Saturday, December 9, 2017

Author Spotlight: Ray Hoy

There are lots of great things about this writing gig. Sure, at the beginning it’s all fame and glory and sacks of gold, plus having to build walls of shelves throughout your mansion to display all those trophies you haul away by the barrel from award shows. After a while, though, and not so long as you might imagine, all that gets old. And that’s when it really gets great, because you realize the best things about this writing gig is you get to meet some very cool people. Today’s guest at the Gazalapalooza Author Spotlight is one of them.

Ray Hoy has been a professional writer, editor, and publisher for decades. Twenty years of that included time spent as a casino marketing executive, working with major properties such as Caesars Tahoe, Wayne Newton Gaming, and others. He and his wife, also a casino marketing executive, specialized in opening land-based casinos, river and ocean-going gambling boats, and casino/horse racing facilities. But Hoy was always a writer. He sold his first freelance article when he was sixteen years old, and in the sixty-plus years since he has written the hundreds of magazine articles, numerous screenplays, and a half-dozen novels.

In addition to his casino career, Hoy has another connection to Nevada—a more sinister one. He is one of those so-called “Atomic Soldiers” from the Cold War 1950’s. While serving with the Signal Corps, his unit was sent to Camp Desert Rock, Nevada, to provide communications for a series of atmospheric atomic bomb tests. While stationed there with 5,000 fellow servicemen, he observed a number of “shots” (as the military referred to them), up close and personal. Today the number of survivors is down to 500 or so, and most of those men died horribly. We’re fortunate Hoy remains healthy and strong into the ninth decade of his long, productive, and happy life. Hoy wrote a book about his atomic experiences, Letters from Under the Mushroom Cloud. It is on permanent display at the National Atomic Testing Museum, in Las Vegas.

And where does Hoy do all these things? The man’s in his eighties. You’d be pardoned for guessing he makes his home on Floridian beaches, or sun-kissed California coast land, or maybe someplace where tropical Hawaiian winds caress his brow as he writes his books and articles. No. That would be too easy, and far too mundane. Hoy’s base of operations for all these good works is deep in the untamed and untamable Alaskan interior, where bears outnumber people by a wide margin. As we type this sentence our office robot informs us the current temperature in Hoy’s forest paradise is 19 degrees Fahrenheit. And the calendar says winter doesn’t start for another couple of weeks.

All very cool, figuratively and literally. Likely so cool the blazing heat of our famous klieg lights won’t even make Hoy break a sweat. Let’s begin. We believe we’re in for a good ride. 

Gazala:  In my omnipotence, I’ve sentenced you to be stranded alone on a desert island for offenses best left unnamed. In my beneficence, I’ve decided to allow you a limited amount of reading material to make your stay a little less bleak than it would otherwise be. I’ll spot you your religious text of preference, and the collected works of William Shakespeare. In addition to those, name the one fiction book, and the one nonfiction book, you’d choose to take with you, and tell why you choose them.

Hoy: For nonfiction I’d take a copy of The Art of War, by Sun Tzu. It may have been written 2,000 years ago, but it still makes sense today. For fiction, I’d take any of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series books. John is no longer with us, but he was one of the great storytellers of all time.

Gazala: You’re the author of the gripping Jack Frost thriller series. The book you’re sharing with us today is the first in that series (congratulations on its being optioned for film rights!), The Vegas Factor. It’s a wild trip through some of the the darkest alleys Sin City has to offer, and introduces readers to the series hero, Jack Frost. Frost is former NFL player and special forces op who knows too well both Vegas’ neon glamor and the brutality thriving in its shadows. Frost’s companion is J.T. Ripper, a hellhound Doberman Pinscher with a penchant for Scotch. The story follows the adventures of Frost and J.T. as they fight to protect a beautiful woman in mourning from a ruthless casino boss and his savage bodyguard. I enjoyed it immensely, and recommend it highly. Shockingly enough, however, from time to time my bare recommendation doesn’t always motivate a book’s potential reader to become a book’s actual reader. Tell us something about The Vegas Factor, and why its potential reader should make the leap and become its actual reader.

Hoy: Okay, but before I get started on Jack Frost, perhaps I should let you know what kind of a loose cannon you’re interviewing here: I am a hopeless romantic, chaser of rainbows, lover of dogs, and a reluctant realist. I sold my first freelance article when I was sixteen years old, and I’ve been steadily plying my trade as a professional writer, editor, publisher, and producer ever since. Writing has provided me with the freedom and wherewithal to get married, buy homes and cars, have kids and put them through college, and then marry them off. I’m a lucky guy, and I know it.

Somehow during my long media career, I managed to spend twenty years as a casino marketing consultant working with major properties such as Caesars Tahoe, Wayne Newton Gaming, and others. I specialized in opening land-based casinos, river and ocean-going gambling boats, and casino/horse racing facilities. My real-life experiences in the “Casino Wars” have provided me with a wealth of authentic material for my Jack Frost thriller series (my latest writing endeavor). Following the time-honored “Write what you know” tradition, I have based my Frost storylines on my two decades of exposure to Nevada’s colorful characters, and true (but often nearly unbelievable) casino yarns, many of which I actually witnessed and/or was a participant.

About my Jack Frost thriller series: I have set my thriller series—to date consisting of The Vegas Factor, A Proper Time to Die, and Nightmare in Neon—against the backdrop of three distinctly different Nevada gaming communities: Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Reno, all of which are my old casino haunts.

The first three Frost titles are available in eBook and paperback formats. Hard Edges, the fourth book in my Frost series, is scheduled for January 2018 release. Future titles include The Frost Factor and The Alaska Factor. Audiobook (MP3) editions will be available late this coming year.

Each of my first three Frost tales can be read as stand-alone titles, but the storyline from The Vegas Factor really does continue through the second (A Proper Time to Die) and third (Nightmare in Neon) book. The latter title settles all old scores.

Jack Frost, the title character in my Jack Frost thriller series, is an ex-Special Forces loner who is blessed with a warrior’s mentality and toughness, and cursed with a conscience and fierce loyalty to friends. His constant sidekick is J.T. Ripper, an antisocial Doberman from hell. The two have a love-hate relationship.

Frost is actually a composite of three Special Forces men I was lucky enough to have met when I was in the casino business. They’re gone now, victims of their chosen profession, but they’re not forgotten, I can assure you. They were amazing Americans doing an amazing job. One of them had a huge Doberman called ‘Scorpio’ and he was impressive, to say the least. Scorpio is gone now, too, but I embellished him and he became J.T. Ripper in my Frost series.

I painted Ripper as a gigantic, sarcastic, evil-tempered, Scotch-drinking Doberman. He puts up with Frost and pretty much detests everyone and everything else—but Ripper is a warrior, too.

I must admit that writing Ripper into my Jack Frost stories has been a lot of fun. I get as much fan mail for him as I do for Frost (sorry, Jack). I have no idea why, because he’s not a dog you take for a walk in the park. I conjured him up to be 36 inches at the shoulder, and weighing in at a whopping 150 pounds—all muscle, teeth and nastiness, and he was born pissed.

In reference to the “Scotch-drinking” comment I made earlier, Ripper does favor a taste of Scotch whisky now and then (he prefers Haig & Haig). Consequently, here’s my little disclaimer: Since J.T. Ripper lives only in the pages of my Frost novels, it’s fine with me that he helps himself to a snort now and then. I have a soft spot in my heart for dogs, and they should be kept away from alcohol of any kind. However, since Ripper is not of this world, he can do whatever he damn well pleases, and believe me, he does.

Ghosts from my past: Some of the characters who appear in my Jack Frost books are loosely based on people I met during those many years in the Nevada casino industry. Are these stories true? Not quite. If they were, I’d probably have to go to jail for withholding pertinent information. Let’s just say that the casino business generates more than its fair share of interesting characters, both good and bad, and let it go at that. For instance, Benny Florentine, one of Jack Frost’s nightmare opponents in The Vegas Factor, is based on a man I met early in my casino career. He was a cretin, the guy your mother warned you about. When I asked the casino manager what the fellow’s job was, I was told he ‘ran errands’ for the casino. I decided that explanation was good enough for me, and I dropped it.

A film option for my Frost series has been picked up by Someday Productions, LLC, an East Coast indie production company. Will my series actually make it to the big screen? The odds are long, but I’m an old casino guy, remember? We’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out. I am blessed (cursed?) with an outlook that assumes if ISIS is on the edge of town, and all I have to fight with is a handful of rocks, they’re toast. So yeah, I believe it will eventually be made. 

Marketing, and other distasteful subjects: Like many other authors, I offer the first book in my Frost series as a free download, with the idea being, of course, that if you like what you read you’ll buy the second, and third, and . . . on and on. It’s an old, accepted marketing tool, and it works. Here’s the link, if you are so inclined to give it a read:

Since I’m on the subject of free books: I might as well take this opportunity to grumble a bit.  As a professional writer I detest free books, even though (since I’m also a marketing guy) I certainly understand why they’re used as a sales tool. Yes, it makes total sense to give away the first book in the series free, because as I mentioned in the preceding paragraph, hopefully it will result in sales of the second and third books. But to give away the only book that you have written, free of charge, makes no sense to me at all.

I have a pretty large Twitter following ( and a few years ago I posted this tweet: “I'm amazed that people will spend $4.00 for a Starbucks, yet think $2.99 is too much for a book that took a year to write.”

That tweet apparently touched a nerve, because it has been retweeted thousands of times, so a large number of you must agree with me. The weekly deluge of free and 99 cent book titles have weakened the eBook market, and sales are down everywhere. With thousands of free titles being released every week, small wonder why anyone would want to actually pay for a book.

I’ve been in the media business for a long time. To the best of my knowledge, I am one of the five original ePublishers on the Internet, dating back nearly 25 years. I think I have pretty much seen it all, but the flood of free eBooks is discouraging, to say the least. 

Ah well, it is what it is. There certainly is a place for a free book offering in certain marketing campaigns. Just use the practice wisely.

Gazala:  What are books for?

Hoy: Books in any format (paperback, hardcover, eBook, audiobook) provide access to unlimited entertainment and knowledge. The good news? It’s yours for the taking. The bad news? You won’t live long enough to read everything available. But please do try.

Gazala: W. Somerset Maugham said, “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” Do you agree, or disagree, and why?

Hoy:  Oh I totally agree. So many writers believe in outlining and spending weeks and months (even years) of research before they tackle the job. I just sit down and start blazing away, often without a clue where I’m going. Most of the time the story just bubbles up out of my brain, and I find myself humming along at my usual 90 wpm, hurrying to find out what’s going to happen next. While I don’t necessarily recommend that approach, it works for me. You simply have to find out what works for you.

Gazala:  You’ll pardon me -- it’s well past midnight and there’s an enormous black dog pounding on my front door with a bad attitude and an empty crystal tumbler. While I go see what he wants, ask yourself question, and answer it.

Hoy: I’ve always asked myself why fiction exists in the first place. Think about it for a minute. We make up imaginary characters and put them in all kinds of situations (dire, romantic, thrilling, dangerous, etc.), and people actually pay to read the stories we’ve spun. Makes no sense to me, but I write ‘em and I buy ’em, the same as you. It’s really quite wonderful, isn’t it?

Well, it has been fun, but I have to burn some midnight oil. Jack Frost and J.T. Ripper are calling out to me.

– Ray Hoy

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Author Spotlight: Alexandrea Weis

New Orleans. Voodoo. Curses. Ghosts. It's October, dear readers. Creepiness real and imagined abounds with the season, and who's to say which stirs us more? Worry not, though -- we're no fools, and we're duly renown for being protective of our precious patrons. We're the first to concede some creepiness is to be avoided by the wise, and far be it from us to unleash such upon you. But, there is other creepiness. Delicious macabre. Tasty spooky. The eerie stuff that keeps you up late into the dark, cold night because the fear is something you invited to share the warm, orange glow in front of your crackling fireplace. That genus of creepiness is a valued guest who's both entertaining and mesmerizing. When it knocks at your door, or scratches your window, you usher it in, breathless in anticipation of the thrills and chills it brings to your rapidly beating heart.

Creating compelling stories stories full of the fear that fascinates is a specialty of today's esteemed guest, who has so graciously agreed to submit herself to the daunting glare of the Gazalapalooza Author Spotlight. As an advanced practice registered nurse, her mastery of the corporeal is profound. She was born and reared in New Orleans, so she's steeped in in the myth, legend and lore of America's most haunted city. She was raised in the motion picture industry, imbuing in her from a tender age appreciation of the art of spinning spellbinding imagery to whisk you where she wants you to be. She is also a permitted and certified wildlife rehabber, rescuing orphaned and injured wildlife, so she brings too to her craft a tender heart of gold. She is Alexandrea Weis, and we're very pleased to present her to you here, in our humble confines.

Weis visits us today with a fresh copy of her brand new novel, titled Damned: A Magnus Blackwell Novel (Book 1). The book tells the tale of Lexie Arden and her fiancé, Will Bennet. The couple have acquired a old, neglected island mansion called Altmover Manor, determined to restore it and make it their home. But the abandoned mansion's previous occupant, though a man dead over a century named Magnus Blackwell, hasn't completely surrendered his dominion over the property. Blackwell is drawn to Lexie. He senses the young woman's supernatural gift, and he wants to exploit it for his own ends.

New Orleans. Voodoo. Curses. Ghosts. With these things pulsing in her veins, it doesn't seem Weis should be scared of being strapped to a hard wooden chair in our grim guest quarters, under the blistering blast of our unforgiving klieg light array. We see now, she's not. Very well. Laissez les bon temps rouler.

Gazala:    In my omnipotence, I've sentenced you to be stranded alone on a desert island for offenses best left unnamed. In my beneficence, I've decided to allow you a limited amount of reading material to make your stay a little less bleak than it would otherwise be. I'll spot you your religious text of preference, and the collected works of William Shakespeare. In addition to those, name the one fiction book, and the one nonfiction book, you'd choose to take with you, and tell why you choose them.

Weis:    My non-fiction preference would be easy. Mary Renault's The Nature of Alexander. I am a huge Alexander the Great fan. Fiction would be a bit more difficult and would probably be A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. I love that story, and of course, it has ghosts.

Gazala:    Your newest book is an excellent and gripping paranormal tale titled, Damned: A Magnus Blackwell Novel (Book 1). The story follows the spine-chilling adventures and ominous discoveries of a young couple trying to make a home in an old mansion not yet surrendered by its long-dead previous possessor. As the woman, Lexie, explores her new surroundings, she unearths terrifying secrets from the specter's dark and twisted past. Compelled to learn all she can about the mansion's former owner, Lexie becomes immersed in a world of voodoo, curses, and the whereabouts of a mysterious dragon cane. I've read Damned. I enjoyed it immensely, and recommend it highly. Shockingly enough, however, from time to time my bare recommendation doesn't always motivate a book's potential reader to become a book's actual reader. Tell us something about Damned, and why its potential reader should make the leap and become its actual reader.

Weis:    Wow! First, thank you for that. I am thrilled you enjoyed the book. And why I think readers should indulge in my story is because it involves all things spooky and delicious about a place dear to my heart--my hometown of New Orleans. If you can't experience the city firsthand, then read this story and experience it through Lexie's eyes. I grew up in the French Quarter with all manner of the strange and spooky around me. I tried to bring that home in Damned, along with the unique flavor that is New Orleans.

Gazala:    What are books for?

Weis:    Books are a means to awaken the imagination and give it a voice. For the writer and reader, books take you away and open your mind. As long as imagination is nurtured, our souls continue to grow.

Gazala:    W. Somerset Maugham said, "There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." Do you agree, or disagree, and why?

Weis:    I so agree. There are no rules for writing, only grammar. Every new hit book coming out on the market shows that. Fifty Shades of Grey would never have been considered a groundbreaker, but it was. It broke all the rules. When writing never follow the rules, break them. Be your own writer; not someone else's.

Gazala:    You'll pardon me -- it's well past midnight and a diaphanous, rakish man is beating on my door with the head of a strange dragon cane. While I go see what he wants, ask yourself a question, and answer it.

Weis:    Question: Why do I write? Answer: I have worked as a nurse, earned a Ph.D., and taught at the university level, but never in all my medical experience did I feel like I was using all of my brain. When I write, I do, and it makes me feel whole.

You can feel it, can't you? Halloween's lurking in the close shadows, watching you, and waiting. Who better to help you prepare for sight and frights of All Hallows' Eve than tonight's acclaimed Spotlight Author? Recall she confided to us, "I grew up in the French Quarter with all manner of the strange and spooky around me." She's a subject matter expert on matters particularly requiring her expertise this shuddersome time of year. Delve for yourself. You're see we're right, and you'll thank us for the tip. It's easy to do, so quick and painless. Steel yourself, gather your courage, and click here to snatch your copy of Damned right now from Amazon.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Oil Falls From Titan's Skies

Our oil prices skyrocket and plunge, and conspiracies abound. But Saturn’s lifeless moon Titan has hundreds of times more natural gas and other liquid hydrocarbons than all known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth. Hydrocarbons fall from Titan’s sky.

So either oil can be formed via inorganic geological processes, or, Titan supported enough life eons ago to make oil rain. Read the award-winning international thriller "Blood of the Moon," and you won’t be so quick to dismiss the former.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Book Review: Sound Man, by Glyn Johns

Legendary rock producer Glyn John's memoir, Sound Man, is a good book, but it could have been much better. It's full of interesting stories about some of popular music's giants from the 60's, 70's and into the 80's (Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Who, Eagles, Steve Miller Band, Wings, and the Clash are just some of the artists whose recordings Johns engineered or produced). Most of the stories lack much depth, though, and the whole book needs the touch of a skilled editor. In other words, ironically enough, this book could have used a good producer. Still, for fans of Johns' work and the artists he collaborated with during a crucial era in popular music, Sound Man is worth reading.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Review: The Devil and Philosophy: The Nature of His Game, ed. by Robert Arp

Thirty-five philosophers of varying diabolic inclination gather under editor Robert Arp's direction to opine on whether the devil exists, and if so, what might be his objectives. The 35 thinkers spin short and usually entertaining ruminations exploring deviltry's long reach into history, religion, literature and the arts. The scattershot result likely won't change a reader's mind about what Satan's up to if he's actually around, but the book's a breezy, interesting read written with forked tongues planted firmly in leathery cheeks. (Note: Readers desiring a weightier and very amusing contemplation of Lucifer's curriculum vitae and future plans will enjoy Jeremy Leven's 1982 novel, "Satan, His Psychotherapy and Cure by the Unfortunate Dr. Kassler, J.S.P.S.")

Book Review: Napoleon: A Life, by Andrew Roberts

There are few, if any, people about whom more books have been written than Napoleon Bonaparte. Given the man's appropriately lauded sociopolitical and legal achievements contrasted against the nearly unimaginable brutality of the wars bearing his name, unsurprisingly Napoleon's myriad biographers are divided between admirers and detractors, the latter outnumbering the former. However, Andrew Roberts' book, Napoleon: A Life, places the author firmly among Napoleon's devotees. The linchpin of this book, as stated on its jacket, is that Roberts "take[s] advantage of the recent publication of Napoleon's thirty-three thousand surviving letters, which radically transform our understanding of his character and motivation." Roberts interweaves his subject's vast written commentary covering the entire spectrum from mundane to meaningful against the backdrop of Napoleon's improbable rise and meteoric collapse as militarist and politician in a short life that still resonates loudly in our world today. Roberts paints the end of Napoleon's career as attributable less to a clearly flawed character than to trusting the wrong people and fighting the wrong battles badly. ("When Waterloo is war-gamed, France usually wins," says a footnote on page 766.) Either way, the result reduced Napoleon from Emperor of France and ruler of nearly all Europe to Britain's lonely prisoner, left to die an outcast on a barren, isolated volcanic rock in the South Atlantic, light years from Paris.

Book Review: The Ghost Hunter, by Hans Holzer

The technology-laden art of ghost-hunting commonly practiced today (evidenced by the scads of popular ghost-hunting shows currently haunting your cable television for all the 26 weeks on either side of Halloween) is based largely on an extravagant array of exotic gadgets calibrated to detect the piercing of our earthly veil by ethereal forces otherwise immeasurable dispassionately. This "objective" approach was first widely championed and documented by Briton Harry Price in his 1940 tome, The Most Haunted House in England, a classic in the field examining the haunting of Borley Rectory in Essex. But there are more ways than one to confront a wraith, as celebrated American spirit chaser Hans Holzer demonstrates in his seminal 1963 (reprinted in new editions in 2005 and 2014) work, The Ghost Hunter. Rather than depend on cold engineering's electronic or mechanical fruits like Price and most phantom finders currently on TV, Holzer's methodology relies on selecting deft and trustworthy psychic mediums to accompany him on investigations of locations squatted by specters along America's northeast coast. Once ensconced in a haunted location, Holzer's medium-du-jour allows herself to be commandeered by the wronged spirit so the latter can speak the grievances that compel it to wreak eerie havoc. The book's collection of reports is mostly entertaining, sometimes enlightening, and Holzer's interventions usually (but not always) lead to the elimination of spooky doings once the living appropriately address the ghosts' gripes. Holzer's book teaches it may be folly to assume people's quest for fairness in love and war is constrained by mortal borders, and that a good medium gives any fancy contraption a run for its money in tracking ghosts.