Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Interviewing Author C Lynn Murphy

Tonight let's spend time talking to another author about her world travels and what led to the writing of her current release.  From America to Japan and across Europe to...well anywhere, C Lynn Murphy has experienced much of what life has to offer, both ups and downs.  She's skillfully weaved these experiences into her literary work THE FIRST NOBLE TRUTH.  Please join me in welcoming Ms. Murphy to the blog.

DAB:  Was there a point in your life that prompted your desire to write or have you always wanted to be an author?
CLM:   I remember as a little kid always wanting to be a writer. That or a lawyer, as somewhere I had decided that lawyers were the best dressed of any professional. I don’t even know where I heard the word “writer,” but I did and it stuck. Perhaps because I have been such an avid reader all my life, and my parents likely explained to me that the name on the cover of the book was the name of the writer. Once I made the connection between telling stories in my head and putting them to paper, that was that.

DAB:  Where do you come up with ideas for your novels?

CLM:   My novels walk into my life, fully formed. The characters are as real to me as any living being, and I am frequently surprised by them. They behave differently than I thought they would. They reject choices I make for them. Sometimes they tell me their stories in advance, and arrive in my mind like an old friend, someone whom I have known all my life. Other times, they string me along, only revealing portions of themselves to me as they see fit.

Much of the plot details are told to me by the characters as they describe their lives, but the details, observations, and descriptions are often products of my own imagination and lived experiences.

DAB:  I can really relate to that.  What was the catalyst for this novel’s premise?

CLM:   I wanted to investigate the question of suffering- why do we suffer? Why do we suffer more or less than others even when we share similar circumstances? How does suffering manifest across different personalities and in different cultures? I wanted to look at the similarities and discrepancies between internal and external, mental and material suffering, as this is a question that I have asked myself all my life.

The characters introduced themselves to me, fully formed and sentient. The locations were chosen from my own experiences and interests. I was living in a small village in Japan at the time of writing The First Noble Truth, and I knew that the story would take place there. Krista, my second protagonist, unveiled herself to me slowly, and only told me stories of her past as I wrote them, whereas Machiko was an open book from the start.

DAB:  Interesting – I like what you’re saying here about the exploration of suffering.  I think we as humans expend so much energy trying to avoid the unavoidable when so much can be learned from it.  Do you have a character(s) in your novel with whom you closely identify?

CLM:   Many of my friends and people who know me have made assumptions about my own identity based on the characters I have written. Whilst I would say I understand and empathize with both Machiko and Krista, I do not see them as reflections of myself. There is a derivative identity inherent to them, as they are the products of my mind, but I would compare this to the correlation between parents and children- an outsider may see similar mannerisms, facial features, or personality traits, but is often surprised at the extraordinary differences and how very far, no matter how similar they look, an apple can fall from the tree.

DAB:  Were there any characters you found difficult to write?

CLM:   As I said, my characters introduce themselves to me and I know them entirely, even if they don’t show themselves completely, I know that they are full and real and I only have to stay present, pay attention, and listen and I will have a fully fledged character on paper.

I find background characters can be more difficult. It is tempting to use them as plot devices, which gives them an artificial and inappropriate feel. Usually all the characters in my books are as real to me as any person on the street, more so, in fact, but occasionally there will be a shadowy, more linear sub-character who agrees to partake in the story but doesn’t want much attention.

DAB:  I agree.  It’s important for an author to develop three-dimensional, organic characters instead of cardboard cutout puppets.  Speaking of which, do you ever have difficulty writing from the point-of-view of a member of the opposite sex?

CLM:   Both of these characters are female, as am I, so this was not an issue for this book. There are scenes from the perspective of Kyoto Sensei, or my wonderful Vermont farmer, but they were as human and immediate as the women were.

Interestingly, I usually meet more female characters than male, but I have observed a male protagonist who entered my mind a year ago and has since taken up residence. He will be the sole narrator of his novel, and I am interested to see how we communicate with each other. We have very little in common, so I’m curious why he chose me to write his story, but I will do my best with him as I would with any other character.

DAB:  I’ll be interested in hearing how that goes.  Who is your favorite character in your novel, and why?

CLM:   How could I chose this? I love Machiko for her sensitivity, her kindness, and nervous desire to please, which stems only from goodness. I love Krista for her strength and resilience. Both women are brave as hell, and I didn’t expect them to be. They outwitted me and impressed me with their strength at every turn. My heart aches for their difficulties, but I have complete faith in their abilities.

Sumi chan is a source of great love for me, as is Kyoto Sensei. I wrote both of those characters thinking of dear friends of mine, and I think my love for them extends towards my love for their literary avatars.

DAB:  How long did it take for you to craft this novel?

CLM:   I had the idea in Japan, I toyed with it whilst backpacking for a year across the Africa continent. I wrote a few chapters in Oxford, but finally settled down to pound it out in a year during my time in Dharamsala, India. The writing, comprised of several drafts with weeks of space in between, took a little over seven months. The thinking and planning of the novel, waiting for characters to show themselves and for scenarios to unfold, took several years.

DAB:  Tell us about the moment you received your first real fan correspondence.

CLM:   I received an email from a woman who knew me during my Master’s degree. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t remember her. She was very gracious in her praise, and said that she was so happy to see someone who she knew, at least peripherally, to have completed a novel, as it made her feel that the same achievement was within her own grasp.

I absolutely understand what she meant. I am a farmer’s daughter and, despite my prolific travels, I have never met a novelist. I have met many people who wanted to write, who said they were working on something, but no one who had ever finished anything. I felt like an alien, with this desire in me, and I was terrified that I would be lost in a sea of “one day, when I have time…”

That email made me realize that we have so many different impacts on one another. I can never guarantee someone will like my book, but I can guarantee that I have worked as hard as possible on it, and written the best book that I could. Similarly, no one can guarantee success or monumental impact from one’s work, and hoping for it strikes me as volatile and dangerous, as if one’s sense of self worth depends on the opinions of others. Instead, I can only hope to have a positive impact, no matter how big or small. Her email told me that my book did have a positive impact, at least on her, although perhaps not in the way one would expect.

DAB:  There's the eternal debate whether to outline or not.  What is your preference?

CLM:   I like outlining because it appeals to my academic nature, but I’ve found that my outlines never end up approximating the story itself. Rather, I think they are effective tools for managing myself and my time, as opposed to organizing the story. I find outlining, much like making lists, is very soothing. It gives me a direction to go in, a plan, something on paper to soothe the blank-page blues. However, ultimately the story tells itself to me.

I have a mystery series that I will be starting this summer, after a few other projects. I wonder if I will find an outline to be a more necessary tool for this different genre. In order to keep track of plot details, where I’ve dropped little hints, etc., perhaps I will find myself using outlines more frequently. Then again, the characters of the mystery series have already introduced themselves to me, so perhaps the storyline will unfold much in the same way as that of my literary fiction. I’m curious to see how it goes.

DAB:  I love the ‘blank-page blues’ moniker.  So very true.  Good luck on that new mystery series too.  Do you belong to a critique group?  If so, tell us a bit about it.

CLM:   I do not. I have tried critique groups once or twice and never felt I got much out of them. I have a large group of beta readers, and I find their feedback to be very helpful. Perhaps this is because I am not an auditory learner, and reading criticism is easier for me to understand than listening to it.

Also, I am a ravenous reader of every possible genre. I have strong opinions on what I read, and I engage in critical analysis to try and understand these reactions of mine. However, I do not consider myself a critic. I have never taken a writing class, and I hope I will never be in a position to teach a writing class, as I feel teaching art is much like critiquing it: God bless the people who can, but I have no idea how to do it myself. For this reason, I am not sure how beneficial I would be to a critique group.

DAB:  How do you handle negative feedback about your novel(s)?

CLM:   I think negative feedback about one’s work is the same as negative feedback about one’s self- it has little to do with the supposed object of the feedback, and more to do with the subject offering the feedback. This is not meant as a condescending or dismissive comment, but rather a statement of fact. A book is a book. Words on a page will not change when they are in my hands, or in yours. However, my life, my reading, my personality, my preferences are different from yours, and thus I will not read the book as you read the book, I will not interpret the book as you interpret the book. I may hate it and you may love it, but the book is the book.

Once the book is published, it is finished in my eyes. After publication, I am curious as to the opinions of others, and of course hopeful they will be positive, but they are not constructive opinions for the book in question. However, when I submit it to my beta readers, I am looking for trends in the responses. If 18 out of 20 readers feel the first chapter lags, or one character is dull, then I will reread and reconsider this material. I listen carefully to all feedback from them, but I do not second-guess myself. It is only when the majority seem to agree on an aspect of the book that I have overlooked or disagree with, that I will seriously consider weighing outside opinion over my own.

When I was younger, I was desperate to be liked and molded myself, my appearance, my personality, my behavior, all of me, to fit the interests of those around me. It has been a great life lesson to develop self-worth independent of external reassurance, and to nurture the ability to give fewer f----. For this reason, I am grateful I did not begin publishing earlier.

DAB:  You’ve developed a healthy attitude toward criticism/reviews.  Do you have any writing pointers for the authors in our audience?

CLM:   I liked Stephen King’s On Writing, and would recommend anyone interested in writing to read that.

I feel giving advice falls under critiquing, and I don’t know how to go about it. I have often thought that art and sex are very similar- they are both inescapably private and public practices. You can’t turn on a shampoo advert without seeing allusions to intercourse, just as you can’t flip through a magazine without reading some advice about creative or personal work. And yet, regardless of the media or the opinions of those around you, how you make art, like how you make love, is dependent on you, who you are, what you like, what you dislike. The world has its opinions, assumptions, expectations, and prejudices, but your body, your work, your art, are your own. Write it, love it, share it as you wish, knowing it will be interpreted according to the experiences of others, it will be incorporated into these experiences, but regardless of what happens when it reaches the public sphere, it begins and ends as your own.

DAB:  Care to tell us what is next on your writing horizon?

CLM:   September and October will be devoted to a contributed book chapter and an academic book review, both related to my research. In winter, I will begin my second book. During the first year of my PhD, I experienced America’s rape culture firsthand. Having mostly recovered from that incident, I now see what an extraordinary opportunity this is. Violence, particularly sexual violence, is something more people experience than do not, and yet we shy from it, we hide from it, we avoid discussing it, addressing it, or even looking at it openly and honestly. Having experienced this myself, I am now free of the fear of its occurrence. Therefore, my next book will be a guidebook for communication on how to discuss the question of gendered violence. Hopefully, it will encourage dialogue and be of benefit. I have arranged to send this to my editor by March, and so will likely be published in the spring.

After that, I have two novels on the horizon. The first is the beginning of a mystery series, about which I am very excited. This will be published in time for Halloween, 2015, to correspond with the plot of the book itself. The second is a work of literary fiction, taking place in Mongolia. I hope this will be ready for spring, 2016.

DAB:  It take tremendous courage to approach what is such a difficult experience for far too many.  Thank you for doing so!  So now’s your chance – give us the final plug for THE FIRST NOBLE TRUTH.

CLM:   "...gripping, dramatic, page-turning, emotional..." - Gut Reaction Reviews

"Beautifully written, engaging, and highly recommended." - Vesna Wallace, Professor of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

Machiko Yamamoto pulls out her hair, picks at her skin, and triple checks the locks to the house behind the school where she works. When a foreigner moves next door, Machiko quickly falls in love with the quiet woman with the mangled hand. 

Krista Black does not mind the weekly visits from the local English teacher. The scarred woman seems harmless, but she always wants to talk about travel and language and why Krista has come to the remote, Japanese village. Krista avoids her questions. She has seen much of the world, and she knows what it does to fragile people. As their friendship develops, both begin to wonder how to protect the other from themselves.

Set in Kyoto, New England, Africa, and Kathmandu, THE FIRST NOBLE TRUTH is a story of trial and redemption, interwoven between two protagonists, across two cultures. In the style of SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS and THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS, it investigates the dualities of suffering and joy, religion and sex, cruelty and kindness, and the unifying power of love.

It's been a pleasure hosting you, Ms. Murphy, and thanks for sharing your insight into the writing process and characterization.  When I finish my current novel, I simply must read THE FIRST NOBLE TRUTH.  If you are intrigued as well, dear readers, pick up a copy at Amazon.

Author Bio:
C Lynn Murphy was born in New Hampshire, but has since lived in Scotland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan,
England, Nepal, India, and Mongolia. She also spent a year backpacking across the African continent for kicks.

She is a doctoral candidate in Buddhist Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, as well as a graduate of St Andrews University (M.A.) and Oxford University (MPhil).

Whilst a resident at a Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in the Himalayas, she wrote her first book, 'The First Noble Truth.'

She currently lives between Mongolia and the UK, where she is conducting fieldwork on post-Soviet economies of the funeral industry and their impact on contemporary Mongolian cultural and religious identity.

She writes, she knits, she east mutton.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Spending Year End with Author Kris Thompson

As we come to the end of another year, I'm attempting to close out the remainder of interviews and one more review over the next couple of days.  Today's interview I was sorely remiss in posting, as the intent was for a November date.  However, this way all of the new Nook, Kindle, and numerous other eReader owners who got them for Christmas can take advantage of learning about a fabulous new author.

Kris Thompson has penned a gritty psychological thriller that is sure to keep you up at night.  Join me in welcoming her to the blog to tell us about her writing process and debut novel BLACK ROSE.

DAB:  Welcome Kris!  What was the catalyst for this novel’s premise?

KT:      When reading crime stories you always get the cop or detective's point of view, but as a reader I was always left wondering about the victim and their family. So I decided to write a book that centered around not only the victim, but the family's experience as well. I also wanted to write about a group of young women who come together and find strength, not only within themselves, but with each other. So many times you see young girls fighting against each other, and I wanted to write about how powerful women could be if they worked together.

DAB:  Preach on, sister!  I'm with you there.  Do you have a character(s) in your novel with whom you closely identify?

KT:      There is a little of me in each female character in this book. I don't think I would have been able to connect with any of them if I didn't put myself in them in some way. If I had to pick just one it would be my lead character, Lillian, but they're all awesome in my opinion.

DAB:  Were there any characters you found difficult to write?

KT:      The villain was extremely hard to write. As a female I find it hard to write in a man's POV, let alone a psychotic male POV. I had to do a lot of research about serial killers to get the feel right. It was terrifying but very mind blowing at the same time.

DAB:  I can imagine.  It's really difficult getting into a twisted psyche.  How long did it take for you to craft this novel?

KT:      My book was four years in the making. It originally began as a fan fiction and was finished for a long time. My publishing house had been after me for years to publish it, but I wasn't confident in myself yet. After I turned 30 I felt ready and confident enough to move forward with my story and writing career.

DAB:  Tell us about the moment you received your first real fan correspondence.

KT:      It was from an author that I admire, so I was over the moon. She actually called me and told me how much she loved reading the manuscript and that she couldn't wait to buy the finished product. I still don't think I'm over the shock.

DAB:  I'll bet you needed someone to pinch you, huh?  Tell us about a typical day in your writing world.

KT:      As a single mom of three young kids, a majority of my writing happens after they went to bed. I always have a small pad of paper and a pen around, so if I get ideas I'll write them down and get back to it later, but there have been many nights where I didn't get much sleep because I had to get up early to take the kids to school. It's hard because there would be moments when inspiration is churning in my head, but when you have kids you can't just stop everything to get those words out. It was a difficult balance, but I made it through only slightly unscathed. LOL

DAB:  My home too is scattered with pads and pens.  How long did your novel take to put to bed?

KT:      Over a year. My poor editing team, God bless them, they really had their hands full with my book. It's a hard subject to write about, so it took a while to finish. I think we all deserved a long vacation once we were done with it.

DAB:  Have you ever experienced writer's block?

KT:      Only during the editing process. When I submitted the manuscript my mind kinda shut off for a few months. The book was very emotionally exhausting, so it was almost a relief to be done. But when the publishing house was ready to edit I had a hard time jumping back into the mindset.

DAB:  I'll bet.  When I write, I have particular composers and music that gets me in the mood for certain scenes and characters.  Have you ever written to music?

KT:      Oh yes. I have to listen to classical music when I write. I can't listen to music with words while I'm writing because I find myself typing out the lyrics. I'll listen to a specific song to help get me in the mood, but when I start typing it's always classical.

DAB:  Mine's orchestral movie soundtracks.  I'd be singing along if there were words!  There's the eternal debate whether to outline or not.  What is your preference?

KT:      Personally, I write off the cuff, but I have learned during the editing process of my first book that it is a good idea to have an outline. I learned that the hard way. As a writer you sometimes forget little things, even your editor(s) might not catch them, so it's a good idea to at least have a small outline on the side to help you and your editing team be on the same page.

DAB:  Agreed.  How do you handle negative feedback about your novel(s)?

KT:      This is going to sound really silly, but I love negative reviews. It's weird, I know, but I have really thick skin so it's never bothered me. When the story was a fan fiction I was being ripped apart left and right. I even had some people tell me I was going to burn in hell and that they hope I'd die. It was nuts. But it never bothered me because at the end of the day those are just words. It doesn't stop me from being a mom, a writer, or a provider to my family. I treated them as a mini comedy roast, laughed it off, and thanked them for taking the time to read and review. Even negative reviews are better then no reviews, right?

DAB:  Oh how I wish more authors shared your attitude!  Care to tell us what is next on your writing horizon?

KT:      I'm currently working on a young adult paranormal romance trilogy. I have no idea when it will come out, but after writing something so dark I felt I needed to write something completely different. It has been fun writing in a genera that I have never written before. I'm very excited.

DAB:  You'll have to update us on when you finish the first in this new series.  Now’s your chance – give us the final plug for BLACK ROSE.

KT:      If you like thrill, suspense, crime, drama, and just a little bit of romance then my debut novel Black Rose is the book for you. I am extremely excited to see what everyone thinks, and I can't wait for November 13th to get here.

Thanks so much, Kris, for joining us and providing a glimpse into BLACK ROSE.  Now I can hardly wait to find the time to read it in 2015.

Book Blurb:
Lillian Locke had the perfect life in Boulder, Colorado. She had the boyfriend of her dreams, a wonderful
family, awesome friends, and a spot on the track team at a great college. There wasn’t anything life could throw at her that she couldn’t get through . . . until he found her.

Lillian never could have imagined being abducted and chained up in the dark. Worse yet, being just one of many girls kidnapped and held captive by a madman. All she can do now is hope that she survives the brutality of their captor long enough to find a way to free herself and her new captive friends.

When Richard Haines’ girlfriend goes missing, he makes it his personal mission to find the woman he loves and bring her home to the safety of their loved ones. Seeking the help of friends and family, Richard abandons everything except for his pursuit of Lillian. But when someone else close to Richard goes missing, and the bodies of the abducted girls start showing up in the hills outside Boulder, the only thing he can do is hope that he finds her before it is too late.

If BLACK ROSE sounds like an intriguing read for you, dear readers, pick up a copy by clicking here on AMAZON, BARNES AND NOBLE, or by visiting the publisher's website.

Author Bio:
Kris Thompson is a veteran of the US Navy and single mother of three. When she's not knitting scarves, chasing her children around or baking, you'll find her enjoying a good book or writing down notes for her own upcoming stories. Writing has been a passion for Kris for many years, and seeing those stories printed on paper is a dream come true.

Be sure and check out her blog  http://kristhompsonauthor.blogspot.com/  for additional insight into why Kris wrote BLACK ROSE.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Forget the Nutcracker - Try "Danse Macabre"

It's always nice to revisit familiar characters to see how they've grown and changed over time, to discover what's happened to them during the interim and to see the impact events have had as life gradually takes its toll.  That's what we have today in the third book of the Neve & Egan Cases - Danse Macabre.

I've had the pleasure of reading and reviewing the prior two novels in Cristelle Comby's series, so when Tribute Books contacted me about reviewing the third, I jumped at the chance.  Plus, as a former ballet dancer myself, the cover intrigued me with where the case would lead.  Hmmm...

So with no further wondering, let's get started.

Book Blurb:
Private investigators Alexandra Neve and Ashford Egan are hired to succeed where the police have failed, to safely return home a missing ballerina. With no lead to pursue and no idea who could be behind the young woman’s kidnapping, they soon find themselves at a loss as to what to do.

To make matters worse, the heart of England seems to be caught in the middle of a little Ice Age. With snow endlessly falling and Tube lines either too cramped up to use or out of service, it is a pain to do any legwork in the huge metropolis.

Oh, and because trouble never comes alone, there may also be a serial killer on the loose in the streets of East London...

My Review:
From the outset, I have to tell you that of the three novels released thus far in the Neve & Egan Cases, Danse Macabre is my favorite.  The characters have gelled together as a team and have each come into their own as individuals as they've faced their own demons.  The case they find themselves on this time is also much deeper, darker, and more complex.

And we all know I like deep, dark, and complex.

Alexandra Neve (Lexa to her friends) and Ashford Egan (who has few friends) are coming to the close of their first year as a private investigative team with twenty-four solved cases.  As winter sets in upon the streets of London, their most horrific and gruesome case comes home to roost.

A desperate mother has nowhere else to turn after the overworked Metropolitan Police Department classifies the case involving her missing daughter as a simple runaway.  But why would a young twenty-something dancer, with the world waiting to worship at her talented and pointe-shoe clad feet, run away when everything is so right with her world?  The mother is convinced something more sinister is afoot and hires Lexa and Ash to discover the truth and bring her daughter home.

When Lexa's budding relationship with DS Matthew Stenson reveals connections to other kidnappings and murders, she realizes they have a serial killer on their hands - and her client's daughter may just be the next victim.  Thus our reluctant duo trudge through the snowdrifts of London and into the underbelly of life beneath the streets in search of a kidnapper, racing against the clock before time runs out on the life of a starlet.

All the while, they've got someone on the force working overtime to foil their efforts - and the Sorter reveals his hand once again.

In Danse Macabre we once again have a stand-alone novel of mystery and intrigue.  The bringing forward of just enough information from the previous novels, and how Lexa and Ash developed the unlikely friendship of university student and professor turned PI team, provided appropriate background for any new readers coming into the series without bogging pacing down.  However, I still recommend reading the Neve & Egan Cases from the start just because it is a wonderful little series (Russian Dolls, Ruby Heart).  There is also a tiny thread woven as a continuum, hanging out along the periphery throughout the stories - the mysterious Sorter.  Also, there is something that occurs at the end of this novel that will make you want to read the next - this was new to the series, but now I'm dying to know what transpired (though I have my suspicions already).

We also find out additional information in our characters' backgrounds - particularly Ash, the cantankerous, middle-aged former university professor whose blindness becomes particularly useful for discerning the lies surrounding this case.  With Ash having left the security of his university position in book two, he's now much more involved in the day-to-day of each case - and I liked that because one of my complaints about book two was that there was little of Ash's involvement with that case.  Now that they're both working the business full-time, it's also added a new and fun layer to their interactions - a great repartee that adds some laugh-out-loud humor to this novel that was not present in the first two.  This element was fabulous, refreshing, and added twinges of lighthearted moments necessary to keep this much darker case somewhat balanced.

Pacing moved along at a steady (heart-pounding at times) clip and, as mentioned above, these characters really came into their own within the pages of this particular novel.  Good showing instead of telling, with first person point-of-view once again from Lexa's continual perspective.  There were only a few instances of missing small words, unnecessary commas, and one incorrect word used (rapport instead of report), but these were not enough to detract from the story.

Content warnings:  There are few concerns with this series, usually just your typical few curse words, so it's appropriate for all teens in that regard.  However, this particular novel contained some particularly gruesome murder scene details that might cause a few nightmares.  No sex, drug use, or anything else some might consider offensive.

Like I mentioned, Danse Macabre is my favorite thus far in this mystery series - for that I'll give it a rare five stars.

Available on paperback or as an eBook by clicking on Amazon

Author Bio:
Cristelle Comby was born and raised in the French-speaking area of Switzerland, in Greater Geneva, where
she still resides.

Thanks to her insatiable thirst for American and British action films and television dramas, her English is fluent.

She attributes to her origins her ever-peaceful nature and her undying love for chocolate. She has a passion for art, which also includes an interest in drawing and acting.

Danse Macabre is her third new-adult novel, and she’s hard at work on the next titles in the Neve & Egan series.  Visit her website at http://cristelle-comby.com/

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Unbutton That Belt - It's Thanksgiving!

It's that time of year again, folks.  Time for the society-approved, government-sanctioned, gluttony fest we here in America celebrate to commemorate the bountiful harvest the Pilgrims realized and offered thanks to God after a harsh winter threatened to destroy the entire fledgling flock.

But did you know the first official Thanksgiving in America was designated as a day for fasting?

You know - abstaining from eating.

No, me neither.

In 1779, the Continental Congress sent a circular to all state governors recommending a day of public thanksgiving to be recognized on December 9, 1779 (not to be confused with the official proclamation establishing a permanent annual observance).  The call in the proclamation was for a day of "Thanksgiving and Prayer" recognized and observed in fasting.

Holy cow!  Er, uh, turkey!

So with that hilarious, historical tidbit before I head toward my annual turkey coma, unbutton that belt and have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Exploring Genetics in "Enhancement"

It's a cold and wintery fall day here in the good ol' U- S of A.  What better than to stay indoors and read a book?

Play in the snow!  There's little I like more this time of year than the anticipation of wallowing across a winter wonderland as we sail into the Christmas season.

But until such time as the wintery precipitation decides to arrive, let me take a few moments and introduce you to a book set the the future.  In Anthony J. Melchiorri's Enhancement we explore the world of genetics and biochemistry on the black market stage in the year 2058.  Join me as we step into these pages.

Book Blurb:
In the year 2058, Baltimore's latest crime epidemic is illegal genetic enhancements. Convicted dealer Christopher Morgan swears off black market genetics for good. Before he's even released from prison, he finds himself on a hit list. Someone wants him dead and he has no idea why.

Once released, Chris takes the first job he's offered. But, soon after, the new boss at his lab is murdered. Chris fears it has something to do with his past—and so do the police. He enlists the help of a close colleague, Tracy Harrow, to clear his name and search for answers. They discover a shocking connection between Chris and the other names on the hit list. In a perilous race against time, Chris and Tracy realize that far more is at stake than just Chris's life.

My Review:
The story opens during a prison riot where our protagonist, Chris Morgan, is desperate to escape the melee.  In the process, he is stabbed repeatedly before a fellow prisoner shows up to protect him from further onslaught.  After recuperating in the prison medical ward, Chris returns to his cell to discover a new bunkmate.  Unlike his previous companion, who listened to Chris' ramblings about genetics and biochemistry and spent his own time endlessly journaling, the newcomer gives Chris cause for pause.  However, just when he's convinced he'll never get another full night's sleep, the warden announces an early release.

The one caveat?  He must either take a questionable position offered by a mysterious businessman or secure gainful employment within the next thirty days or he'll be right back with the terrifying cellmate.  With a conviction involving black market genetics hanging over his head, Chris finds himself nearing the end of freedom when no one in the field will hire him, thus forcing him into accepting the businessman's proposition.

Yet things aren't so bad.  Chris quickly delves into the lab work, finds friends among co-workers, and soon garners a girlfriend.  But it all dissipates when the past returns to haunt him.  One-by-one friends old and new turn up dead.  The only common link?  Chris.

Or so he thought.

Enhancement starts off well.  The prison riot, Chris' stabbing and sudden release, revisiting the past with determination not to repeat it - all came together to immediately offer up Chris as the sympathetic character who wishes to right the wrongs in an industry run amok, where men and women can become physically stronger and more attractive than nature intended.  But only for a price.

Soon, however, this thriller loses direction and focus.  I personally think suspense would be a better genre fit than thriller because after the opening events little exciting occurs.  Chris and his girlfriend, Tracy, simply run back and forth between Chris' apartment, Tracy's apartment, the lab, and friends' apartments.  The supposed bad guys are so far off in the periphery, they seem more a pair of bumbling afterthoughts when they do show their hands.  The point of the story is easy to deduce and the real baddie is quite obvious early in the novel.

Pacing never picks up steam after the beginning sequences.  Cutting numerous unnecessary scenes would helps this somewhat, and adding in some thoughts that were merely alluded to and never fully developed might give an adrenaline shot to move the story along.  The style is written in very passive voice, which bogs pacing down as well, but it's a pretty easy editing fix to rewrite sentences to make them more active.

As far as editing goes, very similar issues pop up here as in many indie books - missing small words, duplicate words, transposed phrases, misplaced comas, then instead of than and the like.  There are far too many pronouns and overuse of the protagonist's name multiple times in a sentence, even when we're supposed to be in Chris' POV (i.e. "He didn't expect the man to answer honestly if the intent was to have Chris killed but at least, the man would know Chris was suspicious"). 

Chris was the only character who received any fleshing-out.  Most of the side players never received any further attentions other than mentions, which left them feeling very one-dimensional.  Motivations among the characters were murky at best.  We never find out the reasons behind the bad guys' actions.  At times even Chris' actions left me scratching my head as he allowed Tracy to simply lead him by the nose (or other body parts).  Then when certain characters face danger and death, there's no evoking of emotion because there is no connection with the character.

Point-of-view, however, remained constant with Chris without straying here and there into other character's heads.  I enjoyed the genetics references and actually could've used more.  Setting was handled well in many scenes without becoming overly descriptive.

The only issues of concern for younger audiences are the plentiful rough language, scenes involving drinking/partying by adults, and consensual sex between adults.  I would say this is a novel best left to those 18+.

For the promising opening suspenseful scenes, the interesting exploration of genetics, and the sympathetic character of Chris, I'll offer up a rating of three stars.

Purchase by clicking on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google, and Apple.

Author Bio:
Anthony J Melchiorri is a writer and biomedical engineer living in Maryland. He spends most of his time developing cardiovascular devices for tissue engineering to treat children with congenital heart defects when he isn't writing or reading.

Read more at http://anthonyjmelchiorri.com and sign up for his mailing list at http://bit.ly/ajmlist to hear about his latest releases and news.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Visiting with Elliott Baker

Since November is a time for fall, fashion and NaNoWriMo, I thought it appropriate that we visit with an author who crafted the initial stages of his debut novel by participating in this national pastime for authors and aspiring writers alike.  Join me in welcoming playwright and author Elliott Baker.

DAB:  Was there a point in your life that prompted your desire to write or have you always wanted to be an author?

EB:       My life changed direction in midlife when I was seated in the audience for the New York production of Gershwin’s Crazy For You. One of the most exciting locations in the world for me is to be seated awaiting the opening of a musical. Having written songs in my twenties, I knew that I could write musical theatre. I sold my company and began to write. My eldest was sixteen, and since I was sure that I had talent, I’d be making money well before it was time for him to begin college. (Space for a laugh here)

A number of years passed and with persistence, I have succeeded in writing musical theatre. From the beginning, I found that it was easier for me to write the book as well as the music. Later on, I realized that I enjoyed writing the story most of all. Which brings me to NaNoWriMo and the beginning of The Sun God’s Heir.

DAB:  Where do you come up with ideas for your novels?

EB:       The idea for The Sun God’s Heir is a story that I had in my head for years. It’s an almost memory, perhaps a dream, perhaps the echo of an old lifetime. If that’s the case, I’m not so sure I was the hero. Somewhere along the line, I became sensitized to the concept of slavery. Unfortunately, throughout history it appears to be one of mankind’s greatest talents. To think that it doesn’t exist in our ‘modern’ age is a depth of denial that is amazing. The classic Barbary pirate slavery that I write about is only its grossest form.

DAB:  Do you have a character(s) in your novel with whom you closely identify?

EB:       I identify most with the Arabic Doctor Ibn Al Zahrawi. This character has only a small part in the book, but embodies the energy of a man who is doing exactly what he is called to do. That’s hubris on my part, but I enjoy watching this character.

DAB:  Do you ever have difficulty writing from the point-of-view of a member of the opposite sex?

EB:       I love writing the women characters I like to see on this side of the page, strong, independent human beings. Fortunately, my wife has given me a template that makes it easy to imagine feisty sexy female characters.

DAB:  Who is your favorite character in your novel, and why?

My favorite character in the novel is the Maestro, an Italian fencing master who teaches Rene. From the age of five, every morning except Sunday, Rene is presented to the Maestro for instruction. Over the years, the Maestro brings Rene to the point where he can begin to access the greater levels of attainment and awareness gained in previous lifetimes. Levels of awareness that will be crucial if he is to play his part in defending the newly begun renaissance from a return to the slavery of the past.

DAB:  Tell us about a typical day in your writing world.

EB:       I’m not a 5 am person. I usually hit the computer by 10 or so and remain in my seat, taking a break for lunch until 3:30 or 4pm. When deep into the activity of writing I often forget to stand up from time to time. Standing, I am reminded that the body doesn’t like remaining in one position for hours. My goal is a thousand words a day. There are, however, different hats a writer must wear and those hats grace activities that take time. As long as I am working toward the goal, I try to be as self-forgiving as possible. If I fail to get down the thousand words, beating myself about the head and shoulders has never been all that effective. I believe that persistence is the key. As Winston Churchill said at an Oxford commencement, “Never, never, never give up.” There is genius to be found within dogged persistence.

DAB:  What kind of research practices do you utilize for writing?

EB:       While I look forward to traveling to the ends of the earth to see first hand those things that are currently only thought forms, I am grateful for the internet and the amazing resource it is if you are patient and persistent.  Part of the fun of reading a novel is, at the end, to know more than you did at its first words. I begin with my own experiences in life and then expand that knowledge base by following the research trails. Writing is, if nothing else, exploration both for the writer and the reader. My best compliment so far came from my cousin who is a heart specialist in Jacksonville. There’s a certain amount of philosophy in SGH and he found himself agreeing with it. Then he remembered that it was ‘just’ his cousin who had been making the story up. That I could take him from the present, even for that moment, is all I need. Probably all any writer needs, other than rent. SGH is a historical fantasy. There is homework to be done.

DAB:  When I write, I have particular composers and music that gets me in the mood for certain scenes and characters.  Have you ever written to music?

EB:       There is a certain synchronicity that happens when music is played along with a story. I usually read with headphones playing my favorite music. On many occasions I have found a crescendo perfectly timed to the hero’s greatest challenge. Music like words is a form of communication. In its least effect, it occupies that part of our thought stream that if left undirected will begin to stream stress both future and past. Music brings me into the present which is where I believe my connection to story is strongest. In its greatest effect, it adds sweep and power to the flow of words describing the scenes in the writer’s head. For me, Mozart’s Requiem is powerfully evocative. Almost too much sometimes when I find myself sitting back totally caught within the music. I guess that’s why that Mozart fellow was so successful.

DAB:  Usually authors are also avid readers - what are you currently reading?

EB:       Having just finished Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, I am currently reading The Tides of War about Ancient Greece and the Peloponnesian war. Author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, I believe Pressfield to be a unique talent in his ability to peer into the mind of historical figures and to bring the reader along. Memory and imagination are located side by side within the brain. The best story tellers cause me to wonder which location I’m seated within.

DAB:  Do you have any writing pointers for the authors in our audience?

EB:       You can! Be persistent in that least thing. Develop routine to flank the voice of resistance. Show up and keep showing up even if for only ten minutes. Place mark. By that I mean once you’ve established a routine, whether it’s exercise or writing, the day will come when something survival important will demand the time you’ve allotted. Before you leave the house, do something symbolic to place mark the day. Write one sentence. The what is less important than the when. Momentum is a function of continuous effort. Your head will accept the symbolism and your momentum will be maintained.

DAB:  Care to tell us what is next on your writing horizon?

EB:       The second book of the Sun God’s Heir trilogy is completed and now in the edit stage. I’m about a third into the final book and have also begun a new urban fantasy series.

DAB:  Now’s your chance – give us the final plug for your novel.

EB:       Here’s the blurb for The Sun God’s Heir.

In 17th century France, a young pacifist kills to protect the woman he loves, unwittingly opening a door for
the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian general determined to continue a reign of terror begun three thousand years ago.

Taking up the sword will not be enough. Rene must reclaim his own ancient past to stop the red tide of slavery from engulfing the world.

Joined by a powerful sheikh, his sword wielding daughter, and a family of Maranos escaping the Spanish Inquisition, they fight their way through pirates, typhoons, and dark assassins to reach Morocco, the home of an occult sect that has waited for Rene through the eons.

Thanks so much, Elliott, for taking time away from your writing to talk to us about what crafting a book means to you.  If The Sun God's Heir sounds intriguing to you, dear readers, pick up a copy here on Amazon.  

Author Bio:
Award winning international playwright Elliott B. Baker grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. With four musicals and one play published and done throughout the United States, in New Zealand, Portugal, England, and Canada, Elliott is pleased to offer his first novel, The Sun God’s Heir. A member of the Authors Guild and the Dramatists Guild, Elliott lives in New Hampshire with his wife Sally Ann.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What Happened to the Amber Room? - Gil Cope's "The Amber Conspiracy"

All my life I have studied and read about the historical accounts of tsarist Russia, from the love affairs of tsar and tsarina alike to palace intrigues and revolutions that turned rule and ruler on its head, but most of all to the multitude of treasures created and confiscated during the Romanov dynasty.  My dream is to someday tour the palaces of St. Petersburg and Tsarskoe Selo and see her treasures up close and personal.

But most importantly, to someday know what happened to the infamous wonder of the world - the Amber Room.

Was it destroyed in the closing days of Nazi Germany like many scholars believe?  Does it still exist, hidden away in some secret underground Nazi fortress or cave or buried deep in the earth like so many other discoveries by allied troops?  Will I and the rest of the world ever have a chance to behold its awesome beauty?

When author Gil Cope approached me about reading his fictional tale The Amber Conspiracy, I subtly responded with a resounding YES!  Yes, it is fiction.  Yes, it strays from science.  No, it isn't an accurate representation of what really transpired.

But it's a novel about the Amber Room!  How could I possibly say no?

Book Blurb:
The Amber Conspiracy follows famed antiquities hunter Jack Monroe as he searches for the truth behind the
murder of renowned Amber Room expert Urie Roskopf.  Jack soon begins to suspect that Roskopf's death is somehow connected to the missing eighth wonder of the world, The Amber Room.  It's his belief that the priceless treasure, created by the Prussian King Frederick I in the 18th century, has ties to a sinister secret society, the Illuminati.  

If Jack's suspicion is correct, then there's little doubt that the Illuminati are responsible for Urie’s death, which leaves Jack and Urie's granddaughter, Kira Solomon, to solve the question of how to penetrate the most secretive society in the world.  

Simultaneously, we go back in time to track the story of a sacred relic, which we first discover being rescued by a band of warrior monks during the sack of Constantinople, then later as it comes in and out of the possession of the Knights Templars, the Freemasons and the Nazis before eventually making its way to the Illuminati and the Amber Room. 

The tenacious duo's dogged persistence in locating the Amber Room and unraveling the mystery surrounding Roskopf's murder places them in the crosshairs, as their investigation threatens an audacious plan by the Illuminati to bring down their centuries-old nemesis, the Catholic Church.

My Review:
UPDATED 3/29/15 - After an extensive re-edit of this novel, the majority of the issues cited in my original review have been fixed and/or restructured. Therefore, I am changing my ranking from a four to five star. Highly recommend The Amber Conspiracy!

ORIGINAL REVIEW - First off, I want to say that I have never read any of Dan Brown or the myriad other Catholic conspiracy thrillers out there.  However, I've read a multitude of World War II, Russian and Amber Room historical accounts.  I'm also a huge thriller buff, so I will approach this review from that of an historical thriller.

And in that context, I really enjoyed reading The Amber Conspiracy.

Our story opens in Constantinople in the year 1204 where a priest is desperate to save the Relic from marauders and crusaders.  From the hands of a cowering, young boy to those of William de Chartress, the Relic is placed into the protective custody of The Order while a forgery is sent to the Vatican.

Forward to present day, Jack Morgan, author, explorer, and treasure-hunter extraordinaire, is hired by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to assist in sagging attendance by announcing an expedition to trace, discover, and retrieve the long-lost Amber Room, panels and furniture constructed in the 1700's entirely out of rare and precious amber.  However, on the evening of this glorious announcement, Jack's long-time friend and fellow researcher is murdered on his way to their rendezvous - in his briefcase a small piece of crafted amber.

With the assistance of Urie's granddaughter, Kira, a former Mossad operative, Jack sets out to discover not only the final resting place of the Eighth Wonder of the World, but who killed his dear friend - and why.

There were so many aspects I loved about The Amber Conspiracy.  The historical reality of what is known about the Nazi's and the Amber Room's last known location in the final days of World War II and the speculative fictional pieces were woven very nicely throughout this story to give a seamless account in that regard.

Intrigue about who killed Urie, the why's and how he came to possess a piece from the Amber Room's panel led our characters on an exploration of explosive proportions (literally).  From the lecture hall at the Met to Urie's study to an underwater dive and a hijacking amid the high seas, the thrills and chills ramped up and kept pushing our hero and heroine across the globe.

The slips back in time to follow the path of the Relic from the hands of the Knights Templar to the Freemasons and into the hands of those known as the Illuminati never felt jarring and wove through the overall tale in such a way to keep you guessing - for the most part.

I do have to admit, it was pretty easy to figure out who was in charge of the Illuminati and their ultimate goal, but the action amid the journey was still a rush.  I got a good chuckle of the intended irony when introduced to the character of Mary-Jo.  Read it and see if you catch the little funny there.

Even with the good story, there were still some issues with structure.  Point-of-view within a scene slipped in and out of so many characters sometimes it was hard to engage with them, to feel what they felt and to see what they saw.  Much of the time I felt like I was merely watching events from afar instead of embodying the characters.  Many times even scene went from one locale to another without any sort of scene break.  These were especially jarring and more numerous toward the novel's end.  However, pacing moved along at a nice clip throughout most of the story, with only a few bog-downs when it deviated from the main storyline and action too long or description grew overlong.

Editing needs a second round, though much of this is easily fixable.  Periods instead of comas were used most of the time to separate dialogue from the corresponding dialogue tag.  At one point Jack and Kira checked into a hotel as Mr. and Mrs. Johnson but on the very next page turn the concierge called them Mr. and Mrs. Baxter.  Several times a correctly spelled but wrong word was used (ie. prosperity instead of posterity) and small words missing or needing an 'ed' on the end.

Lastly, there was one thing that stuck in my craw - probably because I'm a woman.  I'm trying to avoid spoilers here, but skip this paragraph if you don't want to know even the teeniest smidge of something in the story.  About a third of the way into the novel, a couple got engaged during the first week of July and then the two women are on their honeymoon in Europe for a certain procedure (that in itself would probably take months of screening) not even a month later???  Two wealthy women.  No wedding planning.  No time allotted for preparations for either the honeymoon or the procedure.  Nuh-uh.  The time scale didn't compute in my book - though I do understand the necessity to rush this for the story to work.  It just left me shaking my head - and yes, I know I'm being picky here so again, chalk it up to my being a woman and the ingrained need to 'plan' to the nth detail when it comes to such events. :-)

But like I said, I still enjoyed The Amber Conspiracy overall - a nice action/adventure conspiracy thriller.  Just as a caution - there is plentiful usage of the f-word and lots of assorted rough language.  A few gruesome scenes and a couple of tame sexual situations.  If you don't think you can read a novel for the story only and are concerned about getting caught up on philosophical or theological entanglements, this probably isn't something you'll enjoy.  But if you like a novel that speeds through, has lots of action, murder and mayhem and engages the brain with intriguing historical elements, then The Amber Conspiracy might just be for you.

Even with the aforementioned structural issues, the solid and engaging plot (and my love of Amber Room lore) lead me to a solid four-stars.

Pick up a copy for yourself on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  At over five hundred pages, be ready to invest some time.  Check out the two different covers and let me know which one you like better.

Author Bio:
Mr. Cope stared his photography career in New York City where he apprenticed under world-renowned
fashion photographer Francesco Scavullo before opening his own studio. Mr. Cope was soon in high demand by such clients as Revlon, Christian Dior, Dewar's, IBM, Chivas Regal, Concord Watches and Clairol, to name a few. His photographs have appeared in countless major magazines, and have earned Mr. Cope numerous advertising awards.

Turning his attention to directing commercials, Mr. Cope has shot hundreds spots for some of the world's leading advertisers: Levis, General Motors, Coke, Pepsi, Hilton, Boeing, Anheuser Busch and Mercedes, to name but a few. Mr. Cope's commercials have run on such high-profile broadcasts as the Oscars, Grammys, Emmys, and the MTV music awards.

As well as shooting commercials, Mr. Cope wrote, directed and was the cinematographer on "pain angel", the award-winning short film produced by Neil Moritz of Original Film (“The Fast and Furious,” “XXX”). Mr. Cope broke into Hollywood when his pitch for the action/adventure movie Archangel 3 was picked up by Joel Silver, Silver Pictures (“Lethal Weapon,” “Die Hard,” “The Matrix”). With writing partner John Massé, Mr. Cope recently completed the movie script "Nobody's Hero”.

Visit his website at www.theamberconspiracy.com