Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2

Greetings! Welcome back to this week’s edition of the Friday Fiction Feature. To make you forget the trials, tribulations, and deadlines of the workweek, we have a lineup of the fantastic and the remarkable. Crime, tragedy, drama, humor, and a talking squirrel, we’ve got it all!  ____________________________________________

 

content burns

Content Burns | Stephanie A. Smith

First up is a writer we have featured on the reboot before: with the author of Warpaint we now bring you Content Burns. 

“Content Burns” chronicles the parallel stories of two women from the same family, who bear the same Puritan name, and who are separated by three centuries. They are unknown to each other, but both women must learn how to survive historical traumas that changed the course of American history.

The first Content Burns, born a Pequot Indian, was originally named Asawanuw (Corn-silk), survives both a small-pox epidemic and the Pequot Massacre as a child. Given in servitude to the colonial Burns family, she converts upon her marriage into that family and takes the name Content as a sign of her acceptance of her fate. But she finds she cannot escape the after-effects of the massacre of her family and her tribe in 1637 at Mystic, Connecticut, a massacre that significantly altered relations between the English, Dutch and tribal peoples, and contributed to not only the bloody King Philip’s (Metacomet) War, but also to the much later witch hunts that rocked the New England coast.

And the contemporary Content Abigail Burns, nicknamed Cabbi, survives, purely by accident, the loss of the Twin Towers on 9/11, having swapped her restaurant shift with a co-worker. Damaged by the fluke of her survival, Cabbi is still healing from that trauma as she nurses her dying mother, and searches, as Content Burns before her, for a new way forward.

Follow the progress of these two distant, but not dissimilar women when Content Burns is released on April 1st 2014.

Hollow WorldHollow World | Michael J. Sullivan

Moving out of the past and into the future and beyond, Michael J. Sullivan’s Hollow World takes readers through time, space, and their own minds.

Ellis Rogers is an ordinary man who is about to embark on an extraordinary journey. All his life he has played it safe and done the right thing, but when he is faced with a terminal illness, Ellis is willing to take an insane gamble. He’s built a time machine in his garage, and if it works, he’ll face a world that challenges his understanding of what it means to be human, what it takes to love, and the cost of paradise. Ellis could find more than a cure for his disease; he might find what everyone has been searching for since time began but only if he can survive the Hollow World.

For those of you without a time machine of your own, I’m afraid you’ll just have to restrain your rampant desires to read: Hollow World will be released on April 15th 2014.

But never fear! While you’re busy pining away for Hollow World‘s debut, you can slake your thirst for fantastic journeys through time and space with a novel released only 2 days ago!

The Zaanics Deceit | Nina Post

Linguists and history fanatics alike will be entertained by Nina Post’s Zaanics Deceit.  Exiled from her wealthy San Francisco family five years ago, Cate Lyr has struggled to build a new life for herself halfway across the globe. But when her vengeful sisters take control of the family empire and threaten to expose the secrets that her ancestors have safeguarded for centuries, Cate must learn the family’s constructed language, evade dangerous secret societies, and team up with a childhood friend to set things right.

Taking the reader on a journey from modern-day Istanbul to plague-stricken 14th century Paris, from San Francisco’s financial district to the tropical islands of Micronesia, The Zaanics Deceit is the first in a series of novels featuring Cate Lyr and the Væyne Zaanics language. As the first book in this series inspired by Shakespeare’s King Lear, The Zaanics Deceit introduces the reader to the origins and usage of the language, including a functional character set, English pronunciation, and translation!

The Revenant of Thraxton HallThe Revenant of Thraxton Hall | Vaughn Entwistle

If mysteries in the nature of humanity, time, language, tradition, and family is not enough to make you forget your weekday woes, as a final contribution, I offer you (the anticipation of) Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Oscar Wilde in Vaughn Entwistle’s The Revenant of Thraxton Hall

“My murder will take place in a darkened seance room—shot twice in the chest.”

1893 is a tumultuous year in the life of the 34-year old Conan Doyle: his alcoholic father dies in an insane asylum, his beloved wife is diagnosed with galloping consumption, and his most famous literary creation, Sherlock Holmes, is killed off in The Adventure of the Final Problem. It is a move that backfires, making the author the most hated man in England. But despite the fact that his personal life is in turmoil, the lure of an intrigue proves irresistible. Conan Doyle assumes the mantle of his fictional consulting detective and recruits a redoubtable Watson in the Irish playwright, Oscar Wilde, who brings to the sleuthing duo a razor-keen mind, an effervescent wit, and an outrageous sense of fashion.

“The game is afoot” as the two friends board a steam train for Northern England to attend the first meeting of the Society for Psychical Research, held at the mysterious medium’s ancestral home of Thraxton Hall—a brooding Gothic pile swarmed by ghosts. Here, they encounter an eccentric melange of seers, scientists,psychics and skeptics—each with an inflated ego and a personal motive for murder. But as the night of the fateful séance draws near, the two writers find themselves entangled in a Gordian Knot that would confound even the powers of a Sherlock Holmes to unravel—how to solve a murder before it is committed.

However, because it would be too easy to just show you great books you can read todayThe Revenant, like others on this list, is now available…for preorder! You can get your very own copy March 25th 2014.

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated AdventuresFlora and Ulysses | Kate DiCamillo

Last but not least, I present Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses. This is where I should give a glowing recomendation of the book’s merits and unconventional format, but this time I will simply leave you with the reason I could not leave this particular title behind: there is a talking squirrel named Ulysses.

Holy unanticipated occurrences! A cynic meets an unlikely superhero in a genre-breaking new novel by master storyteller Kate DiCamillo.

It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry — and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart. From #1New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format — a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black-and-white by up-and-coming artist K. G. Campbell.

(Don’t worry, this one at least is available now)

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Fiction Reboot Presents: Nina Post and Epidemiology

FictionReboot2_posterWelcome back to the Fiction Reboot!

Today, we are joined once again by Nina Post, author of One Ghost Per Serving. Nina is a Seattle-based author who has also written Danger in Cat World, The Last Condo Board of the Apocalypse, and The Last Donut Shop of the Apocalypse. In her latest, however, Nina returns to the world of One Ghost–and the troubled and sometimes nefarious world of food safety. Humorous and witty, Nina’s writing looks at the incongruities of life–and also of health. In researching for this new release, she has crossed into the equally engaging world of science and medicine, and particularly epidemiology. Given the blog’s twin focus on fiction and medical humanities, I have asked Nina to elaborate on the interstices of fiction writing and research. It just goes to show: medical history is hiding behind every corner, and it enriches the texts of which it is part. Thank you, Nina, for joining us!

Don’t Even Think About Calling it the Stomach Flu: A Look at Epidemiology and Extra Credit Epidemic

Taffy Snackerge is the main character in my next book, Extra Credit Epidemic. Even at the age of twelve — when she made her first appearance in One Ghost Per Serving — Taffy was obsessed with zoonotic and emerging infectious diseases, and suspicious of restaurant workers, food that wasn’t boiled, and animals. If forced to eat at a restaurant, she would read the health inspector’s reports beforehand. As a votary of science, she did her science fair project on microbiota and found it fascinating that the girl she liked was impervious to foodborne pathogens (must’ve been a mutant gene).

In Extra Credit Epidemic, Taffy is a high school senior and remains fixated on infectious diseases. She’s considering a career in public health, despite her stunning lack of diplomacy when interacting with the public. In Epidemic, she falls for the detective, not just the scientific, aspects of outbreak investigation.

While researching some of the scientific topics that play a role in the book, I read several outbreak investigations and talked with a state epidemiologist via email. Though I had a pretty solid understanding of food safety and foodborne pathogens before writing Epidemic, working on the book raised my level of awareness and context. I found a few key resources of information and models for outbreak investigation in addition to the CDC. These included the Indiana State Department of Health’s Epidemiology Resource Center, and the Minnesota Department of Health’s Foodborne Diseases Unit. I used ProQuest to find the detailed accounts of outbreaks and some ancillary material.

As it turns out, the most common cause of foodborne-disease outbreaks in the U.S. — norovirus — is often referred to incorrectly as “stomach flu” (a phrase that Taffy hates). Norovirus isn’t related to influenza, which is a respiratory illness caused by influenza virus. I also refer to listeriosis and e. coli infections in the book, mainly as payoffs in a scene where Taffy has to prove herself by doing something she thought she’d never do. But as the epidemiologist I spoke with pointed out, it was more feasible that a salmonella outbreak would be under the radar and would allow my team in Epidemic the latitude of pursuing it on their own.

That’s not to say that salmonella isn’t a concern. According to the CDC, approximately 42,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the U.S. every year. Because milder cases aren’t diagnosed or reported, the actual number of infections may be considerably greater. In Epidemic, Taffy’s close watch on public health surveillance data turns up a salmonella outbreak she wants to investigate — although she’d rather not have to leave the lab. Her teacher — a former epidemiologist — says he’ll help her on one condition, which forces her way out of her comfort zone.

In Epidemic, I highlighted how health departments are often woefully underfunded. This helps create the circumstances in which a team of high-schoolers can accomplish what the authorities can’t. For example, public health departments reported 1,527 foodborne disease outbreaks during 2009 and 2010, resulting in 29,444 cases of illness, 1,184 hospitalizations, and 23 deaths. That’s a lot of ground to cover.

Extra Credit Epidemic is scheduled for release in July. Whether or not readers are approaching the book with any prior knowledge of food safety, I think the story will appeal to both YA and adult audiences alike.

Fiction Reboot Author Interview: Nina Post

Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot Author Interview!

Today we will be featuring a new author from Curiosity Quills Press, the publisher mentioned in last Tuesday’s guest blog. As always, the Fiction Reboot is committed to hosting and featuring many different kinds of writers at different stages of their career. We have great authors coming up, including Lucienne Diver (author and agent for Knight Agency) and Stephanie Smith (novelist and academic), as well as another new CQP author, Michael Shean, whose work began as serialized online fiction. Stay tuned for unique perspectives on the writing life! Presenting: Nina Post

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AUTHOR BIO

Nina Post PictureNina Post is a fiction writer who lives in downtown Chicago. Her early cultural influences include Steve Martin’s comedy albums, Chuck Jones, The Muppet Show, and MAD magazine. Parlor tricks include speaking in ‘trailer guy’ voice, reciting the periodic table in less than a minute, and Enneagram typing. She likes spending time with her husband, reading, running, and information gathering.

Nina’s writing falls under the categories of urban fantasy and contemporary fantasy, combining supernatural elements with realistic characters and a comedic tone. Her debut novel, The Last Condo Board of the Apocalypse, was published by Curiosity Quills Press in the Winter of 2012, followed by One Ghost Per Serving in the Summer of 2012.

ONE GHOST PER SERVING

One Ghost Per Serving, by Nina Post - Cover

ONE GHOST PER SERVING by Nina Post

Possessed by Rex, a mischievous spirit, Eric Snackerge’s life has careened out of control. Losing his scholarship and getting blacklisted from the legal profession are just the start – now his best-friend-turned-enemy is in danger of stealing away his family, too.

An unusual contest may be his last chance to make his daughter’s dreams come true. But he’ll have to overcome his own self-doubt — not to mention the seemingly impossible odds — in order to achieve that goal.

As Eric and his ghostly companion soon learn, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill sweepstakes. When the sponsors begin dispatching spy cameras, attack helicopters, and the kitchen sink – all to make sure that Eric doesn’t get any further – it becomes clear that the contest is only the first phase of a much larger, sinister plan to spread a supernatural pathogen throughout the food supply.

Do Eric and Rex have what it takes to foil the villains’ plan and protect the Snackerge family from becoming the next victims?

AUTHOR INTERVIEW

1. I have always identified with the Asimov quote: “I write for the same reason I breathe—because if I didn’t, I’d die.” Does this describe you? Could you say a bit about your early writing experiences?

If I don’t write for a few days, I get testy and restless, just like if I don’t go running. Writing fiction has been an impulse since I was very young, and arguably I’m addicted to the process. I have pushed it aside before, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. With that said, breathing is probably more important to continued survival.

I’ve always been a voracious reader, bringing the maximum number of books home from the library, getting shipments of books in the mail through reading clubs, and ravaging the book fairs at school. I wrote my first story at age seven, wrote more little stories, then tried my hand at a novel when I was thirteen. The only thing I remember about it was showing up to a home office every day in the summer and getting it done.

2. Not unlike many an author, I come from an academic background where writing fiction is a somewhat closeted affair. Can you talk about when you decided to “write for real”—that decision to write for publication and give this work the time and energy it so deserves? In your opinion, what does it mean to be a ‘professional writer?’

Despite some minor success in college, I only really started to focus on writing in 2010, when I wrote The Last Condo Board of the Apocalypse. I wasn’t sure if I would do anything with it, though I intended to write another book. But my husband encouraged me to submit to publishers. Several were very interested, and I’ve been focused on writing ever since.

Being a ‘professional writer’ means being disciplined, and setting standards and goals for yourself. It means behaving well: being nice, being prompt, being reliable. It means understanding that not everyone is going to like what you write, not taking it personally, and appreciating what you have while striving to accomplish more and challenging yourself. It means committing to a word count or other goal, and it means taking a day off each week to recharge.

3. One of my recent YA novels is primarily comedic (Jacob Maresbeth is a medical vampire, more interested in homecoming than the details of his condition—or the designs of the nefarious hematologist). Your work is very humorous—but also fantastic and supernatural. Could you say a bit about this combination?

What I most want to accomplish with my books is to give the reader a satisfying story with characters they care about and find interesting. Beyond that, I would love for any book of mine to make the reader laugh and take their mind off their problems for a little while. When I was nine or so, I became a huge comedy fan and listened to comedy albums dozens of times. I knew standup routines and funny bits of movies by heart and would perform those over and over. I think that strange hobby really informed my love of humor, but also minor characters, and my care in making them pop.

I grew up reading a lot of fantasy and the supernatural. The fantastic gave me a wide palette of characters, and there’s something about taking a monster and giving them human traits that really appeals to me. It’s a fun way of exploring what it means to be human. However, I’m moving into writing different types of books that will still have elements of humor.

4. I am a researcher as well as a writer (medical history). Your website includes researching as one of the things you enjoy doing—could you say a bit more about this? How do these things inform your work?

Oh, I love research! It’s an integral part of my process, starting from the concept phase. My favorite aspect of research is talking with someone who works in the field that I’m writing about. I’ve used that method with a number of books now. I always make sure to prepare by doing plenty of reading on the subject before I approach them, because I respect their time and want to make sure I’m asking things that I couldn’t easily find in another resource. ProQuest is also a great tool: it’s basically an online research and news service that aggregates historical articles from thousands of publications.

The information I collect is always much more than what goes into the book. My intention is to carefully choose details that add to the story, contribute richness and a verisimilitude, and fit with the characters. Research also gives me a lot of ideas, both for characters and plot, and within the story.

For The Last Condo Board of the Apocalypse, I looked into window washing, spy gear, angels, and HVAC systems. One of the building engineers gave me a tour of the HVAC system and the roof of the building, where I had set a few scenes. For the sequel, I did quite a bit of research on what Chicago was like immediately after the Great Fire. For One Ghost Per Serving, I researched the grocery distribution chain, foodborne pathogens, and more. For recent books, it was epidemiology, high-rise fires, and the state park system.

5. Could you give us your opinion about social media? The online world of networking?

Social media can be wonderful, and it can be frustrating. It can make your day and it can make you rant in the kitchen like Malcolm Tucker on ‘In the Loop.’ I keep it simple, like I do with most things — I’m not in it for scale. Twitter gives me an opportunity to support and connect with people who make things I like, whether those are books, podcasts, reviews, blogs, movies, or music.

The negative side is that on the days you’re feeling bummed, it seems as though everyone else on the planet is getting an excessive amount of whatever you think you’re missing. Those are the days when you need to avoid it. As important as it is to not compare yourself to others, there are days when you don’t need to test that.

6. Every writer has a different writing strategy—or so I tell my novel-writing students. How do you approach the writing process? Revision? Writers’ block?

I work on one thing at a time. I like to think about my idea and the characters I have in mind while running or walking. I make some notes, do a little research, tie down the crucial beats, then write my outline and four-act treatment. In Scrivener, I keep a one-page document that contains the title, the logline, the internal and external goals, the theme, the broad character arcs and motivations, the stakes, the core conflicts. This document keeps me on track. There is a misconception that outlining impedes organic growth. I have plenty of organic growth with an outline, even when it’s very comprehensive.

For a first draft, I have a daily minimum word count of 2,000 for every weekday (though I’m more often in the 3-4,000 range), and I put in some writing on Saturday. I do a first draft without polishing, then go right into a second pass. This is when I flesh out settings and descriptions, add more detail, make sure the chronology makes sense and that the setups are paid off. My husband reads and edits my output every day. Then, I give it to the editor and start on the next book. When I get the manuscript back, I do a careful final pass.

As for writer’s block, sometimes you just need to recharge. What works the best for me is exercise, especially when I need to think something through. My other main recharge activity is watching my favorite movies and TV, which sparks ideas. Other things that help are music, doing more research and reading, and going to a museum.

7. As the mentor for a university writing club, I often preach to my students about the value of networking and workshopping. Could you say a bit about your own responsive readers and mentors? Your approach to criticism?

My husband is my primary reader, aside from my editor and publisher. I have experience workshopping stories in fiction writing classes in college. In my Second City writing class, I had the pleasure of watching people in the class perform my sketches, which was amazing and useful. My parents were my first mentors, for their strong work ethic, their confidence, having a house full of classic books, and giving me a grounding in the arts and in business.

When it comes to criticism in reviews, I’m laissez-faire. I tend to read only a few reviews, and I have my own standards for what I’m doing. When it comes to notes, I’m flexible, but I’ll do what feels right to me.

8. Do you have advice for new writers on “breaking in” to the publishing world? Or upon the need/value of agents?

Just keep writing and learning, and work hard. When I began submitting, I focused on independent publishers and contacted them directly. I didn’t consider submitting to agents for a number of reasons.

As a writer, you need to take charge of your career and have at least a basic familiarity with the typical clauses you’ll find in a publishing contract. Whether or not you work with an agent, lawyer or other advisor, make sure that you understand what the contract says. If you don’t like something in the contract, don’t be afraid to speak up about it. Any reputable publisher expects to negotiate their contracts, and if they tell you the terms aren’t negotiable, that’s a big red flag indicating you might want to look elsewhere.

9. Who do you consider your inspiration? (Literary or otherwise?)

My husband, who is the best possible partner a writer could have. My family. Other inspirations (this is a grab bag of people and works) include Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Alexandre Dumas, Jacobean literature, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Parzival, Bradbury, Pratchett, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, Nora Roberts, Withnail & I, Bloom County, Pete & Pete, The Middleman, The X-Files, Bruce Lee, Joss Whedon, Jim Henson, Disney and Pixar, Tim Schafer, movies of the 1980s, mythology, the natural world, travel, the landscape of my childhood, etc.

10. Finally, are there any forums, books, blogs or other sites and services you would recommend to new writers?

My recommendations are usually movie-focused, because it’s easier to learn structure from movies than from books. The two novel-writing books I recommend are Stephen King’s On Writing and Annie Lamott’s Bird By Bird.

I recommend Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat series, which really helped me with structure. Other helpful resources are Wordplayer.com, Jennifer Crusie’s site, and Scriptshadow.com.

I also recommend a few podcasts: Popcorn Dialogues (“watching movies to write better novels”), Writing Excuses, and Scriptnotes.

Thank you so much for the opportunity, Brandy. If anyone would like to know more about me or my books, they can go to http://www.ninapost.com, or find me on Twitter at @ninapost.

Thank you, Nina!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Friday Fiction Feature!