Saturday 30 July 2011

Adventures in Sci-fi: A Review of The Immune

My Book Review of The Immune by Doc Lucky Meisenheimer:

The Immune by Doc Lucky Meisenheimer is a vastly entertaining book, a cross between a political sci-fi thriller and a pulp fiction adventure novel. It’s a stylish, clever novel that delivers a fast-paced, rousing story, and deftly rides the fine line between camp and satire without falling flat on its face.

The book tells the tale of a world in crisis, where genetically-altered creatures, the airwars, have spread across the earth, attacking and killing humans. This crisis changes the political landscape, creating a central government that controls all. The only hope may rest with the “immunes” -who are not affected by the stings of the airwars- and their leader, John Long.

The Immune was a nice surprise, a book that takes a unique premise and some traditional science fiction ideas and melds them together with the trappings of a political thriller into a wonderful novel. It presents a reliable, intricate plot with appealing characters, and dispenses a nice exciting page-turner. There are a few touches where the plot details veer towards the overblown, but it always stops short of outlandish.

The book starts out on a rapid step, reels the reader in, and it keeps that speedy pace going for the most part. It did lag a touch in the middle, getting a bit bogged down in the explanatory where I think it could have used a touch of action, but it picks up again quickly to a brisk pace towards the finish. The plot took a turn here, where I thought the book was headed for inevitable cliché, but the story zagged, then zigged and then zagged again, until it swirled to a suspenseful, satisfying conclusion.

The Immune is a fun, exciting, and cheeky sci-fi thriller that maintains an old-fashioned action sensibility.

Friday 29 July 2011

An Interview with Rory Ridley-Duff, author of "Friends or Lovers"

We have a guest joining us today, author Rory Ridley-Duff, who's here to talk about writing and his book, Friends or Lovers.

An Interview with Rory Ridley-Duff: 

1- Why don’t you begin by sharing a little about yourself.

How would I describe myself to your readers? I’m a 49 year old university lecturer from England, married with two daughters, who enjoys writing fiction to explore social issues in an accessible and creative way.
In terms of upbringing, my mother is Austrian and my father was Irish. I was born in 1962, and raised in West Wittering - a small seaside resort on the southern coast of England near Chichester (an old Roman town). Despite a childhood disrupted by my father’s death and my mother’s illness, I have many happy memories. Growing up with my sisters meant that I enjoyed freedom and independence that most children do not enjoy.
I met my wife, Caroline, in 1987 through a mutual friend while studying music at London University. We married in 1989 and initially lived in Ashford (near London Heathrow). Our two children, Natasha (17) and Bethany (13), are central to a happy family life. We eventually decided to move to the north of England and settle in Yorkshire, about 15 miles from Sheffield (where The Fully Monty was filmed). We’re now a few miles from a national park – The Peak District.

2 - You have a PhD, worked as an educator and written non-fiction books on various subjects. What motivated you to become a novelist and write fiction?

I’ve always enjoyed writing. My wife and I were pen friends before we started to live together – we would write to each other several times a week. I began writing fiction over 20 years ago, but could not pursue it after starting a family. I found the time to take it up again while studying for my PhD. After completing my studies, I had a few months before taking up a job as a university lecturer. I used the time to complete Friends or Lovers.

3 - Tell us about your book, Friends or Lovers.

Friends or Lovers is an exploration of ambiguities in our relationships inside and outside work. The story is told from the point of view of Penny, a Director of Human Resources intent on climbing the corporate ladder. Penny likes to be in control. When she meets a consultant (John) on a business trip, and has to conduct an investigation into sexual misconduct at work (Mike), her control starts to ebb away. As the investigation progresses she gradually realises that the only way to regain control is to change the way she thinks about men.

4- Why did you write this particular book?

In the 1970s and 80s, many men changed their outlook in response to the women’s movement for equality. Something similar is happening today amongst women as men become more conscious of the way they are affected by negative stereotyping. The equality issue for men is being stereotyped as a sexual predator, not a sex object. There are many academic studies that cast doubt on the popular perception of men as sex obsessed, and which reveal how much power women now have over sexual matters. As a result, there is a growing interest into the link between stereotyping men as sexual predators and women’s power – a form of matriarchy if you like. So, the ‘hook’ for this story is Penny’s journey of self discovery as she comes to understand this world while investigating a claim of sexual misconduct.
I wanted to write an emancipatory novel that supports those who want more intimacy and sexual freedom in their relationships. There are many good films/novels about bad or stupid men who become more human as a result of facing up to an extraordinary situation. It seemed to me that there are only a few portrayals of women who transform themselves in a similar way.
I enjoyed films like Born on the Fourth of July (Tom Cruise), about a young man who gradually realises how societal pressures had predisposed him to fight in wars, and who later becomes a campaigner for peace. I also remember Rain Man (Tom Cruise / Dustin Hoffman) where a cocky young businessman becomes aware of his selfishness, learns to love the brother he never knew he had, and becomes a fully rounded human being.
I wanted to write something more like ‘In Her Shoes’ (Cameron Diaz), which explores how a selfish young woman becomes a caring adult by facing up to her own prejudices. Friends or Lovers has a similar theme: it peels back the superficial bullshit we call the ‘real world’ and takes a look at life in the raw to uncover how intimate relationships are crucial to our well being.
In some ways, it was a therapeutic activity, exploring issues that are generally regarded as taboo in academic writing on organisations. The novel was a good outlet.

5- Who do you consider your intended audience?

Based on feedback, I think this novel will resonate most strongly with men who are conscious of the way they are affected by sexual stereotyping at work. However, I suspect that the main audience – given that this is a quirky romance novel - will be progressive women who are willing to think about the legacy of feminism, and the way it has affected their relationships with men. Those who get to the end of the novel, I hope, will come to see Penny as a kind of modern-day antihero – able to confront her own past and the barriers that popular culture create for those seeking passionate loving intimate relationships.
There is one professional group who might enjoy this novel – HRM officers and managers who have had to deal with human relationship issues at work. Those who have had experience investigating sexual misconduct claims will find a great deal to discuss after reading this novel.

6- What is your greatest challenge as a writer?

a) Time.

b) Advancing a new gender equality argument without being labeled a misogynist...

7- Do you have any advice for those thinking about taking the writing plunge?

Keep going. Keep writing. Craft your works as best you can. Make sure your friends read it and that you respond to any constructive criticisms they have. Don’t be too quick to publish. Let the manuscript mature by making many revisions (and leave a few weeks between each round of revisions to reflect on each draft). When ready, waste no time in finding someone to publish it and be prepared to do so yourself if nobody else will. Success – however modest and in whatever form it comes – is always satisfying.

8- What do you like to do when you're not writing?

I love going to the cinema with my daughters, and having trips to the countryside and seaside with my family (particularly the Scottish Highlands).

9- What’s next for you?

Enjoying the summer holiday with my family. On the writing front, I recently re discovered Fallen Angel (my first novel, still unpublished and which we thought had been lost in a house move 13 years ago). On re-reading, it seems more relevant today than when it was written so my next project is to update it for our times and get it published.

You can find out more about Rory and his books at his website:

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Storytime Wednesday: Violet's in Bloom by Glory Lennon

Welcome to Storytime Wednesday, where we will enchant your imagination or tease your sense, with featured stories and book excerpts.

Today's guest writer is Glory Lennon with an excerpt from her serialized paranormal romance novel, Violet's in Bloom.

An Excerpt from Violet’s in Bloom:

Prologue: Death of a Firefighter

“Emily! I gotta get Emily!” the distraught mother screamed as two firefighters held her back.
“Where is she?” Richard shouted. He could barely make himself heard over the screeching sirens, over the bellows from Captain Frankfort and the roar of the flames eating the building in front of them.
“She’s upstairs, last room at the end of the hall. Her dog is with her. Please, let me get her. She won’t come with you. Please!” the woman screamed.
“She’ll come. I have a way with little girls,” Richard assured, smiling at her. He released her then ran into the smoke filled building after pulling on his mask and helmet.
“Ramrod, don’t!” Jake yelled, doubling his efforts to restrain the woman. “You can’t go in alone!”
But too late. Richard was through the doorway and enveloped instantly in billowing black smoke. Flames everywhere, he darted as a beam slammed into the floor from above. He sprinted up the stairs, also aflame, down the hall and...Damn it! The door was locked. Once, twice, thrice he rammed the door with all his strength and it smashed open. Flashlight in hand he scanned the room. Luckily it wasn’t entirely filled with smoke yet but there was no one anywhere to be seen.
“Emily! Your Mama’s looking for you. Come on out, Sweetie. You can’t stay here,” he shouted as he searched under the bed and behind the desk in the corner. A faint whine caught his ear.
He swung open the closet door and there she sat huddled behind some stuffed animals, a playhouse, several shoes and her golden retriever who growled menacingly up at him. Richard could understand that. With his mask on he knew he would definitely look frightening to a little kid and threatening to her protective dog.
“There’s a good puppy watching out for Emily,” he said soothingly as he removed the mask. The Captain would kill him dead for it, after he lectured Richard non-stop for an hour, that is. But Emily needed to see he wasn’t Darth Vader or something worse. “Your Mama’s worried sick, Sweetie. Let’s get you to your mama, okay?”
“Mommy! Mommy!” she cried still holding the dog.
“Rich, you idiot! Mark will have your head for coming in alone!” Bill shouted coming up behind him.
“Emily, this is Bill, my friend. He’s gonna take you to your mama. Come on, baby,” Richard said kindly as he pulled her out. The dog snarled and went to bite him. He released the girl and Bill grabbed her. Richard then lunged for the dog wrestling his muzzle shut. “Go, Bill, get out. I got the dog. I’m right behind you.”
Bill cradled the girl in his arms and threw open the window. “We’re going for a little ride, Honey.”
“Hunny Pot! I wanna hold Hunny Pot!” Emily cried.
“What’s that?” Bill asked the child as he swung one leg out the window.
“My dog.”
“I got him, Emily,” Richard said but at that moment a terrible crunching sound came from directly above him and the ceiling caved in pinning him to the floor. The dog yelped pathetically and struggled to release himself from the burning pieces of timber.
“Rich!” Bill screamed in terror. “Kid, you’re gonna have to take a ride by yourself,” he said then dropped her out just above the tarp surrounded and held by his fellow firefighters. He took a second to see if she landed all right then turned back to Richard.
“Ramrod, let go of the dog so I can get you out!” Bill growled, panic tearing through him. He grabbed the dog and unceremoniously threw him out the window, too, this time not checking to see where he landed. Rich had a nasty gash slicing open his skull, an iron rod impaled his chest and his crystalline blue eyes bulged as he sought Bill.
“Oh, Rich,” Bill whispered, horrified.
“Tell Violet....tell her... I love her....”
“No! No, Rich!”

* * * * *

Violet awoke abruptly. She automatically reached over for Richard. He still wasn’t home? She glanced at the clock. 2:42 A.M.
“You should be home by now, Richard,” she mumbled to herself.
“I’m here, Violet.”
She turned quickly and gaped at him. His uniform was covered with soot and soaking wet. He stood dripping sooty water onto the carpet. She sat up in bed frowning. “Richard, you’ve never come home like that. Why didn’t you clean up at the station before coming back? It must have been an awful fire. Anyone hurt?” she asked anxiously.
He hesitated a second. “Saved a little girl, Emily McNamara and her dog, Hunny Pot. Bill tossed them out the window just in time,” he said a sad smile on his dirt streaked face.
“Is Bill all right?”
“Oh, sure, he’s fine.”
“Oh, Richard, I’m so glad,” she replied relief flooding through her. “Can I help you get cleaned up?” She swung her legs off the bed and made to get up but Richard stopped her with a dirty hand on her shoulder.
“No, Baby, stay here. I need to tell you something,” he said earnestly.
“But, Richard, you’re dripping all over the place and you must be so uncomfortable in that stuff.”
“I’m not. I feel fine... now,” he insisted. He knelt down in front of her, removed his helmet and took her hands. “You know I love you, don’t you?”
She smiled. “Of course. I love you too. My first love, my only love,” she said.
“You remember how we met?” he asked.
“You know I do, silly. At the high school dance. You swept me right off my feet.”
“No, I mean the very first time I saw you.”
She giggled. “Kindergarten? When you stormed the play kitchen with Tommy Harris and shot my dolly with your Uzi? I somehow don’t think that’s romantic enough for the retelling,” she replied playfully.
He grinned. “But that’s when I knew you were the girl for me, the one I wanted to marry,” he replied lifting her hand and kissing it tenderly.
“No, you didn’t. You went out with tons of girls and you never even noticed me until that day at the dance after you won that big game against Meridale high,” she retorted.
“You think that was my doing? Freddy told me your dad wouldn’t let you out of the house without an army protecting you. He told me I had no shot until you were old enough. So I waited. Freddy knew I was in love with you and he arranged for us to meet at that dance. He thought it was about time you got to live a little and he thought.... well, I convinced him I might be good enough for you.”
“Is that why Freddy insisted I go to that game? To meet you?” she asked astonished. He nodded. She smiled and took a tissue out of the night stand drawer and wiped some of the soot from his face. “Well, he was definitely instrumental in us getting together, wasn’t he? More than I thought. I wish I had known. I ought to thank him. But, Richard, why are you telling me this now? We should get you into a nice warm shower.”
“I don’t have much time. Violet, I want you to know I loved you like nothing else in the world. And the kids too. Tell Sophie...tell her she’ll always be my little girl. Tell her to keep singing, to stay with music. That’s her calling. I love to hear her sing. And Kenny, tell him I’m so proud of him. His woodworking will get him far. I just know it. Tell them I love them and always will no matter where I am.”
“Richard,” she said frowning. “What is all this? Why are you saying this? We know you love us. We love you too. What’s wrong?”
He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her tenderly his lips trembling. “I don’t want to go, Violet, but I have to,” he said, desperate tears welling in his clear blue eyes.
Apprehension stole through her as she watched him. “Go where?”
“I’m not sure where but I hear my parents calling me. I hear my brother Tim, too. We’re going to be together now. They say it’s time to leave. But I want to make sure you do something for me before I go. Promise me you will love again. Promise me you will let go of me and find another good man to love you.”
Her jaw dropped. “Richard, you want to divorce me? Why?” she squeaked.
“No, Baby, it’s til death do us part,” he said gently.
“But neither one of us is dead,” she said, a stern note to her voice and now looking both scared and angry. “You’re being very weird, Richard, and I want you to stop it. Stop it right now!”
He took her in his arms and held her tightly, his tears leaving sooty streaks down his face. “I don’t want to go but I have to. I’m dead. I didn’t make it out of that house fire. It collapsed around me. I’m still there under the rubble. They’re digging me out now. Promise me, so I can go in peace. Promise me and I’ll know you’ll be all right. Can you do that, Violet?”
She pushed him away. “No, I can’t! You’re going nowhere. Get in the shower. You’re messing up the floor,” she shouted, annoyed and fighting the urge to cry.
“This is just a dream, Violet. It’s the only way for me to talk to you. Promise me already. Promise you’ll let another man love you and take care of you. I don’t want to leave you all alone,” he insisted his voice now gruff and agitated.
“Richard, you’re the only one I ever want. You can’t leave me. You promised to always love me,” she said, her whole body shaking with emotion.
“I will. I’ll always love you even when I’m gone.”
“But you can’t go. We have the kids. They need you. I need you. You have to stay,” she cried, throwing her arms around his neck desperately clinging to him.
He shook his head, removed her arms from around him and resolutely stood up. “If you don’t let me go I’ll be a ghost forever haunting you. You don’t want that. That’s no life for you. Promise me.”
“No! Stop this foolishness, Richard. Get in the shower and come to bed. I need you here,” she said bursting into angry tears. She took another tissue and wiped at her face. When she looked up Richard had vanished.
“Richard? Richard!” she shouted. She got up and went to the bathroom. He wasn’t there. She ran through the house opening doors, calling his name. Terror ripped through her. Where did he go? He had simply vanished.
The shrill ringing of the phone awoke Violet. She sat up breathing quickly as if she had run a mile in the last few seconds. She willed her heart to steady itself. “It was just a dream.... just a very bad dream,” she mumbled as she reached out a shaky hand to catch the receiver.
“Richard?” she whispered.
“Violet, this is Mark Frankfort down at the firehouse. I have some bad news, Violet, about Rich.”
She let the phone drop to the floor into a puddle of sooty water next to her bedroom slippers.

You can find more Violet's in Bloom at:   Violet's in Bloom, a serialized novel
Author Bio:

Glory Lennon started writing stories shortly after being introduced to the Harry Potter series by her son's best friend. She wanted to try her hand at making people laugh, cry and feel every other emotion out there, just like JK Rowling did for countless fans, Glory topping that list.
Glory started writing for the web at Helium, Green Thumb Articles and Self Reliance Works where she puts her excessive knowledge of plants and frugality to work for her. She has in the meantime started several novels, but only finish one which she promptly tossed aside to be seriously revised at a later date. Yes, it was that bad!
Now she spends much of her time with her five blogs only one of which isn’t for her stories. Her garden blog is predictably titled Glory’s Garden. The others are: Glory’s Short Stories, novel-in-progress Violet’s in Bloom (from which this excerpt comes), An Ever Fixed Mark and a novella titled Where Your Treasure Lies.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Storytime Wednesday: A Freak's Journey, The Life and Times of a Six-Year Old Circus Runaway by Steven R Roberts

Welcome to Storytime Wednesday, where we will enchant your imagination or tease your senses, with featured stories and book excerpts.

Today's guest writer is Steven R Roberts with ann excerpt from his book, A Freak's Journey, The Life and Times of a Six-Year Old Circus Runaway.

The Borough of Islington

Jimmy ran full speed toward the other three, looking back over his shoulder with full fright on his face and crying “No, No!” Five feet short of the group he tripped and fell, rolling into Max, his teacher. At eight-years-old, Max, a skinny kid living most of the time on the streets, was as close to a father figure as Jimmy had known. For the final bit Jimmy looked up with his wide eyes, brushed his long mop of brown locks out of his eyes and said, “So very sorry, Sir.”

“Blimey, Jimmy, you’ve got to put more spit into the game,” Max said to his young foil. “Let’s see your lower lip quiver when you look up at the target. London streets is ripe with targets but ya’ gotta sell your soul in this bit, Jimmy, or it bloody-well won’t work a lick. I’m not lookin’ for anythin’ queer here me boy just sweet innocent fear in those soft black eyes.” Max, with his dirty yellow hat sitting back on his head, was exasperated at the results of his first training lesson with six-year-old Jimmy, the gang’s newest recruit.

James Northway Stockley was born in the near north side slum of London known as Islington. He and his mother Renee lived in a tiny one-room apartment on the third floor of a building on Childerditch Lane just off Liverpool Road. The four-story buildings stood in long rows close to each other each apartment had one small window for ventilation. Landlords were taxed per window. Typical for 1880s London, the apartments in their block had no water and no toilet facilities. Renee carried water from a pump located about 150 meters down the street from their building. There were pumps located all over London in those days and they were open only certain times and certain days. Lines were typically long at the pumps to fill the families’ pots and jugs. Families who ran out of water while the pumps were closed had to use the water in the rivers, which were also depositories for the neighborhood’s garbage and human “dung.”

Because the latrines on the ground floor of the building were dank and putrid, most upper floor residents kept a copper chamber pot in the corner of the room. When the pot filled for a day or two and the smell in the apartment became unbearable, it was emptied out the window. Richard II, who had become King of England back in 1377 at age 10, later issued a writ that, “no one is to dump dung.” Further, there were penalties, still in effect, for hitting a person with anything, especially dung, thrown from a window. It seemed such restrictions only encouraged tenement dwellers. By the end of the day the streets below the tenement windows were ankle deep in human waste and ripe until the next rain washed it down the gutters toward the rivers. The appearance of the buildings suffered in that a yellowish brown stain quickly developed below each window. Apartment dwellers kept their windows closed despite the occasional hot day to avoid dung spilling in from above.

Jimmy’s mother worked afternoons and nights as a prostitute walking the streets bordering the boroughs of Islington and Heringey, where she competed with women stationed on several other street corners. Jimmy’s first memories of his mother were of her wearing pretty dresses and sparkly bracelets with her blonde hair pulled back and tied, running down her back. He remembered her ruddy complexion and sad loving eyes as she got ready for work. On many nights there were no customers in their dark district but she needed to be there just in case.

“Come to Mommy, Jim Bo,” she whispered as the toddler ate stale bread she’d found thrown out the back door of the bakery. Jimmy looking around the table for more. “Things will be better, Jim Bo, just you wait and see.” In those early years, Renee worked from 3 to 5 pm with Jim in her arms, then took a two-hour break to fix dinner. Before reporting back to the corner, she wrapped her son in a blanket and rocked him in a chair that didn’t rock, gently smoothing his little brown infant curls. Renee spit on her fingers and cleaned her son’s face of the grime of the day. She sang him to sleep with a lullaby, a fantasy of unrealistic hope. Somehow it had been very real when her mother had sung it to her many years before. Jimmy grinned, looking up into his mother’s eyes as she rocked and whispered the song more than sang it.

Curly Locks, Curly Locks

Wilt thou be mine

Thou shalt not wash dishes, nor feed the swine

But sit on a cushion and sew a fine seam

And feast upon strawberries, sugar and cream

Renee sang it again with tears slowly ruining her heavy makeup. She placed her son in the top wooden drawer of a beat-up dresser that served as a bed before locking the door and leaving him in the apartment while she went to work. If the night went well, she’d be back a time or two, accompanied by a friend.

At three years old, James walked to work with his mommy in the afternoons and played along the streets while Renee sat on a broken bench with Sadie, a partner prostitute with dark orange hair. Sadie nursed her newborn baby girl, Marilyn, who she called “Pookie.” The baby, with a shock of wavy auburn hair and big blue eyes, was a happier miniature version of her mother. Sometimes one of Sadie’s regulars walked by and stopped to talk. James couldn’t hear what was said but a few minutes later Sadie stopped the feeding, slid her breast inside her blouse, and declared the baby fed. She stood and handed Pookie to Renee for a while as Sadie and the customer walked toward her flat. James sat down at his mother’s feet and played in the dust. Renee put the baby down next to her son.

The women worked in pairs so one could watch the children and hold the position if a customer showed up. Sometimes Renee would grab Jimmy’s hand and hurry behind the nearest building. Jimmy noticed that Sadie picked up Pookie and did the same as a black carriage rolled by on the rutted street. Renee mentioned to Sadie that the constable was getting to be a pest with his weekly patrols. Sadie didn’t say much because sometimes the constable winked at her and she walked away with the constable.

The girls were always on the lookout for fancy carriages with skinny-legged horses entering their street. Well-dressed gentlemen from the wealthier boroughs sometimes rode up in carriages providing the girls with a chance for income for the evening.

“Here comes a carriage, Mommy,” Jimmy said, as the women dozed, leaning into each other, back to back on the bench.

“How many in the team, Jimmy?” Renee asked, opening one eye then the other.

“Looks to be two horses, Mommy,” her son reported proudly.

“Come on Sadie,” Renee said. “Put the baby down and get up. This could be dinner for one of us.” As the carriage approached, the women stood, brushing back their hair, smoothing their dresses and smiling. The carriage passed by with a look of disdain from the dark occupant inside. Some days it seemed the rich had better things to do, and all the four souls on the corner got for their trouble was a smile and a wink from the driver.

A Freak's Journey is one of six books Steve has written, several of which are based on true stories in the action adventure genre.
More information can be found on Steve's book at

In an 1890's London slum six-year old Jimmy Stockley is thrown out of his apartment while his mum services clients. Broken and confused, the boy runs away with a caravan circus. Jimmy takes to the circus life as he meets the circus owner's challenge to become a 'freak' of some kind to earn his keep. Along the way Jimmy falls for Caitlin the lion tamer's daughter but he is forced to run again to hide a personal secret and keep from being fed to the lions by Caitlin's disapproving father.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Interview with Paula Marie Coomer

Today we have a guest, as Paula Marie Coomer stops by to share about her book Dove Creek and to chat about writing.

Interview with Paula Marie Coomer:

1- Why don’t you begin by sharing a little about yourself.

I am originally from Kentucky, the mother of two very handsome and brilliant sons and grandmother to three beautiful and brilliant grandchildren. I have been living in the West for more than 30 years. I teach English at Washington State University and am a program reviewer for Head Start, the federal preschool program. I am also a visiting scholar for the Idaho Commission on Libraries and a presenter at regional writing conferences and workshops.

2- How long have you been writing? Did you always desire to be a writer?

There is not one moment in my conscious life when I did not know I was different from everyone else. My earliest memory is of having pulled myself to stand while my mother, my father, and my father's stepsister talked about something very serious. Even at that very early age--9 months or so--I was aware of being apart, of being the one who was watching and recording.
I constructed my first book when I was 4. I was always telling stories to my sister, so I decided to make one of them into a book. I drew pictures, copied lines of text from the newspaper. Those lines of text did not match the story as it came from my mouth, but still, it LOOKED like a book, and the pages turned like a book. Beyond that, I was in trouble constantly in my early grades for writing stories and drawing pictures instead of my school work. Of course, my teachers couldn't exactly chastise me when they saw that I'd actually finished my assigned work already. Still, in my report cards they wrote, "Paula has difficulty staying on task." A few teachers gave me paper to take home at the end of the school year because we were very poor, and I think they felt sorry for me.
It took me a long time to get around to devoting myself to writing, however (I was in my thirties). Life almost seemed to be working against me taking that path. One misstep after another, mostly in form of abusive men who were determined to keep me from writing. As if they thought I was going to write about them.
Mainly I am interested in writing because I don't know how to paint and am too lazy to learn. Words let me create images, which is what I enjoy doing: saying a lot with a little, blurring the lines of reality and propriety. It's a drug. A means of being here without being here, a means of offering up various forms of salvation to the world without having to have a prophet or a god.

3- Please, tell us about your novel, Dove Creek.

Dove Creek is the story of a woman from the mountains of Kentucky who is cast on the hero's journey by life circumstances. She ends up as a nurse on an Indian reservation in Idaho. She is a mixed blood, as so many Americans from the Appalachian country are, and finds herself intrigued by the culture to the point of trying to fit her life into a myth known as "The Lesson of the Seven Directions" as a way of ferreting out her identity and dealing with the raising of her two children. The story winds its way through her work with both the Nez Perce and the Coeur d'Alene people and gives a close glimpse at the issues those people were facing in the early '90s. Much of the humor in the book is Native American-style humor. Indian people love to laugh. They also love to make you feel uncomfortable. Patricia Faye learns to deal with all that. She also struggles with self-destruction in the form of relationships with men, as well as alcohol. My sister has been a terrible alcoholic for much of her adult life. I have at times worried about the effect of alcohol in my own life, not because of my own consumption, but because I am drawn to alcoholic men. It was a place to work out my own pain over the issue.

4- What inspired you to write this book?

My first career was in public health nursing. I worked for a county public health department in Oregon for a few years and 5 years on 2 Indian reservations in Idaho. I loved those jobs very much and started to write a memoir of that time--in fact I did complete part of a manuscript for my MFA thesis, but it was too boring. Writing about myself was just flat boring, and I've always had such difficulty telling the story of any real event straight. I cannot not embellish. So here I was writing a memoir that was mostly made up stuff. I can't remember what I did yesterday. How on earth am I supposed to relay what happened 10 or 20 years ago? If I ever had to take the witness stand, I'd flunk. I'd be found in contempt. In fact, as a girl, I was whipped for embellishing events. My parents called it "telling stories," which was what they called, "lying," and lying was a mortal sin. You can see where my confusion began.
In truth, Patricia Faye's voice kept overwhelming mine. I robbed from my life to create some of the minutia of hers, but in the end I gave in to her and her story and left my own for another day.
I suppose the Lessons of the Seven Directions were the original inspiration. A native man really did tell me that story. It's one of the few scenes that is lifted directly from my life without much embellishment beyond the dialogue. My young son was not adjusting to life after we moved to Idaho and was quickly becoming a juvenile delinquent. I turned to my native co-workers for advice. I was very drawn to their spiritualism and wisdom. Sadly enough, I did have to take my son to live with his father. It took more than a decade for him to finally forgive me, but it saved him. He is now married, has a son of his own, a good career, serves his community. My sons and I had lived through some pretty difficult stuff. Using it as the basis for fiction was a way to control it. Infiltrating Patricia's life with my own pain and tragedy was a way of unburdening myself. It brought me great release to have the book finally published.

5- Does anything surprise you about the process of writing?

The fact that it's a new process, a new event, each time you sit down to the notebook or the computer. And the fact that it never gets any easier. It's work. It's much easier to dig a hole in the ground or re-plaster a wall or take care of dying patient than it is to write even the smallest poem. With each piece of work you come just a little closer to becoming your truest self. I did not expect, when I set out on this road, that the entire thing would be about becoming a better human, but I believe that has been the case for me. The ego has to dissolve in order for the art to emerge. Who knew?

6- What sort of research do you do for your books?

Lots. Tons. You cannot research enough. I read and read and read. I interview people. I go places. I write in and absorb those places. I watch films. I go out into the world and look for things, items, people, rooms, situations, feelings to incorporate into my stories. It is assemblage art. I let myself be drawn without questioning the feeling. I've learned after all this time that it is creative process--the need of the story--drawing me. It's a little like being in a trance. Things get a bit glowy and dim at the same time. Seriously. When I see something or hear something that belongs in a story, it's like the little girl in Bee Season, there's this aura that appears around the thing.
I have been known to grab my car keys and hit the road, following my instincts, until I observe or witness a piece of a scene or find an item or person to fit into whatever I'm writing. A simple example of this is the section of Dove Creek titled, "My Mother's Eyes Dancing." I took several round-trip bus trips across the country in the span of a year to write that section. I drafted and revised it on the bus, and by hand. I thought I'd die from the lousy food, and my knees have never recovered, but that particular section seems very alive and real, and I think it's because of how and where I wrote it. People want to think that those are my private journal entries, but they are actually the result of using the Greyhound bus as a writing salon.

7- What is your greatest challenge as a writer?

I love being in the writing space, so I don't think in terms of the challenges--although it is challenging to try to make other people understand what it is that I do and why I work an array of part-time jobs instead of a 40-hour-a-week career. Why I'm willing to go without money and material goods. Why I'm willing to carry a mountain of student loan debt. Publication is tough. It took me forever to understand that publication is not the goal. Creativity and living inside art and the effect that has on my day-to-day life, on my soul, and on the kind of human I am is what's important.
Sometimes the aloneness gets to me. There are long, dry spells. I'm not an award-winner. I'm like the woman who's always the bridesmaid. I'm always the award-nominee but never the winner. I've never gotten a grant. Never won a contest. No one really understands what the writing life is like for you--even other writers, so there's no one with whom to commiserate. A lot of writers drink a great deal, do drugs. You start the habit when you are young because it loosens the inhibitions, allows things to flow. Those days are over for me. It's safe to say writing has destroyed my body. In addition, I live in an area where there is virtually no high art or high culture. Yet I need to be here because I write about people who have no relationship to high culture. But I get to feeling starved sometimes, the only cure for which is a trip to a large city and an art museum. I don't have a writing group. My few soul-level friends live in other places. It does teach you to be emotionally self-sufficient. For a long time I was an affirmation junkie. I sought out the approval of others to the point of driving them away. The aloneness of writing teaches you to be a solitary oak. It's not a bad ability to have.

8- What advice would you give beginning writers?

You've likely heard it before, but don't quit your day job. I made that mistake. I left a good career and good pay, not realizing that, even as a single parent, I actually could just write at night and on weekends. Toni Morrison did it. Isabelle Allende did it. It's my Libra nature: all or nothing. That damned scale just wants to tip one way or another. I've lived on so very little money for so long. I made it very difficult on myself and my children and took on a lot of debt. Of course, who knows whether that suffering was necessary for my evolution as a writer and my sons evolution as people, but we'd already suffered enough for 10 people before I ever decided to become a writer.
But that is my advice. Keep your head and your wits about you. Be practical. If you really want to write, write. If you have to force yourself, then look for another goal. I couldn't and still can't stop myself from writing. I have scraps of paper and little notebooks all over the place. Bar napkins, backs of envelopes, you name it. I was shutting my office door and writing poems and stories at work. I had to take the leap. It was killing me not to.
Think twice about an MFA program. I really wish I'd done a PhD in literature instead. And READ! READ! for God's sake. Travel! If you're a college student, spend your time studying philosophy and history and psychology. Take an anatomy and physiology class. Study geology and astronomy. Biology. Literature. Come to know the workings of the earth and how humans work inside and out.
And then write your stuff and send it out. Get rejected. Over and over. That's the way you evolve. Let that anger and disappointment fuel the revision or the next piece of writing. Dove Creek took 15 years to write and went through 46 rejections. I shoved it into the back of the closet after revision number 14. The only reason it ever got published is because an acquaintance who is a local radio producer came to a reading of Summer of Government Cheese, my book of short stories (which Booktrope is getting ready to re-release), and asked me if I had anything of novel length. She wanted serialize a novel and make it the subject of a radio broadcast on the local indie station. What a fabulous exercise that was. Once I started reading into the microphone, I saw all those big holes. We postponed the recording of it, and I went home to roll up my sleeves. That final revision took a year. Then the recording took six months. Twenty-three months later there have been more than 4100 episodes of a somewhat different version of Dove Creek downloaded from their website. The number goes up every day. Word of it has spread mostly by word of mouth. It's what finally led me to Booktrope, my publisher, and the final--number 16--revision. Finally. Somebody understood Patricia Faye's story and was willing to invest in getting it out to the world.
Any way you cut it, it's going to take you at least 15 years to get any good, before you as an artist are fully formed. That's what everyone told me, and it's true. It was exactly 15 years from the time I decided to devote myself to writing full time until my first novel got published. I had dozens and dozens of single publications and two smaller books, but my goal was to write novels, and that's what it took: 15 years.

9- Who inspires you as an author?

Right now it's Lidia Yuknavitch. I've been screaming the title to her new book Chronology of Water every place I can. It's an astonishing memoir, which is a genre many of us who consider ourselves to be serious literary writers abhor. She cracked open the form and made it into a life and soul education in a book. She writes sex like nobody's business. She writes life like nobody's business.
I also love Lance Olsen's work. He was on my MFA committee. He's the Jimi Hendrix of experimental writing. He thinks there is nothing you cannot do with words and that form is for pouring cement. He's now teaching at the University of Utah. If I weren't already fifty-five years old, I'd go do a PhD in experimental writing there.
And Ed McClanahan. He's knows how to play with words. And he is the king of quirky characters. His work makes me laugh out loud. No one else does that.
Others--Carole Maso was an early inspiration. Flannery O'Connor. Kafka. Ray Federman. Rilke. Alice Munro. Kesey. Charles Bukowsi. Hunter S. Thompson. Plath. Anne Sexton. Dorothy Allison. I guess that's a rather eclectic list, but, then, everything about me is eclectic.

10- What’s next for you?

I'm returning to my experimental roots somewhat in a new novel called Jagged Edge of the Sky. It does what you are not supposed to do: it has too many characters, too many points of view, and time is pretty much relative. It may never even see print, but I don't care. I love it. It's been through several processes, including a draft in which I'd decided to try to go mainstream. My experience in having published Dove Creek has shown me that I don’t belong in the mainstream. I'm not sure what kind of writer I am, but it's not mainstream. What is the point in writing in some kind of predictable form? I want to write books that make people go, what the f---? and throw it down. And then pick it up again because they can't help themselves.
Meantime, true to form--I always seem to be working on several things at once--I have a new book of poems, am midway through a new collection of short stories, and am in the thinking and research phase of a third novel, which I've actually been thinking about and researching on the side for three years now. I had hoped to start writing on it this fall, but I don't know if that will be the case. Maybe by winter. I have to wrap up all these other projects first.
And there's this little issue of the room at the top of our staircase I'm turning into a writing studio. I took it down to the bare bones--stripping 100 years of wallpaper--and sculpted plaster in its place, painted the entire thing, walls and ceilings the color of earth. The floor will be the color of sea glass. So it'll be like being in an inverted hole in the earth with the sky at my feet. It feels safe in there. Like nothing can get to me. A writer needs nothing if not to feel safe.

Paula's Website:

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Storytime Wednesday: Broken Silent by Kristine Esser

Welcome again to Storytime Wednesday, where we fire your imagination with the words from writers who share their stories or book excerpts.

We have a story today by writer Kristine Esser, a cautionary tale about relationships, called Broken Silent.

Broken Silent

I finally decided to turn the shiny knob that had “hot” inscribed on it all the way to the right, shutting off the blistering liquid. I climbed out of the tub, and wrapped myself in an old floral towel sitting on the edge of the toilet. Standing and looking through the small patch of wiped-away steam in the mirror I recognized the unattractive towel along with the steam rising off my shoulders from the sweltering shower I had just taken.

Opening the door from the bathroom I stepped out to see my boyfriend, Ben, sitting in the Goodwill-bought lazy-boy. He looked at me from afar and smiled. A quick grin did the trick, and I walked into my room. It was dark and chilly in there, and I felt the strong need to just sit on my bed for awhile, cool off, and kind of catch my breath.

I had to think of my plan to face Ben with the growing problem of me being lonely with him being gone constantly. This was not always a problem in our relationship but one that came after we graduated college. Ben and I both attended a rather large university in Indiana. We met our sophomore year when we lived across from each other in the dorms. He was cute, got straight A’s, and was very gentle. While I was the cute party girl who passed most of my classes, but always looked good. These things changed after we started dating. I got him to loosen up, and not be so serious while he made me take life a little more seriously. His mother died not too long before we started dating, and I sometimes got the feeling I was a replacement. This did not bother me as much as it might have some other girls. I enjoyed being loved whole heartedly. Of course, this was over three years ago and situations have changed. He was gone with his job all the time having a great time while I had to stay at home, go through my daily routine without him, and be miserable. It was time to talk to him about a break.

After some time, I stood up slowly and dropped the towel to the floor. I paused for a moment looking at the ugly thing. The corners were tattered and frayed with strings hanging from the center of the towel. It was so hideous. Why keep it around so long? That towel had to be at least a decade old. I remembered having that towel in my childhood when the biggest problem of the day is what game to play next. I remember having it with me at the beach and numerous pool parties back when it was cool. I really wasn’t sure at what point the towel became disgusting but it was definitely time to throw it out. It had lived its life.

I went through the dark cedar drawers, and found some grey yoga pants and an old college t-shirt. After slipping them on I decided it was time to walk toward the door of my room, and let myself out to see my boyfriend, Ben. It was time to leave the safety of my room, and to enter the dangers of my blond hardwood floor living room; after all, he is waiting for me.

I stepped out, and walked down the somewhat short hallway. Today, however, the hallway seemed freakishly long. I touched the white walls of the hallway, and thought about all that they had witnessed. It was like the old saying I had heard all my life. What did they see? What would they see today? I prayed it wouldn’t be anything horrible. I hoped it would not see tears or any kind of sadness. I hoped they wouldn’t see anger or fury. But I knew that was all a lie.

“There you are baby,” Ben said with his arms outstretched. He was motioning for me to come sit down on his lap. He was really happy to see me. It had been awhile since we saw each other last. He left for the summer for one of his many odd random job assignments. This time it was in Colorado for a summer camp helping needy children. The company he was working for thought it would be a great fit for him, so they decided that this would be his next assignment, send him half a country away to work with kids he didn’t even know.

I couldn’t help it but I was always upset when he left, which seemed to be all the time now. I adored him when he was there with me in Chicago but felt this overwhelming feeling of frustration whenever he left. Anger would boil over inside towards Ben, but I was not sure why exactly. It’s somewhat irrational for me to feel this way, but it’s just how I felt. However, I knew it would be like this from the beginning. He had signed a contract with the company right out of college for the next five years of his life. It had only been a year after graduation, and the constant leaving and returning was now taking a toll on both of our emotions.

Sitting in his lap, and curled up under his neck, my wet hair made a spot on his old cotton shirt. I bought that shirt for him when we were sophomores in college. It was our first Christmas together, and we made love all night with our cheap, but meaningful, gifts surrounding us. Now it was visibly worn with cracked-print lettering. It seemed like he wore this shirt at least once a week. Or the weeks I happened to see him anyway.

“You smell good. Is that a new shampoo you’re using?”

“Yeah, it was on sale. Do you like it?” I replied while pushing back the ringlets of wet curls away from my face.

“Yes, I do,” Ben stated with closed eyes. Silence then started to engulf the room. I looked around the space, and couldn’t find life of any kind. Sometimes one can see a breeze or draft of some kind through the room, but there was nothing. The TV was off, and the roommate was gone. Deep breaths were all I could think about taking during that moment of deadness in the room.

“When do you leave next?” I had to say finally.

“Asking so soon? I just returned from Colorado yesterday. Let’s enjoy this a little bit.”

“I can’t, I need to know.”

“I am leaving again in three weeks to go to China. I will be there for seven months this time. But I am sure I can fly you out for a weekend or two. Maybe you could take a couple of days off of work too. Do you think you can do that with your job?” He said.

He knew I could not take off of work. He knew I had just started this job with my dream PR firm about nine months ago, and vacation time for entry level employees was not something they gave out. Irritation crept up inside of me once again. He knew I couldn’t get time off work, and he was leaving again, so soon, for such a long time.

“You know I can’t get the time off of work,” I answered with pain. This burning feeling then came from behind my eyes. Anger started to rise up inside of me, but I tried to stay calm.

“Well can’t you talk to someone?” He said now starting to lean forward.

“No. I told you I couldn’t take any time off of work right when I first took this job.”

“I never see you and I don’t like it. We need to change this,” He said looking into my eyes now.

“Yeah, I don’t like it either, but I am not the one leaving all the time. And I don’t know how you want to change this. We both have obligations,” I replied sternly.

“I just can’t go on not seeing you like this.”

“Something has to change…” I said trailing.

“Yes, something does. I love you Jessica. I want you always with me. I know this isn’t possible but I want to make this situation better. I am not happy seeing you this few and far between, and I know you are not happy either. What can we do? Do you want to move out with me? China is such a beautiful place.”

“I don’t want to move to China! I want to be here! In Chicago! This is where my dream job is, and believe it or not I got it! This is where my family is. I don’t want to move to China. I want to live here.”

The room fell silent again. We both looked around this time at the seemingly deceased surroundings of the apartment. Everything was perfectly still. Not even a visible wind from outside the window was present. Every being in that room was eerily motionless. The tissues in the Kleenex box didn’t move. The TV was off, and so was all the technology that went with it. I eyed the vase on the coffee table with the dead flowers in it.

For some couples this might have been considered an awkward silence, but for us it was becoming somewhat of an acquaintance these days. This was not the first time we had this discussion. This also was not the first time this silence befell this particular living room. However, this time seemed peculiarly stationary and stuffy. Of course previous discussions seemed to have answers, while this one did not.

We both kept looking around the room, and then turned our attention to each other’s hands. Ben’s fingers were touching the inside palms of mine. He went from the palm of my hand to the tip of each individual one of my fingers. My hand remained lifeless like the room. I never moved my hand, or even my fingers. I just watched as he drew with his fingers onto mine. Once he had gone through this a couple of times, I knew it was my time to talk.

I closed my eyes and inhaled, “What are we doing?”

“I don’t know. What would you like to do? How do you think we can fix this?” he said.

“We’ve tried everything, Ben.”

“It seems like it,” he was now looking down into what would be his lap if I wasn’t sitting on it.

“There is nothing more we can do right now. The time you’re away is ripping us apart,” I said while trying to look in to his eyes.

“I know,” was the only counter he could muster.

“I think we need to take some time apart. We’re just not happy doing what we are doing. I think we just need to take some time for ourselves, and make sure this is the relationship we want, you know?” I could now tell tears were coming to the surface in his eyes, and I could now feel them coming into mine. I felt Ben’s hands on both of my thighs tighten, and his chest puffing out.

“No, I don’t want to. I know I want to be with you forever Jessica. I know this sucks now, but we can get through this. I promise!”

“Ben…no…” I said while shaking my head.

“Why does it have to be like this? Why Jessica? What did I do? Did I mess everything up?” He screamed question after question until his tears took his voice in a red mess. His hands grew tighter.

This was when I knew that now was the time to get off his lap. It was tough breaking away from his grasped hands, but as soon as I could I quickly stood up with tears running down my face. For a moment I wondered if I was making the wrong choice. Ben had been nothing but good to me. And now I was breaking his heart, God, I’m a bitch. Then turning around so my back was facing Ben, I wiped the few spots of tears away from my face.

“Ben please…just try and understand…I just need…”

“No.” Ben said as he brushed away his tears with the palms of his hands. He reached forward to grab my wet hair, but his saltwater hands with my damp hair made his fingers slip. He reached to grab me again, but I slipped, and fell to floor making more noise than pain. Ben looked furious, but stunned.

I was breathing heavily. He had never tried to hurt me before. He had always loved me, and did for me anything I wanted. He even made me vegetable and rice soup for me once from scratch, but now he was standing over me in throbbing heartache and rage.

“I love you with all my heart, and this is what is going to happen now? You want to leave me? That’s not how this works. I am the all-star, and you’re the one that couldn’t get even a B in college algebra. I loved you! And you’re leaving me?!” passion was now blazing in his eyes. He picked up the flower vase spilling out all of the death flowers. He raised it over me as I lay on cold hardwood floor crying, and ready to scream. Soon all I could see was red pouring over my eyes, and a kind of hot pain rushing all over my face and hands as he hit me three more times with the broken vase.

Ben then put on his sandals and left my barren apartment. I twitched when he slammed the door behind him. He wasn’t the slamming door type. Or so I thought.

I reached to touch the walls again. They were still cool. I crawled into my room for the phone, and I noticed that I left the ugly towel on the floor from my shower from just a half hour ago. I gathered up the towel, and pressed it against my face. It wasn’t soft anymore, and it was a lot coarser than I remembered from yester year.

By the time the ambulance arrived, the towel was soaked with blood, and the paramedics asked me to give them my towel so they could get a better look at the injuries. After handing them my old towel they placed it in a medical waste bag.

Author Bio:

Kristine Esser is a somewhat recent graduate from Purdue University. When she isn’t writing or composing material for her poetry blog, she's walking her dog, and continuously baking. 

Monday 11 July 2011

Author Maggie Secara Talks Fantasy

Today's a blog swap for me as I guest over on Maggie Secara's blog (kicking off the Killers and Demons blog tour), and she enchants my readers here, with her insightful words about writing fantasy:

The Fantasy You Know

One of the first things you’re told when you set out to be writer of any sort is to “write what you know.” I’ve taught this maxim myself in workshops any number of times not as a mindless cliché but because really: what else is there to do? Not everyone agrees, of course. New writers especially tend to say “But I don’t know anything!”
 Of course you do. Have you ever been in love? Have you ever had parents who didn’t approve of the choices you made? Have you ever interacted with other people at all? Everything you’ve learned about people—or rainstorms, music, or car repair—from every experience you’ve had or shared with friends is part of what you know. If you listen to the way people speak, and hear the differences as well as similarities; if you notice the twist of your Aunt Mary’s hand when she makes a point, or the wheeze in your best friend’s Grandpa’s honky laugh; all those things are part of what you know. They all go into your writer’s kit, available whenever you need them.

I’ve also heard some people exclaim that it’s the worst advice they were ever given. They don’t want to be limited to what they know, they say! “I have an imagination! I can imagine more than I can ever experience!” Apparently they think they have been advised to write only about events in which they literally participated. Nonsense. They’ve invented a limit where none is intended.

My first novel, Molly September, is a pirate story, though it does have a touch of fantasy here and there. It takes place in 1672. Much of it takes place aboard the privateer, Jealous Mary. The rest is set in Port Royal, Jamaica, or on Tortuga. Right here, there’s a potential problem. It may be obvious that I’m not 350 years old, and thus have no direct experience of the 17th century. I’ve never been a pirate (other than being a Jimmy Buffet fan) or lived at sea. I’ve never even been to Jamaica! So how is that writing what I know?

Okay, I have to admit, my original inspiration for this novel was a handful of Errol Flynn movies (it began way before Johnny Depp put on the Jack Sparrow rig) and a National Geographic feature about Port Royal. I didn’t actually know a whole lot else about pirates and privateers besides what I knew from the movies. So I set out to learn. I read Capt. Johnson’s accounts, Esquemelling’s diary, and the Time-Life Seafarers series. I looked at tourist vacation photos and antique maps. Studied hurricane reports, and the diagrams of the fore-and-aft rigging. Poured over every pirate website historical and fanciful that anyone ever put on the web, found more maps, more details. And even though I hadn’t memorized all that wonderful stuff, I had learned a lot about that world and filed away a lot more. It became—along with falling in love, defying parents, and learning to sing—part of what I know.

Well, fine, you cry. That’s all very well for historical fiction. At least Drake, Morgan, and Blackbeard actually existed. What’s that got to do with writing fantasy? What is there to study? There are no histories or reliable photos. Faery isn’t a real place. (“Isn’t it?” my Oberon would say. “I’m sure you know best.”)

In the last couple of years, my principal project has been a fantasy series called The Bells of Elfland. I’ve never met a fae, that I’m aware of, or sung my way through the veils that part our worlds, any more than I’ve sailed a pirate ship. How can I write about such things, complete with my own notions of the nature and location of Faery, and still be writing what I know?

The realm of Faery exists as an element of folklore almost everywhere on Earth. Are the faeries nature spirits, or the diminished gods of various regions driven underground by a new religion? Are they the fancies of an idle brain or the delusions of ignorant country folk teased up by Victorian folklorists? Maybe. Still, Tolkien and Shakespeare wrote about them. Were they deluded, ignorant, or mad? Or were writing what they knew?

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892–1973) invented one of the most completely realized fantasy world ever imagined in print, but he didn’t do it from scratch. What fed his imagination was a long career studying the oldest forms of English literature, including the traditions of Norse and Anglo-Saxon cultures with their tales of rings, heroes, dwarves, and elves. William Shakespeare (1564–1616) put Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream drawing on the legends and beliefs of the country people he grew up among, descended from the same Anglo-Saxon folk whose languages Tolkien would study centuries later. (He apparently made Titania up, or at least invented the name, as it doesn’t appear anywhere before then.) Fantasists with attachments to other parts of the world use the folklore of those cultures, too.

Writers read. We have to read. Not just fantasy and science fiction—everything. Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Mercedes Lackey, Patricia McKillip: all of your favorite fantasists are part of the great continuum of folk tale and fairy story. That’s where the histories and maps of Faery and every other fantasy world are. No reliable pictures? Spend time with Brian Froud, Alan Lee, Charles Vess, and the classic fairy illustrators like Arthur Rakham, Edmond Dulac, Warwick Goble. Each of them has a vision. Each of them has heard the bells of Elfland. They’re in the kit, too.

The more you go to the sources, and to the folklore of other cultures as well, the more you learn. The more you learn, the more you’ll have in that kit that your imagination calls on, no matter the genre. And you’ll be writing what you know.

Maggie Secara is a technical writer by trade, which just proves that you can make a living with a Masters in English. Maggie started writing poetry at the tender age of 8, but began her story-telling adventures sometime in junior high school with a Robin Hood saga she promises never to reveal. She has published a bit of poetry here and there, and her first novel, Molly September, debuted in the spring of 2011. She is also the author of A Compendium of Common Knowledge 1558-1603, a handbook of Elizabethan life for actors, writers, and re-enactors. Based on her website at, it was finally released in book form in 2008. Maggie and her very understanding husband, known fondly to her Facebook fans as JimDear, live with their cats in cozy suburban splendor in North Hollywood, California.

Find Maggie at or join her Facebook fan page, Maggie Secara’s Writing.

Sunday 10 July 2011

A Step Back Into History: A Review of Wave of Terror

My Book Review of Wave of Terror by Theodore Odrach (translated by Erma Odrach):

Wave of Terror by Theodore Odrach (translated by Erma Odrach) is a quiet, vivid book that creeps up on you with a subtle, powerful voice. It is a small glimpse into a harsh past, but still shows the very human spirit that endures.

The novel tells the story of Ivan Kulik, a school master in the Pinsk Marshes, Belarus at the time of the Soviet takeover of that area. It chronicles his experiences and those of his friends and neighbours as the Soviet machine slowly invades and insidiously reorders their lives.

Wave of Terror is a literary novel, not my usual choice in a book, but I liked reading the rich story set against the backdrop of Soviet expansion. The characters are old-world, often quirky or outspoken and are the different voices for the underlying political narrative. The plotline is woven with the changing, brutal politics of the day, but the author and translator never overwhelm the human aspect. The characters lives continue, even when their neighbours disappear or are killed.

The book has an almost surreal aspect to it, which I think lends to the flavour of the reading experience and truly immerses the reader in the time period of the novel. And the ending is perfect, leaving you wondering and yet still having hope for Ivan.

A fabulous book that is a must read.

Also available at

Friday 8 July 2011

Interview with Lena Hillbrand, author of The Superiors

Today, we have a guest on the blog, writer Lena Hillbrand, author of the urban fantasy book, The Superiors.  She graciously consented to the following interview:

1. Why don’t you begin by sharing a little about yourself.

Other than writing, I spend a lot of time reading, hanging out with my family, and doing outdoorsy stuff. I’m always thinking about writing though, rehashing scenes or taking little pieces from my surroundings and experiences that I can use. My books are much more interesting than my life!

2. Can you tell us about your book, The Superiors?

The Superiors is my take on the vampire genre. It’s not the typical vampire story that’s fashionable right now—it’s not a love story, and it’s more literary than most of the current vampire books. The book is my theory on what would happen if vampires really existed. They would take over the world and enslave humans, and they wouldn’t all be filthy rich and look like supermodels!
The book follows the journey of one lower-class Superior (vampire) on his quest to buy a human who captivates his interest. Through his relationship with her, he begins to remember his own humanity just when he’s forced to make a choice that defies humanity. It’s a bit of a grim take on vampires.

3. This is your debut novel. How long have you been writing, and how does it feel to have a published book?

I’ve been writing for most of my life, but I’m fairly new to novel writing. I wrote my first full-length novel less than three years ago and kept churning out the rest of the series after that. Sometimes I’d spend 12 or 16 hours a day writing, but it’s definitely been a labor of love. It’s pretty cool to finally have a book with my name on it.

4. Was it a conscious decision for The Superiors to be the start of a series or did the story simply evolve beyond one book?

I planned on writing four books and did a brief one-paragraph plot synopsis for the books before I wrote them. After the second book, I threw away the plan and kept writing until the series felt finished. I ended up with seven books instead of four.

5. Why did you decide to write in the fantasy genre?

Mostly due to frustration, honestly. I’d only read a couple of the popular vampire series, but they didn’t answer any of the questions I had about vampires. So I did some research to answer my own questions. Then I wrote what I thought would happen. I never thought I’d write fantasy, but it turned out I liked it.

6. What is the hardest part of writing fantasy fiction?

The hardest part for me is the world building. I’m always surprised when people compliment me on it, because I find that part the most difficult and don’t think I’m very good at it.

7. How did you research your books?

I read a lot of vampire folklore. I stopped reading vampire novels when I started writing, because I didn’t want them to influence my ideas. But I did read a lot of traditional vampire lore from different cultures. There’s an amazing diversity of vampire types and myths across the world.

8. What advice would you give beginning writers?

Just keep writing, as much and as often as you can.

9. What’s next for you?

I’m working on editing the other books in The Superiors series. I’m also writing a prequel-type novella and a realistic YA book.

You can find Lena online everywhere, but these are the sites she frequents the most:

Her blog:

The Superiors is available on Amazon, Kindle and Smashwords.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Storytime Wednesday: Poetry Remembered by Joann Brosnan

Welcome again to Storytime Wednesday, where we fire your imagination with the words from writers who share their stories or book excerpts.

Today’s narrative is a real treat, the graceful tale Poetry Remembered by Joann Brosnan, a delightful story of weddings, culture and marriage.

Poetry Remembered

Umniya stared through the delicate tracery of the screen surrounding her family roofgarden. Sleep had been a foreign thing and, in the hours before dawn, she had crept to this rooftop to experience her last breaths of freedom. Tomorrow - - No, later today, she would become the bride of Aaqil.

Umniya had been three years old, Aaqil almost five, when her mother had taken her to visit his. They had played together and listened to their mothers' conversation. Aaqil had been gentle and kind to the younger girl-child. The next time they visited, he was no longer allowed free run of the women's rooms. She wondered if he was still kind. Their mothers had discussed a bit of poetry, now long forgotten, that involved the gift of a love token from a prince to his loved bride. She remembered Aaqil saying that someday he would gift his love with such a thing.

Streaks began appearing in the eastern sky and the mezzuin began his call.  “Allaho Akbar, Allaho Akbar, Ash-hadu al-la Ilaha ill Allah - Ash-hadu al-la Ilaha ill Allah . . .

After the prayers, Umniya stood for a moment, then turned to see her mother coming up the stairs.

“Come, child, you must be made ready. Today you will become a wife.” her mother said.

In the next hours, Umniya was allowed to do nothing for herself. As she was fed and fussed over, bathed, lotioned, perfumed, painted and primped, her mind wandered again and again to her betrothed. She remembered, when she was nine, the day she had been taken to purchase her first niqaab. Her mother's friend, Aaliyah, mother of Aaqil, had accompanied them. She remembered the moment of panic when, veil in place, the mesh eye cover had been lowered, discretely, over the eye holes. Suddenly, there seemed no air to breath, she would surely suffocate. Then as the two women proudly led her from the shop, Umniya had seen boys in the street, playing. One of them was Aaqil and he waved to his mother. As his eyes passed over his mother's companions, it seemed to Umniya that there was something different in his eye as it briefly touched her, then quickly, politely passed over. She had held herself a little taller, as they walked, secure in her mother's protection and her own nearing womanhood.

Her mind slid to the day when a betrothal was decided. Aaqil had requested that they say Salat-l-Istikhara to assure that this decision was right for both. When the prayer had been said, she knew that she would not be forced, she had the right to refuse, but what other choice was there. With head bowed, she silently nodded her assent and was allowed to retire from the room. Peering through the lattice from the next room, she looked at her betrothed's unsmiling face with its heavy eyebrows and dark eyes; the fierce black mustache that covered his upper lip; the full lower lip that made something in her stomach flutter. She would come to know this face very well.

Now, sitting still under the ministrations of her mother, friends and cousins, she felt the flutter begin again. A small knot of terror was born. Everything she knew in life was about to end. They pulled her to her feet; turned her in front of a trio of large mirrors. She, Umniya – the desired – was gone. The woman looking from the mirror was a stranger, a wife. The terror grew. It was time to go.

Her cousin, Jumana, turned from the door, holding a covered silver tray and a note, which she handed to Umniya. The note read:


Were you too young to remember the poem of the prince and his gift to his beloved bride? I bid you accept the gift of your prince to his princess.


Umniya lifted the cover from the tray and there, on a silk cloth, lay a single, perfect white rose. The fear faded, replaced by a gentler quiver. “Aaqil means 'wise'” she murmured. She picked up the rose and tied it to one of the colorful ribbons on her wedding dress then, surrounded by her ladies and holding her head very high, she went to her wedding.

Author Bio:

Joann Brosnan is a Capricorn woman, faithful friend, intrepid adventurer, steaming through her 60s; she finally sprung her writing on the world, and is having great fun with that.
“Next up - figuring how to get paid for same. Ah, well, hope springs. Maybe better luck with photos. It can be a bit distracting, having a soupçon of many talents and no one big one!”

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Tour with Killers and Demons

My book Killers and Demons is going on tour (and taking me with it) into the blogosphere for the next few weeks.  Come and join the party:

July 11th:
I'm swapping blogs to kick things off.
I'll be discussing writing voice over at Maggie Secara -Author and she'll be popping over to my blog to be a guest to talk about writing fantasy.

July 13th:
I have an interview with Marsha Moore at her blog.

I'm headed to Australia and author Angela Smith's site, Dandilyon Fluff, to share Confessions of a Surprising Horror Writer.

July 18th:
I'm chatting about villains at Write My World (this author is currently on her own blog tour that's worth checking out; she'll be stopping by here on July 8th for an interview).

July 21st:
A talk about the changing face of Indie publishing happens at The World According to Dave.

July 25th:
I’m chitchatting about writers and their readers at gathering leaves.  Also you can check out the gathering leaves review of Killers and Demons.

Also I'm participating in the Smashwords Summer Sale, so Killers and Demons will be free for the month of July if anyone wants to read it before, during or after the tour.

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