Indie Author Author Wrap-Up: Gift Books for You and Your Loved Ones

Indie authors featured in 2020—Top row, from left: Nicholas Sansbury Smith, Erin Casey, Alex Penland, Dennis Green. Bottom row, from left: Bill Zahren, Debbie Tindle Parker, Eliza David, Satish Jayaraj, Melanie Lageschulte.

Throughout 2020, I’ve featured Iowa indie authors in this space. With the holidays upon us, I offer this look back in the hopes that you will find holiday gifts among these authors. Self-published authors face an uphill promotional battle in the best of times, and I think we can agree that these have not been the best of times. However you celebrate, I hope you will have plenty of time to read.

Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you that I, too, am an Iowa indie author—and I can’t help but think there are people on your list who would enjoy Murder by the Slice.

Nicholas Sansbury Smith: Trackers Series

Q: Your Trackers series centers on an all-too-plausible electromagnetic pulse attack that devastates the infrastructure of the United States. Tell me a little about your research—into EMP attacks, of course, but also into other important story elements like Native American folklore.

Some of my research was from experience working at Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management and, before that, in the state’s engineering office. . . . I interviewed several federal employees and some friends in the military. I also spent a good amount of time researching … what was being done to prepare for an EMP attack on a nationwide scale. The scenario I came up with in Trackers was the most plausible, in my opinion. . . .

The Native American folklore was something I added to the story to help make it even more unique from other EMP apocalyptic stories that were flooding the market at the time. Using my degree in American Indian studies from the University of Iowa, and my library of books on different tribes, I used real folklore stories and imbedded them in the story. I think most readers have enjoyed this second layer of realism.

Erin Casey: Purple Door District Series

Q: The Purple Door District is a story about coexisting and caring across difference. Why are those issues at the forefront of your work?

With the state of our world, I wanted to write about a place where you could be accepted and help each other no matter your differences. There’s so much racism and hatred towards “the other” or people who don’t “belong” in this country, especially right now, so I wanted to combat that with my writing. My hope is that many kinds of people can read this book and see themselves in the characters. I want them to feel included and part of the District. That’s why when I sign the first book, I always write, “Welcome to the District” because, really, we’re all part of a community. Whether you’re Caucasian, Black, Native American, Asian, Indian, straight, LGBTQIA+, etc., I wanted to try to represent as many people as possible. And I plan to continue that and have sensitivity readers who can check for accurate representation.

I hope, too, that people might treat each other just a little bit better if they can see what a community can do together. We see enough hatred and bigotry on the news. A little act of kindness can go a long way in a person’s life.

Alex Penland: Letter Mage Series

Q: Tell me about the origin of The Letter Mage. What was the impetus for the tale and how did you go about creating the full universe and plot?

I originally tried to write this story as a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) project, but after a few false starts I admitted defeat when it came to the traditional novel format. Aleph was originally much younger, and the story started with (spoiler alert) a murder, which now occurs at the end of the Second Quarto. It took a couple months for Aleph’s character to coalesce properly in my head, and I didn’t actually get the plot together until I sat down and the first sentence of the book just kind of happened: “I didn’t set out to be a supervillain.”

Aleph then revealed in the second sentence that his love interest was the actual protagonist, and that Aleph himself—this sweet little dorky kid I’d been creating over the past year or so—was actually mildly genocidal under the right circumstances. Oops. But once I had that right, the entire series plotted itself out in about five hours.

Dennis Green: Traveler Trilogy

Q: You’re a voracious reader and I’m interested in who you would say your main influences have been as you’ve been writing this series. What about television and movies that have influenced your work?

So many things in my books are an homage to something else I’ve loved. The first-person narrative style in the Traveler books has reminded a number of people of Jim Butcher’s wizard for hire, Harry Dresden. I’ve been a Butcher fan for decades, so that’s a pretty good observation. Roger Zelazny’s Amber series, which also does parallel realities but in a much different way, was definitely an inspiration piece as well. In Traitor, there is a big fight scene where Trav takes on a literal army of Trav Beckers on a staircase. This is my version of the famous hallway fight in Netflix’s Daredevil.

And the books are a literal fountain of Easter eggs and tributes to the books and movies that have inspired me. Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Terminator, Ghostbusters. Robert Heinlein gets a mention. And of course, Buckaroo Banzai.

Bill Zahren: Kingman and Reed Series

Q: What would you say sets your books apart from other mystery and thriller series?

My books have a religious element to them, which I’ve never come across in other books. “Christian fiction” is usually heavy on the dogma or crazy supernatural. I wanted to write something that involved faith that was more realistic than having some guy lift a bus off a baby and boom, we all believe in God now. There’s faith exploration in my books, the kind people do in real life, not in made-for-TV movies. That was something I added to the series a little bit in Officer Involved and more in the following four books.

Debbie Tindle Parker Hope, Iowa Series

Q: In early going, the book is a family drama of sorts. But quickly enough, the story shifts gears and becomes a mystery and suspense novel. How did your plot take shape? What surprised you as you created the story?

I let the characters guide me when I write and that often leads to things happening that I hadn’t really planned on. . . . In The Auctioneer, Trisha and Charley have a very strong connection, but they also both have a past and not everyone from their respective pasts are good people. People are very complex and there is potentially a mystery in all of us waiting to be solved.

Eliza David: The Cougarette Series

Q: Tell me how you got started as a writer. Did you always know you wanted to write? What was the spark that got you going?

Like most writers, I was a lifelong reader before I picked up the pen. Through reading stacks of mass-produced romance and chick lit, my writing bug sparked after I realized the lack of Black and brown 30- and 40-something women characters in my collection. Characters who were sexy, funny, great at their careers but clumsy in their personal lives. After going online, I quickly found and read Black women who were writing love stories as indie authors. They further inspired me to do as Toni Morrison once advised: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” And that’s how my first novel, The Cougarette, was born.

Satish Jayaraj: The Secret of the Zipacna Dragons

Q: Tell me about the origin of your book. My impression is that there was an earlier version with a slightly different title.

I went through a rough spot after graduate school. I’m an immigrant in the U.S. and in between trying to figure out how to stay in the country that had become my home, I was desperate to publish my novel. The book simply wasn’t ready, but by putting it out there, I was mentally and emotionally able to work on new stories during my stresses at the time. Years later, in 2018, I was in a position to give this story the level of production I felt it deserved. From working on other fantasy stories in between, I had a clearer vision of the world this story takes place in and revamped it into The Secret of the Zipacna Dragons.

Melanie Lageschulte: Growing Season Series

Q: I’ve encountered a number of novels of late that feature women whose lives in the city suddenly fall apart, and they find themselves moving back home to small-town Iowa. Why do you think that kind of story is appealing to readers—and why is it appealing to you?

This storyline is one that’s been around for years—and for good reason. Everyone likes the idea of starting fresh, even if it is not feasible for them to do that in real life. As our society has become faster paced and more chaotic, people are finding themselves drawn to “the simple life” as a means of escape. That could mean anything from moving to the country, to just making more time to enjoy hobbies and spend less time on social media.