My work

Friday, 24 October 2014

Taking the time to take the time.

Every time I do a review, feel obliged to begin with: “I don’t read a lot of XYZ genre.” I thought about that quite a bit today as I began this post-with-review for a work of historic fiction, and realised that my problem is twofold: A. I don’t read as much as I want to and B. I read just about everything. [Not sci-fi, though. Don’t reco your sci-fi books! I’m sure they’re awesome and everything, but Heinlein and Asimov ruined me for other authors – you’ll never get a fair shake out of my prejudices!]
So, yes, I have a wide range of genres that I enjoy [and to those of you who write literary fiction and claim it’s not genre, I’m lumping you in there, too]. The partially read books on my Kobo that I’m dying to get back to include [in no particular order] several romances [Regency, contemporary, ChickLit], two For Dummies books [one on CSS and the other Italian Grammar (I can’t speak Italian at all, and had intended to buy Italian Wine!)], several books on writing [loving Ben Yagoda’s The Sound on the Page], Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man, Diane Capri’s Jack in the Green, Lee Child’s latest Reacher novel Personal, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Shay Lynam’s The Tree House, and Wynne Channing’s I Am Forever.

Not a bad range of tastes – and barely scratches the surface. If only I had more time. Time is such a precious commodity that tempest fugit becomes tempest fuggedaboutit.
Available on Amazon
So . . . let me begin again: I don’t read a lot of historic fiction. But languishing in the virtual stack on my Kindle app was a book I’d been dying to get to: Jana Petken’s The Guardian of Secrets and Her Deathly Pact. Now, first of all, that’s a hell of a title. Secondly, it’s set largely in Spain, and covers the Spanish Civil War. Being somewhat of an amateur historian, I was pretty hepped up on reading it.

I bought it eons ago. Why the devil hadn’t I rubbed some seconds together to make minutes and then hours and maybe a day or two? Because we all know that seconds become minutes become hours become days with the rest of our lives, also, and the things we enjoy frequently take the first hit while we’re being responsible.
Now, the other thing about this novel is that it’s long, which is a bit intimidating to anyone on a tight schedule. Where was I going to find time to read something so epic in length? I’m a fast reader, but seriously.

Then, over the last week, I started sneaking little peeks at it while waiting for responses to emails, while ignoring telemarketer phone calls, while waiting for my coffeemaker to splutter out last drops of soul-restoring elixir. These jealously hoarded moments caused neither missed deadlines nor the total devastation of my life, and I realised that, for all its [electronic] bulk, Guardian of Secrets was eminently readable. Moreover, I was going to enjoy the reading!
Enjoy? Who’s got time for such frivolity?

Still, I stopped chewing my nails over all the other things I was supposed to be doing and, throwing caution and schedules to the wind, I read it.

This novel, as it spanned a century, made me think much about time – the march of it, the wasting of it, the sheer incontrovertible relentlessness of it. How it can leave one behind, or catch up to one. How it heals and at the same time erodes.

Life can be a scary proposition, and time ticking by is one of the scariest aspects. Maybe due to the sense of mortality all creatures have. Maybe because we all know that no matter how much time we have, it’s never enough. Time never weighs heavily on my hands: I’m never bored; never lack for something to do. But one thing I often forget is the real value – mental health not the least of it – in stepping away from hurry and worry to do something I enjoy. Just for me.
Stress is not going away. So I have to put it away on occasion. Whether I have the time or not.

Review – The Guardian of Secrets and Her Deathly Pact
5 stars

I could practically write a novel-length review for this epic. Relax; I won’t. An overview: the novel is a family saga that begins in England and travels to Spain, spanning several generations, overarching the Spanish Civil War.
Ms. Petken handles characterisation deftly, though I’d like to have seen Joseph’s devolution into the villain he is from the get-go [FYI, his comeuppance is great, but the sneaky author tricked me a couple times! And great courtroom scene, BTW.]. With a huge cast and the rich historical backdrop, keeping these characters straight and well delineated must have been a monumental task.

Personally, I might have stripped down much of the text – there is some telling of emotions rather than showing. But contrary to popular opinion, this is not a horrific crime, and greater economy might not have served the story, whereas Ms. Petken’s style seems to aptly suit it.

While the research that went into this work must have been enormous, that’s not the impressive part. No, the impressive part is Ms. Petken’s distillation of that research into a comprehensive – and comprehendible – fictional narrative that makes the reader feel the lives of these people, whether sinner or saint, villain or hero[ine].

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

“The butler did it.” I’d kill for a simple dénouement.

My current WiP is a murder mystery of sorts, the result of deliberate restrictions I put on myself for last year’s NaNoWriMo: first-person, romantic suspense comedy. It’s almost done. It was almost done November 30, 2013, with the plot laid out clearly in an annotated detailed list in the MS so I wouldn’t forget who did what to whom when I returned to it.
I wrote the HEA ending last November, so, literally, that’s all I had left to do – get that list of details into a scene. Yesterday, I shot off a message to one of my betas, letting her know she’d see the MS in a couple of days, as I was just writing the dénouement. I immediately returned to work, determined to finish those few lines that would wrap up the mystery. That’s it. Easy-peasy, right?

Dénouement literally means “untying the knot”. It’s the unravelling of the plot of any story, not just in mysteries. Explanations made, he-said-she-said, I’ve always loved you, here’s the murderer, the motive, the MacGuffin. Scene! The End.

So I’m not unfamiliar with tying – or rather, untying and retying – the knots of a story. However, this is my first mystery. With clues hidden and scattered and hinted at throughout the MS, trying not to give things away and tossing out some red herrings for fodder, now I have too many things to explain. In the midst of the mess I’ve made of these “few lines” I was going to whip off last night, I started wishing for a convenient butler to blame everything on.

Edgar the Butler, The Aristocats, [1970] © Disney
Of course, the butler did it is a both a classic trope and hackneyed cliché. Relax; even had I a butler character to throw to the wolves of dénouement, I’d not use him. It’s not my first rodeo.

But damn! Sure feels like it. Seven hours I spent labouring over revealing the threads. The “few lines” currently stand at about 2,100 words. And I’m not done explaining!

I was too damned clever with too little experience in the genre. I have too many possible villains and accomplices. Clearing names in one breath and ruining reputations in the next is taking its toll in what should be a tight, fast scene.

At last, I fell asleep in the wee smalls, desperate for the convenience of simplicity . . . and dreamed that my H was the villain all along.
No, that won’t work.

What to do with the steamy mess?

Well, I’m not going to change my plot. Maybe I’ll backtrack and wrap up some threads earlier to lighten the load of the end. I can muddle through this dénouement and think about how to tidy it while betas pfthhht it. Next time I write a mystery – if I ever do – I could keep it simpler. One villain. One motive.

Yet my current conundrum presents a huge opportunity. A writing exercise of epic proportions [for me]: to write this scene with all the complexities intact and still keep it interesting to the reader. To unravel the Gordian knot of my plot by following the tangles, rather than jackhammering through it – which is what I’m currently doing.
Whew! We’ll see how it goes.

FPW WiP cover

Many thanks to the irrepressible Camilla Monk for her design advice [who am I kidding - it's her idea!] that fits my brand so well!

Famous Penultimate Words will be published . . . soon-ish.

Friday, 18 July 2014

#IAD International Authors’ Day Blog Hop – Featured Author: Martyn V. Halm


I was invited to join the inaugural IAD, the concept and creation of Debdatta Dasgupta Sahay of b00k r3vi3ws. On her blog, she posted:
"I was shocked to realize that there's isn't an International Authors' Day that we can all celebrate to show our appreciation for the hours of hard work that  authors put into their  books... So I decided to do something about it!"
[See more at: b00k r3vi3ws]

I immediately hopped on this bandwagon . . . then struggled over which author I’d pimp. So many whom I love. But since I was in the midst of reading the third Amsterdam Assassin Series novel, Rogue, I chose its creator and author, Martyn V. Halm. [You can check out his endlessly entertaining blog here.]

Mr. Halm has created one of the most interesting characters in fiction, the amazing Katla Sieltjes, the titular Amsterdam Assassin. By dint of a flaw in her character, Katla lacks a conscience, and so chose freelance assassin as her career. Hey, why not? Excitement and danger and a lot of killing ensues.
Now, if you want to know more of Katla, you can read my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Well, actually, reading the books is probably the smarter choice. But about her author . . . well, here we go:

Mr. Halm lives in Amsterdam with his wife and two kids – to whom he routinely dedicates his work – but don't get confused over this appearance of domesticity. His background means he has the chops for writing this high-action series. He’s a former motorcycle courier, so those chase scenes he writes have realistic punch. He trains in koryu bujutsu [an ancient martial art] and aikido [another martial art, developed in the early-twentieth century], so the hand-to-hand combat scenes are authentic and thrilling. He studies the ages-old game of Go, the intricate strategies of which are evident in the complex development of his plots. Most scenes are set in Amsterdam, and Mr. Halm’s knowledge of and love for his city comes through loud and clear.
The research that goes into writing Katla – and her blind lover Bram [Mr. Halm's depiction of the blind has been lauded by experts] – is evident, leaving me chewing my nails for the next one. I know it takes time and effort to write novels such as these. There are guns and games and gore galore in these works, and each rings true as a monument to verisimilitude in fiction.

There are three full-length novels [Reprobate, Peccadillo, and the above-mentioned Rogue], plus three short works [the Katla KillFiles - Microchip Murder, Fundamental Error, and Locked Room]. Suss them out on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and wherever else awesome books are sold. FYI, they are also on Scribd, and for the moment on Kobo, Reprobate and the KillFiles are all free! Enjoy.


Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Yar, me soul-matey! Revisiting my dislike of this romantic paradigm.

Yesterday was Canada Day, and I had a prearranged date with a bottle of wine and two women of fiction. The first was Kendra, a stranger to me, so you get to meet her, too.
Before I get to my review, I’d best address my post title. I have – with a degree of amused snark – used this line before. Never as any dig at an author employing the You are my density destiny [Ah, damn! Snarky. Again.] trope, but I have a real aversion for it.

Kendra by Edward M. Wolfe at Amazon
So when reading Kendra by Edward M. Wolfe – which embraces the concept – I began examining why I was so, not bitter about it, but definitely antagonistic. I’m a romance novelist, after all. All romantic tropes and paradigms should be natural and reasonable to me, to be used as appropriate.

Maybe it’s that I never met my soul mate, that I’m still single [roughly speaking], and my distaste is a form of envy that I never met – or worse, met and missed – my soul mate along the way.
Nah. Never met anyone like that . . .

And then I thought about him. That guy. That guy who, when he first spoke, riveted me to the spot. That guy who so enthralled me that when we went on our first date, I was so busy staring at him in lustful admiration that I ran smack into a tree. [Who plants trees on sidewalks? In a city? Really. It’s the place for wide avenues of beautiful, sweet concrete. Where smitten girls don’t make idiots of themselves.]
We bonded in a way that I hadn’t experienced before, and haven’t since. We were accurately finishing each other’s sentences within hours of meeting. There was a connect. A snap of awareness for each other that we discussed at length, our conversations peppered with words like destiny and yes, soul mates.

Did the relationship work out? Ah, no. Obviously. For a variety of reasons. We were too young and stupid and overly sensitive about . . . almost everything. Maybe I never forgave him for the fact that, had he been a true gentleman, he would have been walking on the outside of the sidewalk and I never would have embarrassed myself with that damn’ tree. Maybe he was secretly annoyed that my voice – that he admired in private moments – could suddenly drip with condescension when I felt threatened by, well, a lot of things in those days, not so long ago.
But for all it didn’t work out, for all that I’m done grieving the loss of that time, I still have a soft spot for him, and wonder what would have happened had we met just a handful of years later. Or yesterday.

Because yesterday I read Kendra, and for once, didn’t have any snark about the soul-mate paradigm.

Review – 5 stars for Kendra

I’ve read a smattering of Mr. Wolfe’s work. Even when not over the moon with it, I like it. He has an Everyman, natural style that is enormously accessible, in which I imagine I can hear his voice. And it is pleasant to the ear.

And now, Mr. Wolfe has produced this phenomenal work. Kendra is a bang-up romance, beautifully crafted and surprisingly unsentimental in its celebration of the soul-mate paradigm.

I’m uncertain what else to say about it, as just about everything constitutes a spoiler. But I’ll try.
Keith and Kendra meet by accident and instantly bond. Keith, whose voice in those early pages smacks of asshat-edness, sheds his veneer of cynicism when overwhelmed by the notion that he and Kendra are meant to be together. Happily, she feels the same way, and their relationship rockets along.

Tragedy strikes. The upshot is that Kendra winds up in a coma and on life support.
Now, the subtitle of this work is An Astral Lovestory, so I think it’s safe to reveal that Keith and Kendra’s temporal connexion transforms into a paranormal one. A meeting of souls – or spirits, or energy – who experience a resplendent communion on an astral plane, even though he is very much alive, and she, not so much.

Plot-wise, I can’t reveal more. I can reveal that I got misty reading this novel. I’m blaming the wine I was consuming along with it.

The narrative questions the ironic: that some who believe in God, spirits, and an afterlife can’t believe something outside their experience – the irony being that, for most of us on this side of death, there is no demonstrable experience with God, spirits, or an afterlife . . . so believers should be more open, more willing to examine the tenets of those beliefs. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio . . .

The novel also explores the meaning of life, issues of life-support and pulling plugs. The fine line between imagination and reality, and the even finer one between perceived sanity and insanity.

And love. The meaning of love. Kendra and Keith’s love is not gushy. Not corny or schmaltzy. It is as flawless as flawed humans can make it. Undefined, it reads as naturally and truly as breathing. It simply is. Meant to be.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Just realised: I’m not twenty anymore.

I’ve never read a lot of YA, and less and less as time goes by. It’s not because I think it beneath me. It’s merely that I never had an affinity to it. As I recently observed to a friend, I started reading Kafka while still reading The Baby-Sitters Club – so maybe I leapt over that genre gap that YA would have bridged.
I generally don’t like to review YA either, as part of me knows I punish the author through my lack of A: experience and B: affinity. Yet this lack lends a degree of objectivity to my review of such work – I’m not comparing this to that, and if I got through the book, then genre affinity doesn’t matter. I finished, so therefore, the book is notable [to me]. I have so much I want to read – and there are so many books from which to choose – that it’s easy to put aside a book that’s not working for me and move onto the next. Simple as that.

When I do read YA, I have to keep reminding myself what it was to be a teenager. It’s amusing now to think of how angsty those years were. How easily obsessed one could become with that boy. Or the meaning of a look. A word. Lack of words. How he glanced at you. How he didn’t.
Only to discover later that none of it meant anything.

Ah, so glad that’s gone. Mostly gone. The point is that teenagers do obsess. They do lack confidence in themselves. They haven’t the experience or courage to be forthright and address relationship problems head on. Speak truth to power? What power? The individual[s] with whom they are consumed are as powerless as they.
So they fret, and obsess, and are generally excessively annoying. Just like I did; just like I was.

I have to remind myself of that every time I pick up a YA. Normally – naturally – they are written from that angsty teen perspective. It’s maddening. Infuriating. But it’s real.


Friday, 27 June 2014

Exhausted just watching.

Last night, I was playing on Facebook at a release party. Running into familiar names and faces, meeting some new ones. Good times.

My attention was somewhat divided, feeling a bit under pressure with other things going on in – what's that thing called? Oh, yeah. Life. I got awfully proud of myself when I tossed out some tweets for participating authors, helping promote their work, and then got in a bit of a sweat thinking about my own three-day event, starting today on FB:

Beat the Heat Summer Giveaway

Don't get me wrong! I love the events. Love being invited, either as participant or guest. Love playing, commenting, tweeting, sharing – it's great fun. And the readers who come out to play! They're awesome! They're funny and smart and generally jazzed to participate. Love meeting them. So, I'm going to have a good time during the event, as I always do.

As I've told anyone who would [and even those who wouldn't] listen to my whining, June's been a hellish kind of month in my schedule, and I'm so glad it's almost over. I see wine, and friends, and barbecues, and a diminished TBR in that fantasised future called July. That's all I've thought about for weeks, going well back into April. And in the middle of last night's multitasking, I wondered if I would ever see the Magical Land of Outside ever again.

One of my sidebars of the evening was having a PM chat with Katerina Baker, who blogs every day, works on her novel[s] and WiPs every day, has a personal and professional existence, and is busy, busy, busy all the time. It exhausts me just thinking of what she accomplishes in a day.

At the same time I was having this chat, I was conversing with the person hosting the FB event, Angie Martin. Wife, mom, best-selling author, FB-event planner . . . I have no idea how she does it. It makes me dizzy just thinking of it. Sure, I can spend eighteen hours in front of my computer, but I don't accomplish a fraction of what Angie does.

So this is my shout out to women like these. You are phenomenal role models. Don't stop being your energetic selves. I want to be you when I grow up [though I doubt that's going to happen any time soon, since it hasn't happened yet]. Thank you for your support – and I'm not the only person who is in your collective debt.

But thank you, thank you, thank you, both. You are inspirational. And I promise to still be inspired by you while I'm catching up on my reading in July . . . and I'll toast you with my glass of wine.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Time Out to Play #LuckySeven

I’m taking time out of my currently insane schedule to have a bit of fun.
The brilliant Katerina Baker, whose sample from her romantic suspense WiP The Secret Wife is posted on her blog, tagged me in this game.

The rules:
Go to page 7 or 77 in your current WIP
Go to line 7
Post on your blog the next 7 sentences or 7 lines – as they are!
Tag 7 people, who'll do the same.
Okay, must get back to work . . . but here’s my sample from page 77 of my contemporary romance WiP, Public Frenemy, due out in August.
“Why did he call you the other night?”

“Speed-dial ass call, I gather.”

“He has you on speed dial?”

“That was my reaction, if you recall.”

“I was paying closer attention to other things,” he pointed out, and pointed out.

She laughed. For the first time, a conversation about those days lacked some sting. “I thought we weren’t going to talk about our miserable former lovers.”
I am tagging:



Friday, 23 May 2014

Shaking my complacency in Jane’s HEA.

Yesterday, I observed to a friend that there is nothing better than reading a book with which you form a love/hate relationship, where your reactions to it are so visceral, it stays with you forever. All Hallows at Eyre Hall by Luccia Gray is such a book.

In a recent blog-post mention of All Hallows [which was not then published], I observed that it promised to be a “dark and stormy one”. Released just at the beginning of May, it lives up to my prediction.

But a bit about Jane Eyre first. Not merely because of the obvious – that All Hallows is a sequel to that classic – but because Jane Eyre is one of my favourite novels. As in, top five. Easily. So that makes it somewhat sacrosanct. That must be noted, in order that my comments on this new novel are put into perspective.
Jane Eyre is one of the greatest love stories of all time. Of all the tropes it embodies, the best, IMHO, is that Jane is the veritable prototype of sassy h who tames the embittered H. Rochester is the epitome of the Byronic hero, a.k.a.: a villain. At the end of Jane Eyre, Rochester is punished and therefore redeemed, making him, er, a suitable suitor for the pious, passionate, and independent Jane. That “cord of communion” connecting their hearts, as Rochester described, is unbroken.

So. We’ve got a good girl. A dark hero. And a great love between them. HEA, right? Never doubted it.

And so, to my review:

I was honoured to be one of the beta readers on this novel several months ago, thrilled to be pulled into Jane Eyre’s world again. I observed at the time to Ms. Gray that fans of Jane and Rochester's love – hoping to see the ongoing romance between this strong waif and the man whose desire for her reached out across miles of moor – might not like her reinterpretation, but, damn it, we fans were really going to dissect it!
All Hallows at Eyre Hall takes my beloved Jane and shakes the gloss from what I imagined her life with Rochester would be. Set twenty-odd years after the original, Rochester is stripped of his Byronic cloak, leaving the villain exposed. Spewing vitriol from his deathbed, he is a toothless tyrant – physical might lost to age and illness, but still able to wound. He actually trash-talks Jane. He is, however, an unreliable narrator, and I refuse to take this monster’s word on anything.

And Jane . . . I recognise her, and yet do not. Living with Rochester has robbed her of something – her piousness, I suppose. I don’t mean that in an “organised religion” sort of way, because Jane – despising both Brocklehurst and St. John Rivers’ approaches to religion – always sought to balance tenets of faith with her human passions, to ensure that one not overrun the other. And here, she has slid somewhat [in my view], losing some of that balance as she pursues passions. Jane is human – but I can’t write about it anymore. I have to think about it more. Maybe cry a little bit.
I will not forget this novel anytime soon.

The novel is written in rotating first-person POV in the tradition of the epistolary novel without benefit of the epistles [a monumental task], with many characters giving their view of both past and present. Richard Mason reappears, nefarious extortion plan in tow. John Rochester, Jane and Rochester’s son, is introduced. A new character in the form of Annette Mason, the secret daughter of Rochester and Bertha, appears, too, providing fodder both for Mason’s plans and Jane’s final revelations of her husband.
In my opinion, the strongest theme of the original was the search for love, home, and independence, all of which Jane had gained. Now her love for and from Rochester is gone, and her independence and home are under threat from Mason. It is a bittersweet reminder that, for all the fantasy of an HEA, in the real world we’re never done until we’re dead. There is always work to do: on relationships, stability, and, yes, love.

All Hallows is graced with postmodern, postcolonial views that remove the naivety that whitewashed even the darkest moments of Brontë’s original. Ms. Gray does not pull any literary punches in portraying the truth of the world these characters inhabit, filled with bigotry, classism, superstition, and ignorance – and as an educator in Postcolonial English lit, she's got the chops for it. There is a direct nod to Rebecca through Annette’s voice; allusions to Wuthering Heights . . . and dozens of reminders that Ms. Gray has not abandoned her source material in her deconstruction of it. All Hallows has all the gems of the Gothic novel, with secret births, deathbed confessions, morganatic affairs, and hidden letters. The sin-eater scene is delicious.
The novel is the first of a planned trilogy, but there is no nail-biting cliff hanger that will annoy. Jane stands on the brink of adventure, and I hope that Ms. Gray will – if not restore my Jane to me – reform her into something new that I can embrace with equal fervour.

Four stars for being awesome; bumped to five for ruining my life complacency.
All Hallows at Eyre Hall is available at Amazon.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

For Mom's special day, get her a serial killer.

Happy Mother's Day!

So, if the title of this blog post raises eyebrows, Im not going to make excuses. I finished reading Angie Martins Conduit in the last couple of days, and finally finished my review. Go buy the book for your mom. Or yourself.

Conduit by Angie Martin on Amazon
Conduit cover

But before I get to the review, I want to write a little about author voice. Mine tends to be dry and sarcastic [and some things I thought terribly witty are taken as "Are you serious?" – to which I'm going to state universally: "Probably not."]

Everybody's got a voice, and every voice is different – even when we're writing it down. I'm not going to make a clever allusion to regional accents [oops, maybe I just did], but certainly, authors from similar genre backgrounds have a similar tone. This is a good thing, as readers have an expectation when they pick up a book in “their” genre, even when it's a new or unknown author.

But no matter the genre, every once in a while, someone takes a fresh voice, and sometimes, it works.

With that in mind, we come to my review of Conduit. Which starts with me:
I can’t write sweet. Or sweetly. When I try, the words pour out like thick treacle that would choke a dead cat. Many writers who attempt it suffer the same problem as I. True sweetness, on the other hand, is never heavy or cloying. It’s a dusting of sentiment with a . . . a nugget of goodness, wholesomeness . . . argh. See? I can’t even define it. Yet, I know it when I read it. It is an elusive ability, and few have it.

Ms. Martin’s got it. She’s got it going on.

“Um,” you say hesitantly, “are you sure you’re reviewing the right book? Isn’t Conduit about a serial killer?”

Yep. Sure is. And it’s a good one.

Ms. Martin’s enviable ability to write with that elusive and delicate sweet air leant to Conduit a sick twist of horror that a dryer, darker voice could never have accomplished. For the voice is virtually unaltered in the killer’s scenes, and it plays foil to the maliciousness, the callousness, the sheer evil of him.

The sweetness frosted his scenes with delicious inappropriateness.


There will be some readers who love the subplot of the romance. Did I? Sure, why not? And readers who will linger over the police-y stuff, intrigued with the details. Did I? Yep, they were pretty good – love that stuff. The psychic bits, the unravelling, all the intricate detail Ms. Martin put into this novel? Good, good, and good. These offhand statements should not be taken as indifference or dislike, because it was all great. But—

But. I couldn’t wait to turn pages to get to the killer’s scenes. Ah, David Noakes! How you entertained me!

His scenes are not salaciously graphic; the violence is blunt without lingering over the gore. There’s detachment in the author’s voice here, describing the essence of the action in perfect frugality, allowing the reader to imagine and fill in the scene. And [after getting out of bed to double-check the locks on my door], I did.

Oh, how I loved David’s mind! He admires the clean-living, the self-disciplined – preferring to kill only the worthy. And then rationalises the killing of the unworthy. His psychic abilities allow him to empathise [after a fashion] with his victims – you know, right before he kills them. He is self-congratulatory on his self-diagnosed brilliance. He is a complete egotist. And Ms. Martin wrote him as such without – as many writers are inclined to do in a mistaken attempt to prove omniscience – specifically pointing that out.

Well done.

I know you want to hear a negative – after all, what sort of balanced review lacks comment on both sides of the line? So . . . Um. I can’t think of any. I mean, nothing serious - and by serious, I mean things that pulled me out of the story. That would be a bad thing. Okay, so Emily and Jake’s relationship came through as a bit of “Yar, me soul-matey!” and I’m not much of a subscriber to the soul-mate paradigm. However, I believe it was a conscious choice on Ms. Martin’s part in order to throw harsh light on David’s delusions of his style of HEA with Emily [if I can cross genre boundaries . . . ironically, of course]. It doesn’t matter whether I subscribe to the paradigm or not. It worked. So. Enough said.

The upshot? My utter fascination – and complete appreciation – for Ms. Martin’s revelation of the complex mind of a psychopath kept me endlessly entranced.

And I forgot to write: 5 sweeeeeet stars!
[Aside: Conduit is available today for $0.99 at Amazon, as part of Indie World Publishing and Author Services' Mother's Day Reading Blitz. Go buy the book. Read the book. And come back and tell me what you think. I could talk about it all day.]

Monday, 5 May 2014

Blog Hop: Baton Relay

I love plugging my fellow authors – treating someone who wanders by this page to information about books I’ve enjoyed. So when I was invited to this Pass the Baton blog hop, I couldn’t resist.
All Hallows at Eyre Hall cover

I was twice tagged for this hop, and so introduce you to two authors:
Luccia Gray
The first is Luccia Gray. Luccia blogs about Victorian literature and just published the first volume of her Eyre Hall Trilogy, All Hallows at Eyre Hall. It promises to be a dark and stormy one . . . [I was lucky enough to be a beta reader, so can’t wait to read the final version].
Learn more about Luccia on her blog, find her on Facebook, and visit her Amazon author page.
Martyn V. Halm [too cool for school]
The second author to tag me is Martyn V. Halm. Martyn’s addiction to verisimilitude in fiction has produced the Amsterdam Assassin Series – about which I can’t say enough marvellous things – featuring my current-favourite heroine Katla Sietjes.
Reprobate cover
Visit Martyn's phenomenal blog here, and take a look-see at his Amazon author page for all of his works. And seriously, read the books.

So, my turn to answer questions! I feel I’ve been writing a lot recently about my writing [LOL], so this will be the last for a long time. [Whew.]

What am I working on?

I’m in the final edits for my next novel, The Value of Vulnerability. This book shouldn’t be taking so long to finish, but my H is a sociopath – or perhaps just borderline – so making him both sociopathic and likeable is a damnable trial. It’s the story of two people who have suffered damages and deal with those damages in different ways: the h, Erin, generally lets things wash over her and moves on with her life; H, Ford, hoards hurts and seeks revenge for slights whenever he can . . . and sees no problem with doing so!
The Value of
Vulnerability cover

I’m also participating in a very cool Facebook event, Clever Quickies Monday, wherein a writer must construct a unique passage in 140 characters or less. An exercise in economical writing, I’m determined to write an entire short work comprised of these passages, to be shared at some future date on this blog.

How does my work differ from others in this genre?

Well, there’s that sociopathic H. In most romances, the troubled H is rescued by his love for h. In VV, I want him to retain his character and rescue himself. I dislike when sober and/or cold h/Hs turn warm and fuzzy and full of buoyant humour through their HEA. Love does many things, but I don’t believe people at their baseline essence really change. Not often, at any rate. So when Ford “rescues” himself, he’s still going to be a sociopath – which is not inherently a bad thing.

Why do I write what I write?
A Bird Without Wings
I fell in love with romances at a young age and, always having wanted to write, chose that genre as my go-to. I love thrillers and suspense, but I don’t write plot-driven things well, and prefer character studies. I also like breaking clichés. [In my last novel, A Bird Without Wings, my h is smarter than her H. You almost never see that – at least, not obviously.] And I love to write escapism. While I enjoy reading books that deal with controversial subjects, I’m not fond of writing them . . .

How does your writing process work?

I’m a pantser – that is, I write without an outline. I imagine a scene and mull it over in my head for a [sometimes long] while, then eventually get it down; hopefully a plot evolves from there. I work in Word, drink copious amounts of coffee and sometimes wine [but cut off my wine consumption at one-point-five glasses . . . there’s a fine line between in vino veritas and blathering with typos].

I usually work on several projects at once; I find it helps keep me fresh, and working on one novel can inspire another that’s stalling. It’s also a handy procrastination tool. I’m a champion procrastinator . . . except no one’s handing out awards for that!

Research is done while I’m writing, for the most part. My characters start doing things I know nothing of, and so I have to stop and check, making sure the things they’re doing are really possible. I love knowing the correct name of things. I hate writing description. I love inverting axioms. I hate rewriting. I love editing. [Yes, these are two different things.]

Introducing . . .
Fire Angel cover
Susanne Lee Matthews is a romance novelist and fellow Ontarian, and I’ve been following her brilliant blog for some time. Check out her Amazon author page and the story of her writing process in this post.

Chains of Prophecy cover
Jason P. Crawford’s latest novel is the urban fantasy Chains of Prophecy. Read about his writing process next week on his site.
Mad Days of Me I:
Escaping Barcelona cover
Henry Martin – ah, what does one write about Henry? I recently read a review where he was dubbed “Minstrel Martin”. No argument here. I’ve read nearly all of his work, including the dark and brilliant Mad Days of Me trilogy. Discover more about Henry at his Amazon author page, and check out his blog, where he’ll be posting about his writing process soon.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Live Q&A with Roberta Pearce – Summary of Posts

First of all, thank you to everyone who came by to ask questions and chat. And especially thanks to Indie Author Central Group moderators Heather Dowell [author of  Summers & Winters] and A.S. Oren [author of the Spearwood Academy series] for hosting the event. Cheers, women!

Secondly, I was excited that several authors dropped by, including Martyn V. Halm and Angie Martin!

The following is a distillation of the Q&A about my novel A Bird Without Wings and bits about writing in general. I’ve left my answers largely verbatim, but some questions are melded together as they touch on similar subjects.
A Bird Without Wings cover

Q. Who is your favorite character in the book? Why?

A. For me personally, my favourite is Callie herself, naturally. She’s complex, endlessly showing new facets of her odd personality. And ultimately, comes to her own "rescue" emotionally.

Q. Who was the hardest to write or annoyed you the most?

A. Mmmm . . . in many ways, it was Callie again, as she is so annoying at times! LOL. Making her sympathetic and likeable was not always an easy task, but readers love her, so I guess I did okay.

Secondary characters are usually the toughest, making them whole people instead of cardboard cut outs. In this regard, Lucius’ family posed many problems, but in the end, I ended up with a charming group of oddballs.

Q. The plot is carefully woven, so I wondered if you planned the plot/novel before you started writing or if you created the characters and let them drive the plot? Or something else?
A. Thank you for that lovely compliment! I had the idea for the Birds when I was just a kid. Independently of that, I imagined a scene of a young woman waiting to go into the big-boss’s office while trying to control her crush on him. As I imagined who that woman would be – she had to be someone very special for the boss I was conceiving behind that closed door – I remembered my long-ago idea of the Birds . . . and Callie and that mystery evolved from there.

So essentially, she drove the plot, for the Birds were just a vague concept. The mystery had to be complicated enough for her to: A. Show her skills and B. Not be solved too easily, despite those skills.

FYI, I’m a pantser, not a plotter, so I’m usually just tying random images together . . . then kill myself editing them into one fluid piece!
Q. What was your inspiration for the plot?
A. That scene of the young woman outside the boss’s office had been hanging out in my head for a couple of years. I imagined it while killing time waiting on a client who was late for a meeting – though the circumstances were different, I tend to write in my head during downtime [as I’m sure most authors do!], taking random situations one finds oneself in and twisting them around to make the everyday interesting. Presto! A scene.

The character of Callie was also inspired by a bit of weariness on my part after reading novels with heroines who weren’t as smart as the hero. I wanted to create the reverse. Lucius is brilliant, but as he notes himself, he’s got nothing on Callie.
Q. Like Callie, did you move around a lot as a child or worried about money?
A. My childhood was quite stable. But not too long ago, I was struggling. Callie’s attic bachelor? I lived in an almost identical space! Actually, I’m a little nostalgic about it.

The problem was that Callie had to know what love was, but be confused about what it meant. And considering the age-old argument about whether it’s love or money that makes the world go ’round . . . LOL. So I imagined the circumstances of how an essential war of attrition by her parents [loving her without actually producing any evidence of it – sheer lip-service] married with extreme [and unnecessary poverty] would mould Callie’s character.

So, not direct experience . . . but touches of it in my own life.
Q. It’s funny how sometimes readers get annoyed with the main character and the writer does too. But hey, the characters are who they are and we can’t make them all perfect or their story would be a lie.
A. ’Zactly! No one wants to read perfect Mary Sues! So long as they are annoying in a realistic way, and not to the point of dislike . . . I regard it as a friendship. Is this someone I’d like in my life, even when he/she annoys the crap outta me from time to time?
Q. I love smart characters, it’s so hard not to make them too condescending, because when someone is smart and they know it, it’s difficult not to show it, and people tend to be uncomfortable around or dislike those who are smarter than them.
A. That really was a challenge! And that inspired Callie’s quiet reticence about being a centre shot. As the character Rachel notes: "As far as brains go, she’s smarter than anyone thinks she is—and we all think she’s brilliant."
Q. Love that line!! Would definitely want her as a friend.
A. :) Me, too!
Q. Did you use baby books/sites to come up with the character names? P.S. I love the name Lucius, Harry Potter nerd.
A. Haha! I never made that connexion! But of course . . .

I do use baby-name sites a lot, especially for minor characters. For me, I have to be careful naming characters, because they become
real, and I can’t just arbitrarily change their names later without great anguish! ;)

If I recall correctly, I was watching
Gladiator when I came up with "Lucius" – inspired by Commodus’ nephew; and Lucius is half-Italian, so . . . But the funniest thing about the name is that I kept keying it in wrong – over and over: Luscious! That’s how he got his nickname . . . pure accident.
Q. Are you on Wattpad? If so, what do you think of it and how do you utilize it?
A. I’m on Wattpad, but I use it very little for my own work. I have three chapters of my 2013 NaNoWriMo novel posted there – Famous Penultimate Words – but simply don’t have the time to dedicate to Wattpad. I am hoping to finish and publish that novel, though, for fall, before NaNoWriMo starts again in November . . . but I have two others to finish in the meantime.

I think Wattpad is great, and I’ve found a couple of gems there. It’s an awesome venue to hash out your work and get feedback on it before publication, but I choose to go a strict beta-reader route instead. Just a personal decision.
Q. I really admire Callie, she’s determined to live the life she wants, purposefully, not the life she could have drifted into, as her parents and brother seemed to do. I’ve known a lot of young people who just follow their parents’/family’s footsteps without even realising they aren’t putting any effort into their futures. Callie’s message to the reader seems to be: "you can break away and live your own life, it’s up to you." Were you doing that purposefully yourself in writing her character?
[This question – and the  two following – were posed by Lucy Gray, soon-to-be published author of All Hallows at Eyre Hall.]
A. Absolutely! I mean, not consciously, but since that is a baseline belief of mine, it’s going to creep in [or splash over!] my writing. I don’t always like characters who “fall into” their dull lives and need an external force to shake them up and out of it.

Q. Do you think reading a novel can/does influence reader’s views of the word in any way?
A. Yes, all the time. First of all, I’ve never read anything that didn’t teach me something new. And I’ve read all kinds of novels that either changed my world view of a thing, or at least tempered it. I’m pretty open minded, and like to have outside influences that force me to re-evaluate my opinions . . . even if I don’t change my mind, I come to better understanding of myself, and the views I hold. I just read an ARC of The Day I Became a $py, which led me to rethink a lot of my assumptions about the financial collapse a few years back - all couched in a fun and sexy thriller.

Q. Do you think as a writer you have the responsibility of helping/guiding/instructing (not only entertaining) your readers?
A. Hmm . . . that’s tough. My responsibility is not to lie - that is, not to represent as good/factual that which I personally regard as bad/untruthful. In complex [or morally ambiguous] matters, I like to have characters with varied points of view to inspire the reader to consider other sides. Since I’m on the fence about many things, I have difficulty making categorical statements about the right and wrong of things. Sometimes, both sides have valid argument. I’d like readers to consider the other side of their own.
Q. When you create characters, do you start with a name – like Lucius – then work out who and what he is, or do you start with the character and think up a name later?
[This question was posed by Martyn V. Halm, author of a brilliant series that I’m totally in love with, Amsterdam Assassin Series, featuring the amazing heroine Katla Sieltjes. In case you couldn’t figure out from the name of the series, it is not romance . . . though it has romantic elements!]
A. I only once started a story [as yet unfinished] with naming a character before even having an idea of a plot. All other times, the scene comes first, with Character X and Y; or, since I write romance, I frequently use "h" and "H" - as I noted earlier, I think, I find it hard to rename characters once done.

Q. Is your working method different for protagonist/antagonist vs. minor characters?
A. I’d say so, yes. Minor characters are to drive plot, or to reveal pertinent information, or give the protagonist/antagonist someone to bounce off of, revealing their own character. Sometimes I write scenes with these minor players and lose control of it, ultimately coming to the decision that these characters aren’t suited to this conversation/action . . . which is a good thing, as it demonstrates to me that they are more than my tools – if they’re behaving independently of me, they’ve become real.
Q. There are cultures where children aren’t named until they reach their second or third year, because the name has to be part of their character and you might inadvertently give a child the ‘wrong’ name if you decide too early. Do you think it works that way with characters too? If you name them before you have fleshed them out, that they might have the ‘wrong’ name?
A. Sure! That’s why I hesitate before I commit . . . decisions are frequently made with wine . . .

But the "wrong name" could work ironically. I’d like to do that sometime, name a character "Rockford Steel" or something, and make him a soft-bellied, short, balding accountant with Coke-bottle-bottom glasses.
I have a habit of naming secondary characters "Dave", "Steve", etc. Nothing against those names – there’s a reason they’re popular in the real world: they’re strong and identifiable.

A good site for picking appropriate names is the Social Security site, which lists most popular registered baby names by year – so, you’ll know if your h is a 30ish North American, naming her "Jennifer" is demographically reasonable, while naming her "Beyoncé" is less so!
Q. I wanted ask about your book covers. They are very unique and fun... did you make those yourself or do you have a designer? What is the inspiration for them?
[This question was posed by Angie Martin, whose new novel Conduit has a gorgeous cover . . . and is on my TBR!]
A. Thanks for liking my covers. People either like or hate them . . . And yes, they’re all mine, and all my responsibility! LOL.

Theoretically, as I write romance, I should have gone with the naked-torso look [which admittedly is
really frickin’ hot]! But when I thought about it, I realized that I can’t personally tell one cover from another in the genre: “Did I read this one? I remember those abs . . . Oh, same abs as the others.” I wanted something to stand out.

So I thought about minimalism and branding and strong colours —
Q. As an esthetic, I think your covers have a lot with older movie posters.
A. I looked at a lot of noir movie posters [I’m a fan of film noir] –
Q. I really love noir... maybe that’s why they speak to me so much! :)
A. In a future work, I actually draw comparisons between the h and Gilda - the epitome [to me] of American noir!]
In specific research on minimalism, I found a site where an artist had taken big-name contemporary movies and made simple vector-graphic posters depicting the essence of the central plot. I ran some ideas past some designer friends [who are still split evenly on love/hate of my ultimate design decision], and ended up with my current brand.
Q. I think you really have the branding down! It makes your books very recognizable as your books and that’s a great thing in the current Indie marketplace. As you said, all abs start looking alike after a while . . and sometimes they really are the same abs! I don’t know why people would hate [your covers], except that they are outside the box. But that’s what makes me love them . . . they are unique, quirky, and fun. I think that’s so smart of you to do the covers this way.
A. I think once I have a couple more books out, they’ll stand apart as a definite statement, easily recognisable.
Q. I must admit, I had mixed feelings about your covers at first, but they sort of “grow on you”. They’re certainly very distinctive.
A. From your keyboard to someone’s ears . . . or eyes!

Q. I’ve read two of your novels and I love your writing. I found the voices of your characters very unique and fresh. How do you make them so authentic? Are any of your characters based on actual people?
[This question was posed by Katerina Baker, soon-to-be published author of The Day I Became a $py, that I cited in an earlier answer.]
A. Oh, thank you! No character is really based on anyone specific, but [confession time] I had a stint as a bartender once, and found endless inspiration for, um, quirkiness in that world. Mostly, though, my characters embody some part of me, of attitudes I have or have once held. Or of situations in which I’ve found myself - or narrowly avoided, or wished I hadn’t! The writing process is like stripping down what I think to the molecular structure . . . and then rethinking it. So if that lends it freshness, I’m most glad of it!
Q. I think it’s cool how authors pay so much mind to a character’s name and sometimes fall for them in a sense.
A. I agree. We do fall for them. In a way, we have to fall for them, in order to care enough to nurture them and draw them out. And if we don’t love them, how can our reader be expected to? Not that readers have to feel anything at all for our brilliance [!], but at least an author has a shot at it if he/she loves his/her creation.

I’ve read many books where I didn’t like the MC[s], but other readers did, and obviously the author did, too. I respect that every time, even if I’m not coming along for the ride. And just because I don’t like
this character the author created, doesn’t mean I won’t like the next . . . and the author’s love will bring me back to check out the next creation.
Q. Do you name all your characters, Roberta? Or will you leave some orphaned without a name?
A. Most everyone who gets a line gets a name, for the most part, but I rarely deal with a cast of thousands as some writers do [mostly through sheer laziness], so it’s not difficult to come up with a handful of names. My next novel, The Value of Vulnerability, has a couple of mooks who don’t merit a name, and in the final analysis, I’ll end up identifying them with simple monikers.

I reserve cool names for my MCs. Giving too cool a name to secondary or tertiary characters flags them as important, running the risk of confusing the reader with a red herring.
[End Q&A]
There were also some asides in conversation, about Tycho Brahe and Thelonious Monk and PBS . . . It was an awesome time, and again, thank you, everyone, who made it such a success!
Please check out visiting authors’ works on Goodreads, look for them on social media, and don’t forget – please write reviews! They are much appreciated, whether short, long, neutral, or ecstatic!