Sunday, October 27, 2013

Interview with Mystery Author Ally Shields

Cover of Ally Shields' newest book in her Guardian Witch series


Interview with Mystery Writer Ally Shields

1.  When did you begin writing?  Why? 

I've been in love with books all my life. I was the kid that carried a stack of books home from the library one week and was back the next week for another stack. I wrote my first novel at age nine, a 150 page handwritten story of Golden King, a wild palomino stallion loved by a child. Since then I've written for school and college newspapers, the county newspaper, organization newsletters, and numerous office briefs and reports. I've written short stories now, collected boxes of brief scenes or notes for characters, and won a couple of short story contests. My next novel was a cozy written about twenty years ago. Life and work intervened again, and I didn't begin writing full time until late in 2008.

2.  When and why did you begin writing mysteries? 

I've always been a reader of mysteries and fantasies. Twenty years ago I wrote a cozy mystery entitled "Til Death Us Do Part" but I ended up not pursuing publication. In 2008 I set out to write a traditional mystery with a cop sleuth, but after the first few pages of the manuscript the heroine informed me she was a witch. The final result was a hybrid mystery/urban fantasy that evolved into a series.

3.  Are you writing a series or a stand-alone?  Explain your basic idea for your series. 

My published books are in an urban fantasy/supernatural mysteries series entitled The Guardian Witch. Four books are currently published, the most recent was released October 18. The books revolve around Arianna Calin, a fire witch who serves as the Guardian or supernatural cop for the Otherworlders who live in the fictional city of Riverdale. When working on joint cases that involve humans, she has a human partner Ryan, who is kind of iffy about the supernatural stuff. There is a love interest and quasi third partner in her investigations, a charismatic vampire, Andreas De Luca. Each book has a separate mystery or mysteries solved within the novel but there are also on-going story arcs that re-appear in each novel.

4.  Tell us about your journey to publication with this book. 

Awakening the Fire, the first book in the series was completely re-written three times over a span of three years, including changing names, title, and POV. Along its journey it was rejected 167 times. After the final major rewrite, I submitted it to three small publishers, and all three expressed interest. I also had the sequel written and the third book drafted. When Etopia Press said they wanted all three, my decision was made. I just recently submitted book five for consideration and plan at least two books after that in this series. 

5.  Why did you choose to write about the topic, community, issues you chose? 

As I mentioned above, I didn't consciously set out to write a paranormal story, but once I did, the themes wrote themselves, along with others that are inherent in crime stories: love, hate, betrayal, prejudice. I've used them all but not deliberately. Any themes are only the logical consequence of the story I'm telling.

6.  How have you found it to be published?  Share that experience.

Hectic and exciting. I was thrilled the day I signed the contract. Then came the hard work of revisions, editing, proofing—on a deadline—and the all-consuming marketing. I love writing, and I love hearing from my readers. Everything in between has been a revelation and not always the most pleasant one. But I've learned to take most of it in stride, although I do work longer hours than ever before and have less writing time than I want. Still, would I trade it for a different career? No way. :)

7.  Do you have comments from readers or reviewers you’d like to share? 

I've been fortunate to have very supportive readers. You can find their comments mostly on Amazon and Goodreads, but I share them on Twitter all the time. If readers are interested, they should follow @ShieldsAlly!

8.  What other books have you published and where, when? 

The four current books in this series are my only published novels: Awakening the Fire, Fire Within, Burning Both Ends, Blood and Fire. They can be found on my website or at most on-line booksellers.

9.  Do you have a work in progress now?  Is it part of a series?

I have three works in progress for three different series: an espionage series, book six of the Guardian Witch series, and a new paranormal series. I don't read many standalones, so I don't write them. If I get involved with a character, I'd like it to be a long term relationship. :)

10.  If you belong to Sisters in Crime, and/or the Guppies, has that been helpful?  How? 

I would have given up a long time ago if not for SinC and SinC Guppies. I'd been writing full time for about a year and had already collected several rejection slips. No one was taking my writing seriously, including my friends and family. They simply didn't understand why I wanted to spend so much time on my "hobby." Only I didn't see it as a hobby, and I was feeling really alone. The first time I introduced myself on the Guppy list, I ran into the friendliest group of people who understood exactly how I felt about writing. I almost cried when I read their welcoming responses. Since that time they have been an invaluable source of information and support. I couldn't imagine having a writing career without them.

11.  What benefit to you has it been to go to mystery conferences like Malice Domestic?

I've never been to Malice, but I've been to Bouchercon several times and used to go to Mayhem in the Midlands before it was discontinued. However, I went as a reader and aspiring writer, not an author. I just haven't found time to go in the last year. Past conferences were a great place to meet and greet authors and readers, catch up on the latest industry news, pick up writing tips, but mostly to recharge my batteries. Conferences give off a lot of energy which I love to absorb and take home to pour into my writing.

12.  What else would like to say about your books, the next one in your series? 

Book four in the series, Blood and Fire, was just released October 18. The next book is scheduled for early 2014. While I attempted to write each book with enough background to understand the current story, I recommend that the series be read in order. 


Cover of Ally Shields's first novel in her Guardian Witch series


Book Info for Blood and Fire:

Book Title: Blood and Fire
Series Name and book no. (if applicable): Guardian Witch #4
Book Author: Ally Shields
Release Date: Oct. 18, 2013
Publisher: Etopia Press
Link to publisher's page:
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance

Book length: novel 
Romance Heat level: 1 (mild)

A dead body, black magic, and a vampire enforcer...

Ari thought her biggest problem was deciding if she should move in with her vampire boyfriend, Andreas. That was before they found the dead body at the bottom of the Riverdale cliffs. And before she realized he'd been cursed by black magic.

Just as she begins the murder investigation, the vampire rulers in Europe send an enforcer to make inquiries into the recent defeat of the Toronto vampire prince. While Andreas has taken responsibility for the brutal dictator’s death, there is much about the incident that he and Ari must keep to themselves—secrets the vampire elders would stop at nothing to learn.

With threats of retaliation hanging over their heads, Ari moves into Andreas’s Victorian mansion—for safety’s sake—while the enforcer begins a campaign of terror. Ari is caught between competing dangers and challenges: black magic, a ghost, a missing Native American artifact…not to mention a new roommate…all while trying to stay alive.

Buy Links for Blood & Fire (Guardian Witch Book Four):
Amazon US:


Book listing on Goodreads:

Author Contacts:
Amazon Author Page:

Author Bio:  

Ally Shields is the pseudonym for writer Janet L. Buck who was born and raised in the Midwest, along the Mississippi River, the setting for her urban fantasy series. After a career in law and juvenile justice, she turned to full-time writing in 2009, and Awakening the Fire, the debut novel in her Guardian Witch series, was released in September 2012. She currently resides near Des Moines, Iowa, with her Miniature Pinscher, Ranger. When not writing, reading or spending time with her family, she loves to travel in the US and abroad. Way too often she can be found on Twitter.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Review of Beaver Soul by Sharon D. Ewing

Canada Geese in Huntley Meadows, Alexandria, but similar geese came into the poems I wrote along the Haw in Saxapahaw in 1992.


Review of Judy Hogan’s chapbook, Beaver Soul

These poems should be read slowly and savored. Beaver Soul is a collection of meditations evoked by a closely observed world of nature ranging from the Haw River in North Carolina to the Russian countryside of Kostroma, and ending on the banks of the River Teign in Devon, England .Through a seamless blending of the language of metaphor with the descriptive language of the empirical natural world, the poet discovers and shares with us her insights. She both shows and tells us of her journey. 

The opening line of the first poem (This River 6) launches us into both worlds with a simile: Memories are like fish. The page is dotted with abstract words, with concepts: Love, Belief, Truth, but the poet grapples with her demand for proofs and finds in her observation of the beaver’s life, evidence that satisfies a trusting heart. The poem shifts seamlessly from natural descriptions of the beaver’s work, from observations of “bites of wood and bark,” and distinguishing “pale orange of fresh wood from the gray” to a “she” who “can build a whole world on one sentence she almost didn’t/hear.” The poet has moved us from observing the beaver to seeing into the inner life of the poet.  

By the third poem, (Beaver Soul 1) the poet identifies her spirit with “this beaver who understands the river,/ not perfectly but in all ways that/ matter. I’ve inherited, by long study,/ her beaver soul.” 

The following poem, (Beaver Soul 6) is prefaced by a Russian proverb: “When trouble arrives, open the gates.” And the poet does indeed open the gate, she lets her terror go, accepts the mud as well as the Light of spring; and, as she watches, the mud settles deeper as turtles swim upward to “the sun-warmed air” and with shells “still loggy with cold. . . bathe in sun.” Then, in a Miltonian extended metaphor, these sunbathing turtles become a flotilla of “the unwardoffable Greeks. . . come again to retrieve Helen.” We are suddenly in Homer’s world, and the poet knows “Light is on their side, but they will suffer this time too.” And she knows that if she wants, like Homer, to “sing words that can call old turtles up . . . wake up throaty peepers . . . and soothe the ache/ in branches still alive, which ice has cruelly snapped and left for dead,” she must “Remember: the world is/ nothing else. Just mud and light.” And by the next poem, (Beaver Soul 8), she has, by “The power of one yellow narcissus on a cold spring Sunday afternoon,” moved from the dark brown of the dead of winter to the promise of the resurrection of spring. 

As the poet identifies her spirit with the beaver, her Beaver Soul, she moves to a greater understanding of the Russian concept of “soul” as her friendships with Russians develop long-distance through letters, and by mid-summer (Beaver Soul 15), she is in Russia, falling in love with Russian fields, meadows, and people: “I sleep in a Russian field. . . . Russia is mine. Nothing/ can take my peacefulness away. . . My soul comes to rest. The meadow welcomes/ me now because the people here/ have tugged the heavy gate that/ was between us open. . . . Our fears have retreated. . . We find all the words we want. And our eyes/ say the rest. Our language is/ the only human one.”
But it is not easy, this new and different world. “Even in a fairyland, one needs a guide.” (Beaver Soul 19) and the poet pens a poem of thanks for Boris, who “invited me to conversation, you who made tea, set out cakes, invited others to talk with me./ You who tugged open the heavy/door and released the Komarovo white/nights for me.” The spiritual life of the poet, her Beaver Soul, is not one of pure joy: The appreciation and love expressed for her host, friend and literary colleague, Mikhail (Beaver Soul 21) and the many people who fuel her growing love of Russia, has its dark side in the let-down she experiences in Gorka (Beaver Soul 23), where, not allowed to eat from the common bowl, she feels alone, different, not totally accepted as a part of the family she loves. “But my/ tears are still washing my soul./My different soul, alone, stranded/ in this river where I don’t belong.” 

Months later, on the banks of the River Teign in Devon, she again meditates on the meaning of love: (Beaver Soul 27). It is October, an afternoon without sun, and the subject is Love. The poet accepts the dying year and the coming winter as revealing “the truth of Love.” This final poem is, appropriately, a paean to love, a hymn of praise and thanksgiving, informed by what the poet has learned through long study of Nature and the acceptance of paradox: “You can have all the love you/ want if you aren’t greedy.” It is appropriately a paean to the sun, for it was Apollo, the Sun God, to whom ancient paeans were first offered.  The meditations close with a promise: “And/ every year the graceful grasses/ stretch up because the sun,/ of course, leans down.”

Reading these poems made me think of these lines from Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Idea of Order in Key West.”

She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea.
Whatever self it had, became the self 
That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang, and singing, made.

Judy Hogan is indeed a singer of songs, a maker of the world she presents to us in her poems. And our world is richer for the making

Sharon D. Ewing Alexandria, Virginia October 10, 2013


Can you see these turtles on their logs at Huntley Meadows? I saw them and wrote about them also along the Haw, though the flotilla I saw was light sparkling and bouncing as the sun hit the water, and it moved toward me.  Sharon saw those turtles.  It doesn't really matter.  Take time to visit a river or a wetlands and see what you can see!  Thanks to Sharon and John Ewing for the photos.  

Judy Hogan


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Review: Louise Penny's How the Light Gets In

How the Light Gets In.  Louise Penny.  August 2013, Minotaur Books, New York. $25.99.  Hardback.  ISBN: 978-0-312-65547-1.

With each new book–How the Light Gets In is her ninth--Louise Penny stretches herself and the mystery genre farther to make the point she says both in print and at readings: “If you carry one thing away from my books, I want it to be that goodness exists.”  In her novels the good people are all too human, and we might say that they all have “cracks.”  Nevertheless, they fight for what is right and true.  Chief Inspector Gamache lives by the Quebec Surete motto: Service, Integrity, and Justice.  Unfortunately, at work at the higher levels of the Surete are those who seek power for its own sake and use cruelty, deceit, and betrayal to achieve their goals. “The Surete had changed.  It was now a culture that rewarded cruelty.” [p. 16]

Gamache’s own Homicide Department has been gutted.  His faithful agents have either left or been transferred out to other departments by Superintendent Sylvain Francoeur.  The only loyal officer left to Gamache in Homicide is Inspector Isabel Lacoste, Gamache’s new second in command.  She wonders if Gamache can hold it together.  The new agents he has been assigned aren’t there to solve crimes but to bring Gamache down.  Beauvoir, his former second in command, whom he loves like a son, is still addicted to the pain medicine he took after the shoot-out in the factory in an earlier book.  He is being manipulated by Francoeur so that he’s useless.  He is sent out on unnecessary drug raids designed to terrify him and keep him in despair.

Meantime, in Three Pines, Constance Pineault, once a patient of Myrna Landers and now a friend, comes to visit her, and before she leaves has decided to come back to Three Pines for Christmas.  She is making new friends for the first time in her life, surprisingly even with the crabby old poet Ruth Zardo.  Constance has a secret she wants to tell Myrna.  Then she fails to arrive and Myrna asks Gamache to help find her.  He discovers that Constance was once world-famous and has been murdered.

Threaded through the murder investigation, which the Montreal police turn over to Gamache, is the building suspense of Gamache seeking to learn and stop what Francoeur is up to.  Besides Isabel, he calls for help from three other allies, two of whom have computer internet skills.  This war is fought largely over the internet.

Gamache settles himself in Three Pines, with regular trips to Montreal.  Our favorite village characters are here, besides Myrna and her bookstore: Clara and her paintings; Ruth and her duck, whose words are sometimes mistaken for Ruth’s, and vice versa; Gabri and Olivier of the B & B, and the bistro.

This novel is about an ancient and ongoing war in human life between good and evil.  In our period it’s as intense as ever, and the Surete du Quebec is not the only big and powerful organization that is being corrupted at the top by human beings set on an evil course and hoping to diminish and destroy good, conscientious people.

You could also say that the book depicts a war between the powers of hate and love.  In the world of Three Pines love flourishes while in the world of the Surete, hate is making strides fast and furiously. Armand Gamache’s intelligence and inner resources are tested as never before, as are those of the Three Pines characters, Lacoste, and the computer savvy allies of Gamache.

Louise Penny is my favorite living mystery author.  Her books are delicious to read, and she generously shares her own wisdom and goodness.  The title, How the Light Gets In, hangs on a poem by Leonard Cohen called Anthem:

Ring the bells that still can ring,
forget your perfect offering,
there’s a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

That’s what this #1 New York Times bestseller is about.  Read and savor all nine of her books, and especially this one.  Louise didn’t have to convince me that goodness exists, but she always reminds me that good people need all their courage and ingenuity in our twenty-first century.

Note: I did an interview with Louise back in 2009, and that interview is on this blog site, posted  May 29, 2011.  It gets more page views than any other of my blogs since January 2011.  JH

Louise and Michael, her model for Armand Gamache.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Genetically Modified Seeds Theme in Farm Fresh and Fatal

Farm Fresh and Fatal, released October 1, takes up the hot button issue in farming today, of genetically modified seeds.  We’re still learning what this GMO produce does to human beings, but I knew when I wrote the novel that the seeds were modified so that herbicides like Roundup could be sprayed on the crop without harming the plant.  I used humor in the novel to discuss the baseball hard tomatoes that are best, though still hard, three weeks after they’re picked, but new research also shows that the seeds engineered to kill insects, by making their stomachs leak, can affect us that way, too, and set off allergies.  I don't know if you've noticed the dead weeds and small trees along our roadsides near electric wires, but that's what Roundup does.  Monsanto, which produces Roundup, works at all levels of government to pass legislation to protect GMO seeds and its herbicides like Roundup.  90% of farmers in North Carolina are using GMO seeds in crops like soy, wheat, corn, rape (canola), and sugar beets.  Activists are asking that GMO produce in the grocery store be labeled. 

Reasonable.  Organic is your safest choice.  Buy it or grow it.  Be healthy.

I began using organic feed for my new flock of hens in 2013, though it costs more.  This is the best flock I've ever had.  They lay well, and out of the original 16 I kept, I still have 15.  Commercial animal feeds also are grown with GMO seeds and Roundup.  These hens also seem more intelligent!  So far I sell all the eggs easily, and they make wonderful egg custard.  


Basic info for Farm Fresh and Fatal, $15.95:  
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-9895804-0-3 
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-9895804-1-0   $2.99.

For Beaver Soul, $12.00:
Paperback:  ISBN: 978-1-62229-324-7


Upcoming Readings, Events, and Guest Blogs for Farm Fresh and Fatal and Beaver Soul.  

Let me ask you, when possible, to support the local bookstores where I'll be reading.  I'd love to see you, and independent bookstores need your support to keep doing their good work. Flyleaf, Regulator, Paperbacks Plus! and McIntyre's.  See below for dates and times!


October 1, 2013.  Day of publication and pre-sales mailed for Farm Fresh and Fatal and Beaver Soul.

October 11, 2013. 7-9 P.M. Friday. Reading with other Creative Writing Instructors at CCCC (past and present) at the Chatham Community Library, off Highway 87, just north of business 64 and 87 intersection in Pittsboro. 

October 20, Sunday, 5-7 P.M.  Launch both books at Hoganvillaea Farm, Moncure.  Potluck.

October 24, Thursday, 3:30-6 P.M.  Pittsboro Farmers’ Market at Fairgrounds.  Sell and sign books.

October 26, Saturday, 2 PM.  Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill.

November 2, Saturday, 11 AM-1 PM.  Paperbacks Plus, Siler City.  Signing.

November 8, Friday, 6 PM.  Jackie Helvey’s radio show video-taped interview on community radio and TV--WCOM, Carrboro.  I will send the link afterwards. 

November 12, Tuesday, 7 PM, Goldsboro Library, Goldsboro, NC.

November 19, Tuesday, 7 PM.  Regulator Bookshop, 720 W. Ninth St., Durham.

December 1-31.  Display of Beaver Soul, Farm Fresh and Fatal, and Killer Frost at my Capital Bank, on the circle in Pittsboro.  With bookmarks and cards.

December 3, Tuesday, 7 PM.  South Regional Branch of Durham County Library.

December 8, Sunday, 2 PM.  McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village, Chatham


June 17, Monday.  A Real Writer? and

August 13, Tuesday. Cheap Healthy Brownies w/connection to Penny Weaver’s cooking and the PMZ Poor Woman’s Cookbook. Janet Rudolph’s blog cross posting with her mystery blog

September 7-13.  Killer Frost cover displayed in rotation with other books from Sisters in Crime members.  October 1-6, cover of Farm Fresh and Fatal displayed.  Home page, toward the bottom, of

October 1, Tuesday. Jenny Milchman’s blog on my “Made It” moment with this book. 

October 5, Saturday, Salad Day.  Why I Prefer Small Presses.

October 5, Saturday.  Book Buzz feature on North Carolina Writers’ Network (

October 7, Monday.  From Experience to Mystery.

October 9, Wednesday.  Interview by Janet Buck on her blog:

October 14, Monday.  Why I Write About Social Issues.


Judy with hen, summer of 2013, photo by Mark Schmerling.