Interview: Ty Drago

Ty Drago is the author of The Undertakers: Rise of the Corpses. He's visiting The Life and Lies today.

1) Why and when did you begin writing?

Honestly, I can’t remember when I didn’t write! I’m told I started at age four, drawing picture books of Tom and Jerry. Later on, I graduated to comics that I would share with the other kids in the neighborhood. I guess I wrote my first real short story (no pictures!) around age eight.

2) What inspired you to write your book?

Many of those comic books I drew as a kid centered around a group of pre-teen superheroes called the Kid Kadets (yeah, couldn’t spell back then). Their leaders were a brother/sister team named Tom and Sharon Jefferson. Many (many) year later, when I envisioned the idea of a child’s army battling an undead menace, I looked back on those comics and brought Tom and Sharyn (different spelling now) forward through the intervening years, to take command of the Undertakers! I guess you could say the Undertakers are the Kid Kadets all grown up. Sort of.

3) How did you come up with the title?

As a series title, “THE UNDERTAKERS” seemed like a natural. They’re battling the dead after all. As for the individual book title, “RISE OF THE CORPSES”, that’s meant to be a play on words. My son and I went around and around on both concepts before settling on what we’ve got. For this reason, among many others, the book is dedicated to him.

4) What books or people influenced your writing? Was it positive influence, or negative?

I grew up loving Stephen King and Dean R. Koontz. But lately, I’d have to say my writing is most strongly influenced – and very much in a positive way – by middle grade/young adult writers like Heather Brewer, Jackie Kessler and Jonathan Maberry. I like authors who write for children without talking down to them. Our children are literate and need to be treated as such.

5) How do you go about researching for your books?

THE UNDERTAKERS is set in Philadelphia, a city I know well. Nevertheless, I made it a point to visit every location described in the story. I’ve stood pretty much every place that Will and the other Undertakers stood. I take notes and a lot of pictures. I think it lends an air of realism. At least I hope it does.

6) Did you base any of your characters on real people?

Helene is based on my wife, Helene Boettcher Drago. She’s smart, brave and independent – the perfect heroine for an action story and a fantastic role model for girls. A few of the other Undertakers are affectionately named after friends, both from my present and my distant past. Not one of these characters actually resembles the living person in either behavior or physical appearance, of course. It’s just my way of winking at some of the good people I’ve known in my life.

7) What’s the most exciting part about being a published author? What is the hardest part?

There’s no feeling in the world like seeing our novel on a bookstore shelf. There are no words to describe it – and when a writer tells you that, you ought to believe it! But it’s scary too. You take this story that you’ve worked on, slaved over, put your heart and soul into for years, and then you put it out there for the world to judge. It can be … daunting. I think that’s the hardest part.

8) Do you have any other books planned in the future?

I would love to continue with the UNDERTAKERS series and have been busy with book two for months now. It’s tentatively called QUEEN OF THE DEAD, and introduces the Undertakers to a new and terrifying enemy.

9) Which of your characters is your favorite? Do you dislike any of them?

It’s hard to pick a favorite. They’re all pieces of me and there are things about each of them that I love: Tom’s strength and integrity; Will’s reckless courage; Helene’s grace and independence; Sharyn’s optimism and prowess; the Burgermeister’s loyalty and fearlessness.

Then, of course, there’s Kenny Booth. The head Corpse is a wonderfully nasty villain: ruthless and pitiless and deliciously evil!

10) What advice can you give to young writers who want to publish their books?

I once heard someone say to a roomful of prospective writers: “Some of you will make it. And the ones who do won’t be the most talented, but the most persistent!” Here’s my advice: Don’t ever stop writing. Don’t ever stop editing what you write. Don’t ever stop submitting what you’ve edited. Don’t ever give up!

Just for fun:

1) What do you do when you’re not writing?

I work for a living! Sigh.


2) Do you have any pets?

Two cats and a dog!


3) What book are you reading right now?

Rot & Ruin by John Maberry


Thanks for stopping by, Ty! Learn more about THE UNDERTAKERS here.

"On a sunny Wednesday morning in October, a day that would mark the end of one life and the beginning of another, I found out my next door neighbor was the walking dead."

With these words, middle school student Will Ritter introduces us to his life as a fugitive.  Ripped from his family, this son of a murdered Philadelphia police detective finds himself hunted by an invasion of the walking dead.  But these aren't the slow stupid zombies of George Romero movies.  Nor are they the fast, stupid zombies of 28 Days Later and Zombieland.

These Corpses are smart, organized and utterly ruthless.  If they find him, they'll kill him.  If he goes home, they'll kill his family.  Will's only hope is to join up with a rag tag children's army, led by the wise and charismatic Tom Jefferson:


Hidden away in their secret Philadelphia lair, the Undertakers have set themselves against an enemy that's faster, stronger and far deadlier than they are.  Worse, they're badly outnumbered ... and totally alone.

Yet they fight because, if they don't the world itself may be forfeit.


THE UNDERTAKERS: RISE OF THE CORPSES is the first book in a new middle grade adventure series, written by Ty Drago, and published by Sourcebooks under their Jabberwocky imprint.

To know more about THE UNDERTAKERS, visit

Review: My One and Only

My One and Only by Kristin Higgins
Genre: Romance
ISBN: 9780373775576
Published: March 29th 2011 by HQN Books
Rating: 1

I loved Kristin Higgins' last release, All I Ever Wanted. I loved that it was a good romance with good characters and no explicit sex scenes. I loved the dogs. I loved the quirks. I loved the family, I loved everything about it. I was psyched to get her new release.

Sadly, it was a huge disappointment.

There were a few things that stacked against her in the beginning and I figured they would be made up for later, but it didn't improve. First,  the characters.

I didn't like the character Harper. She was pessimistic, nosey, had no filter from her brain to her mouth, and her view of marriage was slightly offensive to me (only because I'm a Christian and a romantic. Don't mess with me.). I figured by halfway through the story maybe she'd see things the way they were, or that at least someone would hit her over the head and tell her to get a grip, but nobody did. I didn't like her interior monologue either. She didn't swear, but she had a few expletives that were… raunchy. I don't mind the "d" word too much. But supplementing the word "Crotch" or other phrases of similar nature just doesn't sit well with me.

And her boyfriend had the mentality of a sixth grader. Not joking. We'll leave it at that. Moving on!

Then there was her Ex. He was hot stuff, and I could see how the two of them could make it work (their personalities played off each other) but I just didn't like him. He was totally ignorant of the mistakes he'd made, at the halfway through point where we finally learn the back-story of her and him I seriously wanted to beat him over the head with a baseball bat—or a Bible—and give him a lecture about what marriage meant because the guy didn't get it. I didn't want the two to get back together, because it would be a recipe for disaster all over again. By the looks of it, neither of them had learned from their mistakes!

Second, I knew what was going to happen. She broke up with her boyfriend, she was going to fall for Nick again, and they were going to get married. Again. And because I didn't give a rat's poo about the characters, I didn't really care what happened to them.

Third, there were editorial mistakes. Now I know it's rude to point those out because when you read something dozens of times, you miss stuff like that. I understand that. I'm a writer. But I'm also a Professional Writing major and an editor, and I proofread stuff and I write promotional material and I edit things. It's what I do. It's my job. When I read a published book and I find things like "/= in the middle of the paragraph, or a grammatical error that is definitely not dialect or part of the character's personality, it makes me angry.

Fourth: I don't remember Kristin Higgins being a poor writer, but this book was poorly written and full of fragments. Sentences go like this: Subject, Verb, Direct Object. Or, Actor, Action, Description. Rearranging this causes passive voice, which is never fun to read, even though it does raise the word count. Ellipses should be used sparingly. Two or three per book: not per page or per paragraph.

And, no offense, but the dog was retarded. I know I shouldn't complain about the dog because now I'm just being whiney. But really? Maybe I'm biased about dogs, but I can't stand anything that bounces when it barks, even when it is in a book.

So those are five reasons why I stopped halfway through the book. This one is going to PBS. Don't get me wrong, I will continue to read Kristin's books. I've got a few more of hers that I hope will be as great as All I Ever Wanted, but this book was not her best work.

Recommended: Ages 18+ (Please note I don't know what sort of content was in the second half of the book.)

Some Knitting Books

Here are some knitting books to check out!

60 Quick Baby Knits 
Genre: Knitting
ISBN: 9781936096138
Published: May 3rd 2011 by Sixth&Spring Books
Rating: 4

Absolutely lovely patterns! The patterns are mostly for 6-12 months, with a few patters for up to 24 months. Some of them were very simple and some were rather complex, but they're all beautiful.



Knit Noro
ISBN: 9781936096152
Published: June 7th 2011 by Sixth&Spring Books
Rating: 3

Knit Noro was a lot of fun to flip through. The knitwear was beautiful. The thing is, what makes the book amazing isn't the patterns themselves, it's the yarn. I've never used Noro yarn (I'm a broke college student!) but I could tell you just by looking at this yarn that any pattern would look great with it. The patterns range from very simple to more advanced, but the patterns aren't anything new or fancy or exciting: It's all stuff I've seen before.

The projects are all absolutely stunning: But it's the yarn that makes them stunning, not the patterns. This doesn't mean I don't recommend the book: I love most if not all of the patterns. But the yarn is what makes it.


KnitSimple: Knitting Workshops: Clever tips and techniques to guarantee success
ISBN: 9781936096282
Published: August 2nd 2011 by Sterling Publishing
Rating: 5

This book has everything: Basic learn to knit and crochet instructions, lists of recommended tools, materials, books, and tons of basic beginner patterns that have the potential to be taken to the next level. I love it! Great for any beginner knitter.

However I have yet to find a book that has clear enough instructions to teach someone to actually knit a stitch. It's very hard to photograph a movement, and the basic knitting instructions in this book were no better than any others.

There was every sort of pattern: hats, scarves, socks, mittens, shawls, necklaces, flowers, sweaters, blankets etc. This book covered all the categories very well.

Review: The Elemental Journal

The Elemental Journal by Tammy Kushnin
Genre: Craft
ISBN: 9781440305368
Published: March 7th 2011 by F+W Media, Inc.
Rating: 4

The Elemental Journal was really interesting. The journals were pretty advanced, and even though the instructions were clear they would have required a lot of materials. I would use this book for inspiration more than step by step instructions. This book would be great for any crafter who saves everything and sees potential in random pieces of "trash" like tree bark, scraps of fabric, wire, old plastic game pieces, door knobs, etc.

Mind you I loved it: it was wild and cool and exciting: it's just slightly more advanced and a little intimidating. Recommended for experienced crafters.

Review: Adventures in Book Binding

Adventures in Book Binding: Hand Crafting Mixed Media Books by Jeannine Stein
Genre: Craft
ISBN: 9781592536870
Published: June 1st 2011 by Quarry Books
Rating: 5

Adventures in Book Binding was the perfect book to get me rolling. It had just enough information to educate me on the basics, but it didn't feel like a book meant for fourth-graders. I had no experience in book binding whatsoever (though I have years of craft experience), and now I feel like I'm ready to take off.

The beginning has information about tools, materials, adhesive, paper, and lots of other information. Each project has the fully explained version, a "Shortcut" idea and blurb for a more simple project, and a "Master" idea and blurb. The instructions themselves have many photographs, illustrations, and easy to read explanations.

The projects themselves are astounding! I loved every single one of them. They looked fun to make, they were all very different, and were very inspiring. I could spend hours flipping through this book, and every time I look at a project my mind goes crazy coming up with new ideas of my own.

There are templates and patterns in the back.

All in all I am highly satisfied with Adventures in Bookbinding and recommend it to anyone who has some experience in sewing or crafting and wants to get started creating their own books or journals.

Attalus needs our help! Earn more entries for the giveaway!

Attalus is a band out of my sister's church. They're raising money so they can record their album. They need to raise $3000. Here's how it works:

  • Re-post this and leave me the link, and you'll get 1 extra entry in the ARC giveaway.
  • you can back the project by pledging $1 and I'll give you 3 extra entries in the ARC giveaway.
  • you can pledge $5 and get 8 entries from me, and a digital album from them.
  • pledge $10 and get 15 entries from me and a physical copy and sticker from them.


Here's a recording of one of their songs in case you want to hear them before you pledge.



Guest Post and tour: Amanda

VBT Banner copyAmanda is visiting The Life and Lies today! She is on a virtual book tour for her new novel, Diaries of an Urban Panther. She's written a short post about naming characters.

Shy Violet and Chuck.

            I was really tempted to quote Shakespeare’s “A rose by any other name” but I thought that might be a little too heavy handed. And frankly, I don’t think it’s true. When we talk about novel writing, the wrong name can spoil a character from the very beginning and there’s nothing sweet about that.

            Naming characters is almost as important at what kind of weapon you’re going to give them in their epic battle. How many times have you looked at a political sign and said “That’s a good name. I’d vote for them.” Names have the power to inspire confidence as well as loathing. A writer has one chance to make a character relatable or horrible. J.K. Rowling is the queen of naming characters. Harry is such an everyday name. You’d be best friend with a Harry, but thanks to the time period, you’d also know that he’s going to be a prince among boys. Hermione, well, you have to be smart just to know how to say it properly, so you know that she’s going to be smart. And need we mention He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the best not named character ever, inspiring fear and tension and telling more of the story than if he had been referred to by his actual name.

            Before I really got to know Violet (and she ultimately became the other voice in my head), I knew her name because I knew where I wanted to start with her character and where I wanted to end. Violet’s name is pretty straightforward. I wanted someone who didn’t want to be in the spotlight, like a Velma. She stands taller and away from everyone, watching from the sidelines but not participating, like an African violet that doesn’t do well in the sun. But, I also knew that at the end of her journey, when she is a powerful panther, I wanted people to go “I just got my ass kicked by a flower? Seriously?” I loved that juxtaposition.

            Her last name was very particularly chosen. As a Shakespeare buff, I knew I wanted to reference the Jourdain witch in Henry VI, as a tip of the hat to the bard as well as a hint to her lineage. Though it’s not a big thing in the first one, her blood line becomes even more important in the second and third books, so I wanted to make sure that the seed had been planted. (Read: always plan ahead)  

            However, Mr. Chaz Garrett was not as easily named. Maybe it was because his character was so elusive. Maybe it was because I wasn’t sure how hard edge I was going to make him. At the end of the day, I knew I needed something that would be passed down through a family. That’s when Chaz got his name. Because he is a legacy. He is the millionth guardian in his family and his power is passed down to him from his father, so his name would be too. Charles Garrett is a solid family name.

            Even better, there are a million nicknames for Charles that Violet gets to play with along the way. Nicknames, especially between romantic leads, need to fit the stage of their relationship as well as be used in special circumstances. When Violet calls Chaz “Chuck,” it creates a special moment between them that builds their relationship. When he calls her “Vi,” you can hear the tenderness in his voice. 

            The antagonists, the Haverty’s, were harder to name because I didn’t want a sneering Voldemort kind of name. I wanted money. I wanted class. For Spencer, I also need a touch of sleaze. He’s not a good guy, too privileged to be capable, to rich to know actual work. He’s been handed everything in his life by just being part of a family, where as Violet has had to fight to get everything she needed including a family. His name had to say all that because we don’t get to see Spencer’s POV since the entire novel is told by Violet. Whereas readers can skim over blue eyes and golden skin, a name like Snake or Rosehips reminds the readers who your characters are at the core and can try to predict what kind of trouble your characters might be in for.

            How do you guys name your characters? Do you know the names before you start or do you have to insert X until the characters tell you what their name it? Let me know your secret in a post below and you’ll be entered to win $25 gift certificate to the e-book retailer of your choice.

            Happy Writing!

Thanks for stopping by Amanda! You heard the woman, do tell your secrets on naming characters. I personally decide on the character of my person first, then search for a name that means something related to my character's personality. for last names, I search old census records for something that sounds right ;)MEDIA KIT DiariesofUrbanPanther

About the book:

Violet Jordan thought the fairy tales her mother wove were just a way to get Violet to sleep, not a way to prepare her for the apocalypse she is the key to preventing. When she becomes a midnight snack for werepanther Spencer Haverty, his infectious bite invokes the first element of her destiny. When Violet's budding instincts allow her to save a boy’s life, she realizes this new gig may come with perks: a slimmer figure, the attention of a handsome Guardian, and insights into her future embedded in her mother's stories. But as push comes to claws, can Violet make the fatal strike against the men threatening her new family, her new home and her first boyfriend in ages?

Coming soon: Book Two of the Diaries of an Urban Panther, Dec 2011

About the author:

         Amanda was born in Illinois, raised in Corpus Christi, lives in Dallas but her heart lies in London. Good thing she loves to travel! The summer of second grade, she read every book in the young adult section of the library, so she started making up her own stories and hasn’t stopped.

MEDIA KIT Amanda Headshot         She has a husband who fights crime, one dog who thinks he’s a real boy, and another who might be a fruit bat in disguise.  When not writing, Amanda often dreams of co-opening an evil bakery and sell despicable desserts. Her particularly favorites are larvaceous lemon bars and sinful cinnamon streusel.

         She spends her weekends writing at coffee shops, practicing for the day that caffeine intake becomes an Olympic sport, and plotting character demises with fellow writers Wolvarez, Killer Cupcake and Keith (names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent).

Excerpt: Chapter 15(-ish)

It was dark and quiet and there was no dog smell on the wind, no Chaz smell either. I sucked in the cool safe air as my head cleared.

What the hell was I doing? I asked myself. Who were they? Haverty’s men come to collect? And why the hell had I run? I’d just left him there, to fight my battles. Just left Chaz to deal with the beasties because they were his thing; they were part of his world.

Screw that. When the last time Violet Jordan let someone else fight her battles?

Oh, that’s right, until I met Chaz, there were no battles to fight. And if there was anything that invaded my little fortress, I ran. It’s what I had always done. Run, move, and start all over with a fresh slate when things got hairy.

Wasn’t getting any hairier than this.

I looked up at the waxing moon and felt the stir of the cat in my chest. I wasn’t the Violet Jordan who ran anymore. I was the Violet Jordan who threw drinks in men’s faces and threw sensei’s across the room. I was the Violet Jordan who dated male models.

And those jerks had just ruined the first good date I’d had in years.

Guest Post: Steven Verrier

Mr. Verrier, author of Class Struggle: Journal of a Teacher In Up to His Ears is visiting The Life and Lies for the kickoff of his book tour!

About the book:

Class Struggle takes you deep into the heart of San Antonio's "Webster High School," an institution that seems to revel in dysfunction. Told from the point of view of a bemused teacher, Class Struggle is a guided tour through the landscapes and minefields of modern urban education. Come along and meet intriguing characters - the brilliant student "on a quest to kill," the barking boy, the substitute teacher who won't shut up, and many others - who'll make you laugh, cry, and scream! This is a book you won't want to put down ... whether you're a student, a parent, a teacher - or just someone who loves roller coaster rides.


Many teachers arrive at school every morning eager to teach killer lessons. Of course, this isn’t always easy to do given emphasis on standardized tests and meeting a limited number of state-mandated objectives. A lot of teachers choose to keep things simple rather than endure complaints from students, parents, and school administrators for straying too far from those mandated objectives and the “Scope and Sequence” a school district typically expects every teacher to follow.

As much as teachers want to help set their students up for success in life, job pressures often dictate they do just the opposite. Teachers are “advised” not to fail many students, and this often results in giving students credit for work they haven’t done or otherwise adjusting grades in students’ favor. Students I’ve failed have been given “credit recovery” tests unrelated to the courses they didn’t pass – and this after I’d given them multiple opportunities to retake tests, redo assignments, or do work they’d chosen not to do in the first place. Many people would call that setting students up for failure.

Attendance records are sometimes adjusted behind teachers’ backs – this happened to me – in order to ensure students aren’t denied credit or sent to court because of excessive unexcused absences.

One obvious result is that students are denied an opportunity to learn about accountability. They begin to feel bullet-proof in a sense; they learn once more that, regardless of their actions, they’ll be spared the consequences – at least, until they graduate and leave school.

If a teacher tries to apply real world standards by making students accountable now – by failing them when they deserve to fail, by making them rewrite plagiarized essays or reporting them for cheating on tests, even by gently scolding them when it seems appropriate – that teacher will probably endure a very long year and a lot of scolding himself.

Teachers are under such scrutiny now that many definitely would leave the profession if they saw other prospects. Stress-related illnesses among teachers seem to be on the rise, and a lot of teachers seem fearful of taking one step in the wrong direction.

Class Struggle: Journal of a Teacher In Up to His Ears is an account of my experiences and observations as a teacher at a challenging San Antonio, Texas, high school during the 2009-2010 school year – and a firsthand chronicle of a teacher’s burden in this day and age. If you’re thinking about becoming a teacher, check this book out and see whether you suddenly get the urge to pursue another profession.

About the Author: Steven Verrier, born in the United States and raised in Canada, has spent much of his adult life living and traveling abroad. He is the author of Raising a Child to be Bilingual and Bicultural, a prizewinning book published bilingually in Japan, and several short plays for the student market. His novels, Tough Love, Tender Heart and Plan B, were published in 2008 and 2010, and his recently-published nonfiction book, Class Struggle: Journal of a Teacher In Up to His Ears, is sure to raise eyebrows over the coming months. Currently Steven Verrier lives with his wife, Motoko, and their five children in San Antonio, Texas, and New Brunswick, Canada. You can visit his website at

Thanks Steven! You can check out an excerpt at Pump Up Your Book by clicking here.

Tuesday July 5th
Guest Post at The Life and Lies of an Inanimate Flying Object

Wednesday July 6th
Guest Post at Reading, Reading and Life

Thursday July 7th
Guest Post at Rainy Day Reviews

Friday July 8th
Review at Rainy Day Reviews
Interview at Pump Up Your Book

Monday July 11th
Interview at Book Marketing Buzz
Review at 4 the Love of Books

Tuesday July 12th
Interview at BlogCritics

Wednesday July 13th
Review at One Day at a Time

Thursday July 14th
Interview at The Examiner

Friday July 15th
Guest Post at Coffee and a Keyboard
Review at The Book Connection


Copyright 2016 Haley Mathiot. All reviews are 100% honest and unbiased. One or more items featured in the blog post may have been free or discounted. Receiving free or discounted product does not affect review. For more please see my disclaimer page.