Author Spotlight: Ben Starling


This month’s Author Spotlight features Ben Starling whose novel Something in the Water is released today!


Interview with Ben Starling

1. Please tell us a little about yourself?
I’m half English, half American and have lived in the UK since I was a child, though I visit the States whenever I can. I have a soft spot for the Florida Keys and New York City (my family come from there).

I’ve always been passionate about water—be it river, lake or ocean. I’m drawn to it: by its depths, mysteries and the creatures that call it home. At other times I’m busy with my marine-themed art, keeping fit (swimming and hiking) or plotting the next scene for a novel or short story.

2. When did you first start writing?
The loss of my partner at forty-five years of age to ovarian cancer in 2012, just thirteen weeks after her diagnosis, was the real impetus behind my picking up a pen and contemplating the infinite emptiness of a Word doc. In the aftermath of her death, an old friend had challenged me to turn my grief into something positive.

Faced with an experience of that magnitude, one wants answers—or even an inkling—as to what happens to us after death. And I had none. Remembering a conversation with a charismatic Polynesian fisherman (I visited there once) about his people’s vision of death and the afterlife, however, I began to write. I hoped to explore and capture several extraordinary events that happened around the time of my girlfriend’s death. The novel and the series kind of took off from there…

3. Which authors have most influenced your writing?
Well, it a rather long list! I suppose it all started when my mother read me Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”. I was completely captivated by the story, the setting and the enormous marlin.

At school I was introduced to the classics: Dickens, Shakespeare and especially, Austen–I particularly admire Austen’s brilliant characterizations. And Maeve Binchy, of course, is a master of the elegant story structure.

 4. How long did it take you to complete your first novel?
The first draft of Something in the Water took about a year to complete. Then I spent many months refining it. It has three complex, interwoven plots and couldn’t be rushed. Agonising months, but also delicious.

 5. Tell us a little about Something in the Water?
It’s fundamentally a love story—with a bit of adventure in the tropics thrown in too. Here’s the blurb:

The sealed box Teal finds in the street contains more than just a mystery…

What if to be with the man of your dreams…you had to give up your life? On the verge of losing her job, side-lined journalist Teal is forced to travel to the South Pacific to profile a powerful businessman. But with her almost-but-not-quite fiancé Bear discouraging her every step of the way, she may not be able to save her career or her relationship.

When corporate criminals invade paradise, Teal teams up with a former boxer turned marine-biologist to investigate. As she discovers the true intentions behind their new canning operations, she must either accept the plum promotion that will save her career or—with Perry—defend the island with more than her life.

Something in the Water, An Ocean Romance is available on Amazon from today, January 21, 2016. 

6. What is your favourite scene or part?
That’s a difficult one—all three of the plots reach more than one peak before combining in an unexpected denouement.

I must say I’m pleased though with the first appearance of the utterly appalling Edward…a man blissfully unaware of his social shortcomings. And ocean lovers should enjoy when the heroine encounters her first whale. Tthere’s comedy too, with a delightful blue-footed booby, named Violet. Oh, did I mention the sprinkling of magic? And love?

 7. What advice would you give to someone who wants to publish their first novel?
As the saying goes, nothing good is ever written. Only rewritten.  And while writing and rewriting, I believe the sure-fire super-highway to inspiration is best accessed through a first rate muse. I recommend Great Danes.

My late (great) Great Dane, Edington, continues to send me inspiration on a regular basis. She was the most eternally curious individual I’ve ever met. (And incidentally, a superb dancer.) While watching her play and explore the woods near my house, I learned to look at the world in new and spectacular ways. So today whenever an exciting idea pops into my consciousness, I still credit Edington. I know she’s somewhere nearby, watching over me, sending me all those lovely plot twists.

I suppose a Chihuahua or Labradoodle might work too. But I, for one, will always swear by Great Danes.

 8. What can we look forward to next from you?
Something in the Water will be supported by a series of short stories that reveal the backstories of the major characters in this world.

The first in the series, Something in the Air, is available now free at my website and on Kobo (and also Amazon) and the second short story in the series, Something on the Fly, will be released in the Spring!

Ben Starling Online: /


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Something in the Water Excerpt

New York, September
He didn’t look like the hotel guests, the business people, or the tourists. He didn’t move like them either.

He brushed past me as I climbed off my Vespa, stilettos in hand, outside the entrance of the Waldorf Astoria. Had he smiled at the radiance of my scarlet ball gown? Or was he amused by my battered Converse sneakers?

As a valet approached to take my scooter and helmet, I spotted my boss, Malcolm, waving hello from the lobby. He was approaching the glass doors that separated us when I noticed a small wooden box on the ground. Two steps later, I had picked it up. Who could have dropped it?

No one was close by, so I turned. The only man who’d passed me was already a half block away, gliding beside the cars that waited for the lights to change at the end of the block. Was it his?

What I knew for sure was that now wasn’t the time to be tracking down the little box’s owner. I should hand it in to reception and concentrate on the evening ahead. For a few seconds, I relaxed as I studied the hotel’s confident, soaring opulence—a world unknown to me before my arrival from Nantucket four years ago. The smooth texture of the box, however, drew my thoughts back to it. Was there something valuable inside? What if it did belong to that man, and he never returned to collect it? I turned the box over—and caught my breath.

“How on earth…?”

Malcolm emerged in front of me. “Hello, darling, you look absolutely—are you okay?”
I thrust my sparkly evening shoes into his hands, and hitched up my shawl. I was about to give chase when a convertible Ferrari lurched to a stop beside me.

“Going my way, babe?” its driver shouted, over the thrum of the engine.

But my dress was redder, and I got the better start.

You can find the rest of Something in the Water, Chapter 1 at

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About Ben Starling
Ben Starling is passionate about marine conservation and boxing, both central themes in his upcoming novel. His interest in marine life has taken him across three continents over the past three decades. He is Oxford’s only ever Quintuple Blue (varsity champion five years running), was Captain of the university boxing team, and coached and boxed competitively until about five years ago. He is 6’3”and 185 lbs. Ben graduated from Oxford University with a Master of Arts and an M Phil. He was born in the USA but has lived in the UK since childhood.

Author Spotlight: Lyssa Chiavari


This month’s Author Spotlight features Lyssa Chiavari whose debut novel Fourth World (The Iamos Trilogy) (Volume 1) is released today!


Interview with Lyssa Chiavari

1. Please tell us a little about yourself?
I write young adult science fiction and fantasy. Up until now, my published works have mostly been short fiction/novellas, so I’m excited to branch into longer form storytelling with my first novel, Fourth World! When I’m not writing, I enjoy playing video games and exploring the woods near where I live in the Pacific Northwest.

2. When did you first start writing?
I started writing for fun pretty much as soon as I learned how to write, but I didn’t start writing professionally until about two years ago, when I started submitting my short fiction to different magazines hoping I could get something published!

3. Which authors have most influenced your writing?
Catherine Fisher is probably the biggest influence on me—I love her style of blending science fiction and fantasy, focusing on characters and relationships without a huge emphasis on romance. I also love Meg Cabot’s humor and sarcasm, and I feel like that was also a big influence for me when writing Fourth World.

4. How long did it take you to complete your first novel?
I worked on it on and off for about three years, but the first couple were just floating it around in my mind, writing occasional scenes here and there. I started really buckling down on it in January, so I’d say about a year.

5. Tell us a little about Fourth World?
Fourth World is a YA sci-fi adventure set on Mars near the end of the twenty-first century. It follows a teenage boy named Isaak who’s growing up in the Martian colony and accidentally uncovers a government conspiracy involving alien archaeology, time travel and more.

6. What is your favourite scene or part?
I don’t want to give away too much, but I think my favorite part is Chapter 21. As an asexual writer trying to increase ace representation in YA fiction, it hit home for me on a personal level as I was writing it, and I hope it will resonate with readers as well. One reviewer commented that that chapter was like “a punch in the gut”—in a good way— so I’ll take that as a good sign!

7. What advice would you give to someone who wants to publish their first novel?
Do as much research as you can to figure out what it is you really want from a publishing career! There’s no one path, not even for one person—I’m a firm believer in hybrid publishing, and every book is going to take a different direction. For Fourth World, I knew pretty early on that I was going to focus on indie publishing with this series. But even once you make the decision between traditional, small press and indie, there are still a number of other things to take into consideration (such as Amazon-exclusive or wide distribution? Or hard launch or soft launch? etc), so make sure you do your homework and figure out what your goals are and how best to achieve them! A good starting point would be Susan Kaye Quinn’s Indie Author Survival Guide—that book was a lifesaver for me!

8. What can we look forward to next from you?
I’m working on a few different projects right now: first up is the sequel to Fourth World, as well as a tie-in novella (I call it Book 1.5) that’s scheduled for release between books one and two. I’m also going to be editing a sci-fi fairytale anthology with Jaylee James, editor of Vitality magazine, that’s opening for submissions in just a few days. 2016 is looking to be pretty busy, so I’m hoping I can keep up with everything!

Lyssa Chiavari Online:
Twitter: @lyssachiavari
Fourth World on Goodreads:
Purchase link via Amazon:


Excerpt from Fourth World

The sky looked red.
That was all I could think as I gazed out over the desiccated plain. The once-gray rocks and boulders, strewn about the old dry coastline, were now almost completely covered with rust. Orange-tinged clouds swirled above my head, the air thick with choking dust kicked up by the harsh wind that raked over the parched ground.
Even though we’d been forbidden to leave the safety of the citidome, I’d decided to take the risk that night. I had wanted to see the sunset—really see the sunset—for what could be the last time. It had been so long since I’d seen the sky, I couldn’t remember what it looked like.
But I certainly hadn’t expected it to be so red.
The oxygen was too thin. It made breathing difficult, painful. I couldn’t believe how quickly it was depleting now, at the end. Last year on my annual we’d still been able go outside. But now we had to huddle in our enclosed cities, looking out at the world through the tinted filter of smooth blue glass. And even that option wouldn’t last much longer. The world really was ending.
It was much too soon. This was the first day of my eighth year, my enilikin. I still had my whole life ahead of me. I hadn’t even completed my schooling yet, thanks to Gitrin. It would be at least another year, now, before I was ready to take my place in the ranks of the geroi.
But in their last report, the scientists said that our planet couldn’t sustain us another year. My heart stuck in my throat at the thought. Standing here, looking at this, I knew it to be true. Sometime in the next six-hundred days the last of our atmosphere would be gone. The energy sources used to power the citidome would be entirely depleted. And if the colony on Hamos wasn’t stabilized—if we didn’t complete evacuation by that time—we’d all be dead.
I’d be dead. Before I even got a chance to live.
We needed more geroi. And still she told me I wasn’t ready. Everything was so hideously unfair.
I shivered as the biting wind dragged over me, pulling wisps of colorless hair loose from the tight braid encircling my scalp. There was the briefest hint of the fragrance of flowers on the wind’s breath, but it was overpowered by the dry, metallic scent of the ever-reddening earth. What if this was the last time I’d ever smell Iamos? The last time I’d ever see the sun, or the sky, without something in between me and it?
I took a final shuddering breath, and, tucking a flyaway hair behind my ear, I made my decision. I was not giving up. It was not over. No matter what it took, this would not be my last annual.
It was only as I turned to head inside that I saw him.
I might have missed him otherwise, but the light from the setting sun threw his form into relief. A boy was sprawled across the ground. He wore no breathing apparatus. He was completely unprotected. And he wasn’t moving.
Panicked, I raced to his side. I was out of breath by the time I reached him, even though he lay only a short distance away. “Are you all right?” I asked, wheezing. When he didn’t respond, I rolled him over onto his back.
He was young—probably close to my own age. I realized instantly he couldn’t be from my city; his traits were all wrong. He must have come from another citidome. But how? He couldn’t have walked. All that way, unprotected? He would never have made it…
I reached for my earpiece, then hesitated. I was invisible right now—the System couldn’t track me—but if I called for help, I’d be back online and the geroi would know I’d broken the edict. Not to mention that it could draw their attention to the fact that my earpiece had been altered. Ceilos would never forgive me.
But there was no way I could shift this boy’s dead weight on my own, not when I was already feeling the effects of the thin air.
Before I could give myself a chance to change my mind, I pressed the button. “Gerouin Melusin,” I called.
“Nadin?” Melusin’s voice was soft in my ears, like the drip of water in the caverns.
There was no time for explanations. “I need help outside the dome,” I said as calmly as possible.
“‘Outside’?” she repeated, her gentle voice faltering almost imperceptibly. “What are you doing—”
“Just hurry,” I interrupted her, breathless. “I found someone out here. He’s injured.”
The gerouin said nothing more, simply disconnecting. I turned back to the boy. He was still unconscious, but he was breathing—barely. I crouched to get a better look at him. His hair was coated in the red dust that the wind kicked up in swirling eddies, but I could see it was curly and dark. His skin, on the other hand, appeared bleached like an old man’s, even though he was clearly young. Could unprotected exposure to solar rays have done this? The atmosphere was so thin now…
I inhaled shakily, my lungs burning. It was already painful for me to be outside, and I couldn’t have been out for more than five minutes. This boy… how did he get here?

Purchase Fourth World on


lyssachiavariAbout Lyssa Chiavari
Lyssa Chiavari is an author of speculative fiction for young adults, including Fourth World, the first book in a YA sci-fi trilogy set on Mars. Her short fiction has appeared in Ama-Gi magazine, the Wings of Renewal anthology, and Perchance to Dream, a young adult collection of Shakespeare retellings which she also edited. Her first published story, “The Choice,” was named one of Students for Liberty’s Best Fiction of 2014. When she’s not writing—which isn’t often—you can usually find her coding websites or losing an unreasonable number of life balloons on Donkey Kong. Lyssa lives with her family and way too many animals in the woods of Northwest Oregon, which suits her just fine; except it actually doesn’t rain there as much as you’ve been told, and she really could do with more rain, thanks.