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Author Interview Writing Life

Interview with Author Jeyna Grace: On Wordbuilding and Retellings

Today we are joined by Jeyna Grace – author of The Slave Prince, The Battle for Oz, and Whispers of the Wind.

Welcome, Jeyna! The Slave Prince and The Battle for Oz, both deal with retelling well-known stories, with a fantasy twist. Can you tell us a little bit about what that process is like and why you are drawn to this style of writing?

The process often begins with a question of ‘what if’. What if these worlds coalesced? What if there was magic? What if I retold the entire adventure in another place and time? Then, when an idea hits, I give it a go.
Honestly, I’m not too sure why I enjoy retelling stories. Perhaps it has something to do with pushing my imagination to the next level—challenging myself to see beyond a well-trodden tale. Or maybe, it might have something to do with how I started honing my skill—Harry Potter fan fiction was my go-to when I first decided to write more frequently. It could also be because I grew up with the original adventure—as with the case of The Slave Prince—that I simply wanted to add my own twist to my favourite childhood story. 

Tell us a little bit about your writing routines. Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?

My routine changes with the season. During busier times, when my day job requires more brain power, I’ll endeavour to complete one chapter a week. In which case, I will write the first half of the chapter on one day, edit that half on another day, write the second half on that same day, then edit the second half before the week ends. Thus, being one chapter closer to finishing the book. On a less mentally taxing week, I’ll try to get in two chapters a week with the same write, edit, write, edit model. As for the word-count, I usually aim for a minimum of 2,500 words a chapter—occasionally pushing over 3,000 if I’m feeling adventurous.

As I have other forms of writing—additional articles and short stories on a weekly basis—there will be some weeks where I don’t write any chapters at all. But then again, on long breaks from work, I find myself on a roll—completing chapters one day after the next. So really, the routine changes with the season.

Have you ever destroyed any of your first drafts and started a story from scratch?

I haven’t destroyed first drafts but I have abandoned some. They have been relocated to a folder of ‘unpublished works’ for keepsake. And whether or not I dive into them again, only time will tell. At the moment, there are more exciting quests to embark on.

How do you think your writing style has changed over the years?

For the better! I’ve learned to build denser worlds, dive deep into character motivations, and steer clear from cliches as much as possible. Through the years of writing, I’ve learned that a story isn’t just a story. I cannot merely write it as it is—I have to truly live it out. And if I cannot see, hear, smell, or feel it, neither can my readers. So whenever I write, I don’t just endeavour to be flowery, I strive to create something tangible in the minds and hearts of every reader too. But honestly, I still have a lot to learn. At the very least, I now know what it means to show and not tell.

What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your books?

Wow, there are just so many! With The Slave Prince, specifically Alpenwhist, I drew inspiration from Croatia—their stone walls, ember rooftops, and cobbled streets. But with Meihua—a realm from my newest trilogy—I drew inspiration from my travels to South Korea, Japan, China, and Taiwan. Thus why I love traveling!

As much as it is about the food, travelling gives me the opportunity to gaze upon the natural landscapes and distinctive architecture. Sure, I can Google them—I frequently do since I can’t time travel—but being ‘there’ allows me to live it out. Furthermore, the out of norm experiences allow for a more in-depth world-building through a recollection of said events. So, if I were to summarize with one consistent real-life inspiration for all my works, I would say… it’s my real-life experiences.

What do you love most about the writing process?  

I love finishing it—the feeling of having accomplished something. The satisfaction of pulling through to complete a story. What I love the most about the writing process is the end of writing—when the story is released to the world. So I guess it’s safe to say that one of my favourite sentences—in all of my books—is ‘the end’. After all, the end is but the moment before a new beginning.

What do you do to market your own books yourself? Any advice on that front?

Despite earning a living as a Content Strategist in a digital agency, I’ve yet to find a lucrative way to market my books. So instead, I’m marketing myself. After discussing with a few people in the marketing industry, I’ve realised that authors should spend more time marketing themselves instead of their books. You see, you can only do so much to pitch a story in hopes that it resonates with a reader. But, if you are—as an individual—someone people want to support, you don’t need to exhaust your efforts into pitching your work. If people like you enough, I believe they will naturally buy your books.

My advice to fellow creators is to spend less time selling copies and more time building a brand that people can resonate with. And, do so in a genuine manner. After all, we have the innate ability to spot insincerity. So focus on creating an image that reflects who you truly are and your story, and let your works sell themselves to those who believe in you.

What book(s) are you reading at present?

I recently completed The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Cho. And boy, did I love it! Having only read books set in foreign countries, it was nice to finally dive into a book set in my own. So if you haven’t heard of this book, you might want to check it out. It has an interesting plot—one that had me flipping one page after the next during the Lunar New Year. As for what’s next, I’m eagerly waiting for the Escape anthology to arrive in the mail!

When can the readers expect another book from you? Any details that you can share?

Well… I recently completed Book 2 of my trilogy! But when to expect the launch of this trilogy, I can’t tell. And not because I don’t want to but because I recently uploaded the entire manuscript of Book 1, Whispers Of The Wind, on Swoon Reads. So if you’d like to read it, you can! And guess what? You don’t have to pay a cent—you can read it for free!

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Robb is the king of Zeruko. He, and his twin sister Myra, ascended the throne after their father’s passing. According to many, King Daemon—arch-nemesis and ruler of Tentazoa—murdered the late king. But despite the claims, Robb believes his father is still alive. With a desire to bring his father home, Robb leaves Zeruko with his trusted friend Spion. The pair travel to the realms of the universe through the magic of raindrops. From the hazardous trip behind enemy lines to the festive East Asian-esque Meihua; from the kingdom hovering above the clouds to the military-driven Bevattna; from the heterogeneous society of a tunneled realm to Robb’s duel with the heir of Tentazoa, every step in his journey uncovers a gem of his past, present, and future. And in one foresight, Robb learns of the daunting fate of Zeruko. (Read Now @ Swoon Reads: https://swoonreads.com/m/whispers-of-the-wind/)

What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with or follow you (website, blog, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.) and links?

I frequent all my social media platforms, so readers can get in touch with me on whichever platform they feel most comfortable with. My inbox is also open to anyone who wants to share their thoughts on any of my works or have questions they’d like to ask. But, if you only had to pick one, I would suggest Facebook—it’s where I share snippets of my writings and broadcast personal thoughts through weekly videos!

Links:

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Best Of This Month's Reads Uncategorized

Writing Bloc’s Best of January 2019: Contributors Share Their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads January 2019 Edition. Welcome to the sixth post in our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of January, we hear from Michael, Becca, and Jacqui. Still not sure what to read next? Check out Writing Bloc’s 2019 Writers as Readers Challenge.

Michael’s Recommendation – Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Black and white image with young girl levitating inches above the ground.I love weird stuff, I’ll admit it. And this book sounded weird from out of the gate, which made me surprised that it had become popular enough to not only become a bestseller, but to be produced into a Tim Burton film. There is something to the presentation of this book alone that piques the curiosity, and though the old adage of “don’t judge a book by its cover” should apply, I still knew I’d be reading this book as soon as I laid my eyes on it. It’s filled with odd and creepy old pictures that the author collected over time and strung together to make a story. I thought that was a cool and unique approach to writing a book, and I must say, it paid off.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children pulls off a haunted vibe without the story being horror. After his grandfather dies in a gruesome manner, Jacob, the sixteen year-old protagonist, is set on following clues his grandfather left behind to discover an old orphanage in Wales. At first, all Jacob finds is the bombed out ruins of the orphanage, yet there are indications that the children may somehow still be alive nearby. After hunting for clues and searching the small island, Jacob soon finds himself in an entirely new world confirming all the stories his grandfather told him – stories he was sure were nothing more than fairy tales.

The story is mysterious, creepy, unique, and downright strange. It has its own brand of thrills I’ve never encountered in another book. I’m not saying this book is the peak of every aspect in its story, but it is definitely effective in its choice of storytelling elements. I’m definitely looking forward to continuing the series. The fourth book, A Map of Days, was just released.

Becca’s Recommendation – How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer

George and Irene’s mothers created them to be soul mates– but are they? This is the central question of How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky, the second novel from the author of Shine, Shine, Shine. 

The book explores the ideas of fate and compatibility through George and Irene’s story, from before their births until they meet again as adults, when they are both astrophysicists. What results is an enjoyable, smart romance novel, though Netzer’s approach is a twist on the genre.

Unlike other books which on their surface appear pulpy and end up having a deeper meaning (I’m thinking Laney Wylde’s After Twelve series–legal dramas that surprise readers with a deeper theme of racially motivated police violence), How to Tell does the opposite. On its surface a deep artsy book, at its core, Netzer gives readers a satisfying love story.

Jacqui’s Recommendation – Art Matters: Because Your Imagination Can Change the World by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

“We have an obligation to read for pleasure. If others see us reading, we show that reading is a good thing. We have an obligation to support libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not support libraries you are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.”

– Neil Gaiman

When this little number arrived in my mailbox, and I promptly curled up on the couch and read it in about thirty minutes. Neil Gaiman has held onto his place as one of my favorite authors for over fifteen years (so much so that my son is named after one of his characters in Stardust). Art Matters is a collection of Neil Gaiman quotes and longer passages, accompanied by illustrations from artist Chris Riddell.

It is enchanting from start to finish, and a must-read for all writers and artists out there who have ever struggled with imposter syndrome and how to define success. A wonderful book to keep on the side table for those times when you just need a few words of encouragement to put you back on the right path and to remember that what you are doing matters.

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Writing Life

Writing Bloc’s New Year’s 2019 Writing Resolutions

It’s a new year, and at Writing Bloc we’re taking the opportunity to set some intentions for 2019, both as a group and individually as writers. Expect Writing Bloc to grow throughout the year as we continue to find additional ways to support the writing community. We checked in with a few of our contributors on what their goals are for 2019. Also, don’t forget to check out Becca’s Writers as Readers Challenge.

Becca’s 2019 Writing Resolutions

My writing resolutions are to finish the edits for Rock of Ages, do a second draft of my second novel or draft a third, and read– a lot. The edits bit is hard since it depends on pleasing someone else. It’s not something entirely in my control. And I know it will be hard to pull myself away from RoA to focus on something else but I’m sure it will also be refreshing. I learned last year how important keeping up my reading habit is for improving my writing, and I’m upping my goal to 24 books this year.
Having three big goals is a bit overwhelming, so I’m really just pushing myself to work every day, even if it’s just a little bit. I think (and hope) that if I just keep going, I’ll get to everything.

Cari’s 2019 Writing Resolutions

At the end of 2018, I learned that my adjunct professor gig for spring 2019 was going to a doctoral student. While I hope to be teaching again in the summer or fall, I’m trying to look at this as an unexpected gift of time. I am on my third draft of How to Remember, and I’d like to turn that in during the first quarter of the year. I’m also finishing the first draft of my second novel, The Enigma Variations. I signed up for a “Book in a Week” challenge – actually, that’s next week! So we’ll see how many words I can knock out then. I’m looking forward to editing another anthology with Writing Bloc as well. On a personal note – I’m kind of a workaholic, with a plate that’s more than full most days. My goal is to be easier on myself this year, leaving some space for discovery and wonder.

Jacqui’s 2019 Writing Resolutions

2018 was a big year for me as a writer. My first novel The Seclusion hit shelves, I completed NaNoWriMo in November, I started co-hosing WordPlay Radio in Asheville NC, and I teamed up with five of the most authentic, amazing people I’ve ever met to play a hand in starting Writing Bloc.  From beginning to end, 2018 felt like a whirlwind. A positive whirlwind, but still one that left me struggling to remember what routine looks like. In 2019 I would like to slow down, and bring more intention to my writing. I am going to aim to read every day for ten to twenty minutes before I begin to write, and write by hand every day. I’m easily distracted…. sorry let me log off of twitter here and finish this thought…. and I find that when I write by hand the words flow more easily. On a personal note, I’m also going to strive to cut down on the whole caffeine addiction thing.

Michael’s 2019 Writing Resolutions

After allowing myself a good reflection on 2018, I realized that it was an enormous year that started with struggles but finished strong (I’ve detailed it somewhat in my most recent blog post). The reason I finished strong was thanks to gathering a great group of positive friends and influences around me with Writing Bloc. Thus, my first resolution is to keep that momentum going. I will stay heavily involved in Writing Bloc and push this thing to be as big and helpful to other writers as I can make it. Of course, my major writing goal is to finish my novel, The Man Who Stole The World, and I’m pushing myself with that already. Otherwise, I will continue to read a ton, write even more, and push away the negative. 2019 will be a great year, I have no doubt.

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Best Of Lists This Month's Reads

Writing Bloc’s Best of November: Contributors Share Their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads November Edition. Welcome to the fifth post in our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of October, we hear from Jacqui, Robert, Michael and Becca.

Jacqui’s Recommendation – The Humans by Matt Haig

Humans, as a rule, don’t like mad people unless they are good at painting, and only then once they are dead. But the definition of mad, on Earth, seems to be very unclear and inconsistent. What is perfectly sane in one era turns out to be insane in another. The earliest humans walked around naked with no problem. Certain humans, in humid rainforests mainly, still do so. So, we must conclude that madness is sometimes a question of time, and sometimes of postcode.

Basically, the key rule is, if you want to appear sane on Earth you have to be in the right place, wearing the right clothes, saying the right things, and only stepping on the right kind of grass.

I was first introduced to Matt Haig when I read his book of essays, Notes on a Nervous Planet. I instantly loved his writing style, and wanted to give one of his novels a try. I’m thrilled that I did, and I’m sure I’ll be reading his whole arsenal in the future.

I read The Humans in about three sessions, and it was a blissful combination of raw emotion and comedic timing. The Humans tells the story of an alien who takes over the body of a mathematician who is on the brink of a life-altering discovery. His mission? To stop this discovery from getting out to the general public by silencing anyone who knew of the breakthroughs that the mathematician had made. .

Through the lens of this extra-terrestrial, the reader views the human species – quirks, faults, and all. Through this novel we answer the question – why would anyone ever choose to be human?

 

Robert’s Recommendation — Redshirts by John Scalzi

Cover of Redshirts by John Scalzi

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that:

  1. every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces
  2. the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations
  3. at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.

At first glance, Redshirts appears to be a simple spoof of Star Trek, specifically, “What would happen if the often-memed ‘redshirts’ realised their only reason for existence was to die dramatically on an away mission?” This alone would make the book worthy of examination, but I came to realise it was more. The premise may be whimsical, but Scalzi has written a solid narrative that stands alone, even if you’ve never watched an episode of Star Trek.

I listened to the audiobook version of this novel, narrated by Will Wheaton (Will-Friggin’-Wheaton narrating a Star Trek spoof people!), and it was brilliant. You can read more of my thoughts here.

 

Becca’s Recommendation — The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas took over my mind for the two weeks it took me to listen to the audiobook. Every night at bedtime, I would eagerly plug in my headphones, excited for the next chapter. It was hard to turn it off to go to sleep. Thomas brings the realities of police brutality to life through the eyes of Starr Carter, a sixteen year old girl who witnesses her childhood friend killed during a traffic stop.

Starr confronts the arguments we hear all the time– her friend’s life didn’t matter because he was a drug dealer, police officers are scared too, if people just obeyed the law, things like this wouldn’t happen, and more. And through Starr, we see incredibly clearly the fallacy in all of these.
Thomas shows the complexities of Starr’s life in the hood, and the codeswitching she must perform to assimilate in her wealthy white school, in a way that helps white readers like myself challenge their assumptions about race and poverty.

Especially moving is the tribute at the end to real victims of police violence. Viewing this major problem in our country through the eyes of a relatable young character makes the serious subject matter digestible and approachable This book should be required reading at every high school and college, and really, for every person in the U.S.

 

Michael’s Recommendation – A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Wow. I was blown away by this book, and I have no idea why it took me so long to read it. Not only is this a jaw-dropping analysis of the human condition, the role of free will versus societal blending, and evil itself, but the novel is written in an amazing and unique form. Written in first person, the story takes you through the perspective of Alex, who is a fifteen year-old in a dystopian future in which he and his “friends” get together and commit crimes and perform acts of violence on random people. When Alex’s friends turn on him and leave him to be caught by police, he is sentenced to fourteen years in prison for the murder of the woman whose house he was caught at. Interested in a shortened sentence, Alex agrees to be the first in an experimental “Ludovico technique” in which he is trained to be physically repulsed by violence and acts of criminality.

The novel is beautiful in that it includes Alex’s own dialect and slang, called Nasdat, which incorporates a wide enough vocabulary for some versions of the novel to include a glossary. However, the way the story is written and the events are described, there is no need for a glossary while reading. The character’s actions and perspective are clear enough that you can finish an entire page and look back at it realizing that you aren’t entirely sure of the meaning of half the words on the page, yet the understanding of what was written is clear as day. It’s a short book, and a real horrorshow to read.

An extra bit worth mentioning if you read A Clockwork Orange…

The version I got was at a secondhand store for a dollar. It was printed in 1972. The book is split into three parts, each consisting of seven chapters, or so I expected, but the third part in my version stopped at chapter six. I was curious about this and found out that copies of the book printed in the United States prior to 1986 omitted the final chapter, and this is the version Stanley Kubrick’s film is based upon, as well as the version Anthony Burgess loathed. I hopped over to the library and read the last chapter, and I can say that both versions of the novel are quite interesting. If you pick up a copy with the 21st chapter, stop at 20 and consider your thoughts before finishing the book as the author intended. Interesting stuff, indeed, and worth a conversation over. Either way, read this book.

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Lists

Recommended Reading for a Post-Trump Future

When I was coming up with this reading list, I toyed with several different directions that I could go. I considered a reading list comprised of novels loosely related to mine. Perhaps consisting of science fiction or dystopian reads with political themes, but with a slightly different twist. I considered other dystopian novels inspired by current events at the time they were written. Then, while turning to my bookshelf for inspiration, I thought about the various books I have reached for these past two years. About the books that helped keep me grounded or allowed me to open my eyes to the experiences of others when I was craving precisely that. I realized this was the type of list I wanted to build.

I hope a few of these books find their way onto your bookshelf, and that you reach for one when you need it. Whether you want to blanket yourself with inspiring words when anxiety is on the rise and the news is moving too fast to keep up with, or when you’re seeking to stretch those empathy muscles by pushing beyond your comfort zone, or you simply want to read a poignant story about the beauty of monarchs and the importance of conservation—this reading list is for you. Happy reading!

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

“Reading isn’t important because it helps to get you a job. It’s important because it gives you room to exist beyond the reality you’re given. It is how humans merge. How minds connect. Dreams. Empathy. Understanding. Escape.”

― Matt Haig, Notes on a Nervous Planet

In this series of essays, Matt Haig tackles anxiety in the age of social media and news overload. If I had to select one book to sit on tables in doctor’s offices, mental health facilities, dentist’s offices, salons, that weird spare room at the mechanic’s next to the vending machine, or anywhere else someone is left waiting… it would be this one.

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

More and more, as I think about history,” he pondered, “I am convinced that everything that is worth while in the world has been accomplished by the free, inquiring, critical spirit, and that the preservation of this spirit is more important than any social system whatsoever. But the men of ritual and the men of barbarism are capable of shutting up the men of science and of silencing them forever.”
― Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here

Originally written in 1935, this novel that explores how quickly democracy can be dismantled stands the test of time.

Hope Nation: YA Authors Share Personal Moments of Inspiration, edited by Rose Brock

“So what is Hope Nation? Simply, it’s a collection of unique and personal experiences shared by some of my favorite writers for teens. Stories of resilience, resistance, hardship, loss, love, tenacity, and acceptance—stories that prove that sometimes, hope can be found only on the other side of adversity. I’m so grateful to each of these talented writers for sharing their own paths to hope.”

― Rose Brock, Hope Nation

As with any compilation, some essays hit harder than others, and with a collection like this one, readers will certainly find those that reach out and pull them in for personal reasons. My favorites included The Kids Who Stick by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely, Don’t Listen to the A**Holes by Atia Abawi, and Baseball Pasta by Christina Diaz Gonzalez.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

“It’s hard not to feel humorless, as a woman and a feminist, to recognize misogyny in so many forms, some great and some small, and know you’re not imagining things. It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you’re going to float the fuck away. The problem is not that one of these things is happening; it’s that they are all happening, concurrently and constantly.”

― Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist

In the current climate, talking directly about sexual assault, feminism, and misogyny has to happen if progress is to be made. Roxane Gay gives us the opportunity to approach these heavy topics with a dash of humor, and to recognize we are all human and we aren’t going to get it right 100% of the time.

All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds

“Had our hearts really become so numb that we needed dead bodies in order to feel the beat of compassion in our chests? Who am I if I need to be shocked back into my best self?”

Jason Reynolds, All American Boys

This moving YA novel, written from two vastly different perspectives, transports the reader into the middle of the Black Lives Matter movement and the ongoing fight for racial equality in our country.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

“Being privileged doesn’t mean that you are always wrong and people without privilege are always right. It means that there is a good chance you are missing a few very important pieces of the puzzle.”

― Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race

If you’re ready to dive head-first into race relations(and learn about privilege, police brutality, microaggressions, and bridging the gap), this book is for you.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

“Science doesn’t tell us what we should do. It only tells us what is.”

― Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior

This is my favorite novel tackling the topic of climate change. Follow a young-woman’s paradigm shift as she discovers her family property now falls within the flight path of migrating monarchs.

American Like Me by America Ferrera

“I was beginning to learn that bravery is like a muscle, and once you flex it, you can’t stop. And being authentic requires a lot of bravery.”

— Reshma Saujani, American Like Me

Compelling first-hand accounts of what it is like to grow up in America for those who may not always feel like they meet the standard mold of an American. Voices such as Lin-Manuel Miranda and Issa Rae chime in.

 

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Best Of Lists This Month's Reads

Writing Bloc’s Best of October: Contributors Share Their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads October Edition. Welcome to the fourth post in our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of October, we hear from Jacqui, Michael, and Robert.

Jacqui’s Recommendation – Women Like Us by Jason Pomerance

My recommendation this month is Women Like Us, an endearing debut by author Jason Pomerance. Pomerance’s writing is rich and engrossing, and he draws you into the world he has created with a gentle ease. I truly enjoyed his style and will be picking up anything Pomerance comes up with in the future.

Women Like Us follows the story of a woman in her 30s who is re-examining certain choices she made in her past. She then sets out on a mission to reconnect with her teenage son, who is being raised by her ex-mother-in-law.

Each chapter of Women Like Us was so packed with self-reflection-inducing emotion, that I found myself feeling a bit like a freshly squeezed orange each time I closed the book for the day. There were multiple times I thought the story was veering towards a cliche, but Pomerance time and again flawlessly weaved in a different direction. I found myself wanting to know more about what inspired Pomerance to create these deeply-developed and refreshingly-human characters. A breezy but powerful read that suggests it is never too late to right past wrongs and encourages expanding the traditional definition of family.

 

Michael’s Recommendation – Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers

Respect the children’s picture book genre.

I have read a couple of other books this month, both of which left a great impression on me, but neither could compare to this incredible piece of literature. I have a couple of young kids, and we picked this up from the library based on a librarian’s suggestion (can never go wrong with that, in my experience). After the first reading, we almost immediately popped over to Amazon to grab a copy for ourselves. The love for this book swelled within us that quickly.

Yes, I know, you’re probably thinking that you wouldn’t get a children’s book unless you have children, but I urge you to at least give this book a chance by reading it in your local library, kids or not. Its images and art are unique and wonderful. The perspective is brilliant. And the message is urgent.

It’s not what you’re probably expecting, either. It’s not a book about environmental issues. It does mention to take care of the place, as it’s all we have, but the end message is all about humanity and how we carry on through generations. I’m being intentionally vague so as not to spoil the book for anyone.

But it is as advertised: notes for living on planet earth. It’s a welcome. And its simple messages and reminders are worth revisiting, even as adults. So treat yourself to a children’s book this month, especially if you haven’t read one in a while. Aren’t some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned encapsulated within a book you cherished in your youth?

Robert’s Recommendation – Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff

Cover image from Lifelike by Jay KristoffOn an island junkyard beneath a cigarette sky, a deadly secret lies buried in the scrap.

Seventeen-year-old Eve isn’t looking for secrets; she’s already too busy looking over her shoulder. The robot gladiator she spent months building is a smoking wreck, and the only thing keeping her grandpa alive was the handful of credits she just lost to the bookies. Worst of all, she’s discovered she can destroy machines with nothing more than her mind, and a bunch of puritanical fanatics are building a coffin her size. If she’s ever had a worse day, Eve can’t remember it.

This is my first Kristoff novel and it will not be the last. Wow. This book was so good it blew my mind. There’s a lot of Idiocracy in the world, but… darker. Much darker. In inexperienced hands, this could have come off cheesy, but it doesn’t. The characters are a sarcy delight and the story is an intense rollercoaster. And that ending… Holy Hell.

(Also, Kristoff just recently tweeted he’s finished the sequel.)

Check it out on Amazon and Goodreads.

 

 

 

 

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Author Interview Uncategorized Writing Life

Interview with Rachael Sparks: Author of Resistant

Rachael Sparks is the author of the hard science fiction novel Resistant, which Publishers Weekly called “a scientifically accurate apocalypse.” Resistant takes place in a near future in which drug-resistant bacteria are winning the battle over humanity. Rachael was kind enough to chat with me about science, character development, and writing habits.

In the final battle with drug-resistant bacteria, one woman’s blood holds a secret weapon.

Rory and her father have survived the antibiotic crisis that has killed millions, including Rory’s mother—but ingenuity and perseverance aren’t their only advantages. When a stoic and scarred young military veteran enters their quiet life, Rory is drawn to him against her better judgment . . . until he exposes the secrets her mother and father kept from her, including the fact that her own blood may hold the cure the world needs, and she is the target of groups fighting to reach it first.

When the government comes after Rory, aiming to use her for a cure it can sell to the highest bidder, she’s forced to flee with her father and their new protector. But can she find the new path of human evolution before the government finds her?

Your novel draws from real-world science. Tell us a little bit about your background and what the research process was like for you.

I’m a microbiologist by training, a transplant expert, and now I work in hospital infection prevention with a medical device startup. So my education and career has centered around public health and that experience was half a lifetime of research for several books! For this novel, the research I needed to do was easy in that it was mostly mining my own brain and then confirming my filed-away facts were not yet discredited. Knowing that several friends who are legit scientists would be reading, I wanted badly for them to be convinced.

When did the idea for Resistant first strike you?

I’d wanted to write a sci-fi novel that explored this problem[antibiotic resistance], but a dream of a scene in the climax really inspired the characters. A handsome guy with swaths of discolored skin. . . readers will know his disfigurement plays into the plot but I honestly couldn’t say whether that was already in my mind or came after the dream!

 

Tell us about your protagonist? Are they inspired by someone you know in real life?

Rory is an amalgam of a lot of wonderful people I’ve known. She’s smart and a little unfiltered at times, with a bravery that can get her into trouble.  I wanted her to be flawed, to make mistakes and be mature enough to solve them on her own.

Do you have a favorite character out of all the ones you’ve created?

Yes, I like Navy. He’s not an open book, not easy to read, so he was a challenge to write. I wanted him to be reserved but not aloof, to have integrity despite having made massively bad judgement calls in his past. He’s fun to get to know as I write more about him.


How important is research to you when writing a book?

It’s critical, in my genre. In retrospect I would’ve loved for Resistant to be longer, with more science background explained — an excuse for even more research! So aside from enjoying the process, translating the useful bits into my writing in order to create an absorbing, believable premise is important to me. Science can be unwieldy for some, but the best sci-fi makes it palatable and fascinating to any reader.

Do your novels carry a primary message?

I hope so. My goal is to entertain while also imparting a bit of knowledge that arms the reader, even if only for an interesting fact to drop into cocktail hour.


If given the opportunity to start over, would you change anything in your books?

Ugh. Who wouldn’t? I’d just do more backstory for everything and everyone.


Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you keep a hold of the reigns?

When I’m writing, it feels like it! Even the end of Resistant surprised me, so I credit Rory for that. But more often I feel like I’m a director talking to an actor: “How do you think your character would react?”

Do you often project your own habits onto your characters?

Sure! Our habits are our expertise, too, right? Rory and her father brew beer, for example, and I sorely wanted an excuse to explain how they might have harvested and cultured their own yeast and scavenged ingredients. Alas, it had no plot value.



What other genres do you enjoy reading?

I love a good mystery fiction with a bit of adventure, action romance — couples in peril saving each other is catnip for vacation reading. Magical realism genre is delicious when the authors ground it in theoretical science. I’m still in awe of Deb Harkness’ use of genetics to plausibly structure a tree of life that could explain a vampire!

 

Tell us a little bit about your writing process. Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?

Oh hell no. When I sit down to write, I’ve usually been thinking about scenes for a while, and I first refresh myself on where I left off. But often I’ll also pick a random spot in my MS to re-read, as it helps me keep a consistent mood. And I turn on my playlist for each work in progress, and pretend it’s the soundtrack to the future movie. I don’t judge my progress on words — if it’s something I want to keep reading, I feel successful.

Some writers create a bubble around themselves until they finish a project – how true is that for you?
Gosh, that sounds lovely. I have a 4 year old, a husband I love to spend time with, dogs, career, and other relationships to nurture. Maybe one day I could do that! The closest I get to a bubble is a closed office door on an early morning.


If you were given the opportunity to join a book club with your favorite authors, dead or alive, who would you want to become a part of the club?

Michael Crichton. Emily Dickinson. David Walton. Nora Roberts. Katherine Howe. Jacqui Castle. Deborah Harkness. Celeste Ng. Emily and Anne Bronte. And I’d invite Andrew Mayne, if he promised to entertain us with magic tricks.

Anne and the Emilys would likely clique off, but maybe we could ply them with sherry and put them at ease.

Awww shucks. I would love to be in a book club with you!

What do you do to market your own books yourself? Any advice on that front?

I doubt I have some magical insight here, but I try to promote myself on all the normal channels: website, social media, Goodreads and other places an author profile can be added. Talking about yourself is the pits, so I just try not to take myself very seriously. I think being fun, informative, genuine and engaged is the best marketing.

For advice, specifically to new authors, I say: to make the most of social media as an author, I think you have to abandon rules about friends on platforms. When launching a new book, everyone is your friend. I also suggest they ask themselves before spending dollars in marketing (a website, for example) – how can I measure its return, so I’ll know whether to continue investing there. Analytics and data are your friend!

What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with or follow you (website, blog, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.) and links?

I’m most active on Twitter and Instagram, but Facebook and Goodreads get a daily visit. My website is a great place and goes straight to my inbox!

 

 

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Writing Bloc’s Best of September: Contributors Share Their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads September Edition. Welcome to the fourth post in our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of September, we hear from Michael, Jacqui, and Robert.

Michael’s Recommendation – The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty

“‘I don’t care if you’re black, white, brown, yellow, red, green, or purple.’ We’ve all said it. Posited as proof of our nonprejudicial ways, but if you painted any one of us purple or green, we’d be mad as hell.”

This novel is one of the newest novels I can say changed me. I remember these books growing up, and I’ve had a few claim the “changed me” title within the tail end of my twenties, but it’s been a while since I’ve been able to sit back after closing the back cover of a novel and say honestly to myself while tapping the center of my chest: “Something’s different now.” And I’m still processing what, exactly, has been changed by The Sellout, but that’s the beauty of it: There’s no way I can process it all in one reading. This is definitely a book to have on the shelf and read annually.

But don’t take that as to mean this book is unapproachable. It’s truly the opposite. This story is incredibly approachable, engaging, entertaining, hilarious, and one of the most wonderful pieces of satire I’ve read in my life. Written from the perspective of Me, a black man on trail at the Supreme Court for owning a slave, the novel rushes, ducks, and weaves in between nearly every bit of racism experienced in the past few centuries with incredible wit, insight, intelligence, and flow. Paul Beatty is a master of language. He chucks it around with a curve I’ve never read anywhere before. This novel is equal parts biting satire, concussive commentary, and historically accurate mayhem. I could not recommend this book more.

Jacqui’s Recommendation – Mr. and Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel

My recommendation this month is for Mr. and Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel. I’ve been powering through a lot of heavy reading material lately, and this smart, timely romantic comedy was a breath of fresh air.

I devoured this quirky, delightful story that followed socialite Maxine Simmons from Palm Springs, CA to Scottsdale, AZ. Mr. and Mrs. American Pie was satisfying from the first page to the last and, in several instances, I found myself awkwardly laughing out loud while reading it in public places.

I was hooked into the self-discovery journey of Maxine, a car-crash-that-you-can’t-look-away-from of a character. I’m beyond excited to see this gem adapted to the screen, as it has recently been optioned by Lara Dern and Platform One Media for a TV-series adaptation.

*Disclaimer – Juliet McDaniel and I are both Inkshares authors.

 

Robert’s Recommendation – Space is Cool as Fuck by Kate Howells

I found out about this book randomly through social media when an author posted about the advanced review copy they’d received. I instantly knew I had to have it and was surprised that (at the time) it was a little hard to track down. Since then it seems to have become more readily available, so you’re all in luck.

If you grew up with a love of space, you’re going to want this book. Gloriously irrelevant yet chocked full of amazing facts and artwork, it is a joy to read and looks stunning in its oversized hardcover format.

Taking all the best bits of science and fusing it all together, Space is Cool as Fuck will be finding a permanent home on living room tables around the world. With a brief history of the whole universe, you’ll be left scratching your head and gazing up in absolute wonder.

Everything you thought you could never understand about the universe is explained in plain-old filthy English. Giving you a little taste of the glorious reality you inhabit by providing an introduction to some of the incredible stuff out there.

I mean, look at this thing!

Pick it up from Amazon (or your favorite book retailer).

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Writing Bloc’s Best of August: Contributors Share their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads August Edition. Welcome to the fourth post in our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of August, we hear from Robert, Becca, and Michael.

Robert’s Recommendation – Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Cover art for Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi AdeyemiMy audiobook this month has been Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi and narrated by Bahni Turpin. The novel is a fantasy that draws on African culture to give us a wonderful new world to explore, full of beautifully realized people and places. It tells us the story of Zélie Adebola, a young Diviner whose birthright was to become a powerful magi — until magic inexplicably left the world.

Read the official synopsis:

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for an enemy.

Everything about this novel is captivating. The characters are deep and complex, the world is detailed, and the plot sings. This is further enhanced in the audiobook by Bahni Turpin’s narration, which is flawless. Children of Blood and Bone has already earned a lot of hype, and been optioned for a motion picture, so you’ve likely heard the title before. If you haven’t read it, I recommend picking up a copy.

You can add it on Goodreads here or order it from Amazon here.

Becca’s Recommendation – Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

My pick this month is Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Midnight at the Electric. This book follows three protagonists, Adri, a young woman who has been selected to colonize Mars in the year 2065, Catherine, who dreams of escaping the Dust Bowl with her ailing sister in 1934, and Lenore, who plans to leave post World-War I England for America.

Anderson’s story navigates between these three women, revealing their connections through letters, stories, and a tortoise named Galapagos.
Midnight at the Electric is a page turner that had me invested in its characters from the first chapter. Anderson somehow manages to seamlessly weave themes of humans’ role in climate change, American and British history, family, and friendship into one epic tale. I found it pretty impressive that she created a story that effectively appeals to fans of sci fi and historical fiction, often blurring the lines between the two.
This book stands alone easily, but I am dreaming of ways Anderson could turn it into a sequel.

Michael’s Recommendation – Calypso by David Sedaris

David Sedaris is a national treasure. I realize that it’s odd to say this, as he usually lives in England. However, Calypso renewed my confidence in his national treasure status, as most of the book follows events surrounding an oceanside home he and his husband bought in Emerald Isle, North Carolina. And in true David Sedaris style, he christened said home the “Sea Section.”

If you’ve read Sedaris’s previous work, then you know what you’re in for. It’s embellished memoir pulled from bits and pieces of his life told in a style that is easy to fall in love with, soothing to read, and laugh out loud hilarious. If you haven’t read any of his work before, then what are you waiting for?

While the “Sea Section” is the thread pulling each story together, Sedaris fills the book with wonderful stories following such topics as adopting a fox, saving a tumor to feed to a sea turtle, how people cuss each other out in traffic in different countries, and oh so much more. Despite the seemingly disjointed and bizarre topics I just listed, Sedaris has a talent for pulling everything together to make you smile on every page. He’s a master of his art; one of those writers who can move from silly laughter to heartache in moments while allowing you to enjoy it all. If anything, this book, like all of David Sedaris’s books, is so amazing simply for its sweet, brutal honesty.

Now go read.

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Writing Bloc’s Best of July: Contributors Share their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads July Edition. Welcome to the third post in our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of July, we hear from Becca, Jacqui, and Michael.

 

Becca’s Recommendation – We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

I came across We Are Okay on a list of the best young adult books of 2017. It lives up to the recognition.

 

Most of the book takes place over the course of three days as Marin, a young woman struggling with the passing of her grandfather, is visited over winter break at her college by her best friend Mabel, who Marin has ghosted– left behind without notice, ignoring all her texts.

 

I didn’t know this was the premise when I downloaded the audiobook, and if I had, I would have been even more eager to check it out. My own best friend of over 20 years “ghosted” me, leaving me grasping for music or literature that describes the painful experience. We Are Okay conveys the situation from the point of view of the person ignoring her close friend, which I found strangely comforting. It is not, the book makes clear, about a lack of love for her friend. It is actually the opposite, as Marin loves Mabel so dearly she aches.

 

My only complaint about We Are Okay is that it didn’t explain clearly how Mabel planned her visit to Marin. LaCour makes it seem like Marin has ignored all of Mabel’s attempts at contact and yet they somehow coordinate a cross-country visit. In spite of this, though, LaCour has crafted a lovely, moving novel.

 

We Are Okay explores themes of grief, loss, family, and home, in a touching and realistic way, and for many, these themes will shine most brightly. For someone who is grappling with the loss of a friendship and coming to terms with that relationship ending without answers,  LaCour has created a novel that allowed me to do vicariously what I have imagined so many times– show up on my friend’s doorstep, not to demand an apology, but to tell my friend that I love her.

 

Jacqui’s Recommendation – Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood has been on my to-read list since it hit shelves in 2016. The story delves into some intense and eye-opening subject matter – taking place in South Africa during the fall of apartheid and educating the reader on the complexities of politics of South Africa and race relations during that time. Trevor Noah’s father was Swiss, and his mother Xhosa, and Trevor’s very existence was considered illegal at the time of his birth, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. Noah delivers his story of struggle and navigating a dangerous society with a brilliant mix of comedy and humility, bringing the listener from laughing to crying and back again many times over as he tells tales of kidnapping, abuse, pirated music, and celebrity impersonation.
 
The book is laid out as several personal essays and Noah’s relationship with his mother is a continuous thread throughout the book. It is heartwarming and inspiring what the two of them made it through together, and through many of the events are atrocities that none of us would ever hope to live through, Noah delivers his story without bitterness and instead fills it with strength, comedy, and hope.
 
While I almost always opt for reading a physical book over listening to an audiobook, I generally make it through about one audiobook a month. This is one of those rare stories that I have to recommend experiencing in audiobook format. If you are a fan of Noah, you won’t want to miss him narrating his own story.

 

Michael’s Recommendation – Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan

I first heard about this book from author Peter Ryan, who said that it was one of his favorite science fiction stories. Fast forward about a year later, suddenly I’m having people ask if I’ve seen Altered Carbon on Netflix. Trust me, I’d like to, but I promised myself I’d read the book first. And I just finished it. Wow. This book is no joke.

Hard-hitting, thought-provoking, and thrilling, Altered Carbon delivers. Written in a fast-paced first person from the perspective of ex-U.N. envoy Takeshi Kovacs, Altered Carbon presents a unique and haunting future in which consciousness itself is transferrable between bodies (or sleeves), making death itself something of the past. That is, if you can afford the procedure.

The story takes place in a 25th century San Francisco (now dubbed “Bay City”), where Takeshi Kovacs wakes up in a new sleeve hundreds of light years from his home. He was brought to Bay City by Laurens Bancroft, a wealthy man who has re-sleeved himself enough times to live for hundreds of years. Laurens hires Takeshi to investigate his “suicide,” as he is convinced he was actually murdered. Under circumstances that make it difficult to refuse, Takeshi Kovacs takes on the assignment, and is launched into a dark conspiracy he never could have anticipated.

The story is compelling, violent, and incredible. I enjoyed reading it even more than I anticipated. And now that I’m finished, I can watch the show and see what everyone is talking about. But, probably not before I read the next novel in the series…you know, just in case. I hate spoilers.

 

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