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Romeo and Juliet Wrapped in Social Commentary

The Zebra Affaire: An Apartheid Love Story (The Sub-Sahara Saga, #1The Zebra Affaire: An Apartheid Love Story (The Sub-Sahara Saga, #1 by Mark Fine

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 

Mark Fine has admirably taken on the daunting task of melding fiction with nonfiction in The Zebra Affaire. He has done so by placing his editorial commentary within the text of the novel.These passages are italicized to distinguish them from the fictional story. He welcomes the reader to “skip these asides in order to stick to the main trail of the tale”. The result of this experiment in style is a kind of Romeo and Juliet tale wrapped in social and political commentary.

As a history buff, I found it irresistible to skip these editorial asides. While they were thought-provoking and informative, they also proved to be a distraction to the fictional story. I found it difficult to really get to know the characters in order to fully empathize with their situation. Just when I became engrossed in the story and the beauty of the language, it was interrupted by the commentary. My personal preference would have been to place the commentary in endnotes. That would have allowed me to become more vested in the emotional tale of the two lovers and provide me with a personal connection to the horrors of apartheid. But others may feel differently about this.

Overall, this book is extremely well-written and the language is vivid and poetic. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the effects of apartheid at a very human level.

View all my reviews

This Month’s Feature Blog by Adam Gidwitz

What Makes a Children’s Book Good?

By Adam Gidwitz

October 3, 2016, The New Yorker

 

As someone who writes books for children, I am privy to a never-ending debate in children’s-literature circles. (You may now be imagining old ladies in floral dresses sitting around Victorian parlors, knitting and discussing the relative merits of “Johnny Tremain” and “Little House on the Prairie”; I assure you, nowadays it is mostly tattoos and pink hair in these groups, though there are still some lovely floral dresses.) The debate is this: What makes a children’s book “good”?

Now that summer vacation is over and students are submitting lists of books they have read since June, the question is particularly relevant. Does having read the novelization of the latest superhero movie “count” as having read a book? How about a graphic novel based on a line of toys? After my seventh-grade summer, I turned in a reading list that consisted of a single title—the illustrated book “Dinotopia,” by James Gurney. My teacher wrote “This is a sad list” on the paper. More fool her: I hadn’t even read “Dinotopia.” It just happened to be the only reading material other than _Mad _magazine in my room that summer, and I’d felt that my proximity to the book constituted reading it.

 

The conundrum of the “good” children’s book is best embodied by the apparently immortal—or maybe just undead—series “Goosebumps,” by R. L. Stine. “Goosebumps” is a series of horror novellas, the kid’s-lit equivalent of B-horror movies. It’s also one of the most successful franchises in the business, selling over three hundred and fifty million copies worldwide—which is a ludicrous, almost obscene, number. And here’s a secret from the depths of the publishing industry: neither marketing nor publicity nor movie tie-ins can move three hundred and fifty million copies. The only way to sell that many copies is if millions of kids actually and truly want to read the books. The conclusion is obvious: “Goosebumps” books are good, right?

Maybe, but kids have weird ideas of quality. The children’s author Laura Amy Schlitz, in her 2007 Newbery Medal acceptance speech, explained: “I must remind myself that ‘good’ is an approximate term. A second-grader once asked me for ‘a really, really good book,’ and I asked him, as librarians do, what he considered a good book. He eyed me with thinly veiled impatience and replied, ‘Medium-long with poisonous snakes.’ ”

Adult responses to the question of good children’s books tend to fall into two general camps: a content-oriented approach and a results-oriented approach. The ladies in floral dresses of ages past were concerned with content. A good book for children is somehow instructive or nutritive, often morally so. You might laugh that off as hopelessly old-fashioned, but there has been a broad resurgence of the idea that children’s books should be “socially conscious,” which isn’t that far from morally instructive. Vast numbers of children’s books these days are somehow “timely” and “relevant,” taking on issues like discrimination or animal cruelty. Some particularly wonderful ones that might be described as “socially conscious” are Gene Luen Yang’s “Boxers and Saints,” a duo of graphic novels about religious and colonial persecution during the Boxer Rebellion; Katherine Applegate’s masterpiece “The One and Only Ivan,” which deals with the cruel treatment of a gorilla in a roadside zoo; and Cece Bell’s brilliant and funny “El Deafo,” a graphic memoir about the author growing up with a hearing impairment. But _must _a book be “socially conscious” to be good?

A different content criterion is psychological value. This is what the child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim advocated. As he explained in “The Uses of Enchantment,” he believed that a good book would “promote [the child’s] ability to find meaning in life. . . . It must stimulate his imagination; help him to develop his intellect and to clarify his emotions; be attuned to his anxieties and aspirations; give full recognition to his difficulties, while at the same time suggesting solutions to the problems which perturb him.” As a children’s-book author, and even as a purchaser of children’s books, I am daunted by those requirements. Bettelheim claims that few children’s books achieve these lofty goals—with the exception of fairy tales. When I read this passage, Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are” always comes to mind. That one, it seems to me, satisfies Bettelheim’s stipulations. O.K., so we’ve given our children Grimm and Sendak. Now what are we supposed to do?

The results-oriented approach gives us a much broader set of criteria for determining quality. “Results” can range from book sales (“Goosebumps,” in that case, would definitely be good) to making a child laugh (any book written by Jon Scieszka would loudly ring that bell). C. S. Lewis took the results-oriented approach in his landmark essay, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children.” Anyone who believes that children’s books should be read only by children, or who slanders the art of writing for children, should read this essay and then graciously admit defeat. After castigating authors who pander to children, Lewis writes, “I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last. A waltz which you can like only when you are waltzing is a bad waltz.”

What a beautiful idea. And how perfectly stated. Lewis is not saying that adults determine which books are good for children, but rather that the truly good books for children are those that fall in the center of a Venn diagram, where one circle is books that children like, and the other is books that adults like. But as much as I enjoy this idea, and as much as I like the waltzing metaphor, why should this be true? If we are asking what makes a good book for children, why should we care what adults think of it at all?

I asked Laura Amy Schlitz. “I think,” she said, “you’re really dealing with two questions here: What makes a children’s book good, and what makes a children’s book lit-ra-cha.” She went on, “Some children’s books are like children’s shoes: they fit children perfectly, but they don’t fit adults, and in time children outgrow them. ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ on the other hand, is literature. It has breadth and depth, and it’s beautifully illustrated and cadenced. I’ve read it hundreds of times to children, and every now and then I take it out and read it to myself. I never grow tired of it.” Sendak? Again? Damn you, Sendak!

What good, though, is calling a children’s book “literature”? Doesn’t that just permit us to alloy children’s opinions with adult ones? We give children’s shoes to children because they fit_ _children’s feet. And why would we denigrate a waltz that can only be danced to? Children, in particular, are made to dance.

One of the best things about being a writer of fiction, as opposed to, say, a philosopher or a theorist, is that when I am faced with a tough question, I don’t have to choose a single answer. I follow the prophet Walt Whitman: I contain multitudes, and I contradict myself whenever I choose to. In the case of determining quality in children’s books, I have two answers.

The first guides my writing process, and is therefore content-oriented. I aspire to write books that are so exciting that my readers will want to devour every page, and are rich and thoughtful enough that every page will be worth devouring. Authors who aim to write serious and important books for children sometimes forget that if a child isn’t motivated to finish a book, then all that fancy stuff halfway through becomes nothing more than self-serving. Authors who aspire only to write mere entertainment, on the other hand, are missing an opportunity: If you’ve got a kid’s attention, why not put it to good use? More importantly, children want to be challenged, made to think and reconsider; they want to learn and grow and become wiser. Kids will like a book with a great story. But they will only love a book that makes them see the world in a new way.

But I also have a results-oriented answer, because, once my books are written, I want to know how I’ve done. If a child opens a book, reads every page of it, closes it, clutches it to his chest, and says, “I love this book,” then it is a good book. Do kids clutch “Goosebumps” to their chests? Some do. Many others clutch “Where the Wild Things Are,” or “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” or “El Deafo,” because those books help them find meaning in life, be it moral, psychological, or ineffable.

It’s not important, in the end, whether a child is waltzing to Tchaikovsky or to Strauss. The most important thing is that she is waltzing.

  • Adam Gidwitz has a new book for children, the “The Inquisitor’s Tale.”Bottom of Form

 

7 Things You Need to Write a Bestselling Nonfiction Book

For all you nonfiction writers out there, the following guest blog by Amy Morin has some valuable tips. Enjoy!

Wanda DeHaven Pyle

THE BLOG 

04/05/2016 04:19 pm ET | Updated Apr 05, 201

By Amy Morin

I never set out to become an author. My main source of income had always been through my work as a psychotherapist. I’d only started writing articles as a way to earn extra money after my husband passed away.

But everything changed when one of my articles—13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do—went viral. Millions of people read it and within a few days, a literary agent contacted me and suggested I write a book.

I knew nothing about the publishing industry. But I knew I wanted to do it.

I spent the next couple of weeks creating my book proposal (after I researched how to write one). And incredibly, that proposal landed me a deal with HarperCollins.

I spent months writing, editing, and rewriting. And just 13 months after my article went viral, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, went on sale. Remarkably, it hit several bestseller lists and was even named one of the best business books of the year.

As an accidental author, I’m humbled and grateful I had the opportunity to write a book. From invitations to a TEDx talk, to producing my own Mental Strength Building eCourse, a traditionally published book opened up a lot of new opportunities for me. Not to mention, it’s a pretty surreal experience to see my book on the bookstore shelves!

If you hope to land a nonfiction book deal with a mainstream publisher, here are seven things you’ll need to be successful:

  1. A Fresh Idea
    To capture the attention of an agent and a publisher, you’ll need a captivating idea. It could be something completely original or a fresh angle on an old idea. Publishers will want to see what will set your book apart from the rest.
  2. An Engaged Platform
    It’s not enough to have a great idea—you also need proof that people are interested in your idea. If you only have 100 social media followers and a dozen blog readers, you’ll want to grow your platform to prove people want to hear your message. Show prospective publishers you already have an audience who is eager to hear more.
  3. Expertise
    Have you studied the subject of your book for decades? Are you viewed as a credible leader on the topic? Be prepared to explain why you’re the best person to write—and promote—the book.
  4. A Motivated Agent
    You can’t pitch your ideas to most mainstream publishers directly—they only take proposals from established agents. So, you’ll need to find an agent who believes in you and your ideas. Your agent will help negotiate a fair contract with a publisher, which is worth every penny of their commission.
  5. A Killer Proposal
    Publishers buy books based on proposals, so no need to write the entire manuscript up front. A nonfiction proposal includes components such as a table of contents, chapter summaries, and a sample chapter or two. It should also include a clear business plan that shows how you’ll help sell books.
  6. A Winning Marketing Strategy
    As someone once said to me, “It’s called the bestseller’s list, not the best writer’s list.” The decline of brick and mortar bookstores and the rise in the volume of books being written, means selling books is really hard work.

Although a publisher will help provide you with marketing support, much of the promotion is your responsibility. Whether you do speaking engagements, or you write for a major publication, you’ll need to find ways to attract attention for your book.

  1. A Clear Writing Plan
    If you get a book deal, take time to celebrate—but don’t celebrate too long. Your book isn’t going to write itself (unless you hire a ghostwriter). Researching, writing, and editing take a lot of time.

Create a clear plan for how you’re going to carve out time to complete your manuscript. Whether you write a little each day or you set aside a couple of days each week to focus solely on your book, create a schedule and a timeline.

But stay flexible. The best ideas may come to you when you’re standing in line at the grocery store or when you’re in the shower. Keep a pen and paper handy so you can jot down your ideas whenever inspiration strikes.

Amy Morin is the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, a USA Today bestseller that is being translated into more than 20 languages.

Follow Amy Morin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AmyMorinLCSW

Non-fiction That Reads Like Fiction

Red Notice by Bill Browder

July is non-fiction month, so I thought I would kick things off with a review of one of the best non-fiction thrillers I have read in a long time. Red Notice by Bill Browder is a financial caper, a crime thriller and a political crusade all wrapped into one.  It is the story of one man taking on overpowering odds to change the world. But more than that, it is the story of how, without really intending to, he found new meaning in his life.

Red Notice provides fascinating insight into the world of hedge fund management in the eastern bloc countries. It tells the story of Hermitage Capital, a hedge fund which at one time was the largest foreign investor in Russia.  The story is set in Post-Soviet Russia at a time when the country had developed into a kleptocracy. People in the government and those with the necessary connections were stripping the assets from the communist state at fire sale prices. Some of the assets, like the energy company Gazprom, were so huge that even a gang of dedicated thieves could only steal a fraction of the assets.  Hermitage Capital invested in Gazprom and other companies. Then, after buying the under-priced assets, they exposed the corruption which, at least for a time, drove the thieves away and caused stock prices to rise.

This worked well while Putin was gaining power since it cleared away some of the oligarchs that were in his way. But once Putin came to power, Hermitage Capital’s investment strategy was no longer tolerated. Browder and his company executives did not see the new reality of Putin’s regime unfolding until it was too late.

Browder manages to barely escape with his life. However, his Russian lawyer wasn’t so lucky. He was arrested and jailed where he was eventually tortured to death. His death had a profound effect on Browder.  His first-hand view of the murderous heart of the Putin regime leads him on a crusade to expose it to the rest of the world. Because of that, he becomes Putin’s number one enemy and is placed on “red notice.”

Through this remarkable tale, the reader sees Browder grow through the adversity he experiences. He regrets that he was not wiser in the beginning and did not see Russia clearly for what it was. Such regrets are common for anyone who carefully examines the journey he has made to his wiser self.

Red Notice provides a terrifying look at Communist politics through the eyes of an insider. Crime can keep a nonfiction book moving just like fiction, and this book does not disappoint. It works because the author piles detail after detail upon one another so that the reader feels like he is along for the ride. This book is a must read for anyone interested in politics and human rights.

Wanda DeHaven Pyle is the author of Windborne and the Legacy Trilogy available on Amazon and Kindle. http://amazon.com/author/wandapyle

Story-Telling is a Family Affair

In keeping with the focus on YA authors this month, I thought I would indulge in a proud grandmother moment and feature a piece about my granddaughter. She is a 12-year old indie author who has published her own book and is currently at work on a second one.  She writes for the age group she is most familiar with…middle schoolers. At her young age, she has already been a guest speaker at a Young Author’s Fair and is an inspiration to other aspiring authors. The following press release highlights one of the events we did together to launch her book.

Meet McKayla Gately, author of Chaos, Book I of the Timekeeper Series.

No one expected the youngest novelist at the Inlandia Indie Book Fair to be 12-year old McKayla Gateley. McKayla and her grandmother, award-winning author Wanda DeHaven Pyle, debuted their new novels together at the event in Jurupa Valley.

McKayla spent the past year working on her book, CHAOS, a medieval fantasy filled with Gods and demons, each intent on taking over the land. An avid reader of fantasy and adventure stories, she became fascinated by ancient Greek and Roman mythology during a study of ancient history in school. She plans to release her book on Amazon in December in time for the holiday season. She is already at work on the next book in her series.

When asked who influenced her most in her quest to become a published author, she cited her family and especially her grandmother. However, she has agressively sought out the advice of teachers and other young adult authors whose work she admires.

“McKayla is a very promising young author,” stated her grandmother, Wanda DeHaven Pyle. “I helped her with some editing and formatting, but the story is her own.” With a grandmother’s pride, she added, “I’m quite sure she will someday win the Pulizer!”

Watch for the release of McKayla’s second book on Amazon in the near future.

All books are available on Amazon and Kindle at

http://amazon.com/author/wandapyle, and

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=McKayla+Gateleyauthor/wandapyle and 

Strategies for Successful YA Authors

The following blog is condensed from “The 8 Habits of Highly Successful Young-Adult Fiction Authors” by Nolan Feeney, Oct. 22, 2013.

Young-adult fiction, commonly called “YA fiction,” has exploded over the past decade or so: The number of YA titles published grew more than 120 percent between 2002 and 2012, and other estimates say that between 1997 and 2009, that figure was closer to 900 percent. Ask a handful of young-adult fiction writers what exactly makes a YA novel, though, and you’ll get a handful of conflicting answers.

At their core, YA books are for and about teenagers and pre-teens, usually between 12 and 18 years old, but sometimes as young as 10. Yet more than half of all YA novels sold are bought by older adults 18 or older, and certain titles published in the U.S. as YA are considered mainstream fiction for adults in other countries. Some authors believe the intent to write for young readers is a prerequisite of YA fiction; others don’t even realize their books will be labeled as YA until after they finish writing.

Many successful authors say there’s no secret to writing for teenagers. Good writing is good writing; believable characters and compelling plots are crucial regardless of who’s picking up the book. But many YA authors will also tell you there’s something particularly fulfilling and rewarding about writing for teenagers, who often respond to stories they identify with more intensely and gratefully than adult readers do.

Nolan Feeney interviewed several successful best-selling YA authors who shared their strategies for crafting authentic, relatable teen characters and fantasy worlds. The following eight strategies were identified:

  • Think Like a Teen
  • Find the “Emotional Truth” of the Teenage Experience
  • A Good Pop-Culture Reference Goes a Long Way
  • Get Input From Real Teenagers
  • Use Slang Words at Your Own Risk
  • Keep It Moving
  • It’s Okay for YA To Get Dark
  • Find the “Kernel of Hope.”

To access the complete article go to https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/10/the-8-habits-of-highly-successful-young-adult-fiction-authors/280722/

Interview with Anita Rodgers

My guest today is Anita Rodgers, author of the Coffee and Crime series. She writes mysteries with a sense of humor. Her love of mysteries started with her dad’s collection of Mickey Spillane novels. And she learned early on that her her ability to solve puzzles and make stuff up was a perfect skill set for mystery writing. The Scotti Fitzgerald Mystery series was inspired by her many years of slinging burgers and waiting tables in all kinds of eating establishments – from dinner houses to greasy spoons (an experience I can certainly relate to!)

Hello, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

In addition to being the author of The Coffee & Crime Series, I am also the author of False Witness and the upcoming Dead Dog Trilogy. I’m a writer, a pet mom, a gardener, a cook and a lover of puzzles.

I live in Southern California with my beloved terrier Lily and two silly cats, Boodie and Bitzy.  I can often be found at Starbucks contemplating the perfect crime over a cup of Sumatra. I have a serious social media addiction and love to interact with family, friends, and fans on Facebook and Twitter.

Tell us about your newest book.

Coffee & Crime is about a waitress/pastry chef who must solve a murder in order to get the diner she wants.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

I always found writing comforting, even when I was very young. I’m still basically a shy person and find it easier to express myself through my writing. I suspect most writers feel this way though.

What are your current projects?

I’m currently working on a thriller series called the Dead Dog Trilogy. The premise: What if a dead serial killer started killing girls again?

What books have most influenced your life?

Different books have had a different influences on me. My dad’s old Mickey Spillane books taught me about suspense and mystery; the Bible taught me about good and evil and the frailty of human beings; My first official library check out book was about a boy who played with fireworks and was blinded and how that changed his life – for the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the book but I’ll never forget the story.

What inspired you to write your first book?

I actually wrote my first book when I was 10. It wasn’t very good. Or very long. But it was about a girl who suffered from addiction. I think it was inspired by an old Frank Sinatra movie I saw on TV, but the real inspiration I believe was that I was aware that there was a lot of suffering in the world. And it made me sad to think that there were so many people in the world suffering and feeling that no one cared.

Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?

Scotti is former foster kid who has made her own way in the world, through hard work and determination. She is a waitress and pastry chef who dreams of having her own place, and being somebody. Due to her growing up in the system, she also has a strong sense of justice and loyalty and will go to pretty much any length to help and/or avenge a friend. Which is how she ends up solving crimes when she isn’t working out her latest cupcake recipe.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I’m not really big on integrating messages in my stories but I suppose I hope the story shows that there is still honesty and integrity in the world, and that most people really are trying to do their best.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

Turning off the internal editor – especially when she is being super critical. Or if I get stuck on a word. Sometimes, I just get obsessed with finding the exact right word (or tiny factoid detail, or acute description, or name) and can go off for hours looking for it. I try not to let this happen often but it happens more than I’d like to admit.

What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?

The new series is a police procedural, which is new territory for me. Working to ensure I get the details right, is a challenge. Also, the story is a lot more gritty than the previous books, which takes a different mindset.

What is the easiest thing about writing?

Even when I’m having trouble with it, it’s the thing that feels most natural to me. Being able to write is just this kind of awesome thing that feels like a gift, a special one, that I get to have because I’m lucky.

What book are you reading now?

“A Twisted Paradise,” a collection of short stories by a fellow indie author AnnMarie Wyncoll.

What is one random thing about you?

I love liver and onions.

What does your writing process look like?

Not sure, don’t really watch it. Haha. Intense. I get very super focused on what I’m doing and can lock myself in a room for hours/days at a time and just live in that world.

Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?

I sometimes have editorial meetings with myself while driving.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

When I really really want to write but the words don’t want to come. Like every word is a battle, and I’m sure all I’m doing is writing pure crap, but somehow have to force myself to continue.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Read. Garden. Walk. Watch movies. Binge watch detective series online. Refinish old furniture. Play with my new puppy, Lily.

From where do you gain your inspiration?

Everywhere. A story from the news, something posted online on social media, a story from a friend. Anything can be an inspiration I think, if you keep your eyes and ears open. But probably more than anything space (open space) inspires me. There is nothing like looking out over the edge of a cliff, or to the sea, or to the mountains in the distance to open up your mind. Is that weird?

What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing against being published or the other way around?

I think the main advantage is that the author has much more control over the creative product, how it is marketed, promoted, publishing dates, etc. And the disadvantage would be the same thing because you have to cover every facet of book creation, production, marketing, etc. Most writers don’t have those skills already there, so the learning curve can be wicked.

How do you market your books?

I am still trying different things. I haven’t found a particular method that is ‘the’ way, yet.

What are your views on social media for marketing?

I think it’s kind of confusing. First, there are so many ‘experts’ who give conflicting advice on promoting via social media. But mostly, I just see a saturation of tweets or posts about books. Seems like everyone is just throwing things out there. I don’t think it’s very effective though. It’s too much noise and not enough substance.

Which social network worked best for you?

The social media network that I understand the best is probably Facebook. I’m more comfortable there than on Twitter. But I don’t really leverage social media much for promotion. And I wouldn’t say it works particularly for me. However, I have a blog that I’ve had for a very long time and I think that is probably the most effective platform for me so far.

Did you make any marketing mistakes or is there anything you would avoid in future?

I think it may have been a mistake to go exclusive with Kindle Select. There have been several incidents that have made it problematic for authors. Also, it seems now that if you un-enroll in Select it tanks your rankings.

Would you or do you use a PR agency?

I don’t use a PR agency, but sure I would consider using one if I felt it could help my books reach a wider audience.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Write. Write a lot. Then write some more. Keep writing. Write every day if you can. Certainly get books about the craft and learn as much as you can. But the sheer act of writing will teach you things that nothing else can.

How can readers discover more about you and you work?

Probably the best way is to visit my blog: http://writerchick.wordpress.com

As we draw this series on mystery and suspense to a close, I want to thank all the authors who have appeared here to share their journey with us. It has been a pleasure getting to know some phenomenal writers. I know I will be following up on their work and adding to my already lengthy reading list!

After a short family vacation, I will begin a series on YA authors in the next few weeks. Watch for more interviews and articles in this space.

Wanda DeHaven Pyle

http://amazon.com/author/wandapyle

Interview with Cynthia Miller

This week, my guest is Cynthia Ripley Miller. She is a first generation Italian-American writer with a passion for history, languages and books.  She infuses this love into her work by bringing the past to life through her writing.

  • Hello, and thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?  I’m the author of On the Edge of Sunrise, the first novel in the Long-Hair Saga, a series set in late ancient Rome and France, and a Chanticleer International Chatelaine Award finalist.  I’ve lived and traveled in Europe, Africa, North America and the Caribbean, taught history and currently, I teach English.  My short stories have appeared in the anthology Summer Tapestry, The Scriptor, and at Orchard Press Mysteries.com.  I also blog at Historical Happenings and Oddities: A Distant Focus and on my website, http://www.cynthiaripleymiller.com. I live with my husband and our cat, Romulus, and German Shepherd, Jessie, in a suburb of Chicago.  Book Two: The Quest for the Crown of Thorns will be published on June 13, 2017.
  • Discuss your newest book. The Quest for the Crown of Thorns is the sequel to On the Edge of Sunrise. My heroine and hero are drawn into mysterious death and propelled on a dangerous mission when they are entrusted to get a sacred relic to Constantinople.  Secrets from book one are also revealed.
  • Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? When I went to college, my teachers praised my writing, and later, when I discovered that a line I used in a letter to the Oprah Winfrey Show in America made it into the script of one of her television shows, it was a boost to my confidence.
  • What are your current projects? I’m working on book 3 in my series, The Long-Hair Saga set in late ancient Rome.
  • What books have most influenced your life? I studied World and English literature and so many authors stand out in my mind. Tolstoy, Dickens, Bronte, and Austen have inspired my romantic historical edge. Lewis and Irving brought the human condition to light for me.
  • What inspired you to write your first book? Reading the romantic historical adventure series, Outlander—it had all the elements of entertaining genre fiction that I enjoyed and getting my own laptop computer.
  • Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special? Arria Felix is a Roman senator’s daughter. An only child, she’s been educated unconventionally for the times by a progressive father. She’s known in Rome and the countryside for her sharp sense of reason and deduction. Suffering from the loss of her soldier husband and looking for a purpose in her life, she accepts the position of political envoy to the barbarian tribes in Gaul. She will recruit their help against Attila the Hun who has invaded the empire.
  • Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? On the Edge of Sunrise is crafted as a romantic historical suspense and adventure novel. The foremost themes blended into the story are courage, love at first sight—an aspect of life that still occurs today—and loyalty.
  • What is the hardest thing about writing? For me it’s carving out long blocks of uninterrupted time. Once I start, time grabs me and accelerates. If I’m undisturbed, hours fly by before I know it. When something interrupts me, I feel jarred into the present. I have found that the library over my office is the perfect writing hideaway for me.
  • What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book? Everything must be fact checked for the time period and locations. From flowers and trees to garments, food, vehicles, customs and weapons, it’s best not to assume. I once had a character put her hand in a dress pocket.  It didn’t occur to me until much later that—wait! I don’t think the pocket came into use until the Middle Ages.  People did not use pockets in late ancient Rome. Or, the sunflower is not indigenous to Tuscany, but the poppy is a native flower.
  • What is the easiest thing about writing? For me, it’s writing dialogue. I‘m generally not that talkative, but for some reason, my characters have plenty to say!
  • What book are you reading now? A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers. It’s set in ancient Rome about 300 years before my story.
  • What is one random thing about you? I’m an Italian-American who speaks Italian and I like to cook.
  • What does your writing process look like? I write a full story plot with the end in mind before I write the first chapter.  I use graphic organizers as I go along to help me brainstorm sub-plots and supporting characters.  I also trust my muses who sometimes take me in unexpected directions.
  • Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)? My habit is to write in silence and I take walks to help me think through any character, plot, or historical obstacles I may run into.
  • Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? I feel compared to some writers today I’m a slow writer. I love weaving intrigue, suspense, and in book two, The Quest for the Crown of Thorns, I’ve added a mystery. I strive to make every detail fit and for events to come full circle. Taking into consideration my personal life as well, from start to finish, including edits, it takes me a year and a half to two years.
  • What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing against being published or the other way around? I’m with a traditional but small publisher. The advantage is being available to more markets and the disadvantage is not having full control over your product.
  • How do you market your books? Predominately through SocialMedia (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and my website: cynthiaripleymiller.com and my blog: Historical Happenings and Oddities. I also like to participate in library and bookstore author fairs and book clubs.
  • What are your views on social media for marketing? I think Social Media is the best method for marketing second only to ‘word of mouth.’
  • Did you make any marketing mistakes or is there anything you would avoid in future? I made a trailer and it played well at my book launch, but I can’t say it’s responsible for producing a large amount of sales.
  • Would you or do you use a PR agency? I have friends who have used a PR person, but they are very expensive. I think they are better suited for high volume authors not those starting out.
  • Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books? Read trade magazines and articles on the Internet to learn how to navigate and use Social Media to your advantage.
  • What part of your writing time do you devote to marketing your book? Too much! This is a complaint of mine. There’s a danger in spending more time on selling your book and less time on creating the book/books you want to sell.
  • What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Do your homework on all levels. Know what the industry is about, write a good story, trust your instincts, and join a writer’s group.
  • How can readers discover more about you and you work? Readers can learn more about me and my books at: cynthiaripleymiller.com Twitter: @CRipleMiller  and Facebook: Cynthia Ripley Miller

Thank you.  Be sure to watch for Cynthia’s new release of Book Two: The Quest for the Crown of Thorns in June 2017. I know I will.

Wanda DeHaven Pyle, author of Windborne and The Legacy Trilogy.

 

 

Interview with Caroline Farrell

 

Each week, this month I will be featuring an interview with an indie writer of mystery/suspense. This week I am pleased to have as my guest, Caroline Farrell. She is an award winning author and screenwriter with a rich background to draw from in her work.

Hello, and thank you for agreeing to this interview.

  • Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

CF: From Dublin, Ireland, I am the author of the novel, LADY BETH, just released with an official launch date set for May, 2017. I am also a filmmaker and have written several award-winning screenplays, with two of my short films produced, ADAM (2013) and the multi-award winning IN RIBBONS (2015). I am a member of the Writers Guild of Ireland, The Irish Writers Union and The Irish Film and Television Academy. Books, writing and storytelling have always been an essential element of my life and I worked as a Librarian for twenty years, with a BsEcon in Library & Information Studies. I also hold a Postgrad (Teaching) in Adult & Community Education. I am a regular blogger and a couple of years ago, I wrote a novel online, blogging chapters as I progressed, which resulted in the completion and publishing of my first novel, ARKYNE, STORY OF A VAMPIRE.

  • Discuss your newest book.

CF: LADY BETH has been described as ‘compelling grit-lit.  Set in Dublin, Beth Downes, seems like a quiet, unassuming woman. She is attractive, though careless in her appearance and works hard, living only for her teenage son, Jesse. When he dies suddenly following a drug-fuelled party with his girlfriend, a very different woman emerges, for she has been keeping secrets. Beth had always refused to tell Jesse who his father was, an issue that they fought about just before his death. Now, compounded by grief, guilt, regret and the need to find out the truth of who is responsible for her son’s death, she will journey full-circle, back to her old life, before Jesse, to a sordid past, and to the man she tried so desperately to forget.

  • Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

CF: In my late teens, I used to scribble bits of stories and made some attempts at writing a novel, thankfully, long forgotten! I won a small prize in a ‘plot a novel’ competition when I was 19, and a major award for a short story some years later, but with a fulltime job and a family, it was only about 10 years ago that I began to give my writing serious attention.

  • What are your current projects?

CF: I am working on a children’s novel, PIXER KNOWS, based on my award-winning screenplay of the same name. I also have plots drawn up for some more adult novels, and of course, now that LADY BETH is out, she is haunting me for a sequel!

  • What books have most influenced your life?

CF: The first book that had a profound influence on me was When Marnie Was There by Joan G. Robinson, a haunting tale about a lonely little girl and her imaginary, ghostly friend… I was 7 or 8 years old, and it was the first book I borrowed from the local library, a very grand Carnegie building filled with dark corners and possibilities. From the classics, as a teen, I devoured Wuthering Heights, Picture of Dorian Gray and Dracula…as well as every secondhand Agatha Christie novel I could get my hands on!

  • What inspired you to write your first book?

CF: It was a gothic tale of horror, so I think I had to get my Stoker influence out somehow. I also went through a period of reading the novels of the wonderful author, Anne Rice, so my vampire, Lucius De Rais, is most definitely inspired by her wonderful blood-sucking characters!

  • Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?

CF: Beth is a complex character, which makes her so exciting to write about. On the outside, a dutiful mother, working hard, scrimping to get by and to give her only son the stable life and education she never had. But when she loses him… oh boy, we enter her dark and secret past, and learn the truth about ‘Lady’ and what she is capable of doing. That transformation was very challenging to write and I think, makes her a unique protagonist.

  • Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

CF: I don’t set out to send messages through my writing. I trust my readers to form their own interpretation of the work and to take from it what they will.

  • What is the hardest thing about writing?

CF: I don’t generally find writing hard, though first edits can be a curse! Thankfully, that’s what we pay editors the big bucks for! And knowing when to stop, when it’s done – that can be difficult too!

  • What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?

CF: Getting inside the heads of such troubled characters and striving for authenticity in their every motivation and action.

  • What is the easiest thing about writing?

CF: More about time than a thing – it’s when I sit down to write. At that stage, the story has already formed in my head and it’s such an exciting time giving shape to the plot and life to the characters.

  • What book are you reading now?

CF: I have just finished Shirley Jackson’s We have always lived in the Castle, and a collection of ghost stories from Kate Mosse. I am now reading Once We Sang Like Other Men, a stunning collection of short stories by John MacKenna.

  • What is one random thing about you?

CF: When I was writing ARKYNE, STORY OF A VAMPIRE, there is a child’s blanket, a protection weave, featured, made by a white witch. So, while writing about it, I made one. It is four knitted squares, stitched together with embroidered images that depict the cradle to grave of the infant that the weave was made to protect.

 What does your writing process look like?

CF: I am very lucky these days that I get to spend more time at my writing. Some days, I can write early in the morning, in the afternoon or late at night if I so choose. I don’t wait for the ‘muse’, but I don’t force it either. I write as it comes, and if I am out and about somewhere without paper and pen, I might look like I am day-dreaming, though I’m probably in the zone, filing away the words for later. I jot down notes and phrases in a notebook, but most of the work happens directly to the laptop.

  • Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?

CF: No, but I do have the terrible habit of writing in bed. I’m sure it will take its toll on my back in years to come!

  • Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

CF: Only when I can’t get to it fast enough! I also find those witching hour ‘eureka’ moments a challenge – getting up on a cold winter night to scribble down the nuggets before they fade away again with sleep.

  • What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

CF: See family, friends and go out to the cinema, theatre and cultural events. I also love to travel.

  • What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing against being published or the other way around?

CF: I’ve never been a fan of labels. I want to express my writing in the genres and formats that feel right for me, and whether I work on a screenplay, a novel, or a short story, in the end, I am a storyteller. I actually wrote a blog on this very topic: https://carolinefarrellwriter.com/2017/03/03/going-indie-and-why-not/

  • How do you market your books?

CF: I use social media a lot! Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. I have joined a lot of supportive groups on Facebook too, and find them useful for tips and encouragement. I also blog, which is a great way to connect with readers in a way that doesn’t always have to be direct marketing.

  • Why did you choose this route?

CF: It’s important to have an author platform, and social media is a great way to connect with people, readers and writers. The tools are there if you learn how to use them. It’s also the quickest way to get a message out through online engagement.

  • Which social network worked best for you?

CF: At the moment, Facebook. I have an author page and a separate page for Lady Beth, so there is traffic to both. My blog is also doing well.

  • Did you make any marketing mistakes or is there anything you would avoid in future?

CF: I think I am too early in the indie author game to really know that yet. I am hoping I will alert enough to know when I do make mistakes and so can learn from them!

  • Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?

CF: Make sure that your cover design is the best it can be and try to be unique. There are too many book covers that look homemade out there… and too many that look similar to others!

  • What part of your writing time do you devote to marketing your book?

CF: I would do something every day to market my book, even if it just to post a status update, write or update a press pack, post a positive review or endorsement that I have received, or write to someone I would like to review, endorse or share information on my book.

  • What do you do to get book reviews?

CF: Keep my fingers crossed!! Seriously though, this is a tricky one. When someone tells me they have enjoyed my book, I do mention that it would be great if they could post a review on Amazon or Goodreads. I don’t push it though, and the review can go unwritten. Some readers are just not comfortable writing reviews, so you can’t force that issue.

  • What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

CF: Read widely, write wisely, and with authenticity, and keep going. Hone your craft.

  • How can readers discover more about you and you work?

AMAZON: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06WGMFM1Q/

My FACEBOOK Page: https://www.facebook.com/CarolineFarrellAuthor/

My TWITTER: https://twitter.com/CarolineAuthor

My WEBSITE: www.carolinefarrellwriter.com

Be sure to check back next week for another chat with mystery/suspense writer, Cynthia Miller.

Wanda DeHaven Pyle

 

 

Interview with Michael J. Molloy

 

We are continuing to showcase authors of mystery and suspense this month with an interview with Michael J. Molloy, author of Sadistic Pattern. Thank you for your interest in being a part of this discussion in support of Indie Authors.

  • Tell us a little about yourself and your background? I’m a native New Yorker, a graduate of St. John’s University, and have been writing off and on for the past 16 years.
  • Discuss your newest book. Sadistic Pattern follows the exploits of New England college professor Roger Lavoie. He was acquitted in a trial of a gruesome murder and driving his ex-wife to a mental institution. A series of similar events follow more than 20 years later and once again he becomes the prime suspect.
  • Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? That’s easy. It was by the late Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes). I had Mr. McCourt for an English course back in the early 1970s at Stuyvesant High School. I read all three of his books.
  • What are your current projects? I also write romance, and I’m working on my second contemporary romance titled “Sweet Greetings from Carthage”. The heroine is based on a woman I’ve known for nearly five decades. She recently passed away two years ago.
  • What books have most influenced your life? “The Dead Zone” by Stephen King, “The Devil’s Alternative” by Frederick Forsyth, and “Nights in Rodanthe” by Nicholas Sparks.
  • Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special? Roger Lavoie is very cunning, especially he eludes the police. As twisted as he is, Roger remains very clever in how he executes his murders.
  • Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? The ending leaves one pondering and opens discussions. That’s what I wish to convey. I love a thinking person as a reader.
  • What is the hardest thing about writing? Because I don’t write every day (I have a regular job and I’m also a musician) it gets to be very difficult to sit my butt down in the chair and continue the story.
  • What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book? Research in police work, especially in forensics. Also keeping each character interesting, regardless of how minor their role may play.
  • What is the easiest thing about writing? Dialogue. Yes it can be a filler. But the art of conversation between characters should not be lost.
  • What book are you reading now? Reading an old copy of Lisa Kleypas’ “Blue Eyed Devil”.
  • What is one random thing about you? I’m also a musician. I play organ and keyboard and will be performing at a few Brooklyn Cyclones baseball games in late June and early July.
  • What does your writing process look like? I have an outline of the story in my head, but I write by whim as each stage of the book develops.
  • Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)? LOL! Nothing too extreme! But I usually play waves crashing the shore as background when writing romance, and playing the soundtrack to “Vertigo” when writing suspense.
  • Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? Always trying to find new ways to illustrate similar scenes as part of showing the reader the tale as it unfolds.
  • What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Besides holding down a full-time job, I attend meetings and functions with my local Romance Writers of America writing chapter here in New York City. I’m also an organist, but I like classic rock and pop tunes.
  • From where do you gain your inspiration? Each meeting with my RWANYC writing mates encourages me to get home right away and attack my PC and continue.
  • What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing against being published or the other way around? Self-publishing gives you total control, but you better have a well-thought out plan, because you’re essentially naked when it comes to issues such as marketing. Traditional publishers offer you a ton of support, but they do wield their influence and control. Each offers both good and bad features.
  • How do you market your books? Giveaways are good, but not always fruitful. I do approach local bookstores and offer a no-risk plan to engage them for possible book signings. Speaking of which, I do buy spots at book events to attract old and new readers.
  • Why did you choose this route? You’re one-on-one with the reader. Engagement in a face-to-face meeting sears your image to your books that way.
  • What are your views on social media for marketing? I’m in Twitter and Facebook, although I have a personal FB account that is not writing related, and a separate FB account just for my professional writing.
  • Which social network worked best for you? I’ve found Twitter to be the best at luring in readers and writing professionals (I have well over 2,100 followers). Facebook is no slouch, though.
  • Did you make any marketing mistakes or is there anything you would avoid in future? Investing money and time with agencies that didn’t necessarily pan out.
  • Would you or do you use a PR agency? Right now I want to focus on a obtaining a literary agent for my next work, preferably someone with some street cred behind him/her and from a reputable agency.
  • Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books? Stay away from places that “guarantee” a lot of followers and potential readers. If it’s too good to be true, it is. Also, steer clear of vanity presses.
  • What part of your writing time do you devote to marketing your book? I’ll admit not enough. I’m too busy trying to work on the next project. I pledge to do better with the right publisher/agency.
  • What do you do to get book reviews? I’ve offered free books with the proviso that the readers do write something, especially on my Amazon author page. It’s an honor system, but the true readers will respond.
  • What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Hone your craft, join professional writing organizations, subscribe to publications like Writer’s Digest, and attend writers conferences and conventions and share thoughts on what works and what doesn’t.
  • How can readers discover more about you and you work? Go to my website, https://www.molloyauthor.com. Also go to my Amazon author page and professional Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/molloyauthor.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with us about your craft. Watch this space for more interviews and articles in support of indie authors.

Wanda DeHaven Pyle