Interview & Excerpt with Author Julie Ann Dawson


Today it is my honor to have as my guest, the talented Julie Ann Dawson!

Julie is an author, editor, publisher, RPG designer, and advocate for writers who may occasionally require the services of someone with access to Force Lightning (and in case it was not obvious, a bit of a geek).

Her work has appeared in a variety of print and digital media, including such diverse publications as the New Jersey Review of Literature, Lucidity, Black Bough, Poetry Magazine, Gareth Blackmore’s Unusual Tales, Demonground, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and others.

In 2002 she started her own publishing company, Bards and Sages Publishing. The company has gone from having two titles to over one hundred titles between their print and digital products.

In 2009, she launched the Bards and Sages Quarterly, a literary journal of speculative fiction. Since 2012, she has served as a judge for the IBPA's Benjamin Franklin Awards.


What genre are you most comfortable writing?

I’m a speculative fiction author. I work in fantasy and horror mostly, but I enjoy the entire range of speculative genres. The Nancy Werlock’s Diary series is Contemporary fantasy. The Doom Guardian and Blood Debts are dark fantasy. A Game of Blood is a paranormal thriller. Water is Thicker Than Blood is post-apocalyptic. I go wherever the story takes me.

What did your voyage from unpublished writer to published author entail? What were the key highlights along the way to achieving your dream?

I actually have a very traditional path to publishing. I was publishing short stories, poetry, and articles for some time before going indie. I published by first paid piece while I was in college. I worked for local newspapers. Did a lot of freelance non-fiction work for various companies. Then I came across Lulu.com, which is one of the early POD services long before the Kindle was even thought of. I had a business background already. I already had a fundamental understanding of publishing. Lulu.com let me start my own business with very little up-front cost. 

What was one of the most startling things you learned during your experience as an indie author?

I can’t say that anything has startled me. But, again, that is probably because I came into indie publishing with a strong publishing background already. 

Do you have any helpful suggestions to help struggling writers become better novelists? If so, what are they? 

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things. You must write. And you must READ. Most writers have the “writing” part down, but they don’t read nearly as much as they should. The number of so-called writers I talk to that read less than three or four books a year because they are “so busy” writing pains me. Reading is an essential part of developing your craft. Read voraciously. Read everything in your genre. Read outside your genre. Read new releases. Read classics. Develop a literary literacy so you know what came before you.

How much editing/revision did you have to do before you felt that your MS was ready to be self-published?

I still write my first draft on paper. I know. I’m a dinosaur. Then I type it into Word. Then I leave it alone for a few months and come back to it with fresh eyes. Then I do my hard editing. Then I send it to my proofreader for a final review before publishing.

Five rules for writing fiction that you live by?

1. Understand who your characters are, from your main character down to the waiter that appears on one page to serve her coffee. Your characters are the driving force of your work. Without them, you just have a shell, not a story. 

2. Remember the words of Gary Gygax. A reader will swallow a whale, but choke on a minnow. Pay attention to internal consistency in your world so readers don’t get tripped up on events that don’t make sense. This is particularly true in speculative genres, where writers often get lazy and just say, “Well, it’s FANTASY! It doesn’t have to make sense!”

3. “Said” is not your enemy. It is a perfectly good word. Your characters don’t need to constantly be wheezing, snorting, sniffling, whispering, yelping, lamenting, or whatever other word you want to use. “Said” is invisible. 

4. It is okay to walk away from a story that isn’t working. 

5. Don’t publish the story until you are confident it is worth a reader’s time and money. Then leave it alone and write the next book. The number of authors that rush out books and then spend the next year editing and correcting and uploading multiple new versions is ridiculous. Give customers a finished product.  

What was your motivation for the Nancy Werlock series?

Like most things in my writing, Nancy just…manifested one day. I was actually working on a roleplaying game for the d20 Modern game mechanic when the idea was birthed. The primary focus of the series isn’t really magic. It’s interpersonal relationships with our family, friends, and co-workers. 

What's your secret to creating a realistic character? 

I tell people to just get out in the world and pay attention to how people actually interact with each other. I like going to the food court at the mall just to listen to how people speak. Or when I go to the park to play Pokemon Go (yes, I’m a really big geek), I pay attention to how people interact with each other. The more life experience you have with different cultures and people, the more believable your characters will come across. 

One of the best compliments I ever got came from an African-American reader who emailed me to say that the backyard graduation party in A Game of Blood reminded her of her own family get-togethers. Being able to give that moment to a reader, where she can see herself reflected in the characters and their interaction, is really important to me.

Other than writing, what are some of your interests, hobbies, or passions in life?

I’m a gamer. I design and publish tabletop Roleplaying games. I dabble in video game modding. I have mods up on both Steam and Nexus Mods. I love to cook. Cooking dinner is how I unwind at the end of the day. 



Excerpt from Book 1, Nancy Werlock's Diary: Dear Diary

Homecoming, April 16th

“Ms. Warlock?”

“It’s Werlock,” I correct without looking up from the pile of paperwork on the counter. I thought I had locked the front door behind me when I came in. And even if it wasn’t locked, the bright red CLOSED sign in the window should have been a dead giveaway that the shop was, in fact, closed. 

“I’m sorry. I’m looking for Wanda War…Werlock.”

I stop sorting mom’s papers and turned to the woman. She is in her late-forties. Maybe fifty at the most. She isn’t wearing any make-up but she has a tanning booth tan. You know, that unnaturally uniform color that you can only get from lying perfectly still in ten minute intervals three times a week. She’s wearing an oversized, faded Cherry Hill Cougars sweatshirt and a pair of loose fitting blue jeans. For some reason the thought of a middle age woman wearing a shirt with a picture of a cougar on it, even if it was the actual mascot for the little league team, makes me chuckle.

The woman just stares at me with that weird deer-in-headlights look some people get when they are confused. I take a deep breath and lean on the counter.

“You’re looking for my mother. She died last week.” My head drops as soon as the words leave my mouth. Gods, that sounded final, I think. She had only been fifty-five. Werlock women don’t die that young, not unless an exorcism goes wrong or something like that. But there had been nothing supernatural about mom’s death. Just a drunk driver and her being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  

I shuffle some papers around to make myself look busy. I am busy. I have to do a full inventory of the store yet and get all of mom’s files in order before the meeting next Thursday with Mr. Harvey about the estate. And her files are a mess. The woman could prepare a Sigil of Greater Binding with laser precision, but ask her to file her receipts in some sort of rational order and you would have thought you asked her to give up a lung. 

“I’m sorry,” the woman says. “I didn’t know. My neighbor said she could help me. I guess she didn’t know, either.”

I know where the conversation is going to go, and I don’t want to go there. I open a drawer in the counter while trying to pretend I’m not paying attention. I guess I hope that if I look busy enough, she will just leave. Yeah, I know. My entire career involves getting people to communicate effectively with each other, and here I am engaging in confluent deflection behavior to avoid a confrontation. 

I’ve opened the proverbial “junk drawer.” That drawer everyone has where you just throw stuff that you know you should keep but don’t know why you need to keep it. Sitting on top of plastic coin holder full of pennies is an old metal keychain that says Wildwood on it in chipped blue and gold paint. You did this on purpose, I think.

 I performed my first exorcism at thirteen. Granted, it was only a class five imp in Mrs. McGulligan’s cat. And the cat was mean and spiteful already so nobody really noticed a difference when the imp took over. If it had played its cards right, it might have enjoyed possessing its host for years. But the damn thing knocked over the hummingbird feeder in our herb garden and then it went after my dog Merlin. It just crossed a line it shouldn’t have crossed and needed to be stopped. You would have thought the cat would be grateful to me for getting the imp out of him without killing him. No, the damn thing scratched me when it was over. 

Mom had been so proud that I identified the demon type correctly and was able to bind and exorcise it without help. Though I think she was more proud I actually bothered with the exorcism instead of just choking the damn cat. We went down to Wildwood that weekend to celebrate. We spent a whole day at Morey’s Pier, even though mom hated water parks. Mom hated large bodies of water in general. Something about an incident with a marid when she was at summer camp as a teenager. I never got the full story. She tried to tell me once, but when she started by saying it happened at a placed called Crystal Lake, I just started laughing and she got mad and refused to say anything after that. Long story short, it was a pretty big deal that she agreed to go down to Morey’s Pier for my First Exorcism celebration.

We didn’t celebrate when I decided to go to college and study behavioral science instead of continuing with the Craft. We fought. She said I was abandoning my responsibilities as both her daughter and her apprentice. She was so furious that she threatened to conjure Nana Morri’s spirit just so I could tell my grandmother why I hated my family. Can you imagine? Summoning the spirit of my grandmother to guilt me into continuing the family business? It wasn’t like I was going to stop practicing the Craft altogether. I just wanted to explore other career options. 

“Maybe you—”

“No,” I say as I slam the drawer shut. “I’m sorry. I can’t help you. I need to sort my mother’s things.”

“But I don’t know where else to go,” says the woman. 

“You know, the Catholic Church still has exorcists on staff. They even provide services for non-Catholics. And they do free in-home consultations. Their rates aren’t bad, either. I think they even have payment plans. It might even be tax-deductible.”

“I already spoke with Father Bryant,” she says. She shuffles in place. “He came out to the house and said there was nothing. My husband thinks I’m just being difficult.”

For the last three years, I’ve had a private practice in Philadelphia as a marriage counselor. I know the sound of a lonely housewife when I hear one.

“Husband travels a lot?” I ask. She nods. “Let me guess. He thinks you’re seeing things on purpose to make him stay home.” She nods again.

“Sometimes he’s gone for days at a time,” she says. “Or when he has to go to California, he can be gone for a week or more. That’s when it starts…doing things.”

“What kind of things?”

“At night, when I’m trying to sleep, I hear the sound of footsteps in the hallway. I’ll put something down in one room, and when I come back later it is somewhere else. One minute the room will be cold and the next hot.”
I walk around the counter and mutter the Third Eye incantation under my breath. It’s one of the first incantations you learn in Demonology. It allows you to both read auras and detect paranormal residue. All living things radiate an energy field, called an aura. It fluctuates and changes colors based on a person’s psychological state. More importantly for a demonologist, it allows you to immediately identify if the subject is the victim of a possession or disguised by a glamour. I confess, I’ve also used it on more than one occasion in my counseling work. It really gives me an edge when dealing with couples that don’t want to tell me everything but expect me to fix their relationships.

Some otherworldly creatures like specters and demons have their own auras as well, but when they enter the material realm, it becomes charged and takes a tangible form. Kind of like Fairy Dust, only not visible to the naked eye and non-allergenic.  The woman didn’t have any poltergeist or demon residue on her, which meant that Father Bryant was probably correct. Her house wasn’t haunted or possessed. But her aura indicated that she wasn’t lying, either. Whether or not the haunting was real was irrelevant. She thought it was real.

“I’m sorry. I’m Nancy,” I say and extend my hand. 

“Nadine,” she replies. “Nadine Porter.” She shakes my hand with a weak handshake. “Does this mean you’ll help me?”

I look over my shoulder at the counter. “Mom would be upset if I left you out to dry.” I shrug my shoulders and force a smile. “I can come by tomorrow.”

Nancy Werlock's Diary series blog



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