. We find out what they are great at and what they aren’t so great at and we build up the weaknesses so that they are a well-rounded author. Let’s face it, you have got to sell your book. It’s a product. Some people don’t think they can sell anything but in reality, anyone can sell.
What we do is take away the “car salesman” selling and teach them how to just do what they love. Work their personality into the marketing and put it out there. We also allow authors that have the skills to format their books, or design their own covers, a higher portion of the royalties. Finally, we have Jackie’s radio show. So now we’re reaching a global network with numbers that are nearly unattainable in the conventional way. We aren’t spamming the link to amazon on every Facebook group we can join, we’re inviting the readers to come to us.
Other than that, we have a badass team who are loyal and sincere in their intentions. We hold weekly meetings and allow the authors to attend. Everyone is an equal and every person’s ideas are considered when we brainstorm. There’s no one more important than the author. If the author isn’t happy, you aren’t going to have a productive relationship. It’s like a marriage. If one person isn’t happy they’re going to be looking for a way out. When we put a ring on it, we try to keep the honeymoon going!
AJ: That is an awesome way to go at it, one I am not sure I have seen or heard from any other publisher.
One last thing: Lisa, where can writers and readers find out more about SSP?
LV: We have a couple websites. The first one is the Stitched Smiles Publication Website. This is our landing site and a good place to start. In addition to that we have our SSP on Word Press where every staff member is allowed to post, including the authors! So potential readers get a place to learn about the authors, what they’re like and what’s in the future for them. And finally, we are on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
AJ: Lisa Vasquez, thank you for your time. I’m sure you and your staff are going places
LV: Thank you, Jeff, for talking with me. It’s been fun!