Brain to Books Blog Tour
Author: Ani H. Manjikian
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi Fantasy, Military, Women’s Fiction
Book: Spirit of the Lone Horse
Born and raised in Southern California, the diagnosis of hydrocephalus at birth should have killed Ani, or worse, left her blank to the world. Her strength of spirit, parents’ love, and a miracle all combined to overcome that prognosis within nine months. From this almost impossible beginning, she has developed into all-around person with the technical knowledge and analytical mind of a programmer, creative and detailed orientation of a writer/editor, and aesthetic instincts of a designer/photographer.
Ani’s writing career started when a friend in Cyprus made her promise to stop throwing away her writings because she thought they weren’t good enough. After returning to the States, Ani set out to finish a single horse story and tried to get it published. However, the book, like the writer, needed time to mature.
While perfecting her craft, Ani graduated from San Francisco State with a BA in Industrial Arts and worked several jobs from retail sales to human resources project management. Her innate ability to learn new computer programs with minimal instruction combined with her need to be creative led to her current long-term stint as a web designer and developer.
The book, meanwhile, spawned several siblings until there was enough for a series. Not knowing what to call it, Ani turned to another friend who suggested a word play on the books main themes of horses, space, family, and heroes. Spirit of the Lone Horse, the first book in the Stars of Heros series, was published in March 2015 by Unsolicited Press. The second, Do You Believe in Legend?, is currently in development.
Read an excerpt from The Spirit of the Lone Horse
The green canopy of the trees filters the bright sun into its individual rays. The soft brown soil squishes in some spots thanks to the overnight rain. Close by, birds celebrate the day with song. Off in the distance, cars whoosh along pavement.
Ah! I take a deep breath. The crisp, new smell in the air clears the unsettled thoughts from my head. I am certain. Jim deserves the base. Me, I need to fade into the obscure shadows I’ve created for myself.
No one in our family has ever resigned from the USMB before. A few were let go because of disciplinary problems. Some broke with tradition and never joined. History won’t judge me against any of them, though. My father and great-great-grandfather are the standard-bearers of my family. The former co-founded the Joint Forces division. The latter created the whole organization.
Branches snap. Leaves crunch and crackle.
I try to identify the animal behind the ruckus. I had spotted a few deer tracks near the trailhead, but there’s no musky game odor. No whining or barking, either, which eliminates dogs, wolves, and coyotes. Bears and wild cats are higher up the mountain roads. Domesticated felines rely on stealth. Most of the time, birds land on bushes and trees, not destroy them. At least thirty miles and a couple major freeways separate my base from the nearest cattle, pig, and sheep ranches as well as any zoos or wildlife sanctuaries.
That leaves only one other possibility. Crap!
Sparks of electricity shoot through my body. My muscles tremble and jerk. Heartbeats thunder in my ears almost drowning out the hoofbeats.
A horse, with a lead rope dragging from his halter, breaks into the open a few feet ahead of me. How escaped from another human’s control doesn’t matter. His unexpected presence makes me to think something is about to go wrong. Forget the fact that he matches the description of Alabaster’s son in every detail, including the height of his white socks.
I freeze, hoping my stillness will blend me in with my surroundings.
Book Blurb for Do You Believe In Legend?
Title: Do You Believe in Legend?
Release Date: TBD
Jeff Mason has always been a part of Jo’s life, offering an encouraging or wise word when she needed it plus many other things she can never completely thank him for. She has no reason to think of him as anything other her cousin. Then she learns that he replaced her real one, who died saving his life. That discovery plus hearing her own voice in a place where she shouldn’t have leaves Jo wondering about her place in time.
When Jeff’s twin brother Randy falls into her lap, both literally and figuratively, Jo hopes he can give her some answers. There is only one slight problem… He doesn’t remember anything about himself or his life and what he does, doesn’t help.
Together, the three of them learn that life isn’t about who or what you know, but who and what you care for.
Read an excerpt from Do You Believe In Legend?
He visited Lower Observation when he needed a quiet moment to gather his thoughts and consider his options. Transparent, steel-infused plastic protected him, but did not inhibit his movements as he walked or sat among the stars. Nowhere else on the ship could he comprehend the mystery of space with such clarity. Above and to his right, the galaxy he often traveled. In front of him, ships of different shapes and sizes travelled in, out, and around a busy space complex. On his left, a nondescript blue-green planet he called home.
Caught in a steel net on the outer edges of the spaceport, a ship that looked no different than his own. Only the engineers working on it and his father cared more about its progress than he did. Though the vessel wouldn’t receive its name until after its commissioning, it had its registration number, HMuCr-1051.
It’s nothing more than a number on an unfinished ship, he reminded himself. They haven’t even set a date for her maiden voyage yet.
The stocky, tending toward athletic man with dark hair diverted his gaze to the planet and traced the coastline of the North American continent with his eyes. Three-quarters the way up California, in the small seafront city of San Francisco, his mother had given birth to him and his identical twin. Two minutes and several hundred years separated them because of the ship with no name.
Richard was the first person he had lost. The dangerous unpredictability of galactic exploration and politics had taken his mother, his two wives, and too many others from him. One or two words and I can be anywhere in time before I close my mouth. Who would I save or warn?
His love for two people froze the thought before he could come up with the first name.
Jo will never forgive me. His face glowed with a warm smile as he envisioned her standing in front of him. She’d look me square in the eye, and say that my reunion with Richard depends on straightening the timeline, not creating more convolutions in it. She’d be right, too.
Interview with Ani H. Manjikian
Tell us a little about yourself. (How did you get started writing? What do you do when you’re not writing?
I started really writing because I didn’t think there was enough horse stories in the world. All I wanted to do was that one horse story and forget about it. My series happened by accident when I realized that I had too many things I wanted to do with my characters to fit in one book.
Before I wrote for a purpose, I dabbled or did school assignments. My dabbles usually ended up in the trashcan. One day, while I was living in Cyprus (the country, not the city), a friend of mine got a hold of my dribble. They took a look at it, said it was decent, and made me promise to not to throw away anything I wrote ever again. I’ve managed to keep that promise.
When I’m not writing, I’m editing other people’s works, talking my dogs for a walk, watching TV, programming, playing computer games, reading . . . Mainly just, being a normal person.
Is this your first book? How many books have you written prior (if any?) List other titles if applicable.
First published, second written. When I began my writing adventure, I “completed” three books. It was more like I was yelling at the world with the first two. The third survived in an endless editing loop. They and me needed time to mature. When they did, I thought the third book was going to be published first since it seemed the most ready. That is, until someone read it and said that with everything that was happening the needed a little more information first. I figured I had that information in Spirit, even though the storytelling was lousy. I threw 90 percent of it out and went from there.
What genre do you enjoy writing the most and what is this book about?
I don’t like to be confined to one genre, that’s why I like contemporary since by its very definition it spans any and all genres. To me putting labels on something (or someone) just puts them in a box and I hate boxes.
Spirit, on the surface, is about a woman overcoming her fear of horses and attempting to make her lifelong dream come true by riding in and winning a prestigious competition. Someone attacks her team in both subtle and direct ways. One incident apparently lives the woman dead and that’s where the twists and turns in the story really begin.
What inspired you to write this book?
Growing up, I loved and devoured the Black Stallion series, Black Beauty, and other horse stories. I couldn’t get enough of them. I noticed that there weren’t many of them out there, so I decided to write one. I never intend to write a series, but, as I got into the story, I realized that there was too much happening and too many questions to be answered for just one book.
How did you come up with the title of your book or series?
In the Black Stallion movie, there is a seen where the Black is looking out and down from a cliff during sunset. I wrote a poem that described the seven attributes I thought of when that image came to mind. Since I was capturing the essence of the a single horse, I came up with the title Spirit of the Lone Horse. The poem, in a modified form, is actually in the book.
The series one a friend of mine gave me. As the series was developing itself, I was looking for an identity for it. I liked the word Heroes, but didn’t want any comparison to the NBC franchise with the same name. My friend suggested a word play on the books main themes of horses, space, family, and heroes. So we came up with Stars of Heros. The cool thing is that Heros is part of Paleo-Balkan mythology (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleo-Balkan_mythology).
Tell us a little bit about your cover art. Who designed it? Why did you go with that particular image/artwork?
I designed it. The full story behind the cover can be found at http://rightthewriter.com/2015/02/22/evolution-of-a-cover/. To sum it up, I had a very strong feeling that the cover needed a horse’s head on it with the horse looking at the reader somehow. Every time I look at the horse on the cover, I think about all the horses I have ever known and how they would give me that all knowing look sometimes. There’s also the added, and unexpected, benefit of the horse’s nose pointing toward the title of the book in the final design. Good layouts are always designed with the idea of directional images leading the reader to important text.
If you could cast your characters in the Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play your characters?
I’m not sure. I have a few ideas, but I don’t keep up with the latest trends in movies and actors to know who’s hot and who’s not. I could name a few I’d like, but I’m afraid that might be a little too old. Thing is, I wouldn’t want an actor who was just doing the role for the money. I’d want only the ones who had bought into the role they wanted and could identify themselves with the characters and their story. I would want their acting to inspire me when I needed to add more depth to the character. I believe, like with books and their words, if the passion isn’t on the screen, the audience feels and knows it.
Do you have any other talents or hobbies?
Well, to support myself until my writing career takes off, I’m a computer jockey. I develop and code websites based on the designs that I’m given. When I’m not programming, writing, or hanging out on social media, I’m gaming. Not one of those all out let’s win tournament types, but still I enjoy my playtime. I also love to read and listen to music.
Sorry I couldn’t pick five or seven, but I did limit myself to ten as well as hybrid a few similar ones together.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I like the Ursual Le Guin quote “But when people say, Did you always want to be a writer? I have to say no! I always was a writer.” While I can’t claim that exactly, it’s close to how I feel. I’ve always enjoyed books and stories. I especially love the ones where I can actually hear and see the characters and experience the world they lived in. I hope through my writings I do the same for my readers.
Defining when I first considered myself a writer is hard. I’ve always felt more comfortable expressing myself through writing than speaking. While I like the spotlight, I tend to get nervous when I’m in it. When I’m writing, I don’t have such a constraint. I still try to be respectful, but I can be a little more expressive and enjoy a conversation with someone without worrying about the mixed messages I’m getting from their tone and body language.
Since I first picked up the pen for something other than school assignments, I’ve always felt like writing and being at a known writer was going to be my destiny. I validated that belief when I published my book. My validation grows stronger with the each review the book gains on Amazon. Having a release party of FB book helps too (https://www.facebook.com/events/862491687133820/).I probably should have done the release party thing sooner . . . :))
What does your writing process look like? Are you a plotter or do you write by the seat of your pants?
I’m a fly by the seat of my pantser with a little plotter mixed in. Because I’m working on a series, I have to have the organization part to keep track of everything. Right now, that organization is an official timeline of major events and the fact that I have the ideas for every book laid out in Scrivener. Some have more ideas than others, including complete chapters.
When I write a book, I like to work on the book ends first and then middle. Chapters organize themselves as I follow plot lines, characters, or situations through the manuscript. I’ve gotten more disciplined about working on only one book at a time, but there are times that I start in one book that triggers an idea, or important piece of information, for another book, so, of course, I have to write it down. Or, if I’m stuck on the book I’m working on, I’ll work on another just to get the creative juices flowing.
Having everything in Scrivener helps. I don’t have to worry about saving things, I can move stuff around, and I can cross-reference characters and situations as needed.
Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Racy?
Intimate ones. My style of writing could be classified as Deep Point of View where my goal is submerse my readers into my characters’ lives through experiences that seem, and are real. To me, intimate sex scenes just can’t be researched and described. They have to be experienced than those feelings translated into something meaningful. Problem is I only had an intimate encounter once in my life and it was with a person who I no longer trust or even know.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
There are actually quite a few subjects I wouldn’t right about and only because I’m not sure I could speak with enough of an authoritative, or genuine, voice on them. Being genuine in my storytelling and characters is important to me. Does that limit my ability to write? Hardly.
Who is your favorite character from your book and why? How about your least favorite character? What makes them less appealing to you?
My favorite character is my main one, Jo Mason. She’s the only character I have to write in 1st person present when she is thinking or speaking. When she isn’t herself or someone else is describing her or an interaction they had with her, then I do 3rd person past. Jo, like her brothers, are reflections of different parts of me. She, especially, because she’s strong-willed, seeks understanding and love, but doesn’t need sex to validate herself, and has a very soft and vulnerable side under her tough, no worries, exterior. She also gets to fly jets, lead people by example, live and work around horses, and other stuff I can imagine doing.
I don’t have a least favorite character. There are ones that are more difficult to write than others because their beliefs and reactions are different than mine. Sill they give me a chance to express myself, so I can really hate them for that.
If you could change one thing about your novel, what would it be?
When I wrote the Spirit, I wanted to silence the Amazon critics who complained about lack of details, shallow characters, and a predictable storyline. While I managed to do that, I think I went a little overboard and made the story a little too complex. Two future books, Hope Amongst Ashes and Whisper in the Wind, will help clear up some of the confusion as they deal with the story behind some of the events mentioned in Spirit. Still, maybe I need to look at each book in the series and evaluate what I’m trying to do with them just to make sure they don’t fall into the “too complex” category as well.
What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
Know yourself and your story before you venture out into the world. You’ll need this inner strength to keep true to your vision even as you are being bombarded on all sides by the naysayers, the helpful, but sometimes contradicting, advice of the experts, and your own heart and mind when things don’t happened as planned. You’ll also need to be flexible enough to learn and grow with each new experience, wise enough to filter through the BS to find the right people and knowledge to help you, and brave enough to continue when you only have yourself to lean on for support. Feeling, touching, smelling, and holding your book in your hand is worth everything you have to go through to create it.
What is your least favorite part of the publishing / writing process?
Editing. I enjoy the challenge of it, but I hate when I’m finished and still find things that I can improve. I’m not talking the story or something to do with the characters, those are usually caught by the time I’m done. No, it’s the pesky words that decide to go AWOL or come out of left field.
What are you working on now?
The second book in the series called Do You Believe In Legend? I’m not actually writing it, but rewriting to meet the standards set by Spirit. In some ways, I’m struggling with the process because Legend was the book that kept me writing for the longest time after a friend’s betrayal. Because of that, I always thought it was going to be the first book published. Then Spirit came along and turned everything on its ear. Now, I’m having to go back and rework pieces that I’ve already worked on a lot.
In Legend, Jo Mason is dealing with the aftermath of the events in Spirit. When a man from the future falls into her lap, both literally and figuratively, Jo hopes he can give her some answers to the questions she has about her life. There is only one slight problem… The trip back scrambled his brain, so he doesn’t remember much and what he does, doesn’t help, because some of the key events haven’t happened yet in his time.
What is the most difficult thing about being an author?
Having to have a job that pays the bills.
Do you have a pet or pets?
Two dogs. One’s a standard Poodle and the other is a Peakapoo (Pekinese Poodle). Definite size and attitude differences between the two. The larger one is a social butterfly who is very sensitive to both humans and other dogs. For a tough as he acts, when confronted, he’s a drama queen. The smaller one is always figuring things out and doesn’t let things faze her. She tends to be a barker though, and that can be hard on the nerves sometimes, especially when I’m trying to concentrate. The bigger one needs her more than she needs him.
What is your biggest fear?
I actually have two. Feeling like I wasted too much time, so my series is either going to go nowhere (meaning I’ll only be writing it for myself) or I’m going to die before I finish the fourteen core books. Then there is what happens after I die. Do I find out that heaven and hell are real? If so, have I had enough faith or done the right things to end up in the good place? If they don’t exist, then what? Do I spend eternity as dust or do I come back as something else?
What do you want your tombstone to say?
Always good-intentioned, execution was sometimes lousy.
What is something you want to accomplish before you die?
Seeing the Earth from space before I die.
If you could have any accents from anywhere in the world, what would you choose?
Scottish or Irish because of my Gaelic heritage and Australian because I just like the sound of it.
Go ahead and introduce yourself. Tell the audience about yourself.
My name is Joanna C. Mason. Most of my friends and family call me Jo. Everyone else calls me Captain or sir, out of respect to my rank and position. Sometimes those I know have to too. It all depends on who we are around and how much formality they expect. Anyway, I’m the Commanding Officer of United States Mounted Band Los Angeles and the Mason Seven Command, Support, Auxiliary (CSA) Team.
I have six brothers, four stepbrothers, a son, and a nephew. I’m the eldest by two minutes. Parents, grandparents, and one uncle are dead. The other uncle lives down in San Diego with his wife Rose. Most of the losses happened during my pre-teen and teen-aged years.
There isn’t that much to tell about me. Part of my career is classified and the rest, well, is just ordinary, if you consider that I’m a woman in a command position. Even though the USMB strives for equality in everything, there is still areas where a person is judged for what they are and not who they are.
Tell us where and when were you born.
I was born in 1971 at the USMBLA hospital. At the time, USMBLA was located in the same spot It had been for 121 years, in the Antelope Valley at the current site of USMB Lancaster, somewhere near Edwards AFB. When I was five, they moved the base to the Los Angeles side of the San Gabriel Mountains.
The base, like the UMSB, has a rich history. In 1850, the government crated the Los Angeles Mounted Scouts, a unit that could act as a buffer between the native and settler population to protect the new state and municipality without causing too much of a fuss. My great-great-grandfather, Lt. Colonel Robert C. Mason, assumed command of the new unit. For eleven years, the LAMS went about its business without much of a footnote in history, though they handled several conflicts.
At the beginning of the Civil War, the unit split into two, the Los Angeles Mounted Rifles and the California Mounted Band. Colonel Mason, a Union officer, transferred his staff and himself to the CMB. The unit spent a majority of the war entertaining civilians and troops, but did see some front line action during the Battle of Picacho Peak in 1862. The LAMR mustered out by the end of 1861.
Toward the end of the war, CMB performances became neutral territory where there was no Union or Confederacy for a few hours. Witnessing the power and hope of these moments, Colonel Mason petitioned his superiors to create more units like the CMB across the country. The request ended up on some secretary’s desk and would have remained there for infinity had he not passed away in July of 1865. His superiors wanted to honor him for his service, so at his funeral they declared the CMB the first unit of the United States Mounted Band and renamed the CMB’s fort USMBLA. Since then, the organization has promoted peace through music around the world.
How would you describe yourself?
A simple, but complicated, person. Simple in the fact that I’m, for the most part, what you see or hear. I seek truth and peace for all and strive to protect those I care for, even if I only know them by their name and not much else. There’s too much hurt and sadness in the world. I know, even with the power I have at my command, I can’t fix it all and that just hits me the wrong way.
I’m complicated because of the shadow I carry in my head. I was trying to help my stepfather expose the wrong doings of a controversial unit with the USMB. Things didn’t go as planned, so I ended up serving as a mindless, emotionless, and soulless operative who thought about death like normal human beings think about breathing. Not very proud of that time in my life and very lucky and grateful that I’m back to being me.
Tell us about where you grew up.
Pretty much where I was born, except on a different side of the mountains. I don’t remember much before I was five except for it being hot and uncomfortable sometimes. What I like about USMBLA’s current location is that it still sometimes gets hot, but we have a large forested section of the base where we can cool off, if need be.
USMBLA has always been my home. Sure I’ve gone off and served at other bases, but I always manage to make it back here. Though, there was one point in my life where I didn’t think I was going to, but then I wasn’t myself at the time. Will I spend the rest of my career here? Yeah, most likely. Because of the shadow in my head, I have a cap on my promotions, so I’ll end up retiring as a Captain and the CO of USMBLA when the time comes. At least I was certain that was my fate until last year. Now, I’m not so sure.
Tell everyone what it is you do when you’re not on the base?
Hmmm, well there is no real distinction between when I’m on and off duty because I’m always surrounded by friends and family. Yes, I know that unusual for a military organization, but, despite the military hardware it has, the USMB doesn’t get involved in world conflicts unless it’s asked and even then, they only do to try and bring about a resolution with the least amount of bloodshed.
Anyway, getting back to me, the only way I know which side of the blurry line I’m on is how many people my choices will affect. If it’s only one or a few, then I know I’m off-duty. So that’s why I’m always careful with what I decide.
Are you seeing anyone?
Ha. I tried. Believe me I tried, but things with the opposite sex never work out. I have friends who are guys and I love my brothers, but the whole boyfriend / girlfriend thing has taken a backseat to my career. I’ve met and dated half a dozen guys, but it’s usually a one night stand.
There was Patch, though. Jo’s face softens as her lips take a subtle downward turn. He personified the Southern California surfer dude stereotype. Tall, suntanned to perfection with a sculpted body, shoulder-length blonde hair, and sparkling green-blue eyes, his passion for life was as intense as the way he lived it. Does that mean I fell for him the instant I saw him? Hell, no. In fact, I thought he was an arrogant jerk who couldn’t see two feet past his nose. When I told him that, he flashed a warm smile and said I’d get used to him.
The road of getting used to Patch was a long, uneven one. Sure, his charming good looks and warm smile made liking him easy. The way he anticipated me and completed my sentences reminded me of my twin, Jim. In fact, Patch almost reached the point where he could mirror and counterbalance me as much as Jim did. He had a wild and dark side that rubbed me the wrong way, though. Unexplainable fits of rage over the stupidest things transformed him into a nasty son of a bitch without warning. We had many arguments where our intense personality fed off with each other. Since I pretty much remained the rational one, I tried to control how far our explosions went. I even left him a couple times after the more serious ones, but love blinded me when his sweet side showed up, so I always ended up going back.
It was one of those fits that killed him. I don’t remember what started it, but it was the first time he took a swing at me. Instead of defending myself like my training suggested, I ducked and he punched a hole in a nearby wall. After he withdrew his bloodied fist, he glared at me and stormed out of the room. I followed him, trying to talk sense into him, but he didn’t hear anything, except his own demons. He drove away, and two hours later, I heard about a rollover accident on I-5. When I saw pictures of the car, I recognized it almost immediately.
At least his spirit lives on in his son RJ. Jo sighs, but that’s a story for another time.
Tell us about your greatest fear.
Other than horses or losing control to my shadow? It’s not doing enough to make sure the human race survives all the crazy stupidity of the times we live in. I wish people would just realize that despite our differences in beliefs and the color of skin, we all bleed red. We also need to take better care of ourselves and the planet we live on. Not sure what’s it’s going to take to get those messages through to people’s thick skulls before it’s too late.
The phone attached to Jo’s hip buzzes. She palms it, looks its face, and then looks up.
Some Admiral’s at the gate looking to earn a few brownie points by doing a surprise inspection of my base. Bureaucrats . . . I wonder what the world would be like without them. Anyway, before I go, my friend who wrote our story asked me to give a plug for the book. It’s called Spirit of the Lone Horse and while there are horses in it, there’s a lot more going on, trust me. It’s a pretty interesting read. To me, it’s a little too detailed in some parts, but I think that’s because John, my brother who is a walking encyclopedia, got his hands on the final copy before it went to print. He’s a stickler for details and making sure that things are said just right. Me, not so much. Thanks for taking the time to listen to my ramblings. I’ll catch you later.
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