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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