Interview: Barbara Venkataraman, Author of Death by Didgeridoo

VenkataramanDeathByDidgeridooEveryone, please welcome Barbara Venkataraman to the blog today. I have enjoyed Book 1 in her Jamie Quinn mystery series, Death by Didgeridoo. Today we chat about Harry Potter, literary good guys, writing tips, and the childhood book nerd. Sit back and be entertained!

If you could, what book/movie/TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

I think it would have to be the first time I read science fiction or fantasy, it changed my life forever.

Conventions, book signings, blogging, etc.: what are some of your favorite aspects of self-promotion and what are some of the least favorite parts of self-promotion?

Hmmmm, I really enjoy meeting new people, including my current interviewer! I’ve heard some amazing life stories and have ‘met’ some lovely people through e-mails and blogging. What I dislike about promotion/marketing is how it takes time away from writing. And it can be tedious sending out queries and requests for reviews, especially when you hit a dry spell and don’t get many responses. It feels like a variation on that old joke—if a writer asks for a review in the forest and nobody is there to hear her, what is she doing in the forest in the first place?  lol

Who are your non-writer influences?

Comedians—I love watching a good comedian and being surprised; I love laughing. My other influences are the stories I hear all around me and, of course, theatre. Writing a novel is like watching a play in your mind: the lines have to be clever and succinct; the gestures, the expressions, the scenery, everything counts. Watching theatre teaches me those things.

Who are some of your favorite book villains?

Iago is just the meanest, and so diabolical! Javert in “Les Mis” is so focused on the letter of the law, rigid and self-righteous that when he realizes good and evil are not what he thought, he has no choice but to commit suicide. He is a complex guy!

VenkataramanTripToHardwareStoreWho are your favorite hero duos from the pages?

Here’s where I can’t be original, but Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Sherlock and Dr. Watson, Prospero and Ariel from “The Tempest”.

What reboots (or retellings) of classics have you enjoyed? Are there ones that haven’t worked for you?

So many stories are a twist on an old story. There are many versions of Romeo and Juliet out there and  it wasn’t original even in Shakespeare’s time, but one of my favorite versions was “West Side Story”. And I have to admit, I’m a sucker for “Sherlock” on the BBC. I think Arthur Conan Doyle would have approved!

As a published author, what non-writing activities would you recommend to aspiring authors?

Taking a walk outside always helps me think, I can’t recommend it enough. And vigorous exercise for as little as five minutes is helpful, too. As for reading, I recommend reading your favorite books several times. The first time for the story because you enjoy it. The second and third times, to analyze the story, the voices and the overall technique to learn how the author pulled it off. It’s like being amazed by a magic trick and then figuring out how it was done.

I also recommend reading terrible books to see how not to do it. Write reviews of them so that you can analyze each aspect.

Finally, I recommend reading books on the nuts and bolts of the craft. I recommend Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” and Stephen King’s “On Writing”. I also recommend Orson Scott Card’s “Elements of Fiction Writing-Characters and Viewpoint,” and Ron Carlson’s short book, “Ron Carlson Writes a Story.” I also recommend, “Elements of Fiction Writing-Beginnings, Middles and Ends,” by Nancy Kress.

What does your Writer’s Den look like? Neat and tidy or creative mess? can you write anywhere or do you need to be holed up in your author cave?

It’s a mess, I’m sorry to report, but there’s a method to it. I can write anywhere and I started doing something strange by accident. I e-mailed myself the chapter I was working on and found I could write on my cell phone wherever I happened to be. The weirdest place I ever wrote was standing in line at a Mexican restaurant waiting to pick up my food! I had a thought that just couldn’t wait.

VenkataramPerilInTheParkWhat were you like as a kid? Did your kid-self see you being a writer?

As a kid, I always had a book in my hands. I’ve been told I took a book to a slumber party when I was 6 and I took one with me in the car on the way to Disney World! Luckily, I wasn’t driving since I was only ten, but my best friend was annoyed. I was the nerdy kid who got excited when the bookmobile came to my neighborhood and I was the kid who cried at seeing my first real library and realizing I could never read all those books.

I always wanted to write ever since I won a prize for my “Duck Poem” in second grade!

If you could sit down and have dinner with 5 dead authors, who would you invite to the table? What would they order?

Shakespeare, Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Vonnegut and Robert Frost. I’m not sure what they would order, but Shakespeare & Dickens would be pretty impressed with the large selection and Vonnegut would be bummed to learn that he couldn’t smoke inside anymore.

The Desert Island Collection: what books make it into your trunk and why?

Funny books, of course, anything that could make me laugh. All of Harry Potter because I never get tired of them and finally, a book about how to escape from a desert island!

What do you do when you are not writing?

I love to swim and to take walks in serene parks. Both of those activities always clear my mind and restore my perspective. And of course, read! Reading makes me laugh and cry and think about the world in new ways. But hanging out with my family and friends is at the top of the list.

VenkataramCaseOfKillerDivorceSide characters can make or break a story. What side characters have you enjoyed in other works? What side characters in your own work have caught more attention than you expected?

I wish I could be original here, but all of the side characters in the Harry Potter series were fun and interesting. Who wouldn’t want to be fussed over by Mrs. Weasley, or learn about magical creatures from Hagrid? In my own books, I was surprised at how much Duke Broussard took over. He has a large personality! And he seems to have a lot of fans out there.

Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers? 

Well, my second Jamie Quinn mystery, “The Case of the Killer Divorce” will be out on audiobook in August. And my fourth Jamie Quinn book, “Engaged in Danger,” will be out in September. Finally, my book of humorous essays, “A Trip to the hardware Store & Other Calamities” has been chosen as a finalist in the Readers Favorite Contest, Woo hoo! That’s all the exciting stuff going on in my world.

Places to Find Barbara Venkataraman

Goodreads

Amazon

Facebook

Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card

Why I Read It: I’m enraptured by the Enderverse!

Where I Got It: The library.

969454Who I Would Recommend This To: Folks who enjoyed Ender’s Game would probably like this book – it’s a great complimentary book.

Narrators: Stefan Rudnicki, Gabrielle de Cuir, Scott Brick

Publisher: MacMillan Audio (2005)

Length: 15 hours 42 minutes

Series: Book 1 Shadow Saga

I know that I kind of jumped out of order in which the books were written, but I couldn’t resist going back to Ender’s Game through the eyes of Bean. It was actually pretty cool to read the two books so close together. If you’ve read Ender’s Game, then you already know that Bean is pretty darn smart for his young age; you have to be to end up at Battle School. So this tale is about Bean’s origins and his journey to Battle School and then tagging along to help Ender save the human race. If you haven’t read Ender’s Game, I would strongly suggest starting there instead of with Ender’s Shadow, and I believe both books would be an excellent read before the movie comes out.

Once again, Orson Scott Card shows his depth of understanding of the human heart and psyche. While not as moving as Speaker for the Dead, Ender’s Shadow still contained several poignant moments. Bean is yet another of the numerous orphans on the streets of crowded Rotterdam. He manages to join a small gang and comes up with a plan that changes the paradigm in his neighborhood. This, of course, brings himself and his little gang to the attention of the authorities who are ever searching for that talented few that will succeed in beating off the next Bugger attack.

Pretty soon, we are rocketing up to Battle School with Bean who has to learn a whole new way of life, including friendship and trust. Even though I already knew the outcome of the many confrontations from reading Ender’s Game, it was still nail biting suspense to see them through Bean’s eyes. Of course, there were a number of events that happened in Bean’s life that are not in Ender’s Game, keeping the reader interested even though the book’s ending is known.

My one complaint with this novel is that cleverness and knowledge seem to by accentuated in Bean’s character, even beyond what I would allow for a genious kid. Without spoiling anything, there is a scene where Baby Bean hides in a small thing of water for several hours. Now, putting aside the brain power and knowledge necessary to do so successfully, a hairless being that small needs to be concerned about hypothermia. These instances were few and small, but still I feel they detracted a bit from the overall novel, especially since I know what Card is capable of in Speaker for the Dead.

The audio production and narration was superb. The same crew played a role in this novel and that helps greatly in enjoying such a large branching series in audio format. Stefan Rudnicki, always a favorite, was Graff and he plays him so very well. It was great to have Gabrielle de Cuir and Scott Brick along for the read also.

readandreviewbuttonWhat I Liked: Bean has some good one-liners; learning about trust and friendship can be just as scary as having street smarts pounded into you; a good ending for Bean.

What I Disliked: A few exaggerated points that I felt were beyond even a genius child in a scifi story; why are there so few girls at Battle School?

This review is part of The Read & Review Hop hosted by On Starships and Dragonwings. Make sure to stop by over there to enjoy more book reviews.

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

Picabuche’s & Waffles’ snuggle was interrupted.

Why I Read It: Ender’s Game was excellent, and I wanted to continue the series.

Where I Got It: The library.

Who Do I Recommend This To: Fiction lovers of any genre.

Narrators: Stefan Rudnicki, David Birney, & others

Publisher: MacMillan Audio (2005)

Length: 14 hours 9 minutes

Series: Ender’s Saga 2

Orson Scott Card set a high bar with Ender’s Game and I emphatically say that he not only surpassed that bar, but left it far behind. Speaker for the Dead redefined for me what intricate plot and character depth are.

Set ~3000 years after Ender’s Game, this tale takes place on a world inhabited by a sentient species referred to as the Piggies who have not attained metal working or agriculture or animal husbandry. Their culture is quite different from any human cultures. In fact, the humans are isolated to a single city, Milagre, and only a limited few humans are allowed to interact with the Piggies.

Milagre is primarily a Catholic Portuguese settlement. Novina’s parents were scientists that made it possible for a human colony, successfully combating an epidemic that took their lives, leaving Novina an orphan. Time passes and she becomes an apprentice to Pipo, along with his son Libo who both study the Piggies. Eventually, there are human deaths and a Speaker for the Dead is called to speak the deaths.

I love this idea of a Speaker for the Dead, a person who will ask the hard questions of the living to capture the full picture of the life lived of the dead, all the good and the bad. The people of Milagre have various reactions to the Speaker, Andrew Ender Wiggin. Many believe it to be taboo to speak ill of the dead, whether true or not.

This was a complex, beautiful, emotion-wrenching novel. Card’s strength in writing deep characters really shows through in this tale. Couple that with a well-thought out plot that includes details of a culture very different from humans, then you have a fully engaging story.

The audio production was excellent. Stefan Rudnicki is a favorite narrator and it is good to hear his voice again as Ender.

What I Liked: Everything. OK – Jane, Ender’s electronic friend; the Piggies; pealing back the secrets in order to heal a community; the short interview with the author at the end.

What I Disliked: I don’t understand the cover of the audiobook – I am not sure what it has to do with the book.

As part of Stainless Steel Droppings’ R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event, I am going to count this book as dark science fiction (vivisection counts as dark, right?). This event is still going strong until the end of October, so feel free to hop over there and join the fun.

BTIBMTGT: Orson Scott Card & Robert E. Howard

Books That I’ve Been Meaning to Get To (BTIBMTGT) is an idea from the depths and crannies of Lady Darkcargo (check out her stuff at Darkcargo.com).

On that note:

Why did I let one linger for ever and why have I avoided the other? Let’s talk. Come, sit. Tea?

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card is considered one of the important books in science fiction literature. Back when I was 17 or 16 I read the first in the series, Ender’s Game, and never made it any further in the series. I enjoyed the book, but didn’t get the ending. I also didn’t happen to have Speaker for the Dead on hand and throw those two facts in with moving off to college… But the excuses have to end. So this month I will be listening to Speaker for the Dead. Having recently read Ender’s Game, and enjoyed it immensely, I am most certainly looking forward to the sequel.

Robert E. Howard is famous for creating Conan, who started off life in a loincloth running around short story pulp fiction magazines in the 1920s and 1930s. For years I heard what great stories the original Conan were (mostly from My Main Man). Earlier this year I read my first Conan collection and certainly had mixed feelings; the writing itself was excellent but there were also gender and ethnic equality issues. So I thought I would give this short novel a try. Personally, I am curious to see if the difference in media (pulp fiction magazine versus publishing house book) equals a difference in writing style.

Review of Ender’s Game

Review of Wolfshead

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Why I Read It: Recently finished Earth Unaware and wanted to reread this one.

Where I Got It: The library.

Who I Recommend This To: Scifi Freaks Unite! If you haven’t read this, it is a classic for a very good reason.

Narrators: Stefan Rudnicki, & cast

Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America (2004)

Length: 9 CDs

Series: Ender’s Universe Book 1

Wow. Just wow.

This book was super intense with a myriad of little kids being pushed into saving the human race; they had no childhood, growing up before their time. Orson Scott Card gifted us with the far-future tale of humans versus the insect-like aliens, known as the Buggers. The government selects kids for their intelligence and temperament and Andrew ‘Ender’ Wiggin is the next hot schiznit out there. At age 6.

Once Ender gets onto the space station, there is The Battleroom. This is a pretty important room, as it is training the kids to think, react, and fight in zero gravity. Just when Ender gets his feet under him, the teachers pull his shoes out from under him, forcing him into another untenable situation. The competition between these kids is fierce, in and out of The Battleroom. The tension in this book is kept high by never quite knowing what obstacle is going to be thrown at Ender next. Back on Earth, Ender’s two older siblings have plans of their own. Ender’s ruthless, even sadistic at times, brother Peter has delusions of grandeur. He’s willing to use his sister to obtain control – total control.

Orson Card truly put together a twisted, harsh, thoroughly entertaining read. The story maintains a tight aspect of great need, the need to keep the human race alive in the universe. The reader often catches glimpses of the adults in the story privately regretting putting Ender, and all the other kids at Battleschool, through such hell. Having this human side to the procrastinators of the story really rounded it out and made it a classic.

Stefan Rudnicki (have I mentioned that his voice could turn sandpaper into Dove chocolate?) performed the majority of this book. His voices for the little kids were awesome (a side I hadn’t heard from him before) and his rendition of the kid slang was great, often having me laughing. The rest of the cast also gave a quality performance.

What I Liked: Battleschool; Peter’s cruelty is well portrayed; The mutual love and respect between and Ender and his sister; the secret final Battleschool location and tests; the ending of the book was incredibly moving.

What I Disliked: Hmm…. For some reason, I kept wanting to give Peter a British voice; I blame the Narnia movies.

Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card & Aaron Johnston

Why I Read It: My man & I are Orson Scott Card fans.

Where I Got It: From the publisher through Audiobookjukebox.com (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Space opera fans, Ender’s Game fans

Narrators: Stefan Rudnicki, Stephen Hoye, Emily Janice Card, & cast

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (2012)

Length: 12 CDs

Series: The First Formic War, Book 1

Let me say this up front: This is one of the best books I have listened to this year so far.

Set in the same universe approximately 80 years before as the well known Ender’s Game series, this book covers the first contact between humans and the alien Formics (AKA Buggers, Ormigas). Victor (Vico) Delgado is a free miner, living with his family on the ship El Calvador mining precious metals from asteroids. His young life is about to take a turn as his best friend, and second cousin, Allejandra decides to leave El Calvador to live with the Italians. Bereft of his close friend, and perhaps his first brush with love, he must adjust. But while he is trying to adjust, things start to happen pretty quick, like cousin Edimar spotting something unknown in the starry sky moving at incredible speed – perhaps an alien ship.

Lem Jukes is an intelligent man, but driven by corporate greed. the Jukes Corporation have a new toy – a big toy that can disintegrate asteroids of various sizes, freeing up the metal for easy collection and huge monetary gain. Lem also has an overbearing father, Ugo Jukes, head of the corporation. Lem is driven to stand on his own and prove his worth and he has many opportunities in this story to do so. Lem turned out to be one of the more complicated characters in that he has some inner conflict going on.

I really enjoyed how this tale captured space culture; those bred and born in space have physiological differences to those bred and born in a gravity environment. The laws of physics, theory of gravity, and the known limits of human endurance weren’t ignored willy-nilly in this space opera, which was quite refreshing. The characters started off simple, in their little worlds, doing their every day deeds; and then they quickly had to grow and morph into something more as the threat of alien invasion became apparent.

The full narration cast was awesome, a truly quality performance. Stefan Rudnicki performed as Witt, a leader of the elite international armed forces called MOPS. Rudnicki’s voice could make remote control assembly directions sound intimate and exciting. Vico and his myriad of emotions he exhibits throughout the tale were portrayed well by the narrator. Emily Janice Card, the daughter of Orson Card, had a smaller performance but one that gave her the opportunity to show off her praise-worthy ability to roll her Rs. This audio version includes a short interview with the author at the end of the book (I love such bonuses).

What I Liked: The free-miner culture of close-knit family; alternately hating and praising Lem Jukes; Imala Bootstamp who shows up late in the tale (no nonsense lady); Mono, an aspiring machinist; there’s always something going on in this book, from start to finish; zero-gravity and how it affects everything.

What I Disliked: I now have to wait months for the next in the series. Sigh.