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The legend of the fictional character known as Nikita has actually been around since February of 1990 when French actress Anne Parillaud starred in the title role in the original film Nikita (aka La Femme Nikita). The film Nikita centered on a young female criminal who is recruited to work as an assassin for the French government.

In 1993, an American version of the film, known as Point of No Return, was released with American actress Bridget Fonda in the title role. The storyline for this film held true to the original canon except that this Nikita worked for a secret division of the United States government.

Four year later, Fireworks Entertainment and Warner Bros. decided to develop the story of Nikita for the small screen, debuting La Femme Nikita on January 13, 1997 on the USA Network (and on CTV in Canada) with then unknown Australian actress Peta Wilson in the title role. La Femme Nikita ran for five seasons on the cable network, airing 96 episodes during its run.

Nikita Season 1But it wasn’t until September 9, 2010 that a new TV version of Nikita debuted on The CW – this time featuring action star Maggie Q in the title role.

Much like its predecessors, Nikita focused on a drug addict who was convicted of murder and sent to prison where her death was faked. She awoke in a white room in a place she came to know as Division where she was trained to be an assassin.

But this version of Nikita veered off the typical path of its former incarnations in the fact that Nikita escaped from Division and after three years in hiding she comes back to bring down the very organization that made her who she is.

The debut season of the series centered around Nikita working from the outside to bring down Division while her mole Alex (series regular Lydnsy Fonseca) infiltrated the walls inside Division to not only assist Nikita in her mission but also to exact revenge on the organization that massacred her family in Russia.

Also introduced during the show’s freshman series were:

• An operative named Michael (series regular Shane West), a former military man brought into Division under false pretenses by Percy (former series regular Xander Berkeley), who becomes Nikita’s trainer and eventual lover;

• Computer genius-hacker extraordinaire Seymour Birkhoff (series regular Aaron Stanford), who becomes close with Nikita, who “lovingly” refers to him as ‘Nerd’; and,

• Percy’s right-hand woman at Division, Amanda (series regular Melinda Clarke), who was the enemy of Nikita (and eventually Alex and Michael as well as other members of Nikita’s team as the season progressed). Amanda was a psychologist, but also a master manipulator and interrogator (i.e., she is one sick, sadistic bitch).

By the end of season one, Michael has left Division and is fighting side-by-side with Nikita who is now in possession of a “Black Box” that contains Division’s darkest secrets and conspiracies while Alex is recruited by Amanda into Oversight, the leadership and funding stream for Division.

Other recurring characters introduced during season one included CIA agent Ryan Fletcher (actor Noah Bean), a top analyst and ally of Nikita’s; Division assassin Thom (actor Ashton Holmes), who was killed by Alex and framed as Nikita’s mole; Division assassin Jaden (actress Tiffany Hines), who was also killed by Division assassin Nathan in order to save Alex’s life; and Division cleaner and guardian Owen Elliot (actor Devon Sawa).

Nikita Season 2The second season of Nikita kicked off on September 23, 2011 with Nikita and Alex at odds with each other, Nikita and Michael on the run together and Amanda taking control of Division with Percy being locked away in the bowels of Division.

The sophomore year of the series saw the introduction of former Navy SEAL Sean Pierce (series regular Dillon Casey), who was hired by Oversight – it helped that his mother Senator Madeline Pierce (recurring guest Alberta Watson, who previously portrayed Amanda in the TV series La Femme Nikita) was one of that nefarious group’s members – to keep an eye on Division and Amanda. He eventually became another important member of Nikita’s team and Alex’s lover. And, head technician Sonya (recurring guest star Lyndie Greenwood), who took over when Birkhoff left Division. She eventually becomes Birkhoff’s girlfriend and a valuable member of Team Nikita.

By the end of the second season, Nikita’s team has breached Division, taken them down completely with Nikita killing Percy in a major battle and Ryan, albeit reluctantly, taking over the reins.

Nikita Season 3Season three of Nikita came back strong on October 19, 2012 with Division officially under government control and under the leadership of Ryan with all of the key players back inside the walls of that bunker, but this time being tasked with bringing down the remaining rogue agents nicknamed the “Dirty Thirty” who refused the recall order that was instigated at the end of the previous season. Amanda is now rogue, having run when Division was taken down and Percy was killed, being hunted as aggressively as Nikita had been. But a growing number of the remaining operatives become uncertain of Nikita and their new leaders, instigating an internal battle inside Division that eventually costs many of them – as well as Sean – their lives. In the season finale, Division is completely destroyed. But, the final episode of that season found Nikita, once again, going out on her own to save all those she loved after she is falsely accused of killing the President of the United States.

It was after the May 2013 finale of Nikita that it was announced by The CW that the series would not be renewed for another season, but would receive a six-episode final season order. Those final six episodes have run consecutively on Friday nights from November 22 straight through to the series finale that will air this Friday, December 27. The crux of these final episodes have been clearing Nikita’s name, building back their relationships and bringing Amanda down once and for all.

The Cast of Nikita

The Cast of Nikita

After all the loss each member of Team Nikita has experienced, all the battles they have fought, all the missions they have gone on and all the trials and tribulations they have suffered, it will come down to one final showdown between Nikita and Amanda. But who will be the victor and will the remaining members of Team Nikita get to have a happy ending?

Make sure to tune into The CW on Friday, December 27 at 9/8c to find out how this four-season saga of Nikita ends and let’s hope the TV gods are kind, for once, giving Nikita, Alex, Michael, Sam/Owen, Birkhoff and Sonya at least a semblance of a happily ever after. I think they deserve it. Don’t you?

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Jason Palmer's Self-Portrait

Jason Palmer’s Self-Portrait

On Easter weekend, while attending WonderCon 2013 in Anaheim, I had the opportunity to sit in on a panel spotlighting one of my favorite artists: Jason Palmer

During this one-hour panel Jason took the stage, sharing his back-story of growing up in California as an only child and revealing that he drew all the time with whatever he could find at hand. But, since that was during the days before the internet, he didn’t know anyone who was an artist, let alone knowing which way to go with his art.

After high school, he did odd jobs – including desk jobs – that eventually lead to him becoming a technical advisor for an electric company. In this job, he spent a lot of time talking to clients on the phone, and he would doodle on the desk pad on his desk throughout many of these conversations.

On one particular day, the President of the company called Jason into his office, asking why he was doodling all over the desk pad – thinking that Jason wasn’t doing the job for which he was hired. Jason explained that he was doing his job but also doodling while explaining out tech-speak to clients. He was instructed to discontinue his doodling and, as you can imagine, not that much later, he decided to give his notice with that employer; setting on the path of actually doing something more with his drawing.

He, in turn, got a job at a Hollywood art store, started taking college classes to hone his skill and, on somewhat of a lark he contacted his favorite artist, asking for advice. Now while in hindsight Jason freely admits this was probably not the best idea, this artist was kind enough to take time out of his own busy schedule to spend the day with Jason.

After getting some very sage advice from this artist, Jason was encouraged to come back “when he was better” and he felt an obligation to do the best he could from there on out; making himself a bit of a perfectionist in the process.

From that point on, he made several more return visit to the artist’s home; always coming away with more good advice. Gradually Jason began to meet other artists and started to create a “family” out of that.

It was 25 years ago that Jason attended his very first Comic Con, meeting many of his heroes – some who were really nice and others (who he of course did not name) that were less than pleasant. As the years past, though, he began to become discouraged. That all changed in 2003 when he meet Yelena (who has been his wife for the past 10 years). It was Yelena who became his strongest supporter, convincing to approach other artists at conventions and helped turn him around. He eventually got a table in artist’s alley and then one day he had a chance meeting with actor Nathan Fillion (of Firefly and Castle fame), who saw Jason’s artwork for the show.

As Jason explained it, there was a release party for the Firefly DVD and he did “a little piece for it” that was eventually seen by series creator Joss Whedon, who asked to meet Jason. During that meeting Joss unabashedly told him that Jason’s little piece was “the biggest compliment” he had ever gotten for the show. That quickly led to Jason being asked by Joss to do a full painting and from there he was asked to do more paintings for the show. Not that long later, of course, the rapid Browncoats (the very dedicated fans of Firefly) embrace Jason’s artwork, and his career really started to take off.

As time went on, he started to get more and more commercial work and last year he worked with HBO and Lucas Films on some big projects. But with that bigger and bigger commercial comes the challenge of meeting their requirements and being somewhat stifled by their restrictions. It is Jason’s goal now to do more of what the fans of his work want, what they request when he sees them in person. He does also do commission work, but – obviously – his wait list is quite long, but Jason does his best to complete the commissions as quickly as possible

To see just a small sample of Jason Palmer’s artwork and get more details about his studio, make sure to visit his official website here.

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Last year at this time, up-and-coming director Devon Newberry had a short film called Project: Elysium making rounds at the local film festivals. This time around, he and his crew, have a new project working the circuit called Phynes.

With this short film Newberry wanted to scale back, telling a more intimate story – “a character piece” as he calls it. In fact, this project is what he has described as a short that was never supposed to be made. He and Dominick Aznavour, who plays lead character Scott Phynes, actually tried to make this film back in 2006 and then again in 2008; but various factors got in the way and it was never made. He shared that, “the most obvious factors were budget, crew (and) time. But it wasn’t until after we finished shooting last year that the biggest factor was simple: experience”. They both needed experience because the themes and emotions explored in the film – heartbreak, depression, loss, bad jobs – they “wouldn’t have been able to tell the story truthfully years ago”.

Devon Newberry and Dominick Aznavour

It should be noted that Newberry and Aznavour have known each other since high school; but it wasn’t until after graduation that they started working together when Newberry brought a script entitled “Into the Night” to Aznavour, asking him to be the star. They quickly discovered how passionate and serious they both were about filmmaking and they have been working together since.

Aznavour also shared that he has loved entertaining people since he was very young; and as he got older he “started to build a love and curiosity for the emotional and psychological side of acting”. Being “able to fully create another person from scratch and fuel it with your own emotions” is what made him fall in with acting. And while he loves acting, more than writing, he isn’t opposed to directing in the future. He shared that he would “love to be able to actually manifest what I see in my head into reality”.

Obviously Phynes has been in production for six years, but the duo hasn’t been working on it solid for those years. They would write and rewrite the script and “where the shooting script ended compared to the very first draft from 2006 is like night and day” according to Newberry. He also shared that “a lot of the dialogue remained the same, but I think virtually everything about the movie changed”. Newberry worked with Aznavour and Vanessa Bronson, who helped with the original idea, on the script in 2008; but then he handled the script on his own when they revisited the short in 2011.

As for the casting process, Newberry usually has one or two actors in mind once his scripts are in “good shape” and from there it is “easy to fill up the roles”. Aznavour was the clear choice for the lead in Phynes and “I am crazy fortunate that everyone I approached on the first wave of casting accepted and ended up on the screen as you see them”. The only hiccup was in casting a character named Mrs. Sellick. “It was a week before (we had to start) shooting, we (were) scrambling (to fill the role). But, two days before principal photography (was to) begin, a dear family friend (Suzanne Kemp) offered to play the role. We got lucky there. She was exactly as written and played it as so”.

What drew Aznavour to the character of Scott Phynes was that “whether you are 20 or 40, you can relate to the character”. He continued that “the story covers so many bases that people can relate to”; and that he has “always found comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one going through certain things”.

When asked if there were any hard aspects in filming Phynes, Newberry shared there weren’t any. “I work with the best cast and crew…and everyone is so efficient that we roll over bumps in the road with little effort”. They prepared for about two months, shot for a little over two days and then they took a number of months on post-production, which is always the longest process.

Phynes

Now that Phynes is complete and making the film festival rounds, Newberry shared that getting into the festival is “nerve-racking and it costs so much to do a festival circuit and there (are) always rejection letters that come with it; but when you do get into festivals, you have a completely unbiased audience watching your work, and that’s the scariest thing in the world”. For Newberry, his cast and crew, they were accepted into and screened at the LA Reel Film Festival and just got accepted into the Los Angeles Short Film Festival. The short film has also been recently submitted to the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and the NewFilmmakers LA Festival.

The general story behind Phynes is “when Scott Phynes decides the only way to change his luck around is by ending his life, he begins to question his decision when the love of his life returns”. Needless to say, the main theme behind this short film will undoubtedly be dark, but will definitely give viewers a great deal to think about.

In an effort to stay within the guidelines of festival regulations, Phynes cannot be freely viewed, but upon request the short film can be seen in private by contacting Newberry at theveryillusive@gmail.com.

Good luck and much success are extended to Newberry, Aznavour and the entire cast and crew of Phynes.

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In this ongoing article series, I will be highlighting fellow bloggers who are working hard to provide news, reviews and coverage on entertainment and television.

This month’s spotlight is on Jessica Rae (aka ThisJessicaRae on Twitter), who began writing online in 2001 and five years later she began writing for Style and TV Blogs. Currently she writes for three online services:

She is the head writer at Small Screen Scoop where she provides TV reviews, interviews, music guides and comprehensive episode guides;

She is the head writer at She’s Smart where she provides product reviews and giveaways (for style, beauty, home); and,

She is part of the writing staff for RingOBlog where she provides jewelry guides for ring shopping.

Jessica loves to talk about TV with people on Twitter and as a site commenter; in fact, she shares that some of her strongest friendships have been created out of a shared love of TV shows and that television has always been one of her favorite things.

Among her favorite TV shows are Chuck, Community, Glee, Doctor Who and The Good Wife. And her all-time favorite shows are Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, Gilmore Girls, Felicity and Alias. She shared that a weekend of marathoning TV shows on DVD is basically her idea of bliss.

Jessica is proud of being named one of the The Wrap’s Top 25 TV Superfans to Watch and she is a judge for The Taste Awards.

You can see her work at the following sites: ShesSmart.com; SmallScreenScoop.com and RingOBlog.com

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Young adult fiction. Those are three of the hottest words in the publication world especially given the box office successes stemming from the Twilight Saga novels and the Harry Potter juggernaut as well as the worlds of The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars that have been turned into TV gold.

In what I hope will become a regular feature here at Rueben’s Ramblings, I will shine a well-deserved spotlight not only on well-established writers but exciting up-and-coming novelists in the world of young adult fiction and delve into the interesting worlds for which they have created.

Stacey Kade

Entering into this wonderful world of young adult fiction is author Stacey Kade, an award-winning corporate copywriter, who has written about everything from backhoe loaders to breast pumps; but now she has turned her writing toward a more interesting subject: ghosts

Her current series consists of the books The Ghost and the Goth and Queen of the Dead (both available through Hyperion Books). But, why don’t we find out what Stacey has to say about her career and how she became a young adult novelist in her own words:

Question: What inspired you to write your books?

Stacey: I guess I write the stories I want to read. I love young adult novels, and I was intrigued by the idea of a romance between people who are total opposites, in every way, including life/death status.

Question: How long was the story in development and how long did it take you to write each book?

Stacey: I don’t outline in any kind of formal way, but it takes me about a month or so to kind of wrap my head around the characters and the story and where it’s going. I need to know the end before I can start. Each one took between three and four months to write.

Question: What inspired you to become a writer? Did you always know or did the interest come at a later time in your life?

Stacey: I’ve always been interested in storytelling (but) it took me awhile to realize that it was something I could try in book form, though. I didn’t seriously start trying to write a book until after I graduated from college.

Question: What was the most difficult scene to write in either book?

Stacey: Oh, I think the end of Queen of the Dead was tough. It was emotionally difficult for the characters (and for me) and just a tricky scene to manage for a lot of different reasons. I can’t explain too much more without spoilers!

The Ghost and the Goth

Question: Can you please provide a general premise for each book?

Stacey: The overall premise of the series revolves around two characters: Alona Dare and Will Killian. Alona Dare is part of the popular crowd, the girl everyone wants to be: Captain of the cheerleading squad, Homecoming Queen, and kind of a mean girl. And then she dies in a rather abrupt fashion–death by school bus. So, now she’s a ghost, trying to figure out why she’s still here instead of moving on to the light.

Will Killian is a ghost-talker, someone who can see, hear and touch ghosts, and it makes his life miserable. He’s a social outcast, the school weirdo. He’s just trying to make it through high school without being kicked out or locked away in a mental institution because everyone thinks he’s crazy.

The first book, The Ghost and the Goth, is about Alona discovering that she is, indeed, a ghost and she’s stuck in a place in between the living and the dead. Will is just trying to get by. His principal is out to get him, and his psychiatrist thinks he should be locked up. The last thing he needs is another ghost–particularly a very persistent one–pestering him. But Alona is in danger of disappearing for good, and he’s the only one who can help.

So the two of them, with all their bickering and name-calling, have to figure out a way to work together.

In the second book, Queen of the Dead, Will and Alona have figured out how to work together and they’re both struggling a little with feeling more for each other than they should. Then a new ghost-talker, Mina, shows up on the scene, claiming to have more information about Will’s dad, who died years before. Alona doesn’t trust her, but Will is intrigued. And Alona has her own problems with her still living family–they’re moving on with their lives without her. All of this sets Will and Alona more at odds with each other than ever. And when they’re not working well together…well, it causes all kinds of problems, some of which cannot be easily remedied.

Question: Do you have a favorite character?

Stacey: That’s like asking me to pick a favorite child, but I will say that, in terms of writing, Alona is a lot of fun because she has a very distinct voice and she doesn’t hold back. And as a writer, sometimes it’s fun to really let loose!

Question: Will you be writing more books in the series?

Stacey: One more book in this series, and then I have a new series starting in 2013 with The Rules. It’s about a girl who was raised as a genetic experiment hiding from her creators under the guise of being a “normal” sixteen-year-old, and the boy who tempts her to break the rules that confine her existence and keep her safe.

Question: If a movie were adapted from the book, which actors/actresses would you like to see play the primary characters?

Stacey: The models on the cover are pretty much exactly how I pictured Will and Alona, so I’d love for that to be the case with a movie as well. Readers have suggested actors for Will (Landon Liboiron from Terra Nova or Jeremy Sumpter from Friday Night Lights), but I haven’t heard any suggestions for Alona yet.

SECRET REVEALED: Here’s a little behind-the-scenes trivia: Alona is named for the wonderful actress Alona Tal, after I saw her in (the TV series) Veronica Mars as Meg.

Queen of the Dead

Question: When is your next book coming out and will it be a continuation of the first two books?

Stacey: The third and final book (to be called Body & Soul) in the trilogy will be out in May of 2012, and it’s definitely a continuation of the first two books.

Question: Do you have a favorite story arch or favorite character?

Stacey: You know, Liesel and Eric (secondary characters in the first two books) were so much fun to write especially in the scenes where Liesel and Alona argue. Actually, thinking about it, I really loved writing all of the ghosts. It was fun coming up with their individual backgrounds and deaths.

Question: Were any of the characters modeled after you or anyone you know?

Stacey: Every character, I think, always has a piece of the writer in him or her. But, no, the characters aren’t based on anyone in real life.

Question: Are there any story arcs that you ended up not using in the book?

Stacey: I toyed with the idea of Will’s father’s death being murder, but it added an unnecessary layer of complication and I felt it didn’t resonate with the rest of the story as well.

Question: Do you have any advice for new writers?

Stacey: Don’t give up. It’s really easy to begin doubting yourself, but believe in the story and your passion for telling it.

Question: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?

Stacey: Assuming my non-existent training wasn’t an issue? I’ve always been interested in archeology; however, the dirt and sleeping in tents aspect does not appeal to me.

Question: What book(s) are you currently reading?

Stacey: Right at this very second, I’m reading The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton; but when I’m not deep in writing mode, I often go through two or three books a week.

Question: Who is your personal favorite writer?

Stacey: Oh, that’s a tough one. I have so many! My mentor and critique partner is SF/F author Linnea Sinclair. I’ve learned so much from her. I also greatly admire Meg Cabot, Jennifer Echols, and Suzanne Collins. Jane Austen is my all-time favorite.

Question: If anyone would like to get in touch with you both, where should they write, email, tweet and do you have a website dedicated to the book (or any of your other work)?

Stacey: I’m on Twitter (waaaay too much) and you can find me there as @staceykade. I’m also on Facebook (facebook.com/staceykade), and I have a personal website with an email/contact form here.

Stacey Kade lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband, Greg, and their three retired racing greyhounds, Joezooka (Joe), Tall Walker (Walker) and SheWearsThePants (Pansy). When she’s not reading or writing, you’ll likely find her parked in front of the television with her Roswell DVDs, staring rapturously at Jason Behr. [EDITOR’S NOTE: A woman with good taste!]

Make sure to check out Stacey Kade’s books the next time you are at your local bookstore, visiting Amazon or whatever book outlet you prefer; and make sure to pick up the third book in her trilogy (Body & Soul) when it is released on May 29, 2012 and be on the look-out for new trilogy The Rules in 2013.

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In this ongoing article series, I will be highlighting fellow bloggers who are working hard to provide news, reviews and coverage on entertainment and television.

This month’s spotlight is on Hollywood Jane aka Megan Christopher, who – when she first started blogging – originally intended to share what she learned about writing and the entertainment industry with those who were interested. But, over time she has evolved into a blogger who reviews TV, covers events, writes opinion pieces and doles out advice on avoiding mistakes that she has already made as well as anything else that comes to her mind. In essence, it is her, on a blog – writing about a little bit of everything.

She loves serialized television, sci-fi and fantasy. She also has a weakness for procedurals as long as they have likeable casts. Some of her current favorite shows are Leverage, Castle, Warehouse 13, Haven, Doctor Who and Community. She loves to laugh so that means that dark dramas are not for her unless there is a supernatural element interlaced within the story. She also likes complicated conspiracies such as Lost and she enjoys television that makes her feel clever.

She freely admits to being a total geek as well as a hopeless romantic. If you would like to find out more about Megan and her views on TV, please visit her at Hollywood Jane. You can also visit her “geek-oriented” online shops for jewelry here and designing t-shirts here.

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Charlene Keel

Here is Part 2 of my Q&A with “Dark Territory” Authors J. Gabriel Gates and Charlene Keel:

Question: Do you have a favorite character?

Gates: I have a lot of love for every character I write. They all have their admirable qualities. I love Raphael for his heart and his determination, Zhai for his patience and his discipline, Aimee for her headstrong desire for freedom, Master Chin for the love he bears his students, Ignacio for his loyalty and his sense of humor, Dalton for her strength. That’s one great thing about this series; you really have a broad family of characters with whom you want to spend time.

Keel: I’m partial to the misfits and miscreants—the anti-hero heroes like Maggie, the popular cheerleader and resident bitch who’s dating Rick, the local football star, but she wants Raphael and would love to see him and Aimee break up. We get under her skin and explore the reasons for her behavior (like having to parent an agoraphobic mother for most of her life)…I also like Maggie’s mom, Violet, who’s not as crazy as one would first think, and Ignacio (Nass) is fun and full of surprises.

Question: Is there room for a sequel?

Gates: Absolutely! The Tracks Book 2 is called “Ghost Crown”. We’re putting the final touches on it now, and it comes out in January (of 2012). Char and I both think it’s even better than “Dark Territory”, so we’re excited for it to get out into the world.

Keel: The Tracks has always been envisioned as a series, both by myself and Jacob, and by HCI Books. With rave reviews coming in on almost a daily basis, we are more eager than ever to keep going with the series. (I should also mention that it took) about the same amount of time to write “Ghost Crown” (as it did “Dark Territory”).

Ghost Crown

Question: Can you share a little about “Ghost Crown”?

Keel: We introduce a new character, with whom I’m totally in love. Orias is the son of a fallen angel and a human woman. He goes to Middleburg with a plan to take Aimee away from Raphael for his own devious purposes. He is the ultimate bad boy, doomed to a living hell through no fault of his own—and he’s so supernaturally gorgeous it melts your heart just to look at him. That’s a pretty hot combination. As for Maggie, her character has the greatest developmental arc, going from resident bitch in (book one) to spiritual warrior in the second book.

Question: If a movie were adapted from the book, which actors/actresses would you like to see play the primary characters?

Gates: The characters in my books are such individuals in my mind that it’s difficult for me to imagine them in any other way. But I will say this: whoever plays Raphael and Zhai had better be genuinely good at Kung Fu, so you Hollywood teen actors had better get down to the nearest Kwoon and start practicing now!

Keel: For the younger characters, I’ve already consulted with my very own minion of teen readers (my granddaughter Allie and her friends) and they think Emma Roberts (Nancy Drew) should play Aimee and Dakota Fanning (The Twilight Saga) should be Maggie. Thomas McDonnell (Prom) or Avan Jogia (Victorious) – both who have been compared to Johnny Depp – should play Raphael, and Channing Tatum (Dear John) should be Rick. I’d love to see sexy John Barrowman (Torchwood) as Oberon and either Gary Cole (Office Space) or Joel Gretsch (The 4400), both of them intense and compelling actors, as nasty Jack (Aimee’s father), and multi-talented Philece Sampler (Another World) as Violet, Maggie’s agoraphobic mom. Blair Redford (Switched at Birth and The Lying Game) should play Orias.

Question: Do you have a favorite story arc or favorite character?

Gates: There are lots of pieces of the story that I love, but I find Raphael’s back story particularly haunting. I’m a big fan of Dostoevsky; he was such a master of creating these terribly heartbreaking situations for his characters to rise above, and that’s what I think of when I think of Raphael’s life: he can either take his circumstances as an excuse to be a troublemaker, or he can buckle down and be a force for good. I think that’s a relatable situation for a lot of teens.

Keel: One of my favorite story arcs is the mystery of what Violet has locked down in her basement. How did it get there? What’s going to happen to Middleburg if it gets out? This thread runs through several books and is key to the mystery of Middleburg.

Question: Were any of the characters modeled after either of you or anyone you know?

Gates: Nope. They are all real individuals – they just happen to live in my (and Charlene’s) mind!

Keel: Probably. Specifically (and on purpose), Lily Rose, the housekeeper for a few of the wealthy Topper families. She is a magical creature and is modeled after the wonderful African American woman who took care of me for the first 12 years of my life. Her name was Lugene Lewis, and any goodness and compassion in me she, along with my Aunt Daisy, is responsible for. I’m a great fan of Stephen King and in some of his books (like “The Shining” and my favorite, The Talisman, which he wrote with Peter Straub); old black guys with humble occupations have magical qualities. So I guess that’s a nod to Stephen King. And Dalton is a compilation of a couple of my friends.

Question: Are there any story arcs that you ended up not using in the book?

Gates: There’s a moment near the beginning when Raphael considers stealing a video camera. In an earlier draft, I wrote that he actually took it. It was the first big battle of our collaboration. I saw that act of theft as a mistake Raphael would have to rise above and learn from, but Char adamantly opposed it as a “non-heroic” action. Ultimately, I think it was a good cut. It would have been a violation of Raphael’s Wu-de (martial arts code of conduct) and anyway, it wasn’t necessary to the main story. Charlene was right.

Keel: Some will carry over to other books, like Violet’s “deal with the devil” and how she got to be agoraphobic. (And, of course), our creative conflict (over) whether or not to let Raphael steal (the camera). I just couldn’t believe that the character we created would go so totally against his philosophical beliefs. That’s why it’s so important for a writer to get to know his/her characters, to get inside their heads and live, eat, sleep, breathe, play, work and walk with them every day. When I’m writing, I even dream about my characters and become submerged in their world.

Question: Do you have any advice for new writers?

Gates: Write daily, read daily! Don’t start by writing a novel – start with short stories and make sure they have all the necessary dramatic elements: a beginning, a middle, an ending, rising action, conflict, character development, etc. Hone your craft on short projects then move to longer ones. Above all, be patient. There are no shortcuts. Getting good takes years, and once you’re good, getting published takes even longer. Ultimately, writing has to be a lifestyle. And what a wonderful lifestyle it can be!

Keel: Yes—write, write, write. Also read, read, read. When I’m asked for advice by aspiring writers who tell me they don’t have time to read, or that they don’t want any outside influences sneaking into their work, I wish them well and suggest they at least read Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft“. You can’t write good fiction unless you read good fiction (and even bad fiction, since it shows you what not to do). Writing is a process and it’s long, tedious and usually lonely, so be willing to listen to successful writers and don’t think that (as one novice writer told me), “It’s perfect the way I first spew it out. I don’t believe in re-writing.”

If you would like to learn more about J. Gabriel Gates, please visit his website here.  And, if you would like to learn more about Charlene Keel, you may visit her website here. They would love to hear from readers about The Tracks series.

Again, the first book in The Tracks series – “Dark Territory” is now on bookshelves and the second book – “Ghost Crown” – will be released in January of next year. You can also visit HCI Books here for downloads of posters, wallpaper, ringtones or information on the book series.

Get out there and buy a copy of “Dark Territory” for yourself (and for your friends and family too) and mark your calendars for the release of its sequel “Ghost Crown” in the new year!

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