Say it with flowers: Cozy Mystery Author Beverly Allen on Creating a Memorable Setting

Posted by April 15th, 2014

BLOOM AND DOOMToday’s blog guest is Cozy Mystery author Beverly Allen, whose book BLOOM AND DOOM is the first in a new series starring wedding florist Audrey Bloom. Below Beverly shares with us how she used flowers to boost meaning and symbolism via the book’s flower shop setting.

***

It starts with the cheerful “Welcome, baby!” bouquets. Then the sunny fistful of dandelions we present to our mothers on Mothers’ Day.  Followed by the corsage pinned on awkwardly at the prom and the daisies held in sweaty palms behind the young suitor’s back. Full of promise and joy are the lush roses in an elaborate bridal bouquet. All too quickly follow the “Get well soon!” arrangements, complete with cheery balloons, and finally funeral wreaths. Each momentous step of our lives is marked with flowers.

When writing a cozy mystery with a protagonist who’s a florist–and one that specializes in wedding bouquets–I knew that flowers would be a big part of the plot. But I also didn’t want to lead the reader down the primrose path for no purpose. Flowers can function almost like characters: enriching plot, setting tone, evoking thoughts, even speaking dialogue. If we know the vernacular. Continue reading

Share

Member Spotlight: Meet Romance Writer Jaycee Ford

Posted by April 14th, 2014

Jaycee FordPlease welcome Romance writer Jaycee Ford to the Book Country Member Spotlight this morning! Jaycee, who lives and writes in New Orleans, Louisiana, is working on a series called the “Love Bug” books, and she’s earning fantastic reviews and a serious following. Learn more about Jaycee below, and connect with her on Book Country!

***

Lucy Silag: Tell us about how living in the Big Easy informs your identity as a writer.

Jaycee Ford: New Orleans itself is a character. Being born and raised in a city like no other, you become the city and the city becomes you. New Orleans teaches you to step out of your comfort zone. You do things here that you wouldn’t or couldn’t do in other cities. When I moved away to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, it was beautiful and I loved living there, but I missed home. This is where I began toying with the idea of writing and came up with a story, even started jotting down ideas. I still have that one plotted out, but I never did write that story. I think I lacked the inspiration. When I moved back to New Orleans, the city’s aura buzzed through my veins, and I came up with a story about a cowboy. A few months later, WATCHING FIREFLIES was born. Continue reading

Share

“Being a storyteller is in my genes”: NANOPUNK Author Nathan McGrath’s Origin Story

Posted by April 10th, 2014

Before I came to work at Book Country, I’d never heard of the Cyberpunk genre. As I learned more about it, I came across member Nathan McGrath’s writing. He’s the author of two novels, NANOPUNK and LIGHTNING SEED. I’d heard that many Cyberpunk writers draw inspiration from controversial technology news, and I was curious to learn about how Nathan got started writing in this genre. Here’s what he had to say:

Every book has a “Where it all began” story. Real life is a lot messier. There is no simple narrative or structure, no deeper purpose or destiny. We pick and choose, each one of us. For one reason or another we look back and select this, that or another event, give it a slant and convince ourselves and others that we are really “Telling it like it is.” So is it any wonder peopleare drawn to stories? So neat, purposeful and ordered (well, mostly)?

I can pick out an event here or there and say something like: For me, writing sci-fi all started with taking apart old valve and transistor radios when I was a kid.

NANOPUNK coverOr I could begin with: I’ve always been a voracious reader. I started going to the library when I was around nine. I’d pick up four books and finish them within a fortnight then go back for four more. I worked my way through the science fiction shelf, them moved on to supernatural and somehow found myself going through the psychology section. By the time I started secondary school, I was filling exercise books with spooky sci-fi stories. My other hobby was finding bigger pieces of mechanical junk to take apart.

Or maybe it began back when I worked in factories, warehouses, shops and restaurants. Then I spent around twenty-five years working with vulnerable kids, teens, and families. I’ve worked in chilldren’s homes, hospitals, and family centers; made a helluva lot of visits to all kinds of homes: alcoholics, drug addicts, parents and kids with mental health problems, disabilities, abuse, domestic violence. I came to respect and value the vulnerability, courage and resilience of all the people I worked with. So when I decided to commit myself fully to writing, it came as no surprise that Alister, the main character of NANOPUNK and LIGHTNING SEED, turned out to be a troubled kid struggling with his emotions, identity, and beliefs. Continue reading

Share

Four Ways to Promote Your Book Before Release by Michael R. Underwood

Posted by April 9th, 2014

Attack the Geek Full (2)Book Country Member Michael R. Underwood‘s latest book in the Ree Reyes series, ATTACK THE GEEK, came out this week from Pocket Books. His next book, SHIELD & CROCUS, is due out in June.

***

Figuring out how to promote your book before it comes out is a weird process. When you’re traditionally published, you have a team of professionals working with you, building buzz and anticipation for the book before it hits.

But what does that actually involve?

Every author, every book, and every publisher does things a bit differently, but here are some things I’ve done to try to get my name out into the world and to build awareness of/interest in my books:

  1. Podcasts. I love podcasts. When I was a traveling rep, podcasts and audiobooks were my lifeline, my connection to the SF/F world. As a result, I had a list of podcasts to reach out to and make appearances as a guest. I made appearances on the Functional Nerds, Speculate!, Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing, and the Roundtable Podcast, among others. And last year, I became a co-host on The Skiffy & Fanty Show, while continuing to appear as a guest on others (most recently including the SF Squeecast). Podcasts are great for verbal thinkers and people who enjoy discussion in community (I am one of those people).
  2. Blogging. I used to blog a lot more, when I was a pop culture scholar trying to get into PhD programs for cultural studies/media studies. As a writer, it’s great to share your interests and connect with people who are both readers and members of the same interests/hobbies as you. I don’t blog quite as much anymore, since I spend more of my writing time on prose, but keeping your blog at least somewhat fresh is a good way to slowly build a readership, which then sometimes transfers over to buying your books Continue reading
Share

Member Spotlight: Meet Writer Nigia Stephens

Posted by April 7th, 2014

Nigia Stephens author photo editedI’m excited to introduce Book Country member Nigia Stephens on the blog today. Nigia is a writer of multiple genres, an artist, and a poet with a wide array of curiosities and interests. She’s unafraid to try new things and seek out new paths for her writing–one of my very favorite characteristics in a writer! Read on to learn more about Nigia and her Book Country WIPS ARMS OF ANGELS and THE LOVE OF DANGEROUS CREATURES.

***

Lucy Silag: The first book you posted to Book Country is ARMS OF ANGELS, a steampunk romance set in 1690 Jamaica. How did you come up with the concept for the book?

Nigia Stephens: ARMS OF ANGELS emerged from another novel I’d written, Children of Eden, more than fifteen years ago. I love the unconventional. There are not enough people of color, gays and lesbians, or a heady mix of intelligent-and-sexy women in the world of Fantasy or Science Fiction.  Children of Eden is a space saga that begins in our time.  The protagonist of Children of Eden is a Puerto Rican drag queen named Almond who is a direct descendant of Jovan, my pirate captain in ARMS OF ANGELS. Continue reading

Share

The Art of Letting Go: Nick Bantock and Creativity

Posted by April 3rd, 2014

The Trickster's Hat.jogToday our blog guest is Nick Bantock, the author of the new Perigee book THE TRICKSTER’S HAT: A Mischievous Apprenticeship in Creativity. A wonderful visual artist, Nick’s work breaks through genre conventions to create something truly different in the world of publishing–the most famous example of how he’s done this is with Griffin and Sabine, an epistolary novel fashioned from letters and postcards drawn and painted by Nick. His books feel like the perfect way to pull yourself out of the “same-old” in your routine, and discover something new about yourself as a writer.

LS: Describe for us what our community can get from your book. How does it help jump-start writing creativity?

NB: Sooner or later, as writers or artists we hit a rut. Our work becomes predictable, and we get bored with it. If we don’t find a way to change direction we hit the dreaded BLOCK. THE TRICKSTER’S HAT is made up of 49 exercises designed to help the reader slip-slide into a plethora of new universes. Some of the exercises use words, some images. Interestingly in my workshops I’ve found that it is often the collage that frees the writers and the writing that helps the artists. Continue reading

Share

March Madness: What Authors Can Learn from Athletes by Andrea Dunlop

Posted by April 2nd, 2014

March MadnessTo the uninitiated (read: me) the frenzy surrounding the NCAA basketball tournament can seem like, well, madness. But as my best hope of spending time with my boyfriend this time of year is to settle in for a game or thirty, I figured I’d better give the sport a shot. Somewhere between my diatribe about how Charles Barkley should really reconsider his three-piece suits and choking up during an NCAA commercial, I started to get into March Madness. The thrill of victory! The rivalries! The copious man tears during post-game press conferences!

I’m a sucker for sports. I’ve been both a writer and an athlete for most of my life and in some ways I feel like what I learned on the tennis court has been as helpful as anything I learned in the classroom. You may not think that writing a novel and sinking a sweet three-pointer at the buzzer have much in common, but you, my friend, would be wrong.

Greatness is mostly about discipline
Some people mistake the act of creating for divine inspiration that descends from the heavens, a muse that lands on your shoulder and whispers in your ear. Some think writing is a natural talent that you are born with. To which I say: pffffftttt. Of course individuals are born with varying degrees of innate talent for writing, basketball, singing, clog dancing, or whatever, but that’s only the raw material. The rest is craft, muscle memory, technique. HARD WORK. For writers, this means waking up in the morning and putting your butt in your chair, over and over again, until you have something good. It means reading everything you can get your hands on. It means attacking your writing with the dogged discipline that a point guard practices his free throws. Continue reading

Share

Elizabeth Loupas: Six and a Half Ways to be a Writer Even When You’re Not Writing

Posted by April 1st, 2014

Writers write. That’s true. We’ve all been admonished a million times to park our behinds in our chairs and just write. Sometimes—maybe even most of the time—that’s what we need to do.

But nobody can write all the time, unless you want to end up like Jack Torrance in The Shining, typing pages and pages of madness and hacking down doors with axes. In order to define our writing as writing and hang on to our sanity in the process, we have to have non-writing to surround it. The rich shadowy darkness of creativity is only visible when it’s contrasted with the light of everyday life.

The trick to this is to have an arsenal of non-writing things you can depend on to refresh your spirit. The list will be different for everyone. Here are six things from my list:

Walking. Not power walking for exercise, but just ambling through the neighborhood, picking a different route every time. Sure, the exercise gets my blood circulating, but the solitude, the fresh air, the sunshine (or the rain)—it’s a great way to get away from the computer, but at the same time a terrific incubator for new ideas. I like to recite dialog as I walk, to hear what it sounds like. Yes, the neighbors wonder about me.

Showers. Maybe it’s because I’m a Pisces, but water does a lot more for me than get me clean. The solitude again, the sound, the primitive rushing feel of the water—when a particular plot point is blocking my progress, it’s amazing how often I figure it out in the shower. I keep a notepad in the bathroom so I can get things written down before I forget them. I tried one of those waterproof-notepad gadgets but I kept dropping the special underwater pen. If I get a really good idea I just scramble out of the shower and drip all over everything while I write.

9780451418876_large_The_Red_Lily_CrownStargazing. I learned the constellations as a child, but you don’t have to know Ursa Major from Cassiopeia to appreciate the enormity of the night sky. After a while it makes writing-related problems seem much less important. You can muse on what your characters would see and think at night—the stars will be pretty much the same (well, in the northern hemisphere…and a star map will show you constellations in the southern hemisphere) to anyone in any time and place. I thought of this when I wrote a scene for THE RED LILY CROWN in which my heroine awakens from being drugged and abducted and looks up at the sky to orient herself:

There, that was the North Star, just as Ruan had taught her. Her own stars, the curling tail and spread claws of the Scorpion, were on the opposite horizon, so that was south…

I felt that scene because I knew what the sky would have looked like, deep in the darkness. Continue reading

Share

Member Spotlight: Meet Space Opera Writers Matthew Snee and Gregg Chirlin

Posted by March 31st, 2014

Matthew Snee and Gregg ChirlinToday we’re chatting with Matthew Snee and Gregg Chirlin, longtime friends and collaborating writers who are working on a Space Opera series called TO BRAVE THE CRUMBLING SKY, Volumes 1 and 2.

LUCY: You’ve been collecting feedback on TO BRAVE THE CRUMBLING SKY: Volume 2, The Oldest War, for a little while now. What’s happening with Volume 1?

MATT: We realized after writing Volume 2 that Volume 1 needed desperately to be not only revised but rewritten. It’s not easy to begin an epic story (7 volumes are planned) such as this, and as you move along you realize a lot of changes that need to be made retroactively. Also, Volume 1 was the beginning of our collaboration, and so the writing is not up to par with Volume 2, written after we’d had more practice. However, we’ve just posted the first few chapters of Volume 1 to Book Country, recently revised.

GREGG: We’ve just about finished rewriting Volume 1, though, and are beginning the editing stages. It took us a while to get where we are with it because rewriting is just not as fun as writing, even if it is essential! But at the same time, we’re brainstorming and fleshing out the plot and characters of volume 3, which is a lot more exciting for us. Continue reading

Share

Writing the Dark Stuff by Jenn Crowell

Posted by March 28th, 2014

ETCHED ON MEMy latest novel, ETCHED ON ME, is an at-times-gruelingly intense story of a young woman’s recovery from self-harm and fight for her right to be a mother. The book didn’t start out that way, though.

It began as a touching but mild-mannered tale of a couple navigating their relationship along with an international adoption. Then I read about a real-life custody battle in the UK, and thought it might make a small, poignant subplot. When my fictional young mother upstaged the couple, I decided to rewrite the book using multiple POVs, giving each situation equal weight.

All the while, I knew deep down that the book had the potential to go frightening places that I didn’t want to visit. What I wanted was a tidy ending in which the heavily pregnant young mom escaped in the nick of time. I wanted to feel safe in my literary choices. The thought of writing a scene in which a mother has her newborn taken away by a social worker gutted me as a mother. “I can’t do that,” I kept protesting to my writer friends. “No way could I handle it.”

But then my mentor in my MFA program, Leonard Chang, leveled with me. “This is extremely professional work,” he told me, “but you’re ducking the heart of the real story.” He suggested I try writing Lesley, my young mom, in first person. Let her talk simply but honestly about the prospect of losing her daughter. Continue reading

Share