Thursday, August 19, 2010

TAKE TEN: Author Nigel Barto

Though he has been writing for some time, Silver Spring, MD native Nigel Barto is enjoying incredible success and recognition with his second novel Nick, Dontae, Gus and Jack.The book deals with the lives of friends who are still discovering things about themselves and each other as they pursue success and happiness---yet there are also personal demons they have to overcome along the way. The author can relate to the plight of his characters as he strives to live authentically in his own life from day to day.
In this interview with Cyrus Webb of Conversations Magazine, Nigel talks about all of this and even gives some advice for aspiring writers as well.

Nigel, thanks for taking out time to talk with us. Before we get into the new book, I want to give our readers a little background. When did you realize that writing was something you were interested in?
I think writing was always my thing but I didn't realize it until much later. In the second grade, I began writing "Rose are Red, Violets are Blue" poems to my mom. As time went on, I wrote little stories and poems, and jotted notes and ideas down in books and journals. After college, I took a trip to Paris to study for a few months. I was a "starving student" (laughs) living on little, and did some travelling outside of Paris, but was naive about getting in and around countries. When it was time to leave France to return to the US, I decided to visit family in London before attempting to fly from Belgium back to Washington, DC. With visa issues, no money, heavy luggage, and no return ticket in hand, it was to be picked up in Belgium, my journey turned into quite an ordeal. When I made it back and saw my mom, a flood of words spilled out about my experiences. I recounted the whole trip and she said, you know Nigel, you should write a story about it. And so I began. I wrote a piece called "Returning Home", and fell in love with creating stories. I eventually wanted to write novels, but also at times it was a good enough release to write anything whether it was an email to a friend, a note to myself, or just writing about what I saw and heard on the bus or in the streets.

Was there a thought in the beginning that you would take that love of words and actually translate that into books that people would buy?
Books that people would buy...calling myself a writer and an know, I'm still stepping up to that plate. Sure, folks have bought my books and I am an author. But did I imagine when and how I would be here? Not exactly. I'm a dreamer and I hoped I would still be writing, but where that would take me I wasn't sure. Firstly, I write for me, and I try to embrace what comes. You know, I have a few plays sitting in a trunk still to be produced, and a bunch of ideas and no stories yet. So I experience the world around me until words come and take over.

Alot of people talk about writing a book. You have actually done it twice. What do you think separates you from people who just talk about doing something instead of actually doing it?
Well you have to want to see it through to the end. It's creative and rewarding and cathartic, but it's work nonetheless. You have to give time and discipline to it. It's you by yourself with your characters. That's not always a fun night (laughs). You also need to balance that with social interaction and living outside of your home or the place where you write. And of course life can get in the way, right?

I have read your second book Nick, Dontae, Gus and Jack, and there are quite a few social issues that you address in it. What was your first book called, and what led you to write it?
My first book is called, "Private Sessions". I was living in Los Angeles when I began writing it. I used moody, lonely, out of control, not in control, and striving to succeed feelings I had bottled up, and channeled those energies into writing and this story took over. I used to listen to other authors being interviewed on like Oprah or some other show. They would talk about their characters as though they were real people outside of themselves and say how a character wanted to do this and a character decided to do that, etc, and I used to think how crazy. Didn't they write the story? How do they not know the whole story? The characters are talking to them? But, I have to say I had that experience time and time again with "Private Sessions". I would wake up in the middle of the night and think, omg, Jordy is about to do this or this thing is about to happen to him. Jordy Blackwell is the main character in the book. He experiences death, loss, pines for the girl he loves, and finds himself in between careers. Besides my mom, I had a couple motivators along the way. A small publisher in Florida wrote me a two page letter giving me positive feedback on the story and that was inspiring. And an editor in Atlanta made me dig deeper. She said to me, Who gives a f*ck about Jordy?, why do we want to know him?"

Recording artists talk alot about the sophomore jinx, especially when their first product seemed to do well. Did you worry about that yourself?
No I didn't worry about the sophomore jinx with my second novel. It's just a different story I wanted to share.

Tell our readers about Nick, Dontae, Gus and Jack.
My second novel is about friendships, relationships, and choices we make in life. Nick, Dontae, Gus and Jack are friends who met years ago in school. They've graduated, and they're working and living on their own. It's summertime, and while folks want to get away to the beach, the friends are grappling with live, love, career, and being true to who they are. Nick dreams of having his first love Manny again like the first time. Dontae tries to hold on to his current love Drew while working in the entertainment industry. Gus wants to find love and his mother, and in the meantime writes songs and pursues a career in music. And Jack strives to balance work and home life by doing things that hopefully makes her partner Piere happy. The friends live, hope, dream, and try to be true to themselves.
Nigel, one of the biggest points I got from the new book is the importance of knowing who you are inspite of what you might achieve or happens around you. How do you apply that principle in your own life, and why is that something readers should consider as well?
I'm definitely a work in progress. That sounds cliche but it's true. I change my mind and sometimes I'm unpredictable or I'd like to think so. But that being said, my journey is still to live authentically, to be me, and live as me: the best me I can. I think we should strive for that. We need to figure out what we want and need, what our likes and dislikes are, and love ourselves first.

What else do you hope people take away from the new book?
Love isn't easy but it's worth it. You have to work at life and relationships. And also, I hope for more acceptance and openness as LGBT and straight lives evolve. It's different and the same, it's everything and anything, and for some, nothing at all. It just is. It's a part of everyday life, often times smoothly and seemlessly showing up among the living and the dare to live.

Any advice you want to share with aspiring writers who might be reading this conversation?
Write! Start writing! Keep writing! It's a message I heard years ago and I believe it. Practice your craft and do what you love to do.

Thanks again for taking out this time, Nigel. If our readers want to find out more about you or keep up with you online, how can they do so?
I welcome readers to find me on Facebook or send me a tweet on Twitter.
(NOTE: Listen to Nigel Barto discuss his career as an author and his new book on Conversations Magazine here:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

TAKE TEN: Author Juan Gomez-Jurado

International bestselling author Juan Gomez-Jurado is living the dream of many aspiring writers at this point in his life. His first book GOD'S SPY was a runaway success, garnering the attention of critics and eager readers. Now his second novel THE MOSES EXPEDITION is mesmerizing some of the biggest names in the literary world along with others who are finding out about this skilled wordsmith.

Conversations' own Cyrus Webb had a chance to ask a few questions of the author* just as the book was being released in August 2010, covering how he feels about what he has accomplished, what it feels like to be so well-received and even what he would say to those who feel as though they have a book inside of them but haven't taken the steps to bring it to life.

Juan, thanks for taking out the time to talk with us. Before we talk about your latest book, I want to first of all congratulate you on your success.Are you surprised at how your work has been received all around the world?

Thanks a lot and yes, actually! When I finished writing my first novel I thought that my wife and my parents would be my only audience. That feeling was fortunately wrong. 

I know that before you were a published author you were a journalist. When did you realize that writing was something you were interested in and that you had a love affair with words?

When I was a small kid I always said that I wanted to become a journalist. When people asked "Why?" I always said "Because Clark Kent is one". In Spain there's an old refrain for that kind of situations: God writes straight with twisted lines.

Was writing something that those around you initially supported?

Yes, actually I would be nothing without my father. I grew up in a very poor family. When he came back home from his second job, he found me in bed. He was so tired that he always had black circles around his eyes, but even so he always came to my room and told me a story that he invented on spot. A different one, everyday, since I was born till the moment I was able to read by myself. He never repeated a plot. I think that my father was the biggest narrator I've ever met.

With your first book taking off the way it did, were there any worries with the release of the new book when it came to the expectations game?

Great question! There were worries. Tons of them. I'm still worried! You know, I met once the Nobel Prize Camilo José Cela. He was in his eighties and was literally swimming in money and awards. After a couple of hours of conversation I asked him about his new novel, coming out the following week. He told me that he was scared to the bone about it. How do you think that a 32 years old author can feel about his sophomore book?

The newest release is called THE MOSES EXPEDITION. Tell our readers about it.

It's the biggest adventure novel since War and Peace. No, seriously, it's a thriller about an expedition to the Jordan Desert in search of a big secret buried in the sand for centuries. Let me tell you something: this Expedition is based in a thorough research and many real facts. And I will tell no more!

The discussion of religion and politics is one that all of us are involved in from day to day. How much do your own personal views of the two influence the world you create for your characters?

I've visited 37 countries and counting. I've lived in tents in the desert with bedouins, eat rats in the Amazon, rode camels in Saudi Arabia, prayed in the Ganges and watched the Jerry Springer Show. I had a full life! I mean, the more you travel and see other people and cultures you discover that we are all the same. Finding differences between a bedouin and a Manhattan lawyer is harder than it seems. I think that a little bit of this can be found in the book, along with explosions and SUV chases in the dunes.

Like the first novel, it seems as though THE MOSES EXPEDITION is garnering great reviews from not just critics and avid readers. Your own literary peers are singing your praises, too. What does that feel like to have authors you respect enjoying your work?

That means I have a lot of dinners to pay. Just joking! I think that Atria Books, and specially Johanna Castillo and David Brown did an amazing job asking well stablished authors to read The Moses Expedition. It happens that months ago I was a mere fan of people like Brad Thor, Matthew Pearl or Steve Berry. When I see their names in the cover of the book I still feel amazed.

Aspiring writers are always wondering what advice authors like you have for them in their careers. What do you normally tell them?

Write, write and write. What elsa can be said? The only way to publish a book is to write a good book. If your first book don't find an audience, write another one and so on. Obviously is easy to say than to accomplish. But hey, who said that good things in life were free. 

For some success would have been having one book published and available in stores. You now have two. How have your ideas about success evolved, and what is the definition of success for you now?

I think that books are a success of their own. I mean, I have a good idea and write a good story. That's nice. But then it cames an incredible process in which you have very little to say. Editing, designing, promoting, distributing... and if you are very very lucky, the book, one between thousands, it happens to sell. And that's why I always say that success is not mine, but reader's. There are 3 million of them out there, and I only can give them a big THANK YOU!

Thanks again, Juan. How can our listeners keep up with you and your upcoming work online?
Thanks to you Cyrus! You can always follow me in Facebook:  or check The Moses Expedition website ( I would like to share with you also the booktrailer:  and the making of The Moses Expedition: (

*Thanks to David Brown at Simon & Schuster for making this interview with the author possible.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

TAKE TEN: Author Electa Rome Parks


Bestselling author Electa Rome Parks has been thrilling readers for years, yet her newest book is not only causing a buzz because of her incredibe writing, but for the issues it raises as well. The Atlanta native talked with Cyrus Webb of Conversations Book Club and Conversations Magazine about her journey in the literary world, the messages of her new book DIARY OF A STALKER, how sex is used today in selling readers on a book and what's next for her.

Here is their conversation:

Electa, thanks for taking out the time to talk with Conversations. I want to start off by talking with you about your journey as an author. What has surprised you the most about your success over the years?

Thank you for having me. Wow, Cyrus! This is a hard question and I have thought about how to answer it for a few days now. I have never, ever, been thrown by an interview question before:} I guess there is a first for everything.

I think my biggest surprise about my success has been how deeply readers embrace and react to my characters. My imperfect, flawed characters become real to them and readers ask about them at signings or via email as if they are real people. That connection, that bond of my readers to my characters is magical to me. Absolutely priceless!

Your newest book DIARY OF A STALKER is just the latest in what has been an amazing career for you. For those who might not know your other titles, run them down for them.

My titles are The Ties That Bind, Loose Ends, Almost Doesn't Count, Ladies' Night Out, These Are My Confessions, Diary of a Stalker and coming soon, True Confessions (January 2011)

I think you would agree, Electa, that with each new challenge we face, there is some form of uncertainty. When it comes to the road you have travelled as a writer, has there ever been a time when you thought that maybe this wasn't going to work for you?

I admit I have questioned the politics of the literary industry but I have never, ever questioned my strong desire to write. Failure has never been an option.

Cyrus, this is a great, timely question because I have discovered or should I say confirmed many facts about myself during the course of writing and completing Diary of a Stalker. First of all, let me say, I think this was one of the quickest books I have ever written. It was like there was a passion and fire lit underneath me that consumed me, that burned from within and I couldn't tell the story fast enough.

Lessons learned: I've learned that writing is a critical part of my very being, much like breathing. No matter what changes the industry may bring, I'm still going to write. That's an absolute, undeniable fact. I've learned that I truly do love writing and it loves me back ten-fold. I'm faithful to it and it rewards me by bringing unbridled joy and happiness to my life.

I've learned that I can try to run and hide, but it's always going to seek me out, find me, much like a stalker, and remind me who and what I really am. That can't be denied or taken away or diminished. Just like I'll die an African American woman, I'll also die with the spirit and soul of a writer.

I've learned that writing speaks to me like no other regardless of whatever goes down, even if I have to write for free and for my eyes only, I'll still rise because if you know who you are---all the rest doesn't even matter. What's meant for me is meant for me and no one or any entity can take that away. With a strong voice meant to be heard, I'll strive and survive.

With every book there seems to be not just a great read but a message that the reader can take away. In DIARY OF A STALKER there are many messages. Where did the idea for the book come from?

Diary of a Stalker: a best-selling male author gets more than he bargained for when he meets a fanatical female fan. What starts out as a one-night stand quickly spirals out of control and into a dangerous game of obsession and pain. �@

Since it had been a couple of years since my last novel, Ladies�f Night Out, dropped, I wanted this new release to be something a little different from my previous novels. Yet, I wanted to maintain the core elements that my books are known for. So the drama, the fast-paced nature, the steamy relationship-based elements are still alive and well.

I attend a lot of literary events such as conferences, signings, workshops, etc. After awhile, I started to notice a pattern no matter what city or state I was in. Even though the avid readers, mostly female, poured much love my way, I noticed the male authors received an extra dose. Maybe because there aren�ft as many male authors? And I noticed, if I attended a large event, I would see some of the same female readers around the same male authors. Hmmmm. So then, I started thinking about how groupies follow rock banks, rappers, professional athletics and entertainers. Why wouldn�ft this exist in the literary arena as well? Throw a few over the top "what if questions" into the mix and Diary of a Stalker was born.

It is hard to find one of the main characters in DIARY that doesn't have some form of baggage and is�@without fault. Was one of the messages you wanted to get across, that no matter what our backgrounds or what we have that we still have the same problems?

No, that wasn't one of my intentional messages, but it certainly could be a message pulled from Diary of a Stalker. I feel Diary of a Stalker had so many messages, much like all of my books. My main point was that men and women shouldn't be so eager to immediately have an intimate relationship without really getting to know a person first.

Your book also touches on an issue with the writer Xavier Preston that is discussed quite a bit in the entertainment industry: the using of sex and sex appeal to push products. Have you found that to be something that readers have picked up on and that has resonated with them?

Yes, it has resonated with many readers. My readers went into reading Diary of a Stalker, I think, feeling that the storyline was going to be cut and dry. Xavier was good and Pilar was going to be bad. However, that wasn't necessarily the case; it wasn't that black and white. Many thought Xavier received exactly what he deserved.

Writing about sex is one thing, but I'm curious as to what�@your personal thoughts about authors using their own sexuality to get attention.

The old adage that sex sells is very true, even in the literary industry. Literally. I have seen it up close and personal at various literary events and conferences I have attended over the years. Personally, I have never used my sex appeal or sexuality to get attention. I believe an author's talent or an interesting storyline should be the lure to encourage a reader to pick up a book. That should speak for itself. The literary industry is similar to the music industry in many ways; after all, both are part of the entertainment industry. These days authors have to have the total package (good looks and charm doesn't hurt) to stand out from the overly saturated marketplace.

However, I try not to be judgmental, so I say to each his own.

I want to shift to your role as an example and mentor for others. What would you say to authors that are just starting out and wondering how they can mirror the success and longevity of someone like yourself?

I know this is going to sound sappy, but so be it. Follow your dreams, believe in yourself and never give up. Picture where you want to be a year from now, five years from now and claim that space. We all have stories to tell, but there are only a few of us who actually sit down and put pen to paper. That makes you unique in itself.

Believe in your gift and use it every day. Network and surround yourself with people and places that uplift and promote your creativity. Listen to your inner spirit. The only place where your dream becomes impossible is in your own thinking.

And last, but certainly not least, write "something" every day. And remember, it's true; you can't please all the people all the time. If you believe in what you write and you're passionate about what you write, readers will pick up on that aura.

Keep the faith and it will come.

Success definitely comes in different forms. What does success look like for Electa Rome Parks today?

Good question. Personally, I define success as being able to do something you truly love on a day to day basis, getting paid for it in the process, giving back to the community (to whom much is given, much is expected) and being the best person you can be which enables you to sleep peacefully at night. To me, those combined elements make you a successful person. And if you place God and your family first, the sky's the limit!

Thank you for your time, Electa. If our readers want to keep in touch with you, what is the best way to reach you online?

My readers (I'm so possessive) can stay abreast of my world at any of my sites below. I also adore chatting with my readers because I greatly value and appreciate their feedback and support. They can drop me a note at

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

TAKE TEN: Author Michael Dillon Scott

He might be one of Ireland's favorite sons, but international bestselling author Michael Dillon Scott has become a worldwide phenomenon. With over 100 titles in print over the past two decades, he has managed to garner a readership that expands the young and old, male and female, and it's obvious that in the process he is loving it just as must as those who buy his books. While in the states promoting his latest release, Scott took out some time to answer some questions from Conversations' Cyrus Webb discussing not only his beginnings as a writer, how he has kept himself going over the years and also gives advice for aspiring writers. This interview truly has something for everyone.

Michael, first of all thank you for taking out time out of your busy schedule to talk with us. You have been a piece of the world's literature for over two decades. Are you surprised at the body of work you have amassed over the years?

It constantly surprises me.  I never set out to create a body of work.  It sort of crept up on me over the years.  Twenty-five years ago I wanted to tell a series of Irish folklore and legends which had not been told for a very long time.  That collection became Irish Folk & Fairy Tales.  It led to a second collection and then a third. I think all my work has flowed naturally from the previous books.  Folklore leading to fantasy fiction, then  into historical fiction and horror, before ultimately leading to the new series which is a mixture of just about everything I've read and studied over the past twenty-five years.

Your journey as an author began in the early 80s. What was it that first drew you into writing in the first place?

There were really three factors.  I was working as a bookseller in Dublin, Ireland.  Every day boxes of books arrived, most of them by authors people never hear of.  It was those writers, who did book after book, year after year, who really brought it home to me that it was possible to write successfully for a living. 

The second reason was that I had become aware of a vast body of Irish folklore that was either not available or only available in out-of-print Victorian collections.  I wanted to bring those stories to a modern audience.  In my rather youthful ignorance (or maybe arrogance), I thought I could do that.  I mean – how hard could it be?  I discovered just how hard very quickly!

Thirdly, I was a reader, a voracious reader and if you are a reader, then sooner or later, you will want to try to tell your own stories.

At the time when you started writing there were still a number of people especially in the states that believed you couldn't achieve real success as a writer until after you were dead. Did you have people telling you in the beginning that it wouldn't work out well for you, and if so, what kept you going?

People said that all the time, indeed, some still say it.  Really it is how you define success.  I would suggest that getting one book published is a success.  For others, it can be just completing a book.

However, it did take me a long time to make the huge leap into earning my living as a writer.  That's the big step.  That is when the safety net is removed and suddenly not only do you HAVE to write, it has to sell.  It changes how you write and I do believe it even changes what you write.

When you are writing, there will always be people who tell you that it is an impossible dream, but every day, every week, every month, more and more books are published.  And someone has to write them.  The trick is to ignore the nay-sayers and keep writing.

One of the problems some writers grapple with, Michael, is that of staying relevant. Do you believe that your writing in various genres has kept you in front of fresh eyes and your loyal readers coming back for more?

Absolutely.  I have always fought against being categorized as particular type of writer.  The problem is, of course, that some publishers want you to write in a particular genre, especially if your last book sold well. Then you become a "horror" writer or a "romance" writer, and once that label is applied, it becomes difficult to remove it.

I've written across several genres - folklore, fantasy, horror, romance, both adult and young adult.  I've published both fiction and non-fiction.  I tend to write what interests me and lots of things interest me.  Often there is no cross-over between readers of my work, though it is true that readers of my Young Adult fantasy writing will move onto my adult fantasy.

I was introduced to your work last year, but I just began following you regularly this year because of the social networking site Twitter. Have sites like Youtube, Facebook and Twitter help you connect with fans and prospective readers?

Yes, absolutely.  I am of the generation of writers who have instant access to their readers – in exactly the same way that readers have access to their favourite authors.  Previously writers would have waited weeks or months for reviews and comments about their books to arrive.  Now, it happens within hours of publication.  If you write to me on Twitter or Facebook or through the fan site, there is a very good chance I will respond – especially if you're asking me an interesting question.

On the fan site, for example, readers spend a lot of time dissecting the stories and doing their own research into the characters.  That is incredibly gratifying, but also a little bit scary: if I get it wrong or make a mistake, then they'll tell me!

Also, because I write everything to music and I often tweet about the music I'm listening to (right now it's Stream of Passion's album, Embrace the Storm), readers recommend music to me all the time.  I've been introduced to music I would never have encountered through my fans online.

There is a downside of course.  If is often very frustrating to find full synopses of the books on Wikipedia, revealing all of the carefully placed revelations and clues. 

The latest book in your new series is The Necromancer. Tell us about it and what readers can expect.

This is the fourth book in the six book sequence.  I really recommend that you read the first three, which sets up the story, because this is really a book where everything you've learned thus far is turned on its head.  As in the rest of the series, the only two created characters are Sophie and Josh, two ordinary fifteen year old American twins.  All the other characters are drawn from history and all the creatures from mythology.

You are read all around the world now, and in the eyes of many you have a successful career. I'm curious how after 20-plus years in business you measure success for yourself.

Very simply: being able to earn my living as a writer.  For most of my writing life I had other jobs, which was the safety net, but now there is no safety net.

I also believe you are only as good as your last book.  Every book I write has to be better than the last.  As a bookseller one of the most interesting lessons you learn is about the often short writing careers of many writers.  Authors who were huge even ten years ago, are unknown now.

Along the line of the last question, Michael, what is it like to have readers tell you how much your work as meant to them? Has it really sunk in the influence you have on some just doing what you love?

Having someone tell you that your book inspired them to be a writer is an incredible tribute.  When people write and tell me that one of my books encouraged them to read again is also extraordinary.  It is one of the great advantages of being a Young Adult writer: fans write.  And I try and answer them all.

Writing is an incredibly private job.  You spent six or nine or twelve months sitting staring at a screen, with no idea (or very little idea) of what's happening to your books in the real world.  And then, for a few weeks you go on tour, and suddenly you realize what's been happening to that book.

Two weeks ago I had the honor to be a guest at the 100th Boy Scouts Jamboree.  Young men lined up for two hours to get their books signed and many had brought all their books for signing.  Now, given that they were carrying their tents, clothes, boots and kit, it was an huge compliment to discover that they'd also carried 3 or 4 heavy hardbacks with them.

There are aspiring writers who look to authors like you for guidance. What would you say to someone who loves to write but hasn't taken any steps to see themselves in print?

The rules are very simple.  You have to read.  Then read some more and then, do a little more reading.  I have never met a writer who was not a reader.

You have to write.  Every day.  It doesn't matter if you throw it away the following day, but you have to write.  Start with something small – a short story.  And finish it.  So many writers never progress because they fail to finish a piece.  I always find it's incredibly useful to write the ending first.  That gives you a destination.  Once you've completed a short piece, then begin a longer piece – a novella – then a novel.

Do your research.  Find out how long a novel should be (The Necromancer is 90,000 words for example, The Sorceress a little bigger at 100,000).  See who is publishing your type of book.  Do not, for example, send a romance novel to a science fiction publisher. 

And be patient and persevere.  Every writer is rejected.  Some have been rejected many, many times.  If one publisher rejects your work, it just means it was not right for that house at that particular time.

I always add that you should get a really comfortably chair – you're going to spent a long time sitting in it!

Thanks again, Michael, and we wish you continued success. How can our readers stay in contact with you.

Thank you so much.  My website is a good jumping off place: I post on Twitter just about every day as @flamelauthor and I'm on Facebook with the same name.  But the best place for information about me and the books (and they often have information even before I have it) is the official fan forum: Flamel's Secret:  and the portal site:  Flamel's Immortal Portal: I'm on the fan site just about every day and I usually answer the questions posted there.