Tag Archives: author interview

“The Sinister Minister” releases second YA paranormal


From dark fantasy author Benjamin Kane Ethridge’s interview with “The Sinister Minister”:

Bio blurb: The Rev. Dr. Steve Burt is the author of not one but two award-winning series for adults and teens: the Stories to Chill the Heart weird tales series and the FreeKs mystery/suspense series featuring psychic and paranormal teens. A Congregationalist pastor and a longtime member of the Horror Writers Association, Steve is the only ordained minister to win horror’s top prize, the Bram Stoker Award (2004); he was also a Nominee/Finalist in 2003. In addition to horror and mystery/suspense, he writes church leadership books, inspirational books, devotional material, and has published hundreds of pieces in such venues as Reader’s Digest, Writer’s Digest, Yankee, Family Circle, and the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. He’s the father of writing authority Wendy Burt-Thomas (Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters).

1.  I hear they call you “the Sinister Minister.” What’s THAT all about? Do people get upset?

I was unintentionally but luckily “branded” during an interview on WCAX TV Channel 3 in Burlington, VT after I won the Bram Stoker Award. Everybody in creation must have been watching that night, because folks started coming up to me at arts & crafts show where I autograph books, saying, “Hey, Sinister Minister. Saw you on TV.” Then in 2009 Connecticut Magazine profiled me in an article of that title, “The Sinister Minister,” which got my face and book covers into about half of all the Connecticut households (the magazine is for sale but comes free to supporters of CT Public TV. Occasionally fundamentalist Christians will give me a hard time at signings, but I just ask if they’ve read my material (No!) and if they’ve read their Bible (Of course!). Then I tell them there’s more blood and guts, demon possession, and rising from the dead in their Bible than they’ll find in my books. Or I simply say, “God told me to write dark fiction.” How do you argue that? I believe writers should write what they’re called to write, or what they like reading or writing. I’ve also written poetry, cartoon captions, a canoeing book, devotional material, church leadership books, and inspirational stories for Chicken Soup for the Soul. Nobody questions a minister writing that “nice” stuff. We need to recognize that there’s always been a connection between theological issues and horror literature (Frankenstein is about Man Playing God, Dracula is about drinking blood and the cost of eternal life). A shorter answer might be: I always liked Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt, and mysteries as a kid, so I write those now.

2.  How did you get started as a writer? What were your influences? 

In second grade the high school newspaper printed a one-paragraph story of mine. My third-grade teacher encouraged rhymed poems and limericks. The fourth-grade teacher read aloud to us that inspired me to write my own. My fifth-grade teacher kept me after school for being a chatterbox; instead of making me clean the erasers or write “I will not talk in class” until my hand fell off, she had me write stories, which she’d critique. I wrote fiction in college, edited the literary magazine and, discouraged there was no money in writing, went into the ministry where I got to write a lot of sermons, articles, and meditations. Most important, I developed a weekly disciple. Eventually I decided to write fiction again even if there was no money in it (since I had my pastoral job as an anchor). From early on I loved Poe, DeMaupassant, Saki, Twain, Keats & Shelley & Wordsworth, Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley. Before I hit my teens I gobbled up Homer, Virgil, and the stories of the Norse gods. The last thirty years I’ve really enjoyed the work of my old seminary neighbor Stephen King, and Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas series, James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser and Jessie Stone books, Tony Hillerman, John Sandford, Sue Grafton, and Thomas Perry.

3. Your short stories fall under horror and mystery, your novels under mystery/thriller/suspense, even under fantasy/paranormal. How would you describe them?

It’s all “dark fiction.” The short stories are Horror Lite, I suppose, some of them in the tradition of the British “weird tales” (Arthur Machen). Some people think I avoid gore because I’m a minister, but that’s not it at all. I’ve always preferred British “cozies” (Agatha Christie) and don’t feel a need to shock the reader with visceral gore. Others do that better than I can. I don’t even go to movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Nightmare on Elm Street. I’m more interested in plots, mysteries, twists, and interesting characters. Besides, although half my audience is adult, most of what I write is for the Teen and Young Adult readers.

4.  Your book FreeK Camp picked up 12 awards in 2010-2011. Has that made a difference in some way?

Not so much financially. The difference it made was that what was to have been a single novel has—by reader demand—become the debut book in the FreeKs series. The two Mom’s Choice golds and the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award drew tween and early teen readers; the other awards (London, Paris, San Francisco, NY, New England, Hollywood Festivals) pulled in adult readers. The book worked cross-generationally the way Harry Potter and Hunger Games did.

5.  So now the second FreeKs book is out? Paperback, hardcover, ebook?

Yes, it’s called FreeK Show: Where Nothing Is As It Appears, and came out end of May. About half the teens who survived the psychopath in FreeK Camp in 2010 have returned to the camp for psychically gifted kids in rural Maine in 2012; their mentors are the same three former circus sideshow performers as before. This time the crew is tracking a serial killer at the same time he (unknown to them) is stalking them. It’s on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook.

6.  What’s the third FreeKs book going to be? And when is it due out?

I’m just starting the planning for FreeK Accident. It’ll likely be a May 2014 release. It’ll be set in Florida this time.

7.  Can you tell me why there’s a capital K in the word FreeKs?

It’s explained in the first book, FreeK Camp. The camp is actually Free Camp, but on the side of the van some midnight graffiti artist has used a red marker to add the blood-red capital K. There’s also a mystical “third eye” below the camp’s name, which made sense for a camp for paranormal kids.

8.  What types of psychic and paranormal gifts do these teens have?

Depends which book you’re in. In FreeK Camp there are a twin brother and sister who manifest remote vision and remote hearing. Another girl communicates with the dead. There’s a spoonbender, a precognitive dreamer, an empath (my spell-checker keeps changing it to empathy), a boy whose gifts is telekinesis, and a girl who nows hings from touching objects. In FreeK Show a boy discovers he can travel out of body; another has hunches. When I do school visits, kids in the classrooms love to talk about these things. Half my talk is usually about the book and half about psychic and paranormal things.

9.  Can you talk about your writing process a bit? 

I use the discovery process rather than an outline. I bring a few characters together and wait for the universe to drop a problem on them (like an appearance by a ghost or maybe finding a dead body in the woods). After that the characters, based on their gifts and personalities and value systems) will interact in their own way to solve the mystery. In FreeK Camp we got to a point where four teens were shackled to a granite grave marker and pushed out into the lake in a rowboat after the villain shot a hole in the bottom of the boat. That’s when my wife and I had to leave for a week of continuing education. She read the chapter and wanted to know how they could possibly escape. I was honest: I hadn’t a clue. I’d have to wait until I got home to see what they did. And I really didn’t know!

10.  Ever deal with writer’s block?

Only once. After Odd Lot won the Benjamin Franklin silver for Best Mystery/Suspense Book in 2001, I felt the pressure to beat that with my next collection. So I wrote and rewrote the first lines, first paragraphs, and first pages of the opening story for Even Odder. Writer’s block! Dead end! Problem was that I was in pursuit of perfection (or at least something to top the previous book). After a month of frustration, my writing-authority/editor/daughter Wendy Burt-Thomas (Writer’s Digest Guide to Writing Query Letters) advised me to free myself up by shifting from the write/edit side of the brain to the storytelling side. I got a mini-cassette tape recorder with headset mouthpiece and from scratch orally created a story every day while on an hour’s walk with my dog. At the end of 43 days I had 43 stories (some very bad). But I transcribed the best 15 to word processing, edited on-screen, and published Even Odder (a runner-up to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter for the 2003 Bram Stoker Award for Young Readers). I didn’t write the book, I told it.

11.  Do you have any funny stories?

In 2004 Oddest Yet was up for the Stoker against Dean Koontz, Jeff Marriotte, and Clive Barker. The Stoker banquet was to be in Burbank, California, and I lived in Connecticut. I was certain that an unknown, self-published back-country minister didn’t have a prayer against those three. Besides, when I attended the Stokers in NYC the previous year in NYC (for Even Odder), the field had been thrashed by J.K. Rowling’s fifth Potter book. So I skipped Burbank, saving airfare and hotels, arguing that I really had to preach in my church the next morning. My agent from nearby L.A. attended on my behalf so she could schmooze and capitalize on photo ops with the big and upcoming names. Around 2 a.m. my time she phoned and woke me up, saying I’d won the Stoker. I was still pretty much asleep, muttered “Shit,” and went back to bed. The Stoker Committee UPS’d me my oh-so-lovely Stoker trophy the next week (a haunted mansion modeled after Poe’s House of Usher) which I placed above the fireplace. Then, after two weeks of bowing down to that golden calf every night, I noticed the little door in front opened. It had Clive Barker’s name inscribed there for Abarat. He’d walked off the Burbank Hilton stage with my Stoker! So the Stoker Committee and UPS had to mediate a hostage exchange. Barker was gracious and the mistake was righted. After I told my daughter, she said, “Dad, you should have kept Clive Barker’s. It’s worth a lot more than your own on Ebay.” Kids are here to keep us humble, right?

12.  What advice do you have for new writers? What books do you recommend for fiction writers?

Read, read, read—for enjoyment and to learn. Write, write, write anything you can–sermons, newsletter articles, jokes, anecdotes, devotional material, poems, cartoon captions, recipes, anything—but especially stories short and long. Write what you like. Submit stuff. Publish even if sometimes there’s no money but only a contributor’s copy. My first horror stories went for no-pay and low-pay, but I gave away only one-time rights, then later collected them into Odd Lot (almost all reprints of mag stories) that won awards and eventually made a lot of money. That’s contrary to most advice columnists who are selling nonfiction and advise you not to ever let it go unless you get paid for it. I also say, read and learn from writing-related magazines and books. Learn from rejections (I had a thousand before an acceptance) and submit again and again. Publish your own stuff if you have to, but make sure you know three things: 1. your audience (for me it’s largely teens and young adults); 2. your market (parents and grandparents and teachers); and how you can get it to the buyers (I sell in arts & crafts shows where my market vacations with my audience. As my old neighbor Stephen King said: writer’s write, wannabes wannabe. There are two absolute essential non-fiction primers every fiction writer should read: Gary Provost’s Make Your Words Work and Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer.

FreeK Show is available for $16.95 (paperback) or $9.99 (Kindle):


10 QUESTIONS FOR…”Spin” novelist Robert Rave (Aug. 18 release!)


Author interview with Robert Rave, author of “Spin”41eDUO6oZtL._SS500_forbio

  1. Tell us about your latest book.

The book tells the story of Taylor Green, a corn-fed young man from the Midwest who stumbles into New York without a clue, a contact, or the proper wardrobe.  Through true serendipity (or possibly misfortune), he is hired by the outrageous Jennie Weinstein, the sleepless city’s most notorious public relations diva.

As he morphs into her most trusted assistant and confidant, Taylor is sucked into a whirlwind of restaurant openings, gossip, and fashion shows. Taylor is thrust into the center of a world he never knew existed: a world of sex, greed, power, drugs and famed ruled by Jennie Weinstein herself.  Under Jennie’s guidance, Taylor quickly discovers that there isn’t a catastrophe, betrayal, or personality that can’t be spun to suit a client’s needs.

The stakes only get higher, for as Taylor rapidly climbs New York’s social ladder, Jennie’s assignments become increasingly bizarre.

The perks are definitely sweet, but like all swag, it comes at a price…

2. How did you get started as a writer?

I’ve been writing stories ever since I can remember.  However, I wasn’t sure what to do about it.  When I was growing up in Illinois, writing professionally didn’t seem like a viable option.  When I moved to New York and began working in public relations, I started writing for my personal enjoyment as a creative outlet.  When you’re publicizing everyone else’s passions, it makes you wonder why you aren’t working on your own.

3. What does a typical day look like for you?

It always starts the same way—my two French Bulldogs waking me up around 6:15 a.m. to go outside.  This is immediately followed by a double espresso.  I’m self-admittedly an espresso addict. 

I hit the gym, catch up on the news/read blogs, stare at my Twitter page, and respond to emails.  I’m the type of personality that has to have all of the minutia complete before being able to sit down and write..  I also can’t write if my house is a mess.  So I guess you could say I need a clean house and a clean mind in order to create.

4. Describe your workspace.

My desktop is pretty minimal.  My iMac, an espresso cup, and a bottle of water.  Hanging on the wall in front of me is a framed print that reads “Get Excited and Make Things” and right below it is a vision board.  (I can almost see the eye rolls from my desk while typing that.)

5. Favorite books (especially for writers)

Lately, I’ve really been enjoying Jen Lancaster and Caprice Crane—these two women are incredibly smart and funny.  I also enjoy David Sedaris.  I still love Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and The Hours by Michael Cunningham.  Different books speak to you at different points in your life—so my favorite book five years ago may not even make my top five today.

6. Tell us 3 interesting/crazy things about you

While working as a publicist I always maintained a level of professionalism and never had any gaffes with celebrities.  It wasn’t until I left pr and was asked by a friend to be a volunteer celebrity escort at an awards dinner that I royally embarrassed myself.  I was assigned to Cynthia Nixon and David Eigenberg.  So instead of calling them by “Ms. Nixon or Mr. Eigenberg,” I referred to them as Miranda and Steve—their characters on Sex and The City.  I was horrified.  They were super gracious and didn’t even bat an eye or bother correcting me—I’m sure they could see the embarrassment on my face.

I was raised a meat and potatoes kid from a small Midwestern town and I recently became a vegetarian.  When I told my mom that I’d stopped eating meat and dairy she told me that I’ve been living in LA too long. 

I’m obsessed with the NY Times Real Estate section.

7. Favorite quote

If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

8. Best and worst part of being a writer

Best Part:  Telling the stories that you want to tell.

Worst Part: Re-writing—of course!

9. Advice for other writers

Keep at it.  We are in an age where there are so many ways to tell a story.  Most importantly, stay true to yourself because at the end of the day it’s your name out there and your story.

10. Tell us a story about your writing experience. 

I wish I had some crazy story to relay about the writing of SPIN, but the reality is I worked extremely hard on it.  I never gave up, even when it looked as though the book would never see the light of day.  Something told me to keep going and that it would happen.

Where can people buy your book?

Please, please, please add me on Twitter.  http://www..twitter.com/RobertRave

I’m incredibly neurotic and need validation from total strangers to get me through the day.  Only kidding, sorta. 🙂

You can purchase SPIN at your favorite local bookstore or online at places like Borders, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, etc.