Friday, September 15, 2017

An interview with "Don M. Vail"

With just a week to go until the launch of Lost Wings by Don M. Vail, I wanted to share the first-ever interview with this mysterious debut author.


And there's still time if you want to get an advance PDF version of Lost Wings. Send me an email at and I'll send it to you. And if you post a review to Amazon (doesn't matter whether you liked the book or not, we're just looking for honest reviews) by October 1, we'll send you a signed copy of the paperback!

I set out to interview Don M. Vail, the author of the next book from Elephant’s Bookshelf Press. It’s a very different novel for EBP, which to date has published novels written for young adult and middle grade audiences, though many of the stories in EBP’s anthologies are written with adult protagonists and with adult audiences in mind. 

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Tenderloin. Don came with his alter ego, Robert K. Lewis, author of the Mark Mallen crime fiction trilogy: Untold Damage, Critical Damage, and Damage. Of course, Don is the pseudonym of Robert, and he explains the genesis of not only the pen name but also the story behind Lost Wings, Don’s “debut” novel.

Elephant’s Bookshelf: What inspired the character of Richard Eastman and this story?

Don M. Vail/Robert K. Lewis: Well, it’s really about redemption. With me, it’s always about redemption. With the Damage Series, the protagonist, Mark Mallen, is on a road to redemption. He had a life that he lost. A home, a wife, and a child. All that Mallen wants to do is make it right, win back what he’s lost. That’s of course what redemption is all about for me: an attempt to make things right, to atone for past sins. This sense of redemption is what fuels Richard Eastman. He finds his chance in helping this wingless angel named Avesta. And given who Richard is, I feel sorry for anyone who wants to stop him.

When did you complete your initial draft of Lost Wings?

Jesus, I think it was about twelve years ago. Lost Wings was the third book I’d written, and it’s been said that it takes two or three books before you really get a handle on the form. From the beginning, Lost Wings felt like my first “real” book. So, yeah, I think about 2005 is accurate regarding the time I finished the first draft.

Why did it take so long?

(Laughs) Well, because nobody wanted to run with it. Like I said, Lost Wings was the first book that really felt like “a book.” I queried every agent out there, and also any publishers that dealt with Urban Fantasy, Sci Fi, or even Horror. I got close, but no cigars. So, after getting nowhere, I put it away in my desk drawer and went on to the next project, the one that would eventually get me published, Untold Damage. However, over all those long years since its inception, I would take Lost Wings out of the drawer and rewrite it again. Like so many other authors, I had “that” book; the one a writer just can’t let go of and always keeps around in the hope that at some point in time, it would see the light of day. For me, Lost Wings was that book.

What was it about the story that kept coming back to you?

(Pauses) I believe that every person has a small kernel of hero inside them, and that this kernel is just waiting to come out, given the circumstances. In Lost Wings, Richard is not a hero in the classical sense, like the paladin figure of Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings. He’s, in my opinion, closer to Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone where the hero is the reluctant hero, called by the “horn of fate.” Maybe in a more modern, non-sword iteration, Richard Eastman is more akin to John McClane from the movie Die Hard. I love a story about a person that crawls from the wreckage and keeps on moving forward. That’s Richard Eastman in a nutshell. You can’t stop him. Yes, he’s a derelict war vet. Yes, he’s drowning in his own pain, and also the pain of the Tenderloin. But even then, when that horn sounds, he stands up and starts down that road of redemption. I love pain-filled heroes, but then again… I guess all heroes are filled with pain.

Aside from your affinity for down-and-out characters living in San Francisco, there isn’t much that is similar to your crime novels. How is writing urban fantasy different from your other work and what do you see as similar?

The first thing that comes to mind is that when I’m writing crime fiction, there is an inherent reality in the world that I’m working with. It’s San Francisco. It’s the Tenderloin. Along with that reality comes a certain set of expectations. There are cars on the street, there are criminals that have to be arrested. There will be bullets and blood. However, I found writing urban fantasy to be incredibly freeing. I mean, sure, there is the Tenderloin, there is San Francisco, there are bullets and blood, but now I’m free to add a wingless angel, or Lucifer as a little girl who runs a pawnshop, or even a hero that both visually and metaphorically takes a trip through hell. In crime fiction there is no visual trip through hell, that trip only exists in a metaphorical sense. Again, it was incredibly freeing to write urban fantasy, especially after growing up on Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone series, and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels. However, at its core, the similarity lies with the fact that both Richard Eastman and my detective Mark Mallen walk the same hero’s road, and that they both possess a moral compass that is always kept, well… pointing north.

Where did you come up with the back story of Don M. Vail?

All three Mark Mallen novels are dedicated to my best friend, life partner, and spouse, Dawn M. Vail. This time, since I took a pen name, I thought I should shake it up, and so Don M. Vail was born. She’s had to put up with so much in regard to me being a writer, and since I can’t afford to give her combat pay, I felt that this was the best homage I could come up with under the circumstances.

The book noticeably has “Book One” on the cover. What can we expect of Richard and Avesta in book two?

(Pauses) How can I say anything without giving away too much? All I can say is that the seed that is planted in book one will come home to roost in book two, x 2.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Cover Reveal: Lost Wings, by Don M. Vail

We are happy to reveal the cover of Lost Wings, by Don M. Vail, the latest in the herd!

This debut novel is different from every other EBP offering. Our first urban fantasy novel, Lost Wings is also our first written with an adult audience in mind. Gritty and graphic, Lost Wings goes places no other elephant has ventured…

When Richard Eastman, a down-and-out veteran of the Gulf War, defends an injured woman with strange injuries on her shoulder blades, he finds himself battling an unexpected enemy — the devil. Hellish minions cut off the wings of the woman — the angel Avesta. But if she’s an angel, where is God and why won’t he help? With little to go on but his wits and experience (and what he can remember from Catholic school), Richard takes on a new mission: save the angel or die trying. But to do that, he must descend into Hell, confront the demons and the damned who exist there — as well as those from his own life — and ultimately fight Lucifer. He knows he can’t accomplish his mission alone, but who can he trust in Hell? Yet, if Richard fails, Lucifer will breed a new race of beings with the stolen angel. And if that happens, all hell could break loose.

While this is a debut novel, the author isn’t exactly new to writing. Robert K. Lewis is writing as Don M. Vail. Robert is a talented crime-noir author, but Lost Wings is not like his previously published work. While there may be some of Robert’s readers who enjoy the work of Don, we’re letting Don build his audience from the pebbly ground beneath his feet and work his way up.

“I wrote this novel over ten years ago,” Robert wrote on his blog. “Every so often I would take it out and rewrite it to the level of my abilities at that time. I just couldn’t give up on it.”

At EBP, we’re glad he didn’t. We were drawn in from the first few pages.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Revamping of the Elephant's Bookshelf Blogging Experience

Hey guys. It’s been a while, I know. Though it’s not obvious from the number of posts on this blog, I have been busy, and I believe the busy-ness will become evident very soon.

In a nutshell, I’ve spent the past several months working on expanding and developing Elephant’s Bookshelf Press, especially from a marketing perspective. What this means in the short term is that two books are being made ready for publication this year, with the possibility of a third also (though that one may run into 2018).

I’ve also been rethinking my blogging. Not just my schedule but also my purpose.

When I launched Elephant’s Bookshelf Press, my goal was to help unknown writers earn publication and begin to develop an audience. I’m very proud to have been the first publisher of fiction for more than a dozen writers these past five years. I’ve actually never sat down and counted them all; it could be upwards of twenty debut fiction authors.

That accomplishment – both mine and theirs -- has been on my mind as I’ve considered what my blogging should be about. There are a lot of writing blogs out there, and I know I don’t read as many as I used to. So why would anyone want to read mine? Well, I don’t know that they will, frankly. And that’s ok, because creating and building an audience takes time.

Writing is what I do. It’s what I’ve always done – before, during, and after the creation of EBP. These days, I’m not only a writer. I’m an editor, a publisher, at times a songwriter and musician. And increasingly I’m feeling confident that what we’ve been trying to do with EBP is the right thing for writers.

Let’s face it, publishing these days is a heck of a lot easier than it used to be, but building an audience is hard. Very, very hard. There’s so much out there. You’ve probably heard that a lot of it is garbage. To a degree, that’s true. But then that’s always been true.

What’s different is I’ve gotten know a lot more writers now, and the submissions I’ve gotten over the past five years always turn up several gems. Some of the submissions my review teams have rejected were stories I kinda enjoyed, even if too many of those relied on tired old tropes.

From now on, my blogging goal is to build something aimed at helping authors develop an audience. As I said, it’s a big part of what EBP has been about since the beginning, and if this company is going to be something I can expand and possibly even give to my daughters one day, then that topic needs to remain its focus going forward.

How will I do that? To be honest, I’m sure that’s going to evolve, too. I’ll write about author marketing -- the tried and true as well as the new. I don’t have all the answers, because smart new questions are being asked every day. But I’ve spent the past blurdy-blurdy years interviewing leaders of nonprofit organizations all over the country (and outside the U.S., too) about building constituencies, movements, followings; I am confident I can share lessons learned over that time.

One way I’ll do that is by interviewing authors about what they’re doing and what’s working for them. I’ll discuss things like covers (because there are a lot of crappy covers out there. Yeeesh!), and I’ll provide my own experience with certain products to help other authors learn from my experience.

When my friends and I created the late, beloved blog From the Write Angle, the goal was to provide authors lessons from those of us slightly higher up the ladder. In a way, that’s the goal on this blog, too, and with this publishing company. I may even have some guest posts from some of my FTWA co-conspirators.

So, I invite you to check out my updated blog. It’s actually going to be at the EBP site – in fact, you’ll see this post there, too. And if you like what you see, please sign up for my newsletter. I’ll use many of the usual techniques – free stuff, newsletter-only exclusives, etc. – I hope you’ll come to back because you’ll want to read the items I’ll be sharing. So, take a look. And let me know what you like and what you don’t. Let’s get the conversation going.