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Guns Under the Bed: Jody Forrester’s revolutionary memoir

Jody A. Forrester, a writer and former chiropractor, received a MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars (2010), and BA from Antioch LA (2008), in literature and creative writing. Her stories received an honorable mention in the 2009 Anderbo/Open City Competition, and featured in the 6th Annual Emerging Voices Group Show (2010) at the New Short Fiction series in Los Angeles. Jody’s work has also been published in Prime Number, Claudius Speaks, the Furious Gazelle, the Citron Review, Straylight, Two Hawks Quarterly, the WriteRoom, and the Missouri Review blog. Jody has just completed a memoir, Guns Under the Bed: Memories of a Young Revolutionary, published by Odyssey Books (yes, my favourite publisher!) this year.

Guns Under the Bed by Jody Forrester

Guns Under the Bed by Jody Forrester

Jody is that rare thing, a native Angeleno – for the benefit of non-US readers, that means a born and bred resident of Los Angeles. Jody was raised mostly in Hollywood during the fifties and sixties. She lives with her husband, musician John Schneider, in Venice just six blocks from the Pacific Ocean. They have two adult daughters, a son-in-law, and a mini-Australian shepherd dog named Charley.

Welcome, Jody, thank you for chatting with me today. You’ve had quite a writing career on top of your day job. Do you have a go-to routine for writing? Where do you write?

These two questions are intertwine so I’m answering both. I have a desk where I write in my older daughter’s childhood bedroom. Typically I wake and have a light breakfast, and go upstairs to my office with a strong cup of black tea. Before I sign off for the day, I try to leave my pages in such a way that I know where I’m going to begin the next time I sit down. Otherwise, I start typing randomly, hoping there will be threads to pull out to begin something anew.

That sounds like you go with the flow, but in a structured kind of way. Can you tell me about the time you decided you are a writer?

After twenty-five years in practice as a chiropractor, a wrist injury forced me into early retirement. Terrified of the days and years ahead without something to occupy me, I recalled that I’d always wanted to write. Three days after I sold my practice, I enrolled in the Baccalaureate program in writing and literature at Antioch College (LA), but the realization that I was a writer came several years later when my short stories began to be published.

Publication definitely helps with self-identification as a writer, I agree. How much research is involved in your writing?

My intent is verisimilitude, even for my fiction. As such, I research a lot, visiting websites of locations that may figure in the work, checking historical events that could be relevant, even looking up recipes and clothing in the era I’m writing in.

For my nonfiction essays and memoir, my research goes even deeper to assure myself that the facts are as I remember.

Yes, because memory is a fickle informant. Research is essential, and even then, I find that sometimes something slips through. How do you get feedback about your story, before it’s published?

I have a small network of writers, close friends, as well as my family, who give me feedback along the line. I depend on their responses to be sure I’m on the right track.

A reliable – and truthful – circle is so important. Can we get your book as an audio book?

My forthcoming memoir, Guns Under the Bed: Memories of a Young Revolutionary, will be released simultaneously as a paperback, e-book, and audiobook.

That’s excellent news. Your book is a memoir – what kind of reader would like your book?

People interested in the sixties and early seventies who either participated in or are curious about the anti-Vietnam War protest movement and the process of political radicalization.

Do you write in more than one genre?

I write creative nonfiction and short fiction.

And very successfully, too. Who helped you most when you were starting out?

I was fortunate to have several excellent teachers who served as mentors, both at Antioch and the Bennington Writing Seminars. They helped me identify the stories that needed to be written, and nurtured the earliest seeds.

I’m quite a fan of writing courses. Good to hear that yours was so great! Thanks for speaking with me today, Jody, and all the best for the success of Guns Under the Bed.

 

Jody’s Links:

jodyaforrester.com

https://twitter.com/jaforrester2

https://www.facebook.com/profile

https://www.facebook.com/Guns-Under-the-Bed-Memories-of-a-Young-Revolutionary-257105318424130/

https://www.instagram.com/jodyaforrester/

 

How to be Happy With a Book: a guide for readers and reviewers in three parts. PART ONE

In these days of lockdowns and revisiting old pastimes such as board games, knitting and baking, many of us* have been doing more reading. But are we enjoying our books?

*Well, not me, because I am a lifetime book addict and I can’t see how I could possibly do more reading. At least as long as eating and personal hygiene remain important.

How to be Happy with a Book PART ONE

I write books, and I love the fact that complete strangers read and review them – reviews are a kind of currency among authors. Most authors also read a lot, and a second aspect of my writing practice is book reviewing. To me, ‘book review’ = ‘book critique’ where ‘critique’ = ‘analysis and assessment of a book, including virtues and shortcomings’. In this series of posts, I want to talk more how to choose books better so that you spend more time reading books that suit you, and waste less time on the DNF* stories. This is about finding a book that makes YOU, dear reader, happy.

*DNF = Did Not Finish. A disappointment to the reader, and a cruel blow to any author…
Pile of books I have read this year

Some of the books I have read so far this year

As a reviewer, I see my task as working out which readers would like this book, and then telling them why. I don’t see the need to find fault, because I know that different readers like different things (gore, violence, swearing, romance, magic, philosophy, spirituality – you name it!). It’s a rare book, in my experience, that has nothing for anyone. I concentrate on finding out what’s good about this book, for which readers – hence the title of this series: how to be happy with a book.

As well as book reviews in print, there are also many online platforms to share our thoughts about books. Some readers check Goodreads reviews before they buy; others look at the Amazon scores. Authors sift through their reviews for good quotes to use on their book descriptions and some book bloggers check what everyone else thought about a particular book before they weigh in on one side or the other.

Reviews are not always positive, and authors are advised not to read reviews.* While it’s a fact that not every reader will love our books, we still like to see what others think.

*We do (read reviews of our books)

 

I read and review about 80 books a year. You might think that’s  a lot, but it’s perhaps a quarter of the books I’d like to read each year. How do I choose the ones that will please me best?

Clare’s three criteria for being happy with a book:

  1. Do I want to read this book? … cover, genre, look & feel, reputation
  2. Is the book well written and appropriate to its genre? … writing quality, genre stylistics, expression, editing, production values
  3. Was this book a success? … thoughts about plotline, characterisation, suspension of disbelief, resolution, afterglow

 

This post is Part One: choosing a book*

*I’m imagining that you have strolled into a bookshop or library, or you are scrolling online, just browsing for something to read. If you are looking for a specific author or title, you are way ahead.

 

First, look at the cover: The old adage that you can’t judge a book by its cover has lost most of its power now that book production is streamlined with access to high resolution images, huge banks of attractive fonts, and the growing language of cover art. You will know what kind of book it is by the look of the cover. For example, a cover that features the back view of a young woman walking away from us into a dark street will be a crime thriller. The cover with the hovering dragon will be a fantasy. The cover with the pretty blue and pink border around a scenic view will be a romance, and the cover with the little white cottage surrounded by a flower garden is probably a cosy mystery.

Add to this the helpful work of bookshop staff and librarians who shelve novels under genre categories*, and you should recognise immediately what kind of book you are looking at, even before you pick it up.

*Genres are often imposed by libraries and bookshops. Many authors, myself included, just write the next story that comes along. Then we have to propose that story to a publisher, who wants to know ‘what genre’? Good question!

You, dear reader, now have a decision to make. Do you like reading this genre? Perhaps you have never read anything in this genre and you’d like to try it. Are you going to pick up this book, turn it over and read the blurb? If the book looks promising so far, then onwards!

Next, read the blurb: The blurb is part of the cover. Often written by a marketing staffer, sometimes by a bemused author, the blurb conveys the essence of the book in a way meant to entice the reader. The relationship of the blurb to the contents is not fixed. The blurb is as accurate as the ad for your local pizza chain. Do they serve the best pizzas in your town? The answer will be different for each reader, or pizza eater as the case my be. The blurb is to ‘sell’ the book to you, not to summarise the story.

Then check out the inside: The look and feel of a book is important too, especially in physical books. The artwork, the paper weight, the font, the ink quality, the layout – all of these can have an effect on your reading experience. I find that the font and layout of e-books is important too, and the quality of the illustrations is paramount for graphic novels in electronic form. I would usually read the first paragraph too, to see if the style of writing is one I can easily engage with.

Reputation: Have you heard of this title? Heard of the author? Heard of the publisher? What about any recommendations printed on the cover or on the inside? What do these things tell you about this book – do you think you’re likely to agree with the puff statements? Maybe you’re looking for an Australian book, or a quick read, or an elevating challenge. You can usually discover quite a lot about a book without even reading its first page.

PART ONE SUMMARY:

So, we’ve had a look at the book and we should now be able to decide whether or not to give it a go. Remember, our goal is to have a happy reading experience. I don’t mind passing on a book that others rave about, if my reconnaissance tells me it’s not going to make me happy. After all, I can only do justice to 80 books a year!

Next time, I’ll look at Part Two: Is the book well written?

Until then, happy reading!

 

Austenesque enjoyment with Riana Everly

Riana Everly is a Canadian writer of romance and historical romance. Influenced by the beautiful writing of Jane Austen and the rich historical tapestry of the early nineteenth-century, Riana combines elements of stories old and new in her Regency novels. Each one takes a surprising twist on a well-loved tale, much to the delight of her many readers. Love and adventure feature highly, and among these variations you may find your own personal favourite Mr Darcy…

Teaching Eliza by Riana Everly

Teaching Eliza by Riana Everly

Welcome, Riana. Your books have such an interesting combination of inspirations and cross-genre views. Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?

Riana: I’ve been known to sneak in song lyrics or snatches of plot elements from my favourite operas. But nobody has ever found them, so I don’t think I do it very well.

 

Well-hidden, then! How much research is involved in your writing?

Oh, so much research! I spend more time researching than writing. I know I can never get everything correct, but I can try, and I do try.
Because I mainly write about the Regency period, I have a fairly broad general knowledge about the basics. I know the general history, the politics, the fashions, etc, but that is just the beginning. For example, in my first published novel, Teaching Eliza (a novel in which Pride & Prejudice meets My Fair Lady), I needed to know about class-based accents in nineteenth-century England. So down the rabbit hole of research I went. For a throwaway sentence in one of my works-in-progress, my main character buys a cribbage board for a gift. And down the rabbit hole went I, searching up the history of cribbage and the sorts of cribbage boards found in England in 1810. And I have to admit, I love that part! It’s what makes the history part of historical research come to life for me.

Through a Different Lens: a Pride & Prejudice variation by Riana Everly

Through a Different Lens: a Pride & Prejudice variation by Riana Everly

Sounds wonderful to mix history, created characters, and devious plots. How do you deal with plot holes – if you ever have any!

Me? Plot holes? Never!
(Okay… all the time. But shhhhh. It’s a secret.)
I tend to let my stories sit for a long time between first draft and editing. This way, when I go back to them, it’s with a bit of a clear mind because I have some distance between what I wrote and what I’m reading. But I would never trust myself to find plot holes. Instead, I have a few trusted beta readers who I beg to read with a critical eye and let me know what doesn’t work. And then I go back and rewrite and tinker and fix things and hope I don’t introduce more mistakes as I edit.

What an excellent practice – hope you don’t mind if I ‘borrow’ it! Do you write for yourself or for a particular audience?

I really write for myself. I know the advice out there is to write to market, but that is not me. I have my stories that want to come out, and if they are not exactly what “the market” wants, then so be it. I would rather sacrifice some readers than write something I don’t really want to write.

I completely agree. It’s the story bursting out of me that I want to write, not what’s hot at the moment (which can be sad for the income stream!). What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

I just dyed my hair purple. Does that count?

The Assistant by Riana Everly

The Assistant by Riana Everly

Absolutely! Not sure its it’s scarier than sending your writing out into the world, but it’s your hair after all. What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?

I have been writing some historical mysteries. I have three completed – one almost fully edited and two in various stages of editing. My plans for the next twelve months are to start publishing these and to write the other three I envisage for the series. There is a large story arc for the main characters over the six planned books, which is why that will be the limit to this particular series. But if I still like my characters, there might be more in store for them.

That’s a massive project. It’s exhausting just to hear about it! Go you. What do you think about covers, and do you have any say in yours?

I think a cover is so very important! I know we are always told never to judge a book by its cover, but how can we avoid doing that? Some of my favourite authors have very amateurish-looking covers, and I’ve learned to focus on the text and not the outside, but were I just to see that cover, my instinct would be to assume the inside is as amateurish as the outside. Perhaps that is not a good trait of mine, but it’s there and it’s not going away.
So my advice is always to get a professional cover. If you happen to have those amazing skills, that’s fabulous. But if not, spend the few dollars and get something that looks professional.
I’ve been extremely fortunate to find a terrific cover artist. She listens to me and accepts my constant suggestions and requests with a cheerful smile. One of the perks of being indie!

The Bennet Affair by Riana Everly

The Bennet Affair by Riana Everly

Yes, it helps to be able to have that closeness, I’m sure, to others involved in getting your story out there. Do you write in more than one genre?

Sort of. Isn’t that a great answer? I started my writing career writing Jane Austen-inspired romance, which I still do and which I love. But I’ve also always loved classic mysteries, and somewhere along the line I had the idea to write some Austenesque murder mysteries. They straddle the line between historical mysteries and cozy mysteries, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my sleuths as they solve their way through Regency England.

 

Do you plan your books, or do you listen to your muse?

I used to approach my books with a vague story in mind and let my characters tell me what they were up to. But since I’ve started writing historical mysteries, I find I have to be much more of a planner. Clues, red herrings, more clues… They all have to be there and fit together and make some sort of sense at the end.

That makes perfect sense, indeed. One has to shepherd those lovely characters to a degree, or they’ll toddle off into some other plot of interest only to themselves.

Thank you so much Riana for sharing with me today. I’m so intrigued by your mash-ups of genre and manners into stories that meet us in the now. Long live the Regency in fiction! 

Silhouette in frame

Riana’s Links:

Website: www.rianaeverly.com
Blog: https://rianaeverly.com/blog/
Email: riana.everly@gmail.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/RianaEverly
Amazon Author page: www.amazon.com/Riana-Everly/e/B076C6HY27

BOOKS:

Teaching Eliza – https://books2read.com/teachingeliza
The Assistant –
https://books2read.com/theassistant

Through a Different Lens – https://books2read.com/throughadifferentlens/
The Bennet Affair –
https://books2read.com/thebennetaffair

 

 

 

 

Dashing adventure and writing at lunchtime with Alec Marsh

English writer Alec Marsh writes dramatic thrillers set in the 1930s. He’s the author of the new soon-to-be-classic Drabble & Harris adventure series. Ernest Drabble is a mountaineering Cambridge historian and his partner Harris is an old school friend and press reporter. These two have all the dash and wit they need to solve mysteries and throws spanners into the works of bad folks.

Alec started his writing career on the Western Morning News in Cornwall, and then went on to write for titles including the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, The Times and London Evening Standard. In 2008 he was named an editor of the year by the British Society of Magazine Editors. He is now the editor of Spear’s Magazine, a title focused on luxury lifestyle. He is married and lives with his family in west London.

Alec’s debut novel RULE BRITANNIA was released in 2019 and the second novel in the series, ENEMY OF THE RAJ, will be published this September.

Author Alec Marsh, photo credit David Harrison

Author Alec Marsh, photo credit David Harrison

Welcome to last Word of the Week, Alec, and thank you for coming along to chat about your books and your writing. Looking at your bio, I can see that you have  been writing all your life. Why is writing important to you?

Alec: I can only imagine that it’s the same for a lot of writers and most people on some level. But since the earliest time I can remember I’ve been telling stories – either to myself or others, but mostly I would think to myself. And it becomes a habit that drives an urge that leads decades later to hard-drives being filled with words. So I think for me it’s pretty hard-wired.

A born storyteller! That usually goes with voracious reading. What was your favourite book as a child?  

I adored Hornblower; CS Forester’s nautical series set during the Napoleonic war; I also loved – perhaps more and in very much the same vein – the Richard Bolitho series written by Douglas Reeman, under his ‘other’ name of Alexander Kent. Years later I had the pleasure of interviewing Reeman. He was exceptionally generous with his time, clearly spotted me as a fan, too, and was quietly inspirational: he told me how he would get into his car during his lunchbreaks as a young man and write with his typewriter on his knees. I’ve often thought of him since, when I’ve been sitting in Pret-a-Manger with my laptop, eating a sandwich…

Rule Britannia by Alec Marsh (cover detail)

Rule Britannia by Alec Marsh (cover detail)

 

Do you think that creative writing courses are valuable?

Absolutely. I did a one day screen-writing course in Newcastle when I was a student there and learnt a huge amount in just a few hours. I still remember being terrified. Later on I was tempted by the Creative Writing MA at East Anglia university but in the end I decided I would keep working and writing around work. With my first published novel, RULE BRITANNIA, I got some advice from a literary consultancy. Books like EM Forster’s Aspects of the Novel offer important advice and insight for writers. Arguably just reading the best that’s out there is the most important thing.

What words of advice would you give an aspiring author?

I asked Martin Amis for his advice once at a literary festival. ‘Just keep writing,’ he said. It didn’t seem very profound in the moment he said it, or repeated it. But it was – and it worked for me. I once asked Sir John Mortimer, creator of the Rumpole of Bailey series, what the secret to a great comic novel was. ‘Making people laugh!’ he roared, laughing. Then he added an important point – words to the effect of: ‘If you can make yourself laugh while you’re doing it then you’ve got half a chance.’ And that’s true for any emotion you’re trying to generate, really.

I love your anecdotes of such great writers! Do you have a go-to routine for writing?

Not really. I work fulltime and have a young family so a great deal of my second novel, ENEMY OF THE RAJ, was actually written on the London Underground on my commute to and from work. A crowded Tube carriage is not ideal, but fortunately the book was not harmed. I’ve written in lunchbreaks, or after the kids have gone to bed. Quite often, on a Saturday morning I’ll get up early and head to a local café when it opens at 8am, and get in two hours then. That’s the best time.

ENEMY OF THE RAJ (Drabble & Harris #2) by Alec Marsh

ENEMY OF THE RAJ (Drabble & Harris #2) by Alec Marsh

How do you feel about reviews?

Be grateful for good ones and listen to the bad ones. Sometimes people go too far and make it personal. That can be upsetting. As a journalist it has made me think harder about the impact of what I write upon my subjects.

Yes, it does have that effect, which I think is a good thing. Whatever we write, we can think about the effect on readers. Has your work been compared to other writers?

The author most referenced by reviewers of RULE BRITANNIA is John Buchan. Stanley Johnson remarked that with the Drabble and Harris series Buchan ‘must be stirring uneasily in his grave’. It’s without doubt true that Buchan was something of an influence – The 39 Steps, Greenmantle; these are tales of personal hazard and adventure that generate an excitement for the reader that I very much wanted to ape.

Can you tell me about the time you decided you are a writer?

When I was  17 or18 I went on a school theatre trip to see Arcadia, Tom Stoppard’s then new play. I had no idea how much of a big deal it was to see it (the first run with a star cast) but I came away thinking that I would very much like to do that. I also loved Oscar Wilde’s plays as a kid – anything really that demonstrated such verbal dexterity and wit. I was also fascinated by plays like Look Back in Anger, which are really very different. As a result my first efforts as a writer when I was at university were plays. One of these won a student competition which made me think there might be something in it. I switched to fiction after reading Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall. I realised that you could bring the essential freshness of dialogue to life without the need of a theatre, and perhaps therefore have a more direct relationship with the reader.

Did you always plan to write historic fiction?

No, never. In fact I set out write the next great English novel. Eventually, after several failures, I listened to an old friend of mine who had been advising me for years to write historic fiction. ‘Alec,’ he would say, ‘you’re obsessed with the past, you should write about it.’ He was absolutely right. When I began writing what would become RULE BRITANNIA I knew immediately that I was on to something.

Is writer’s block a thing for you?

Absolutely. Knowing what comes next can be difficult. Quite often you run out of track and I often find my mind needs time to catch up. When this happens I go for a run, or more likely read around the topic or setting – tangential research – is the answer. Before you know it you’re raring to go again. The secret, if there is one, is to keep thinking ahead as you are writing, but that’s easier said than done. 

True! Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Alec. Congratulations in the publication of Rule Britannia, and good fortune to you for Eneemy of the Raj!

 

Alec’s Links

Twitter: @AlecMarsh

Facebook: @AuthorAlecMarsh

Instagram: marsh_alec

 

To by paperback or ebook from Amazon:

 

Songbird: GriffinSong #1 by J. Victoria Michael

She lacked for nothing, except the favour note that could buy her a passage home.
In pre-Christmas rush Melbourne, in the midst of a panic attack, Irenya falls through a glass panel into another realm. Treated with suspicion by the inhabitants of Dar Orien, Irenya’s only wish is to find her way back to her toddler son Mikey and her partner.
What stops her from returning? Why are people afraid of her? How can she ever get back?
Dar Orien is a fantasy world complete with medieval-style clothing, weapons and values. Its magic system was recently disrupted by a vicious invasion that destroyed an important castle of the ruling archprince Elaaron, killing hundreds including Elaaron’s wife and one of his children.
Could Irenya be involved in the attacks on Dar Orien?
She was terrified of reaching their destination, and afraid she wouldn’t get there.
The juxtaposition of the everyday world with another, with characters moving between them, is an effective storytelling technique that allows the reader to reflect on that intriguing question: what if?
Sometimes, as in for example the Outlander series, the two worlds are separated by time, although they are part of a continuous historical world. In other stories, the slips between worlds occur through the veil of magic (the Deverry Daggerspell series is a good example), by space travel (Dr Who), or as alternate realities separated by momentary choices (like Sliding Doors).
She could not remember when misery gave way to oblivion.
In Songbird, the alternative universe is delightfully complex, characters have multiple motivations, and Irenya has to deal with her apparent Gift and the distrust of those around her. Her developing relationship with Elaaron is one to watch.
Songbird is intelligent fantasy for grown ups – don’t look here for sad and tired shortcuts like gratuitous violence, sex or foul language. This book captures and engages you with strong characters and a fascinating plot. I’m waiting eagerly for the next instalment.
A promising start to a fab new series for readers of thoughtful fantasy and paranormal adventures.

No Small Shame by Christine Bell

No Small Shame by Australian author Christine Bell (I recently interviewed Christine about the book) follows the story of Mary O’Donnell from her childhood home in a Scottish mining village, through emigration on a cramped sailing ship to Australia and life during the tragedy and disruption of the First World War and beyond. The shadows of poverty, gendered roles, and class/religious divisions reach far into the future.

The young Mary has her hopes fixed on childhood favourite Liam, but their eventual marriage occurs under circumstances that cast a dark shadow across both their lives. When Liam goes to war, Mary discovers another focus for her life in Tom, but the cost to her and her child is daunting. Throughout her story, we discover that Mary’s mother is a repressive and dominating influence, who demands that her daughter’s life should be no wider than her own journey of hardship and struggle – the lot of a woman. This is an influence that Mary must escape to truly grow into her own person.

While this is overall a somewhat sombre story, the emotional stakes are high for Mary, and reading this story as a latter-day woman who has had access to education and gender freedom unknown to our historical sisters, my heart grieved for her lost potential and the blighting of many of her chances at happiness. On the other hand, Mary is a heroine who always seeks a better life and keeps her eyes on the horizon, looking for better days to come.

Part of the story is about decisions and their consequences, but Mary is treated tenderly despite what her family would call mis-steps. It sometimes feels as though Mary gets few chances to smile, but she is admirable in the way she shoulders responsibility for her own choices and where life leads her.

Backed by meticulous research and giving a detailed recreation of the places, habits, and speech of the time, this is a highly readable novel that will please lovers of stories where life is reflected accurately, where engaging and believable characters must come to terms with the real events and the barriers they face while still making the best they can of themselves and their circumstances. There are no easy solutions, but amid the sadness there is plenty of hope, resilience, effort and love.

Australian history brought to poignant life.

Christine’s links:

Website:              https://christinebell.com.au

Twitter:                https://twitter.com/chrisbellwrites

Facebook:            https://www.facebook.com/chris.bell.77377

Instagram:           https://www.instagram.com/christinembell

Book links:

Readings: https://www.readings.com.au/products/30505748/no-small-shame

Dymocks: https://www.dymocks.com.au/book/no-small-shame-by-christine-bell-9781920727901

Booktopia: https://www.booktopia.com.au/no-small-shame-christine-bell/book/9781920727901.html

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com.au/No-Small-Shame-choice-forever-ebook/dp/B07WQYNC2G

‘First, I make tea’: the craft of writing with Yoon Ha Lee

Yoon Ha Lee is a Korean-American writer of science fiction and science fantasy. YHL has a B.A. in math (maths to those of us in Australia) from Cornell University and an M.A. in math (yes, maths) education from Stanford University. Yoon loves to explore mathematics for story ideas. His fiction has appeared in several revered sci-fi & fantasy (SFF) publications such as F&SFTor.com, and Clarkesworld Magazine, and his stories have been chosen several times for  “The Year’s Best…” anthologies.

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to review Yoon’s fabulous book, Hexarchate Stories, an instalment in his much-loved Machineries of Empire series. I introduced my review with this sentence:

Prepare to be amazed and captivated by this collection of science fiction delights…

Imagine my pleasure when Yoon agreed to be interviewed for the Last Word of the Week!

Welcome, Yoon, and thank you for speaking with me today. You’ve been widely published and have quite a name in SFF circles. What words of advice would you give an aspiring author?

YOON: There is a lot of writing advice out there.  Realize that every writer is different, and that advice that works for one person may not work for another.  There’s often no harm in trying something to see if it works for you, but if the advice doesn’t work, there’s likely nothing wrong with you.  It’s intended for a different kind of writer, that’s all.  Take what works and discard what doesn’t.

That’s very reassuring. Do you have a go-to routine for writing?

First I make tea.  Then I sit down to write, except my tortoiseshell cat, Cloud, jumps up and blocks the keyboard.  I pet her until she decides that she’s had enough worship and wanders off.  Only then do I get started.  Really, worshipping a cat is one of the most pleasant ways to brainstorm anyway.  She interrupts me at intervals for more petting, which is a great way for me to take typing breaks!

I think I need another blog series called ‘authors and their feline muses’! How much research is involved in your writing?

It depends on the story!  In a sense I’m constantly researching, because I keep an eye out for ideas and interesting facts as I read or browse the internet or listen to conversations.  Some stories are mostly invention, so they don’t require me to research anything specific.  On the other hand, my forthcoming novel Phoenix Extravagant is set in a fantasy version of Korea during the Japanese occupation, and its protagonist is a painter, so I spent six months reading everything I could get my hands on about Korean archaeology and art history.  Spoiler: it’s hard to find much on those topics in English; I am indebted to my mom for helping me find books!

Ah, a secret research assistant. Excellent! How do you deal with plot holes – if you ever have any!

First, I go to my husband and whine at him, usually with the words, “Joe, my novel is brokedy.”  Then I make him take me to a cafe, where I explain why my story isn’t working (and probably the other patrons are giving us weird looks because we’re talking about nanomachines or undead generals or whatever).  He brainstorms with me and comes up with a solution.  I ask him to type it up and email it to me.  I read the email.  Then I ignore his suggestions and do something completely different.  Strange as this method sounds, it works!

I must try it! I can’t get my husband to read my books until they arrive in paperback form. How you get feedback about your story before it’s published?

I have a trusted group of friends whom I ask to beta read for me.  There’s usually a few people willing to volunteer at any given point in time.  Some of them are writers, some of them aren’t.  Every beta reader has different strengths and weaknesses, so I try to get a few different viewpoints.  For example, my husband is a physicist, so he’s great at finding logic holes.  Character arcs, not so much.

The Candlevine Gardener & Other Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

The Candlevine Gardener & Other Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Good plan. What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?

Right now I’m working on a science fantasy short story for the Silk & Steel anthology.  I’m a novice fencer attending the Red Stick School of Fencing in Baton Rouge, so there will be dueling!  My duelist character is going to be much more competent than I am–what else is wish-fulfillment for?

I’m currently under contract for a sequel to my kids’ Korean mythology space opera, Dragon Pearl, so I’m excited to be working on that after the short story’s done.  I love space opera so it’s going to be fun returning to that genre.  That’s due in October.  And after that, who knows?

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (Machineries of Empire #1)

That’s quite a program! And you’re the third SFF author I’ve met who also fences… What’s your favourite genre to read?

I have two right now–nonfiction and tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs).  The world is full of weird and fascinating facts; my shelves have books on linguistics, military history, music theory, and other delights.  As for the RPGs, I’m a gamer with an interest in game design, so I love looking both at older settings like TSR’s Planescape (a Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting) as well as indie RPGs like Monsterhearts 2 or Tiny Frontiers.

Are you planning to write any graphic novels?

I’d love to give it a go; I’ve experimented with one- and three-panel gag strips in the past.  My current project, sort of in the nature of a warm-up, is a 22-page comic adaptation of my short story “The Battle of Candle Arc,” originally published in Clarkesworld Magazine (http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/lee_10_12/).  I have a script, thumbnails, and color test, so the next step will be to do the pencils.  Trying to make a story work in a visual format is extremely interesting.  I’m personally looking forward to drawing exploding starships because, please, don’t we all?

What would be a dream come true for you?

This is a very long shot, but I would be thrilled if someone made an animated TV adaptation of Ninefox Gambit or even all of Machineries of Empire.  I suspect that doing it as live-action would be cost-prohibitive because of all the “magical” special effects and space battles, but maybe animation would ameliorate that?  It’s nice to dream, anyway!

A wonderful dream – I’d love to see that! Thank you so much for the chat. You’re an inspiration.

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

 

LINKS

website: http://yoonhalee.com

Twitter: @deuceofgears

Instagram: @deuceofgears

BOOK LINKS

Phoenix Extravagant (preorder):

https://www.amazon.com/Phoenix-Extravagant-Yoon-Ha-Lee/dp/1781087946/

Dragon Pearl

https://www.amazon.com/Dragon-Pearl-Yoon-Ha-Lee/dp/136801335X/

Ninefox Gambit

https://www.amazon.com/Ninefox-Gambit-Machineries-Empire-Yoon/dp/1781084491/

Is my teenager an alien? Ask Steve Harrison

Steve Harrison writes witty, clever, profound and tender stories about life. Mostly these stories are encased inside an innovative plot that involves speculative fiction and turning the world upside down. Earlier this year, I reviewed Steve’s new novel Blurred Vision (a YA sci-fi adventure story featuring Polly Hart) for Aurealis Magazine, and I used words like witty and action-packed. But my favourite quote from my review is this:

Every parent knows how it feels to look at their teenager and not quite recognise them. An interstellar lookalike is a hilarious explanation.

I’m so pleased that Steve has dropped in for a chat today.

Author Steve Harrison

Author Steve Harrison

Hi, Steve, lovely to meet you. Can you tell me why is writing important to you?

Steve: Writing simply keeps me sane by providing an escape from reality. It’s a bit like meditating.

Yes, an inner journey to another place. What would readers never guess about you?

They might be surprised to hear I partnered a young unknown actor called Hugh Jackman in the chorus of an amateur musical production of Paint Your Wagon in 1989. I made him look and sound so good he went on to be a star!

That’s a great fact to pop into your bio! What’s the first book you bought for yourself?

I hardly read before I was 16, just compulsory books at school, but at that age my family migrated to New Zealand from the UK and a 30 hour flight without screens or electronic devices in those days made the trip a horrifying prospect. So I bought The Exorcist, which got me hooked on reading.

Nothing like a few hours of terror to grab a reader, hey? You’re not the first author to tell me that you were not a dedicated reader as a youngster – I think it’s a trend, and shows that you don’t need to be the nerdy kid to become a writer. What words of advice would you give an aspiring author?

I consider all writing advice to be opinion, so I’ll give my thoughts about what I wish I had known starting out. There are no short cuts and writers should test all writing advice/opinion by trying to prove it wrong. Finding out what does and doesn’t work for you, and especially why, is incredibly time consuming but invaluable (in my opinion!). My theory is that the best writers are the ones who have made the most mistakes, so avoiding them isn’t a good idea.

Oh, that’s really good to hear. I’m knee deep in mistakes of my old stories! Is there anyone in your past who’d be surprised at your writing?

I had a close friend many years ago who reacted to my intention to write a novel by saying, “you will never write a book.” We lost contact by the time I started writing, but the insensitive and definite way he made that statement constantly rankled – it still does – and inspired me. I’d thank him if I saw him, but I still don’t like what he did.

That obviously hurt. I hope he sees your success from afar, and it makes sense that you’re no longer in contact.

Time Storm by Steve Harrison

Time Storm by Steve Harrison

How much research is involved in your writing?

Very little at first. My general knowledge is pretty good (and I have a head for useless knowledge, too) and I like to write using what I think I know about a subject. This prevents facts getting in the way of my first draft and spoiling my ideas. I find it easier to amend a story I have already written than sabotage it in my head by researching before I write.

I think that’s especially important for speculative fiction. The creative mind needs some free-wheeling away from Wikipedia, though like you I sometimes have to throw in a few catch-up stitches to make a plot stick together. How do you deal with plot holes – if you ever have any!

I never have any plot holes. OK, I wish I never had any plot holes. If I can’t fix them as much as I would like and have to leave them there, I try to write the scenes with absolute conviction and certainty and hope they won’t be questioned!

Great idea, I must try it. What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?

I plan to finish the sequel to BLURRED VISION, titled OUT OF SIGHT, and start on the third book, FUZZY LOGIC. I am currently preparing a proposal for a TV series adaptation of my first novel, TIMESTORM, a time travel adventure, including the script for the pilot episode and a series ‘bible,’ which I will pitch to production companies. I also hope to sign with a US or UK literary agent for my contemporary New York-set crime thriller, OVERKILL.

I’m so glad to hear that there will be more Polly Hart stories. And you write in more than one genre, I see?

My two published novels have been time travel and science fiction, but I don’t have a preference. I have written a crime thriller and lots of different genres when screenwriting, including a family animated feature. I also have a WIP novel about a man going through a mid-life crisis. I get an idea for a story first and the genre is secondary. I like to describe myself as a genre-fluid writer…

I think that’s the way to go, if you are writing from story ideas and not trying to write to a specific market. It’s a much more organic approach, and besides, stories have been told since long before genre labels were invented. Thank you so much for chatting with me today!

 

LINKS

Website:  https://stormingtime.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/worldtimestorm/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/StormingTime

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hscope/

Elsewhen Press: https://elsewhen.press/index.php/catalogue/author/steve-harrison/

Steve’s books are available in ebook from all major booksellers (see the buy links on Steve’s website). The paperback versions can be ordered from bookshops or online from Elsewhen Press. Australian orders are printed in, and posted from, Melbourne.

 

Mark Newman and his Electric Fence stories

Mark Newman is an award-winning writer from the UK, who is a master of the intense and difficult art of the short story. In this interview, Mark shares his perspective on reading and writing and how he tested his writing through entering – and succeeding in – writing competitions.

You can read my review of his fabulous short story collection, My Fence is Electric, here. I loved it and will return to it often.

Welcome, Mark, it’s great to talk with you. I first heard about you because we share a publisher, but I now know that you have a substantial CV as a writer of awesome short stories, and that you’ve been winning accolades for a while now. Let’s talk about how you got to be the writer you are.

What was your favourite book as a child?

Mark: The Magician’s Nephew by CS Lewis. I loved the whole Narnia series, and still go back to them every two or three years just for that hit of nostalgia. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is, of course, a classic, but I always loved The Magician’s Nephew for that first glimpse of the White Witch in Charn, the rings and the pools between worlds and the attics that ran between the houses. All kids ever want to do is find secret places. I don’t really think that feeling ever leaves you.

And that sense of possibilities in hidden spaces – I agree. You seem to be quite productive – do you have a go-to routine for writing?

I wish I did. Wouldn’t that be nice? I’m not really a routine person, though I see the sense in them. I just wait for sentences and ideas to drop through the ether, write them down until there is enough there to make a story out of, spread them out in the right order and fill in the gaps. It’s a wonder I ever write anything, to be honest.

Ah, the magical ether. Stories are a kind of wonder, even to the writer. What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

Getting shortlisted for the Costa Short Story Award was pretty amazing. Seeing your face on a TV screen and blurb about your story scrolling through alongside other amazing writers was surreal. The Costa Book Awards was a weird experience – I don’t really belong in the same room as Dame Diana Rigg! It’s nice to get shortlisted for a competition that is judged by other writers as the Costa is, and the Retreat West competitions that I did so well in at the start of my writing, it really makes you feel you are doing something right.

My Fence is Electric by Mark Newman

My Fence is Electric and other stories by Mark Newman

Yes, winning is so affirming. I hope you took selfies at that awards night! Is writers block a thing for you?

Absolutely. I’m paralysed by the blank page and the blank gaps between the good ideas and good sentences. I wish writing felt like a good thing but it often feels like pulling teeth. The satisfaction comes when you read back something that works, but it’s often a long road getting there. But, it’s writing, isn’t it. It’s not brain surgery, I can’t really complain, I don’t have to do it.

It is often difficult, and we don’t have to do it, but then again we don’t seem able to stop! Those ideas still fall out of the ether, I find. On another tack, what do you think about covers, and do you have any say in yours?

We all have favourite books that have awful covers but it doesn’t really affect how we feel about the book. It’s the words inside that really matter, but a cover for a new author is super important. We’ve all picked up books because we like the covers and passed by covers we don’t like. I was asked for my opinions about the cover for My Fence is Electric but, unlike some novel ideas I have where I have quite strong ideas for covers, I didn’t really have any thoughts about what I wanted. My publisher, Michelle Lovi, designed it and sent it to me and I was so scared opening up the file, but I absolutely loved it. Simple and beautiful – hearts and barbed wire, sums it all up perfectly!

Did you have a big break in writing? What happened?

I went to see Alison Moore speak at Loughborough Library in Leicestershire (UK). I had wanted to be an author for nearly 20 years and had written numerous starts to novels and then been unable to progress. She detailed her route to publication and spoke about the importance of writing short stories and entering competitions for her to find out if she was heading in the right direction. She got an agent early on from doing this as well and it all spread out for her from there. She and Susan Hill are my all-time favourite authors so I listen to anything they have to say! The first short story I wrote was highly commended in a competition and I was approached by an agent from one of the biggest literary agencies in London. Nothing came of that (apart from some great advice) but it gave me the confidence to keep going.

Author Mark Newman

Author Mark Newman

That’s a great story, thank you. What kind of reader would like your book?

Short story fans. People who love Susan Hill and Alison Moore. As I said, I’m a big fan of theirs and I think it shows! Same kind of mood.

Is it easy for readers to find your book?

Not at the moment. The global pandemic situation has resulted in my launch event and follow-up events being cancelled and distribution problems mean it’s been hard to get a paperback copy of my book in the UK. It can’t be helped, it is what it is. My book hardly matters against what is going on. The eBook version is easy to get and The Book Depository have copies in stock at the moment. And I have a box full in my front room so if you live in the UK contact me on Twitter if you want to pay through PayPal and I’ll send you one!

Tricky times indeed – I hope things improve for all of us soon. Is your local bookstore thriving?

My nearest local bookstore is Kibworth Books in Leicestershire (UK) and it’s nine miles away. I’d be there all the time if I lived in Kibworth or drove. It certainly seems to be thriving though and long may it continue.

More power to bookshops! Thanks so much for speaking to me today, Mark. Congratulations on My Fence is Electric,  and all the best with your writing.

Website: https://marknewman1973.wordpress.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/myfenceiselectric/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/FenceIsElectric

Book available at:

Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/My-Fence-Electric-Other-Stories-ebook/dp/B084RQP2K6/

Google Play https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/My_Fence_is_Electric_and_other_stories.html/

The Book Depository https://www.bookdepository.com/My-Fence-is-Electric-Mark-Newman/9781922311030

Odyssey Books https://www.odysseybooks.com.au/titles/9781922311030/

19 and a half spells disguised by Josh Donellan

Today I’m talking with the lively Josh Donellan, author of 19½ Spells Disguised as Poems, the outrageous mystery novel Killing Adonis, and more.

Josh is an author, poet, musician, music journalist, teacher, voice actor and event manager, and a very entertaining interviewee. His CV includes being almost devoured by a tiger in the jungles of Malaysia, nearly dying of a collapsed lung in the Nepalese Himalayas, and once fending off a pack of rabid dogs with a guitar in the mountains of India. He has an unnatural fondness for scrabble and an irrational dislike of frangipanis.

Naturally enough, Josh’s answers to my questions are particularly amazing, and this interview reflects his clever sense of the absurd and the precious. Josh is a wordsmith worth noting, because you will never look at the printed page in quite the same way. 

You probably won’t be able to, because there’s every chance it will self-detonate before your very eyes. Either that or turn into a not-very-helpful imp.

19.5 Spells disguised as Poems by Josh Donellan

19.5 Spells disguised as Poems by Josh Donellan

Great to meet you, Josh, and congratulations on the publication of 19½ Spells. And thanks for reading some of them on your website here – that’s great! Can you tell me why is writing important to you?

Josh: Ani DiFranco once said “I was a terrible waitress, so I started to write songs.” I think I feel the same way, except I write stories instead of songs and instead of being bad at hospitality I was bad at (insert many different jobs here).

Ah, that means you really are a writer. Great. What was your favourite book as a child?

The Voynich manuscript.

 

In a language that only you can speak, no doubt. That one had me reaching for Wikipedia: ‘an illustrated codex written in an unknown writing system’! Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?

Yes, if you read everything I’ve ever written you’ll find I’ve encoded the secret to eternal life using a secret cypher that can only be understood once you’ve posted really nice reviews on goodreads and recommended my books to all your friends.

 

That sounds like a good plan! What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

 

 

“This is the best book I’ve ever read, but it should have had Dr Who in it.”

That’s the way I feel about most books, truly. Why are you the perfect person to write your books?

Because everyone else who has tried has descended into madness and now spends their days rocking back and forth, murmuring about eldritch horrors and the heinous price of printer refill cartridges.

 Or the scarcity of flour and toilet rolls, possibly. What would be a dream come true for you?

Having Taikia Waititi direct an adaptation of one of my novels, with the soundtrack by Explosions in the Sky.

That’s a movie I would definitely see. Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Josh – more power to your marvellous way with words.

 

Josh’s Social Links

https://twitter.com/jmdonellan (@jmdonellan)

https://www.instagram.com/jmdonellan/ (@jmdonellan)

https://www.facebook.com/jmdonellanauthor/

Josh’s Book Links

https://www.jmdonellan.com/

http://sixcoldfeet.com/

Odyssey Books

Stendhal Syndome by Josh Donellan

Stendhal Syndome by Josh Donellan