Sunday, September 29, 2013


Continuing with our salute to the authors of the KIDS NEED TO READ ANTHOLOGY, LOVE AND OTHER DISTRACTIONS….ISAAC HO!
Isaac Ho Photo credit: David Doko
Isaac Ho is the author of four novels including the fast paced thriller The Repatriation of Henry Chin, the gritty crime drama Death in Chinatown, and the noir comedy Hell is Full of Strippers. His latest novel The Chinese Delivery Man is inspired by the true life murders of New York Chinese delivery men. The screenplay version won the Asian American International Film Festival Screenplay Competition.

Isaac wrote and produced the indie feature 1,001 Ways to Enjoy the Missionary Position, an Orwellian drama starring Amanda Plummer. As a playwright, Isaac won the SF Weekly Black Box Award for his play Along For the Ride. Isaac holds an MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA.

R:  Welcome Isaac! Tell us about yourself and how you became interested in writing.

My life has been something of an artist journeyman. I broke in as an actor, wrote and performed sketch comedy, wrote stage plays, screenplays and now novels. My transition from performer to writing began shortly after college when I saw the dearth of good roles available to Asian Americans. There were many pioneers in this field including David Henry Hwang and Philip Kan Gotanda. I wanted to add my voice to that chorus.

R:  How did you hear about Kids Need to Read? Tell us a bit about your short in this anthology.

I've been a life long advocate of reading and am an avid reader myself. Reading expands a child's imagination and sharpens their cognitive abilities. Every child I know who is described as "bright" or "smart" is a reader. The "Love and Other Distractions" anthology is built around a theme of romance. I asked if it included romance gone bad and when I was told "Yes" I knew I had a lot of material to draw upon. "For the Record" is the prequel to my novel "Hell is Full of Strippers," a story about a self absorbed man who can't seem to get the knack of dating and cluelessly goes through some romantic misadventures.

R: You’ve written plays, screenplays and novels. Which do you find the most challenging and why?

Each discipline has its own challenges. In theater, your medium is dialogue. In screenwriting, your medium is visual. Just because both use actors doesn't mean one form is interchangeable for the other. With novels, you can really get inside the headspace of your characters. For plays and novels, the writer is ultimately responsible for the artistic experience of the audience. With a screenplay, the writer has to hand it over to an artistic team including the director who may or may not see eye to eye with your vision. As a writer, it's very difficult to let go of your vision of your story.

R:  Tell us a bit about “The Chinese Delivery Man” which recently won the Asian American International Film Festival Screenplay competition. What was the inspiration?

A friend of mine suggested that I research those true life murders in New York. The deaths were senseless and tragic but after the murderers were arrested, the press stopped covering the story. What happened to the victim's family? I searched for information but couldn't find any and ultimately had to answer that question for myself using my own imagination while honoring the suffering endured by the survivors. More importantly, I wanted to tell the story from the victim's family's point of view.

R:  Where would you rather live, New York City or Los Angeles?

I also lived in San Francisco. Each city has its own character and culture. New York is almost a mythical city with a driving energy and rhythm all its own. San Francisco holds a lot of romance for me while Los Angeles is the land of make believe.

R:  You photograph your food?  A hobby of yours? What’s the most interesting dish you ever photographed?

You can't be Asian and not photograph your food. I grew up eating dim sum in Chinatown. All the food is delicious but for those unfamiliar with it, it's often best if you don't know what you're eating. Try it, you'll like it.

R:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I can't plot too much ahead of time otherwise I'll never write. I like to get a general shape of what I want to write and have a list of interesting and obscure facts relevant to the story handy and then just leap into it. I like to discover my characters that way, listening to what they tell me. They won't often tell me what's right but they will tell me what's wrong.

R: What writers, if any, would you say have made the greatest influence on your writing?

My earliest and most enduring influence is Anton Chekhov. His characters feel real to me in a way no other playwright has been able to capture. They aren't superheroes or secret agents. Chekhov's characters are ordinary people with dreams who can't seem to think beyond what they need that day. They're not foolish or short sighted but living out their lives, unaware of the happiness they are squandering.

R: What’s a must have for you when you are writing? What aids the creative process?

Actually, it's more accurate to ask me what is a "must not have" for writing. No internet, no TV, no music, no telephone, no texting, no Kindle.

R: What is the craziest thing you've ever done?

I have a fear of public speaking. In one of my classes at UCLA we had to pitch a project to our instructor in front of the class. I pitched a story about a male stripper in costume.

R: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?

I'd probably be writing database queries in a cubicle in a windowless bullpen in the basement of a defense subcontractor.

R: What’s your next project?

As an Asian American writer, my work is to create stories about Asian and Asian American characters free of the stereotypes perpetuated by mainstream culture. In the past, diversity meant simply hiring a person of color instead of a white person (all other qualifications being reasonably equal). Today, that's not good enough. Diversity today must mean diverse points of view. Hollywood mostly views the world through the lens of a white male. What does the world look like to a middle aged woman? Or to a young African American man? Or to an aging Chinese American? What's the point of hiring people with diverse backgrounds if you're only going to ask them for a mainstream point of view?

It's important to be able to tell Asian American stories from an Asian American point of view. Asian American protagonists and stories can be just as "universal" and "relatable" as any mainstream work. Empathy means being able to walk in someone else's shoes even if that person looks nothing like you.

Just for Fun:
Night or Day? Night
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) I'm allergic to cats. (A tear forms in ROCCO's eye.....)
Beach or Pool? Beach
Steak or salad? steak
Favorite Drink? root beer
Favorite Book? Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris
Favorite TV Series? Star Trek (any incarnation)
Favorite Movie? Wild Strawberries
Favorite Actor: Max von Sydow
Favorite Actress: Emmanuelle Béart
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Dirty Martini
Hawaii or Alaska? Alaska
Finish this sentence:  If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be: my grandfather. He died before I was born.
If I had just one wish, it would be: that I had taken better care of my teeth.
If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be: I'm doing that already through my characters.


Love and Other Distractions Anthology:
Isaac Ho's Amazon Author Page:
Isaac Ho's blog:
Isaac Ho's twitter: @isaachowriter
Next week:  An interview with mystery author Waverly Curtis! Meow!
And after that....more Love and Other Distractions interviews!


Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Hello, Folks! Our guest today is author Gemma Halliday!

Gemma had a hard time figuring out what she wanted to be when she grew up. She worked as a film and television actress, a teddy bear importer, a department store administrator, a preschool teacher, a temporary tattoo artist, and a 900 number psychic, before finally deciding to be a writer.
Since then, Gemma has written several mystery novels and been the recipient of numerous awards, including a National Reader's Choice award and three RITA nominations. Her books have hit both the USA Today and the New York Times Bestseller lists.
Gemma now makes her home in the San Francisco Bay area where she is hard at work on her next book.

And's Gemma!

R: How did you start writing? 

G: One day, out of reading material, I picked up a romance novel that had come free with some promotion. Sadly, it stank. Really badly. It was the worst thing I had ever read. So, after chucking it across the room during one particularly laughable chapter, I said to myself, "Well, even I can do better than that." So I set out to be a romance writer. I'll admit, at first I wrote a couple of really awful manuscripts. It was a lot harder than I thought to write a terrible book let alone a good one But then I wrote a couple that weren't so bad, and then even a couple pretty good ones. Eventually my writing style evolved more toward mystery, and I hit on one manuscript good enough to publish. And the rest is history.

R: How many manuscripts did you write before selling one? 

G: Six. It was lucky number seven that was finally published.

R: What was your road to publishing like?

G: It was not pretty.  The path was strewn with rejection letters.  Some encouraging, some… not so much.  Originally I had this idea I would write deep books.  Serious ones.  With lots of drama.  So, I wrote about five of those over the next two years before someone finally told me, “Um, your serious dramas are just a little too funny for us.”  *Mental forehead smack*  So, I wrote a couple funny, fashionable books and, what do you know, those were actually kinda good.    

I was originally published with Dorchester publishing, which was a fanatic experience for several years, then it fell off the deep end as the company ran into financial trouble and dissolved.  After that I took on contracts with St. Martin's Press and Harper Teen, but at that point Dorchester had been unable to pay authors for several months.  Meaning, I was in deep financial trouble myself.  A good friend of mine, J.R. Rain, was having some success self-publishing, so he convinced me to try my hand at it. That was in 2010, and I figured I could use a little extra spending money. I had no idea how exciting self-publishing would be.  In 2011 I sold my 1 millionth self-published ebook.   

R: Where do you get your inspiration? 

G: Everywhere. I know, cop-out answer, but it's so true. Any little bit of dialogue I hear at Starbucks, song I hear on the radio, or guy in line at the grocery store can inspire a new idea. The only thing I can say for certain is that I steal from the people I know a lot. Thankfully my family and friends get a kick out of seeing me exaggerate their finer traits on paper, but there are a few ex-boyfriends that probably shouldn't read my books. I do write about murders after all.

R: Have you always been interested in mysteries? 

G: Actually, yes I have.  I grew up reading the Happy Hollisters mystery series as a kid, then later graduated to Agatha Christie.  I love the kind of stories that keep you on the edge of your seat, and if there’s a great twist at the end, so much the better. 

R: Is the character Maddie from your High Heels series based on you at all? 

G: Um…yes, I admit, she is. I’m almost as crazy about shoes as she is, though I couldn’t design one to save my life.  Quite a few of Maddie’s friends and family are based in part on people that I know.  And, I’ll admit, I do have ditzy blonde syndrome at times myself.  I’ve actually stuck my stiletto in my mouth the same way Maddie does on numerous occasions.  But, unlike Maddie, I’m happy to say that I have yet to stumble over any dead bodies.        

R: What does a typical work day look like for you?

G: Typical day?  Do I have one of those?  Let’s see… yesterday I got up, went straight to the gym (because unlike my characters, I gotta work for my figure), then came home and answered emails for an hour or so before grabbing my laptop and hitting the corner Starbucks for a few hours of writing.  I usually write until a) I get the caffeine shakes, b) my fingers get sore from typing, or c) I run out of ideas.  Unless I’m coming up on a deadline, I don’t generally write in the evenings (hey, a girl’s gotta have a social life) but, if I do, it’s with a glass of wine in hand.

R: What's the toughest thing about writing a mystery series? What's the best?

G: Hands down the hardest thing about writing a series is keeping the characters and storylines fresh.  There’s a fine line between being repetitive and staying true to the characters, so straddling that line has been my biggest challenge with my series.  Hopefully I‘ve pulled it off!  

The best part is when readers come up to me and start talking about my characters as if they're real people.  I love that!  I think the great thing about a continuing series is that readers really get to know the characters as well as I do, which is totally fun for me.  

R: Which aspect of writing do you enjoy the most?

G: I love plotting.  I grab a pad of paper, a fresh pen, and a latte, and I can just visualize the whole book coming together.  

R: Which aspect of writing do you enjoy the least?

G: Actually having to write it once I have it all plotted out.  It takes so much longer! ;)  

R: When you’re not writing what do you do to relax?

G: I’m an admitted shopaholic.  If there were an Olympic medal in this sport, I’d have the gold, hands down.  Obviously I do a lot of reading in my spare time, but I’m also a huge movie and TV fan.  DVR is the best thing that ever happened to me.  And I'm totally addicted to Amazon streaming.  

R: What is one piece of advice for aspiring writers?  One thing not to do?

G: To do: read a ton of books in the style/genre you want to write.  Even more so than craft books, this really helped me to know the rhythm and flow of my particular genre and what the readers of that genre would expect from my books.

Not to do: Over analyze.  I've seen writers spend over a year revising one manuscript over and over and over until it's so polished that it's lost all of its character and charm.  I say revise to the best of your ability, but then let it go and start something new.  You're going to get better with each manuscript, so don't sweat making #1 your one shining masterpiece.  

R: Which one of your books is your favorite? 

G: My personal favorite is the first in my Hollywood Headlines series, HOLLYWOOD SCANDALS.  I really loved writing the main character, Tina, who had a distinct edge to her character.  She had a lot of depth to her, and I think she was a lot of fun.  

Fun Facts About Gemma!

 Gemma's boyfriend is the paranormal thriller author Jackson Stein

 Favorite food: Mexican

 Favorite song: Paperback Writer by the Beatles

 Gemma's closet holds more high heels than it does clothes

 Gemma holds a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and did competitive Scottish dancing.

Now some exciting news!!!!!!!

Gemma is happy to give away a free copy of SPYING IN HIGH HEELS to all of our readers.  Here's the coupon code for Smashwords:
Code:  WT46M
The coupon expires on Sept.30, so be sure to download your copy before then!
and since I must help the HUMAN with deadlines and other goodies....We'll return on October 1 with our next LOVE AND OTHER DISTRACTIONS author interview!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Next KNTR anthology author....STEVE CHIVERS!

We welcome the next author spotlighted in the anthology to benefit Kids Need to Read – Love and Other Distractions – Steve Chivers!

STEVE CHIVERS has worked as a writer, producer and director on sitcoms, hour dramas, webseries and a wide variety of character-driven documentary and reality shows. His credits include Intervention; Addicted; The Parent ‘Hood; Honey, I Shrunk the Kids; That’s Life; The Locator; The Peacemaker; Remake America; Crash Course; Speed Therapy and Inspector America.    

R:  Hello, Steve! Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became interested in writing.
S: I started writing stories at an early age. Had a wonderful 3rd grade teacher name Miss Jeffries who read us all the children’s classics – Charlotte’s Web, Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, The Laura Ingalls Wilder books. She did all the character voices and it was really magical to listen to her read. When I started writing stories she told me “you should become an author.” Coming from her it was like being told I had the right stuff to be an astronaut. I never forgot it.

R: Tell us about your short in the KNTR anthology.  How did you become involved with the charity and how did the idea for your short come about?
S: My story is part of a novel I’ve been writing. I actually removed a character and condensed it for the anthology. I got the idea for Lauren, one of the main characters, because my partner at the time was working on a plastic surgery show and did a couple of stories about women who had had lap-band surgery. After the massive weight loss, they had to have two rounds of plastic surgery; first to remove pounds (yes pounds) of excess skin that remained after all the weight loss, and then another set of surgeries to remove the scars left by removing the excess skin. I was very intrigued by what it would be like to go through such a radical body change, especially for a woman.
After losing all the weight, Lauren is “hot” for the first time in her life but she hasn’t had the scar surgery yet, so she is still very self-conscious about her body. When she has an affair with Josh, a much younger man, she discovers he’s actually turned on by her scars, and finds herself objectified in a completely different and unexpected way.
The third character (who is in the novel but not the story in the anthology) is Ron, Josh’s landlord. He’s a 50-something gay man, an actor and former model who is mortified when he’s cast in a very important role -- as a grandfather. He’s always been an object of desire and now he has to rediscover and reinvent himself and deal with getting older in a segment of society that is obsessed with youth and looks.
So I’m obviously interested in the intersection between image and fetishization but it’s also a love story and (hopefully) funny.
          As far as KNTR, all of us who contributed to the anthology wanted the proceeds to go to a charity and KNTR is one that we agreed on immediately. As I said above, it was a great teacher reading us classic books that made me want to become a writer, so I’m thrilled to be helping this charity.

R: If you had access to a time machine, which historical moment would you travel to and why?
R: I’d like to travel 30 years into the future and see if the incredible partisanship we are experiencing in America will have died out and people will actually be compromising and solving problems again. Though if the answer is “no” it would be kinda depressing to come back to the present so maybe I should just stay here and wait and see what happens.

R: What is the craziest thing you've ever done? 
S: I hope I haven’t done it yet. I like having something to look forward to.
R: What are you working on at the moment / next?
S: I’m working on the full novel of String Theory and hope to have it available early next year.
R: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
S: I’m a plantser. I make a lot of notes about plot and the characters and where things are going but then I discover entirely new and, to me, more interesting places to go during the writing process. So I think taking that time to try to plot things out is a way of planting seeds, but I never really know what’s going to sprout.
(Note from ROCCO:  plantser! We likey!)
R: What do you do in your spare time? Any hobbies or party tricks? :)
S: I do a fair amount of carpentry and I also work in metal doing sculpture and making some furniture. It’s a good way to avoid writing.
R: Where can we find out more about you and your work?
S: I’m on facebook as AuthorSteveChivers –

Just for Fun:
Night or Day?  Night
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully)  I do have a Doberman Pincher but I’m happy to report she’s not a cat chaser like my last dog was. I love cats even though they make me sneeze.
Beach or Pool?   Beach.
Steak or salad?   Steak.
Favorite Drink?  A martini made with ½ gin and ½ vodka, slightly dirty, really well shaken. Bartenders never know what to call it so let’s just go ahead and call it a Chivers Martini. Have one on me.
Favorite Book?  Charlottes Web, thanks to Miss Jeffries.
Favorite TV Series?  Loving Breaking Bad at the moment
Favorite Movie?  Can’t decide on this or favorite actor or actress. It keeps changing. I have a hard time picking favorites.
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? See above but the average dirty martini has way too much olive juice. It should just be a hint of saltiness. And all those flavored Martinis are a crime against mixology.
Hawaii or Alaska? Alaska. I was out in the waters off Juneau in a 16 foot boat once and a pod of Orcas came up. They’re really, really big, especially when you’re in a little boat.

Finish this sentence:  If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be: my mind always goes blank on this question. There are just too many to narrow it down.

If I had just one wish, it would be: for education to become a real priority in America, with respect and good wages for teachers and a recognition of the importance of the arts in teaching people how to be creative problem solvers instead of test-takers.

If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be: Barack Obama but just for like a week. That’s all I could handle. In fact, one day might be enough.

You can keep up with steve at: