Interview: Lisa Cindrich & Jay Sparks of Glynn River Press

CindrichSparksExecutablesPlease welcome Lisa Cindrich and Jay Sparks from Glynn River Press. they’re here to chat about self-promotion, villains, retelling of classics, and more. Enjoy!

Are minions/sidekicks just throwaway devices in a tale? Can they become more? Do they need to become more?

Jay: Secondary characters, especially those closest to the narrator and his/her chief antagonist, are very important and should be developed as much as possible within the confines of the story.

One of the best examples is William Golding’s novel The Lord of the Flies. The central conflict between Ralph and Jack is quite powerful in itself. But the secondary characters and what they represent elevate the novel from merely good to classic. Simon, Piggy and Roger each bring something different to the tale, and all elicit a strong emotional response from the reader. Simon and his confrontation with “The Lord of the Flies” is one of the most powerful scenes in the book. Piggy provides Ralph with his strongest support and the penultimate scene on the cliffs is truly heartrending. And Roger—ooo, that evil, malicious little monster! He’s a crucial element in the story. Worse than the biblical Cain (who was ashamed enough of his crime to at least hide his brother’s body), Roger shows how murder can be a “pleasurable” act, and a prelude to the sadism the boys’ civilization will devolve into.

We went a little overboard with the secondary characters in the early drafts of Executables, and it was painful to excise a few of them from the text. (Tommy Edgers comes immediately to mind.) Fortunately, we’ve been able to resuscitate a few of these in short stories we’re writing as promotional companion material for the novel.

So there is that danger: the story can get out of hand if you venture too far from the central conflict in following these secondary characters down each of their little paths. [Lisa: Haha! I remember reading once that Roald Dahl originally had nine other kids entering Wonka’s chocolate factory along with Charlie Bucket. All probably as vividly drawn as Veruca Salt and Augustus Gloop…but talk about potential minor character chaos! So it happens to the best.] They are going to quite fascinating places, after all. But they help you create a richer world and deliver a better payoff to the reader.

Lisa: Not only a richer world, but secondary characters that we know well and come to care about can give us some surprising views on the main characters, can reflect different facets of the protagonists, for good or ill. Think of how differently you viewed Harry Potter’s father after witnessing the interaction between his teenaged self and Snape. I think I was as shocked as Harry!

And yes, there is a danger not only in minor characters taking the story off-course, but also upstaging the protagonist if they are too fascinating or funny. I’d rather read about Mrs. Havisham or Mr. Jaggers than about Pip, Mr. Grandcourt rather than Daniel Deronda.

Over the years, are the changes in society reflected in today’s villains and heroes?

Jay: Well, we’ve come a long way from Beowulf, that’s for sure.

Government and society are the villains in quite a bit of what I read these days, and I think that reflects the distrust we feel towards authority figures in general and with the way many political leaders are doing their jobs. [Lisa: What was Congress’s most recent approval rating, again?] Many of us are struggling to pay bills and take care of our families. It can feel like we are at the mercy of larger forces— whether those are governmental, technological, societal, even environmental—and that is reflected in much of our modern entertainment, particularly in dystopian literature.

There’s also a backlash against rampant consumerism which fuels today’s economic engines. Again, I think this reflects people’s struggles to maintain the status quo in their financial lives, and the worries they have about changes going on world-wide and how they and especially their children will fit into these future realities. [Lisa: I can’t help but think about the conversations I hear among parents, trying to figure out how to advise their kids about college and career choices. Which college majors or graduate studies justify x amount of debt, and how will that affect the ability to buy a house, have a family, retire, etc? Do you dare try to nudge your children toward anything but the STEM areas? And even if your kid becomes an engineer or computer expert, etc., will even those jobs be outsourced? Is anything a safe choice?]

The heroes/heroines in dystopian tales tend to be average folk who are thrust into a role where their actions can have an impact and a benefit to the suppressed populace. Or in their struggle to survive, they provide a basis for the rise of a new society. I think that is a reflection of a lot of our fantasies, knowing full well that there is truly little an individual can do to counter the waves of change that bombard us every day, in many aspects of our lives. [Lisa: Well, I’m not quite as pessimistic as that. Because there are individuals who arise who make a tremendous difference. Or, even if no one individual in a movement stands head and shoulders above the rest in influence, enough individuals wanting a particular change and willing to struggle for it can, as a group, be the impetus for enormous change. But the ‘forces that bombard us every day’ are certainly daunting and sometimes (often?) insurmountable. And in the face of that, who wouldn’t fantasize about being Katniss or Frodo?]

We live in extraordinary times. The discoveries in medicine, in technological innovation, in exploration of our world and beyond, provide an enormous palette from which to craft stories. There is a lot of fear of these changes, but also exhilaration about the potential. [Lisa: Absolutely! Anxiety, dread, excitement, the thrill of ever-increasing knowledge—it’s a great, boiling cauldron of emotion and possibility, both in reality and in fiction.]

CindrichSparksWhateverItTakesConventions, 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?

Jay: I do enjoy the interactions with people, the one-on-one communication aspect of self-promotion. I like conversing with individual readers and hearing what they liked and what they didn’t like about the story I wrote. It helps me in gauging how far to take some stories, and where to draw the line. Plus, it’s just fun! I know as a reader I’d be thrilled to talk to Dan Chaon some time. I did get a chance to talk with one of my literary heroes, Daniel Woodrell, and he’s an amazing person.

We’ve just started to get into the blogging and the tweeting and the tumblring and facebooking, etc. Of course, I’ve had a personal page on Facebook for a while now, so that’s not new, but I never used it for self-promotion. The biggest hang-up I have to get over on the online promoting is the fear of sounding like a braggart. [Lisa: Yup. Or a nag. Or that annoying salesperson who just will not let you browse in peace.] I want to let people know I have a book out there, but it’s almost like I want them to come to it of their own choice, or offer them something for free as a promotion to a sale. But then how do they find the material? So you have to get the information to them some way. I’m getting over my discomfort on this, but it’s taken some time.

Lisa: Well, I’m an introvert and while I enjoy conversations one-on-one or in small groups, I don’t particularly enjoy big crowd scenes and really, really don’t enjoy public speaking or being the focus of attention. (Even at my own wedding, I was thrilled when our little ring bearer was such a totally adorable ham going down the aisle before me that he basically stole the show and it felt like all the pressure to be the star attraction was off! Please, people, can we all just now ignore the bride? Thank you.) I LOVE that I can now meet and mingle online with people who have similar interests and sensibilities. But as far as using those tools to sell? Eesh. I’m pretty terrible. It’s a struggle.

Who are your non-writer influences?

Jay: Technological innovation—what is possible and what is going to be possible in the near-future—these are things that I find most interesting and influential. The speed of change that has occurred in our lifetimes makes any other epoch in history pale by comparison, and so anything that touches on these breakthroughs and how we deal with them as human beings fascinates me. I like perusing Wired, Discover, Mental Floss, and other magazines, and listening to RadioLab. I like works by popular physicists like Michio Kaku and Brian Greene because they can break down complex topics and make them comprehensible for people like me, and they raise interesting questions that just get your brain working in overdrive.

On a personal level, my parents and family have had the most influence on my life and how I look at the world. Both of my parents encouraged my interest in science and asking questions about the whys and ways of everything. Sibling rivalry with my older sister and younger brother brought out a competitive nature in me that continues to this day. My children continue to amaze me with their enthusiasm, their energy, and sense of wonder about the world about them. I love their perspective.

I’ve also always had a thing for the underdogs of history and in sports, and for those whose dedication to a cause and to duty led them to undertake incredible and, at times, suicidal tasks. Think Gettysburg, Into Thin Air, Charge of the Light Brigade, Gallipoli, U.S. Olympic hockey team at Lake Placid, Buster Douglas, etc.

Lisa: A couple of influences immediately come to mind. My upbringing as a Catholic and my much later explorations into that religion—once I could get past the unattractive 1970’s churches and bland 1970’s hymns of my youth and plunge more deeply into the cultural and historical richness—the mystery of what it is to be human and the sense of deep timelessness that drenches the art, architecture, legends, and literature from Dante all the way through Graham Greene and Flannery O’Connor. I’d assume that a childhood involvement in any particular religion is going to shape who you become in many, many ways no matter what your conscious, mature view is of that religion, even if you completely reject every last tenet. Even if you reject the entire notion of religious faith itself as outdated.

Another thing that influences me strongly is travel. Not that I’ve been able to do nearly as much of it as I’d like and nowhere more exotic than Italy and England, but exposure to new places (even as close to home as, say Atchison, Kansas) always affects me powerfully and often brings out the writing juices.

Like Jay, I also like stories—true or fiction—about fighting impossible or nearly impossible odds. Survival stories—In the Heart of the Sea, The Last Place on Earth, Ice Blink, The Terror by Dan Simmons, Charlotte Rogan’s The Lifeboat—are special favorites. If a group of people are facing the choice of cannibalism or starvation in a lifeboat or on an ice-trapped ship in the Arctic, I want to know about it!

With the modern popularity to ebooks, a book is no longer limited to a specific genre shelf. It is now quite easy to label place an ebook in multiple genres (i.e. YA, Fantasy, Horror). How do you see this affecting readers? Have you been inadvertently lured outside your reading comfort zone?

Jay: I think those old genres made it easier for publishers to group their readers according to taste, and market books accordingly. Neat genre classifications may have made deciding what to publish and how to market a little more clear-cut, but with the self-publishing explosion, the old rules no longer need apply and the genre distinctions are a lot murkier, even for traditionally published books. I think it’s great that readers are branching out from what they are familiar with and taking chances, especially with material that might be considered “really out there” and mind expansive.

I do like being lured away from my comfort zones. The rewards are great. I’ve never regretted reading A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, and I was put off from reading it for years because of what I “thought” it was about.

Lisa: I love genres getting all mixed up, mashed up, messed up. Fantastic! It’s right up my alley. I’ve always loved fiction that utilizes but at the same time pushes against the boundaries of its genre, that breaks rules and surprises me. For example, I’ve really enjoyed what Dan Simmons has been doing in his most recent works (The Terror, Drood, The Abominable), mixing historical-based fiction (well-researched as far as I can tell) with creepy paranormal or potentially paranormal elements. Right now I’m reading Robert McCammon’s The Five (fantastic so far, by the way) and it’s been interesting to read about his unfortunate experiences with his publishers back in the 90’s, how they wanted him to stick to the horror fiction he was known for and not stray too far from that. Nobody seemed to think that there would be any readership for the sort of historical/horror/mystery blends that he started writing with Speaks the Nightbird. (frantically waving hand) “Hey! Right here! Your ideal historical/horror/mystery combo novel reader! Ready and waiting!” I’m SO glad that he’s back to publishing regularly again.

One writer I discovered several years ago who might have seemed a bit out of my comfort zone is Sarah Waters. I’ve read the occasional well-known lesbian-themed novel over the years (Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, Rubyfruit Jungle, Annie on My Mind) but it wasn’t something I would typically read. If I’d happened on Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet first, I probably wouldn’t have been interested. But it so happened that the first book she wrote that I discovered was Affinity…and, oh, yeah, that might have been written just for me, all 19th century gloom and séances and prisons. The lesbianism aspect was just one other thread, all woven gorgeously together. Now I’ve read more of her books, some featuring more overt lesbian themes, others with none in particular, but all terrific.

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

Jay: I remember reading Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot right after Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. I liked King’s modern take on the old vampire myth. I also enjoyed the graphic novel The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, and how they deconstruct the classic superhero story. Cormac McCarthy’s anti-western Blood Meridian blew away most of my previous favorites in that genre.

Lisa: I suppose I’d have to break this down into two groups—1.) reboots of specific stories and 2.) reworkings of more general mythic types (vampires, witches, werewolves, etc.) I’m probably more drawn to the second group with a few of my favorites being the reimagining of vampires in Let the Right One In by John Lindqvist, werewolves (obviously) in The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan, the magician class in Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, fairies in general in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and—well—tooth fairies in Graham Joyce’s The Tooth Fairy. As far as more specific retellings, I’d always recommend The Lightning Thief series, A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz, A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth Bunce, and The Once and Future King by T.H. White. If we can venture away from books, I’m a sucker for the stage version of Wicked, Sondheim’s vision of the Sweeney Todd legend, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Was Homer’s Odysseus ever a fraction as attractive as George Clooney?)

If you were asked to create the syllabus for a college class in dystopian literature, what books would be on there as required reading? As passing discussion?

Lisa: I’m afraid my class might not be the most balanced because I’d probably ignore seminal works that I haven’t read yet, while concentrating on my personal favorites. (Come to think of it, I’m sure I had some lit professors who operated by precisely that method when creating their syllabi so maybe this is a-ok.) I do think that I’d make sure to include dystopias that fall into different models of oppression: the obvious heavy-hand of physical violence or threat of same; oppression through restriction of free thought and free conscience; dystopia through chaos or anarchy; the we’ve-made-life-easy-and-fun-here-so-why-is-this-person-complaining model. So many avenues to dystopia; so little reading time.

That said, this is a combined Jay-and-Lisa list, no particular order, with our personal favorites starred:

First the required reading:
By the Waters of Babylon (Jay: Definitely. The first piece of dystopian lit I ever read.)
Brave New World*
The Time Machine
The Road*
Harrison Bergeron*
A Clockwork Orange*
A Handmaid’s Tale
Parable of the Sower*
I am Legend*
A Boy and His Dog
Fahrenheit 451
1984*
The Lord of the Flies*

And the extra credit:
Anthem
The Trial
Alas, Babylon
The Stand
The Passage*
The Giver
House of the Scorpion
Cloud Atlas* (Ooh, soulless super-techno dystopia AND postapocalyptic barbarism in one book—so very awesome)
Super Sad True Love Story* (Very uncomfortable read; hits way too close to home)
The Birds (Daphne Du Maurier, not Hitchcock)
Blindness
The Minority Report
On the Beach
White Noise
It’s a Good Life (by Jerome Bixby)
Never Let Me Go
The Hunger Games

Care to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment, either one where someone was gushing over your work….or one where you were gushing over another author’s work?

Lisa: Wow, I’ve gushed any number of times…at least when I could actually manage to form words of any sort. One of my most tongue-tied was with the poet Mark Strand. He gave a reading (packed) when I was at the University of Illinois. He was funny, sharp, gorgeous images falling from his mouth as he read. Plus he was (to be frank) hot, in a kind of rangy, silver-haired, Clint Eastwood way.

Jay and I were on a committee together a number of years ago that presented a literary award annually to an author from the general Kansas/Missouri area. One year the winner was Daniel Woodrell. This was before Winter’s Bone, but right around the time that the film Ride with the Devil (based on Woodrell’s Woe to Live On) was made. We were so blown away by his writing that everything to do with the event made us anxious even though Woodrell was never anything but gracious and pleasant and easy to deal with. For starters, it was fairly embarrassing that we had such limited funds we couldn’t offer to pay for things like hotel rooms, mileage, or—God forbid—airfare even though we required a trip to Kansas City to accept the award. Committee members tossed around various mortifying ideas for the post-ceremony committee-and-author dinner, assuming that because he was known for ‘country noir,’ he might enjoy eating off battered pie tins and drinking from mason jars while using a checkered Labrador-retriever-style bandanna to dab any excess chicken gravy from his lips. (Thank God, Woodrell said he couldn’t stay for dinner because he had to make the drive back home in time to feed his animals. We never knew if he really owned animals or not, but if he didn’t, Jay and I would like to thank him at this time for inventing a plausible excuse and sparing us all humiliation.) One committee member intended to get her book signed, but fled in panic at the thought of coming face-to-face with such a gifted writer. Another committee member videotaped the event but when Woodrell emailed Jay weeks later and said his publisher would love a copy of the video to use for PR, it turned out that our primary camera had malfunctioned. Someone’s spouse had carried on with one of those early, handheld camcorders—shaky picture, no sound. Jay sent it to Mr. Woodrell with extensive apologies but never heard anything from him again. Ever.

Which favorite utopian worlds (from books, movies, tv) would you like to visit?

Jay: I still remember how intrigued I was with Michael Crichton’s amusement-park-gone-berserk premise in both the movie Westworld and his novel Jurassic Park, so I guess I would vote for either of those. Delos seems like the perfect getaway—as long as the robots don’t contract any viruses that turn them into actual killers. Nobody wants to be on the run from Yul Brynner. And an island that has actual dinosaurs on it? Sign me up, please!

Lisa: An island that has actual dinosaurs on it? Book me a flight in the opposite direction, please!

This is a really tough question! How many utopias are there that don’t turn out to be dystopias at their core? How many authors could write about a true, successful utopia without the reader dozing off? Maybe Narnia (during the good times.) Or Hobbiton (also during the good times.) Or one of the Star Trek series? Yes, there is still intergalactic war and all that, but human society seems to have taken care of so many of the things that ail us today: disease, poverty, lack of education, etc.

The truest utopias in fiction may be the charming old-fashioned small towns and villages that populate picture books—if you ever happen to read picture books, visualize where Arthur (the aardvark) lives. Or Angelina Ballerina. Or the Berenstain Bears. Or Franklin the turtle. Or Fancy Nancy. Or Pinkalicious. Or Clifford. Pleasant downtowns with leafy parks and friendly shops—not a Walmart in sight. Sunny, spacious houses with porches and large yards and big treehouses. It’s safe for the young ones to walk or ride their bikes (unsupervised!) to the library or the ice cream shop or the firehouse. There’s snow for Christmas and one crooked, decayed Victorian mansion at the edge of town to provide a scare on Halloween.

Dang. Can I go there right now? Or, at least, to the Hundred Acre Wood?

What is a recurring or the most memorable geeky argument or debate you have taken part in?

Jay: I used to work in the Technical Services department of a public library system, so I’ve been involved in my share of geeky discussions/debates. I remember how excited we’d get when the Library of Congress would mail us their newly-approved subject headings. We’d have arguments about how many access points were appropriate in a “good” MARC record (answer: you can never have enough), and how far to carry the decimal point in our Dewey classification system (we were limited to four places to the right of the decimal). I thought our bizarre preoccupations were limited to our own library, until I got approval to attend a meeting of a national organization for audio-visual catalogers in Chicago. People like me were everywhere! We’d spend entire dinner evenings discussing the nuances in the cataloging of recorded opera. Ah, those were the days.

We did debate pop culture as well. Such geeks we were! One particular discussion that prompted a heated exchange or two was over which actor portrayed the creepiest “Tooth Fairy” in the film adaptations of the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon: Tom Noonan or Ralph Fiennes? My vote still goes for Noonan. His Francis Dolarhyde is the stuff of nightmares.

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

If you happen to live in the KC area, we’ll be appearing at the Home Grown Authors’ Fair at the South branch of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library on October 25th. Executables will be available in print by the end of September 2014, and October 2014 will see the release of at least three free companion stories—“Avenge Me,” “First Kill,” and “Whatever It Takes”—set in that same dystopian world.

The novel we’re currently working on, Deflection, is straight-up sci fi; we expect to release it in March, 2015.

CindrichSparksExecutablesExecutables book blurb:

After ten years of brutal labor on a prison meat-packing line, Tori Jennings now confronts an even more unbearable prospect: freedom.

But just because she’s free doesn’t mean she has a future. As an Executable, she has no money, no rights, no citizenship. No laws protect her. And the second she steps off penitentiary grounds into the Pennsylvania countryside, Tori becomes prey. A corrupt court judged her a murderer, and now hit-men, legally hired by the victim’s family, intend to take revenge.

Tori’s only chance is to run—and keep running, struggling to hold onto both courage and compassion as she stumbles through the underbelly of a decayed society. Her mother is dead, her father’s fate unknown. No family or friends can help her. Her sole allies? A troubled ex-cop who’s determined to see her survive and a female killer suffering doubts about her own lethal career.

The execution company will hunt Tori without mercy unless the victim’s family calls off the hit. Tori needs convincing proof of her innocence, but even she doesn’t know the truth behind the death she supposedly engineered. She only know that, without it, she can never run far enough to escape.

Places to Find Lisa Cindrich

Glynn River Press

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Places to Find Jay Sparks

Glynn River Press

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CindrichSparksWhateverItTakesWhatever It Takes book blurb:

As president of Regency Executions, Merle Edgers chafes under the general disdain for his line of work: the legalized hunting down and killing of felons branded as Executables. He’s determined his new venture into prison manufacturing will bring him the respect he craves from the socially elite. He’s confident he can make the climb . . . until he pays a surprise visit to Regency’s San Diego office. Brendan Roth, Regency’s west coast manager, has the upbringing of an American aristocrat, a matching sense of entitlement, and a fondness for blackmail. But Roth doesn’t understand just who he’s taking for a chump. Edgers isn’t about to let some Dartmouth punk run roughshod over his ambitions, no matter what he has to do to stop it.

CinrichSparksFirstKillFirst Kill book blurb:

How hard can hunting a human be? Tommy Edgers’ uncle runs a legalized hit squad and all Tommy wants is a chance to prove he’s not the loser so many people seem to think he is. When Uncle Merle finally gives him an easy hit–a straight shot in barren desert–Tommy intends to prove he deserves to hang with the pros he idolizes. But the Russian sadist assigned as his partner has other ideas.

Enter the world of Executables in this short story companion to the novel.

Interview: Piers Alexander, Author of The Bitter Trade

AlexanderTheBitterTradeEveryone, please welcome Piers Alexander to the blog. He is the author of the historical fiction The Bitter Trade, and you can catch my review of it over HERE. It is much amusement we chat about time travel, books we have yet to appreciate, meals famous dead authors might have fancied, among other interesting things. Please sit back and enjoy the interview!

Myths and beliefs that we would consider fiction or fantasy in modern literature once upon a time shaped history (think of all the hunts for unicorns & dragons). Do you see modern fantasy fiction affecting human cultures today and how?

Good question! I see today’s fantasy fiction as like an alternative strand of historical fiction: very often the settings, and the characters’ values and challenges, reflect the medieval world. But isn’t science fiction really today’s fantasy? When I read or watch sci-fi, I see mythical beasts, and ethical challenges that reflect what’s happening in our society (space exploration is like globalization, there are always conflicts for resources (eg Avatar), inter-species rivalries and romances… So my answer is yes – if you think of sci-fi as today’s fantasy.

Are minions/sidekicks just throwaway devices in a tale? Can they become more? Do they need to become more?

They definitely do need to be more! I worked with an excellent editor (Sally O-J, who also works with Sarah Waters) on The Bitter Trade, and she showed me just how important it is that all characters are three-dimensional, with their own backstories and motivations. My father’s an actor, and he puts as much care and attention into working out a one-line character as he does for a main character – I think good writers do the same.

As a reader, I always enjoy discovering subplots and sidekicks who are unpredictable and take the story off into a richer world. One of my favorite writers is Patrick O’Brian, who wrote the Master and Commander series. He put so much care into the minor characters that I regularly found myself stopping and putting the book down each time he killed one off!

What are the top 3 historical time periods and locations you would like to visit?

Definitely the late seventeenth century, especially London. Packed with mavericks, genius scientists, egotistical but hugely wealthy merchant adventurers, all opining and singing and doing deals in the smoky, raucous coffeehouses of the period.

I would have to go back to ancient Egypt and experience a civilization that for a while was just so advanced compared to its neighbors… and of course to see some old school magic.

And – since it’s Thor Heyerdahl’s 100th birthday as I’m writing this – I’d like to join the great South Seas migrations. I’ve always wondered what would make a tribe of Polynesians get in their canoes and just head out into thousands of miles of empty Pacific Ocean, hoping to hit land. Now that’s a sci-fi premise.

Which ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?

I only ever read Dickens at school. I think I am waiting until I have finished my trilogy, because I don’t want to compete with or emulate him. But I will definitely read them all.

I haven’t read The Last of the Mohicans either. And I also can’t touch it until I’ve written the trilogy, because my main character Cal ends up in a nasty Indian war in 1690s Virginia.

In my experience, some of the best fiction is based on facts and history. How do you build your research into your fictional works?

It’s very tricky! I tend to do my research in three or four phases rather than in one big block, because I want the characters and story to have their own voice. I don’t enjoy historical fiction that is just a rehashing of historical fact, so I deliberately use invented characters and then write a historical note to explain how I’ve diverged from the official records. I’ll get inspired by broader, more popular histories, and then gradually dive into the amazing eighteenth century labyrinth called the London Library. It has creepy unlit back shelves where the most esoteric histories can be found. I love it.

I’ve also started working with specialist historians to make sure that the “invented” parts of the book don’t jar with readers.

In this age of publishing, self-promotion is really necessary for the author. What do you enjoy most about advertising yourself and your works? What do you find most challenging?

I love reading to an audience. The great French writer Chateaubriand used to edit his work by reading ALL of it aloud – and I’ve certainly been much more ruthless when editing scenes when I know I’ll be doing a gig. It’s such a fundamental part of human nature, to share stories and songs around a fire.

I also enjoy writing blogs and Q&As. You’ve asked some questions that make me question my own motivations and beliefs about books and history, and that’s a great process.

What’s most challenging is the impersonal, internet-based aspects of marketing. Tweeting can be fun, but working out how to time promotions to maximize Amazon rankings feels about as far from writing as you can get. That’s why it’s cool to talk to book-loving bloggers like you – it feels like a very personal connection to you and your readers.

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

George Macdonald Fraser, author of the Flashman series. I think he might have a quite elaborate, spicy, seven course meal, like an officer of the Raj.

Patrick O’Brian, of the Aubrey/Maturin series. He’s put me through so much emotional pain that I would make him eat a weevilly ship’s biscuit.

Leo Tolstoy. We would sit down with his serfs and enjoy their watery beetroot soup and rye bread – while we discussed the Infinite.

George Orwell. We would share some simple Catalan dishes, beans and sausages and grilled fish, and talk of the Spanish Civil War, revolution and justice.

And the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Peacock tongues, honeyed lamb, garlic roasted kale, and a vigorous discussion on how Richard O’Brien played him in THAT movie.

What do you do when you are not writing?

Hang out with my partner-in-crime, wife, muse and best friend – the singer-songwriter and author Rebecca Promitzer. Walk my dog Lulu in the mystical emerald depths of London’s Hampstead Heath. Keep an eye on the two very cool business media companies I co-founded. Think of hilarious places to do readings: historical reenactments, art galleries, coffee shops, Berlin… It’s a great excuse to meet new people and discover new places.

Thank you Susan!

AlexanderTheBitterTradeBlurb from Goodreads on The Bitter Trade:

The Bitter Trade is a historical adventure set during the Glorious Revolution: Rebellious silk trader Calumny Spinks must become a coffee racketeer and join the conspiracy against the King to save his father’s life.

In 1688, torn by rebellions, England lives under the threat of a Dutch invasion. Redheaded Calumny Spinks is the lowliest man in an Essex backwater: half-French and still unapprenticed at seventeen, yet he dreams of wealth and title.

When his father’s violent past resurfaces, Cal’s desperation leads him to become a coffee racketeer. He has just three months to pay off a blackmailer and save his father’s life – but his ambition and talent for mimicry pull him into a conspiracy against the King himself.

Cal’s journey takes him from the tough life of Huguenot silk weavers to the vicious intrigues at Court. As the illicit trader Benjamin de Corvis and his controlling daughter Emilia pull him into their plots, and his lover Violet Fintry is threatened by impending war, Cal is forced to choose between his conscience and his dream of becoming Mister Calumny Spinks.

Places to Stalk Piers Alexander

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Interview: T. B. Markinson, Author of A Woman Lost

MarkinsonWomanLostFolks, please welcome author T. B. Markinson to Dab of Darkness. I started following her blog last year, long before I knew she was an author, because of her pets. Yep. What can I say, I’m attracted to small fuzzy creatures, and Miles and Atticus certainly count as cute. In fact, I knew the names of her wee beasties before I ever knew her name. So, in order to correct that, I eagerly asked T. B. if I could pester her with questions. She graciously agreed.

1) You have traveled quite a bit compared to some. What about traveling has lost it’s shine over the years and what has only gotten better? Do you take paperbooks that can be left behind as gifts?

In the beginning, when we started traveling to different countries I would get so excited and knew exactly how many days until we left. Our second big trip was to Guatemala and I think this trip changed how I prepare for trips. Months before the trip I went onto the US State Department’s website and saw all these warnings about murder, rape, and robberies. Someone even told me that some criminals would chop off your finger to steal a ring. Yikes! I was still looking forward to the trip but at the same time I was terrified. Nothing bad happened during our trip and we had a marvelous time. Since then I’ve tried to block out the nervousness by not focusing so much energy on an upcoming trip. Now I’m much calmer when I plan trips to different parts of the world. I no longer keep a countdown at my desk like I used to. Before leaving for Malaysia this past April I thought about this fact and it saddened me a little. I felt like I was taking it for granted and not appreciating it enough. I should get back into the habit of counting down for trips, just not freaking out about what could happen. I do enjoy that I’m much more relaxed when I travel. Yes I look at the warnings for each country and stay vigilant, but I don’t let my fear take over.

I do take paperbacks on my trips. So far I haven’t traveled with my kindle since I’m afraid I’ll either lose it or break it. As of yet, I haven’t left any books behind, but I’ve always had a hard time getting rid of books. They are my friends and I like to keep them close to me. I have books in just about every room in my home and I love seeing them there. I’ve been like that since I was a child. Even when I went to college I would bring my collection of books (it was much smaller then) along and squeeze them into my small room. One day I hope to have a massive library of my own with a ladder to reach the ones on the very top. If that happens, I would probably move my bed in there as well and the TV, fridge … I may never leave it.

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Author T. B. Markinson

I’ve always been interested in the lives of normal people. When I studied history in college, my specialty was the history of everyday life. I love to see how normal people survive in this world and how they react to it. As for my writing, I like to see my characters in everyday situations. Sometimes I throw them a curveball to see what happens. I wouldn’t say that I’m overly descriptive in my writing. Some authors, like Charles Dickens, Sarah Waters, and many others, can set a scene beautifully.  Reading these works is a real treat and I wish I could write more like them. However, I’m drawn to dialogue and actions. I want to know what the characters are thinking. Get inside their heads some and see what makes them tick. When I snap photos of people on my trip, I’m always wondering what they are thinking. Maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to ask them.

3) Part of your 50 year project is to watch the top 100 movies. Do you feel that movies can be as powerful as books in regards to moving the human spirit? Will you share a few movies that affected you? 

I will admit that I generally prefer a book over a movie that is based on a book. That doesn’t mean that I think movies are inferior. In fact, ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved movies. And so many of them have moved me to tears. Back when I was in grad school I was working on a research paper about the Hitler Youth, the Holocaust, and survival accounts. Many of the things I read were horrifying. However, I was able to separate myself from it somewhat and focus on my research. Then I went and saw the movie, Life is Beautiful, a wonderful and moving story about a man trying to protect his son from the horrors of a Nazi death camp. I lost it during this film and ended up crying for some time after I left the theater. A few years later when I had to watch Sophie’s Choice from the top 100 movie list for my project, the same thing happened. Don’t get me wrong, when I read works like Night by Elie Wiesel, I get choked up. But when I watch the movies I can’t keep the emotions locked up inside. Meryl Streep’s performance in Sophie’s Choice is superb and I think one of her better films even though most of her performances are damn good.

4) Your debut book, A Woman Lost, focuses on a woman and her lesbian relationship. What other authors or books would you recommend in the LGBQT subgenre? 

The person who immediately popped into my mind is Sarah Waters. Her novels, Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, are fantastic and if people haven’t read them I suggest they run out to the store right now and buy them. I feel like I should add that I don’t always go looking for books that fall into certain genres. When I think of Sarah Waters, the first thought that pops into my mind is she’s a brilliant writer. I do that with most if not all books. Genre doesn’t creep into my thoughts. For me, what matters is a wonderful story. I don’t care what genre or subgenre it falls into or about the author. Story matters to me.  As long as I’m entertained, I’m a happy reader. So when people ask me to suggest books in different genres I struggle a bit. Some are easier, like mystery. Others are more difficult. It’s odd I don’t ever associate Frankenstein with science fiction, even though many claim it’s one of the first examples. For me, I think it’s a great story. The past couple of years, since I have joined reading challenges I have looked more into genres so I can meet the qualifications for the challenges. Again, though, the initial thoughts I have about these books when I write the reviews are the story and not how they are shelved in a bookstore.

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The grumpy cat, Atticus.

If I answered this question last week I would have said my writing cave was a complete disaster. On Monday, I reached for a book on my desk and everything crashed down around me so I decided to take a couple of hours to clean it up. As I write this answer, I’m on day three after I tidied up. I won’t say it’s a complete disaster again, but it’s getting there. I have two tea cups (empty), one water glass, notebooks, books, pens, and papers around me. They are still somewhat organized. Give me another day or two and it will be a mess again.

I prefer writing at my desk in my office. My office, which is a spare bedroom in my London flat, overlooks a lovely garden. However, I have my desk facing the wall otherwise I would stare at the garden all day and not get anything done. I have been known to go to a pub to read and edit drafts. I find I need to be away from my computer when I edit. Sometimes I listen to music, but most of the time I work in silence, unless you count Miles’s barking.

6) You’ve traveled and lived in multiple places. Is there a single library or bookstore that truly stands out in memory and do you mind sharing what made it so memorable?

I have many fond memories of bookstores and libraries. Since you are asking about one that stands out I would have to say the Tattered Cover in Denver, Colorado. When I first walked in I was stunned that it had different levels. At the time I was 14 and it was the biggest bookstore I had ever been too. I lived in Colorado for many years, and I spent many wonderful afternoons getting lost in this store. If my memory serves me correctly, they even had stacks of books on the floor in some places. I loved it. My favorite section was the bargain basement. I can’t remember a time when I left the store empty-handed.

Miles - taking a nap while T.B. writes.

Miles – taking a nap while T.B. writes.

7) Since I am an animal person, I have to bring Atticus and Miles into this. How do they take your novelist career? Supportive, moping, hadn’t noticed? 

Miles, my dog, loves that I work from home now. The only problem is he wants to play all the time. He just doesn’t understand why we can’t go for long walks all day, play fetch in the park, or take naps on the couch. He’s pretty good though and sleeps on his bed in the office. His bed used to be my papasan that I loved reading in. Miles has decided it works better as a dog bed and now that it stinks like him, he can have it. Atticus, the grumpy cat, sleeps on a blanket on my desk for most of the day. Occasionally he walks over the keyboard to add his own thoughts and he doesn’t understand why I get upset when he deletes a day’s work. For the most part, Atticus only cares about his naps and eating. He’s glad I’m around more to fill his food dish several times a day instead of just in the morning and night. Pretty much I’m a servant and playmate, not a writer to them.

About T. B. Markinson:

T. B. Markinson is a 39-year old American writer, living in England, who pledged she would publish before she was 35. Better late than never. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling around the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs in England, or taking the dog for a walk. Not necessarily in that order. A Woman Lost is her debut novel.

MarkinsonWomanLostAbout A Woman Lost:

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Petrie has it all. She’s rich, beautiful, intelligent, and successful. None of this matters to her mom. Les-Bi-An. That’s all her mom sees. Despite’s Lizzie’s insistence that her mom’s antagonism does not bother her, Lizzie distances herself from her mom and the entire family. When her brother, Peter, calls her out of the blue to announce he’s getting married, Lizzie’s entire life changes drastically. Peter’s fiancée wants to bring the lesbian outcast back into the family. Will this desire cause Lizzie to lose everything dear to her? Sarah, Lizzie’s girlfriend, is ecstatic about this change in Lizzie’s personal life. Sarah, the hopeless romantic, wants it all, including settling down with the fiercely independent Lizzie. Can Lizzie be tamed? And can she survive her family and all of their secrets?

Places to Find T. B. Markinson

Author Blog: Making My Mark
Travel, pets, books, movies: 50 Year Project
Goodreads
Twitter

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Why I Read It: The Estella Society was hosting a read along.

Where I Got It: The Library

Who I Recommend This To: Ghost-story lovers who like a slow build up with lots of nuance.

Narrator: Simon Vance

Publisher: Books on Tape (2009)

Length: 13 CDs

I enjoyed this book from the beginning because of Simon Vance’s voice, a narrator I have been enthralled by on several books. I became captivated by the story because of Sarah Waters‘ nuanced take on a gothic-style ghost story. In fact, if I did not know from the beginning this was a ghost story, this tale would have been a historical fiction in my mental categorization for nearly all of the book.

The story follows Mrs. Ayres and her two grown children Caroline and Roderick through the eyes of our story narrator Dr. Faraday. Each of the main characters has some loss and some deep-seated longing and those two things drives the flaws in them. Set in post-WWII Britain, Hundreds Hall has gotten quite dilapidated. The Aryes can’t admit to themselves or their peers what financial conundrums keeping the place is putting them in. So they struggle on with a part-time cleaning lady and a slip of a girl servant, with Roderick making house repairs and Caroline helping out with the cooking. They both milk the cows.

Dr. Faraday comes from working-man stock and through perseverance on his part and great sacrifice by his parents completed medical school to become a country doctor. In many ways, he straddles the two main classes of society – the working, uneducated poor and the landed nobility. The tale starts off with him as a small child sneaking peaks at a magnificent party at Hundreds Hall while his mother performs her function as a servant. The bulk of the story takes place later in life (Dr. Faraday is in his 40s) and due to his roots and his education he finds that he is welcome few places as anything more than a doctor.

This book kept me riveted during my commute and on days when I didn’t commute, I often thought of reasons to run a few errands just so I would have time and opportunity for this book. I truly enjoyed the slow buildup of the mystery; were all the unfortunate and abnormal incidents at Hundreds Hall due to some paranormal force or aberrant human behavior? This book kept me guessing to nearly the end. I also liked how there was some ambivalency to the ending, leaving it up to the reader to decide one way or the other. In short, this book made me think, and we all know I like a good think.

Simon Vance, as always, was a welcome voice on my ears. His word pronunciation is clear and his pacing excellent. I love how he imbues the written word with an undercurrent of emotion. Once again, The Little Stranger was a quality performance.

What I Liked: Easily read as a historical fiction or ghost story; the portrayal of the class differences was deeply interesting to me; none of these characters are superb heroes or supermodels – they are all flawed in some way; the reader had to pay attention and think throughout the book to make a decision about the ending.

What I Disliked: At a certain point, Roderick has to go off for medical treatment and we as the readers see very little of him afterwards – I think I would have liked a bit more of his presence in the book.

Read Along Part I

Read Along Part II

Not only was this book part of a read along, I also read it as part of Stainless Steel Droppings’ R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event (and I would dual categorize this book as Gothic and Supernatural). It’s not too late for you to play along, so check out Stainless Steel Droppings for details.

The Little Stranger Read Along Part II

Welcome back all to the second, and concluding, part of the read along of The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Once again, this most awesome pick was the choice of the folks of The Estella Society, so make sure to wander over there and sample their take on this book.

The Little Stranger Read Along Part I

There Be Spoilers! You have been warned.

OK. So, everyone has some tragedy haunting them in this book. Dr. Faraday never met the woman of this dreams and had a family; Caroline is so plain and ordinary, she couldn’t really hope to attract a love match and once she had found a place in life as a war nurse and escapes her family, she got called back to nurse her injured brother; Mrs. Ayres lost her first child, daughter Susan, to diphtheria and found that she never loved anyone quite the same again; Roderick had his war accident that left him scarred and a little crippled.

So, with that as our starting point, this old once-majestic house seems to be haunted. At first, we can’t tell whether or not there is an actual paranormal presence or merely a variety of abnormal human behavior. In fact, this book had me flip-flopping back and forth until the end. I loved that about the story. There’s the eerie little fires that eventually lead up to a true midnight nuisance that almost kills Rod and is the final straw that sends him and what little is left of his psyche off the mental hospital. Next, the servants and Caroline are plagued by calls at the most inconvenient times followed by the summoning bells and whistles (those noisemakers used to summon servants to any part of the house to carry light-weight objects from one side of the room to another). This silly game finally culminates in Mrs. Ayres in the old nursery, trapped behind a locked door, desperately wanting out, breaking the glass on the window, and ending up severely lacerated. Throughout it all, Dr. Faraday maintains that there is nothing with ectoplasm running about the house. He maintains this when even greater tragedy occurs – Mrs. Ayres taking her own life.

As the story moves forward, Dr. Faraday and Caroline become engaged. Yet, it is such a hesitant engagement on Caroline’s part – she shows no interest in the arrangements, the clothes, the date, the decorations, the food, etc. Granted, she has grief and hardship on her mind. The family was in financial straights before Rod went off to the institution and the house was gloomy and sad before the tragedy with Mrs. Ayres. So it wasn’t until somewhere in the last 2 CDs that I started to really worry for Caroline – Why wouldn’t she marry? If she doesn’t marry, what will happen to her and Hundreds Hall? Would Dr. Faraday’s heart be irrevocably broken and would he make a scandal and fuss over it?

But then Caroline becomes the hero of the story, flying in the face of then societal expectations. She makes the momentous decision to sell Hundreds Hall and leave the country, possibly planning to go to the Americas. Awesome! Oh, but she won’t be marrying Dr. Faraday, and in fact never loved him, just kind of had it all muddled up inside her head. All this only like 2 weeks before the wedding. I think my heart broke a little bit for Faraday over that scene. Still, Caroline had it right in that marrying out of gratitude and staying at Hundreds Hall could have ended up being the greater tragedy.

So let’s talk about that ending. Caroline dies on what was to be her wedding night in an empty house, falling from an upstairs landing as Betsy the servant watches in surprise and dismay. Faraday spent that night in his car, in that lonely still glade where he and Caroline parked and had the most regrettable first tryst. He yearned so greatly for the life he was to have with Caroline – living at Hundreds Hall chief among them. Of course, there was the legally required inquest in which her death was ruled a suicide while she was not herself. After that, the rumors fly about the Hall being haunted. This leads to difficulties with it selling and it becomes even further run down. Faraday is the only one who visits the Hall on a regular basis, tending to it as he can.

The ending lets the reader decide if there was a phantasm, or ghost, or spiritual energy and I admire the craftsmanship that went into this novel. For me, I believe the unexplained and unfortunate events were the work of Faraday’s deep longing to be a part of Hundreds Hall. I also like how that kind of ending gives symmetry to the story: Faraday is a firm believer in the tangible and science and not in the paranormal.

So, what say you?

Do you believe that our deepest yearnings, hopes, dreams, wishes, and prayers can affect the world around us? Perhaps even manifesting unknowingly in a negative manner to get what we desire?

The Little Stranger Read Along Part I

Hello everyone. Welcome to the read along of The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. This read along is the brainchild of those lovely, quick-tongued, and highly entertaining folks over at The Estella Society, so make sure to stop by and enjoy their site. As stated on their site, this is kind of a loosey-goosey read along, aiming for the midpoint today (Sept. 10th) and to be completed Sept. 17th. As of posting this, I haven’t seen a midpoint post at The Estella Society. If I see one go up, I’ll put in a direct link to it as we wouldn’t want to miss the fun. (P.S. the midpoint post went up Sept. 11th).

This is my first time reading anything by Sarah Waters. Her clear writing style and knack for including small mysterious or quaint detail drew me in straight off. The Little Stranger is set in rural Warwickshire, England, post  World War II. We first meet Dr. Faraday as a young boy sneaking peaks at a fancy party at Hundreds Hall where his mother works as a maid. The story then moves forward ~30 years or so and Hundreds Hall has faded greatly in grandeur. The Ayreses (Caroline, Rodney, and their mother) try to keep the place up with their own hard work.

I decided to check the audioversion, read by Simon Vance, out from the library. There are 13 discs and I am on Disc 7. Without spoiling any of the story, I just wanted to chitchat about a few points that have made this story interesting so far.

1) Rodney and Caroline are adult children and, based on their physical efforts to keep up Hundreds Hall, perfectly employable. So I had to wonder why at least one of them didn’t go get a job? Can that truly be any less ‘noble’ than milking the cows or doing the cooking? And the answer simply, is Yes. Based on the time and culture, it would have been next to unthinkable for landed nobility to go out and get an office job, rubbing elbows with the unwashed masses. Truly, the family would have been ostracized from high society. Yet, how it is now, the family rarely has peers over (due to the dilapidated state of their Hundreds Hall) and rarely are invited out by their peers (again, what would they wear?).

2) I love how the author made Caroline a sensible woman and very plain in appearance instead of making Caroline a financially poor belle of the story. I found myself relating to her from the first few encounter with her. I love how she cleans, gathers berries, milks cows, and cooks. She is also practical in footwear and her lack of stockings for day-to-day antics.

3) Based on this book being part of Stainless Steel Droppings’ R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, I am guessing there is a supernatural element to this story. Yet, as the reader, being ~halfway through, I am still not positive. I am thoroughly enjoying how the author has woven the story so that all unfortunate events to this point can be described by abnormal human behavior.

4) Class difference keeps raising it’s ugly head. The story is told through the eyes of Dr. Faraday, a man whose parents poured everything they had into his education and who himself has worked hard to obtain and maintain his local practice. While his profession is often referred to as noble, there are still the small societal slights, on both sides, concerning him spending so much time with the Ayreses. I find this interesting as it is not something I personally have bumped into, having spent most of my life in the desert Southwest USA.

For those of you reading along, or having read Sarah Waters’ works before, what has drawn you in? What has kept you hooked?

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII

I’ve decided to join the fracas over at Stainless Steel Droppings, where some of the best fracases have been. This particular one will involve the spooky, the mysterious, and the frightening for the next two months (through Halloween). I’ll let Stainless Steel Droppings fill you in on the details (and remember to stop by over there if you want to play too):

The purpose of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII is to enjoy books and movies/television that could be classified (by you) as:

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.

My goal will be to read 2 scary RIP selections over the next two months and to also join in the two read-alongs that will be happening.

The Estella Society will be hosting the read-along of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger from September 1-17.

Stainless Steel Droppings will be hosting the read-along of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book starting October 1st.

If you want to join in any or all of this, it is not too late to check out Stainless Steel Droppings and The Estella Society. Enjoy!