Friday, 22 June 2012

In Conversation with SS Hampton Sr.

I'm delighted to introduce my guest and fellow Muse author

S.S. Hampton Sr. author of

               Better Than A Rabbit's Foot

Welcome Stan,
We are keen to learn more about you and your writing.
So, I'm putting you on the spot now.

Okay, Wendy, I can tell you something about me. 
I'm a full blood Choctaw from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather, and a member of the Army National Guard. I'm nearing retirement from the Guard, unless I can get a deployment to Afghanistan before the war ends. I'm a published photojournalist, photographer, a fiction writer, and an aspiring painter.

I'm studying to be an archaeologist. Actually, my interest is underwater archaeology, but I need to learn to swim better first, and become scuba qualified – in Cancun, hopefully, which is far better than an oily, land-locked lake. On a more personal note, I often wonder if there is an afterlife – after all, I'm middle aged, and though not obsessed with death, I sometimes feels a cold shadow fall across me.

You certainly have a full life and such diverse interests. Quite inspirational. No wonder you are a writer. This makes me wonder, who inspires you?

As this blog is focused on fiction writing, then, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, and Frederick Forsyth, to name just three. King is a great horror writer, though sometimes I think his novels are a little long. Clancy writes military fiction, which is one of my favorite genres; I enjoy the way he weaves technology into the story of people. Forsyth was a journalist first, and his writing is a wonderful blend of journalism and storytelling, as well as blending fact with fiction.

I can see how those writers reflect elements in your own career.  So, you are a full blood Choctaw.  I find that fascinating. Would you say your childhood provided you with a wealth of story material?

No. I was adopted and raised by my Anglo “grandparents” who had raised my mother and her twin sister. I’m what’s called an “Apple” – red on the outside, white on the inside. I really knew nothing of my Native heritage, beyond the stereotypical media image, until I started exploring it in my 30s.

'Apple', what a great expression. I hadn't heard that before. I'm betting the result of your 'exploring' will find its way into a future story. What about photography? Your expertise in photography must give you an exceptional eye for detail. How does this transfer into your writing?

Photography is about composition, lighting, and contrasts – in B&W, shades of light and dark, or in colour, complementary, or even complete opposites. Describing clouds for example, especially when setting a mood, I remember how a red lens filter brings out the contrast. The sky is darker, the clouds are darker, the whites are a little whiter, and the way they blend from one to the other is interesting.

I try to capture that feel, when describing clouds or anything else for a story. It’s the same when photographing, for example, a woman dancing at dawn in sheer, flowing clothing. It’s the way the dawn provides a backlight that is flowing across the horizon and the sky in that time when the night is yielding to morning. It’s the way her form is silhouetted by the rising sun, and the way the sunlight is muted by the folds of cloth, and even the shape of the cloth as it “flies away” from her, or wraps around her, as she dances. Trying to describe something like that is difficult for me, but I hope I manage to accomplish such detailed descriptions.

 I think you described these examples beautifully. Being able to hone in on unique details such as these is a real talent. Now, looking at the broader picture, as a soldier, are all of your stories related to the military or do you address other topics?

I had to double check, and amazingly, I do address non-military topics. I wrote The Ferryman (Melange Books), which is a take on the Greek myth of Charon, the ferryman who carried the shades of the dead across the Styx into the underworld.  I wrote The Mumbai Malaise, which was included in the anthology “In Poe’s Shadow” (Dark Opus Press), a collection of stories inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. I was inspired by “The Masque of the Red Death,” which I’ve always enjoyed, and placed the story setting on the moon.

So your short stories have been published in anthologies. Congratulations! Is there something about the short story that makes you prefer this form of expression over the novella or novel?

It’s faster! It’s shorter, faster, and (hopefully) I can produce more writing. I still want to write novellas or novels, but I don’t have the patience to devote the time to writing and editing. I’d probably feel like I’ve wasted time if I only produced two or three per year. And being middle aged, not that I feel like I’m in a race with time, but…

Producing more than two or three short stories a year is pretty impressive, to me at least. It takes me a year to write one short story before I'm happy enough to send it off. I guess that's why I tend to live inside my novels - working on one major idea for a long time. But you have to find so many ideas. No doubt your bank of interests and accomplishments makes this possible.  Do you ever find writing is a chore? 

Yes! I should write every day, but I don’t. I generally write when the mood strikes me, or when a deadline looms, meaning a submission deadline, or I promised a publisher something by a certain date. If I try to write every day when I’m not in the mood, it’s difficult to do so. And yes,  like I said above, writing only when I’m in the mood is a waste of time, but hey, I’m human, and middle aged.

About the main characters in your stories, are they based on particular acquaintances or a composite of many?

Generally, at this stage, neither. Once in awhile I may add an actual personality trait to a fictional character, but never enough to where someone could say a fictional character is based on a real person. It’s hard to explain, but even though I’m writing fiction, if I base a character on a friend, or if a character is a composite of several friends, and I write that that particular character is killed or crippled, it gives me an uneasy feeling.

I can understand that. It's probably for the same reason I don't like writing in the 1st person. I become too protective of my main character when it's I. :)  In Better Than A Rabbit’s Foot, your newly released story from MuseItUp, your sergeant ponders the benefit of carrying a lucky charm. Did you carry a charm?

Yes. Our unit was tasked with providing security for supply convoys headed into Iraq. I only went north from northern Kuwait into southern Iraq three times, on short, day-long missions. I never “heard a shot fired in anger.” When I crossed the border I always wore a Celtic Cross on my “dog tag” chain (the identifying metal tags that Soldiers wear in case they’re wounded or killed).

Do you draw on personal experience in your stories or stay with what you observe in others?

I draw on my personal experiences insofar as it concerns living a military life. From those who’ve actually experienced combat, I try to remember how they described it. And of course, there’s research, reading books, magazine articles, and newspaper articles in which combat is described. I think the greatest compliment a writer can receive is when someone says the story captures the feeling, and describes “it,” as to how things really were. I read somewhere once, that after Stephen Crane wrote “The Red Badge of Courage”—he never served or observed combat, if memory serves me right—veterans and critics praised the realism of his writing, meaning capturing the fear and confusion inherent in any battle. Apparently he appreciated the praise.

Yes, he would appreciate that kind of praise. We'd all like to reach that level. Stan, would  you like to introduce your main character from your latest release? Has he appeared in any other short story of yours?

In Better Than a Rabbit’s Foot, Sergeant Jerry Stanton is a young, ordinary soldier deployed to a convoy support center in northern Kuwait. He’s a gunner on a gun truck, and as he gets ready to go out on a mission, he learns that a gunner up north has been killed. The news is a kick in the stomach, and it reminds him of his own mortality. Though not actually scared, he’s not happy either. But like all soldiers, he’ll go because his buddies are going—he can’t stay behind while they head north. And, no, Stanton has not appeared in any previous short stories.

If there was something Jerry Stanton could request of you, the author, what would that be?

If Stanton felt like talking, he’d want me to listen. I wouldn’t have to say anything, just listen.

I remember late one night I stepped outside of my air conditioned tent to have a cigarette before turning in. A Soldier I knew from my first days in the Guard (I joined in 2004, and about 120 of us volunteered to deploy in 2006) came up and sat down on the concrete traffic barrier. It was just small talk, but then he started doing most of the talking while I listened. There was nothing profound, he was just talking out loud—but he mentioned the IED that struck his gun truck a few days before. Our battalion was less than three weeks into the mission; a Soldier from the battalion we were replacing had been killed. Then, a Soldier in one of our other companies was killed. A gun truck in our company was hit. Then, his gun truck was hit—he was knocked out but otherwise uninjured, and another Soldier had been lightly wounded. But still… So I lit another cigarette, and listened. After awhile, the kid sort of smiled at me, said “Good night,” and went off to get some sleep.

Ah, now there's a good answer from a writer.  That's how you become a sponge to all sorts of knowledge as well as being a good friend. Thank you for your open answers, Stan. It's been a pleasure conversing with you.

SS Hampton's short story Better Then A Rabbit's Foot is available at

MuseItUp Publishing   and  Amazon

and learn more about Stan at  MuseItUp publishing  Author Page

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Blog Swap with Barbara Ehrentreu

It's my pleasure to welcome fellow MuseItUp author

Barbara Ehrentreu  who has brought along her main character, Carolyn, to talk about the YA novel in which she appears called,

'If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor'.                                


Carolyn Samuels is obsessed with the idea of being popular. She is convinced that the only thing keeping her from happiness is her too heavy for fashion body and not being a cheerleader. Hyperventilating when she gets nervous doesn’t help. When she is paired for a math project with the girl who tormented her in middle school, Jennifer Taylor, she is sure it is going to be another year of pain. With Carolyn’s crush on Jennifer’s hunky junior quarterback, Brad her freshman year in high school looks like a rerun of middle school. When Jennifer is the only student who knows why she fell in gym class, Carolyn is blackmailed into doing her math homework in return for Jennifer’s silence. Jennifer takes on Carolyn as a pity project since she can’t be seen with someone who dresses in jeans and sweatshirts. When Jennifer invites Carolyn to spend the night to make her over and teach her to tumble, Carolyn learns Jennifer’s secret and lies to her own friends to cover it up. Will Carolyn become a cheerleader and popular? Does she continue to keep Jennifer’s secret? Or will she be a target of this mean girl again?


I spot him walking toward my locker with a small box in one hand and a plastic fork in the other. My Crush! He hands me the box, and I open it. Inside is a piece of luscious chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. I look up into his blue eyes and give him the box so I can touch his cheek as I smooth his dark hair.
“You always know just what I like.”
He smiles and feeds me a forkful of cake. I don’t have to worry about eating it because I can eat anything I want and not gain weight. He places the cake box in my locker so he can put his arms around me. The first bell rings in my ears. I ignore it because I’m thin and blonde and floating in the arms of my dark-haired crush. The other cheerleaders run up to us laughing and kidding around, and I’m about to speak. The ringing gets louder.
The dream evaporates, and I realize it’s the darn alarm piercing my sleep. Slamming my fist onto the Snooze button, I get this nagging feeling. Then I remember. I have something to do. Worse luck, I have to do it, not as the slender blonde beauty in my dream, but as the real Carolyn Samuels with my brown curly hair hanging like shriveled spaghetti, mud brown eyes, and a body too large for fashion. I see my new book bag is packed and ready by the door with the initials C. S. in blue, my favorite color. Suddenly it hits me, and I get this dizzy let-me-plop-on-the-pillow feeling. Freshman year of high school—first day. My brain is ready, but my body isn't. Jennifer will be there. Math class and Jennifer; gym class with Jennifer. My body curls into a fetal position, and I throw the covers over my head. Don’t faint Carolyn, I tell myself, panting.

Dangling over the chair are those size twelve jeans, clown pants—hardly a fashion statement. I groan. Paired with the red long-sleeved T-shirt, they looked so good on the mannequin; I’ll look like a stop light. What was I thinking? How could I possibly go to school looking like such a freak?

Actually, the real reason I can’t go is Jennifer, with her long straight blonde hair, perfect body, and clothes from magazines like Teen and Seventeen.

Yuck. I feel sick, sick with Jenniferitis.

I hear Mom's footsteps on the stairs.

"Why are you still in bed?" She comes upstairs and peeks into my room with a puzzled look on her face

Moving the blanket up to my nose, I say, "Mom, I can't stop shivering, and my stomach and head hurt.” She feels my head and looks at me with mother vision. "Carolyn, did you think I'd fall for your tricks?" I cringe. Now my stomach and head ache for real. Defeated, I climb out of bed and get washed. I slip the hated outfit onto my body and glance at my bloated reflection in the mirror. It's too late to change. I’m stuck with this. If only I could be like Jennifer Taylor. After picking up my book bag, I race down the stairs, take a couple of bites of a chocolate-chocolate chip muffin and a few sips of non-fat milk. I almost trip over a lump blocking the door. Max, our five-year old Newfoundland raises his massive bear-like head, sniffing like he’s never eaten a thing in his life when he sees my muffin. I glance at his empty bowl and throw the rest of the muffin into it. He sees it and licks my face; now I’m going to smell like dog food all day. Grabbing a paper towel, I wipe my face and lean to ruffle his soft fur. At least Max doesn’t care what I wear. Feed him and rub him under his chin, and he’ll cover you with slurpy kisses. Mom is already in our three-year-old silver Malibu that, like my jeans, doesn't quite make a fashion statement. On the drive to school, I'm looking forward to seeing Becky and Janie my two best friends from forever. Don't want to see Jennifer's face on the first day of high school.

  Barbara interviews her main character, Carolyn Samuels, from If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor.
Carolyn, would you please tell us a little about yourself?
There’s not much to tell. I live in Mill Valley, which is in Westchester, NY and I attend Mill Valley High School. My best friends are Becky and Janie and I love Math. Oh, yeah, I have a Newfoundland dog named Max and my favorite cookie is chocolate chocolate chip homemade by my mom. My mom works for an ad agency in the city. That’s what New Yorkers call New York City. My dad is a criminal lawyer. I’m an only child, but you couldn’t ask for better parents. Except they don’t pay much attention to me.

On the surface it looks like you have a great life. Why, then did you come to me one day crying and telling me you hated Jennifer Taylor and she made your life miserable? Who is Jennifer Taylor and why do you hate her?
Jennifer Taylor has made my life a living nightmare since middle school. I call her Miss Perfect, because she is a size two and her father owns half the town. She’s on the path to be an Olympic gymnast so she’s excellent in gym. Jennifer is the most popular girl in the freshman class. I think she knows everyone in the class. And to top it all off she has this hot boyfriend, Brad, who is a Junior and the quarterback for our football team. He’s so amazing and I don’t think she deserves to be with him. Okay, maybe I have a crush on Brad myself.
What happened last year on the first day of school?

I’m not sure I can talk about this, because it brings back awful memories. Do you want me to go all the way back to the rope line incident? I mean that’s what started all this.

Yes, tell us as much as you can.
Well, I got up on the first day of school after having this incredible dream where I was popular and a cheerleader and my boyfriend fed me a piece of chocolate cake because I was thin and blonde and didn’t gain weight. Of course the truth is I am a little overweight and my hair is dark brown and hangs like shriveled spaghetti. But still this was a great dream, wouldn’t you agree? I wanted to stay in bed, because when my alarm rang I realized I might run into Jennifer Taylor. 

You see I hate her and I also want to be like her. It’s awful and here’s how it started. When I was in seventh grade we did the ropes course. One part of it , the zip line, required you to climb up to this platform and you were given a harness. When you got up there you had to clasp yourself to the line and then you could slide down. A few people went in front of me and then of course, Jennifer did it perfectly. When my turn came I froze. Then I started breathing funny, because I have this thing. I hyperventilate when I’m nervous and that day I started turning blue. If I can’t start breathing I can faint. I started feeling dizzy and couldn’t clasp myself onto the zip line. Jennifer was on the ground and saw me. The teacher saw me too and raced up the ladder to the platform. She said to me, “Breathe, Carolyn, breathe.” Then Jennifer started saying too and soon all the kids who had been on the line echoed her. As I came down the ladder I wanted a big hole to open up and swallow me. So then Jennifer started bothering me at odd times every day. She’d sneak up and say “Breathe, Carolyn, breathe.” Or she would whisper it in class when I had to go up to the board. We were in Math class together and I started to dread it. So when I was in her Math class again and the teacher put us together as partners I didn’t know how I could stand it.

What happened?
Well the first day of school after being pushed together with her for a Math project I was put in front of her in line for gym. I don’t know what happened, but all of a sudden I didn’t want to be anywhere near Jennifer and I started hyperventilating until I fainted. I guess that’s when I got connected to Jennifer in a much more serious way.

Oh, my goodness, your story has more to it?
Oh yes, I learned way too much about Jennifer and wound up holding her secrets for a long time. I mean, I did meet Brad and well, I don’t think I can say anymore. This is all really painful to talk about, you know?
 I guess if you want to learn more about what happened that year you will have to read the book, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor from MuseItUp Publishing in print or as an ebook.

Thank you, Wendy, for hosting us today.
My pleasure, Carolyn. I know talking about these things is hard for you, but you did very well.

Wendy: Well that was an interesting interview. Thank you Barbara and Carolyn. It is clear Carolyn has been most forthcoming with her author. Sometimes when we stand back and listen we learn much more than if we probe.

BTW, in this BLOG SWAP, YA Author, Barbara Ehrentreu, is hosting me on her blog, Barbara's Meanderings , today, where I talk about my YA novel, 'The Unhewn Stone', set in medieval Switzerland.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Short Story Writing

Anne Duguid invited me to write a post for the wonderful blog Slow and Steady School for Writers which she designed especially for serious writers. As an editor, Annie knows what writers need to know to get published.  Slow and Steady School for Writers is a blog I have book-marked and keep the icon on my desktop because of the wealth of information and assistance Annie and her Guests provide.
I'm thrilled to participate.
I have a BA in English Literature and Classical Literature  which I draw on for my novel writing, but I also have a diploma in Professional Writing (English, Fiction, and Freelance Journalism), from International Correspondence Schools (Australia),  so I decided to talk about the five, three and two tiered plot framework, I learned about, there, regarding the short story. There are lists and links to make gathering the essential ingredients easier.

You'll find Annie's blog and my post  at

 Orphaned, lonely and bullied little Billy battles to survive but his stubborn streak and false friends result in his failure to thrive. Billy needs a miracle. Without it he will die.

Short Chapter Book for middle graders. $2.50

Available: MuseItYoung  Amazon Kindle  

Perfect Bianca has discovered a flaw, which if discovered by the Rulers, will cost her her life. For the past year she has hidden her restlessness by means of the ingenious birthday present her husband provided. Now, on her thirty-third birthday her primative behaviour and thought patterns have returned; stronger and more dangerous.

Happiness Guaranteed

SF -Mainstream-Short story $2.50

Available  MuseItUp Bookstore  Amazon