Category Archives: Author Interview

Author Interview: ‘Far Away and Further Back’ by Patrick Burns

About the Book:

After his first overseas assignment to the USA in 1975 – just twenty-three with a suitcase and a guitar – corporate nomad, Patrick Burns, kept on moving from country to country rarely declining a fresh challenge in a new location. In these stories from four decades of living and working around the world, he relives some of his most memorable experiences: from dangerous pyrotechnic liaisons in the Algerian desert to a quest to find the Archbishop of Rangoon after a chance meeting in an English village church. The locations and circumstances run the gamut of the quotidian to the exotic; context and time are less relevant than who is met, what transpires and how the experience says something about the human condition.

This exploration of the personal landscape of expatriate life is interwoven with a navigation of some of the ties that have bound his unusual Anglo-German family during the past century; a mixture of hardcore Yorkshire eccentricity (including a grandfather whose obsession with installing indoor toilets inadvertently led to a twenty-five year family rift) and a liberal academic, Hanoverian heritage disoriented by Hitler, the events of 1939-45 and Cold War detente.

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Purchase Links:

Amazon – UK / US

Author Interview:


1: Tell us a little about yourself and what got you in to writing?

I’m a retired senior human resources executive currently living to the north east of San Francisco. My specialization in international human resources meant that I spent nearly four decades living and working all over the world. Eight countries in total, involving thirteen international moves and twenty-one house moves.

Writing my most recent book “Far Away and Further Back” arose directly from that experience. I had already co-written one of the earliest “how to” books on expatriation (“The Expatriate Handbook – A Guide To Living and Working Overseas” Kogan Page 1993) so the broad subject area was my comfort zone.

This latest book is, hopefully, a lot less dry since it’s a recollection of some of the more memorable things that happened and people that I met in the course of my travels.

In all honesty I retired too soon and too quickly. I’d taken for granted the sense of self-worth that comes with having responsibilities and the need to make things happen in a business. I was desperately looking for something to replace that and writing about what I’d experienced seemed the best option. It gave me a voice I’d been searching for and a formula for writing that was fulfilling – something that allowed me to shake off the dissatisfaction, I still felt from dropping out of corporate life so suddenly

2: Do you have a favourite time and place where you write?

Not really. Some of the stories in my current book were started while I was still working and I always enjoyed writing at airports or on planes. It sort of fitted in with the subject matter. These days it’s a little more prosaic. A study overlooking the redwood trees in my garden is my normal perch. Very pleasant but fairly predictable…

I do tend to write best in the early evening before dinner. Probably the prospect of food spurs me on…

3: Where do your ideas come from?

In my case, real life. The stories I recount are 100% what happened. What I try to do is approach the point of the story obliquely and work into the main event – and the point of the narrative – in a way that may surprise the reader. The quest to find a Burmese Archbishop on a visit to Yangon starts with a chance meeting in the church where I was baptized in Yorkshire in England, and with a conversation about stained glass windows. In another story, I describe traveling through (and over) the equatorial rain forests of Borneo but the main event is the oddness of an encounter with a pocket-watch expert while waiting for the arrival of a helicopter in a jungle clearing.

4: Do you have a plan in your head of where the story is going before you start writing or do you let it carry you along as you go?

Yes I do usually have a plan. Again, since I’m giving an account of things that actually happened, I’m less concerned with plot development – given that the events are known. The planning is more in the way I approach the anecdote and what I want to leave in the reader’s mind about the person I met or the experience I had.

5: What genre are your books and what drew you to that genre?

I suppose they are a loose form of memoir focusing on travel related experiences and an unusual family history. I felt comfortable with this genre since I believed I’d had some funny and unusual experiences that I thought other people may enjoy hearing about. I use the term “loose” in connection with a memoir because, unlike many books in this genre, the stories aren’t really about me but about what happened when I was in a particular place.  Each story is datelined with a location – often well on the margins of where people usually go – and I consciously avoid a chronological approach to dispel the sense that this was some sort of sequence lifted from a diary.

The format I chose also gave me the opportunity to explore the view that history always informs experience and that family history shapes the person we become. Like many people, I’m fascinated by the way our lives, (in my case a life predominantly of expatriation,) and the way we see the world, are shaped from the intersecting of various lines of family history and events.

6: What dream cast would you like to see playing the characters in your latest book?

Interesting question! Most of the book relates to me in my twenties to forties so I would be looking for an English actor who can play both observer and protagonist depending on the circumstances. Tom Wilkinson (Full Monty) in his younger days would have been a contender. There are too many other people populating the twenty plus stories to work up a full cast – it would be a mixture of mainly British and American players with an equally long list of largely Asian  parts.

7: Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?

I read less than I used to. Fiction doesn’t grab my attention the way it used to. I read a lot of rock biography and books on the history of rock music.

Favorite authors: Paul Theroux, David Mitchell, George Orwell, Anita Shreve, Kate Wilkinson. (Rock non-fiction: Richie Unterberger and  Barney Hoskyns.)

8: What book/s are you reading at present?

“The Sympathizer” – Viet Thanh Nguyen

“The Last Stand – Custer, Sitting Bull and the Battle of the Little Bighorn” – Nathaniel Philbrick

“Our Towns – a 100,000 Mile Journey into the Heart of America” – James and Deborah Fallows

9: What is your favourite book and why?

Probably Paul Theroux’s “Mosquito Coast” (but there are so many and it will undoubtedly be a different choice if I’m asked again next week.) Such an original story beautifully told.

I’d also have to put Theroux’s “Saint Jack” up there as well for the same reason – with its evocation of a long-gone Singapore, a place I spent more than ten years of my life and know well.

10: What advice would you give for someone thinking about becoming a writer?

I’m not qualified to give advice but the obvious thing to me is a) find a voice that suits you and b) just do it – don’t talk about it – but stop and start again with a different voice if it’s just not working. Flogging a dead horse doesn’t usually produce a worthwhile end result.

11: What are the best Social Media Sites for people to find out about you and your work?  

I have an author’s page on Facebook at Patrick H Burns where I am slowly loading photographs and commentaries that provide a backdrop to “Far Away and Further Back”.

Direct link:


About the Author:

In 2009, after more than thirty-five years of climbing, clinging onto, and occasionally sliding down the corporate ladder, Patrick Burns retired from an international business career in Human Resources. An opportunity to work on regional and global projects led to an early specialization in international HR and the chance to live and work all over the world. This included four assignments to Asia, where he spent a total of eighteen years, as well as other regional roles covering Europe-Africa, the Middle East and North and South America. Patrick was born in Yorkshire in the UK and now lives just outside San Francisco. He is married with four children.


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Author Interview: ‘Caina’ by Joe Albanese

About the Book:

Twins tend to be closer than typical siblings. They often share a bond that is oftentimes unexplainable.*

For some reason that bond didn’t apply to Grant and Lee Tolan. Grant was always the responsible one. Lee, on the other hand, was always in trouble and in jail, self-destructing to the point the twins hadn’t seen or spoken in years.

In trouble with the Irish mob who wanted him sleeping with the fishes, finding Grant dead of an apparent suicide, Lee did the only thing that made sense. He switched identities.

Instead of making life easier, Lee is plunged into a world the Irish and Italian crime families, the Mexican cartel and the DEA. Pitting one against the other, Lee enlists the help of friends to save his own life. He will need a miracle.

But Grant’s secret is the biggest shock of all for Lee and he must re-evaluate his entire life.

*Maureen Healy, author of Growing Happy Kids.

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Purchase Links:

Amazon – UK / US

Author Interview:

1: Tell us a little about yourself and what got you in to writing?

My name is Joe. I live in New Jersey. I write fiction and poetry. I have a novel, Caina, and a novella, Smash and Grab. I don’t like talking about myself, so this is borderline torture for me.

Years ago, my friend asked if I wanted to write a screenplay with him. It sounded amusing. He was high at the time. I don’t have an excuse. It turned out really bad, but I had fun creating something from scratch, so I kept writing and transitioned from screenwriting to prose and poetry.

2: Do you have a favourite time and place where you write?

Most of my writing gets done in the middle of the night at the kitchen table. That’s the only time it’s quiet, and there’s less TV and internet going on to distract me. But I do enjoy a rainy day spent writing.

3: Where do your ideas come from?

If I had a good answer to that, I probably wouldn’t currently be out of ideas.

4: Do you have a plan in your head of where the story is going before you start writing or do you let it carry you along as you go?

Mostly I plan. Smash and Grab is the only story where I just started writing with no real idea other than the opening. It kind of worked out because some of the twists surprised even me. For everything else, including Caina and the novel I just finished, I take a shit-ton of notes until a full story is in my head, then I do notecards to help organize, then outline, then write, then contemplate suicide, then rewrite.

5: What genre are your books and what drew you to that genre?

There’s almost always a criminal element to them, and usually from the criminals’ perspective. I went to school for criminal justice, so that probably had some influence. But you can always have more fun with characters who blur the line between right and wrong.

6: What dream cast would you like to see playing the characters in your latest book?

For Caina, I think Sam Rockwell would deliver the comedic dialogue best. He’s probably too old though. I’d be a terrible casting director. Martin McDonagh would be my dream director for it though.

7: Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?

I used to read a lot, but I’ve barely read anything in 2018. The only writers I’ve read a lot of are Charles Dickens for fiction and Charles Bukowski for poetry. I try to read a variety.

8: What book/s are you reading at present?

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I read The Graveyard Book last Halloween and really liked it, and I’ve seen a few of his movie adaptations, so I figured I need to read more of his since he’s so popular.

9: What is your favourite book and why?

A Clockwork Orange. The language is so good. It takes a couple chapters to get used to, but it’s so good.

10: What advice would you give for someone thinking about becoming a writer?

You start by laying the rope out like an S.

11: What are the best Social Media Sites for people to find out about you and your work?  

 You can find me on Twitter @JoeAlba88


About the Author:

Joe Albanese is a writer from South Jersey. He has had short fiction, nonfiction, and poetry published in the United States, Austria, Bangladesh, Canada, England, India, Ireland, Portugal, Scotland, South Africa, and Sweden. Joe is the author of “Smash and Grab” and “Caina.”

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Release Blitz and Author Interview: ‘Bollywood Invasion’ by Ricardo Alexanders

Title: Bollywood Invasion

Author: Ricardo Alexanders

Genre: Romance / Time Travel



A fantasy novel about a modern-day American boy who wakes up in 1958 India as the reincarnation of John Lennon.

Bollywood Invasion opens when the protagonist, a sixteen-years-old boy from Brooklyn, finds himself with riches and power beyond his wildest fantasies in India, thirty-five years before he was born.

Brooklyn is readily forgotten. Life becomes a constant stream of debauchery, coming to a stand-still only when he meets “the one.” However, love doesn’t come easy. He must become a better man, a pursuit ignited by his memories of Beatles songs on his iPod.

Will these legendary songs change his life?

Can he escape Lennon’s eventual tragic fate?

Will he ever find his way back to Brooklyn?

His fate will unfold in Bollywood Invasion.


Bollywood Invasion blends Indian cultural experience, time-travel blend perfectly with the legendary songs from the Beatles.



“An imaginative…rock ‘n’ roll fantasy.” Kirkus Reviews

“An engrossing saga that excels in unexpected turns of plot.” Midwest Book Review


Book Trailer:

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Purchase Links:

Amazon – UK / US


Author Interview:

1: Tell us a little about yourself and what got you in to writing?

My name is Ricardo Alexanders, living in in Boston, Massachusetts. I am an indirect descendant of the Great Yyu, AKA the First King of China. I love music, history, and science. In my spare time, I enjoy experiencing all kinds of cultures around the world. After obtaining my doctorate in science, I became fascinated with time-travel fantasies. However, I have not felt the compulsion to write till I was in my early forties.

2: Do you have a favourite time and place where you write?

I don’t have a favourite time or place to write. I cherish every bit of time that my two boys leave me, most of which is after they go to bed.

3: Where do your ideas come from?

The creation of Bollywood Invasion came the music of the Beatles and the culture of India.

As a lifelong Beatles fan, I stumbled into a YouTube video in 2013. In that video, a tribute band played Let It Be, my favourite Beatles song of all time, with traditional Indian instruments. That very night, I had a strange dream. In my dream, I woke up as a singer in 1958 India, which I was always fascinated by. What are the odds?

The next morning, I scribbled down my lingering memory of the dream. Then, a question came to me. If John Lennon had been born an Indian—with the same talent—could he still conquer the world?

This is the very question that I kept asking myself during my writing of Bollywood Invasion. Something extraordinary had to happen if the Indian (British) Invasion was to take America by storm, as the world back then was not even close to be as multi-cultural as we are today.

Five years later, here I am, ready to share my dream with the world and pay my tribute to the greatest band in my mind.

4: Do you have a plan in your head of where the story is going before you start writing or do you let it carry you along as you go?

I am an outliner writer; there is no question about it. Before I officially start writing a book, I’d like to have the ending of the story in my mind.

5: What genre are your books and what drew you to that genre?

My books are fantasies. For some reason, all my stories come from some bizarre dreams I have had at some point of my life. In those dreams, I often felt that I had experienced a life time.

6: What dream cast would you like to see playing the characters in your latest book?

I have not thought that far. However, I could imagine a young Shah Rukh Khan playing the part of Raj, the protagonist in Bollywood Invasion.

7: Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?

I am a lifelong reader and my favourite author is George R.R. Martin.

8: What book/s are you reading at present?

I am currently reading Three Body Problem, a Sci-Fi by CiXin Liu. It is very imaginative.

9: What is your favourite book and why?

A Song of Ice and Fire would certainly keep me up all night reading. The most valuable lesson I learned from Mr. Martin is that the most beloved characters should die once in a while.

10: What advice would you give for someone thinking about becoming a writer?

If you have a dream, go for it. Share it with the world. Some will appreciate it.

11: What are the best Social Media Sites for people to find out about you and your work?  

Thanks for asking.



Amazon author page:


About the Author:

Ricardo Alexanders is an indirect descendant of the Great Yyu and educated as a chemist. He is passionate in writing History/Science Fiction, especially when time travel is involved. Ricardo enjoys direct communication with his readers. He can be reached at for any comments, suggestions, or typos found in the manuscript.

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Author Interview: ‘The Folded Notes’ by Mandz Singh

About the Book:

Inspired by history comes this breathtaking story of star-crossed lovers against the backdrop of colourful nineteenth century India…

A different world awaits Catherine Rose, an Englishwoman who travels with her mother from England to India. While her father, stationed at the Punjab University, is their direction, destiny intervenes and crosses her path with the educated and kind Kharak. A recently qualified engineer from Lahore who works for the Indian railways, he is as taken with the feminine, unreserved Englishwoman as she is with him. And so begins a breathtaking story of a starcrossed romance that is interwoven in between a fascinating period of history.

It is that history that prompted the author to put pen to paper and begin this enthralling tale. “Being the third generation immigrant in Kenya,” says Mandz, “I was inspired by the first Indian immigrants’ courage, hard work, desire to better their lives, and the sacrifices they made that influenced me to write a story about one individual’s journey to East Africa in the 1890s as a railway worker amongst the many who helped the expansion of the British Empire.” He goes on: “I knew I had a story that was inspired by true events to tell.”

The book’s other strong feature is the cross-cultural romance that would have been highly frowned upon at the time. With delicacy and care, the love story is woven into this historical backdrop, the pace swift so the reader wonders will it be true to the time or true to the heart?

Having travelled widely to three continents and researched the era since school, Mandz has put considerable time into instilling a sense of authority into the text which balances against the forbidden love affair that will linger long after the last page.



“The book’s cross-cultural relationship is refreshing, and its peek into sites around Lahore is delightful.” – Kirkus Reviews


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Purchase Links:

Amazon – UK / US


Author Interview:

1: Tell us a little about yourself and what got you in to writing?

I have resided in three continents, lived in a gold rush town, travelled across Australia and stood in the elephant visiting caves of Mt Elgon. It was by accident that I started writing this book, when I bought my first laptop and being something new, I wanted to write and use it. So, I started writing a story.

2: Do you have a favourite time and place where you write?

Most of my novel was written in the train on my daily commute to and from work.

3: Where do your ideas come from?

The historical event which my story is based on has always intrigued me since my days in primary school. The ideas came to me at night before falling asleep.

4: Do you have a plan in your head of where the story is going before you start writing or do you let it carry you along as you go?

Initially, I thought of having a rigid plan, chapter by chapter but realized, that fit felt better to carry on writing and let the ideas unfold.

5: What genre are your books and what drew you to that genre?

The genre of this book was historical romance.

6: What dream cast would you like to see playing the characters in your latest book?

Dev Patel as the lead character, Jonny Depp as the villain and Emma stone

7: Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?

I enjoy reading and Fredrick Forsyth is the author I admire the most.

8: What book/s are you reading at present?

Sapiens. A brief History of Humankind

9: What is your favourite book and why?

The Day of the Jackal. It is an astonishing story, perfectly told.

10: What advice would you give for someone thinking about becoming a writer?

Have a story, and just start writing and remember that it is like a marathon, so write page by page and eventually, you will end up with a book.

11: What are the best Social Media Sites for people to find out about you and your work?

Having my first book published, Facebook is the only site I have set up at the moment.


About the Author:

Mandz Singh has resided on three continents, lived in a gold rush town, travelled across Australia, and stood in the elephant visiting caves of Mount Elgon. He lives in Berkshire.

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Author Interview: ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ by Jamila Mikhail

About the Book:

On top of battling the normal teenage angst that everyone goes through, Joanie is also reeling from her parents’ bitter divorce and having to cope with her mother’s new boyfriend and father’s new family. Alone in a new town and without friends, she turns to passing the time by indulging in her longtime hobby of making toy models of soldiers and is both amazed and shocked when one of them comes to life.

Despite her millions of unanswered questions and having to make sense of new mysteries every day Joanie comes to find a loyal and trustworthy companion in Adler, a lieutenant in the Wehrmacht and a member of the German Resistance during World War II who must also find a way to handle living in modern times on top of being invisible to most of the population. The two of them will have to fight several battles on many fronts in both the physical world and unseen realms as they both try to comprehend Adler’s new existence and piece Joanie’s broken life back together.

The expanded edition of Don’t Let Me Go features bonus material including the short story that originally inspired this novel as well as two interviews with the author.


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Purchase Links:

Amazon – UK / US


Author Interview:

1. Tell us a little about yourself and what got you in to writing?

My name is Jamila Mikhail, I’m 22 years old and I’m a human rights student when I’m not busy typing away my next story. To be honest, I’ve loved writing pretty much my entire life. It’s a way for me to deal with the chaos brought on by PTSD constantly going on inside my brain without having to worry about anything being proper or socially acceptable because in fiction there are no rules. You can bring to life things that don’t otherwise exist, push boundaries you may never have otherwise dared to and safely explore sensitive topics. I suppose that this is true for any art form and that’s why it’s often considered revolutionary, but I express myself better with words than with a paintbrush.

2. Do you have a favourite time and place where you write?

I usually only “officially” put things down on paper in the living room but I scribble down notes when I get hit with a jolt of inspiration just about anywhere. I like the living room because it’s comfortable and provides good entertainment (that’s where my cats usually hang out) and for me that’s a good balance of being able to focus on my work without being locked up in some stereotypical dimly lit room. That’s just not my thing.

3. Where do your ideas come from?

My ideas usually come from real life experiences, either something that I’ve gone through myself or been impacted by, or things that I’ve observed. That’s especially true for “After Anderson,” the book that I’m currently writing, with my experiences of violence at school and the social apathy that accompanies it. People flip out when a kid brings his gun to school but extremely few actually do anything concrete about it. Another thing that got me into writing is being able to hit back with a book, and hopefully motivate people to think if nothing else.

I’m one of those people who don’t write to escape reality, I write about reality. Even in my newest book “Don’t Let Me Go,” which leans quite a bit on the side of fantasy, the backstory is really about real life subjects that teens and young adults face on a daily basis. In this day and age where there’s so much fakery and superficiality it’s good to “get real” as they say.

4. Do you have a plan in your head of where the story is going before you start writing or do you let it carry you along as you go?

Before I start writing I have a general idea of what kind of story I want to write and the themes and elements I want to include in it will be but not a whole lot beyond that. After I type the first word the story just takes on a life of its own and I let it carry me wherever it decides to go from that point on. That way it also keeps things interesting for me as I writer because it’s almost like reading a story where you don’t know how things will end up but I get to write that very story at the same time!

5. What genre are your books and what drew you to that genre?

My first published book “Innermost” is poetry and my second “Don’t Let Me Go” is young adult fiction. I’ve always loved poetry, it’s probably my favourite art form of all and I love both reading it and writing it so it was natural for me to go down that route. I was definitely pleased with how the poetry community reacted and someday I’ll probably publish another collection of poems, but that won’t be in the near future because it took me years to put together this one!

As to young adult fiction, especially fantasy, this is where things get kind of interesting for me because I would never actually read that genre! I know that it’s a genre popular among young people, and since the story was about issues pertaining to that audience I knew I’d have to write something that appealed to them so I decided to test the waters with a contemporary fiction novel and so far the early feedback has been encouraging, however I don’t think I’ll stick to writing within that genre.

New adult fiction is where I’m headed with my upcoming book and I have ideas for historical fiction to dabble with and see how that turns out. I just don’t see the point of limiting myself to writing in a single genre when I don’t limit myself to reading in a single genre.

6. What dream cast would you like to see playing the characters in your latest book?

You know, this is a question that’s pretty tough to answer because I seldom think of my characters as fictitious. They really come to life for me and in fact take on a life of their own so I generally don’t imagine real people playing them, but now that the question has come up I’d like to see Russell Crowe playing Adler in “Don’t Let Me Go.” He has a soft and gentle voice, much like I imagined Adler’s voice as I was writing the book, but aside from that I have no particular actor that I see as being a particularly special fit for my characters. My characters are really average people in that story, and I’d prefer an “average” actor over a famous one to accurately portray them.

7. Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?

I do indeed read much, and even started a book review program for fellow indie authors! My favourite authors, books and even genres seem to change from day to day, but I really like Jack Kerouac. I love his writing style and how he also writes based off of real life experiences. He’s also a fabulous poet! His stories are a fabulous blend of reality and fiction and although not all of them are my cup of tea, there’s just always something that keeps drawing me back.

Elie Wiesel is another one of my favourite authors. Both his fiction and non-fiction are quite captivating and really make a person think. He doesn’t need many words to get his point across or to leave an impact on the reader. I admire that because I tend to be a persona of many words.

8. What book are you reading at present?

I’ve recently started “A Mother’s Reckoning” by Sue Klebold, mother of Columbine gunman Dylan Klebold, and although I haven’t made it very far yet (I’m a pretty slow reader) I already don’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who might be interested in the subject matter. It is one of those rare books that gives us insight like no other on a subject so important yet so sensitive and taboo. As a person who has experienced gun violence at school stories like these are a true gem in trying to better understand such tragedies, but also what we can do about them. Sue earns my highest degree of respect for her honesty and boldness in putting such a story out there, the world needs it!

9. What is your favourite book and why?

This is another one of those very difficult questions because not only do I have quite the list, but it seems to change every day! Right now I’d probably have to say that it’s the diary of Anne Frank because in times of unrest and uncertainty like these it reminds us of humanity, of goodness, of hope, but also of how fragile we really are and how important it is to do something in such situations because the Holocaust was unfortunately not the last instance of genocide. It’s something that’s happening even now as this interview is being given.

10. What advice would you give to someone thinking about becoming a writer?

I would tell them to beware of scams. It might be sort of unconventional advice compared to the usual “follow your dreams” advice but I honestly wasn’t prepared for the amount of spam an independent writer would get from people posing as everything from reviewers to agents to publicists and more but really just want your money. I knew about such scams (and how to not fall in the trap) prior to getting into the world of publishing because I studied the ins and outs of being an independent author for well over a year before deciding to officially go for it, but I wasn’t expecting how much of that crap I’d actually encounter!

My second piece of advice is also to never pay for customer reviews. This is just another ploy for money. A free book for an honest review is fair trade and there are hundreds of legitimate reviewers out there who can help you without sticking their fingers into your wallet. You don’t have to spend exorbitant amounts of money to succeed when you use the right strategy for your type of book and audience. With that said, a return of investment is what you should keep your eyes on when paying for a service.

11. What are the best social media sites for people to find out about you and your work?

My website is definitely the number one place to find out all about what I’m up to as well as download a bunch of free stuff but I’m also active on Twitter and Instagram if someone would prefer a more personal interaction. I’m very responsive to emails and love to give stuff away so people need not to be intimidated or afraid to reach out. As long as you don’t try to scam me I’ll be your ally and your friend!



Twitter: @keepurgoodheart


Don’t Let Me Go by Jamila Mikhail — Chapter One

The water splashed up against the rocks as I looked at the civilization in the distance. On the other side of the river there was a small factory and a water treatment plant on the industrial lot next to it. Passed that there was a lot of greenery with only the tip of the skyscrapers poking the distant skyline. The water  was especially blue considering the fact  that  it  passed  through  industrial  land,  but  then  again  the  town  wasn’t  called Bluepond for nothing.

There wasn’t a single cloud in sight and it was a beautiful day but I lacked the capacity to appreciate it. The cars going Nascar fast on the highway behind me were nothing but a dissonant hum in the background of the day. Some birds sang somewhere in the full scope of things too, but I couldn’t see them as I kept on looking at the buildings in the distance. I couldn’t believe that things had gotten to the point they were currently at. I couldn’t  wrap  my  mind  around  my  own  life  anymore,  if  I  had  ever  been  able  to understand it in the first place.

I got down from the railing I had been  sitting on for  hours and hours and walked back towards town  before my mother  got  some idea  in  her  head that  I  ran  away because I hated my stepfather  and stepbrother. I wasn’t exactly on good terms with any of them, but I also had nowhere to run away to. I didn’t really know where I was going to begin with, and I didn’t want to get lost either.  I especially wasn’t looking forward to starting school in a new town either, albeit not a completely unfamiliar one. ! I’d spent a couple of my summers in Bluepond with my grandfather when I was younger, before he passed away. I also knew that a few former schoolmates from Redmont had also relocated to Bluepond but that brought me no comfort. I hated school and I’d never made any friends there.

My only friends were my dolls. The only friends I’d ever had were my dolls.  I began making action figures a couple of years ago after venturing out into a flea market being held in the basement of an old church and finding arbitrary parts. I thought it might be fun  to recycle neglected and unwanted action  figures and turning them into handsome little  men  again  and  it  certainly  was  endless  creative  fun.  What started out as an experiment became a steady hobby, and that hobby eventually turned into a passion. I ended up crafting everything from movie characters to soldiers of the Second World War to real people in my daily life.

As sad as I had been to be forced to sell most of them during the move, my talent had made me a small fortune. My stepfather thought it was stupid that a thirteen-year-old girl would want to spend all her time in her room playing with children’s toys as he called them instead of going out and having a social life and my mother always took his side.

My actual father was nowhere to be found after the divorce and my stepbrother was the equivalent of a ghost.  I  literally only had  my  dolls,  and  even  they  seemed  to  be  in jeopardy. Aside from them  I  only really had myself,  and I  wasn’t  good  at  being all  by myself. Ironically the only person you really have your whole life is yourself.

That was abhorrently depressing to say the least. All you’ll ever have is yourself, but what if you aren’t a good person? What if you’re good for nothing and nobody likes you? What if, no matter how hard you try, nothing ever changes? What if you’re just a dunce and there’s nothing you can do about it? What was the whole point of living then?

Thinking about such things brought me no comfort as I approached nearby civilization. I dreaded walking into that tiny pink house on a hill by the outskirts of town regardless of anything else. It didn’t matter what I felt inside or what was going on around me, I simply didn’t want to go. No more, no less. I was only a pawn in a game of chess greater than I, or so it seemed to me. The worst part was that it seemed like I couldn’t even do a damn thing about it, and that feeling of powerlessness was probably what upset me the most in the entire thing.

The lawn  was  pretty much  evergreen  as  my mother  took  great  pride in  that  and her huge flower  garden. There was  a  little paved driveway leading to a  small  shed in  the backyard and my mom’s little green Ford Fiesta was usually backed up all the way over there but there didn’t  seem to be anyone home despite that the lights  were on  in  the kitchen and it was still daylight outside. The sun was just starting to set over the valley, beautifully illuminating everything in various shades of red, orange and pink.  I sighed loudly and walked in through the side entrance.

In front of the side entrance there was the spiral stairwell to go upstairs and underneath on the other side there was the stairwell to go downstairs hidden behind a door. Then there was the living room taking half of the first floor, and right next to it on the left side there was the kitchen mingled with the dining room. And that was the entire main floor.

That small.

My room was on the second floor along with my mother and stepfather’s room as well as the bathroom that was no bigger than a closet. My stepbrother lived in the basement and he didn’t just sleep there, he lived there in every sense of the word. Aaron was supposed to be my sibling, but he was really nothing more than a stranger living with the rest of us.

My existence was consumed with sadness and grief as I walked up to the bathroom to clean up a little bit. There had been a certain degree of mud involved with going to the waterside to clear my thoughts but it turned out that I hadn’t cleared out anything from my head at all. The bathroom was small and claustrophobic but it was cute. The ocean blue walls were decorated with paintings of fish and seashells and other aquatic things that my mother had made in order to create a little life in the place. The shower, the toilet and the sink were all incredibly white and shiny without a single stain.  The  bathroom  floor  was  of  a  light  golden  brown,  kind  of  mimicking  sand,  just making the small  room even  more beautiful. On  the east side of the room there was a large  stained  glass  window covered  with  a  blue  and  white  chevron  curtain  that  was handed down to my mother from an old relative, among other things she had received. Over the sink there was a large mirror with bare bulbs over it of various colors spicing up the room just like my mom liked it. She had always been so vibrant and eccentric but her artistic side had declined since the divorce, and I greatly missed that about her.

Nowadays she was an entirely different person. Since she shacked up with Mike she had become a stranger to me. The bathroom was the only indication that she was still in there somewhere, or at least I believed that she hadn’t vanished completely. I looked at my ugly face  in  the  mirror  and  pushed  my hair  out  of  my face.  I  had  never  like  my auburn hair too much so I had tinted it red, which was more to my liking, but I still wasn’t completely satisfied.

My hair extended down just passed my shoulders with my overgrown bangs going down just passed my ears.  Letting  my bangs  grow  out  was  a  futile  attempt  at  hiding  my cheeks which I thought were too chubby for the rest of my face. In the middle of that my nose was too small and my big round eyes were placed too closely together. My olive eyes  were nothing  more than  something else  I  didn’t  like about  myself  on  top of  the mountain of things that would’ve been different if I could rule the world.

My face was too round and my top lip was too big for the bottom one. I wasn’t morbidly overweight,  in  fact  my BMI  said  I  was  normal,  but  my stomach  could still  have  been flatter.  All  in  all,  I  had  absolutely no  self-esteem  and  even  less  with  my  stepfather constantly being  on  my case  about  my appearance  along  with  just  about  everything else.

I  tied  up my hair  into a  ponytail  since it  had  been  a  victim to  the  wind  by the shore during the last few hours and went into my room to work  on a doll I’d started a few days ago. I was almost done but couldn’t really decide which military uniform he was going to wear. I knew he was a soldier and I instinctively knew that he was a good man but I kept on going back and forth on other details. Was he going to be an American or a British soldier of the Second World War? Or maybe a German. If so he would’ve been part of the German Resistance.  Or,  alternatively he could  be half  British  and  half  German,  I already had  a  few American  soldiers  standing  twelve inches tall.  I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with him so I went downstairs and got a snack before resuming my work on him.

Eventually I decided that he would wear a Wehrmacht uniform and gave him the rank of lieutenant.  I  added  a  few  finishing  touches  to  his  face  and  gave  him  sparkling stereotypical blue eyes and sandy hair. I also put some miniature 1940s round glasses on him to give him an extra touch of elegance and to stand out from my other soldiers standing on my shelf.

One of them had a missing hand that I hadn’t been able to repair after finding him in that condition at the thrift store so I’d added an eyepatch to him to give him more of a hero returning from battle type of look. He had been my favorite until I’d just finished my first German, a good German.  He had been a savior to the most vulnerable during one of the worst times of their lives.  He was sort of a metaphor for what I wanted in my own life, or more like who I wanted to enter my life.

“Welcome to the world Adler,” I whispered to him as I placed him on the night table next to my bed, “welcome to war.”

My new home was indeed a war zone. My mother  and stepfather fought constantly and I  could  not  understand  at  all  the  appeal  of  staying  with  a  person  who  always disrespected you  and put you  down. My stepbrother was seventeen and there was no telling him what to do or not do, he did what he damn well wanted and he was always in trouble both at home and at school. I sort of simply fell in the shadows but I also got my dose  of  being  yelled at  for  not  doing chores on  time  or  not  doing them  according to standards.

Mike also thought  I  was stupid when  I asked for  help with  a  homework  question  that was  supposed  to  be  easy.  I’d  resorted  to  not  doing  my  homework  anymore  which caused  an  entirely  separate  truckload  of  troubles  and  I’d  made  it  into  high  school hanging by a hair.

As I looked through my bedroom window I saw my mother pulling into the driveway so I decided to go downstairs and have her be the first person, and probably the only person aside from me, to meet Adler. Unlike Mike,  she never  had a  problem with me making dolls and action  figures and before she divorced my dad she had actually taken  great interest in  my collection. Together we had spent many hours imagining the lives of the little men and women I made. My dad had even helped me make a little military base for the  soldiers  and  a  little  beauty  parlor  for  the  divas  so  I  could  put  makeup  and accessories on them while I played. I missed those days so much.

“Hi there Joanie,” my mother greeted me as I came downstairs.

“Hi mom,” I replied joyfully, “I want you to meet someone.”


“His name is Adler.”

My mother took him in her hand and examined every detail carefully and smiled as she did so. It had been a while since I could show her something I’d made that I was proud of and that she could be proud of too. I knew that she liked him from the obvious look on her face when she gave him back to me.

“He’s very handsome honey, good job.”

“Thanks mom.”

“Mike and Aaron will be home soon so I’m going to make dinner. It’ll be ready in about half an hour.”

During that  time I  went  back  up into my room and I dug into my box  of  arbitrary doll parts to  see how  I  would  recycle them  and what  I  would make  next.  Maybe I would make one of my grandmother that I’d never met, or maybe dolls in the likeness of both my grandparents on their wedding day in 1953.

I had so many good ideas swirling around my head but not enough materials to make exactly what I wanted. I’d either have to get some more or make something else with what I had. I ended up pondering for a while because before I knew it my mother called me down to come and eat. Once again I brought Adler down with me because he had turned out really good and I hoped that for once Mike might realize my talent.

Adler was by far the most beautiful and most detailed action figure I’d ever made. He looked just like a real person, had he really been one. I imagined him being a  tall and strong  man  with  big  arms  but  gentle  hands  and  a  good  heart.  He was intelligent, charming, fluent in many languages and multi-talented.  He was in his mid-thirties but the war had made him look older despite his good looks. He had been a brave man and was highly decorated even if he wasn’t a high-ranking officer. He had also helped save people during the war, and I somewhat wished that he could miraculously come to life and save me too.

My mother had made pork chops despite that she knew very well that I absolutely hated any and all pork products with a passion. But  of  course  they were  Mike’s favorite so Mike had whatever  he  wanted regardless of  what everybody else  thought.  When she was around him she was a completely different person. She almost physically changed too.  He  had  convinced  her  to  give  up our  previous  house  even  after  my  dad  had voluntarily given it to my mom before he moved out of province.

I missed my big old room and the big bookshelf I had in there. I barely had any books at all left and the library was too far away for me to go by myself so the most I read was the newspaper during the months that I was out of school. I really liked the crosswords section and had learned a lot of new words that way.

The sky was now pitch  black  outside once I  sat  down  in  my usual  spot  at  the dinner table. We often ate late but it generally wasn’t that late nonetheless. My mom worked long hours as a nurse and usually didn’t come home early and Mike never cooked no matter what.

He would have preferred to go without food than to actually have to make it himself. Aaron always ate takeout and I didn’t have very many cooking skills myself so I mostly ate delivery or junk food I bought from the corner store until my mom arrived to feed all of us.

“What the hell is that?!”  Mike  grumbled angrily when  he saw  that  I  had Adler  in  my hands at the dinner table and violently ripped him away from me.

“His name is Adler! Look how great he turned out to be!”

“If you’re doll hobby wasn’t stupid enough for someone your age now you had to go and make a doll of a Nazi!”

“He’s not a Nazi! He’s just a Wehrmacht officer and he’s with the German Resistance just like Claus von Stauffenberg!  He saved people during the war and he’s one of the good guys!”

“You dumb cluck don’t you remember that my great-uncle gave his life fighting these damn Germans? I never want to see another one of these things in my house again!”

Just as he said that he began to dismember Adler in a belligerent yet so trivial rage. I protested and begged him to stop but that only seemed to fuel the fire. I got up and tried to physically take back Adler  but  all  I  managed to get were half a  leg and a  few torn pieces of  fabric  from his  uniform  before Mike  positioned  his  elbow  in  front  of  me and turned away so I  couldn’t  get to Adler  which  in  turn  hit me right  in the ribs and I went down on the dirty floor immediately and hit my head.

It  was  a  legitimate  accident,  he hadn’t  tried to hit  me but  he wasn’t sorry that  he did either. My head was spinning as I hit the cold hard floor but I clearly saw him destroy the doll that I’d been  the most proud of by crushing it with  his boots he never  took  off so I wouldn’t be able to glue it back together. I hated those boots and the sound they made when  they  crushed  the  plastic  and  little  pieces  of  what  used  to  be  Adler  scattered everywhere across the floor.

Mike always wore those dirty old cowboy boots in the house and only took them off to take a shower and go to bed. It didn’t matter how filthy they were, he didn’t take them off and it was my chore to clean up whatever traces they left behind when he came in. I had politely offered to clean the boots themselves so they wouldn’t look so faded and disgusting but I was accused of being judgmental and lazy.

That was the first and last time that I’d ever made a suggestion to Mike but I still wanted his approval so badly. I wanted to feel like he was proud of me and that he loved me. I wanted that from everyone; mom, Mike and Aaron. They were my family and families were supposed to be united by love.

I cried profusely when I saw Adler, or whatever was left of him at least, sprawled out on the floor like that.  He who had been so beautiful was now completely unrecognizable and beyond repair. Nobody at the table had any sympathy for me and nobody uttered a single word once Mike’s outburst was over.

The three of them ate quietly at the table and once I managed to collect myself a little bit I got up and I ran upstairs without eating anything or saying a word to anyone. I ran into the bathroom as soon as I made it all the way up and threw up whatever was left of the junk food I’d eaten earlier in the day.  I was too stressed and filled with agitation and despair to keep the food down despite my best efforts.

I  was  sweating profusely just  by thinking and having a full-blown  anxiety attack  about what had just happened and despite my best efforts to keep my cool  I  was  losing my battle. When Mike tuned in to his evening TV shows my mother came up discretely and asked me if I was okay in the bathroom. I dismissed her saying that it was just diarrhoea and that I was fine. She left and went back downstairs without incident and I laid on my back on the bathroom floor looking at the ceiling blankly.

The more I tried to think the less I could function and the less I tried to think the more I wanted to puke again. I needed my mom so badly in that moment. I didn’t just want the mother that lived with me now, I wanted my mom. One second she wanted to be close to me and the next she pushed me away and I didn’t understand why. What had I ever done that was so bad to deserve that? I felt like only a pawn in a game of chess without any voice of my own. I felt worthless to put it mildly.

After about an hour of being borderline passed out on the floor I collected myself and went to my room which was just a few footsteps away at the far back of the top floor of the house. The only thing on the second floor of the little house was the bathroom, my tiny room, my mom and Mike’s slightly bigger room and a small closet in the hallway.

The walls were painted a dark blue with a dark brown imitation wood floor.  It was a beautiful little top floor. My room was a little more wacky with my walls painted a mixture of red, yellow and white with a black carpet covering the whole floor. There were road signs on the walls everywhere mimicking a racetrack or a highway. When we moved in I had insisted that the room stayed that way because I loved it and my request had been granted.  Why not? It saved both mom and Mike a ton of work and money having to repaint it anyway!

There was only enough  space in  there to fit  my small  bed,  a  black  children’s dresser that matched the wall  and a  small  square table to place junk  on  it along with  several shelves mounted on the walls. Under my bed I had some colored plastic containers with drawers  holding  my  clothes  that  didn’t  go  in  the  dresser  or  the  closet.  It was claustrophobic but that little room had really become my own personal sanctuary over time and I would honestly have no idea what to do with a room that was any bigger.

There was a little window on the side with no curtains through which I could see across the valley. I could see the top of buildings in the distance, about a fifteen minute walk away on foot. As I looked outside I noticed that it had rained a little bit since I’d come in and the atmosphere had cooled down considerably.

I knew that my mother and Mike would be going to bed soon so I decided to wait a little bit before going to venture outside at night. I climbed into bed and hugged my Pokemon plushes for a while until I knew that everybody was sleeping soundly and then I put on some warm clothes and tip-toed downstairs.

I took a shoebox and a checkered cloth and wrapped Adler into it like one would do with a dead house pet, put everything in my green backpack and walked outside quietly into the darkness.  The  night  air  was  cool  but  not  particularly cold,  it  was  just  the kind of weather that I liked actually. I walked over to the bus stop not too far from the house and hopped onto the bus that would take me down by the water.

I  was  the  only one  on  that  particular  bus  going  down  to the  riverside  and  it  was  a somewhat  eerie  experience  to  be  completely  physically  alone  despite  that  I  was  a professional at being emotionally alone. When the bus came to a halt, I got off and went to  sit  back  on  the  wooden  railing  by the  water,  looking  at  the  illuminated  industrial establishments shining dimly in  the skyline in the distance. At night it was beautiful to look at the water. All the industrial lights reflected on the surface of the water creating flickering patterns that almost looked like liquid fire. I caught a  chill  and for  a  moment I looked back  almost  like  I  could feel  somebody behind  me  but  there wasn’t  anybody.

Nobody was there. It was just me.  Just me and my thoughts amidst the darkness and the lights in the distance somewhere I couldn’t reach.

Once I gathered my courage I got down on my knees and started digging in the dirt with my bare hands  until  I  made a  hole big enough  to bury the box  that contained Adler’s remains.  I  wanted to cry but  I  couldn’t  bring  myself  to  do so.  The tears simply didn’t come out. What had I done to deserve that? Once upon a time I’d had a happy family but now it was like I was surrounded by strangers.

Strangers who didn’t have any consideration for me.  My relationship with my mother seemed like a tug-o-war that I could never win because I was the rope. One minute she seemed to be on my side and the next I was worthless in her eyes. How could she love a man like Mike? She had become a completely different person since he’d come along. I gingerly deposited the box containing Adler into the hole and covered it with dirt. It took me a long time to cover it completely because I couldn’t bring myself to do that either. By the  time  I  was  done  the  starry sky had  become  covered  with  clouds  and  I  saw occasional flashes of lights in the distance.

A thunderstorm was rolling in. I knew from watching the forecast that one was supposed to pass during the night, how long had I really been out? I did not feel tired. I did not feel the need to sleep either.  Generally I enjoyed sleeping,  it was sort of  an  escape and I probably would’ve enjoyed sleeping for  eternity on your  average day but I felt different for some reason unknown to me. Something inside of me had changed.

I  walked  over  closer  to  the  water  and  carefully crawled  in  between  the  fragmented barbed wire fence so I could rinse off my hands in  the current. The water was freezing cold as I dipped my hand inside and chills ran through my entire body. I hadn’t needed to  be woken  up as  I  was  running  on  my second wind  at  that  point  but the sensation certainly made me more aware. For the first time I felt the humidity by the water and the added dampness brought on by the incoming storm.

I had to come to terms with  the thought that  I’d have to go back  home soon  even  if I didn’t  want  to.  I  hid  my freezing  cold  hands  inside  my  pockets  and  carefully  went through that fence that was falling apart again. I randomly noticed a single drop of water hanging from the wire just above me, waiting to fall. The moonlight reflected in it in an explicably beautiful way.  It seemed so insignificant but heavy at the same time. It was so small but carried so much weight.

I  stayed  by  the  waterfront  and  sat  on  the  wooden  railing  again  until  way  past midnight because I’d missed the last bus at  eleven  o’clock. I didn’t mind walking back home though, the night didn’t scare me. I wasn’t scared of what lurked in the shadows. I was truly apathetic to everything really.  Somewhere along the way I had become that way.

Not  only had  everyone  around  me  turned  into  strangers  over  time,  so  had  I.  I had become a stranger even to myself. It started to rain shortly before I had started to make my way back home slowly. I was soaked by the time I got there but at least the most of the storm had gone and dumped itself elsewhere. Thunderstorms didn’t scare me but I hated them anyway.

I  creeped back  into the house and tip-toed back  into my room,  hoping that I wouldn’t leave a trail of water for someone to find out exactly what I had done. I had successfully slid into my bedroom unnoticed by anyone, mission accomplished!  I took off my wet clothes and jumped into bed.

❖ ❖ ❖

“Joanie!”  my  mother’s  voice  echoed  from  behind  the  door,  “Get  up,  it’s  time  for breakfast!”

“Okay, it’ll be just a moment,” I muttered and rolled over to the other side of my bed.

I felt unbelievably homesick as I sat up in my bed, and I really meant sick. I put my head between my knees and took a series of deep breaths to calm myself down. I zoned out and  thought  about  a  happier  time,  back  in  Redmont,  with  my  entire  family happily together.

I even longed for the little old lady that lived next door to my friend Andrea’s farm. We hung out all the time since our moms were friends and I loved being out in the country and riding horses or even running after chickens.

One specific cow from the elderly couple’s ranch next door always wandered off the land and came to eat in Andrea’s family’s garden. It actually did very little eating but a lot of shredding plants  and that was particularly upsetting to my friend who dedicated so much  of  her  time  to  caring  for  beautiful  flowers  that  she’d  planted and  grown  all  by herself.

Finally, one day we decided that it was time to put this to an end once and for all and we both angrily went stomping over for the old couple’s house about to yell at them to build a darn fence or at least do something to stop the cow from coming over but when we got there we couldn’t possibly be angry at the sweet old lady who opened the door.

We politely asked her  to deal with  the cow in a  soft  whisper  and before we left  the old lady had even  given  us a  blueberry pie to take home. Whatever had been done about the cow, it never came back to destroy Andrea’s beautiful garden. All the pretty flowers and the delicious produce had been intact since that day.

“I made you some bacon and eggs!” my mom went on to say, faking a joyous tone and bringing me back to reality.

“Thanks,” I muttered, not really knowing what else to say.

I didn’t like bacon, that was never a secret but apparently it was never a factor either.

How I wished for a piece of that old lady’s blueberry pie in a moment like that! I would’ve loved to share it with Adler and all of my other dolls had they been real people.

If I had the chance I wanted to go to the thrift store later  in the afternoon to see what I could  find  for  my next  masterpiece.  I  wanted  to  make  a  little  guy in  the likeness  of Bernard Law Montgomery,  or  simply Monty for  short. I still  had a bit of  money left and still  plenty  of  time  to  kill  before  school  started  again.  The days seemed to drag on forever in my life and I needed some entertainment.

For  the  moment  I  concentrated  on  getting  dressed  and  gathering  my  strength  for whatever  hell  I  was  going  to face once  I  got  downstairs  and  force-fed  myself  bacon mostly against my will because I didn’t want to stir up any trouble by complaining that I didn’t like it or by refusing to eat it entirely.

About the Author:

Jamila Mikhail (Жамийла Михаил), or simply Mila for short, was born in British Columbia, Canada in 1996 and now lives in Ottawa, the city of her dreams, with her cat Squeaker. In 2018 she was one of the people who received the title of Top Writer on Quora and over the years she has also received several awards for her poetry and short stories ever since she started writing on a serious basis in 2011. Mila is currently working towards a degree in human rights and is passionate about social justice. In her spare time Mila also enjoys various hobbies including photography, gastronomy, building toy models of various sizes and studying a variety of things including history, philosophy and foreign languages. She thinks that it’s strange to write about herself in the third person. Visit for more information

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