Author Interview: Casey Bartsch

Welcome to my interview with Casey Bartsch, author of Strawberries which I recently read and loved!
His answers are brutally honest and I can’t thank him enough for humouring me when I randomly messaged him and asked if he’d mind terribly if I poked around in his head.  It’s Halloween, so where better to be than inside the head of a man who brought a serial killer to life?!
Casey T Bartsch
Casey Bartsch lives in a tiny Texas town called Belton. He has yet to meet any of his neighbors, or travel farther than the grocery store. He doesn’t eat healthy foods, and is therefore a bit rotund. His girlfriend loves him anyway, and that works out well.

Casey often struggles to find the time to write. That is a lie. The time is plentiful. He just has a hard time choosing to write when other, less mentally taxing activities are available. He feels a great deal of regret each time he makes this wrong choice.

Casey spends an obscene amount of time trying to figure out why people do what they do, why he does what he does, and how long it might take before the world implodes in on itself and leaves him stranded on a small rock floating through the emptiness of space.

 

LINKS:

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Strawberries Review


1)   Tell me a little about your journey from writing this book to having it published, did you suffer any setbacks in getting this out to readers?

Ok. The big question.
I wrote about two thirds of 5 different novels, but ended up hating them all. I would come to different forks in the road, story wise, and would choose the safer route because I thought people wouldn’t want to read the stranger ideas. Doing this enough in a novel just made me loathe everything about it.
Then, very literally, my computer caught fire. Flames rose from the chassis, and the cd backups I had of the writing were actually sitting on top. They melted together, and the hard drive was fried. So, in a few moments, everything I had written for a decade or so was gone.
I basically quit writing. It was depressing, but then it was also freeing. They weren’t hovering over me; taunting me. It took a while before I wanted to write again, but one night I had a nightmare that would later turn into the prologue of Strawberries.
I was working jobs that made me miserable, and having a hard time writing at all. I had gotten married, but things took a turn for the worse, and she left me. I fell into a deep depression and attempted suicide. In the process of taking the bottle of my anxiety medicine, I decided that instead of dying, maybe I should just drastically change my life. I stopped taking the pills, and vowed that if I didn’t die from what I had taken, I would make a change. I could always kill myself later right?
I know that sounds way too nonchalant for suicide, but that’s how it is when I look back on it. I was in a horrible state that I can no longer comprehend. Anyway, I did wake up – almost 3 days later. I immediately put my notice in for the government job I had worked for 11 years, took my retirement out early, and started writing.
A few months later the first version of Strawberries was completed. Though, it wasn’t until nearly two years later that I had settled on the final draft.

2)   Strawberries is a very creepy and interesting character, where did the idea for his character come from and how did he evolve over time? 

I mentioned before that he stemmed from a nightmare. The scariest one that I have ever had. I immediately woke up and wrote it out in an incredibly rough form. Later, when I decided to write a novel again, I used it as my starting point. The lines that Strawberries says in that prologue are still the exact ones from my dream. That’s why they are rather surreal.
From there I just tried to describe the darkest version of myself that I could imagine. Though I could never be a killer, I certainly have this fear of completely disconnecting from reality. Becoming so internal that the simplest of everyday occurrences would become alien to me.

3)   Writing a book from different characters’ perspectives is an art, did you find it difficult to bring it all together?

It can be a juggling act for sure, and it didn’t come together nearly as well in earlier drafts. But, once I solidified the ultimate plot in my mind, it becomes much easier to keep all the characters on target.
It also helps to keep things simple. By which, I mean to not bog down the story in needless detail. There are many beloved writers that I feel describe too much for my liking. So many books give so many details, that I get lost in them. When I envision things, they appear much fuzzier to me.
For instance, when I say that a character is in a motel room, I’m pretty sure that most readers can picture that without a single detail. So, I leave that stuff out and focus in on the tiny details that I think better personify the characters. Also, I don’t feel the need to describe what the characters look like. This is something that I believe readers make up on their own, regardless of how detailed a writer might try to get in describing them.

4)   Are you currently working on anything else? Any hints?

Yes, I am working on a new novel. It will be very different from Strawberries. More of a coming of age story, though with darker themes such as mental illness and suicide.

5)   What is it about the horror genre that appeals to you?

The intensity. I love to be scared. I love the darkness of it all, as emo as that sounds. It’s what I primarily read myself, as well as the majority of films that I watch. Humanity can come through in horror even more so than it can in other genres. It is a shame that more writers don’t take the opportunity in their own horror to let the human nature show itself. It isn’t all about being scared. The extreme nature of an unbelievable; yet horrifying, situation, can bring out everything from fear to love.

6)   Tell me about your favourite book or a book you read recently that made an impression – what quality do you think that all good books share? 

This shifts from time to time, but for now, I am going to say Swan Song by Robert McCammon. Primarily because I read it again recently. His work is absolutely divine and encapsulates everything that I said in the previous question.
As far as what all good books have in common – I don’t think I have a good answer for this. Everyone has the things they need in a story. I need to be able to relate; yet not too much. I need dialogue that I can respect. Most of all, I need to feel like the writer cares more about whether I am enjoying the story they wrote, rather than prove to me how well they wrote the story.

 7) Bonus question: Is there anything about your work that you wish you’d been asked?

Heh. Tough question. I’ve been asked by some people why I chose to have some chapters written like a script. To answer that – originally, chapter 2 was the first script chapter, and when I first wrote it, I was at work on my lunch break. In order to save time, I simply wrote the dialogue between the two characters and planned to fill in the rest later. Half way through, I realized that going on a first date with someone, and an entire relationship in fact, plays out in much the same way. So, I just stuck with it.

Review: George Bailey Gets Saved in the End by Ken O’Neill

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Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

4 stars

Synopsis:

Same Holiday. Different George.

George Bailey, who has made a fortune selling Christmas ornaments, is having a rough few days. He’s thrown his back out lifting the Thanksgiving turkey; his father has died and his wife has left him. He’d turn to his best friend for support, but said BFF is having an affair with his wife. 

Let the holiday season begin!

On the heels of all this misery George meets a new woman, and he also meets Jesus (or perhaps just an awfully nice guy named Jesus). As he scrambles to hold together his floundering family, he must figure out if these strange and wondrous events  are miracles or symptoms of a nervous breakdown.


 

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Amazon



 **Thank you to the author for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review**

This book was a really tricky one for me to read without knowing for sure at the end that it wasn’t going to culminate in a really big religious message. I’m personally not a Christian, and I’m not a reader of Christian (or any other religious) fiction, so only once I was sure I wasn’t about to be tricked into a moral lesson did I really get into the book.

Christian faith does play a role in this book and the characters have varying degrees of faith which they do discuss – but it enhances the story and the characters. So, if you’re like me and are instantly turned off by religious stories – it’s ok. This is not what this book is about, you can read as much or as little as you like into the religious message so it works for those of faith too!

The appeal of this book for me is that it’s about people. It isn’t specifically a romance though it does play a part, I love that there are so many different characters and each one is complex and gloriously written. George (third of his name) is the main character, as the title may suggest, and he’s the perfect mix of neurotic, brave, cynical and hopeful. After his life goes down the shitter over a 24-hour period, he finds out that he really is capable of so much more than he’d resigned himself to and goes from simply going through the motions to taking control of his life and putting the needs of his family before his own. He meets Carolyn by chance on his first day as a bachelor and she helps him figure out what he’s been missing all these years, their relationship isn’t the centre of the plot and he doesn’t just lose himself to this new love affair, which makes him a better person in my opinion!

After that, I’d have to say that I love poor misunderstood Denis. We never get to learn that much about him but George changes his opinion of him grudgingly during the course of the book, which is sweet to read.

The author has wonderfully incorporated a range of LGBT issues, which are so skilfully written into the story that I only realised their full importance once I’d finished the book and was pondering the full scope of it. It includes a closeted relationship, a relationship between father and gay son and, at a distance, a woman rejected by her parents at the merest suggestion at her being gay.

O’Neill really does have a way with words; I giggled a fair amount throughout this book, where it’s very funny in places it’s also heart wrenching in others. I think it was the characters that had me hooked more than the story itself, which was a teeny bit too twee for my tastes (I’m not a Christmas or a family person by nature, and that’s essentially what this book was).

Every relationship in this book is so very real and relatable which is what makes the book so good. The author understands people and can demonstrate how interesting they are while keeping it subtle.

So fear not, if you’re looking for a Christmas time feel-good romance this year, I think you may have found it!

Migraines are the WORST

I’ve been out of action for a little while now, suffering from yet another migraine – this has to be at least the fourth this year. It’s not quite gone yet but I’m so damn bored from taking it easy that I decided to put this together.

I work with computers so after getting home from work I’ve been staying away from backlit screens, good for the reading time but bad for blogging. The trouble with migraines is that you don’t know how long they’re going to last or how severe they’re going to get, I can’t afford to put my life on hold whenever one appears because I’ve known them to last weeks before. It’s all about controlling the symptoms for as long as possible to get your productive stuff done, then accepting that you’re not going to do everything you want until it’s over.

Migraines are fascinating things, they affect everyone differently but they kick all of our asses.I think I had my first ever when I was about 9 and they’ve stuck with me ever since, they’ve become a lot more frequent in the past few years and I haven’t found a way to avoid them yet but I have got a whole range of tactics for when one does crop up.

 

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WHAT IT’S LIKE

 

  • Irritation – I get soooo angry for no reason whatsoever, this one happens first so I know to grab the paracetamol, turn off the lights and sit my ass down until it’s over.
  • Photosensitivity – sweet jeebus, the light hurts my eyes. When someone switches on the light when I’m in hiding, I can actually feel a sledgehammer being thrown around inside my head.
  • Nausea – great fun this one. It’s like being travel sick, but the journey never ends.
  • Clumsiness a.k.a. ‘The Dropsies’ – my hands go a little bit numb and I start dropping things or knocking things over.
  • Aphasia a.k.a. ‘I  can’t word, I gots the dumb’ – I lose words, forget what I’m saying and keep coming out with really funny spoonerisms when my words get squished together (my favourite recently was ‘spamci’ instead of ‘scampi’). It’s scary as shit when this happens but the key is to stay calm: it. will. pass.
  • ‘The Vague’ – I struggle to keep track of conversations and everything else in general.
  • Smells are too ‘loud’, sounds are too ‘bright’ and lights are ‘nauseating’ this one’s all kinds of messed up.
  • The headache to end all headaches. Only recently have I heard of someone going to hospital with a migraine and suddenly I feel like a complete ass for never having considered this – can they actually treat it effectively?!

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    WHAT I DO ABOUT IT 

  • Hit the lights – just turn them off. All of them. Screens. Lamps. EVERYTHING.
  • No running – sounds stupidly obvious, but I have tried exercise at the beginning of a migraine to see if the endorphins would help. Nuh uh. It doesn’t, it makes it so much worse.
  • Solpadeine – my headache drug of choice, I start taking it as soon as I feel it coming on to keep the pain away. It also helps with the other symptoms, though the trade-off is that the codeine makes ‘the vague’ worse. Totally worth it, in my opinion!
  • Don’t panic – most of these symptoms are terrifying and make you think you’re having a stroke or something even worse. Freaking out doesn’t help, it makes the aphasia and the pain worse, so just chill out and put your feet up.
  • Eat well – there’s a load of theories about foods that help or exacerbate migraines, most of the theories are contradictory anyway. I avoid extra caffeine, grab some chocolate (the myth that chocolate triggers migraines has been disproved, so breathe easy), drink loads and make sure I eat plenty of healthy food.
  • https://justgetflux.com/ – this is the best thing ever. It’s an app which changes the blue light on your computer screen according to the time of day, or in my case – removes the blue light from my screen 24/7. It’s the best thing ever!

    Of course, I would say ‘sleep’ too but if you can sleep when you have a migraine…. I’m jealous! I tend to stick an audiobook on low and just ride it out.

If you’re a migraine sufferer, I’d be really interested to know how it affects you and how you cope- we all need to stick together and share any strategies that work! I’m currently trying green tea as a homeopathic remedy, it tastes of wet sprouts and doesn’t seem to be doing anything for me but it’s worth a go!

Review: Magical Ties by J.M. Levinton

 

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Published by Fantastical Press

5 starsSynopsis:

Experimenting with a demon-summoning spell was a way for 25-year-old Emily to forget that her boyfriend dumped her. To her shock, it worked.

Now, with a demon on her hands, Emily and her sister, Christa, fall under the scrutiny of Thomas Ramikin, the head of the magical community’s police.

Like it or not, Emily is forced to see a world where demons, angels, vampires, and a host of other beings live side-by-side with humans.

Really, who expects that on Long Island?


Goodreads

Amazon


**Thank you to NetGalley for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review**

This book is well and truly in my wheelhouse (a term I’ve only learnt by spending way too much time listening to American podcasts over the past year). Demons, sassy women, sexy men with mysterious powers, violent deaths. Bliss.

Emily is not a happy lady following a breakup so she starts bugging her academic sister, Christa, for something interesting to do. Christa is studying the superstitions and the supernatural for her dissertation so sets Emily up with a demon summoning spell to keep her amused, obviously not expecting it to amount to anything.

OF COURSE IT AMOUNTS TO SOMETHING.

So now they have a shit load of unexpected consequences, including the attention of the magical community’s police force. Ignorance is no excuse for demon raising, so both sisters must pay the price for their complacency.

Tragically, Emily must pay for her role in the debacle by spending a lot of her time with the sexy head of the police. Sure, she does get attacked by some powerful forces every now and again but it’s a small price to pay!

Alongside the demon raising story arc, there’s also a good old-fashioned murder mystery running alongside.

I won’t fib, this book is a wee bit clichéd but damn it, I love this particular cliché. There is a bit of debut novel-ness about it too, which can only mean that the sequel is going to be even better!

I love Emily as a main character, but most of all I love her relationship with her sister. These aren’t weakling damsels in distress even if they do stupid and thoughtless things (who’s perfect?!) – Christa is a bright and tenacious academic, even if those are just the qualities that land her in trouble. Emily doesn’t take any shit but is very practical, she accepts that she isn’t best suited to the magical world so she treads very carefully and does her best to protect herself.

The romance aspect is a little bit complicated, the sexual tension is high but there’s no actual sexy times which would normally have me leaning towards a YA categorisation but this is definitely a book for adults (though I gather that ‘New Adult’ is becoming a genre now, so that would probably be the right grouping for it). I have all my digits crossed that Emily gets her rocks off in the next book!

I finished this book in one sitting and I’m heartbroken that there isn’t a sequel to jump into already, thankfully the author has assured me that she’s working on that particular problem so I can rest easy for now.

If you’re looking for a nice and cosy witchy-murder-mystery, witty banter and interesting characters, I think that this is going to be a good series to keep an eye on.

Review: Sorry and Morticum by Charles Stoll

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Published by Gatekeeper Press

4 stars

 

Synopsis: 

Welcome to Daytona, 3022. Much has changed. After mankind had made peace between the nations, there still followed the Robotic Wars, the Insect Wars and the Climate Wars. Many of the world’s formally hidden creatures have risen to the surface.

The rivers and oceans have dried up and a conscious fog covers the planet. Sorry has a plan to restore the world, but to do so, must cooperate with mutants, Ocean Sprites, Seafog and his werewolf husband and conflict with Freemonkeys and Mutmuts.

You can only save the present by examining the future.


Goodreads

Amazon


**Thank you to the author for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review**

I’m going to start this one off talking about the cover and hope I don’t come across as too mean: I think it looks a little amateurish and doesn’t do the contents justice. It does tie in with the story, but the finish on it misses the mark for me.

Stoll has a really wonderful writing style, it’s quite difficult to describe but it’s the driest kind of humour and manages to put a number of philosophical points in without making it dull, condescending or pretentious (the three main pitfalls of any philosophical content in novels, I’ve noticed. I’m aware I can be all three… so…. Shut up. Hypocrisy is allowed).

His characters are bizarre, varied and magnificent. He spits on the naming conventions of our world and just names them whatever he hell he wants, which is how I came to find myself reading about Busy, the dexterous boob lady; Sorry, the cantankerous wizard who just needs to see the world differently and Seafog… the weather.

The story kind of does its own thing, Sorry has found a new lease on life and is now determined to do everything he can to make sure that the world learns from its past to ensure that his family has the best possible future. Of course, the one thing that becomes glaringly obvious is that ‘good’ is a very subjective concept so looking at the past doesn’t bring everyone to the same conclusion about which ‘good’ parts of the past they should look to. This book is an exploration of that.

This book is primarily character driven and their dialogue is what makes this book so special. This is probably for the best because I did find the conflict in this book to be lacklustre until near the very end, characters and catastrophes come and go a little too easily to really make a lasting impact.

Stoll has a lot of profound and philosophical messages he wants to impart through his work, ranging from climate change, religion and sexuality. For the most part, he weaves all of these seamlessly into his story but nearer the end you get the feeling that he had so much more to say but had realised he was running out of space to say it – I found this disappointing because I really enjoy the philosophical side of Stoll’s work, I think he either needs to give in and write longer books or economise his issues per book and just accept he needs to write more books for me to enjoy!