It is my pleasure to introduce author Anthony Avina. Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about yourself and your writing.
Tell me a little about yourself.
I am a YA and Horror author living in California. I work as a freelance writer and blogger in my day-to-day working life, and I spend my free time writing stories. I have been self-publishing my books for eight years now, and am in the process of working on my first traditionally published book. I have a Yorkshire Terrier named Sammy, two cats named Batman and Robin, and a Pineapple Green Cheek Conure named Kiwi. When I am not reading or writing, I am gaming, binge watching shows on Netflix, and brushing up on my photography skills.
Tell me your latest news.
I recently released the second novella in my first YA series. It is called Freshman Hunt: A Nightmare Academy. It is about a vampire teen girl named Francesca, who is working to uncover the secrets of the mysterious Nightmare Academy, and discovers that an ancient evil is making the academy it’s home on Halloween. While dealing with conflicted feelings for a handsome warlock named Jasper and her dangerous undercover mission in the school, she must decide what she is willing to sacrifice: love or the mission. This is the second of three novellas I plan to write, which, when finished, will be put together to form the first novel in the series. The novella is available now on all eBook retail sites.
When and why did you begin writing?
While I first began writing as a student in high school in my creative writing class, I didn’t start really writing full time until I was about 20 years old. It had been a few years since I had become disabled due to several inherited genetic ailments. Struggling with depression and the pain of my physical disabilities, I turned to writing as a way of getting out of my own day-to-day life and delving into fantastic worlds that allowed me to express myself freely. This led to my first major novel, I Was A Teenage Killer, a horror story about a teen girl who harbors a very dark secret. From there, my creative nature came to life fully and I have been writing ever since.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
The day I got my first positive review really gave me the confidence I needed to consider myself an author. I was happy writing, whether anyone ever read my books or not. I always wanted to write, and this outlet allowed me to get my feelings and ideas out into the world. It wasn’t until a few years after I began writing that I began to work on the marketing and promotional side of self-publishing. I was beginning to doubt whether or not writing could be a career I could pursue, but then the first positive review for one of my favorite series, Nightmare Wars Book One: Arrival, came on Amazon and it was like a light going off in my head, shining brightly with the words ‘You Belong Here’ beaming at me. It made me believe that I belong in the world of writing, and if I work hard, don’t give up, and just write what I love, then readers will be drawn to my work naturally and make me into the writer I know I was meant to be.
What inspired you to write your first book?
The first full novel that I wrote was I Was A Teenage Killer, the first in my Evil Teenager series. Before that, I had published a few short stories, but this was my first full-length novel. The idea came to me because I had been a horror fan for years, and the classic slasher flicks always were a favorite in my household. My mother and I enjoy watching them together, just like she did with her father, and so I was talking with her one day and a thought occurred to me: why aren’t there more slasher flicks featuring female killers? I think many people would be hard pressed to name a pop culture female killer off the top of their head. Films like Audition, Misery and the original Friday the 13th, do prove they can be equally terrifying on screen or in pop culture in general, but the typical Hollywood serial killer tends to be male. So I decided to create my own serial killer, and make them somebody no one would ever think to accuse of being a killer: a high school cheerleader. The girl next door who harbors a dark secret. A teenage girl not driven by any other motive other than the sheer pleasure of killing people. This idea drove me to create a whole series.
How did you come up with the title?
Well, since the book was about a teenage killer, I decided not to deviate too far from the book’s concept. The idea of a teenage killer is gripping and unnerving as it is and would draw in horror fans.
Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
I definitely use a mixture of narrative and descriptive writing. Honestly, it is about the story and where it takes me. While most of my stories take place in the 3rd person, there are times when I like to get into the mind of my protagonist and write as if I am that person, which is why my Nightmare Wars series features a 1st person perspective. The hardest part of utilizing a descriptive writing style has to be not giving away too many details. I have learned about the show versus tell writing problem many writers face in their career, and I have been trying to find that balance of just enough details when conveying a character’s story or actions in my books.
How much of the book is realistic and are experiences-based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
For my recent release Freshman Hunt: A Nightmare Academy novella, the concept is definitely YA Horror/Fantasy. In that regard, it is entirely made up fiction. Yet the problems many of the characters face are grounded in reality. The main character, Francesca, struggles to give into her feelings for Jasper, a warlock. Her struggle to be open and honest about her feelings and give into them is something I can relate to. I have always been a shy person, and in high school, I could never gather enough courage to tell people in my life how I felt about them, especially good friends I truly cared for deeply. I cared for my women friends deeply, but I feared that I would only be looked at as a friend they could confide in and nothing more, so I didn’t act on my feelings. While I believe things work out the way they do for a reason, it still makes me look back with curiosity and think about what could have been. I allowed fear to dictate how I handled my feelings, and that is something I think Francesca deals with greatly in this story as well.
To craft your work, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
My particular style of writing has yet to force me to travel before or after the process. I have gotten ideas for stories while travelling. I have an idea for an anthology of stories based in Las Vegas, a city I frequent often. I do have an idea for a non-fiction novel in which I and my family go to reported ‘haunted’ locations, and examine them from a scientific and historical point of view, so that would allow me to travel and investigate a bit.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
This book deals with many themes and elements. The main character is a teen vampire who was turned into one a 100 years ago. She is working undercover, and the loss of a previous love decades earlier has forced her to hide her true feelings. Besides falling for Jasper, she also struggles with her sexual identity, as she is bisexual and comes from an era of time where that was something you didn’t acknowledge. I wanted to write a story about accepting your feelings, gaining the courage to act on them, and also I wanted to show readers that no one can define you or your sexuality other than you. You can be bisexual and still start a relationship or fall in love with the opposite sex. Your personality and interests should not be the deciding factor in your sexuality. Instead, it should be a truth you discover about yourself and accept. This is a story about facing one’s fears, internally and externally, and gathering the strength to fight those fears and accept who you are and who you love.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
One author I have really gained an interest in recently is J.D. Barker. He is the author of several books, but his fame has been rising in the last couple years after the release of his thriller series, The Fourth Monkey and the recently released The Fifth To Die. I also read an incredible YA book from a new author, Kim Chance, and it really inspired me to dive head first into this genre and explore it for myself.
My all-time favorite author however, is Stephen King. His ability to create unique stories that both terrify and inspire while managing to interweave and tie the stories into a larger universe amazes me. The first book I ever read was The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower #1, and from the first line (The man in black fled across the desert…and the gunslinger followed.) the Stephen King universe was born. His character development and ability to create a whole new mythology has inspired me to do the same with my own work.
Outside of family members, name someone who supported your commitment to become a published author.
The person who first told me that I had talent and could pursue a career in writing if I worked at it was my high school creative writing teacher, Mr. Matteau. His ability to love pop culture and tell awkward jokes made him someone you could relate to, and his ability to push students to explore and see the endless possibilities creative writing offers made the connection with my own passion for writing just click into place. After reading a few of my stories, he encouraged me to explore the topic and not to give up, and his words inspired me to stay with it to this day. Thank you Mr. Matteau for your words of encouragement and for putting me onto this path.
Do you see writing as a career?
Yes I do. The beauty of writing is that there are so many different forms of writing you can participate in. My day job includes writing list articles, reviews, blog posts and so much more, which helps pay the bills and gives me another form of outlet for my writing. Then I switch to writing fiction and books in general, and the beauty of the internet allows me to share those stories and even self-publish my work for the world to see. It is hard work and is not guaranteed to lead to a full-time career, but it is possible and allows me to do what I love for a living.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I would probably make some of the scenes longer. I would probably want to expand on the backstory of Samhain, the novella’s main antagonist, and get into his character more. However, I like the fact that he looms as this mysterious threat that everyone knows about, but have to see for themselves until the end of the story.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your latest book?
Thanks to this book and previous reviews of my first novella in the series, I was able to learn how to delve deeper into a character’s backstory while making relationship building between the characters feel natural.
Any advice for other writers?
Write what you love. There is a lot of pressure to write in a genre that’s trendy, or to create the next big story that generates waves in the popular culture, but truly great writing comes when you are writing what makes you happy. Your passion and love for the subject and story will shine through and make it glow bright. Don’t give up on your dreams, and always write what you love.
Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Thank you to those readers who have supported me thus far. Your encouragement and excitement for the stories I am telling has led to some amazing new opportunities in recent years, and I look forward to sharing them with you soon. Thanks so much for giving me the courage to pursue my dream and not to give up on myself.
What book are you reading now?
I am reading The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn. It is a thriller in the same vein as books like The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl. Those thrillers have been really intriguing and captivating in recent years, and I am enjoying this story thus far.
Do you remember the first book you read?
Of course, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower 1: The Gunslinger. The story of Roland Deschain, the last of the great gunslingers of In-World, and his quest to stop the Man in Black and the Crimson King from toppling the Dark Tower, the apex of all existence, is something that I gravitated to instantly. The blend of so many genres somehow worked, and created a mythology to rival that of stories like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.
What makes you laugh/cry?
Smart comedy that involves analyzing various stereotypes and faults in society really makes me laugh, such as in shows It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Emotional storytelling such as the recent Disney film Coco and the tragic love story of a young Roland Deschain and a young girl named Susan Delgado in book four of the Dark Tower series are what make me cry, as they analyze relationships and the strength that comes from fully investing into those relationships.
Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
As for someone in the past, I’d love to meet Carrie Fisher. Not only am I a huge Star Wars fan, but my grandfather actually met her when she was a child, and her mother, Debbie Reynolds. My grandfather was a carpet layer, and he was hired by Debbie Reynolds to lay carpet in her home. While working, the young Carrie Fisher would jump on his back and ask for piggyback rides through the living room, and he and Debbie Reynolds would laugh at the young girl’s antics. I would love to talk with her about the connection to my grandfather, as well as her thoughts on politics and mental health; two things I am passionate about.
As for the present, there are several people I would love to meet. Obviously, meeting Stephen King would be fantastic, and a dream come true, as he is my writing hero. Mark Hamill would be another person, as his personality, talent and thoughts on many things in life, line up with my own, and he seems like someone I could hang out with and talk with for hours.
Do you have any hobbies?
I love to play games on my Xbox, such as the Assassin’s Creed and Fallout franchises. I also love photography, and have been trying to learn how to perfect my talent. I am also going to be learning how to edit photos. I want to start getting into ‘ghost hunting’, but use a more scientific approach and look for logical explanations. That way, if we find we cannot explain something, the evidence seems more probable.
What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I enjoy a variety of shows and films. I am a big superhero and sci-fi fan, so shows like the CW Arrowverse shows, the MCU films, Netflix’s Marvel hero shows, and Star Wars are all my favorites. I also enjoy Netflix originals like Mindhunter, Stranger Things, and Hulu’s recent hit show Castle Rock and The Handmaid’s Tale. Those are all enjoyable, relevant and inspiring to me as a writer.
Favorite foods, colors, music?
My favorite foods include Italian (pizza, pasta, etc), Mexican (quesadillas, tacos, nachos, etc), and classic American (cheeseburgers, fries, etc).
My favorite colors are blue, red and purple.
My favorite music ranges from classic rock and alternative rock, to Broadway musicals and big band/jazz music. I also enjoy pop, classical and singer/songwriter hits.
Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
I would want to study video game development and how to craft original video game stories. It wouldn’t be the writing I am used to, but I would be able to craft stories that give games the edge they need.
You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?
I would go out with the people I love most in this world, (i.e. my family, pets, etc), and go to my favorite places. I would probably go somewhere like the beach or Disneyland, eat my favorite foods and make my last day something no one I leave behind will ever forget or regret. I would want to go surrounded by those I love, with the wind on my face and held by my family.
What do you want written on your headstone?
Firstly, I want to be cremated when I go, so I would probably have a box or memorial somewhere, but not a headstone. With that in mind, this quote really stuck with me and I think it sums up my hopes in life perfectly.
There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.
Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
If readers want to learn more about me, buy my books, or read my latest news and blog posts, they can visit my website.
They can also sign up for my monthly newsletter.
About Anthony Avina
Anthony Avina, (Born March 1990), is an author, a journalist, and a blogger. Born in Southern California, he has battled through injuries, disabilities, moves back and forth across the country, and more, yet still maintains a creative voice that he hopes to use not only to entertain but to inspire hope in even the darkest situations.
He writes short stories and novels in several genres, and is also a seasoned journalist for the online magazine, On Request Magazine, as well as the popular site TheGamer. Having grown up reading the books of Dean Koontz and Stephen King, they inspired him to write new and exciting stories that delved into the minds of richly developed characters. He constantly tries to write stories that have never been told before, and to paint a picture in your mind while you are reading the book, as if you could see every scene of the book as if it were a movie you were watching. His stories will get your imaginations working, and will also show that in spite of the most despairing and horrific situations, hope is never out of reach. He is always writing, and so there will never be a shortage of new stories for your reading pleasure.
Extract from Freshman Hunt: A Nightmare Academy.
Prelude: A Brush with Death
The faintest tinge of light began to creep over the cloudy skies above Raven. It was a brisk October morning, (Halloween to be exact), and the 50 year old woman stepped out of the diner where she worked as a chef with a smile on her face. She didn’t know why she was smiling. It had been a typical night, cooking hot and greasy meals for hungry travelers and truck drivers as they drove along the coast.
Robin “Raven” Barber lived in a small apartment in Ocean Park, CA, near her favorite place in the world, Santa Monica. She’d been working at Al’s 24-hour diner for four years, although she’d spent over twenty years working as a chef. She’d spent years cooking and serving all sorts of customers, and whenever she worked these late nights, she was used to dealing with the occasional asshole who claimed their food was overcooked or not cooked enough. This night was no different, and yet she was happy.
As she breathed in the cool morning air, she thought about the day ahead of her. Although she’d lived alone for the last six years in her small apartment near the beach, (with the exception of her two cats, Carrie and Harrison), she had two beautifully grown children who were set to visit her for her birthday today. Her son, Charles Barber, was a twenty-two year old photographer living in Los Angeles, while her daughter, Alicia Barber, was a 19 year old woman working as a waitress while working her way through school, studying to become a full-time makeup artist. It had been four weeks since she’d last seen her children, and as a working single mother, her favorite days had always revolved around seeing them.
As she walked to her car, the early morning sunshine catching in her purple tinged hair, she thought of her coming day and felt a smile tug on her lips again. Raven spent most of her time working, and the rest of her time dedicated to her love of the Wiccan culture. A practicing Wiccan herself, she loved the approach to magic that the Wiccan culture taught, viewing magic as a law of nature that is not yet understood by modern science. She hoped to one day see magic materialize before her eyes, proving to herself once and for all her beliefs were valid. She could deal with the occasional naysayer who called her “eccentric” for her beliefs, but she could not tolerate her own self-doubt, and so she pursued her beliefs with a passionate zeal.
As these thoughts rushed through her mind, a chill began to run down her spine, and she began to rub the intricate patterns of her tattoo on the base of her neck, which depicted the beautiful Moon Goddess draped across the moon’s surface, watching over the world. She did this without thinking, as this was usually a habit she had whenever something stressful or bad entered her life. She shook her head and continued towards her small blue Mini Cooper.
Suddenly, a howl rose through the early morning air. Raven tensed and scanned the parking lot, which was mostly empty except for the cars of the morning shift employees who had arrived a half hour earlier. She looked around, feeling as if she were being watched, and was shocked to see a pair of red eyes staring at her from some nearby bushes. Her breath caught in her throat, and her mind screamed for her to run, but her legs wouldn’t comply. She stared in amazement and horror at the piercing red eyes, but soon the growling began to emerge from the bushes, and she knew what was about to happen.
Finally snapping out of her shocked state, Raven turned and ran to her car, pulling out her car keys as fast as she could. She heard the sharp bark of an animal behind her, followed by the scurrying feet scuttling across the gravel parking lot. Just as she reached her car, a powerful mass of muscles smashed into her back, sending her flying into her car door and her keys flying from her hands. Sharp claws dug into her back, and she tried to scream in pain, but the breath had been knocked out of her. She was sure she was going to die, and so she said one last prayer of sorts to the Moon Goddess, asking for her protection for her children now that she would no longer be there.
Before she could finish her thoughts however, another powerful shock hit the animal attacking her, and she found herself free from its death grip. She rolled over onto her back, wincing at the bloody tears in her back, and looked in terror as she watched a beautiful teenage girl tearing into a shaggy black mass. The animal in the girl’s grasp yelped in pain, and then fell silent and unmoving in the young woman’s arms. The girl dropped the animal, which looked like a giant ball of black fur, to the gravel, and looked up at Raven.
The girl’s eyes were the loveliest shade of emerald green Raven had ever seen, and her beauty was evident, but Raven looked on in horror as she saw the girl wipe a smear of black blood from her mouth, spitting out large gobs of the blood onto the ground.
“Are you ok?” the girl asked, wiping her hands and face with a cloth that she pulled out of her jean pockets.
“What….what…” Raven stammered, staring up in horror at this strange woman.
“She’s in shock,” a voice spoke up behind Raven. She turned to see the strangest sight yet, a handsome young man with skin the color of the ocean and swirling lights surrounding him.
“I can tell. She was attacked by a hellhound. This is definitely the place it’s going to happen,” the girl remarked to the man. Raven thought she detected a hint of tension between the newcomers, but the pain was becoming overwhelming and delirium threatened to slide between the cracks in her mind. She walked over to Raven and in one swift motion picked Raven up off the ground, as if she weighed nothing. “Can you fix her up Jasper?”
“Sure can, Francesca. It’ll just take a second,” the man replied. Before Raven could speak, she felt a warm and pleasant tingling sensation run down her back, and soon she felt her back was whole again. “There you go my dear, you’re injuries should be healed, as will your amazing t-shirt. I felt a strong magic in you. Are you a Wiccan by any chance?”
“I’m…yes, I’m a Wiccan. I’ve…I’ve been searching for proof of magic for years, and you’ve given it to me. Thank…thank you both for saving me.”
“You are most welcome my dear, but we must take your memories of this event. This area is going to be a dangerous place to be for the next twenty-four hours, and we can’t have anyone remembering seeing us here,” the man, (Jasper was what the girl, Francesca, called him, Raven thought to herself), replied.
“Oh please, I can’t forget this. This is what I’ve searched for. You are the answer I’ve always sought.”
“I’m sorry my dear, but you can’t remember us. However, maybe we can leave you with a little token of magic,” Jasper replied. He waved his hand in front of Raven’s face, and her mind went blank. Francesca guided the woman into her car, sitting her in the driver’s seat and putting her keys in the ignition. When she came to, Raven would only remember falling asleep in her car, and nothing more. Jasper smiled as he left a little box inside the car with Raven. Then they shut the door, and walked back into the forest near the diner, off to their adventure.
Raven woke several minutes later, and laughed as she remembered falling asleep. She shook her head, smacked her cheeks to wake herself up, and then started the car. Before she left the parking lot however, she spotted a small box sitting on her dashboard. She picked it up, and saw a note, which simply read, “Never Stop Believing, J.” She shook her head in amazement, not sure who J was, but when she opened the box, she saw a small piece of paper inside. The paper seemed to have some sort of incantation written on it, and laughing to herself, she playfully spoke the words aloud.
As she finished the incantation, a small light emerged from the box, and a miniature firework show played before Raven’s eyes. She stared in wonder as the spell played out, and she felt a tear of joy spilling down her cheek. From the woods, Francesca and Jasper watched the woman smile, and Francesca turned to Jasper with an equally big smile on her face.
“What?” Jasper asked.
“That was a wonderful thing you did for her,” Francesca remarked. She knew they had to seek shelter from the sun soon, but she wrapped her arms around Jasper and enjoyed this small moment with him. The tension between them vanished, and they found themselves lost in the moment.
“With all the horror coming our way tonight, I think we both needed that as much as she did. The smallest glimmer of hope can turn the worst of tides,” Jasper replied. She smiled, and hoped he was right. The things that they would have to face that night would be horrible indeed, and all they had going for them was hope. She only hoped that hope would be enough.