Friday Fiction Feature

Welcome back to the Friday Feature!

The Power of Readers:

Yesterday, I had an enlightened conversation with a media studies colleague  about the relationship between authors and readers. New media, she was explaining, has changed the way we interact. Many publishing houses ask their authors to do some self-promotion, and Twitter and FB have made authors more accessible to their readers. No longer is the author hidden behind the hedge of imprint; they are there, blogging, tweeting, talking about their life and writing.

But this practice is both new–and old. In the 18th century (and 19th, too, really) there was a symbiotic relationship between those who wrote and those who read. Many texts were circulated heavily among friends before they hit the press, and the reader feedback for Samuel Richardson’s now-classic Clarissa is almost as famous as the book itself. Charles Dickens, who wrote serially, was also influenced (perhaps less directly) by peer and reader response–and as an actor, tailored his dramatic readings to his audience. What we have seen with new media, I think, is a return to that symbiosis. Readers and writers together create worlds, and venues like this one (partly through your suggestions) help bring new books to the attention of the public.

And so, as I list the featured fiction today, let me thank all of those who made recommendations this week! You are part of the grand design!

Recommended Reading!

Just released this week, BLOODLINE is the latest from author James Rollins. Praise and recommendation for the work has been lighting up my twitter feed since Tuesday (and a number of folks I follow claim to have been up all night reading it!) The plot:  Infiltrating an ancient citadel (in Galilee, 1025), a Templar knight uncovers a holy treasure long hidden within the fortress’s labyrinth: the Bachal Isu — the staff of Jesus Christ — a priceless icon that holds a mysterious and terrifying power that promises to change humankind forever. A millennium later, Somali pirates hijack a yacht off the coast of the Horn of Africa, kidnapping a young pregnant American woman. Commander Gray Pierce is enlisted for a covert rescue mission into the African jungle. The woman is no rich tourist: she’s Amanda Gant-Bennett, daughter of the U.S. president. Suspicious that the kidnapping masks a far more nefarious plot, our protagonist (Gray) must confront a shadowy cabal which has been manipulating events throughout history…and now challenges the current presidency.  Get your copy today! And follow Rollins on twitter @jamesrollins.

My own top pick for today is from China Mieville. I confess that Moby Dick is my favorite novel (and that I try to convert my students to a similar way of thinking). I actually published an article recently called A Fish’s Scale on the subject. So, naturally, I am in love with this work. In his new novel, China Mieville brings Moby-Dick to dry land. The world of RAILSEA consists of continents and islands linked by train tracks (these are the railsea), and populated by frightening creatures (enormous mole rats, “greatstoats,” meat-eating earwigs). Captain Naphi of the moletrain Medes, for example, pursues Mocker-Jack, an “old-tooth-colored … great southern moldywarpe” more often rumored than seen: “There’s nowhere I’d go and nothing I’d not cross to reach it,” she says. Our hero and guide to the Medes is young Sham Yes ap Soorap, reluctant apprentice to the train’s doctor. When the Medes investigates a wreck, Sham finds a film clip that serves as a treasure map, and perhaps a metaphysical key to the origin of this world. (Oh, Queequeg!)

This next series–CAL LEANDROS (Nightlife) by Rob Thurman–has been a long-standing one, though the latest, Doubletake, was just released this year. My friend and colleague Andrea Wood recommended it to me–she has been following this series and several others represented by the Knight Agency (and Lucienne Diver) for years. She has kindly offered up her praise for this urban fantasy (and retake on the changling myth):

I have been an avid follower of the Cal Leandros series since the first book (Nightlife) came out. Thurman does urban fantasy at its best, creating compelling characters in the two tightly bonded Leandros brothers who deal with monsters in NYC on a daily basis–all while trying to escape the specters of their past. The novels are fast-paced, with a cast of side-characters you will also come to love, and filled with a measured balance of snarky humor, angst, and action. While the plot lines are always interesting, it is really the characters that shine in this series and keep me coming back for more!

I have mentioned this one before, but it bears repeating. Barry Lyga’s I HUNT KILLERS asks the all important question: What if the world’s worst serial killer…was your dad? Jasper (Jazz) Dent is a likable teenager. A charmer, one might say. But he’s also the son of the world’s most infamous serial killer, and for Dear Old Dad, Take Your Son to Work Day was year-round. Jazz has witnessed crime scenes the way cops wish they could–from the criminal’s point of view. The Fiction Reboot has the privilege of hosting this author for an interview in the near future; stay tuned!

Finally, I would like to share the recommendation of another friend and colleague, Carsten Timmerman. Though not a new release, this one is well worth coming back to. He suggests the modern German fantasy: Otfried Preussler’s ROBBER HOTZENPLOTZ trilogy (first volume published in German in 1962; English translation 1974). Carsten is reading Hotzenplotz 3 in two-chapter installments to a five-year old at the moment–enjoying every minute! Preussler also wrote interesting books for young adults. Krabat is an excellent example (not suitable for five-year-olds!) You can read a review by Erin Horáková here.

Thank you once again for checking in–and please, lets keep the symbiosis going! Send you recommendations between now and next Friday to this blog (by comment) or to my twitter feed @bschillace. I can also be reached via email through my website.

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Next week:

  • Monday: Advice about agents
  • Tuesday: Keeping to the writing schedule (from a researcher/professor/editor now revising two YA series at once–sigh!)
  • Wednesday: Second installment of my Here Comes Troubelle mini-series
  • Thursday: Interview with Alex Grecian, The Yard
  • Friday: The Fiction Feature (all about you, dear readers!)

Fiction Reboot: Author Interview with DAVID BAIN

Welcome once again to Thursday’s author interview at the Fiction Reboot! Today we are featuring David Bain, author of numerous books and short stories. I first became familiar with David through his work on Gray Lake, an independently published novel of mystery, crime and supernatural horror. He was kind enough to speak with us today about writing, about inspiration, and about navigating the new  (and still largely uncharted) waters of eBook publishing.

Thank you, David, for giving us your insight into the writing life!

Author Bio

David Bain is a community college English professor and a writer with more than 100 traditionaly published stories and poems to his credit in venues as diverse as the academic journal Poems and Plays and Weird Tales magazine. He is also the independent author of the crime/horror novel Gray Lake, the Will Castleton series of psychic detective stories, and several short story collections. He lives in the country with four dogs, four cats, two chinchillas (and several other humans). You can follow David on twitter at @davidbainaa


Gray Lake

Teenage friends Brian and Iggy suddenly find themselves living the ghost stories and urban legends they love one night as they watch a car drive across the moonlit surface of GRAY LAKE. At the same moment, in the marshes to the north, the battle for dominance over a troubled gang of small town meth dealers begins. For Iggy, the car’s arrival heralds a downward spiral as he dreams of its sometimes lovely, sometimes ghastly occupants chauffering him into murky depths.  Soon the mysteries of the ghost car, coupled with the unstable gang members’ obsessions, will drive them toward fateful choices, hurtling headlong into a violent and deadly showdown on the spectral shores of Gray Lake.

–Available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

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.” Could you say a bit about your early experiences?

I’m definitely with Isaac! I don’t know about death, but I get cranky if I don’t write a little every day. I did well enough with English in high school, but the full-on writing bug didn’t bite me until college. I had a couple creative writing profs who tried to dissuade me from the genre side of things, but I simply never listened to that.Early experiences: I was a big-time Dungeons and Dragons player – I think my earliest serious writing probably involved creating new D&D magic items, characters, adventure modules and the like for my friends, and the reactions were always pretty good. I think gaming is a fantastic introduction to world-building – your campaign has to be consistent for the players; it has to have an interior logic or the players balk and start withholding the chips and beer – or, even worse, don’t show up for the next session.

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?

I’ve been submitting stories for publication since my late teens. My very first college creative writing teacher emphasized that real poets and writers send their work out. So I did. I can’t think of a time since then that I haven’t been serious about it. I’ve been very, very busy with “real life” from time to time – one semester my goal was to write only 100 words per day; I was working as an assistant in a special ed classroom during the day, teaching college English every night but Friday, and working 32 hours every weekend. But I did manage a couple eventually published stories during that time.

3. 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 go for 500 words per day minimum, usually more. That’s usually not too tough to squeeze in – though, for instance, we spent yesterday at a zoo three hours away, so that day, while fun, was shot as far as writing’s concerned, so I’ll have to make it up today.As for revision, I’m a big believer in sticking it in a drawer if your deadline allows and revisiting it after a fortnight. I at the very least do a read-through and have beta readers. I know the rule is to cut, but I almost always add during rewrites. I do a lot of revision as I write – I often write a sentence, then fix another two or three sentences back.I do not believe in writer’s block. If I’m stuck, I’ll simply free-write, no attention to form, grammar, spelling, just speed, keep those keys a-clackin’. If I lack an idea, I’ll brainstorm, but that’s rare. Usually I’ll write about what I’m writing about – the scene or story or novel –  until a solution occurs; I’ve *never* had that not work. And I save every bit of that freewriting – you never know when some stray idea will come in useful.

4. 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?

I try to ignore criticism, but if you have several people saying the same thing, my ears start perking up. But I also have a thick skin; I trust my gut. I’ve been fairly lucky with reviews and even workshop criticism, but writers need to develop the knack for telling good advice from bad. As they say, “Haters gonna hate.” My own strategy when teaching writing is what worked best from my classes at my alma mater, Columbia College Chicago – I have students orally retell scenes from each other’s stories. This avoids direct “I hated it” criticism and helps students see what stuck with readers and what they glossed over as well as other possible ways to tell or construct their tale.My schedule and wallet tend to resist conferences and conventions, but I’m passionate about networking on social media. I really can’t say how many books I’ve sold thanks to Twitter, but I can say, for instance, that every five-star review on Amazon for my novel GRAY LAKE is unsolicited – and written by someone I now consider a Twitter friend. I respond to all tweets that look sincere; it’s a fun place.Regarding mentors, I can say I’m still in touch with professors from every level of education I’ve had – community college, my B.A. in English, my M.F.A. in creative writing. I sometimes find myself speaking in their voices when I teach. The best mentors teach by example as well as by instruction, I think.

5. You often publish in ebook form. How would you compare this to other kinds of publishing venues? Do you have advice for new writers on “breaking in” to the publishing world? Or upon the need/value of agents?

I spent twenty years or so in the small press before self-publishing my first ebook. And GRAY LAKE is my first and only previously unpublished work I’ve put out there – it was to have been published in the small press, but that fell through, as so often happens there.. While slapping a cover together and tossing your latest story out there amongst the chum floating around in the great sea that is Amazon’s Kindle selection is easy, submitting stories to even the smallest e-zines gets your name out there, builds confidence, teaches you to think of your audience, teaches you to strive for quality. I’d much rather buy an ebook by someone who can claim most of the stories in their collection were previously published – any decent publication will eventually return the rights to you – that’s when you put it into an ebook. That said, for right now, I plan to self-publish at least my Will Castleton psychic detective novels – even though all the original stories came from small press anthologies.Agents: my only experience with them has been shopping GRAY LAKE around to them. Several wanted to see more after the initial summary. To a man, they said, “Good stuff, but no one’s publishing that sort of thing right now.” So I found a publisher on my own, and when that fell through, self-published it to generally favorable response and relatively steady monthly sales – though I’m talking gas money, the Florida mansion will have to wait. The indie thing seems to be working for me, and I love the creative freedom, but I can’t say I’ll never pursue getting an agent again.

6. Your works are so diverse! You write in a few genres—urban fantasy, mystery, crime, etc. Can you tell us about your experience as a cross-genre writer and what it takes to be successful?

First of all, I purposely immerse myself in many genres at once. I’ve never believed any kind of split truly exists between “literature” and “genre” – they all require different strengths and writerly emphases, but I’ve never found one genre to truly “feed my soul” as a writer more than any other. Right now, for instance, I’m reading books by Philip Roth and Rex Miller, nonfiction by Joan Didion and short stories by Joyce Carol Oates (my favorite writer, incidentally. There’s *nothing* that woman can’t do with words!). In the car, I’m listening to a novel by Michael Chabon, interspersed with old time radio horror (“Suspense”, “Lights Out”, “Inner Sanctum”) and mysteries (I’m working my way through all the Bob Bailey episodes of “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar”). I do this with music too, by the way – typing this my Windows Media Player (always on random) has jumped from The Misfits to Chuck Mangione to Toby Keith to The Cocteau Twins.Quite simply – I write what I’d want to read. The books no one else is writing, at least not to my satisfaction. There’s no genre that can’t influence another genre.I don’t even know that I’m what many would call successful – that’s such a slippery word, especially in the writing world – but I’m relatively happy doing what I’m doing. To be honest, I think being successful involves not quitting. I can’t count the number of friends who were simply on fire in my creative writing classes throughout my academic experiences who just didn’t stick with it. The mad poet now sells cars, went to a weekend workshop last year hoping to reignite the spark, hasn’t written a line since. The guy who wrote three novels as I agonized over two stories now happily works in the IT department, doesn’t even know where his old manuscripts are, wishes he could find the time to write, though he’d probably watch ESPN instead.

7. Crime and mystery novels never go out of style, in my opinion. But could you tell us how you keep your work fresh and new, cutting edge?

Right now I’m working with a series character, “slightly psychic” detective Will Castleton. There are four short stories and a novella about him already out there, collected in THE CASTLETON FILES. These stories happened organically, written more or less to order for anthologies some time ago. As I reread these stories while getting them ready for the collection, I realized they happen over perhaps two decades of his life – there’s a big arc in his interior world, his love life, his outlook, the cases he’s willing to handle throughout just these five stories. My intent now is to write novels filling in the blanks. Will’s inner and outer conflicts are utterly fascinating to me – that’s what keeps the work feeling fresh and new as far as I’m concerned – and I hope readers will feel the same. It comes down to this: if the characters aren’t interesting, the most twisty-turny, in-depth plot will simply plod. As a reader, I’ll give a book 30 pages – if I’m not enthralled with a character in those pages by that time, I move on.

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

I mentioned Joyce Carol Oates above. Although she’s famously clashed with a number of her critics, she seems to effortlessly transcend any label that’s put on her – she’s a female writer, yes, but writes whole novels from a flawlessly male point of view. She’s a literary writer who is published in Weird Tales and Ellery Queen and any number of genre anthologies and has won the World Fantasy Award. Poetry, nonfiction, plays – no form is beyond her reach. Her output rivals the prolific speed of any pulpster, but she’s won the O’Henry and National Book Awards and often been on the Pulitzer and even Nobel short lists. Her critics can (and do) say what they want about her work, but to me, this lifelong attention to craft, this immersion in and love affair with writing is inspirational.

9. Gray Lake, because of its Gothic feel, has endeared itself to me. Which of your novels do you consider the favorite and why?

I think Gray Lake will always be my favorite. Writing the book exorcised a certain darkness I lived with for a decade or so – call it an attitude, an outlook, fueled by various chemicals, by people I should probably never have hung out with, by feeling sorry for myself, etc. I’m very much a different person these days because of writing Gray Lake. I doubt that’ll happen too often from here on in – though I could be wrong!

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

 The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a good one to keep you on track when you’re feeling down about writing. I read J.A. Konrath and Dean Wesley Smith’s and Jon F. Merz’s blogs for insights on the ebook revolution, but I don’t adhere to them as a religion or anything. I believe in being swept up by whatever you find intriguing, by whatever you find works for you. If an author, forum, etc., clicks in your head, run with it!

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Don’t forget, tomorrow is the Friday Fiction Feature! Please let me know if you have suggestions for summer good-reads–I am getting quite a list now!

Fiction Reboot Author Interview: Tessa Harris

FictionReboot2Author Interviews: The Writing Life

For today’s Fiction Reboot, I have the privilege of hosting Tessa Harris, author of The Anatomist’s Apprentice. Considered an exciting and “densely plotted yarn” by the New York Times, this tale of mystery and intrigue follows the exploits of an 18th century anatomist, Dr. Silkstone. Including detailed descriptions of the interior of bodies as well as minds, this novel appeals to the medical humanist in us all. Additionally, this is Tessa’s debut novel; today she will share a little bit about the process of getting genre-crossing works to a waiting public.

AUTHOR BIO

After studying History at Oxford University, Tessa Harris began a journalistic career in Lincolnshire. She progressed to a London newspaper, and later a feature writer on Best magazine. After two years, she was made editor of a regional arts and listings publication, and later deputy editor on Heritage magazine. In 2005 I was made editor of Berkshire Life magazine. Tessa always had literature aspirations, and in 2000 won a European-wide screenplay writing competition for a work later optioned by a film company. The script was set in 18th century London and subsequent research led Tessa to the invention of Dr Thomas Silkstone, an American anatomist and the world’s first forensic scientist.
www.tessaharrisauthor.com
http://www.facebook.com/tessa.author

THE ANATOMIST’S APPRENTICE

The unexplained death of young Lord Crick has unleashed a torrent of gossip through the seedy taverns and elegant ballrooms of 18th century Oxfordshire. Few mourn the dissolute young man – apart from his sister, the beautiful Lady Lydia Farrell. When her husband comes under suspicion of murder, she seeks expert help from Dr Thomas Silkstone, a young anatomist from the wayward colony of Philadelphia.

Thomas arrived in England to study under its foremost surgeon, but his unconventional methods only add to his outsider status. Against his better judgment he agrees to examine the young lord’s corpse. But it is not only the dead, but also the living, to whom he must apply the keen blade of his intellect. And the deeper the doctor’s investigations go, the greater the risk that he will be consigned to the ranks of the corpses he studies….

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.” Could you say a bit about your early experiences?

Even before I could write I used to ‘draw’ stories, so I guess I was born with an innate desire to tell tales and spin yarns. My first rejection from a publisher came when I was just eight. I sent a manuscript with illustrations to Collins. It was called The Adventures of Aunty Mary. Writing is simply my way of expression, my therapy if you like. I have a need to share stories with others. When I was coming up to my 50th birthday I thought: ‘If I died tomorrow, I would die unfulfilled.’ So, I decided to make that extra push to get my fiction published. And it worked!

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?

My Oxford tutor told me my history essays were ‘too journalistic.’ I took that as a great compliment. I always knew I would write for a living. I wanted it to be fiction, rather than fact, but I was happy with either. When I left university I was offered a job as a croupier in a big London casino. My goal was to work at night and write during the day. (I’m not sure when I intended to sleep!) As luck would have it, I’d also applied for a job on my local newspaper as a reporter. I got it the same week and decided that being a journalist was probably the safer career move. But I never gave up on my fiction and wrote after work and at weekends.

I was freelancing when I won a screenplay competition. The script, based in the 18th century and featuring a young American anatomist, was optioned by an Irish film company and backed by a US producer. Everything looked good, but then it all fell apart, so I decided to use the screenplay as a basis for a series of novels and so the Dr Thomas Silkstone series was born. I had just finished it when I went back to work full time as a magazine editor, but I still sent it off to agents. Then, one evening in November 2009, I had an email from an agent agreeing to take me on. I knew it would be the start of an amazing journey and I was right!

3. As a medical humanist, I am of course deeply interested and inspired by the connections you have made between history, science, medicine and mystery. Can you speak to that intersection?

They say good historical fiction should hold up a mirror to contemporary society. I love the Age of Enlightenment in particular because there are so many parallels that can be drawn between then and now. Each age, of course, faces its own challenges, each as apparently insurmountable at the time as the previous one. I take great comfort from that fact.  Man’s basic nature seems to change very little. It is how he solves problems and adapts for survival that alters with the centuries. To help him do that it is vital to have a well-rounded education that allows him to question and challenge as well as learn. Science teaches you to constantly challenge. Stop challenging and you stop progressing. History teaches you to learn from past experiences. The two are a perfect combination.

I love the fact that before the 19th century, great men of letters were polymaths. People like Franklin were scientists, musicians, writers, socialites. So the idea of melding medical history with prose really appealed to me. The period is so rich in anecdotes that illustrate the clash between superstition and science that it lends itself to wonderfully tense tales that are fraught with suspense.

4. You also work in the field of journalism. How do you navigate between genres, and do you think this helps to shape your fiction in particular ways?

When I go and write I tell my husband/friend/children that I’m going through my ‘portal’ into the 18th century. In my mind I picture an old, ivy-clad wall and a gate, where the blue paint is flaking off. That’s where I go to write my Silkstone series. Being a journalist does, however, mean that I like to get my facts right. (I’m horrified if a reader points out an historical mistake.) I much prefer  fact-based novels to complete fantasy.  There are so many utterly amazing stories out there, why do you need to alter the basic facts? In that respect my journalism has certainly helped. Researching is much easier as well, knowing where to go for information etc.  As far as writing ordinary articles go, I still enjoy  writing features, but my heart really lies in fiction.

5. 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?

Now that I’m lucky enough to be a more or less full-time writer, the discipline of my former working life is a great help. I like to start work by 9am and break at 1pm; back at work for 2pm until 4pm when I fetch my daughter from school. I tend to see to Facebook/Twitter etc. in the evenings, otherwise I could spend all day getting very little done.

When I get stuck on the page, I go for a walk. I nearly always come back with the problem sorted. I enjoy doing the research  most of all and I tend to do this in one block, so that I can sit down and feel that I could write the novel without referring to any textbooks. I like to absorb knowledge so that the prose flows more freely onto the page. It takes me about four months to actually write the novel, then another month or so to revise.

6. 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?

Just before I was published, I said to a friend of mine, now on her 15th novel, that I felt as though I was running out into a stadium with no clothes on! She said “Yes, and then the crowd make notes on your body!” Before I was published, I never actually really considered that readers would be posting reviews about my work.  It’s been wonderful getting such positive feedback. When it’s not so positive, I’m grateful for constructive criticism, but I’ve also been surprized by how downright rude a few people can be, dismissing work in a damning sentence. Even as a professional critic, I am never totally negative when I’m asked to review a book, film or play.

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

Agents are a must. Don’t even think of trying to get published without one – unless you are self-publishing of course.  Do your homework and see which agents are taking on what sort of work.  Always check out their websites. Some of them even tell you what they’re looking for at the moment. The best site is http://www.agentquery.com I found my agent, Melissa Jeglinski of the Knight Agency, through the Historical Novel Society’s magazine, but it was more than a year before she finally took me on, so you need to be patient as well as persistent .

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

The novel that changed my writing and got me hooked on historical fiction was Patrick Suskind’s Perfume. I was completely spell-bound and just wanted to write like him. I’ve recently discovered Andrew Miller, who is also brilliant.

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

Many serious writers have their work appraised by professional editors these days before they send it to an agent. It’s expensive, but very often worth it My appraisal confirmed to me that it was worth persevering with my novel. i went to www.literaryconsultancy.co.uk. For writers of historical fiction, go to http://historicalnovelsociety.org. www.goodreads.com is the site for readers and reviews.

*NOTE from Bschillace: Another good resource for YA authors is the society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, or SCBWI. They have two conferences a year (in NY and CA) and publish a newsletter/journal. For a fee (under 50$ for regional conferences, closer to $150 at national conferences), you can submit your work to be appraised by an agent or editor. I have found the SCBWI not only an excellent place to network, but also a great venue for getting honest opinions about your work’s viability.

Thank you, Tessa, for being with us today!

Additional Information:

You can find Tessa on twitter and FaceBook!