Rubber ducky reading

My little granddaughter has a collection of rubber duckies. She came home from her walk with Grandpa and showed me the latest addition – the pink one.

“Grandma, her name is Darla and she found your new book and is reading it.”

Gotta love the kid. Here’s the book she’s referring to. If you’ve read When the Sun was Mine, my new book, Whispers Under the Baobab is a sequel of sorts (perhaps companion piece would be a better description), for they do not have to be read in a particular order.

 

When high school graduate, Brittany Wright, gets a job cleaning at Happy Hearts nursing home, she is terrified of old lady Flo and desperately wishes she could be in college instead. As an unlikely friendship develops between the two, Brittany discovers that Flo is in grave danger. But, from whom and why? As Flo’s Alzheimer’s worsens, Brittany scrambles to save her. But, ironically, it may be Flo who saves Brittany.

 

When rebel leader, Sidu Diagho, learns that reporter, Flo Mc Allister, has died, he knows that her power to destroy him is still very much alive.

Flo was with him during the coup attempts and all these years later Sidu could yet be tried at The Hague with her notes the testimony needed to convict him.

And the girl, Flo’s friend? How much does she know?

Sidu will do what he must to destroy the evidence against him.

Looking for a good book?

 

Avid readers are always looking for a “good” book. Of course what makes a book good to one reader is not necessarily going to appeal to the next, but we all search for that sometimes elusive read that will have us turning the pages into the wee hours of the night. We read reviews, seek out books on-line, watch for our favorite authors latest releases, and most importantly look for suggestions from fellow readers for word of mouth is said to be the best advertising off all.

 

And so I present three books I’ve read recently for your consideration.

 

   French Rhapsody by Antoine Laurain

A letter that arrives 33 years late, a rock band that missed a chance to touch fame, the members of that group who have led diverse lives now trying to reconnect. Throw in right wing politics, an upcoming election and you have a compelling read. I decided to read this novel because I had already enjoyed two of Laurain’s books, The President’s Hat and The Red Notebook. And, bonus, he has another out soon called, The Portrait. It’s on my wish list.

 

 

  The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson

Two women who lived 400 years apart are brought together by an embroidery book with faint dairy entries that tells a tale of pirates and captivity in 1625 Morocco. This review comment was enough to entice me to read the book. “The Tenth Gift is wildly yet convincingly romantic—a rare combo…both a sensitive portrayal of Muslim culture and a delectable adventure of the heart.”—USA Today

I now have more of Johnson’s novels loaded in my Kindle.

 

 

Watch the Shadows by Robin Winter

I know Robin (via the Internet) and had already read her first book Night Must Wait, a gripping story of the Biafran War. I tried to read her second book, Future Past, but it was too dark for me. Watch the Shadows is dark too, but so intriguing. Winters brings together a diverse group of characters—several homeless people, a postman, a couple of professors…. and a young girl determined to solve the mystery of the odd things that are happening in her neighborhood. Where have the birds gone? Why have many of the homeless disappeared? How did her neighbor’s cat lose its tail? I’m glued to this book every night and will be until I finish it.

 

What are you reading? Which books do you recommend?

 

Humor in writing

 

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Humor can be anything from a belly laugh and the giggles to a chuckle or a smile. As long as it makes us happy to some degree, humor is doing its job. Here’s an excerpt from Book 2,of the Em and Yves series, EMPOWERED—an example of humor in a book that is not meant to be a comedy.

Victor grabbed Jasmine’s arm and dragged her to his office. “Don’t you guys all have something to do?” he said over his shoulder, but none of the men moved. He saw Jasmine look back at them and wink.

“You tell her, Vic,” one of the guys hollered just as he slammed the door.

“Woman, what were you thinking when you came here? It’s not safe and you stand out like a sore thumb.” Victor glared at her. “Please, tell me you’re not that dumb.”

“Belize, I think.”

“What?”

“Belize for our honeymoon.”

“Honeymoon!” He heard the guys hooting on the other side of the door and imagined a whole lot of high-fives taking place out there.

“Yes, good snorkeling. We’ll have to have a society wedding of course. But we can keep it small and limit the photographers.”

“You’re totally nuts.” Victor shook his head in disbelief.

“We’ll make beautiful babies,” she cooed smiling up at him.

“Babies?  Babies!” Victor screeched. “Get this straight. We. Are. Not. Getting. Married. We. Are. Not. Making. Babies.” What did it take to make her understand?

“We are,” she said in a matter of fact way that enraged him even more. “We have to.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Victor, I love you. I can feel you in every atom of my body. My bones feel like jelly when I’m with you. Can’t you—?”

“You don’t even know me,” he yelled as he yanked the door open. The guys scrambled out of the way. With one hand on Jasmine’s arm and the other on the small of her back, he propelled her out the door to the waiting men. Jasmine stopped abruptly and Victor’s forward momentum caused him to press against her. He jerked back as if scalded. Jasmine turned to the audience in the doorway and mouthed, “I’ll be back.” Five thumbs turned up.

“No, you won’t!” Vic deposited her with her bodyguards and stomped back to his office. “Jesus H. Christ! Miss Jasmine Wade Berdin you are one hundred percent certifiably insane,” he said to no one in particular as he sagged heavily into his chair. His bones felt like jelly.

 

Work In Progress

Anneli Purchase has tagged me to participate in a “Work in Progress” blog tour. Anneli is almost finished writing the sequel to The Wind Weeps which had me on the edge of my chair as I read. Check it out at http://ow.ly/K3i7w

The “Work in Progress” blog tour rules:

Link back to the post of the person who nominated you.

Write a little about and give the first sentence of the first three chapters of your current work-in-progress. Some writers give more than the first sentences, and I like that idea, too.

Nominate some other writers to do the same.

My nominations are:

 

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P.C. Zick who says, “I write contemporary fiction, romance, and nonfiction. In everything I do, I seek a challenge. One day I might even write a Gothic thriller, so stay tuned.

I am a storyteller. Any time I use language, either in speaking or writing, I tell a story. I can’t help it. Someone once asked me if I could ever turn it off. I responded, “Why would I ever want to do that?”  http://pczick.com/

Robin Winter – multi-talented writer and artist http://www.robinwinter.net/

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Robin first wrote and illustrated a manuscript on ‘Chickens and their Diseases‘ in second grade. Born in Nebraska, she’s lived in a variety of places, Nigeria, New Hampshire, upper New York state and California. She pursues a career in oil painting under the name of Robin Gowen, specializing in landscape. Her work can be viewed at Sullivan Goss Gallery in Santa Barbara. (Past YouTube videos of two shows can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51nlFnJ71vU   and   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wGxdFFobJA )

I was thrilled that these accomplished writers have agreed to take part in this work-in-progress blog tour. Please stop by their sites and get to know them and their work

And here’s me. http://emandyves.com/

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In my Em and Yves series the heroine’s life is hijacked by beings from “up there.” Heaven and Earth, gods and aliens, reincarnation, and of course a love story holding it all together.

 

My work in progress stays on Earth this time. Teens play a role in an old woman’s life. Given that I worked with teens as an educator for over 30 years, having kids involved again is a natural for me. In this novel old age clashes with youth. Brittany has just begun working in a nursing home after graduation because she can’t afford college when she encounters crusty Flo who speaks to no one, but spends hourss tapping on her laptop. Can one help the other? Or will their interference in each other’s lives make things worse?

Chapter 1 – Flo

“Don’t look so shocked, Missy. I’ve still got a brain and a clit.”

The girl caught me red-handed so to speak, the fingers of my right hand in my crotch working the oil, the other on my right breast tweaking my nipple.

Chapter 2 – Brittany

I leaned against the door, my heart pounding. I couldn’t believe what I’d seen. I could never have imagined such a thing. Lying there naked, her hand running along the inside of her thigh. Caressing herself like that.

Chapter 3 – Flo

Brittany Wright. Brittany Wrong. Right. Wrong. Right. Wrong. I grabbed my laptop and peered out the door. Hallway empty. Good. I snuck past the nurses’ desk. Needn’t have worried. It was vacant. I could hear talking and laughter coming from the staffroom. Yep, that’s the way we work at Happy Hearts.

 

 

 

No Room for Error

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Recently I called my doctor’s office to inquire about test results and was told that everything was fine, but that the lab had neglected to complete the one test that was crucial for my doctor to make a decision on medication, should it prove necessary.

When I went to the doctor’s office to pick up a new requisition, I commented that I was upset about the error. The receptionist told me not to be too hard on the lab staff as they were only human and they received so many requisitions.

Of course people make mistakes, but there are professions that don’t allow for error. This particular situation was not life or death for me, but what if it had been? Recently I met a woman dying of cancer. Her doctor had told her repeatedly that she was too young to have cancer and now that the cancer has finally been diagnosed, it’s too late to effect a cure.

Pilots, transit drivers, ferry captains … are all responsible for a great number of lives as they go about their daily jobs. How much room for error are they or should they be allowed? Pilots have an advantage in that they are not alone in the cockpit. The captain has the luxury of being able to check and cross check all procedures of the flight with the co-pilots on board.

A doctor interviewed on television suggested that his profession should adopt the pilot mode of co-operation and cross checking, particularly in the operating room as opposed to the “one man knows all” attitude that currently prevails in his profession. He claimed that surgical treatments would improve dramatically with a team approach.

And authors? Where do we fit in this picture? In one novel, a well-known and well-respected author (with a huge publishing company and its staff behind her) had one of the major characters in two places at the same time.

Does an error like that matter? Probably not. We can figure it out for ourselves, but it does spoil some of the pleasure in reading the book.

Errors of that nature could be much more serious in a non-fiction work. But in fiction too, accuracy is important.

A survey of fiction readers found that the one element most important in terms of enjoyment of the book was what the reader felt they had learned something. In Domingo’s Angel, I learned about conditions in Spain during Franco’s regime. In I Do Not Come to You by Chance and 419, I learned about the conditions in Nigeria that drove young men to participate in the flood of email scams we received. I like to think that the authors had done their research and that what they presented was as close to the truth as possible. (From what my friends in Nigeria tell me, both authors were spot on.)

Since I became a self-published author, I’ve been reading books by fellow indie authors. I don’t claim to have completely error-free books, but my writing partner and I are like those pilots in the cockpit. We send files back and forth for proofing and work very hard to find and correct all the little glitches. Knowing how difficult the job is, I sympathize with fellow authors and ignore minor mistakes, but I lose patience with books that have so many errors it seems obvious the author didn’t take the time to proof and edit properly.

With pilots and doctors there is no margin for error. How much of a margin should we concede to authors?

We indie authors want to be seen as professionals. We want to be respected for our work and devotion to writing. To achieve these goals we too, have very little margin for error.

 

 

An Informal Blog Tour

J.E. Fishman, fellow Venture Galleries author has invited me to participate in an informal blog tour. Check out his mysteries about that most unusual accidental detective Phuoc Goldberg here. http://jefishman.com/

The “rules” of the blog tour are that I answer the following questions, so here goes.

What am I working on?

I’m clipping along on a new novel that’s completely different from anything else I’ve written so far – no aliens, no super powers. I don’t like trying to fit any story into a genre as in my opinion that is limiting and unfair for the author and reader alike. That said, I’m undecided as to genre as I know from experience that the finished product will be much different from this first sketchy draft. This new book has elements of adventure, and mystery with literary overtones. I think ultimately if I have to squeeze it into a genre it will fit in “boomer lit” and YA.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My Em and Yves series is billed as Sci-fi, but I think of it as “soft sci-fi” as it does not encompass futuristic technology. Adventure, romance, current events, and “supreme beings” play their parts in the unfolding events and magic of the series.

Why do I write what I write?

My series was inspired by my experiences living in Mali. When I was there, it was ranked the 5th poorest country in the world. Try to imagine if you can, going from the luxurious life of the Canadian west to the edges of the Sahara. Anything I did to try to help wasn’t even a drop in the bucket as the saying goes, so I created a magic wand and waved it in my books.

How does my writing process work?

My writing process is evolutionary. I started with bits and pieces of ideas written in short scenes that grew to chapters and then played musical chairs with those chapters. In the beginning I worked without an outline. I progressed to a rough outline that was never static for the second, third, and fourth books of the series which certainly made the story easier to write

This new novel, I started with one sentence that popped into my head one day. I wrote it down on my “novel idea” list and forgot about it for several weeks. Then one day, searching for an idea for a new novel, I read my list, and seeing that sentence the light bulb flashed on—very brightly, I might add. I started writing without an outline and within a few days I had written 21 chapters. I can’t believe how fast this book is flowing.

Whichever style of writing I’ve used, I‘ve always been surprised—pleasantly—by the way the characters and plot take over and I end up writing bits I hadn’t thought of originally. The ending to my first book, EMBATTLED, came as a complete surprise. I love that aspect of writing.

 

Satan’s revenge – the synopsis


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You’ve written a novel, agonized over character names—after all you’re going to have to live with these people for many years. You’ve progressed from the draft to rewrite rewrite  rewrite, and then to edit, polish, and proof read. Along the way you’ve made the difficult decisions regarding your title, and cover design. Finally, you have it all in place. You’re done!

NOT! Reading agent and publisher submission guidelines you learn that you must include a 1 to 2 page synopsis—a summary of your novel—an objective outline of the story which includes all the key points of the entire main plot through to the end. Well now, that can’t be too hard.

“Writing a synopsis is like slowly pulling a tooth with pliers.”

“I hate it.”

“The deconstruction of a novel to reduce it to its simplest form is insane.”

“You never feel you’ve done your book justice.”

“Too much information to compress into too little space.”

“It’s the hardest writing we have to do.”

Oh, come on, don’t exaggerate. You authors are so sensitive. Numerous sites offer advice on how to write a synopsis. Check them out. It’s easy, you’ll see.

Written in present tense, third person, (in the same style of writing as your book) it’s a summary of your novel—with feeling. You do not have to include every character or every scene or plot point, but you should give a clear idea as to what your book is about, what is at stake for your heroes, and how it all turns out. Yes, you must put the conclusion to your novel in your synopsis. No cliffhangers or teasers.

Armed with all this guidance, you sit down to write the synopsis. One hundred drafts later and you’re crying in your beer, tearing your hair out, reduced to a blubbering piece of mush.

And no, even if you self-publish, you’re not off the hook. Now you need to produce the shorter, and even more difficult to write, synopsis meant for the public—the blurb or book description used to promote the book.

A blurb is not something that sums up your book in a nutshell. It’s meant to create enough excitement and interest to get people to want to READ your story. Think ad. Think movie trailer. Keep it short and simply written, easy to skim. Build in conflict and end with a good hook—a question that will get the reader to click that “ORDER” button.

Here’s the current version of my blurb. I think I’m getting a little closer to a good description, but undoubtedly, there will be more rewrites.

Emily doesn’t believe in heaven, but she has an insane desire to go “up there.” A yearning that’s so strong that she can no longer function in daily life. Even the wonderful Dr. David can’t help her find the answers she needs.

 Then a stranger arrives claiming to be her soulmate, claiming to have loved her in other lives. She is inexorably drawn to him even as she runs from him.

To prove what he says is true, Yves takes her to his world. There she meets gods and Powers and people rescued from doomed planets—living the perfect heavenly life. She knows she belongs “up there” with Yves, but all is not as idyllic as it appears. Emily is the only one who sees the danger. Can she leave her family and friends to stay with Yves? Will she be able to save him and his world?

As for the tagline, that catchphrase or slogan to advertise your book, how hard can that be?

Keep it simple, tell a story, be clear, be scenario driven, be creative, be memorable—all good advice from the Internet, but not so easy to put into practice. Movie taglines—In space no one can hear you scream. Alien (1979), Houston, we have a problem. Apollo 13 (1995)—are inspiring, but aren’t always the ticket for a novel.

This is what I’ve come up with so far for my books.

EMBATTLED

Aliens take over Em’s life. Trouble is the guy in charge is a rookie. Of course he messes up.

EMPOWERED

Jasmine is convinced she’s invincible. The visions she experienced as a child told her so.

EMBRACED

Abby believes the clickings she hears in the fillings of her teeth are messages from aliens. She’s right.

EMBROILED

Emily is obsessed with the notion of going “up there.” She arrives to a world in crisis. Saving it and the man she loves is up to her.

Mali to Mexico and points in between (coming soon)

I have to tell you a story. Snippets of a life well lived.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading reviews – a huge mistake?

419

I’m reading 419 by Will Ferguson—a powerful story, well told, with turns of phrase that delight.

Storms without rain. Winds without water. She woke, and when she sat up, the dust fountained off her and the voice that accompanied her once again stirred, once again whispered, “Get up. Keep walking. Don’t stop.

Vivid imagery abounds.

Zuma rock denoted not only the traditional geographical centre of Nigeria-the “navel of the nation” as it was known-but also the border between the sha’ria states of the north and the Christian states of the sough. Zuma rose up, rounded and sudden, on striated cliffs etched by a thousand years of rainfall and erosion. The ridges carved down its sides were the sort of lines that might be left by acid or tears.”

A woman from Canada, a girl from the north, a young man from the Delta, and a 419er. How will the lives of these disparate characters be woven together? I’m fascinated, enthralled, eager to read each evening, yet dreading the end, dreading the time when the story will be only a memory. The narrative makes me cringe and cry. I know this is a book I will read more than once.

I email my young Nigerian friend to tell him about the novel. He responds:

“ 419 – an internet scam organized by Nigerian scammers (aliases: Yahoo Boys, G-Boys). 419 is an alias that dates back to the past (I believe 1994-1997) in Nigeria, when innocent people, mainly teenagers, were repeatedly abducted and killed. Their bodies or body parts were then used for big money rituals.
I’ve come across painful remarks on Twitter, Facebook, and some other interactive sites about Nigerians being fraudsters. That they target white people and rob them of their money using various means; including telling them pitiful stories just to incite their help.”

I’m about three quarters of the way through the book at this point and the urge to learn more about Ferguson’s research can no longer be ignored. Googling proves to be a huge mistake. The first items that come up are reviews from highly respected sources, and while they don’t lambaste the book, they do contain enough negative comments to diminish my pleasure in the reading and cause a rather sour feeling.

I turn away from the computer in disgust, push the reviews out of my mind, and return to my Kindle. I refuse to let someone else’s opinion color my own judgment, my own enjoyment of the novel.

Sitting now, writing this, I wonder if I should stop writing reviews. Am I guilty of spoiling another’s enjoyment, of perhaps causing someone, because of my arrogance, to dismiss a novel without even giving it a chance? Conversely, does a review I write of a book I love convince a reader to pick up that book only to find that it doesn’t work for them? What makes me think I can or should pass judgment for another reader?

But the author in me craves reviews. They’re our “word of mouth” and vital to marketing. If we’re to have sales at all, we need people talking about our books, reviewing them, recommending them to fellow readers.

Amazon sends me emails. “So, Darlene Jones, how did this item meet your expectations?” Do I answer? What do I say? My own sister, daughter, and aunt don’t always like the books I deem worthy of their time.

Yes, I did write a review for 419. Book buyers may or may not read it. They may or may not take it to heart in their decision making, but I’ve decided writing reviews is my obligation to fellow authors. It’s my “word of mouth” gift to them. I hope readers of my books will do the same for me.

Old books can charm or revolt

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If stranded on a desert island and only allowed one book, I’d take Mixed Marriage written by Elizabeth Cadell and published in 1963. Written in diary format, it’s the story of a young English girl about to marry a young man from Portugal. Doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, does it? So why is it so special to me? The writing style is superb, the characters lovable, the story line intriguing, and, most importantly, the portrayal of family spot on and timeless. Uncle George huffing about as patriarch of the family could be your uncle. And, it’s funny, often laugh out loud funny. Here’s a snippet of the bride meeting the groom’s family.

After lunch, entire disappearance of everybody; all reappeared for dinner, with addition of Ana, Valeria and black-clad companion known as Senhora Dona Beatriz; in all fourteen at table; Mama said with obvious sincerity that so nice to have little family party.

Another charmer is The Blue Castle, written by Lucy Maude Montgomery and published in 1926. While depicting an era foreign to us, it too has a timeless quality that sucks us into the story of Valancy’s love and adventures. Colleen McCullough was accused of plagiarizing The Blue Castle when she wrote The Ladies of Missalonghi, and indeed, there are passages that seem to have been lifted almost word for word.

I liked another oldie, Jim the Conqueror, written in 1929, so much that I searched for other books written by the author, Peter B. Kyne. I found one called The Pride of Palomar which turned out to be an unbridled racist rant.

I’ve tried other authors like Wilkie Collins and found those books to be unbearable reading now even though I liked some of them when I was younger.

Scrolling through the thousands and thousands of books available today, I wonder what people fifty to eighty years from now will think of our efforts. Will our novels still be available to readers then? And, if so, will our stories charm or revolt?

The Power of Books

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As a CUSO volunteer, I taught school in Bamako, the capital of Mali. When I traveled to Mali many years later, I was invited to the school I had taught at as a guest speaker for the English as a Second Language students. I would be the “document authentique.”

I visited the grade 11 and grade 12 classes. I promised I would answer any question they asked as long as they used English. The students astounded me. They asked about racism, abortion, women’s rights, our political system, and differences between Canadians and Americans. They were curious about my reasons for being in Mali and about other countries I had visited.

When our Malian friend, Raymond, came to Canada I decided to take him to school with me as guest speaker in my French as a Second Language classes. I explained who he was and told my students that he was an Olympic athlete, coach, and, at that time, an Olympic level referee. I encouraged them to ask any questions they liked. They wanted to know if it was hot in Mali and what he ate. He was gracious with his replies. I decided that their limited language skills were getting in the way and offered to translate. The questions were still banal. Disappointed with the kids, I took Raymond home at noon. There was no point in putting him through more of that.

What bothered me then, and still does, was the great divide between the two groups of students. Some of that may be attributed to age differences. The girls in Mali were seventeen-year-olds and my students fourteen. But I’m not convinced that’s a good enough excuse for their complacency and the superficiality of the questions they asked.

Can I chalk it up then, to the affluence of our society, to the ease with which our every desire is satisfied as contrasted with Malians who grow up facing daily hardship—the hunt for food, for firewood, for water…?

What, if anything, would make a difference for our students? When I ask myself that question, books loom large in my mind as the answer. I grew up in a poor home. We always had enough to eat, but certainly didn’t have extras. A five-cent comic book once in a while was a huge treat: the fat twenty-five cent comic rare and treasured. Books, when I could get my hands on some, were life to me then. They still are.

For me, reading is a deep and satisfying activity. Novels spark my curiosity, teach me about the world, about people—character, motivation, emotions. Books make me think and wonder and ponder.

Is that what’s missing in the youth of today? Engrossed with all the available social media—and not having to worry about their very survival—are they missing deeper meanings and understandings? Would reading books make a difference? I think so. Books do have power—more power than some people would like. Why else would they be banned or burned?

“If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson.