Writers Reach: Chris Patchell with 'In The Dark'

Writers Reach: Chris Patchell with 'In The Dark'

On Fridays right here, writers talk about their books, their process, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. Today Chris Patchell joins us to celebrate the launch of her novel, IN THE DARKa Kindle Scout winner published by Kindle Press. InTheDark_Cover3b

Marissa Rooney stands in her daughter’s empty dorm room, a half-used vial of insulin clutched in her trembling hand. Brooke has been missing for days. Her roommate hasn’t seen her since that night in the bar. And if Marissa has Brooke’s insulin, it means that Brooke does not.

But Marissa isn’t alone in her terror. A phantom from her past is lurking in the shadows, waiting in the night, and holding her family captive…

In the dark.

  1. What were the most challenging aspects of writing this book, and what came easily?

The thought of your child going missing is absolutely terrifying, and as a parent, it’s hard to go to those places. I spent a lot of time (and drafts) digging deeply into the emotions of the main characters for IN THE DARK and trying to bring them across on the page. I knew I'd finally nailed it the day I read one of the final scenes to my critique group and saw them passing around the box of tissues. Writing fast-paced scenes came easily to me. In fact, my editor is always telling me to slow down. But I can’t; I love writing fast, complex plots that keep my readers turning pages late into the night.

  1. Tell us about your main characters and what drives them.

Marissa Rooney is a single mother who is struggling to hold everything together. With one daughter in college (Brooke) and the other in high school (Kelly), she's struggling financially to keep the family afloat. When Brooke goes missing she risks everything to find her girls, because they're the most important thing--the only thing that matters in her life. Seattle Detective, Seth Crawford, is married to his job. After his wife's tragic death, he buried himself in work as a way to deaden the pain of his loss. Marissa’s dilemma speaks to him on a deep level, and he vows to find Brooke and bring her home, no matter what. True to his word, Seth risks everything to pursue the case—find Brooke, and bring her home.

  1. Can you describe your journey to publication: the torment and elation, the times none of it made any sense, the moments when it all came together?

As a shy kid, I loved to write. Escaping into the worlds of the characters I created in my mind was my very favorite thing to do. But then, like most people, real life took hold—college, career, and family. Eventually I missed having something creative to work on—something that was mine, so seven years ago I started writing again. When my first book DEADLY LIES was rejected by agents, I chalked it up as a learning experience and let the book sit idle on my hard drive. Rejection was hard, but I wasn’t surprised by their reaction. I knew the story was written from a risky point of view—a female antihero who follows a dark path to revenge. During those years, as the first book gathered dust, I worked on other stories. Time marched on, and the publishing world changed. After many late-night conversations and an ocean of dirty martinis later, my husband and a friend finally convinced me to publish the first book. It was a good story, they said. It deserved to be read, they said. So I got to work. Even now with so many tools in place to help, there are a lot of steps involved in publishing a book. It took me six months to pull all of the pieces together and launch it out into the world. I released DEADLY LIES in December 2013, and quite frankly the thought of having other people read it terrified me. Would they love it? Would they hate it? I didn’t know what to expect. Writing was always something I’d done on the side and now I was putting my work out there. It was scary. Months later, much to my amazement and delight, I started getting great reviews. People liked it! I still remember my first five star review from someone I didn’t know, and how gratifying it was to hear how someone else connected with the story. I also remember my first two-star review. After selling a couple of hundred books, I knew I needed help, so last summer at the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference, lightning struck when I met a gal who specialized in book marketing (Rebecca Berus from 2MarketBooks, which is part of the Andrea Hurst Agency). We met the week after the conference and put together a marketing plan for DEADLY LIES, and immediately things started to happen (more reviews, more sales, etc.). Meanwhile, I was hard at work finishing the next book, IN THE DARK. Rebecca asked me what I was planning to do with IN THE DARK. "Aw, I dunno," I mumbled. I'd met some agents at the PNWA conference. DEADLY LIES was starting to do well. I was torn about whether I should try running the gauntlet of trying to get an agent and a traditional publishing deal or sticking with the Indie publishing path, when she suggested another option. What about Kindle Scout? I checked out the program, weighed the pros and cons of each of path, and decided to give Scout a whirl. Partway through the campaign, I signed with Literary Agent, Andrea Hurst. DEADLY LIES won an Indie book award. The Scout campaign ended, and I was offered a publishing deal. It was like all of my publishing dreams came true in the span of a few weeks! I felt like an overnight success, seven years in the making. IN THE DARK is set to release on August 4th and I'm excited for whatever comes next!

  1. You get to the end of your life, and there to escort you through the tunnel to the light beyond and show you around is a philosopher / author / artist / scientist / celebrity you've always revered. Who is it, and why him/her?

I'll be honest, I don't spend much time contemplating the "beyond". There are a few modern-day celebrities though I find very inspiring. I've always been a football fan. As far back as I can remember I watched football with my family. So, shortly after moving to Seattle in 2000, I started to follow the Seahawks and now, I don't miss a game. As a writer, I'm inspired by Russell Wilson's work ethic. An undersized underdog, a lot of people thought he could never make it as a quarterback in the NFL, but he didn't let that stop him. I don't have an MFA, I'm just a gal in tech who likes to write stories, but like Russell Wilson, I believe in hard work and getting better every day. I'm also a big fan of Richard Sherman's. He’s the kind of guy you either love or hate, but I see him as another hard working player who is looking beyond football to build the framework for his future career, whatever that may be. As a writer, you need to take a long view on your career and build the skills you’ll need now in order to prepare yourself for the kind of career you want in the future.

  1. Tell us about your other books, past or in the pipeline.

I'm busily writing a sequel to IN THE DARK. In this book the team at the Holt Foundation (Marissa, Seth, and others) are investigating the disappearance of a pregnant young woman from a mall parking lot. The plot takes a fun Michael Crichton-like twist into the controversial world of stem-cell research. I've also been tinkering with a Whidbey Island Mystery about a womanizing narcissist who is forced to face his past, heal his fractured relationship with his mother, and solve the mystery behind his brother's death to clear his name and get back to his real life in New York. Writing this character is a blast. He's smart, funny, and flawed. Writing humor is a welcome break from the dark, gritty suspense I usually write. It’s like eating candy.

***

AmazonScoutBio

A tech worker by day and an author by night, Chris Patchell writes gritty suspense novels set in the Pacific Northwest that are guaranteed to keep you up reading late, turning pages well past dark. Her debut novel, DEADLY LIES, won a 2015 Indie Reader Discovery Award for best fiction. Her latest novel, IN THE DARK is set to release on August 4, 2015.

Buy DEADLY LIES and IN THE DARK, and find out more about Chris at:

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We'd love to hear from you, so feel free to connect with Chris right here.

Writers Reach: Monte Dutton with 'Crazy of Natural Causes'

Writers Reach: Monte Dutton with 'Crazy of Natural Causes'

monte-copy.jpg

On Fridays right here, writers talk about their books, their process, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. Today Monte Dutton joins us to celebrate the launch of his novel, CRAZY OF NATURAL CAUSESa Kindle Scout winner published by Kindle Press. Monte

Chance Benford is a good man, not a holy one. He's just a football coach, and an unscrupulous one at that. After a horrific car crash, he gets over being crazy of natural causes, but the world around him is just as crazy as ever.

Set mainly in the Kentucky Coal Country, CRAZY OF NATURAL CAUSES is a novel about religion without being particularly religious. Irreverent like Benford himself, it's a fable of redemption and life’s absurdity.

  • What were the most challenging aspects of writing this book, and what came easily?

Chance Benford is more distant, compared to the characters in my first two novels. I could relate to Riley Mansfield (THE AUDACITY OF DOPE) and Frankie Hoskins (THE INTANGIBLES). I created Benford, more or less, from thin air. I've never coached football, or been in a serious crash, or been married, or had to rebuild my life. I had to get to know him, think through him, imagine how he would have reacted to radical twists and turns in his life. I think I needed to do this in order to mature as a novelist. I set the novel in Kentucky, where I've never lived but had spent enough time to understand. Once I familiarized myself with the terrain, it flowed naturally. Few people are saints. Few are sinners. Most fall in between.

  • Tell us about your main characters and what drives them.

Chance Benford is a good, but flawed man. He is also, literally and figuratively, a survivor. Over the course of the story, he learns to roll with all the punches and make the best of what befalls him. A lot befalls him. He finds virtues and vices he didn't know he had.

Wally Ruff was his best player, a mischievous, rowdy quarterback good enough to earn a college scholarship. Wally does more for Chance than Chance can do for himself. Chance's gratitude teaches him to accept Wally as he is.

Zeke Runnels, another player on the Elmore High team, becomes Chance's man Friday and realizes his own dreams with Chance's assistance.

Elise Zirimis Benford leaves Chance before the story begins, and Chance has to come to grips with the reason why. Chance hires Keely Packson to work for him when he stumbles into a new career. She becomes first his friend, then his lover.

Lindy Rose is the ambitious television personality who makes Chance something of a star and then betrays him.

Whit Cumberland is the patriarch of an evangelical empire who attempts to hire Chance. Son Buckley is the cocaine-addled heir to the empire who becomes jealous of Bedford and tries to destroy him.

Darla Lorick spins out of control when her lover, Wally Ruff, leaves town for college. Her jealousy turns murderous.

  • Can you describe your journey to publication: the torment and elation, the times none of it made any sense, the moments when it all came together?

My first two novels were published by Neverland Publishing LLC, a small Miami, Fla., operation that believed in me, and I'm grateful and always will be, but the time to move on came, and it was quite a struggle. I got lots of polite, complimentary rejections from publishers and agents. Casting my lot with the Kindle Scout program was really just something I stumbled upon. I never lacked confidence in myself, but my only reliable expertise is writing a book. I’m a reluctant promoter. When I submitted the manuscript, I expected it to be selected. That's where my confidence came in handy. It's an honor to be chosen, but I would have been devastated if CRAZY hadn't been. Now I look forward to awaken one morning as an overnight sensation after enduring years of struggle. I look forward to becoming a different sort of Chance Benford.

  • You get to the end of your life, and there to escort you through the tunnel to the light beyond and show you around is a philosopher / author / artist / scientist / celebrity you've always revered. Who is it, and why him/her?

Jimmy Carter. I took his trials as president personally. He taught me the folly of aspiring to a career in politics because I recognized that the system would chew me up and spit me out the same way it did him. I consider his failure glorious. When Carter left office, I believe he vowed to do what he wanted and never again let politics get in his way. He wasn't a great president, but he may be our greatest ex-president. Yes, he'd be the man I'd want to show me the ropes.

  • Tell us about your other books, past or in the pipeline.

I spent twenty years writing about NASCAR for a living, but my ambition was always to progress into fiction. I wrote a book about high school football nearly thirty years ago. I wrote a number of books about auto racing. I wrote a book about music, TRUE TO THE ROOTS: AMERICANA MUSIC REVEALED, that led me to Riley Mansfield, the unlikely hero of THE AUDACITY OF DOPE, which is the story of a pot-smoking songwriter who reluctantly becomes a national hero. THE INTANGIBLES is centered in a small Southern town, one a lot like the one I still live in, during the turbulent sixties. Most of it occurs in 1968. I'm younger than the characters, but much of it is based on the memories of my childhood and later. I'm unlikely to write another book as important to me on a personal level. I came to grips with lots of old demons in that one.

***

"Dutton spins a great yarn. This one will sweep you along from beginning to end."

John Edwin Mason, Ph.D., Department of History, University of Virginia

***

IMG_0645 - CopyMonte Dutton is a native and resident of Clinton, South Carolina, who graduated in 1980 from Furman University and proceeded to be accepted (twice!) to law school and opt not to go. He taught himself to play guitar in his forties and enjoys writing songs. He tweets in haiku sometimes because normal tweets are too easy. He writes short stories and illustrates them at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com and addresses non-fiction subjects in his montedutton.com blog. He still writes weekly NASCAR columns at Bleacher Report.

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Writers Reach: Linda Sands with 'Three Women Walk Into A Bar'

Writers Reach: Linda Sands with 'Three Women Walk Into A Bar'

On Fridays right here, writers talk about their books, their process, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. Today Linda Sands joins us to celebrate the launch of her novel, 3 WOMEN WALK INTO A BARa Kindle Scout winner published by Kindle Press. 3Women

It might sound like a joke, but there's nothing funny about three beautiful women murdered in an Irish pub in Syracuse. The cops think it's an open and shut case, pointing the finger at the dead guy with the gun, bar owner James John Smith. But when a mother of one of the victims hires her lover, Bill "Free Willy" Tedesco, an ex-stripper and karaoke star turned PI to investigate, the secrets of the dead surface, and the question of who pulled the trigger becomes more important than why.

  1. What were the most challenging aspects of writing this book, and what came easily?

The most challenging thing for me writing-wise is to stay on task. I gave myself a break with 3 WOMEN WALK INTO A BAR by approaching the book as a series of short stories, allowing my brain to stay in "lost" mode more frequently. I could also move the pieces of the book around and play with chapter headings. I really liked that part. All of these independent character identity searches gave me the freedom to eavesdrop and speak to strangers/steal their stories. What could be more fun than that?

  1. Tell us about your main characters and what drives them.

I have a problem with this question. If I tell a reader what I think they should be "getting" from a character, I feel as though I'm boxing in their experience, asserting right or wrong to an opinion. Reading should be personal. The interpretation of characters should be based on one's life experiences, one's personal connections. These opinions or feelings will morph over time for each reader. I hope that readers find at least one character to identify with and one to disagree with.

  1. Can you describe your journey to publication: the torment and elation, the times none of it made any sense, the moments when it all came together?

Oh man. It's been a long, hard road, and I'm not there yet. I started this journey writing picture books. The bottom dropped out of that industry and the doors were shut to anyone but celebrities for a great many years. Yet I'm still in love with the idea of melding multimedia and words. If I was born twenty years later, I might have been a graphic novelist or an innovative screenwriter and producer. But as life would have it, I fell into writing essays and short stories. I told myself I needed to publish ten pieces before I was ready to try anything longer, like a novel. By the time I was living in house number nine, I had the beginnings of a book that became SIMPLE INTENT (sold to an international publisher who admired my short stories).

In the initial query period of SIMPLE INTENT—when you're sad and worried and over thinking everything—I started writing another book, to keep me busy. This one earned me an agent, when I went to a thriller conference and pitched Southern Gothic historical fiction. (What was I thinking?) When it didn't find a home amongst NYC big publishing houses, but was very, very, very, well received, I was encouraged, to the point of rewriting it...a few times. Eventually, I took the book back and self published it as NOT WAVING, DROWNING.

There is still industry interest in the book, and my agent, who still believes in it, has asked to pitch it again. In the middle of the novel writing, I kept up with short stories and essays, even founded a literary magazine that helped new writers earn publishing credits and win contests. A few years later, in house number eleven while writing 3 WOMEN WALK INTO A BAR, I started a writing retreat to bring opportunity to eager writers.

3 WOMEN WALK INTO A BAR made the rounds in NYC without any takers during the huge publishing industry merger/s. By the time the dust settled, leaving us scratching our heads as to who had landed where, I saw an ad for Kindle Scout and approached my agent for advice. He said, "It couldn't hurt."

I'll tell you, it was hard to not take that nomination period personally. Every time I saw 3WWIAB fall off the Hot and Trending list, I felt like that teenaged girl getting dumped by the football captain. Good thing was, I had one and half books under my belt and ideas for three more. Take that, football captain.

I am so excited for 3WWIAB and the ride we are about to take. The Kindle Press folks have been fantastic to work with. I have never received edits and feedback as wonderful. The biggest pluses? Meeting a bevy of awesome writers and readers has been amazing!

  1. You get to the end of your life, and there to escort you through the tunnel to the light beyond and show you around is a philosopher / author / artist / scientist / celebrity you've always revered. Who is it, and why him/her?

There's not a human, dead or alive that I revere, so I'd have to say, I'd like to be met by my spiritual guides. I've been told by psychic healers that I have four guides; two are masters. This is apparently very unusual. As a Christian girl who loves science and believes at the core we are all masses of energy with predetermined destinies, I'd love to understand those glorious, magical life moments and the freaky "whew" ones. Whoever meets me at the tunnel...be ready for a bunch of questions.

  1. Tell us about your other books, past or in the pipeline.

Some I've mentioned above. We are shopping book one in the Cargo series in NYC right now called GRAND THEFT CARGO, which introduces tenacious trucker Jojo Boudreaux, who has the mouth and muscles of a sailor and the heart of a truck driver.

GRAND THEFT CARGO deals with pharmaceutical cargo theft, while book two, PRECIOUS CARGO deals with statewide sex trafficking. Writing about issues like this and featuring an unusually strong female character, we're having trouble finding an editor ready to break out of traditional constraints. Hopefully the new campaigns like #readdifferent will open some paths for the books, as there are three more outlined.

I can't speak specifically to the ideas in the works-in-progress, as that would be like a pregnant woman telling someone the name she's chosen for her unborn child, only to see them wince and say, "Really?"

I'll put the finishing touches on PRECIOUS CARGO, then start an unnamed New Adult book that will read like a rom-com, with dogs!

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JULY 1- AUGUST 1 Promotion

Read and review Linda's book, 3 WOMEN WALK INTO A BAR and be eligible to win a bag of bar/book themed swag.

Check out her post on her blog for more details.

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lindaselfiehatbwLinda Sands is the author of the Southern Gothic novel and Kirkus Star recipient NOT WAVING, DROWNING, the internationally published legal thriller SIMPLE INTENT, and a multitude of award-winning short stories and essays published in magazines, newspapers, and anthologies around the globe. Her newest book, a noir-ish mystery, 3 WOMEN WALK INTO A BAR was selected for publication by readers in the Kindle Scout program and picked up for print by Down & Out Books.

Linda is represented by the HSG Agency and lives in the suburbs of Atlanta with her husband, two kids, fast cars, and furry things. 

Buy 3 WOMEN WALK INTO A BAR, SIMPLE INTENTNOT WAVING, DROWNING, and look for Linda on:

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 We'd love to hear from you, so feel free to connect with Linda right here.

 

CULLINGS: A SHORT HORROR STORY

On a foggy San Francisco morning, Ethan James pulled on a pair of jeans, shaved, and tossed a clementine into his mouth. Whistling, he bounded down the steps of his freshly renovated Victorian in Dolores Park, remotely opened the garage and eased into the leather seat of his new Tesla Roadster. He purred out of his driveway, smug in the knowledge that he’d beat the traffic and get to Palo Alto in plenty of time for a 7.00 a.m. meeting with investors. Night had begun to dissipate in a haze of pre-dawn colors, but the streets were still dark. Just before he accelerated onto the 101, a figure lurched off the curb into the road. Cursing, Ethan braked and swerved. A hulking shadow limped over and gestured for him to open his window.

Ethan stabbed the window switch. “Jesus,” he said, “what the fuck. I could have killed you.” Never mind that, he’d have done the world a favor, but the creep could have totaled the car.

A gaunt face and thin hands gleamed, pale and cracked as old paint, under thick layers of clothing that accounted for the man’s bulk: the folds of a green hoodie rolling over the collar of a red sweater, a torn gray parka, and not one but two tweedy coats, the kind you might pick up at Goodwill for…however much you picked things up at Goodwill for.

“Spare some change?” the man said, voice thin as metal, breath tinged with the aftertaste of nights warmed by alcohol and cardboard.

Ethan stared at him. If he had a weapon, he’d go all American Psycho on the oxygen thief. He’d stick an ice pick in one of those rheumy eyes or ram it up a nostril, maybe grind it slowly into an ear, like some deep cleaning Q-tip. It would be an environmentally friendly thing to do.

Ethan drummed itchy fingers on the steering wheel. “Seriously? This is about change?”

“Hungry, man.”

Ethan considered his response. He thought about all the things he was tired of. Bums. Welfare leeches. Hipsters. Road hogs. PETA. Mostly, he was tired of hiding his ugly heart, of not being able to share how he hated, really hated all the things people got precious and militant about. He was exhausted from the labyrinthine peeceeness he had to navigate, pretending to champion the downtrodden, the dispossessed, the disturbed and disrupted, the diseased, disenfranchised, every goddamned dis of which there was no shortage, that plagued the planet.

He waved his hand in front of his nose. “Dude, you smell like a slaughterhouse.”

The man lowered his eyes and bobbed his head in agreement.

Ethan shook his head and leaned forward to close the window. “I gotta tell you, in case you didn’t know…you’re everything that’s wrong with this city.” As the glass slid silently upwards, he added, amiably enough, “Get a job, get a life, get a shower. Get out of my way.”

The man shuffled back towards the sidewalk, and Ethan left him standing in the Tesla’s noticeably absent exhaust fumes.

The car drove like an orgasm, and Ethan opened her up on an oddly deserted highway. It took him all of twenty seconds to forget about the homeless and their nuisance factor. He turned his thoughts to the meeting, thumping his palms on the steering wheel and bobbing his head to his fastidiously assembled playlist.

Ten miles into his commute, someone stepped in front of the car. Ethan slammed on brakes, and time slowed, his playlist sounding warped as old vinyl. Whipped into the dizzying whirl of a maniacal waltz, the Tesla flew across the empty road, hit an embankment and somersaulted into a deep gully, where it lay on its roof, wheels spinning like it wanted to pretend nothing had happened.

Ethan thought he’d broken his neck. Squeezed into an odd shape by twisted metal, he cried out when he tried to move his shoulder. For seconds he sat there panting, incredulous. Choking on unexpected tears, he leaned over with his good hand to unlatch his seatbelt and fumble for his phone, gasping as his shoulder reacted to the movement. He managed to open the door and with a series of whimpers and shrieks, claw his way onto the grass. He staggered up, the momentum sending blinding slivers of agony from his shoulder into a useless arm. Then he vomited the clementine onto a stretch of gravel by the side of the road. Straightening, he coughed, wiped his mouth, and peered at his phone.

No reception. He couldn’t even make an emergency call. Trembling, he checked again. Perhaps he’d hit his head, or should he be looking for a tunnel with a light? Ethan squinted ahead and thought he saw a dark figure move into the trees behind the embankment. Limping forward, he called out, “Hello, hu…llo…oh! Little help here? Did you just…are you the guy who…?”

He got no response.

Nothing looked familiar. The wide lanes of the US-101 had narrowed into a road of packed clay through a stretch of woods. Angry now, Ethan set off down the path after the shadow.

When the sole of his boot sloughed off like burnt skin, he decided to sue everyone who’d pissed him off in the last 12 hours. His boots were supposed to live longer than he was. He wasn’t supposed to miss a critical meeting in favor of crawling around in the dirt, wondering whether he was alive or dead, and he hadn’t planned on taking a scenic walk in a place that wasn’t on a map. The 101 shouldn’t have been deserted at that hour of the morning and his goddamned phone was not supposed to die.

Holding his arm and locking his jaw against the pain, Ethan moved deeper into the woods. Morning mist became an insistent drizzle that turned into pelting sheets of water, muddying the path. He could scarcely see. The top of his boot flapped away from the inner sole, and cursing, he limped over to an old oak. Leaning his back against the trunk, he stooped to yank the lace out of soggy eyelets and used it instead to wrap the leather upper around his foot. He struggled with the use of only one arm, and by the time he managed to tie a knot with his teeth, he’d begun to sob. He rested for a while--the tree felt warm against his back, and a thick canopy of foliage fractured the rainfall.

After a few minutes, Ethan stumbled on in his makeshift footwear, wide-eyed and leery, through dirt pools and piles of drifting compost, without any sense of direction. He clutched his injured arm to try and prevent it from moving.

He tried not to think about food. Bacon, crisped and crackling, piled high beside two over easy eggs, maybe some buttery button mushrooms, hash browns and baked beans, even a slice of tomato grilled in a blanket of ground pepper and coarse garlic salt. The images caught him off guard. Amy liked her breakfast that way, with a side of pancakes under a sliding glob of butter. Or she gorged on toast, slathered in marmalade that left an aftertaste of sweet limes on her tongue. Her appetites disgusted Ethan. She had no manners, either at the table or in bed. One of those scenarios he could do without; the other he couldn’t get enough of.

He tried not to think about Amy. Amy with her small, peppermint scented feet and high arches in calfskin boots, hair all wild caramel streaks and strawberry blonde, mouth plush as a marshmallow.

The rain stopped, and Ethan heard a strange sound that he struggled to identify. Puzzled, cold and wet, he drew in a deep breath as the dizzying smell of gourmet food assailed him. It couldn’t be, but it was--the scent and sizzle of a fat fillet mignon on a fire. He thought he might faint. His head reeled with the swirling image of crusty, gold roast potatoes and baby asparagus, slim and long as reeds, crunchy and rolling in shredded parmesan or toasted pine nuts. A mewling sound escaped his unhappy lips.

Like a hunting hound, Ethan raised his head and sniffed, then followed his nose over a slight hill that overlooked a stream. Moving against the water, now and again he tested the air for traces of the scent that was leading him.

He almost fell into the river when he looked down and spotted thick red veins staining the water, spreading quickly. That’s when the stench hit him, the stink of blood, and flesh, and fear that had rotted and would never dissipate. The reek intensified as the trees thinned and the road broadened.

Lurching away from the blood river, Ethan found himself in a meadow carpeted by wildflowers. At the far end he saw a street lined on both sides with quaint, multi-colored buildings.

On the outskirts of the pretty town, a discrete sign read,

Welcome to

CULLINGS

Ethan had never heard of such a place. Shivering and almost delirious, he staggered toward the first store in the row. A bell tinkled as the glass door swung inwards.

An old man stood behind the counter, gray hair drawn into a ponytail at the base of his skull, skin stretched taut over brittle bones. Rows of foot-long meat hung off hooks behind him in various stages of drying. He looked up and chuckled. “I see you made it.”

Ethan stopped staring at the hanging strips and leaned on the counter. “Look, I need help. Can I use your landline? My car crashed and I think my arm’s broken.”

“That arm ain’t broke,” the man said. “It’s the shoulder. Dislocated. I can tell; joint hurts worse than gout, don’t it?” He smiled.

Ethan glared at him. “How do you know?”

“Doesn’t take a genius. You need someone to pop that arm.” He moved from behind the counter and came towards Ethan, who backed into a fridge.

The man walked past him and locked the door.

“What are you doing?” Ethan said. “You can’t do that. I need to get to a doctor.”

“You hungry?”

“Why have you locked the door? What is this place?”

“I’m closing for lunch. Come on back and I’ll heat you up some soup."

“I don’t want any soup. I need to get to a hospital. What is that smell? Is there a slaughterhouse nearby?”

“You one of them college professors?”

“No.” Ethan made for the door. “Open it. I want to leave. You’ve no right to lock me in. I will visit a shitstorm on this place that’ll put the whole town out of business.”

“You one of them Facenook tweeter dandies?”

Ethan hurled himself at the door, heedless of the screeching pain in his shoulder. Again and again he threw his weight behind a desperate attempt to break the glass and escape.

The man watched him impassively.

Ethan looked for something he could use to smash his way out. He swept the chocolates off a wire stand and tried that, then a chair he found behind the counter, then a bottle of pineapple juice. He was clumsy, using only one arm, and all his missiles bounced off the glass. The juice bottle shattered but made no impression on the shop front.

“You gonna write me a check for the damage?”

“You stupid sonofabitch. I swear, I’ll…”

The man hushed him. “Now now, calm down, get a hold of yourself. The phone’s in here.” He opened a wooden door at the back of the store and gestured for Ethan to precede him into a dark hallway.

Ethan’s vision warped worse than his playlist. He shook his head violently to clear it, but it didn’t help. The last thing he remembered was the old man looming above him, peering down out of a face cracked and pale as old paint.

Writers Reach: Vincent Robert Annunziato with '33 DEGREES'

Writers Reach: Vincent Robert Annunziato with '33 DEGREES'

On Fridays right here, writers talk about their books, their process, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. Today Vincent Robert Annunziato joins us to celebrate the launch of his novel, 33 DEGREES, a Kindle Scout winner published by Kindle Press. 33Degrees

It is said that in the depths of the Underground lies a weapon so powerful it will save the Northern herd from the cruelty slavery has put them under. It is said that anyone who holds the Pulse, holds the power to freedom. It is said… well after so many years, no one really believes it anymore.

18-year-old Javin has grown accustomed to death. His world is surrounded by the ravages of slavery. Burdened by a new ice age, little food and very little fuel for heat, only the strong survive under the threat of nature and the cruelty of the South. There is one hope: a train ride that can’t be missed, because missing it can be deadly. Every day the herd lines up waiting for it to come so that they can feed their families and heat their homes one more day. And somewhere in the Underground lies the weapon that ended all wars. If it is found, the South has promised freedom.

Desperation is the norm and most Northerners would rather die than live. Many say that even the sun has turned its back on them, because it lies somewhere behind the Southern wall. No Northerner will ever see the sun, because no beast is allowed behind the wall the South has built. Javin doesn’t care about the Pulse or the wall. No, his only care is vengeance. He waits for an opportunity to kill so that he can have his life ended and be freed of the torture of this life. That’s the plan until he discovers a new found love and unexpected hope.

As the rage inside his soul cools, Javin finds himself a leader amongst his tribe. He alone must rise from the depths of despair to lead his people and help them find a way back to their rightful place amongst men. A daunting task for anyone living in a world where it is too warm to die, and too cold to live.

33 DEGREES will chill you to the bone in this suspenseful new novel by Vincent Robert Annunziato.

  1. What were the most challenging aspects of writing this book, and what came easily?

I am a stickler for character development and I struggled with the motivation of one of the main characters. Although I could physically have him do what I wanted, I couldn’t find the resolution inside and get the ending solidified. I decided to move through the story and deal with it after I completed the second run through the draft. Fortunately, I found the motivation in one of my secondary characters to drive the decision. It took me almost three months to figure it out.

The initial idea of using a train as a backdrop came from my real life experience in commuting. It inspired me to take the actions of the people who ride commuter trains and embellish them. It’s not a put down, since I did it myself, but people tend to get habitual. As we get older, habits help us to segregate the less important from the important. We use habits so that we don’t have to focus on everyday occurrences. In 33 DEGREES, I really embellished that and used it to show how people became accustomed to violent activity.

  1. Tell us about your main characters and what drives them.

Javin – Dropped into the underground by his parents at a young age, he’s never known why. The people who were supposed to take care of him gave up on life and ended it by taking part in what is called a Culling. When we first meet Javin, he is a slave to the Southerners and all he wants to do is kill a guard as revenge for what life has dealt him. He changes due to two characters and I think readers will really love how he is turned by Tiny and a new love interest, named Miesha.

Miesha – Miesha is a dynamite character. Strong, but sensitive. She desires a relationship, but won’t let anyone get close enough to have one. She is shrouded in mystery and readers will not see her face for at least a third of the book.

Tiny – One of my favorites. He is strong, funny and has special insights that no other person has. He is very young and has recently lost his father, but not his spirit.

Francis – A spiritual leader who is treated much like a monk. He seems crazy, but may be the most rational of all the Undergrounds. I don’t know if people will identify with him, like the other characters, but he holds the heart of humanity in him. He is prophetic and helps Javin find his true self.

  1. Can you describe your journey to publication: the torment and elation, the times none of it made any sense, the moments when it all came together?

Oh my goodness. Roller coaster! The hardest part after getting accepted into the contest was waiting 30 days and doing everything I could not to fall off the “Hot and Trending” list. I lived and died on category. Ironically, I was on the list all thirty days and fell off only certain hours. Of course when you fall off it feels like your life is over. Now that I'm through that I'm laughing about it, but man, that was tough.

  1. You get to the end of your life, and there to escort you through the tunnel to the light beyond and show you around is a philosopher / author / artist / scientist / celebrity you've always revered. Who is it, and why him/her?

Jennifer! I hate these questions! If there is a heaven, I would just like to be there and not really care who greets me. But since you asked me, I will answer. Sigh….I would love to talk with Mary Shelley if I could for just a day. How a fifteen year old was able to master the English language at such a young age is incredible. The story of Frankenstein that she produced in what I believe was three days based on a contest was and is simply incredible. Sheer genius at such an early age. It takes my breath away just thinking about it.

  1. Tell us about your other books, past or in the pipeline.

My first book, STATUS THE GAME, was self-published last year and has done incredibly well. The reviews have been outstanding. I love the whole concept of people getting so engaged in an internet game that they play it in real life as well as on the internet. The book as a whole is a statement on achieving what the game calls Status. We see internet sensations rise up from the dust of obscurity and fall to the same in rapid succession. It is a great crossover book that both adults and their teens will enjoy.

I am working on the sequel right now, called STATUS RISES. It's the first time that I've had all the back story of the characters, and I'm really enjoying finding out what happens to them. Both books carry a lot of mystery and I hope readers will enjoy the next and final installment.

I am also starting 34 DEGREES (working title:).

 

 

Annunziato_AuthorVincent Robert Annunziato started his writing journey over 25 years ago when he pursued a screenwriting career in Hollywood. After several failed attempts, Vincent left the entertainment field and took a job with the government in order to provide for his family. 

 "It was a difficult choice to walk away from the entertainment field with such a strong leaning toward writing. When I married my wife Nancy, I needed a solid job to support us, so I did the responsible thing and put my dreams on hold. 26 years later...."

 ...And with three kids, Vincent returned to writing. 

 

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Writers Reach: Roberta Kagan with 'THE PROMISED LAND'

On Fridays right here, writers talk about their books, their process, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. Today Roberta Kagan joins us to celebrate the launch of her novel, THE PROMISED LAND, a Kindle Scout winner published by Kindle Press.  

RobertaPromisedLand

The Holocaust robbed Zofia Weiss of all she holds dear. The Secret State Police have confiscated her home, killed her friends, and imprisoned the man she loves. After searching through displaced persons' camps and finding nothing, Zofia is sure that her lover is dead. With only her life, a dream, and a terrifying secret, Zofia illegally boards The Exodus, bound for Palestine.

Along with a group of emaciated Jewish survivors, Zofia sets out to find the Promised Land. Despite the renewed sense of hope, Zofia lives in constant fear since the one person who knows her dark secret is a sadistic SS officer with the power to ruin her life and the life of an innocent, Lebensborn child.

When the Nuremburg trials convict the SS Officer of crimes against humanity, Zofia believes she is finally safe and does her best to raise the beautiful girl entrusted to her care. As the child becomes a woman in her own right, can she find true love and belonging in a post-war society, or will the secrets of her heritage tear apart the only family she’s ever known?

  1. What were the most challenging aspects of writing this book, and what came easily?

I would have to say that the most challenging aspects of writing my books would be the research, especially the meetings with Holocaust survivors. Because I write in the genre of Holocaust Fiction, it is essential that I listen to the stories of many survivors in order to authenticate the stories I create. Each story is a miracle, because it is told to me by someone who has survived against impossible odds. These miracles are a flicker of light in the darkest time known to mankind. Every time I leave a survivor and go home to my family I look into the eyes of those I love, and I know that it is only the era and the country where I was born that separates us from the same fate as the poor souls who suffered under the Third Reich.

As for the parts that came easily, I felt that once I began to write, the stories told themselves. I feel I am only there as a narrator, for my characters. I cry along with them as they experience the love, joy, pain, suffering, and loss.

  1. Tell us about your main characters and what drives them.

My main characters are driven by three very important factors: the desire to survive against a regime that threatens the very existence of their race, the need to protect those they love regardless of the cost to themselves, and a dream of a Jewish homeland that keeps them alive through unfathomable circumstances of starvation, loss, and pain. It is a dream of a Promised Land, where Jews can live without the threat of another Hitler.

  1. Can you describe your journey to publication: the torment and elation, the times none of it made any sense, the moments when it all came together?

Oh my gosh…well. It’s been an uphill climb. But I have to say that the wonderful encouraging letters, emails, facebook messages, and reviews from my readers have kept me going. I have been so blessed to have a large group of the most awesome people who have written to tell me how my books have helped them, taught them, and encouraged them. I’ve received letters from readers who feel that through my work they have found a new respect for their heritage. My readers are both Jews and non-Jews. They are survivors, children of survivors, and people who before my books never even knew about the Holocaust. In fact, I have even received emails--some apologetic, others angry and in denial--from the children and grandchildren of SS officers. I’ve gotten emails telling me that I should not be writing because I am not proficient in grammar and all of my editors have not helped. But overall, good, and bad, these letters are what keep me up writing and researching long into the night. They are a constant reminder of why I must continue to do this work. Soon the time will come when all of the survivors will be gone. But before they go, someone must tell their stories, the memory must live on. Only through education can we assure that this does not happen again.

  1. You get to the end of your life, and there to escort you through the tunnel to the light beyond and show you around is a philosopher / author / artist / scientist / celebrity you've always revered. Who is it, and why him/her?

When I reach the end of my time on this planet, I hope I will have fulfilled my purpose for being here. And then if I have done this correctly, and I hope I will have, all of the victims of the Holocaust will be waiting for me with open arms. They will say, “You have done well, you’ve told our stories as we would have told them with love and compassion. You have encouraged love and understanding amongst all people. Your work is done. Welcome home.”

  1. Tell us about your other books, past or in the pipeline.

THE PROMISED LAND is the third book in the ALL MY LOVE, DETRICK series. The series begins in 1923 in Berlin, ten years before Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany, and includes five books that go all the way through 1986. The series tells the story of how the Nazis came to power, how the state of Israel was born, and what it means to be and live as an Israeli. The order of the series is as follows.

ALL MY LOVE, DETRICK

YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE

THE PROMISED LAND

TO BE AN ISRAELI

FOREVER, MY HOMELAND

Thank you so much, Jennifer, for giving me this wonderful opportunity to speak on your blog. I wish you and all of your readers good health, prosperity and many blessings, Roberta.

Roberta KaganWhen I was a child, my mother kept a black suitcase in our basement. She forbade me to look inside. Of course, as we all know the way to spark a child's curiosity is to tell them they are forbidden to do or see a particular thing. One afternoon when my mother was out, I raced downstairs. Nobody was around, so I opened the suitcase. Inside I found pictures and letters in a foreign language. Later that night I asked my mother what all of it meant. She told me that she was trying to protect me by keeping the suitcase out of my reach, but since I'd found it I might as well know that she and my father both lost their entire extended families in the Holocaust. So began my obsession with the Nazi occupation of Eastern Europe. Being that my father was Romany and my mother was Jewish, I had many aspects to research and much to learn. Finally, many years later...I wrote my first novel. It is set in this period. It comes to you, along with all of my work, from my heart, with love and hopes that someday there will be understanding and tolerance among all peoples. I thank you so much for your interest in my writing.

Love, Blessings, Good Fortune, and as the Gypsies say, Good Road to all of you, Roberta Kagan

Thank you for sharing your poignant insight and journey, Roberta, and wishing you great success with your novels.

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Writers Reach: James M. Jackson with 'ANT FARM'

Writers Reach: James M. Jackson with 'ANT FARM'

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On Fridays right here, writers talk about their books, their process, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. Today James M. Jackson joins us to celebrate the launch of his novel, ANT FARM, a Kindle Scout winner published by Kindle Press. Ant Farm Cover small

In this thrilling prequel to BAD POLICY and CABIN FEVER, when 38 retirees meet a gruesome end at a picnic meant to celebrate their achievements, financial crimes consultant Seamus McCree comes in to uncover the evil behind the botulism murders. But the deadly picnic outside Chillicothe, Ohio, isn't the only treacherous investigation facing Seamus; he also worms his way into a Cincinnati murder investigation when the victim turns out to be a church friend's fiancé. While police speculate this killing may have been the mistake of a dyslexic hit man, Seamus uncovers disturbing information of financial chicanery, and by doing so, puts his son in danger and places a target on his own back. Can Seamus bring the truth to light, or will those who have already killed to keep their secrets succeed in silencing a threat once more?

  1. What were the most challenging aspects of writing this book, and what came easily?

While the time between first word written and publication of ANT FARM is almost thirteen years, the most challenging aspects of writing this book relate to publication rather than writing.

I lost sleep while deciding not to sign with an agent (now well known) who “loved my book” because I was uncomfortable with several contract terms. I never received another offer of representation, but I am so glad I made the decision I did because in retrospect that version of the book was not yet good enough to publish.

What has been easy for me is taking constructive criticism and using it to rewrite, revise, and polish to improve the story. Many writers love the initial creation process and dread having to revise. I’m just the opposite: I thoroughly enjoy the process of turning a lump of coal into a polished diamond.

What I struggle with now are the promotional aspects of publishing. Tooting my own horn was frowned upon when I was a kid. And I know I am turned off by self-promotion that is all about me, Me ME! I tune out that kind of promotion and actively ignore whatever they are selling. I’ve discovered a tradeoff that does feel comfortable for me: I am okay with a bit of self-promotion if it comes along with something that can also provide value (as I hope folks will gain from my answers to Jenn’s questions).

  1. Tell us about your main characters and what drives them.

My protagonist is Seamus McCree. He’s had three careers. For a short time he was a professional soccer player before being injured. He went back to school, ended up on Wall Street working for an investment bank and became an acclaimed banking stock analyst. He quit in disgust when his bosses modified one of his research reports because it reflected unfavorably on one of the bank’s clients. In his third career he developed into a financial crimes consultant helping police tackle complex financial crimes.

He’s driven by a combination of wanting to help people, bring justice to the world, and (he’ll admit after a beer or two) because he really enjoys figuring out stuff that other people can’t. He’s much more comfortable with numbers than with people, but he has a wonderfully complex relationship with his son, whom he loves fiercely. He’ll do whatever it takes to protect his family.

  1. Can you describe your journey to publication: the torment and elation, the times none of it made any sense, the moments when it all came together?

After years of writing and rewriting, an agent wanted to represent ANT FARM and I ended up rejecting the offer. No other agent expressed interest. That was when agents actually sent you a communication that rejected you; now many believe they are too busy to respond with even a form email to reject your hours, months, years maybe, of work.

I never doubted my decision, but I did not enjoy opening envelopes containing rejection slips or reading emails indicating they did not love my story. While I was searching for an agent for that book, I began writing the next in the series, BAD POLICY. As I worked on BAD POLICY I had the idea for a nonfiction book about contract bridge. In between drafts of BAD POLICY, I wrote a book for intermediate contract bridge players. I looked at my bookshelf to see who had published the bridge books I enjoyed the most and concluded I’d like to be published by Master Point Press.

I sent them a proposal, with a sample chapter. They responded within a week asking to see the whole manuscript, and within two or three weeks more we had a signed contract. Wow! What a difference between that and my mysteries. It took another year of back and forth with edits (Ray Lee is an excellent editor) before the book was published. ONE TRICK AT A TIME: HOW TO START WINNING AT BRIDGE received wonderful reviews from BRIDGE WORLD, the NEW YORK TIMES, and the CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

While those edits were going on, I abandoned my efforts to find an agent for BAD POLICY. Because I believed that book was good enough to be published, I decided to consider small presses. After research, I sent queries to three presses. Two immediately responded with offers. (I pulled the third query.) Again, what a different reaction than from the agents. People wanted my work. Yippee!

BAD POLICY (2013) and the next in the series, CABIN FEVER (2014), were published by Barking Rain Press. They received excellent reader reviews; however, limited distribution was the impetus for entering ANT FARM (totally rewritten from the abandoned manuscript) into the Kindle Scout program. I wanted a larger group of readers exposed to my writing.

We are about to see whether being published by Kindle Press brings that larger audience.

  1. You get to the end of your life, and there to escort you through the tunnel to the light beyond and show you around is a philosopher / author / artist / scientist / celebrity you've always revered. Who is it, and why him/her?

Ben Franklin is my pick. No matter how long that tunnel or how slow the walk, I wouldn’t run out of things to ask him.

He embodies the prototypical American success story writ large. Born working class, he hobnobbed with kings and queens (well, more with the queens, I think), was instrumental in the creation and sustenance of the United States (and the Continental Congress before it). His two years of schooling, combined with an incredible intellect and insatiable desire to read and learn, allowed him to develop into one of the leading physicists of the day (recognized more in England than in the Colonies), inventor (lightning rod, Franklin stove, and bifocals), and politician (Postmaster under the British, Continental Congress delegate, ambassador, governor of Pennsylvania).

He became wealthy as a printer and publisher. He was erudite, yet witty, which made Poor Richard’s Almanac a great success. He helped start fire departments, subscription libraries, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Because of his postal interests he was concerned with the time it took mail to arrive from England. That led to an interest in sea currents, which resulted in his charting and naming the Gulf Stream.

His home life was another story. He ran away from his apprenticeship under his brother (breaking the law); his marriage was common-law because his wife was married to a man who ran away from his debts to Barbados; he had at least one illegitimate child; his legitimate son became the governor of New Jersey and sided with England against the American Revolution.

With such a rich life (much of which I have refrained from describing, despite Jenn’s desire for in-depth answers) what couldn’t we talk about?

  1. Tell us about your other books, past or in the pipeline.

There are three published books in the Seamus McCree series: ANT FARM, BAD POLICY, and CABIN FEVER. I am in the midst of rewriting the fourth in the series, DOUBTFUL RELATIONS. Seamus McCree’s ex-wife’s husband has gone missing and she snookers Seamus into helping find out what happened. Soon all the relatives are involved. When you get an extended family together, some of them could indeed be doubtful relations.

 

JamesJackson

James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. ANT FARM (Spring 2015), a prequel to BAD POLICY (2013) and CABIN FEVER (2014), recently won a Kindle Scout nomination. Ebook published by Kindle Press; print from Wolf’s Echo Press. BAD POLICY won the Evan Marshall Fiction Makeover Contest whose criteria were the freshness and commerciality of the story and quality of the writing. Jim has published an acclaimed book on contract bridge, ONE TRICK AT A TIME: HOW TO START WINNING AT BRIDGE (Master Point Press 2012), as well as numerous short stories and essays.

His website is http://jamesmjackson.com where you can find more information about him (including social media links) and his books (including purchase links).

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Writers Reach: Matthew Caldwell with 'THE LOST TRIBE'

On Fridays right here, writers talk about their books, their process, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. Today Matthew Caldwell joins us to celebrate the launch of his novel, THE LOST TRIBE, a Kindle Scout winner published by Kindle Press. TheLostTribe

1939. Harry Pike struggles with the rest of the country through the latter stages of the Great Depression. As a sportswriter, he watches as his jobs keep disappearing. As a Jewish zamler, or luck pusher, he feels the need to help his friend Abner, who is lost in the minor leagues in his quest to play baseball. But when German forces challenge America to a baseball series, another need arises: Harry knows he must mend the broken zamler trails to get the European Jews to safety before the war machine crushes them all.

1. What were the most challenging aspects of writing this book, and what came easily?

As is the case I’m sure with most historical novels, one difficult part of writing came in the research.  I strive for accuracy in my writing, from the phrases the characters use to the objects they see to the streets they visit.  When the team makes it to Germany, I even looked up weather almanacs to see if it was raining the day they were there or not. But since this was my second book with the main characters, one thing that came easy was remembering to speak in their voices again. The first book took place in the late 20s, and this one happened in 1939, so even then there was a bit of thought put into how the main even that happened in between—the Great Depression—affected them. It was challenging but very exciting at the same time, because I felt I had done a decent job fleshing out all their personalities in the first book (The Zamler’s Last Stand). All I had to do was think about how those “people” would react to such a thing.
 
2. Tell us about your main characters and what drives them.
 
Just as in the first book, there are two main characters, Harry and Abner, but Harry gets more of the focus.  Harry is an eternal optimist, someone who I really would like to be.  I wouldn’t say I’m a pessimist, really, but I’ve definitely become more cynical over time.  Harry is someone who prefers to view things with rose-colored glasses, and then deal with the consequences later if he is wrong.  I’m sure that someone like him would have been an anachronism during the Depression, but in his mind it was his job not only to be cheerful as much as possible, but as a zamler (someone who can absorb other people’s bad luck) to do it in spite of the conditions.  I touched upon that idea in the first book, that the luck Harry absorbs is energy, and that energy doesn’t go away just because he take it.  But in this book I really go forward on the idea that Harry’s antenna is always on—unlike the other zamlers in his community he’s always absorbing bad luck—and he can somewhat direct that energy, but it’s an inexact science, to be sure.  When we meet up with Harry, he’s using that energy to find his friend Abner. Continuing the story from The Zamler’s Last Stand, Abner is playing professional baseball, but the fallout from his decision to play on Rosh Hashanah, unlike many other Jewish baseball players, has flushed him from the majors.  Now he toils away in anonymity in the minor leagues.  Harry truly believes that, with his ability, he is supposed to find his friend and save him.  So that’s what he does.  In true hand-in-glove fashion, Abner feels the same way about saving and protecting Harry, but it takes a while for them to connect.  The Nazi challenge provides that moment.
 
3. Can you describe your journey to publication: the torment and elation, the times none of it made any sense, the moments when it all came together?
 
I’m sure that this is a similar story to any author you speak to, but I submitted dozens of queries for The Zamler’s Last Stand, The Legendary Branson Brand, and my Kindle Scout book, The Lost Tribe.  It’s funny because the very first query I sent out received a bite from an agent, who then turned it down.  I remember thinking, “I’ve got this in the bag!” but I have only received flat rejections ever since. (Laughs.) I don’t even remember where I first heard of Kindle Scout, but I polished up my second book, Branson Brand, (since I self-published my first) and entered it in on the initial round.  Sadly, it didn’t make it, but I had another one ready to go.  I guess I’m immune to the rejection by now.  Or too dumb to know any better.
 
4. You get to the end of your life, and there to escort you through the tunnel to the light beyond and show you around is a philosopher/author/artist/scientist/celebrity you’ve always revered.  Who is it, and why him/her?
 
This is an easy one for me—Abe Lincoln.  If you’re looking for evidence that occasionally people show up on this planet at the exact time they are needed, well, there’s your evidence.
 
 5. Tell us about your other books, past or in the pipeline.
 
I’ve mentioned my first book, The Zamler’s Last Stand, which I self-published through CreateSpace and is my only other book available at this moment.  My second book, The Legendary Branson Brand, which I renamed Don’t Forget to Remember Me in its Kindle Scout candidacy, is something I hold dear to my heart.  It is about a man who can only be remembered if he wants to be, and then only by a handful of people.  As he gets older he realizes that once he dies he’ll effectively be erased from existence.  He goes about repairing his relationship with his family in the hopes that maybe he can make a lasting connection.  Then he finds out his wife has Alzheimer’s, and, well, it gets even more hairy from there.  I wrote it shortly after my aunt died from the disease.  It’s just such a horrible, horrible affliction. I just finished the first book in what I hope is a new series.  It’s called The Canary in the Coalmine, and it involves a government program that uses low-level psychics to try to find other, more powerful psychics that are being sold on the black market.  The entire novel takes place over the course of one night, so it was an opportunity for me to work with characters that had to be developed on the fly.  It’s always good to challenge yourself.
 
MattCaldwellMatthew Caldwell lives in the Midwest.  He is the author of 4 novels, including the Kindle Scout-Winning THE LOST TRIBE.  He is currently being held hostage by his 3-year old, although Stockholm Syndrome is setting in.
 

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My Second Five Reviews of Kindle Scout-Kindle Press Winning Books

I’m gradually reading the books that went through Kindle Scout and won Kindle Press contracts since the program’s inception at the end of 2014. All these authors are prolific, some of them award winning, some of them best sellers, each of them offering solid hours of reading pleasure to those of us who enjoy Mysteries, Thrillers, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Romance. Most recently added genres include Literature and Fiction, which I interpret to mean Literary and Commercial/General Fiction. So there’s something for everyone at the cost of an ice cream or a train ride. Each book has dozens of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, so this is just a taste. Alan Leverone’s THE OMEGA CONNECTION

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Superb pacing makes this an electrifying read that’s engaging on multiple levels: the characters, technical acuity, dialogue, plot, and…I could go on. Leverone’s handling of timing and suspense is masterful. Astutely drawn detail brings people and events into vivid focus. Even the car, a 1960 something Chevrolet Impala, has a personality, and when it took a punishing, I’ll admit that a little piece of my heart broke. Tracie Tanner is smart and self-assured, exactly the kind of person you can trust to have your back in a shootout; she’s also kind and irreverent and easy to care about. I found the subject matter intriguing from an historical perspective, as the Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba in 1961 is central to the plot. But no spoilers here—you’ll have to read this novel if you like staying up late and sneaking illicit time to read. I’m grateful that Kindle Scout is showcasing thrillers of this caliber. This one is seriously good.

Fiona Quin’s WEAKEST LYNX

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Lexi Sobado is a multi-faceted, irresistible protagonist, eminently worthy of a series in her name. Her unconventional upbringing makes her a formidable opponent, trained in kung fu and accomplished at skills taught her from the age of 13 by Spyder McGraw, an operative from the mysterious Iniquus group. Educated in the finer points of cooking and languages by the Kitchen Grandmothers (one of my favorite discoveries in the novel), Lexi, at 20, has all the smarts she needs to trounce the man who’s stalking her, quoting macabre poetry and casting sinister shadows on everything she does. Add to the mix two Dobermans who have her back and an organization few are tough enough to mess with, only someone very dangerous and very bad would take her on. And take her on the sadistic stalker does, with grisly results. When the Iniquus team moves Lexi to a safe house, her skills—physical, emotional, intellectual, and metaphysical--are tested to their limits as she grows close to the man whose job it is to protect her. Fiona Quinn and Lexi promise to blaze a trail across the thriller landscape with gleaming moments of storytelling, not to mention a bathroom scene that guarantees you'll never look at a balloon the same way again.

Alice Gaines’s CAPTAIN AND COUNTESS

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Jane Austen haunts the pages of this regency romance, and she does so with a vigorous nod of approval. I'm difficult to please when it comes to historical fiction because it's so tough to capture use of language and tone without sounding contrived, but Ms. Gaines's prose is an effortless read, beautifully paced, and brimming with evocative detail of period and place. The novel departs from conventional offerings in this genre with characters that are fresh, multi-faceted, and richly layered. Bess is smart, generous, and irresistible; Jason, whose idiotic choices are central to the novel's drama, both seduces and infuriates the reader; and the tension and heat generated between the two protagonists is palpable. Witty dialogue and repartee and a cast of secondary characters add vibrant texture to the story. It makes perfect sense that Alice Gaines is an award-winning novelist--she writes well and shows an astute, timeless understanding of human nature.

Amy Jarecki’s A HIGHLAND KNIGHT’S DESIRE

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I settled in with Amy Jarecki's novel, hoping to escape to a far off time and place that's always beckoned: the Scottish Highlands. And escape I did, for hours late at night, so immersed in the story of Duncan and Meg that I finished the book and immediately wanted to reach for the next in the collection. I got to indulge the romantic in me through vivid prose that brought Scotland and its knights to life, with gripping action sequences and meticulous attention to historical detail. The love scenes live up to the blossoming heat between the two protagonists and made me wonder how soon I could book a flight for Edinburgh.

Sariah Wilson’s ROYAL DATE

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This is a perfect Y/A romance for readers who long to escape into a light, contemporary story with the glitter of a fairy tale. Kat guards the secrets of her childhood and mother's addiction by refusing to let anyone get close enough to hurt her, especially Nico, crown prince of a small, beautiful country in the heart of Europe. Kat has a neat outline for her life that doesn't include dating, let alone love, but when Nico sees beyond her curt disinterest to get under her skin, he turns much more than a few weeks' vacation upside down. For those of us who dreamed of being a princess but never felt like much of one, this is a feel good read. I was happy to get lost in the landscape, luxury and chaste blossoming of unlikely love that took me back to a time when all dreams seemed possible.

Anyone reading along with me? I'd love to hear from you.

 

 

Writers Reach: James Morris with 'WHAT LIES WITHIN'

Writers Reach: James Morris with 'WHAT LIES WITHIN'

On Fridays right here, writers talk about their books, their process, where they've been, and where they're going. James Morris's WHAT LIES WITHIN, published by Kindle Press, was a Kindle Scout winner and launched to critical acclaim on June 2. JamesMorris"You’re going to die." 

Shelley Marano is an ordinary, unexceptional high school senior...until the day she receives a cryptic text message, and her world tilts sideways. Now she's in real danger, although she doesn't know who would want her dead, or why. As she starts to unravel the mystery, the truth about who she really is proves to be more frightening than she ever imagined. With the lives of her and her friends hanging in the balance, one thing is certain:

Nothing will ever be the same.

  1.  Jim, do you think the world needs another novel, and why?

That’s a tough question, because everything has been done. Everything. Every permutation of every possible plot. And yet, I write because it’s something I need to do; it’s my own little drop in the universe. And I think people read to connect. Yes, we read classics, but people also yearn to read what’s contemporary, what’s happening right now. So there will always be a need for a novel, that one-on-one relationship between writer and reader, which is so much different than TV or film.

  1. What draws you to writing in general and fiction/your genre in particular?

I read across a wide range of books, but for better or worse, I generally write suspense, things I call “good yarns.” But if I’m writing something, I’m usually toying with a question in my own head: in WHAT LIES WITHIN, I was curious about identity – what makes us who we are? What experiences, and can we escape those things?

  1. What did you learn from writing this novel?

A lot, and not just about technique, or editing. I learned to keep pushing, to take risks (such as entering the Kindle Scout program); I learned that there comes a point when you can’t do more with a book – that you need to step away from it and move on. And I learned that there is a network of people who really do care and are happy for your success.

  1. What was the best and worst of your Kindle Scout campaign experience?

The best part of the campaign experience was the outpouring and willingness of people to help; the world can seem lonely and I sometimes wonder if I make any impact around me, so seeing people enthusiastically say yes was inspiring. The worst was the asking part. It’s sometimes hard to ask for help!

  1. Where to from here?

More coffee. More words on a page. More rejections (it’s a writer’s life, right?). And hopefully more happy readers!

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James Morris is a former television writer who now works in digital media. When not writing, you can find him scoping out the latest sushi spot, watching HOUSE HUNTERS RENOVATION, or trying new recipes in the kitchen. He lives with his wife and dog in Los Angeles.

 

Buy WHAT LIES WITHIN and find out more about Jim on:

Facebook

Twitter

His Website

Amazon

 

It Takes A Seventy-Year-Old With Balls Of Steel To Make A Movie Like MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. YEEEEEEHAAAAHHHHH!

It Takes A Seventy-Year-Old With Balls Of Steel To Make A Movie Like MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. YEEEEEEHAAAAHHHHH!

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GraphicSkullPut me in front of a film that's one long car chase and endless fight scenes starring actors who grunt much of the time, and odds are you won't be my boyfriend anymore. So why did I not only sit through MAD MAX but cry when it was over? Because George Miller has given us an explosion of cinematic brilliance and storytelling that rips your heart out and returns it to your chest, wildly pumping and shrieking heavy metal ditties until your lungs are forced to sing along. Seriously, I was out of breath the whole time. The movie is a searing finger to just about every convention of template driven filmmaking and storytelling that exists, and it emerges from the mayhem nothing short of artistically ferocious. I won't even hint at what it's about; you probably have an idea and there are plenty of reviews that'll do that, so I'm going to tell you what this movie does. It reminds us that people are manifestly monstrous and magnificent. It advises twenty year old billionaires who are ruling the world to pause and take another look at the men and women who, at fifty, are deemed redundant, irrelevant, and past it. George Miller has not only put us back in the game; he's way ahead of it. In trying to navigate the outrageously successful risks this movie takes, I get a bit tongue tied. Three acts . . . um . . . character . . . huh? . . . back story . . . er . . . scene set up . . . bluhbluhblerrrr. Yet it's all there, all of it, weirdly packaged and delivered in a series of neuron singeing ironies and paradoxes. I mean, the film is set in a barren, desolate landscape, yet it's one that is so visually arresting it's impossible to believe that places like this actually exist on earth or in someone's imagination. (Let me brag and preen here a bit--I know this place--parts of it are Africa: specifically Cape Town and Namibia). The subject matter is epically bleak, yet the color is ravishing, cinematography so grand it's almost Gothic. Hope is dead, yet so alive it makes your blood pound with the need for the grunters characters to get even. I imagined Angelina Jolie might rock the role of Imperator Furiosa, but Charlize Theron steps up with her shaven haired, fierce, invulnerable vulnerability, to own the movie. (Preening moment--she comes from the same place I do.) And in this terrifyingly male, misogynistic arena, feminism seethes beneath the surface, informing the movie as much as the driving action.

The action by the way, is as relentless as the engines roaring across the screen in vehicles that are characters in their own right. A few pauses allow you to take a quick breath, but they don't last long and the underlying message is...pay attention, or fall off. You'll miss the shards of back story that dart in like shrapnel throughout the movie; you may not notice the glints of character development that ignite in the tight confines of a war rig's cab--you know, the way sparks flare between stones that are struck together.

Maybe it all works so well because the juxtapositions are so extreme, the images so startling that the occasionally worn premise takes on new life. A bit like the director, and the rest of us who wonder how the hell we're going to keep up once we've past adolescence.

And now I wait for another master's work that I know won't disappoint. Guillermo del Toro and CRIMSON PEAK, why are you taking so long to get here????

WEAKEST LYNX: An Interview With Author FIONA QUINN

WEAKEST LYNX: An Interview With Author FIONA QUINN

I spoke to Fiona Quinn about her recently launched novel, WEAKEST LYNX, the first in the Lexi Sobado series. WEAKEST LYNX is a Kindle Scout winner published through Kindle Press, and the second novel launches on May 21st.

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Jennifer:Congratulations Fiona! WEAKEST LYNX is no. 5 in Supernatural Thrillers and no. 9 in Metaphysical Genre Fiction. You have 15 five star reviews. How does it feel?
Fiona:It's been very interesting. This is my debut novel. All of my other projects have been collaborative efforts, so I feel like I'm wobbling without my training wheels for the first time.
Jennifer:But a good feeling, yes?
Fiona:Lovely. My cheeks are sore from smiling.
Jennifer:I think readers would love to know more about you. Can we start with your 'Toolbox Philosophy'?
Fiona:A Toolbox Philosophy: "My poor children,"--that's the way many of my stories begin. I've experimented on them their whole lives. One of the things that I wanted them to master was the ability to learn - to feel uncomfortable, to (exert) effort, and then to gather their speed until they took off. I felt that the more disparate skills they knew, the easier it would be to gather new abilities. Let me explain. An ability to ride a horse provides patience and leg strength; the patience helps them to stew over a math problem, the leg strength helps them kick better in martial arts; the martial arts then allows them to rise above the stress in a situation where they need to think on their feet - in a debate or an interactive speech or even a conversation where they should not let emotion manipulate outcome - and so forth. I try to apply it to my own life as well. It makes life an adventure.
Jennifer:Some of the qualities I've picked up about you include this amazing competence and dedication--to family, to writing, to discovering new things, like joining the Police and Fire Citizens' Academies. Can you share with us what drives you; how you find the energy to do all this and keep up a blog with thousands of followers and over a million views?
Fiona:Well, I'm super woman. And I tell that to anyone who will listen. It gives my kids the opportunity to exercise their eyeballs with vigorous rolls. The truth is I have set a goal to become a know-it-all. I love learning new things and sharing the learning experience with my family and friends - it's also a great way to meet fabulous characters. In the big picture, my family gives me purpose and grounding; my writing takes me to my own worlds that I get to create. I think that I aim for balance and this is my juggling act so I get to choreograph it the way I want to with the tools available to me in that moment - and sometimes life juggles me in return.
Jennifer:Yes, life does do that:). What draws you to the thriller genre?
Fiona:I didn't know I was a suspense/thriller writer until I started writing A.T. (That's AFTER TEENS - I've processed one set of teens through to adulthood and am now working on my second set.) With my background in psychology I would think that I'd write women's fiction. With my background in history, I would think historical or historical romance. With my background in languages and traveling, I should perhaps have penned a Traveling Pants kind of story but when I put my fingertips to the keyboard, people start to die. Freud would have a field day with me.
Vincent:How long have you been writing, Fiona?
Fiona:I have been telling and writing stories since I was two years old at Montessori School. I remember some of them even now and the friends I would tell them to. I love to tell stories. I kissed the Blarney stone three times. Well, four - but that last one I took an actual bite. When I went to college I wanted to be a travel reporter - travelling the world and getting paid to have adventures. But I fell in love and with love comes responsibility. Now that I'm down to only two kids - and half the noise - I've been writing my stories for others - so for 4 years.
Jennifer:When you start a book, is it a character or a plot that gets you writing?
Fiona:It's a scene. A scene comes to me full blown. I know everything about the scene. I know the characters. I know EXACTLY what they are wearing, saying, doing, and why they are doing it. My task is to get a story to reach that scene and then be resolved. In WEAKEST LYNX it was the balloon scene. Kidding. In Weakest Lynx it was the howling scene. I needed to tell the story that made Lexi howl.
Jennifer:So Lexi is in place. (And we're not going to dodge that balloon scene.) How did Lexi come about? In some senses, she seems quite connected to Fiona Quinn. You're physically incredibly active: a 2nd Dan Tae Kwon Doe Black Belt and archery instructor, who just so happens to shoot (guns).
Fiona:I actually used my daughter #1 as a template. Some people tell me that Lexi has too many skills for 21. But here's what my daughter could do at 21: she became a telemetry nurse, a champion horseback rider, hunts her own food, shoots better than anyone I know (professionals included), 2nd dan TKD, is an award winning artist, can take a truck apart and put it back together, is a gourmet cook - ha! I raised a know-it-all. (And like Lexi, she has no clue that her bag of tricks is unusual; she is very humble and sweet.) These are just some of my daughter's qualifications; but you see, she was raised with the toolbox philosophy that I explained through Lexi's unschooling days - she didn't spend her time on dioramas and memorizing State capitals. Kid #1, like Lexi, spent her time gaining skillsets that overlap and feed each other. That's what I was trying to portray.
Jennifer:Gosh, she sounds incredible. I was intrigued by the notion of unschooling as opposed to home schooling. I should say, one of the things I love about the novel is how people who don't perceive themselves in any conventional sense as extraordinary, are exactly that. Master Wang at the dry cleaner's, who teaches Lexi Kung Fu, and her Kitchen Grandmothers. That's what makes Lexi interesting to me. Can you talk a bit about this?
Fiona:So a bit of vocabulary. Homeschooling often follows a set curriculum that includes a certain number of hours per week with a fanny in the chair and activity sheets - tests etc. Unschooling is more exploratory and in my house it means we take advantage of anything that presents itself as a lesson - it could be anything from baking, to dissecting the dead thing we found in the woods, to a midnight call from the herp society that the salamanders are spawning and a trip out to the woods to see nature in action.
Jennifer:I love that; it makes good sense to me. Another element that struck me in the novel is the way relationships are built between Lexi and the Iniquus team (fabulous name), with food an integral component. Do you see food as rallying in general or as a facet of Lexi's generosity? Both, maybe?
Fiona:Sadly, it just means that I wish someone else would cook dinner. So the Kitchen Grandmothers were stepping in to Lexi's life at the behest of Master Wang's wife Snow Bird. Lexi's mom was dying and she would only have her father left. Snow Bird was trying to give Lexi roots. The language, culture,and culinary skills cooked up under the watchful eyes of her kitchen grandmothers were just the kind of roots that Lexi would gravitate toward and enjoy (Snow Bird was a wise woman). Lexi is naturally a nurturing person and food is a way to be communal and make connections. Lexi was never made to be a lone wolf - she wants to run with a pack. After I wrote the food scenes with Strike Force I had a chuckle over the idea that the best way to a man's heart is through his stomach.
Lisa Weaver:I've only begun reading your fabulous story, Fiona, but I am enjoying it immensely! I love how, the moment we meet her, we get a sense of Lexi's many dimensions and complexities.
Fiona:In Lexi we see someone who was never told she was special. She was encouraged, and given opportunity, but she never performed on a public stage until she was performing in front of Strike Force and then Iniquus (her employer). No grades. No awards. No sports medals. Instead her parents set it up so that everything was a challenge. A learning experience. A tool for her toolbox. Lexi didn't do it for glory or strokes. She exerted effort because that's what kind of animal Lexi is - a naturally gifted athlete, intellect, human - who was shaped and molded by the loving hands of those around her who wanted her to be her best self whatever that was. Nobody set expectations for Lexi because Lexi never needed that - her curiosity and drive to learn did that for her.
Jennifer:Here's a question about Angel: I wondered whether he was a McGuffin and why you chose to have Lexi married. He's a key obstacle to Lexi's connection to Striker, but is there more you want us to know?
Fiona:My original book is 5k words longer than the end result. In those 5k purged words, you meet Angel through his correspondence and phone conversations. But they watered down and slowed the story. You have to remember my "scene" that seeded this whole story was Lexi howling for Angel. So Angel was a required element. I really love Angel, and I still sob big gloopy sobs when I read that scene. Angel is incredibly important to the whole story and to Lexi. He gave her roots (a family), a purpose and a drive and a goal (setting up her home) when Lexi's whole world came shattering down at the fire. He was the focus of her hopes and dreams. His coming home was the horizon Lexi focused on so she could deal with the fear that the stalker had infected her with. Angel drove Lexi's story and still drives it through book 2 MISSING LYNX.
Jennifer:I want to talk about the series and your other books, but just a quick question about the psychic and metaphysical facets of the novel that are so compelling, for example healing and Reiki. You're a Reiki master and teacher, right?
Fiona:Yes, I am. And like Lexi, I have had many inexplicable experiences while using this healing tool.
Jennifer:I found some of Lexi's responses intense and visceral, beautifully rendered.
Fiona:Why thank you.
Jennifer:Tell us about your other books and what it was like to co-author/collaborate with other writers.
Fiona:I was first published with two short stories in a book called Virginia Is for Mysteries, a book put together by my Sisters In Crime chapter and published by Koehler Books. My next effort was a novella Mine that was part of Unlucky Seven that was lucky enough to be a #1 bestseller in Mystery Anthologies. spearheaded by USA Today Bestselling author Jamie Lee Scott. And I co-wrote Chaos Is Come Again with a man I met on Twitter, John Dolan. He was a CEO for an electrical company in Dubai - but hailed from London and lived part time in Thailand. We Skype-wrote the book - it was a fabulous learning experience and quite the adventure!
Jennifer:Not an easy thing to do, but definitely rewarding if it works. Moving on to Kindle Scout...what made you want to join the program, and what do you like about the experience?
Fiona:I wanted to be part of Kindle Scout because it seemed to embrace the best of the indie world and the traditional publishing world. One of the things that drew me to it was that KS was pioneering a new take on publishing, and I enjoy being on the front end of an adventure. It's been a fabulous experience. I'm so pleased with my edits and the quick publication of my work. The crew over at Kindle Scout and Kindle Press couldn't be lovelier. I appreciate their enthusiasm.
Jennifer:And now it's over to you--is there anything you'd like to add or chat about that we haven't covered (the balloon scene comes to mind)?
Fiona:Ha! I loved the balloon scene - Lexi has no idea that she's such a crazy mixture of femme fatale and pure innocence. I also love the idea that her mom knew what Lexi was learning from Chablis and must have thought that was a good thing because she didn't intervene. So when Lexi got the reaction she did from Striker Rheas, she was truly confused by his laughter. Poor sheltered girl. Funny that that scene is the one that people seem to hold on to.
Jennifer:Anything else that you want to share with your readers?
Fiona:I loved every minute of working with Lexi's story. And I love that I finally get to share it with you - thank you all so much for you kind words, questions, curiosity, and support. It's been a humbling and fabulous experience. I feel like champagne is dancing in my veins.
Jennifer:I'm sure we'd all like to know about the series:)
Fiona:Ah well MISSING LYNX will be out May 21 - Lexi has a new neighbor move in, and it's not good. Lynx has a long time enemy that wants to use her as a pawn in her game with Marcos Sylanos. Here, poor Lexi finds herself in a 3rd world hell hole trying to escape. CHAIN LYNX is out June 21. CUFF LYNX Book 4 has presented its seed scene, and I am plotting it out now. I'm really going to have fun with number four - and the scary part is -- well that's another story for another day.
Joseph Souza:Great job!
Kate Kelly:I'm completely captivated by your book, Fiona. It's keeping me up at nights! Congratulations. You've done a beautiful job.
Fiona:Thank you most kindly. There's no bigger compliment to a writer, I think, than lost sleep and cereal for dinner.
Jennifer:That's awesome; lots and lots to look forward to! Thanks for talking to us, Fiona. I enjoyed the book and finding out more about you and your process.
Fiona:My great pleasure, thanks Jennifer!
Linda Sands:(Sorry I stepped out of this, but I'm starting the book tomorrow and didn't want any spoilerz.) Will you adopt me, Fiona? You have to know. I screen shot your 21 yr old daughter's attributes and texted it to my 21 yr old son. 💕💕
Fiona:She was already snapped up and is happily married, Linda, though that might have been the start to a very fun story. What is that a face of? I can't see the emoticon; is he crying?
Linda:Yes. Laughing so hard he's crying. less of a hook up than a-hey, look how cool some girls are-moment, as my son just turned 21 last month and still trying to figure things out. Ps. How can you possibly have a married daughter??? You must have started very very very early!
Fiona:Yes, I was a scientific anomaly. I actually have 2 settled daughters. (I'll be 50 on Halloween.) So, did your son roll his eyes at you?
...
And on that cliffhanger, let's wish Fiona and Lexi success out there. Videos and images of WEAKEST LYNX can be found on Pinterest, and both the Kindle and paperback editions can be found on Amazon. MISSING LYNX is available for pre-order here.

 

MY FIRST FIVE REVIEWS OF KINDLE SCOUT--KINDLE PRESS WINNING BOOKS

I'm gradually reading the books that went through Kindle Scout and won Kindle Press contracts since the program's inception at the end of 2014. All these authors are prolific, some of them award winning, some of them best sellers, each of them offering solid hours of reading pleasure to those of us who enjoy Mysteries, Thrillers, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Romance. Most recently added genres include Literature and Fiction, which I interpret to mean Literary and Commercial/General Fiction. So there's something for everyone at the cost of an ice cream or a train ride. Each book has dozens of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, so this is just a taste. Stacey Cochran’s EDDIE AND SUNNY

EDDIEA searingly tender exploration of love that flourishes where you'd least expect it to survive, at the heart of America's financial malaise. EDDIE AND SUNNY is a timely novel from an author whose distinctive voice resonates with confidence and compassion. Prose that stings like a whip and is at times gentle as a caress is perfectly captured by the book's cover, which shows that something broken can still be beautiful. There's tension and suspense on every page, underpinned throughout by themes of desperation, hope, dispossession and loyalty. Eddie and Sunny are irresistible protagonists, nuanced and flawed and fierce in their devotion to one another and their small family. The book's layers of violence, from societal rejection and economic disempowerment to actual blows and bullets, got under my skin like a bruise. At times evocative of the iconic THELMA AND LOUISE, EDDIE AND SUNNY is a story of love and endurance that lingers long after the last page.

Alan Orloff’s RUNNING FROM THE PAST

RUNNINGWhen Colby Walker detects signs of abuse in his son's friend while on vacation, he makes a decision to protect the boy, and goes with him and the Walker family on the lam. It's a decision Colby comes to regret as his own past threatens to engulf him, and it jeopardizes the people closest to him. Alan Orloff tackles a tough, heart wrenching issue with a deceptively light touch. His prose reads and flows easily, but there's a tense undercurrent beneath the sun and surf that pulls the reader into darker, more dangerous waters. The characters and voices are real, and material that we might otherwise flinch from is handled with care and sensitivity that never descends into sensationalism. I was left wondering what I would do in each of the character's shoes.

Maggie Toussaint writing as Rigel Carson’s G-1

G-1Challenges facing the earth in 2065 hit home in this tense ecological thriller, with water supply the primary currency in a power game that jeopardizes an already threatened planet. Maggie Toussaint's depth of knowledge shines through in astute and compelling science. Well placed humor flares throughout the narrative, with Forman, an android ostensibly designed as a gigolo but who, as it turns out, is far more than good looks, hacking ability and Herculean strength. He can do just about anything, including feel. His loyalty and wit make him one of the book's most memorable characters in a cast of idiosyncratic truth seekers hell bent on saving the world. G-1 marks the start of an intriguing and relevant sci fi series.

Neal Wooten’s PIT BULLS VS ALIENS

PITBULLSUS military might is no match for invading aliens intent on colonizing Earth. Technologically advanced and remorseless, the strangers have trained sea mammals to divert ocean currents and attack humans. As the marauders move north from Central America, they destroy everything in their path. Thousands of people die until Pitt Bull Angel attacks one of the hulking brutes to defend her parent. Doggie mayhem ensues for the invaders in this fast moving sci fi story filled with treats. I'll admit I was predisposed to love this book and was thrilled to discover an author who's an ardent champion of the breed. There are some thrilling moments, some touching ones, some romance and an especially poignant encounter with a terrifying Pitt Bull dubbed Gentle Beast. A feel good read, unless you're rooting for the wrong side.

Joseph Souza’s UNPAVED SURFACES

UNPAVEDSometimes you read a book that's difficult to part with, and when you get to the end, you feel a twinge of regret that it's over. Joseph Souza's story of a family fractured by the disappearance of their beloved 9 year-old Auggie is breathtaking in its observation of human frailty, conflict, and the impact of sudden, mysterious loss. Keith, Auggie's father blames himself for his son's disappearance and loses himself in sightings of Auggie's ghost in the woods. Auggie's mother Claire blames herself too, and Auggie's siblings find themselves adrift in the wake of the family's trauma and grief. Each character is rendered in prose at once vibrant and subtle, even those who hardly show up. There's Charlie, (dubbed 'Useless' by Keith’s boss), whose incompetence in the kitchen is thrown into high relief by Keith’s culinary brilliance, and Randy, the odd neighbor whose big-hearted gestures cast uncertain suspicion on him. When Keith is in the kitchen, the reader salivates. I read the food passages over and over to savor the menus and ingredients. The cooking is exquisite to everyone but Claire, who is revolted to the point of gagging by it's lingering scent on her husband's clothes. The author handles these extremes masterfully, deepening the level of characterization in unforeseen, beautifully perceptive ways. There are lots of superlatives that make this book stand out: crisp, revelatory dialogue, unexpected twists and suspense that peaks and wanes but never dissipates entirely.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, either on the books or the program, or perhaps you'd like to share your own journey towards publication.

Professional Paralysis: How To Get Moving Again

Professional Paralysis: How To Get Moving Again

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At some point in our professional lives, most of us experience moments of paralyzing doubt and insecurity. The fallout can slow down our career momentum and freeze us into immobility. Authors experience this paralysis as writer’s block. University graduates who pound the pavements in search of work in their field feel it, and those of us who join the workforce after time spent unemployed or in a different industry, know it well. Because these are transitional states, (as in, writing a new book or looking for a job after raising kids), we’re vulnerable to:

  1.  Process overwhelm: Processes can be complex, long and daunting. We face a blank screen and only see looming slog: the number of words we have to conjure, especially if we’re writing a book; the number of resumes and cover letters we have to write, amend, and tweak; the volume of research we have to wade through; the critical selection of ideas and facts we have to assemble.
  2. Goal overwhelm: The goal is a monster, way beyond reach of our puny efforts: it's the novel, the job, the presentation, the interview. How do we stand out from the hordes of books/candidates out there; how do we weather all the rejection before that one opportunity opens up; what if we're not up to any of it?
  3. Task overwhelm: The physical stuff—reading, designing, writing, evaluating, thinking, typing, editing.
  4. Imposter syndrome: We’re too old, too young, not experienced enough, too experienced, not good/smart/visible/aggressive enough; in short, we don't belong, and it's just a question of time before everyone else figures that out too.
  • Paralysis passes with time, a commodity we can’t seem to get enough of. The only way to alleviate immobility is to take small steps towards rehabilitation. We don’t have to write the whole novel when even a tweet is a challenge. We don’t have to apply for all jobs on all boards. While volume can better our odds, indiscriminately spray painting our resume on every available wall, or sending queries to agents who don’t represent what we write, is setting us up for more than our decent share of rejection. We don’t go to the gym as couch hippos and do ten sets of 30 reps on our first try. Sometimes it’s enough to show up and sit on the bicycle.
  • The goal can intimidate the process, so separate them. Our brains cooperate with our intentions, so if the ultimate intention is to write a novel, the brain will get it without us having to bludgeon our skulls with a keyboard. Drive, ambition and will can take over once the paralysis is past.
  • Change something, anything. Surroundings, direction, approach.
  • There’s magic in surrender and letting go, if we do it at the right time, once we’ve done everything within our control and once we've done our best. Holding on too tight brings constricting energy into play, and we want to remain expansive. Do what you can, and let go. Awareness and breathing through the attachment to outcomes may seem simplistic, but it helps to release the tension around a stressful issue.
  • Cut back on, or better yet, cut out weighty expectations and self-punishment. Desperation, tough as it is to overcome, is also constricting (breathe).
  • Make time your friend. Like money, it makes for a relentless foe, and it always wins.
  • Paralysis responds to work, the way an atrophied muscle responds to exercise. It doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect. Practice with small, initial spurts of effort—form and flow will come.

Maybe there’s no job out there because we’re meant to work for ourselves; maybe no agent wants our books, but one million readers do. Maybe we are all those tooooo….s. There will always be competition, someone younger, thinner, smarter, savvier. It doesn’t matter. No, really, it doesn’t. We’re not light bulbs; we don’t depend on anyone else to switch us on in order to shine. Be kind, no matter what, and the paralysis will pass.

How to write a book that sings when you struggle to hold a tune.

How to write a book that sings when you struggle to hold a tune.

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I was once a little girl who read everything: comics, Enid Blyton, fairy tales from every part of the world, historical romance and here and there, a classic. It never occurred to me until a couple of years ago to separate the stories from the writers, which made for a lot of confusion, since writers...you know...lie make things up. A lot. All the time. The only remedy I found for my confused and bewildered life was to become a writer myself, and confuse and bewilder entertain my own small clan of gullible susceptible readers. AmberBabyMudArtist and work=2 separate entities. Those of you who have children know whereof I speak. You were joined to Junior for 9 months and that was all you got. It took him a while to walk and talk, even longer to think by himself, but by the time he went off to college, one thing decidedly missing from his backpack was you.

Our books can and must live legitimate lives without us. Even in the writing, it's only by freeing ourselves from the inhibited, self conscious critic--who locks away the wild, growly, horny, needy, raging parts of us--that we can build a living, breathing novel. I touch on this in How to write a FEARLESS book while hiding under the bedand here I'll venture further--into the realm of narrative and personal voice.

  •  Personal Voice, as in the voice of emails and blogs, essays and erotic smartypants texts. I've chosen to stick with voice because I think it's the be-all and end-all of how we connect. It's how we go out into the world, and it represents the convergence of what makes us who we are: our character, personality, sense of self, the masks we wear, the extent to which we're vulnerable or assertive. There's often conflict between how we perceive ourselves and how the world sees us. I lost my voice when I came to the US. I had a British sensibility informed by South African neurosis and paranoia, so often when I opened my mouth to speak or blow bubbles, someone would toss me a baffled, silent stare. Communication? Forget it. A lot of my spelling went out the window. Americans are less formal, so even the way I wrote emails suddenly seemed stilted. Way back, when I was having a torrid affair with words, I wrote poetry, mainly sonnets. I haven't written a poem in a long time, and in my search for a new voice, I've had to ask myself many of the questions I've set out below. My challenge has been to accept the hybrid that I am with a spirit of adventure, because let's face it, mongrels are just as interesting as purebreds.
  • Narrative Voice and Point of View. Unless you're writing a memoir, finding your voice as a writer doesn't only mean YOUR voice--it means your narrator's. You have to know who s/he/it is, because whether you're writing in first person or third (close or distant, earnest or unreliable), your narrator is driving the bus. She's the one getting the reader from page 1 to page infinity and beyond. If she's dull, incoherent, apologetic and mousy, she'll lose her passengers no matter what the book's characters get up to. Now I'm not saying that a dull, incoherent, apologetic and mousy narrator can't be incredibly interesting, (especially if she's a serial killer, in fact that's got me thinking), but she has to connect with her reader, get him to go on a journey with her, and that she does with voice.

Questions to ask your narrator: Who are you? Where do you come from? Are you observer/voyeur/snoop or participant? Do you care or are you just watching? Are you a character or a presence? Are you passive or do you have agency? Do you get in the way of, interfere with or facilitate the story? Do you lie or hide things from the reader? Do you hide things from the book's characters? Are you angry/sexy/okay-mousy-and-incoherent/subversive/secretive/inconspicuous/brash?

The questions themselves will free you to create an entity that is bigger and beyond the limited perceptions of who you are as author. And here's a secret: those limited perceptions? They're slaves to the ego, whether it's healthy or psychotic, and they're the ones wearing the armor plated underwear.

Finding answers: Listen--to the voices in your head and the voices around you. Read--as much as you can. Your objective isn't to clone your favorite author, it's to discover what's working and why. If you get carried away by a novel and forget to analyze it--that's the gem, the book to take to Mars if you're one of the chosen to go and never come back. The easier and more immersive the reading, the more difficult the writing. Sidle up to some poets. Every word a poet uses is a world unto itself. Write--as much as you can. Write rubbish, write free, write pictures, write, write, write. Your brain, which is a pretty savvy organ that doesn't want you to die in desperate creative misery (it's the ego that's the culprit there), will quickly figure out what you're trying to do and become a most indispensable ally.

Do you have any tips you want to share about voice? How it drives you crazy / eludes you / keeps you up at night / or maybe how it comes to you as a series of epiphanies? Some of us struggle, some of us don't, but I think most of us go through some sort of dynamic process.

How to write a FEARLESS book while hiding under the bed

How to write a FEARLESS book while hiding under the bed

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  Photo courtesy of © Kim Baker (http://www.flickr.com/photos/kimberlyfaye/3520321496)

 

 

 

WorldWarZA couple of nights ago I had a dream. The subject matter may have had to do with reading WORLD WAR Z before bed after watching the movie twice (not on the same day), so you could say I got what I deserved. Did I dream I was trapped in a dangerous place with Brad Pitt? Ohnonono. I dreamed I was at the bottom of the zombie pile swarming up a wall, with bits of my brain dribbling onto my shoulders under the weight of rotting zombie feet. It was unfortunate, but what did it teach me? That it's better to be the zombie who has a shot at the helicopter than the zombie sucking mud. And here I'll do as Maggie Smith suggests--never explain. Okay, I'll explain a bit.

As we stagger or float through Publishing Today, our books are in danger of sucking mud. Under a deluge of writing, formatting, marketing, networking and general buy-a-ticket-I'm-a-circus imperatives, for some of us, it's easier to clutch our books to our chests and cower under the bed with them, stroking their bruised spines and whispering tear choked commiseration into their pages.

You need a book that says BOLLOCKS to all that. A book that looks at you (as you shudder in terror) with a degree of contempt. A book that sticks its own chest out, grins maniacally as it powers into the scrum, and takes off on a crow's back to outfly the helicopter. You need a rugby player of a book.

How do you create such a marvel? Haven't a clue, but here are a few random tips that might help all of us, in no particular order:

1. Get passionate. Many of us have forgotten what that feels like. Passion may seethe or shout, but one thing it doesn't do is tolerate suppression. The moment we ignore our passion it mutates, twists on itself, gets all sad and subversive until poof, it's gone, leaving us timid and wondering what happened to our guts and spunk. The child/adolescent in us remembers what it was like to care, care so voraciously that sometimes it was hard to breathe. Is it dangerous? Of course. Worth the risk? Definitely. We don't have to go around throwing things, leaping on attractive strangers or sabotaging laboratories; we're WRITERS. We get to plunge our wild hearts into words that spit and sing, go to war and dance. We get to invent characters who seduce, rage, love, plunder, crusade across that vast wilderness we call a page. So rummage, root out something that gets your pulse racing. A good novel is a tough master, but passion is equal to the task of taking it on.

2. Get rebellious. I'm going to get a lot of flack for saying this, but here goes. Rules are your enemy. If we all obeyed them, we'd be a nation of zombieclones. I'm not advocating anything criminal or even anarchic, but a little chaos goes a long way. Now and again you hear about that one pig who jumped off a moving truck and ended up a pet rather than a pork chop. But see, there's a caveat, and it's a big one. According to the rules of war and rugby, you have to know your enemy. Ask Attila the Hun. Intimate knowledge of your enemy allows you to defeat him, and if you really know him well, the skirmish can be bloodless. So study, devour rules like you're Pacman, wrestle with them and devote time in your crazy writer's day to turning them on their heads. Some of them actually make a lot of sense, and you'll enjoy rubbing up against them. Will you always win? No, of course not. Will you piss people off? Definitely. Ah, but will you be interesting? Hell, yes.

WolfHall3. Get brave. If you're a man, write like a woman; if you're a woman, write like a man. This is a very tough thing to pull off and brings us back to #2. Don't ever, ever, ever do it until you know how tricksy the terrain is. At best, we come off as unconvincing; at worst, presumptuous and pretentious--loutish usurpers. The landscape is not only precarious around gender--it gets downright dangerous around culture, ethnicity, politics and economics. But...um...don't let that stop you. Legions of historical fiction, fantasy and science fiction writers will tell you, no, they never knew Thomas Cromwell and had no idea what language unicorns spoke, but they got up close and personal with research and world building. When you read a novel like WOLF HALL by Hilary Mantel, you'll know exactly what I'm going on about.

GraveFinalCoverFebGRAVE OF HUMMINGBIRDS was my MFA thesis at San Francisco State University. It was an ambitious, risky book in more ways than I can count, and it struggled to survive as the wild child it was. So I tamed it. I'm not just talking editing, which we all have to do over and over again; I mean I put it through rigorous finishing school, cutting thousands of words, changing protagonists and doing away with a nymphomaniacal ghost. Is it a better book? I honestly don't know. It's an easier book on the reader. It got through Kindle Scout and will soon be out there, hopefully beating its chest while I cover my head with a blanket. One thing I do know, GRAVE wouldn't be the book it is today, if it hadn't been the book it was yesterday: coming from a place of passion, rebellion, and balls.

 

To the books whose hiking boots have worn thin & the authors who brave the dark paths beside them

GraveFinalCoverJune2015Writing looks easy. We clatter at a keyboard in what for some is a sprint, others a marathon. If logic were to play into it, there'd be a trophy at the end, or something, I don't know, maybe a ribbon, or a medal, a certificate, an evening of drunken celebration with well-meaning friends who cheered us over the finish line when everyone else had gone home...whatever...but there's a definite sense of accomplishment. Publishing and logic--Pffffft. For most of us, we finish the marathon, suck on an orange, and then face the mountain. Do all of us make it to the peak? No. Some of us aren't fit enough (our stories are flabby and need editing; readers don't find our tales half as interesting as we do; we have zero platform and negative marketing acumen...if Cuba Gooding Junior were to shout, "Show me the money," we'd mutter, "What's that?" and go in search of a meadow and some cows). But we all have one thing in common, inflated hopes and expectations aside: we have something to share with a beautiful, bewildering world, even if our audience is tiny.

There are books that have been years in the making. GRAVE OF HUMMINGBIRDS began a decade ago, when I was sitting in a doctor's office paging through a decrepit, recycled Cosmopolitan. I came across a photograph that inspired me to research the cultures of South America, more specifically, that vast, exquisite mountain range we know as the Andes, home to the Incas before the Spanish gutted their civilization. I needed to find a way into the image, get under its skin, move past the sensation of initial shock and revulsion. See, that's our great power as writers. We can create redemption where none exists, and compose love and forgiveness where those qualities elude us in reality.

GRAVE and I set out on our journey. The characters came quickly, so much so that they often told me what to do and seldom obeyed a directive. I was aware, all through the writing, that I wandered a tricky path. I was venturing into cultural territory I had no claim to and little first-hand knowledge of. Who was I to impose my own cultural standards on another? My solution was to write as the outsider I've so often felt myself to be in every culture. I searched for points of connectivity; the places where we converge as humanity, and I worked off the notion that our hearts are the same.

It took a long time, a lot of tough work, and many edits before I felt I could share what I'd written. GRAVE became my thesis for my MFA and it won an award, but having completed the marathon, the mountain I faced demanded more stamina, more resilience, more perseverance than either I or my book could have envisaged.

I've written three novels since, and common advice in the industry is to produce, produce, produce. Too much time spent on one novel that may, for whatever reason, not be THE ONE, is wasted energy. I don't disagree. Commercial imperatives of a saturated book market demand a small business approach to our 'commodities'. Find an agent, find a publisher, publish alone, tweet and tumble and wattpad, and most importantly, cross sell.

But this isn't about all that. This is about that one book that we can't give up on, that one book we won't leave stranded in the dirt, that one book that opened us up to our creative spirit. And even if it takes us years, we'll help that book find its way out of the forest. Ironically, it's for that book that the size of the audience counts less. Good, bad, clumsy, unpopular, it's that book that will count more than the millions of words we write after, and the dozens of stories we must frenetically churn out if we're to survive as career writers.

Do you have such a book? Why does it mean so much to you, no matter how much rejection it's suffered? Perhaps it's the one that's broken through and has launched your career?

GRAVE OF HUMMINGBIRDS has 6 days to go in a Kindle Scout nomination campaign. The more votes the book draws, the more likely it is that the KS team will consider it for publication. The novel has been hot and trending for 23 days so far--your nomination will help keep it bubbling, and you get a free copy if it's chosen. Please click on the link to vote.

Now here's to loosening our grip on outcomes:).

https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2926OU6CQR4ZT