Loneliest Time of Her Life

LTOHL_Book_CoverFor a high school senior like Dakota Washington, the only thing worse than enrolling in a different school for her final year is the discovery that she already has a ruthless enemy cruising the halls and waiting to destroy her reputation. In her edgy new novel, Loneliest Time of Her Life, author Erika L. Banks skillfully juggles multiple points of view against the contemporary backdrop of a high school that every reader will not only be able to relate to but will also cause them to contemplate what their own choices might be in the same volatile situation.

Interview: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What inspired you to make bullying the cornerstone premise of your debut YA novel?

A: Bullying has reached epidemic proportions in our schools and communities.  The recent spike in bully-related suicides and violence among youth has inspired me to pen my first book, Loneliest Time of Her Life.

Q: How much research was involved in capturing the vulnerabilities of today’s young people as well as the cruel realities of what is becoming an escalating problem in schools throughout the country?

A: I, unfortunately, had a great deal of knowledge about the vulnerabilities of today’s youth prior to starting this project. I had spoken to and read stories of middle and high school students who experienced bullying first-hand. It was interesting to learn about the characteristics of these young people which are evident in each one of the characters in the book.

Q: What role do you believe technology contributes to the way that teenagers – and even adults – are interacting with each other these days versus earlier eras in which texting, iPhones and social media venues didn’t exist?

A:  Technology has taken bullying to a whole new level. There has not just been an increase in the number of bullying incidents, but the severity of the words and actions used to bully have increased significantly as well. Bullies now have a powerful platform to harass their peers with little to no chance of being caught.

Q: It’s often said that there are multiple sides to every story based on individuals’ respective frames of reference and interpretations of events. You’ve taken a unique approach in Loneliest Time of Her Life by not only mixing first and third person narrative but also advancing the plot through the viewpoints of four diverse individuals. Tell us about how you chose that structure and why you feel it works.

A: The structure in which the book was written gives the reader a well-rounded view of bullying. I felt that this was important because everyone is involved. Whether you are the bully, victim or bystander, everyone has an opportunity to impact any bullying situation. By presenting the story from the perspective of all involved, the reader is able to identify with and relate to the story in a personal way.

Q: Which of the characters do you relate to the most?

A: I relate to Brooklyn the most. I, like Brooklyn, am a very fair and impartial person. I stand up for what’s right and I am not afraid to defend something or someone if I think it’s appropriate. I value my friendships deeply and will do everything I can to keep the peace. However, when push comes to shove, I will walk away from friends who bring harm to others and relationships that are filled with drama.

Q: If Hollywood came calling with an invitation to adapt this compelling novel to a feature-length film, who would your dream cast be?

A: I would love to see Dakota Fanning play Dakota, KeKe Palmer play Brooklyn and Maia Mitchell play Paige. They are very talented actresses and I think they’d do a wonderful job bringing these characters to life. I pulled from them when I developed each of the main characters, so their personalities are reflected in the book.

Q: Your three teen females – Dakota, Paige and Brooklyn – have been raised by mothers and fathers with radically different approaches to parenthood. What influence do you feel each of those parents had on the volatile situations in which their daughters subsequently find themselves as seniors in high school?

A: I think the parents had a big influence on each of them. Dakota’s dismissive mother and uninvolved father, Paige’s clueless parents and Brooklyn’s uninformed parents hindered their ability to help the situation. They all, in their own way, felt like they had no one to turn to. I believe if the parents were more aware of what was going on in the lives of their daughters, things would not have gone as far as they did.

Q: What advice would you give a real-life young person in Dakota’s shoes if she felt she had no one to whom she could turn with her problem?

A: Although not always obvious, I believe that everyone has access to someone who could support and offer advice in this situation. Whether a doctor, pastor or neighbor, everyone always has someone to turn to. There are also a lot of great resources out there that people in this situation can use. Stomp out Bullying, The Trevor Project and Stop Bullying are three of many helpful organizations that one can contact for help.

Q: What type of impact and takeaway value do you want your readers to come away with by the final chapter?

A: I hope that everyone who reads this book will walk away with a deep understanding of each character’s emotions, feelings and reasons for their actions. Because everyone who reads this book will be able to relate to at least one of the characters, I hope that they will learn from the good and not so good decisions made by them. I would love for this book to open up a dialogue between students, parents and school professionals about this difficult topic.

Q: This book should be required reading in high schools – and even junior highs – as a starting point for discussions about how to treat one another. Are you taking steps to make that happen?

A: Yes, I am hoping to use this book as a basis for book clubs, workshops and informal discussions among high school students, teachers and parents.

Q: Although the book is clearly a stand-alone title, you deliver a positively chilling cliffhanger that begs us to ask, “What happened next?????” Do you have plans in the works to answer that question with a sequel or do you prefer readers to formulate their own conclusions?

A: Both. I do have plans for a sequel, but also want the readers to create their own conclusion. By imagining a variety of possible outcomes, I hope the reader will think beneath the surface and want to take action.

Q: Tell us what governed your decision to self-publish Loneliest Time of her Life.

A: My initial desire was to publish through a well established publishing agency. There are many books out there about bullying, and these agencies tend to favor already established writers. When considering self publishing, I realized that getting my book out there was the most important thing and how I did that didn’t really matter. I was happy to find several wonderful self publishing companies available to choose from to publish my work.

Q: What do you know now about the business of publishing and marketing that you didn’t know when you first set out to write the book?

A: Publishing through an agency has its advantages, but I learned that it may not always be the best way to go. Self publishing has come a long way and is much more respected today than it was years ago. I also learned that marketing is key. Whether you self publish or publish through an agency, you must be willing to devote time to marketing your work if you want it to be successful.

Q: Have you done other types of writing in addition to YA?

A: I have self published a second book called High School Graduation: What I Want For My Life. It is a book for high school seniors graduating without a plan.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: You will find a little bit of Erika in Dakota, Paige and Brooklyn. In high school I was in each of their shoes at one time or another.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: In addition to my full time corporate job, I am working on a few projects. I am working with Georgia Tech to identify a way to effectively help high school students prepare for post high school life. I am also in the process of setting up The Margaret G. Banks Foundation, a non-profit foundation in honor of my mother. It will provide scholarships to high school students who would like to go to college but need financial assistance. I am also working on another book for high school students that will help them do what they need to do now so they can do what they want to do later.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Our youth have so much to be excited about when it comes to their future. Unfortunately, many of them are not. We need to do better in helping our youth not only prepare for their future, but provide bully free environments where they can focus on learning, creating and becoming everything they were meant to be. I’m excited about the future of our youth and it’s time to get them excited, too!

 

 

 

 

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The Ghoul Archipelago

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Zombies and villains and ghouls – oh my! It’s one thing for life as we know it to all come undone. It’s quite another when whoever – or whatever – is left starts calling the shots in a most unpleasant way. After the undead apocalypse,  a warlord, a robber baron and a cult leader struggle against each other for control of the remnants of civilization in Stephen Kozeniewski’s taut horror novel, “The Ghoul Archipelago.”

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: The title alone is a grabber! How did you come up with it?

A:  Why, thank you!  You’re going to laugh but I have had people (educated people, lawyers, for instance) come up to me and say, “Hey, did you ever hear of this guy Solzhenitsyn?  He wrote a book with a name just like yours!”  But, yes, basically the pun seemed like a slam dunk when I came up with the idea of having a nautical zombie adventure.  I hope this does turn into a popular series because I’ve come up with a bunch more Russian lit pun titles: GORE AND PEACE, NOTES FROM THE UNDEAD, THE WIGHT GUARD…

Q: In your opinion, what do you suppose accounts for the longstanding fascination that book lovers and movie goers have with end-of-the-world themes, dystopian societies, and scary undead folks?

A:  That’s a whole bunch of things to address.  The scary undead folks thing I think is a pretty primal fascination.  We’ve always wondered what happens after we die, and the flip side of playing a harp amongst the pink fluffy clouds with Katy Perry is the secret fear that we’re really just rotting bags of bones and nothing more.  I think the obsession with the end of the world and the dystopian future, though, is a function of the fact that every generation thinks that it was the pinnacle of achievement and when they hand it over to those rotten kids everything’s going straight to the sewer.  Actually, I guess I handled both of those complicated sociological issues pretty succinctly.  Go Team Me!

Q: Is the zombie genre playing itself out or do you think it’s going to linger for the foreseeable future?

A:  I think the zombie genre won’t ever be played out for the same reason mob movies won’t ever be played out.  As long as you have a good story to tell, there’s no reason why it will suddenly become bad just because it contains braineating corpses (or mafia thugs.)   Now, that being said, there is an issue with far too many zombie novels being dimestore ripoffs of The Walking Dead, which was itself a dimestore ripoff of Romero’s Holy Trilogy.  People are bored with having the same old “survivors refuse to believe at first then slowly enter the grim world of the apocalypse” story rehashed over and over again with only superficial changes.  The good news is a whole new generation of authors are starting to break the old mold.  Check out almost anything Severed Press has released if you don’t believe me.  (Shameless plug!)

Q: What attracted you as a writer to delve into the world of modern horror?

A:  In two words: Brian Keene.  The dude made me believe that “zombie novelist” was a viable career choice.

Q: Is this your first foray into publishing?

A:  THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO is actually my sophomore novel, and it is very different from my debut, BRAINEATER JONES.  I like to describe it this way: GHOUL is 90% horror, 10% humor and BRAINEATER is 90% humor, 10% horror.

Q: Are there limits or taboos in crafting this type of story?

A:  The short answer is no, and that’s part of the joy of writing horror.  I truly, truly, truly appreciate when people tell me things like, “Your novel made me want to vomit.”  I think every horror novelist (of a certain stripe) desires to push the boundaries of what went before.  And horror fans are a jaded type; they demand the ultimate in cutting edge gore.  I did ask my publisher what it meant in my contract that the work was not “defamatory or obscene” considering that this was a hardcore horror novel and he responded “that just means things like scat or child abuse.”  So, I guess there are some limits, legally speaking, but the urge to transgress further and further is integral to writing horror.

Q: What was your favorite scene to write?

A:  Oh, the puppet scene.  Hands down.  I have a morbid and possibly unwholesome fascination with puppets.  I almost never find my own work funny, but writing that scene I was laughing so hard it made me cry.

Q: Editors and publishers typically advise against “head-hopping” – the practice of writing from multiple points of view. What are your thoughts about that?

A:  I think it’s extremely important not to change POV mid-scene or mid-chapter.  That’s just going to give your reader vertigo at best or nausea at worst.  That being said, I think that once you see those three magical asterisks or a page break, then all bets are off.  Head-hopping over the course of a narrative allows you to put together a much more complete story, like providing the reader with overlapping Venn diagrams until they finally see the “truth” in the center.  This is the approach I used in THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO, and I even made sure to identify each POV character in the chapter title, a method I shamelessly stole from George R.R. Martin.

Q: How does this interface with the pros and cons of using first and third person narrative to move a story forward?

A:  I’ve now published two novels, one in first person and one in third.  First is very limiting because you almost have to be constantly using deus ex machinas to ensure that the viewpoint character, and consequently the reader, receives all the information necessary to the plot.  It’s a whole lot of “Ooh, look, I found a letter” and “Ah, here’s a character who will tell me what I didn’t know!”  Third person allows for a different level of dramatic tension – say, the reader can know what the villain is doing but the hero doesn’t.  Still, the limitations of first person are offset by the lived-in feeling of actually occupying someone’s headspace.  There’s an intimacy to first person that can’t be achieved with any other form of writing.

Q:  Which do you suppose is a greater challenge – for a male to write strong female characters or a female writer to capture the mindset and motivations of a strong man?

A:  Three of the viewpoint characters in GHOUL are strong females.  I think I found it easiest to write for LtCol West, because I know what it’s like to be a genuinely competent officer but maybe a little too sensitive for the military.  Writing for Eve I also drew on my own experience, because I’ve more than once felt the frustration of being the only intelligent person propping up a foolhardy boss.  Butch was the biggest stretch for me, because I’ve never really had to fight to survive relying only on my charisma.  I think the key to writing any character well is getting to the emotional core of that person, and since we’re all people, we’re all capable of it, regardless of gender.  But I won’t deny it’s harder for me to write females than males.  Did I just dodge the actual question like a crooked Southern politician?  No comment.

Q: Writing has been described as a solitary craft where you spend a lot of time inside your own head. How, then, does one become part of the author community and interact with kindred spirits?

A:  Based on the voluminous correspondence of Lovecraft, for instance, I think the practice of authors reaching out to one another from behind their desk is nothing new, although the internet is making it far easier.  I talk to other authors literally daily on Facebook.  Less so on Twitter, though there are some semi-famous authors who I’m pleased to have a “sometimes he tweets me back” relationship with.  The community has been incredibly welcoming and I think there’s a certain expectation that peers have to take care of one another and the old guard always has to “pay it forward” to the next generation.  That’s definitely been my experience so far.

Q: Share with us your experience publishing through an independent press, as well as what governed that decision for you.

A:  Oh, Severed is one of, if not the world’s premiere zombie horror press.  I jumped at the opportunity to sign with them.  Gary Lucas and his crew have been quick, responsive, and extremely professional.  I got to work closely with them on my editing and cover design.  And they were lightning fast in turnaround on everything.  Plus: how many people can say their publisher is in Tasmania?

Q: In today’s Internet age, authors are required to do more and more self-promotion to get the word out. What resources and venues have you found to be the most helpful in terms of generating a buzz for your work?

A:  Well, buzz and sales are different, so right off the bat I’ll say for sales, BookBub.  But for buzz it’s been blogs like this one.  Most of my reviews at this point are from bloggers, and a number of readers have told me that they only picked up my book to review because they saw it on a blog they liked.

Q: Does every author who’s not JK Rowling suffer from impostor syndrome?

A:  I certainly do.  I’m in constant fear that some bouncer is going to eye me suspiciously one day and shout, “You’re not a real author!” and toss me out of the velvet rope.  Every author I know has confided the same concern to me.  Of course, it’s not like I know authors on every step of the professional ladder.  It’s mostly just beginners.  Overall I get the impression that everyone’s afraid if they don’t have the sales of E.L. James and the critical acclaim of Jonathan Franzen then they’re not a real author.  It’s probably partly the media’s fault, but it could also be something inherent in the psyche of a writer.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A:  I have nine tattoos but I’ve been under the needle thirteen times.  (Tantalizing, right?)

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A:  You know what?  Since you asked me, I’m going to make the big public announcement right here on From the Authors.  I just signed a contract with Permuted Press for my third novel, tentatively titled EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED.  As a post-apocalyptic sci-fi political satire, it’s a bit of a departure for me, but I’m very excited about breaking some new ground and hopefully finding some new fans.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A:  I’m active on Facebook (www.facebook.com/kozauthor), Twitter (www.twitter.com/outfortune), and my blog (www.manuscriptsburn.blogspot.com).

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A:  Thanks so much for having me!

 

She’s A Lot Like You

RS_ShesAlotLikeYou

Secrets, desires and betrayals…the perfect concoction for a fiery romantic novel. In Faye Hall’s soon to be released She’s A Lot Like You, one woman has returned to her roots, seeking revenge and faces an obstacle she hadn’t prepared for: the former love who broke her heart but left her with a passion she’ll always remember. Can old flames be reunited, despite a scandalous past?

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Tell us about your latest release. 

My latest release is She’s A Lot Like You, and it will be released in April 2014.  Set in 1860, in the town of Ravenswood, Queensland, Australia, it tells the story of young love torn apart by the deceitful lies of their families.  Reunited finally to reveal the truth behind their families’ secrets and to experience a love neither ever dreamed could exist.

How did you get started as a writer?

I started writing poems and short stories at primary school.  While most kids were in the playground, I’d be under a tree somewhere, or in the library writing little things.  Most of what I wrote was influenced by the people I knew, or certain people I saw that just kind of managed to stay in my mind.

When did you decide to branch out into the romance genre?

I would have been about 15 when I wrote my first romance.  It wasn’t really planned, though.  The words were all kind of just there in my head until I just had to write them down.  It was as I wrote the ending, were the two main character got to live happily ever after, that I realized this style of writing was definitely for me.

What kind of research do you do for your book material?

My books are all set in North Queensland, Australia in the late 1800’s so I’ve had to research a bit about the towns there at the time, and what the lifestyle was like.  The main bit of research I’ve had to do though is regarding the few mentions of native remedies used by the Australian Aboriginals.  That was extremely interesting.

Your books contain a fair bit of mystery and drama even though they are romances. Why did you decide to throw those concepts into the mix?

I grew up watching old Agatha Christie movies with my mum and I loved all the twists and turns and scandal they detailed.  But then I loved the old classic romance movies too.  I always thought if I could find a movie that contained all this it would be my perfect one.  As when I write I see each scene playing like a movie in my head, I thought maybe I should give it a go trying to write such a style myself.  And so I did.

You hail from Australia, as does the setting for your books. What’s special to you about this location?

I love my country.  I love the rustic realness of it all.  And I feel it isn’t a setting that’s been done to death.  I thought if I could maybe bring a little bit of Australian history out in my stories that could only be a good thing.

What’s a typical day like for you when you devote yourself to writing?

I have quite a large family so I rarely get a ‘day’ to devote myself to writing.  Most of my writing is done after my kids are in bed or early in the morning before they wake up.  But usually my husband makes me a cup of tea and I just sit in front of my computer and type whatever story is flowing from my mind at the time.  I have rough notes down about what I’d like to happen in the particular story I’m working on, but as I constantly tell my husband ‘it is subject to change’.

When asked to name three, short facts about Faye the person, not Faye the author, what would those be?

I grew up in a very small rural town in North Queensland, Australia.  Between my husband and me we have 9 children. And, here’s an odd one, I’m allergic to artificial blue food coloring.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on something a little more different than my other books.  It’s called ‘Passions in the Dust’.  It’s set on a cattle station in Bowen, Queensland, Australia, and is about a man who send for a mail order bride from England.  The woman who arrives was one of his mistresses back in England.  There’s some cattle rustling and cows being poisoned by native aboriginal ways and…well…the rest you’ll just have to read about when it comes out.

We all dream, of course, about seeing our books in screenplay format. If you could make one of your book into a movie which title would you choose and who would portray your characters? 

It would have to be ‘My Gift to You’. Chris Hemsworth (from the Thor movies & Rush)  to play Bailey and Anna Kendrick (from Pitch Perfect & Twilight saga) to play Rush.

Where can readers learn more about your novels?

My websites  http://www.faye-hall.com/

http://eredsage.com/store/FAYE_HALL.html

My blog http://www.faye-hall.com/?cat=16

My social media https://www.facebook.com/pages/Faye-Hall/174774709247649

https://twitter.com/FayeHall79

 

Angels Dawn

Angels_Dawn_final_ebook-1

Friends, cute boys and lots of fun are the usual expectations of a teenage girl’s birthday affair. Unless you are the key to a past crime that you can’t remember. In Komali da Silva’s debut novel Angels Dawn, one typical teen girl finds herself thrown into a world of intrigue and danger on her sixteenth birthday, with a dose of mysterious romance on the side.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer?

Actually, it was never my plan. I always wanted to study sports medicine but that plan was destroyed because I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I had to stop doing sports for a while and I found time to read. I found my life and dreams in those books.!I was always good in writing but never invested time willingly. One day, I was on my way to work. I was sitting in the train and this idea came rushing into my mind. First thing I did was take a piece of paper and write it down, so the journey began.

Tell us about Angels Dawn. How did you come up with the concept of this novel?

I just saw these three characters in my imagination waiting to come out. Then I started writing with the description of Dawn and the story began to write itself. It’s mainly written in Dawn’s point of view because I felt very close to her. She is a 15 year old girl, living in a small town in Florida. On her 16th birthday everything changes in her life. It’s a teenage love story with a bit of a dark twist in it.

How many books are there in your debut series? 

I’m planning for three but it could also be four J

When you sit down and get to work, what habits or routines to do you have?

I always read the last chapter I wrote, that way I can start at the same place where my thoughts left me. Sometimes I even read a chapter or two of a book I really like, so that I’m inspired to write.

What is it about the young adult market that nabbed your desire to write for that genre?

It’s strange, I’m a 30 some year old woman, but I love reading young adult books. It keeps me young in heart and mind. Toni Morrison once said, if there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. So that’s what I did.

Who were some of the authors and titles that may have influenced your writing journey?

Becca Fitzpatrick: Hush Hush series, Carlos Ruiz Zafon: Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game and the Prisoner of Heaven. J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter, all of them books And of course Lauren Kate: Fallen Series, Teardrop and not to forget Charles Dickens: Oliver Twist – It was the very first book I ever read.

Do you know where the story is going when you sit down to write it, or do you prefer to have an outline?

With Angels Dawn, I had a different ending planned but when I was almost there, my fingers typed something very different. I like that ending way more than the planned one so I polished it up and let it flow. I’m not an outline person. I like my imagination to play with my ideas. I think good books always need to have its freedom. I’m not the storyteller it’s the story, which tells the author what comes next. 

That’s how I feel with my books.

When it comes to leisure reading, what are some titles you might recommend for teens?

That’s a tough question. I love all the books written by Lauren Kate. I’m a crazy fan girl when it comes to my favorite authors. Lauren Kate visited Milano, Italy on her book tour and I traveled by train to Milano only to meet her. May be I should mention that I live in Bern Switzerland. So that’s like four hours by train to Milano. We got a lot of amazing authors out there; some of my absolute favorite authors include Cassandra Clare, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Cecelia Ahern, J.K. Rowling, Becca Fitzpatrick, Kami Garcia , Margaret Stohl, P.C. Cast and Richelle Mead.

What are the biggest challenges for authors attempting to break into the young adult market?

There are many good and talented YA authors in the market, so it’s very difficult to get the readers to see your work. There is so much of promotion behind the process and one got to have a lot of luck on her side as well. And of course, readers love to compare. That doesn’t help much but don’t we do that too? 😀

What’s up next for your adventures in writing? 

At the moment I’m writing Fight for Dawn, book two of the series. Then I hope on finishing the series. Then I also have an idea for another novel. But it’s going to be a stand-alone and not YA related.

 

Angels Dawn is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

The Grove of the Sun

The Grove of the Sun

A fantasy tale about redemption combined with beautiful artistry and complex characters draws readers into the novel The Grove of the Sun by author Parvathi Ramkumar. A magical journey that revolves around one character’s desire to save his land and his personal struggles while doing so. Fantasy lovers will enjoy stretching their imaginations in this intriguing tale.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Tell us a little bit about Parvathi Ramkumar, and how long you’ve been writing.

I’m an author and freelance journalist, as well as a professional book reviewer for a major newspaper in India. I’ve been writing for over twenty years, I began when I was seven. It’s always been a passion.

How would you describe the synopsis of The Grove of the Sun?

The Grove of the Sun is a poetic tale of magic, Order and Chaos, and one man’s discovery that the life he was taught to believe was true might be an illusion.

What kind of books do you like to read?

I like a variety of genres, and my tastes in reading are pretty eclectic. I do have a particular liking for fantasy and science fiction, though.

Is The Grove of the Sun your first book?

It’s the first book I’ve published, yes.

What was the inspiration for the subject matter?

It was inspired by a strange and vivid dream I had many years ago. Some of the setting for the book and part of the plot came from that dream.

How long did it take you to research and write The Grove of the Sun?

A little over seven years. It was a little longer than I’d initially anticipated, and there was so much I needed to know and work on.

Whereabouts did you research for the novel?

A lot of the subject matter came from Indian myths, and I also did some research on esoteric themes for the presentation of Order and Chaos in the book.

How would you describe your protagonist?

Ildanis? He’s lighthearted and warm, with a streak of ingenuity that often leads him to situations he’d love to avoid.

What’s your prime motivation when you write a novel?

To tell a story. I love creating worlds and characters, and I love putting them all together to weave a tale.

Do you have any writer’s habits that are a must when you sit down to write?

Well, I do prefer silence. Also, my desk has to be neat, just so. Anything out of place is terribly disturbing, even that pencil right there in the corner where it shouldn’t be.

Do you like to dabble in other genres?

Yes, I find literature and poetry fascinating. As well as children’s fiction and magic realism.

What next on your plate?       

I’m working on a couple more books, including a children’s book.

Where can readers find out more about you and your novels?

My website, www.parvathiramkumar.com, has more about me and my work, and I’ve created a Facebook page for my book, www.facebook.com/thegroveofthesun. I’m also active on Goodreads.

 

 

The Palaver Tree

Wendy Unsworth

Africa . . . a place many consider an exotic destination filled with hot weather, beautiful plains and an abundance of wildlife. But if you’re a widowed school teacher ready for a fresh start, the African continent might not be the destination you thought it was. In Wendy Unsworth’s mysterious novel, The Palaver Tree, readers follow main character Ellie Hathaway to a small village where danger lurks, as well as a man who might not be the leader he claims to be.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Tell us how long you’ve been writing.

‘Always’ is the answer that I usually give to this question. It’s quite correct. I have been writing things down, poems, stories and diaries for almost as long as I have been able to write! I wrote two novels many years ago but it is the third, The Palaver Tree, that I finally published in 2012.

How did the ideas for your novels come about?

The idea for The Palaver Tree came together from two personal interests. I lived in Central Africa for thirteen years, in Nairobi, Kenya and Ndola, Zambia. The experience of being immersed into that part of the world has had a huge influence on many aspects of my life. I wanted to incorporate some of those experiences into my first novel. I combined this with a deep and ongoing interest in how ordinary people react, adapt and triumph when faced with very extraordinary circumstances. This is what I am interested in exploring in my novels. I am constantly amazed by news stories and biographies about such people and like to create characters and challenge them!

My second novel, Beneathwood, grew in my mind as I was finishing The Palaver Tree. I became curious about a minor character in that novel who was seen in her small village as rather a busybody and a gossip. I sensed that these opinions were possibly unfair, that something very sad had happened in her past… and that her secret was about to catch up with her! Beneathwood is almost ready for publication and I am now also working on a third novel in the Berriwood Series.

 Is it difficult to write in two very different genres?

I don’t think so, in fact, for me, I think it works writing in two genres because they are so different. I have a children’s series that is so far removed from my adult novels, that they really do give me a ‘rest’ as I switch between them! When I have been writing one type of book and need to distance myself from the manuscript for a while, I always look forward to getting reacquainted with the other genre!

Where do your characters originate from?

In my Berriwood Series, all the protagonists are (or will be) the inhabitants of a fictional Cornish village. I have lived in a Cornish village myself so I suppose some ideas came from there though I will hasten to add that no characters were based on any actual person! I had the idea for my children’s main character, Kellie Culpepper, a long time ago and wrote some notes about her. She and her crackpot family had formed quite fully in my mind before I began the writing process.

How do you feel about the premise that characters can take on a life of their own?

They do, at least for me. A character starts off usually as just a first name and a few rough details about their looks and present life within the book. Later come past life, family, motivations and expectations. Very often a character will pull me up sharply and remind me that they would never do or say a certain thing and then I re – read and revise until we are both satisfied! I imagine many authors have similar experiences and I can’t really envisage getting to know a character sufficiently if it was always a one sided conversation!

Do you already know how the story will end when you start writing?

Er…. Not exactly, but I have a good idea. At the end of The Palaver Tree there was something I knew had to happen but it was only as I got close to the end of the first draft that I knew how!

What have you learned since publishing your first book?

That if you are like me and didn’t do your homework, writing a first book takes place in a blissful state of ignorance! There is no burden of thoughts about how to launch the book, how to get reviews and get noticed, which websites you should have a presence on or if you should blog.
Of course, this is not at all clever from a marketing standpoint but it does make the creation of that first book a pure writing experience and that, in itself, is something to savor.

How do you feel about the way self-publishing has taken such a bite out of traditional publishing?

Marvelous. Great. And such an opportunity for new authors. Like many Indies I attempted the traditional route and it was so disappointing to realize how hard it would be to get anyone to ever read the full manuscript, let alone comment on it. Self-publishing has given new authors (and some already traditionally published) the chance to break out and ask readers themselves if they like their work. Now it is the responsibility of Indies to make their work the best that it can be and then shout about it!

Does your writing affect your choice of reading?

Not much. I do read more in the genres that I write, simply because I like them, but I also read quite a range of other genres. If the synopsis grabs me I will download to my kindle but I never download just because a book is cheap or free. Everything that goes on to my device is something I intend to read.

What projects are you working on now?

I am editing my second novel in the Berriwood series. In this story, ‘Beneathwood‘, the house that gives the book its name, has been inherited by Gordon Carroll and his wife Beryl. There is a lot of work to be done but Gordon takes on the renovation as a retirement project. The Carroll’s daughter, Olivia is opposed to her parents keeping the house. She always hated the place and even more so after finding batty old Auntie Edith dead in there. When the Carroll’s finally do move in things immediately start to go wrong and Olivia is convinced that the house is to blame! The third Berriwood novel is outlined with a working title of The Quiet Hours.

I am also working on the draft of the third book in the Come-alive Cottage series for children. I don’t have a title yet but in this story Aunt Kitty (the witch who is also sometimes a cat) goes missing and Kellie Culpepper must come to the rescue again!

Who is your literary hero if you had to feature one in your next novel?

One of my favorite characters has to be Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol’. His transformation from the most formidable miser to jolly philanthropist is amazing! I don’t think I could ever feature him, though.

I maybe could feature Paul Sheldon, the writer in ‘Misery‘ by Stephen King. Paul is unfortunate enough to crash his car on a remote road in heavy snow but that is only the beginning of his problems. His rescuer, Annie Wilkes, is more dangerous than any snowstorm! Paul is such a resilient character that I am sure I could find a place for him.

Where can readers learn more about you?

Please read a little more about me on Amazon. http://amzn.to/1e4jxbO and Goodreads. http://bit.ly/1b0q3gQ

My books can be found here:

The Palaver Tree
http://amzn.to/1aSro9o
http://bit.ly/1boQBFv

Kellie at Come-alive Cottage
http://amzn.to/1cbq7KA
http://bit.ly/1aV2fb1

Danger at Come-alive Cottage
http://amzn.to/1aEIXMI
http://bit.ly/1b4lpvn

 

A Conversation with Gyles Brandreth

Gyles CollageWhat can possibly be worse than a fictional character of your own creation getting far more fan mail than you do? In the case of Arthur Conan Doyle, it’s receiving three envelopes respectively containing a severed finger, a severed hand, and a lock of hair while you’re just trying to get away from it all for some R&R at a spa in Germany. To make matters worse, the celebrated author has been joined by the effusively chatty playwright, Oscar Wilde, who insists that they hop the very next train to Italy to answer an obvious cry for help.

Oscar Wilde and the Vatican Murders was my first introduction to the work of Gyles Brandreth but I knew by the time I turned the last page that I simply had to discover more about this wickedly witty and whimsical author.

And oh what a jolly discovery that quest turned out to be! From 6,000 miles away, this amazing gentleman graciously accepted my invitation to give readers a glimpse into his world and the passions that fuel his imagination.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: The remarkable volume and diversity of your published works suggests that you came into the world with your fingers aggressively fixed to a keyboard. What’s the real story behind your journey as such a savvy and prolific wordsmith and who were the mentors that helped shape your career choices?

A: You are about right. I certainly knew that I wanted to be a writer from about the age of eight. The poet TS Eliot went to the church where I was a boy server and he encouraged me! How’s that for a distinguished mentor? As a boy I lived in Baker Street (opposite 221B – truly) and I loved the Sherlock Holmes stories. I wrote my first play when I was 12. It was called “A Study in Sherlock”. My wife will tell you there’s not been much professional development with me over the past 50 years. What gripped me then grips me now. (My wife would also tell you that with me there’s not been much development of ANY kind over the past 50 years…)

Q: What authors were you reading at age 10? 20? 30? In retrospect, which ones would you say had the most influence on your own style of creative expression?

A: At 10, Arthur Conan Coyle and Agatha Christie. At 20, Oscar Wilde and Dorothy L. Sayers. At 30, Anthony Trollope and W.M. Thackeray. In any of my Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries, you will see how all of the above have influenced me.

Q: You’ve also worn the hats of an MP, a Whip and Lord Commissioner of Prime Minister John Major’s Treasury, a popular broadcaster, and a theatrical producer. Aside from the obvious question of, “When did you ever find the time to sleep?” which of your many venues exemplifies the tenets of your best-selling book, The 7 Secrets of Happiness?

A: One of the 7 secrets is to be “a leaf on a tree”. Every leaf is unique and a leaf that’s not attached to a tree feels free and floats about a bit, which is fun, but soon it falls to the ground and dies. Each of us needs to be a leaf on a tree – unique, yes – but also attached to an organism that is larger than we are and alive and growing. Sometimes a writer’s life can be lonely. I felt most like a leaf on a tree when I was a member of Parliament – attached both to the House of Commons (an amazing place) and to my constituency (the beautiful and historic city of Chester).

Q: What did you most want to be when you were a lad growing up?

A: So many things! That was the problem. I wanted to be an actor, a writer, a politician, a TV anchor, a woman. And, because I have been very lucky, I have had a go at all of them.

Q: If your philosophy of life were printed on a tee-shirt, what would it say?

A: “Be happy.” (See No. 7 of The 7 Secrets of Happiness for more details.)

Q: The two of us share a mutual love for the stage as fellow actors, directors and producers. (And kudos to you for wowing audiences with your musical theater portrayal of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest.) What would you say are some of the best lessons that treading the boards have taught you about pennng snappy dialogue and compelling characters for your works of fiction?

A: Character is what counts. If the people in your play are real, your audience can believe in them. Character comes first. Then comes story. Then the lines will follow. If your characters are real, what they say will be in character and if the situations are dramatic, they will respond. The great Ibsen would spend a year thinking about his plays before he began to pen them. He would think through the characters first, then place them in their situation, then make them speak. With my Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries, I have had the advantage that so many of my “characters” are already there. The challenge is to portray them truthfully.

Q: So what was the inspiration for making the gifted playwright the cornerstone sleuth of your new mystery series?

A: Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde were childhood heroes of mine. When I came across the fact that they had met – in 1889 – and had become friends (Conan Doyle describes the meeting in his autobiography), it occurred to me at once that here was an opportunity to create a series of Victorian mysteries with Wilde and Conan Doyle as my Holmes and Watson. I have always enjoyed a traditional murder mystery. As Oscar said, “There is nothing quite like an unexpected death for lifting the spirits.” (Or did I think of that line and give it to Oscar? That’s one of the problems with writing these books. I lose track of where fact ends and fiction begins.)

Q: I simply have to ask this. There’s a point in the book where Conan Doyle is contemplating giving hs fictional detective an older brother named Mycroft who would be patterned after his witty, intrepid and sartorially colorful colleague, Oscar. Is it more than coincidence that actor Stephen Fry not only portrayed Wilde in film but subsequently played Mycroft in the second Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey, Jr.?

A: I think it’s distinctly possible that Conan Doyle had Wilde in mind when he created Mycroft, Sherlock’s even more brilliant brother. (Stephen Fry, incidentally, was the first to bid for the TV rights to my Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries, not with a view to appearing in them but hoping to produce them.)

Q: Two of your acclaimed biographies are about members of the Royal Family (Philip and Elizabeth:  Portrait of a Marriage and Charles and Camilla: Portrait of a Love Affair). Given your enviable reputation as a skilled interviewer, who in history would you most like to have an extended chat with if time travel were possible?

A: William Shakespeare. It is strange that we know so little about him when he knows so much about us.  Apart from the hygiene issues, I think I’d have felt very much at home in Elizabethan England.  And I’d love to meet Shakespeare and to hear some of his theatre stories. And where was he during those “lost years”?  In France and Italy, I reckon.  And which of his plays is his favourite?  And does he have another for us hidden in his bottom drawer?

Q: Rumor has it that you’ll need a bigger fireplace mantle and more wall space for all of the awards you’ve won. Which of these many honors gives you the highest sense of personal or professional accomplishment?

A: As European Monopoly Champion I came third in the World Monopoly Championships – and that pleased my parents who met over a Monopoly game in 1937 and eloped a few weeks later.

Q: Which do you feel is more challenging – to write a story for children or a plot geared to adults?

A: it is all story-telling. With kids’ stuff it tends to be shorter, but the need to capture, hold, intrigue and surprise the reader is the same. I have written six murder mysteries featuring Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle as my detectives and the extra challenge there is to bring the period and the people to life as accurately as I can – while still (I hope!) spinning a compelling yarn.

Q: What would people be the most surprised to learn about you (besides behind a descendant of the last man beheaded in England for treason)?

A: That I was taught to play Scrabble by a friend of Oscar Wilde. He was 100 at the time and I was 15. He won all our games. I told him he cheated because he used obsolete words. He told me they’d been current when he first learnt them.

Q: Along with your daughter and grandson, you’ve authored a collection of family games called The Lost Art of Having Fun. Why is it, do you suppose, that we’ve misplaced the unapologetic joy of play and being silly? Is technology to blame or is it something more than that? Inquiring minds want to know.

A: Yes, our book is aimed at providing analog fun for the digital age.  Research suggests that kids in the UK are now spending up to 7 hours a day in front of a screen. This is terrifying. It’s got to stop. We’ve got to start looking at one another again: we’ve got to start talking to one another again. Playing games is a good way to get cross-generational communication going. The idea of playing a game alarms a lot of people – until they give it a go.  Fun is fun.

Q: Speaking of fun, you’ve got a delightful connection to teddy bears. Tell us about it.

A: My wife and I founded a Teddy Bear Museum about thirty years ago. Jim Henson gave us the original Fozzie Bear and he stills live at our museum. I was a friend of A A Milne’s son, Christopher Robin Milne, so I have shaken the hand that held the paw of Winnie the Pooh!

Q: What’s your best advice to today’s aspiring writers?

A: Mark Twain said the secret of writing a book is application – “applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair”. I can’t do better than that.  My other rule is: don’t talk about it, do it. Just get to that desk and stay there until today’s quota (1,000 words) is done.

Q: What style works best for you when developing a new book – to do all of the requisite research before you ever start writing or do you prefer to look things up as you go along?

A: With non-fiction you need to do your research before you start. With a novel – like my Victorian Oscar Wilde murder mysteries – you need the essence of the plot, but as you proceed you will find that events overtake you and the characters can take you to places you didn’t expect to go …  With my Oscar Wilde series I have been meticulous with research, so that all that you learn about Wilde and Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker, for example, will be true. With a history-mystery the reader needs to feel that the history is correct. For me, it’s been a joy to spend the first ten years of the twenty-first century living in the last ten years of the nineteenth.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am touring a show called “Looking for happiness”. It’s a two-hour stand-up comedy show that began life at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Now there’s a book to go with it, The 7 Secrets of Happiness that’s being published in the US, Russia, China and elsewhere. I am going to assorted launches: Moscow in August, for example. Because it is raining non-stop in England right now, next January and February I want to be performing my “Looking for happiness” show in Florida in January and New Zealand in February. Can you fix that for me? (Gyles: You should add Pasadena, California to your tour list. Not only is it a beautiful city with much to commend it but I’ll throw in the added bonus of taking you to lunch as well.)

 Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: if you have time dip into my website, www.gylesbrandreth.net, and find out a bit more about me – and what else I do. The pictures of me as Lady Bracknell with Oscar Wilde’s grandson are fun. And if you want to see a video of me talking about happiness try the Open Road Media website.  And if you fancy a short tour of Oscar Wilde’s London, take a look at www.oscarwildemurdermysteries.com