Thursday, December 27, 2007

Happy Old Year 2007!!!

With only five shopping days left till New Year’s Eve, here is your chance to buy me a bottle of Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame... er, I mean, here is your chance to tell me about the most memorable book of 2007. It may be a book you read, or tried to read and failed, or heard about and never got the chance to buy.

Here’s mine, and it’s no surprise for regular readers of this blog:
· Lionel Shriver’s “Post-Birthday World”!!!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Your Christmas Wish List


I admit I stole this idea straight from http://sormag.blogspot.com/2007/12/wish-list-room.html. But it’s such a good one, it needs to be propagated. And besides, don’t they say that plagiarism is the finest form of flattery?

So this is your chance to share your list of books you would like to find under the tree this season, or the list of books you wish on others (for noble or not so noble reasons).

Authors, feel free to advertise your book.

Here is a short appetiser to get you going: this Christmas I wish... I wish... I wish that everybody would spend 80 cents on “Small Price to Pay”:

I didn't mind it when I discovered that Nick was having an affair. I mean, I did mind, but we'd been married twenty years. We've had some good times, we've had some bad times, but most of all, we've had some very long lacklustre times. What more can I say?
So it was not the affair that hurt. It was what he'd said.
A week ago, I picked up the phone to arrange a summer camp for the children. That's when I heard her voice--on my phone--to my husband--discussing a holiday away together.
"I'll keep the sheets hot for you, Nicky."
Nicky? I had tried calling him that once in our early days, and Nick had hated it.
"Hot, huh?" Okay, so flirting is not my husband's strong suite. But his voice was liquid chocolate.
"That's right. Hot. Come as quickly as you can."
I almost burst out laughing when I remembered, unkindly, how quickly Nick can come.
"Patience, M," Nick was saying meanwhile. "We have a whole week."
M. My husband was having an affair with M, the least likely Bond girl of them all.
"Aren't you worried to leave your wife alone for that long, though?" she teased. "What's good for the gander, you know...."
"Nah," replied my husband. "She's too vain to have an affair when she's fat."
....

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pterry: “I aten’t dead”


STOP PRESS:
L-space is bending into itself in the aftershocks of the Alzheimer news today. Terry Pratchett’s press release about his prognosis was short, factual and with a just a micro-trace of his trademark humour to put an optimistic spin on it. He did not say “I aten’t dead yet”, but he may as well have.

This blow could have happened to a lesser writer (a number of, in fact).

It didn’t.

Perhaps ill health is a by-product of genius, then, or perhaps genius is a by-product of an organism that knows (on a molecular level) its time may be limited. After all, it’s been speculated that Felix Mendelssohn had a brain tumour, that Mozart suffered from Tourette Syndrome, that Einstein was autistic. If that’s the price you pay for brilliance, I’ll settle for featuring on the New York Times Top Ten with a book that will astonish the readers by its lack of genius...


Anyway, for updates on Terry and the Discworld, please see http://paulkidby.com/news/index.html.


Friday, December 07, 2007


Writing The Breakout Novel

This is the third time - in about as many years - that I’m going through the book “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass (writer and literary agent). The title says it: if you want to enhance your pacing, your plot or your characters, then this is the manual for you.

Some of the practical advice that you can expect from the book includes:
· Raise the personal stakes so that they “dig deep down to show us who we are”. The higher the stakes, the higher the novel’s success.
· Remember that the setting is more than landscape or rooms: it’s the geographical and historical context for your characters’ ideas, motivation and actions.
· “Subplots must affect the overall outcome of the story.”
· We all need heroes. Is the main character of your novel a real hero or just a protagonist?
· Conflicting ideas = tension.
· Stir your reader: if you have a dog in your story, kick it. If you have a character who’s easy to like, kill them.
· Let the theme of the novel arise from your passion.
· Symbols may either enhance your novel, or make it feel stage-y.

A word of warning here: if you are a true writer, you will find it difficult to read the book from cover to cover. After the first chapter, you will have this insatiable urge to open your work-in-progress and start writing....

(Sorry to end this mid-air, but I’ve just paged through “Writing the Breakout Novel” looking for quotes and now you can find me in front of my latest manuscript.)

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Hindi Bindi Club

The Hindi Bindi Club” by Monica Pradhan appealed to me on many levels: because I’m a daughter, because I’m a mother, because I’m an emigrant and because I married into a different culture. I also fancied the Indian atmosphere of the book, in particular the recipes (which taught me to appreciate fresh coriander leaves) and the short lecture on where to place your food on the clock-face of the plate.

Many heavy issues are dealt with on its pages, and yet the book is a fast, relaxing read. Some might call it chick-lit in a curry sauce. I just say read it.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Making Money by Terry Pratchett

Perhaps it’s because I’m a sucker for cute guys with an attitude and a bad-bad-bad reputation (my husband and Sawyer from LOST being a case - or is it two cases - in point)... oops ... now where was I....

So I must admit I really like Moist von Lipwig (the confidence artist whom we met in Going Postal). I like the way he gets restless when things are too good, too safe and too easy. I even like his cigarette-reeking girlfriend (and coming from somebody who’s medically allergic to nicotine, that’s saying something).

The main theme of the book (that of how money doesn’t have to be based on gold) and the basic lessons in economics, were also fun. And I really appreciate that Terry is becoming more playful with sexual innuendo again (akin to the first few chapters of “Small Gods”).

Now for the bad news: the book is nowhere near his best. While the pacing was good, I found the plot resolution disappointing and not up to his usual clever tricks. The villain was ridiculous instead of scary, the golem problem was introduced too late and it was sorted out with an “oh?” rather than an “aaaaaaah!”

Still, as I always maintain: give me a mediocre Pratchett any day. It’s better than most writers can achieve.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Murder @ The Bling Bling Xmas Table

The Setting:
Exclusive Game Reserve “Bling-Bling Bush Lodge”, Christmas 2007

The Characters:
- Christine Chamberlain, a mathematician and our amateur detective who will help us solve the puzzle
- Tom Wodehouse, artist and Christine’s husband
- Alta Vermaak”, Christine’s best friend from school, owner of the “Bling-Bling Bush Lodge which, despite its glamorous name, is making a financial loss of bling-bling proportions
- Kenneth Vermaak, Alta’s husband, game ranger at his wife’s game reserve and begrudging the fact that this is the only job he could get in the new South Africa
- Sandra Vermaak, Alta’s twin sister from New Zealand, visiting after a 10-year absence, a stay-at-home mom who says she’s not bored and that she loves her children, but if so, then why did she leave them in New Zealand with the nanny?
- Connor Vermaak, Sandra’s husband and Kenneth’s older brother, self-made millionaire who is reluctant to talk about his money-making ventures

Back Story:
Alta Vermaak organised a xmas reunion for the immediate family. Aware of the undercurrents in the family members’ affairs, however (Kenneth is envious of Connor’s business success, Sandra had a crush on Kenneth but he chose Alta, Connor cannot forgive Kenneth that he was Sandra’s first choice, Alta is irritated by the way Sandra throws money around), she invited Christine and Tom to join them for Christmas.

(Thank you to those of you who attended “Set the Table for Murder” last Saturday. We had lots of fun, lots of praise and lots of sales!)

(In the next blog: review of Pratchett’s “Making Money”… watch this space.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Set The Table For Murder



When two former war games experts and colleagues decided to realise their dreams, it had nothing to do with computer simulation exercises.


Yvonne Eve Walus started writing novels in which she murdered people she didn’t like (in “Murder @ Work”, for example, she killed her ex-boss).


Meanwhile, Ninell Robinson opened Cama - a gift shop - for people she did like.
This year, the two IT professionals will work together once again to bring you a unique event: “Set The Table For Murder”.

“In essence, it will be an afternoon of murder and mystery,” says Yvonne Eve Walus, “so we’re keeping the details secret. But think treasure hunt mixed with a literary discussion, expect to have fun, and you won’t go wrong.”

“Ok, I’ll give you a hint,” adds Cama’s owner. “There will really be a table set for murder.”

Visit Cama Gift Inspiration in Mooikloof Village, Pretoria, on Saturday 10 November, 12h00-14h00 to drink good wine, discuss good books and perhaps even solve a good mystery in the process.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Kept Woman

My mother’s greatest dream was to be a kept woman. Inherently lazy, she didn’t want to work for a living. Instead, she wanted to stay at home, cook dinner and look after her family (all that work in-between reading books, drinking coffee with her friends and telling the domestic help where else to dust and what to plant around the swimming pool).
Growing up, I considered my mother’s lack of ambition outrageous. It was demeaning to our gender, hollow and short-sighted: in case of a divorce, she would have been left with nothing (that’s the way South African law worked at the time), and with no training or experience to find a job.
Consequently, my greatest dream was to be well educated, creative and financially independent. I have all that today. And I wouldn’t want to change it.
But sometimes, when I look up from my writing at 2 in the morning and see the shelves that need dusting, I do wonder whether being Superwoman is worth the price. I can’t remember the last time I did the good things in life like scuba diving or sleep - ok, at least I had some single malt less than 12 hours ago - and that’s when I realise that career + children + 2nd career + housework = burnout.
So what will my daughter learn from my example? What will her greatest dream be? So far, she says she wants to be just like me: a project manager, a writer, a mummy... and she also wants to be some of the things I’m not: like a singer and a dancer.
And I’m extremely tempted to say to her: “No, darling. What you really, really want to be, is a kept woman.”

Friday, October 12, 2007

Morning Tea with a Kiwi or Three




What: Morning tea with Yvonne Walus, Jane Beckenham and N.D. Hansen-Hill
When: Tue 16 Oct 2007, 10:30am
Where: Glenfield Library

Why:
Join us for morning tea and hear how we balance reality and dreams (the reality of family commitments and the dream of following a passion).


  • Yvonne Walus - Murder and mystery

  • Jane Beckenham - Steamy romances

  • N.D. Hansen-Hill - Science fiction and horror

We would love to see you there.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Wits' End Before Breakfast

I've just finished reading a book that doesn't exist. All right, I suppose it's not such an outrageous statement to make when you're a novelist. What's surprising is that the book is not written by me nor any of my friends.

It has an ISBN number and a publisher (Lothian Books, Australia). But look up Emma Robertson's "Wits' End Before Breakfast (Confessions of a Working Mum)" on Amazon, and you draw a big zero. And if it ain't listed on Amazon.... [see footnote].

Googling the book produces a link to macmillan.co.nz with a note "Out of stock", a link to one bookshop in Australia, a link to ebay and to a single review in an air force magazine. That's all.

(In contrast, if you were to google "Murder @ Work" for example, you'd get pages of relevant hits.)

Anyway, it's a good book and a fun, humorous read. Every mother should read it, if only to feel smug about the fact that others have it worse.

Far - faaaaaaaaaaaar - worse.

[Footnote: Everything you read on Amazon is true, of course. So have a look at my latest poetry collection, Erato, yours for a mere £1,096.99.]

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Cynthia's Attic: Curse of the Bayou

Colorful Pirates, SuRana, a shape-shifting puma, and an old Cajun guide named Mud Bug, join Cynthia and Gus, in Cynthia's Attic: Curse of the Bayou.
By Mary Cunningham

The twelve-year-old best friends travel through the magic trunk in Cynthia's attic to a 1914 Louisiana bayou searching for Cynthia's great-grandfather, Beau Connor. Discovering a connection between Beau and Buzzard Jack LaBuse, the meanest, orneriest pirate this side of the Mississippi, leads to a heart-stopping confrontation to recover a long-lost treasure and lift a family curse.



Cynthia's Attic: Curse of the Bayou
Excerpt from Chapter Nine:


"How do you reckon they got here, son?"
"Like I told you, Ma, I found them here in the hayloft, all nestled down like they were fixin' to take a nap."
"Well, what do you suppose we should do? Wake them, or let them sleep? I hate to disturb those angelic faces…oh, my heavens! Jay! You don't think they're dead, do you?"
I heard the word, dead, and sat straight up. "No! We're not dead, and who are you?"
"Now, listen here. I'll do the talking if you don't mind."
A tall, thin young man in overalls, resting one arm on a pitchfork, looked down at us. With that deadly weapon in his grasp, I decided to shut my mouth…for the moment.
"What? Where are we?" Cynthia regained consciousness and did a double-take.
A plump, older woman in a huge white apron answered, "You're on the Conner farm, dearie. I'm Samantha Conner and this is my son, Jay.
No wonder Cynthia was speechless. I wasn't too familiar with her mother's family, but their name was Conner, and I'd heard mention of Samantha, Cynthia's great-grandmother. Her grandfather was nicknamed Jay by his dad who thought that 'John Joseph' was too showy for a farmer's son. This might also explain why the man we were looking for, her great-grandfather, Aloysius Beauregard Conner, went by Beau.
"So?" Jay leaned forward, still holding the pitchfork. "We're waiting for an answer."
My mind raced. I could tell we weren't going to lie our way out of this one. Not easily.
"We got separated from our family, sir," Cynthia, over her momentary shock, said smoothly. "We were traveling west, and our wagon…uh, our covered wagon…"
I nodded. So, she did pay attention in history class. "
"…became stuck in a muddy creek bank. My sister, Gus, er, uh…I mean Augusta, and I left to find help and got hopelessly lost."
"Oh, dear!" Samantha threw her hands in the air. "Your poor parents! They must be frantic! Jay, we must help them find their family!" She ran in circles, almost tripping on her long apron, crying…"Oh, dear! Oh, dear! Oh, dear!"
I knew better than to look at Cynthia because we'd both burst out laughing. Great Grandma Sam, was quite a sight. At least her antics took the heat off of us because Jay had to all but tackle his mother.
"Ma. Stop running! We'll find their family, but we need more information."
He must've had a lot of practice calming her down, because the sternness in his voice stopped her hysterics on the spot. "You're right, son. Oh, I'm sorry, girls. I can't imagine the horror of losing any of my beautiful children."
Jay smirked. "Yeah, but Ma, with twelve kids, it might be awhile before you'd know any of us were missing."
She sent a withering look. "Oh, you two dearies. Don't pay any attention to him. Jay, here, is 21, and the baby of the family. But, just because his brothers and sisters are grown, with families of their own, I still fret about every single one of my brood."
Standing behind his mother, Jay smiled and winked. "Now, that Ma has sworn her undying love for all her children, let's get back to you girls."
Shoot! I had hoped we were off the hook. No such luck.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mary Cunningham

Whenever I ask a non-writer to imagine a typical full-time writer's workload, they look a bit puzzled, before they reply: "Well, a writer... writes. Drinks coffee. Smokes lots of cigarettes. Writes some more. Finishes the book. Sends it off to the publishers. Writes another book."

If only!

Today I'd like to dispel this myth by talking to Mary Cunningham again (see my archives for the previous interview earlier this year, http://yewalus.blogspot.com/2007_02_01_archive.html). Mary is the author of the young reader series called "Cynthia's Attic". Welcome back, Mary.

Q: I'd like us to concentrate on your marketing effort for the "Cynthia's Attic" series: what did you try?

A: You're right, Yvonne. If only we could just write! Today's authors must be more involved in marketing. Book one, "The Missing Locket" was published in DEC 2005. I wish I'd known then what I know now. I don't think I'd be struggling as much with sales. I'm so much more savvy about promoting on the Internet. It's such an amazing tool. If you hit the right review sites, blogs, press releases, you can reach so many more people than you can at booksignings or book festivals. These are still important, but mass media is so much more effective. I also have a website, and blog on 7 or 8 different blogspots, plus try to "guest blog" whenever I'm asked!

Q: What worked best?

A: So far, blogs have been the most effective. I'd had one review that was posted on 15 (that I've counted) different blogs, including 2 international blogs.

Q: What didn't work so well for you and why?

A: I've struggled with libraries. Although I've sent personal e-mails to libraries in 8 states, I have very few library sales to show for it. Libraries are hung up on reviews - Library Journal, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly. If your book isn't listed on one of these sites, it's like pulling teeth to get them to add your books to their catalogs. I know other authors have had good success with libraries, so maybe I'm just not hitting the right buttons. I won't stop trying!

Q: Let's talk about Book Three: what is the title and blurb?

A: So glad you asked! The title is Cynthia's Attic: Curse of the Bayou.

Colorful Pirates, SuRana, a shape-shifting puma, and an old Cajun guide named Mud Bug, join Cynthia and Gus, in Cynthia's Attic: Curse of the Bayou.

The twelve-year-old best friends travel through the magic trunk in Cynthia's attic to a 1914 Louisiana bayou searching for Cynthia's great-grandfather, Beau Connor. Discovering a connection between Beau and Buzzard Jack LaBuse, the meanest, orneriest pirate this side of the Mississippi, leads to a heart-stopping confrontation to recover a long-lost treasure and lift a family curse.

Q: I look forward to presenting an excerpt and the book's cover in next week's blog, Mary. Meanwhile, back to the marketing aspect again: what have you done so far for this latest book, what are you planning to do still, why is it different to or the same as you've tried before?

A: I'm sending out more press releases. Spreading the word through blogs and MySpace. As soon as I have a firm publish date, I'll concentrate on my best markets (hometown, region, book locale, etc.) and also contact bookstores in those areas. In addition to the books my publisher (Quake) will be sending out for review, I'll send books out for review. I've also been asked to write Book Four! I'll never stop marketing, but I also need to find time to write another book. I'm not ready to let go of Cynthia and Gus just yet.

Q: Anything else you'd like to add?

A: I'm proud of the fact that my goal in writing the series is to elevate grandparents beyond homemade cookies and hugs in the eyes of their grandchildren. Cynthia's Attic bridges the generational gap, helping young readers and writers understand that it's okay, and might even be fun, for them to ask questions and write stories about their grandparents before they became, well...grandparents! I regret the fact that I didn't sit down with my grandparents and ask about their childhood. It's too late for me, but maybe I can encourage young readers to be inquisitive and write stories about their ancestors.

Q: And before we sign off: link to purchasing all the books in the series.

http://www.marycunninghambooks.com/ (links to online bookstores and local bookstores may be found on my website)
http://www.quakeme.com/
Amazon
Fictionwise

Thanks, so much Yvonne. It's been a pleasure being your guest!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The woods

Harlan Coben latest offering, “The woods”, uses the author’s very own tried (though not yet tired) and tested formula: a protagonist we empathise with, a mystery from the past returning to complicate the present, a dead loved one - but is she really dead?

The pacing is spot on, the dialogues brilliant and under-worded, the mystery intriguing. And yet, I couldn’t help the feeling that the book lacked a certain something that I’ve come to expect from the author: the usual gripping terror, perhaps, or a final read-through? It’s almost as though the protagonist is spared the customary torment inflicted on him by the writer. His troubles are implied more than felt, the threats never quite realised.

In a way, that’s a good thing. I’m quite content not to have my emotional guts wrenched out, twisted and beaten to pulp by a thriller.

But “The woods” is not as good as “Gone for good”, “Tell no one” or “Just one look”.

PS: The Publisher's Blurb, to make you want to read the book anyway:

Twenty years ago, four teenagers at summer camp walked into the woods at night. Two were found murdered, and the others were never seen again. Four families had their lives changed forever.

Now, two decades later, they are about to change again. For Paul Copeland, the county prosecutor of Essex, New Jersey, mourning the loss of his sister has only recently begun to subside. Cope, as he is known, is now dealing with raising his six- year-old daughter as a single father after his wife has died of cancer. Balancing family life and a rapidly ascending career as a prosecutor distracts him from his past traumas, but only for so long.

When a homicide victim is found with evidence linking him to Cope, the well-buried secrets of the prosecutor’s family are threatened.Is this homicide victim one of the campers who disappeared with his sister? Could his sister be alive? Cope has to confront so much he left behind that summer twenty years ago: his first love, Lucy; his mother, who abandoned the family; and the secrets that his Russian parents might have been hiding even from their own children.

Cope must decide what is better left hidden in the dark and what truths can be brought to the light.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Celebrate 100

To celebrate my 100th post on this blog, I've decided to take a fun quiz, courtesy of a paranormal romance author, Nalini Singh. Have a look at the result, which is based (among others) on the fact that my preferred psychic powers are Healing, Empathy and Telepathy:







Which Psy-Changeling Hero Is For You?




Your Psy/Changeling Hero: Lucas

Tough, dangerous and highly intelligent, the alpha of the DarkRiver leopard pack is a man who will demand everything from his mate. But he will give the same in return. And he will never let go.Find out more about Lucas and the series at www.nalinisingh.com
Take this quiz!








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Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Tudors

A long, long time ago - possibly in a previous life - I somehow had enough time to watch the entire TV series called The Tudors. While purists were no doubt enraged by the liberties the writers took with history (merging Henry VIII’s two sisters into one, for example), I thoroughly enjoyed every episode. True, it was not as gripping as 24 or as well paced as Rome, but neither did it have irritating ditsy characters (Desperate Housewives springs to mind) nor explicit gory bits (the only thing I had against Rome).

You might not believe it, but Henry meets Anne Boleyn at the beginning of the 10-episode series (episode 3), and by the final episode they are not married yet. This means that there is potential for many future seasons if they want to take it all the way to Queen Elizabeth’s speech against the Spanish Armada.
Of course, having spent 10 hours of my life watching The Tudors during my writing time, means that I now have 24 hours left to fix the pacing in my own work (crime short story for an international competition). Chances are, I will have to leave you mid-wo

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Brown Owl’s Guide To Life



"Brown Owl's Guide To Life" by Kate Harrison is not a book I would have chosen to read. Starting with its confusing title and ending with the stitch-work washed-out cover, it’s just not me through and through.

And yet, when I read its write-up in a writer’s magazine as an example of a reunion story well done, I was intrigued enough to get it out of the library. Once I started reading, it was hard to put down. I was pleased to note that it was written in the present tense (my favourite), with flashbacks (which are currently seen as a no-no) and many points of view. Exactly the structure I favour at this stage of my writing career.

The stories of the four ex girl brownies (a virgin vicar to be, a loser addicted to her computer, a bullied housewife and a sex empire owner) weave in and out of the tale with equal strength, and while you may wish for a little bit of originality in the resolution of their problems, it’s still a great read.

Oh, except, on a purely personal level, I hated the ending for the main protagonist. She chose strength, but the alternative ending would have made her stronger.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Scandalously late...

Scandalously late... my apologies: I had a writers’ conference to attend. It’s always great to be in a room with a hundred other writers who are serious about the craft, but this year I was extra lucky to meet one of my favourite authors, Jennifer Crusie. I’m officially star-struck! Jen is a wonderful person and an excellent teacher, and if you haven’t read her books, I can sincerely recommend her “Faking it”, “Crazy for you” and “Welcome to Temptation”. Even if romantic comedy is not your genre, read Jen’s books to see how to do dialogue.

And in other news, my “Interview with the Dragon” is finally on Fictionwise, getting “Great” and “Good” reviews. Click here for more information.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

One night at the call centre

A few blogs ago, I bemoaned the current trend of writers writing about writers and auto-biography thinly veiled as fiction. "One night at the call centre" by Chetan Bhagat goes a step further, in that the author himself features in the prologue and the epilogue. While I could forgive that - well, almost - I cringed when he addressed me as the reader and interacted with some of his characters. Talk about not suspending your disbelief!

The book’s blurb promises a call from God, which in itself is a clever idea, alas, not very cleverly executed.

Apart from that, the actual story was all right. Not terribly good, what with its amateurish writing style and thin moralistic plot, but it was interesting enough to keep me going. What the book has going for it is the setting: a call centre in Delhi, which, while not exotic to those in working in call centres or living in India, was nevertheless riveting to me.

The book also made me feel extremely grateful that I was born in the low-IQ decadent West and that I don’t have to dream about catching a husband who’s an ex-pat working for Microsoft.

Now for some cardamom chai and samoosas!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The post birthday world



I love books, truly I do. Yet in my current oh-so-busy phase of life, I don’t often have time to read. And so, nowadays it is the measure of the author that - when the librarian hands me a hefty volume weighing almost more than a newborn - I go “oh goodie” instead of “oh dear”.

The post birthday world” by Lionel Shriver (that’s the woman who wrote “We need to talk about Kevin”, hitherto my favourite English-language book) is a long long long book, and yet, the closer you get to the end - and you do get there very quickly by ignoring all your daily responsibilities - the more you wish it even longer.

The premise is simple and clever, though by no means original: in chapter 1, the de-facto-married protagonist is faced with a choice: does she or does she not kiss another man? In chapter 2, she does. Then, in chapter 2 (again), she doesn’t. The parallel universes are explored in alternating chapters, describing every event (like visiting her mother for Christmas) in those two contexts of kiss versus no kiss and of guilt versus boredom.

Yes, exactly like the movie “Sliding Doors”. But the fact that it’s been done before doesn’t diminish the book’s power, and neither does my cynical belief that the author was simply lazy and used this mechanism in order to be able to utilise the same plot and events twice.

OK, the first 10 pages or so, in which the characters are introduced in a passive descriptive way, are deadly boring. But once you get past that and into the very realistic dialogues and inner monologues, the emotions and the sexual fantasies - that’s when the text rings true.
To quote out of context from the book: “f---ing brilliant!”

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Fly me to the moon

I read somewhere that your main character shouldn’t be a writer. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Alyson Noel ‘s “Fly me to the moon”.

The novel is your typical chick-lit stuff: a cute sassy heroine by no means glassy or glamorous or gorgeous, a cheating boyfriend, as well as perfect, fun, supportive friends. The plot follows the predictable outline: girl walks away from said boyfriend, girl meets another boy, girl fails to recognise the boy as The One, girl looks for love in all the wrong (but fabulous) places like Paris and Mykonos, girl sorts out the misunderstanding and hooks up with boy.

What attracted me to the book was that they girl was an air hostess - pardon me, a flight attendant - and right there on page one she told it as it is (the gruelling training, the polyester uniform, the polyester aeroplane food). Now that was a world I wanted to find out more about. In that sense, the book didn’t disappoint, and I now have a new respect for flight attendants (not to mention a new fear of flying).

But why oh why did the flight attendant have to turn novelist? That just read too much like an autobiography for my liking.

Still, it was an enjoyable - if fluffy - read. The author has a nice style and her characters are alive, and I’ll probably end up reading her other book too.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The joy and insanity of being a writer

By Sandy Lender, fantasy author

Northeast Missouri State University, now Truman University, prides itself on offering a liberal arts education to graduates. I got out in four years with a degree in English and a liberal arts education that has garnered me a 15-year career in magazine publishing and public relations/marketing, but my true passion, the "career" I've nurtured since I was about six years old, is writing. And I don't mean journalism. Yes, journalism and editing are what have paid the bills the past 15 years (and will continue to do so), but fiction writing...oh...fiction writing is what has kept me alive.

It's probably going to be the death of me.

Let me explain. If you're visiting this site, you've probably been drawn here by an interest in books or authors or a writer's lifestyle or something along those lines. Let me give it to you straight. All writers have a touch of insanity about us (this is normal). We usually carry a muse around with us, but this is not always by choice. We complain about characters fighting for their rights, refusing to conform to our wishes in a scene. We go on writing binges that keep us up until 3 a.m. before collapsing next to our computers just to get up and start typing again when the sun blazes in to wake us around 7, skipping meals, showers, potty breaks and phone calls until some aspect of reality forces us out of the writing cocoon. We will tear a room to shreds looking for a pen if an idea has just struck us. And woe to the fool who gets between us and a piece of paper when we get hold of that pen...

Because I've experienced the insanity described above, I've been lifted up by hearing stories of people who have enjoyed my first published novel, Choices Meant for Gods. Now I get to read comments on my Amazon.com page of people claiming Nigel Taiman is "by far" their favorite character, or "I want to be just like Chariss when I grow up," and I feel this lump of pride in my darlings rise in my throat.

That's the joy and insanity of being a writer. You pour your heart and soul into the work; and pray that someone out there likes it, too. Now here's the hard part. People have to read it to like it. They have to know it exists to read it. So you have to get it to them.

Enter the marketing and promoting aspect of the new author's job. I attended the ArcheBooks Publishing's Professional Novelist Workshop about two weeks before receiving my contract for Choices Meant for Gods, and had attended the Naples Press Club Writers Workshop the week before that, so I thought I had a pretty good idea of the marketing nightmare new authors faced. I was ready. Lay it on me, I thought.

Now I'm on the last day of a two-month online book tour I organized myself, contemplating repeating a moderately successful instore book signing at the local Barnes & Noble that I organized myself, and managing six blogs (including www.todaythedragonwins.blogspot.com) for the promotion of my fantasy novel that I've organized myself, preparing a spate of press releases I've written myself that I'll spew forth like water from an erupting sprinkler next week, etc. Do you see a trend there?

New authors are on their own. Unless you have the few thousand dollars it takes to hire a publicity firm/PR agency to send out press releases for you, you're on your own. I don't have a few thousand stray dollars and I don't trust people who charge less than professional rates to do a professional job.

I take hope in the fact that even J.K. Rowling was once in the same boat I'm in now. She was down to her last food stamp as the story goes when that fateful call came: Her little story about a boy named Harry Potter had been picked up. I've already had my call. Choices Meant for Gods is published and out there. Now I need my lottery winning event to propel me into J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter status, but, for right now, I'm going to just keep writing deep into the night and reading those fabulous e-mails that praise Nigel and Chariss. Because making a living at this would be nice, but, truly, the writing binges that result in someone singing Chariss's praises are the real joy and insanity of being a writer.


I'd like to thank my host today for posting this guest blog article. And I'd like to thank everyone who made the CMFG Online Book Tour the raging success it's been. You know that paragraph above where I said new authors are on their own? I'd like to correct that. We actually have each other. Without each of you, the name Sandy Lender wouldn't be all over the internet right now, and readers wouldn't be one click away from http://www.amazon.com/Choices-Meant-Gods-Sandy-Lender/dp/1595071652/ref=dp_return_1/104-9089752-5140754?ie=UTF8&n=283155&s=books&qid=1175821346&sr=8-1 to pick up my epic fantasy novel. And new author Sandy Lender is grateful to every one of you.

"Some days, I just want the dragon to win."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Stephen King’s On Writing

Stephen King’s non-fiction book “On Writing” is a mixed bag. The first part, his autobiography in a series of unrelated snapshots, is riveting. Once you’ve read about his childhood, you can understand where his fiction is coming from. (His background also makes you realise how parenting has grown up since Stephen was a child: I read with horror (sic!) about his various babysitters and about his adventures courtesy of his older brother.) And his struggle with drugs later on in life makes you realise that being a successful writer is not all that it is trumped up to be.

The second part, however, the one about writing itself and how to go about it, contains only pretty basic ideas and lacks the flair of the previous section. I’m sure it’s useful to a beginner writer, though, particularly Stephen King’s permission to be selfish and put writing above all else.

While I’m not about to follow that advice, it’s nice to know I could. Theoretically. Once the kids are asleep and the dishwasher is loaded and my work-for-money work completed and my book publicised and it’s already half past midnight....

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Hiring Cupid


You only need to look at the cover of Jane Beckenham’s “Hiring Cupid” to realise why I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Even if I didn’t like the story, I reasoned, I could always keep the book by my bedside for ogling purposes.

Still, not to be accused of judging a book by its cover, I read it. Wow. I wish I could write sexual anticipation the way Jane does. Everything in her book sizzles and smoulders and burns with all the colours of passion. I honestly wasn’t sure what was more important: to read on (the plot is great and quite unusual as far as romances go) or to grab a notebook and to steal all the expressions the writer used to heighten the pleasurable tension.

I chose to read on and to worry about honing my own writing skills later (nobody said I’m only allowed to read the book once). And so I followed Carly’s struggle through her very rocky road from sexual paradise on an island to a blissful conclusion. I am ashamed to admit that the surprise twist brought a sentimental tear or three to my eyes.

Some reviewers describe the book as erotica. I wouldn’t go as far, but I can vouch that it will put you in an erotic mood.

You can read more about the book here: Hiring Cupid. Or you can join Jane’s newsletter
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/RomanceauthorJaneBeckenham/ to receive 3 excerpts from the book.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Interview with a Dragon


My latest e-book, “Interview with a Dragon”, has just been released by Echelon Press as a July spotlight work.

Says a reviewer: “Witty dialogue and slightly different take on dragons make this an interesting insight into a dragon’s point of view. Humans have feared the idea of dragons from the beginning of time, well, who wouldn’t fear a fire breathing creature with talons and wings. When a journalist visits a dragon in prison for theft, she’s in for a surprise.”

Excerpt:


"Tell me something about yourself." I don't need to fake the curiosity. "What is your greatest desire? Your dreams?"

Humans can never resist that one. She tells me about a house with a Jacuzzi, a holiday in Bali, a press award she's hoping to get with this story. Like with all humans, it's always: I–I–I.

"Now for your article." I move my lips as close to the glass as I dare. "What would you like to know?"

"Everything!" Her face suddenly comes alive, gone is the petrified mouse that started the interview. "Where you come from, are you real, why you chose a life of crime -" she pauses and reddens again, her eyes avoid mine. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have..."

“Interview with a Dragon” by Yvonne Eve Walus - Click here for more.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Dresden Files

June was my “finish the damned novel” month, so I set myself a target of 1000 words a day and, as the result, didn’t get much reading or watching done.

Apart from “Dresden Files”, that is, when I needed a break from my typescript.

“Dresden Files” is a TV series about a wizard named Harry (sic!) Dresden. Harry is a Chicago police consultant, called in whenever the murder case looks unconventional (for example, if the murder weapon was black magic). So far so good. But Harry is not an alpha male, so even though he may look cute, he’s not sexy, and there is only so much of a TV program you can watch if the sexiest bod it contains is that of a ghost who’s trapped in his own scull.

The plot is skinny at best, there are continuity errors as big as from here to the moon and back (possibly because the series was not screened in order) and the stakes are negligible.

So why do I watch it? Two reasons:
1. It’s wonderfully non-addictive - a quality I’ve come to admire in displacement activities. (The other day we had a power outage in the middle of the episode, and I didn’t mind having to stop watching at all.)
2. The TV series is based on books. If those got published, then my own are going to be on the NY Times bestseller list next year this time!

(STOP PRESS: Apparently the novels are much better. Check out:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dresden_Files. Also, having now watche dthe last 3 episodes of the series, I must admit, they're a huge improvement on the preceding few.)

Which reminds me. “Interview with a Dragon” is coming out as Echelon Press’s Spotlight e-book. Check it out on www.echelonpress.com after 1 July.

And wish me luck submitting my typescript.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Wintersmith



Those of you who know me also know that I’m a shameless fan of Terry Pratchett, irrespective of his over-inflated ego and less than cordial interpersonal manner. I admire his quick wit, intelligence, writing style and the ability to sit down and produce at least one book a year (I’ve just completed a novel that I started in 1998 or 1999, so I’m speaking from the unenviable position of an expert in the field of procrastination).

Of course, some of his books are better than others. Some (like the children’s series Johnny, which is waiting for my children to grow up) I haven’t read yet. They are all unmistakeably pterry, though.

“Wintersmith” is a Discworld Novel and the third in the series of Tiffany Aching, the Sheep-girl Witch. I’m partial to all Discworld witches and Tiff is no exception. In this tale, she inadvertently gets Winter to fall in love with her, and - of course - the results will be disastrous if she doesn’t save the world, again.

I love Terry’s allusions to literature, so I’m glad to discover that the echoes of Snow Queen from the first Tiffany book (“The Wee Free Men”) resound here again. And I may be reaching, but the idea of becoming human in order to be with your loved one may have been borrowed from The Little Mermaid. There is also plenty of Greek mythology for those who like that sort of thing, myself included.

In “Wintersmith”, Terry also alludes to his own books, much to my enjoyment. The first place I spotted was a romance book Tiffany was reading, commenting about the author’s lack of knowledge when it came to a sheep farm (I wonder whether Terry was quoting from one of his own readers' letters there). The other reference was to “Where is my cow”, when Rob Anybody commented that the author hadn’t stretched himself there… that’s ok, my two-year old loved the book.

All in all, a yummy read. Now bring on “Making Money”… October is just around the corner!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Murder @ Work


Today's entry is a slice of shameless self-promotion. Enjoy!

(excerpt from a cosy murder mystery, "Murder @ Work" by Yvonne Eve Walus, Echelon Press 2004. Click here for more details.)

As usual, Christine longed for a swimming pool, and as usual, she knew that she and Tom could never afford it. It was something that belonged to the Old South Africa way of life.

"How was your day, honey?" she heard.

Tom was in the kitchen. Judging by the smell of fried chillies, he was preparing something deliciously Oriental. And deliciously fattening.

"Just great, thank you," she shouted back in a tone of voice that contradicted her words. "I'll tell you about it in a moment. I just want to make a phone call. The office phones are stuffed again. That's Africa for you."

The blouse was also too hot. She dialled her aromatherapist with one hand, tearing off the white cotton with the other. "Hi, it's your favourite customer," she said. "I need you. Desperately. Before I murder my boss. Can you give me an emergency massage tonight? Oh? Tomorrow before work then? Thanks. You're a star."

Wearing only her underwear, Christine ambled into the kitchen.

"Smells gorgeous. There goes my diet."

Tom looked up.

"Wow," he said. "A naked wife."

He dropped the knife onto the chopped pile of mushrooms and stepped toward her.

(excerpt from "Murder @ Work" by Yvonne Eve Walus, Echelon Press 2004. Click here for more details. Click here for reviews.)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Welcome A Dragon to the Blog!


Today we’d like to say a warm hello to writer Sandy Lender, who is visiting this blog as part of her online book tour. Sandy’s high epic fantasy novel titled Choices Meant for Gods has just been published by ArcheBooks Publishing. Check it out on http://www.archebooks.com/BookIDX/Indexes/Fantasy/CMG/CMGDesc.htm and read the interview with Sandy below.

Sandy will be available throughout the day to answer your questions, so feel free to post comments.


“Choices Meant for Gods” is an intriguing title. How does it relate to your book?
The lead character, Amanda Chariss, doesn't believe in herself at first. She views the confidence everyone else has in her as misplaced. Now, as she goes through her arc, she still has some reticence about the things she's asked to do, but she gets more comfortable with her role, but she still thinks the decisions she's asked to make are choices meant for gods, not a simple mortal girl.


I hear there are dragons in your book. Are they beautiful or scary?
There are two main dragons in the book. The first that we meet is terrible. She's an evil goddess as old as time itself who can actually morph between "human" and dragon form at will. And as frightening as Julette is in human/goddess form, you really don't want to see her in her dragon form…someone's probably going to get eaten.

The other dragon is wonderful. When we first meet him, he's just a fledgling—absolutely adorable and endearing. He lands on Chariss's balcony at night and watches her through the curtains because he's curious about this new human at the Taiman estate. And then one night Chariss catches hold of him…


Who are you when you’re not a writer?
Oh my…I don't think there's a time when I'm not a writer. I guess I have brief spells of insanity when I'm at Duran Duran concerts. I think my muse avoids me then because I'm just too loud. But I literally keep pen and paper with me at all times. I work for a magazine publishing company, so even my "day job" involves writing. Almost everything I do involves communicating through some means or another, and it's usually with the written word.


What made you decide to start writing?
Honestly, I think I was born with the desire! I used to write little stories for my great grandmother when I was a child; I wrote little one- and two-sentence "articles" for the class newsletter in first grade; it's just something I've always done.\



Who has influenced you the most in your writing?
There's a list, actually, that ranges from Jesus Christ, who kept me from getting too out of hand with the violence in Choices Meant for Gods (and who reminded me that Nigel and Chariss are NOT married—thus CMFG sports a PG rating instead of something insane like triple X), to Duran Duran to the Anglo-Saxon warriors that the Old English scops immortalized (I really want to meet the fellow who wrote Beowulf when I get to Heaven—I want to shake his hand!) to the Master of All Writing Charlotte Bronte.


Tell us about your road into the Published Kingdom.
This story would be horrific if not for the happy ending. I started out with the same depressing query-letter routine that most writers start out with. I'd research agents that represented fantasy authors, figure out which ones would accept new clients, send this sparkling query letter demonstrating my knowledge of publishing (I'd been in magazine publishing for 12 or 12+ years at that point as an editor and writer) and marketing. No one cared. Rejection-letter city, right? That got old fast, so, rather than continue getting beat up by that process, I decided to try something different—bypass the gatekeepers, as it were. I ended up going through a move in there, too, relocating to Southwest Florida to help someone in my life pursue his dream to go back to school. When I got to Florida, I joined a group that had a Writers Conference where I had a pitch session (which you can read about in the May 25 archives of www.alisonkent.com/blog) with ArcheBooks Publishing's Bob Gelinas. He accepted my manuscript and sent me a contract. Problem solved! I had my foot in the Publishing Kingdom door. And I am eternally grateful.

I cannot tell you how much effort it takes beyond that step, though. Holy cow. Marketing and promotion is not the job of the publisher in this industry these days. Even your high-n-mighty New York publishers don't have mongo budgets for marketing, and what budgets they do have are reserved for their big-name authors, not newbies. So a new author in the publishing industry has a path to beat through the underbrush to get noticed amid the 400+ titles being released each day to the marketplace. That's one of the reasons I'm in the middle of an online book tour for Choices Meant for Gods. I want to get my name out to as many online viewers as possible to let them now there's a new fantasy author on the scene. And that's why I'm grateful to you for letting me stop by your blog on that tour. You may not realize it, but you're providing me a great opportunity today and I thank you.


Please describe your usual day to us.
I'm up at 5:30 to prepare for the day. I post the Word of the Day and some other marketing-related and writing-related articles to my blog at www.todaythedragonwins.blogspot.com. Then I'm off to work (I have an hour commute) where I write and edit and produce magazines. After work, depending on the day, I'm either attending class, attending a writers meeting, or hitting a place to get a non-traditional venue to either hand out flyers about Choices Meant for Gods or sell the book on consignment. Once I get home, I fire up the computer to assist Nigel with his blog http://sandylender.blogspot.com because I can't really let him post without overseeing what he's writing about me. The evenings also see me editing Book II of the Choices trilogy, prepping future blog posts, managing the online book tour, helping out other writers with blogging questions (I give seminars on this topic), and writing. Now that the person I moved down here to support in following his dream has abandoned me and the house to foreclosure and bankruptcy (ooh, sounds like I made a mistake, doesn't it?), I have a few odd errands that interrupt my schedule, but I still make time to entertain my pet bird and keep up the marketing and promotion. Oh, once in a while, I eat. I usually go to bed around 1:30.


How much do you read?
A lot, considering my schedule! But I have found that most of my reading lately has turned into work, which is a shame. I'm reading specifically to provide reviews for other authors who need support in their marketing efforts.


Who are your favorite authors and why?
Hands down: Charlotte Bronte. (Are there other authors?) Seriously, I've been a Bronte fan since I read Jane Eyre one summer in high school. Holy cow. I think it was the first book that made me so mad I wanted to throw it across the room. The wedding scene (and everyone who's read it will understand) made me actually react out loud. And has anyone visiting today read Villette? Ugh…you read this fantastic story and get all the way to the end expecting roses and love and happiness and "oh, they finally get together," and Charlotte rips the rug out from under you in like the fourth- or fifth-to-last paragraph. That was another one of those moments where I was gasping at the page thinking, "She did not just end it that way." She's another one I have to meet when I get to Heaven…


Quick, sell us your next book.
Well, considering the working title may change, this may be odd. Choices Made by Gods is the sequel to Choices Meant for Gods, and it shows us Chariss growing in her role as the protector of a god who has just lost his power and who has an evil dragon hot on his trail. While Nigel Taiman struggles to keep her at his estate and bound to his side, the forces of prophecy, and the armies converging on his front lawn, threaten to take Chariss away. And it turns out he was right to try to make her stay…


Finally
Yvonne, thank you again for hosting me today at your site. I've enjoyed the questions you've had, and I'll check in to see what questions or comments I can answer from your visitors!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Five minutes with Jane Beckenham


"Hiring Cupid" by Jane Beckenham has just hit the stores, a fabulous new release with Linden Bay Romance. The premise itself is enough to set your whole body to "tingle" mode: you're rich and beautiful, and you find yourself hiring a gigolo...

Tell us a all about, Jane.
Hiring Cupid - I mean who would do this? Me? Nope, no way! But imagine you’ve bragged about some lover who doesn’t exist and to save face you hire a man. Of course no ordinary man. He’s absolutely got to be yummy. And of course Marco Valente is totally delicious. Hiring Cupid is set here in New Zealand, but the theme of the book, truth, honor, trusting your own heart, are universal for both men and women.

Well, if the gigolo were as yummy as the model on the cover of "Hiring Cupid", I would be tempted to hire him myself! Where can we get hold of a copy... of the book, not of the gigolo, that is?
Readers can check out the excerpt at http://www.lindenbayromance.com/comming_details.php?id=91 or order it at orders@lindenbayromance.com.

Jane, tell us a bit about your path to writing.
I get a bit embarrassed when people ask this, because most writers say, oh, they’ve always wanted to write, they were born to write etc, but I sort of fell into it. I read a lot as a teen particularly, as I spent many years in and out of hospital and became a voracious reader to pass the long hours. About 10 years ago, we got our first home PC and I love decorating, so was on one of those chat rooms, talking colors so on, and a lady I met (Terre Sexton of Sth Carolina) mentioned she was writing, and I got all enthusiastic and said I’d like to try that – why not she says – so what do I do, I write 30 pages that day and email it to her. She loved it! I was gobsmacked, but encouraged and that was the start of it all.

Going back in history now, so to speak, your books Woman of Valor, Leap of Faith and Be My Valentine are time travels- why time travel?
Well, TT is another world. Imagine going back in time, seeing history unfold. How exciting would that be? Okay, so they didn’t have modern plumbing, but a gal can side-step that for a few pages at least. Then again, what about some dashing highlander coming forward, seeing electric light, and imagine hot water on tap LOL! There is so much you can do with TT, also I loved history at school, and TT is one way of combining contemporary and history and of course romance.

So how do you choose an idea for a TT?
With Valor, it is co-written with Ellen Ben Sefer. Ellen and I met online – she’s an American transplanted to Australia, and I’m in NZ. We often said wouldn’t it be good to do a TT in Israel. Think of all the wonderful history there. Both of us had lived in Israel, and then one day chapter one arrived in my in box – and five weeks later, Woman of Valor was finished. We co-wrote Valor without having ever met, and in fact, Leap of Faith was the same, written before we’d ever met.

How does one co-write a book with someone they don’t really know?
There is a lot of trust there, faith in the other person. What we discovered along the way was that we each, at that time, had different strengths. Ellen was great with the intricacies of the history of Israel and ancient Judea, and I loved writing the setting and particularly the hero’s POV. It all fell into place. We would discuss each day how we wanted the story to go, then each would say what bit they wanted to write, and away we’d go. I would keep it all together and combine it into the master document. Writing with a co-partner is a great experience and one I can certainly recommend.

Be My Valentine was next, is that right?
Yes, I’d done 2 books with Ellen, but wanted to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. That I could actually do it on my OWN. Valentine was an exciting write, it fell into place so easily, and I could see the story as if it was a video in my head. I could see the slave auction, see the trek inland, hear and smell the Port Royal, where Valentine is set. At the end of it, I sighed with relief. I wasn’t going to be a one hit wonder.


What does the future hold, Jane?
I’ve got another two contemporaries with Linden Bay under consideration at the moment and I've just had one of them accepted. It's called "He’s The One". Imagine being a wedding planner and a virgin to boot. Imagine having your clients ask you questions about sex and you haven’t a clue how to answer. What is a girl to do? Easy really. She’s finds a hunk to teach her all there is to know about sex, of course!

Indeed. All in the name of research and better business service, of course, LOL. Jane, where can people get hold of you if they'd like to ask more questions?
I’d love to hear from readers, they can email me on neiljane@ihug.co.nz, and check out my website at www.janebeckenham.com, or see my books at www.lindenbayromance.com or www.trebleheartbooks.com

Well, I know I have one more question: "Who is that gorgeous guy on the cover and can I have his phone number?" :-)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Killing Johnny Fry


It’s labelled a sexistentialist novel, and with good reason. “Killing Johnny Fry” by Walter Mosley is a book about a man who’s come to question the meaning of his existence following his girlfriend’s infidelity. He chooses to explore the meaning of life by throwing himself into the arms of as many women as possible and by trying out kinky things not many people would be prepared to watch on the screen, much less participate in.

The title of the novel hints at some sort of a murder mystery or psychological thriller, but there is really very little in that line of plot, other than the main character’s obvious (though not immediate) desire to kill his rival (it took him about a week to stumble on that solution to the problem, but I guess he was too busy playing sex games with the upstairs neighbour and watching dirty movies to think straight).

The reviews warn that “Killing Johnny Fry” is only for those who enjoy sex and enjoy reading about sex. I think of myself as belonging to both the categories, and yet I couldn’t wait to be finished with the book and move on to something less depressing.

I’ve honestly read better on the not-so-reputable Internet sites... for research purposes, of course. Which reminds me: my erotica novella is finally finished and sent off to the publisher.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Writing, painting and archaeology

Today we are chatting to N.D. Hansen-Hill, a prolific writer and artist. She's written 28 novels and completed 500 paintings (working with acrylic and oils as well as cement to create texture)... all that while raising a family of 4.

1. Norah, you've recently heard that *The Hollowing*, is going to be contracted by Cerridwen Press. Tell us about the book.

The Hollowing's about a man with an unusual paranormal problem. As a kid, he wasn't nearly as terrified of the dark as he was of the dark patch which would appear in his room at night and threaten to swallow him up. As his life goes mad, Shawn Walsh is desperate to figure out why.

He should actually be looking at when.

The blurb:
Shawn Walsh's problems don't arise from his own troubled past...but from someone else's. His perception is off, because he's working within a time frame which has no relevance to him, or his present.
Unfortunately, his problems have everything to do with his family and his rather questionable heritage.
He refuses to give up hope. There is still a chance he'll be able to resolve his issues without dying, given the right place...
...and enough time.

2. Is that your first book with Cerridwen Press?

Gilded Folly was my first book with CP. It was published a little over a year ago and will be released in paperback soon. Gilded Folly's a story of lost royals from another dimension who no longer remember why they're here. When one of them is triggered to assassinate the others, their world is turned inside out, as are the lives of their closest friends on Earth, who (like themselves) have no concept of how "unique" these people truly are.

3. What is Cerridwen Press like to work with as a publisher?

They're part of Ellora's Cave and a rising star in the industry. There's a bit of a problem with books like mine, though - CP includes both romance and non-romance titles, but everything, promotionally speaking, is geared toward romance. Even the author-reader loop frequently chats about romance-oriented questions, which makes it difficult for books like Gilded Folly and The Hollowing (non-romances), to develop a readership. Many SF readers won't go to a site where romance appears to be the dominant genre.

4. Tell us more about your art.

I don't do nearly as much of it as I should! My writing takes me away from it. When I'm writing madly (as I frequently do), my creativity quotient seems to drop in other areas. That said, I'm putting along on a painting at the moment - trying to get back into a regular painting programme.

5. Where can we buy it?

Oh, I wish! I have a cafe owner who's been waiting months for me to bring her some paintings for display. If I keep up with my determined effort to develop some kind of "painting schedule", I'll probably list most of mine on Trademe.co.nz, just see the response. I've always sold most of them before I could get them up online, so I'll have to see what happens.
I'm not as good at it as I once was, either, because I had a painting hiatus of nearly a year, and I'm out of practice. Time to get my act together!

6. Readers are welcome to have a look at the cover of my "Sex Lies and Here Be Dragons" for an example of your work, but would you care to share another one with us?

I have one on my website (www.NDHansen-Hill.com). I want to give this painting away in honour of my paperback releases (In Trysts, Gilded Folly, etc).

7. You are a writer and a painter and a mother. To add to your load, you are an archaeology student. Tell us why.

No writer can exist in a vacuum. Writing is drama, and that needs to be balanced with normalcy, and everyday life. Archaeology fascinates me and I can utilise much of my past training (irrigation work, plant propagation, plant virology, etc.) to better understand and develop theories about prehistoric survival strategies. I enjoy the professional contacts, too!

8. I am full of awe for your time management skills. Any tips for our readers on how to cram 48 hours of work into 24?

I'm not really that efficient! The big thing is, I'm a single mum now, so I try to get everything finished by the time my youngest gets home at 3.30. Occasionally, I'll have a class that runs over, or some work that absolutely needs to be finished for a publisher, but generally, I'm there for her, even if it's just to watch TV, shop, or read Harry Potter aloud. I get up just after 4 a.m. every morning, and do what I can before the sun comes up! I also plan ahead. If something is due at a certain date, I try to break it up into manageable chunks.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Calling all the movies: the bad, the worse and the comparatively worthy

It all started with “Mr and Mrs Smith”, I think, that almost uncanny ability of mine to pick bad movies. “Mr and Mrs Smith” was the one movie I truly wanted to see when it was on circuit. I didn’t want to see Star Wars 3 (or 6, depending how you’re counting) that was also making the rounds at the time, but I did want to see Brad Pitt and Angelina. Basically, I fell for the advertising that promised a clever and witty thriller. Housewife-turn-spy is a fantasy that appeals to many women, and has been successfully implemented in “True Lies” and “The Long Kiss Goodnight”

For reasons varying from “not enough money to pay the babysitter twice as much as the tickets would cost” to “deadlines at work” and “deadline for a short story competition”, we only got to see the movie on DVD. And what a good thing that turned out to be: not only was it cheaper to stay at home, but also it enabled us to switch on the movie’s subtitles in order to understand the (mediocre) dialogue shouted amidst all the gory (mediocre) action. But even the dialogue didn’t help the (mediocre) plot.

That was in 2005. In 2006, I really wanted to see “Basic Instinct 2” and “Pink Panther” and “The Da Vinci Code”. “The Da Vinci Code” was so bad we stopped watching it twice, only to carry on in the vague hope of a clever twist at the end (there was a twist, but it wasn’t a clever one). If there was an Oscar for the absolutely worst movie of the year, I’d nominate this one.

“Pink Panther” was not as good as the Pink Panthers of the 20th century, too slapstick and with no finesse, but boy, was it better than “The Da Vinci Code”.... And we’re yet to see “Basic Instinct 2”, though I remember mentioning on this blog a year ago that it wasn’t a patch on the original.

Then there was an Australian movie (I forget the title - and good riddance) about a mathematician who predicted the stock market using fuzzy logic. That’s kind of like jacking up a car using cotton wool, but what I mainly had against that movie was that a kid died in it. A definite no-no ever since I’m a parent.

So, what have I seen that was actually not a waste of time (the precious time that I need to make writing deadlines of 1 June 2007 and 1 July 2007 and 31 August 2007)? Well, “Children of Men” - a SF movie - was very good, both the acting and the plot. Not exceptionally blow-you-off-your-feet clever or unexpected or thought-provoking, but good.

“Serendipity” - another SF movie - was also ok. Not having seen the series, I can only comment on the movie as a stand-alone. Good acting and a satisfying twist.

The irony is, I don’t even like SF.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Things your mother never told you about sex

In a recent author interview, I was asked about the things that my mother never told me about sex. Well, we were talking about writing sex, so the question was appropriate.

That got me thinking. The things that my mother never told me about sex could fill an erotica novel. My dad, bless him, told me a beautiful stork story: if the stork drops the baby outside face up, the baby will look at the sky and have blue eyes, but if the baby lies face down in the grass, its eyes will be green. "Brown?" I wanted to know. "Down the chimney." The first time he mentioned sex in a conversation with me was when I was married for several years.

My mother never told me much about sex, either. When I was five or six, I gathered up the courage to tell her that my friends have already told me the facts of life.
"And do you want to ask me any questions?" she replied to my news. "I can explain whatever's not clear. I bet I know more about it than your friends."
Apparently I thought for a moment, only to ask: "Can you do it in the bath?"
"Sure can," she said. "It's probably uncomfortable, though."

If you want to know what else I said about writing sexy, please have a look here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/RomanceauthorJaneBeckenham/ .

Thursday, April 26, 2007

What is good service?

A long long time ago, in a kingdom far far away... well, anyway, in one of my previous jobs I dabbled in marketing and read marketing magazines (yes, so long ago that they were real paper magazines). Years later, I remember only one article (telling, isn’t it), about what makes good service.

In a research exercise, the authors of the article asked conference attendants what makes a good tea break in terms of service. The attendants listed the following:
· A variety of tea bags, including green, jasmine, herbal
· Freshly brewed coffee, preferably a choice of espresso, cappuccino, etc.
· Access to free telephone calls and a messaging service (as I said, this was a long time ago, in the pre- cell phone era)
· Smiling helpful conscientious staff
· Thick paper napkins
· Thin china cups
· Home-baked muffins and pastries
· ... and other luxuries.

Then the authors asked the tea-serving staff at the conference facilities what they considered good morning tea service. Their answers? See for yourself:
· Clean cups
· Hot water for tea must be really hot
· Clean tablecloths
· Tea served on time
· No flies.

What? No flies? No flies? And clean cups? Isn’t it so elementary that it doesn’t need to be mentioned?

Evidently not. Everywhere I go, I see examples of people delivering a service that leaves a lot to be desired: from insensitive airport staff to uncaring salespeople. For example, I bought a waterproof jacket at The Warehouse today. As I passed security, my bag beeped. I went back in, where a bored member of the staff gave my jacket a cursory glance before waving me through. “But won’t it beep again next time I come into the shop wearing the jacket?” I asked. She shrugged. I went back home, located the security tag and failed to detach it. So now I’ll have to waste more time going back to the shop, proving that I’ve already paid for the jacket and getting them to untag it. Grrr!

Fortunately, I also encounter (rarer) examples of great service. Imagine a panel-beating shop that not only gives you a courtesy car with a requested anchor point for a child car seat, but also returns your repaired car with a spotlessly vacuumed and dusted interior. I kid you not, and you can call http://www.birkdalepanel.co.nz/ if you don’t believe me.

I’ve just read somewhere else that if you like a service, you tell 3 people. If you don’t like it, you tell 33 people. Makes you think, no?

Do you have a favourite gripe or words of praise? Let’s hear them.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

George and Sam



First, two pieces of information about me:
· I hardly ever read non-fiction (give me stories above facts any day).
· I don’t like reading about depressing things, particularly not in reference to children.

And yet from the moment I saw an excerpt from “George and Sam” by Charlotte Moore - a collection of columns about her two autistic sons - I couldn’t wait to lay my hands on the book.

What could be (and probably is) a gloomy tale indeed, turns under Charlotte Moore’s touch into fascinating and humorous reading. I would have called it a light read because of the author’s style, except that the issues she discusses are serious: what it’s like to believe your child a genius only to be told he is autistic, living with someone who has a two-year old mentality in a teenager’s body, inadequacy of resources, the strength of parental love.

This is not a book about autism: it's a book about one very special and courageous family. The message of the book is simple: “Having an autistic child will always be a challenge; it does not need to be a tragedy.”

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Trash, Global Warming and the Brummets

Today we meet two unusual people: Dave and Lillian Brummet. Between the two of them, they are writers, poets, photographers and book reviewers. Their work has appeared in a variety of publications around the globe.

1. You share a surname and a website. Do you co-author books?

Dave and I met and married 17 years ago in Kelowna, BC – the southwestern province of Canada, located just North of the US State of Washington. We embarked on a freelance writing career in 1998, and began publishing our column “Trash Talk” in 1999. This column continued to the end of 2006 – a seven-year run. We also write articles dealing with gardening, yard, pets and outdoor adventures. Dave is the editor, proofreader, photographer, graphic and website half of our co-writing relationship. While I do the research, data entry (typing), office work and most of the marketing. We work very well as a team for live marketing endeavors from interviews to book events – with Dave being the speaker while I am the assistant, events go quite smoothly.

2. What types of books do you write?

We began our writing career soon after several life-changing incidents (including a fairly severe car accident I was involved in) that had us questioning the worth of our lives and the legacy we were leaving behind. Now when I say “legacy” I don’t mean having our name in print. What I mean is the impact our lives have had and the value of the work we do. We had several heart to heart discussions about what we wanted to do with our lives. I knew that with the injuries received from the car accident, I was not able to continue to run my business and having a full-time job elsewhere was not looking like a possibility due to chronic pain issues. We began taking a writing course that helped us learn the process of querying and our writing career went on from there.
We have written and published three non-fiction books to date: Trash Talk (2004), Towards Understanding (2005) and Purple Snowflake Marketing (June 30, 2007). The types of books we chose to write were based on several things: We recognized a real need for the information, the books were a way for us to show support for things we believe in (i.e. environment), and the subjects are ones we are both knowledgeable and passionate about.
Trash Talk – An Inspirational Guide To Saving Time & Money Through Better Waste & Resource Management, for instance, embarks on frugal and conscious living techniques for the individual concerned with the overwhelming volume of waste produced in society. Trash Talk is written to empower people to feel more positive about their worth in a hectic, expensive, environmentally stressed world. We make our point, not by pointing fingers at corporations and governments, but by showing readers they can make a real and measurable difference starting in their own homes, at their own desks. The cover design was conceived by Dave and created by Brian McAndrew of Beyond Graphix. Dave also created the diagrams and drawings in Trash Talk’s pages.

Towards Understanding – A Collection of 120 Poems brings awareness to the healing process abused children go through as they grow into themselves and find a purpose in life. This book is a collection of my poetry, written in chronological order and reveals experimentation with different writing styles and altering rhythms. The cover for this book uses Dave’s photograph of me during one of our vacations.

3. Sell me your upcoming book.

Our most recent project is an e-book entitled Purple Snowflake Marketing - How To Make Your Book Stand Out In A Crowd. The e-book is a reference guide for self-marketing authors who want to get noticed in a crowd. With well over 500 direct links to resources, a holiday/event calendar and images of sample promotion materials, this e-book offers a way for authors to design an effective marketing plan and utilize frugal promotional tools with the click of their mouse. Again, Dave’s photography will be used for the cover of this book. The expected release date for Purple Snowflake Marketing - How To Make Your Book Stand Out In A Crowd is June 30, 2007 (Twilight Times).

4. "How To Make Your Book Stand Out In A Crowd" - yes, I'll buy a copy. Now, to come back to "Trash Talk" for a moment: why the whole reusing and trash theme?

You have struck on our passion – a subject we can rarely speak enough about is reducing waste. Initially, I began writing the Trash Talk column soon after having several discussions with one of my old clients. You see; my cleaning business served the upper middle class. And one of these clients was also a friend of mine. She confided in me that she was afraid to be seen in second hand stores by her peers as she thought they may consider her a scrooge – you know: here is someone who can afford to buy anything she wants, and chooses to by a second hand Halloween Costume for the kids. She certainly didn’t want to be seen taking in returnable items (bottles/cans). Ironically, within a year of that conversation the city began Blue Box (recycling) pick up at the curb. As soon as this happened her neighbors were scrambling to get their box to the curb as it was seen as the thing to do. I realized then that we needed to get across to people that you don’t have to be poor to consider waste reduction. That reuse and reduce is not about false pride or ego – it is about the legacy we leave behind.
So few of us understand the value our daily actions have and the impact we can make on the world. In fact studies show that a large percentage of the population is depressed and consumed with feelings of inadequacy, yet 66% of us would become more proactive if we knew our actions had a measurable impact. Psychologists have long known that simply performing one small proactive step will aid in defining a positive outlook on life and will inspire further participation from the individual. As well, our financial advisor once told us that if individuals could set aside just seven dollars per day they would have enough to invest towards their retirement.
In our book, Trash Talk, we address all of these issues. We show the real and measurable impact of every single action suggested in the book. We list the fiscal value and money saved by the ideas in our book.

5. I used to live in South Africa, thus my next question. I see that one of your prizes is a poetry collection published in South Africa. What's the connection?

As a book reviewer for over 3 years, I am exposed to many different publishers, agents, publicists, authors and organizations. One of these organizations that I have worked with recently is called Whisper of Hope Poetry Club, which supports literacy in South Africa and encourages writers to express themselves with freedom, conviction and honesty. My connection with them began just a few months ago with their newsletter when included an article about our second book, Towards Understanding. They published a few of the poems from the book as well in this newsletter. Just recently, I completed a book review for one of their anthologies. I enjoy supporting literacy groups like these. In fact, as a book reviewer I also support the local literacy group “Boundary Family Read, Columbia Basin Alliance For Literacy” and the “Women's Support Center” by donating the books I have reviewed.
Anyway, Whisper of Hope Poetry Club has decided to donate several copies of their first anthology to the draw for prizes that we are offering listeners to the Earth Day Special – a 2-hour online talk radio show that Dave and I are hosting on April 22nd. We will be interviewing 8 guests and discussing the various ways the individual can make a real and measurable difference for the environment, themselves and their communities. The show airs at http://internetvoicesradio.com and will be archived on this site indefinitely, so listeners can visit at their leisure.
Coincidentally, the subjects that we focus on in our work has a global audience, and we have been supported by publications in Africa, the UK, the US and Canada over the years.

6. Do you think we're undergoing a climate change? If so, which theory to you subscribe to as far as the cause goes? What can be done, or is it too late?

There is no doubt that our planet has undergone some huge and drastic changes in the past. Science tells us we are in the beginning stages of another change. While there is controversy over the cause of this change, there is no doubt that mankind contributes to it. Science proves this fact. There is also no doubt that we can reduce our contributions dramatically.
One cannot change those who refuse to listen to reason, nor can we open the minds of those who are unable to learn new things. All that people can do is look after our own back yards, live consciously and embrace the opportunity to make a difference, no matter how small, where we can. Individuals can choose to live by example and do their best to explain things in a friendly light-hearted manor when possible. For us, because we are writers, we are able to take this effort one step further by educating with articles, websites and our books.
We are very positive and hopeful about the world today. We can see the positive changes all around us. By focusing on these changes and looking for things the individual can do starting right where they are now – we can all accelerate the positive change we would like to see. Did you know that simply by recycling and composting alone, individuals could reduce their contributions to the landfill by as much as 60%? Imagine the impact this can have if only a few people embraced these activities! A study done by National Polymers Inc. discovered that a 100-unit apartment building could save 21.93 30-foot trees, 8,389 kilowatts of electricity, 26.86 cubic yards of landfill space and 77.4 lbs of air pollution – simply by recycling and composting waste rather than sending it to the landfill.
Perhaps there is the illusion that the incentive and passion for the planet has dwindled but that is definitely not the case. Look at the public school programs that teach our children about recycling, waste, manufacturing processes, and global warming... we did not have any of this information in schools before. Take a look around your own community and witness the growing number of groups and individuals participating in clean up events or just picking up garbage during their walks. How many groups and organizations that work to aid the environment are based in your region? One look around the internet will provide information about thousands of groups, organizations and individuals involved in bettering the environment every day - as well as those that host and promote Earth Day events. Also manufactures are now creating earth-friendly products and are using social marketing (a new coined term for doing good things for the community) to survive today's discerning and educated consumer.

7. Which one would you save from extinction: a whale, a cat, an orangutan?

Well, honestly I would endeavor to save them all if I could. I do not differentiate between one species being greater or lesser value than man or any other species. Each has a distinct value, and therefore, each one is very necessary. I am one of those folks that cannot walk into a pet store or into an SPCA – I’d bring them all home with me. You may laugh, but my husband is nodding vehemently beside me. All our “pets”, or family members, are rescued animals: right now, we have two (indoor) spade female cats and one neutered male dog. They bring us hours of joy, exercise and laughter every single day. Rather than taking in more family members, we have opted to occasionally donate items or time to the local animal rescue center (SPCA).

8. Favorite book (other than your own and each other's).

Dave and I have never been able to pick just one favorite book when asked this question. If we absolutely had to pick one book that stood out for us throughout our life – this would be “Shibumi”, an outstanding epic novel. Two recently released books that we both absolutely loved are “Shadow of an Indian Star” and “Second Eden”. Self-help, non-fiction book released about three years ago entitled “Second Innocence” is exceptional. “Lucifer’s Hammer”, “Let The Drum Speak”, “On Stranger Tides”, “The Sea Of Trolls” are other favorites that come to mind. Tolkien and Agatha Christi are some of our favorite classic authors. As a writer, my favorite self-help book is “Pumping Your Muse”, by Donna Sundblad. These are just a few names and titles off the top of our heads, but really, we love so many books! We are both voracious readers and as reviewers we take on a minimum of 110 book review projects annually.

9. Where would you go on holiday, if money and time were no object?

If time and money were not an issue, we would likely stay right here in BC. Perhaps it sounds a bit corny to say we don’t have a desire to travel to distant lands – but really, there is just so much right here to explore. We love all the seasons, each bringing its own beauty and each season has something to enjoy from hiking to snowshoeing. In fact, every holiday we have taken has been spent touring our province. With unlimited finances, we would likely get a small, efficient motor home and visit all the wilderness areas we could.

Announcement:
Don't miss the Earth Day Special online radio talk show on April 22nd at http://internetvoicesradio.com hosted by authors Dave and Lillian Brummet (http://www.sunshinecable.com/~drumit).